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Title: Tales of the Long Bow
Author: G. K. Chesterton
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eBook No.:  0400321.txt
Language:   English
Date first posted: December 2001
Date most recently updated: September 2004

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Title:      Tales of the Long Bow
Author:     G. K. Chesterton





CONTENTS


  I.    The Unpresentable Appearance of Colonel Crane
  II.   The Improbable Success of Mr. Owen Hood
  III.  The Unobtrusive Traffic of Captain Pierce
  IV.   The Elusive Companion of Parson White
  V.    The Exclusive Luxury of Enoch Oates
  VI.   The Unthinkable Theory of Professor Green
  VII.  The Unprecedented Architecture of Commander Blair
  VIII. The Ultimate Ultimatum of the League of the Long Bow





Chapter I



THE UNPRESENTABLE APPEARANCE OF COLONEL CRANE


These tales concern the doing of things recognized as
impossible to do; impossible to believe; and, as the weary reader
may well cry aloud, impossible to read about.  Did the narrator
merely say that they happened, without saying how they happened,
they could easily be classified with the cow who jumped over the moon
or the more introspective individual who jumped down his own throat.
In short, they are all tall stories; and though tall stories may also
be true stories, there is something in the very phrase appropriate
to such a topsy-turvydom; for the logician will presumably class
a tall story with a corpulent epigram or a long-legged essay.
It is only proper that such impossible incidents should begin
in the most prim and prosaic of all places, and apparently with
the most prim and prosaic of all human beings.

The place was a straight suburban road of strictly-fenced suburban
houses on the outskirts of a modern town.  The time was about twenty
minutes to eleven on Sunday morning, when a procession of suburban
families in Sunday clothes were passing decorously up the road
to church.  And the man was a very respectable retired military
man named Colonel Crane, who was also going to church, as he had
done every Sunday at the same hour for a long stretch of years.
There was no obvious difference between him and his neighbours,
except that he was a little less obvious.  His house was only called
White Lodge, and was, therefore, less alluring to the romantic
passer-by than Rowanmere on the one side or Heatherbrae on the other.
He turned out spick and span for church as if for parade; but he
was much too well dressed to be pointed out as a well-dressed man.
He was quite handsome in a dry, sun-baked style; but his bleached
blond hair was a colourless sort that could look either light brown
or pale grey; and though his blue eyes were clear, they looked out
a little heavily under lowered lids.  Colonel Crane was something of
a survival.  He was not really old; indeed he was barely middle-aged;
and had gained his last distinctions in the great war.  But a variety
of causes had kept him true to the traditional type of the old
professional soldier, as it had existed before 1914; when a small
parish would have only one colonel as it had only one curate.
It would be quite unjust to call him a dug-out; indeed, it would be
much truer to call him a dug-in. For he had remained in the traditions
as firmly and patiently as he had remained in the trenches.
He was simply a man who had no taste for changing his habits,
and had never worried about conventions enough to alter them.
One of his excellent habits was to go to church at eleven o'clock,
and he therefore went there; and did not know that there went
with him something of an old-world air and a passage in the history
of England.

As he came out of his front door, however, on that particular morning,
he was twisting a scrap of paper in his fingers and frowning with
somewhat unusual perplexity.  Instead of walking straight to his
garden gate he walked once or twice up and down his front garden,
swinging his black walking-cane. The note had been handed to him
at breakfast, and it evidently called for some practical problem calling
for immediate solution.  He stood a few minutes with his eye riveted
on a red daisy at the corner of the nearest flower-bed; and then
a new expression began to work in the muscles of his bronzed face,
giving a slightly grim hint of humour, of which few except his
intimates were aware.  Folding up the paper and putting it into his
waistcoat pocket, he strolled round the house to the back garden,
behind which was the kitchen-garden, in which an old servant, a sort
of factotum or handy-man, named Archer, was acting as kitchen-gardener.

Archer was also a survival.  Indeed, the two had survived together;
had survived a number of things that had killed a good many other people.
But though they had been together through the war that was also
a revolution, and had a complete confidence in each other, the man Archer
had never been able to lose the oppressive manners of a manservant.
He performed the duties of a gardener with the air of a butler.
He really performed the duties very well and enjoyed them very much;
perhaps he enjoyed them all the more because he was a clever Cockney,
to whom the country crafts were a new hobby.  But somehow,
whenever he said, "I have put in the seeds, sir," it always
sounded like, "I have put the sherry on the table, sir"; and he
could not say "Shall I pull the carrots?" without seeming to say,
"Would you be requiring the claret?"

"I hope you're not working on Sunday," said the Colonel,
with a much more pleasant smile than most people got from him,
though he was always polite to everybody.  "You're getting
too fond of these rural pursuits.  You've become a rustic yokel."

"I was venturing to examine the cabbages, sir," replied the rustic
yokel, with a painful precision of articulation.  "Their condition
yesterday evening did not strike me as satisfactory."

"Glad you didn't sit up with them," answered the Colonel.
"But it's lucky you're interested in cabbages.  I want to talk
to you about cabbages."

"About cabbages, sir?" inquired the other respectfully.

But the Colonel did not appear to pursue the topic, for he was gazing
in sudden abstraction at another object in the vegetable plots in front
of him.  The Colonel's garden, like the Colonel's house, hat, coat,
and demeanour, was well-appointed in an unobtrusive fashion; and in
the part of it devoted to flowers there dwelt something indefinable
that seemed older than the suburbs.  The hedges, even, in being
as neat as Surbiton managed to look as mellow as Hampton Court,
as if their very artificiality belonged rather to Queen Anne than
Queen Victoria; and the stone-rimmed pond with a ring of irises somehow
looked like a classic pool and not merely an artificial puddle.
It is idle to analyse how a man's soul and social type will somehow
soak into his surroundings; anyhow, the soul of Mr. Archer had sunk
into the kitchen-garden so as to give it a fine shade of difference.
He was after all a practical man, and the practice of his new trade
was much more of a real appetite with him than words would suggest.
Hence the kitchen-garden was not artificial, but autochthonous;
it really looked like the corner of a farm in the country; and all
sorts of practical devices were set up there.  Strawberries were
netted-in against the birds; strings were stretched across with
feathers fluttering from them; and in the middle of the principal
bed stood an ancient and authentic scarecrow.  Perhaps the only
incongruous intruder, capable of disputing with the scarecrow in his
rural reign, was the curious boundary-stone which marked the edge
of his domain; and which was, in fact, a shapeless South Sea idol,
planted there with no more appropriateness than a door-scraper. But
Colonel Crane would not have been so complete a type of the old
army man if he had not hidden somewhere a hobby connected with
his travels.  His hobby had at one time been savage folklore;
and he had the relic of it on the edge of the kitchen-garden. At
the moment, however, he was not looking at the idol, but at the scarecrow.

"By the way, Archer," he said, "don't you think the scarecrow wants
a new hat?"

"I should hardly think it would be necessary, sir," said the
gardener gravely.

"But look here," said the Colonel, "you must consider the philosophy
of scarecrows.  In theory, that is supposed to convince some rather
simple-minded bird that I am walking in my garden.  That thing
with the unmentionable hat is Me.  A trifle sketchy, perhaps.
Sort of impressionist portrait; but hardly likely to impress.
Man with a hat like that would never be really firm with a sparrow.
Conflict of wills, and all that, and I bet the sparrow would come
out on top.  By the way, what's that stick tied on to it?"

"I believe, sir," said Archer, "that it is supposed to represent
a gun."

"Held at a highly unconvincing angle," observed Crane.  "Man with
a hat like that would be sure to miss."

"Would you desire me to procure another hat?" inquired the patient Archer.

"No, no," answered his master carelessly.  "As the poor fellow's got
such a rotten hat, I'll give him mine.  Like the scene of St. Martin
and the beggar."

"Give him yours," repeated Archer respectfully, but faintly.

The Colonel took off his burnished top-hat and gravely placed
it on the head of the South Sea idol at his feet.  It had a
queer effect of bringing the grotesque lump of stone to life,
as if a goblin in a top-hat was grinning at the garden.

"You think the hat shouldn't be quite new?" he inquired almost anxiously.
"Not done among the best scarecrows, perhaps.  Well, let's see
what we can do to mellow it a little."

He whirled up his walking-stick over his head and laid a smacking
stroke across the silk hat, smashing it over the hollow eyes
of the idol.

"Softened with the touch of time now, I think," he remarked, holding out
the silken remnants to the gardener.  "Put it on the scarecrow,
my friend; I don't want it.  You can bear witness it's no use to me."

Archer obeyed like an automaton, an automaton with rather round eyes.

"We must hurry up," said the Colonel cheerfully.  "I was early
for church, but I'm afraid I'm a bit late now."

"Did you propose to attend church without a hat, sir?" asked the other.

"Certainly not.  Most irreverent," said the Colonel.  "Nobody should
neglect to remove his hat on entering church.  Well, if I haven't
got a hat, I shall neglect to remove it.  Where is your reasoning
power this morning?  No, no, just dig up one of your cabbages."

Once more the well-trained servant managed to repeat the word
"Cabbages" with his own strict accent; but in its constriction
there was a hint of strangulation.

"Yes, go and pull up a cabbage, there's a good fellow," said the Colonel.
"I must really be getting along; I believe I heard it strike eleven."

Mr. Archer moved heavily in the direction of a plot of cabbages,
which swelled with monstrous contours and many colours; objects, perhaps,
more worthy of the philosophic eye than is taken into account by
the more flippant of tongue.  Vegetables are curious-looking things
and less commonplace than they sound.  If we called a cabbage a cactus,
or some such queer name, we might see it as an equally queer thing.

These philosophical truths did the Colonel reveal by anticipating
the dubious Archer, and dragging a great, green cabbage with
its trailing root out of the earth.  He then picked up a sort
of pruning-knife and cut short the long tail of the root;
scooped out the inside leaves so as to make a sort of hollow,
and gravely reversing it, placed it on his head.  Napoleon and other
military princes have crowned themselves; and he, like the Caesars,
wore a wreath that was, after all, made of green leaves
or vegetation.  Doubtless there are other comparisons that might
occur to any philosophical historian who should look at it in the abstract.

The people going to church certainly looked at it; but they did not
look at it in the abstract.  To them it appeared singularly concrete;
and indeed incredibly solid.  The inhabitants of Rowanmere and
Heatherbrae followed the Colonel as he strode almost jauntily up
the road, with feelings that no philosophy could for the moment meet.
There seemed to be nothing to be said, except that one of the most
respectable and respected of their neighbours, one who might even
be called in a quiet way a pattern of good form if not a leader
of fashion, was walking solemnly up to church with a cabbage
on the top of his head.

There was indeed no corporate action to meet the crisis.  Their world was
not one in which a crowd can collect to shout, and still less to jeer.
No rotten eggs could be collected from their tidy breakfast-tables;
and they were not of the sort to throw cabbage-stalks at the cabbage.
Perhaps there was just that amount of truth in the pathetically
picturesque names on their front gates, names suggestive of
mountains and mighty lakes concealed somewhere on the premises.
It was true that in one sense such a house was a hermitage.
Each of these men lived alone and they could not be made into a mob.
For miles around there was not public house and no public opinion.

As the Colonel approached the church porch and prepared reverently to
remove his vegetarian headgear, he was hailed in a tone a little more
hearty than the humane civility that was the slender bond of that society.
He returned the greeting without embarrassment, and paused a moment
as the man who had spoken to him plunged into further speech.
He was a young doctor named Horace Hunter, tall, handsomely dressed,
and confident in manner; and though his features were rather plain
and his hair rather red, he was considered to have a certain fascination.

"Good morning, Colonel," said the doctor in his resounding tones,
"what a f--what a fine day it is."

Stars turned from their courses like comets, so to speak,
and the world swerved into wilder possibilities, at that crucial
moment when Dr. Hunter corrected himself and said, "What a fine day!"
instead of "What a funny hat!"

As to why he corrected himself, a true picture of what passed through
his mind might sound rather fanciful in itself.  It would be less
than explicit to say he did so because of a long grey car waiting
outside the White Lodge.  It might not be a complete explanation
to say it was due to a lady walking on stilts at a garden party.
Some obscurity might remain, even if we said that it had something
to do with a soft shirt and a nickname; nevertheless all these
things mingled in the medical gentleman's mind when he made his
hurried decision.  Above all, it might or might not be sufficient
explanation to say that Horace Hunter was a very ambitious
young man, that the ring in his voice and the confidence in his
manner came from a very simple resolution to rise in the world,
and that the world in question was rather worldly.

He liked to be seen talking so confidently to Colonel Crane on that
Sunday parade.  Crane was comparatively poor, but he knew People.
And people who knew People knew what People were doing now;
whereas people who didn't know People could only wonder what in the world
People would do next.  A lady who came with the Duchess when she
opened the Bazaar had nodded to Crane and said, "Hullo, Stork,"
and the doctor had deduced that it was a sort of family joke and
not a momentary ornithological confusion.  And it was the Duchess
who had started all that racing on stilts, which the Vernon-Smiths
had introduced at Heatherbrae.  But it would have been devilish
awkward not to have known what Mrs. Vernon-Smith meant when she said,
"Of course you stilt."  You never knew what they would start next.
He remembered how he himself had thought the first man in a soft
shirt-front was some funny fellow from nowhere; and then he had begun
to see others here and there, and had found that it was not a faux pas,
but a fashion.  It was odd to imagine that he would ever begin
to see vegetable hats here and there, but you never could tell;
and he wasn't going to make the same mistake again.  His first
medical impulse had been to add to the Colonel's fancy costume
with a strait-waistcoat. But Crane did not look like a lunatic,
and certainly did not look like a man playing a practical joke.
He had not the stiff and self-conscious solemnity of the joker.
He took it quite naturally.  And one thing was certain:  if it
really was the latest thing, the doctor must take it as naturally
as the Colonel did.  So he said it was a fine day, and was gratified
to learn that there was no disagreement on that question.

The doctor's dilemma, if we may apply the phrase, had been the whole
neighbourhood's dilemma.  The doctor's decision was also the whole
neighbourhood's decision.  It was not so much that most of the good
people there shared in Hunter's serious social ambitions, but rather
that they were naturally prone to negative and cautious decisions.
They lived in a delicate dread of being interfered with; and they
were just enough to apply the principle by not interfering with
other people.  They had also a subconscious sense that the mild
and respectable military gentleman would not be altogether an easy
person to interfere with.  The consequence was that the Colonel
carried his monstrous green headgear about the streets of that suburb
for nearly a week, and nobody ever mentioned the subject to him.
It was about the end of that time (while the doctor had been scanning
the horizon for aristocrats crowned with cabbage, and, not seeing any,
was summoning his courage to speak) that the final interruption came;
and with the interruption the explanation.

The Colonel had every appearance of having forgotten all about
the hat.  He took it off and on like any other hat; he hung it
on the hat-peg in his narrow front hall where there was nothing
else but his sword hung on two hooks and an old brown map of
the seventeenth century.  He handed it to Archer when that correct
character seemed to insist on his official right to hold it;
he did not insist on his official right to brush it, for fear it
should fall to pieces; but he occasionally gave it a cautious shake,
accompanied by a look of restrained distaste.  But the Colonel
himself never had any appearance of either liking or disliking it.
The unconventional thing had already become one of his conventions--
the conventions which he never considered enough to violate.
It is probable, therefore, that what ultimately took place was as
much of a surprise to him as to anybody.  Anyhow, the explanation,
or explosion, came in the following fashion.

Mr. Vernon-Smith, the mountaineer whose foot was on his native heath
at Heatherbrae, was a small, dapper gentleman with a big-bridged nose,
dark moustache, and dark eyes with a settled expression of anxiety,
though nobody knew what there was to be anxious about in his very solid
social existence.  He was a friend of Dr. Hunter; one might almost
say a humble friend.  For he had the negative snobbishness that could
only admire the positive and progressive snobbishness of that soaring
and social figure.  A man like Dr. Hunter likes to have a man like
Mr. Smith, before whom he can pose as a perfect man of the world.
What appears more extraordinary, a man like Mr. Smith really likes
to have a man like Dr. Hunter to pose at him and swagger over him
and snub him.  Anyhow, Vernon-Smith had ventured to hint that the new
hat of his neighbour Crane was not of a pattern familiar in every
fashion-plate. And Dr. Hunter, bursting with the secret of his own
original diplomacy, had snubbed the suggestion and snowed it under
with frosty scorn.  With shrewd, resolute gestures, with large
allusive phrases, he had left on his friend's mind the impression
that the whole social world would dissolve if a word were said
on so delicate a topic.  Mr. Vernon-Smith formed a general idea
that the Colonel would explode with a loud bang at the very vaguest
allusion to vegetables, or the most harmless adumbration or verbal
shadow of a hat.  As usually happens in such cases, the words he
was forbidden to say repeated themselves perpetually in his mind
with the rhythmic pressure of a pulse.  It was his temptation
at the moment to call all houses hats and all visitors vegetables.

When Crane came out of his front gate that morning he found his
neighbour Vernon-Smith standing outside, between the spreading
laburnum and the lamp-post, talking to a young lady, a distant
cousin of his family.  This girl was an art student on her own--
a little too much on her own for the standards of Heatherbrae, and,
therefore (some would infer), yet further beyond those of White Lodge.
Her brown hair was bobbed, and the Colonel did not admire
bobbed hair.  On the other hand, she had a rather attractive face,
with honest brown eyes a little too wide apart, which diminished
the impression of beauty but increased the impression of honesty.
She also had a very fresh and unaffected voice, and the Colonel
had often heard it calling out scores at tennis on the other side
of the garden wall.  In some vague sort of way it made him feel old;
at least, he was not sure whether he felt older than he was,
or younger than he ought to be.  It was not until they met under
the lamp-post that he knew her name was Audrey Smith; and he was
faintly thankful for the single monosyllable.  Mr. Vernon-Smith
presented her, and very nearly said:  "May I introduce my cabbage?"
instead of "my cousin."

The Colonel, with unaffected dullness, said it was a fine day;
and his neighbour, rallying from his last narrow escape,
continued the talk with animation.  His manner, as when he poked
his big nose and beady black eyes into local meetings and committees,
was at once hesitating and emphatic.

"This young lady is going in for Art," he said; "a poor look-out,
isn't it?  I expect we shall see her drawing in chalk on the paving
stones and expecting us to throw a penny into the--into a tray,
or something."  Here he dodged another danger.  "But of course,
she thinks she's going to be an R.A."

"I hope not," said the young woman hotly.  "Pavement artists are
much more honest than most of the R.A.'s."

"I wish those friends of yours didn't give you such revolutionary
ideas," said Mr. Vernon-Smith. "My cousin knows the most
dreadful cranks, vegetarians and--and Socialists."  He chanced it,
feeling that vegetarians were not quite the same as vegetables;
and he felt sure the Colonel would share his horror of Socialists.
"People who want to be equal, and all that.  What I say is--
we're not equal and we never can be.  As I always say to Audrey--
if all the property were divided to-morrow, it would go back into
the same hands.  It's a law of nature, and if a man thinks he can
get round a law of nature, why, he's talking through his--I mean,
he's as mad as a--"

Recoiling from the omnipresent image, he groped madly in his mind
for the alternative of a March hare.  But before he could find it,
the girl had cut in and completed his sentence.  She smiled serenely,
and said in her clear and ringing tones:

"As mad as Colonel Crane's hatter."

It is not unjust to Mr. Vernon-Smith to say that he fled as from
a dynamite explosion.  It would be unjust to say that he deserted
a lady in distress, for she did not look in the least like a
distressed lady, and he himself was a very distressed gentleman.
He attempted to wave her indoors with some wild pretext,
and eventually vanished there himself with an equally random apology.
But the other two took no notice of him; they continued to confront
each other, and both were smiling.

"I think you must be the bravest man in England," she said.
"I don't mean anything about the war, or the D.S.O. and all that;
I mean about this.  Oh, yes, I do know a little about this,
but there's one thing I don't know.  Why do you do it?"

"I think it is you who are the bravest woman in England," he answered,
"or, at any rate, the bravest person in these parts.  I've walked
about this town for a week, feeling like the last fool in creation,
and expecting somebody to say something.  And not a soul has said
a word.  They all seem to be afraid of saying the wrong thing."

"I think they're deadly," observed Miss Smith.  "And if they
don't have cabbages for hats, it's only because they have turnips
for heads."

"No," said the Colonel gently; "I have many generous and friendly
neighbours here, including your cousin.  Believe me, there is
a case for conventions, and the world is wiser than you know.
You are too young not to be intolerant.  But I can see you've got
the fighting spirit; that is the best part of youth and intolerance.
When you said that word just now, by Jove you looked like Britomart."

"She is the Militant Suffragette in the Faerie Queene, isn't she?"
answered the girl.  "I'm afraid I don't know my English literature
so well as you do.  You see, I'm an artist, or trying to be one;
and some people say that narrows a person.  But I can't help getting
cross with all the varnished vulgarity they talk about everything--
look at what he said about Socialism."

"It was a little superficial," said Crane with a smile.

"And that," she concluded, "is why I admire your hat, though I
don't know why you wear it."

This trivial conversation had a curious effect on the Colonel.
There went with it a sort of warmth and a sense of crisis that he had
not known since the war.  A sudden purpose formed itself in his mind,
and he spoke like one stepping across a frontier.

"Miss Smith," he said, "I wonder if I might ask you to pay me
a further compliment.  It may be unconventional, but I believe you
do not stand on these conventions.  An old friend of mine will
be calling on me shortly, to wind up the rather unusual business
or ceremonial of which you have chanced to see a part.  If you
would do me the honour to lunch with me to-morrow at half-past one,
the true story of the cabbage awaits you.  I promise that you shall hear
the real reason.  I might even say I promise you shall SEE the real
reason."

"Why, of course I will," said the unconventional one heartily.
"Thanks awfully."

The Colonel took an intense interest in the appointments of the
luncheon next day.  With subconscious surprise he found himself
not only interested, but excited.  Like many of his type, he took
a pleasure in doing such things well, and knew his way about in wine
and cookery.  But that would not alone explain his pleasure.
For he knew that young women generally know very little about wine,
and emancipated young women possibly least of all.  And though he
meant the cookery to be good, he knew that in one feature it would
appear rather fantastic.  Again, he was a good-natured gentleman
who would always have liked young people to enjoy a luncheon party,
as he would have liked a child to enjoy a Christmas tree.  But there
seemed no reason why he should have a sort of happy insomnia,
like a child on Christmas Eve.  There was really no excuse for his
pacing up and down the garden with his cigar, smoking furiously far
into the night.  For as he gazed at the purple irises and the grey pool
in the faint moonshine, something in his feelings passed as if from
the one tint to the other; he had a new and unexpected reaction.
For the first time he really hated the masquerade he had made
himself endure.  He wished he could smash the cabbage as he had
smashed the top-hat. He was little more than forty years old;
but he had never realized how much there was of what was dried
and faded about his flippancy, till he felt unexpectedly swelling
within him the monstrous and solemn vanity of a young man.
Sometimes he looked up at the picturesque, the too picturesque,
outline of the house next door, dark against the moonrise, and thought
he heard faint voices in it, and something like a laugh.

The visitor who called on the Colonel next morning may have been
an old friend, but he was certainly an odd contrast.  He was a
very abstracted, rather untidy man in a rusty knickerbocker suit;
he had a long head with straight hair of the dark red called auburn,
one or two wisps of which stood on end however he brushed it,
and a long face, clean-shaven and heavy about the jaw and chin,
which he had a way of sinking and settling squarely into his cravat.
His name was Hood, and he was apparently a lawyer, though he had not
come on strictly legal business.  Anyhow, he exchanged greetings
with Crane with a quiet warmth and gratification, smiled at the old
manservant as if he were an old joke, and showed every sign of an
appetite for his luncheon.

The appointed day was singularly warm and bright and everything
in the garden seemed to glitter; the goblin god of the South Seas
seemed really to grin; and the scarecrow really to have a new hat.
The irises round the pool were swinging and flapping in a light breeze;
and he remembered they were called "flags" and thought of purple
banners going into battle.

She had come suddenly round the corner of the house.  Her dress was
of a dark but vivid blue, very plain and angular in outline, but not
outrageously artistic; and in the morning light she looked less like
a schoolgirl and more like a serious woman of twenty-five or thirty;
a little older and a great deal more interesting.  And something in
this morning seriousness increased the reaction of the night before.
One single wave of thanksgiving went up from Crane to think that at
least his grotesque green hat was gone and done with for ever.
He had worn it for a week without caring a curse for anybody;
but during that ten minutes' trivial talk under the lamp-post, he
felt as if he had suddenly grown donkey's ears in the street.

He had been induced by the sunny weather to have a little
table laid for three in a sort of veranda open to the garden.
When the three sat down to it, he looked across at the lady and said:
"I fear I must exhibit myself as a crank; one of those cranks your
cousin disapproves of, Miss Smith.  I hope it won't spoil this little
lunch than for anybody else.  But I am going to have a vegetarian meal."

"Are you?" she said.  "I should never have said you looked like
a vegetarian."

"Just lately I have only looked like a fool," he said dispassionately;
"but I think I'd sooner look a fool than a vegetarian in the
ordinary way.  This is rather a special occasion.  Perhaps my
friend Hood had better begin; it's really his story more than mine."

"My name is Robert Owen Hood," said that gentleman, rather sardonically.
"That's how improbable reminiscences often begin; but the only point
now is that my old friend here insulted me horribly by calling
me Robin Hood."

"I should have called it a compliment," answered Audrey Smith.
"Buy why did he call you Robin Hood?"

"Because I drew the long bow," said the lawyer.

"But to do you justice," said the Colonel, "it seems that you hit
the bull's eye."

As he spoke Archer came in bearing a dish which he placed before
his master.  He had already served the others with the earlier courses,
but he carried this one with the pomp of one bringing the boar's
head at Christmas.  It consisted of a plain boiled cabbage.

"I was challenged to do something," went on Hood, "which my friend
here declared to be impossible.  In fact, any sane man would
have declared it to be impossible.  But I did it for all that.
Only my friend, in the heat of rejecting and ridiculing the notion,
made use of a hasty expression.  I might almost say he made a
rash vow."

"My exact words were," said Colonel Crane solemnly:  "'If you can
do that, I'll eat my hat.'"

He leaned forward thoughtfully and began to eat it.  Then he resumed
in the same reflective way:

"You see, all rash vows are verbal or nothing.  There might be a
debate about the logical and literary way in which my friend Hood
fulfilled HIS rash vow.  But I put it to myself in the same pedantic
sort of way.  It wasn't possible to eat any hat that I wore.
But it might be possible to wear a hat that I could eat.
Articles of dress could hardly be used for diet; but articles of
diet could really be used for dress.  It seemed to me that I might
fairly be said to have made it my hat, if I wore it systematically
as a hat and had no other, putting up with all the disadvantages.
Making a blasted fool of myself was the fair price to be paid for
the vow or wager; for one ought always to lose something on a wager."

And he rose from the table with a gesture of apology.

The girl stood up.  "I think it's perfectly splendid," she said.
"It's as wild as one of those stories about looking for the Holy Grail."

The lawyer also had risen, rather abruptly, and stood stroking
his long chin with his thumb and looking at his old friend under
bent brows in a rather reflective manner.

"Well, you've subpoena'd me as a witness all right," he said, "and now,
with the permission of the court, I'll leave the witness-box. I'm
afraid I must be going.  I've got important business at home.
Good-bye, Miss Smith."

The girl returned his farewell a little mechanically; and Crane
seemed to recover from a similar trance as he stepped after
the retreating figure of his friend.

"I say, Owen," he said hastily, "I'm sorry you're leaving so early.
Must you really go?"

"Yes," replied Owen Hood gravely.  "My private affairs are quite
real and practical, I assure you."  His grave mouth worked a little
humourously at the corners as he added:  "The truth is, I don't
think I mentioned it, but I'm thinking of getting married."

"Married!" repeated the Colonel, as if thunderstruck.

"Thanks for your compliments and congratulations, old fellow,"
said the satiric Mr. Hood.  "Yes, it's all been thought out.
I've even decided whom I am going to marry.  She knows about it herself.
She has been warned."

"I really beg your pardon," said the Colonel in great distress,
"of course I congratulate you most heartily; and her even more heartily.
Of course I'm delighted to hear it.  The truth is, I was surprised...
not so much in that way..."

"Not so much in what way?" asked Hood.  "I suppose you mean
some would say I am on the way to be an old bachelor.  But I've
discovered it isn't half so much a matter of years as of ways.
Men like me get elderly more by choice than chance; and there's
much more choice and less chance in life than your modern fatalists
make out.  For such people fatalism falsifies even chronology.
They're not unmarried because they're old.  They're old because
they're unmarried."

"Indeed you are mistaken," said Crane earnestly.  "As I say,
I was surprised, but my surprise was not so rude as you think.
It wasn't that I thought there was anything unfitting about...
somehow it was rather the other way... as if things could fit better
than one thought... as if--but anyhow, little as I know about it,
I really do congratulate you."

"I'll tell you all about it before long," replied his friend.
"It's enough to say just now that it was all bound up with my succeeding
after all in doing--what I did.  She was the inspiration, you know.
I have done what is called an impossible thing; but believe me,
she is really the impossible part of it."

"Well, I must not keep you from such an impossible engagement,"
said Crane smiling.  "Really, I'm confoundedly glad to hear about
all this.  Well, good-bye for the present."

Colonel Crane stood watching the square shoulders and russet mane
of his old friend, as they disappeared down the road, in a rather
indescribable state of mind.  As he turned hastily back towards
his garden and his other guest, he was conscious of a change;
things seemed different in some light-headed and illogical fashion.
He could not himself trace the connexion; indeed, he did not know
whether it was a connexion or a disconnexion.  He was very far from
being a fool; but his brains were of the sort that are directed
outwards to things; the brains of the soldier or the scientific man;
and he had no practice in analysing his own mind.  He did not
quite understand why the news about Owen Hood should give him that
dazed sense of a difference in things in general.  Doubtless he
was very fond of Owen Hood; but he had been fond of other people
who had got married without especially disturbing the atmosphere
of his own back-garden. He even dimly felt that mere affection
might have worked the other way; that it might have made him worry
about Hood, and wonder whether Hood was making a fool of himself,
or even feel suspicious or jealous of Mrs. Hood--if there had
not been something else that made him feel quite the other way.
He could not quite understand it; there seemed to be an increasing
number of things that he could not understand.  This world in which he
himself wore garlands of green cabbage and in which his old friend
the lawyer got married suddenly like a man going mad--this world
was a new world, at once fresh and frightening, in which he could
hardly understand the figures that were walking about, even his own.
The flowers in the flower-pots had a new look about them, at once
bright and nameless; and even the line of vegetables beyond could
not altogether depress him with the memories of recent levity.
Had he indeed been a prophet, or a visionary seeing the future,
he might have seen that green line of cabbages extending infinitely
like a green sea to the horizon.  For he stood at the beginning
of a story which was not to terminate until his incongruous
cabbage had come to mean something that he had never meant by it.
That green patch was to spread like a great green conflagration
almost to the ends of the earth.  But he was a practical person and
the very reverse of a prophet; and like many other practical persons,
he often did things without very clearly knowing what he was doing.
He had the innocence of some patriarch or primitive hero in
the morning of the world, founding more than he could himself
realize of his legend and his line.  Indeed he felt very much
like someone in the morning of the world; but beyond that he could
grasp nothing.

Audrey Smith was standing not so very many yards away; for it
was only for a few strides that he had followed his elder guest
towards the gate.  Yet her figure had fallen far enough back out
of the foreground to take on the green framework of the garden;
so that her dress might almost have been blue with a shade of distance.
And when she spoke to him, even from that little way off, her voice
took on inevitably a new suggestion of one calling out familiarly
and from afar, as one calls to an old companion.  It moved him
in a disproportionate fashion, though all that she said was:

"What became of your old hat?"

"I lost it," he replied gravely, "obviously I had to lose it.
I believe the scarecrow found it."

"Oh, do let's go and look at the scarecrow," she cried.

He led her without a word to the kitchen-garden and gravely explained
each of its outstanding features; from the serious Mr. Archer
resting on his spade to the grotesque South Sea Island god grinning
at the corner of the plot.  He spoke as with an increasing solemnity
and verbosity, and all the time knew little or nothing of what he said.

At last she cut into his monologue with an abstraction that was
almost rude; yet her brown eyes were bright and her sympathy undisguised.

"Don't talk about it," she cried with illogical enthusiasm.
"It looks as if we were really right in the middle of the country.
It's as unique as the Garden of Eden.  It's simply the most
delightful place--"

It was at this moment, for some unaccountable reason, that the
Colonel who had lost his hat suddenly proceeded to lose his head.
Standing in that grotesque vegetable scenery, a black and stiff
yet somehow stately figure, he proceeded in the most traditional
manner to offer the lady everything he possessed, not forgetting
the scarecrow or the cabbages; a half-humourous memory of which
returned to him with the boomerang of bathos.

"When I think of the encumbrances on the estate--" he concluded gloomily.
"Well, there they are; a scarecrow and a cannibal fetish and a stupid
man who has stuck in a rut of respectability and conventional ways."

"Very conventional," she said, "especially in his taste in hats."

"That was the exception, I'm afraid," he said earnestly.
"You'd find those things very rare and most things very dull.
I can't help having fallen in love with you; but for all that we
are in different worlds; and you belong in a younger world,
which says what it thinks, and cannot see what most of our silences
and scruples meant."

"I suppose we are very rude," she said thoughtfully, "and you must
certainly excuse me if I do say what I think."

"I deserve no better," he replied mournfully.

"Well, I think I must be in love with you too," she replied calmly.
"I don't see what time has to do with being fond of people.
You are the most original person I ever knew."

"My dear, my dear," he protested almost brokenly, "I fear you are
making a mistake.  Whatever else I am, I never set up to be original."

"You must remember," she replied, "that I have known a good many
people who did set up to be original.  An Art School swarms with them;
and there are any number among those socialist and vegetarian friends
of mine you were talking about.  They would think nothing of wearing
cabbages on their heads, of course.  Any one of them would be capable
of getting inside a pumpkin if he could.  Any one of them might appear
in public dressed entirely in watercress.  But that's just it.
They might well wear watercress for they are water-creatures;
they go with the stream.  They do those things because those things
are done; because they are done in their own Bohemian set.
Unconventionality is their convention.  I don't mind it myself;
I think it's great fun; but that doesn't mean that I don't know real
strength or independence when I see it.  All that is just molten
and formless; but the really strong man is one who can make a mould
and then break it.  When a man like you can suddenly do a thing
like that, after twenty years of habit, for the sake of his word,
then somehow one really does feel that man is man and master of
his fate."

"I doubt if I am master of my fate," replied Crane, "and I do not
know whether I ceased to be yesterday or two minutes ago."

He stood there for a moment like a man in heavy armour.  Indeed,
the antiquated image is not inappropriate in more ways than one.
The new world within him was so alien from the whole habit in
which he lived, from the very gait and gestures of his daily life,
conducted through countless days, that his spirit had striven
before it broke its shell.  But it was also true that even if he
could have done what every man wishes to do at such a moment,
something supreme and satisfying, it would have been something
in a sense formal or it would not have satisfied him.

