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Title: A Little House in War Time
Author: Castle, Egerton, Castle, Agnes
Language: English
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A LITTLE HOUSE IN WAR TIME



                                TO THE
                    REV. ST. GEORGE K. HYLAND, D.D.
                  “_Guide, philosopher, and friend_”

_September, 1915_

[Illustration: _The Little House_

CHARLES ROBINSON]



                            A LITTLE HOUSE
                              IN WAR TIME

                                  BY
                       AGNES AND EGERTON CASTLE

                              AUTHORS OF
             “THE STAR-DREAMER,” “INCOMPARABLE BELLAIRS,”
                    “OUR SENTIMENTAL GARDEN,” ETC.


    “God gave all men all earth to love,
    But, since our hearts are small,
    Ordained for each one spot should prove
        Beloved over all;
    That, as He watched Creation’s birth,
    So we, in God-like mood,
    May of our love create our earth
        And see that it is good.”

                            RUDYARD KIPLING


                               NEW YORK
                       E. P. DUTTON AND COMPANY
                           681 FIFTH AVENUE
                                 1916



                       PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN



CONTENTS


                                      PAGE

       A FOREWORD                      vii

    I. THE VILLINO IS PINCHED            1

   II. OUR LITTLE BIT                   29

  III. OUR MINISTERING ANGELS           62

   IV. “CONSIDER THE LILIES”            92

    V. DEATH IN THE LITTLE GARDEN      119

   VI. BABIES: CHINESE AND OTHERS      141

  VII. OUR GARDEN IN JUNE              163

 VIII. OUR BLUE-COAT BOYS              191

   IX. IT’S A FAR CRY TO PERSIA        217

    X. A THREE DAYS’ CHRONICLE         244



A FOREWORD

                  “... thoughts by England given;
    Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
    And laughter learnt of friends; and gentleness,
    In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.”

                                     RUPERT BROOKE.


A little chronicle of a great time may have an interest of its own
quite incommensurate from its intrinsic worth. These pages do not
pretend to any merit beyond faithfulness; but they are the true record
of the everyday life of an average family during the first year of
the war of wars; what we have felt, what we have seen; the great
anxieties; the trivial incidents and emotions which have been shared
by thousands of our fellow-countrymen. This home has been so far
exceptional that it has had few hostages to give to fortune, and that
it has mercifully been spared the supreme sacrifice demanded with such
tragic universality, and given with such a glorious resignation: but,
infinitesimal pulse, it has beaten with the great arteries, the whole
mighty heart of the British Empire.

Annals enough there are, and will be, of the soul-stirring events
of 1914: the proud rise of the nation, its struggles, its failures,
its appalling blunders, and the super-heroism that has saved the
consequences. If Armageddon be not the end of the world; if there be
generations coming after to carry the sheaves of that seed sown with
blood and tears to-day, there will be no dearth of evidence to enable
our children’s children to feed upon the story of England’s glory. They
will be able to read and learn and look back, out of the peace won for
them, to examples almost beyond the conception of idealism. Should,
by some freak of chance, this humble book survive, it may not then be
without an interest of its own.

This was how the quiet stay-at-home family felt and thought in the days
of the titanic conflict; these were the little things that happened in
a little country house. No great moral lesson certainly, no revelation
of out-of-the-way philosophy; just the way we hoped and feared; the way
we still laughed and talked, gardened and worked, the way we were led
on from day to day and made to find, after all, what seemed unbearable,
bearable, brought to see light where there was apparently no issue.

Being, as we say--so far--singularly unstricken in the midst of
so much mourning, we have been able to enjoy the lighter side of
existence, the humours, the quaintnesses, which relieve, blessedly for
poor humanity, the most complicated and the most desperate situations.
Perhaps, therefore, these random jottings, turned, many of them, to
the lighter side of life, may, in some stray hour of relaxation, amuse
here and there one actively engaged in the stern actions which the time
demands. Perhaps the breath of the garden may be grateful to a mind
upon which the wind from the trenches has blown so long.

There is a great deal of laughter about our country, even now. The
troops go singing down the roads in the early dawn, and come tramping
back to camp, with tired feet, but with joking tongues, after the long
days. We know there is much laughter in the fighting-line; innocent,
childish pleasantries, catchwords that run with grins from lip to lip.
There is no laughter so genuine as that which springs from a good
conscience. And so there is laughter in the hospitals also, thank God!

We trust our pages may add a little mirth more to the gallant spirit
abroad; beguile the fancy of one wounded man, or the oppression of one
anxious heart. Then, indeed, they will not have been written in vain.

Would only that through them we could convey an impression of the
surroundings in which we write; would we could bring our readers the
atmosphere of these Surrey heights; of the rolling moorland, of the
winds, sweet with heather, aromatic with the pine-woods, charged with
the garden scents that blow about us; then truly would they find
refreshment! Would we could show them our terraced borders where
now the roses are breaking into wonderful bloom, pink, crimson,
cream, fire-carmine, and yellow; where the delphiniums are arrayed,
noble phalanxes in every shade of enamel blue and purple--spires
marshalled together like some fantastic cathedral town, viewed in
impossible moonlight, out of a Doré dream; where the canterbury bells
are beginning to shake out their cups, tinted like the colours in a
child’s paint-box; and the campanulas, with their tones of mountain
wildness--of snow and blue distance--bring coolness into the hotter
tints of the border.

We look down on this July richness from the small white house with
its green blinds, which, though compact, round-windowed, comfortably
Georgian, has yet an absurd Italian look.

On the upper terrace wall the ornamental pots, each with its little
golden cypress, begin to foam with lobelia and creeping geranium;
between two clumps of cypress-trees, Verocchio’s little smiling boy
grips his fish against a tangle of blush rambler. And that’s a bit of
Italy for you, even with the ultimate vision of wild moor!

The terraces run down the hill, tier below tier. On the other side of
the valley the woods rise between the shouldering heather-clad hills,
to the east; the wide, long view spreads to the south-west, where the
hills begin to lift again, and distant pine-woods march across the sky.

Would we could but give to mere words the sense of altitude, of great
horizons which our high-perched position gives us!

“You’re in a kind of eyrie,” says one visitor. And another: “Oh, I do
like all this sky! It’s so seldom one really gets the sky about one.”

“You have,” said an exile--an old Belgian religious--after tottering
solemnly along the terrace walk, “you have here an earthly paradise. A
spot God has wonderfully blessed.”

Besides the startling contrasts and the fairness of its prospect, the
little place has a special charm of its own, which is not possible to
describe, yet which everyone feels who comes within its precincts.
We quite wait for the phrase now, upon the lips of guests under the
red-tiled roof: “It’s so extraordinarily peaceful.”

Peace! Peace in the midst of the boom of the war tocsin, echoing all
round! Peace, in spite of the newspapers, the letters, the rumours, the
perpetual coming and going of troops, the distant reverberations of gun
practice, the never-relaxing grip of apprehension! Yes, in spite of all
the world being at war--there is peace in the Villino.

Some of us believe it wells out from a little chamber, where, before
the golden shrine, the Donatello angels hold up never-extinguished
lamps. Or a visitor may say wonderingly: “I think it must be because
you’re all so united.” Or, perhaps, as the old monk had it, there is an
emanation from the place itself: so beautiful a spot of God’s earth, so
high up, so apart between the moor and the valley! Whatever the reason,
we wish that some of the peace that lingers here may reach out from
these pages, and touch with serenity any unquiet heart or restless
spirit that comes their way.

And since the soldiers we have written about wanted toys, like sick
children, their mascot to hug--here comes a procession of our little
fur folk walking vividly before your mental eye.

Here is Loki, the first and oldest of the pets. Loki, growing grey
about the muzzle, elderly already by reason of his six years of life;
with his immense coat, tawny, tufted, plumed, fringed; with his
consequential gait; his “quangley” ways: so easily offended, in his own
strong sense of dignity; with his over-loving heart; his half-human,
half-lion eyes; Loki, with his clockwork regularity of habit; his
disdainful oblivion, except on certain rare occasions, of the smaller
fur fry; Loki, making windmill paws to the Master of the Villino, till
he has succeeded in dragging him away from his pipe and his arm-chair
for a walk on the moors; or yet frantically and mutely imploring the
mystified visitor to go away and cease from boring him.

And here is Mimosa, the most Chinese of little ladies, hued like a ripe
chestnut, with dark orbs so immense and protuberant as almost to seem
to justify the legend that Pekinese will drop their eyes about if you
don’t take care. Very sleek and sinuous and small is she, a creature
of moods and freaks, fastidious to the point of never accepting a meal
with the other dogs; with all kinds of tricksy, pretty ways of play,
shrilly barking and dancing for bread pills, which she will fling in
the air and catch again, throw over her shoulder and waltz round to
pounce upon, more like a kitten than a little dog.

And the puppy, Loki’s own contemned daughter, the colour of a
young lion cub--the puppy, with her irrepressible enthusiasms, her
unsnubbable demonstrations, her “pretty paws,” her coal-black muzzle,
her innocent countenance--“Plain Eliza”--whose heart, like her
father’s, is so much too big and tender and faithful, that happening
the other day to see, over the garden hedge, a member of the family in
whose house she was born, she rent the air with such shrieks of ecstasy
that the whole Villino establishment rushed to the spot, thinking she
was being murdered.

Then there is Arabella, the lavrock setter. “Perverse, precise,
unseasonable Pamela,” cries Mr. B. in Richardson’s celebrated novel,
when having pursued the virtuous damsel to her last refuge, she not
unnaturally misunderstands the purport of his next advance.

When she does understand she exclaims: “Mr. B. is the noblest of men,
he has offered me marriage.”

To come back to Arabella. We wish we could find a union of epithets
as telling as that of Mr. B. in the exasperation of his conscious
rectitude. Inane, inert, inconvenient Arabella, fairly well describes
our sentiments towards her. She is a bore and a burden. She feels the
heat and goes out and takes mud-baths, and comes in and shakes herself
in the drawing-room. She cannot understand why she should not lie in
our laps as well as the puppies. She howls mournfully outside the
kitchen door unless she is invited in to assist in the cooking. She has
destroyed three arm-chair covers in the servants’ hall, preferring that
resting-place to her basket. “Fond” is the word that might best be used
to qualify our feelings towards her. We don’t know what to do with her,
but we should not like to be without her.

Then there is the black Persian, “Bunny,” our kind dead Adam’s cat. You
will meet him circling round the garden. He will raise his huge bushy
tail when he sees you, and fix his inscrutable amber eyes upon you,
questioningly. Then he will pass on with a soundless mew. He is looking
for his master, and you can watch him slink away, superb, stealthy,
pursuing his fruitless quest.

The fur children come first, being the Villino’s own family, but
there are other kinds with us now. The little Belgians run about the
paths calling to each other with their quaint pattering intonation,
so that long before you hear the words you know by the sound of
the voices coming up the hill that these are the small exiles.
Brown-haired Marthe, with her childish ways and her serious mind,
her ripe southern-tinted face, and Philippe, with his shock of fine
hair, hazel-colour, cut medieval fashion, and his little throat, which
bears his odd picturesque head as a flower-stem its bloom. And sturdy
Viviane, stumping up with her solemn air, precisely naming the flowers
as she comes:

“Sweet Will-li-yam! Del-phi-ni-um! Canterry bells!”

Soon Thierry, the schoolboy, will be here too. The garden is full of
Easter holiday memories of him; a little perspiring boy, squaring a
tree-trunk with boxing-gloves five times too large for him, under the
grand-paternal tuition of the Master of the Villino. It would have been
difficult to say who was the more pleased, child or man. And Thierry
can box with a right good will; a very excellent little boy this, with
a bursting patriot’s heart under his shy, reserved ways. No doubt he
fancied he was hitting a German with each of those well-directed blows.

It is nice to have the children about the Villino; and that they are
exiles adds pathos to the sound of their happy laughter in our ears,
and a tenderness to the pleasure with which our eyes watch their
unconscious gaiety.

Perhaps, however, if anyone wanted to have a really poetic impression
of our little house, they should see it by moonlight, or--which, of
course, nobody does except by accident--in the summer dawn. Whether
it is because of an unconscious appreciation of the limits of our own
intellect, or whether from some inherent vulgarity, human nature is
prone to depreciate all that is laid out very plainly before it. We
demand mystery in everything if it is to mean beauty to us.

Some such idea as this Mr. Bernard Shaw expresses--in one of
his uncanny leaps of the spirit out of his own destructive
philosophy--when he makes the Christian martyr retort to the Pagan who
accuses her of not understanding her God: “He wouldn’t be my God if I
could!”

To pass from the infinite to the atom: when the Villino garden and its
prospects are but imperfectly revealed on a moonlight night the view,
with mystery added to its fairness, becomes wonderful in its loveliness.

On such a night as this the valley holds mist in its bosom, and the
distant moor ridges in their pine-woods might be the Alps, for the air
of distance they assume, the remote dignity with which they withdraw
themselves, pale and ethereal, into the serene sky. It may be the moon
is rising over the great wooded hill in front of the Villino. The white
radiance pours full upon us. We know all that is revealed, and yet
all is different. Each familiar object has a strange and transfigured
face. The little cypress-trees, rimmed in silver, cast black shadows
on the grass, silver-cobwebbed. The great moors are exquisite ghost
wildernesses, their hollows full of cloudy secrets. And you can hear
the night-jar spinning out its monotonous, mysterious song, a song
which does not break the grand restfulness, but only accompanies it.
We have no running streams--there is nothing perfect here below, it is
a great want! But the song of the night-jar makes up a little for the
voice of water in the night-time. It is the hearing of some such sound,
lost in the turmoil of day, that emphasizes the incomparable silence.

Our heights in the sunrise show once again a world transfigured; a
sparkling, coloured, other-worldly world.

    “Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day
    Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.”

The saffrons and yellows begin to gather over the moors, and the crests
of the hills and the tree-tops are tipped with light. Each flower has
its shimmering aureole; each has taken a hue never seen in the garish
fulness of the sunshine, enamel, stained-glass-window hues, difficult
to describe. There is a curious look of life about everything. It is
the exquisite hour of the earth, untroubled by man; garden and woods,
hill and valley, unfold their secrets to the sky and hold commune with
the dawn-angels. There is a freshness, a vividness, almost a surprise
about the world, as if all things were made new again. An immense
difference in the scene compared to the night’s grave mysteries. The
latter is a canto from the Divine Comedy as against Fra Angelico’s
dance of Paradise. And to this innocent joy of the waking earth
you have the songs of the birds. Some ecstatic thrush, or liquid
slow-chanting blackbird, will have begun the hymns at the first glimmer
of dawn, and hold the world spell-bound till the lesser chorus spreads
a tangled web of sound from end to end of the valley and the garden
heights, and the moor silence is reached.

Morning after morning of this glorious summer of the war, the pageant
of sunrise marches, for those who have eyes to see, and night after
night the mystery gathers in the moonlight. All England holds some
such fair visions. Does it not seem a dream that it should be so? The
horror, the devastation, the noise, the fire, the bloodshed, the agony,
the struggle, only a couple of hundred miles away, are they the only
realities in this red year? To us in England’s heart, still mercifully
unwounded, these sometimes seem the dream, the dream of evil, and our
peace the reality.

Dream, or reality, it is our peace we want to bring to you.



A LITTLE HOUSE IN WAR TIME



I

THE VILLINO IS PINCHED

    “Prepare, prepare the iron helm of war,
    Bring forth the lots, cast in the spacious orb;
    The Angel of Fate turns them with mighty hands,
    And casts them out upon the darkened earth!
                            Prepare, prepare!”

                                          W. BLAKE.


The most usual remark that people make after a visit to our little
house on the hill is this: “How peaceful!”

Even in the ordinary course of life--those times that now seem
extraordinary to a world already accustomed to the universal
struggle--when everyone in England was in peace, except where their own
unquiet spirits may have marred it, even then this nest of ours seemed
peace within peace. We do not know now whether the contrast is not the
more acute. One of the thousands of homes dedicated to the quiet joys
and innocencies of life, where no one ever wanted to quarrel, because
all found the hours so full of sweet content, we do not flatter
ourselves that we are singular: only typical. The shadow of the great
cloud cast at first a hideous, unnatural darkness over our harmless
ways.

All during the long golden summer, when we looked out across the moor
basking in the radiance; when our roses bloomed and the garden rioted
in colour, and the valley slowly turned from green to russet; when the
harvest-moon went up like a huge brass platter in silver skies, the
very beauty of it all clutched one’s heart the fiercer. How fares it
with our boys over there in the heat and the stress? How much worse it
must be for them that the sun should blaze upon them, marching, firing,
rushing forward, lying wounded, wanting water!... Oh, dear lads of
England, how we at home agonized with you!

The little house, bought in a light-hearted hour, furnished with
infinite zest in happy days out of distant Rome, was a sort of toy to
us from the beginning; and kind friends surveyed it with indulgent
and amused, yet admiring, glances, such as one would bestow upon an
ingenious and pretty plaything. We called it the Villino, partly in
memory of the Italian sojourn, and partly because, though it is
bounded by wild moors, it contrives a quaintly Italianate air. It
stands boldly on the lip of the hill, and the garden runs down in
terraces to a deep valley. Across the valley to the east the moors
roll, curve upon curve. South, facing us, the trees begin their march;
and westward the valley spreads, rising into moors again, where again
the fir-trees sentinel the sky. The view from the terrace rather takes
your breath away. It is unexpected and odd, and unlike anything, except
Italy and Scotland mixed: the wildness, and the trim terraced garden
with its calculated groups of cypress, its vases brimming with flowers,
its stone steps, its secret bowery corners.

“Mount Ecstasy” an artist friend has dubbed it. “Is it possible,” she
asked us in the middle of this radiant October of the war, “that the
wind ever blows here? Do you ever hear it shrieking round the house?”

We gave her a vivid description of what the wind could do when it
liked; when it came up the valley with the rain on its wings. She
looked incredulous.

“Is it possible?” she repeated softly.

She had come straight from the great camp at Lyndhurst, where the 7th
Division, gallant as ill-fated, had gathered in all its lusty strength
before embarking for the bloody struggle in Flanders. She had just
said good-bye to her eldest son; the call of the bugle, the march
of thousands in unison, was in her ears; the vision of the crowded
transport vivid in her mind. Yet here she would not believe that even
the winds could break our peace.

This was very much what we felt ourselves when the Storm burst; it was
incredible with this placidity all about us.

One tries to think what it would be had the Villino sprung to life in
Belgian soil, or did the Hun succeed in landing, and come pouring, a
noxious tide, across our country roads, taking the poor little place
on its way. The first refugee from that heroic and devastated land who
found shelter here was very smiling and brave until she came out into
the garden. Then she began to cry.

“I had such pretty flowers too.”

All our moors are turning into camps; they grew like mushrooms in a
day, it seems. We hear the soldiers marching by in the dead of the
night, singing, poor boys! to give themselves heart--such nights, too,
as they are this autumn, deluged with rain and blown through with
relentless wind! We stand between two hospitals; and Belgian refugees
overflow in the villages. We read of the bombardment of the coast and
the dropping of bombs, and yet we do not realize. We still feel as in a
nightmare from which we must wake up.

Yet the effects of war are beginning to stamp themselves, even in the
Villino and in its garden. We are, some of us, naturally inclined
to luxuries. The mistress of the Villino is certainly a spendthrift
where bulbs and tubers and seeds are concerned; and for three out of
the four years since she owned the little property, the spring garden
has justified impenitence. Oh! the crocuses running through the grass
of that third terrace called the Hemicycle! Oh! the scyllas making
miniature skies under the almond-trees! Oh! the tulips swaying jewel
chalices over the mists of blue forget-me-not: glories of the past,
this coming spring, how shall the garden miss you!

It must be explained that our soil--green-sand--our
position--high-perched--our general tendency--sloping down-hill--make
us charmingly dry and healthy, but disagree with the bulb. It is
impossible to naturalize anything less hardy than the daffodil. The
snowdrop declines to live with us. Therefore our autumn bulb lists
were copious and varied, and the results ephemeral and lovely. This
year there has been no bulb list; who could think of this completely
personal and selfish gratification when it is the flower of our manhood
that is being mown down out yonder? when all that can be spared must be
spared to help! There is so little one can do, and so appallingly much
to be done.

And inside, too, we are being pinched; not badly, not cruelly, but just
as if the war monster had reached out one of its myriad hands--quite a
small and rather weak one--and had hold of us, enough to nip, not to
strangle.

It will not surprise any garden owner to learn that this is the year
of all others in which Adam, the Villino gardener, had an “accident”
with the cuttings, and that therefore those bushes of chrysanthemums,
which look so well on our grey and orange landings, have not been
forthcoming. Another year it would not have mattered. We should have
gaily replenished the Italian pots from the local nursery, where
chrysanthemums are a speciality. But as it is--we go without.

In a hundred other items the nipping fingers produce the same
paralyzing result. The footman, who, we regret to say, gibbered at
the thought of enlisting, and avowed to a horrified kitchen circle
that he might perhaps be able to help to carry a wounded man, but face
a bullet--“Never, never!”--found his post untenable in a household
chiefly composed of the fair and patriotic sex. We conceived that the
times demanded of us to bring the garden-boy into the house, thus
reducing our establishment without inflicting hardship.

Such, however, was not the opinion of Juvenal, our eccentric butler.
This strange being, from certain aspects of his character, might
have been, as the Italian prelate said of a distinguished Jesuit
preacher, “born in a volcano.” He is devoted to the dogs, and has a
genius for settling flowers; and he has become altogether so much a
part of the establishment--the _famiglia_--that the Villino would
lose half its charm without him. Nevertheless, he is volcanic! And
though at first he took the substitution of four-foot in buttons for
six-foot in livery with an angelic resignation, Vesuvius broke forth
with unparalleled vigour and frequency after a couple of weeks of the
regimen. Unfortunately, Juvenal is not sustained by patriotic ardour.
He deliberately avoids afflicting himself with thoughts about the war.
“I never could bear, miss, to see anything that was hurt! And as for
anything dying, miss, even if it was only a little animal--why, there,
I couldn’t as much as look at my poor old father!” Here is his point of
view as expressed tersely to the Signorina of the Villino.

This being the case, he succeeds so thoroughly in blocking his mind
against all facts connected with war time (except the entertaining
of “a nice young fellow from the camp”) that he has found himself
injured to the core by our attempts at economy. And when it came to
our unexpectedly inviting a refugee lady into his dining-room, and his
having to lay three extra places for her and her children, the lava
overflowed into the upper regions. We with difficulty extricated “Miss
Marie” from the burning flood.

We are all slightly overwrought these days, and instead of pretending
not to notice, which is the only possible way where Juvenal is
concerned, we suggested that he should look for another situation.
It would be difficult to say whether outraged feeling or amazement
predominated in him. Of course, we all deeply repented our hasty
action, and then ensued four uncomfortable weeks of cross purposes in
which neither side would “give in.” Finally the poor volcano departed
in floods of tears, with twenty-four bird-cages and a Highland terrier.

“Don’t you take on, Mr. Juvenal,” said Mrs. MacComfort, the cook;
“you’ll be back in no time!”

There ensued a dreadful interlude with an anæmic young butler unfit
for military service, who promptly developed toothache and a bilious
attack, and whom all the servants regarded as a spy for the convincing
reasons that he sat and rolled his eyes and said nothing.

He was, however, non-volcanic, and placidly accepted Jimmy, the
promoted garden-boy. This was not reciprocal, for Jimmy, who displayed
a degree of conscientiousness, peculiar indeed in the light of
after-events, could not reconcile himself to the change.

He would canter heavily, smothered to the chin in six-foot’s pantry
apron, into the drawing-room to announce with a burst of tears to the
young housekeeper:

“Please, miss, ’e won’t suit! ’E won’t do nuthin’ I tell him! Oh,
please, miss, he’s putting the cups--the mistress’s own cup--in the
wrong cupboard, and”--with a howl--“he ain’t washed it, miss! And when
I tell him, ’e says it doesn’t matter!”

We didn’t think he would suit, ourselves. We had all said so often that
Juvenal was perfectly dreadful, and couldn’t be endured another minute,
and every member of the _famiglia_ had so frequently declared with
tears that if Mr. Juvenal remained she could not possibly stay; she had
borne it as long as she could, not to make unpleasantness, but----

We were unanimous now in regrets.

“God be with poor Juvenal!” said Mrs. MacComfort, the dear, soft-spoken
Irish cook; and added darkly: She wouldn’t like to be saying what she
thought of the new butler.

However, _à quelque chose malheur est bon_, for had the following
incident taken place under Juvenal’s dog-loving eye, as Juvenal himself
subsequently remarked, there would certainly have been murder done. We
ourselves had been inclined to consider Jimmy an agreeable member of
the domestic circle. Nobody minded telling him to take out the dogs, no
matter how bad the weather was, and Jimmy always responded with that
smile of cheerful alacrity that so endeared him.

The tale which is here narrated may seem irrelevant to the share which
the Villino has had to take in the universal and terrible cataclysm,
but nevertheless the incidents therein set forth directly issued from
it; and, in spite of a dash of comedy, they were tragic enough for
those chiefly concerned, namely, the youngest “fur-child” and Jimmy
himself. If we had not taken Jimmy into the house, Jimmy would not have
been told to walk the dogs; and if Jimmy had not walked the dogs, the
singular drama of the phantom dog-stealers and the baby Pekinese would
never have occurred.

There were then three fur-children: Arabella, the Lavroch
setter--lovely, dull, early Victorian, worthy creature; Loki,
the beloved, chief of all the little dumb family, first in our
affections--a quaint, saturnine, very Chinese little gentleman, with
crusty and disconcerting ways, and almost a human heart; and Mimi, the
heroine of this adventure--Mimosa on solemn occasions--really a beauty,
with all the engaging Pekinese oddities and that individuality of
character which each one seems to possess; spoilt, imperious, vivid!

It was a very wet day, and Jimmy had been ordered to don his master’s
mackintosh cape and take the fur-children up the moor. The first
peculiar incident was that Mimi ran three times headlong from his
guardianship. As fast as she was coaxed down one stairs she was up the
other, with her tail between her legs. It might have made us pause,
but it didn’t. We said: “Poor Mimi doesn’t like getting her feet wet.”
Anyone who had heard the boy cooing to his charges in tones of the most
dulcet affection would have been as dense as we were.

That evening the dark adventure took place. Jimmy came running into the
kitchen, more incredibly mud-encrusted than any living creature outside
an alligator is ever likely to be again; and, bursting into loud wails,
declared that he had been set upon by two men and robbed of Mimi.

“Run, run,” cried Mrs. MacComfort, “and tell the master!”

Jimmy ran, working himself up as he went, so that it was what our
Irish nurse used to call “roaring and bawling” that he rushed into the
library and poured out his dreadful news. The master dashed in pursuit
of the miscreants, led by the hero, who cantered him uphill a good
half-mile. He was followed by the cook and her Cinderella, valiantly
brandishing sticks. Having reached the post-office, the chase was given
up, and the master of the Villino was returning dejectedly when a
yapping behind the hedge that skirted the road was recognized by Mrs.
MacComfort as unmistakably Mimi’s voice.

Mimi was extracted, none the worse for her emotions, but with the
remnants of a torn pocket-handkerchief tied round her neck.

Whether it was the abnormal layers of mud on Jimmy’s countenance; or
the curious fact that, in spite of the horrible treatment which he
vowed had been inflicted upon him in a hand-to-hand struggle with
two men, under the mud there was not a scratch upon his ingenious
countenance; or whether it was that, although the conflict was supposed
to have taken place within our own courtyard, no sound reached anyone
in the house--there and then Jimmy’s master came to this conclusion: “I
believe he’s made it all up.” But he didn’t say so. The boy was only
cross-examined.

“Why didn’t you shout?” asked Mrs. MacComfort.

“I couldn’t. They stuffed something soft into my throat--a handkerchief,
I think it was.”

“Where did you get all that mud?” asked the gardener next morning. “You
never picked that up in here. You couldn’t, not if you’d scraped the
ground.”

It was then that Jimmy discovered that the assault had taken place
outside the gates.

Jimmy’s mistress questioned him next, and she instantly saw that he was
lying. To point the moral and adorn the tale she sent for the policeman.

“Why didn’t you ’oller?” said the policeman.

Jimmy’s knees shook together.

“I couldn’t ’oller,” he maintained doggedly. “They’d stuffed something
down me throat.”

“Oh, indeed!” said the policeman. “Maybe it was this ’ankercher, was
it?”

He produced a dreadful rag that had been picked up on the road. It
fitted neatly with the other rag that had been round Mimi’s neck: awful
_pièces de conviction_!

“I say it’s your ankercher. Don’t go for to deny it. I say it’s your
ankercher; I ’appen to know it’s your ankercher. I say you did it all
yerself!”

When a six-foot, black-moustached policeman, with boring eye, rolls out
such an accusation in tremendous crescendo, what can a little criminal
do but collapse? Jimmy collapsed. It was his ankercher. He ’ad done it.
There never ’ad been no men. He never ’ad been knocked down. He ’ad
rolled in the mud on purpose, in the ditch where it was thickest. He
’ad tried to ’urt Mimi.

“Why?--why?--why?”

Even our local Sherlock Holmes couldn’t extract anything like a
plausible reason. Loki’s mistress had to piece one together for herself.

Jimmy hadn’t liked taking the dogs out on a wet day. He had therefore
planned to strangle Mimi and throw her over the hedge, believing that
if he showed himself unable to protect the dogs he would not be sent
out with them any more.

The two immediate results of this event, extraordinary indeed in the
annals of the Villino, where a St. Francis-like love of our little fur
and feather brothers and sisters dominates, was the prompt restoration
of Jimmy to the arms of Mrs. Mutton, his washerwoman mamma, and the
summoning of Juvenal to the telephone. He was staying with his brother,
a postmaster. We communicated the awful attempt. Juvenal averred, on
the other side of the wire, that you could have knocked him down with
a feather. Having thus re-established communications, we wrote, and,
tactfully cloaking our own undignified yearnings with the innocence of
the fur-children, we told him that the dogs missed him very much. He
was swift to seize the “paw of friendship,” and, following our artful
lead, responded by return of post that Betty had been “that fretted,”
he did not know what to do with her--“_wine_ she did from morning till
night!”

It was obvious that anyone with a grain of decent feeling must
instantly remedy such a state of affairs. Juvenal returned with the
twenty-four bird-cages and Betty the terrier.

We have compounded with an assistant parlourmaid; it is by no means
an economy, but four-foot in buttons is in such demand that Jimmy is
irreplaceable.

After all, so little has that war-pinch nipped us, that, if it was
not to laugh at them, one would be ashamed to set these infinitesimal
bruises down at all. And, thank God! now one can laugh a little again;
the days are gone by when it seemed as if every small natural joy had
been squeezed out of life, that existence itself was one long nightmare
of apprehension.

We do not yet know what the future may have in store for us; but, pray
heaven, those mornings may never dawn again when one could scarcely
open the paper for the beating of one’s heart.

It is not, we hope, that we are accustomed to agony, though no doubt
there is something of habit that takes the edge off suspense and grief.
We are also better prepared; we have got, as it were, into our second
wind, and we are, after our English fashion, perhaps even a little more
determined than we were to start with. When it all began, with what
seemed merely an insensate crime in a half-civilized country, no one
would have thought that England, much less our little house, would be
affected. Though, indeed, personally, the murder of the Archduchess
touched the mistress of the Villino a little more nearly than most,
for as children they had played together. It was, and is, a very vivid
memory.

She and her sisters had been brought to Brussels for their education,
and Sophie was one of the youngest, if not the last, in the nursery
of the Austro-Hungarian Legation in that city. The Chotek family used
to come to the _parc_; a tribe of quaint, fair-haired children. They
wore short black velvet coats and caps, and plaid skirts, rather long.
The Signora can see little Sophie before her now; a Botticelli angel,
with an aureole of fair curls, silver-gold, standing out all round her
small, pale, delicate face; a serious child, with lustrous eyes and
immense black lashes, and a fine, curling mouth. She thought her lovely
and longed to cuddle her, with the maternal instinct early developed.

“Have you much sister?” said the tiny Austrian, addressing her English
friend upon their introduction with great solemnity.

Who could have thought what a destiny lay before her, and in what a
supreme act of self-devotion the soul, already luminous in that frail,
exquisite little envelope, was to pass away? We have been told on some
excellent authority that she was not popular in her anomalous position,
at least in her own class. But her singular romance nevertheless was
crowned by so true a married happiness that it can leave one in no
doubt that she was worthy of the sacrifice made for her by the Imperial
heir. He was--it is no uncharity to mention so well-known a fact--a
man of bad life; she was his mother’s lady-in-waiting, appointed to
that post because of destitution, no longer in the first freshness
of her youth, supposed to be a person of small significance--one of
those colourless shadows that haunt the chairs of the great. But she
captivated the most important Prince in her country, barring the
Emperor; and, what is more, her spell never lost its power. To that
last breath, which, greatly favoured in their awful tragedy, they drew
together, they adored each other. She made of him a model husband, a
model father, a man of rectitude and earnestness. They had children,
and these were all their joy. It was one of the reproaches cast upon
her by the indignant royalties of the Vienna Court that the Duchess of
Hohenberg was so economical she would go down to her kitchen and see
the things given out. If she wanted to save money, it was for those
children, cut off from their natural inheritance by the cast-iron laws
that debarred their mother from a share in her husband’s rank.

