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   Chapter 4 No.4

South Wind By Norman Douglas Characters: 35143

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05


Next morning, at precisely 4 a.m., there was an earthquake.

Foreigners unaccustomed to Nepenthean conditions rushed in their pyjamas out of doors, to escape the falling wreckage. An American lady, staying at Mr. Muhlen's high-class hotel, jumped from her bed-room on the third floor into the courtyard below, and narrowly escaped bruising her ankle.

It was a false alarm. The sudden clanging of every bell on the place, the explosion of twelve hundred mortars and the simultaneous booming of an enormous cannon-that far-famed gun whose wayward tricks had cost the lives of hundreds of its loaders in the days of the Good Duke-might have passed for an earthquake of the first magnitude, so far as noise and concussion were concerned. The island rocked to its foundations. It was the signal for the festival of the patron saint to begin.

Nobody could have slept through that din. Mr. Heard, dog-tired as he was, woke up and opened his eyes.

"Things are happening here," he said-a remark which he found himself repeating on several later occasions.

He looked round the room. It was not an hotel bed-room. Then he began to remember things, drowsily. He remembered the pleasant surprise of the previous evening-how the Duchess had called to mind a small villa, vacated earlier than she had expected by a lady friend for whom she had taken it. It was furnished, spotlessly clean, with a woman, a capable cook, in attendance. She had insisted on his living there.

"So much nicer than a dreadful room in an hotel! You'll show the bishop all over it, won't you, Denis?"

Walking together, he and Denis, they had been overtaken by another recent visitor to Nepenthe. It was Mr. Edgar Marten. Mr. Marten was a hirsute and impecunious young Hebrew of low tastes, with a passion for mineralogy. He had profited by some University grant to make certain studies at Nepenthe which was renowned for its variegated rocks. There was something striking about him, thought Mr. Heard. He said little of consequence, but Denis listened enthusiastically to his abstruse remarks about fractures and so forth, and watched with eagerness as he poked his stick into the rough walls to dislodge some stone that seemed to be of interest.

"So you don't know the difference between augite and hornblende?" he once enquired. "Really? Dash my eyes! How old did you say you were?"

"Nineteen."

"And what have you been doing, Phipps, these last nineteen years?"

"One can't know everything at my age."

"Granted. But I think you might have learnt that much. Come to me on

Thursday morning. I'll see what I can do for you."

Mr. Heard rather admired this youthful scientist. The fellow knew what he was after; he was after stones. Perfect of his kind-a condition which always appealed to the bishop. Pleasant youngsters, both of them. And so different from each other!

As to Denis-he could not make up his mind about Denis. To begin with, he exhaled that peculiar College aroma which the most heroic efforts of a lifetime often fail to dissipate. Then, he had said something about Florence, and Cinque-Cento, and Jacopo Bellini. The bishop, a practical man, had not much use for Jacopo Bellini or for people who talked about him. None the less, while making himself useful with unpacking and arranging things, Denis dropped a remark which struck Mr. Heard.

"The canvas of Nepenthe," he observed, "is rather overcharged."

Rather overcharged….

It was true, thought the bishop, as he glanced out of his window that evening, all alone, over the sea into which a young moon was just sinking to rest. Overcharged! A ceaseless ebb and flow of humanity surged before his weary eyes. That sense of irreality which had struck him on his first view of the island was still persisting; the south wind, no doubt, helped this illusion. He remembered the general affluence and kindliness of the people; that, at least, had made a definite mark upon his mind. He liked the place. Already he felt at home here, and in better health. But when he tried to conjure up some definite impression of town and people, the images became blurred; the smiling priest, the Duchess, Mr. Keith-they were like figures in a dream; they merged into memories of Africa, of his fellow-passengers from Zanzibar; they mingled with projects relating to his own future in England-projects relating to his cousin on Nepenthe. Mr. Heard felt exhausted.

He was too tired to be greatly affected by that cannonade, which was enough to rouse the dead. Something must be happening, he mused; then, his meditations concluded, turned on his other side. He slept well into the morning, and found his breakfast appetisingly laid out in the adjoining room.

And now, he thought, for that procession.

