« PreviousContinue »
cigar, with contentment depicted upon his visage. He is a wandering light in the ecclesiastic system, and has come to do duty at the unendowed church on the common for the season. He is not at Llandrysak for the waters.
'What does it matter how nasty the stuff is if you think it's doing you good?' he asks languidly.
The morning is too warm for much exertion. Even the clerical mind needs repose after the labour of performing matins for the edification of about a dozen females, chiefly of the spinster per
'Ah, it's all very well for you to talk like that,' remonstrates the other. In the first place, you don't drink that nauseous stuff; and in the second, it would jump with your notions of self-mortification-fasting, abstinence, and all that kind of thing-to imbibe obnoxious waters. The sort of thing St. Francis d'Assisi would have liked, you know.'
Are you going to the Eisteddfod ?' asks Mr. Dewrance, calmly ignoring these remarks.
• Are you?'
'That depends. Slingford Edwards is to be there in full force," with a wry face; and I don't much care about the business. I promised some ladies—'
'Of course; I never knew such a man! Your whole life is frittered away in such small engagements; not an hour that is not pledged to a petticoat. Dewrance, in spite of your varied experience of life, your travels, your knowledge of the world, you are still what. you were born to be.'
'What is that?' inquires Mr. Dewrance, with the faintest show of curiosity.
'A tame cat.'
'Why not?' asks the Curate placidly. Tame-catism isn't half a bad thing in its way. I like women, and women like me. I can make friends of them. I don't flirt, and I never commit myself; and then I look to women to help me in the serious business of my life. A priest can achieve great victories with an army of women at his command. How are our churches beautified, our sick tended, our poor fed, our children taught and cared for and civilised? Do you think the masculine element goes for much in these things? No, Westray; women are the Church's strong rock. As they were the last at the foot of the cross, so they have become the first at the altar.' Upon my soul,' ejaculates Westray, pulling his dark-brown moustache, I begin to think that women exercise a great deal more influence than we give them credit for; more than half the world is under petticoat government.'
Why don't you join the majority?' asks Dewrance, with a keen look at his friend.
They have known each other less than a fortnight, yet are on those friendly and familiar terms which men slip into so easily. Herman Westray is a man who has made himself a name in the world of letters. He began his career as a journalist in the year he left Oxford, and has only lately shaken himself free from the trammels of the daily press. He has won reputation as poet, dramatist, critic, novelist, and is a power in literary circles. Stimulated by success, and proud of his budding laurels, he has worked his brain to the verge of exhaustion, and has come to Llandrysak Wells at the advice of a wise old doctor, who attended him nine-and-twenty years ago for chicken-pox and croup.
'Why don't you look out for some nice girl who would reconcile you to the idea of matrimony?' pursues Dewrance. You're just the kind of man who is bound to go to eternal smash if he doesn't marry.'
If Mr. Dewrance's vocabulary is more modern than ecclesiastical, it must be urged in his excuse that he has not been long in holy orders, and that his previous experiences have been of the world worldly.
'I never found a nice girl yet,' replies Westray. I have met handsome girls, clever girls, fascinating girls, but never the woman to whom I could say, "Take my life into your keeping, and be my better angel. Come between me and my evil thoughts; lead me into the path of peace.'
'Girls nowadays are awfully fast, I admit,' says Dewrance gravely, unless they're Anglican. Try an Anglican girl.'
'No, thanks. A young woman who would get up at five o'clock in the morning to embroider an antependium, and neglect the housekeeping. I shouldn't like a free-thinking girl, you understand, but I should prefer her religion to take its colour from such teachers as Richter and Carlyle.'
Dewrance shrugs his shoulders with a deprecating air, and rises from his recumbent position.
'I think we'd better go and have a look at the Eisteddfod,' he says, 'in spite of Slingford Edwards.'
Slingford Edwards is the Nonconformist light of Llandrysak— Wesleyan or Baptist, no one seemed very clear which; but eminently popular among the natives. He holds forth thrice every Sunday from his rostrum in the red-brick chapel, and appears on weekdays with his manly form equipped in a costume at once agricultural and sportsmanlike, his well-shaped legs, of which he is justly proud, encased in worsted hose, his feet in smart buckled shoes.
This gentleman's popularity at Llandrysak gives him importance at the national festival. He is deputy-chairman, and does most of the hard work, Mr. Morton Jones, the squire, being only required to
make a condescending speech, and sit in his armchair, smiling blandly across a little table, throughout the proceedings.
'Let us go and see how Slingford Edwards does it,' says Mr. Dewrance, throwing away the stump of his cigar.
They stroll down the avenue and across the common, where even on this warm August day the west wind blows pure and fresh. Green hills ring them round like a girdle, and beyond the green rise loftier peaks, russet brown or deep purple-tinged gray, melting into the blue cloudless sky.
'I believe your sulphur and saline springs are a gigantic humbug,' cries Herman Westray, looking round him with the artist's love of the beautiful. 'But those hills and this pure air might reanimate exhausted mankind on the brink of the grave. I'm very glad my good old doctor sent me here.'
'You look twice as good a man as you did when you came,' answers Dewrance. 'I never saw such an exhausted specimen of humanity. You looked like a consumptive vampire.'
'I had been working six hours a day, or six hours a night, at literature for the last three years. That sort of thing does tell upon a man, especially when he tries to combine social enjoyment with intellectual labour-dines out three or four times a week, wastes his afternoons at garden parties, goes to the opera whenever the heavy swells sing, attends all first performances at the theatres, and so on; thus reducing his working time to the small hours between midnight and morning.'
6 Dreadful!' cries Dewrance.
'I wonder you're alive.'
