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Title: Our Family Affairs, 1867-1896
Author: Benson, E. F. (Edward Frederic)
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Internet Archive)



[Illustration: MY FATHER, ÆT. 50

_Frontispiece_]



OUR FAMILY AFFAIRS

1867-1896

BY

E. F. BENSON

AUTHOR OF “DODO,” “DAVID BLAIZE,”
“MICHAEL,” “QUEEN LUCIA,” ETC.

WITH PORTRAITS


[Illustration]

NEW YORK
GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY



COPYRIGHT, 1921,

BY GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY


PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA



CONTENTS


CHAPTER I

                                                                    PAGE

WELLINGTON AND THE BEGINNING                                          13


CHAPTER II

LINCOLN AND EARLY EMOTIONS                                            32


CHAPTER III

LINCOLN AND DEMONIACAL POSSESSION                                     52


CHAPTER IV

THE NEW HOME AT TRURO                                                 62


CHAPTER V

PRIVATE SCHOOL AND HOLIDAYS                                           80


CHAPTER VI

THE DUNCE’S PROGRESS                                                 108


CHAPTER VII

THE WIDENING HORIZONS                                                137


CHAPTER VIII

LAMBETH AND ADDINGTON                                                163

CHAPTER IX

THE FALL OF THE FIRST LEAF                                           189


CHAPTER X

CAMBRIDGE                                                            209


CHAPTER XI

THE CIRCLE IS BROKEN                                                 237


CHAPTER XII

AN ARCHÆOLOGICAL EXCURSION                                           255


CHAPTER XIII

ATHENS AND DODO                                                      276


CHAPTER XIV

ATHENS AND EGYPT                                                     303

INDEX                                                                325



PORTRAITS


MY FATHER, _aet._ 50                                       _Frontispiece_

                                                                    PAGE

MY MOTHER, _aet._ 20                                                  19

ELIZABETH COOPER: “BETH”, _aet._ 78                                   69

E. F. BENSON, _aet._ 19                                              119

“HIS GRACE”                                                          169

“HER GRACE”                                                          219

E. F. BENSON, _aet._ 22                                              269

E. F. BENSON, _aet._ 26                                              287



OUR FAMILY AFFAIRS



CHAPTER I

WELLINGTON AND THE BEGINNING


My father was headmaster of Wellington College, where and when I was
born, but of him there, in spite of his extraordinarily forcible
personality, I have no clear memory, though the first precise and
definite recollection that I retain at all, heaving out of nothingness,
was connected with him, for it certainly was he, who, standing by the
table in the window of the dining-room with an open newspaper in his
hand, told me never to forget this day on which the Franco-German war
came to an end. Otherwise as regards him, somebody swept by in an
academic cap and gown, a figure not at all awe-inspiring as he became to
me very soon after, but simply a rather distinguished natural phenomenon
to be regarded in the same light as rain or wall-paper or sunshine.
Cudgel my memory as I may, I can evoke no other figure of him at
Wellington, except as something shining and swift; an external object
whirling along on an orbit as inconjecturable as those of the stars, and
wholly uninteresting. He had a study on the left of the front door into
the Master’s Lodge, where there was a big desk with a shiny circular
cover. I know that I was taken in there to say good night to him, but
the most remarkable thing there was the big desk with large handles,
and perhaps a boy standing by it, mountainous in height and looking
extremely polite and gentle. There was the same ceremony every evening:
my father kissed me, put his hand on my head and said, “God bless you
and make you a good boy always.” The most significant detail of that
ritual was that my father’s face was rough, not smooth like the face of
my mother and of Beth, and that there lingered round him or the room a
smell of books and a smell of soap.

A little later on than that there came a period when for half an hour
before bedtime my two sisters and I (for the present the youngest) used
to visit him in that same study while he drew entrancing pictures for
us, each in turn. One of these I found only the other day: it represents
a hill crowned with a castle and a church, in front of which is a small
knight waving his sword in the direction of a terrifying dragon, horned
and tailed, who is flying across the sky. Below in minute capitals runs
a rhyming legend. Or I went to the College chapel, though not often, and
by way of a treat, and there was the same figure in a surplice, in a
stall on the right hand of the door of entrance. I believe I was there
on the last Sunday of his Headmastership and that they sang a hymn which
he wrote.

Emotionally, I have no picture-book illustrated with memories of my
first five years, but externally I have impressions that possess a
haunting vividness comparable only to the texture of dreams, when dreams
are tumultuously alive. All these (and I think the experience is
universal) were external happenings, trivial in themselves, but far more
lasting than emotional affairs in later life. Never shall I forget,
though I have forgotten so much of far vaster import since then, the
discovery of an adder on the croquet lawn outside the nursery windows.
The gardener attacked it with the shears that he had been using for
clipping the edges of the grass: he made fine chopping gestures, and
presently disappeared into the belt of wood with the adder slung on the
blades. There is the vignette: something terribly vivid but girt about
with mist. I have no other knowledge of the gardener but that he killed
an adder with his shears and went into the belt of wood with the corpse
dangling thereon.

There was an evening when, having had my bath in the nursery I escaped
from the hands of my nurse, slippery with soapy water, and looked out of
the nursery window. Then a miracle burst upon my astounded eyes, for,
though it was bedtime my mother was in the act of putting her foot on
her own croquet ball, and with a smart stroke sending the adversary into
the limbo of a flower-bed. That was allowed by the rule of 1870 or
thereabouts, and it gave me the impression of consummate skill and
energy. My mother, you must understand, stood quite still with her own
ball in chancery below her foot. The concussion of her violent mallet
sent the adversary into a flower-bed, and the calceolarias nodded....
Then Beth, my nurse, caught me, and rubbed me dry, and I went to bed
with the delicious sense of my mother’s magnificence, and the marvel of
people still playing croquet in daylight when I had to go to bed. I
think that this occasion was the first on which I recognised my mother
as having a personality of her own. The next confused me again, for on
some birthday of one of us, or at Christmas, Beth told me that
Abracadabra was coming, and that I mustn’t be frightened. I was then
taken to see my mother, who was lying down in her bedroom, and said
that she was very sleepy, and I returned to the nursery. Shortly
afterwards there was a general hubbub in the house, and on being taken
downstairs from the nursery into the hall, I saw a huge bedizened fairy
standing in front of the fireplace. She blew a piercing trumpet at
intervals, and made dance-steps to the right and left. She had a
wonderful hat covered with lilies, and a dress covered with jewels, and
in front of her was a thing that might have been mistaken for the
clothes-basket out of which Beth took clean shirts and socks, but it
could not possibly have been that, because it gleamed with pure gold. A
sheet lay on the top of it, and Abracadabra blew her trumpet, and Beth,
holding me close, said, “Eh, dear, don’t be frightened; it’s all right!”

Obviously it was all right; for to put an end to all tearful tendencies,
Abracadabra, with a magnificent gesture, withdrew the sheet, and hastily
presented me with a clockwork train, just what I had always wanted. She
turned a key in the engine, and the engine then capsized with loud
buzzings, but when Abracadabra put it on its wheels again, it proceeded
to draw three tin carriages after it. And it was mine, the very thing I
had wanted, and Abracadabra smiled as she gave it me, and I thought that
her face was rather like Mamma’s. But the likeness must have been purely
accidental, because Mamma was in her bedroom feeling sleepy. And when
Abracadabra went through the door into the kitchen passage blowing
loudly on her trumpet, and when, after a few excursions of the clockwork
train, I was allowed to go up to her room again, and found her still
sleepy, it might be indeed considered proved that she was not
Abracadabra. Besides, when I told her about Abracadabra’s visit, she was
very much vexed that she had missed her, and asked whether Abracadabra
had not left any present for her, which she had not. That is the first
clear and definite memory I have of Abracadabra, and also, in a way, it
is the last, for when next that amiable fairy visited us, I knew, alas,
that she was no fairy at all, but my mother, dressed in the amazing garb
of fairyland. But though that particular brand of fairyland was finished
for me, those subsequent occasions were girt with grandeur, for I,
concealing my own superior knowledge, must pretend that this was genuine
Abracadabra, thus indulging and buttressing the belief of my youngest
brother Hugh, who still, innocent thing, had no grown-up doubts on the
subject.... I found those selfsame garments only lately in a trunk
stowed away in an attic at the last home my mother lived in; a skirt
covered with sprays of artificial flowers, a bodice and stomacher set
with gems of pure glass, a hat of white satin embowered in flowers, a
pair of wings, gauze and gold, and a pair of high-heeled shoes covered
with gilt paper. They were moth-eaten and mouldy, and it was scarcely
possible for the most sentimental pilgrim to preserve them. Besides I
had the memory of the day when the authentic fairy appeared in them, and
that memory was sweeter than the condition, forty-five years later, of
the robes themselves. My mother had kept them, I make no doubt, when her
own days of Abracadabra were over by reason of our emergence from
childhood, in the hope that one day a daughter or daughter-in-law would
assume them again for the joy and mystification of grandchildren, but
that day never came. So the robes of fairyland stowed away in their
trunk were forgotten, until that day at Tremans when I found them, as I
turned out the treasures and the rubbish of the vanished years before
the house passed into other hands. It was a dark autumn day, and the
rain beat softly on the roof, but verily, when I opened the trunk and
found them there, the sunlight of the dawn of life shot level and
delicious rays from the far horizon, and cast a rainbow over the weeping
sky.

People in those very early days, with the exception of Beth, were more
part of the general landscape of life than human beings, similar in kind
to myself, with an individuality of their own. They were not loved or
feared: they were but a part of the general environment, like the walls
of the nursery, or trees or dinner or beds. But, as by some superior
swiftness of evolution, Beth ceased to be landscape, and became a human
being, wholly to be adored and generally to be obeyed, sooner than any
of the family. She was well over fifty when first I remember her, and
had by now almost completed the nursing of a second generation, for she
had been nursery-maid with Mrs. Sidgwick, my mother’s mother, when her
family came into the world, and had gone to my mother when at the mature
age of nineteen the first of her six children was born. Thereafter Beth
remained with my mother until the end of her long and utterly beautiful
life of love and service. Very soon after she came to my grandmother, at
the age of fifteen, she gave notice because she wanted to go back from
Rugby to her native Yorkshire, and did not settle into more southerly
ways. But my grandmother encouraged her to think that she soon would do
so, and so Beth, instead of leaving, stopped on till the age of
ninety-three, in an unbroken devotion to us of seventy-eight years. That
devotion was returned: we were all her children, and the darlingest of
all to Beth’s big heart was Hugh.

Beth then, to my sense, emerged first of all into the

[Illustration: MY MOTHER, AET. 20

[_Page 19_]

ranks of human beings, servant and friend and to a very considerable
extent mistress. But she gave us no weak and sentimental devotion, and
though she never inspired the smallest degree of fear, her rare
displeasure caused an awful feeling of loneliness and desolation. If we
had done wrong, she demanded sorrow before her forgiveness was granted,
and if to her wise mind the sorrow was not sufficiently sincere, she was
quite capable of saying, when we said we were sorry in too superficial a
manner, “I don’t want your sorrer,” and the day grew black, until she
accepted it and beamed forgiveness. That granted, there was never any
nagging, and next minute she would be running races with us again until
panting and bright-eyed she would stop and say, “Eh, dear, I can’t run
any more: I’ve got a bone in my leg.”

She mingles in almost every memory that I have of those days, a loved
and protecting presence. She it was who lifted me up to look out of the
nursery window when a sham fight was going on, perhaps at Aldershot.
There were reports of guns to be heard and, so I fancy, flashes and
wreaths of smoke, and like George III I got it firmly embedded in my
mind that this was the battle of Waterloo that I had witnessed. The
connection I think lay through the fact of this place being Wellington.
She it was who led me through a delicious sandy piece of waste ground
near the house called the Wilderness, and allowed me to pick and eat a
blackberry from a bramble that grew by a rubbish heap on which was a
broken plate. Never have I seen such a blackberry. I can still hardly
believe it was not of the size of an apricot, for I know it entirely
filled my mouth and the juice spurted therefrom as out of a wine-vat.
She too consoled me for the loss of two front teeth which came out into
a piece of butter-scotch that she had given me. She removed the teeth
and I proceeded with the toffee. She too allowed me to take out of the
Noah’s ark with which we played on Sundays a brown dog remotely
resembling a setter, two of whose legs had been broken. Her brilliant
surgery had repaired this loss by inserting in the stumps a couple of
pins so that it stood up as well as ever. This I was permitted to carry
about with me, partly in my pocket, but mostly in a warm damp hand,
which caused the setter to exude a pleasant smell of paint and varnish.
A moment of tragedy, the first that I had known, was the sequel, and I
do not believe that ever in my life I have been more utterly miserable.
What happened was this.

It was Christmas Eve, and the five of us, Martin, Arthur, Nellie,
Maggie, and myself--Hugh, so I guess, being then little more than a
month old--were returning from our walk, and the setter should have been
in my hand or in my pocket. We were going through a wood of fir trees,
the ground was brown and slippery with pineneedles, and the sun low and
red shone through the tall trunks making, with the fact that it was
Christmas Eve, an enchanted moment. I had just found out that my breath
steamed, as it came out of my mouth, and Beth and I were playing
steamers. Then suddenly I became aware that the setter was neither in my
hand nor my pocket, and the abomination of desolation descended on me.
For a little while we looked for it, and then Beth decreed that we must
go on. But Martin--this is the first thing that I can recollect about
him--being eleven years old and able to walk alone after dark, got leave
to stop behind and look for it, while the rest of the bereaved
procession went homewards. At that point my memory fails, and I have no
idea whether he found it or not. But here were the two first
crystallized emotions of my life; the black misery of the loss of the
setter, and the sense of Martin’s amazing kindness and bravery in
stopping behind by himself in the terrible wood. There was a moon in the
sky when we came out into the open and frosty stars, but no heart within
me to care for playing steamers any more that day.

Next morning, after nursery-breakfast, I went down to the dining-room,
and was given a cup of milk to drink by my father. This was an unusual
proceeding, and as I progressed towards the bottom of the cup he told me
to drink slowly. Something inside the cup clinked as I finished it, and
there was a shilling which was mine.

On Sunday morning, towards the end of the Wellington days, I went down
to breakfast in the dining-room. There were short prayers first, about
which I remember nothing except the sight of servants’ backs, kneeling
at chairs. But on one such morning, in the summer I suppose, because all
the windows were wide open, a very delightful thing happened. There was
a tame squirrel that used to scamper about the house, and run up and
down stairs, and on this occasion he suddenly descended from a curtain
rod, crossed the floor and scampered up the cook’s back. Probably she
pushed him off, for he chattered with rage and went and sat on the
sideboard and began nibbling ham.

After prayers were over, while breakfast was being brought up, it was my
task to go round the walls of the dining-room, where hung engravings of
eminent personages, and name them. There was the Prince Consort in
striped trousers with a bowler hat in his hand, the Duke of Wellington
in knee-breeches, the head and shoulders of Dr. Walford, a full length
of Dean Stanley, and Dr. Martin Routh in a wig reading a book. Round
the edge of this which I think must have been a mezzotint were various
small sketches of the said Dr. Martin Routh in other attitudes. Then
came the smell of sausages and the advent of two or three sixth form
boys who in turn breakfasted with my father. These were very glorious
persons and I marvelled at their condescension in coming. Once the head
of the school came, and following my father’s example I addressed him by
his surname (whatever it was) without the prefix of “Mister,” for which
omission I was corrected. But out of his magnificence he did not seem to
mind.

Slowly, as the mists of infancy dispersed through which like sundered
mountain-tops were seen these scattered incidents, a more panoramic
vision of life as a coherent whole made its appearance. There had been
vignettes, now of the Wilderness, now of my father’s study, now of the
nursery, with nothing except the continuous association with Beth to
bind them together. But now these scattered localities became parts of
one connected picture, and I could form some sort of complete idea of
the place. Most important was the house, the Master’s Lodge, a red brick
building standing in its own grounds. You entered through a gabled porch
into a broad passage, on one side of which lay my father’s study. Glass
doors separated this from the huge immensity of the hall, with my
mother’s sitting-room, the drawing-room and the dining-room opening out
of it. The stairs started in the centre of it and after one flight
separated into two, each of which led up into a gallery that skirted
three sides of the hall. Bedrooms opened out of this, also the day
nursery and night nursery, and pitch-pine banisters (a wood much admired
at that time) ran round it, and it was through these banisters that one
morning my sister Maggie, in a fit of wonderful audacity inserted her
foot, and exclaimed, “That’s my foot, Alleluia.” In the nursery, the
room with which I was chiefly concerned, was a rocking-horse with wide
red nostrils and movable pummels. These pummels penetrated right through
his dappled skin, and by removing them it was possible to drop small
objects like pebbles into his inside, where they rattled agreeably as he
rocked. Once some one of us, tempting Fate, held a penny at this
remarkable aperture, and the penny dropped inside, so that Beth had to
turn the rocking-horse upside down and shake him until it was restored
to currency again. There was a low deal table, quantities of lead
soldiers, and a swing hung from the ceiling, so that altogether it
presented most agreeable features. There was also a large cupboard where
playthings must be put away when they were done with, and I remember
with excitement a Homeric struggle that took place there between Martin
and Arthur for the possession of a stick which was painted blue and red.
But the most remarkable feature of the nursery was its walls, which, by
the time we left Wellington, were entirely covered with pictures. These
pictures we children used to cut out on wet days from old illustrated
papers under my father’s supervision, and he, clad in a dressing-gown to
defend his clothes from splashes of paste, fixed them up on the walls,
till the entire surface was covered. He had a step-ladder on which he
attacked the higher altitudes, and a roller with which he pressed down
the affixed pictures to the wall. There were battles there and
historical scenes, notable buildings, and numerous cartoons from
_Punch_. But one ought never to have been put there, for I dreaded
seeing it, and, like a child, kept my dread to myself. It was the
outcome, I imagine, of some enquiry into sweated trades, and represented
a dressmaker talking to a client and saying, “I wouldn’t disappoint your
ladyship for anything,” or words to that effect. At the back was a
glimpse into her workroom, and there falling backwards with closed eyes
was a girl, fainting I suppose in the artist’s intention, but I knew
better and was aware that she was dead. Nightmares pictured her as
falling across my bed in the sleeping-nursery next door, and Beth, in
her frilled nightcap came close and said, “Now, dear, go to sleep again.
I’m taking care of you.” Doors in the hall led I suppose to kitchens and
servants’ bedrooms, but of these I remember nothing except the fact of a
flagged passage and the smell of a store-cupboard to which I once went
with my mother. That part of the house did not matter.

Outside, the lawn was spread round two sides of the house; if you
crossed it, you found a wicket-gate in a fence that bordered the belt of
trees where the gardener cast the dead adder, and through this you
passed to the kitchen garden. On the right of the lawn below the trees
stood a summer-house where the croquet mallets were kept, and through
these trees was a path that led out into the school playing fields. A
gravel sweep faced the front door; there were laburnums and
rhododendrons by the gate, to the right lay the Wilderness and straight
in front the College buildings with the spired chapel at the far end.
Somewhere in these buildings was the school library, only notable
because it contained a glass case in which was a white ant. Below the
playing fields lay two immeasurable lakes, in the lower of which was the
school bathing-place: the upper, though also immeasurable, was smaller,
and a waterfall of gigantic height severed the two. By degrees the same
world extended even further than that, for by walking laboriously you
could reach either of two hills called Edgebarrow and Ambarrow, and then
it was time to come home again.

Simultaneously with this growing reality of the world, its inhabitants
(still with the exception of my father) assumed an individuality of
their own. Far the most individual of them was my mother, who seemed to
live entirely for pleasure except when she taught us our lessons. She
played croquet with consummate skill, she drove herself in a pony
carriage, she put on a low shining dress every evening with turquoise
brooches and bracelets, and had as much eau-de-Cologne as she wished on
her handkerchief. When she was dressing for dinner we used to go into
her room, examine that Golconda of a jewel-case, and bring her clean
handkerchiefs of our own still folded up, for her to “make moons” on
them, as the phrase was, with eau-de-Cologne. She took the stopper out
of the bottle, and reversed it on to these folded handkerchiefs, making
three or four applications. Then we unfolded these odorous
handkerchiefs, held them up to the light, and lo, they were penetrated
with full wet moons of eau-de-Cologne. She was, too, enormously wealthy,
for every Saturday we went to see her in her sitting-room, and she
opened the front of her inlaid Italian cabinet, and drew from one of the
pigeon-holes within, a little wicker-basket, and out of it paid our
weekly allowances. For elders there was as much as sixpence, but
sixpences came out of a japanned cash-box, for juniors there was
twopence or a penny according to age, and all these pennies, infinite
apparently in number came out of the wicker-basket. She had a rosewood
work-box, lined with red silk, which contained what was known as her
“treasures.” These were two white china elephants with gilded feet, a
small silk parasol, the ferrule of which was a pencil, an amber
necklace, a cornelian heart, and boxes that made loud pops when you
opened them. If any of us had a cold, or some ailment that kept us
indoors, we were allowed to play with her treasures, to while away the
solitude. But for some reason I did not think much of the treasures, and
after being consoled with them during an afternoon indoors gave vent to
the appalling criticism, “What Mamma calls tessors, I call ’Ubbish.” But
that, as far as I know, was the only disloyalty of which I was ever
guilty with regard to her. I just did not care about that particular
sort of treasures.

What a life was hers! She ordered lunch and dinner precisely as she
chose; she had a silver card-case with cards in it, stating who she was
and where she was, and we all belonged to her, and so in some dim way
did my father, and even the biggest boys of the great sixth form itself
touched their caps to her as she passed. And slowly, slowly I became
aware that she was worthy of all these pleasures and this homage.

There were certainly lessons in those days, I suppose for about an hour
a day. There was a book called _Reading without Tears_, which said that
a-b was “ab,” and d-o-g was “dog.” There must have been certain crises
over this learning for I was kept in instead of going out one day, and,
with the fatal habit of inversion which has clung to me all my life,
said, so my mother told me, “I call it tears without reading!” I record
this anecdote in pure self-condemnation: I don’t suppose I knew that
this _obiter dictum_ made sense; it was only the beginning of a habit to
play about with words, and see to what fashion of affairs they could be
suited. Every morning also, when we came downstairs we went into my
mother’s sitting-room, and learned a new verse of a Psalm, repeating the
verses previously learned. The Twenty-Third Psalm was one of these, and
the Ninety-First I think must have been another, since I cannot remember
the time when I did not know it by heart. I do not think that these
religious repetitions meant anything to me; they were part of the
inevitable day, which was full of glee.

That my mother had any other life of her own, full as I know it to have
been of worries and anxieties and of marvellous happinesses, never, as
was natural, occurred to any of us. She was, as far as concerns my
memory of her at Wellington, a glorious sunlit figure, living a life
that appeared to be the apotheosis of hedonism, the mistress of a
shouting houseful of children, all wilful, all set on having their own
way, and she calmly ruled us all, without even letting us know that we
were being ruled. All the time she was a very young woman married to a
man twelve years her senior who was as violently individual as anyone
could be. But for us she floated there like the moons of eau-de-Cologne
which embellished our handkerchiefs, carrying something of the fairyhood
of Abracadabra, and all the wizardry of her own inimitable wisdom. After
Beth it was she who first emerged out of the landscape which once
embraced trees and people alike, and to us soared upwards like a rising
constellation. She could not take Beth’s place, for Beth filled that,
but she enlarged a child’s heart, and dwelt there. She never ceased from
her own enlargements: in my mother’s house there were many mansions.
There were mansions for everybody, and none of the tenants usurped the
place of another. As we grew up, all of us, without exception, felt that
we were especially hers, and were in a unique relation to her. We were
all quite right about that, and so were a myriad friends of hers. There
was “the best room” for each of them. How she did it, how she conveyed
that adorable truth I know now, because I know that love is of infinite
dimensions, and has the same perfect room for all. But the childish
instinct was right: she cared supremely, and gave her whole heart to
each of us.

My sisters, presently to be kindled for me with a great illumination,
were for the period of the Wellington days quite dim, so too were Martin
and Arthur now at a private school at East Sheen, where, some years
later, I followed them, and the rest of the world at that time consisted
of vague visitors, among whom were my mother’s three brothers, William,
Henry, and Arthur Sidgwick (remarkable only for their beards and their
use of tobacco), and her mother, who is a much clearer figure. She
encouraged small visitors when she was dressing for dinner, was generous
in making moons, and had a ritual with regard to the dressing of her
hair which filled me with wonder. It was parted in the middle and she
drew down two strands of it over the top of her ears, and holding each
of these in place applied to it a stick of brown cosmetic which I now
know to have been bandoline. The effect of this was that the hair stuck
together in the manner of a thin board, absolutely smooth and in one
piece. Sometimes a crack or fissure appeared in it, and more bandoline
was employed. It formed in fact a little stiff roof, and on the top she
put a lace cap. She had long chains round her neck, and carried a silver
vinaigrette containing a small piece of sponge soaked in aromatic
vinegar. It was chiefly used in chapel when she was standing up during
the Psalms. On the other side of the family there were three aunts who
corresponded with the three uncles, sisters of my father, two of whom
were very handsome and of a high colour; the third, Aunt Ada, seemed to
me to be like a horse. They all floated in a sort of remote ether, like
clouds coming up and passing again.



CHAPTER II

LINCOLN AND EARLY EMOTIONS


In 1873 my father was appointed Chancellor of Lincoln, and the move
there was made in the summer of that year, during July and August. We
four younger children, Nellie, Maggie, myself and Hugh went with Beth to
stay with my grandmother at Rugby while it was in progress. That visit
was memorable for several reasons: in the first place I celebrated a
birthday there, and great-Aunt Henrietta had no idea that I was long
past fairies, for on the morning of that day she met me in the hall, and
said she would go out to see if there were any fairies about, for she
fancied she had heard them singing. Accordingly she went out of the
front door, closing it after her, and leaving me in the hall. Sure
enough from the other side of the door there instantly came a crooning
kind of noise, which I knew was Aunt Henrietta singing, and there was a
rattle in the letter-box in the door of something dropped into it. Aunt
Henrietta then returned in considerable excitement, and asked me if I
hadn’t heard the fairies singing, and of course I said I had. One had
come right on to the doorstep, she continued, while she stood there, and
had dropped something for me into the letter-box. And there was a velvet
purse with a brass clasp, and inside five shillings. This was an
opulence hitherto undreamed of. Aunt Henrietta was remarkable in other
ways besides generosity: she wore a curious cap with pink blobs on it,
and when asked how they were made instantly replied that they were made
by coral insects underneath the sea. It was also said of her that she
went to church one Sunday with a friend, and found they had only one
prayer book, and that with small print, between them. They were both
short-sighted and they each pulled so lustily on the prayer book in
order to see better, that it came in half about the middle of the
Psalms.

One day there came a moment which still ranks in my mind as an
experience of transcendent happiness. It had been a delicious day
already, for not only had my mother arrived, but the ceiling of the
dining-room was being white-washed, and we had our meals in my
grandmother’s sitting-room, which gave something of the thrill of a
picnic. That evening we were playing in the garden when Beth came out to
tell us it was time to go to bed. She took me along the path, and there
close to an open window my mother and grandmother were having dinner. We
stopped a moment, and I asked if I might not have ten minutes more in
the garden. That was granted, and, as if that was not enough, my
grandmother gave me three grapes from a bunch on the table. As I ate
them a breeze brought across me the warm scent of a lilac bush, and the
combination of these things made me touch a new apex of happiness.
Something, the joy of the level sunlight, of the three grapes, of the
lilac scent, of having ten minutes more to play in, rushed
simultaneously over me, and at that moment some new consciousness of the
world and its exquisiteness was unsealed in me. And I doubt if I have
ever been so happy since, or if anything, owing to that moment, will
ever smell so sweet to me as lilac.

Whatever that unsealing was, the wax was broken for ever, and from then
a more vivid perception was mine. According to Wordsworth I ought, just
about then, to have ceased trailing my clouds of glory, instead of which
they trailed in far more radiant profusion. The arrival at Lincoln still
wonderfully etched in my memory was an adventure of the finest kind, and
the exploration of the new land teemed with unique discoveries. The fact
that the house dated from the fourteenth century naturally mattered not
at all: its joy lay in its present suitability to the diversions of
children. There was a winding stone staircase, opening from a
nail-studded door in the hall with pentagrams carved on the steps to
keep off evil spirits: there was a day nursery made of two bedrooms
thrown into one; there was a suite of amazing attics, steeped in
twilight, with rafters close above the head, and loose boards underfoot.
Here in dark corners lay water-cisterns which gurgled unexpectedly in
the dusk with mirthless goblin chuckles; cobwebs hung in corners and
mice scuttled. Here too was a bare tremendous apartment also under the
roof, spread with pears and apples. Up one side of it went a buttress,
which certainly contained the chimney from the kitchen, for it was warm
to the touch and altogether mysterious.

Instantly, so it seems to me now, we began playing the most
blood-curdling games in that floor of attics; people hid there and
groaned and jumped out on you with maniacal screams. A short steep
flight of steps led down from it to the nursery floor, and how often,
giddy with pleasing terror, have I tumbled down those steps, because
somebody (who ought to have been a sister, but might easily have become
a goblin) was yelling behind me. One’s mind, the sensible part of it
much in abeyance, knew quite well that it was Nellie or Maggie, but
supposing one’s sensible mind was wrong for once? It was wiser to run,
just in case.... From which vivid memory I perceive that though I knew
about Abracadabra I was not so firmly rationalistic about the rooms with
gurgling cisterns in them. In the dark, strange metamorphoses might have
occurred, and when one day I found in the darkest corner of one of these
attics, a figure apparently human, and certainly resembling Nellie,
lying flat down and not moving (though it was for the hider to catch the
seeker) the light of my sensible mind was snuffed out like a candlewick,
and I shrieked out, “Oh, Nellie, don’t!” Observe the confusion of an
infant mind! I knew the corpse to be Nellie, for I addressed it as
Nellie, and told it not to; on the other hand, by an involuntary
exercise of the imagination I conceived that this still twilight object
might be something quite different.

My sisters were now of an age to sleep together in a large apartment
somewhere at the top of the stone stairs, while I still slept in the
night nursery, in a bed near the window. Beth occupied another bed, and
in a corner was Hugh’s crib with high sides, where he--being now about
two years old--was stowed away before the day was over for me. Next door
to the nursery was a room smaller than any room I have ever seen, and
this was officially known as “My Room.” It had a tiny window, was quite
uninhabitable, for it was always shrouded in a deadly gloom and piled up
with boxes, but the fact that it was my room, though I lived in the day
nursery by day, and slept in the night nursery by night, gave me a sense
of pomp and dignity, and I resented the fact that presently my father
had the wing of the house which lay above the stone staircase connected
with the night nursery by a wooden passage across the roof. This turned
my room into part of the passage, and though he called this ten yards of
passage “the Rialto,” I felt that I had been robbed of some ancestral
domain. After all it was My Room....

The rest of the house was not particularly interesting; it consisted of
sitting-rooms and dining-room, and schoolroom and lobbies, the sort of
thing that you naturally supposed would be there. But one day my father
presented my sisters and me with a room at the top of the stone stairs,
with which we were allowed to deal precisely as we wished. We instantly
called it “The Museum,” and put in it any unusual objects that we
obtained. One day Maggie found a piece of sheep’s wool stuck in a hedge,
so that of course was brought home, washed white and carefully combed
and put in a cardboard box with a glass lid. Then (to anticipate as
regards the Museum) we spent a summer holiday at Torquay, and collected
various attractive pebbles, and madrepores, and shells. These were
dedicated to the Museum, and a large earthenware bread-bowl was lined
with them, and filled up with water to the top, so that they gleamed
deliciously through the liquid. Then there came a memorable day when my
mother killed a hornet on her window; she gave us the squalid corpse,
and after consultation we put it in the water of the bowl, lined with
spa and madrepore, in order to preserve it. It floated about there and
was supposed to be in process of preservation. An addled swan’s egg
joined the collection, which, very prudently, we decided not to blow.
But it began to smell so terribly even through the shell that with great
reluctance we scrapped it. My father gave us a case of butterflies,
collected by his father, in which, without doubt were two “large
coppers.” “As rare things will” that case vanished, and I wonder what
fortunate dealer eventually got the “large coppers.”... Then on a
bookshelf was the great stamp-collection, and I wish I knew what had
happened to that. There was all South Australia complete, and complete
too was Tasmania, and complete the Cape of Good Hope, the stamps of
which for the sake of variety were triangular. Heligoland was there and
the Ionian Islands and New Caledonia (black and only one of it). But the
stamp-collection was considered rather dull: the hornet disintegrating
in the bread-bowl, and the piece of sheep’s wool were far more
interesting. They had the timbre of personal acquisition, and rang with
first-hand emotion. Personal and precious too were the bits of oxydised
glass smouldering into rainbows which we dug up in the garden and
displayed here; there too we found bowls and broken stems of
tobacco-pipes which I think were Cromwellian. But Cromwell was no good
to us, so we said that they were Roman tobacco-pipes. Then there was a
collection of fossils, which, with the aid of geological hammers that my
father gave us, we rapped out of stones in lime quarries, or from the
heaps that lay by the roadside for mendings. Amateur stone-breakers
indeed we were, and often bruised fingers were of the party, but they
added preciousness to the trophies that we brought back to the Museum.
On the door of the Museum was a paper label, on which was emblazoned in
large letters tinted with water-colour, “Museum. Private.” The privacy
was part of the joy of it. Occasionally we asked my mother to have tea
with us there, and she came in her hat formally. This very proper
behaviour was duly appreciated.

Indeed that was a good house for children with its attics and its
winding-stairs, and its multitude of passages. Judging the virtue of a
house by the standards of hide-and-seek, than which there is no more
authentic rule, I never saw so laudable a habitation. Endless were the
dark places for the concealment of hiders, endless also the various
routes by which the seekers might get back uncaught to the sanctuary
where Beth sat with her sewing over the fire and said, “Eh now, you’ll
be falling down and hurting yourselves.” There was the route up the
kitchen stairs, the route through my father’s dressing-room and study,
only practicable (as on the days when the Khyber Pass is open to
caravans) when he was away: there were the stairs up from the hall into
the lobby; there were the winding-stairs communicating through the
Rialto with the nursery passage, at the other end of which were the
nursery stairs. How rare again was the cul-de-sac, that infernal
invention of degraded architects and the ruin of all good hide-and-seek,
which makes capture inevitable, when once you are in the trap. For
magnificence of design, judging by these standards, I unhesitatingly
allot the palm to the Chancery house in the Close at Lincoln.

Gardens, in like manner, must be judged by their serviceableness in the
pursuit of games, and here again we were fortunate. Adjacent to the
house itself was a big lawn, levelled and sown afresh, which was the
arena of cricket and rounders. Behind that was an asphalted yard with a
stable, a coach-house and a woodshed, erected no doubt in order that we
might play fives against them: a covered passage led to the kitchen
garden. There was sufficient space here for a lawn-tennis court, the
lines of which were laid down with tape secured by hairpins.
Occasionally the foot caught in the tape; “zp, zp, zp,” went most of the
hairpins and the shape of the court changed for the moment from an
oblong to a trapezium with no right-angles. By one side of this was a
steep grassy bank with elder bushes growing on the top. Here you laid
yourself stiffly out on the ground, and like that rolled bodily down the
bank, sitting up again at the bottom to find the world reeling and
spinning round you. When you felt a little less sick, you refreshed
yourself with elderberries, and rolled down again. Beyond this was a
pear tree large enough to climb, and high enough not to fall out of, and
an asparagus bed. The edible properties of that vegetable were of no
interest, but when it went to seed and grew up in tall fern-like stems
with orange berries it was valuable as a hiding-place. Narrow grass
paths led this way and that between the garden beds, and they had been
well constructed, for they were of such a width that it was possible,
though difficult, to bowl a hoop down them without invading the
cabbages. A fool would have made them either wider or narrower, and then
they would have been useless. In a corner of the garden were our own
particular plots, and against the red brick wall grew a fig tree, which
I thought had some connection with the biblical tree that withered away,
because it never yielded its fruit. All round the garden ran a high
wall, now brick, now ancient limestone, and at the bottom was a mediæval
tower partly in ruins, where we habitually played the most dangerous
game that has ever been invented since the world began. Why no one was
killed I cannot understand to this day. The game was called “Sieges,”
and the manner of it was as follows:

A flight of some twenty high stone steps led up to a chamber in the
tower, which was roofless and ivy-clad. They lay against the wall with a
turn half-way up, and up to that point had no protection whatever on one
side, so that nothing could have been simpler than to have fallen off
them to the ground. From the chamber a further short flight led up on to
an open turret defended at the top by a low iron railing of doubtful
solidity. One child was constituted King of the Castle, the others were
the besiegers. The besiegers stormed the castle and the besieger and
besieged tried to hurl each other downstairs. The besieged had the
advantage of superior height, for he stood usually at the top of the
stairs by the chamber; the besiegers the advantage of weight and
numbers. You were allowed to resort to any form of violence in order to
win your object, except kicking; blows and pushings and wrestlings and
trippings-up formed legitimate warfare. Even the rule about kicking must
have been rather slack, for I remember once seeking my mother with a
bleeding nose, and saying that Nellie had kicked me in the face at
“Sieges.” Her defence, a singularly weak one as it still appears to me,
was that she hadn’t kicked me in the face at all: she had only put her
foot against my face and then pushed. Whereon the judge went into such
fits of laughter that the trial was adjourned.

At first my mother taught us entirely, and the sight of the schoolroom
when lessons were going on would certainly have conveyed a very false
impression to a stranger, for close to my mother’s hand lay a
silver-mounted riding-whip of plaited horsehair. But it was not for
purposes of correction: its use was that if as we were writing our
exercises and copies she saw we were not sitting upright, her hand would
stealthily take up the whip and bring it down with a sounding thwack on
to the table, startling us into erect attitudes again. To these
instructions there was soon added Latin, and I remember the charm of new
words just because they were new. It was also interesting to grasp the
fact that there really had been people once who, when they wanted to say
“table” preferred to say “mensa,” and found that their friends
understood them perfectly. I suppose that soon my mother became too busy
to continue the instruction of my sisters and me, for a day-governess
appeared, a quiet melancholy German lady with brown eyes, and a manner
that commanded respect. She was not with us very long, and on her
departure we three went to a day-school kept by a widow. She had a Roman
nose, and though rather terrible was kind. She lived in a house just
outside the close which smelt of mackintosh: the schoolroom was a larger
wooden apartment built out over the garden.

In between these curricula we had a temporary governess who seemed to us
all the most admirable and enviable person who ever lived. This was Miss
Bramston, a great personal friend of my mother’s, whose brother, beloved
subsequently by generation after generation of Wykehamists, had been a
master at Wellington under my father. Never was there so delightful an
instructress; by dint of her being so pleasant when we disobeyed her, we
soon got to obey her not out of discipline, of which she had not the
faintest notion, but out of affection, of which she had a great deal.
She wrote us a play in rhymed verse, all out of her own head, which we
acted one Christmas, rather like _Hamlet_, with rhymes thrown in, and
ending much more comfortably than that tragedy. There was a king on a
throne, only he wasn’t the right king and when alone he soliloquized,
saying:

    I’m a usurper, though I seem a swell;
    The true King lies within a dungeon cell,

and I wish I could remember more of it. She painted not in water-colour
only but in oils, and could make any canvas of hers recognizable. For
instance, you knew at once that this was the Cathedral. But not only to
us was she not a usurper but a swell; she was a Public Authoress, and
wrote stories, printed and published, which she gave us to read. The
S.P.C.K. published them, and the whole world could buy them, and she got
paid for writing them. One of her early works was _Elly’s Choice_; there
was a poor good girl called Elly, and a rather nasty rich cousin called
Cordelia, a boy called Alick, and everybody who mattered was about nine
years old. A piece of stained glass was broken in the “Octagon Room,”
and Cordelia let Elly be punished for it though Cordelia had broken it,
and then Elly received apologies from Grandmamma Farmer, and Cordelia
learned a lesson, and all got wonderfully happy again. The extreme
vividness with which I remember it, surely shows that the book fulfilled
its purpose, that is, of interesting children. Later Miss Bramston
spread larger pinions, and I do not think she did so well. To our
intense joy she came back to us at Truro a year or two later, and was as
lovable as ever.

It was in those few years at Lincoln that my father began to be
individual, instead of being part of the landscape, and as I got to know
him, I, like the rest of us, also got to fear him. For many years we
were none of us at our ease with him, as we always were with my mother,
and it is tragic that it was so, for I know that he regarded us all with
the tenderest love. Often and often his glorious vitality, keener and
more splendid than any I have ever come across, enchanted us, and the
sunlight of him was of a midsummer radiance. But he had no idea how
blighting his displeasure was to small children, and for fear of
incurring it we went delicately like Agag, attending so strictly to our
behaviour that all spontaneity withered. Nothing would have pleased him
more, had we taken him into our confidence, but we feared his
disapproval more than we were drawn to intimacy with him. It was always
uncertain whether he would not pull us up with stinging rebukes for
offences that were certainly venial, and in his watchfulness over our
mental and moral education, he came down upon faults of laziness and
carelessness as if to explode such tendencies out of our nature. Earnest
and eager all through, and gloriously and tumultuously alive, he brought
too heavy guns to bear on positions so lightly fortified as children’s
hearts, and from fear of the bombardment we did not dare to make a
sortie and go to him. Too much noise, an ordinary childish carelessness
might, so we believed, bring down on us a schoolmaster’s reproof instead
of such remonstrances as we got from my mother, which were completely
successful, and with him we were careful to be decorous to the verge of
woodenness. We had washed hands and neat hair and low voices, because
thus we minimized the risks of his society. We were never frank with
him, we did not talk about the things that interested us, but those
which interested him and which we thought he would wish us to be
interested in. We sat on the edge of our chairs, and were glad to be
gone. If we had been natural with him, I know that his appreciation of
that would somehow have made cement between us, but how are you to be
natural when, rightly or wrongly, you are being careful? Tearing spirits
moderated themselves on his approach, we became as mild as children on
chocolate boxes. If he was pleased with us, we breathed sighs of relief:
if he was displeased we waited for the clouds to pass. With him I, at
least, was a prig and a hypocrite, assuming a demure demeanour, and
pretending to be interested in the journal of Bishop Heber of Bombay,
which I still maintain is a dreary work, and not suited to young
gentlemen of between six and nine years old. But the journal of Bishop
Heber was given me as a book to read on Sunday and helped to add to the
wearisomeness of that rather appalling day.

Below our lovely Museum, and opening out of the winding stone stairs,
there was a room fitted up as a chapel. There was stained glass in the
windows, Arundel prints on the walls, and a quite unique harmonium that
cost five pounds. The keyboard was only of three octaves, extending from

[Illustration: musical notation] to [Illustration: musical notation]

which, as it was used if not designed to be as an instrument to
accompany hymns, seems to me to be a truly remarkable compass, since in
order to accompany hymns on it at all, you had to leave out the bass, or
transfer the whole tune to the higher octave. When fully extended for
purposes of melody, it stood about two and a half feet high, but on its
black japanned front were two steel catches which, if pressed, caused it
to subside into itself, the foot-bellows becoming flat, and the
harmonium itself so small that a man could put it under his arm.
Sometimes when playing it (as I was presently to do) a too vigorous
knee, in the movement of blowing, would touch these catches, and it
collapsed in the middle of the hymn on to the feet of the organist,
dealing them a severe blow, and necessitating its readjustment before
the hymn proceeded. It had two stops, one of which allowed the air to
get to its pipes, the other was a tremolo which caused its voice to be
transformed into a series of swift little bleats with pauses in between
like a soprano lamb much out of breath. Perhaps it was designed to take
the solo part of a flute in one of those curious bastard orchestras on
which Mr. Oscar Browning, with the help of three undergraduates, used to
render quartettes in his rooms at King’s College, Cambridge, but here it
was as an accompanying instrument at prayers in the chapel of the
Chancery, and took its part in the religious exercises of the morning.

Sunday, in fact, began in the chapel for us children after the early
service for our elders in the Cathedral. There was a hymn, my father
read certain Sunday prayers, and then came breakfast. The collection of
hymns which we used in chapel was Bishop Wordsworth’s “Holy Year.” There
are many admirable hymns in it, others not so good. For instance, the
one for the feast of St. Philip and St. James began:

    Let us emulate the names
    Of St. Philip and St. James.

We children, therefore, could hardly help making up another hymn for the
feast of St. Simon and St. Jude beginning (and then stopping):

    Let us try to be as good
    As St. Simon and St. Jude.

Matins at the Cathedral was at half-past ten, so we often bore a crude
sausage there, as Juvenal would have said. The service was fully choral,
and the _pièce de résistance_, as far as I was concerned, was the
Litany, chanted by two lay-clerks at a desk in the middle of the
gangway between the seats. Together I think (or perhaps separately,
while the other was in reserve) they chanted the first sentences as
follows:

[Illustration: musical notation: Oh, God, the Father of Heaven, Have
mercy upon us miser-a-ble sinners.]

The choir then repeated it in harmony, and the same simple musical
material furnished the whole of the subsequent responses.

Sung thus very slowly the Litany took a full quarter of an hour, but
when that was over, I was at liberty to find my hat and steal out. I
used to put my hat, a round soft felt hat with elastic under the chin,
in an aperture at the corner of our seat below the stalls, which had in
it an opening for ventilation. Sometimes my hat slipped down this, and
after an excited groping for it, it came up covered with the dust of
ages. The service had already lasted an hour or more, and I made my
jaded way back to the Chancery, while my mother and sisters, and in the
holidays, my two elder brothers, remained for the rest of the service.
Martin and Arthur occupied stalls near my father and were still dim
figures to me, at home only for a comparatively few weeks in the year,
and having a sitting-room of their own. I used to be rather glad when
they went to school, because my mother invented for me the title of “The
Eldest Son at Home,” which could only be used in their absence.

In the afternoon there was a family walk, and then Cathedral service
again. Then came a reading of Sunday books, or a reading of the Bible
with my father, and we went utterly fatigued to bed. It was not so much
the plethora of religious exercises that caused this lassitude, but the
entire absence of any recreation. Spare time (and there was not much of
it) was supposed to be taken up with Bishop Heber’s Journal, _Agathos_
and _The Rocky Island_. Once a certain brightness came into these Sunday
readings, because we were allowed a book called _Sunday Echoes in
Week-day Hours_. There was a widowed mother in it, and her boy called
Cecil, and their conversation about collects was so excruciatingly pious
that it became merely humorous, and we invented fresh Cecil-talk among
ourselves. We once indulged in this before my mother, who with a
controlled countenance withdrew the delightful volume. I remember waking
up after falling asleep one Sunday night, and hearing Compline going on
in the chapel with another hymn, and thinking with amazement that they
were still at it. In the way of a child, I think I was, from certain
evidence that will appear, religious, but to put it quite frankly, I was
sick of the whole affair by Sunday evening.

I cannot chronologize the events in our life at Lincoln, which only
lasted for three and a half years, and I do not quite know when the
Cathedral services began to wear a perfectly new complexion for me. The
reason of this was that I was violently attracted by a choir-boy, or
rather a chorister, one of four, who instead of wearing a surplice like
the common choir-boy, wore a long dark blue coat down to the knees faced
with white. A similar experience, I fancy, is almost universal: the
first romantic affection a girl is conscious of is nearly always towards
a girl, and in the same way, a small boy, when first his physical nature
begins to grope, still quite blindly and innocently, in the misty
country of emotion, is pretty certain to take as his idol for secret
romantic worship, one of his own sex. It was so at any rate with me,
and instead of the Cathedral services being of incomparable tedium, they
became exciting and exalting. He, the nameless he, came in procession at
the end of the choir-boys just before the lay-clerks, and besides having
this soul-stirring effect on me, he woke in me, by means of his singing,
my first love of music. He sat at the end of the choir nearest our seat,
and luckily on the other side, so that I could see him without the
intervention of dull people’s heads. I could hear his voice, sexless and
unemotional, above the rest of the trebles, but with what emotion did
that voice inspire me! He used to sing solos as well, and I am sure that
the sneaking love that I have still for Mendelssohn, was due to the fact
that (unaccompanied) he sang “The night is departing, depa-a-art (A in
alt) ing.” I would have welcomed the interminable Litany becoming
literally interminable, so long as he continued singing, “We beseech
thee to hear us, Good Lord,” with his chin a little stuck out, and his
eyes roving about the pews. Sometimes I thought he saw me and noticed
me, and then my imagination took wings to itself, and I saw myself
meeting him somewhere alone, him in his chorister’s cope. What we should
have to say to each other, I had not the smallest idea, but we should be
together, and there lay completion. It was due to his unconscious
influence that I began to sing loudly in the chapel at the Chancery, and
never shall I forget my father once saying to me, “Perhaps some day you
will sing an anthem in the Cathedral.” That supplied a fresh imaginative
chapter to my secret book; I should be a chorister too, and sit next the
idol, and we would sing together. I was not egoistic in this vision: I
had no thought of ravishing the world by the beauty of my voice: it
merely became a sunlit possibility (after all my father had said as
much) that I should sing in the Cathedral. But I knew, though he did
not, that I should be singing with the chorister. Thanks to my idol,
Sunday became, as long as this passion lasted, a day in which joy
watered the arid sands of Bishop Heber’s Journal, and made it,
literally, “break forth into singing.” That emotion, the fulfilment of
which was brought into the realms of possibility by my father’s remark,
touched such religion as I had with ecstasy, and I added to my prayers
the following petition, which I said night and morning.

“O God, let me enter into Lincoln Cathedral choir, and abide there in
happiness evermore with Thee!”

Who “Thee” was I cannot determine: I believe it to have been a mixture
of God and the chorister, and, I think, chiefly the chorister.

This quickening of emotion gave rise to a sort of waking vision in which
I used then consciously to indulge, promising myself as I undressed for
bed a night of Holy Convocation. Two minutes of Holy Convocation were
about the duration of it, and then I went to sleep. There was a hymn in
the “Holy Year” in which there were lines

    To Holy Convocations
    The silver trumpets call,

and with that and the chorister as yeast, there used to bubble out, when
I had gone to bed, this curious waking vision. I would not be asleep at
all, but with open eyes I distinctly saw against the blackness of the
night nursery a line of golden rails, very ornamental, before which I
knelt. There was the sound of silver trumpets in my ears, there was the
sound of the chorister, anthems in the Cathedral, and the presence of
God. But all these things were secret and apart, never told of to this
day, and they did not in the least interfere with wrestlings in the
tower, and violent games of rounders and the pleasing terrors of
hide-and-seek. The shrine usually stood shut, but when it opened it
disclosed blinding splendours.

The Cathedral had, apart from the chorister and the services, certain
pains and pleasures of its own. Occasionally assizes were held in
Lincoln, and then on Sunday the judges would attend in robes of majesty
with full wigs falling on to their shoulders. They walked in procession
up the choir, and, reaching their seats, turned round awful pink
clean-shaven faces of eternal calm, awful mouths that pronounced
death-sentences. Once to my knowledge there was a murder-trial at
Lincoln and a man condemned to death and the judge on that occasion
became more terrible than death itself, and I slunk out after the Litany
with apprehension that I should be called back, and hear some appalling
sentence pronounced on me. Again, one day, a canon of the Cathedral
stepped backwards through a skylight and was killed and Great Tom, the
big bell in the central tower, tolled for the funeral. But the whole
circumstances of that were so interesting that, though terror was
mingled with them, they were more exciting than terrible. Wholly
delightful on the other hand was a scientific demonstration that took
place in the nave. A long cord was hung from one of the arches, to the
end of which depended a heavy lead weight. On the pavement beneath it
there was marked out a circle in white chalk, and this pendulum was then
set swinging. As the hours passed, it swung in a different direction
from that in which it was started, and instead of oscillating up and
down the nave it moved along the transepts, thus demonstrating the
motion of the earth. Why that delightful piece of science was shown in
the Cathedral I have no idea; certain it is, however, that my mother
took me to see the pendulum after breakfast one morning and again before
tea when it was swinging in quite another direction. I never had any
doubts about the rotary movement of the earth after that, nor, as far as
I can remember, before.



CHAPTER III

LINCOLN AND DEMONIACAL POSSESSION


Those three and a half years at Lincoln appear to have lasted for
decades, so eventful was the unfolding of the world, and all the years
which have passed since then, with their travels to many foreign lands,
and climbings of perilous peaks, seem to have contained no exploration
so thrilling as the revelation of Riseholme, where lived Bishop
Wordsworth of Lincoln, who wrote the “Holy Year,” and his wife, and his
family and Janet the housekeeper. (The latter, like Mrs. Wordsworth, had
ringlets down the sides of her face, and dispensed Marie biscuits and
cowslip wine in unstinted profusion.) The family, too, were interesting,
for one daughter when she laughed said, “Sss-sss,” and another,
“Kick-kick-kick,” and the Bishop himself had a face like a lion, and a
hollow ecclesiastical voice. My sisters considered him very formidable,
but I was not afraid of him, chiefly because at an early stage of our
acquaintance he gave me an ink-bottle of pottery, with a gilded lion
(like himself) on top of it, and a receptacle to hold sand for the
blotting of your letter, if you had managed to write it. This argued an
amiable disposition, and when I came in contact with him, I was
conscious of no embarrassment.

    In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
    A stately pleasure-dome decree,

but Xanadu was nothing to Riseholme for domes and stateliness. There
were two lakes peopled with dace and water-lilies and pike and swans,
and an island where the swans nested, and a sluice, around which the
water was of fabulous depth, where we fished for dace. There was a
boat-house, on the roof of which in the autumn a great chestnut tree
used to shed its fruit, bursting the husks, and disclosing the shiny
brown kernels; and at Riseholme, as far as I remember, we were allowed
to do precisely as we pleased. We used to go out alone in the boat, with
paste for bait, and splash the water at each other, and come home with a
couple of dace, dirty and wet and hopelessly happy. Swans used to scold
and hiss at us, the boat did everything but capsize, and æons of bliss
were our portion. There were water-snails to be collected, if the fish
would not bite (they seldom did), and wreaths of stinking water-weed,
and broken fragments of swan eggs lined inside with a tough kind of
parchment, which we called “swan-paper.” Then dace (when there were any)
were cooked for tea, and provided a bony mouthful for one; the
swan-paper was taken home for the Museum, together, on one glorious
occasion, with the addled swan’s egg; and the wreaths of stinking
water-weed were laid out on sheets of cartridge-paper and pressed. This
pressing resulted in an awful fricassee of weed and paper, and then
something else occupied us. On the banks of the lake, at intervals,
appeared a sympathetic Bishop with daughters, to whom we shouted the
results of our explorations, and one of the daughters said,
“Kick-kick-kick,” and another, “Sss-sss-sss.” For larger people, such as
Arthur, there was more grown-up fishing, and once with a spoon-bait he
caught a pike that weighed three pounds. But not even the sympathetic
and combined appetites of the juniors could finish that toothsome dish.