Bells were ringing gaily into the sunshine. From a long way off, he discerned the brazen tones of a band, the chanting of priests and townspeople, shrill voices of women. The pageant came in sight-winding its way through the multitudes under the beflagged arches of greenery, while a rain of flowers descended from windows and balconies overhead. Clusters of children went before, in many-tinted array, according to their various schools or confraternities. Then came the municipal band in uniform, playing the cheeriest of tunes, and escorted by the Nepenthe militia whose old-fashioned costume of silver and scarlet was most effective. The authorities of the island trod on their heels-grave gentlemen in black clothes, some of them adorned with ribbons and decorations. The Mephistophelean judge, the freethinker, was among them; he limped along, expectorating every ten yards or so, presumably to mark his displeasure at being obliged, as official, to attend a religious function. The Commissioner, too, was in the ranks. He appeared just the same as yesterday; very informal in his knickerbockers, and decidedly pink about the gills.

There followed a long train of priests, clad in lace and silken garments of every hue. They looked like a perambulating flower-garden. Plump, jovial fellows-chanting blithely, and occasionally exchanging a few words with one another. Don Francesco glittered in crimson vestments; he recognized Mr. Heard, and gave him a broad smile combined with something which might have been mistaken for a wink. The huge silver statue of the saint came next. It was a grotesque monster, borne aloft on a wooden platform that wobbled on the shoulders of eight lusty perspiring carriers. As it passed, all the onlookers raised their hats; all save the Russians, the Little White Cows who, standing aside with wonderment written on their childlike faces, were relieved from this necessity, since the wearing of hats had been forbidden by their leader, their self-styled Messiah, the divinely inspired Bazhakuloff; they were to go bareheaded summer and winter, "like the Christians of old." Some ardent believers went so far as to kneel on the stony ground. The Duchess, the Catholic-to-be, had assumed this reverend posture; she was on the other side of the street, surrounded by a number of ladies and gentlemen. Mr. Heard, reviewing the crowd, abandoned the idea of piercing that procession and exchanging a few words with her. He would see her in the afternoon.

Then the bishop-the dignitary whom Don Francesco had called "not exactly a liberal." He tallied with that description. A wicked old face! He was blear-eyed, brown as a mummy, and so fat that his legs had long ago ceased to be any use save as a precarious support while standing. He rode, in gorgeous apparel, on a milk-white donkey which was led by two pretty choristers in blue. Attached to the end of a long pole, a green umbrella of Gargantuan proportions, adorned with red tassels, protected his wrinkled head from the rays of the sun. One hand clutched some religious object upon which his eyes were glued in a hypnotic trance, the other cruised aimlessly about the horizon, in the act of benediction.

Mumbo-jumbo, thought Mr. Heard.

Yet he looked without wincing at the caricature of Christianity. It was like an act in a pantomime. He had seen funnier things in Africa. Among the Bitongos, for instance. They would have enjoyed this procession, the Bitongos. They were Christians; had taken to the Gospel like ducks to the water; wore top-hats at Easter. But liars-such dreadful liars! Just the reverse of the M'tezo. Ah, those M'tezo! Incurable heathen. He had given them up long ago. Anyhow, they despised lying. They filed their teeth, ate their superfluous female relations, swopped wives every new moon, and never wore a stitch of clothes. A man who appeared among the M'tezo in a fig-leaf would find himself in the cooking-pot within five minutes.

How they attached themselves to his heart, those black fellows. Such healthy animals! This spectacle, he discovered, was rather like Africa-the same steamy heat, the same blaring noises, dazzling light, and glowing colours; the same spirit of unconquerable playfulness in grave concerns.

And the Bumbulis, the Kubangos, the Mugwambas! And the Bulanga-that tribe whom Mr. Keith seemed to know so well! Really, the Bulanga were the worst of the lot. Not fit to be talked about. And yet, somehow or other, one could not help liking them….

"Good morning, Bishop!" said a voice at his side. It was Mr. Keith. He looked well washed and chubby in his spotless white clothes. Accompanying him was a friend in grey flannels whom he presently introduced as Mr. Eames. "Hope you slept well," he went on. "And how do you like the procession? You are doing quite the right thing in attending. Oh, quite. That is why I am here, though I don't much fancy these ceremonies. One ought to conform to custom. Well, what are you thinking?"

