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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » Babylon » CHAPTER XVIII. HIRAM IN WONDERLAND.
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CHAPTER XVIII. HIRAM IN WONDERLAND.
Just a week after Colin Churchill reached Rome, three passengers by an American steamer stood in the big gaudy refreshment-room at Lime Street Station, Liverpool, waiting for the hour for the up express to start for London.

'We'd better have a little lunch before we get off,' St in Churchill said to his two companions, 'Don't you think so, Mr. Audouin?'

Audouin nodded. 'For my part,' he said, 'I shall have a Bath bun and a glass of ale. They remind one so delightfully of England, Will you give me a glass of bitter, please.'

Hiram drew back a little in surprise. He gazed at the gorgeous young lady who pulled the handle of the beer-engine (of course he had never seen a woman serving drink before), and then he glanced inquiringly at Sam Churchill. 'Do tell me,' he whispered in an awe-struck undertone; 'is that a barmaid?' Sam hardly took in the point of the question for the moment, it seemed so natural to him to see a girl drawing beer at an English refreshment-room, though in the land of his adoption that function is always performed by a male attendant, known as a saloon-keeper; but he answered unconcernedly: 'Well, yes, she's about that, I reckon, though I dare say she wouldn't admire at you to call her so.' Hiram looked with all his eyes agog upon the gorgeous young lady. 'Well,' he said slowly, half to himself, 'that's just charming. A barmaid! Why it's exactly the same as if it were in “Tom Jones” or “Roderick Random.”'

Sam Churchill's good-humoured face expanded slowly into a broad smile. That was a picturesque point of view of barmaids which he had never before conceived as possible 'What'll you take, Hiram?' he asked. 'This is a pork-pie here; will you try it?'

'A pork-pie!' Hiram cried, enchanted.

'A pork-pie! You don't mean to say so! Will I try it? I should think I would, rather. Why, you know, Sam, one reads about pork-pies in Dickens!'

This time Audouin laughed too. 'Really, Hiram,' he said, 'if you're going on at this rate you'll find all Europe one vast storehouse of bookish allusiveness. A man who can extract a literary interest out of a pork-pie would be capable of writing poetry, as Stella said, about a broomstick. I assure you you'll find the crust sodden and the internal compound frightfully indigestible.'

'But, I say,' Hiram went on, scanning the greasy paper on the outside with the deepest attention. 'Look here, ain't this lovely, either? It says, “Patronised by his Grace the Duke of Rutland and the Gentlemen of the Melton Mowbray Hunt.” I shall have some of that, anyway, though it seems rather like desecration to go and actually eat them. One can fancy the red coats and all the rest of it, can't you: and the hare running away round the corner just the same as in “Sandford and Merton”?'

''Twouldn't be a hare,' Sam replied, with just a faint British curl of the lip at the Yankee blunder (the Englishman was beginning to come uppermost in him regain now his foot was once more, metaphorically, upon his native heath). 'It'd be a fox, you know, Hiram.'

'Better and better,' Hiram cried enthusiastically, forgetting for once in his life his habitual self-restraint. 'A fox! How glorious!

Just fancy eating a Dickens's pork-pie patronised by a man they call a duke, and the red-coated squire people who hunt foxes across country with a horn and a halloo. It's every bit as good as going back to the old coaching days or the reign of Queen Elizabeth.'

'The pork-pies are quite fresh, sir,' put in the gorgeous young lady in an offended manner, evidently taking the last remark as an unjust aspersion upon the character of her saleable goods and chattels. 'We get them direct twice a week from the makers in Leicestershire.'

'There again,' Hiram exclaimed, with a glow of delight; 'why, Mr. Audouin, it's just like fairy-land. Do you hear what the lady says? she says they come from Leicestershire. Just imagine; from Leicestershire! Queen Elizabeth and the ring, and all the rest of it. Goodness gracious, I do believe this country'll be enough to turn one's head, almost, if it goes on like this much longer.'

