The Return of Don Quixote/Chapter IV

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Chapter III The Return of Don Quixote
Chapter IV: The First Trial of John Braintree
written by Gilbert Keith Chesterton
Chapter V

The gentleman called Monkey made his way rapidly across the wide and windy sweep of lawn towards the solitary monument (if it can so be called), or curiosity, or relic, which stood in the middle of that open space. It was, in fact, a large fragment fallen from the Gothic gateways of the old Abbey, and here incongruously poised upon a more modern pedestal, probably by the rather hazy romanticism of some gentleman a hundred years ago, who thought that a subsequent accumulation of moss and moonlight might turn it into a suitable subject for the ingenious author of "Marmion." On close inspection (which nobody in particular ever accorded to it) the broken lines of it could be dimly traced in the shape of a rather repulsive monster, goggle-eyed and glaring upwards, possibly a dying dragon, above which something stood up in vertical lines like broken shafts or columns, possibly the lower part of a human figure. But it was not out of any antiquarian ardour to note these details that Mr. Douglas Murrel hastened towards the spot; but because the very impatient lady who had summoned him out of the house on urgent business had named this place for the appointment. From across the garden he could see Olive Ashley standing by the stone, and see that she was by no means standing equally still. Even at that distance there seemed to be something restless and even nervous about her gesture and carriage. She was the only person, perhaps, who ever did look at that lump of laboriously graven rock; and even she admitted that it was ugly and that she did not know what it meant. In any case she was not looking at it now.

"I want you to do me a favour," she said, abruptly, and before he could speak. Then she added, rather inconsequently, "I don't know why it should be any favour to me. I don't care. It's for everybody's sake--society and all that!"

"I see," said Murrel, with gravity, and possibly a little irony.

"Besides, he's your friend; I mean that man Braintree." Then her tone changed again, and she said explosively, "It's all your fault! You would introduce him."

"Well, what's the matter?" asked her companion, patiently.

"Only that I simply detest him," she said. "He was abominably rude and--"

"I say--" cried Murrel, sharply, with a new and unusual note in his voice.

"Oh, no," said Olive, crossly, "I don't mean like that. I don't want somebody to fight him; he wasn't rude in a conventional sense. Simply horribly stuck-up and opinionated, and laying down the law in long words out of his horrid foreign pamphlets-- shouting all sorts of nonsense about coordinated syndicalism and proletarian something--"

"Such words are not fit for a lady's lips," said Murrel, shaking his head, "but I'm afraid I don't yet quite understand what it's all about. As I'm not to fight him for saying coordinated syndicalism (which seems to me a jolly good reason for fighting a man), what in the world is it that you want?"

"I want him taken down a peg," observed the young woman, with vindictive gloom. "I want somebody to hammer into his head that he's really quite ignorant. Why, he's never mixed with educated people at all. You can see that from the way he walks and dresses. I feel somehow as if I could stand anything if he wouldn't thrust out that great bristly black beard. He might look quite all right without his beard."

"Do I understand," asked Murrel, "that you wish me to go and forcibly shave the gentleman?"

"Nonsense," she replied, impatiently, "I only mean I want him, just for one little moment, to wish he was shaved. What I want is to show him what educated people are really like. It's all for his own good. He could be--he could be ever so much improved."

"Is he to go to a continuation class or a night school?" inquired Murrel innocently, "or possibly to a Sunday school."

"Nobody ever learns anything at school," she replied, "I mean the only place where anybody ever does learn anything-- the world; the great world. I want him to see there are things much greater than his grumbling little fads--I want him to hear people talking about music and architecture and history, and all the things that really scholarly people know about. Of course, he's got stuck-up by spouting in the streets and laying down the law in low public-houses--bullying people even more ignorant than himself. But if once he gets among really cultivated people, he is quite clever enough to feel stupid."

"And so, wanting a stately scholar, cultured to his finger-tips, you naturally thought of me," remarked Monkey, approvingly. "You want me to tie him to a drawing-room chair and administer tea and Tolstoy, or Tupper, or whoever is the modern favourite. My dear Olive, he wouldn't come."

"I've thought of all that," she said, rather hurriedly, "that's what I meant by calling it a favour--a favour to him and all my fellow creatures, of course. Look here, I want you to persuade Lord Seawood to ask him to some business interview about the strike. That's the only thing he'd come for; and after that we'll introduce him to some people who'll talk right above his head, so that he'll sort of grow--grow up. It's really serious, Douglas. He's got the most terrible power over these workmen. Unless we can make him see the truth they will all--he's an orator in his way."

