One evening I failed the Club badly. During the previous week there had not been a moment in which to complete the half-written story intended for that particular Sunday. I had done my best; but I arrived at Chelsea with the knowledge that I had let them all down.
When I had made my confession, Bindle turned to me with grave reproach in his eyes.
“I’m surprised at you, sir,” he said, “I been lookin’ forward all the week to this evenin’, an’ now you tell us you ain’t got nothink. Wot we goin’ to do?”
My unpopularity was sufficiently obvious to penetrate the thickest of skins.
“What about bridge?” ventured Tom Little. But Bindle was opposed to every suggestion made. It was clear that he was greatly disappointed, and he seemed to find solace nowhere, not even in his tankard of ale.
“You done the dirty on us to-night, sir,” he said during a pause in the fusillade of personalities and rather feeble suggestions as to how thee evening should be spent. “Sort o’ thing a foreman ‘ud do.”
It was Jocelyn Dare who came to the rescue. “What,” he asked, “can you expect of a publisher? He has sufficient manners to impress a half-dipped author, and not enough morals to pay him what is his due.”
“My dear Dare,” it was Windover who spoke, “are you not inverting the values? Our friend Bindle here, for instance, might reasonably conceive that you place morals on a higher plane than manners. Bindle is young and unsophisticated, you must remember he has arrived at an impressionable age.”
Bindle grinned. He scented a battle between Windover and Dare, both brilliant and amusing talkers.
“I’m a Victorian,” replied Dare, accepting the challenge with alacrity, “a member of the middle-classes, the acknowledged backbone of the English nation.”
“Yes, and like all other respectable backbones should be covered up,” retorted Windover.
“Alas!” murmured Dare, gazing at the ceiling. “Once youth was content with Arcadia, now it demands a Burlington Arcadia.”
That was characteristic of Dare. An epigram to him justified the most flagrant irrelevancy. Then turning to Windover he added, “But I interrupted you. Let us have your views on morals and manners, or should I say manners and morals?”
“Yes do, sir,” broke in Bindle eagerly, “My missus once said I ‘adn’t no more morals than Pottyfer’s wife, I dunno the lady, but p’raps you can ‘elp me.”
“The association of morals and manners is merely a verbal coincidence,” began Windover. “As a matter of fact they exist best apart. Morals are geographical, the result of climate and environment. The morals of Streatham, for instance, are not the morals of Stamboul, although the manners of the one place will pass fairly well in the other. Manners are like English gold, current in all countries: morals, on the other hand, are like French pennies, they must not be circulated in any but the country of their origin.”
“Yes; but is this the age of manners or of morals?” asked Dare. “That’s what we want to get at.”
“Of neither, I regret to say,” responded Windover. “We have too many morals at home, and too few manners abroad.”
“Excuse me, sir,” broke in Bindle, “but wot do you exactly mean by morals an’ manners?”
“You are right, Bindle, you invariably are,” replied Windover. “Definition should always precede disquisition.” He proceeded to light a cigarette, obviously with a view to gaining time. “Observing this rule,” he continued, “I will define morals as originally an ethical conception of man’s duty towards his neighbour’s wife: they are now in use merely as a standard by which we measure failure.” Windover paused and gazed meditatively at the end of his cigarette.
“And manners?” I queried.
12“Oh! manners,” he replied lightly, “are a thin gauze with which we have clothed primæval man and primitive woman.”
“But why,” enquired Sallie, leaning forward eagerly, “why should the primitive and primæval require covering?”
It was Dare who answered Sallie’s question. “Mark Twain said, ‘Be good; but you’ll be lonely,'” he observed. “Man probably found it impossible to be good, being gregarious by instinct. He saw that Nature was always endeavouring to get him involved in difficulties with morals, and like the detective of romance, determined to adopt a disguise. He therefore invented manners.”
“I will not venture to question Dare’s brilliant hypothesis,” continued Windover. “With the aid of good manners a man may do anything, and a woman quite a lot of things otherwise denied her. It is manners not morals that make a society. Manners will open for you all doors; but morals only the gates of heaven.”
“As a eugenist I am with you, Windover,” said Dare; “because both manners and eugenics are the study of good breeding.”
“Excuse me, sir,” broke in Bindle, “but do yer think yer could use a few words wot I’ve ‘eard before? I’d sort o’ feel more at ‘ome like.”