Then there were expeditions into the vast forest that lay below the
sluice, where marsh-marigolds grew, and the willow shoots flew back and
slapped the faces of those who followed the leader in these excursions.
Maggie and I formed a small club or society (I suppose Nellie was too
old then, being about eleven) to get lost in this pathless place, but we
never quite succeeded in doing so. Just as we thought there was no hope
of our ever being discovered, in which case we proposed to live on
leaves and drink the water that came from the sluice in a small stream,
Beth’s voice would sound quite near at hand, or, by mistake, we came
back into the meadow beyond the lake, or into the path that bordered it.
So instead, we collected chestnuts, if there was not a marine or
lacustrine expedition, and ground up the kernels into a nutritive
powder, or mixed it with lake-water to form a paste. About this time
Maggie and I formed a special alliance, which continued till the end of
her life, and the light of it was never quite obscured by those dusky
years of darkened mind through which her way led, for she was always
willing to talk of the days at Lincoln, and the collections and the
amazing stories which we invented to beguile our walks. They were
compounded of strange adventures, with the finding of gold and immense
diamonds, of desert islands and bandits, and the central figures were
she and I and the collie, Watch. All was coloured with the vividness of
dreams, and the seriousness of childhood.

Riseholme was about two and a half miles from Lincoln, and the most
exciting experience I ever had in its connection was that of being sent
over there by my father with a note for the Bishop. I took Watch with
me, and “Kick-kick-kick” and “Sss-sss-sss” were so entertaining and the
Bishop so long in writing his answer that it was nearly dark before,
with sinkings of the heart, I started on my return. “Sss-sss-sss” I
think offered to accompany me till I got out of the loneliness of the
road and in touch with the lights of Lincoln, but I was too cowardly to
say I was afraid of the darkness and the emptiness, and started off
alone. Wanting to get it over as quickly as possible, I ran, and was
frightened at the noise of my running. Then, one after the other, my
stockings came down, and I thought that the strip of whiteness would
encourage highwaymen to attack me, and so had to stop every third step
to pull them up. Then I talked to Watch in order to hearten myself,
saying, in so many words, “Watch, aren’t we benighted?” (new word) and
then was frightened at the sound of my voice in the frosty stillness.
But there was pleasure in this sense of adventure, and I was given an
egg for tea.

There were expeditions to Nocton, where in a wood of vast extent the
whole ground was white with lilies of the valley growing wild, and the
still languid air beneath the trees swooned with the scent of them,
which, I am told (though never since that day have I been able to
believe it), is extremely pleasant. For the last of these expeditions to
Nocton had a tragic sequel so far as I was concerned. We had lunch there
after picking lilies all the morning, and I suppose I ate too much, and
it began to rain as we drove homewards so that the carriage, full of hot
children and lilies of the valley, had to be closed. The effect was that
I was exceedingly unwell and never since that day have been able to
dissociate the smell of lilies of the valley from being sick. To
balance that bilious day was a glorious expedition to Skegness, where I
saw the sea for the first time, and fell in love with it with a devotion
that has never wavered. I took with me a small black handbag in which to
stow the treasures of the shore, among which I rather mistakenly
selected a dead decaying skate. An odour as unpleasant to others as was
that of lilies of the valley to me filled the railway carriage on the
return, which was eventually traced to my bag, and the dead skate which
would have looked, anyhow, interesting in the Museum, was thrown out of
the window. That first impression of the sea was confirmed by summer
holidays spent at Torquay, and it was there, I think, that I must have
learned to swim, and then have forgotten that I knew how. For when some
years later I went to Marlborough and began to learn in the school
bathing-place, I instantly did swim, and the old instructor who sat with
small boys in a strap at the end of a fishing-rod, said with disgust,
“Why you swims already!” Torquay was responsible for a whole host of
further activities, for it was there, I believe, that we began those
scribblings which subsequently developed into the _Saturday Magazine_
(an industry so important that it must presently have a paragraph to
itself) and it was certainly there that there were hot twisty rolls for
breakfast which were only to be obtained by reciting some sort of rhyme,
of which one of my mother’s seemed to me to touch the high-water mark of
inspired wit and poetry. This ran:

    Bread is the staff of life, the proverbs say,
    So give me of its twisted staff to-day.

Surely that was far better than a miserable effusion by Bishop Temple,
of Exeter, who merely said:

    An egg,
    I beg,

and was sycophantically applauded by the grown-up people present. You
could have eggs without making rhymes ... but perhaps he didn’t
understand, and anyhow it was no use wasting time over him. There, among
the diversions of Torquay we all violently embraced the career of
artists, and drew miles of cottages and churches and painted leagues of
the English Channel. The shell collection was started then, so also
collections of wild flowers, and there was bathing and Devonshire cream,
and a steep garden with gladioli and aloes in its beds. I think my
birthday must have been celebrated there, for certainly I received a
present of a terra-cotta teapot with lines of blue enamel on it, after
receiving which it was difficult to imagine circumstances that could
have the power to hurt one ever again.

Never can I sufficiently admire or be sufficiently thankful for the
encouragement my father and mother both gave to these multitudinous
hobbies, for hobbies, as they well knew, whether literary, artistic, or
scientific, are a priceless panacea for the preservation of youth, and
the stimulation of the world-wonder of beauty. At this time we were all
of us draughtsmen, ornithologists, conchologists, geologists, poets, and
literary folk: we all drew and wrote and collected shells and birds’
eggs, and smashed stones in order to discover fossils. I claim no
measure of eminence or even promise in any of us, but that is not the
point. The point is that under parental encouragement we did all these
things with extreme zest and interest. In sports and games my father
gave us less support, for he looked on them only as a recreation which
would enable the mind to get to work again, and as having no intrinsic
value beyond what a brisk walk could have brought. But we had enough
keenness among ourselves for these, and a ball and something to hit it
with filled the rest of the vacant hours with ardour. For music, among
the arts, he had likewise no sympathy at all: he liked the singing of
Psalms and Handel and hymns entirely because of the words, and when he
joined in the hymns in chapel, he produced a buzzing noise that bore no
relation to any known melody. By this time my own love of music, sown in
me by the adored chorister, had taken firm hold, and with help from my
mother to start me, and an elementary book of instruction, music became
to me a thing apart. I wanted no companionship or sympathizer in it, and
though as far as execution on the piano went I was leagues behind my
sisters, I felt certain in my own mind that I had opened a door for
myself into a kingdom to which they did not really penetrate though they
could execute (both counting very loud) Diabelli’s Celebrated Duet in D
which I considered below contempt, though it was very clever of them to
move their fingers so fast. At that time my mother, who had always an
Athenian disposition with regard to the joy of a new thing, went in for
a course of instruction somehow connected with Dr. Farmer of Harrow.
There was founded at Lincoln a Farmer Society of some kind, and the
ladies met once a week or thereabouts and played easy Bach to each
other, and one of the most rapturous Lincoln days was a certain wet
afternoon, when the Society met at the Chancery. My sisters and I were
allowed to sit in the window-seat, provided we remained quiet, and we
all had acid drops to suck, and books to read when we got tired of
listening. They were soon deep in _Little Women_ and _Good Wives_, but
for me, in spite of a tooth-ache, I listened in an entranced bliss to a
series of Gavottes and Sarabands and Allemandes, while the rain beat on
the windows, and the melodious dusk gathered. The time of the year must
have been near Christmas, for I feel as if I went straight from there to
the nursery, on the floor of which was laid out a large sheet piled with
holly and laurel and ivy, out of which we made wreaths for the doors.
The remaining leaves, when all was done, were put in the fire and roared
and crackled up the chimney, filling the room with an aromatic smell of
burning, that ranks next in preciousness of recollection to the smell of
lilac.

It was in this last year at Lincoln that I had a fit of demoniacal
possession, for I committed three heinous crimes one after the other. On
a shelf in the drawing-room with Dresden figures and vases there was an
Easter egg which had been sent to my father. It was decorated with a
cross and a crown and a halo and some flowers, and was without doubt a
goose’s egg. This trophy was singularly sacred, and my father had told
us that we were never to touch it. Because of that prohibition I wetted
my finger and rubbed off a piece of the crown and the halo. I followed
this up by stealing a quantity of sugar from the tea-table in a yellow
box which I think had contained sweetmeats, and kept it on my knees
under the table-cloth. I suppose I then forgot about it and, getting up,
I caused it to fall to the ground, and spill its contents all over the
floor.

The third piece of devil work was far more daring and inexplicable. I
had a cold one day and was not allowed to go out, but was left instead
by the fire in the sitting-room belonging to my two elder brothers.
There was a white sheepskin rug in front of it, and as soon as my
father with the four eldest children had left the house, I ladled the
whole of the burning coals out of the grate and put them on the
hearthrug. An appalling stench arose as the wool caught fire; the place
was filled with smoke, and I left the room, quite impenitent and merely
interested to know what on earth would happen next. The smoke must by
now have penetrated to the rest of the house, for I met my mother
running downstairs, and she asked me if I knew what that smell was. I
told her that I didn’t, and went up to the nursery. Presently, having
extinguished the fire, she followed me, and again asked me if I was sure
I didn’t know anything about it. Upon which I told her that it was I who
had emptied the fire on to the rug. A fine spanking followed, which I
did not in the least resent, and I was told to go to bed till I was
sorry. I never was sorry--for it was demoniacal possession--but I
suppose that some time I must have got up again.

Friendships had sprung up between us and other children at Mrs. Giles’s
day-school, and among these was May Copeland, who was Nellie’s
particular friend, and told us that she was descended from Oliver
Cromwell. This was very distinguished, and I fully meant to marry her.
There was also a girl whose name I forget, and she was responsible for
one of the greatest surprises of my young life, for one day while she
and I were looking for a tennis ball in the bushes, she took my hands
and drew them upwards against her bosom. I found to my astonishment that
instead of being flat, she had two swellings there, and I asked her if
they were bruises. She seemed rather offended and said that they
certainly were not. Then there was Willie Burton to whom I told, in the
spirit of bravado, what I had done to the sheepskin hearthrug, and he
thought it very magnificent. He used to get phosphorus matches from his
father’s table, which was grand, for we only used Bryant and May’s
safety matches, and our great game was to retire into the blackness of
the tool-house, wet the palms of our hands, and rub on the phosphorus
which glowed with a mysterious light. He had an awful story which I
entirely believed of an aunt of his on whom a practical joker played a
dreadful trick, for he wrote up in phosphorus above his aunt’s bed the
text, “This night shall thy soul be required of thee.” On which his poor
aunt went raving mad, and I got a general distrust of phosphorus....
Willie Burton was dressed in sailor clothes, and I in a short jacket and
knickerbockers, and one day with a sense of almost excessive adventure,
we undressed in the tool-house and each put on the other’s clothes. We
then opened the door in order to let daylight behold this
transformation, and swiftly changed back again. That was a wonderful
thing to have done, and when we met next day at the gymnasium we looked
at each other’s clothes with glances of secret knowledge.

My final remembrance at Lincoln is perhaps the most vivid of all, for
the sense of it was not that of a momentary impression, but of a growing
reality. Every evening now we came down to my mother’s room and for half
an hour before bedtime she read Dickens aloud to us, sitting in front of
the fire. She liked to have her hair stroked, so I used to stand behind
her chair, passing my fingers over the smooth brown hair above her
forehead, and listening to the story of the Kenwigses. Her voice and the
contact of my fingers on her hair wakened in me the knowledge of how I
loved her.



CHAPTER IV

THE NEW HOME AT TRURO


One morning a most exciting bomb-shell exploded in the Chancery and blew
Lincoln into fragments. It came in the shape of two letters, one from
the Prime Minister, Lord Beaconsfield, offering my father the Bishopric
of the newly created see of Truro in Cornwall, the other from Queen
Victoria, saying that she personally hoped that he would accept it.
These letters must have arrived a few days before we knew of them, for
that day my father told us that he had thought it over and had settled
to go. I felt nothing whatever except wild delight and excitement,
unmingled as far as I am aware, with any regret for leaving Lincoln, and
all the time that we were out for our walk that morning Maggie and I,
instead of telling each other stories, whispered with secret smiles,
“The Lord Bishop of Truro! The Lord Bishop of Truro!” We were vastly
proud of my father, and thought it most sensible of Lord Beaconsfield
and the Queen to have selected him.[A]

[A] Lord Beaconsfield seems to have been as pleased as we were at my
father’s accepting the bishopric, for he wrote exultantly to a friend,
saying, “Well, we _have_ got a Bishop.”

The fresh move came in the spring of 1877, and in that loveliest of all
seasons the train slid one evening across the tall wooden viaducts with
the lights of Truro pricking the dusk, where the town lay below, and the
enchantment of Cornwall instantly began to weave its spell. The new
home was the Vicarage of Kenwyn, a small village high on the western
hills and perhaps a mile from the centre of the town. As a house it was
not comparable for amenities and mysteries with the Chancery of Lincoln,
but what was the garden at Lincoln, for all its towers and rolling
banks, in comparison to the garden here and the fields and water-haunted
valleys which encompassed it? The garden at Lincoln, confined within its
brick walls and planted down in the middle of a town, was like some
caged animal that here roamed wild and untamed.

Oh, unforgettable morning when for the first time I awoke in the new
house, and saw on the ceiling the light of the early sun that shone in
through the copse outside, making a green and yellow dapple on the
whitewash! The house was still silent; opposite me was Hugh’s bed with
his head half-hidden in the sheet, and I dressed stealthily and went
downstairs and out. From the lawn I could see the viaduct over which we
had come, and below it the misty roofs of the town, with one steeple
piercing the vapour into sunlight. Then the mist faded like a frosty
breath and beyond the town there stretched broad and shining the estuary
of the Fal. Instead of the sorry serge of ivy, the house was clad with
tree-fuchsias, and magnolia, and climbing roses and japonica: never was
there such a bower of a habitation. On that April morning no doubt the
fuchsia and the roses were not in flower, but looking back now, that
moment seems to have sucked into itself the decorations of all the
months, making in my mind a composite picture, from which I cannot now
disentangle the true component parts. But surely there was a gorse bush
at the corner of the house, on the edge of the copse through which the
sun had shone, and surely it was on that morning that I found a mossy
feathery little football of a tit’s nest, woven inextricably among the
spines of the gorse, and a virago of an infinitesimal bird peeped out of
the circular door, when I drew too near, and scolded me well for my
intrusion. I passed up the winding path that led through the shrubbery,
and found a circular pleasance with a summer-house. I went cautiously
past a row of beehives; I came through a door into a lane below the
churchyard, where ferns (the sort of things not known before to exist in
other localities than greenhouses and tables laid for dinner-parties)
grew quite carelessly in the crevices, and so back, now breathlessly
scampering and surfeited with impressions past woodshed and haystack and
stable, and upstairs again with heart and shoes alike drenched with the
spring-dew.

All that ensuing summer, lessons I fancy were considerably relaxed, and
the lovely months passed like some fugue built on the subjects of that
early walk, coloured, amplified and decorated. My father gave us a prize
for botany (all specimens to be personally gathered, personally pressed,
and mounted on sheets of cartridge paper with the English, and, if
possible, the Latin name written below), and we scoured the hedges and
liquid water-sides and the edges of the growing hay meadows, with a
definite object in view. Study was necessitated by the addition of those
names (Latin if possible), but this, like some homœopathic dose conveyed
in honey, was drowned in the delight of rambling explorations. The
appetite of the collector was whetted; there was a certain craving
created for exact knowledge, but far above that was the interest in the
loveliness that we should not otherwise have noticed, and the admiration
which the interest engendered. Definitely also I think I trace a love of
words in themselves which this studied collecting gave us, for what
child could write “centaury” or “meadow-sweet,” “bee-orchis,” “comfrey,”
“loosestrife,” or in more exalted spheres, “Osmunda regalis” on the
virgin sheet of cartridge paper without tasting something of the flavour
of these blossom-like syllables? Or what child could fail to whoop with
gladness when one of us brought an unknown bloom to a certain botanist
friend of my father’s, and was apologetically told that its name was
“Stinking Archangel”? For in the lives of all of us, words and due
discrimination in their use came to play a considerable part, and
somewhere we hoarded these rich additions to our vocabulary. My sister
Nellie won the prize, and I remember that she afterwards confessed to me
that she had stolen some of my pressed specimens and added them to her
own. I never was more astonished, and class this lapse of hers with
instances already given of my own demoniacal possession in the matter of
the Easter egg and the sheepskin hearthrug. We both agreed that she
could not possibly resign the prize, for that would lead to
investigation, and she gave me a shilling by way of compensation.

Birds’ eggs as a collection had hitherto been represented in the Museum
by one addled swan’s egg, but now they took rank among the objects of
existence. Here my father dictated the conditions under which they might
be acquired, namely, that no egg was to be taken from any nest unless
that nest contained four, and under no circumstances was more than one
to be taken. There was of course no questioning his decision, but it
seemed a pity to leave the great tit in the gorse bush to bring up a
family of fifteen after our levy had been made, and never to be able to
get a wood-pigeon’s egg at all, since those prudent birds refused to
lay more than two. But here Charles the groom shone forth gilded with
the glory of celestial charity, for he came to me one morning with his
entire collection of eggs and “would I accept of them?” Was there ever
such a groom? And among these was a pair of wood-pigeon’s eggs, so those
parsimonious parents were thwarted.

For a while games were quite in abeyance, romantic natural history held
the field. For consider: my sister Maggie and I had heard that otters
were found in Cornwall, and on that simple fact we built up the
following fairy-like adventure. There was a round copse, rather lonely,
on the edge of our fields; from it the ground declined in a steep down
to the bottom of a valley, through which ran a stream so small that by
wetting only one foot you could get across it at its widest part. But it
ran below bushes and under steep banks, and it seemed highly probable
that some of these Cornish otters lived there. Well, otters went about
on land as well as in the water, and the lure of imagination pictured
them taking a nice walk up this down and coming to the lonely copse.
This grew very thick in brushwood, through which the otters (now
indigenous in the copse) would certainly walk. So we hung nooses of
string here and there a foot or so from the ground so that the otter
might, in his walks, insert his head in the noose which would then be
pulled tight, and we should come and capture him. This gave rise to
further considerations; he might struggle, and get hurt if not strangled
in the noose, so we must clearly be on the spot to loosen the noose, and
substitute for it a chain and collar of one of the dogs. But if the
otter saw us, he would probably gallop back over the down to his stream,
so we built a hut woven of withies between two trees in which we could
lie _perdus_, and watch for the otter. Then we should lead him chained
to the stables, and gradually tame him till he could come out walking
with us in company with Watch and the nanny-goat which already formed
part of the family procession. (A second goat, called Capricorn, was
presently added, but he had an odious habit of standing upright on his
hind legs and hurling himself like a battering-ram against the
hinder-parts of the unobservant, and when harnessed to a small truck
which was used for gardening purposes, galloped with it at such speed
that sparks flew from its wheels as they spurned the gravel.)

A much larger bowl was now granted us for the aquarium, and the spa and
madrepores carefully brought from Lincoln (though the preserved hornet
seemed to have been forgotten) did not more than cover the bottom of the
new and sumptuous receptacle. Caddis-worms were culled from the streams
that flowed Fal-wards, and whelk-like water-snails were comforted for
their expatriation by having the chance of eating bread crumbs if so
they wished. But the aquarium was still but a crawling democracy, and
needed some denizen of livelier locomotive power to fill the post of
king in this water-world. And then one day, as I have told before, in a
book now mercifully forgotten, we caught the unique and famous
stickleback, by accident you may say (if you believe in accidents), for
certainly at the moment of his capture we had not even seen him, though
it is true that we were dredging in the stream in which the otter still
failed to make his appearance.

My sister Maggie and I then were just emptying out the dredging
(butterfly) net thinking we had found no great treasure on that cast,
when something stirred in the residuary mud, after we had extracted no
more than a caddis worm or two, and it was he. With tremulous rapture we
popped him in a jar for transport to the aquarium, and overcome with the
greatness of the moment (like Paolo and Francesco) we fished no more
that day. For perhaps a week he swam gorgeously about this new kingdom,
never getting over his delusion that if he swam swiftly enough against
the side of it, he would find himself at liberty again, and then the
tragedy happened.

It was our custom every morning to empty out the contents of the
aquarium, down the drain in the stable yard, and replace them with fresh
water. During this operation one of us held a piece of gauze over the
lip of the aquarium so that none of its inhabitants should be poured
away. And on one of these occasions, when the water was nearly drained
out, and the stickleback swimming in short indignant circles in the
residue, Maggie’s hand which was holding the gauze slipped suddenly and
in a flood the remaining pint or two rushed out, the stickleback in the
midst of it. With one flick of his tail, he disappeared down the drain
in the stable yard, leaving us looking at each other in incredulous
dismay....

It was certainly during this summer that another idol came to fill that
shrine of worship in my heart once occupied by the chorister, and once
again music was the hot coal that fired my incense, and the music in
question was the mellow thunder of the organ in Kenwyn Church. I still
believe that it was very skilfully and sympathetically played by the
unconscious object of my adoration. I must have fallen in love not
really with what she was, but with what she did, for my passion was all
ablaze before ever I had seen her face, or had the slightest idea

[Illustration: ELIZABETH COOPER; “BETH.” ÆT. 78

[Page 69]

what she was like. All I knew of her was that she produced these
enchanting noises, since from our pew I could see nothing of her except
her back, and a hand which reached out to shut a stop or open another
bleating fount of melody. She played the pedals, those great wooden
keys, and swayed slightly from side to side as her feet reached out for
them. Once or twice, entering or leaving the church I had a glimpse of
her in less than profile, and that served my adoration well enough. Her
name was Mrs. Carter, and I daresay she was thirty years old or
thereabouts, for she had a son of about my own age who used sometimes to
turn over leaves for her, sitting by her on the organ bench, and though
I don’t think I would quite have exchanged mothers with him, I would
have given most other things to take his place there.

This seemed likely to be a barren affair, for Sunday after Sunday passed
and I never saw more than the swaying back of Mrs. Carter. But by way of
killing one bird and possibly two with one stone, I got leave somehow
(with the gardener’s boy to blow the bellows for an occasional quarter
of an hour) to find my way about the organ. That exploration was a good
bird in itself, but a better lurked in my mind, for I thought that Mrs.
Carter might so easily come up to Kenwyn Church during the week to
arrange her music or what not, and she would find Me sitting in her
place and making tentative experiments with the stops, and straining
after the nearer pedals with my short legs. Surely some day I should
look up and see her standing by, and she would say, “Who taught you to
play so nicely?” (I perceive that vanity was mingled with passion) and
I, in a happy tumult of emotion, would reply, “Oh, Mrs. Carter!”

But this trap for Mrs. Carter never brought the hunter his quarry, and
quite independent circumstances led me closer. It was decreed that my
sisters should have music lessons and who but Mrs. Carter was engaged to
be the teacher? Twice a week she would come to the house, so now no
human agency, it would appear, could prevent us from meeting. But for
some time a human agency did do so, that human agency being myself, for
on observing Mrs. Carter’s approach up the drive, an agony of shyness
seized me, and I sat distracted in the day nursery until she had gone
upstairs, and the noise of the piano from the schoolroom showed that she
was engaged. Once, summoning up all my courage, I went in while the
lesson was in progress, but she did not take her eyes off the copy of
Schubert’s Impromptu in A flat, which Maggie was fumbling at, and I went
out and listened in the garden for the cessation of the piano, on which,
I determined, I would walk quite calmly towards the front door and thus
meet Mrs. Carter there or thereabouts. But, alas for this faint-hearted
lover, as soon as the piano ceased I walked in precisely the other
direction, and it was not likely that Mrs. Carter instead of going down
the drive would force her way through the laurel shrubbery in order to
find me.

I blush to record the next step of my wooing. An invincible shyness
(though I was not otherwise shy) forbade my walking down the drive as
Mrs. Carter was coming up, or taking any direct initiative, so I laid a
lure for her. Observing her approach to the house, I regret to say that
it was my custom to lean out of the schoolroom window, singing loudly.
This would certainly attract her attention (indeed I think that once it
did, and I rushed, panic-stricken, away) and she would say to one of my
sisters, “Was that your brother who was singing? What a charming
voice!” And one of my sisters would say, “Oh yes, he is very fond of
music.” Then surely, surely Mrs. Carter would say, “I don’t think we
have met,” or perhaps even, “I should like to see him,” and then my
sister would come and find me (for after these bursts of melody out of
the window I always fled like a frightened dove to the nursery) and say
that Mrs. Carter would like to see me. I had looked on her face by now,
and I pictured to myself how her kind mouth would smile as she shook
hands, and she would say, “We must be friends, mustn’t we, for we are
both so fond of music.”

This bleating piece of Platonism came to an end somehow, and I grew to
be able to contemplate Mrs. Carter’s back swaying to her pedal-playing
without emotion. But I think that this warm soft Cornish climate must
have brought out a sort of measles of sentimentality in me, for without
pause I transferred my sloppy heart to the curate at Kenwyn, the Rev. J.
A. Reeve, who subsequently was appointed Rector of Lambeth by my father,
and was an intimate friend of all of us. He was a man who was habitually
surrounded by an atmosphere of ecstasy, an adorer of children, and next
door to a fanatic in matters of religion, beloved and blissful, living
in a light that never was on sea or land. To the outward view he
presented a long lean figure, walking at a tremendous pace, and
perspiring profusely, with his umbrella tucked under his arm, and his
hands clasped in perpetual admiration of this inimitable world, and the
saints that he constantly discovered in it under the most deceptive of
disguises. There were no “miserable sinners” in his sight; the most
impenitent were but rather wilful children of the Father. He had a mane
of yellow hair which he tossed back as he laughed peals of uproarious
appreciation of any joke at all. But whereas with the chorister and
Mrs. Carter there certainly was some personal, physical attraction
(though no doubt the main source of the inspiration was music), with Mr.
Reeve there was no personal attraction of any kind, and the experience
was of the stained-glass window order, in which I was cast for the
stained-glass window, and Mr. Reeve for the worshipper. At the bottom of
it all perhaps there was some grain of genuine religious sentiment, but
this was so largely diluted by mawkishness and vanity, that examination
fails to find more than that minute presence described in the analysis
of medicinal waters as “some traces.” He used to breakfast with us after
a short service in Kenwyn Church at a quarter to eight every morning, to
which we children were encouraged though not obliged to go, and he was a
kind of unofficial chaplain to my father, writing his letters for him
half the morning with a puckered brow, but ready to burst into peals of
laughter on the smallest opportunity for mirth. Every Sunday also, he
came to tea before service, and afterwards to supper, and every Sunday
evening after tea I went with him into a spare bedroom where, with his
arm round my neck, he read me the sermon he was about to preach. I
suppose my comments were very edifying and satisfactory, for he
certainly told my mother that “that boy was not far from the kingdom of
God.” She must very wisely have begged him not to tell me that, for I
had no idea of it at the time. Once, indeed, he sadly failed me, for
meeting me as I was being taken to the dentist by Beth, there to have
two teeth out under gas, he said that to have gas was the same as
getting drunk, and I went on my weary way feeling not only terrified but
wicked as well. It is true, though scarcely credible, that the gas was
administered by Mrs. Tuck the dentist’s wife, and that there was no
anæsthetist or doctor present. But I daresay Mrs. Tuck performed her
office very well, for I had a delightful dream about being in a balloon
in the middle of a rainbow.

That autumn lessons began again, and until I went to a private school
next Easter I suffered under the awful rule of a German governess, not
our kind Miss Braun of Lincoln, but a dark-eyed and formidable woman
who, I was firmly convinced, must truly have been the terrible Madame de
la Rougierre in the tale of Uncle Silas which I was reading then in
small instalments, being too frightened to read much at a time. She
cannot have been with us long, for before I went to school the beloved
Miss Bramston came back, not originally as governess but for another and
a tragic reason.

The Christmas holidays of 1877 were the last when the whole of the
family of six, with my father and mother and Beth, who was absolutely of
the family also, were together. My eldest brother Martin was then
seventeen, and so great a gulf is fixed between that age and ten, that
never, till the day I saw him last, did I form any clear idea of him.
Here, then, I must abandon the standpoint I have hitherto maintained,
namely, that of speaking of the events of these early years through my
own personal recollection of what impression they made on me as the
jolly days slipped by, and mingle recollection with subsequent
knowledge.

At the age of fourteen Martin had won the first open scholarship at
Winchester, and had now mentally developed into an extraordinary
maturity and wisdom. He took an amazing interest in the political
affairs of the day, in classics he was considered to be perhaps the most
remarkable scholar that Winchester ever had, and as witness to his
innate love of learning there was a library which he had himself
acquired, and which must have been unique for a boy of his age. Already
at Lincoln he had “spotted” an Albert Dürer woodcut pasted on to the
fly-leaf of some trumpery book at a penny bookstall, and had
breathlessly conveyed the treasure home, and he and my father used to
exchange original Latin versions of hymns. But this precocity of
scholarship did not in the least check his boyishness, which verged on
the fantastic, for once he appeared in school with four little Japanese
dolls attached to the four strings of his shoelaces, and gravely
proceeded with his construing. There are notebooks full of his exquisite
ridiculous drawings with appropriate text in his minute handwriting:
there are poems as ridiculous, and behind it all was this serious limpid
spirit....

He went back that January to Winchester, and Arthur to Eton, and one
day, early in February he had a sudden attack of giddiness, and then
followed an attack of meningitis. My father and mother were sent for; he
was then unconscious. Arthur went there from Eton, but my mother decided
that we younger children should not go and instead Miss Bramston came
down to us in Cornwall. The rest I will tell by means of two letters
which my mother wrote to Beth. I found them, after my mother’s death,
forty years after, in a little packet of papers which had belonged to
Beth, and consisted of letters from all of us which she had always kept.


                                                           “WINCHESTER,
                                               _Friday_ (Feb. 8, 1878).

     DEAREST BETH,

     I must write you a few lines to-day. Our dear one is no better at
     all. Nothing can be done for him but to watch him and to give
     nourishment and to pray and trust in God. Everything possible is
     done for him; he has two nurses, day and night. We go in and out of
     his room from time to time. He lies quite peacefully, mostly
     sleeping, and evidently quite unconscious of any pain. There is no
     sign of pain about his face. He knows us now and then, we think,
     but he does not speak. He takes a little nourishment from time to
     time, but with difficulty. Sir William Jenner has been sent for,
     though there does not seem anything he can do.

     Dearest Beth, it is such a comfort to think that you are with those
     dear ones at home. I don’t know what they would do without you, or
     how we could bear to think of leaving them unless they had you. We
     are both quite sure that it is better they should not come. They
     could not be with him, and it is no use their hearing details. We
     ought to and must keep before their young minds just the Love of
     God, whether He shews it in giving our darling back to our prayers,
     or in taking to Himself so beautiful and holy a life.

     But we must not, and do not give up hope. Though as far as man
     knows or sees there is nothing to be done, and the doctors dare not
     give us hope of recovery, yet just where man is most powerless, God
     _does_ work, often, and we continue to pray to Him in hope for our
     darling’s restoration. While there is life, we will not despair.

     Dearest Beth, God keep you all: the thought of you is such a
     comfort to us. Pray yourself continually,--encourage them all to
     pray. One of the Psalms to-day begins, ‘I waited patiently for the
     Lord, and He inclined unto me, and heard my calling.’

     All our heart’s love is with you all always.

                                                       Your most loving

                                                          MARY BENSON.”



This is the second letter:


     “DEAREST FRIEND AND MOTHER BETH,

     Be comforted for Martin. He is in perfect peace, in wonderful joy,
     far happier than we could ever have made him. And what did we
     desire in our hearts but to make him happy? And now he will help
     us out of his perfect happiness. He died without a struggle--his
     pure and gentle spirit passed straight to God his Father, and now
     he is ours and with us more than ever. Ours now, in a way that
     nothing can take away.

     Dearest Beth, we are all going to be more loving than ever, living
     in love we shall live in God, and we shall live close to our dear
     one.

     One is so sure now, that sin is the only separation, and that sting
     is taken out of death by Jesus Christ. My heart aches for the dear
     ones at home, but I know you are a mother to them, and will support
     and comfort their hearts, and keep before them that God is love,
     and that He is loving us in this thing also. And I want them to
     think of Martin, our darling, in perfect peace for ever, free from
     fear, free from pain, from anxiety for evermore, and to think how
     he will rejoice to see us walking more and more in Love for his
     dear sake.

     We cannot grudge him his happiness.

     Dearest Beth, our boy is with God: he knows everything now, and
     will help us. The peace of God Almighty be with you.

                                    Your own child, your fellow-mother,

                                                                 M. B.”



There is nothing that could tell so simply and completely, not only what
my mother was, but what Beth was, as this letter which my mother wrote
on the morning after the death of her eldest son. It gives the soul of
them both, of my mother that she could write it, and of Beth the
“fellow-mother,” to whom it was written.

When I was old enough to understand my mother told me about the day on
which that second letter was written. She had, so she said to me, a
couple of hours of the most wonderful happiness she had ever experienced
on that day, when she realized that though God had taken, yet she could
give. Her inmost being knew that, and when she came back to us a few
days later, there was no shadow on her, for all that she said to Beth
was the simple untouched copy of the writing on her heart. But even now
I can remember my father’s face, as he stepped from the carriage into
the lamplight, for it was the face of a most loving man stricken with
the death of the boy he loved best, who had been nearest his heart, and
was knit into his very soul. Often has my mother told me that though he
accepted Martin’s death as God’s will, he could not, out of the very
strength of his human love, adapt himself to it. His faith was unshaken,
but the deep waters had gone over him, and years afterwards, when he saw
the martins skimming about the eaves of the house at Addington, he wrote
about them and his own Martin a little poem infinitely touching; and
never, so I believe, did some part of him cease to wonder why his Martin
had been taken from him.



CHAPTER V

PRIVATE SCHOOL AND HOLIDAYS


After Easter, 1878, I was sent to a private school presided over by Mr.
Ottiwell Waterfield, at Temple Grove, East Sheen, and remained there
three years. The house and grounds vanished entirely somewhere about
1908, under the trail of the suburban builder, and now hideous rows of
small residences occupy their spaciousness. For the purposes of a school
numbering some hundred and thirty boys, the original George I and Queen
Anne house had been largely supplemented with dormitories and
schoolrooms, and a modern wing as large as the house ran at right angles
by the edge of the cricket field. But the part where Mr. Waterfield and
his family lived had not been touched: there was a fine library,
drawing-room, and his study (how awful was that place!) _en suite_, a
paved hall, with a full-sized billiard table and a piano where a frail
widow lady called Mrs. Russell gave music-lessons, and the French
master, whose name really was M. Voltaire, conducted a dancing-class as
well as teaching French and being, I think, slightly immoral. A passage
out of the hall gave on to the private garden of Mr. Waterfield, where
there were fine cedar trees, and a broad oak-staircase led up from it to
the bedrooms of the family.

Already, darkly in the glass of fiction and under the title of David
Blaize, I have hinted at some of the habits of the young gentlemen who
led a life, alternately uproarious and terror-stricken, in the other
part of the house, but now more personal details can be indulged in. By
far the most salient feature in the school, even as the sun is the most
salient feature in the day, making it precisely what it is, was Mr.
Waterfield himself. He seems now to me to have been nine feet high, and
he certainly walked with a curious rocking motion, which was convenient,
because if you were where you should not be, you could detect his coming
long before he could detect anybody. He had a square grey beard which
smelt of cigars, a fact known from his practice, when he had frightened
the life out of you by terrible harangues, of saying, “Well, that’s all
over, my boy,” and kissing you. I believe him to have been about the
best private schoolmaster who ever lived, for he ruled by love and fear
combined in a manner that while it inspired small boys with hellish
terror, yet rewarded them with the sweet fruits of hero-worship. He
exacted blind obedience, under peril of really infamous torture with a
thick ruler with which he savagely caned offending hands, but he managed
at the same time to make us appreciate his approbation. The ruler was
kept in a convenient drawer of the knee-hole table in his study, and was
a perfectly brutal instrument, but the approach of the ruler, like a
depression over the Atlantic, was always heralded by storm-cones. The
first of these was the taking of the keys from his trousers-pocket, and
then you had time to pull yourself together to retract an equivocation,
to confess a fault, or try to remember something you had been repeatedly
told. The second storm-cone was the insertion of the key into the drawer
where the ruler was kept. You had to be of very strong nerve when that
second storm-cone was hoisted, and divert your mind from the possible
future to the supine which you could not recollect, for when the key was
once inserted there might any moment be a sudden startling explosion of
wrath, and out flew the ruler. Then came a short agonizing scene, and
the blubbering victim after six smart blows had the handle of the door
turned for him by somebody else, because his hands were useless through
pain. The ruler was quite rare, and probably well deserved; anyhow it
was the counter-balance to the hero-worship born of Mr. Waterfield’s
approval. For more heinous offences there was birching, but that had
certain compensations, for afterwards you took down your breeches and
showed the injured parts to admiring companions. But there was nothing
to show, as Mrs. Pullet said about the boluses, when you were caned.
Besides you could play cricket quite easily, shortly after a whipping,
but no human hand could hold a bat shortly after the application of the
ruler.

The top form (called the first form, not the sixth form), had certain
specified lessons every week taken by Waterfield, and he did not teach
regularly in other forms. But he was liable to make meteoric appearances
soon after the beginning of a lesson in the big schoolroom where the
next three forms were at work, and take any lesson himself. A hush fell
as he strode in, and we all cowered like partridges below a kite, while
he glared round, selecting the covey on to which he pounced. This was a
subtle plan, for you could never be sure that it would not be he who
would hear any particular lesson, and the chance of that made it most
unwise to neglect any preparation altogether.

The school got its fair share of public-school scholarships, so I
suppose the teaching of the other masters was sound, but I cannot
believe that a stranger set of instructors were ever got together.
Rawlings, who taught the first form, used habitually to read the
_Sporting Times_ in school with his feet up on the desk until the time
came for him to hear us construe. Daubeny, the master of the second
form, had no thought but for the encouragement of a small moustache;
Davy of the third form used mostly to be asleep; Geoghehan of the fourth
form (called “Geege”) had lost his right arm, and used always to have
some favourite in his class, who sat on his knee in school time and was
an important personage, for he could, if you were friends with him,
always persuade Geege not to report misconduct to Waterfield. One such
boy, now a steady hereditary legislator, I well remember: he pulled
Geege’s beard, and altered the marks in his register, and ruled him with
a rod of iron. Geege was otherwise an effective disciplinarian, and had
an unpleasant habit, if he thought you were not attending, of spearing
the back of your hand with the nib of his pen, dipped in purple ink.
Then there was a handwriting specialist called Prior who gave out
stationery on Saturdays. His appearance was always hailed by a sort of
Gregorian chant to which the words were, “All boys wanting ink, go to
Mr. Prior.” Then came Mr. Voltaire, the gay young Frenchman, and these
with one or two more of whom I cherish no recollection all lived
together at a house in East Sheen called Clarence House, and were, I
think, a shade more frightened of Waterfield than we.

The ways of boys are past finding out, and what could have induced us to
believe that the food supplied was disgusting to the verge of being
poisonous I have no idea. But tradition, at the time of which I am
speaking, ordained that this was so, and how often when I was longing
to eat a plateful of pudding have I shovelled it into an envelope to
bury in the playground, since the currants in it were held to be
squashed flies and the suet to be made with scourings from dirty plates.
Then somebody once saw potatoes, no doubt intended for school
consumption, lying on the floor in a shed in the garden, which was
considered a terrible way in which to keep potatoes. I remembering
telling my father this, and with the utmost gravity he answered that
every potato ought to be wrapped up singly in silver paper. He also
asked if it was true that Mr. Waterfield had been seen, with his
trousers turned up diluting the beer for dinner out of a garden
watering-can. Most poisonous of all were supposed to be the sausages
which we had for breakfast now and then: it was a point of honour not to
eat a single mouthful of this garbage. Then suddenly for no reason the
fashion changed, and the food was supposed to be, and indeed it probably
was, excellent. We gobbled up our sausages, asked for more and got it,
and ate the potatoes that had once lain on the dirty ground, and had
even degraded themselves by growing in it....

I plunged headlong into this riot of school life and for the first year
enjoyed it enormously. I had been placed too low in the school and
without the slightest effort I found myself term after term at the top
of the class, and loaded with prizes, for no merit of my own but for the
fact that I had the kind of superficial memory that retained what it had
scarcely attended to at all. In consequence for a whole year I had no
fear of Waterfield as regards lessons, and devoted myself to games,
stag-beetles, and friendship, and I find it hard to decide whether the
rapture of making twenty at cricket against overhand bowling (not lobs
from sisters) was greater or less than finding a stag-beetle on the
palings, or in the early dawn of summer mornings going on tiptoe into
the next dormitory, and, after waking up my special friend, sitting on
his bed, propped up with pillows and talking in whispers till there came
the sound of the dressing-bell, which portended the entrance of the
matron. Then it was necessary to steal round the corner of his cubicle,
and slide back into my own bed, there apparently to fall into a
refreshing slumber, for to be caught out of bed before it was time to
dress meant to be reported to Waterfield, who took a serious, and to me
then an unintelligible view of such an offence. But an hour’s whispered
conversation with a friend was worth that risk, indeed probably the risk
added a certain savour to it, and perhaps our present Minister at the
Vatican has recollections similar to mine. Or else it would be I who was
awakened by the soft-stepping night-shirted figure, and moved aside in
bed to give room for him to sit there, and there would be plans to be
made, and then combining friendship with stag-beetles into one
incomparable compound we would take the stag-beetles (for there were two
of them, male and female called “The Monarch of the Glen” and “Queen”)
out of my washing basin, where they passed the night in optimistic
attempts to climb its slippery sides, and refresh them with a breakfast
of elm leaves and perhaps the half of a strawberry. They had to be put
back into two match-boxes which were their travelling carriages before
Jane the matron came round, for she had said that if ever she found
stag-beetles in basins again she would throw them out of the window.

An “Exeat” now and then diversified the course of the term, and these I
spent with my Aunt Eleanor who had married Mr. Thomas Hare, famous for
his book on the _Representation of Minorities_. He was a great friend
of John Stuart Mill, whom Aunt Eleanor, for some reason of her own,
always called “Mr. Mills.” They lived in a house near Surbiton which had
a tower in it, on the top floor of which was Uncle Hare’s laboratory,
chemistry being a hobby of his, and he made oxygen in glass retorts, and
put snippets of potassium to scurry, flaring and self-lit, on the
surface of a basin of water.... On the 5th of November every year I was
asked to a children’s party, given by Princess Mary, Duchess of Teck, at
the White Lodge, Richmond Park, and there was an immense tea followed by
fireworks in the garden. There we were given squibs and told to be sure
to throw them away as soon as they burned low, before the explosion came
at the end, and on one of these occasions the Duke of Teck wanting a
light for his cigar told me to give him my squib, for he had no matches.
I told him that it was already burning low, but he said “Wass?” rather
alarmingly, and so I handed it to him. He had just applied the burning
end of it to his cigar when the explosion came, and his face and hair
were covered with sparks, and he danced about, and said sonorous things
in German, and I gathered that he was vexed....

The minds of children as they grow have those diseases incident to
childhood much as their bodies have. I had had my measles of
sentimentality, and having got over that I developed during this year a
kind of whooping-cough of lying. I used to invent and repeat
extraordinary experiences, which had their root in fact, but were
embellished by my imagination to scenes of unparalleled magnificence.
For instance, the family spent that summer holidays at Etretat, crossing
from Southampton to Havre, and I came back with Arthur who was going to
Eton, a day late for the assembling of Temple Grove. The crossing was an
extremely rough one; all night the water broke over the decks heavy and
solid, and certainly some unfortunate passenger came into the cabin
drenched through. All next day as I travelled to Temple Grove my
imagination worked on these promising materials, and I told my admiring
schoolfellows that we had barely escaped shipwreck. The waves, which
certainly did deluge the decks, I represented as having poured in
torrents down the funnels, extinguishing the furnaces, so that we had to
stop till the fires were relit, while out of the passenger who came down
drenched into the cabin I constructed a Frenchman who was supposed to
have said to me in broken English, “Ze water is not coming over in
bucketfuls it is coming over in shipfuls.” So vividly did I imagine
this, that before long I really half believed it. Again the next winter
holidays were marked by a heavy snowfall in Cornwall succeeded by a
partial thaw and a hard frost. In consequence the horses had to be
roughed, and it is certainly a fact that the carriage which was bringing
my father home one evening slewed so violently that, according to his
quite authentic description, he looked out of the window, and saw
instead of the hedge-rows the steep glazed road in front of him. I
seized hungrily on that incident, and on returning to school said that
we had enjoyed delightful sledging in the holidays, over roads and
lakes, adding the further embellishment that I personally drove the
horses.... There were more of these fictions which I cannot now
remember, all of which had some exiguous foundation of fact, and great
was my horror when an implacable enemy handed me one morning a scrap of
paper, in the manner of an ultimatum headed:

     “BENSON’S LIES”

and there below, neatly summarized were all these stories which I
thought had been listened to with such respectful envy. The implacable
enemy added darkly that “they” (whoever “they” might be) were
considering what they were going to do about it all. I suppose
consternation was graven on me, for he stonily added, “Yes, you may well
turn pale,” and I pictured (my imagination again rioting off) this
damning text being handed to Waterfield, who would send it to my father.
What was the public upshot, I cannot remember, but by aid of that
terrifying medicine I made a marvellously brisk recovery from that
particular disease.

Some time during that first year at school, there occurred a scene which
I still look back on as among the most awful I have ever witnessed. Two
boys, one high in the school, a merry handsome creature, the other quite
a small boy, suddenly disappeared. They were in their places at
breakfast, but during breakfast were sent for by Waterfield and at
school that morning their places were empty. They did not appear at
dinner, they did not appear at tea, and that night in the next dormitory
their beds were vacant. Jane said they were not ill, and forbade any
further questions, and curious whisperings went about, of which I could
not grasp the import. Next morning there came a sudden order that all
the school should be assembled, and we crowded into the big schoolroom.
Presently Waterfield entered with his cap and gown on, followed by the
two missing boys. He took his place at his desk, and motioned them to
stand out in the middle of the room. There was a long silence.

Then Waterfield began to speak in a low voice that grew gradually
louder. He told us all to look at them, which we did. He then told us
that they had brought utter ruin and disgrace on themselves, that no
public school would receive them, and that they had broken their
parents’ hearts. They were not going to stop an hour longer amongst us,
for their presence was filthy and contaminating. They were publicly
expelled and would now go back to the homes on which they had brought
disgrace.

He then told us all to go out, and was left with those two, and I
wondered, limp with terror, whether he was going to kill them, and what
on earth it was that they had done. And if I was limp then, you may
judge what was my condition, when presently the school sergeant who
brought summonses from Waterfield told me that he wished to see me....
Indeed that imaginative habit which had made up so many glorious
adventures for myself on slender grounds was a poor friend at that
moment, for as I went to the study, it vividly suggested to me that I
too, for some unintelligible reason, would be despatched to Cornwall, a
ruined and disgraced boy.

I tapped at the door, tapped again without receiving any answer and
entered. Waterfield was sitting at his table and he was crying. He
indicated to me that I was to sit down, which I did. Then he blew his
nose with an awful explosion of sound, and came with his rocking walk
across to the chimney-piece.

“I want to ask you a question,” he said. “Do you understand why those
two boys were sent away?”

“No, sir,” said I.

His voice choked for a moment.

“I am very glad to hear it,” he said. “I thank God for that. You may
go.”

Here was a mysterious affair! I went out wondering about a million
things, why Waterfield was crying, why he had sent for me, and above all
why those two boys were publicly disgraced. I began to grub in my memory
for any clue, and recalled trivial incidents. The elder of the two had
been rather kind to a junior like myself: he had nodded good night to me
one evening on the stairs, and I think the next night had given me a
lump of Turkish delight. Finally, only a few days before, he had by
virtue of his first-form privileges taken me for a stroll round the
wooded grounds, where the first-form might go at pleasure, and I felt
highly honoured at his notice. He had become rather odd: he began
questions like, “I say, do you ever----,” and stopped. As I did not know
what he was talking about, and only grew puzzled, he remarked rather
contemptuously, “I didn’t know you were such a kid. Why, when I was your
age....”

Then our privacy came to an abrupt conclusion, for we suddenly met
Waterfield, with a large cigar, strolling along a path. He took us both
into a greenhouse, and gave us some grapes, and walked back with us, one
on each side of him.

There was nothing there at the time which had roused any strong
curiosity in me. I had wondered vaguely why these sentences were left
unfinished, and why he had only then discovered that I was such a kid.
But now, in an intensity of wonder as to why Waterfield had been so glad
to know that the reason for this expulsion was incomprehensible to me,
and as to what that reason was, I began, with the groping instincts of a
young thing, that has either to guess its way, or to be told it, to fit
meaningless little pieces of the puzzle together, trying first one pair
of fragments and then another, intensely curious and instinctively
certain that there was something here which other boys understood, and
which Waterfield certainly understood, but which I did not. I supposed
that the completed puzzle contained something in which right and wrong
were involved, since a transgression such as the two expelled boys had
been guilty of was an affair that could not be atoned for by a caning or
a birching.

For days after that, hints, fragments, surmises floated as thickly about
the school as motes of dust in a sunbeam. We were forbidden to talk
about the subject at all, which gave an additional zest to discussion.
Some knew a great deal, some knew a little, some knew nothing. Those who
knew nothing learned a little, those who knew a little learned more, and
we seethed with things that were unsavoury, because the secrecy and the
prohibition made the unsavouriness of them.... But in heaven’s name, why
could we not all have been given clean lessons in natural history? Is it
better that young boys should guess and experiment and be left to find
things out for themselves, with the gusto that arises from the notion of
forbidden mysteries, than that they should be taught cleanness by their
elders, instead of being left to experimentalize in dirtiness? Until
there is extracted from boyhood its proper legitimate inquisitiveness
which is the reason of its growth, nothing can prevent boys from seeking
to learn about those things which its elders cover up in a silence so
indiscreet as to be criminal. It is a libellous silence, for it
surrounds, in an atmosphere of suspicion, knowledge which is perfectly
wholesome and necessary.

Between terms came holidays full of things just as wonderful as the
swamping of the furnaces of the Havre boat and “Benson’s lies”
generally, and these must be lumped together, to form a general summary
as to how we amused ourselves for the next three years or so, when
holidays brought us together. About now a joint literary effort of all
us children, called (for no known reason) the _Saturday Magazine_, made
its punctual appearance. Already we were such savage wielders of the pen
that one issue every holidays no longer contented us, but two or three
times between term and term my father and mother were regaled of an
evening with a flood of prose and poetry. Arthur would say one morning,
“Let’s have a Saturday Magazine next Tuesday,” and straightway we called
for a supply of that useful paper known as “sermon paper,” which
contains exactly twenty-three lines to a small quarto page, faintly
ruled in blue. Dialogues, satirical sketches, tales of adventure,
essays, and poems, were poured out in rank profusion, the rule being
that each member of the family should contribute “at least” four pages
of prose, or one page of verse. There was, after we had all got blooded
with the lust of production, little cause for this minimum regulation,
and perhaps it would have been better, in view of subsequent
fruitfulness, to have substituted for the minimum restriction of “at
least” a maximum restriction of “at most.” Yet this habit of swift
composition gave us all a certain ease in expressing ourselves if only
because we expressed ourselves so freely. The contents of the _Saturday
Magazine_ were, since all choice of subject was left to the author, of
the most varied description. Arthur would produce (at least) an essay in
the style of _The Spectator_ (Addison’s) describing how he threw a cake
of yellow soap at a serenading cat, Nellie would refresh us with an
imaginary interview with our Scotch coachman on the subject of sore
backs, Maggie, whose chief avocation now was to rear an enormous number
of guinea-pigs and find names for them, gave a dialogue between
Atahualpa and Ixlitchochitl (only she knew how to spell them); poor Fred
treated them to a poem on the Devil, which he felt sure solved the very
difficult question about the origin of evil, and Hugh, who by reason of
his youth was let off with two pages of prose, produced adventures so
bloody, that out of sheer reaction his audience rocked with unquenchable
laughter. There was a Saturnalian liberty allowed, and my mother’s
experiences with a runaway pony, or her fondness for cheese, were
treated with sharp-edged mockery, and even my father made a ludicrous
appearance in some dialogue, where he was supposed to be worsted by the
superior wit of his children....

In lighter mood (save the mark) we played a poetry game called “American
nouns,” in which you had to answer, metrically and with rhyme, a
question written down at the top of a half-sheet of paper, and bring in
a particular word like “unconstitutional” or some stumper of that kind.
This particular word was given to my Uncle Henry Sidgwick together with
the question, “What do you know of astronomy?” to which in the winking
of an eye he produced the following gem:

    Phœbus, the glorious king of the sky,
      In his unconstitutional way,
    Dispenses at will his bounties on high
      And royally orders the day.
    No starry assembly controls his bright flow,
    No critical comet presumes to say “No.”

Or again, my mother having to answer the question, “Does the moon draw
the sea?” and to bring in the word “artist,” made a glorious last
stanza:

    Ask me no more, but let me be;
      My temper’s of the tartest:
    For if the moon doth draw the sea,
      Why, then she is an artist.

