H. G. (Herbert George) Wells.

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"Are you really going to improvise?" said Mrs Jehoram in a state of
cooing delight.

"_SSsh!_" said the curate from Iping Hanger.

Then the Angel began to play, looking straight before him as he did so,
thinking of the wonderful things of the Angelic Land, and yet insensibly
letting the sadness he was beginning to feel, steal over the fantasia he
was playing. When he forgot his company the music was strange and sweet;
when the sense of his surroundings floated into his mind the music grew
capricious and grotesque. But so great was the hold of the Angelic music
upon the Vicar that his anxieties fell from him at once, so soon as the
Angel began to play. Mrs Jehoram sat and looked rapt and sympathetic as
hard as she could (though the music was puzzling at times) and tried to
catch the Angel's eye. He really had a wonderfully mobile face, and the
tenderest shades of expression! And Mrs Jehoram was a judge. George
Harringay looked bored, until the younger Miss Pirbright, who adored
him, put out her mousy little shoe to touch his manly boot, and then he
turned his face to catch the feminine delicacy of her coquettish eye,
and was comforted. The very eldest Miss Papaver and Mrs Pirbright sat
quite still and looked churchy for nearly four minutes.

Then said the eldest Miss Papaver in a whisper, "I always Enjoy violin
music so much." And Mrs Pirbright answered, "We get so little Nice music
down here." And Miss Papaver said, "He plays Very nicely." And Mrs
Pirbright, "Such a Delicate Touch!" And Miss Papaver, "Does Willie keep
up his lessons?" and so to a whispered conversation.

The Curate from Iping Hanger sat (he felt) in full view of the company.
He had one hand curled round his ear, and his eyes hard and staring
fixedly at the pedestal of the Hammergallow Sèvres vase. He supplied, by
the movements of his mouth, a kind of critical guide to any of the
company who were disposed to avail themselves of it. It was a generous
way he had. His aspect was severely judicial, tempered by starts of
evident disapproval and guarded appreciation. The Vicar leaned back in
his chair and stared at the Angel's face, and was presently rapt away in
a wonderful dream. Lady Hammergallow, with quick jerky movements of the
head and a low but insistent rustling, surveyed and tried to judge of
the effect of the Angelic playing. Mr Rathbone-Slater stared very
solemnly into his hat and looked very miserable, and Mrs Rathbone-Slater
made mental memoranda of Mrs Jehoram's sleeves. And the air about them
all was heavy with exquisite music - for all that had ears to hear.

"Scarcely affected enough," whispered Lady Hammergallow hoarsely,
suddenly poking the Vicar in the ribs. The Vicar came out of Dreamland
suddenly. "Eigh?" shouted the Vicar, startled, coming up with a jump.
"Sssh!" said the Curate from Iping Hanger, and everyone looked shocked
at the brutal insensibility of Hilyer. "So unusual of the Vicar," said
the very eldest Miss Papaver, "to do things like that!" The Angel went
on playing.

The Curate from Iping Hanger began making mesmeric movements with his
index finger, and as the thing proceeded Mr Rathbone-Slater got
amazingly limp. He solemnly turned his hat round and altered his view.
The Vicar lapsed from an uneasy discomfort into dreamland again. Lady
Hammergallow rustled a great deal, and presently found a way of making
her chair creak. And at last the thing came to an end. Lady Hammergallow
exclaimed "De - licious!" though she had never heard a note, and began
clapping her hands. At that everyone clapped except Mr Rathbone-Slater,
who rapped his hat brim instead. The Curate from Iping Hanger clapped
with a judicial air.

"So I said (_clap, clap, clap_), if you cannot cook the food my way
(_clap, clap, clap_) you must _go_," said Mrs Pirbright, clapping
vigorously. "(This music is a delightful treat.)"

"(It is. I always _revel_ in music,)" said the very eldest Miss Papaver.
"And did she improve after that?"

"Not a bit of it," said Mrs Pirbright.