"I was thinking of Africa, and the pain which the natives will endure for what they call their pleasures. I wonder how much those men are paid for carrying that statue? They perspire pretty freely."

"They are paid nothing. They pay, themselves, a heavy sum for the privilege."

"You surprise me!"

"They have remission of sins; they can be as naughty as ever they like for a twelvemonth afterwards. That is a consideration. I will tell you something else about that idol. It is five hundred years old-"

"Oh, come!" interposed Mr. Eames, in a tone of gentle remonstrance. "The saint was cast exactly eighty-two years ago; they used to have a wooden one before that time. Anybody can see from the workmanship-"

"Have it your way, Eames. Eighty-two years old, I was going to say, and not yet paid for. They want some rich foreigner to produce the money. They are counting on van Koppen, just now; an American millionaire, you know, who comes here every year and spends a good deal of money. But I know old Koppen. He is no fool. By the way, Eames, what do you think of this discovery of mine? Of course you have heard of the James-Lange theory of the Emotions, namely, that bodily changes follow directly on the perception of the existing fact and that our feeling of these same changes as they occur is the Emotion. They developed the theory independently, and got great credit for it. Well, I find-what nobody seems to have noticed-that they were anticipated by Professor Maudsley. I've got a note of it in my pocket. Here you are. PSYCHOLOGY OF MIND, 1876, pages 472-4 ET SEQ.; 372, 384, 386-7 ET PASSIM. What do you say?"

"Nothing. I am not interested in psychology. You know it perfectly well.

"Why not? Wouldn't you get more fun out of life if you were?"

"I have Perrelli."

"Always your old Perrelli! That reminds me, Eames. I mean to talk to van Koppen as soon as he arrives about getting that book of yours published. He is good for any amount. Koppen is your man."

There was a mischievous twinkle in his eye, as he said this.

"Please don't," implored Mr. Eames. "You will annoy me very seriously."

"Don't be absurd, my poor fellow."

"You can't think how much you will annoy me! How often have I told you-"

"Then you must lunch with me to-day, together with the bishop. Don't trouble about driving to the Old Town to see your cousin," he added to Mr. Heard. "She is sure to be at the reception of the Duchess this afternoon."

Mr. Eames said:

"So sorry. I must get back home. I only came out to speak to a man about a collar-for my dog, I mean. Another day, if you don't mind. And no millionaires, whatever you do!"

He departed, rather awkwardly.

"He is shy," Keith explained. "But he can tell you all about the island. And now come home with me, Bishop. I feel as if it were time for luncheon. It must be about half-past twelve."

Mr. Heard took out his watch.

"Half-past twelve to the minute," he said.

"I thought so. A man's best clock is his stomach. We have only a few hundred yards to go. Hot, isn't it? This infernal south wind…."

The Villa Khismet was one of the surprises of Nepenthe. It lay somewhat out of the way, at the end of a narrow, gloomy and tortuous lane. Who would have dreamt of finding a house of this kind in such a situation? Who would have expected, on passing through that mouldy wooden gateway in the wall, to find himself in a courtyard that recalled the exquisite proportions and traceries of the Alhambra-to be able to wander thence under fretted arches through a maze of marble-paved Moorish chambers, great and small, opening upon each other at irregular angles with a deliciously impromptu effect? The palace had been built regardless of expense. It was originally laid out, Keith explained, by one of the old rulers of Nepenthe who, to tease his faithful subjects, simulated a frenzied devotion for the poetry and architecture of the Saracens, their bitterest enemies.

Something Oriental still hung about these chambers, though the modern furniture was not at all in keeping with the style. Mr. Keith did not profess to be a man of taste. "I try to be comfortable," he used to say. He succeeded in being luxurious.

They glanced into the garden-a spacious park-like enclosure terminating in a declivity, so as to afford a view over the sea far below. It was a mock wilderness of trees and bright blossoms, flooded in meridian sunlight. Some gardeners moved about, binding up the riotous vegetation that had sprouted overnight under the moist breath of the sirocco.

