Full Online Books
BOOK CATEGORIES
Authors Authors Short Stories Short Stories Long Stories Long Stories Funny Stories Funny Stories Love Stories Love Stories Stories For Kids Stories For Kids Poems Poems Essays Essays Nonfictions Nonfictions Plays Plays Folktales Folktales Fairy Tales Fairy Tales Fables Fables Learning Kitchen Learning Kitchen
LINKS
Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional Free Classified Website Without Registration Free Classified Website Daniel Company
Twitter Twitter Add book
donate
Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Green Carnation - Chapter X
Famous Authors (View All Authors)
The Green Carnation - Chapter X Post by :Kommandant Category :Long Stories Author :Robert Hichens Date :April 2012 Read :2410

Click below to download : The Green Carnation - Chapter X (Format : PDF)

The Green Carnation - Chapter X

CHAPTER X

Choir-boys at a distance in their surplices are generally charming. Choir-boys close by in mundane suits, bought at a cheap tailor's, or sewed together at home, are not always so attractive. The cherubs' wings with which imagination has endowed them drop off, and they subside into cheeky, and sometimes scrubby, little boys, with a tendency towards peppermints, and a strong bias in favour of slang and tricks. The choir-boys of Chenecote, however, had been well-trained under Mr. Smith's ascetic eye; and though he had not drained the humanity entirely out of them, he had persuaded them to perfect cleanliness, if not to perfect godliness. They appeared at Mrs. Windsor's cottage that evening in an amazing condition of shiny rosiness, with round cheeks that seemed to focus the dying rays of the setting sun, and hair brushed perfectly flat to their little bullet-shaped heads, in which the brains worked with much excitement and anticipation. Their eyes were mostly blue and innocent, and they were all afflicted with a sort of springy shyness which led them at one moment to jumps of joy, and at another to blushes and smiling speechlessness. They were altogether naive and invigorating, and even Madame Valtesi, peering at them through her tortoise shell eyeglass, was moved to a dry approbation. She nodded her head at them two or three times, and remarked--

"Boys are much nicer than girls. They giggle less, and smile more. In surplices these would be quite fetching--quite."

Mrs. Windsor, too, was quite desolated by the fact that they had not come in what she persisted in calling their little nightgowns. She expressed her sorrow to the head boy, who occasionally sang "Oh! for the wings of a dove!" as a solo at even-song, and was consequently looked up to with deep respect by all the village.

"I thought you always wore them when you sang!" she said plaintively. "It makes it so much more impressive. Couldn't you send for them?"

The head boy, who was just twelve, blushed violently, and said he was afraid Mr. Smith would be angry. They were kept for the church. Mr. Smith was very particular, he added.

"How absurd the clergy are!" murmured Mrs. Windsor aside to Esme Amarinth. "Making such a fuss about a few nightgowns. But perhaps they are blessed, or consecrated, or something, and that makes them different. Well, it can't be helped, but I did think they would look so pretty standing in the moonlight after supper and singing catches in them--like the angels, you know."

"Do the angels sing catches after supper?" Madame Valtesi asked of Lady Locke, who was trying to restrain the pardonable excitement of Tommy. "I am so ignorant about these things."

Lady Locke did not hear. She was watching the rather fussy movements of Lord Reggie, who was darting about, sorting out the copies of his anthem which the village organist had laboriously written out that day. His face was pale, and his eyes shone with eagerness.

"After all," Lady Locke thought, "he is very young, and has a good deal of freshness left in him. To-night, even among these boys, he looks like a boy."

The choir were quite fascinated by him. Most of them had never seen a lord before, and his curious fair beauty vaguely appealed to their boyish hearts. Then the green carnation that he wore in his evening coat created a great amazement in their minds. They stared upon it with round eyes, scarcely certain that it could be a flower at all. Jimmy Sands, the head boy, was specially magnetised by it. It appeared to mesmerise him, and to render him unaware of outward things. Whenever it moved his eyes moved too, and he even forgot to blush as he lost himself in its astonishing green fascinations.

