VEGETARIANISM IN THE FOREST
HUMPHREY PUMP’S cooking of a fungus in an old frying-pan (which he had found on the beach) was extremely typical of him. He was, indeed, without any pretence of book-learning, a certain kind of scientific man that science has really been unfortunate in losing. He was the old-fashioned English Naturalist like Gilbert White or even Isaac Walton, who learned things not academically like an American Professor, but actually, like an American Indian. And every truth a man has found out as a man of science is always subtly different from any truth he has found out as a man, because a man’s family, friends, habits and social type have always got well under way before he has thoroughly learned the theory of anything. For instance, any eminent botanist at a Soiree of the Royal Society could tell you, of course, that other edible fungi exist, as well as mushrooms and truffles. But long before he was a botanist, still less an eminent botanist, he had begun, so to speak, on a basis of mushrooms and truffles. He felt, in a vague way, that these were really edible, that mushrooms were a moderate luxury, proper to the middle classes, while truffles were a much more expensive luxury, more suitable to the Smart Set. But the old English Naturalists, of whom Isaac Walton was perhaps the first, and Humphrey Pump perhaps the last, had in many cases really begun at the other end, and found by experience (often most disastrous experience) that some fungi are wholesome and some are not; but the wholesome ones are, on a whole, the majority. So a man like Pump was no more afraid of a fungus as such than he was of an animal as such. He no more started with the supposition that a grey or purple growth on a stone must be a poisonous growth than he started with the supposition that the dog who came to him out of the wood must be a mad dog. Most of them he knew; those he did not know he treated with rational caution, but to him, as a whole race, these weird-hued and one-legged goblins of the forests were creatures friendly to man.
“You see,” he said to his friend the Captain, “eating vegetables isn’t half bad, so long as you know what vegetables there are and eat all of them that you can. But there are two ways where it goes wrong among the gentry. First, they’ve never had to eat a carrot or a potato because it was all there was in the house; so they’ve never learnt how to be really hungry for carrots, as that donkey might be. They only know the vegetables that are meant to help the meat. They know you take duck and peas; and when they turn vegetarian they can only think of the peas without the duck. They know you take lobster in a salad; and when they turn vegetarian they can only think of the salad without the lobster. But the other reason is worse. There’s plenty of good people even round here, and still more in the north, who get meat very seldom. But then, when they do get it, they gobble it up like good ’uns. But the trouble with the gentry is different. The trouble is, the same sort of gentry that don’t want to eat meat don’t really want to eat anything. The man called a Vegetarian who goes to Ivywood House is generally like a cow trying to live on a blade of grass a day. You and I, Captain, have pretty well been vegetarians for some time, so as not to break into the cheese, and we haven’t found it so difficult, because we eat as much as we can.”
“It’s not so difficult as being teetotallers,” answered Dalroy, “so as not to break into the cask. But I’ll never deny that I feel the better for that, too, on the whole. But only because I could leave off being one whenever I chose. And, now I come to think of it,” he cried, with one of his odd returns of animal energy, “if I’m to be a vegetarian why shouldn’t I drink? Why shouldn’t I have a purely vegetarian drink? Why shouldn’t I take vegetables in their highest form, so to speak? The modest vegetarians ought obviously to stick to wine or beer, plain vegetarian drinks, instead of filling their goblets with the blood of bulls and elephants, as all conventional meat-eaters do, I suppose. What is the matter?”
“Nothing,” answered Pump. “I was looking out for somebody who generally turns up about this time. But I think I’m fast.”
“I should never have thought so from the look of you,” answered the Captain, “but what I’m saying is that the drinking of decent fermented liquor is just simply the triumph of vegetarianism. Why, it’s an inspiring idea! I could write a sort of song about it. As, for instance–
“You will find me drinking rum
Like a sailor in a slum,
You will find me drinking beer like a Bavarian;
You will find me drinking gin
In the lowest kind of inn,
Because I am a rigid Vegetarian.”
Why, it’s a vista of verbal felicity and spiritual edification! It has I don’t know how many hundred aspects! Let’s see; how could the second verse go? Something like–
“So I cleared the inn of wine,
And I tried to climb the Sign;
And I tried to hail the constable as ‘Marion’;
But he said I couldn’t speak,
And he bowled me to the Beak,
Because I was a Happy Vegetarian.”
“I really think something instructive to the human race may come out of all this … Hullo! Is that what you were looking for?”
The quadruped Quoodle came in out of the woods a whole minute later than the usual time and took his seat beside Humphrey’s left foot with a preoccupied air.
