JOHN M. KELLY LIBRARY DONATED BY PETER W. MOORE 1988 Methuen's Shilling Novels I The Mighty Atom Marie Corel li a Jane Marie Corelli 3 Boy Marie Corelli 4 Spanish Gold G. A. Birmingham 5 The Search Party G. A. Birmingham 6 Teresa of Watling Street Arnold Bennett 8 Fire in Stubble Baroness Orczy 9 The Unofficial Honeymoon Dolf Wyllarde 10 The Botor Chaperon C. N. and A. M. Williamson 1 1 Lady Betty across the Water C. N. and A. M. Williamson 13 The Demon C. N. and A. M. Williamson 15 The Guarded Flame W. B. Maxwell 17 Joseph Frank Danby 1 8 Round the Red Lamp Sir A. Conan Doyle 19 Under the Red Robe Stanley Weyman ao Light Freights W. W. Jacobs 33 The Long Road John Oxenham 71 The Gates of Wrath Arnold Bennett 73 Short Cruises W. W. Jacobs 8 1 The Card Arnold Bennett 84 The Sea Lady H. G. Wells 87 Lalage's Lovers G. A. Birmingham 93 White Fang Jack London 98(Chronicles of a German Town Author of MarciainGermany 99 I he 0!1 Of 9 ar / le - Iohn Oxenham 103 The Quest of the Golden Rose John Oxenham 1 06 The Wedding Day C. N. and A. M. Williamson 1 08 The Adventures of Dr. Whitty G. A. Birmingham no The Babes in the Wood B. M Croker 1 13 Lavender and Old Lac Myrtle Reed 1 U e r 3 " f 8 ei. eor S e P1 ydeU 1 15 Old Rose and Silver Myrtle Reed 1 1 7 The Secret Agent Joseph Conrad 1 19 Set in Silver C. N. and A. M. Williamson lao A Weaver of Webs John Oxenham i2i Peggy of the Bartons B. M Croker 133 The Double Life of Mr. Alfred Burton E. Phillips Oppenheim 1 33 There was a Crooked Man Doif Wyllarde 124 The Governor of England Marjorie Bowen las The Regent Arnold Bennett 137 Sally D. Conyers 1 39 The Lodger Mrs. Belloc Lowndes 130 The Mystery of the Green Heart Max Pemberton 131 The Heather Moon C. N. and A. M. Williamson 133 The House of Serravalle Richard Baeot 133 The Way Home Basil King 134 Mrs. Maxon Protests Anthony Hope 135 A Spinner in the Sun Myrtle Reed 136 Buried Alive Arnold Bennett I3 l T,^ Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu Sax Rohmer 138 WO^ Maurice Drake 139 The Golden Centipede Louise Gerard 140 The Love Pirate C. N. and A. M. Williamson 5 Chanc 148 Flower of the Dusk "MX^H*. 150 The Gentleman Adventurer HP I 151 The Ocean Sleuth Maurice 153 The Mayor of Troy 153 JS e S Ca Mai< ? ^ Ronald Macd. 154 The Hyena of Kallu Louise Ge A Selection only. Methuen's Shilling Library 36 De Prof undis Oscar Wilde 37 Lord Arthur Savile's Crime Oscar Wilde 38 Selected Poems Oscar Wilde 39 An Ideal Husband Oscar Wilde 40 Intentions Oscar Wilde 41 Lady Windermere's Fan Oscar Wilde 42 Charmides and other Poems Oscar Wilde 43 Harvest Home E. V. Lucas 44 A Little of Everything E. V. Lucas 45 Vailima Letters Robert Louis Stevenson 46 Hills and the Sea H. Belloc 47 The Blue Bird Maurice Maeterlinck 48 Mary Magdalene Maurice Maeterlinck 49 Under Five Reigns Lady Dorothy Nevill 50 Charles Dickens G. K. Chesterton 51 Man and the Universe Sir Oliver Lodge *52 The Life of Robert Louis Stevenson Graham Balfour 53 Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to his Son George Horace Lorimer *54 The Life of John Ruskin W. G. Collingwood 55 The Parish Clerk P. H. Ditchfield 56 The Condition of England C F. G. Masterman 57 Sevastopol and other Stories Leo Tolstoy 58 The Lore of the Honey- Bee Tickner Edwardes 59 Tennyson A. C. Benson *6o From Midshipman to Field Marshal Sir Evelyn Wood 62 John Boyes, King of the Wa-Klkuyu John Boyes 63 Oscar Wilde Arthur Ransomc 64 The Vicar of Morwenstow S. Baring-Gould 65 Old Country Life S. Baring-Gould 66 Thomas Henry Huxley P. Chalmers Mitchell 67 Chitral Sir G. S. Robertson 68 Two Admirals Admiral John Moresby 76 Home Life in France M. Betham-Edwards 77 Selected Prose Oscar Wilde 78 The Best of Lamb E. V. Lucas 80 Selected Letters Robert Louis Stevenson 83 Reason and Belief Sir Oliver Lodge 85 The Importance of Being Earnest Oscar Wilde 88 The Tower of London Richard Davey 91 Social Evils and their Remedy Leo Tolstoy 93 The Substance of Faith Sir Oliver Lodge 94 All Things Considered G. K. Chesterton 95 The Mirror of the Sea Joseph Conrad 96 A Picked Company Hilaire Belloc 101 A Book of Famous Wits Walter Jerrold 1 16 The Survival of Man Sir Oliver Lodge 126 Science from an Easy Chair Sir Ray Lankester 141 Variety Lane E. V. Lucas 144 A Shilling for my Thoughts G. K. Chesterton 146 A Woman of No Importance Oscar Wilde 149 A Shepherd's Life W. H. Hudson * Slightly Abridged. Methuen & Co., Ltd. 36 Essex Street, London, W.C. A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS BEING A SELECTION FROM THE ESSAYS STORIES, AND OTHER WRITINGS OF G. K. CHESTERTON METHUEN & GO. LTD. 36 ESSEX STREET W.C. LONDON This Edition First Published in PREFACE THIS book has been compiled from the following books : Tremendous Trifles, All Things Considered, Alarms and Discur- sions, A Miscellany of Men, The Flying Inn, and Charles Dickens, all published by Messrs. Methuen. Also from The Club of Queer Trades, published by Messrs. Harper Brothers and Messrs. Hodder & Stoughton, who kindly allow an extract to be made; and from The Innocence of Father Brown, published by Messrs. Cassell & Co., who have granted a similar permission. [The selection has been made by Mr. E. V. LUCAS.] CONTENTS i'AGE A PIECE OF CHALK ..... 9 WHAT I FOUND IN MY POCKET . . . .13 THE MYSTERY OF A PAGEANT . . . . IJ THE SURRENDER OF A COCKNEY . 1 .21 THE GARDEN OF THE SEA . . . .25 THE APPETITE OF EARTH . . . .28 THE RIDDLE OF THE IVY . . . -31 THE BALLADE OF A STRANGE TOWN . . -35 AN ESSAY ON TWO CITIES . . . ,40 THE FAIRY PICKWICK . . . . .44 THE NEW HOUSE ...... 52 THE WINGS OF STONE . . . . - 55 THE ROMANTIC IN THE RAIN . . . .58 A DRINKING SONG ..... 6l I THE TRIUMPH OF THE DONKEY . . . .65 THE GOLD OF GLASTONBURY . . . .69 THE WHITE HORSES ..... 72 THE METHUSELAHITE ..... 76 ON RUNNING AFTER ONE'S HAT . . . .79 THE WRONG INCENDIARY . . . 83 THE WIND AND THE TREES . . . .87 A CAB RIDE ACROSS COUNTRY . . . .91 viii A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS PAGE THE WRONG SHAPE . 95 THE ENCHANTED MAN . . Il6 THE PRIEST OF SPRING . 1*9 THE GARDENER AND THE GUINEA . .124 ON LYING IN BED . .128 THE SINGULAR SPECULATION OF THE HOUSE-AGENT . 132 ANOTHER HOME IN THE BOUGHS . - 155 THE POET AND THE CHEESE . *6l THE CONTENTED MAN . .164 THE DRAGON'S GRANDMOTHER . . 168 THE MAID OF ORLEANS ... .172 THE PERFECT GAME . .176 DICKENS AND CHRISTMAS . - - . l8o A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS A PIECE OF CHALK 1 T REMEMBER one splendid morning, all blue and silver, in the summer holidays, when I reluctantly tore myself away from the task of doing nothing in par- ticular, and put on a hat of some sort and picked up a walking-stick, and put six very bright-coloured chalks in my pocket. I then went into the kitchen (which, along with the rest of the house, belonged to a very square and sensible old woman in a Sussex village), and asked the owner and occupant of the kitchen if she had any brown paper. She had a great deal ; in fact, she had too much ; and she mistook the purpose and the rationale of the existence of brown paper. She seemed to have an idea that if a person wanted brown paper he must be wanting to tie up parcels ; which was the last thing I wanted to do ; indeed, it is a thing which I have found to be beyond my mental capacity. Hence she dwelt very much on the varying qualities of toughness and endurance in the material. I explained to her that I only wanted to draw pictures on it, and that I did not want them to endure in the least ; and that from my point of view, therefore, it was a question not of tough consistency, but of responsive surface, a thing compara- tively irrelevant in a parcel. When she understood that I wanted to draw she offered to overwhelm me with note-paper, apparently supposing that I did my notes and correspondence on old brown paper wrappers from motives of economy. 1 From Tremendous Trifles. io A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS I then tried to explain the rather delicate logical shade, that I not only liked brown paper, but liked the quality of brownness in paper, just as I liked the quality of brownness in October woods, or in beer, or in the peat-streams of the North. Brown paper represents the primal twilight of the first toil of creation, and with a bright-coloured chalk or two you can pick out points of fire in it, sparks of gold, and blood-red, and sea- green, like the first fierce stars that sprang out of divine darkness. All this I said (in an off-hand way) to the old woman ; and I put the brown paper in my pocket along with the chalks, and possibly other things. I suppose every one must have reflected how primeval and how poetical are the things that one carries in one's pocket ; the pocket-knife, for instance, the type of all human tools, the infant of the sword. Once I planned to write a book of poems entirely about the things in my pocket. But I found it would be too long ; and the age of the great epics is past. ******* With my stick and my knife, my chalks and my brown paper, I went out on to the great downs. I crawled across those colossal contours that express the best quality of England, because they are at the same time soft and strong. The smoothness of them has the same meaning as the smoothness of great cart-horses, or the smoothness of the beech-tree ; it declares in the teeth of our timid and cruel theories that the mighty are merciful. As my eye swept the landscape, the land- scape was as kindly as any of its cottages, but for power it was like an earthquake. The villages in the immense valley were safe, one could see, for centuries ; yet the lifting of the whole land was like the lifting of one enormous wave to wash them all away. I crossed one swell of living turf after another, looking for a place to sit down and draw. Do not, for heaven's sake, imagine I was going to sketch from Nature. I was going to draw devils and seraphim, and blind old gods that men worshipped before the dawn of right, A PIECE OF CHALK n and saints in robes of angry crimson, and seas of strange green, and all the sacred or monstrous symbols that look so well in bright colours on brown paper. They are much better worth drawing than Nature ; also they are much easier to draw. When a cow came slouching by in the field next to me, a mere artist might have drawn it ; but I always get wrong in the hind legs of quadrupeds. So I drew the soul of the cow ; which I saw there plainly walking before me in the sunlight ; and the soul was all purple and silver, and had seven horns and the mystery that belongs to all the beasts. But though I could not with a crayon get the best out of the landscape, it does not follow that the landscape was not getting the best out of me. And this, I think, is the mistake that people make about the old poets who lived before Wordsworth, and were supposed not to care very much about Nature because they did not describe it much. They preferred writing about great men to writing about great hills ; but they sat on the great hills to write it. They gave out much less about Nature, but they drank in, perhaps, much more. They painted the white robes of their holy virgins with the blinding snow, at which they had stared all day. They blazoned the shields of their paladins with the purple and gold of many heraldic sunsets. The greenness of a thousand green leaves clustered into the live green figure of Robin Hood. The blueness of a score of forgotten skies became the blue robes of the Virgin. The inspiration went in like sunbeams and came out like Apollo. ******* But as I sat scrawling these silly figures on the brown paper, it began to dawn on me, to my great disgust, that I had left one chalk, and that a most exquisite and essential chalk, behind. I searched all my pockets, but I could not find any white chalk. Now, those who are acquainted with all the philosophy (nay, religion) which is typified in the art of drawing on brown paper, know that white is positive and essential. \ cannot 12 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS avoid remarking here upon a moral significance. One of the wise and awful truths which this brown-paper art reveals, is this, that white is a colour. It is not a mere absence of colour ; it is a shining and affirmative thing, as fierce as red, as definite as black. When (so to speak) your pencil grows red-hot, it draws roses ; when it grows white-hot, it draws stars. And one of the two or three defiant verities of the best religious morality, of real Christianity for example, is exactly this same thing ; the chief assertion of religious morality is that white is a colour. Virtue is not the absence of vices or the avoidance of moral dangers ; virtue is a vivid and separate thing, like pain or a particular smell. Mercy does not mean not being cruel or sparing people revenge or punishment ; it means a plain and positive thing like the sun, which one has either seen or not seen. Chastity does not mean abstention from sexual wrong ; it means something flaming, like Joan of Arc. In a word, God paints in many colours ; but He never paints so gorgeously, I had almost said so gaudily, as when He paints in white. In a sense our age has realized this fact, and expressed it in our sullen costume. For if it were really true that white was a blank and colourless thing, negative and non-committal, then white would be used instead of black and grey for the funeral dress of this pessimistic period. We should see city gentle- men in frock coats of spotless silver satin, with top hats as white as wonderful arum lilies. Which is not the case. Meanwhile, I could not find my chalk. ******* I sat on the hill in a sort of despair. There was no town nearer than Chichester at which it was even re- motely probable that there would be such a thing as an artist's colourman. And yet, without white, my absurd little pictures would be as pointless as the world would be if there were no good people in it. I stared stupidly round, racking my brain for expedients. Then I suddenly stood up and roared with laughter, again WHAT I FOUND IN MY POCKET 13 and again, so that the cows stared at me and called a committee. Imagine a man in the Sahara regretting that he had no sand for his hour-glass. Imagine a gentleman in mid-ocean wishing that he had brought some salt water with him for his chemical experiments. I was sitting on an immense warehouse of white chalk. The landscape was made entirely out of white chalk. White chalk was piled mere miles until it met the sky. I stooped and broke a piece off the rock I sat on : it did not mark so well as the shop chalks do ; but it gave the effect. And I stood there in a trance of pleasure, realizing that this Southern England is not only a grand peninsula, and a tradition and a civilization ; it is something even more admirable. It is a piece of chalk. WHAT I FOUND IN MY POCKET 1 ONCE when I was very young I met one of those men who have made the Empire what it is a man in an astrachan coat, with an astrachan moustache a tight, black, curly moustache. Whether he put on the moustache with the coat, or whether his Napoleonic will enabled him not only to grow a moustache in the usual place, but also to grow little moustaches all over his clothes, I do not know. I only remember that he said to me the following words : ' A man can't get on nowadays by hanging about with his hands in his pockets/ I made reply with the quite obvious flip- pancy that perhaps a man got on by having his hands in other people's pockets. Whereupon he began to argue about Moral Evolution, so I suppose what I said had some truth in it. But the incident now comes back to me, and connects itself with another incident if you can call it an incident which happened to me only the other day. 1 From Tremendous Trifles. 14 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS I have only once in my life picked a pocket, and then (perhaps through some absent-mindedness) I picked my own. My act can really with some reason be so described. For in taking things out of my own pocket I had at least one of the more tense and quivering emotions of the thief ; I had a complete ignorance and a profound curiosity as to what I should find there. Perhaps it would be the exaggeration of eulogy to call me a tidy person. But I can always pretty satisfactorily account for all my possessions. I can always tell where they are, and what I have done with them, so long as I can keep them out of my pockets. If once anything slips into those unknown abysses, I wave it a sad Virgilian farewell. I suppose that the things that I have dropped into my pockets are still there ; the same presumption applies to the things that I have dropped into the sea. But I regard the riches stored in both these bottomless chasms with the same reverent ignorance. They tell us that on the last day the sea will give up its dead ; and I suppose that on the same occasion long strings and strings of extraordinary things will come running out of my pockets. But I have quite forgotten what any of them are ; and there is really nothing (except- ing the money) that I shall be at all surprised at finding among them. ******* Such at least has hitherto been my state of innocence. I here only wish briefly to call the special, extraordinary, and hitherto unprecedented circumstances which led me in cold blood, and being of sound mind, to turn out my pockets. I was locked up in a third-class carriage for a rather long journey. The time was towards evening, but it might have been anything, for every- thing resembling earth or sky or light or shade was painted out as if with a great wet brush by an unshifting sheet of quite colourless rain. I had no books or news- papers. I had not even a pencil and a scrap of paper with which to write a religious epic. There were no advertisements on the walls of the carriage, otherwise WHAT I FOUND IN MY POCKET 15 I could have plunged into the study of them, for any collection of printed words is quite enough to suggest infinite complexities of mental ingenuity. When I find myself opposite the words ' Sunlight Soap ' I can exhaust all the aspects of Sun Worship, Apollo, and summer poetry before I go on to the less congenial subject of soap. But there was no printed word or picture anywhere ; there was nothing but blank wood inside the carriage and blank wet without, Now I deny most energetically that anything is, or can be, uninteresting. So I stared at the joints of the walls and seats, and began thinking hard on the fascinating subject of wood. Just as I had begun to realize why, perhaps, it was that Christ was a carpenter, rather than a bricklayer, or a baker, or anything else, I suddenly started upright, and remembered my pockets. I was carrying about with me an unknown treasury. I had a British Museum and a South Kensington collection of unknown curios hung all over me in different places. I began to take the things out. ******* The first thing I came upon consisted of piles and heaps of Battersea tram tickets. There were enough to equip a paper chase. They shook down in showers like confetti. Primarily, of course, they touched my patriotic emotions, and brought tears to my eyes ; also they provided me with the printed matter I re- quired, for I found on the back of them some short but striking little scientific essays about some kind of pill. Comparatively speaking, in my then destitution, those tickets might be regarded as a small but well-chosea scientific library. Should my railway journey continue (which seemed likely at the time) for a few months longer, I could imagine myself throwing myself into the controversial aspects of the pill, composing replies and rejoinders pro and con upon the data furnished to me. But after all it was the symbolic quality of the tickets that moved me most. For as certainly as the Cross of St. George means English patriotism, those scraps of 16 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS paper meant all that municipal patriotism which is now, perhaps, the greatest hope of England. The next thing that I took out was a pocket-knife. A pocket-knife, I need hardly say, would require a thick book full of moral meditations all to itself. A knife typifies one of the most primary of those practical origins upon which as upon low, thick pillars all our human civilization reposes. Metals, the mystery of the thing called iron and of the thing called steel, led me off half dazed into a kind of dream. I saw into the entrails of dim, damp woods : where the first man, among all the common stones, found the strange stone. I saw a vague and violent battle, in which stone axes broke and stone knives were splintered against some- thing shining and new in the hand of one desperate man. I heard all the hammers on all the anvils of the earth. I saw all the swords of feudal and all the wheels of industrial war. For the knife is only a short sword ; and the pocket-knife is a secret sword. I opened it and looked at that brilliant and terrible tongue which we call a blade ; and I thought that perhaps it was the symbol of the oldest of the needs of man. The next moment I knew that I was wrong ; for the thing that came next out of my pocket was a box of matches. Then I saw fire, which is stronger even than steel, the old, fierce female thing, the thing we all love, but dare not touch. The next thing I found was a piece of chalk ; and I saw hi it all the art and all the frescoes of the world. The next was a coin of a very modest value ; and I saw in it not only the image and superscription of our own Caesar, but all government and order since the world began. But I have not space to say what were the items in the long and splendid procession of poetical symbols that came pouring out. I cannot tell you all the things that were in my pocket. I can tell you one thing, however, that I could not find in my pocket. I allude to my railway ticket. THE MYSTERY OF A PAGEANT 17 THE MYSTERY OF A PAGEANT 1 ONCE upon a time, it seems centuries ago, I was prevailed on to take a small part in one of those historical processions or pageants which happened to be fashionable in or about the year 1909. And since I tend, like all who are growing old, to re-enter the remote past as a paradise or playground, I disinter a memory which may serve to stand among those memories of small but strange incidents with which I have some- times filled this column. The thing has really some of the dark qualities of a detective-story ; though I suppose that Sherlock Holmes himself could hardly unravel it now, when the scent is so old and cold and most of the actors, doubtless, long dead. This old pageant included a series of figures from the eighteenth century, and I was told that I was just like Dr. Johnson. Seeing that Dr. Johnson was heavily seamed with small-pox, had a waistcoat all over gravy, snorted and rolled as he walked, and was probably the ugliest man in London, I mention this identification as a fact and not as a vaunt. I had nothing to do with the arrangement ; and such fleeting suggestions as I made were not taken so seriously as they might have been. I requested that a row of posts should be erected across the lawn, so that I might touch all of them but one, and then go back and touch that. Failing this, I felt that the least they could do was to have twenty- five cups of tea stationed at regular intervals along the course, each held by a Mrs. Thrale in full costume. My best constructive suggestion was the most harshly rejected of all. In front of me in the procession walked the great Bishop Berkeley, the man who turned the tables on the early materialists by maintaining that matter itself very possibly does not exist. Dr. Johnson, you will remember, did not like such bottomless fancies as Berkeley's, and kicked a stone with his boot, saying, ] From Tremendous Trifles. iS A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS ' I refute him so ! ' Now (as I pointed out) kicking a stone would not make the metaphysical quarrel quite clear ; besides, it would hurt. But how picturesque and perfect it would be if I moved across the ground in the symbolic attitude of kicking Bishop Berkeley ! How complete an allegoric group ; the great transcenden- talist walking with his head among the stars, but behind him the avenging realist pede claudo, with uplifted foot. But I must not take up space with these forgotten frivolities ; we old men grow too garrulous in talking of the distant past. This story scarcely concerns me either in my real or my assumed character. Suffice it to say that the pro- cession took place at night in a large garden and by torchlight (so remote is the date), that the garden was crowded with Puritans, monks, and men-at-arms, and especially with early Celtic saints smoking pipes, and with elegant Renaissance gentlemen talking Cockney. Suffice it to say, or rather it is needless to say, that I got lost. I wandered away into some dim corner of that dim shrubbery, where there was nothing to do except tumble over tent ropes, and I began almost to feel like my prototype, and to share his horror of solitude and hatred of a country life. In this detachment and dilemma I saw another man in a white wig advancing across this forsaken stretch of lawn ; a tall, lean man, who stooped in his long black robes like a stooping eagle. When I thought he would pass me, he stopped before my face, and said, 'Dr. Johnson, I think. I am Paley.' ' Sir/ I said, ' you used to guide men to the beginnings of Christianity. If you can guide me now to wherever this infernal thing begins you will perform a yet higher and harder function.' His costume and style were so perfect that for the instant I really thought he was a ghost. He took no notice of my flippancy, but, turning his black-robed back on me, led me through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways, until we came out into the glare THE MYSTERY OF A PAGEANT 19 of gaslight and laughing men in masquerade, and I could easily laugh at myself. And there, you will say, was an end of the matter. I am (you will say) naturally obtuse, cowardly, and mentally deficient. I was, moreover, unused to pageants ; I felt frightened in the dark and took a man for a spectre whom, in the light, I could recognize as a modern gentle- man in a masquerade dress. No ; far from it. That spectral person was my first introduction to a spectral incident which has never been explained and which still lays its finger on my nerve. I mixed with the men of the eighteenth century ; and we fooled as one does at a fancy-dress ball. There was Burke as large as life and a great deal better looking. There was Cowper much larger than life ; he ought to have been a little man in a night-cap, .with a cat under one arm and a spaniel under the other. As it was, he was a magnificent person, and looked more like the Master of Ballantrae than Cowper. I persuaded him at last to the night-cap, but never, alas, to the cat and dog. When I came the next night Burke was still the same beautiful improvement upon himself ; Cowper was still weeping for his dog and cat and would not be comforted ; Bishop Berkeley was still waiting to be kicked in the interests of philosophy. In short, I met all my old friends but one. Where was Paley ? I had been mystically moved by the man's presence ; I was moved more by his absence. At last I saw advancing towards us across the twilight garden a little man with a large book and a bright attractive face. When he came near enough he said, in a small, clear voice, ' I 'm Paley.' The thing was quite natural, of course ; the man was ill and had sent a substitute. Yet somehow the contrast was a shock. By the next night I had grown quite friendly with my four or five colleagues ; I had discovered what is called a mutual friend with Berkeley and several points of difference with Burke. Cowper, I think it was, who introduced me to a friend of his, a fresh face, square and 20 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS sturdy, framed in a white wig. ' This/ he explained, ' is my friend So-and-So. He 's Paley/ I looked round at all the faces by this time fixed and familiar ; I studied them ; I counted them ; then I bowed to the third Paley as one bows to necessity. So far the thing was well within the limits of coincidence. It certainly seemed odd that this one particular cleric should be so varying and elusive. It was singular that Paley, alone among men, should be sometimes tall and sometimes short, should swell and shrink and alter like a phantom, while all else remained solid. But the thing was explicable ; two men had been ill and there was an end of it. Or there should have been an end of it ; only I went again the next night, and a clear-coloured elegant youth with powdered hair bounded up to me, and told me with boyish excitement that he was Paley. For the next twenty-four hours I remained in the mental condition of the modern world. I mean the condition in which all natural explanations have broken down and no supernatural explanation has been estab- lished. My bewilderment had reached to boredom when I found myself once more in the colour and clatter of the pageant, and I was all the more pleased because I met an old school-fellow, and we mutually recognized each other under our heavy clothes and hoary wigs. We talked about all those great things for which litera- ture is too small and only life large enough ; red-hot memories and those gigantic details which make up the characters of men. I heard all about the friends he had lost sight of and those he had kept in sight ; I heard about his profession, and asked at last how he come into the pageant. ' The fact is/ he said, ' a friend of mine asked me, just for to-night, to act a chap called Paley ; I don't know who he was. . . / 1 No by thunder ! ' I said, * nor does any one/ This was the last blow, and the next night passed like a dream. I scarcely noticed the slender, sprightly, and entirely new figure which fell into the ranks in the THE SURRENDER OF A COCKNEY 21 place of Paley, so many times deceased. What could it mean ? Why was the giddy Paley unfaithful among the faithful found ? Did these perpetual changes prove the popularity or the unpopularity of being Paley ? Was it that no human being could support being Paley for one night and live till morning ? Or was it that the gates were crowded with eager throngs of the British public thirsting to be Paley, who could only be let in one at a time ? Or is there some ancient vendetta against Paley ? Does some secret society of Deists still assassinate any one who adopts the name ? I cannot conjecture further about this true tale of mystery ; and that for two reasons. First, the story is so true that I have had to put a lie into it. Every word of this narrative is veracious, except the one word Paley. And second, because I have got to go into the next room and dress up as Dr. Johnson. THE SURRENDER OF A COCKNEY 1 EVERY man, though he were born in the very belfry of Bow and spent his infancy climbing among chimneys, has waiting for him somewhere a country house which he has never seen ; but which was built for him in the very shape of his soul. It stands patiently waiting to be found, knee-deep in orchards of Kent or mirrored in pools of Lincoln ; and when the man sees it he remembers it, though he has never seen it before. Even I have been forced to confess this at last, who am a Cockney, if ever there was one, a Cockney not only on principle, but with savage pride. I have always maintained, quite seriously, that the Lord is not in the wind or thunder of the waste, but if anywhere 1 From Alarms and Discursions. 22 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS in the still small voice of Fleet Street. I sincerely maintain that Nature- worship is more morally dangerous than the most vulgar man-worship of the cities ; since it can easily be perverted into the worship of an im- personal mystery, carelessness, or cruelty. Thoreau would have been a jollier fellow if he had devoted him- self to a greengrocer instead of to greens. Swinburne would have been a better moralist if he had worshipped a fishmonger instead of worshipping the sea. I prefer the philosophy of bricks and mortar to the philosophy of turnips. To call a man a turnip may be playful, but is seldom respectful. But when we wish to pay emphatic honour to a man, to praise the firmness of his nature, the squareness of his conduct, the strong humility with which he is interlocked with his equals in silent mutual support, then we invoke the nobler Cockney metaphor, and call him a brick. But, despite all these theories, I have surrendered ; I have struck my colours at sight ; at a mere glimpse through the opening of a hedge. I shall come down to living in the country, like any common Socialist or Simple Lifer. I shall end my days in a village, in the character of the Village Idiot, and be a spectacle and a judgment to mankind. I have already learnt the rustic manner of leaning upon a gate ; and I was tbus gymnastically occupied at the moment when my eye caught the house that was made for me. It stood well back from the road, and was built of a good yellow brick ; it was narrow for its height, like the tower of some Border robber ; and over the front door was carved in large letters, ' 1908.' That last burst of sincerity, that superb scorn of antiquarian sentiment, overwhelmed me finally. I closed my eyes in a kind of ecstasy. My friend (who was helping me to lean on the gate) asked me with some curiosity what I was doing. ' My dear fellow/ I said, with emotion, ' I am bidding farewell to forty- three hansom cabmen.' ' Well/ he said, ' I suppose they would think this country rather outside the radius/ THE SURRENDER OF A COCKNEY 23 ' Oh, my friend/ I cried brokenly, ' how beautiful London is ! Why do they only write poetry about the country ? I could turn every lyric cry into Cockney. " My heart leaps up when I behold A' sky-sign in the sky," as I observed in a volume which is too little read, founded on the older English poets. You never saw my " Golden Treasury Regilded ; or, The Classics Made Cockney " it contained some fine lines. " O Wild West End, thou breath of London's being," or the reminiscence of Keats, beginning " City of smuts and mellow fogfulness." I have written many such lines on the beauty of London ; yet I never realized that London was really beautiful till now. Do you ask me why ? It is because I have left it for ever/ ' If you will take my advice/ said my friend, ' you will humbly endeavour not to be a fool. What is the sense of this mad modern notion that every literary man must live in the country, with the pigs and the donkeys and the squires ? Chaucer and Spenser and Milton and Dryden lived in London ; Shakespeare and Dr. Johnson came to London because they had had quite enough of the country. And as for trumpery topical journalists like you, why, they would cut their throats in the country. You have confessed it your- self in your own last words. You hunger and thirst after the streets ; you think London the finest place on the planet. And if by some miracle a Bayswater omnibus could come down this green country lane you would utter a yell of joy/ Then a light burst upon my brain, and I turned upon him with terrible sternness. * Why, miserable aesthete/ I said in a voice of thunder, 24 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS ' that is the true country spirit ! That is how the real rustic feels. The real rustic does utter a yell of joy at the sight of a Bayswater omnibus. The real rustic does think London the finest place on the planet. In the few moments that I have stood by this stile, I have grown rooted here like an ancient tree ; I have been here for ages. Petulant Suburban, I am the real rustic. I believe that the streets of London are paved with gold ; and I mean to see it before I die/ The evening breeze freshened among the little tossing trees of that lane, and the purple evening clouds piled up and darkened behind my Country Seat, the house that belonged to me, making, by contrast, its yellow bricks gleam like gold. At last my friend said : ' To cut it short, then, you mean that you will live in the country because you won't like it. What on earth will you do here ; dig up the garden ? ' ' Dig ! ' I answered, in honourable scorn. ' Dig ! Do work at my Country Seat ; no, thank you. When I find a Country Seat, I sit in it. And for your other objection, you are quite wrong. I do not dislike the country, but I like th town more. Therefore the art of happiness certainly suggests that I should live in the country and think about the town. Modern Nature- worship is all upside down. Trees and fields ought to be the ordinary things ; terraces and temples ought to be extraordinary. I am on the side of the man who lives in the country and wants to go to London. I abominate and abjure the man who lives in London and wants to go to the country ; I do it with all the more heartiness because I am that sort of man myself. We must learn to love London again, as rustics love it. Therefore (I quote again from the great Cockney version of The Golden Treasury) " Therefore,' ye gas-pipes, ye asbestos stoves, Forbode not any severing of our loves. I have relinquished but your earthly sight, To hold you dear in a more distant way. THE GARDEN OF THE SEA 25 I '11 love the 'buses lumbering through the wet, Even more than when I lightly tripped as they. The grimy colour of the London clay Is lovely yet," because I have found the house where I was really born ; the tall and quiet house from which I can see London afar off, as the miracle of man that it is.' THE GARDEN OF THE SEA 1 i ONE sometimes hears from persons of the chillier type of culture the remark that plain country people do not appreciate the beauty of the country. This is an error rooted in the intellectual pride of medioc- rity ; and is one of the many examples of a truth in the idea that extremes meet. Thus, to appreciate the virtues of the mob one must either be on a level with it (as I am) or be really high up, like the saints. It is roughly the same with aesthetics ; slang and rude dialect can be relished by a reaUy literary taste, but not by a merely bookish taste. And when these cultivated cranks say that rustics do not talk of Nature in an appreciative way, they really mean that they do not talk in a bookish way. They do not talk bookishly about clouds or stones, or pigs or slugs, or horses or anything you please. They talk piggishly about pigs ; and sluggishly, I suppose, about slugs; and are refresh- ingly horsy about horses. They speak in a stony way of stones ; they speak in a cloudy way of clouds ; and this is surely the right way. And if by any chance a simple intelligent person from the country comes in contact with any aspect of Nature unfamiliar and arresting, such a person's comment is always worth remark. It is sometimes an epigram, and at worst it is never a quotation. 1 From Alarms and Discursions. 