- CHAPTER V AN AWAKENING
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THAT spring was a wonderful time for Lady Esther Wyvern. For forty years she had wandered in the wilderness of childhood's dreams and girlhood's mirages; but now at last she had climbed the mountain peak, and had seen the promised land of womanhood spread out before her eyes. And she fairly trembled at the glory of the vision.
As yet she could not believe that to her had been given the command, "Enter ye in and possess it." That seemed too impossibly good to be true. At present she felt more like him who saw that good land afar off and yet was not permitted to pass over into its borders, than like him who was appointed to lead the people into the country for which they had yearned so long. She had become so accustomed to standing on one side and seeing others pass by and leave her behind, that she could not realize that at last her turn had come to take her normal share of human love and human happiness.
At first she did not know what had happened to her. She was not at all the type of woman that is given to self-analysis: she had always been far too proud to be egotistical. All she was conscious of was that a strange sense of completeness and fulfilment had somehow flooded her being: the same feeling that is produced by the solution of a puzzle or the correct answer to a sum. That elusive Something, which had | | 70 haunted her all her life, seemed suddenly to have materialized itself, and to have become a moving factor instead of a tantalizing mystery. She had ceased to experience that indefinable ache of the soul which hitherto beauty of any kind—whether of Art or Thought or Nature—had awakened in her. The view from Grotham Hill no longer spoke to her of an apocalyptical Millennium, but of an actual and present happiness: it now seemed rather a specimen of earth than a suggestion of heaven. In short, the note of interrogation had been suddenly wiped off the slate of life, and she had not yet read what had been written in its place.
She possessed so little curiosity either about herself or about other people that she did not strive to find a reason for this exquisite content. She merely basked in it as she basked in the sunshine, with regard to the hygienic properties of which she was absolutely ignorant. She had no idea that sunlight was a powerful disinfectant, as she would have had if she had been born in a lower grade or a later decade. She only knew that it was sunshine and that she loved it; and she regarded her happiness in very much the same simple and unscientific way.
Then gradually the mists of her blissfulness wreathed themselves into shape, and the shape assumed the form of her cousin, Lord Westerham. It took weeks—almost months—for Esther to understand the meaning of the change that had come o'er the spirit of her dream: but slowly it dawned upon her that the miracle which had been wrought in her was that miracle common to all humanity, known as falling in love.
It is hard to understand the point of view of those people who find an insuperable difficulty in accepting | | 71 the belief in miracles: the only real wonder is that miracles do not happen oftener. It is not true to say that miracles do not happen: they happen every day and every hour, and the people who say that they do not believe in miracles merely mean that they only believe in the miracles to which they are accustomed—that they are so much the slaves of custom that their minds cannot accept the unusual. The quality in which they are lacking is not really faith, but imagination. After all, when one comes to analyse it, the sun standing still upon Ajalon was no more (and no less) of a miracle than the sun rising morning by morning out of the marshes of Essex and Kent, and going down at evening-time behind the towers of Westminster; the changing of water into wine at the marriage-feast of Cana was no more (and no less) of a miracle than the gathering together of the waters that run among the hills, and the transforming of them into showers to water the earth. If we accept (as we are bound to do) the visible miracle which we call Nature, how can we hesitate to accept the invisible miracle which we call Grace: since the difference between the two is really in degree and not in kind? The sun can neither stand still nor go on of himself: the water can neither turn into wine nor into dew by its own power. Given that we accept (as again we are bound to accept) the greatest miracle of all, the miracle of life, then where is the difficulty in accepting its logical sequence, the miracle of immortality? It would be a far greater stretch of credulity to believe that life once existent could ever become extinct, than that it should continue for ever. Nothing is impossible; but some things are usual and some are unusual; and we have got into a stupid and misleading habit of calling the unusual things miracles. And this habit has led some of us | | 72 into the error of thinking that the usual things do themselves, while the unusual things are done by God, and therefore (so the most misguided maintain) are not done at all! Which is manifestly absurd. We walk, as a matter of course, almost every May of our lives through woods carpeted with wild hyacinths which make us almost faint with the exquisiteness of their beauty; yet the idea of a pavement of sapphire turns us cold with doubt. We wander each March across fields of Lent lilies which fill us with a gladness beyond words; yet we relegate streets of gold to the regions of symbolical apocalypse. But why should the Hand Which has fashioned the glory that we have seen, find it difficult to fashion the glory that we have not seen, and that is yet in store for us?