"How exquisite rose-coloured youth is," Amarinth said softly to Mrs. Windsor, as Lord Reggie ranged the little boys before him, and prepared to strike a chord upon the piano. "There is nothing in the world worth having except youth, youth with its perfect sins, sins with the dew upon them like red roses--youth with its purple passions and its wild and wonderful tears. The world worships youth, for the world is very old and grey and weary, and the world is becoming very respectable, like a man who is too decrepit to sin. Ah, dear friend, let us sin while we may, for the time will come when we shall be able to sin no more. Why, why do the young neglect their passionate pulsating opportunities?"

He sighed, as the wind sighs through the golden strings of a harp, musically, pathetically. These little chorister boys made him feel that his youth had slipped from him, and left him alone with his intellect and his epigrams. Sometimes he shivered with cold among those epigrams. He was tired of them. He knew them so well, and then so many of them had foreign blood in their veins, and were inclined to taunt him with being English. Ah! youth with its simple puns and its full-blooded pleasures, when there is no gold dust in the hair and no wrinkles about the eyes, when the sources of an epigram, like the sources of the Nile, are undiscoverable, and the joy of being led into sin has not lost its pearly freshness! Ah! youth--youth! He sighed, and sighed again, for he thought his sigh as beautiful as the face of a young Greek god!

"Sing it daintily!" cried Lord Reggie, playing the spinet-like prelude with the soft pedal down. "Let it tinkle."

And the little rosy boys tried to let it, squeaking wrong notes with all their might and main, and fixing their eyes upon Lord Reggie and his carnation, rather than upon their sheets of music.

"Thy lips are like a thread, like a thre-eda o-of scar-let, and thy speech, thy spee-eech i-is come-ly," they squealed at the top of their village voices, strong in the possession of complete unmusicalness. And Lord Reggie wandered about over the piano, holding his fair head on one side, and smiling upon them with his pale blue eyes. He trusted rather in repetition than in correction, and eliminated the wrong notes gradually by dint of playing the right ones himself over and over again.

After hearing his anthem about five times, Mrs. Windsor and her guests adjourned to the garden, leaving Tommy Locke seated on the music stool by Lord Reggie's side, gazing at him with excited adoration, and joining in the chorus with all his might.

Amarinth accompanied Lady Locke.

"Thy lips are like a thread of scarlet," he murmured, "like a thread of scarlet. Solomon must have lived a very beautiful life. He understood the art of life, the magic of moods. Why do we not all live for our own sensations, instead of for other people? Why do we consider the world at all? The world taken _en masse is a monster, crammed with prejudices, packed with prepossessions, cankered with what it calls virtues, a puritan, a prig. And the art of life is the art of defiance. To defy. That is what we ought to live for, instead of living, as we do, to acquiesce. The world divides actions into three classes: good actions, bad actions that you may do, and bad actions that you may not do. If you stick to the good actions, you are respected by the good. If you stick to the bad actions that you may do, you are respected by the bad. But if you perform the bad actions that no one may do, then the good and the bad set upon you, and you are lost indeed. How I hate that word natural."

"Why? I think it is one of the most beautiful of words."

