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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Blue Pavilions - Chapter 3. The Two Pavilions
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The Blue Pavilions - Chapter 3. The Two Pavilions Post by :joebiff Category :Long Stories Author :Arthur Thomas Quiller-couch Date :May 2012 Read :1096

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The Blue Pavilions - Chapter 3. The Two Pavilions


Captain Barker and Captain Runacles had been friends from boyhood. They had been swished together at Dr. Huskisson's school, hard by the Water Gate; had been packed off to sea in the same ship, and afterwards had more than once smelt powder together. Admiral Blake and Sir Christopher Mings had turned them into tough fighters by sea; and Margaret Tellworthy had completed their education ashore, and made them better friends by rejecting both. In an access of misogyny they had planned and built their blue pavilions, beside the London road, vowing to shut themselves up and look on no woman again. This happened but a short time before the first Dutch War, in which the one served under Captain Jonings in the _Ruby and the other had the honour to be cast ashore with Prince Rupert himself, aboard the _Galloper_. Upon the declaration of peace, in the autumn of 1667, they had returned, and, forgetting their vow, laid siege again to their mistress, who regretted the necessity of refusing them thrice apiece.

Upon his third rejection, Jeremy Runacles was driven by indignation to offer his hand at once to Mistress Isabel Seaman, sister of that same Robert Seaman who, as Mayor of Harwich, admitted Sir Anthony Deane to the freedom of the Corporation, and had the honour to receive, in exchange, twelve fire-buckets for the new town-hall. As Mistress Isabel inherited a third of the profits amassed by her father in the rope-making trade, she was considered a good match. Captain Barker, however, resented the marriage on the ground that she was out of place in a pavilion expressly designed for a confirmed bachelor. When, after a few months, her husband also began to hold this view, Mrs. Runacles, instead of reminding him that he, and he alone, was to blame for her intrusion, did her best to make matters easy by quitting this world altogether on St. Bartholomew's Eve, 1670, leaving behind her the smallest possible daughter. But as this daughter at once required a nurse, the alleviation proved to be inconsiderable--as Mr. Runacles would have delighted to point out to his wife, had she remained within earshot. As it was, he took infinite pains to select a suitable nurse, and forthwith neglected the child entirely--a course of conduct which was not so culpable as might be supposed, since (with the sole exception of Mrs. Runacles) he had never been known to err in choosing a subordinate. In times of peace he gave himself up to studying the mathematics, in which he was a proficient, and to the designing of such curious toys as sundials, water-clocks, pumps, and the like; which he so multiplied about the premises, out of pure joy in constructing them, that Simeon, his body-servant, had much ado to live among the many contrivances for making his life easier.

Although the two pavilions were exactly similar in shape and colour, their gardens differed in some important respects. On Captain Runacles' side of the hedge all was order--trim turf and yews accurately clipped, though stunted by the sea winds. Captain Barker's factotum, Narcissus Swiggs by name, was a slow man with but a single eye. His orbit in gardening was that of the four seasons, but he had the misfortune to lag behind them by the space of three months; while the two sides of the gravel path, though each would be harmonious in itself, could only be enjoyed by shutting one eye as you advanced from the blue gate to the blue front-door. The particular pride of Captain Barker's garden, however, was a collection of figure-heads set up like statues at regular intervals around the hedge. The like of it could be found nowhere. Here, against a background of green, and hanging forward over a green lawn, were an Indian Chief, a Golden Hind, a Triton, a Centaur, an effigy of King Charles I., another of Britannia, a third of the god Pan, and a fourth of Mr. John Phillipson, sometime alderman and shipowner of Harwich. Though rudely modelled, the majority received an extremely lifelike appearance from their colouring, which was renewed every now and then under the Captain's own supervision. He asserted them to be beautiful, and his acquaintances were content with the qualification that to an unwarned visitor, in an uncertain light, they might be disconcerting.

