« AnkstesnisTęsti »
IF Demings which prove burdity.
F you are a citizen of the Great Democ- would prove that I am not an American,
change, you should take some account of the direction in which your civilization is growing. In this story you will discover a dreadful example of what may happen if American institutions should grow in a certain direction in which at present they are not growing. Just as in another story I could give you a dreadful example of what may happen if they keep on in the direction in which they really are growing.
The names and pedigrees of the persons in this episode would grace any drawingroom table, printed in the best of our publications. For though not people of title, they were of the same blood with people of title whom they called by their Christian names, and all that there was in English tradition, birth, and breeding, coupled with sufficient wealth, was theirs; so that they possessed everything worth having in this world except imagination, music, and your sense of the ridiculous. I take some credit to myself for writing about them at a time when the pages of our most polite periodicals are filled with accounts. of people who probably black their own boots, dine at midday, and take twice of the soup.
They were products of that finished civilization which a century of undisputed national supremacy, of wealth, and of natural solidity has made, from one point of view, the finest in the world. That point of view is England's; and on the whole I agree with it. I am forced to, because, seeing that the same supremacy and wealth and a like blood-quality are molding our own institutions, I should otherwise despair of the future, which
I am spared describing, and you are spared reading about, the ancestry, the estate, and the solid characteristics of Colonel and Mrs. Teddington Fyles, because you have read about them already in several standard English novels. Or, at any rate, you pretend to have read about them, because you keep those books in expensive bindings on your shelves. (The story is not interesting unless the reader is well bred enough to maintain this pretense.) The ancestral home was in Sussex; there was a proper acreage, gate, lodge, keeper, head gardener with unconscious humor, and a very beautiful distribution of everything vegetable that flourishes in a damp climate where the sun is not vulgarly and nakedly in evidence half the days of the year. Colonel Fyles had been educated at Eton, or, to be more accurate, he had passed through Eton and acquired the title "a public-school man," which is a man who has been to a school that is closed to the public outside of those who have sound incomes. It is a title without which the title of duke or prince is valueless. There is nothing you can say to an Englishman so sure of putting him abjectly in his place as to suggest, if it be true, that he is not a public-school man. No man who is not a public-school man appears in this story except to wear a livery and to do things which are strictly menial.
And so, since you already have an intimate acquaintance with Colonel Fyles, who was of course retired on half-pay and who had a pink skin, iron-gray hair, and was turned five and fifty, I move to his wife Alice, née Glaston, a family which was quite everything it ought to be, and
which possessed the wealth without which refinement is only a pose. When I say wealth, I do not mean anything vulgar, like a million pounds; I mean sufficient to pay for proper wines and annual subscriptions and to maintain the parklike aspect of its acres without ostentation and without strain. You generally find an account of Alice in about the third chapter of a two-volume novel, where she is apt to appear as a secondary character, being too authentic to fill the rôle of a heroine, heroines being more like what people would wish them to be, or would themselves wish to be, than like what people
For instance, Alice's beauty lacked something which the British mind does not readily distinguish with a name. Her features were fairly regular, her hair was abundant and ash-blonde, and she had the long Norman face which keeps one from being thought a nonconformist. But her carriage was on the doubtful authority of Rossetti and Burne-Jones-a forward leaning of the head, a compression of the lungs, and rounded shoulders, all of which brought her weight upon her heels. her heels. Bluntly, she had no life in her toes, such as goes with a woman of a lively and wellregulated self-consciousness. But you must not assume from this anything against one of the old county families of Sussex. Nor must you assume that you or your daughter could arrive on your or her toes in all the places where the Glastons went on their heels, even if you have a million dollars. It would come to nearer a million pounds, unless you possessed some renown which had acquired a British hall-mark. For England is the most democratic country in the world; by which I mean that England has long proved what other democracies are still striving to prove, that all men are equal at birth, and at birth only.
Alice could play the accompaniment to ballads on the piano; she could do a water-color sketch of the paddock, including birds, but not cattle; and she could embroider with deep-green silk on brightpink satin. She could dig in the garden with a trowel, and she knew how to talk to the lower classes. She had negative ideas on all the great subjects of the hour even before they were introduced to public notice. And as to virtue, it is not pos
sible, I am glad to say, for any woman to be more chaste than Alice Fyles was, even when there was nothing to be chaste about. You had only to hear her play the above accompaniments, preferably from near a door, to be convinced of that.
