A. G. (Alfred George) Gardiner.

Leaves in the wind online

. (page 1 of 15)
Online LibraryA. G. (Alfred George) GardinerLeaves in the wind → online text (page 1 of 15)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Produced by Al Haines










[Frontispiece: "There under some spreading oak or beech."]






THE WAYFARERS LIBRARY



LEAVES IN THE WIND


Alpha of the Plough

(A. G. Gardiner)



LONDON & TORONTO: J. M. DENT & SONS, Ltd.

NEW YORK: E. P. DUTTON & CO.




TO

MY CHILDREN




PREFATORY NOTE

This collection of essays, now republished in the "Wayfarers' Library,"
were written during the war, and first appeared in book form during the
war. Like the preceding volume, _Pebbles on the Shore_, they were the
literary diversions of a time of great public anxiety and heavy
personal tasks. The writing of them was a happy distraction from
unhappy things, and now that the great wind has passed it is a pleasure
to find the leaves it blew down gathered between the companionable
covers of the "Wayfarer." I leave them as they fell.




CONTENTS


A Fellow Traveller
On a Famous Sermon
On Pockets and Things
On a Country Platform
On a Distant View of a Pig
In Defence of Ignorance
On a Shiny Night
On Giving up Tobacco
The Great God Gun
On a Legend of the War
On Talk and Talkers
On a Vision of Eden
On a Comic Genius
On a Vanished Garden
All About a Dog
On the American Soldier
'Appy 'Einrich
On Fear
On Being Called Thompson
On Thinking for One's Self
On Sawing Wood
Variations on an Old Theme
On Clothes
The Duel that Failed
On Early Rising
On Being Known
On a Map of the Oberland
On a Talk in a Bus
On Virtues that don't Count
On Hate and the Soldier
On Taking the Call
A Dithyramb on a Dog
On Happy Faces in the Strand
On Word-Magic
Odin Grown Old
On a Smile in a Shaving Glass
On the Rule of the Road
On the Indifference of Nature
If Jeremy Came Back
On Sleep and Thought
On Mowing




LEAVES IN THE WIND




A FELLOW TRAVELLER

I do not know which of us got into the carriage first. Indeed I did
not know he was in the carriage at all for some time. It was the last
train from London to a Midland town - a stopping train, an infinitely
leisurely train, one of those trains which give you an understanding of
eternity. It was tolerably full when it started, but as we stopped at
the suburban stations the travellers alighted in ones and twos, and by
the time we had left the outer ring of London behind I was alone - or,
rather, I thought I was alone.

There is a pleasant sense of freedom about being alone in a carriage
that is jolting noisily through the night. It is liberty and
unrestraint in a very agreeable form. You can do anything you like.
You can talk to yourself as loud as you please and no one will hear
you. You can have that argument out with Jones and roll him
triumphantly in the dust without fear of a counter-stroke. You can
stand on your head and no one will see you. You can sing, or dance a
two-step, or practise a golf stroke, or play marbles on the floor
without let or hindrance. You can open the window or shut it without
provoking a protest. You can open both windows or shut both. Indeed,
you can go on opening them and shutting them as a sort of festival of
freedom. You can have any corner you choose and try all of them in
turn. You can lie at full length on the cushions and enjoy the luxury
of breaking the regulations and possibly the heart of D.O.R.A. herself.
Only D.O.R.A. will not know that her heart is broken. You have escaped
even D.O.R.A.

On this night I did not do any of these things. They did not happen to
occur to me. What I did was much more ordinary. When the last of my
fellow-passengers had gone I put down my paper, stretched my arms and
my legs, stood up and looked out of the window on the calm summer night
through which I was journeying, noting the pale reminiscence of day
that still lingered in the northern sky; crossed the carriage and
looked out of the other window; lit a cigarette, sat down and began to
read again. It was then that I became aware of my fellow traveller.
He came and sat on my nose.... He was one of those wingy, nippy,
intrepid insects that we call, vaguely, mosquitoes. I flicked him off
my nose, and he made a tour of the compartment, investigated its three
dimensions, visited each window, fluttered round the light, decided
that there was nothing so interesting as that large animal in the
corner, came and had a look at my neck.

