H. G. (Herbert George) Wells.

The wonderful visit online

. (page 6 of 10)
Online LibraryH. G. (Herbert George) WellsThe wonderful visit → online text (page 6 of 10)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


husks! - certainly not. _I_ never saw such creatures before I fell into
this world."

"Oh! but come!" said the Doctor. "You'll tell me next your official
robes are not white and that you can't play the harp."

"There's no such thing as white in the Angelic Land," said the Angel.
"It's that queer blank colour you get by mixing up all the others."

"Why, my dear Sir!" said the doctor, suddenly altering his tone, "you
positively know nothing about the Land you come from. White's the very
essence of it."

The Angel stared at him. Was the man jesting? He looked perfectly
serious.

"Look here," said Crump, and getting up, he went to the sideboard on
which a copy of the Parish Magazine was lying. He brought it round to
the Angel and opened it at the coloured supplement. "Here's some _real_
angels," he said. "You see it's not simply the wings make the Angel.
White you see, with a curly whisp of robe, sailing up into the sky with
their wings furled. Those are angels on the best authority. Hydroxyl
kind of hair. One has a bit of a harp, you see, and the other is helping
this wingless lady - kind of larval Angel, you know - upward."

"Oh! but really!" said the Angel, "those are not angels at all."

"But they _are_," said Crump, putting the magazine back on the sideboard
and resuming his seat with an air of intense satisfaction. "I can assure
you I have the _best_ authority...."

"I can assure you...."

Crump tucked in the corners of his mouth and shook his head from side to
side even as he had done to the Vicar. "No good," he said, "can't alter
our ideas just because an irresponsible visitor...."

"If these are angels," said the Angel, "then I have never been in the
Angelic Land."

"Precisely," said Crump, ineffably self-satisfied; "that was just what I
was getting at."

The Angel stared at him for a minute round-eyed, and then was seized for
the second time by the human disorder of laughter.

"Ha, ha, ha!" said Crump, joining in. "I _thought_ you were not quite so
mad as you seemed. Ha, ha, ha!"

And for the rest of the lunch they were both very merry, for entirely
different reasons, and Crump insisted upon treating the Angel as a
"dorg" of the highest degree.




XXX.


After the Angel had left Crump's house he went up the hill again towards
the Vicarage. But - possibly moved by the desire to avoid Mrs Gustick - he
turned aside at the stile and made a detour by the Lark's Field and
Bradley's Farm.

He came upon the Respectable Tramp slumbering peacefully among the
wild-flowers. He stopped to look, struck by the celestial tranquillity
of that individual's face. And even as he did so the Respectable Tramp
awoke with a start and sat up. He was a pallid creature, dressed in
rusty black, with a broken-spirited crush hat cocked over one eye. "Good
afternoon," he said affably. "How are you?"

"Very well, thank you," said the Angel, who had mastered the phrase.

The Respectable Tramp eyed the Angel critically. "Padding the Hoof,
matey?" he said. "Like me."

The Angel was puzzled by him. "Why," asked the Angel, "do you sleep
like this instead of sleeping up in the air on a Bed?"

"Well I'm blowed!" said the Respectable Tramp. "Why don't I sleep in a
bed? Well, it's like this. Sandringham's got the painters in, there's
the drains up in Windsor Castle, and I 'aven't no other 'ouse to go to.
You 'aven't the price of a arf pint in your pocket, 'ave yer?"

"I have nothing in my pocket," said the Angel.

"Is this here village called Siddermorton?" said the Tramp, rising
creakily to his feet and pointing to the clustering roofs down the hill.

"Yes," said the Angel, "they call it Siddermorton."

"I know it, I know it," said the Tramp. "And a very pretty little
village it is too." He stretched and yawned, and stood regarding the
place. "'Ouses," he said reflectively; "Projuce" - waving his hand at the
cornfields and orchards. "Looks cosy, don't it?"

"It has a quaint beauty of its own," said the Angel.

"It _'as_ a quaint beauty of its own - yes.... Lord! I'd like to sack
the blooming place.... I was born there."

"Dear me," said the Angel.

"Yes, I was born there. Ever heard of a pithed frog?"

"Pithed frog," said the Angel. "No!"

"It's a thing these here vivisectionists do. They takes a frog and they
cuts out his brains and they shoves a bit of pith in the place of 'em.
That's a pithed frog. Well - that there village is full of pithed human
beings."

The Angel took it quite seriously. "Is that so?" he said.

"That's so - you take my word for it. Everyone of them 'as 'ad their
brains cut out and chunks of rotten touchwood put in the place of it.
And you see that little red place there?"

"That's called the national school," said the Angel.

