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Where the Blue Begins by Christopher Morley

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by Christopher Morley


"I am not free--
And it may be
Life is too tight around my shins;
For, unlike you,
I can't break through
A truant where the blue begins.

"Out of the very element
Of bondage, that here holds me pent,
I'll make my furious sonnet:
I'll turn my noose
To tightrope use
And madly dance upon it.

"So I will take
My leash, and make
A wilder and more subtle fleeing
And I shall be
More escapading and more free
Than you have ever dreamed of being!"


Gissing lived alone (except for his Japanese butler) in a little
house in the country, in that woodland suburb region called the
Canine Estates. He lived comfortably and thoughtfully, as
bachelors often do. He came of a respectable family, who had
always conducted themselves calmly and without too much argument.
They had bequeathed him just enough income to live on cheerfully,
without display but without having to do addition and subtraction
at the end of the month and then tear up the paper lest Fuji (the
butler) should see it.

It was strange, since Gissing was so pleasantly situated in life,
that he got into these curious adventures that I have to relate.
I do not attempt to explain it.

He had no responsibilities, not even a motor car, for his tastes
were surprisingly simple. If he happened to be spending an
evening at the country club, and a rainstorm came down, he did
not worry about getting home. He would sit by the fire and
chuckle to see the married members creep away one by one. He
would get out his pipe and sleep that night at the club, after
telephoning Fuji not to sit up for him. When he felt like it he
used to read in bed, and even smoke in bed. When he went to town
to the theatre, he would spend the night at a hotel to avoid the
fatigue of the long ride on the 11:44 train. He chose a different
hotel each time, so that it was always an Adventure. He had a
great deal of fun.

But having fun is not quite the same as being happy. Even an
income of 1000 bones a year does not answer all questions. That
charming little house among the groves and thickets seemed to him
surrounded by strange whispers and quiet voices. He was uneasy.
He was restless, and did not know why. It was his theory that
discipline must be maintained in the household, so he did not
tell Fuji his feelings. Even when he was alone, he always kept up
a certain formality in the domestic routine. Fuji would lay out
his dinner jacket on the bed: he dressed, came down to the dining
room with quiet dignity, and the evening meal was served by
candle-light. As long as Fuji was at work, Gissing sat carefully
in the armchair by the hearth, smoking a cigar and pretending to
read the paper. But as soon as the butler had gone upstairs,
Gissing always kicked oft his dinner suit and stiff shirt, and
lay down on the hearth-rug. But he did not sleep. He would watch
the wings of flame gilding the dark throat of the chimney, and
his mind seemed drawn upward on that rush of light, up into the
pure chill air where the moon was riding among sluggish thick
floes of cloud. In the darkness he heard chiming voices,
wheedling and tantalizing. One night he was walking on his little
verandah. Between rafts of silver-edged clouds were channels of
ocean-blue sky, inconceivably deep and transparent. The air was
serene, with a faint acid taste. Suddenly there shrilled a soft,
sweet, melancholy whistle, earnestly repeated. It seemed to come
from the little pond in the near-by copses. It struck him
strangely. It might be anything, he thought. He ran furiously
through the field, and to the brim of the pond. He could find
nothing, all was silent. Then the whistlings broke out again, all
round him, maddeningly. This kept on, night after night. The
parson, whom he consulted, said it was only frogs; but Gissing
told the constable he thought God had something to do with it.

Then willow trees and poplars showed a pallid bronze sheen,
forsythias were as yellow as scrambled eggs, maples grew knobby
with red buds. Among the fresh bright grass came, here and there,
exhilarating smells of last year's buried bones. The little
upward slit at the back of Gissing's nostrils felt prickly. He
thought that if he could bury it deep enough in cold beef broth
it would be comforting. Several times he went out to the pantry
intending to try the experiment, but every time Fuji happened to
be around. Fuji was a Japanese pug, and rather correct, so
Gissing was ashamed to do what he wanted to. He pretended he had
come out to see that the icebox pan had been emptied properly.

"I must get the plumber to put in a pukka drain-pipe to take the
place of the pan," Gissing said to Fuji; but he knew that he had
no intention of doing so. The ice-box pan was his private test of
a good servant. A cook who forgot to empty it was too careless,
he thought, to be a real success.

But certainly there was some curious elixir in the air. He went
for walks, and as soon as he was out of sight of the houses he
threw down his hat and stick and ran wildly, with great
exultation, over the hills and fields. "I really ought to turn
all this energy into some sort of constructive work," he said to
himself. No one else, he mused, seemed to enjoy life as keenly
and eagerly as he did. He wondered, too, about the other sex. Did
they feel these violent impulses to run, to shout, to leap and
caper in the sunlight? But he was a little startled, on one of
his expeditions, to see in the distance the curate rushing hotly
through the underbrush, his clerical vestments dishevelled, his
tongue hanging out with excitement.

"I must go to church more often," said Gissing.

In the golden light and pringling air he felt excitable and
high-strung. His tail curled upward until it ached. Finally he
asked Mike Terrier, who lived next door, what was wrong.

"It's spring," Mike said.

"Oh, yes, of course, jolly old spring!" said Gissing, as though
this was something he had known all along, and had just forgotten
for the moment. But he didn't know. This was his first spring,
for he was only ten months old.

Outwardly he was the brisk, genial figure that the suburb knew
and esteemed. He was something of a mystery among his neighbours
of the Canine Estates, because he did not go daily to business in
the city, as most of them did; nor did he lead a life of
brilliant amusement like the Airedales, the wealthy people whose
great house was near by. Mr. Poodle, the conscientious curate,
had called several times but was not able to learn anything
definite. There was a little card-index of parishioners, which it
was Mr. Poodle's duty to fill in with details of each person's
business, charitable inclinations, and what he could do to amuse
a Church Sociable. The card allotted to Gissing was marked, in
Mr. Poodle's neat script, Friendly, but vague as to definite
participation in Xian activities. Has not communicated.

But in himself, Gissing was increasingly disturbed. Even his
seizures of joy, which came as he strolled in the smooth spring
air and sniffed the wild, vigorous aroma of the woodland earth,
were troublesome because he did not know why he was so glad.
Every morning it seemed to him that life was about to exhibit
some delicious crisis in which the meaning and excellence of all
things would plainly appear. He sang in the bathtub. Daily it
became more difficult to maintain that decorum which Fuji
expected. He felt that his life was being wasted. He wondered
what ought to be done about it.


It was after dinner, an April evening, and Gissing slipped away
from the house for a stroll. He was afraid to stay in, because
he knew that if he did, Fuji would ask him again to fix the
dishcloth rack in the kitchen. Fuji was very short in stature,
and could not reach up to the place where the rack was screwed
over the sink. Like all people whose minds are very active,
Gissing hated to attend to little details like this. It was a
weakness in his character. Fuji had asked him six times to fix
the rack, but Gissing always pretended to forget about it. To
appease his methodical butler he had written on a piece of paper
FIX DISHCLOTH RACK and pinned it on his dressing-table
pincushion; but he paid no attention to the memorandum.

