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CHAPTER VI

When the immortal Don set out to ring all the bells of merriment, he
was followed by one clown. Charles Courtier on the other hand had
always been accompanied by thousands, who really could not understand
the conduct of this man with no commercial sense. But though he
puzzled his contemporaries, they did not exactly laugh at him,
because it was reported that he had really killed some men, and loved
some women. They found such a combination irresistible, when coupled
with an appearance both vigorous and gallant. The son of an
Oxfordshire clergyman, and mounted on a lost cause, he had been
riding through the world ever since he was eighteen, without once
getting out of the saddle. The secret of this endurance lay perhaps
in his unconsciousness that he was in the saddle at all. It was as
much his natural seat as office stools to other mortals. He made no
capital out of errantry, his temperament being far too like his red-
gold hair, which people compared to flames, consuming all before
them. His vices were patent; too incurable an optimism; an
admiration for beauty such as must sometimes have caused him to
forget which woman he was most in love with; too thin a skin; too hot
a heart; hatred of humbug, and habitual neglect of his own interest.
Unmarried, and with many friends, and many enemies, he kept his body
like a sword-blade, and his soul always at white heat.

That one who admitted to having taken part in five wars should be
mixing in a by-election in the cause of Peace, was not so
inconsistent as might be supposed; for he had always fought on the
losing side, and there seemed to him at the moment no side so losing
as that of Peace. No great politician, he was not an orator, nor
even a glib talker; yet a quiet mordancy of tongue, and the white-hot
look in his eyes, never failed to make an impression of some kind on
an audience.

There was, however, hardly a corner of England where orations on
behalf of Peace had a poorer chance than the Bucklandbury division.
To say that Courtier had made himself unpopular with its matter-of-
fact, independent, stolid, yet quick-tempered population, would be
inadequate. He had outraged their beliefs, and roused the most
profound suspicions. They could not, for the life of them, make out
what he was at. Though by his adventures and his book, "Peace-a lost
Cause," he was, in London, a conspicuous figure, they had naturally
never heard of him; and his adventure to these parts seemed to them
an almost ludicrous example of pure idea poking its nose into plain
facts--the idea that nations ought to, and could live in peace being
so very pure; and the fact that they never had, so very plain!

At Monkland, which was all Court estate, there were naturally but few
supporters of Miltoun's opponent, Mr. Humphrey Chilcox, and the
reception accorded to the champion of Peace soon passed from
curiosity to derision, from derision to menace, till Courtier's
attitude became so defiant, and his sentences so heated that he was
only saved from a rough handling by the influential interposition of
the vicar.

Yet when he began to address them he had felt irresistibly attracted.
They looked such capital, independent fellows. Waiting for his turn
to speak, he had marked them down as men after his own heart. For
though Courtier knew that against an unpopular idea there must
always be a majority, he never thought so ill of any individual as to
suppose him capable of belonging to that ill-omened body.

Surely these fine, independent fellows were not to be hoodwinked by
the jingoes! It had been one more disillusion. He had not taken it
lying down; neither had his audience. They dispersed without
forgiving; they came together again without having forgotten.

The village Inn, a little white building whose small windows were
overgrown with creepers, had a single guest's bedroom on the upper
floor, and a little sitting-room where Courtier took his meals. The
rest of the house was but stone-floored bar with a long wooden bench
against the back wall, whence nightly a stream of talk would issue,
all harsh a's, and sudden soft u's; whence too a figure, a little
unsteady, would now and again emerge, to a chorus of 'Gude naights,'
stand still under the ash-trees to light his pipe, then move slowly
home.

But on that evening, when the trees, like cattle, stood knee-deep in
the moon-dust, those who came out from the bar-room did not go away;
they hung about in the shadows, and were joined by other figures
creeping furtively through the bright moonlight, from behind the Inn.
Presently more figures moved up from the lanes and the churchyard
path, till thirty or more were huddled there, and their stealthy
murmur of talk distilled a rare savour of illicit joy. Unholy
hilarity, indeed, seemed lurking in the deep tree-shadow, before the
wan Inn, whence from a single lighted window came forth the half-
chanting sound of a man's voice reading out loud. Laughter was
smothered, talk whispered.

"He'm a-practisin' his spaches." "Smoke the cunnin' old vox out!"
"Red pepper's the proper stuff." "See men sneeze! We've a-screed up
the door."

Then, as a face showed at the lighted window, a burst of harsh
laughter broke the hush.

He at the window was seen struggling violently to wrench away a bar.
The laughter swelled to hooting. The prisoner forced his way
through, dropped to the ground, rose, staggered, and fell.

A voice said sharply:

"What's this?"

Out of the sounds of scuffling and scattering came the whisper: "His
lordship!" And the shade under the ash-trees became deserted, save
by the tall dark figure of a man, and a woman's white shape.

"Is that you, Mr. Courtier? Are you hurt?"

A chuckle rose from the recumbent figure.

"Only my knee. The beggars! They precious nearly choked me,
though."




The Patrician by John Galsworthy
Category:
Contemporary

General Fiction
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