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- Philistia - 10/74 -
For though she had always seen much of Harry, and though Harry, who was the kindest and proudest of brothers, had always instinctively kept her up to his own level of thought and conversation, still, she wasn't used to seeing so many intelligent and educated young men together, and the novelty of their society was delightfully exhilarating to her eager little mind. To a bright girl of nineteen, wherever she may come from, the atmosphere of Oxford has a wonderfully cheering and stimulating effect; to a country tradesman's daughter from a tiny west-country village it is like a little paradise on earth with a ceaseless round of intensely enjoyable breakfasts, luncheons, dinners, and water-parties.
Ernest, for his part, was not so well pleased. He wanted to have a little conversation with Oswald's sister; and he was compelled by politeness to give her up in favour of Arthur Berkeley. However, he made up for it when he returned, and monopolised the pretty little visitor himself for almost the entire tea-hour.
As soon as they had gone, Arthur Berkeley sported his oak, and sat down by himself in his comfortable crimson-covered basket chair. 'I won't let anybody come and disturb me this evening,' he said to himself moodily. 'I won't let any of these noisy Magdalen men come with their racket and riot to cut off the memory of that bright little dream. No desecration after she has gone. Little Miss Butterfly! What a pretty, airy, dainty, delicate little morsel it is! How she flits, and sips, and natters about every possible subject, just touching the tip of it so gracefully with her tiny white fingers, and blushing so unfeignedly when she thinks she's paid you a compliment, or you've paid her one. How she blushed when she said she liked my music! How she blushed when I said she had a splendid ear for minute discrimination! Somehow, if I were a falling-in-love sort of fellow, I half fancy I could manage to fall in love with her on the spot. Or rather, if I were a good analytical psychologist, perhaps I ought more correctly to say I AM in love with her already.'
He sat down idly at the piano and played a few bars softly to himself--a beautiful, airy sort of melody, as it shaped itself vaguely in his head at the moment, with a little of the new wine of first love running like a trill through the midst of its fast-flowing quavers and dainty undulations. 'That will do,' he said to himself approvingly. 'That will do very well; that's little Miss Butterfly. Here she flits, flits, flits, flickers, sip, sip, sip, at her honeyed flowers; twirl away, whirl away, off in the sunshine--there you go, Miss Butterfly, eddying and circling with your painted mate. Flirt, flirt, flirt, coquetting and curvetting, in your pretty rhythmical aërial quadrille. Down again, down to the hare-bell on the hill side; sip at it, sip at it, sip at it, sweet little honey-drops, clear little honey-drops, bright little honey-drops; oh, for a song to be set to the melody! Tra-la-la, tro-lo-lo, up again, Butterfly. Little silk handkerchief, little lace neckerchief, fluttering, fluttering! Feathery wings of her, bright little eyes of her, flit, flit, flicker! Now, she blushes, blushes, blushes; deep crimson; oh, what a colour! Paint it, painter! Now she speaks. Oh, what laughter! Silvery, silvery, treble, treble, treble; trill away, trill away, silvery treble. Musical, beautiful; beautiful, musical; little Miss Butterfly--fly--fly--fly away!' And he brought his fingers down upon the gamut at last, with a hasty, flickering touch that seemed really as delicate as Edie's own.
'I can never get words for it in English,' he said again, half speaking with his parted lips; 'it's too dactylic in rhythm for English verse to go to it. Béranger might have written a lilt for it, as far as mere syllables go, but Béranger to write about Miss Butterfly!--pho, no Frenchman could possibly catch it. Swinburne could fit the metres, I dare say, but he couldn't fit the feeling. It shall be a song without words, unless I write some Italian lines for it myself. Animula, blandula vagula--that's the sort of ring for it, but Latin's mostly too heavy. Io, Hymen, Hymenae, Io; Io, Hymen, Hymenae! What's that? A wedding song of Catullus--absit omen. I must be in love with her indeed.' He got up from the piano, and paced quickly and feverishly up and down the room.
'And yet,' he went on, 'if only I weren't bound down so by this unprofitable trade of parson! A curate on eighty pounds a year, and a few pupils! The presumptuousness of the man in venturing to think of falling in love, as if he were actually one of the beneficed clergy! What are deacons coming to, I wonder! And yet, hath not a deacon eyes; hath not a deacon hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? And if you show us a little Miss Butterfly, beautiful to the finger-ends, do we not fall in love with her at least as unaffectedly as if we were canons residentiary or rural deans? Fancy little Miss Butterfly a rural deaness! the notion's too ridiculous. Fly away, little Miss Butterfly; fly away, sweet little frolicsome, laughsome creature. I won't try to tie you down to a man in a black clerical coat with a very distant hypothetical reversionary prospect of a dull and dingy country parsonage. Flit elsewhere, little Miss Butterfly, flit elsewhere, and find yourself a gayer, gaudier-coloured mate!'