An invited guest at the wedding of the present young hereditary
Archduke to the Princess Zita has given us a description of an incident
which well illustrates the treatment which the non-royal wife of the
Heir Apparent received at the hands of her royal relatives. When the
Duchess of Hohenberg entered, her long, narrow train caught in some
projecting obstacle as she swept up the little chapel. The place was
full of Archdukes and Archduchesses, in their wedding attire. Not one
of these high-born beings budged. Each looked straight at the altar,
absorbed in pious prayer. The ostracized lady had to disengage herself
as best she could, and advance, blushing hotly, to her appointed
place, unescorted. A few minutes after a belated Archduchess, entering
swiftly, met with the same mishap. Instantly she was surrounded with
politely assisting Hoheiten.

The friend to whom we owe the anecdote remarked that it had been “a
dreadful moment,” and that one could not help feeling sorry for the
poor Duchess. But it is to be remarked that she herself--delightful,
cultivated, large-minded creature though she was--had been among the
stony ones, and there had even been a glint of pleasure in her eyes
under the compassion as she told the story.

Sophie was of those who are hated; but, after all, what did it matter?
Was she not loved?

Our daughter’s Hungarian godmother--a most fairy and entrancing lady,
with all the spirit of her race under the appearance of a French
Marquise--like most Magyars, championed the cause of one whom they
intended to make their future Queen. She gave us a pretty account of
the great pleasure it was to the common people in Vienna to watch their
Archduke and his wife at the theatre. They sat in the royal box, not
formally, one at each end, as is the etiquette, but close, so close
that everyone knew they were holding each other’s hands. They would
look into each other’s faces with smiles, to share the interest and joy
of what they beheld and heard. So the lesser folk were fond of her,
though the fine Court circle could not forgive.

When she went to Berlin, the astute William received her with a
tremendous parade of honour, which made him very popular with the
Archduke, as well as with the multitude that espoused his cause.
But it was only a hollow show of recognition after all--a banquet
elaborately arranged with little round tables, so as to avoid any
question of precedence under the cloak of the most friendly intimacy.
Our simpler-minded court had to decline her visit at the Coronation on
account of this same difficulty of precedence. Whatever might be done
in Austria, this was insulting from England. “But she is of better
family than many of your royalties,” said a Bohemian magnate to us
across the table at a dinner-party, his blue eyes blazing. “She is of
very good family. She is”--tapping his capacious shirt-front with a
magnificent gesture--“she is related to me!”

The petty malice of those whose prerogatives had been infringed pursued
her to her bloodstained and heroic grave. To the last she was denied
all those dignities which appertained to her husband’s rank. Her
morganatic dust could not be allowed to commingle with that of royalty
in the Imperial vault. The two who had loved beyond etiquette were
given a huddled and secret midnight funeral; and beside the Archduke’s
coffin, covered with the insignia of his state, that of his wife was
marked only by a pair of white kid gloves and a fan.

Such a pitiful triumph of tyranny over the majestic dead! Horrible
juxtaposition of the ineptitude of pomposity and the most royal of
consummations! Sophie and her mate must have smiled upon it from their
enfranchisement.

Perhaps if the doomed pair had not yielded themselves to those Berlin
blandishments their fate might have been less tragic. There are
sinister rumours as to whose hand really fired the revolver. We in
England to-day may well have come to believe that those whom the
Kaiser most smiles upon are his chosen victims. The laborious grin of
the crocodile to the little fishes is nothing to it; but England is
rather a big mouthful.

Already one is able to say that any death has been merciful which has
spared an Austrian the sight of his country’s dissolution. We are glad
that our fairy godmother has not lived to have her heart torn between
England, her adopted country, and her passionately loved Hungary.

The cloud no bigger than a man’s hand in the clear sky--shadow of
the mailed fist--we looked at it from over here with that stirring
of surface emotions that is scarcely unpleasant! How horrible! we
said. How wicked, how cruel! The little bloodstained cloud! it hung
in horizons too far off to menace our island shores. We were very
sorry for the old Emperor, pursued to the last, it seemed, by the
inexplicable, unremitting curse. “I have been spared nothing,” he is
reported to have said when the news of the Archduke’s murder was broken
to him. Was he then in his own heart sheltering the deadly spark that
was to kindle the whole world? We thought of the playmate of Brussels
days with a romantic regret, and envied her a little. Since one must
die, what a good way it was to go with one’s only beloved! And then, in
the full summer peace, the clouds suddenly massed themselves, darkened,
and spread.

“Austrian Ultimatum to Servia! World’s Peace Threatened!” so read the
newspaper headlines, like the mutter of thunder running from pole to
pole. We saw without conviction. It seemed too inconceivable that such
a crime could be committed in our century; and the folly of it too
manifest in face of the Slav menace. And next came the crack and the
lightning glare--hideous illumination over undreamt-of chasms!

Will any of us ever forget that Saturday to Monday? War was declared
on Russia; war on France. Luxemburg territory was violated, and rumour
raced from one end of England to the other: “We are going to stand
aside; the peace party is too strong!... We are not bound by deed to
France, only by an understanding. England means to let her honour go
down on a quibble....”

We had guests in the house--a brother, retired after hard service in
the army; a slow-spoken, gentle-eyed man of law, who hid the fiercest
fire of British pugnacity under this deliberately meek exterior. They
were both pessimistic, the soldier angrily so in his anxiety. “I’ll
never lift my head again in England!--I’ll never go into a foreign
country again! I’d be ashamed!--Upon my word, I’ll emigrate!”

And the other gloomily: “From my experience of this Government, it’s
sure to do the worst possible thing. I haven’t the least hope.”

In our own hearts we had resolved, with the soldier, that we would give
up home and country. Our thoughts turned to Canada.

The relief was proportionate to the hideousness of the doubt. What
though the cloud had spread and spread till it reached right across the
sky, there was brilliant sunshine over England--the light of honour.

Two ardent young patriots had visited us unexpectedly in their car that
Sunday night. They brought small items of consolation. They had been
to Portsmouth. It was ready for war. Fixed bayonets gleamed at every
corner; the port was closed. Both these youths were full of martial
plans. One was hurrying to the London Scottish, the other northwards
to put all affairs in order before joining too. The London Scottish boy
obligingly kept us _au courant_ of the turn of events by telephone.
During the length of Sir Edward Grey’s speech perverted extracts
reached us and plunged us into ever deeper gloom: “We are only to
intervene if French ports are bombarded....”

Then at midnight on Monday the bell rang. “Belgian neutrality had been
violated; general mobilization was ordered.” It was war. And we slept
on the tidings with a strange peace.

Perhaps the universal feeling was most impressively voiced by a
Franciscan monk, who said to us later (during the agonizing suspense
between Mons and the Marne): “Nothing can be so bad as those days when
we did not know what the Government would do. Whatever happens now,
nothing can compare to that. Shall I ever forget how we prayed?”

Little Brothers of Peace and Poverty, humble, self-despoiled servants
of the rule most rigid in its tenderness, clamouring at the throne
of God for a thing of pride, a priceless possession--their country’s
honour! Paradox can scarcely go further, it would seem. Yet, even
before Mr. Chesterton pointed it out, most of us had long ago accepted
the fact that the deeper the truth the more breathless the paradox. Is
there an Englishman among us who would lift his voice to-day against
the sacred precept: _He that loses his life shall save it_?



II

OUR LITTLE BIT

    “‘J’entends des paroles amies
    Que je ne comprends pas.
    Je me sens loin, bien loin, de la patrie....
    D’où vient que ces voix me semblent familières?’
        ‘Mon père, nous sommes en Angleterre.’”

                                          CAMMAERTS.


It is frequently said in letters from the front, by the officer
praising his men, or _vice versa_: “A dozen things are being done every
day that deserve the Victoria Cross.” But if you speak to one of these
heroes of their own deeds, you will invariably get the same answer: “I
just did my little bit.”

How immense a satisfaction it must be to feel you’ve done your little
bit! And how out of it are the stay-at-homes! Yet we also have our part
to play--infinitesimal in comparison, but still, we hope, of use--the
minute fragment that may be wanted in the fitting together of the great
jigsaw puzzle.

Our first little bit at the Villino when we woke to activity after
the stunning of the blow, was obviously to house refugees. We wrote
to a friend prominent among the receiving committee, and offered,
as a beginning, to undertake twelve peasants out of the thousands of
unfortunates flying from the face of the Hun. From that charming but
harassed lady we received a grateful acceptance, announcing the arrival
of our families that afternoon--hour to be fixed by telegram. We
feverishly prepared for their reception. We were ready to shelter five;
kind neighbours proposed to take in the other seven. We had a fleet
of motor-cars in readiness, and Mrs. MacComfort, our cook, concocted
large jars of coffee and other articles of food likely to be relished
of the Belgian palate. No telegram arrived; but to make up for it, our
telephone rang ceaselessly with anxious inquiries from the assisting
neighbours--inquiries which very naturally became rather irate as the
hours went by, while we took upon ourselves the apologies of the guilty.

Next day we ventured to address an inquiry to the harassed lady. That
was Saturday. On Monday we received a distraught telegram: “Will wire
hour of train.” It reminded us of the overdriven shop-assistant in the
middle of a seething Christmas crowd: “Will attend to you in a minute,
madam.” We felt the desire to oblige; but it left us just where we were
before.

On Wednesday an unknown Reverend Mother telegraphed from an unknown
convent: “Are you prepared to receive two Belgian families five o’clock
to-day?”

This message was supplemented by another from an equally unknown Canon
of Westminster Cathedral: “Sending twelve Belgians to-day. Please meet
four-twenty train.”

We had scarcely time to clutch our hair, for it was already past three
when a third despatch reached us, unsigned, from Hammersmith: “Two
Belgian ladies seven children arriving this afternoon five-five train.
Please attend station.”

The question was, were we to expect twelve or thirty-six?

We rang up the devoted neighbours. We increased our preparations
for refreshment. We spread out all the excellent cast-off garments
collected for the poor destitutes; and we “attended” at the first train.

Before proceeding any further with the narration of our thrilling
experiences, we may mention that eighteen Belgians appeared in all,
whom we succeeded in housing after singular developments; the most
unexpected people showing a truly Christian charity, while others,
ostentatiously devoted to good works, bolted their doors and hearts
upon the most frivolous excuse.

A neighbour of ours, in precarious health, with a large family, a son
lost in Germany, a son-in-law at the front, and an infant grandchild
in the nursery, would, we think, have given every room and bed in her
house to the exiles.

“Only, please, do let me have a poor woman with a baby,” she said. “I’d
love to have something to play with our little Delia.”

Another, a widow lady, with a large house and staff of servants to
match, and unlimited means, was horrified at the idea of admitting
peasants anywhere within her precincts; and as to a small child--“I
might be having the visit of a grand-nephew, and he might catch
something,” she declared down the telephone, in the tone of one who
considers her reason beyond dispute.

       *       *       *       *       *

About five-thirty the Villino opened its portals to its first refugees.
The two ladies with the seven children were fed, and half the party
conveyed farther on, we undertaking a mother and three children,
under three, and a sprightly little _bonne_. The Villino is a small
house, and we had prepared for peasant women. A bachelor’s room and
a gay, double-bedded attic--it has a paper sprawling with roses and
big windows looking across the valley--were what we had permanently
destined for the sufferers. Matters were not facilitated by discovering
that our guests belonged to what is called in their own land the
high-burgherdom; and that they, on their side, had been told to expect
in us the keepers of a “family pension.”

We do not know whether the unknown Church dignitary, the mysterious
Lady Abbess, or the nameless wirer from Hammersmith were responsible
for the mistake. We do not think it can have been our high-minded but
harassed friend of the Aldwych, as some six weeks later we received
a secretarial document from that centre of activity, asking whether
it was true that we had offered to receive Belgians, and if so: what
number and what class would we prefer to attend to? By that time, we
may mention, we had been instrumental in establishing about sixty of
every variety in the environs.

However, we had reason not to regret the misunderstanding which brought
Madame Koelen under our roof.

It was “Miss Marie,” the Villino’s Signorina, who went down to meet
her, accompanied by those kindly neighbours. Madame Koelen descended
from the railway-carriage in tears.

“Poor young thing,” we said, “it is only natural she must be
heart-broken--flying from her home with her poor little children!”

The first bombardment of Antwerp had been the signal for a great exodus
from that doomed city.

“We were living in cellars, _n’est-ce pas?_ and it was not good for the
children, _vous savez_, so my husband said: ‘You must go, _vite, vite_;
the last boats are departing.’ We had not half an hour to pack up.”

It was a piteous enough spectacle. She had a little girl not three,
another not two, and a three-months-old baby which she was nursing.
We thought of the poor distracted husband and father; and the forlorn
struggle on the crowded boat; and the dreadful landing on unknown
soil, herded together as they were, poor creatures! like a huddled
flock of sheep; and our hearts bled.

Towards evening, however, when calm settled down again on the
astonished Villino, and Madame Koelen, having left her children asleep,
was able to enjoy Mrs. MacComfort’s choice little dinner, she became
confidential to the young daughter of the house. She began by telling
us that we must not imagine that because a name had a German sound that
her husband’s family had the remotest connection with the land of the
Bosch. On the contrary, he was of Italian extraction; descended, in
fact, from no less a race than the Colonnas! Having thus established
her credentials, she embarked on long rambling tales of the flight,
copiously interlaced with the name of an Italian gentleman; “a friend
of my husband”; a certain Monsieur Mérino.

“When my husband was putting us on the _remorqueur_ at Flushing, we saw
him standing on the quay, _vous savez_, and then he said, _n’est-ce
pas_: ‘Ah, Mérino, are you going to England? Then look after my wife!’”

And Monsieur Mérino had been so good, and Monsieur Mérino had amused
the children, and Monsieur Mérino was so anxious to know how they were
established, and Monsieur Mérino would probably come down to see for
himself, and Monsieur Mérino was so droll!

We are very innocent people, and we accepted Monsieur Mérino in all
good faith. We announced ourselves as happy to receive him; we were
touched by his solicitude. Madame Koelen had surprisingly cheered, but
there was yet a cloud upon her brow.

“Still,” she said, “I do not think it was right of my cousin to have
accepted to dine alone with Monsieur Mérino, and to have passed the
night in London in the same hotel with only her little brother to
chaperon her--a child of eight, _n’est-ce pas?_--and she only eighteen,
_vous savez_, and expected in Brighton.”

We quite concurred. Monsieur Mérino’s halo grew slightly paler in our
eyes. Monsieur Mérino ought not to have asked her, we said, with great
propriety.

Madame Koelen exploded.

“Ah, if you had seen the way she went on with him on the boat! She was
all the time trying to have a flirt with him. Poor Monsieur Mérino!
and God knows what _blague_ she has told him, for he was never at the
station to see us off, and he had promised to be there, _n’est-ce pas?_
Oh, I was so angry! _Cette Jeanne_, she prevented him! I cried all the
way down in the train.”

Certainly she had been crying when we first beheld her; and we who had
thought!----

Madame Koelen was a handsome, sturdy creature, who would have made the
most splendid model for anyone wishing to depict a _belle laitière_.
Short, deep-chested, and broad-hipped, her strong, round neck supported
a defiant head with masses of blue-black hair; she had a kind of frank
coarse beauty--something the air of a young heifer, only that heifers
have soft eyes, and her eyes, bright brown, were hard and opaque;
something the air of a curious child, with a wide smile that displayed
faultless teeth, and was full of the joy of life; the kind of joy the
milkmaid would appreciate! We could quite understand that Monsieur
Mérino should find her attractive.

Before the next day had elapsed we began to understand her view of
the situation also. Like so many other Belgian women whom we have
known, she had been married practically from the convent, only to pass
from one discipline to another. The husband in high-burgherdom, as
well as in the more exalted class, likes to pick out his wife on the
very threshold of the world, so that he can have the moulding of her
unformed nature; so that no possible chance can be afforded her of
drawing her own conclusions on any subject. The horizon of the Belgian
_nouvelle-mariée_ is rigidly bound by her home, and the sole luminary
in her sky is her husband. She must bask on his smiles, or not at all.
And if the weather be cloudy, she must resign herself and believe
that rain is good for the garden of her soul. Presently the lesser
luminaries appear in the nursery, and then her cup of happiness is
indeed full; the fuller the happier!

“_Il ne me lâche pas d’une semelle!_” said an exasperated little lady
to us one day, referring to the devoted companionship of a typical
husband.

No wonder, when Monsieur Mérino flashed across the widening horizon of
Madame Koelen with comet-like brilliancy, that the poor little woman
should be thrilled and dazzled.

When, on the morning after her arrival, the papers announced an
intermittent bombardment of Antwerp, she screamed: “Ah, _par exemple_,
it is I who am glad not to be there!” without the smallest show of
anxiety on the score of the abandoned Koelen. We realized that, to
quote again our frank and charming friend: “_Ce n’était pas l’amour de
son mari qui l’étouffait!_” And when she next proceeded to hang on to
the telephone, and with many cackles and gurgles to hold an animated
conversation with the dashing Mérino, we began to hope that that
gentleman might not make his appearance at the Villino.

He did, however, next day; and, under pretence of visiting houses,
carried away the emancipated Madame Koelen for a prolonged motor
drive, leaving the three-months-old baby to scream itself into fits in
the attic room upstairs; she was tied into her crib while the little
_bonne_ promenaded the other two in the garden.

The Villino is a tender-hearted place, and the members of the
_famiglia_ vied with each other in endeavouring to assuage the agonies
of the youngest Miss Koelen, but nobody could provide the consolation
she required.

Madame Koelen and her _cavaliere servente_ returned for a late tea, no
whit abashed; indeed, extremely pleased with themselves. He had a great
deal to say in an assured and airy manner, and she hung on his words
with her broad smile and many arch looks from those brilliant opaque
red-brown orbs.

Monsieur Mérino was tall, quite good-looking; with a smooth olive face,
fair hair, and eyes startlingly blue, in contrast to the darkness of
his skin. He gave us a great deal of curious information. Summoned from
Antwerp, where he had a vague business, he was on his way to join the
Italian colours, but, calling on the Italian Ambassador in London, the
latter had given him leave to defer his departure for another ten days.
He was, therefore, able to devote his entire attention to the interests
of Madame Koelen, which he felt would be most reassuring to her husband.

We rather wondered why the Italian Ambassador to the Court of St.
James’s should occupy himself with the movements of a casual Italian
merchant _en route_ from Antwerp; or by what curious intermingling
of international diplomatic arrangements he should be able to give
military leave to a reservist; but we were too polite to ask questions.

Monsieur Mérino departed with many bows and scrapes and hand-shakes;
and Madame Koelen evidently found that existence by comet light was
worth having.

In the course of the evening she was very communicative on the subject
of this gentleman, and several anecdotes of his drollery on board ship
were imparted to us. She had found out that he was married--that was a
funny thing, _n’est-ce pas?_ She had always heard of him about Antwerp
as a bachelor.

“We thought he was a friend of your husband’s,” we faltered.

“Oh, a friend--a coffee-house acquaintance, _tout au plus_!...

“It was very droll. It came about this way. He was playing with little
Maddy, and I said to him: ‘Oh! the good Papa that you will make when
you marry.’ Judge of my astonishment when he looks at me and says: ‘I
am married already! Yes,’ he said, ‘I am married, and my wife lives
at Sorrento; I see her once in six weeks when I make my voyage of
business. _J’ai des idées sur le mariage,’ il dit, comme ça._”

These ideas she next began to develop.

“‘I do not think one ought to be bound,’ he says. ‘Do you not agree
with me, Madame, a man ought to be free?’ Oh, he was comic!”

“But,” we said, “we do not think that is at all nice.” The Villino is
very moral. Its shocked atmosphere instantly made itself felt on Madame
Koelen. Her bright eye became evasive.

“Of course I made him _la leçon_ at once. Ah! I very well made him
understand I do not approve of these _façons_. My husband teases me; I
am so serious, so rigid!”

Before we separated that evening she told us in a disengaged voice that
she would spend the next day in London. Monsieur Mérino could not rest,
it transpired, knowing her in such dangerous surroundings; so far from
a station, in a place so likely, from its isolated inland position, to
be the objective of the first German raid. He was, therefore, going
to occupy himself about another home for her; and at the same time he
would take the opportunity of conducting her to the Consul, for “it
seems,” she said, “that I shall have to pay a _grosse amende_ if I do
not go immediately in person to register myself in London.”

“But the baby,” we faltered.

“Oh, the baby!”--she flicked the objection from her--“the baby will get
on very well with Justine. Justine knows how to manage her.”

Justine was the minute _bonne_ who had tied the infant into the cot.

Then there was Monsieur Mérino. The more we thought of it, the less we
felt that Monsieur Mérino was to be trusted. Luridly our imagination
worked; we saw ourselves left with three small Koelens in perpetuity;
we pictured that baby screaming itself into convulsions. We thought
it quite probable that we might never hear of its Mama again. And
poor Papa Koelen, the brave Anversois Garde Civique, dodging bombs in
ignorance of the horrible happening!

The Master of the Villino was prevailed upon to speak; in fact, to
put his foot down. Next morning he spoke, and crushed the incipient
elopement with a firm metaphorical tread.

“Madame, this plan seems to be rash in the extreme. I cannot permit
it to take place from under my roof. I feel, justly or unjustly, a
mediocre confidence in Monsieur Mérino. You will, if you please, wire
to him that you are prevented from meeting him.”

Madame Koelen became very white, and though her opaque eyes flashed
fury, she gave in instantly; being a young Belgian wife, she was
accustomed to yield to masculine authority.

Again she hung on the telephone. We were too discreet to listen, but
radiance returned to her countenance.

After lunch she explained the cause. Next morning she and her whole
family would depart. Monsieur Mérino would himself convey them to
Brighton.

The mistress of the Villino is occasionally troubled with an
inconvenient attack of conscience--sometimes she wonders if it is only
the spirit of combativeness. In this instance, however, she felt it her
duty to warn Madame Koelen.

It was a brief but thrilling conversation. Madame Koelen, her eldest
little daughter on her knee, occasionally burying her handsome
countenance in the child’s soft hair, was as cool and determined, as
silky and evasive as a lusty young snake. She had a parry for every
statement; that she ate up her own words and manifestly lied from
beginning to end did not affect her equanimity in the least. It was the
Signora who was nonplussed. There is nothing before which the average
honest mind remains more helpless than the deliberate liar.

Monsieur Mérino was her husband’s oldest friend. He was intimate with
her whole family. She herself had known him for years. She was under
his charge by her husband’s wishes. She had probably been aware of
his marriage, but it had merely slipped her memory--not having his
wife with him in Antwerp made one forget it. He was perfectly right to
invite her young cousin to dine with him, since she had her brother to
chaperon her. Certainly the brother was grown up and able to chaperon
her! How extraordinary of us to imagine anything different!

“You are young, and you do not know life, my dear,” said the Signora at
last, succeeding in keeping her temper, though with difficulty.

Madame Koelen bit into Maddy’s curls. It was quite evident she meant
to know life. She had got her chance at last, and would not let it
escape.

“I do not think,” said the unhappy hostess, firing her final shot,
“that your husband would approve.”

The wife wheeled with a sudden savage movement, not unlike that of a
snake about to strike.

“_Ah, voilà qui m’est bien égal!_ That is my own affair!”

There was nothing more to be said. We wondered whether the Garde
Civique had ever had such a glimpse of the real Geneviève Koelen as had
just been revealed to us. Even to us it was startling.

An extraordinary hot afternoon it turned out. The sun was too blazing
for us to venture beyond the shadow of the house. We sat on the
terrace, and Madame Koelen wandered restlessly up and down, biting at a
rose. The master of the Villino suddenly appeared among us, all smiles.

“A telegram for you, Madame. I have just taken it down on the
telephone. It is from your husband. He is coming here to-day.”

He was very glad; it was the burden of responsibility lifted. Not so,
however, Madame Koelen.

“From my husband? How droll!”

She snapped the sheet of paper and walked away, conning it over.

We sat and watched her.

The garden was humming with heat. The close-packed heliotrope beds in
the Dutch garden under the library window were sending up gushes of
fragrance. In the rose-beds opposite, the roses--“General MacArthur,”
“Grüss aus Teplitz,” “Ulrich Brunner,” “Barbarossa” (we hope these
friendly aliens will soon be completely degermanized), crimson carmine,
velvet scarlet, glorious purple--seemed to be rimmed with gold in the
sun-blaze. It was a faultless sky that arched our world, and the moor,
already turning from silver amethyst to the ardent copper of the burnt
heather, rolled up towards it, like a sleeping giant wrapped in robes
of state.

On such a day the inhabitants of the Villino would, in normal times,
have found life very well worth living indeed; basking in the sun and
just breathing in sweetness, warmth, colour--aspiring beauty, if this
can be called living! But in war time the subconsciousness of calamity
is ever present. Inchoate apprehension of bad news from the front is
massed at the back of one’s soul’s horizon, so that one lives, as it
were, under the perpetual menace of the storm.

The wonderful summer was being rent, laid waste, somewhere not so
very far away; and the sun was shining, even as it was shining on
these roses, on blood outpoured--the best blood of England! In the
hot Antwerp streets, we pictured to ourselves some tired man going
to and fro; the weight of the gun on his shoulder, the weight of his
heavy heart in his breast; thinking of his wife and little children,
hunted exiles in a strange country, while duty kept him, their natural
protector, at his post in the fated city.

To have seen what we read on that young wife’s face would have been
horrible at any time: it was peculiarly at variance with the peace of
the golden afternoon, and the lovely harmony of the garden. But in view
of her country’s desolation and her husband’s share in its splendid and
hopeless defence, it was hideous. We do not even think she had the
dignity of a _grande passion_ for the fascinating Mérino; it was mere
vanity, the greed of a pleasure-loving nature free to indulge itself at
last. She was only bent on amusing herself, and the unexpected arrival
of her husband interfered with the little plan. Therefore she stood
looking at his message with a countenance of ugly wrath.

“_Ah, ça, qu’il est ennuyeux!_... What has taken him to follow me like
this?”

The thoughts were printed on her face.

“Is it not delightful?” said the guileless master of the Villino, who
never can see evil anywhere.

“Ah, yes, indeed,” said she; “delightful!”

She could no more put loyalty into her tone than into her features.

“Heaven help Koelen!” thought the Signora, and was heartily sorry for
the unknown, but how glad, how indescribably thankful, that the planned
expedition had been prevented!

Dramatically soon after his telegram Monsieur Koelen arrived--an
exhausted, pathetic creature. He had stood twelve hours in the steamer
because it was so packed with exiled humanity that there was not room
to sit down. He had exactly two hours in which to see his wife, having
to catch the night boat again from Harwich. He had given his word of
honour to return to Antwerp within forty-eight hours.

We did not, of course, witness the meeting, but it was a very, very
_piano_ Madame Koelen who brought Koelen down to tea; and it was a
cold, steely look which his tired eyes fixed upon her between their
reddened eyelids. Whether he really came to put his valuables in the
bank, whether he was driven by some secret knowledge or suspicion of
his wife’s character, we shall never know. We naturally refrained
from mentioning the name of Monsieur Mérino. The host deemed his
responsibility sufficiently met by a single word of advice:

“Madame is very young; we hope you will place her with people you know.”

Monsieur Mérino was mentioned, however, by the husband himself. It
transpired Madame owed him money. She wished to see him again to pay
him.

“I will pay him,” said Monsieur Koelen icily; “I will call at his hotel
on my way.”

Madame’s head drooped.

“_Bien, mon chéri_,” she murmured, in a faint voice.

In a turn of the hand, as they would have said themselves, her affairs
were arranged. She was to go to Eastbourne, under the care of some
elderly aunts, Monsieur Koelen presently announced.

We had thought he looked like a hunted hare. He had that expression
of mortal agony stamped on his face, which is often seen--more shame
for us!--on some poor dumb creature in terror for its life; but he had
still enough spirit in him to reduce Madame Koelen to abject submission.

We could see he was oppressed with melancholy: that his heart was
bursting over the children. We understood that this parting was perhaps
worse for him than those first rushed farewells.

He seemed scarcely to have arrived before he was gone again. The young
wife must have had some spark of feeling left--perhaps, after all,
under the almost savage desire for a fling she had a stratum of natural
affection, common loyalty--for she wept bitterly after his departure,
and, that night, for the first time, came into the little chapel and
prayed.

We met the nurse with the children in the garden, just as the father
was being driven away: a small, upright creature this, with flax-blue
eyes and corn-coloured hair, which she wore in plaits tightly wound
round her head. She did not look a day more than sixteen, but she had
the self-possession of forty; and possessed resource also, as was
demonstrated by her dealings with Baby.

“Monsieur is so sad. Madame is so sad, because of Antwerp, _n’est-ce
pas?_” she said to us, and by the sly look in those blue eyes we saw
that she was in her mistress’s confidence.

It was true that he was sad for Antwerp; if the word “sad” can be used
to describe that bleak despair which we have noticed in so many Belgian
men who have found shelter in this country.

“It is impossible that Antwerp should hold out,” he said to us; “the
spies and traitors have done their work too well. The spies are waiting
for them inside our walls. They know every nook in every fort, every
weak spot better than we do ourselves.”

That was mid September, and we put his opinion down to a very natural
pessimism. No one knew then of the concrete platform under the gay
little villa outside the walls, built by the amiable German family who
was so well known and respected at Antwerp; and we have since heard,
too, of the shells supplied by Krupp and filled with sand; and the last
Krupp guns made of soft iron, which crumpled up after the first shot.

Alas, he was justified in his gloomy prophecy! But we do not think
that it was as much the sense of national calamity that overwhelmed
him as the acute family anxiety. Yet, honest, good, severe, ugly
little man--worth a hundred plausible, handsome, lying scamps such as
Mérino--he was a patriot before all else! He would have had a very
good excuse, we think, for delaying another twelve hours to place his
volatile spouse in safety with the elderly relations at Eastbourne--but
he had given his word. Had he arrived at the Villino only to find that
she had tripped off to London, with that chance acquaintance of cafés,
Monsieur Mérino (to whose care he had in a distraught moment committed
her); had he thereafter been assailed by the most hideous doubts;
had he believed, as we did, that she meant to abandon husband and
babes at this moment of all others; or had he--scarcely less agonizing
surmise!--trembled for her, innocent and lost in London, the prey of a
villain, we yet believe that he would have kept his word.

“_J’ai donné ma parole d’honneur!_”

What a horrible, tragic story it might have been, fit for the pen of a
Maupassant! We shall never cease to be thankful that it did not happen.
That is why we are glad to have received Madame Koelen at the Villino.

       *       *       *       *       *

Our next refugees came to us quite by accident, and then only for a
meal. A home had already been prepared for them in the village, but the
excellent Westminster Canon, who seemed to be the channel through which
the stream of refugees was pouring to us, announced five, and casually
added a sixth at the last minute, with the result that the party were
not recognized at the station. The name of the Villino having become
unaccountably associated with every refugee that arrives in this part
of the world, the Van Heysts landed _en masse_ at our doors, demanded
to have their cab paid, and walked in.

We all happened to be out, and Juvenal, our eccentric butler,
acquiesced. Standing on one leg afterwards, he explained that, being
aware of our ways, he didn’t know, he was sure, but what we might have
meant to put them somewhere.

Weary, tragic creatures, we weren’t sorry, after all, to speed
them on their road! The three fair-haired children were fed with
bread-and-butter, and the young mother talked plaintively in broken
French, while the old grandfather nodded his head corroboratively.
But the father: he was like a creature cast in bronze--would neither
eat nor speak. He sat staring, his chin on his hand, absorbed in the
contemplation of outrage and disaster.

They were from Malines.

“And then, mademoiselle, it was all on fire, and the cannon were
sending great bombs; and we fled as quick as we could, _n’est-ce pas?_
I with the littlest one in my arms, and the other two running beside
me. For five hours we walked. Yes, mademoiselle, the two little girls,
they went the whole way on foot, and that one there always crying,
‘_Plus vite, maman! plus vite, maman!_’ and pulling at my apron.”

The young husband sat staring. Was he for ever beholding his little
house in flames, or what other vision of irredeemable misery? He
remains inconsolable. Poor fellow! he has heart disease; he thinks he
will never see his native land again. And there is yet another little
one expected. Alas! alas!

       *       *       *       *       *

Of quite another calibre are the Van Sonderdoncks; a very lively,
cheery family this! There are, of course, a grandpapa, a maiden aunt,
a couple of cousins, as well as the bustling materfamilias, the quaint
wizened papa, the well-brought-up Jeanne, who can embroider so nicely,
and the four little pasty boys with red hair and eyes like black beads.
They are comfortably established in a very charming house lent by a
benevolent lady, who also feeds them.

On the Signorina’s first visit she found Madame Van Sonderdonck in a
violent state of excitement. She had received such extraordinary things
in the way of provisions “_de cette dame_.” If mademoiselle would
permit it, she would like to show her something--but something--she
could not describe it; it was _trop singulier_. “One moment,
mademoiselle.”