With God all things are possible: without Him nothing was made that is made; so that we ourselves are standing witnesses to His power, and also to the truth that miracles do happen, since we ourselves are the supremest miracles of all. And so we go on to the blessed assurance that all things are ours—whether principalities or powers or things present or things to come—because we are His.
Among the many, many miracles of this miracle-filled universe, there are few more wonderful than that known as falling in love. In this respect it is akin to the miracle that we call spring, since men and women never become really used to these two things however often they may happen; and these two things never lose their mystery and their magic and their bewitching glamour. No spring is quite like any other spring: every year there seems to be a new heaven and a new earth, when the land breaks forth into singing and the trees of the field clap their hands. And, in the same way, no love-story is quite like any other | | 73 love-story; and every time that a man and a woman really fall in love with each other the old things pass away and all things became me new.
There is a custom, current among the baser sort of men and women, to treat as a joke the falling in love of a woman no longer young: and this is one of the points wherein life is so much harder upon women than upon men. Should a middle-aged man desire to enter the garden of Eden, the gates are flung open to receive him, while the youngest and fairest of Eves stands ready in the midst to bid him welcome. He may have been there often before—he may hope to re-enter the magic portals many times again: and he is right in assuming that they never are, and never will be, closed to him. The mere fact of his manhood gives him the right to a private key into the garden of Eden, as surely as the fact of his taking a house in Grosvenor Square will entitle him to a private key into the Square gardens.
But with a woman it is different. Should she—when once her youth is over—tap timidly at Eden's gate, she will always find the armed cherubim upon duty, and nine times out of ten there will be smiles upon their angelic faces which will cut deeper than their fiery swords. If she be endowed with exceptional beauty or grace or charm, she may eventually win through, and enter the magic portals; and then the mirth of her friends will be turned into hardly more complimentary amazement, and they will one and all exclaim, "How wonderful, at her age!"
It is in matters such as this that men have such an unfair advantage over women: not only in the extension of their franchise, but still more so in the extension of their youth. But an end is coming to this unfair advantage. What women really want—and | | 74 what they are gradually gaining if only they would understand it—is the world's realization of the fact that age cannot wither nor custom stale the true woman's infinite variety: that the years give more to her than they take away, and that the longer she lives the more competent she is to warn, to comfort and command. Slowly and surely the world is learning to understand this: every generation pushes the age-limit of a woman's reign further on. Juliet's balcony-scene occurred at fourteen: Jane Austen's unmarried heroines were on the shelf at twenty. But we are changing all this. The women of to-day are eligible for balconies in their thirties, and ineligible for shelves until their seventies—and even then the shelves are quite prominent and comfortable resting-places. Nevertheless, to a certain conventional class of mind, the paths of real romance are closed to all except youthful feet. The twentieth century is so far in advance of its predecessors that it cheerfully permits middle-aged women to flirt and to marry, and even applauds them for so doing: but it cannot as yet understand that ideal romance—the romance that is too pure for passion and too exquisite for comradeship—finds its home in the heart of the fading spinster rather than in that of the budding girl. For a true woman's love is of the soul—not of the body; and souls cannot age, they can only mature and develop.
There was much that was extremely attractive to Lady Esther in Lord Westerham's character. In the first place, he was so utterly different from all the people with whom hitherto she had been brought into contact. He was full of new ideas and fresh interests, and he stimulated her mind as it had never been stimulated before. Yet underneath this difference there was the bond of class and of kinship. However daring | | 75 and refreshing and surprising he might be, the fact that he was a Wyvern was always present to her subconscious mind. Had he been equally clever and interesting and yet not well-born, it is doubtful whether Esther—being what she was—would ever have fallen in love with him. Eleanor might have done so, but not Esther.