To this paradise Captain Barker introduced his newly adopted son, with the wet-nurse that the Doctor had found for him: and after explaining matters to Narcissus--who had heard of the _Wasp's arrival in port and had been vaguely troubled by a long conversation with Simeon, next door--installed the new-comers in the two rooms under the roof of the pavilion and sat down to meditate and wait for the child's development.

On the fourth morning after the installation, Narcissus appeared and demanded a higher wage. This was granted.

On the sixth morning, Narcissus appeared again.

"That there nurse--" he began.

"What of her?"

"As touching that there nurse, your instructions were to feed her up."


"I've fed her up."


"She's ate till she's sick."

The Captain sent post-haste for Dr. Beckerleg.

"That woman's green with bile," the Doctor announced. "You've been over-feeding her."

"I did it to strengthen the child."

"No doubt; but this sort of woman will eat all that's put before her. Lower her diet."

This was done. The woman recovered in a couple of days and resigned her place at once, declaring she was starved.

A second wet-nurse was sought for and found. The child thrived, was weaned, and began to cut his teeth without any trouble to mention. Twice a day Captain Barker visited his nursery and studied him attentively.

"I'll own that I'm boggled," he confessed to Dr. Beckerleg. "You see, a child is the offspring of his parents."

"That is undeniable!" the Doctor answered.

"And science now asserts that he inherits his parents' aptitudes: therefore, to train him _secundum naturam_, I must discover these aptitudes and educate or check them."


"Well, but his mother was an angel, and his father the dirtiest scamp that ever cheated the halter."

"I should advise you to strike a mean. What of the child himself?"

"He does nothing but eat."

"It appears to me that, striking a mean between the two extremes you mention, we arrive at mere man. I perceive a great opportunity. Suppose you teach him exactly what Adam was taught."


"Precisely. He will start with some advantage over Adam, there being no Eve to complicate matters."

"He shall be taught gardening," the little Captain decided.

"The pursuit will accord well with his temperament, which is notably pacific. The child seldom or never cries. At the same time we cannot quite revert to the Garden of Eden. His life will, almost certainly, bring him more or less into contact with his fellow-men."

"We must expect that."

"Therefore, as a mere measure of precaution, it might be as well to instruct him in the use of the small-sword."

"I will look after that. There is nothing I shall enjoy more than teaching him--precaution. We have now, I think, settled everything--"

"By no means." The Doctor put a hand into his tail-pocket, and after some difficulty with the lining pulled out a small book bound in green leather and tied with a green ribbon. "Here," he announced, "is the first volume of a treatise on education."

"Plague take your books! You're as bad as Jemmy, yonder. I tell you I'll not addle the boy's head with books."

"But this treatise has the advantage to be unwritten."

Dr. Beckerleg untied the ribbon, and holding out the book, turned over a score of pages. They were all blank.

"Undoubtedly that is an advantage. But then, it hardly seems to me to be a treatise."

"No: but it will be when you have written it."


"Certainly, you intend to train Tristram in accordance with nature. On what do we base our knowledge of nature? On experiment and observation. For many reasons your experiments with the child must be limited; but you can observe him daily--hourly, if you like. In this volume you shall record your observations from day to day, _nulla dies sine linea_. It is the first present I make to him, as his godfather: and in doing so I set you down to write the most valuable book in the world, a complete History of a Human Creature."

Captain Barker took the volume.

"But I shall never live to finish it."

"We hope not. The beauty, however, of this history will be that at any point in its progress we may consult it for Tristram's good, and learn all that, up to that point, God has given us eyes to see. It may be that in deciding to make him a gardener we have been mistaken. That book will enlighten us."

"There's one blessing," said Captain Barker, tucking the book under his arm; "whatever pursuit the boy may follow, he'll want to follow it unmolested. And therefore, in any case, I must teach him to use the small-sword."