He was one of those to whom it is natural to be ceremonial.
Even the music in his mind, too deep and distant for him to catch
and echo, was the music of old and ritual dance and not of revelry;
and it was not for nothing that he had built gradually about him
that garden of the grey stone fountain and the great hedge of yew.
He bent suddenly and kissed her hand.

"I like that," she said.  "You ought to have powdered hair and a sword."

"I apologize," he said gravely, "no modern man is worthy of you.
But indeed I fear, in every sense I am not a very modern man."

"You must never wear that hat again," she said, indicating the
battered original topper.

"To tell the truth," he observed mildly, "I had not any intention
of resuming that one."

"Silly," she said briefly, "I don't mean that hat; I mean that sort
of hat.  As a matter of fact, there couldn't be a finer hat than
the cabbage."

"My dear--" he protested; but she was looking at him quite seriously.

"I told you I was an artist, and didn't know much about literature,"
she said.  "Well, do you know, it really does make a difference.
Literary people let words get between them and things.  We do
at least look at the things and not the names of the things.
You think a cabbage is comic because the name sounds comic and
even vulgar; something between 'cab' and 'garbage,' I suppose.
But a cabbage isn't really comic or vulgar.  You wouldn't think
so if you simply had to paint it.  Haven't you seen Dutch and
Flemish galleries, and don't you know what great men painted cabbages?
What they saw was certain lines and colours; very wonderful lines
and colours."

"It may be all very well in a picture," he began doubtfully.

She suddenly laughed aloud.

"You idiot," she cried; "don't you know you looked perfectly splendid?
The curves were like a great turban of leaves and the root rose
like the spike of a helmet; it was rather like the turbaned
helmets on some of Rembrandt's figures, with the face like bronze
in the shadows of green and purple.  That's the sort of thing
artists can see, who keep their eyes and heads clear of words!
And then you want to apologize for not wearing that stupid stove-pipe
covered with blacking, when you went about wearing a coloured
crown like a king.  And you were like a king in this country;
for they were all afraid of you."

As he continued a faint protest, her laughter took on a more
mischievous side.  "If you'd stuck to it a little longer,
I swear they'd all have been wearing vegetables for hats.
I swear I saw my cousin the other day standing with a sort of trowel,
and looking irresolutely at a cabbage."

Then, after a pause, she said with a beautiful irrelevancy:

"What was it Mr. Hood did that you said he couldn't do?"

But these are tales of topsy-turvydom even in the sense that they
have to be told tail-foremost. And he who would know the answer
to that question must deliver himself up to the intolerable tedium
of reading the story of The Improbable Success of Mr. Owen Hood,
and an interval must be allowed him before such torments are renewed.




Chapter II



THE IMPROBABLE SUCCESS OF MR. OWEN HOOD


Heroes who have endured the heavy labour of reading to the end the story
of The Unpresentable Appearance of Colonel Crane are aware that his
achievement was the first of a series of feats counted impossible,
like the quests of the Arthurian knights.  For the purpose of this tale,
in which the Colonel is but a secondary figure, it is enough to say
that he was long known and respected, before his last escapade, as a
respectable and retired military man in a residential part of Surrey,
with a sunburnt complexion and an interest in savage mythology.
As a fact, however, he had gathered the sunburn and the savage
myths some time before he had managed to collect the respectability
and the suburban myths.  In his early youth he had been a traveller
of the adventurous and even restless sort; and he only concerns
this story because he was a member of a sort of club or clique
of young men whose adventurousness verged on extravagance.
They were all eccentrics of one kind or another, some professing
extreme revolutionary and some extreme reactionary opinions,
and some both.  Among the latter may be classed Mr. Robert Owen Hood,
the somewhat unlegal lawyer who is the hero of this tale.

Robert Owen Hood was Crane's most intimate and incongruous friend.
Hood was from the first as sedentary as Crane was adventurous.
Hood was to the end as casual as Crane was conventional.  The prefix
of Robert Owen was a relic of a vague revolutionary tradition in
his family; but he inherited along with it a little money that allowed
him to neglect the law and to cultivate a taste for liberty and for
drifting and dreaming in lost corners of the country, especially in
the little hills between the Severn and the Thames.  In the upper
reaches of the latter river is an islet in which he especially loved
to sit fishing, a shabby but not commonplace figure clad in grey,
with a mane of rust-coloured hair and a long face with a large chin,
rather like Napoleon.  Beside him, on the occasion now in question,
stood the striking contrast of his alert military friend in full
travelling kit; being on the point of starting for one of his odysseys
in the South Seas.

"Well," demanded the impatient traveller in a tone of remonstrance,
"have you caught anything?"

"You once asked me," replied the angler placidly, "what I meant
by calling you a materialist.  That is what I meant by calling you
a materialist."

"If one must be a materialist or a madman," snorted the soldier,
"give me materialism."

"On the contrary," replied his friend, "your fad is far madder
than mine.  And I doubt if it's any more fruitful.  The moment men
like you see a man sitting by a river with a rod, they are insanely
impelled to ask him what he has caught.  But when you go off to shoot
big game, as you call it, nobody asks you what you have caught.
Nobody expects you to bring home a hippopotamus for supper.
Nobody has ever seen you walking up Pall Mall, followed respectfully
by a captive giraffe.  Your bag of elephants, though enormous,
seems singularly unobtrusive; left in the cloak-room, no doubt.
Personally, I doubt if you ever catch anything.  It's all decorously
hidden in desert sand and doubt and distance.  But what I catch
is something far more elusive, and as slippery as any fish.
It is the soul of England."

"I should think you'd catch a cold if not a fish," answered Crane,
"sitting dangling your feet in a pool like that.  I like to move
about a little more.  Dreaming is all very well in its way."

At this point a symbolic cloud ought to have come across the sun,
and a certain shadow of mystery and silence must rest for a moment
upon the narrative.  For it was at this moment that James Crane,
being blind with inspiration, uttered his celebrated Prophecy,
upon which this improbable narrative turns.  As was commonly the case
with men uttering omens, he was utterly unconscious of anything
ominous about what he said.  A moment after he would probably not
know that he had said it.  A moment after, it was as if a cloud
of strange shape had indeed passed from the face of the sun.

The prophecy has taken the form of a proverb.  In due time the patient,
all-suffering reader, may learn what proverb.  As it happened,
indeed, the conversation had largely consisted of proverbs;
as is often the case with men like Hood, whose hearts are with
that old English country life from which all the proverbs came.
But it was Crane who said:

"It's all very well to be fond of England; but a man who wants
to help England mustn't let the grass grow under his feet."

"And that's just what I want to do," answered Hood.  "That's exactly
what even your poor tired people in big towns really want to do.
When a wretched clerk walks down Threadneedle Street, wouldn't he
really be delighted if he could look down and see the grass growing
under his feet; a magic green carpet in the middle of the pavement?
It would be like a fairy-tale."

"Well, but he wouldn't sit like a stone as you do," replied the other.
"A man might let the grass grow under his feet without actually
letting the ivy grow up his legs.  That sounds like a fairy-tale, too,
if you like, but there's no proverb to recommend it."

"Oh, there are proverbs on my side, if you come to that,"
answered Hood laughing.  "I might remind you about the rolling
stone that gathers no moss."

"Well, who wants to gather moss except a few fussy old ladies?"
demanded Crane.  "Yes, I'm a rolling stone, I suppose; and I go
rolling round the earth as the earth goes rolling round the sun.
But I'll tell you what; there's only one kind of stone that does really
gather moss."

"And what is that, my rambling geologist?"

"A gravestone," said Crane.

There was a silence, and Hood sat gazing with his owlish face at
the dim pools in which the dark woods were mirrored.  At last he said:

"Moss isn't the only thing found on that.  Sometimes there
is the word 'Resurgam'."

"Well, I hope you will," said Crane genially.  "But the trumpet
will have to be pretty loud to wake you up.  It's my opinion you'll
be too late for the Day of Judgement."

"Now if this were a true dramatic dialogue," remarked Hood,
"I should answer that it would be better for you if you were.
But it hardly seems a Christian sentiment for a parting.  Are you
really off to-day?"

"Yes, off to-night," replied his friend.  "Sure you won't come
with me to the Cannibal Islands?"

"I prefer my own island," said Mr. Owen Hood.

When his friend had gone he continued to gaze abstractedly at
the tranquil topsy-turvydom in the green mirror of the pool,
nor did he change his posture and hardly moved his head.
This might be partly explained by the still habits of a fisherman;
but to tell the truth, it was not easy to discover whether
the solitary lawyer really wanted to catch any fish.  He would
often carry a volume of Isaac Walton in his pocket, having a love
of the old English literature as of the old English landscape.
But if he was an angler, he certainly was not a very complete angler.

But the truth is that Owen Hood had not been quite candid with his
friend about the spell that held him to that particular islet
in the Upper Thames.  If he had said, as he was quite capable
of saying, that he expected to catch the miraculous draught of fishes
or the whale that swallowed Jonah, or even the great sea-serpent,
his expressions would have been merely symbolical.  But they would
have been the symbol of something as unique and unattainable.
For Mr. Owen Hood was really fishing for something that very few
fishermen ever catch; and that was a dream of his boyhood,
and something that had happened on that lonely spot long ago.

Years before, when he was a very young man, he had sat fishing
on that island one evening as the twilight bands turned to dark,
and two or three broad bands of silver were all that was left
of the sunset behind the darkening trees.  The birds were
dropping out of the sky and there was no noise except the soft
noises of the river.  Suddenly, and without a sound, as comes
a veritable vision, a girl had come out of the woods opposite.
She spoke to him across the stream, asking him he hardly knew what,
which he answered he hardly knew how.  She was dressed in white
and carried a bunch of bluebells loose in her hand; her hair
in a straight fringe of gold was low on her forehead; she was pale
like ivory, and her pale eyelids had a sort of flutter as of
nervous emotion.  There came on him a strangling sense of stupidity.
But he must have managed to speak civilly, for she lingered;
and he must have said something to amuse her, for she laughed.
Then followed the incident he could never analyse, though he
was an introspective person.  Making a gesture towards something,
she managed to drop her loose blue flowers in the water.  He knew
not what sort of whirlwind was in his head, but it seemed to him
that prodigious things were happening, as in an epic of the gods,
of which all visible things were but the small signs.  Before he
knew where he was he was standing dripping on the other bank;
for he had splashed in somehow and saved the bunch as if it had
been a baby drowning.  Of all the things she said he could recall
one sentence, that repeated itself perpetually in his mind:
"You'll catch your death of cold."

He only caught the cold and not the death; yet even the notion
of the latter did not somehow seem disproportionate.  The doctor,
to whom he was forced to give some sort of explanation of his immersion,
was much interested in the story, or what he heard of it, having a
pleasure in working out the pedigrees of the county families
and the relationships of the best houses in the neighbourhood.
By some rich process of elimination he deduced that the lady must
be Miss Elizabeth Seymour from Marley Court.  The doctor spoke
with a respectful relish of such things; he was a rising young
practitioner named Hunter, afterwards a neighbour of Colonel Crane.
He shared Hood's admiration for the local landscape, and said it
was owing to the beautiful way in which Marley Court was kept up.

"It's land-owners like that," he said, "who have made England.
It's all very well for Radicals to talk; but where should we be
without the land-owners?"

"Oh, I'm all for land-owners," said Hood rather wearily.
"I like them so much I should like more of them.  More and more
land-owners. Hundreds and thousands of them."

It is doubtful whether Dr. Hunter quite followed his enthusiasm,
or even his meaning; but Hood had reason later to remember this
little conversation; so far as he was in a mood to remember any
conversations except one.

Anyhow, it were vain to disguise from the intelligent though exhausted
reader that this was probably the true origin of Mr. Hood's habit of
sitting solidly on that island and gazing abstractedly at that bank.
All through the years when he felt his first youth was passing,
and even when he seemed to be drifting towards middle age, he haunted
that valley like a ghost, waiting for something that never came again.
It is by no means certain, in the last and most subtle analysis,
that he even expected it to come again.  Somehow it seemed too
like a miracle for that.  Only this place had become the shrine
of the miracle; and he felt that if anything ever did happen there,
he must be there to see.  And so it came about that he was there
to see when things did happen; and rather queer things had happened
before the end.

One morning he saw an extraordinary thing.  That indeed would not have
seemed extraordinary to most people; but it was quite apocalyptic to him.
A dusty man came out of the woods carrying what looked like dusty
pieces of timber, and proceeded to erect on the bank what turned
out to be a sort of hoarding, a very large wooden notice-board on
which was written in enormous letters:  "To Be Sold," with remarks
in smaller letters about the land and the name of the land agents.
For the first time for years Owen Hood stood up in his place
and left his fishing, and shouted questions across the river.
The man answered with the greatest patience and good-humour;
but it is probable that he went away convinced that he had been
talking to a wandering lunatic.

That was the beginning of what was for Owen Hood a crawling nightmare.
The change advanced slowly, by a process covering years, but it
seemed to him that he was helpless and paralysed in its presence,
precisely as a man is paralysed in an actual nightmare.  He laughed
with an almost horrible laughter to think that a man in a modern society
is supposed to be master of his fate and free to pursue his pleasures;
when he had not power to prevent the daylight he looks on from
being darkened, or the air he breathes from being turned to poison,
or the silence that is his full possession from being shaken with
the cacophony of hell.  There was something, he thought grimly,
in Dr. Hunter's simple admiration for agricultural aristocracy.
There was something in quite primitive and even barbarous aristocracy.
Feudal lords went in fitfully for fights and forays; they put collars
round the necks of some serfs; they occasionally put halters round
the necks of a few of them.  But they did not wage war day and night
against the five senses of man.

There had appeared first on the river-bank small sheds and shanties,
for workmen who seemed to be rather lengthily occupied in putting
up larger sheds and shanties.  To the very last, when the factory
was finished, it was not easy for the traditional eye to
distinguish between what was temporary and what was permanent.
It did not look as if any of it could be permanent, if there
were anything natural in the nature of things, so to speak.
But whatever was the name and nature of that amorphous thing,
it swelled and increased and even multiplied without clear division;
until there stood on the river bank a great black patchwork block
of buildings terminating in a tall brick factory chimney from which
a stream of smoke mounted into the silent sky.  A heap of some sort
of debris, scrapped iron and similar things, lay in the foreground;
and a broken bar, red with rust, had fallen on the spot where the girl
had been standing when she brought bluebells out of the wood.

He did not leave his island.  Rural and romantic and sedentary as he
may have seemed, he was not the son of an old revolutionist for nothing.
It was not altogether in vain that his father had called him Robert
Owen or that his friends had sometimes called him Robin Hood.
Sometimes, indeed, his soul sank within him with a mortal sickness
that was near suicide, but more often he marched up and down in a
militant fashion, being delighted to see the tall wild-flowers waving
on the banks like flags within a stone's-throw of all he hated,
and muttering, "Throw out the banners on the outward wall."
He had already, when the estate of Marley Court was broken up
for building, taken some steps to establish himself on the island,
had built a sort of hut there, in which it was possible to picnic
for considerable periods.

One morning when dawn was still radiant behind the dark factory
and light lay in a satin sheen upon the water, there crept out upon
that satin something like a thickening thread of a different colour
and material.  It was a thin ribbon of some liquid that did not mingle
with the water, but lay on top of it wavering like a worm; and Owen
Hood watched it as a man watches a snake.  It looked like a snake,
having opalescent colours not without intrinsic beauty; but to him
it was a very symbolic snake; like the serpent that destroyed Eden.
A few days afterward there were a score of snakes covering the surface;
little crawling rivers that moved on the river but did not mix with it,
being as alien as witch's oils.  Later there came darker liquids
with no pretensions to beauty, black and brown flakes of grease
that floated heavily.

It was highly characteristic of Hood that to the last he was rather
hazy about the nature and purpose of the factory; and therefore about
the ingredients of the chemicals that were flowing into the river;
beyond the fact that they were mostly of the oily sort and floated
on the water in flakes and lumps, and that something resembling
petrol seemed to predominate, used perhaps rather for power than
raw material.  He had heard a rustic rumour that the enterprise
was devoted to hair-dye. It smelled rather like a soap factory.
So far as he ever understood it, he gathered that it was devoted to
what might be considered as a golden mean between hair-dye and soap,
some kind of new and highly hygienic cosmetics.  There had been a yet
more feverish fashion in these things, since Professor Hake had written
his book proving that cosmetics were of all things the most hygienic.
And Hood had seen many of the meadows of his childhood now
brightened and adorned by large notices inscribed "Why Grow Old?"
with the portrait of a young woman grinning in a regrettable manner.
The appropriate name on the notices was Bliss, and he gathered
that it all had something to do with the great factory.

Resolved to know a little more than this about the matter, he began to make
inquiries and complaints, and engaged in a correspondence which ended
in an actual interview with some of the principal persons involved.
The correspondence had gone on for a long time before it came anywhere
near to anything so natural as that.  Indeed, the correspondence
for a long time was entirely on his side.  For the big businesses
are quite as unbusinesslike as the Government departments; they are
no better in efficiency and much worse in manners.  But he obtained
his interview at last, and it was with a sense of sour amusement
that he came face to face with four people whom he wanted to meet.

One was Sir Samuel Bliss, for he had not yet performed those party
services which led to his being known to us all as Lord Normantowers.
He was a small, alert man like a ferret, with bristles of grey beard
and hair, and active or even agitated movements.  The second was
his manager, Mr. Low, a stout, dark man with a thick nose and thick rings,
who eyed strangers with a curious heavy suspicion like a congested
sense of injury.  It is believed that he expected to be persecuted.
The third man was somewhat of a surprise, for he was no other than
his old friend Dr. Horace Hunter, as healthy and hearty as ever,
but even better dressed; as he now had a great official appointment
as some kind of medical inspector of the sanitary conditions of
the district.  But the fourth man was the greatest surprise of all.
For it appeared that their conference was honoured by so great
a figure in the scientific world as Professor Hake himself,
who had revolutionized the modern mind with his new discoveries about
the complexion in relation to health.  When Hood realized who he was,
a light of somewhat sinister understanding dawned on his long face.

On this occasion the Professor advanced an even more interesting theory.
He was a big, blond man with blinking eyes and a bull neck;
and doubtless there was more in him than met the eye, as is the way
with great men.  He spoke last, and his theory was expounded
with a certain air of finality.  The manager had already stated
that it was quite impossible for large quantities of petrol
to have escaped, as only a given amount was used in the factory.
Sir Samuel had explained, in what seemed an irascible and even
irrelevant manner, that he had presented several parks to the public,
and had the dormitories of his work-people decorated in the simplest
and best taste, and nobody could accuse him of vandalism or not caring
for beauty and all that.  Then it was that Professor Hake explained
the theory of the Protective Screen.  Even if it were possible,
he said, for some thin film of petrol to appear on the water,
as it would not mix with the water the latter would actually be
kept in a clearer condition.  It would act, as it were, as a Cap;
as does the gelatinous Cap upon certain preserved foods.

"That is a very interesting view," observed Hood; "I suppose you
will write another book about that?"

"I think we are all the more privileged," remarked Bliss, "in hearing
of the discovery in this personal fashion, before our expert has
laid it before the public."

"Yes," said Hood, "your expert is very expert, isn't he--
in writing books?"

Sir Samuel Bliss stiffened in all his bristles.  "I trust," he said,
"you are not implying any doubt that our expert is an expert."

"I have no doubt of your expert," answered Hood gravely.
"I do not doubt either that he is expert or that he is yours."

"Really, gentlemen," cried Bliss in a sort of radiance of protest,
"I think such an insinuation about a man in Professor Hake's position--"

"Not at all, not at all," said Hood soothingly, "I'm sure it's
a most comfortable position."

The Professor blinked at him, but a light burned in the eyeballs
under the heavy eyelids.

"If you come here talking like that--" he began, when Hood cut off
his speech by speaking across him to somebody else, with a cheerful
rudeness that was like a kick in its contempt.

"And what do you say, my dear doctor?" he observed, addressing Hunter.
"You used to be almost as romantic as myself about the amenities
of this place.  Do you remember how much you admired the landlords
for keeping the place quiet and select; and how you said the old
families preserved the beauty of old England?"

There was a silence, and then the young doctor spoke.

"Well, it doesn't follow a fellow can't believe in progress.
That's what's the matter with you, Hood; you don't believe in progress.
We must move with the times; and somebody always has to suffer.
Besides, it doesn't matter so much about river-water nowadays.
It doesn't even matter so much about the main water-supply. When
the new Bill is passed, people will be obliged to use the Bulton
Filter in any case."

"I see," said Hood reflectively, "You first make a mess of the water
for money, and then make a virtue of forcing people to clean
it themselves."

"I don't know what you're talking about," said Hunter angrily.

"Well, I was thinking at the moment," said Hood in his rather cryptic way.
"I was thinking about Mr. Bulton.  The man who owns the filters.
I was wondering whether he might join us.  We seem such a happy
family party."

"I cannot see the use of prolonging this preposterous conversation,"
said Sir Samuel.

"Don't call the poor Professor's theory preposterous," remonstrated Hood.
"A little fanciful, perhaps.  And as for the doctor's view,
surely there's nothing preposterous in that.  You don't think
the chemicals will poison all the fish I catch, do you, Doctor?"

"No, of course not," replied Hunter curtly.

"They will adapt themselves by natural selection," said Hood dreamily.
"They will develop organs suitable to an oily environment--
will learn to love petrol."

"Oh, I have no time for this nonsense," said Hunter, and he was
turning to go, when Hood stepped in front of him and looked at him
very steadily.

"You mustn't call natural selection nonsense," he said.
"I know all about that, at any rate.  I can't tell whether liquids
tipped off the shore will fall into the river, because I don't
understand hydraulics.  I don't know whether your machinery makes
a hell of a noise every morning, for I've never studied acoustics.
I don't know whether it stinks or not, because I haven't read
your expert's book on 'The Nose.'  But I know all about adaptation
to environment.  I know that some of the lower organisms do really
change with their changing conditions.  I know there are creatures
so low that they do survive by surrendering to every succession of mud
and slime; and when things are slow they are slow, and when things
are fast they are fast, and when things are filthy they are filthy.
I thank you for convincing me of that."

He did not wait for a reply, but walked out of the room after bowing
curtly to the rest; and that was the end of the great conference
on the question of riparian rights and perhaps the end of Thames
Conservancy and of the old aristocracy, with all its good and ill.

The general public never heard very much about it; at least until
one catastrophic scene which was to follow.  There was some faint
ripple of the question some months later, when Dr. Horace Hunter
was standing for Parliament in that division.  One or two questions
were asked about his duties in relation to river pollution;
but it was soon apparent that no party particularly wished to force
the issue against the best opinions advanced on the other side.
The greatest living authority on hygiene, Professor Hake,
had actually written to The Times (in the interests of science)
to say that in such a hypothetical case as that mentioned,
a medical man could only do what Dr. Hunter had apparently done.
It so happened that the chief captain of industry in that part
of the Thames Valley, Sir Samuel Bliss, had himself, after gravely
weighing the rival policies, decided to Vote for Hunter.  The great
organizer's own mind was detached and philosophical in the matter;
but it seems that his manager, a Mr. Low, was of the same politics
and a more practical and pushful spirit; warmly urging the claims
of Hunter on his work-people; pointing out the many practical
advantages they would gain by voting for that physician, and the still
more practical disadvantages they might suffer by not doing so.
Hence it followed that the blue ribbons, which were the local badges
of the Hunterians, were not only to be found attached to the iron
railings and wooden posts of the factory, but to various human figures,
known as "hands," which moved to and fro in it.

Hood took no interest in the election; but while it was proceeding
he followed the matter a little further in another form.  He was
a lawyer, a lazy, but in some ways a learned one; for, his tastes
being studious, he had originally learned the trade he had never used.
More in defiance than in hope, he once carried the matter into
the Courts, pleading his own cause on the basis of a law of Henry
the Third against frightening the fish of the King's liege
subjects in the Thames Valley.  The judge, in giving judgement,
complimented him on the ability and plausibility of his contention,
but ultimately rejected it on grounds equally historic and remote.
His lordship argued that no test seemed to be provided for ascertaining
the degree of fear in the fish, or whether it amounted to that bodily
fear of which the law took cognizance.  But the learned judge pointed
out the precedent of a law of Richard the Second against certain
witches who had frightened children; which had been interpreted
by so great an authority as Coke in the sense that the child "must
return and of his own will testify to his fear."  It did not seem
to be alleged that any one of the fish in question had returned
and laid any such testimony before any proper authority; and he
therefore gave judgement for the defendants.  And when the learned
judge happened to meet Lord Normantowers (as he was by this time)
out at dinner that evening, he was gaily rallied and congratulated
by that new nobleman on the lucidity and finality of his judgement.
Indeed, the learned judge had really relished the logic both of his
own and Hood's contention; but the conclusion was what he would
have come to in any case.  For our judges are not hampered by any
hide-bound code; they are progressive, like Dr. Hunter, and ally
themselves on principle with the progressive forces of the age,
especially those they are likely to meet out at dinner.

But it was this abortive law case that led up to something that
altogether obliterated it in a blaze of glory, so far as Mr. Owen
Hood was concerned.  He had just left the courts, and turning
down the streets that led in the direction of the station, he made
his way thither in something of a brown study, as was his wont.
The streets were filled with faces; it struck him for the first time
that there were thousands and thousands of people in the world.
There were more faces at the railway station, and then, when he
had glanced idly at four or five of them, he saw one that was to him
as incredible as the face of the dead.

She was coming casually out of the tea-room, carrying a handbag,
just like anybody else.  That mystical perversity of his mind,
which had insisted on sealing up the sacred memory like something
hardly to be sought in mere curiosity, had fixed it in its original
colours and setting, like something of which no detail could be
changed without the vision dissolving.  He would have conceived it
almost impossible that she could appear in anything but white or out
of anything but a wood.  And he found himself turned topsy-turvy by
an old and common incredulity of men in his condition; being startled
by the coincidence that blue suited her as well as white; and that
in what he remembered of that woodland there was something else;
something to be said even for teashops and railway stations.

She stopped in front of him and her pale, fluttering eyelids lifted
from her blue-grey eyes.

"Why," she said, "you are the boy that jumped in the river!"

"I'm no longer a boy," answered Hood, "but I'm ready to jump
in the river again."

"Well, don't jump on the railway-line," she said, as he turned
with a swiftness suggestive of something of the kind.

"To tell you the truth," he said, "I was thinking of jumping into
a railway-train. Do you mind if I jump into your railway-train?"

"Well, I'm going to Birkstead," she said rather doubtfully.

Mr. Owen Hood did not in the least care where she was going, as he
had resolved to go there; but as a matter of fact, he remembered a
wayside station on that line that lay very near to what he had in view;
so he tumbled into the carriage if possible with more alacrity;
and landscapes shot by them as they sat looking in a dazed and almost
foolish fashion at each other.  At last the girl smiled with a sense
of the absurdity of the thing.

"I heard about you from a friend of yours," she said; "he came to call
on us soon after it happened; at least that was when he first came.
You know Dr. Hunter, don't you?"

"Yes," replied Owen, a shadow coming over his shining hour.  "Do you--
do you know him well?"

"I know him pretty well now," said Miss Elizabeth Seymour.

The shadow on his spirit blackened swiftly; he suspected something
quite suddenly and savagely.  Hunter, in Crane's old phrase, was not
a man who let the grass grow under his feet.  It was so like him
to have somehow used the incident as an introduction to the Seymours.
Things were always stepping-stones for Hunter, and the little rock
in the river had been a stepping-stone to the country-house. But was
the country-house a stepping-stone to something else?  Suddenly Hood
realized that all his angers had been very abstracted angers.
He had never hated a man before.

At that moment the train stopped at the station of Cowford.

"I wish you'd get out here with me," he said abruptly, "only for
a little--and it might be the last time.  I want you to do something."

She looked at him with a curious expression and said in a rather
low voice, "What do you want me to do?"

"I want you to come and pick bluebells," he said harshly.

She stepped out of the train, and they went up a winding country
road without a word.

"I remember!" she said suddenly.  "When you get to the top of this
hill you see the wood where the bluebells were, and your little
island beyond."

"Come on and see it," said Owen.

They stepped on the crest of the hill and stood.  Below them the black
factory belched its livid smoke into the air; and where the wood had
been were rows of little houses like boxes, built of dirty yellow brick.

Hood spoke.  "And when you shall see the abomination of desolation
sitting in the Holy of Holies--isn't that when the world is supposed
to end?  I wish the world would end now; with you and me standing
on a hill."

She was staring at the place with parted lips and more than her
ordinary pallor; he knew she understood something monstrous and
symbolic in the scene; yet her first remark was jerky and trivial.
On the nearest of the yellow brick boxes were visible the cheap
colours of various advertisements; and larger than the rest a blue
poster proclaiming "Vote for Hunter."  With a final touch of bathos,
Hood remembered that it was the last and most sensational day
of the election.  But the girl had already found her voice.

"Is that Dr. Hunter?" she asked with commonplace curiosity;
"is he standing for parliament?"

A load that lay on Hood's mind like a rock suddenly rose like an eagle;
and he felt as if the hill he stood on were higher than Everest.
By the insight of his own insanity, he knew well enough that SHE
would have known well enough whether Hunter was standing, if--
if there had been anything like what he supposed.  The removal
of the steadying weight staggered him, and he had said something
quite indefensible.

"I thought you would know.  I thought you and he were probably--
well, the truth is I thought you were engaged, though I really
don't know why."

"I can't imagine why," said Elizabeth Seymour.  "I heard he was engaged
to Lord Normantower's daughter.  They've got our old place now,
you know."

There was a silence and then Hood spoke suddenly in a loud
and cheerful voice.

"Well, what I say is, 'Vote for Hunter,'" he said heartily.
"After all, why not vote for Hunter?  Good old Hunter!  I hope
he'll be a member of Parliament.  I hope he'll be Prime Minister.
I hope he'll be President of the World State that Wells talks about.
By George, he deserves to be Emperor of the Solar System."

"But why," she protested, "why should he deserve all that?"

"For not being engaged to you, of course," he replied.

"Oh!" she said, and something of a secret shiver in her voice went
through him like a silver bell.

Abruptly, all of a sudden, the rage of raillery seemed to have left
his voice and his face, so that his Napoleonic profile looked earnest
and eager and much younger, like the profile of the young Napoleon.
His wide shoulders lost the slight stoop that books had given them,
and his rather wild red hair fell away from his lifted head.

"There is one thing I must tell you about him," he said, "and one
thing you must hear about me.  My friends tell me I am a drifter
and a dreamer; that I let the grass grow under my feet; I must tell
you at least how and why I once let it grow.  Three days after that
day by the river, I talked to Hunter; he was attending me and he
talked about it and you.  Of course he knew nothing about either.
But he is a practical man; a very practical man; he does not dream
or drift.  From the way he talked I knew he was considering even
then how the accident could be turned to account; to his account
and perhaps to mine too; for he is good-natured; yes, he is quite
good-natured. I think that if I had taken his hint and formed a sort
of social partnership, I might have known you six years sooner,
not as a memory, but--an acquaintance.  And I could not do it.
Judge me how you will, I could not bring myself to do it.
That is what is meant by being born with a bee in the bonnet,
with an impediment in the speech, with a stumbling-block in the path,
with a skulky scruple in the soul.  I could not bear to approach you
by that door, with that gross and grinning flunky holding it open.
I could not bear that suffocatingly substantial snob to bulk so big
in my story or know so much of my secret.  A revulsion I could
never utter made me feel that the vision should remain my own even
by remaining unfulfilled; but it should not be vulgarized.  That is
what is meant by being a failure in life.  And when my best friend made
a prophecy about me, and said there was something I should never do,
I thought he was right."

"Why, what do you mean?" she asked rather faintly, "what was it
you would never do?"

"Never mind that now," he said, with the shadow of a returning smile.
"Rather strange things are stirring in me just now, and who knows
but I may attempt something yet?  But before all else, I must make
clear for once what I am and for what I lived.  There are men
like me in the world; I am far from thinking they are the best
or the most valuable; but they exist, to confound all the clever
people and the realists and the new novelists.  There has been
and there is only one thing for me; something that in the normal
sense I never even knew.  I walked about the world blind, with my
eyes turned inward, looking at you.  For days after a night when I
had dreamed of you, I was broken; like a man who had seen a ghost.
I read over and over the great and grave lines of the old poets,
because they alone were worthy of you.  And when I saw you again
by chance, I thought the world had already ended; and it was that
return and tryst beyond the grave that is too good to be true."

"I do not think," she answered in a low voice, "that the belief
is too good to be true."

As he looked at her a thrill went through him like a message
too swift to be understood; and at the back of his mind something
awoke that repeated again and again like a song the same words,
"too good to be true."  There was always something pathetic,
even in her days of pride, about the short-sighted look of her
half-closed eyes; but it was for other reasons that they were now
blinking in the strong white sunlight, almost as if they were blind.
They were blind and bright with tears:  she mastered her voice
and it was steady.

"You talk about failures," she said.  "I suppose most people would call
me a failure and all my people failures now; except those who would say
we never failed, because we never had to try.  Anyhow, we're all poor
enough now; I don't know whether you know that I've been teaching music.
I dare say we deserved to go.  I dare say we were useless.
Some of us tried to be harmless.  But--but now I MUST say something,
about some of us who tried rather hard to be harmless--in that way.
The new people will tell you those ideals were Victorian and Tennysonian,
and all the rest of it--well, it doesn't matter what they say.
They know quite as little about us as we about them.  But to you,
when you talk like that... what can I do, but tell you that you that if
we were stiff, if we were cold, if we were careful and conservative,
it was because deep down in our souls some of us DID believe that there
might be loyalty and love like that, for which a woman might well
wait even to the end of the world.  What is it to these people if we
chose not to be drugged or distracted with anything less worthy?
But it would be hard indeed if when I find it DOES exist after all...
hard on you, harder on me, if when I had really found it at last..."
The catch in her voice came again and silence caught and held her.

He took one stride forward as into the heart of a whirlwind;
and they met on the top of that windy hill as if they had come
from the ends of the earth.

"This is an epic," he said, "which is rather an action than a word.
I have lived with words too long."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean you have turned me into a man of action," he replied.
"So long as you were in the past, nothing was better than the past.
So long as you were only a dream, nothing was better than dreaming.
But now I am going to do something that no man has ever done before."

He turned towards the valley and flung out his hand with a gesture,
almost as if the hand had held a sword.

"I am going to break the Prophecy," he cried in a loud voice.
"I am going to defy the omens of my doom and make fun of my evil star.
Those who called me a failure shall own I have succeeded where all
humanity has failed.  The real hero is not he who is bold enough
to fulfil the predictions, but he who is bold enough to falsify them.
And you shall see one falsified to-night."

"What in the world are you going to do?" she asked.

He laughed suddenly.  "The first thing to do," he cried,
swinging round with a new air of resolution and even cheerfulness,
"the very first thing to do is to Vote for Hunter.  Or, at any rate,
help to get him into Parliament."

"But why in the world," she asked wondering, "should you want
so much to get Dr. Hunter into Parliament?"

"Well, one must do something," he said with an appearance of
good sense, "to celebrate the occasion.  We must do something;
and after all he must go somewhere, poor devil.  You will say,
why not throw him into the river?  It would relieve the feelings
and make a splash.  But I'm going to make something much bigger
than a splash.  Besides, I don't want him in my nice river.
I'd much rather pick him up and throw him all the way to Westminster.
Much more sensible and suitable.  Obviously there ought to be
a brass band and a torchlight procession somewhere to-night;
and why shouldn't he have a bit of the fun?"