26 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS Consider, for instance, what wastes of wordy imita- tion and ambiguity the ordinary educated person in the big towns could pour out on the subject of the sea. A country girl I know in the county of Buckingham had never seen the sea in her life until the other day. When she was asked what she thought of it she said it was like cauliflowers. Now that is a piece of pure literature vivid, entirely independent and original, and perfectly true. I had always been haunted with an analogous kinship which I could never locate ; cabbages always remind me of the sea and the sea always reminds me of cabbages. It is partly, perhaps, the veined mingling of violet and green, as in the sea a purple that is almost dark red may mix with a green that is almost yellow, and still be the blue sea as a whole. But it is more the grand curves of the cabbage that curl over cavernously like waves, and it is partly again that dreamy repetition, as of a pattern, that made two great poets, ^Eschylus and Shakespeare, use a word like ' multitudinous ' of the ocean. But just where my fancy halted the Buckinghamshire young woman rushed (so to speak) to my imaginative rescue. Cauliflowers are twenty times better than cabbages, for they show the wave breaking as well as curling, and the efflores- cence of the branching foam, blind, bubbling, and opaque. Moreover, the strong lines of life are suggested ; the arches of the rushing waves have all the rigid energy of green stalks, as if the whole sea were one great green plant with one immense white flower rooted in the abyss. Now, a large number of delicate and superior persons would refuse to see the force in that kitchen garden comparison, because it is not connected with any of the ordinary maritime sentiments as stated in books and songs. The aesthetic amateur would say that he knew what large and philosophical thoughts he ought to have by the boundless deep. He would say that he was not a greengrocer who would think first of greens. To which I should reply, like Hamlet, apropos of a parallel profession, ' I would you were so honest a man/ THE GARDEN OF THE SEA 27 The mention of ' Hamlet ' reminds me, by the way, that besides the girl who had never seen the sea, I knew a girl who had never seen a stage-play. She was taken to ' Hamlet/ and she said it was very sad. There is another case of going to the primordial point which is overlaid by learning and secondary impressions. We are so used to thinking of ' Hamlet ' as a problem that we sometimes quite forget that it is a tragedy, just as we are so used to thinking of the sea as vast and vague, that we scarcely notice when it is white and green. But there is another quarrel involved in which the young gentleman of culture comes into violent collision with the young lady of the cauliflowers. The first essential of the merely bookish view of the sea is that it is boundless, and gives a sentiment of infinity. Now it is quite certain, I think, that the cauliflower simile was partly created by exactly the opposite impression, the impression of boundary and of barrier. The girl thought of it as a field of vegetables, even as a yard of vegetables. The girl was right. The ocean only suggests infinity when you cannot see it ; a sea mist may seem endless, but not a sea. So far from being vague and vanishing, the sea is the one hard straight line in Nature. It is the one plain limit ; the only thing that God has made that really looks like a wall. Compared to the sea, not only sun and cloud are chaotic and doubtful, but solid moun- tains and standing forests may be said to melt and fade and flee in the presence of that lonely iron line. The old naval phrase, that the seas are England's bulwarks, is not a frigid and artificial metaphor ; it came into the head of some genuine sea-dog, when he was genuinely looking at the sea. For the edge of the sea is like the edge of a sword ; it is sharp, military, and decisive ; it really looks like a bolt or bar, and not like a mere expansion. It hangs in heaven, grey, or green, or blue, changing in colour, but changeless in form, behind all the slippery contours of the Ian4 and all the savage softness of the forests, like the scales of 28 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS God held even. It hangs, a perpetual reminder of that divine reason and justice which abides behind all com- promises and all legitimate variety ; the one straight line ; the limit of the intellect ; the dark and ultimate dogma of the world. THE APPETITE OF EARTH 1 T WAS walking the other day in a kitchen garden, -* which I find has somehow got attached to my premises, and I was wondering why I liked it. After a prolonged spiritual self-analysis I came to the con- clusion that I like a kitchen garden because it contains things to eat. I do not mean that a kitchen garden is ugly ; a kitchen garden is often very beautiful. The mixture of green and purple on some monstrous cabbage is much subtler and grander than the mere freakish and theatrical splashing of yellow and violet on a pansy. Few of the flowers merely meant for ornament are so ethereal as a potato. A kitchen garden is as beautiful as an orchard ; but why is it that the word ' orchard ' sounds as beautiful as the word ' flower-garden/ and yet also sounds more satisfactory ? I suggest again my extraordinarily dark and delicate discovery : that it contains things to eat. The cabbage is a solid ; it can be approached from all sides at once ; it can be realized by all senses at once. Compared with that the sunflower, which can only be seen, is a mere pattern, a thing painted on a flat wall. Now, it is this sense of the solidity of things that can only be uttered by the metaphor of eating. To express the cubic content of a turnip, you must be all round it at once. The only way to get all round a turnip at once is to eat the turnip. I think any poetic mind that has loved solidity, the thickness of trees, 1 From Alarms and Discursions. THE APPETITE OF EARTH 29 the squareness of stones, the firmness of clay, must have sometimes wished that they were things to eat. If only brown peat tasted as good as it looks ; if only white fir-wood were digestible ! We talk rightly of giving stones for bread : but there are in the Geological Museum certain rich crimson marbles, certain split stones of blue and green, that make me wish my teeth were stronger. Somebody staring into the sky with the same ethereal appetite declared that the moon was made of green cheese. I never could conscientiously accept the full doctrine. I am Modernist in this matter. That the moon is made of cheese I have believed from childhood ; and in the course of every month a giant (of my acquaint- ance) bites a big round piece out of it. This seems to me a doctrine that is above reason, but not contrary to it. But that the cheese is green seems to be in some degree actually contradicted by the senses and the reason ; first because if the moon were made of green cheese it would be inhabited ; and second because if it were made of green cheese it would be green. A blue moon is said to be an unusual sight ; but I cannot think that a green one is much more common. In fact, I think I have seen the moon looking like every other sort of cheese except a green cheese. I have seen it look exactly like a cream cheese : a circle of warm white upon a warm faint violet sky above a cornfield in Kent. I have seen it look very like a Dutch cheese, rising a dull red copper disk amid masts and dark waters at Honfleur. I have seen it look like an ordinary sensible Cheddar cheese in an ordinary sensible Prussian blue sky ; and I have once seen it so naked and ruinous- looking, so strangely lit up, that it looked like a Gruyere cheese, that awful volcanic cheese that has horrible holes in it, as if it had come in boiling unnatural milk from mysterious and unearthly cattle. But I have never yet seen the lunar cheese green ; and I incline to the opinion that the moon is not old enough. The moon, like everything else, will ripen by the end of the 30 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS world ; and in the last days we shall see it taking on those volcanic sunset colours, and leaping with that enormous and fantastic life. But this is a parenthesis ; and one perhaps slightly lacking in prosaic actuality. Whatever may be the value of the above speculations, the phrase about the moon and green cheese remains a good example of this imagery of eating and drinking on a large scale. The same huge fancy is in the phrase ' if all the trees were bread and cheese/ which I have cited elsewhere in this connection ; and in that noble nightmare of a Scandi- navian legend, in which Thor drinks the deep sea nearly dry out of a horn. In an essay like the present (first intended as a paper to be read before the Royal Society) one cannot be too exact ; and I will concede that my theory of the gradual virescence of our satellite is to be regarded rather as an alternative theory than as a law finally demonstrated and universally accepted by the scientific world. It is a hypothesis that holds the field, as the scientists say of a theory when there is no evi- dence for it so far. But the reader need be under no apprehension that I have suddenly gone mad, and shall start biting large pieces out of the trunks of trees ; or seriously altering (by large semicircular mouthfuls) the exquisite outline of the mountains. This feeling for expressing a fresh solidity by the image of eating is really a very old one. So far from being a paradox of perversity, it is one of the oldest commonplaces of religion. If any one wander- ing about wants to have a good trick or test for separat- ing the wrong idealism from the right, I will give him one on the spot. It is a mark of false religion that it is always trying to express concrete facts as abstract ; it calls sex affinity ; it calls wine alcohol ; it calls brute starvation the economic problem. The test of true religion is that its energy drives exactly the other way ; it is always trying to make men feel truths as facts ; always trying to make abstract things as plain and solid as concrete things ; always trying to make men, THE RIDDLE OF THE IVY 31 not merely admit the truth, but see, smell, handle, hear, and devour the truth. All great spiritual scriptures are full of the invitation not to test, but to taste ; not to examine, but to eat. Their phrases are full of living water and heavenly bread, mysterious manna and dreadful wine. Worldliness, and the polite society of the world, has despised this instinct of eating; but religion has never despised it. When we look at a firm, fat, white cliff of chalk at Dover, I do not suggest that we should desire to eat it ; that would be highly abnormal. But I really mean that we should think it good to eat ; good for some one else to eat. For, indeed, some one else is eating it ; the grass that grows upon its top is devouring it silently, but, doubtless, with an uproarious appetite. THE RIDDLE OF THE IVY 1 ONE day, as I was leaving London for a holiday, a friend walked into my flat in Battersea and found me surrounded with half-packed luggage. ' You seem to be off on your travels/ he said. ' Where are you going ? ' With a strap between my teeth I replied, ' To Battersea/ ' The wit of your remark/ he said, ' wholly, escapes me/ ' I am going to Battersea/ I repeated, ' to Battersea via Paris, Belfort, Heidelberg, and Frankfort. My remark contained no wit. It contained simply the truth. I am going to wander over the whole world until once more I find Battersea. Somewhere in the seas of sunset or of sunrise, somewhere in the ultimate archipelago of the earth, there is one little island which 1 From Tremendous Trifles. 32 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS I wish to find : an island with low green hills and great white cliffs. Travellers tell me that it is called England (Scotch travellers tell me that it is called Britain), and there is a rumour that somewhere in the heart of it there is a beautiful place called Battersea. ' ' I suppose it is unnecessary to tell you/ said my friend, with an air of intellectual compassion, ' that this is Battersea ? ' ' It is quite unnecessary/ I said, * and it is spiritually untrue. I cannot see any Battersea here ; I cannot see any London or any England. I cannot see that door. I cannot see that chair : because a cloud of sleep and custom has come across my eyes. The only way to get back to them is to go somewhere else ; and that is the real object of travel and the real pleasure of holidays. Do you suppose that I go to France in order to see France ? Do you suppose that I go to Germany in order to see Germany ? I shall enjoy them both ; but it is not them that I am seeking. I am seeking Battersea. The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign lands ; it is at last to set foot on one's own country as a foreign land. Now I warn you that this Gladstone bag is compact and heavy, and that if you utter that word " paradox " I shall hurl it at your head. I did not make the world, and I did not make it paradoxical. It is not my fault, it is the truth, that the only way to go to England is to go away from it/ But when after only a month's travelling I did come back to England, I was startled to find that I had told the exact truth. England did break on me at once beautifully new and beautifully old. To land at Dover is the right way to approach England (most things that are hackneyed are right), for then you see first the full, soft gardens of Kent, which are, perhaps, an exaggera- tion, but still a typical exaggeration, of the rich rusticity of England. As it happened, also, a fellow-traveller with whom I had fallen into conversation felt the same freshness, though for another cause. She was an THE RIDDLE OF THE IVY 33 American lady who had seen Europe, and had never yet seen England, and she expressed her enthusiasm in that simple and splendid way which is natural to Americans, who are the most idealistic people in the whole world. Their only danger is that the idealist can easily become the idolater. And the American has become so idealistic that he even idealizes money. But (to quote a very able writer of American short stories) that is another story. ' I have never been in England before/ said the American lady, ' yet it is so pretty that I feel as if I have been away from it for a long time/ ' So you have/ I said ; ' you have been away for three hundred years/ ' What a lot of ivy you have/ she said. ' It covers the churches and it buries the houses. We have ivy ; but I have never seen it grow like that/ ' I am interested to hear it/ I replied, ' for I am making a little list of all the things that are really better in England. Even a month on the Continent, combined with intelligence, will teach you that there are many things that are better abroad. All the things that Mr. Kipling calls English are better abroad. But there are things entirely English and entirely good. Kippers, for instance, and Free Trade, and front gardens, and individual liberty, and the Elizabethan drama, and hansom cabs, and cricket, and Mr. Will Crooks. Above all, there is the happy and holy custom of eating a heavy breakfast. I cannot imagine that Shakespeare began the day with rolls and coffee, like a Frenchman or a German. Surely he began with bacon or bloaters. In fact, a light bursts upon me ; for the first time I see the real meaning of Mrs. Gallup and the Great Cipher. It is merely a mistake in the matter of a capital letter. I withdraw my objections ; I accept everything ; bacon did write Shakespeare/ ' I cannot look at anything but the ivy/ she said, ' it looks so comfortable/ While she looked at the ivy I opened for the first 34 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS time for many weeks an English newspaper, and I read a speech by Mr. Balfour in which he said that the House of Lords ought to be preserved because it repre- sented something in the nature cf permanent public opinion of England, above the ebb and flow of the parties. Now Mr. Balfour is a perfectly sincere patriot, a man who, from his own point of view, thinks long and seriously about the public needs, and he is, moreover, a man of entirely exceptional intellectual power. But alas ! in spite of all this, when I had read that speech I thought with a heavy heart that there was one more thing that I had to add to the list of the specially English things, such as kippers and cricket ; I had to add the specially English kind of humbug. In France things are attacked and defended for what they are. The Catholic Church is attacked because it is Catholic, and defended because it is Catholic. The Republic is de- fended because it is Republican, and attacked because it is Republican. But here is the ablest of English politicians consoling everybody by explaining that the House of Lords is not really the House of Lords, but something quite different, that the foolish, accidental peers whom he meets every night are in some mysterious way experts upon the psychology of the democracy ; that if you want to know what the very poor want you must ask the very rich, and that if you want the truth about Hoxton you must ask for it at Hatfield. If the Conservative defender of the House of Lords were a logical French politician he would simply be a liar. But being an English politician he is simply a poet. The English love of believing that all is as it should be, the English optimism combined with the strong English imagination, is too much even for the obvious facts. In a cold, scientific sense, of course, Mr. Balfour knows that nearly all the Lords who are not Lords by accident are Lords by bribery. He knows, and (as Mr. Belloc excellently said) everybody in Parliament knows, the very names of the peers who have purchased their peer- ages. But the glamour of comfort, the pleasure of THE BALLADE OF A STRANGE TOWN 35 reassuring himself and reassuring others, is too strong for this original knowledge ; at last it fades from him, and he sincerely and earnestly calls on Englishmen to join with him in admiring an august and public-spirited Senate, having wholly forgotten that the Senate really consists of dunces whom he has himself despised and adventurers whom he has himself ennobled. * Your ivy is so beautifully soft and thick/ said the American lady, ' it seems to cover almost everything. It must be the most poetical thing in England/ ' It is very beautiful/ I said, ' and, as you say, it is very English. Charles Dickens, who was almost more English than England, wrote one of his rare poems about the beauty of ivy. Yes, by all means let us admire the ivy, so deep, so warm, so full of a genial gloom and a grotesque tenderness. Let us admire the ivy, and let us pray to God in His mercy that it may not kill the tree/ THE BALLADE OF A STRANGE TOWN l friend and I, in fooling about Flanders, fell into a fixed affection for the town of Mechlin or Malines. Our rest there was so restful that we almost felt it as a home, and hardly strayed out of it. We sat day after day in the market-place, under little trees growing in wooden tubs, and looked up at the noble converging lines of the Cathedral tower, from which the three riders from Ghent, in the poem, heard the bell which told them they were not too late. But we took as much pleasure in the people, in the little boys with open, flat Flemish faces and fur collars round their necks, making them look like burgomasters*; or 1 From Tremendous Trifles. 36 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS the women, whose prim, oval faces, hair strained tightly off the temples, and mouths at once hard, meek, and humorous, exactly reproduced the late mediaeval faces in Memling and Van Eyck. But one afternoon, as it happened, my friend rose from under his little tree, and, pointing to a sort of toy train that was puffing smoke in one corner of the clear square, suggested that we should go by it. We got into the little train, which was meant really to take the peasants and their vegetables to and fro from their fields beyond the town, and the official came round to give us tickets. We asked him what place we should get to if we paid fivepence. The Belgians are not a romantic people, and he asked us (with a lamentable mixture of Flemish coarseness and French rationalism) where we wanted to go. We explained that we wanted to go to fairyland, and the only question was whether we could get there for fivepence. At last, after a great deal of inter- national misunderstanding (for he spoke French in the Flemish and we in the English manner), he told us that fivepence would take us to a place which I have never seen written down, but which when spoken sounded like the word ' Waterloo ' pronounced by an intoxicated patriot ; I think it was Waerlowe. We clasped our hands and said it was the place that we had been seek- ing from boyhood, and when we had got there we descended with promptitude. For a moment I had a horrible fear that it really was the field of Waterloo ; but I was comforted by remem- bering that it was in quite a different part of Belgium. It was a cross-roads, with one cottage at the corner, a perspective of tall trees like Hobbema's ' Avenue/ and beyond only the infinite flat chess-board of the little fields. It was the scene of peace and prosperity ; but I must confess that my friend's first action was to ask the man when there would be another train back to Mechlin. The man stated that there would be a train back in exactly one hour. We walked up the avenue, THE BALLADE OF A STRANGE TOWN 37 and when we were nearly half an hour's walk away it began to rain. ******* We arrived back at the cross-roads sodden and dripping, and, finding the train waiting, climbed into it with some relief. The officer on this train could speak nothing but Flemish, but he understood the name of Mechlin, and indicated that when we came to Mechlin Station he would put us down, which, after the right interval of time, he did. \Ve got down, under a steady downpour, evidently on the edge of Mechlin, though the features could not easily be recognized through the grey screen of the rain. I do not generally agree with those who find rain de- pressing. A shower-bath is not depressing ; it is rather startling. And if it is exciting when a man throws a pail of water over you, why should it not also be exciting when the gods throw many pails ? But on this soaking afternoon, whether it was the dull sky-line of the Nether- lands or the fact that we were returning home without any adventure, I really did think things a trifle dreary. As soon as we could creep under the shelter of a street we turned into a little cafe, kept by one woman. She was incredibly old, and she spoke no French. There we drank black coffee and what was called ' cognac fine.' ' Cognac fine ' were the only two French words used in the establishment, and they were not true. At least, the fineness (perhaps by its very ethereal delicacy) escaped me. After a little my friend, who was more restless than I, got up and went out, to see if the rain had stopped and if we could at once stroll back to our hotel by the station. I sat finishing my coffee in a colourless mood, and listening to the unre- mitting rain. ******* Suddenly the door burst open, and my friend appeared, transfigured and frantic. ' Get up ! ' he cried, waving his hands wildly. *' Get up ! We 're in the wrong town ! We 're not in Mechlin 3 8 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS at all. Mechlin is ten miles, twenty miles off God knows what ! We 're somewhere near Antwerp.' ' What ! ' I cried, leaping from my seat, and sending the furniture flying. ' Then all is well, after all ! Poetry only hid her face for an instant behind a cloud. Posi- tively for a moment I was feeling depressed because we were in the right town. But if we are in the wrong town why, we have our adventure after all ! If we are in the wrong town, we are in the right place/ I rushed out into the rain, and my friend followed me somewhat more grimly. We discovered we were in a town called Lierre, which seemed to consist chiefly of bankrupt pastrycooks who sold lemonade. ' This is the peak of our whole poetic progress ! ' I cried enthusiastically. ' We must do something, some- thing sacramental and commemorative ! We cannot sacrifice an ox, and it would be a bore to build a temple. Let us write a poem/ With but slight encouragement, I took out an old envelope and one of those pencils that turn bright violet in water. There was plenty of water about, and the violet ran down the paper ,- symbolizing the rich purple of that romantic hour. I began, choosing the form of an old French ballade ; it is the easiest because it is the most restricted " Can Man to Mount Olympus rise, And fancy Primrose Hill the scene? Can a man walk in Paradise And think he is in Turnham Green ? And could I take you for Malines, Not knowing the nobler thing you were? O Pearl of all the plain, and queen, The lovely city of Lierre. Through memory's mist in glimmering guise Shall shine your streets of sloppy sheen, And wet shall grow my dreaming eyes, To think how wet my boots have been. Now if I die or shoot a Dean " Here I broke off to ask my friend whether he thought THE BALLADE OF A STRANGE TOWN 39 it expressed a more wild calamity to shoot a Dean or to be a Dean. But he only turned up his coat collar, and I felt that for him the muse had folded her wings. I re-wrote " Now if I die a Rural Dean, Or rob a bank I do not care, Or turn a Tory. I have seen The lovely city of Lierre." ' The next line/ I resumed, warming to it ; but my friend interrupted me. ' The next line/ he said somewhat harshly, ' will be a railway line. We can get back to Mechlin from here, 1 find, though we have to change twice. I dare say I should think this jolly romantic but for the weather. Adventure is the champagne of life, but I prefer my champagne and my adventures dry. Here is the station/ We did not speak again until we had left Lierre, in its sacred cloud of rain, and were coming to Mechlin, under a clearer sky, that even made one think of stars. Then I leant forward and said to my friend in a low voice ' I have found out everything. We have come to the wrong star/ He stared his query, and I went on eagerly : ' That is what makes life at once so splendid and so strange. We are in the wrong world. When I thought that was the right town, it bored me ; when I knew it was wrong, 1 was happy. So the false optimism, the modern happi- ness, tires us because it tells us we fit into this world. The true happiness is that we don't fit. We come from somewhere else. We have lost our way/ .He silently nodded, staring out of the window, but whether I had impressed or only fatigued him I could not tell. ' This/ I added, ' is suggested in the* last verse of a fine poem you have grossly neglected 40 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS ' "Happy is he and more than wise Who sees with wondering eyes and clean This world through all the grey disguise Of sleep and custom in between. Yes ; we may pass the heavenly screen, But shall we know when we are there ? Who know not what these dead stones mean, The lovely city of Lierre." ' Here the train stopped abruptly. And from Mechlin church steeple we heard the half-chime : and Joris broke silence with ' No bally hors d'ceuvres for me : I shall get on to something solid at once.' L'ENVOY Prince, wide your Empire spreads, I ween, Yet happier is that moistened Mayor, Who drinks her cognac far The lovely city of Lierre. AN ESSAY ON TWO CITIES l A LITTLE while ago I fell out of England into the town of Paris. If a man fell out of the moon into the town of Paris he would know that it was the capital of a great nation. If, however, he fell (perhaps off some other side of the moon) so as to hit the city of London, he would not know so well that it was the capital of a great nation ; at any rate, he would not know that the nation was so great as it is. This would be so even on the assumption that the man from the moon could not read our alphabet, as presumably he could not, unless elementary education in that planet has gone to rather unsuspected lengths. But it is true that a great part of the distinctive quality which separates Paris from London may be even seen 1 From All Things Considered. AN ESSAY ON TWO CITIES 41 in the names. Real democrats always insist that England is an aristocratic country. Real aristocrats always insist (for some mysterious reason) that it is a democratic country. But if any one has any real doubt about the matter let him consider simply the names of the streets. Nearly all the streets out of the Strand, for instance, are named after the first name, second name, third name, fourth, fifth, and sixth names of some particular noble family ; after their relations, connections, or places of residence Arundel Street, Norfolk Street, Villiers Street, Bedford Street, South- ampton Street, and any number of others. The names are varied, so as to introduce the same family under all sorts of different surnames. Thus we have Arundel Street and also Norfolk Street ; thus we have Bucking- ham Street and also Villiers Street. To say that this is not aristocracy is simply intellectual impudence. I am an ordinary citizen, and my name is Gilbert Keith Chesterton ; and I confess that if I found three streets in a row in the Strand, the first called Gilbert Street, the second Keith Street, and the third Chesterton Street, I should consider that I had become a somewhat more important person in the commonwealth than was alto- gether good for its health. If Frenchmen ran London (which God forbid !), they would think it quite as ludi- crous that those streets should be named after the Duke of Buckingham as that they should be named after me. They are streets out of one of the main thoroughfares of London. If French methods were adopted, one of them would be called Shakspere Street, another Crom- well Street, another Wordsworth Street ; there would be statues of each of these persons at the end of each of these streets, and any streets left over would be named after the date on which the Reform Bill was passed or the Penny Postage established. Suppose a man tried to find people in London by the names of the places. It would make a fine f^rce, illustrating our illogicality. Our hero, having once realized that Buckingham Street was named after the 42 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS Buckingham family, would naturally walk into Bucking- ham Palace in search of the Duke of Buckingham. To his astonishment he would meet somebody quite different. His simple lunar logic would lead him to suppose that if he wanted the Duke of Marlborough (which seems unlikely) he would find him at Marlborough House. He would find the Prince of Wales. When at last he understood that the Marlboroughs live at Blenheim, named after the great Maryborough's victory, he would, no doubt, go there. But he would again find himself in error if, acting upon this principle, he tried to find the Duke of Wellington, and told the cabman to drive to Waterloo. I* wonder that no one has written a wild romance about the adventures of such an alien, seeking the great English aristocrats, and only guided by the names ; looking for the Duke of Bedford in the town of that name, seeking for some trace of the Duke of Norfolk in Norfolk. He might sail for Wellington in New Zealand to find the ancient seat of the Wellingtons. The last scene might show him trying to learn Welsh in order to converse with the Prince of Wales. But even if the imaginary traveller knew no alphabet of this earth at all, I think it would still be possible to suppose him seeing a difference between London and Paris, and, upon the whole, the real difference. He would not be able to read the words ' Quai Voltaire ' ; but he would see the sneering statue and the hard, straight roads ; without having heard of Voltaire he would understand that the city was Voltairean. He would not know that Fleet Street was named after the Fleet Prison. But the same national spirit which kept the Fleet Prison closed and narrow still keeps Fleet Street closed and narrow. Or, if you will, you may call Fleet Street cosy, and the Fleet Prison cosy. I think I could be more comfortable in the Fleet Prison, in an English way of comfort, than just under the statue of Voltaire. I think that the man from the moon would know France without knowing French ; I think that he would know England without having AN ESSAY ON TWO CITIES 43 heard the word. For in the last resort all men talk by signs. To talk by statues is to talk by signs ; to talk by cities is to talk by signs. Pillars, palaces, cathedrals, temples, pyramids, are an enormous dumb alphabet : as if some giant held up his fingers of stone. The most important things at the last are always said by signs, even if, like the Cross on St. Paul's, they are signs in heaven. If men do not understand signs, they will never understand words. For my part, I should be inclined to suggest that the chief object of education should be to restore sim- plicity. If you like to put it so, the chief object of education is not to learn things ; nay, the chief object of education is to unlearn things. The chief object of education is to unlearn all the weariness and wicked- ness of the world and to get back into that state of exhilaration we all instinctively celebrate when we write by preference of children and of boys. If I were an examiner appointed to examine all examiners (which does not at present appear probable), I would not only ask the teachers how much knowledge they had im- parted ; I would ask them how much splendid and scornful ignorance they had erected, like some royal tower in arms. But, in any case, I would insist that people should have so much simplicity as would enable them to see things suddenly and to see things as they are. I do not care so much whether they can read the names over the shops. I do care very much whether they can read the shops. I do not feel deeply troubled as to whether they can tell where London is on the map so long as they can tell where Brixton is on the way home. I do not even mind whether they can put two and two together in the mathematical sense ; I am content if they can put two and two together in the metaphorical sense. But all this longer statement of an obvious view comes back to the metaphor I have employed. I do not care a dump whether they know the alphabet, so long as they know the dumb alphabet. Unfortunately, I have noticed in many aspects of 44 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS our popular education that this is not done at all. One teaches our London children to see London with abrupt and simple eyes. And London is far more difficult to see properly than any other place. London is a riddle. Paris is an explanation. The education of the Parisian child is something corresponding to the clear avenues and the exact squares of Paris. When the Parisian boy has done learning about the French reason and the Roman order he can go out and see the thing re- peated in the shapes of many shining public places, in the angles of many streets. But when the English boy goes out, after learning about a vague progress and idealism, he cannot see it anywhere. He cannot see anything anywhere, except Sapolio and the Daily Mail. We must either alter London to suit the ideals of our education, or else alter our education to suit the great beauty of London. THE FAIRY PICKWICK * IN The Pickwick Papers Dickens sprang suddenly from a comparatively low level to a very high one. To the level of Sketches by Boz he never afterwards descended. To the level of The Pickwick Papers it is doubtful if he ever afterwards rose. Pickwick, indeed, is not a good novel ; but it is not a bad novel, for it is not a novel at all. In one sense, indeed, it is something nobler than a novel, for no novel with a plot and a proper termination could emit that sense of everlasting youth a sense as of the gods gone wandering in England. This is 'not a novel, for all novels have an end; and Pickwick, properly speaking, has no end he is equal unto the angels. The point at which, as a fact, we find the printed matter terminates is not an end in any 1 From Charles Dickens. THE FAIRY PICKWICK 45 artistic sense of the word. Even as a boy I believed there were some more pages that were torn out of my copy, and I am looking for them still. The book might have been cut short anywhere else. It might have been cut short after Mr. Pickwick was released by Mr. Nupkins, or after Mr. Pickwick was fished out of the water, or at a hundred other places. And we should still have known that this was not really the story's end. We should have known that Mr. Pick- wick was still having the same high adventures on the same high roads. As it happens, the book ends after Mr. Pickwick has taken a house in the neighbourhood of Dulwich. But we know he did not stop there. We know he broke out, that he took again the road of the high adventures ; we know that if we take it ourselves in any acre of England, we may come suddenly upon him in a lane. But this relation of Pickwick to the strict form of fiction demands a further word, which should indeed be said in any case before the consideration of any or all of the Dickens tales. Dickens's work is not to be reckoned in novels at all. Dickens's work is to be reckoned always by characters, sometimes by groups, oftener by episodes, but never by novels. You cannot discuss whether Nicholas Nickleby is a good novel, or whether Our Mutual Friend is a bad novel. Strictly, there is no such novel as Nicholas Nickleby. There is no such novel as Our Mutual Friend. They are simply lengths cut from the flowing and mixed substance called Dickens a substance of which any given length will be certain to contain a given proportion of brilliant and of bad stuff. You can say, according to your opinions, ' the Crummies part is perfect/ or ' the Boffins are a mistake/ just as a man watching a river go by him could count here a floating flower, and there a streak of scum. But you cannot artistically divide the out- put into books. The best of his work can be found in the worst of his works. The Tale of Two Citie$ is a good novel ; Little Dorrit is not a good novel. But the 46 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS description of * The Circumlocution Office ' in Little Dorrit is quite as good as the description of ' Tellsoji's Bank ' in The Tale of Two Cities. The Old Curiosity Shop is not so good as David Copper field, but Swiveller is quite as good as Micawber. Nor is there any reason why these superb creatures, as a general rule, should be in one novel any more than another. There is no reason why Sam Weller, in the course of his wander- ings, should not wander into Nicholas Nickleby. There is no reason why Major Bagstock, in his brisk way, should not walk straight out of Dombey and Son and straight into Martin Chuzzlewit. To this generaliza- tion some modification should be added. Pickwick stands by itself, and has even a sort of unity in not pretending to unity. David Copperfield, in a less degree, stands by itself, as being the only book in which Dickens wrote of himself ; and The Tale of Two Cities stands by itself as being the only book in which Dickens slightly altered himself. But as a whole, this should be firmly grasped, that the units of Dickens, the primary elements are not the stories, but the characters who affect the stories or, more often still, the characters who do not affect the stories. This is a plain matter; but, unless it be stated and felt, Dickens may be greatly misunderstood and greatly underrated. For not only is his whole machinery directed to facilitating the self-display of certain char- acters, but something more deep and more unmodern still is also true of him. It is also true that all the moving machinery exists only to display entirely static. character. Things in the Dickens story shift and change only in order to give us glimpses of great char- acters that do not change at all. If we had a sequel of Pickwick ten years afterwards, Pickwick would be exactly the same age. We know he would not have fallen into that strange and beautiful second childhood which soothed and simplified the end of Colonel New- come. Newcome, throughout the book, is in an atmo- sphere of time : Pickwick, throughout the book, is THE FAIRY PICKWICK 47 noi. This will probably be taken by most modern people as praise of Thackeray and dispraise of Dickens. Bu; this only shows how few modern people under- stand Dickens. It also shows how few understand the faiths and the fables of mankind. The matter can only be roughly stated in one way. Dickens did not strictly make a literature ; he made a mythology. . . . Dickens was a mythologist rather than a novelist ; he was the last of the mythologists, and perhaps the greatest. He did not always manage to make his characters men, but he always managed, at the least, to make them gods. They are creatures like Punch or Father Christmas. They live statically, in a perpetual summer of being themselves. It was not the aim of Dickens to show the effect of time and circumstance upon a character ; it was not even his aim to show the effect of a character on time and circumstance. It is worth remark, in passing, that whenever he tried to describe change in a character, he made a mess of it, as in the repentance of Dombey or the apparent deterio- ration of Boffin. It was his aim to show character hung in a kind of happy void, in a world apart from time yes, and essentially apart from circumstance, though the phrase may seem odd in connection with the godlike horseplay of Pickwick. But all the Pick- wickian events, wild as they often are, were only- designed to display the greater wildness of souls, or some- times merely to bring the reader within touch, so to speak, of that wildness. The author would have fired Mr. Pickwick out of a cannon to get him to Wardle's by Christmas ; he would have taken the roof off to drop him into Bob Sawyer's party. But once put Pickwick at Wardle's, with his punch and a group of gorgeous personalities, and nothing will move him from his chair. Once he is at Sawyer's party, he forgets how he got there ; he forgets Mrs. Bardell and all his story. For the story w r as but an incantation to call up a god, and the god (Mr. Jack Hopkins) is present in divine power. Once the great characters are face to face, 48 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS the ladder by which they climbed is forgotten and fj(lls down, the structure of the story drops to pieces, (the plot is abandoned ; the other characters deserted! at every kind of crisis ; the whole crowded thoroughfare of the tale is blocked by two or three talkers, who take their immortal ease as if they were already in Paradise. For they do not exist for the story ; the story exists for them ; and they know it. To every man alive, one must hope, it has. in some manner happened that he has talked with his more fascinating friends round a table on some night when all the numerous personalities unfolded themselves like great tropical flowers. All fell into their parts as in some delightful impromptu play. Every man was more himself than he had ever been in this vale of tears. Every man was a beautiful caricature of himself. The man who has known such nights will understand the exaggerations of Pickwick. The man who has not known such nights will not enjoy Pickwick nor (I imagine) heaven. For, as I have said, Dickens is, in this matter, close to popular religion, which is the ultimate and reliable religion. He conceives an endless joy ; he conceives creatures as permanent as Puck or Pan - creatures whose will to live aeons upon aeons cannot satisfy. He is not come, as a writer, that his creatures may copy life and copy its narrowness ; he is come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. It is absurd indeed that Christians should be called the enemies of life because they wish life to last for ever ; it is more absurd still to call the old comic writers dull because they wished their un- changing characters to last for ever. Both popular religion, with its endless joys, and the old comic story, with its endless jokes, have in our time faded together. We are too weak to desire that undying vigour. We believe that you can have too much' of a good thing a blasphemous belief, which at one blow wrecks all the heavens that men have hoped for. The grand old defiers of God were not afraid of an eternity of torment. THE FAIRY PICKWICK 49 We have come to be afraid of an eternity of joy. It is not my business here to take sides in this division between those who like life and long novels and those who like death and short stories ; my only business is to point out that those who see in Dickens's unchang- ing characters and recurring catchwords a mere stiff- ness and lack of living movement miss the point and nature of his work. His tradition is another tradition altogether ; his aim is another aim altogether to those of the modern novelists who trace the alchemy of experience and the autumn tints of character. He is there, like the common people of all ages, to make deities ; he is there, as I have said, to exaggerate life in the direction of life. The spirit he at bottom cele- brates is that of two friends drinking wine together and talking through the night. But for him they are two deathless friends talking through an endless night and pouring wine from an inexhaustible bottle. This, then, is the first firm fact to grasp about Pick- wick about Pickwick more than about any of the other stories. It is, first and foremost, a supernatural story. Mr. Pickwick was a fairy. So was old Mr. Weller. This does not imply that they were suited to swing in a trapeze of gossamer ; it merely implies that if they had fallen out of it on their heads they would not have died. But, to speak more strictly, Mr. Samuel Pickwick is not the fairy ; he is the fairy prince ; that is to say, he is the abstract wanderer and wonderer, the Ulysses of comedy ; the half-human and half-elfin creature human enough to wander, human enough to wonder, but still sustained with that merry fatalism that is natural to immortal beings sustained by that hint of divinity which tells him in the darkest hour that he is doomed to live happily ever afterwards. He has set out walking to the end of the world, but he knows he will find an inn there. . . . Pickwick, I have said, is a romance of adventure, and Samuel Pickwick is the romantic adventurer. So much is indeed obvious. But the strange and stirring 50 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS discovery which Dickens made was this that having chosen a fat old man of the middle classes as a good thing of which to make a butt, he found that a fat old man of the middle classes is the very best thing of which to make a romantic adventurer. Pickwick is supremely original in that it is the adventures of an old man. It is a fairy tale in which the victor is not the youngest of the three brothers, but one of the oldest of their uncles. The result is both noble and new and true. There is nothing which so much needs simplicity as adventure. And there is no one who so much possesses simplicity as an honest and elderly man of business. For romance he is better than a troop of young troubadours ; for the swaggering young fellow anticipates his adventures, just as he anticipates his income. Hence both the adventures and the income, when he comes up to them, are not there. But a man in late middle-age has grown used to the plain necessities, and his first holiday is a second youth. A good man, as Thackeray said with such thorough and searching truth, grows simpler as he grows older. Samuel Pick- wick in his youth was probably an insufferable young coxcomb. He knew then, or thought he knew, all about the confidence tricks of swindlers like Jingle. He knew then, or thought he knew, all about the amatory designs of sly ladies like Mrs. Bardell. But years and real life have relieved him of this idle and evil know- ledge. He has had the high good luck in losing the follies of youth to lose the wisdom of youth also. Dickens has caught, in a manner at once wild and con- vincing, this queer innocence of the afternoon of life. The round, moon-like face, the round, moon-like spec- tacles of Samuel Pickwick move through the tale as emblems of a certain spherical simplicity. They are fixed in that grave surprise that may be seen in babies ; that grave surprise which is the only real happiness that is possible to man. Pickwick's round face is like a round and honourable mirror, in which are reflected all the fantasies of earthly existence ; for surprise is, THE FAIRY PICKWICK 51 strictly speaking, the only kind of reflection. All this grew gradually on Dickens. It is odd to recall to our minds the original plan, the plan of the Nimrod Club, and the author who was to be wholly occupied in play- ing practical jokes on his characters. He had chosen (or somebody else had chosen) that corpulent old simpleton as a person peculiarly fitted to fall down trap-doors, to shoot over butter slides, to struggle with apple-pie beds, to be tipped out of carts and dipped into horse-ponds. But Dickens, and Dickens only, discovered as he went on how fitted the old fat man was to rescue ladies, to defy tyrants, to dance, to leap, to experiment with life, to be a deus ex machina and even a knight errant. Dickens made this discovery. Dickens went into the Pickwick Club to scoff, and Dickens remained to pray. . . . Pickwick goes through life with that godlike gulli- bility which is the key to all adventures. The green- horn is the ultimate victor in everything ; it is he that gets the most out of life. Because Pickwick is led away by Jingle, he will be led to the White Hart Inn, and see the only Weller cleaning boots in the courtyard. Because he is bamboozled by Dodson and Fogg, he will enter the prison house like a paladin, and rescue the man and the woman who have wronged him most. His soul will never starve for exploits or excitements who is wise enough to be made a fool of. He will make himself happy in the traps that have been laid for him ; he will roll in their nets and sleep. All doors will fly open to him who has a mildness more defiant than mere courage. The whole is unerringly expressed in one fortunate phrase he will be always ' taken in.' To be taken in everywhere is to see the inside of every- thing. It is the hospitality of circumstance. With torches