When William Came/Chapter VII
CHAPTER VII: THE LURE
Cicely had successfully insisted on having her own way concerning the projected supper-party; Yeovil had said nothing further in opposition to it, whatever his feelings on the subject might be. Having gained her point, however, she was anxious to give her husband the impression of having been consulted, and to put her victory as far as possible on the footing of a compromise. It was also rather a relief to be able to discuss the matter out of range of Joan’s disconcerting tongue and observant eyes.
“I hope you are not really annoyed about this silly supper-party,” she said on the morning before the much-talked-of first night. “I had pledged myself to give it, so I couldn’t back out without seeming mean to Gorla, and in any case it would have been impolitic to cry off.”
“Why impolitic?” asked Yeovil coldly.
“It would give offence in quarters where I don’t want to give offence,” said Cicely.
“In quarters where the fait accompli is an object of solicitude,” said Yeovil.
“Look here,” said Cicely in her most disarming manner, “it’s just as well to be perfectly frank about the whole matter. If one wants to live in the London of the present day one must make up one’s mind to accept the fait accompli with as good a grace as possible. I do want to live in London, and I don’t want to change my way of living and start under different conditions in some other place. I can’t face the prospect of tearing up my life by the roots; I feel certain that I shouldn’t bear transplanting. I can’t imagine myself recreating my circle of interests in some foreign town or colonial centre or even in a country town in England. India I couldn’t stand. London is not merely a home to me, it is a world, and it happens to be just the world that suits me and that I am suited to. The German occupation, or whatever one likes to call it, is a calamity, but it’s not like a molten deluge from Vesuvius that need send us all scuttling away from another Pompeii. Of course,” she added, “there are things that jar horribly on one, even when one has got more or less accustomed to them, but one must just learn to be philosophical and bear them.”
“Supposing they are not bearable?” said Yeovil; “during the few days that I’ve been in the land I’ve seen things that I cannot imagine will ever be bearable.”
“That is because they’re new to you,” said Cicely.
“I don’t wish that they should ever come to seem bearable,” retorted Yeovil. “I’ve been bred and reared as a unit of a ruling race; I don’t want to find myself settling down resignedly as a member of an enslaved one.”
“There’s no need to make things out worse than they are,” protested Cicely. “We’ve had a military disaster on a big scale, and there’s been a great political dislocation in consequence. But there’s no reason why everything shouldn’t right itself in time, as it has done after other similar disasters in the history of nations. We are not scattered to the winds or wiped off the face of the earth, we are still an important racial unit.”
“A racial unit in a foreign Empire,” commented Yeovil.
“We may arrive at the position of being the dominant factor in that Empire,” said Cicely, “impressing our national characteristics on it, and perhaps dictating its dynastic future and the whole trend of its policy. Such things have happened in history. Or we may become strong enough to throw off the foreign connection at a moment when it can be done effectually and advantageously. But meanwhile it is necessary to preserve our industrial life and our social life, and for that reason we must accommodate ourselves to present circumstances, however distasteful they may be. Emigration to some colonial wilderness, or holding ourselves rigidly aloof from the life of the capital, won’t help matters. Really, Murrey, if you will think things over a bit, you will see that the course I am following is the one dictated by sane patriotism.”
“Whom the gods wish to render harmless they first afflict with sanity,” said Yeovil bitterly. “You may be content to wait for a hundred years or so, for this national revival to creep and crawl us back into a semblance of independence and world-importance. I’m afraid I haven’t the patience or the philosophy to sit down comfortably and wait for a change of fortune that won’t come in my time—if it comes at all.”
Cicely changed the drift of the conversation; she had only introduced the argument for the purpose of defining her point of view and accustoming Yeovil to it, as one leads a nervous horse up to an unfamiliar barrier that he is required eventually to jump.
“In any case,” she said, “from the immediately practical standpoint England is the best place for you till you have shaken off all traces of that fever. Pass the time away somehow till the hunting begins, and then go down to the East Wessex country; they are looking out for a new master after this season, and if you were strong enough you might take it on for a while. You could go to Norway for fishing in the summer and hunt the East Wessex in the winter. I’ll come down and do a bit of hunting too, and we’ll have house-parties, and get a little golf in between whiles. It will be like old times.”
Yeovil looked at his wife and laughed.
“Who was that old fellow who used to hunt his hounds regularly through the fiercest times of the great Civil War? There is a picture of him, by Caton Woodville, I think, leading his pack between King Charles’s army and the Parliament forces just as some battle was going to begin. I have often thought that the King must have disliked him rather more than he disliked the men who were in arms against him; they at least cared, one way or the other. I fancy that old chap would have a great many imitators nowadays, though, when it came to be a question of sport against soldiering. I don’t know whether anyone has said it, but one might almost assert that the German victory was won on the golf-links of Britain.”
“I don’t see why you should saddle one particular form of sport with a special responsibility,” protested Cicely.
“Of course not,” said Yeovil, “except that it absorbed perhaps more of the energy and attention of the leisured class than other sports did, and in this country the leisured class was the only bulwark we had against official indifference. The working classes had a big share of the apathy, and, indirectly, a greater share of the responsibility, because the voting power was in their hands. They had not the leisure, however, to sit down and think clearly what the danger was; their own industrial warfare was more real to them than anything that was threatening from the nation that they only knew from samples of German clerks and German waiters.”
