How the Great Wind Came to Beacon House | G. K. Chesterton | Chapter One of "Manalive" | Ignatius Insight
How the Great Wind Came to Beacon House | G. K. Chesterton | Chapter One of Manalive | Ignatius Insight
A wind sprang high in the west,
like a wave of unreasonable happiness, and tore eastward across England,
trailing with it the frosty scent of forests and the cold intoxication
of the sea. In a million holes and corners it refreshed a man like a flagon,
and astonished him like a blow. In the inmost chambers of intricate
and embowered houses it woke like a domestic explosion, littering the floor
with some professor's papers till they seemed as precious as fugitive,
or blowing out the candle by which a boy read Treasure Island and
wrapping him in roaring dark. But everywhere it bore drama into undramatic
lives, and carried the trump of crisis across the world. Many a harassed
mother in a mean backyard had looked at five dwarfish shirts on the clothes-line
as at some small, sick tragedy; it was as if she had hanged her five children.
The wind came, and they were full and kicking as if five fat imps had sprung
into them; and far down in her oppressed subconscious she half-remembered
those coarse comedies of her fathers when the elves still dwelt in the homes of men. Many an unnoticed girl in a dank walled garden had tossed
herself into the hammock with the same intolerant gesture with which she
might have tossed herself into the Thames; and that wind rent the waving
wall of woods and lifted the hammock like a balloon, and showed her shapes
of quaint clouds far beyond, and pictures of bright villages far below,
as if she rode heaven in a fairy boat. Many a dusty clerk or cleric,
plodding a telescopic road of poplars, thought for the hundredth time that
they were like the plumes of a hearse; when this invisible energy caught
and swung and clashed them round his head like a wreath or salutation of
seraphic wings. There was in it something more inspired and authoritative
even than the old wind of the proverb; for this was the good wind that
blows nobody harm.
The flying blast struck
London just where it scales the northern heights, terrace above terrace,
as precipitous as Edinburgh. It was round about this place that some
poet, probably drunk, looked up astonished at all those streets gone skywards,
and (thinking vaguely of glaciers and roped mountaineers) gave it the name
of Swiss Cottage, which it has never been able to shake off. At some
stage of those heights a terrace of tall gray houses, mostly empty and
almost as desolate as the Grampians, curved round at the western end, so
that the last building, a boarding establishment called "Beacon House,"
offered abruptly to the sunset its high, narrow and towering termination,
like the prow of some deserted ship.
The ship, however, was
not wholly deserted. The proprietor of the boarding-house, a Mrs.
Duke, was one of those helpless persons against whom fate wars in vain;
she smiled vaguely both before and after all her calamities; she was too
soft to be hurt. But by the aid (or rather under the orders) of a strenuous
niece she always kept the remains of a clientele, mostly of young but listless
folks. And there were actually five inmates standing disconsolately
about the garden when the great gale broke at the base of the terminal
tower behind them, as the sea bursts against the base of an outstanding
All day that hill of
houses over London had been domed and sealed up with cold cloud.
Yet three men and two girls had at last found even the gray and chilly
garden more tolerable than the black and cheerless interior. When the wind
came it split the sky and shouldered the cloudland left and right, unbarring
great clear furnaces of evening gold. The burst of light released
and the burst of air blowing seemed to come almost simultaneously; and
the wind especially caught everything in a throttling violence. The bright
short grass lay all one way like brushed hair. Every shrub in the garden
tugged at its roots like a dog at the collar, and strained every leaping
leaf after the hunting and exterminating element. Now and again a twig
would snap and fly like a bolt from an arbalist. The three man stood stiffly
and aslant against the wind, as if leaning against a wall. The two
ladies disappeared into the house; rather, to speak truly, they were blown
into the house. Their two frocks, blue and white, looked like two
big broken flowers, driving and drifting upon the gale. Nor is such a poetic
fancy inappropriate, for there was something oddly romantic about this
inrush of air and light after a long, leaden and unlifting day. Grass
and garden trees seemed glittering with something at once good and unnatural,
like a fire from fairyland. It seemed like a strange sunrise at the wrong
end of the day.