He stopped suddenly as if surprised at his own words; for indeed his
own phrase had fallen, for him, with the significance of a falling star.

"Of course!" he muttered.  "A torchlight procession!  I've been
feeling that what I wanted was trumpets and what I really want
is torches.  Yes, I believe it could be done!  Yes, the hour is come!
By stars and blazes, I will give him a torchlight procession!"

He had been almost dancing with excitement on the top of the ridge;
now he suddenly went bounding down the slope beyond, calling to
the girl to follow, as carelessly as if they had been two children
playing at hide and seek.  Strangely enough, perhaps, she did follow;
more strangely still when we consider the extravagant scenes through
which she allowed herself to be led.  They were scenes more insanely
incongruous with all her sensitive and even secretive dignity than
if she had been changing hats with a costermonger on a Bank Holiday.
For there the world would only be loud with vulgarity, and here
it was also loud with lies.  She could never have described
that Saturnalia of a political election; but she did dimly feel
the double impression of a harlequinade at the end of a pantomime
and of Hood's phrase about the end of the world.  It was as if a Bank
Holiday could also be a Day of Judgement.  But as the farce could
no longer offend her, so the tragedy could no longer terrify.
She went through it all with a wan smile, which perhaps nobody
in the world would have known her well enough to interpret.
It was not in the normal sense excitement; yet it was something much
more positive than patience.  In a sense perhaps, more than ever
before in her lonely life, she was walled up in her ivory tower;
but it was all alight within, as if it were lit up with candles
or lined with gold.

Hood's impetuous movements brought them to the bank of the river
and the outer offices of the factory, all of which were covered
with the coloured posters of the candidature, and one of which was
obviously fitted up as a busy and bustling committee-room.
Hood actually met Mr. Low coming out of it, buttoned up in
a fur coat and bursting with speechless efficiency.  But Mr. Low's
beady black eyes glistened with an astonishment bordering on
suspicion when Hood in the most hearty fashion offered his sympathy
and co-operation. That strange subconscious fear, that underlay
all the wealthy manager's success and security in this country,
always came to the surface at the sight of Owen Hood's ironical face.
Just at that moment, however, one of the local agents rushed at him
in a distracted fashion, with telegrams in his hand.  They were short
of canvassers; they were short of cars; they were short of speakers;
the crowd at Little Puddleton had been waiting half an hour;
Dr. Hunter could not get round to them till ten past nine, and so on.
The agent in his agony would probably have hailed a Margate nigger
and entrusted him with the cause of the great National Party,
without any really philosophical inquiry into the nigger's theory
of citizenship.  For all such over-practical push and bustle
in our time is always utterly unpractical at the last minute
and in the long run.  On that night Robert Owen Hood would have
been encouraged to go anywhere and say anything; and he did.
It might be interesting to imagine what the lady thought about it;
but it is possible that she did not think about it.  She had
a radiantly abstracted sense of passing through a number of ugly rooms
and sheds with flaring gas and stacks of leaflets behind which
little irritable men ran about like rabbits.  The walls were covered with
large allegorical pictures printed in line or in a few bright colours,
representing Dr. Hunter as clad in armour, as slaying dragons,
as rescuing ladies rather like classical goddesses, and so on.
Lest it should be too literally understood that Dr. Hunter was
in the habit of killing dragons in his daily round, as a form of
field-sport, the dragon was inscribed with its name in large letters.
Apparently its name was "National Extravagance."  Lest there should
be any doubt about the alternative which Dr. Hunter had discovered
as a corrective to extravagance, the sword which he was thrusting
through the dragon's body was inscribed with the word "Economy."
Elizabeth Seymour, through whose happy but bewildered mind these
pictures passed, could not but reflect vaguely that she herself
had lately had to practise a good deal of economy and resist
a good many temptations to extravagance; but it would never have
occurred to her unaided imagination to conceive of that action
as that of plunging a sword into a scaly monster of immense size.
In the central committee-room they actually came face to face
for a moment with the candidate, who came in very hot and
breathless with a silk hat on the back of his head; where he
had possibly forgotten it, for he certainly did not remove it.
She was a little ashamed of being sensitive about such trifles;
but she came to the conclusion that she would not like to have
a husband standing for Parliament.

"We've rounded up all those people down Bleak Row," said Dr. Hunter.
"No good going down The Hole and those filthy places.  No vote there.
Streets ought to be abolished and the people too."

"Well, we've had a very good meeting in the Masonic Hall,"
said the agent cheerfully.  "Lord Normantowers spoke, and really
he got through all right.  Told some stories, you know; and they
stood it capitally."

"And now," said Owen Hood, slapping his hands together in an almost
convivial manner, "what about this torchlight procession?"

"This what procession?" asked the agent.

"Do you mean to tell me," said Hood sternly, "that arrangements
are not complete for the torchlight procession of Dr. Hunter?
That you are going to let this night of triumph pass without
kindling a hundred flames to light the path of the conqueror?
Do you realize that the hearts of a whole people have spontaneously
stirred and chosen him?  That the suffering poor murmured in their
sleep 'Vote for Hunter' long before the Caucus came by a providential
coincidence to the same conclusion?  Would not the people in The Hole
set fire to their last poor sticks of furniture to do him honour?
Why, from this chair alone--"

He caught up the chair on which Hunter had been sitting and began
to break it enthusiastically.  In this he was hastily checked; but he
actually succeeded in carrying the company with him in his proposal,
thus urged at the eleventh hour.

By nightfall he had actually organized his torchlight procession,
escorting the triumphant Hunter, covered with blue ribbons,
to the riverside, rather as if the worthy doctor were to be
baptized like a convert or drowned like a witch.  For that matter,
Hood might possibly intend to burn the witch; for he brandished
the blazing torch he carried so as to make a sort of halo round
Hunter's astonished countenance.  Then, springing on the scrap-heap
by the brink of the river, he addressed the crowd for the last time.

"Fellow-citizens, we meet upon the shore of the Thames, the Thames
which is to Englishmen all that the Tiber ever was to Romans.
We meet in a valley which has been almost as much the haunt of
English poets as of English birds.  Never was there an art so native
to our island as our old national tradition of landscape-painting
in water-colour; never was that water-colour so luminous or so
delicate as when dedicated to these holy waters.  It was in such
a scene that one of the most exquisite of our elder poets repeated
as a burden to his meditations the single line, 'Sweet Thames,
run softly till I end my song.'

"Rumours have been heard of some intention to trouble these waters;
but we have been amply reassured.  Names that now stand as high
as those of our national poets and painters are a warrant that
the stream is still as clear and pure and beneficent as of old.
We all know the beautiful work that Mr. Bulton has done in the matter
of filters.  Dr. Hunter supports Mr. Bulton.  I mean Mr. Bulton
supports Dr. Hunter.  I may also mention no less a man than Mr. Low.
Sweet Thames, run softly till I end my song.

"But then, for that matter, we all support Dr. Hunter.  I myself have
always found him quite supportable; I should say quite satisfactory.
He is truly a progressive, and nothing gives me greater pleasure
than to watch him progress.  As somebody said, I lie awake at night,
and in the silence of the whole universe, I seem to hear him climbing,
climbing, climbing.  All the numerous patients among whom he has
laboured so successfully in this locality will join in a heartfelt
expression of joy if he passes to the higher world of Westminster.
I trust I shall not be misunderstood.  Sweet Thames, run softly till
I end my song.

"My only purpose to-night is to express that unanimity.  There may
have been times when I differed from Dr. Hunter; but I am glad
to say that all that is passed, and I have now nothing but the most
friendly feelings towards him, for reasons which I will not mention,
though I have plenty to say.  In token of this reconciliation
I here solemnly cast from me this torch.  As that firebrand
is quenched in the cool crystal waters of that sacred stream,
so shall all such feuds perish in the heating pool of universal peace."

Before anybody knew what he was doing, he had whirled his flambeau
in a flaming wheel round his head and sent it flying like a meteor
out into the dim eddies of the river.

The next moment a short, sharp cry was uttered, and every face in that
crowd was staring at the river.  All the faces were visibly staring,
for they were all lit up as by a ghastly firelight by a wide wan
unnatural flame that leapt up from the very surface of the stream;
a flame that the crowd watched as it might have watched a comet.

"There," cried Owen Hood, turning suddenly on the girl and seizing
her arm, as if demanding congratulations.  "So much for old
Crane's prophecy!"

"Who in the world is Old Crane?" she asked, "and what did he prophesy?
Is he something like Old Moore?"

"Only an old friend," said Hood hastily, "only an old friend of mine.
It's what he said that's so important.  He didn't like my moping
about with books and a fishing-rod, and he said, standing on that
very island, 'You may know a lot; but I don't think you'll ever set
the Thames on fire.  I'll eat my hat if you do.'"

But the story of how Old Crane ate his hat is one upon which some readers
at least can look back as on labour and suffering bravely endured.
And if it be possible for any of them to desire to know any more
either about Mr. Crane or Mr. Hood, then they must gird themselves
for the ordeal of reading the story of The Unobtrusive Traffic
of Captain Pierce, and their trials are for a time deferred.




Chapter III



THE UNOBTRUSIVE TRAFFIC OF CAPTAIN PIERCE


Those acquainted with Colonel Crane and Mr. Owen Hood, the lawyer,
may or may not be concerned to know that they partook of an early lunch
of eggs and bacon and beer at the inn called the Blue Boar, which stands
at the turn of a steep road scaling a wooded ridge in the West Country.
Those unacquainted with them may be content to know that the Colonel
was a sunburnt, neatly-dressed gentleman, who looked taciturn and was;
while the lawyer was a more rusty red-haired gentleman with a long
Napoleonic face, who looked taciturn and was rather talkative.
Crane was fond of good cooking; and the cooking in that secluded
inn was better than that of a Soho restaurant and immeasurably
better than that of a fashionable restaurant.  Hood was fond
of the legends and less-known aspects of the English country-side;
and that valley had a quality of repose with a stir of refreshment,
as if the west wind had been snared in it and tamed into a summer air.
Both had a healthy admiration for beauty, in ladies as well
as landscapes; although (or more probably because) both were quite
romantically attached to the wives they had married under rather
romantic circumstances, which are related elsewhere for such as can
wrestle with so steep a narrative.  And the girl who waited on them,
the daughter of the innkeeper, was herself a very agreeable thing
to look at; she was of a slim and quiet sort with a head that moved
like a brown bird, brightly and as it were unexpectedly.  Her manners
were full of unconscious dignity, for her father, old John Hardy,
was the type of old innkeeper who had the status, if not of a gentleman,
at least of a yeoman.  He was not without education and ability;
a grizzled man with a keen, stubborn face that might have belonged
to Cobbett, whose _Register_ he still read on winter's nights.
Hardy was well known to Hood, who had the same sort of antiquarian
taste in revolutions.

There was little sound in the valley or the brilliant void of sky;
the notes of birds fell only intermittently; a faint sound of tapping
came from the hills opposite where the wooded slope was broken here
and there by the bare face of a quarry, and a distant aeroplane
passed and re-passed, leaving a trail of faint thunder.  The two men
at lunch took no more notice of it than if it had been a buzzing fly;
but an attentive study of the girl might have suggested that she
was at least conscious of the fly.  Occasionally she looked at it,
when no one was looking at her; for the rest, she had rather a marked
appearance of not looking at it.

"Good bacon you get here," remarked Colonel Crane.

"The best in England, and in the matter of breakfast England is
the Earthly Paradise," replied Hood readily.  "I can't think why we
should descend to boast of the British Empire when we have bacon
and eggs to boast of.  They ought to be quartered on the Royal Arms:
three pigs passant and three poached eggs on a chevron.  It was bacon
and eggs that gave all that morning glory to the English poets;
it must have been a man who had a breakfast like this who could
rise with that giant gesture:  'Night's candles are burnt out;
and jocund day--'"

"Bacon did write Shakespeare, in fact," said the Colonel.

"This sort of bacon did," answered the other laughing; then, noticing the
girl within earshot, he added:  "We are saying how good your bacon is,
Miss Hardy."

"It is supposed to be very good," she said with legitimate pride,
"but I am afraid you won't get much more of it.  People aren't going
to be allowed to keep pigs much longer."

"Not allowed to keep pigs!" ejaculated the Colonel in astonishment.

"By the old regulations they had to be away from the house,
and we've got ground enough for that, though most of the cottagers
hadn't. But now they say the law is evaded, and the county council
are going to stop pig-keeping altogether."

"Silly swine," snorted the Colonel.

"The epithet is ill chosen," replied Hood.  "Men are lower
than swine when they do not appreciate swine.  But really I
don't know what the world's coming to.  What will the next
generation be like without proper pork?  And, talking about
the next generation, what has become of our young friend Pierce?
He said he was coming down, but he can't have come by that train."

"I think Captain Pierce is up there, sir," said Joan Hardy
in a correct voice, as she unobtrusively withdrew.

Her tone might have indicated that the gentleman was upstairs, but her
momentary glance had been towards the blue emptiness of the sky.
Long after she was gone, Owen Hood remained staring up into it,
until he saw the aeroplane darting and wheeling like a swallow.

"Is that Hilary Pierce up there?" he inquired, "looping the loop and
playing the lunatic generally.  What the devil is he doing?"

"Showing off," said the Colonel shortly, and drained his pewter mug.

"But why should he show off to us?" asked Hood.

"He jolly well wouldn't," replied the Colonel.  "Showing off
to the girl, of course."

"A very good girl," said Owen Hood gravely.  "If there's anything
going on, you may be sure it's all straight and serious."

The Colonel blinked a little.  "Well, times change," he said.
"I suppose I'm old-fashioned myself; but speaking as an old Tory,
I must confess he might do worse."

"Yes," replied Hood, "and speaking as an old Radical, I should say
he could hardly do better."

While they were speaking the erratic aviator had eventually swept
earthwards towards a flat field at the foot of the slope, and was
now coming towards them.  Hilary Pierce had rather the look of a
poet than a professional aviator; and though he had distinguished
himself in the war, he was very probably one of those whose natural
dream was rather of conquering the air than conquering the enemy.
His yellow hair was longer and more untidy than when he was in the army;
and there was a touch of something irresponsible in his roving blue eye.
He had a vein of pugnacity in him, however, as was soon apparent.
He had paused to speak to Joan Hardy by the rather tumble-down
pig-sty in the corner, and when he came towards the breakfast-table
he seemed transfigured as with flame.

"What's all this infernal insane foolery?" he demanded.  "Who has
the damned impudence to tell the Hardys they mustn't keep pigs?
Look here, the time is come when we must burst up all this sort
of thing.  I'm going to do something desperate."

"You've been doing desperate things enough for this morning,"
said Hood.  "I advise you to take a little desperate luncheon.
Do sit down, there's a good fellow, and don't stamp about like that."

"No, but look here--"

Pierce was interrupted by Joan Hardy, who appeared quietly at his
elbow and said demurely to the company:  "There's a gentleman
here who asks if he may be pardoned for speaking to you."

The gentleman in question stood some little way behind in a posture that
was polite but so stiff and motionless as almost to affect the nerves.
He was clad in so complete and correct a version of English light
holiday attire that they felt quite certain he was a foreigner.
But their imaginations ranged the Continent in vain in the attempt
to imagine what sort of foreigner.  By the immobility of his almost
moonlike face, with its faintly bilious tinge, he might almost have been
a Chinaman.  But when he spoke, they could instantly locate the alien
accent.

"Very much distressed to butt in, gentlemen," he said, "but this
young lady allows you are first-class academic authorities on
the sights of this locality.  I've been mouching around trying
to hit the trail of an antiquity or two, but I don't seem to know
the way to pick it up.  If you'd be so kind as to put me wise about
the principal architectural styles and historic items of this region,
I'd be under a great obligation."

As they were a little slow in recovering from their first surprise,
he added patiently:

"My name is Enoch B. Oates, and I'm pretty well known in Michigan,
but I've bought a little place near here; I've looked about this
little planet and I've come to think the safest and brightest place
for a man with a few dollars is the place of a squire in your fine
old feudal landscape.  So the sooner I'm introduced to the more
mellow mediaeval buildings the better."

In Hilary Pierce the astonishment had given place to an ardour
bordering on ecstasy.

"Mediaeval buildings!  Architectural styles!" he cried enthusiastically.
"You've come to the right shop, Mr. Oates.  I'll show you an ancient
building, a sacred building, in an architectural style of such sublime
antiquity that you'll want to cart it away to Michigan, as they
tried to do with Glastonbury Abbey.  You shall be privileged to see
one historic institution before you die or before all history is
forgotten."

He was walking towards the corner of the little kitchen-garden attached
to the inn, waving his arm with wild gestures of encouragement;
and the American was following him with the same stiff politeness,
looking weirdly like an automaton.

"Look on our architectural style before it perishes,"
cried Pierce dramatically, pointing to the pig-sty, which looked
rather a ramshackle affair of leaning and broken boards hung
loosely together, though in practice it was practical enough.
"This, the most unmistakably mellow of all mediaeval buildings,
may soon be only a memory.  But when this edifice falls England
will fall, and the world will shake with the shock of doom."

The American had what he himself might have described as a poker face;
it was impossible to discover whether his utterances indicated
the extreme of innocence or of irony.

"And would you say," he asked, "that this monument exemplifies
the mediaeval or Gothic architectural school?"

"I should hardly call it strictly Perpendicular," answered Pierce,
"but there is no doubt that it is Early English."

"You would say it is antique, anyhow?" observed Mr. Oates.

"I have every reason to believe," affirmed Pierce solemnly,
"that Gurth the Swineherd made use of this identical building.
I have no doubt that it is in fact far older.  The best authorities
believe that the Prodigal Son stayed here for some time, and the pigs--
those noble and much maligned animals--gave him such excellent
advice that he returned to his family.  And now, Mr. Oates, they say
that all that magnificent heritage is to be swept away.  But it shall
not be.  We shall not so easily submit to all the vandals and vulgar
tyrants who would thus tear down our temples and our holy places.
The pig-sty shall rise again in a magnificent resurrection--
larger pig-stys, loftier pig-stys, shall yet cover the land; the towers
and domes of statelier and more ideal pig-stys, in the most striking
architectural styles, shall again declare the victory of the holy
hog over his unholy oppressors."

"And meanwhile," said Colonel Crane drily, "I think Mr. Oates
had much better begin with the church down by the river.
Very fine Norman foundations and traces of Roman brick.
The vicar understands his church, too, and would give Mr. Oates
rather more reliable information than you do."

A little while later, when Mr. Oates had passed on his way,
the Colonel curtly reproved his young friend.

"Bad form," he said, "making fun of a foreigner asking for information."

But Pierce turned on him with the same heat on his face.

"But I wasn't making fun.  I was quite serious."

They stared at him steadily, and he laughed slightly but went
on with undiminished fire.

"Symbolical perhaps but serious," he said.  "I may seem to have been
talking a bit wildly, but let me tell you the time has come to be wild.
We've all been a lot too tame.  I do mean, as much as I ever meant
anything, to fight for the resurrection and the return of the pig;
and he shall yet return as a wild boar that shall rend the hunters."

He looked up and his eye caught the blue heraldic shape
on the sign-board of the inn.

"And there is our wooden ensign!" he cried, pointing in the same
dramatic fashion.  "We will go into battle under the banner
of the Blue Boar."

"Loud and prolonged cheers," said Crane politely, "and now come
away and don't spoil the peroration.  Owen wants to potter about
the local antiquities, like Mr. Oates.  I'm more interested
in novelties.  Want to look at that machine of yours."

They began to descend the zig-zag pebbled path fenced and embanked
with hedges and flower-beds like a garden grown on a staircase,
and at every corner Hood had to remonstrate with the loitering youth.

"Don't be for ever gazing back on the paradise of pigs," he said,
"or you'll be turned into a pillar of salt, or possibly of mustard
as more appropriate to such meat.  They won't run away yet.  There are
other creatures formed by the Creator for the contemplation of man;
there are other things made by man after the pattern of the creatures,
from the great White Horses of Wessex to that great white bird on
which you yourself flew among the birds.  Fine subject for a poem
of the first and last things."

"Bird that lays rather dreadful eggs," said Crane.  "In the next war--
Why, where the deuce has he gone?"

"Pigs, pigs," said Hood sadly.  "The overpowering charm which
pigs exercise upon us at a certain time of life; when we hear
their trotters in our dreams and their little curly tails twine
about us like the tendrils of the vine--"

"Oh, bosh," said the Colonel.

For indeed Mr. Hilary Pierce had vanished in a somewhat startling manner,
ducking under the corner of a hedge and darting up a steeper path,
over a gate and across the corner of a hayfield, where a final
bound through bursting bushes brought him on top of a low wall
looking down at the pig-sty and Miss Joan Hardy, who was calmly
walking away from it.  He sprang down on to the path; the morning
sun picked out everything in clear colours like a child's toy-book;
and standing with his hands spread out and his wisps of yellow hair
brushed in all directions by the bushes, he recalled an undignified
memory of Shock-Headed Peter.

"I felt I must speak to you before I went," he said.  "I'm going away,
not exactly on active service, but on business--on very active business.
I feel like the fellows did when they went to the war... and what they
wanted to do first... I am aware that a proposal over a pig-sty is
not so symbolical to some as to me, but really and truly... I don't
know whether I mentioned it, but you may be aware that I worship you."

Joan Hardy was quite aware of it; but the conventionalities in her
case were like concentric castle-walls; the world-old conventions
of the countryside.  There was in them the stiff beauty of old
country dances and the slow and delicate needlework of a peasantry.
Of all the ladies whose figures must be faintly traced in the tapestry
of those frivolous tales of chivalry, the most reticent and dignified
was the one who was not in the worldly sense a lady at all.

She stood looking at him in silence, and he at her; as the lift
of her head had some general suggestion of a bird, the line of her
profile had a delicate suggestion of a falcon, and her face was of
the fine tint that has no name, unless we could talk of a bright brown.

"Really, you seem in a terrible hurry," she said.  "I don't want
to be talked to in a rush like this."

"I apologize," he said.  "I can't help being in a rush, but I
didn't want you to be in a rush.  I only wanted you to know.
I haven't done anything to deserve you, but I am going to try.
I'm going off to work; I feel sure you believe in quiet steady work
for a young man."

"Are you going into the bank?" she asked innocently.  "You said
your uncle was in a bank."

"I hope all my conversation was not on that level," he replied.
And indeed he would have been surprised if he had known how exactly she
remembered all such dull details he had ever mentioned about himself,
and how little she knew in comparison about his theories and fancies,
which he thought so much more important.

"Well," he said with engaging frankness, "it would be an exaggeration
to say I am going into a bank; though of course there are
banks and banks.  Why, I know a bank whereupon the wild thyme--
I beg your pardon, I mean I know a lot of more rural and romantic
occupations that are really quite as safe as the bank.  The truth is,
I think of going into the bacon trade.  I think I see an opening
for a brisk young man in the ham and pork business.  When you
see me next I shall be travelling in pork; an impenetrable disguise."

"You mustn't come here, then," she answered.  "It won't be allowed
here by that time.  The neighbours would--"

"Fear not," he said, "I should be a commercial traveller.  Oh, such a
very commercial traveller.  As for not coming here, the thing seems
quite unthinkable.  You must at least let me write to you every
hour or so.  You must let me send you a few presents every morning."

"I'm sure my father wouldn't like you to send me presents,"
she said gravely.

"Ask your father to wait," said Pierce earnestly.  "Ask him to
wait till he's seen the presents.  You see, mine will be rather
curious presents.  I don't think he'll disapprove of them.
I think he'll approve of them.  I think he'll congratulate me
on my simple tastes and sound business principles.  The truth is,
dear Joan, I've committed myself to a rather important enterprise.
You needn't be frightened; I promise I won't trouble you again
till it succeeds.  I will be content that you know it is for you
I do it; and shall continue to do it, if I defy the world."
He sprang up on the wall again and stood there staring down at her
almost indignantly.

"That anybody should forbid YOU to keep pigs," he cried.
"That anybody should forbid YOU to do anything.  That anybody
should dispute YOUR right to keep pet crocodiles if you like!
That is the unpardonable sin; that is the supreme blasphemy and
crime against the nature of things, which shall not go unavenged.
You shall have pigs, I say, if the skies fall and the whole world
is whelmed in war."

He disappeared like a flash behind the high bank and the wall,
and Joan went back in silence to the inn.

The first incident of the war did not seem superficially encouraging,
though the hero of it seemed by no means discouraged by it.
As reported in the police news of various papers, Hilary Patrick Pierce,
formerly of the Flying Corps, was arrested for driving pigs into
the county of Bluntshire, in contravention of the regulations made
for the public health.  He seemed to have had almost as much trouble
with the pigs as with the police; but he made a witty and eloquent
speech on being arrested, to which the police and the pigs appeared
to be equally unresponsive.  The incident was considered trivial
and his punishment was trifling; but the occasion was valued
by some of the authorities as giving an opportunity for the final
elucidation and establishment of the new rule.

For this purpose it was fortunate that the principal magistrate
of the bench was no less a person than the celebrated hygienist,
Sir Horace Hunter, O.B.E., M.D., who had begun life, as some
may remember, as a successful suburban doctor and had likewise
distinguished himself as an officer of health in the Thames Valley.
To him indeed had been largely due the logical extension of the existing
precautions against infection from the pig; though he was fully
supported by his fellow magistrates, one being Mr. Rosenbaum Low,
millionaire and formerly manager of Bliss and Co., and the other
the young Socialist, Mr. Amyas Minns, famous for his exposition of
Shaw on the Simple Life, who sat on the bench as a Labour alderman.
All concurred in the judgement of Sir Horace, that just as all the
difficulties and doubtful cases raised by the practice of moderate
drinking had been simplified by the solution of Prohibition,
so the various quarrels and evasions about swine-fever were best
met by a straightforward and simple regulation against swine.
In the very improper remarks which he offered after the trial,
the prisoner appears to have said that as his three judges were a Jew,
a vegetarian, and a quack doctor on the make, he was not surprised
that they did not appreciate pork.

The next luncheon at which the three friends met was in a sufficiently
different setting; for the Colonel had invited the other two to
his club in London.  It would have been almost impossible to have
been that sort of Colonel without having that sort of club.
But as a matter of fact, he very seldom went there.  On this occasion
it was Owen Hood who arrived first and was by instructions escorted
by a waiter to a table in a bow window overlooking the Green Park.
Knowing Crane's military punctuality, Hood fancied that he might
have mistaken the time; and while looking for the note of invitation
in his pocket-book, he paused for a moment upon a newspaper
cutting that he had put aside as a curiosity some days before.
It was a paragraph headed "Old Ladies as Mad Motorists," and ran
as follows:


"An unprecedented number of cases of motorists exceeding the speed limit
have lately occurred on the Bath Road and other western highways.
The extraordinary feature of the case is that in so large a number
of cases the offenders appeared to be old ladies of great wealth
and respectability who professed to be merely taking their pugs
and other pet animals for an airing.  They professed that the health
of the animal required much more rapid transit through the air
than is the case with human beings."


He was gazing at this extract with as much perplexity as on his
first perusal, when the Colonel entered with a newspaper in his hand.

"I say," he said, "I think it is getting rather ridiculous.
I'm not a revolutionist like you; quite the reverse.  But all these
rules and regulations are getting beyond all rational discipline.
A little while ago they started forbidding all travelling menageries;
not, mind you, stipulating proper conditions for the animals,
but forbidding them altogether for some nonsense about the safety
of the public.  There was a travelling circus stopped near Acton
and another on the road to Reading.  Crowds of village boys must
never see a lion in their lives, because once in fifty years
a lion has escaped and been caught again.  But that's nothing
to what has happened since.  Now, if you please, there is such
mortal fear of infection that we are to leave the sick to suffer,
just as if we were savages.  You know those new hospital trains
that were started to take patients from the hospitals down to
the health resorts.  Well, they're not to run after all, it seems,
lest by merely taking an invalid of any sort through the open country
we should poison the four winds of heaven.  If this nonsense goes on,
I shall go as mad as Hilary himself."

Hilary Pierce had arrived during this conversation and sat listening
to it with a rather curious smile.  Somehow the more Hood looked
at that smile the more it puzzled him; it puzzled him as much as
the newspaper cutting in his hand.  He caught himself looking from
one to the other, and Pierce smiled in a still more irritating manner.

"You don't look so fierce and fanatical as when we last met,
my young friend," observed Owen Hood.  "Have you got tired of pigs
and police-courts? These coercion acts the Colonel's talking about
would have roused you to lift the roof off at once."

"Oh, I'm all against the new rules," answered the young man coolly.
"I've been very much against them; what you might call up against them.
In fact, I've already broken all those new laws and a few more.
Could you let me look at that cutting for a moment?"

Hood handed it to him and he nodded, saying:

"Yes; I was arrested for that."

"Arrested for what?"

"Arrested for being a rich and respectable old lady," answered
Hilary Pierce; "but I managed to escape that time.  It was a fine
sight to see the old lady clear a hedge and skedaddle across a meadow."

Hood looked at him under bended brows and his mouth began to work.

"But what's all this about the old lady having a pug or a pet
or something?"

"Well, it was very nearly a pug," said Pierce in a dispassionate manner.
"I pointed out to everybody that it was, as it were, an approximate pug.
I asked if it was just to punish me for a small mistake in spelling."

"I begin to understand," said Hood.  "You were again smuggling
swine down to your precious Blue Boar, and thought you could rush
the frontier in very rapid cars."

"Yes," replied the smuggler placidly.  "We were quite literally
Road-Hogs. I thought at first of dressing the pigs up as millionaires
and members of Parliament; but when you come to look close,
there's more difference than you would imagine to be possible.
It was great fun when they forced me to take my pet out of
the wrapping of shawls, and they found what a large pet it was."

"And do I understand," cut in the Colonel, "that it was something
like that--with the other laws?"

"The other laws," said Pierce, "are certainly arbitrary, but you
do not altogether do them justice.  You do not quite appreciate
their motive.  You do not fully allow for their origin.  I may say,
I trust with modesty, that I was their origin.  I not only had
the pleasure of breaking those laws, but the pleasure of making them."

"More of your tricks, you mean," said the Colonel; "but why don't
the papers say so?"

"The authorities don't want 'em to," answered Pierce.
"The authorities won't advertise me, you bet.  I've got far too
much popular backing for that.  When the real revolution happens,
it won't be mentioned in the newspapers."

He paused a moment in meditation and then went on.

"When the police searched for my pug and found it was a pig,
I started wondering how they could be stopped from doing it again.
It occurred to me they might be shy of a wild pig or a pug that
bit them.  So, of course, I travelled the next time with dreadfully
dangerous animals in cages, warning everybody of the fiercest
tigers and panthers that were ever known.  When they found it
out and didn't want to let it out, they could only fall back on
their own tomfoolery of a prohibition wholesale.  Of course, it was
the same with my other stunt, about the sick people going to health
resorts to be cured of various fashionable and refined maladies.
The pigs had a dignified, possibly a rather dull time, in elaborately
curtained railway carriages with hospital nurses to wait on them;
while I stood outside and assured the railway officials that the cure
was a rest cure, and the invalids must on no account be disturbed."

"What a liar you are!" exclaimed Hood in simple admiration.

"Not at all," said Pierce with dignity.  "It was quite true
that they were going to be cured."

Crane, who had been gazing rather abstractedly out of the window,
slowly turned his head and said abruptly:  "And how's it going to end?
Do you propose to go on doing all these impossible things?"

Pierce sprang to his feet with a resurrection of all the romantic
abandon of his vow over the pig-sty.

"Impossible!" he cried.  "You don't know what you're saying or
how true it is.  All I've done so far was possible and prosaic.
But I will do an impossible thing.  I will do something that is
written in all books and rhymes as impossible--something that has
passed into a proverb of the impossible.  The war is not ended yet;
and if you two fellows will post yourselves in the quarry opposite
the Blue Boar, on Thursday week at sunset, you will see something
so impossible and so self-evident that even the organs of public
information will find it hard to hide it."

It was in that part of the steep fall of pinewood where the quarry made
a sort of ledge under a roof of pine that two gentlemen of something
more than middle age who had not altogether lost the appetite of
adventure posted themselves with all the preparations due to a picnic
or a practical joke.  It was from that place, as from a window looking
across the valley, that they saw what seemed more like a vision;
what seemed indeed rather like the parody of an apocalypse.
The large clearance of the western sky was of a luminous lemon tint,
as of pale yellow fading to pale green, while one or two loose
clouds on the horizon were of a rose-red and yet richer colours.
But the settling sun itself was a cloudless fire, so that a tawny
light lay over the whole landscape; and the inn of the Blue Boar
standing opposite looked almost like a house of gold.  Owen Hood
was gazing in his dreamy fashion, and said at last:

"There's an apocalyptic sign in heaven for you to start with.
It's a queer thing, but that cloud coming up the valley is uncommonly
like the shape of a pig."

"Very like a whale," said Colonel Crane, yawning slightly;
but when he turned his eyes in that direction, the eyes were keener.
Artists have remarked that a cloud has perspective like anything else;
but the perspective of the cloud coming up the valley was
curiously solid.

"That's not a cloud," he said sharply, "it's a Zeppelin or something."

The solid shape grew larger and larger; and as it grew more obvious
it grew more incredible.

"Saints and angels!" cried Hood suddenly.  "Why, it IS a pig!"

"It's shaped like a pig all right," said the Colonel curtly; and indeed
as the great balloon-like form bulked bigger and bigger above its
own reflection in the winding river, they could see that the long
sausage-shaped Zeppelin body of it had been fantastically decorated
with hanging ears and legs, to complete that pantomimic resemblance.

"I suppose it's some more of Hilary's skylarking," observed Hood;
"but what is he up to now?"

As the great aerial monster moved up the valley it paused over
the inn of the Blue Boar, and something fell fluttering from it
like a brightly coloured feather.

"People are coming down in parachutes," said the Colonel shortly.

"They're queer-looking people," remarked his companion, peering under
frowning brows, for the level light was dazzling to the eyes.
"By George, they're not people at all!  They're pigs!"

From that distance, the objects in question had something of
the appearance of cherubs in some gaily coloured Gothic picture,
with the yellow sky for their gold-leaf background.  The parachute
apparatus from which they hung and hovered was designed and coloured
with the appearance of a great wheel of gorgeously painted plumage,
looking more gaudy than ever in the strong evening light
that lay over all.  The more the two men in the quarry stared
at these strange objects, the more certain it seemed that they
were indeed pigs; though whether the pigs were dead or alive it
was impossible at that distance to say.  They looked down into
the garden of the inn into which the feathered things were dropping,
and they could see the figure of Joan Hardy standing in front
of the old pig-sty, with her bird-like head lifted, looking up into
the sky.

"Singular present for a young lady," remarked Crane, "but I suppose
when our mad young friend does start love-making, he would be likely
to give impossible presents."

The eyes of the more poetical Hood were full of larger visions,
and he hardly seemed to be listening.  But as the sentence ended he
seemed to start from a trance and struck his hands together.

"Yes!" he cried in a new voice, "we always come back to that word!"

"Come back to what word?" asked his friend.

"'Impossible,'" answered Owen Hood.  "It's the word that runs
through his whole life, and ours too for that matter.  Don't you
see what he has done?"

