E. F. (Edward Frederic) Benson.

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ARUNDEL ***




Produced by Clare Graham & Marc D'Hooghe at
http://www.freeliterature.org (Images generously made
available by the Internet Archive)





ARUNDEL

BY

E. F. BENSON

AUTHOR OF "DODO," "MRS. AMES," ETC.


"And for those who follow the gleam there
is always light sufficient to show them their
way..."


NEW YORK

GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY

1915




CONTENTS


PROLOGUE I. The Call From Without
II. The Riddle Grows

BOOK ONE III. Comfortable Mrs. Hancock
IV. Comfortable Plans
V. Comfortable Settlements

BOOK TWO VI. Elizabeth Enters
VII. The Intermezzo
VIII. The Mountain-top
IX. Edward's Absence
X. Edward's Return
XI. The Telegram

BOOK THREE XII. April Evening
XIII. The Grisly Kittens
XIV. Heart's Desire




ARUNDEL



PROLOGUE



CHAPTER I

THE CALL FROM WITHOUT


Colonel Fanshawe was riding slowly back to his bungalow about an hour
before the sunset of a hot and brilliant day in the middle of March.
He had spent a long day in the saddle, for the Commander-in-Chief of
the Indian Forces was at Peshawar on a visit of inspection, and he had
reviewed and inspected and inspected and reviewed and given medals
and colours and compliments and criticism till the whole garrison,
who had been under arms on the parade ground since an early hour that
morning, was ready to drop with a well-earned fatigue. That evening
there was to be a great dinner-party followed by a dance at the house
of the Resident. To-morrow the Commander-in-Chief was to go up the
Khyber pass, returning just in time to catch the night train to Lahore,
arriving there at daybreak, and prepared to spend another day similar
to this. And yet, so reflected Colonel Fanshawe, he was made, to all
appearance, of flesh and blood, exactly like anybody else: indeed,
he was endowed with flesh to a somewhat phenomenal extent; for,
though not of unusual height, he swung a full eighteen stone into his
saddle, ate and drank in perfectly amazing quantities, and, without
doubt, would to-night prance genially and colossally from beginning
to end of every dance with a succession of the prettiest girls in
Peshawar. It was equally certain that at the conclusion he would go
in person to the bandmaster and beg as a personal favour for an extra
or two.... And Colonel Fanshawe, lean and slight and in excellent
condition, felt himself a pigmy and an invalid in contrast with this
indefatigable elephant who all day had seemed only to wax in energy
and boisterousness and monumental briskness. It was as if some huge
Government building had burst into active life: John Bull himself, as
in the pages of some patriotic print, had become incarnate, commanding
and guffawing and perspiring.

But the day, though fatiguing to everybody else except the
Commander-in-Chief, had been highly satisfactory. Twice had he
complimented Colonel Fanshawe on the smartness of his Pathan regiment,
and since the regiment was one of the two institutions for which the
Colonel lived and loved, it followed that in retrospect his habitual
content, which at all times was of a very sterling quality, had been
lifted to the levels of the sublime. And anticipation was up to the
level of retrospect, for the second of these institutions which engaged
all his energies and affection was the home towards which he was now
ambling along the dusty roads. In the imperturbable fashion of a man
who was not gifted with much imagination, he enjoyed what he had to
the almost complete exclusion of desiring that which he had not; and
though, if a genuine wishing-cap had been put ready to his hand, he
would certainly have had a request or two to make, he never, in the
absence of that apocryphal piece of headgear, let his mind dwell on
what it might have brought him. His wife, the second of that name, and
Elizabeth, the daughter of the first, almost completely exiled from
his mind all desires connected with his home, and were sufficient to
satisfy the emotional needs of a love which was not the less luminous
because it lacked the iridescence of romance. It burned with a steady
and unwinking flame, without rockets and multi-coloured stars, and was
eminently suited to light a man's way, so that he should go without
stumbling through the dusk of a hazardous world. For the sake of his
wife or of Elizabeth he would have given his life unquestioningly and
with cheerfulness, regretting the necessity should such arise, but he
would have done so without any of the ecstasy of self-sacrifice that
inspired the hymns and the beatitudes on the lips of martyrs. In this
sunny afternoon of middle age which had come to him there were none of
the surprising flames that glorify the hour of dawn.

