The New Arcadia/Chapter 12

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search



Needs not the foreign aid of ornament,
But is when unadorned, adorned the most."


Mechanism is not always to be our hard taskmaster, but one day to be our pliant, all-ministering servant."

Thomas Carlyle.

"Co-operation rightly understood is but the endeavour to realize in economic life the social ideal of Christianity."

C. W. Stubbs.

So, with alternating success and failure, two years sped away. The Courtenays, father and son, were, in different ways, admirably adapted to educe its highest product from labour. The doctor was powerfully charged with that human magnetism that instinctively unites man to man, and gives some the leadership. His was a touch, we call tact, that could turn dust into gold, and strike the best chords in human hearts. It enabled him to select his agents, as by instinct, and to apply the labour of each man's hands and brains to its most appropriate occupation.

His very confidence in man, his belief in the better nature lying somewhere, as he supposed, in the breasts of all, rendered him liable to deception, and subjected him to bitter disappointment. The atmosphere, however, of trust and hopefulness in which he moved caused many with whom he was brought in contact to surpass themselves, and surprise their friends.

His son, of a somewhat similar disposition, impulsive, warm-hearted, brimful of the cheerfulness and frankness of youth, played his part easily and naturally. Seemingly on terms of perfect equality, he mingled with those amongst whom his lot was cast without spice of patronage or condescension, invested merely with that native dignity education and worth impart, hedging round true nobility from encroachments familiarity might encourage.

One thing young Travers did think and puzzle much about. Not so much the social as the mechanical question. Years of practical apprenticeship in the workshops of Germany, together with observation in America, had constituted him a resourceful engineer of the modern school. So much—little as yet—that could be acquired of electrical science and its practical application, he was conversant with. Machinery, he recognized, had served to augment the social inequalities that he with his father deplored. His aim was to cause science and machinery to serve for once the people's good.

"You band the men together, see that their hearts beat right," he would say to his father; "I will put a subtle power into their hands that shall yet again redouble their strength."

At the head of the valley the stream from the mountains passed through two or three reed-covered lagoons—the banks converging towards a narrow inlet. There the waters leapt and dashed over the huge boulders that spanned the gorge.

"Bubble on, pretty brook," the young engineer had said, "you, like all else here, must henceforth work, turning all the wheels—and they shall be many—of Mimosa Vale."

A breastwork of masonry was thrown across the gorge by merely filling up, as it were, the gaps between the boulders through which the waters had swept for centuries.

The central aperture was raised and built into a race. The lagoons were expanded into one great lake by the addition of six feet of water. A huge wheel was set across the stream at the falls, and eventually the needed power secured.

"There's not more nor enough to turn one mill, and how he's a-goin' to work a dozen, I doesn't know," was the criticism of the villager who acted as head-mason.

Turbine and dynamo were, however, duly set up, and the mystic wires that should convey the electric power run from gum-tree to gum-tree down the busy vale.

There in due course, without steam, smoke, or noise, the factories were at work. Here the saw- and flour-mills, there the butter factory and creamery. Alongside, spaces were set apart for the projected fruitery plant, woollen factory, canning, evaporating, and other works. Far down the valley, between avenues and cottages, ran mystic wire carrying light and power to every house, and propelling the cars or trucks that glided as needed to the wharf on the main lake.

A connection was now in course of construction between the lower lake, "Grassmere," and the Silverbourne river, five miles distant. The wide, high-banked creek presented few engineering difficulties. One lock, where the creek debouched into the river, would throw back along the creek, whose fall was very slight, sufficient water to float the steamers of light draught proposed to be used. To preserve the banks it was proposed to haul the steamers through the canals by electric power supplied by an overhead line in course of erection.

After lunch one Saturday afternoon Travers set forth in his dog-cart to inspect the works while operations were suspended owing to the weekly half-holiday. As he passed down the main avenue the scene that presented itself was an animated one. All hands were busy at home before the football match of the day began. Some forming paths, others setting up rustic sheds and bowers, turning the generous waters to the roots of melons and "Turk's-heads," that spread like vegetable octopi over every available space, between giant rows of Pandrosa tomatoes, clumps of arrowroot, and lines of many-hued herbs. Another man was extending the shelter that protected a valuable and flourishing crop of mushrooms. Everything betokened special culture and scientific treatment that spoke volumes, for the lectures delivered each night by the resident experts.

Potatoes, fodder, wheat, &c., were grown by the hundred acres on the common land, while the individual settlers were encouraged to apply their long spare hours at home to the raising of the products that experts indicated as most profitable.

About verandahs, over rustic archways, bowers of dolichos and impomoea had already found footing, to be swept away, like other vigorous make-shifts, when more worthy growths were ready to take their place.

Valuable prizes, to be competed for each year, had been offered for the best appointed home, most neatly kept garden, for wisest application of land, greatest progress and quickest returns. The agricultural, horticultural, and poultry show of the settlement, to be held in a few months, offered liberal inducement for all to produce the best returns from choicest seeds and plants, supplied upon application at the store.