"I see what he has done all right," answered the Colonel, "but I'm
not at all sure I see what you're driving at."

"What we have seen is another impossible thing," said Owen Hood;
"a thing that common speech has set up as a challenge; a thing that
a thousand rhymes and jokes and phrases have called impossible.
We have seen pigs fly."

"It's pretty extraordinary," admitted Crane, "but it's not
so extraordinary as their not being allowed to walk."

And they gathered their travelling tackle together and began
to descend the steep hill.

In doing so, they descended into a deeper twilight between the stems
of the darkling trees; the walls of the valley began to close over them,
as it were, and they lost that sense of being in the upper air
in a radiant topsy-turvydom of clouds.  It was almost as if they
had really had a vision; and the voice of Crane came abruptly out
of the dusk, almost like that of a doubter when he speaks of a dream.

"The thing I can't understand," he said abruptly, "is how Hilary
managed to DO all that by himself."

"He really is a very wonderful fellow," said Hood.  "You told me
yourself he did wonders in the War.  And though he turns it to these
fanatical ends now, it takes as much trouble to do one as the other."

"Takes a devilish lot more trouble to do it alone," said Crane.
"In the War there was a whole organization."

"You mean he must be more than a remarkable person," suggested Hood,
"a sort of giant with a hundred hands or god with a hundred eyes.
Well, a man will work frightfully hard when he wants something
very much; even a man who generally looks like a lounging minor poet.
And I think I know what it was he wanted.  He deserves to get it.
It's certainly his hour of triumph."

"Mystery to me all the same," said the Colonel frowning.
"Wonder whether he'll ever clear it up."  But that part of the mystery
was not to be cleared up until many other curious things had come to pass.

Away on another part of the slope Hilary Pierce, new lighted upon
the earth like the herald Mercury, leapt down into a red hollow
of the quarry and came towards Joan Hardy with uplifted arms.

"This is no time for false modesty," he said.  "It is the hour,
and I come to you covered with glory--"

"You come covered with mud," she said smiling, "and it's that
horrible red mud that takes so long to dry.  It's no use trying
to brush it till--"

"I bring you the Golden Fleece, or at any rate the Golden Pig-Skin,"
he cried in lyric ecstasy.  "I have endured the labours; I have
achieved the quest.  I have made the Hampshire Hog as legendary
as the Calydonian Boar.  They forbade me to drive it on foot,
and I drove it in a car, disguised as a pug.  They forbade me to
bring it in a car, and I brought it in a railway-train, disguised
as an invalid.  They forbade me to use a railway-train, and I took
to the wings of the morning and rose to the uttermost parts of the air;
by a way secret and pathless and lonely as the wilful way of love.
I have made my romance immortal.  I have made my romance immortal.
I have written your name upon the sky.  What do you say to me now?
I have turned a Pig into a Pegasus.  I have done impossible things."

"I know you have," she said, "but somehow I can't help liking you
for all that."

"BUT you can't help liking me," he repeated in a hollow voice.
"I have stormed heaven, but still I am not so bad.  Hercules can
be tolerated in spite of his Twelve Labours.  St. George can
be forgiven for killing the Dragon.  Woman, is this the way I am
treated in the hour of victory; and is this the graceful fashion
of an older world?  Have you become a New Woman, by any chance?
What has your father been doing?  What does he say--about us?"

"My father says you are quite mad, of course," she replied, "but he
can't help liking you either.  He says he doesn't believe in people
marrying out of their class; but that if I must marry a gentleman
he'd rather it was somebody like you, and not one of the new gentlemen."

"Well, I'm glad I'm an old gentleman, any how," he answered
somewhat mollified.  "But really this prevalence of common
sense is getting quite dangerous.  Will nothing rouse you all
to a little unreality; to saying, so to speak, 'O, for the wings
of a pig that I might flee away and be at rest.'  What would you
say if I turned the world upside down and set my foot upon
the sun and moon?"

"I should say," replied Joan Hardy, still smiling, "that you wanted
somebody to look after you."

He stared at her for a moment in an almost abstracted fashion
as if he had not fully understood; then he laughed uncontrollably,
like a man who has seen something very close to him that he knows he
is a fool not to have seen before.  So a man will fall over something
in a game of hiding-and-seeking, and get shaken up with laughter.

"What a bump your mother earth gives you when you fall out of an
aeroplane," he said, "especially when your flying ship is only a flying
pig. The earth of the real peasants and the real pigs--don't be offended;
I assure you the confusion is a compliment.  What a thing is
horse-sense, and how much finer really than the poetry of Pegasus!
And when there is everything else as well that makes the sky clean
and the earth kind, beauty and bravery and the lifting of the head--
well, you are right enough, Joan.  Will you take care of me?
Will you stop at home and clip my pig's wings?"

He had caught hold of her by the hands; but she still laughed
as she answered.

"Yes--I told you I couldn't help--but you really must let go, Hilary.
I can see your friends coming down from the quarry."

As she spoke, indeed, Colonel Crane and Owen Hood could be seen
descending the slope and passing through a screen of slender trees
towards them.

"Hullo!" said Hilary Pierce cheerfully.  "I want you to
congratulate me.  Joan thinks I'm an awful humbug, and right she is;
I am what has been called a happy hypocrite.  At least you fellows
may think I've been guilty of a bit of fake in this last affair,
when I tell you the news.  Well, I will confess."

"What news do you mean?" inquired the Colonel with curiosity.

Hilary Pierce grinned and made a gesture over his shoulder to the
litter of porcine parachutes, to indicate his last and crowning folly.

"The truth is," he said laughing, "that was only a final firework display
to celebrate victory or failure, whichever you choose to call it.
There isn't any need to do so any more, because the veto is removed.

"Removed?" exclaimed Hood.  "Why on earth is that?  It's rather
unnerving when lunatics suddenly go sane like that."

"It wasn't anything to do with the lunatics," answered Pierce quietly.
"The real change was much higher up, or rather lower down.
Anyhow, it was much farther at the back of things, where the Big
Businesses are settled by the big people."

"What was the change?" asked the Colonel.

"Old Oates has gone into another business," answered Pierce quietly.

"What on earth has old Oates got to do with it?" asked Hood staring.
"Do you mean that Yankee mooning about over mediaeval ruins?"

"Oh, I know," said Pierce wearily, "I thought he had nothing to do
with it; I thought it was the Jews and vegetarians, and the rest;
but they're very innocent instruments.  The truth is that Enoch
Oates is the biggest pork-packer and importer in the world,
and HE didn't want any competition from our cottagers.  And what he
says goes, as he would express it.  Now, thank God, he's taken up
another line."


But if any indomitable reader wishes to know what was the new line
Mr. Oates pursued and why, it is to be feared that his only course
is to await and patiently read the story of the Exclusive Luxury
of Enoch Oates; and even before reaching that supreme test, he will
have to support the recital of The Elusive Companion of Parson White;
for these, as has been said, are tales of topsy-turvydom, and they
often work backwards.




Chapter IV



THE ELUSIVE COMPANION OF PARSON WHITE


In the scriptures and the chronicles of the League of the Long Bow,
or fellowship of foolish persons doing impossible things,
it is recorded that Owen Hood, the lawyer, and his friend Crane,
the retired Colonel, were partaking one afternoon of a sort
of picnic on the river-island that had been the first scene of a
certain romantic incident in the life of the former, the burden
of reading about which has fallen upon the readers in other days.
Suffice it to say that the island had been devoted by Mr. Hood to his
hobby of angling, and that the meal then in progress was a somewhat
early interruption of the same leisurely pursuit.  The two old
cronies had a third companion, who, though considerably younger,
was not only a companion but a friend.  He was a light-haired, lively
young man, with rather a wild eye, known by the name of Pierce,
whose wedding to the daughter of the innkeeper of the Blue Boar
the others had only recently attended.

He was an aviator and given to many other forms of skylarking.
The two older men had eccentric tastes of their own; but there is always
a difference between the eccentricity of an elderly man who defies
the world and the enthusiasm of a younger man who hopes to alter it.
The old gentleman may be willing, in a sense, to stand on his head;
but he does not hope, as the boy does, to stand the world on its head.
With a young man like Hilary Pierce it was the world itself that was
to be turned upside-down; and that was a game at which his more
grizzled companions could only look on, as at a child they loved
playing with a big coloured balloon.

Perhaps it was this sense of a division by time, altering the tone,
though not the fact, of friendship, which sent the mind of one of
the older men back to the memory of an older friend.  He remembered
that he had had a letter that morning from the only contemporary
of his who could fitly have made a fourth to their party.
Owen Hood drew the letter from his pocket with a smile that wrinkled
his long, humourous, cadaverous face.

"By the way, I forgot to tell you," he said, "I had a letter from
White yesterday."

The bronzed visage of the Colonel was also seamed with the external
signs of a soundless chuckle.

"Read it yet?" he asked.

"Yes," replied the lawyer; "the hieroglyphic was attacked
with fresh vigour after breakfast this morning, and the clouds
and mysteries of yesterday's labours seemed to be rolled away.
Some portions of the cuneiform still await an expert translation;
but the sentences themselves appear to be in the original English."

"Very original English," snorted Colonel Crane.

"Yes, our friend is an original character," replied Hood.
"Vanity tempts me to hint that he is our friend because he has an
original taste in friends.  The habit of his of putting the pronoun
on the first page and the noun on the next has brightened many winter
evenings for me.  You haven't met our friend White, have you?"
he added to Pierce.  "That is a shock that still threatens you."

"Why, what's the matter with him?" inquired Pierce.

"Nothing," observed Crane in his more staccato style.  "Has a taste
for starting a letter with 'Yours Truly' and ending it with 'Dear Sir';
that's all."

"I should rather like to hear that letter," observed the young man.

"So you shall," answered Hood, "there's nothing confidential in it;
and if there were, you wouldn't find it out merely by reading it.
The Rev. Wilding White, called by some of his critics 'Wild White,'
is one of those country parsons, to be found in corners of the English
countryside, of whom their old college friends usually think in order
to wonder what the devil their parishioners think of them.  As a matter
of fact, my dear Hilary, he was rather like you when he was your age;
and what in the world you would be like as a vicar in the Church
of England, aged fifty, might at first stagger the imagination;
but the problem might be solved by supposing you would be like him.
But I only hope you will have a more lucid style in letter-writing.
The old boy is always in such a state of excitement about something
that it comes out anyhow."

It has been said elsewhere that these tales are, in some sense,
of necessity told tail-foremost, and certainly the letter of the
Rev. Wilding White was a document suited to such a scheme of narrative.
It was written in what had once been a good hand-writing of the
bolder sort, but which had degenerated through excessive energy
and haste into an illegible scrawl.  It appeared to run as follows:


"'My dear Owen,--My mind is quite made up; though I know the sort
of legal long-winded things you will say against it; I know
especially one thing a leathery old lawyer like you is bound to say;
but as a matter of fact even you can't say it in a case like this,
because the timber came from the other end of the county and had
nothing whatever to do with him or any of his flunkeys and sycophants.
Besides, I did it all myself with a little assistance I'll tell you
about later; and even in these days I should be surprised to hear
THAT sort of assistance could be anything but a man's own affair.
I defy you and all your parchments to maintain that IT comes under
the Game Laws.  You won't mind me talking like this; I know jolly
well you'd think you were acting as a friend; but I think the time
has come to speak plainly.'"


"Quite right," said the Colonel.

"Yes," said young Pierce, with a rather vague expression, "I'm glad
he feels that the time has come to speak plainly."

"Quite so," observed the lawyer dryly; "he continues as follows:"


"'I've got a lot to tell you about the new arrangement, which works
much better even than I hoped.  I was afraid at first it would
really be an encumbrance, as you know it's always supposed to be.
But there are more things, and all the rest of it, and God
fulfils himself, and so on and so on.  It gives one quite a weird
Asiatic feeling sometimes.'"


"Yes," said the Colonel, "it does."

"What does?" asked Pierce, sitting up suddenly, like one who can
bear no more.

"You are not used to the epistolary method," said Hood indulgently;
"you haven't got into the swing of the style.  It goes on:"


"'Of course, he's a big pot down here, and all sorts of skunks
are afraid of him and pretend to boycott me.  Nobody could expect
anything else of those pineapple people, but I confess I was
surprised at Parkinson.  Sally of course is as sound as ever;
but she goes to Scotland a good deal and you can't blame her.
Sometimes I'm left pretty severely alone, but I'm not downhearted;
you'll probably laugh if I tell you that Snowdrop is really a very
intelligent companion.'"


"I confess I am long past laughter," said Hilary Pierce sadly;
"but I rather wish I knew who Snowdrop is."

"Child, I suppose," said the Colonel shortly.

"Yes; I suppose it must be a child," said Pierce.  "Has he any children?"

"No," said the Colonel.  "Bachelor."

"I believe he was in love with a lady in those parts and never
married in consequence," said Hood.  "It would be quite on the lines
of fiction and film-drama if Snowdrop were the daughter of the lady,
when she had married Another.  But there seems to be something
more about Snowdrop, that little sunbeam in the house:"


"'Snowdrop tries to enter our ways, as they always do; but, of course,
it would be awkward if she played tricks.  How alarmed they would
all be if she took it into her head to walk about on two legs,
like everybody else.'"


"Nonsense!" ejaculated Colonel Crane.  "Can't be a child--
talking about it walking about on two legs."

"After all," said Pierce thoughtfully, "a little girl does walk
about on two legs."

"Bit startling if she walked about on three," said Crane.

"If my learned brother will allow me," said Hood, in his forensic manner,
"would he describe the fact of a little girl walking on two legs
as alarming?"

"A little girl is always alarming," replied Pierce.

"I've come to the conclusion myself," went on Hood, "that Snowdrop
must be a pony.  It seems a likely enough name for a pony.  I thought
at first it was a dog or a cat, but alarming seems a strong word
even for a dog or a cat sitting up to beg.  But a pony on its hind
legs might be a little alarming, especially when you're riding it.
Only I can't fit this view in with the next sentence:  'I've taught
her to reach down the things I want.'"

"Lord!" cried Pierce.  "It's a monkey!"

"That," replied Hood, "had occurred to me as possibly explaining
the weird Asiatic atmosphere.  But a monkey on two legs is even less
unusual than a dog on two legs.  Moreover, the reference to Asiatic
mystery seems really to refer to something else and not to any animal
at all.  For he ends up by saying:  'I feel now as if my mind were
moving in much larger and more ancient spaces of time or eternity;
and as if what I thought at first was an oriental atmosphere was only
an atmosphere of the orient in the sense of dayspring and the dawn.
It has nothing to do with the stagnant occultism of decayed Indian cults;
it is something that unites a real innocence with the immensities,
a power as of the mountains with the purity of snow.  This vision
does not violate my own religion, but rather reinforces it;
but I cannot help feeling that I have larger views.  I hope in two
senses to preach liberty in these parts.  So I may live to falsify
the proverb after all.'

"That," added Hood, folding up the letter, "is the only sentence
in the whole thing that conveys anything to my mind.  As it happens,
we have all three of us lived to falsify proverbs."

Hilary Pierce had risen to his feet with the restless action that
went best with his alert figure.  "Yes," he said; "I suppose we
can all three of us say we have lived for adventures, or had some
curious ones anyhow.  And to tell you the truth, the adventure
feeling has come on me very strong at this very minute.  I've got
the detective fever about that parson of yours.  I should like to get
at the meaning of that letter, as if it were a cipher about buried
treasure."

Then he added more gravely:  "And if, as I gather, your clerical
friend is really a friend worth having, I do seriously advise
you to keep an eye on him just now.  Writing letters upside-down
is all very well, and I shouldn't be alarmed about that.
Lots of people think they've explained things in previous letters
they never wrote.  I don't think it matters who Snowdrop is,
or what sort of children or animals he chooses to be fond of.
That's all being eccentric in the good old English fashion,
like poetical tinkers and mad squires.  You're both of you eccentric
in that sort of way, and it's one of the things I like about you.
But just because I naturally knock about more among the new people,
I see something of the new eccentricities.  And believe me, they're not
half so nice as the old ones.  I'm a student of scientific aviation,
which is a new thing itself, and I like it.  But there's a sort of
spiritual aviation that I don't like at all."

"Sorry," observed Crane.  "Really no notion of what you're
talking about."

"Of course you haven't," answered Pierce with engaging candour;
"that's another thing I like about you.  But I don't like the way
your clerical friend talks about new visions and larger religions
and light and liberty from the East.  I've heard a good many people
talk like that, and they were mountebanks or the dupes of mountebanks.
And I'll tell you another thing.  It's a long shot even with the long
bow we used to talk about.  It's a pretty wild guess even in this
rather wild business.  But I have a creepy sort of feeling that if
you went down to his house and private parlour to see Snowdrop,
you'd be surprised at what you saw."

"What should we see?" asked the Colonel, staring.

"You'd see nothing at all," replied the young man.

"What on earth do you mean?"

"I mean," replied Pierce, "that you'd find Mr. White talking
to somebody who didn't seem to be there."


Hilary Pierce, fired by his detective fever, made a good many
more inquiries about the Rev. Wilding White, both of his two old
friends and elsewhere.

One long legal conversation with Owen Hood did indeed put him in
possession of the legal outline of certain matters, which might be
said to throw a light on some parts of the strange letter, and which
might in time even be made to throw a light on the rest.  White was
the vicar of a parish lying deep in the western parts of Somersetshire,
where the principal landowner was a certain Lord Arlington.  And in
this case there had been a quarrel between the squire and the parson,
of a more revolutionary sort than is common in the case of parsons.
The clergyman intensely resented that irony or anomaly which has
caused so much discontent among tenants in Ireland and throughout
the world; the fact that improvements or constructive work actually
done by the tenant only pass into the possession of the landlord.
He had considerably improved a house that he himself had rented from
the squire, but in some kind of crisis of defiance or renunciation,
he had quitted this more official residence bag and baggage, and built
himself a sort of wooden lodge or bungalow on a small hill or mound
that rose amid woods on the extreme edge of the same grounds.
This quarrel about the claim of the tenant to his own work was evidently
the meaning of certain phrases in the letter--such as the timber
coming from the other end of the county, the sort of work being
a man's own affair, and the general allusion to somebody's flunkeys
or sycophants who attempted to boycott the discontented tenant.
But it was not quite so clear whether the allusions to a
new arrangement, and how it worked, referred to the bungalow
or to the other and more elusive mystery of the presence of Snowdrop.

One phrase in the letter he found to have been repeated in many places
and to many persons without becoming altogether clear in the process.
It was the sentence that ran:  "I was afraid at first it would
really be an encumbrance, as you know it's always supposed to be."
Both Colonel Crane and Owen Hood, and also several other persons
whom he met later in his investigations, were agreed in saying
that Mr. White had used some expression indicating that he had
entangled himself with something troublesome or at least useless;
something that he did not want.  None of them could remember the exact
words he had used; but all could state in general terms that it
referred to some sort of negative nuisance or barren responsibility.
This could hardly refer to Snowdrop, of whom he always wrote in
terms of tenderness as if she were a baby or a kitten.  It seemed
hard to believe it could refer to the house he had built entirely
to suit himself.  It seemed as if there must be some third thing
in his muddled existence, which loomed vaguely in the background
through the vapour of his confused correspondence.

Colonel Crane snapped his fingers with a mild irritation in trying
to recall a trifle.  "He said it was a--you know, I've forgotten
the word--a botheration or embarrassment.  But then he's always
in a state of botheration and embarrassment.  I didn't tell you,
by the way, that I had a letter from him too.  Came the day
after I heard yours.  Shorter, and perhaps a little plainer."
And he handed the letter to Hood, who read it out slowly:


"'I never knew the old British populace, here in Avalon itself,
could be so broken down by squires and sneaking lawyers.
Nobody dared help me move my house again; said it was illegal
and they were afraid of the police.  But Snowdrop helped, and we
carted it all away in two or three journeys; took it right clean
off the old fool's land altogether this time.  I fancy the old
fool will have to admit there are things in this world he wasn't
prepared to believe in.'"


"But look here," began Hood as if impulsively, and then stopped
and spoke more slowly and carefully.  "I don't understand this;
I think it's extremely odd.  I don't mean odd for an ordinary person,
but odd for an odd person; odd for this odd person.  I know
White better than either of you can, and I can tell you that,
though he tells a tale anyhow, the tale is always true.  He's rather
precise and pedantic when you do come to the facts; these litigious
quarrelsome people always are.  He would do extraordinary things,
but he wouldn't make them out more extraordinary than they were.
I mean he's the sort of man who might break all the squire's windows,
but he wouldn't say he'd broken six when he'd broken five.
I've always found when I'd got to the meaning of those mad
letters that it was quite true.  But how can this be true?
How could Snowdrop, whatever she is, have moved a whole house, or old
White either?"

"I suppose you know what I think," said Pierce.  "I told you
that Snowdrop, whatever else she is, is invisible.  I'm certain your
friend has gone Spiritualist, and Snowdrop is the name of a spirit,
or a control, or whatever they call it.  The spirit would say,
of course, that it was mere child's play to throw the house from one
end of the county to the other.  But if this unfortunate gentleman
believes himself to have been thrown, house and all, in that fashion,
I'm very much afraid he's begun really to suffer from delusions."

The faces of the two older men looked suddenly much older,
perhaps for the first time they looked old.  The young man seeing
their dolorous expression was warmed and fired to speak quickly.

"Look here," he said hastily, "I'll go down there myself and find
out what I can for you.  I'll go this afternoon."

"Train journey takes ages," said the Colonel, shaking his head.
"Other end of nowhere.  Told me yourself you had an appointment at
the Air Ministry to-morrow."

"Be there in no time," replied Pierce cheerfully.  "I'll fly down."

And there was something in the lightness and youth of his vanishing
gesture that seemed really like Icarus spurning the earth,
the first man to mount upon wings.

Perhaps this literally flying figure shone the more vividly in
their memories because, when they saw it again, it was in a subtle
sense changed.  When the other two next saw Hilary Pierce on
the steps of the Air Ministry, they were conscious that his manner
was a little quieter, but his wild eye rather wilder than usual.
They adjourned to a neighbouring restaurant and talked of trivialities
while luncheon was served; but the Colonel, who was a keen observer,
was sure that Pierce had suffered some sort of shock, or at least
some sort of check.  While they were considering what to say Pierce
himself said abruptly, staring at a mustard-pot on the table:

"What do you think about spirits?"

"Never touch 'em," said the Colonel.  "Sound port never hurt anybody."

"I mean the other sort," said Pierce.  "Things like ghosts and all that."

"I don't know," said Owen Hood.  "The Greek for it is agnosticism.
The Latin for it is ignorance.  But have you really been dealing
with ghosts and spirits down at poor White's parsonage?"

"I don't know," said Pierce gravely.

"You don't mean you really think you saw something!" cried Hood sharply.

"There goes the agnostic!" said Pierce with a rather weary smile.
"The minute the agnostic hears a bit of real agnosticism he shrieks out
that it's superstition.  I say I don't know whether it was a spirit.
I also say I don't know what the devil else it was if it wasn't. In
plain words, I went down to that place convinced that poor White
had got some sort of delusions.  Now I wonder whether it's I that
have got the delusions."

He paused a moment and then went on in a more collected manner:

"But I'd better tell you all about it.  To begin with, I don't admit
it as an explanation, but it's only fair to allow for it as a fact--
that all that part of the world seems to be full of that sort of thing.
You know how the glamour of Glastonbury lies over all that land
and the lost tomb of King Arthur and time when he shall return
and the prophecies of Merlin and all the rest.  To begin with,
the village they call Ponder's End ought to be called World's End;
it gives one the impression of being somewhere west of the sunset.
And then the parsonage is quite a long way west of the parish,
in large neglected grounds fading into pathless woods and hills;
I mean the old empty rectory that our wild friend has evacuated.
It stood there a cold empty shell of flat classical architecture,
as hollow as one of those classical temples they used to stick up
in country seats.  But White must have done some sort of parish
work there, for I found a great big empty shed in the grounds--
that sort of thing that's used for a schoolroom or drill-hall or
what not.  But not a sign of him or his work can be seen there now.
I've said it's a long way west of the village that you come at last
to the old house.  Well, it's a long way west of that that you come
to the new house--if you come to it at all.  As for me, I came
and I came now, as in some old riddle of Merlin.  But you shall hear.

"I had come down about sunset in a meadow near Ponder's End, and I
did the rest of the journey on foot, for I wanted to see things
in detail.  This was already difficult as it was growing dusk, and I
began to fear I should find nothing of importance before nightfall.
I had asked a question or two of the villagers about the vicar
and his new self-made vicarage.  They were very reticent about
the former, but I gathered that the latter stood at the extreme edge
of his original grounds on a hill rising out of a thicket of wood.
In the increasing darkness it was difficult to find the place, but I
came on it at last, in a place where a fringe of forest ran along
under the low brows of a line of rugged cliffs, such as sometimes break
the curves of great downlands.  I seemed to be descending a thickly
wooded slope, with a sea of tree-tops below me, and out of that sea,
like an island, rose the dome of the isolated hill; and I could
faintly see the building on it, darker against the dark-clouded sky.
For a moment a faint line of light from the masked moon showed me
a little more of its shape, which seemed singularly simple and airy
in its design.  Against that pallid gleam stood four strong columns,
with the bulk of building apparently lifted above them; but it
produced a queer impression, as if this Christian priest had built
for his final home a heathen temple of the winds.  As I leaned forward,
peering at it, I overbalanced myself and slid rapidly down the steep
thicket into the darkest entrails of the wood.  From there I could
see nothing of the pillared house or temple or whatever it was on
the hill; the thick woods had swallowed me up literally like a sea,
and I groped for what must have been nearly half an hour amid
tangled roots and low branches, in that double darkness of night
and shadow, before I found my feet slipping up the opposite slope
and began to climb the hill on the top of which the temple stood.
It was very difficult climbing, of course, through a network of briars
and branching trees, and it was some little time afterwards that I
burst through the last screen of foliage and came out upon the bare
hill-top.

"Yes; upon the bare hill-top. Rank grasses grew upon it,
and the wind blew them about like hair on a head; but for any
trace of anything else, that green dome was as bare as a skull.
There was no sign or shadow of the building I had seen there
a little time before; it had vanished like a fairy palace.
A broad track broken through the woods seemed to lead up to it,
so far as I could make out in that obscurity; but there was no
trace of the building to which it led.  And when I saw that,
I gave up.  Something told me I should find out no more; perhaps I
had some shaken sense that there were things past finding out.
I retraced my steps, descending the hill as best I might; but when I
was again swallowed up in that leafy sea, something happened that,
for an instant, turned me cold as stone.  An unearthly noise,
like long hooting laughter, rang out in vast volume over the forest
and rose to the stars.  It was no noise to which I could put a name;
it was certainly no noise I had ever heard before; it bore some sort
of resemblance to the neighing of a horse immensely magnified;
yet it might have been half human, and there was triumph in it
and derision.

"I will tell you one more thing I learnt before I left those parts.
I left them at once, partly because I really had an appointment
early this morning, as I told you; partly also, I think, because I
felt you had the right to know at once what sort of things were to
be faced.  I was alarmed when I thought your friend was tormented
with imaginary bogies; I am not less alarmed if he had got mixed
up with real ones.  Anyhow, before I left that village I had told
one man what I had seen, and he told me he had seen it also.
But he had seen it actually moving, in dusk turning to dark;
the whole great house, with its high columns, moving across the fields
like a great ship sailing on land."

Owen Hood sat up suddenly, with awakened eyes, and struck the table.

"Look here," he cried, with a new ring in his voice, "we must
all go down to Ponder's End and bring this business to a finish."

"Do you think you will bring it to a finish?" asked Pierce gloomily;
"or can you tell us what sort of finish?"

"Yes," replied Hood resolutely.  "I think I can finish it,
and I think I know what the finish will be.  The truth is,
my friend, I think I understand the whole thing now.  And as I told
you before, White, so far from being deluded by imaginary bogies,
is a gentleman very exact in his statements.  In this matter he
has been very exact.  That has been the whole mystery about him--
that he has been very much too exact."

"What on earth do you mean by that?" asked Pierce.

"I mean," said the lawyer, "that I have suddenly remembered the phrase
he used.  It was very exact; it was dull, deadly, literal truth.
But I can be exact, too, at times, and just now I should like to look
at a time-table."


They found the village of Ponder's End in a condition as comically
incongruous as could well be with the mystical experiences
of Mr. Hilary Pierce.  When we talk of such places as sleepy,
we forget that they are very wide-awake about their own affairs,
and especially on their own festive occasions.  Piccadilly Circus looks
much the same on Christmas Day or any other; but the market-place
of a country town or village looks very different on the day
of a fair or a bazaar.  And Hilary Pierce, who had first come down
there to find in a wood at midnight the riddle that he thought
worthy of Merlin, came down the second time to find himself plunged
suddenly into the middle of the bustling bathos of a jumble sale.
It was one of those bazaars to provide bargains for the poor,
at which all sorts of odds and ends are sold off.  But it was
treated as a sort of fete, and highly-coloured posters and handbills
announced its nature on every side.  The bustle seemed to be dominated
by a tall dark lady of distinguished appearance, whom Owen Hood,
rather to the surprise of his companions, hailed as an old acquaintance
and managed to draw aside for a private talk.  She had appeared
to have her hands full at the bazaar; nevertheless, her talk
with Hood was rather a long one.  Pierce heard only the last words of it:

"Oh, he promised he was bringing something for the sale.  I assure
you he always keeps his word."

All Hood said when he rejoined his companion was:  "That's the lady
White was going to marry.  I think I know now why things went wrong,
and I hope they may go right.  But there seems to be another bother.
You see that clump of clod-hopping policemen over there, inspector and all.
It seems they're waiting for White.  Says he's broken the law in
taking his house off the land, and that he has always eluded them.
I hope there won't be a scene when he turns up."

If this was Mr. Hood's hope, it was ill-founded and destined
to disappointment.  A scene was but a faint description of what was
in store for that hopeful gentleman.  Within ten minutes the greater
part of the company were in a world in which the sun and the moon
seemed to have turned topsy-turvy and the last limit of unlikelihood
had been reached.  Pierce had imagined he was very near that limit
of the imagination when he groped after the vanishing temple in the
dark forest.  But nothing he had seen in that darkness and solitude
was so fantastic as what he saw next in broad daylight and in a crowd.

At one extreme edge of the crowd there was a sudden movement--
a wave of recoil and wordless cries.  The next moment it had swept
like a wind over the whole populace, and hundreds of faces were turned
in one direction--in the direction of the road that descended by a
gradual slope towards the woods that fringed the vicarage grounds.
Out of these woods at the foot of the hill had emerged something
that might from its size have been a large light grey omnibus.
But it was not an omnibus.  It scaled the slope so swiftly,
in great strides, that it became instantly self-evident what it was.
It was an elephant, whose monstrous form was moulded in grey and
silver in the sunlight, and on whose back sat very erect a vigorous
middle-aged gentleman in black clerical attire, with blanched hair
and a rather fierce aquiline profile that glanced proudly to left
and right.

The police inspector managed to make one step forward, and then
stood like a statue.  The vicar, on his vast steed, sailed into
the middle of the market-place as serenely as if he had been
the master of a familiar circus.  He pointed in triumph to one of
the red and blue posters on the wall, which bore the traditional
title of "White Elephant Sale."

"You see I've kept my word," he said to the lady in a loud,
cheerful voice.  "I've brought a white elephant."

The next moment he had waved his hand hilariously in another direction,
having caught sight of Hood and Crane in the crowd.

"Splendid of you to come!" he called out.  "Only you were in the secret.
I told you I'd got a white elephant."

"So he did," said Hood, "only it never occurred to us that
the elephant was an elephant and not a metaphor.  So that's
what he meant by Asiatic atmosphere and snow and mountains.
And that's what the big shed was really for."

"Look here," said the inspector, recovering from his astonishment
and breaking in on these felicitations.  "I don't understand
all these games, but it's my business to ask a few questions.
Sorry to say it, sir, but you've ignored our notifications and evaded
our attempts to--"

"Have I?" inquired Mr. White brightly.  "Have I really evaded you?
Well, well, perhaps I have.  An elephant is such a standing temptation
to evasion, to evanescence, to fading away like a dewdrop.
Like a snowdrop perhaps would be more appropriate.  Come on, Snowdrop."

The last word came smartly, and he gave a smart smack to the huge
head of the pachyderm.  Before the inspector could move or anyone
had realized what had happened, the whole big bulk had pitched forward
with a plunge like a cataract and went in great whirling strides,
the crowd scattering before it.  The police had not come provided
for elephants, which are rare in those parts.  Even if they had
overtaken it on bicycles, they would have found it difficult to climb
it on bicycles.  Even if they had had revolvers, they had omitted
to conceal about their persons anything in the way of big-game rifles.
The white monster vanished rapidly up the long white road,
so rapidly that when it dwindled to a small object and disappeared,
people could hardly believe that such a prodigy had ever been present,
or that their eyes had not been momentarily bewitched.  Only, as it
disappeared in the distance, Pierce heard once more the high nasal
trumpeting noise which, in the eclipse of night, had seemed to fill
the forest with fear.

It was at a subsequent meeting in London that Crane and Pierce had an
opportunity of learning, more or less, the true story of the affair,
in the form of another letter from the parson to the lawyer.

"Now that we know the secret," said Pierce cheerfully, "even his
account of it ought to be quite clear."

"Quite clear," replied Hood calmly.  "His letter begins, 'Dear Owen,
I am really tremendously grateful in spite of all I used to say
about leather and about horse-hair.'"

"About what?" asked Pierce.

"Horse-hair," said Hood with severity.  "He goes on, 'The truth
is they thought they could do what they liked with me because I
always boasted that I hadn't got one, and never wanted to have one;
but when they found I had got one, and I must really say a jolly
good one, of course it was all quite different.'"

Pierce had his elbows up on the table, and his fingers thrust
up into his loose yellow hair.  He had rather the appearance
of holding his head on.  He was muttering to himself very softly,
like a schoolboy learning a lesson.

"He had got one, but he didn't want one, and he hadn't got one
and he had a jolly good one."

"One what?" asked Crane irritably.  "Seems like a missing
word competition."

"I've got the prize," observed Hood placidly.  "The missing word
is 'solicitor.' What he means is that the police took liberties
with him because they knew he would not have a lawyer.  And he
is perfectly right; for when I took the matter up on his behalf,
I soon found that they had put themselves on the wrong side of the law
at least as much as he had.  In short, I was able to extricate him
from this police business; hence his hearty if not lucid gratitude.
But he goes on to talk about something rather more personal;
and I think it really has been a rather interesting case, if he does
not exactly shine as a narrator of it.  As I dare say you noticed,
I did know something of the lady whom our eccentric friend went
courting years ago, rather in the spirit of Sir Roger de Coverly
when he went courting the widow.  She is a Miss Julia Drake,
daughter of a country gentleman.  I hope you won't misunderstand
me if I say that she is a rather formidable lady.  She is really
a thoroughly good sort; but that air of the black-browed Juno she
has about her does correspond to some real qualities.  She is one
of those people who can manage big enterprises, and the bigger they
are the happier she is.  When that sort of force functions within
the limits of a village or a small valley, the impact is sometimes
rather overpowering.  You saw her managing the White Elephant Sale at
Ponder's End.  Well, if it had been literally an army of wild elephants,
it would hardly have been on too large a scale for her tastes.
In that sense, I may say that our friend's white elephant was
not so much of a white elephant.  I mean that in that sense it
was not so much of an irrelevancy and hardly even a surprise.
But in another way, it was a very great relief."