"Yes - that's where they piths 'em," said the Tramp, quite in love with
his conceit.

"Really! That's very interesting."

"It stands to reason," said the Tramp. "If they 'ad brains they'd 'ave
ideas, and if they 'ad ideas they'd think for themselves. And you can
go through that village from end to end and never meet anybody doing as
much. Pithed human beings they are. I know that village. I was born
there, and I might be there now, a toilin' for my betters, if I 'adnt
struck against the pithin'."

"Is it a painful operation?" asked the Angel.

"In parts. Though it aint the heads gets hurt. And it lasts a long time.
They take 'em young into that school, and they says to them, 'come in
'ere and we'll improve your minds,' they says, and in the little kiddies
go as good as gold. And they begins shovin' it into them. Bit by bit and
'ard and dry, shovin' out the nice juicy brains. Dates and lists and
things. Out they comes, no brains in their 'eads, and wound up nice and
tight, ready to touch their 'ats to anyone who looks at them. Why! One
touched 'is 'at to me yesterday. And they runs about spry and does all
the dirty work, and feels thankful they're allowed to live. They take a
positive pride in 'ard work for its own sake. Arter they bin pithed. See
that chap ploughin'?"

"Yes," said the Angel; "is _he_ pithed?"

"Rather. Else he'd be paddin' the hoof this pleasant weather - like me
and the blessed Apostles."

"I begin to understand," said the Angel, rather dubiously.

"I knew you would," said the Philosophical Tramp. "I thought you was the
right sort. But speaking serious, aint it ridiculous? - centuries and
centuries of civilization, and look at that poor swine there, sweatin'
'isself empty and trudging up that 'ill-side. 'E's English, 'e is. 'E
belongs to the top race in creation, 'e does. 'E's one of the rulers of
Indjer. It's enough to make a nigger laugh. The flag that's braved a
thousand years the battle an' the breeze - that's _'is_ flag. There never
was a country was as great and glorious as this. Never. And that's wot
it makes of us. I'll tell you a little story about them parts as you
seems to be a bit of a stranger. There's a chap called Gotch, Sir John
Gotch they calls 'im, and when _'e_ was a young gent from Oxford, I was
a little chap of eight and my sister was a girl of seventeen. Their
servant she was. But Lord! everybody's 'eard that story - it's common
enough, of 'im or the likes of 'im."

"I haven't," said the Angel.

"All that's pretty and lively of the gals they chucks into the gutters,
and all the men with a pennorth of spunk or adventure, all who won't
drink what the Curate's wife sends 'em instead of beer, and touch their
hats promiscous, and leave the rabbits and birds alone for their
betters, gets drove out of the villages as rough characters. Patriotism!
Talk about improvin' the race! Wot's left aint fit to look a nigger in
the face, a Chinaman 'ud be ashamed of 'em...."

"But I don't understand," said the Angel. "I don't follow you."

At that the Philosophic Tramp became more explicit, and told the Angel
the simple story of Sir John Gotch and the kitchen-maid. It's scarcely
necessary to repeat it. You may understand that it left the Angel
puzzled. It was full of words he did not understand, for the only
vehicle of emotion the Tramp possessed was blasphemy. Yet, though their
tongues differed so, he could still convey to the Angel some of his own
(probably unfounded) persuasion of the injustice and cruelty of life,
and of the utter detestableness of Sir John Gotch.

The last the Angel saw of him was his dusty black back receding down the
lane towards Iping Hanger. A pheasant appeared by the roadside, and the
Philosophical Tramp immediately caught up a stone and sent the bird
clucking with a viciously accurate shot. Then he disappeared round the
corner.




MRS JEHORAM'S BREADTH OF VIEW.

XXXI


"I heard some one playing the fiddle in the Vicarage, as I came by,"
said Mrs Jehoram, taking her cup of tea from Mrs Mendham.

"The Vicar plays," said Mrs Mendham. "I have spoken to George about it,
but it's no good. I do not think a Vicar should be allowed to do such
things. It's so foreign. But there, _he_ ...."

"I know, dear," said Mrs Jehoram. "But I heard the Vicar once at the
schoolroom. I don't think this _was_ the Vicar. It was quite clever,
some of it, quite smart, you know. And new. I was telling dear Lady
Hammergallow this morning. I fancy - "

"The lunatic! Very likely. These half-witted people.... My dear, I don't
think I shall ever forget that dreadful encounter. Yesterday."

"Nor I."

"My poor girls! They are too shocked to say a word about it. I was
telling dear Lady Ham - - "

"Quite proper of them. It was _dreadful_, dear. For them."

"And now, dear, I want you to tell me frankly - Do you really believe
that creature was a man?"

