The Rough Road

Page 3 of 24


After breakfast the next morning Doggie, attired in a green shot-silk dressing-gown, entered his own particular room and sat down to think. In its way it was a very beautiful room---high, spacious, well-proportioned, facing south-east. The wall-paper, which he had designed himself, was ivory-white with veinings of peacock-blue. Into the ivory-silk curtains were woven peacocks in full pride. The cushions were ivory and peacock-blue. The chairs, the writing-table, the couch, the bookcases, were pure Sheraton and Hepplewhite. Vellum-bound books filled the cases---Doggie was very particular about his bindings. Delicate water-colours alone adorned the walls. On his neatly arranged writing-table lay an ivory set---inkstand, pen-tray, blotter and calendar. Bits of old embroidery harmonizing with the peacock shades were spread here and there. A pretty collection of eighteenth-century Italian ivory statuettes were grouped about the room. A spinet, inlaid with ebony and ivory, formed a centre for the arrangement of many other musical instruments---a viol, mandolins gay with ribbons, a theorbo, flutes and clarinets. Through the curtains, draped across an alcove, could be guessed the modern monstrosity of a grand piano. One tall closed cabinet was devoted to his collection of wall-papers. Another, open, to a collection of little dogs in china, porcelain, faence; thousands of them; he got them through dealers from all over the world. He had the finest collection in existence, and maintained a friendly and learned correspondence with the other collector---an elderly, disillusioned Russian prince, who lived somewhere near Nijni-Novgorod. On the spinet and on the writing-table were great bowls of golden rayon d'or roses.

Doggie sat down to think. An unwonted frown creased his brow. Several problems distracted him. The morning sun streaming into the room disclosed, beyond doubt, discolorations, stains and streaks on the wall-paper. It would have to be renewed. Already he had decided to design something to take its place. But last night Peggy had declared her intention to turn this abode of bachelor comfort into the drawing-room, and to hand over to his personal use some other apartment, possibly the present drawing-room, which received all the blaze and glare of the afternoon sun. What should he do? Live in the sordidness of discoloured wall-paper for another year, or go through the anxiety of artistic effort and manufacturers' stupidity and delay, to say nothing of the expense, only to have the whole thing scrapped before the wedding? Doggie had a foretaste of the dilemmas of matrimony. He had a gnawing suspicion that the trim and perfect life was difficult of attainment.

Then, meandering through this wilderness of dubiety, ran thoughts of Oliver. Every one seemed to have gone crazy over him. Uncle Edward and Aunt Sophia had hung on his lips while he lied unblushingly about his adventures. Even Peggy had listened open-eyed and open-mouthed when he had told a tale of shipwreck in the South Seas: how the schooner had been caught in some beastly wind and the masts had been torn out and the rudder carried away, and how it had struck a reef, and how something had hit him on the head, and he knew no more till he woke up on a beach and found that the unspeakable Chipmunk had swum with him for a week---or whatever the time was---until they got to land. If hulking, brainless dolts like Oliver, thought Doggie, like to fool around in schooners and typhoons, they must take the consequences. There was nothing to brag about. The higher man was the intellectual, the sthetic, the artistic being. What did Oliver know of Lydian modes or Louis Treize decoration or Astec clay dogs? Nothing. He couldn't even keep his socks from slopping about over his shoes. And there was Peggy all over the fellow, although before dinner she had said she couldn't bear the sight of him. Doggie was perturbed. On bidding him good night, she had kissed him in the most perfunctory manner---merely the cousinly peck of a dozen years ago---and had given no thought to the fact that he was driving home in an open car without an overcoat. He had felt distinctly chilly on his arrival, and had taken a dose of ammoniated quinine. Was Peggy's indifference a sign that she had ceased to care for him? That she was attracted by the buccaneering Oliver?

Now suppose the engagement was broken off, he would be free to do as he chose with the redecoration of the room. But suppose, as he sincerely and devoutly hoped, it wasn't? Dilemma on dilemma. Added to all this, Goliath, the miniature Belgian griffon, having probably overeaten himself, had complicated pains inside, and the callous vet. could or would not come round till the evening. In the meantime, Goliath might die.

He was at this point of his reflections, when to his horror he heard a familiar voice outside the door.

"All right, Peddle. Don't worry. I'll show myself in. Look after that man of mine. Quite easy. Give him some beer in a bucket and leave him to it."

Then the door burst open and Oliver, pipe in mouth and hat on one side, came into the room.

"Hallo, Doggie! Thought I'd look you up. Hope I'm not disturbing you."

"Not at all," said Doggie. "Do sit down."

But Oliver walked about and looked at things.

"I like your water-colours. Did you collect them yourself?"


"I congratulate you on your taste. This is a beauty. Who is it by?"