The Vicar woke up again and stared round the saloon. Did other people
see these visions, or were they confined to him alone? Surely they must
all see ... and have a wonderful command of their feelings. It was
incredible that such music should not affect them. "He's a trifle
_gauche_," said Lady Hammergallow, jumping upon the Vicar's attention.
"He neither bows nor smiles. He must cultivate oddities like that. Every
successful executant is more or less _gauche_."

"Did you really make that up yourself?" said Mrs Jehoram, sparkling her
eyes at him, "as you went along. Really, it is _wonderful_! Nothing less
than wonderful."

"A little amateurish," said the Curate from Iping Hanger to Mr
Rathbone-Slater. "A great gift, undoubtedly, but a certain lack of
sustained training. There were one or two little things ... I would like
to talk to him."

"His trousers look like concertinas," said Mr Rathbone-Slater. "He ought
to be told _that_. It's scarcely decent."

"Can you do Imitations, Mr Angel?" said Lady Hammergallow.

"Oh _do_, do some Imitations!" said Mrs Jehoram. "I adore Imitations."

"It was a fantastic thing," said the Curate of Iping Hanger to the
Vicar of Siddermorton, waving his long indisputably musical hands as he
spoke; "a little involved, to my mind. I have heard it before
somewhere - I forget where. He has genius undoubtedly, but occasionally
he is - loose. There is a certain deadly precision wanting. There are
years of discipline yet."

"I _don't_ admire these complicated pieces of music," said George
Harringay. "I have simple tastes, I'm afraid. There seems to me no
_tune_ in it. There's nothing I like so much as simple music. Tune,
simplicity is the need of the age, in my opinion. We are so over subtle.
Everything is far-fetched. Home grown thoughts and 'Home, Sweet Home'
for me. What do you think?"

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

"Well, Amy, chattering to George as usual?" said Mrs Pirbright, across
the room.

"As usual, Ma!" said the younger Miss Pirbright, glancing round with a
bright smile at Miss Papaver, and turning again so as not to lose the
next utterance from George.

"I wonder if you and Mr Angel could manage a duet?" said Lady
Hammergallow to the Curate from Iping Hanger, who was looking
preternaturally gloomy.

"I'm sure I should be delighted," said the Curate from Iping Hanger,
brightening up.

"Duets!" said the Angel; "the two of us. Then he can play. I
understood - the Vicar told me - "

"Mr Wilmerdings is an accomplished pianist," interrupted the Vicar.

"But the Imitations?" said Mrs Jehoram, who detested Wilmerdings.

"Imitations!" said the Angel.

"A pig squeaking, a cock crowing, you know," said Mr Rathbone-Slater,
and added lower, "Best fun you can get out of a fiddle - _my_ opinion."

"I really don't understand," said the Angel. "A pig crowing!"

"You don't like Imitations," said Mrs Jehoram. "Nor do I - really. I
accept the snub. I think they degrade...."

"Perhaps afterwards Mr Angel will Relent," said Lady Hammergallow, when
Mrs Pirbright had explained the matter to her. She could scarcely credit
her ear-trumpet. When she asked for Imitations she was accustomed to get
Imitations.

Mr Wilmerdings had seated himself at the piano, and had turned to a
familiar pile of music in the recess. "What do you think of that
Barcarole thing of Spohr's?" he said over his shoulder. "I suppose you
know it?" The Angel looked bewildered.

He opened the folio before the Angel.

"What an odd kind of book!" said the Angel. "What do all those crazy
dots mean?" (At that the Vicar's blood ran cold.)

"What dots?" said the Curate.

"There!" said the Angel with incriminating finger.

"Oh _come_!" said the Curate.

There was one of those swift, short silences that mean so much in a
social gathering.

Then the eldest Miss Papaver turned upon the Vicar. "Does not Mr Angel
play from ordinary.... Music - from the ordinary notation?"

"I have never heard," said the Vicar, getting red now after the first
shock of horror. "I have really never seen...."