The girl in white dived
in quickly enough, for she wore a white hat of the proportions of a parachute,
which might have wafted her away into the coloured clouds of evening. She
was their one splash of splendour, and irradiated wealth in that impecunious
place (staying there temporarily with a friend), an heiress in a small
way, by name Rosamund Hunt, brown-eyed, round-faced, but resolute and rather
boisterous. On top of her wealth she was good-humoured and rather good-looking;
but she had not married, perhaps because there was always a crowd of men
around her. She was not fast (though some might have called her vulgar),
but she gave irresolute youths an impression of being at once popular and
inaccessible. A man felt as if he had fallen in love with Cleopatra, or
as if he were asking for a great actress at the stage door. Indeed, some
theatrical spangles seemed to cling about Miss Hunt; she played the guitar
and the mandoline; she always wanted charades; and with that great rending
of the sky by sun and storm, she felt a girlish melodrama swell again within
her. To the crashing orchestration of the air the clouds rose like the
curtain of some long-expected pantomime.
Nor, oddly, was the girl
in blue entirely unimpressed by this apocalypse in a private garden; though
she was one of most prosaic and practical creatures alive. She was,
indeed, no other than the strenuous niece whose strength alone upheld that
mansion of decay. But as the gale swung and swelled the blue and white
skirts till they took on the monstrous contours of Victorian crinolines,
a sunken memory stirred in her that was almost romance -- a memory of a
dusty volume in "Punch" in an aunt's house in infancy;  pictures
of crinoline hoops and croquet hoops and some pretty story, of which perhaps
they were a part. This half-perceptible fragrance in her thoughts faded
almost instantly, and Diana Duke entered the house even more promptly than
her companion. Tall, slim, aquiline, and dark, she seemed made for such
swiftness. In body she was of the breed of those birds and beasts that
are at once long and alert, like greyhounds or herons or even like an innocent
snake. The whole house revolved on her as on a rod of steel. It would
be wrong to say that she commanded; for her own efficiency was so impatient
that she obeyed herself before any one else obeyed her. Before electricians
could mend a bell or locksmiths open a door, before dentists could pluck
a tooth or butlers draw a tight cork, it was done already with the silent
violence of her slim hands. She was light; but there was nothing leaping
about her lightness. She spurned the ground, and she meant to spurn it.
People talk of the pathos and failure of plain women; but it is a more
terrible thing that a beautiful woman may succeed in everything but womanhood.
"It's enough to blow
your head off," said the young woman in white, going to the looking-glass.
The young woman in blue
made no reply, but put away her gardening gloves, and then went to the
sideboard and began to spread out an afternoon cloth for tea.
"Enough to blow your
head off, I say," said Miss Rosamund Hunt, with the unruffled cheeriness
of one whose songs and speeches had always been safe for an encore.
"Only your hat, I think,"
said Diana Duke, "but I dare say that it sometimes more important."
Rosamund's face showed
for an instant the offence of a spoilt child, and then the humour of a
very healthy person. She broke into a laugh and said, "Well, it would have
to be a big wind to blow your head off."
There was another silence;
and the sunset breaking more and more from the sundering clouds, filled
the room with soft fire and painted the dull walls with ruby and gold.
"Somebody once told me,"
said Rosamund Hunt, "that it's easier to keep one's head when one has lost
"Oh, don't talk such
rubbish," said Diana with savage sharpness.
Outside, the garden was
clad in a golden splendour; but the wind was still stiffly blowing, and
the three men who stood their ground might also have considered the problem
of hats and heads. And, indeed, their position, touching hats, was
somewhat typical of them. The tallest of the three abode the blast
in a high silk hat, which the wind seemed to charge as vainly as that other
sullen tower, the house behind him. The second man tried to hold on a stiff
straw hat at all angles, and ultimately held it in his hand. The
third had no hat, and, by his attitude, seemed never to have had one in
his life. Perhaps this wind was a kind of fairy wand to test men and women,
for there was much of the three men in this difference.
