The British Barbarians
From: The British Barbarians
The time was Saturday afternoon; the place was Surrey; the person
of the drama was Philip Christy.
He had come down by the early fast train to Brackenhurst. All the
world knows Brackenhurst, of course, the greenest and leafiest of
our southern suburbs. It looked even prettier than its wont just
then, that town of villas, in the first fresh tenderness of its wan
spring foliage, the first full flush of lilac, laburnum, horse-
chestnut, and guelder-rose. The air was heavy with the odour of May
and the hum of bees. Philip paused a while at the corner, by the
ivied cottage, admiring it silently. He was glad he lived there--
so very aristocratic! What joy to glide direct, on the enchanted
carpet of the South-Eastern Railway, from the gloom and din and
bustle of Cannon Street, to the breadth and space and silence and
exclusiveness of that upland village! For Philip Christy was a
gentlemanly clerk in Her Majesty's Civil Service.
As he stood there admiring it all with roving eyes, he was startled
after a moment by the sudden, and as it seemed to him unannounced
apparition of a man in a well-made grey tweed suit, just a yard or
two in front of him. He was aware of an intruder. To be sure, there
was nothing very remarkable at first sight either in the stranger's
dress, appearance, or manner. All that Philip noticed for himself
in the newcomer's mien for the first few seconds was a certain
distinct air of social superiority, an innate nobility of gait
and bearing. So much at least he observed at a glance quite
instinctively. But it was not this quiet and unobtrusive tone,
as of the Best Society, that surprised and astonished him;
Brackenhurst prided itself, indeed, on being a most well-bred and
distinguished neighbourhood; people of note grew as thick there as
heather or whortleberries. What puzzled him more was the abstruser
question, where on earth the stranger could have come from so
suddenly. Philip had glanced up the road and down the road just two
minutes before, and was prepared to swear when he withdrew his eyes
not a soul loomed in sight in either direction. Whence, then, could
the man in the grey suit have emerged? Had he dropped from the
clouds? No gate opened into the road on either side for two hundred
yards or more; for Brackenhurst is one of those extremely
respectable villa neighbourhoods where every house--an eligible
family residence--stands in its own grounds of at least six acres.
Now Philip could hardly suspect that so well dressed a man of such
distinguished exterior would be guilty of such a gross breach of
the recognised code of Brackenhurstian manners as was implied in
the act of vaulting over a hedgerow. So he gazed in blank wonder
at the suddenness of the apparition, more than half inclined to
satisfy his curiosity by inquiring of the stranger how the dickens
he had got there.
A moment's reflection, however, sufficed to save the ingenuous
young man from the pitfall of so serious a social solecism. It
would be fatal to accost him. For, mark you, no matter how
gentlemanly and well-tailored a stranger may look, you can never be
sure nowadays (in these topsy-turvy times of subversive radicalism)
whether he is or is not really a gentleman. That makes
acquaintanceship a dangerous luxury. If you begin by talking to a
man, be it ever so casually, he may desire to thrust his company
upon you, willy-nilly, in future; and when you have ladies of your
family living in a place, you really CANNOT be too particular what
companions you pick up there, were it even in the most informal and
momentary fashion. Besides, the fellow might turn out to be one of
your social superiors, and not care to know you; in which case, of
course, you would only be letting yourself in for a needless
snubbing. In fact, in this modern England of ours, this fatherland
of snobdom, one passes one's life in a see-saw of doubt, between
the Scylla and Charybdis of those two antithetical social dangers.
You are always afraid you may get to know somebody you yourself do
not want to know, or may try to know somebody who does not want to
Guided by these truly British principles of ancestral wisdom,
Philip Christy would probably never have seen anything more of the
distinguished-looking stranger had it not been for a passing
accident of muscular action, over which his control was distinctly
precarious. He happened in brushing past to catch the stranger's
eye. It was a clear blue eye, very deep and truthful. It somehow
succeeded in riveting for a second Philip's attention. And it was
plain the stranger was less afraid of speaking than Philip himself
was. For he advanced with a pleasant smile on his open countenance,
and waved one gloveless hand in a sort of impalpable or half-
checked salute, which impressed his new acquaintance as a vaguely
polite Continental gesture. This affected Philip favourably: the
newcomer was a somebody then, and knew his place: for just in
proportion as Philip felt afraid to begin conversation himself with
an unplaced stranger, did he respect any other man who felt so
perfectly sure of his own position that he shared no such middle-
class doubts or misgivings. A duke is never afraid of accosting
anybody. Philip was strengthened, therefore, in his first idea,
that the man in the grey suit was a person of no small distinction
in society, else surely he would not have come up and spoken with
such engaging frankness and ease of manner.
"I beg your pardon," the stranger said, addressing him in pure and
limpid English, which sounded to Philip like the dialect of the
very best circles, yet with some nameless difference of intonation
or accent which certainly was not foreign, still less provincial,
or Scotch, or Irish; it seemed rather like the very purest well of
English undefiled Philip had ever heard,--only, if anything, a
little more so; "I beg your pardon, but I'm a stranger hereabouts,
and I should be so VERY much obliged if you could kindly direct me
to any good lodgings."
His voice and accent attracted Philip even more now he stood near
at hand than his appearance had done from a little distance. It was
impossible, indeed, to say definitely in set terms what there was
about the man that made his personality and his words so charming;
but from that very first minute, Philip freely admitted to himself
that the stranger in the grey suit was a perfect gentleman. Nay, so
much did he feel it in his ingenuous way that he threw off at once
his accustomed cloak of dubious reserve, and, standing still to
think, answered after a short pause, "Well, we've a great many very
nice furnished houses about here to let, but not many lodgings.
Brackenhurst's a cut above lodgings, don't you know; it's a
residential quarter. But I should think Miss Blake's, at
Heathercliff House, would perhaps be just the sort of thing to
"Oh, thank you," the stranger answered, with a deferential
politeness which charmed Philip once more by its graceful
expressiveness. "And could you kindly direct me to them? I don't
know my way about at all, you see, as yet, in this country."
"With pleasure," Philip replied, quite delighted at the chance of
solving the mystery of where the stranger had dropped from. "I'm
going that way myself, and can take you past her door. It's only a
few steps. Then you're a stranger in England?"
The newcomer smiled a curious self-restrained smile. He was both
young and handsome. "Yes, I'm a stranger in your England," he
answered, gravely, in the tone of one who wishes to avoid an
awkward discussion. "In fact, an Alien. I only arrived here this
"From the Continent?" Philip inquired, arching his eyebrows
The stranger smiled again. "No, not from the Continent," he
replied, with provoking evasiveness.
"I thought you weren't a foreigner," Philip continued in a blandly
suggestive voice. "That is to say," he went on, after a second's
pause, during which the stranger volunteered no further statement,
"you speak English like an Englishman."