During the first few months, almost every entry in the Captain's green volume dealt with Tristram's appetite. Nor did this fluctuate enough to make the record exciting. He was a slow, phlegmatic infant, with red cheeks and an exuberant crop of yellow curls. He slept all night and a good third of the day, and, beyond cutting ten teeth in as many months, exhibited no precocity. Nothing troubled him, if we except an insatiable hunger. He was weaned with extreme difficulty, and even when promoted to bread and biscuits and milk puddings, continued to recognise his nurse's past service and reward it with so sincere an affection that the woman accepted an increase of wage and cheerfully consented to stay on and take care of him.

Captain Barker saw nothing in all this to shake his first resolution of making the boy a gardener, but rather found in each successive day a reason the more for making haste to learn something about horticulture himself, in order that when the time came he might be able to teach it. At length he took counsel with Narcissus Swiggs and unfolded his desire.

Mr. Swiggs listened sleepily, and as soon as his master had done gave him a month's notice.

"What the devil's the use of that?" Captain Barker asked.

"I thought you weren't satisfied, that's all."

"If I weren't, I should kick you out without half these words. You've been thinking of yourself all this while."

"I mostly does."

"Then don't, while I'm talking." And Captain Barker explained his scheme a second time.

"No use," pronounced Mr. Swiggs at the close, shaking his head ponderously.

"Why not?"

Mr. Swiggs swept his hand before him, summing up the whole landscape with one majestic semicircle.

"Where is your soil?" he asked. "And where is your water? Springs?"--he paused a couple of seconds--"There ain't none. All that mortal man can do, I does."

"And what is that?"

"I does without."

"But the marsh behind us--"


"Narcissus Swiggs, you have been in my service twenty years."


"During that time you have once or twice argued with me. I ask you, as a Christian man, to tell me truly what you got by it."


"Just so. On this occasion, however, I've listened with great patience to all your objections--"

"Not a tithe of 'em."

"They're all you'll have a chance of making, at any rate. And I answer them thus: If the worst comes to the worst, I'll cover the whole of this property with a couple of tubs, one to catch rain-water and t'other filled with garden mould. If the sea rots 'em, I'll have the whole estate careened, and its bottom pitched and its seams stopped with oakum. I'll rig up a battery here, and if the water-butt runs dry you shall blaze away at the guns till you fetch the rain down, as I've seen it fetched down before now by a cannonade. But I mean to have a garden here, and a garden I'll have."

Faithful to this resolve, Captain Barker set to work to study the art in which Tristram was to be instructed, and, being by nature a hater of superficiality, determined to begin by acquainting himself with everything that had been written about the nature and habits of plants from the earliest ages to that present day. He engaged a young demy of Magdalen College, Oxford--son of Mr. Lucas, saddler, of the High Street, Harwich--who was much pinched to continue his studies at the University, to extract and translate for him whatever Aristotle, Theophrastus and others of the Peripatetic school had written on the subject; to search the college libraries for information concerning the horticulture of China and Persia, the hanging gardens of Babylon, those planted by the learned Abdullatif at Bagdad, and the European paradises of Naples, Florence, Monza, Mannheim and Leyden to draw up plans and a particular description of the Oxford Physic Garden, by Magdalen College, as well as the plantations of Worcester, Trinity and St. John's Colleges; and to ransack the bookshops of that seat of learning for such works as might be procurable in no more difficult tongue than the Latin. In this way Captain Barker became possessed of a vast number of monkish herbals, Pliny's _Historia Naturalis_, the _Herbarum Vivas Eicones of Brunsfels, the treatises of Tragus, Fuchsius, Matthiolus, Ebn Beithar and Conrad Gesner, the _Stirpium Adversaria Nova and _Plantarum seu Stirpium Historia of Matthew Lobel, with the works of such living botanists as Henshaw, Hook, Grew and Malpighi. As the Captain had no thought of resuming a seafaring life, he felt confident of digesting in time these masses of learning, though it annoyed him at first to find himself capable of understanding but a tenth of what he read. On summer evenings he would sit out on the lawn, with a folio balanced on his knee, and do violence to Mr. Swiggs's ears with such learned terms as "Boraginiae," "Cucurbitaceae," "Leguminosae," and as winter drew in, master and man would hold long consultations indoors over certain plants, the portraits of which in the herbals seemed familiar enough, though their habitats often proved, on further reading, to lie no nearer than Arabia Felix or the Spice Islands. Nevertheless, they took some practical steps. To begin with, the soil of the garden before the Blue Pavilion was entirely changed--Captain Barker importing from The Hague no less than thirty tons of the mould most approved by the Dutch tulip-growers. A tank, too, was sunk at the back of the building towards the marsh, as a receptacle and reservoir for rain-water; and by Tristram's fourth birthday his adoptive father began to build, on the south side of the house, a hibernatory, or greenhouse, differing in size only from that which Solomon de Caus had the honour to erect for the Elector Palatine in his gardens at Heidelberg.

