The Tales of John Oliver Hobbes/Some Emotions and a Moral/Part 1 Chapter 1

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"Ideals, my dear Golightly, are the root of every evil. When a man forgets his ideals he may hope for happiness, but not till then."

"And if he has none to forget?"

"That he has none to forget," said the first speaker slowly, "simply means that he has not yet been disappointed."

"You think he cannot escape them?"

"I know he cannot. Of course I am speaking of the Thinking Man—not a human machine."

The man who had been addressed as Golightly bent back in his chair, and did not reply immediately. He had a pleasant, rest-giving face—rest-giving in its strong suggestion that he was not the man to underestimate his fellow-creatures, or himself.

"You say that a Thinking Man cannot escape ideals," he said at last, "and yet you add he cannot be happy till he forgets them. Is not that a little hard on the Thinking Man?"

"Is not everything hard on him?" said the other. "Who can use his eyes and not wonder whether it may not be better to live a satisfied hog than a dissatisfied philosopher? Some days I have almost succeeded in not feeling—almost persuaded myself that after all there is nothing either good or honest—almost doubted my own sincerity in hoping I was mistaken. I suppose that because it has only been a case of 'almost' I have not felt happier."

"Everything depends on what you call being happy," said Golightly." The word 'happiness' seems to play the writing on the wall to each man's Belshazzar, and each Belshazzar thinks himself a Daniel. From your point of view, Provence, I should say it simply meant the craving for a new sensation. As for myself—at the risk of appearing frigid—I think there is much to take hold of in the Greek notion: that man is happiest to whom from day to day no evil happens."

Provence rose from his chair and began to pace the floor.

"If I could tell you what I meant by happiness," he said, "I should not want it. I have no pretty talent for definitions. There are some men, I know, who can analyze their first love and wonder with Hume if their passion is the appetite for generation sandwiched between the appreciation for beauty and a generous kindness. They can reduce their God to a diagram and their emotions to a system. If that is philosophy, I have not the first makings of a philosopher. But I know this: I cannot be happy merely because I am not unhappy. It is this unending evenness, this everlasting dulness, which overwhelms me. If I may have nothing better, give me seven devils: one could not be dull with seven devils!"

"You have been overworking," said Golightly, "and this morbidity is the result. All your life you have been zealously bottling your spirits, and now you complain because they are stale. You have always avoided sympathy, and yet you grumble because you are out of touch with the world."

"Sympathy," said Provence, "is the one emotion which seems most perfect as it becomes most animal: in its human aspect it too often lapses into the moralizing grandmother. Animals don't ask questions and cannot answer back. A dog can put more soul into a look than a kind friend can talk in an hour."

He had ceased pacing the floor, and was now sitting in a dark corner of the room. In the twilight Golightly could see the outline of his figure, and the nervous movement of his firm, strong hands.

"Provence," he said, "I have often thought—I know it is a delicate subject—that if you could meet some nice, really nice girl—women are so clever at understanding dispositions———" Here he found the subject not only delicate, but too difficult. He stopped short.

"Girls do not delight me," said Provence; "they appear to have no intermediate stage between the guileless chicken and the coquettish hen. My ideal woman is a combination of the Madonna and the Wood-nymph—with the Wood-nymph element predominating. As for marriage, I fear it is a sadly overrated blessing. Wives are either too much devil or too much angel. Fancy eating bacon every morning of one's life with a blameless creature who was dangling one-quarter of the way from heaven and three-quarters from earth! I should die of respect for her."

"And what if she were too much devil?"

"I should love her horribly," said Provence. "That is the worst of devils—they are so entirely adorable. I don't say I should be particularly anxious to make one the mother of my children; and that I know is the amiable and perfectly correct ambition of the average young man averagely enamoured. But even were I so minded—which the gods forbid—I doubt extremely whether a devil would appreciate the kind intention. There is nothing remarkably exhilarating in the prospect of a large family."

Golightly, whose sentiments were more proper than intense, laughed with a twinging conscience. He had never seen Provence in this mood before, and felt a little irritable that there were still some unexplored possibilities in his friend's character. He was not certain, either, that the possibilities hinted at were absolutely satisfactory.

"I don't quite see what you're driving at," he said. "None of this sounds in the least like you."

"I dare say not. You may know a man for twenty years, and in the twenty-first year he will do something which will make your twenty years' experience count for nought. Then you say, "I should never have expected this from A.' Just as if A would have expected it himself. Men astonish themselves far more than they astonish their friends."

"That may be true of some natures," said Golightly; "but I confess I prefer a character one can swear by."

