Chapter 63620162

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Chapter NumberVIII
Chapter TitleAN EVENING AT OAKLANDS.
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article63620162
Full Date1886-06-15
Page Number0
Corrections0
Word Count3609
IllustratedN
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleIllustrated Sydney News (NSW : 1853 - 1872)
Trove TitleSociety, Friendship and Love
article text

CHAPTEB VIII.

AN EVENING AT OAKLANDS.

" AU rant, and cant, and rhapsody high flown."

-Hood.

When Mr. Powell and Margaret entered Mrs. Broad hurst's drawing room on Thursday evening, the whole company was already assembled, in fact, the larger part had dined in the house ; the intending actors were already

retired to another room to act their parts, all but Mr. Fitzalan, who was rushing about in a state of excitement, distributing home-printed copies of his play to a few favoured persons, and a young lady and three gentlemen were preparing to delight all lovers of music with a quartette of Schumann, as rendered by three violins aud a piano.

" My dear Dunstan, I am delighted that you are come," cried Mrs. Broadhurst, "another five minutes and you would have lost the first movement of one of the most exquisite of Schumann's exquisite creations ; it will be a real treat to us all, except indeed to that wicked Maurice, who pretends not to like Schumann-dear Schumann ! By the way, where is Maurice ? I want to introduce him to you, but he has disappeared. But here is Mr. Fitzalan, whom we find a great acquisition in every way-let me introduce you, Mr. Fitzalan, to my brother, Mr. Powell-and Count Czarvaschek ("such a clever man," in a stage whisper), aud I think you know Dr. and Mrs. Boanerges-of course you are theological opponents, but I do not see why you should not be good friends socially."

" I have already had the honour to meet Dr Boanerges," said Mr. Powell, bowing very stiffly in the directiou of a short, unwholesome-looking divine, well known as a fre- quent contributor to that well of pure English and Christian charity, The Flaming Brand, And with two other salu- tations, equally stiff, directed towards Count Czarvaschek and Mr. Fitzalan, Mr. Powell sat down on a corner sofa in the most unapproachable part of the room. But Mrs. Broadhurst had no intention of letting him escape in that manner. "Dear Count," she said, "if you are not wanted just yet for rehearsal do talk a little to my brother. He is very shy, you know, and wants drawing out, but he is very clever, and delights in original genius."

"Dear madam," said the Count with an affable smile, how could your brother be otherwise?" and in obedience to her orders, he waddled across to Mr. Powell's sofa and prepared himself to fascinate. " You are, sir, I believe, a minister of the reformed religion?" he began, sweetly.

"I am a clergyman of the Church of England, sir," drily

answered Mr. Powell.

" So it is," said the other, " and l am a humble apostle of Electro-biology ; we have each of us a great mission to fulfil. "

"Possibly your mission may be a great one," answered Mr. Powell. "I know nothing of Electro-biology." The tone meant unmistakably " nor do I wish to know any- thing of it;" but the Count was obtuse, and proceeded with much complacency

"That ignorance I shall soon remove. Electro-biology is the power which governs the universe, and it is surely fitting that a so distinguished gentleman, whose office it is to guide the souls of men, should not be unfamiliar with a power which alike controls those souls and the heavenly bodies themselves. St. Paul, Mr. Powell, remarks on this subject-"

" [ am not acquainted, sir, with any writings of St. Paul on Electro-biology, nor am I able to accept any such force as the power which rules the world and the souls of men. Our views on this matter are so entirely at variance that I fail to see how we can converse on this, or perhaps on any topic. Let me beg you, sir, not to waste your time and learning on me."

The Count stared in speechless astonishment' at Mr. Powell, and gradually the truth entered into his soul (whether into the pneuma or the psyche we cannot say) that he had been snubbed, and that this parson declined the honour of any further conversation with him. His face did not flush, but turned a sickly yellow, and great drops of perspiration stood on his forehead. Mr. Powell sat and calmly observed him without any idea of apolo- gising or retreating; and the Count, after three ineffectual attempts to speak, lay back and fairly gasped for breath. Fortunately, at this juncture, up came Mr. Fitzalan, play in hand, to beg the Count to go immediately and join the rehearsal, and the latter thankfully availed himself of this opportunity for a dignified retreat ; leaving his empty place to the tutor, who at once took possession of it.

"I suppose it is an idle compliment, Mr. Powell, to ask you to take a part in our play ?" he began.

" A most unnecessary compliment ; but may I ask what play you intend to act and when ?"