The man in the solid
silk hat was the embodiment of silkiness and solidity. He was a big, bland,
bored and (as some said) boring man, with flat fair hair and handsome heavy
features; a prosperous young doctor by the name of Warner. But if
his blondness and blandness seemed at first a little fatuous, it is certain
that he was no fool. If Rosamund Hunt was the only person there with much
money, he was the only person who had as yet found any kind of fame. His
treatise on "The Probable Existence of Pain in the Lowest Organisms" had
been universally hailed by the scientific world as at once solid and daring.
In short, he undoubtedly had brains; and perhaps it was not his fault if
they were the kind of brains that most men desire to analyze with a poker.
The young man who put
his hat off and on was a scientific amateur in a small way, and worshipped
the great Warner with a solemn freshness. It was, in fact, at his invitation
that the distinguished doctor was present; for Warner lived in no such
ramshackle lodging-house, but in a professional palace in Harley Street.
This young man was really the youngest and best-looking of the three. But
he was one of those persons, both male and female, who seem doomed to be
good-looking and insignificant. Brown-haired, high-coloured, and shy, he
seemed to lose the delicacy of his features in a sort of blur of brown
and red as he stood blushing and blinking against the wind. He was one
of those obvious unnoticeable people: every one knew that he was Arthur
Inglewood, unmarried, moral, decidedly intelligent, living on a little
money of his own, and hiding himself in the two hobbies of photography
and cycling. Everybody knew him and forgot him; even as he stood there
in the glare of golden sunset there was something about him indistinct,
like one of his own red-brown amateur photographs.
The third man had no
hat; he was lean, in light, vaguely sporting clothes, and the large pipe
in his mouth made him look all the leaner. He had a long ironical
face, blue-black hair, the blue eyes of an Irishman, and the blue chin
of an actor. An Irishman he was, an actor he was not, except in the old
days of Miss Hunt's charades, being, as a matter of fact, an obscure and
flippant journalist named Michael Moon. He had once been hazily supposed
to be reading for the Bar; but (as Warner would say with his rather elephantine
wit) it was mostly at another kind of bar that his friends found him. Moon,
however, did not drink, nor even frequently get drunk; he simply was a
gentleman who liked low company. This was partly because company is quieter
than society: and if he enjoyed talking to a barmaid (as apparently he
did), it was chiefly because the barmaid did the talking. Moreover he would
often bring other talent to assist her. He shared that strange trick of
all men of his type, intellectual and without ambition--the trick of going
about with his mental inferiors. There was a small resilient Jew named
Moses Gould in the same boarding-house, a man whose negro vitality and
vulgarity amused Michael so much that he went round with him from bar to
bar, like the owner of a performing monkey.
The colossal clearance
which the wind had made of that cloudy sky grew clearer and clearer; chamber
within chamber seemed to open in heaven. One felt one might at last find
something lighter than light. In the fullness of this silent effulgence
all things collected their colours again: the gray trunks turned
silver, and the drab gravel gold. One bird fluttered like a loosened leaf
from one tree to another, and his brown feathers were brushed with fire.
"Inglewood," said Michael
Moon, with his blue eye on the bird, "have you any friends?"
Dr. Warner mistook the
person addressed, and turning a broad beaming face, said, --
"Oh yes, I go out a great
Michael Moon gave a tragic
grin, and waited for his real informant, who spoke a moment after in a
voice curiously cool, fresh and young, as coming out of that brown and
even dusty interior.
"Really," answered Inglewood,
"I'm afraid I've lost touch with my old friends. The greatest friend
I ever had was at school, a fellow named Smith. It's odd you should
mention it, because I was thinking of him to-day, though I haven't seen
him for seven or eight years. He was on the science side with me
at school -- a clever fellow though queer; and he went up to Oxford when
I went to Germany. The fact is, it's rather a sad story. I often
asked him to come and see me, and when I heard nothing I made inquiries,
you know. I was shocked to learn that poor Smith had gone off his
head. The accounts were a bit cloudy, of course, some saying that
he had recovered again; but they always say that. About a year ago I got
a telegram from him myself. The telegram, I'm sorry to say, put the
matter beyond a doubt."