Somehow she got the reputation of being an indifferent poet, but that
was considered remarkably good “for her,” and worthy of being
immortalized on the printing press which belonged to this epoch. This
was a small wooden box, at the bottom of which you set the type
backwards if you were capable of a sustained effort, and if not, anyhow.
The “forme” was then smudged over with a black roller anointed with
printer’s ink, and letters of the set type used to stick to it (like
teeth in toffee) and must be replaced if possible. Then a piece of paper
was gingerly laid on the top, a lid was fitted on, and a lever was
turned which pressed the lid (and of course the paper) against the inked
type. The lever got out of order and I think broke, so instead several
smart hammer-blows were given to the lid in order to produce the same
result. The printed paper was then taken out, and the marks of
punctuation inserted by hand, because there weren’t any commas and
colons and so forth in our fount, or because it was easier to put them
in afterwards. “E’s” had often to be left out too, and inserted
afterwards, because “e” being a common letter was not sufficiently
represented if you wanted to print a long piece like Uncle Henry’s....
Chemistry, also, among the Arts and Sciences claimed our attention,
especially Maggie’s (when she was not too busy about guinea-pigs) and
mine. The highest feat that we attained to, and that wanted a lot of
stirring, was to dissolve a threepenny-piece in nitric acid. Then there
was photography; I think a godfather gave me a camera, and we made our
own wet plates which was very difficult, and began with pouring
collodion (was it collodion?) smoothly over a piece of glass. Then
nitrate of silver--we might have used the dissolved threepenny-bit, I
suppose--must be applied. The plates usually recorded nothing whatever,
but once an image remarkably like the yew tree outside the nursery
window did certainly appear there. Arthur began collecting butterflies
and moths, which eventually became a very important asset to a museum
which now overflowed into all our bedrooms. There was an extraordinary
abundance of clouded yellows (_Colias Edusa_, and why do I remember
that?) one year and he used to return, profusely perspiring, with
captives in chip boxes, to which Maggie and I were anæsthetists, for
Nellie took no part in this collection, as she objected to killing
butterflies.

Small strips of blotting-paper--this was our procedure--were taken, and
moons of chloroform, quite similar to the eau-de-Cologne moons, were
made on them from an unstoppered bottle of chloroform. These were
inserted in the chip boxes while Arthur, the executioner, got the oxalic
acid and a nib. With this lethal weapon he speared their unconscious
thoraxes, and out came the setting-boards. Nocturnal expeditions for
purposes of “sugaring” tree-trunks were even more exciting. We mixed
beer and sugar, heating them together, and at dusk pasted trees in the
garden with the compound which Watch found so delicious that if the jug
containing it was left on the ground for a moment, he began lapping it
up. On such sugaring nights I was allowed to sit up later than usual,
and about ten o’clock the excited procession again started with more
chip boxes, and a dark lantern, which was turned on to the sugared
patches. There were the bright-eyed creatures of the night, drunkenly
feasting, and Arthur enriched his pill-boxes with Silver Y and an
occasional Golden Y, and rejected the Yellow Underwing, and grew taut
over the Crimson Underwing, while I carried a butterfly net, and swooped
with it at wandering moths which were attracted by the unveiled lantern
carried by Maggie, and Watch wagged his tail and licked up gratefully
the droppings from the sugared tree and any moths that might be on them.
And then Beth would come out and say that “my Mamma” said that I must go
to bed at once, and I usually didn’t. O happy nights!

I think every day in those holidays must have lasted a week, and every
month a year, for when I consider it, we surely spent the whole
afternoons in playing “Pirates” in the garden. Theoretically now, as
well as practically then, I believe that “Pirates,” a game evolved by
the family generally, and speedily brought to its perfect and
stereotyped form, was the best sporting invention, requiring no material
implements, of modern time. What powers of the mind, what refinements of
cunning, compared to which deer-stalking is mere child’s play, were
brought into action! For here we were up against each other’s wits, and
awful were the results of any psychological mistake. I must describe
that game for the benefit of families of energetic children who like
thinking and running and scoring off each other.

At the top of the garden there was a summer-house, and that of course
was “home.” There was a lateral laurel hedge to the left of it which
screened a path that led by the copse outside the nursery windows, and
communicated by means of a garden door with the abysses of the stable
copse, and the stable yard. The henyard, an outlying piece of kitchen
garden, and the other copse, excellent hiding-places in themselves, were
outside the range of pirates, and the touch-line, so to speak, beyond
which neither pirates nor trophy-seekers might go passed on the hither
side of these. Straight in front of “home” was an open space, safe in
itself but hedged in with peril, for there were climbable trees, from
which a pirate might almost drop on your head, and thickets. To the
right was a most dangerous door, because the latch was stiff and if you
were pursued from outside by the pirate you were almost bound to be
caught before you could kick it open. In the middle distance, straight
ahead were beehives; beyond, kitchen garden and orchard. Never was there
anything so trappy.

So much for the theatre: the _dramatis personæ_ were five (occasionally
six when my mother played, once seven when my father played), and of
this number there were chosen in rotation two pirates, but my father and
mother, of course, were never pirates, because they would not have had a
chance, as you will see. The pirates, being chosen, went away together,
and were given five minutes law to hide wherever they chose within the
assigned limits. During these five minutes a captain was chosen, from
among the blockade runners, who directed his side as to what trophy each
of them was to bring from his cruise. One had, for instance, to bring
back a croquet hoop from the lawn, another an apple from the third tree
in the orchard, another an ivy-leaf from the stable-yard. With their
trophies in their hands they had to return in safety to the summer-house
without being caught by a pirate.

So far all is simple, but now there comes in the great point of the
game. _No pirate could catch you, until you had your trophy, whatever it
was, about you._ Thus if your trophy was the curry-brush, you might (and
did) if you were seen by a pirate and knew it, hastily pluck up a
croquet hoop and begin running. Then the pirate, supposing that this was
your trophy, ran like mad after you, and when he caught you, you merely
assured him that the croquet hoop wasn’t your trophy. That was a score,
it also winded the pirate a little, and perhaps Nellie, going cautiously
towards the croquet-lawn where her real mission was, would have observed
this, and plucking up a croquet hoop (which was her true trophy) begin
to run. On which the slightly winded pirate would leave you and run
after Nellie, who generally screamed, thus giving away the fact that she
had her trophy. Meantime you would proceed with caution towards the
stable-yard, seize up a curry-brush and instantly hear a crash from the
copse and find the second pirate in pursuit. Even as deep called unto
deep the pirates would then shout to each other, and though you thought
you could get away from one, the other, having captured Nellie, would
appear in front of you....

There were infinite psychological problems. Supposing your trophy had
been an apple, you would, if you were very cunning, put it in your
pocket, and continue a pleasant stroll, without hurry, more or less in
the direction of “home.” Then if a fast pirate like Arthur sighted you,
you would not run away at all, but ask him sarcastically if he had
caught anybody yet. There was a good chance that he would think you had
not yet got your trophy and would continue to follow you, till he saw
another blockade runner looking guilty. On the other hand, he might
conceivably suspect you had it already and clap an awful hand on your
shoulder, and say, “Caught.” But probably he preferred to watch you, for
that made more sport, and then you would suddenly sprint for home, while
he was off his guard. There was a bay tree round which a skilful dodger
could score off a heavier and faster craft, but under no circumstances
might you jump over flower-beds, because that led to running through
them instead, which was ruinous to petunias.

In the same summer-house which was “home,” we also held a mystical
“Chapter,” of which Arthur was warden, Nellie, Maggie and myself,
sub-warden, secretary and treasurer, and Hugh was Henchman. The word
“Chapter” was no doubt of Cathedral origin, and denoted a ceremonious
meeting. We all subscribed to the funds of the Chapter (my mother, who
was an honorary member, subscribed most) and the money was spent in
official salaries, and in providing decorations, chains and crosses and
ribands for the officials. The largest salary, which I think was half a
crown, was drawn by Arthur as warden; he also wore the most magnificent
jewel, while Hugh, the menial, drew but the salary of one penny, and had
a very poor gaud to console himself with. As Henchman, his duty was
chiefly to run errands for the rest of the Chapter, to summon my mother
when she was allowed to appear, to kill wasps, and to fetch the warden’s
straw hat. He was the only member of the Chapter who dared to dispute
the will of the warden, and was known to exclaim, “Why shouldn’t Fred?”
(the treasurer) when he was tired of running about. Even more subversive
of canonical discipline was his assertion one day that he would not be a
member of any more societies, in which he was only deputy
sub-sub-bootboy. But I secretly (though treasurer) rather sympathized
with him, for I considered then, and consider still, that the Chapter
was rather a soft job for Arthur. It is true that he invented it, that
he covered our symbols of office with sealing-wax lacquer--what has
happened to sealing-wax lacquer all these years?--and that he wrote out
in exquisite black-letter hand the patents whereby we held office,
signed by himself, but a salary of half a crown was excessive. At the
meetings we had to present these patents to him before we took our
seats, and then had a short formal conversation in which we were
“Brother Sub-warden, Brother Secretary” and so forth, and read the
minutes of the last meeting, and when the presence of the Honorary
Member was requested, Brother Henchman had to go to find her. Donations
were made, and salaries were paid, but I am confident that nothing else
happened. The Chapter was then adjourned; the orders were put back in a
box, and we played pirates....

And yet though we played Pirates all day, and collected clouded yellows
all day, and printed the most exquisite poems as well as writing them,
and held Chapters, and did a certain amount of holiday-task, and rode
with my father, and drove with my mother, there was always time for
other excitements. There was bathing in the Fal, there were picnics at
Perran, especially when a south-west gale had been blowing, and from
seven miles inland there was audible the thump of Atlantic waves on that
bleak beach. Then in Truro itself there were great things to be done,
for the volcanic energy of my father had soon kindled the county into
pouring out money for the erection of a new Cathedral, the first that
had been built in England since the time of the Reformation. St. Mary’s
Church was the site of it, and to-day an aisle of St. Mary’s (the rest
of a wonderfully hideous church being demolished) forms the baptistery
of the Cathedral. The ground was cleared and foundations were dug, and
slowly the great stately building began to rise flower-like from the
barren soil. I do not suppose that any of us cared independently two
straws about a Cathedral, but to go down there with my father, and hear
him talk to Mr. Bubb, the Clerk of the Works, infected us with his noble
zeal, and the rising walls got pleasingly confused with the rebuilding
of the temple by Nehemiah, and the vision of the New Jerusalem. Hugh, I
am certain, was allowed to lay a stone himself, and Mr. Bubb presented
him with the trowel and mallet with which he had laid it. Or did we all
lay stones? I seem to hear my father say in an awestruck voice, “There,
you have helped to build Truro Cathedral!” but I am not sure whether
that was said to me or not, and my uncertainty is the measure, I am
afraid, of the impression that the building of the Cathedral really made
on me....

I wonder if it could have been otherwise, and with regret I do not see
how it could. As his own childish records show, my father at my age then
was a zealous ecclesiastic, for did he not when ripely eleven obtain the
use in his mother’s house of an empty room, which he converted into an
oratory? There was an altar there, and it was hung with rubbings he had
made from brasses in churches. This piece of childish piety was
certainly natural to him, and as certainly there was no kind of
priggishness in it, for he set a booby-trap over the door, so that his
sisters should not be able to enter “his” oratory in his absence without
being detected. He did not want his sisters praying there: and the
booby-trap over the chapel door was certainly an admirable device to
keep them out. But in none of us, nor indeed in my mother, was there
implanted an ecclesiastical mind, not even in Hugh. He took orders it is
true, in the English Church, and subsequently the Catholic Church
claimed him, and to it and its service he gave his whole love and
energy. But the ecclesiastical mind in him was a later development, for
it must be remembered that before taking orders at all he had tried and
failed to get into the Indian Civil Service. (He and I, at that time,
used to dress up in nightshirts, with trousers over our shoulders to
represent stoles, and celebrate the “rite of the Silver Cow” in our
sitting-room at Addington. I feel sure that there was not any solid
profanity in it: we but parodied, and that with great amusement, the
genuflexions, the bobbings and bowings, the waving of a censer,
considered merely as ridiculous pieces of ritual, but such a rite could
not be held indicative of a reverent attitude towards ritual as such.)
But my father’s mind, even as a child, was strongly ecclesiastical; only
his children did not share it, nor did my mother. Of all men and women
that I have ever known, she was the most deeply religious in her
realization of the pervading presence of God, but the garb, the
habiliments of her religion were not the same as my father’s. To him the
Church and its ceremonies were a natural self-expression, and in that he
gorgeously clothed his love of God. To none of us was such expression
natural, and thus his enthusiasms though they infected us to some extent
were things caught from him, not cathedraically developed. That he
missed this in all of us, I think could not be helped, but I do not
think, at that time at any rate, that he missed it much, for he was
Elijah in the whirlwind of his enthusiasms, and caught us all up, as in
the fringes of a dust-cloud, to subside again when he had passed.

What estranged was my continued fear of him, which now yields easily to
analysis and dispersal, but was in those days regarded by me merely as
an instinct, as natural and as incontrovertible as hunger or thirst. I
understood neither him nor any part of him. I did not grasp the fact
that the root in him as regards his children was his love for them, and
that it was his love and nothing else that, at bottom, was accountable
for his quickness in putting his finger on a fault and his sternness in
rebuke. It was out of his love that he regarded himself so strictly as
responsible for our mental and moral education, and what I thought his
readiness to blame was only the watchfulness of it. For instance, if, as
I so well specifically remember, I appeared with an umbrella huddled up
anyhow in its confining elastic, he saw in that a tendency towards
slovenliness, and he made, in the fervency of his wish that I should not
grow up to be of slovenly habit, no allowance for the natural frailty of
tender years. Trivial carelessness and unpunctuality in the same way
were pounced upon with a severity that altogether over-brimmed the cup
of the occasion; he saw in them (and his love hastened to correct)
instances of a dangerous tendency. In consequence he brought great and
formidable guns to bear on small faults, which could just as efficiently
have been visited with a light instead of a heavy hand. Sometimes, too,
he was utterly wrong in his interpretation of our motives, and this gave
us a sense of injustice; etchingly recorded on my memory, for instance,
is a Sunday afternoon walk when Maggie and I pranced and ran ahead, from
the mere exuberance, as far as I can judge, produced by a heavy meal and
a fine day. But my father put the gloomiest interpretation on our
antics, telling us that we were behaving thus in order to excite the
admiration of passers-by at our agility. “You are saying to yourselves,
‘I am Hercules, I am Diana,’” he witheringly observed; whereas, nothing
was farther from our thoughts. But it was unthinkable to argue the
point, to assure him that no similitude of that kind had ever suggested
itself. The only course was to walk soberly and sedately instead of
running. And since the lives of young children, especially if they are
at all vividly inclined, are a chessboard of small faults, this fear of
the rebuke, in the absence of comprehension of its root-cause, became a
constant anxiety to us, making us mere smooth-faced, blue-eyed dolls in
his presence, with set fixed movements and expressions; and when
released from it, we scampered off as if from an examination under a
magnifying-glass.

I do not mean to convey the idea that my father was continually pulling
us up, for nothing is further from the truth. Continually we played to
him, and he danced the most fascinating measure; continually he played
to us, and our dancing strove to keep time with his enchanting airs. He
could render us speechless with laughter at his inimitable mirth, or
breathless with suspense at his stories. But all the time there was this
sense that at any moment the mirth might cease, and that a formidable
rebuke might be visited on an offence that we had no idea we had
committed. But it was never any joy in fault-finding that prompted it:
the real cause was the watchfulness and responsibility of his love. How
often our fear was ill-founded, passes enumeration, but one way or
another, it had become a habit with all of us, except perhaps Nellie,
for she, out of a remarkable faculty of not knowing at all what fear
meant (except when playing Pirates) arrived at a much completer
comprehension of my father than any of us.

Still less did the rest of us understand those fits of black depression
which from time to time assailed and overwhelmed my father, not grasping
the fact that when they were on him, he really ceased to be himself, and
was under a sort of obsession. They were, I imagine, as purely physical
as a cold in the head or an ache of indigestion, but during the two or
three days that they lasted he was utterly unapproachable. He would sit
through a meal, or take us out for a walk in a silence which if broken
at all, was broken only by blame or irony. If we spoke to him, there
would be no reply; if, under the intolerable heaviness we were silent,
he would ask if there was nothing that interested us which he was worthy
of hearing.... And all the time, as we knew later, he was struggling
with this demoniacal load, longing to be rid of it, yearning to burst
out of it, but possessed by it to the point of helplessness. While the
fit was on him, and he was in this abnormal state, the most innocent of
words and actions would evoke a formidable censure, and I suspect that
three-quarters of our fear for him were derived from our belief that
these attacks were a part of him, always there, and always liable to
come into play. That was an entire mistake, though it was a natural one.
As it was, these black fits were not incapsulated by us, but suffered to
mingle with and make part of our estimate of him. That we should so have
feared him, that we should so have made ourselves unnatural and formal
with him, when all the time his love was streaming out towards us, makes
a pathos so pitiful that I cannot bear to think of it. But there it was,
and long it lasted, and all the time I never got a true perspective of
him. We saw ourselves as a nervous row of pupils before a schoolmaster,
and all the time it was his very strictness which was a manifestation of
his love, and his love hungered for ours. Our troubles and our joys, the
worst of us and the best of us, went like homing pigeons to my mother,
and she gave the same welcome to the one and to the other, and for ever
treasured both.

The relationship of each one of us to her was unique as regards any
other of us, for each of us found exactly and precisely what we desired,
though how often we did not know what we desired till she gave it us!
All her life she was wiser and younger than anybody else, limpid and
bubbling, and from the first days when any of us began to understand
what she was, she never had any blank surprises in store, for it was
always quite obvious that she would understand and appreciate, and would
never condone but always forgive. Never from first to last did I repent
having opened my heart to her; never did I not repent having shut it. I
do not think she ever asked any of us for a confidence, but the
knowledge, conveyed in the very atmosphere of her, that she was ready,
toeing the mark, so to speak, to run to us when the pistol fired, gave
her that particular precision of sympathy. Did she scold us? Why, of
course; but how her precious balms healed our heads!

Love is a stern business, and about hers there was never the faintest
trace of sentimentality. She loved with a swift eagerness, and she had
no warm slops to comfort us. But there was always the compliment of
consultation. “Now you’ve behaved very badly indeed,” she would say,
“Don’t you think the first thing to do is to say you’re sorry?”... And
then with that inimitable breaking of her smile, “Oh, my dear, I _am_
glad you told me.”... And did ever any other mother at the age of
forty run so violently in playing that strenuous game called, “Three
knights a-riding,” that she broke a sinew in her leg? Mine did. And did
ever a mother so encourage an extremely naughty boy of thirteen after a
really dreadful interview with his father, as by giving him a prayer
book and saying, “I shall write in it ‘Wherewithal shall a young man
cleanse his ways?’” Being called a young man at the age of thirteen was
enough in itself to make him realize what an exceedingly tiresome child
he had been. Tact! Beth used to call it “tac,” and when I got my shoes
wet through three times a day, or fell backwards into one of those
Cornish streams she said, “Eh, Master Fred, but you’ve got no tac’!” No
more I had.



CHAPTER VI

THE DUNCE’S PROGRESS


After that first brilliant year at school, when I got so many prizes
without taking any trouble, there ensued two extremely lean years,
during which I took just as much trouble as before, and got nothing at
all. For just as, physically, growing children spurt and are quiescent
again, storing force for the next expansion, so mentally they have in
the intervals of development periods of utter stagnation. I had swept, a
prodigious infant, through all the other forms, leaving Geege and Davy
and Daubeny mere dim fixed stars across the path of the comet, and then
the unfortunate comet gave one faint “pop” and went completely out.
Other boys straggled and struggled up to the first form, which I had so
easily stormed, and I continued sinking through them, like a drowned
rag, to my appointed place at the bottom. Agitated letters were
exchanged between Waterfield and my father, of which I found the other
day several of Waterfield’s; he clung to a certain forlorn optimism
about me, but seemed puzzled to know why without positively neglecting
my work I invariably did it worse than anybody in the form. He still
believed me not to be stupid. In that quiescent period I could not
assimilate any more; all that I was fed with merely gave me indigestion,
and the mental stuffing was liberally supplied to the poor goose, for at
the end of that year I was to try for an Eton scholarship, with regard
to which my prospects grew ever less encouraging. A drawer in
Waterfield’s study adjoining the room where the first class was tutored
was entirely devoted to the dreadful copies of Greek and Latin prose and
Latin elegiacs which I produced. Week after week these grew and
collected there, each of them thickly scored by Waterfield’s red ink. Of
one of them I can recall the image now; scarcely a word remained that
was not underscored in red. But I gather that Waterfield must have
concluded that some blight other than carelessness and inattention was
responsible for my failures, for he never threatened me with rulers or
birchings for them. Mentally, during those three atrocious terms, the
only thing in which I can remember taking the slightest interest was
hearing him read out the piece of English verse which it was our task to
turn into Latin elegiacs. His reading was altogether beautiful; often
his voice broke, as when he read us “Home they brought her warrior
dead,” and, though he quite failed to instil in me the desire to put
such verses into beautiful Latin, he intensely kindled my love of
beautiful English. Similarly, when the Sunday divinity lesson was over
and such storms as had raged round St. Paul’s missionary journey were
stilled, he would tell us all to make ourselves comfortable, and for the
rest of the hour entranced us with _The Pilgrim’s Progress_. His
delightful voice melodiously rose and fell; he asked us no inconvenient
questions to probe the measure of our attention; his object, in which he
strikingly succeeded, was to let us hear magnificent English
magnificently read, and to leave us to gather our own honey.

A great event of the summer term was Waterfield’s birthday. The whole
school subscribed to give him a birthday present, which must have been
of some value, for the sum of five shillings or ten shillings (I forget
which) was charged up to every boy’s bill. But we certainly got that
back again, for the birthday, kept as a whole holiday, was celebrated by
everybody being taken to the Crystal Palace for the day and furnished
with half a crown to spend as he pleased, so decidedly Waterfield was
not “up” on the transaction. A few of the more favoured were invited to
spend the day on the Thames with him and his family; they embarked on a
steam launch at Richmond and had luncheon in some riverside wood. Now,
above all things in the world I longed to see the Crystal Palace, of
which I had formed the image as of some ineffable glittering
constellation, a piece of real fairyland fallen from the sky and now at
rest on Sydenham Hill, and it was with a black despair that I received
the distinction of being bidden to the family picnic instead. But a _dea
ex machina_ came to the rescue in the person of Mrs. Waterfield, who
quite ironically said to me, “I suppose you would much sooner go to the
Crystal Palace?” Throwing “tac” and politeness to the winds, I
unhesitatingly told her that I certainly would, and I was given my
half-crown and joined the proletariat.... Or was Mrs. Waterfield’s
enquiry not ironical at all, but a piece of supreme “tac”? Had some hint
reached her that I really wanted to go to the Crystal Palace? I cannot
decide. In any case, that kind-hearted woman would have been rewarded
for making the suggestion, could she have realized with what rapture I
beheld that amazing edifice glittering in the sun, and went through its
Palm Court and its Egyptian Court and its Assyrian Court, and beheld all
that the Prince Consort had done to educate the love of beauty in these
barbarous islanders. All day I wandered enchanted, and laid out most of
the half-crown in a glass paper-weight with a picture of the Crystal
Palace below, and the remainder in a small nickel ornament in the shape
of an ewer, undoubtedly made in Germany. Indeed, I was wise to fasten on
the opportunity given me by Mrs. Waterfield, for thus I secured the
wonderful experience of being absolutely bowled over by the beauty of
the Crystal Palace, which has not happened to everybody. All the same, I
suffered a few years later a crushing and double disillusionment, for I
was taken there again to hear _Israel in Egypt_ at the Handel Festival.
On that occasion my main impression was that I thought the Crystal
Palace a very suitable place for that monstrous performance. The scale
on which the one was built and on which the other was performed served
not to conceal but to accentuate the essential meanness of each....

I weave this into a digression not unconnected with the first of these
lean years. Though mentally, as regards the metres of foreign verse and
the inexorable grammar of Greek and Latin, I was as idle “as a painted
ship upon a painted ocean,” I gorged myself not only on the readings of
Waterfield, but on music. That frail widow, Mrs. Russell, is probably
unknown to fame as a teacher of the piano, but I owe her an undying debt
of gratitude. I begged to be released from the study of such works as
those of Mr. Diabelli, whom I had long ago judged and found wanting, and
from “arrangements” of the _Barber of Seville_, and even from the
sugared melodies of “Songs without Words” (over which, especially No. 8,
an occasional tear used to drop from Mrs. Russell’s eyes), and to be
allowed to entrap my awkward fingers in Bach, whom I had heard rendered
by the “Farmer Society” at Lincoln. My request was granted, and I was
permitted to make a rapturous hash of slow Sarabands and more rapid
Gavottes and Minuets out of the _Suites Anglaises_. Never was there so
enthralled a bungler; for I could hear (this I positively affirm),
through the crash of my awkwardness, what was meant. Bach then and there
and ever afterwards was my gold standard in the innumerable coinage of
music. There was good silver, there was good copper, there was
promissory paper. All these, in a loose metaphor, might temporarily be
depreciated in the exchange of my mind, or might have a rise, but Bach
remained gold. Out of my “taste,” whatever that was, I was quite
prepared to put Beethoven (in slow movements) in his place, and to give
Mozart, as judged by his “Variations on a Theme in A,” a very
distinguished position, and to concede a neatness to “The Harmonious
Blacksmith.” Brahms I had never heard of. But all these, then as now,
were, at the most, distinguished gentlemen, equerries or grooms or
chamberlains in attendance round about the court, and having speech with
the King.

By the time I heard _Israel in Egypt_ at the Handel Festival, I had also
heard the _St. Matthew Passion_ at St. Paul’s, and I quite definitely
compared them. Probably it is a mistake ever to compare one achievement
with another even if they are built on an appeal to the same sense: it
is no more use comparing Handel with Bach than it is comparing a sunset
with the view of the Bernese Oberland. But, taken by itself, that
performance of _Israel in Egypt_ seemed to me a monstrous attempt to
cover up a common invention by inflating it with noise. The fact that
there were four thousand (or perhaps four million) singers all bawling,
“He gave them hailstones for rain,” did not essentially make the
hailstorm one whit the stormier, though the immensity of the row
pleasantly stunned the senses. It would be as unreasonable to take a
carte-de-visite photograph of a man with a stupid mouth and a
chin-beard, and hope to make it impressive by enlarging it to the size
of the Great Pyramid. Indeed, the bigger the enlargement, the sorrier
would be the result. But by that time I had the sense to see how
delicate and delightful an artist is Handel when he confines himself to
the limits of his true territory. For sweetness and neatness of melody,
in the violin sonata in A, the piano sonatas, and songs from countless
operas, I knew he had no rival--in the silver standard. But no one, with
the one exception of Bach, has ever defeated the awful limitations of
the “form” of oratorio, and, as a rule, the larger the orchestra, the
more stupendous the body of voice, the more shaky becomes the credit of
the composer. Indeed, the very fact that so gigantic a representation as
a Crystal Palace Handel Festival was ever desired or enjoyed postulates
not only a complete want of musical perception on the part of the
public, but a corresponding want of musical achievement on the part of
Handel. No one would deny that the “Hailstone Chorus” sounds better when
a huge band and an immense chorus all produce the utmost noise of which
they are capable. We all like hearing a quantity of voices and a
Nebuchadnezzar-band thundering out commonplace melodies, because a loud
and tuneful noise has a stimulating effect on the nerves, and because we
like our ears (occasionally) to be battered into a hypnotized
submission. But we submit not to the magic of the music, but to the
overpowering din of its production. And when “the feast is over and the
lamps expire,” when we have had “the louder music and the stronger
wine” of noise, our hearts steal back to the spell of Cynara....

Soon after that first enthralling day at the Crystal Palace came the
scholarship examination at Eton, which, as far as I was concerned,
produced no prize whatever. I spent a delightful three days there,
basking in the effulgence of Arthur, then just eighteen and
demi-godlike, and came back to Temple Grove after a pleasant outing. And
at the end of that term Waterfield retired, and I went back in September
to be tutored again for more scholarships.

The new headmaster, Mr. Edgar, previously conducted a boarding-house,
and was hitherto distinguished for a very long clerical coat, two most
amiable daughters, a gold-rimmed eyeglass which he used to clean by
inserting it in his mouth and then wiping it on his handkerchief, and
the most remarkable hat ever seen. The nucleus of it, that is to say the
part he wore on his head, was of hard black felt, like the ordinary
bowler, but it was geometrically, quite round, so that he could put any
part of it anywhere. That I know because I have so often tried it on
myself. Outside that circular nucleus came an extremely broad black felt
rim, far wider than that of the shadiest straw hat, and turning upwards
on all sides in what I can only describe as a “saucy” curve. As worn by
Edgar, it produced an impression of indescribable levity, just as if he
was, say, Mr. George Robey posing as a parson. His amiability was
unbounded, and his driving-power that of a wad of cotton-wool. Indeed,
he was so pleasant that for his sake it became the fashion to fall in
love with either of his two daughters, whose mission was to influence us
for good. They gave us strawberries, and tried to get between us and
the soft spring-showers of their father’s disapproval, like unnecessary
umbrellas.

Under Edgar’s beneficent sway, I managed to get into the most
complicated row that ever schoolboy found himself immersed in, for I
committed three capital (or rather fundamental) offences in one joyous
swoop. In the first place, I concealed five shillings of sterling silver
about my person, though all cash derived from “tips” had to be given up
to the matron, and by her doled out as she thought suitable. This
clandestine millionaire thereupon bribed a fellow-conspirator to break
bounds and go into Richmond, there to spend four of those shillings in
Turkish delight, and keep the fifth for his trouble. He got back safely,
and three friends had a wonderful feast in the dormitory that night, all
sitting on my bed, and cloying ourselves and the bedclothes with that
delicious sweetmeat. Unfortunately there was amongst those midnight
revellers one stomach so effete and spiritless that it revolted at the
administration of these cloying lumps, and, prostrated with sickness,
the owner of it confessed to an unusual indulgence, while the state of
my sheets completed the evidence. The chain went back link by link from
his sickness to my bed, and from my bed to the finding of the empty
Turkish delight box, and from the Turkish delight to the place it came
from, and from the place it came from to the money wherewith it was
purchased, so that I was left in as the unrivalled culprit in the
reconstructed story. But though I should have swooned with anxiety and
probably confessed all, had Waterfield been the Sherlock Holmes, I never
gave a moment’s thought to Edgar’s unravelling. He said I had been very
naughty, and sucked his eyeglass, and hoped I wouldn’t be naughty again.
It was all very polite and pleasant, and I knew I had nothing to fear
from him. But even at the time I had a secret misgiving as to the
Judgment Book that should soon be opened at this page. The best thing,
probably, that I could have done would have been to write home instantly
and tell my father all about it, for that would certainly have seemed to
him the proper course, and also he would have blown off part of his
displeasure in a letter. But I continued to procrastinate, and before
many weeks the term mildly ebbed away. Then with a sudden _crescendo_ my
misgivings increased, and it was a very unholiday-minded urchin who went
back that December for Christmas at Truro.

About now my fear of my father was at its perihelion, and morning by
morning I used to come downstairs, a quarter of an hour before breakfast
time, to look at the post which had arrived, and see if among the
letters for him there was one with the Mortlake postmark and the “Temple
Grove” inscription on its flap. Some morning soon, I knew, my report on
the term’s work and my conduct generally would come, and in it, no
doubt, would be an allusion to this escapade. Edgar had treated it so
lightly that it was still just possible that he would not allude to it
in his report, but that possibility was not seriously entertained.
Morning by morning I turned over the letters, while my father was at
early service, and then one day, while Christmas was nearly on us, I saw
with a sinking of the heart that the fatal letter had arrived. What
added to the terror of it was that my father was in a fit of black
depression.

He did not open his letters at breakfast, and afterwards I went out into
the garden in pursuit of an entrancing game just invented, that
concerned a large circular thicket of escalonia which grew near the
front door. There was an “It,” who at a signal started in pursuit round
the bush to catch Hugh and me, and “It” on this occasion was Nellie. She
came running round the curve of the bush and set us flying off in the
opposite direction, still keeping, by the rule of the game, close to the
bush. Then, when she had got us really moving, she would double back
with the design that we should still, running in that direction, rush
into her very arms and be caught. Full speed astern was the only thing
that could save us.... In the middle of this out came the butler, who
said that my father wanted to see me at once. “Come out again quickly,”
called Nellie.

My father was sitting in his study with an open letter in his hand. I
think he gave it me to read; in any case, Mr. Edgar had been
sufficiently explicit, and in all my life I have never been so benumbed
with fear.... Had I committed the most heinous of moral crimes my father
could not have made a blacker summing-up. He said that he would not see
me among the rest of his children. I was to have my meals alone and
disgraced upstairs, and to take no part in their games or in their
society, and away I went battered and yet inwardly rebelling against
this appalling sentence. Then I think my mother or Nellie must have
pleaded, for I was allowed to go out for a walk with Nellie alone that
afternoon, but was segregated from the others. I was still bewildered
with the fierceness of my father’s displeasure, and took it for granted
that I must have done something unintelligibly wicked, for I asked
Nellie if she had ever done anything so dreadful as the crime of which I
had been guilty. She said she had not, so I drew the inference that her
theft of dried plants from my collection (which, after all, was a
violation of one of the commandments) was venial. But it was precious on
that black afternoon to receive sympathy at all, which certainly she
gave me, and I did not risk the loss of it by enquiring about the
comparative wickedness of the “Affair Turkish delight” and theft.

Then on Christmas Eve, which I think must have been next day, came one
of those unutterable brightnesses which my father always had in store.
Again he sent for me, and I went stiff and resigned, not knowing whether
there was not to be some renewal of his anger.... Instead, he put me in
an armchair close by the fire and wrapped a rug round my knees, and
asked if I was quite comfortable, and shared with me the tea that had
been brought in for him, since he was too busy to come into the nursery
as usual and have it with the rest of us. And then he somehow gave me a
glimpse, sitting tucked up by the fire, of the love that was at the base
of his severity. How, precisely, he conveyed that I cannot tell, but
there was no more doubt about it than there was about the heaviness of
his displeasure.

The remaining two terms at Temple Grove passed along pleasantly. In
school work I continued my slow placid gravitation to the bottom of my
form, as other boys were promoted into it and took their places below
me. I sank gently through them and came calmly to rest at a position
where no fresh sinking was possible. There I went in for a little more
sleep, “a little slumber, a little folding of the hands in sleep,” and
resisted with the passive force of mere inertia any attempt to raise me.
But probably vital forces were beginning to stir again, for I got free
of the successive childish ailments which had been afflicting me--colds,
sore throats, earaches and toothaches--all of which no doubt added their
contribution to

[Illustration: E. F. BENSON, ÆT. 19

[Page 119]

my general apathy, and also I woke to a violent interest in friendship,
steam-engines, and poetry. The last of these I take to have been due to
the fructification of the seed sown by Waterfield’s readings, and, with
Carrington’s translation of the “Æneid” to help, it is a fact that I
produced in an American cloth-covered notebook a complete and rhymed and
rhythmical rendering of the third “Æneid” which we were working at in
school, without caring one jot for the merits of the original Latin.
What I wanted to do was to compose a quantity of English myself, and
compose it I did, glorying in the speed of its production, quite
careless about the faithfulness of the rendering or the accuracy of the
grammar, and the only merit it can possibly have had was that it was a
labour of love. Other poems dashed off in the intervals of this epic
were connected with friendship, for I conceived a violent adoration for
a boy of the same standing as myself, romantic to the highest degree in
that I gave him a whole-hearted devotion, but quite devoid of
mawkishness or sentimentality. To him I addressed rhymed odes, and then
we quarrelled and made it up again, with more odes, for he addressed me
also in flowing stanzas. Then there was a parody of Hood’s “Song of the
Shirt,” held to be a devastatingly comic piece; and not less comic I
suspect was a blank verse lament by a mother over the death of her only
son.

Not very far behind poetry and friendship as objects of existence came
steam-engines, my fellow-engineer sitting next me, bottom but one of the
form. We got illustrated catalogues from the makers of models, and
copied and recopied diagrams of slide-valves, waste pipes, and
eccentrics with a zeal and accuracy which, if devoted to lessons, must
speedily have pulled us out of the humble positions we so contentedly
occupied. A certain geographical jealousy was mixed up in this, since,
though we both condemned the engines on the South-Western, on which line
was Mortlake, as very poor and flimsy mechanisms, he, whose home was
reached by the Great Northern, considered the engines on that line far
superior to anything that the Great Western, which took me to and from
Truro, had to show. He drew pictures of the Great Northern express
engines, and I retorted with sketches of the “Flying Dutchman” (11.45
a.m. from Paddington), which went to Swindon without a stop and ran on a
broad gauge, while the Great Northern was only a narrow gauge. Against
that he set the fact that Peterborough was a mile further from London
than was Swindon.... He was the happy possessor of a model locomotive
with slide-valve cylinders and a waste-pipe going up the chimney, and
though I could not run to that, by dint of saving up and of my mother’s
anticipation of my birthday, I became possessor of another model with a
copper boiler and a brass chassis called the “Dart.” The “Dart” had only
oscillating cylinders, which, as all the world knows, do not discharge
their waste steam up the funnel, but from small holes at their base, and
have this further infirmity, that they only have one steam-driven stroke
in each revolution of their fly-wheel, whereas a slide-valve cylinder
has two. The slide-valve engine, therefore, was of a different class
altogether from the “Dart,” but I found that I could get up a very
powerful head of steam in the “Dart” by stuffing small pellets of
blotting-paper up the safety-valve, so that she held her breath while
her rival was letting off steam. Then, when for fear of a burst boiler I
said the “Dart” was ready, and turned on the tap that conveyed the steam
to the cylinder, she would start off like mad, and for a few yards
easily outrun her more powerful rival. But long before she got to the
end of the open-air cloisters where these races took place she would be
overhauled; and, indeed, the “Dart” usually failed to run a complete
course, and had to be bottled up again to develop fresh energy. But
inferior as the “Dart” was in staying power, it must be accounted unto
her for righteousness that she never burst when her safety-valve was
stopped up. There was also a stationary engine (oscillating cylinder)
belonging to one of us, but we unfortunately burned its bottom out by
neglecting to put any water in the boiler.

Friendship, engines, and poetry, then, were the safety-valves--not
choked with blotting-paper like that of the much-enduring
“Dart”--through which my growing vitality discharged itself, and I used
to lie awake at night, making rhymes and phrases and thinking of the
friend of my heart, and trying to devise some plan by which the “Dart”
should generate a more abundant supply of steam. To these objects of
existence, when the summer term began, was added cricket, but never did
my school work arouse one ounce of latent energy, even though
scholarship time was coming near again. If I can recollect my attitude
rightly, I was entirely without ambition as regards winning a
scholarship, in the sense that I chose to devote myself to Latin and
Greek with a view to subsequently obtaining one. It is true that I
wanted, rather, to go to Eton, and knew that I should not be sent there
unless I got a scholarship, but for that end I did not divert my
energies from friendship, steam-engines, and poetry. I think I am
correct in this recollection, for in all the years that have passed
since then I cannot remember ever being nearly so much interested in the
future as in the present. The actual interest blazing within me (and
there were often several respectable conflagrations going on) has always
seemed to me of far vaster importance than a remoter goal. I do not mean
that I was fitful in my intentions, because I certainly pursued the same
object for years together; only it was not for the ultimate achievement
that I pursued it, but because I was continuously interested in the same
thing. That the opposite line of action is the most effective and brings
the biggest results I do not deny, but, on the other hand, think of the
wild and fugitive acquisitions that fall to the lot of the short-range
strategist.... But I am not defending my conduct, in any case, but
merely describing it.

My own lack of effective ambition must have been terribly disappointing
to the elders who had formed and, in a material sense, directed this
scholarship campaign. Mr. Edgar and my father agreed on a tremendous
programme, which I was to carry out, and the “general idea” was this.
There was a scholarship examination at Marlborough in June or perhaps
early in July, in which there were offered for competition some
half-dozen scholarships, with a great plum at the top called the “House
Scholarship.” The House Scholarship was worth, I think, £80 a year, the
next six £50, and my father in a letter he wrote me shortly before the
event said that he did not think the great plum was out of my reach. His
main desire, I know, was that I should achieve a distinction, but I am
also sure that he felt I ought to do something to help towards the
expenses of my education, since he believed that I was capable of so
doing. He was not a rich man; hitherto his sons Martin and Arthur had
won scholarships which made their education at Winchester and Eton a
matter of small expense, and he did not mean to send me to Eton, as the
event proved, unless I got a scholarship, but to a much cheaper but in
no way less excellent school. I was, therefore, in the examination at
Marlborough to get a scholarship of some sort--the House Scholarship for
choice--and then, a few weeks later, to go up for Eton. If I got a
scholarship there, I was to be sent there instead of Marlborough, but,
failing that, to accept the laurels which Marlborough would no doubt
have offered me.

So first I went off to Marlborough and competed there. I didn’t carry
off the House Scholarship, nor did I carry off any other scholarship,
nor was my name mentioned as having approached to distinction, and so
Eton was given its chance without any back-thought at having wiped
Marlborough’s eye. Once again, therefore, I competed sadly at Eton, and
Eton had precisely the same opinion of me as it had had a year before.
The plan of campaign had completely failed, and it was settled that I
should unconditionally surrender to Marlborough. I did not in the least
want to go there, because I wanted to go to Eton, as far as I wanted
anything at all apart from friendship, steam-engines, and poetry.
Certainly I did not want to remain at Temple Grove any longer, for my
greatest friend had won a scholarship at Winchester, and the
steam-engine friend was off to Harrow, and another person who mattered
had been successful at Eton. But the idea of Marlborough was not without
charm, for a year before another friend had gone there, and I looked
forward with a certain excitement to seeing him again. We had met during
the days of the scholarship examination, and he had aroused in me some
shy sort of adoration. He had grown tall and handsome, and asked
condescendingly about Temple Grove and the odious habit of keeping
stag-beetles, yet with a certain personal interest that he veiled behind
a splendid manly brusqueness. I wondered whether he would appreciate a
short ode, but decided that he would not. But he called me a “decent
little kid,” which I liked as coming from so magnificent a being.

Temple Grove ended very soon after that in a general _dämmerung_ of
failure. _Faute de mieux_ I was to be sent to Marlborough, and throwing
a Latin dictionary carelessly into my locker, I squashed my gigantic
stag-beetle quite flat, and he was as Og the King of Bashan. On the last
day of the term I played cricket against a team of Old Templegrovians
and lost the match by failing to hold the easiest catch ever spooned up
amid a wildly excited circle of contemporaries, having previously got
out first ball (or second). But Mr. Edgar was kind, and said that it
didn’t matter, though his frenzied sucking of his eyeglass and his
dropping it into my lemonade indicated tact rather than sincerity.

       *       *       *       *       *

So the poor ugly duckling who had failed to accomplish anything went
home to its family of swans, who, dazzlingly white, cut circles in the
air above it on the pinions of their various accomplishments. There was
Arthur, now nineteen, who had got an Eton scholarship at King’s College,
Cambridge, and was going there in October, whose scholastic success was
only equalled by his volleys with an Eton football and his wholly
untakeable service at lawn-tennis. He could do everything with ease, was
listened to by my father with attention when he talked, and yet remained
unconscious of his sovereignty, and was altogether kind and faintly
pitiful to my all-round shortcomings. There was Nellie, who annexed
every distinction that could be annexed at the Truro High School,
except when Maggie butted up against her, who could play Schumann’s
first novelette and had been pronounced to have a “veiled” contralto
voice in which she sang melodies by Marzials and Molloy, and who, on the
occasion of Redruth High School or some inferior congregation of females
challenging Truro High School for a match at cricket, bowled out the
entire side of those misguided young ladies with lobs that cut the
daisies from their stalks and were admired even by the vanquished for
their paralyzing swiftness. Then there was Maggie, who took the rest of
the prizes at the High School and painted ravishly not only in
water-colours, but in oils, with McGuilp (was it?) as a medium, and
tubes that squirted rainbows on to her palette. She was not athletic,
but she had the great physical distinction of having been knocked down
by a cow whose calf had been taken from her, and lying prone on the
ground held on to the animal’s horns and with perfect calmness continued
to scream loudly and serenely until rescued by Parker the butler. After
these dazzling swans there came the ugly duckling, who had failed in
games and in scholarship, who had not achieved the smallest intellectual
distinction, but who in some queer manner of his own was quite as
independent as any of the swans.

And, finally, there was Hugh, on whom at this time my father’s hopes
were centred, for I think he regarded him as the one who was going to
take Martin’s place. If he listened with respect to Arthur, he hung on
Hugh, who, for independence, for knowing what he wanted, and for a
perfectly fearless disregard of other people’s opinions, was, for a boy
of nine, wholly unique. If his reason convinced, he would adopt a plan
different from the one he had chosen, but it was necessary to convince
him first, and no amount of bawling or insistence would make him alter
his mind if he did not agree. He adored Beth, but if he chose to walk
through puddles, neither affection for her, nor respect for her
authority, would make him cease to do so, unless she convinced him of
the greater suitability of the dry places. He was so dreadfully funny
that nobody could possibly be angry with him for long, and when he had
reduced a sister, who was teaching him his lessons, to distraction by
his disobediences and inattention, he would anticipate the final threat
the moment before it came, and, with shut eyes and a face inexpressibly
solemn, would chant, “Mamma shall be told!” Arthur alone out of us all
could deal with him. Once, when in some theatrical rehearsal, Hugh, with
soft paper round a comb, had to supply orchestral accompaniment to the
piano, and wouldn’t stop, Arthur observed in an awful voice, “If the
orchestra isn’t quiet, it shall be sent out of the room with several
hard slaps.”... Hugh had a habit, when things were breezy, of writing
insulting remarks in round hand on a piece of paper, and then doubling
it up and throwing it at the object of his scorn, and while you were
reading it he ran away. A further development of this was that, when
pursuit was hot behind him, he would pull a small ball of paper out of
his pocket and surreptitiously drop it, as if fearing to be caught with
it. Naturally, the pursuer stopped to smooth out the paper and see what
fresh insult was recorded there, and would find a perfectly blank
half-sheet. But by that time Hugh would be at the top end of the garden
path and have had time to conceal himself anywhere. Clad in pasteboard
armour, covered with silver paper, with a shield and a helmet and
greaves, he would hide in the shrubbery and hurl paper lances at you.
Then a hot pursuit followed, until one of the greaves dropped off, and,
still flying, he would pant out “Pax, until I’ve put on my greave
again!” He and I lived in a perpetual high-tension atmosphere of violent
quarrels, swift reconciliations, and indissoluble alliances with secret
signs and mysteries to which even Maggie was not admitted. We had a
cypher language of our own which consisted in substituting for each
vowel the one that came next in the alphabet; it was easy to write, but
difficult to speak and even more difficult to understand when spoken.
What we communicated to each other in it I have no conception, nor can I
now remember the aims and objects of the mystic club called “Mr. Paido.”
One of the rites consisted in walking in the garden with bare feet,
which, after all, was an adventure in itself.

The great excitement of this summer holiday, after which I was to go to
Marlborough, was an expedition to Switzerland. All that any of us knew
about Switzerland was a remarkable picture that hung in the nursery in
which rows of dazzling summits crowned cerulean lakes. Above that
panoramic view, in which the Jungfrau and Mont Blanc somehow appeared
together, were little vignettes, one of a Swiss châlet, one of the
Staubbach, one of the castle at Chillon. We journeyed viâ Southampton
and Havre, five children, Beth, my father and mother, and sat upright in
a second-class carriage all the way from Paris to Berne, by what route I
have no idea. Our objective was a village called Gimmelwald, a few miles
from Murren, and we spent a day and a night at Berne, and from Berne, on
the terrace in front of the church, I had my first glimpse of snow
mountains. Perhaps because I had been sitting bolt upright all night,
perhaps because I had thought that the brilliant blues and dazzling
whites of the pictures in the nursery would be collectively unveiled on
an enormous scale, I was more disappointed than words can fairly convey.
Low on the horizon were a few greyish jagged hills beset with streamers
of mist, and that was all. Nellie drew a long breath and said, “Oh,
isn’t it wonderful!” and I labelled her the most consummate hypocrite.

Next morning we started again, and came out on the lake of Thun, the
shores of which we traversed in some sort of train like an omnibus, with
an open top, and in due proportion to the bitterness of the
disappointment at Berne came that day’s rapture. We passed below the
Niesen, which wore a snow-cap, and my mother told us that the Niesen was
nothing particular. Summits gleamed from the other side of the lake, and
they were nothing particular; but oh! for the lake itself, while we
awaited other incredible developments. It was bluer than the picture in
the nursery, and it was trimmed with a translucent bottle-green that
showed the shallow water, and sharp as the edge of a riband laid against
it came that deep clear blue. From Interlaken we proceeded in carriages,
between meadows tall with gentians, and over them there skimmed Apollo
butterflies with orange spots on each under-wing, and Camberwell
Beauties no less (foreign variety, with a yellow instead of a white
border to their wings). And then we turned a corner (I was on the front
seat), and Nellie opposite said, “Oh!” and I thought she had been a
hypocrite again and didn’t look round, because I was observing a pale
clouded yellow. And then she said, “Oh, look!” and I was kind enough to
forgive her her hypocrisies and look, and there, straight |n front, was
the Jungfrau, and the holy maiden was unveiled white and tall above her
skirt of dark pine woods, and my heart went out to the snow mountains,
and has never yet come back. Much did I suffer at their lovely hands
during the next ten years, for that same Jungfrau treated me to an
excruciating climb of many hours through soft snow; and the Matterhorn
kept his worshipper interminably standing with one foot planted on
exiguous icy steps as each was hewn out by the leading guide and the
fragments went clinking down the precipice; and the Rothorn (Zienal)
gave me a very awkward moment on the edge of a _bergschrund_; and the
Piz Palu came within an ace of causing Hugh to die of syncope owing to
the icy wind with which she enwrapped her arête, and the Matterhorn for
the second time threw a large quantity of boulders at me because I
inconspicuously crossed her eastern face on my way towards the Théodul
Pass; and the Dent Blanche directed so damnable a blizzard at me that I
could not make her further acquaintance. But, as David said, “though all
these things were done against me,” yet has my heart never returned to
me from the keeping of the great mountains, nor yet from the keeping of
the sea which I first saw at Skegness, and if I could choose the manner
of my death it would be that I should, above some eminent ice-wall, fall
asleep in the immaculate purity of starlit frost, or sink in the
sea-caves round about the island of Capri, and, as I sank, see from far
below the glitter of the southern sun above me in the clear dusk of deep
waters.... If God pleases, I will be frozen or drowned when the time
comes for me to have done with this body of mine. I do not covet for its
last moment a comfortable bed, and pyjamas, and a medicine bottle on the
washstand.... Not that it matters; only I should like the other mode of
passage.

We passed the Staubbach somewhere near Lauterbrunnen and came in the
hour of sunset to the little inn at Gimmelwald. And then there was no
more spirit left in me, for Eiger and Monck and Jungfrau and Ebneflu and
Silberhorn were aflame with the salute of the evening. Maggie sat down
to sketch, and was prodigal of rose-madder; but whereas she put
rose-madder on to a drawing-block, it was the sun that dyed the snows.
And we had bilberries and cream at dinner, and cows went home, swinging
bronze bells as they cropped a wayside morsel; and there was a noise of
falling torrents and a scent of pasturage, and the excitement of being
“abroad” and the knowledge that the Jungfrau would be there in the
morning.

I wish I could estimate even in the roughest manner the amount of
luggage which accompanied that month in Switzerland. My father had a
heavy box of books and manuscript, for he was working, then as always,
when he saw leisure ahead of him, on his _Life of St. Cyprian_, which he
began at Wellington and completed only shortly before his death. Cyprian
alone took up a large box, and, apart from that in the way of books,
there must have been a great library. There were certainly half a dozen
copies of Shakespeare, because of an evening after dinner we read
Shakespeare aloud, each taking a character; and there was a quantity of
Dickens, which my mother read to us before dinner. Then each of us had
some kind of a holiday task, except Arthur. Nellie had something about
logic, and Maggie had her political economy, and I had a large Latin
dictionary and a large Greek dictionary to elucidate Virgil and the
“Medea” of Euripides, and Hugh had, at any rate, a Latin grammar and a
volume called “Nuces,” which means “nuts,” and hard they were for him
to crack. Everybody, individually, had a Bible and prayer-book and
hymn-book, and I am sure there must have been some Sunday books as well.
Then the materials for “collections” came along also: there were presses
for each of us in which to receive and to dry the flowers we picked, and
there were killing bottles for butterflies (not chloroform and oxalic
acid any more) containing cyanide of potassium, which killed after you
had screwed the lid on, and when you took it off next morning, they were
all dead bodies, like Sennacherib’s hosts; and setting boards for the
laying out of the slain, and large cork-lined boxes for their
exhibition, and packets of pins for their impalement, and many butterfly
nets for their original capture. Then there were packs of cards for
diversion, and my mother had a great medicine-chest in case of illness.
There were cool clothes for all of us in the blaze of the Alpine day,
and warm clothes for the chill of the Alpine evenings; and each of us
had a paint-box and a “Winsor and Newton” block, and Beth never moved
without rolls of flannel and mustard plasters and cylinders of
cotton-wool. Each one of us had an alpen-stock and huge hob-nailed
boots, and when you consider that there were eight persons, each
marvellously equipped for mental, physical, and artistic enterprises,
you must only wonder that some mode of conveyance, if not all, was not
fit to bear the strain of this transportation. But arrive at Gimmelwald
we did, and while Maggie was prodigal with rose-madder this train of
equipment somehow got inside the inn. Beth swooped on her flannel and
her mustard plasters, my father established his Cyprian library in our
sitting-room, my mother clutched her medicine-chest, and there was left
an enormous pile of books, apparatus for botany, climbing, and
entomology, which remained in a passage and was gradually broken up
between its owners. I think that the last pressing-case for dried
flowers, the last killing-bottle for the extinction of butterflies, can
hardly have been clawed from that common heap before it was time to pack
it all up again.

Of that month certain indelibly vivid impressions remain. One was the
ascent of the Schilthorn, popularly supposed to be 10,000 (ten thousand)
feet in height, and to possess the witching attraction of owning
“everlasting” snow. It was not, unless it has abbreviated itself very
much since, anything near ten thousand feet high, and, as for the
everlasting snow, we climbed through torrid uplands and finished by a
mild rocky ascent without ever setting foot on any snow perishable or
everlasting. True, there were patches of it on the northern face, and
perhaps those may be there still. But it was an enchanting expedition,
for we carried our alpen-stocks and the guide had a rope round his
shoulders, and we started at five in the morning. My father had a
guide-book with a Schilthorn panorama, and we sat on the top and
rejoiced in the fact that we were ten thousand feet up in the air and
that small quantities of everlasting snow were below us, and we followed
his guiding finger as he pointed out the jewels in the crown of
mountains that surrounded us.... We passed through Murren on the way
down, and there saw English people playing lawn-tennis on one of the
hotel courts, and never shall I forget my father’s upraised eyebrows and
mouth of scorn as he said, “Fancy, playing lawn-tennis in sight of the
Jungfrau!”