"You're getting nearly as obscure as he is," remonstrated Pierce.
"What is all this mysterious introduction leading up to?  What do
you mean?"

"I mean," replied the lawyer, "that experience has taught me a little
secret about very practical public characters like that lady.
It sounds a paradox; but those practical people are often more morbid
than theoretical people.  They are capable of acting; but they
are also capable of brooding when they are not acting.  Their very
stoicism makes too sentimental a secret of their sentimentalism.
They misunderstand those they love; and make a mystery of
the misunderstanding.  They suffer in silence; a horrid habit.
In short, they can do everything; but they don't know how to do nothing.
Theorists, happy people who do nothing, like our friend Pierce--"

"Look here," cried the indignant Pierce.  "I should like to know
what the devil you mean?  I've broken more law than you ever read
in your life.  If this psychological lecture is the new lucidity,
give me Mr. White."

"Oh, very well," replied Hood, "if you prefer his text to
my exposition, he describes the same situation as follows:
'I ought to be grateful, being perfectly happy after all this muddle;
I suppose one ought to be careful about nomenclature; but it
never even occurred to me that her nose would be out of joint.
Rather funny to be talking about noses, isn't it, for I suppose
really it was her rival's nose that figured most prominently.
Think of having a rival with a nose like that to turn up at you!
Talk about a spire pointing to the stars--'"

"I think," said Crane, interposing mildly, "that it would be
better if you resumed your duties as official interpreter.
What was it that you were going to say about the lady who brooded
over misunderstandings?"

"I was going to say," replied the lawyer, "that when I first
came upon that crowd in the village, and saw that tall figure
and dark strong face dominating it in the old way, my mind went
back to a score of things I remembered about her in the past.
Though we have not met for ten years, I knew from the first glimpse
of her face that she had been worrying, in a powerful secretive sort
of way; worrying about something she didn't understand and would
not inquire about.  I remember long ago, when she was an ordinary
fox-hunting squire's daughter and White was one of Sydney Smith's
wild curates, how she sulked for two months over a mistake about
a post-card that could have been explained in two minutes.
At least it could have been explained by anybody except White.
But you will understand that if he tried to explain the post-card
on another post-card, the results may not have been luminous,
let alone radiant."

"But what has all this to do with noses?" inquired Pierce.

"Don't you understand yet?" asked Hood with a smile.  "Don't you
know who was the rival with the long nose?"

He paused for a moment and then continued, "It occurred to me as soon
as I had guessed at the nature of the nose which may certainly
be called the main feature of the story.  An elusive, flexible and
insinuating nose, the serpent of their Eden.  Well, they seem
to have returned to their Eden now; and I have no doubt it will
be all right; for it is when people are separated that these sort
of secrets spring up between them.  After all, it was a mystery
to us and we cannot be surprised if it was a mystery to her."

"A good deal of this talk is still rather a mystery to me,"
remarked Pierce, "though I admit it is getting a little clearer.
You mean that the point that has just been cleared up is--"

"The point about Snowdrop," replied Hood.  "We thought of a pony,
and a monkey, and a baby, and a good many other things that Snowdrop
might possibly be.  But we never thought of the interpretation
which was the first to occur to the lady."

There was silence, and then Crane laughed in an internal fashion.

"Well, I don't blame her," he said.  "One could hardly expect
a lady of any delicacy to deduce an elephant."

"It's an extraordinary business, when you come to think of it,"
said Pierce.  "Where did he get the elephant?"

"He says something about that too," said Hood, referring to the letter.
"He says, 'I may be a quarrelsome fellow.  But quarrels sometimes do good.
And though it wasn't actually one of Captain Pierce's caravans--'"

"No, hang it all!" cried Pierce.  "This is really too much!
To see one's own name entangled in such hieroglyphics--it reminds me
of seeing it in a Dutch paper during the war; and wondering whether
all the other words were terms of abuse."

"I think I can explain," answered Hood patiently.  "I assure you
the reverend gentleman is not taking liberties with your name in a
merely irresponsible spirit.  As I told you before, he is strictly
truthful when you get at the facts, though they may be difficult to
get at.  Curiously enough, there really is a connexion.  I sometimes
think there is a connexion beyond coincidence running through all
our adventures; a purpose in these unconscious practical jokes.
It seems rather eccentric to make friends with a white elephant--"

"Rather eccentric to make friends with us," said the Colonel.
"We are a set of white elephants."

"As a matter of fact," said the lawyer, "this particular last prank
of the parson really did arise out of the last prank of our friend Pierce."

"Me!" said Pierce in surprise.  "Have I been producing elephants
without knowing it?"

"Yes," replied Hood.  "You remember when you were smuggling pigs
in defiance of the regulations, you indulged (I regret to say)
in a deception of putting them in cages and pretending you were
travelling with a menagerie of dangerous animals.  The consequence was,
you remember, that the authorities forbade menageries altogether.
Our friend White took up the case of a travelling circus being
stopped in his town as a case of gross oppression; and when they
had to break it up, he took over the elephant."

"Sort of small payment for his services, I suppose," said Crane.
"Curious idea, taking a tip in the form of an elephant."

"He might not have done it if he'd known what it involved," said Hood.
"As I say, he was a quarrelsome fellow, with all his good points."

There was a silence, and then Pierce said in a musing manner:
"It's odd it should be the sequel of my little pig adventure.
A sort of reversal of the 'parturiunt montes'; I put in a little pig
and it brought forth an elephant."

"It will bring forth more monsters yet," said Owen Hood.  "We have
not seen all the sequels of your adventures as a swineherd."

But touching the other monsters or monstrous events so produced
the reader has already been warned--nay, threatened--that they are
involved in the narrative called the Exclusive Luxury of Enoch Oates,
and for the moment the threat must hang like thunder in the air.




Chapter V



THE EXCLUSIVE LUXURY OF ENOCH OATES


"Since the Colonel ate his hat the Lunatic Asylum has lacked a background."

The conscientious scribe cannot but be aware that the above sentence,
standing alone and without reference to previous matters, may not
entirely explain itself.  Anyone trying the experiment of using
that sentence for practical social purposes; tossing that sentence
lightly as a greeting to a passer-by; sending that sentence as a
telegram to a total stranger; whispering that sentence hoarsely
into the ear of the nearest policeman, and so on, will find that its
insufficiency as a full and final statement is generally felt.
With no morbid curiosity, with no exaggerated appetite for omniscience,
men will want to know more about this statement before acting upon it.
And the only way of explaining it, and the unusual circumstances
in which it came to be said, is to pursue the doubling and devious
course of these narratives, and return to a date very much earlier,
when men now more than middle-aged were quite young.

It was in the days when the Colonel was not the Colonel, but only
Jimmy Crane, a restless youth tossed about by every wind of adventure,
but as yet as incapable of discipline as of dressing for dinner.
It was in days before Robert Owen Hood, the lawyer, had ever
begun to study the law and had only got so far as to abolish it;
coming down to the club every night with a new plan for a revolution
to turn all earthly tribunals upside down.  It was in days before
Wilding White settled down as a country parson, returning to the creed
though not the conventions of his class and country; when he was
still ready to change his religion once a week, turning up sometimes
in the costume of a monk and sometimes of a mufti, and sometimes
in what he declared to be the original vestments of a Druid,
whose religion was shortly to be resumed by the whole British people.
It was in days when their young friend Hilary Pierce, the aviator,
was still anticipating aviation by flying a small kite.  In short,
it was early in the lives even of the elders of the group that they
had founded a small social club, in which their long friendships
had flourished.  The club had to have some sort of name, and the more
thoughtful and detached among them, who saw the club steadily
and saw it as a whole, considered the point with ripe reflection,
and finally called their little society the Lunatic Asylum.

"We might all stick straws in our hair for dinner, as the Romans
crowned themselves with roses for the banquet," observed Hood.
"It would correspond to dressing for dinner; I don't know what else
we could do to vary the vulgar society trick of all wearing the same
sort of white waistcoats."

"All wearing strait waistcoats, I suppose," said Crane.

"We might each dine separately in a padded cell, if it comes to that,"
said Hood; "but there seems to be something lacking in it considered
as a social evening."

Here Wilding White, who was then in a monastic phase, intervened eagerly.
He explained that in some monasteries a monk of particular
holiness was allowed to become a hermit in an inner cell,
and proposed a similar arrangement at the club.  Hood, with his
more mellow rationalism, intervened with a milder amendment.
He suggested that a large padded chair should represent the
padded cell, and be reserved like a throne for the loftiest of the
lunatics.

"Do not," he said gently and earnestly, "do not let us be divided
by jealousies and petty ambitions.  Do not let us dispute among
ourselves which shall be the dottiest in the domain of the dotty.
Perhaps one will appear worthier than us all, more manifestly
and magnificently weak in the head; for him let the padded throne
stand empty."

Jimmy Crane had said no more after his brief suggestion, but was pacing
the room like a polar bear, as he generally did when there came upon
him a periodical impulse to go off after things like polar bears.
He was the wildest of all those wild figures so far as the scale
of his adventures was concerned, constantly vanishing to the ends
of the earth nobody knew why, and turning up again nobody knew how.
He had a hobby, even in his youth, that made his outlook seem even
stranger than the bewildering successive philosophies of his friend White.
He had an enthusiasm for the myths of savages, and while White was
balancing the relative claims of Buddhism and Brahminism, Crane would
boldly declare his preference for the belief that a big fish ate
the sun every night, or that the whole cosmos was created by cutting
up a giant.  Moreover, there was with all this something indefinable
but in some way more serious about Crane even in those days.
There was much that was merely boyish about the blind impetuosity
of Wilding White, with his wild hair and eager aquiline face.
He was evidently one who might (as he said) learn the secret of Isis,
but would be quite incapable of keeping it to himself.  The long,
legal face of Owen Hood had already learned to laugh at most things,
if not to laugh loudly.  But in Crane there was something more hard
and militant like steel, and as he proved afterwards in the affair
of the hat, he could keep a secret even when it was a joke.
So that when he finally went off on a long tour round the world,
with the avowed intention of studying all the savages he could find,
nobody tried to stop him.  He went off in a startlingly shabby suit,
with a faded sash instead of a waistcoat, and with no luggage
in particular, except a large revolver slung round him in a case like
a field-glass, and a big, green umbrella that he flourished resolutely
as he walked.

"Well, he'll come back a queerer figure than he went, I suppose,"
said Wilding White.

"He couldn't," answered Hood, the lawyer, shaking his head.
"I don't believe all the devil-worship in Africa could make him any
madder than he is."

"But he's going to America first, isn't he?" said the other.

"Yes," said Hood.  "He's going to America, but not to see
the Americans.  He would think the Americans very dull compared with
the American Indians.  Possibly he will come back in feathers and
war-paint."

"He'll come back scalped, I suppose," said White hopefully.
"I suppose being scalped is all the rage in the best Red Indian society?"

"Then he's working round by the South Sea Islands," said Hood.
"They don't scalp people there; they only stew them in pots."

"He couldn't very well come back stewed," said White, musing.
"Does it strike you, Owen, that we should hardly be talking nonsense
like this if we hadn't a curious faith that a fellow like Crane
will know how to look after himself?"

"Yes," said Hood gravely.  "I've got a very fixed fundamental
conviction that Crane will turn up again all right.  But it's true
that he may look jolly queer after going FANTEE for all that time."

It became a sort of pastime at the club of the Lunatics to compete
in speculations about the guise in which the maddest of their
madmen would return, after being so long lost to civilization.
And grand preparations were made as for a sort of Walpurgis Night
of nonsense when it was known at last that he was really returning.
Hood had received letters from him occasionally, full of queer
mythologies, and then a rapid succession of telegrams from places
nearer and nearer home, culminating in the announcement that he would
appear in the club that night.  It was about five minutes before
dinner-time that a sharp knock on the door announced his arrival.

"Bang all the gongs and the tom-toms," cried Wilding White.
"The Lord High Mumbo-Jumbo arrives riding on the nightmare."

"We had better bring out the throne of the King of the Maniacs,"
said Hood, laughing.  "We may want it at last," and he turned towards
the big padded chair that still stood at the top of the table.

As he did so James Crane walked into the room.  He was clad
in very neat and well-cut evening clothes, not too fashionable,
and a little formal.  His hair was parted on one side, and his
moustache clipped rather close; he took a seat with a pleasant smile,
and began talking about the weather.

He was not allowed, however, to confine his conversation to
the weather.  He had certainly succeeded in giving his old friends
the only sort of surprise that they really had not expected;
but they were too old friends for their friend to be able
to conceal from them the meaning of such a change.  And it
was on that festive evening that Crane explained his position;
a position which he maintained in most things ever afterwards,
and one which is the original foundation of the affair that follows.

"I have lived with the men we call savages all over the world,"
he said simply, "and I have found out one truth about them.
And I tell you, my friends, you may talk about independence and
individual self-expression till you burst.  But I've always found,
wherever I went, that the man who could really be trusted to keep
his word, and to fight, and to work for his family, was the man
who did a war-dance before the moon where the moon was worshipped,
and wore a nose-ring in his nose where nose-rings were worn.  I have
had plenty of fun, and I won't interfere with anyone else having it.
But I believe I have seen what is the real making of mankind, and I
have come back to my tribe."

This was the first act of the drama which ended in the remarkable
appearance and disappearance of Mr. Enoch Oates, and it has been
necessary to narrate it briefly before passing on to the second act.
Ever since that time Crane had preserved at once his eccentric friends
and his own more formal customs.  And there were many among the newer
members of the club who had never known him except as the Colonel,
the grizzled, military gentleman whose severe scheme of black
and white attire and strict politeness in small things formed
the one foil of sharp contrast to that many-coloured Bohemia.
One of these was Hilary Pierce, the young aviator; and much as he
liked the Colonel, he never quite understood him.  He had never
known the old soldier in his volcanic youth, as had Hood and White,
and therefore never knew how much of the fire remained under the rock
or the snows.  The singular affair of the hat, which has been narrated
to the too patient reader elsewhere, surprised him more than it did
the older men, who knew very well that the Colonel was not so old
as he looked.  And the impression increased with all the incidents
which a fanatical love of truth has forced the chronicler to relate
in the same connexion; the incident of the river and of the pigs
and of the somewhat larger pet of Mr. Wilding White.  There was
talk of renaming the Lunatic Asylum as the League of the Long Bow,
and of commemorating its performances in a permanent ritual.
The Colonel was induced to wear a crown of cabbage on state occasions,
and Pierce was gravely invited to bring his pigs with him to dine at
the club.

"You could easily bring a little pig in your large pocket," said Hood.
"I often wonder people do not have pigs as pets."

"A pig in a poke, in fact," said Pierce.  "Well, so long as you
have the tact to avoid the indelicacy of having pork for dinner
that evening, I suppose I could bring my pig in my pocket."

"White'd find it rather a nuisance to bring his elephant
in his pocket," observed the Colonel.

Pierce glanced at him, and had again the feeling of incongruity at seeing
the ceremonial cabbage adorning his comparatively venerable head.
For the Colonel had just been married, and was rejuvenated in an
almost jaunty degree.  Somehow the philosophical young man seemed
to miss something, and sighed.  It was then that he made the remark
which is the pivot of this precise though laborious anecdote.

"Since the Colonel ate his hat," he said, "the Lunatic Asylum has
lacked a background."

"Damn your impudence," said the Colonel cheerfully.  "Do you mean
to call me a background to my face?"

"A dark background," said Pierce soothingly.  "Do not resent my
saying a dark background.  I mean a grand, mysterious background
like that of night; a sublime and even starry background."

"Starry yourself," said Crane indignantly.

"It was against that background of ancient night," went on the young
man dreamily, "that the fantastic shapes and fiery colours of our
carnival could really be seen.  So long as he came here with his black
coat and beautiful society manners there was a foil to our follies.
We were eccentric, but he was our centre.  You cannot be eccentric
without a centre."

"I believe Hilary is quite right," said Owen Hood earnestly.
"I believe we have made a great mistake.  We ought not to have
all gone mad at once.  We ought to have taken it in turns
to go mad.  Then I could have been shocked at his behaviour
on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and he could have been
shocked at my behaviour on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.
But there is no moral value in going mad when nobody is shocked.
If Crane leaves off being shocked, what are we to do?"

"I know what we want," began Pierce excitedly.

"So do I," interrupted Hood.  "We want a sane man."

"Not so easy to find nowadays," said the old soldier.
"Going to advertise?"

"I mean a stupid man," explained Owen Hood.  "I mean a man who's
conventional all through, not a humbug like Crane.  I mean,
I want a solid, serious, business man, a hard-headed, practical man
of affairs, a man to whom vast commercial interests are committed.
In a word, I want a fool; some beautiful, rounded, homogenous fool,
in whose blameless face, as in a round mirror, all our fancies
may really be reflected and renewed.  I want a very successful man,
a very wealthy man, a man--"

"I know!  I know!" cried young Pierce, almost waving his arms.
"Enoch Oates!"

"Who's Enoch Oates?" inquired White.

"Are the lords of the world so little known?" asked Hood.
"Enoch Oates is Pork, and nearly everything else; Enoch Oates
is turning civilization into one vast sausage-machine. Didn't
I ever tell you how Hilary ran into him over that pig affair?"

"He's the very man you want," cried Hilary Pierce enthusiastically.
"I know him, and I believe I can get him.  Being a millionaire,
he's entirely ignorant.  Being an American, he's entirely in earnest.
He's got just that sort of negative Nonconformist conscience of New
England that balances the positive money-getting of New York.  If we
want to surprise anybody we'll surprise him.  Let's ask Enoch Oates
to dinner."

"I won't have any practical jokes played on guests," said the Colonel.

"Of course not," replied Hood.  "He'll be only too pleased to take
it seriously.  Did you ever know an American who didn't like seeing
the Sights?  And if you don't know you're a Sight with that cabbage
on your head, it's time an American tourist taught you."

"Besides, there's a difference," said Pierce.  "I wouldn't ask
a fellow like that doctor, Horace Hunter--"

"Sir Horace Hunter," murmured Hood reverently.

"I wouldn't ask him, because I really think him a sneak and a snob,
and my invitation could only be meant as an insult.  But Oates is not
a man I hate, nor is he hateful.  That's the curious part of it.
He's a simple, sincere sort of fellow, according to his lights,
which are pretty dim.  He's a thief and a robber of course,
but he doesn't know it.  I'm asking him because he's different;
but I don't imagine he's at all sorry to be different.  There's no harm
in giving a man a good dinner and letting him be a background without
knowing it."

When Mr. Enoch Oates in due course accepted the invitation and presented
himself at the club, many were reminded of that former occasion when
a stiff and conventional figure in evening dress had first appeared
like a rebuke to the revels.  But in spite of the stiff sameness
of both those black and white costumes, there was a great deal
of difference between the old background and the new background.
Crane's good manners were of that casual kind that are rather
peculiarly English, and mark an aristocracy at its ease in the saddle.
Curiously enough, if the American had one point in common with a
Continental noble of ancient lineage (whom his daughter might have
married any day), it was that they would both be a little more on
the defensive, living in the midst of democracy.  Mr. Oates was
perfectly polite, but there was something a little rigid about him.
He walked to his chair rather stiffly and sat down rather heavily.
He was a powerful, ponderous man with a large sallow face, a little
suggestive of a corpulent Red Indian.  He had a ruminant eye,
and an equally ruminant manner of chewing an unlighted cigar.
These were signs that might well have gone with a habit of silence.
But they did not.

Mr. Oates's conversation might not be brilliant, but it was continuous.
Pierce and his friends had begun with some notion of dangling their
own escapades before him, like dancing dolls before a child; they had
told him something of the affair of the Colonel and his cabbage,
of the captain and his pigs, of the parson and his elephant;
but they soon found that their hearer had not come there merely
as a listener.  What he thought of their romantic buffooneries
it would be hard to say; probably he did not understand them,
possibly he did not even hear them.  Anyhow, his own monologue
went on.  He was a leisurely speaker.  They found themselves
revising much that they had heard about the snap and smartness and
hurry of American talk.  He spoke without haste or embarrassment,
his eye boring into space, and he more than fulfilled Mr. Pierce's
hopes of somebody who would talk about business matters.  His talk
was a mild torrent of facts and figures, especially figures.
In fact the background was doing all it could to contribute the
required undertone of common commercial life.  The background was
justifying all their hopes that it would be practical and prosaic.
Only the background had rather the air of having become the foreground.

"When they put that up to me I saw it was the proposition," Mr. Oates
was saying.  "I saw I'd got on to something better than my old
regulation turnover of eighty-five thousand dollars on each branch.
I reckoned I should save a hundred and twenty thousand dollars in
the long run by scrapping the old plant, even if I had to drop another
thirty thousand dollars on new works, where I'd get the raw material
for a red cent.  I saw right away that was the point to freeze on to;
that I just got a chance to sell something I didn't need to buy;
something that could be sort of given away like old match-ends. I
figured out it would be better by a long chalk to let the other
guys rear the stock and sell me their refuse for next to nix,
so I could get ahead with turning it into the goods.  So I started
in right away and got there at the first go off with an increase
of seven hundred and fifty-one thousand dollars."

"Seven hundred and fifty-one thousand dollars," murmured Owen Hood.
"How soothing it all seems."

"I reckon those mutts didn't get on to what they were selling me,"
continued Mr. Oates, "or didn't have the pep to use it that way themselves;
for though it was the sure-enough hot tip, it isn't everybody who
would have thought of it.  When I was in pork, of course, I wanted
the other guys out; but just now I wasn't putting anything on pork,
but only on just that part of a pig I wanted and they didn't want.
By notifying all your pig farmers I was able to import nine hundred
and twenty-five thousand pigs' ears this fall, and I guess I can get
consignments all winter."

Hood had some little legal experience with long-winded commercial
witnesses, and he was listening by this time with a cocked eyebrow
and an attention much sharper than the dreamy ecstasy with which
the poetic Pierce was listening to the millionaire's monologue,
as if to the wordless music of some ever-murmuring brook.

"Excuse me," said Hood earnestly, "but did I understand you
to say pigs' ears?"

"That is so, Mr. Hood," said the American with great patience
and politeness.  "I don't know whether I gave you a sufficiently
detailed description for you to catch on to the proposition, but--"

"Well," murmured Pierce wistfully, "it sounded to me like
a detailed description."

"Pardon me," said Hood, checking him with a frown.  "I really want
to understand this proposition of Mr. Oates.  Do I understand that you
bought pigs' ears cheap, when the pigs were cut up for other purposes,
and that you thought you could use them for some purpose of your own?"

"Sure!" said Mr. Enoch Oates, nodding.  "And my purpose was
about the biggest thing in fancy goods ever done in the States.
In the publicity line there's nothing like saying you can do what
folks say can't be done.  Flying in the face of proverbs instead
of providence, I reckon.  It catches on at once.  We got to work,
and got out the first advertisement in no time; just a blank space
with 'We Can Do It' in the middle.  Got folks wondering for a week
what it was."

"I hope, sir," said Pierce in a low voice, "that you will not
carry sound commercial principles so far as to keep us wondering
for a week what it was."

"Well," said Oates, "we found we could subject the pigskin and
bristles to a new gelat'nous process for making artificial silk,
and we figured that publicity would do the rest.  We came out
with the second set of posters:  'She Wants it Now'... 'The
Most Wonderful Woman on Earth is waiting by the Old Fireside,
hoping you'll bring her home a Pig's Whisper Purse.'"

"A purse!" gasped Hilary.

"I see you're on the notion," proceeded the unmoved American.
"We called 'em Pig's Whisper Purses after the smartest and most
popular poster we ever had:  'There was a Lady Loved a Swine.'
You know the nursery rhyme, I guess; featured a slap-up princess
whispering in a pig's ear.  I tell you there isn't a smart woman
in the States now that can do without one of our pig-silk purses,
and all because it upsets the proverb.  Why, see here--"

Hilary Pierce had sprung wildly to his feet with a sort of stagger
and clutched at the American's arm.

"Found!  Found!" he cried hysterically.  "Oh, sir, I implore you
to take the chair!  Do, do take the chair!"

"Take the chair!" repeated the astonished millionaire, who was
already almost struggling in his grasp.  "Really, gentlemen, I hadn't
supposed the proceedings were so formal as to require a chairman,
but in any case--"

It could hardly be said, however, that the proceedings were formal.
Mr. Hilary Pierce had the appearance of forcibly dragging Mr. Enoch
Oates in the direction of the large padded arm-chair, that had always
stood empty at the top of the club table, uttering cries which,
though incoherent, appeared to be partly apologetic.

"No offence," he gasped.  "Hope no misunderstanding... HONORIS
CAUSA... you, you alone are worthy of that seat... the club has
found its king and justified its title at last."

Here the Colonel intervened and restored order.  Mr. Oates departed
in peace; but Mr. Hilary Pierce was still simmering.

"And that is the end of our quiet, ordinary business man," he cried.
"Such is the behaviour of our monochrome and unobtrusive background."
His voice rose to a sort of wail.  "And we thought we were dotty!
We deluded ourselves with the hope that we were pretty well off our chump!
Lord have mercy on us!  American big business rises to a raving idiocy
compared with which we are as sane as the beasts of the field.
The modern commercial world is far madder than anything we can do to
satirize it."

"Well," said the Colonel good-humouredly, "we've done some rather
ridiculous things ourselves."

"Yes, yes," cried Pierce excitedly, "but we did them to make
ourselves ridiculous.  That unspeakable man is wholly, serenely serious.
He thinks those maniacal monkey tricks are the normal life of man.
Your argument really answers itself.  We did the maddest things we
could think of, meaning them to look mad.  But they were nothing
like so mad as what a modern business man does in the way of business."

"Perhaps it's the American business man," said White, "who's too
keen to see the humour of it."

"Nonsense," said Crane.  "Millions of Americans have a splendid
sense of humour."

"Then how fortunate are we," said Pierce reverently, "through whose
lives this rare, this ineffable, this divine being has passed."

"Passed away for ever, I suppose," said Hood with a sigh.
"I fear the Colonel must be our only background once more."

Colonel Crane was frowning thoughtfully, and at the last words
his frown deepened to disapproval.  He puffed at his smouldering
cigar and then, removing it, said abruptly:

"I suppose you fellows have forgotten how I came to be a background?
I mean, why I rather approve of people being backgrounds."

"I remember something you said a long time ago," replied Hood.
"Hilary must have been in long-clothes at that time."

"I said I had found out something by going round the world,"
said Crane.  "You young people think I am an old Tory; but remember
I am also an old traveller.  Well, it's part of the same thing.
I'm a traditionalist because I'm a traveller.  I told you when I
came back to the club that I'd come back to the tribe.  I told you
the best man was the man who wore a nose-ring where nose-rings
were worn."

"I remember," said Owen Hood.

"No, you forget," said Crane rather gruffly.  "You forget it
when you talk about Enoch Oates the American.  I'm no politician,
thank God, and I shall look on with detachment if you dynamite him
for being a millionaire.  As a matter of fact, he doesn't think half
so much of money as old Normantowers, who thinks it's too sacred to
talk about.  But you're not dynamiting him for being a millionaire.
You're simply laughing at him for being an American.  You're laughing
at him for being national and normal, for being a good citizen,
a good tribesman, for wearing a nose-ring where nose-rings are worn.

"I say... Kuklux, you know," remonstrated Wilding White in his
hazy way.  "Americans wouldn't be flattered--"

"Do you suppose you haven't got a nose-ring?" cried Crane so sharply
that the clergyman started from his trance and made a mechanical
gesture as if to feel for that feature.  "Do you suppose a man like
you doesn't carry his nationality as plain as the nose on his face?
Do you think a man as hopelessly English as you are wouldn't be
laughed at in America?  You can't be a good Englishman without
being a good joke.  The better Englishman you are the more of a
joke you are; but still it's better to be better.  Nose-rings are
funny to people who don't wear 'em.  Nations are funny to people
who don't belong to 'em.  But it's better to wear a nose-ring than
to be a cosmopolitan crank who cuts off his nose to spite his face."

This being by far the longest speech the Colonel had ever delivered
since the day he returned from his tropical travels long ago, his old
friend looked at him with a certain curiosity; even his old friends
hardly understood how much he had been roused in defence of a guest
and of his own deep delicacies about the point of hospitality.
He went on with undiminished warmth:

"Well, it's like that with poor Oates.  He has, as we see it,
certain disproportions, certain insensibilities, certain prejudices
that stand out in our eyes like deformities.  They offend you;
they offend me, possibly rather more than they do you. You young
revolutionists think you're very liberal and universal; but
the only result is that you're narrow and national without
knowing it.  We old fogeys know our tastes are narrow and national;
but we know they are only tastes.  And we know, at any rate I know,
that Oates is far more likely to be an honest man, a good husband
and a good father, because he stinks of the rankest hickory patch
in the Middle West, than if he were some fashionable New Yorker
pretending to be an English aristocrat or playing the aesthete
in Florence."

"Don't say a good husband," pleaded Pierce with a faint shudder.
"It reminds me of the grand slap-up advertisement of the Pig's Whisper.
How do you feel about that, my dear Colonel?  The Most Wonderful Woman
on Earth Waiting by the Old Fireside--"

"It makes my flesh creep," replied Crane.  "It chills me to the spine.
I feel I would rather die than have anything to do with it.
But that has nothing to do with my point.  I don't belong to the tribe
who wear nose-rings; nor to the tribe who talk through their noses."

"Well, aren't you a little thankful for that?" asked White.

"I'm thankful I can be fair in spite of it," answered Crane.  "When I
put a cabbage on my head, I didn't expect people not to stare at it.
And I know that each one of us in a foreign land is a foreigner,
and a thing to be stared at."

"What I don't understand about him," said Hood, "is the sort of
things he doesn't mind having stared at.  How can people tolerate
all that vulgar, reeking, gushing commercial cant everywhere?
How can a man talk about the Old Fireside?  It's obscene.
The police ought to interfere."

"And that's just where you're wrong," said the Colonel.
"It's vulgar enough and mad enough and obscene enough if you like.
But it's not cant.  I have travelled amongst these wild tribes,
for years on end; and I tell you emphatically it is not cant.
And if you want to know, just ask your extraordinary American friend
about his own wife and his own relatively Old Fireside.  He won't mind.
That's the extraordinary part of it."

"What does all this really mean, Colonel?" asked Hilary Pierce.

"It means, my boy," answered the Colonel, "that I think you owe
our guest an apology."


So it came about that there was an epilogue, as there had been
a prologue, to the drama of the entrance and exit of Mr. Enoch
B. Oates; an epilogue which in its turn became a prologue to
the later dramas of the League of the Long Bow.  For the words of
the Colonel had a certain influence on the Captain, and the actions
of the Captain had a certain influence on the American millionaire;
and so the whole machinery of events was started afresh by
that last movement over the nuts and wine, when Colonel Crane
had stirred moodily in his seat and taken his cigar out of his mouth.

Hilary Pierce was an amiable and even excessively optimistic young
man by temperament, in spite of his pugnacity; he would really
have been the last man in the world to wish to hurt the feelings
of a harmless stranger; and he had a deep and almost secret respect
for the opinions of the older soldier.  So, finding himself
soon afterwards passing the great gilded gateways of the highly
American hotel that was the London residence of the American,
he paused a moment in hesitation and then went in and gave his name
to various overpowering officials in uniforms that might have been
those of the German General Staff.  He was relieved when the large
American came out to meet him with a simple and lumbering affability,
and offered his large limp hand as if there had never been a shadow
of misunderstanding.  It was somehow borne in upon Pierce that his
own rather intoxicated behaviour that evening had merely been noted
down along with the architectural styles and the mellow mediaevalism
of the pig-sty, as part of the fantasies of a feudal land.
All the antics of the Lunatic Asylum had left the American
traveller with the impression that similar parlour games were
probably being played that evening in all the parlours of England.
Perhaps there was something, after all, in Crane's suggestion that
every nation assumes that every other nation is a sort of mild madhouse.

Mr. Enoch Oates received his guest with great hospitality and pressed
on him cocktails of various occult names and strange colours,
though he himself partook of nothing but a regimen of tepid milk.

Pierce fell into the confidence of Mr. Enoch Oates with a silent
swiftness that made his brain reel with bewilderment.  He was
staggered like a man who had fallen suddenly through fifteen
floors of a sky-scraper and found himself in somebody's bedroom.
At the lightest hint of the sort of thing to which Colonel Crane
had alluded, the American opened himself with an expansiveness
that was like some gigantic embrace.  All the interminable tables
of figures and calculations in dollars had for the moment disappeared;
yet Oates was talking in the same easy and natural nasal drawl,
very leisurely and a little monotonous, as he said:

"I'm married to the best and brightest woman God ever made, and I
tell you it's her and God between them that have made me, and I
reckon she had the hardest part of it.  We had nothing but a few
sticks when I started; and it was the way she stood by that gave
me the heart to risk even those on my own judgement of how things
were going in the Street.  I counted on a rise in Pork, and if it
hadn't risen I'd have been broke and I dare say in the jug.
But she's just wonderful.  You should see her."

He produced her photograph with a paralysing promptitude; it represented
a very regal lady dressed up to the nines, probably for the occasion,
with very brilliant eyes and an elaborate load of light hair.

"'I believe in your star, Enoch,' she said; 'you stick to Pork,'"
said Oates, with tender reminiscence, "and so we saw it through."

Pierce, who had been speculating with involuntary irreverence on
the extreme difficulty of conducting a love-affair or a sentimental
conversation in which one party had to address the other as Enoch,
felt quite ashamed of his cynicism when the Star of Pork shone
with such radiance in the eyes of his new friend.

"It was a terrible time, but I stuck to Pork, sometimes feeling
she could see clearer than I could; and of course she was right,
and I've never known her wrong.  Then came my great chance of making
the combination and freezing out competition; and I was able
to give her the sort of things she ought to have and let her take
the lead as she should.  I don't care for society much myself;
but I'm often glad on a late night at the office to ring her up
and hear she's enjoying it."

He spoke with a ponderous simplicity that seemed to disarm and crush
the criticism of a more subtle civilization.  It was one of those
things that are easily seen to be absurd; but even after they are
seen to be absurd, they are still there.  It may be, after all,
that that is the definition of the great things.

"I reckon that's what people mean by the romance of business,"
continued Oates, "and though my business got bigger and bigger, it made
me feel kinda pleased there had been a romance at the heart of it.
It had to get bigger, because we wanted to make the combination
water-tight all over the world.  I guess I had to fix things up a bit
with your politicians.  But Congress men are alike all the world over,
and it didn't trouble me any."

There was a not uncommon conviction among those acquainted with
Captain Hilary Pierce that that ingenious young man was cracked.
He did a great many things to justify the impression; and in one sense
certainly had never shown any reluctance to make a fool of himself.
But if he was a lunatic, he was none the less a very English lunatic.
And the notion of talking about his most intimate affections,
suddenly, to a foreigner in a hotel, merely because the conversation
had taken that turn, was something that he found quite terrifying.
And yet an instinct, an impulse running through all these developments,
told him that a moment had come and that he must seize some opportunity
that he hardly understood.

"Look here," he said rather awkwardly, "I want to tell you something."

He looked down at the table as he continued.