I flicked him off again. He skipped away, took another jaunt round the
compartment, returned, and seated himself impudently on the back of my
hand. It is enough, I said; magnanimity has its limits. Twice you
have been warned that I am someone in particular, that my august person
resents the tickling impertinences of strangers. I assume the black
cap. I condemn you to death. Justice demands it, and the court awards
it. The counts against you are many. You are a vagrant; you are a
public nuisance; you are travelling without a ticket; you have no meat
coupon. For these and many other misdemeanours you are about to die.
I struck a swift, lethal blow with my right hand. He dodged the attack
with an insolent ease that humiliated me. My personal vanity was
aroused. I lunged at him with my hand, with my paper; I jumped on the
seat and pursued him round the lamp; I adopted tactics of feline
cunning, waiting till he had alighted, approaching with a horrible
stealthiness, striking with a sudden and terrible swiftness.

It was all in vain. He played with me, openly and ostentatiously, like
a skilful matador finessing round an infuriated bull. It was obvious
that he was enjoying himself, that it was for this that he had
disturbed my repose. He wanted a little sport, and what sport like
being chased by this huge, lumbering windmill of a creature, who tasted
so good and seemed so helpless and so stupid? I began to enter into
the spirit of the fellow. He was no longer a mere insect. He was
developing into a personality, an intelligence that challenged the
possession of this compartment with me on equal terms. I felt my heart
warming towards him and the sense of superiority fading. How could I
feel superior to a creature who was so manifestly my master in the only
competition in which we had ever engaged? Why not be magnanimous
again? Magnanimity and mercy were the noblest attributes of man. In
the exercise of these high qualities I could recover my prestige. At
present I was a ridiculous figure, a thing for laughter and derision.
By being merciful I could reassert the moral dignity of man and go back
to my corner with honour. I withdraw the sentence of death, I said,
returning to my seat. I cannot kill you, but I can reprieve you. I do
it.

I took up my paper and he came and sat on it. Foolish fellow, I said,
you have delivered yourself into my hands. I have but to give this
respectable weekly organ of opinion a smack on both covers and you are
a corpse, neatly sandwiched between an article on "Peace Traps" and
another on "The Modesty of Mr. Hughes." But I shall not do it. I have
reprieved you, and I will satisfy you that when this large animal says
a thing he means it. Moreover, I no longer desire to kill you.
Through knowing you better I have come to feel - shall I say? - a sort of
affection for you. I fancy that St. Francis would have called you
"little brother." I cannot go so far as that in Christian charity and
civility. But I recognise a more distant relationship. Fortune has
made us fellow travellers on this summer night. I have interested you
and you have entertained me. The obligation is mutual and it is
founded on the fundamental fact that we are fellow mortals. The
miracle of life is ours in common and its mystery too. I suppose you
don't know anything about your journey. I'm not sure that I know much
about mine. We are really, when you come to think of it, a good deal
alike - just apparitions that are and then are not, coming out of the
night into the lighted carriage, fluttering about the lamp for a while
and going out into the night again. Perhaps...

"Going on to-night, sir?" said a voice at the window. It was a
friendly porter giving me a hint that this was my station. I thanked
him and said I must have been dozing. And seizing my hat and stick I
went out into the cool summer night. As I closed the door of the
compartment I saw my fellow traveller fluttering round the lamp....




ON A FAMOUS SERMON

I see that Queen Alexandra has made a further distribution among
charities of the profits from the sale of the late Canon Fleming's
sermon, "On Recognition in Eternity." The sermon was preached on the
occasion of the death of the Duke of Clarence, and judging from its
popularity I have no doubt it is a good sermon. But I am tempted to
write on the subject by a mischievous thought suggested by the
authorship of this famous sermon. There is no idea which makes so
universal an appeal to the deepest instincts of humanity as the idea
that when we awake from the dream of life we shall pass into the
companionship of those who have shared and lightened our pilgrimage
here. The intellect may dismiss the idea as unscientific, but, as
Newman says, the finite can tell us nothing about the infinite Creator,
and the Quaker poet's serene assurance -

Yet love will hope and faith will trust
(Since He Who knows our needs is just)
That somehow, somewhere, meet we must -

defies all the buffetings of reason.

Even Shelley, for all his aggressive Atheism, could not, as Francis
Thompson points out, escape the instinct of personal immortality. In
his glorious elegy on Keats he implicitly assumes the personal
immortality which the poem explicitly denies, as when, to greet the
dead youth,

The inheritors of unfulfilled renown
Rose from their thrones, built beyond mortal thought
Far in the unapparent.