"I knew you were a bloated aristocrat," he said, contemplating the tense and tenuous little lady, "but I never knew you were such a diplomatist. Well, I suppose I must help in your horrid plot, if you really assure me that it's all for his own good."

"Of course it's for his own good," she replied, confidently. "I should never have thought of it but for that."

"Quite so," replied Murrel, and went back towards the house, walking rather more slowly than when coming away from it. But he did not see the ladder leaning up against the outhouse, or the development of this story might have been disastrously foiled.

Olive's theory about educating the uneducated man by association with educated men seemed to give him considerable food for thought as he went across the grassy plot kicking his heels, with his hands thrust deep in his trousers' pockets. Of course, there was something in it; fellows did find their level sometimes by going to Oxford. They find out in what way their education has been neglected, even if they continue to neglect it. But he had never seen the experiment tried on so dark a social stratum as the black and buried coal-seam for which the Syndicalist stood. He could not imagine anyone quite so rugged and dogged in his demagogy as his friend Jack Braintree gradually learning how to balance a cigarette and a tea-cup and talk about the Roumanian Shakespeare. There was to be a reception of that sort that afternoon, he knew-- but Braintree in it! Of course, there was a whole world of things that the sulky tub-thumper out of the slums did not know. He was not so sure whether they could ever be things that he wanted to know.

Having once made up his mind, however, to come to the rescue of Society and Olive Ashley, by thus exhibiting the unlettered coal-miner like a drunken helot, he set gravely about it; and it was highly characteristic of him that his gravity covered his deep and simple joy in a practical joke. Perhaps the question of who was, on whom the joke was being played, was not quite so simple. He made his way towards the wing of the building that contained the study, not often penetrated, of the great Lord Seawood himself. He remained there an hour, and came out smiling.

Thus it came about that through these manoeuvres, of which he was quite unconscious, the bewildered Braintree, his dark beard and hair seeming to bristle in every direction as he looked about him for enlightenment, found himself that afternoon (after a solemn and mysteriously futile interview with the great capitalist) turned loose by another door into the salon of the aristocracy of intellect which was to complete his education. He certainly looked rather incomplete; standing in that room with a stoop and a scowl, which were none the less sullen if they were unconsciously sullen. He was not ugly; but he looked ungainly. Above all, he looked unfriendly; and felt it. It was the other people, to do them justice, who showed the friendliness; sometimes, perhaps, a little heavy with heartiness. There was a large, bland, bald-headed gentleman who was particularly hearty; and never more hearty, one might say never more noisy, than when he was confidential. There was a touch in him of that potentate in the Bab Ballads whose whisper was a horrible yell.

"What we want," he said, softly pulverising something in his hollow palm with his clenched fist, "what we want for industrial peace is industrial instruction. Never listen to the reactionaries. Never you believe the fellows who say popular education is a mistake. Of course, the masses must have education. But above all, economic education. If once we can get into the people's heads some notion of the laws of political economy, we shall hear no more of these disputes that drive trade out of the country and threaten to put a pistol to the head of the public. Whatever our opinions may be, we all want to prevent that. Whatever our party may be, we don't want that. I don't say it in the interests of any party; I say it's something quite above party."

"But if I say," answered Braintree, "that we also want the extension of effective demand, isn't that above party?"

The large man glanced at him quickly and almost covertly. Then he said, "Quite--Oh, quite."

There was a silence and then a few gay remarks about the weather; and then Braintree found that the large man had somehow smoothly and inoffensively passed from him, swimming like some silent leviathan into other seas. The large man's bald head and rather pompously perched pince-nez had somehow given the impression that he was a professor of political economy. His conversation had somehow given the impression that he was not. The first stage of Mr. Braintree's course in culture was, perhaps, unfortunate. For it left that gloomy character with a growing inward impression, right or wrong, to the effect that the partisan of Economic Education for the Masses had not himself the very vaguest idea of what "effective demand" means.

This first fiasco, however, cannot be counted fairly; as the big bald man (who was, in fact, a certain Sir Howard Pryce, the head of a very big soap business) had perhaps put his foot by an accident inside the Syndicalist's own rather narrow province. The salon contained any number of people who were not in the least likely to discuss industrial instruction or economic demand. Among them, it is needless to say, there was Mr. Almeric Wister. It is needless to say it, for there always is Mr. Almeric Wister wherever twenty or thirty are gathered together in that particular sort of social afternoon.