The appreciation brought Doggie at once to his side. Oliver, the connoisseur, was showing himself in a new and agreeable light. Doggie took him delightedly round the pictures, expounding their merits and their little histories. He found that Oliver, although unlearned, had a true sense of light and colour and tone. He was just beginning to like him, when the tactless fellow, stopping before the collection of little dogs, spoiled everything.

"My holy aunt!" he cried---an objurgation which Doggie had abhorred from boyhood---and he doubled with laughter in his horrid schoolboy fashion---"My dear Doggie---is that your family? How many litters?"

"It's the finest collection of the kind in the world," replied Doggie stiffly, "and is worth several thousand pounds."

Oliver heaved himself into a chair---that was Doggie's impression of his method of sitting down---a Sheraton chair with delicate arms and legs.

"Forgive me," he said, "but you're such a funny devil."---Doggie gaped. The conception of himself as a funny devil was new.---"Pictures and music I can understand. But what the deuce is the point of these dam little dogs?"

But Doggie was hurt. "It would be useless to try to explain," said he.

Oliver took off his hat and sent it skimming on to the couch.

"Look here, old chap," he said, "I seem to have put my foot into it again. I didn't mean to, really. Peggy gave me hell this morning for not treating you as a man and a brother, and I came round to try to put things right."

"It's very considerate of Peggy, I'm sure," said Marmaduke.

"Now look here, old Doggie------"

"I told you when we first met yesterday that I vehemently object to being called Doggie."

"But why?" asked Oliver. "I've made inquiries, and find that all your pals------"

"I haven't any pals, as you call them."

"Well, all our male contemporaries in the place who have the honour of your acquaintance---they all call you Doggie, and you don't seem to mind."

"I do mind," replied Marmaduke angrily, "but as I avoid their company as much as possible, it doesn't very much matter."

Oliver stretched out his legs and put his hands behind his back---then wriggled to his feet. "What a beast of a chair! Anyhow," he went on, puffing at his pipe, "don't let us quarrel. I'll call you Marmaduke, if you like, when I can remember---it's a beast of a name---like the chair. I'm a rough sort of chap. I've had ten years' pretty rough training. I've slept on boards. I've slept in the open without a cent to hire a board. I've gone cold and I've gone hungry, and men have knocked me about and I've knocked men about---and I've lost the Durdlebury sense of social values. In the wilds if a man once gets the name, say, of Duck-Eyed Joe, it sticks to him, and he accepts it and answers to it, and signs 'Duck-Eyed Joe' on an IOU and honours the signature."

"But I'm not in the wilds," said Marmaduke, "and haven't the slightest intention of ever leading the unnatural and frightful life you describe. So what you say doesn't apply to me."

"Quite so," replied Oliver. "That wasn't the moral of my discourse. The habit of mind engendered in the wilds applies to me. Just as I could never think of Duck-Eyed Joe as George Wilkinson, so you, James Marmaduke Trevor, will live imperishably in my mind as Doggie. I was making a sort of apology, old chap, for my habit of mind."

"If it is an apology------" said Marmaduke.

Oliver, laughing, clapped him boisterously on the shoulder. "Oh, you solemn comic cuss!" He strode to a rose-bowl and knocked the ashes of his pipe into the water---Doggie trembled lest he might next squirt tobacco juice over the ivory curtains. "You don't give a fellow a chance. Look here, tell me, as man to man, what are you going to do with your life? I don't mean it in the high-brow sense of people who live in unsuccessful plays and garden cities, but in the ordinary common-sense way of the world. Here you are, young, strong, educated, intelligent------"

"I'm not strong," said Doggie.

"Oh, shucks! A month's exercise would make you as strong as a mule. Here you are---what the blazes are you going to do with yourself?"

"I don't admit that you have any right to question me," said Doggie, lighting a cigarette.

"Peggy has given it to me. We had a heart to heart talk this morning, I assure you. She called me a swaggering, hectoring barbarian. So I told her what I'd do. I said I'd come here and squeak like a little mouse and eat out of your hand. I also said I'd take you out with me to the Islands and give you a taste for fresh air and salt water and exercise. I'll teach you how to sail a schooner and how to go about barefoot and swab decks. It's a life for a man out there, I tell you. If you've nothing better to do than living here snug like a flea on a dog's back, until you get married, you'd better come."

Doggie smiled pityingly, but said politely:

"Your offer is very kind, Oliver; but I don't think that kind of life would suit me."

"Oh yes it would," said Oliver. "It would make you healthy, wealthy---if you took a fancy to put some money into the pearl fishery---and wise. I'd show you the world, make a man of you, for Peggy's sake, and teach you how men talk to one another in a gale of wind."

