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ning to waste for want of organization. Mr. Bas-
comti, the High-church dignitary of Slocum Magna,
was almost of the party, though he was not in social
residence. But he came and went by special desire
of Mr. Gooding, who had a great respect for him,
and by pressing invitation of Augusta. Another
contingent, quite after the prince's own heart, was
that of the sportsmen, who, for the most part, were
saved from frivolity by the manliness of their tastes.
The Points were variously composed. There was
Mr. Kenneth McAlister Bruce, a magnate of modern
finance who had nothing of the Scotsman but the
astuteness and the name. It was enough, especially
the first. He had shootings in the Highlands, a
house in Park Lane, a hand in well-nigh every en-
terprise of moment in the country, though ostensibly
his transactions were confined to the China trade.
You found him everywhere. You burrowed into un-
derground tubes : there he was. You coquetted with
new and far-reaching patents: he was there, too.
He financed there it is, in a word. He was ready
with the requisite subvention for every good thing
going. Had he been present at the rise of Moham-
medanism, he would have found the money for the
advance on Mecca, and secured exclusive banking
privileges with the new faith. He bore arms on his

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The Yellow Van

note-paper; he spoke English with the accent of
Frankfort ; he was bold and resolute, and in the fur-
ther reaches of his operations he was, no doubt, a
man of blood at need. But with his command of the
best legal advice he could take a pound of flesh with-
out any fear of the law. Neither his feet nor his
manners were made for the Pointed style, and he
walked Turkish carpets as uneasily as the ancient
chief of his order walked the burning marl. He had
the bluffness of his tremendous consciousness of
strength, and, in all his transactions with his fellow-
men, a sort of terrifying air of throwing off the mask.
He was rude to them. They knew it, and knew that
he knew it, too. Therein was one of the secrets of
his power. He had obliged the royal house; and
while, with them, he paid due regard to the forms,
he made no difficulty of alluding to the duke's chief
guest as "the youngster," over his cigar. Women
of the highest rank he snubbed to their faces in re-
turn for his encouragement of their futile hopes for
information as to the way to get rich.

In his division, and, to some extent, in his train,
was a courtly set of young men from Oxford, all of
good birth, and with nothing but good breeding for
their share of its supposed heritage of the humani-
ties. They were young men who believed in making
great strokes on the stock exchange and enjoying
life not coarsely, indeed, for they knew the value
of refinement in pleasure as an element of staying
power. They had found what they conceived was
a short cut to that Epicurean goal for which men

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have so long striven a state in which we may neither
suffer nor fear, a state of the absence of pain in the
body and of trouble in the mind. In this respect
they were the very latest outcome of Oxford culture,
and their rise had providentially synchronized with
the world-embracing bequest of Mr. Rhodes.

Another social interest was represented by the
services, and by the army in particular. These per-
sons, high in command, knew that they had a good
thing in our military system, and meant to hold it
for themselves and their dependents, at least quite
as firmly as they could have held a beleaguered fort.
They were already casting far-seeing glances to the
future, when the close of the war might bring home
a victorious general whose soul hungered to restore
the Roman discipline and the Roman simplicity.
They had no ill will for that general, but they wished
to put him in his place, and they were determined
to balk his berserker rage against incompetence by
keeping the supreme control of the military machine
in their own hands. They were accordingly prepar-
ing for his promotion to a post of great dignity be-
yond the seas in which he might employ his ravening
energies with profit to the country, without disturb-
ing the even tenor of their own way.

At the head of a section more immediately de-
voted to the arts was an amiable nobleman who en-
joyed a great reputation as a collector. In a richly
stocked land such as England, the gathering of pic-
tures and statuary is mainly a thing of the past.
The old country has all it wants in that line, and,