“Good old boy,” said the Captain. “You seem to have taken quite a fancy to us. I doubt, Hump, if he’s properly looked after up at the house. I particularly don’t want to talk against Ivywood, Hump. I don’t want his soul to be able in all eternity to accuse my soul of a mean detraction. I want to be fair to him, because I hate him like hell, and he has taken from me all for which I lived. But I don’t think, with all this in my mind, I don’t think I say anything beyond what he would own himself (for his brain is clear) when I say that he could never understand an animal. And so he could never understand the animal side of a man. He doesn’t know to this day, Hump, that your sight and hearing are sixty times quicker than his. He doesn’t know that I have a better circulation. That explains the extraordinary people he picks up and acts with; he never looks at them as you and I look at that dog. There was a fellow calling himself Gluck who was (mainly by Ivywood’s influence, I believe) his colleague on the Turkish Conferences, being supposed to represent Germany. My dear Hump, he was a man that a great gentleman like Ivywood ought not to have touched with a barge-pole. It’s not the race he was–if it was one race–it’s the Sort he was. A coarse, common, Levantine nark and eaves-dropper–but you mustn’t lose your temper, Hump. I implore you, Hump, to control this tendency to lose your temper when talking at any length about such people. Have recourse, Hump, to that consoling system of versification which I have already explained to you.
“Oh I knew a Doctor Gluck,
And his nose it had a hook,
And his attitudes were anything but Aryan;
So I gave him all the pork
That I had, upon a fork;
Because I am myself a Vegetarian.”
“If you are,” said Humphrey Pump, “You’d better come and eat some vegetables. The White Hat can be eaten cold–or raw, for that matter. But Bloodspots wants some cooking.”
“You are right, Hump,” said Dalroy, seating himself with every appearance of speechless greed. “I will be silent. As the poet says–
“I am silent in the Club,
I am silent in the pub,
I am silent on a bally peak in Darien;
For I stuff away for life,
Shoving peas in with a knife,
Because I am at heart a Vegetarian.”
He fell to his food with great gusto, dispatched a good deal of it in a very short time, threw a glance of gloomy envy at the cask, and then sprang to his feet again. He caught up the inn-sign from where it leant against the Pantomime Cottage, and planted it like a pike in the ground beside him. Then he began to sing again, in an even louder voice than before.
“O, Lord Ivywood may lop,
And his privilege is sylvan and riparian;
And is also free to top,
“Do you know,” said Hump, also finishing his lunch, “that I’m rather tired of that particular tune?”
“Tired, is it?” said the indignant Irishman, “then I’ll sing you a longer song, to an even worse tune, about more and more vegetarians, and you shall see me dance as well; and I will dance till you burst into tears and offer me the half of your kingdom; and I shall ask for Mr. Leveson’s head on the frying-pan. For this, let me tell you, is a song of oriental origin, celebrating the caprices of an ancient Babylonian Sultan and should be performed in palaces of ivory with palm trees and a bulbul accompaniment.”
And he began to bellow another and older lyric of his own on vegetarianism.
“Nebuchadnezzar, the King of the Jews,
Suffered from new and original views,
He crawled on his hands and knees it’s said,
With grass in his mouth and a crown on his head,
With a wowtyiddly, etc.
“Those in traditional paths that trod,
Thought the thing was a curse from God;
But a Pioneer men always abuse,
Like Nebuchadnezzar the King of the Jews.”
Dalroy, as he sang this, actually began to dance about like a ballet girl, an enormous and ridiculous figure in the sunlight, waving the wooden sign around his head. Quoodle opened his eyes and pricked up his ears and seemed much interested in these extraordinary evolutions. Suddenly, with one of those startling changes that will transfigure the most sedentary dogs, Quoodle decided that the dance was a game, and began to bark and bound round the performer, sometimes leaping so far into the air as almost to threaten the man’s throat. But, though the sailor naturally knew less about dogs than the countryman, he knew enough about them (as about many other things) not to be afraid, and the voice he sang with might have drowned the baying of a pack.
“Black Lord Foulon the Frenchmen slew,
Thought it a Futurist thing to do;
He offered them grass instead of bread,
So they stuffed him with grass when they cut off his head.
With a wowtyiddly, etc.
“For the pride of his soul he perished then,
But of course it is always of Pride that men
A Man in Advance of his Age accuse
Like Nebuchadnezzar the King of the Jews.
“Simeon Scudder of Styx, in Maine,
Thought of the thing and was at it again;
He gave good grass and water in pails
To a thousand Irishmen hammering rails,
With a wowtyiddly, etc.