"Quite so," assented
Dr. Warner stolidly; "insanity is generally incurable."
"So is sanity," said
the Irishman, and studied him with a dreary eye.
"Symptoms?" asked the
doctor. "What was this telegram?"
"It's a shame to joke
about such things," said Inglewood, in his honest, embarrassed way; "the
telegram was Smith's illness, not Smith. The actual words were, `Man
found alive with two legs.'"
"Alive with two legs,"
repeated Michael, frowning. "Perhaps a version of alive and kicking?
I don't know much about people out of their senses; but I suppose they
ought to be kicking."
"And people in their
senses?" asked Warner, smiling.
"Oh, they ought to be
kicked," said Michael with sudden heartiness.
"The message is clearly
insane," continued the impenetrable Warner. "The best test is a reference
to the undeveloped normal type. Even a baby does not expect to find a man
with three legs."
"Three legs," said Michael
Moon, "would be very convenient in this wind."
A fresh eruption of the
atmosphere had indeed almost thrown them off their balance and broken the
blackened trees in the garden. Beyond, all sorts of accidental objects
could be seen scouring the wind-scoured sky -- straws, sticks, rags, papers,
and, in the distance, a disappearing hat. Its disappearance, however,
was not final; after an interval of minutes they saw it again, much larger
and closer, like a white panama, towering up into the heavens like a balloon,
staggering to and fro for an instant like a stricken kite, and then settling
in the centre of their own lawn as falteringly as a fallen leaf.
"Somebody's lost a good
hat," said Dr. Warner shortly.
Almost as he spoke, another
object came over the garden wall, flying after the fluttering panama.
It was a big green umbrella. After that came hurtling a huge yellow Gladstone
bag, and after that came a figure like a flying wheel of legs, as in the
shield of the Isle of Man.
But though for a flash
it seemed to have five or six legs, it alighted upon two, like the man
in the queer telegram. It took the form of a large light-haired man in
gay green holiday clothes. He had bright blonde hair that the wind brushed
back like a German's, a flushed eager face like a cherub's, and a prominent
pointing nose, a little like a dog's. His head, however, was by no means
cherubic in the sense of being without a body. On the contrary, on
his vast shoulders and shape generally gigantesque, his head looked oddly
and unnaturally small. This gave rise to a scientific theory (which
his conduct fully supported) that he was an idiot.
Inglewood had a politeness
instinctive and yet awkward. His life was full of arrested half gestures
of assistance. And even this prodigy of a big man in green, leaping the
wall like a bright green grasshopper, did not paralyze that small altruism
of his habits in such a matter as a lost hat. He was stepping forward to
recover the green gentleman's head-gear, when he was struck rigid with
a roar like a bull's.
the big man. "Give it fair play, give it fair play!" And he
came after his own hat quickly but cautiously, with burning eyes. The hat had seemed at first to droop and dawdle as in ostentatious langour
on the sunny lawn; but the wind again freshening and rising, it went dancing
down the garden with the devilry of a pas de quatre.  The eccentric
went bounding after it with kangaroo leaps and bursts of breathless speech,
of which it was not always easy to pick up the thread: "Fair play, fair
play ... sport of kings ... chase their crowns ... quite humane ... tramontana ...
cardinals chase red hats ... old English hunting ... started a hat in Bramber
Combe ... hat at bay ... mangled hounds ... Got him!"
As the winds rose out
of a roar into a shriek, he leapt into the sky on his strong, fantastic
legs, snatched at the vanishing hat, missed it, and pitched sprawling face
foremost on the grass. The hat rose over him like a bird in triumph.
But its triumph was premature; for the lunatic, flung forward on his hands,
threw up his boots behind, waved his two legs in the air like symbolic
ensigns (so that they actually thought again of the telegram), and actually
caught the hat with his feet. A prolonged and piercing yell of wind split
the welkin from end to end. The eyes of all the men were blinded by the
invisible blast, as by a strange, clear cataract of transparency rushing
between them and all objects about them. But as the large man fell
back in a sitting posture and solemnly crowned himself with the hat, Michael
found, to his incredulous surprise, that he had been holding his breath,
like a man watching a duel.
