Chapter VII

  ‘Fairacre, 13th January.

WHEN a benevolent fairy bestows on me a cast-off island, or some old-fashioned kingdom upon the mainland, I shall have a carriage as capacious as a state barge, drawn by two iron-gray horses, tall and high stepping, likewise a slim footman, and a fat elderly coachman. This is the state with which I was encircled yesterday, when I drove out with Mrs. Marwood in her brand-new equipage. And let me tell you, my dear, that I found the change from our lowly pony carriage, and Leo's diminutive trot, to these exalted prosperities very soothing. How deferential shop-people and all that ilk are, when one goes about with such a halo of wealth! But never suppose that I am going to revile human nature on these grounds. No; when I reflected on the matter, I was unmoved and dispassionate to an edifying degree. “After all,” I said, “money is a great power.” Pray, are you dazzled with the brilliant originality of this? But don't interrupt reflections, for though doing so may add

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much to your joy, it is death to the homilist. “Money is at the root of all civilization and art.”

‘At this point an aboriginal family bore in sight, who pointed the moral in a striking way—father, mother, and two picaninnies were all barefooted. In a word, a tattered Government blanket, a couple of waddies, and the rakings of a dust-bin, by way of clothing, comprised all their worldly possessions. Thrilled with the justice of my remarks, I went on: “Society is held together by mutual wants. The unfortunate devils who have not wherewithal to satisfy these must go to the wall. How unavoidable, then, that money should confer distinction! It is true that wealth draws out the flunkyism of the average week-day mortal in a pitiful way. But may not flunkyism itself be termed the exaggerated respect of poor natures for an absolute power?” etc. I do not know any place in which one may make reflections so fairly and comfortably as in a deep-seated, plush-lined carriage.

‘Do you know how profoundly benevolent and incoherent Mrs. Marwood is in her charities? She really is a perfect point de raillement of incongruities. You find her telling you how atrociously Worth charges for a simple gray silk, and before she has finished marshalling her figures she ejaculates, “But why should we worms of the earth take so much thought wherewithal shall we be clothed? The sheep and caterpillar wore that very clothing long before.” My imagination is not nimble enough to take in so varied an assortment of metaphors without bruising its shins. First as to the phrase “a worm of the earth.” I no sooner hear it than I picture myself as a creeping thing, without hands or feet or face, living in a carcase underground, without light or sun or air. Before this gruesome picture is complete, enter a sheep with a waist, in a fine homespun, and a caterpillar trailing a trained silk. You see, they wore “that very clothing long before.” ’Tis to no purpose for a sober man to knock at the door of poesy, says Plato. So it is with me. The flights that people take to read a lesson to man's pride confuse rather than edify me.

‘One of the visits Mrs. Marwood paid as we were on our way to her house was to a family whose head she described as a “brand plucked from the burning.” Judge whether one who lounges about his house in the afternoon with

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unlaced boots, a stubbly beard of a week's growth, and smoking a short black pipe, seems a fit subject for such a description. But then perhaps the appositeness of a “plucked brand” rests with the eye that sees it. Certainly he might have been engaged in drowning his youngest child in the tank, or dancing on the prostrate form of his wife.

‘You hope that I am going on with my collection of aboriginal myths and customs? I hope the same. So it is evident that life is partly given us that we may keep on hoping, and nothing come of it. “Why do I not set to more seriously?” In the first place, I hate to “set to”; in the second, I abhor “more.” And if I could hang myself for aught, it would be because there is such a word as “seriously,” not only in the dictionary, where one may endure anything, but also in people's mouths. Have I expressed myself too strongly? Then I repent—but without any thought of amendment. This, I believe, is the only thing that makes repentance tolerable.’