" O ! have you not heard?" said Mr. Fitzalan with some astonishment. "It is a little comedy of my own composition which a number of us inteud to act next month at Her Majesty's Concert Rooms for the benefit of the Evangelistic Association. Miss Grimleigh takes one lady's part, and Miss Broadhurst was to have taken the other, but it appears that Mr. Gower does not approve." The tutor accompanied the last words with a little sneer, meant to be ingratiating, for he understood Mr. Powell did not like his niece's engagement.

"I should imagine not," said the perverse Mr. Powell. " And is there such a dearth of plays that you were driven to compose one for the occasion ?"

" Well, you see, nothing goes down now-a-days but what is very sparkling ; people must have their laugh. We all live too much at high pressure now-a-days to stand serious- ness on the stage. But you must excuse me. I know my presence is necessary in the next room. I am stage manager, master of the ceremonies, and Sir Lionel Rack rent into the bargain, so I am afraid I must leave you alone, Mr. Powell, for the present."

" I should be loth, sir, to detain you," was the answer in that same tone which had discomfited the Count ; but the tutor was wrapped in such a well-wadded mantle of self conceit that he never thought of taking offence at Mr. Powell's manner. The latter, left to himself, drew a long breath, and looked round for Margaret. She was standing half inside a bow-window, talking to a young man whose general appearance was pleasing to Mr. Powell's critical eye. "He, at anyrate, appears to be a gentleman," was his inward comment.- "I presume that is Mr. Gower," and he looked at him long and curiously.

Dorothea was making herself agreeable to some visitors at the other end of the room, and Maurice aud Margaret were quite engrossed in their own conversation, which seemed to be a lively one from the laughter which accom- panied it. But Mrs. Broadhurst no sooner saw what was going on than she bore down upon them to separate them. "Margaret, my dear," she said, "do go and talk to that stupid young Sloman. I am perfectly exhausted with him ; and Maurice, here you are at last, I have been waiting to introduce you to my brother. Come quickly, he is ali alone and dying to make your acquaintance. And mind, you must be very charming to him."

"I will do my best, Mrs. Broadhurst," he said, meekly,

but with the air of one about to suffer tribulation.

He followed her across the room, and was properly presented to the formidable uncle-in-law elect, but he did not, like Mr. Fitzalan, appropriate, with easy negligence, the other half of Mr. Powell's sofa. He chose rather to stand, not stiffly or awkwardly, but with a natural careless grace, quite distinct, however, from forward impertinence, and he spoke to Mr. Powell with that shade of deference which is so becoming in a young man when speaking to an old one. Each was agreeably surprised in the other, and they fell into amicable conversation. And presently the quartette of Schumann revealed a bond of sympathy between them, for Mr. Powell shared Maurice's dislike to the music of that eminent composer, and surely there is no stronger tie than a community of hatred.

- But the music stopped, and Maurice was called away, and Mrs. Broadhurst, being determined that her brother should make himself agreeable to the company, contrived to oust him from his corner and to decoy him into the midst of a fashionable aud intellectual circle, consisting of Mr. and Mrs. Grimleigh, Dr. and Mrs. Boanerges, Mr. Broadhurst and one or two of his associates, and two or three people, male and female, who had acquired a reputa- tion for wisdom and talent by running after every lunatic or impostor who chose to set some new craze rolling in Castlereagh. These last, it is almost needless to say, were, at present, devout believers in Count Czarvaschek and electro-biology. Margaret had just been relieved from Mr. Sloman, and sent to the piano by her aunt to play "that exquisite thing of Chopin's." But apparently Chopin, exquisite as his music might be, was not entitled to the same respect as Schumann, for the conversation of the illustrious persons above-mentioned went on without inter- ruption, and Mr. Powell, who wished to listen to his niece's performance of music which he liked, found himself quite unable to do so ; it was a righteous retribution for his contempt of Schumann.

Mr. Fitzalan's play was the subject of discussion, and some few who had seen it were loud in its praises. " It is very clever," said Mrs. Grimleigh, " and in every way worthy of Mr. Fitzalan. By the way, dear Mrs. Broad- hurst, who takes the part of Bella since our dear Dorothea cannot make up her mind to act ?"

" Miss Sloman is going to try it ; she is rehearsing with them now. She is shy, poor girl, but will get over it, no doubt, and Bella's is an easy part. Mrs. Boanerges, I hope you share our love for the drama."

Mrs. Boanerges, a timid, washed out little woman, looked for her cue to her lord and master, who at once responded. "In proper hands, there is no doubt the drama may be a powerful instrument for good ; it is therefore the more to be regretted that it is so often prostituted to the vilest ends ; to the fostering of criminal passions and degrading ambitions-in a word, to the promotion of im- morality and irreligion."

