Page:Court Royal.djvu/63

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sponges, they have sucked in the surrounding element. They share the views, the prejudices, the delusions of the family and class. To you, what you have seen this day is amusing; to me it is depressing.’

‘Exactly so. I am reminded to-day of what is said in Scripture of the world before the Flood. They were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the flood came and swept them all away.’

‘You are not far wrong. The flood is surely rising which will sweep them all away. According to popular tradition, the inlet where now the blue waters roll up to Kingsbridge was once a fertile valley, with towns and churches and mansions. The ocean broke in one stormy night and swept them clean away—no, I am wrong—buried them deep, deep in mud. Where was once waving corn is now mud—nothing but mud, and mud that stinks. First the age of gold, then of silver, then of iron, then of clay mingled with iron, and now we are on the threshold of the age of vulgar mud. Sea-wrack for corn, barnacles for men, winkle-shells for palaces!’

‘I see you also have a hankering after what is death-doomed!’

‘I regret the decay of what is noble and generous; but it is inevitable. Out of the clay God made men, and out of the coming mud He will mould a new order. When the flat-fish are in the deep sea they have their deep-sea flavour. When they come into our creek their flesh assimilates itself to the flavour of our slime. We shall have to accommodate ourselves to be vulgar, commonplace, to think mud, to taste mud, to have muddy aspirations.’

‘I see,’ said Crudge impatiently, ‘you belong to the upper crust more fully than by the feet. I don’t, and I don’t want to! However, the upper crust will have to go under shortly and get sodden in the gravy.’

‘Yes,’ said Beavis, sadly, ‘it will go down. Everyone outside can tell the time better than the man in the clock-case. I am in the office of the Duke’s lawyer, and am son of his steward: I have plenty of opportunity of noting the tendency of affairs. What, I ask myself, will become of these people, accustomed to the state of a ducal mansion, to the respect and consideration that surrounds them, when cast out, encumbered with a title and a history, reared in one world, hurled into another? To me the scene to-day was one of infinite pathos.’

‘The end is not so near as you suppose,’ said Crudge.

‘It cannot be very distant,’ exclaimed Beavis. ‘I would give