A CURE FOR BLINDNESS

“The British thoroughbred is not played out by any means. Look at the
success of imported blood all over the world. Look at Phantom, the
grandsire of Voltaire, and Bay Middleton—-” Mr Bevan paused. He was
addressing George Lambert, and suddenly found that he was addressing the
entire dinner-table in one of those hiatuses of conversation in which
every tongue is suddenly held.

“Yes,” said Hamilton-Cox, continuing some desultory remarks on
literature, in general, into which this eruption of stud book had
broken; “but you see the old French ballads are for the most part by the
greatest of all poets, Time. Beside those the greatest modern poems seem
gaudy and Burlington Arcady, if I may use the expression. An old
folk-song that has been handed from generation to generation, played on,
so to speak, like an old fiddle by all sorts of hands, gains a sweetness
and richness never imagined by the simple-minded person who wrote it or
invented it.

“You write poems?” asked Miss Morgan.

“My dear lady,” sighed Hamilton-Cox, “nobody writes poems nowadays, or
if they do they keep the fact a secret. I have a younger brother who
writes poetry—-”

“Thought you said no one wrote it.”

“Younger brothers are nobodies. I say I have a younger brother, he
writes most excellent verse–reams of it. Some years ago he would have
been pursued by publishers. Well, only the other day he copied out some
of his most cherished productions and approached a London publisher with
them. He entered the office at five o’clock, and some few minutes later
the people in Piccadilly were asking of each other, ‘What’s all that row
in Vigo Street?’ No, a publisher of to-day would as soon see a burglar
in his office as a poet.”

“I never took much stock in poetry,” said the practical Miss Morgan.
“I’m like Mr Bevan.”

“I can’t stand the stuff,” said Charles. “_The Boy Stood on the Burning
Deck_, and all that sort of twaddle, makes me ill.”

Pamela looked slightly pained. Charles was enjoying his dinner; Burgundy
and Moselle had induced a slight flush to suffuse his countenance. If
you are engaged and a gourmand never let your _fiancée_ see you eat. A
man mad drunk is to the sensitive mind a less revolting picture than a
man “enjoying his food.”

“I heard a man once,” said Miss Morgan, “he was squiffy—-”

“Lulu!”

“Well, he was; and he was reciting _I Stood on the Bridge at Midnight_.
He’d got everything mixed, and had got as far as

“‘I stood on the moon by bridgelight
As the church was striking the tower–‘

when every one laughed, and he sat down–on another man’s hat. That’s
the sort of poetry I like, something to make you laugh. Gracious! what’s
the good of manufacturing misery and letting it loose in little poems
to buzz round and torment people? isn’t there enough misery ready made?
Hood’s _Song of the Shirt_ always makes me cry.”

“Hood,” said Professor Wilson, “was a man of another age, a true poet.
He could not have written his _Song of the Shirt_ to-day; the
decadence—-”

“Now, excuse me,” said Hamilton-Cox, “we have fought that question of
decadence out, you and I. Hood, I admit, could not have written his
_Song of the Shirt_ to-day, simply because shirts are manufactured
wholesale by machinery, and he would have to begin it.
‘Whir–whir–whir,’ which would not be poetry. Women slave at coats and
waistcoats and other garments nowadays, and you could scarcely write a
song of the waistcoat or a song of the pair of–you understand my point.
Poetry is very false, the matchbox-maker is as deserving of the poet’s
attention as the shirt-maker, yet a poem beginning ‘Paste, paste, paste’
would be received with laughter, not with tears. You say we are
decadents because we don’t encourage poetry. I say we are not, we are
simply more practical–poetry is to all intents and purposes dead—-”

“Is it?” said George Lambert. “Is _King Lear_ dead? I was crying over
him last night, but it wasn’t at his funeral I was crying. Is old
Suckling dead? I bought a first edition of him some time ago, and the
fact wasn’t mentioned or hinted at in the verses. Is Sophocles dead? Old
Maloney at Trinity pounded him into my head, and he’s there now alive as
ever; and if I was blind to-morrow, I’d still have the skies over his
plays to look at and the choruses to hear. Ah no, Mr Cox, poetry is not
dead, but they don’t write it just now. They don’t write it, but it’s in
every one’s heart waiting to be tapped, only there’s no man with an
augur sharp enough and true enough to do the tapping.”

Pamela looked pleased.

“I did not know that you were fond of poetry,” she said.

“I love it,” said Lambert, in a tone that reminded Charles Bevan of
Fanny’s tone when she declared her predilection for cats.

“I declare it’s delightful,” said Professor Wilson, “to find a man of
the world who knows all about horses, and is a good billiard-player,
and all that, confessing a love for poetry.”

“Perhaps Mr Lambert is a poet himself,” said Hamilton-Cox, with a
suspicion of a sneer, “or has written poetry.”

“Poetry! yards of it,” answered the accused with a mellow laugh, “when I
was young and–wise. The first poem I ever wrote was all about the moon;
I wrote it when I was eleven, and sent it to a housemaid. Oh, murder!
but the things that we do when we are young.”

“Did she read it?”

“She couldn’t read; it was in the days before the Board schools and the
higher education of women. She couldn’t read, she was forty, and ugly as
sin; and she boxed my ears and told my mother, and my mother told my
father, and he leathered me. He said, ‘I’ll teach you to write poetry to
housemaids.’ But somehow,” said Mr Lambert, admiring with one eye the
ruby-tinted light in his glass of port, “somehow, with all his teaching,
I never wrote a poem to a housemaid again.”

“That must have been a loss to literature.”

“Yes, but it was a gain to housemaids; and as housemaids seem the main
producers of novels and _poems_ nowadays, begad,” said Mr Lambert,
“it’s, after all, a gain to literature.”