"Do I?" the stranger answered. "Well, I'm glad of that. It'll make
intercourse with your Englishmen so much more easy."
By this time Philip's curiosity was thoroughly whetted. "But you're
not an Englishman, you say?" he asked, with a little natural
"No, not exactly what you call an Englishman," the stranger
replied, as if he didn't quite care for such clumsy attempts to
examine his antecedents. "As I tell you, I'm an Alien. But we
always spoke English at home," he added with an afterthought, as if
ready to vouchsafe all the other information that lay in his power.
"You can't be an American, I'm sure," Philip went on, unabashed,
his eagerness to solve the question at issue, once raised, getting
the better for the moment of both reserve and politeness.
"No, I'm certainly not an American," the stranger answered with a
gentle courtesy in his tone that made Philip feel ashamed of his
rudeness in questioning him.
"Nor a Colonist?" Philip asked once more, unable to take the hint.
"Nor a Colonist either," the Alien replied curtly. And then he
relapsed into a momentary silence which threw upon Philip the
difficult task of continuing the conversation.
The member of Her Britannic Majesty's Civil Service would have
given anything just that minute to say to him frankly, "Well, if
you're not an Englishman, and you're not an American, and you're
not a Colonist, and you ARE an Alien, and yet you talk English like
a native, and have always talked it, why, what in the name of
goodness do you want us to take you for?" But he restrained himself
with difficulty. There was something about the stranger that made
him feel by instinct it would be more a breach of etiquette to
question him closely than to question any one he had ever met with.
They walked on along the road for some minutes together, the
stranger admiring all the way the golden tresses of the laburnum
and the rich perfume of the lilac, and talking much as he went of
the quaintness and prettiness of the suburban houses. Philip
thought them pretty, too (or rather, important), but failed to see
for his own part where the quaintness came in. Nay, he took the
imputation as rather a slur on so respectable a neighbourhood: for
to be quaint is to be picturesque, and to be picturesque is to be
old-fashioned. But the stranger's voice and manner were so
pleasant, almost so ingratiating, that Philip did not care to
differ from him on the abstract question of a qualifying epithet.
After all, there's nothing positively insulting in calling a house
quaint, though Philip would certainly have preferred, himself, to
hear the Eligible Family Residences of that Aristocratic
Neighbourhood described in auctioneering phrase as "imposing,"
"noble," "handsome," or "important-looking."
Just before they reached Miss Blake's door, the Alien paused for a
second. He took out a loose handful of money, gold and silver
together, from his trouser pocket. "One more question," he said,
with that pleasant smile on his lips, "if you'll excuse my
ignorance. Which of these coins is a pound, now, and which is a
"Why, a pound IS a sovereign, of course," Philip answered briskly,
smiling the genuine British smile of unfeigned astonishment that
anybody should be ignorant of a minor detail in the kind of life he
had always lived among. To be sure, he would have asked himself
with equal simplicity what was the difference between a twenty-
franc piece, a napoleon, and a louis, or would have debated as to
the precise numerical relation between twenty-five cents and a
quarter of a dollar; but then, those are mere foreign coins, you
see, which no fellow can be expected to understand, unless he
happens to have lived in the country they are used in. The others
are British and necessary to salvation. That feeling is instinctive
in the thoroughly provincial English nature. No Englishman ever
really grasps for himself the simple fact that England is a foreign
country to foreigners; if strangers happen to show themselves
ignorant of any petty matter in English life, he regards their
ignorance as silly and childish, not to be compared for a moment to
his own natural unfamiliarity with the absurd practices of foreign
The Alien, indeed, seemed to have learned beforehand this curious
peculiarity of the limited English intellect; for he blushed
slightly as he replied, "I know your currency, as a matter of
arithmetic, of course: twelve pence make one shilling; twenty
shillings make one pound--"
"Of course," Philip echoed in a tone of perfect conviction; it
would never have occurred to him to doubt for a moment that
everybody knew intuitively those beggarly elements of the inspired
British monetary system.
"Though they're singularly awkward units of value for any one
accustomed to a decimal coinage: so unreasonable and illogical,"
the stranger continued blandly, turning over the various pieces
with a dubious air of distrust and uncertainty.
"I BEG your pardon," Philip said, drawing himself up very stiff,
and scarcely able to believe his ears (he was an official of Her
Britannic Majesty's Government, and unused to such blasphemy). "Do
I understand you to say, you consider pounds, shillings, and pence
He put an emphasis on the last word that might fairly have struck
terror to the stranger's breast; but somehow it did not. "Why,
yes," the Alien went on with imperturbable gentleness: "no order or
principle, you know. No rational connection. A mere survival from
barbaric use. A score, and a dozen. The score is one man, ten
fingers and ten toes; the dozen is one man with shoes on--fingers
and feet together. Twelve pence make one shilling; twenty shillings
one pound. How very confusing! And then, the nomenclature's so
absurdly difficult! Which of these is half-a-crown, if you please,
and which is a florin? and what are their respective values in
pence and shillings?"
Philip picked out the coins and explained them to him separately.
The Alien meanwhile received the information with evident interest,
as a traveller in that vast tract that is called Abroad might note
the habits and manners of some savage tribe that dwells within its
confines, and solemnly wrapped each coin up in paper, as his
instructor named it for him, writing the designation and value
outside in a peculiarly beautiful and legible hand. "It's so
puzzling, you see," he said in explanation, as Philip smiled
another superior and condescending British smile at this infantile
proceeding; "the currency itself has no congruity or order: and
then, even these queer unrelated coins haven't for the most part
their values marked in words or figures upon them."
"Everybody knows what they are," Philip answered lightly. Though
for a moment, taken aback by the novelty of the idea, he almost
admitted in his own mind that to people who had the misfortune to
be born foreigners, there WAS perhaps a slight initial difficulty
in this unlettered system. But then, you cannot expect England to
be regulated throughout for the benefit of foreigners! Though, to
be sure, on the one occasion when Philip had visited the Rhine and
Switzerland, he had grumbled most consumedly from Ostend to
Grindelwald, at those very decimal coins which the stranger seemed
to admire so much, and had wondered why the deuce Belgium, Germany,
Holland, and Switzerland could not agree among themselves upon a
uniform coinage; it would be so much more convenient to the British
tourist. For the British tourist, of course, is NOT a foreigner.
On the door-step of Miss Blake's Furnished Apartments for Families
and Gentlemen, the stranger stopped again. "One more question," he
interposed in that same suave voice, "if I'm not trespassing too
much on your time and patience. For what sort of term--by the day,
month, year--does one usually take lodgings?"
"Why, by the week, of course," Philip answered, suppressing a broad
smile of absolute surprise at the man's childish ignorance.
"And how much shall I have to pay?" the Alien went on quietly.