Still further to differentiate Alice as well as Colonel Fyles, who was her second husband, let me add that, within their great circle, they belonged to the segment which does not keep a house in town and does not keep hunters in the country, nor yet lead a social life of endless gaiety. In other words, they could afford not to do those things, which you, with ten times their income, could not, unless your name exists. By which I mean if it exists in Debrett, not in the sailing-list of the Mayflower. You must see that no person of note had any reason to come over in the Mayflower and leave his note behind him. Colonel and Mrs. Fyles-"Mrs." is really more a distinction than "Lady" — would have been in the circles where they moved because it is rarer-lived the domestic life of the early Victorian period, as shown in the best steel engravings of those times, except that the children were replaced by more dogs. But the upholstery was the same: the drawing-room was hung in maroon, with a salmon-colored Turkish carpet and two hundred and eighty-five objects of art and uselessness arranged in such a manner that no person wanting in perfect drawing-room composure would be wise to attempt its navigation. I once fell down half a flight of stairs and quite out of the most solemn picture while attempting to tow a lady from a first-floor drawing-room to a ground-floor diningroom past two threatening ebony statues of Moorish chieftains. Such scenes are only vulgar, especially if accompanied by the least trace of American accent. Nothing is more distressing on the part of a new-comer than a display of anything like eagerness when there is food in the wind.
Now, since this story is likely to begin. at any moment, let me explain that within their great circle there were differences of opinion in matters of taste. The hunting and other sets spoke of the Fyleses as inclined to be merely rustic; and the Fyleses spoke of them with the suggestion that they overdid in some directions, which is a pretty strong thing to say. But while this is to show that you must not take the
Fyleses as typical of all English life, it is to be understood that these differences did not affect their calling-list or their pew in the parish church or decrease the amount they were expected to subscribe to local charities. A specimen of their days was something like this:
Colonel Fyles would breakfast on bacon and eggs at nine; would smoke his pipe and read "The Times." He would then write a letter to "The Times" in opposition to some suggested change in a public institution, and for two hours would exercise his horse. Lunch and a nap would occupy him until three-thirty, and visitors and tea would occupy him until six, unless he motored to tea elsewhere with Alice. He would then dress for dinner, it is a pity I must explain to you that this meant for him a dinnerjacket and for her a full décolletée,-and after that noiseless function, during which they would confirm to each other what they had said at dinner the night before, he would play chess with Alice until she was defeated or he felt inclined to yawn. You may ask what Alice was doing all day. She was doing the things which I previously said she could do.
If this seems a quiet life, it must be remembered that Colonel Fyles had seen years of service in India. He had retired only after the Boer War, during which at one time he had commanded three regiments of infantry in a rather important engagement that would have resulted in the utter rout of the enemy had the enemy been up to public-school form or had it acted with any sense of tradition, as Colonel Fyles afterward explained in the Boer camp. But unfortunately the enemy consisted of men of no class and of no breeding; in fact, foreigners. Such men as Colonel Fyles are absolutely fearless, and will stand up to be shot at by anything but ridicule or the accusation of seeming in bad form. If there ever comes a war in which all the combatants are men like Colonel Fyles, no one will be left alive on either side, and the war will have to be fought over again by a lot of cowards.