The door opened and Peddle appeared.

"I beg your pardon, Mr. Oliver---but your man------"

"Yes? What about him? Is he misbehaving himself? Kissing the maids?"

"No, sir," said Peddle---"but none of them can get on with their work. He has drunk two quart jugs of beer and wants a third."

"Well, give it to him."

"I shouldn't like to see the man intoxicated, sir," said Peddle.

"You couldn't. No one has or ever will."

"He is also standing on his head, sir, in the middle of the kitchen table."

"It's his great parlour-trick. You just try to do it, Peddle---especially after two quarts of beer. He's showing his gratitude, poor chap---just like the juggler of Notre-Dame in the story. And I'm sure everybody's enjoying themselves?"

"The maids are nearly in hysterics, sir."

"But they're quite happy?"

"Too happy, sir."

"Lord!" cried Oliver, "what a lot of stuffy owls you are! What do you want me to do? What would you like me to do, Doggie? It's your house."

"I don't know," said Doggie. "I've had nothing to do with such people. Perhaps you might go and speak to him."

"No, I won't do that. I tell you what, Peddle," said Oliver brightly. "You lure him out into the stable yard with a great hunk of pie---he adores pie---and tell him to sit there and eat it till I come. Tell him I said so."

"I'll see what can be done, sir," said Peddle.

"I don't mean to be inhospitable," said Doggie, after the butler had gone, "but why do you take this extraordinary person about with you?"

"I wanted him to see Durdlebury and Durdlebury to see him. Do it good," replied Oliver. "Now, what about my proposition? Out there of course you'll be my guest. Put yourself in charge of Chipmunk and me for eight months, and you'll never regret it. What Chipmunk doesn't know about ships and drink and hard living isn't knowledge. We'll let you down easy---treat you kindly---word of honour."

Doggie being a man of intelligence realized that Oliver's offer arose from a genuine desire to do him some kind of service. But if a friendly bull out of the fullness of its affection invited you to accompany him to the meadow and eat grass, what could you do but courteously decline the invitation? This is what Doggie did. After a further attempt at persuasion, Oliver grew impatient, and picking up his hat stuck it on the side of his head. He was a simple-natured, impulsive man. Peggy's spirited attack had caused him to realize that he had treated Doggie with unprovoked rudeness; but then, Doggie was such a little worm. Suddenly the great scheme for Doggie's regeneration had entered his head, and generously he had rushed to begin to put it into execution. The pair were his blood relations after all. He saw his way to doing them a good turn. Peggy, with all her go---exemplified by the manner in which she had gone for him---was worth the trouble he proposed to take with Doggie. It really was a handsome offer. Most fellows would have jumped at the prospect of being shown round the Islands with an old hand who knew the whole thing backwards, from company promoting to beach-combing. He had not expected such a point-blank, bland refusal. It made him angry.

"I'm really most obliged to you, Oliver," said Doggie finally. "But our ideals are so entirely different. You're primitive, you know. You seem to find your happiness in defying the elements, whereas I find mine in adopting the resources of civilization to circumvent them."

He smiled, pleased with his little epigram.

"Which means," said Oliver, "that you're afraid to roughen your hands and spoil your complexion."

"If you like to put it that way---symbolically."

"Symbolically be hanged!" cried Oliver, losing his temper. "You're an effeminate little rotter, and I'm through with you. Go on and wag your tail and sit up and beg for biscuits------"

"Stop!" shouted Doggie, white with sudden anger which shook him from head to foot. He marched to the door, his green silk dressing-gown flapping round his legs, and threw it wide open. "This is my house. I'm sorry to have to ask you to get out of it."

Oliver looked intently for a few seconds into the flaming little dark eyes. Then he said gravely:

"I'm a beast to have said that. I take it all back. Good-bye!"

"Good day to you," said Doggie; and when the door was shut he went and threw himself, shaken, on the couch, hating Oliver and all his works more than ever. Go about barefoot and swab decks! It was Bedlam madness. Besides being dangerous to health, it would be excruciating discomfort. And to be insulted for not grasping at such martyrdom. It was intolerable.

Doggie stayed away from the Deanery all that day. On the morrow he heard, to his relief, that Oliver had returned to London with the unedifying Chipmunk. He took Peggy for a drive in the Rolls-Royce, and told her of Oliver's high-handed methods. She sympathized. She said, however:

"Oliver's a rough diamond."

"He's one of Nature's non-gentlemen," said Doggie.

She laughed and patted his arm. "Clever lad!" she said.

So Doggie's wounded vanity was healed. He confided to her some of his difficulties as to the peacock and ivory room.

"Bear with the old paper for my sake," she said. "It's something you can do for me. In the meanwhile, you and I can put our heads together and design a topping scheme of decoration. It's not too early to start in right now, for it'll take months and months to get the house just as we want."