He went out into a green April dusk. Down by the pond piped those
repeated treble whistlings: they still distressed him with a
mysterious unriddled summons, but Mike Terrier had told him that
the secret of respectability is to ignore whatever you don't
understand. Careful observation of this maxim had somewhat dulled
the cry of that shrill queer music. It now caused only a faint
pain in his mind. Still, he walked that way because the little
meadow by the pond was agreeably soft underfoot. Also, when he
walked close beside the water the voices were silent. That is
worth noting, he said to himself. If you go directly at the heart
of a mystery, it ceases to be a mystery, and becomes only a
question of drainage. (Mr. Poodle had told him that if he had the
pond and swamp drained, the frog-song would not annoy him.) But
to-night, when the keen chirruping ceased, there was still
another sound that did not cease--a faint, appealing cry. It
caused a prickling on his shoulder blades, it made him both angry
and tender. He pushed through the bushes. In a little hollow were
three small puppies, whining faintly. They were cold and draggled
with mud. Someone had left them there, evidently, to perish. They
were huddled close together; their eyes, a cloudy unspeculative
blue, were only just opened. "This is gruesome," said Gissing,
pretending to be shocked. "Dear me, innocent pledges of sin, I
dare say. Well, there is only one thing to do."

He picked them up carefully and carried them home.

"Quick, Fuji!" he said. "Warm some milk, some of the Grade A, and
put a little brandy in it. I'll get the spare-room bed ready."

He rushed upstairs, wrapped the puppies in a blanket, and turned
on the electric heater to take the chill from the spare-room. The
little pads of their paws were ice-cold, and he filled the hot
water bottle and held it carefully to their twelve feet. Their
pink stomachs throbbed, and at first he feared they were dying.
"They must not die!" he said fiercely. "If they did, it would be
a matter for the police, and no end of trouble."

Fuji came up with the milk, and looked very grave when he saw the
muddy footprints on the clean sheet.

"Now, Fuji," said Gissing, "do you suppose they can lap, or will
we have to pour it down?"

In spite of his superior manner, Fuji was a good fellow in an
emergency. It was he who suggested the fountain-pen filler. They
washed the ink out of it, and used it to drip the hot
brandy-and-milk down the puppies' throats. Their noses, which had
been icy, suddenly became very hot and dry. Gissing feared a
fever and thought their temperatures should be taken.

"The only thermometer we have," he said, "is the one on the
porch, with the mercury split in two. I don't suppose that would
do. Have you a clinical thermometer, Fuji?"

Fuji felt that his employer was making too much fuss over the

"No, sir," he said firmly. "They are quite all right. A good
sleep will revive them. They will be as fit as possible in the

Fuji went out into the garden to brush the mud from his neat
white jacket. His face was inscrutable. Gissing sat by the
spare-room bed until he was sure the puppies were sleeping
correctly. He closed the door so that Fuji would not hear him
humming a lullaby. Three Blind Mice was the only nursery song he
could remember, and he sang it over and over again.

When he tiptoed downstairs, Fuji had gone to bed. Gissing went
into his study, lit a pipe, and walked up and down, thinking. By
and bye he wrote two letters. One eras to a bookseller in the
city, asking him to send (at once) one copy of Dr. Holt's book on
the Care and Feeding of Children, and a well-illustrated edition
of Mother Goose. The other was to Mr. Poodle, asking him to fix a
date for the christening of Mr. Gissing's three small nephews,
who had come to live with him.

"It is lucky they are all boys," said Gissing. "I would know
nothing about bringing up girls."

"I suppose," he added after a while, "that I shall have to raise
Fuji's wages."

Then he went into the kitchen and fixed the dishcloth rack.

Before going to bed that night he took his usual walk around the
house. The sky was freckled with stars. It was generally his
habit to make a tour of his property toward midnight, to be sure
everything was in good order. He always looked into the ice-box,
and admired the cleanliness of Fuji's arrangements. The milk
bottles were properly capped with their round cardboard tops; the
cheese was never put on the same rack with the butter; the doors
of the ice-box were carefully latched. Such observations, and the
slow twinkle of the fire in the range, deep down under the curfew
layer of coals, pleased him. In the cellar he peeped into the
garbage can, for it was always a satisfaction to assure himself
that Fuji did not waste anything that could be used. One of the
laundry tub taps was dripping, with a soft measured tinkle: he
said to himself that he really must have it attended to. All
these domestic matters seemed more significant than ever when he
thought of youthful innocence sleeping upstairs in the spare-room
bed. His had been a selfish life hitherto, he feared. These
puppies were just what he needed to take him out of himself.

Busy with these thoughts, he did not notice the ironical
whistling coming from the pond. He tasted the night air with
cheerful satisfaction. "At any rate, to-morrow will be a fine
day," he said.

The next day it rained. But Gissing was too busy to think about
the weather. Every hour or so during the night he had gone into
the spare room to listen attentively to the breathing of the
puppies, to pull the blanket over them, and feel their noses. It
seemed to him that they were perspiring a little, and he was
worried lest they catch cold. His morning sleep (it had always
been his comfortable habit to lie abed a trifle late) was
interrupted about seven o'clock by a lively clamour across the
hall. The puppies were awake, perfectly restored, and while they
were too young to make their wants intelligible, they plainly
expected some attention. He gave them a pair of old slippers to
play with, and proceeded to his own toilet.

As he was bathing them, after breakfast, he tried to enlist
Fuji's enthusiasm. "Did you ever see such fat rascals?" he said.
"I wonder if we ought to trim their tails? How pink their
stomachs are, and how pink and delightful between their toes! You
hold these two while I dry the other. No, not that way! Hold them
so you support their spines. A puppy's back is very delicate: you
can't be too careful. We'll have to do things in a
rough-and-ready way until Dr. Holt's book comes. After that we
can be scientific."

Fuji did not seem very keen. Presently, in spite of the rain, he
was dispatched to the village department store to choose three
small cribs and a multitude of safety pins. "Plenty of safety
pins is the idea," said Gissing. "With enough safety pins handy,
children are easy to manage."

As soon as the puppies were bestowed on the porch, in the
sunshine, for their morning nap, he telephoned to the local

"I want you" (he said) "to come up as soon as you can with some
nice samples of nursery wallpaper. A lively Mother Goose pattern
would do very well." He had already decided to change the spare
room into a nursery. He telephoned the carpenter to make a gate
for the top of the stairs. He was so busy that he did not even
have time to think of his pipe, or the morning paper. At last,
just before lunch, he found a breathing space. He sat down in the
study to rest his legs, and looked for the Times. It was not in
its usual place on his reading table. At that moment the puppies
woke up, and he ran out to attend them. He would have been
distressed if he had known that Fuji had the paper in the
kitchen, and was studying the HELP WANTED columns.

