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Peter Ibbetson by George du Marier et al

Part 6 out of 6

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Then twilight comes, and the crowds have departed; on foot, on
horseback, on bicycles and tricycles, in every kind of vehicle; many by
the _chemin de fer de ceinture_, the Auteuil station of which is close
by ... all is quiet and bare and dull.

Then down drops the silent night like a curtain, and beneath its
friendly cover the strange transformation effects itself quickly, and
all is made ready for _me_. The grand-stand evaporates, the railway
station melts away into thin air; there is no more Eiffel Tower with its
electric light! The sweet forest of fifty years ago rises suddenly out
of the ground, and all the wild live things that once lived in it wake
to their merry life again.

A quiet deep old pond in a past French forest, hallowed by such
memories! What _can_ be more enchanting? Oh, soft and sweet nostalgia,
so soon to be relieved!

Up springs the mellow sun, the light of other days, to its appointed
place in the heavens--zenith, or east or west, according to order. A
light wind blows from the south--everything is properly disinfected, and
made warm and bright and comfortable--and lo! old Peter Ibbetson appears
upon the scene, absolute monarch of all he surveys for the next eight
hours--one whose right there are literally none to dispute.

I do not encourage noisy gatherings there as a rule, nor by the pond; I
like to keep the sweet place pretty much to myself; there is no
selfishness in this, for I am really depriving nobody. Whoever comes
there now, comes there nearly fifty years ago and does not know it; they
must have all died long since.

Sometimes it is a _garde champtre_ in Louis Philippe's blue and silver,
with his black pipe, his gaiters, his old flint gun, and his
embroidered game-bag. He does well in the landscape.

Sometimes it is a pair of lovers, if they are good-looking and
well-behaved, or else the boys from Saindou's school to play fly the
garter--_la raie_.

Sometimes it is Monsieur le Cur, peacefully conning his "Hours," as
with slow and thoughtful step he paces round and round. I can now read
his calm, benevolent face by the light of half a century's experience of
life, and have learned to love that still, black, meditative aspect
which I found so antipathetic as a small boy--_he_ is no burner alive of
little heretics! This world is big enough for us both--and so is the
world to come! And he knows it. Now, at all events!

[Illustration: "THIS WORLD IS BIG ENOUGH FOR US BOTH"]

Sometimes even a couple of Prendergasts are admitted, or even three;
they are not so bad, after all; they have the qualities of their faults,
although you might not think it.

But very often the old beloved shades arrive with their fishing-nets,
and their high spirits, and their ringing Anglo-French--Charlie, and
Alfred, and Madge, and the rest, and the grinning, barking, gyrating
Mdor, who dives after stones.

Oh, how it does my heart good to see and hear them!

They make me feel like a grandfather. Even Monsieur le Major is younger
than I--his mustache less white than mine. He only comes to my chin; but
I look up to him still, and love and revere him as when I was a
little child.

And Dr. Seraskier! I place myself between him and what he is looking at,
so that he seems to be looking straight at me; but with a far-away look
in his eyes, as is only natural. Presently something amuses him, and he
smiles, and his eyes crinkle up as his daughter's used to do when she
was a woman, and his majestic face becomes as that of an angel,
like hers.

_L'ange du sourire!_

And my gay, young, light-hearted father, with his vivacity and
rollicking laugh and eternal good-humor! He is just like a boy to me
now, le beau Pasquier! He has got a new sling of his own invention; he
pulls it out of his pocket, and slings stones high over the tree-tops
and far away out of sight--to the joy of himself and everybody else--and
does not trouble much as to where they will fall.

My mother is young enough now to be my daughter; it is as a daughter, a
sweet, kind, lovely daughter, that I love her now--a happily-married
daughter with a tall, handsome husband who yodles divinely and slings
stones, and who has presented me with a grandson--_beau comme le
jour_--for whatever Peter Ibbetson may have been in his time, there is
no gainsaying the singular comeliness of little Gogo Pasquier.

And Mimsey is just a child angel! Monsieur le Major is infallible.

"Elle a toutes les intelligences de la tte et du coeur! Vous verrez un
jour, quand a ira mieux; vous verrez!"

That day has long come and gone; it is easy to see all that now--to have
the eyes of Monsieur le Major.