The Angel felt the situation was strained, though what was straining it
he could not understand. He became aware of a doubtful, an unfriendly
look upon the faces that regarded him. "Impossible!" he heard Mrs
Pirbright say; "after that _beautiful_ music." The eldest Miss Papaver
went to Lady Hammergallow at once, and began to explain into her
ear-trumpet that Mr Angel did not wish to play with Mr Wilmerdings, and
alleged an ignorance of written music.

"He cannot play from Notes!" said Lady Hammergallow in a voice of
measured horror. "Non - sense!"

"Notes!" said the Angel perplexed. "Are these notes?"

"It's carrying the joke too far - simply because he doesn't want to play
with Wilmerdings," said Mr Rathbone-Slater to George Harringay.

There was an expectant pause. The Angel perceived he had to be ashamed
of himself. He was ashamed of himself.

"Then," said Lady Hammergallow, throwing her head back and speaking with
deliberate indignation, as she rustled forward, "if you cannot play with
Mr Wilmerdings I am afraid I cannot ask you to play again." She made it
sound like an ultimatum. Her glasses in her hand quivered violently with
indignation. The Angel was now human enough to appreciate the fact that
he was crushed.

"What is it?" said little Lucy Rustchuck in the further bay.

"He's refused to play with old Wilmerdings," said Tommy Rathbone-Slater.
"What a lark! The old girl's purple. She thinks heaps of that ass,
Wilmerdings."

"Perhaps, Mr Wilmerdings, you will favour us with that delicious
Polonaise of Chopin's," said Lady Hammergallow. Everybody else was
hushed. The indignation of Lady Hammergallow inspired much the same
silence as a coming earthquake or an eclipse. Mr Wilmerdings perceived
he would be doing a real social service to begin at once, and (be it
entered to his credit now that his account draws near its settlement) he
did.

"If a man pretend to practise an Art," said George Harringay, "he ought
at least to have the conscience to study the elements of it. What do
you...."

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

The Vicar felt that the heavens had fallen. He sat crumpled up in his
chair, a shattered man. Lady Hammergallow sat down next to him without
appearing to see him. She was breathing heavily, but her face was
terribly calm. Everyone sat down. Was the Angel grossly ignorant or only
grossly impertinent? The Angel was vaguely aware of some frightful
offence, aware that in some mysterious way he had ceased to be the
centre of the gathering. He saw reproachful despair in the Vicar's eye.
He drifted slowly towards the window in the recess and sat down on the
little octagonal Moorish stool by the side of Mrs Jehoram. And under the
circumstances he appreciated at more than its proper value Mrs Jehoram's
kindly smile. He put down the violin in the window seat.




XXXV.


Mrs Jehoram and the Angel (apart) - Mr Wilmerdings playing.

"I have so longed for a quiet word with you," said Mrs Jehoram in a low
tone. "To tell you how delightful I found your playing."

"I am glad it pleased you," said the Angel.

"Pleased is scarcely the word," said Mrs Jehoram. "I was
moved - profoundly. These others did not understand.... I was glad you
did not play with him."

The Angel looked at the mechanism called Wilmerdings, and felt glad too.
(The Angelic conception of duets is a kind of conversation upon
violins.) But he said nothing.

"I worship music," said Mrs Jehoram. "I know nothing about it
technically, but there is something in it - a longing, a wish...."

The Angel stared at her face. She met his eyes.

"You understand," she said. "I see you understand." He was certainly a
very nice boy, sentimentally precocious perhaps, and with deliciously
liquid eyes.

There was an interval of Chopin (Op. 40) played with immense precision.

Mrs Jehoram had a sweet face still, in shadow, with the light falling
round her golden hair, and a curious theory flashed across the Angel's
mind. The perceptible powder only supported his view of something
infinitely bright and lovable caught, tarnished, coarsened, coated over.

"Do you," said the Angel in a low tone. "Are you ... separated from ...
_your_ world?"

"As you are?" whispered Mrs Jehoram.