And it is on the same note that the poem reaches its sublime and
prophetic close: -

I am borne darkly, fearfully afar;
Whilst, burning through the inmost veil of heaven,
The soul of Adonais like a star
Beacons from the abode where the eternal are.

The ink of that immortal strain was hardly dry upon the page when the
vision was fulfilled, for only a few months elapsed between the death
of Keats and the drowning of Shelley, and in the interval the great
monody had been written.

I refuse, for the sake of the feelings of Mr. J. M. Robertson and Mr.
Foote and the other stern old dogmatists of Rationalism, to deny myself
the pleasure of imagining the meeting of Shelley and Keats in the
Elysian Fields. If Shelley, "borne darkly, fearfully afar" beyond the
confines of reason, could feel that grand assurance, why should I, who
dislike the dogmatists of Rationalism as much as the dogmatists of
Orthodoxy, deny myself that beautiful solace? I like to think of those
passionate spirits in eternal comradeship, pausing in their eager talk
to salute deep-browed Homer as, perchance, he passes in grave discourse
with the "mighty-mouthed inventor of harmonies." I like to think of
Dante meeting Beatrice by some crystal stream, of Lincoln wandering
side by side with Lee, of poor Mary Lamb reunited to the mother she
loved and whom she slew in one of her fits of insanity, and of an
innumerable host of humbler recognitions no less sweet.

But Canon Fleming's name reminds me that all the recognitions will not
be agreeable. I cannot imagine that eminent Court preacher showing any
eagerness to recognise or be recognised by that other eminent preacher,
Dr. Talmage. For it was Talmage's sermon on the wickedness of great
cities that Fleming so unblushingly preached _and published_ as his
own, simply altering the names of American cities to those of European
cities. Some cruel editor printed the two sermons side by side, I
think in the old _St. James's Gazette_, and the poor Canon's excuse
only made matters rather worse. The incident did not prevent him
securing preferment, and his sermon on "Recognition in Eternity" still
goes on selling. But he will not be comfortable when he sees Talmage
coming his way across the Elysian Fields. I do not think he will offer
him the very unconvincing explanation he offered to the British public.
He will make a frank confession and Talmage will no doubt give him
absolution. There will be many such awkward meetings. With what
emotions of shame, for example, will Charles I. see Strafford
approaching. "Not a hair of your head shall be touched by Parliament"
was his promise to that instrument of his despotic rule, but when
Parliament demanded the head itself he endorsed the verdict that sent
Strafford to the scaffold. And I can imagine there will be a little
coldness between Cromwell and Charles when they pass, though in the
larger understanding of that world Charles, I fancy, will see that he
was quite impossible, and that he left the grim old Puritan no other
way.

It is this thought of the larger understanding that will come when we
have put off the coarse vesture of things that makes this speculation
reasonable. That admirable woman, Mrs. Berry, in "Richard Feverel,"
had the recognitions of eternity in her mind when she declared that
widows ought not to remarry. "And to think," she said, "o' two
(husbands) claimin' o' me then, it makes me hot all over." Mrs.
Berry's mistake was in thinking of Elysium in the terms of earth. It
is precisely because we shall have escaped from the encumbering flesh
and all the bewilderments of this clumsy world that we cannot merely
tolerate the idea, but can find in it a promised explanation of the
inexplicable.

It is the same mistake that I find in Mr. Belloc, who, I see from
yesterday's paper, has been denouncing the "tomfoolery" of
spiritualism, and describing the miracles of Lourdes as "a special
providential act designed to convert, change, upset, and disintegrate
the materialism of the nineteenth century." I want to see the
materialism of the nineteenth century converted, changed, upset and
disintegrated, as much as Mr. Belloc does, but I have as little regard
for the instrument he trusts in as for the "tomfoolery" of
spiritualism. And when he goes on to denounce a Miss Posthlethwaite, a
Catholic spiritualist, for having declared that in the next world she
found people of all religions and did not find that Mohammedans
suffered more than others, I feel that he is as materialistic as Mrs.
Berry. He sees heaven in the terms of the troublesome little
sectarianisms of the earth, with an ascendancy party in possession, and
no non-alcoholic Puritans, Jews, or Mohammedans visible to his august
eye. They will all be in another place, and very uncomfortable indeed.
He really has not advanced beyond that infantile partisanship
satirised, I think, by Swift: -

We are God's chosen few,
All others will be damned.
There is no place in heaven for you,
We can't have heaven crammed.