"You said just now you were married to the best woman in the world.
Well, curiously enough, so am I. It's a coincidence that often happens.
But it's a still more curious coincidence that, in our own quiet way,
we went in for Pork too.  She kept pigs at the back of the little
country inn where I met her; and at one time it looked as if the pigs
might have to be given up.  Perhaps the inn as well.  Perhaps the wedding
as well.  We were quite poor, as poor as you were when you started;
and to the poor those extra modes of livelihood are often life.
We might have been ruined; and the reason was, I gather, that you
had gone in for Pork.  But after all ours was the real pork;
pork that walked about on legs.  We made the bed for the pigs
and filled the inside of the pig; you only bought and sold the name
of the pig.  You didn't go to business with a live little pig under
your arm or walk down Wall Street followed by a herd of swine.
It was a phantom pig, the ghost of a pig, that was able to kill
our real pig and perhaps us as well.  Can you really justify the way
in which your romance nearly ruined our romance?  Don't you think
there must be something wrong somewhere?"

"Well," said Oates after a very long silence, "that's a mighty big
question and will take a lot of discussing."

But the end to which their discussion led must be left to reveal
itself when the prostrate reader has recovered sufficient strength
to support the story of The Unthinkable Theory of Professor Green,
which those who would endure to the end may read at some later date.




Chapter VI



THE UNTHINKABLE THEORY OF PROFESSOR GREEN


If the present passage in the chronicles of the Long Bow seem but
a side issue, an interlude and an idyll, a mere romantic episode
lacking that larger structural achievement which gives solidity
and hard actuality to the other stories, the reader is requested
not to be hasty in his condemnation; for in the little love-story
of Mr. Oliver Green is to be found, as in a parable, the beginning
of the final apotheosis and last judgement of all these things.

It may well begin on a morning when the sunlight came late
but brilliant, under the lifting of great clouds from a great grey
sweep of wolds that grew purple as they dipped again into distance.
Much of that mighty shape was striped and scored with ploughed fields,
but a rude path ran across it, along which two figures could
be seen in full stride outlined against the morning sky.

They were both tall; but beyond the fact that they had both once
been professional soldiers, of rather different types and times,
they had very little in common.  By their ages they might almost
have been father and son; and this would not have been contradicted
by the fact that the younger appeared to be talking all the time,
in a high, confident and almost crowing voice, while the elder
only now and then put in a word.  But they were not father and son;
strangely enough they were really talking and walking together
because they were friends.  Those who know only too well their
proceedings as narrated elsewhere would have recognized Colonel Crane,
once of the Coldstream Guards, and Captain Pierce, late of the
Flying Corps.

The young man appeared to be talking triumphantly about a great
American capitalist whom he professed to have persuaded to see
the error of his ways.  He talked rather as if he had been slumming.

"I'm very proud of it, I can tell you," he said.  "Anybody can
produce a penitent murderer.  It's something to produce a
penitent millionaire.  And I do believe that poor Enoch Oates
has seen the light (thanks to my conversations at lunch);
since I talked to him, Oates is another and a better man."

"Sown his wild oats, in fact," remarked Crane.

"Well," replied the other.  "In a sense they were very quiet oats.
Almost what you might call Quaker Oats.  He was a Puritan and a
Prohibitionist and a Pacifist and an Internationalist; in short,
everything that is in darkness and the shadow of death.  But what you
said about him was quite right.  His heart's in the right place.
It's on his sleeve.  That's why I preached the gospel to the noble
savage and made him a convert."

"But what did you convert him to?" inquired the other.

"Private property," replied Pierce promptly.  "Being a millionaire
he had never heard of it.  But when I explained the first elementary
idea of it in a simple form, he was quite taken with the notion.
I pointed out that he might abandon robbery on a large scale and
create property on a small scale.  He felt it was very revolutionary,
but he admitted it was right.  Well, you know, he'd bought this big
English estate out here.  He was going to play the philanthropist,
and have a model estate with all the regular trimmings; heads hygienically
shaved by machinery every morning; and the cottagers admitted once
a month into their own front gardens and told to keep off the grass.
But I said to him:  'If you're going to give things to people,
why not give 'em?  If you give your friend a plant in a pot,
you don't send him an inspector from the Society for the Prevention
of Cruelty to Vegetables to see he waters it properly.  If you give
your friend a box of cigars, you don't make him write a monthly
report of how many he smokes a day.  Can't you be a little generous
with your generosity?  Why don't you use your money to make free
men instead of to make slaves?  Why don't you give your tenants
their land and have done with it, or let 'em have it very cheap?'
And he's done it; he's really done it.  He's created hundreds
of small proprietors, and changed the whole of this countryside.
That's why I want you to come up and see one of the small farms."

"Yes," said Colonel Crane, "I should like to see the farm."

"There's a lot of fuss about it, too; there's the devil of a row,"
went on the young man, in very high spirits.  "Lots of big combines
and things are trying to crush the small farmers with all sorts
of tricks; they even complain of interference by an American.
You can imagine how much Rosenbaum Low and Goldstein and Guggenheimer
must be distressed by the notion of a foreigner interfering in England.
I want to know how a foreigner could interfere less than by giving
back their land to the English people and clearing out.  They all put
it on to me; and right they are.  I regard Oates as my property;
my convert; captive of my bow and spear."

"Captive of your long bow, I imagine," said the Colonel.  "I bet
you told him a good many things that nobody but a shrewd business
man would have been innocent enough to believe."

"If I use the long bow," replied Pierce with dignity, "it is
a weapon with heroic memories proper to a yeoman of England.
With what more fitting weapon could we try to establish a yeomanry?"

"There is something over there," said Colonel quietly, "that looks
to me rather like another sort of weapon."

They had by this time come in full sight of the farm buildings
which crowned the long slope; and beyond a kitchen-garden
and an orchard rose a thatched roof with a row of old-fashioned
lattice windows under it; the window at the end standing open.
And out of this window at the edge of the block of building
protruded a big black object, rigid and apparently cylindrical,
thrust out above the garden and dark against the morning daylight.

"A gun!" cried Pierce involuntarily; "looks just like a howitzer;
or is it an anti-aircraft gun?"

"Anti-airman gun, no doubt," said Crane; "they heard you were coming
down and took precautions."

"But what the devil can he want with a gun?" muttered Pierce,
peering at the dark outline.

"And who the devil is HE, if it comes to that?" said the Colonel.

"Why, that window," explained Pierce, "that's the window of the room
they've let to a paying guest, I know.  Man of the name of Green,
I understand; rather a recluse, and I suppose some sort of crank."

"Not an anti-armament crank, anyhow," said the Colonel.

"By George!" said Pierce, whistling softly.  "I wonder whether
things really have moved faster than we could fancy!  I wonder
whether it's a revolution or a civil war beginning after all.
I suppose we are an army ourselves; I represent the Air Force and you
represent the infantry."

"You represent the infants," answered the Colonel.  "You're too
young for this world; you and your revolutions!  As a matter
of fact, it isn't a gun, though it does look rather like one.
I see now what it is."

"And what in the world is it?" asked his friend.

"It's a telescope," said Crane.  "One of those very big telescopes
they usually have in observatories."

"Couldn't be partly a gun and partly a telescope?" pleaded Pierce,
reluctant to abandon his first fancy.  "I've often seen the phrase
'shooting stars,' but perhaps I've got the grammar and sense of
it wrong.  The young man lodging with the farmer may be following
one of the local sports--the local substitute for duck-shooting!"

"What in the world are you talking about?" growled the other.

"Their lodger may be shooting the stars," explained Pierce.

"Hope their lodger isn't shooting the moon," said the flippant Crane.

As they spoke there came towards them, through the green
and twinkling twilight of the orchard, a young woman with
copper-coloured hair and a square and rather striking face,
whom Pierce saluted respectfully as the daughter of the house.
He was very punctilious upon the point that these new peasant
farmers must be treated like small squires and not like tenants or serfs.

"I see your friend Mr. Green has got his telescope out," he said.

"Yes, sir," said the girl.  "They say Mr. Green is a great astronomer."

"I doubt if you ought to call me 'sir,'" said Pierce reflectively.
"It suggests rather the forgotten feudalism than the new equality.
Perhaps you might oblige me by saying 'Yes, citizen,' then we could
continue our talk about Citizen Green on an equal footing.  By the way,
pardon me, let me present Citizen Crane."

Citizen Crane bowed politely to the young woman without any apparent
enthusiasm for his new title; but Pierce went on.

"Rather rum to call ourselves citizens when we're all so glad to be out
of the city.  We really want some term suitable to rural equality.
The Socialists have spoilt 'Comrade'; you can't be a comrade without
a Liberty tie and a pointed beard.  Morris had a good notion of one
man calling another Neighbour.  That sounds a little more rustic.
I suppose," he added wistfully to the girl, "I suppose I could not
induce you to call me Gaffer?"

"Unless I'm mistaken," observed Crane, "that's your astronomer
wandering about in the garden.  Thinks he's a botanist, perhaps.
Appropriate to the name of Green."

"Oh, he often wanders in the garden and down to the meadow and
the cowsheds," said the young woman.  "He talks to himself a good deal,
explaining a great theory he's got.  He explains it to everybody
he meets, too.  Sometimes he explains it to me when I'm milking the cow."

"Perhaps you can explain it to us?" said Pierce.

"Not so bad as that," she said, laughing.  "It's something like
that Fourth Dimension they talk about.  But I've no doubt he'll
explain it to you if you meet him."

"Not for me," said Pierce.  "I'm a simple peasant proprietor and ask
nothing but Three Dimensions and a Cow."

"Cow's the Fourth Dimension, I suppose," said Crane.

"I must go and attend to the Fourth Dimension," she said with a smile.

"Peasants all live by patchwork, running two or three side-shows,"
observed Pierce.  "Curious sort of livestock on the farm.
Think of people living on a cow and chickens and an astronomer."

As he spoke the astronomer approached along the path by which the girl
had just passed.  His eyes were covered with huge horn spectacles
of a dim blue colour; for he was warned to save his eyesight
for his starry vigils.  This gave a misleading look of morbidity
to a face that was naturally frank and healthy; and the figure,
though stooping, was stalwart.  He was very absent-minded. Every now
and then he looked at the ground and frowned as if he did not like it.

Oliver Green was a very young professor, but a very old young man.
He had passed from science as the hobby of a schoolboy to science
as the ambition of a middle-aged man, without any intermediate
holiday of youth.  Moreover, his monomania had been fixed and frozen
by success; at least by a considerable success for a man of his years.
He was already a fellow of the chief learned societies connected
with his subject, when there grew up in his mind the grand, universal,
all-sufficing Theory which had come to fill the whole of his life
as the daylight fills the day.  If we attempted the exposition
of that theory here, it is doubtful whether the result would
resemble daylight.  Professor Green was always ready to prove it;
but if we were to set out the proof in this place, the next four or
five pages would be covered with closely printed columns of figures,
brightened here and there by geometrical designs, such as seldom
form part of the text of a romantic story.  Suffice it to say that
the theory had something to do with Relativity and the reversal
of the relations between the stationary and the moving object.
Pierce, the aviator, who had passed much of his time on moving
objects not without the occasional anticipation of bumping into
stationary objects, talked to Green a little on the subject.
Being interested in scientific aviation, he was nearer to the
abstract sciences than were his friends, Crane with his hobby
of folk-lore or Hood with his love of classic literature or Wilding
White with his reading of the mystics.  But the young aviator
frankly admitted that Professor Green soared high into the heavens
of the Higher Mathematics, far beyond the flight of his little aeroplane.

The Professor had begun, as he always began, by saying that it was
quite easy to explain; which was doubtless true, as he was always
explaining it.  But he often ended by affirming fallaciously that it
was quite easy to understand, and it would be an exaggeration to say
that it was always understood.  Anyhow, he was just about to read
his great paper on his great theory at the great Astronomical Congress
that was to be held that year at Bath; which was one reason why he
had pitched his astronomical camp, or emplaced his astronomical gun,
in the house of Farmer Dale on the hills of Somerset.  Mr. Enoch Oates
could not but feel the lingering hesitation of the landlord when he
heard that his proteges the Dales were about to admit an unknown
stranger into their household.  But Pierce sternly reminded him
that this paternal attitude was a thing of the past and that a free
peasant was free to let lodgings to a homicidal maniac if he liked.
Nevertheless, Pierce was rather relieved to find the maniac was only
an astronomer; but it would have been all the same if he had been
an astrologer.  Before coming to the farm, the astronomer had set
up his telescope in much dingier places--in lodgings in Bloomsbury
and the grimy buildings of a Midland University.  He thought he was,
and to a great extent he was, indifferent to his surroundings.
But for all that the air and colour of those country surroundings
were slowly and strangely sinking into him.

"The idea is simplicity itself," he said earnestly, when Pierce
rallied him about the theory.  "It is only the proof that is,
of course, a trifle technical.  Put in a very crude and popular shape,
it depends on the mathematical formula for the inversion of the sphere."

"What we call turning the world upside down," said Pierce.
"I'm all in favour of it."

"Everyone knows the idea of relativity applied to motion," went on
the Professor.  "When you run out of a village in a motor-car,
you might say that the village runs away from you."

"The village does run away when Pierce is out motoring," remarked Crane.
"Anyhow, the villagers do.  But he generally prefers to frighten
them with an aeroplane."

"Indeed?" said the astronomer with some interest.  "An aeroplane
would make an even better working model.  Compare the movement
of an aeroplane with what we call merely for convenience the fixity
of the fixed stars."

"I dare say they got a bit unfixed when Pierce bumped into them,"
said the Colonel.

Professor Green sighed in a sad but patient spirit.  He could not help
being a little disappointed even with the most intelligent outsiders
with whom he conversed.  Their remarks were pointed but hardly
to the point.  He felt more and more that he really preferred those
who made no remarks.  The flowers and the trees made no remarks;
they stood in rows and allowed him to lecture to them for hours
on the fallacies of accepted astronomy.  The cow made no remarks.
The girl who milked the cow made no remarks; or, if she did,
they were pleasant and kindly remarks, not intended to be clever.
He drifted, as he had done many times before, in the direction of
the cow.

The young woman who milked the cow was not in the common connotation
what is meant by a milkmaid.  Margery Dale was the daughter of a
substantial farmer already respected in that county.  She had been
to school and learnt various polite things before she came back
to the farm and continued to do the thousand things that she could
have taught the schoolmasters.  And something of this proportion
or disproportion of knowledge was dawning on Professor Green, as he
stood staring at the cow and talking, often in a sort of soliloquy.
For he had a rather similar sensation of a great many other things
growing up thickly like a jungle round his own particular thing;
impressions and implications from all the girl's easy actions
and varied avocations.  Perhaps he began to have a dim suspicion
that he was the schoolmaster who was being taught.

The earth and the sky were already beginning to be enriched
with evening; the blue was already almost a glow like apple-green
behind the line of branching apple-trees; against it the bulk
of the farm stood in a darker outline, and for the first time
he realized something quaint or queer added to that outline by
his own big telescope stuck up like a gun pointed at the moon.
Somehow it looked, he could not tell why, like the beginning
of a story.  The hollyhocks also looked incredibly tall.
To see what he would have called "flowers" so tall as that seemed
like seeing a daisy or a dandelion as large as a lamp-post. He
was positive there was nothing exactly like it in Bloomsbury.
These tall flowers also looked like the beginning of a story--
the story of Jack and the Beanstalk.  Though he knew little enough
of what influences were slowly sinking into him, he felt something
apt in the last memory.  Whatever was moving within him was something
very far back, something that came before reading and writing.
He had some dream, as from a previous life, of dark streaks of field
under stormy clouds of summer and the sense that the flowers to be
found there were things like gems.  He was in that country home
that every cockney child feels he has always had and never visited.

"I have to read my paper to-night," he said abruptly.  "I really
ought to be thinking about it."

"I do hope it will be a success," said the girl; "but I rather
thought you were always thinking about it."

"Well, I was--generally," he said in a rather dazed fashion;
and indeed it was probably the first time that he had ever found
himself fully conscious of not thinking about it.  Of what he was
thinking about he was by no means fully conscious.

"I suppose you have to be awfully clever even to understand it,"
observed Margery Dale conversationally.

"I don't know," he said, slightly stirred to the defensive.
"I'm sure I could make you see--I don't mean you aren't clever,
of course; I mean I'm quite sure you're clever enough to see--
to see anything."

"Only some sorts of things, I'm afraid," she said, smiling.  "I'm sure
your theory has got nothing to do with cows and milking-stools."

"It's got to do with anything," he said eagerly; "with everything,
in fact.  It would be just as easy to prove it from stools and cows
as anything else.  It's really quite simple.  Reversing the usual
mathematical formula, it's possible to reach the same results
in reality by treating motion as a fixed point and stability as a
form of motion.  You were told that the earth goes round the sun,
and the moon goes round the earth.  Well, in my formula, we first
treat it as if the sun went round the earth--"

She looked up radiantly.  "I always THOUGHT it looked like that,"
she said emphatically.

"And you will, of course, see for yourself," he continued triumphantly,
"that by the same logical inversion we must suppose the earth
to be going round the moon."

The radiant face showed a shadow of doubt and she said "Oh!"

"But any of the things you mention, the milking-stool or the cow
or what not, would serve the same purpose, since they are objects
generally regarded as stationary."

He looked up vaguely at the moon which was steadily brightening
as vast shadows spread over the sky.

"Well, take those things you talk of," he went on, moved by a meaningless
unrest and tremor.  "You see the moon rise behind the woods over
there and sweep in a great curve through the sky and seem to set
again beyond the hill.  But it would be just as easy to preserve
the same mathematical relations by regarding the moon as the centre
of the circle and the curve described by some object such as the cow--"

She threw her head back and looked at him, with eyes blazing
with laughter that was not in any way mockery, but a childish
delight at the crowning coincidence of a fairy-tale.

"Splendid!" she cried.  "So the cow really does jump over the moon!"

Green put up his hand to his hair; and after a short silence
said suddenly, like a man recalling a recondite Greek quotation:

"Why, I've heard that somewhere.  There was something else--'The
little dog laughed--'"

Then something happened, which was in the world of ideas much
more dramatic than the fact that the little dog laughed.
The professor of astronomy laughed.  If the world of things had
corresponded to the world of ideas, the leaves of the apple tree
might have curled up in fear or the birds dropped out of the sky.
It was rather as if the cow had laughed.

Following that curt and uncouth noise was a silence; and then
the hand he had raised to his head abruptly rent off his big blue
spectacles and showed his staring blue eyes.  He looked boyish
and even babyish.

"I wonder whether you always wore them," she said.  "I should think
they made that moon of yours look blue.  Isn't there a proverb
or something about a thing happening once in a blue moon?"

He threw the great goggles on the ground and broke them.

"Good gracious!" she exclaimed, "you seem to have taken quite
a dislike to them all of a sudden.  I thought you were going
to wear them till--well, till all is blue, as they say."

He shook his head.  "All is beautiful," he said.  "You are beautiful."

The young woman was normally very lucid and decisive in dealing
with gentlemen who made remarks of that kind, especially when she
concluded that the gentlemen were not gentlemen.  But for some reason
in this case it never occurred to her that she needed defence;
possibly because the other party seemed more defenceless than indefensible.
She said nothing.  But the other party said a great deal,
and his remarks did not grow more rational.  At that moment,
far away in their inn-parlour in the neighbouring town, Hood and
Crane and the fellowship of the Long Bow were actually discussing
with considerable interest the meaning and possibilities of the new
astronomical theory.  In Bath the lecture-hall was being prepared
for the exposition of the theory.  The theorist had forgotten all about it.


"I have been thinking a good deal," Hilary Pierce was saying,
"about that astronomical fellow who is going to lecture in Bath
to-night. It seemed to me somehow that he was a kindred spirit
and that sooner or later we were bound to get mixed up with him--
or he was bound to get mixed up with us.  I don't say it's always
very comfortable to get mixed up with us.  I feel in my bones that
there is going to be a big row soon.  I feel as if I'd consulted
an astrologer; as if Green were the Merlin of our Round Table.
Anyhow, the astrologer has an interesting astronomical theory."

"Why?" inquired Wilding White with some surprise.  "What have you
got to do with his theory?"

"Because," answered the young man, "I understand his astronomical
theory a good deal better than he thinks I do.  And, let me tell you,
his astronomical theory is an astronomical allegory."

"An allegory?" repeated Crane.  "What of?"

"An allegory of us," said Pierce; "and, as with many an allegory,
we've acted it without knowing it.  I realized something about
our history, when he was talking, that I don't think I'd ever
thought of before."

"What in the world are you talking about?" demanded the Colonel.

"His theory," said Pierce in a meditative manner, "has got something
to do with moving objects being really stationary, and stationary
objects being really moving.  Well, you always talk of me as if I
were a moving object."

"Heartbreaking object sometimes," assented the Colonel with
cordial encouragement.

"I mean," continued Pierce calmly, "that you talk of me as if I
were always motoring too fast or flying too far.  And what you
say of me is pretty much what most people say of you.  Most sane
people think we all go a jolly lot too far.  They think we're
a lot of lunatics out-running the constable or looping the loop,
and always up to some new nonsense.  But when you come to think of it,
it's we who always stay where we are, and the rest that's always
moving and shifting and changing."

"Yes," said Owen Hood; "I begin to have some dim idea of what you
are talking about."

"In all our little adventures," went on the other, "we have
all of us taken up some definite position and stuck to it,
however difficult it might be; that was the whole fun of it.
But our critics did not stick to their own position--not even
to their own conventional or conservative position.  In each one
of the stories it was they who were fickle, and we who were fixed.
When the Colonel said he would eat his hat, he did it; when he
found it meant wearing a preposterous hat, he wore it.  But his
neighbours didn't even stick to their own conviction that the hat
was preposterous.  Fashion is too fluctuating and sensitive a thing;
and before the end, half of them were wondering whether they oughtn't
to have hats of the same sort.  In that affair of the Thames factory,
Hood admired the old landscape and Hunter admired the old landlords.
But Hunter didn't go on admiring the old landlords; he deserted
to the new landlords as soon as they got the land.  His conservatism
was too snobbish to conserve anything.  I wanted to import pigs,
and I went on importing pigs, though my methods of smuggling
might land me in a mad-house. But Enoch Oates, the millionaire,
didn't go on importing pork; he went off at once on some new stunt,
first on the booming of his purses, and afterwards on the admirable
stunt of starting English farms.  The business mind isn't steadfast;
even when it can be turned the right way, it's too easy to turn.
And everything has been like that, down to the little botheration
about the elephant.  The police began to prosecute Mr. White, but they
soon dropped it when Hood showed them that he had some backing.
Don't you see that's the moral of the whole thing?  The modern world
is materialistic, but it isn't solid.  It isn't hard or stern or ruthless
in pursuit of its purpose, or all the things that the newspapers
and novels say it is; and sometimes actually praise it for being.
Materialism isn't like stone; it's like mud, and liquid mud at that."

"There's something in what you say," said Owen Hood, "and I should be
inclined to add something to it.  On a rough reckoning of the chances
in modern England, I should say the situation is something like this.
In that dubious and wavering atmosphere it is very unlikely
there would ever be a revolution, or any very vital reform.
But if there were, I believe on my soul that it might be successful.
I believe everything else would be too weak and wobbly to stand up
against it."

"I suppose that means," said the Colonel, "that you're going to do
something silly."

"Silliest thing I can think of," replied Pierce cheerfully.
"I'm going to an astronomical lecture."

The degree of silliness involved in the experiment can be most
compactly and clearly stated in the newspaper report, at which
the friends of the experimentalists found themselves gazing with
more than their usual bewilderment on the following morning.
The Colonel, sitting at his club with his favourite daily paper
spread out before him, was regarding with a grave wonder a paragraph
that began with the following head-lines:


              AMAZING SCENE AT SCIENTIFIC CONGRESS

                 LECTURER GOES MAD AND ESCAPES


"A scene equally distressing and astonishing took place at the third
meeting of the Astronomical Society now holding its congress
at Bath.  Professor Oliver Green, one of the most promising of
the younger astronomers, was set down in the syllabus to deliver
a lecture on 'Relativity in Relation to Planetary Motion.'
About an hour before the lecture, however, the authorities received
a telegram from Professor Green, altering the subject of his address
on the ground that he had just discovered a new star, and wished
immediately to communicate his discovery to the scientific world.
Great excitement and keen anticipation prevailed at the meeting,
but these feelings changed to bewilderment as the lecture proceeded.
The lecturer announced without hesitation the existence of a new
planet attached to one of the fixed stars, but proceeded to describe
its geological formation and other features with a fantastic
exactitude beyond anything yet obtained by way of the spectrum
or the telescope.  He was understood to say that it produced life
in an extravagant form, in towering objects which constantly
doubled or divided themselves until they ended in flat filaments,
or tongues of a bright green colour.  He was proceeding to give
a still more improbable of a more mobile but equally monstrous form
of life, resting on four trunks or columns which swung in rotation,
and terminating in some curious curved appendages, when a young man
in the front row, whose demeanour had shown an increasing levity,
called out abruptly:  'Why, that's a cow!'  To this the professor,
abandoning abruptly all pretence of scientific dignity, replied by
shouting in a voice like thunder:  'Yes, of course it's a cow;
and you fellows would never have noticed a cow, even if she jumped
over the moon!'  The unfortunate professor then began to rave
in the most incoherent manner, throwing his arms about and shouting
aloud that he and his fellow scientists were all a pack of noodles
who had never looked at the world they were walking on, which contained
the most miraculous things.  But the latter part of his remarks,
which appeared to be an entirely irrelevant outburst in praise of
the beauty of Woman, were interrupted by the Chairman and officials
of the Congress, who called for medical and constabulary interference.
No less a person than Sir Horace Hunter, who, although best known
as a psycho-physiologist, has taken all knowledge for his province
and was present to show his interest in astronomical progress,
was able to certify on the spot that the unfortunate Green was
clearly suffering from dementia, which was immediately corroborated
by a local doctor, so that the unhappy man might be removed without
further scandal.

"At this point, however, a still more extraordinary development
took place.  The young man in the front row, who had several times
interrupted the proceedings with irrelevant remarks, sprang to his feet,
and loudly declaring that Professor Green was the only sane man in
the Congress, rushed at the group surrounding him, violently hurled
Sir Horace Hunter from the platform, and with the assistance
of a friend and fellow-rioter, managed to recapture the lunatic
from the doctors and police, and carry him outside the building.
Those pursuing the fugitives found themselves at first confronted
with a new mystery, in the form of their complete disappearance.
It has since been discovered that they actually escaped by aeroplane;
the young man, whose name is said to be Pierce, being a well-known
aviator formerly connected with the Flying Corps.  The other young man,
who assisted him and acted as pilot, has not yet been identified."


Night closed and the stars stood out over Dale's Farm; and the
telescope pointed at the stars in vain.  Its giant lenses had
vainly mirrored the moon of which its owner had spoken in so vain
a fashion; but its owner did not return.  Miss Dale was rather
unaccountably troubled by his absence, and mentioned it once or twice;
after all, as her family said, it was very natural that he should
go to an hotel in Bath for the night, especially if the revels
of the roystering astronomers were long and late.  "It's no affair
of ours," said the farmer's wife cheerfully.  "He is not a child."
But the farmer's daughter was not quite so sure on the point.


Next morning she rose even earlier than usual and went about her
ordinary tasks, which by some accident or other seemed to look more
ordinary than usual.  In the blank morning hours, it was perhaps
natural that her mind should go back to the previous afternoon,
when the conduct of the astronomer could by no means be dismissed
as ordinary.

"It's all very well to say he's not a child," she said to herself.
"I wish I were as certain he's not an idiot.  If he goes to an hotel,
they'll cheat him."

The more angular and prosaic her own surroundings seemed in the daylight,
the more doubt she felt about the probable fate of the moonstruck
gentleman who looked at a blue moon through his blue spectacles.
She wondered whether his family or his friends were generally
responsible for his movements; for really he must be a little dotty.
She had never heard him talk about his family; and she remembered
a good many things he had talked about.  She had never even seen
him talking to a friend, except once to Captain Pierce, when they
talked about astronomy.  But the name of Captain Pierce linked
itself up rapidly with other and more relevant suggestions.
Captain Pierce lived at the Blue Boar on the other side of the down,
having been married a year or two before to the daughter of the
inn-keeper, who was an old friend of the daughter of the farmer.
They had been to the same school in the neighbouring provincial town,
and had once been, as the phrase goes, inseparable.  Perhaps friends
ought to pass through the phase in which they are inseparable to reach
the phase in which they can safely be separated.

"Joan might know something about it," she said to herself.
"At least her husband might know."

She turned back into the kitchen and began to rout things out
for breakfast; when she had done everything she could think of
doing for a family that had not yet put in an appearance, she went
out again into the garden and found herself at the same gate,
staring at the steep wooded hill that lay between the farm and
the valley of the Blue Boar.  She thought of harnessing the pony;
and then went walking rather restlessly along the road over the hill.

On the map it was only a few miles to the Blue Boar; and she
was easily capable of walking ten times the distance.  But maps,
like many other scientific documents, are very inaccurate.
The ridge that ran between the two valleys was, relatively to
that rolling plain, as definite as a range of mountains.
The path through the dark wood that lay just beyond the farm began
like a lane and then seemed to go up like a ladder.  By the time she
had scaled it, under its continuous canopy of low spreading trees,
she had the sensation of having walked for a long time.  And when
the ascent ended with a gap in the trees and a blank space of sky,
she looked over the edge like one looking into another world.


Mr. Enoch Oates, in his more expansive moments, had been known to
allude to what he called God's Great Prairies.  Mr. Rosenbaum Low,
having come to London from, or through, Johannesburg, often referred
in his imperialistic speeches to the "illimitable veldt."  But neither
the American prairie nor the African veldt really looks any larger,
or could look any larger, than a wide English vale seen from a low
English hill.  Nothing can be more distant than the distance;
the horizon or the line drawn by heaven across the vision of man.
Nothing is so illimitable as that limit.  Within our narrow island
there is a whole series of such infinities; as if the island itself
could hold seven seas.  As she looked out over that new landscape,
the soul seemed to be slaked and satisfied with immensity and,
by a paradox, to be filled at last with emptiness.  All things seemed
not only great but growing in greatness.  She could fancy that the tall
trees standing up in the sunlight grew taller while she looked at them.
The sun was rising and it seemed as if the whole world rose with it.
Even the dome of heaven seemed to be lifting slowly; as if the very
sky were a skirt drawn up and disappearing into the altitudes
of light.

The vast hollow below her was coloured as variously as a map in an atlas.
Fields of grass or grain or red earth seemed so far away that they
might have been the empires and kingdoms of a world newly created.
But she could already see on the brow of a hill above the pine-woods
the pale scar of the quarry and below it the glittering twist
in the river where stood the inn of the Blue Boar.  As she drew
nearer and nearer to it she could see more and more clearly a green
triangular field with tiny black dots, which were little black pigs;
and another smaller dot, which was a child.  Something like a wind
behind her or within her, that had driven her over the hills,
seemed to sweep all the long lines of that landslide of a landscape,
so that they pointed to that spot.

As the path dropped to the level and she began to walk by farms
and villages, the storm in her mind began to settle and she recovered
the reasonable prudence with which she had pottered about her
own farm.  She even felt some responsibility and embarrassment
about troubling her friend by coming on so vague an errand.  But she
told herself convincingly enough that after all she was justified.
One would not normally be alarmed about a strayed lodger as if he
were a lion escaped from a menagerie.  But she had after all very
good reason for regarding this lion as rather a fearful wildfowl.
His way of talking had been so eccentric that everybody for miles round
would have agreed, if they had heard him, that he had a tile loose.
She was very glad they had not heard him; but their imaginary
opinion fortified her own.  They had a duty in common humanity;
they could not let a poor gentleman of doubtful sanity disappear
without further inquiry.

She entered the inn with a firm step and hailed her friend with something
of that hearty cheerfulness that is so unpopular in the early riser.
She was rather younger and by nature rather more exuberant than Joan;
and Joan had already felt the drag and concentration of children.
But Joan had not lost her rather steely sense of humour, and she heard
the main facts of her friend's difficulty with a vigilant smile.

"We should rather like to know what has happened," said the visitor
with vague carelessness.  "If anything unpleasant had happened,
people might even blame us, when we knew he was like that."

"Like what?" asked Joan smiling.

"Why, a bit off, I suppose we must say," answered the other.
"The things he said to me about cows and trees and having found
a new star were really--"

"Well, it's rather lucky you came to me," said Joan quietly.
"For I don't believe you'd have found anybody else on the whole face
of the earth who knows exactly where he is now."

"And where is he?"

"Well, he's not on the face of the earth," said Joan Hardy.

"You don't mean he's--dead?" asked the other in an unnatural voice.

"I mean he's up in the air," said Joan, "or, what is often much
the same thing, he is with my husband.  Hilary rescued him when they
were just going to nab him, and carried him off in an aeroplane.
He says they'd better hide in the clouds for a bit.  You know
the way he talks; of course, they do come down every now and then
when it's safe."

"Escaped!  Nabbed him!  Safe!" ejaculated the other young woman
with round eyes.  "What in the world does it all mean?"

"Well," replied her friend, "he seems to have said the same sort
of things that he said to you to a whole roomful of scientific men
at Bath.  And, of course, the scientific men all said he was mad;
I suppose that's what scientific men are for.  So they were just
going to take him away to an asylum, when Hilary--"

The farmer's daughter rose in a glory of rage that might have seemed
to lift the roof, as the great sunrise had seemed to lift the sky.

"Take him away!" she cried.  "How dare they talk about such things?
How dare they say he is mad?  It's they who must be mad to say
such stuff!  Why, he's got more brains in his boots than they
have in all their silly old bald heads knocked together--and I'd
like to knock 'em together!  Why, they'd all smash like egg-shells,
and he's got a head like cast-iron. Don't you know he's beaten
all the old duffers at their own business, of stars and things?
I expect they're all jealous; it's just what I should have expected
of them."

The fact that she was entirely unacquainted with the names,
and possibly the existence, of these natural philosophers did
not arrest the vigorous word-painting with which she completed
their portraits.  "Nasty spiteful old men with whiskers," she said,
"all bunched together like so many spiders and weaving dirty
cobwebs to catch their betters; of course, it's all a conspiracy.
Just because they're all mad and hate anybody who's quite sane."

"So you think he's quite sane?" asked her hostess gravely.

"Sane?  What do you mean?  Of course he's quite sane,"
retorted Margery Dale.

With a mountainous magnanimity Joan was silent.  Then after a pause
she said:

"Well, Hilary has taken his case in hand and your friend's safe
for the present; Hilary generally brings things off, however queer
they sound.  And I don't mind telling you in confidence that he's
bringing that and a good many other things off, rather big things,
just now.  You can't keep him from fighting whatever you do; and he
seems to be out just now to fight everybody.  So I shouldn't wonder
if you saw all your old gentlemen's heads knocked together after all.
There are rather big preparations going on; that friend of his named
Blair is for ever going and coming with his balloons and things;
and I believe something will happen soon on a pretty large scale,
perhaps all over England."

"Will it?" asked Miss Dale in an absent-minded manner (for she
was sadly deficient in civic and political sense). "Is that your
Tommy out there?"

And they talked about the child and then about a hundred entirely
trivial things; for they understood each other perfectly.