and trumpets, like a guest, the greenhorn is taken in by Life. And the sceptic is cast out by it. 52 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS THE NEW HOUSE 1 WITHIN a stone's throw of my house they are building another house. I am glad they are building it, and I am glad it is within a stone's throw ; quite well within it, with a good catapult. Neverthe- less, I have not yet cast the first stone at the new house not being, strictly speaking, guiltless myself in the matter of new houses. And, indeed, in such cases there is a strong protest to be made. The whole curse of the last century has been what is called the Swing of the Pendulum ; that is, the idea that Man must go alter- nately from one extreme to the other. It is a shameful and even shocking fancy ; it is the denial of the whole dignity of mankind. When Man is alive he stands still. It is only when he is dead that he swings. But whenever one meets modern thinkers (as one often does) progressing towards a madhouse, one always finds, on inquiry, that they have just had a splendid escape from another madhouse. Thus, hundreds of people become Socialists, not because they have tried Socialism and found it nice, but because they have tried Individualism and found it particularly nasty. Thus, many embrace Christian Science solely because they are quite sick of heathen science ; they are so tired of believing that everything is matter that they will even take refuge in the revolting fable that everything is mind. Man ought to march somewhere. But modern man (in his sick reaction) is ready to march nowhere so long as it is the Other End of Nowhere. The case of building houses is a strong instance of this. Early in the nineteenth century our civilization chose to abandon the Greek and mediaeval idea of a town, with walls, limited and defined, with a temple for faith and a market-place for politics ; and it chose to let the city grow like a jungle with blind cruelty and bestial unconsciousness ; so that London and Liverpool * From Alarms and Discursions. THE NEW HOUSE 53 are the great cities we now see. Well, people have reacted against that ; they have grown tired of living in a city which is as dark and barbaric as a forest, only not as beautiful, and there has been an exodus into the country of those who could afford it, and some I could name who can't. Now, as soon as this quite rational recoil occurred, it flew at once to the opposite extreme. People went about with beaming faces, boasting that they were twenty-three miles from a station. Rubbing their hands, they exclaimed in rollicking asides that their butcher only called once a month, and that their baker started out with fresh hot loaves which were quite stale before they reached the table. A man would praise his little house in a quiet valley, but gloomily admit (with a slight shake of the head) that a human habitation on the distant horizon was faintly discernible on a clear day. Rival ruralists would quarrel about which had the most completely inconvenient postal service ; and there were many jealous heart-burnings if one friend found out any uncomfortable situation which the other friend had thoughtlessly overlooked. In the feverish summer of this fanaticism there arose the phrase that this or that part of England is being ' built over/ Now, there is not the slightest objection, in itself, to England being built over by men, any more than there is to its being (as it is already) built over by birds, or by squirrels, or by spiders. But if birds' nests were so thick on a tree that one could see nothing but nests and no leaves at all, I should say that bird civiliza- tion was becoming a bit decadent. If whenever I tried to walk down the road I found the whole thoroughfare one crawling carpet of spiders, closely interlocked, I should feel a distress verging on distaste. If one were at eveiy turn crowded, elbowed, overlooked, over- charged, sweated, rack-rented, swindled, and sold up by avaricious and arrogant squirrels, one might at last remonstrate. But the great towns have grown intoler- able solely because of such suffocating vulgarities* and tyrannies. It is not humanity that disgusts us in the 54 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS huge cities ; it is inhumanity. It is not that there are human beings ; but that they are not treated as such. We do not, I hope, dislike men and women ; we only dislike their being made into a sort of jam ; crushed together so that they are not merely powerless but shapeless. It is not the presence of people that makes London appalling. It is merely the absence of The People. Therefore I dance with joy to think that my part of England is being built over, so long as it is being built over in a human way at human intervals and in a human proportion. So long, in short, as I am not myself built over, like a pagan slave buried in the foundations of a temple, or an American clerk in a star-striking pagoda of flats, I am delighted to see the faces and the homes of a race of bipeds, to which I am not only attracted by a strange affection, but to which also (by a touching coincidence) I actually happen to belong. I am not one desiring deserts. I am not Timon of Athens ; if my town were Athens I would stay in it. I am not Simeon Stylites ; except in the mournful sense that every Saturday I find myself on the top of a newspaper column. I am not in the desert repenting of some monstrous sins ; at least, I am repenting of them all right, but not in the desert. I do not want the nearest human house to be too distant to see ; that is my objection to the wilderness. But neither do I want the nearest human house to be too close to see ; that is my objection to the modern city. I love my fellow-man ; I do not want him so far off that I can only observe anything of him through a telescope, nor do I want him so close that I can examine parts of him with a microscope. I want him within a stone's throw of me ; so that when- ever it is really necessary, I may throw the stone. Perhaps, after all, it may not be a stone. Perhaps, after all, it may be a bouquet, or a snowball, or a fire- work, or a Free Trade Loaf ; perhaps they will ask for a stone and I shall give them bread. But it is essential that they should be within reach : how can I love my THE WINGS OF STONE 55 neighbour as myself if he gets out of range for snowballs ? There should be no institution out of the reach of an indignant or admiring humanity. I could hit the nearest house quite well with the catapult ; but the truth is that the catapult belongs to a little boy I know, and, with characteristic youthful selfishness, he has taken it away. THE WINGS OF STONE 1 HP HE preceding essay is about a half-built house upon my private horizon ; I wrote it sitting in a garden-chair ; and as, though it was a week ago, I have scarcely moved since then (to speak of), I do not see why I should not go on writing about it. Strictly speaking, I have moved ; I have even walked across a field a field of turf all fiery in our early summer sun- light and studied the early angular red skeleton which has turned golden in the sun. It is odd that the skeleton of a house is cheerful when the skeleton of a man is mournful, since we only see it after the man is destroyed. At least, we think the skeleton is mournful ; the skeleton himself does not seem to think so. , Anyhow, there is something strangely primary and poetic about this sight of the scaffolding and main lines of a human building ; it is a pity there is no scaffolding round a human baby. One seems to see domestic life as the daring and ambi- tious thing that it is, when one looks at those open stair- cases and empty chambers, those spirals of wind and open halls of sky. Ibsen said that the art of domestic drama was merely to knock one wall out of the four walls of a drawing-room. I find the drawing-room even more impressive when all four walls are knocked out. I have never understood what people mean by domes- ticity being tame ; it seems to me one of the wildest 1 From Alarms and Discursions. 56 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS of adventures. But if you wish to see how high and harsh and fantastic an adventure it is, consider only the actual structure of a house itself. A man may march up in a rather bored way to bed ; but at least he is mounting to a height from which he could kill him- self. Every rich, silent, padded staircase, with banisters of oak, stair-rods of brass, and busts and settees on every landing, every such staircase is truly only an awful and naked ladder running up into the Infinite to a deadly height. The millionaire who stumps up inside the house is really doing the same thing as the tiler or roof-mender who climbs up outside the house ; they are both mounting up into the void. They are both making an escalade of the intense inane. Each is a sort of domestic mountaineer ; he is reaching a point from which mere idle falling will kill a man ; and life is always worth living while men feel that they may die. I cannot understand people at present making such a fuss about flying ships and aviation, when men ever since Stonehenge and the Pyramids have done some- thing so much more wild than flying. A grasshopper can go astonishingly high up in the air ; his biological limitation and weakness is that he cannot stop there. Hosts of unclean birds and crapulous insects can pass through the sky, but they cannot pass any communica- tion between it and the earth. But the army of man has advanced vertically into infinity, and not been cut off. It can establish outposts in the ether, and yet keep open behind it its erect and insolent road. It would be grand (as in Jules Verne) to fire a cannon-ball at the moon ; but would it not be grander to build a railway to the moon ? Yet every building of brick or wood is a hint of that high railroad ; every chimney points to some star, and every tower is a Tower of Babel. Man rising on these awful and unbroken wings of stone seems to me more majestic and more mystic than man fluttering for an instant on wings of canvas and sticks of steel. How sublime and, indeed, almost THE WINGS OF STONk 57 dizzy is the thought of these veiled ladders on which we all live, like climbing monkeys ! Many a black- coated clerk in a flat may comfort himself for his sombre garb by reflecting that he is like some lonely rook in an immemorial elm. Many a wealthy bachelor on the top floor of a pile of mansions should look forth at morning and try (if possible) to feel like an eagle whose nest just clings to the edge of some awful cliff. How sad that the word ' giddy ' is used to imply wantonness or levity ! It should be a high compliment to a man's exalted spirituality and the imagination to say he is a little giddy. I strolled slowly back across the stretch of turf by the sunset, a field of the cloth of gold. As I drew near my own house, its huge size began to horrify me ; and when I came to the porch of it I discovered with an incredulity as strong as despair that my house was actually bigger than myself. A minute or two before there might well have seemed to be a monstrous and mythical competition about which of the two should swallow the other. But I was Jonah ; my house was the huge and hungry fish ; and even as its jaws darkened and closed about me I had again this dreadful fancy touching the dizzy altitude of all the works of man. I climbed the stairs stubbornly, planting each foot with savage care, as if ascending a glacier. When I got to a landing I was wildly relieved, and waved my hat. The very word ' landing ' has about it the wild sound of some one washed up by the sea. I climbed each flight like a ladder in naked sky. The walls all round me failed and faded into infinity ; I went up the ladder to my bedroom as Montrose went up the ladder to the gallows ; sic itur ad astra. Do you think this is a little fantastic even a little fearful and nervous ? Believe me, it is only one of the wild and wonderful things that one can learn by stopping at home. 58 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS THE ROMANTIC IN THE RAIN 1 HPHE middle classes of modern England are quite -* fanatically fond of washing ; and are often enthu- siastic for teetotalism. I cannot therefore comprehend why it is that they exhibit a mysterious dislike of rain. Rain, that inspiring and delightful thing, surely com- bines the qualities of these two ideals with quite a curious perfection. Our philanthropists are eager to establish public baths everywhere. Rain surely is a public bath ; it might almost be called mixed bathing. The appearance of persons coming fresh from this great natural lustration is not perhaps polished or dignified ; but for the matter of that, few people are dignified when coming out of a bath. But the scheme of rain in itself is one of an enormous purification. It realizes the dream of some insane hygienist : it scrubs the sky. Its giant brooms and mops seem to reach the starry rafters and starless corners of the cosmos ; it is a cosmic spring- cleaning. If the Englishman is really fond of cold baths, he ought not to grumble at the English climate for being a cold bath. In these days we are constantly told that we should leave our little special possessions and join in the enjoyment of common social institutions and a common social machinery. I offer the rain as a thoroughly Socialistic institution. It disregards that degraded delicacy which has hitherto led each gentle- man to take his shower-bath in private. It is a better shower-bath, because it is public and communal ; and, best of all, because somebody else pulls the string. ******* As for the fascination of rain for the water drinker, it is a fact the neglect of which I simply cannot compre- hend. The enthusiastic water drinker must regard a rainstorm as a sort of universal banquet and debauch of his own favourite beverage. Think of the imagina- 1 From A Miscellany of Men. THE ROMANTIC IN THE RAIN 59 live intoxication of the wine drinker if the crimson clouds sent down claret or the golden clouds hock. Paint upon primitive darkness some such scenes of apocalypse, towering and gorgeous skyscapes in which champagne falls like fire from heaven or the dark skies grow purple and tawny with the terrible colours of port. All this must the wild abstainer feel, as he rolls in the long soaking grass, kicks his ecstatic heels to heaven, and listens to the roaring rain. It is he, the water drinker, who ought to be the true bacchanal of the forests ; for all the forests are drinking water. Moreover, the forests are apparently enjoying it : the trees rave and reel to and fro like drunken giants ; they clash boughs as revellers clash cups ; they roar undying thirst and howl the health of the world. All around me as I write is a noise of Nature drinking : and Nature makes a noise when she is drinking, being by no means refined. If I count it Christian mercy to give a cup of cold water to a sufferer, shall I complain of these multitudinous cups of cold water handed round to all living things ; a cup of water for every shrub ; a cup of water for every weed ? I would be ashamed to grumble at it. As Sir Philip Sidney said, their need is greater than mine especially for water. ******* There is a wild garment that still carries nobly the name of a wild Highland clan : a clan come from those hills where rain is not so much an incident as an atmo- sphere. Surely every man of imagination must feel a tempestuous flame of Celtic romance spring up within him whenever he puts on a mackintosh. I could never reconcile myself to carrying an umbrella ; it is a pompous Eastern business, carried over the heads of despots in the dry, hot lands. Shut up, an umbrella is an un- manageable walking-stick ; open, it is an inadequate tent. For my part, I have no taste for pretending to be a walking pavilion ; I think nothing of my hat, and precious little of my head. If I am to be protected against wet, it must be by some closer and more care- 6o A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS less protection, something that I can forget altogether. It might be a Highland plaid. It might be that yet more Highland thing, a mackintosh. And there is really something in the mackintosh of the military qualities of the Highlander. The proper cheap mackintosh has a blue and white sheen as of steel or iron ; it gleams like armour. I like to think of it as the uniform of that ancient clan in some of its old and misty raids. I like to think of all the Mac- intoshes, in their mackintoshes, descending on some doomed Lowland village, their wet waterproofs flashing in the sun or moon. For indeed this is one of the real beauties of rainy weather, that while the amount of original and direct light is commonly lessened, the number of things that reflect light is unquestionably increased. There is less sunshine ; but there are more shiny things, such beautifully shiny things as pools and puddles and mackintoshes. It is like moving in a world of mirrors. And indeed this is the last and not the least gracious of the casual works of magic wrought by rain : that while it decreases light, yet it doubles it. If it dims the sky, it brightens the earth. It gives the roads (to the sympathetic eye) something of the beauty of Venice. Shallow lakes of water reiterate every detail of earth and sky ; we dwell in a double universe. Sometimes walking upon bare and lustrous pavements, wet under numerous lamps, a man seems a black blot on all that golden looking-glass and could fancy he was flying in a yellow sky. But wherever trees and towns hang head downwards in a pigmy puddle, the sense of Celestial topsy-turvydom is the same. This bright, wet, dazzling confusion of shape and shadow, of reality and reflection, will appeal strongly to any one with the transcendental instinct about this dreamy and dual life of ours. It will always give a man the strange sense of looking down at the skies. A DRINKING SONG 61 A DRINKING SONG 1 YOU can do a great many things in modern England if you have noticed some things in fact which others know by pictures or current speech : if you know, for instance, that most roadside hedges are taller and denser than they look, and that even the largest man lying just behind them takes up far less room than you would suppose ; if you know that many natural sounds are much more like each other than the enlightened ear can believe, as in the case of wind in leaves and of the sea ; if you know that it is easier to walk in socks than in boots if you know how to take hold of the ground ; if you know that the proportion of dogs who will bite a man under any circumstances is rather less than the proportion of men who will murder you in a railway carriage ; if you know that you need not be drowned even in a river, unless the tide is very strong, and unless you practise putting yourself into the special attitudes of a suicide : if you know that country stations have objectless extra waiting-rooms that nobody ever goes into ; and if you know that country folk will forget you if you speak to them, but talk about you all day if you don't. By the exercise of these and other arts and sciences Humphrey Pump was able to guide his friend across country, mostly in the character of trespasser and occasionally in that of something like housebreaker, and eventually, with sign, keg, cheese and all, to step but of a black pine-wood on to a white road in a part of the county where they would not be sought for the present. Opposite them was a cornfield and on their right, in the shades of the pine-trees, a cottage, a very tumble- down cottage that seemed to have collapsed under its own thatch. The red-haired Irishman's face wore a 1 From The Flying Inn. 62 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS curious smile. He stuck the inn sign erect in the road and went and hammered on the door. It was opened tremulously by an old man with a face so wrinkled that the wrinkles seemed more distinctly graven than the features themselves, which seemed lost in the labyrinth of them. He might have crawled out of the hole in a gnarled tree and he might have been a thousand years old. He did not seem to notice the sign-board, which stood rather to the left of the door ; and what life remained in his eyes seemed to awake in wonder at Dalroy's stature and strange uniform and the sword at his side. * I beg your pardon/ said the Captain courteously. ' I fear my uniform startles you. It is Lord Ivywood's livery. All his servants are to dress like this. In fact, I understand the tenants also and even yourself perhaps . . . excuse my sword. Lord Ivywood is very par- ticular that every man should have a sword. You know his beautiful eloquent way of putting his views. " How can we profess/' he was saying to me yesterday while I was brushing his trousers, " how can we profess that all men, are brothers while we refuse to them the symbol of manhood ; or with what assurance can we claim it as a movement of modern emancipation to deny the citizen that which has in all ages marked the difference between the free man and the slave ? Nor need we anticipate any such barbaric abuses as rny honourable friend who is cleaning the knives has prophesied, for this gift is a sublime act of confidence in your universal passion for the severe splendours of Peace ; and he that has the right to strike is he who has learnt to spare/' Talking all this nonsense with extreme rapidity and vast oratorical flourishes of the hand, Captain Dalroy proceeded to trundle both the big cheese and the cask of rum into the house of the astonished cottager : Mr. Pump following with a grim placidity and his gun under his arm. 1 Lord Ivywood/ said Dalroy, setting the rum cask A DRINKING SONG 63 with a bump on the plain deal table, ' wishes to take wine with you. Or, more strictly speaking, rum. Don't you run away, my friend, with any of these stories about Lord Ivywood being opposed to drink. Three-bottle Ivywood, we call him in the kitchen. But it must be rum : nothing but rum for the Ivy woods. " Wine may be a mocker," he was saying the other day (and I par- ticularly noted the phrasing, which seemed to be very happy even for his lordship ; he was standing at the top of the steps, and I stopped cleaning them to make a note of it), " wine may be a mocker; strong drink may be raging, but nowhere in the sacred pages will you find one word of censure of the sweeter spirit sacred to them that go down to the sea in ships ; no tongue of priest and prophet was ever lifted to break the sacred silence of Holy Writ about rum." He then explained to me/ went on Dalroy, signing to Pump to tap the cask according to his own technical secret, ' that the great tip for avoiding any bad results that a cask or two of rum might have on young and inexperienced people was to eat cheese with it, particularly this kind of cheese that I have here. I 've forgotten its name/ 1 Cheddar/ said Pump quite gravely. ' But mind you ! ' continued the Captain almost ferociously, shaking his big finger in warning at the aged man. ' Mind you, no bread with the cheese. All the devastating ruin wrought by cheese on the once happy homes of this country, has been due to the reck- less and insane experiment of eating bread with it. You '11 get no bread from me, my friend. Indeed, Lord Ivywood has given directions that the allusion to this ignorant and depraved habit shall be eliminated from the Lord's Prayer. Have a drink/ He had already poured out a little of the spirit into two thick tumblers and a broken teacup, which he had induced the aged man to produce ; and now solemnly pledged him. ' Thank ye kindly, sir/ said the old man, using his cracked voice for the first time. Then he drank ; and 64 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS his old face changed as if it were an old horn lantern in which the flame began to rise. 1 Ar/ he said. ' My son be a sailor/ ' I wish him a happy voyage/ said the Captain. ' And I '11 sing you a song about the first sailor there ever was in the world ; and who (as Lord Ivywood acutely observes) lived before the time of rum/ He sat down on a wooden chair and lifted his loud voice once more, beating on the table with the broken teacup. 4 Old Noah he had an ostrich farm and fowls on the largest scale, He ate his egg with a ladle in an egg-cup big as a pail, And the soup he took was Elephant Soup and the fish he took was Whale, But they all were small to the cellar he took when he set out to sail, And Noah he often said to his wife when he sat down to dine, " I don't care where the water goes if it doesn't get into the wine." The cataract of the cliff of heaven fell blinding off the brink As if it would wash the stars away as suds go down a sink, The seven heavens came roaring down for the throats of hell to drink, And Noah he cocked his eye and said, " It looks like rain, I think, The water has drowned the Matterhorn as deep as a Mendip mine, But I don't care where the water goes if it doesn't get into the wine. 5 ' But Noah he sinned, and we have sinned ; on tipsy feet we trod, Till a great big black teetotaller was sent to us for a rod, And you can't get wine at a P.S.A., or chapel, or Eisteddfod, For the Curse of Water has come again because of the wrath of God, And water is on the Bishop's board and the Higher Thinker's shrine, But I don't care where the water goes if it doesn't get into the wine.' ' Lord Ivy wood's favourite song/ concluded Mr. Patrick Dalroy, drinking. THE TRIUMPH OF THE DONKEY 65 THE TRIUMPH *OF THE DONKEY 1 T"\OUBTLESS the unsympathetic might state my |r^ doctrine that one should not own a motor like a horse, but rather use it like a flying dragon in the simpler form that I will always go motoring in somebody else's car. My favourite modern philosopher (Mr. W. W. J acobs) describes a similar case of spiritual delicacy mis- understood. I have not the book at hand ; but I think that Job Brown was reproaching Bill Chambers for wasteful drunkenness, and Henery Walker spoke up for Bill, and said he scarcely ever had a glass but what some- body else paid for it ; and there was ' unpleasantness all round then/ Being less sensitive than Bill Chambers (or whoever it was) I will risk this rude perversion of my meaning, and concede that I was in a motor-car yesterday, and the motor-car most certainly was not my own, and the journey, though it contained nothing that is specially un- usual on such journeys, had running through it a strain of the grotesque which was at once wholesome and humili- ating. The symbol of that influence was that ancient symbol of the humble and humorous a donkey. ******* When first I saw the donkey I saw him in the sunlight as the unearthly gargoyle that he is. My friend had met me in his car (I repeat firmly, in his car) at the little painted station in the middle of the warm wet woods and hop-fields of that western country. He proposed to drive me first to his house beyond the village before starting for a longer spin of adventure, and we rattled through those rich green lanes which have in them some- thing singularly analogous to fairy tales : whether the lanes produced the fairies or (as I believe) the fairies produced the lanes. All around in the glimmering hop- yards stood those little hop-kilns like stunted and slant- ing spires. They look like dwarfish churches in fact, 1 From Alarms and Diseursions. 66 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS rather like many modern churches I could mention, churches all of them small and each of them a little crooked. In this elfin atmosphere we swung round a sharp corner and half-way up a steep, white hill, and saw what looked at first like a tall, black monster against the sun. It appeared to be a dark and dreadful woman walking on wheels and waving long ears like a bat's. A second glance told me that she was not the local witch in a state of transition ; she was only one of the million tricks of perspective. She stood up in a small wheeled cart drawn by a donkey ; the donkey's ears were just behind her head, and the whole was black against the light. Perspective is really the comic element in everything. It has a pompous Latin name, but it is incurably Gothic and grotesque. One simple proof of this is that it is always left out of all dignified and decorative art. There is no perspective in the Elgin Marbles, and even the essen- tially angular angels in mediaeval stained glass almost always (as it says in Patience] contrive to look both angular and flat. There is something intrinsically dis- proportionate and outrageous in the idea of the distant objects dwindling and growing dwarfish, the closer objects swelling enormous and intolerable. There is something frantic in the notion that one's own father by walking a little way can be changed by a blast of magic to a pigmy. There is something farcical in the fancy that Nature keeps one's uncle in an infinite number of sizes, accord- ing to where he is to stand. All soldiers in retreat turn into tin soldiers ; all bears in rout into toy bears ; as if on the ultimate horizon of the world everything was sardonically doomed to stand up laughable and little against heaven. ******* It was for this reason that the old woman and her donkey struck us first when seen from behind as one black grotesque. I afterwards had the chance of seeing the old woman, the cart, and the donkey fairly, in flank and in all their length. I saw the old woman and the THE TRIUMPH OF THE DONKEY 67 donkey passant, as they might have appeared heraldi- cally on the shield of some heroic family. I saw the old woman and the donkey dignified, decorative, and flat, as they might have marched across the Elgin Marbles. Seen thus under an equal light, there was nothing specially ugly about them ; the cart was long and sufficiently com- fortable ; the donkey was stolid and sufficiently respect- able ; the old woman was lean but sufficiently strong, and even smiling in a sour, rustic manner. But seen from behind they looked like one black monstrous animal ; the dark donkey ears seemed like dreadful wings, and the tall dark back of the woman, erect like a tree, seemed to grow taller and taller until one could almost scream. Then we went by her with a blasting roar like a railway train, and fled far from her over the brow of the hill to my friend's home. There we paused only for my friend to stock the car with some kind of picnic paraphernalia, and so started again, as it happened, by the way we had come. Thus it fell that we went shattering down that short, sharp hill again before the poor old woman and her donkey had managed to crawl to the top of it ; and seeing them under a different light, I saw them very differently. Black against the sun, they had seemed comic ; but bright against greenwood and grey cloud, they were not comic but tragic ; for there are not a few things that seem fantastic in the twilight, and in the sunlight are sad. I saw that she had a grand, gaunt mask of ancient honour and endurance, and wide eyes sharpened to two shining points, as if looking for that small hope on the horizon of human life. I also saw that her cart contained carrots. ' Don't you feel, broadly speaking, a beast/ I asked my friend, ' when you go so easily and so fast ? ' For we had crashed by so that the crazy cart must have thrilled in every stick of it. My friend was a good man, and said, ' Yes. But I don't think it would do her any good if I went slower/ 68 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS ' No/ I assented after reflection. ' Perhaps the only pleasure we can give to her or any one else is to get out of their sight very soon.' My friend availed himself of this advice in no niggard spirit ; I felt as if we were fleeing for our lives in throttling fear after some frightful atrocity. In truth, there is only one difference left between the secrecy of the two social classes : the poor hide themselves in darkness and the rich hide themselves in distance. They both hide. ******* As we shot like a lost boat over a cataract down into a whirlpool of white roads far below, I saw afar a black dot crawling like an insect. I looked again : I could hardly believe it. There was the slow old woman, with her slow old donkey, still toiling along the main road. I asked my friend to slacken, but when he said of the car, ' She 's wanting to go/ I knew it was all up with him. For when you have called a thing femaleyou have yielded to it utterly. We passed the old woman with a shock that must have shaken the earth : if her head did not reel and her heart quail, I know not what they were made of. And when we had fled perilously on in the gathering dark, spurning hamlets behind us, I suddenly called out, ' Why, what asses we are ! Why, it 's She that is brave she and the donkey. We are safe enough ; we are artillery and plate-armour : and she stands up to us with matchwood and a snail ! If you had grown old in a quiet valley, and people began firing cannon-balls as big as cabs at you in your seventieth year, wouldn't you jump and she never moved an eyelid. Oh ! we go very fast and very far, no doubt As I spoke came a curious noise, and my friend, instead of going fast, began to go very slow ; then he stopped ; then he got out. Then he said, ' And I left the Stepney behind/ The grey moths came out of the wood, and the yellow stars came out to crown it, as my friend, with the lucidity of despair, explained to me (on the soundest scientific principles, of course) that nothing would be any good THE GOLD OF GLASTONBURY 69 at all. We must sleep the night in the lane, except in the very unlikely event of some one coming by to carry a message to some town. Twice I thought I heard some tiny sound of such approach, and it died away like wind in the trees, and the motorist was already asleep when I heard it renewed and realized. Something certainly was approaching. I ran up the road and there it was. Yes, It and She. Thrice had she come, once comic and once tragic and once heroic. And when she came again it was as if in pardon on a pure errand of prosaic pity and relief. I am quite serious. I do not want you to laugh. It is not the first time a donkey has been received seriously, nor one riding a donkey with respect. THE GOLD OF GLASTONBURY l ONE silver morning I walked into a small grey town of stone, like twenty other grey western towns, which happened to be called Glastonbury ; and saw the magic thorn of near two thousand years growing in the open air as casually as any bush in my garden. In Glastonbury, as in all noble and humane things, the myth is more important than the history. One cannot say anything stronger of the strange old tale of St. Joseph and the Thorn than that it dwarfs St. Dunstan. Standing among the actual stones and shrubs one thinks of the first century and not of the tenth ; one's mind goes back beyond the Saxons and beyond the greatest statesman of the Dark Ages. The tale that Joseph of Arimathea came to Britain is presumably a mere legend. But it is not by any means so incredible or preposterous a legend as many modern people suppose. The popular notion is that the thing is quite comic and inconceivable ; as if one said that Wat Tyler went to Chicago, or that John Bunyan discovered the North Pole. We think of 1 From Alarms and Discursions. 70 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS Palestine as little, localized and very private, of Christ's followers as poor folk, astricti glebis, rooted to their towns or trades ; and we think of vast routes of travel and constant world-communications as things of recent and scientific origin. But this is wrong ; at least, the last part of it is. It is part of that large and placid lie that the rationalists tell when they say that Christianity arose in ignorance and barbarism. Christianity arose in the thick of a brilliant and bustling cosmopolitan civi- lization. Long sea-voyages were not so quick, but were quite as incessant as to-day ; and though in the nature of things Christ had not many rich followers, it is not unnatural to suppose that He had some. And a Joseph of Arimathea may easily have been a Roman citizen with a yacht that could visit Britain. The same fallacy is employed with the same partisan motive in the case of the Gospel of St. John ; which critics say could not have been written by one of the first few Christians because of its Greek transcendentalism and its Platonic tone. I am no judge of the philology, but every human being is a divinely appointed judge of the philosophy : and the Platonic tone seems to me to prove nothing at all. Palestine was not a secluded valley of barbarians ; it was an open province of a polyglot empire, overrun with all sorts of people of all kinds of education. To take a rough parallel : suppose some great prophet arose among the Boers in South Africa. The prophet himself might be a simple or unlettered man. But no one who knows the modern world would be surprised if one of his closest followers were a Professor from Heidelberg or an M.A. from Oxford. All this is not urged here with any notion of proving that the tale of the thorn is not a myth. As I have said, it probably is a myth. It is urged with the much more important object of pointing out the proper attitude towards such myths. The proper attitude is one of doubt and hope and of a kind of light mystery. The tale is certainly not impossible ; as it is certainly not certain. And through all the ages since the Roman Empire men THE GOLD OF GLASTONBURY 71 have fed their healthy fancies and their historical imagination upon the very twilight condition of such tales. But to-day real agnosticism has declined along with real theology. People cannot leave a creed alone ; though it is the essence of a creed to be clear. But neither can they leave a legend alone ; though it is the essence of a legend to be vague. That sane half-scepti- cism which was found in all rustics, in all ghost tales and fairy tales, seems to be a lost secret. Modern people must make scientifically certain that St. Joseph did or did not go to Glastonbury, despite the fact that it is now quite impossible to find out ; and that it does not, in a religious sense, very much matter. But it is essential to feel that he may have gone to Glastonbury : all songs, arts, and dedications branching and blossoming like the thorn, are rooted in some such sacred doubt. Taken thus, not heavily like a problem but lightly like an old tale, the thing does lead one along the road of very strange realities, and the thorn is found growing in the heart of a very secret maze of the soul. Something is really present in the place ; some closer contact with the thing which covers Europe but is still a secret. Somehow the grey town and the green bush touch across the world the strange small country of the garden and the grave ; there is verily some communion between the thorn tree and the crown of thorns. A man never knows what tiny thing will startle him to such ancestral and impersonal tears. Piles of superb masonry will often pass like a common panorama ; and on this grey and silver morning the ruined towers of the cathedral stood about me somewhat vaguely like grey clouds. But down in a hollow where the local anti- quaries are making a fruitful excavation, a magnificent old ruffian with a pickaxe (whom I believe to have been St. Joseph of Arimathea) showed me a fragment of the old vaulted roof which he had found in the earth ; and on the whitish grey stone there was just a faint brush of gold. There seemed a piercing and swordlike pathos, an unexpected fragrance of all forgotten or desecrated 72 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS things, in the bare survival of that poor little pigment* upon the imperishable rock. To the strong shapes of the Roman and the Gothic I had grown accustomed ; but that weak touch of colour was at once tawdry and tender, like some popular keepsake. Then I knew that all my fathers were 'men like me ; for the columns and arches were grave, and told of the gravity of the builders ; but here was one touch of their gaiety. I almost ex- pected it to fade from the stone as I stared. It was as if men had been able to preserve a fragment of a sunset. And then I remembered how the artistic critics have always praised the grave tints and the grim shadows of the crumbling cloisters and abbey towers, and how they themselves often dress up like Gothic ruins in the sombre tones of dim grey walls or dark green ivy. I remem- bered how they hated almost all primary things, but especially primary colours. I knew they were appre- ciating much more delicately and truly than I the sublime skeleton and the mighty fungoids of the dead Glastonbury. But I stood for an instant alive in the living Glastonbury, gay with gold and coloured like the toy-book of a child. THE WHITE HORSES 1 IT is within my experience, which is very brief and occasional in this matter, that it is not really at all easy to talk in a motor-car. This is fortunate ; first, because, as a whole, it prevents me from motoring ; and second because, at any given moment, it prevents me from talking. The difficulty is not wholly due to the physical conditions, though these are distinctly uncon- versational. FitzGerald's Omar, being a pessimist, was probably rich, and being a lazy fellow, was almost certainly a motorist. If any doubt could exist on the 1 From Alarms and Discursions. THE WHITE HORSES 73 point, it is enough to say that, in speaking of the foolish profits, Omar has defined the difficulties of colloquial motoring with a precision which cannot be accidental. 