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besides, America has grown so insistent. But the
curious has taken the place of the beautiful, and the
culture of the postage-stamp shows that wealth and
research need never be without an object. The noble-
man in question had discovered a new hobby. Play-
bills were denied him by mere anticipation. It was
the same with china and the various forms of hard-
ware. But there remained one line of virgin enter-
priseomnibus and tram-car tickets. He had begun
to collect these treasures for the benefit of posterity
too late in their history to give him the command of
them at cost price. But he was willing to pay hand-
somely for his neglect, and he had secured with
incredible pains the first issues of nearly all the
southern lines of the metropolis, and well-nigh
every example of the northern section dating from
the period of the assumption of control by the
County Council. Of one or two of these, indeed,
he possessed costly proofs before letters specimens
without the stamp of their date. He was also by no
means ill provided with foreign examples, and he
had paid particular attention to the transatlantic,
in the modest hope of contributing his quota to the
promotion of the American alliance. His albums,
adorned with a book-plate of his coronet and the
well-known motto, " Punch, boys, punch; punch
with care," boasted a first Milwaukee, and an early
San Francisco; and he was now in treaty for a
primitive Salt Lake City, which had necessitated ad-
vances, not altogether agreeable in themselves, to
the successors of the Mormon prophet.

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The Yellow Van

He was fortunate in finding a contingent of
Americans at Allonby on this occasion to sympathize
with his efforts, if not to aid him in his work. One
or two of these were actually English by adoption,
and even by the change of nationality. They had
all the peculiarities of local accent, and the tricks of
manner at times in the proportions of caricature.
They were even prepared to suggest a belief that the
Declaration of Independence was only a regrettable
fit of temper, and that, by a proper exercise of for-
bearance on the part of the mother-country, it might
yet admit of modifications importing a return to
more filial sentiments. These were present, not by
the good will of the duchess, tut by the request of
the royal pair. It was appropriate, after a fashion,
for they were of those who are more royalist than the
king. They had caught everything of the tone of a
ruling caste, except, perhaps, the necessary reserves
of prudence. Their estates on English soil were
managed with a rigor of the rights of possession
which gave the wandering lover of the beautiful no
share in their glories and the resident poor but scant
hopes of the falling crumb.



275




XXXI

HE arrival was in semi-state. The
duke awaited the royal pair at the
station with postilions and out-
riders. The Volunteers performed
the services for which Volunteers
appear to exist in peaceful climes.
Augusta, looking her loveliest, was at her threshold.
To a nice observer her smile of welcome might have
seemed to lack conviction. Circumstances had some-
what shaken her faith in the institutions of which
the symbols were the glittering pageant, the bowing
pair, and the roaring crowds. Though the village
made as much noise as ever, she could not but be
aware of the two souls that had dropped out of its
reckoning since she herself came to Allonby with
blare of trumpet and beat of drum. The Knuckle
of Veal, however, demonstrated as cheerily as though
nothing had happened. Job Gurt toasted the royal
family in the parlor. Mr. Grimber gave them per-
sonal encouragement with heart, or at any rate with
hat and voice, outside. He was ably seconded by
Mr. Raif, who led the shouting of the village choir.
Mary and her father were among the first to be pre-
sented. Mr. Kisbye was effectually absent, as be-
fore; yet, for all that, he contrived to signalize his

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The Yellow Van

existence by a flaunting banner and the discharge
of an impertinent gun.

A glance at the chief guest served to show the
extreme injustice of party nomenclature. He had
been seriously maligned by his nickname. His
toe-caps would have gone through the eye of a
needle. Nor was there the slightest severity in his
manner. His air was not wanting in cordiality ; and
if he had a fault, it was only in a certain excess of
correctness. It was probably but an effect of shy-
ness: he seemed to have been exceedingly well
brought up.

His demeanor toward the Points left little to be
desired. He seemed absolutely unaware of their
existence as a faction, and he received their homage
as though rehearsing for his future part of the father
of all his people. His consort followed his lead.
Their ladies and gentlemen in attendance bore them-
selves with less tact, and were to be suspected of a
sniff.

There was barely time to dress for the great din-
ner which was the chief ceremonial feature cf the
day. The luggage poured in from the distant rail-
way-station in the wake of the visitors, and the
village kept in line to cheer the brakes long after it
had caught the last sight of the carriages.

It was understood that, for all the three days of
the visit, the same costume would not b'e worn twice.
The maids had the care-worn look of trainers en-
gaged in the last touches on racing day. They
peeped over the great staircase with an air of mingled

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triumph and solicitude as they delivered their
starters at scratch for the procession from the draw-
ing-room.