She fled out of the room and returned with--a vegetable marrow!

She was rather disappointed to find that mademoiselle was intimately
acquainted with this freak of nature, which she surveyed from every
angle with intense suspicion and curiosity. Politeness kept her from
expressing her real feelings when she was assured of its excellence
cooked with cheese and onion and a little tomato in a flat dish, but
her countenance expressed very plainly that she was not going to risk
herself or her family.

Having failed to impress with the marrow, she repeated the effect with
sago. She had eaten it raw. Naturally, having thus become aware of its
real taste, she could not be expected to believe it would be palatable
in any guise. Nevertheless, she was indulgent to our eccentricities. If
anyone remembers the kind of amused, condescending interest that London
society took in the pigmies, when those unfortunate little creatures
were on show at parties a few years ago, they can form some idea of
Madame Van Sonderdonck’s attitude of mind towards England.

Good humour reigned in the family as we found it.

Though papa Sonderdonck had a bayonet thrust through his neck--he had
been in the Garde Civique--and they had already had a battle-royal with
the Belgian family who shared the house, they seemed to view the whole
situation as a joke. As they had routed their fellow refugees--the
latter only spoke Flemish, Madame Van Sonderdonck only French, and an
interpreter had to be found to convey mutual abuse--and furthermore
obtained in their place the sister-in-law and the two cousins,
unaccountably left out of the batch, they had some substantial reasons
for satisfaction.

       *       *       *       *       *

Monsieur and Madame Deens are once more of the heart-rending order.
She, a pathetic creature always balanced between tears and smiles, with
pale blue eyes under her braided soft brown hair, looks extraordinarily
young to be the mother of two strapping children. He is the typical
Belgian husband, devoted but grinding.

Our first visit there was painful. Madame Deens was like a bewildered
child, and the husband, a stalwart handsome fellow, who had been chief
engineer on the railway at Malines, was torn between a very natural
indignation at finding himself beggared after years of honest hard
work, and bitter anxiety about his wife, who was in the same condition
as Madame Van Heyst.

He beckoned us outside the cottage to tell us in a tragic whisper that
he had good reason to believe that “all, all the family of my wife,”
her father, mother, and the invalid sister, had been murdered by the
Germans; and their farm burned.

“How can I tell her, and she as she is? It will kill her too! And she
keeps asking me and asking me! I shall have to tell her!”

The tears rolled down his cheeks. Yet he was a hard man; it galled
him to the quick to be employed as a common labourer and receive only
seventeen shillings a week.

They had been given a gardener’s house: the most charming, quaint
abode. It had an enormous kitchen, with a raftered ceiling, and one
long window running the whole length of the room, opening delightfully
on the orchard. The walls were all snowy white. He might have made
himself very happy in such surroundings for the months of exile, with
the consciousness of friends about him, the knowledge of safety and
care for the wife in her coming trial, and the splendid healthy air for
the children. But Deens was not satisfied.

“I had just passed my examinations, _n’est-ce pas?_ monsieur, madame,
and had received my advancement, and we had just got into the little
house I had built with my savings. Now it is burnt--burnt to the
ground. And these wages, for a man like me, mademoiselle, it is
something I cannot bring myself to. _Je ne puis pas m’y faire, savez
vous._”

“But Madame Deens is so well here, and we will look after her,” said
Mademoiselle.

“Ah, but I could earn more money elsewhere! I might have something to
bring back to my own country.”

Of course he has had his way. A bustling lady got him into a motor
factory, and he dragged his weeping but resistless spouse to a townlet,
where they are lodged in one room; where the only person we could
think of to interest in their favour was the old parish priest, who
turned out to be queer in his head, but where Deens is in receipt of
thirty-two shillings a week. We are sure that what can be saved is
being saved for the _retour au pays_, and meanwhile the poor little
woman’s hour of trouble is approaching, and she must get through it as
best she can, unbefriended. We feel anxious.

Before she left, with many tears, she gave the Signorina, who had
sympathized with her, the only gift she could contrive out of her
destitution. It was the youngest child’s little pair of wooden shoes!



III

OUR MINISTERING ANGELS

    “Chi poco sa, presto lo dice!”

              _Wisdom of Nations._


Of course we are not behindhand in our village in the Red Cross
movement.

Nearly every woman, whatever her views, fancies herself nowadays
in the rôle of ministering angel. It may be doubted whether an
existence devoted to the Tango and its concomitants has been a useful
preparation for a task which demands the extreme of self-devotion;
and we have heard odd little tales of how a whole body of charming
and distinguished amateurs rushed into the cellars at the whiz of a
shell, abandoning their helpless patients; and how the fair chief of a
volunteer ambulance staff fainted at the sight of the first wounded man.

Yet there may be many, even among what is odiously called “the smart
set,” who only find their true vocation at such a moment as this, when
unsuspected qualities, heroic capacities spring into life at the
test. It is not enough to say that times of great calamity sift the
good from the bad, the strong from the futile: they give the wasters
in every class of life their chance of self-redemption--in numberless
instances not in vain. While freely admitting, however, that there may
be a good proportion of society women who are drawn to work among the
wounded by a genuine desire to help, and have therefore taken care to
qualify themselves for the task, who can deny that with others nursing
is merely a new form of excitement, the last fashionable craze? It was
the same in the South African War. Indeed, the episode of the wounded
soldier who put up a little placard with the inscription, “Much too ill
to be nursed to-day,” has, we see, been revived in connection with the
present conflict. It may be taken as the classic expression of Tommy’s
feelings towards this particular form of attention. We do not suppose,
however, that the case of the tender-hearted but unenlightened lady who
went about Johannesburg feeding the enteric patients with buns will
be allowed to repeat itself at Boulogne or Calais. We well remember
reading her letter to the papers, in which she innocently vaunted her
fatal ministrations, inveighing against the monstrous fashion in which
“our poor sick soldiers” were being starved. We believe eleven victims
of her charity died.

A late distinguished general had a genial little anecdote anent the
energies of a batch of fair nurses who landed in Egypt during the last
campaign. Happening to go round the hospital one morning shortly after
their arrival, he saw one of these enchanting beings, clad in the most
coquettish of nursing garbs, bending over a patient.

“Wouldn’t it refresh you if I were to sponge your face and hands, my
man?” she inquired, in dulcet tones.

The patient, who was pretty bad, rolled a resigned but exhausted glance
at her.

“If you like, mum. It’s the tenth time it’s been done this morning!”

Perhaps, like the war itself, everything is on too tremendous a scale
now to permit of such light-hearted playing with the dread sequels of
combat. We can no more afford to make a game of nursing than a game of
fighting in this world struggle. It is possible that only such of our
_mondaines_ as have the necessary knowledge and devotion are permitted
to have charge of those precious lives, and that the others confine
themselves to post-cards and coffee-stalls, and dashing little raids
into the firing-lines with chocolates and socks. We trust it may be so.
We confess that what we ourselves beheld of the local amateur Red Cross
fills us with some misgiving.

Of course, as has been said, being a very enlightened community, we
were not going to be left behind. A special series of lectures was
announced almost within a week of the declaration of war. The daughter
of the household determined to join.

On her arrival, a little late, at the village hall, she was met by
the secretary of the undertaking; a charming and capable young lady,
looking, however, at this particular moment distraught to the verge of
collapse.

“Oh, _do_ you know anything about home nursing? _Do_ you think you
could teach a little class how to take temperatures? You could easily
pick up what you want to learn afterwards, couldn’t you? There are such
a lot of them, and they’re all so, so----” She substituted “difficult
to teach” for the word trembling on her lips. “Nurse Blacker doesn’t
know which way to turn.”

“Oh, I can certainly teach them to take temperatures,” said the
Signorina. Nurses, like poets, are born, not made; and she is of those
who have the instinct how to help. Besides this she has had experience.

She was disappointed, however. She had come to learn, not to teach. It
seemed to her, moreover, almost inconceivable that any female who had
arrived at years of discretion and was of normal intellect should not
be able to take a temperature; but she swallowed her feelings, after
the example of the secretary, and went briskly in to begin her task.

She was provided with a jug of warm water, several thermometers, and
a row of various women, ranging from the spinster of past sixty to
the red-cheeked sixteen-year old daughter of the local vet--who ought
to have known how to take a temperature, if it was only a dog’s!
There were also two fluttering beribboned summer visitors from the
neighbouring hotel; these were doing the simple life, with long motor
veils and short skirts and a general condescending enthusiasm towards
our wild moorland scenery, which they were fond of qualifying as “too
sweet!”

“Perhaps,” said the secretary to the Signorina as she hurried away,
“you could teach them to take a pulse also. They can practise on each
other. It would be _such_ a help.”

The Signorina felt a little shy. It did seem somewhat presuming for
anything so young as she was to be instructing people who were all,
with the exception of the vet’s daughter, considerably older, and,
therefore, obviously considerably richer in experience than herself.
It added to her embarrassment that the summer visitors should fix two
pairs of rapt eyes upon her with the expression of devotees listening
to their favourite preacher.

However, she summoned her wits and her courage, and gave a brief
exposition of the mysteries of thermometer and pulse, patiently
repeating herself, while the students took copious notes. Certainly
there was something touching in this humble ardour for useful
knowledge. Then the thrilling moment of practice began.

The spinster first monopolized the instructress’s attention. Her white
hairs and her years entitled her to precedence.

“Of course,” she remarked, with the air of one whose scientific
education has not been altogether neglected, as she balanced her
thermometer over the jug, “the water won’t really make it go up, will
it, no matter how hot it is?”

The Signorina did not think she could have understood.

“I mean,” said the maiden lady, waving the little tube, “it’s not heat
that will ever make the thermometer go up. It’s fever, isn’t it?”

“But fever is heat,” mildly asserted the “home-nurse.”

“Oh no, I don’t mean _that_” said the spinster loftily. “Of course, I
know you’re hot with fever; but it’s something _in_ you, isn’t it, that
affects the thermometer? It wouldn’t go up, even if I put it on the
stove, would it?”

“Put it into the jug and try,” said the Signorina, who did not believe
that language would be much use here.

“Oh, I think,” interpolated a summer guest who was much impressed by
the spinster’s grasp of the situation, “I’d rather try my thermometer
on my cousin, please! I think one would learn better. It would be more
like hospital practice, wouldn’t it?”

The spinster turned from the jug with alacrity.

“I’m sure you are right,” she cried. Then wheeling on her neighbour:
“Oh, would you mind?” she pleaded.

The neighbour, a tailor-made lady with a walking-stick, who looked
on with a twisted smile--we suspect she was a suffragette, pandering
to the weakness of a world distracted from the real business of
life--submitted to be made useful. Her smile became accentuated.

“Shouldn’t mind if it was a cigarette,” she remarked in a deep bass,
and thereafter was silent, while the spinster laboriously prepared to
take two minutes on her watch.

“Please, dear child,” cried one of the motor-veiled ladies in her
impassioned tone of interest, “will you explain to me again, what is
normal? _I’d better take it out, dear! There’s no use doing it wrong,
is there?_ You said something about a little red line--or is that for
fever? How silly I am--red would be for fever, wouldn’t it? No? _Red
is normal, darling. Oh, I do hope you’re normal!_ What did you say,
ninety-eight, point four? I never could do arithmetic and I’m so
stupid. My husband always says--_doesn’t he, Angela?_--‘You won’t do
much adding up, Birdie’--he calls me ‘Birdie,’--‘but I can trust you to
subtract all right,’ dear, naughty fellow! He loves me to spend, you
know, _doesn’t he, Angela?_ Oh dear, it hasn’t moved at all! Is that
very bad? _Angela, darling!_”

“But you didn’t leave it in two minutes,” said the persevering teacher.
“Supposing you were to put it in your mouth now, and your cousin were
to take you?”

“Will you, Angela?” The summer visitor’s eyes became pathetic. “I’m
sure I’ve been feeling quite dreadful with all this anxiety.”

“Your temperature,” said the spinster triumphantly to the suffragette,
“is a hundred and twenty-eight.”

The Signorina started.

“But that’s quite impossible! Look here, let me show you. It won’t mark
over a hundred and ten.”

For the first time the spinster was flustered.

“Oh, perhaps I read it wrong! Let me look again.”

After much fumbling and peering she became apologetic.

“I see I did make a mistake. It’s twenty-six.”

“Perhaps,” said the little lecturer hopelessly, “if I just went over
the readings of the thermometer with you all once more----”

But she was interrupted.

“Would you mind”--the harassed secretary seized her by the elbow--“would
you mind coming to superintend the bed-making? I’ve got to take the
bandage class, and Nurse Blacker can’t really manage more than twenty
with the compresses.”

The whole room was full of the clapper of excited female tongues.
The Signorina was not sorry to leave the jug of warm water and the
extraordinary fluctuating temperatures. She was followed by the summer
visitors, motor veils and ribbons flying.

As she left, a cheerful, red-faced lady was heard to announce casually,
as she dropped the fat wrist of the veterinary’s daughter, that there
was no use her trying to take that pulse, as the girl hadn’t got any.

The clamorous group surrounded the camp-bed, upon which was stretched
a sardonic boy-scout, fully clothed, down to his clumping boots. He
was aged about twelve, and assisted in the education of the “lidies”
by commenting from time to time on their efforts in hoarse tones of
cynicism. After one impulsive neophyte had seemed to be practising
tossing him in a blanket, he remarked into space: “Nurses are not
suppowsed to move the pytient.”

And to another who jerked his heels up: “Down’t you forget, miss, I’m a
bad caise!”

The Signorina had never been taught how to make beds in the true
hospital fashion before, and was painstakingly absorbed in the
intricacies of rolling sheets without churning the “bad caise,” when
she was seized upon by one of the flutterers from the hotel.

“We’re going now; it’s been _so_ interesting, we _have_ enjoyed it. I
shan’t forget all you told me about temperatures. I feel quite able to
look after our dear fellows already. Oh! I _must_ tell you. You’ve got
such a sympathetic face. I’m sure you will understand. I had a most
_wonderful_ revelation the other day, in church--in London, you know.
I had such an extraordinary feeling--just as if something came over
me--and I thought the church was full of dead soldiers; and a voice
seemed to say to me: ‘Pray.’ I felt quite uplifted. And then in a
minute it was all gone. Wasn’t it wonderful? That kind of thing makes
one feel so _strong_, doesn’t it? Oh, I knew you would understand.
The last news is _very_ disquieting, isn’t it? What a darling little
fellow!”

The “bad caise” scowled at her horribly; but the sweetness of her smile
was quite unimpaired, as she fluttered out of the hall.

       *       *       *       *       *

“It is very important,” said Nurse Blacker to the compress class, “that
the nurse should wash her hands before touching the patient’s wounds.”

“Now, tell me, Sister,” interposed a meek voice, “is that precaution
for the nurse’s sake or for the patient’s? I mean, I suppose it’s in
case the nurse should incur any infection from the wound?”

This point of view--that of the White Queen in “Alice Through the
Looking-Glass”--had not apparently struck Nurse Blacker before.

It all seems too ridiculous to be true, but yet the facts are here set
down as they actually occurred.

We think there are a good many women about the world of the type of the
spinster and her sisters, and we are also convinced that it would be
quite impossible to succeed in impressing upon such minds even the most
rudimentary notions of nursing; yet it is likely enough they may all
have been granted certificates eventually. Professionals are dreadfully
bored in dealing with amateurs, and are often glad to take the shortest
road to deliverance.

We were once witness, in pre-war days, of the examination of a Red
Cross class in the north of England. There was a weary doctor on the
platform with a bag of bones; and a retired hospital nurse, very
anxious to be on good terms with the delightful family who were the
chief organizers of the movement, had charge of the “show.”

The doctor gave a brief address upon dislocation. It ran somewhat in
this fashion.

“Dislocation is the misplacement of a joint. It is indicated by the
symptoms of swelling, redness, pain, and inability to move the limb.
There is no crepitation as in a fracture. As to treatment: my advice to
you, ladies, when you meet a case of this kind, is--ahem--to leave it
severely alone and to send for a medical man.”

The class took copious notes. The doctor dropped the two bones with
which he had been demonstrating into the bag again, leant back in his
chair and closed his eyes. His part of the transaction was concluded.
It had been most illuminating, the ladies agreed, and the Signorina’s
chauffeur, who has a yearning towards general self-improvement,
remarked to her on the way home:

“Ow”--like the boy scout, he has a theatrically cockney accent--“I
am glad to know what to do for discollation. I’d never studied that,
loike, before.”

While the doctor leant back and rested, the hospital nurse examined
each student privately on the subject of the previous instructions. The
Signorina happened to be quite close to a little old lady with bonnet
and strings, and a small, eager, withered, agitated face under bands
of frizzled grey hair--the kind of little old lady who is always ready
to respond to the call of duty, and who is in the van of knitters for
“our dear, brave soldiers” or “our gallant tars.”

“What,” said the hospital nurse tenderly, “would you do for a bed-sore?”

The little old lady began to twitter and flutter:

“I would first wash the place with warm water, and--oh, dear me, dear
me, I _did_ know, I knew quite well a minute ago--with, with something
to disinfect.”

“It is something to disinfect, quite right,” approved the nurse.

“A salt, I think--I’m sure it was. I could get it at the chemist----”

“Certainly,” said the nurse, as if she were speaking to a child of two
years old, “the chemist would be sure to keep it. It’s quite a simple
thing. But you would have to know what to ask for, wouldn’t you?”

“Oh, dear me, yes. P--p-- or did it begin with an I?”

“Perchloride of mercury,” said the nurse, smothering a yawn.

“Oh yes,” cried the little old lady, delighted, “that’s it.”

“Well, now you know it, don’t you,” said the nurse brightly, wrote
“Passed” in her notebook, and turned to the next.

“How much liquid nourishment would you give a typhoid patient at a
time?”

This to a village girl, who looked blank, not to say terrified, and
wrung her hands in her lap.

“I mean,” helped the questioner, “if the patient were put on milk--a
milk diet, very usual in typhoid cases--how much milk would you give at
a time?”

The girl’s face lit up.

“Two quarts, miss,” she said with alacrity.

“Not at a time, I think,” corrected the examiner, quite unruffled. “Two
quarts, perhaps, in the twenty-four hours, if you could get the patient
to take it--that would be splendid. Typhoid is a very weakening malady.
It’s a good thing to keep the strength up--if you _can_, you know.”

The Signorina heard this optimist make her report a little later to the
charming daughter of the charming family, who had herself studied to
good purpose, but was too modest to undertake the instructions.

“They’ve all answered beautifully. Look at my notebook----”

It was “Passed,” “Passed,” to every name.

“That _is_ good,” said the gratified organizer. “We _have_ done well
to-day.”

       *       *       *       *       *

No doubt one occasionally comes across odd specimens even among
professionals. Certainly, during a long illness with which the Signora
was afflicted a couple of years ago, three of the five nurses who
succeeded each other in attendance upon her cannot be said to have
lightened the burthen.

The first, sent for at eleven o’clock at night, distinguished herself
by instantly upsetting a basin of hot water into the patient’s bed.
As she repeated the process next night, and greeted the accident with
shrieks of laughter, it could scarcely be regarded as the exceptional
breach which proves the rule of excellence.

The Signora, who was not supposed to be moved at all, has, fortunately,
the sense of humour which helps one along the troublesome way of
life, in sickness as in health. She laughed too. The nurse, who was
an Irishwoman, immediately thought herself rather a wag. She was a
little, vivacious creature, ugly, but bright-eyed. She was extremely
talkative, and perhaps the most callous person the Signora has ever
come across. It is our experience that all nurses are talkative. If the
patient wants to make life endurable at all, the talk must be guided
into the least disagreeable channels.

The Signora’s dread is the tale of operations--“of practice in the
theatre,” which one of the nurses of her youth told her she considered
“an agreeable little change.”--This particular Dorcas’s favourite topic
was deathbeds. The patient was quite aware that the supreme experience
was a not at all impossible event for herself in the near future,
so she had a certain personal interest in the matter. Anyhow, she
permitted the discourse.

She heard at full length the narration of Nurse MacDermott’s first
deathbed in private nursing. It was a horrible anecdote, which might
have formed a chapter in a realistic novel. “A gentleman at Wimbledon
it was,” evidently of the well-to-do merchant class, and he seemed,
poor man! to have been the unhappy father of a family as cold-blooded
and heartless as the wife in Tolstoi’s painful story of death. But
here there was no one to care, not even a poor servant lad--not even
the nurse whose vocation it was to help him through the final agony.
She arrived at ten o’clock, and at eleven the doctor warned the family
that the patient would not pass the night. Thereupon everyone--the
wife, two daughters, and a son--retired to bed, and left the dying
man in charge of the newly arrived attendant, who sat down to watch,
reading a novel. About two o’clock the moribund began to make painful
efforts to speak.

“Charlie, Charlie,” he kept saying.

“Ah, the poor fellow!” said the little nurse, as she recounted
the story, “he had a son who was a scapegrace, it seems, off away
somewhere, and he wanted to send him a message. I ran and called the
wife out of her bed--what do you think? She’d put her hair in crimpers!
Upon my word, she had; they were bristling all round the head of her.
Well, I didn’t want to have him die on me while I was out of the room,
so I rushed back. And he made signs to me. The power of speech was
gone from him. He wanted to write. I had a bit of pencil, but there
wasn’t a scrap of paper that I could see, so there was nothing I could
give him but the fly-leaf of the book I was reading; and ah! the poor
fellow, it was only scrawls he could make after all. And sure, he was
dead before his wife came in. And she just gave one look at him, and,
‘I’m going back to bed,’ says she, and back to bed she went. But it was
the hair-curlers that did for me. I never can forget them.”

She was sitting at the end of the Signora’s bed, and doubled herself up
with laughter as she spoke. We have no doubt but that she went back to
her novel, scrawled with the dying father’s last futile effort.

We never knew anyone quite so frankly unmoved by the awful scenes it
was her trade to witness. She found vast amusement in the wanderings
of delirious patients. Whenever she wanted to cheer the other nurses
up, she informed us, in the Home where they dwelt together, she could
always make them laugh with little anecdotes from the typhoid ward; and
the “wanderings” from the different beds.

She tried to cheer the Signora up on these lines; and the Signora,
on wakeful nights, has to force her mind away from the “humorous”
memories. She infinitely preferred the story of Nurse McDermott’s
love affairs. Like many ugly people, the young woman believed herself
irresistible, and paid a great deal of attention to the conservation
of her charms. Once, having settled her patient for the night, she
reappeared unexpectedly _en robe de chambre_.

“I have just come to tell you how many creams I have put on myself,”
she cried to the bewildered lady. “I know it will amuse you! There’s
the pomade for my hair, and Valaze for my face, and the lanoline for my
neck. I do hate the mark of the collar--for evening dress, you know--it
gives one away so! And there’s the salve for my lips, and the cold
cream for my hands, and the polish for my nails----”

She went away in a hurry to a bad case at Liphurst, jubilating because
we were paying her journey, and she would get it out of the other lady
also, and the doctor had offered to send her in his car.

Of quite another type was Nurse Vischet. No one could say that she was
unaffected by her patient’s symptoms. They had the power of flinging
her into frenzy. Capable enough when things were going fairly well with
her charge, the first shadow of a change for the worse produced in her
what can only be described as fury. Her face would become convulsed,
her eyes would flame, she would knock the furniture about as she moved,
and could barely restrain herself from insulting the sufferer.

At first the Signora, who was very ill and weaker than it is possible
to describe, could not at all understand these outbursts. “What can
have annoyed Nurse?” she would wonder feebly to herself. But presently
she understood. It was really a mixed terror of, and repulsion from,
the sight of suffering. Why such a woman should have become a nurse,
and how she could continue in the service of the sick, feeling as she
did, remains a mystery. The key to her extraordinary behaviour was
given one day by a little dog, who happened to be seized with a very
common or garden fit of choking through the nose; such as affects
little dogs with slight colds in their heads. Nurse Vischet started
screaming.

“He’s all right,” said the Signora. “He only wants his nose rubbed.
Carry him over to me if you won’t do it yourself.”

“Ugh!” shrieked Nurse Vischet. “I think it’s dying. I wouldn’t touch it
for the world!”

One of the symptoms of the human patient’s illness were agonizing
headaches, during which she could scarcely bear a ray of light in
the room. In spite of frequent requests, Nurse Vischet always seized
the occasion to turn the ceiling electric light full on the bed, and
when at last forbidden to do so, she declined to enter a room in
which she could not see her way. The Signora gave her the name of
her “ministering devil.” She was a rabid Socialist, and had peculiar
theories, one of which we remember was that condemned criminals should
be handed over to the laboratories for vivisection.

She had also to an acute degree the hospital nurse’s capacity for
upsetting the household. Our butler, a hot-tempered man, happened to
drop a stray “damn” in the hearing of the under-housemaid, and Vischet,
hanging on the landing over the kitchen regions, as she was fond of
doing, overheard the dread word. The whole establishment was turned
upside down. Maggie was told that she “owed it to her womanhood” not to
allow foul language in her presence. Maggie gave notice, but being,
after all, an Irish girl with a sense of humour, was as easily soothed
down as she had been worked up. Certainly, however, if we had kept
Nurse Vischet, we should have lost, one by one, our excellent staff of
servants. Besides playing on their feelings against each other, she had
a horrible trick of telling them they were at the last gasp upon the
smallest ailment. She did not like her patient to have symptoms; but
she encouraged the domestics to fly to her with theirs.

Irish Maggie had an indigestion. Vischet declared her condition to be
of extreme gravity. She rushed to the Signora with her tale. Maggie was
ordered to bed. Vischet produced an immense tin of antiphlogistine with
which to arrest “the mischief.”

The daughter of the house went up to visit the sick girl, and came down
laughing to console her mother.

“You needn’t worry about Maggie,” she said, and gave a pleasant little
description of the scene and the invalid’s remarks.

“Ah, sure I’m all right, miss. It’s all along of a bit of green apple.
Sure, Mrs. MacComfort has just given me a drop of ginger, and it’s
done me a lot of good already. Do you see what Nurse is after bringing
me? God bless us all, wouldn’t I rather die itself than be spreading
that putty on me! I’ll be up for tea, miss.”

“She looks as rosy as possible,” went on the comforter, “and ever so
nice with her hair in a great thick plait tied with ribbons, grass
green, for Ireland.”

Through one recollection Vischet will always remain endeared to the
mind of her victim; and that was for her singular pronunciation. There
was a story to which the Signora was fond of leading up relating to
por-poises, (pronounced to rhyme with noises), and another connected
with a tor-toise, which happened to be the pet of a recent “case.”
There was also a little tale of a dog: “I was out walking on the
embankment,” said Vischet, “and I saw a man coming along leading
two dogs--one was a great bulldog, and the other was one of those
queer creatures you call a dashun” (the Signora prides herself on
her intelligence for instantly discovering that the narrator meant a
dachshund). “And there was running about loose the queerest animal ever
I saw,” went on the nurse; “it had the head of a bulldog and the legs
of a dashun.”

The third nurse was very different. The daughter of an officer, who was
seeking the most genteel way to make her living, she frankly handed
over the chief of the attendance to the Signora’s own devoted maid;
which, on the Signora becoming aware of her incapacity, she was on the
whole glad that she should do. Nurse Fraser was a tall, handsome girl,
who was fond of sitting on the sofa at the foot of the patient’s bed,
her hands clasped round her knees, staring into space. She was by no
means unamiable, but she was bored; and the Signora, who rather liked
her, was not averse to screening her deficiencies. When the doctor
inquired after the temperature that had never been taken, she herself
would declare it had been normal; and she was amused when Nurse Fraser
would next vouch for a “splendid breakfast.” She not having appeared in
her patient’s room till noon.

She made no attempt to conceal her complete inefficiency in the
treatment of the case.

“Oh, _do_ tell me what I’m to do,” she had cried on arrival to the
district nurse who had come in as a stopgap. “I’m sure if I ever knew
anything about the illness I’ve quite forgotten.”

One day--she, too, was garrulous--she informed her patient that her
mother had shares in Kentish Mines. “If ever they work out, we may get
a lot of money, and then,” she cried, quite unconscious of offence, “no
more beastly sick people for me!”

She left us in tears. She had enjoyed herself very much.

It would seem as if our experience had been unfortunate, and yet it is
not so; for surely to have known two perfect nurses one after another
is sufficient to re-establish the balance. Chief of these, first and
dearest, was Nurse Dove. She was the district nurse, called in, as we
have said, in a moment of emergency. How Miss Nightingale would have
loved her! Blessed little creature, it was enough to restore anybody’s
heart to see her come into the sick-room, quiet, capable, tender, her
eyes shining with compassion for the sufferer and eagerness to relieve.
She was as gentle as she was skilful: to anyone who did not know her
it would be impossible to convey the extent of the virtue contained
in this phrase. The Signora would have placed herself, or, what
means a great deal more, her nearest and dearest, with the completest
confidence in her hands alone, in any dangerous illness.

Among the poor she was an apostle. It seemed to have been her fate
that, during her brief stay in our village, several young mothers found
themselves in mortal extremity. She never lost a life. We think now
with longing of what she would have been among the wounded. Alas! we
were not destined to keep such perfection with us. It was Cupid, not
death, that robbed us of this treasure--if Cupid, indeed, it can be
called, the dingy, doubtful imp that took her away from her wonderful
work among us. Alas! charming, devoted, exquisite being as she was, she
had a very human side. We fear there was a touch of “pike,” as the old
gardener had it, in the business, but in spite of all our efforts a
“coloured gentleman,” an invalid to boot, a shifty elderly fellow with
an Oriental glibness of tongue, carried her off away with him back to
India. She has since written to us describing her palatial abode on the
borders of a lake with a horde of servants and a private steam-launch,
but we strongly suspect that if the pen was the pen of Nurse Dove, the
words were the words of the coloured gentleman.

The individual was a Baboo, a clerk in the Madras Post Office, and had
already been invalided out of the service before he left England. We
cannot believe that the pension of an underling in the Indian Civil
Service runs to these Rajah-like splendours. Moreover, there was a
tragic little postcard, sent to a humble friend, which did not at all
correspond with the highflown letter above-mentioned: “The world is a
very sad place; we must all be prepared for disappointments.”

There is one thing quite certain--wherever she goes she will be doing
good.

Curiously enough, the second perfect nurse resembled her in dark pallor
of skin, splendour of raven tresses, and thoughtful brilliance of brown
eyes; but she was younger and more timid. She will want a few more
years of experience and self-reliance before she can develop into a
Nurse Dove.

But nevertheless, resembling her in countenance, she had the same
deep womanly heart for her patients. Suffering in their sufferings,
she would spare no pains to relieve them. And she had the touch of
imaginative genius and the courage to act on her own responsibility
which made her presence in a house of sickness a comfort and a
strength. In fact, the life was to her a vocation. She nursed to help
others, not herself. She had not grown callous through the sight of
agonies, only more urgent to be of use.

God send many such to our men in their need to-day!



IV

“CONSIDER THE LILIES”

    “For the first time the Lamb shall be dyed red....”

                          _Brother Johannes’ Prophecy._


“Consider the lilies, how they grow....”

The sad thing is that with us they decline to grow. When we bought the
small, high-perched house and grounds on the Surrey hills there is
no doubt that the thought of lilies in those terraced gardens was no
unimportant part of the programme. Oddly, the little house had from the
first an Italian look, which we have not been slow to cultivate.

Now we were haunted by a picture of an Italian garden: a
pergola--vine-covered, it was--with two serried ranks of Madonna
lilies growing inside the arches; flagged as to pathway, with probably
fragrant tufts of mint and thyme between the stones. In the land of its
conception this vision of shadowy green and exquisite white, cool yet
shining, as if snow-fashioned, must have given upon some stretch of
quivering, heat-baked country.

Without being able to provide such an antithesis, the
garden-plotter--she means the dreadful quip--otherwise the mistress of
the English Villino, with a vivid and charming picture in her mind’s
eye, fondly imaged a very effective outlook upon the great shouldering
moors that rise startlingly across the narrow valley at the bottom of
her garden. But the lilies refused to grow.

She tried them in border after border. She set clumps of Auratums under
the dining-room between the heliotrope and the Nicotianas, which swing
such gushes of fragrance into the little house all the hot summer days.
She got monster bulbs of Madonnas from the first specialist in the
kingdom, and put them singly between the red and white roses against
the upper terrace wall. She ran amok upon luscious spotted darlings;
Pardelinum and Monadelphum, Polyphyllum and Parryi, and had them placed
in a cool, shady walk against a background of delphiniums. She thrust
Harrisi under the drawing-room bow; and the glorious scarlet-trumpeted
Thunbergianum where they would flame in the middle distance. They
showed many varied forms of disapproval, but were unanimous in
declining to remain with us. Some were a little more polite than
the others. The great trumpets blew fiercely for one season, almost
as with a sound of glorious brass, in their dim nook; and a single
exquisite, perfect stem of Krameri rose intact amid a dying sisterhood,
and swayed, delicately proud, faintly flushed, a very princess among
flowers, one long, golden September fortnight. But such meteors only
make our persistent gloom, where lilies are concerned, the more signal.