Mr. Almeric Wister was, and is, the one fixed point round which countless slightly differentiated forms of social futility have clustered. He managed to be so omnipresent about teatime in Mayfair that some have held that he was not a man but a syndicate; and a number of Wisters scattered to the different drawing-rooms, all tall and lank and hollow-eyed and carefully dressed, and all with deep voices and hair and beard thin but rather long, with a suggestion of aesthete. But even in the similar parties in country houses there were always a certain number of him; so it would seem that the syndicate sent out provincial touring companies. He had a hazy reputation as an art expert and was great on the duration of pigments. He was the sort of man who remembers Rossetti and has unpublished anecdotes about Whistler. When he was first introduced to Braintree, his eye encountered that demagogue's red tie, from which he correctly deduced that Braintree was not an art expert. The expert therefore felt free to be even more expert than usual. His hollow eyes rolled reproachfully from the tie to a picture on the wall, by Lippi or some Italian primitive; for Seawood Abbey possessed fine pictures as well as fine books. Some association of ideas led Wister to echo unconsciously the complaint of Olive Ashley and remark that the red used for the wings of one of the angels was something of a lost technical secret. When one considered how the Last Supper had faded--

Braintree assented civilly, having no very special knowledge of pictures and no knowledge at all of Pigments. This ignorance, or indifference completed the case founded on the crude necktie. The expert, now fully realising that he was talking to an utter outsider, expanded with radiant condescension. He delivered a sort of lecture.

"Ruskin is very sound upon that point," said Mr. Almeric Wister. "You would be quite safe in reading Ruskin, if only as a sort of introduction to the subject. With the exception of Pater, of course, there has been no critic since having that atmosphere of authority. Democracy, of course, is not favourable to authority. And I very much fear, Mr. Braintree, that democracy is not favourable to art."

"Well, if ever we have any democracy, I suppose we shall find out," said Braintree.

"I fear," said Wister, shaking his head, "that we have quite enough to lead us to neglect all artistic authorities."

At this moment, Rosamund of the red hair and the square, sensible face, came up, steering through the crowd a sturdy young man, who also had a sensible face; but the resemblance ended there, for he was stodgy and even plain, with short bristly hair and a tooth-brush moustache. But he had the clear eyes of a man of courage and his manners were very pleasant and unpretending. He was a squire of the neighbourhood, named Hanbury, with some reputation as a traveller in the tropics. After introducing him and exchanging a few words with the group, she said to Wister, "I'm afraid we interrupted you"; which was indeed the case.

"I was saying," said Wister, airily, but also a little loftily, "that I fear we have descended to democracy and an age of little men. The great Victorians are gone."

"Yes, of course," answered the girl, a little mechanically.

"We have no giants left," he resumed.

"That must have been quite a common complaint in Cornwall," reflected Braintree, "when Jack the Giant-killer had gone his professional rounds."

"When you have read the works of the Victorian giants," said Wister, rather contemptuously, "you will perhaps understand what I mean by a giant."

"You can't really mean, Mr. Braintree," remonstrated the lady, "that you want great men to be killed."

"Well, I think there's something in the idea," said Braintree. "Tennyson deserved to be killed for writing the May-Queen, and Browning deserved to be killed for rhyming 'promise' and 'from mice,' and Carlyle deserved to be killed for being Carlyle; and Herbert Spencer deserved to be killed for writing 'The Man versus the State'; and Dickens deserved to be killed for not killing Little Nell quick enough; and Ruskin deserved to be killed for saying that Man ought to have no more freedom than the sun; and Gladstone deserved to be killed for deserting Parnell; and Disraeli deserved to be killed for talking about a 'shrinking sire,' and Thackeray--"

"Mercy on us!" interrupted the lady, laughing, "you really must stop somewhere. What a lot you seem to have read!"

Wister appeared, for some reason or other, to be very much annoyed; almost waspish. "If you ask me," he said, "it's all part of the mob and its hatred of superiority. Always wants to drag merit down. That's why your infernal trade unions won't have a good workman paid better than a bad one."

"That has been defended economically," said Braintree, with restraint. "One authority has pointed out that the best trades are paid equally already."

"Karl Marx, I suppose," said the expert, testily.

"No, John Ruskin," replied the other. "One of your Victorian giants." Then he added, "But the text and title of the book were not by John Ruskin, but by Jesus Christ; who had not, alas, the privilege of being a Victorian."

The stodgy little man named Hanbury possibly felt that the conversation was becoming too religious to be respectable; anyhow, he interposed pacifically, saying, "You come from the mining area, Mr. Braintree?"

The other assented, rather gloomily.

"I suppose," said Braintree's new interlocutor, "I suppose there will be a good deal of unrest among the miners?"

"On the contrary," replied Braintree, "there will be a good deal of rest among the miners."

The other frowned in momentary doubt, and said very quickly, "You don't mean the strike is off?"

"The strike is very much on," said Braintree, grimly, "so there will be no more unrest."

