Charles Kingsley.

Yeast: a Problem online

. (page 3 of 23)
Online LibraryCharles KingsleyYeast: a Problem → online text (page 3 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


fellow I ever met, and you hate me like poison - you can't deny it.'

There was something in the colonel's tone so utterly different from
his usual courtly and measured speech, that Lancelot was taken
completely by surprise, and stammered out, -

'I - I - I - no - no. I know I am very foolish - ungrateful. But I do
hate you,' he said, with a sudden impulse, 'and I'll tell you why.'

'Give me your hand,' quoth the colonel: 'I like that. Now we shall
see our way with each other, at least.'

'Because,' said Lancelot slowly, 'because you are cleverer than I,
readier than I, superior to me in every point.'

The colonel laughed, not quite merrily. Lancelot went on, holding
down his shaggy brows.

'I am a brute and an ass! - And yet I do not like to tell you so.
For if I am an ass, what are you?'

'Heyday!'

'Look here. - I am wasting my time and brains on ribaldry, but I am
worth nothing better - at least, I think so at times; but you, who
can do anything you put your hand to, what business have you, in the
devil's name, to be throwing yourself away on gimcracks and fox-
hunting foolery? Heavens! If I had your talents, I'd be - I'd make
a name for myself before I died, if I died to make it.' The colonel
griped his hand hard, rose, and looked out of the window for a few
minutes. There was a dead, brooding silence, till he turned to
Lancelot, -

'Mr. Smith, I thank you for your honesty, but good advice may come
too late. I am no saint, and God only knows how much less of one I
may become; but mark my words, - if you are ever tempted by passion,
and vanity, and fine ladies, to form liaisons, as the Jezebels call
them, snares, and nets, and labyrinths of blind ditches, to keep you
down through life, stumbling and grovelling, hating yourself and
hating the chain to which you cling - in that hour pray - pray as if
the devil had you by the throat, - to Almighty God, to help you out
of that cursed slough! There is nothing else for it! - pray, I tell
you!'

There was a terrible earnestness about the guardsman's face which
could not be mistaken. Lancelot looked at him for a moment, and
then dropped his eyes ashamed, as if he had intruded on the
speaker's confidence by witnessing his emotion.

In a moment the colonel had returned to his smile and his polish.

'And now, my dear invalid, I must beg your pardon for sermonising.
What do you say to a game of ecarte? We must play for love, or we
shall excite ourselves, and scandalise Mrs. Lavington's piety.' And
the colonel pulled a pack of cards out of his pocket, and seeing
that Lancelot was too thoughtful for play, commenced all manner of
juggler's tricks, and chuckled over them like any schoolboy.

'Happy man!' thought Lancelot, 'to have the strength of will which
can thrust its thoughts away once and for all.' No, Lancelot! more
happy are they whom God will not allow to thrust their thoughts from
them till the bitter draught has done its work.

From that day, however, there was a cordial understanding between
the two. They never alluded to the subject; but they had known the
bottom of each other's heart. Lancelot's sick-room was now pleasant
enough, and he drank in daily his new friend's perpetual stream of
anecdote, till March and hunting were past, and April was half over.
The old squire came up after dinner regularly (during March he had
hunted every day, and slept every evening); and the trio chatted
along merrily enough, by the help of whist and backgammon, upon the
surface of this little island of life, - which is, like Sinbad's,
after all only the back of a floating whale, ready to dive at any
moment. - And then? -

But what was Argemone doing all this time? Argemone was busy in her
boudoir (too often a true boudoir to her) among books and
statuettes, and dried flowers, fancying herself, and not unfairly,
very intellectual. She had four new manias every year; her last
winter's one had been that bottle-and-squirt mania, miscalled
chemistry; her spring madness was for the Greek drama. She had
devoured Schlegel's lectures, and thought them divine; and now she
was hard at work on Sophocles, with a little help from translations,
and thought she understood him every word. Then she was somewhat
High-Church in her notions, and used to go up every Wednesday and
Friday to the chapel in the hills, where Lancelot had met her, for
an hour's mystic devotion, set off by a little graceful asceticism.
As for Lancelot, she never thought of him but as an empty-headed
fox-hunter who had met with his deserts; and the brilliant accounts
which the all smoothing colonel gave at dinner of Lancelot's
physical well doing and agreeable conversation only made her set him
down the sooner as a twin clever-do-nothing to the despised
Bracebridge, whom she hated for keeping her father in a roar of
laughter.