A great deal of interest was aroused in the neighbourhood by the
arrival of Gissing's nephews, as he called them. Several of the
ladies, who had ignored him hitherto, called, in his absence, and
left extra cards. This implied (he supposed, though he was not
closely versed in such niceties of society) that there was a Mrs.
Gissing, and he was annoyed, for he felt certain they knew he was
a bachelor. But the children were a source of nothing but pride
to him. They grew with astounding rapidity, ate their food
without coaxing, rarely cried at night, and gave him much
amusement by their naive ways. He was too occupied to be troubled
with introspection. Indeed, his well-ordered home was very
different from before. The trim lawn, in spite of his zealous
efforts, was constantly littered with toys. In sheer mischief the
youngsters got into his wardrobe and chewed off. the tails of his
evening dress coat. But he felt a satisfying dignity and
happiness in his new status as head of a family.

What worried him most was the fear that Fuji would complain of
this sudden addition to his duties. The butler's face was rather
an enigma, particularly at meal times, when Gissing sat at the
dinner table surrounded by the three puppies in their high
chairs, with a spindrift of milk and prune-juice spattering
generously as the youngsters plied their spoons. Fuji had
arranged a series of scuppers, made of oilcloth, underneath the
chairs; but in spite of this the dining-room rug, after a meal,
looked much as the desert place must have after the feeding of
the multitude. Fuji, who was pensive, recalled the five loaves
and two fishes that produced twelve baskets of fragments. The
vacuum cleaner got clogged by a surfeit of crumbs.

Gissing saw that it would be a race between heart and head. If
Fuji's heart should become entangled (that is, if the innocent
charms of the children should engage his affections before his
reason convinced him that the situation was now too arduous,
there was some hope. He tried to ease the problem also by mental
suggestion. "It is really remarkable" (he said to Fuji) "that
children should give one so little trouble." As he made this
remark, he was speeding hotly to and fro between the bathroom and
the nursery, trying to get one tucked in bed and another
undressed, while the third was lashing the tub into soapy foam.
Fuji made his habitual response, "Very good, sir." But one fears
that he detected some insincerity, for the next day, which was
Sunday, he gave notice. This generally happens on a Sunday,
because the papers publish more Help Wanted advertisements then
than on any other day.

"I'm sorry, sir," he said. "But when I took this place there was
nothing said about three children."

This was unreasonable of Fuji. It is very rare to have everything
explained beforehand. When Adam and Eve were put into the Garden
of Eden, there was nothing said about the serpent.

However, Gissing did not believe in entreating a servant to stay.
He offered to give Fuji a raise, but the butler was still
determined to leave.

"My senses are very delicate," he said. "I really cannot stand
the--well, the aroma exhaled by those three children when they
have had a warm bath."

"What nonsense!" cried Gissing. "The smell of wet, healthy
puppies? Nothing is more agreeable. You are cold-blooded: I don't
believe you are fond of puppies. Think of their wobbly black
noses. Consider how pink is the little cleft between their toes
and the main cushion of their feet. Their ears are like silk.
Inside their upper jaws are parallel black ridges, most
remarkable. I never realized before how beautifully and carefully
we are made. I am surprised that you should be so indifferent to
these things."

There was a moisture in Fuji's eyes, but he left at the end of
the week.


A solitary little path ran across the fields not far from the
house. It lay deep among tall grasses and the withered brittle
stalks of last autumn's goldenrod, and here Gissing rambled in
the green hush of twilight, after the puppies were in bed. In
less responsible days he would have lain down on his back, with
all four legs upward, and cheerily shrugged and rolled to and
fro, as the crisp ground-stubble was very pleasing to the spine.
But now he paced soberly, the smoke from his pipe eddying just
above the top of the grasses. He had much to meditate.

The dogwood tree by the house was now in flower. The blossoms,
with their four curved petals, seemed to spin like tiny white
propellers in the bright air. When he saw them fluttering Gissing
had a happy sensation of movement. The business of those
tremulous petals seemed to be thrusting his whole world forward
and forward, through the viewless ocean of space. He felt as
though he were on a ship--as, indeed, we are. He had never been
down to the open sea, but he had imagined it. There, he thought,
there must be the satisfaction of a real horizon.

Horizons had been a great disappointment to him. In earlier days
he had often slipped out of the house not long after sunrise, and
had marvelled at the blue that lies upon the skyline. Here, about
him, were the clear familiar colours of the world he knew; but
yonder, on the hills, were trees and spaces of another more
heavenly tint. That soft blue light, if he could reach it, must
be the beginning of what his mind required.

He envied Mr. Poodle, whose cottage was on that very hillslope
that rose so imperceptibly into sky. One morning he ran and ran,
in the lifting day, but always the blue receded. Hot and
unbuttoned, he came by the curate's house, just as the latter
emerged to pick up the morning paper.

"Where does the blue begin?" Gissing panted, trying hard to keep
his tongue from sliding out so wetly.

The curate looked a trifle disturbed. He feared that something
unpleasant had happened, and that his assistance might be
required before breakfast.

"It is going to be a warm day," he said politely, and stooped for
the newspaper, as a delicate hint.

"Where does--?" began Gissing, quivering; but at that moment,
looking round, he saw that it had hoaxed him again. Far away, on
his own hill the other side of the village, shone the evasive
colour. As usual, he had been too impetuous. He had not watched
it while he ran; it had circled round behind him. He resolved to
be more methodical.

The curate gave him a blank to fill in, relative to baptizing the
children, and was relieved to see him hasten away.

But all this was some time ago. As he walked the meadow path,
Gissing suddenly realized that lately he had had little
opportunity for pursuing blue horizons. Since Fuji's departure
every moment, from dawn to dusk, was occupied. In three weeks he
had had three different servants, but none of them would stay.
The place was too lonely, they said, and with three puppies the
work was too hard. The washing, particularly was a horrid
problem. Inexperienced as a parent, Gissing was probably too
proud: he wanted the children always to look clean and soigne.
The last cook had advertised herself as a General Houseworker,
afraid of nothing; but as soon as she saw the week's wash in the
hamper (including twenty-one grimy rompers), she telephoned to
the station for a taxi. Gissing wondered why it was that the
working classes were not willing to do one-half as much as he,
who had been reared to indolent ease. Even more, he was irritated
by a suspicion of the ice-wagon driver. He could not prove it,
but he had an idea that this uncouth fellow obtained a commission
from the Airedales and Collies, who had large mansions in the
neighbourhood, for luring maids from the smaller homes. Of course
Mrs. Airedale and Mrs. Collie could afford to pay any wages at
all. So now the best he could do was to have Mrs. Spaniel, the
charwoman, come up from the village to do the washing and
ironing, two days a week. The rest of the work he undertook
himself. On a clear afternoon, when the neighbours were not
looking, he would take his own shirts and things down to the
pond--putting them neatly in the bottom of the red express-wagon,
with the puppies sitting on the linen, so no one would see. While
the puppies played about and hunted for tadpoles, he would wash
his shirts himself.