"This is so - cold," said the Angel. "So harsh!" He meant the whole
world.

"I feel it too," said Mrs Jehoram, referring to Siddermorton Home.

"There are those who cannot live without sympathy," she said after a
sympathetic pause. "And times when one feels alone in the world.
Fighting a battle against it all. Laughing, flirting, hiding the pain of
it...."

"And hoping," said the Angel with a wonderful glance. - "Yes."

Mrs Jehoram (who was an epicure of flirtations) felt the Angel was more
than redeeming the promise of his appearance. (Indisputably he
worshipped her.) "Do _you_ look for sympathy?" she said. "Or have you
found it?"

"I think," said the Angel, very softly, leaning forward, "I think I have
found it."

Interval of Chopin Op. 40. The very eldest Miss Papaver and Mrs
Pirbright whispering. Lady Hammergallow (glasses up) looking down the
saloon with an unfriendly expression at the Angel. Mrs Jehoram and the
Angel exchanging deep and significant glances.

"Her name," said the Angel (Mrs Jehoram made a movement) "is Delia. She
is...."

"Delia!" said Mrs Jehoram sharply, slowly realising a terrible
misunderstanding. "A fanciful name.... Why!... No! Not that little
housemaid at the Vicarage - ?..."

The Polonaise terminated with a flourish. The Angel was quite surprised
at the change in Mrs Jehoram's expression.

"_I never_ did!" said Mrs Jehoram recovering. "To make me your
confidant in an intrigue with a servant. Really Mr Angel it's possible
to be too original...."

Then suddenly their colloquy was interrupted.




XXXVI.


This section is (so far as my memory goes) the shortest in the book.

But the enormity of the offence necessitates the separation of this
section from all other sections.

The Vicar, you must understand, had done his best to inculcate the
recognised differentiae of a gentleman. "Never allow a lady to carry
anything," said the Vicar. "Say, 'permit me' and relieve her." "Always
stand until every lady is seated." "Always rise and open a door for a
lady...." and so forth. (All men who have elder sisters know that code.)

And the Angel (who had failed to relieve Lady Hammergallow of her
teacup) danced forward with astonishing dexterity (leaving Mrs Jehoram
in the window seat) and with an elegant "permit me" rescued the tea-tray
from Lady Hammergallow's pretty parlour-maid and vanished officiously in
front of her. The Vicar rose to his feet with an inarticulate cry.




XXXVII.


"He's drunk!" said Mr Rathbone-Slater, breaking a terrific silence.
"That's the matter with _him_."

Mrs Jehoram laughed hysterically.

The Vicar stood up, motionless, staring. "Oh! I _forgot_ to explain
servants to him!" said the Vicar to himself in a swift outbreak of
remorse. "I thought he _did_ understand servants."

"Really, Mr Hilyer!" said Lady Hammergallow, evidently exercising
enormous self-control and speaking in panting spasms. "Really, Mr
Hilyer! - Your genius is _too_ terrible. I must, I really _must_, ask you
to take him home."

So to the dialogue in the corridor of alarmed maid-servant and
well-meaning (but shockingly _gauche_) Angel - appears the Vicar, his
botryoidal little face crimson, gaunt despair in his eyes, and his
necktie under his left ear.

"Come," he said - struggling with emotion. "Come away.... I.... I am
disgraced for ever."

And the Angel stared for a second at him and obeyed - meekly, perceiving
himself in the presence of unknown but evidently terrible forces.

And so began and ended the Angel's social career.

In the informal indignation meeting that followed, Lady Hammergallow
took the (informal) chair. "I feel humiliated," she said. "The Vicar
assured me he was an exquisite player. I never imagined...."

"He was drunk," said Mr Rathbone-Slater. "You could tell it from the way
he fumbled with his tea."

"Such a _fiasco_!" said Mrs Mergle.

"The Vicar assured me," said Lady Hammergallow. "'The man I have staying
with me is a musical genius,' he said. His very words."