And then he was obviously attracted by her; and that is a charm which never fails to rouse the interest of the normal woman. No woman ever dislikes a man who admires her quite as much as she would dislike him if he did not: and if she likes him to begin with, his admiration greatly intensifies this liking. Esther had received so little admiration in her life that when it did come it was doubly precious to her. Moreover Westerham was very comforting and cheering in his ways and conversation, and Esther was by nature prone to look on the gloomy side of things. For instance, he gladdened her heart one day—that tender heart which stood dismayed at the thought that she was growing old before she had ever been young—by remarking—
"It is ridiculous how people talk about growing old! There is no such thing as age really. Our bodies grow old, I admit, and so do our clothes, but we ourselves don't. It is just as absurd to call a man old because his body is infirm, as it would be to call him old because his coat is shabby. Bodies are just as much mere garments as clothes are: and in the same way we shall wear them out and get new ones."
"But people do get old and infirm," Esther argued, always slow to receive any gospel of good tidings; "I mean their minds do, as well as their bodies."| | 76
"No, no, no, they don't—not really. Their minds for the time being may be affected by their bodies, but only temporarily and superficially. The people themselves—the actual real people, who are dressed for the time in clothes and bodies—grow old no more than do the angels who excel in strength: continued existence means to them, as to the angels, increase of knowledge and breadth of experience. There is no such thing as age in the spirit world. Can your imagination picture such a thing as an old angel?"
Esther could not forbear a smile. "Hardly," she said.
"Yet the same angels, who shouted for joy at the dawn of creation, sang the first Christmas carol to the shepherds at Bethlehem, and will likewise raise the chant of 'Blessing and honour and glory and power' after the final defeat of death and of time. But they have not grown old during the march of the centuries: they go on from strength to strength, as we shall do when we have put off these tiresome bodies that sometimes hamper us so much, and when we have put on the spiritual bodies that know neither death nor decay."
These theories of Westerham's were very soothing to Esther, brought up as she had been in the shadow of the mid-Victorian horror of age and death. True, she herself had not lived in mid-Victorian times; but her parents had been saturated with the spirit of that age, and had trained up their children in it as far as they were able. Eleanor, as she expressed it, had marched with the times; but Esther, like the obedient child that she was, had sat still where her parents had placed her.
It was therefore not altogether strange that Lady Esther should fall in love with Lord Westerham; but | | 77 what really was remarkable was that Lord Westerham should fall in love with her. Nevertheless, it happened.
With him, as with Esther, the charm of novelty worked: she was as great a change to him as he was to her. Although he belonged to an old and noble family, he had spent the whole of his life—until he succeeded to the peerage—in a totally different world, a world where brains counted for more than blood, and wit for more than wealth: the delightful world of literature and art, which—for want of a better name—men call Bohemia. He was not prepared to say that this new world, into which he had suddenly been transplanted, was better than the old one, in which he had been brought up: it was altogether different, and he was sufficiently clear-sighted to perceive that difference does not necessarily spell superiority or inferiority, but that it always spells experience and education, and frequently fascination as well.
And this fascination overpowered him when he was brought into intimate companionship with his manytimes-removed cousin, Lady Esther Wyvern.
He could see that she was by no means handsome, and that her charm, such as it was, was of what in his unregenerate days he would have called the "stodgy " order, and he had been accustomed to the society of both brilliant and beautiful women. But what he had not been accustomed to was the absolute assurance of the real patrician: an assurance which was untainted by any trace of self-assertion, because it needed none; which was never put into words, because it was always there in fact; which was absolutely innocent of any touch of egotism, because it belonged not to an individual but to an order; and which was profoundly indifferent to adverse opinion or remark, because for | | 78 centuries it had been placed above criticism. Westerham was quick to recognize this assurance as a very fine thing in itself; fine as certain things in Nature—such as the stillness of mountains and the silence of forests—are fine, and also restful, as mountains and forests are restful. He felt like a Londoner, who, when he first comes into the country, listens to the silence after the roar of the city traffic: so Westerham listened to the silence, and found it very good.