His legs ached as he took his evening stroll-- keeping within
earshot of the house, so as to hear any possible outcry from the
nursery. He had been on his feet all day. But he reflected that
there was a real satisfaction in his family tasks, however
gruelling. Now, at last (he said to himself), I am really a
citizen, not a mere dilettante. Of course it is arduous. No one
who is not a parent realizes, for example, the extraordinary
amount of buttoning and unbuttoning necessary in rearing
children. I calculate that 50,000 buttonings are required for
each one before it reaches the age of even rudimentary
independence. With the energy so expended one might write a great
novel or chisel a statue. Never mind: these urchins must be my
Works of Art. If one were writing a novel, he could not delegate
to a hired servant the composition of laborious chapters.

So he took his responsibility gravely. This was partly due to
the christening service, perhaps, which had gone off very
charmingly. It had not been without its embarrassments. None of
the neighbouring ladies would stand as godmother, for they were
secretly dubious as to the children's origin; so he had asked
good Mrs. Spaniel to act in that capacity. She, a simple kindly
creature, was much flattered, though certainly she can have
understood very little of the symbolical rite. Gissing, filling
out the form that Mr. Poodle had given him, had put down the
names of an entirely imaginary brother and sister-in-law of his,
"deceased," whom he asserted as the parents. He had been so busy
with preparations that he did not find time, before the
ceremony, to study the text of the service; and when he and Mrs.
Spaniel stood beneath the font with an armful of ribboned
infancy, he was frankly startled by the magnitude of the
promises exacted from him. He found that, on behalf of the
children, he must "renounce the devil and all his work, the vain
pomp and glory of the world;" that he must pledge himself to see
that these infants would "crucify the old man and utterly
abolish the whole body of sin." It was rather doubtful whether
they would do so, he reflected, as he felt them squirming in his
arms while Mrs. Spaniel was busy trying to keep their socks on.
When the curate exhorted him "to follow the innocency" of these
little ones, it was disconcerting to have one of them burst into
a piercing yammer, and wriggle so forcibly that it slipped quite
out of its little embroidered shift and flannel band. But the
actual access to the holy basin was more seemly, perhaps due to
the children imagining they were going to find tadpoles there.
When Mr. Poodle held them up they smiled with a vague almost
bashful simplicity; and Mrs. Spaniel could not help murmuring
"The darlings!" The curate, less experienced with children, had
insisted on holding all three at once, and Gissing feared lest
one of them might swarm over the surpliced shoulder and fall
splash into the font. But though they panted a little with
excitement, they did nothing to mar the solemn instant. While
Mrs. Spaniel was picking up the small socks with which the floor
was strewn, Gissing was deeply moved by the poetry of the
ceremony. He felt that something had really been accomplished
toward "burying the Old Adam." And if Mrs. Spaniel ever grew
disheartened at the wash-tubs, he was careful to remind her of
the beautiful phrase about the mystical washing away of sin.

They had been christened Groups, Bunks, and Yelpers, three
traditional names in his family.

Indeed, he was reflecting as he walked in the dusk, Mrs. Spaniel
was now his sheet anchor. Fortunately she showed signs of
becoming extraordinarily attached to the puppies. On the two days
a week when she came up from the village, it was even possible
for him to get a little relaxation--to run down to the station
for tobacco, or to lie in the hammock briefly with a book.
Looking off from his airy porch, he could see the same blue
distances that had always tempted him, but he felt too passive to
wonder about them. He had given up the idea of trying to get any
other servants. If it had been possible, he would have engaged
Mrs. Spaniel to sleep in the house and be there permanently; but
she had children of her own down in the shantytown quarter of the
village, and had to go back to them at night. But certainly he
made every effort to keep her contented. It was a long steep
climb up from the hollow, so he allowed her to come in a taxi and
charge it to his account. Then, on condition that she would come
on Saturdays also, to help him clean up for Sunday, he allowed
her, on that day, to bring her own children too, and all the
puppies played riotously together around the place. But this he
presently discontinued, for the clamour became so deafening that
the neighbours complained. Besides, the young Spaniels, who were
a little older, got Groups, Bunks, and Yelpers into noisy and
careless habits of speech.

He was anxious that they should grow up refined, and was
distressed by little Shaggy Spaniel having brought up the Comic
Section of a Sunday paper. With childhood's instinctive taste for
primitive effects, the puppies fell in love with the coloured
cartoons, and badgered him continually for "funny papers."

There is a great deal more to think about in raising children (he
said to himself) than is intimated in Dr. Holt's book on Care and
Feeding. Even in matters that he had always taken for granted,
such as fairy tales, he found perplexity. After supper--(he now
joined the children in their evening bread and milk, for after
cooking them a hearty lunch of meat and gravy and potatoes and
peas and the endless spinach and carrots that the doctors advise,
to say nothing of the prunes, he had no energy to prepare a
special dinner for himself)--after supper it was his habit to
read to them, hoping to give their imaginations a little exercise
before they went to bed. He was startled to find that Grimm and
Hans Andersen, which he had considered as authentic classics for
childhood, were full of very strong stuff--morbid sentiment,
bloodshed, horror, and all manner of painful circumstance.
Reading the tales aloud, he edited as he went along; but he was
subject to that curious weakness that afflicts some people:
reading aloud made him helplessly sleepy: after a page or so he
would fall into a doze, from which he would be awakened by the
crash of a lamp or some other furniture. The children, seized
with that furious hilarity that usually begins just about
bedtime, would race madly about the house until some breakage or
a burst of tears woke him from his trance. He would thrash them
all and put them to bed howling. When they were asleep he would
be touched with tender compassion, and steal in to tuck them up,
admiring the innocence of each unconscious muzzle on its pillow.
Sometimes, in a crisis of his problems, he thought of writing to
Dr. Holt for advice; but the will-power was lacking.

It is really astonishing how children can exhaust one, he used to
think. Sometimes, after a long day, he was even too weary to
correct their grammar. "You lay down!" Groups would admonish
Yelpers, who was capering in his crib while Bunks was being
lashed in with the largest size of safety pins. And Gissing,
doggedly passing from one to another, was really too fatigued to
reprove the verb, picked up from Mrs. Spaniel.