The pergola had to go the way of so many cherished dreams. Yet there is
an exception. With just an occasional threat of disease, there is one
border favoured by the tiger-lily. She is not a very choice creature,
of course; she has neither the fragrance nor the mystic grace of her
cousins; but such as she is, she is welcome in our midst. On our third
terrace there is a stretch of turf, curved outwards like a half-moon,
against a new yew hedge: we call it the Hemicycle. In spring it is a
jocund pleasaunce for crocus and scylla and flowering trees--almond,
_Pyrus floribunda_, and peach; in summer the weeping standards hold
the field, set between the pots of climbing geraniums. That is on the
outward curve. A rough wall, overhung with Dorothy Perkins, clothed
from the base with Rêve d’Or, runs straightly on the inner side. It is
in the border underneath this wall that the tiger-ladies condescend to
us.

Last year, by a somewhat accidental development of seeds, we had a
marvellous post-impressionist effect along the line, for all the stocks
there planted, between the Tigrinum, turned out to be purple and mauve.
They grew tall, with immense heads of bloom: drawn up by the wall, we
think. Over the orange and violet row the Dorothy Perkins showered
masses of vivid pink. A narrow ribbon of bright pale yellow violas ran
between the border and the turf. To connect this mass of startling
colour, an intermediate regiment of lavender-bushes and the cream hues
of the Rêve d’Or roses against their grey-green foliage acted very
successfully. It is not a scheme that one would perhaps have tried
deliberately, but we could not regret it. It does one good sometimes to
steep the senses in such a fine tangle of elementary colour. The shock
is bracing, as of a sea wave; like the march of a military band, we
could enjoy it, in the open air and sunshine, just where it was placed;
away from the house, with its distant background of fir-trees and moors.

Yet it is a mistake to use the word “post-impressionist” in connection
with our border; for that movement, with all its pretended revival of
the old pagan spirit of joy, was only an effort to conceal fundamental
misery. The tango is no dance of gods and nymphs, but a dreadful
merry-go-round of lost souls. The post-impressionist painting is not
a flag of radiant defiance--youth challenging the unbelieved gloom of
life--but a kind of outbreak as of disease: something spotty, fungoid,
shaped like germs under the microscope.

Let us come back to the lilies. Come out of the fever-room into the
garden.

We once tried to make a field of lilies. Our lowest garden has a
different kind of soil fortunately from the greensand which makes the
upper terrace beds such rapacious devourers of manure and fertilizers,
and all the other necessary and unfragrant riches. The Signora took
thought with herself and made a kind of nursery plantation at one end
of the vegetable garden, to the meek despair of our gardener, who,
like all other gardeners, cherishes a cabbage-patch with a passionate
preference. She invested in a good three thousand bulbs, among others,
hundreds of Candidums. Was it a punishment for her extravagance? Many
years of life and experience have taught her that where we sin we are
punished, by as inevitable a law as that of cause and effect. Or was it
just the cursed spite of those wandering devils who, Indian and Irish
folk alike believe, are always hovering ready to pounce upon success?
Whether justice or malice, it is immaterial; the result was disaster.
They had sent up straight spikes of vivid green, untouched by a trace
of the horrible bilious complexion that bespeaks the prevalent disease,
when the May frost came and laid them flat and seared.

After all, they would hardly have been much use in that especial spot,
as far as garden perspective is concerned; and except for the hall and
staircase lilies are not indoor flowers. The Signora loves the warm
fragrance to gush up diffused through the house, but in any room it
becomes overwhelming, almost gross. She does not even care for them
pictorially at close quarters, meaning here the larger kind, including
Candidum. They are essentially open-air flowers; they need the sun and
the wind about them, background and space. It seems almost blasphemous
to say so, but on the nearer sight their appearance becomes like their
scent, a little coarse.

On an altar, once again, they assume their proper proportions; and,
carved in stone, they are decorative and satisfying. But the Arum
lily, which is not a lily at all, long-stemmed, in a vase, with its
own gorgeous leaves about it, is something to sit and gaze at with
ever-increasing content!

The nearest thing to a field of lilies the Signora ever saw was a whole
gardenful at the back of a little house in Brussels. She was only a
child at the time, a weary, bored, depressed small person at that, in
the uncongenial surroundings of a detested private school. But one
Sunday morning, for some unremembered reason, she was taken after Mass
by the second mistress (an ugly, angry woman, inappropriately baptized
Estelle), and brought out of the dust of the scorching street into
this, to all appearance trivial, not to say sordid, little house.

“Would Mademoiselle like to look at my garden?” said its owner.

She was old and wizened and yellow-faced; but she had kind eyes, and it
was certainly a kindly thought.

The whole of that garden, some forty by twenty feet, was filled with
Madonna lilies, growing like grass in a field, with only a narrow path
whereby to walk round them.

“Consider the lilies how they grow.... Not Solomon in all his glory was
arrayed as one of these!”

The child that saw them was too unyeared and ignorant to apply these
wonderful words if she had ever heard them. She could not feel her
pleasure sharpened by the exquisite sensation of having the vision
phrased in language as beautiful as itself. But she has carried away
the memory, as sacredly as Wordsworth that of his daffodils--

    “I gazed--and gazed--but little thought
    What wealth the show to me had brought:

    “For oft, when on my couch I lie
      In vacant or in pensive mood,
    They flash upon that inward eye
      Which is the bliss of solitude,
    And then my heart with pleasure fills
    And dances with the Daffodils.”

Wordsworth, notably among poets, has the gift of expressing the
inexpressible, of clothing in language some fleeting sensation which
seems, of its exquisiteness and illusiveness, undefinable. There are
lines of his that follow one like a phrase of music.

    “The sounding cataract haunted me like a passion.”

    “The light that never was on sea or land.”

    “... Old, unhappy, far-off things,
    And battles long ago.”

The first effect of any sight of surpassing beauty, indeed of any
strong emotion of admiration, is an instant desire of expression; then
comes the pain of inarticulateness to most of us--there is a swelling
of the soul and no outlet! That is why, when someone else may have
perfectly said what for us is inexpressible, there is a double joy in
discoveries.

To wander from our lilies to flowers of speech and description: the
perfect phrase has in itself a delight that almost equals that of the
perfect thought.

For those who, like ourselves, work in words, however humbly--poor
stone-breakers compared to such as make the marble live--the mere
art in the setting of the words themselves has a fascination of its
own. It is not only the idea--it is sometimes not even the idea that
enchants. There is a magic of cadence alone. Sometimes, indeed, just a
conjunction of two words seems to make a chord.

To go further, a single word may ring out like a note upon the mind.
The Italian _Amore_, for instance--who can deny that it echoes richly
and nobly? It is a sound of gravity and passion mixed. It is like
the first vibrating stroke of a master-hand on the ’cello. Did not
the resonance of the word itself go as far as the meaning to inspire
Jacopone with his ecstatic hymn wherein he plays upon it like a
musician upon a note which calls, insists, repeats itself, for ever
dominates or haunts the theme?--

    “Amore, amore, che si m’hai ferito
    Altro che amore non posso gridare:
    Amore, amore, teco so unito....”

You could not take the word “love” and ring the changes in this way,
not even upon the kindred-sounding _Amour_, losing in its “ou” exactly
the tone of solemnity that makes the Italian equivalent so royal.

In a delightful series of musical sketches recently published, the
author remarks, speaking of Tschaikowski’s “Symphonie Pathétique”:

“For those who have the score there is an added joy in the titles,
‘Incalzando,’ ‘feroce,’ ‘affretando,’ ‘saltando,’ ‘con dolcezza e
flebile,’ ‘con tenerezza e devozione’; it makes most interesting
reading. But the most splendid title of all is that of the last
movement, ‘Adagio Lamentoso’--can’t you hear it? What a lot our
language misses by the clipped and oxytone ‘lament’! Even ‘lamentation’
is a mere shadow beside the full roll of the Latin tongues, the
ineffable melody that sounds in ‘lamentabile regnum.’”

We do not, however, agree with this pleasant writer on the subject of
“clipped and oxytone lament.” To us the English word is infinitely
keener reaching than any added vowel could make it! “Lamentable” we
grant to be pompous and middle Victorian. It is eloquent of the
conventional mourning of the funeral mute, while _lamentoso_ has to our
ear a horrible wobble like the howl of a lonely dog.

We defy the most poetical and profound scholar to render in any other
tongue the _guai_ of Dante. Who could give the value of the hopeless
cry of sorrow culminating in that line of which _guai_ is the central
wail!

    “Cosi vid’ io venir, traendo guai
    Ombre portate della detta briga.”

This is not to insist on the obvious that Italian is a musical language
and Dante a star apart. Every language that has served literature
will be found to hold its own words of magic. It is not the moment to
quote German, but we think _Trauer_ tolls across the senses like the
passing-bell, while the French _Glas_ falls upon the soul with a frozen
misery indescribable outside itself.

Those fortunate scholars who have mastered as much of the secrets of
Greek as the modern can master, tell us that it is impossible to convey
in any other tongue the richness, the value, the wide meaning and
exquisite shades of the ancient Greek language. We know that they had
words in each of which a whole picture could be set before the mind.
To read Gilbert Murray’s fascinating “Ancient Greek Literature” is,
however, to find a revelation which severer and more extensive writings
fail to convey. A poet, he alone has caught and interpreted the echo of
those lyres still ringing across the ages. And he, too, computes his
impressions in terms of music. “Many lovers of Pindar,” he says, “agree
that the things which stay in one’s mind, stay not as thoughts but as
music.”

Of course, the Greeks wedded words and music after a fashion unknown to
us, who merely set words to be sung to music in our operas and songs.
It is a lost art.

But it seems conceivable that there may be an actual music hidden in
language itself, something that the senses of the mind apprehend,
quite apart from the idea incorporated. The late Sir Henry Irving,
just before his famous production of Macbeth, discussing his intention
of introducing music at the moments of crisis, defended this much
criticized point by saying: “I mean to do it, because music carries the
soul beyond words, even beyond thought.”

We are not sure that he was right, except in so far as the appeal
to the gallery was concerned, which, after all, every actor-manager,
however artistic and perceptive, is bound to consider first of all. In
fact, we are quite certain that he was wrong. The music of Shakespeare
should not have been overlaid by any sound of violin or trumpet.

We can conceive no sorrow of muted strings which could intensify the
poignancy of Macduff’s cry: “All my pretty ones, did you say all?” A
cry, too, so spontaneous in its truth and simplicity that, according to
a current phrase in the theatrical profession, the part of Macduff acts
itself.

Who would want to add more melody to the following

    “That strain again--it had a dying fall:
    O, it came o’er my ear like the sweet south
    That breathes upon a bank of violets,
    Stealing, and giving odour....”

Will anyone deny that there is music in these lines, that the singular
impression produced by them is due not only to the perfection of a
thought perfectly expressed, to the scent of violets exquisitely and
instantly evoked by the cunning of genius, but to the actual words?
The phrase rises and falls. Read or heard, it is the same, a strain of
melody.

To one of the writers the two words, “Scarlet Verbena,” have always
produced the impression as of a trumpet blast. Hoffmann used to say
that he never smelt a red carnation without hearing the winding of a
horn.

No doubt the senses are indefinably intermixed.

    “Wild bird, whose warble, liquid sweet,
    Rings Eden thro’ the budded quicks,
    O tell me where the senses mix,
    O tell me where the passions meet”--

cries Tennyson to the nightingale.

Nevertheless, must one not believe that there are distinct senses of
the soul and mind which are called into action by the spoken or written
word? It is trite to say there are moments when one is gripped by the
throat by a mere phrase, not, mind you, because of its dramatic force,
but rather from some inherent spell of beauty or sorrow. There are
others when one seems to lay hold of a set of words; as it were, to be
able to touch and feel them as though they had been modelled.

And again, who has not felt an actual pain, as of a delicate blade
being thrust into the heart, by some phrase of scarcely analyzable
pathos. Heine had that weapon. The art of it, we suppose, is that of
extreme simplicity combined with selection, but the emotion is quite
incommensurate with the importance of the theme, the value of the
expressed idea.

To use another simile, it is like a wailing air on some primitive
instrument, which by its very artlessness pierces to the marrow of the
consciousness.

    “Ces doux airs du pays, au doux rythme obsesseur,
    Dont chaque note est comme une petite sœur,”

as Rostand has it.

Think of the effect in “Tristran” of the shepherd’s pipe at the
beginning of the last act.

It comes to this after all, that however one may study, however perfect
the technique of writing, however one may inspire oneself from the
springs of genius, it is artlessness, not art, that reaches home. It
might be truer to say that it takes a consummate art to touch the right
note of artlessness; yet we all know how curiously we can sometimes be
affected by the words that fall from childish lips.

A Belgian babe of two, a dimpled, radiant creature, seemingly untouched
by the storm which had flung her from her own luxurious nurseries into
a bare English lodging, was found, two days after her arrival in exile,
kissing and talking to the little crucifix which hung round her neck.
Her mother bent to listen.

“Dear Jesus,” the child was saying, “poor wounded soldier!”

The profound and mystic consolation of the link between the human agony
and the Divine had somehow dawned upon the infant mind, and found this
tender expression.

A little boy we knew said to his mother one evening as she tucked him
up in his cot:

“Oh, mammie, I die a little every night, I love you so.” Here, with an
exquisite directness, the inevitable pain of a deep tenderness is laid
bare by the lips of innocence.

       *       *       *       *       *

It is this quality of simplicity and directness--yes, we are not afraid
to say it, of innocence--which makes the stories of our soldiers so
infinitely touching.

“Tell daddie and mammie,” said a dying Irish lad to the comrade who
bent over him to take his last message, “’twas against their will I
’listed; tell them I’m not sorry now I did it.”

No fine-sounding phrase, no stirring oration, could more piercingly set
forth the triumph of the ultimate sacrifice of patriotism. _Dulce et
decorum est pro patria mori._

Our men are like children in their gaiety--pleased with little things
as a child with a toy; joking, making believe, making a game out of
their very danger; unconscious of their own heroism, as the best kind
of boy, who risks his neck for a nest; blindly confident in their
leaders. If it had not been for this complete trust in what their
officers told them, could the retreat from Mons have ended in anything
but disaster? Yet we know that--like children--whole regiments burst
into tears when ordered to give up the positions they had won.

A war correspondent ends a terrible account of the further withdrawal
from Tournai by a description of a night in a barn where scatterers had
taken refuge.

“And all night long,” he says, “there were the sobs of a big corporal
of artillery, weeping for his horses.”

In the throes of the great struggle, this side of humanity--call it the
childish, if you will, we have Divine authority for believing that it
is akin to the spiritual--asserts itself, nay, becomes paramount. To be
more precise, the real man is stripped of his conventions, sophistries,
and pretences. Only the things that matter are the things that count.

When the Emperor Frederick was dying, his last message was this: “Let
my people return to their faith and simplicity of life.”

If he had been spared to his own land, it would be a different world
to-day. Under the dreadful test of war the German soldiery as a mass,
indeed the whole people, have sunk below the level of the brute. It is
the English who have come back to faith and simplicity.

The Rev. W. Forest, Catholic Chaplain of the Expeditionary Force,
writes: “It is true to say that the German Kaiser is fighting a
community of saints--converted, if you like--but with not a mortal sin
scarcely to be found among them.” The special correspondent of the
_Sunday Times_ has a touching testimony in a recent issue to men of all
denominations: “To be at the front,” he declares, “is to breathe the
air of heroes. The Church of England chaplains, in accordance with the
general wish among the men, are giving Early Communion Services. It is
a marvellous sight,” continues the journalist, “to see the throngs of
soldiers kneeling in the dawn, the light on their upturned faces. They
go forth strengthened, ready for anything, feeling that the presence of
Christ is amongst them.”

With our French Allies, too, the spirit of faith has reawakened. An
English officer writes to the _Evening Standard_: “The French soldiers
go into the trenches, each with his little medal of Our Lady hung round
his neck--they pray aloud in action, not in fear, but with a high
courage and a great trust.”

“On All Souls’ Day,” he adds, “I saw the village _curé_ come out
and bless the graves of our poor lads. The graves, mark, of rough
Protestant soldiers, decorated with chrysanthemums by the villagers.
These poor dead were blessed, and called the faithful departed, and
wept over and prayed for.”

“And thine own soul a sword shall pierce, that out of many hearts
thoughts may be revealed.”

If one may reverently paraphrase Simeon’s prophecy to the mother of the
Man of Sorrows, can one not say that the soul of the world is pierced
to-day, and the thoughts of the nations revealed?

A neutral diplomat, recently arrived in England from Vienna, via Paris,
has told us of the singular indifference of the Austrian capital to
the tragedy in which her own sons are taking part. “Vienna,” he says,
“has shown only one moment of emotion, and that was when the little
breakfast rolls were condemned. No one cares in Vienna. Life is--how
shall I say?--it is all one ‘Merry Widow.’ It is not that they have any
confidence in their own army. They shrug their shoulders and spread out
their hands, but in Germany--they have the faith of the hypnotized!
Nothing can happen to Germany, therefore Austria is safe.”

Recently an order was issued to have the cafés closed at one o’clock
in the morning. It was not agreeable to the public, but they have
contrived a substitute for their _petits pains_ which is some slight
compensation.

“I shall return,” he added pensively--“I shall return with how much
regret to the indecent carnival that is Vienna!”

His impression of France was very different. He could not sufficiently
express his astonishment at the change that had come over the country.
The dignity of France, the quiet strength of France, the spiritual
confidence of France! In the army was only one apprehension: lest
they should not be upheld by the civilians in their determination to
fight to the very end. The churches were crowded; men and women have
alike returned to the faith of their fathers. There was no unseemly
merrymaking there, no unworthy attempt in café or theatre to forget the
agonizing struggle.

At a recent entertainment in a very poor quarter a pretty girl dressed
as France appeared arm-in-arm with an actor got up like a British
soldier, and there was immense applause; but when she started the tango
with her companion she was hissed off the stage.

As for Paris: “Tenez,” said our friend, in conclusion, “I will give you
a little instance. I was walking down the Rue de la Paix, when I heard
a woman laugh out loud. Everyone in the street turned round to look at
her.”

Of the thoughts of Germany what can be said? They need no pointing
out. They are written in blood and fire from end to end of Belgium,
and in a long stretch of once smiling France; in Servia, carried out
by Hungarians and Austrians, under German orders; in Poland. They are
written in the German Press for all the world to read: blasphemy,
brag, bluster, hysterical hatred, insanity of futile threat, shameless
asseveration of self-evident falsehood. “Do nations go mad?” an
American paper has asked. Germany presents the appalling spectacle of
a nation run to evil. It is not only the war party, the soldiery, the
press, the learned professors. It is the very population itself. The
soul of Germany is revealing its thoughts.

       *       *       *       *       *

The lily-garden in the little Brussels by-street on the way to the Bois
de la Cambre, if it is still in existence, must have ceased blooming
before the Germans entered Brussels. Otherwise it is not likely that
it should have escaped the fury of destruction which seizes them at the
sight of anything pure and noble and beautiful.

“Consider the lilies.”

We know how the Uhlan officers deliberately rode backwards and forwards
over the blooming flower-beds in the great _Place_ upon the day of
their entrance march.

We know how they stabled their horses in the world-famous conservatories
of the Palace of Laecken--a custom they have practised at nearly
every château in the country; how in that orgy which will for ever
disgrace the name of the Duke of Brunswick the portrait of the young
Queen of the Belgians, that royal flower of courage and devotion, was
unspeakably insulted.

We know how whole regiments have trampled over straggling children in
the village streets--these little flower blossoms, as the Japanese call
them.

And those humble lilies of the cloister that have fallen into
sacrilegious grasp, we know how they have been considered; how Rheims,
with its hawthorn porch, blossoming in stone flower of all the
Christian shrines of all the world, stately lily of the days of faith,
has fared at the hand of the German.

“_Ich bin der Geist der stets verneint_,” says the Spirit of Evil in
Goethe’s “Faust.”

It has always seemed a marvellous definition; the negation of good, the
spirit that ever denies. But the demon of present-day Germany comes
from a deeper pit than Goethe’s intellectual mocking devil. It is the
spirit that forever destroys.

The struggle has not brutalized but spiritualized our men. Through
the appalling conditions in which they fight they reach out to the
mystic side of things. When they speak of death they call it “going
west.” It is the old, old Celtic thought of the Isle beyond the Sunset.
They “talk of God a great deal,” as the soldiers’ letters tell us.
The Irish Guards fell on their knees at Compiègne before making their
famous attack up the hill. As they charged, “our men crossed the plain,
hurrahing and singing, while many of them had a look of absolute joy
on their faces.” They have their visions. A soldier lying wounded and
helpless on the field and gazing agonized on the breach in our line,
saw the Germans rush and then fall back; and beheld St. George standing
in his armour in the gap; then heard the Lancastrians cry, as they
dashed on: “St. George for England!”

What yet more august revelation did he have, that dying French
sergeant, who, looking profoundly upon the surgeon who was ministering
to him, replied to his encouragement:

“Mon Major, je suis déjà avec Dieu,” and instantly expired.

Every regiment must have its emblem; the minds of the men turn
naturally to the symbolic.

“I’d like to look at the colours,” said a mortally wounded gunner to
his Captain.

“Look at the guns, my man, those are the gunners’ colours!”

And the boy was uplifted to look, till his eye glazed.

We do not take the colours into action now, but we know what the
Standard means to our Allies. It seems a pity that political revolution
should have displaced the ancient lilies of France. There is something
so grand in tradition. Dignity of noble ancestry is not confined to
man alone. Houses possess it, and lands, and surely nations. Are not
our soldiers to-day the heirs of the yeomen and bowmen of Agincourt?

“O God of battles, steel my soldiers’ hearts!” is the prayer on the
lips of all of us; and we feel through all, even as Harry the King,
the same proud confidence in the good blood that cannot lie. Shall not
those who stay at home “hold their manhoods cheap, whiles any speaks”
of Mons, or Ypres, or--of those glories yet to come?

Thus, in a way, it seems to us that if France fights in her body under
the Tricolour, in her soul she is fighting under the Lilies. It is
the old France again, the France of the days of faith. In one of Joan
of Arc’s visions she saw Charlemagne and St. Louis kneeling before
the throne, pleading for the land they had loved and served. She who
carried the Oriflamme may now form the third in that shining company
and look down, perhaps, considering the lilies growing out of the
field of blood. Perhaps she may say: “Not Solomon in all his glory was
arrayed as one of these.”



V

DEATH IN THE LITTLE GARDEN

                                      “O Saul, it shall be
    A face like my face that receives thee, a man like to me
    Thou shalt love and be loved by for ever! A hand like this hand
    Shall throw open the gates of new life to thee! See the Christ
                                                               stand.”

                                                      ROBERT BROWNING.


_March._--We bought the small place on the Surrey highlands and
furnished it out of Rome; and set statues and cypresses and vases
overflowing with flowers about the quaint terraces that run down to
the valley; and we have a bit of Italy between pine-woods and wild
moorland. We have called it the Villino.

The idea started as a week-end cottage. Gradually, however, we came to
pay the flying visits to the London house and spend the most of our
time in the country. Since the war began we have settled altogether on
the span of earth which has become so endeared to us. Never was any
home established in such a spirit of lightheartedness.

The new property has been our toy; something to laugh at while we enjoy
it. It is absurd and apart and beloved and attractive; and though the
great shadow that rose in August overcast the brightness of the Villino
garden and all its prospects, we could yet look out upon the peace
and the fairness and take comfort therefrom; turn with relief to the
growing things and all the innocent interests that surround and centre
in a country life.

It never dawned upon us that the garden itself could become a point
of tragedy; that every pushing spike of bulb and every well-pruned
rose-tree would have their special pang for our hearts, yet so it is.
Never again shall we be able to look with the eyes of pure enjoyment on
terrace and border, rose-arch and woodland.

Adam, the kindly gardener of our special plot of earth, has been struck
down; hurled, by an inscrutable decree of Providence in the zenith of
his activities, from life to death.

He was as much a part of the Villino as we ourselves; a just and kindly
man, not yet forty; one of the handsomest of God’s creatures, and the
most gentle-hearted. We cannot see the meaning of such a blow; we can
only bow the head.

“Doesn’t it seem hard,” cried the daughter of the Villino, “that in
these days there should be one unnecessary widow!”

The last time the Signora saw him alive was about a week before the
tragedy. He had come into the funny little Roman drawing-room--all
faint gay tints and flamboyant Italian gilt carved wood--carrying a
large pot of arum lilies. He scarcely looked like an Englishman with
his dark, rich colouring and raven hair prematurely grey; though he was
so all-English, of England’s best, in his heart and mind.

A little Belgian child, on a visit to us, rushed up to him, chattering
incomprehensibly. She is just three and very friendly; something in
Adam’s appearance must have attracted her, for she left everything she
had been playing with to run to him the moment he appeared.

This is how the Signora will always remember him, standing, big and
gentle, looking down at the child with those kind, kind eyes.

There was never anyone so good to little animals. We used to say he was
a true if unconscious brother of St. Francis, and loved all God’s small
folk. Never was a sick cat or dog but Adam would have the nursing of it.

One would see him walking about the garden wheeling his barrow, with a
great black Persian coiled round his neck like a boa. Nearly two years
ago a little daughter was born to him here, to his great joy. She was
always in her father’s arms during the free hours of the day; and not
the least piteous incident of the tragedy was the way this baby, just
beginning to babble a few words, kept calling for “Daddy, daddy,” while
he lay next door in the tiny sitting-room he had taken such pleasure
in, like a marble effigy, smiling, beautiful, awful, for ever deaf to
her appeal.

He had been slightly ailing since an attack of influenza; but on the
morning of his death he said to his wife that he felt as if he could
do the work of six men that day. The kind of cruel light-heartedness
which the Scotch call “being fey” was upon him. Like Romeo before
the great catastrophe, “his bosom’s lord sat lightly on his throne.”
Strange freaks of presentiment never to be explained on this side of
the grave! There are those who feel the shadow of approaching fatality
cloud their spirits--we have heard a hundred instances of certain
forebodings of death during the present war--but this mysterious gaiety
of the doomed is rarer and more awful. Yet Adam must have had his
secret sad warnings too, for his poor wife found, to her astonishment,
his insurance cards, his accounts made up to the end of the week on the
Thursday of which he died, the ambulance badge he had been so proud
of--all laid ready to her hand. He had set his house in order before
the summons came. We have every reason to think that in a deeper,
graver sense he was equally prepared.

“‘Whatever time my Saviour calls me, I shall be ready to go....’ Often
and often,” Mrs. Adam told us, as her tears fell, “he has said those
words to me.”

Like many another active, hard-working man, the thought of failing
health, debility, old age, was abhorrent to him.

“He never could have borne a long illness.” Thus the widow tries to
console herself--pitiful scraps of self-administered comfort with which
poor humanity always attempts to parry the horror of an unmitigated
tragedy!

There are strange secrets between the soul and God. Among the many
wonders of the City of Light will be the simple solving of the riddles
that have been so dark and tormenting to our earthly minds. From the
very beginning of the war this honest Englishman had wanted to go
out and serve his country. He was over age. His wife and two children
depended on his labours, yet the longing never left him.

“I doubt but I’ll have to go yet,” was a phrase constantly on his lips.

He had joined the Ambulance Corps and, indeed, was on his way to that
errand of mercy when he was stricken. Did he in those inner communes
of the soul with God breathe forth his desire to give his life for his
country, and was it somehow mystically accomplished? For death smote
him and he fell and lay in his blood, as a soldier might. Who knows
that the sacrifice was not accepted?

It was terrible for us--it seemed an unbelievable addition to her
burthen of sorrow for the woman who loved him--but for him it may have
been the glory and the crown.

When all human aid is unavailing, when everything that science can do
to assist or relieve has been accomplished and fellow-creatures must
stand aside and watch the relentless law of nature accomplish itself,
then the value of religion is felt, as perhaps never before, even by
the most devout.

Had poor Adam but belonged to the Old Faith the call for the priest
would have been more urgent yet than the call for the doctor; we would
have had the consolation of hearing the last Absolution pronounced
over the unconscious form. The soul would have taken flight from the
anointed body, strengthened by the ultimate rites; the child of the
Church would have gone forth from the arms of the Church--from the arms
of the earthly mother, to the mercy and justice of the heavenly Father.

We did what we could, his own clergyman being away. Never were we more
impressed with the value of the Sacrament of Extreme Unction. It is
all very well to say that we must live so as to be ready to die; that
as the tree grows so shall it fall. Here are trite axioms that will
not stand a moment before the facts of life and the needs of humanity.
They make no account of the mercy of the Creator on one side nor of the
weakness of the failing spirit on the other. They forget the penitent
thief on the cross, bidden to enter into Paradise upon the merit of
a single cry. If the Church of our ancestors watches anxiously over
the whole existence of her children; if she hovers about the cradle,
how does she not hang over the deathbed to catch the faintest sigh of
repentance; nay, how does she not “prevent” the least effort, pouring
forth graces and supplications, anointing, absolving, pursuing the
departing spirit beyond the very confines of the world, sublimely
audacious, to the throne of God itself!

She has caught the precious soul, for whom the Lord died, before the
infant mind was even aware of its own existence. She is not going to be
robbed of her treasure at the end, if she can help it.

But our poor, dying Adam was not of this fold, and could have no such
aid and sanctification for his passing. Even his afflicted wife quailed
from the fruitless agony of witnessing his last moments. “Since I
couldn’t do anything, ma’am, it’s more than I can bear.”

She went down to her cottage at the bottom of the garden to prepare a
fit resting-place for the body, while in the garage the soul of her
dearest accomplished its final and supreme act on earth.

We read the great prayers to ourselves--those wonderful prayers
commensurate in dignity and grandeur to the awful moment. We cried
upon the Angels and Archangels, upon the Thrones, the Cherubim and
Seraphim; we bade the Patriarchs and the Prophets, the Doctors and
Evangelists, the Confessors and Martyrs, the Holy Virgins and all the
Saints of God to rush to his assistance. We supplicated that his place
this day should be in peace and his abode in Holy Sion; we cast his
sins upon the multitudes of the Divine mercies, and strong through
the merits of Christ our appeal rose into triumph. With confidence we
summoned the noble company of the Angels to meet him, the court of the
Apostles to receive him, the army of glorious Martyrs to conduct him,
the joyful Confessors to encompass him, the choir of blessed Virgins to
go before him. We conjured Christ, his Saviour, to appear to him with
a mild and cheerful countenance. And, with this great name upon our
lips, we “compassed him about with angels, so that the infernal spirits
should tremble and retire into the horrid confusion of eternal night.”

All the household, except the very young servants, knelt round him
praying silently, since we did not dare obtrude our own tenets about
the deathbed of another faith. The Master stood with his hand on his
dying servant’s head; and so the end came very peacefully.

A belated curate appeared at the cottage as the daughter of the house
went down to tell Mrs. Adam that all was over; but he fled before the
sad burthen was carried in.

We had often noticed it before, but never so forcibly, this shying
away of some excellent religious people from any contemplation of the
immediate experience of the soul after death. Beyond sentences of
comfort as stereotyped as they are vague, which place the departed
“safe in the arms of Jesus,” one would almost believe that the average
man had no very vivid sense of the future life at all. How otherwise
explain the remarks, so frequently heard, that a sudden death is such a
desirable end; that it was “such a comfort so-and-so didn’t know he was
going”; how explain the attitude at the sick-bed, where the sufferer to
the last is deluded with false hopes that he may be spared--what? the
knowledge that he is summoned to the house of God, the last opportunity
of preparation.

Even when Mrs. Adam’s clergyman came to see her, chief among his
consolations was the remark, made in all sincerity: “That’s the kind of
death I should prefer to die.”

Good Adam was ready to go, we know that; but can any man with a true
sense of his own soul bring himself to wish to be taken in like manner?
It is, after all, to wish for one’s self the death one would want for
one’s dog. Without even belonging to a Church where the last stage is
hallowed and made a culminating act of precious resignation and the
highest virtue, it seems to us that the instinctive nobility of man
should rebel against the craven doctrine that death is a thing to be
huddled through, a step to be taken drugged and blindfolded, that the
consciousness is to be chloroformed against the anguish of dissolution.
It is to rob humanity of its supremest quality--the triumph of the
spirit over the flesh, the noble acceptance of our lot, the dignity of
the last renunciation.

Browning, the most virile of our poets, cries:

    “I was ever a fighter, so--one fight more,
      The best and the last!
    I would hate that death bandaged my eyes and forebore,
      And bade me creep past.
    No! let me taste the whole of it, fare like my peers,
      The heroes of old.”

Yet this curious evasion of the inevitable is only the natural outcome
of a looseness of theology which, while it admits the dogma of right
and wrong, of free will and human responsibility, hurls the perfect and
the imperfect, the saint and the sinner alike, into the same heaven
without an instant’s transition. As very few now believe in hell, it
is no unfair conclusion to draw that the mere fact of death seems, in
the eyes of most people, to qualify the soul for eternal bliss. It is
idle to ask what becomes of the generally accepted doctrine of moral
responsibility, why, if all are alike and certain to be saved, anyone
should put himself to the disagreeable task of resisting temptation,
much less strive after perfection here below; but failure to provide
help for the dying is the direct consequence of the denial of future
expiation.