“Appetites differ, and tied to a stake,
He was tarred and feathered for Conscience Sake;
But stoning the prophets is ancient news,
Like Nebuchadnezzar the King of the Jews.”
In an abandon, unusual even for him, he had danced his way down through the thistles into the jungle of weeds risen round the sunken Chapel. And the dog, now fully convinced that it was not only a game but an expedition, perhaps a hunting expedition, ran barking in front of him, along the path that his own dog’s paws had already burst through the tangle. Before Patrick Dalroy well knew what he was doing, or even remembered that he still carried the ridiculous sign-board in his hand, he found himself outside the open porch of a sort of narrow tower at the angle of a building which, to the best of his recollection, he had never seen before. Quoodle instantly ran up four or five steps in the dark staircase inside, and then, lifting his ears again, looked back for his companion.
There is, perhaps, such a thing as asking too much of a man. If there is, it was asking too much of Patrick Dalroy to ask him not to accept so eccentric an invitation. Hurriedly plunging his unwieldy wooden ensign upright in the thick of thistles and grass, he bent his gigantic neck and shoulders to enter the porch, and proceeded to climb the stairs. It was quite dark, and it was only after at least two twists of the stone spiral that he saw light ahead of him, and then it was a sort of rent in the wall that seemed to him as ragged as the mouth of a Cornish cave. It was also so low that he had some difficulty in squeezing his bulk through it, but the dog had jumped through with an air of familiarity, and once more looked back to see him follow.
If he had found himself inside any ordinary domestic interior, he would instantly have repented his escapade and gone back. But he found himself in surroundings which he had never seen before, or even, in one sense, believed possible.
His first feeling was that he was walking in the most sealed and secret suite of apartments in the castle of a dream. All the chambers had that air of perpetually opening inwards which is the soul of the Arabian Nights. And the ornament was of the same tradition; gorgeous and flamboyant, yet featureless and stiff. A purple mansion seemed to be built inside a green mansion and a golden mansion inside that. And the quaintly cut doorways or fretted lattices all had wavy lines like a dancing sea, and for some reason (sea-sickness for all he knew) this gave him a feeling as if the place were beautiful but faintly evil: as if it were bored and twisted for the fallen palace of the Worm.
But he had also another sensation which he could not analyze; for it reminded him of being a fly on the ceiling or the wall. Was it the Hanging Gardens of Babylon coming back to his imagination; or the Castle East of the Sun and West of the Moon? Then he remembered that in some boyish illness he had stared at a rather Moorish sort of wall paper, which was like rows and rows of brightly coloured corridors, empty and going on forever. And he remembered that a fly was walking along one of the parallel lines; and it seemed to his childish fancy that the corridors were all dead in front of the fly, but all came to life as he passed.
“By George!” he cried, “I wonder whether that’s the real truth about East and West! That the gorgeous East offers everything needed for adventures except the man to enjoy them. It would explain the tradition of the Crusades uncommonly well. Perhaps that’s what God meant by Europe and Asia. We dress the characters and they paint the scenery. Well, anyhow, three of the least Asiatic things in the world are lost in this endless Asiatic palace–a good dog, a straight sword, and an Irishman.”
But as he went down this telescope of tropical colours he really felt something of that hard fatalistic freedom of the heroes (or should we say villains?) in the Arabian Nights. He was prepared for any impossibility. He would hardly have been surprised if from under the lid of one of the porcelain pots standing in a corner had come a serpentine string of blue or yellow smoke, as if some wizard’s oil were within. He would hardly have been surprised if from under the curtains or closed doors had crawled out a snaky track of blood, or if a dumb negro dressed in white had come out with a bow string, having done his work. He would not have been surprised if he had walked suddenly into the still chamber of some Sultan asleep, whom to wake was a death in torments. And yet he was very much more surprised by what he did see, and when he saw it, he was certain at last that he was only wandering in the labyrinth of his own brain. For what he saw was what was really in the core of all his dreams.
What he saw, indeed, was more appropriate to that inmost eastern chamber than anything he had imagined. On a divan of blood-red and orange cushions lay a startlingly beautiful woman, with a skin almost swarthy enough for an Arab’s, and who might well have been the Princess proper to such an Arabian tale. But in truth it was not her appropriateness to the scene, but rather her inappropriateness, that made his heart bound. It was not her strangeness but her familiarity that made his big feet suddenly stop.
The dog ran on yet more rapidly, and the princess on the sofa welcomed him warmly, lifting him on his short hind legs. Then she looked up, and seemed turned to stone.