Fairy tales proving a disappointment, he had great hopes of
encouraging them in drawing. He bought innumerable coloured
crayons and stacks of scribbling paper. After supper they would
all sit down around the dining-room table and he drew pictures
for them. Tongues depending with concentrated excitement, the
children would try to copy these pictures and colour them. In
spite of having three complete sets of crayons, a full roster of
colours could rarely be found at drawing time. Bunks had the
violet when Groups wanted it, and so on. But still, this was
often the happiest hour of the day. Gissing drew amazing trains,
elephants, ships, and rainbows, with the spectrum of colours
correctly arranged and blended. The children specially loved his
landscapes, which were opulently tinted and magnificent in long
perspectives. He found himself always colouring the far horizons
a pale and haunting blue.

He was meditating these things when a shrill yammer recalled him
to the house.


In this warm summer weather Gissing slept on a little outdoor
balcony that opened off the nursery. The world, rolling in her
majestic seaway, heeled her gunwale slowly into the trough of
space. Disked upon this bulwark, the sun rose, and promptly
Gissing woke. The poplars flittered in a cool stir. Beyond the
tadpole pond, through a notch in the landscape, he could see the
far darkness of the hills. That fringe of woods was a railing
that kept the sky from flooding over the earth.

The level sun, warily peering over the edge like a cautious
marksman, fired golden volleys unerringly at him. At once Gissing
was aware and watchful. Brief truce was over: the hopeless war
with Time began anew.

This was his placid hour. Light, so early, lies timidly along the
ground. It steals gently from ridge to ridge; it is soft, unsure.
That blue dimness, receding from bole to bole, is the skirt of
Night's garment, trailing off toward some other star. As easily
as it slips from tree to tree, it glides from earth to Orion.

Light, which later will riot and revel and strike pitilessly
down, still is tender and tentative. It sweeps in rosy
scythe-strokes, parallel to earth. It gilds, where later it will

Gissing lay, without stirring. The springs of the old couch were
creaky, and the slightest sound might arouse the children within.
Now, until they woke, was his peace. Purposely he had had the
sleeping porch built on the eastern side of the house. Making the
sun his alarm clock, he prolonged the slug-a-bed luxury. He had
procured the darkest and most opaque of all shades for the
nursery windows, to cage as long as possible in that room Night
the silencer. At this time of the year, the song of the mosquito
was his dreaded nightingale. In spite of fine-mesh screens,
always one or two would get in. Mrs. Spaniel, he feared, left the
kitchen door ajar during the day, and these Borgias of the insect
world, patiently invasive, seized their chance. It was a rare
night when a sudden scream did not come from the nursery every
hour or so. "Daddy, a keeto, a keeto!" was the anguish from one
of the trio. The other two were up instantly, erect and yelping
in their cribs, small black paws on the rail, pink stomachs
candidly exposed to the winged stilleto. Lights on, and the room
must be explored for the lurking foe. Scratching themselves
vigorously, the fun of the chase assuaged the smart of those red
welts. Gissing, wise by now, knew that after a forager the
mosquito always retires to the ceiling, so he kept a stepladder
in the room. Mounted on this, he would pursue the enemy with a
towel, while the children screamed with merriment. Then stomachs
must be anointed with more citronella; sheets and blankets
reassembled, and quiet gradually restored. Life, as parents know,
can be supported on very little sleep.

But how delicious to lie there, in the morning freshness, to hear
the earth stir with reviving gusto, the merriment of birds, the
exuberant clink of milk-bottles set down by the back-door, the
whole complex machinery of life begin anew! Gissing was amazed
now, looking back upon his previous existence, to see himself so
busy, so active. Few people are really lazy, he thought: what we
call laziness is merely maladjustment. For in any department of
life where one is genuinely interested, he will be zealous beyond
belief. Certainly he had not dreamed, until he became (in a
manner of speaking) a parent, that he had in him such capacity
for detail.

This business of raising a family, though-- had he any true
aptitude for it? or was he forcing himself to go through with it?
Wasn't he, moreover, incurring all the labours of parenthood
without any of its proper dignity and social esteem? Mrs. Chow
down the street, for instance, why did she look so sniffingly
upon him when she heard the children, in the harmless uproar of
their play, cry him aloud as Daddy? Uncle, he had intended they
should call him; but that is, for beginning speech, a hard
saying, embracing both a palatal and a liquid. Whereas Da-da--the
syllables come almost unconsciously to the infant mouth. So he
had encouraged it, and even felt an irrational pride in the
honourable but unearned title.

A little word, Daddy, but one of the most potent, he was
thinking. More than a word, perhaps: a great social engine: an
anchor which, cast carelessly overboard, sinks deep and fast into
the very bottom. The vessel rides on her hawser, and where are
your blue horizons then?

But come now, isn't one horizon as good as another? And do they
really remain blue when you reach them?

Unconsciously he stirred, stretching his legs deeply into the
comfortable nest of his couch. The springs twanged. Simultaneous
clamours! The puppies were awake.

They yelled to be let out from the cribs. This was the time of
the morning frolic. Gissing had learned that there is only one
way to deal with the almost inexhaustible energy of childhood.
That is, not to attempt to check it, but to encourage and draw it
out. To start the day with a rush, stimulating every possible
outlet of zeal; meanwhile taking things as calmly and quietly as
possible himself, sitting often to take the weight off his legs,
and allowing the youngsters to wear themselves down. This, after
all, is Nature's own way with man; it is the wise parent's tactic
with children. Thus, by dusk, the puppies will have run
themselves almost into a stupor; and you, if you have shrewdly
husbanded your strength, may have still a little power in reserve
for reading and smoking.

The before-breakfast game was conducted on regular routine.
Children show their membership in the species by their love of
strict habit.

Gissing let them yell for a few moments--as long as he thought
the neighbours would endure it--while he gradually gathered
strength and resolution, shook off the cowardice of bed. Then he
strode into the nursery. As soon as they heard him raising the
shades there was complete silence. They hastened to pull the
blankets over themselves, and lay tense, faces on paws, with
bright expectant upward eyes. They trembled a little with
impatience. It was all he could do to restrain himself from
patting the sleek heads, which always seemed to shine with extra
polish after a night's rolling to and fro on the flattened
pillows. But sternness was a part of the game at this moment. He
solemnly unlatched and lowered the tall sides of the cribs.

He stood in the middle of the room, with a gesture of command.
"Quiet now," he said. "Quiet, until I tell you!"

Yelpers could not help a small whine of intense emotion, which
slipped out unintended. The eyes of Groups and Bunks swivelled
angrily toward their unlucky brother. It was his failing: in
crises he always emitted haphazard sounds. But this time Gissing,
with lenient forgiveness, pretended not to have heard.

He returned to the balcony, and reentered his couch, where he lay
feigning sleep. In the nursery was a terrific stillness.

It was the rule of the game that they should lie thus, in
absolute quiet, until he uttered a huge imitation snore. Once,
after a particularly exhausting night, he had postponed the snore
too long: he fell asleep. He did not wake for an hour, and then
found the tragic three also sprawled in amazing slumber. But
their pillows were wet with tears. He never succumbed again, no
matter how deeply tempted.