There was a laugh at Windover’s expense, and a promise from him to Bindle to correct his phraseology.
“Morals,” continued Windover, “are merely the currency of deferred payment—you will reap in another world.”
“That’s wot Mrs. B. says,” broke in Bindle; “but wot if she gets disappointed? It ‘ud be like goin’ dry all the week to ‘ave a big lush up on Sunday, an’ then findin’ the pubs closed.”
“Excellent! Bindle,” said Windover, “you prove conclusively that the future is for the proletariat.”
“Fancy me a-provin’ all that,” said Bindle with unaccustomed dryness.
“Morality,” continued Windover with a smile, “is merely post-dated self-indulgence. There is a tendency to expect too much from the other world. Think of the tragedy of the elderly spinster who apparently regulated her life upon a misreading of a devotional work. She denied herself all the joys of this world in anticipation of the great immorality to come.”
“That’s jest like Mrs. B.,” remarked Bindle, “Outside a tin o’ salmon, an’ maybe an egg for ‘er tea, there ain’t much wot ‘olds ‘er among what she calls the joys o’ mammon.”
“Mrs. Bindle,” said Windover, picking out another cigarette from the box and tapping it meditatively, “is in all probability intense. Most moral people are intense. They either have missions or help to support them. They wear ugly and sombre clothing adorned with crewel-work stoles. They frequently subsist entirely upon vegetables and cereals, they live in garden-cities and praise God for it——”
“I, too, praise God that they should live there,” broke in Dare.
“Exactly, my dear Dare, probably the only approval that providence ever receives from you is of a negative order.”
“You forget the heroes and heroines of morals, Windover,” said Dare gently. “Penelope, Lucrece, Clarissa Harlowe, Sir Galahad.”
“Manners, too, have had as doughty champions,” was the reply, “for instance, the Good Samaritan, Lord Chesterfield, and the wedding guest in The Ancient Mariner. Manners are social and public, whilst morals are national and private. All attractive people have good manners, whereas—well there were the Queen of Sheba, Byron and Dr. Crippen.”
Bindle looked from Windover to Dare, hopelessly bewildered. He refrained from interrupting, however.
“Our morals affect so few,” continued Windover, “whereas our manners react upon the whole fabric of society. A man may be a most notorious evil-liver, and yet pass among his fellows without inconveniencing them; on the other hand, if he be a noisy eater he will render himself obnoxious to hundreds. Manners are for the rose-bed of life, morals for the deathbed of repentance.”
“All this is very pretty verbal pyrotechnics,” said Dare with a smile; “but you forget that the greatness of England is due to her moral fibre. I grant you that morality is very ugly, and its exponents dour of look and rough of speech, still it is the foundation of the country’s greatness.”
“There you are wrong,” was Windover’s retort, “it is not her morality that has made for this country’s greatness, but her moral standard, coupled with the determination of her far-seeing people not to allow it to interfere with their individual pleasures. They decided that theirs should be a standard by which to measure failure. The result of this has been to earn for us in Europe the reputation of being a dour and godly people, who regard the flesh and the devil through a stained-glass window. They forget that to preserve the purity of his home life, the Englishman invented the continental excursion.”
“But what about puritan America?” broke in Dare. “If we are smug, they are superlative in their smugness.”
“You forget, Dare,” said Windover reproachfully, “that they have their ‘unwritten law,’ said to be the only really popular law in the country, with which to punish moral lapses. To explain the punishment, they created ‘brain storm’; but it cannot compare with our incomparable moral standard. It is England’s greatest inheritance.”
Windover paused to light the cigarette with which he had been toying. It was obvious that he was enjoying himself. Bindle seized the moment in which to break in upon the duologue. NORFLOXACIN HCL
“I don’t rightly understand all the things wot you been sayin’, you bein’ rather given to usin’ fancy words; but it reminds me o’ Charlie Dunn.”
Bindle paused. He has a strong sense of the dramatic.
“J.B.,” said Dare, “we demand the story of Charlie Dunn.”
‘Well, sir, ‘im an’ ‘is missus couldn’t ‘it it off no ‘ow, so Charlie thought it might make matters better if they took a lodger. ‘E thought it might save ’em jawin’ each other so much. One day Charlie’s missus nips off wi’ the lodger, and poor ole Charlie goes round a-vowin’ ‘is life was ruined, an’ sayin’ wot ‘e’d do to Mr. Lodger when ‘e caught ‘im.