"Have you any fixed rule about it?"
"Of course not," Philip answered, unable any longer to restrain his
amusement (everything in England was "of course" to Philip). "You
pay according to the sort of accommodation you require, the number
of your rooms, and the nature of the neighbourhood."
"I see," the Alien replied, imperturbably polite, in spite of
Philip's condescending manner. "And what do I pay per room in this
latitude and longitude?"
For twenty seconds, Philip half suspected his new acquaintance of a
desire to chaff him: but as at the same time the Alien drew from
his pocket a sort of combined compass and chronometer which he
gravely consulted for his geographical bearings, Philip came to the
conclusion he must be either a seafaring man or an escaped lunatic.
So he answered him to the point. "I should think," he said quietly,
"as Miss Blake's are extremely respectable lodgings, in a first-
rate quarter, and with a splendid view, you'll probably have to pay
somewhere about three guineas."
"Three what?" the stranger interposed, with an inquiring glance at
the little heap of coins he still held before him.
Philip misinterpreted his glance. "Perhaps that's too much for
you," he suggested, looking severe; for if people cannot afford to
pay for decent rooms, they have no right to invade an aristocratic
suburb, and bespeak the attention of its regular residents.
"Oh, that's not it," the Alien put in, reading his tone aright.
"The money doesn't matter to me. As long as I can get a tidy room,
with sun and air, I don't mind what I pay. It's the guinea I can't
quite remember about for the moment. I looked it up, I know, in a
dictionary at home; but I'm afraid I've forgotten it. Let me see;
it's twenty-one pounds to the guinea, isn't it? Then I'm to pay
about sixty-three pounds a week for my lodgings."
This was the right spirit. He said it so simply, so seriously, so
innocently, that Philip was quite sure he really meant it. He was
prepared, if necessary, to pay sixty odd pounds a week in rent.
Now, a man like that is the proper kind of man for a respectable
neighbourhood. He'll keep a good saddle-horse, join the club, and
play billiards freely. Philip briefly explained to him the nature
of his mistake, pointing out to him that a guinea was an imaginary
coin, unrepresented in metal, but reckoned by prescription at
twenty-one shillings. The stranger received the slight correction
with such perfect nonchalance, that Philip at once conceived a
high opinion of his wealth and solvency, and therefore of his
respectability and moral character. It was clear that pounds and
shillings were all one to him. Philip had been right, no doubt,
in his first diagnosis of his queer acquaintance as a man of
distinction. For wealth and distinction are practically synonyms
in England for one and the same quality, possession of the
As they parted, the stranger spoke again, still more at sea. "And
are there any special ceremonies to be gone through on taking up
lodgings?" he asked quite gravely. "Any religious rites, I mean to
say? Any poojah or so forth? That is," he went on, as Philip's
smile broadened, "is there any taboo to be removed or appeased
before I can take up my residence in the apartments?"
By this time Philip was really convinced he had to do with a
madman--perhaps a dangerous lunatic. So he answered rather testily,
"No, certainly not; how absurd! you must see that's ridiculous.
You're in a civilised country, not among Australian savages. All
you'll have to do is to take the rooms and pay for them. I'm sorry
I can't be of any further use to you, but I'm pressed for time
to-day. So now, good-morning."
As for the stranger, he turned up the path through the lodging-
house garden with curious misgivings. His heart failed him. It was
half-past three by mean solar time for that particular longitude.
Then why had this young man said so briskly, "Good morning," at
3.30 P.M., as if on purpose to deceive him? Was he laying a trap?
Was this some wile and guile of the English medicine-men?
Next day was (not unnaturally) Sunday. At half-past ten in the
morning, according to his wont, Philip Christy was seated in the
drawing-room at his sister's house, smooth silk hat in gloved hand,
waiting for Frida and her husband, Robert Monteith, to go to church
with him. As he sat there, twiddling his thumbs, or beating the
devil's tattoo on the red Japanese table, the housemaid entered.
"A gentleman to see you, sir," she said, handing Philip a card.
The young man glanced at it curiously. A visitor to call at such
an early hour!--and on Sunday morning too! How extremely odd!
This was really most irregular!
So he looked down at the card with a certain vague sense of
inarticulate disapproval. But he noticed at the same time it was
finer and clearer and more delicately engraved than any other card
he had ever yet come across. It bore in simple unobtrusive letters
the unknown name, "Mr. Bertram Ingledew."
Though he had never heard it before, name and engraving both tended
to mollify Philip's nascent dislike. "Show the gentleman in,
Martha," he said in his most grandiose tone; and the gentleman
Philip started at sight of him. It was his friend the Alien. Philip
was quite surprised to see his madman of last night; and what was
more disconcerting still, in the self-same grey tweed home-spun
suit he had worn last evening. Now, nothing can be more
gentlemanly, don't you know, than a grey home-spun, IN its proper
place; but its proper place Philip Christy felt was certainly NOT
in a respectable suburb on a Sunday morning.
"I beg your pardon," he said frigidly, rising from his seat with
his sternest official air--the air he was wont to assume in the
anteroom at the office when outsiders called and wished to
interview his chief "on important public business." "To what may I
owe the honour of this visit?" For he did not care to be hunted up
in his sister's house at a moment's notice by a most casual
acquaintance, whom he suspected of being an escaped lunatic.
Bertram Ingledew, for his part, however, advanced towards his
companion of last night with the frank smile and easy bearing of a
cultivated gentleman. He was blissfully unaware of the slight he
was putting upon the respectability of Brackenhurst by appearing on
Sunday in his grey tweed suit; so he only held out his hand as to
an ordinary friend, with the simple words, "You were so extremely
kind to me last night, Mr. Christy, that as I happen to know nobody
here in England, I ventured to come round and ask your advice in
unexpected circumstances that have since arisen."
When Bertram Ingledew looked at him, Philip once more relented. The
man's eye was so captivating. To say the truth, there was something
taking about the mysterious stranger--a curious air of unconscious
superiority--so that, the moment he came near, Philip felt himself
fascinated. He only answered, therefore, in as polite a tone as he
could easily muster, "Why, how did you get to know my name, or to
trace me to my sister's?"
"Oh, Miss Blake told me who you were and where you lived," Bertram
replied most innocently: his tone was pure candour; "and when I
went round to your lodgings just now, they explained that you were
out, but that I should probably find you at Mrs. Monteith's; so of
course I came on here."
Philip denied the applicability of that naive "of course" in his
inmost soul: but it was no use being angry with Mr. Bertram
Ingledew. So much he saw at once; the man was so simple-minded, so
transparently natural, one could not be angry with him. One could
only smile at him, a superior cynical London-bred smile, for an
unsophisticated foreigner. So the Civil Servant asked with a
condescending air, "Well, what's your difficulty? I'll see if
peradventure I can help you out of it." For he reflected to himself
in a flash that as Ingledew had apparently a good round sum in gold
and notes in his pocket yesterday, he was not likely to come
borrowing money this morning.