He snored. There were three sprawling thumps, a rush of feet, and
a tumbling squeeze through the screen door. Then they were on the
couch and upon him, with panting yelps of glee. Their hot tongues
rasped busily over his face. This was the great tickling game.
Remembering his theory of conserving energy, he lay passive while
they rollicked and scrambled, burrowing in the bedclothes,
quivering imps of absurd pleasure. All that was necessary was to
give an occasional squirm, to tweak their ribs now and then, so
that they believed his heart was in the sport. Really he got
quite a little rest while they were scuffling. No one knew
exactly what was the imagined purpose of the lark--whether he was
supposed to be trying to escape from them, or they from him. Like
all the best games, it had not been carefully thought out.

"Now, children," said Gissing presently. "Time to get dressed."

It was amazing how fast they were growing. Already they were
beginning to take a pride in trying to dress themselves. While
Gissing was in the bathroom, enjoying his cold tub (and under the
stimulus of that icy sluice forming excellent resolutions for the
day) the children were sitting on the nursery floor eagerly
studying the intricacies of their gear. By the time he returned
they would have half their garments on wrong; waist and trousers
front side to rear; right shoes on left feet; buttons hopelessly
mismated to buttonholes; shoelacings oddly zigzagged. It was far
more trouble to permit their ambitious bungling, which must be
undone and painstakingly reassembled, than to have clad them all
himself, swiftly revolving and garmenting them like dolls. But in
these early hours of the day, patience still is robust. It was
his pedagogy to encourage their innocent initiatives, so long as
endurance might permit.

Best of all, he enjoyed watching them clean their teeth. It was
delicious to see them, tiptoe on their hind legs at the basin, to
which their noses just reached; mouths gaping wide as they
scrubbed with very small toothbrushes. They were so elated by
squeezing out the toothpaste from the tube that he had not the
heart to refuse them this privilege, though it was wasteful. For
they always squeezed out more than necessary, and after a
moment's brushing their mouths became choked and clotted with the
pungent foam. Much of this they swallowed, for he had not been
able to teach them to rinse and gargle. Their only idea regarding
any fluid in the mouth was to swallow it; so they coughed and
strangled and barked. Gissing had a theory that this toothpaste
foam most be an appetizer, for he found that the more of it they
swallowed, the better they ate their breakfast.

After breakfast he hurried them out into the garden, before the
day became too hot. As he put a new lot of prunes to soak in cold
water, he could not help reflecting how different the kitchen and
pantry looked from the time of Fuji. The ice-box pan seemed to be
continually brimming over. Somehow--due, he feared, to a laxity
on Mrs. Spaniel's part--ants had got in. He was always finding
them inside the ice-box, and wondered where they came from. He
was amazed to find how negligent he was growing about pots and
pans: he began cooking a new mess of oatmeal in the double boiler
without bothering to scrape out the too adhesive remnant of the
previous porridge. He had come to the conclusion that children
are tougher and more enduring than Dr. Holt will admit; and that
a little carelessness in matters of hygiene and sterilization
does not necessarily mean instant death.

Truly his once dainty menage was deteriorating. He had put away
his fine china, put away the linen napery, and laid the table
with oil cloth. He had even improved upon Fuji's invention of
scuppers by a little trough which ran all round the rim of the
table, to catch any possible spillage. He was horrified to
observe how inevitably callers came at the worst possible moment.
Mr. and Mrs. Chow, for instance, drew up one afternoon in their
spick-and-span coupe with their intolerably spotless only child
sitting self-consciously beside them. Groups, Bunks, and Yelpers
were just then filling the garden with horrid clamour. They had
been quarrelling, and one had pushed the other two down the back
steps. Gissing, who had attempted to find a quiet moment to scald
the ants out of the ice-box, had just rushed forth and boxed them
all. As he stood there, angry and waving a steaming dishclout, to
Chows appeared. The puppies at once set upon little Sandy Chow,
and had thoroughly. mauled his starched sailor suit in the
driveway before two minutes were past. Gissing could not help
laughing, for he suspected that there had been a touch of malice
in the Chows coming just at that time.

He had given up his flower garden, too. It was all he could do to
shove the lawn-mower around, in the dusk, after the puppies were
in bed. Formerly he had found the purr of the twirling blades a
soothing stimulus to thought; but nowadays he could not even
think consecutively. Perhaps, he thought, the residence of the
mind is in the legs, not in the head; for when your legs are
thoroughly weary you can't seem to think.

So he had decided that he simply must have more help in the
cooking and housework. He had instructed Mrs. Spaniel to send the
washing to the steam-laundry, and spend her three days in the
kitchen instead. A huge bundle had come back from the laundry,
and he had paid the driver $15.98. With dismay he sorted the
clean, neatly folded garments. Here was the worthy Mrs. Spaniel's
list, painstakingly written out in her straggling script:--


8 towls
6 pymjarm Mr Gishing
12 rompers
3 blowses
6 cribb sheets
1 Mr. Gishing sheat
4 wastes
3 wosh clothes
2 onion sutes Mr Gishing
6 smal onion sutes
4 pillo slipes
3 sherts
18 hankerchifs smal
6 hankerchifs large
8 colers
3 overhauls
10 bibbs
2 table clothes (coca stane)
1 table clothe (prun juce and eg)

After contemplating this list, Gissing went to his desk and began
to study his accounts. A resolve was forming in his mind.


The summer evenings sounded a very different music from that thin
wheedling of April. It was now a soft steady vibration, the
incessant drone and throb of locust and cricket, and sometimes
the sudden rasp, dry and hard, of katydids. Gissing, in spite of
his weariness, was all fidgets. He would walk round and round the
house in the dark, unable to settle down to anything; tired, but
incapable of rest. What is this uneasiness in the mind, he asked
himself? The great sonorous drumming of the summer night was like
the bruit of Time passing steadily by. Even in the soft eddy of
the leaves, lifted on a drowsy creeping air, was a sound of
discontent, of troublesome questioning. Through the trees he
could see the lighted oblongs of neighbours' windows, or hear
stridulent jazz records. Why were all others so cheerfully
absorbed in the minutiae of their lives, and he so painfully ill
at ease? Sometimes, under the warm clear darkness, the noises of
field and earth swelled to a kind of soft thunder: his quickened
ears heard a thousand small outcries contributing to the awful
energy of the world--faint chimings and whistlings in the grass,
and endless flutter, rustle, and whirr. His own body, on which
hair and nails grew daily like vegetation, startled and appalled
him. Consciousness of self, that miserable ecstasy, was heavy
upon him.