The road from the parade ground through cantonments lay level and
dusty; carob-trees, dense and varnished of foliage, with the long
scimitar-shaped seed-pods of last year still clinging to them, met
and mingled their branches together overhead, giving a vault of
shadow from a midday sun, but now, as the day drew near to its close,
the level rays poured dazzling between the tree-trunks, turning the
dust-ridden air into a mist of dusky gold. In front, seen through the
arching trees, the huddled native town rose dim and amorphous through
the haze, and the acres of flowering fruit-trees were a flush of pink
and white petals. Southwards, level and infinite as the sea, the
Indian plain stretched to the farthest horizons, to the north rose the
hills shoulder over shoulder till they culminated in fleecy clouds,
among which, scarcely distinguishable, there glistened the immemorial
whiteness of the eternal snows. Here, down in the plain, the very
existence of those frozen cliffs seemed incredible, for, though there
were still a dozen days of March to run, it seemed as if the powers
of the air, in whose control is the great oven of India, had drawn the
damper, so to speak, out of that cosmetic furnace during the last week,
to see if the heating apparatus was all in order for the approaching
hot season, and Colonel Fanshawe's decision, against which there had
been the growlings of domestic mutiny, that Elizabeth should start for
England the next week, crystallized itself into the inexorable. He had
gone so far in the freshness of the morning hours to-day as to promise
her to reconsider his decision, but he determined now to telegraph for
her passage as soon as he got home.

He quickened his pace a little as he approached his gate, at the lure
of the refreshing hours that he had promised himself in his garden
before it was necessary to dress for the dinner and the ball. The hot
weather had already scorched to a cinder the herbs and grasses of
unwatered places, but no such tragedy had yet overtaken this acre of
green coolness, with its ditches and channels of unlimited irrigation,
where the unusual heat had but caused the expansion, in a burst of
premature luxuriance, of all the flowers that should have decorated
April. So brilliant was this galaxy, that Colonel Fanshawe could
hardly regret it, though it meant that even now the days of the garden
were numbered, and that through April it would sleep unblossoming,
till the rains of May stirred it into that brief and delirious frenzy
of flowering again that lasts but for a day or two, in some sultry
intermission of the streaming skies that so soon open their flood-gates
again, and cover the steaming earth with disjected petals. But at
present, though April would pay the price in barrenness and withered
leaf, summer and spring were in flower together, and tulips and
petunias, marigolds and flame-flower, morning-glory and bougainvillæa
made a jubilance of many-coloured carpet, while, more precious than all
to the Colonel's soul, his rose hedges of crimson ramblers, Gloire de
Dijon, and the briars of Peshawar flared with innumerable fragrance. A
few days before, reluctantly, and with some inkling of the sentiments
of a murderer who plans a crime, he had abandoned, marooned, so to
speak, his tennis-court to die of drought, but the motive of his deed
really gave a verdict of nothing more bloodthirsty than justifiable
grassicide, for the well had given unmistakable signs that it was
not capable of keeping the whole garden alive. Besides - and here for
a moment his content was clouded again - Elizabeth was starting for
England next week, and the tennis-court became an investment that paid
no dividends in pleasure. His wife never played; she would as soon have
thought of coming downstairs to breakfast, and certainly she never did
that. She preferred dancing all night.