But if there was some subtle profanity in playing lawn-tennis in sight
of the Jungfrau, I thought it much more blasphemous to study “Medea” and
the “Æneid” in the same sacred presence. I had a considerable spell of
these, because it had been discovered that, although I was going to
Marlborough without a scholarship, there was yet another of those odious
competitions which I could enter for after I had got there. I had fondly
thought that after this trinity of failures I had thoroughly be-dunced
myself and need make no more efforts, but it appeared that I was wholly
mistaken, for next December there would be a chance of going in for
Foundation Scholarships at my new school, and in that there would be
less competition, for they were open only to sons of clergymen. So,
after a few days’ holiday, out came the Greek dictionary and the Latin
dictionary and the “Medea” and the “Æneid,” and I had a couple of hours
every morning under my father’s tuition. I think he was very strict with
me, for he still believed in the existence of my brains, and was
determined that I should use them. But it is impossible to get good
results from a small boy unless somehow interest is kindled, and there
was often despair on the part of the teacher and resentful gloom on the
part of the taught. Things came to a climax on one particular wet
morning, when we were all seated in the sitting-room, Nellie with her
logic, and Maggie with her political economy, and Hugh going swimmingly
with his “nuces” under my mother’s instructions. One by one they all
finished their tasks, and there was I left with a chorus in the “Medea”
which I could not translate at all, getting more muddled and hopeless
every minute, and making fresh mistakes as we went over it again, and my
father getting exasperated with my stupidity. Stupid I was, but my chief
ailment that morning was that I was frightened and addled and dazed with
his displeasure. Right up till lunch time was I kept at my task that
day, and in the afternoon there was a walk in the rain, and I got into
some further disgrace for hitting Hugh with my umbrella in mere
retaliation. I was “done to a turn” by this time, and I think my mother
must have pointed that out, for next morning, anyhow, instead of that
just and terrible thunder-cloud, when I brought up the weary chorus
again for retranslation, my father was enchantingly encouraging, and
slipped in little corrections when I made mistakes, as if I had
corrected myself. There was no allusion to yesterday’s trouble, and
under his approval my wits rallied themselves, and at the end he shut up
the book with a delicious smile and told me that it was the best lesson
I had ever brought him....



CHAPTER VII

THE WIDENING HORIZONS


My father took me in person to Marlborough. I did not much relish that,
since I thought, with private school ideas still hanging about me, that
it would be a handicap to be known as the son of a man who wore black
cloth gaiters, an apron, and a hat with strings at the side. That was
all very well in Cornwall, where he was bishop, but here I should have
preferred a parent who looked like other parents. He seemed to have no
consciousness of being unusually dressed himself, and one incident in
the few hours he stayed much impressed itself on me, for he came with me
into some class-room or other where a lot of boys were sitting, talking
and whistling, with their caps on. My father took off his hat when he
entered (which again I thought showed a slight want of knowledge), and
then, to my surprise, every boy in the place did the same. The whistling
ceased, nobody laughed, and I went out again rather proud of him. He
seemed to have done the right thing....

Outside the College buildings there were two or three small
boarding-houses and three large ones containing forty to fifty boys
each, into one of which I should have gone if I had got the famous
“House Scholarship.” As it was, I was put into B House, a square brick
building of three stories, each of which constituted an in-college
house. The edifice itself was like a penitentiary: a big open space
from the skylight to the basement occupied the centre of it, with two
class-rooms and a boot-room in the basement. Round this open space ran
three floors of stone passages, connected by stone stairs; these
passages were lit by arches opening on to the central space, and
defended from it by tall iron bars; and out of these three tiers of
passages opened four dormitories on each floor, a class-room, one
bathroom with three baths, a sitting and bedroom belonging to the
house-master of each house, with corresponding accommodation for a
second house-master at the opposite corner, and a study next to the
bathroom for the head of the house. Ten to fifteen boys slept in each of
these dormitories, which were lit by day from three or four small
windows, and for purposes of going to bed and getting up in the dark
from one small gas-jet. Down the centre of each dormitory stood a board
punctuated with basins, one for each boy, and furnished with a
corresponding number of crockery mugs to hold water for tooth-washing. A
narrow shelf ran round the room above the beds, where brushes and combs
were kept. There was a chest of drawers underneath the gas-jet belonging
to the prefect of the dormitory, and he had a chair by his bedside where
he could put his clothes. As half the beds were directly below the
windows, the occupants naturally objected to having their immediate
windows open during inclemencies, so on cold or rainy nights they were
all shut. There were no partitions between the beds; all operations were
conducted in wholesome publicity, and there was no objection to anybody
saying his prayers. Each dormitory was known by a letter of the
alphabet; the houses were called B 1, B 2, B 3, and every boy had his
school number. Thus my dry description was Benson, E. F., 234, B 1, L.

The day was a strenuous one. A clanging bell perambulating the passages
murdered sleep at half-past six, and there was chapel at seven. If you
chose to get up at half-past six, you had time for a cup of water-cocoa
on the ground floor and for a bath. Usually you got up on the first
sound of chapel-bell at 6:50, and, cocoa-less and with bootlaces flying,
sped down the stairs and across the court to get within the gates
outside chapel before a single fateful stroke of the bell announced that
you were late. By the gate were stationed two masters who on the stroke
put their arms across the entrance and prevented further ingress. If
there were many boys outside at that critical moment they used to charge
the masters and get in somehow, bearing down all opposition, and it was
delightful on such occasions to be safely and legitimately inside and
see a sort of football scrimmage going on. Usually, however, there would
only be a few stragglers, who attempted no violence. Punishments for
being late varied: on the first occasion there was no penalty, but if
you persevered in tardiness, the penalties became unpleasantly heavy.
But if you were late, you could at least do up your bootlaces and get a
cup of cocoa.

There was a lesson from about a quarter-past seven on the conclusion of
chapel till a quarter-past eight. A wholly insufficient breakfast was
then provided, consisting of tea ready mixed out of a tin can, a
circular inch of butter, and bread; on certain mornings there was
porridge. If you wanted anything beyond this fare, you had to buy it
yourself at school-shop. But you took your private milk-jug in to
breakfast and were given, I suppose, about a quarter of a pint of milk,
which you kept for a purpose. During the morning there were two hours’
school and one hour’s preparation and an hour and a half leisure. There
was meat and pudding for dinner at half-past one, and thereafter the
total provender provided was another inch of butter, with tea and bread,
at six, and supper consisting of hard biscuits, a piece of cheese, and a
glass of beer after evening chapel, about 8.45. I had an allowance,
originally, of sixpence a week, which was soon increased to a shilling;
and, quite rightly, the whole of that used to be spent in getting things
to eat. These were consumed at that daily love-feast called “brewing,”
which was a joyful affair and merits its own paragraph.

“Brewing” was a social function; you brewed in your class-room with your
friend, for everybody had a friend of some kind, and nobody brewed
alone. This function took place at varying hours in the afternoon, as
dictated by the hours of school, and rendered unnecessary the scanty
affair called “tea” provided by the college commissariat. In fact, as a
rule, nobody went into college tea at all, so bloated was he with liquid
when poor, and with liquid mixed with cake when rich. Brewing had never
anything to do with beer, for in winter you brewed tea or coffee, and in
summer lemonade in large earthenware bowls, with straws or india-rubber
pipes to drink it from. The tea itself you certainly brought from home
(and when that was used up Beth would send me some more), sometimes you
had sugar, and sometimes you hadn’t, and the milk was provided, as
aforesaid, by the college commissariat, and thus the whole of your money
could be devoted to cake. And there we sat each fellow by his friend,
when football was over, with kettles interminably filled at the college
pump, and put to boil on public gas-stoves, jealously watched in turn by
you or your friend, and the fresh kettle-full of water was poured on the
tea-leaves, and the last crumb of cake was devoured, and the last drop
of milk was coaxed out of the jug, and you enjoyed the full fellowship
of not quite enough to eat, scrupulously divided, and the romance of
being fourteen or fifteen thickened and fructified. You quarrelled and
made it up, and indeed there was very little quarrelling, and you looked
round the class-room, and intrigued and wondered and loved, and spliced
a broken squash-racket, and uncurled the interminable folds of felt of a
burst fives-ball, down to the heart of cork that lay in the centre of
it, and made fresh plans. Then if you were very prudent you washed out
the teapot and the cups and saucers, and especially the milk-jug,
because if you didn’t, it stank appallingly next morning, and in the
morning you could not get any hot water. Cold water was of no use with a
milk-jug: it had to be rinsed with hot water, unless you wanted to find
dreadful curds when, next day, the fresh milk was poured into it.
Bloated with tea you went to chapel again, and didn’t want any beer or
cheese, and wished it was brewing-time again. Then there was an hour’s
preparation in the house class-room, and if you had not had a bath in
the morning very likely you had one at night, and the other boys drifted
into your dormitory where already you lay warm and sleepy in bed, and
perhaps the head of the house gave you a piece of hot buttered toast, as
he came in, for prefects had the privilege of taking bread and butter
away from hall, and you ate it sumptuously and wiped your greasy hands
on the bedclothes. If there was a boy with the gift of narrative in the
dormitory, he often told a story as soon as lights were put out (or
rather the one gas-jet) until he or his hearers got sleepy, and the
story faded into silence. A slippered footstep would be heard along the
passage, and the house-master, candle in hand, made his round of the
dormitories....

In each dormitory there was a big boy, not in sixth form, who was
captain of the dormitory, and a prefect in sixth form. On the character
of these and the two or three other big fellows depended the character
of their dormitory. Bullying, as far as I know, was non-existent; but in
all other respects, they had far more power for good or ill in their
hands than the whole staff of masters put together, for the house-master
went his rounds soon after lights were put out, and it was pretty
certain that he would not intrude again. Even if he should take it into
his head to come out of his rooms a second time, his approach could be
signalled by the boy who occupied the bed opposite the door, which was
always left open; he would be told to “keep cavé,” and stories or
bolster-fights or any other irregularity could safely be committed, for
the young Brangaene from the watch-tower of a bed would whisper, “cavé,”
and the white-robed had plenty of time to steal back to their nests from
wherever they might be and be plunged in profound sleep before the
master traversed the passage. Practically, then, there was no superior
supervision; the elder boys and prefects of dormitories moulded the
material committed to their charge as they chose, and certainly there
was no secret detective-work or encouragement of talebearers on the part
of the masters. The decency, the morality, the discipline that result
from such a system, where these virtues are the result of public
opinion, are of far more robust quality than if they are merely the
forced product of the fear of detection. With the hideous ingenuity that
is peculiarly characteristic of boys, it would have been perfectly easy
to have evaded detection, if the knowledge that there was secret
detective-work going on on the part of masters had challenged our wits
and roused us to invention for the sake alone of “scoring off” masters.
As it was, a well-behaved dormitory behaved well because it was “bad
form” to behave otherwise, while a dormitory naturally ill-behaved,
would have invented some system of sentries which would certainly have
defeated all surprise night-attacks on the part of masters, and not, as
Plato says, have “advanced one whit in virtue.” Boys are far more
ingenious than grown-up men, and the challenge on the part of the
authorities implied by creeping about at strange hours of the night in
slippers would certainly have been delightedly accepted. But there was
no such challenge and well-conducted dormitories, by far the majority,
grew, so to speak, on their own root, and were not grafted on to any
stem that fed them with the sap of authority.

Meantime, the fatal foundation-scholarship examination, to be held in
December, was approaching, and I awaited its advent with an unruffled
consciousness of another failure imminent. To prepare for it, I had
certain private tuition out of school hours, and by a much more
oppressive piece of legislation, I was not allowed to have anything to
do with music except in so far as it was musical to contribute a
muscular treble to the choir in chapel. That deprivation I still
deplore, for I had at that time an odd and quite untrained faculty for
visualizing, by some interior process, tunes that I heard, and being
able to “see” them, so to speak, without any direct exercise of will.
Thus, a term or two later, when an accompanist failed, I took his place
at some sing-song, and transposed at sight Handel’s “Where’er you walk,”
which I did not previously know, from the key of B flat into G, without
any sense of effort, thanks to this little “kink” of internal
visualization. Whatever that kink was, it was not the result of
training, but, I suppose, some small natural aptitude towards the
science of sound which now I dearly wish that I had been allowed to
water and cultivate without break. It must have been a feeble and
under-vitalized growth, for when I was at liberty again to waste as much
time as I chose at the piano, it was certainly less vigorous than it had
been, and never afterwards recovered, when I could stray and strum as I
pleased in melodious pastures. The soil in which it grew was there, for
all my life music has been to me as a celestial light, shining in dark
places for the mitigation of their blackness, and flooding the serene
and sunlit with its especial gold, but from that soil there withered a
little herb that once grew there, a nest with incubated eggs was
despoiled, and the bird came not back. But I expect that the wisdom of
the edict was fully justified in the judgment of the prohibitionists,
when on one snowy morning in December the list of the winners of
foundation-scholarships was promulgated, and there was my name
incredibly among them at a decent altitude.

By one of Nature’s most admirable devices our memories always retain a
keener sense of such experiences as have been enjoyable, than those of
the drabber sort, and to-day I find nothing that I can pick out of the
bran-pie that was not bright and alluring. There were friendships and
hero-worships, the initiation, in a blue and black striped jersey, into
the muddy mysteries of Rugby football, and the dizzy heights (soaring
far above the sordid business of the foundation-scholarship) of playing
in the lower team of the house. There was a school concert at the end of
that first term, and it gave me a complacent thrill to remember that I
was a foundation-scholar when the “Carmen” was sung. But it gave me a
sense of stupefied astonishment to hear the organist, Mr. Bambridge,
play as an encore to his piano-solo, his own original variations on the
theme of “Auld Lang Syne.” Never (except in the case of Miss Wirtz) was
there such a finger, and speaking purely from the impression then made,
I should be obliged to confess that for matter of pure brilliance of
execution and mastery of technique, Mr. Bambridge must have been a far
more accomplished performer than any pianist whom I have heard since.
Why did he not take London by storm with those amazing pyrotechnics of
his own invention, and throne himself higher than ever Paderewski or
Carreno or Busoni soared? I cannot even now bring myself to believe that
any of those lesser lights ever shone like Mr. Bambridge, when with
flying fingers and any quantity of the loud pedal he swooped up and down
in pearly runs and tremendous octaves, while all the time that powerful
thumb of his, relentless and regular as the stroke of a piston, beat out
simultaneously (there was the wonder of it) the original air. I wanted
the piano to comprise an extra octave or two that so he might have a
larger arena for his melodious magic. I wanted to have more ears, so
that they should all be glutted with the beautiful banging and netted in
the gossamer of Mr. Bambridge’s chromatic scales. Even Bach--but it is
always idle to make comparisons between the supreme: who judges between
the various peaks that face the dawn, or cares to plumb the sea, so long
as the sun glitters on its surface, and in the shadow of the rock there
glows the translucent blue of Tyre?...

Straight from that concert I made my honourable return to Truro, and
found that my spurs were won, and with a light heart played Pirates
again, and under the short reign of Byron’s supremacy (for we had been
learning “Childe Harold” by heart in the English repetition lesson)
deluged the chaste pages of the _Saturday Magazine_ with amorous
innocence. Soon, too, the butterfly collection began to assume the
virile toga, for though music was forbidden as a study, natural history,
as encouraged at Marlborough by the society known as the “Bug and
Beetle,” was a legitimate pursuit, and my father strongly approved of my
entering for the “Staunton Prize,” awarded to the best collection of
butterflies and moths, to be made that spring and summer, and to be
adjudged in the autumn. In the warm early-maturing spring of Cornwall,
the downs and lanes were lively with lepidoptera at Easter, and those
second holidays, passing in a whirl of butterfly nets and a corking and
uncorking of killing-bottles, were a sort of canonization of the
collections. Brimstones and garden whites, and holly blues and small
tortoiseshells took on a more serious aspect, and the pins that
eventually fixed them in cork-lined boxes were indeed as nails driven in
by masters of assemblies. The collection must be a strictly personal
one: I had to catch the victims myself, and kill and set them, but
Maggie, even more wildly enthusiastic than me, might, without a
violation of conscientious scruples, indicate a yellow-tip enjoying the
sunshine, or among nibbled leaves discover a geometer caterpillar
turning itself into a measuring-rod.

Cricket, therefore, on the return for the summer half took a subordinate
place, and obtaining “leave off” from it as a compulsory game, I spent
the long summer afternoons in the enchantment of Savernake Forest. Here
it was that the Staunton Collection began to lay more pregnant eggs in
a receptive soil, for I trace to those sunny hours the betrothal of my
soul to the goddess of trees and solitary places, to whose allegiance I
have ever been faithful. Net in hand, and bulging with nests of
chip-boxes I used to climb the steep down fringed with the secular
beeches that form the outer wall of that superb woodland, pausing
perhaps for a “blue” or a “small copper” on the way, but eager for entry
into the temple of trees. Here underneath those living towers, the earth
would be bare, but from the coverts where the sunlight fell only in
flakes and shower-drops of gold, you passed into open glades of bracken
and bramble, through which ran smooth grass-walks of short downland
turf. In these sunny lakes of forest-enfolded open, a few hawthorns
stood like snowy and sweet-smelling islands, and along the edges of the
grass-rides hovered the speckled fritillaries. Then came a group of
hazel trees to be beaten, with net spread beneath to catch the dropping
caterpillars, and grey-trunked oaks, whose bark was to be diligently
searched for slumbering dagger-moths, difficult to find owing to their
protective colouring. Red-spotted burnets clung to thistle-heads, green
hair-streaks (especially in Rabley Copse) must be put up from their
resting-places before they were visible, and there too marble whites
rustled their chequered wings in my net. Deeper and deeper into the
forest would I go, and though I had every conscious faculty alert for
pursuits and captures, yet all the time--and this is precisely why I
have lingered with such prolixity over the Staunton Prize--the
honey-bees of my subconscious self were swarming in with their
imperishable gleanings. Cell after cell they constructed within me, and
filled them with the essences that they culled from beech and fern and
all the presences that subtly haunted the great forest aisles. There
first did I hear the music of Pan’s flute with the inward ear, and with
the inward eye did I see the dancing satyrs, and the dryads of the
woods; and if, as most surely I believe, my disembodied spirit shall
some day visit the places where I learned to love the beauty of this
peerless world, how swiftly will it traverse the thyme-tufted downs of
Wiltshire to breathe again the noble and august serenity of the forest,
and see the fritillaries poise on the bracken at the edge of the
grass-rides.

The Staunton Prize (with how much more derived from those excursions!)
fluttered pleasantly into my butterfly net, and with the flaming of the
autumn leaves, and the hibernation of my quarry, another interest, that
of athleticism, asserted its supremacy over its eager subject. Much has
been written by many wise men as to this robust autocracy in schools,
deploring its paramount sway, and suggesting nobler ideals than muscular
swiftness and accuracy of eye for youth’s pursuing, but what, when all
is said and done, can be proposed as a substitute while the nature of
the average boy remains what it is? Love of learning, intellectual
ambitions at that age are natural but to the few, and while we all
respect the youth who at the age of fifteen is really more attracted by
history or philosophy than by fives and football, who can believe that
there would be any great gain to the nation at large if every schoolboy
was like him? It is frankly unthinkable that the average boy should
choose as his heroes those members of the sixth form who have a
tremendous aptitude for Iambics, or applaud, with the fanatic enthusiasm
with which he hails a fine run down the football field, the intellectual
athlete who this morning showed up so stunning a piece of Ciceronian
prose. Full opportunity in school hours and in voluntary study is given
to the few who, from physical disability or mental precocity, actually
prefer intellectual pursuits to athletics, but the English
fifteen-year-old is naturally a Philistine, and Philistia had much
better be glad of him. For as a rule he is not a prig, and while he
cannot quite understand how anyone should prefer reading to playing
games, he does not despise the student, but generally refers to him with
a certain vague respect as being “jolly clever.” But if it was possible
to implant firmly in the soil of schools the intellectual banner, and to
succeed in making the whole body of boys rally enthusiastically round
it, it is difficult to repress a shudder at the thought of what that
school would be like. Germany, perhaps, alone among the modern nations
has succeeded in imbuing its youth with a passion for learning and
discipline, and it would appear, now that we have been able to
appreciate German mentality, that this triumphant achievement has been
won at an appalling cost; at the cost, that is, of precisely those
virtues which games, generally speaking, are productive of. And in the
long run, and on the large scale that type seems to come to a bad
maturity.

It is right then that for small boys games no less than work should be
compulsory, for if work produces the man of letters, the man of science,
the artist, the educated individual who can take his place in a
progressive nation, not less do games produce a certain general
hardihood, a sense of fair play, lacking which we should fare badly as a
nation. To most boys with growing limbs and swelling sinews, physical
activity is a natural instinct, and there is no need to drive them into
the football field or the fives court: they go there because they like
it, and there is no need to make games compulsory for them. But it is
for those who, whether from a lazy habit of body or from a precociously
active habit of mind, do not naturally gravitate to those pleasant
arenas, that this compulsion is necessary, and to make them, for the
sake of their health, go for a walk instead, does not produce at all the
desired effect. They can go for any number of pleasant walks when they
are fifty: at fifteen (given they have not got some corporal disability)
it is far better for them to run and to kick and to hit and to sweat.
Not their bodies alone partake in these benefits: their minds learn
control of all kinds; they must keep their tempers, they must remain
cool in hot corners (such as they will assuredly experience in their
offices in later life), they must maintain a certain suavity in the
midst of violence; and it is just this discipline here roughly summed up
that gives games their value. Presently, when the studious are a year or
two older, they will have attained to scholastic altitudes where
athletic compulsion is no longer put upon them, and then they can please
themselves. By that time, too, the normal young Philistine will have
awoke to the importance of other things than games, and, unless he is a
sheer impenetrable dunce, have come to regard the studious with far more
sincere respect. But for both, this year or two of compulsion is wholly
beneficial. As for the supposed inflexibility of this athletic
autocracy, it is founded on a complete misapprehension: it should with
far more accuracy be described as a democracy, for its heroes and
legislators are undoubtedly elected by the people, and until the nature
of boys is subjected to some radical operation, so long will they
continue (though with infinite indulgence for the “jolly clever”) to
make heroes after their own hearts.

That which above all gilded and glorified these delights, that which was
the stem from which their green leaves drew nourishment, was friendship.
All these were the foliage that was fed from that stem, though the sun
and the clear windy air and the rain fortified and refreshed them and
swelled the buds that expanded into flowers. For what man is there,
surrounded though he be with the love of wife and children, who does not
retain a memory of the romantic affection of boys for each other? Having
felt it, he could scarcely have forgotten it, and if he never felt it he
missed one of the most golden of the prizes of youth, unrecapturable in
mature life. In many ways boys are a sex quite apart from male or
female: though they take on much of what they are and of what they
learn, strengthened and expanded, into manhood, they leave behind, given
that they grow into normal and healthy beings, a certain emotional
affection towards the coevals of their own sex which is natural to
public-school boyhood, even as it is, though perhaps less robustly, to
girlhood. For twelve or thirteen weeks three times a year they live
exclusively among boys, and that at a time when their vigour is at its
strongest, and it would demand of them a fish-like inhumanity, if they
were asked to let their friendships alone have no share of the
tremendous high colours in which their lives are dipped. Naturally there
is danger about it (for what emotion worth having is not encompassed by
perils?) and this strong beat of affection may easily explode into
fragments of mere sensuality, be dissipated in mere “smut” and from
being a banner in the clean wind be trampled into mud. But promiscuous
immorality was, as far as I am aware, quite foreign to the school,
though we flamed into a hundred hot bonfires of these friendships,
which were discussed with a freedom that would seem appalling, if you
forgot that you were dealing with boys and not with men. Blaze after
blaze illumined our excited lives, for without being one whit less
genuine while they lasted, there was no very permanent quality about
these friendships. Your friend or you might get swept into another
orbit; diversity of tastes, promotion in school, conflicting interests
might sever you, and in all friendliness you passed on, with eyes eager
to give or to receive some new shy signal which heralded the approach of
another of these genial passions. For me the sentimentality that
coloured the choir-boy affair, or that not less misbegotten case of Mrs.
Carter had quite faded from my emotional palette, which now was spread
with hues far more robust and healthy. My signals were all made for the
strong and the masculine, and I quite put out my lights and showed a
stony blackness to flutterings from one of mincing walk or elegant
gestures or a conjectured softness of disposition. I loved the children
of the sun, and the friends of rain and wind, who were swift in the
three-quarter line, and played squash with me in the snow; but still, by
some strange law of attraction, too regular for coincidence, they were
most of them musical, and once more, though now without sentimentality,
chapel services, as in the case of the choir-boy and Lincoln Cathedral,
were entwined with my volatile but violent affections. One such friend
sang tenor and I intrigued my corn-crake way back into the choir in
order to sit next him: another led the trebles. He must have been quite
two years younger than myself, which is a gulf wider than two decades in
mature life. But we bridged it with a structure that carried us safely
to each other; there was music in that bridge, and there was the wonder
in young eyes of the fact that you had found (and so had he) a
passionate pilgrim, voyaging through fives-courts and glades of
Savernake, because of whom those external phenomena shone with a new
brightness, so that now the sweep of the forest, and the fives-courts,
and the mire in the football fields, and the inadequate bounding of
balls in an open squash court, owing to the snow that lay soddenly
melting, grew into scenes and settings for the jewels of human
companionships and boyish affections.

Intellectual kinship, community of tastes had very little part in those
friendships: they were founded on a subtle instinct, and they were born
of a blind mutual choice. Often your tentative scouting was quite
stillborn: you would hope for a friendship, and perhaps he would have no
signals for you, but wait wide-eyed and expectant, for somebody quite
different. Or again you could have a “culte” (to adopt an odious
phraseology for which, in English, there happens to be no equivalent)
for someone, who in the sundered worlds of modern and classic schools,
might be miles away, and then with a sudden and wondrous reward, the
idol would give some such signal of glance (that would be a direct
method) or more indirectly, he would say something to his companion as
he happened to pass you in the court, which you knew was really meant
for you, and on your next meeting you would perhaps get a glance, which
was at least an enquiry as to whether you were disposed towards
friendship. And then as you waited in the clear dusk of some summer
evening for the sounding of the boring chapel-bell, you would sit down
on one of the seats round the lime-trees in the court outside, and he
would stroll by, still linked by an arm to some other friend, and you
rather dolefully wondered whether, after all, there was to be anything
doing. The two would be lost in the crowd beginning to collect round the
chapel gate, and then perhaps the figure for which you were watching
would detach itself, alone now, from the others, and with an elaborate
unconsciousness of your presence he would stroll to the seat where you
waited, and with the implacable shyness that always ushered in these
affairs still take no notice of you. As he sat down it may be that a
book dropped from under his arm, and you picked it up for him, and he
said, “Oh thanks! Hullo, is that you?” knowing perfectly well that it
was, and you would say, “Hullo!”... So after each had said, “Hullo,”
one said, “There’s about three minutes yet before stroke, isn’t there?”
and the other replied, “About that,” and then taking the plunge said:

“I say, I’ve got a squash court to-morrow at twelve. Will you have a
game?” and the answer, if things were going well would be, “O ripping;
thanks awfully!”

Then a precious minute would go by in silence and it was time to get up
and go into chapel, with a new joy of life swimming into your ken. Never
did Cortez stare at the Pacific with a wilder surmise than that with
which he and you looked at each other as together you passed out of the
dusk into the brightly lit ante-chapel, thinking of that game of squash
to-morrow, which perhaps was to lay the foundation-stone of the temple
of a new friendship. There would be time enough after that for a dip at
the bathing-place, and a breathless race not to be late for hall....

The ardent affair, if the squash and the bath had been satisfactory,
blazed after that like a prairie fire, and the two became inseparable
for a term, or if not that for a few weeks. But to suppose that this
ardency was sensual is to miss the point of it and lose the value of it
altogether. That the base of the attraction was largely physical is no
doubt true, for it was founded primarily on appearance, but there is a
vast difference between the breezy open-air quality of these friendships
and the dingy sensualism which sometimes is wrongly attributed to them.
A grown-up man cannot conceivably recapture their quality, so as to
experience it emotionally, but to confuse it with moral perversion, as
the adult understand that, is merely to misunderstand it.

       *       *       *       *       *

For a year I sat solid and unmovable in the form in which I had been
placed when I came to Marlborough, and was then hoisted into the lower
fifth, and began a rather swifter climbing of the scholastic ladder,
because I came for the first time under a master who woke in me an
intellectual interest in Greek and Latin. This was A. H. Beesly, who was
by far the most gifted teacher I ever came under either at school or at
the University. Not for me alone but for his whole form he made waters
break out in the wilderness, and irrigated the sad story of Hecuba with
the springs of human emotion. He had translated it himself into English
blank verse, with a prologue that told how some Athenian slave, carried
off to Rome to serve in the household, read to fellow-captives this song
of Zion in his captivity. What the intrinsic merits of the translation
were, I can form no idea, but of the effect of it on his form, as read
by the author, I cherish the liveliest memory. For three or four Hecuba
lessons we would get no reading, and then Beesly would turn round to the
fire when we had stumbled through another thirty lines, and say, “Well
now, you boys don’t know what a fine thing it is. Let’s see what we can
make of your last few lessons. I’ll read you a translation: follow it
in your Greek. We’ll begin at line 130.” Then he would read this
sumptuous jewelled paraphrase, which rendered in English blank verse the
sense of the passages we had droned and plodded through, and gave them
the dramatic significance which we all had missed when we took the
original in compulsory doses of Greek. For a long time we never knew who
was the author of this English version, and then one day Beesly brought
into form a whole bale of copies, printed in sheets, unfolded and uncut,
and gave one to each of us. There was the name on the title page, as
translated by A. H. B., with the heading, “The Trojan Queen’s Revenge.”
Never in bookshop or in second-hand bookstall have I seen a copy of that
work, and I rejoice in that for perhaps I might be disillusioned as to
its merits, if I had seen it subsequently. Certainly “The Trojan Queen’s
Revenge” was printed, but I suspect (and bury the suspicion) that it
fell stillborn from the press, and that the author bought up the unbound
copies. As it is, it has for me the significance of some equerry who
introduced me to the presence of royal Greece, making the Greeks from
that day forth the supreme interpreters of humanity. Under the influence
of “The Trojan Queen’s Revenge” I passed through the portals into the
very throne-room of that House of Art, so that to this day I must
secretly always employ a certain Greek standard to whatever the world
holds of beauty. Greek gems, Greek statues, became for me the gold
standard, compared to which all else, though noble, must be of baser
stuff. There were to be many idle terms yet before I cared one atom
about the Greek language intrinsically: as far as the literature went I
only cared for the spirit of it revealed in “The Trojan Queen’s
Revenge.” And before I quitted that form we had pieces of _Œdipus
Coloneus_ brought to our notice, and once again Beesly read out some
translation--I suppose of his own--of the great chorus.

“But if you want the spirit of it,” he said, “listen to this. It’s by a
man called Swinburne, of whom you have probably never heard. Shut your
books.”

I can see him now: it was a chilly day in spring and he put his feet up
on the side of the stove that warmed the classroom. He had closed his
book too, and his blue merry eyes grew grave as he began:

    “When the hounds of spring are on winter’s traces,
     The mother of months in meadow and plain
     Fills the hollows and windy places
     With lisp of leaves and ripple of rain,
     And the bright brown nightingale, amorous,
     Is half assuaged for Itylus,
     For the Thracian ships and the foreign faces,
     The tongueless vigil and all the pain.”

Beesly held the thirty boys under the spell of that magic: we were all
quite ordinary youngsters of fifteen and sixteen, and lo, we were a harp
in his hand and he thrummed us into melody. There was stir and trampling
of feet outside, for the hour of school was over, and I remember well
that he waited at the end of one stanza, and said, “Shall I finish it or
would you like to go? Any boy who likes may go.”

Nobody got up (it was not from fear of his disapproval), and he went on:

    “For winter’s rains and ruins are over,
     And all the season of snows and sins,
     The day that severs lover from lover,
     The light that loses, the night that wins.
     And Time remembered is grief forgotten,
     And frosts are slain and flowers begotten,
     And in green underwood and cover
     Blossom by blossom the spring begins.”

He came to the end of the chorus and got up.

“You can all be ten minutes late next school,” he said, “because I have
kept you.”

Just as I must always think of “The Trojan Queen’s Revenge” as being
among the masterpieces of blank verse in the English language, so I
cannot believe that Beesly was not the finest racket-player who has ever
served that fascinating little hard ball into the side-nick of the
back-hand court. There was a new racket court just built in the corner
of the cricket-field, and here at twelve o’clock on three mornings of
the week, Beesly and another master played the two boys who would
represent the school in the Public Schools racket competition at Easter.
The court, anonymously presented to the school, was announced, when
Beesly retired a few years later, to be his gift, and he provided
practically all the balls used in these games. Hour after hour I used to
watch these matches and began to play myself with the juniors. Beesly
often looked on from the gallery, in order to detect new talent, and on
one imperishable day, as we came out of the court he said to me, “You’ve
got some notion of the game: mind you stick to it.” If I had wanted any
encouragement that would have determined me, and I began to think
rackets and dream rackets and visualize nick-services and half-volley
returns just above the line. Beesly kept a quiet eye on me, and after I
had left his form, he would often ask me to walk up towards his house
with him, if I was going that way, and would ask me to breakfast on
Sunday mornings, and what feasts of the gods were these! Perhaps there
would be one of the school representatives there, and Beesly, when the
sausages and the kidneys were done, would show us the racket cups he had
won, or he would read us something or tend the flowers in his
greenhouse. All this sounds trivial, but he never produced a trivial
effect, and gradually he established over me a complete hold, morally
and mentally, which was as far as I can judge entirely healthy and
stimulating. If he had seen me often with someone whom he considered an
undesirable companion he would fidget and grunt a little and pull his
long whiskers, and then with a glance merry and shy and wholly disarming
he said, “Now there are plenty of people it’s good to see a little of,
but not too much of.” He would mention no name, but he never failed to
convey the sense of his allusion. On the other hand if he thought I was
devoting myself too much to games (and in especial rackets) he would
say, “Nothing makes you enjoy a game of rackets so much as having done a
couple of hours hard work first.” Or if, having watched me playing, he
thought I wasn’t taking the game seriously enough, he would stroll away
with me from the court, and _à propos_ of nothing at all, he would
casually remark, “Better do nothing than do a thing slackly. You’ll find
your games fall off, unless you play as hard as you can.”... And then
up at his house on one ecstatic morning when I was getting on for
seventeen he suddenly said, “You’ll be playing for the school next year
if you take pains.” Next moment he had a volume of Browning in his hand
and said, “Browning now: ever read any Browning? I thought not. Listen
to me for a couple of minutes,” and he read “The Lost Leader.” Once, I
remember, I had been to his house in the evening, and he walked back
with me across the cricket-field after night had fallen. The sky was
clear and a myriad frosty stars burned there. For some little way Beesly
walked in silence, then, in his low distinct voice he began:

          “See how the floor of heaven
    Is thick inlaid with patens of bright gold.”

I insist on the apparent triviality and fragmentariness of all this, for
it was just in these ways, not in heavy discourses or lectures on
morality and studiousness and activity, that Beesly gained his
ascendency over me. He was never a great talker, but these _obiter
dicta_ stamped themselves on my mind like some stroke of a steel die on
malleable metal. He was never in the smallest degree demonstrative: he
might have been speaking to a blank wall, except just for that glance,
merry and intimate, which he occasionally showed me, but for all that I
divined a strong affection, which I for my part returned in a glow of
hero-worship. The very fact that he never asked for a confidence
prompted me to tell him all that perplexed or interested me, in the sure
knowledge that he would always throw light in some brief curt sentence.
“Stupid thing to do,” was one of his wise comments when I had told him
of some row I had got into with my house master. “Go and apologize, and
then don’t think anything more about it.” There was the root and kernel
of the matter: down came that steel die, sharply impressing itself,
whereas discursive and laboured advice would have merely been boring and
unconvincing. Off I went, trusting implicitly in his wisdom, and finding
it wholly justified.

And then, alas and alas, I wholly and utterly disappointed Beesly. I
had, as he prophesied, attained to the dignity of playing for the school
at rackets, and had yet another year before I left, and he made up his
mind that I and my partner were going to win the challenge cup for
Marlborough, where it had never yet been brought home. Certainly two
terms before that final event we were an extremely promising pair, but
after that we scarcely improved at all, and fell from one stagnation of
staleness into another. Beesly took the wrong line about this, and in
the Christmas holidays that year I went to stay with him at Torquay, in
order to get more practice, whereas what I needed was less practice.
Even then we made a close match in the semi-final or thereabouts with
the pair who eventually won, and Beesly, who up till the last day, when
he urged me to take a heroic dose of Hunyadi water, continued to cling
to the idea that at last Marlborough would win, had all his hopes dashed
to atoms. Well do I remember his waiting for me outside the court, when
we came out; he could hardly speak, but he patted me on the shoulder and
blurted out, “Well, I know you did your best: I know that,” and walked
quickly away. He wrote me that night the most charming letter, trying to
console me who really cared far less than he did; for it was, I am
perfectly convinced, the main ambition of his life that Marlborough
should win this cup, and for a whole year he had believed that now at
last we were going to, and that I was the chief of the instruments
through whom that ambition was to be realized.

He combined his two passions for rackets and poetry, in some such way as
Pindar, who wrote the most magnificent odes the world has ever read in
honour of boys who won victories at Olympia, and it was this Pindaric
affection which he felt for those on whom his hopes centred at Queen’s.
The affection I certainly returned, but woe for the manner in which I
failed to fulfil the rest of the contract.

I suspect he was an unhappy man, and he was certainly a very lonely one,
and his loneliness no doubt was accentuated to him by his shy reticence.
He kept himself largely apart from other masters; to the best of my
knowledge I never saw him speak to a woman, and all the time he was
stewing in the affection which he was incapable of expressing. But he
had, out and away, by far the most forcible and attractive personality
of any tutor I came across either at school or the University; he was
one of those reserved demi-gods whom a boy obeys, reverences, and loves
for no ostensible reason.



CHAPTER VIII

LAMBETH AND ADDINGTON


While I was still in my second year at Marlborough a thoroughly exciting
and delightful thing happened at home, for my father was appointed
Archbishop of Canterbury, and up trooped his pleased and approving
family to take possession of Lambeth Palace and Addington Park with, so
far as I was concerned, a feeling that he had done great credit to us.
Delightful as Truro had been, we all welcomed the idea of these expanded
grandeurs, and felt colossally capable of taking advantage of them to
the utmost. How great a man my father had become was most pointedly
brought home to me by the fact that, when he came down to Marlborough
soon after his appointment for my confirmation, I could, then and there,
measure the altitude of his pinnacle by the fact that there appeared on
the school notice-board next day an inscription to the effect that His
Grace had asked that a whole holiday should be given to the school in
honour of his visit. He had just asked for it, so it appeared, and in
honour of his visit, it was granted. “Can’t you be confirmed again?” was
the gratifying comment of friends. “I say, do be confirmed again.”

To me, personally, all the splendour and dignity of his office signified
nothing: what concerned a boy in the orgy of his holidays, was the new
sumptuousness of his surroundings.

Stupendous though my father had become, we knew but little of his work
and of its national significance, and it was my mother who to us, far
more than he, was exalted into the zenith. Often since has she told me
how shy and inadequate she felt on entering London, as she now did for
the first time, in such a position, but never can I conceive of her
otherwise than as filling it with the supremest enjoyment, which, after
all, is the first of a hostess’s qualities. Her wisdom, her
conversational brilliance, above all her intense love of people, just as
such, nobly filled and fitted the new sphere. The management of the
great house, with the added concern of the second house at Addington,
appeared in her a natural and effortless instinct: she took the reins
and cracked her whip, and the whole equipage bowled swift and smooth
along the road. The stables were under her control as well; she arranged
all the comings and goings of my father: out rolled his landau with its
tall black high-stepping horses and gilded harness to take him to the
House of Lords, and scarce had the great gates below Morton’s tower
clanged open for him, than Maggie and I set out on our horses for a ride
round the Row, very stiff in top-hats, and riding habit and strapped
trousers, and then round came my mother’s victoria, and woe be to the
carriage-cleaner if the japanned panels failed to reflect with the
unwavering quality of glass. She would be going to pay a couple of calls
and visit a dentist, and while she was there, the victoria would take
Hugh and Nellie to the Zoo, and drop them with strict injunctions that
in an hour precisely they were to pick her up at a fatal door in Old
Burlington Street, and so proceed homewards to tea. Meanwhile the
carriage that deposited my father at the House could take Arthur to some
other rendezvous, and once at any rate, the hansom containing the
Archbishop was prevented from entering the Lambeth Gate, because the
Archbishop’s carriage (containing Hugh and me) must be admitted first.
Never were children so indulged in the matter of equine locomotion, for
the riding horses clattered in and out, and Hugh returning from a
straw-hatted visit to the Zoo must in three minutes hurl himself into
the top-hatted and black-coated garb which in those days was current in
the Row, in order to ride with my father on his return from the House.
One of the five of us, at any rate, was kept on tap for a rather stately
ride with him whenever during the busy day he found an hour to spare,
and it was a pompous pleasure to see the traffic stopped at Hyde Park
Corner, so that we might ride past saluting policemen through the arch.
Physically I suppose we enjoyed our fraternal scampers more, but it
could not help being great fun for a boy of fifteen to steer a rather
fretful horse that went sideways across the street and behaved itself
unseemly, while tall buses waited for his esteemed progress. After all,
if you happened to be riding with your father, for whose passage in
those days all traffic was stayed, you might as well enjoy it....

All such arrangements, all such “fittings in” were a pure delight to my
mother. She revelled in her dexterity, and revelled no less in the
multitude of her engagements. She loved, after a busy day, to dine at
some political house, and hear the talk of the hour, and follow that up
with some party at the Foreign Office, for though she cared very little
if at all about political questions themselves, she delighted in the
froth and bustle and movement. She was great friends with Mr. Gladstone,
though she cared not one atom about the Home Rule question, and he in
turn had the greatest appreciation of her wit, her humour which would
strike a spark out of the most humdrum of happenings: and I believe it
is authentically told that when once at Hawarden there was discussion as
to the identity of the cleverest woman in England, and someone suggested
my mother as the fittest candidate for the post, he said in that
impressive voice, reinforced with the pointed forefinger, “No, you’re
wrong: she’s the cleverest woman in Europe.” Quite unfatigued, she would
be up and dressed in her very oldest clothes before seven next morning,
and walk for a full hour before breakfast, since the rest of the day
held for her no leisure for exercise. Never was there anyone so acutely
observant as she, and at breakfast there would be some grotesque or
comic side-show of the streets for narration. Parks and open places were
of no use to her at all in those rambles; Lambeth Walk, or the humours
of Covent Garden Market were her diversion, and refreshed by these
humours she tackled her new and delightful day. Never by any chance did
she go out to lunch, but never by any chance did we lunch _en famille_;
guests were invariably there. Even more to her mind were her
dinner-parties, in the selection and arrangement of which she took an
infinity of rapturous trouble, and the bigger they were the more I think
she enjoyed them. There was, of course, a great deal of clerical
entertainment, but half a dozen times in the season she gave more
secular dinner-parties of about thirty guests, when literature and
science, and art and politics, and the great world magnificently
assembled. And when the last guest had gone, a piece of invariable
ritual was that she with any of us children who were at home, executed a
wild war-dance all over the drawing-room in a sort of general
jubilation. I remember Lord Halsbury coming back unexpectedly to tell
my mother some story which he had forgotten to mention, and finding us
all at it.

But however full was the day, my mother seemed possessed of complete and
unlimited leisure for talk with any of us who wanted her. I can remember
no occasion on which she was too busy for a talk. Her letters could
wait; anything could wait, and she would slew round from her
writing-table, saying, “Hurrah! Oh, this is nice!” She would listen
alert and eager to some infinitesimal problem, some critical
observation, and say, “Now tell me exactly why you think that. I don’t
agree at all. Let’s have it out.” It seemed that nothing in the world
interested her nearly as much as the point in question, and verily I
believe that it was so. She projected her whole self on to it: she
desired nothing so much, just then, as to put herself completely in your
place, and realize, before she formed an opinion of her own, precisely
what your opinion was. Then invariably the magic of her sympathy seized
on any point with which she agreed, “Quite so: I see that, yes I feel
that,” she would say. “But how about this? Let me see if I can put it to
you.”

It was no wonder that the closeness of her special, particular relation
to each of us was ever growing. The primary desire of her heart was to
give love: when it was given her (and who ever had it in larger
abundance?) she welcomed and revelled in it, but her business above all
was to give. And her love was no soft indulgent thing: there was even an
austerity in its intenseness, and it burned with that lambent quality,
which was so characteristic of her. Never was anyone so like a flame as
she: her light illuminated you, her ardour warmed and stimulated.
Withal, there was never anyone who less resembled a saint, for she was
much too human to be anything of the kind; she had no atom of asceticism
in her, and without being at all artistic she adored beauty.

Spiritual beauty came first, for she loved God more than she loved any
of His works, but how close to her heart was intellectual beauty, things
subtly and finely observed, things humorously and delicately touched!
How, too, she hated spiritual ugliness, as expressed by priggishness
with regard to the Kingdom of Heaven, and mental ugliness as expressed
by conceit or narrowness, and hardly less did she dislike physical
ugliness. Her tones would rise from a calmness which she found quite
impossible to maintain, into a _crescendo_ of violent emphasis and
capital letters as she said something to the following effect:

“Yes, I know: I’m sure he’s a very good man, and that’s so trying,
because he is such a prig, and always does his duty, and, my dear, that
awful mouth, and the Beautiful sentiments that come out of it. Besides
he’s so Very, Very Plain!”

No one was ever more beset with human frailties. She was afraid of
getting stout, and in her diary recorded solemn vows that she would
_not_ eat more than two dishes at dinner, nor take sugar. Then came an
entry, “Soup, fish, pheasant and soufflé. What a Pig I am!”... Or again
if she found herself in some difficulty, where a precise statement of
what had really occurred would make things worse, she would say, “I
shall have to be very diplomatic about it,” and a perfectly well
justified chorus went up from her irreverent family, “That means that
Ma’s going to tell a lie about it.” With all her intense spirituality,
she had no use for conventional worship,

[Illustration: “HIS GRACE” (A DOMESTIC CARICATURE)

[Page 169]

and I can hear her say, on an occasion when my father was out, “We won’t
have prayers to-night for a treat.” Similarly she could never take any
emotional interest (and I think gave up trying) in Synods and
Pan-Anglican Conferences, and Bishops’ meetings, though she knew that
her tepidity about these things that concerned my father so intimately
was a distress to him. But while he drove on his fervent way along the
roads of organization, tradition, ritual and ecclesiastical practice,
her religion was on quite other lines: prayer and meditation were the
solitary methods of it, and in the world which she delighted in, love
and sympathy. And whatever she sought for and gathered there, with all
her own temptations and fallings and new resolves, she brought with
humble confident hands and laid them at the feet of Christ.

Though the beauty of living and sentient beings--whether in the region
of the soul, the mind or the body--made so irresistible an appeal to
her, she never really cared for the beauty of plants or trees or skies
or scenery. Just there a firm frontier-line was drawn round the
territory of her real sympathies, and it accorded very fitly with her
lack of touch with mere organizations. Just as she cared not two straws
for the Pan-Anglican Conference, yet delighted in the human members of
it, so, when standing in front of the west façade of, say Rheims
Cathedral, or looking across from the Riffel Alp to the Matterhorn, her
real attention would not be devoted to these silent sublimities, but
much rather to a cat blinking in the sun, or a sparrow building in the
eaves. Things must move or think or form opinions or commit voluntary
actions to enchant her, and in the Swiss holidays which often followed
the end of the London season, I doubt if she ever looked with eagerness
or wonder at the Matterhorn, except on the day when she knew that one
of her sons was somewhere near the summit in the early morning. On such
another day her eye was glued with enthusiasm on the Rothhorn because
two of us were making the ascent, but towards the Rothhorn in itself, or
towards the waving of poplars, or the flame of a sunset, she never felt
the emotional heart-leap. Thus, when August in Switzerland or elsewhere
was over, the ensuing five months or so at Addington, with its delights
for us of shooting and riding and all the genial thrill of country life,
made no appeal to her. As far as they affected us, she threw herself
into them, but at any moment, she would have chosen to be in the swim
and the thick of things again, and have taken those early morning walks
down the Lambeth Road with the interest of fishshops and costermongers
to enlighten her, rather than walk under the flaming autumn beech trees,
or see the frail white children of the spring beginning to prick through
the thawing earth of January. There had to be a beating heart in that
which enchained her; she could not bother about primroses. That may have
been a limitation, but such limitation as that merely stored her force
of sympathy and discernment towards the rest. She did not attempt to let
it dribble out in exiguous channels, but conserved the whole vigour of
it for the supply of the mansions where her treasure and her heart lay.
In the country also, she was a far more defenceless victim against the
one strong foe of her triumphal banners, and that foe was fear.

In real trouble, especially when the trouble was concerned with those
she loved best, she walked boldly; no one faced the large sorrows and
bereavements that fell to her destiny with a more courageous front. The
magnitude called forth the faith which unwaveringly supported her, but
when all seemed peaceful and prosperous, she was often a prey to acute
imaginative apprehensions. She could not bear, for instance, to see us
all start out riding together, and when the announcement came that the
half-dozen of riding horses were at the front door, she went back to her
room on the other side of the house. Certainly she had some slight basis
for her feelings, for among those steeds there was a bad bucker and a
rearer. None of the riders minded that in the slightest, and away went
the cavalcade at a violent gallop up the long slope of turf in front of
the house with “Braemar” in the shape of a comma, and “Quentin” playing
the piano in the air with his forelegs, and “Ajax” kicking up behind,
and “Peggy” going sideways, just because my father had mounted first and
smacked “Columba” over the rump while the rest of us were betwixt and
between the gravel and the saddle. There were hurdles stuck up on the
slope, and Braemer, shrilly squealing, bucked over the first and Ajax
ran out, and Peggy trod solemnly on the top of one, and Quentin still
hopping on his hind legs refused and was whacked, and my father went
pounding on ahead as we rocketed after him. He was not a good horseman,
but he had no knowledge of fear, and, though he avoided the hurdles, he
went tobogganing down the steep sides of Croham Hurst with Columba
slipping and sliding on the pebbles and putting her foot into rabbit
holes, while her rider with slack rein enjoyed it all enormously. In the
meantime my mother had dreadful visions of two or three of us being
brought back on hurdles, and carried into the house. But exactly at that
point her essential courage knocked her nervousness on the head, for she
would not at any price have had any one of us not go out riding. Only,
she didn’t want to see the start.

It was this vague fear that was her enemy all her life, and it could
pounce on any quarry. She did not really believe that the corpses of her
children were soon to be brought back to her, any more than she really
believed that when my father had a bad cold, it was speedily to develop
into double pneumonia, but she was prey in imagination to these
disastrous possibilities. Hardly ever did she suffer under them as
regards herself; once only do I remember her conjuring up a personal
spectre. On that occasion she got the idea that she was going to die
before the end of the month, a prognostication which she unfortunately
made public. Thereupon, as the days went by, some one of her children
hurried from the tea-table every evening, and stood spectre-like in the
corner of the room, and in a sepulchral voice said, “Nine days now”: or
“Eight days now,” until the fatal and last evening of her prophetic
intuition arrived. The “To-night” was received with roars of laughter,
and she was in brilliant health and spirits next morning, when she ought
to have been a corpse. She laughed at her fears herself (which is just
the reason why I treat them humorously now) but, for all her laughter,
they were year after year a miserable bugbear to her, mostly and mainly
during the leisurely months at Addington. Oftenest they were quite
vague, but couched to pounce on any excuse for definiteness: if my
father had a cold she would evoke the image of pneumonia, if he was
tired she would conjure up visions of a breakdown. She kept these
groundless imaginings to herself, and no one could ever have guessed how
often she was a victim to them, or how heavily they rode her. They did
not, except quite occasionally, get between her and the sunlight, for
she forced them into the shadow, caught them and shut them in cupboards,
steadily and continually disowned them. And when any real trouble came
they haunted her no more; she rose serene and faithful to any great
occasion, welcoming it almost, as she had done with Martin’s death, as a
direct dealing from God, receiving it sacramentally.

       *       *       *       *       *

I wonder if children ever ran so breathless a race in pursuit of
manifold interests and enjoyments as did we in those years when our ages
ranged from the early twenties to the early teens, and the Christmas
holidays in particular, brought us together. One year, about 1884, a
snowfall was succeeded by a week’s frost, and that by another week of
icy fog, and the foggy week I look back on as having given us the
fullest scope of hazardous activity in hopeless circumstances, for
shooting and riding were impossible. We made a toboggan-run which soon
became unmitigated ice, down a steep hill in the park among Scotch firs
that loomed dim and menacing through the mist. Half-way down the hill,
just where the pace was swiftest, and the toboggan skidding most
insanely, grew one of these firs close to the track, and on the other
side was a bramble-bush. From the top you could not see this gut at all,
and with eyes peering agonizedly through the thick air you waited for
the appearance of this opening somewhere ahead. Sometimes you saw so
late that the bramble-bush or the Scotch fir must inevitably receive
you, and there was just time to slide off behind, be rolled on the hard
glazed snow, and hear the plunge of the toboggan in the bramble-bush, or
its crash against the Scotch fir. If you got through safely, a second
and more open slope succeeded and you pursued your way across the path
between the church and the house, and bumped into the kitchen-garden
fence. Bruised and unwearied we took the injured toboggans to the
estate carpenter, whose time at Christmas must have been chiefly
occupied with repairing these fractures, and played golf over the nine
holes which we had made along the slope in front of the house, on the
snow and in a fog. The greens, which were about as large as tablecloths,
had been swept, and the boy who had the honour whacked his ball in the
conjectured direction, and ran like mad after it. When he had found it,
he shouted and his opponent drove in the direction of his voice. If he
sliced or pulled, he too ran like mad in the conjectured direction; if
he drove straight his ball was probably marked by the first driver. The
thrillingest excitement was when, driving first, you topped your ball or
spouted it in the air, for then you crouched as you heard the crack of
the second ball, which whizzed by you unseen. Football in the top
passage with bedroom doors for goals ushered in lunch and after lunch we
skated on dreadful skates called “Acmes” or “Caledonians,” which clipped
themselves on to the heels and soles of the boot, and came off and
slithered across the ice at the moment when you proposed to execute a
turn. Hugh despised my figure-skating (and I’m sure I don’t wonder) and
christened himself a speed skater. The pond was of no great extent and
fringed on one side by tall rhododendron thickets, into which he crashed
when unable to negotiate a corner.