"It's too hot to think of lunching out here," said Keith. "You should come and see this place in the evening."

"It must be wonderful at that hour."

"Still more wonderful in the early morning, or by moonlight. But then I am generally alone. There are twenty-four fountains in this garden," he added. "They might help to keep the place cool. But of course not one of them is in use now. You have observed, have you not, that there is no running water on this island? That old Duke built the fountains all the same, and to every one of them he attached a cistern, to hold the winter rains; then a pumping apparatus. Relays of slaves had to work underground, day and night, pumping water for these twenty-four fountains; it fell back into the cisterns, and was forced up again. The Arabs had fountains. He meant to have them too. Particularly at night! If anything went wrong with the machinery at that hour, there was the devil to pay. He swore he could not sleep unless he heard the music of the water. And his sleepless nights were bad for his subjects. They generally hid in caves till the fountains were reported to be in working order again. That is the way to run an island, Mr. Heard. One must be a stylist."

"You might re-activate one of them, at least, with the help of those servants."

"They have enough to do, I assure you, to re-activate me-keep me young and in good condition. To say nothing of the flowers, which also need a little friendly attention…."

Mr. Heard enjoyed that luncheon. "The food, the wine, the service-they were faultless; something altogether out of the way," he declared with frank conviction.

"Then you must come again," replied his host. "How long did you say you were staying here?"

"Ten days or so. It depends upon Mrs. Meadows and her movements. I understand she is all alone up there, in the clouds. Her husband's leave has been postponed for the second time. He was going to pick her up on his way to England. She had to leave India before him, on account of the child."

"A pretty baby. Couldn't stand the climate, I suppose."

"Exactly. My mother asked me to look in and cheer her up a little, and perhaps take her back with me. And really," he added, "it's rather awkward! I have not seen my cousin since she was a little girl. What does she look like?"

"Tailor-made. Looks as if she rode well and knew her own mind. Looks as if she had been through a good deal of trouble."

"I daresay she has. She was always impetuous, even as a child. That first marriage was not at all a success. Some foreign scoundrel who deserted her and vanished. I was in China at the time, but my mother wrote me about it."

"A first marriage? She never told me about that."

"This second one was a love match. They ran away together. They must have had a hard time out there at first, living as they did. No doubt she has learnt to know her own mind; one has to cope with emergencies in a life like that. He has done well, I hear. A charming fellow, from all accounts, though I question whether they are properly married even now."

"Perhaps they can't be," replied Mr. Keith, "in view of the earlier affair. But how will they educate that boy, in India? It can't be done. India is

no better than Bampopo, for such purposes. Did you do much educational work in Africa? I hope you were gentle with my friends the Bulaga?"

"We baptized two or three hundred of them one day. But they behaved shockingly the very next week-quite disgracefully! They are hopeless, those friends of yours, though one cannot help liking them somehow. I got through good deal of other work of that kind," he added.

"I see you are a man of action. Sometimes I wish I were. A little money has made me lazy, I'm afraid. But I do some thinking, and a fair lot of reading. I travel, I observe, I compare. Among other things I observe that our English system of education is all wrong. We ought to return to that old Camp-and-Court ideal."

"All wrong?" queried the bishop.

"Take a case like that young fellow Denis. What is a child of his age doing at a University? No. If I had a son-but I am boring you."

"I have not been bored since I was twenty."

"I wish I could say the same of myself. I grow more intolerant of fools as the years roll on. If I had a son, I was saying, I would take him from school at the age of fourteen, not a moment later, and put him for two years in a commercial house. Wake him up; make an English citizen of him. Teach him how to deal with men as men, to write a straightforward business letter, manage his own money and gain some respect for those industrial movements which control the world. Next, two years in some wilder part of the world, where his own countrymen and equals by birth are settled under primitive conditions, and have formed their rough codes of society. The intercourse with such people would be a capital invested for life. The next two years should be spent in the great towns of Europe, in order to remove awkwardness of manner, prejudices of race and feeling, and to get the outward forms of a European citizen. All this would sharpen his wits, give him more interest in life, more keys to knowledge. It would widen his horizon. Then, and not a minute sooner, to the University, where he would go not as a child but a man capable of enjoying its real advantages, attend lectures with profit, acquire manners instead of mannerisms and a University tone instead of a University taint. What do you think?"