He gave his horse into the charge of his orderly at the gate, and, a
little stiff and bow-legged from so many hours in the saddle, walked
up the short drive that lay between the abandoned tennis-court and the
rose-garden which was in full effervescence of flower and fragrance.
Between him and his garden there was a relation as intimate almost and
as comprehending as that between two personalities, and had some one
with the gift of vivid yet easily intelligible eloquence presented
his feeling towards it, as towards some beautiful dumb creature with
a living identity of its own, the Colonel, though it had never struck
him in that light before, would have acknowledged the truth of the
imagery. Just now this silent sweet-smelling creature had begun to make
a stir again after the hot windlessness of the day, for the breeze
of sunset, invigorating as wine, had just sprung up, and wafted the
evidence of its fragrant life in sheets and webs of perfume through the
sibilant air, while as evidence of Elizabeth there came through the
open windows of the drawing-room as complicated a _mêlée_ of sound from
the grand piano. Devoted and affectionate as father and daughter were
to each other, Colonel Fanshawe felt slightly shy of Elizabeth when
she was at the piano, for Elizabeth playing was Elizabeth transformed.
A sort of fury of passion and intentness possessed her; she evoked
from the strings a personality as real to herself as was his garden
to the Colonel, and all this intensity, as her bewildered father
occasionally said to himself, was born from the compositions of "some
German Johnny." In that rapt adoration of melody Elizabeth's mother
lived again, just as she seemed to glow again from within Elizabeth's
flushed face and sparkling eyes as she played. So, refraining from
interrupting his daughter in her ecstatic communings with the
particular German Johnny who engaged her attention at the moment, the
Colonel stepped softly round the corner, and ordered himself a cup
of tea in his bedroom, with which he refreshed himself as he adopted
a garden-garb for his hot and close-fitting uniform. His wife, as he
well knew, would be resting in her sitting-room in anticipation of
the fatigue of the dinner and dance which were to close the day. Had
there been no dance or dinner in prospect, she would be doing the same
thing in repair of previous fatigue. She was one of those women who are
capable of exertion as long as that over which they exert themselves
furnishes them with amusement; an hour's uncongenial occupation tired
her completely out. But she was able to do anything she wanted to, and
such a performance under such circumstances seemed but to invigorate
her. Her husband rejoiced in her strength, and sympathized with her
weakness with equal sincerity.

He was no lily-handed gardener, no finger-tip lover, who, with an
ivory-handled _sécateur_, snips off minute dead twigs, and selects
a rosebud for his buttonhole, but went about his business with the
tender ruthlessness that true gardening demands. Up one of the pillars
of the veranda there climbed together a great ramping mass of blue
convolvulus and an Ard's pillar; and the constricting plant was quietly
intent on strangling the rose. Now, the convolvulus was an interloping
adventuress, invading territories that were not her own, and
regretfully but inexorably Colonel Fanshawe committed murder, snipping
off the sappy stem at its root, and gently disentangling its voluted
tendrils. As he stripped it down the new bull-pup came with sentimental
sighs out of the house, and then, becoming aware, no doubt by some
subtle brain-wave, that the murdered morning-glory was an enemy, flung
himself on the bestrewn tendrils, and got tightly involved therein,
and rolled away in a state of wild-eyed and bewildered entanglement,
barking hoarsely. Upon which an observant pigeon on the roof remarked
quite clearly, "Look at the fool! Look at the fool!" Simultaneously,
with a loud false chord, the wild torrents of notes within ceased.
There came a sound quite exactly as if somebody had banged down the
lid of a piano, and Elizabeth came out on to the veranda. She was very
tall, as tall almost as her father, and the long lines of her figure
showed slim and boylike through the thin blouse and blue linen skirt
against which the evening breeze pressed, moulding them to the limbs
within. Her hair lay thick and low above her small face, and her mouth,
in spite of the heightened colour of her cheeks and the vividness
of her eyes, drooped a little as if fatigued. She had clasped her
long-fingered hands behind her head, and she stood there a moment
without seeing her father, with amusement gathering in her eyes as she
observed the comedy of the constricted puppy. Then, turning her head,
she saw him.

"Oh, daddy!" she cried. "Are you back? And, if so, why didn't you
tell me? The fact is that you love your garden better than your only
daughter."

Colonel Fanshawe had two nails and a piece of bass string in his mouth
destined for the support of the disentangled rose, and could give no
assurance beyond an incoherent mumbling.

"It is true," said Elizabeth. "And what makes me feel it more keenly is
that I haven't had any tea. Daddy, do leave your silly plants and talk
to me. I haven't spoken to a soul all day. Mamma had lunch in her room.
She is saving up for this evening, and I haven't seen anybody. In fact,
it has all been rather dismal. I've been playing the piano, and I have
come to the conclusion that I shall never be able to play at all. So I
banged down the lid, and I shall never open it again. Do get down from
that silly ladder and talk to me."

Colonel Fanshawe was methodical. He put the two nails in a box and
looped up the spray of the rose in a manner which, though temporary,
would last till he could get to work again.

"That sounds rather a dismal little chronicle, Lizzy," he said. "So if
you feel that we can't talk while I go on gardening - - "

"It has nothing to do with my feelings," remarked Elizabeth; "it is a
mere question of external impossibilities. Have you had tea?"

"Yes."

