Buller Intervening by Logan Pearsall Smith

As Vaughan was walking towards the underground station one of those bleak mornings last winter, he saw, coming the same way, a man who had been at College in his time—one Buller by name; and Buller, when he caught sight of Vaughan, began to smile, but when they met, he exclaimed, in a mock mournful voice, "I say, have you heard about poor Crabbe?"

"You mean his political speech, when his spectacles were smashed, and he had to take to the woods?" asked Vaughan, beating his hands and stamping, for the cold was bitter.

"Oh no, that's ancient. I mean"—and Buller's voice broke with laughter—"I mean his engagement!"

"Crabbe! oh, nonsense!"

"Gospel fact, I'll take my oath on it. Fancy Crabbe!" and again his laughter froze into white puffs of breath about his head. They went into the station together, and bought their tickets. Crabbe engaged! Vaughan tried to picture him as an accepted lover. Poor Crabbe! They had all hoped that his Fellowship and his work on the metres of Catullus would keep him out of mischief. But they might have known—those prize fellows, with so much time on their hands; and Crabbe above all, with his fixed idea that he was cut out for a man of action!

"But tell me about Crabbe," Vaughan said, as they waited on the platform; "have you seen him?"

"Oh yes. The other day I ran up to have a look at the 'Torpid.' It's all right now."

"The Torpid?"

"No; I mean about Crabbe."

"You think it's a good match, then?"

"Good match! No, I mean that I went and talked to him myself."

"And he was engaged?"

"He was," said Buller, laughing; "poor old beast!" The train drew in, and when they had taken their seats, Buller leaned over, and, with a low voice, went on telling his story in Vaughan's ear. "You see, I went up to Oxford, and down at the barge Blunt tells me about old Crabbe; and when I go into College the first person I meet is the Dean, looking as chirpy as ever. How those old parsons do keep it up!

"'Well, sir,' says I, 'and what do you think of Crabbe's engagement?'

"'Perfect rot,' says the Dean. 'The girl had no money; how were they going to live? Crabbe would have to chuck his Catullus—everything.'

"'How did it happen?' I asked. 'Crabbe never used to be sweet on the ladies.' 'No; but in reading Catullus, Crabbe had got some ideas,' the Dean said, with a kind of wink."

Here Vaughan could not help interrupting the story. "Come, Buller," he whispered, "it must have been Blunt who said that. The old Dean couldn't talk in that way."

But Buller felt sure it was the Dean. "You see, you don't know the old boy; he's quite another person with me. Anyhow, that's the way Crabbe got into it. And he went on, the Dean said, to read all sorts of other poetry, especially that man—what you may call him? They had a society—"

"Browning?"

"Yes, that's the man. Well, Crabbe thought it all very fine and exciting, the Dean said; he used to read them Browning in the Common Room, and there was one thing he seemed specially taken with—Browning's theory of love."

"What was that?" Vaughan asked, for it was a joy to hear Buller talking of literature.

"Well," Buller whispered, "you see this man Browning hates all your shilly-shallying about; he thinks that when you fall in love, you ought to go your whole pile, even if you come a cropper after. It's all rot, of course, the Dean said; but poor Crabbe thought it was real, and went and proposed to a young woman he had met once or twice. So there he was, engaged! And he seemed to think himself the hell of a duke, the Dean said; but everyone else in Oxford thought he was making a bl—"

"Oh, Buller," Vaughan interposed, "really, you mustn't put such words into the Dean's mouth!"

"Well, I don't quite remember the old boy's lingo, but, at any rate, the Dean thought Crabbe was making a fool of himself. 'I think I can settle it,' says I to the Dean. 'I wish you would,' said the Dean; so off I go to Crabbe's rooms. He came in just as I got there; I wish you could have seen him—a frock-coat, top-hat, flower in his button-hole, his hair plastered down. And only last year, it was, that he got up as a Socialist, with a red silk handkerchief in his hat! But now he shook hands with me up in the air; was most affable and condescending; assured me he was glad to see his old pals—especially friends from London. Oxford people were very well in their way, but narrow, and rather donnish. Didn't I notice it in coming from London?

"Well, this was almost too much from Crabbe, but I thought it would be more sport to draw him out a bit. So we got to talking; I didn't let on I knew he was engaged, but after a bit I began to talk about marriage and love and all that in a general sort of way. Old Crabbe swallows it all, talks a lot of literary stuff. 'Fall in love, Buller,' says he, 'fall in love, and live! Let me read you what thing-a-majig says,' and he gets down a book—who did you say he was? Browning, yes, that's the man—he gets down a book of Browning's and begins to read—you ought to have seen him, his face got pink; and at the end he says, with a proud smile, as if the poem was all about him, 'Isn't that ripping, Buller, isn't that brave, isn't that the way to take life!'

"'Do you mind if I smoke?' said I.

