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   Chapter 15 BROTHER COPAS ON THE HOUSE OF LORDS.

Brother Copas By Arthur Quiller-Couch Characters: 11376

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


All love being a mystery, I see no reason to speculate how or why it came to pass that Corona, who already possessed two pink and waxen girl-dolls, and treated them with the merest contempt, took this black manikin of a Golliwog straight to her heart to share its innermost confidences.

It happened so, and there's no more to be said. Next morning Corona paid an early call at the Nunnery.

"I'm afraid," she said in her best society manner, "this is a perfeckly ridiklous hour. But you are responsible for Timothy in a way, aren't you?"

"Timothy?" echoed Nurse Branscome.

"Oh, I forgot!" Corona patted the red-trousered legs of the Golliwog, which she held, not as little girls usually hold dolls, but tucked away under her armpit. "Timothy's his name, though I mean to call him Timmy for short. But the point is, he's becoming rather a question."

"In what way?"

"Well, you see, I have to take him to bed with me. He insists on it, which is all very well," continued Corona, nodding sagely, "but one can't allow it in the same clothes day and night. It's like what Uncle Copas says of Brother Plant's linen; it positively isn't sanitary."

"I see," said Branny, laughing. "You want me to make a change of garments for him?"

"I've examined him," answered Corona. "There's a stitch here and there, but on the whole he'll unbutton quite easily; only I didn't like to do it until I'd consulted you.… And I don't want you to bother about the clothes, if you'll only show me how to cut out. I can sew quite nicely. Mamma taught me. I was making a sampler all through her illness-Corona Bonaday, Aged Six Years and Three Months; then the big and little ABC, and the numbers up to ten; after that the Lord's Prayer down to Forgive us our trespasses. When we got to that she died.… I want to begin with a suit of pajamas-no, I forgot; they're pyjamas over here. Whatever happens, I do want him to be a gentleman," concluded Corona earnestly.

The end was that Nurse Branscome hunted up a piece of coloured flannel, and Master Timothy that same evening was stripped to indue a pyjama suit. Corona carried him thus attired off to her bed in triumph-but not to sleep. Brother Bonaday, lying awake, heard her voice running on and on in a rapid monotone. Ten o'clock struck, and he could endure the sound no longer. It seemed to him that she must be rambling in delirium, and slipping on his dressing-gown, he stole to her chamber door.

"Cannot you get to sleep, little maid?"

"Is that you, daddy?" answered Corona. "I am so sorry, but Timmy and I have been arguing. He's such a queer child; he has a lingering belief in the House of Lords!"

"Now I wonder how she gets at that?" mused Brother Bonaday when he reported the saying to Copas.

"Very simply we shall find; but you must give me a minute or so to think it out."

"To be sure, with her American up-bringing there might naturally grow an instinctive disrespect for the hereditary principle."

"I have not observed that disrespect in Americans," answered Brother Copas dryly. "But we'll credit it to them if you will; and there at once you have a capital reason why our little Miss Bull should worship the House of Lords as a fetish-whereas, it appears, she doesn't."

"It's the queerer because, when it comes to the King, she worships the 'accident of birth,' as you might call it. To her King Edward is nothing less than the Lord's Anointed."

"Quite so.… But please, my dear fellow, don't clap into my mouth that silliest of phrases. 'Accident of birth!' I once heard parturition pleaded as an accident-by a servant girl in trouble. Funny sort of accident, hey? Does ever anyone-did she, your own daughter, for example-come into this world fortuitously?"

Brother Copas, taking snuff, did not perceive the twitch of his friend's face. His question seemed to pluck Brother Bonaday up short, as though with the jerk of an actual rope.

"Maybe," he harked back vaguely, "it's just caprice-the inconsequence of a child's mind-the mystery of it, some would say."

"Fiddlestick-end! There's as much mystery in Corona as in the light of day about us at this moment; just so much and no more. If anything, she's deadly logical; when her mind puzzles us it's never by hocus-pocus, but simply by swiftness in operation.… I've learnt that much of the one female child it has ever been my lot to observe; and the Lord may allow me to enjoy the success towards the close of a life largely spent in misunderstanding boys. Stay a moment-" Brother Copas stood with corrugated brow. "I have it! I remember now that she asked me, two days ago, if I didn't think it disgusting that so many of our English Peers went and married American heiresses merely for their money. Probably she supposes that on these means our ancient nobility mainly finances itself. She amused me, too, by her obvious reluctance to blame the men. 'Of course,' she said, 'the real fault is the women's, or would be if they knew what's decent. But you can't expect anything of them; they've had no nurture.' That was her word. So being a just child, she has to wonder how Englishmen 'with nurture' can so demean themselves to get money. In short, my friend, your daughter-for love of us both maybe-is taking our picturesqueness too honestly. She inclines to find a merit of its own in poverty. It is high time we sent her to school."