" But Shakespeare, dear Dr. Boanerges, you surely can- not object to Shakespeare," cried Mrs. Broadhurst, with hands clasped appealingly. "And really, Mr. Fitzalan is so fond of Shakespeare that he has picked up a little of his style, and some parts of ' The Double Misunderstanding ' our play, you know, quite remind me of 1 The Comedy of Errors ' and 1 Measure for Measure.' "

" Quite so," said Mrs. Grimleigh. " If we were not satis-, fied with the tone of Mr. Fitzalan's play, we should not coun- tenance it. One cannot be too particular in such matters."

"But one is quite safe with Shakespeare," said au en- thusiastic lady of uncertain age, one of the most ardent converts to electro-biology. " The Count loves Shake- speare ; he places him next the Bible."

"Even the most determined opponents of the stage, except Shakespeare," said Mr. Grimleigh, with authority. " From the pages of that great master of the human mind, who has gauged the depths of tragedy and risen to the supreme heights of comedy, we may learn the choicest lessons of self-knowledge, and be moved by the tenderest sentiments of human love and pity. Shakespeare is a sort of universal educator ; his speeches are indeed as ' familiar in our mouths as household words.' And his works are perhaps more commonly quoted by men and women in all the concerns of daily life, than any other writings on record, with the single exception, as Count Czarvaschek says, of the Holy Scriptures. We may almost say that we quote him without knowing it."

"I admire his genius," said Dr. Boanerges, "but I cannot bring myself to feel the unqualified approbation which it is now the fashion to express whenever Shake- speare is mentioned. I admit, I say, his knowledge of the human heart, particularly in its worst moods, his eloquence of diction, and poetical imagery, but I cannot pretend to tolerate his levity, which often degenerates into the grossest indeli- cacy, nay, even immorality, his choice of loathsome images, the perversity with which he will present in fascinating colours what the mind should most be taught to shun, and, lastly, his utter indifference to all true religion."

"I cannot allow such charges to pass unrefuted," said Mr. Grimleigh, with considerable sternness; " but this is neither the time nor place for such a discussion, and for the present I must be contented to allow the greatest of all poets, ancient or modern, to lie under aspersions which would be more fitly directed against Wycherly and Congreve, or the authors of the modern French drama. Mr. Powell, I think we are agreed on this subject."

" I think we may safely leave Shakespeare to take care of himself," answered Mr. Powell, calmly. " While his works are printed and read by the people, the criticism of those who have not studied him can do him little harm. I imagine that Dr. Boanerges' reading has been of another kind. "

"Sir, I lind that my leisnre-time is all insufficient to give to the study of my Bible," answered the reverend and choleric doctor. " In that precious volume-"

"Come, Boanerges," said Mr. Broadhurst, uncere- moniously cutting him short, " we all take that sort of thing for granted. If we want to argue, let us stick to Shakespeare. And here comes another champion," as Maurice came up with Margaret, who had left off playing, and whom he was taking back to her seat. "Gower, are you prepared to stand up for Shakespeare ? he is being

attacked here."

"Is it not. rather unnecessary, Mr. Broadhurst? We can all read him for ourselves," answered Maurice, with a queer little glance at Dr. Boanerges, whose complexion and temperature bore evident signs of mental excitement. As Maurice had already more than once enjoyed the privilege of studying a copy of the Fiery Brand, wherein his most cherished opinions were overwhelmed with contempt and abuse, he was not too amiably disposed towards its editor, and something in his face must have betrayed his feelings, for Dr. Boanerges' dingy moist countenance grew damper and dingier, and his puffy person became so inflated with anger that he looked not unlike the frog in the fable, and inspired some of the spectators with a fear lest he should

end in a similar manner.

"Now, is not that odd !" cried Mts. Broadhurst, " here are my brother and Mr. Gower both saying exactly the same thing without having exchanged a word on the subject. What a sympathy there must be between them."

"I have little doubt of it," said Dr. Boanerges. " There has always been a secret sympathy between-"

But the sympathy was destined to remain a secret, for Mr. Broadhurst again interfered, and more decidedly than before. "My dear Boanerges, I cannot have you quarrelling with Powell here. We all know that you are both red-hot champions of your own sides, equally sincere and equally implacable. We are met now for social enjoyment and not for polemics. Put your zeal in your pocket for this night, ; and take it for granted that we are all well-wishers of religion j and morality, though we may not agree as to the best means

j of promoting them.