"How strange! To me it means all that is middle-class, all that is of the essence of jingoism, all that is colourless, and without form, and void. It might be a beautiful word, but it is the most debased coin in the currency of language. Certain things are classed as natural, and certain things are classed as unnatural--for all the people born into the world. Individualism is not allowed to enter into the matter. A child is unnatural if it hates its mother. A mother is unnatural if she does not wish to have children. A man is unnatural if he never falls in love with a woman. A boy is unnatural if he prefers looking at pictures to playing cricket, or dreaming over the white naked beauty of a Greek statue to a game of football under Rugby rules. If our virtues are not cut on a pattern, they are unnatural. If our vices are not according to rule, they are unnatural. We must be good naturally. We must sin naturally. We must live naturally, and die naturally. Branwell Bronte died standing up, and the world has looked upon him as a blasphemer ever since. Why must we stand up to live, and lie down to die? Byron had a club foot in his mind, and so Byron is a by-word. Yet twisted minds are as natural to some people as twisted bodies. It is natural to one man to live like Charles Kingsley, to preach gentleness, and love sport; it is natural to another to dream away his life on the narrow couch of an opium den, with his head between a fellow-sinner's feet. I love what are called warped minds, and deformed natures, just as I love the long necks of Burne-Jones' women, and the faded rose-leaf beauty of Walter Pater's unnatural prose. Nature is generally purely vulgar, just as many women are vulgarly pure. There are only a few people in the world who dare to defy the grotesque code of rules that has been drawn up by that fashionable mother, Nature, and they defy--as many women drink, and many men are vicious--in secret, with the door locked and the key in their pockets. And what is life to them? They can always hear the footsteps of the detective in the street outside."

"Society must have its police while Society has its criminals," said Lady Locke, a little warmly.

"Yes. The person who is called a 'copper,' because you can only bribe him with silver, or with gold."

"I think it is essentially a question of the preponderance of numbers," she added more quietly. "Warped and twisted minds are in the minority. If more than half the world had club feet, we should not think the club-footed man a cripple."

"Ah! that is just the mistake that every one makes nowadays. Unnatural minds are far more common, and therefore, according to the middle-class view, more natural than people choose to suppose. I believe that the tyranny of minorities is the plague that we suffer under. How intensely interesting it would be to take a census of vices. Why should we take infinite trouble to find out how old we are. Age is a question of temperament, just as youth is a question of health. We are not interesting because of what we are, but because of what we do."

"But we reveal what we are by our acts."

Esme Amarinth looked at her with surprised compassion.

"Forgive me," he said. "That is a curious old fallacy that lingers among us like an old faith, unable to get away from people's minds because it has literally not a leg to stand upon, or to walk with. We reveal what we are not by our acts."

"How can that be? By our words. Surely that is what you mean?"

"No, we lie indeed perpetually. That is what makes life so curious, and sometimes so interesting. We lie to the world in open deeds, to ourselves in secret deeds. We have a beautiful passion for all that is theatrical, and we have two kinds of plays in which we indulge our desire of mumming, the plays that we act for others, and the plays that we act for ourselves. Both are interesting, but the latter are engrossing. Our secret virtues, our secret vices, are the plays that we act for our own benefit. Both are equally selfish, and bizarre, and full of imagination. We make vices of our virtues, and virtues of our vices. The former we consider the duty that we owe to others, the latter the duty that we owe to ourselves. If we practise the latter with the greatest earnestness, are stricter about the rehearsals, in fact, it is not wonderful."

"But then, if you explain everything away like that, there is no residuum left. Where is the reality? Where is the real man?"

Mr. Amarinth smiled with a wide sweetness.

"The real man is a Mrs. Harris," he replied. "There is, believe me, 'no sich a person.'"

"But really that is absurd," Lady Locke said. "There must be an ego somewhere."

"If there were, should we not learn a permanent means of satisfying it? We are always sending out actions to knock upon its door, and the answer is always--not at home. Then we send out other actions of a different kind. We knock in all sorts of various ways. Yet 'not at home' is always the answer."

Lady Locke looked at him with a distaste that she could scarcely conceal.

"You are very amusing," she said bluntly. "But you are not very satisfactory. I wonder if you have a philosophy of life?"

"I have," he said, "a beautiful one."

"What is it?"

"Take everything--and nothing seriously. And in your career of deception always, if possible, include yourself among those whom you deceive."

"Esme! Esme!" cried Lord Reggie's petulant boyish voice. "Where are you? We have finished the practice, and Mrs. Windsor wants us to come in to supper. Oh! here you are. Lady Locke, the boys say they like my anthem. Jimmy thinks it is beautiful. Isn't he a dear boy?"