“‘But,’ ses I, ‘you ought to be glad, Charlie.’
“‘So I am,’ says ‘e in a whisper like; ‘but if I let on, it wouldn’t be respectable, see? Come an’ ‘ave a drink.'”
“There you are,” said Windover, “the poison of appearances has penetrated to the working-classes. To the blind all things are pure.”
I reminded Windover that Colonel Charters said that he would not give one fig for virtue, but he would cheerfully give £10,000 for a good character.
I could see that Bindle had been waiting to join more actively in the discussion, and my remark gave him his opportunity.
“A character,” he remarked oracularly, “depends on ‘oos givin’ it. I s’pose I taken an’ lost more jobs than any other cove in my line, yet I never ‘ad a character in my life, good or bad.
“Now, if you was to ask ‘Earty, ‘e’d say I ain’t got no manners; an’ Mrs. B. ‘ud say I ain’t got no morals, an’ why?” Bindle looked round the room with a grin of challenge on his face. “‘Cause I says wot I thinks to ‘Earty, an’ ‘e don’t like it, an’ I talks about babies before young gals, an’ Mrs. Bindle thinks it ain’t decent.
“As I ain’t got neither manners or morals, I ought to be able to judge like between ’em. Now look at ‘Earty, ‘e’s as moral as a swan, though ‘e ain’t as pretty, an’ why?”
Again Bindle looked round the circle.
“‘Cause ‘e’s afraid!” Having made this statement Bindle proceeded to light his pipe. This concluded in silence, he continued:
“‘E’s afraid o’ bein’ disgraced in this world and roasted in the next. You should see the way ‘e looks at them young women in the choir. If ‘Earty was an ‘Un on the loose, well——” Bindle buried his face in his tankard.
“‘Is Lordship ‘as been sayin’ a lot o’ clever things to-night; but ‘e don’t believe a word of ’em.”
Windover screwed his glass into his eye and gazed at Bindle with interest.
“‘E loves to ‘ear ‘imself talk, same as me.”
Windover joined the laugh at his own expense.
“‘E talks with ‘is tongue, not from ‘is ‘eart, same as ‘Earty forgives. A man ain’t goin’ to feel better ’cause ‘e’s always doin’ wot other people ses ‘e ought to do, while ‘e wants to do somethink else. If a man’s got a rotten ‘eart, a silver tongue ain’t goin’ to ‘elp ‘im to get to ‘eaven.”
Bindle was unusually serious that night, and it was evident that he, at least, was speaking from his heart.
After a pause he continued, “My mate, Bill Peters, got an allotment to grow vegetables, at least such vegetables as the slugs didn’t want. Bill turns up in the evenin’s, arter ‘is job was done, wi’ spade an’ ‘oe an’ rake. But every time ‘e got to work on ‘is allotment, a goat came for ‘im from a back yard near by. Bill ain’t a coward, and there used to be a rare ole fight; but the goat was as wily as a foreman, an’ Bill always got the worst of it. ‘E’d wait till Bill wasn’t lookin’, and then ‘e’d charge from be’ind, an’ it sort o’ got on Bill’s nerves.
“At last Bill ‘eard that ‘is allotment was where the goat fed, an’, bein’ a sport, ‘e said it wasn’t fair to turn Billy out, so ‘e give up the allotment and ‘is missus ‘ll ‘ave to buy ‘er vegetables same as before.” Bindle paused to let the moral of his tale soak in.
“But what has that to do with morals and manners, J.B.?” asked Dick Little, determined that Bindle should expound his little allegory.
“For Bill read England and for goat read niggers,” said one of Tims’ men.
“You got it, sir,” said Bindle approvingly. “As I told ‘Earty last week, it ain’t convincin’ when yer starts squirtin’ lead with a machine-gun a-tellin’ the poor devils wot stops the bullets that there’s a dove a-comin’. Them niggers get a sort of idea that maybe the dove’s missed the train.”
“Talkin’ of goats——” began Angell Herald.
“We wasn’t talkin’ o’ goats,” remarked Bindle quietly, “we was talkin’ o’ Gawd.”
Whereat Angell Herald at first looked nonplussed and finally laughed!