Книга Three Men on the Bummel. Содержание - Chapter II

George looked doubtful.

"There's a lot of uphill about a bicycle tour," said he, "and the wind is against you."

"So there is downhill, and the wind behind you," said Harris.

"I've never noticed it," said George.

"You won't think of anything better than a bicycle tour," persisted Harris.

I was inclined to agree with him.

"And I'll tell you where," continued he; "through the Black Forest."

"Why, that's ALL uphill," said George.

"Not all," retorted Harris; "say two-thirds. And there's one thing you've forgotten."

He looked round cautiously, and sunk his voice to a whisper.

"There are little railways going up those hills, little cogwheel things that-"

The door opened, and Mrs. Harris appeared. She said that Ethelbertha was putting on her bonnet, and that Muriel, after waiting, had given "The Mad Hatter's Tea Party" without us.

"Club, to-morrow, at four," whispered Harris to me, as he rose, and I passed it on to George as we went upstairs.

Chapter II

A delicate business-What Ethelbertha might have said-What she did say-What Mrs. Harris said-What we told George-We will start on Wednesday-George suggests the possibility of improving our minds— Harris and I are doubtful-Which man on a tandem does the most work?-The opinion of the man in front-Views of the man behind— How Harris lost his wife-The luggage question-The wisdom of my late Uncle Podger-Beginning of story about a man who had a bag.

I opened the ball with Ethelbertha that same evening. I commenced by being purposely a little irritable. My idea was that Ethelbertha would remark upon this. I should admit it, and account for it by over brain pressure. This would naturally lead to talk about my health in general, and the evident necessity there was for my taking prompt and vigorous measures. I thought that with a little tact I might even manage so that the suggestion should come from Ethelbertha herself. I imagined her saying: "No, dear, it is change you want; complete change. Now be persuaded by me, and go away for a month. No, do not ask me to come with you. I know you would rather that I did, but I will not. It is the society of other men you need. Try and persuade George and Harris to go with you. Believe me, a highly strung brain such as yours demands occasional relaxation from the strain of domestic surroundings. Forget for a little while that children want music lessons, and boots, and bicycles, with tincture of rhubarb three times a day; forget there are such things in life as cooks, and house decorators, and next-door dogs, and butchers' bills. Go away to some green corner of the earth, where all is new and strange to you, where your over-wrought mind will gather peace and fresh ideas. Go away for a space and give me time to miss you, and to reflect upon your goodness and virtue, which, continually present with me, I may, human-like, be apt to forget, as one, through use, grows indifferent to the blessing of the sun and the beauty of the moon. Go away, and come back refreshed in mind and body, a brighter, better man-if that be possible-than when you went away."

But even when we obtain our desires they never come to us garbed as we would wish. To begin with, Ethelbertha did not seem to remark that I was irritable; I had to draw her attention to it. I said:

"You must forgive me, I'm not feeling quite myself to-night."

She said: "Oh! I have not noticed anything different; what's the matter with you?"

"I can't tell you what it is," I said; "I've felt it coming on for weeks."

"It's that whisky," said Ethelbertha. "You never touch it except when we go to the Harris's. You know you can't stand it; you have not a strong head."

"It isn't the whisky," I replied; "it's deeper than that. I fancy it's more mental than bodily."

"You've been reading those criticisms again," said Ethelbertha, more sympathetically; "why don't you take my advice and put them on the fire?"

"And it isn't the criticisms," I answered; "they've been quite flattering of late-one or two of them."

"Well, what is it?" said Ethelbertha; "there must be something to account for it."

"No, there isn't," I replied; "that's the remarkable thing about it; I can only describe it as a strange feeling of unrest that seems to have taken possession of me."

Ethelbertha glanced across at me with a somewhat curious expression, I thought; but as she said nothing, I continued the argument myself.

"This aching monotony of life, these days of peaceful, uneventful felicity, they appal one."

"I should not grumble at them," said Ethelbertha; "we might get some of the other sort, and like them still less."

"I'm not so sure of that," I replied. "In a life of continuous joy, I can imagine even pain coming as a welcome variation. I wonder sometimes whether the saints in heaven do not occasionally feel the continual serenity a burden. To myself a life of endless bliss, uninterrupted by a single contrasting note, would, I feel, grow maddening. I suppose," I continued, "I am a strange sort of man; I can hardly understand myself at times. There are moments," I added, "when I hate myself."

Often a little speech like this, hinting at hidden depths of indescribable emotion has touched Ethelbertha, but to-night she appeared strangely unsympathetic. With regard to heaven and its possible effect upon me, she suggested my not worrying myself about that, remarking it was always foolish to go half-way to meet trouble that might never come; while as to my being a strange sort of fellow, that, she supposed, I could not help, and if other people were willing to put up with me, there was an end of the matter. The monotony of life, she added, was a common experience; there she could sympathise with me.

"You don't know I long," said Ethelbertha, "to get away occasionally, even from you; but I know it can never be, so I do not brood upon it."

I had never heard Ethelbertha speak like this before; it astonished and grieved me beyond measure.

"That's not a very kind remark to make," I said, "not a wifely remark."

"I know it isn't," she replied; "that is why I have never said it before. You men never can understand," continued Ethelbertha, "that, however fond a woman may be of a man, there are times when he palls upon her. You don't know how I long to be able sometimes to put on my bonnet and go out, with nobody to ask me where I am going, why I am going, how long I am going to be, and when I shall be back. You don't know how I sometimes long to order a dinner that I should like and that the children would like, but at the sight of which you would put on your hat and be off to the Club. You don't know how much I feel inclined sometimes to invite some woman here that I like, and that I know you don't; to go and see the people that I want to see, to go to bed when I am tired, and to get up when I feel I want to get up. Two people living together are bound both to be continually sacrificing their own desires to the other one. It is sometimes a good thing to slacken the strain a bit."

On thinking over Ethelbertha's words afterwards, have come to see their wisdom; but at the time I admit I was hurt and indignant.

"If your desire," I said, "is to get rid of me-"

"Now, don't be an old goose," said Ethelbertha; "I only want to get rid of you for a little while, just long enough to forget there are one or two corners about you that are not perfect, just long enough to let me remember what a dear fellow you are in other respects, and to look forward to your return, as I used to look forward to your coming in the old days when I did not see you so often as to become, perhaps, a little indifferent to you, as one grows indifferent to the glory of the sun, just because he is there every day."

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