Some persons are endowed with the gift of X-rays in their spiritual eyes: they can see below the surface to the underlying structure of character. It is doubtful whether the possession of this gift makes for happiness, though as a rule it makes for wisdom. Those who possess it do not make so many mistakes as other people: but, on the other hand, mistakes are often as great a source of pleasure as of pain. A Fool's Paradise is still a Paradise, though only a jerry-built affair; but even a jerry-built Paradise is a more agreeable place of residence than a solid and substantial Purgatory, designed by the Society of Architects and approved by the London County Council. However—be this particular gift a blessing or a bane—Lord Westerham happened to possess it, and its possession enabled him clearly to perceive what an exquisite jewel of a soul was hidden in the somewhat plain casket of his cousin Esther's outward appearance. And seeing the intrinsic beauty of an almost flawless character, the artist in him fell down before it and worshipped.
The present generation thinks that it has outgrown the mid-Victorian tenet formulated by the greatest of the Victorian poets that "We needs must love the highest when we see it." It is now the fashion—and a morbid fashion, too—to find beauty in what is | | 79 diseased and decadent, and most particularly in what is sinful. In the literature of to-day—be it fiction or journalism—we are bidden to look at whatsoever is impure and unlovely and of bad report, and to think on these things. We do it—our natural curiosity compels us to do it—and the national character suffers in consequence. But we do it for the sake of curiosity, and not for the sake of enjoyment; and therefore the national character will not suffer permanently, since curiosity is, after all, only a surface thing. Underneath the modern affectation of decking our swine with pearls and rejecting that which is holy as unfit for the dogs, there still exists, deep down in the heart of man, man's instinctive homage before Truth and Righteousness. "We needs must love the highest when we see it," as did our fathers before us; but just now there is a passing cloud before the sun, and we do not see as clearly as they did. But the cloud will pass as do all other clouds, and the days of open vision will come back to us again. Let us remember, however, that by looking at and thinking about that which is unlovely and of evil report, we are blinding our eyes still further; since it is only the pure in heart who shall see God. And they shall not only see Him but shall grow like Him, for they shall see Him as He is.
Thus it came to pass that Westerham and Esther stood on the threshold of the gate that leads into the garden of Eden, and it seemed for the time being as if the cherubic sentinels had sheathed their fiery swords, and left the magic portals unguarded, so that at a word the gates would fly open, and the lovers would enter in and possess that good land. But that word had not yet been spoken.
As the Dower House was situated at the edge of Wyvern Park, it was easy for the inhabitants of the | | 80 large house and the small one to meet every day, and Wilfred and Esther availed themselves to the full of this facility. By this time Lady Westerham had grown very fond of Wilfred, and frequently expressed to her elder daughter her approval of the goal towards which her younger was advancing. But she never mentioned the subject to Esther herself; she would have considered it indelicate to do so.
One Sunday afternoon in the early summer, the four were sitting—as now they so often sat—in the garden of the Dower House, the Duchess having motored over from Stoneham Abbey to see her mother.
"I really think it is too hot for you to motor in this weather, Eleanor," remonstrated that parent with true maternal anxiety; "it is the greatest pleasure to me to see you, my dear, as you know; but I would on no account derive pleasure at the cost of your pain."
"Oh no, Mamma, it isn't at all hot motoring, it is the coolest thing you can do in this weather," replied the Duchess. "I motored up to London yesterday, and didn't find even that too hot."
Here maternal anxiety roused itself over another count. "But, my dear, surely you don't motor to London—through all that dreadful traffic! It seems to me a most terribly dangerous thing to do. For my part, I never liked the traffic in town, even before motors were invented: in those days I always trained my coachman to keep to back streets and quiet ways. But now the danger is tenfold."
"I know it is, Mamma, and that's just the point. I used to be frightened in the old days, and to put my trust in a steady coachman and back streets. But after I began to motor, I realized that it was no good putting my trust in anything but Providence; nothing less was adequate; and Providence, of course, is as | | 81 competent on the Old Kent Road as in an Alpine valley. Therefore I am now able to go up to town in the car without turning a hair."
Lady Westerham looked happier. "Well, Eleanor, I am thankful to know that you look for help where the only true help is to be found, though I cannot help wishing that you would express yourself a little more reverently. In my young days people talked of serious things in a serious manner."
But the Duchess was not so easily set down. "I know they did, and it was a great mistake. It made what you call 'serious things' seem forced and unnatural, and not fitted for everyday use. If a missionary goes to preach the Gospel to the South Sea Islanders because he believes that Providence will take care of him, nobody takes any notice; but if a Duchess motors along the Old Kent Road because she believes Providence will take care of her, people begin to think there's something in Providence after all. It is by treating serious things as if they were not serious that you make people believe in their seriousness."