"You should have heard the violin."

"I still more than half suspect, Jessie - - " Mrs Mendham leant forward
as if to whisper.

Mrs Jehoram helped herself to cake. "I'm sure no woman could play the
violin quite like I heard it played this morning."

"Of course, if you say so that settles the matter," said Mrs Mendham.
Mrs Jehoram was the autocratic authority in Siddermorton upon all
questions of art, music and belles-lettres. Her late husband had been a
minor poet. Then Mrs Mendham added a judicial "Still - "

"Do you know," said Mrs Jehoram, "I'm half inclined to believe the dear
Vicar's story."

"How _good_ of you, Jessie," said Mrs Mendham.

"But really, I don't think he _could_ have had any one in the Vicarage
before that afternoon. I feel sure we should have heard of it. I don't
see how a strange cat could come within four miles of Siddermorton
without the report coming round to us. The people here gossip so...."

"I always distrust the Vicar," said Mrs Mendham. "I know him."

"Yes. But the story is plausible. If this Mr Angel were someone very
clever and eccentric - "

"He would have to be _very_ eccentric to dress as he did. There are
degrees and limits, dear."

"But kilts," said Mrs Jehoram.

"Are all very well in the Highlands...."

Mrs Jehoram's eyes had rested upon a black speck creeping slowly across
a patch of yellowish-green up the hill.

"There he goes," said Mrs Jehoram, rising, "across the cornfield. I'm
sure that's him. I can see the hump. Unless it's a man with a sack.
Bless me, Minnie! here's an opera glass. How convenient for peeping at
the Vicarage!... Yes, it's the man. He is a man. With _such_ a sweet
face."

Very unselfishly she allowed her hostess to share the opera glass. For
a minute there was a rustling silence.

"His dress," said Mrs Mendham, "is _quite_ respectable now."

"Quite," said Mrs Jehoram.

Pause.

"He looks cross!"

"And his coat is dusty."

"He walks steadily enough," said Mrs Mendham, "or one might think....
This hot weather...."

Another pause.

"You see, dear," said Mrs Jehoram, putting down the lorgnette. "What I
was going to say was, that possibly he might be a genius in disguise."

"If you can call next door to nothing a disguise."

"No doubt it was eccentric. But I've seen children in little blouses,
not at all unlike him. So many clever people _are_ peculiar in their
dress and manners. A genius may steal a horse where a bank-clerk may not
look over the hedge. Very possibly he's quite well known and laughing
at our Arcadian simplicity. And really it wasn't so improper as some of
these New Women bicycling costumes. I saw one in one of the Illustrated
Papers only a few days ago - the _New Budget_ I think - quite tights, you
know, dear. No - I cling to the genius theory. Especially after the
playing. I'm sure the creature is original. Perhaps very amusing. In
fact, I intend to ask the Vicar to introduce me."

"My dear!" cried Mrs Mendham.

"I'm resolute," said Mrs Jehoram.

"I'm afraid you're rash," said Mrs Mendham. "Geniuses and people of that
kind are all very well in London. But here - at the Vicarage."

"We are going to educate the folks. I love originality. At any rate I
mean to see him."

"Take care you don't see too much of him," said Mrs Mendham. "I've heard
the fashion is quite changing. I understand that some of the very best
people have decided that genius is not to be encouraged any more. These
recent scandals...."

"Only in literature, I can assure you, dear. In music...."

"Nothing you can say, my dear," said Mrs Mendham, going off at a
tangent, "will convince me that that person's costume was not extremely
suggestive and improper."




A TRIVIAL INCIDENT.

XXXII.


The Angel came thoughtfully by the hedge across the field towards the
Vicarage. The rays of the setting sun shone on his shoulders, and
touched the Vicarage with gold, and blazed like fire in all the windows.
By the gate, bathed in the sunlight, stood little Delia, the waiting
maid. She stood watching him under her hand. It suddenly came into the
Angel's mind that she, at least, was beautiful, and not only beautiful
but alive and warm.

She opened the gate for him and stood aside. She was sorry for him, for
her elder sister was a cripple. He bowed to her, as he would have done
to any woman, and for just one moment looked into her face. She looked
back at him and something leapt within her.

The Angel made an irresolute movement. "Your eyes are very beautiful,"
he said quietly, with a remote wonder in his voice.

"Oh, sir!" she said, starting back. The Angel's expression changed to
perplexity. He went on up the pathway between the Vicar's flower-beds,
and she stood with the gate held open in her hand, staring after him.
Just under the rose-twined verandah he turned and looked at her.