He sat down again, and strummed a few more bars of his half-composed, half-extemporised melody. Then he leant back on the music-stool, and said gently to himself once more: 'Still, if it were possible, how happy I should try to make her! Bright little Miss Butterfly, I would try never to let a cold cloud pass chillily over your sunshiny head! I would live for you, and work for you, and write songs for your sake, all full of you, you, you, and so all full of life and grace and thrilling music. What's my life good for, to me or to the world? "A clergyman's life is such a useful one," that amiable old conventionality gurgled out this morning; what's the good of mine, as it stands now, to its owner or to anybody else, I should like to know, except the dear old Progenitor? A mere bit of cracked blue china, a fanciful air from a comic opera, masquerading in black and white as a piece of sacred music! What good am I to anyone on earth but the Progenitor (God bless him!), and when he's gone, dear old fellow, what on earth shall I have left to live for. A selfish blank, that's all. But with HER, ah, how different! With her to live for and to cherish, with an object to set before oneself as worth one's consideration, what mightn't I do at last? Make her happy--after all, that's the great thing. Make her fond of my music, that music that floats and evades me now, but would harden into scores as if by magic with her to help one to spell it out--I know it would, at last, I know it would. Ah, well, perhaps some day I may be able; perhaps some day the dream will realise itself; till then, work, work, work; let me try to work towards making it possible, a living or a livelihood, no matter which. But not a breath of it to you meanwhile, Miss Butterfly; flit about freely and joyously while you may; I would not spoil your untrammelled flight for worlds by trying to tether it too soon around the fixed centre of my own poor doubtful diaconal destinies.'
At the same moment while Arthur Berkeley was thus garrulously conversing with his heated fancy, Harry and Edie Oswald were strolling lazily down the High, to Edie's lodgings.
'Well, what do you think now of Berkeley and Le Breton, Edie?' asked her brother. 'Which of them do you like the best?'
'I like them both immensely, Harry; I really can't choose between them. When Mr. Berkeley plays, he almost makes me fall in love with him; and when Mr. Le Breton talks, he almost makes me transfer my affections to him instead... But Mr. Berkeley plays divinely... And Mr. Le Breton talks beautifully... You know, I've never seen such clever men before--except you, of course, Harry dear, for you're cleverer and nicer than anybody. Oh, do let me look at those lovely silks over there?' And she danced across the road before he could answer her, like a tripping sylph in a painter's dreamland.
'Mr. Le Breton's very nice,' she went on, after she had duly examined and classified the silks, 'but I don't exactly understand what it is he's got on his conscience.'
'Nothing whatsoever, except the fact of his own existence,' Harry answered with a laugh. 'He has conscientious scruples against the existence of idle people in the community--do-nothings and eat-alls--and therefore he has conscientious scruples against himself for not immediately committing suicide. I believe, if he did exactly what he thought was abstractly right, he'd go away and cut his own throat incontinently for an unprofitable, unproductive, useless citizen.'
'Oh, dear, I hope he'll do nothing of the sort,' cried Edie hastily. 'I think I shall really ask him not to for my sake, if not for anybody else's.'
'He'd be very much flattered indeed by your interposition on his behalf, no doubt, Popsy; but I'm afraid it wouldn't produce much effect upon his ultimate decision.'
'Tell me, Harry, is Mr. Berkeley High Church?'
'Oh dear no, I shouldn't say so. I don't suppose he ever gave the subject a single moment's consideration.'
'But St. Fredegond's is very High Church, I'm told.'
'Ah, yes; but Berkeley's curate of St. Fredegond's, not in virtue of his theology--I never heard he'd got any to speak of--but in virtue of his musical talents. He went into the Church, I suppose, on purely aesthetic grounds. He liked a musical service, and it seemed natural to him to take part in one, just as it seemed natural to a mediaeval Italian with artistic tendencies to paint Madonnas and St. Sebastians. There's nothing more in his clerical coat than that, I fancy, Edie. He probably never thought twice about it on theological grounds.'
'Oh, but that's very wrong of him, Harry. I don't mean having no particular theological beliefs, of course; one expects that nowadays; but going into the Church without them.'
'Well, you see, Edie, you mustn't judge Berkeley in quite the same way as you'd judge other people. In his mind, the aesthetic side is always uppermost; the logical side is comparatively in abeyance. Questions of creed, questions of philosophical belief, questions of science don't interest him at all; he looks at all of them from the point of view of the impression alone. What he sees in the Church is not a body of dogmas, like the High Churchmen, nor a set of opinions, like the Low Churchmen, but a close corporation of educated and cultivated gentlemen, charged with the duty of caring for a number of beautiful mediaeval architectural monuments, and of carrying on a set of grand and impressive musical or oral services. To him, a cathedral is a magnificent historical heritage; a sermon is a sort of ingenious literary exercise; and a hymn is a capital vehicle for very solemn emotional music. That's all; and we can hardly blame him for not seeing these things as we should see them.'
'Well, Harry, I don't know. I like them both immensely. Mr. Berkeley's very nice, but perhaps I like Mr. Le Breton the best of the two.'
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