"Still I cannot countenance anything that savours of irreverence," persisted Lady Westerham.
"It isn't irreverence, Mamma; it's the highest sort of reverence. You always talk about religion in your poorly voice—I mean the voice you use to people who are ill or in deep mourning—and that makes it seem as if it were only something useful for the sick or the sorrowful, like medicine or crape."
"No, Eleanor, I should indeed be grieved to give the impression that religion is not for all classes and all conditions; but I own I treat with due reverence sacred things, and am reticent about them."
The Duchess nodded: "Exactly; that was the fashion of your day; you dressed up your souls in | | 82 spiritual crinolines, so as to keep everybody at a distance from them. But we are different; and I think it is a mistake so to cover up what you call serious things that they finally get buried out of sight. I am sure Westerham agrees with me," she added, appealing to Wilfred.
"Of course I do," replied Wilfred; "it is by stripping things of their conventional trappings that you show they are truths instead of traditions."
"I fear that this isn't an age of tradition," said Esther; "I only wish it were."
"It is," retorted Westerham; "only nowadays we call it claptrap. But it's really the same thing—fiction masquerading as fact. All the modern nonsense about the opposing interests of the classes and the masses—and the aristocracy and the democracy—and the employer and the employed—is pure claptrap. There are no opposing interests: all those interests are one and the same if the people would only be sensible and believe it."
Esther caught her breath. These conversational bombshells of Wilfred's never failed to thrill her. "But surely, Wilfred, there is a horrible spirit abroad of hatred of class for class."
"I know there is, but it is a lying spirit. Each class is necessary to the happiness and well-being of the others. This modern idea of class-antagonism is merely a fresh staging of that fine old comedy according to S. Paul, where the foot said, 'Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body'; and the ear said, 'Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body'; and all the members of the body quarrelled until they found they were indispensable to each other, and that the eye could not get on without the hand any more than the head could get on without the feet."| | 83
"But, my dear Wilfred," remarked Lady Westerham, "S. Paul was speaking then of the Church and not of the world. Unfortunately these divisions do exist nowadays among persons in different ranks of life."
"So they do, and in the Church, too, for the matter of that, Lady Westerham. I am not saying that class antagonism does not exist, but that it need not exist: that it is a fictitious structure raised upon a false foundation—not a necessary evil evolved out of an effete civilization. To carry on S. Paul's metaphor, the hand might cut off the ear, or the foot kick out the eye in their passion for independence; but I fail to see that either hand or foot would benefit in the long run by the transaction."
"I am so glad to hear you speak against independence," exclaimed the Duchess; "it is a word that rouses my worst passions because it means nothing. Nobody really is independent."
"It is a thing which rouses my worst passions, Duchess, because it is undermining so much of what is good and strong and efficient in our national life. A class cannot stand alone any more than a man can stand alone. There is no such thing in the universe as standing alone. It simply isn't done."
"And even trying to do it," added the Duchess, "is as absurd as trying to build card houses by standing the separate cards upright in a row."
"It is quite as absurd and much more dangerous," continued Westerham, "because the spirit of independence is slowly and surely blinding men's eyes to the importance of corporate life and corporate duties. In these days of strong party politics the common weal is fading out of the picture. We have still crusted old Tories and violent young Radicals, but I doubt if | | 84 we have any good citizens left among us. I think we are as ready as we ever were to fulfil our duty to our own particular party or our own particular class; but I doubt if we are as anxious as our forefathers were to fulfil our duty to the State; at least we have broken the State up into its component parts and try to do our duty to those parts separately, which is manifestly absurd."
"I wish the lower classes were not so bitter against their superiors," remarked Lady Westerham; "it appears to lead to so much unpleasantness. And I am sure we have always done our best to be kind to them," she added, with a sigh.
Westerham could not forbear a smile, and the Duchess laughed outright. "Oh, Mamma, how priceless!"
"Well, my love, it is quite true. As you know, your dear father was always most generous to all the tenants and labourers on his estate, and so was his father before him. They felt it part of their Christian duty to show kindness to the poor."