And if there are still things the reader fails to understand,
if (as seems almost incredible) there are things that he wishes
to understand, then it can only be at the heavy price of studying
the story of the Unprecedented Architecture of Commander Blair;
and with that, it is comforting to know, the story of all these things
will be drawing near its explanation and its end.




Chapter VII



THE UNPRECEDENTED ARCHITECTURE OF COMMANDER BLAIR


The Earl of Eden had become Prime Minister for the third time,
and his face and figure were therefore familiar in the political
cartoons and even in the public streets.  His yellow hair and lean
and springy figure gave him a factitious air of youth; but his face
on closer study looked lined and wrinkled and gave almost a shock
of decrepitude.  He was in truth a man of great experience and
dexterity in his own profession.  He had just succeeded in routing
the Socialist Party and overthrowing the Socialist Government,
largely by the use of certain rhymed mottoes and maxims which he
had himself invented with considerable amusement.  His great slogan
of "Don't Nationalize but Rationalize" was generally believed to have
led him to victory.  But at the moment when this story begins he
had other things to think of.  He had just received an urgent request
for a consultation from three of his most prominent supporters--
Lord Normantowers, Sir Horace Hunter, O.B.E., the great advocate
of scientific politics, and Mr. R. Low, the philanthropist.
They were confronted with a problem, and their problem concerned
the sudden madness of an American millionaire.

The Prime Minister was not unacquainted with American millionaires,
even those whose conduct suggested that they were hardly representative
of a normal or national type.  There was the great Grigg,
the millionaire inventor, who had pressed upon the War Office a scheme
for finishing the War at a blow; it consisted of electrocuting
the Kaiser by wireless telegraphy.  There was Mr. Napper,
of Nebraska, whose negotiations for removing Shakespeare's Cliff
to America as a symbol of Anglo-Saxon unity were unaccountably
frustrated by the firm refusal of the American Republic to send
us Plymouth Rock in exchange.  And there was that charming and
cultured Bostonian, Colonel Hoopoe, whom all England welcomed
in his crusade for Purity and the League of the Lily, until England
discovered with considerable surprise that the American Ambassador
and all respectable Americans flatly refused to meet the Colonel,
whose record at home was that of a very narrow escape from Sing-Sing.

But the problem of Enoch Oates, who had made his money in pork,
was something profoundly different.  As Lord Eden's three supporters
eagerly explained to him, seated round a garden table at his
beautiful country seat in Somerset, Mr. Oates had done something
that the maddest millionaire had never thought of doing before.
Up to a certain point he had proceeded in a manner normal to such
a foreigner.  He had purchased amid general approval an estate covering
about a quarter of a county; and it was expected that he would make
it a field for some of those American experiments in temperance
or eugenics for which the English agricultural populace offer a sort
of virgin soil.  Instead of that, he suddenly went mad and made
a present of his land to his tenants; so that by an unprecedented
anomaly the farms became the property of the farmers.  That an
American millionaire should take away English things from England,
English rent, English relics, English pictures, English cathedrals
or the cliffs of Dover, was a natural operation to which everybody
was by this time accustomed.  But that an American millionaire
should give English land to English people was an unwarrantable
interference and tantamount to an alien enemy stirring up revolution.
Enoch Oates had therefore been summoned to the Council, and sat
scowling at the table as if he were in the dock.

"Results most deplorable already," said Sir Horace Hunter,
in his rather loud voice.  "Give you an example, my lord; people of
the name of Dale in Somerset took in a lunatic as a lodger.
May have been a homicidal maniac for all I know; some do say he
had a great cannon or culverin sticking out of his bedroom window.
But with no responsible management of the estate, no landlord,
no lawyer, no educated person anywhere, there was nothing to prevent
their letting the bedroom to a Bengal tiger.  Anyhow, the man was mad,
rushed raving on to the platform at the Astronomical Congress
talking about Lovely Woman and the cow that jumped over the moon.
That damned agitator Pierce, who used to be in the Flying Corps,
was in the hall, and made a riot and carried the crazy fellow off
in an aeroplane.  That's the sort of thing you'll have happening all
over the place if these ignorant fellows are allowed to do just as
they like."

"It is quite true," said Lord Normantowers.  "I could give many
other examples.  They say that Owen Hood, another of these eccentrics,
has actually bought one of these little farms and stuck it all round
with absurd battlements and a moat and drawbridge, with the motto
'The Englishman's House is his Castle.'"

"I think," said the Prime Minister quietly, "that however English
the Englishman may be, he will find his castle is a castle in Spain;
not to say a castle in the air.  Mr. Oates," he said, addressing very
courteously the big brooding American at the other end of the table,
"please do not imagine that I cannot sympathize with such romances,
although they are only in the air.  But I think in all sincerity
that you will find they are unsuited to the English climate.
ET EGO IN ARCADIA, you know; we have all had such dreams of all men
piping in Arcady.  But after all, you have already paid the piper;
and if you are wise, I think you can still call the tune."

"Gives me great gratification to say it's too late," growled Oates.
"I want them to learn to play and pay for themselves."

"But you want them to learn," said Lord Eden gently, "and I should
not be in too much of a hurry to call it too late.  It seems
to me that the door is still open for a reasonable compromise;
I understand that the deed of gift, considered as a legal instrument,
is still the subject of some legal discussion and may well be
the subject of revision.  I happened to be talking of it yesterday
with the law officers of the Crown; and I am sure that the least
hint that you yourself--"

"I take it to mean," said Mr. Oates with great deliberation,
"that you'll tell your lawyers it'll pay them to pick a hole
in the deal."

"That is what we call the bluff Western humour," said Lord Eden,
smiling, "but I only mean that we do a great deal in this
country by reconsideration and revision.  We make mistakes
and unmake them.  We have a phrase for it in our history books;
we call it the flexibility of an unwritten constitution."

"We have a phrase for it too," said the American reflectively.
"We call it graft."

"Really," cried Normantowers, a little bristly man, with sudden
shrillness, "I did not know you were so scrupulous in your own methods."

"Motht unthcrupulouth," said Mr. Low virtuously.

Enoch Oates rose slowly like an enormous leviathan rising to the surface
of the sea; his large sallow face had never changed in expression;
but he had the air of one drifting dreamily away.

"Wal," he said, "I dare say it's true I've done some graft in my time,
and a good many deals that weren't what you might call modelled on
the Sermon on the Mount.  But if I smashed people, it was when they
were all out to smash me; and if some of 'em were poor, they were
the sort that were ready to shoot or knife or blow me to bits.
And I tell you, in my country the whole lot of you would be lynched
or tarred and feathered to-morrow, if you talked about lawyers taking
away people's land when once they'd got it.  Maybe the English
climate's different, as you say; but I'm going to see it through.
As for you, Mr. Rosenbaum--"

"My name is Low," said the philanthropist.  "I cannot thee why
anyone should object to uthing my name."

"Not on your life," said Mr. Oates affably.  "Seems to be a pretty
appropriate name."

He drifted heavily from the room, and the four other men were left,
staring at a riddle.

"He's going on with it, or, rather, they're going on with it,"
groaned Horace Hunter.  "And what the devil is to be done now?"

"It really looks as if he were right in calling it too late,"
said Lord Normantowers bitterly.  "I can't think of anything to
be done."

"I can," said the Prime Minister.  They all looked at him;
but none of them could read the indecipherable subtleties in his
old and wrinkled face under his youthful yellow hair.

"The resources of civilization are not exhausted," he said grimly.
"That's what the old governments used to say when they started
shooting people.  Well, I could understand you gentlemen feeling
inclined to shoot people now.  I suppose it seems to you that all
your own power in the State, which you wield with such public spirit
of course, all Sir Horace's health reforms, the Normantowers'
new estate, and so on, are all broken to bits, to rotten little bits
of rusticity.  What's to become of a governing class if it doesn't
hold all the land, eh?  Well, I'll tell you.  I know the next move,
and the time has come to take it."

"But what is it?" demanded Sir Horace.

"The time has come," said the Prime Minister, "to Nationalize
the Land."

Sir Horace Hunter rose from his chair, opened his mouth, shut it,
and sat down again, all with what he himself might have called
a reflex action.

"But that is Socialism!" cried Lord Normantowers, his eyes standing
out of his head.

"True Socialism, don't you think?" mused the Prime Minister.
"Better call it True Socialism; just the sort of thing to be remembered
at elections.  Theirs is Socialism, and ours is True Socialism."

"Do you really mean, my lord," cried Hunter in a heat of sincerity
stronger than the snobbery of a lifetime, "that you are going
to support the Bolshies?"

"No," said Eden, with the smile of a sphinx.  "I mean the Bolshies
are going to support me.  Idiots!"

After a silence, he added in a more wistful tone:

"Of course, as a matter of sentiment, it is a little sad.  All our
fine old English castles and manors, the homes of the gentry... they
will become public property, like post offices, I suppose.  When I
think of the happy hours I have myself passed at the Normantowers--"
He smiled across at the nobleman of that name and went on.  "And Sir
Horace has now, I believe, the joy of living in Warbridge Castle--
fine old place.  Dear me, yes, and I think Mr. Low has a castle,
though the name escapes me."

"Rosewood Castle," said Mr. Low rather sulkily.

"But I say," cried Sir Horace, rising, "what becomes of 'Don't
Nationalize but Rationalize'?"

"I suppose," replied Eden lightly, "it will have to be 'Don't
Rationalize but Nationalize.'  It comes to the same thing.
Besides, we can easily get a new motto of some sort.  For instance,
we, after all, are the patriotic party, the national party.
What about 'Let the Nationalists Nationalize'?"

"Well, all I can say is--" began Normantowers explosively.

"Compensation, there will be compensation, of course," said the Prime
Minister soothingly; "a great deal can be done with compensation.
If you will all turn up here this day week, say at four o'clock, I
think I can lay all the plans before you."

When they did turn up next week and were shown again into the Prime
Minister's sunny garden, they found that the plans were, indeed,
laid before them; for the table that stood on the sunny lawn was
covered with large and small maps and a mass of official documents.
Mr. Eustace Pym, one of the Prime Minister's numerous private secretaries,
was hovering over them, and the Prime Minister himself was sitting
at the head of the table studying one of them with an intelligent frown.

"I thought you'd like to hear the terms of the arrangements,"
he said.  "I'm afraid we must all make sacrifices in the cause
of progress."

"Oh, progress be ----" cried Normantowers, losing patience.
"I want to know if you really mean that my estate--"

"It comes under the department of Castle and Abbey Estates in
Section Four," said Lord Eden, referring to the paper before him.
"By the provisions of the new Bill the public control in such
cases will be vested in the Lord-Lieutenant of the County.
In the particular case of your castle--let me see--why, yes, of course,
you are Lord Lieutenant of that county."

Little Lord Normantowers was staring, with his stiff hair all
standing on end; but a new look was dawning in his shrewd though
small-featured face.

"The case of Warbridge Castle is different," said the Prime Minister.
"It happens unfortunately to stand in a district desolated
by all the recent troubles about swine-fever, touching which the
Health Comptroller" (here he bowed to Sir Horace Hunter) "has shown
such admirable activity.  It has been necessary to place the whole
of this district in the hands of the Health Comptroller, that he
may study any traces of swine-fever that may be found in the Castle,
the Cathedral, the Vicarage, and so on.  So much for that case,
which stands somewhat apart; the others are mostly normal.
Rosenbaum Castle--I should say Rosewood Castle--being of a later date,
comes under Section Five, and the appointment of a permanent
Castle Custodian is left to the discretion of the Government.
In this case the Government has decided to appoint Mr. Rosewood Low
to the post, in recognition of his local services to social science
and economics.  In all these cases, of course, due compensation
will be paid to the present owners of the estates, and ample
salaries and expenses of entertainment paid to the new officials,
that the places may be kept up in a manner worthy of their historical
and national character."

He paused, as if for cheers, and Sir Horace was vaguely irritated
into saying:  "But look here, my castle--"

"Damn it all!" said the Prime Minister, with his first flash of
impatience and sincerity.  "Can't you see you'll get twice as much
as before?  First you'll be compensated for losing your castle,
and then you'll be paid for keeping it."

"My lord," said Lord Normantowers humbly, "I apologize for anything
I may have said or suggested.  I ought to have known I stood
in the presence of a great English statesman."

"Oh, it's easy enough," said Lord Eden frankly.  "Look how easily
we remained in the saddle, in spite of democratic elections; how we
managed to dominate the Commons as well as the Lords.  It'll be
the same with what they call Socialism.  We shall still be there;
only we shall be called bureaucrats instead of aristocrats."

"I see it all now!" cried Hunter, "and by Heaven, it'll be the end
of all this confounded demagogy of Three Acres and a Cow."

"I think so," said the Prime Minister with a smile; and began
to fold up the maps.

As he was folding up the last and largest, he suddenly stopped
and said:

"Hallo!"

A letter was lying in the middle of the table; a letter in a
sealed envelope, and one which he evidently did not recognize
as any part of his paper paraphernalia.

"Where did this letter come from?" he asked rather sharply.
"Did you put it here, Eustace?"

"No," said Mr. Pym staring.  "I never saw it before.  It didn't
come with your letters this morning."

"It didn't come by post at all," said Lord Eden; "and none of the
servants brought it in.  How the devil did it get out here in the garden?"

He ripped it open with his finger and remained for some time staring
in mystification at its contents.

"Welkin Castle,
Sept. 4th, 19--.

"Dear Lord Eden,--As I understand you are making public provision
for the future disposal of our historic national castles,
such as Warbridge Castle, I should much appreciate any information
about your intentions touching Welkin Castle, my own estate,
as it would enable me to make my own arrangements.--Yours very truly,

"Welkyn of Welkin."


"Who is Welkyn?" asked the puzzled politician; "he writes as if he knew
me; but I can't recall him at the moment.  And where is Welkin Castle?
We must look at the maps again."

But though they looked at the maps for hours, and searched Burke,
Debrett, "Who's Who," the atlas, and every other work of reference,
they could come upon no trace of that firm but polite country gentleman.

Lord Eden was a little worried, because he knew that curiously
important people could exist in a corner in this country, and suddenly
emerge from their corner to make trouble.  He knew it was very
important that his own governing class should stand with him in this
great public change (and private understanding), and that no rich
eccentric should be left out or offended.  But although he was worried
to that extent, it is probable that his worry would soon have faded
from his mind if it had not been for something that happened some days
later.

Going out into the same garden to the same table, with the more agreeable
purpose of taking tea there, he was amazed to find another letter,
though this was lying not on the table but on the turf just beside it.
It was unstamped like the other and addressed in the same handwriting;
but its tone was more stern.

                                             "Welkin Castle,
                                             Oct. 6th, 19--.

"My Lord,--As you seem to have decided to continue your sweeping
scheme of confiscation, as in the case of Warbridge Castle,
without the slightest reference to the historic and even heroic
claims of Welkin Castle, I can only inform you that I shall defend
the fortress of my fathers to the death.  Moreover, I have decided
to make a protest of a more public kind; and when you next hear
from me it will be in the form of a general appeal to the justice
of the English people.

Yours truly,

Welkyn of Welkin."


The historic and even heroic traditions of Welkin Castle kept a
dozen of the Prime Minister's private secretaries busy for a week,
looking up encyclopaedias and chronicles and books of history.
But the Prime Minister himself was more worried about another problem.
How did these mysterious letters get into the house, or rather into
the garden?  None of them came by post and none of the servants knew
anything about them.  Moreover, the Prime Minister, in an unobtrusive
way, was very carefully guarded.  Prime Ministers always are.
But he had been especially protected ever since the Vegetarians
a few years before had gone about killing everybody who believed
in killing animals.  There were always plain-clothes policemen at
every entrance of his house and garden.  And from their testimony
it would appear certain that the letter could not have got into
the garden; but for the trifling fact that it was lying there on
the garden-table. Lord Eden cogitated in a grim fashion for some time;
then he said as he rose from his chair:

"I think I will have a talk to our American friend Mr. Oates."

Whether from a sense of humour or a sense of justice, Lord Eden
summoned Enoch Oates before the same special jury of three;
or summoned them before him, as the case may be.  For it was even more
difficult than before to read the exact secret of Eden's sympathies
or intentions; he talked about a variety of indifferent subjects
leading up to that of the letters, which he treated very lightly.
Then he said quite suddenly:

"Do you know anything about those letters, by the way?"

The American presented his poker face to the company for some time
without reply.  Then he said:

"And what makes you think I know anything about them?"

"Because," said Horace Hunter, breaking in with uncontrollable warmth,
"we know you're hand and glove with all those lunatics in the League
of the Long Bow who are kicking up all this shindy."

"Well," said Oates calmly, "I'll never deny I like some of their ways.
I like live wires myself; and, after all, they're about the liveliest
thing in this old country.  And I'll tell you more.  I like people
who take trouble; and, believe me, they do take trouble.  You say
they're all nuts; but I reckon there really is method in their madness.
They take trouble to keep those crazy vows of theirs.  You spoke
about the fellows who carried off the astronomer in an aeroplane.
Well, I know Bellew Blair, the man who worked with Pierce
in that stunt, and believe me he's not a man to be sniffed at.
He's one of the finest experts in aeronautics in the country;
and if he's gone over to them, it means there's something in their
notion for a scientific intellect to take hold of.  It was Blair
that worked that pig stunt for Hilary Pierce; made a great gas-bag
shaped like a sow and gave all the little pigs parachutes."

"Well, there you are," cried Hunter.  "Of all the lunacy--"

"I remember Commander Blair in the War," said the Prime Minister
quietly.  "Bellows Blair, they called him.  He did expert work:
some new scheme with dirigible balloons.  But I was only going
to ask Mr. Oates whether he happens to know where Welkin Castle is."

"Must be somewhere near here," suggested Normantowers,
"as the letters seem to come by hand."

"Well, I don't know," said Enoch Oates doubtfully.  "I know a man
living in Ely, who had one of those letters delivered by hand.
And I know another near Land's End who thought the letter must have
come from somebody living near.  As you say, they all seem to come
by hand."

"By what hand?" asked the Prime Minister, with a queer, grim expression.

"Mr. Oates," said Lord Normantowers firmly, "where IS Welkin Castle?"

"Why, it's everywhere, in a manner of speaking," said Mr. Oates
reflectively.  "It's anywhere, anyhow.  Gee--!" he broke off suddenly:
"Why, as a matter of fact, it's here!"

"Ah," said the Prime Minister quietly, "I thought we should see
something if we watched here long enough!  You didn't think I kept
you hanging about here only to ask Mr. Oates questions that I knew
the answer to."

"What do you mean?  Thought we would see what?"

"Where the unstamped letters come from," replied Lord Eden.

Luminous and enormous, there heaved up above the garden trees
something that looked at first like a coloured cloud; it was
flushed with light such as lies on clouds opposite the sunset,
a light at once warm and wan; and it shone like an opaque flame.
But as it came closer it grew more and more incredible.  It took on
solid proportions and perspective, as if a cloud could brush and crush
the dark tree-tops. It was something never seen before in the sky;
it was a cubist cloud.  Men gazing at such a sunset cloud-land often
imagine they see castles and cities of an almost uncanny completeness.
But there would be a possible point of completeness at which they
would cry aloud, or perhaps shriek aloud, as at a sign in heaven;
and that completeness had come.  The big luminous object that sailed
above the garden was outlined in battlements and turrets like a
fairy castle; but with an architectural exactitude impossible
in any cloudland.  With the very look of it a phrase and a proverb
leapt into the mind.

"There, my lord!" cried Oates, suddenly lifting his nasal and
drawling voice and pointing, "there's that dream you told me about.
There's your castle in the air."

As the shadow of the flying thing travelled over the sun-lit lawn,
they looked up and saw for the first time that the lower part
of the edifice hung downwards like the car of a great balloon.
They remembered the aeronautical tricks of Commander Blair and Captain
Pierce and the model of the monstrous pig.  As it passed over
the table a white speck detached itself and dropped from the car.
It was a letter.

The next moment the white speck was followed by a shower that
was like a snowstorm.  Countless letters, leaflets, and scraps
of paper were littered all over the lawn.  The guests seemed to
stand staring wildly in a wilderness of waste-paper; but the keen
and experienced eyes of Lord Eden recognized the material which,
in political elections, is somewhat satirically called "literature."

It took the twelve private secretaries some time to pick them all up
and make the lawn neat and tidy again.  On examination they proved
to be mainly of two kinds:  one a sort of electioneering pamphlet
of the League of the Long Bow, and the other a somewhat airy fantasy
about private property in air.  The most important of the documents,
which Lord Eden studied more attentively, though with a grim smile,
began with the sentence in large letters:


"An Englishman's House Is No Longer His Castle On The Soil Of England.
If It Is To Be His Castle, It Must Be A Castle In The Air.

"If There Seem To Be Something Unfamiliar And Even Fanciful In
The Idea, We Reply That It Is Not Half So Fantastic To Own Your Own
Houses In The Clouds As Not To Own Your Own Houses On The Earth."


Then followed a passage of somewhat less solid political value,
in which the acute reader might trace the influence of the poetical
Mr. Pierce rather than the scientific Mr. Blair.  It began "They
Have Stolen the Earth; We Will Divide the Sky."  But the writer
followed this with a somewhat unconvincing claim to have trained rooks
and swallows to hover in rows in the air to represent the hedges
of "the blue meadows of the new realm," and he was so obliging
as to accompany the explanation with diagrams of space showing
the exact ornithological boundaries in dotted lines.  There were other
equally scientific documents dealing with the treatment of clouds,
the driving of birds to graze on insects, and so on.  The whole
of this section concluded with the great social and economic slogan:
"Three Acres and a Crow."

But when Lord Eden read on, his attention appeared graver than this
particular sort of social reconstruction would seem to warrant.
The writer of the pamphlet resumed:


"Do not be surprised if there seems to be something topsy-turvy
in the above programme.  That topsy-turvydom marks the whole of
our politics.  It may seem strange that the air which has always been
public should become private, when the land which has always been
private has become public.  We answer that this is exactly how things
really stand to-day in the matter of all publicity and privacy.
Private things are indeed being made public.  But public things
are being kept private.

"Thus we all had the pleasure of seeing in the papers a picture
of Sir Horace Hunter, O.B.E., smiling in an ingratiating manner
at his favourite cockatoo.  We know this detail of his existence,
which might seem a merely domestic one.  But the fact that he is shortly
to be paid thirty thousand pounds of public money, for continuing
to live in his own house, is concealed with the utmost delicacy.

"Similarly we have seen whole pages of an illustrated paper
filled with glimpses of Lord Normantowers enjoying his honeymoon,
which the papers in question are careful to describe as his Romance.
Whatever it may be, an antiquated and fastidious taste might
possibly be disposed to regard it as his own affair.  But the fact
that the taxpayer's money, which is the taxpayer's affair, is to be
given him in enormous quantities, first for going out of his castle,
and then for coming back into it--this little domestic detail
is thought too trivial for the taxpayer to be told of it.

"Or again, we are frequently informed that the hobby of Mr. Rosenbaum
Low is improving the breed of Pekinese, and God knows they need it.
But it would seem the sort of hobby that anybody might have without
telling everybody else about it.  On the other hand, the fact
that Mr. Rosenbaum Low is being paid twice over for the same house,
and keeping the house as well, is concealed from the public;
along with the equally interesting fact that he is allowed to do
these things chiefly because he lends money to the Prime Minister."


The Prime Minister smiled still more grimly and glanced in a light
yet lingering fashion at some of the accompanying leaflets.
They seemed to be in the form of electioneering leaflets, though not
apparently connected with any particular election.


"Vote for Crane.  He Said He would Heat His Hat and Did It.
Lord Normantowers said he would explain how people came to swallow
his coronet; but he hasn't done it yet.

"Vote for Pierce.  He Said Pigs Would Fly And They Did.  Rosenbaum Low
said a service of international aerial express trains would fly;
and they didn't. It was your money he made to fly.

"Vote for the League of the Long Bow.  They Are The Only Men Who
Don't Tell Lies."


The Prime Minister stood gazing after the vanishing cloud-castle,
as it faded into the clouds, with a curious expression in his eyes.
Whether it were better or worse for his soul, there was something
in him that understood much that the muddled materialists around him
could never understand.

"Quite poetical, isn't it?" he said drily.  "Wasn't it Victor
Hugo or some French poet who said something about politics and
the clouds?... The people say, 'Bah, the poet is in the clouds.
So is the thunderbolt.'"

"Thunderbolts!" said Normantowers contemptuously.  "What can
these fools do but go about flinging fireworks?"

"Quite so," replied Eden; "but I'm afraid by this time they are
flinging fireworks into a powder-magazine."

He continued to gaze into the sky with screwed-up eyes,
though the object had become invisible.

If his eye could really have followed the thing after which he gazed,
he would have been surprised; if his unfathomable scepticism was
still capable of surprise.  It passed over woods and meadows like
a sunset cloud towards the sunset, or a little to the north-west
of it, like the fairy castle that was west of the moon.  It left
behind the green orchards and the red towers of Hereford and passed
into bare places whose towers are mightier than any made by man,
where they buttress the mighty wall of Wales.  Far away in this
wilderness of columned cliffs and clefts it found a cleft or hollow,
along the floor of which ran a dark line that might have been
a black river running through a rocky valley.  But it was in fact
a crack opening below into another abyss.  The strange flying-ship
followed the course of the winding fissure till it came to a place
where the crack opened into a chasm, round like a cauldron and
accidental as the knot in some colossal tree-trunk; through which
it sank, entering the twilight of the tremendous cavern beneath.
The abyss below was lit here and there with artificial lights,
like fallen stars of the underworld, and bridged with wooden
platforms and galleries, on which were wooden huts and huge
packing-cases and many things somewhat suggestive of a munition dump.
On the rocky walls were spread out various balloon coverings,
some of them even more grotesque in outline than the castle.
Some were in the shapes of animals; and on that primeval background
looked like the last fossils, or possibly the first outlines of vast
prehistoric creatures.  Perhaps there was something suggestive
in the fancy that in that underworld a new world was being created.
The man who alighted from the flying castle recognized, almost as
one recognizes a domestic pet, the outline of a highly primitive
pig stretching like a large archaic drawing across the wall.
For the young man was called Hilary Pierce, and had had previous
dealings with the flying pig, though for that day he had been put in
charge of the flying castle.

On the platform on which he alighted stood a table covered
with papers, with almost more papers than Lord Eden's table.
But these papers were covered almost entirely with figures and numbers
and mathematical symbols.  Two men were bending over the table,
discussing and occasionally disputing.  In the taller of the two
the scientific world might have recognized Professor Green,
whom it was seeking everywhere like the Missing Link, to incarcerate
him in the interests of science.  In the shorter and sturdier
figure a very few people might have recognized Bellew Blair,
the organizing brain of the English Revolution.

"I haven't come to stay," explained Pierce hastily.  "I'm going
on in a minute."

"Why shouldn't you stay?" asked Blair, in the act of lighting a pipe.

"I don't want your talk interrupted.  Still less, far, far less,
do I want it uninterrupted.  I mean while I'm here.  A little
of your scientific conversation goes a long way with me; I know
what you're like when you're really chatty.  Professor Green will say
in his satirical way '9920.05,' to which you will reply with quiet
humour '75.007.' This will be too good an opening for a witty
fellow like the Professor, who will instantly retort '982.09.' Not
in the best taste perhaps, but a great temptation in the heat of debate."

"Commander Blair," said the Professor, "is very kind to let me
share his calculations."

"Lucky for me," said Blair.  "I'd have done ten times more with
a mathematician like you."

"Well," said Pierce casually, "as you are so much immersed
in mathematics, I'll leave you.  As a matter of fact, I had a message
for Professor Green, about Miss Dale at the house where he was lodging;
but we mustn't interrupt scientific studies for a little thing like that."

Green's head came up from the papers with great abruptness.

"Message!" he cried eagerly.  "What message?  Is it really for me?"

"8282.003," replied Pierce coldly.

"Don't be offended," said Blair.  "Give the Professor his message
and then go if you like."

"It's only that she came over to see my wife to find out where you
had gone to," said Pierce.  "I told her, so far as it's possible
to tell anybody.  That's all," he added, but rather with the air
of one saying, "it ought to be enough."

Apparently it was, for Green, who was once more looking down
upon the precious papers, crumpled one of them in his clenched
hand unconsciously, like a man suddenly controlling his feelings.

"Well, I'm off," said Pierce cheerfully; "got to visit the other dumps."

"Stop a minute," said Blair, as the other turned away.
"Haven't you any sort of public news as well as private news?
How are things going in the political world?"

"Expressed in mathematical formula," replied Pierce over his shoulder,
"the political news is MP squared plus LSD over U equals L. L
let loose.  L upon earth, my boy."

And he climbed again into his castle of the air.

Oliver Green stood staring at the crumbled paper and suddenly began
to straighten it out.

"Mr. Blair," he said, "I am terribly ashamed of myself.  When I
see you living here like a hermit in the mountains and scrawling
your calculations, so to speak, on the rocks of the wilderness,
devoted to your great abstract idea, vowed to a great cause,
it makes me feel very small to have entangled you and your friends
in my small affairs.  Of course, the affair isn't at all small to me;
but it must seem very small to you."

"I don't know very precisely," answered Blair, "what was the nature
of the affair.  But that is emphatically your affair.  For the rest,
I assure you we're delighted to have you, apart from your valuable
services as a calculating machine."

Bellew Blair, the last and, in the worldly sense, by far the ablest
of the recruits of the Long Bow, was a man in early middle age,
square built, but neat in figure and light on his feet, clad in a
suit of leather.  He mostly moved about so quickly that his figure
made more impression than his face; but when he sat down smoking,
in one of his rare moments of leisure, as now, it could be remarked
that his face was rather calm than vivacious; a short square face
with a short resolute nose, but reflective eyes much lighter than
his close black hair.

"It's quite Homeric," he added, "the two armies fighting for
the body of an astronomer.  You would be a sort of symbol anyhow,
since they started that insanity of calling you insane.  Nobody has
any business to bother you about the personal side of the matter."

Green seemed to be ruminating, and the last phrase awoke him
to a decision.  He began to talk.  Quite straightforwardly,
though with a certain schoolboy awkwardness, he proceeded to tell
his friend the whole of his uncouth love-story--the overturning
of his spiritual world to the tune the old cow died of, or rather
danced to.

"And I've let you in for hiding me like a murderer," he concluded.
"For the sake of something that must seem to you, not even like
a cow jumping over the moon, but more like a calf falling over
the milking-stool. Perhaps people vowed to a great work like this
ought to leave all that sort of thing behind them."

"Well, I don't see anything to be ashamed of," said Blair,
"and in this case I don't agree with what you say about leaving
those things behind.  Of some sorts of work it's true; but not this.
Shall I tell you a secret?"

"If you don't mind."

"The cow never does jump over the moon," said Blair gravely.
"It's one of the sports of the bulls of the herd."

"I'm afraid I don't know what you mean," said the Professor.

"I mean that women can't be kept out of this war, because it's
a land war," answered Blair.  "If it were really a war in the air,
you could have done it all by yourself.  But in all wars of peasants
defending their farms and homes, women have been very much on
the spot; as they used to pour hot water out of windows during
the Irish evictions.  Look here, I'll tell you a story.  It's relevant
because it has a moral.  After all, it's my turn, so to speak.
You've told me the true story of the Cow that Jumped over the Moon.
It's time I told you the true story of the Castle in the Air."

He smoked silently for a moment, and then said:

"You may have wondered how a very prosaic practical Scotch
engineer like myself ever came to make a thing like that pantomime
palace over there, as childish as a child's coloured balloon.
Well, the answer is the same; because in certain circumstances
a man may be very different from himself.  At a certain period of
the old war preparations, I was doing some work for the government
in a secluded part of the western coast of Ireland.  There were
very few people for me to talk to; but one of them was the daughter
of a bankrupt squire named Malone; and I talked to her a good deal.
I was about as mechanical a mechanic as you could dig out anywhere;
grimy, grumpy, tinkering about with dirty machinery.  She was
really like those princesses you read about in the Celtic poems;
with a red crown made of curling elf-locks like little flames,
and a pale elfin face that seemed somehow thin and luminous
like glass; and she could make you listen to silence like a song.
It wasn't a pose with her, it was a poem; there are people like that,
but very few of them like her.  I tried to keep up my end by telling
her about the wonders of science, and the great new architecture
of the air.  And then Sheila used to say, 'And what is the good
of them to me, when you HAVE built them.  I can see a castle
build itself without hands out of gigantic rocks of clear jewels
in the sky every night.'  And she would point to where crimson
or violet clouds hung in the green after-glow over the great Atlantic.

"You would probably say I was mad, if you didn't happen to have
been mad yourself.  But I was wild with the idea that there was
something she admired and that she thought science couldn't do.
I was as morbid as a boy; I half thought she despised me; and I wanted
half to prove her wrong and half to do whatever she thought right.
I resolved my science should beat the clouds at their own game; and I
laboured till I'd actually made a sort of rainbow castle that would
ride on the air.  I think at the back of my mind there was some sort
of crazy idea of carrying her off into the clouds she lived among,
as if she were literally an angel and ought to dwell on wings.  It never
quite came to that, as you will hear, but as my experiments progressed
my romance progressed too.  You won't need any telling about that;
I only want to tell you the end of the story because of the moral.
We made arrangements to get married; and I had to leave a good
many of the arrangements to her, while I completed my great work.
Then at last it was ready and I came to seek her like a pagan
god descending in a cloud to carry a nymph up to Olympus.
And I found she had already taken a very solid little brick villa
on the edge of a town, having got it remarkably cheap and furnished
it with most modern conveniences.  And when I talked to her about
castles in the air, she laughed and said her castle had come down to
the ground.  That is the moral.  A woman, especially an Irishwoman,
is always uncommonly practical when it comes to getting married.
That is what I meant by saying it is never the cow who jumps over
the moon.  It is the cow who stands firmly planted in the middle of
the three acres; and who always counts in any struggle of the land.
That is why there must be women in this story, especially like
those in your story and Pierce's, women who come from the land.
When the world needs a Crusade for communal ideals, it is best
waged by men without ties, like the Franciscans.  But when it comes
to a fight for private property--you can't keep women out of that.
You can't have the family farm without the family.  You must have
concrete Christian marriage again:  you can't have solid small
property with all this vagabond polygamy; a harem that isn't even
a home."

Green nodded and rose slowly to his feet, with his hands in his pockets.

"When it comes to a fight," he said.  "When I look at these enormous
underground preparations, it is not difficult to infer that you
think it will come to a fight."

"I think it has come to a fight," answered Blair.  "Lord Eden has
decided that.  And the others may not understand exactly what they
are doing; but he does."

And Blair knocked out his pipe and stood up, to resume his work
in that mountain laboratory, at about the same time at which Lord
Eden awoke from his smiling meditations; and, lighting a cigarette,
went languidly indoors.

He did not attempt to explain what was in his mind to the men
around him.  He was the only man there who understood that the England
about him was not the England that had surrounded his youth and
supported his leisure and luxury; that things were breaking up,
first slowly and then more and more swiftly, and that the things
detaching themselves were both good and evil.  And one of them
was this bald, broad and menacing new fact; a peasantry.
The class of small farmers already existed, and might yet be found
fighting for its farms like the same class all over the world.
It was no longer certain that the sweeping social adjustments
settled in that garden could be applied to the whole English land.
But the story of how far his doubts were justified, and how far
his whole project fared, is a part of the story of The Ultimate
Ultimatum of the League of the Long Bow, after which the exhausted
and broken-spirited reader may find rest at last.