'O, that's habit. If I were to think of the unwholesomeness of my life, I daresay I should die. The quiet of the grave would seem preferable to such high pressure. But I take things easily.'
'You look like it,' says Dewrance, with a side-glance at his friend's hollow cheeks and darkly-circled eyes.
'Llandrysak has done me no end of good. I had acquired an uncomfortable habit of falling asleep over my desk, which hinted at apoplexy, and now I am as fresh as paint. I have written two acts of a comedy since Saturday.'
'I thought you were here for rest.'
'O, comedy dialogue hardly counts as work. Besides, I am pledged to give Mrs. Brandreth something sparkling for the opening of the autumn season at the Frivolity.'
'The Frivolity? That's one of the new theatres, isn't it?'
All that there is of the most new; a house like a bonbonnière by Siraudin; all quilted canary-satin and gold, with a background of burgundy-coloured velvet; medallion portraits of Shakespeare's heroines on the panels-though what Shakespeare has to do with the Frivolity is more than any fellow can understand. In fact, it's a charming little box. The actors are most of them ex-cavalry
subalterns; the actresses-well, there isn't a plain woman among them.'
'Mrs. Brandreth herself is a handsome woman, I've heard,' says the Curate.
It would be a bald description of Myra Brandreth to call her handsome,' answers Herman. She is simply one of the most fascinating women who ever turned the brains of men. As for beauty, perhaps there are some handsomer, in her own theatre even; but there is a kind of loveliness about Mrs. Brandreth which I never saw in any one else. It isn't a question of eyes, or nose, or complexion, or figure. She breathes an atmosphere of beauty.' 'Poetical,' says the Curate; one would think you were among the men whose brains she has turned.'
'Not I. My part in life is rather that of observer of other men's follies than partaker in their delusions. I contrive to dispose of my surplus idiotcy in magazine articles.'
'Isn't your Mrs. Brandreth a woman with a history ?' asks Dewrance. 'I seem to remember having heard—’
"There is a history in all men's lives." Yes, they tell divers romantic legends of Mrs. Brandreth.'
'Antecedents rather discreditable than otherwise,' hazards the Curate, who from the spiritual altitude he inhabits bends his ear occasionally to murmurs from the mundane level beneath.
'I have not listened attentively to the various rumours about the lady,' replies Herman coolly. But I believe she has been rather sinned against than sinning.'
'I haven't been inside a theatre since I took orders,' says Mr. Dewrance. The opera, of course, is different. I take a seat in a friend's box now and then.'
They are close to the tent by this time, and the twanging of a harp within announces that the competition is in progress. They pay for their tickets at a little wooden watch-box outside the tent, and then, instead of entering with the commonalty, go round to the back, and make their way straight to the platform, Mr. Dewrance being a privileged person, for whom a place is reserved among the magnates of the land.
These magnates consist of a few country gentlemen, with their wives and daughters, who occupy a double row of benches on the platform, and thence survey the crowded audience below. Mr. Morton Jones, the chairman; Mr. Slingford Edwards; Mr. Evan Jones, the musical adjudicator; Mr. Davis, the treasurer; Mr. Bufton, the secretary; and two or three other gentlemen officially concerned in the day's proceedings, are clustered about a table in the centre of this platform.
The body of the tent is as full as it can be, and the audience, perspiring but happy, are listening with rapt attention to an ancient
Welsh song which a young man of the carpenter profession is singing to an accompaniment on the harp. It is really a spirit-stirring strain, with a fine bold swing in the melody, and better worth hearing than that slaughter of Handel and Haydn which the audience will have to assist at before the entertainment is over.
Competitors in the ancient Welsh minstrelsy being nowhere, the melodious young carpenter has a walk over the course, and receives the prize-half-a-sovereign in a little silken bag, with long ribbon strings, which are entwined about his neck by the fair hands of a damsel, who mounts the platform for that purpose, amidst the applause of the crowd.
The next entry is the great event of the morning. Competing choirs are to sing Haydn's grand chorus of The Heavens are telling' for a prize of ten guineas, and an ebony-and-silver baton for the conductor. Profound excitement prevails as the names of the competitors are announced. Only two choirs have been found bold enough to essay the contest, and, after a brief delay, the first of these, about five-and-twenty young men and women, mount the platform, the conductor stands upon a chair, to be better seen by his band, and all is ready for the start.
There is to be no accompaniment, no symphony to induct the singers in the right path. But from an unseen corner of the tent there issues the lugubrious sound of a tuning-fork. The singers make a dash at the opening note, start off at a hand-gallop, and hold bravely on till they finish breathlessly amidst friendly plaudits.
Choir number two succeeds, and begins with a false start. The pitch has to be given a second, nay a third, time by that lugubrious tuning-fork in the corner a fact to the last degree ignominious. But once off, choir number two has the best of it: the alto parts ring out more clearly, the time and ensemble are better, and there remains little doubt in the minds of the listeners as to the destination of the ten-pound prize and the ebony baton worth one guinea.
Mr. Evan Jones, the adjudicator (no relation to Mr. Morton Jones, the squire), advances to the front. He is a small activelooking man, with a keen dark face, and a brow not unprophetic of future distinction. He carries a sheet of music-paper, on which, with ruthless precision, he has recorded the errors of the rival choirs. He expresses himself tersely, and with a certain good-natured irony, not unpleasing to the audience, however galling it may be to the performers whose work he criticises.
The first choir,' he begins blandly, 'sang by no means badly, and in fact the performance was very creditable indeed.' (The first choir takes courage, and sees its way to the prize.) 'But they were in too great a hurry to distinguish themselves-the opening movement was taken at a gallop. Now there's no glory to God in such