Wilfred foolishly tried to explain the case. "But you see, Lady Westerham, the consciousness of being part of a corporate body means something infinitely more than just showing kindness to one another now and then. You cannot imagine S. Paul's suggesting that the eye should be kind to the ear, or the head to the feet. That would in no wise have met the case."
Lady Westerham drew herself up in her most stately manner. "But he never did just suggest such a thing, Wilfred: never even hinted at it. And I cannot say that I approve of young people putting words into the mouths of the Apostles which are not recorded in Holy Scripture. To my mind it savours of irrever- | | 85 ence. Besides, we have been warned against the dreadful sin of either adding to or taking from the contents of the Bible."
Esther looked unhappy: she was always terrified lest Wilfred's unconventional way of expressing himself should shock her mother's sensibilities. But the Duchess was in ecstasies of suppressed mirth. She was more subtle intellectually than she appeared to be, and the humour of two people talking to each other in what they supposed to be the vulgar tongue when they were really expressing themselves in two absolutely different languages, or going along parallel lines in the vain expectation of eventually meeting, never failed to appeal to her.
Wilfred succumbed immediately. "I am sorry, Lady Westerham; I didn't mean to be irreverent."
Her ladyship forgave him at once. "I am sure you did not intend any irreverence, Wilfred; but the tone of the present day is so utterly opposed to the spirit of reverence that, as I have said before, young people are apt to fall into this fault unwittingly. In fact I think it is the irreverence of the present day that leads to the bitterness between the classes that we have just been deploring. The lower orders have ceased to revere and respect their betters; and hence all this trouble and mischief."
But Wilfred was on his hobby-horse again, vainly endeavouring to teach Lady Westerham to keep pace with him. He, as well as the Duchess, kept a sense of humour: but she had kept one for nearly twenty years longer than he had; and humour is one of the things that vastly improve with keeping. "I rather should say," he argued, "that the mischief arose from both classes having forgotten that they are members one of another, and that in an ideal state they ought | | 86 to be too closely welded together for either kindness or enmity to be possible between them."
"Ah, no, Wilfred! kindness is never impossible in any circumstances. I cannot agree with such a hard-hearted doctrine as that," replied Lady Westerham, graciously continuing along her parallel line, and thereby affording her elder daughter fresh ecstasies of amusement.
But Wilfred was too much in earnest to be amused. "You don't see my point, Lady Westerham. It is not a hard-hearted doctrine at all. It is because the classes are fundamentally one that I say kindness is impossible between them. Just as in an ideal marriage kindness is impossible: a man cannot be kind to himself. At least he cannot help being so, and therefore what you call kindness ceases to be a virtue and becomes an instinct. I always hate to hear a man called a kind husband: it sounds as if he and his wife were two instead of one."
"There again, my dear Wilfred, you speak with the impetuosity and ignorance of youth. I am an old woman, and I have been married, and I know by experience that a kind husband is the greatest blessing that any woman can have." Lady Westerham—though gently reproving—was still gracious to the delinquent.
Esther then made an attempt to bring the two conversational combatants into line. "I don't think you quite see what Wilfred means, Mamma. He means that antagonism between the classes is really as unnatural as antagonism between the sexes: that they are really the complements of one another, and are incomplete by themselves."
Her mother was pleased to accept Esther's translation of her cousin. "Then, my love, I thoroughly | | 87 agree with him. Rivalry between the sexes is even worse than rivalry between the classes."
Wilfred could rein in his hobby-horse no longer, so he dashed once more into the conversation. "It always seems to me that the different classes are types of different ages: the aristocracy, being old and longer established, has all the attributes of age—temperance, wisdom, stability, experience, culture and a fine sense of proportion. The democracy, on the other hand, has the characteristics of youth—passion, simplicity, ignorance, inexperience, energy and vital force. While the middle class possesses the qualities of middle age—common sense, practical efficiency, intellectual power and the capacity for business."
"Well done, Westerham!" exclaimed the Duchess, "I think you have hit the matter off to a T. You seem as happy at metaphor as S. Paul."