She still stared at him for a moment, and then with a queer gesture
turned round with her back to him, shutting the gate as she did so, and
seemed to be looking down the valley towards the church tower.




THE WARP AND THE WOOF OF THINGS.

XXXIII.


At the dinner table the Angel told the Vicar the more striking of his
day's adventures.

"The strange thing," said the Angel, "is the readiness of you Human
Beings - the zest, with which you inflict pain. Those boys pelting me
this morning - - "

"Seemed to enjoy it," said the Vicar. "I know."

"Yet they don't like pain," said the Angel.

"No," said the Vicar; "_they_ don't like it."

"Then," said the Angel, "I saw some beautiful plants rising with a spike
of leaves, two this way and two that, and when I caressed one it caused
the most uncomfortable - - "

"Stinging nettle!" said the Vicar.

"At any rate a new sort of pain. And another plant with a head like a
coronet, and richly decorated leaves, spiked and jagged - - "

"A thistle, possibly."

"And in your garden, the beautiful, sweet-smelling plant - - "

"The sweet briar," said the Vicar. "I remember."

"And that pink flower that sprang out of the box - - "

"Out of the box?" said the Vicar.

"Last night," said the Angel, "that went climbing up the
curtains - - Flame!"

"Oh! - the matches and the candles! Yes," said the Vicar.

"Then the animals. A dog to-day behaved most disagreeably - - . And these
boys, and the way in which people speak - - . Everyone seems
anxious - willing at any rate - to give this Pain. Every one seems busy
giving pain - - "

"Or avoiding it," said the Vicar, pushing his dinner away before him.
"Yes - of course. It's fighting everywhere. The whole living world is a
battle-field - the whole world. We are driven by Pain. Here. How it lies
on the surface! This Angel sees it in a day!"

"But why does everyone - everything - want to give pain?" asked the Angel.

"It is not so in the Angelic Land?" said the Vicar.

"No," said the Angel. "Why is it so here?"

The Vicar wiped his lips with his napkin slowly. "It _is_ so," he said.
"Pain," said he still more slowly, "is the warp and the woof of this
life. Do you know," he said, after a pause, "it is almost impossible for
me to imagine ... a world without pain.... And yet, as you played this
morning - -

"But this world is different. It is the very reverse of an Angelic
world. Indeed, a number of people - excellent religious people - have been
so impressed by the universality of pain that they think, after death,
things will be even worse for a great many of us. It seems to me an
excessive view. But it's a deep question. Almost beyond one's power of
discussion - - "

And incontinently the Vicar plumped into an impromptu dissertation upon
"Necessity," how things were so because they were so, how one _had_ to
do this and that. "Even our food," said the Vicar. "What?" said the
Angel. "Is not obtained without inflicting Pain," said the Vicar.

The Angel's face went so white that the Vicar checked himself suddenly.
Or he was just on the very verge of a concise explanation of the
antecedents of a leg of lamb. There was a pause.

"By-the-bye," said the Angel, suddenly. "Have you been pithed? Like the
common people."




THE ANGEL'S DEBUT.

XXXIV.


When Lady Hammergallow made up her mind, things happened as she
resolved. And though the Vicar made a spasmodic protest, she carried out
her purpose and got audience, Angel, and violin together, at
Siddermorton House before the week was out. "A genius the Vicar has
discovered," she said; so with eminent foresight putting any possibility
of blame for a failure on the Vicar's shoulders. "The dear Vicar tells
me," she would say, and proceed to marvellous anecdotes of the Angel's
cleverness with his instrument. But she was quite in love with her
idea - she had always had a secret desire to play the patroness to
obscure talent. Hitherto it had not turned out to be talent when it came
to the test.

"It would be such a good thing for him," she said. "His hair is long
already, and with that high colour he would be beautiful, simply
beautiful on a platform. The Vicar's clothes fitting him so badly makes
him look quite like a fashionable pianist already. And the scandal of
his birth - not told, of course, but whispered - would be - quite an
Inducement - - when he gets to London, that is."

The Vicar had the most horrible sensations as the day approached. He
spent hours trying to explain the situation to the Angel, other hours
trying to imagine what people would think, still worse hours trying to
anticipate the Angel's behaviour. Hitherto the Angel had always played
for his own satisfaction. The Vicar would startle him every now and then
by rushing upon him with some new point of etiquette that had just
occurred to him. As for instance: "It's very important where you put
your hat, you know. Don't put it on a chair, whatever you do. Hold it
until you get your tea, you know, and then - let me see - then put it down
somewhere, you know." The journey to Siddermorton House was
accomplished without misadventure, but at the moment of introduction
the Vicar had a spasm of horrible misgivings. He had forgotten to
explain introductions. The Angel's na√ѓve amusement was evident, but
nothing very terrible happened.