The gorgeous young lady evidently quite agreed with him upon that important point, for she retired to a tittering conversation with three other equally gorgeous persons at the far end of the marble-covered counter. Hiram, however, was too charmed with the intense Britainicity (as Audouin called it) of everything around him to take much notice of the gorgeous young lady's personal proceedings. It was all so new and delightful, so redolent of things he had read about familiarly from his childhood upward, but never before thoroughly realised as tangible and visible actualities. Pork-pies, then, positively existed in the flesh and crust; London stout was no mere airy figment of the novelist's imagination; red-cheeked women talked before his very eyes to blue-coated policemen; and porters in medi?val uniforms bundled soldiers in still more medi?val scarlet garb into cars which they positively described as carriages, and which were seen to be divided inside into small compartments by a transverse wooden partition. Those were the third-class passengers he had read about in fiction, and yet they did not seem inclined to rise against their oppressors, but smoked and chaffed as merrily as the favoured occupants of the cushioned carriages—to say the plain truth, indeed, a great deal more merrily. All was wonderful, admirable, phantasmagoric beyond his wildest and dearest expectations. He had looked forward to a marvellous, poetical England of cathedrals and castles, but he had hardly expected that all-pervading medi?val tone which came out even in the dedication of the practical pork-pie of commerce to the cult of his Grace the Duke of Rutland and the Gentlemen of the Melton Mowbray Hunt.

To every intelligent young American, indeed, the first glimpse of England is something more than a mere introduction to a new country; it is as though the sun had gone back upon the dial of history, and had carried one bodily from the democratic modern order of tilings into the midst of an older semifeudal and vastly more heterogeneous state of society. But to Hiram Winthrop in particular, that journey by the London and North-Western Line from Liverpool to Euston was, as it were, a new spiritual birth, a first transference into the one world for which alone he was congenitally fitted. Audouin himself, with his cold Boston criticism and his cultivated indifference, was quite surprised at the young man's undisguised enthusiasm. All along the line, the panorama of England seemed but one long unfolding of half-familiar wonders—things pictured, and read about, and dreamt of, for many years, yet never before beheld or realised. First it was the carefully tilled fields, the trim hedges, the parks and gardens, the snug English farmhouses, the endless succession of cultivated land, and beautiful pleasure grounds, and well-timbered copses. Hiram cast his eye back upon Syracuse and the deacon's farm with a feeling of awe and gratitude. Great heavens, what a contrast from the bare wheat fields and treeless roads and long unlovely snake-fences of Geauga County! Here, in fact, was tillage that even the deacon would have admired as good farming, and yet it had not succeeded in defacing the natural beauty of the undulating Cheshire country, but had rather actually improved and heightened it. Yes, this was Cheshire, and those were Cheshire cows, ultimately responsible for the historical Cheshire cheeses; while yonder was a Cheshire cat, sleeping lazily on an ivy-grown wall, though Hiram was fain to admit, without the grin for which alone the Cheshire cat is proverbially famous. Ivy—lie had never seen ivy before—ay, ivy actually clinging to an old church tower, a tower that even Hiram's unaccustomed eyes could readily date back to the Plantagenet period. That church positively had a rector; and the broken stone by the yew-tree in the churchyard (Sam Churchill being witness) was the last relic of the carved cross of Catholic antiquity. And those little white flowers scattered over the pastures, Audouin told him, were really daisies. Take it how he would, Hiram could hardly believe his own senses, that here he was, being whirled by an express train in a small oblong box of a thing they called a first-class compartment, right across the very face of that living fossil of a country, beautiful, old-fashioned, antique England.