"Now, what _do_ you mean?" cried the very practical young lady, shortly destined to be the Princess of the Troubadours.

"I mean what I say," he replied, shortly. "I say there will be a great deal of rest among the miners. You always talk as if striking meant throwing a bomb or blowing up a house. Striking simply means resting."

"Why, it's quite a paradox," cried his hostess, with a sort of joy, as if it were a new parlour game and her party was now really going to be a success.

"I should have thought it was a platitude, otherwise a plain truth," replied Braintree. "During a strike the workers are resting; and a jolly new experience for some of them, I can tell you."

"May we not say," said Wister, in a deep voice, "that the truest rest is in labour?"

"You may," said Braintree, dryly. "It's a free country--for you anyhow. And while you're about it, you may also say that the truest labour is in rest. And then you will be quite delighted with the notion of a strike."

His hostess was looking at him with a new expression, steady and yet gradually changing; the expression with which people of slow but sincere mental processes recognise something that has to be reckoned with, and possibly even respected. For although, or perhaps because, she had grown up smothered with wealth and luxury, she was quite innocent, and had never felt any shame in looking on the faces of her fellows.

"Don't you think," she said at last, "we are just quarrelling about a word?"

"No, I don't, since you ask me," he said, gruffly. "I think we are arguing on two sides of an abyss, and that one little word is a chasm between two halves of humanity. If you really care to know, may I give you a little piece of advice? When you want to make us think you understand the situation, and still disapprove of the strike, say anything in the world except that. Say there is the devil among the miners; say there is treason and anarchy among the miners; say there is blasphemy and madness among the miners. But don't say there is unrest among the miners. For that one little word betrays the whole thing that is at the back of your mind; it is very old and its name is Slavery."

"This is very extraordinary," said Mr. Wister.

"Isn't it?" said the lady. "Thrilling!"

"No, quite simple," said the Syndicalist. "Suppose there is a man in your coal-cellar instead of your coal-mine. Suppose it is his business to break up coal all day, and you can hear him hammering. We will suppose he is paid for it; we will suppose you honestly think he is paid enough. Still, you can hear him chopping away all day while you are smoking or playing the piano-- until a moment when the noise in the coal-cellar stops suddenly. It may be wrong for it to stop--it may be right--it may be all sorts of things. But don't you see--can nothing make you see-- what you really mean if you only say, like Hamlet to his old mole, 'Rest, perturbed spirit.'"

"Ha," said Mr. Wister, graciously, "glad to see you have read Shakespeare."

But Braintree went on without noticing the remark.

"The hammering in your coal-hole that always goes on stops for an instant. And what do you say to the man down there in the darkness? You do not say, 'Thank you for doing it well.' You do not even say, 'Damn you for doing it badly.' What you do say is, 'Rest; sleep on. Resume your normal state of repose. Continue in that state of complete quiescence which is normal to you and which nothing should ever have disturbed. Continue that rhythmic and lulling motion that must be to you the same as slumber; which is for you second nature and part of the nature of things. _Continuez,_ as God said in Belloc's story. Let there be no unrest.'"

As he talked vehemently, but not violently, he became faintly conscious that many more faces were turned towards him and his group, not staring rudely, but giving a general sense of a crowd heading in that direction. He saw Murrel looking at him with melancholy amusement over a limp cigarette, and Archer glancing at him every now and then over his shoulder as if fearing he would set fire to the house. He saw the eager and half-serious faces of several ladies of a sort always hungry for anything to happen. All those close to him were cloudy and bewildering; but amid them all he could see away in the corner of the room, distant but distinct and even unreasonably distinct, the pale but vivid face of little Miss Ashley of the paint-box, watching--.

"But the man in the coal-cellar is only a stranger out of the street," he went on, "who has gone into your black hole to attack a rock as he might attack a wild beast or any other brute force of nature. To break coal in a coal-cellar is an action. To break it in a coal-mine is an adventure. The wild beast can kill in its own cavern. And fighting with that wild beast is eternal unrest; a war with chaos, as much as that of a man hacking his own way through an African forest."

"Mr. Hanbury," said Rosamund, smiling, "has just come back from an expedition of that sort."

"Yes," said Braintree, "but when he doesn't happen to go on an expedition, you don't say there is Unrest at the Travellers' Club."

"Had me there. Very good," said Hanbury, in his easy-going way.

"Don't you see," went on Braintree, "that when you say that of us, you imply that we are all so much clockwork, and you never even notice the ticking till the clock stops."

"Yes," said Rosamund, "I think I see what you mean and I shan't forget it." And, indeed, though she was not particularly clever, she was one of those rare and rather valuable people who never forget anything they have once learnt.