No, no, Mr. Belloc. The judgments of eternity will not be so vulgar as
this, nor the companionship so painfully exclusive. You will not walk
the infinite meadows of heaven alone with the sect you adorned on
earth. You will find all sorts of people there regardless of the
quaint little creeds they professed in the elementary school of life.
I am sure you will find Mrs. Berry there, for that simple woman had the
root of the true gospel in her. "I think it's al'ays the plan in a
dielemma," she said, "to pray God and walk forward." I think it is
possible that in the larger atmosphere you will discover that she was a
wiser pupil in the elementary school than you were.




ON POCKETS AND THINGS

I suppose most men felt, as I felt, the reasonableness of Mr. Justice
Bray's remarks the other day on the preference of women for bags
instead of pockets. A case was before him in which a woman had gone
into a shop, had put down her satchel containing her money and
valuables, turned to pick it up a little later, found it had been
stolen, and thereupon brought an action against the owners of the shop
for the recovery of her losses. The jury were unsympathetic, found
that in the circumstances the woman was responsible, and gave a verdict
against her.

Of course the jury were men, all of them prejudiced on this subject of
pockets. At a guess I should say that there were not fewer than 150
pockets in that jury-box, _and not one satchel_. You, madam, may
retort that this is only another instance of the scandal of this
man-ridden world. Why were there no women in that jury-box? Why are
all the decisions of the courts, from the High Court to the coroner's
court, left to the judgment of men? Madam, I share your indignation.
I would "comb-out" the jury-box. I would send half the jurymen, if not
into the trenches, at least to hoe turnips, and fill their places with
a row of women. Women are just as capable as men of forming an opinion
about facts, they have at least as much time to spare, and their point
of view is as essential to justice. What can there be more ridiculous,
for example, than a jury of men sitting for a whole day to decide the
question of the cut of a gown without a single woman's expert opinion
to guide them, or more unjust than to leave an issue between a man and
a woman entirely in the hands of men? Yes, certainly madam, I am with
you on the general question.

But when we come to the subject of pockets, I am bound to confess that
I am with the jury. If I had been on that jury I should have voted
with fervour for making the woman responsible for her own loss. If it
were possible for women to put their satchels down on counters, or the
seats of buses, or any odd place they thought of, and then to make some
innocent person responsible because they were stolen, there would be no
security for anybody. It would be a travesty of justice - a premium
upon recklessness and even fraud. Moreover, people who won't wear
pockets deserve to be punished. They ask for trouble and ought not to
complain when they get it.

I have never been able to fathom the obduracy of women in this matter
of pockets. It is not the only reflection upon their common-sense
which is implicit in their dress. If we were to pass judgment on the
relative intelligence of the sexes by their codes of costume, sanity
would pronounce overwhelmingly in favour of men. Imagine a man who
buttoned his coat and waistcoat down the back, so that he was dependent
on someone else to help dress him in the morning and unfasten him at
night, or who relied on such abominations as hooks-and-eyes scattered
over unattainable places, in order to keep his garments in position.
You cannot imagine such a man. Yet women submit to these incredible
tyrannies of fashion without a murmur, and talk about them as though it
was the hand of fate upon them. I have a good deal of sympathy with
the view of a friend of mine who says that no woman ought to have a
vote until she has won the enfranchisement of her own buttons.

Or take high-heeled boots. Is there any sight more ludicrous than the
spectacle of a woman stumbling along on a pair of high heels, flung out
of the perpendicular and painfully struggling to preserve her
equilibrium, condemned to take finicking little steps lest she should
topple over, all the grace and freedom of movement lost in an ugly
acrobatic feat? And when the feet turn in, and the high heels turn
over - heavens! I confess I never see high heels without looking for a
mindless face, and I rarely look in vain.