While that tall wind
was at the top of its sky-scraping energy, another short cry was heard,
beginning very querulous, but ending very quick, swallowed in abrupt silence.
The shiny black cylinder of Dr. Warner's official hat sailed off his head
in the long, smooth parabola of an airship, and in almost cresting a garden
tree was caught in the topmost branches. Another hat was gone. Those
in that garden felt themselves caught in an unaccustomed eddy of things
happening; no one seemed to know what would blow away next. Before they
could speculate, the cheering and hallooing hat-hunter was already halfway
up the tree, swinging himself from fork to fork with his strong, bent,
grasshopper legs, and still giving forth his gasping, mysterious comments.
"Tree of life... Tydrasil  ...
climb for centuries perhaps ... owls nesting in the hat ... remotest generations
of owls ... still usurpers ... gone to heaven ... man in the moon wears it ...
brigand ... not yours ... belongs to depressed medical man ... in garden ...
give it up ... give it up!"
The tree swung and swept
and thrashed to and fro in the thundering wind like a thistle, and flamed
in the full sunshine like a bonfire. The green, fantastic human figure,
vivid against its autumn red and gold, was already among its highest and
craziest branches, which by bare luck did not break with the weight of
his big body. He was up there among the last tossing leaves and the
first twinkling stars of evening, still talking to himself cheerfully,
reasoningly, half apologetically, in little gasps. He might well be out
of breath, for his whole preposterous raid had gone with one rush; he had
bounded the wall once like a football, swept down the garden like a slide,
and shot up the tree like a rocket. The other three men seemed buried under
incident piled on incident -- a wild world where one thing began before
another thing left off. All three had the first thought. The tree
had been there for the five years they had known the boarding-house. Each
one of them was active and strong. No one of them had even thought of climbing
it. Beyond that, Inglewood felt first the mere fact of colour.
The bright brisk leaves, the bleak blue sky, the wild green arms and legs,
reminded him irrationally of something glowing in his infancy, something
akin to a gaudy man on a golden tree; perhaps it was only painted monkey
on a stick. Oddly enough, Michael Moon, though more of a humourist, was
touched on a tenderer nerve, half remembered the old, young theatricals
with Rosamund, and was amused to find himself almost quoting Shakespeare--
"For valour is not love, a Hercules,
Even the immovable man of
science had a bright, bewildered sensation that the Time Machine had given
a great jerk, and gone forward with rather rattling rapidity.
Still climbing trees in the Hesperides?" 
He was not, however,
wholly prepared for what happened next. The man in green, riding the frail
topmost bough like a witch on a very risky broomstick, reached up and rent
the black hat from its airy nest of twigs. It had been broken across a
heavy bough in the first burst of its passage, a tangle of branches in
torn and scored and scratched it in every direction, a clap of wind and
foliage had flattened it like a concertina; nor can it be said that the
obliging gentleman with the sharp nose showed any adequate tenderness for
its structure when he finally unhooked it from its place. When he had found
it, however, his proceedings were by some counted singular. He waved it
with a loud whoop of triumph, and then immediately appeared to fall backwards
off the tree, to which, however, he remained attached by his long strong
legs, like a monkey swung by his tail. Hanging thus head downwards above
the unhelmed Warner, he gravely proceeded to drop the battered silk cylinder
upon his brows. "Every man a king," explained the inverted philosopher,
"every hat (consequently) a crown. But this is a crown out of heaven."
And he again attempted
the coronation of Warner, who, however, moved away with great abruptness
from the hovering diadem; not seeming, strangely enough, to wish for his
former decoration in its present state.
"Wrong, wrong!" cried
the obliging person hilariously. "Always wear uniform, even if it's shabby
uniform! Ritualists may always be untidy. Go to a dance with soot
on your shirt-front; but go with a shirt-front. Huntsman wears old coat,
but old pink coat. Wear a topper, even if it's got no top. It's the
symbol that counts, old cock. Take your hat, because it is your hat
after all; its nap rubbed all off by the bark, dears, and its brim not
the least bit curled; but for old sakes' sake it is still, dears, the nobbiest
tile in the world."