But her sister, little Honoria, had all the while been busy messing
and cooking with her own hands for the invalid; and almost fell in
love with the colonel for his watchful kindness. And here a word
about Honoria, to whom Nature, according to her wont with sisters,
had given almost everything which Argemone wanted, and denied almost
everything which Argemone had, except beauty. And even in that, the
many-sided mother had made her a perfect contrast to her sister, -
tiny and luscious, dark-eyed and dark-haired; as full of wild simple
passion as an Italian, thinking little, except where she felt much -
which was, indeed, everywhere; for she lived in a perpetual April-
shower of exaggerated sympathy for all suffering, whether in novels
or in life; and daily gave the lie to that shallow old calumny, that
'fictitious sorrows harden the heart to real ones.'

Argemone was almost angry with her sometimes, when she trotted whole
days about the village from school to sick-room: perhaps conscience
hinted to her that her duty, too, lay rather there than among her
luxurious day-dreams. But, alas! though she would have indignantly
repelled the accusation of selfishness, yet in self and for self
alone she lived; and while she had force of will for any so-called
'self-denial,' and would fast herself cross and stupefied, and quite
enjoy kneeling thinly clad and barefoot on the freezing chapel-floor
on a winter's morning, yet her fastidious delicacy revolted at
sitting, like Honoria, beside the bed of the ploughman's consumptive
daughter, in a reeking, stifling, lean-to garret, in which had slept
the night before, the father, mother, and two grown-up boys, not to
mention a new-married couple, the sick girl, and, alas! her baby.
And of such bedchambers there were too many in Whitford Priors.

The first evening that Lancelot came downstairs, Honoria clapped her
hands outright for joy as he entered, and ran up and down for ten
minutes, fetching and carrying endless unnecessary cushions and
footstools; while Argemone greeted him with a cold distant bow, and
a fine-lady drawl of carefully commonplace congratulations. Her
heart smote her though, as she saw the wan face and the wild,
melancholy, moonstruck eyes once more glaring through and through
her; she found a comfort in thinking his stare impertinent, drew
herself up, and turned away; once, indeed, she could not help
listening, as Lancelot thanked Mrs. Lavington for all the pious and
edifying books with which the good lady had kept his room rather
than his brain furnished for the last six weeks; he was going to say
more, but he saw the colonel's quaint foxy eye peering at him,
remembered St. Francis de Sales, and held his tongue.

But, as her destiny was, Argemone found herself, in the course of
the evening, alone with Lancelot, at the open window. It was a
still, hot, heavy night, after long easterly drought; sheet-
lightning glimmered on the far horizon over the dark woodlands; the
coming shower had sent forward as his herald a whispering draught of
fragrant air.

'What a delicious shiver is creeping over those limes!' said
Lancelot, half to himself.

The expression struck Argemone: it was the right one, and it seemed
to open vistas of feeling and observation in the speaker which she
had not suspected. There was a rich melancholy in the voice; - she
turned to look at him.

'Ay,' he went on; 'and the same heat which crisps those thirsty
leaves must breed the thunder-shower which cools them? But so it is
throughout the universe: every yearning proves the existence of an
object meant to satisfy it; the same law creates both the giver and
the receiver, the longing and its home.'

'If one could but know sometimes what it is for which one is
longing!' said Argemone, without knowing that she was speaking from
her inmost heart: but thus does the soul involuntarily lay bare its
most unspoken depths in the presence of its yet unknown mate, and
then shudders at its own ABANDON as it first tries on the wedding
garment of Paradise.

Lancelot was not yet past the era at which young geniuses are apt to
'talk book' at little.

'For what?' he answered, flashing up according to his fashion. 'To
be; - to be great; to have done one mighty work before we die, and
live, unloved or loved, upon the lips of men. For this all long who
are not mere apes and wall-flies.'

'So longed the founders of Babel,' answered Argemone, carelessly, to
this tirade. She had risen a strange fish, the cunning beauty, and
now she was trying her fancy flies over him one by one.