“In any case,” said Cicely, “as regards the hunting, there is no Civil War or national war raging just now, and there is no immediate likelihood of one. A good many hunting seasons will have to come and go before we can think of a war of independence as even a distant possibility, and in the meantime hunting and horse-breeding and country sports generally are the things most likely to keep Englishmen together on the land. That is why so many men who hate the German occupation are trying to keep field sports alive, and in the right hands. However, I won’t go on arguing. You and I always think things out for ourselves and decide for ourselves, which is much the best way in the long run.”
Cicely slipped away to her writing-room to make final arrangements over the telephone for the all-important supper-party, leaving Yeovil to turn over in his mind the suggestion that she had thrown out. It was an obvious lure, a lure to draw him away from the fret and fury that possessed him so inconveniently, but its obvious nature did not detract from its effectiveness. Yeovil had pleasant recollections of the East Wessex, a cheery little hunt that afforded good sport in an unpretentious manner, a joyous thread of life running through a rather sleepy countryside, like a merry brook careering through a placid valley. For a man coming slowly and yet eagerly back to the activities of life from the weariness of a long fever, the prospect of a leisurely season with the East Wessex was singularly attractive, and side by side with its attractiveness there was a tempting argument in favour of yielding to its attractions. Among the small squires and yeoman farmers, doctors, country tradesmen, auctioneers and so forth who would gather at the covert-side and at the hunt breakfasts, there might be a local nucleus of revolt against the enslavement of the land, a discouraged and leaderless band waiting for some one to mould their resistance into effective shape and keep their loyalty to the old dynasty and the old national cause steadily burning. Yeovil could see himself taking up that position, stimulating the spirit of hostility to the fait accompli, organising stubborn opposition to every Germanising influence that was brought into play, schooling the youth of the countryside to look steadily Delhiward. That was the bait that Yeovil threw out to his conscience, while slowly considering the other bait that was appealing so strongly to his senses. The dry warm scent of the stable, the nip of the morning air, the pleasant squelch-squelch of the saddle leather, the moist earthy fragrance of the autumn woods and wet fallows, the cold white mists of winter days, the whimper of hounds and the hot restless pushing of the pack through ditch and hedgerow and undergrowth, the birds that flew up and clucked and chattered as you passed, the hearty greeting and pleasant gossip in farmhouse kitchens and market-day bar-parlours—all these remembered delights of the chase marshalled themselves in the brain, and made a cumulative appeal that came with special intensity to a man who was a little tired of his wanderings, more than a little drawn away from the jarring centres of life. The hot London sunshine baking the soot-grimed walls and the ugly incessant hoot and grunt of the motor traffic gave an added charm to the vision of hill and hollow and copse that flickered in Yeovil’s mind. Slowly, with a sensuous lingering over detail, his imagination carried him down to a small, sleepy, yet withal pleasantly bustling market town, and placed him unerringly in a wide straw-littered yard, half-full of men and quarter-full of horses, with a bob-tailed sheep-dog or two trying not to get in everybody’s way, but insisting on being in the thick of things. The horses gradually detached themselves from the crowd of unimportant men and came one by one into momentary prominence, to be discussed and appraised for their good points and bad points, and finally to be bid for. And always there was one horse that detached itself conspicuously from the rest, the ideal hunter, or at any rate, Yeovil’s ideal of the ideal hunter. Mentally it was put through its paces before him, its pedigree and brief history recounted to him; mentally he saw a stable lad put it over a jump or two, with credit to all concerned, and inevitably he saw himself outbidding less discerning rivals and securing the desired piece of horseflesh, to be the chief glory and mainstay of his hunting stable, to carry him well and truly and cleverly through many a joyous long-to-be-remembered run. That scene had been one of the recurring half-waking dreams of his long days of weakness in the far-away Finnish nursing-home, a dream sometimes of tantalising mockery, sometimes of pleasure in the foretaste of a joy to come. And now it need scarcely be a dream any longer, he had only to go down at the right moment and take an actual part in his oft-rehearsed vision. Everything would be there, exactly as his imagination had placed it, even down to the bob-tailed sheep-dogs; the horse of his imagining would be there waiting for him, or if not absolutely the ideal animal, something very like it. He might even go beyond the limits of his dream and pick up a couple of desirable animals—there would probably be fewer purchasers for good class hunters in these days than of yore. And with the coming of this reflection his dream faded suddenly and his mind came back with a throb of pain to the things he had for the moment forgotten, the weary, hateful things that were symbolised for him by the standard that floated yellow and black over the frontage of Buckingham Palace.
Yeovil wandered down to his snuggery, a mood of listless dejection possessing him. He fidgetted aimlessly with one or two books and papers, filled a pipe, and half filled a waste-paper basket with torn circulars and accumulated writing-table litter. Then he lit the pipe and settled down in his most comfortable armchair with an old note-book in his hand. It was a sort of disjointed diary, running fitfully through the winter months of some past years, and recording noteworthy days with the East Wessex.
And over the telephone Cicely talked and arranged and consulted with men and women to whom the joys of a good gallop or the love of a stricken fatherland were as letters in an unknown alphabet.