"A person of that kind is useful, but just a shade monotonous," said Provence. "Lord! Lord! what a charm is there in variety!"

"Ideas of that sort are very apt to land one in difficulties. You might as well cling to a slippery rock for the fun of falling off. If you were to take a short holiday you would probably come back with saner notions."

"I believe you are getting to the bottom of the matter," said Provence. "I certainly do want change of some sort. I have eaten my fill of chops and tomato sauce: I am hankering for locusts and wild honey and a wilderness."

"In the wilderness one is apt to be tempted of the devil," said Golightly, half under his breath.

Provence laughed. "Man is at best a learned pig," he said, "and the pig nature has its promptings. It will root for truffles in Sahara or Paradise." Then with characteristic abruptness he wished Golightly good-night, and left the house.

When Golightly went down into the drawing-room—for he and Provence had been talking in a small room known to the housemaid as the library—he found three ladies there and a gentleman. The elder of the ladies was rather stout and had a Wellington nose: she wore a mantle, and a black bonnet which consisted of two velvet strings and an impossible jet butterfly which wobbled on an invisible wire; her gown was black silk. She reclined in her chair, sipped her tea, and nibbled her muffin, with that air of combined condescension and embarrassment which is usually characteristic of the moneyed relative. The lady at the tea-tray was slim, smooth-cheeked, and perhaps forty; she had a quantity of mouse-coloured hair, which she wore very elaborately puffed; her face was pleasing and her expression what is called lady-like—that is to say, it did not betray any one characteristic too strongly, except that of polite acquiescence in generally accepted doctrines. Her husband—who was the gentleman present—considered her a devilish "distanggay"-looking woman. As for himself, he was chiefly remarkable for a pair of long legs, which seemed rather insecurely attached to his body, and a very marvellous laugh—a laugh which started with a gentle gurgle apparently from his toes, and burst from his lips with the roar of a Niagara. So far as mere noise went it was admirable; but there was never anything less mirthful. He was Captain Archibald Golightly, late of the —th Hussars, and brother to the lady with the bonnet.

The third lady—who looked about twenty-seven—had a nose which somehow suggested low comedy, and a plaintive-looking mouth. She bore a certain resemblance, particularly about the eyes, which were large, clear, and emotionless—singularly like glass marbles—to the lady in the bonnet. She was, in fact, her daughter.

"Did I hear Godfrey's voice in the hall?" said Mrs. Golightly, as her step-son entered. She was the captain's second wife. "Why didn't you make him come in?"

"He's in one of his moods," said George—for that was the young man's name.

"Are you speaking of Godfrey Provence?" said the lady with the bonnet. "Do tell me about him. Does there seem any prospect of his getting on?"

"He's still writing," said the Captain.

"He can't be doing much—one never hears of him," she said.

"Provence is aiming at rather a high standard," said George; "he is not easily contented with his work. It's the hardest thing in the world to get him to publish a line."

The young woman with the low-comedy nose looked at him gratefully from under the rim of her hat. He wondered why.

"I know the kind of thing," said the Bonnet. "Literature is all very well if you make a regular business of it, but the moment you regard it as an art, you're practically done for. We all know you'll never earn a penny."

"But Godfrey's a clever chap," said the Captain; "he must be clever, you know, Sarah—everybody says so."

"What's the use of being clever if you're never heard of?" said Sarah, who was no other than Lady Hemingway, widow of Sir James Hemingway, Baronet.

"Well, of course, his style is what they call severe," said the Captain; "he's got the artistic temperament, and writes rather above the heads of ordinary folk."

"There's a good deal of human nature in him all the same," put in George.

Lady Hemingway looked suspicious. She was not at all sure that human nature was proper: she was certain it was not well-bred: in connection with the artistic temperament it was even alarming.

"Does he write things one could have on one's drawing-room table?" she said." I consider that is the true test of a book—would one wish to have it in one's drawing-room?"

"His article in last month's Waverley was beautiful," said her daughter, who blushed painfully after she had spoken.

"Grace reads all the learned Reviews," explained Lady Hemingway; "she goes in for Higher Education, you know. But," she went on, "does Godfrey make much by his writing? That is the point. I know he has his mother's two hundred and fifty, but no one could call that an income. He'll have to marry money—so far as I can see."

"I'm afraid he wouldn't do that," said Mrs. Golightly; "he has very peculiar views about marriage. You see Constance brought him up almost entirely herself. I think he would marry a girl without a penny, if he took a fancy to her."

"How wrong to bring up a boy with such notions," said Lady Hemingway, "and after her own bitter experience."

