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The Silent Isle - Chapter 34 Post by :eggibiz Category :Essays Author :Arthur C. Benson Date :May 2012 Read :3359

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The Silent Isle - Chapter 34

CHAPTER XXXIV

I have just returned from a very curious and interesting visit. I have been to stay with an old school friend of my own, a retired Major; he has a small place of his own in the country, and has lately married a very young and pretty wife. I met him by chance in my club in London, looking more grey and dim than a man who has just married a lovely and charming girl ought to look. He asked me rather pressingly to come and stay with him; and though I do not like country-house visits, for the sake of the old days I went.

Well, it was a very interesting visit; I was warmly welcomed. The young wife, who I must say is the daughter of a penniless country clergyman with a large family, was radiant; the Major was quietly and undemonstratively pleased to see me; the veil of the years fell off, and I found myself back on the old easy terms with him, as when we were schoolboys together thirty years ago. He is a very simple and transparent creature, and I read him as if he were a book. He indulged in almost extravagant panegyrics of his wife and descriptions of his own happiness. But I very soon made a discovery: his charming wife is, not to put too fine a point upon it, a fool. She is perfectly harmless, good-natured, and virtuous. But she is a very silly and a very conventional girl She is full of delight at her promotion; but she is entirely brainless, and not even very affectionate. She as wholly preoccupied about her new possessions, and the place she is going to take in the county; she cares for her husband, because he represents her social success, and because he is a creditable and presentable man. But she has no grain of sympathy, perception, humour, or emotion. I began by thinking it was rather a tragedy; my old friend had married for love; he is anything but a fool himself, except for this one serious error, the falling in love with a girl who can give him none of the things he desires. He is a very serious, simple, intelligent, and tenderhearted fellow, with all sorts of odd ideas of his own, which he produces with an admirable humility. He likes books; he reads poetry--I even suspect him of writing it. He is interested in social problems, and has a dozen kindly enterprises--a club, a carving class, a natural history society, and so forth--for the benefit of the village where he lives. He would have been an ideal country clergyman; he is an excellent man of business, and does a good deal of county work. He is fond of sport, too--in fact, one of those grave, affectionate, solid men who are to be found living quietly in every part of England--a characteristic Englishman, indeed. But the strain of romance in his nature has for once led him wrong, and the mistake seemed irreparable. I was at first inclined to regard him with deep compassion. He is the soul of chivalry, and it struck me as deeply pathetic to see him smiling indulgently, but with a sad and bewildered air, at the terrible snobbishness, to be candid, which his lively wife's conversation revealed. She was for ever talking about "the right people," and the only subject which seemed to arouse her enthusiasm was the fact that she had been received on equal terms by some of the wives of neighbouring squires. The Major tried to give a pleasant turn to the conversation, and when he was alone with me, after praising the practical good sense of his wife, added, "Of course she hasn't quite settled down yet! She has lived rather a poky life, and the change has upset her a little." That was the nearest that the good fellow could get to an apology, and it touched me a good deal. I did my part, and praised my hostess's charm and beauty, and expressed gratitude for the warmth of my welcome.

But now that I have had time to reflect on the situation, I am not at all sure that the Major is not to be congratulated after all. He has got before him a perfectly definite occupation, and one which he will fulfil with all the generosity of his nature. He was a lonely man before his marriage, and, like all lonely men, was becoming somewhat self-absorbed. Now his work is cut out for him. He has got to make the best of a tiresome and unsympathetic wife. I will venture to say that if the Major lives to be eighty, his wife will never suspect that he does not adore and admire her. He will never say a harsh or unkind or critical thing to her. He may induce her, perhaps, by gentle precepts, to moderate her complacency; and perhaps, too, they will have children, and some kind affection may awake in his shallow little partner's heart. The Major will make a perfect father, and he will find in his children, if only they inherit something of his own wise and tender nature, a deep and lasting joy. I think that if he had married an adoring and sympathetic wife, he might almost have grown exacting--perhaps even selfish, because he is the sort of man that requires to have the best part of him evoked. He is unambitious and in a way indolent; and if everything had been done for him--his wishes anticipated, sympathy lavished upon him--he would have had no region in which to exercise that self-restraint which is now a necessity of the case. We are very liable to try and arrange the lives of others for them, and to think we could have done better for them than Providence; and since I have pondered over the situation, I am inclined to be ashamed of myself for feeling the regret which I began by feeling. If there was any weakness in my friend's mind, if I thought that he would grow irritable, harsh, impatient with his silly wife, it would be different. But he will have to stand between her and the world; she will shock and distress all his finer feelings and instincts of propriety. They will go and pay visits, and he will have to hear her saying all sorts of trivial and vulgar things. He will make himself into a kind guardian and interpreter and champion for this foolish young woman. She will try his patience, his endurance, his chivalry to the uttermost; and he will never fail her for an instant--he will never even confess to himself in the loneliness of his own heart that there is anything amiss. The severest criticism he will ever pass upon her will be a half-hearted wish that she should exhibit the best side of herself more consistently. And so I come at last to think that there are many worse things in the world for a strong man than to be the bulwark and fortress of a thoroughly inferior nature. He feels the strain at first, because it is all so different from what he expected and hoped. But he will soon grow used to that. And, after all, his wife is both lovely and healthy; she will always be delightful to look at. Indeed, if he can teach, her to hold her tongue, to listen instead of rattling away, to smile with those pretty eyes of hers as if she understood, to ask the simplest questions about other people's tastes and preferences, instead of describing her own garden and poultry-yard, she might pass for a delightful and even enchanting woman. But I fear that neither he nor she are quite clever enough for that. I do not personally envy my old friend; if I were in his position, the situation would bring out the very worst side of my nature. But because I realise how much better a fellow he is than myself, I believe that he has every prospect of being a decidedly happy man.

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