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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWatersprings - Chapter 28. The Vicar's View
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Watersprings - Chapter 28. The Vicar's View Post by :lordg Category :Long Stories Author :Arthur C. Benson Date :May 2012 Read :2843

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Watersprings - Chapter 28. The Vicar's View


Another small factor which caused Howard some discomfort was the conversation of the Vicar. This, at the first sight of Windlow, had been one of the salient features of the scene. It had been amusing to see the current of a human mind running so frankly open to inspection; and, moreover, the Vicar's constantly expressed deference for the exalted quality of Howard's mind and intellectual outfit, though it had not been seriously regarded, had at least an emollient effect. But it is one thing to sit and look on at a play and to be entertained by the comic relief of some voluble character, and quite another to encounter that volubility at full pressure in private life. There was a certain charm at first in the Vicar's inconsequence and volatility; but in daily intercourse the good man's lack of proportion, his indiscriminate interest in things in general, proved decidedly fatiguing. Given a crisis, and the Vicar's view was interesting, because it was, as a rule, exactly the view which the average man would be likely to take, melodramatic, sentimental, commonplace, with this difference, that whereas the average man is tongue-tied and has no faculty of expression, the Vicar had an extraordinarily rich and emphatic vocabulary; and it was thus an artistic presentment of the ordinary standpoint. But in daily life the Vicar talked with impregnable continuity about any subject in which he happened to be interested. He listened to no comment; he demanded no criticism. If he conversed about his parishioners or his fellow-parsons or his country neighbours, it was not uninteresting; but when it was genealogy or folklore or prehistoric remains, it was merely a tissue of scraps, clawed out of books and imperfectly remembered. Howard found himself respecting the Vicar more and more; he was so kindly, so unworldly, so full of perfectly guileless satisfaction: he was conscious too of his own irrepressibility. He said to Howard one day, as they were walking together, "Do you know, Howard, I often think how many blessings you have brought us--I assure you, quiet and modest as you are, you are felt, your influence permeates to the very ends of the parish; I cannot exactly say what it is, but there's a sense of something that has to be dealt with, to be reckoned with, a mind of force and energy in the background; your approval is valued, your disapproval is feared. There is a consciousness, not perhaps expressed or even actually realised, of condescension, of gratification at one from so different a sphere coming among us, sharing our problems, offering us, however unobtrusively, sympathy and fellow-feeling. It's very human, very human," said the Vicar, "and that's a large word! But among all the blessings which I say you have brought us, of course my dear girl's happiness must come first in my regard; and there I hardly know how to express what a marvellous difference you have made! And then I feel that I, too, have come in for some crumbs from the feast, like the dogs under the table mentioned so eloquently in Scripture--sustenance unregarded and unvalued, no doubt, by yourself--cast out inevitably and naturally as light from the sun! It is not only the actual dicta," said the Vicar, "though these alone are deeply treasured; it's the method of thought, the reserve, the refinement, which I find insensibly affecting my own mental processes. Before I was a mere collector of details. Now I find myself saying, 'What is the aim of all this? What is the synthesis? Where does it come in? Where does it tend to?' I have not as yet found any very definite answer to these self-questionings, but the new spirit, the synthetic spirit, is there; and I find myself too concentrating my expression; I have become conscious in your presence of a certain diffuseness of talk--I used, I think, to indulge much in synonyms and parallel clauses--a characteristic, I have seen it said, of our immortal Shakespeare himself--but I have found myself lately considering the aim, the effect, the form of my utterances, and have practised--mainly in my sermons--a certain economy of language, which I hope has been perceptible to other minds besides my own."

"I always think your sermons very good," said Howard, quite sincerely; "they seem to me arrows deliberately aimed at a definite target--they have the grace of congruity, as the articles say."

"You are very good," said the Vicar. "I am really overwhelmed; but I must admit that your presence--the mere chance of your presence--has made me exercise an unwonted caution, and indeed introduce now and then an idea which is perhaps rather above the comprehension of my flock!"

"But may I go back for one moment?" said Howard. "You will forgive my asking this--but what you said just now about Maud interested me very much, and of course pleased me enormously. I would do anything I could to make her happy in any way--I wish you would tell me how and in what you think her more content. I want to learn all I can about her earlier days--you must remember that all that is unknown to me. Won't you exercise your powers of analysis for my benefit?"