"His ears must be burning anyhow," said Tommy Rathbone-Slater.

"I was trying to keep him Quiet," said Mrs Jehoram. "By humouring him.
And do you know the things he said to me - there!"

"The thing he played," said Mr Wilmerdings," - I must confess I did not
like to charge him to his face. But really! It was merely _drifting_."

"Just fooling with a fiddle, eigh?" said George Harringay. "Well I
thought it was beyond me. So much of your fine music is - "

"Oh, _George_!" said the younger Miss Pirbright.

"The Vicar was a bit on too - to judge by his tie," said Mr
Rathbone-Slater. "It's a dashed rummy go. Did you notice how he fussed
after the genius?"

"One has to be so very careful," said the very eldest Miss Papaver.

"He told me he is in love with the Vicar's housemaid!" said Mrs Jehoram.
"I almost laughed in his face."

"The Vicar ought _never_ to have brought him here," said Mrs
Rathbone-Slater with decision.




THE TROUBLE OF THE BARBED WIRE.

XXXVIII.


So, ingloriously, ended the Angel's first and last appearance in
Society. Vicar and Angel returned to the Vicarage; crestfallen black
figures in the bright sunlight, going dejectedly. The Angel, deeply
pained that the Vicar was pained. The Vicar, dishevelled and desperate,
intercalating spasmodic remorse and apprehension with broken
explanations of the Theory of Etiquette. "They do _not_ understand,"
said the Vicar over and over again. "They will all be so very much
aggrieved. I do not know what to say to them. It is all so confused, so
perplexing." And at the gate of the Vicarage, at the very spot where
Delia had first seemed beautiful, stood Horrocks the village constable,
awaiting them. He held coiled up about his hand certain short lengths of
barbed wire.

"Good evening, Horrocks," said the Vicar as the constable held the gate
open.

"Evenin', Sir," said Horrocks, and added in a kind of mysterious
undertone, "_Could_ I speak to you a minute, Sir?"

"Certainly," said the Vicar. The Angel walked on thoughtfully to the
house, and meeting Delia in the hall stopped her and cross-examined her
at length over differences between Servants and Ladies.

"You'll excuse my taking the liberty, Sir," said Horrocks, "but there's
trouble brewin' for that crippled gent you got stayin' here."

"Bless me!" said the Vicar. "You don't say so!"

"Sir John Gotch, Sir. He's very angry indeed, Sir. His language,
Sir - - . But I felt bound to tell you, Sir. He's certain set on taking
out a summons on account of that there barbed wire. Certain set, Sir, he
is."

"Sir John Gotch!" said the Vicar. "Wire! I don't understand."

"He asked me to find out who did it. Course I've had to do my duty, Sir.
Naturally a disagreeable one."

"Barbed wire! Duty! I don't understand you, Horrocks."

"I'm afraid, Sir, there's no denying the evidence. I've made careful
enquiries, Sir." And forthwith the constable began telling the Vicar of
a new and terrible outrage committed by the Angelic visitor.

But we need not follow that explanation in detail - or the subsequent
confession. (For my own part I think there is nothing more tedious than
dialogue). It gave the Vicar a new view of the Angelic character, a
vignette of the Angelic indignation. A shady lane, sun-mottled, sweet
hedges full of honeysuckle and vetch on either side, and a little girl
gathering flowers, forgetful of the barbed wire which, all along the
Sidderford Road, fenced in the dignity of Sir John Gotch from "bounders"
and the detested "million." Then suddenly a gashed hand, a bitter
outcry, and the Angel sympathetic, comforting, inquisitive. Explanations
sob-set, and then - altogether novel phenomenon in the Angelic
career - _passion_. A furious onslaught upon the barbed wire of Sir John
Gotch, barbed wire recklessly handled, slashed, bent and broken. Yet
the Angel acted without personal malice - saw in the thing only an ugly
and vicious plant that trailed insidiously among its fellows. Finally
the Angel's explanations gave the Vicar a picture of the Angel alone
amidst his destruction, trembling and amazed at the sudden force, not
himself, that had sprung up within him, and set him striking and
cutting. Amazed, too, at the crimson blood that trickled down his
fingers.