“Bismillah,” said the oriental traveller, affably, “may your shadow never grow less–or more, as the ladies would say. The Commander of the Faithful has deputed his least competent slave to bring you back a dog. Owing to temporary delay in collecting the fifteen largest diamonds in the moon, he has been compelled to send the animal without any collar. Those responsible for the delay will instantly be beaten to death, with the tails of dragons–”
The frightful shock, which had not yet left the lady’s face, brought him back to responsible speech.
“In short,” he said, “in the name of the Prophet, dog. I say, Joan, I wish this wasn’t a dream.”
“It isn’t,” said the girl, speaking for the first time, “and I don’t know yet whether I wish it was.”
“Well,” argued the dreamer, rationally, “what are you, anytime, if you’re not a dream–or a vision? And what are all these rooms, if they aren’t a dream –or rather a nightmare?”
“This is the new wing of Ivywood House,” said the lady addressed as Joan, speaking with great difficulty. “Lord Ivywood has fitted them up in the eastern style; he is inside conducting a most interesting debate in defence of Eastern Vegetarianism. I only came out because the room was rather hot.”
“Vegetarian!” cried Dalroy, with abrupt and rather unreasonable exasperation. “That table seems to fall a bit short of Vegetarianism.” And he pointed to one of the long, narrow tables, laid somewhere in almost all the central rooms, and loaded with elaborate cold meats and expensive wines.
“He must be liberal-minded,” cried Joan, who seemed to be on the verge of something, possibly temper. “He can’t expect people suddenly to begin being Vegetarians when they’ve never been before.”
“It has been done,” said Dalroy, tranquilly, walking across to look at the table. “I say, your ascetical friends seem to have made a pretty good hole in the champagne. You may not believe it, Joan, but I haven’t touched what you call alcohol for a month.”
With which words he filled with champagne a large tumbler intended for claret cup and swallowed it at a draught.
Lady Joan Brett stood up straight but trembling.
“Now that’s really wrong, Pat,” she cried. “Oh, don’t be silly–you know I don’t care about the alcohol or all that. But you’re in the man’s house, uninvited, and he doesn’t know. That wasn’t like you.”
“He shall know, all right,” said the large man, quietly. “I know the exact price of a tumbler of that champagne.”
And he scribbled some words in pencil on the back of a bill of fare on the table, and then carefully laid three shillings on top of it.
“And there you do Philip the worst wrong of all,” cried Lady Joan, flaming white. “You know as well as I do, anyhow, that he would not take your money.” Patrick Dalroy stood looking at her for some seconds with an expression on his broad and unusually open face which she found utterly puzzling.
“Curiously enough,” he observed, at last, and with absolutely even temper, “curiously enough, it is you who are doing Philip Ivywood a wrong. I think him quite capable of breaking England or Creation. But I do honestly think he would never break his word. And what is more, I think the more arbitrary and literal his word had been, the more he would keep it. You will never understand a man like that, till you understand that he can have devotion to a definition; even a new definition. He can really feel about an amendment to an Act of Parliament, inserted at the last moment, as you feel about England or your mother.”
“Oh, don’t philosophise,” cried Joan suddenly. “Can’t you see this has been a shock?”
“I only want you to see the point,” he replied. “Lord Ivywood clearly told me, with his own careful lips, that I might go in and pay for fermented liquor in any place displaying a public sign outside. And he won’t go back on that definition or on any definition. If he finds me here, he may quite possibly put me in prison on some other charge, as a thief or a vagabond, or what not. But he will not grudge the champagne. And he will accept the three shillings. And I shall honour him for his glorious consistency.”
“I don’t understand,” said Joan, “one word of what you are talking about. Which way did you come? How can I get you away? You don’t seem to grasp that you’re in Ivywood House.”
“You see there’s a new name outside the gate,” observed Patrick, conversationally, and led the lady to the end of the corridor by which he had entered and into its ultimate turret chamber.
Following his indications, Lady Joan peered a little over the edge of the window where hung the brilliant purple bird in its brilliant golden cage. Almost immediately below, outside the entrance to the half-closed stairway, stood a wooden tavern sign, as solid and still as if it had been there for centuries.
“All back at the sign of ‘The Old Ship,’ you see,” said the Captain. “Can I offer you anything in a lady-like way?”
There was a vast impudence in the slight, hospitable movement of his hand, that disturbed Lady Joan’s features with an emotion other than any that she desired to show.
“Well!” cried Patrick, with a wild geniality, “I’ve made you laugh again, my dear.”
He caught her to him as in a whirlwind, and then vanished from the fairy turret like a blast, leaving her standing with her hand up to her wild black hair.