¡

Í ' Do not, as some ungracious pastors do,

I Show me the steep and thorny way to Heaven.' I Of course you know the rest ? "

I " I am not acquainted with the lines," said Dr. Boanerges, I " but I am unwilling to be a spoil-sport, .so I shall consider I the discussion at an end."

I "I do not remember the passage at this moment either,

j though it sounds strangely familiar-it is Milton I believe," Isaid Mr. Grimleigh, whereat Mr. Powell smiled to himself

a grim smile.

"What are you laughing at, Maurice ? " said Mrs. Broad- hurst, innocently. "Do go and sing something, while we are waiting for the actors. Sing ' David before Saul.' Dun- stan, you will like that, and so will Dr. Boanerges.

Dr. Boanerges bowed a polite assent, though it may reasonably be doubted whether Mr. Gower's singing could have given him pleasure had he sung like the Sous of Morn- ing the music of the Celestial City. Mr. Powell said nothing but listened, and Margaret, who knew perfectly well when he was pleased, watched his face first anxiously and then with evident satisfaction. Dorothea herself could not be more desirous that her uncle should like Mr. Gower.

And then Mr. Fitzalan arrived with his troop, and there was a good deal ot conversation about burnt cork and green rooms and various stage tricks and secrets, which, as the tutor said, always went down well with the audience, and imparted a neat finish to a theatrical performance. And then came more music and more talk of an equally interest- ing kind, and Maurice and Dorothea disappeared from two opposite doors, and Margaret began to look furtively at the clock on the mantelpiece, when Reggy's voice sounded in her ears, and a roll of manuscript was laid in her lap.

"Look here, Meg, here's spelling for you j why I know better than that, though they are always pitching into me ; and, I say, is not this good ? " and he pointed to the last page, on which was carefully inscribed in ornamental letters, Exit Omnes. Vivunt Regina. "What do you think of that, in a small way ? " continued the young gentleman, pleasantly. "I say he gets up everything with a key, and if we take him a Latin exercise with a wrong number at the top he will do it wrong right through. It is no end of a lark, and he is a bright tutor, he is. But mother swallows him alive, and tells him he is a genius, and that Grimleigh's girl is making eyes at no him end I saw her kiss him in the hall behind the door. We don't

care ; he lets us do as we like. Here, Meg, give us the play, I am going to show it to Maurice."

" Allow me to see what you have in your hand, Reginald, ' said Mr. Powell, who was sitting close to Margaret, and had heard the greater part of his nephew's remarks. He took Mr. Fitzalan's play with the tips of his fingers, glanced at the beginning, the middle, and the end, admired the Latin, and presently returned it to Reggy with no other comment

than "Hum!"

"My dear," he said to Margaret, "if you are ready we will go home," and she, nothing loth, went to put on her cloak, and they bade the brilliant company adieu.

"Have you seen much of this Mr. Fitzalan? " he said to her on the way home.

"Very little indeed," she answered, "he is barely civil to me, and I think our dislike is mutual."

"I should hope so," said Mr. Powell, indignantly, " how- ever, if he is impertinent to you again let me know at once. As it is I shall certainly remonstrate with your uncle Charles. I cannot understand his tolerating a person of this kind, for it is not possible he should be deceived even if your aunt is. Such a man may do incalculable harm to those boys. Exit Omnes and Vivunt Regina ! Latin exer- cises with a key, and kissing Miss Grimleigh in the hall ! From what I saw of his play also I am rejoiced that no niece of mine intends to take a part in it. It is impossible that this state of things should continue. I must speak to your uncle Charles to-morrow. I beg your pardon, my dear, let us now talk of something else."

It may here be said that Mr. Powell carried out his in- tentions but with very little result. Mrs. Broadhurst would have nothing against Mr. Fitzalan, and boldly declared that her brother only called him vulgar because he was a sceptic. " A sceptic ! This is a new qualification of which I was ignorant,'.' said Mr. Powell, but his Bister refused to listen to another word, and he next attacked Mr. Broadhurst. The latter readily admitted all Mr. Powell's objections, that the tutor was ill-bred, ignorant, and ir- religious, but said that as Dora swore by him; and the Grimleigh's looked upon him as a protégé, on the whole he preferred making no fuss, and keeping him a few months longer, at the end of which time the boys, who were grow- ing intolerable, must certainly go to a boarding school. Meantime, my dear Dunstan, let us bear with him like philosophers."

So Mr. Powell, like most people who interfere in their neighbour's concerns, had his trouble for his pains.