“What man is there among you who, if his son shall ask bread, will he
reach him a stone?”

The Viaticum, the bread of life, is denied to the passing soul, and the
draught of comfort of devout prayer withheld from the beloved in the
fires of expiation; but the tombstone will be considered with loving
thought, and erected over the insensible dust.

The Old Faith shows a profound knowledge of and tenderness for the
mere human side in its hour of anguish, even while providing for the
paramount needs of the soul. There is one, one only comfort for the
bereaved--to be able to help still, and of that they are deprived.

“It isn’t as if I could do any good,” said poor Mrs. Adam, when she
turned away from her husband’s deathbed.

She had the power to do such infinite good if she had only known it.
What prayer could be so far-reaching as that of the cry of the wife for
the chosen one, from whom God alone reserved Himself the right to part
her? What act of resignation could be so meritorious as that of her who
was making the sacrifice of her all?

“I sent down to tell them to ring the passing-bell,” said the widow.
She was eager to accomplish every detail of respectful ceremony that
had been left to her.

The passing-bell! Touching institution of the ages of belief, the call
for prayers for the soul in its last struggle, the summons to friend
and stranger, kindly neighbour and stray passer-by, the cry of the
mother for the last alms for her child!

“Oh,” exclaimed our daughter that night, reflecting on these things,
“my heart burns when I think how the poor have been robbed of their
faith!”

And the mighty lesson which the ancient Church taught by her attitude
to the dying is that by calmly turning the eyes of the faithful towards
the need for preparation, the duty of warning the sick in time, the
immeasurable gain of the last Sacraments as compared to the loss of
an unfounded earthly hope, she is giving the only possible comfort
alike to the living and the dying; she is placing within reach of the
mourners just the one factor that makes their grief bearable--the power
of being of use.

Mrs. MacComfort, our Irish cook, who is as near a saint herself as one
can ever hope to meet, said to us, the tears brimming in her soft eyes:
“Oh, doesn’t it make us feel ashamed of ourselves when we see what our
holy religion is, and how little we live up to it!”

And, indeed, that our poor fellow-countrymen are so good without these
helps is at once a wonder and a rebuke to us. Mrs. Adam made her
sacrifice with a most touching submission: “God must know best.”

“When they came down and told me there’d been an accident, my hands
were in the washtub, miss,” she told one of us later, “and as I ran up
the garden drying them in my apron, I was praying God all the while
that he would give me strength to bear what I might have to see.”

God never refuses such a prayer as that. Adam was an example. It is
astonishing the effect the death of this simple gardener has made in
the district, and the testimonies of his worth keep coming in. It shows
how wide the influence one good man can exercise in any class of life--

    “The very ashes of the just
    Smell sweet and blossom in the dust.”

In a narrower sense we shall ourselves always feel that something of
him has gone into the soil of our little garden, for which he worked so
faithfully. Some of the fragrance of that humble soul will rise up from
the violet beds and hang about the roses.

       *       *       *       *       *

We have been the more disposed to draw these parallels between the Old
Faith and its substitute because, by a curious coincidence, Adam’s was
the second death to fling sadness over the Villino.

The first was not a personal loss, like that of a servant in the house.
It concerned, indeed, a being whom only one of us had seen. It happened
far away in the bloody swamps of the Yser; yet, none the less, the
tidings filled the little household with mourning.

Among the many exiles flying to our shores from the horror of the
advancing Hun were two young mothers with their children--two charming,
delicately nurtured, high-born, high-minded women, whose husbands were,
one, an officer in the Belgian army, the other, a volunteer working
in the ambulance at Calais. The soldier’s wife, the niece of an old
friend of ours, a gay, courageous creature, who twice had gone into
the line of fire to see her husband, was never tired of speaking to us
of “Charley.” He seemed in the end to have become almost a familiar
among us. We knew by his photographs that he was handsome, and, by the
portions of his letters which she read to us, that he was tender and
deep-feeling and strong of courage.

Some weeks ago Charley’s wife left to live with her sister; her cousin
still remained with us. It was the latter who was sent for to the
telephone that evening when the shadow of death rolled up suddenly and
hung over the little house.

An unforgettable moment when she turned from the instrument, crying in
accents that pierced one: “_Charley tué! Mon Dieu, mon Dieu, Charley
tué!_”

It was when we afterwards learnt the details of the tragedy, which were
piteous in the extreme as far as it affected the wife, that the noble
consolations of our religion emerged in all their beauty.

The officer had announced an approaching leave, and the joyful
anticipation of his little family was commensurate to the love they
bore him. As one instance of that love, let it be noted here that his
small son, only six years old, could never hear the name of his absent
father without tears.

The wife was alone in the garden, resting from the fatigues of a
morning spent in preparing for that visit, when a telegram arrived,
badly transcribed, in French. She could at first only make out her
husband’s name, her brother’s signature, and the words, “Shall be at
Calais to-day.”

She danced into the house in ecstasy, crying to the children: “Papa is
coming; papa and Uncle Robert are coming.”

And it was only on the stairs that a second glance at the sheet in her
hand revealed the fatal word “_tué_.”

A cousin--another young exiled wife and mother--who lived in close
proximity, was summoned by the distracted maid, and writes in simple
language of the scene of agony: “As soon as I got into the little
house,” she says, “I heard her dreadful sobs; I ran to her. ‘Charley is
killed, Charley is killed!’ she cried to me. I have never seen anyone
in such a state. She was almost in convulsions. I put my arms about
her. ‘Make your sacrifice; offer it up for the good of his soul,’ I
said to her. ‘No, no! I cannot,’ she said. At first she could not, but
I held her close, and after a little I said to her: ‘Say the words
after me: “O my God, I accept your will for the good of his soul.”’ And
once she had said it she did not go back on it. From that moment she
was calm.”

So calm, indeed, that the unhappy young creature had the strength of
mind to go in to her children, terrified at the sound of her weeping,
and smilingly reassure them, talk and play with them, till their
bedtime. She meant to start that night for Calais, and did not wish her
little ones to know of their loss till her return.

All her energies were strained to the single purpose--to see him once
again before he was laid to rest. She had her desire. The journey was
an odyssey of physical and mental pain, but by sheer determination she
won through, and found her brother, who had obtained leave of absence
from his regiment to meet her. By him she was conveyed to a little
village at the back of the Belgian line, where, in a chapel belonging
to a convent, the dead man lay.

It had been his last day in the trenches. The next was to begin his
brief holiday. He had been posted in that celebrated Maison du Passeur,
among the slimy waters, destined to be the scene of one more tragedy.
There was an alarm that certain enemy snipers were lurking about, and a
small patrol had been ordered to take stock of them.

“I will not,” said the young officer, “allow my men to go into danger
without me.”

It was not his duty--it was scarcely even advisable--but he took up a
soldier’s carbine and went forth with it. He was actually taking aim
when the sergeant beside him saw him fail and slowly collapse. There
was, perhaps, a noise of cannon to confuse the man’s senses, for he
heard no shot. There was certainly no start or shock apparent. He
called out: “_Mon lieutenant, qu’avez vous?_” believing it was a sudden
attack of weakness. When he went to his lieutenant he found that he was
dead. He had been struck by a bullet under the eye, so well and truly
aimed that it had instantly ended the young, vigorous life, as far as
this world is concerned. The only mark on his calm face, when his wife
saw it, was that small purple spot, where the wound had closed again.

    “’Tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as
    A church-door; but ’tis enough, ’twill serve.”

We have seen a snapshot taken of him as he lay wrapped in his country’s
flag. It is a noble, chiselled countenance, looking younger than the
thirty-two years of his life, set in a great serenity, with yet that
stamp of austere renunciation, of supreme sacrifice, measured and
accepted, which we sometimes behold in the face of the dead.

The whole regiment congregated in the little chapel the afternoon
of the day which brought the widow to her calvary. The building was
decorated with groups of flags, and about the bier were heaped the
wreaths of his brother officers, dedicated nearly all in the same words:

    “To the comrade fallen on the field of honour,”

    “To the comrade who has given his life for his country.”

In the midst of a profound silence the Colonel read _L’Ordre du Jour_,
which, by King Albert’s command, conferred upon the fallen _Guide_
the Order of Leopold--for valour--and the bereaved wife was given
the decoration to pin over the cold heart that had been so warmly
hers. There was a muffled roll of drum, and all present sang the
“Brabançonne.” So much for the comfort which the world could still give.

Next morning the funeral Mass was said at the altar. The bier lay at
the foot of the step, so close that each time the priest turned round
to say _Dominus vobiscum_, his hands were uplifted over the dead. And
the widow and all the officers of the regiment kneeling round received
Holy Communion for, and in memory of, the slain.

It is not possible--although we know her grief to be as ardent as was
her attachment to him--that this widow can mourn as those who have no
hope.

The chaplain of the regiment told her that her husband had been to
Confession and Holy Communion the morning he had entered into the
trenches, three days before. “Have no fear, my child,” said the priest,
“he made his Confession as he did everything, with all his heart.”

Blessed religion, which across the deathbed shows us the heavens
opening for the departed soul, and bids the holy angel guard even the
grave where rests the body, hallowed for the resurrection!



VI

BABIES: CHINESE AND OTHERS

    “In how several ways do we speak to our dogs, and they answer
    us!”--MICHEL DE MONTAIGNE.


The war-baby was very dear and downy when we first saw her.

She is the daughter of a Chinaman (an important member of the
household), and a neighbouring lady. The Chinaman was, in fact, so
important that the usual matrimonial procedure was reversed in his
case; and the family of the lady made unabashed and persevering
advances for his favour before he could be induced to condescend to the
alliance.

Anyone familiar with Oriental calm will not be surprised to learn that
the potentate received with imperturbability the announcement that his
lady wife was likely to present him with a family. It was, however,
perhaps pushing Eastern reserve a little too far to walk away from his
infants with every appearance of disgust, and to threaten to bite those
officious friends who sought to extract some show of parental feeling
from him by turning him round once more to confront the seething
cradle-full.

The cradle was a flat basket, in which the babies maintained a
ceaseless movement, crawling one over the other, with a total disregard
of such sensitive portions of the anatomy as eyes and noses. They were
extraordinarily ill matched as to size--we do not know if this is usual
with triplets--looking more like a job lot of Teddy-bears than anything
else. There was one as large as the other two put together; there was
a very lively medium one; and a very small third, who lay and feebly
squirmed under the others vigorous toes. They all had beautiful black
noses and little cream-coloured tails tightly curled over their backs.
The intelligent reader will by this time have perceived that we are
not referring to mere humanity. The war-babies belong to the race of
Pekinese, being, in fact, the offspring of the celebrated and priceless
Loki, master of the Villino of that name, who fame has already spread
far and wide.

His consort was Maud, a chestnut-haired lady, who, we regret to say,
had already contracted a _mésalliance_ with a highlander, to the
despair of her family. We are convinced that the union is regarded by
Loki as a mere matter of politics, but what Western would ever dare to
penetrate the barrier of relentless reserve which the Manchu raises
between his domestic affairs and the foreign devil? We fear, by his
expression and the looks of reproach with which he has since regarded
us, that we have already gravely infringed his ideas of decorum by
bringing his daughter to dwell in his house.

She is the only daughter of the trio, the two extremes having run to
the masculine gender. We chose her on account of her perkiness and her
engaging manner of waving her paws in supplication or allurement.

These little dogs have all of them more or less the gift of
gesticulation. It is not necessary to teach them either to beg or pray.
The puppy--Plain Eliza--will dance half the length of the room on her
hind-legs, frantically imploring with her front paws the while, with a
persistency and passion that would melt a heart of stone.

The other day, when the butler walked on the paw of Mimosa, the Peky
nearest to her in age, who rent the air with her yells, Plain Eliza
instantly rose on her hind-legs and added her lamentations. One can
truly say that at the same time she wrung her paws in distress over her
playmate’s suffering. She has a very feeling heart.

These two adore each other, which is a very good thing, because Mimosa
is really a little Tartar. She is the first fur-child to bring discord
into the happy family at Villino Loki, and to break the Garden of Eden
spell by which cats and dogs of all sizes and tempers dwell together
in the most complete amity and sympathy. A small, imperious person of
a vivid chestnut hue, with devouring dark eyes and the most approved
of snub noses, we flatter ourselves that Mimosa will become a beauty
when she gets her full coat. But she will not stand cats, still less a
kitten, anywhere within the kitchen premises, and Mrs. MacComfort, the
queen of those regions, has actually banished the beloved Kitty and
her offspring to the greengrocer’s shop in order to pander to Mimosa,
who regarded them much as the honest Briton the alien Hun--something
darkly suspicious, to be eliminated from the community at all costs.
Mimosa, indeed, has taken matters into her own paws, as the man in the
street has done, and Mrs. MacComfort has acted like the Government.
Discovering the youngest kitten completely flattened under Mimosa--the
latter, her mane bristling, endeavouring to tear off all her victim’s
fur--it was decided to remove the alien element for its own benefit.

Harmony is now restored to kitchen dominions. The other morning
the young lady of the Villino found the two little dogs solemnly
seated each side of the hearth, their eyes fixed on an infinitesimal
earthenware pan which was simmering on a carefully prepared fire.

“They’re just watching me cooking their breakfast, miss,” said Mrs.
MacComfort in her soft voice. “They’re very partial to chicken liver.”

It was sizzling appetizingly in its lilliputian dish.

From the moment of Plain Eliza’s entrance upon the scene, squirming in
a basket, Mimosa showed a profound and affectionate interest in her. We
were, if truth be told, a little afraid to trust these demonstrations,
fearing they might be of a crocodile nature, but never was suspicion
more unjust. The elder puppy has completely adopted the younger one,
and is full of anxiety and distress if she is not in her company. She
will come bustling into the room, talking in her Peky way, saying as
plainly as ever a little dog did: “Has anyone seen Baby? It’s really
not safe to let the child go about by herself like that.”

When she discovers her, the two small things kiss and embrace; after
which Mimosa abdicates her grown-up airs, and romping becomes the order
of the day.

The name of Plain Eliza is the one which has stuck most distinctively
to the great Mo-Loki’s daughter. It seemed appropriate to her, in the
opinion of the mistress of the Villino, and arose out of a reminiscence
of her Irish youth. There happened to be in Dublin society in those
far-back days a young lady of guileless disposition, not too brilliant
intellect, and what Americans would call “homely” appearance.
Presenting herself at a reception at a house which boasted of a very
pompous butler, and having announced her name as Eliza Dunn, he
forthwith attempted to qualify her with a title.

“Lady Eliza Dunn?”

“No, no,” quoth she. “Plain Eliza.”

Rumour would have it that he thereupon announced in stentorian tones:
“Plain Eliza.”

It is not so much the uncomeliness of the Baby’s countenance as the
guileless trustfulness with which she turns it upon the world which
seems to make the name appropriate. Anyhow, it has come to stay.

The little children that run about Villino Loki these days--war-exiles,
most of them--have scarcely crossed the threshold before their voices
are uplifted, calling:

“Plain! Plain! Where is Plain Eliza?” And when the favourite is found
there is much cooing and fond objurgations of: “Darling Plain! My sweet
little Plain! Dear, darling, Plain Eliza!”

She is the only one of the Pekies that can be allowed with perfect
safety in the hands of the children. Mimosa is uncertain, and may turn
at any moment with a face of fury, her whole body bristling. She is
secretly very jealous of the children. And Loki is not uncertain at
all. He has never hidden his dislike of them, and his lip begins to
curl the instant a small hand is outstretched towards him. But Plain
Eliza, if bored, remains patient and gentle; and however “homely” she
may seem to her attached family, she is all beauty and charm in the
eyes of their little visitors.

Recently a most attractive child was for ten days, with her charming
young mother and baby brother, the guest of the Villino. To console her
on departure she was promised another Plain Eliza, should such a one
ever be vouchsafed the world. Her mother writes: “She prays and makes
me pray for the new Plain Eliza every day, and I think fully expects to
see her come shooting down from Heaven.”

A very dear child this, with a heart and mind almost too sensitive for
her four years. Many delicately pretty sayings are treasured of her.
She must have been about three when her first religious instruction was
given her. It made a profound impression. For months afterwards she
would date her experiences from the day of this enlightenment.

“You know, mammy, that was before Jesus was born to me!”

Her father is at the front. He has not yet seen his little son, the
arrival of whom was so much desired. This baby, an out-of-the-way
handsome, healthy child, is a prey to the terrors which it will be
yet mercifully many years before he can understand. He cannot bear to
be left alone a moment, and wakes from a profound sleep in spasms of
unconscious apprehension. Then nothing can soothe him but being clasped
very close, the mother’s hand upon the little head, pressing it to
her cheek. “He is nothing,” said the doctor, “to some of the babies I
have seen this year.” It is not astonishing; but how pathetic! These
little creatures, carried so long under an anguished heart, come into
the world bearing the print of the universal mystery already stamped on
their infant souls.

When will the dawn arise over a world no longer agonized and
disrupted? When will the wholesome joys and the natural sorrows
resume their preponderance in our existence? Surely every man’s own
span holds enough of trouble to make him realize that here is not our
abiding-place, and long for the security of the heavenly home. Perhaps
it was not so. Perhaps we had all fallen away too much from faith and
simplicity, and we needed this appalling experience of what humanity
can inflict upon humanity, when Christ and His cross are left out of
the reckoning.

“The world has become profoundly corrupt. There will surely come some
great scourge. It will be necessary to have a generation brought up by
mourning mothers and in a discipline of tears,” said a man of God in
what seemed words of unbearable severity, a year before the war broke
out.

So it may be that we are not only fighting for our children, to deliver
them from the intolerable yoke of the Hun, but that we are also
suffering for our children, to deliver them from the punishment of our
own sins.

       *       *       *       *       *

We meant to call this chapter “War-babies,” only for the newspaper
discussion which has made even innocence itself the subject of
passionate and unpleasant discussion.

There have been a good many war-babies in the neighbourhood as well as
Plain Eliza. The Signorina of the Villino has already acted godmother
several times to infant exiles. These little ones, we thank Heaven,
have arrived surprisingly jolly and unimpressed. Yet the poor mothers
had, most of them, fled from the sound of the cannon and the menace
of the shells, happy if they saw nothing worse than the flames which
were consuming their homes and all that those homes held and meant for
them. The Signorina is very particular that the girls should be called
Elizabeth and the boys Albert, with due loyalty to a sovereignty truly
royal in misfortune.

“Mademoiselle,” writes one young woman, “I have the happiness to
announce to you that I have the honour to have become the mother of a
beautiful little daughter.”

She meant what she said--marvellous as it may seem not to regard the
event in such circumstances as an added anguish!

We have heard of the birth of a child to a widow of eighteen--a peasant
girl in Brussels--who was forced by the invaders not only to watch her
father and husband and both brothers struck down under her eyes, but to
assist in burying them while they were still breathing.

“It is a very ugly little baby,” writes the kind lady who is its
godmother, “and the poor mother is very ill. When she gets better it
will be a comfort to her.”

In these days, when the lid of hell has been taken off--as Mr.
Elbert Hubbard, one of the victims of the _Lusitania_, graphically
declared--when legions of devils have been let loose upon an
unsuspecting world, the case of the eighteen-year-old peasant woman in
the Brussels _asile_ is by no means the most to be pitied. Her child
will be a comfort to her. Not so will it be with the many unfortunate
Belgian village mothers--to whom children are being, we hear, born
maimed in awful testimony of the mutilations which the wives have been
forced to witness deliberately inflicted on their husbands. War-babies,
indeed! Stricken before birth, destined to bear through a necessarily
bitter existence the terrible mark of the barbarian foe.

Let us get back to the fur children. It is such a comfort to be able
to turn one’s eyes upon something that can never understand the horror
about one.

Plain Eliza’s only trick is to put her front paws together, palm to
palm, in an attitude of prayer, and wave them. This is called in the
family “making pretty paws.” When the children plunge for her and clasp
her close, the first cry is always: “Plain Eliza, make pretty paws!
Dear Plain Eliza, make pretty paws!”

She will not do it for them every day. Little dogs know very well that
human puppies have no real authority over them. Perhaps it is because
of the rarity of her condescension in this direction, or perhaps
because of the wonderful emphasis of her supplication when she does
so condescend, that the youngest of the small exiles, three-year-old
Viviane, regards this accomplishment as the very acme of expression.
She is a pious babe, and is fond of paying visits to the little Oratory
in the Villino. One day her governess observed her wringing and waving
her dimpled hands before the altar. When she came out she confided in
tones of devout triumph: “I have been making pretty paws to little
Jesus.”

Viviane, the most satisfactory type of sturdy childhood it is possible
to imagine, combines a great determination, an understanding as solid
as her own little person, with an extremely tender heart. She quite
realizes the advantages of the good manners which her English governess
inculcates, and she can be heard instructing herself in a deep _sotto
voce_ when she sits at tea with grown-up entertainers.

“Vivi not speak with her mouth full. Vivi wait. Now Vivi can speak.”

“Good-bye, my little girl,” said her mother to her the other day,
sending the child home in advance to her early supper. “I hope you will
be good.”

“Vivi good,” was the prompt response, “good, obedient, nice manners at
table.”

She walked out of the room with her peculiarly deliberate gait,
murmuring the admonition to herself.

During the terribly dry weather in the beginning of May we had a great
fire on our moor; whether caused by incendiarism or not remains a moot
point. The first hill that rolls up from our valley is now charred
half-way. Viviane was much concerned.

“Poor moor burnt! Poor moor burnt!” she lamented. Then, with a
delicious impulse qualified by characteristic caution, “Vivi kiss it
where it is not black; kiss it and make it well!”

When her cousin and playmate’s father was tragically killed on the
Yser, the little creature, who is devoted to her own father, was deeply
concerned. The latter is heroically devoting himself to ambulance work
at Calais. For many nights after the news of the young officer’s death
was received, Viviane would anxiously inform everyone who came into her
nursery that Papa was quite safe, pointing out his photograph on the
chimney-piece at the same time.

“Vivi got her Papa quite safe,” in a confused association of ideas.

Though she has only seen him once for a very short time all these nine
months, the child’s affectionate memory of him remains as distinct as
ever, and returning the other day from a morning walk with a scratched
knee, she declared pathetically she wished it had been a wound, for
then Vivi’s father would have had to come and nurse her.

The spirit of the Belgian children is one of the most remarkable things
of the war. As soon as they can understand anything at all they seem to
grasp the situation of present valiant endurance and future glory. They
know what sacrifices have been demanded of their parents. There is not
a child that we have seen but measures the cost and its honour.

Upon the arrival of the _Faire part_ of that same young officer above
mentioned, with its immense black edge and unending list of sorrowing
relatives, Viviane’s eldest brother, a boy of nine, asked to read it.
When he came to the words: _Mort pour la patrie_, he looked up, his
face illuminated.

“_Oh, Maman, comme c’est beau!_”

Not the least among the miscalculations of the Germans in Belgium
has been their insane attempt to stifle the courage of the little
country by ferocity. But Germany has never counted with souls, and it
is by the power of the soul that this huge monster of materialism,
with its gross brutality and gross reliance on masses and mechanism,
will be overthrown. There is not a _gamin_ of the Brussels streets
that does not mock the German soldiery, finely conscious that, by the
immortal defiance of the spirit, Prussian brutality itself is already
vanquished. Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings!...

There was humour as well as heroism in the heart of the oppressed
Antwerp Belgian on that afternoon of his King’s birthday, when he sent
the three little girls to walk side by side through the streets dressed
in black, orange, and red. The Hun stood helpless before the passage
of the living flag, not daring to face the ridicule which would fall
upon him all the world over were the babes arrested and taken to the
Commandatur. It was a superb defiance, flung in the face of the despot,
flung by the little ones! The whole history of Belgium’s glory and
Germany’s shame is in it.

       *       *       *       *       *

It is just the feeling that they are blessedly ignorant of the
universal suffering that makes the company of our pets so soothing to
us now.

“My dog is my one comfort,” cried a friend to us, surveying her Peky
as he sat, fat and prosperous, his lip cocked with the familiar
Chinese smile, triumphant after the feat of having silently bitten his
mistress’s visitor. “He is the only person that hasn’t changed!”

The bite of a Pekinese does not hurt, it may be mentioned, and the
visitor quite shared his owner’s feelings.

It may be something of the same sensation that makes the wounded
soldiers in the hospital near us long for the forbidden joy of
something alive for a mascot. They picked up a very newly hatched
pheasant in the grounds the other day, and carried it home to share
their bed and board. It was fed on extraordinary concoctions, and after
three days was discovered to have passed away. There was a strong
suspicion of the matron, who had not approved from the beginning. They
consoled themselves by a military funeral. A very handsome coffin
having been made by an expert, they went in solemn procession to lay
the infant pheasant to rest. Now there is always a wreath on the grave.

Invited to the Villino this week to see our azaleas, they arrived, a
batch of twenty, at the odd hour of ten o’clock in the morning, to be
regaled with buns and lemonade, no tea-parties being allowed. They
enjoyed themselves very much, but the feature of the entertainment was
Mimosa, the small ruby Pekinese. She passed from embrace to embrace.
She licked them so much that they told the Sister they would not need
to have their faces washed any more. This is the kind of joke that is
really appreciated in hospitals. When Mimi returned to her devoted
Mrs. MacComfort in the kitchen, the latter remarked “she was so above
herself she couldn’t do anything with her.”

Unfortunately all little dogs are not happy and protected like ours.
Belgian friends who passed through villages and towns after the first
wave of the invader had spread over the country tell us of a horrible
and singular byway of wanton atrocity. The soldiery slaughter the dogs
wholesale, some said to eat them, but that seems hardly credible.
Most probably it was part of the scheme of general terrorism. To burn
the houses and slay the husbands and fathers, to spear and mutilate
and trample down the children, to insult the women, it was all not
enough. The finishing touch must be given by the murder of the humble
companion, the faithful watch-dog, the children’s pet. Piles and piles
of dogs’ heads were at the corners of the streets, our friend told us.

We know they laid hold of the poor dogs to experiment upon them with
their diabolical gas. But there was at least some reason in the latter
brutality.

One hears many stories about the dogs of war.

At the beginning of the conflict the trained ambulance dogs were
reported to have done splendid work in the French trenches. We do not
know if we have any such, but we do know that the men have pets among
them out there, whether mascots brought out from England or strays
picked up from the abandoned farms. The deserted dogs! A French paper
published an article upon these dumb victims, not the least pathetic
of the many side tragedies of this year of anguish. It was a poor
shop-keeper who described what he himself had seen in passing through a
devastated town within the conquered territory.

“The dogs have remained in the town, from whence the inhabitants have
fled. The dogs have remained where there is not left a stone upon a
stone. How they do not die of hunger I cannot imagine. They must hunt
for themselves far out in the country-side, I suppose, but they come
back as quickly as they can and congregate at the entrance of the
suburb on the highroad.

“There are two hundred, or three hundred perhaps--spaniels, sheep-dogs,
fox-terriers, even small ridiculous lap-dogs--and they wait, all of
them, with their heads turned in the same direction, with an air of
intense melancholy and passionate interest. What are they waiting for?
Oh, it is very easy to guess. Sometimes one of the old inhabitants
of the town makes up his mind to come back from Holland. The longing
to see his home, to know what is left of his house, to search the
ruins, is stronger than all else--stronger than hatred, stronger than
fear. And sometimes then one of the dogs recognizes him. His dog! If
you could see it. If you could imagine it. All that troop of dogs
who prick their ears at the first sight of a man coming along the
road from Holland, a man who has no helmet, a man not in uniform;
the instantaneous painful agitation of the animals who gaze and gaze
with all their might--dogs have not very good eyes--and who sniff and
sniff from afar, because their scent is better than their sight. And
then the leap, the great leap of one of these dogs who has recognized
his master, his wild race along the devastated road, ploughed with
the furrows by the passage of cannons and heavy traction motors and
dug with trenches; his joyous barks, his wagging tail, his flickering
tongue! His whole body is one quiver of happiness. The dog will not
leave that man any more, he is too much afraid of losing him. He will
follow close to his heels without stopping to eat; one day, two days
if needful; and in the end he goes away with him.

“But the others? They have remained on the road. And when they see this
dog depart, having found at last what they all are seeking, they lift
up their muzzles despairingly and howl, howl as if they would never
stop, with great cries that fill the air, and re-echo until there is
nothing more to be seen upon the road. Then they are dumb, but they do
not move. They are there; they still hope.”



VII

OUR GARDEN IN JUNE

    “Still may Time hold some golden space
      Where I’ll unpack that scented store
    Of song and flower and sky and face,
      And count, and touch, and turn them o’er.”

                                  RUPERT BROOKE.


_June 1._--The garden in early June! Like a great many other things
the idea is very different from the reality. The first of June in the
garden represents to the mind’s eye bowers of roses, exuberance in the
borders, a riot of colour and fragrance. As a matter of fact, with us,
in our late-blooming, high-perched terraces, it means a transition
stage, and is annually very exasperating and disappointing to the
impatient spirit of the Signora. It is the time when the azaleas look
dishevelled, with their delicate blossom hanging depressingly from the
stamens. The forget-me-nots have all been cleared away, and in those
places where bulbs are preserved against the future spring, masses
of yellowing tangled leaf-spikes are an eyesore. The bedding-out
plants still look tiny on the raw borders. All our roses, except those
climbers against the house, are yet in the bud. There are just the
poppies that flaunt in the borders; and even their colour becomes an
exasperation, because they would have done so much better to wait
and join in the grand symphony, instead of blowing isolated trumpet
flourishes, prepared to relapse into sulky silence when the delphiniums
strike up their blue music.

There is also another frightful drawback to this first week of leafy
June, and that is that it would be easier to separate Pyramus from
Thisbe than the gardener from the vegetables. A constant enervating
struggle goes on between us on the relative values of cabbages and
roses, beans and poppies. We want the roses sprayed, we want the
borders staked, we want sustenance in the shape of liquid manure and
Clay’s fertilizer copiously administered to our darlings; and he wants
to put in “that there other row of scarlet runners and set out them
little lettuces.” And when it comes to watering: he doesn’t know, he’s
sure, how he’s to get them cabbages seen to as they ought to be seen
to; a deal of moisture _they_ want, if they’re to do him any justice.

Meanwhile our terraces are panting. The climbing roses up the
house--and this year they would have been glorious--are pale and
brittle in petal and foliage, as if they had been actually blasted.

The master of the Villino, after due representations from the Padrona,
has seen the necessity of sacrifice, and assiduously waters the garden
every evening--and himself! The hose is defective; being war time we
cannot afford a new one. Two jets break out at the wrong angle and take
you in the eye and down the waistcoat at the most unexpected moments;
and though amenable to persuasion, the Padrone’s devotion has its
limits, and he positively declines the remanipulation of the tube which
will bring it--after having done service in the Dutch garden--to the
end of the Lily Walk. So that, as it is two yards short, the deficiency
has to be made up by hand watering, and two obsolete bath-cans are
produced out of the house, which seems, for some unexplained reason,
easier than using the proper garden furniture. These cans are generally
left, forgotten, where they were last used, unless the piercing eye of
the mistress of the Villino happens to dart in that direction.

Yesterday we had visitors--in eighteenth-century parlance, a General
and his Lady--and of course the two cans stood in the middle of the
path, confidingly, nose to nose. Being war time nobody minded. It is
the blessing and the danger of war time that nobody minds anything. And
the General’s Lady, being tactful, kept her eye on the buddleia.

Death having come to the little garden and taken Adam away; and greed
of gain having deprived us of Reginald Arthur in favour of the post
office; and patriotism having rendered the local young man as precious
as he is scarce, we were five weeks--five invaluable, irreplaceable
weeks--gardenerless, odd-manless at the Villino. Nothing this year will
ever restore the lost time. No amount of pulling and straining will
draw the gap together.

Japhet, Adam’s successor, is worn, as the Americans say, very nearly
“to a frazzle.” He is a deeply conscientious man, and peas and beans
and cabbages are to him the very principles upon which all garden
morality is built up. He was much grieved the other day when someone
“passed a remark” on the subject of weeds in the back-garden.

Weeds! We should think there were! It was so blatantly self-evident
a fact that we wondered that anyone should have thought it worth
while to pass a remark upon it. But Japhet was hurt to his very soul:
considering his vocation, it would perhaps be more in keeping to
say--his marrow.

Professional pride is a very delicate and easily bruised growth.
When the Padrona was in her teens the whole of her mother’s orderly
establishment was convulsed one June--a hot June it was too--because
the professional pride of the family butler had been wounded by the
footman’s presuming to hand a dish which it was not his business to
touch. His sense of dignity was doubtless sharpened to a very fine edge
by the fact that, the June weather being so hot, an unusual amount of
cooling beer had been found necessary. This may seem a curious mixture
of metaphors, nevertheless the facts are exact.