1 Their words to wind are scattered ; and their mouths are stopped with dust/ From this follows not (as many of the cut-and-dried philosophers would say) a savage silence and mutual hostility, but rather one of those rich silences that make the mass and bulk of all friend- ship ; the silence of men rowing the same boat or fighting in the same battle-line. It happened that the other day I hired a motor-car, because I wanted to visit in very rapid succession the battle-places and hiding-places of Alfred the Great ; and for a thing of this sort a motor is really appropriate. It is not by any means the best way of seeing the beauty of the country ; you see beauty better by walking, and best of all by sitting still. But it is a good method in any enterprise that involves a parody of the military or governmental quality anything which needs to know quickly the whole contour of a county or the rough, relative position of men and towns. On such a journey, like jagged lightning, I sat from morning till night by the side of the chauffeur ; and we scarcely exchanged a word to the hour. But by the time the yellow stars came out in the villages and the white stars in the skies, I think I understood his character ; and I fear he under- stood mine. He was a Cheshire man with a sour, patient, and humorous face ; he was modest, though a north country- man, and genial, though an expert. He spoke (when he spoke at all) with a strong northland accent ; and he evidently was new to the beautiful south country, as was clear both from his approval and his complaints. But though he came from the north he was agricultural and not commercial in origin ; he looked at the land rather than the towns, even if he looked at it with a somewhat more sharp and utilitarian eye. His first remark for some hours was uttered when we were crossing the more coarse and desolate heights of Salisbury Plain. .He 74 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS remarked that he had always thought that Salisbury Plain was a plain. This alone showed that he was new to the vicinity. But he also said, with a critical frown, ' A lot of this land ought to be good land enough. Why don't they use it ? ' He was then silent for some more hours. At an abrupt angle of the slopes that lead down from what is called (with no little humour) Salisbury Plain, I saw suddenly, as by accident, something I was looking for that is, something I did not expect to see. We are all supposed to be trying to walk into heaven ; but we should be uncommonly astonished if we suddenly walked into it. As I was leaving Salisbury Plain (to put it roughly) I lifted up my eyes and saw the White Horse of Britain. One or two truly fine poets of the Tory and Protestant type, such as Swinburne and Mr. Rudyard Kipling, have eulogized England under the image of white horses, meaning the white-maned breakers of the Channel. This is right and natural enough. The true philoso- phical Tory goes back to ancient things because he thinks they will be anarchic things. It would startle him very much to be told that there are white horses of artifice in England that may be older than those wild white horses of the elements. Yet it is truly so. Nobody knows how old are those strange green and white hiero- glyphics, those straggling quadrupeds of chalk, that stand out on the sides of so many of the Southern Downs. They are possibly older than Saxon and older than Roman times. They may well be older than British, older than any recorded times. They may go back, for all we know, to the first faint seeds of human life on this planet. Men may have picked a horse out of the grass long before they scratched a horse on a vase or pot, or messed and massed any horse out of clay. This may be the oldest human art before building or graving. And if so, it may have first happened in another geo- logical age ; before the sea burst through the narrow Straits of Dover. The White Horse may have begun in THE WHITE HORSES 75 Berkshire when there were no white horses at Folkestone or Newhaven. That rude but evident white outline that I saw across the valley may have been begun when Britain was not an island. We forget that there are many places where art is older than nature. We took a long detour through somewhat easier roads, till we came to a breach or chasm in the valley, from which we saw our friend the White Horse once more. At least, we thought it was our friend the White Horse ; but after a little inquiry we discovered to our astonish- ment that it was another friend and another horse. Along the leaning flanks of the same fair valley there was (it seemed) another white horse, as rude and as clean, as ancient and as modern, as the first. This, at least, I thought must be the aboriginal White Horse of Alfred, which I had always heard associated with his name. And yet before we had driven into Wantage and seen King Alfred's quaint grey statue in the sun, we had seen yet a third white horse. And the third white horse was so hopelessly unlike a horse that we were sure that it was genuine. The final and original white horse, the white horse of the White Horse Vale, has that big, babyish quality that truly belongs to our remotest ancestors. It really has the prehistoric, preposterous quality of Zulu or New Zealand native drawings. This at least was surely made by our fathers when they were - barely men ; long before they were civilized men. But why was it made ? Why did barbarians take so much trouble to make a horse nearly as big as a hamlet ; a horse who could bear no hunter, who could drag no load ? What was this titanic, subconscious instinct for spoiling a beautiful green slope with a very ugly white quadruped ? What (for the matter of that) is this whole hazardous fancy of humanity ruling the earth, which may have begun with white horses, which may by no means end with twenty horse-power cars ? As I rolled away out of that country, I was still cloudily considering how ordinary men ever came to want to make such strange chalk horses, when my chauffeur 76 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS startled me by speaking for the first time for nearly two hours. He suddenly let go one of the handles and pointed at a gross green bulk of down that happened to swell above us. ' That would be a good place/ he said. Naturally I referred to his last speech of some hours before ; and supposed he meant that it would be promising for agriculture. As a fact, it was quite un- promising ; and this made me suddenly understand the quiet ardour in his eye. All of a sudden I saw what he really meant. He really meant that this would be a splendid place to pick out another white horse. He knew no more than I did why it was done ; but he was in some unthinkable prehistoric tradition, because he wanted to do it. He became so acute in sensibility that he could not bear to pass any broad breezy hill of grass on which there was not a white horse. He could' hardly keep his hands off the hills. He could hardly leave any of the living grass alone. Then I left off wondering why the primitive man made so many white horses. I left off troubling in what sense the ordinary eternal man had sought to scar or deface the hills. I was content to know that he did want it ; for I had seen him wanting it. THE METHUSELAHITE * I SAW in a newspaper paragraph the other day the following entertaining and deeply philosophical incident. A man was enlisting as a soldier at Ports- mouth, and some form was put before him to be filled up, common, I suppose, to all such cases, in which was, among other things, an inquiry about what was his religion. With an equal and ceremonial gravity the man wrote down the word ' Methuselahite.' Whoever 1 From All Things Considered. THE METHUSELAHITE 77 looks over such papers must, I should imagine, have seen some rum religions in his time ; unless the Army is going to the dogs. But with all his specialist know- ledge he could not ' place ' Methuselahlsm among what Bossuet called the variations of Protestantism. He felt a fervid curiosity about the tenets and tendencies of the sect ; and he asked the soldier what it meant. The soldier replied that it was his religion ' to live as long as he could/ Now, considered as an incident in the religious history of Europe, that answer of that soldier was worth more than a hundred cartloads of quarterly and monthly and weekly and daily papers discussing religious prob- lems and religious books. Every day the daily paper reviews some new philosopher who has some new religion ; and there is not in the whole two thousand words of the whole two columns one word as witty or as wise as that word ' Methuselahite/ The whole mean- ing of literature is simply to cut a long story short ; that is why our modern books of philosophy are never literature. That soldier had in him the very soul of literature ; he was one of the great phrase-makers of modern thought, like Victor Hugo or Disraeli. He found one word that defines the paganism of to-day. Henceforward, when the modern philosophers come to me with their new religions (and there is always a kind of queue of them waiting all the way down the street) I shall anticipate their circumlocutions and be able to cut them short with a single inspired word. One of them will begin, ' The New Religion, which is based upon that Primordial Energy in Nature . . / ' Methu- selahite/ I shall say sharply ; ' good morning.' ' Human Life/ another will say, ' Human Life, the only ultimate sanctity, freed from creed and dogma . . / ' Methu- selahite ! ' I shall yell. ' Out you go ! ' ' My religion is the Religion of Joy/ a third will explain (a bald old man with a cough and tinted glasses), ' the Religion of Physical Pride and Rapture, and my . . / ' Methu- selahite ! ' I shall cry again, and I shall slap him boister- 78 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS ously on the back, and he will fall down. Then a pale young poet with serpentine hair will come and say to me (as one did only the other day) : ' Moods and im- pressions are the only realities, and these are constantly and wholly changing. I could hardly therefore define my religion, . . .' 'I can/ I should say, somewhat sternly. ' Your religion is to live a long time ; and if you stop here a moment longer you won't fulfil it.' A new philosophy generally means in practice the praise of some old vice. We "have had the sophist who defends cruelty, and calls it masculinity. We have had the sophist who defends profligacy, and calls it the liberty of the emotions. We have had the sophist who defends idleness, and calls it art. It will almost cer- tainly happen it can almost certainly be prophesied that in this saturnalia of sophistry there will at some time or other arise a sophist who desires to idealize cowardice. And when we are once in this unhealthy world of mere wild words, what a vast deal there would be to say for cowardice ! ' Is not life a lovely thing and worth saving ? ' the soldier would say as he ran away. ' Should I not prolong the exquisite miracle of conscious- ness ? ' the householder would say as he hid under the table. ' As long as there are roses and lilies on the earth shall I not remain there ? ' would come the voice of the citizen from under the bed. It would be quite as easy to defend the coward as a kind of poet and mystic as it has been, in many recent books, to defend the emotionalist as a kind of poet and mystic, or the tyrant as a kind of poet and mystic. When that last grand sophistry and morbidity is preached in a book or on a platform, you may depend upon it there will be a great stir in its favour, that is, a great stir among the little people who live among books and platforms. There will be a new great Religion, the Religion of Methuselahism : with pomps and priests and altars. Its devout crusaders will vow themselves in thousands with a great vow to live long. But there is one comfort : they won't. For, indeed, the weakness of this worship of mere ON RUNNING AFTER ONE'S HAT 79 natural life (which is a common enough creed to-day) is that it ignores the paradox of courage and fails in its own aim. As a matter of fact, no men would be killed quicker than the Methuselahites. The paradox of courage is that a man must be a little careless of his life even in order to keep it. And in the very case I have quoted we may see an example of how little the theory of Methuselahism really inspires our best life. For there is one riddle in that case which cannot easily be cleared up. If it was the man's religion to live as long as he could, why on earth was he enlisting as a soldier ? ON RUNNING AFTER ONE'S HAT 1 I FEEL an almost savage envy on hearing that London has been flooded in my absence, while I am in the mere country. My own Battersea has been, I understand, particularly favoured as a meeting of the waters. Battersea was already, as I need hardly say, the most beautiful of human localities. Now that it has the additional splendour of great sheets of water, there must be something quite incomparable in the landscape (or waterscape) of my own romantic town. Battersea must be a vision of Venice. The boat that brought the meat from the butcher's must have shot along those lanes of rippling silver with the strange smoothness of the gondola. The greengrocer who brought cabbages to the corner of the Latchmere Road must have leant upon the oar with the unearthly grace of the gondolier. There is nothing so perfectly poetical as an island ; and when a district is flooded it becomes an archipelago. Some consider such romantic views of flood or fire 1 From All Things Considered. 8o A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS slightly lacking in reality. But really this romantic view of such inconveniences is quite as practical as the other. The true optimist who sees in such things an opportunity for enjoyment is quite as logical and much more sensible than the ordinary ' Indignant Ratepayer ' who sees in them an opportunity for grumbling. Real pain, as in the case of being burnt a,t Smithfield or having a toothache, is a positive thing ; it can be supported, but scarcely enjoyed. But, after all, our toothaches are the exception, and as for being burnt at Smithfield, it only happens to us at the very longest intervals. And most of the inconveniences that make men swear or women cry are really sentimental or imaginative incon- veniences things altogether of the mind. For instance, we often hear grown-up people complaining of having to hang about a railway station and wait for a train. Did you ever hear a small boy complain of having to hang about a railway station and wait for a train ? No ; for to him to be inside a railway station is to be inside a cavern of wonder and a palace of poetical pleasures. Because to him the red light and the green light on the signal are like a new sun and a new moon. Because to him when the wooden arm of the signal falls down suddenly, it is as if a great king had thrown down his staff as a signal and started a shrieking tournament of trains. I myself am of little boys' habit in this matter. They also serve who only stand and wait for the two fifteen. Their meditations may be full of rich and fruitful things. Many of tte most purple hours of my life have been passed at Clapham Junction, which is now, I suppose, under water. I have been there in many moods so fixed and mystical that the water might well have come up to my waist befpre I noticed it par- ticularly. But in the case of all such annoyances, as I have said, everything depends upon the emotional point of view. You can safely apply the test to almost every one of the things that are currently talked of as the typical nuisance of daily life. For instance, there is a current impression that it is ON RUNNING AFTER ONE'S HAT 81 unpleasant to have to run after one's hat. Why should it be unpleasant to the well-ordered and pious mind ? Not merely because it is running, and running exhausts one. The same people run much faster in games and sports. The same people run much more eagerly after an uninteresting little leather ball than they will after a nice silk hat. There is an idea that it is humiliating to run after one's hat ; and when people say it is humili- ating they mean that it is comic. It certainly is comic ; but man is a very comic creature, and most of the things he does are comic eating, for instance. And the most comic things of all are exactly the things that are most worth doing such as making love. A man running after a hat is not half so ridiculous as a man running after a wife. Now a man could, if he felt rightly in the matter, run after his hat with the manliest ardour and the most sacred joy. He might regard himself as a jolly hunts- man pursuing a wild animal, for certainly no animal could be wilder. In fact, I am inclined to believe that hat-hunting on windy days will be the sport of the upper classes in the future. There will be a meet of ladies and gentlemen on some high ground on a gusty morning. They will be told that the professional attendants have started a hat in such-and-such a thicket, or whatever be the technical term. Notice that this employment will in the fullest degree combine sport with humani- tarianism. The hunters would feel that they were not inflicting pain. Nay, they would feel that they were inflicting pleasure, rich, almost riotous pleasure, upon the people who were looking on. When last I saw an old gentleman running after his hat in Hyde Park, I told him that a heart so benevolent as his ought to be filled with peace and thanks at the thought of how much unaffected pleasure his every gesture and bodily attitude were at that moment giving to the crowd. The same principle can be applied to every other typical domestic worry. A gentleman trying to get a fly out of the milk or a piece of cork out of his glass of 82 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS wine often imagines himself to be irritated. Let him think for a moment of the patience of anglers sitting by dark pools, and let his soul be immediately irradiated with gratification and repose. Again, I have known some people of very modern views driven by their distress to the use of theological terms to which they attached no doctrinal significance, merely because a drawer was jammed tight and they could not pull it out. A friend of mine was particularly afflicted in this way. Every day his drawer was jammed, and every day in consequence it was something else that rhymes to it. But I pointed out to him that this sense of wrong was really subjective and relative ; it rested entirely upon the assumption that the drawer could, should, and would come out easily. ' But if/ I said, ' you picture to yourself that you are pulling against some powerful and oppressive enemy, the struggle will become merely exciting and not exasperating. Imagine that you are tugging up a lifeboat out of the sea. Imagine that you are roping up a fellow-creature out of an Alpine crevasse. Imagine even that you are a boy again and engaged in a tug-of-war between French and English/ Shortly after saying this I left him ; but I have no doubt at all that my words bore the best possible fruit. I have no doubt that every day of his life he hangs on the handle of that drawer with a flushed face and eyes bright with battle, uttering encouraging shouts to himself, and seeming to hear all round him the roar of an applauding ring. So I do not think that it is altogether fanciful or in- credible to suppose that even the floods in London may be accepted and enjoyed poetically. Nothing beyond inconvenience seems really to have been caused by them ; and inconvenience, as I have said, is only one aspect, and that the most unimaginative and accidental aspect of a really romantic situation. An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered. The water that girdled the houses and shops of London must, if THE WRONG INCENDIARY 83 anything, have only increased their previous witchery and wonder. For as the Roman Catholic priest in the story said : ' Wine is good with everything except water/ and on a similar principle, water is good with everything except wine. THE WRONG INCENDIARY l I STOOD looking at the Coronation Procession I mean the one in Beaconsfield ; not the rather elephantine imitation of it which, I believe, had some success in London and I was seriously impressed. Most of my life is passed in discovering with a deathly surprise that I was quite right. Never before have I realized how right I was in maintaining that the small area ex- presses the real patriotism : the smaller the field the taller the tower. There were things in our local proces- sion that did not (one might even reverently say, could not) occur in the London procession. One of the most prominent citizens in our procession (for instance) had his face blacked. Another rode on a pony which wore pink and blue trousers. I was not present at the Metro- politan affair, and therefore my assertion is subject to such correction as the eye-witness may always offer to the absentee. But I believe with some firmness that no such features occurred in the London pageant. But it is not of the local celebration that I would speak, but of something that occurred before it. In the field beyond the end of my garden the materials for a bonfire had been heaped ; a hill of every kind of rubbish and refuse and things that nobody wants ; broken chairs, dead trees, rags, shavings, newspapers, new religions, in pamphlet form, reports of the Eugenic Congress, and so on. All this refuse, material and 1 From A Miscellany of Men. 84 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS mental, it was our purpose to purify and change to holy flame on the day when the King was crowned. The following is an account of the rather strange thing that really happened. I do not know whether it was any sort of symbol ; but I narrate it just as it befell. In the middle of the night I woke up slowly and listened to what I supposed to be the heavy crunching of a cart-wheel along a road "of loose stones. Then it grew louder, and I thought somebody was shooting out cart-loads of stones ; then it seemed as if the shock was breaking big stones into pieces. Then I realized that under this sound there was also a strange, sleepy, almost inaudible roar ; and that on top of it every now and then came pigmy pops like a battle of penny pistols. Then I knew what it was. I went to the window ; and a great firelight flung across two meadows smote me where I stood. ' Oh, my holy aunt/ I thought, ' they Ve mistaken the Coronation Day/ And yet when I eyed the transfigured scene it did not seem exactly like a bonfire or any ritual illumination. It was too chaotic, and too close to the houses of the town. All one side of a cottage was painted pink with the giant brush of flame ; the next side, by contrast, was painted as black as tar. Along the front of this ran a blackening rim or rampart edged with a restless red ribbon that danced and doubled and devoured like a scarlet snake ; and beyond it was nothing but a deathly fullness of light. I put on some clothes and went down the road ; all the dull or startling noises in that din of burning grow- ing louder and louder as I walked. The heaviest sound was that of an incessant cracking and crunching, as if some giant with teeth of stone was breaking up the bones of the world. I had not yet come within sight of the real heart and habitat of the fire ; but the strong red light, like an unnatural midnight sunset, powdered the greyest grass with gold and flushed the few tall trees up to the last fingers of their foliage. Behind them the night was black and cavernous ; and one THE WRONG INCENDIARY 85 could only trace faintly the ashen horizon beyond the dark and magic Wilton woods. As I went, a workman on a bicycle shot a rood past me ; then staggered from his machine and shouted to me to tell him where the fire was. I answered that I was going to see, but thought it was the cottages by the wood-yard. He said, ' My God ! ' and vanished. A little farther on I found grass and pavement soak- ing and flooded, and the red and yellow flames repainted in pools and puddles. Beyond were dim huddles of people and a small distant voice shouting out orders. The fire-engines were at work. I went on among the red reflections, which seemed like subterranean fires ; I had a singular sensation of being in a very important dream. Oddly enough, this was increased when I found that most of my friends and neighbours were entangled in the crowd. Only in dreams do we see familiar faces so vividly against a black background of midnight. I was glad to find (for the workman cyclist's sake) that the fire was not in the houses by the wood- yard, but in the wood-yard itself. There was no fear for human life, and the thing was seemingly accidental, though there were the usual ugly whispers about rivalry and revenge. But for all that I could not shake off my dream-drugged soul a swollen, tragic, portentous sort of sensation, that it all had something to do with the crowning of the English King, and the glory or the end of England. It was not till I saw the puddles and the ashes in broad daylight next morning that I was funda- mentally certain that my midnight adventure had not happened outside this world. But I was more arrogant than the ancient Emperors Pharaoh or Nebuchadnezzar ; for I attempted to in- terpret my own dream. The fire was feeding upon solid stacks of unused beech or pine, grey and white piles of virgin wood. It was an orgy of mere waste ; thousands of good things were being killed before they had ever existed. Doors, tables, walking-sticks, wheel- barrows, wooden swords for boys, Dutch dolls for girls 86 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS I could hear the cry of each uncreated thing as it expired in the flames. And then I thought of that other noble tower of needless things that stood in the field beyond my garden ; the bonfire, the mountain of vanities, that is meant for burning ; and how it stood dark and lonely in the meadow, and the birds hopped on its corners and the dew touched and spangled its twigs. And I remembered that there are two kinds of fires, the Bad Fire and the Good Fire the last must surely be the meaning of Bonfire. And the paradox is that the Good Fire is made of bad things, of things that we do not want ; but the Bad Fire is made of good things, of things that we do want ; like all that wealth of wood that might have made dolls and chairs and tables, but was only making a hueless ash. And then I saw in my vision, that just as there are two fires, so there are two revolutions. And I saw that the whole mad modern world is a race between them. Which will happen first the revolution in which bad things shall perish, or that other revolution, in which good things shall perish also ? One is the riot that all good men, even the most conservative, really dream of, when the sneer shall be struck from the face of the well- fed ; when the wine of honour shall be poured down the throat of despair ; when we shall, so far as to the sons of flesh is possible, take tyranny and usury and public treason and bind them into bundles and burn them. And the other is the disruption that may come prematurely, negatively, and suddenly in the night ; like the fire in my little town. It may come because the mere strain of modern life is unbearable ; and in it even the things that men do desire may break down : marriage and fair ownership and worship and the mysterious worth of man. The two revolutions, white and black, are racing each other like two railway trains ; I cannot guess the issue . . . but even as I thought of it, the tallest turret of the timber stooped and faltered and came down in a cataract of noises. And the fire, finding passage, went up with THE WIND AND THE TREES 87 a spout like a fountain. It stood far up among the stars for an instant, a blazing pillar of brass fit for a pagan conqueror, so high that one could fancy it visible away among the goblin trees of Burnham or along the terraces of the Chiltern Hills. THE WIND AND THE TREES 1 I AM sitting under tall trees, with a great wind boiling like surf about the tops of them, so that their living load of leaves rocks and roars in something that is at once exultation and agony. I feel, in fact, as if I were actually sitting at the bottom of the sea among mere anchors and ropes, while over my head and over the green twilight of water sounded the everlasting rush of waves and the toil and crash and shipwreck of tremen- dous ships. The wind tugs at the trees as if it might pluck them root and all out of the earth like tufts of grass. Or, to try yet another desperate figure of speech for this unspeakable energy, the trees are straining and tearing and lashing as if they were a tribe of dragons each tied by the tail. As I look at these top-heavy giants tortured by an invisible and violent witchcraft, a phrase comes back into my mind. v I remember a little boy of my acquaint- ance who was once walking in Battersea Park under just such torn skies and tossing trees. He did not like the wind at all ; it blew in his face too much ; it made him shut his eyes ; and it blew off his hat, of which he was very proud. He was, as far as I remember, about four. After complaining repeatedly of the atmospheric unrest, he said at last to his mother, ' Well, why don't you take away the trees, and then it wouldn't wind/ Nothing could be more intelligent or natural than this mistake. Any one looking for the first time at the 1 From Tremendous Trifles. 88 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS trees might fancy that they were indeed vast and titanic fans, which by their mere waving agitated the air around them for miles. Nothing, I say, could be more human and excusable than the belief that it is the trees which make the wind. Indeed, the belief is so human and excusable that it is, as a matter of fact, the belief of about ninety-nine out of a hundred of the philosophers, reformers, sociologists, and politicians of the great age in which we live. My small friend was, in fact, very like the principal modern thinkers ; only much nicer. ******* In the little apologue or parable which he has thus the honour of inventing, the trees stand for all visible things and the wind for the invisible. The wind is the spirit which bloweth where it listeth ; the trees are the material things of the world which are blown where the spirit lists. The wind is philosophy, religion, revolu- tion ; the trees are cities and civilizations. We only know that there is a wind because the trees on some distant hill suddenly go mad. We only know that there is a real revolution because all the chimney-pots go mad on the whole sky-line of the city. Just as the ragged outline of a tree grows suddenly more ragged and rises into fantastic crests or tattered tails, so the human city rises under the wind of the spirit into toppling temples or sudden spires. No man has ever seen a revolution. Mobs pouring through the palaces, blood pouring down the gutters, the guillotine lifted higher than the throne, a prison in ruins, a people in arms these things are not revolution, but the results of revolution. You cannot see a wind ; you can only see that there is a wind. So, also, you cannot see a revolution ; you can only see that there is a revolution. And there never has been in the history of the world a real revolution, brutally active and decisive, which was not preceded by unrest and new dogma in the region of invisible things. All revolutions began by being abstract. Most revolu- tions began by being quite pedantically abstract. THE WIND AND THE TREES 89 The wind is up above the world before a twig on the tree has moved. So there must always be a battle in the sky before there is a battle on the earth. Since it is lawful to pray for the coming of the kingdom, it is lawful also to pray for the coming of the revolution that shall restore the kingdom. It is lawful to hope to hear the wind of heaven in the trees. It is lawful to pray ' Thine anger come on earth as it is in heaven/ ******* The great human dogma, then, is that the wind moves the trees. The great human heresy is that the trees move the wind. When people begin to say that the material circumstances have alone created the moral circumstances, then they have prevented all possibility of serious change. For if my circumstances have made me wholly stupid, how can I be certain even that I am right in altering those circumstances ? The man who represents all thought as an accident of environment is simply smashing and discrediting all his own thoughts including that one. To treat the human mind as having an ultimate authority is necessary to any kind of thinking, even free thinking. And nothing will ever be reformed in this age or country unless we realize that the moral fact comes first. For example, most of us, I suppose, have seen in print and heard in debating clubs an endless discussion that goes on between Socialists and total abstainers. The latter say that drink leads to poverty ; the former say that poverty leads to drink. I can only wonder at either of them being content with such simple physical ex- planations. Surely it is obvious that the thing which among the English proletariat leads to poverty is the same as the thing which leads to drink ; the absence of ( strong civic dignity, the absence of an instinct that resists degradation. When you have discovered why the enormous English estates were not long ago cut up into small holdings like the land of France, you will have discovered why the Englishman is more drunken than the Frenchman, The 90 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS Englishman, among his million delightful virtues, really has this quality, which may strictly be called ' hand to mouth/ because under its influence a man's hand auto- matically seeks his own mouth, instead of seeking (as it sometimes should do) his oppressor's nose. And a man who says that the English inequality in land is due only to economic causes, or that the drunkenness of England is due only to economic causes, is saying something so absurd that he cannot really have thought what he was saying. Yet things quite as preposterous as this are said and written under the influence of that great spectacle of babyish helplessness, the economic theory of history. We have people who represent that all great historic motives were economic, and then have to howl at the top of their voices in order to induce the modern de- mocracy to act on economic motives. The extreme Marxian politicians in England exhibit themselves as a small, heroic minority, trying vainly to induce the world to do what, according to their theory, the world always does. The truth is, of course, that there will be a social revolution the moment the thing has ceased to be purely economic. Yom can never have a revolution in order to establish a democracy. You must have a democracy in order to have a revolution. ******* I get up from under the trees, for the wind and the slight rain have ceased. The trees stand up like golden pillars in a clear sunlight. The tossing of the trees and the blowing of the wind have ceased simultaneously. So I suppose there are still modern philosophers who will maintain that the trees make the wind. A CAB RIDE ACROSS COUNTRY 91 A CAB RIDE ACROSS COUNTRY 1 SOWN somewhere far oft in the shallow dales of Hertfordshire there lies a village of great beauty, and I doubt not of admirable virtue, but of eccentric and unbalanced literary taste, which asked the present writer to come down to it on Sunday afternoon and give an address. Now it was very difficult to get down to it at all on Sunday afternoon, owing to the indescribable state into which our national laws and customs have fallen in connection with the seventh day. It is not Puritanism ; it is simply anarchy. I should have some sympathy with the Jewish Sabbath, if it were a Jewish Sabbath, and that for three reasons. First, that religion is an intrinsically sympathetic thing ; second, that I cannot conceive any religion worth calling a religion without fixed and material observances ; and third, that the particular observance of sitting still and doing no work is one that suits my temperament down to the ground. But the absurdity of the modern English convention is that it does not let a man sit still ; it only perpetually trips him up when it has forced him to walk about. Our Sabbatarianism does not forbid us to ask a man in Battersea to come and talk in Hertfordshire ; it only prevents his getting there. I can understand that a deity might be worshipped with joys, with flowers, and fireworks in the old European style. I can understand that a deity might be worshipped with sorrows. But I cannot imagine any deity being worshipped with in- conveniences. Let the good Moslem go to Mecca, or let him abide in his tent, according to his feeling for religious symbols. But surely Allah cannot see any- thing particularly dignified in his servant being misled by the time-table, finding that the old Mecca express is not running, missing his connection at Bagdad, or 1 From Tremendous 7V//.'- 92 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS having to wait three hours in a small side station outside Damascus. So it was with me on this occasion. I found there was no telegraph service at all to this place ; I found there was only one weak thread of train-service. Now if this had been the authority of real English religion, I should have submitted to it at once. If I believed that the telegraph clerk could not send the telegram because he was at that moment rigid in an ecstasy of prayer, I should think all telegrams unimportant in comparison. If I could believe that railway porters when relieved from their duties rushed with passion to the nearest place of worship, I should say that all lectures and every- thing else ought to give way to such a consideration. I should not complain if the national faith forbade me to make any appointments of labour or self-expression on the Sabbath. But, as it is, it only tells me that I may very probably keep the Sabbath by not keeping the appointment. ******* But I must resume the sad details of my tale. I found that there was only one train in the whole of that Sunday by which I could even get within several hours or several miles of the time or place. I therefore went to the telephone, which is one of my favourite toys, and down which I have shouted many valuable, but pre- maturely arrested, monologues upon art and morals. I remember a mild shock of surprise when I discovered that one could use the telephone on Sunday ; I did not expect it to be cut off, but I expected it to buzz more than on ordinary days, to the advancement of our national religion. Through this instrument, in fewer words than usual, and with a comparative economy of epigram, I ordered a taxi-cab to take me to the railway station. I have not a word to say in general either against telephones or taxi-cabs ; they seem to me two of the purest and most poetic of the creations of modern scientific civilization. Unfortunately, when the taxi- cab started, it did exactly what modern scientific civiliza- A CAB RIDE ACROSS COUNTRY 93 tion has done it broke down. The result of this was that when I arrived at King's Cross my only train was gone ; there was a Sabbath calm in the station, a calm in the eyes of the porters, and in my breast, if calm at all, if any calm, a calm despair. There was not, however, very much calm of any sort in my breast on first making the discovery ; and it was turned to blinding horror when I learnt that I could not even send a telegram to the organizers of the meeting. To leave my entertainers in the lurch was sufficiently exasperating ; to leave them without any intimation was simply low. I reasoned with the official. I said : ' Do you really mean to say that if my brother were dying and my mother in this place, I could not communi- cate with her ? ' He was a man of literal and laborious mind ; he asked me if my brother was dying. I answered that he was in excellent and even offensive health, but that I was inquiring upon a question of principle. What would happen if England were invaded, or if I alone knew how to turn aside a comet or an earthquake ? He waved away these hypotheses in the most irrespon- sible spirit, but he was quite certain that telegrams could not reach this particular village. Then something exploded in me ; that element of the outrageous which is the mother of all adventures sprang up ungovernable, and I decided that I would not be a cad merely because some of my remote ancestors had been Calvinists. I would keep my appointment if I lost all my money and all my wits. I went out into the quiet London street, where my quiet London cab was still waiting for its fare in the cold and misty morning. I placed myself com- fortably in the London cab and told the London driver to drive me to the other end of Hertfordshire. And he did. ******* I shall not forget that drive. It was doubtful whether, even in a motor-cab, the thing was possible with any consideration for the driver, not to speak of some slight consideration for the people in the road. I urgecl the 94 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS driver to eat and drink something before he started, but he said (with I know not what pride of profession or delicate sense of adventure) that he would rather do it when we arrived if we ever did. I was by no means so refined ; I bought a varied selection of pork-pies at a little shop that was open (why was that shop open ? it is all a mystery) , and ate them as we went along. The beginning was sombre and irritating. I was annoyed, not with people, but with things, like a baby ; with the motor for breaking down and with Sunday for being Sunday. And the sight of the northern slums expanded and ennobled, but did not decrease, my gloom : White- chapel has an Oriental gaudiness in its squalor ; Batter- sea and Camberwell have an indescribable bustle of democracy ; but the poor parts of North London . . . well, perhaps I saw them wrongly under that ashen morning and on tjiat foolish errand. It was one of those days which more than once this year broke the retreat of winter ; a winter day that began too late to be spring. We were already clear of the obstructing crowds, and quickening our pace through a borderland of market gardens and isolated public- houses, when the grey showed golden patches and a good light began to glitter on everything. The cab went quicker and quicker. The open land whirled wider and wider ; but I did not lose that sense of being battled with and thwarted that I had felt in the thronged slums. Rather the feeling increased, because of the great diffi- culty of space and time. The faster went the car, the fiercer and thicker I felt the fight. The whole landscape seemed charging at me and just missing me. The tall, shining grass went by like showers of arrows ; the very trees seemed like lances hurled at my heart, and shaving it by a hair's breadth. Across some vast, smooth valley I saw a beech-tree by the white road stand up little and defiant. It grew bigger and bigger with blinding rapidity. It charged me like a tilting knight, seemed to hack at my head, and pass by. Sometimes, when we went round a curve of THE WRONG SHAPE 95 road, the effect was yet more awful. It seemed as if some tree or windmill swung round to smite like a boome- rang. The sun by this time was a blazing fact ; and I saw that all Nature is chivalrous and militant. We do wrong to seek peace in Nature ; we should rather seek the nobler sort of war ; and see all the trees as green banners. ******* I niade my speech, arriving just when everybody was deciding to leave. When my cab came reeling into the market-place they decided, with evident disappointment, to remain. Over the lecture I draw a veil. When I came back home I was called to the telephone, and a meek voice expressed regret for the failure of the motor- cab, and even said something about any reasonable payment. ' Payment ! ' I cried down the telephone. ' Whom can I pay for my own superb experience ? What is the usual charge for seeing the clouds shattered by the sun ? What is the market price of a tree blue on the sky-line and then blinding white in the sun ? Men- tion your price for that windmill that stood behind the hollyhocks in the garden. Let me pay you for . . / Here it was, I think, that we were cut off. THE WRONG SHAPE 1 CERTAIN of the great roads going north out of London continue far into the country a sort of attenuated and interrupted spectre of a street, with great gaps in the building, but preserving the line. Here will be a group of shops, followed by a fenced field or paddock, and then a famous public-house, and then perhaps a market garden or a nursery garden, and then one large private house, and then another field and another inn, and so on. If any one walks along one of these roads he 1 From The Innocence of Father Bru-ivn. 96 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS will pass a house which will probably catch his eye, though he may not be able to explain its attraction. It is a long, low house, running parallel with the road, painted mostly white and pale green, with a veranda and sun-blinds, and porches capped with those quaint sort of cupolas like wooden umbrellas that one sees in some old-fashioned houses. In fact, it is an old-fashioned house, very English and very suburban in the good old wealthy Clapham sense. And yet the house has a look of. having been built chiefly for the hot weather. Look- ing at its white paint and sun-blinds one thinks vaguely of pugarees and even of palm trees. I cannot trace the feeling to its root ; perhaps the place was built by an Anglo-Indian. Any one passing this house, I say, would be namelessly fascinated by it ; would feel that it was a place about which some story was to be told. And he would have been right, as you shall shortly hear. For this is the story the story of the strange things that did really happen in it in the Whitsuntide of the year 18 : Any one passing the house on the Thursday before Whit-Sunday at about half-past four P.M. would have seen the front door open, and Father Brown, of the small church of St. Mungo, come out smoking a large pipe in company with a very tall French friend of his called Flambeau, who was smoking a very small cigarette. These persons may or may not be of interest to the reader, but the truth is that they were not the only in- teresting things that were displayed when the front door of the white- and-green house was opened. There are further peculiarities about this house, which must be described to start with, not only that the reader may understand this tragic tale, but also that he may realize what it was that the opening of the door revealed. The whole house was built upon the plan of a T, but a T with a very long cross-piece and a very short tail-piece. The long cross-piece was the frontage that ran along in face of the street, with the front door in the middle ; it was two storeys high, and contained nearly all the THE WRONG SHAPE 97 important rooms. The short tail-piece, which ran out at the back immediately opposite the front door, was one storey high, and consisted only of two long rooms, the one leading into the other. The first of these two rooms was the study in which the celebrated Mr. Quinton wrote his wild Oriental poems and romances. The farther room was a glass conservatory full of tropical blossoms of quite unique and almost monstrous beauty, and on such afternoons as these glowing with gorgeous sunlight. Thus when the hall door was open, many a passer-by literally stopped to stare and gasp ; for he looked down a perspective of rich apartments to some- thing really like a transformation scene in a fairy play : purple clouds and golden suns and crimson stars that were at once scorchingly vivid and yet transparent and far