It was high time, as Brother Bonaday knew; if only because every child in England nowadays is legally obliged to be educated, and the local attendance officer (easily excused though he might be for some delay in detecting the presence of a child of alien birth in so unlikely a spot as St. Hospital) w

ould surely be on Corona's track before long. But Brother Bonaday hated the prospect of sending her to the parish school, while he possessed no money to send her to a better. Moreover, he obeyed a lifelong instinct in shying away from the call to decide.

"But we were talking about the House of Lords," he suggested feebly. "The hereditary principle-"

Brother Copas inhaled his snuff, sideways eyeing this friend whose weakness he understood to a hair's-breadth. But he, too, had his weakness-that of yielding to be led away by dialectic on the first temptation.

"Aye, to be sure. The hereditary-principle, did you say? My dear fellow, the House of Lords never had such a principle. The hereditary right to legislate slipped in by the merest slant of a side wind, and in its origin was just a handy expedient of the sort so dear to our Constitution, logically absurd, but in practice saving no end of friction and dispute."

"You will grant at any rate that, having once adopted it, the Lords exalted it to rank as a principle."

"Yes, and for a time with amazing success. That was their capital error.… Have you never observed, my good Bonaday, how fatally miracles come home to roost? Jonah spends three days and three nights in the whale's belly-why? Simply to get his tale believed. Credo quia impossibile seldom misses to work well for a while. He doesn't foresee, poor fellow, that what makes his fortune with one generation of men will wreck his credit with another.… So with the House of Lords-though here a miracle triumphantly pointed out as happening under men's eyes was never really happening at all. That in the loins of every titled legislator should lie the germ of another is a miracle (I grant you) of the first order, and may vie with Jonah's sojourn in the whale's belly; nay, it deserved an even longer run for its money, since it persuaded people that they saw the miraculous succession. But Nature was taking care all the time that it never happened. Actually our peerages have perished, and new ones have been born at an astonishing rate; about half of them at this moment are younger than the great Reform Bill. A shrewd American remarked the other day, that while it is true enough a son may not inherit his father's ability, yet if the son of a Rothschild can keep the money his father made he must in these days of liquid securities be a pretty able fellow. Weaklings (added my American) don't last long, at any rate in our times. 'God and Nature turn out the incompetents almost as quickly as would the electorate.'… But my point is that the House of Lords, having in the past exploited this supposed miracle for all it was worth, are now (if the Liberals have any sense) to be faced with the overdraft which every miracle leaves to be paid sooner or later. The longer-headed among the Peers perceived this some years ago; they all see it now, and are tumbling over each other in their haste to dodge the 'hereditary principle' somehow. It is for the Liberals to hold them firmly to the dear old miracle and rub their noses in it. So, and so only, will this electorate of ours rid itself, under a misapprehension, of a real peril, to which, if able to see the thing in its true form and dimensions, it would in all likelihood yield itself grovelling."

"Eh? I don't follow-"

"I tell you, Bonaday, the House of Lords is in fact no hereditary curse at all. What the devil has it to do with the claims of old descent? Does it contain a man whose ancestor ever saw Agincourt? Bankers, brewers, clothiers, mine-owners, company-promoters, journalists-our Upper House to-day is a compact, fairly well-selected body of men who have pushed to success over their fellows. Given such a body of supermen, well agreed among themselves, and knowing what they want, supplied with every temptation to feed on the necessities of the weak, armed with extravagant legal powers, even fortified with a philosophy in the sham Darwin doctrine that, with nations as with men, the poverty of one is the wealth of another-there, my dear sir, you have a menace against which, could they realise it, all moderate citizens would be fighting for their lives.… But it is close upon dinner-time, and I refuse to extend these valuable but parenthetical remarks on the House of Lords one whit farther to please your irresolution.… It's high time Corona went to school."

"I have not been well lately, as you know, Brother. I meant all along, as soon as I picked up my strength again, to-"

"Tilly vally, tilly vally!" snapped Brother Copas. "Since we are making excuses shall we add that, without admitting ourselves to be snobs, we have remarked a certain refinement-a delicacy of mind-in Corona, and doubt if the bloom of it will survive the rough contact of a public elementary school?… Come, I've thought of that, as a godfather should. You're aware that, a couple of years ago, a small legacy dropped in upon me-a trifling windfall of ten guineas a year. Well, I've been wasting it on luxuries-a few books I don't read, a more expensive brand of tobacco, which really is no better than the old shag, some extra changes of body-linen. Now since the Education Act of 1902 the fees in the public secondary day schools have been cut down to a figure quite ridiculously low, and the private day schools have been forced to follow suit. I dare say that seven pounds a year will send Corona, say, to Miss Dickinson's genteel seminary-nay, I'll undertake to beat the lady down to that sum-and I shall still be left with three pounds and ten shillings to squander on shirts. Now if you start thanking me-Ah, there goes the dinner-bell! Hurry, man-you're first on the roster!"

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