"Does _he include himself among those whom he deceives?" she thought, as they walked towards the house.

The two tall footmen, more rigidly supercilious in their powdered hair than ever, were already arranging the ecstatic and amazed little choir boys in their seats. Tables had been placed in horse-shoe fashion, and in the centre of the horse-shoe Mrs. Windsor took her seat, with Mr. Smith, who had just arrived, Madame Valtesi, and Lady Locke. Lord Reggie and Esme Amarinth sat among the boys at the ends of the two sides of the horse-shoe. Tommy was on Lord Reggie's right hand. The tall footmen moved noiselessly about handing the various dishes, but at first a difficulty presented itself. Jimmy Sands was far too nervous to accept any food from the gorgeous flunkeys. He started violently and blushed most prettily whenever they came near him. But he shook his head shyly at the dishes, and as all the other boys followed his lead, the supper at first threatened to be a failure. It was not until Mr. Smith went round personally putting chicken and foie gras and other delights upon their plates, that they found courage to fall to, and then they were much too shy to talk. With their heads held well over their food they gobbled mutely, occasionally shooting side glances at one another and at their entertainers, and watching furtively with a view of discovering whether they were doing the right thing.

Mrs. Windsor found them most refreshing.

"How sweet innocence is!" she languidly ejaculated, as she saw little Tim Wright, a fair baby of eight, drop a large truffle head downwards into his lap. "We Londoners pay for our pleasures, Mr. Smith, I can assure you. We lose our freshness. We are not like happy choir-boys."

That Mrs. Windsor was quite unlike a happy choir boy was fairly obvious. Her fringed yellow hair, her tired, got-up eyes, her powdered cheeks, betrayed her _mondaine_. She was indeed an acute and bizarre contrast to the troop of shyly enchanted children by whom she was surrounded. But Mr. Amarinth looked even more out of place than she did, although he was, as always, tremendously at his ease. His large and sleek body towered up at the end of the long table. His carefully crimped head was smilingly bowed to catch the whispered confidences of Jimmy Sands, and the green carnation, staring from the lapel of his evening coat, seemed to watch with a bristling amazement the homely diversions of an unaccustomed rusticity.

The little boys were all hopelessly in love with Lord Reggie, to whom they had learnt, over the anthem, to draw near with a certain confidence, but they gazed upon Amarinth with an awe that made their bosoms heave, and could not reply to his remarks without drawing in their breath at the same time--a circumstance which rendered their artless communications less lucidly audible than might have been desired. Amarinth, however, was serenely gracious, and might be heard conversing about rustic joys and the charms of the country in a way that would have done every credit to Virgil. Lady Locke could not resist listening to his rather loud voice, and the fragments she heard amused her greatly. At one moment he was hymning the raptures of bee-keeping, at another letting off epigrams on the fascinating subject of hay-making.

"Ah! dear boy," she heard him saying to the ingenuous Jimmy, "cling to your youth! Cling to the haytime of your life, ere the fields are bare, and all the emotions are stacked away for fear of the rain. There is nothing like rose-pure youth, Jimmy. One day your round cheeks will grow raddled, the light will fade from your brown eyes, and the scarlet from your lips. You will become feeble and bloated and inane--a shivering satyr with a soul of lead. The sirens will sing to you, and you will not hear them. The shepherds will pipe to you, and you will not dance. The flocks will go forth to feed, and the harvests will be sown and gathered in, and the voice of the green summer will chant among the red and the yellow roses, and the serenades of the bees will make musical the scented air. By the ruined, moss-clothed barn the owl will build her nest, and the twilight will tread a measure with the night. And the rustic maidens will gather the shell-pink honeysuckle with their lovers, and the amorous clouds will slumber above the exquisite plough-boy with his primrose locks, as he wanders, whistling, on his way. Nature, inartistic, monotonous Nature, will renew the sap of her youth, and the dewy freshness of her first pale springtime, but the sap of your youth will have run dry for ever, and the voice of your springtime will be mute and toneless. Ah, Jimmy, Jimmy! cling to your youth!"