“That’s one for you, Cox,” said Professor Wilson, and Hamilton-Cox
laughed, as he could well afford to do, for his lucubrations brought him
in a good fifteen hundred a year, and his reputation was growing.

On the lawn, under the starlit night after dinner, Bevan had his
_fiancée_ for a moment alone. They sat in creaky basket-work chairs a
good yard apart from each other. The moon was rising over the hills and
deep, dark woods of Sussex, the air was warm and perfumed: it was an
ideal night for love-making.

“When I left you I had some dinner at the Nord,” said Mr Bevan, tipping
the ash off his cigar. “The worst dinner I’ve ever had, I think. Upon my
word, I think it was the worst dinner I ever had. When I got to Dover I
was so tired I turned into the hotel, and came on next morning. What
sort of crossing did you have?”

“Oh, very fine,” said Pamela, stifling a yawn, and glancing sideways at
a group of her guests dimly seen in a corner of the garden, but happy,
to judge from the laughter that came from them.

“Are the Napiers back in England yet?”

“No, they are still in Paris.”

“What on earth do they want staying there for so long? it must be empty
now.”

“Yes, it was emptying fast when we left, wasn’t a soul left scarcely. Do
you know, I have a great mind to run over to Ostend for a few weeks. The
Napiers are going there; it’s rather fun, I believe.”

“I wouldn’t. What’s the good of going to these foreign places? stay
here.”

Pamela was silent, and the inspiriting dialogue ceased.

A great beetle moving through the night across the garden filled the air
with its boom. The group in the corner of the garden still were laughing
and talking; amidst their voices could be distinguished that of
Hamilton-Cox. Mr Cox had not a pleasant voice; it was too highly
pitched, and it jarred on the ear of Mr Bevan and on his soul. His soul
was in an irritable mood. When we speak of the soul we refer to an
unknown quantity, and when we speak of its condition we refer sometimes,
perhaps, to just a touch of liver, or sometimes to an extra glass of
champagne.

“I can’t make out what induces you to surround yourself with those sort
of people,” said Mr Bevan, casting his cigar-end away and searching for
his cigarette case.

“What sort of people?”

“Oh, that writer man.”

“Hamilton-Cox?”

“Yes–is that his name?”

“I am not surrounding myself with Mr Cox; the thing is physically and
physiologically impossible. Do talk sense, Charles.”

Charles retired into silence, and Miss Pursehouse yawned again,
sub-audibly. After a few moments–“Where did you pick up the Lamberts?”

“You mean Mr Lambert and his daughter?”

“Has he a daughter?”

“Has he a daughter? Why, Lulu Morgan, when I asked her what you and she
had found to talk about, said Fanny Lambert—-”

“It is perfectly immaterial what Miss Morgan said; some of her sayings
are scarcely commendable. I believe she did say something about a Miss
Lambert. When I said ‘has he a daughter?’ I spoke with a meaning.”

“I am glad to hear that.”

“What I meant was, that it would have been much better for him to have
brought his daughter down here with him.”

“Do you mean to insinuate that she is–unable to take care of herself in
town?”

“I mean to insinuate nothing, but according to my old-fashioned
ideas—-”

“Go on, this is interesting,” said Miss Pursehouse, who guessed what was
coming.

“According to my old-fashioned ideas it is scarcely the thing for a man,
a married man, to pay a visit—-”

“You mean it’s improper for me to have Mr Lambert staying here as a
guest?” “Improper was not the word I used.”

“Oh, nonsense! you meant it. Well, I think I am the best judge of my own
propriety, and I see nothing improper in the transaction. My aunt is
here, Lulu Morgan is here, you are here, Professor Wilson is here,
there’s a poet coming to-morrow–I suppose that’s improper too. I do
wish you would be sensible; besides, Mr Lambert is not a married man,
he is a widower.”

“Does he know that you are engaged?”

“Sure, I don’t know. I don’t go about with a placard with ‘I am engaged’
written on it on my back. Why do you ask?”

“Well–um–if a stranger had been here at tea to-day he would scarcely
have thought that the engaged couple—-”

“Go on, this is delightful; it’s absolutely bank-holidayish–the engaged
couple–go on.”

“Were you and I.”

“You mean you and _me_?”

“Yes.”

“The behaviour of ‘engaged couples’ in decent society is, I believe,
pretty much the same as our behaviour has been, and I hope will be. How
would you have it? Would you like to walk about, I clinging to your arm,
and you playing a mouth-organ? Ought we to exchange hats with each
other? Shall I call you Choly and put ice down your neck at dinner?
Ought we to hire a brake and go on a bean feast? I wish you would
instruct me. I hate to appear _gauche_, and I hate not to do the correct
thing.”

“Vulgarity is always painful to me,” said Mr Bevan, “but senseless
vulgarity is doubly so.”

“Thanks, your compliments are charming.”

“I was not complimenting you, I simply—-”

“I know, simply hinting that I was senseless and vulgar.”

“I never—-”

“I know. Shall we change the subject–what’s all this?”

“Please come and help us,” said Miss Morgan, coming up. “We’ve got the
astronomical telescope, and we can’t make head or tail of it.”

Miss Pursehouse rose and approached the group surrounding an
astronomical telescope that stood on the lawn. It was trained on the
moon, and Hamilton-Cox, with a hand over one eye and the other eye at
the eyepiece, was making an observation.

“Sometimes I can see stars, and sometimes nothing. I can’t see the moon
at all.”

“Shut the other eye,” said Lambert.

“Perhaps,” said Miss Pursehouse, “if you remove the cap from the
telescope you will be able to see better. A very simple thing sometimes
cures blindness.”