If the banquet was at first depressing in its sol-
emnity, it was all the fault of the Points. They
were too manifestly on their good behavior, and
their enforced homage to the sense of propriety
seemed to freeze the genial current of their souls.
They confined themselves, for the most part, to the
generalities of sport; but one who happened to be
nearest to the prince branched off into the question
of Arctic travel, with no very conspicuous success.
The Squares had an easier part to play. They had
only to eat their dinner to feel perfectly at their
ease. Lord Ogreby, flattered by a special attention
of the chef to his yearnings for boiled mutton, soft-
ened into a joke which seemed to give a final touch
of intensity to the prevailing gloom. The meal
might have been a total failure but for the happy
accident of a report, in stealthy circulation, which
seemed to divide the honors of curiosity between Mr.
Gooding and the prince. It was whispered that the
young Californian was the agent in advance of a new
colossal combination which was to make the roast
beef of old England a mere side-dish to American
pork and beans. He knew nothing of the cause of the
attentions which were showered on him in conse-
quence ; but, being human, he could only be pleased
by their effect. Strong men sought to catch his eye
with glances of respect. Beautiful and high-born
women unmistakably gave him permission to offer his

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The Yellow Van

homage at a later stage. The Bruce himself, for the
moment, was in eclipse. Arthur's looks and his un-
failing courtesy were other things that told in his
favor. He was surrounded in the drawing-room,
while the Bruce scattered incivilities in his path
without so much as the correction of a fan.

The support of his own countrywomen set the seal
on Mr. Gooding 's success. A few gave it reluctantly,
under the uneasy suspicion that he might, after all,
be only something in literature or art. They were
naturally more exclusive in this respect than the
society whose manners they aped. His relationship
to the duchess, his education, and his bearing would
not have sufficed ; for, to say .the truth, these fastidi-
ous persons were only watching for the opportunity
of snubbing Augusta as a parvenue in her own home.
She had not given them the opportunity; that was
all. The rumor of her brother's share in cosmic
finance seemed to decide the matter in his favor.

"I am still not so sure that he is in New York
society," said one of them to Lady Ogreby, "but I
will go as far as this : if both of us were there now,
I should send him a card for my next party."

Lady Ogreby, a plain woman in more senses than
one, seemed mystified.

"Because he 's rich?"

"No; not that, exactly."

"I see. He has such nice manners."

"Oh, dear, no."

"Then manners don't count?"

"Yes, they do; and yet"

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The Yellow Van

"And wealth is not everything?"
"On the contrary; yet
"And you 've no such thing as rank?"
"In one way of looking at it; but"
The old lady listened in a state of stupefaction.
Her only clear impression was a confirmation of her
dislike of the subtleties of the Athanasian creed.

The entertainment put a stop to further conversa-
tion. It was of the usual kind: stars of opera at a
guinea a note ; a short drawing-room comedy in one
act by distinguished amateurs, most superbly cos-
tumed; a fencing-bout by a French and an English
performer of the first distinction. A zenana dance
by a young lady, wherewith the Points had hoped to
secure a little of the fun of the fair, had been ruled
out by the blue pencil. The discomfited party
yawned through the program until the withdrawal
of the royal pair enabled them to seek their consola-
tion in the smoking-room. Hard fate, however, at-
tended them even here. The Squares invaded this
scene of repose with the royal duke at their head.
For a time the talk, in deference to his tastes, turned
almost exclusively on the prospects of to-morrow's
sport. But Providence was still watchful over the
dispirited faction, and at the third cigarette he took
his leave, with the most of the Squares in his train.
It is the unwritten law of such gatherings every-
where : the Points usually sit out the others, but, until
this comes to pass, the conversation is kept within
the safest limits. At a later period it takes, if not
a wider, a more personal, range ; and with the small

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The Yellow Van

hours it is apt to descend to scandals, with those who
feel themselves sure of one another both in taste and
in respect for the professional secret. When suc-
cessive reductions have brought about a final sur-
vival of the unfittest, you may hear anything you
are willing to listen to. As the hours wore on, that
glittering Point, Tom Penniquicke, was telling how
the true heir to the greatest peerage in England now
languished as a publican on one of his late father's
town estates, for want of the power to establish his
rights, if not even of the very knowledge of them
confined to Tom and his set. He was also able to
show how the equally innocent usurper of his title
was really of peasant origin on one side. It was
rather fresh to the listeners, but the servants knew
it all by heart.