The evening closing in early was the dawn of the intellectual labours of
the day. _The Saturday Magazine_ made frequent appearances, burgeoning
like Aaron’s rod into miraculous blossom of prose and poetry:
between-whiles Arthur composed voluntaries to be played on the organ in
the chapel at prayers, Nellie studied the violin, Hugh produced a
marionette theatre, and wrote a highly original play for it, called
_The Sandy Desert; or, Where is the Archbishop?_ and Maggie made oil
pictures of her family of Persian cats. Once at least during Christmas
holidays we all jointly wrote a play: it was _The Spiritualist_ one
year, in which there was a slashing exposure of mediums; another year we
dramatized _The Rose and the Ring_ in operatic form with original lyrics
set to popular tunes. With the exception of Nellie, our voices were
singularly inefficient and completely untrained, which was part of the
fun of it. To these plays the neighbourhood was invited, and all the
servants and lodge-keepers formed a solid mass at the back. At one of
them, Arthur for some reason, must be disguised as a young woman, six
feet two high, with a yard or so of trousers showing below the skirt.
This impersonation made a kitchen-maid laugh so hysterically, that the
play had to pause while she was taken out by two housemaids, and her
yells died away as she retreated down the back-stairs.

Life in those holidays was an orgy, celebrated in an atmosphere of
absolutely ceaseless argument and discussion. Every question rose to
boiling-point: for while we regarded each other with strong and quite
unsentimental affection we were violently critical of each other. We
drew biting caricatures of my father going to sleep after tea, of my
mother keenly observant above and not through her spectacles, of Hugh
falling off Ajax, of any ludicrous and humorous posture. But above all
it was writing that most enthralled us, and innumerable were the quires
of sermon-paper that yielded up their fair white lives to our
scribblings. These were now beginning to enter a more professional arena
than the _Saturday Magazine_; Nellie, then at Lady Margaret’s Hall in
Oxford, had, before she was twenty, published an article on Crabbe in
_Temple Bar_; Arthur, a year or two older, had written his first book,
_Arthur Hamilton_, in the form of an imaginary memoir, and Maggie and I
were in the throes of a joint story, in which I can perceive the infancy
of a novel called _Dodo_. This was abandoned before completion, but in a
moraine of forgotten dustinesses, I came across some few pages of it the
other day and really felt that there was some notion in it, some
conscious attempt anyhow, to convey character by means of conversation
rather than by analysis, an achievement in the direction of which, in
spite of dispiriting results, I am still grubbing away. There certainly,
in that heap of ancient manuscript fortuitously preserved, was the
conscious striving after psychical dialogue, in which the interlocutors
revealed themselves. Trivial as might be the personalities revealed, the
idea of the excited authors was to avoid narrated analysis, and to
convict and justify their characters out of their own mouths. There was
a crisis of creativeness in the writing of it, for we firmly and
designedly intended that a certain middle-aged lady, at whose feet
everybody else fell flat in adoration of her tact and her sympathy and
her comprehension, should “be” my mother. But, such is the waywardness
of idealistic portraiture, we found, about Chapter VI, that though she
was already supposedly installed on the throne of tact and
comprehension, before which everybody else bowed the knee, she had not
justified the part which we had cast for her, for she really had said
little more than “I feel so deeply for you,” or “Pass the mustard.” We
were determined that she should reveal her incomparable humanity by the
sympathetic dialogues in which we engaged her, but she was so tactful
that she never said anything at all that bore on the problems which were
submitted to her. In the book to which I have alluded, she certainly
appears as “Mrs. Vivian,” who, as may faintly be remembered, is supposed
to be possessed of super-human tact and insight, taking painful
situations with calming and yet exhilarating effect. For the
satisfaction of the curious, it may be stated that Mrs. Vivian was the
one live model in the book and was completely unrecognisable. When first
we enthusiastically scribbled at its earlier incarnation, my sister and
I were at the ages of nineteen and seventeen, and for the very reason,
namely, that we thought of my mother in our adoring limning of her, the
presentment is not only unlike her, but unlike anybody at all.

We went to Addington for a few weeks at Easter, and the sojourn then
was, according to my mother, of the nature of a picnic. As a matter of
fact there was not really anything very picnicky about it; the
drawing-room, it is true, was not used, but we managed with the
ante-room, the Chinese room, the schoolroom, my father’s study and her
own room, by way of sitting-rooms, and perhaps part of the household
remained at Lambeth. But to her vivid sense, to her delight of using all
things to the utmost, this constituted a very informal way of life, for
when she was running a house, everything must be, in its own scale,
spick-and-span and complete. You might, for instance, dine on bread and
cheese and a glass of beer, but the cheese must be the best cheese, the
bread of the crispest, and the beer must be brimmed with froth. Short of
completeness and perfection, whatever your scale was, you were roughing
it, you were picnicking. She did not at all dislike picnicking, but It
Was picnicking, and why not say so? For herself, with her passion for
people (like Dr. Johnson she thought that one green field was like
another green field, and would prefer a walk down Fleet Street) she
would sooner have stopped in London, but my father needed this break in
the six months of his busy London life. But to his volcanic energy and
vitality, such a holiday was of the nature of a compulsion and a
medicine rather than an enjoyment. In the long run he was refreshed by
it, but the getting out of the shafts was always trying to him, and
usually resulted in a fit of depression, such as I have described
before. When he was very hard worked, he never suffered from this; it
was when he was obliged to rest that these irritable glooms descended on
him, and I particularly connect them, during these years, with the
Easter holiday. All the time, as he once told me when talking of them,
he would be struggling and agonizing to get his head out of those deep
waters, but was unable to until the nervous reaction had spent itself,
and the pendulum swung back again. By now we children had begun to
understand that, and though this mood of his was a damper on mirth and
generally an awful bore, we no longer feared him when he was like that
but “carried on,” very sorry for him, and sincerely hoping he would be
better next day. The person who felt it most was undoubtedly my mother:
he was miserable and she knew it, and knew the pathos of his futile
strivings to get rid of it, and her picnic was a melancholy and anxious
one till that cloud lifted. Often, however, she and my father went to
Florence for Easter, where they stayed with Lady Crawford at the Villa
Palmieri, and of all the holiday sojournings it was that which he
enjoyed most keenly. He was absolutely indefatigable where churches or
sacred art were concerned, because of the cause which had inspired
painter and architect. To him the achievement for which the architect
builded, the sculptor chiselled, the musicians composed, and the artist
painted, must be the palpable and direct service of God, and just as he
would gaze in genuine rapture at a second-rate Madonna, whereas a
portrait or even a Primavera would leave him cold, so, without any
knowledge or appreciation of music he would listen to Handel’s
_Messiah_, while a Wagner opera, or a symphony by Beethoven, had he ever
listened or heard such, would have been meaningless to him. Of
ecclesiastical architecture, again, its periods or its characteristics,
he had a profound knowledge, but whether a house was Elizabethan or
Georgian was a matter of much smaller interest to him. He did not truly
care, to put it broadly, who built a column and when and how, or painted
a picture and when and how, so long as those monuments of art were only
directed towards human and æsthetic enjoyment. The natural works of God,
the woods at Addington, the mountain ranges of Switzerland, he
admiringly loved as being in themselves direct divine expressions, but
if the work of man insinuated itself, he liked it in proportion as it
was religious in its aims.

One exception he made, and that was in favour of Greek and Roman
antiquities and the language of the classics, and I am sure he enjoyed
making a translation of some English poem into Virgilian hexameters or
Sophoclean iambics fully as much as he enjoyed the original version.
Latin and Greek, especially Greek, were to him only a little below the
Pentecostal tongues: of all human achievements they were the noblest
flowers. To him a classical education was the only education: he rated a
boy’s abilities largely by his power to translate and to imitate
classical lore, and to wander himself in these fields was his chiefest
intellectual recreation. He loved to unpack, so to speak, some Greek
word compounded with prepositions, and insist on the value of each,
overloading the dissected members of it with meanings that never
conceivably entered into the mind of its author, and his own style in
weighed and deliberate composition was founded on the model of these
interpretations; the sentences were overloaded with meanings beyond what
the language could bear; he packed his phrases till they creaked. But
highest of all in the beloved language, with a great gulf fixed below it
and above the masterpieces of classical literature, came the New
Testament, which he studied and interpreted to us as under a microscope.
That eager reverence was like a lover’s adoration: his interpretations
might be fanciful, and such as he would never have made in any other
commentings, but here his search for hidden meanings in simple phrases
had just that quality of tender and exquisite scrutiny. The subject of
this study was his life, and the smallest of its details must be
searched out, and squeezed to yield a drop more of sacred essence.... On
any other topic he would have criticized the Hellenistic Greek, as
falling far below classical standards, but, as it was, he accepted it as
verbally inspired, and no enquiry was too minute. Rather curiously,
collations of differing texts did not engage him, nor did he touch on
Higher Criticism. The text of his own Greek Testament was all that
concerned him, there was the whole matter, and on to it he turned the
full light of his intellect and his enthusiasm, without criticism but
minutely and lovingly poring over it, as it actually and traditionally
was.

From Monday morning until Saturday night these weeks at Addington,
especially at Christmas, were to us a whirl of delightful activities
from the moment that chapel service and Bible lesson were over in the
morning, till evening service at ten o’clock at night. But Sunday was a
day set so much apart from the rest that it hardly seemed to belong to
Addington at all. There was early communion in the chapel, unless it was
celebrated after the eleven o’clock service in church; morning service
in church was succeeded by lunch, lunch by a slow family walk during
which my father read George Herbert to us; the walk was succeeded by a
Bible reading with him, and then came tea. After tea was evening service
in church, and after Sunday supper, he read the _Pilgrim’s Progress_
aloud until we had compline in chapel. To fill up intervals we might
read certain Sunday books, the more mature successors of Bishop Heber
and _The Rocky Island_ and _Agathos_. No shoal of relaxation emerged
from the roaring devotional flood; if at meals the conversation became
too secular, it was brought back into appropriate channels; there was
even a set of special graces before and after meals to be used on
Sunday, consisting of short versicles and responses quite bewildering to
any guest staying in the house. No games of any sort or kind were
played, not even those which like lawn-tennis or golf entailed no labour
on the part of servants. However fair a snow covered Fir Mount, no
toboggan that day made its perilous descent, and though the pond might
be spread with delectable ice no skates profaned its satin on the Day of
Rest. The Day of Rest in fact, owing chiefly to this prohibition on
reasonable relaxation, became a day of pitiless fatigue. We hopped, like
“ducks and drakes,” from one religious exercise to another, relentlessly
propelled.

To my father, I make no doubt, with his intensely devotional mind, this
strenuous Sunday was a time of refreshment. It is perfectly true that
he often went to sleep in church, and if on very hot Sundays, the walk
was abandoned, and we read aloud in turns from some saintly chronicle,
under the big cedar on the lawn, not only he, but every member of the
family, except the reader (we read in turn), went to sleep too. But he
dozed off to the chronicle of St. Francis and came back to it again;
nothing jarred. Thus ordered, Sunday was a perfect day for one of his
temperament; no work was done on it, no week-day breeze ruffled its
devotional stillness, but his appreciation of it postulated that all of
us should share to the full in its spiritual benefits. He did not
believe that for himself Sunday could be spent more profitably, and so
we were all swept, regardless of its private effect on us, into the
tide. What he did not allow for was that on other temperaments, that
which so aptly fulfilled the desires of his own produced a totally
different impression. That day, for us, was one of crushing boredom and
unutterable fatigue. Certain humorous gleams occasionally relieved the
darkness, as when the devil entered into me on one occasion when _Lives
of the Saints_ came to me by rotation, for reading aloud. There was the
serene sunlight outside the shade of the cedar, positively gilding the
tennis court, there was the croquet lawn starving for the crack of
balls, and there too, underneath the cedar was my somnolent family, Hugh
with swoony eyes, laden with sleep, Nellie and Maggie primly and
decorously listening, their eyelids closed, like Miss Matty’s, because
they listened better so, and my father, for whom and by whom this treat
was arranged, with head thrown back and mouth nakedly open.... And then
came Satan, or at least Puck.... I read four lines of the page to which
we had penetrated, then read a few sentences out of the page that had
already been read. Deftly and silently, but keeping a prudent finger in
the proper place, I turned over a hundred pages, and droned a paragraph
about a perfectly different saint. Swiftly turning back I read some few
lines out of the introduction to the whole volume, and then, sending
prudence to the winds, found the end of the chapter on which we were
engaged. I gave them a little more about St. Catherine of Siena, a
little more from the introduction, then in case anyone happened to be
awake read the concluding sentences of the chapter about St. Francis and
stopped.

The cessation of voice caused Nellie to awake, and with an astounding
hypocrisy, subsequently brought home to her, she exclaimed:

“Oh, how interesting!”

Her voice aroused my father. There we all were sitting under the cedar,
reading about St. Francis. Hugh had awoke, Maggie had awoke: it was a
peaceful devotional Sunday afternoon.

“Wonderful!” he said. “Is that the end, Fred?”

“Yes, that’s all,” said Fred.

Fred was also a passive actor in another Sunday humour. My father had
noticed in me a certain restlessness at readings, some twitching of the
limbs at a Bible lesson, or whatnot, and in order to confirm me in the
right practice of the day, had looked out a book in his library about
Sunday, which he recommended me to read, without having sufficiently
ascertained the contents of it himself. Judge of my rapture when I found
a perfectly convincing chapter, showing how the sad, joyless, unrelaxed
English Sunday was purely an invention of Puritan times. My father had
given me the book to convince me of the antique sanctity of the
Addington use: the book told me that from the patristic times onwards,
no such idea of Sunday as we religiously practised had ever entered into
the heads of Christians, or had ever dawned on the world until the
sourness of Puritans robbed the day of its traditional joy. It had been
a day of _festa_, of relaxation from the tedious round of business, and
all the faithful dressed themselves in their best clothes for fun, and
village sports were held, and hospitality enlivened the drab week. Sure
enough they went to church in the morning, and after that abandoned
themselves to jollity. With suppressed giggles I flew to my mother’s
room to tell her the result of this investigation, and she steered a
course so wonderful that not even then could I chart it. Her sympathetic
amusement I knew was all mine, but somehow she abandoned no whit of her
loyalty to my father’s purpose in giving me the book. I had imagined
myself (with rather timorous glee, for which I wanted her support)
pronouncing sentence on his Sunday upon the very evidence which he had
given me to judge it by, but some consummate stroke of tact on my
mother’s part made all that to be quite out of the question. How she did
it I have no idea, but surely the very test of tact lies in the fact
that you don’t know how it is done. Tact explained ceases to be tact,
and degenerates into reason on the one hand or futility on the other.
Certainly I never confronted my father with this evidence, and Sunday
went on precisely as usual. Sometimes Hugh and I played football in the
top passage, but you mightn’t kick hard for fear of detected
reverberations through the skylight of the central hall.

       *       *       *       *       *

There is a play by some Italian dramatist, which I once saw Dusé act:
perhaps it is by D’Annunzio, but I cannot identify it. In the second
act anyhow, the curtain went up on Dusé, alone on the stage. She wrote a
letter, she put some flowers in a vase without speech, and still without
speech, she opened a window at the back, and leaned out of it. She
paused long with her back to the audience, and then turning round again
said, half below her breath, “Aprile.” After that the action of the play
proceeded but not till, in that long pause and that one word, she had
given us the magic of spring.... Not otherwise, but just so, were those
Addington holidays, when I was sixteen and seventeen, my April, and thus
the magic of spring in those seasons of Christmas and Easter and
September came to me. Bulbs and seeds buried in my ground began to spike
the earth, and the soft buds and leaves to burst their woolly sheaths.
It was the time for the rooting up, in that spring-gardening, of certain
weeds; it was the time also of planting the seedlings which should
flower later, and of grafting fresh slips on to a stem that was forming
fibre in the place of soft sappy shoots. Above all it was the time of
receiving more mature and indelible impressions, and there is scarcely
anything which in later life I have loved or hated, or striven for or
avoided that is not derivable from some sprig of delight or distaste
planted during those seasons of first growth. Childhood and earlier
boyhood were more of a greenhouse, where early growths were nurtured in
a warmed windlessness; now they were pricked out and put in the beds,
where they had to learn the robustness which would make them resist the
inclemencies of a less sheltered life. Some died, scorched by the sun or
battered by the rain; the rest, I suppose, had enough vitality to make
sun and rain alike serve their growth. Above all it was the time of
learning to enjoy, no longer in the absolutely unreflective manner of a
child, but in a manner to some extent reasoned and purposed. Some kind
of philosophy, some conscious digestive process began to stir below mere
receptivity. I looked not only at what the experiences with which I fed
the lusty appetites of life were at the moment, but at the metabolism
they would undergo when I had eaten them. But of all mental habits then
forming, the one for which I most bless those lovely years, was the
habit of enjoyment, of looking for (and finding) in every environment
some pleasure and interest. That habit, no doubt, with all our games,
our collections, our scribblings had long been churned at: about now it
solidified. And by far the most active and assiduous of external
agencies that caused this--the dairymaid, so to speak, who was never
weary of this magnificent churning--was my mother.



CHAPTER IX

THE FALL OF THE FIRST LEAF


The dreadful “season of snows and sins” was already beginning to
approach again: in other words more scholarship examinations at Oxford
and Cambridge began to pile their fat clouds on the horizon. These were
the snows: the sins were my own in not taking any intelligent interest
in the subjects which would make them “big with blessing.” Certainly I
had been sent to school to learn Latin and Greek among other things, but
the other things were so vastly more interesting. I was usually about
tenth in any form where I happened to be, and I remember a very serious
letter from my father (after a series of consecutive tenths) saying that
he had always observed that boys who were about tenth, could always do
much better if they chose: boys lower in a form were those who often
tried very hard, but were deficient in ability. I do not think I was so
diabolically minded as to consider this a reason for doing worse, but
certainly I declined from that modest eminence where boys who could do
better pleasantly sunned themselves, and sank half a dozen places lower.
By one of those wonderful coincidences which from time to time nourish
starving optimists, it so happened that in the summer of 1884 an
unusually large number of the sixth left school, and thus seventeen
promotions were made out of the fifth form, the very last of which
consisted of myself. With all the dignity and decoration of sixth form
upon me, I had somehow justified my existence again, and the stigma of
being seventeenth was swallowed up in the glory of being in the sixth. I
had a study of my own, instead of being one of a herd in a classroom. I
could make small boys fill my brewing kettle for me and run errands, and
I could, without incurring criticism, wear my cap at the back of my
head.

Something, I fancy, in an address which the headmaster gave to the new
sixth form at the beginning of the September term, was said about duties
and responsibilities: if it was, it must have rebounded out of one ear
without penetration. For the average schoolboy is, I believe, waterproof
to such suggestions, if they come from without he will get his idea of
his duties and responsibilities purely from his own instinct, or rather
from the collective instinct of his contemporaries, and his notion of
proper behaviour in himself and others is practically entirely built on
what he and they consider to be “good form.” These commandments are the
most elusive and variable of decalogues, but usually wholesome, and
completely autocratic. Immorality, for instance, at that time was bad
form, though language which would have blistered the paint off a sewer,
was perfectly permissible, if you wished to indulge in it: bullying was
hopelessly beyond the pale, gambling and drinking, which figure so
menacingly in those lurid histories designed to make mothers tremble for
their innocent lambs, were absolutely unthought of. We (the sixth form
generally) were a set of genial and energetic pagans, caring most of all
for each other, next for games, but doing quite a decent amount of work;
indeed, it was rather the fashion, and became more so, to be industrious
in certain well-defined patches.

Nobody took the very slightest interest in such subjects as French or
mathematics, and considering the way in which they were taught, it would
have been truly remarkable if we had. An aged man, mumbling to himself,
wrote out equations and made pictures of Euclidian proposition on a
blackboard, apparently for his own amusement, without any reference to
his audience. When he had had enough of it, he told us to close all
books, and write out the proposition he had demonstrated. Sometimes you
could, sometimes you couldn’t, and if you couldn’t very frequently, you
had to do it twice and show it up next school. If the aged man
remembered to ask for it, you had forgotten to do it, but usually he
forgot too. But what it was all about was a blank mystery, until it
became necessary to find out, because elementary Euclid and algebra
formed a part of the Oxford and Cambridge certificate examination. When
that approached, we put our heads together and found out for ourselves.

French was equally hopeless: once a week we prepared a couple of pages
of some French history for the headmaster. Whatever French he knew he
certainly did not impart: of the spoken language I had picked up enough
abroad to be aware that he would have been practically unintelligible to
a Frenchman. I believe that both these subjects were admirably taught on
the modern side; on the classical side the study of them was a mere
farce. But at Latin and Greek we worked quite reasonably and
intelligently: it was “good form” to take an interest in them, and it
was not thought the least odd if somebody was found reading the _Apology
of Socrates_ (in a translation) out of school hours, though it had
nothing to do with class-work, or that I treasured a piece of white
marble which my sister Nellie on a foreign tour had picked up on the
Acropolis.

The real interest of life centred in “the Alley,” a passage running
above a couple of classrooms in the school buildings, out of which on
each side opened minute studies inhabited by sixth-form in-college boys.
Some of these were double studies shared by two occupants, but most were
single; inviolable castles if the owner chose to shut the door. Inside
there was room for a table, a hanging bookcase, and perhaps three chairs
if you sat close; but who would dream of measuring Paradise by cubic
contents? Never surely was there a more harmonious democracy, and it was
seldom that doors were shut; the inhabitants, unless tied to their
books, drifted up and down and round and round like excited bubbles in
some loquacious backwater. Within the limits of “good form” every
freedom of action and opinion was allowed, and those limits were really
very reasonable ones. It must not be supposed that “good form” was ever
discussed at all: it was merely the unwritten, unspoken code, which held
things together, and undoubtedly the gravest offense against it was a
hint of condescension or superiority. If you were so fortunate as to get
into the school fifteen or achieve any distinction, “the Alley” pooled
the credit, and woe be to any who showed “side” to the Alleyites. If you
liked (hardly anybody did) to be extremely neat in dress, to get
yourself up to kill, to wear buttonholes, you were perfectly at liberty
to do so; but if you showed the least “swank” over your rosebud, the
witnesses of your enormity would probably stroll thoughtfully away and
return embellished with dandelions and groundsel. That was sarcasm,
popularly called “sarc,” and was a weapon ruthlessly employed towards
the superior person. No one could stand a conspiracy of “sarc” for
long: it was better to mend your ways and reduce your swollen head. Only
one member of the Alley was ever known to resist a continual course of
“sarc,” and he, poor fellow, was goaded by the shafts of love, for he
adored to distraction one of the masters’ daughters who appeared unaware
of his existence. This was unusual conduct, but he was at liberty to
squander emotion on her if he wished; what roused the Alley to arms, so
that they loaded themselves with “sarc,” as with hand grenades, was that
he affected to despise all who were not enslaved by some pretty-faced
maiden. Then, as was right, he found hairpins mysteriously appearing on
his carpet, and heard his Christian name called in faint girlish
falsetto from a neighbouring study, and discovered notes with passionate
declarations of love and a wealth of suggestive allusions that I would
no longer “pollewt” my pen with describing nestling in his coat-pocket.
But such was the innate depravity of his amorous heart that he really
didn’t seem to mind the most withering “sarc.”... Games were not
compulsory in the sixth, and in consequence, though athletes were in the
majority, athleticism was no longer automatic, and now a boy would
suffer no loss of esteem, or offend any sense of decency, if he chose
not to play any game whatever. A wide tolerance for your fellows was the
first lesson of the Alley; liberty, equality, and fraternity were its
admirable guides to life.

Next year, when, by another intervention of Providence, I suddenly found
myself head of my house, with a magnificent apartment next the bathroom
for my habitation, the snowstorm of scholarship examinations burst over
me. For a suitable inducement in the shape of a scholarship or
exhibition, I was prepared to go to New, Magdalen, or Worcester at
Oxford, or to King’s College, Cambridge; but not a single one of these
ancient (or shall we say antiquated?) seats of learning would, after
examining me, put their hands in their pockets in order to secure me. I
was very busy at the time, for I was editing _The Marlburian_ and
conducting the school “Penny Readings,” and playing football for them
and rackets, and not being able to find time for everything I let my
school-work slide altogether and, when the depressing results came out,
bore failure with admirable fortitude. In other words, I did not care at
all; if anything, I was rather pleased, because I began dimly to
conceive the possibility of being allowed to stop at school for an extra
year, whereas I should normally have left in the summer. But Marlborough
was now to me the most amiable of dwellings; there were friends there
whom I could not bear the thought of parting with; there were schemes
that I could not bear to leave unfulfilled, and I directed all the
ingenuity of which I was capable to secure my remaining here for an
unheard-of year longer. From being resigned to failure I passed, as my
plans matured, into being enraptured with it. A false step, a misplaced
interview, might spell ruin, and after much thought I went to the
headmaster with a homily all about myself. It was clear that I had not
attained a decent standard of scholarship yet; surely my coming years at
the University would be more profitable if I was better prepared to take
advantage of them? My father was bent on my having a career of some
distinction there, and would not he be far more likely to find his
ambitions for me realized if I made there the better start that another
year at school would give me? Another year now of undiluted classics....

This scheme enlisted his sympathy, and he said he would talk to my
house-master about it, who might not, however, want to keep me in such
august seniority. But as to that I had no doubt whatever, for this
gentleman had only just come to the house, and his seat in the saddle
was at present remarkably uncertain. He used to ask members of the
sixth, and in especial the head of the house, to go the rounds for him
when it was the hour for him to parade the dormitories at night; he
would do anything to shirk disciplinary contact if a senior member of
the house could accomplish this for him. No senior member of the house
felt the slightest nervousness at what so terrified the house-master: we
visited the dormitories, sat on a bed here and there, talking to
friends, helped a straggler who had not finished a construing lesson for
the morning, and eventually went back to the house-master’s room to say
good night and report that all was well. Then he gave you a slice of
cake, and tried to conceal his pipe, and hoped that nobody in the house
smoked (which, as a matter of fact, they didn’t), and everything was
very pleasant and comfortable. The house was behaving quite well,
because prefects and senior boys had it well in hand; but if I left, my
successor as head of the house was bound to be a very mild, spectacled
youth, and, without conceit, I felt sure that my house-master would
prefer to keep me, who during this last year had managed it quite nicely
for him. His attitude came off according to plan, and we had quite an
affecting interview.

Then came the clincher to this careful spade-work, and I got both him
and the headmaster to write to my father urging him to allow me to stop
another year, not only for my own good (interview A), but for the
well-being of the house (interview B). The double appeal was successful:
it was settled that I should stay for another year, and then go up to
King’s College, Cambridge. As I would be over nineteen when the next
scholarship examination came round, I was ineligible on account of
advanced age, and thus, while the snowstorms were next vexing my
contemporaries, I should sit serene and calm on the sunny slopes of
antiquity. I had no notion of using this extra year of life (for so it
appeared then) for idle or unedifying purposes. I meant to work hard at
subjects that would eventually “tell.” I meant also, with a suspicion of
priggishness, to make the house streak a meteor-like path across the
starry sky of school. We were going to be a model of enlightenment (this
was the ambition); we were to win the racket house-cup, and the fives
cup, and the gymnasium cup, and the football cup, and the singing cup
(for, like the Meistersingers, every house competed in singing), and two
vocal quartettes, triumphantly performed, gave a fifth challenge cup.
There it was--forty boys were to be drilled into winning every event of
this immense pentathlon. A sixth cup, possibly within the range, was the
cricket cup; but in the matter of cricket the house generally was no
more than a company of optimistic amateurs. The other five cups seemed
within the limits of probable achievement, and who knew but that a
breezy eleven, rather ignorant of cricket, except for the presence of
the best left-hand bowler in the school, might not effect some
incredible miracle? Never has anybody’s head been so stuffed full of
plans as was mine when I went back a year later than was reasonable for
this series of inconceivable excitements.

The head of the school this year was Eustace Miles. We had already been
great friends for many terms, and now this friendship ripened into a
unique alliance; from morning till night we were together, and seethed
in projects, failures and accomplishments. There was no sport or
industry in which we were not associated. No matter came up within the
jurisdiction of either of us in which each did not consult the other. He
was going up for a classical scholarship at King’s, Cambridge, for we
had quite settled not to have done with each other when school was over.
I had to get to learn some classics somehow, and so together we
concocted the most delightful plan, namely, that we should neither of us
do any French, mathematics, or history, but should be excused coming
into school altogether while such lessons were in progress, devoting
ourselves in the privacy of our studies to classics. The headmaster most
sensibly saw and sanctioned our point, and consequently we had a whole
holiday one day a week, and on two other days only one hour in school.
For me that voluntary unsupervised reading, that browsing at will in
Attic and Roman pastures, gave me precisely all I had lacked before; the
two dead languages stirred and lived, the dry bones moved, and the
sinews and the flesh came up on them, and the skin covered them, and the
winds of the delicate Athenian air breathed upon them. Four years ago
Beesly had awakened in me the sense of the Greek genius for beauty, but
not till now had the flame spread to the language. That for me had
always smouldered and smoked under the damp of grammar and accents; now,
when I could learn as I chose, it flared up. Prosody and inflexions,
moods and cases, all that was tedious to acquire, need no longer be
learned by rule; the knowledge of rules began to dawn on me merely by
incessantly coming across examples of them, and I began to learn under
the tuition of admiration. The same thrilled interest invaded Latin
also, and it was no longer what could be made of the languages in
English that attracted me, but what they were in themselves. Such study
did not lead to accurate scholarship, but it gave me what was of much
greater value to one who did not mean to spend his life in editing
school-books, namely, an inkling of the infinite flexibility of language
and joy in the cadences of words, while from the scholastic standpoint
it added the stimulus which enabled me not to remain at Cambridge such a
hopeless dunce at classics as I had hitherto always been. All the
teaching I had ever received had failed to make me apply such
intelligence as I was possessed of, directly and vividly: there had
never been any sunshine, as regards language, in the earlier grey days
of learning, for the sky had always pelted with gerunds and
optatives.... With that illumination a great light shone on English
also: in the galloping race of composition at home I, at any rate, had
much preferred to run than to read, but now I plunged headlong into the
sea of English literature, reading fast, reading carelessly, but reading
rapturously. I bought the six-volume edition of Browning out of the
money I won over school-fives, which should have been devoted to the
purchase of a silver cup; a successful competition in rackets landed the
works of Dickens, and in the hours when I should naturally have done
mathematics and French and history, these shared with Juvenal and
Aristophanes the honey of the flying minutes. Then came the need to
imitate which always besets the budding author, and if you searched in
the proper pages of _The Marlburian_ you would surely disinter some
specimens that aimed at Addison and stanzas which could never have found
their printer, had there not been in my study a well-thumbed copy of
Tennyson’s early lyrics.

There was another by-road for the literary pilgrim: four of us were
joint editors, producers, and proprietors of that school paper. Who the
two others were I have no idea; it is certain that Eustace and I wrote
the greater part of it, and that, with some fine journalistic flair, he,
and he alone, caused it to pour money into the pockets of its four
editors. Domestically he knew something about printing and pulls and
proofs, which had escaped the experience of his friend and the family
printing press, and that year _The Marlburian_, as I hope it is now, was
a paying concern. Eustace interviewed an astonished tradesman, paid the
printing bills, audited the accounts, and flowed back to his
collaborators a Pactolus of large silver pieces. We wrote indignant
letters signed “A Parent,” and answered them with withering rejoinders
signed “Another Parent”; we invented abuses, and firmly denied them; we
cut down the habitual drowsy accounts of house matches to the smallest
paragraphs and spread a table of Socratic dialogue, proving that
football was the same as cricket and that masters were the slaves of
boys; or imagined that a hundred years hence a fragment of “The
Princess” was dug up and edited and amended by Dry-as-Dust; or
recommended the school generally, when a two-mile run was ordered by the
football captain of their houses, to buy a hoop and bowl it along the
road, in order to enliven the stupid act of purposeless running. In this
latter point we set the example ourselves and bowled nice wooden hoops
down the Bath road, thereby for some reason infuriating the staff of
masters. Once, I remember, Eustace and I, going out for a run with our
hoops, passed the open door of a class-room at an hour when the lower
school was at work, on which a demented master sent out two junior boys
with orders to capture the hoops and bring them in to him. Now, there
was nothing immoral about hoops, nor was there any school rule that
forbade their employment, and so we went very briskly along down the
Bath road for a mile or two, with two small boys in pursuit, and when
they could run no longer we sat down on a gate. They panted up, and said
they had been told to take away the hoops and bring them back to Mr.
Sharpe, and so, very politely, we said, “Come and take them.” Naturally
they could make no serious attempt to take away the hoops of the head of
the school and the captain of the Rugby fifteen, and so, after a little
conversation, we all came back together. It was all very silly, but why
did Mr. Sharpe send two small boys to take away the hoops of two big
boys who happened to choose to bowl hoops? We soon got tired of the
habit, but it was great fun to write indignant letters to _The
Marlburian_ about hoops signed “Magister,” and scathing replies signed
“Discipulus.” It made excellent selling stuff for the paper, and boys
who had never dreamed of buying a _Marlburian_ before put their
threepence down with a spendthrift recklessness, because they knew that
there was a correspondence about hoops, with plenty of “sarc” in it.
There were real letters as well from dignified Old Marlburians,
beginning “Has it come to this?” ...

To all these entrancing topics the editors gave their serious
consideration. They herded together for consultation, and rejected each
other’s contributions with suave impartiality, and when they had settled
what they wished to print, Eustace measured it, and usually said that
there was too much. If it was all very precious a double number (price
sixpence) was decreed; if not, a Socratic dialogue or some trifle of
that kind was cut out. Three out of the four would be very
complimentary to the baffled author, and assure him that they found his
contribution most amusing, and if that did not soothe the rejection of
it, they would grow more candid, and say it was beastly rot. When that
was disposed of there might perhaps be a few inches of column to spare,
and we inserted an advertisement that a sixth form boy was willing to
exchange his hoop (nearly new) for a set of false teeth. Luckily someone
remembered that a mathematical master had false teeth, and would be
liable to think that this was “sarc” directed at him, and some answers
to non-existent correspondents were put in instead. By that time the
cake would be finished and the teapot dry, and Eustace took the MSS. to
the printers, and I went to conduct a rehearsal of Haydn’s Symphony for
the approaching Penny Reading, and ask Harry Irving what he was going to
recite at it.

These Penny Readings which took place once a term were an entirely
delightful institution. _Qui docebant jam docentur_, as the _Carmen_
told us, for the whole of this musical and dramatic entertainment was
got up, rehearsed (to whatever stage of efficiency), conducted and
performed by boys without any help from masters. There were piano solos,
part-songs, vocal solos or duets, and perhaps some reading or
representation, say, of the trial scene in _Pickwick_. But this year the
Penny Readings included grim and finished recitations by Harry Irving,
who “drew” in a manner so unprecedented, that instead of holding them in
the “Bradleian,” a hall of but moderate dimensions, Upper School itself,
capable of holding the entire body of boys and masters, had to be
requisitioned. It fell to my lot to conduct the musical part of the
entertainment, and this year we audaciously rehearsed and performed
Haydn’s Toy Symphony, in which, for a special treat, we allowed Mr.
Bambridge to play the cuckoo. There he sat, rapturously cheered as he
mounted to the platform with his little wooden tube, lean and grave with
a steady eye fixed on the conductor’s baton. It had been arranged that
the cuckoo, otherwise so obedient and punctual in its flutings, should
at one point run amuck altogether, and go on saying “cuckoo” in spite of
the efforts of the conductor to silence it. On it went till the roars of
the audience entirely drowned its voice, and when silence was restored,
it gave one more “cuckoo,” _pianissimo prestissimo_, just to show that
it was quite unrepentant.... But more than anything did Harry Irving’s
recitations bring down the house. In appearance he was his father, young
and amazingly good-looking, and he had all the assurance and grip of a
mature actor: he stalked and he paused, he yelled and he whispered, and
he withered us with horror in some appalling little soliloquy by a dying
hangman, round whose death-bed the ghosts of his victims most
unpleasantly hovered. Then in the manner of a parson he gave us a short
sermon on the moral lesson “to be drawn from, dear brethren, that
exquisite gem of English poetry, ‘Mary had a little larm.’”

The athletic ambitions of the first of these three terms was of course
to win the football cup in house-ties, and also all the school matches.
Neither quite came off, for the house was beaten in the final, while the
school only made a moderate show in its foreign matches. But there was
little time for moaning. Close on the heels of that disappointment came
the Lent term with its fives, rackets and singing cups, and there was
then no cause for anything but jubilation. At Easter came the dreadful
fiasco of the Public School rackets in London, and following on that,
the house was again knocked out in the final at cricket. Never shall I
forget the heaviness of heart with which I came down that day from the
cricket-field, due, not to the fact only of defeat--for even if we had
won, that sense of finality would have been there--but because for me
all the zeal and the struggle, with its failures and successes, of these
entrancing school games, was over. Not again could games, so I dimly and
correctly realized, have quite that absorbing and pellucid quality which
distinguished house matches: there was already forming in my mind, now
that the last of these competitions was over, a certain dingy philosophy
clouding the brightness, which recognized that games were amusements, to
be taken as such. They might give exhilaration and enjoyment, but not
again would they produce that unique absorption. I could not imagine
again caring quite as much as I had cared during these last six years.
Some hour had struck, and not alone for games, but for the multitudinous
aims that had been bounded by the chapel wall on one side, the master’s
garden on another, the field where was the racket court and the football
grounds in winter and the cricket pitches in summer, on the third and
fourth sides. There was the _angulus terræ_, which, apart from brief
holidays, had constituted the whole of life for the vision of a boy.
Apart from Addington, there was nothing in the whole round world that
mattered like those few acres, and the glory which exuded out of their
very soil.

Dimly I conjectured that in a few months Marlborough would be withdrawn
into some bright starry orbit of its own, as far as I was concerned,
revolving there with a sundered light in which I should no longer
share, and that soon I should peer for it through the fog of the years
that drifted across it. Some other orbit was to be mine, which, when I
began to move in it, would no doubt have a heaven of its own to scour
through, but as yet it had no significance for me; it was dim and
uncharted. Still incurably boyish, in spite of the nineteen years which
were verging on the twentieth, I felt that I was being cast out of the
only place that mattered. I suppose I knew in some dull logical way,
that it was otherwise: that inexorable Time which sent me forth out of
this mature infancy had something left in store, but to the eyes of
nineteen, everyone who is thirty, at any rate, must clearly be a sere
and yellow leaf, waiting for an autumnal blast to make an end of him in
the fall of withered foliage. Life might be possible up to twenty-five
or so, but then beyond doubt senility must be moribund and slobbering.
“Thirty at least” was the verdict then: “Thirty at most” was so soon
substituted for it. For the first time in my life I had the definite
sense of a book read through and loved from cover to cover, being
closed, the sense of an “end,” a finished period. Hitherto, change of
home or the leaving of a private school had been not an “end” but a
beginning: though one experience was finished the opening of a new one,
of fresh places, fresh conditions had made the old just slip from the
fingers of a careless hand, without sense of loss. But now my fingers
clung desperately to what was slipping away: they did not clutch at that
which was coming, but tightened, as the smooth days hurtled by, on that
which they still just held.

The last game that mattered “frightfully” had been already played, the
last number of _The Marlburian_ came out, and while one half of me would
have chosen that the full moon of July should know no wane, the other
would willingly have seen her turn to ashes, and fall like a cinder from
the sky, to match the days from which the glow and the radiance were
dying in the frost of the coming departure. Inanimate objects, beloved
and familiar, like the row of lime trees in the court with the circular
seats round them, my house-study with the copies of Turner water-colours
by my sister, the Alley and its noisy merry staircase, began to wear a
strange aspect, for, so soon, they would have passed completely into
other occupation. Drop by drop, like the sweet drippings from the limes,
the honey was oozing from them, leaving empty cells and alien
habitations.

In especial there was a certain covered columned passage, a paved and
roofed pergola close to the sixth form class-room where so often I had
waited for the advent of a friend. In stormy south-westerly weather the
rain beat into it, but it was a good meeting-place, for the Alley, the
Upper School, the sixth form room and the Bradleian made it a junction
for passengers, and there was a board up with school-notices, promotions
into the eleven and the fifteen and whatnot, to while away the waiting.
A congregation of steps would come there as some form was released, but
he was not there: then would come a few scattered steps, but not his.
And then he would come round a corner, in a blustering hurry, and say,
“Oh, sorry,” and together we went up to the house-study madly alive, and
sanely content. Those minutes of anticipation made the columned pergola
more vivid than even the house-study or the Alley or the lime trees, and
in so short a while it would all be dead, as a piece of scenery
remaining on a stage, where others should play their friendly and
wholesome parts. If I had had that which in the cant phrase is called
“the corporate sense,” I suppose the great thing would have been that
generations of others should do as I had done, and I should have said my
grace, and got up thankfully from the delicate and vigorous feast.
Instead I was Oliver and asked for more, and every year since I have
wanted more of some quality that is inseparable from the wonder and
sunset of boyhood. But now the sun was notched by the hills over which I
must soon climb, where lay the untravelled country: its last rays were
level over the plain, and before this last week of July was over, only
high up on the peaks of memory away to the east would the rose linger.
That, too, so I dismally supposed, would fade presently, but there I was
wrong. It has never faded nor lost one atom of its radiance.

There were rejoicings and jubilations to be gone through: the advent of
Nellie for prize-giving, in which at last it was my lot to make several
excursions to the table where morocco-bound books were stacked. There
was a house-supper on the last day of all in celebration of the winning
of those challenge cups, which was gratifying also, but below that was
the sound of the passing-bell. All that day it sounded, except just at
the moment when I should have expected it to be most unbearably
funereal. For the friend for whom I had so often waited in the colonnade
came up with me to the cricket pavilion, from which I had to take away
blazers and bat and cricketing paraphernalia, and having got them
stuffed inside my bag, we sat on the steep bank overlooking the field to
wait for the first stroke of the chapel-bell. Other groups were straying
about the grass, and some came and talked for a bit, and we wished they
would go away, because nobody else was wanted just then. It was not
that there was anything particular to say, for boys don’t say much to
one another, and we lay on the grass, and chewed the sweet ends of it,
and when not silent, talked of perfectly trivial things. And at last the
friend rolled over on to his face and said:

“Oh, damn!”

“Why?” I asked, knowing quite well.

“Because it will be awful rot without you.”

“You’ll soon find somebody else,” said I.

“Funny,” said he.

“Laugh then,” said I.

He sat up, nursing his knees in his arms, and looking down over the
field. Just below was the stretch of grass where house football-ties
were played in the winter, to the left was Beesly’s house, and at the
bottom of the field the racket court. Beyond and below across the road
the chapel and the red school-buildings. Then his eyes came back from
their excursion.

“It’s been ripping anyhow,” he said. “Did two fellows ever have such a
good time?”

Quite suddenly at that, when the passing-bell should have been loudest,
it ceased altogether. The whole of my dismal maunderings about days that
were dead and years that were past, I knew to be utterly mistaken.
Nothing that was worth having was dead or past at all: it was all here
now, and all mine, a possession eternally alive.

“But did they?” he repeated, as I did not answer.

“Never. Nor will. And there’s chapel-bell. Get up.”

He stood up and picked the grass seeds from his clothes.

“Psalms this morning,” he said telegraphically.

“I know. ‘Brethren and companions’ sake.’ Didn’t think you had noticed.”

“Rather. Good old Psalm.”

I took up the cricket-bag, and he pulled at it to carry it. A handle
came off.

“Ass,” said I.

“Well, it was three-quarters off already,” said he. “Come on; we shall
be late. You can leave it at the porter’s lodge.”

“Oh, may I, really? Thanks awfully,” said I.

“Sarc,” said he.

       *       *       *       *       *

There was Beesly on the platform next day when I got to the station, and
I remembered he had asked me what train I was going by. He just nodded
to me, and continued looking at volumes on the bookstall. But just as
the whistle sounded, he came to the carriage door.

“Just came to see you off,” he said. “Don’t forget us all.”



CHAPTER X

CAMBRIDGE


The whole family went that summer holiday to the Lakes, where my father
had taken the Rectory of Easedale, and in that not very commodious house
five children, two parents and Beth all managed to shelter themselves
from the everlasting rain that deluged those revolting regions. Had not
steep muddy hills separated one lake from another, I verily believe that
the Lakes must have become one sheet of mournful water with a few Pikes
and Ghylls sticking up like Mount Ararat on another occasion that can
scarcely have been more rainy. There was fishing to be had, but no fish:
you might as well have fished in the rapids of Niagara as cast a fly on
the streams, while the lakes themselves are noted for their depths of
barren water. Out we used to go in mackintoshes, and back we came in
mackintoshes, and I cannot suppose that thirty years later the Rectory
at Easedale can have lost its smell of wet india-rubber and drying
homespuns. As a special contribution to the general discomfort Nellie
discovered and developed a grand sort of ailment called “pleurodynia,”
which I suppose is the result of never being dry, and I capped that by
cultivating the most orange-coloured jaundice ever seen, and continued
being violently sick when you would have thought there was nothing to be
sick with.

But these atrocious tempests gave my father unlimited scope for what
his irreverent family called “The Cottar’s Saturday Night.” Best of all
situations in the holidays he loved to have his entire family sitting
close round him busy, silent and slightly unreal to their own sense,
while he “did” his Cyprian. There he sat with his books and papers in
front of him, at the end of a table in a smallish room, with all of us
sitting there, each with his book, speaking very rarely and very
quietly, so as not to disturb him, and everybody, alas, except him,
slightly constrained. In these holidays, Hugh, owing to inveterate
idleness at Eton (where, beating me, he had got a scholarship), had a
tutor to whom he paid only the very slightest attention, and on these
evenings he would have some piece of Horace to prepare for next day, and
would work at it for a little, and then drop his dictionary with a loud
slap on the floor. Soon he would begin to fidget, and then catch sight
of Arthur reading, and something in his expression would amuse him. He
drew nearer him a piece of sermon paper which Nellie’s pen was busy
devouring on behalf of the next _Saturday Magazine_, and began making a
caricature. At the same moment perhaps I would observe below lowered
eyelids that Arthur was drawing me, and so I began to draw my mother,
and Nellie catching the infection, began to draw Maggie. (If you gave
her pulled-back hair and a tall forehead, the family would easily
recognize it.) And then perhaps my father, pausing in his work, would
see Hugh with his tongue protruding from the corner of his mouth (for
that is the posture in which you can draw best) and say:

“Dear boy, have you finished your preparation for to-morrow? What are
you doing?”

Hugh would allow he hadn’t quite finished his preparation, not having
begun it, and my father would look at his drawing, and his mouth, the
most beautiful that ever man had, would uncurl, until perhaps he threw
back his head and laughed with that intense merriment that was so
infectious. Possibly he might not be amused, and a little grave rebuke
followed; he returned to his Cyprian and we all sat quiet again. But the
criticism of the family was that this was “Papa’s game, and he made the
rules.” For he, unable to get on with his Cyprian, or arriving at the
end of a bit of work, would interrupt at will the mumness which was
imposed on his behalf. But if Maggie or I finished what we were doing,
we might not make general conversation.... And then the door would open,
and Beth looked in, and said, “Eh, it’s dressing-time,” and her lovely
old face would grow alight with love when she looked on my mother, her
child of the elder family, and five more of her children of the second
generation. From my father there would always be a delicious word of
welcome for her, and he would say:

“Beth, you’re interrupting us all. Go away. Your watch is wrong.”

“Nay, sir, it isn’t,” said Beth--she always said “sir” to him, whatever
his title was--“It’s gone half-past seven.” And she beamed and nodded,
perfectly at ease in this solemn assembly. With her (who counted of
course as one of it) there were eight in that little stuffy room, where
we fidgeted and sat and read. And what would not I give, who with one
other alone survive from those evenings, to have an hour of them again,
in that inconvenient proximity, surrounded by the huge love of a family
so devoted and critical of each other, with the two amongst them whom
nobody criticized, my mother with her spectacles on her forehead, and
Beth looking in at the door?

Then jaundice descended on me like the blur of a London fog, and through
the depression of it, there seemed no ray that could penetrate. But my
mother managed to effect that entry, as of course she always would, and
she came back one dripping afternoon from Grasmere, with a packet in her
hand.

“As it’s all so hopeless,” she said, “I bought some lead soldiers. Oh,
do let us have a battle.”

She poured a torrent of these metal warriors on to a table by my bed.
There were cannons with springs that shot out peas, and battalions of
infantry, and troops of cavalry. It was she, you must understand, who
wanted to play soldiers, and to a jaundiced cynic of twenty that
necessarily was quite irresistible. Who could have resisted a mother who
_asked_ you at her age to play soldiers? We shot down regiments at a
time, for when you enfilade a line of lead soldiers with a pea, if you
hit the end man, he topples against the next one, and the next against
the next, till there are none left standing. The peas flew about the
room, rattled against washing-basins and tapped at the window-panes, and
I felt much better. Then we bombarded Beth who came to know if I
wouldn’t like some dinner, and as I wouldn’t, it was time to go to
sleep.

“A nice little bit of beef,” began Beth.

“If you say beef again, I shall be sick,” said the invalid.

“Nay, you won’t,” said Beth hopefully.

Then to my mother:

“Eh, dear, do go and dress,” she said, “or you’ll keep everybody
waiting.”

My mother shot a final pea.

“I won’t be the conventional mother,” she said, “and smooth your pillow
for you. Nor will I peep in on tiptoe after dinner to see if you’re
asleep. But, my darling, I _know_ you’ll be better to-morrow! Won’t
you?”

       *       *       *       *       *

King’s College, Cambridge, whither my father accompanied me in October,
had, scarcely twenty years previously, become an open College; for
centuries before that, it had been, as was originally the intention of
the pious founder, Henry VI, a close monastic corporation consisting of
Eton scholars destined for the priesthood. If a boy, say, at the age of
twelve, won a scholarship at Eton, and was thus on the Royal Foundation
there, it followed that unless he was supremely idle or vicious, he
obtained in due rotation, without any further examination, a King’s
scholarship, when he went up to the University. After that, often while
he was still an undergraduate, he became a fellow of King’s, and for the
rest of his life the bounty of Henry VI supplied him with commons,
lodging, and an income of £200 a year provided he did not marry, till he
became a senior fellow, when his emolument was doubled. At the time of
its foundation, the college was a regal and magnificent endowment for
the encouragement of learning and the education of priests, but long
before this Etonian sanctuary, consisting of fellows and scholars, was
violated by the rude hordes of barbarians from other schools, the system
had become one of those scandalous and glorious anachronisms, that take
rank with such institutions as pocket-boroughs, where the local magnate
could nominate his own friends to represent the views of the nation in
Parliament.

The founder’s idea had been that from year to year the band of scholars
going up from Eton should keep the torch of learning alight, and grow
old in celibate fineness and wisdom. No doubt there may have been some
very minor Erasmuses thus trained and nurtured, and given stately
leisure for the prosecution of their studies and the advancement of
sound learning, but such a system was liable to many abuses, and as a
matter of fact, acutely suffered from them. A Fellow of King’s, thus
supported for life by the bounty of the King, was under no compulsion to
study; he was perfectly at liberty to be lodged, boarded, and supplied
with a pocket-money of £200 or £400 a year, without doing anything at
all to earn it. Strange crabbed creatures were sometimes the result of
this monastic indolence, for (as would have been the case in a
monastery) there was no abbot or prior to allot tasks and duties to the
fellows. Some, of course, did tutorial work among the scholars, but for
the rest, who might or might not, according to their own inclination,
work at Greek texts and scholia, there was no rule; and a man with no
ambition in his work, meeting his fellows only once a day at the high
table in Hall, if he chose to go there, and otherwise living alone might
easily turn into a very odd sort of person. One of them, who died not so
long before I went up, was never seen outside his rooms till dusk began
to fall: then he would totter, stick in hand, out on to the great grass
lawn in the court, and poke viciously at the worms, ejaculating to
himself, “Ah, damn you, you haven’t got me yet!” After this edifying
excursion, he would go back to his rooms and be seen no more till dusk
next day. All his life since the age of twelve or so, the bounty of
Henry VI had supported him, and until the worms finally did “get” him,
nothing could deprive him of his emoluments. How far short of the
intention of the Royal Founder the college fell may be conjectured from
the list of the fellows, which from first to last contains no name of
the slightest eminence or distinction as a scholar, except that of the
late Walter Headlam, who was not an Etonian.

The reconstruction of King’s took place some years before I went up, and
no more of these life-fellows were appointed. Henceforth fellowships
expired at the end (I think) of six years, though they could be
prolonged if the holder was doing tutorial work in the college, or was
engaged in such research as made it proper that his term should be
extended. But such men as were already life-fellows were not shorn of
their fellowships, and whether or no they were resident, whether or not
they were engaged in any work which might, ever so faintly, be held to
be congruous to the intention of the founder, they were still entitled
for life to their income, their commons, and dinner, and if they chose
to reside in the college to a set of fellows’ rooms. At that time the
college buildings would not nearly hold all the undergraduates, and
freshmen, unless they were scholars, must have lodgings outside college;
but in spite of this certain life-fellows still clung to their
privileges, and continued to retain sets of rooms in Fellows’ Buildings,
which they never occupied. One of these, engaged in wholly unscholastic
work in London, used to come up for a week or two at the end of the
Christmas term, but for the rest of the year his rooms stood vacant,
while two others, who to the best of my knowledge never appeared in
Cambridge at all, had another set of rooms, which were used merely as
guest-rooms by other fellows. A fourth specimen of survivals such as the
founder never contemplated was ancient and dusky in appearance, and
never left King’s at all, though he took no part in the academic life of
the place, appearing only in chapel and in Hall, and occupying himself
otherwise with making faint wailings on a violin.... But a friend of
mine and I chanced on the discovery that if you whistled as he crossed
the court to chapel, he stopped dead, and after a little pause,
proceeded cautiously again. A repetition of the whistle would make him
retrace his steps, and it was possible by continuing to whistle, to
drive him back to his rooms. This was extremely interesting, but the
cause baffled conjecture. Later on, however, after years of eremite
seclusion, he suddenly burst into activity, like a volcano long believed
to be extinct, gave tea-parties in his rooms with a leg of cold mutton
on the sideboard and a table laid as for dinner, and was induced to play
the violin at college concerts. Then (Ossa piled on Pelion for wonder)
he married a girl in the Salvation Army, and disappeared from these
haunts of celibacy. Again I cannot imagine that the founder contemplated
that the head of the college should resemble our Provost, for Dr. Okes,
though resident, was approaching or had already reached his ninetieth
year, and inhabited in complete seclusion the Provost’s Lodge. I am sure
I never set eyes on him at all; he took no part whatever in college
business, as indeed his advanced years prevented him from doing, but
there he had lingered on from year to year without a single thought of
resignation entering his venerable head. Though totally past work, he
was Provost of King’s and Provost of King’s he remained, a drone
apparently imperishable.