Reilly--that was his name--was very deeply and, in the opinion of the
rest of the household, justifiably incensed when Edmund lifted the
entrée dish with the obvious intention of offering it to his mistress;
and though it was regarded as an exaggeration of sensitiveness for
him to knock the footman down immediately after lunch in the seclusion
of the pantry, to kneel upon his chest and endeavour to strangle him
with his white tie; and though the cook deemed it incumbent upon her
to draw the attention of the authorities to the drama by seizing a
broom and brushing it backwards and forwards across the row of bells;
all the sympathies of the establishment remained with Reilly, and “the
mistress” was regarded as extremely hard-hearted for dismissing him
from her service. The footman was a shock-headed, snub-nosed youth, and
we will never forget his appearance when, released from his assailant,
he burst into the dining-room, collarless, his white tie protruding
at an acute angle behind his left ear, with a mixture of triumph,
importance, and suffering upon his scarlet countenance.

So we were compassionate with Japhet when he waxed plaintive over his
underling’s house duties, and even forbore having the windows cleaned
for several weeks, and endured tortures at the sight of her spattered
panes, out of regard for his difficulties.

The underling is aptly named Fox. He has red hair and long moustaches
and a furtive eye and a general air of alertness and slyness which
show that if he had ever belonged to the animal kingdom in a previous
state of existence, Vulpus he certainly was. But we did not expect him
to develop garden susceptibilities too. This, however, it seems he has
done.

“I’ve very bad news for you,” said Japhet sombrely to his master last
week, when he came into the long, book-lined room to receive his
Saturday pay. He has naturally a lugubrious countenance.

His master’s thoughts flew to Zeppelins, spotted fever, and other
national dangers.

“Indeed, Japhet. What is it?”

“Fox, he says, he can’t put up with the couch-grass and the docks in
the lower garden. They seem to have got on his mind, like. He don’t see
how he can go on dealing with them. They _’ave_ got a strong hold,”
concluded Japhet with a sigh, as if he too were overwhelmed by the
enemy.

Well, it was tragic enough, for the precious Fox had been caught after
long hunting, and had made his own bargain--a foxy one--with every eye
to the main chance. We want to keep him, but have a guilty sensation
too, he being young and strong, and obviously the right stuff for
enlisting; though, indeed, if docks and couch-grass daunt him, how
would he stand shrapnel and gas?

The daughter of the house, who is extremely tactful, and who is
generally trusted with delicate situations, interviewed him on the
spot. She found him in a condition only to be described as one of
nerve-shock. His long, red moustaches quivered. All he could reply, in
a broken voice, was:

“It don’t do me no credit. It won’t never do me no credit.”

Japhet, consulted, gave it as his opinion that it was not a question
of his subordinate’s bettering himself; but said “Fox had always been
a sensitive worker.” Nevertheless, we should not be surprised to hear
that war prices have something to do with it.

       *       *       *       *       *

It is only now, after nearly five years, that we are beginning to
reap some benefit of our constant planting. The Signora wonders if
her irritable mind had allowed her to leave undisturbed those divers
perennials and bushes which she had rooted up after a year’s trial from
beds and borders, how might she not now be gathering the reward of
longanimity.

The Léonie Lamesche roses, for instance. She hunted them out of the
middle of the Dutch garden; out of the beds before the entrance arches
into the rose-garden; into that corner of the kitchen-garden where the
derelicts gather. And just now the child of the house has brought into
her bunch after bunch of little orange-crimson pompoms, delicious and
quaint to look at, and delicious and quaint to smell, with their faint
tartness, as of apples, mixed with an aromatic herbiness as of myrtles.

“There’s quantities more,” says the Signorina. Poor little things!
they have been allowed to settle and spread their roots, and one would
not know them for the nipped, disreputable, guttersnipe objects that
hitherto called down the master of the Villino’s scorn.

We do not regret them in the Dutch garden after all. It is too near the
house not to have its garland for every season; and the forget-me-nots,
hyacinths, and tulips are too precious and beautiful in the spring.
But under the rose-arches now there are gaps; and this year, between
the loss of our poor Adam and war scruples, these gaps have not been
filled.

If the Signora had left Léonie Lamesche where she was, all those nice
varnished green leaves and all those darling rosettes of bloom with
their odd colour and fragrance would be in their right place, instead
of in the waste ground from which Japhet, with the zeal of the new
broom, is already preparing to sweep them next autumn--not, be it said,
with any special disapprobation for Léonie, but because he declares he
wants to get rid of all that there stuff which hadn’t no right to be in
a vegetable garden at all.

The moral is--as has been said long ago in the “Sentimental
Garden”--that chief among the many virtues a garden inculcates is
patience. If the Signora had had patience, she would not have turned
all the Standard Soleil d’Or and Conrad Meyers out of the Lily Walk,
because the shadow of the buddleias interfered with their bloom. For
behold! this winter’s snow has cast the great honey-trees sideways,
and the united efforts of Japhet and Fox, who pulled and propped and
strained in vain, have left them sideways, and sideways, in the opinion
of these experts, they will for ever after remain. And the Lily Walk is
in full sunshine. Had we but left the standards, who, of course, will
be sulky in their new positions for a couple of years more!

_June 15._--The complaint begun in the first week of our transitional
garden has already been reproved by the mid-month’s splendours. In
spite of the drought and the desiccating south-east winds (which by
some inscrutable decree of Providence have been sent to us this year
when so much depends upon field, orchard, and garden), the roses are
magnificent and of unusual promise.

Our peony beds--the mistress of the garden did know that peonies are
slow ladies and will take their time--are beginning to reward her
forbearance. Such a basketful as came into her bedroom to-day with
the Polyantha roses!--those large, pink, scented beauties which are
so satisfying to settle in big bowls. We have put them in the chapel
against boughs of the service-tree. The effect is all one could wish.

The service-tree bloomed this year as never it bloomed before. It
looked like the bridal bouquet of a fairy giantess! We trust this
daring hyperbole will enable our readers to represent to themselves
something at once immense and ethereal, misty grey, and delicate
silver-white. It is of huge size and beautiful shape, and grows a
little higher on the slope than the greater of the two beech-trees. For
colour effect we know nothing more soul-filling than the way it stands
between the ardent tawny glories of the Azalea Walk and the young jewel
green of its cousin--the beech above mentioned. Put the shoulder of the
moor at the back in its May mantle of coppery mauve heather not yet in
bud--that is a picture to gaze upon under a blue sky, thanking God for
the loveliness of the earth!

This last May, which will be ever memorable as one of the most
tragic months of the war, hazard--or that _slithy tove_, the alien
Hun--provided us with a background approximately _macabre_ for the
radiant youthful joy. Our moor has been burnt--five fires started
simultaneously one day of high east wind, and the first great swelling
hill is covered with a garment as of hell. The scattered fir-trees
here and there are of a livid, scorched brown. To look out on the
scene and see them stand in the slaty black, casting mysterious shadows
under the dome of relentless brightness we have had of late, is like
looking upon a circle of Dante’s Inferno, out of one of the cool,
bowery regions of his upper Purgatorio. Our daughter finds a wilder
beauty in our blossom and verdure against the savage gloom beyond; but
not so the Padrona. She laments the tapestry of her peaceful, rolling
heights. Now, past mid-June, bracken is creeping slowly through the
charred roots of the heather, and she does not want a bracken hill. It
is spreading democracy, taking the place of some royal line; the rule
of the irresponsible, the coarse, the mediocre; though she grants there
will be beauty in the autumn when it all turns golden. And perhaps
there’s a lesson to be drawn somewhere, but she will have none of it,
for there is nothing so tiresome as the unpalatable moral.

       *       *       *       *       *

Fox has condescended to remain another week, so we need not feverishly
search garden chronicles for the quite impossible he, who shall be
strong, sturdy, ineligible for the army, and willing to take a place as
under-gardener at something less than the honorarium of an aniline dye
expert! All those who want places are head-gardeners, “under glass”;
except “a young Dutchman speaking languages perfectly” who fills our
souls with doubt. In every district it is the same story; we wish we
could think it was all patriotic ardour, but we are afraid that the
high wages offered by camps and greengrocers are responsible for a good
deal of the shortage of labour in our part of the world.

One of the Villino quartette--we call ourselves the lucky
clover-leaf--writes from Dorset that they have an aged man of past
seventy-two who comes in to help in the flowery, bowery old garden
of the manor-house where she is staying. In justice to simple rural
Dorset, it may be mentioned parenthetically that there the response
to the country’s need has been extraordinary in its unanimity. So the
superannuated labourers who have grown white and wise over the soil,
instead of sitting by the chimney-corner and enjoying their old-age
pensions, come tottering forth to do their little bit, in the place
of the young stalwartness that has gone out to fight and struggle and
perhaps die for England.

Our Dorset clover petal writes: “Old Mason is very sad at having to
water the borders. ‘Ye mid water and water for days and days,’ he
declares, ‘and it not have the value of a single night’s rain. There,
miss, as I did say to my darter last night, my Father, I says, he do
water a deal better than I do.’”

Yesterday there came a box of white pinks from that Dorset garden;
these have been put all together into an immense cut-glass bowl, with
an effect of innocent, white, overflowing freshness that is perfect of
its kind. And the scent of them is admirably fitted to the sweet clean
wonder of their looks. It is a quintessence of all simple fragrance,
a sort of intensified new-mown hay smell. That is another thing the
heavenly Father has done very well--the delicate matching of attributes
in His flower children. A tea-rose looks her scent, just as does her
deep crimson sister.

“How it must have amused Almighty God,” said our daughter one day last
winter, lifting the cineraria foliage to show the purple bloom of the
lining which exactly matched the note of the starry flower, “how it
must have amused Him to do this.”

And surely a violet bears in her little modest face the promise of her
insinuating and delicate perfume.

And if the big pink peonies had had bright green instead of shadowy
grey foliage they might have been vulgar.

And if you had put lily leaves to an iris instead of their own romantic
sword-blades, how awkward and wrong it would have been; whereas the
lily-stalk, with its conventional layers, is perfection in support of
the queenly head of the Madonna or the Auratum. It is not association,
but recognition of a Great Artist, in all reverence be it said: “He
hath done all things well.”

To come back to the walled enclosure about the old Dorset manor house.
Here, looking down our wind-swept terraces, we sometimes hanker for the
sunny seclusion of that walled garden, though apparently all is not
perfect even there, for the last message from it says:

“The strong sun takes all the strength out of the pinks after the
first day or two. It has been very hot in the early afternoon, and as
the garden faces west all the poor little things are drawn in a long
slant towards the setting sun. Some of the long-stemmed ones have got
positive wriggles in their stalks from so much exercise; it is really
bad for their systems.”

In a previous letter she writes less pessimistically:

“I can’t tell you the loveliness of the garden. It is like Venus
rising from the sea--Venus and her foam together--roses, pinks,
sweet-williams, everything leaping into bloom and over the walls. I
have given up trying to harmonize colours. There is nothing so wilful
as an old garden. The plants simply walk about, much as our ‘Pekies’
do. I planted nigella last year, which didn’t do very well; however it
skipped across a path of its own accord this year, and there is a patch
of it in a forbidden corner which shames the sky. One looks on and
laughs helplessly, as one does with ‘Pekies.’”

       *       *       *       *       *

The Penzance briar hedge dividing the new rosary from the reserve
garden promises very well. It is already breaking into many coloured
stars, carmine, pink, amber, and the fashionable khaki. Is this the
musk-rose of the “Midsummer Night’s Dream”?

To contradict our statement of a page or two back, the Creator has made
here one of the exceptions to His rule of rich and delicate balance,
and it is the unsuspected fragrance of the sweetbriar that adds so
extraordinarily to its attraction in a garden. No one would credit it
with the scent, its evanescent fragile bloom gives no indication of it.
And, like the perfectly saintly, its fragrance has nothing to do with
youth or beauty. You pass an unimportant-looking green bush, and all at
once you are assailed with the breath of Heaven. There is a mystery,
almost a mysticism, about the perfection of this sweetness, this
intangible, invisible beauty. One is reminded of Wordsworth’s lines:

              “quiet as a nun
    Breathless with adoration.”

It is the image of a pure soul exhaling itself before God, in a rapture
of ecstatic contemplation.

The June scents of the Villino garden are very wonderful, peculiarly
so this year, under the searching brilliancy of the unclouded heavens.
There is the sweetbriar, and there are the pinks, and there is one
long border all of nepeta--against the Dorothy Perkins hedge still
only green--with its pungent, wholesome savour. And there is the gum
cistus, that smells exactly as did the insides of the crimson Venetian
bottles which stood in the great white and blue and gold drawing-room
in the Signora’s Irish home. It was an old custom to put a drop of
attar of roses at the bottom of these favourite ornaments in those
days when the Signora was a little girl, and it was one of her great
joys to be allowed to lift the stopper and sniff. The strange far-off
Eastern incense that hangs about the rather uncomely straggling
shrub--another instance of the Almighty’s exceptions--brings the
mistress of the Villino back with a leap to her childhood; to the late
Georgian drawing-room, with its immense plate-glass windows hung with
curtains of forget-me-not blue brocade which cost a hundred pounds
a pair--people spent solid money then for solid worth; the white
marble chimney-piece, with its copy of a fraction of the Parthenon
frieze--Phaeton driving his wild, tossing horses; the immense cut-glass
chandelier sparkling and quivering with a thousand elfin rainbow
lights; the white and gold panels, the plastered frieze of curling
acanthus leaves; and the smiling face of the adored mother looking down
upon the little creature in the stiff piqué frock, who was the future
Padrona. No child analyzes its mother’s countenance. It is only in
later years that the beauty of that smile was recognized by her. It was
a beauty that endured to the very last of those eighty-five years of a
life that was so well filled. It was a smile of extraordinary sweetness
and, to that end, full of youth. That’s what the gum cistus brings
back; a fragrance of memory, poignant and beloved. Everyone knows that
through the sense of smell the seat of memory is most potently reached.
The merest whiff of a long-forgotten odour will bring back so vividly
some scene of the past that it is almost painful. It is to be wondered
why ghosts do not more often choose this form of return to the world.
The story told by Frederick Myers in his “Human Personality” of the
phantom scent of thyme by which a poor girl haunted the field where
she had been murdered is, we believe, unique; but we know another
record. This was not the struggle of any reproachful shade to bring
itself back to human recollection, but the ghost of a fragrance itself.
The late Bret Harte told the tale to a friend of ours. On a visit to
an old English castle he was lodged in a tower room. Every afternoon
he used to withdraw for literary labours, and at a certain hour the
whole of the old chamber would be filled with the penetrating vapour of
incense. He sought in vain for some explanation of the mystery. There
was nothing within or without, beneath or above, which could produce
such a phenomenon. Then he bethought himself of investigating the past,
and found that his room was exactly over what had once been the chapel
in the days of our ancient Faith, and that it had been the custom to
celebrate Benediction at the hour when the incense--that wraith of a
bygone lovely worship--now seemed to surround him.

A few steps beyond the gum cistus the buddleia trees this June have
their brief splendour of bloom and their intoxication of perfume. It
is as if all the honey of clover and gorse, with something of a dash
of clove spice, was burning in a pyre of glory to the sunshine. What
wonder that the bees gather there and chant the whole day long! Happy
bees, drunk with bliss in the midst of their labour!

It is all very well to speak of bees as a frugal, hard-working
community, to hold them up to the perpetual emulation of the young. Few
people seem to remember how extremely dissipated they become when they
come across a good tap of honey. Who has not seen them--so charged with
the luxuriance that they can scarcely stagger out of the calyx--buzz
away, blundering, upon inebriated wing?

Greatly favoured by Nature, the bees combine the extreme of laudable
activity with the extreme of self-indulgence. Anyone who wants to
hear their pæan of rapture at its height, let him provide them with
_Buddleia globosa_.

We have by no means exhausted the list of scents in the June garden.
There are the irises! All Florence is in the sweetness that flows
from them: a sweetness, by the way, not adapted to rooms, where,
to be unpoetical, it assumes something faintly catty. The way the
perfume of irises rolls over Florence in May is something not to be
described to anyone who has not breathed it. We were once the guests
of a kindly literary couple, who dwelt in one of those charming,
quaint, transmogrified farmhouses outside the city that makes us--even
we who own the Villino Loki--hanker. It was called Villa Benedetto.
One drove out from Florence along a road now only vaguely remembered.
It skirted the river, and there were wild slopes on one side and
poplar-trees; then one darted aside into the Italian hills and up a
steep ascent--this vision is also vague; but we remember the little
garden-gate and the narrow brick path and the irises! Irises and China
roses! It is a lovely mixture for colour; and as for scent! anyone who
knows anything about scent (and we wonder why there are not artists in
it, as well as for music and painting) anyone who knows anything about
scent, we repeat, is quite aware that orris, the pounded iris root,
is the only possible fragrance to keep constantly about. It combines
the breath of the mignonette and the subtle delight of the violet.
It preserves, too, its adorable freshness of impression. You never
sicken of it, you never tire of it. Of course it has the fault of its
delicacy, it is evanescent; but, then, it is never stale. Any woman
who wishes an atmosphere of poetry should use nothing but orris, the
pure pounded root without any addition, and that perpetually renewed.
Precious quality, it cannot be overdone.

The odour of the flower itself in the sunshine is a different thing,
far more piercing and far more pronounced. It must be enjoyed in the
sunshine, or after a spring storm. Those other incomparable banquets
to the sense which a bean-field or a clover-meadow will spread for you
cannot be captured and refined in the same manner. More’s the pity!

Lafcadio Hearn declares that human beings have lamentably failed
to cultivate the rich possibilities of the sense of smell. In this
respect, he says, dogs are infinitely superior. Who can tell, he asks,
what ecstasy of combination, what chords, what symphonies of harmony
and contrast, might we not be able to serve ourselves? But we do not
think the idea will bear development, and certainly many suffer enough
from an over-sensitiveness of nostril already to prevent them from
desiring any further cultivation of its powers.

The Villino in June smells very good, however, and that is gratifying.
And to complete the catalogue there are the new pine shoots delicious
and aromatic, stimulating and healthy; a perfect aroma on a hot day.

“Tell me your friends and I will tell you what you are,” says the sage;
it sounds like a dog, but the Padrona feels that with one sniff she can
sum up a character.

When Tréfle Incarnat, or its last variant, takes you by the throat, you
needn’t look to see what kind of young woman is sitting beside you at
the theatre.

And when a portly friend, resplendent in gorgeous sables, heralds
her approach with a powerful blast of Napthaline, you know the kind
of woman _she_ is, and that the word “friend,” just written, is
misapplied; for you never could make a friend of anyone so stuffily and
stupidly careful.

And when you go to tea with an acquaintance--probably literary, living
in Campden Hill and fond of bead blinds--and the smell of joss-stick
floats upon the disgusted nostril from the doorway, you know the kind
of party you are going to have. Your hostess will have surrounded
herself with long-haired and dank-handed young men, the Postlethwaites
of the period, and brilliant young females who wear a mauvy powder over
rather an unwashed face, and curious garments cut square at the neck,
and turquoise matrix ear-rings, very much veined with brown! Besides
the joss-sticks there is cigarette smoke, and the atmosphere, morally
as well as physically, is fusty!

Then there is the female who produces a bottle of Eau-de-Cologne on
board ship. If it isn’t a German governess, it is a heated person with
something purple about her and kid gloves--why pursue the horrid theme!

Let us end this divagation by a little anecdote as true as it is
charming. It happened to a member of our own family. She was hurrying
along one foggy November morning to the Brompton Oratory rather
early; and the dreadful acrid vapour and the uncertain struggle of
a grimy dawn contended against the glimmer of the gas-lamps. As she
approached the steps of the church somebody crossed her, and instantly
the whole air was filled with an exquisite fragrance as of violets.
Involuntarily she started to look round, and her movement arrested,
too, the passer-by. For a second they stood quite close to each other,
and to our relative’s astonishment she saw only a small, meek-faced old
lady in an Early Victorian bonnet wrapped in a very dowdy dolman.

The old lady gave a little smile and went her way. There was certainly
no adornment of real violets about her, and to look at her was enough
to be assured that artificial scents could never approach her.

The incident seemed strange enough to be worth making investigations,
and the explanation was simple. The little old lady was very well
known; mother of priests, a ceaseless worker among the poor; nearly
eighty, and every day at seven o’clock Mass. Many people had remarked
the scent of violets about her, and her friends thought, laughingly, it
was because she was something of a saint.

This sweet-smelling saint died as she had lived. She had received the
Last Sacraments; she knew her moments were numbered, but she sat up,
propped by pillows, and went on knitting for the poor till the needles
fell from her hands.

If the story of the violets had not happened to a member of the family,
the Signora would be quite ready to believe it on hearsay, because
of the delicious simplicity and certain confidence of that placid
deathbed.



VIII

OUR BLUE-COAT BOYS

    “Ils ont le bras en écharpe, et un bandeau sur l’œil,
    Mais leur âme est légère et ils sourient ...
        Ils s’en vont, grisés de lumière,
        Etourdis par le bruit,
    Traînant la jambe dans la poussière
    Le nez au vent, le regard réjoui....”

                                               CAMMAERTS.


We asked them to tea; the Sister said that “the Matron said they
couldn’t do that”; but they could come for morning lunch about
half-past ten o’clock, and have bread-and-butter and see the garden.
And they would like to come very much indeed, preferably next day. The
Matron further opined about twelve would feel well enough to avail
themselves of our hospitality.

It gave us very little time for preparation, and the baker declined
to provide us with buns so early. But it was very hot, fortunately;
so Mrs. McComfort set to work at dawn to prepare lemonade and fruit
salad, and immense slices of bread-and-jam. And we were very glad she
had been so lavish in her Irish generosity when we heard the sound of
voices and the tramping of feet in the courtyard: it seemed as if there
were a regiment of them! In reality there were only twenty--twenty
smiling, stalwart “blue-coat boys.” Some with an arm in a sling; two
or three limping along with the help of a stick; one with a bandaged
head; three, in spite of a brave front, with that look of strain and
tragedy in the eyes which stamps even those who have been only slightly
“gassed.”

They are very much amused at the little outing, as pleased and
as easily diverted as children, not anxious to talk about their
experiences, but answering with perfect ease and simplicity any
question that is made to them on the subject. They are chiefly excited
over our little dogs. We wish that we had twenty instead of only
three; or that we had borrowed from a neighbour’s household for the
occasion. Every man wants to nurse a dog, and those who have secured
the privilege are regarded with considerable envy by the others.

The younger members of the _famiglia_ are in a desperate state of
excitement, and there is a great flutter of aprons, and cheeks flame
scarlet under caps pinned slightly crooked in the agitation of the
moment.

Miss Flynn the housemaid, Miss O’Toole the parlourmaid, are stirred to
rapture to discover an Irish corporal, wounded at Ypres. We think they
talk more of Tipperary--it really is Tipperary--than of Flanders. Miss
Flynn, a handsome, black-eyed, black-haired damsel, with a colour that
beats the damask roses on the walls of the Villino, has been born and
bred in England. She is more forthcoming than Miss O’Toole, who has the
true Hibernian reserve; who looks deprecatingly from under her fair
aureole of hair, and expects and gives the utmost respectfulness in all
her relations with the opposite sex.

They say this lovely sensitive modesty of the Irish girl is dying out.
The penny novelette, the spread of emancipation and education--save the
mark!--facilities of communication, have done away with it. More’s the
pity if this be true, for it was a bloom on the womanhood of Ireland no
polish can replace; it added something incommunicably lovable to the
grace of the girls, something holy, almost august, to the tenderness of
the mothers.

When the Signora was a child in Ireland the peasant wife still spoke
of her husband as “the master”; and in the wilds of Galway, quite
recently, she has seen the women in the roads pull their shawls over
their faces at the approach of a stranger. The humble matron of the
older type will still walk two paces behind her husband. These are,
of course, but indications of the austere conception of life which
an unquestioning acceptance of her faith kept alive in the breast of
the Irishwoman. When she promised to love and honour him, the husband
became _de facto_ “the master.” Yet the influence of the Irish wife
and mother in her own home in no way suffered from this conception of
her duty. She was as much “_herself_” upon the lips of her lord as he
“_himself_” upon hers. It used to be a boast that the purity of the
Irish maiden and the Irish mother was a thing apart, inassailable. The
Signora’s recollections of Ireland, of a childhood passed in a country
house that kept itself very much in touch with its poor neighbours and
dependants, bring her back many instances of drunkenness among the
men, alas! and the consequent fights and factions; of slovenliness
among the women, and hopeless want of thrift and energy; in one or two
instances, indeed, of flagrant dishonesty; but she never remembers a
single occasion marked by the shocked whisper, the swift and huddled
dismissal, or any of the other tokens by which a fall from feminine
virtue is mysteriously conveyed to the child mind.

Among all the poor cottage homes, the various farms, great and small,
prosperous or neglected, each with their strapping brood of splendid
youth, never one can she recollect about whose name there was a
silence; never a single one of these dewy-eyed, fresh-faced girls that
did not carry the innocence of their baptism in the half-deprecating,
half-confident looks they cast upon “the quality.”

Naturally there must have been exceptions; and naturally, too, this
state of affairs could not have applied to some of the more miserable
quarters of the towns. Nevertheless, the Ireland of a quarter of a
century ago had not forgotten she had once been called the Island of
Saints; and her mothers and daughters kept very preciously the vestal
flame alive in their pure breasts.

Times have changed, and more’s the pity, as we have said. But now and
again a flower blooms as if upon the old roots, and though Mary O’Toole
is transplanted to England, we trust that she may keep her infantile
innocence and her exquisite--there is no English equivalent--_pudeur_.

It was a picture to see her in her cornflower-blue cotton frock, with
her irrepressible hair tucked as tidily as nature would allow beneath
her white cap, staggering under the weight of a tray charged with
refreshments for the wounded. She is about five-foot nothing, with a
throat the average male hand could encircle with a finger and thumb,
but among the twenty soldiers, all of different ages, classes, and, of
course, dispositions, who visited us that day, there was not one but
regarded her with as much respect as if she had been six foot high and
as ill-favoured as Sally Brass--we hope, however, with considerably
more pleasure.

When the blue-coat boys have been duly refreshed, they wander out into
the garden. They remind one irresistibly of a school, and there is
something tenderly droll in their complete submission to the little
plump sister, who orders them about with a soft voice and certain
authority.

“No. 20, come out of the sun. No. 15, I’d rather you didn’t sit on the
grass.”

Then she turns apologetically to us: “It isn’t that I don’t know it’s
quite dry.” (We should think it was, on our sandy heights, after five
weeks’ drought!) “But I never know quite where I am with the gassed
cases. That’s the worst of them. They’re perfectly well one day, and we
say, ‘Thank goodness, _that’s_ all over,’ and the next day its up in
his eyes, perhaps!”

“I’ll never be the same man again,” suddenly exclaims a short,
saturnine young Canadian, who has not--a marked exception to the
others--once smiled since he came, and who keeps a dark grudge in his
eyes. He seems perfectly well, except for that curious expression, to
our uninitiated gaze, but his voice is weak and there is a languor
about his movements extraordinarily out of keeping with his build,
which is all for strength, like that of a young Hercules.

“I’ll never be the same man again; I feel that. It’s shortened my life
by a many years. So it has with them over there.” He jerks his thumb
towards his comrades in misfortune. “They’ll none of them ever be the
same men again.”

The Signora tries feebly to protest, but the nurse acquiesces placidly.
It is the hospital way, and not a bad way either; misfortunes are not
minimized, they are faced.

The Signora has an unconquerable timidity where other people’s
reticences are concerned, and was far from emulating the amiable
audacity of a close relative--at present on a visit to the
Villino--whose voice she hears raised in the distance with query after
query: “Where was it? In your leg? Does it hurt? Do you mind? Do you
want to go back again?” But when she sees that the men indubitably like
this frank attack, and respond, smiling and stimulated, the silence of
her Canadian begins to weigh upon her. She tries him with a bashful
question:

“Is your home in a town in Canada?”

“No, not in a town. Three hundred and eighty miles away from the
nearest of any importance.”

“Oh, dear! Then it must take you a long time to hear from your people.”

The young harsh face darkens.

The post only comes to his home out yonder once a week, anyhow, but
he hasn’t heard but once since he left. Not at all since he came to
England wounded.

“Oh, dear!” exclaimed the Signora again, scenting a grievance. “But if
it’s so far away, you couldn’t have heard yet.”

The lowering copper-hued countenance--it is curiously un-English,
and reminds one vaguely of those frowning black marble busts in the
Capitol: young Emperors already savagely conscious of their own
unlimited power--takes a deeper gloom.

He could have heard. No. 9 had had a letter that morning, and _his_
home was forty miles further north.

“Had No. 9 a letter?” asks the little Sister.

She sits plump and placid in her cloak, and looks like a dove puffing
out her feathers in the sunshine. We have said she has a cooing voice.

“Yes, he had,” says the Canadian, and digs a vindictive finger into the
dry grass.

The Signora, fearing the conversation is going to lapse, plunges into
the breach.

“What was your work at home? Farming, I suppose.”

This remark meets with an unexpected success. The poor, fierce
eyes--that seem never to have ceased from contemplation of unpardonable
injury since that day at Ypres when the fumes of hell belched up before
them--brighten.

“Wa-al! I do sometimes this and sometimes that. I can do most things.
It’s just what I happen to want to put my hand to. I’m master of half a
dozen trades, I am. I’ve been on the farm, and I’m a blacksmith, and an
engineer on the railway; and a barber, and a butcher.”

“Dear me!” says the little Sister.

Her gaze is serenely fixed on the smiling green path. From the shadow
in which we sit, it leads to a slope out into the blaze of the
sunshine, where a cypress-tree rises like an immense green flame,
circled with a shimmer of light. But perhaps her tone conveys rebuke,
for our Canadian suddenly relapses into silence, from which we cannot
again entice him.

A little further away a friend who is staying with us, and the relative
above mentioned, are listening with intense interest to the talk of a
tall, black-moustached soldier. His face is very pale under its bronze;
he is the worst of the three gas victims who have come to-day. It is
only what are called the very slight cases that are treated in the
hospital close by.

A much older man this, who has been many years in the army and came
over with the Indian division. He has a gentle, thoughtful face. There
is no resentment in his eyes--only the look of one who has seen death
very close and does not forget--and a great languor, the mark of the
gas. He is talking very dispassionately of our reprisals.

“Oh yes, we have used our gas, the freezing-gas! But it don’t seem
hardly worth while. It draws their fire so.” Then, with an everyday
smile and no more emotion in his tone than if he were descanting on a
mousetrap, he goes on to describe the incredibly sudden effect of what
he calls the freezing-gas, which we suppose to be the French Turpinite.
“It freezes you up, so to speak, right off on the spot. You see a
fellow standing, turning his head to talk to a fellow near him. He
lifts his hand, maybe, in his talk like; then comes along the gas, and
there he stands. You think he’s going on talking. He’s frozen dead,
his arm up, looking so natural-like, same as might be me this minute.
Oh, it’s quick! what you call instantaneous. But it ain’t ’ardly worth
while. The Germans, you see, it draws their fire so. Two or three times
we got it in among our own men--oh, by mistake, miss, of course!” This
in response to the horrified ejaculation of his interlocutor. “And that
didn’t seem ’ardly worth while.”

Beyond this group, again, the daughter of the house, seated on a
croquet-box, is surrounded by three sprawling blue soldiers. One of
them is talking earnestly to her. The others are so much engaged in a
game of “Beggar my Neighbour” with three-year-old Vivi, the Belgian
baby, that they do not pay the smallest attention to their companion,
and yet what he is saying is horrible enough, startling enough, God
knows! The speaker is a fair, pleasant-looking boy with a cocked nose,
tightly curling auburn hair, and an air of vitality and energy that
makes it difficult to think of him as in anything but the perfection of
health. He is a territorial, and evidently belongs to that thinking,
well-educated, working class that has made such a magnificent response
to the country’s call.

“No, miss, we are not taking many prisoners now. No, we’re not likely
to. Well, think of our case. Just one little bit out of the whole long
line. They caught our sergeant--the sergeant of my company. We were
all very fond of him. Well, miss, they put him up where we could all
see him--top of their trench--and tortured him. Yes, miss, all day
they tortured him in sight of us, and all day we were trying to get
at them and we couldn’t. And when in the evening we did get at them,
he was dead, miss. We were all very fond of him. We weren’t likely
to give much quarter after that. And our officers”--here he smiles
suddenly--“well, miss, we’re Territorials, you see. Our officers just
let us loose. We’re Territorials,” he repeated. “They can’t keep us
as they keep the regulars. Not in the same military way. No, miss, we
didn’t give much quarter!”

Our daughter groans a little. She understands, she sympathizes, yet she
regrets. She would like our men to be as absolutely without reproach as
they are without fear.

“But you wouldn’t bring yourself down to the level of the Germans,” she
says; “you wouldn’t cease doing right because they do wrong?”

He fixes her with bright blue eyes, and they are hard as steel.

“Your British blood will boil,” he says slowly.

It seems impossible to associate such a dark and awful tragedy with
this slim English boy and his unconquerable air of joyous youth. The
Signorina remembers the repeated phrase, “We were all very fond of
him,” and she sickens from the thought of that hellish picture of
cruelty and agony on one side, of the impotent grief and rage on the
other.

To change the subject, she says:

“How were you wounded?”

And then it transpired he had been carrying in the British wounded at
the end of that day. He had been hit in the leg without knowing it, and
just as he was starting off to help to carry in the German wounded, he
collapsed.