Jimmy looked painfully embarrassed, and helped himself to some pickled walnuts which one of the tall footmen handed to him at that moment. Mrs. Windsor had a vague idea that all poor people lived upon pickles, and she had commanded her housekeeper to lay in a large store of them for this occasion. Having landed them safely upon his plate, Jimmy proceeded to devour them, helping himself to some cold beef as a species of condiment, and keeping an amazed eye all the time upon Amarinth, who surveyed the horse-shoe table with a glance of comfortable and witty superiority.

"I have composed a catch, Jimmy," he proceeded, "a beautiful rainbow catch, which we will flute presently in the moonlight. Do you know 'Three Blind Mice'?"

"Yes, sir," answered Jimmy, with a sudden smile of radiant understanding, while the little boys nearest leaned their round heads forward, happy in hearing an expression which they could well understand.

"How beautiful it is in its simplicity! My catch is even simpler and more beautiful. We will sing it, Jimmy, as no nightingales could ever sing it. Take some more of those walnuts. Their rich mahogany colour reminds me of the background of a picture by Velasquez."

Jimmy took some more with wondering acquiescence, and Amarinth leaned back negligently peeling a peach, and smiling--as if, having begun to smile, he had fallen into a reverie and forgotten to stop.

Madame Valtesi was a little bored. Youth did not appeal to her at all, except in young men, of whom she was pertinaciously fond. As to small boys, she considered them an evil against which somebody ought to legislate. These small boys, though they had been slow in beginning to eat, were slower still in finishing. Their appetites seemed to grow gradually but continuously, with what they fed upon, and it was impossible for the tall footmen to take them unawares and remove their plates, having regard to the fact that, as they never spoke, they were always steadily eating. The feast seemed interminable.

"I am afraid they will all be very seedy to-morrow," she croaked to Mr. Smith, whose asceticism seemed to have been left at home on this occasion. "Surely they are bursting by this time."

"I trust not," he replied; "I sincerely trust not. Much food late at night is certainly imprudent, but really I have not the heart to stop them."

"But they will never stop. I believe they think it would be bad manners."

Mr. Smith cast his eyes round, and, observing that the little boys' faces were considerably flushed, and that an air of mere gourmandising had decidedly set in, suddenly became ascetic again. After making certain that all the people of the house had finished, he, therefore, abruptly rose to his feet, knocked upon the table with the handle of a knife, and muttered a rapid and unintelligible High Church grace. The effect of this was astonishing. A tableau ensued, in which the mouths of all the performers were seen to be wide open for at least half a minute, while spoons full of pudding, or fruit, were lifted towards them, and the round eyes above them were focussed with a concentration of complete surprise and agitation upon the intermittent clergyman, who had sat down again, and was speaking to Mrs. Windsor about chasubles. Then, as at a signal, all the spoons, still full, were pensively returned to the plates, and an audible sigh stole softly round the room. The gates of Paradise were swinging to.

Mrs. Windsor rose, and said, as she went out, to Mr. Amarinth--

"Do teach them your catch now. We will go into the garden. If only they had on their nightgowns? It is such a disappointment."

In the garden, which was rather dark, for the moon had not yet fully risen, Lady Locke found Lord Reggie standing by her side with Tommy, who had formed a passionate attachment to him, and showed it violently both in words and deeds.

"Let us sit down here," he said, drawing forward a chair for her. "Esme wants me to hear his music from a distance. Tommy, you go in and sing. We want to listen to you."

Tommy ran off excitedly.