Others, however, of these life-fellows justified themselves by a busy
existence; there was the Vice-Provost, Augustus Austen Leigh, who
performed all the presidential duties of the Provost; there was Mr. J.
E. Nixon, Dean of the college, lecturer on Latin prose to
undergraduates, and Professor of Rhetoric at Gresham College, London,
who surely made up for these drones who abused the bounty of the
founder, by his prodigious activities. In appearance he was the oddest
of mortals, a little over five feet tall, wearing always, even when he
went down to play lawn-tennis in the Fellows’ Garden, a black tail-coat,
and boots of immense length, of which the toes pointed sharply upwards.
He had only one hand, and that the left; his right hand was artificial,
covered with a tight black kid glove. He had also only one eye, and that
the right, but the other was marvellously sharp. He made a tennis-ball
to nestle in the crook of his arm, and then by a dexterous jerk of his
body flung it into the air and severely served it.

His mind was like a cage-full of monkeys, all intent on some delirious
and unintelligible business. “Show me a man with a green nose,” he once
passionately exclaimed, “and I’ll believe in ghosts.” He had a voice as
curious as his boots, in range a tenor, in quality like the beating of a
wooden hammer on cracked metal plates, and every week he held a
glee-singing meeting after Hall in his rooms, and refreshed his choir
with Tintara wine, hot tea-cakes, and Borneo cigars. We sang catches and
rounds and madrigals, he beating time with a paper-knife, which, as he
got shriller and more excited, would slip from his hand and fly with
prodigious velocity across the room. He always took the part of first
tenor, and whoever gave the key on the piano put it up a tone or two, in
order to hear Nixon bark and yelp at some preposterous C. If
it was obviously out of range he would say (running all his
words into each other like impressions on blotting paper):
“SurelythatsratherhighisthatonlyA?”... Then the unaccountable mistake
was discovered and we started again. Where he found all these rounds
and catches I cannot conjecture: much music, certainly, that I have
heard in Nixon’s room has never reached my ears again, nor have I ever
seen anyone, except those who attended these meetings, who was
acquainted with the following catch. It started _Lento_, and, under the
strokes of the paper-knife quickened up to _andante_ and _allegro_, and
ended _prestissimo possibile_. The words ran thus, starting with a first
tenor lead:

    Mr. Speaker, though ’tis late,
    I must lengthen the debate,
    The debate.
    Pray support the chair!
    Pray support the chair!
    Mr. Speaker, though ’tis late,
    I must lengthen the debate.
    Question! question! Order! order!
    Hear him! Hear him! Hear him! Hear!
                   (_Da capo: da capo: da capo._)

Every moment it got quicker, the barks and yells over “Order! Order!”
grew louder and louder, until the whole kennel was a yelp, and when
everyone was quite exhausted, and the pandemonium no longer tolerable,
Nixon brought down the paper-knife (if it had not flown out of his hand)
with a loud bang on the table and wiped his face and laughed for
pleasure. Then he poured out Tintara wine, and gave us Borneo cigars,
while he tumbled an avalanche of music out of a bookcase and tried to
find “I loved thee beautiful and kind.”

Apart from glee-singing, lawn-tennis and Latin prose, his mind chiefly
ran on argument and on what he called “starting a hare.” He would
advance some amazing

[Illustration: “HER GRACE” (A DOMESTIC CARICATURE)

[Page 219]

proposition, such as “Why shouldn’t we all--no, that wouldn’t do, but
why not play lawn-tennis and sing glees in the morning, and work in the
evening?” He argued about the most casual topic: if you said, “It’s a
fine day,” he cleared his throat raspingly, and dropped something he was
carrying, and said, “It all depends on what you mean by fine. If you
mean sun and blue sky, granted; but why shouldn’t you call it fine if
there are buckets of rain? It all depends what you mean by ‘fine.’ A
fish now----”

“I meant an ordinary fine day,” began his bewildered guest.

“Very well: but I say ‘fish.’ I’m a fish and you’re a fish. To a fish
probably the wetter it is, the finer it is, and there you are.”

There you were: long before anybody else Nixon had invented the art of
preposterous conversation, which Mr. Hichens wrongly attributes to Oscar
Wilde. To Nixon it was not only an art, a product of instinct, but a
science, a product of definite reasoning. He would not change the
subject, when his argument had been burnt to ashes (often by himself),
but would confidently blow on the cinders, expecting some
unconjecturable Phœnix to arise from them.

By far the most notable of the life-fellows was Oscar Browning, without
mention of whom no adequate idea of Cambridge life in the late eighties
and early nineties can possibly be arrived at. Though King’s was in
large measure a college quite apart from the rest of the University,
giving itself (so said the rest of the University) unwarrantable airs,
Oscar Browning (whom it is simpler to designate as O.B. for he was never
known otherwise) pervaded not King’s only, but the whole of Cambridge,
with his pungent personality. His was a perennial and rotund
youthfulness, a love of loyal adventure not really challenged by the
most devout of his competitors, for who except O.B. at the age of
forty-five or so, ever bought a hockey-stick, and imperilled a majestic
frame in order to have the pleasure of being hit on the shins by the
Duke of Clarence, then an undergraduate at Trinity, and heir-presumptive
to the English throne? I was still a junior at Marlborough when these
Homeric events happened, but years afterwards, O.B. was still talking
about the “awfully jolly” games of hockey he had with Prince Eddy....
Even the fact of his playing hockey at all, which he certainly did,
affords a key to the intensity of his activities.

He rode a tricycle, and once, accompanying him on a bicycle with
funereal pedallings, while he discoursed of Turkish baths and Grand
Dukes, and Taormina and English history, I observed that he stuck fast
in a muddy place, and prepared to dismount, in order to shove him out of
it. But he obligingly told me to do nothing of the kind, for some casual
youth was on the path beside his enmired tricycle to whom he said:

“Charlie, old boy, give me a shove. Ha! Ha!”

“Charlie old boy,” with his face a-shine with smiles, gave the required
push, and O.B. rejoined me, as I swooped and swerved along the road in
order to go very slowly.

“Charlie is my gyp’s son,” he said. “Such a jolly boy. Thanks awfully,
Charlie. Well, there I was, when the Grand Duke’s yacht came into
Taormina. And, by the way, do you know the Maloja? The Crown-Princess of
Germany came there one year when I was in the hotel, so I dressed myself
like a Roman proconsul, in a white toga of bath towels, ha, ha,
and--and--really these ruts are most annoying--and a laurel wreath, and
went out to meet her Royal Highness. I had a retinue of four young men
who were staying at the hotel as lictors, with axes and sticks, and I
read a short address to her to welcome her, and we had lunch together,
and played lawn-tennis and it was all awfully jolly and friendly and
unconventional. Why aren’t we all natural, instead of being afraid of
poor Mrs. Grundy, whose husband surely died so long ago? She has never
married again, which shows she must be a most unpopular female. Most
females, I notice, are so unpopular: they never know when they’re
wanted, and their hearts are always bigger than their heads. Not of
course your dear mother--those charming Lambeth garden parties--and dear
Lady Salisbury. I saw the Queen when I was at Balmoral last year--my
bootlace has come undone, so careless of Charlie not to notice it--and
how hopelessly benighted is Cambridge altogether! Lord Acton came to
stay with me the other day--I think my tricycle wants oiling--and dined
with me at the High Table. Nixon was sitting on his other side,
propounding conundrums about bed-makers, and hoping that he would sing
glees with him. Ha! Ha! Every boy ought to realize his youth, instead of
wasting his energies over elegiacs. When the Grand Duke came into
Taormina----”

It is really impossible to render the variety of O.B.’s general
conversation, of which the foregoing is but a dim reproduction. His
performances, too (the expression of himself in deeds), were just as
various, and yet everyone in Cambridge was aware that behind this garish
behaviour there was a real, a forcible and a big personality. His
performances chiefly expressed themselves in tricyclings and bathings,
in lectures on English history, which nobody attended, and in At-Homes
on Sunday evening, which everybody attended. He had a set of four rooms
(the first being a bathroom) which were all thrown open to anybody, and
if you had said you wanted a bath in the middle of the party, O.B. would
certainly have said, “Ha, ha! awfully jolly,” have given you a sponge
and a towel and have come in to help. Next to that came his bedroom,
lined with bookshelves from floor to ceiling, with a bronze reproduction
of the Greek “Winged Sleep” over his bed; then, not a whit more public
than these apartments came two big sitting-rooms, in one of which was a
grand piano, and four small harmoniums of various tones, one flute-like,
one more brazen in quality, and two faintly resembling wheezy and unripe
violins. On these--each with its performer and a miniature score--O.B.
and Bobby, and Dicky and Tommy would execute some deliberate quartette,
or with the piano to keep them all moderately together would plunge with
gay, foolhardy courage into the Schumann quintette. Never was there a
more incredible sight (you could hardly believe you saw it) than that of
O.B. pedalling away at this Obeophone (for thus this curious harmonium
was aptly named) with his great body swaying to and fro and strange
crooning sounds coming out of his classical mouth to reinforce the
flutings of his melody, while Bobby and Dicky and Tommy, nimble-fingered
members of the Cambridge Musical Society, sat with brows corrugated by
their anxiety to keep in time with O.B. They never learned that they
were attempting an impossibility, but followed him faint yet pursuing as
he galloped along a few bars ahead, or suddenly slowed down so that they
shot in front of him. At the conclusion he would pat them all on the
back, and say, “Awfully jolly Brahms is, or was it Beethoven?” and
proceed to sing, “Funiculi, funicula” himself.... Groups formed and
reformed; here would be a couple of members of the secret and thoughtful
society known as “The Apostles” with white careworn faces, nibbling
biscuits and probably discussing the ethical limits of Determinism;
there the President of the Union playing noughts and crosses with a
Cricket Blue; there an assembly of daring young men who tore their
gowns, and took the board out of their caps, in order to present a more
libertine and Bohemian appearance, when they conversed with the young
lady in the tobacconist’s. Dons from King’s or other colleges fluttered
in and out like moths, and the room grew ever thicker with the smoke of
innumerable cigarettes. But O.B., however mixed and incongruous was the
gathering, never lost his own hospitable identity in the crowd; waving
bottles of curious hock he would spur on the pianist to fresh deeds of
violence, making some contribution to the discussion on Determinism, and
promise to speak at the next debate at the Union, as he wandered from
room to room, bald and stout and short yet imperial with his huge
Neronian head, and his endless capacity for adolescent enjoyment. Age
could not wither him any more than Cleopatra; he was a great joyous
ridiculous Pagan, with a genius for geniality, remarkable generosity and
kindliness, a good-humoured contempt for his enemies, of whom he had
cohorts, a first-rate intellect and memory, and about as much stability
of purpose as a starling. His extraordinary vitality, his serene
imperviousness to hostility, his abandoned youthfulness were the
ingredients which made him perennially explosive. Everyone laughed at
him, many disapproved of him, but for years he serenely remained the
most outstanding and prominent personality in Cambridge. Had he had a
little more wisdom to leaven the dough of his colossal cleverness, a
little more principled belief to give ballast to his friskiness, he
would have been as essentially great as he was superficially grotesque.

A small college as King’s then was, splits up into far more sharply
defined cliques than a large one, and it was not long before I found
myself firmly attached to a small group consisting in the main of
Etonians belonging either to King’s or Trinity. The younger fellows of
the college mixed very democratically with undergraduates of all years,
and the head of this vivid group was certainly Monty James, subsequently
Provost of King’s and now Provost of Eton. Walter Headlam, perhaps the
finest Greek scholar that Cambridge has ever produced, and Lionel Ford,
now headmaster of Harrow, both of them having lately taken their
degrees, were of the company, so too were Arthur Goodhart, then working
for a degree in music, and a little later among junior members R. Carr
Bosanquet, now Professor at Liverpool. We were all members of the Pitt
Club, that delightful and unique institution where, to the end of your
life, once being a life-member, your letters are stamped without any
payment, and most of us were, or soon became, members of a literary
society called “The Chitchat,” in which on Saturday night each in
rotation entertained the society at his rooms with an original paper on
any subject as intellectual fare, and with coffee and claret-cup,
anchovy toast, and snuff, handed solemnly round in a silver box, for
physical stimulus. Sometimes if the snuff went round too early, awful
reverberations of sneezing from the unaccustomed punctuated the
intellectual fare, and I remember (still with pain) reading a paper on
Marlowe’s _Faustus_, during which embarrassing explosions unnerved me. I
had reason to quote (at a very impressive stage of this essay) certain
lines from that tragedy, which with stage directions came out as
follows:

  _Faustus._           Where are you damned? (_Sneezings._)

  _Mephistopheles._    In Hell. (_Sneezings and loud laughter._)
                       For where I am is Hell (_Sneezing and more laughter_),
                       And where Hell is (_Uproar_) there must I ever be.

On another occasion a prominent philologist whose turn it was to regale
us, found that he had not had leisure to write his paper on “Manners”
and proposed to address us on the subject instead. He strode about the
room gesticulating and vehement, stumbling over the hearthrug, lighting
cigarettes and throwing them away instead of his match, while he
harangued us on this interesting ethical topic, with interspersed
phrases of French and German, and odd English words like “cocksuredom.”
As this ludicrously proceeded, a rather tense silence settled down on
“The Chitchat”; its decorous members bit their lips, and prudently
refrained from looking each other in the face, and there were little
stifled noises like hiccups or birds in bushes going about the room, and
the sofa where three sat trembled, as when a kettle is on the boil. Then
he diverged, _via_, I think, the exquisite urbanity of the ancient
Greeks, to Greek sculpture, and proceeded as a practical illustration to
throw himself into the attitude of Discobolus. At that precise moment,
Dr. Cunningham of Trinity, who was drinking claret-cup and trembling a
great deal, completely lost control of himself. Claret-cup spurted from
his nose and mouth; I should not have thought a man could have so
violently choked and laughed simultaneously, without fatal damage to
himself. That explosion, of course, instantaneously spread round the
entire company, except the amazed lecturer, and Dr. Cunningham, finding
he could not stop laughing at all, seized his cap and gown and left the
room with a rapid and unsteady step. Even when he had gone wild yells
and slappings of the leg came resonantly in through the open windows as
he crossed the court....

But the Love-feast of the Clan was on Sunday evening, when in rotation,
they dined in each other’s rooms. This institution (known as the
“T.A.F.” or “Twice a Fortnight”) had been inaugurated by Jim Stephen,
that brilliant and erratic genius, then in London, editing _The Mirror_
and astounding the Savile Club, who a year or two later returned to
Cambridge again, and, until his final and melancholy eclipse, diffused
over everyone who came across him the beam of his intellect and
personality. Of him I shall speak later: at present the clan of friends
met, so to speak, under the informal hegemony of Monty James.
Intellectually (or perhaps æsthetically) I, like many others, made an
unconditional surrender to his tastes, and, with a strong prepossession
already in that direction, I became convinced for the time--and the time
was long--that Dickens was the St. Peter who held the keys of the
heavenly kingdom of literature. When dinner at the T.A.F. was over,
Monty James might be induced to read about the birthday-party of the
Kenwigses, with a cigarette sticking to his upper lip, where it bobbed
up and down to his articulation, until a shout of laughter on the
reader’s part over Mr. Lillyvick’s glass of grog, cast it forth on to
the hearth-rug. He almost made me dethrone Bach from his legitimate
seat, and by a revolutionary movement place Handel there instead, so
magnificent were the effects produced, when with him playing the bass,
and me the treble from a pianoforte arrangement for two hands, we
thundered forth the “Occasional Overture.” He was a superb mimic, and at
the T.A.F. and elsewhere a most remarkable saga came to birth, in which
the more ridiculous of the Dons became more ridiculous yet. And when on
these Sunday evenings the Dickens reading, and the “Occasional
Overture,” and some singing and Saga were done, a section of the T.A.F.
would go to O.B.’s “at home,” and mingle with inferior mortals.

Another society common to many members of the T.A.F. was the Decemviri
Debating Society. To this, some time during my undergraduate days, I was
elected, though I do not think I ever expressed any wish to belong to
it, for when it came to making a speech, terror, then as now, invariably
deprived me of coherent utterance, and a rich silence was all that I
felt capable of contributing to these discussions. Knowing this I never
attended any meeting at all, and as a rule of the society was that if
any member absented himself for a term (or was it two?) from the
debates, he should be deprived of the privileges of membership, I
received one day a notice of the next debate, at which there was private
business to be transacted in the matter of my own expulsion.
Unjustifiable indignation, for this time only, put terror to flight, and
I was allowed to open another debate in the place of that already
arranged for, and to make a speech to show reason why I should not be
expelled. My motion was triumphantly carried, and I never went to a
meeting of the Decemviri again.

I suppose it must have been that belated year of voluntary reading at
Marlborough, which enabled me to win an exhibition at King’s at the end
of my first term; after that for a year and a half I was utterly devoid
of all interest in classical subjects. There was not the smallest spur
to industry or appreciation provided by tutors or lecturers: if you
attended lectures and were duly marked off as present, you had conformed
to the rite, but nothing you heard could conceivably stimulate your
zeal. The classical tutor under whose academic frigidity we followed
Thucydides’ account of the Peloponnesian War stood on a daïs at the end
of the lecture room, and indecently denuded his subject of any appeal to
interest. He put his head on one side and said, “Then came Sphacteria: I
don’t know what Sphodrias was about,” and so nobody knew what either
Sphodrias or Mr. X---- was about. He looked over exercises in Greek
prose as well: on one occasion I was fortunate enough to drag in a
quantity of tags from Plato and Thucydides, and received, for the only
time, his warm approval. A piece of Greek prose, according to academic
standards, appeared to be good, in proportion as it “brought in”
quotations and phrases plucked from Thucydides or Plato; Baboo English
was its equivalent in more modern tongues. Tags and unusual words and
crabbed constructions from the most obscure passages were supposed to
constitute good Greek prose, just as in the mind of a Bombay or Calcutta
student, the memoir of Onoocool Chunder Mookerjee represented an example
of dignified English. To quote from that immortal and neglected work,
“Having said these words, he hermetically sealed his lips never to open
them again. He became _sotto voce_ for a few hours, and he went to God
about 6 p.m.” As this sublime death-bed scene appears to the ordinary
Englishman, so would the prose which Mr. X---- approved have appeared
to the ordinary Greek of the time of Pericles.... But he had been Senior
Classic, and carried on the wonderful tradition, and in other respects
was classical tutor and an eager but inefficient whist-player. Nixon, an
equally traditional Latin scholar, trained us to produce a similar
Latinity, and we got Monty James to imitate them both. Any dawning of
love for classical language receded, as far as I was concerned, into
murk midnight again, and having temporarily justified my existence by
winning an exhibition, I deliberately proceeded for the next year and a
half to follow more attractive studies. A year’s hard work on the
approved Baboo lines, I calculated, would be sufficient to secure
success in the Classical Tripos, which was the next event of any
importance.

Young gentlemen with literary aspirations usually start a new University
magazine, which for wit and pungency is designed to eclipse all such
previous efforts, and I was no exception in the matter of this popular
gambit. Another freshman lodging in the same house as myself was
joint-editor, and so was Mr. Roger Fry, two or three years our senior,
and some B.A. whose name I cannot recollect. Mr. Roger Fry certainly
drew the illustration on the cover of the _Cambridge Fortnightly_, which
represented a tremendous sun of culture rising behind King’s College
Chapel. O.B. contributed a poem to it, so also did my brother Arthur,
and Mr. Barry Pain sent us one of the best parodies in the language,
called “The Poets at Tea,” in which Wordsworth, Tennyson, Christina
Rossetti, Swinburne and others are ludicrously characteristic of
themselves. He also tried to galvanize the _Cambridge Fortnightly_ into
life by one or more admirable short stories, and Mr. G. Lowes Dickinson
applied the battery with him. But the unfortunate infant was clearly
stillborn, and considering the extreme feebleness of most of its organs,
I do not wonder that it was, after the lapse of a term or so, quite
despaired of. It had really never lived: it had merely appeared. My
share in the funeral expenses was about five pounds, and I was already
too busy writing _Sketches from Marlborough_, which was duly and
magnificently published within a year, to regret the loss. Fearing to be
told that I had better attend to my Greek and Latin, I did not inform my
father of this literary adventure; then, when a local printer and
publisher at Marlborough, to my great glee, undertook its production, I
thought he would consider it very odd that I had not told him of it
before and so I did not tell him at all. The book had a certain local
notoriety, and naturally enough, the fact of it reached him, and he
wrote me the most loving letter of remonstrance at my having kept it
from him. There was no word of blame for this amateur expenditure of
time and energies, but I divined and infinitely regretted that I had
hurt him. And somehow I could not explain, for I still felt that if he
had known I was working at it, he certainly would have suggested that I
might have been better occupied. Already, though half-unconsciously, I
knew to what entrancing occupation I had really determined to devote my
life, and though I might have made a better choice, I could not, my
choice being really made, have been better occupied than in practising
for it. The book in itself, for the mere lightness which was all that it
professed, was not really very bad: the ominous part about it (of which
the omens have been amply fulfilled) being the extreme facility with
which it was produced.

Of all the temples in the world, built by the wisdom of cunning
artificers, and consecrated by the love of reverent hearts, none can
surpass and few can equal the glory of that holy and beautiful house
which the founder of King’s decreed for the worship of God, with its
jewelled windows and the fan-vaulting of its incomparable roof. Half-way
up, separating choir from nave, is the tall oak screen stretching from
side to side, on which stands the organ, a “huge house of sounds” with
walls of gilded pipes, and, at the corners, turrets where gold angels
with trumpets to their mouths have alighted. The nave on Sunday
afternoons in the short days of winter would be nearly dark, but for the
soft glow of the innumerable wax candles with which the choir was lit,
flowing over the organ screen. At half-past three, the hour of those
Sunday afternoon services, there would still be a little light outside,
though that would have faded altogether before service was over, and
just opposite where I sat was the window that I love best in all the
world. The Saviour has risen on Easter morning, and before him in dress
of sapphire and crimson Mary Magdalene is kneeling. She had been weeping
and had heard behind her the question, “Woman, why weepest thou?” Her
bereaved heart had answered, and he whom she supposed to be the gardener
had said, “Mary.” It was then, in that window, that she knew him, and
turning, she bowed herself to the ground, with one hand stretched out to
him, and said, “Rabboni!” In the garden of the Resurrection He stood,
with the flowers of the spring about His feet, instead of the spikenard,
very precious, with which she had anointed them for his burial....
During the Psalms for the twenty-seventh evening of the month, when she
who sowed in tears reaped in joy, the window would grow dark against
the faded light outside, and the wise and tranquil candle-light spread
like a luminous fog to the cells of the vaulting above. At the end of
the service, the red curtain across the arch in the screen was drawn
back, and you peered into the dusk of the nave, and the dark of the
night....

Or else on week-days a consultation of the musical bill of fare on the
chapel door would bring you, a little before anthem time, into the nave,
for Wesley’s “Wilderness” was soon to be sung. The choir, when service
was going on, was behind the screen and the crimson curtain, but the
candle-light there, aided by a few sconces here, made visible the roof,
and the black silhouettes of the trumpeting angels on the organ. Then
the solo bass began: there was the fugue of the waters breaking out, and
the treble solo and chorus of the flight of sorrow and sighing. Perhaps
you waited for the conclusion of inaudible prayers, on the chance that
Dr. Mann would play a Bach-fugue at the end, after the crimson curtain
had been drawn back and the white choir had gone into its vestries.
There was this reward, let us say, that afternoon, for the gamba on the
swell started the melodious discussion, and its soliloquy provoked an
answer in the same words but with another voice. The duet “thickened and
broadened,” fresh voices joined; they found a second theme, and
gradually step by step, the whole organ, but for one keyboard, silent as
yet, took up the jubilant wrangling. What the _gamba_ had stated, the
diapason now proclaimed: what the diapason had shouted was thundered
from the pedals. And then the last keyboard was in use, for what but the
_Tubas_ could so have imposed themselves and penetrated that immense and
melodious rioting of sound? Perhaps the golden angels at the four
corners of the organ, “opened their mouths and drew in their breath,”
and spoke through their celestial trumpets.

       *       *       *       *       *

It is impossible to disentangle and reduce to chronology the infinity of
interests that interweaved themselves with these three undergraduate
years, and the reader must sympathetically partake of a _macedoine_ of
memories, that were the ingredients in the enthralling dish. Outside
Cambridge, which daily became more absorbing, I had the emotional
experience of seeing Miss Mary Anderson double the part of Hermione and
Perdita in _The Winter’s Tale_, and fell violently in love with her.
Never surely was there so beautiful a Shakespearian heroine, never did
another actress make such music of the tale of the flowers she had
gathered. No sculptor’s skill or whiteness of Pentelic marble ever
approached the glory of that queenly figure, and with what amazement of
joy I saw it stir and cease to be a statue when, with a waving of lovely
arms, that sent up a cloud of powder, there was no statue any more but
the queen, living and moving again. I bought a photograph of her,
carried it about with me by day, and by night put it on a table by my
bed, fearing all the time that my father would discover it, for he would
not have cared much about this experience of mine. Not for nearly thirty
years later did I meet my Hermione in the flesh and lay my belated
homage before her.

Marlborough also was a lodestar, appearing already, as must needs be, of
lesser magnitude, now that new constellations directed my voyagings,
but, being granted an _exeat_ of two nights in order to witness the
opening of Truro Cathedral, I spent both in the train in order to get
half a day at my school. Already the old order had changed; the values
were different, and even as I had once suspected, a few months had
sufficed to do that. Yet the other aspect was true also; I had absorbed
and assimilated something from the Wiltshire upland which was
imperishably part of my personality: my very identity would have been
something other than it was, had I not lived and grown up there. But
many ties which had seemed close had drooped and loosened, and now I saw
which were the closest of all, and they, just one or two of them, were
as taut as ever; that of Beesly, still merry-eyed behind the pince-nez
to which he had taken, and that of the friend who on the last day of
term had sat with me in the field waiting for chapel-bell. He absented
himself from an hour of morning-school, and met me, dishevelled with a
night journey, at the station. As we passed through the town we bought
rolls and sausages, and while I had a bath, he came in and out, making
breakfast ready in the study that had been mine, and for that hour it
was as if the rind of the last months had been peeled off, and the old
friendship glowed like the heart of the fruit. Otherwise, the little
impression I had made on that shining shore was already washed by the
advancing tide, and its edges were blunt, while, a little higher up the
beach, the sand-castles of others were growing tall and turreted under
vigorous spades....



CHAPTER XI

THE CIRCLE IS BROKEN


Even away from Cambridge, which in those undergraduate years was
necessarily the hot hub of the universe, life remained as highly
coloured as at the time when Lambeth and Addington first flung open
their adorable pasturages. It was thrilling to know that Robert Browning
was coming to dinner one night, to be grasped by the hearty hand that
had written the poems of which a fives competition had procured me a
copy. There was but a small party on the night that I remember, and
after dinner my father moved up to take the place next him, and beckoned
to me to close up on the other side. Somehow a mention came of a volume
of Austin Dobson’s, and Robert Browning preserved a cheerful silence
till some direct question was put to him. Then, drinking off his port,
he made a notable phrase.

“Well, some people like carved cherry-stones,” he said.

I fancy he always avoided talking of his own works, and that my father
knew this, for certainly no allusion was made to them. But, as we rose,
he volunteered a question to my father, saying, “What of my work do you
like best?” On which my father replied:

“Your lyrics.”

Robert Browning gave some great gesticulation; he seems to me now to
have rubbed his hands, or jumped or stamped a foot.

“Lyrics?” he said. “I have deskfuls of them.”

In consequence, I still faintly hope that some day there may be
discovered a great ream of lyrics by Robert Browning, for, as far as I
know, “deskfuls” have not yet appeared.

On another occasion Tennyson was there. Of his conversation I have no
sort of recollection, the reason for which lapse may be probably
accounted for by the fact that he didn’t say anything. But I had picked
his note of acceptance out of my mother’s waste-paper basket and the
envelope signed in the bottom left-hand corner, both torn across, so he
could not leave me comfortless.

How very odd these dinner-parties, great or small, would have appeared
at the present day! There was but one circulation of wine after the
ladies had rustled forth, and even when they had gone, there was nothing
in the shape of tobacco, which, combined with the indolent progression
of the decanter, surely accounted for the austerity of Tennyson. A long
sitting of abstemious gentlemen was succeeded by a short sitting in the
drawing-room, and then the bell sounded at ten, and the whole company
trooped into the chapel for a slightly abbreviated evensong. Sometimes,
this service was before dinner; otherwise, at its conclusion, round
about half-past ten, the guests departed, for after this long devotional
interlude, it was frankly impossible to resume a festive sociability.
Already the cigarette-habit had made its footing in most houses, to the
extent, anyhow, of a guest, if so decadently inclined, having
opportunity of indulging his lust, but neither at Lambeth nor at
Addington was there any parleying with the enemy. My father intensely
disliked the smell of tobacco, and once only when the present King, as
Duke of York, dined at Lambeth, was an after-dinner cigarette allowed.
On that occasion I, greatly daring, told my father that he liked a
cigarette after dinner (so it was popularly supposed), and for the first
time, the gallery of portraits was veiled behind the unusual incense.
There were many great stern houses in the eighties, which kept the flag
of no surrender flying in the dining-room, but I doubt if any except my
father’s held out till after the middle of the nineties. He knew of but
ignored the existence of a smoking-room at Lambeth and Addington, but
neither in drawing-room or dining-room, nor until the hour of bedroom
candles (electric lighting being still an exceptional illumination) was
there the chance of a cigarette.

A story, _ben trovato_, it may be, was told in this regard, as to how,
when a Pan-Anglican conference was in progress at Lambeth and the whole
house was buzzing with bishops, my father had occasion late one night to
visit the bedroom of one of the prelates, with some paper of _agenda_
for next day: He got no answer to his tap on the door, and entered, to
find the occupant on his knees before the fire-place. My father,
supposing that he was at his private devotions silently withdrew
himself, and tiptoed down the corridor again. The devotional tenant,
unaware of any entrance, but knowing the rule of the house, continued to
inhale his cigar, and puff the aromatic evidence of his crime up the
chimney.... Though my father knew that his chaplains smoked, he would
never acknowledge it, and if a letter, difficultly drafted and brought
to him for his approval, bore unmistakable evidences of this aid to
inspiration, he would sniff at the original letter and its answer, and
say, “He must have written it in a smoking-carriage.” And though, again,
he knew quite well that all his three sons smoked like chimneys, I have
heard him confidently assert that none of us ever did. He would have
liked to believe that. In fact he would have liked it so much, that his
fervour allowed him to believe it.

But I am sure it never entered his head that my mother smoked. She did:
and once after a journey of a day and a night and half a day to the
Riffel Alp, my father, absolutely unfatigued, insisted on the whole
family getting on to a glacier of some sort without delay. My mother
racked with headache, but thinking the air would do her good, came with
us, but having gained the glacier, refused to proceed, and sat down on a
rock on the moraine to wait for her family’s return. She indicated that
I should stay with her, and as soon as the family’s back was turned she
whispered, “Oh, give me a cigarette, Fred.” By some strange mischance I
hadn’t got one, and was only possessed of a small and reeking clay pipe
and some tobacco. But I filled and lit it for her, and there she sat
smoking her clay pipe like a gipsy-woman, which made me laugh so much
that the rest of the family turned round _en bloc_ to see what was
happening. Nothing appeared to be happening, because she was wise enough
to hand the pipe back to me, and on they went. Then she had a little
more, and her headache was routed....

That Riffel Alp holiday was one of the most sumptuous. Mountain-climbing
with guides and porters is an expensive pursuit, but my father “treated
me” straight off to any two first-class peaks I wanted to ascend. My
instant first choice was the Matterhorn, and after a few days’
gymnastics on less austere summits I set forth, chaperoned by the most
zealous of Alpinists, Mr. Toswill, to make this adorable ascent. We
slept in the Schwarz-See Hotel, and starting at a moonless midnight to
the light of a lantern, stumbled on in that inconvenient illumination
till the first hint of dawn made the east dove-coloured and the lantern
could be quenched. The excitement of the climb quickened the
perceptions, and that opening flower of day was the very glory of the
Lord, first shining on the earth. We still climbed in the clear dusk,
but high, incredibly high above us the top of the great cliff grew
rose-coloured, as the sun, still below our horizon, smote it with day.
The sky was clear and the stars grew dim, as the great halls of heaven
were slowly flooded with light. Step by step the day descended from peak
to shoulder of our mountain till it met us on the rocky stair. Dent
Blanche, Rothorn, Gabelhorn, Weisshorn were dazzled with the dawn:
looking down into the Zermatt valley was still like gazing into dark
clear water.

But that clarity of morning was not for long. On all sides clouds were
forming--it is a mistake as a rule to speak of clouds “coming up”: they
just happen--and before we reached the famous shoulder, it was certain
that if we were to make our peak, we must race against the thickening
weather. Already the range along the Théodul was blanketed, and
mist-wreaths were beginning to form on the east side of our mountain
below us. If they stopped there and did not form higher up they would do
us no harm, but nobody would choose to be above the shoulder of the
Matterhorn in cloud. So at high speed--duly recorded in the Visitors’
Book at the hut--we made our peak, opened the bottle of Bouvier (most of
which in that low pressure of the air rose like a geyser and intoxicated
the snows) and began the descent. The air was notably still: not a
breath of wind stirred, but somewhere below us there were boomings of
thunder not very remote.

Before we got back to the shoulder a wisp of cloud flicked round the
edge of the precipice which plunges a sheer four thousand feet on to the
Zmutt glacier, and in a moment we were enveloped by it. The sun was
expunged, the cold suddenly grew intense, and snow denser than I thought
possible that snow could be, began to fall. In five minutes we wore the
thickest white mantles, so too, which was less convenient, did the
rocks, which at this point are not only difficult by reason of their
steepness, but dangerous because of the downward slope of the strata.
The thunder moved up to meet us, in fact we were just beginning to pass
into the storm-clouds themselves. The air was highly charged with
electricity, for presently the points of our ice-axes fizzled and sang
like kettles on the boil. Then below, a light, violet and vivid, leaped
suddenly out of the murk of snow, and the thunder reverberated sharp as
the crack of a dog-whip. Once our rope got fouled, and we all had to
untie ourselves and stand perched on our steps, while the guide wrought
to release it. Forty highly exciting minutes enabled us to crawl down
through the storm, and reach clear air again, and though I am glad to
have dived through a thunderstorm on the Matterhorn, I will willingly
dispense with any further experience of the sort. Those forty minutes
rattling with ambient thunder were much too tense to allow of conscious
alarm, and I never wished I was “safe home” again. But I would never
choose to do it a second time.

My second selection was the Dent Blanche, but after starting for it a
blizzard made the ascent impossible. So for fear of losing my second big
peak altogether--things like the Breithorn, ascents of the Riffelhorn
from the glacier, and a subsequent crossing of the eastern face of the
Matterhorn were picked up by the way--I chose the Zienal Rothhorn, and
with Nellie made an entrancing ascent. There was a huge cowl of snow on
the summit, and sheltered by this from the wind we sat for nearly an
hour in the blaze of the translucent day. Coming down an ill-fitting
boot tore the base of one of her nails, and she was in bed next day with
considerable pain. But with what scorn she answered my query as to
whether, on her part, the expedition had been worth such a payment.
Simultaneously there began a week’s bad weather, and we produced a
stupendous Swiss _Saturday Magazine_.

       *       *       *       *       *

My third year at Cambridge, it may be remembered, I had resolved to
devote to a strenuous course of the classical tongues, and the autumn of
1889 saw me provided with a shelf of interleaved Latin and Greek authors
(in order to make quantities of profound notes on the opposite page);
with a firm determination to remember every crabbed phrase in case of
finding some approximate English equivalent in passages set for
translation from English into Baboo Latin or Greek, and triumphantly
dragging it in; with pots of red ink to underline them, and with an
optimistic determination of getting a first in my Classical Tripos.
Eustace Miles who could work longer and more steadily than anyone I ever
came across before or since, became the anchor to keep me moored on the
rock of industry, despite the engaging tides and currents that made me
long to drift away, and I would take my books to his room and vow that I
would remain glued to them as long as he. If I worked alone my infirmity
of purpose was something ghastly to contemplate, but the living
proximity of a friend who set so shining an example shamed me into
industry. He was bound for the same port as I, namely, a first in the
Classical Tripos, and was a master in the art of inventing ludicrous
phrases which contained the key to dates, and memorized the events of
the Peloponnesian War for me in a few unforgettable sentences. We had
intervals when we set the table on its side to serve as a back wall for
some diminutive game of squash, and then refreshed and dusty we followed
the odious symptoms that attended the plague in Athens. I quite lost
sight again of the beauty of the classical languages, for just now the
learning of them was the mere grinding of the mills that should produce
a particular grist. It was no leisurely artistic appreciation, like that
which had fitfully inspired me under Beesly and during my last year at
school; I but wanted to commit a sort of highway robbery on Sophocles
and Virgil, and take from them the purse that should pay my way for a
first-class ticket. After two terms of this, for the only time in my
life, I was considered to be in danger of growing stale from sheer
industry, and for a fortnight of the Easter vacation, in accordance with
my father’s suggestion, Monty James took two other undergraduates and
myself for a bookless tour through Normandy and Brittany. It was
nominally a walking-tour, but we went by train, visiting Rouen, Caen,
Bayeux, and Lisieux, and finishing up with Amiens and Beauvais. We
played quantities of picquet, and the Nixon saga was enriched by a
Pindaric Ode in praise of Pnyxon winner in the tricycle race against two
Divinity professors....

The last paper in the Tripos, after translations into English from Latin
and Greek verse and prose, and translation into Latin and Greek from
English, was in classical history, of which I knew nothing whatever,
and so I sat up three-quarters of the night and read through the whole
of two short history primers. In the few hours that intervened between
that degrading process and the history paper, it was impossible to
forget crucial dates or events of any magnitude, and by dragging in all
collateral information, and dishing it up with a certain culinary skill
acquired by years of _Saturday Magazine_, I produced a voluminous vamp
of information. And then after some days of waiting came the lists, and
the year of Babooism had won its appropriate reward, for, sure enough, I
had taken a first. As for the history, I had produced a paper that
caused me to be congratulated by the examiner (Dr. Verrall) on my
“grasp”--acquired the night before--and was advised by him to take up
history for a second Tripos. That, knowing better than he what the
tenacity of my grasp really was, I thought better to decline.

Having taken a first (such a first!) my father was more than pleased
that, pending the choice of a profession, which I had already secretly
registered, I should stop up another year and attempt to perform a
similar feat in some other branch of knowledge. Should that also be
accomplished, I should be of a status that could see a Fellowship at
King’s within possible horizons, and he wanted no finer threshold of
life for any of his sons than a Fellowship of his college. Here then his
scholastic sympathies were completely engaged, but infinitely more
potent than they was his desire that we should all of us enter the
priesthood of the Church to which, with a unique passion, all his life
was dedicated. Arthur at this time, had already been an Eton master for
over five years, and had not taken orders, and it was not likely now
that he would. I was the next, and when my father more than gladly let
me stop up at Cambridge with a view to a second Tripos, for another
year, he coupled with his permission the desire that I should attend
some Divinity lectures. Never shall I admire tact or delicacy more than
his upon this subject. For years while at school he had put before me,
never insistently but always potently, his hope that I should be a
clergyman, so that now I was quite familiar with it. But at the very
moment when a strongly expressed desire on his part might have
determined me, he forbore to express such desire at all: if I was to be
a clergyman I must have the personal, the individual sense of vocation,
and not take orders because he wished it. Already I knew that he wished
it, but he would not stir a finger, now that I had come to an age when
definite choice opened before me, to influence my decision. He wished me
to attend Divinity lectures in order to learn something before I either
chose or rejected, but beyond that he never said a word in argument or
persuasion, nor even asked me if I had attended these lectures. At the
very moment, in fact, when his wish, had he expressed it, that I should
take a theological Tripos with a view to ordination, would have had
effective weight, seeing that he was allowing me to spend a fourth year
at Cambridge, he, with a supreme and perfect delicacy, forbore to put a
pennyweight of his own desires into the scale, and welcomed the choice I
made of taking up archæology for a second Tripos. He merely wished me to
attend a few divinity lectures, and left it at that. Hugh, meantime,
triumphantly carrying the banner of early failure which I had so long
held against all comers, had unsuccessfully competed, after a year of
cramming, in the Indian Civil Service examination, which had been his
first choice of a profession. Having failed in that, he was to come up
to Trinity in October, unblushing and unhonoured. I passed the banner to
him with all good wishes.

There were some weeks of long vacation after the archæological decision
was made which I now know to have been loaded with fate so far as my own
subsequent life was concerned, though at the time those scribblings I
then indulged in seemed to be quite as void of significance as any
particular number of the _Saturday Magazine_ had been. For one morning,
at Cambridge, where I had returned for a few weeks before we went out to
Switzerland in August, I desisted from the perusal of Miss Harrison’s
_Mythology and Monuments of Ancient Athens_, and wrote on the top of a
piece of blue foolscap a word that has stuck to me all my life. For a
long time there had been wandering about in my head the idea of some
fascinating sort of modern girl, who tackled life with uncommon relish
and success, and was adored by the world in general, and had all the
embellishments that a human being can desire except a heart. Years ago
some adumbration of her had occurred in the story that Maggie and I
wrote together; that I suppose was the yeast that was now beginning to
stir and bubble in my head. She must ride, she must dance, she must have
all the nameless attraction that attaches to those who are as prismatic
and as hard as crystal, and above all she must talk. It was no use just
informing the reader that here was a marvellously fascinating
personality, as Maggie and I had done before, or that to see her was to
worship her, or that after a due meed of worship she would reveal
herself as no more than husk and colouring matter. Explanations and
assurances of that sort were now altogether to be dispensed with.
Scarcely even was the current of her thought, scarcely even were the
main lines of her personality to be drawn: she was to reveal herself by
what she said, and thus, whatever she did, would need no comment. There
is the plain presentment of the idea that occupied my youthful mind when
I wrote _Dodo_ at the top of a piece of blue foolscap, and put the
numeral “one” on the top right-hand corner; and where this crude story
of mine still puts in a plea for originality, is in the region of its
conscious plan. Bad or good (it was undoubtedly bad) it introduced a
certain novelty into novel-writing which had “quite a little vogue” for
a time. The main character, that is to say, was made, in her
infinitesimal manner, to draw herself. In staged and acted drama even,
that principle--bad or good--is never consistently maintained, because
other people habitually discuss the hero and heroine, and the audience’s
conception of them is based on comment as well as on self-spoken
revelation. Also in drama there is bound to be some sort of plot, in
which action reveals the actor. But in this story which I scribbled at
for a few weeks, there was no sort of plot: there was merely a clash of
minor personalities breaking themselves to bits against the central
gabbling figure. Hideously crude, blatantly inefficient as the execution
was, there was just that one new and feasible idea in the manner of it.
What I aimed at was a type that revealed itself in an individual by
oceans of nonsensical speech.

I wrote with the breathless speed of creation (however minute such
creation was), almost entirely, but not quite, for my own private
amusement. It was not quite for that internal satisfaction alone,
because as I scampered and scamped, I began to contemplate a book
arising out of these scribblings, a marketable book, that is to say,
between covers and for sale. Eventually, for the information of any who
happen to remember the total result, I got as far as the lamentable
death of Dodo’s first husband, and that, as far as I knew then, was the
end of the story. Dodo would be thus left a far from disconsolate widow
dangling in the air like a blind-string in front of an open window. On
the last page of the book, she would remain precisely as she had been on
the first; she had not developed, she had not gone upwards or downwards
in any moral course; she was a moment, a detail, a flashlight photograph
flared on to a plate without the smallest presentment of anything,
except what she happened to be at that moment. All this I did not then
realize.... There it was anyhow, and having finished it, I bundled the
whole affair into a drawer, and with that off my mind, concentrated
again over the _Mythology and Monuments of Ancient Athens_.

Then followed a few weeks at the Rieder Furca Hotel, above the Aletsch
Glacier, opposite the Bel Alp. At that time it was a wooden structure of
so light and airy a build that without raising your voice you could talk
through the wall to the person next door. Maggie that year was obliged
to go to Aix for a course of treatment and my mother went with her, but,
even as it was, we nearly filled the little hotel. The weather was bad,
an ascent of the Jungfrau which I made in very thick soft snow, after
sleeping for two nights at the Concordia hut being the only big (and
that an abominable) climb, and there was a great deal of “Cotter’s
Saturday Night.” My father had a larger supply of books than usual, for
he was busy with his judgment in the Lincoln trial, to be delivered in
the autumn. For a couple of years the case had been a perpetual anxiety
to him. It was doubtful at first whether he, as Archbishop, possessed
the jurisdiction to try it, and while personally (to put the matter in a
nutshell) he was very unwilling to do so, he did not want the
jurisdiction of the See, if it possessed it, to lapse. The case was one
of illegal ritual: and the Church Association party, at whose
instigation it was started, had obtained their evidence in a manner
peculiarly sordid, for they had sent emissaries to spy on Bishop King’s
manner of celebrating the Holy Communion. As their object was to obtain
evidence on that point, it is difficult to see how else they could have
obtained it, but the notion of evidence thus obtained was revolting to
my father. On the other hand there was Bishop King, a man of the highest
character, of saintly life, an old and beloved friend of my father’s,
who was thus accused of illegality in matters which to the ordinary lay
and even clerical mind were of infinitesimal importance. But the
indictment was that he had offended against Ecclesiastical Law, which my
father as head of the Church was bound to uphold, so that when, after
innumerable arguments and discussion, the Judicial Committee of the
Privy Council found that he had the jurisdiction, he decided to assume
it. That being so, he could dismiss the case as being a frivolous
indictment, but this course undoubtedly would have caused a split in the
English Church, and accordingly he decided to try it. It was heard in
February, 1890, and he reserved judgment. It was this pronouncement that
occupied him so closely all that summer, and he finished it in
September.

At the beginning of October, Hugh went up to Cambridge, for the
assembling of freshmen, and I had still some ten days which I spent at
Addington. Arthur was already back at Eton, my father and mother and
Maggie soon went off on some visit, and thus it happened that Nellie and
I for a few days were alone there. We had breakfast very late, with a
sense of complete uncontrol, we rode and we played lawn-tennis and
talked in the desultory argumentative manner that we both thoroughly
enjoyed. In particular we played at “old games,” and Beth used to join
us. That year the big cedar in the garden was covered with little
immature cones, full of a yellow powder like sulphur, and we collected
this in glass-topped pill-boxes, part of the ancient apparatus of the
moth-collections, shaking the sulphur-laden cones into them, and filling
each full to the brim. There was no design as to what we were to do with
these: there was just some reversion in our minds to childish
“treasures,” like the spa and the dead hornet in the aquarium. It was
enough to fill these little pill-boxes with the cedar-pollen, and screw
the lids on, and know that half a dozen boxes were charged to the brim.
We were quite aimless, we saw nobody but Beth, and were wonderfully
content. I did a little reading in Overbeck’s _Schriftquellen_, and
Nellie translated the German part of it to me, to save time. There was
nothing more to remember of those days except that delicious sense of
leisure and love and liberty: we did nothing except what we wanted to
do, and what we seemed to want was to be ridiculous children again.
Eventually, after some four or five days, came the afternoon when I had
to go back to Cambridge; my father and mother were coming back to
Addington that day or the next. Nellie and I parted, greatly regretting
that these silly days were done, and made plans for Christmas.

A week or so afterwards, I got a letter from my mother, saying that
Nellie had a diphtheritic sore throat. Anxious news came after that for
a few days, but on a certain Sunday I had tidings that she was going on
well. Early on Monday morning I got a telegram telling me to come home
at once, for she was very much worse. I went round to Trinity to see
Hugh, and found he had received a similar telegram. There was a train to
London half an hour later, and as I was packing a bag the post came in
with reassuring news. But that had been written the day before: the
telegram was of later date.

She had died that morning, facing death with the fearless welcome that
she had always given to any new experience. During her illness she had
not been able to speak at all, but had written little sentences on
scraps of paper; after the nature of it was declared she had been
completely isolated, but her nurse disinfected these notes and sent them
to the others. The first was a joyful little line to my mother, saying
that as she had to be in bed, she was going to have a good spell of
writing at a story she was engaged on. At the end, the last note but one
had been for her nurse; in this she had thanked her and asked, “Is there
anything I can do?” Her nurse answered her when she read it, “Let
patience do her perfect work.”... So that was off Nellie’s mind. And
then last of all she wrote to my mother who was by her bed and she
traced out, “I wonder what it will be like. Give them all my love.” Then
my mother began saying to her, “Jesu, Lover of my soul,” and while she
was saying it, Nellie died.

That afternoon, we, the rest of us, went out on that still sunny October
day and strolled through the woods together, splitting up into twos and
threes and rejoining again. My mother seemed to have her hand in
Nellie’s all the time, telling us, who had come too late, tranquilly
and serenely, how the days had gone, and how patient she had been and
how cheerful. We recalled all sorts of things about her, with smiles and
with laughter, and there was no sense of loss, for my mother brought her
amongst us, and never let go of her. Then, back in the house again,
there were other arrangements to be made: it was settled that Arthur,
Hugh and I should go back to Eton and Cambridge as soon as we could, but
after the funeral we must spend a week of quarantine somewhere. How
Nellie had got diphtheria was obscure, and it was better that we should
not sleep in the house, or run a possible risk of infection. I wanted to
see her, but my mother said that what I wanted to see was not Nellie at
all, and that I must think of her as I had known her. And as I knew her,
so she has always remained for me, collecting the cedar-sulphur, or
laughing with open mouth, or grave and eager with sympathy. The
glass-lidded pill-boxes were on a ledge of a bookcase, where we had left
them a week or two before. My mother had seen them, and thought that
there was probably some mystic significance about them, so I told her
how Nellie and I had gathered them, and she said, “What treasures: bless
her!” Golden October weather it was, with frosts at night and windless
days, and the chestnut leaves came peeling off the trees and falling in
a heap of tawny yellow below them, each leaf twirling in the air as it
fell.

She was buried in Addington churchyard and next her now lies Maggie, and
on her other side my mother.

       *       *       *       *       *

My father, all the time of Nellie’s illness, had been hard at work on
the final revision of his Lincoln judgment: now the delivery of that was
postponed for a little, but not for long. Everyone had to get back
normally and naturally to the work and the play and the joy and sorrow
of life again, but at the Christmas holidays it was seen how huge a gap
had come in the circle which since Martin’s death, twelve years before,
had grown up together, critical and devoted and wildly alive. No one,
when all were so intent on the businesses in hand, had estimated when a
play, for instance, must be written and rehearsed and managed, how
largely it was Nellie’s enthusiastic energy that carried things through.
So there was no play that Christmas, and the year after four of us, my
father and mother and Maggie and I, were in Algiers, another year they
were in Florence, and another Maggie and I were in Egypt, and so that
particular blaze of young activity of which Christmas holidays had been
the type and flower came to an end. Besides we were all getting older,
and there was no Nellie; with her death some unrecapturable magic was
lost.

Of the many intimate friendships of my mother’s life none was closer
than that which had ripened during these years at Lambeth with Lucy
Tait, the daughter of the late Archbishop. She had constantly been with
us in town and at Addington, and now, after Nellie’s death, she made her
permanent home with us. Then, when the Lambeth days were over she
continued, until my mother’s death, twenty-two years later, to devote
her life to her.



CHAPTER XII

AN ARCHÆOLOGICAL EXCURSION


At Cambridge the study of archæology had forcibly taken possession of me
by right of love, and at last I was working at that which it was my
business to be occupied in, with devotion to my subject. Roman art, so I
speedily discovered, was an utterly hideous and debased affair in
itself, and the only things of beauty that emerged from Rome were copies
of Greek originals, and even then these copies were probably made by
Greek workmen. In Roman buildings also all that was worth looking at was
stolen from the Greeks, and often marred in the stealing, and the thick
mortar between their roughly hewn stones, the facing of them with a
dishonest veneer of marble, their abominable tessellated pavements, the
odious wall decorations of Pompeii revolted this ardent Hellenist. Now,
too, for the first time since I came up to Cambridge, I came under an
inspired and inspiring teacher; indeed, there were two such, for it was
impossible not to burn when Dr. Waldstein in the Museum of Casts flung
himself into Hellenic attitudes, and communicated his volcanic
enthusiasm. But more inspiring yet was Professor Middleton: he gave me
no formal lectures, but encouraged me to bring my books to his room, and
spend the morning there. He used to walk about in a thick dressing-gown
and a skull-cap, looking like some Oriental magician, and now he would
pull an intaglio ring off his finger and make me perceive the serene
and matchless sobriety of an early gem as compared with the more florid
design, still matchless in workmanship, of a later century, or take half
a dozen Greek coins out of his waistcoat pocket and bid me decipher the
thick decorative letters and tell him where they came from. He had
dozens of notebooks filled with sketches of Greek mouldings and
cornices: there were sections of the columns of the Parthenon that
showed how the drums had been ground round each on the other, till,
without any mess of mortar, they adhered so closely that the joint was
scarcely visible. There were cedar-wood blocks in the centres of them
with bronze pins round which they revolved; the honesty and precision of
the workmanship could never be discovered till the column was in ruins.
But there was the very spirit and ardency of Greece; and as for the
great frieze of horsemen sculptured on the walls of the Parthenon it was
so placed that only a mere glimpse of it could be had by those who
walked in the colonnade. Yet in honour of the goddess and in obedience
to the imperious craving for perfection, it, though scarcely to be seen,
must be of a fineness and finish unequalled in all the forums of Rome.
Then Middleton would take a fragment of Greek pottery from a drawer, or
a white _lekythus_ from Eretria, and show me the mark of the potter’s
wheel, and how the white ground was laid on after the baking, and how
the artist with brush delicate and unerring had drawn the raised arm of
the _ephebus_ who laid his garland on the tomb. There were photographs
also from the Street of Tombs; in one there was standing a young girl
with braided hair. She it was who was dead, and the mother stood in
front of her lifting the small face upwards with a hand under her chin,
bending to kiss her for the last time, and such of the inscription as
remained ran ΧΑΙΡΕΠΕΝΘ.... The rest of the letters was gone, but that
was sufficient, and told how her mother gave the final greeting of
Godspeed and of farewell to Penthesilea, for in that beautiful tongue
“Hail”! and “Good-bye” are the same word and affectionately wish
prosperity, whether for one who returns to the home, or goes from the
home on the longest journey of all. And Professor Middleton made me
realize the serenity of those good wishes for Penthesilea: there was a
wistfulness on the part of those who remained, and a wonder and a great
hope, and God knows how that struck home to me.... Or a young man sat
languid on a rock, and his hunting spear was propped behind him, and
beside him just one companion, weary with watching, had fallen asleep.
There was no mother there to send him on his way; his friend and his
hunting-spear were his comrades on earth, and these he must leave behind
him, when to-day he fared out on his new adventure, further afield than
ever his huntings had taken him.... And thus to me, the supreme race of
all who have inhabited this earth became real. They heard the voice of
creation as none other has heard it, and saw as none other has seen.
They realized in dawn and in nightfall the attainment towards which all
others have fruitlessly striven, showing in marble the humanity of the
divine, and the divinity of man; they had birthdays for their gods, and
for their dead, who died not, they had the imperishable love that knows
not fear.