_To help to carry in the German wounded!_ Those Germans who had
tortured his own comrade all day! Dear Tommy! Dear, straight, noble,
simple British soldier! How could one ever have mistrusted your rough
justice or your Christian humanity?

Real boy that he is, he warms up to the glee of narrating his
audacities when out at night with a party on listening-post duty.

“Rare fun it was,” he declares.

He used to creep up to the enemy’s trench and bayonet what came handy.

“I couldn’t fire, you see, miss, nor do anything likely to make a
noise, so it had to be done on the quiet. But I got a good many that
way.”

Baby Vivi is tired of her game of cards. For a while past she has been
amusing herself by boxing the two sitting soldiers. Very well-delivered
vigorous thumps she applies on their chests with her little fists,
and they obligingly go over backwards on the grass. She now comes to
exercise her powers on the Territorial. He catches her in his arms.

The men all look at the little girl with strange, troubled, tender
eyes. One knows what is at the back of their thought. One of them
expresses it presently.

“To think that anyone could ever hurt a little creature like that!”

Vivi’s young mother sits with her small group further away. She has
told them how she has fled out of her castle in the Ardennes at dawn,
without having had time even to pack her children’s clothes. They had
thought themselves safe with the pathetic hopefulness that filled poor
Belgium from the moment when the French troops and the English appeared
in strength upon the soil. “Now all is well,” they said; “now we are
safe.”

A French General and his staff lodged in the château, and the men
camped in the park. On the vigil of the day fixed for their intended
advance, the General took her on one side. An old man, he had been
through the whole of the war of ’70. He solemnly warned her of the
folly of remaining in her home, as she intended.

“Madame, I know the Germans. I know of what they are capable. I have
seen them at work; I have not forgotten.”

Should the invader reach a certain point within ten miles of the
district she must fly.

All that night the aviators kept coming with messages, and in the early
dawn they started. She was up and saw the cavalcade winding away
through the park. She stood in the porch to wish them God-speed. The
young men were full of ardour. They were going forth to meet the enemy.
The General was grave. When he had reached the public road, he sent
one of his aide-de-camps riding back at a gallop. Was it a premonition
of disaster, or had secret news reached him by some emissary from the
field of conflict? The message to her was, that she was to be gone at
once with her family. At once!

The young husband had already departed at break of day in their
automobile. He and his machine had been offered to the service of the
country and accepted. The mother, with her four little children--among
them the sturdy, two-year-old Viviane--had to walk to the station, with
what luggage could be got together and trundled down in a wheelbarrow.
Luckily it was not far--their own station just outside the park-gates.
They got the last train that ran from that doomed spot. The German guns
were within earshot as they steamed away.

In their hurry they had forgotten to bring any milk or water for the
baby girl. The heat was suffocating. The only thing that could be laid
hold of was a bottle of white wine which someone had thrust into a
bag. Vivi clamoured, and they gave her half a glassful in the end. She
enjoyed it very much, and it did not disagree with her at all.

The men in their blue garb listen to some of this story with profound
attention. They have a very touching, respectful, earnest way of
talking to the Belgian lady, and are very anxious to impress upon her
that soon they will have her country cleared of the enemy.

“You tell her that, miss. She do believe it, don’t she? We’re going to
sweep them out in no time. Tell her that, miss. That’s what we’re over
there for. She’ll soon be able to get back there--back in her own home.”

One of them gazes at her for a while in a kind of brooding silence, and
then says huskily:

“Isn’t it a mercy you got away, ma’am--you and your little children!”

He knows. He has seen.

Then Viviane is called upon to sing “Tipperary.”

Though only just three, this child, as has been said before, she looks
a sturdy four. The most jovial solid, red-cheeked, blue-eyed, smiling,
curly-haired little girl that it is possible to imagine. Her mother
says that she never lost her balance and tumbled down even when she
first began to toddle; and one can well believe it. There is a mixture
of strength and deliberation in everything she does that makes one
regret she is not a boy. But she has pretty, coaxing, coquettish ways
that are quite feminine.

She now puts her head on one side, and ogles with her blue eyes
first one soldier and another, and smiles angelically as she pipes
“Tipperary.”

This is a favourite song among the infant population these days. The
child of a friend of ours calls it her hymn, and sings it in church.

There is something really engaging in Viviane’s roll of the “r’s.”
Her Tipperary is very guttural and conscientious, and her “Good-bye,
Piccadeely” always provokes the laughter of admiration.

Encouraged by applause, she bursts into, “We don’t want to lose you,
but we think you ought to go.” And is quite aware, the little rogue,
of the effect she will presently produce when, upon an incredibly high
note, she announces, “We will _keess_ you.”

After this, she breaks into piety with, “Paradise, oh! Paradise.”

The little plump nurse gets up and shakes out her cloak. It is getting
quite late, and they must go back to the hospital. She marshals her
charges up on the terrace. They obey her just as if they were very good
little boys in charge of their schoolmistress.

“Now say good-bye, and thank you. I’m sure you’ve all enjoyed
yourselves. No. 20, where’s your hat? Go down and get your hat, No. 20.
No; his poor leg’s tired. You go down and get it, No. 13.”

“I seen it a while ago,” No. 13 announces obligingly.

They say “good-bye” and “thank you” with the conscientiousness of their
simple hearts. We shake, one after the other, those outstretched hands
that grip back so cordially.

A guest of the Villino--an honoured guest, who is not only one of the
most distinguished women artists of the day, but has lived all her
married life within sound of the drum; who has been always inspired
by the sights and scenes, the high glories and noble disasters of
warfare--expresses the feeling struggling in our hearts as she retains
the hand of the last of the file of blue-coats in hers: “What an honour
to shake the hand of a British soldier!”

We hear them troop away through the little courtyard, laughing and
talking. We think, as the small nurse said, that they have had a
pleasant time.

       *       *       *       *       *

One of the small side amusements in life is to hear other people’s
reflections upon experiences that one has lived through together, and
to measure the distance that lies between different points of view. It
makes one realize how extraordinarily difficult it must be to obtain
reliable evidence.

A neighbour has obligingly come in to help us with the entertainment.
She is the pleasant, middle-aged Irish widow of an Irish doctor,
and her good-humour is as pronounced as her brogue. Finding herself
alone on the terrace with the Signorina after the departure of the
convalescents, she mystified her with the following remark:

“How frightened the poor old lady was!”

The poor old lady? The Signorina was all at sea. There was no one
answering to such a description among us to-day.

“The poor old lady,” repeated the other firmly. “Yes, Lady ----.
I was talking to her, and oh! anybody could see how terrified she
was. Nervous, you know; trembling at the mention of the war, upset,
shrinking away. And no wonder, I’m sure,” she concluded genially.
“Hasn’t she got a son out there?”

She betook herself down the steps towards her cottage. Our daughter
watched the purple-spotted blouse meandering downwards from terrace to
terrace till it disappeared. She was too astounded even to be able to
remonstrate.

And, indeed, of what use would it have been? That Lady ----,
distinguished, humorous, with her figure erect and slender as a girl’s,
and her refined, delightful face stamped with genius on the brow, and
with the most delicate humour about the mouth; that this incomparable
woman, actually in the zenith of her power, personal as well as
artistic, a being whom it seems that age can never touch, to whom the
years have so far only brought a maturing of all kinds of excellence,
should have appeared to anyone as the _poor old lady_! And that she
should be further classed among the frightened! She who more than any
fighter of them all sees the romance of war, the high lesson of war;
who only the day before, speaking of a discontented soldier friend, had
said to us in tones of wonder:

“He’s not enjoying war! It seems so strange.”

There was nothing for it but to laugh. But what an insight into the
manner in which “other people see us.”

In the Signora’s early teens her family indulged in a Dublin season,
during which a very worthy prelate, the Cardinal Archbishop of her
Church, died. He was full of years and good works, but at no moment of
his existence remarkable for good looks.

A sprightly housemaid of the establishment demanded permission to go
and visit the church where he was laid out in state. On her return the
Padrona’s mother inquired how the sight had impressed her, expecting a
duly pious response.

Quoth the damsel, with her brisk Dublin accent:

“Well, really, ’m, I thought the Cawdinal looked remawkably well!”

As a rule, however, the Irish lower classes are more quick to seize
shades of feeling, refinements of emotion, than the poor of other
races; especially--to hark back to a former page--that peasantry of the
older type in which a vivid spirituality was kept alive by their faith.
A chaplain has written to us from the Isle of Wight speaking of the
immense consolation he had had in the presence of some Irish soldiers
among the troops stationed there. “Their faith made me ashamed.”

But indeed the feeling of religion among all our men, of whatever
creed, and from whatever part of the British Isles they have come, is
not one of the least remarkable manifestations of the war.

“I knew I would not be killed,” said a wounded soldier beside whose bed
we sat the other day. “But I knew I’d come back a better man, and I
think I have.”

Then he added that the only thing that troubled them, lying in
hospital, was the thought of the comrades in the thick of it, and not
being able to help them.

“Of course,” he went on thoughtfully, “we can pray. We all do that, of
course; we do pray, and we know that helps.”

This man was neither Irish nor Catholic.

Infinitely touching are the remarks they make, these dear fellows;
beautiful sometimes in their unconscious heroism.

“Well, at least,” said the Signorina to a man permanently crippled by
shrapnel, saddened by the decision that he could never go back to the
front. “At least you know you’ve done your little bit.”

“Ah, but you see, miss,” he answered in all simplicity, “among us
the saying goes, no one has really done his little bit till he’s
underground.”

“Will you mind going back?” said a rather foolish friend of ours to an
exhausted, badly wounded sufferer in a Dublin hospital. He had seen
Mons and its horrors, all the brutality of war with little of its
concomitant glory. The eyes in his drawn face looked up at her steadily.

“If it’s my dooty, lady, I’m ready to go.”

“I’d give my other leg to go back,” said a maimed lad to Lady ----. He
was in a hospital at Lyndhurst, a fair, splendid boy, not yet eighteen.

“Don’t make me too soft, Sister,” pleaded an Irish Fusilier with five
bullet wounds in his back, to his kindly nurse in the little convent
hospital near here. “I’ve got to finish my job out there.”

At a recent lecture delivered on “Five Months with the British
Expeditionary Force”--his own experience--Professor Morgan made use of
these remarkable words: “Our men count no cost too high in the service
of the nation. They greet death like a friend, and go into battle as to
a festival.”

What wonder, then, that there should be such an unshakable spirit of
confidence throughout the whole of our army, for with conscience at
peace, and eyes fixed on their high ideal, they go forth to fight,
knowing that, as a great preacher has said, those who do battle in a
just cause already carry the flame of victory on their foreheads.



IX

IT’S A FAR CRY TO PERSIA

                “Come, my tan-faced children,
    Follow well in order, get your weapons ready!
    Have you your pistols?--Have you your sharp-edged axes?

       *       *       *       *       *

    For we cannot tarry here--we must march, my darlings;
        we must bear the brunt of danger!

       *       *       *       *       *

    O resistless, restless race! O beloved race in all! O, my breast
    Aches with tender love for all!
    O, I mourn and yet exult. I am rapt with love for all!”

                                                       WALT WHITMAN.


The master of the Villino got the telegram when he was shaving, that
morning of October 26.

    “Slightly wounded. Going London.--H.”

He came straight in to the Signora, who instantly read all kinds of
sinister meanings into the reticent lines.

Slightly wounded! H. would be sure to say that whatever had happened.
Even if he had lost an arm or a leg he might very well try and break it
to us in some such phrase. There were certainly grounds for consolation
in the fact that he should be “going London,” but were not the papers
full of accounts of the felicitous manner in which the transport of
very serious cases was being daily accomplished?

The only brother and very precious! Always in the Signora’s
mind--stalwart, middle-aged man as he is--doubled by and impossible
to dissociate from a little fair-haired boy, the youngest of the
family, endeared by a thousand quaint, childish ways. That he should be
wounded, suffering Heaven knew what unknown horror of discomfort and
pain, was absurdly, but unconquerably to her heart, the hurting of the
child. Alas! if an elder sister feels this, what must the agony of the
mothers be all through the world to-day!

We telephoned to the clearing station at Southampton, and found that
the ambulance train had already started. Then the master of the
Villino, and the sister whose home is with us, determined to leave for
London themselves and endeavour to trace our soldier.

It was late in the afternoon when a comforting telegram came through to
those left behind; it told us that H. had been run to earth; that the
wound was indeed favourable; that he was well in health, and that we
might expect him here to be nursed in a couple of days.

Very glad the Villino was to have him, very proud of its own soldier,
deeply thankful to be granted the care of him!

The Signorina immediately instituted herself Red Cross nurse, the local
lectures having borne fruit after all. The wound was for us and for him
a very lucky one, but the doctor called it dreadful, and, indeed, one
could have put one’s hand into it; and Juvenal, summoned to assist at
the first dressing, fainted at the sight. But it had not touched any
vital point, and though the muscle under the shoulder-blade was torn in
two, it has left no weakness in the arm.

Like all soldiers we have met, he will not hear of the suggestion that
it was inflicted by a dum-dum bullet. Nevertheless, it is a singular
fact that where the bullet went in the hole is the ordinary size of
the missile, and where it came out it is the size of a man’s fist.
Something abnormal about that German projectile there must have been.
But we were ready to go down on our knees and thank God fasting for
a good man’s life; and it was clear that it would take a long time to
heal!

Anyone who knows our soldiers knows the perfectly simple attitude
of their minds as far as their own share in the great struggle is
concerned. Further, they have an everyday, common-sense, unexaggerated
manner of speaking of their terrible experiences which helps us
stay-at-homes very much--we who are apt to regard the front as a
nightmare, hell and shambles mixed.

“We were a bit cut up that day, but we got our own back with the
bayonet.”

“Well, they took our range rather too neatly, but man for man Tommy’s a
match for the Hun any day, even if we were short of shells.”

“Poor lads! they had to trot off before they’d had their breakfast--a
six-mile walk and stiff work to follow--after three days and three
nights of it below Hollebeke. We’d been sent back for a rest when the
message came; but the men didn’t mind anything, only the loss of the
breakfast. ‘Such a good breakfast as it was, sir,’ as one of them said
to me. Six o’clock in the morning and a six-mile march! A few of the
fellows clapped their bacon into their pockets. The line was broken
and the Germans coming in. Someone had to drive them out, and the
Worcesters came handy.”

“Oh yes, we did it all right; running like smoke they were,
squealing--they can’t stand the bayonet!”

That was the “little bit” where our soldier got his wound.

“It’s nothing at all, me child.”

His sergeant dressed it first at the back of the firing-line, then he
walked into Ypres. He went to the hospital, found it crowded--‘Lots
of fellows worse than I was’--so he strolled away and had his hair
cut!--“A real good shampoo and a shave, and a bath, and then a jolly
good dinner!” And then he proceeded to look up some nice fellows of the
Irish Horse. And in the end he went back to the hospital, and they “did
him up!”

When one thinks that in peace time, if anyone had accidentally received
such a wound, what a fuss there would have been! What a sending for
doctors and nurses! what long faces! what lamentations, precautions,
and misgivings! It makes one understand better the state of things over
there. How splendidly indifferent our manhood has become to suffering!
How gloriously cheap it holds life itself!

H. is happily not among those unfortunate brave men who suffer nervous
distress from the sights, the scenes, and the strain of warfare, but he
has a keen, almost a poetic, sensibility to the romance and tragedy of
his experiences.

As he sat, those November days, in one of the deep arm-chairs before
the great bricked hearth in the Villino library, a short phrase here
and there would give us a picture of some episode which stamped itself
upon the memory of the listener.

“Lord, it was jolty, driving along in the ambulance to the station! The
poor boy next to me--badly wounded, poor chap! lost a lot of blood--he
got faint and lay across my breast; went to sleep there in the end.”

“Shells? ’Pon me word, it was beautiful to see them at night! Oh,
one’s all right, you know, if one keeps in one’s trenches. One of my
subalterns--ah, poor lad! I don’t know what took him--he got right
out of the trench and stood on the edge, stretching himself. A shell
came along and bowled him over. We dug him out. He was an awfully
good-looking boy. There wasn’t a scratch on him, but he was stone dead;
his back broken. And there he lay as beautiful as an angel. The Colonel
and I, we buried him. He was twenty-three; just married. The Colonel
and I used to bury our men at night.”

Suddenly the speaker’s shoulders shook with laughter.

“Those shells! One of my fellows had one burst within a yard of him.
Lord, I thought he was in pieces! He was covered in earth and rubbish!
‘Has that done for you?’ I called out to him. ‘I think it has, sir,’ he
said, and you should have seen him clutching himself all over! And then
there was a grin. ‘No, sir, it’s only a bruise!’ Oh, you get not to
mind them, except one kind; that does make a nasty noise--a real nasty
noise; it was just that noise one minded. Ugh, when you heard it coming
along! Spiteful, it was!”

In the private London hospital where he spent three days the bed next
to him was occupied by a Major of Artillery, wounded in the head.

“There was not much wrong with him, poor old chap! but he had got a
bit of nerve-strain. Lord, he never let me get a wink, calling out all
night in his sleep: ‘D---- that mist! I can’t see the swine. A bit more
to the left. Now, now, boys, now we’ve got them! Oh, damn that mist!
Ha! we got them that time--got the swine!’”

The doctors who saw our soldier were rather surprised to find him so
calm in his mind. They could scarcely believe he should sleep so sound
at nights--that the human machine should be so little out of gear. Yet
there were days when he called himself “slack,” looked ill enough, and
one could see that even a short walk was a severe trial of strength.

We shall not lightly forget a funny little incident which happened upon
an afternoon when he seemed peculiarly exhausted. He was sitting in his
arm-chair close to the fire, looking grey and drawn, declaring that
the north-east wind never agreed with him. A kindly clerical neighbour
rushed in upon us. He had just heard that fifty thousand Germans had
landed at Sheringham. All the troops were under orders. Despatch riders
had galloped from Aldershot to stop the billeting of a regiment just
arrived here. The men had started up in the middle of their dinners and
begun to pack again. They were to go back to Aldershot and concentrate
for the great move. Further--indisputable authority!--the Chief
Constable of the county had private information of the invasion.

You should have seen our soldier! He was up out of his chair with a
spring, his blue eyes blazing. All the languor, the unacknowledged
stiffness and ache of his wound, were gone. If ever there was a
creature possessed with the pure joy of battle it was he. How much the
womenkind miss who have never seen their men leading a charge! What a
vital part of a man’s character lies dormant in times of peace!

There is, we believe, a large number of people who regard this fighting
spirit as a purely animal quality; recently, indeed, a certain
professor delivered a lecture on the subject of wild dogs and wolves
who fight in packs, with special reference to the present state of
humanity. These thinkers, sitting at ease in their armchairs, placid
materialists, who have never known their own souls, much less do they
know those of their countrymen. What we saw in our soldier’s eyes was,
we swear, the leap of the spirit--the fine steel of the soul springing
out of the scabbard of the body, the fire from the clay. Carlyle has
somewhere a lovely phrase anent that spark of heroism that will burn in
the heart of the lowest British soldier, the poorest, dullest peasant
lad, and make of him hero and martyr, enable him to face long agony and
death, endure as well as charge.

So H. flung off his languor and dashed out of his armchair and sprang
to the telephone to order himself a car, and presently departed,
already invisibly armed, in search of--this time--an invisible foe. For
the foe was invisible!

No one knew whence the scare had come; whether there were any real
justification for the preparations which were certainly ordered. The
regiment which had had to pack up again just as it had got into its
billets, and go back to Aldershot in the very middle of its dinner, was
kept under arms all night; but there was never the point of a single
_Pickelhaube_ visible on the horizon at Sheringham or elsewhere. And
on examination it turned out that the “Chief Constable” of the county,
that unimpeachable and alarming authority, had been none other than
the local policeman, which was a comedown indeed! But the thrill was
not altogether unpleasant, and we like to remember the sick soldier
springing up, that St. Michael fire in his blue eyes.

       *       *       *       *       *

In a short account written for his school magazine, H. summarizes the
experiences of his own regiment at Ypres thus:

“All the officers in my company are wounded or invalided. The men are
very cheerful under all the hardships and losses, and their behaviour
under fire is splendid. The Brigade (5th) has been taken three times
at least to ‘mend the line’ where the Germans had broken through.
From October 24 to November 5 my regiment lost about 450 officers and
men--mostly, thank God, wounded. The Germans can’t shoot for nuts, but
their artillery fire is accurate and _incessant_, and the machine-guns
very deadly.”

       *       *       *       *       *

There is nothing more touching than the devotion of the officers to
their men. They feel towards them truly as if they were their children.

“No officer,” said the widow of a great general to us the other day,
“ever thinks of himself in action, ever casts a thought to the bullets
flying about him. Indeed, the officers don’t seem to believe they can
get hit; they’re so occupied in looking after their men. All the time
they’re looking at their men.”

Even as we write these lines we see the death, in the Dardanelles, of
a young officer who had been under H. when he was training reserves
during his recent period of convalescent home service. This youth was,
in our brother’s eyes, the perfection of young manhood. He prophesied
for him great things. He told us many stories of his quaint humour and
incisive wit. One anecdote remains. Among their recruits were between
twenty and thirty extremely bad characters--slack, undisciplined
fellows, worthless material belonging almost to the criminal classes.
After working in vain with all his energy to endeavour to put some kind
of soldierly discipline into them, young W. paraded them in the barrack
yard, and addressed them in the following language:

“His Majesty’s Government cannot afford nowadays to spend money
uselessly. You are a dead waste to the nation. You are not worth the
food you get nor the clothes you wear. It has been decided, therefore,
to send you to the front; and, as every man is bound to do his utmost
to help his country in the present crisis, it is earnestly to be hoped
that you will, each one of you, endeavour to get himself shot as soon
as possible.”

We understand that the result of this stringent discourse on that “bad
hat” squad was miraculous, although the sergeant-major was so overcome
with mirth that he had to retire to give vent to it.

This boy had been serving in the East in a wild and difficult district,
and had distinguished himself so remarkably that he was summoned to the
Foreign Office to advise upon an expedition which it was proposed to
send to those regions. Never was there any life so full of promise. Gay
and gallant youth, it seems a cruel decree that the bullet of some vile
Turk should have had the power to rob England of a son so likely to do
her signal honour and service in the future. “It is the best that are
taken”--a phrase sadly familiar just now that finds only too true an
echo in everyone’s experience.

There was another, whom we had known from the time when he was an
apple-cheeked little boy in petticoats--a sunny, level-headed child,
who gave the minimum of trouble and the maximum of satisfaction to
his parents from the moment of his appearance on this earth. All his
short life always busy, always happy. His mother said that she had
never seen a frown of discontent on his face. Head boy at Harrow, where
the authorities begged to be allowed to keep him on another year for
the sake of the good example he gave; writer of the prize essay three
years running; winner of all the cups for athletics; champion boxer
and fencer--with these brilliant qualities he had--rare combination
indeed!--a steady, well-balanced mind. With high ideals he had a sober
judgment. He was but twenty. With all these achievements--splendid
lad!--he fell leading his platoon of Highlanders at Aubers upon that
most ill-fated, most tragic 9th of May.

“I always wanted my son to be just like Keith”--more than one friend
gave this tribute to the stricken father.

Characteristic of the unchanged romantic mysticism that lies deep in
the hearts of the Scots--Scots of the glens and hills--are the words in
which the local paper refers to the loss which had befallen the country
in the death of the gallant young officer: “He died like a Stewart: he
dreed his weird, he drank the cup of his race!”

It is the fine flower of our young manhood that is being mown down.
What is to become of England, robbed of her best? It seems such waste
and loss; we who cannot fight feel at times as if the pressure of
such calamity “doth make our very tears like unto bloode.” But we
must believe that it is not waste, but seed; that the nations who sow
in tears will reap in joy; that each of these young lives, so gladly
given, shares in the redemption of the country; that, in all reverence,
in all faith, that they are mystically united to Calvary; and that
their glory will be presently shown forth even as in the glory of
resurrection!

A correspondent writing from the front describes the expression in the
eyes of the friendly officer, who has been his guide, as he pointed out
the myriad crosses of the burial-ground. “He looked envious,” he says,
and adds that he noticed that all out there “speak with envy of the
dead.”

Is not the nation’s honour sharpened to its finest point when the ideal
of its manhood is to die for the country? _Dulce et decorum...._

We were very glad, nevertheless, when, in spite of his repeated
applications to return to his own men, H. was ordered to take a command
in the Persian Gulf. The link that binds a man to comrades with whom
he has shared every possible danger and hardship, to those who have
faced death with him, whom he has himself led on to peril and agony,
the while they have been to him as his children--such a link is indeed
one that is hard to break! Their peril has been his; their glory is his
pride.

“If I can single out one regiment for special praise,” said the
Commander-in-Chief, “it is the Worcesters.”

And again:

“I consider the Worcesters saved Europe on that day.”

It is no wonder that H. should be proud of them; that the thousand
fibres should draw him back to them.

But, when the summons came, he was told “to prepare for a hot climate.”
And then, of all strange things, or so it seemed to us, we found
that his destination was Persia. The Garden of Eden! Further, it was
rumoured, the objective was likely to be Bagdad. It sounded like a
fairy tale. He promised us Attar of Roses; and indeed, we think,
carpets. And a flippant niece wrote to him that she was sure that by a
little perseverance he could find a magic one, and come sailing across
the sky some night after duty, like the merchant in the Arabian nights.
She added: “And do bring me a hanging garden, if you can.” But when the
parting came it was a very cruel reality. It’s a far cry to Persia!

He started on the day of the sinking of the _Lusitania_; a date branded
on the history of the world till the end of all time. The two who had
gone to fetch him and brought him home--so contented in their tender
anxiety that he was safely wounded--saw him on board the great liner.

Many Indians returning to Bombay, a few officers ordered to his own
destination, a batch of nurses for Malta, and one or two ladies
hurrying to their sons wounded in the Dardanelles--these were all his
fellow-passengers.

It somewhat restored our confidence, shaken by the facile success of
the monstrous crime, to know that they were to be convoyed a certain
way, and that they had a gun on board. Nevertheless, they were not to
escape menace.

“The evening we started,” he wrote, “I asked the steward if they had
seen any submarines about. ‘No, sir,’ he admitted reluctantly. Then
brightened up, anxious to oblige, ‘But we have seen a lot of luggage
floating about--trunks and clothes, sir.’”

(It was obvious no passenger need give up hope; and, indeed, the letter
posted at Gibraltar continues):--

“I have had no occasion to use your lifesaving waistcoat yet, though,
as a matter of fact, we _had_ a small-sized adventure with a submarine.
At dinner on Monday we felt that they had suddenly altered the ship’s
course. It appears that a submarine was spotted about five hundred
yards away. The captain slewed the vessel round to bring our one gun to
bear on her. However, the smoke obscured our view, and the submarine
must have seen our gun, as she disappeared.”

Then comes an anecdote, dreadfully characteristic of our happy-go-lucky
English ways, a comedy that might have been--for this house, at least,
God knows!--the direst tragedy.

“Next day,” he continues, “we had gun practice, but it turned out that
none of the gun’s crew knew how to work her; and after fumbling for
about two hours, a passenger came along and showed them how to manage
her, and fired her off. We all cheered.”

The next stage on that lengthening journey that is to take him so
unrealizably far away from us is Malta. The place laid its spell upon
him, though at first he writes:

“From the ship both islands looked most unprepossessing: dry, arid,
khaki-coloured lumps, full of khaki-coloured buildings. Once on shore
one begins to love the place. The buildings, fortifications, and
general spirit are most inspiring and grandiose. One expects to see
some proud old Templar riding down the gay streets, looking neither to
the right nor left. I had no time to do any of the right Cathedrals,
where there are wonderful paintings by Michael Angelo, etc., nor
the Grand Master’s Palace Armoury, with the knight’s armour, nor the
Inquisitor’s Palace. I went off to look for wounded Worcesters from the
Dardanelles. I had no time to see anything else as the hospital was a
long way off.

“Every hole and corner is turned into a beautiful garden, with lovely
flowers and ‘penetrating scents,’ fountains, and shady palms and trees.

“How you would revel in the churches! They are more numerous than in
Rome, and quite beautiful. The people, too, are intensely religious.

“There are many French shops here, and the French women look tawdry
beside the Maltese, with their wonderful black cloaks and reserved
aristocratic air.

“I am sending you a weird map full of quaint spelling, given to me
by a wounded Worcestershire (4th Batt.) sergeant, at the hospital at
Malta, and a rough idea of the difficulties of the landing. Early on
one Monday morning, about 1 a.m., the ships got into position round the
promontory, with the troop lighters behind. About 4 a.m. the latter
were towed off during a bombardment such as never has been heard or
seen before in the history of the world.

“The Turks did not reply till the boats got quite close to shore and
the ships’ guns could not fire on the located maxims (which were sunk
in deep, narrow slips close to the shore). As far as I gathered, the
Lancashire Fusiliers were the first actually to get on shore on the
extreme left at Tekki Barna, where they charged with the bayonet and
the Turks retired. They were able to enfilade a good portion of the
ground, and enabled the Essex and 4th Worcesters, both of whom had
suffered very heavily from Maxim fire, to land and drive the Turks
back. Three boatloads of Dublin Fusiliers were wiped out by gun and
Maxim fire near Ish Messarer point. The Lancashire Fusiliers suffered
rather badly from the fire of some of our ships’ guns, which, of
course, could not be helped.

“The Worcesters were sent up to help the Essex, and advanced against
some barbed wire, which a young subaltern called Wyse volunteered to
cut. He rolled over sideways till he got under the wire and cut it from
strand to strand upwards. As he got to the last strand a sniper shot
off two fingers in successive shots.

“The snipers had their faces painted green to harmonize with the
surroundings, and were calmly surrendering as we advanced, having
picked off numbers of men. They were all shot, however, _pour
encourager les autres_.

“My sergeant was shot in the hip that evening, but he told me that by
Wednesday the troops had secured Envedos, a most important position,
and the safe landing of stores and guns was thus secured.

“He said the Turks either ran from the bayonet or surrendered. The
prisoners said they did not want to fight, but were forced to do so by
the Germans.

“The ships are in their more or less correct position in the map, the
sergeant says, as he took trouble to find out from a naval chart.”

From Malta to Alexandria, from Alexandria to Aden, and from thence to
Bombay. His letters mark each point of his Odyssey. And at Alexandria
he is fascinated with the movement and colour; he goes on shore and
visits the shops; he parts from the delightful American lady who has
been the life and soul of the ship; she whose wounded son awaits her
in Cairo. At Aden, the heat striking at them from the shore prevents
him from landing; an unattractive torrid spot. Here they take in a
young Indian Government official, who gives an interesting detail upon
his destination:

“He knew Wilcox very well, the man who was going to make the barrage
on the Euphrates and Tigris, and convert Mesopotamia into the richest
country in the world. Wilcox said he found all the details given in the
Bible about the various depths and breadths of the rivers absolutely
accurate--curious after all these centuries!”

At Bombay he has a pleasant time; a brother officer having wired to
relations who take him about and show him what is most worth seeing
in his short stay. He puts up at the Bombay Yacht Club, “wonderful
place, like fairyland, with palms and fountains and music, with cool,
quiet rooms looking out over wide and lovely views.” He goes on long
drives “under trees that grow for miles and miles along the sea coast,
where the graceful-moving natives in their bright colours look awfully
picturesque.”

He sees the famous towers of silence where, with effective, but no
doubt quite unconscious, alliteration, he describes “the ghoulish
vultures sitting grimly in the glorious gold mohur trees.”

His last letter says: “I start on Sunday for Bosra.”

He believes that they will remain at Bosra, and makes little of the
fact that the heat is terrible there just now.

“We will live in cool underground rooms,” he says, “and be all right!”

And now we know that we shall not have news of him again for a long
time. A thousand anxieties assail us, for which we can have no
reassurance. We picture him in that strange region, but realize that of
its strangeness we can form no real image.

He will see the dead cities and the great desert wastes and the
swamps--it is in those swamps under the merciless sun that our terror
lies; he will deal with a fierce and treacherous people whose thoughts
are not as our thoughts, whose motives and beliefs are irreconcilably
alien; and this dangerous race is fermenting under the influences, the
money, the lies, the ceaseless open and secret poison leaven of a race
more treacherous, more dangerous still.

Blinding sunshine, black shadows, arid stretches of dried earth and
mud and burnt vegetation; the colour of the Eastern crowd, the river
waters and the harbour stretch; the Arab and the Kurd, the Turk, the
Armenian, and the Jew, sights and scenes and creatures that have been
but as names to us, are about him. He has followed the drum from Cape
Town to Magaliesburg, from Bloemfontein to Bethlehem, from Gibraltar to
Cork, from Soupir to Ypres, from Ypres to Plymouth, and from Plymouth
to the Euphrates; he has left his cool, green Ireland, his hunting and
his fishing, his own wide acres and the rural life among his beasts for
this picturesque, unknown, uncertain destiny!