"Then come and see me have mine. I shall eat quantities and quantities
of tea, and not have any dinner, I think. One can't dine alone, and
you and mamma are dining out at the Residency and going to the dance.
Daddy, I do think mamma might have let me go to the ball; I'm eighteen,
and if one isn't old enough to go to a dance at eighteen, I don't know
when one is."

Elizabeth paused a moment, and put her nose in the air.

"I don't believe mamma will want me to come out till it is time for me
to go in again," she remarked.

Colonel Fanshawe had an admirable gift of silence. When he concluded
that there was no advantage to be gained by speech he could refrain
from it, instead of, like the most part of mankind, making a series of
injudicious observations. At the bottom of Elizabeth's remark, as he
well knew, there lay stewing a herb of rather bitter infusion, which he
had no desire to stir up. But Elizabeth, so it seemed, felt disposed to
do the stirring herself.

"Mamma will have the next eight months all to herself," she said, "and
she can dance all the time. I wish to state quite explicitly that I
think she might have let me go to this dance. I have told her so, and
so for fear she should tell you, I do it myself."

Elizabeth's eye wandered on to the path, and she broke off suddenly.

"Oh, my beloved Shah Jehan," she said, "you will certainly strangle
yourself."

This appeared highly probable, for Shah Jehan, the young and imperial
bull-pup, had managed to entangle himself so strictly in the yards
of strong convolvulus which the Colonel had cut down that his eyes
were starting out of his head, and only the most remote sort of growl
could escape from his enveloped throat. With the cake-knife, which she
snatched up from the tea-table, Elizabeth ran to his rescue.

"It's such a blessing, daddy," she said as she returned to him, "that
you and I are so very much one person, because we can say anything we
like to each other, and it is certain that the other one - how tiresome
language is - the one I mean, who listens only really listens to his own
thoughts."

"Ah, my dear Elizabeth!" said he suddenly, laying his hand on her arm.
If Elizabeth's mother lived again when Elizabeth played, masked behind
her daughter's face, she appeared with no guard of flesh in between
when Elizabeth said that.

She drew his hand through her arm and strolled with him up the path.

"It is so, daddy," she repeated; "and when I grumble to you it is only
as if I grumbled to myself. Mamma might have let me go to this one
dance, and she doesn't, because she wants all the dancing she can get
herself, and naturally doesn't want to sit in a row instead. But she'll
have to let me come out next autumn. Oh, by the way, I had forgotten
the most important thing of all. Have you settled when I am to go to
England?"

"Yes, dear; next week. I have telegraphed for your passage."

"What a loathsome and disgusting daddy," remarked Elizabeth.

"Possibly! But the loathsome daddy isn't going to have a tired and
white-faced daughter, if he can avoid it. I shall miss you more than
you can possibly guess, Lizzie."

Elizabeth gave a great sigh.

"I'm so glad!" she said. "I hope you will be thoroughly unhappy. I
shan't like it, either. But mamma won't mind; that's a comfort."

"Elizabeth, I wish - - "

"Yes, I know, dear; so do I. You needn't explain. I wish to begin to
eat my enormous tea also, so let us sit down. I don't want to go to
England; and, besides, staying with Aunt Julia is exactly like lying
on a feather-bed, with all the luxuries of the season on a table close
to you, and the windows tightly shut. And Edith is like the clean
lace-border to the pillow. I shall be so comfortable."

"Well, that's something, Lizzie."

"It isn't; it's nothing and worse than nothing. I don't want to be
comfortable. Nothing that is really alive is ever comfortable. Aunt
Julia and Edith and all Heathmoor generally are dead and buried. I am
not sure they do not stink - - "

"My dear - - "

"As it says in the Bible," said Elizabeth, "nobody there is ever hungry
or thirsty, nobody is unhappy or happy, nobody wants. They are all like
fishes in an aquarium; you can't get at them because there is a sheet
of strong glass in between. And there aren't any tigers or burning
ghats or cobras or cholera."

"I shouldn't be particularly sorry if there were fewer of those
blessings here," remarked her father.

"Perhaps; but they help to make things real. It is so easy to lose all
sense of being alive if you are too comfortable."

Elizabeth pointed to the molten west.