'And were they so far wrong?' answered he. 'From the Babel society
sprung our architecture, our astronomy, politics, and colonisation.
No doubt the old Hebrew sheiks thought them impious enough, for
daring to build brick walls instead of keeping to the good old-
fashioned tents, and gathering themselves into a nation instead of
remaining a mere family horde; and gave their own account of the
myth, just as the antediluvian savages gave theirs of that strange
Eden scene, by the common interpretation of which the devil is made
the first inventor of modesty. Men are all conservatives;
everything new is impious, till we get accustomed to it; and if it
fails, the mob piously discover a divine vengeance in the mischance,
from Babel to Catholic Emancipation.'

Lancelot had stuttered horribly during the latter part of this most
heterodox outburst, for he had begun to think about himself, and try
to say a fine thing, suspecting all the while that it might not be
true. But Argemone did not remark the stammering: the new thoughts
startled and pained her; but there was a daring grace about them.
She tried, as women will, to answer him with arguments, and failed,
as women will fail. She was accustomed to lay down the law a la
Madame de Stael, to savants and non-savants and be heard with
reverence, as a woman should be. But poor truth-seeking Lancelot
did not see what sex had to do with logic; he flew at her as if she
had been a very barrister, and hunted her mercilessly up and down
through all sorts of charming sophisms, as she begged the question,
and shifted her ground, as thoroughly right in her conclusion as she
was wrong in her reasoning, till she grew quite confused and
pettish. - And then Lancelot suddenly shrank into his shell, claws
and all, like an affrighted soldier-crab, hung down his head, and
stammered out some incoherencies, - 'N-n-not accustomed to talk to
women - ladies, I mean. F-forgot myself. - Pray forgive me!' And he
looked up, and her eyes, half-amused, met his, and she saw that they
were filled with tears.

'What have I to forgive?' she said, more gently, wondering on what
sort of strange sportsman she had fallen. 'You treat me like an
equal; you will deign to argue with me. But men in general - oh,
they hide their contempt for us, if not their own ignorance, under
that mask of chivalrous deference!' and then in the nasal fine
ladies' key, which was her shell, as bitter brusquerie was his, she
added, with an Amazon queen's toss of the head, - 'You must come and
see us often. We shall suit each other, I see, better than most
whom we see here.'

A sneer and a blush passed together over Lancelot's ugliness.

'What, better than the glib Colonel Bracebridge yonder?'

'Oh, he is witty enough, but he lives on the surface of everything!
He is altogether shallow and blase. His good-nature is the fruit of
want of feeling; between his gracefulness and his sneering
persiflage he is a perfect Mephistopheles-Apollo.'

What a snare a decently-good nickname is! Out it must come, though
it carry a lie on its back. But the truth was, Argemone thought
herself infinitely superior to the colonel, for which simple reason
she could not in the least understand him.

[By the bye, how subtly Mr. Tennyson has embodied all this in The
Princess. How he shows us the woman, when she takes her stand on
the false masculine ground of intellect, working out her own moral
punishment, by destroying in herself the tender heart of flesh,
which is either woman's highest blessing or her bitterest curse; how
she loses all feminine sensibility to the under-current of feeling
in us poor world-worn, case-hardened men, and falls from pride to
sternness, from sternness to sheer inhumanity. I should have
honoured myself by pleading guilty to stealing much of Argemone's
character from The Princess, had not the idea been conceived, and
fairly worked out, long before the appearance of that noble poem.]


They said no more to each other that evening. Argemone was called
to the piano; and Lancelot took up the Sporting Magazine, and read
himself to sleep till the party separated for the night.

Argemone went up thoughtfully to her own room. The shower had
fallen, and the moon was shining bright, while every budding leaf
and knot of mould steamed up cool perfume, borrowed from the
treasures of the thundercloud. All around was working the infinite
mystery of birth and growth, of giving and taking, of beauty and
use. All things were harmonious - all things reciprocal without.
Argemone felt herself needless, lonely, and out of tune with herself
and nature.

She sat in the window, and listlessly read over to herself a
fragment of her own poetry: -


SAPPHO

She lay among the myrtles on the cliff;
Above her glared the moon; beneath, the sea.
Upon the white horizon Athos' peak
Weltered in burning haze; all airs were dead;
The sicale slept among the tamarisk's hair;
The birds sat dumb and drooping. Far below
The lazy sea-weed glistened in the sun:
The lazy sea-fowl dried their steaming wings;
The lazy swell crept whispering up the ledge,
And sank again. Great Pan was laid to rest;
And mother Earth watched by him as he slept,
And hushed her myriad children for awhile.