Meanwhile Captain Runacles, who watched these operations from the other side of the privet hedge and picked up many scraps of rumour from the antique Simeon, was consumed with scorn and envy. The two friends no longer spoke. At the back of the Fish and Anchor, across the road, there stretched at this time the largest and fairest bowling-green in the east of England--two good acres of smooth turf, stretching almost to the edge of the sea-cliff, on which side the wall was cut down to within a foot of the ground, so that the gossips as they played, or sat and smoked on the benches about the green, might have a clear view of the ships entering or leaving the harbour, or of others that, hull-down on the horizon, took the sunset on their sails. Hither it had always been the custom of the two captains to repair at the closing in of the day, and drink their beer together as they watched this or that vessel more or less narrowly avoiding the shoals below. Nor would they commonly retire, unless the weather was dirty, until the sea-coal fire was lit above the town-gate and the lesser lighthouse upon the town-green answered with its six candles. Now, however, though they met here as usual, no salutation was exchanged. On benches as far apart as possible they drank their beer in silence and watched the players. The situation was understood by everybody at the inn; and at first some awkward attempts were made to heal the breach. But Captain Jeremy's scowl and the light in Captain John's green eyes soon convinced the busybodies that they were playing with fire, and likely to burn their fingers.

In his home Captain Runacles grew restless. To cure this, he set to work and finished a large dial which he had long intended to present to the Corporation of Harwich, to set up over the town-gate. The Corporation accepted the gift and employed their clerk to write a letter of thanks. The language of this letter was so flattering that Captain Runacles made another dial for the Exchange. Being thanked for this also, he presented an excellent pendulum clock of his own making, to be placed over his Majesty's arms upon the principal gate of the dockyard, with a bell above the clock to strike the hours of the day, as well as to summon the men to their work; and two more dials, the one for the new town-hall, the other for the almshouses near St. Helen's Port. Again the Corporation thanked him as profusely as before, but asked him to be at the expense of affixing these dials, which, both by their beauty and number, were rapidly making Harwich unique among towns of its size. Upon this Captain Runacles, in a huff, forswore all further munificence, and applied himself to the construction of a pair of compasses capable of dividing an inch into a thousand parts, and to the sinking of a well in the marsh behind his pavilion. The design of this well was extremely ingenious. It was worked by means of a wheel, nine feet in diameter, with steps in its circumference like those of a treadmill, and so weighted that by walking upon it, as if up a flight of stairs, a person of eleven or twelve stone would draw up a bucket--two buckets being so hung, at the ends of a rope surrounding the wheel, that while one ascended, full of water, the other, which was empty, sank down and was refilled. These buckets being too heavy for a man to overturn to pour out the water, he bored a hole in each, and contrived to plug the holes so that the weight of the bucket as it bumped upon the trough prepared for it at the well's edge jogged out the plug and sent the water running down the trough into whatever pail or vessel stood ready to catch it. Nor is it astonishing that he lost his temper when, after these preparations, he found the well was not deep enough, and the water as much infected with brine as if he had gathered it from the surface of the marsh.

It was on the day following this disappointment that, while walking to and fro the length of his turfed garden, between three and four in the afternoon (for his habits were methodical), he heard a child's voice lifted on the far side of the party hedge:


"Eh? What is it?" answered the voice of Captain Barker, from his new tulip-bed, across the garden.