"It's like this, you see," the Alien answered with charming
simplicity, "I haven't got any luggage."
"Not got any luggage!" Philip repeated, awestruck, letting his jaw
fall short, and stroking his clean-shaven chin with one hand. He
was more doubtful than ever now as to the man's sanity or
respectability. If he was not a lunatic, then surely he must be
this celebrated Perpignan murderer, whom everybody was talking
about, and whom the French police were just then engaged in hunting
down for extradition.
"No; I brought none with me on purpose," Mr. Ingledew replied, as
innocently as ever. "I didn't feel quite sure about the ways, or
the customs, or the taboos of England. So I had just this one suit
of clothes made, after an English pattern of the present fashion,
which I was lucky enough to secure from a collector at home; and I
thought I'd buy everything else I wanted when I got to London. I
brought nothing at all in the way of luggage with me."
"Not even brush and comb?" Philip interposed, horrified.
"Oh, yes, naturally, just the few things one always takes in a
vade-mecum," Bertram Ingledew answered, with a gracefully
deprecatory wave of the hand, which Philip thought pretty enough,
but extremely foreign. "Beyond that, nothing. I felt it would be
best, you see, to set oneself up in things of the country in the
country itself. One's surer then of getting exactly what's worn in
the society one mixes in."
For the first and only time, as he said those words, the stranger
struck a chord that was familiar to Philip. "Oh, of course," the
Civil Servant answered, with brisk acquiescence, "if you want to be
really up to date in your dress, you must go to first-rate houses
in London for everything. Nobody anywhere can cut like a good
Bertram Ingledew bowed his head. It was the acquiescent bow of the
utter outsider who gives no opinion at all on the subject under
discussion, because he does not possess any. As he probably came,
in spite of his disclaimer, from America or the colonies, which are
belated places, toiling in vain far in the rear of Bond Street,
Philip thought this an exceedingly proper display of bashfulness,
especially in a man who had only landed in England yesterday. But
Bertram went on half-musingly. "And you had told me," he said, "I'm
sure not meaning to mislead me, there were no formalities or taboos
of any kind on entering into lodgings. However, I found, as soon as
I'd arranged to take the rooms and pay four guineas a week for
them, which was a guinea more than she asked me, Miss Blake would
hardly let me come in at all unless I could at once produce my
luggage." He looked comically puzzled. "I thought at first," he
continued, gazing earnestly at Philip, "the good lady was afraid I
wouldn't pay her what I'd agreed, and would go away and leave her
in the lurch without a penny,--which was naturally a very painful
imputation. But when I offered to let her have three weeks' rent
in advance, I saw that wasn't all: there was a taboo as well; she
couldn't let me in without luggage, she said, because it would
imperil some luck or talisman to which she frequently alluded as
the Respectability of her Lodgings. This Respectability seems a
very great fetich. I was obliged at last, in order to ensure a
night's lodging of any sort, to appease it by promising I'd go up
to London by the first train to-day, and fetch down my luggage."
"Then you've things at Charing Cross, in the cloak-room perhaps?"
Philip suggested, somewhat relieved; for he felt sure Bertram
Ingledew must have told Miss Blake it was HE who had recommended
him to Heathercliff House for furnished apartments.
"Oh, dear, no; nothing," Bertram responded cheerfully. "Not a sack
to my back. I've only what I stand up in. And I called this
morning just to ask as I passed if you could kindly direct me to an
emporium in London where I could set myself up in all that's
"A WHAT?" Philip interposed, catching quick at the unfamiliar word
with blank English astonishment, and more than ever convinced, in
spite of denial, that the stranger was an American.
"An emporium," Bertram answered, in the most matter-of-fact voice:
"a magazine, don't you know; a place where they supply things in
return for money. I want to go up to London at once this morning
and buy what I require there."
"Oh, A SHOP, you mean," Philip replied, putting on at once his most
respectable British sabbatarian air. "I can tell you of the very
best tailor in London, whose cut is perfect; a fine flower of
tailors: but NOT to-day. You forget you're in England, and this is
Sunday. On the Continent, it's different: but you'll find no decent
shops here open to-day in town or country."
Bertram Ingledew drew one hand over his high white brow with a
strangely puzzled air. "No more I will," he said slowly, like one
who by degrees half recalls with an effort some forgotten fact from
dim depths of his memory. "I ought to have remembered, of course.
Why, I knew that, long ago. I read it in a book on the habits and
manners of the English people. But somehow, one never recollects
these taboo days, wherever one may be, till one's pulled up short
by them in the course of one's travels. Now, what on earth am I to
do? A box, it seems, is the Open, Sesame of the situation. Some
mystic value is attached to it as a moral amulet. I don't believe
that excellent Miss Blake would consent to take me in for a second
night without the guarantee of a portmanteau to respectablise me."
We all have moments of weakness, even the most irreproachable
Philistine among us; and as Bertram said those words in rather a
piteous voice, it occurred to Philip Christy that the loan of a
portmanteau would be a Christian act which might perhaps simplify
matters for the handsome and engaging stranger. Besides, he was
sure, after all--mystery or no mystery--Bertram Ingledew was
Somebody. That nameless charm of dignity and distinction impressed
him more and more the longer he talked with the Alien. "Well, I
think, perhaps, I could help you," he hazarded after a moment, in
a dubious tone; though to be sure, if he lent the portmanteau, it
would be like cementing the friendship for good or for evil; which
Philip, being a prudent young man, felt to be in some ways a trifle
dangerous; for who borrows a portmanteau must needs bring it back
again--which opens the door to endless contingencies. "I MIGHT be
At that moment, their colloquy was suddenly interrupted by the
entry of a lady who immediately riveted Bertram Ingledew's
attention. She was tall and dark, a beautiful woman, of that riper
and truer beauty in face and form that only declares itself as
character develops. Her features were clear cut, rather delicate
than regular; her eyes were large and lustrous; her lips not too
thin, but rich and tempting; her brow was high, and surmounted by a
luscious wealth of glossy black hair which Bertram never remembered
to have seen equalled before for its silkiness of texture and its
strange blue sheen, like a plate of steel, or the grass of the
prairies. Gliding grace distinguished her when she walked. Her
motion was equable. As once the sons of God saw the daughters of
men that they were fair, and straightway coveted them, even so
Bertram Ingledew looked on Frida Monteith, and saw at the first
glance she was a woman to be desired, a soul high-throned, very
calm and beautiful.