She lay among the myrtles on the cliff;
And sighed for sleep, for sleep that would not hear,
But left her tossing still: for night and day
A mighty hunger yearned within her heart,
Till all her veins ran fever, and her cheek,
Her long thin hands, and ivory-channell'd feet,
Were wasted with the wasting of her soul.
Then peevishly she flung her on her face,
And hid her eyeballs from the blinding glare,
And fingered at the grass, and tried to cool
Her crisp hot lips against the crisp hot sward:
And then she raised her head, and upward cast
Wild looks from homeless eyes, whose liquid light
Gleamed out between deep folds of blue-black hair,
As gleam twin lakes between the purple peaks
Of deep Parnassus, at the mournful moon.
Beside her lay a lyre. She snatched the shell,
And waked wild music from its silver strings;
Then tossed it sadly by, - 'Ah, hush!' she cries,
'Dead offspring of the tortoise and the mine!
Why mock my discords with thine harmonies?
'Although a thrice-Olympian lot be thine,
Only to echo back in every tone,
The moods of nobler natures than thine own.'


'No!' she said. 'That soft and rounded rhyme suits ill with
Sappho's fitful and wayward agonies. She should burst out at once
into wild passionate life-weariness, and disgust at that universe,
with whose beauty she has filled her eyes in vain, to find it always
a dead picture, unsatisfying, unloving - as I have found it.'

Sweet self-deceiver! had you no other reason for choosing as your
heroine Sappho, the victim of the idolatry of intellect - trying in
vain to fill her heart with the friendship of her own sex, and then
sinking into mere passion for a handsome boy, and so down into self-
contempt and suicide?

She was conscious, I do believe, of no other reason than that she
gave; but consciousness is a dim candle - over a deep mine.

'After all,' she said pettishly, 'people will call it a mere
imitation of Shelley's Alastor. And what harm if it is? Is there
to be no female Alastor? Has not the woman as good a right as the
man to long after ideal beauty - to pine and die if she cannot find
it; and regenerate herself in its light?'

'Yo-hoo-oo-oo! Youp, youp! Oh-hooo!' arose doleful through the
echoing shrubbery.

Argemone started and looked out. It was not a banshee, but a
forgotten fox-hound puppy, sitting mournfully on the gravel-walk
beneath, staring at the clear ghastly moon.

She laughed and blushed - there was a rebuke in it. She turned to go
to rest; and as she knelt and prayed at her velvet faldstool, among
all the nicknacks which now-a-days make a luxury of devotion, was it
strange if, after she had prayed for the fate of nations and
churches, and for those who, as she thought, were fighting at Oxford
the cause of universal truth and reverend antiquity, she remembered
in her petitions the poor godless youth, with his troubled and
troubling eloquence? But it was strange that she blushed when she
mentioned his name - why should she not pray for him as she prayed
for others?

Perhaps she felt that she did not pray for him as she prayed for
others.

She left the AEolian harp in the window, as a luxury if she should
wake, and coiled herself up among lace pillows and eider blemos; and
the hound coiled himself up on the gravel-walk, after a solemn
vesper-ceremony of three turns round in his own length, looking
vainly for a 'soft stone.' The finest of us are animals after all,
and live by eating and sleeping: and, taken as animals, not so
badly off either - unless we happen to be Dorsetshire labourers - or
Spitalfields weavers - or colliery children - or marching soldiers -
or, I am afraid, one half of English souls this day.

And Argemone dreamed; - that she was a fox, flying for her life
through a churchyard - and Lancelot was a hound, yelling and leaping,
in a red coat and white buckskins, close upon her - and she felt his
hot breath, and saw his white teeth glare. . . . And then her
father was there: and he was an Italian boy, and played the organ -
and Lancelot was a dancing dog, and stood up and danced to the tune
of 'C'est l'amour, l'amour, l'amour,' pitifully enough, in his red
coat - and she stood up and danced too; but she found her fox-fur
dress insufficient, and begged hard for a paper frill - which was
denied her: whereat she cried bitterly and woke; and saw the Night
peeping in with her bright diamond eyes, and blushed, and hid her
beautiful face in the pillows, and fell asleep again.

