BLTC Press Titles

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The Count of Monte Cristo

Alexandre Dumas

My Man Jeeves

P. G. Wodehouse

The Art of Worldly Wisdom

Baltasar Gracian

Some Experiences of an Irish R. M.

Edith Somerville and Martin Ross

Number 87

by Eden Phillpotts


General Fordyce and his younger brother, Sir Bruce, were bachelors both—indeed most of us belonged to that order. The general represented a typical reactionary mind, built on old traditions and a lifetime in the army; but his geniality, love of a jest, generosity and humanity made him far more popular than his brother—a much abler man, but lacking in charm, or social gifts. Yet Sir Bruce could claim quite as good a heart—upon that we all agreed. Both he and his brother had spent their working days in India. Sir Bruce was very learned, with a record of distinguished accomplishment behind him. For many years he had been Director of the Koyal Botanical Gardens at Calcutta and had won the Fellowship of the Eoyal Society for his original work on the Chiroptera—the order of flying mammals, or bats. He had built himself a bungalow in the Eastern style at Chislehurst, while his elder brother dwelt not far off upon the Common in a modern villa. But Sir Bruce owned a second home in Devonshire—the family place, which General Fordyce lacked means to keep up and which he had, therefore, handed over to his brother. A great contrast was presented by the pair, for while the soldier loved his own voice and lightened his comments on men and things with invariable good humor, the man of science admitted himself a pessimist and seldom shared our hopes of amelioration for the race of man. Yet under his taciturn and watchful manner he was no cynic, and for my part, I always esteemed his reasoned opinions and valued any conclusions he might impart when in an amiable mood.

Bishop Walter Blore, a Colonial prelate now retired, preserved a mean between the brothers. He was conservative and a little suspicious of the world's progress in certain directions, but charity sweetened his outlook and enthusiastic religious faith kept his hope high.

One must also mention Jack Smith, a barrister who still practiced, though he was always talking of giving up, and Merrivale Medland, a wine merchant, a kind-hearted but credulous man, whom we respected and valued for his supervision of our modest cellar.

Of younger members there were not many. My friend, Leon Jacobs, was a stockbroker, and I, Ernest Granger, secretary of the Club of Friends, who now undertake this extraordinary narrative, pursued my business of actuary in the Apollo Life Assurance Society. Jacobs and I were of an age —thirty-five—and the infants of the club.

On the night when Paul Strossmayer first came amongst us, all those I have mentioned, save Bishop Blore, were present in the smoking room, and conversation, as usual, ran upon serious subjects.

Nature happened to be our theme and somebody—I think Jack Smith, whose hobby was rosegrowing—declared that in Nature's categories mercy found no place.

"Neither passion nor compassion belongs to her," he said. "She never laughs, never relents, and is as solemn and bloodthirsty and businesslike as a hunting owl."

Then Sir Bruce spoke. He was a little fellow and had a weak voice, which belied him, for few old Indians I have met enjoyed greater vigor of mind and body.

"Sentimental man and his pathetic fallacy have thrown dust into our eyes concerning Nature," he declared; "and so it comes about that we dignify her energies into something worthy of admiration, or disapproval, as the case may be. That is quite as futile as applauding a thousand horse power steam engine for doing its work. Science has corrected this old attitude, or should do so. Science has revealed that what beauty, or horror, we may find in Nature's operations and phenomena lies in the human mind which weighs these manifestations. We apply esthetic tests to her outward appearance and control to her terrific energy. Thus we condemn her to the service of man and translate her into human values. In reality, she has no others."

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