THERM are some modern novelists who prefer to concern themselves with the fortunes of ordinary or even vulgar
" Shelley and 54 Friends in Holy. By Helen Rossetti Angell. London : Methuen and Co. [1.0s. 6d. net.] t Hurdcott. By John Ayscough. London : Chatto and Windus. [6s.1
people, and contrive to invest them with a certain dismal fascination. Mr. John Ayscough, in this as in many other respects, differs -widely from modern practice. He could, we have no doubt, write delightfully about a dustbin if he chose, but the habitual and conscientious delineation of the mediocre and the mean does not appeal to him at all. It is the rare, the unusual and the distinguished, though not necessarily the high-born, that he loves to write upon, and this pardon.
able, if unfashionable, peculiarity leads him into all sorts of temerarious ventures from which a novelist less richly equipped
might find it bard to escape with credit. Thus for no
particular purpose he makes the orbit of his heroine for a brief space cross that of Charles and Mary Lamb. More than
that, he not only gives us a picture of how they looked, but invents conversation for them and for the redoubtable Hazlitt. Such a proceeding can only be justified by results, and, speaking for ourselves, we are grateful to Mr. Ayscough for his audacious irrelevance. The words put into the mouth of Elia and his sister have just the right spirit of humane whimsicality. Moreover, these indiscretions are far easier to condone when the perpetrator never makes an error in taste. You may demur to Mr. Ayscough's handling of the plot, his predilection for the fantastic, the improbable, and the
exotic, but on the score of taste he is impeccable. He has, moreover, a deep reverence for women, and once more
has given us, in Consuelo Dauntsey, a heroine of rare and exquisite temper. " No one," we read, " had ever bored Consuelo— a miraculous circumstance due less to any general forbearance on the part of her contemporaries than to her own felicity of nature. . . . Elia was not disposed to allow a bore any jurisdiction over him, but preferred to use him for amusement. But this in Elia was accomplishment, and the essayist was scarcely so unsophisticated as to be unaware of it ; in Consuelo's case it was different. She did not know that she was immune from being bored : she only knew that every- one interested her." Let us add that Consuelo—whose nomenclature is another of Mr. Ayscough's audacities—will interest, if not everyone, at least all gentle readers. Mr. Ayscough can be gay, witty, vivacious, but we are not sure that we do not like him best in his graver moments, as in the beautiful scene of Consuelo's morning walk to the meet at Idmiston
"Next morning Consuelo was up by half-past seven, and soon after eight was on her way. She need not have started for an hour or more. When she left the house all the world was g rep- white or grey-black : the trees along the valley stood out in naked blackness against the dove-grey of the downs behind, but their beauty seemed to her more wonderful than it could have been had all their exquisite tracery been hidden in summer green. Each one now had a more appealing individual character; they were not clashed together into mere bulks and masses of colour. Every twig could hang its lovely dark lace out against the white sky. The fields were white too, for there had been a light frost in the night; but presently the east cast up a faint blush, and soon the unrisen sun turned all their pearl to opal. Along the little river a trail of thin mist hung like a pale arras, with the landscape peer- ing through for pattern. It was scarcely cold, for there was but a breath out of the south ; and the touch of the morning air on the girl's face was like a pure caress. As she walked eastward the glow of the winter dawn gave to her beauty the only thing it lacked. The sun, like a red harvest moon, lay soon on the lips of the down, waiting to shake himself free of the mist. To her it seemed divinely still, as if the rested world were listening for the voice of God to bid it turn to its daily task. There was none of the tangled skein of sound that is all the silence of the south comes to. But the stillness was not death-like, only patient—patient and ineffably devout. The trees beside the river stood as ready for the signal for a great procession : 'I see men as trees walking '—for the first time Consuelo realized the serene splendour of the image. At home she had said her prayers— not carelessly, for carelessness was not her way—but with the half-sense of meaning in an habitual form of words. Now she worshipped, not out of obedience, but because she must. Words were no longer on her lips, but that which speech tries to catch in its net of expression had broken the net and made itself free. Not her knees bowed, but all herself. Had she stooped to kiss the frosty grass it would have been only touching the hem of His garment. She could not fathom the springs of her happi- ness: nor would she try. She had that grace of sweetness that never picks God's gifts to bits to see if the material is worth any- thing. She did not even need to bid herself note that she was happy. It did not come into her mind that being glad was a treason to her dead, to friends whose lives and hers were drawn now different ways. Between them all and her was no black gulf of bitter separation, only the golden bridge of absence scree., which love flies with surest foot. How could she be lonely in this lovely porch of God's great house, where there is no distance P Was she orphaned whose parents were held close in the arms of the Father she saw all about her ? She did not know that it was strange that she could see Him. unusual. The living do not weigh the wonder
of being alive, nor the pure of heart realize that it is they only who see God."
The time of the story, which opens with a double prologue, is that of the second decade of the nineteenth century. Consuelo Dauntsey is the daughter of the second son of a South-country squire who became a Consul in Sicily, and married a Sicilian wife. On her parents' death she returns to live with her bachelor uncle and spinster aunts in Chalkshire —an alias for Hampshire, to judge by internal evidence—and, in spite of her outlandish antecedents, fits in wonderfully well with her new surroundings and makes a conquest of her relations. Interested in everybody, as we have seen above, she is specially drawn towards a young peasant named Hurd- cott, a fouailing brought up by a shepherd on the downs, and the main theme of the story is the romantic attachment of Hurdcott for a lady, whom to love was indeed a liberal educa- tion, and the uplifting effect of his devotion on a nature in which, unknown to its possessor, there was a strain of nobility depressed but not overcome by circumstance. It is a strange situation, treated with uncommon delicacy and cul- minating in a tragedy which borders on the gratuitous. The contrivance of the incidents which serve to round off the catastrophe is somewhat abrupt, but there is a magical quality in Mr. Ayscough's invention which compels acquiescence. The canvas is crowded with characters, none of them commonplace, and Mr. Ayscough's gift for dialogue is on a par with his talent for description and for illuminating comment. One can hardly hope to meet such a galaxy of unusual people in a modern countryside, or believe that they ever existed. The impression produced is rather that of the fascinating unreality of a dream- world. As an antidote to the drab actualities of daily life it would be hard to prescribe anything in modern fiction more effectual than this touching romance.