To most of us, the journey from Liverpool to Euston lies only through a high flat country, past a number of dull, ordinary, uninteresting railway stations. It is, in fact, about as unpicturesque a bit of travelling as a man can do within the four girdling sea-walls of this beautiful isle of Britain. But to Hiram Winthrop it was the most absolutely fairylike and romantic journey he had ever undertaken in the whole course of his mundane existence. First they passed through Lancashire, and then through Cheshire, and then on over the impalpable boundary line into Staffordshire. Why, those tall towers over yonder were Lichfield Cathedral; and that little town on the left was Sam Johnson's countrified Lichfield! Here comes George Eliot's Nuneaton, and after it Tom Brown's and Arnold's Bugby. At Bletchley, you read on the notice-board: 'Change here for Oxford'; great heavens, just as if Oxford, the Oxford, were nothing more than Orange or Chattawauga! And here is Tring, where Robert Stephenson made his great cutting; and there is Harrow-on-the-Hill, where Paul Howard, the marauding buccaneer of the Caribbean Sea, received the first rudiments of faith and religion. Not a village along the line but had its resonant echo in the young man's memory; not a manor house, steeple, or farmyard but had its glamour of romance for the young man's fancy. The very men and women seemed to take the familiar shapes of well-known characters. Colonel Newcome, tall and bronzed by Indian suns, paced the platform alone at Crewe; Dick Swiveller, penniless and jaunty as ever, lounged about the refreshment-room at Blisworth Junction; even Trulliber himself, a little modernised in outer garb, but essentially the same in face and feature, dived red-cheeked after his luggage into the crowded van at Willesden. And so, by rapid stages, through a world of unspeakable delight, the engine rolled them swiftly into the midst of seething, grimy, opulent, squalid, hungry, all-embracing London.

'I do hope,' Hiram said to Sam, as they drove together through the strange labyrinth of narrow, dirty streets, to the big modern hotel of Audouin's choosing—'I do hope we shall be in time to catch your brother before he goes to Rome. Europe does look just too delicious; but you'll admit it's pretty bustling and hurrying in some places. I don't know that I'd care so much to go alone as if I had him with me.'

'Oh, he's sure to be here,' Sam answered confidently. 'Since I wired him from New York, I've made my mind easy about that. He'd wait to see me before starting; that's certain.'

'And if he isn't, Hiram,' Audouin put in, 'I'll go on with you. It's rather an undertaking to go touring alone in Europe, when you're fresh to it. We're wild men of the woods, you and I, more at home among the woodchucks and sheldrakes, I conceive, than among the hotels, and streets, and railway stations. You were born in the wilderness: I have fled to it: we're both of us out of our element in the stir and bustle here; so to fortify one another, we'll face it together.'

The fact is, their joint journey had been altogether a very hasty and unpremeditated affair. Audouin had long been urging Hiram to go to Europe, and study art in real earnest; and Hiram had been putting it off and putting it off on various pretences, but really because he didn't want to go until he was able to pay his way honestly out of his own resources. At last, however, Sam Churchill had received a letter from his brother Colin, full of Colin's completed project of going to Rome. This was a chance for Hiram, both Sam and Audouin argued, which he oughtn't lightly to throw away. Colin had been working with an Italian marble-cutter in London; he would be going to Rome with the intention of studying the highest art at the lowest possible prices; and he would probably be glad enough to meet with another young man to share expenses and to keep him company in the unknown city. So between the two, almost before he knew what he was doing, Hiram had been bustled off down to New York, put on board a White Star liner, and conveyed triumphantly over to Europe, between a double guard of Sam and Audouin. Sam had long been contemplating a visit to the old country, to see his father and mother before they died; and now the occasion thus afforded by Colin's resolution seemed propitious for taking his voyage in good company; while as to Audouin, he was so fully in earnest about redeeming Hiram from the advertising style of art, and sending him to Rome to study painting in real earnest, that he undertook to convey him in person, lest any infirmity of purpose should chance to overcome him by the way. He had at last persuaded Hiram to accept a small loan for the necessary expenses of his first year at Rome: and he had also managed to make his young friend believe that at the end of that time his art would begin to bring him in enough to live upon. For which pious fraud, Audouin earnestly trusted the powers that be would deal leniently with him, judging him only by the measure of his good intentions. For if at the end of the first year, Hiram's exchequer still showed a chronic deficit, it would be easy enough, he thought, to float another loan upon himself by way of lightening the temporary tightness of the money market.