Chapter VIII



THE ULTIMATE ULTIMATUM OF THE LEAGUE OF THE LONG BOW


Mr. Robert Owen Hood came through his library that was lined with brown
leather volumes with a brown paper parcel in his hand; a flippant person
(such as his friend Mr. Pierce) might have said he was in a brown study.
He came out into the sunlight of his garden, however, where his
wife was arranging tea-things, for she was expecting visitors.
Even in the strong daylight he looked strangely little altered,
despite the long and catastrophic period that had passed since he
had met her in the Thames valley and managed really to set the Thames
on fire.  That fire had since spread in space and time and become
a conflagration in which much of modern civilization had been consumed;
but in which (as its advocates alleged) English agriculture had been
saved and a new and more hopeful chapter opened in English history.
His angular face was rather more lined and wrinkled, but his straight
shock of copper-coloured hair was as unchanged as if it had been
a copper-coloured wig.  His wife Elizabeth was even less marked,
for she was younger; she had the same slightly nervous or short-sighted
look in the eyes that was like a humanizing touch to her beauty made
of ivory and gold.  But though she was not old she had always been
a little old-fashioned; for she came of a forgotten aristocracy whose
women had moved with a certain gravity as well as grace about the old
country houses, before coronets were sold like cabbages or the Jews
lent money to the squires.  But her husband was old-fashioned too;
though he had just taken part in a successful revolution and bore
a revolutionary name, he also had his prejudices; and one of them
was a weakness for his wife being a lady--especially that lady.

"Owen," she said, looking up from the tea-table with alarmed severity,
"you've been buying more old books."

"As it happens, these are particularly new books," he replied;
"but I suppose in one sense it's all ancient history now."

"What ancient history?" she asked.  "Is it a History of Babylon
or prehistoric China?"

"It is a History of Us."

"I hope not," she said; "but what do you mean?"

"I mean it's a history of Our Revolution," said Owen Hood, "a true
and authentic account of the late glorious victories, as the old
broadsheets said.  The Great War of 1914 started the fashion of
bringing out the history of events almost before they'd happened.
There were standard histories of that war while it was still going on.
Our little civil war is at least finished, thank God; and this is
the brand-new history of it.  Written by a rather clever fellow,
detached but understanding and a little ironical on the right side.
Above all, he gives quite a good description of the Battle of
the Bows."

"I shouldn't call that our history," said Elizabeth quietly.
"I'm devoutly thankful that nobody can ever write our history or put
it in a book.  Do you remember when you jumped into the water after
the flowers?  I fancy it was then that you really set the Thames
on fire."

"With my red hair, no doubt," he replied; "but I don't think I did set
the Thames on fire.  I think it was the Thames that set me on fire.
Only you were always the spirit of the stream and the goddess
of the valley."

"I hope I'm not quite so old as that," answered Elizabeth.

"Listen to this," cried her husband, turning over the pages
of the book.  "'According to the general belief, which prevailed
until the recent success of the agrarian movement of the Long Bow,
it was overwhelmingly improbable that a revolutionary change could
be effected in England.  The recent success of the agrarian protest--'"

"Do come out of that book," remonstrated his wife.  "One of our
visitors has just arrived."

The visitor proved to be the Reverend Wilding White, a man who had
also played a prominent part in the recent triumph, a part that was
sometimes highly public and almost pontifical; but in private life he
had always a way of entering with his grey hair brushed or blown the wrong
way and his eagle face eager or indignant; and his conversation like
his correspondence came in a rush and was too explosive to be explanatory.

"I say," he cried, "I've come to talk to you about that idea,
you know--Enoch Oates wrote about it from America, and he's a jolly
good fellow and all that; but after all he does come from America,
and so he thinks it's quite easy.  But you can see for yourself it
isn't quite so easy, what with Turks and all that.  It's all very
well to talk about the Unites States--"

"Never you mind about the United States," said Hood easily; "I think
I'm rather in favour of the Heptarchy.  You just listen to this;
the epic of our own Heptarchy, the story of our own dear little
domestic war.  'The recent success of the agrarian protest--'"

He was interrupted again by the arrival of two more guests;
by the silent entrance of Colonel Crane and the very noisy entrance
of Captain Pierce, who had brought his young wife with him from
the country, for they had established themselves in the ancestral
inn of the Blue Boar.  White's wife was still in the country,
and Crane's having long been busy in her studio with war-posters,
was now equally busy with peace-posters.

Hood was one of those men whom books almost literally seize and swallow,
like monsters with leather or paper jaws.  It was no exaggeration
to say he was deep in a book as an incautious traveller might be
deep in a swamp or some strange man-eating plant of the tropics;
only that the traveller was magnetized and did not even struggle.
He would fall suddenly silent in the middle of a sentence and go
on reading; or he would suddenly begin to read aloud with great passion,
arguing with somebody in the book without reference to anybody
in the room.  Though not normally rude, he would drift through
other people's drawing-rooms towards other people's bookshelves
and disappear into them, so to speak, like a rusty family ghost.
He would travel a hundred miles to see a friend for an hour,
and then waste half an hour with his head in some odd volume he
never happened to have seen before.  On all that side of him there
was a sort of almost creepy unconsciousness.  His wife, who had
old-world notions of the graces of a hostess, sometimes had double
work to do.

"The recent success of the agrarian protest," began Hood cheerfully
as his wife rose swiftly to receive two more visitors.  These were
Professor Green and Commander Bellew Blair; for a queer friendship
had long linked together the most practical and the most unpractical
of the brothers of the Long Bow.  The friendship, as Pierce remarked,
was firmly rooted in the square root of minus infinity.

"How beautiful your garden is looking," said Blair to his hostess.
"One so seldom sees flower-beds like that now; but I shall always
think the old gardeners were right."

"Most things are old-fashioned here, I'm afraid," replied Elizabeth,
"but I always like them like that.  And how are the children?"

"The recent success of the agrarian protest," remarked her husband
in a clear voice, "is doubtless--"

"Really," she said, laughing, "you are too ridiculous for anything.
Why in the world should you want to read out the history of the war
to the people who were in it, and know quite well already what
really happened?"

"I beg your pardon," said Colonel Crane.  "Very improper to
contradict a lady, but indeed you are mistaken.  The very last
thing the soldier generally knows is what has really happened.
Has to look at a newspaper next morning for the realistic description
of what never happened."

"Why, then you'd better go on reading, Hood," said Hilary Pierce.
"The Colonel wants to know whether he was killed in battle;
or whether there was any truth in that story that he was hanged
as a spy on the very tree he had climbed when running away as
a deserter."

"Should rather like to know what they make of it all," said the Colonel.
"After all, we were all too deep in it to see it.  I mean see it
as a whole."

"If Owen once begins he won't stop for hours," said the lady.

"Perhaps," began Blair, "we had better--"

"The recent success of the agrarian protest," remarked Hood
in authoritative tones, "is doubtless to be attributed largely
to the economic advantage belonging to an agrarian population.
It can feed the town or refuse to feed the town; and this question
appeared quite early in the politics of the peasantry that had
arisen in the western counties.  Nobody will forget the scene at
Paddington Station in the first days of the rebellion.  Men who
had grown used to seeing on innumerable mornings the innumerable
ranks and rows of great milk-cans, looking leaden in a grey
and greasy light, found themselves faced with a blank, in which
those neglected things shone in the memory like stolen silver.
It was true, as Sir Horace Hunter eagerly pointed out when he was
put in command of the highly hygienic problem of the milk supply,
that there would be no difficulty about manufacturing the metal cans,
perhaps even of an improved pattern, with a rapidity and finish
of which the rustics of Somerset were quite incapable.  He had long
been of the opinion, the learned doctor explained, that the shape
of the cans, especially the small cans left outside poor houses,
left much to be desired, and the whole process of standing these
small objects about in the basements of private houses was open
to grave objection in the matter of waste of space.  The public,
however, showed an indifference to this new issue and a disposition
to go back on the old demand for milk; in which matter, they said,
there was an unfair advantage for the man who possessed a cow over
the man who only possessed a can.  But the story that Hunter had
rivalled the agrarian slogan by proclaiming the policy of 'Three
Areas and a Can' was in all probability a flippant invention of his
enemies.

"These agrarian strikes had already occurred at intervals before they
culminated in the agrarian war.  They were the result of the attempt
to enforce on the farmers certain general regulations and precautions
about their daily habit, dress and diet, which Sir Horace Hunter and
Professor Hake had found to be of great advantage in the large State
laboratories for the manufacture of poisons and destructive gases.
There was every reason to believe that the people, especially the
young people, of the village often evaded the regulation about the
gutta-percha masks, and the rule requiring the worker to paint himself
all over with an antiseptic gum; and the sending of inspectors from
London to see that these rules were enforced led to lamentable scenes
of violence.  It would be an error, however, to attribute the whole
of this great social convulsion to any local agricultural dispute.
The causes must also be sought in the general state of society,
especially political society.  The Earl of Eden was a statesman
of great skill by the old Parliamentary standards, but he was
already old when he launched his final defiance to the peasants
in the form of Land Nationalization; and the General Election
which was the result of this departure fell largely into the hands
of his lieutenants like Hunter and Low.  It soon became apparent
that some of the illusions of the Eden epoch had worn rather thin.
It was found that the democracy could not always be intimidated
even by the threat of consulting them about the choice of a Government.

"Nor can it be denied that the General Election of 19-- was from
the first rendered somewhat unreal by certain legal fictions
which had long been spreading.  There was a custom, originating in
the harmless and humane deception used upon excited maiden ladies
from the provinces, by which the private secretaries of the Prime
Minister would present themselves as that politician himself;
sometimes completing the innocent illusion by brushing their hair,
waxing their moustaches or wearing their eyeglasses in the manner
of their master.  When this custom was extended to public platforms it
cannot be denied that it became more questionable.  In the last days
of that venerable statesman it has been asserted that there were no
less than five Lloyd Georges touring the country at the same time,
and that the contemporary Chancellor of the Exchequer had appeared
simultaneously in three cities on the same night, while the original
of all these replicas, the popular and brilliant Chancellor himself,
was enjoying a well-earned rest by the Lake of Como.  The incident
of two identical Lord Smiths appearing side by side on the same
platform (through a miscalculation of the party agents), though
received with good humour and honest merriment by the audience,
did but little good to the serious credit of parliamentary institutions.
There was of course a certain exaggeration in the suggestion
of the satirist that a whole column of identical Prime Ministers,
walking two and two like soldiers, marched out of Downing Street
every morning and distributed themselves to their various posts
like policemen; but such satires were popular and widely scattered,
especially by an active young gentleman who was the author of most
of them--Captain Hilary Pierce, late of the Flying Corps.

"But if this was true of such trifles as half a dozen of Prime Ministers,
it was even truer and more trying in the practical matter of party
programmes and proposals.  The heading of each party programme
with the old promise 'Every Man a Millionaire' had of course become
merely formal, like a decorative pattern or border.  But it cannot be
denied that the universal use of this phrase, combined with the equally
universal sense of the unfairness of expecting any politician to carry
it out, somewhat weakened the force of words in political affairs.
It would have been well if statesmen had confined themselves to these
accepted and familiar formalities.  Unfortunately, under the stress
of the struggle which arose out of the menacing organization of
the League of the Long Bow, they sought to dazzle their followers
with new improbabilities instead of adhering to the tried
and trusty improbabilities that had done them yeoman service in the past.

"Thus it was unwise of Lord Normantowers, so far to depart from the
temperance principles of a lifetime as to promise all his workers a bottle
of champagne at every meal, if they would consent to complete the provision
of munitions for suppressing the League of the Long Bow rebellion.
The great philanthropist unquestionably had the highest intentions,
both in his rash promise and his more reasonable fulfilment.
But when the munitions-workers found that the champagne-bottles,
though carefully covered with the most beautiful gold-foil, contained
in fact nothing but hygienically boiled water, the result was a sudden
and sensational strike, which paralysed the whole output of munitions
and led to the first incredible victories of the League of the Long Bow.

"There followed in consequence one of the most amazing wars
of human history--a one-sided war.  One side would have been
insignificant if the other had not been impotent.  The minority could
not have fought for long; only the majority could not fight at all.
There prevailed through the whole of the existing organizations
of society a universal distrust that turned them into a dust
of disconnected atoms.  What was the use of offering men higher
pay when they did not believe they would ever receive it, but only
alluded jeeringly to Lord Normantowers and his brand of champagne?
What was the use of telling every man that he would have a bonus,
when you had told him for twenty years that he would soon be
a millionaire?  What was the good of the Prime Minister pledging
his honour in a ringing voice on platform after platform, when it
was already an open jest that it was not the Prime Minister at all?
The Government voted taxes and they were not paid.  It mobilized
armies and they did not move.  It introduced the pattern of a new
all-pulverizing gun, and nobody would make it and nobody would
fire it off.  We all remember the romantic crisis when no less
a genius than Professor Hake came to Sir Horace Hunter, the Minister
of Scientific Social Organization, with a new explosive capable
of shattering the whole geological formation of Europe and sinking
these islands in the Atlantic, but was unable to induce the cabman
or any of the clerks to assist him in lifting it out of the cab.

"Against all this anarchy of broken promises the little organization
of the League of the Long Bow stood solid and loyal and dependable.
The Long Bowmen had become popular by the nickname of the Liars.
Everywhere the jest or catchword was repeated like a song,
'Only the Liars Tell the Truth.'  They found more and more men
to work and fight for them, because it was known that they would
pay whatever wages they promised, and refuse to promise anything
that they could not perform.  The nickname became an ironical symbol
of idealism and dignity.  A man was proud of being a little precise
and even pedantic in his accuracy and probity because he was a Liar.
The whole of this strange organization had originated in certain
wild bets or foolish practical jokes indulged in by a small group
of eccentrics.  But they had prided themselves on the logical,
if rather literal, fashion in which they had fulfilled certain
vows about white elephants or flying pigs.  Hence, when they came
to stand for a policy of peasant proprietorship, and were enabled
by the money of an American crank to establish it in a widespread
fashion across the west of England, they took the more serious task
with the same tenacity.  When their foes mocked them with 'the myth
of three acres and a cow,' they answered:  'Yes, it is as mythical
as the cow that jumped over the moon.  But our myths come true.'

"The inexplicable and indeed incredible conclusion of the story was due
to a new fact; the fact of the actual presence of the new peasantry.
They had first come into complete possession of their new farms,
by the deed of gift signed by Enoch Oates in the February of 19--
and had thus been settled on the land a great many years when Lord
Eden and his Cabinet finally committed themselves to the scheme
of Land Nationalization by which their homesteads were to pass
into official control.  That curious and inexplicable thing,
the spirit of the peasant, had made great strides in the interval.
It was found that the Government could not move such people about
from place to place, as it is possible to do with the urban poor
in the reconstruction of streets or the destruction of slums.
It was not a thing like moving pawns, but a thing like pulling
up plants; and plants that had already struck their roots very deep.
In short, the Government, which had already adopted a policy commonly
called Socialist from motives that were in fact very conservative,
found itself confronted with the same peasant resistance as brought
the Bolshevist Government in Russia to a standstill.  And when Lord
Eden and his Cabinet put in motion the whole modern machinery of
militarism and coercion to crush the little experiment, he found himself
confronted with a rural rising such as has not been known in England
since the Middle Ages.

"It is said that the men of the Long Bow carried their mediaeval
symbolism so far as to wear Lincoln green as their uniform when they
retired to the woods in the manner of Robin Hood.  It is certain
that they did employ the weapon after which they were named;
and curiously enough, as will be seen, by no means without effect.
But it must be clearly understood that when the new agrarian class took
to the woods like outlaws, they did not feel in the least like robbers.
They hardly even felt like rebels.  From their point of view at least,
they were and long had been the lawful owners of their own fields,
and the officials who came to confiscate were the robbers.
Therefore when Lord Eden proclaimed Nationalization, they turned
out in thousands as their fathers would have gone out against pirates
or wolves.

"The Government acted with great promptitude.  It instantly
voted 50,000 pounds to Mr. Rosenbaum Low, the expenditure of
which was wisely left to his discretion at so acute a crisis,
with no more than the understanding that he should take a thorough
general survey of the situation.  He proved worthy of the trust;
and it was with the gravest consideration and sense of responsibility
that he selected Mr. Leonard Kramp, the brilliant young financier,
from all his other nephews to take command of the forces in the field.
In the field, however, fortune is well known to be somewhat
more incalculable; and all the intelligence and presence of mind
that had enabled Kramp to postpone the rush on the Potosi Bank
were not sufficient to balance the accidental possession by Crane
and Pierce of an elementary knowledge of strategy.

"Before considering the successes obtained by these commanders in
the rather rude fashion of warfare which they were forced to adopt,
it must be noted, of course, that even on their side there were also
scientific resources of a kind; and an effective if eccentric kind.
The scientific genius of Bellew Blair had equipped his side
with many secret processes affecting aviation and aeronautics,
and it is the peculiarity of this extraordinary man that his
secret processes really remained for a considerable time secret.
For he had not told them to anybody with any intention of making
any money out of them.  This quixotic and visionary behaviour
contrasted sharply with the shrewd good sense of the great business
men who know that publicity is the soul of business.  For some
time past they had successfully ignored the outworn sentimental
prejudice that had prevented soldiers and sailors from advertising
the best methods of defeating the enemy; and we can all recall
those brilliantly coloured announcements which used to brighten
so many hoardings in those days, 'Sink in Smith's Submarine;
Pleasure Trips for Patriots.'  Or 'Duffin's Portable Dug-Out Makes
War a Luxury.'  Advertisement cannot fail to effect its aim;
the name of an aeroplane that had been written on the sky in pink
and pea-green lights could not but become a symbol of the conquest
of the air; and the patriotic statesman, deeply considering
what sort of battleship might best defend his country's coasts,
was insensibly and subtly influenced by the number of times that he
had seen its name repeated on the steps of a moving staircase
at an Imperial Exhibition.  Nor could there be any doubt about
the brilliant success that attended these scientific specialties
so long as their operations were confined to the market.
The methods of Commander Blair were in comparison private, local,
obscure and lacking any general recognition; and by a strange irony
it was a positive advantage to this nameless and secretive crank
that he had never advertised his weapons until he used them.
He had paraded a number of merely fanciful balloons and fireworks
for a jest; but the secrets to which he attached importance he had
hidden in cracks of the Welsh mountains with a curious and callous
indifference to the principles of commercial distribution and display.
He could not in any case have conducted operations on so large
a scale, being deficient in that capital, the lack of which has
so often been fatal to inventors; and had made it useless for a man
to discover a machine unless he could also discover a millionaire.
But it cannot be denied that when his machine was brought into
operation it was always operative, even to the point of killing
the millionaire who might have financed it.  For the millionaire had
so persistently cultivated the virtues of self-advertisement that it
was difficult for him to become suddenly unknown and undistinguished,
even in scenes of conflict where he most ardently desired to do so.
There was a movement on foot for treating all millionaires as
non-combatants, as being treasures belonging alike to all nations,
like the Cathedrals or the Parthenon.  It is said that there
was even an alternative scheme for camouflaging the millionaire
by the pictorial methods that can disguise a gun as a part
of the landscape; and that Captain Pierce devoted much eloquence
to persuading Mr. Rosenbaum Low how much better it would be for all
parties if his face could be made to melt away into the middle
distance or take on the appearance of a blank wall or a wooden post."

"The extraordinary thing is," interrupted Pierce, who had been
listening eagerly, "that he said I was personal.  Just at the moment
when I was trying to wave away all personal features that could
come between us, he actually said I was personal."

Hood went on reading as if nobody had spoken.  "In truth the successes of
Blair's instruments revealed a fallacy in the common commercial argument.
We talk of a competition between two kinds of soap or two kinds of jam
or cocoa, but it is a competition in purchase and not in practice.
We do not make two men eat two kinds of jam and then observe which
wears the most radiant smile of satisfaction.  We do not give two men
two kinds of cocoa and note which endures it with most resignation.
But we do use two guns directly against each other; and in the case
of Blair's methods the less advertised gun was the better.
Nevertheless his scientific genius could only cover a corner of the field;
and a great part of the war must be considered as a war in the open
country of a much more primitive and sometimes almost prehistoric kind.

"It is admitted of course by all students that the victories
of Crane and Pierce were gross violations of strategic science.
The victors themselves afterwards handsomely acknowledged the fact;
but it was then too late to repair the error.  In order to understand
it, however, it is necessary to grasp the curious condition into
which so many elements of social life had sunk in the time just
preceding the outbreak.  It was this strange social situation which
rendered the campaign a contradiction to so many sound military maxims.

"For instance, it is a recognized military maxim that armies
depend upon roads.  But anyone who had noticed the conditions that
were already beginning to appear in the London streets as early
as 1924 will understand that a road was something less simple
and static than the Romans imagined.  The Government had adopted
everywhere in their road-making the well-known material familiar
to us all from the advertisements by the name of "Nobumpo,"
thereby both insuring the comfort of travellers and rewarding
a faithful supporter by placing a large order with Mr. Hugg.
As several members of the Government themselves held shares in Nobumpo
their enthusiastic co-operation in the public work was assured.
But, as has no doubt been observed everywhere, it is one of the many
advantages of Nobumpo, as preserving that freshness of surface
so agreeable to the pedestrian, that the whole material can be
(and is) taken up and renewed every three months, for the comfort
of travellers and the profit and encouragement of trade.  It so
happened that at the precise moment of the outbreak of hostilities
all the country roads, especially in the west, were as completely
out of use as if they had been the main thoroughfares of London.
This in itself tended to equalize the chances or even to increase them
in favour of a guerilla force, such as that which had disappeared
into the woods and was everywhere moving under cover of the trees.
Under modern conditions, it was found that by carefully avoiding
roads, it was still more or less possible to move from place to place.

"Again, another recognized military fact is the fact the bow is an
obsolete weapon.  And nothing is more irritating to a finely balanced
taste than to be killed with an obsolete weapon, especially while
persistently pulling the trigger of an efficient weapon, without any
apparent effect.  Such was the fate of the few unfortunate regiments
which ventured to advance into the forests and fell under showers
of arrows from trackless ambushes.  For it must be remembered that the
conditions of this extraordinary campaign entirely reversed the normal
military rule about the essential military department of supply.
Mechanical communications theoretically accelerate supply, while the supply
of a force cut loose and living on the country is soon exhausted.
But the mechanical factor also depends upon a moral factor.
Ammunition would on normal occasions have been produced with unequalled
rapidity by Poole's Process and brought up with unrivalled speed
in Blinker's Cars; but not at the moment when riotous employees were
engaged in dipping Poole repeatedly in a large vat at the factory;
or in the quieter conditions of the country-side, where various
tramps were acquiring squatter's rights in Blinker's Cars,
accidentally delayed upon their journey.  Everywhere the same
thing happened; just as the great manufacturer failed to keep his
promise to the workers who produced munitions, so the petty officials
driving the lorries had failed to keep their promises to loafers
and vagrants who had helped them out of temporary difficulties;
and the whole system of supply broke down upon a broken word.
On the other hand, the supply of the outlaws was in a sense
almost infinite.  With the woodcutters and the blacksmiths on their side,
they could produce their own rude mediaeval weapons everywhere.
It was in vain that Professor Hake delivered a series of popular
lectures, proving to the lower classes that in the long run it
would be to their economic advantage to be killed in battle.
Captain Pierce is reported to have said:  'I believe the Professor is
a botanist as well as an economist; but as a botanist he has not yet
discovered that guns and arrows do not grow on trees.  Bows and arrows do.'

"But the incident which history will have most difficulty in explaining,
and which it may perhaps refer to the region of myth or romance,
is the crowning victory commonly called the Battle of the Bows.
It was indeed originally called 'The Battle of the Bows of God';
in reference to some strangely fantastic boast, equally strangely
fulfilled, that is said to have been uttered by the celebrated Parson
White, a sort of popular chaplain who seems to have been the Friar Tuck
of this new band of Robin Hood.  Coming on a sort of embassy to Sir
Horace Hunter, this clergyman is said to have threatened the Government
with something like a miracle.  When rallied about the archaic
sport of the long bow, he replied:  'Yes, we have long bows and we
shall have longer bows; the longest bows the world has ever seen;
bows taller than houses; bows given to us by God Himself and big
enough for His gigantic angels.'

"The whole business of this battle, historic and decisive as
it was, is covered with some obscurity, like that cloud of storm
that hung heavy upon the daybreak of that gloomy November day.
Had anyone been present with the Government forces who was well
acquainted with the western valley in which they were operating,
such a person could not have failed to notice that the very landscape
looked different; looked new and abnormal.  Dimly as it could be
traced through the morning twilight, the very line of the woodland
against the sky would have shown him a new shape; a deformity like
a hump.  But the plans had all been laid out in London long before,
in imitation of that foresight, fixity of purpose, and final success
that will always be associated with the last German Emperor.
It was enough for them that there was a wood of some sort marked
on the map, and they advanced toward it, low and crouching as its
entrance appeared to be.

"Then something happened, which even those who saw it and survived
cannot describe.  The dark trees seemed to spring up to twice
their height as in a nightmare.  In the half-dark the whole wood
seemed to rise from the earth like a rush of birds and then to turn
over in mid-air and come towards the invaders like a roaring wave.
Some such dim and dizzy sight they saw; but many of them at least saw
little enough afterwards.  Simultaneously with the turning of this
wheel of waving trees, rocks seemed to rain down out of heaven;
beams and stones and shafts and missiles of all kinds, flattening out
the advancing force as under a pavement produced by a shower of
paving-stones. It is asserted that some of the countrymen cunning
in woodcraft, in the service of the Long Bow, had contrived to fit
up a tree as a colossal catapult; calculating how to bend back
the boughs and sometimes even the trunks to the breaking-point,
and gaining a huge and living resilience with their release.
If this story is true, it is certainly an appropriate conclusion
to the career of the Long Bow and a rather curious fulfilment
of the visionary vaunt of Parson White, when he said that the bows
would be big enough for giants, and that the maker of the bows
was God."

"Yes," interrupted the excitable White, "and do you know what he
said to me when I first said it?"

"What who said when you said what?" asked Hood patiently.

"I mean that fellow Hunter," replied the clergyman.  "That varnished
society doctor turned politician.  Do you know what he said when I
told him we would get our bows from God?"

Owen Hood paused in the act of lighting a cigar.

"Yes," he said grimly.  "I believe I can tell you exactly
what he said.  I've watched him off and on for twenty years.
I bet he began by saying:  'I don't profess to be a religious man.'"

"Right, quite right," cried the cleric bounding upon his chair in a
joyous manner, "that's exactly how he began.  'I don't profess to be
a religious man, but I trust I have some reverence and good taste.
I don't drag religion into politics.'  And I said:  'No, I don't
think you do.'"

A moment after, he bounded, as it were, in a new direction.

"And that reminds me of what I came about," he cried.  "Enoch Oates,
your American friend, drags religion into politics all right; only it's
a rather American sort of religion.  He's talking about a United
States of Europe and wants to introduce you to a Lithuanian Prophet.
It seems this Lithuanian party has started a movement for a
Universal Peasant Republic or World State of Workers on the Land;
but at present he's only got as far as Lithuania.  But he seems
inclined to pick up England on the way, after the unexpected success
of the English agrarian party."

"What's the good of talking to me about a World State," growled Hood.
"Didn't I say I preferred a Heptarchy?"

"Don't you understand?" interrupted Hilary Pierce excitedly.
"What can we have to do with international republics? We can
turn England upside down if we like; but it's England that
we like, whichever way up.  Why, our very names and phrases,
the very bets and jokes in which the whole thing began,
will never be translated.  It takes an Englishman to eat his hat;
I never heard of a Spaniard threatening to eat his sombrero,
or a Chinaman to chew his pigtail.  You can only set the Thames
on fire; you cannot set the Tiber or the Ganges on fire,
because the habit of speech has never been heard of. What's
the good of talking about white elephants in countries where
they are only white elephants?  Go and say to a Frenchman,
'Pour mon chateau, je le trouve un elephant blanc' and he
will send two Parisian alienists to look at you seriously,
like a man who says that his motor-car is a green giraffe.
There is no point in telling Czecho-Slovakian pigs to fly,
or Jugo-Slavonic cows to jump over the moon.  Why, the unhappy
Lithuanian would be bewildered to the point of madness by our
very name.  There is no reason to suppose that he and his
countrymen talk about a long bowman when they mean a liar.
We talk about tall stories, but a tall story may mean a true
story in colloquial Lithuanian."

"Tall stories are true stories sometimes, I hope," said Colonel Crane,
"and people don't believe 'em.  But people'll say that was a
very tall story about the tall trees throwing darts and stones.
Afraid it'll come to be a bit of a joke."

"All our battles began as jokes and they will end as jokes,"
said Owen Hood, staring at the smoke of his cigar as it threaded
its way towards the sky in grey and silver arabesque.  "They will
linger only as faintly laughable legends, if they linger at all;
they may pass an hour or two or fill an empty page; and even the man
who tells them will not take them seriously.  It will all end
in smoke like the smoke I am looking at; in eddying and topsy-turvy
patterns hovering for a moment in the air.  And I wonder how many,
who may smile or yawn over them, will realize that where there was
smoke there was fire."

There was a silence; then Colonel Crane stood up, a solitary figure in his
severe and formal clothes, and gravely said farewell to his hostess.
With the failing afternoon light he knew that his own wife,
who was a well-known artist, would be abandoning her studio work,
and he always looked forward to a talk with her before dinner,
which was often a more social function.  Nevertheless, as he
approached his old home a whim induced him to delay the meeting
for a few minutes and to walk round to his old kitchen garden,
where his old servant Archer was still leaning on a spade,
as in the days before the Flood.

So he stood for a moment amid a changing world, exactly as he
had stood on that distant Sunday morning at the beginning of all
these things.  The South Sea idol still stood at the corner;
the scarecrow still wore the hat that he had sacrificed; the cabbages
still looked green and solid like the cabbage he had once dug up,
digging up so much along with it.

"Queer thing," he said, "how true it is what Hilary once said about
acting an allegory without knowing it.  Never had a notion of what I
was doing when I picked up a cabbage and wore it for a wager.
Damned awkward position, but I never dreamed I was being martyred
for a symbol.  And the right symbol, too, for I've lived to see
Britannia crowned with cabbage.  All very well to say Britannia
ruled the waves; it was the land she couldn't rule, her own land,
and it was heaving like earthquakes.  But while there's cabbage
there's hope.  Archer, my friend, this is the moral:  any country
that tries to do without cabbages is done for.  And even in war you
often fight as much with cabbages as cannon-balls."

"Yes, sir," said Archer respectfully; "would you be wanting another
cabbage now, sir?"

Colonel Crane repressed a slight shudder.  "No, thank you; no, thank you,"
he said hastily.  Then he muttered as he turned away:  "I don't
mind revolutions so much, but I wouldn't go through that again."

And he passed swiftly round his house, of which the windows began
to show the glow of kindled lamps, and went in to his wife.

Archer was left alone in the garden, tidying up after his work and shifting
the potted shrubs; a dark and solitary figure as sunset and twilight
sank all around the enclosure like soft curtains of grey with a border
of purple; and the windows, as yet uncurtained and full of lamplight,
painted patterns of gold on the lawns and flagged walks without.
It was perhaps appropriate that he should remain alone and apart;
for he alone in all these changes had remained quite unchanged.
It was perhaps fitting that his figure should stand in a dark outline
against the darkening scene; for the mystery of his immutable
respectability remains more of a riddle than all the riot of the rest.
No revolution could revolutionize Mr. Archer.  Attempts had been
made to provide so excellent a gardener with a garden of his own;
with a farm of his own, in accordance with the popular policy of
the hour.  But he would not adapt himself to the new world; nor would
he hasten to die out, as was his duty on evolutionary principles.
He was merely a survival; but he showed a perplexing disposition
to survive.

Suddenly the lonely gardener realized that he was not alone.
A face had appeared above the hedge, gazing at him with blue eyes
dreaming yet burning; a face with something of the tint and profile
of Shelley.  It was impossible that Mr. Archer should have heard
of such a person as Shelley:  fortunately he recognized the visitor
as a friend of his master.

"Forgive me if I am mistaken, Citizen Archer," said Hilary Pierce
with pathetic eagerness, "but it seems to me that you are not
swept along with the movement; that a man of your abilities
has been allowed to stand apart, as it were, from the campaign
of the Long Bow.  And yet how strange!  Are you not Archer?
Does not your very name rise up and reproach you?  Ought you
not to have shot more arrows or told more tarradiddles than all
the rest?  Or is there perhaps a more elemental mystery behind
your immobility, like that of a statue in the garden?  Are you
indeed the god of the garden, more beautiful than this South Sea
idol and more respectable than Priapus?  Are you in no mortal sense
an Archer?  Are you perhaps Apollo, serving this military Admetus;
successfully, yes, successfully, hiding your radiance from me?"
He paused for a reply, and then lowered his voice as he resumed:
"Or are you not rather that other Archer whose shafts are not
shafts of death but of life and fruitfulness; whose arrows plant
themselves like little flowering trees; like the little shrubs you
are planting in this garden?  Are you he that gives the sunstroke
not in the head but the heart; and have you stricken each of us
in turn with the romance that has awakened us for the revolution?
For without that spirit of fruitfulness and the promise of the family,
these visions would indeed be vain.  Are you in truth the God of Love;
and has your arrow stung and startled each of us into telling
his story?  I will not call you Cupid," he said with a slight air
of deprecation or apology, "I will not call you Cupid, Mr. Archer,
for I conceive you as no pagan deity, but rather as that image
clarified and spiritualized to a symbol almost Christian, as he might
have appeared to Chaucer or to Botticelli.  Nay, it was you that,
clad in no heathen colours, but rather in mediaeval heraldry,
blew a blast on his golden trumpet when Beatrice saluted Dante on
the bridge.  Are you indeed that Archer, O Archer, and did you give
each one of us his Vita Nuova?"

"No, sir," said Mr. Archer.


* * * * *


Thus does the chronicler of the League of the Long Bow come to
the end of his singularly unproductive and unprofitable labours,
without, perhaps, having yet come to the beginning.  The reader may
have once hoped, perhaps, that the story would be like the universe;
which when it ends, will explain why it ever began.  But the reader
has long since been sleeping, after the toils and trials of his part
in the affair; and the writer is too tactful to ask at how early
a stage of his story-telling that generally satisfactory solution
of all our troubles was found.  He knows not if the sleep has
been undisturbed, or in that sleep what dreams may come, if there has
been cast upon it any shadow of the shapes of his own very private
and comfortable nightmare; turrets clad with the wings of morning
or temples marching over dim meadows as living monsters, or swine
plumed like cherubim or forests bent like bows, or a fiery river
winding through a dark land.  Images are in their nature indefensible,
if they miss the imagination of another; and the foolish scribe of
the Long Bow will not commit the last folly of defending his dreams.
He at least has drawn a bow at a venture and shot an arrow into
the air; and he has no intention of looking for it in oaks,
all over the neighbourhood, or expecting to find it still sticking
in a mortal and murderous manner in the heart of a friend.
His is only a toy bow; and when a boy shoots with such a bow,
it is generally very difficult to find the arrow--or the boy.



THE END





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