"You're the best girl in the world," said Doggie; "and the way you understand me is simply wonderful."

"Dear old thing," smiled Peggy; "you're no great conundrum."

Happiness once more settled on Doggie Trevor. For the next two or three days he and Peggy tackled the serious problem of the reorganization of Denby Hall. Peggy had the large ideas of a limited though acute brain, stimulated by social ambitions. When she became mistress of Denby Hall, she intended to reverse the invisible boundary that included it in Durdlebury and excluded it from the County. It was to be County---of the fine inner Arcanum of County---and only Durdlebury by the grace of Peggy Trevor. No "durdling," as Oliver called it, for her. Denby Hall was going to be the very latest thing of September, 1915, when she proposed, the honeymoon concluded, to take smart and startling possession. Lots of Mrs. Trevor's rotten old stuffy furniture would have to go. Marmaduke would have to revolutionize his habits. As she would have all kinds of jolly people down to stay, additions must be made to the house. Within a week after her engagement she had devised all the improvements. Marmaduke's room, with a great bay thrown out, would be the drawing-room. The present drawing-room, nucleus of a new wing, would be a dancing-room, with parquet flooring; when not used for tangos and the fashionable negroid dances, it would be called the morning-room; beyond that there would be a billiard-room. Above this first floor there could easily be built a series of guest chambers. As for Marmaduke's library, or study, or den, any old room would do. There were a couple of bedrooms overlooking the stable yard which thrown into one would do beautifully.

With feminine tact she dangled these splendours before Doggie's infatuated eyes, instinctively choosing the opportunity of his gratitude for soothing treatment. Doggie telegraphed for Sir Owen Julius, R.A., Surveyor to the Cathedral, the only architect of his acquaintance. The great man sent his partner, plain John Fox, who undertook to prepare a design.

Mr. Fox came down to Durdlebury on the 28th of July. There had been a lot of silly talk in the newspapers about Austria and Serbia, to which Doggie had given little heed. There was always trouble in the Balkan States. Recently they had gone to war. It had left Doggie quite cold. They were all "Merry Widow," irresponsible people. They dressed in queer uniforms and picturesque costumes, and thought themselves tremendously important, and were always squabbling among themselves and would go on doing it till the day of Doom. Now there was more fuss. He had read in the Morning Post that Sir Edward Grey had proposed a Conference of the Great Powers. Only sensible thing to do, thought Doggie. He dismissed the trivial matter from his mind. On the morning of the 29th he learned that Austria had declared war on Serbia. Still, what did it matter?

Doggie had held aloof from politics. He regarded them as somewhat vulgar. Conservative by caste, he had once, when the opportunity was almost forced on him, voted for the Conservative candidate of the constituency. European politics on the grand scale did not arouse his interest at all. England, save as the wise Mentor, had nothing to do with them. Still, if Russia fought, France would have to join her ally. It was not till he went to the Deanery that he began to contemplate the possibility of a general European war. For the next day or two he read his newspapers very carefully.

On Saturday, the 1st of August, Oliver suddenly reappeared, proposing to stay over the Bank Holiday. He brought news and rumours of war from the great city. He had found money very tight, Capital with a big C impossible to obtain. Every one told him to come back when the present European cloud had blown over. In the opinion of the judicious, it would not blow over. There was going to be war, and England could not stay out of it. The Sunday morning papers confirmed all he said. Germany had declared war on Russia. France was involved. Would Great Britain come in, or for ever lose her honour?

That warm beautiful Sunday afternoon they sat on the peaceful lawn under the shadow of the great cathedral. Burford brought out the tea-tray and Mrs. Conover poured out tea. Sir Archibald and Lady Bruce and their daughter Dorothy were there. Doggie, impeccable in dark purple. Nothing clouded the centuries-old serenity of the place. Yet they asked the question that was asked on every quiet lawn, every little scrap of shaded garden throughout the land that day: Would England go to war?

And if she came in, as come in she must, what would be the result? All had premonitions of strange shifting of destinies. As it was yesterday so it was to-day in that gracious shrine of immutability. But every one knew in his heart that as it was to-day so would it not be to-morrow. The very word "war" seemed as out of place as the suggestion of Hell in Paradise. Yet the throb of the War Drum came over the broad land of France and over the sea and half over England, and its echo fell upon the Deanery garden, flung by the flying buttresses and piers and towers of the grey cathedral.

On the morning of Wednesday, the 5th of August, it thundered all over the Close. The ultimatum to Germany as to Belgium had expired the night before. We were at war.

"Thank God," said the Dean at breakfast, "we needn't cast down our eyes and slink by when we meet a Frenchman."

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