Often in the long hot hours will not his mind go back to those
stretches of shady, luxuriant park land where his cattle feed; to the
great lime avenue with the voice of the bees; the circle of the purple
hills, the woods, those incomparable woods of our old home with their
cool depths of bracken, silver green; the dells, the climbing roads,
the view over the “deer-park” to the sunset, which impressed even our
childish imaginations; the voice of the wild pigeons through the trees;
and the immense white house--empty--which before this war broke out, he
was about to furnish; the corridors, the vast rooms full of memories;
latterly, to us, of hopes. His heart will be there, we know.

And his home is guarded by his faithful Spanish servant, who followed
him, out of love, from those far Gibraltar days of his young soldier’s
life; who, when a legacy made of him a comparatively rich man, refused
to profit of it, and sent the money back to a distant relative in
Spain, saying: “What do I want of it? You, my master, you, my father,
you, my mother, you, my country, you, all I want!” Pedro, by a singular
freak of fate, ruling this Irish land with an equal zeal and ability,
writes to us: “I pray my dere master may come home safe. I have great
hope in Our Lady, the Mother of God.”

What is left to us, too, but a similar trust? We can but commend him to
the Father of All that He may overshadow him with His shoulders; that
the sun should not burn him by day, nor the moon by night; that he may
be guarded from the arrow that flieth by day, from the assault of the
evil one in the noontide!



X

A THREE DAYS’ CHRONICLE

    “Happy in England! I could be content
    To see no other verdure than its own:
    To feel no other breezes than are blown
    Through the tall woods with high romances blent;
    Yet do I sometimes feel a languishment
    For skies Italian....”

                                              KEATS.


_June 29, 1915._--The feast of Peter and Paul comes round with a
new significance. In war time we learn the meaning of so much that
has seemed unimportant; of things hidden away at the back of our
consciousness--things neglected, unknown, or even despised--and we
learn, too, the worthlessness of so much that has seemed paramount and
necessary, desirable and precious. War is a stern master. He teaches
above all the relative values; how to weigh the greater against the
less; how to fling away with one superb gesture the whole sum of human
possessions for a single imperishable prize.

“What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the
loss of his own soul?”

He who spoke these words gently to a handful of poor Jews now seems to
cry them with a voice of thunder from end to end of the earth.

Thus, this, their festival day, brings the two great champions of the
Cross--and it is for Christ and the Cross that every son of England
is fighting to-day--before our minds with a singular vividness and
nearness: Peter, type of the natural man, untutored; sure of himself
and of his own good impulses, of the honest purpose of his guileless
heart; impetuous, loving, weak, with all purely human weakness, even
to betrayal; and--divinely strengthened--Peter the rock, Peter the
fisherman who conquered the world! Paul, the Patrician, the apostle
born out of due time, whose ardour is all of the intellect, keen as
a blade and burning as a flame; the little man of Tarsus upon whose
spirit the teaching of all Christianity reposes as firmly to-day as
does the Church upon the stone of Peter; Paul, whom the Captain, Christ
Himself, enlisted by the miraculous condescension of a personal appeal.
Has not every Christian, whatever his creed, vowed them reverence
throughout all the ages? To-day, may not the eyes of the believer look
up to them with a new confidence?

The Signora, lying through a wakeful night and thinking of these
things, went with a rush of memory back to Rome, to scenes and
experiences and thoughts dominated by the memories of the two chief
apostles.

There is nothing more characteristic of their lives than the different
manners of their death. Peter is Peter to the end; first yielding to
the natural impulse, then, by virtue of the grace of God, returning
upon himself and leaping to the highest altitude of superhuman
sacrifice. In the whole tradition of the Church there is no legend
more touching than that which tells us how Peter, flying out of Rome,
met the Christ carrying the Cross. It is the original Peter in all
his guilelessness who, unstartled by the vision, with the perfect
simplicity of his faith, asks: “_Domine quo vadis?_” And it is the
sublime founder of the Church of God who, unquestioning, accepts the
Master’s rebuke, and retraces his steps to face his Lord’s torment with
the added agony his own holy humility demands.

Every pilgrim to Rome has knelt or stood, prayed or pondered at the
tomb of Peter in the golden twilight of the great Basilica, by the
vastness of which, as Marion Crawford says, “mind and judgment are
dazed and staggered.” Who has not leant on the marble balustrade of
the confession and looked down upon the ninety-five gilded lamps
that burn there day and night, upon the kneeling white figure of the
Seventh Pius?--a vision in which the whole linked grandeur and piety of
the Church of Rome seems epitomized. In St. Peter’s, Simon, the poor
fisherman, is little thought of; it is Peter, saint and pontiff, who
is paramount; he who has miraculously fed the lambs and fed the sheep
from that hour on the sea of Galilee to this day. And very few remember
the old man, too weak and aged to bear his cross, who had climbed
half-way to the Janiculum, when his executioners, seeing that he could
not advance any further, planted his gibbet in the deep yellow sand and
crucified him then and there--head downwards, as he begged them. This
is the ancient tradition, and it further tells us that he was followed
by but few of the faithful, who stood apart, weeping.

Impressive as are these hallowed spots, these glorious memorials of
the Eternal City; however full, to the believer, of the atmosphere of
the days of faith--oases in the great desert of life, where the palms
of the martyrs are still green and throw a grateful shade--there is
nothing, to our minds, in all the grandeur of Rome, even under the dome
of Peter, comparable to the effect produced upon the mind by a visit to
Tre Fontane.

As Peter was led to die the death of the lowest criminal--the death of
his Master--Paul was brought forth to the death of the sword, reserved
for the Patrician.

To go to Tre Fontane and visit the spot of his martyrdom is to return
to the primitive ages of the Church. The fisherman lies in a tomb such
as no king or emperor, no hero or conqueror or best beloved of the
world’s potentates ever had. And Paul sleeps in that great pillared
church _fuori le mura_, in a severity and dignity of magnificence very
well befitting the stern fire of the apostle’s zeal. But the memory of
his martyrdom is consecrated in a curious isolation of poverty, one
might almost say, aloofness; an earnest purity that reminds one, as
we have said, of early Christian times. You have all the splendours;
the golden glory, the marble, the mosaic, the sculpture and the jewels;
the movement, the colour and the crowd of Rome behind, and you come out
into the sweeping solitudes of the Campagna. For those who know and
love those strange, arid, melancholy spaces, there is no more potent
spell than the hold they lay upon the spirit. The gem-like distances
of the mountains, the radiant arch of the Italian sky, the movement
of light and shadow over the immense waste, the romance of each of
the historic ways, the mystery of the secrets they hold--better pens
than ours have striven to embody the charm and failed! Why should we
try? It is like a strain of music the meaning of which is lost to us.
We hear; we cannot understand. It is too full of messages. It is sad
and beautiful and haunting, and withal intensely human. Here you have
nature at her wildest and most untrammelled; and yet, never was city so
peopled, so thick with memories of all races and all histories; endless
streams of pilgrims have traversed the long roads; the centuries have
come and gone upon them; the blood, the tears, the strivings and hopes
of all humanity are here.

One looks forward towards wave upon wave of low-lying ground, bordered
by the mountain barriers; and each time one looks back, the dome of
Peter hangs pearl-like against the sky.

Speaking of the memory of our drive to Tre Fontane, the Signorina is
reminded that she has jotted down her impressions in an old diary.

“We drove to the Trappist Monastery,” she wrote, “where St. Paul was
beheaded. His head is said to have rebounded three times as it struck
the earth, and on each of those three hallowed spots there sprang up a
miraculous jet of water. The first spring is still warm as if with the
glow of the great spirit that there left its mortal frame; the second
spring is tepid; the third cold as death.

“The drive is a beautiful one; through the Campagna stretching wide and
green on either side, bounded by the mountains, some now snow-capped.
The first sight of the monastery breaks on one from the top of a little
hill. The huddled buildings appear suddenly at the foot in a deep
valley, shrouded by eucalyptus groves. On the right of the convent the
ground rises again, covered with a perfect forest of the same trees. It
is one of the saddest and most impressive places I ever saw. It strikes
chill, even when the rest of the Campagna is warm, and the continual
shuddering of the eucalyptus leaves makes an uncanny murmur. We drove
through an avenue of them, grey-green all over, trunks and leaves; and
then came to an arched gateway closed by an iron gate.

“We dismounted from our carriage, already quite impressed, and pulled
the bell, which echoed with a deep and beautiful note through the
monastery grounds.

“A porter opened and we walked into the garden, still under the
eucalyptus (mingled here with palms and lemons), and made more
beautiful still by the fragments of antique sculpture that border the
walks--marble capitols and broken acanthus leaves and pieces of old
pavements wonderfully worked in scrolls and twists.

“Papa particularly lost his heart to a lion’s head, with a dear flat
nose! He could not tear himself away from it; he wanted it so badly
for our new little garden in Surrey!

“As there are three fountains, so there are three churches, but
the miraculous springs are all under one roof. This is a fine,
comparatively modern church, situated at the end of an avenue of
eucalyptus and marble fragments. It has a classic pavement (pagan)
representing the four seasons.

“Opposite the entrance are the fountains--built in, now, and covered
over, but each with a little opening where the attendant friar will let
down a ladle and draw up the water for the faithful. Over each fountain
is an altar, with the head of St. Paul, in bas-relief, sculptured by
Canova:

    “‘A la première, l’âme vient à l’instant même de s’échapper du
    corps. Ce chef glorieux est plein de vie! A la seconde, les ombres
    de la mort couvrent déjà ses admirables traits; à la troisième, le
    sommeil éternel les a envahis, et quoique demeurés tout rayonnants
    de beauté, ils disent, sans parler, que dans ce monde ces lèvres ne
    s’entr’ouvriront plus, et que ce regard d’aigle s’est voilé pour
    toujours.’

“In the right-hand corner of the first altar is the pillar which marks
the actual spot of the martyrdom of the fiery-hearted saint. The
ancient Via Lorentina passed along this very place, and here stood the
mile-stone, whereat St. Paul was beheaded.

“‘This is absolutely certain,’ said the monk who conducted us. ‘Even
protestants acknowledge the death to have taken place here. For the
rest,’ indicating the three fountains, ‘there is only the legend. You
may believe it or not, as you like.’

“He looked so happy, this monk. He had been thirty years at Tre
Fontane, but there was no sign of age on his face. It was, perhaps, a
trifle withered, like a ripe apple that has lain long on a shelf, but
that was all. And yet he said that, for the first fifteen years, he had
suffered continuously from malarial fever. He had superintended, and
even worked at, the planting of the eucalyptus groves which have so
purified the district that there has not been one case of the sickness
since.

“The other two churches are close to one another. The first is very old
and utterly bare, and, in a strange, mournful way, deeply impressive.
It dates from the sixth century, and is lofty and vaulted and almost
Gothic in its spirit. It has several rose-windows, and there are many
round holes in the walls also. These are now either empty or fitted
with common glass, but they were once filled with thin slices of
alabaster, or other precious transparencies. At present it seems the
embodiment in stone of the Trappist order, ‘la piu severa ordine della
chiesa Cattolica,’ as our monk described it. The church is as cold as a
well.

“The last of the three churches is of a much gayer mood: quite
Romanesque, perched on a pretty flight of rounded steps. It has a crypt
over the bodies of St. Zeno and two thousand and more companions,
martyred Christians, who built the Baths of Diocletian.”

The drive through that eucalyptus wood here described remains one of
the most curious impressions of those Roman days. It was like passing
through a Dante circle--the first circle of all, of Limbo, where Virgil
met the poet; an unsubstantial wraith-like world, full of a perpetual
whisper and murmur:

    “Quivi, secondo che per ascoltare,
    Non avea pianto, ma che di sospiri,
    Che l’aura eterna facevan tremare:

    E cio avvenia di duol senza martiri,
    Ch’avean le turbe, ch’eran molte e grandi,
    E d’infanti, e di femmine e di vivi.”

Whether the sky became really overcast as we entered into these
mysterious precincts, or whether the height of the trees shadowed the
narrow way, certainly there was a dimness about us; not a positive
darkness but a negation of light, even as the chill that enfolded us
was not so much a cold as a cessation of heat.

But through the gates of the monastery courtyard we saw sunshine again,
and white pigeons strutting about the cobbles, picking and preening
themselves--a wonderful picture of peace. It is a consecrated spot; a
place the most aloof, the most severe, the most denuded of all earthly
joys that we have ever seen; a stage on the arid way of pilgrims
forging determinedly by the shortest cut to heaven. And yet it is full
of sweetness. As from a mountain ledge, the world must lie so far below
these Trappists that it is no longer seen, scarcely divined behind its
own vapours. No use looking down: looking up--there is the blue sky,
and there are the peaks pointing heavenward, still to be conquered.
There is very little comfort for the traveller, but he has a strange
gladness. He is cradled in ethereal silences. The balm of majestic
solitude bathes his soul; his spirit is cheered by an air as pure as
it is vivifying, and he knows that he will climb the peaks.

_July 4._--Mrs. McComfort, our cook, has a brother on the Clyde. He
writes an extraordinary account of the effort expected of, and given
by, the able workman.

“It may be, miss,” says Mrs. McComfort to the Signorina, her chief
confidant, “he’ll be called up for a job on a ship that’s just come in,
and that’ll mean that he and the rest of them will be at it from seven
in the morning till eight the next morning. Yes, miss, all night, as
well as all day. And then they’ll come home, and it’s too weary to eat
they are, and they’ll just roll themselves up and fall asleep, as tired
as dogs; and when they’ve slept a bit, maybe they can get a little food
down. And then it’s off back again to work! And that’ll go on till
the job’s done. And when the battleships come in, the steamers do be
waiting all night upon the Clyde, to take the men up to them, it’s that
urgent. And, oh, miss, how they do love the ships they’ve built! And
when one is lost, you’d never believe the grief there is, with the men
crying and saying: ‘It’s my old lady’s gone, my poor old lady!’”

They need no comment, such stories as these. Here are humble heroes,
martyrs of duty; here is the poor heart of humanity, with its infinite
power of attachment. We have scarcely heard of anything more touching
than the tears of these rough men for their “poor old lady.”

We saw a letter the other day from a transport driver describing,
to a relative in England, the meeting with an old friend on the
bloodstained, shell-battered road at the back of Arras. This man had
been the driver of a motor omnibus in a country district at home.

“What do you think?” he writes. “You’ll never believe! If I didn’t come
across old Eliza! Me that drove her for more than three years. I knew
her at once, poor old girl! knocked about as she was; I’d have known
her anywhere, by the shape of her, knowing her in and out as I did
those years, every bit of her. She was a bit the worse for wear, but
she was fit for a lot yet; a trifle rattley; but there’s a deal of life
in her. I can’t tell you what I felt when I came across her so sudden.
There, I couldn’t help patting her and patting her! Poor old Eliza! To
think of her and me meeting again like that, both of us doing our bit,
like!”

       *       *       *       *       *

This fourth day of July brings us the third of the rain and thunder
squalls which have followed the great drought.

Japhet says, relaxing to something approaching a smile, that he doesn’t
see why this should not end by being a nice garden, and that the earth
is in very good heart.

Dear English earth, it has need to be in good heart! Who knows what it
may yet have to bear and give?

The Villino garden wears the war-time stamp, at least to its owners’
eye! The Signora, who has always hitherto plunged at a horticultural
list the moment there was a gap in her borders that needed filling
or a mistake that needed repairing, which could not be done to her
sense of perfection “out of stock,” has had to teach economy to
wait on necessity, and ingenuity on both. The result is not really
gratifying. In all her long experience economy has never been
gratifying in any branch of life. But even if the money were there for
extravagance--which it isn’t--thrift has become a positive instead of
a negative virtue.

“Thou shalt not spend” is now nearly as urgent a commandment as “Thou
shalt not steal.”

It has set her mind to work more and more, however, upon the
desirability of permanence in the garden.

In the borders of the terraces round the house she has decided to put
a foot-deep edging of Mrs. Simkins pinks. These are adorable in their
time of bloom, and the grey-green foliage is tidy, and a pretty bit of
colour all the year round.

This year the lobelia, scantily planted, and the climbing geraniums,
pathetically subdivided, will take considerable time before forming
the show of flower and foliage without which the Villino garden is a
failure. But it is a very good thing for individuals as well as nations
to be forced to stop and examine their manner of life. Hideous as the
struggle is--dead loss of life and happiness and money--good comes out
of the evil at many points. Not the least beneficial lesson is that
which teaches us now what an extraordinary amount of money and energy
one has frittered away by easy-going ways, the amount of items one
can put down in a household without being the worse--rather, indeed,
the better! Even in a little household, what waste, what excess,
what follies of mere show! And if this seems a flat contradiction to
the remark upon economy passed a little while ago, let it be noted
that conscience and inclination are for ever waging war, and that
conscience, as is proper, must have the last word. Moreover, once the
domination of conscience is established, the results are, in nine cases
out of ten, surprisingly bearable. Frugality combines very well with
refinement, and simplicity with dignity. One can be as happy with a
three-course lunch and a three-course supper-dinner as one was with
an endless array of dishes--those dishes which took so much time and
material to prepare, and were so often barely touched! The contents
disappeared--thrown away, perhaps, or, what was certainly the case in
our household, disposed of as _hors d’œuvres_ between the dining-room
and the pantry.

“Why does your butler always come in chewing?” asked an observant
relative.

Juvenal, indeed, despite a certain foreign disregard for his
meal-times, made such a practice of snatching morsels in transit that
the sixteen-year old footman--chief of the many grievances which
determined our separation--who outstayed him, has had to be severely
reprimanded for making a clean sweep of the dishes that caught his
young fancy, with a special partiality for roast chicken.

The new regimen--agreeable this hot weather--of soup, one cold-meat
dish, salad, vegetable, sweet, and dessert--supper, in fact, instead
of dinner--has, besides its intrinsic economy, the further advantage
of diminishing the expenditure of kitchen coal to an almost incredible
degree.

We who have to render an account hereafter, even of every idle word,
shall we have to answer, we wonder, for all that unconscious waste
which mere convention has induced in our homes? How many poor families
might have been fed from the agglomeration of the Signora’s years of
housekeeping! She did not think. No one thought. It has taken this
scourge to make us stop in our easy course, to make us look into
ourselves, into our ways.

“What can we do? What can we do without?” These must be now the mottoes
written large round our house of life; and, indeed, the first includes
the second, for it takes considerable energy to abstain.

“There is none that thinketh in his heart, therefore they shall go down
alive into hell.”

A very disagreeable text, which comes disagreeably to the mind this
Sunday morning, for the _famiglia_ have just come back from church,
where what is vulgarly called a “hell-fire sermon” was delivered by a
Welsh preacher, who, though a Franciscan, is, one of his congregation
declared, a revivalist lost to his native hills.

“You ought to go down into hell in spirit every day, me brethren,” he
thundered, “or ye’ll very likely find yourselves there in the end. And
what an off-ful thing that ’ud be! And there’s thousands and thousands
of soa-ouls there this minute, better than you are!”

This was neither comforting, nor, we believe, theological, for the
congregation was small, and, on the whole, devout. But no doubt there
is a type of mind before which it is necessary to hold up a threat of
everlasting punishment; the type of person whom conscription alone can
move to serve his country before it is too late.

Not the least remarkable result of the German brutality is that the
great majority of its opponents find themselves forced back into the
old simplicity of belief. We can no longer afford to deny the existence
of demons and their power; and if reason is to keep her balance and the
soul her ultimate faith in Divine justice, acceptance of the doctrine
of hell and adequate punishment must logically follow.

A celebrated, if rather medievally minded, preacher, whom we once heard
lashing the vices of the day, cried sarcastically: “You’ll meet the
very best society in hell.”

Holy man, we doubt if he would have made the same remark to-day! The
resort in question must have become so overwhelmingly German.

_July 8._--The Signora had been a whole year at the Villino--perhaps
the longest time in all her life in one place--but circumstances
had summoned her family to London for a few days, and she could not
contemplate their being exposed to Zeppelins without her.

The little London house which was our home so long, and--to use nursery
parlance--the nose of which has been so completely put out of joint by
the Villino, seemed glad to see us again.

How curious is the atmosphere of place! These walls that enfold us,
that have seen our swift joys and our great sorrows, our merry hours
and our sad ones, become fond of us, as we of them. We are convinced
that there is a spirit in inanimate things, something that gives back,
that keeps. Do not old places ponder? Are they not set with memories?
Do they not know their own? Do they not withhold themselves and suffer
from the stranger? Who has not seen the millionaire striving to make
himself at home in the great house that will have none of him? Who has
not felt what an accident he is, how little he belongs, how little he
or his race will ever belong to the stones he has bought, and which he
will never own?

And even a little London house in a street may become individual to
oneself; and you may feel as the Signora did, that it has missed you,
that through long absence you have been unkind; that if you finally
separate yourself from it, it will always want you, and you it.
And, after all--it is with houses, as with people--the link is not
necessarily that of the blood relationship or long acquaintance. You
need not have inherited your affinity. You are in sympathy, or you are
not. The Villino claimed us upon our first meeting, but we impressed
ourselves upon the town dwelling. It is still home to us; not _the_
home, _a_ home.

We sat in the high-ceilinged drawing-room, with its rather delicate
Georgian air, and found old familiar emotions waiting for us. And we
thought of all the kind and dear friends we had seen between these
walls; of our gay little parties and the music-makers who had made
music to us; hours that seemed to belong to another life. Here the
great Pole, whose magic hands have refused themselves to the notes ever
since his people have been in anguish, made the night wonderful with
his incomparable art. We do not think the small London house can ever
forget the echoes of that music. It was always a feast for it when
he, with whose friendship we feel ourselves so deeply honoured, came
to its board. Loki--he was in his puppyhood then--decorated with the
Polish colours, would dance towards him on his hind-legs. The genius
would come in like sunshine, happy himself in the immense pleasure his
presence gave. Certainly this rare being seemed to give forth light.

“When he leaves the room,” said a friend of his to us, “it is as if the
light went out.”

If one had the gift of beholding auras, what a halo of fire would one
not have seen about that wonderful head? We once said this to him.

“Do you believe in it?” we asked.

He smiled. “I think everyone has got his flame to cultivate. I think I
have cultivated mine.”

Most truly, indeed, has he done so; and not only in the divine way of
his art, for year by year the selflessness and the magnanimity of his
character seem to deepen and extend; and so, too--inevitable tragedy
of years--the sadness. Impossible for any perfectly noble mind not to
gather melancholy as life goes on!--a melancholy culminating in his
case with the burthen of agony which the present sufferings of his own
race have laid upon his shoulders.

Therefore these memories of the days when he was as a young god, the
days when a celebrated painter could find no truer way of expressing
him than by flinging on the canvas the radiant vision of an Apollo, are
poignant memories. We are glad that we should have them, yet they bring
a stab of pain for that lost high spirit which life inevitably dashes.

With us all, the good ship Youth sets forth merrily with sails taut and
pennons fluttering, filling to the wind and breasting the waves! We
know that inevitably the storm winds must catch her; that she will be
beaten by breakers; drawn out of her course by false currents; that if
she become not a derelict, if she does not founder with all hands, she
must--too often--cast much of her treasure overboard, furl her white
wings, and come creeping into a cold harbour. Even those who, like our
rare and wonderful friend, have gathered glory and dignity and power,
as they plough a mighty course, have passed from under radiant skies
into the gloom of the storm. A sombre thing, the human span, at the
best, and most blest nowadays.

What can we say of the fair craft that founders almost as soon as
launched? Ah! the young ghosts in that London drawing-room! The
sound of the children’s voices yet ringing in our ears! There is
“Mustard-Seed,” the splendid little fair boy, who had been the
favourite of our Shakesperian revels nine years ago--not yet nineteen,
not a month a soldier--shot through the head on that Flanders field,
the graveyard of England’s choicest! And the little Scotch lad, who
used to prance about in his black velvet suit, with cheeks that shamed
the apple--no one knows where he lies to-day; only two or three saw him
fall. And his graver, gentler brother--a prisoner, even as we write in
the first agony of the grief which has befallen him in the loss of his
life-companion!

And out of a merry group of Irish children, irresponsible,
high-spirited, noisy, two brothers sleep in that alien earth--now for
ever English--“where their young dust lies,” as the poet who wrote so
prophetically of his own fate has beautifully said. And yet another
is wounded, and another invalided; and the once merry sister, whose
gallant husband was left wounded on the field and was missing long
weeks, still mourns him as a prisoner.

Of the rest of the company, those companions of our daughter’s own
unclouded childish days, some are widows; and some can scarce meet the
morning for apprehension of its news, or return to their homes for
fear of that orange envelope that may lie on the hall table, or sleep
in the night for listening for the sound of the bell. And some are in
the Dardanelles, under skies of brass, treading on earth of iron, and
some are in those trenches, deep-dyed and battered a hundredfold. Two
more brothers--the elder twenty and the younger nineteen--fell within a
month of each other. A few are still on English soil, light-heartedly
preparing for the great fray, straining like hounds at the leash,
staring with bright, impatient eyes towards that goal with its unknown
and terrible possibilities; cursing the slow flight of time. Of these
one thinks, perhaps, with a heart more tightened than of all the rest!

The reaper has come forth to reap out of season, and the young corn is
mown down in the green ear, and all the poppies and the pretty flowers
go down with it.

Sitting in rooms which we had not revisited since before the war, these
are sad thoughts that the crowded recollections bring.

London itself, however, seemed little changed; even that much-discussed
night-darkness hardly noticeable. Driving in the daytime we
instinctively counted, with frowning glance, the number of stalwart
young men out of uniform, and wondered how any girl could walk with
them, much less smile upon them. And our eyes followed the soldiers
with pride as they marched by, singing popular catches to inspire
themselves in default of the band which the stern necessities of this
war forbid. What fine fellows they are--so well set up, looking out
with such steady vision upon the future which they have chosen! And the
lilt of the merry tune, with what a deep note of pathos it strikes upon
the ear!

Of course there are a great many soldiers about London, yet no more
than in Jubilee time, and there is no greater excitement among them,
and a good deal less among those who watch them pass, than in the days
when it was all pomp and circumstance, and no warfare.

London does not carry the stamp of war about her, but we carry it each
one of us in our hearts. That is why we sicken from the music-hall
posters; why wrath and grief mingle in our minds at the sight of that
bold-eyed community with its whitened face, its vulgar exaggeration
of attire, and its unchecked and unashamed hunting of its prey; a
prey sometimes visibly unwilling, sometimes pathetically, innocently
flattered!

The Zeppelin menace has created no sense of apprehension in the town.
The first night of our arrival we conscientiously prepared amateur
respirators for ourselves and such of the _famiglia_ as accompanied us.
Pads of cotton-wool, soaked in a strong solution of soda, were placed
within easy reach of the bedside. The next night we said “Bother!”
and the third night we forgot all about it. Though the Signora, lying
awake, had occasionally a half-amused speculation whether the throbbing
passage of some more than usually loud traction-engine, or the distant
back-firing of a belated taxicab, might not be the bark of the real
wolf at last!

Our little white-haired housemaid, generally left alone to mind the
London house, possesses this philosophic indifference. She made herself
a respirator. We doubt whether she ever thinks of placing it handy. We
believe she shares the view of the old nurse of a friend of ours into
whose garden a bomb really and truly did drop during the recent raid on
Southend.

“Frightened, miss? Lord bless you, no! I knew it was only them Germans!”

Nevertheless, though London is neither alarmed nor depressed, we set
our faces towards the Villino again with a sense of relief. These days
it is better to be in one’s own place; and in London we feel only
visitors now. Yet, strangely, the country is far more full of the war
than the town.

Beginning at Wimbledon, we meet motorcars filled to overflowing with
bandaged, bronze-faced young men, who smile and wave their hands as we
whizz by. Dear lads! Some from that greater England beyond the sea,
more closely our brothers now than ever before, with ties cemented by
the shedding of blood. _Blut-Bruderschaft_, indeed, you have pledged
with us: a Teutonic rite put into practice after a fashion our enemies
thought out of the range of possibility.

And presently we come to the camps. Here, where the pine-woods solitary
marched, where the heather was wont to spread, crimsoning and purpling
to the line of blue distance--a wonderful vision of wild scenery--here
is a brown waste, peopled with a new town. Rows and rows of wooden
huts run in parallel lines. Where the trees stood you cannot even
guess; but once and again there is the smell of the raw wood, and you
see a giant lying lopped of his branches. And the whole place swarms
in activity. We pass hundreds of ammunition and gun carriages--the
two-wheeled carts for the new howitzers--some already with the guns
in place; long sheds where half a dozen smiths are busy shoeing, with
groups of patient horses, shoulder by shoulder, waiting outside; we
hear the clank of iron upon iron from within; we catch the vision of
red fire upon the sleek flank and the brawny arms wielding the hammer.
Horses everywhere, it seems--lines of them, picketed; horsemen coming
and going: detachments riding up and down among the thickest dust
that you have ever imagined; and waggons lumbering, some charged with
fodder, some, as we pass, with loaves fresh from the baking. And now a
traction-engine, filling the air with noise and smoke, driven by two
grimy Tommies who shout at each other as they throb and bumble along,
has to be dodged and left behind.

This is an artillery camp--a marvellous place which gives one a more
vivid impression of England’s strength, of England’s new army, than any
words can describe. These splendid, happy, vigorous, busy men; these
rows of howitzer and ammunition carts; these thousands of sleek, lively
horses; this untiring, determined movement of work and preparation ...
all for the Dardanelles, we hear.

We get out of the dust and the noise and the gigantic stir, and along
the green roads again; and then into another camp. A curious stillness
here: the myriad huts are all shut up, the sheds empty, even the new
shops seemingly untenanted; only here and there stands a stray khaki
figure to emphasize the loneliness. They left for the front the day
before yesterday. To-morrow twenty thousand new men are expected, like
a new swarm of bees, to take their place in the vacated hives.

       *       *       *       *       *

Home again in the Villino, with all the fur babies washed and waiting
for us. Rather a silent group of dogs, a little offended because we
went away. Loki, who generally screams with rapture, has certainly a
reservation in the ecstasy of his greetings; but Mimosa clings to us
with two little paws, like a child hugging a recovered treasure, and
offers kisses, of which she is not generally prodigal. Plain Eliza is
shy. She has grown perceptibly in three days.

The garden is full of sweet scents. The dawn, the coronation, and the
crimson ramblers are bursting into lovely bloom beside the blue of the
delphiniums.

There was always a special kind of joy in the old days about
home-coming to the Villino. We used to go from room to room, taking
stock of the dear, queer little place; greeting the serene, smiling
Madonnas; the aloof angels folded into their prayers; pagan, pondering
Polyhymnia in her corner of the drawing-room, brooding upon the glory
of times that will never be again.... It is all just as it used to be:
bowery, without and within, as usual.

Everything is scrubbed to the last point of daisy freshness and
polished to spicy gloss against the Padrona’s return, and smiling
damsels await compliments on the stairs. Other years, as we say, these
were moments of unalloyed light-heartedness. It was always unexpectedly
nicer than we had imagined.

“Isn’t it dearer than ever?” we would say, then, to each other. “Don’t
you love it? Aren’t we happy here?”

This year it is another cry that rises to our lips.

“Oh, how happy we might be, if only----”


         BILLING AND SONS, LTD., PRINTERS, GUILDFORD, ENGLAND



Transcriber's Note:

Every effort has been made to replicate this text as faithfully as
possible.

Italic text has been marked with _underscores_.

The following is a list of changes made to the original.
The first line is the original line, the second the corrected one.

Page 13

 by Mrs. MacComfort as umistakably Mimi’s
 by Mrs. MacComfort as unmistakably Mimi’s

Page 21

 surrounted with politely assisting Hoheiten.
 surrounded with politely assisting Hoheiten.

Page 46

 “_Ah, voilà qui m’est bien egal!_ That is my own
 “_Ah, voilà qui m’est bien égal!_ That is my own

Page 70

 up, Birdie’--he calls me ‘Birdie,’--but I can
 up, Birdie’--he calls me ‘Birdie,’--‘but I can

Page 130

 ontclusion to draw that the mere fact of death
 conclusion to draw that the mere fact of death

 cheem, in the eyes of most people, to qualify
 seems, in the eyes of most people, to qualify

 ses soul for eternal bliss. It is idle to ask whaf
 the soul for eternal bliss. It is idle to ask what

 becomes of the generally accepted doctrine fo
 becomes of the generally accepted doctrine of

 certain to be saved, anyone should put himselt
 certain to be saved, anyone should put himself

Page 151

 of a beautiful little daughter.
 of a beautiful little daughter.”

Page 178

 Artist, in all reverence be it said. “He hath
 Artist, in all reverence be it said: “He hath

Page 191

 Trainant la jambe dans la poussière
 Traînant la jambe dans la poussière

Page 197

 there is a langour about his movements extraordinarily
 there is a languor about his movements extraordinarily

Page 206

 To think that anyone could ever hurt a
 “To think that anyone could ever hurt a

Page 224

 the swine!”
 the swine!’”

Page 225

 blazing. All the langour, the unacknowledged
 blazing. All the languor, the unacknowledged

Page 240

 terrible there just now
 terrible there just now.

Page 265

 It is still home to us; not _the_ home, _a_ home
 It is still home to us; not _the_ home, _a_ home.

Page 269

 bell. And some are in the Dardenelles, under
 bell. And some are in the Dardanelles, under





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