Professor Middleton never alluded in any way to this archæological
tripos which I was to challenge after one year’s work. All the morning,
three times a week or more, I used to sit there with my books that I
never read, because he, in his dressing-gown, produced, one after the
other, little bits of things which would make me love the Greeks for no
other reason than for the artistic joy of their works and days. He knew
of course that there was a tripos impending, and this in his view was
the best way of preparing for it; while for drier stuff he gave me his
notebooks on Vitruvius, which would, with his little exquisite sections
and elevations, explain all that I need know about the bones and
alphabet of architecture. His whole procedure, as I saw then, and his
whole object was to make me want to know, down to their sandals and
their salad-bowls and brooches, all that was to be learned of the brains
of a god-like race. Once, so I remember, a bitter blizzard white with
snow beat against the windows, and from some roof near a slate flew off
and crashed in the small court at King’s where the mulberry tree grew.
“That was Oreithyia,” he said, sucking on his pipe. “Boreas loved her,
and blew her away. Rude Boreas, you know. You should read up the myths.
Most of Greek sculpture illustrates myths.”

Since the days when I was fifteen, since Beesly and the _Trojan Queen’s
Revenge_, there had been no such inspirer. But Beesly dealt only with
language, while under Middleton the dry bones which had come together,
not only stood up “an exceeding great army,” but went about their work,
and returned to their homes of an evening, and lived and loved. Beesly
had brought me to the portals of the house of the people who made Art,
and knocked on the door for me. But Middleton pushed it open, and the
gold standard of the Greeks that, theoretically, seven years ago I knew
to be the only coinage, was now weighed and was found sufficient, and
all else whatever baser stuff might load the opposing balance was found
wanting.

It was at some time during that year that J. K. Stephen, the founder of
the T.A.F., returned to King’s, and instantly for me all the lesser
lights of general influence were eclipsed. In presence and personality
alike he was one of those who without effort or aim impose themselves on
their circle. Had he never said a word, the very fact of his being in
the room must have produced more effect that any conversation that might
go on round him. He was splendidly handsome, big of head, impressive and
regular of feature, and enormously massive in build; slow moving and
shambling when he walked, but somehow monumental. He had an immense fund
of humour, grim and rather savage at times, at others of such froth and
frolic as appeared in the two volumes of verse which he published during
the next year, _Lapsus Calami_, and _Quo Musa tendis_. But this bubbling
lightness was markedly uncharacteristic of his normal self. That it was
there, those two volumes proved, but that particular spring, that
light-hearted Puck-like quality, he certainly reserved for his verse,
which to those who knew him was in no way the flower of his mind. In the
dedication to _Lapsus Calami_, he expresses the desire that the reader
should recognize his debt to “C.S.C.” (Calverley of _Fly Leaves_), he
hopes that some one will think that “of C.S.C. this gentle art he
learned,” and undoubtedly the reader did think so, for it was certainly
C.S.C. whose method inspired some of these poems. But it is just these
poems in which he was obviously indebted to Calverley, that are least
worthy and characteristic of him. Jim Stephen made, at his worst,
amusing neat little rhymes not nearly so good as Calverley’s, but, at
his best, he made poems, such as “The Old School List,” of which
Calverley was quite incapable. Both also were brilliant parodists, but
here J.K.S. had a far subtler art than the man with whom he hoped his
readers would compare him. Calverley’s famous parody of Robert Browning,
“The Cock and the Bull,” does not touch in point of rapier-work J.K.S.’s
poem “Sincere Flattery to R.B.” The one does no more than seize on
ridiculous phrases in Browning, and go a shade further in absurdity: the
other (“Birthdays”) parodies the very essence of the more obscure
lyrics: you cannot read it, however often you have done so, without the
hope that you may this time or the next find out what it means. He was
the inventor, too, of a peculiarly pleasing artifice with regard to
parody, for he put into Wordsworth’s mouth, for instance, in pure
Wordsworthian phrase, the exact opposite of Wordsworth’s teaching, and
produced a lament over the want of locomotive power in the Lake
district. The effect is inimitable: the poet longs to see in those happy
days when Helvellyn’s base is tunnelled, and its peak grimy

    The dusky grove of iron rails
    Which leads to Euston Square,

and in lines that almost must have been written by Wordsworth exclaims:

    I want to hear the porters cry,
    “Change here for Ennerdale!”

And I must be forgiven, since so few know the poem, for quoting the
postscript to his parody of Browning, sufficient surely to make the
poet, for whom Jim Stephen had an immense reverence, turn in his grave
in order to laugh more easily. As follows:

                   P.S.

    There’s a Me Society down at Cambridge
    Where my works, _cum notis variorum_
    Are talked about: well, I require the same bridge
    As Euclid took toll at as _Asinorum_.

    And as they have got through several ditties
    I thought were as stiff as a brick-built wall
    I’ve composed the above, and a stiff one it is,
    A bridge to stop asses at, once for all.

If the art of parody can go further, I do not know who has conducted it
there. The kindly ghost of Robert Browning might perhaps shrug his
shoulders at “The Cock and the Bull,” and say, “Very amusing”: but
reading Jim Stephen’s R.B. he must surely have winced and frowned first,
and thereafter broken into a roar of his most genial laughter.

Often (when not indebted to C.S.C.) Jim Stephen’s most apt and biting
parodies would be written or spouted extempore: I remember for instance
someone reading a rather lamentable verse from F. W. Myers in which he
delicately alludes to the godly procreation of children in the following
lines:

    Lo! when a man magnanimous and tender,
    Lo! when a woman desperate and true,
    Make the irrevocable sweet surrender,
    Show to each other what the Lord can do.

upon which Jim Stephen without a moment’s pause exclaimed:

    Lo! when a man obscene and superstitious,
    Lo! when a woman brainless and absurd,
    Strive to idealize the meretricious,
    Love one another like a beast or bird.

This could not be included in _Lapsus Calami_, nor unfortunately would
he include one of his most ingenious extravagances, and I cannot find
that it has ever been published. The subject matter was that a burglar
“desperate and true” awoke in the night and found an angel standing in
his room, who asked him whether, being what he was, he would sooner go
to heaven or hell, the choice being entirely his. His admirably logical
conclusion was as follows:

    The burning at first no doubt would be worst,
    But custom that anguish would soften;
    But those who are bored by praising the Lord,
    Would be more so by praising him often.

He chooses accordingly.

All that year Jim remained in residence at Cambridge; during one
vacation he stayed with us at Addington, during another I went over to
his Irish home, where, one evening after an argument about Kipling, he
took up his bedroom candle saying, “Well, I wish he would stop kipling.
Good night.” In ten minutes he came back, “I’ve written a poem about
it,” he said, and proceeded to read the two immortal stanzas which end,

    When the Rudyards cease from kipling,
    And the Haggards ride no more.

Close friends though we were, I was always conscious of a side of him
that was formidable, of the possibility of a sudden blaze of anger
flaring up though quickly extinguished again: there was, too, always
present the knowledge of that “dark tremendous sea of cloud” in the
skirts of which he had been before, and into the heart of which it was
inscrutably decreed that he must go. There came a dark December morning;
that time the breakdown was final, and he lived not many weeks.

       *       *       *       *       *

Once again I made a triumphant tripos in the matter of archæology, was
given an open scholarship at King’s, and immediately afterwards applied
for one of those grants that seemed to hang like ripe plums on the
delightful tree of knowledge. Hitherto those branches had waved high
above my head, but now they graciously swept downwards and I plucked at
the first plum I saw, and applied for a small grant to excavate in the
town-walls at Chester. There was reason to suppose that quantities of
the Roman tombstones of the legionaries that had been stationed there,
had been utilized in the building of the town-wall, and though there
were only Roman remains to be discovered (would that they had been
Greek!) the search for them would be a very pleasant pursuit for the
autumn, and might yield material for a fellowship-dissertation. To my
intense surprise some grant--from the Würtz Fund, I think--was given me,
for the purpose of discovering, if possible, new facts about the
distribution of Roman legions in Britain.

The family went out to Pontresina that August, and I with them for a
week or two before the work at Chester began. There I had a most
horrible experience with Hugh on the Piz Palu, one of the peaks of the
Bernina. Our plan was to make a “col” of it, that is to ascend it on one
side, pass over the top, and descend on another. We tramped and
perspired up southern slopes in deep snow on the ascent, struck an arête
which led to the top, made the summit, and began to descend by another
route. The way lay over a long ridge swept by the most biting north
wind, from which on the ascent the mountain had screened us, and never
have I encountered so wicked a blast. The loose snow whirled up from the
rocks was driven against us as if it was torrents of icy rain, piercing
and penetrating. Once as we halted, I noticed that Hugh shut his eyes,
and seemed sleepy, but he said that he was all right and on we went. He
was on the rope just in front of me behind the leading guide, and
suddenly, without stumbling, he fell down in a heap. He was just
conscious when we picked him up and said, “I’m only rather sleepy; let
me go to sleep ...” and then collapsed again.

He was alive and little more. Raw brandy, of which we had about half a
pint, stimulated him for a moment, and soon, after another and another
dose, our brandy was gone. There was no question of the inadvisability
of giving him spirits, in order to warm him, which is one of the most
fatal errors when a climber is suffering from mere cold: there was just
the hope of keeping him alive by any stimulant. It was not possible to
go back over the summit, and so to get into more sheltered conditions
again; the best chance, and that a poor one, was to convey him down
somehow along the rest of this bitter ridge, till we could find shelter
from the wind. Very soon he became completely unconscious, he could move
no more at all, and the guide and the porter whom we had with us simply
carried him along the rest of the ridge. The rope was altogether a
hindrance, so we took it off, and proceeded in two separate parties. The
guides carried Hugh between them, and I followed.

I had no idea after we had made this arrangement if Hugh was alive or
not; often I had to wait till they got round some awkward corner, and
then make my way after them. Places that would have been easily
traversed by a roped party, took on a totally different aspect, when two
men unroped were carrying another, and when the fourth of the party had
to traverse them alone. What chiefly occupied my benumbed mind was the
sort of telegram that would be sent to my father when we got down to the
foot of the glacier below, where there was communication with
Pontresina. Should I be sending a telegram that Hugh was dead, or should
I have slipped, and thus be incapable of sending a telegram at all, or
would nobody come back?... For some hour or so this procession went on
its way: after I had waited for the trio to get round some rock or
obstruction on the ridge, I followed, and caught sight of them again a
dozen yards further down. Whether they were carrying a corpse or not I
had no idea.

Gradually we came to the end of this ridge. I had waited for them to
scramble over a difficult passage, and then they disappeared round a
corner. One of the guides had loosened a rock, and when I tried to step
on it, it gave way altogether and rattled down the almost precipitous
slope to the side. I had recovered on to my original standing-ground,
but with that rock gone, and being alone and unroped, it took me some
couple of minutes, I suppose, to find a reliable foothold. When that was
done, a couple of steps more brought me, as it had brought them,
completely out of the wind, and on to a broiling southern slope. Fifty
feet below me there came another corner, which they had already passed,
and I could see nothing further. I went round that corner, and found the
two guides roaring with laughter and Hugh quite drunk. He was making
some sort of ineffectual attempt to sit on the point of his ice-axe. He
was not dead at all: he was only drunk. The moment, apparently, that
they had got out of that icy blast, his heart-action must have
reasserted itself, and there was a half-pint of raw brandy poured into
an empty stomach to render accounts. With thick and stumbling speech, he
staggered along, assuring us that he had only been rather sleepy.... And
so he had, and I emptied the fine snow that had been driven in about my
knees through my knickerbockers, and had no need to send any telegrams.

Except for that adventure, which I would gladly have done without,
Pontresina was an uneventful place, rather picnicky and wearisome. There
was a friend of my sister Maggie there under the sentence of the white
death: there was an elderly bishop who attached himself somewhat to our
party: there was Miss Margot Tennant whom then I met for the first time;
and after a rather dull fortnight, I turned back to England to embrace
the career, at Chester, of a serious archæologist.

       *       *       *       *       *

Now there was no particular reason why the Corporatn of Chester should
allow a young gentleman from Cambridge University to pull the city walls
about, in the hope of extracting therefrom Roman tombstones, even though
he was quite willing that these monuments, if discovered, should be
presented to the local museum. So with a view to securing a warmer
welcome, I had got my father to write to the Duke of Westminster at
Eaton, and this was a gloriously successful move. I went over to see
him, explained the plan, and got his support. He in turn wrote to the
Mayor urging the claims of archæology on an enlightened town, and gave
me £50 to augment the grant from the Würtz fund. The technical part of
the work, the underpinning of the wall, the subsequent building of it
up again in case we extracted Roman tombstones from it was entrusted to
the city surveyor: local subscriptions came in, and tombstones of
considerable importance came out, for we found that a legion, “_Legio
Decima Valeria Victrix_” (The victorious Valerian), whose presence in
England was hitherto unknown, had been stationed at Chester. Professor
Mommsen, the historian, must be informed about that, and the copies of
these tombstones must be sent him, and these produced a letter of
congratulation and acknowledgment from the great man. I skipped with joy
over that, for was not this an apotheosis for the family dunce, that
Professor Mommsen should applaud his work? And again I skipped when one
of the famous post-cards came from Hawarden, asking me to come over and
tell Mr. Gladstone about these finds. The sense of diplomacy spiced that
adventure, for profoundly ignorant though I was about politics, I had
just the prudence to be aware that Eaton and Hawarden must not be put,
so to speak, into one pocket, since Mr. Gladstone with his policies of
Home Rule for Ireland and the Disestablishment of the Welsh Church had
digged a gulf of liquid fire between himself and the Duke. There must be
nothing said that could tend to stoke that, and strict was the guard
that I set on my lips.

       *       *       *       *       *

All are agreed on the sense of the terrific latent energy with which
that quiet country-house was stored: there was high tension in its
tranquillity. You felt that if you touched anything a great electric
spark might flare with a cracking explosion towards your extended
finger.... I got there during the morning and was at once taken to see
Mr. Gladstone. He was in his study, sitting at his “political” table:
that other table was the table where he worked at Homer, so he presently
explained to me, suggesting though not actually stating the image which
flew into my mind, of his boiling over, so to speak, at the political
table, that furnace of fierce contention and white-hot enthusiasm, and
of his putting himself to cool off from controversy by the Ionian Sea.
He instantly plunged into the subject of Roman legionaries in Britain as
if nothing else really mattered or ever had mattered to him, and pored
over the copies of a few inscriptions I had brought him. But he wanted
more lively evidence than a mere copy.

“I should like to see the squeezes of these,” he said. “Do you know the
only proper way to make squeezes? You take your sheet of blotting-paper,
and after you have washed the stone, you lay it on, pressing the paper
into the letters of the inscription. Then sprinkle it with water, but by
no means wet your paper before you have laid it on the stone, because it
is apt to tear if you do that. Then take a clothes brush--not too stiff
a one--and tap the surface over and over again with the bristles. By
degrees you will get the paper to mould itself into all the letters of
the inscription, and where there are letters apparently quite perished,
it will often show you some faint stroke from which you can conjecture
what the missing letter has been, though it is invisible to the eye. And
let your blotting paper get dry before you remove it. Otherwise again
you may tear it. Yes, we are coming to lunch: we know,” he said to Mrs.
Gladstone, who came in for the second time to say it was ready.

I do not of course pretend to reproduce the precise wording of this
little dissertation on blotting-paper-squeezes, but there or thereabouts
was the substance of it,

[Illustration: E. F. BENSON, ÆT. 22

[Page 269]

full of detail, full of fire and gesticulation, as if he himself had
invented the science of squeezes, and had done nothing all his life but
make them.

After lunch he said he would drive me to St. Deiniol’s, the library,
chiefly theological and philosophical, that he was arranging, largely
with his own hands, from his vast accumulation of books, for the benefit
of the district, and in especial, for that of clerical students whose
Church he had vainly attempted to disestablish. Soon after lunch it was
announced that the carriage was round, and he went to the door. I had
supposed that there would be some brougham or whatnot in charge of a
coachman; instead there was a pony carriage for two, with a groom
holding tight on to the pony’s head. Mr. Gladstone, already very
dim-sighted, peered at the pony, and said to me, “Wait a minute: that
pony’s a beast,” and hurried back into the house reappearing again with
a formidable whip. Then I became aware that he and I were going alone,
and that Mr. Gladstone, armed with this whip in case the pony was
“beastly,” was intending to drive, for he took up the reins, and, as
soon as I was in, said to the groom, “Let go, Charles,” and whacked the
pony over the rump to teach him that there was his master sitting
inside. Under this charioteer, blind and aged and completely intrepid,
we cantered away to St. Deiniol’s, Mr. Gladstone pointing at objects of
interest with his whip, and reminding the pony that he would catch it,
if he misbehaved. From there, I think he drove me to the station and
returned alone. I duly sent him squeezes prepared in the manner he had
prescribed, and received a series of post-cards suggesting the probable
readings of erased letters, and when next I went to Hawarden that
autumn, there were passages he had turned up in the “_Corpus
Inscriptionum Latinarum_” which bore on this tombstone and on that,
discharged at me as if from a volcano....

Six weeks’ exploration was enough to exhaust my funds, and I carried my
squeezes and my sketches back to Cambridge, there to put the results
into shape.... And there I found, and re-read with a suddenly re-kindled
interest those pages of blue foolscap on the first of which was the
heading “Dodo.” I had written them chiefly for my own amusement, but
now, rightly or wrongly, I had the conviction that they might amuse
others as well. But I really had no idea, till I took them out again,
what they were like; now it occurred to me that the people in them were
something like real people, and that the whole in point of agitating
fact was something like a real book, that might be printed and bound....
But I instantly wanted another and if possible a story-teller’s opinion
about it, and sent it off to my mother, asking her to read it first, and
if it seemed to her to provide any species of entertainment, to think
whether she could not manage to induce Mrs. Harrison (Lucas Malet) or
Henry James, to cast a professional eye over it. She managed this with
such success, that a few days afterwards she wrote to me to say that
Henry James had consented to read it, and give his frank opinion. The
packet she had already, on his consent, despatched to him.

Now this MSS. which thus had reached the kindest man in the world, was
written in a furious hurry and covered with erasures, that exploded into
illegible interpolations, and was indited in such a hand as we employ on
a note that has to be dashed off when it is time already to go to the
station. This was genially hinted at when late in November the recipient
announced to me his judgment in the matter; for he prefaced his
criticism with an apology for having kept it so long, and allowed that,
in consenting to read and criticize, he had “rather overestimated the
attention I should be able to give to a production in manuscript of such
substantial length. We live in such a world of type-copy to-day that I
had taken for granted your story would come to me in that form....”

I should like to call the attention of Mr. Max Beerbohm, our national
caricaturist and parodist, to this unique situation. Henry James at that
time had lately evolved the style and the method which makes a deeper
gulf between his earlier books and his later than exists between
different periods of the work of any other artist. Nearest perhaps in
this extent and depth of gulf comes the case of the painter Turner, but
the most sober and quiet example of his early period is not so far
sundered from the most riotous of Venetian sunrises, as is, let us say,
“Roderick Hudson” from “The Ivory Tower.” Just about now Henry James had
realized, as he told my mother, that all his previous work was
“subaqueous”: now, it seemed to him that he had got his head above
water, whereas to those who adored his earlier work he appeared to have
taken a header into some bottomless depth, where no plummet could
penetrate. At this precise moment when he had vowed himself to
psychological analysis so meticulous and intricate that such action as
he henceforth permitted himself in his novels had to be sifted and
searched for and inferred from the motives that prompted it, he found
himself committed to read a long and crabbed MS., roughly and
voluptuously squirted on to the paper. With what sense of outrage as he
deciphered it sentence by sentence must he have found himself
confronted by the high-spirited but hare-brained harangues of my
unfortunate heroine and her wordy friends! Page after page he must have
turned, only to discover more elementary adventures, more nugatory and
nonsensical dialogues. At the stage at which my story then was, I must
tell the reader that the heroine was far more extravagant than she
subsequently became: She was much pruned and tamed before she made her
printed appearance. The greater part of her censored escapades have
faded from my mind, but I still remember some occasion soon after her
baby’s death when she was discovered, I think by Jack, doing a
step-dance with her footman. It must all have seemed to Henry James the
very flower and felicity of hopeless, irredeemable fiction and still he
persevered.... Or did he persevere? He wrote me anyhow the most careful
and kindly of letters, following it by yet another, delicately and
delightfully forbearing to quench the smoking flax.

“I am such a fanatic myself,” he writes in the earlier of these, “on the
subject of form, style, the evidence of intention and meditation, of
chiselling and hammering out in literary things that I am afraid I am
rather a cold-blooded judge, rather likely to be offensive to a young
story-teller on the question of quality. I’m not sure that yours strikes
me as quite so ferociously literary as my ideal.... Only remember that a
story is, essentially a form, and that if it fails of that, it fails of
its mission.... For the rest, make yourself a style. It is by style we
are saved.”

In case the reader has given a glance to _Dodo_, can he imagine a more
wisely expressed opinion, that opinion, in fact, being no opinion at
all? Never by any possibility could that MS. have seemed to him worth
the paper it was written on, or two minutes of his own time. With what
a sigh of relief he must have bundled it into its wrapper again!

I suppose I was incorrigible on this question of scribbling, for I was
not in the least discouraged. But for the time the further adventures of
the book were cut short by its author’s Odysseys, for directly after
Christmas my father and mother, Maggie, Lucy Tait and I started for
Algiers, through which we were to journey together as far as Tunis.
After that I was going on to Athens to spend the spring there studying
at the British School of Archæology, and it was with a light heart that
I clapped Dodo, after this austere outing, back into a drawer again to
wait till I could attend to her.



CHAPTER XIII

ATHENS AND DODO


A curious incident marked that Algerian tour. Before going, my father
told Queen Victoria of his intention, and she had at first been against
his travelling so far afield, putting it to him that if his presence in
England was urgently and instantly required, there might be some
difficulty about his getting back in time. Whether she had in her mind
the possibility of her own sudden death she did not explain. But
presently she seemed to think that her reluctance that he should be so
remote from England was unfounded: she changed her mind and wished him
an interesting and delightful journey. So from Algiers we went slowly
eastwards visiting Constantine, Tebessa, Timeghad and Fort National on
the way, our most remote point from England--via Tunis on the one side
or (retracing our steps) Algiers on the other--being Biskra. We got
there late one afternoon, and waiting for my father was a telegram from
the Lord Chamberlain, announcing the death of Prince Edward, Duke of
Clarence, from influenza, and giving the date for the funeral. My father
and I with guides and Bradshaws vainly attempted to find a route by
which he could get back to England in time, but such route did not
exist. Had this news come that morning he could have got back, so also
could he, if the funeral had been arranged for the day after that for
which it was fixed: but just here, at Biskra, and nowhere else
throughout the journey was my father unable to return in time. It would
perhaps be going too far to say that the Queen had anything in her mind
definite enough to call a premonition; but the event happening just then
was at least a most curious coincidence.... A few hours afterwards a
second telegram arrived, from the Prince of Wales who, with great
thoughtfulness, begged him not to interrupt his tour.

My father was thus able to realize one of the dearest dreams of his
life, namely, to see with his mortal eyes the Carthage which he knew so
intimately in connection with his lifelong study of Cyprian. His book on
Cyprian which had occupied his leisure for some thirty years was now
approaching completion, and long had he yearned to behold the ruined
site where Cyprian had worked as bishop, to wander with his own feet
over the shores and hills, which, all these years, had been so familiar
to him; and that visit to Carthage had for him the sacredness of some
pilgrimage for which his heart hungered. His own enthusiasm was so keen
that I feel sure that he had no idea that his Mecca could be less to us
than to him, and I have the vision of him kneeling on the site of some
early Christian church, with his face all aglow with the long-deferred
consummation. Just as his appreciation of a picture was mainly due to
the nature of its subject, just as his pleasure in music was derived
from the words which were sung to it, so now, as his diary records, he
saw enchanting loveliness in that bare and featureless hill where
Carthage once stood, for Cyprian’s sake, and wondered at the want of
perception which caused other travellers to find nothing admirable in
that bleak place. For once the classical associations of Carthage, the
Punic Wars, the subsequent Roman occupation had no lure for him.
Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, was the full moon among the lesser lights
of the firmament.

At Tunis I left the rest of them, going on my own special pilgrimage,
and via Malta and Brindisi I came to the city already known to me by map
and picture, and hallowed by some kind of predestined love. And just as
my father was enchanted with that ugly little hill of Carthage because
Cyprian had dwelt there, how was I not transported when above mean
streets and miry ways I saw the sparkle of that marble crown of temples
on the Acropolis? For indeed, from the time that Beesly had read us his
_Trojan Queen’s Revenge_, some idea, some day-dream of Athens had been
distilled, drop by drop, into my blood. Whatever was lovely, whatever
must be estimated and esteemed I always laid alongside some Greek
standard. Not alone were things directly Greek, like the chorus of the
_Œdipus in Colonos_, the chorus in Swinburne’s _Atalanta_, the teachings
of Middleton, the holy dead in the Street of Tombs tested by the
Hellenic touchstone, but whatever moved my heart, the vision of Mary
Anderson in the _Winter’s Tale_, the joy of athletics, the austere
crests of mountains, the forest of Savernake, the Passion-music of Bach,
had been instinctively subjected to the same criterion.

The material standard and symbol of that, by this subtle subconscious
distillation, had always been the Acropolis, and on this crystalline
January afternoon, it was mine to hurry along a tawdry Parisian
boulevard, set with pepper trees, to see on one side the columns of the
temple of Zeus, and on the other the circular Shrine of the Winds. On
the right, as I knew well, I should soon pass the theatre of Dionysus
and not turn aside for that even, and then would come the stoa of
Asclepius and a great Roman colonnade, and for none of these had I a
glance or a thought to spare, for over the sheer southern wall of the
Acropolis there rose the south-west angle of the Parthenon. And then,
with a reverence that was as sincere as love itself and not less ardent,
I mounted the steps of the Propylæa, with the rebuilt shrine on the
right of that fairy-presence, the Wingless Victory, who shed her pinions
because for all time she was to abide in Athens; and on the left was the
great bastion wall stained to an inimitable russet by the winds from
Salamis, and between the great Doric columns I passed, and there in
front was a bare scraped hill-top, and glowing in the sunset was the
west front of the Parthenon, that serene abiding presence, set for a
symbol of what Athens stood for, and, no less, of the eternal yearning
of man for the glorious city of God. Behind rose the violet crown of
hills, Hymettus and Pentelicus and Parnes.

“Holy, holy, holy!” was the first message of it, and then like the dawn
flowing down the cliffs of the Matterhorn, it illuminated all that on
earth had the power to be kindled at its flame. Like the Sphinx it
articulated its unanswerable riddle, and by its light it revealed the
solution, and by its light it hid it again. The architect who had
planned it, the sculptor who had decorated it, the hands that had
builded it and formed the drums of its columns into monoliths of
translucent stone had thrown themselves into the furnace of the creation
that transcended all the wit and the cunning of its creators. They
raised but a fog or a smoke of human endeavour, and from outside, no
less than from the heart of their love, there dawned for them and for us
the light invisible. Whatever love of beauty was in their souls was
transcended and translated into stone; the glory of jubilant youth and
of ridden stallions, of maidens who wove the mantle of the goddess, of
priests and of the hierarchy of gods was but part of some world-offering
to the austere and loving and perfect presence which they had
instinctively worshipped, and, as in some noble trance, had set in
symbol there. With what wonder must they have beheld the completed work
of their hands, and, in their work, the indwelling of the power that was
its consecration.

A tremendous impression, such as that first sight of the Parthenon
undoubtedly made on me, would be a very doubtful gain, if it caused the
rest of life to seem uninteresting by comparison, for any kind of
initiation must quicken rather than blunt the workaday trivial
activities, and certainly in this case I lost no perception of the
actual in the flash of the absolute. Athens at that time (to fuse
together the impressions of this and subsequent years) was the most
comic of European capitals; it was on the scale of some small German
principality, and while aping the manner of Paris in a backwater,
claimed descent from Pericles. It was _opera-bouffe_, seriously carried
out, imagining itself in fact to be the last word in modern
enlightenment no less than in classical romance. It was with just that
classical seriousness that the Olympic games were, a little later,
reinaugurated here, and with all the gaiety of _opera-bouffe_ that
defeated competitors passionately argued with judges and umpires. At the
top of the town came “Constitution Square,” which comprised an
orange-garden and a parade-ground, where on festive occasions the
regiments of Guards deployed and manœuvred, quite, or nearly, occupying
the centre of it: and there have these eyes seen the flower of the
Greek army routed and dispersed by an irritated cab-horse, which,
clearly possessed by the devil, galloped and wheeled and galloped again
till the Guards had very prudently taken cover among the orange trees,
for it was impossible to make any effective military display, when
harassed by that enraged quadruped. Sometimes I think that this
distressing scene was an adumbration of how, a few years later, that
same army bolted through Thessaly on the approach of the Turks. “The
host of hares” was the Turkish phrase for them, and Edhem Pasha, then
commander-in-chief of the Ottoman army, described to me, when I was at
Volo after the Turkish occupation of Thessaly, the battle of Pharsala.
“We came over the hill,” he said, without enmity and without contempt,
“and we said ‘Sh-sh-sh’ and we clapped our hands, and that was the
battle of Pharsala.”... How complete has been the regeneration of this
versatile people may be gathered from their later campaigns against the
same adversaries.

On three sides of Constitution Square, were hotels and cafés and the
residence of the Crown Prince Constantine subsequently cast by destiny
for the ludicrous rôle of “King Tino.” On the fourth side the Royal
Palace, of a similarly pretentious and ugly style as that which looks
over St. James’s Park, presented a mean and complicated face to the
steam-tramway that puffed through the top of the square on its way to
Phaleron. A royal baby, that year or the next, had seen the light, and
we foreign but loyal Athenians, what time a bugler stationed in the
colonnade of the palace made all kinds of music, craned our necks and
focussed our eyes to see the King come forth. But in nine cases out of
ten, it was not King George who emerged but a perambulator pushed by an
English nursery-maid. But that was the dynastic custom: whenever a
royal personage came forth from the palace, the bugler made all kinds of
music, so that the inhabitants of Athens might, like good
Nebuchadnezzarites, fall down and worship the pink little image....
Sometimes, however, their loyalty obtained a more adult reward, for on
Sunday afternoon King George would generally go down to Phaleron in the
steam-tram, and observe the beauties of nature. On such occasions he was
marvellously democratic, and would come trotting across the belt of
gravel between the palace and the tram-lines in order not to keep his
citizens waiting. There is no doubt that if he had attempted to do so,
the tram would have gone without him, leaving him to follow by the next,
or study the beauties of nature in his own garden.

He was democratic also towards foreigners. A tourist staying in one of
the respectable hotels round Constitution Square, for instance, was
quite at liberty to intimate to the Minister of his country that an
audience with the King would be agreeable, and in due course some
footman from the palace, in gorgeous well-worn livery, would bear a
missive with a tremendous crown on the envelope which informed him that
King George would give him an audience next day. Or, if you did not
express your loyal desire, it would perhaps be intimated that it would
be quite in order if you did so, and thereupon, on the appointed morning
you would put on your evening dress-clothes (rather green in the
sunlight), and a white tie, and a straw hat, and present yourself at the
palace door. On seeing this apparition the bugler stationed there has
been known to give one throaty blast, thinking that anyone so
ridiculously attired must be a royal personage, then, catching the
affrighted eye of the visitor, he recognized his mistake, and with an
engaging smile, saluted instead. You took off your straw hat (or if it
was winter your top-coat and bowler) and were ushered with a series of
obeisances into a small bare room, furnished with a carafe of water.
Then a door was thrown open, and, as in a dream, you advanced into a
small apartment with a purple paper and gold stars upon it, and found
the King. He always stood during these amazing interviews, and kept
rising on tiptoe with his feet close together, till the instinct of
unconscious mimicry made it impossible not to do the same, and he and
you seesawed up and down, and talked for ten minutes about his friends
in England. He had a long neck, and shoulders like a hock-bottle, and
when he dipped them it was a sign that he had sufficiently enjoyed your
society. He was very bald, and so also was the Crown Prince, who married
the German Emperor’s sister. Both father and son (though this will
hardly be credited) wrote testimonials in praise of some fluid which,
when rubbed on the head, produces or preserves a fine crop of hair. And
if the hair-grease did them no good, as it apparently didn’t, I hope
there was some sort of palm-grease that made their testimonial worth
their while.

Queen Olga was Russian, daughter of the Grand Duke Constantine, a
wonderfully beautiful woman, whom I had seen first when I came up from
Marlborough for the Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1887. She had an
engaging habit when she came round the room at balls or after dinner in
order to talk to the guests, of putting her hands on the shoulders of
the women she was conversing with, and shoving them back into their
seats, so that they should sit down without ceremony. Sometimes she
would want to talk to two or three people together, and down they would
go like ninepins, while she stood. Behind her came the King still
playing seesaw, and behind him the Crown Prince, who did the same to the
men he wanted to talk to, and a little while afterwards there was Prince
George and Princess Marie, both putting people into their places. It was
all very democratic, but also slightly embarrassing, because after large
Prince George had pushed you back into a low chair, you had to crane
your head up, as if you were talking to somebody on the top of the dome
of St. Paul’s, the dome inverted being represented by his tremendous and
circular waistcoat. After him came Prince Nicholas, but he had always
something terribly important and slightly broad, in the shape perhaps of
a “Limerick,” to communicate. So as these could not be shouted,
conversation was held on more reasonable levels.

King George’s family, as all the world knows, had made magnificent
marriages. He was the brother of Queen Alexandra, and of the Dowager
Empress of Russia, and his eldest son had brought as wife to Athens the
German Emperor’s sister, to whom, I suspect, these bugle-regulations
were due. The “in-laws” consequently were often being bugled for, and
the tram to Phaleron on a Sunday afternoon would now be a fine target
for Bolsheviks. The Crown Princess was constantly engaged during these
years on her wifely duties, and the arrival of the Empress Frederick in
Athens usually implied that there would soon be fireworks in
Constitution Square. But when I write of her, there is no _opera-bouffe_
atmosphere that I can attempt or desire to reproduce, for tragic were
her past years, bitter her present years, and grim agonies of mortal
disease were already making ambush for her. During the three or four
ensuing years, when, instead of being at the British School or at a
hotel, I spent some months at the British Legation, where Sir Edwin
Egerton was Minister, I found myself on strangely personal terms with
her. She had been a friend of an uncle of mine, who became a
nationalized German after years of living in Wiesbaden, and starting
from that, she talked with a curious unrestraint. Bitter little stinged
remarks came out, “You are happy in being English”; or “When I come to
London I am only a visitor.” On one occasion I was left alone with her
on a terrace above the outlying rooms at the Legation, and to my
profound discomfort, she began pacing up and down with smothered
ejaculations. Then quite suddenly she said to me, “But Willie is mad!” I
suppose I idiotically looked as if this was some joke, and she shook her
outstretched hand at me, “I mean that he is mad,” she repeated. “Willie
is mad.”... Then quite suddenly, with the arrested movement of a bird,
wounded to death in mid-air, she ceased from her tragic flight, and came
to earth. “If you are going to bathe again at Phaleron,” she said, with
a laugh, alluding to an incident of the day before, “I must be sure
there are no clothes on the beach, before I sit down to sketch. You came
out of the water, and there was I....”

Or the bugle sounded, and there was the unhappiest of the Czars looking
very small beside his cousin Prince George. Or again, one afternoon,
when, by perpetual permission, I was allowed to seek the shade and
coolness of the palace gardens, I heard the trampling of foot-steps, and
shrill expostulations, from behind a hedge of oleander. Round the corner
came the originators of this disturbance.... King George seemed to have
taken a dislike to his sister’s hat, and had plucked it from her head
and was kicking it along the garden path, while she followed
remonstrating. “But it’s an ugly hat,” said he, delighted to find some
kind of umpire, “and therefore I took it and I kicked it, and she cannot
wear it any more....” (Was there ever anything so like the immortal
_Rose and the Ring_?) “My hat!” said the injured owner tersely, as she
recovered her hopelessly damaged property.... “So rude of you, George.”

My first spring in Greece was mostly spent out of Athens, for with
another student I was put in charge of the British excavations at
Megalopolis. All the plums had already been picked out of it, for the
theatre had been completely cleared, and the excavation of the year
before had laid bare the entire plan of the great Council hall, the
Thersilion, built in the time of Epaminondas, so that this year
excavation was equivalent to sitting on a wall while a lot of workmen
removed tons of earth in which nothing could possibly be discovered. It
was not thrilling, but at least one could incessantly talk to them in
what purported to be modern Greek, until it became so. There had been
considerable excitement about Megalopolis the year before, for the
British excavators had thought they had triumphantly refuted the German
theory, announced by Dr. Dörpfeld, that fourth century Greek theatres
had no stage. They had unearthed steps and columns, which, they
considered, proved the existence of a stage, and, rather prematurely,
had announced their anti-German discovery in the _Hellenic Journal_ with
something resembling a crow of satisfaction. On which this dreadful Dr.
Dörpfeld came down from Athens with a note-book and a tape measure, and
in a couple of hours in the pouring rain had proved quite conclusively,
so that no further argument was possible, that the British, with a year
to think about it, had quite misinterpreted

[Illustration: E. F. BENSON, ÆT. 26

[Page 287]

their own evidence, and demonstrated how what they had taken for a stage
was merely a back wall. Their researches in fact had merely confirmed
his theory. Then he rolled up his measure and went back to Athens.... So
another and I cleaned up these rather depressing remains, and when that
was done we hired mules and went a-wandering through the country and saw
the spring “blossom by blossom” (even as Beesly had read) alight on the
hills. Blossom by blossom, too, Greece itself, no longer pictured in
photographs or bored for in books, opened its myriad lovelinesses, even
as the scarlet anemone made flame in the thickets, and the nightingales
“turned the heart of the night to fire” in the oleanders by the Eurotas.
We visited Homeric Mycenæ, and Epidaurus, the Harrogate of the fourth
century B.C., and in archæological intervals I speared mullet by the
light of a flaming torch on moonless nights with the fishermen of
Nauplia, and ate them for early breakfast, broiled on the sea-shore,
before the sun was up. I crossed the Gulf of Corinth and went to Delphi,
where the French school were beginning the excavations that were
destined to yield more richly than any soil in Greece except the
precinct at Olympia. There, too, I went, and if to me the Parthenon had
been a revelation of the glory of God, there I took my shoes from off my
feet, and worshipped the glory of man, because the Hermes of Praxiteles
“caring for the infant Dionysus,” embodied, once and for all, the
possible, the ultimate, beauty of man, even as the Louvre held the
ultimate glory of woman.... A few weeks more in Athens were busy with
the record of the meagre results from Megalopolis, and I left for
England, knowing in my very bones that Athens was in some subtle way my
spiritual mother, so that on many subsequent journeys, as I went from
England there, and from there back to England again, I travelled but
from home to home, οἴκοθεν οἴκαδε.

Dodo had been put back in her drawer, after her expedition to Henry
James: now for the second time I took her out and tasted her, as if to
see whether she seemed to have mellowed like a good wine, or become sour
like an inferior one, in which case I would very gladly have poured her
on the earth like water, and started again. But I could not, reading her
once more, altogether cast her off: she had certain gleams of vitality
about her, and with my mother’s connivance and help again I submitted
her to a professional verdict. This time it was my mother’s friend, Mrs.
Harrison, known to our admiring family as “Lucas Malet,” author of the
adorable _Colonel Enderby’s Wife_, who was selected to pronounce on my
story, and again, I am afraid, it was without the slightest realization
of this highway robbery on the time of an author that I despatched the
book. Anyhow those two assaults on Henry James and Lucas Malet have
produced in me a fellow-feeling for criminals such as I was a quarter of
a century ago, so that now, when, as occasionally happens, some
light-hearted marauder announces that he or she (it is usually she) is
sending me her manuscript, which she hopes I won’t mind reading, and
telling her as soon as possible exactly what I think of it, and to what
publisher she had better send it (perhaps I would write him a line too)
and whether the heroine isn’t a little overdone (but her mother thinks
her excellent), and would I be careful to register it when I return it,
and if before next Thursday to this address, and if after next Friday to
another, etc. etc., I try to behave as Lucas Malet behaved in similar
circumstances. I do not for a moment say that I succeed, but I can
still remember how pleasant it should seem, from the point of view of
the aspirant scribbler, that somebody should be permitted to read what
has been written with such rapture and how important it all is....

But I can never hope to emulate Lucas Malet’s tact and wisdom in her
genial, cordial, and honest reply (when she had had the privilege of
wading through these sheets), for they still remain to me, who know her
answer almost by heart, to be the first and the last word in the true
theory of the writing of fiction. Her deft incisions dissected, from
lungs and heart and outwards to the delicate fibre of the skin that
protects and expresses the life within, the structure of stories, short
or long, that are actually alive. First must come the “idea,” the life
that is to vitalize the complete animal, so that its very hair and nails
are fed with blood.... And then, since I cannot possibly find words as
apt and as sober as hers I will quote from the letters themselves.

     “First the idea, then the grouping, which is equivalent to our
     drama--then a search for models from whom to draw. Most young
     English writers--the artistic sense being a matter of experience,
     not of instinct, with most of us--begin just the other way about.
     Begin with their characters ... rummage about for a story in which
     to place them, and too often leave the idea out of the business
     altogether.... One evil consequence of this method--among many
     others--is that there is a distracting lack of completeness and
     _ensemble_ in so much English work. The idea should be like the
     thread on which beads are strung. It shouldn’t show, except at the
     two ends; but in point of fact it keeps the beads all together and
     in their proper relation.”

Then, to one already hugely interested in this admirable creed of the
art of fiction, Lucas Malet proceeded to a dissection, just and kind
and ruthless, of the story as it stood. She hurt in order to heal, she
cut in order that healthy tissue (if there was any) might have the
chance to grow. She showed me by what process (if I applied it seriously
and successfully) I might convert my Dodo-doll into something that did
not only squeak when pressed in the stomach, and gave no other sign of
vitality than closing its eyes when it was laid flat. In consequence,
greatly exhilarated by this douche of cold water, I collected such
fragments of an “idea” as existed, revised what I had written, and wrote
(in pursuance of the “idea”) the second volume, as it subsequently
appeared, in those days when novels were originally issued in three or
two volumes at the price of a guinea and a half or a guinea. I finished
it that autumn, sent it to the publisher recommended by Lucas Malet, who
instantly accepted it. It came out in the following spring, that of
1893. I was out in Greece again at the time, and though it was my first
public appearance (since _Sketches from Marlborough_ may be considered
as a local phenomenon) I feel sure that from the time when, with
trembling pride, I corrected the long inconvenient galley sheets that
kept slipping on to the floor, I gave no further thought to it at all.
Bad or good, I had done my best; what happened concerned me no more, for
I was quite absorbed in the study of the precinct of Asclepios on the
slopes of the Acropolis, in the life at Athens, and in a volume of short
stories that I began to write with a pen still wet, so to speak, with
the final corrections on the proof sheets of _Dodo_. She was done with,
so far as I was concerned, and it was high time, now that I was
twenty-five, to get on with something else, before the frosts of
senility paralysed all further effort.

For such a person as I happened to be, that, as I then believed and
still believe, was the wisest resolution I could make. The habit of
immediate activity, physically or mentally violent, had, from the days
when butterflies, plants, athletics, friendship, _Saturday Magazines_
were all put under contribution to feed the raging energies of life,
become an instinct. If there was a kick left in my wholly boyish nature,
it had become a habit to kick, and not to save the energy for any future
emergency: if there was a minute to spare, somehow to use or enjoy it.
To what use that minute and that kick were devoted, so I now see, did
not particularly matter: the point was to kick for just that minute. No
doubt there are other and admirable uses to which energy may be put;
some make reservoirs, into which they pour and store their vital force,
and while it increases, screw down their sluice, and let the gathered
waters rest and reflect. Such as these probably achieve the most abiding
results, for when they choose to raise their sluice, they can, by the
judicious use of winch and shutter, continue to irrigate the field which
they have determined to make fruitful, for a period that they can
certainly estimate. They burn a steady unwavering candle which will
always illuminate a fixed area, and from the areas which do not concern
them they hide their ray and thus economize their wax and their wick.
But how surely are there others who from their very nature are unable to
construct their reservoirs or burn this one decorous candle. Whatever
head of water there is, it must be instantly dispersed, whatever candle
there is, it must be lit at both ends, and if that is not enough, it
must be broken in half, and its new ends of wicks kindled and used for
the exploration of some trumpery adventure: “trumpery,” that is to say,
in the vocabulary of the wise and prudent, but how colossal in the
sight of the wild-eyed adventurer. And just here, just where a moral
lesson should be drawn showing the early decay and the untimely end of
these spendthrifts of energy, the whole tendency of Nature lies in
precisely the opposite direction to that in which natural and moral
economy ought to tend, for it is the careful who grow early old, and the
careful investor of energy who declares bankruptcy, and retires in
middle life to the club windows, where he shows a bald head to St.
James’s Street, and a sour visage to the waiters. Somehow so it most
inexorably seems, those who spend, have; those who save, lack. Not that
the spender could, by the laws and instincts of his nature, have done
otherwise than court bankruptcy: not that the investor could have done
otherwise than court affluence. But the one careful candle, as a matter
of experience, gets blown out, and the irrelevant candle-ends continue
to flare....

So, after this second visit to Greece, I came home to find to my
incredulous and incurious surprise, that in the interval I had become,
just for the focus of a few months, famous or infamous. One of those
rare phenomena, less calculable than the path of a comet, which
periodically is to destroy the world, had occurred, and there was a
“boom” in _Dodo_, and no one was more astonished than the author, when
his mother met him arriving by the boat train at Victoria, and hinted at
what was happening. All sorts of adventitious circumstances aided it: it
was thought extremely piquant that a son of the Archbishop of Canterbury
should have written a book so frankly unepiscopal, and quite a lot of
ingenious little paragraphists invented stories of how I had read it
aloud to my father and described his disconcertedness: the title-rôle
and other characters were assigned to various persons who happened then
to be figuring in the world, but apart from all these adventitious aids,
this energetic and trivial experiment had--in those ancient days--a
certain novelty of treatment. There were no explanations; whatever
little life its characters were possessed of, they revealed by their own
unstinted speech. That, as I have already explained, had been the plan
of it in my mind, and the execution, whatever the merits of the plan
might be, was in accordance with it. It went through edition after
edition, in that two-volume form, price a guinea (against which shortly
afterwards the libraries revolted) and all the raging and clamour, of
course, only made it sell the more. It had received very scant notice in
the Press itself; what (as always happens) made it flourish so furiously
was that people talked about it.

But its success apart from the delightful comedy of such a first act to
its author, led on to a truly violent situation when the curtain rose
again, for the critics, justly enraged that this rare phenomenon called
a “boom” should not have been detected and heralded by their auguries
and by them damned or deified, laid aside a special pen for me, ready
for the occasion when I should be so imprudent as to publish another
novel; and they all procured a large bottle of that hot ink which Dante
dipped for,

    When his left hand i’ the hair of the wicked,
    Back he held the brow and pricked its stigma
    Bit unto the live man’s flesh for parchment,
    Loosed him, laughed to see the writing rankle,

and since they were proposing to “let the wretch go festering” through
London, they read up Macaulay’s review of Mr. Robert Montgomery’s poems
to see how it was done. If they had not noticed _Dodo_, they would at
least notice her successor. Indeed the fairy godmother who presents a
young author at his public christening with a boom, brings him a
doubtful gift, for when next I challenged attention all these little
Macaulays and Dantes uncorked their hot ink, and waited pen in hand till
Mr. Methuen sent them their “advance copies.” Then, saying “one, two,
three--go,” they all produced on the birth-morning of the unfortunate
book columns and columns of the most blistering abuse that I remember
ever beholding in God-fearing journals. This blasted infant was a small
work called _The Rubicon_, now so completely forgotten that I must ask
the reader to take my word for it that it was quite a poor book. It was
not even very, very bad: it was just poor. Critics have hundreds of poor
books submitted to their commiserated notice, and they are quite
accustomed to that, and tell the public in short paragraphs that the
work in question is “decidedly powerful,” or “intensely interesting” or
“utterly futile,” and there is an end of it as far as they are
concerned. Had this blasted infant been a first book it would naturally
have received no more than a few rude little notices, and perhaps a few
polite little notices. But as it was the successor to the abhorred comet
it was concertedly singled out for the wrath of the Olympians, The
_candidatus exercitus_ of the entire Press went forth with howitzers and
Maxims (in both senses), with cannons of all calibres, with rifles and
spears and arrows and sharp tongues to annihilate this poor little
May-fly. That I am not exaggerating the stupendous character of this
fusillade can be shown from a few extracts. In those days I used to take
in Press-cuttings, and among a heap of more precious relics in a
forgotten box I came across the other day a packet of these, which
contained such flowers as I could not leave to blush unseen, and I
picked and here present a little nosegay of them.

     (1) The _Pall Mall Gazette_. (_The Rubicon_, E. F. Benson.)

     “MR. BENSON’S NEW PLAY.

     _Dramatis Personæ._

Exhumée Dodo.
Lord Anæmia.
Donjuans (_sic_).
Madonna de Clapham.
Jelly Fish.
Vulgarities.
Indecencies.

     _Time_, The Middle Classes. _Place_, Le Pays Inconnu.

     _Mise en scène_, Fluff.”

Then follows a short analysis, not so fragrantly precious, and then
comes comment.

     “All the gutter-elements of _Dodo_ are rehashed and warmed up again
     with no touch of novelty or improvement or chastisement.... The
     Lives of the Bad are interesting assuredly ... but then they must
     be living and bad, and these pithless people are only galvanic
     [galvanized?] and vulgar. _We do not wish to be hard on Mr.
     Benson._ Let him give three years to investigating the distinctions
     between good writing and bad writing, between wit and vulgarity ...
     and then we should not be surprised if he produced something worth
     finding serious fault with.”

(2) The (late) _Standard_. (A column and a half.)

     “Taking the book as a whole, it is an absolute failure. As a rule,
     the writing is forced and uneasy, the reflections confused or
     lumbering. The character-drawing is crude and uncertain. It is
     emphatically one of those books that are sensual, earthly and
     unwholesome.”

(3) _Vanity Fair._ (One column.)

     “Of style he has little: of wit he has no idea ... of plot there is
     less in _The Rubicon_ than is generally to be found in a penny
     novelette: of knowledge of Society (if he have any) Mr. Benson
     shows less here than is usually possessed by the nursery-governess;
     and in grammar he seems to be as little expert as he is in natural
     science: of which his knowledge seems to equal his smattering of
     the Classics ... ill-named, full of faults, betraying much
     ignorance of manners and unknowledge [_sic_] of human nature: a
     book, indeed, compact of folly and slovenliness: guiltless of any
     real touch of constructive art; without form and void: a book of
     which I fear that I have made too much.”

(4) _Daily Chronicle._ (One column.)

     “A PUZZLE FOR POSTERITY.

     What will the critical students of, say, two generations ahead,
     make of the fact that in the spring of 1894 the newspapers of
     London treated the appearance of a new novel by Mr. E. F. Benson as
     an event of striking importance in the world of books? The thought
     that death will rid us of the responsibility for that awkward
     explanation lends an almost welcome aspect to the grave....

     That _The Rubicon_ is the worst-written, falsest and emptiest of
     the decade, it would be, perhaps, too much to say. In these days of
     elastic publishing standards and moneyed amateurs, many queer
     things are done, and Mr. Benson’s work is a shade better than the
     poorest of the stuff which would-be novelists pay for the privilege
     of seeing in print.... A certain interest attaches, no doubt, to
     the demonstration which it affords that a young gentleman of
     university training can meet the female amateurs on their own
     ground, and be every whit as maudlin and absurd as they know how to
     be. But the sisterhood have an advantage over him in the fact that
     they can spell.... There are a score of glaring grammatical errors,
     to say nothing of the clumsiness and incompetency which mark three
     sentences out of five throughout the book. Bad workmanship might
     be put aside as the fault of inexperience, if the young man had an
     actual story to tell ... but there is nothing of that sort here....
     The heroine is from time to time led over to as near [_sic_] the
     danger line of decency as the libraries will permit. She is made to
     utter several suggestive speeches, and once or twice quite skirts
     the frontier of the salacious....”

(5) _The World._ (Length unknown: I cannot find the second half of it.)

     “But, alas! Eva Hayes in _The Rubicon_ is quite as vulgar, quite as
     blatant in the bad taste she is pleased to exhibit on every
     occasion, as her predecessor _Dodo_, and is dull beyond description
     into the bargain. From beginning to end of the two volumes there is
     not one spark or gleam of humour, or sign of true observation and
     knowledge of humanity.”

(6) The (late) _St. James’s Budget_. (Six columns.)

     “ANOTHER UNBIRCHED HEROINE.

     It might have been supposed that the son of an Archbishop was
     hardly the sort of person to shine in this kind of literature, but
     Mr. Benson has taught us better than that. Yet our thanks are due
     to him for one thing: his book consists of only two volumes; it
     might have been in three....