He envied the children, who lay upstairs sprawled under their
mosquito nettings. Immersed in living, how happily unaware of
being alive! He saw, with tenderness, how naively they looked to
him as the answer and solution of their mimic problems. But where
could he find someone to be to him what he was to them? The truth
apparently was that in his inward mind he was desperately lonely.
Reading the poets by fits and starts, he suddenly realized that
in their divine pages moved something of this loneliness, this
exquisite unhappiness. But these great hearts had had the
consolation of setting down their moods in beautiful words, words
that lived and spoke. His own strange fever burned inexpressibly
inside him. Was he the only one who felt the challenge offered by
the maddening fertility and foison of the hot sun-dazzled earth?
Life, he realized, was too amazing to be frittered out in this
aimless sickness of heart. There were truths and wonders to be
grasped, if he could only throw off this wistful vague desire. He
felt like a clumsy strummer seated at a dark shining grand piano,
which he knows is capable of every glory of rolling music, yet he
can only elicit a few haphazard chords.

He had his moments of arrogance, too. Ah, he was very young! This
miracle of blue unblemished sky that had baffled all others since
life began--he, he would unriddle it! He was inclined to sneer at
his friends who took these things for granted, and did not
perceive the infamous insolubility of the whole scheme.
Remembering the promises made at the christening, he took the
children to church; but alas, carefully analyzing his mind, he
admitted that his attention had been chiefly occupied with
keeping them orderly, and he had gone through the service almost
automatically. Only in singing hymns did he experience a tingle
of exalted feeling. But Mr. Poodle was proud of his well-trained
choir, and Gissing had a feeling that the congregation was not
supposed to do more than murmur the verses, for fear of spoiling
the effect. In his favourite hymns he had a tendency to forget
himself and let go: his vigorous tenor rang lustily. Then he
realized that the backs of people's heads looked surprised. The
children could not be kept quiet unless they stood up on the
pews. Mr. Poodle preached rather a long sermon, and Yelpers,
toward twelve-thirty, remarked in a clear tone of interested
inquiry, "What time does God have dinner?"

Gissing had a painful feeling that he and Mr. Poodle did not
thoroughly understand each other. The curate, who was kindness
itself, called one evening, and they had a friendly chat. Gissing
was pleased to find that Mr. Poodle enjoyed a cigar, and after
some hesitation ventured to suggest that he still had something
in the cellar. Mr. Poodle said that he didn't care for anything,
but his host could not help hearing the curate's tail quite
unconsciously thumping on the chair cushions. So he excused
himself and brought up one of his few remaining bottles of White
Horse. Mr. Poodle crossed his legs and they chatted about golf,
politics, the income tax, and some of the recent books; but when
Gissing turned the talk on religion, Mr. Poodle became
diffident.. Gissing, warmed and cheered by the vital Scotch, was
perhaps too direct.

"What ought I to do to 'crucify the old man'?" he said.

Mr. Poodle was rather embarrassed.

"You must mortify the desires of the flesh," he replied. "You
must dig up the old bone of sin that is buried in all our

There were many more questions Gissing wanted to ask about this,
but Mr. Poodle said he really must be going, as he had a call to
pay on Mr. and Mrs. Chow.

Gissing walked down the path with him, and the curate did indeed
set ok toward the Chows'. But Gissing wondered, for a little
later he heard a cheerful canticle upraised in the open fields.

He himself was far from gay. He longed to tear out this malady
from his breast. Poor dreamer, he did not know that to do so is
to tear out God Himself. "Mrs. Spaniel," he said when the
laundress next came up from the village, "you are a widow, aren't

"Yes, sir," she said. "Poor Spaniel was killed by a truck, two
years ago April." Her face was puzzled, but beneath her apron
Gissing could see her tail wagging.

"Don't misunderstand me," he said quickly. "I've got to go away
on business. I want you to bring your children and move into this
house while I'm gone. I'll make arrangements at the bank about
paying all the bills. You can give up your outside washing and
devote yourself entirely to looking after this place."

Mrs. Spaniel was so much surprised that she could not speak. In
her amazement a bright bubble dripped from the end of her curly
tongue. Hastily she caught it in her apron, and apologized.

"How long will you be away, sir?" she asked.

"I don't know. It may be quite a long time."

"But all your beautiful things, furniture and everything," said
Mrs. Spaniel. "I'm afraid my children are a bit rough. They're
not used to living in a house like this--"

"Well," said Gissing, "you must do the best you can. There are
some things more important than furniture. It will be good for
your children to get accustomed to refined surroundings, and
it'll be good for my nephews to have someone to play with.
Besides, I don't want them to grow up spoiled mollycoddles. I
think I've been fussing over them too much. If they have good
stuff in them, a little roughening won't do any permanent harm."

"Dear me," cried Mrs. Spaniel, "what will the neighbours think?"

"They won't," said Gissing. "I don't doubt they'll talk, but they
won't think. Thinking is very rare. I've got to do some myself,
that's one reason why I'm going. You know, Mrs. Spaniel, God is a
horizon, not someone sitting on a throne." Mrs. Spaniel didn't
understand this--in fact, she didn't seem to hear it. Her mind
was full of the idea that she would simply have to have a new
dress, preferably black silk, for Sundays. Gissing, very
sagacious, had already foreseen this point. "Let's not have any
argument," he continued. "I have planned everything. Here is
some money for immediate needs. I'll speak to them at the bank,
and they will give you a weekly allowance. I leave you here as
caretaker. Later on I'll send you an address and you can write me
how things are going."

Poor Mrs. Spaniel was bewildered. She came of very decent people,
but since Spaniel took to drink, and then left her with a family
to support, she had sunk in the world. She was wondering now how
she could face it out with Mrs. Chow and Mrs. Fox-Terrier and the
other neighbours.

"Oh, dear," she cried, "I don't know what to say, sir. Why, my
boys are so disreputable-looking, they haven't even a collar
between them."

"Get them collars and anything else they need," said Gissing
kindly. "Don't worry, Mrs. Spaniel, it will be a fine thing for
you. There will be a little gossip, I dare say, but we'll have to
chance that. Now you had better go down to the village and make
your arrangements. I'm leaving tonight."

Late that evening, after seeing Mrs. Spaniel and her brood safely
installed, Gissing walked to the station with his suitcase. He
felt a pang as he lifted the mosquito nettings and kissed the
cool moist noses of the sleeping trio. But he comforted himself
by thinking that this was no merely vulgar desertion. If he was
to raise the family, he must earn some money. His modest income
would not suffice for this sudden increase in expenses. Besides,
he had never known what freedom meant until it was curtailed. For
the past three months he had lived in ceaseless attendance; had
even slept with one ear open for the children's cries. Now he
owed it to himself to make one great strike for peace. Wealth, he
could see, was the answer. With money, everything was attainable:
books, leisure for study, travel, prestige--in short, command
over the physical details of life. He would go in for Big
Business. Already he thrilled with a sense of power and

The little house stood silent in the darkness as he went down the
path. The night was netted with the weaving sparkle of fireflies.
He stood for a moment, looking. Suddenly there came a frightened
cry from the nursery.