But the puzzle about the pockets is that quite sensible women go about
in a pocketless condition. I turned to Jane just now - she was sitting
by the fire knitting - and asked how many pockets she had when she was
fully dressed. "None," she said. "Pockets haven't been worn for years
and years, but now they are coming in - in an ornamental way." "In an
ornamental way?" said I. "Won't they carry anything?" "Well, you can
trust a handkerchief to them." "Not a purse?" "Good gracious, no. It
would simply ask to be stolen, and if it wasn't stolen in five minutes
it would fall out in ten." The case was stranger than I had thought.
Not to have pockets was bad enough; but to have sham pockets! Think of
it! We have been at war for three and a half years, and women are now
beginning to wear pockets "in an ornamental way," not for use but as a
pretty fal-lal, much as they might put on another row of useless
buttons to button nothing. And what is the result? Jane (I have full
permission to mention her in order to give actuality to this moral
discourse) spends hours looking for her glasses, for her keys, for the
letter that came this morning, for her purse, for her bag, for all that
is hers. And we, the devoted members of the family, spend hours in
looking for them too, exploring dark corners, probing the interstices
of sofas and chairs, rummaging the dishevelled drawers anew,
discovering the thing that disappeared so mysteriously last week or
last month and that we no longer want, but rarely the article that is
the very hub of the immediate wheel of things.

Now, I am different. I am pockets all over. I am simply agape with
pockets. I am like a pillar-box walking about, waiting for the postman
to come and collect things. All told, I carry sixteen pockets - none of
them ornamental, every one as practical as a time-table - pockets for
letters, for watch, for keys, for handkerchiefs, for tickets, for
spectacles (two pairs, long and short distance), for loose money, for
note-wallet, for diary and pocket-book - why, bless me, you can hardly
mention a thing I haven't a pocket for. And I would not do without one
of them, madam - not one. Do I ever lose things? Of course I lose
things. I lose them in my pockets. You can't possibly have as many
pockets as I have got without losing things in them. But then you have
them all the time.

That is the splendid thing about losing your property in your own
pockets. It always turns up in the end, and that lady's satchel left
on the counter will never turn up. And think of the surprises you get
when rummaging in your pockets - the letters you haven't answered, the
bills you haven't paid, the odd money that has somehow got into the
wrong pocket. When I have nothing else to do I just search my
pockets - all my pockets, those in the brown suit, and the grey suit,
and the serge suit, and my "Sunday best" - there must be fifty pockets
in all, and every one of them full of something, of ghosts of
engagements I haven't kept, and duties I haven't performed, and friends
I have neglected, of pipes that I have mourned as lost, and half
packets of cigarettes that by some miracle I have not smoked, and all
the litter of a casual and disorderly life. I would not part with
these secrecies for all the satchels in Oxford Street. I am my own
book of mysteries. I bulge with mysteries. I can surprise myself at
any moment I like by simply exploring my pockets. If I avoid exploring
them I know I am not very well. I know I am not in a condition to face
the things that I might find there. I just leave them there till I am
stronger - not lost, madam, as they would be in your satchel, but just
forgotten, comfortably forgotten. Why should one always be disturbing
the sleeping dogs in the kennels of one's pockets? Why not let them
sleep? Are there not enough troubles in life that one must go seeking
them in one's own pockets? And I have a precedent, look you. Did not
Napoleon say that if you did not look at your letters for a fortnight
you generally found that they had answered themselves?

And may I not in this connection recall the practice of Sir Andrew
Clarke, the physician of Mr. Gladstone, as recorded in the
reminiscences of Mr. Henry Holiday? At dinner one night Sir Andrew was
observed to be drinking champagne, and was asked why he allowed himself
an indulgence which he so rigorously denied to his patients. "Yes," he
said, "but you do not understand my case. When I go from here I shall
find a pile of fifty or sixty letters awaiting answers." "But will
champagne help you to answer them?" asked the other. "Not at all,"
said Sir Andrew, "not at all; but it puts you in the frame of mind in
which you don't care a damn whether they are answered or not." I do
not offer this story for the imitation of youth, but for the solace of
the people like myself who have long reached the years of discretion
without becoming discreet, and who like to feel that their weaknesses
have been shared by the eminent and the wise.

And, to conclude, the wisdom of the pocket habit is not to be judged by
its abuse, but by its obvious convenience and safety. I trust that


1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

Online LibraryA. G. (Alfred George) GardinerLeaves in the wind → online text (page 1 of 15)