It seems regrettable that, after her second marriage, what is so out of place as the supernatural should have introduced itself at Glaston Angle, which Alice inherited early in life. The supernatural belongs in the Scriptures; elsewhere its
occurrence savors of flippancy and a general lack of solidity in those concerned. In common with every one I wish this story were about something else. But
When her first husband, Major Topham-Hampton, died,-I shall call him Topham for euphony, - Mrs. Topham had behaved as a widow should. And when the year of her mourning had expired, she had her black things put away in the camphor-chest and went to Bath. It was at Bath that she had met Topham, which formed a habit. Bath, although it suffers from comparison with itself in the days of Beau Nash, and from the modern taste for foreign watering-places, still continues a resort for people of a certain conservatism. And it is not surprising that there she met Colonel Fyles. Topham, too, had been a public-school man, of course, the paste of his adolescence had been dried in the same Etonic matrix,he had served in India, and he wrote his objections to "The Times" on a breakfast of eggs and bacon. It did not startle Alice, then, that at the same spot among the ruins of the Roman tepidarium under the concert-hall Fyles should briefly say the same thing that Topham briefly had said. The affair with Fyles passed along with the same restraint as had the affair with Topham; and in a few months Colonel Fyles had fitted into the same duties under the same roof that had sheltered Topham with a calm that could be approached by no people on earth other than those on this island. Perhaps you begin to appreciate, if never before, what it is to live in order and peace and propriety in the most finished civilization in the world, where everything is standardized and where, if anything is lost, you can exactly duplicate it with little delay. In fact, nothing happened that would affect the outward composure of a well-trained butler until three years after this marriage, when one evening Colonel Fyles tripped on the carpet at the half-landing of the main staircase, and, being already vexed at having left his cigarette-case up-stairs, swore. It was a mild oath, and there was every justification for it, the carpet being totally in the wrong. Colonel Fyles would have thought no more about it had he not looked up and seen his wife's first husband, the late Major Topham, gazing at him from the head of the stairs.
I put it to you as suddenly as it was put to Colonel Fyles. I can't stop to argue the point of probability. If you don't be lieve in the reimbodiment of spirits, you are one who requires the evidence of his own senses, and you probably have no faith in anything, which is worse than being a nonconformist. Colonel Fyles had never seen Major Topham or even any portrait of Major Topham. Alice had plenty of storage-room and a reasonable amount of tact. But the colonel knew at once that this was the major. The apparition was so obviously a Briton, a public-school man, a soldier, a chessplayer, and a letter-writer. There the major stood, as a man at the head of his own stairs, so slim, so iron-gray, so retired on half-pay, and so with an air of taking the presence of another retired officer for granted, that Colonel Fyles could not in good form but take the major for granted. And since they never had been introduced to each other, Colonel Fyles, by virtue of his rank, passed up the remaining stairs, bowed to the major, who bowed in return, and then the colonel went to his room, while the major went down-stairs, each with a calm you can imagine only if you have very little imagination.
But not a mental calm. When I think of what the colonel thought and what he thought a public-school man ought to think and most of all of what he thought other people might think, I am not sure but that I am writing a novel. Major Topham's presence was so irregular, so uncustomary, SO unprearranged, these are very strong English words, and yet, so perfectly within propriety. For what earlier thing should a late husband do than call upon his wife after having changed his damp clothes? Colonel Fyles found the damp clothes in his own dressing-room, or in what he had been led by the marriage-service to believe was his own dressing-room, and the colonel's spare evening suit had gone down-stairs to the drawing-room, where Alice was bending over an unfinished game of chess. several moments Colonel Fyles did what his adolescent training had taught him was certain to be good form in matters of mental strain, which was nothing.
You must admit that the situation was delicate. The law was on both their sides. Good form was on both their sides.
And surely the wife of their bosom must be on both their sides. Major Topham also had lived three years in this house. As many of his Indian trophies as of Colonel Fyles caught your hair or feet in this house. The situation was more than delicate, even if there were to be considered only the feelings of their wife.
If you have lived all your life in surroundings which obey fixed laws, and where, within reasonable bounds, nothing happens but the expected, and nothing is expected which has not been invited, you can understand the very great pain and responsibility there is in facing a situation absolutely new and unheard of. But if you are a compatriot of mine, if you live in God's own country, where your chances of being smashed up in a train, burned up in a hotel, murdered in the streets, or otherwise violently assisted along your destiny are statistically between fifteen and twenty times as great as they are in England, then you are born inured to sudden emergencies, and I don't suppose you can understand the plight of a man like Colonel Fyles, faced by perhaps the only emotional situation which by no manner of means can be reduced to pounds sterling.