"It sounds a trifle revolutionary," commented the bishop, with a smile. "But it appeals to me. Education is a matter than lies very near my heart. In fact, I had some thoughts of retiring from the Church and devoting myself to it. I feel, I don't know why, as if I could do more in that direction."

Keith merely observed:

"That is interesting. Perhaps you have reached the end of the Church."

He liked this young Colonial bishop, and his straightforward, earnest face. Being of a complicated nature himself, he was always drawn towards men of single aims and purposes.

The other would have been pleased to know why Keith found it "interesting" and what he meant by that other phrase, but forbore to inquire. He was rather a silent man, though not deficient in mother wit. He lit a cigarette, and waited.

"Let us discourse of education!" said his host with that elaborate manner which the bishop afterwards discovered to be peculiar to him. "I think we need not differentiate between the sexes. In proportion as more careers are opened to women, their teaching will tend to converge with that of men. That specifically female education in domestic arts has been rendered superfluous by commercial products. I will tell you what I think. A sound schooling should teach manner of thought rather than matter. It should have a dual aim-to equip a man for hours of work, and for hours of leisure. They interact; if the leisure is misspent, the work will suffer. As regards the first, we cannot expect a school to purvey more than a grip of general principles. Even that is seldom given. The second should enable a man to extract as much happiness as possible out of his spare time. The secret of happiness is curiosity. Now curiosity is not only not roused; it is repressed. You will say there is not time for everything. But how much time is wasted! Mathematics…. A medieval halo clings round this subject which, as a training for the mind, has no more value than whist-playing. I wonder how many excellent public servants have been lost to England because, however accomplished, they lacked the mathematical twist required to pass the standard in this one subject? As a training in intelligence it is harmful: it teaches a person to underestimate the value of evidence based on their other modes of ratiocination. It is the poorest form of mental exercise-sheer verification; conjecture and observation are ruled out. A study of Chinese grammar would be far more valuable from the point of view of general education. All mathematics above the standard of the office boy should be a special subject, like dynamics or hydrostatics. They are useless to the ordinary man. If you mention the utility of a mathematician like Isaac Newton, don't forget that it was his pre-eminently anti-mathematical gift for drawing conclusions from analogy which made him what he was. And Euclid-that frowsy anachronism! One might as well teach Latin by the system of Donatus. Surely all knowledge is valueless save as a guide to conduct? A guide ought to be up to date and convenient to handle. Euclid is a museum specimen. Half the time wasted over these subjects should be devoted to draughtmanship and object-lessons. I don't know why we disparage object-lessons; they were recommended by people like Bacon, Amos Commenius and Pestalozzi. They are far superior to mathematics as a means of developing the reasoning powers; they can be made as complex as you please; they discipline the eye and mind, teach a child to discriminate between the accidental and the essential, and demand lucidity of thought and expression. And the hours spent over history! What on earth does it matter who Henry the Twelfth's wife was? Chemistry! All this, relatively speaking, is unprofitable stuff. How much better to teach the elements of sociology and jurisprudence. The laws that regulate human intercourse; what could be more interesting? And physiology-the disrespect for the human frame is another relic of monasticism. In fact our whole education is tainted with the monkish spirit. Divinity! Has any purpose ever been served-"

Mr. Keith sighed.

"I wish I had not eaten so many of those prawns," he added. "What are you thinking?"