"Rummy looking greaser," said Mr Rathbone Slater, who devoted
considerable attention to costume. "Wants grooming. No manners. Grinned
when he saw me shaking hands. Did it _chic_ enough, I thought."

One trivial misadventure occurred. When Lady Hammergallow welcomed the
Angel she looked at him through her glasses. The apparent size of her
eyes startled him. His surprise and his quick attempt to peer over the
brims was only too evident. But the Vicar had warned him of the ear
trumpet.

The Angel's incapacity to sit on anything but a music stool appeared to
excite some interest among the ladies, but led to no remarks. They
regarded it perhaps as the affectation of a budding professional. He was
remiss with the teacups and scattered the crumbs of his cake abroad.
(You must remember he was quite an amateur at eating.) He crossed his
legs. He fumbled over the hat business after vainly trying to catch the
Vicar's eye. The eldest Miss Papaver tried to talk to him about
continental watering places and cigarettes, and formed a low opinion of
his intelligence.

The Angel was surprised by the production of an easel and several books
of music, and a little unnerved at first by the sight of Lady
Hammergallow sitting with her head on one side, watching him with those
magnified eyes through her gilt glasses.

Mrs Jehoram came up to him before he began to play and asked him the
Name of the Charming Piece he was playing the other afternoon. The Angel
said it had no name, and Mrs Jehoram thought music ought never to have
any names and wanted to know who it was by, and when the Angel told her
he played it out of his head, she said he must be Quite a Genius and
looked open (and indisputably fascinating) admiration at him. The Curate
from Iping Hanger (who was professionally a Kelt and who played the
piano and talked colour and music with an air of racial superiority)
watched him jealously.

The Vicar, who was presently captured and set down next to Lady
Hammergallow, kept an anxious eye ever Angelward while she told him
particulars of the incomes made by violinists - particulars which, for
the most part, she invented as she went along. She had been a little
ruffled by the incident of the glasses, but had decided that it came
within the limits of permissible originality.

So figure to yourself the Green Saloon at Siddermorton Park; an Angel
thinly disguised in clerical vestments and with a violin in his hands,
standing by the grand piano, and a respectable gathering of quiet nice
people, nicely dressed, grouped about the room. Anticipatory gabble - one
hears scattered fragments of conversation.

"He is _incog._"; said the very eldest Miss Papaver to Mrs Pirbright.
"Isn't it quaint and delicious. Jessica Jehoram says she saw him at
Vienna, but she can't remember the name. The Vicar knows all about him,
but he is so close - - "

"How hot and uncomfortable the dear Vicar is looking," said Mrs
Pirbright. "I've noticed it before when he sits next to Lady
Hammergallow. She simply will _not_ respect his cloth. She goes on - - "

"His tie is all askew," said the very eldest Miss Papaver, "and his
hair! It really hardly looks as though he had brushed it all day."

"Seems a foreign sort of chap. Affected. All very well in a
drawing-room," said George Harringay, sitting apart with the younger
Miss Pirbright. "But for my part give me a masculine man and a feminine
woman. What do you think?"

"Oh! - I think so too," said the younger Miss Pirbright.

"Guineas and guineas," said Lady Hammergallow. "I've heard that some of
them keep quite stylish establishments. You would scarcely credit
it - - "

"I love music, Mr Angel, I adore it. It stirs something in me. I can
scarcely describe it," said Mrs Jehoram. "Who is it says that delicious
antithesis: Life without music is brutality; music without life
is - - Dear me! perhaps you remember? Music without life - - it's Ruskin
I think?"

"I'm sorry that I do not," said the Angel. "I have read very few books."

"How charming of you!" said Mrs Jehoram. "I wish I didn't. I sympathise
with you profoundly. I would do the same, only we poor women - - I
suppose it's originality we lack - - And down here one is driven to the
most desperate proceedings - - "

"He's certainly very _pretty_. But the ultimate test of a man is his
strength," said George Harringay. "What do you think?"

"Oh! - I think so too," said the younger Miss Pirbright.

"It's the effeminate man who makes the masculine woman. When the glory
of a man is his hair, what's a woman to do? And when men go running
about with beautiful hectic dabs - - "

"Oh George! You are so dreadfully satirical to-day," said the younger
Miss Pirbright. "I'm _sure_ it isn't paint."

"I'm really not his guardian, my dear Lady Hammergallow. Of course it's
very kind indeed of you to take such an interest - - "


1 2 3 4 6 8 9 10

Online LibraryH. G. (Herbert George) WellsThe wonderful visit → online text (page 6 of 10)