It was late that night when they reached the hotel, so they contented themselves with dinner in the coffee-room (mark that word—a coffee-room—exactly where they used to dine in David Copperfield!) without making any attempt to see Colin the same evening. But early the next day the three sallied forth together into the streets of London, and made their way, by lanes and cross-cuts, whose very names seemed historical to Hiram, up to Cicolari's studio in the Marylebone Road. The little Italian bowed them in with great unction—three American customers by the look of them, good perhaps for a replica of the celebrated Cicolari Ariadne—and inquired politely what might be their business.

'My name is Churchill,' Sam said abruptly. 'My brother has been working with you here. Is he still in London?'

Cicolari went quickly through a short pantomime expressive of deep regret that Sam should have come to make inquiries a week too late, mingled with effusive pleasure at securing the acquaintance of Colin's most excellent and highly respected brother. 'If you had come a week ago,' he added, supplementarily, in spoken language, 'you would have been in time to see my very dear friend, your brozzer. But you are not in time; your brozzer is gone away. He is gone to Rome, to Rome' (with a spacious wave of the hand) 'to become ze greatest of living sculptors. He is a genius, and all geniuses must go to Rome. Zat is ze proper home for zem.' And Cicolari, drawing his finger rapidly round in an ever-diminishing circle, planted it at last on a spot in the very centre, supposed to symbolise the metropolis of art.

'Gone to Rome!' Sam cried disappointed. 'But why did he go so soon? Didn't he get my telegram?'

'He has had no telegram from you or he would tell me of it,' answered the Italian, with a pantomimic expression of the closest intimacy between himself and Colin. 'He went away a week ago.'

'Do you know where he's gone to in Rome?' asked Audouin.

'I do not know where he is gone to, but he has gone as valet to Sir Somebody—Sir Henry Wilberforce I sink zey call him'—Cicolari answered with open hands spread before him.

Sam Churchill's democratic instincts rose at once in horror and astonishment. 'As what!' he cried. 'As valet?'

Cicolari only replied by going through the operation of brushing an imaginary coat with an aerial clothes-brush and folding it neatly on a non-existent chair by the side of the inconsolable marble widow.

After twelve years of America, Sam Churchill was certainly a little, shocked and annoyed at the idea of his own brother Colin—the future great sculptor and artist—having gone to Rome as another man's body-servant. It hurt not only his acquired republican feelings, but what lies far deeper than those, his amour propre. And he was vexed, too, that Cicolari should have blurted out the plain truth so carelessly before Hiram and Audouin. His cheeks burned hot with his discomfiture; but he only turned and said to them as coolly as he was able: 'Our bird has flown, it seems. We must fly after him.'

'How soon?' asked Audouin quickly.

'This very day,' Sam answered with decision.

'And you, Hiram?' Audouin said.

'I am as clay in the hands of the potter,' Hiram replied, smiling. 'For my own part, I should have liked to stop a week or two in London, and see some of the places one has heard and read so much about. But you've brought me over by main force between you, Mr. Audouin, and I suppose I must let you both do as you will with me. If Sam wants to follow his brother immediately, I'm ready to go with you and leave London for some future visit.'

Sam got what further particulars he could from Cicolari, hailed a passing cab impetuously, and drove straight back to the hotel. In an hour they had packed their valises again after their one night in England, and were off to Charing Cross, to catch the tidal train for Paris, on their way to Italy. Hiram watched the cliffs of Folkestone fading behind him with a somewhat heavy heart; for artist as he was, he somehow felt in the corners of his being as though England were the real unknown lady of his love, and Rome, which he had never seen, likely to prove but a cold and irresponsive sort of mistress. Still, in Audouin's care, he was just what he himself had said, clay in the hands of the potter; for Hiram Winthrop was one of those natures that no man can drive, but that any man can lead with the slightest display of genuine sympathy.

Yet he had one other cause of regret at leaving England: for Chester is in England, and Gwen was presumably at Chester. Gwen—Chester, Gwen—Chester, Gwen—Chester: absurd, romantic, utterly ridiculous; yet all the way from Folkestone to Boulogne, as the vessel lurched from side to side, it made a sort of long-drawn see-saw melody in Hiram Winthrop's brain to the reiterated names of Gwen and Chester.


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