"I think modern education over-emphasizes the intellect. I suppose that comes from the scientific trend of the times. You cannot obtain a useful citizen if you only develop his intellect. We take children from their parents because these cannot give them an intellectual training. So far, good. But we fail to give them that training in character which parents alone can give. Home influence, as Grace Aguilar conceived it-where has it gone? It strikes me that this is a grave danger for the future. We are rearing up a brood of crafty egoists, a generation whose earliest recollections are those of getting something for nothing from the State. I am inclined to trace our present social unrest to this over-valuation of the intellect. It hardens the heart and blights all generous impulses. What is going to replace the home, Mr. Keith? And there is another point which has often forced itself upon me. A certain proportion of wealthy children tend to fall back into lower grades of life-manual labour, and so forth. They are born below the level of their parents. No difficulty about relapsing. But a fair percentage of the lowest classes tend to rise; they stand, potentially, above their surroundings. An apparatus has been contrived for catching these children. But it is defective, because devoid of sympathy. I have known hundreds of cases in the East End of London where families have been unable to raise themselves by this means because, at the critical moment, there was not twenty shillings in the house wherewith to buy clothes in which the child could present himself to a good employer with any prospect of success. Worthy of a better fate, he is pushed back. The chance is missed; the family remains in poverty. All kinds of profitable and honourable capacities are being wasted in this fashion every day-peculiar aptitudes for mechanics, talents for art, or music, or acting-"

"Acting!" interrupted Keith. "I am glad you reminded me. We are just in time to see some theatricals at the municipality. They only come off once a year. It would never do for you to miss them. No, never."

The bishop, rather regretfully, rose from his seat. He was feeling comfortable just then, and inclined to listen to a few more of Keith's educational heresies. But that gentleman seemed to have exhausted the subject, or himself.

"It's only a few minutes' walk," he observed. "We'll take a couple of sunshades."

They stepped into the broiling heat. The morning mists had rolled away from the mountains.

Walking along, Mr. Heard began to realize what a rambling and craggy sort of place this was. And how decorative! Almost operatic. The town was full of surprises-of unexpected glimpses upon a group of slender palms, some gleaming precipice, or the distant sea. Gardens appeared to be toppling over the houses; green vines festooned the doorways and gaily coloured porches; streets climbed up and down, noisy with rattling carriages and cries of fruit-vendors who exposed their wares of brightest hues on the pavement. Country women, in picturesque cinnamon-coloured skirts, moved gravely among the citizens. The houses, when not whitewashed, showed their building stone of red volcanic tufa; windows were aflame with cacti and carnations; slumberous oranges glowed in courtyards; the roadways underfoot were of lava-pitch-black. It was a brilliant medley, overhung by a deep blue sky. The canvas was indeed overcharged, as Denis had said.

"There are no half-tones in this landscape," the bishop remarked to Mr.

Keith. "No compromise!"

"And yet perfect harmony. They are all true colours. I hate compromise. It is one of the curses of life. That is why I cannot endure England for long. The country is full of half-tones, not only in nature. Because a thing seems good, there must be some bad in it. It seems bad to us-therefore it must be good for us. Bedlamites! I like clean values. They make for clean thinking. This is the only day in the year," he went on, "when you will see the population abroad at this hour. The streets are generally quite empty. It is the only day when I would forgo my afternoon nap on Nepenthe."

"Nearly three o'clock," said the bishop, consulting his watch. "What a queer time for theatricals!"

"That Duke again. You can ask Eames about him, he must have been a man worth knowing. He always slept in the afternoons. It annoyed him to think that his people slept too. He might suddenly want them for something, he said. He commanded that they should stay awake, and decapitated several hundred who were found napping. When he saw that the habit was ingrained in their natures and that nothing would avail save a total extermination of the populace, he gave way, gracefully. Then he instituted these popular theatricals in honour of the Patron Saint, and fixed them irrevocably for the hour of three o'clock. He meant to keep his faithful subjects awake on one afternoon of the year, at all events. He took it for granted that they could never resist a performance of this kind. He was right. He knew his people! That was ages ago. We shall find the place crammed this afternoon."

There was barely standing room, in spite of the sirocco heat. Mr. Keith, by means of some mysterious formula, soon procured two seats in the front row, the occupants of which smilingly took their places among the crowd at the back.

The bishop found himself sitting between his host and a distinguished-looking elderly gentleman who turned out to be Count Caloveglia. He was dressed in black. There was something alert and military in that upright carriage, those keen eyes, bushy black brows and snowy mustache. He uttered a few pleasant remarks on making Mr. Heard's acquaintance, but soon relapsed into silence. Absorbed in the spectacle, he sat motionless, his chin resting in the hollow of his right hand.

"A fine type," Keith whispered into the bishop's ear. "You will like him. I call him the Salt of the South. If you are interested in the old Greek life of these regions-well, he gives you an idea of those people. He is the epitome of the Ionian spirit. I'll take you up to see him one of these days."