    How they Mate in the ‘Hupper Suckles.’ ...
    Languour, Cigarettes and Blasphemies....

     We conclude this enthusiastic appreciation of Mr. Benson with the
     bold avowal that we regard _The Rubicon_ as almost truly perfect of
     its kind, and probably unsurpassable. Any one of Shakespeare’s most
     remarkable gifts may be found, perhaps, in equal measure in the
     writings of some minor author; but none ever had such a union of so
     many as he. So it is with Mr. Benson. A school-girl’s idea of
     ‘plot,’ a nursery-governess’s knowledge of the world; a gentleman’s
     ‘gentleman’s’ views of high life; an undergraduate’s sense of style
     and store of learning; a society paragraphist’s fine feeling and
     good taste; a man-milliner’s notion of creating character: of each
     of these you may find plenty of evidence in the novels of the day;
     but nowhere else--unless it be in _Dodo_--will they all be found
     welded into one harmonious unity as they are here!...”

Here is but the most random plucking of these blossoms, but what a
nosegay! The flower from _Vanity Fair_ grew of course from the same root
as that from the _St. James’s Budget_, and this is interesting as
showing the excellent co-ordination between these different attacks. As
a Press-campaign on an infinitesimal scale, I give the foregoing as a
classical example. No book, however bad, could possibly have called
forth, in itself, so combined an onslaught: every gun in Grub Street was
primed and ready and sighted not on _The Rubicon_ at all, but on the
author of _Dodo_. But herein is shown the inexpediency of using up all
your ammunition at once, on so insignificant a target. It was clear that
if the respectable journals of London made so vigorous an offensive,
that offensive had to be final, and the war to be won. Still more clear
was it that, if this was not a preconcerted, malicious and murderous
campaign not on a particular book, but on an individual, the entire
columns of the London Press must henceforth be completely devoted to
crushing inferior novels. _The Rubicon_ was but one of this innumerable
company: if the Press had determined to crush inferior novels, it was
clear that for a considerable time there would be no room in its columns
for politics, or sport or foreign news or anything else whatever. Not
even for advertisements, unless we regard such attacks as being unpaid
advertisements....

So there was no more firing for the present, and it was all rather
reminiscent of the tale of how Oscar Wilde went out shooting, and fell
down flat on the discharge of his own gun.

The Press, after that, had nothing more to shoot at me, for all their
heaviest shells had been launched; so the blighted author walked off, as
Mr. Mantalini said, as comfortable as demnition, and proceeded
vigorously to write _The Babe, B.A._ and other tranquil works, just as
if he had not been blown into a thousand fragments.

The Press-notices, in fact, from which these six extracts are taken,
were a huge lark, and one day I found my father (who so far from
summoning family councils on the subject never spoke to me about my
public scribblings at all) wide-eyed and absorbed in one of these
contemporary revilings. Suddenly he threw his head back with a great
shout of laughter, and slapped me on the back. “You’ve got broad enough
shoulders to stand that sort of thing,” he said. “Come along, are the
horses ready?” and out we went riding. But less humorous were certain
private kicks which I got (and no doubt deserved) from less ludicrous
antagonists. Of these the chief, and the most respected both then and
now, must be nameless. He had been so hot in appreciation and so cordial
over _Dodo_, politely observing in it a “high moral beauty” that I find
him (in this same forgotten box) writing to me, before the appearance of
_The Rubicon_, in these words à propos of the growing public taste for
realism:

     “The public in the next generation will be what you and one or two
     others like you choose to make it. Good work in any style gives
     that style vogue.... It’s ever when you are most serious you are at
     your best. Work, work and live.”

Well, I worked and lived like the devil for strenuousness. Then _The
Rubicon_ made its appearance, and the same friend took a blistering pen
instead:

     “If anything could possibly give a more serious blow to your
     chances of future and legitimate success than the publication of
     _The Rubicon_, it would be to bring out within three or four years
     another novel.... It does not seem to me that you have formed the
     slightest conception of the true situation. It is this. Your first
     book, from accidental and even parasitic causes--things that were
     not in the book at all--enjoyed an entirely abnormal and baseless
     success. You have now to begin again, and for several years the
     public will certainly not listen to you as a novelist.”

For the life of me, I cannot now, reading these explosive records over
again, determine whether I could have gained anything by paying the
smallest attention to them. Logically, it was impossible to do so, for
they clearly were directed, as I have said, not against this wretched
old _Rubicon_, but against the person who had dared to capture success
with _Dodo_. Rightly or wrongly, it seemed to me that vituperation so
violent could not be regarded as other than comic. If I was a
nursery-governess and a man-milliner, and a gentleman’s gentleman it was
all very sad, but I was less overwhelmed because I was already terribly
interested in the _Babe, B.A._ and not at all interested in the _St.
James’s Budget_, except as a humorous publication, which the _Babe,
B.A._ tried to be, too. And then there were delightful plans ahead; this
autumn Maggie was to come out to Athens with me, and we were to go on to
Egypt together, and have a Tremendous Time....



CHAPTER XIV

ATHENS AND EGYPT


So there was Athens again, with its bugles and its Royal Babies, and its
eternal Acropolis, which custom never staled. Maggie jumped into the
Hellenic attitude at once, adoring the adorable, filling with the
laughter of her serious appreciation the comedy of the life there,
enjoying it all enormously, and finding ecstatic human interest in
Oriental situations. One day the M.P. for Megalopolis appeared in
Athens, and so, of course, I asked him to tea in the Grand Hotel, and
Maggie put in some extra lessons in modern Greek with the English
vice-consul, in order that a tongue-tied female should not mar the
entertainment. The M.P.’s remarks were mostly unintelligible to her, and
these I translated back for her benefit, and if she could find a phrase
that fitted she slowly enunciated it, and if not she said to him,
syllable by syllable, “I should like to see your wife and children, but
we are going to Egypt.” All the “circles” in Athens embraced at once her
cordial and eager humanity. She sketched all morning, and when I came to
the rendezvous, there would be a dozen young Greek urchins round her
canvas, to whom, as she washed in a lucent sky, she made careful and
grammatical remarks.... She captivated the heart of the archæologists,
and Dr. Dörpfeld who had proved himself so fatal to the theories of the
British School at Megalopolis, addressed his most abstruse arguments to
her as he announced that “die Enneakrounos, ich habe gewiss gefunden”
when he gave his out-of-door lectures. The English Minister, Sir Edwin
Egerton, used to wrap her shawl round her, as she left the Legation
after dinner, saying, “Now you look like a Tanagra figure,” and the
Queen asked her in strict confidence, whether the English aristocracy
really behaved as her brother said they behaved in that odd book called
_Dŏdō_. The answer to that was given in a performance we got up,
ostensibly for the amusement of the English governesses in Athens at
Christmas, of the _Duchess of Bayswater_. Of course we got it up
primarily because we wanted to act, and then it grew to awful
proportions. The English Mediterranean Fleet happened to come into the
Piræus about then, and Admiral Markham asked if a contingent of two
hundred blue-jackets or so might stand at the back of the English
governesses. On which, the style of the entertainment had to be recast
altogether, and we bargained that, if they came the performance should
consist of two parts. The first part should be supplied by sailors, who
would dance hornpipes, and sing songs, and the second part should
consist of _The Duchess of Bayswater_. That was agreed, and we engaged a
large public hall.

Then Regie Lister who was a Secretary of Legation, let slip to the Crown
Princess that we were getting up an entertainment for (and with) sailors
and English governesses, and she, under promise of discretion as regards
her relatives, was allowed to be one of the English governesses. With
truly Teutonic perfidiousness, she informed all the Kings and Queens
then in Athens what was going on, and just as the curtain was about to
go up for _The Duchess of Bayswater_ a message came from the palace
that the entire host of royalties was then starting to attend it. And so
there was a row of Kings and Queens and ten rows of English governesses,
and a swarm of English sailors. But we refused to cut out a topical
allusion to the Palace bugles.

And at precisely this point, the epoch of those absurd theatricals, the
sparkle and comedy of Athenian existence was overshadowed or enlightened
for me by the birth of a great friendship. Regie Lister had the greatest
genius for friendship of any man I ever met; no one, not even Alfred
Lyttelton, had a finer gift or a more irresistible charm for men and
women alike. The two, extraordinarily dissimilar in most respects, were
identical in this, that they compelled others to love them, because they
loved so magnificently themselves. Alfred Lyttelton, for all his
exuberant virility, had the feminine quality of giving himself instead
of taking, which is what I mean by magnificent love, and Regie’s genius
in friendship sprang from precisely the same abandonment. There they
diverged north and south, for Regie had practically none of the
manliness that was so characteristic of the other. But he had superbly
the qualities of his defects; in matters of intellect, the direct
masculine attack was represented by intuition and diplomacy and extreme
quickness, and in matters of affection by a certain robust tenderness,
quite devoid of sentimentality. All mankind, whether male or female, is
compounded of both sexes: the man without any womanly instincts would be
a mere monster; the woman without any grit of manliness in her, a mere
jelly-fish, and in Regie’s nature the woman had a large share. One
quality supposed to be a defect of women rather than men he was quite
without: he had no notion whatever of “spite,” and was incapable of
taking revenge on anyone who had annoyed or crossed him. Most shining
of all among his delightful gifts was his instinct of seeing the best in
everyone. Wherever he went in his diplomatic posts, Athens,
Constantinople, Copenhagen, Rome, Paris, or Tangiers, he found, without
the least “setting to work” about it, that there never was so heavenly a
place, nor so delightful an entourage. At heart he was really Parisian;
that city, with its keen kaleidoscopic gaiety, its intellectual and
artistic atmosphere, dry and defined as its own air, suited him best,
but this instinct to find everyone with whom he came in contact
delightful, brought out, as was natural, all that there was delightful
in them, and thus his instinct was justified. He was incapable of being
bored for more than a couple of minutes together, and would have found
something that could be commuted into cheerfulness in the trials of Job.
Whether he liked a person or not, he always gave his best, not with the
idea of making himself popular, but because that was the natural
expression of his temperament. His amiability made the ripe plums easily
drop for him, but when he had determined to get something which did not
come off its stalk for the wishing, he had indomitable perseverance, and
that rather rare gift of being able to sit down and think until a method
clarified itself.

With him, then, I struck up a friendship which dispensed with all the
preliminaries of acquaintanceship: there was no gradual drawing together
about it, it leaped into being, and there it remained, poised and
effortless. Often during the ensuing years after he had left Athens and
was at his post in some European capital, we did not meet for months
together, but when the meeting came, relations were taken up again,
owing to some flame-like quality in him which warmed you as soon as you
got near him, without break or sense of there having been a break.
Morning by morning he came down to the museum where I was studying
sculpture with his paints and sketching-block, and made the most
admirable pictures of some Greek head; we took excursions round Athens
up Hymettus or Pentelicus, we usually dined together at some house of an
evening, where he made cosmopolitan diplomatists act charades or play
some childish and uproarious game. Best of all was it to leave Athens,
and wander three or four days at a time in the Peloponnese. We cast
pennies into the Styx, we lost our way and our mules and their drivers
on the slopes of Cyllene, and were rescued by a priest who tucked up his
skirts, and hurled huge stones at the savage shepherd-dogs; we slept in
indescribable inns, where were all manner of beasts, we bathed in the
Eurotas, and lay that night among goats in a shed on the Langarda Pass,
and the sorriest surroundings were powerless to abate Regie’s enjoyment.
And on one unique and memorable day we hunted for the temple at Bassae
in a thick fog, and almost despaired of finding it, when out of the
heart of the enshrouding mist there came the roar of a great wind that
tore the fog into tatters, and lo, not a hundred yards away was the
grave grey temple. The flying vapours vanished, chased like frightened
sheep along steaming hillsides and through the valleys below, and all
the Peloponnese swam into sight, from the Gulf of Corinth to the western
sea, and from the west to the bays of the south, and from the south to
the waters of Nauplia.... Did two more ecstatic pilgrims ever behold the
shrine of Apollo?

For the next three winters slices of Egypt were sandwiched between
visits to Greece. I started with Greece, went on with Maggie, or on
other occasions joined her at Luxor, and came back to Greece, living,
after Regie’s departure for Constantinople, at the Legation with Sir
Edwin Egerton, the most hospitable of mankind. But the magic of Egypt,
potent and compelling as it was, was a waving of a black wand compared
to the joyful spell of Greece. “All who run may read; only run” was the
Greek injunction: “All who read must run away” seemed the equivalent in
the Nilotic incantation. To get under the spell of Greece implied a
rejuvenation into a world that was like dawn on dewdrops and gave so
sunny an answer to the “obstinate questionings” that there was no need
even to ask what the riddle had been.

                        “All is beauty,
    And knowing this is love, and love is duty,
    What further can be sought for or declared?”

That glittered from the fading shores of Attica, and then after a few
miles of sea, there arose the low and sinister coast, and as you began
to guess at the mystery of the desert-bounded land you quaked at the
conclusion. There was something old and evil there and as tired as
Ecclesiastes: it preached _Vanitas Vanitatum_ instead of singing the
sunny love-spell of Greece, and while its mouth mumbled the syllables,
its relentless hands reared the pyramids which must stand for ever to
the astonishment of the world as a monument of unimaginative
construction and lost labour. There too it set the Sphinx whose totally
blank and meaningless face, innocent of any riddle except that of its
own soullessness, defies the rising glory of the sun and the moon of
lovers to instil any spark of animation into its stony countenance. What
monsters to an Attic pilgrim were these gods conceived not in the kindly
image of humanity but as out of some incestuous menagerie! Here was no
deep-bosomed Hera, queen of gods and men, for the royalty of motherhood;
no helmeted Athene for the royalty of wisdom; no Aphrodite for the
excellence of love sent her herald Eros to announce her epiphany from
the wine-dark sea. The Egyptian artificers hewed no images of joy and
mirth, they set no Faun nor Satyr dancing in the twilight, no Hermes
held the winds in the flower-like pinions of his heels, or nursed the
god after whom the Bacchantes revelled, with the smile that so quivered
on his mouth that next moment surely the vitality with which he tingled,
would break through that momentary marble arrest. Far other were these
incongruous composite divinities, all as dead as a hangman’s noose, all
incapable of summoning up one quiver of a kindly mirth. As by some
disordered dream of a religious maniac the hawk-faced god had a cobra
for symbol of his divinity; a cow or a cat or a lion had mated with a
man and the offspring sat there, bleak and appalling, to be worshipped.
And in matter of material, for the glow of the white Pentelic that holds
the sunshine in solution within, even as a noble vintage is redolent of
Provençal summers, these monstrous forms were presented in dead black
basalt, a frozen opacity of ink.

Into these tight-fisted inexorable hands were given the jail-keys of
death. Egypt was ever the land of graves, _Memento Mori_, the sad gospel
of its religion. A little honey, a little pulse, blue-glazed images of
slaves who might still toil for their master in that dim underworld,
images of food in the chambers of the dead, were all that the pious
could provide for the desolate whimpering soul, feeble as a moth, that
went forth on its lonely journey through dubious twilight. The crowns
and the sceptres, the gold and precious stones that were buried with the
kings were but a mockery to them of all that they had quitted; the
mightiest monument that Pharaoh had raised was no more than a flickering
beacon behind him as he trod the dark passage, which cast in front the
shadow of the man that he had been. The gigantic and hopeless art, bound
hand and foot by the fetters of hieratic tradition could do no more than
multiply monoliths, incredulous of its own greatness and untinged with
the living colour of humanity. Yet out of this mere piling up of dead on
dead there arose a musty necromantic magic, awful and old and corrupt,
that sat like a vulture on the sandbanks and was wafted, eternally
fecund, down the waters of the Nile. All the way up to Luxor, where we
settled down for a time, through the splendour of noon and the last ray
of sunset that turns the stream into a sheet of patinated bronze, there
was present that underlying sense of woe; and to this day my nightmares
are set on the Nile in the sweet scent of bean fields beneath the waving
of mimosa and of palms, where, by the terrible river there crouches some
abominable granite god.

I have given a wrong notion of this curious psychic horror if I have
represented it as interfering with enjoyment and interest. It lay
couched and in concealment, seldom stirring, and belonged I suppose to
that subconscious world which, somewhere within us, is absorbed in its
own constructive energies, and only rarely lets news of itself rise,
like a bubble through dark water, into our controlled and effective
consciousness. But cell by cell was stored with its bitter honey, and my
bees must have been busy, for when a few years later I began to write a
book called _The Image in the Sand_ I found the combs full and ready for
my despoiling. How such invention as is implied in writing a book,
exercises itself in others, I do not know, but I have a very clear idea
of my own case. The material, the stuff out of which the threads are
woven, or, if you will, the stock-pot out of which the pottage comes,
has long been simmering and stewing before the planning, the conscious
invention begins. These two stages, so I take it, are widely severed
from each other; the storing and the stewing have long preceded this
rummage and inspection of what the author wants for his purpose. But
there is, practically always, a second pot on the fire, subconsciously
stewing, the contents of which concern him not at all, while he is
exercising such culinary art as may be his over the contents of the
first. Thus, while subconsciously I was gathering and shredding into
this second pot, some of these secret and bitter herbs of Egypt to be
used years afterwards, my conscious cooking powers were altogether
absorbed with the stuff I had long before collected in Greece. In other
words, I was busy with writing _The Vintage_ while my subconscious mind
was just as busy on its own office of making ready for _The Image in the
Sand_. Every morning, and all morning, as we went up the Nile in the
post-boat, I used to carry book and pen and ink to some sequestered
corner where the sun beat full on me, and, while the sandbanks and the
vultures and the wicked old spell of Egypt were working on my
subconscious mind, I exuded on to paper what I had captured of the
sunnier spell of Greece. I fancy that this must be a mental process
common to most people, and that nobody writes of the interests and
experiences which at the moment absorb him. They have to be kept and
stored and stewed before they are fit for use; the harvest in fact has
long been completed before the grain is ground, or before the baker,
later still, is at his oven.

Every winter then, for those three years, and indeed for one year more,
tragic and final--I went across to Egypt from Greece, firm in the
protection of the sunny gods when I started, and hastening to swing the
incense again when I returned. And I must surely have been inoculated
with the poison of the darker deities, so that for two years I was
immune from their attacks, or perhaps Maggie’s excavations in the temple
of Mut in Karnak were so thrilling and surprising that “the plague was
stayed,” or perhaps I made some truce and reconciliation with the
hawk-faced gods and the cats and the baboons, or perhaps (as seemed most
probable of all) I had imagined a vain thing when for the first time I
thought that the iron of these malignant conceptions had entered into my
soul, for the early months of the new year in 1895 and 1896 were weeks
of incessant exhilaration, the glory of which was this concession, given
to Maggie by the Ministry of Antiquities, that she might conduct the
excavation of a temple.

Did ever an invalid plan and carry out so sumptuous an activity? She was
wintering in Egypt for her health, being threatened with a crippling
form of rheumatism; she was suffering also from an internal malady,
depressing and deadly: a chill was a serious thing for her, fatigue must
be avoided, and yet with the most glorious contempt of bodily ailments
which I have ever seen, she continued to employ some amazing mental
vitality that brushed disabilities aside, and, while it conformed to
medical orders, crammed the minutes with such sowings and reapings as
the most robust might envy. When I got to Egypt in the first of these
three years she had already obtained permission to excavate the temple
of Mut in the horse-shoe lake at Karnak, with the proviso that the
museum at Gizeh was to claim anything it desired out of the finds; she
had got together sufficient funds to conduct a six weeks’ exploration
with a moderate staff of workers, and there she was with her fly-whisk
and her white donkey, using a dozen words of Arabic to the workers with
astonishing effect. She had begun by trenching the site diagonally in
order to cut across any walls that were covered by the soil, and another
diagonal soon gave the general plan of the unknown temple. All the local
English archæologists were, so to speak, at her feet, partly from the
entire novelty of an English girl conducting an excavation of her own,
but more because of her grateful and enthusiastic personality, and M.
Naville, who was engaged at Deir-el-Bahari across the river, came and
sat like a benignant eagle on a corner stone, while Mr. Newberry
deciphered some freshly exposed inscription. I was given a general
supervision, with the object of discovering the most economical method
of clearing, of arranging the “throws” of earth (so that those going to
the chucking heap should not use the same path as those returning with
empty baskets, a plan which entailed collisions and much pleasant
conversation between the workmen who were going to and fro) and with
making a plan to scale of the temple. A friend of Maggie’s kept an eye
wide open for possible thefts of small objects, but the genius, the
organizer, the chairman of it all was Maggie. After a morning there, she
had to get back to Pagnon’s Hotel, lunch quietly and rest afterwards,
but presently she would be out again, cantering on her white donkey
without fatigue owing to her admirable seat, with a tea-basket on the
crupper, and Mohammed the devoted donkey-boy trotting behind with
encouraging cries so that the donkey should not lapse into that jog-trot
which was so bad for tea-things. At sunset, the work was over, and we
made our leisurely way back to the hotel. Maggie rested a tired body
before dinner, but exercised an indefatigible mind, working at what was
familiarly known as “her philosophy,” which eventually took shape in her
book, _The Venture of Rational Faith_, or scribbling at one of the
charming animal stories, which she published later under the title of
_Subject to Vanity_. Then after dinner, the old habits reasserted
themselves and we played games with pencil and paper, producing poetical
answers to preposterous questions or rooking each other at picquet. Each
Saturday, she jingled out with money-bags to the temple of Mut, and paid
her workmen, while her native overseer checked the tale of piastres, and
waved the whisk to keep the flies off his mistress.

Sometimes there were days off, when one of the three was left in charge,
and the two others went far through the fertile land, or ferrying across
the Nile, spent the day with M. Naville at Deir-el-Bahari to see what
fresh sculptured wall had been reclaimed from the blown sand of the
desert, showing the pictured ivory and gold which the expedition of
Queen Hatasoo had brought back from the mysterious land of Punt; or we
crawled dustily into some newly discovered malodorous tomb in the valley
where the kings of Egypt were buried, or visited Professor Petrie at the
Ramesseum and exchanged the news of fresh finds. Sometimes I took a
holiday from the remote and swarming past, and with a horse in place of
the demurer donkey, went far out into the desert on the other side of
the Nile. Pebbles and soft sand, hard sand and rocks succeeded each
other in slope and level, and the horse whinnied as he sniffed the utter
emptiness of the unbreathed air. One kite hung, a remote speck in the
brazen sky, and the silence and the solitude wove the unutterable spell
of the desert. There, out of sight of all that makes the planet
habitable, your horse alone made the link with the ephemeral living
world; all else was as it had been through uncounted centuries, and as
it would remain for centuries to come, until the spinning earth grew
still. In the desert the past and the future are one, and the present,
dwindled to a microscopical point, is but a shadow of time in the
timeless circle of eternity. Old wicked Egypt was no more than that; the
dynasties were whisked away like an unquiet fly, that persists for a
little, but not for long.

Luxor would be full of southerly-going dahabeahs and English tourists
during this month of January, and I can see Maggie waving her long
fine-fingered hands in impotent despair, as I brought her an invitation
from some friend that she and I would dine on one of these dahabeahs
to-night or next night or the night after. “How am I to get on with my
work,” exclaimed this outraged invalid, “with all these interruptions?
Won’t it do, if we ask them to tea at the temple?” That certainly
usually “did” quite well, for while Maggie was making tea, the cry of
“Antica!” would arise from the diggers, and she popped the lid on the
teapot, and we turned to see what had been unearthed. Once it was the
statue of the Rameses of the Exodus, which would tremendously excite the
visitor, but left us cold, for he was already plentifully represented.
Or it might be a scribe of the eighteenth dynasty whom to-day you may
see in the museum at Gizeh, and better even than that was a superb Saite
head, such as I may behold at this moment if I raise my eyes from the
page, or best of all it was the image of Sen-mut himself, to see which,
again, you must go to Gizeh. That was the crown and culmination of the
digging and worthy of an archæological digression.

Sen-mut, we knew, was the architect of our temple, and of the temple of
Deir-el-Bahari across the river, and the mysterious thing in connection
with him was that wherever his name and his deeds appeared in
hieroglyphic inscriptions they had always been defaced, and an
inscription about King Thothmes III, nephew and successor of Queen
Hatasoo, to whose reign the activities of Sen-mut belonged had been
superimposed. Sometimes the deletion was not quite thorough and you
could read Sen-mut’s name below some dull chronicle of King Thothmes.
What the reason for these erasures had been was hitherto only
conjecture: now, on the close of this bright January afternoon the
riddle was solved, and we found ourselves the accidental recoverers of a
scandal nearly four thousand years old. For Sen-mut was but a common
man, “not mentioned in writing” (i.e. with no ancestral records), and he
speaking from the inscription on the back of this statue of himself
which he had dedicated told us that, “I filled the heart of the Queen
(Hatasoo) in very truth gaining the heart of my mistress daily ... and
the mistress of the two lands (Upper and Lower Egypt) was pleased with
that which came forth from my mouth, the Priest of Truth, Sen-mut. I
knew her comings in the Royal house, _and was beloved of the ruler_.”

Here then was the reason for all these erasures: there had been a
scandal about the intimacy between this “common man” and the Queen; so,
when she died, and her nephew succeeded, he caused all mention of
Sen-mut to be erased, and covered up the blank spaces with majestic
records of his own achievements. It was his design to destroy all
evidence of this disreputable or at least undignified affair, and hammer
and chisel, at his order, were busy to delete all hint of Aunt Hatasoo’s
indiscretions. Pious King Thothmes was all but successful in this piece
of family pride: only just one record escaped his erasing hand. But now,
four thousand years later, Maggie dug up that solitary omission.

I know that there must have been clouds on these halcyon days of winter,
but they passed and prevailing sunlight was dominant again. Once Maggie
got a chill as she lingered by the horse-shoe lake, and developed a
congestion of the lungs, but when she was allowed to leave her bed again
and go out, she was carried in a sort of litter, by her own express
decree, to the beloved excavation again, and made a delighted progress
round the fresh clearing, ordering that some mason must be at once
employed in piecing together the huge lion-headed statues which had been
discovered in the fore-court of the temple, and in setting them in place
again. She was more dubious about certain abominable baboons that
crouched in a small chamber within the temple, whose awful ugliness
seemed better left alone.... Then over us both passed the cloud of
slightly disquieting letters from my mother. My father was overtired,
and _Would_ go on working: he had attacks of breathlessness if he rode,
a sense of oppression on his chest that was not mitigated by his remedy
of thumping it. But no one, least of all the sufferer, took these things
at all seriously. Maggie got better, my father received no alarming
report from his doctor, and my mother, as these clouds seemed to melt,
added them to her general list of the workings of “unreasonable fear,”
that ghostly enemy of hers, whom she was for ever combating and holding
at arm’s length, but never quite slaying.

Arthur, during these Græco-Egyptian years, had slid into the groove of a
career; he was a house-master at Eton, prosperous and popular, though
from time to time his own cloud beset him, and out of it he would
announce that the burden of his work was quite intolerable, and that he
could not possibly stand it for another term. But this was a fruitful
Jeremiad, for it relieved his mind, and he buckled to with renewed
energy and that amazing gift of getting through a task more quickly than
anybody else could have done it, without the slightest loss of
thoroughness, and he added to the work that was incident to his
profession an immense literary activity of his own, producing several
volumes of verse, and experimentalizing in those meditative essays in
which before long he found his own particular _métier_. Hugh, in the
same way, after studying at Llandaff under Dean Vaughan, had taken
orders in the English Church and was attached to the Eton Mission at
Hackney Wick, so that of the three sons I was the only one who had not
settled down to any career. By this time archæology, as a scholastic
profession, was already closed to me, for Cambridge could not go on
giving me grants indefinitely, and in order to crown my days of
classical learning with a final failure, King’s had not decorated with a
fellowship either the work I sent in on the Roman occupation of Chester,
or on certain aspects of the cult of Asclepios. So, in deference to my
father’s wishes, I took the first step towards getting a post in the
Education Office, collected and sent in testimonials, and craved
employment there as an inspector or examiner, I forget which. This
regularized matters: that was a respectable employment, and by sending
in those testimonials I was doing my best to be respectably employed,
and pending appointment I could go on writing, thus treading the path
that by now I fully meant to pursue. At no time was it definitely agreed
that I should become anything so irregular as a writer of novels, and I
suppose that if I had been appointed to a post in the Education Office,
I should have taken it up. But those in whose hands the appointment
rested thought that the author of _Dodo_ would be a very indifferent
educator, in spite of these brilliant panegyrics from his tutors, and
for aught I know those testimonials are dustily filed there still.

But neither Arthur nor Hugh thought of their present vocations in their
present form as their lives’ work; Arthur, at any rate, had not the
slightest intention, as events proved, of plucking the rewards which his
profession as schoolmaster was soon to offer him, and when
headmasterships came within his reach he did not put his hand out to
them. Hugh’s case was only a little different; the direct service of God
was now his choice and his passion, but as evolution of that progressed
in him, it took him out of the English Church altogether. No one ever
questioned that his joining the Roman communion and taking orders there
was anything but a matter of irresistible conviction with him, but what
would have happened had that conviction taken hold on him before my
father’s death it is impossible to say. I cannot imagine any human
relation, any _pietas_ restraining Hugh when he had the firm belief that
it was by divine guidance that he so acted: on the other hand I cannot
imagine what the effect on my father would have been; whether he could
have beaten down his own will in the matter, as my mother did, and have
accepted this without reserve at all, or whether it would have been to
him, as the death of Martin had been, an event unadjustable,
unbridgable, unintelligible, a blow without reason, to be submitted to
in a silence which, had it been broken, must have been resolved into
bewildered protest.

Apart from their present professions both Arthur and Hugh were moving
towards the pursuit, that of authorship, which was soon to take at least
equal rank with their other work. Within ten years it was as an
essayist, a writer of delicate meditative prose that Arthur was most
widely known, and to this he devoted the flower of his energy, while
Hugh served his Church not as a parish priest, but as preacher and as
writer of propagandist novels, novels with the purpose of showing the
dealings of God through His Church. As works of art his sermons far
transcended his books, an opinion which no one I think who ever listened
to that tumultuous eloquence could doubt. They carried his untrammelled
message; while he preached, he could say with supreme instinctive art
all that in novel-writing he had more indirectly to convey: his sermons
had an overwhelming sincerity which made the delivery of them flawless
and flame-like. When he wrote he was never quite so inspired: the
message was the same, but it had to be wrapt about with the allegory of
ordinary life, he had to convey it in terms of country houses or
historical episode, and the sermon which was the underlying intention
was often a handicap to the art of story-telling. But it was towards his
books that his inclination tended; his joy of achievement lay in the
written, not in the spoken word.

Then came the closing summer of this period, after which the whole stage
and manner of life was altered altogether. That year I had stayed late
in the south, going on from Athens to Capri, and laying the foundation
then of that Italian castle of dreams, which was afterwards to take a
more solid form. Maggie had supplemented Egypt with a cure at
Aix-les-Bains, but in August we were all together again at Addington,
and once more, as before Nellie’s death, and never since then, there
were hundreds of small cones on the cedar that scattered the
sulphur-like powder. Arthur came there before he went to Scotland, Hugh
had a holiday release from the Eton mission, Maggie was established
there deep in the collation of the results from the digging at Luxor.
Soon my father and mother were to start on a tour through Ireland, and
when September saw their departure, Maggie and I stayed on for a little
and then drifted off on different visits. We were all free to stop at
home if we liked, and ask friends there; Addington was just an ark for
any wandering family doves, picnicky as my mother said, but there it
was.... Maggie and I saw my father and mother off, and as from my first
remembered days and ever afterwards when he wished “good night” or “good
bye,” he kissed me, and said, “God bless you, and make you a good boy
always.” Then, after he got into the carriage, he waved his hands with
some affectionate and despairing gesture, saying, “I can’t bear leaving
you nice people here,” and the carriage turned, and went up the slope in
front of the house. A very few days afterwards, Maggie and I went off on
our ways, leaving Beth at the front door, saying, “Eh, pray-a-do come
back soon.”

I had trysted with a friend to spend a few days at Addington early in
October, and arrived there to find a letter from him that he was
prevented, and I was in two minds as to whether to stop here alone, or
go off on some other visit for the Sunday. That scarcely seemed worth
while, for I had learned that my father and mother were leaving Ireland
that day, and would spend the Sunday with Mr. Gladstone at Hawarden. The
Irish tour therefore was over, and they would be back on Monday. Beth
and I talked about it, and she said, “Nay, don’t you go away to-day, you
be here for when your Papa and Mamma get back. Have a quiet Sunday, you
and me.”

It was arranged so: and after lunch on Sunday I went out for a long walk
through the myriad paths of the Park, where the beeches were russeting
and the squirrels gathering the nuts, and came home in time to have tea
with Beth. There was a telegram for me on the hall-table, and glancing
at the sender’s name first I saw it was from Mrs. Gladstone.

“Your father passed over quite peacefully this morning,” it said. “Can
you come with Maggie?”

I did not comprehend at first what it meant. My father was a very bad
sailor, and it was quite possible that Mrs. Gladstone had merely
telegraphed the little news that he was comfortably back in England. For
one or two or three long seconds which seemed like hours, I tried to
think that this was what she meant. But then my father had crossed not
“this morning” but on Friday: and why should I “come with Maggie”? I
suppose that the comprehension of the real meaning of this message was
only a matter of a moment, and I think the envelope of the telegram was
scarcely crumpled up in my hand before I knew. Just then, Beth, having
seen my entry from the window of her room, came down to tell me that
she had got tea ready. And she saw that something had happened, for her
hands made a quivering motion, and then were clasped.

“Is there any trouble?” she asked.

       *       *       *       *       *

I could get up to London that night, but not to Chester. I slept in the
Euston Hotel and went on by an early train next morning.

My father and mother had arrived at Hawarden on Saturday: he was very
well and in tremendously good spirits, and sat up late that night
talking with Mr. Gladstone. They had all gone to early communion on
Sunday morning, returned for breakfast, and walked again to church for
the eleven o’clock service. Mrs. Gladstone and they were in a pew
together, and during the Confession, my father sank back from his
upright kneeling, and did no more than sigh.... He bowed himself before
his Lord, as he met Him face to face....



INDEX


Addington, Easter holidays at, 179
  last family gathering at, 321
  liberty and leisure at, 251
  non-ecclesiastical ritual at, 102
  Sunday routine at, 183

Aix-les-Bains, Maggie Benson at, 321

Algeria, a tour in, 276

Algiers, visits to, 254, 276

“American nouns” and how played, 93

Anderson, Mary, a tribute to, 235
  author’s meeting with, 235

Archæological researches in Greece and Egypt, _et seq._, 286
  studies at Cambridge, 255

Athens, a representation of the _Duchess of Bayswater_ at, 301
  author in, 279, 303
  royalty at a theatrical performance in, 304.

Athleticism, benefits of, 149


_Babe, B.A., The_, 301, 302

Bambridge, Mr., as pianist, 145
  his part in a performance of Haydn’s Toy Symphony, 201

Beaconsfield, Lord, offers Bishopric of Truro to author’s father, 62

Beesly, A. H., classics master at Marlborough, 155
  _obiter dicta_ of, 160

Benson, Arthur Christopher, (brother), 22
  a mystical “Chapter” and its warden, 99
  a nursery reminiscence of, 25
  and his brother Hugh, 128
  as actor: a hilarious kitchen-maid, 177
  as author, 178, 320
  as butterfly collector, 95
  at Eton, 87, 123, 251
  contributes a poem to _Cambridge Fortnightly_, 231
  gains an Eton scholarship at King’s, 126
  holiday activities of, 92
  house-master at Eton, 318
  piscatorial exploits of, 54
  schooldays at East Sheen, 30

Benson, E. F., a fellowship examination at Eton, 114
  a first in the Classical Tripos, 245
  a fit of demoniacal possession, 59
  a (neglected) untrained faculty for visualizing, 143
  a ride with Gladstone, 271
  a squirrel at prayers, 23
  a trip to Switzerland, 129
  an attack of jaundice, 209
  an instance of his fatal habit of inversion, 28
  and his brother Hugh, 128
  and the food question at school, 83
  applies for post in Education Office, 319
  archæological studies at Cambridge: an inspiring tutor, 255
  at Marlborough, 137, 196
  attends children’s parties at White Lodge, Richmond Park, 86
  “Benson’s lies,” 86 _et seq._
  “Beth” on his want of tact, 107
  birth of, 13
  birthday celebrations at Rugby, 32
  Bishop Wordsworth’s gift to, 52
  boredom of Sundays at Addington, 183
  botanical studies in Cornwall, 64
  butterfly and moth collecting, 146
  Chester, archæological exploration at, 266
  childhood days: impressions of, 13 _et seq._
  climbs the Matterhorn, 241
  compulsory study in Switzerland, 135
  conducts Haydn’s Toy Symphony, 201
  confirmation at Marlborough, 163
  Cornwall, a new home in, 62 _et seq._
  curricula at Lincoln, 40
  cycles with “O. B.,” 222
  death of his brother Martin, 78
  death of his sister Nellie, 252
  disquieting letters from his mother, 252, 317
  _Dodo_, publication of, 292
  edits _The Marlburian_, 194
  Empress Frederick and, 284
  enjoyments during a foggy Christmas, 175
  excavations at Megalopolis, 288
  fails in a scholarship examination, 125
  father appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, 163
  first view of the Parthenon, 279
  first visit to Crystal Palace, 111
  friendship with Regie Lister, 305 _et seq._
  games and school matches at Marlborough, 203
  Greece, the spell of, 308
  hide-and-seek at Lincoln, 35
  his father, 13, 42, 62, 102 (_see_ also Benson, Edward White)
  his mother, 18 _et seq._, 27, 29, 40, 58, 61,
       102, 106 (_see_ also Benson, Mrs.)
  holidays in the Lake District, 209
  hoop-bowling at Marlborough, 200
  in Algiers, 254, 276, 277
  in Athens, 279 _et seq._, 303 _et seq._
  in Egypt, 254
  influence of A. H. Beesly on, 155 _et seq._
  journeys to Truro for opening of Cathedral, 235
  lacks effective ambition, 123
  Lambeth and Addington, 163 _et seq._
  lean years at school, 108 _et seq._
  learns to swim, 56
  liberty and leisure at Addington, 251
  Lincoln, reminiscences of, 52 _et seq._
  love of music, 58, 68, 112, 152
  lure of the mountains, 130
  meets Mary Anderson, 235
  Mrs. Gladstone’s telegram announcing death of his father, 322
  natural history studies of, 65, 66, 96
  parental encouragement of hobbies, 57
  poetical efforts of, 93, 121
  Pontresina, a trip to, and his brother Hugh, 263
  private schooldays, and holidays, 80 _et seq._
  Reeve, the Rev. J. A., a pen picture of, 73
  revisits Marlborough, 235
  _Rubicon, The_, published, and adverse critiques, 296 _et seq._
  scholarships at King’s, 230, 263
  schooldays at East Sheen, 80, 108, 114
  schoolfellows expelled, 89
  “Sieges--the most dangerous game since the world began,” 39
  _Sketches from Marlborough_, publication of, 232
  Sundays at Lincoln and at Addington, 46, 183
  Swiss mountain-climbing, 41 _et seq._
  the charm of the sea, 56
  the passing-bell at Marlborough, 209
  the tragedy of a stickleback, 67
  tours Normandy and Brittany, 244
  Turkish delight, midnight revels, and the sequel, 115 _et seq._
  Wellington and the beginning, 13 _et seq._
  widening horizons of, 147 _et seq._
  wins a foundation scholarship, 145

Benson, Edward White (father), a wet holiday in the Lake District, 209
  accompanies author to Marlborough, 137
  Algerian tours of, 254, 276, 277
  and his son Hugh, 127
  and Robert Browning, 237
  and the erection of Truro Cathedral, 101
  and the Lincoln judgment, 250, 253
  appointed Bishop of Truro, 62
  as picture-hanger, 25
  becomes Archbishop of Canterbury, 163
  Chancellor of Lincoln, 32
  death of his eldest son, 78
  dinner parties at Lambeth Palace, 237
  Easter visits to Florence, 181
  frequent fits of depression, 103, 105, 180
  headmaster of Wellington College, 13
  his death at Hawarden Church, 322
  his dislike of tobacco, 238
  his sternness, and the cause, 103
  holiday “leisure” of, 132, 133, 210, 278
  last farewell to his children, 321
  love of the classics, 181
  Press reviews of _The Rubicon_, and, 300
  Queen Victoria and, 277
  relentless Sundays of, 183
  tour through Ireland, 321
  visits Carthage, 278

Benson, Maggie (sister), 22, 25, 54, 127, 178, 275
  conducts excavations of a Karnak temple, 312, 315
  develops congestion of the lungs in Egypt, 317
  guinea-pig rearing by, 93
  her _Venture of Rational Faith_, 314
  ill-health of, 312
  in Athens, 303
  prizes at Truro High School, 127
  publishes _Subject to Vanity_, 314
  researches in Chemistry, 94
  trips to Algiers and to Egypt, 254, 276

Benson, Martin (brother), 22, 23, 25, 30
  at Winchester, 124
  death of, 78
  precocity of, 75

Benson, Mrs. (mother), a stanza by, 94
  and her children, 40, 106, 167
  at Addington, 179
  death of, 254
  death of her daughter Nellie, 252
  fear as her enemy, 173, 318
  friendship with Mr. Gladstone, 165
  her subscriptions as “honorary member,” 99, 100
  how she whiled away a wet afternoon, 212
  informs author of the _Dodo_ “boom,” 294
  letters to “Beth” on illness and death of her son Martin, 76, 77
  religious instincts of, 78, 102, 168, 175
  smokes a pipe on the Alps, 240

Benson, Nellie (sister), 22, 65, 98, 99, 251
  an article in _Temple Bar_ by, 177
  an attack of pleurodynia, 209
  and her father, 105
  ascends the Zienal Rothhorn, 243
  at Truro High School, 126
  Bishop Wordsworth and, 52
  death of, 252
  distributes prizes at Marlborough, 206

Benson, Robert Hugh (brother), a mountain climb--and the sequel, 264
  a play by, 177
  as henchman to a mystical “Chapter,” 99
  as preacher, 320
  at Cambridge, 250
  attached to Eton Mission, Hackney Wick, 318
  “Beth” and, 211
  childish piety of, 101
  early journalistic efforts of, 93
  family caricatures by, 210
  his father and, 127
  joins the Roman church, 102, 319
  lays a stone for erection of Truro Cathedral, 101
  propagandist novels by, 320
  skating in a fog, 176
  studies at Llandaff, 318
  takes orders, 102
  wins a scholarship at Eton, 210

Berne, a day and night at, 129

“Beth” (_see_ Cooper, Elizabeth)

Bird’s-nesting in Cornwall, 65

Biskra, a Royal bereavement: news received at, 277

Bosanquet, R. Carr, 226

Bramston, Miss, as authoress, 41, 42
  in Cornwall, 76

Braun, Miss, 75

“Brewing” at Marlborough: function described, 140

Browning, Oscar, 45, 221 _et seq._
  contributes a poem to _Cambridge Fortnightly_, 231
  his At-Homes at Cambridge, 224

Browning, Robert, author’s meeting with, 237

Bubb, Mr., Clerk of Works of Truro Cathedral, 101

Burton, Willie, 60, 61

Butterflies and moths, holiday collection of, 95, 146


Calverley, Charles Stuart, 259

_Cambridge Fortnightly_, the, 232

Cambridge University: author at, 213 _et seq._
  King’s College, 213

Canterbury, Archbishop of (_see_ Benson, Edward White)

Capri, a visit to, 321

Carter, Mrs., organist of Kenwyn Church: a boyish romance, 68

Carthage, a visit to, 278

Cathedral, the first post-Reformation, 100

“Chapter,” a mystical, 99

Chemistry, holiday researches in, 94

Chester, archæological researches at, 267

“Chitchat” literary society, 226

Clarence, Duke of, and “O. B.,” death of, 222, 276

Constantine, Crown Prince of Greece (afterwards King “Tino”), 283

Cooper, Elizabeth (“Beth”), 15, 18, 22, 33, 36, 38,
       42, 74, 96, 107, 128, 321, 322
  and Hugh Benson, 18, 127
  and the Archbishop, 221
  games at Addington, 251
  her love for Mrs. Benson, 211
  Mrs. Benson’s letter announcing illness and death of Martin, 77, 78

Copeland, May, 60

Cornwall, the charms of, 62

Crawford, Lady, entertains Archbishop and Mrs. Benson, 180

Crystal Palace, the, first visit to, 111

Cunningham, Dr., a story of, 228


_Daily Chronicle_, the, an unfavourable review of _The Rubicon_ in, 299

Decemviri Debating Society, the, 229

Deir-el-Bahari, archæological explorations at, 310, 314

Delphi, French excavations at, 289

Dickinson, G. Lowes, 231

_Dodo_, Lucas Malet’s frank letters on, 291
  publication of, 292
  read by Mrs. Benson and by Henry James, 272
  the infancy of, 178

Dörpfeld, Dr., and Miss Maggie Benson, 303
  and the fourth century Greek theatres, 288

_Duchess of Bayswater_, a representation of, in Athens, 304


Easedale Rectory, a wet holiday in, 209

East Sheen, author’s schooldays at, 80 _et seq._

Edgar, Mr., headmaster of Temple Grove School, 114
  a bad report from, 117

Edhem Pasha, 281

Egerton, Sir Edwin, 285
  and Miss Maggie Benson, 303
  as host, 308

Egypt, visits to, 254, 308

Epidaurus, a visit to, 289

Eton, a second failure for scholarship at, 125
  Arthur Benson at, 87, 124, 250, 318

Etretat, holidays at, 86


Fal, the, bathing in, 100

Ford, Lionel, headmaster of Harrow, 226

Frederick, Empress, and author, 284

Friendships of schoolboys, how made and how retained, 151

Fry, Roger, and the _Cambridge Fortnightly_, 231


Geoghehan, Mr., fourth form master at East Sheen school, 83

George V (then Duke of York) dines at Lambeth Palace, 238
  (then Prince of Wales) and the death of the Duke of Clarence, 277

George, King of Greece, 281
  an audience with, 282
  and his sister’s hat, 288

George, Prince (of Greece), 284

Germany, Crown Princess of, and Oscar Browning, 222

Giles, Mrs., her day-school and the scholars, 41, 60

Gimmelwald, arrival at, 133

Gladstone, Mrs., a fateful telegram from, 322

Gladstone, Right Hon. W. E., a dissertation on blotting-paper squeezes, 267
  and the Chester archæological researches, 261
  friendship with Mrs. Benson, 166

Golf on the snow and in a fog, 176

Goodhart, Arthur, at King’s College, 226

Greece, the Court of, 283
  author in, 286 _et seq._
  the spell of, 308

Greek theatres, German theory regarding, 286

Guinea-pigs reared by Maggie Benson, 93, 94


Halsbury, Lord, at Lambeth Palace, 167

Handel Festival at Crystal Palace, 110, 113

Hare, Thomas, 86

Harrison, Mrs. (“Lucas Malet”), reads _Dodo_, 290

Hatasoo, Queen, and Sen-mut, 316

Hawarden, author interviews Mr. Gladstone at, 267
  Gladstone’s tribute to Mrs. Benson at, 166

Hawarden Church, tragic death of the Archbishop in, 323

Headlam, Walter, at King’s College, 226

Henry VI, and King’s College, Cambridge, 213

Hobbies as a preservative of youth, 58


_Image in the Sand, The_, 311

Irish tour of the Archbishop and Mrs. Benson, 321

Irving, Harry, recitations at Marlborough Penny Readings, 202


James, Henry, earlier and later works of, 272
  reads _Dodo_, 272

James, Monty, Provost of Eton, as mimic, 226, 229
  readings from Dickens by, 229

Jungfrau, the, an ascent of, in thick snow, 249
  first glimpse of, 130


Karnak, excavations in the temple of Mut, 312

Kenwyn Church and its organist, 72

Kenwyn Vicarage, 63

King, Dr., Bishop of Lincoln, trial of, 250

King’s College, Cambridge, a notable life-fellow of, 221
  eccentric, Fellows of, 214 _et seq._
  glee-singing at, 217
  life at, 226 _et seq._
  the chapel, 233


Lake district, the, a wet holiday in, 209

Lambeth Palace, dinner parties at, 237
  Mrs. Benson as hostess at, 164

Leigh, Augustus Austen, Vice-Provost of King’s, 216

Lincoln and early emotions, 32 _et seq._
  and demoniacal possession, 52 _et seq._
  Sundays at, 45
  the Cathedral, 45 _et seq._
  trial, the, Archbishop Benson and, 249, 253

Lister, Regie, and a theatrical performance in Athens, 304
  author and, 306
  his genius for friendship, 305

Llandaff, Hugh Benson at, 318

Luxor, a stay at, 310

Lyttelton, Alfred, the secret of his popularity, 305


“Malet, Lucas” (_see_ Harrison, Mrs.)

Mann, Dr., 234

Marie, Princess (of Greece), 284

Markham, Admiral, and a theatrical performance in Athens, 304

Marlborough College, an indulgent house-master, 194
  author at, 137
  author promoted to sixth form, 190
  life at, 138
  Penny Readings at, 201
  the racket-court, 158
  unsuccessful scholarship examination at, 125

_Marlburian_, the, 199

Mary, Princess, Duchess of Teck, a children’s party at White Lodge, 86

Matterhorn, ascent of: a perilous descent, 241

Megalopolis, archæological excavations at, 288

Middleton, Professor, and his love of archæology, 255 _et seq._

Miles, Eustace, a hoop-bowling run with author, 200
  a unique alliance with author, 196
  his aptitude for study, 243

Mill, John Stuart, 86

Mommsen, Professor, and the Chester archæological researches, 267

Mountain-climbing, 131, 241 _et seq._

Murren, lawn tennis at, 134

Mycenæ, a visit to, 289

Myers, F. W., an original verse by--and a parody, 261


Naville, M., his explorations at Deir-el-Bahari, 313

Newberry, Mr., and the Karnak excavations, 313

Nicholas, Prince (of Greece), 284

Nixon, J. E., Latin prose lecturer, 216, 231 _et seq._

Nocton expeditions to, 55


“O. B.” (_see_ Browning, Oscar)

Okes, Dr., Provost of King’s, 216

Olga, Queen, 283
  and _Dodo_, 304

Olympia visited by author, 289


Pain, Barry, his parody in _Cambridge Fortnightly_, 231

_Pall Mall Gazette_ reviews author’s _Rubicon_, 297

Pan-Anglican conference at Lambeth: a story of, 239

Parker, butler at Truro, 127

Parody and parodists, 260

Penny Readings at Marlborough, 201

Perran, picnics at, 100

Petrie, Professor, visits to, 314

Pharsala, battle of: Edhem Pasha’s epigram of, 281

Photography, first efforts at, 95

“Pirates”--the game described, 96

Pitt Club, Cambridge University, 226

Piz Palu, a horrible experience on the, 263

Poetry, author’s early efforts in, 93, 121

“Poetry games,” 93

Pontresina, an unpleasant adventure at, 263

Press-cuttings, unfavourable, 297

Printing press, a primitive, 94

Prior, Mr., of East Sheen school, 83


Racket Court, Marlborough College, 161

Rawlings, Mr., first form teacher at East Sheen school, 83

Reeve, Rev. J. A., reminiscences of, 73

Riffel-Alp, climbing: a perilous descent, 241

Riseholme, enjoyable days at, 53

Rotten Row, exercise in, 164

_Rubicon, The_, publication of: Press reviews, 296

Russell, Mrs., author’s music-teacher, and a tribute to, 80, 111


_St. James’s Budget_ and _The Rubicon_, 299

St. Mary’s Church, Truro, 100

St. Paul’s Cathedral, Passion music at, 112

_Saturday Magazine_, the, 56, 92, 176
  a Swiss edition of, 243

Savernake Forest, butterfly collecting in, 146

Schilthorn, the ascent of, 134

Sen-mut, Egyptian architect, 316

Sermon paper, a new use for, 92, 177

Sharpe, Mr., objects to hoop-bowling, 200

Sidgwick, Arthur (uncle), 30

Sidgwick, Henry (uncle), an astronomical poem by, 93
  visits Wellington, 30

Sidgwick, Mrs., 18, 30

Sidgwick, William (uncle), 30

Skating under difficulties, 176

Skegness, a visit to, 56

_Standard_ the, a review of author’s _Rubicon_, 297

Staunton Prize, the, conditions of, 146

Stephen, J. K., as parodist, 257
  death of, 263
  inaugurates the “T. A. F.,” 328
  personality of, 259

Sundays at Addington, 183
  at Lincoln, 44

Switzerland, holidays in, 129


“T. A. F.,” the, at Cambridge, 229

Tait, Lucy, a tour in Algeria, 276
  her devotion to Mrs. Benson, 254

Teck, Duchess of (_see_ Mary, Princess)

Teck, Duke of, a cigar and a squib, 86

Temple, Bishop (afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury), 56

Tennant, Miss Margot, 266

Tennyson, Alfred Lord, at Lambeth Palace, 238

Thothmes, King, and the temple hieroglyphic inscriptions, 316

Thun, lake of, 130

Tobogganing under difficulties, 175

Torquay, summer holidays at, 56

Toswill, Mr., a zealous Alpinist, 240

“Trojan Queen’s Revenge, The,” and its author, 156

Truro, author’s father appointed Bishop of, 62
  erection of the Cathedral at, 100

Truro Cathedral, opening of, 235

Tuck, Mrs., 75


_Vanity Fair_ reviews _The Rubicon_, 297

Vaughan, Dean, of Llandaff, 318

Victoria, Queen, and the Archbishop’s Algerian tour, 277
  and the see of Truro, 62

_Vintage, The_, how and where written, 311

Voltaire, M., French master at East Sheen, 80, 83


Waldstein, Dr., 255

Waterfield, Ottiwell, and his private school at East Sheen, 80 _et seq._
  as elocutionist, 80, 109

Waterfield, Mrs., 110, 111

Wellington College, and its headmaster, 13
  the dining-room, 23

Westminster, Duke of, an interview with, 266

White Lodge, Richmond Park, children’s parties at, 86

Wilde, Oscar, a tale of, 300

Wordsworth, Bishop, of Lincoln, 52

Wordsworth, Mrs., and family, 52

Wordsworth, William, Jim Stephen’s parodies of, 260

_World, The_, on _The Rubicon_, 307


Zienal Rothhorn, the, author’s ascent of, 243





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