"You are very kind," said the Vicar in high delight; "let me see, let me see! Well, dear Maud as a girl had always a very high and anxious sense of responsibility and duty. She conceived of herself--perhaps owing to some chance expressions of my own--as bound as far as possible to fill the place of her dear mother--a gap, of course, that it was impossible to fill,--my own pursuits are, you will realise, mere distractions, or, to be frank, were originally so designed, to combat my sense of loss. But I am personally not a man who makes a morbid demand for sympathy--I have little use for sympathy. I face my troubles alone; I suffer alone," said the Vicar with an incredible relish. "And then Jack is an independent boy, and has no taste for being dominated. So that I fear that dear Maud's most touching efforts hardly fell on very responsive soil. She felt, I think, the failure of her efforts; and kind as Cousin Anne is, there is, I think, a certain vagueness of outline about her mind. I would not call her a fatalist, but she has little conception of the possibility of moulding character;--it's a rich mind, but perhaps an indecisive mind? Maud needed a vocation--she needed an aim. And then, too, you have perhaps observed--or possibly," said the Vicar gleefully, "she has effaced that characteristic out of deference to your own great power of amiable toleration--but she had a certain incisiveness of speech which had some power to wound? I will give you a small instance. Gibbs, the schoolmaster, is a very worthy man, but he has a certain flightiness of manner and disposition. Dear Maud, talking about him one day at our luncheon-table, said that one read in books how some people had to struggle with some underlying beast in their constitution, the voracious man, let us say, with the pig-like element, the cruel man with the tiger-like quality. 'Mr. Gibbs,' she said, 'seems to me to be struggling not with a beast, but with a bird.' She went on very amusingly to say that he reminded her of a wagtail, tripping along with very short steps, and only saved by adroitness from overbalancing. It was a clever description of poor Gibbs--but I felt it somehow to be indiscreet. Well, you know, poor Gibbs came to me a few days later--you realise how gossip spreads in these places--and said that he was hurt in his mind to think that Miss Maud should call him a water-wagtail. Servants' tattle, I suppose. I was considerably annoyed at this, and Maud insisted on going to apologise to Gibbs, which was a matter of some delicacy, because she could not deny that she had applied the soubriquet--or is it sobriquet?--to him. That is just a minute instance of the sort of thing I mean."

"I confess," said Howard, "that I do recognise Maud's touch--she has a strong sense of humour."

"A somewhat dangerous thing," said Mr. Sandys. "I have a very strong sense of humour myself, or rather what might be called risibility. No one enjoys a witty story or a laughable incident more than I do. But I keep it in check. The indulgence of humour is a risky thing; not very consistent with the pastoral office. But that is a small point; and what I am leading up to is this, that dear Maud's restlessness, and even morbidity, has entirely disappeared; and this, my dear Howard, I attribute entirely to your kind influence and discretion, of which we are all so conscious, and to the consciousness of which it is so pleasant to be able to give leisurely expression."

But the Vicar was not always so fruitful a talker as this. The difficulty with him was to shift the points. There were long walks in Mr. Sandys' company which were really of an almost nightmare quality. He had a way of getting into a genealogical mess, in which he used to say that it cleared the air to be able to state the difficulties.

Howard used to grumble a little over this to Mrs. Graves. "Yes," she said, "if Frank were not so really unselfish a man, he would be a bore of purest ray serene; but his humanity breaks through. I made a compact with him long ago, and told him plainly that there were certain subjects he must not talk to me about. I suppose you couldn't do that?"

"No," said Howard, "I can't do that. It's my greatest weakness, I believe, that I can't say a good-natured decisive thing, until I am really brought to bay--and then I say much more than I need, and not at all good-naturedly. I must get what fun out of Frank I can. There's a good deal sprinkled about; and one comfort is that Maud understands."

"Yes," said Mrs. Graves, "she understands! I know no one who sees weaknesses in so absolutely clear a light as Maud, and who can at the same time so wholly neglect them in the light of love."

"That's good news for me," said Howard, "and it is absolutely true."

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