The performance consisted of a series of twelve scenes without words, representing the twelve chief episodes in the life of the Patron Saint, as portrayed in a certain marble frieze in the church. The actors were a handful of the more attractive and intelligent children of the place. They had been trained under the watchful eye of a priest who confessed to some notions of stage-craft and delighted in juvenile theatricals. It was a thrillingly realistic performance; the costumes-designed, long ago, by the Good Duke himself-varied with every tableau. Vociferous expressions of approval accompanied the performance. The Saint's encounter in the grove of Alephane with the golden-haired lady was a masterpiece of histrionic art; so was his solemn preaching among the black natives. Tears flowed freely at his violent death-a scene which was only marred by the erratic movements of his venerable beard; that mill-stone, too, of PAPIER MACHE, played lovely pranks upon a pea-green ocean. Best of all was the cannibalistic feast of the Crotalophoboi ending with a tempestuous, demoniacal war-dance. Their blackened limbs emerging from the scantiest of vesture, the actors surpassed themselves. Such an uproar of applause accompanied the orgy that it had to be repeated.

Every year it had to be repeated, this particular tableau. It was by far the most popular, to the intense regret of the PARROCO, the parish priest, a rigid disciplinarian, an alien to Nepenthe, a frost-bitten soul from the Central Provinces of the mainland. He used to complain that times were changed; that what was good in the days of the Duke might not be good for the present generation; that a scene such as this was no incentive to true religion; that the Holy Mother of God could hardly be edified by the performance, seeing that the players were almost nude, and that certain of the gestures verged on indelicacy and even immodesty. Every year he complained in like fashion: Ah, what would the Madonna say, if she saw it?

And every year the entire body of the local clergy, with Don Francesco as their eloquent spokesman, opposed his views.

The play was tradition, they avowed. Tradition must be upheld. And what more? It savoured of heresy to suggest that the Mother of God was blind to anything that happened on earth. Doubtless She saw this particular scene; doubtless She approved; doubtless She smiled, like everyone else. She loved her people in true motherly fashion. She was not born in the Central Provinces. She was fond of children, whether they wore clothes or not. The players enjoyed themselves. So did the audience. The Mother of God liked them to make a cheerful show in honour of that good old man, the Patron Saint. And Saint Dodekanus himself-what would he think, if this ancient act of homage were withheld? He would be very angry. He would send an earthquake, or a visitation of the cholera, or a shower of ashes from the volcano across the water. Piety and prudence alike counselled them to keep in his good graces. And what more? The performance had been established by the Good Duke; and that endless line of godly bishops, succeeding each other since his day, would never have given their sanction to the costumes and the acting had they not known that the Madonna approved of them. Why should She now think differently? The Mother of God was not a fickle earthly creature, to change Her mind from one day to the next.

With arguments such as these they endeavoured to controvert the PARROCO who, being a fighter to the death, a resourceful ascetic of unbending will, never admitted defeat. He bethought him of other shifts. On one celebrated occasion he actually induced the bishop-tired as the old prelate was, after his morning's ride on the white donkey-to attend the performance, hoping to obtain from him some confirmation of his own view, that the objectionable scene should be entirely remodelled or, better still, cut out altogether. The reverend dignitary was supposed to be extremely short-sighted and wandering, moreover, in his mind, from sheer decrepitude. Perhaps he was wily beyond the common measure of man. Be that as it may, he witnessed the spectacle but allowed nothing to escape his lips safe a succession of soft purring sound resembling:

Gu-gu-gu-gu-gu-gu-gu-gu-gu-,

An ambiguous utterance, which was construed by both parties as a verdict in their favour.

Mr. Heard, while conceding that the acting was good-first rate, in fact-could not make up his mind whether to be shocked or pleased. He wondered whether such a play had any features in common with religion. His host, who stood for paganism and nudity and laughter, convinced him that it had.

"You would have seen the same thing in pre-Puritan England," he concluded, at the end of a long exposition. "And now, if you like, we will have a look at that Club. It may amuse you. There is still time for the Duchess."

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