Travers, passing a gay word with here a dame and there a busy settler, reined in his steed before one of the farmeries that promised well for more than one of the coveted prizes.

At the wicket was a little archway covered with quick-growing creepers—a seat on either side—like some ancient minster's lych-gate built up anew in a southern field. Within were paths of whitest gravel, borders of yellow-green native pine, festoons of blue sarsaparilla and golden clematis stretching from bower to bower. An acacia hedge was in full bloom. Behind the cottage lay the trimmest of vegetable gardens, with beds of flowers for the market. Beside the house was a fernery of wattles, half covered with creepers, while round the four acres ran a hedge of walnuts, almonds, and cherry plums.

"Good-morning, Miss Elms," said the young man, as, leaving his horse with Willie, he sauntered along the pathway. The girl stepped from the bed in which she had been lashing a tall dahlia to its stake. Hurriedly, by magic—as is a woman's way—she let fall the skirt pinned round her slender waist.

"I must not shake hands, Mr. Travers, mine are too dirty. You should not pop in upon us on 'arbour day' without notice," the maid complained.

"You ought not then to train your creepers and plant those pepper-trees to shut out all view of the roadway, if you do not desire visitors to come unannounced. 'Pon my word, your garden is becoming like Fair Rosamond's Bower. Lord Tennyson's retreat at Freshwater is such a one as yours will ere long be."

"You are always welcome," said the girl, with a pretty blush, as she stood with her white dress and broad-brimmed hat, suggestive of Tennyson's "Gardener's Daughter." So Travers thought, but then he was becoming unduly interested in the pretty young villager.

"May I pick some of this heliotrope, my favourite flower?"

"Certainly; let me make you a little buttonhole, of my best," and as they talked she proceeded to set together rosebud, mignonette and violet, daphne and maidenhair. Tying them with cotton from her rustic work-table near at hand, she presented the miniature bouquet to the young man.

"Why does this suggest the Tribuna of the Uffizzi?" he asked.

"I thought the gallery was called the 'Pitti,'" said the girl.

"No; that is further on—but have you ever been there?"

"Unfortunately not, only I was lately reading Ruskin's Makers of Florence, and Mrs. Oliphant's and Trollope's charming descriptions of the city. But why is my humble gift like the Tribuna? That is the little salon at Florence, is it not, in which the choicest masterpieces are gathered?"

"Yes; and this little nosegay contains, in the same way, the fairest flowers of your mimosa garden. Can you tell me where your father is? I called to ascertain."

"I thought you came to see me," the maiden was about to reply, but refrained. She remembered that in the world his position was other than hers.

"We have nothing to do with the 'outer world,'" he would urge, when the Sergeant's daughter gave expression to such thoughts.

"My father has not returned," said the girl with some anxiety. "He should have been here an hour ago."

"I am going to the works. Let me have the pleasure of taking you. You have never properly seen the lake yet, from the hillside, which we are going to call Fiesole."

"No; I should be delighted to do so, but——"

"But what, Miss Elms?"

"I don't know."

"Well, I do. You think people will talk. Why should I not take whom I like for a drive? Such nonsense! We have come here to escape Mrs. Grundy. We refused her a block, and left her lamenting in town."

"But discretion is not nonsense."

"Look here, Gwyneth—I beg pardon—Miss Elms—you know I hate 'mistering' and 'missing' every one, as we are everlastingly doing. May I call you Gwyneth?"

The girl hesitated.

"Perhaps you might, when we are by ourselves."

"Gwyneth, what you and I do deliberately is right; that makes it so for us. Now, please, come at once like a good girl. I ought to be on my way."

"Just let me run and' put on my bonnet."

"Pray do not. I want you to come just as you are—the 'Gardener's Daughter.' You cannot improve upon Tennyson. Shall you leave the front door open?" he asked.

"Of course. Our doors and windows have no bolts. Happily we have left such insignia of modern life behind us. None here have need to steal—nor the inclination.—You said Willie might come," exclaimed Gwyneth as she passed out. She desired that some one should play propriety.

In a moment they were speeding down the avenue; she in front, Willie behind, looking particularly proud of himself.

"Manager's daughter's getting up in the world," remarked Mrs. Smith to Mrs. Robinson, as the trio dashed past the garden in which the housewives were working. "What'll Dick Malduke say? I believe she keeps company with he."

"Not her. He's made a fool of himself about her long afore we come here."

"Well, he's a nasty-tempered brute. I hope there'll be no mischief over the girl, for she's good-hearted, and clever too."

"Yes, and handsome. See the way she sits in the trap and talks like a lady at her ease. And doesn't that big hat set her off now?"

So Dames Smith, Brown, Jones, and Robinson, with many others, watched the pair as they dashed along the two miles of cottage-lined avenue.