And the evening and two o 'clock the next morning
were the first day.



281



XXXII




HE Square-Toed faction of the
court held the field, and all was
moral improvement at Allonby
Castle. The frivolous Pointed
Toes were still in eclipse. Mr.
Raif saw that the chance of his
life had come, and he made the most of it. If he
could interest the royal visitors in his ministrations
to the village poor, it might be the first step to a
bishopric. He was a sort of despatch agent of bless-
ings, earthly and divine. With him the model town-
ship was a sheepfold, with a shepherd who was the
beneficent tyrant of its flock. In short, he was the
middleman fighting for his own, an extremity in
which the middleman is dour. He was keen to detect
any infringement of his priestly right to the control
of the human conscience. His choice example of the
inadequacy of religious instruction in the board
schools was an unfortunate reference to the colum-
bines of Solomon which he professed to have had
from a town-bred child.

And in so far as he consented in his own mind to
share the dignities and tEe emoluments of agency,
he could act only with the nobility and gentry.
These and the clergy combined were the appointed

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The Yellow Van

leaders of the people ; and Mr. Raif was as sure that
the latter wanted leading in body and in soul as any
of his forerunners. He held firmly to the view of re-
ligion as mainly an affair of apparatus that finds so
much favor in our day. When in London he always
attended the ministrations of a colleague who enticed
to brighter worlds by means of lantern-slides sand-
wiched in between the prayers and the sermon, and
by catchy advertisements of the variety-show of the
Sunday to come. These methods, as being specially
suited to the treatment of the working-classes, were
much admired by the superior clergy. Their in-
ventor was understood to be assiduously preaching
the art of standing on his head in the pulpit by way
of crowning the 'edifice of the conversion of England.
Mr. Raif was much interested just now in a
scheme for winning Job Gurt, the village sot, to total
abstinence. The blacksmith had fallen on evil times
in spite of his "good money." As his potations in-
creased with plentiful earnings, his staying power
at work naturally diminished. He had finally been
compelled to make overtures for assistance, through
his wife, to the domestic chaplain, and had been given
to understand that redress of grievance must pre-
cede the grant of charitable supplies. Job" was in-
teresting as a character so materially minded that
he could only conceive the resurrection of the body
as an effect of pins and needles after unrefreshing
sleep. The chaplain had formed the laudable de-
sign of wrestling for the possession of him with the
powers of darkness as represented by the Knuckle

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The Yellow Van

of Veal. He seemed likely to be successful : Job had
capitulated on the imminence of a Saturday night
without the prospect of a Sunday's dinner.

On the Friday evening, accordingly, the penitent
was seated in the little club-house of the model vil-
lage, with a determination to make himself as merry
as circumstances admitted. Mr. Raif was prepared
to meet him more than half-way. The gathering was
avowedly for a convivial purpose, but its members
were to wet their whistles with mineral waters for
the bacchanalian songs dear to the old condition of
lapse. Mr. Raif was in some measure the patentee
of it, and he was proud of the achievement. With
the one exception of the intoxicant, the associations
were to be as nearly like those of the Knuckle of
Veal as the circumstances allowed. The scheme was
based on the idea of the coffee-tavern, in which the
tippler is supposed to accept harmless liquors as a
full and sufficient equivalent for strong drink, by
having permission to call for them at a dismal bar.
Its inventors have forgotten that, with all its faults,
the bar of perdition is at least bright.

The struggle won the sympathetic attention of the
village. There was a crowd about the club-house
door to witness the arrival of Job. It was felt that
his was a test case, and, moreover, that Satan was
prepared to regard it in that light. Discomfited in
this encounter, the fiend would probably trouble Slo-
cum no more.

Half-past seven was the time for the revel, and
at that hour the wretched Job entered the institute

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The Yellow Van

with Mr. Grimber, as a kind of sponsor, by his side.
The retired cockney tallow-chandler was as yet no
convert, but he had come down, by invitation, to see
how he liked it, and to report afterward to his own
soul.

Mr. Raif was at the door to meet them ; and shaking
both cordially by the hand, he invited Job's atten-
tion to the fact that it was a fine evening with per-
haps less success than he had a right to expect.