She stood there for a moment and faced him, half in doubt, in her
flowing Oriental or Mauresque robe (for she dressed, as Philip
would have said, "artistically"), waiting to be introduced the
while, and taking good heed, as she waited, of the handsome
stranger. As for Philip, he hesitated, not quite certain in his own
mind on the point of etiquette--say rather of morals--whether one
ought or ought not to introduce "the ladies of one's family" to a
casual stranger picked up in the street, who confesses he has come
on a visit to England without a letter of introduction or even that
irreducible minimum of respectability--a portmanteau. Frida,
however, had no such scruples. She saw the young man was good-
looking and gentlemanly, and she turned to Philip with the hasty
sort of glance that says as plainly as words could say it, "Now,
then! introduce me."
Thus mutely exhorted, though with a visible effort, Philip murmured
half inarticulately, in a stifled undertone, "My sister, Mrs.
Monteith--Mr. Bertram Ingledew," and then trembled inwardly.
It was a surprise to Bertram that the beautiful woman with the
soul in her eyes should turn out to be the sister of the very
commonplace young man with the boiled-fish expression he had met
by the corner; but he disguised his astonishment, and only
interjected, as if it were the most natural remark in the world:
"I'm pleased to meet you. What a lovely gown! and how admirably it
Philip opened his eyes aghast. But Frida glanced down at the dress
with a glance of approbation. The stranger's frankness, though
quaint, was really refreshing.
"I'm so glad you like it," she said, taking the compliment with
quiet dignity, as simply as it was intended. "It's all my own
taste; I chose the stuff and designed the make of it. And I know
who this is, Phil, without your troubling to tell me; it's the
gentleman you met in the street last night, and were talking about
"You're quite right," Philip answered, with a deprecating look (as
who should say, aside, "I really couldn't help it"). "He--he's
rather in a difficulty." And then he went on to explain in a few
hurried words to Frida, with sundry shrugs and nods of profoundest
import, that the supposed lunatic or murderer or foreigner or fool
had gone to Miss Blake's without luggage of any sort; and that,
"Perhaps"--very dubitatively--"a portmanteau or bag might help him
out of his temporary difficulties."
"Why, of course," Frida cried impulsively, with prompt decision;
"Robert's Gladstone bag and my little brown trunk would be the very
things for him. I could lend them to him at once, if only we can
get a Sunday cab to take them."
"NOT before service, surely," Philip interposed, scandalised.
"If he were to take them now, you know, he'd meet all the church-
"Is it taboo, then, to face the clergy with a Gladstone bag?"
Bertram asked quite seriously, in that childlike tone of simple
inquiry that Philip had noticed more than once before in him. "Your
bonzes object to meet a man with luggage? They think it unlucky?"
Frida and Philip looked at one another with quick glances, and
"Well, it's not exactly tabooed," Frida answered gently; "and it's
not so much the rector himself, you know, as the feelings of one's
neighbours. This is a very respectable neighbourhood--oh, quite
dreadfully respectable--and people in the houses about might make a
talk of it if a cab drove away from the door as they were passing.
I think, Phil, you're right. He'd better wait till the church-
people are finished."
"Respectability seems to be a very great object of worship in your
village," Bertram suggested in perfect good faith. "Is it a local
cult, or is it general in England?"
Frida glanced at him, half puzzled. "Oh, I think it's pretty
general," she answered, with a happy smile. "But perhaps the
disease is a little more epidemic about here than elsewhere. It
affects the suburbs: and my brother's got it just as badly as any
"As badly as any one!" Bertram repeated with a puzzled air. "Then
you don't belong to that creed yourself? You don't bend the knee to
this embodied abstraction?--it's your brother who worships her, I
suppose, for the family?"
"Yes; he's more of a devotee than I am," Frida went on, quite
frankly, but not a little surprised at so much freedom in a
stranger. "Though we're all of us tarred with the same brush, no
doubt. It's a catching complaint, I suppose, respectability."
Bertram gazed at her dubiously. A complaint, did she say? Was
she serious or joking? He hardly understood her. But further
discussion was cut short for the moment by Frida good-humouredly
running upstairs to see after the Gladstone bag and brown
portmanteau, into which she crammed a few useless books and other
heavy things, to serve as make-weights for Miss Blake's injured
"You'd better wait a quarter of an hour after we go to church," she
said, as the servant brought these necessaries into the room where
Bertram and Philip were seated. "By that time nearly all the
church-people will be safe in their seats; and Phil's conscience
will be satisfied. You can tell Miss Blake you've brought a little
of your luggage to do for to-day, and the rest will follow from
town to-morrow morning."
"Oh, how very kind you are!" Bertram exclaimed, looking down at her
gratefully. "I'm sure I don't know what I should ever have done in
this crisis without you."
He said it with a warmth which was certainly unconventional. Frida
coloured and looked embarrassed. There was no denying he was
certainly a most strange and untrammelled person.
"And if I might venture on a hint," Philip put in, with a hasty
glance at his companion's extremely unsabbatical costume, "it would
be that you shouldn't try to go out much to-day in that suit you're
wearing; it looks peculiar, don't you know, and might attract
"Oh, is that a taboo too?" the stranger put in quickly, with an
anxious air. "Now, that's awfully kind of you. But it's curious,
as well; for two or three people passed my window last night, all
Englishmen, as I judged, and all with suits almost exactly like
this one--which was copied, as I told you, from an English model."
"Last night; oh, yes," Philip answered. "Last night was Saturday;
that makes all the difference. The suit's right enough in its way,
of course,--very neat and gentlemanly; but NOT for Sunday. You're
expected on Sundays to put on a black coat and waistcoat, you know,
like the ones I'm wearing."
Bertram's countenance fell. "And if I'm seen in the street like
this," he asked, "will they do anything to me? Will the guardians
of the peace--the police, I mean--arrest me?"
Frida laughed a bright little laugh of genuine amusement.
"Oh, dear, no," she said merrily; "it isn't an affair of police at
all; not so serious as that: it's only a matter of respectability."
"I see," Bertram answered. "Respectability's a religious or
popular, not an official or governmental, taboo. I quite understand
you. But those are often the most dangerous sort. Will the people
in the street, who adore Respectability, be likely to attack me or
mob me for disrespect to their fetich?"
"Certainly not," Frida replied, flushing up. He seemed to be
carrying a joke too far. "This is a free country. Everybody wears
and eats and drinks just what he pleases."
"Well, that's all very interesting to me," the Alien went on with a
charming smile, that disarmed her indignation; "for I've come here
on purpose to collect facts and notes about English taboos and
similar observances. I'm Secretary of a Nomological Society at
home, which is interested in pagodas, topes, and joss-houses; and
I've been travelling in Africa and in the South Sea Islands for a
long time past, working at materials for a History of Taboo, from
its earliest beginnings in the savage stage to its fully developed
European complexity; so of course all you say comes home to me
greatly. Your taboos, I foresee, will prove a most valuable and
"I beg your pardon," Philip interposed stiffly, now put upon his
mettle. "We have NO taboos at all in England. You're misled, no
doubt, by a mere playful facon de parler, which society indulges
in. England, you must remember, is a civilised country, and taboos
are institutions that belong to the lowest and most degraded
But Bertram Ingledew gazed at him in the blankest astonishment. "No
taboos!" he exclaimed, taken aback. "Why, I've read of hundreds.