away. Leonard Quinton, the poet, had himself most care- fully arranged this effect ; and it is doubtful whether he so perfectly expressed his personality in any of his poems. For he was a man who drank and bathed in colours, who indulged his lust for colour somewhat to the neglect of form even of good form. This it was that had turned his genius so wholly to Eastern art and imagery ; to those bewildering carpets or blinding em- broideries in which all the colours seem fallen into a fortunate chaos, having nothing to typify or to teach. He had attempted, not perhaps with complete artistic success, but with acknowledged imagination and inven- tion, to compose epics and love stories reflecting the riot of violent and even cruel colour ; tales of tropical heavens of burning gold or blood-red copper ; of Eastern heroes who rode with twelve-turbaned mitres upon elephants painted purple or peacock green ; of gigantic jewels that a hundred negroes could not carry, but which burned with ancient and strange-hued fires. In short (to put the matter from the more common point of view), he dealt much in Eastern heavens, rather worse than most Western hells ; in Eastern monarchs, whom we might possibly call maniacs ; and in Eastern 98 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS jewels which a Bond Street jeweller (if the hundred staggering negroes brought them into his shop) might possibly not regard as genuine. Quinton was a genius, if a morbid one ; and even his morbidity appeared more in his life than in his work. In temperament he was weak and waspish, and his health had suffered heavily from Oriental experiments with opium. His wife a handsome, hard-working, and, indeed, over-worked woman objected to the opium, but objected much more to a live Indian hermit in white and yellow robes, whom her husband insisted on entertaining for months together, a Virgil to guide his spirit through the heavens and the hells of the East. It was out of this artistic household that Father Brown and his friend stepped on to the doorstep ; and to judge from their faces, they stepped out of it with much relief. Flambeau had known Quinton in wild student days in Paris, and they had renewed the acquaintance for a week-end ; but apart from Flambeau's more responsible developments of late, he did not get on well with the poet now. Choking oneself with opium and writing little erotic verses on vellum was not his notion of how a gentleman should go to tjhe devil. As the two paused on the doorstep, before taking a turn in the garden, the front garden gate was thrown open with violence, and a young man with a billycock hat on the back of his head tumbled up the steps in his eagerness. He was a dis- sipated-looking youth with a gorgeous red necktie all awry, as if he had slept in it, and he kept fidgeting and lashing about with one of those little jointed canes. ' I say/ he said breathlessly, ' I want to see old Quinton. I must see him. Has he gone ? ' ' Mr. Quinton is in, I believe, 1 said Father Brown, cleaning his pipe, ' but I do not know if you can see him. The doctor is with him at present.' The young man, who seemed not to be perfectly sober, stumbled into the hall ; and at the same moment the doctor came out of Quinton's study, shutting the door and beginning to put on his gloves. THE WRONG SHAPE 99 ' See Mr. Quinton ? ' said the doctor coolly. ' No, I 'm afraid you can't. In fact, you mustn't on any account. Nobody must see him ; I 've just given him his sleeping draught/ ' No, but look here, old chap/ said the youth in the red tie, trying affectionately to capture the doctor by the lapels of his coat. ' Look here. I 'm simply sewn up, I tell you. I ' ' It 's no good, Mr. Atkinson/ said the doctor, forcing him to fall back ; ' when you can alter the effects of a drug I '11 alter my decision/ and, setting on his hat, he stepped out into the sunlight with the other two. He was a bull-necked, good-tempered little man with a small moustache, inexpressibly ordinary, yet giving an impression of capacity. The young man in the billycock, who did not seem to be gifted with any tact in dealing with people beyond the general idea of clutching hold of their coats, stood outside the door, as dazed as if he had been thrown out bodily, and silently watched the other three walk away together through the garden. ' That was a sound, spanking lie I told just now/ re- marked the medical man, laughing. ' In point of fact, poor Quinton doesn't have his sleeping draught for nearly half an hour. But I 'm not going to have him bothered with that little beast, who only wants to borrow money that he wouldn't pay back if he could. He 's a dirty little scamp, though he is Mrs. Quinton's brother, and she 's as fine a woman as ever walked/ ' Yes/ said Father Brown. ' She 's a good woman/ ' So I propose to hang about the garden till the creature has cleared off/ went on the doctor, ' and then I '11 go in to Quinton with the medicine. Atkinson can't get in, because I locked the door/ ' In that case, Dr. Harris/ said Flambeau, ' we might as well walk round at the back by the end of the con- servatory. There 's no entrance to it that way, but it 's worth seeing, even from the outside/ 1 Yes, and I might get a squint at my patient/ laughed ioo A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS the doctor, ' for he prefers to lie on an ottoman right at the end of the conservatory amid all those blood-red poinsettias ; it would give me the creeps. But what are you doing ? ' Father Brown had stopped for a moment, and picked up out of the long grass, where it had almost been wholly hidden, a queer, crooked Oriental knife, inlaid exquisitely in coloured stones and metals. ' What is this ? ' asked Father Brown, regarding it with some disfavour. ' Oh, Quinton's, I suppose/ said Dr. Harris carelessly ; ' he has all sorts of Chinese knick-knacks about the place. Or perhaps it belongs to that mild Hindoo of his whom he keeps on a string/ ' What Hindoo ? ' asked Father Brown, still staring at the dagger in his hand. ' Oh, some Indian conjurer/ said the doctor lightly ; ' a fraud, of course/ ' You don't believe in magic ? ' asked Father Brown, without looking up. ' O crikey ! magic ! ' said the doctor. ' It 's very beautiful/ said the priest in a low, dream- ing voice ; ' the colours are very beautiful. But it ; s the wrong shape/ ' What for ? ' asked Flambeau, staring. ' For anything. It 's the wrong shape in the abstract. Don't you ever feel that about Eastern art ? The colours are intoxicatingly lovely ; but the shapes are mean and bad deliberately mean and bad. I have seen wicked things in a Turkey carpet/ ' Mon Dieu ! y cried Flambeau, laughing. ' They are letters and symbols in a language I don't know ;' but I know they stand for evil words/ went on the priest, his voice growing lower and lower. ' The lines go wrong on purpose like serpents doubling to escape/ * What the devil are you talking about ? ' said the doctor with a loud laugh. Flambeau spoke quietly to him in answer. ' The THE WRONG SHAPE 101 Father sometimes gets this mystic's cloud on him/ he said ; ' but I give you fair warning that I have never known him have it except when there was some evil quite near.' ' Oh, rats ! ' said the scientist. ' Why, look at it/ cried Father Brown, holding out the crooked knife at arm's length, as if it were some glittering snake. ' Don't you see it is the wrong shape ? Don't you see that it has no hearty and plain purpose ? It does not point like a spear. It does not sweep like a scythe. It does not look like a weapon. It looks like an instrument of torture/ ' Well, as you don't seem to like it/ said the jolly Harris, ' it had better be taken back to its owner. Haven't we come to the end of this confounded conser- vatory yet ? This house is the wrong shape, if you like.' ' You don't understand/ said Father Brown, shaking his head. ' The shape of this house is quaint it is even laughable. But there is nothing wrong about it. ' As they spoke they came round the curve of glass that ended the conservatory, an uninterrupted curve, for there was neither door nor window by which to enter at that end. The glass, however, was clear, and the sun still bright, though beginning to set ; and they could see not only the flamboyant blossoms inside, but the frail figure of the poet in a brown velvet coat lying languidly on the sofa, having, apparently, fallen half asleep over a book. He was a pale, slight man, with loose chestnut hair and a fringe of beard that was the paradox of his face, for the beard made him look less manly. These traits were well known to all three of them ; but even had it not been so, it may be doubted whether they would have looked at Quinton just then. Their eyes were riveted on another object. Exactly in their path, immediately outside the round end of the glass building, was standing a tall man, whose drapery fell to his feet in faultless white, and whose bare, brown skull, face, and neck gleamed in the setting sun like splendid bronze. He was looking through the gkss 102 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS at the sleeper, and he was more motionless than a mountain. ' Who is that ? ' cried Father Brown, stepping back with a hissing intake of his breath. ' Oh, it is only that Hindoo humbug/ growled Harris ; ' but I don't know what the deuce he is doing here/ ' It looks like hypnotism/ said Flambeau, biting his black moustache. ' Why are you unmedical fellows always talking bosh about hypnotism ? ' cried the doctor. ' It looks a deal more like burglary/ ' Well, we will speak to it, at any rate/ said Flambeau, who was always for action. One long stride took him to the place where the Indian stood. Bowing from his great height, which overtopped even the Oriental's, he said with placid impudence : ' Good evening, sir. Do you want anything ? ' Quite slowly, like a great ship turning into a harbour, the great yellow face turned, and looked at last over its white shoulder. They were startled to see that its yellow eyelids were quite sealed, as in sleep. ' Thank you/ said the face in excellent English. ' I want nothing/ Then, half opening the lids, so as to show a slit of opalescent eyeball, he repeated, ' I want nothing/ Then he opened his eyes wide with a startling stare, said, ' I want nothing/ and went rustling away into the rapidly darkening garden. ' The Christian is more modest/ muttered Father Brown ; ' he wants something/ ' What on earth was he doing ? ' asked Flambeau, knitting his black brows and lowering his voice. ' I should like to talk to you later/ said Father Brown. The sunlight was still a reality, but it was the red light of evening, and the bulk of the garden trees and bushes grew blacker and blacker against it. They turned round the end of the conservatory, and walked in silence down the other side to get round to the front door. As they went they seemed to wake something, as one startles a bird in the deep corner between the study and THE WRONG SHAPE 103 the main building ; and again they saw the white-robed fakir slide out of the shadow, and slip round towards the front door. To their surprise, however, he had not been alone. They found themselves abruptly pulled up and forced to banish their bewilderment by the appearance of Mrs. Quinton, with her heavy golden hair and square pale face, advancing on them out of the twilight. She looked a little stern, but was entirely courteous. ' Good evening, Dr Harris/ was all she said. ' Good evening, Mrs. Quinton/ said the little doctor heartily. ' I am just going to give your husband his sleeping draught/ ' Yes/ she said in a clear voice. ' I think it is quite time/ And she smiled at them, and went sweeping into the house. ' That woman 's over-driven/ said Father Brown ; ' that 's the kind of woman that does her duty for twenty years, and then does something dreadful/ The little doctor looked at him for the first time with an eye of interest. ' Did you ever study medicine ? ' he asked. ' You have to know something of the mind as well as the body/ answered the priest ; * we have to know some- thing of the body as well as the mind/ ' Well/ said the doctor, ' I think I '11 go and give Quinton his stuff/ They had turned the corner of the front fagade, and were approaching the front doorway. As they turned into it they saw the man in the white robe for the third time. He came so straight towards the front door that it seemed quite incredible that he had not just come out of the study opposite to it. Yet they knew that the study door was locked. Father Brown and Flambeau, however, kept this weird contradiction to themselves, and Dr. Harris was not a man to waste his thoughts on the impossible. He permitted the omnipresent Asiatic to make his exit, and then stepped briskly into the hall. There he found a figure which he had already forgotten. The iirane 104 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS Atkinson was still hanging about, humming and poking things with his knobby cane. The doctor's face had a spasm of disgust and decision, and he whispered rapidly to his companion : ' I must lock the door again, or this rat will get in. But I shall be out again in two minutes/ He rapidly unlocked the door and locked it again behind him, just balking a blundering charge from the young man in the billycock. The young man threw himself impatiently on a hall chair. Flambeau looked at a Persian illumination on the wall ; Father Brown, who seemed in a sort of .daze, dully eyed the door. In about four minutes the door was opened again. Atkin- son was quicker this time. He sprang forward, held the door open for an instant, and called out : ' Oh, I say, Quinton, I want ' From the other end of the study came the clear voice of Quinton, in something between a yawn arid a yell of weary laughter. ' Oh, I know what you want. Take it, and leave me in peace. I 'm writing a song about peacocks.' Before the door closed half a sovereign came flying through the aperture ; and Atkinson, stumbling forward, caught it with singular dexterity. ' So that 's settled/ said the doctor, and, locking the door savagely, he led the way out into the garden. ' Poor Leonard can get a little peace now/ he added to Father Brown ; ' he 's locked in all by himself for an hour or two/ ' Yes/ answered the priest ; ' and his voice sounded jolly enough when we left him/ Then he looked gravely round the garden, and saw the loose figure of Atkinson standing and jingling the half-sovereign in his pocket, and beyond, in the purple twilight, the figure of the Indian sitting bolt upright upon a bank of grass with his face turned towards the setting sun. Then he said abruptly : ' Where is Mrs. Quinton ? ' ' She has gone up to her room/ said the doctor. ' That is her shadow on the blind/ THE WRONG SHAPE 105 Father Brown looked up, and frowningly scrutinized a dark outline at the gas-lit window. ' Yes/ he said, ' that is her shadow/ and he walked a yard or two and threw himself upon a garden seat. Flambeau sat down beside him ; but the doctor was one of those energetic people who live naturally on their legs. He walked away, smoking, into the twilight, and the two friends were left together. ' My father/ said Flambeau in French, ' what is the matter with you ? ' Father Brown was silent and motionless for half a minute, then he said : * Superstition is irreligious, but there is something in the air of this place. I think it 's that Indian at least, partly/ He sank into silence, and watched the distant outline of the Indian, who still sat rigid as if in prayer. At first sight he seemed motionless, but as Father Brown watched him he saw that the man swayed ever so slightly with a rhythmic movement, just as the dark tree- tops swayed ever so slightly in the little wind that was creep- ing up the dim garden paths and shuffling the fallen leaves a little. The landscape was growing rapidly dark, as if for a storm, but they could still see all the figures in their various places. Atkinson was leaning against a tree with a listless face ; Quinton's wife was still at her window ; the doctor had gone strolling round the end of the conservatory ; they could see his cigar like a will-o'-the-wisp ; and the fakir still sat rigid and yet rocking, while the trees above him began to rock and almost to roar. Storm was certainly coming. ' When that Indian spoke to us/ went on Brown in a conversational undertone, ' I had a sort of vision, a vision of him and all his universe. Yet he only said the same thing three times. When first he said, " I want nothing," it meant only that he was impenetrable, that Asia does not give itself away. Then he said again, " I want nothing," and I knew that he meant that he was sufficient to himself, like a cosmos, that io6 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS he needed no God, neither admitted any sins. And when he said the third time, " I want nothing/' he said it with blazing eyes. And I knew that he meant literally what he said ; that nothing was his desire and his home ; that he was weary for nothing as for wine ; that annihilation, the mere destruction of every- thing or anything ' Two drops of rain fell ; and for some reason Flambeau started and looked up, as if they had stung him. And the same instant the doctor down by the end of the con- servatory began running towards them, calling out something as he ran. As he came among them like a bombshell the restless Atkinson happened to be taking a turn nearer to the house front ; and the doctor clutched him by the collar in a convulsive grip. ' Foul play ! ' he cried ; ' what have you been doing to him, you dog ? ' The priest had sprung erect, and had the voice of steel of a soldier in command. ' No fighting/ he cried coolly ; ' we are enough to hold any one we want to. What is the matter, doctor ? ' ' Things are not right with Quinton/ said the doctor, quite white. ' I could just see him through the glass, and I don't like the way he J s lying. It 's not as I left him, anyhow/ ' Let us go to him/ said Father Brown shortly. ' You can leave Mr. Atkinson alone. I have had him in sight since we heard Quinton's voice/ ' I will stop here and watch him/ said Flambeau hurriedly. ' You go in and see.' The doctor and the priest flew to the study door, un- locked it, and fell into the room. In doing so they nearly fell over the large mahogany table in the centre at which the poet usually wrote ; for the place was lit only by a small fire kept for the invalid. In the middle of this table lay a single sheet of paper, evidently left there on purpose. The doctor snatched it up, glanced at it, handed it to Father Brown, and crying, ' Good God, look at that ! ' plunged towards the glass room THE WRONG SHAPE 107 beyond, where the terrible tropic flowers still seemed to keep a crimson memory of the sunset. Father Brown read the words three times before he put down the paper. The words were : * I die by my own hand ; yet I die murdered ! ' They were in the quite inimitable, not to say illegible, handwriting of Leonard Quinton. Then Father Brown, still keeping the paper in his hand, strode towards the conservatory, only to meet his medical friend coming back with a face of assurance and collapse. ' He 's done it/ said Harris. They went together through the gorgeous unnatural beauty of cactus and azalea and found Leonard Quinton, poet and romancer, with his head hanging downward oif his ottoman and his red curls sweeping the ground. Into his left side was thrust the queer dagger that they had picked up in the garden, and his limp hand still rested on the hilt. Outside the storm had come at one stride, like the night in Coleridge, and garden and glass roof were darkened with driving rain. Father Brown seemed to be studying the paper more than the corpse ; he held it close to his eyes ; and seemed trying to read it in the twilight. Then he held it up against the faint light, and, as he did so, lightning stared at them for an instant so white that the paper looked black against it. Darkness full of thunder followed, and after the thunder Father Brown's voice said out of the dark : ' Doctor, this paper is the wrong shape.' ' What do you mean ? ' asked Doctor Harris, with a frowning stare. ' It isn't square/ answered Brown. ' It has a sort of edge snipped off at the corner. What does it mean ? ' ' How the deuce should I know ? ' growled the doctor. ' Shall we move this poor chap, do you think ? He 's quite dead/ ' No/ answered the priest ; ' we must leave him as he lies and send for the police/ But he was still scrutinizing the paper. io8 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS As they went back through the study he stopped by the table and picked up a small pair of nail scissors. ' Ah/ he said, with a sort of relief, ' this is what he did it with. But yet * And he knitted his brows. ' Oh, stop fooling with that scrap of paper/ said the doctor emphatically. ' It was a fad of his. He had hundreds of them. He cut all his paper like that/ as he pointed to a stack of sermon paper still unused on another and smaller table. Father Brown went up to it and held up a sheet. It was the same irregular shape. ' Quite so/ he said. ' And here I see the corners that were snipped off/ And to the indignation of his col- league he began to count them. ' That 's all right/ he said, with an apologetic smile. ' Twenty-three sheets cut and twenty-two corners cut off them. And as I see you are impatient we will rejoin the others/ ' Who is to tell his wife ? ' asked Dr. Harris. ' Will you go and tell her now, while I send a servant for the police ? ' ' As you will/ said Father Brown indifferently. And he went out to the hall door. Here also he found a drama, though of a more grotesque sort. It showed nothing less than his big friend Flambeau in an attitude to which he had long been unaccustomed, while upon the pathway at the bottom of the steps was sprawling with his boots in the air the amiable Atkin- son, his billycock hat and walking cane sent flying in opposite directions along the path. Atkinson had at length wearied of Flambeau's almost paternal custody, and had endeavoured to knock him down, which was by no means a smooth game to play with the Roi des Apaches, even after that monarch's abdication. Flambeau was about to leap upon his enemy and secure him once more, when the priest patted him easily on the shoulder. ' Make it up with Mr. Atkinson, my friend/ he said. ' Beg a mutual pardon and say " Good night/ 1 We need not detain him any longer/ Then, as Atkinson THE WRONG SHAPE 109 rose somewhat doubtfully and gathered his hat and stick and went towards the garden gate, Father Brown said in a more serious voice : ' Where is that Indian ? ' They all three (for the doctor had joined them) turned involuntarily towards the dim grassy bank amid the tossing trees, purple with twilight, where they had last seen the brown man swaying in his strange prayers. The Indian was gone. ' Confound him/ cried the doctor, stamping furiously. ' Now I know that it was that nigger that did it.' ' I thought you didn't believe in magic/ said Father Brown quietly. ' No more I did/ said the doctor, rolling his eyes. ' I only know that I loathed that yellow devil when I thought he was a sham wizard. And I shall loathe him more if I come to think he was a real one/ * Well, his having escaped is nothing/ said Flambeau. ' For we could have proved nothing and done nothing against him. One hardly goes to the parish constable with a story of suicide imposed by witchcraft or auto- suggestion/ Meanwhile Father Brown had made his way into the house, and now went to break*the news to the wife of the dead man. When he came out again he looked a little pale and tragic, but what passed between them in that interview was never known, even when all was known. Flambeau, who was talking quietly with the doctor, was surprised to see his friend reappear so soon at his elbow ; but Brown took no notice, and merely drew the doctor apart. ' You have sent for the police, haven't you ? ' he asked. ' Yes/ answered Harris. ' They ought to be here in ten minutes/ ' Will you do me a favour ? ' said the priest quietly. ' The truth is, I make a collection of these curious stories, which often contain, as in the case of our Hindoo friend, elements which can hardly be put into a police report. Now, I want you to write out a report of this no A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS case for my private use. Yours is a clever trade/ he said, looking the doctor gravely and steadily in the face. ' I sometimes think that you know some details of this matter which you have not thought fit to mention. Mine is a confidential trade like yours, and I will treat anything you write for me in strict confidence. But write the whole. 1 The doctor, who had been listening thoughtfully with his head a little on one side, looked the priest in the face for an instant, and said : ' All right/ and went into the study, closing the door behind him. ' Flambeau/ said Father Brown, ' there is a long seat there under the veranda, where we can smoke out of the rain. You are my only friend in the world, and I want to talk to you. Or, perhaps, be silent with you.' They established themselves comfortably in the veranda seat ; Father Brown, against his common habit, accepted a good cigar and smoked it steadily in silence, while the rain shrieked and rattled on the roof of the veranda. ' My friend/ he said at length, ' this is a queer case. A very queer case/ ' I should think it was/ declared Flambeau, with something like a shudder. ' You call it queer, and I call it queer/ said the other, ' and yet we mean quite opposite things. The modern mind always mixes up two different ideas : mystery in the sense of what is marvellous, and mystery in the sense of what is complicated. That is half its difficulty about miracles. A miracle is startling ; but it is simple. It is simple because it is a miracle. It is power coming directly from God (or the devil) instead of indirectly through nature or human wills. Now, you mean that this business is marvellous because it is miraculous, because it is witchcraft worked by a wicked Indian. Understand, I do not say that it was not spiritual or diabolic. Heaven and hell only know by what sur- rounding influences strange sins come into the lives of men. But for the present my point is this : If it was THE WRONG SHAPE in pure magic, as you think, then it is marvellous ; but it is not mysterious that is, it is not complicated. The quality of a miracle is mysterious, but its manner is simple. Now, the manner of this business has been the reverse of simple/ The storm that had slackened for a little seemed to be swelling again, and there came heavy movements as of faint thunder. Father Brown let fall the ash of his cigar and went on : ' There has been in this incident/ he said, * a twisted, ugly, complex quality that does not belong to the straight bolts either of heaven or hell. As one knows the crooked track of a snail, I know the crooked track of a man.' The white lightning opened its enormous eye in one wink, the sky shut up again, and the priest went on : ' Of all these crooked things, the crookedest was the shape of that piece of paper. It was crookeder than the dagger that killed him/ ' You mean the paper on which Quinton confessed his suicide/ said Flambeau. ' I mean the paper on which Quinton wrote, " I die by my own hand," ' answered Father Brown. ' The shape of that paper, my friend, was the wrong shape ; the wrong shape, if ever I have seen it in this wicked world/ ' It only had a corner snipped off/ said Flambeau, ' and I understand that all Quinton's paper was cut that way/ ' It was a very odd way/ said the other, ' and a very bad way, to my taste and fancy. Look here, Flambeau, this Quinton God receive his soul ! was perhaps a bit of a cur in some ways, but he really was an artist, with the pencil as well as the pen. His handwriting, though hard to read, was bold and beautiful. I can't prove what I say ; I can't prove anything. But I tell you with the full force of conviction that he could never have cut that mean little piece off a sheet of paper. If he had wanted to cut down paper for some purpose of fitting in, ii2 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS or binding up, or what not, he would have made quite a different slash with the scissors. Do you remember the shape ? It was a mean shape. It was a wrong shape. Like this. Don't you remember ? ' And he waved his burning cigar before him in the darkness, making irregular squares so rapidly that Flam- beau really seemed to see them as fiery hieroglyphics upon the darkness hieroglyphics such as his friend had spoken of, which are undecipherable, yet can have no good meaning. ' But/ said Flambeau, as the priest put his cigar in his mouth again and leaned back, staring at the roof. ' Suppose somebody else did use the scissors. Why should somebody else, cutting pieces off his sermon paper, make Quinton commit suicide ? ' Father Brown was still leaning back and staring at the roof, but he took his cigar out of his mouth and said : ' Quinton never did commit suicide/ Flambeau stared at him. ' Why, confound it all/ he cried, * then why did he confess to suicide ? ' The priest leant forward again, settled his elbows on his knees, looked at the ground, and said, in a low, dis- tinct voice : ' He never did confess to suicide/ Flambeau laid his cigar down. ' You mean/ he said, 1 that the writing was forged ? ' ' No/ said Father Brown. ' Quinton wrote it all right/ ' Well, there you are/ said the aggravated Flambeau ; ' Quinton wrote, " I die by my own hand," with his own hand on a plain piece of paper/ ' Of the wrong shape/ said the priest calmly. ' Oh, the shape be damned ! ' cried Flambeau. ' What has the shape to do with it ? ' 1 There were twenty-three snipped papers/ resumed Brown unmoved, ' and only twenty-two pieces snipped off. Therefore one of the pieces had been destroyed, probably that from the written paper. Does that suggest anything to you ? ' A light dawned on Flambeau's face, and he said : THE WRONG SHAPE 113 ' There was something else written by Quinton, some otheit words. "They will tell you I die by my own hand," or " Do not believe that ' Hotter, as the children say/ said his friend. ' But the piece was hardly half an inch across ; there was no room for one word, let alone five. Can you think of anything hardly bigger than a comma which the man with heU in his heart had to tear away as a testimony against him ? ' ' I can think of nothing/ said Flambeau at last. 1 What about quotation marks ? ' said the priest, and flung his cigar far into the darkness like a shooting star. All words had left the other man's mouth, and Father Brown said, like one going back to fundamentals : ' Leonard Quinton was a romancer, and was writing an Oriental romance about wizardry and hypnotism. He ' At this moment the door opened briskly behind them, and the doctor came out with his hat on. He put a long envelope into the priest's hands. ' That 's the document you. wanted/ he said, ' and I must be getting home. Good night/ ' Good night/ said Father Brown, as the doctor walked briskly to the gate. He had left the front door open, so that a shaft of gaslight fell upon them. In the light of this Brown opened the envelope and read the following words : ' DEAR FATHER BROWN, Vicisti Galil&e. Otherwise, damn your eyes, which are very penetrating ones. Can it be possible that there is something in all that stuff of yours after all ? ' I am a man who has ever since boyhood believed in Nature and in all natural functions and instincts, whether men called them moral or immoral. Long before I became a doctor, when I was a schoolboy keeping mice and spiders, I believed that to be a good animal is the best thing in the world. But just now I am shaken ; I have believed in Nature : but it seems as if Nature could ii4 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS betray a man. Can there be anything in your bosh ? I am really getting morbid. ' 1 loved Quinton's wife. What was there wrong in that ? Nature told me to, and it 's love that makes the world go round. I also thought quite sincerely that she would be happier with a clean animal like me than with that tormenting little lunatic. What was there wrong in that ? I was only facing facts, like a man of science. She would have been happier. ' According to my own creed I was quite free to kill Quinton, which was the best thing for everybody, even himself. But as a healthy animal I had no notion of killing myself. I resolved, therefore, that I would never do it until I saw a chance that would leave me scot-free. I saw that chance this morning. ' I have been three times, all told, into Quinton's study to-day. The first time I went in he would talk about nothing but the weird tale, called " The Curse of a Saint," which he was writing, which was all about how some Indian hermit made an English colonel kill himself by thinking about him. He showed me the last sheets, and even read me the last paragraph, which was some- thing like this : " The conqueror of the Punjab, a mere yellow skeleton, but still gigantic, managed to lift him- self on his elbow and gasp in his nephew's ear : ' I die by my own hand, yet I die murdered ! ' " It so happened by one chance out of a hundred that those last words were written at the top of a new sheet of paper. I left the room, and went out into the garden intoxicated with a frightful opportunity. ' We walked round the house ; and two more things happened in my favour. You suspected an Indian, and you found a dagger which the Indian might most prob- ably use. Taking the opportunity to stuff it in my pocket I went back to Quinton's study, locked the door, and gave him his sleeping draught. He was against answering Atkinson at all, but I urged him to call out and quiet the fellow, because I wanted a clear proof that Quinton was alive when I left the room for the second THE WRONG SHAPE 115 time. Quinton lay down in the conservatory, and I came through the study. I am a quick man with my hands, and in a minute and a half I had done what I wanted to do. I had emptied all the first part of Quinton's romance into the fireplace, where it burnt to ashes. Then I saw that the quotation marks wouldn't do, so I snipped them off, and to make it seem likelier, snipped the whole quire to match. Then I came out with the knowledge that Quinton's confession of suicide lay on the front table, while Quinton lay alive but asleep in the conservatory beyond. ' The last act was a desperate one ; you can guess it : I pretended to have seen Quinton dead and rushed to his room. I delayed you with the paper, and, being a quick man with my hands, killed Quinton while you were looking at his confession of suicide. He was half asleep, being drugged, and I put his own hand on the knife and drove it into his body. The knife was of so queer a shape that no one but an operator could have calculated the angle that would reach his heart. I wonder if you noticed this. ' When I had done it, the extraordinary thing hap- pened. Nature deserted me. I felt ill. I felt just as if I had done something wrong. I think my brain is breaking up ; I feel some sort of desperate pleasure in thinking I have told the thing to somebody ; that I shall not have to be alone with it if I marry and have children. What is the matter with me ? ... Madness ... or can one have remorse, just as if one were in Byron's poems ! I cannot write any more. JAMES ERSKINE HARRIS/ Father Brown carefully folded up the letter, and put it in his breast pocket just as there came a loud peal at the gate bell, and the wet waterproofs of several police- men gleamed in the road outside. n6 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS THE ENCHANTED MAN 1 WHEN I arrived to see the performance of the Buckinghamshire Players, who acted Miss Gertrude Robins's Pot Luck at Naphill a short time ago, it is the distressing, if scarcely surprising, truth that I entered very late. This would have mattered little, I hope, to any one, but that late-comers had to be forced into front seats. For a real popular English audience always insists on crowding in the back part of the hall ; and (as I have found in many an election) will endure the most unendurable taunts rather than come forward. The English are a modest people ; that is why they are entirely ruled and run by the few of them that happen to be immodest. In theatrical affairs the fact is strangely notable ; and in most playhouses we find the bored people in front and the eager people behind. As far as the performance went I was quite the reverse of a bored person ; but I may have been a boring person, especially as I was thus required to sit in the seats of the scornful. It will be a happy day in the dramatic world when all ladies have to take off their hats and all critics have to take off their heads. The people behind will have a chance then. And as it happens, in this case, I had not so much taken off my head as lost it. I had lost it on the road ; on that strange journey that was the cause of my coming in late. I have a troubled recollec- tion of having seen a very good play and made a very bad speech ; I have a cloudy recollection of talking to all sorts of nice people afterwards, but talking to them jerkily and with half a head, as a man talks when he has one eye on a clock. And the truth is that I had one eye on an ancient and timeless clock, hung uselessly in heaven ; whose very name has passed into a figure for such bemused folly. In the true sense of an ancient phrase, I was moonstruck. 1 From A Miscellany of Men, THE ENCHANTED MAN 117 A lunar landscape, a scene of winter moonlight, had in- explicably got in between me and all other scenes. If any one had asked me I could not have said what it was ; I cannot say now. Nothing had occurred to me ; except the breakdown of a hired motor on the ridge of a hill. It was not an adventure ; it was a vision. ******* I had started in wintry twilight from my own door ; and hired a small car that found its way across the hills towards Naphill. But as night blackened and frost brightened and hardened it I found the way increasingly difficult ; especially as the way was an incessant ascent. Whenever we topped a road like a staircase it was only to turn into a yet steeper road like a ladder. At last, when I began to fancy that I was spirally climbing the Tower of Babel in a dream, I was brought to fact by alarming noises, stoppage, and the driver say- ing that ' it couldn't be done/ I got out of the car and suddenly forgot that I had ever been in it. From the edge of that abrupt steep I saw something indescribable, which I am now going to describe. When Mr. Joseph Chamberlain delivered his great patriotic speech on the inferiority of England to the Dutch parts of South Africa, he made use of the expression ' the illimitable veldt/ The word ' veldt ' is Dutch, and the word l illimitable ' is Double Dutch. But the medita- tive statesman probably meant that the new plains gave him a sense of largeness and dreariness which he had never found in England. Well, if he never found it in England it was because he never looked for it in England. In England there is an illimitable number of illimitable veldts. I saw six or seven separate eternities in cresting as many different hills. One cannot find anything more infinite than a finite horizon, free and lonely and innocent. The Dutch veldt may be a little more desolate than Birmingham. But I am sure it is not so desolate as that English hill was, almost within a cannon-shot of High Wycombe. n8 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS I looked across a vast and voiceless valley straight at the moon, as if at a round mirror. It may have been the blue moon of the proverb ; for on that freezing night the very moon seemed blue with cold. A deathly frost fastened every branch and blade to its place. The sinking and softening forests, powdered with a grey frost, fell away underneath me into an abyss which seemed unfathomable. One fancied the world was soundless only because it was bottomless : it seemed as if all songs and cries had been swallowed in some unre- sisting stillness under the roots of the hills. I could fancy that if I shouted there would be no echo ; that if I hurled huge stones there would be no noise of reply. A dumb devil had bewitched the landscape : but that again does not express the best or worst of it. All those hoary and frosted forests expressed something so un- human that it has no human name. A horror of uncon- sciousness lay on them ; that is the nearest phrase I know. It was as if one were looking at the back of the world ; and the world did not know it. I had taken the universe in the rear. I was behind the scenes. I was eavesdropping upon an unconscious creation. I shall not express what the place expressed. I am .not even sure that it is a thing that ought to be expressed. There was something heathen about its union of beauty and death ; sorrow seemed to glitter, as it does in some of the great pagan poems. I understood one of the thousand poetical phrases of the populace, ' a God- forsaken place/ Yet something was present there ; and I could not yet find the key to my fixed impression. Then suddenly I remembered the right word. It was an en- chanted place. It had been put to sleep. In a flash I remembered all the fairy tales about princes turned to marble and princesses changed to snow. We were in a land where none could strive or cry out ; a white night- mare. The moon looked at me across the valley like the enormous eye of a hypnotist ; the one white eye of the world. THE PRIEST OF SPRING 119 There was never a better play than Pot Luck ; for it tells a tale with a point, and it is a tale that might happen! any day among English peasants. There were never better actors than the local Buckinghamshire Players : for they were acting their own life with just that rise- into exaggeration which is the transition from life to- art. But all the time I was mesmerized by the moon ;. I saw all these men and women as enchanted things. The poacher shot pheasants ; the policeman tracked pheasants ; the wife hid pheasants ; they were all (especially the policeman) as true as death. But there was something more true to death than true to life about it all ; the figures were frozen with a magic frost of sleep or fear or custom such as does not cramp the movements of the poor men of other lands. I looked at the poacher and the policeman and the gun ; then at the gun and the- policeman and the poacher ; and I could find no name for the fancy that haunted and escaped me. The poacher believed in the Game Laws as much as the- policeman. The poacher's wife not only believed in the- Game Laws, but protected them as well as him. She got a promise from her husband that he would never shoot another pheasant. Whether he kept it I doubt ;: I fancy he sometimes shot a pheasant even after that. But I am sure he never shot a policeman. For we live in an enchanted land. THE PRIEST OF SPRING 1 HTHE sun has strengthened and the air softened just A before Easter Day. But it is a troubled bright- ness which has a breath not only of novelty but of revolution. There are two great armies of the human, intellect who will fight till the end on this vital point, 1 From A Miscellany of Mtn. 120 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS whether Easter is to be congratulated on fitting in with the Spring or the Spring on fitting in with Easter. The only two things that can satisfy the soul are a person and a story ; and even a story must be about a person. There are indeed very voluptuous appetites and enjoyments in mere abstractions like mathematics, logic,, or chess. But these mere pleasures of the mind are like mere pleasures of the body. That is, they are mere pleasures, though they may be gigantic pleasures ; they can never by a mere increase of themselves amount to happiness. A man just about to be hanged may enjoy his breakfast, especially if it be his favourite breakfast ; and in the same way he may enjoy an argu- ment with the chaplain about heresy, especially if it is his favourite heresy. But whether he can enjoy either of them does not depend on either of them ; it depends upon his spiritual attitude towards a subsequent event. And that event is really interesting to the soul ; because it is the end of a story and (as some hold) the end of a person. ******* Now it is this simple truth which, like many others, is too simple for our scientists to see. This is where they go wrong, not only about true religion, but about false religions too ; so that their account of mythology is more mythical than the myth itself. I do not confine myself to saying that they are quite incorrect when