The blacksmith looked round the room, and found
it at once as near to the pleasures of imagination
and yet as far from those of sense as the star in the
poem. The floor was sanded; the long, hard settle
by the fireplace yielded hardly a point in discomfort
to the like contrivance at the Knuckle of Veal. There
were real pipes over the mantelpiece, long and white,
as though they were meant for business. From sheer
force of habit the unhappy man stretched out his
hand for one of them, and, addressing the boy in
waiting, made up with real apron and real shirt-
sleeves, called for a screw of tobacco.

"A very natural mistake," said Mr. Raif, ur-
banely, but with a frown that silenced the rising
titter. ''Bring a little soap and water: Job might
like to blow a bubble or two. We are no foes to
innocent recreation here. We welcome it, in fact."

It was brought, and Mr. Raif blew a few bubbles
by way of example. One of them made its way out
of the window. It was followed on the opening of
its journey into infinite space with a shout by the
urchins, and a smile, as of happy omen, by Mrs.

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The Yellow Van

Gurt and other matrons who had now joined the
group.

Job shook his head, relinquished the pipe, and
pushed the dish of soap-suds from him as he might
have done some new variety of tipple repugnant to
the conservatism of his British taste.

"Not me," he whispered to his henchman.

' ' Time 's flying, Jasper, ' ' said Mr. Raif. ' ' I think
we 'd better get on."

The man addressed, an old shepherd whose guid-
ing principle of action seemed to be to stand well
with the parson, took the chair without further in-
vitation, and with the brief remark, "Give your or-
ders, gents."

"Now, Gurt," cried Mr. Raif, cheerily, "ginger-
beer, soda, lemonade squash, if you fancy it; but
it '11 cost you a ha'penny more."

"Pop," murmured Job, in the tone of a dying
man

"Gents," said the chairman, when all were served,
"the usual loyal. Charge your glasses. The
Queen !" It was part of Mr. Raif 's method to begin
the evening with this toast as a happy compromise
between a brutish indifference to the providential
order and inadmissible prayer.

Job sipped his ginger-beer as a sign that he wished
no harm to constituted authority, but, for the rest,
seemed to reserve his opinion. The others, who were
better used to it, drank with less evident distaste.

Mr. Raif was the only person who showed no mis-

286



The Yellow Van

giving. He was quite convinced that this was the
entirely proper way with the humbler classes. You
trained them, and they obeyed as naturally as shrubs
took their cue from the volition of the gardener. He
patted Job on the back as though he were a kind of
scapegoat for the inflictions of the whole party.
"That 's right, boys; keep it up. I must leave you
now. Sing, drink anything you like within the
rules. There they are on the wall. And don't for-
get Rule XIII break up at half-past nine."

There was silence after he left. It might have
been a perfectly tolerable silence if it had not been
so heavily charged with self -consciousness and the
sense of playing a part.

"I s'pose we 'd better go on," said Jasper, look-
ing timidly at the door by which their tyrant had
left.

"Aye; sing a bit, an' get it over, man," said an-
other. "He '11 'ear 'e pretty sharp if ye doan't.
Then we might have a game at baggytelle."

"Well, couldn't ye tune up a bit, Job?" asked
Jasper. " ' In Cellar Deep ' ' D ' ye ken John Peel ? '
any blessed thing ye like. I 've beared ye 're a
pretty good performer."

"Mate, I ain't got a note in me," moaned Job,
from the depths of his anatomy, "to save my life."

"Give us 'Cellar Deep,' Jasper; that may
start un."

The chairman accordingly cleared his throat and
set out in his quavering way through a bacchanalian

287



The Yellow Van

poem of a whole-hearted depravity of taste that
makes it unique in the language :

"In cel-lar deep I sit and keep

My soul from cares op-pres-sing,
Com-pan-ion mine, the good Khine wine,

Earth's sweet-est, tru-est bless-ing.
With so-lemn pate let wis-dom prate

Of what we should be think-in g :
Give me my glass; my days shall pass

In drink-ing, drink-ing, drink-ing."

Done, as it was on this occasion, in split sodas, it
is the very triumph of make-believe. But in the
idle singing of our empty day it has probably been
the cause of more hypocrisy than any other song in


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Online LibraryRichard WhiteingThe yellow van → online text (page 16 of 21)