"My dear," began her mother reprovingly. But the Duchess forestalled the maternal rebuke. "I beg your pardon, Mamma: I forgot for the moment you were there, otherwise I shouldn't have taken the liberty of dragging S. Paul again into the discussion. I think Westerham is right about us. We are old; we have the limitations as well as the graces of age, and that is why we need the lower and the middle classes to stir us up a bit. (Though I hope, by the way, that they won't stir us up as Archie used to stir his tea when he was a little boy—so violently that it was all over the nursery tablecloth!) And in the same way they need us to tone them down. It is absurd of the socialists to try to make us all the same. It would spoil the whole show if we were."
"The wisdom of age is quite a different thing from the intuition of youth," said Westerham; "not better | | 88 nor worse, but essentially different: and the State needs both."
Here the Countess fully agreed with him. "You are quite right, Westerham: age teaches us lessons which nothing else can teach us. As I often say to my children, 'I do not know better than you do because I am cleverer than you, for I am not; but because I am so much older.'"
"And a correct sense of proportion is certainly one of the graces of age," remarked Esther. "It is funny, as the years go on, to see the change in our scale of values, and in our ideas of what are the things that really matter."
"That is true, my child," said her mother; "as we grow older our ideas grow simpler, and therefore nearer to the truth."
The Duchess nodded sagely. "I know what you mean exactly. When I was young, my idea of the colour blue was my turquoise necklace, and how it brought out the colour of my eyes: then, after a time, blue came to mean Tammy's Garter-ribbon, and Windsor uniform, and things of that kind; but now, when the colour blue is mentioned, I think of delphiniums and anchusas and wild hyacinths. I've gone back to the land."
"Which things are an allegory," added Westerham with delight. "You have exactly caught my meaning."
The Duchess's blue eyes twinkled. "I do not always know better than Mamma because I am so much younger, but because I am so much cleverer," she murmured sotto voce, so that only Westerham could hear her.
"it is because of its acquired sense of proportion that an hereditary Upper House is so necessary to a | | 89 good Government of the State, he continued. "Of course I don't for a moment pretend that an aristocracy as an aggregate has more brains than a democracy: I don't think it has, any more than an old man has necessarily more brain-power than a young one. But it has the wisdom which only age can bring. It has possessed wealth and rank and power for so long that experience has taught it exactly how much they are worth and how little; and therefore it estimates their value far more accurately than a less richly endowed class can possibly do. It has practically nothing to gain and nothing to lose; and consequently its judgment is unbiassed by any personal considerations. I don't pretend that an aristocracy—if it had anything to gain—would be any more altruistic or selfless than a democracy. But it hasn't, and that makes all the difference: just as an old man, whose fortune is made and whose position is established, is far more competent to give unbiassed opinions than a young man who has still his way to make, and is more or less blinded by the struggles of youth and the lures of ambition."
The Duchess nodded. "And just as I have attained to a far truer estimate of the happiness to be derived from stars and garters, since I let them be superseded in my thoughts by delphiniums and anchusas."
"Talking of anchusas, Eleanor," said Lady Westerham, rising from her seat, "reminds me that I have a wonderful new variety to show you. It is called the Dropmore, and is a most beautiful shade of blue. I am sure you would like it for your herbaceous border at Stoneham, and I will give you some plants, if you like."
The Duchess hoisted herself out of the low garden chair where she was sitting, and obediently followed | | 90 her mother across the lawn in the direction of the flower-garden, leaving Westerham and Esther alone amid the lengthening shadows.
As soon as the two ladies were out of sight, Wilfred got up from the chair on which he had been sitting, and sat down on the one close beside Esther and the tea-table, which Lady Westerham had just vacated. For a moment he was silent, and Esther quivered all over with that wonderful thrill which is like nothing else on earth, and which we all experience at the magical moment when we feel the gate of Eden receding at our touch, and opening to our dazzled eye the glorious wonderland that lies just beyond.
The day of formal proposals is over. They went out with Paisley shawls and crinolines. Therefore all that Lord Westerham said, as he bent over his cousin's chair and took her hand, was, "I can't say it all, Essie, it's too big to be said. But you know it all without my saying it, don't you, my darling?"
And the question which was too big to be asked was also too big to be answered. Esther said never a word. But as she lifted up her face to his and their lips met, she knew what the Shulamite meant when she cried, "Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for his love is better than wine!"
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