"There," she said, "that's a sunset. But in England for the most part
they wrap it up in nice soft thick clouds, so that it isn't a real
sunset. And dear Aunt Julia wraps up her own life and the life of every
one about her in the same way. She mops up every one's vitality as with
a sponge by thinking exclusively about not getting wet or tired. Oh,
how I love this naked, tired, wicked, mysterious land, with all its
deadliness and its dust and its sunsets and its secrets, which I shall
never fathom any more than I can fathom Schumann! I'm a savage, you
know. I love wild, unhappy things - - "

Elizabeth broke off suddenly.

"I don't believe even you understand what I mean, daddy," she said.

"Yes, my dear, I do," said he. "I could tell you exactly what you mean.
But have your say first; you have not nearly done yet. I will tell you
what you mean when you have finished."

Elizabeth laughed.

"That will be a good thing," she said, "because, though I know that I
mean something, I often have not the least idea what it is. Daddy, I
wish I was a boy so terribly sometimes, and I know you do too. If I
was a boy I would get up now and kiss you, and walk straight off into
the direction of where the moon is just going to rise. I would have
adventures - oh, such adventures!"

"My dear, you would get malaria, and come home next morning with a
violent headache and ask me for some quinine."

She shook her head.

"You are wrong," she said. "I wouldn't come back even to you for
years, not until I had learned what it all means. I would be afraid
of nothing; I would shrink from nothing. Perhaps I should see Malaria
herself in the jungle down there by the Indus - a tall, white-faced
woman, with golden irises to her eyes, and I would talk to her and
learn about her. I would go into the temple of the Brahmins at Benares
and listen to them preaching sedition. I would sit by the corpse as it
burned by the river bank, watching it, oh, so quietly, and loving it.
I would go into the opium dens and learn how to dream.... Learn how to
dream! I wonder if that is what I want to do? I think it must be that.
Sometimes when I am playing I begin to dream, and just as I am getting
deep I strike a false chord and wake myself up, or mamma comes in and
says it is time for me to go driving with her."

Elizabeth had forgotten about the enormous tea she had intended to
eat, and still sat upright on the edge of her chair, looking out over
the gathering night. Already in the swiftly darkening dusk the colours
were withdrawn from the flower-beds, and only the heavy odours gave
token of their blossoming. A streak of dwindling orange lingered in the
west; above, in the fathomless blue, stars that five minutes before had
been but minute pinpricks of luminance were grown to yellow lamps and
globes of light. Somewhere in the lines a bugle suddenly blared out its
message to the stillness and was silent again. A little farther off a
tom-tom beat with endless iteration.

Then she spoke again, more rapidly.

"It is only by dreaming that you can get close to the world," she said,
"and hope to get at its meaning. People who are completely awake spend
all their time in doing things that don't matter. You, for instance,
daddy - you and your inspections and reviews. What does it all come to?
Would this world be one whit the worse if you didn't do any of it? Yet
perhaps I am wronging you, for, anyhow, you can go mooning about your
garden for hours together. Let me see - where had I got to?"

Colonel Fanshawe was watching Elizabeth a little uneasily. This strange
mood of hers was not new to him. Half a dozen times before he had known
her go off into these dim rhapsodies, and they somewhat disconcerted
him. He made an effort to bring her back into realms less shadowy.

"Where had you got to?" he asked. "Upon my word, my dear, I don't think
you had got anywhere particular. Wouldn't it be well to begin that
enormous tea of which you spoke?"

But the girl was fathoms deep in this queer reverie of speculation. She
shook her head at him.

"No; you don't understand yet," she said. "One has to dream first
before one can do any good while one is awake. Unless you call baking
bread and milking cows doing good. You have to penetrate, penetrate.
It is a kingdom with high walls round it, and I expect there are many
gates. Perhaps we all have our own gates; perhaps mine is a gate made
of music and yours is a garden-gate. Don't misunderstand me, daddy,
or think I am talking nonsense, or think, again, that what I mean is
religion, though I dare say there is a religion-gate as well. All I
know is that you have to pass dreaming through one of the gates in
order to get inside the kingdom. And when you do get inside you find
that it isn't so much that you have got inside the kingdom as that the
kingdom has got inside you. I know it must be so. Each of us, I expect,
has to find himself, and when he has found himself.... Oh, God knows!"

She broke off, and instantly poured herself out a cup of tea.

"I am so hungry," she said, "and I had quite forgotten. While I eat and
drink, daddy, you shall keep your promise and tell me what I mean. You



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