My first impressions of the gentle, dignified, and yet genial old man were entirely favourable: and the real satisfaction that showed itself on his daughter's face, as she met me with the words "this is indeed an unlooked-for pleasure!", was very soothing for whatever remains of personal vanity the failures and disappointments of many long years, and much buffeting with a rough world, had left in me.
Yet I noted, and was glad to note, evidence of a far deeper feeling than mere friendly regard, in her meeting with Arthur though this was, as I gathered, an almost daily occurrence--and the conversation between them, in which the Earl and I were only occasional sharers, had an ease and a spontaneity rarely met with except between very old friends: and, as I knew that they had not known each other for a longer period than the summer which was now rounding into autumn, I felt certain that 'Love,' and Love alone, could explain the phenomenon.
"How convenient it would be," Lady Muriel laughingly remarked, a propos of my having insisted on saving her the trouble of carrying a cup of tea across the room to the Earl, "if cups of tea had no weight at all! Then perhaps ladies would sometimes be permitted to carry them for short distances!"
"One can easily imagine a situation," said Arthur, "where things would necessarily have no weight, relatively to each other, though each would have its usual weight, looked at by itself."
"Some desperate paradox!" said the Earl. "Tell us how it could be. We shall never guess it."
"Well, suppose this house, just as it is, placed a few billion miles above a planet, and with nothing else near enough to disturb it: of course it falls to the planet?"
The Earl nodded. "Of course though it might take some centuries to do it."
"And is five-o'clock-tea to be going on all the while?" said Lady Muriel.
"That, and other things," said Arthur. "The inhabitants would live their lives, grow up and die, and still the house would be falling, falling, falling! But now as to the relative weight of things. Nothing can be heavy, you know, except by trying to fall, and being prevented from doing so. You all grant that?"
We all granted that.
"Well, now, if I take this book, and hold it out at arm's length, of course I feel its weight. It is trying to fall, and I prevent it. And, if I let go, it fails to the floor. But, if we were all falling together, it couldn't be trying to fall any quicker, you know: for, if I let go, what more could it do than fall? And, as my hand would be falling too--at the same rate--it would never leave it, for that would be to get ahead of it in the race. And it could never overtake the failing floor!"
"I see it clearly," said Lady Muriel. "But it makes one dizzy to think of such things! How can you make us do it?"
"There is a more curious idea yet," I ventured to say. "Suppose a cord fastened to the house, from below, and pulled down by some one on the planet. Then of course the house goes faster than its natural rate of falling: but the furniture--with our noble selves--would go on failing at their old pace, and would therefore be left behind."
"Practically, we should rise to the ceiling," said the Earl. "The inevitable result of which would be concussion of brain."
"To avoid that, "said Arthur, "let us have the furniture fixed to the floor, and ourselves tied down to the furniture. Then the five-o'clock-tea could go on in peace."
"With one little drawback!', Lady Muriel gaily interrupted. "We should take the cups down with us: but what about the tea?"
"I had forgotten the tea," Arthur confessed. "That, no doubt, would rise to the ceiling unless you chose to drink it on the way!"
"Which, I think, is quite nonsense enough for one while!" said the Earl. "What news does this gentleman bring us from the great world of London?"
This drew me into the conversation, which now took a more conventional tone. After a while, Arthur gave the signal for our departure, and in the cool of the evening we strolled down to the beach, enjoying the silence, broken only by the murmur of the sea and the far-away music of some fishermen's song, almost as much as our late pleasant talk.