He quietly descended the stairs and looked through the crack of the drawingroom door. Major Topham and their wife sat bowed and motionless over the chess-board-the carved chessmen Topham himself had brought from Bengal. The two sat motionless, staring at the board, Alice with her pale-blue eyes and beautiful blankness of expression, untouched by suspicion that it was Topham, and not Fyles, who sat across from her. Why should she suspect? Fyles bitterly asked himself. Was not Topham all that he, Fyles, was? Iron-gray hair, public school, half-pay, objection to any alteration of existing institutions-they were all too patently there. Fyles had left his men in bad order; he had been thinking about his cigarette-case. "Rather a muddle," Fyles smiled to himself, to counterbalance any smile that might ever be smiled at him. He saw Topham reach for a cigarette in the empty silver box without turning an eye to it, saw his fingers hunting about within the box as accurately as if they had done this every night for the last four years instead of moldering in the grave.
Fyles would not have believed his senses had he not known that Topham was a public-school man and above the pretense of having returned from the grave when he had not. Presently Topham leaned back. "Rather a muddle," Topham smiled. Fyles could see Alice's eyes examine Topham, still without inquiry or doubt. She answered as a good wife always does, sympathetically, even if a little tired: "Yes, dear." Fyles walked out of the house, and they did not hear him.
Fyles paced up and down the grass, and meditated some ten or twelve pages of this print. Through the curtains he saw their game go on until Topham said "Check" and Alice acknowledged "Checkmate." Then, in the hall, he saw Topham shake hands with their wife, saw her pick up her blue skirts and mount the stairs, her long train picturesquely dragging behind her: that was the way Alice always parted from her husbands at this hour. A light came from her window; then presently a light from Fyles's own window, or Topham's window, or whichever window you think it rightly was. The butler locked up for the night, leaving Alice's second husband out on the damp grass. Men of less delicacy would have thrown a pebble at Alice's window in their anxiety for a word with her as to the future; and I suppose it will be impossible to prevent this story falling into hands which would have heaved a brick at the Topham window, if such a thing as a loose brick could have been found in those three hundred-odd acres. But Colonel Fyles was a publicschool man, and for some time he did nothing. Then he went around to see if the dogs would recognize him, a step involving no constraint upon the feelings of a delicate woman. The dogs did recognize him, though I do not know for what. They barked so that the butler opened a door through which the colonel strolled in as if he did not know that Topham now was sound asleep in the Topham-Fyles chamber.
Colonel Fyles paced the carpet in at room on the top floor in the wing farthest from the servants' quarters. On no account must the servants ever know; that is, must they ever know in such a way that they would seem officially to know. There is in this a most important distinction that runs all through English life:
things subtly are and subtly are not what they are called or seem on this island, whence foreigners have worked out a phrase, "British hypocrisy," a jealous term for that good form which all other peoples have something too bourgeois in their nature successfully to imitate. If you have a taste for these distinctions, consider the word "England." It is spelled "Eng"-land, it is pronounced "Ing"-land, and it means "Angle"-land. To remember this will help you to understand many English equations; and if you are ascended from the Mayflower, it may help you to understand yourself.
Colonel Fyles locked himself in and went to sleep on a lounge, hoping that somehow in the morning Topham, or the illusion, or whatever it is, would have vanished. He slept less well than usual; if he had been an overwrought American he would not have slept at all. In the morning he looked over the balusters and heard the swish of Alice's gown, heard her greeting to Topham, accompanied by nothing less than a kiss,-surely a legitimate one, and then heard their descent to the breakfast-room. Colonel Fyles made a dash, half-dressed, to the husband's room, to get into his riding-togs. They were gone. Topham had them on. Fyles sat on the bed and perspired until the up-stairs maid begged his pardon, explaining that she had thought she had seen him go down-stairs. He hurriedly dressed for town; the servants must not know. He stole out when no one saw him, went to the station on foot, and ate his breakfast at his club in Piccadilly at eleven o'clock.
Major Topham ate his bacon and eggs, or their bacon and eggs; in fact, the financial situation was such that the eggs and bacon really belonged to Alice. He smoked a pipe, read "The Times," and wrote a letter protesting against any reduction in the defenses of the empire. He lunched, napped, teaed, entertained the canon and his lady with as much lucidity as avoids seeming to wish to appear clever; and if there was the slightest sense of altered fact in the mind of Alice, be sure she was too well bred to betray it. Then Topham did a thing which you may think lies on debatable ground: he answered to the name of Fyles.
"Fyles," said the canon, standing in his