Among nomological students, England has always been regarded with
the greatest interest as the home and centre of the highest and
most evolved taboo development. And you yourself," he added with a
courteous little bow, "have already supplied me with quite half a
dozen. But perhaps you call them by some other name among
yourselves; though in origin and essence, of course, they're
precisely the same as the other taboos I've been examining so long
in Asia and Africa. However, I'm afraid I'm detaining you from the
function of your joss-house. You wish, no doubt, to make your
genuflexions in the Temple of Respectability."
And he reflected silently on the curious fact that the English give
themselves by law fifty-two weekly holidays a year, and compel
themselves by custom to waste them entirely in ceremonial
On the way to church, the Monteiths sifted out their new
"Well, what do you make of him, Frida?" Philip asked, leaning back
in his place, with a luxurious air, as soon as the carriage had
turned the corner. "Lunatic or sharper?"
Frida gave an impatient gesture with her neatly gloved hand. "For
my part," she answered without a second's hesitation, "I make him
neither: I find him simply charming."
"That's because he praised your dress," Philip replied, looking
wise. "Did ever you know anything so cool in your life? Was it
ignorance, now, or insolence?"
"It was perfect simplicity and naturalness," Frida answered with
confidence. "He looked at the dress, and admired it, and being
transparently naif, he didn't see why he shouldn't say so. It
wasn't at all rude, I thought--and it gave me pleasure."
"He certainly has in some ways charming manners," Philip went on
more slowly. "He manages to impress one. If he's a madman, which
I rather more than half suspect, it's at least a gentlemanly form
"His manners are more than merely charming," Frida answered, quite
enthusiastic, for she had taken a great fancy at first sight to the
mysterious stranger. "They've such absolute freedom. That's what
strikes me most in them. They're like the best English aristocratic
manners, without the insolence; or the freest American manners,
without the roughness. He's extremely distinguished. And, oh,
isn't he handsome!"
"He IS good-looking," Philip assented grudgingly. Philip owned a
looking-glass, and was therefore accustomed to a very high
standard of manly beauty.
As for Robert Monteith, he smiled the grim smile of the wholly
unfascinated. He was a dour business man of Scotch descent, who
had made his money in palm-oil in the City of London; and having
married Frida as a remarkably fine woman, with a splendid figure,
to preside at his table, he had very small sympathy with what he
considered her high-flown fads and nonsensical fancies. He had seen
but little of the stranger, too, having come in from his weekly
stroll, or tour of inspection, round the garden and stables, just
as they were on the very point of starting for St. Barnabas: and
his opinion of the man was in no way enhanced by Frida's enthusiasm.
"As far as I'm concerned," he said, with his slow Scotch drawl,
inherited from his father (for though London-born and bred, he was
still in all essentials a pure Caledonian)--"As far as I'm
concerned, I haven't the slightest doubt but the man's a swindler.
I wonder at you, Frida, that you should leave him alone in the
house just now, with all that silver. I stepped round before I
left, and warned Martha privately not to move from the hall till
the fellow was gone, and to call up cook and James if he tried to
get out of the house with any of our property. But you never
seemed to suspect him. And to supply him with a bag, too, to
carry it all off in! Well, women are reckless! Hullo, there,
policeman;--stop, Price, one moment;--I wish you'd keep an eye on
my house this morning. There's a man in there I don't half like
the look of. When he drives away in a cab that my boy's going to
call for him, just see where he stops, and take care he hasn't got
anything my servants don't know about."
In the drawing-room, meanwhile, Bertram Ingledew was reflecting, as
he waited for the church people to clear away, how interesting
these English clothes-taboos and day-taboos promised to prove,
beside some similar customs he had met with or read of in his
investigations elsewhere. He remembered how on a certain morning of
the year the High Priest of the Zapotecs was obliged to get drunk,
an act which on any other day in the calendar would have been
regarded by all as a terrible sin in him. He reflected how in
Guinea and Tonquin, at a particular period once a twelvemonth,
nothing is considered wrong, and everything lawful, so that the
worst crimes and misdemeanours go unnoticed and unpunished. He
smiled to think how some days are tabooed in certain countries, so
that whatever you do on them, were it only a game of tennis, is
accounted wicked; while some days are periods of absolute licence,
so that whatever you do on them, were it murder itself, becomes fit
and holy. To him and his people at home, of course, it was the
intrinsic character of the act itself that made it right or wrong,
not the particular day or week or month on which one happened to do
it. What was wicked in June was wicked still in October. But not
so among the unreasoning devotees of taboo, in Africa or in England.
There, what was right in May became wicked in September, and what
was wrong on Sunday became harmless or even obligatory on Wednesday
or Thursday. It was all very hard for a rational being to
understand and explain: but he meant to fathom it, all the same, to
the very bottom--to find out why, for example, in Uganda, whoever
appears before the king must appear stark naked, while in England,
whoever appears before the queen must wear a tailor's sword or a
long silk train and a headdress of ostrich-feathers; why, in
Morocco, when you enter a mosque, you must take off your shoes and
catch a violent cold, in order to show your respect for Allah;
while in Europe, on entering a similar religious building, you must
uncover your head, no matter how draughty the place may be, since
the deity who presides there appears to be indifferent to the
danger of consumption or chest-diseases for his worshippers; why
certain clothes or foods are prescribed in London or Paris for
Sundays and Fridays, while certain others, just equally warm or
digestible or the contrary, are perfectly lawful to all the world
alike on Tuesdays and Saturdays. These were the curious questions
he had come so far to investigate, for which the fakirs and
dervishes of every land gave such fanciful reasons: and he saw he
would have no difficulty in picking up abundant examples of his
subject-matter everywhere in England. As the metropolis of taboo,
it exhibited the phenomena in their highest evolution. The only
thing that puzzled him was how Philip Christy, an Englishman born,
and evidently a most devout observer of the manifold taboos and
juggernauts of his country, should actually deny their very
existence. It was one more proof to him of the extreme caution
necessary in all anthropological investigations before accepting
the evidence even of well-meaning natives on points of religious or
social usage, which they are often quite childishly incapable of
describing in rational terms to outside inquirers. They take their
own manners and customs for granted, and they cannot see them in
their true relations or compare them with the similar manners and
customs of other nationalities.