"What thing is this?"

"A nymph." Captain Runacles guessed by this that the four-year-old's question had reference to one of the figure-heads disposed along the hedge.

"What is a nymph?"

"A sort of girl."

"I don't like this sort of girl. She's got no legs."

"Come over here and look at this tulip."

"There's a much better sort of girl next door," Tristram continued, unheeding.

"What do you know about her?" sharply inquired his guardian.

"Oh, I see her often at the top window, and sometimes out walking. Nurse says we're not to speak, so we put out our tongues at each other."

"Tristram, come over here and look--"

"She's got funny curls, and puts her doll to bed in the window-seat every night. I like that sort of girl. When I grow up," the young bashaw proceeded, "I shall have lots of that sort of girl all over the garden, instead of these wooden things."

Captain Barker treated this Oriental day-dream with silence.

"Dad--why am I worth more than all the girls in the world?"

"Who said you were?"

"Nurse. She says you think so. She says the big man next door would give his eyes to have a boy like me; but he can't make nothing of a girl, and don't try. Narcissus--"

"Hallo!" replied the heavy voice of Mr. Swiggs.

"Have you got a boy?"

"No, sir: 'nmarried."

"What did you give your eye for, then?"

"Losh!" ejaculated Narcissus, as Captain Barker pounced on the youngster and haled him off to the tulip-bed. The interrogatory was stayed for a while.

Captain Runacles, who had caught every word, strode half a dozen times up and down his grass-plot: then summoned Simeon.

"Tell nurse to send Miss Sophia down to me."

Five minutes later a small child of seven appeared in the doorway, and, after hesitating there for a moment, stepped timidly across the turf. Her figure and movements were ungainly and her complexion appeared unnaturally sallow against a dark grey frock. A wet brush, applied two minutes before with inconsiderate zeal, had taken all the curl out of her dark hair and smoothed it in preposterous bands on either side of her brow. Her arms hung stiff and perpendicular, and she fidgeted with her short skirt as she advanced.

Captain Runacles stopped short in his walk and surveyed her.

"H'm," he said. "Don't shuffle."

The little girl looked up, dropped her eyes again quickly, and let her hands hang limp beside her. She was shaking from head to foot.

"You are a girl."

"Pardon, father," she mumbled in a low whisper.

"Next door there lives a small boy. You are in the habit of putting out your tongue at him. Why?"


Her voice wavered and she broke into a fit of sobbing.

"Tut, tut! Stop that noise; I haven't scolded you. On the contrary, I sent for you in the hope that you might always be able to put out your tongue at that boy. Sophia, dry your eyes and attend, please. Would you like to be an accomplished woman?"

"If it please you, father."

"Now may the devil fly away with the whole sex! If they _do happen to desire anything good in itself, it's always to please some man or another. Sophia, I ask you if, for your own sake, and for the sake of knowledge, you will be my pupil; if you care to pursue--" Captain Runacles checked himself, not because he had any idea that he was talking over the head of a girl of seven, but because a general proposition had occurred to him.

"Woman's notion of a pursuit," he said, clasping his hands behind him and regarding his daughter's tear-stained face with severity-- "woman's notion of a pursuit is entirely passive. Her only idea is to be pursued, and even so her mind runs on ultimate capture. Sophia," he continued, himself forgetting for the moment his view of knowledge as _sui causa optandum_, "would you like to please me by licking that boy across the hedge into a cocked-hat?"

"But--oh, father!"

"What is it?"

She could not answer for a moment. Nor did he know that she besought God every night to change her into a boy that she might find some grace in his sight.

"You have one advantage," said her father coldly, as she struggled to keep down her tears. "Your rival across the hedge is in a fair way to be turned into a fool. We will begin to-morrow. In a week or so I shall be able to pronounce some opinion on your capacity. Now run indoors to your nurse--why, bless my soul!"

The child had trotted forward, and, taking his hand, kissed it passionately. He looked into her face, and, finding it white as a sheet, lifted her in his arms and carried her into the pavilion.

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