Lady Locke and Lord Reggie sat down silently. A few yards away Mrs. Windsor, Madame Valtesi, and Mr. Smith formed a heterogeneous and singularly inappropriate group. Through the lighted windows of the drawing-room a multitude of bobbing small heads might be discerned, and the large form of Esme Amarinth in the act of reciting the words of his catch.

Lord Reggie looked at Lady Locke, and sighed softly.

"Why are beautiful things so sad?" he said. "This night is like some exquisite dark youth full of sorrow. If you listen, you can hear the murmur of his grief in the wind. It is as if he had shed tears, and known renunciations."

"We all know renunciations," she answered. "And they are sad, but they are great too. We are often greatest when we give something up."

"I think renunciations are foolish," he said. "I only once gave up a pleasure, and the remembrance of it has haunted me like a grey ghost ever since. Why do people think it an act of holiness to starve their souls? We are here to express ourselves, not to fast twice in a week. Yet how few men and women ever dare to express themselves fully?"

Lady Locke looked up, and seemed to come to a sudden resolution.

"Do you ever express your real self by what you say or do?" she asked.

"Yes, always nearly."

"Even by wearing that green carnation?"

There was a ring of earnestness in her voice that evidently surprised him a little.

"Because," she went on, speaking more rapidly, "I take that as a symbol. I cannot help it. It seems like the motto of your life, and it is a tainted motto. Why----"

But at this moment a delicate sound of "Sh-sh!" came from Mrs. Windsor, and the voice of Jimmie Sands, an uncertain treble with a quaver in it, was heard singing Esme Amarinth's catch. He sang it right through before the other circling voices rippled in--

"Rose-white youth,
Pas-sionate, pale,
A singing stream in a silent vale,
A fairy prince in a prosy tale,
Ah! there's nothing in life so finely frail
As rose-white youth."

"Rose-white youth," chimed the other voices, one upon one, until the air of the night throbbed with the words, and they seemed to wander away among the sleeping pageant of the flowers, away to the burnished golden disc of the slowly ascending moon.

Lord Reggie, with his fair head bent, listened with a smile on his lips, a smile in his grey blue eyes, and Lady Locke watched him and listened too, and thought of his youth and of all he was doing with it, as a sensitive, deep-hearted woman will.

And the shrill voices wound on and on, and, at last, detaching themselves one by one from the melodic fabric in which they were enmeshed, slipped into silence.

Then Mrs. Windsor spoke aloud and plaintively--

"How exquisite!" she said. "If only they had had on their little nightgowns!"

And Mr. Smith was shocked.

If you like this book please share to your friends :
NEXT BOOKS

The Green Carnation - Chapter XI The Green Carnation - Chapter XI

The Green Carnation - Chapter XI
CHAPTER XILord Reggie had quite made up his mind to ask Lady Locke to marry him. He didn't in the least wish to be married, and felt that he never should. But he also felt that marriage did not matter much either way. In modern days it is a contract of no importance, as Esme Amarinth often said, and therefore a contract that can be entered into without searching of heart or loss of perfect liberty. To him it simply meant that a good-natured woman, who liked to kiss him, would open an account for him at her banker's, and let
PREVIOUS BOOKS

The Green Carnation - Chapter IX The Green Carnation - Chapter IX

The Green Carnation - Chapter IX
CHAPTER IX"Mother," said Tommy with exceeding great frankness, "I love Lord Reggie.""My dear boy," Lady Locke said, "what a sudden affection! Why, to-day is only Friday, and you never met him until Wednesday. That is quick work.""It's very easy," answered Tommy. "It doesn't take any time. Why should it?""Well, we generally get to like people very much gradually. We find out what they are by degrees, and consider whether they are worth caring for.""I don't," said Tommy. "Directly he came to play at ball with me I loved him. Why shouldn't I?""Tommy, you are very direct," his mother cried, laughing. "Now
NEXT 10 BOOKS | PREVIOUS 10 BOOKS | RANDOM 10 BOOKS
LEAVE A COMMENT