they state (for instance) that Christ was a legend of dying and reviving vegetation, like Adonis or Persephone. I say that even if Adonis was a god of vegetation, they have got the whole notion of him wrong. Nobody, to begin with, is sufficiently interested in decaying vege- tables, as such, to make any particular mystery or dis- guise about them ; and certainly not enough to disguise them under the image of a very handsome young man, which is a vastly more interesting thing. If Adonis was connected with the fall of leaves in autumn and the return of flowers in spring, the process of thought was quite different. It is a process of thought which springs THE PRIEST OF SPRING 121 up spontaneously in all children and young artists ; it springs up spontaneously in all healthy societies. It is very difficult to explain in a diseased society. The brain of man is subject to short and strange snatches of sleep. A cloud seals the city of reason or rests upon the sea of imagination ; a dream that darkens as much, whether it is a nightmare of atheism or a day- dream of idolatry. And just as we have all sprung from sleep with a start and found ourselves saying some sen- tence that has no meaning, save in the mad tongues of the midnight, so the human mind starts from its trances of stupidity with some complete phrase upon its lips : a complete phrase which is a complete folly. Unfortun- ately it is not like the dream sentence, generally forgotten in the putting on of boots or the putting in of breakfast. This senseless aphorism, invented when man's mind was asleep, still hangs on his tongue and entangles all his relations to rational and daylight things. All our con- troversies are confused by certain kinds of phrases which are not merely untrue, but were always unmean- ing ; which are not merely inapplicable, but were always intrinsically useless. We recognize them whenever a man talks of ' the survival of the fittest/ meaning only the survival of the survivors ; or wherever a man says that the rich ' have a stake in the country/ as if the poor could not suffer from misgovernment or military defeat ; or where a man talks about ' going on towards Progress/ which only means going on towards going on ; or when a man talks about ' government by the wise few/ as if they could be picked out by their pantaloons. ' The wise few ' must mean either the few whom the foolish think wise or the very foolish who think themselves wise. There is one piece of nonsense that modern people still find themselves saying, even after they are more or less awake, by which I am particularly irritated. It arose in the popularized science of the nineteenth century, especially in connection with the study of myths and religions. The fragment of gibberish to which I refer generally takes the form of saying ' This god or hero 122 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS ireally represents the sun.' Or ' Apollo killing the Python means that the summer drives out the winter/ Or ' The King dying in a western battle is a symbol of the sun setting in the west.' Now I should really have thought that even the sceptical professors, whose skulls .are as shallow as frying-pans, might. have reflected that human beings never think or feel like this. Consider what is involved in this supposition. It presumes that primitive man went out for a walk and saw with great interest a big burning spot on the sky. He then said to primitive woman, ' My dear, we had better keep this quiet. We mustn't let it get about. The children and the slaves are so very sharp. They might discover the .sun any day, unless we are very careful. So we won't call it " the sun," but I will draw a picture of a man kill- ing a snake ; and whenever I do that you will know what I mean. The sun doesn't look at all like a man killing a snake ; so nobody can possibly know. It will be a little secret between us ; and while the slaves and the children fancy I am quite excited with a grand tale of a 'writhing dragon and a wrestling demigod, I shall really mean this delicious little discovery, that there is a round yellow disk up in the air.' One does not need to know much mythology to know that this is a myth. It is commonly called the Solar Myth. Quite plainly, of course, the case was just the other way. The god was never a symbol or hieroglyph repre- senting the sun. The sun was a hieroglyph representing the god. Primitive man (with whom my friend Dombey is no doubt f well acquainted) went out with his head full of gods and heroes, because that is the chief use of having a head. Then he saw the sun in some glorious crisis of the dominance of noon or the distress of nightfall, and he said, ' That is how the face of the god would shine when he had slain the dragon,' or ' That is how the whole world would bleed to westward, if the god were slain at last.' No human being was ever really so unnatural as to worship Nature. No man, however indulgent (as I am) THE PRIEST OF SPRING 123 to corpulency, ever worshipped a man as round as the sun or a woman as round as the moon. No man, however attracted to an artistic attenuation, ever really believed that the Dryad was as lean and stiff as the tree. We human beings have never worshipped Nature ; and indeed, the reason is very simple. It is that all human beings are superhuman beings. We have printed our own image upon Nature, as God has. printed His image upon us. We have told the enormous sun to stand still ; we have fixed him on our shields, caring no more for a star than for a starfish. And when there were powers of Nature we could not for the time control, we have conceived great beings in human shape controlling them. Jupiter does not mean thunder. Thunder means the march and victory of Jupiter. Neptune does not mean the sea ; the sea is his, and he made it. In other words, what the savage really said about the sea was, ' Only my fetish Mumbo could raise such mountains out of mere water/ What the savage- really said about the sun was, * Only my great-great- grandfather Jumbo could deserve such a blazing: crown/ About all these myths my own position is utterly and even sadly simple. I say you cannot really understand any myths till you have found that one of them is not a myth. Turnip ghosts mean nothing if there are no real ghosts. Forged bank-notes mean nothing if there are no real bank-notes. Heathen gods mean nothing, and must always mean nothing, to those of us that deny the Christian God. When once a god is admitted, even a false god, the Cosmos begins to know its place : which is the second place. When once it is the real God the Cosmos falls down before Him, offering flowers in spring as flames in winter. ' My love is like a red, red rose ' does not mean that the poet is praising roses under the allegory of a young lady. ' My love is an arbutus ' does not mean that the author was a botanist so pleased with a particular arbutus tree that he said he loved it. ' Who> art the moon and regent of my sky ' does not mean that 124 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS Juliet invented Romeo to account for the roundness of the moon. ' Christ is the Sun of Easter ' does not mean that the worshipper is praising the sun under the emblem of Christ. Goddess or god can clothe themselves with the spring or summer ; but the body is more than raiment. Religion takes almost disdainfully the dress of Nature ; and indeed Christianity has done as well with the snows of Christmas as with the snowdrops of spring. And when I look across the sun-struck fields, I know in my inmost bones that my joy is not solely in ^the spring : for spring alone, being always returning, would be always sad. There is somebody or something walking there, to be crowned with flowers : and my pleasure is in some promise yet possible and in the re- surrection of the dead. THE GARDENER AND THE GUINEA 1 STRICTLY speaking, there is no such thing as an English Peasant. Indeed, the type can only exist in community, so much does it depend on co-opera- tion and common laws. One must not think primarily of a French Peasant, any more than of a German Measle. The plural of the word is its proper form ; you cannot have a Peasant till you have a peasantry. The essence of the Peasant ideal is equality ; and you cannot be equal all by yourself. Nevertheless, because human nature always craves and half creates the things necessary to its happiness, there are approximations and suggestions of the possi- bility of such a race even here. The nearest approach I know to the temper of a Peasant in England is that of the country gardener ; not, of course, the great scientific gardener attached to the great houses ; he is a rich man's 1 From A Miscellany of J\fcn. THE GARDENER AND THE GUINEA 125 servant like any other. I mean the small jobbing gardener who works for two or three moderate-sized gardens ; who works on his own ; who sometimes even owns his house ; and who frequently owns his tools. This kind of man has really some of the characteristics of the true Peasant especially the characteristics that people don't like. He has none of that irresponsible mirth which is the consolation of most poor men in England. The gardener is even disliked sometimes by the owners of the shrubs and flowers ; because (like Micaiah) he prophesies not good concerning them, but evil. The English gardener is grim, critical, self-respect- ing ; sometimes even economical. Nor is this (as the reader's lightning wit will flash back at me) merely because the English gardener is always a Scotch gardener. The type does exist in pure South England blood and speech ; I have spoken to the type. I was speaking to the type only the other evening, when a rather odd little incident occurred. ******* It was one of those wonderful evenings in which the sky was warm and radiant while the earth was still com- paratively cold and wet. But it is of the essence of Spring to be unexpected ; as in that heroic and hack- neyed line about coming ' before the swallow dares. 1 Spring never is Spring unless it comes too soon. And on a day like that one might pray, without any pro- fanity, that Spring might come on earth, as it was in heaven. The gardener was gardening. I was not gardening. It is needless to explain the causes of this difference ; it would be to tell the tremendous history of two souls. It is needless because there is a more immediate explanation of the case : the gardener and I, if not equal in agreement, were at least equal in differ- ence. It is quite certain that he would not have allowed me to touch the garden if I had gone down on my knees to him. And it is by no means certain that I should have consented to touch the garden if he had gone down on his knees to me. His activity and my idleness, there- 126 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS fore, went on steadily side by side through the long sun- set hours. And all the time I was thinking what a shame it was that he was not sticking his spade into his own garden, instead of mine : he knew about the earth and the under- world of seeds, the resurrection of Spring and the flowers that appear in order like a procession marshalled by a herald. He possessed the garden intellectually and spiritually, while I only possessed it politically. I know more about flowers than coal-owners know about coal ; for at least I pay them honour when they are brought above the surface of the earth. I know more about gardens than railway shareholders seem to know about railways ; for at least I know that it needs a man to make a garden ; a man whose name is Adam. But as I walked on that grass my ignorance overwhelmed me and yet that phrase is false, because it suggests some- thing like a storm from the sky above. It is truer to say that my ignorance exploded underneath me, like a mine dug long before ; and indeed it was dug before the beginning of the ages. Green bombs of bulbs and seeds were bursting underneath me everywhere ; and, so far as my knowledge went, they had been laid by a conspirator. I trod quite uneasily on this uprush of the earth ; the Spring is always only a fruitful earth- quake. With the land all alive under me I began to wonder more and more why this man, who had made the garden, did not own the garden. If I stuck a spade into the ground, I should be astonished at what I found there . . . and just as I thought this I saw that the gardener was astonished too. Just as I was wondering why the man who used the spade did not profit by the spade, he brought me some- thing he had found actually in my soil. It was a thin worn gold piece of the Georges, of the sort which are called, I believe, Spade Guineas. Anyhow, a piece of gold. ******,* If you do not see the parable as I saw it just then, I THE GARDENER AND THE GUINEA 127 doubt if I can explain it just now. He could make a hundred other round yellow fruits : and this flat yellow one is the only sort that I can make. How it came there I have not a notion unless Edmund Burke dropped it in his hurry to get back to Butler's Court. But there it was : this is a cold recital of facts. There may be a whole pirate's treasure lying under the earth there, for all I know or care ; for there is no interest in a treasure without a Treasure Island to sail to. If there is a treasure it will never be found, for I am not interested in wealth beyond the dreams of avarice since I know that avarice has no dreams, but only insomnia. And, for the other party, my gardener would never consent to dig up the garden. Nevertheless, I was overwhelmed with intellectual emotions when I saw that answer to my question ; the question of why the garden did not belong to the gardener. No better epigram could be put in reply than simply putting the Spade Guinea beside the Spade. This was the only underground seed that I could understand. Only by having a little more of that dull, battered yellow substance could I manage to be idle while he was active. I am not altogether idle myself ; but the fact remains that the power is in the thin slip of metal we call the Spade Guinea, not in the strong square and curve of metal which we call the Spade. And then I suddenly remembered that as I had found gold on my ground by accident, so richer men in the north and west counties had found coal in their ground, also by accident. I told the gardener that as he had found the thing he ought to keep it, but that if he cared to sell it to me it could be valued properly, and then sold. He said, at first with characteristic independence, that he would like to keep it. He said it would make a brooch for his wife. But a little later he brought it back to me without explanation. I could not get a ray of light on the reason of his refusal ; but he looked lowering and unhappy. Had he some mystical instinct that it is just such acci- dental and irrational wealth that is the doom o/ all 128 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS peasantries ? Perhaps he dimly felt that the boy's pirate tales are true ; and that buried treasure is a thing for robbers and not for producers. Perhaps he thought there was a curse on such capital : on the coal of the coal-owners, on the gold of the gold-seekers. Perhaps there is. ON LYING IN BED 1 E ING in bed would be an altogether perfect and supreme experience if only one had a coloured pencil long enough to draw on the ceiling. This, how- ever, is not generally a part of the domestic apparatus on the premises. I think myself that the thing might be managed with several pails of Aspinall and a broom. Only if one worked in a really sweeping and masterly way, and laid on the colour in great washes, it might drip down again on one's face in floods of rich and mingled colour like some strange fairy rain ; and that would have its disadvantages. I am afraid it would be necessary to stick to black and white in this form of artistic composition. To that purpose, indeed, the white ceiling would be of the greatest possible use ; in fact it is the only use I think of a white ceiling being put to. But for the beautiful experiment of lying in bed I might never have discovered it. For years I have been looking for some blank spaces in a modern house to draw on. Paper is much too small for any really allegorical design ; as Cyrano de Bergerac says : ' II me faut des geants/ But when I tried to find these fine clear spaces in the modern rooms such as we all live in I was con- tinually disappointed. I found an endless pattern and complication of small objects hung like a curtain of fine links between me and my desire. I examined the walls ; I found them to my surprise to be already covered with 1 From Tremendous Trifles. ON LYING IN BED 129 wall-paper, and I found the wall-paper to be already covered with very uninteresting images, all bearing a ridiculous resemblance to each other. I could not under- stand why one arbitrary symbol (a symbol apparently entirely devoid of any religious or philosophical signifi- cance) should thus be sprinkled all over my nice walls like a sort of small-pox. The Bible must be referring to wall-papers, I think, when it says ' Use not vain repeti- tions, as the Gentiles do/ I found the Turkey carpet a mass of unmeaning colours, rather like the Turkish Empire, or like the sweetmeat called Turkish Delight. I do not exactly know what Turkish Delight really is ; but I suppose it is Macedonian Massacres. Everywhere that I went forlornly, with my pencil or my paint brush, I found that others had unaccountably been before me, spoiling the walls, the curtains, and the furniture with their childish and barbaric designs. Nowhere did I find a really clear space for sketching until this occasion when I prolonged beyond the proper limit the process of lying on my back in bed. Then the light of that white heaven broke upon my vision, that breadth of mere white which is indeed almost the defini- tion of Paradise, since it means purity and also means freedom. But alas ! like all heavens now that it is seen it is found to be unattainable ; it looks more austere and more distant than the blue sky outside the window. For my proposal to paint on it with the bristly end of a broom has been discouraged never mind by whom ; by a person debarred from all political rights and even my minor proposal to put the other end of the broom into the kitchen fire and turn it into charcoal has not been con- ceded. Yet I am certain that it was from persons in my position that all the original inspiration came for covering the ceilings of palaces and cathedrals with a riot of fallen angels or victorious gods. I am sure that it was only because Michael Angelo was engaged in the ancient and honourable occupation of lying in bed that he ever 130 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS realized how the roof of the Sistine Chapel might be made into an awful imitation of a divine drama that could only be acted in the heavens. The tone now commonly taken towards the practice of lying in bed is hypocritical and unhealthy. Of all the marks of modernity that seem to mean a kind of de- cadence, there is none more menacing and dangerous than the exaltation of very small and secondary matters of conduct at the expense of very great and primary ones, at the expense of eternal ties and tragic human morality. If there is one thing worse than the modern weakening of major morals it is the modern strengthening of minor morals. Thus it is considered more withering to accuse a man of bad taste than of bad ethics. Cleanliness is not next to godliness nowadays, for cleanliness is made an essential and godliness is regarded as an offence. A play- wright can attack the institution of marriage so long as he does not misrepresent the manners of society, and I have met Ibsenite pessimists who thought it wrong to take beer but right to take prussic acid. Especially this is so in matters of hygiene ; notably such matters as lying in bed. Instead of being regarded, as it ought to be, as a matter of personal convenience and adjustment, it has come to be regarded by many as if it were a part of essential morals to get up early in the morning. It is upon the whole part of practical wisdom ; but there is nothing good about it or bad about its opposite. Misers get up early in the morning ; and burglars, I am informed, get up the night before. It is the great peril of our society that all its mechanism may grow more fixed while its spirit grows more fickle. A man's minor actions and arrangements ought to be free, flexible, crea- tive ; the things that should be unchangeable are his principles, his ideals. But with us the reverse is true ; our views change constantly ; but our lunch does not change. Now, I should like men to have strong and rooted conceptions, but as for their lunch, let them have ON LYING IN BED 131 it sometimes in the garden, sometimes in bed, sometimes on the roof, sometimes in the top of a tree. Let them argue from the same first principles, but let them do it in a bed, or a boat, or a balloon. This alarming growth of good habits really means a too great emphasis on those virtues which mere custom can ensure, it means too little emphasis on those virtues which custom can never quite ensure, sudden and splendid virtues of inspired pity or of inspired candour. If ever that abrupt appeal is made to us we may fail. A man can get used to getting up at five o'clock in the morning. A man cannot very well get used to being burnt for his opinions ; the first experiment is commonly fatal. Let us pay a little niore attention to these possibilities of the heroic and the unexpected. I dare say that when I get out of this bed I shall do some deed of an almost terrible virtue. For those who study the great art of lying in bed there is one emphatic caution to be added. Even for those who can do their work in bed (like journalists), still more for those w r hose work cannot be done in bed (as, for example, the professional harpooners of whales), it is obvious that the indulgence must be very occasional. But that is not the caution I mean. The caution is this : if you do lie in bed, be sure you do it without any reason or justification at all. I do not speak, of course, of the seriously sick. But if a healthy man lies in bed, let him do it without a rag of excuse ; then he will get up a healthy man. If he does it for some secondary hygienic reason, if he has some scientific explanation, he may get up a hypochondriac. 132 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS THE SINGULAR SPECULATION OF THE HOUSE-AGENT l EEUTENANT DRUMMOND KEITH was a man about whom conversation always burst like a thunderstorm the moment he left the room. This arose from many separate touches about him. He was a light, loose person, who wore light, loose clothes, gene- rally white, as if he were in the tropics ; he was lean and graceful, like a panther, and he had restless black eyes. He was very impecunious. He had one of the habits of the poor in a degree so exaggerated as immeasurably to eclipse the most miserable of the unemployed : I mean the habit of continual change of lodgings. There are inland tracts of London where, in the very heart of artificial civilization, humanity has almost become nomadic once more. But in that restless interior there was no ragged tramp so restless as the elegant officer in the loose white clothes. He had shot a great many things in his time, to judge from his conversation, from partridges to elephants, but his slangier acquaintances were of opinion that ' the moon ' had been not unfre- quently amid the victims of his victorious rifle. The phrase is a fine one, and suggests a mystic, elvish, noc- turnal hunting. He carried from house to house and from parish to parish a kit which consisted practically of five articles. Two odd-looking, large-bladed spears, tied together, the weapons, I suppose, of some savage tribe, a green umbrella, a huge and tattered copy of the Pickwick Papers, a big game rifle, and a large sealed jar of some unholy Oriental wine. These always went into every new lodging, even for one night : and they went in quite undisguised, tied up in wisps of string or straw, to the delight of the poetic gutter boys in the little grey streets. I had forgotten to mention that he always carried also 1 From The Club of Queer Trades. SPECULATION OF THE HOUSE-AGENT 133 his old regimental sword. But this raised another odd question about him. Slim and active as he was, he was no longer very young. His hair, indeed, was quite grey, though his rather wild almost Italian moustache retained its blackness, and his face was careworn under its almost Italian gaiety. To find a middle-aged man who has left the army at the primitive rank of lieutenant is un- usual and not necessarily encouraging. With the more cautious and solid this fact, like his endless flitting, did the mysterious gentleman no good. Lastly, he was a man who told the kind of adventures which win a man admiration, but not respect. They came out of queer places, where a good man would scarcely find himself, out of opium dens and gambling hells ; they had the heat of the thieves' kitchens or smelled of a strange smoke from cannibal incantations. These are the kind of stories which discredit a person almost equally whether they are believed or no. If Keith's tales were false he was a liar ; if they were true he had had, at any rate, every opportunity of being a scamp. He had just left the room in which I sat with Basil Grant and his brother Rupert, the voluble amateur detective. And as I say was invariably the case, we were all talking about him. Rupert Grant was a clever young fellow, but he had that tendency which youth and cleverness, when sharply combined, so often produced, a somewhat extravagant scepticism. He saw doubt and guilt everywhere, and it was meat and drink to him. I had often got irritated with this boyish incredulity of his, but on this particular occasion I am bound to say that I thought him so obviously right that I was astounded at Basil's opposing him, however banteringly. I could swallow a good deal, being naturally of a simple turn, but I could not swallow Lieutenant Keith's auto- biography. ' You don't seriously mean, Basil/ I said, ' that you think that that fellow really did go as a stowaway with Nansen and pretend to be the Mad Mullah and \ 134 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS ' He has one fault/ said Basil thoughtfully, ' or virtue, as you may happen to regard it. He tells the truth in too exact and bald a style ; he is too veracious/ ' Oh ! if you are going to be paradoxical/ said Rupert contemptuously, ' be a bit funnier than that. Say, for instance, that he has lived all his life in one ancestral manner/ ' No, he 's extremely fond of change of scene/ replied Basil dispassionately, ' and of living in odd places. That doesn't prevent his chief trait being verbal exactitude. What you people don't understand is that telling a thing crudely and coarsely as it happened makes it sound frightfully strange. The sort of things Keith recounts are not the sort of things that a man would make up to cover himself with honour ; they are too absurd. But they are the sort of things that a man would do if he were sufficiently filled with the soul of skylarking/ 1 So far from paradox/ said his brother, with some- thing rather like a sneer, ' you seem to be going in for journalese proverbs. Do you believe that truth is stranger than fiction ? ' ' Truth must of necessity be stranger than fiction/ said Basil placidly. ' For fiction is a creation of the human mind, and therefore is congenial to it/ ' Well, your lieutenant's truth is stranger, if it is truth, than anything I ever heard of/ said Rupert, relapsing into flippancy. ' Do you, on you'r soul, believe in all that about the shark and the camera ? ' ' I believe Keith's words/ answered the other. ' He is an honest man/ ' I should like to question a regiment of his landladies/ said Rupert cynically. ' I must say, I think you can hardly regard him as unimpeachable merely in himself/ I said mildly ; ' his mode of life ' Before I could complete the sentence the door was flung open and Drummond Keith appeared again on the threshold, his white Panama on his head. ' I say, Grant/ he said, knocking off his cigarette ash SPECULATION OF THE HOUSE-AGENT 135 against the door, ' I Ve got no money in the world till next April. Could you lend me a hundred pounds ? There 's a good chap.' Rupert and I looked at each other in an ironical silence. Basil, who was sitting by his desk, swung the chair round idly on its screw and picked up a quill- pen. ' Shall I cross it ? ' he asked, opening a cheque-book. ' Really/ began Rupert, with a rather nervous loud- ness, ' since Lieutenant Keith has seen fit to make this suggestion to Basil before his family, I ' * Here you are, Ugly/ said Basil, fluttering a cheque in the direction of the quite nonchalant officer. ' Are you in a hurry ? ' ' Yes/ replied Keith, in a rather abrupt way. ' As a matter of fact I want it now. I want to see my er business man/ Rupert was eyeing him sarcastically, and I could see that it was on the tip of his tongue to say, inquiringly, ' Receiver of stolen goods, perhaps/ What he did say was : * A business man ? That 's rather a general descrip- tion, Lieutenant Keith/ Keith looked at him sharply, and then said, with something rather like ill-temper : 1 He 's a thingum-my-bob, a house-agent, say. I am going to see him/ ' Oh, you 're going to see a house-agent, are you ? ' said Rupert Grant grimly. ' Do you know, Mr. Keith, I think I should very much like to go with you ? ' Basil shook with his soundless laughter. Lieutenant Keith started a little ; his brow blackened sharply. ' I beg your pardon/ he said. ' What did you say ? ' Rupert's face had been growing from stage to stage of ferocious irony, and he answered : 1 I was saying that I wondered whether you would mind our strolling along with you to this house-agent's/ The visitor swung his stick with a sudden whirling violence. 136 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS ' Oh, in God's name, come to my house-agent's ! .Come to my bedroom. Look under my bed. Examine my dust-bin. Come along ! ' And with a furious energy which took away our breath he banged his way out of the room. Rupert Grant, his restless blue eyes dancing with his detective excitement, soon shouldered alongside him, talking to him with that transparent camaraderie which he imagined to be appropriate from the disguised police- man to the disguised criminal. His interpretation was certainly corroborated by one particular detail, the un- mistakable unrest, annoyance, and nervousness of the man with whom he walked. Basil and I tramped behind, and it was not necessary for us to tell each other that we had both noticed this. Lieutenant Drummond Keith led us through very extraordinary and unpromising neighbourhoods in the search for his remarkable house-agent. Neither of the brothers Grant failed to notice this fact. As the streets grew closer and more crooked and the roofs lower and the gutters grosser with mud, a darker curiosity deepened on the brows of Basil, and the figure of Rupert seen from behind seemed to fill the street with a gigantic swagger of success. At length, at the end of the fourth or fifth lean grey street in that sterile district we came suddenly to a halt, the mysterious lieutenant looking once more about him with a sort of sulky desperation. Above a row of shutters and a door, all indescribably dingy in appearance and in size scarce sufficient even for a penny toyshop, ran the inscription : ' P. MONTMORENCY, House-agent/ 1 This is the office of which I spoke/ said Keith, in a cutting voice. ' Will you wait here a moment, or does your astonishing tenderness about my welfare lead you to wish to overhear everything I have to say to my business adviser ? ' Rupert's face was white and shaking with excitement ; nothing on earth would have induced him now to have abandoned his prey. SPECULATION OF THE HOUSE-AGENT 137 ' If you will excuse me/ he said, clenching his hands behind his back, ' I think I should feel myself justified in ' ' Oh ! Come along in/ exploded the lieutenant. He made the same gesture of savage surrender. And he slammed into the office, the rest of us at his heels. P. Montmorency, house-agent, was a solitary old gentleman sitting behind a bare brown counter. He had an egglike head, froglike jaws, and a grey hairy fringe of aureole round the lower part of his face ; the whole combined with a reddish, aquiline nose. He wore a shabby black frock-coat, a sort of semi-clerical tie worn at a very unclerical angle, and looked, generally speaking, about as unlike the house-agent as anything could look, short of something like a sandwich-man or a Scotch Highlander. We stood inside the room for fully forty seconds, and the odd old gentleman did not look at us. Neither, to tell the truth, odd as he was, did we look at him. Our eyes were fixed, where his were fixed, upon something that was crawling about on the counter in front of him. It was a ferret. The silence was broken by Rupert Grant. He spoke in that sweet and steely voice which he reserved for great occasions and practised for hours together in his bedroom. He said : ' Mr. Montmorency, I think ? ' The old gentleman started, lifted his eyes with a bland bewilderment, picked up the ferret by the neck, stuffed it alive into his trousers pocket, smiled apolo- getically, and said : ' Sir.' ' You are a house-agent, are^you not ? ' asked Rupert. To the delight of that criminal investigator, Mr. Montmorency's eyes wandered unquietly towards Lieu- tenant Keith, the only man present that he knew. ' A house-agent/ cried Rupert again, bringing out the word as if it were ' burglar/ ' Yes ... oh, yes/ said the man, with a quavering 138 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS and almost coquettish smile. ' I am a house-agent, ... oh, yes/ ' Well, I think/ said Rupert, with a sardonic sleekness, ' that Lieutenant Keith wants to speak to you. We have come in by his request/ Lieutenant Keith was lowering gloomily, and now he spoke. ' I have come, Mr. Montmorency, about that house of mine/ ' Yes, sir/ said Montmorency, spreading his fingers on the flat counter. ' It 's all ready, sir. I 've attended to all your suggestions er about the br ' ' Right/ cried Keith, cutting the words short with the startling neatness of a gunshot. ' We needn't bother about all that. If you Ve done what I told you, all right/ And he turned sharply towards the door. Mr. Montmorency, house-agent, presented a picture of pathos. After stammering a moment he said : ' Excuse me ... Mr. Keith . . . there was another matter . . . about which I wasn't quite sure. I tried to get all the heating apparatus possible under the cir- cumstances . . . but in winter ... at that elevation . . / ' Can't expect much, eh ? ' said the lieutenant, cutting in with the same sudden skill. ' No, of course not. That 's all right, Montmorency. There can't be any more difficulties/ and he put his hand on the handle of the door. ' I think/ said Rupert Grant, with a satanic suavity, ' that Mr. Montmorency has something further to say to you, lieutenant/ ' Only/ said the house-agent, in desperation, ' what about the birds ? ' ' I beg your pardon/ said Rupert, in a general blank. 'What about the birds?' said the house-agent doggedly. Basil, who had remained throughout the proceedings in a state of Napoleonic calm, which might be more SPECULATION OF THE HOUSE-AGENT 139 accurately described as a state of Napoleonic stupidity, suddenly lifted his leonine head. ' Before you go, Lieutenant Keith/ he said. ' Come now. Really, what about the birds ? ' ' I 'II take care of them/ said Lieutenant Keith, still with his long back turned to us ; ' they shan't suffer/ 1 Thank you, sir, thank you/ cried the incomprehen- sible house-agent, with an air of ecstasy. ' You '11 excuse my concern, sir. You know I 'm wild on wild animals. I 'm as wild as any of them on that. Thank you, sir. But there 's another thing . . / The lieutenant, with his back turned to us, exploded with an indescribable laugh and swung round to face us. It was a laugh, the purport of which was direct and essential, and yet which one cannot exactly express. As near as it said anything, verbally speaking, it said : ' Well, if you must spoil it, you must. But you don't know what you 're spoiling/ ' There is another thing/ continued Mr. Montmorency weakly. ' Of course, if you don't want to be visited you '11 paint the house green, but- ' ' Green ! ' shouted Keith. * Green ! Let it be green or nothing. I won't have a house of another colour. Green ! ' and before we could realize anything the door had banged between us and the street. Rupert Grant seemed to take a little time to collect himself ; but he spoke before the echoes of the door died away. ' Your client, Lieutenant Keith, appears somewhat excited/ he said. ' What is the matter with him ? Is he unwell ? ' ' Oh, I should think not/ said Mr. Montmorency, in some confusion. * The negotiations have been some- what difficult the house is rather ' Green/ said Rupert calmly. ' That appears to be a very important point. It must be rather green. May I ask you, Mr. Montmorency, before I rejoin my com- panion outside, whether, in your business, it is usual to ask for houses by their colour ? Do clients write to a 140 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS house-agent asking for a pink house or a blue house ? Or, to take another instance, for a green house ? ' * Only/ said Montmorency, trembling, ' only to be inconspicuous/ Rupert had his ruthless smile. ' Can you tell me any place on Earth in which a green house would be inconspicuous ? ' The house-agent was fidgeting nervously in his pocket. Slowly drawing out a couple of lizards and leaving them to run on the counter, he said : ' No ; I can't/ ' You can't suggest an explanation ? ' ' No/ said Mr. Montmorency, rising slowly and yet in such a way as to suggest a sudden situation. ' I can't. And may I, as a busy man, be excused if I ask you, gentlemen, if you have any demand to make of me in connection with my business. What kind of house would you desire me to get for you, sir ? ' He opened his blank blue eyes on Rupert, who seemed for the second staggered. Then he recovered himself with perfect common sense and answered : 1 I am sorry, Mr. Montmorency. The fascination of your remarks has unduly delayed us from joining our friend outside. Pray excuse my apparent impertinence/ ' Not at all, sir/ said the house-agent, taking a South American spider idly from his waistcoat pocket and letting it climb up the slope of his desk. ' Not at all, sir. I hope you will favour me again/ Rupert Grant dashed out of the office in a gust of anger, anxious to face Lieutenant Keith. He was gone. The dull, star-lit street was deserted. ' What do you say now ? ' cried Rupert to his brother. His brother said nothing now. We all three strode down the street in silence, Rupert feverish, myself dazed, Basil, to all appearance, merely dull. We walked through grey street after grey street, turning corners, traversing squares, scarcely meeting any one, except occasional drunken knots of two or three. In one small street, however, the knots of two or SPECULATION OF THE HOUSE-AGENT 141 three began abruptly to thicken into knots of five or six and then into great groups and then into a crowd. The crowd was stirring very slightly. But any one with a knowledge of the eternal populace knows that if the outside rim of a crowd stirs ever so slightly it means that there is madness in the heart and core of the mob. It soon became evident that something really important had happened in the centre of this excitement. We wormed our way to the front, with the cunning which is known only to Cockneys, and once there we soon learned the nature of the difficulty. There had been a brawl concerned with some six men, and one of them lay almost dead on the stones of the street. Of the other four, all interesting matters were, as far as we were con- cerned, swallowed in one stupendous fact. One of the four survivors of the brutal and perhaps fatal scuffle was the immaculate Lieutenant Keith, his clothes torn to ribbons, his eyes blazing, blood on his knuckles. One other thing, however, pointed at him in a worse manner. A short sword, or very long knife, had been drawn out of his elegant walking-stick, and lay in front of him upon the stones. It did not, however, appear to be bloody. The police had already pushed into the centre with their ponderous omnipotence, and even as they did so, Rupert Grant sprang forward with his incontrollable and intolerable secret. ' That is the man, constable/ he shouted, pointing at the battered lieutenant. ' He is a suspicious character. He did the murder/ ' There 's been no murder done, sir/ said the policeman, with his automatic civility. ' The poor man 's only hurt. I shall only be able to take the names and addresses of the men in the scuffle and have a good eye kept on them.' ' Have a good eye kept on that one/ said Rupert, pale to the lips, and pointing to the ragged Keith. ' All right, sir/ said the policeman, unemotionally, and went the round of the people present collecting the addresses. When he had completed his task the dusk 142 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS had fallen and most of the people not immediately con- nected with the examination had gone away. He still found, however, one eager-faced stranger lingering on the outskirts of the affair. It was Rupert Grant. ' Constable/ he said, ' I have a very particular reason for asking you a question. Would you mind telling me whether that military fellow who dropped his sword- stick in the row gave you an address or not ? ' ' Yes, sir/ said the policeman, after a reflective pause ; ' yes, he gave me his address/ ' My name is Rupert Grant/ said that individual, with some pomp. ' I have assisted the police on more than one occasion. I wonder whether you would tell me, as a special favour, what address ? ' The constable looked at him. ' Yes/ he said slowly, ' if you like. His address is : " The Elms, Buxton Common, near Purley, Surrey/' ' Thank you/ said Rupert, and ran home through the gathering night as fast as his legs could carry him, re- peating the address to himself. *****,** Rupert Grant generally came down late in a rather lordly way to breakfast ; he contrived,! don't know how, to achieve always the attitude of the indulged younger brother. Next morning, however, when Basil and I came down we found him ready and restless. ' Well/ he said sharply to his brother almost before we sat down to the meal. ' What do you think of your Drummond Keith now ? ' * What do I think of him ? ' inquired Basil slowly. ' I don't think anything of him/ ' I 'm glad to hear it/ said Rupert, buttering his toast with an energy that was somewhat exultant. ' I thought you 'd come round to my view, but I own I was startled at your not seeing it from the beginning. The man is a translucent liar and knave/ ' I think/ said Basil, in the same heavy monotone as before, ' that I did not make myself clear. When I said that I thought nothing of him I meant grammatically SPECULATION OF THE HOUSE-AGENT 143 what I said. I meant that I did not think about him ; that he did not occupy my mind. You, however, seem to me to think a lot of him, since you think him a knave. I should say he was glaringly good myself/ ' I sometimes think you talk paradox for its own sake/ said Rupert, breaking an egg with unnecessary sharp- ness. ' What the deuce is the sense of it ? Here 's a man whose original position was, by our common agree- ment, dubious. He 's a wanderer, a teller of tall tales, a man who doesn't conceal his acquaintance with all the blackest and bloodiest scenes on earth. We take the trouble to follow him to one of his appointments, and if ever two human beings were plotting together and lying to every one ele, he and that impossible house- agent were doing it. We followed him home, and the very same night he is in the thick of a fatal, or nearly fatal, brawl, in which he is the only man armed. Really, if this is being glaringly good, I must confess that the glare does not dazzle me/ Basil was quite unmoved. ' I admit his moral good- ness is of a certain kind, a quaint, perhaps a casual kind. He is very fond of change and experiment. But all the points you so ingeniously make against him are mere coincidents or special pleading. It 's true he didn't want to talk about his house business in front of us. No man would. It 's true that he carries a swordstick. Any man might. It J s true he drew it in the shock of a street fight. Any man would. But there 's nothing really dubious in all this. There 's nothing to confirm ' As he spoke a knock came at the door. ' If you