Whether Philip Christy liked it or not, the Monteiths and he were
soon fairly committed to a tolerably close acquaintance with Bertram
Ingledew. For, as chance would have it, on the Monday morning
Bertram went up to town in the very same carriage with Philip and
his brother-in-law, to set himself up in necessaries of life for a
six or eight months' stay in England. When he returned that night
to Brackenhurst with two large trunks, full of underclothing and so
forth, he had to come round once more to the Monteiths, as Philip
anticipated, to bring back the Gladstone bag and the brown
portmanteau. He did it with so much graceful and gracious courtesy,
and such manly gratitude for the favour done him, that he left still
more deeply than ever on Frida's mind the impression of a gentleman.
He had found out all the right shops to go to in London, he said;
and he had ordered everything necessary to social salvation at the
very best tailor's, so strictly in accordance with Philip's
instructions that he thought he should now transgress no more the
sumptuary rules in that matter made and established, as long as he
remained in this realm of England. He had commanded a black cut-away
coat, suitable for Sunday morning; and a curious garment called a
frock-coat, buttoned tight over the chest, to be worn in the
afternoon, especially in London; and a still quainter coat, made of
shiny broadcloth, with strange tails behind, which was considered
"respectable," after seven P.M., for a certain restricted class of
citizens--those who paid a particular impost known as income-tax, as
far as he could gather from what the tailor told him: though the
classes who really did any good in the state, the working men and so
forth, seemed exempted by general consent from wearing it. Their
dress, indeed, he observed, was, strange to say, the least cared for
and evidently the least costly of anybody's.
He admired the Monteith children so unaffectedly, too, telling them
how pretty and how sweet-mannered they were to their very faces,
that he quite won Frida's heart; though Robert did not like it.
Robert had evidently some deep-seated superstition about the
matter; for he sent Maimie, the eldest girl, out of the room at
once; she was four years old; and he took little Archie, the two-
year-old, on his knee, as if to guard him from some moral or social
contagion. Then Bertram remembered how he had seen African mothers
beat or pinch their children till they made them cry, to avert the
evil omen, when he praised them to their faces; and he recollected,
too, that most fetichistic races believe in Nemesis--that is to
say, in jealous gods, who, if they see you love a child too much,
or admire it too greatly, will take it from you or do it some
grievous bodily harm, such as blinding it or maiming it, in order
to pay you out for thinking yourself too fortunate. He did not
doubt, therefore, but that in Scotland, which he knew by report to
be a country exceptionally given over to terrible superstitions,
the people still thought their sanguinary Calvinistic deity,
fashioned by a race of stern John Knoxes in their own image, would
do some harm to an over-praised child, "to wean them from it." He
was glad to see, however, that Frida at least did not share this
degrading and hateful belief, handed down from the most fiendish of
savage conceptions. On the contrary, she seemed delighted that
Bertram should pat little Maimie on the head, and praise her sunny
smile and her lovely hair "just like her mother's."
To Philip, this was all a rather serious matter. He felt he was
responsible for having introduced the mysterious Alien, however
unwillingly, into the bosom of Robert Monteith's family. Now,
Philip was not rich, and Frida was supposed to have "made a good
match of it"--that is to say, she had married a man a great deal
wealthier than her own upbringing. So Philip, after his kind,
thought much of the Monteith connection. He lived in lodgings at
Brackenhurst, at a highly inconvenient distance from town, so as to
be near their house, and catch whatever rays of reflected glory
might fall upon his head like a shadowy halo from their horses and
carriages, their dinners and garden-parties. He did not like,
therefore, to introduce into his sister's house anybody that Robert
Monteith, that moneyed man of oil, in the West African trade, might
consider an undesirable acquaintance. But as time wore on, and
Bertram's new clothes came home from the tailor's, it began to
strike the Civil Servant's mind that the mysterious Alien, though
he excited much comment and conjecture in Brackenhurst, was
accepted on the whole by local society as rather an acquisition to
its ranks than otherwise. He was well off: he was well dressed: he
had no trade or profession: and Brackenhurst, undermanned, hailed
him as a godsend for afternoon teas and informal tennis-parties.
That ineffable air of distinction as of one royal born, which
Philip had noticed at once the first evening they met, seemed to
strike and impress almost everybody who saw him. People felt he was
mysterious, but at any rate he was Someone. And then he had been
everywhere--except in Europe; and had seen everything--except their
own society: and he talked agreeably when he was not on taboos: and
in suburban towns, don't you know, an outsider who brings fresh
blood into the field--who has anything to say we do not all know
beforehand--is always welcome! So Brackenhurst accepted Bertram
Ingledew before long, as an eccentric but interesting and romantic
Not that he stopped much in Brackenhurst itself. He went up to town
every day almost as regularly as Robert Monteith and Philip
Christy. He had things he wanted to observe there, he said, for the
work he was engaged upon. And the work clearly occupied the best
part of his energies. Every night he came down to Brackenhurst
with his notebook crammed full of modern facts and illustrative
instances. He worked most of all in the East End, he told Frida
confidentially: there he could see best the remote results of
certain painful English customs and usages he was anxious to study.
Still, he often went west, too; for the West End taboos, though not
in some cases so distressing as the East End ones, were at times
much more curiously illustrative and ridiculous. He must master all
branches of the subject alike. He spoke so seriously that after a
time Frida, who was just at first inclined to laugh at his odd way
of putting things, began to take it all in the end quite as
seriously as he did. He felt more at home with her than with
anybody else at Brackenhurst. She had sympathetic eyes; and he
lived on sympathy. He came to her so often for help in his
difficulties that she soon saw he really meant all he said, and was
genuinely puzzled in a very queer way by many varied aspects of
In time the two grew quite intimate together. But on one point
Bertram would never give his new friend the slightest information;
and that was the whereabouts of that mysterious "home" he so often
referred to. Oddly enough, no one ever questioned him closely on
the subject. A certain singular reserve of his, which alternated
curiously with his perfect frankness, prevented them from
trespassing so far on his individuality. People felt they must not.