"'Smoke? Oh, do certainly,' and Crabbe sits down looking rather foolish. But after a moment, he says in an easy sort of way, 'Ah, I meant to ask you about all the chaps in London—getting on all right? any of them married?'

"'Married!' says I, 'O Lord, no; they don't want to dish themselves.'

"'Dish themselves,' says Crabbe, 'why, what do you mean?'

"'I mean what I say; if you get married without any money, you're dished, that's all—I mean practical people, who want to get on.'

"Then Crabbe began to talk big; one shouldn't care only for success—it might be practical, perhaps, but he did not mean to sacrifice the greatest thing in life for money.

"'The greatest thing in life—what's that?'"

Buller laughed so loudly at this part of his story, that the other people in the carriage began to stare at him and Vaughan. So he went on in a lower whisper. "'What's that?' says I.

"'I mean,' says Crabbe, 'why, what I have been talking about.'

"'Well, what is it?'

"'What I was saying a little while ago.'

"'But you talked too fast—I couldn't catch it; give us the tip, out with it.'

"'I mean love, passion,' says he.

"'What? say it again.'

"'Well, I mean—and it's always said that love—the poets—'

"'The who?'

"'The poets.'" Again Buller laughed out loud.

"'Oh, poets!' says I, 'I thought you said porters. Poets! so you've been reading poets, have you? but you oughtn't to believe all that—why, they don't mean it themselves; they write it because they're expected to, but it's all faked up—I know how it's done.'

"Old Crabbe begins to talk in his big way. I let him go on for a while, but then I said, 'See here, Crabbe, it's all very well to read that literary stuff, and I suppose it's what you're paid for doing. But don't go and think it's all true, because it isn't, and the sooner you know it the better.' 'There was a man I knew once,' says I, 'who got fearfully let in by just this sort of thing; Oxford don too, Fellow of Queen's named Peake; took to reading poetry; he went to Brighton in the Long, with his head full of it all. Wild sea waves, the moon and all the rest of it; and back comes Peake married; had to turn out of his College rooms, went to live at the other end of nowhere, stuffy little house, full of babies, had to work like a nigger, beastly work too; coached me for Smalls, that's how I know him; no time for moon and sea waves now; and it all came from reading poetry.'

"Old Crabbe begins to sit up at this. 'But I don't see,' he says, 'I don't see why—didn't he have his Fellowship money?'

"'But you don't suppose that's going to support a wife and a lot of children.'

"'Oh, if he had children,' says Crabbe, and the old boy begins to blush and says, 'I don't see the need.'

"'Much you know about it, Crabbe,' says I, and I couldn't help laughing, he looked such an idiot.

"'Well, anyhow,' he says, 'your friend may have been unfortunate, but I respect him all the same; he was bold, he lived.'

"'What does all that mean?—he didn't die, of course!'

"'I mean he loved—he had that.'

"'Oh yes, he had, but I rather think he wished he hadn't. He said it didn't come to much—and even when he was engaged she used to bore him sometimes.'

"'Really!' says old Crabbe, 'that's odd now,' and then he goes on, as if he was talking to himself, 'I wonder if everyone feels like that?'

"'Of course they do! But after you're married, just think of it—never quiet, never alone; Peake said it nearly drove him wild. And to think he was tied up like that for the rest of his life!'

"'Yes, it is a long time.' Crabbe began to look rather green. 'Your friend—his name was Peake, I think you said—I suppose he couldn't have broken off the engagement?' and he smiled in a sort of sea-sick way.

"'Of course he could,' says I, as I got up to go. 'Perfect ass not to—but good-bye, Crabbe, you've got jolly rooms here.'

"'Yes, they are nice,' says Crabbe in a kind of sinking voice.

"So, a day or two after, I meet the Dean; the old boy seems very much pleased. 'Well Buller, I think you've done the biz,' says he; 'I don't believe old Crabbe will do it after all.'"

When he had finished his story, Buller leaned comfortably back. "I felt sure he would get out of it somehow," he said aloud, "I think that story finished him." "You know what I mean," he added, nodding significantly, "that story of Peake."

"I don't believe Peake ever existed!" Vaughan answered, as low as he could.

Buller leaned forward again, he was almost bursting with laughter. "Of course he didn't!" he hissed in Vaughan's ear. "But wasn't Crabbe in a blue funk though!"

"Oh, I don't believe Crabbe minded you a bit. I'm sure he won't break it off," Vaughan whispered indignantly. "And what right had you to talk that way? I never heard of such impertinent meddling!"

"Bet you three to one he does," Buller whispered back. "Come, man, make it a bet!" The train drew into the Temple station and Vaughan got up.

"I won't bet on anything of the kind," he said, as he stood at the door. "And what do you know about love anyhow, Buller? Then think of the poor girl, she probably believes that Crabbe is a hero, a god—"

"Well, she won't for long," Buller chuckled.