please, sir/ said the landlady, with an alarmed air, ' there 's a policeman wants to see you/ 1 Show him in/ said Basil, amid the blank silence. The heavy, handsome constable who appeared at the door spoke almost as soon as he appeared there. ' I think one of you gentlemen/ he said, curtly but respectfully, * was present at the affair in Copper Street last night, and drew my attention very strongly to a particular man/ 144 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS Rupert half rose from his chair, with eyes like diamonds, but the constable went on calmly, referring to a paper. ' A young man with grey hair. Had light grey clothes, very good, but torn in a struggle. Gave his name as Drummond Keith.' ' This is amusing/ said Basil, laughing. ' I was in the very act of clearing that poor officer's character of rather fanciful aspersions. What about him ? ' ' Well, sir/ said the constable, ' I took all the men's addresses and had them watched. It wasn't serious enough to do more than that. All the other addresses are all right. But this man Keith gave a false address. The place doesn't exist.' The breakfast table was nearly flung over as Rupert sprang up, slapping both his thighs. ' Well, by all that 's good/ he cried. ' This is a sign from heaven/ ' It 's certainly very extraordinary/ said Basil quietly, with knitted brows. ' It 's odd the fellow should have given a false address, considering he was perfectly innocent in the ' ' Oh, you jolly old early Christian duffer/ cried Rupert, in a sort of rapture, ' I don't wonder you couldn't be a judge. You think every one as good as yourself. Isn't the thing plain enough now ? A doubtful acquaintance ; rowdy stories, a most suspicious conversation, mean streets, a concealed knife, a man nearly killed, and, finally, a false address. That 's what we call glaring goodness/ ' It 's certainly very extraordinary/ repeated Basil. And he strolled moodily about the room. Then he said : f You are quite sure, constable, that there 's no mistake ? You got the address right, and the police have really gone to it and found it was a fraud ? ' ' It was very simple, sir/ said the policeman, chuckling. ' The place he named was a well-known common quite near London, anol our people were down there this morning before any of you were awake. And there 's no such house. In fact, there are hardly any houses at SPECULATION OF THE HOUSE-AGENT 145 all. Though it is so near London, it 's a blank moor with hardly five trees on it, to say nothing of Christians. Oh, no, sir, the address was a fraud right enough. He was a clever rascal, and chose one of those scraps of lost England that people know nothing about. Nobody could say off-hand that there was not a particular house dropped somewhere about the heath. But as a fact, there isn't/ Basil's face during this sensible speech had been grow- ing darker and darker with a sort of desperate sagacity. He was cornered almost for the first time since I had known him ; and to tell the truth I rather wondered at the almost childish obstinacy which kept him so close to his original prejudice in favour of the wildly questionable lieutenant. At length he said : 1 You really searched the common ? And the address was really not known in the district by the way, what was the address ? ' The constable selected one of his slips of paper and consulted it, but before he could speak Rupert Grant, who was leaning in the window in a perfect posture of the quiet and triumphant detective, struck in with the sharp and suave voice he loved so much to use. * Why, I can tell you that, Basil/ he said graciously, as he idly plucked leaves from a plant in the window. * I took the precaution to get this man's address from the constable last night/ ' And what was it ? ' asked his brother gruffly. ' The constable will correct me if I am wrong/ said Rupert, looking sweetly at the ceiling. ' It was " The Elms, Buxton Common, near Purleyi Surrey/' ' ' Right, sir/ said the policeman, laughing and folding up his papers. f 1 There was a silence, and the blue eyes of Basil looked blindly for a few seconds into the void. Then his head fell back in his chair so suddenly that I started up, thinking him ill. But before I could move further his lips had flown apart (I can use no other phrase) and a peal of gigantic laughter struck and shook the ceiling 146 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS laughter that shook the laughter, laughter redoubled, laughter incurable, laughter that could not stop. Two whole minutes afterwards it was still unended ; Basil was ill with laughter ; but still he laughed. The rest of us were by this time ill almost with terror. ' Excuse me, 1 said the insane creature, getting at last to his feet. ' I am awfully sorry. It is horribly rude. And stupid, too. And also unpractical, because we have not much time to lose if we 're to get down to that place. The train service is confoundedly bad, as I happen to know. It *s quite out of proportion to the compara- tively small distance/ 1 Get down to that place ? ' I repeated blankly. ' Get down to what place ? ' ' I have forgotten its name/ said Basil vaguely, putting his hands in his pockets as he rose. ' Something Common near Purley. Has any one got a time-table ? ' ' You don't seriously mean/ cried Rupert, who had been staring in a sort of confusion of emotions. ' You don't mean that you want to go to Buxton Common, do you ? You can't mean that ! ' ' Why shouldn't I go to Buxton Common ? ' asked Basil, smiling. ' Why should you ? ' said his brother, catching hold again restlessly of the plant in the window and staring at the speaker. ' To find our friend, the lieutenant, of course/ said Basil Grant. ' I thought you wanted to find him ? ' Rupert broke a branch brutally from the plant and flung it impatiently on the floor. ' And in order to find him/ he said, ' you suggest the admirable expedient of going to the only place on the habitable earth where we know he can't be/ The constable and I could not avoid breaking into a kind of assenting laugh, and Rupert, who had family eloquence, was encouraged to go on with a reiterated gesture : ' He may be in Buckingham Palace ; he may be sitting astride the cross of St. Paul's ; he may be in SPECULATION OF THE HOUSE-AGENT 147 Jail (which I think most likely) ; he may be in the Great Wheel ; he may be in my pantry ; he may be in< your store cupboard ; but out of all the innumerable Jxnnts of space, there is only one where he has just been Systematically looked for and where we know that he is not to be found and that, if I understand you rightly, is where you want us to go/ 'Exactly/ said Basil calmly, getting into his great- coat ; ' I thought you might care to accompany me. If not, of course, make yourselves jolly here till I come back/ It is our nature always to follow vanishing things and value them if they really show a resolution to depart. We all followed Basil, and I cannot say why, except that he was a vanishing thing, that he vanished decisively with his greatcoat and his stick. Rupert ran after him- with a considerable flurry of rationality. ' My dear chap/ he cried, * do you really mean that you see any good in going down to this ridiculous scrub, where there is nothing but beaten tracks and a few- twisted trees, simply because it was the first place that came into a rowdy lieutenant's head when he wanted to give a lying reference in a scrape ? ' ' Yes-/ said Basil, taking out his watch, ' and, what '$ worse, we Ve lost the train/ He paused a moment and then added : ' As a matter of fact, I think we may just as well go down later in the day. I have some writing to do, and I think you told me, Rupert, that you thought of going to the Dulwich Gallery. I was rather too impetuous. Very likely he wouldn't be in. But if we get down by the 5.15, which gets to Purley about 6, I expect we shall just catch him/ 1 Catch him ! ' cried his brother, in a kind of final anger. ' I wish we could. Where the deuce shall we catch him now ? ' ' I keep forgetting the name of the common/ said Basil, as he buttoned up his coat. ' The Elms what is it ? Buxton Common, near*Purley. That 's where we shall find him/ 148 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS 1 But there is no such place/ groaned Rupert ; but he followed his brother downstairs. We all followed him. We snatched our hats from the hat-stand and our sticks from the umbrella-stand ; and why we followed him we did not and do not know. But we always followed him, whatever was the meaning of the fact, whatever was the nature of his mastery. And the strange thing was that we followed him the more completely the more nonsensical appeared the thing which he said. At bottom, I believe, if he had risen from our breakfast table and said, ' I am going to find the Holy Pig with Ten Tails/ we should have followed him to the end of the world. I don't know whether this mystical feeling of mine about Basil on this occasion has got any of the dark and cloudy colour, so to speak, of the strange journey that we made the same evening. It was already very dense twilight when we struck southward from Purley. Suburbs and things on the London border may be, in most cases, commonplace and comfortable. But if ever by any chance they really are empty solitudes they are to the human spirit more desolate and dehumanized than any Yorkshire moors or Highland hills, because the sudden- ness with which the traveller drops into that silence has something about it as of evil elf-land. It seems to be one of the ragged suburbs of the Cosmos half-forgotten by God such a place was Buxton Common, near Purley. There was certainly a sort of grey futility in the land- scape itself. But it was enormously increased by the sense of grey futility in our expedition. The tracts of drab turf looked useless, the occasional wind-stricken trees looked useless, but we, the human beings, more useless than the hopeless turf or the idle trees. We were maniacs akin to the foolish landscape, for we were come to chase the wild goose which has led men and left men in bogs from the beginning. We were three dazed men under the captaincy of a madman going to look for a man whom we knew was not there in a house that had SPECULATION OF THE HOUSE-AGENT 149 no existence. A livid sunset seemed to look at us with a sort of sickly smile before it died. Basil went on in front with his coat collar turned up, looking in the gloom rather like a grotesque Napoleon. We crossed swell after swell of the windy common in increasing darkness and entire silence. Suddenly Basil stopped and turned to us, his hands in his pockets. Through the dusk I could just detect that he wore a broad grin as of comfortable success. ' Well/ he cried, taking his heavily gloved hands out of his pockets and slapping them together, ' here we are at last/ The wind swirled sadly over the homeless heath ; two desolate elms rocked above us in the sky like shapeless clouds of grey. There was not a sign of man or beast to the sullen circle of the horizon, and in the midst of that wilderness Basil Grant stood rubbing his hands with the air of an innkeeper standing at an open door. ' How jolly it is/ he cried, ' to get back to civilization. That notion that civilization isn't poetical is a civilized delusion. Wait till you 've really lost yourself in nature, among the devilish woodlands and the cruel flowers. Then you '11 know that there 's no star like the red star of man that he lights on his hearthstone ; no river like the red river of man, the good red wine, which you, Mr. Rupert Grant, if I have any knowledge of you, will be drinking in two or three minutes in enormous quantities/ Rupert and I exchanged glances of fear. Basil went on heartily, as the wind died in the dreary trees. ' You '11 find our host a much more simple kind of fellow in his own house. I did when I visited him when he lived in the cabin at Yarmouth, and again in the loft at the city warehouse. He 's really a very good fellow. But his greatest virtue remains what I said originally/ ' What do you mean ? ' I asked, finding his speech straying towards a sort of sanity. ' What is his greatest virtue ? ' ' His greatest virtue/ replied Basil, ' is that he always tells the literal truth/ 150 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS 1 Well, really/ cried Rupert, stamping about between cold and anger and slapping himself like a cabman, ' he doesn't seem to have been very literal or truthful in this case, nor you either. Why the deuce, may I ask, have you brought us out to this infernal place ? ' ' He was too truthful, I confess/ said Basil, leaning against the tree ; ' too hardly veracious, too severely accurate. He should have indulged in a little more suggestiveness and legitimate romance. But come, it 's time we went in. We shall be late for dinner/ Rupert whispered to me with a white face : ' Is it a hallucination, do you think ? Does he really fancy he sees a house ? ' ' I suppose so/ I said. Then I added aloud, in what was meant to be a cheery and sensible voice, but which sounded in my ears almost as strange as the wind : ' Come, come, Basil, my dear fellow. Where do you want us to go ? ' ' Why, up here/ cried Basil, and with a bound and a swing he was above our heads swarming up the grey column of the colossal tree. ' Come up, all of you/ he shouted out of the darkness, with the voice of a schoolboy. ' Come up. You '11 be late for dinner/ The two great elms stood so close together that there was hardly a yard anywhere, and in some places not more than a foot, between them. Thus occasional branches and even bosses and boles formed a series of footholds that almost amounted to a rude natural ladder. They must, I supposed, have been some sport of growth, Siamese twins of vegetation. Why we did it I cannot think ; perhaps, as I have said, the mystery of the waste and dark had brought and made primary something wholly mystical in Basil's supremacy. But we only felt that there was a giant's staircase going somewhere, perhaps to the stars ; and the victorious voice above called to us out of heaven. We hoisted ourselves up after him. Half-way up some cold tongue of the night air struck SPECULATION OF THE HOUSE-AGENT 151 I and sobered me suddenly. The hypnotism of the mad- man above fell from me, and I saw the whole map of our silly actions as clearly as if it were printed. I saw three modern men in black coats who had begun with a per- fectly sensible suspicion of a doubtful adventurer and who had ended, God knows how, half-way up a naked tree on a naked moorland, far from that adventurer and all his works, that adventurer who was at that moment, in all probability, laughing at us in some dirty Soho restaurant. He had plenty to laugh at us about, and no doubt he was laughing his loudest ; but when I thought what his laughter would be if he knew where we were at that moment, I nearly let go of the tree and fell. ' Swinburne/ said Rupert suddenly, from above, ' what are we doing ? Let J s get down again/ and by the mere sound of his voice I knew that he too felt the shock of wakening to reality. ' We can't leave poor Basil/ I said. ' Can't you call to him or get hold of him by the leg ? ' ' He 's too far ahead/ answered Rupert ; ' he 's nearly at the top of the beastly thing. Looking for Lieutenant Keith in the rooks' nests, I suppose/ We were ourselves by this time far on our frantic vertical journey. The mighty trunks were beginning to sway and shake slightly in the wind. Then I looked down and saw something which made me feel that we were far from the world in a sense and to a degree that I cannot easily describe. I saw that the almost straight lines of the tall elm trees diminished a little in perspec- tive as they fell. I was used to seeing parallel lines taper toward the sky. But to see them taper towards the earth made me feel lost in space, like a falling star. ' Can nothing be done to stop Basil ? ' I called out. 'No/ answered my fellow-climber. ' He 's too far up. He must get to the top, and when he finds nothing but wind and leaves he may go sane again. Hark at him above there ; you can just hear him talking to himself/ 1 Perhaps he 's talking to us/ I said. 152 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS c No/ said Rupert, ' he 'd shout if he was. I Ve never known him to talk to himself before; I am afraid he really is bad to-night ; it 's a known sign of the brain going/ ' Yes/ I said sadly, and listened. Basil's voice cer- tainly was sounding above us, and not by any means in the rich and riotous tones in which he had hailed us before. He was speaking quietly, and laughing every now and then, up there among the leaves and stars. After a silence mingled with this murmur, Rupert Grant suddenly said, ' My God ! ' with a violent voice. ' What 's the matter are you hurt ? ' I cried alarmed. ' No. Listen to Basil/ said the other in a very strange voice. ' He 's not talking to himself/ ' Then he is talking to us/ I cried. ' No/ said Rupert simply, * he 's talking to somebody else/ Great branches of the elm loaded with leaves swung about us in a sudden burst of wind, but when it died down I could still hear the conversational voice above. I could hear two voices. Suddenly from aloft came Basil's boisterous hailing voice as before : ' Come up, you fellows. Here 's Lieutenant Keith/ And a second afterwards came the half-American voice we had heard in our chambers more than once. It called out : 1 Happy to see you, gentlemen ; pray come in.' Out of a hole in an enormous dark egg-shaped thing pendent in the branches like a wasp's nest, was protrud- ing the pale face and fierce moustache of the lieutenant, his teeth shining with that slightly Southern air that belonged to him. Somehow or other, stunned and speechless, we lifted ourselves heavily into the opening. We fell into the full glow of a lamp-lit, cushioned, tiny room, with a circular wall lined with books, a circular table, and a circular seat round it. At this table sat three people. One was Basil, who, in the instant after alighting there, SPECULATION OF THE HOUSE-AGENT 153 had fallen into an attitude of marmoreal ease as if he had been there from boyhood ; he was smoking a cigar with a slow pleasure. The second was Lieutenant Drummond Keith, who looked happy also, but feverish and doubtful compared with his granite guest. The third was the little bald-headed house-agent with the wild whiskers, who called himself Montmorency. The spears, the green umbrella, and the cavalry sword hung in parallels on the wall. The sealed jar of strange wine was on the mantelpiece, the enormous rifle in the corner. In the middle of the table was a magnum of champagne. Glasses were already set for us. The wind of the night roared far below us, like an ocean at the foot of a lighthouse. The room stirred slightly, as a cabin might in a mild sea. Our glasses were filled, and we still sat there dazed and dumb. Then Basil spoke. ' You seem still a little doubtful, Rupert. Surely there is no further question about the cold veracity of our injured host/ ' I don't quite grasp it all, 1 said Rupert, blinking still in the sudden glare. * Lieutenant Keith said his address ' It 's really quite right, sir/ said Keith, with an open smile. ' The bobby asked me where I lived. And I said, quite truthfully, that I lived in the elms on Buxton Common, near Purley. So I do. This gentleman, Mr. Montmorency, whom I think you have met before, is an agent for houses of this kind. He has a special line in arboreal villas. It 's being kept rather quiet at present, because the people who want these houses don't want them to get too common. But it 's just the sort of thing that a fellow like myself, racketing about in all sorts of queer corners of London, naturally knocks up against/ ' Are you really an agent for arboreal villas ? ' asked Rupert eagerly, recovering his ease with the romance of the reality. Mr. Montmorency, in his embarrassment, fingered one 154 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS of his pockets and nervously pulled out a snake, which crawled about the table. ' W well, yes, sir/ he said. ' The fact was er my people wanted me very much to go into the house- agency business. But I never cared myself for anything but natural history and botany and things like that. My poor parents have been dead some years now, but naturally I like to respect their wishes. And I thought somehow that an arboreal villa agency was a sort of of compromise between being a botanist and being a house- agent/ Rupert could not help laughing. ' Do you have much custom ? ' he asked. ' N not much/ replied Mr. Montmorency, and then he glanced at Keith, who was (I am convinced) his only client. ' But what there is very select/ ' My dear friends/ said Basil, puffing his cigar, ' always remember two facts. The first is that though, when you are guessing about any one who is sane, the sanest thing is the most likely ; when you are guessing about any one who is, like our host, insane, the maddest thing is the most likely. The second is to remember that very plain literal fact always seems fantastic. If Keith had taken a little brick box of a house in Clapham with nothing but railings in front of it and had written " The Elms " over it, you wouldn't have thought there was anything fantastic about that. Simpfy because it was a great blaring, swaggering lie you would have believed it/ ' Drink your wine, gentlemen/ said Keith, laughing, ' for this confounded wind will upset it/ We drank, and as we did so, although the hanging house, by a cunning mechanism, swung only slightly, we knew that the great head of the elm-trees swayed in the sky like a stricken thistle. ANOTHER HOME IN THE BOUGHS 155 ANOTHER HOME IN THE BOUGHS 1 ' HTHE roads certainly seem to be very irregular/ said -L Dorian reflectively. ' Well,' cried Patrick, with a queer kind of impatience, ' you 're English, and I 'm not. You ought to know why the road winds about like this. Why, the Saints deliver us/ he cried, ' it 's one of the wrongs of Ireland that she can't understand England. England won't understand herself. England won't tell us why these roads go wriggling about. Englishmen won't tell us ! You won't tell us ! ' ' Don't be too sure/ said Dorian, with a quiet irony. Dalroy, with an irony far from quiet, emitted a loud yell of victory. ' Right/ he shouted. ' More Songs of the Car Club 1 We 're all poets here, I hope. Each shall write some- thing about why the road jerks about so much. So much as this, for example/ he added, as the whole vehicle nearly rolled over in a ditch. For indeed Pump appeared to be attacking such in- clines as are more suitable for a goat than a small motor- car. This may have been exaggerated in the emotions of his companions, who had both, for different reasons, seen much of mere flat country lately. The sensation was like a combination of trying to get into the middle of the maze at Hampton Court, and climbing the spiral staircase to the Belfry at Bruges. * This is the right way to roundabout/ said Dalroy cheerfully. ' Charming place. Salubrious spot. You can't miss it. First to the left and right and straight on round the corner and back again. That '11 do for my poem. Get on, you slackers ; why aren't you writing your poems ? ' ' I '11 try one if you like/ said Dorian, treating his i From The Flying Inn. 156 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS flattered egotism lightly. ' But it 's too dark to write ; and getting darker.' Indeed they had come under a shadow between them and the stars like the brim of a giant's hat ; only through the holes and rents in which the summer stars could now look down on them. The hill like a cluster of domes, though smooth and even bare in its lower contours, was topped with a tangle of spreading trees that sat above them like a bird brooding over its nest. The wood was larger and vaguer than the clump that is the crown of the hill at Chanctonbury ; but was rather like it and held much the same high and romantic position. The next moment they were in the wood itself, and winding in and out among the trees by a ribbon of paths. The emerald twilight between the stems, combined with the dragon- like contortions of the great grey roots of the beeches, had a suggestion of monsters and the deep sea ; espe- cially as a long litter of crimson and copper-coloured fungi, which might well have been the more gorgeous types of anemone or jelly-fish, reddened the ground like a sunset dropped from the sky. And yet, contradic- torily enough, they had also a strong sense of being high up ; and even near to heaven ; and the brilliant summer stars that stared through the chinks of the leafy roof, might almost have been white starry blossoms on the trees of the wood. But though they had entered the wood as if it were a house, their strongest sensation still was the rotatory ; it seemed as if that high green house went round and round like a revolving lighthouse or the whizzygig temple in the old pantomimes. The stars seemed to circle over their heads ; and Dorian felt almost certain he had seen the same beech-tree twice. At length they came to a central place where the hill rose in a sort of cone in the thick of its trees, lifting its trees with it. Here Pump stopped the car ; and clamber- ing up the slope came to the crawling colossal roots of a very large but very low beech-tree. It spread out to the four quarters of heaven more in the manner of an octopus ANOTHER HOME IN THE BOUGHS 157 than a tree ; and within its low crown branches there was a kind of hollow, like a cup, into which Mr. Humphrey Pump, of ' The Old Ship/ Pebbleswick, suddenly and entirely disappeared. When he appeared it was with a kind of rope ladder, which he politely hung over the side for his companions to ascend by ; but the Captain preferred to swing him- self on to one of the octopine branches with a whirl of large wild legs worthy of a chimpanzee. When they were established there, each propped in a hollow against a branch, almost as comfortably as in an arm-chair, Humphrey himself descended once more and began to take out their simple stores. The dog was still asleep in the car. ' An old haunt of yours, Hump, I suppose/ said the Captain. ' You seem quite at home/ * I am at home/ answered Pump, with gravity. ' At the sign of "The Old Ship." And he stuck the old blue and red sign-board erect among the toadstools, as if inviting the passer-by to climb the tree for a drink. The tree just topped the mound or clump of trees, and from it they could see the whole champaign of the country they had passed ; with the silver roads roaming about in it like rivers. They were so exalted they could almost fancy the stars would burn them. ' Those roads remind me of the songs you Ve all pro- mised/ said Dalroy at last. ' Let 's have some supper, Hump, and then recite/ Humphrey had hung one of the motor lanterns on to a branch above him, and proceeded, by the light of it, to tap the kegs of rum and hand round the cheese. * What an extraordinary thing ! ' exclaimed Dorian Wimpole suddenly. ' Why, I 'm quite comfortable ! Such a thing has never happened before, I should imagine. And how holy this cheese tastes ! ' ' It has gone on a pilgrimage/ answered Dalroy, ' or rather a crusade. It 's a heroic, a fighting cheese. The rum 's good, too. I Ve earned this glass of rum earned 158 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS it by Christian humility. For nearly a month I Ve lowered myself to the beasts of the field, and gone about on all fours like a teetotaller. Hump, circulate the bottle I mean the cask and let us have some of this poetry you 're so keen about. Each poem must have the same title, you know ; it 's a rattling good title. It 's called " An Inquiry into the causes geological, historical, agri- cultural, psychological, psychical, moral, spiritual, and theological of the alleged cases of double, treble, quad- ruple, and other curvature in the English Road, con- ducted by a specially appointed secret commission in a hole in a tree by admittedly judicious and academic authorities specially appointed by themselves to report to the Dog Quoodle, having power to add to their number and also to take away the number they first thought of ; God save the King/ Having delivered this formula with blinding rapidity, he added rather breathlessly, * That 's the note to strike. The lyric note/ For all his rather formless hilarity, Dalroy still im- pressed the poet as being more distrait than the others, as if his mind were labouring with some bigger thing in the background. He was in a sort of creative trance ; and Humphrey Pump, who knew him like his own soul, knew well that it was not mere literary creation. Rather it was a kind of creation which many modern moralists would call destruction. For Patrick Dalroy was, not a little to his misfortune, what is called a man of action, as Captain Dawson realized, when he found his entire person a bright pea- green. Fond as he was of jokes and rhymes, nothing he could write, or even sing, ever satisfied him like something he could do. Thus it happened that his contribution to the metrical inquiry into the crooked roads was avowedly hasty and flippant : while Dorian, who was of the opposite temper, the temper that receives impressions instead of pushing out to make them, found his artist's love of beauty fulfilled as it had never been before in that noble nest ; and was far more serious and human than usual. Patrick's verses ran : ANOTHER HOME IN THE BOUGHS 159 ' Some say that Guy of Warwick, The man that killed the Cow And brake the mighty Boar alive Beyond the Bridge at Slough ; Went up against a Loathly W^orm That wasted all the Downs, And so the roads they twist and squirm (If I may be allowed the term) From the writhing of the stricken Worm That died in seven towns. I see no scientific proof That this idea is sound, And I should say they wound about To find the town of Roundabout, The merry town of Roundabout, That makes the world go round. Some say that Robin Goodfellow, Whose lantern lights the meads (To steal a phrase Sir Walter Scott In heaven no longer needs), Such dance around the trysting-place The moonstruck lover leads ; Which superstition I should scout There is more faith in honest doubt (As Tennyson has pointed out) Than in those nasty creeds. But peace and righteousness (St. John) In Roundabout can kiss, And since that's all that's found about The pleasant town of Roundabout, The roads they simply bound about To find out where it is. Some say that when Sir Lancelot Went forth to find the Grail, Grey Merlin wrinkled up the roads For hope that he should fail ; All roads led back to Lyonesse And Camelot in the Vale, I cannot yield assent to this Extravagant hypothesis, The plain, shrewd Briton will dismiss Such rumours (Daily Mail). But in the streets of Roundabout Are no such factions found, ' A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS Or theories to expound about, Or roll upon the ground about, In the happy town of Roundabout, That makes the world go round. J Patrick Dalroy relieved his feelings by finishing with a shout, draining a stiff glass of his sailor's wine, turning restlessly on his elbow and looking across the landscape towards London. Dorian Wimpole had been drinking golden rum and strong starlight and the fragrance of forests ; and though his verses too were burlesque, he read them more emo- tionally than was his wont : * Before the Roman came to Rye or out to Severn strode, The rolling English drunkard made the rolling English road ; A reeling road, a rolling road, that rambles round the shire, And after him the parson ran, the sexton and the squire ; A merry road, a mazy road, and such as we did tread The night we went to Birmingham by way of Beachy Head. I knew no harm of Bonaparte and plenty of the Squire, And for to fight the Frenchman I did not much desire ; But I did bash their baggonets because they came arrayed To straighten out the crooked road an English drunkard made, Where you and I went down the lane with ale-mugs in our hands, The night we went to Glastonbury by way of Goodwin Sands. His sins they were forgiven him ; or why do flowers run Behind him ; and the hedges all strengthing in the sun ? The wild thing went from left to right and knew not which was which, But the wild rose was above him when they found him in the ditch. God pardon us, nor harden us ; we did not see so clear The night we went to Bannockburn by way of Brighton Pier. My friends, we will not go again or ape an ancient rage, Or stretch the folly of our youth to be the shame of age, But walk with clearer eyes and ears this path that wandereth, And see undrugged in evening light the decent inn of death ; For there is good news yet to hear and fine things to be seen, Before we go to Paradise by way of Kensal Green/ THE POET AND THE CHEESE 161 THE POET AND THE CHEESE 1 HTHERE is something creepy in the flat Eastern -* Counties ; a brush of the white feather. There is a stillness, which is rather of the mind than of the bodily senses. Rapid changes and sudden revelations of scenery, even when they are soundless, have something in them analogous to a movement of music, to a crash or a cry. Mountain hamlets spring -out on us with a shout like mountain brigands. Comfortable valleys accept us with open arms and warm words, like comfortable inn- keepers. But travelling in the great level lands has a curiously still and lonely quality ; lonely even when there are plenty of people on the road and in the market- place. One's voice seems to break an almost elvish silence, and something unreasonably weird in the phrase of the nursery tales, 4< And he went a little farther and came to another place/ comes back into the mind. In some such mood I came along a lean, pale road south of the fens, and found myself in a large, quiet, and seemingly forgotten village. It was one of those places that instantly produce a frame of mind which, it may be, one afterwards decks out with unreal details. I dare say that grass did not really grow in the streets, but I came away with a curious impression that it did. I dare say the market-place was not literally lonely and without sign of life, but it left the vague impression of being so. The place was large and even loose in design, yet it had the air of something hidden away and always overlooked. It seemed shy, like a big yokel ; the low roofs seemed to be ducking behind the hedges and rail- ings, and the chimneys holding their breath. I came into it in that dead hour of the afternoon which is neither after lunch nor before tea, nor anything else even on a half-holiday ; and I had a fantastic feeling that I had strayed into a lost and extra hour that is not numbered in the twenty-four. 1 From A Miscellany of Men. 162 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS I entered an inn which stood openly in the market- place yet was almost as private as a private house. Those who talk of ' public-houses ' as if they were all one problem would have been both puzzled and pleased with such a place. In the front window a stout old lady in black with an elaborate cap sat doing a large piece of needlework. She had a kind of comfortable Puritanism about her ; and might have been (perhaps she was) the original Mrs. Grundy. A little more withdrawn into the parlour sat a tall, strong, and serious girl, with a face of beautiful honesty and a pair of scissors stuck in her belt, doing a small piece of needlework. Two feet behind them sat a hulking labourer with a humorous face like wood painted scarlet, before a huge mug of mild beer which he had not touched and probably would not touch for hours. On the hearthrug there was an equally motionless cat ; and on the table a copy of Household Words. I was conscious of some atmosphere, still and yet bracing, that I had met somewhere in literature. There was poetry in it as well as piety ; and yet it was not poetry after my particular taste. It was somehow at once solid and airy. Then I remembered that it was the atmosphere in some of Wordsworth's rural poems ; which are full of genuine freshness and wonder, and yet are in some incurable way commonplace. This was strange ; for Wordsworth's men were of the rocks and fells, and not of the fenlands or flats. But perhaps it is the clearness of still water and the mirrored skies of meres and pools that produces this crystalline virtue. Perhaps that is why Wordsworth is called a Lake Poet instead of a mountain poet. Perhaps it is the water that does it. Certainly the whole of that town was like a cup of water given at morning. After a few sentences exchanged at long intervals in the manner of rustic courtesy, I inquired casually what was the name of the town. The old lady answered that its name was Stilton, and confposedly continued her needlework. But I had paused with my mug in air, and THE POET AND THE CHEESE 163 was gazing at her with a suddenly arrested concern. 4 I suppose/ I said, ' that it has nothing to do with the cheese of that name ? ' ' Oh yes/ she answered, with a staggering indifference, ' they used to make it here/ I put down my mug with a gravity far greater than her own. ' But this place is a Shrine ! ' I said. ' Pilgrims should be pouring into it from wherever the English legend has endured alive. There ought to be a colossal statue in the market-place of the man who in- vented Stilton cheese. There ought to be another colossal statue of the first cow who provided the founda- tions of it. There should be a burnished tablet let into the ground on the spot where some courageous man first ate Stilton cheese, and survived. On the top of a neigh- bouring hill (if there are any neighbouring hills) there should be a huge model of a Stilton cheese, made of some rich green marble and engraven with some haughty motto : I suggest something like " Ver non semper viret ; sed Stiltonia semper virescit." The old lady said, ' Yes, sir/ and continued her domestic occupations. After a strained and emotional silence, I said, ' If I take a meal here to-night can you give me any Stilton ? ' 1 No, sir ; I 'm afraid we haven't got any Stilton,' said the immovable one, speaking as if it were something thousands of miles away. ' This is awful/ I said : for it seemed to me a strange allegory of England as she is now ; this little town that had lost its glory and forgotten, so to speak, the meaning of its own name. And I thought it yet more symbolic because from all that old and full and virile life the great cheese was gone ; and only the beer remained. And even that will be stolen by the Liberals or adulterated by the Conservatives. Politely disengaging myself, I made my way as quickly as possible to the nearest large, noisy, and nasty town in that neighbourhood, where I sought out the nearest vulgar, tawdry, and avaricious restaurant. There (after trifling with beef, mutton, puddings, pies, and so on) I got a Stilton cheese. I was so much moved by my memories that I wrote a sonnet to the cheese. 