"It is still more horrible," said the Angel when the Vicar explained the
artificial nature of the thing. "If I had seen the man who put this
silly-cruel stuff there to hurt little children, I know I should have
tried to inflict pain upon him. I have never felt like this before. I am
indeed becoming tainted and coloured altogether by the wickedness of
this world."

"To think, too, that you men should be so foolish as to uphold the laws
that let a man do such spiteful things. Yes - I know; you will say it has
to be so. For some remoter reason. That is a thing that only makes me
angrier. Why cannot an act rest on its own merits?... As it does in the
Angelic Land."

That was the incident the history of which the Vicar now gradually
learnt, getting the bare outline from Horrocks, the colour and emotion
subsequently from the Angel. The thing had happened the day before the
musical festival at Siddermorton House.

"Have you told Sir John who did it?" asked the Vicar. "And are you
sure?"

"Quite sure, Sir. There can be no doubting it was your gentleman, Sir.
I've not told Sir John yet, Sir. But I shall have to tell Sir John this
evening. Meaning no offence to you, Sir, as I hopes you'll see. It's my
duty, Sir. Besides which - "

"Of course," said the Vicar, hastily. "Certainly it's your duty. And
what will Sir John do?"

"He's dreadful set against the person who did it - destroying property
like that - and sort of slapping his arrangements in the face."

Pause. Horrocks made a movement. The Vicar, tie almost at the back of
his neck now, a most unusual thing for him, stared blankly at his toes.

"I thought I'd tell you, Sir," said Horrocks.

"Yes," said the Vicar. "Thanks, Horrocks, thanks!" He scratched the
back of his head. "You might perhaps ... I think it's the best way ...
Quite sure Mr Angel did it?"

"Sherlock 'Omes, Sir, couldn't be cocksurer."

"Then I'd better give you a little note to the Squire."




XXXIX.


The Vicar's table-talk at dinner that night, after the Angel had stated
his case, was full of grim explanations, prisons, madness.

"It's too late to tell the truth about you now," said the Vicar.
"Besides, that's impossible. I really do not know what to say. We must
face our circumstances, I suppose. I am so undecided - so torn. It's the
two worlds. If your Angelic world were only a dream, or if _this_ world
were only a dream - or if I could believe either or both dreams, it would
be all right with me. But here is a real Angel and a real summons - how
to reconcile them I do not know. I must talk to Gotch.... But he won't
understand. Nobody will understand...."

"I am putting you to terrible inconvenience, I am afraid. My appalling
unworldliness - "

"It's not you," said the Vicar. "It's not you. I perceive you have
brought something strange and beautiful into my life. It's not you.
It's myself. If I had more faith either way. If I could believe entirely
in this world, and call you an Abnormal Phenomenon, as Crump does. But
no. Terrestrial Angelic, Angelic Terrestrial.... See-Saw."

"Still, Gotch is certain to be disagreeable, _most_ disagreeable. He
always is. It puts me into his hands. He is a bad moral influence, I
know. Drinking. Gambling. Worse. Still, one must render unto Cæsar the
things that are Cæsar's. And he is against Disestablishment...."

Then the Vicar would revert to the social collapse of the afternoon.
"You are so very fundamental, you know," he said - several times.

The Angel went to his own room puzzled but very depressed. Every day the
world had frowned darker upon him and his angelic ways. He could see how
the trouble affected the Vicar, yet he could not imagine how he could
avert it. It was all so strange and unreasonable. Twice again, too, he
had been pelted out of the village.

He found the violin lying on his bed where he had laid it before
dinner. And taking it up he began to play to comfort himself. But now he
played no delicious vision of the Angelic Land. The iron of the world


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Online LibraryH. G. (Herbert George) WellsThe wonderful visit → online text (page 7 of 10)