Ah, poor little Mimsey, with her cropped head and her pale face, and
long, thin arms and legs, and grave, kind, luminous eyes, that have not
yet learned to smile. What she is to _me!!!!_

And Madame Seraskier, in all the youthful bloom and splendor of her
sacred beauty! A chosen lily among women--the mother of Mary!

She sits on the old bench by the willow, close to her daughter's gloves.
Sometimes (a trivial and almost comic detail!) she actually seems to sit
_upon_ them, to my momentary distress; but when she goes away, there
they are still, not flattened a bit--the precious mould of those
beautiful, generous hands to which I owe everything here and hereafter.

* * * * *

I have not been again to my old home. I dread the sight of the avenue. I
cannot face "Parva sed Apta."

But I have seen Mary again--seven times.

And every time she comes she brings a book with her, gilt-edged and
bound in green morocco like the Byron we read when we were children, or
in red morocco like the _Elegant Extracts_ out of which we used to
translate Gray's "Elegy," and the "Battle of Hohenlinden," and
Cunningham's "Pastorals" into French.

Such is her fancy!

But inside these books are very different. They are printed in cipher,
and in a language I can only understand in my dream. Nothing that I, or
any one else, has ever read in any living book can approach, for
interest and importance, what I read in these. There are seven of them.

I say to myself when I read them: it is perhaps well that I shall not
remember this when I wake, after all!

For I might be indiscreet and injudicious, and either say too much or
not enough; and the world might come to a stand-still, all through me.
For who would fardels bear, as Mary said! No! The world must be content
to wait for the great guesser!

Thus my lips are sealed.

All I know is this: _that all will be well for us all, and of such a
kind that all who do not sigh for the moon will be well content_.

* * * * *

In such wise have I striven, with the best of my ability, to give some
account of my two lives and Mary's. We have lived three lives between
us--three lives in one.

It has been a happy task, however poorly performed, and all the
conditions of its performance have been singularly happy also.

A cell in a criminal lunatic asylum! That does not sound like a bower in
the Elysian Fields! It is, and has been for me.

Besides the sun that lights and warms my inner life, I have been treated
with a kindness and sympathy and consideration by everybody here, from
the governor downward, that fills me with unspeakable gratitude.

Most especially do I feel grateful to my good friends, the doctor, the
chaplain, and the priest--best and kindest of men--each of whom has made
up his mind about everything in heaven and earth and below, and each in
a contrary sense to the two others!

There is but one thing they are neither of them quite cocksure about,
and that is whether I am mad or sane.

And there is one thing--the only one on which they are agreed; namely,
that, mad or sane, I am a great undiscovered genius!

My little sketches, plain or colored, fill them with admiration and
ecstasy. Such boldness and facility and execution, such an overwhelming
fertility in the choice of subjects, such singular realism in the
conception and rendering of past scenes, historical and otherwise, such
astounding knowledge of architecture, character, costume, and what not,
such local color--it is all as if I had really been there to see!

I have the greatest difficulty in keeping my fame from spreading beyond
the walls of the asylum. My modesty is as great as my talent!

No, I do not wish this great genius to be discovered just yet. It must
all go to help and illustrate and adorn the work of a much greater
genius, from which it has drawn every inspiration it ever had.

It is a splendid and delightful task I have before me: to unravel and
translate and put in order these voluminous and hastily-penned
reminiscences of Mary's, all of them written in the cipher we invented
together in our dream--a very transparent cipher when once you have
got the key!

It will take five years at least, and I think that, without presumption,
I can count on that, strong and active as I feel, and still so far from
the age of the Psalmist.

First of all, I intend

* * * * *

_Note_.--Here ends my poor cousin's memoir. He was found dead from
effusion of blood on the brain, with his pen still in his hand, and his
head bowed down on his unfinished manuscript, on the margin of which he
had just sketched a small boy wheeling a toy wheelbarrow full of stones
from one open door to another. One door is labelled _Pass_, the
other _Avenir_.

I arrived in England, after a long life spent abroad, at the time his
death occurred, but too late to see him alive. I heard much about him
and his latter days. All those whose duties brought them into contact
with him seemed to have regarded him with a respect that bordered on
veneration.

I had the melancholy satisfaction of seeing him in his coffin. I had
not seen him since he was twelve years old.

As he lay there, in his still length and breadth, he appeared
gigantic--the most magnificent human being I ever beheld; and the
splendor of his dead face will haunt my memory till I die.

MADGE PLUNKET.

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