Speaking thus, with a
wild comfortableness, he settled or smashed the shapeless silk hat over
the face of the disturbed physician, and fell on his feet among the other
men, still talking, beaming and breathless.
"Why don't they make
more games out of wind?" he asked in some excitement. "Kites are all right,
but why should it only be kites? Why, I thought of three other games
for a windy day while I was climbing that tree. Here's one of them:
you take a lot of pepper--"
"I think," interposed
Moon, with a sardonic mildness, "that your games are already sufficiently
interesting. Are you, may I ask, a professional acrobat on a tour, or a
travelling advertisement of Sunny Jim?  How and why do you display
all this energy for clearing walls and climbing trees in our melancholy,
but at least rational, suburbs?"
The stranger, so far
as so loud a person was capable of it, appeared to grow confidential.
"Well, it's a trick of
my own," he confessed candidly. "I do it by having two legs."
Arthur Inglewood, who
had sunk into the background of this scene of folly, started and stared
at the newcomer with his short-sighted eyes screwed up and his high colour
"Why, I believe you're
Smith," he cried with his fresh, almost boyish voice; and then after an
instant's stare, "and yet I'm not sure."
"I have a card, I think," said the unknown, with baffling solemnity; "a card with my real name,
my titles, offices, and true purpose on this earth."
He drew out slowly from
an upper waistcoat pocket a scarlet card-case, and as slowly produced a
very large card. Even in the instant of its production, they fancied it
was of a queer shape, unlike the cards of ordinary gentlemen. But it was
there only for an instant; for as it passed from his fingers to Arthur's,
one or another slipped his hold. The strident, tearing gale in that garden
carried away the stranger's card to join the wild waste paper of the universe;
and that great western wind shook the whole house and passed.
 Punch was an English humor and social commentary magazine famed for its clever illustrations and
cartoons. Founded in 1841, it eventually ceased publication in June 2002.
 A pas de quatre is a dance for four persons.
 In Norse mythology, Tydrasil is the great ash tree whose roots and branches hold together the universe.
 The quoted lines come from William Shakespeare's play Love's Labour's Lost (1595), act 4, scene 3, line 340.
 Sunny James was a cartoon character used to promote a cereal called "Force". One popular advertisement included the verse: "High
o'er the fence leaps Sunny Jim, Force is the food that raises him".
Manalive: A Comic Novel by G.K. Chesterton about Murder, Bigamy, Burglary,
Insanity, and Truth, Beauty, and the Goodness of Life
Manalive -- Downloadable Audio File
Manalive -- Audio Book on CD
Manalive -- Electronic Book Download
Introduction by Dale Ahlquist, president of the American Chesterton Society
This classic novel by the brilliant G. K. Chesterton tells the rollicking tale of Innocent Smith, a man who may be crazy-or possibly the most sane man of all. Arriving
at a dreary London boarding house accompanied by a windstorm, Smith is an exuberant, eccentric and sweet-natured man. Smith has a positive effect on the house-he creates
his own court, brings a few couples together, and falls in love with a paid companion next door. All seems to be well with the world.
Then the unexpected happens: Smith shoots at one of the tenants, and two doctors arrive to arrest him, claiming that he's a bigamist, an attempted murderer, and
a thief. But cynical writer Moon insists that the case be tried there-and they explore Smith's past history, revealing startling truths about what he does. Is he
the wickedest man in Britain, or is he "blameless as a buttercup"?
Beautifully written, mixing the ridiculous with the profound, full of hilarious dialogue and lushly detailed writing, Chesterton's main character Innocent Smith
somehow manages to restore joy to all the dull and cynical lives around him. In this delightfully strange mystery, Chesterton demonstrates why life is worth living,
and that sometimes we need a little madness just to know we are alive.
"Chesterton's truths play leapfrog with one another, but they always land squarely on their feet. Nowhere is this more apparent than in this hilarious story to which he has given the
characteristic title, Manalive." -- Catholic World
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