What the little imp, who managed this puppet-show on Argemone's
brain-stage, may have intended to symbolise thereby, and whence he
stole his actors and stage-properties, and whether he got up the
interlude for his own private fun, or for that of a choir of brother
Eulenspiegels, or, finally, for the edification of Argemone as to
her own history, past, present, or future, are questions which we
must leave unanswered, till physicians have become a little more of
metaphysicians, and have given up their present plan of ignoring for
nine hundred and ninety-nine pages that most awful and significant
custom of dreaming, and then in the thousandth page talking the
boldest materialist twaddle about it.

In the meantime, Lancelot, contrary to the colonel's express
commands, was sitting up to indite the following letter to his
cousin, the Tractarian curate: -

'You complain that I waste my time in field-sports: how do you know
that I waste my time? I find within myself certain appetites; and I
suppose that the God whom you say made me, made those appetites as a
part of me. Why are they to be crushed any more than any other part
of me? I am the whole of what I find in myself - am I to pick and
choose myself out of myself? And besides, I feel that the exercise
of freedom, activity, foresight, daring, independent self-
determination, even in a few minutes' burst across country,
strengthens me in mind as well as in body. It might not do so to
you; but you are of a different constitution, and, from all I see,
the power of a man's muscles, the excitability of his nerves, the
shape and balance of his brain, make him what he is. Else what is
the meaning of physiognomy? Every man's destiny, as the Turks say,
stands written on his forehead. One does not need two glances at
your face to know that you would not enjoy fox-hunting, that you
would enjoy book-learning and "refined repose," as they are pleased
to call it. Every man carries his character in his brain. You all
know that, and act upon it when you have to deal with a man for
sixpence; but your religious dogmas, which make out that everyman
comes into the world equally brutish and fiendish, make you afraid
to confess it. I don't quarrel with a "douce" man like you, with a
large organ of veneration, for following your bent. But if I am
fiery, with a huge cerebellum, why am I not to follow mine? - For
that is what you do, after all - what you like best. It is all very
easy for a man to talk of conquering his appetites, when he has none
to conquer. Try and conquer your organ of veneration, or of
benevolence, or of calculation - then I will call you an ascetic.
Why not! - The same Power which made the front of one's head made the
back, I suppose?

'And, I tell you, hunting does me good. It awakens me out of my
dreary mill-round of metaphysics. It sweeps away that infernal web
of self-consciousness, and absorbs me in outward objects; and my
red-hot Perillus's bull cools in proportion as my horse warms. I
tell you, I never saw a man who could cut out his way across country
who could not cut his way through better things when his turn came.
The cleverest and noblest fellows are sure to be the best riders in
the long run. And as for bad company and "the world," when you take
to going in the first-class carriages for fear of meeting a swearing
sailor in the second-class - when those who have "renounced the
world" give up buying and selling in the funds - when my uncle, the
pious banker, who will only "associate" with the truly religious,
gives up dealing with any scoundrel or heathen who can "do business"
with him - then you may quote pious people's opinions to me. In
God's name, if the Stock Exchange, and railway stagging, and the
advertisements in the Protestant Hue-and-Cry, and the frantic
Mammon-hunting which has been for the last fifty years the peculiar
pursuit of the majority of Quakers, Dissenters, and Religious
Churchmen, are not The World, what is? I don't complain of them,
though; Puritanism has interdicted to them all art, all excitement,
all amusement - except money-making. It is their dernier ressort,
poor souls!

'But you must explain to us naughty fox-hunters how all this agrees
with the good book. We see plainly enough, in the meantime, how it
agrees with "poor human nature." We see that the "religious world,"
like the "great world," and the "sporting world," and the "literary
world,"


"Compounds for sins she is inclined to,
By damning those she has no mind to;"


and that because England is a money-making country, and money-making
is an effeminate pursuit, therefore all sedentary and spoony sins,
like covetousness, slander, bigotry, and self-conceit, are to be
cockered and plastered over, while the more masculine vices, and no-
vices also, are mercilessly hunted down by your cold-blooded, soft-
handed religionists.

'This is a more quiet letter than usual from me, my dear coz, for
many of your reproofs cut me home: they angered me at the time; but
I deserve them. I am miserable, self-disgusted, self-helpless,
craving for freedom, and yet crying aloud for some one to come and
guide me, and teach me; and WHO IS THERE IN THESE DAYS WHO COULD


1 3 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

Online LibraryCharles KingsleyYeast: a Problem → online text (page 3 of 23)