Somehow, when Bertram Ingledew let it once be felt he did not wish
to be questioned on any particular point, even women managed to
restrain their curiosity: and he would have been either a very bold
or a very insensitive man who would have ventured to continue
questioning him any further. So, though many people hazarded
guesses as to where he had come from, nobody ever asked him the
point-blank question: Who are you, if you please, and what do you
The Alien went out a great deal with the Monteiths. Robert himself
did not like the fellow, he said: one never quite knew what the
deuce he was driving at; but Frida found him always more and more
charming,--so full of information!--while Philip admitted he was
excellent form, and such a capital tennis player! So whenever
Philip had a day off in the country, they three went out in the
fields together, and Frida at least thoroughly enjoyed and
appreciated the freedom and freshness of the newcomer's
On one such day they went out, as it chanced, into the meadows that
stretch up the hill behind Brackenhurst. Frida remembered it well
afterwards. It was the day when an annual saturnalia of vulgar vice
usurps and pollutes the open downs at Epsom. Bertram did not care
to see it, he said--the rabble of a great town turned loose to
desecrate the open face of nature--even regarded as a matter of
popular custom; he had looked on at much the same orgies before in
New Guinea and on the Zambesi, and they only depressed him: so he
stopped at Brackenhurst, and went for a walk instead in the fresh
summer meadows. Robert Monteith, for his part, had gone to the
Derby--so they call that orgy--and Philip had meant to accompany
him in the dogcart, but remained behind at the last moment to take
care of Frida; for Frida, being a lady at heart, always shrank from
the pollution of vulgar assemblies. As they walked together across
the lush green fields, thick with campion and yellow-rattle, they
came to a dense copse with a rustic gate, above which a threatening
notice-board frowned them straight in the face, bearing the usual
selfish and anti-social inscription, "Trespassers will be
"Let's go in here and pick orchids," Bertram suggested, leaning
over the gate. "Just see how pretty they are! The scented white
butterfly! It loves moist bogland. Now, Mrs. Monteith, wouldn't a
few long sprays of that lovely thing look charming on your dinner-
"But it's preserved," Philip interposed with an awestruck face.
"You can't go in there: it's Sir Lionel Longden's, and he's awfully
"Can't go in there? Oh, nonsense," Bertram answered, with a merry
laugh, vaulting the gate like a practised athlete. "Mrs. Monteith
can get over easily enough, I'm sure. She's as light as a fawn.
May I help you over?" And he held one hand out.
"But it's private," Philip went on, in a somewhat horrified voice;
"and the pheasants are sitting."
"Private? How can it be? There's nothing sown here. It's all wild
wood; we can't do any damage. If it was growing crops, of course,
one would walk through it not at all, or at least very carefully.
But this is pure woodland. Are the pheasants tabooed, then? or why
mayn't we go near them?"
"They're not tabooed, but they're preserved," Philip answered
somewhat testily, making a delicate distinction without a
difference, after the fashion dear to the official intellect.
"This land belongs to Sir Lionel Longden, I tell you, and he
chooses to lay it all down in pheasants. He bought it and paid
for it, so he has a right, I suppose, to do as he likes with it."
"That's the funniest thing of all about these taboos," Bertram
mused, as if half to himself. "The very people whom they injure and
inconvenience the most, the people whom they hamper and cramp and
debar, don't seem to object to them, but believe in them and are
afraid of them. In Samoa, I remember, certain fruits and fish and
animals and so forth were tabooed to the chiefs, and nobody else
ever dared to eat them. They thought it was wrong, and said, if
they did, some nameless evil would at once overtake them. These
nameless terrors, these bodiless superstitions, are always the
deepest. People fight hardest to preserve their bogeys. They fancy
some appalling unknown dissolution would at once result from
reasonable action. I tried one day to persuade a poor devil of a
fellow in Samoa who'd caught one of these fish, and who was
terribly hungry, that no harm would come to him if he cooked it and
ate it. But he was too slavishly frightened to follow my advice;
he said it was taboo to the god-descended chiefs: if a mortal man
tasted it, he would die on the spot: so nothing on earth would
induce him to try it. Though to be sure, even there, nobody ever
went quite so far as to taboo the very soil of earth itself:
everybody might till and hunt where he liked. It's only in Europe,
where evolution goes furthest, that taboo has reached that last
silly pitch of injustice and absurdity. Well, we're not afraid of
the fetich, you and I, Mrs. Monteith. Jump up on the gate; I'll
give you a hand over!" And he held out one strong arm as he spoke
to aid her.
Frida had no such fanatical respect for the bogey of vested
interests as her superstitious brother, so she mounted the gate
gracefully--she was always graceful. Bertram took her small hand
and jumped her down on the other side, while Philip, not liking to
show himself less bold than a woman in this matter, climbed over it
after her, though with no small misgivings. They strolled on into
the wood, picking the pretty white orchids by the way as they went,
for some little distance. The rich mould underfoot was thick with
sweet woodruff and trailing loosestrife. Every now and again, as
they stirred the lithe brambles that encroached upon the path, a
pheasant rose from the ground with a loud whir-r-r before them.
Philip felt most uneasy. "You'll have the keepers after you in a
minute," he said, with a deprecating shrug. "This is just full
nesting time. They're down upon anybody who disturbs the
"But the pheasants can't BELONG to any one," Bertram cried, with a
greatly amused face. "You may taboo the land--I understand that's
done--but surely you can't taboo a wild bird that can fly as it
likes from one piece of ground away into another."
Philip enlightened his ignorance by giving him off-hand a brief and
profoundly servile account of the English game-laws, interspersed
with sundry anecdotes of poachers and poaching. Bertram listened
with an interested but gravely disapproving face. "And do you mean
to say," he asked at last "they send men to prison as criminals for
catching or shooting hares and pheasants?"
"Why, certainly," Philip answered. "It's an offence against the
law, and also a crime against the rights of property."
"Against the law, yes; but how on earth can it be a crime against
the rights of property? Obviously the pheasant's the property of
the man who happens to shoot it. How can it belong to him and also
to the fellow who taboos the particular piece of ground it was
"It doesn't belong to the man who shoots it at all," Philip
answered, rather angrily. "It belongs to the man who owns the land,
of course, and who chooses to preserve it."
"Oh, I see," Bertram replied. "Then you disregard the rights of
property altogether, and only consider the privileges of taboo. As
a principle, that's intelligible. One sees it's consistent. But
how is it that you all allow these chiefs--landlords, don't you call
them?--to taboo the soil and prevent you all from even walking over
it? Don't you see that if you chose to combine in a body and insist
upon the recognition of your natural rights,--if you determined to
make the landlords give up their taboo, and cease from injustice,--
they'd have to yield to you, and then you could exercise your
native right of going where you pleased, and cultivate the land in
common for the public benefit, instead of leaving it, as now, to be
cultivated anyhow, or turned into waste for the benefit of the
"But it would be WRONG to take it from them," Philip cried, growing
fiery red and half losing his temper, for he really believed it.
"It would be sheer confiscation; the land's their own; they either
bought it or inherited it from their fathers. If you were to begin
taking it away, what guarantee would you have left for any of the
rights of property generally?"
"You didn't recognise the rights of property of the fellow who
killed the pheasant, though," Bertram interposed, laughing, and
imperturbably good-humoured. "But that's always the way with these
taboos, everywhere. They subsist just because the vast majority
even of those who are obviously wronged and injured by them really
believe in them. They think they're guaranteed by some divine
prescription. The fetich guards them. In Polynesia, I recollect,
some chiefs could taboo almost anything they liked, even a girl or
a woman, or fruit and fish and animals and houses: and after the
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