"She lived very happily with her husband, you know," said Mrs. Golightly. " I really think they were attached to each other—quite to the end. Don't you find that artists, and musicians, and literary people seem to feel more than those with more—well, more everyday pursuits?"

"Their feelings are always getting them into trouble, I know that," said Lady Hemingway, "and they are generally dreadfully poor. Look at Constance!"

"She never seemed to mind her poverty," said Mrs. Golightly; "she bore it quite happily. Sometimes—it sounds ridiculous—I almost envied her, although I can assure you—but pray don't let it go further—it was very seldom they could afford a joint for dinner."

"She brought it all on herself," said Lady Hemingway; "with her figure she might have married very well indeed. By the bye, does Godfrey resemble his mother?"

The Captain shook his head mournfully. "He's an ugly chap," he said, "but you get used to him—I'll say that."

"Ah!" said Lady Hemingway. "Grace never told me that. She has met him several times at 'At Homes,' and at one thing and another. All I could get out of her was that he had a nice voice and looked powerful—which of course would apply to a coal-heaver."

Every one looked at Grace, who again blushed.

"I should like to be kind to him," continued Lady Hemingway, "because of poor darling Constance. I will send him a card for my Thursdays. Men are always useful."

"Godfrey doesn't shine in society," said the Captain, "and it's mere waste to put a good dinner before him."

"What a strange thing! And his father was such a gentlemanly man!" said Lady Hemingway.

"Godfrey's rum," observed the Captain.

"He's a dear fellow when you know him," said Mrs. Golightly; "of course he can be very trying, but he's so kind if one has a headache!"

"Poets have always a touch of the molly-coddle," said her sister-in-law. Then she rose, murmured she must be going, and kissed the air at an angle of forty-five degrees from Mrs. Golightly's cheek." Good-bye, dear," she said; "don't forget the 24th, and bring your music. People are singing a lot of Schubert just now—all in German, you know. German is so quaint. And you haven't given me Godfrey's address," she added.

"Twelve, Achilles Villas, Shepherd's Bush," said the Captain.

"Shepherd's Bush!" said Lady Hemingway; "you must mean Bedford Park. There was some quite well-known literary people there—the sort who sometimes ask you to dinner."

"Godfrey is at Shepherd's Bush," repeated the Captain, gloomily.

"How dreadful! Pray don't tell any one outside the family," and with more adieux and more murmurings about the 24th, she and her daughter went out.

Harriet Golightly watched them drive away in their brougham.

"She might offer to take me for a turn in the Park occasionally," she said.

"Sarah's a selfish cat," said the Captain, "and always was. But she'd give all she's worth for your head of hair."

His wife did not find this speech so consoling as he had hoped.

"They make wigs wonderfully well now," she said, "and they keep up ever so much better than one's own hair."

"Is Sarah what you'd call well-preserved?" said the Captain, after a pause. "It's quite two years since I've seen her, and I fancy she's gone off."

"She looks every day of her age," said Harriet, "and that must be fifty—for she's older than Constance."

"Poor Connie!" sighed Archibald, "she was a fool to marry that old drybones Provence."

"Your family need not have cut her for it, all the same," said his wife. " I have always thought—and I would say it with my dying breath—that she was treated very badly."

"I don't know about that," said Archibald; "we were all very well brought up and accustomed to good society—you must own it was rather a come-down to have her marry a foreigner, and a professional into the bargain. The man actually gave lessons; and you may say what you like, but at that time that was considered—well—an inferior sort of thing to do."

"He was a gentleman by birth," said Harriet; "you can't deny that."

"I don't believe much in French families," said her husband; "no one ever knows anything about 'em so far as I can make out. Every beastly little Frenchman one meets can't be descended from the lost Dauphin or the Huguenots. I call it dam cheek on their part to expect an educated Englishman to believe it. Besides, what's a Huguenot? I thought most of 'em were chopped up."

"Don't," said his wife.

"I dare say Provence was all right—I hope so, at all events, for the sake of the family."

"He was an interesting-looking man."

"Interesting! Yes, I suppose women would call a man like that—all eyes and baggy trousers—interesting."

"Poor creature! Well, he's dead now, and so is Constance."

"Gawd knows what's to become of Godfrey. What with genius from his father—(thank Gawd I'm not a genius!)—and any amount of moonstruck sentimentality from his mother, he's pretty sure to come to grief. What do you say, George?"

"Well," said George, "in a crisis, some of the Golightly common sense might come to the rescue."

But here the dinner-gong sent the good Captain's thoughts into another and more congenial channel.

"Do I smell grouse?" said he; "because I particularly wanted those birds to hang for another ten days."