164 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS Some critical friends have hinted to me that my sonnet is not strictly new ; that it contains ' echoes ' (as they express it) of some other poem that they have read some- where. Here, at least, are the lines I wrote : SONNET TO A STILTON CHEESE Stilton, thou shouldst be living at this hour. And so thou art. Nor losest grace thereby ; England has need of thee, and so have I She is a Fen. Far as the eye can scour, League after grassy league from Lincoln tower To Stilton in the fields, she is a Fen. Yet this high cheese, by choice of fenland men, Like a tall green volcano rose in power. Plain living and long drinking are no more, And pure religion, reading Household Words, And sturdy manhood, sitting still all day, Shrink, like this cheese that crumbles to its core ; While my digestion, like the House of Lords, The heaviest burdens on herself doth lay. I confess I feel myself as if some literary influence, something that has haunted me, were present in this otherwise original poem ; but it is hopeless to disen- tangle it now. THE CONTENTED MAN * HTHE word content is not inspiring nowadays ; rather A it is irritating because it is dull. It prepares the mind for a little sermon in the style of the Vicar of Wake- field about how you and I should be satisfied with our countrified innocence,and our simple village sports. The word, however, has two meanings, somewhat singularly connected ; the ' sweet content ' of the poet and the ' cubic content ' of the mathematician. Some distin- 1 From A Miscellany oj Men. THE CONTENTED MAN 165 guish these by stressing the different syllables. Thus, it might happen to any of us, at some social juncture, to remark gaily, * Of the content of the King of the Cannibal Islands' stewpot I am content to be ignorant ' ; or * Not content with measuring the cubic content of my safe, you are stealing the spoons/ And there really is an analogy between the mathematical and the moral use of the term, for lack of the observation of which the latter has been much weakened and misused. The preaching of contentment is in disrepute, well deserved in so far that the moral is really quite inapplic- able to the anarchy and insane peril of our tall and top- pling cities. Content suggests some kind of security ; and it is not strange that our workers should often think about rising above their position, since they have so con- tinually to think about sinking below it. The philan- thropist who urges the poor to saving and simple pleasures deserves all the derision that he gets. To advise people to be content with what they have got may or may not be sound moral philosophy. But to urge people to be content with what they haven't got is a piece of impudence hard for even the English poor to pardon. But though the creed of content is unsuited to certain special riddles and wrongs, it re- mains true for the normal of mortal life. We speak of divine discontent ; discontent may sometimes be a divine thing, but content must always be the human thing. It may be true that a particular man, in his rela- tion to his master or his neighbour, to his country or his enemies, will do well to be fiercely unsatisfied or thirsting for an angry justice. But it is not true, no sane person can call it true, that man as a whole in his general attitude towards the world, in his posture towards death or green fields, towards the weather or the baby, will be wise to cultivate dissatisfaction. In a broad estimate of our earthly experience, the great truism on the tablet remains : he must not covet his neighbour's ox nor his ass nor any- thing that is his. In highly complex and scientific civi- lizations he may sometimes find himself forced ink) an 166 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS exceptional vigilance. But, then, in highly complex and scientific civilizations, nine times out of ten, he only wants his own ass back. ******* But I wish to urge the case for cubic content ; in which (even more than in moral content) I take a personal interest. Now, moral content has been undervalued and neglected because of its separation from the other mean- ing. It has become a negative rather than a positive thing. In some accounts of contentment it seems to be little more than a meek despair. But this is not the true meaning of the term ; it should stand for the idea of a positive and thorough appreciation of the content of anything ; for feeling the substance and not merely the surface of experience. ' Content ' ought to mean in English, as it does in French, being pleased ; placidly, perhaps, but still positively pleased. Being con- tented with bread and cheese ought not to mean not caring what you eat. It ought to mean caring for bread and cheese ; handling and enjoying the cubic content of the bread and cheese and adding it to your own. Being con- tent with an attic ought not to mean being unable to move from it and resigned to living in it. It ought to mean appreciating what there is to appreciate in such a posi- tion ; such as the quaint and elvish slope of the ceiling or the sublime aerial view of the opposite chimney-pots. And in this sense contentment is a real and even an active virtue ; it is not only affirmative, but creative. The poet in the attic does not forget the attic in poetic musings ; he remembers whatever the attic has of poetry ; he realizes how high, how starry, how cool, how unadorned and simple in short, how Attic is the attic. True contentment is a thing as active as agriculture. It is the power of getting out of any situation all that there is in it. It is arduous and it is rare. The absence of this digestive talent is what makes so cold and in- credible the tales of so many people who say they have been * through ' things ; when it is evident that they have come out on the other side quite unchanged. A THE CONTENTED MAN 167 man might have gone ' through ' a plum pudding as a bullet might go through a plum pudding ; it depends on the size of the pudding and the man. But the awful and sacred question is, ' Has the pudding been through him ? ' Has he tasted, appreciated, and absorbed the solid pudding, with its three dimensions and its three thousand tastes and smells ? Can he offer himself to the eyes of men as one who has cubically conquered and contained a pudding ? * ****** In the same way we may ask of those who profess to have passed through trivial or tragic experiences whether they have absorbed the content of them ; whether they licked up such living water as there was. It is a perti- nent question in connexion with many modern problems. Thus the young genius says, ' I have lived in my dreary and squalid village before I found success in Paris or Vienna/ The sound philosopher will answer, ' You have never lived in your village, or you would not call it dreary and squalid/ Thus the Imperialist, the Colonial idealist (who com- monly speaks and always thinks with a Yankee accent), will say, ' I Ve been right away from these little muddy islands, and seen God's great seas and prairies/ The sound philosopher will reply, ' You have never been in these islands ; you have never seen the weald of Sussex or the plain of Salisbury ; otherwise you could never have called them either muddy or little/ Thus the Suffragette will say, ' I have passed through the paltry duties of pots and pans, the drudgery of the vulgar kitchen ; but I have come out to intellectual liberty/ The sound philosopher will answer, ' You have never passed through the kitchen, or you never would call it vulgar. Wiser and stronger women than you have really seen a poetry in pots and pans ; naturally, because there is a poetry in them/ It is right for the village violinist to climb into fame in Paris or Vienna ; it is right for the stray Englishman to climb across the high shoulder of the world ; it is right for the woman to 168 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS climb into whatever cathedra or high places she can allow to her sexual dignity. But it is wrong that any of these climbers should kick the ladder by which they have climbed. But indeed these bitter people who record their experiences really record their lack of experiences. It is the countryman who has not succeeded in being a countryman who comes up to London. It is the clerk who has not succeeded in being a clerk who tries (on vegetarian principles) to be a countryman. And the woman with a past is generally a woman angry about the past she never had. When you have really exhausted an experience you always reverence and love it. The two things that nearly all of us have thoroughly and really been through are childhood and youth. And though we would not have them back again on any account, we feel that they are both beautiful, because we have drunk them dry. THE DRAGON'S GRANDMOTHER 1 I MET a man the other day who did not believe in fairy tales. I do not mean that he did not believe in the incidents narrated 1 in them that he did not believe that a pumpkin could turn into a coach. He did, indeed, entertain this curious disbelief. And, like all the other people I have ever met who entertained it, he was wholly unable to give me an intelligent reason for it. He tried the laws of nature, but he soon dropped that. Then he said that pumpkins were unalterable in ordinary experi- ence, and that we all reckoned on their infinitely pro- tracted pumpkinity. But I pointed out to him that this was not an attitude we adopt specially towards impossible marvels, but simply the attitude we adopt towards all unusual occurrences. If we were certain of miracles we should not count on them. Things that happen very 1 From Tremendous Trifles. THE DRAGON'S GRANDMOTHER 169 seldom we all leave out of our calculations, whether they are miraculous or not. I do not expect a glass of water to be turned into wine ; but neither do I expect a glass of water to be poisoned with prussic acid. I do not in ordinary business relations act on the assumption that the editor is a fairy ; but neither do I act on the assump- tion that he is a Russian spy, or the lost heir of the Holy Roman Empire. What we assume in action is not that the natural order is unalterable, but simply that it is much safer to bet on common incidents than on un- common ones. This does not touch the credibility of any attested tale about a Russian spy or a pumpkin turned into a coach. If I had seen a pumpkin turned into a Panhard motor-car with my own eyes that would not make me any more inclined to assume that the same thing would happen again. I should not invest largely in pumpkins with an eye to the motor trade. Cinderella got a ball dress from the fairy ; but I do not suppose that she looked after her own clothes any the less after it. But the view that fairy tales cannot really have hap- pened, though crazy, is common. The man I speak of disbelieved in fairy tales in an even more amazing and perverted sense. He actually thought that fairy tales ought not to be told to children. That is (like a belief in slavery or annexation) one of those intellectual errors which lie very near to ordinary mortal sins. There are some refusals which, though they may be done what is called conscientiously, yet carry so much of their whole horror in the very act of them, that a man must in doing them not only harden but slightly corrupt his heart. One of them was the refusal of milk to young mothers when their husbands were in the field against us. Another is the refusal of fairy tales to children. ******* The man had come to see me in connexion with some silly society of which I am an enthusiastic member. He was a fresh-coloured, short-sighted young man, like a stray curate who was too helpless even to find his way to the Church of England. He had a curious green tieck- 170 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS tie and a very long neck ; I am always meeting idealists with very long necks. Perhaps it is that their eternal aspiration slowly lifts their heads nearer and nearer to the stars. Or perhaps it has something to do with the fact that so many of them are vegetarians : perhaps they are slowly evolving the neck of the giraffe so that they can eat all the tops of the trees in Kensington Gardens. These things are in every sense above me. Such, any- how, was the young man who did not believe in fairy tales ; and by a curious coincidence he entered the room when I had just finished looking through a pile of con- temporary fiction, and had begun to read Grimm's Fairy Tales as a natural consequence. The modern novels stood before me, anyhow, in a stack ; and you can imagine their titles for yourself. There was Suburban Sue : A Tale of Psychology, and also Psychological Sue : A Tale of Suburbia ; there was Trixy : A Temperament, and Man-Hate : A Mono- chrome, and all those nice things. I read them with real interest, but, curiously enough, I grew tired of them at last, and when I saw Grimm's Fairy Tales lying acci- dentally on the table, I gave a cry of indecent joy. Here at least, here at last, one could find a little common sense. I opened the book, and my eyes fell on these splendid and satisfying words, ' The Dragon's Grand- mother.' That at least was reasonable ; that at least was comprehensible ; that at least was true. ' The Dragon's Grandmother ! ' while I was rolling this first touch of ordinary human reality upon my tongue, I looked up suddenly and saw this monster with a green tie standing in the doorway. ******* I listened to what he said about the society politely enough, I hope ; but when he incidentally mentioned that he did not believe in fairy tales, I broke out beyond control. ' Man/ I said, ' who are you that you should not believe in fairy tales ? It is much easier to believe in Blue Beard than to believe in you. A blue beard is a misfortune ; but there are green ties which are sins. THE DRAGON'S GRANDMOTHER 171 It is far easier to believe in a million fairy tales than to believe in one man who does not like fairy tales. I would rather kiss Grimm instead of a Bible and swear to all his stories as if they were thirty-nine articles than say seriously and out of my heart that there can be such a man as you ; that you are not some temptation of the devil or some delusion from the void. Look at these plain, homely, practical words. " The Dragon's Grand- mother. J> That is all right ; that is rational almost to the verge of rationalism. If there was a dragon, he had a grandmother. But you you had no grandmother ! If you had had one, she would have taught you to love fairy tales. You had no father, you had no mother ; no natural causes can explain you. You cannot be. I believe many things which I have not seen ; but of such things as you it may be said, " Blessed is he that has seen and yet has disbelieved." ******* It seemed to me that he did not follow me with suffi- cient delicacy, so I moderated my tone. ' Can you not see/ I said, ' that fairy tales in their essence are quite solid and straightforward ; but that this everlasting fiction about modern life is in its nature essentially in- credible ? Folk-lore means that the soul is sane, but that the universe is wild and full of marvels. Realism means that the world is dull and full of routine, but that the soul is sick and screaming. The problem of the fairy tale is what will a healthy man do with a fantastic world ? The problem of the modern novel is what will a madman do with a dull world ? In the fairy tales the cosmos goes mad ; but the hero does not go mad. In the modern novels the hero is mad before the book begins, and suffers from the harsh steadiness and cruel sanity of the cosmos. In the excellent tale of " The Dragon's Grandmother/' in all the other tales of Grimm, it is assumed that the young man setting out on his travels will have all substantial truths in him ; that he will be brave, full of faith, reasonable, that he will respect his parents, keep his word, rescue one kind of people, 172 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS defy another kind, " parcere subjectis et debellare," etc. Then, having assumed this centre of sanity, the writer entertains himself by fancying what would happen if the whole world went mad all round it, if the sun turned green and the moon blue, if horses had six legs and giants two heads. But your modern literature takes insanity as its centre. Therefore it loses the interest even of insanity. A lunatic is not startling to himself, because he is quite serious ; that is what makes him a lunatic. A man who thinks he is a poached egg is to himself as plain as a poached egg. A man who thinks he is a kettle is to himself as common as a kettle. It is only sanity that can see even a wild poetry in insanity. There- fore these wise old tales made the hero ordinary and the tale extraordinary. But you have made the hero extra- ordinary and the tale ordinary so ordinary oh, so very ordinary/ I saw him still gazing at me fixedly. Some nerve snapped in me under that hypnotic stare. I leapt to my feet and cried, ' In the name of God and Democracy and the Dragon's grandmother in the name of all good things I charge you to avaunt and haunt this house no more/ Whether or no it was the result of the exor- cism, there is no doubt that he definitely went away. THE MAID OF ORLEANS 1 A CONSIDERABLE time ago (at far too early an *V age, in fact) I read Voltaire's La Pucelle, a savage sarcasm on the traditional purity of Joan of Arc, very dirty, and very funny. I had not thought of it again for years, but it came back into my mind this morning because I began to turn over the leaves of the new Jeanne d'Arc, by that great and graceful writer, Anatole France. It is written in a tone of tender sympathy, and ] From All Things Considered. THE MAID OF ORLEANS 173 a sort of sad reverence ; it never loses touch with a noble tact and courtesy, like that of a gentleman escorting a peasant girl through the modern crowd. It is invari- ably respectful to Joan, and even respectful to her religion. And being myself a furious admirer of Joan the Maid, I have reflectively compared the two methods, and I come to the conclusion that I prefer Voltaire's. When a man of Voltaire's school has to explode a saint or a great religious hero, he says that such a person is a common human fool, or a common human fraud. But when a man like Anatole France has to explode a saint, he explains a saint as somebody belonging to his par- ticular fussy little literary set. Voltaire read human nature into Joan of Arc, though it was only the brutal part of human nature. At least it was not specially Voltaire's nature. But M. France read M. France's nature into Joan of Arc all the cold kindness, all the homeless sentiment alism of the modern literary man. There is one book that it recalled to me with startling vividness, though I have not seen the matter mentioned anywhere ; Kenan's Vie de Jesus. It has just the same general intention : that if you do not attack Christianity, you can at least patronise it. My own instinct, apart from my opinions, would be quite the other way. If I disbelieved in Christianity, I should be the loudest blas- phemer in Hyde Park. Nothing ought to be too big for a brave man to attack ; but there are some things too big for a man to patronise. And I must say that the historical method seems to me excessively unreasonable. I have no knowledge of history, but I have as much knowledge of reason as Anatole France. And, if anything is irrational, it seems to me that the Renan-France way of dealing with miraculous stories is irrational. The Renan-France method is simply this : you explain supernatural stories that have some foundation simply by inventing natural stories that have no foundation. Suppose that you are confronted with the statement that Jack climbed up the beanstalk into the sky. It is perfectly philosophical 174 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS to reply that you do not think that he did. It is (in my opinion) even more philosophical to reply that he may very probably have done so. But the Kenan-France method is to write like this : ' When we consider Jack's curious and even perilous heredity, which no doubt was derived from a female greengrocer and a profligate priest, we can easily understand how the ideas of heaven and a beanstalk came to be combined in his mind. Moreover, there is little doubt that he must have met some wander- ing conjurer from India, who told him about the tricks of the mango plant, and how it is sent up to the sky. We can imagine these two friends, the old man and the young, wandering in the woods together at evening, looking at the red and level clouds, as on that night when the old man pointed to a small beanstalk, and told his too imaginative companion that this also might be made to scale the heavens. And then, when we remember the quite exceptional psychology of Jack, when we remember how there was in him a union of the prosaic, the love of plain vegetables, with an almost irrelevant eagerness for the unattainable, for invisibility and the void, we shall no longer wonder that it was to him especially that was sent this sweet, though merely symbolic, dream of the tree uniting earth and heaven/ That is the way that Renan and France write, only they do it better. But, really, a rationalist like myself becomes a little im- patient and feels inclined to say, ' But, hang it all, what do you know about the heredity of Jack or the psychology of Jack ? You know nothing about Jack at all, except that some people say that he climbed up a beanstalk. Nobody would ever have thought of mentioning him if he hadn't. You must interpret him in terms of the beanstalk religion ; you cannot merely interpret religion in terms of him. We have the materials of this story, and we can believe them or not. But we have not got the materials to make another story/ It is no exaggeration to say that this is the manner of M. Anatole France in dealing with Joan of Arc. Because her miracle is incredible to his somewhat old-fashioned THE MAID OF ORLEANS 175 materialism, he does not therefore dismiss it and her to fairyland with Jack and the Beanstalk. He tries to invent a real story, for which he can find no real evidence. He produces a scientific explanation which is quite desti- tute of any scientific proof. It is as if I (being entirely ignorant of botany and chemistry) said that the bean- stalk grew to the sky because nitrogen and argon got into the subsidiary ducts of the corolla. To take the most obvious example, the principal character in M. France's story is a person who never existed at all. All Joan's wisdom and energy, it seems, came from a certain priest, of whom there is not the tiniest trace in all the multitudinous records of her life. The only foundation I can find for this fancy is the highly undemocratic idea that a peasant girl could not possibly have any ideas of her own. It is very hard for a freethinker to remain democratic. The writer seems altogether to forget what is meant by the moral atmosphere of a community. To say that Joan must have learnt her vision of a virgin overthrowing evil from a priest, is like saying that some modern girl in London, pitying the poor, must have learnt it from a Labour Member. She would learn it where the Labour Member learnt it in the whole state of our society. But that is the modern method : the method of the reverent sceptic. When you find a life entirely incredible and incomprehensible from the outside, you pretend that you understand the inside. As Renan, the ration- alist, could not make any sense out of Christ's most public acts, he proceeded to make an ingenious system out of His private thoughts. As Anatole France, on his own intellectual principle, cannot believe in what Joan of Arc did, he professes to be her dearest friend and to know exactly what she meant. I cannot feel it to be a very rational manner of writing history ; and sooner or later we shall have to find some more solid way of dealing with those spiritual phenomena with which all history is as closely spotted and spangled as the sky is with stars. 176 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS Joan of Arc is a wild and wonderful thing enough, b^it she is much saner than most of her critics and biographeis. We shall not recover the common sense of Joan until ve have recovered her mysticism. Our wars fail, because they begin with something sensible and obvious such as getting to Pretoria by Christmas. But her war suc- ceeded because it began with something wild and perfect the saints delivering France. She put her idealism in the right place, and her realism also in the right place : we moderns get both displaced. She put her dreams and her sentiment into her aims, where they ought to be ; she put her practicality into her practice. In modern Imperial wars, the case is reversed. Our dreams, our aims are always, we insist, quite practical. It is our practice that is dreamy. It is not for us to explain this flaming figure in terms of our tired and querulous culture. Rather we must try to explain ourselves by the blaze of such fixed stars. Those who called her a witch hot from hell were much more sensible than those who depict her as a silly senti- mental maiden prompted by her parish priest. If I have to choose between the two schools of her scattered enemies, I could take my place with those subtle clerks who thought her divine mission devilish, rather than with those rustic aunts and uncles who thought it impossible. THE PERFECT GAME l WE have all met the man who says that some odd things have happened to him, but that he does not really believe that they were supernatural. My own position is the opposite of this. I believe in the supernatural as a matter of intellect and reason, not as a matter of personal experience. I do not see ghosts ; 1 From Tremendous Trifles. THE PERFECT GAME 177 1 only see their inherent probability. But it is entirely a matter of the mere intelligence, not even of the emo- tions ; my nerves and body are altogether of this earth very earthy. But upon people of this temperament one weird incident will often leave a peculiar impression. And the weirdest circumstance that ever occurred to me occurred a little while ago. It consisted in nothing less than my playing a game, and playing it quite well for some seventeen consecutive minutes. The ghost of my grandfather would have astonished me less. On one of these blue and burning afternoons I found myself, to my inexpressible astonishment, playing a game called croquet. I had imagined that it belonged to the epoch of Leech and Anthony Trollope, and I had neglected to provide myself with those very long and luxuriant side whiskers which are really essential to such a scene. I played it with a man whom we will call Parkinson, and with whom I had a semi-philosophical argument which lasted through the entire contest. It is deeply implanted in my mind that I had the best of the argument ; but it is certain and beyond dispute that I had the worst of the game. ' Oh, Parkinson, Parkinson ! ' I cried, patting him affectionately on the head with a mallet, ' how far you really are from the pure love of the sport you who can play. It is only we who play badly who love the Game itself. You love glory ; you love applause ; you love the earthquake voice of victory ; you do not love croquet. You do not love croquet until you love being beaten at croquet. It is we the bunglers who adore the occupation in the abstract. It is we to whom it is art for art's sake. If we may see the face of Croquet herself (if I may so express myself) we are content to see her face turned upon us in anger. Our play is called ama- teurish ; and we wear proudly the name of amateur, for amateurs is but the French for Lovers. We accept all adventures from our Lady, the most disastrous or the most dreary. We wait outside her iron gates (I allude to the hoops), vainly essaying to enter. Our devoted 178 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS / balls, impetuous and full of chivalry, will not be confine! within the pedantic boundaries of the mere croqudt ground. Our balls seek honour in the ends of the earth ; they turn up in the flower-beds and the conservatory ; they are to be found in the front garden and the next street. No, Parkinson ! The good painter loves his skill. It is the bad painter who loves his art. The good musician loves being a musician ; the bad musician loves music. With such a pure and hopeless passion do I worship croquet. I love the game itself. I love the parallelogram of grass marked out with chalk or tape, as if its limits were the frontiers of my sacred fatherland, the four seas of Britain. I love the mere swing of the mallets, and the click of the balls is music. The four colours are to me sacramental and symbolic, like the red of martyrdom, or the white of Easter Day. You lose all this, my poor Parkinson. You have to solace yourself for the absence of this vision by the paltry consolation of being able to go through hoops and to hit the stick/ And I waved my mallet in the air with a graceful gaiety. ' Don't be too sorry for me/ said Parkinson, with his simple sarcasm. ' I shall get over it in time. But it seems to me that the more a man likes a game the better he would want to play it. Suppose the pleasure in the thing itself does come first, doesn't the pleasure of success come naturally and inevitably afterwards ? Or, take your own simile of the Knight and his Lady-love. I admit the gentleman does first and foremost want to be in the lady's presence. But I never heard of a gentle- man who wanted to look an utter ass when he was there.' ' Perhaps not ; though he generally looks it,' I replied. ' But the truth is that there is a fallacy in the simile, although it was my own. The happiness at which the lover is aiming is an infinite happiness, which can be ex- tended without limit. The more he is loved, normally speaking, the jollier he will be. It is definitely true that the stronger the love of both lovers, the stronger will be the happiness. But it is not true that the stronger the THE PERFECT GAME 179 play of both croquet players the stronger will be the game. It is logically possible (follow me closely here, Parkinson !) it is logically possible, to play croquet too well to enjoy it at all. If you could put this blue ball through that distant hoop as easily as you could pick it up with your hand, then you would not put it through that hoop any more than you pick it up with your hand ; it would not be worth doing. If you could play unerr- ingly you would not play at all. The moment the game is perfect the game disappears.' * I do not think, however/ said Parkinson, ' that you are in any immediate danger of effecting that sort of destruction. I do not think your croquet will vanish through its own faultless excellence. You are safe for the present/ I again caressed him with the mallet, knocked a ball about, wired myself, and resumed the thread of my discourse. The long, warm evening had been gradually closing in, and by this time it was almost twilight. By the time I had delivered four more fundamental principles, and my companion had gone through five more hoops, the dusk was verging upon dark. ' We shall have to give this up/ said Parkinson, as he missed a ball almost for the first time, ' I can't see a thing/ ' Nor can I/ I answered, ' and it is a comfort to reflect that I could not hit anything if I saw it/ With that I struck a ball smartly, and sent it away into the darkness towards where the shadowy figure of Parkinson moved in the hot haze. Parkinson immedi- ately uttered a loud and dramatic cry. The situation, indeed, called for it. I had hit the right ball. Stunned with astonishment, I crossed the gloomy ground, and hit my ball again. It went through a hoop. I could not see the hoop ; but it was the right hoop. I shuddered from head to foot. Words were wholly inadequate, so I slouched heavily after that impossible ball. Again I hit it away into the 180 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS / night, in what I supposed was the vague direction of th quite invisible stick. And in the dead silence I heard the stick rattle as the ball struck it heavily. I threw down my mallet. ' I can't stand this/ I said. * My ball has gone right three times. These things are not of this world/ ' Pick your mallet up/ said Parkinson, ' have another go/ ' I tell you I daren't. If I made another hoop like that I should see all the devils dancing there on the blessed grass/ ' Why devils ? ' asked Parkinson ; ' they may be only fairies making fun of you. They are sending you the ' Perfect Game/' which is no game/ I looked about me. The garden was full of a burning darkness, in which the faint glimmers had the look of fire. I stepped across the grass as if it burnt me, picked up the mallet, and hit the ball somewhere somewhere where another ball might be. I heard the dull click of the balls touching, and ran into the house like one pursued. DICKENS AND CHRISTMAS 1 UPON Dickens descended the real tradition. of ' Merry England/ and not upon the pallid medievalists who thought they were reviving it. .The Pre-Raphaelites, the Gothicists, the admirers of the Middle Ages, had in their subtlety and sadness the spirit of the present day. Dickens had in his buffoonery and bravery the spirit of the Middle Ages. He was much more mediaeval in his attacks on medievalism than they were in their defences of it. It was he who had the things of Chaucer, the love of large jokes and long stories and brown ale and all the white roads of England. Like Chaucer he loved story 1 From Charles Dickens. DICKENS AND CHRISTMAS 181 within story, every man telling a tale. Like Chaucer he saw something openly comic in men's motley trades. Sam Weller would have been a great gain to the Canter- bury Pilgrimage and told an admirable story. Rossetti's Damozel would have been a great bore, regarded as too fast by the Prioress and too priggish by the Wife of Bath. It is said that in the somewhat sickly Victorian revival of feudalism which was called ' Young England/ a noble- man hired a hermit to live in his grounds. It is also said that the hermit struck for more beer. Whether this anecdote be true or not, it is always told as showing a collapse from the ideal of the Middle Ages to the level of the present day. But in the mere act of striking for beer the holy man was very much more * mediaeval ' than the fool who employed him. It would be hard to find a better example of this than Dickens's great defence of Christmas. In fighting for Christmas he was fighting for the old European festival, Pagan ,and Christian, for that trinity of eating, drinking and praying which to moderns appears irreverent, for the holy day which is really a holiday. He had himself the most babyish ideas about the past. He supposed the Middle Ages to have consisted of tournaments and torture-chambers, he supposed himself to be a brisk man of the manufacturing age, almost a Utilitarian. But for all that he defended the mediaeval feast which was going out against the Utilitarianism which was coming in. He could only see all that was bad in mediaevalism. But he fought for all that was good in it. And he was all the more really in sympathy with the old strength and sim- plicity because he only knew that it was good and did not know that it was old. He cared as little for mediae- valism as the mediaevals did. He cared as much as they did for lustiness and virile laughter and sad tales of good lovers and pleasant tales of good livers. He would have been very much bored by Ruskin and Walter Pater if they had explained to him the strange sunset tints of Lippi and Botticelli. He had no pleasure in looking on the dying Middle Ages. But he looked on the living Middle Ages, 182 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS on a piece of the old uproarious superstition still un- broken ; and he hailed it like a new religion. The Dickens character ate pudding to an extent at which the modern medievalists turned pale. They would do every kind of honour to an old observance, except observing it. They would pay to a Church feast every sort of compli- ment except feasting. . . . Christmas is, as I have said, one of numberless old European feasts of which the essence is the combination of religion with merry-making. But among those feasts it is also especially and distinctively English in the style of its merry-making and even in the style of its religion. For the character of Christmas (as distinct, for instance, from the continental Easter) lies chiefly in two things : first on the terrestrial side the note of comfort rather than the note of brightness ; and on the spiritual side, Christian charity rather than Christian ecstasy. And comfort is, like charity, a very English instinct. Nay, comfort is, like charity, an English merit ; though our comfort may and does degenerate into materialism, just as our charity may and does degenerate into laxity and make-believe. This ideal of comfort belongs peculiarly to England ; it belongs peculiarly to Christmas ; above all, it belongs pre-eminently to Dickens. And it is astonishingly mis- understood. It is misunderstood by the continent of Europe, it is, if possible, still more misunderstood by the English of to-day. On the Continent the restaurateurs provide us with raw beef, as if we were savages ; yet old English cooking takes as much care as French. And in England has arisen a parvenu patriotism which repre sents the English as everything but English ; as a blend of Chinese stoicism, Latin militarism, Prussian rigidity, and American bad taste. And so England, whose fault is gentility and whose virtue is geniality, England with her tradition of the great gay gentlemen of Elizabeth, is represented to the four quarters of the world (as in Mr. Kipling's religious poems) in the enormous image of a solemn cad. And because it is very difficult to be com- DICKENS AND CHRISTMAS 183 fortable in the suburbs, the suburbs have voted that comfort is a gross and material thing. Comfort, espe- cially this vision of Christmas comfort, is the reverse of a gross or material thing. It is far more poetical, pro- perly speaking, than the Garden of Epicurus. It is far more artistic than the Palace of Art. It is more artistic because it is based upon a contrast, a contrast between the fire and wine within the house and the winter and the roaring rains without. It is far more poetical, because there is in it a note of defence, almost of war ; a note of being besieged by the snow and hail ; of making merry in the belly of a fort. The man who said that an Englishman's house is his castle said much more than he meant. The Englishman thinks of his house as some- thing fortified, and provisioned, and his very surliness is at root romantic. And this sense would naturally be the strongest in wild winter nights, when the lowered portcullis and the lifted drawbridge do not merely bar people out, but bar people in. The Englishman's house is most sacred, not merely when the King cannot enter it, but when the Englishman cannot get out of it. This comfort, then, is an abstract thing, a principle. The English poor shut all their doors and windows till their rooms reek like the Black Hole. They are suffer- ing for an idea. Mere animal hedonism would not dream, as we English do, of winter feasts and little rooms, but of eating fruit in large and idle gardens. Mere sensuality would desire to please all its senses. But to our good dreams this dark and dangerous background is essential ; the highest pleasure we can imagine is a defiant pleasure, a happiness that stands at bay. The word ' comfort ' is not indeed the right word, it conveys too much of the slander of mere sense ; the true word is 4 cosiness/ a word not translatable. One, at least, of the essentials of it is smallness, smallness in preference to largeness, smallness for smallness' sake. The merry- maker wants a pleasant parlour, he would not give two- pence for a pleasant continent. In our difficult time, of course, a fight for mere space has become necessary. 184 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS Instead of being greedy for ale and Christmas pudding we are greedy for mere air, an equally sensual appetite. In abnormal conditions this is wise ; and the illimitable veldt is an excellent thing for nervous people. But our fathers were large and healthy enough to make a thing humane, and not worry about whether it was hygienic. They were big enough to get into small rooms. Of this quite deliberate and artistic quality in the close Christmas chamber, the standing evidence is Dickens in Italy. He created these dim firelit tales like dim red jewels, as an artistic necessity, in the centre of an end- less summer. Amid the white cities of Tuscany he hungered for something romantic, and wrote about a rainy Christmas. Amid the pictures of the Ufnzi he starved for something beautiful, and fed his memory on London fog. His feeling for the fog was especially poignant and typical. In the first of his Christmas tales, the popular Christmas Carol, he suggested the very soul of it in one simile, when he spoke of the dense air, sug- gesting that ' Nature was brewing on a large scale.' This sense of the thick atmosphere as something to eat or drink, something not only solid but satisfactory, may seem almost insane, but it is no exaggeration of Dickens's emotion. We speak of a fog ' that you could cut with a knife. 1 Dickens would have liked the phrase as suggest- ing that the fog was a colossal cake. He liked even more his own phrase of the Titanic brewery, and no dream would have given him a wilder pleasure than to grope his way to some such tremendous vats and drink the ale of the giants. . . . In such a sacred cloud the tale called The Christmas Carol begins, the first and most typical of all his Christmas tales. ... It has the same kind of artistic unity that belongs to a dream. A dream may begin with the end of the world and end with a tea-party ; but either the end of the world will seem as trivial as a tea-party or that tea-party will be as terrible as the day of doom. The incidents change wildly ; the story scarcely changes at all. The Christmas Carol is a kind of philanthropic DICKENS AND CHRISTMAS 185 dream, an enjoyable nightmare, in which the scenes shift bewilderingly and seem as miscellaneous as the pictures in a scrap-book, but in which there is one constant state of the soul, a state of rowdy benediction and a hunger for human faces. The beginning is about a winter day and a miser ; yet the beginning is in no way bleak. The author starts with a kind of happy howl ; he bangs on 1 our door like a drunken carol singer ; his style is festive and popular ; he compares the snow and hail to philan- thropists who ' come down handsomely ' ; he compares the fog to unlimited beer. Scrooge is not really in- human at the beginning any more than he is at the end. There is a heartiness in his inhospitable sentiments that is akin to humour and therefore to humanity ; he is only a crusty old bachelor, and had (I strongly suspect) given away turkeys secretly all his life. The beauty and the real blessing of the story do not lie in the mechanical plot of it, the repentance of Scrooge, probable or im- probable ; they lie in the great furnace of real happiness that glows through Scrooge and everything around him ; that great furnace, the heart of Dickens. Whether the Christmas visions would or would not convert Scrooge, they convert us. Whether or no the visions were evoked by real Spirits of the Past, Present, and Future, they were evoked by that truly exalted order of angels who are correctly called High Spirits. They are impelled and sustained by a quality which our contemporary artists ignore or almost deny, but which in a life decently lived is as normal and attainable as sleep, positive, passionate, conscious joy. The story sings from end to end like a happy man going home ; and, like a happy and good man, when it cannot sing it yells. It is lyric and exclamatory, from the first exclamatory words of it. It is strictly a Christmas Carol. Dickens, as has been said, went to Italy with this kindly cloud still about him, still meditating on Yule mysteries. v <A mon g tne olives and the orange-trees he wrote his second great Christmas tale, The Chimes, at Genoa in 1844, a Christmas tale only differing from The 186 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS Christmas Carol in being fuller of the grey rains of winter and the north. The Chimes is, like the Carol, an appeal for charity and mirth, but it is a stern and fighting appeal : if the other is a Christmas carol, this is a Christmas war-song. In it Dickens hurled himself with even more than his usual militant joy and scorn into an attack upon a cant, which he said made his blood boil. This cant was nothing more nor less than the whole tone taken by three-quarters of the political and economic world towards the poor. It was a vague and vulgar Benthamism with a rollicking Tory touch in it. It explained to the poor their duties with a cold and coarse philanthropy unendurable by any free man. It had also at its command a kind of brutal banter, a loud good humour which Dickens sketches savagely in Alder- man Cute. He fell furiously on all their ideas : the cheap advice to live cheaply, the base advice to live basely, above all, the preposterous primary assumption that the rich are to advise the poor and not the poor the rich. There were and are hundreds of these benevolent bullies. Some say that the poor should give up having children, which means that they should give up their great virtue of sexual sanity. Some say that they should give up ' treating ' each other, which means that they should give up all that remains to them of the virtue of hospitality. Against all of this Dickens thundered very thoroughly in The Chimes. It may be remarked in passing that this affords another instance of a confusion already referred to, the confusion whereby Dickens sup- posed himself to be exalting the present over the past, whereas he was really dealing deadly blows at things strictly peculiar to the present. Embedded in this very book is a somewhat useless interview between Trotty Veck and the church bells, in which the latter lecture the former for having supposed (why, I don't know) that they were expressing regret for the disappearance of the Middle Ages. There is no reason why Trotty Veck or any one else should idealize the Middle Ages, but cer- tainly he was the last man in the world to be asked to DICKENS AND CHRISTMAS 187 idealize the nineteenth century, seeing that the smug and stingy philosophy, which poisons his life through the book, was an exclusive creation of that century. But, as I have said before, the fieriest medievalist may forgive Dickens for disliking the good things the Middle Ages took away, considering how he loved whatever good things the Middle Ages left behind. It matters very little that he hated old feudal castles when they were already old. It matters very much that he hated the New Poor Law while it was still new. The moral of this matter in The Chimes is essential. Dickens had sympathy with the poor in the Greek and literal sense ; he suffered with them mentally ; for the things that irritated them were the things that irritated him. He did not pity the people, or even champion the people, or even merely love the people ; in this matter he was the people. He alone in our literature is the voice not merely of the social substratum, but even of the subconsciousness of the substratum. He utters the secret anger of the humble. He says what the unedu- cated- only think, or even only feel, about the educated. And in nothing is he so genuinely such a voice as in this fact of his fiercest mood being reserved for methods that are counted scientific and progressive. Pure and exalted atheists talk themselves into believing that the working- classes are turning with indignant scorn from the churches. The working-classes are not indignant against the churches in the least. The things the working- classes really are indignant against are the hospitals. The people has no definite disbelief in the temples of theology. The people has a very fiery and practical disbelief in the temples of physical science. The things the poor hate are the modern things, the rationalistic things doctors, inspectors, poor law guardians, profes- sional philanthropy. They never showed any reluctance to be helped by the old and corrupt monasteries. They will often die rather than be helped by the modern and efficient workhouse. Of all this anger, good or bad, Dickens is the voice of an accusing energy. When, in i88 A SHILLING FOR MY THOUGHTS The Christmas Carol, Scrooge refers to the surplus population, the Spirit tells him, very justly, not to speak till he knows what the surplus is and where it is. The implication is severe but sound. When a group of super- ciliously benevolent economists look down into the abyss for the surplus population, assuredly there is only one answer that should be given to them ; and that is to say, ' If there is a surplus, you are a surplus/ And if any one were ever cut off, they would be. If the barricades went up in our streets and the poor became masters, I think the priests would escape, I fear the gentlemen would ; but I believe the gutters would be simply running with the blood of philanthropists. Lastly, he was at one with the poor in this chief matter of Christmas, in the matter, that is, of special festivity. There is nothing on which the poor are more criticized than on the point of spending large sums on small feasts ; and though there are material difficulties, there is nothing in which they are more right. It is said that a Boston paradox-monger said, ' Give us the luxuries of life and we will dispense with the necessities.' But it is the whole human race that says it, from the first savage wearing feathers instead of clothes to the last coster- monger having a treat instead of three meals. EDINBURGH: PRINTED AT THE GRANTON PRESS Methuen's Sevenpenny Novels A SERIES of Novels by popular authors at jd. net, f cap. 8vo. The books ^^ are printed in handy form and are tastefully bound in cloth with attractive paper covers in colour. There is a frontispiece in each volume. Tk* first volumes *rt: I. Angel II. Prince Rupert the Buccaneer Hi. I Crown Thee King iv. The Broom-Squire v. Lone Pine vi. The Sign of the Spider vii. Master of Men vin. The Pomp of the Lavilettes IX. The Human Boy x. 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