"Daddy, a keeto, a keeto!"

He nearly turned to run back, but checked himself. No, Mrs.
Spaniel was now in charge. It was up to her. Besides, he had only
just enough time to catch the last train to the city.

But he sat on the cinder-speckled plush of the smoker in a mood
that was hardly revelry. "By Jove," he said to himself, "I got
away just in time. Another month and I couldn't have done it."

It was midnight when he saw the lights of town, panelled in gold
against a peacock sky. Acres and acres of blue darkness lay
close-pressing upon the gaudy grids of light. Here one might
really look at this great miracle of shadow and see its texture.
The dulcet air drifted lazily in deep, silent crosstown streets.
"Ah," he said, "here is where the blue begins."


"For students of the troubled heart
Cities are perfect works of art."

There is a city so tall that even the sky above her seems to have
lifted in a cautious remove, inconceivably far. There is a city
so proud, so mad, so beautiful and young, that even heaven has
retreated, lest her placid purity be too nearly tempted by that
brave tragic spell. In the city which is maddest of all, Gissing
had come to search for sanity. In the city so strangely beautiful
that she has made even poets silent, he had come to find a voice.
In the city of glorious ostent and vanity, he had come to look
for humility and peace.

All cities are mad: but the madness is gallant. All cities are
beautiful: but the beauty is grim. Who shall tell me the truth
about this one? Tragic? Even so, because wherever ambitions,
vanities, and follies are multiplied by millionfold contact,
calamity is there. Noble and beautiful? Aye, for even folly may
have the majesty of magnitude. Hasty, cruel, shallow? Agreed, but
where in this terrene orb will you find it otherwise? I know all
that can be said against her; and yet in her great library of
streets, vast and various as Shakespeare, is beauty enough for a
lifetime. O poets, why have you been so faint? Because she seems
cynical and crass, she cries with trumpet-call to the mind of the
dreamer; because she is riant and mad, she speaks to the grave
sanity of the poet.

So, in a mood perhaps too consciously lofty, Gissing was
meditating. It was rather impudent of him to accuse the city of
being mad, for he himself, in his glee over freedom regained, was
not conspicuously sane. He scoured the town in high spirits,
peering into shop-windows, riding on top of busses, going to the
Zoo, taking the rickety old steamer to the Statue of Liberty,
drinking afternoon tea at the Ritz, and all that sort of thing.
The first three nights in town he slept in one of the little
traffic-towers that perch on stilts up above Fifth Avenue. As a
matter of fact, it was that one near St. Patrick's Cathedral. He
had ridden up the Avenue in a taxi, intending to go to the Plaza
(just for a bit of splurge after his domestic confinement). As
the cab went by, he saw the traffic-tower, dark and empty, and
thought what a pleasant place to sleep. So he asked the driver to
let him out at the Cathedral, and after being sure that he was
not observed, walked back to the little turret, climbed up the
ladder, and made himself at home. He liked it so well that he
returned there the two following nights; but he didn't sleep
much, for he could not resist the fun of startling night-hawk
taxis by suddenly flashing the red, green, and yellow lights at
them, and seeing them stop in bewilderment. But after three
nights he thought it best to leave. It would have been awkward if
the police had discovered him.

It was time to settle down and begin work. He had an uncle who
was head of an important business far down-town; but Gissing,
with the quixotry of youth, was determined to make his own start
in the great world of commerce. He found a room on the top floor
of a quiet brownstone house in the West Seventies. It was not
large, and he had to go down a flight for his bath; the gas
burner over the bed whistled; the dust was rather startling after
the clean country; but it was cheap, and his sense of adventure
more than compensated. Mrs. Purp, the landlady, pleased him
greatly. She was very maternal, and urged him not to bolt his
meals in armchair lunches. She put an ashtray in his room.

Gissing sent Mrs. Spaniel a postcard with a picture of the
Pennsylvania Station. On it he wrote Arrived safely. Hard at
work. Love to the children. Then he went to look for a job.

His ideas about business were very vague. All he knew was that he
wished to be very wealthy and influential as soon as possible. He
could have had much sound advice from his uncle, who was a member
of the Union Kennel and quite a prominent dog-about-town. But
Gissing had the secretive pride of inexperience. Moreover, he did
not quite know what to say about his establishment in the
country. That houseful of children would need some explaining.

Those were days of brilliant heat; clear, golden, dry. The
society columns in the papers assured him that everyone was out
of town; but the Avenue seemed plentifully crowded with
beautiful, superb creatures. Far down the gentle slopes of that
glimmering roadway he could see the rolling stream of limousines,
dazzles of sunlight caught on their polished flanks. A faint blue
haze of gasoline fumes hung low in the bright warm air. This is
the street where even the most passive are pricked by the strange
lure of carnal dominion. Nothing less than a job on the Avenue
itself would suit his mood, he felt.

Fortune and audacity united (as they always do) to concede his
desire. He was in the beautiful department store of Beagle and
Company, one of the most splendid of its kind, looking at some
sand-coloured spats. In an aisle near by he heard a commotion--
nothing vulgar, but still an evident stir, with repressed yelps
and a genteel, horrified bustle. He hastened to the spot, and
through the crowd saw someone lying on the floor. An extremely
beautiful sales-damsel, charmingly clad in black crepe de chien,
was supporting the victim's head, vainly fanning him. Wealthy
dowagers were whining in distress. Then an ambulance clanged up
to a side door, and a stretcher was brought in. "What is it?"
said Gissing to a female at the silk-stocking counter.

"One of the floorwalkers--died of heat prostration," she said,
looking very much upset.

"Poor fellow," said Gissing. "You never know what will happen
next, do you?" He walked away, shaking his head.

He asked the elevator attendant to direct him to the offices of
the firm. On the seventh floor, down a quiet corridor behind the
bedroom suites, a rosewood fence barred his way. A secretary
faced him inquiringly.

"I wish to see Mr. Beagle."

"Mr. Beagle senior or Mr. Beagle junior?"

Youth cleaves to youth, said Gissing to himself. "Mr. Beagle
junior," he stated firmly.

"Have you an appointment?"

"Yes," he said.

She took his ward, disappeared, and returned. "This way, please,"
she said.

Mr. Beagle senior must be very old indeed, he thought; for junior
was distinctly grizzled. In fact (so rapidly does the mind run),
Mr. Beagle senior must be near the age of retirement. Very likely
(he said to himself) that will soon occur; there will be a
general stepping-up among members of the firm, and that will be
my chance. I wonder how much they pay a junior partner?

He almost uttered this question, as Mr. Beagle junior looked at
him so inquiringly. But he caught himself in time.

"I beg your pardon for intruding," said Gissing, "but I am the
new floorwalker."

"You are very kind," said Mr. Beagle junior, "but we do not need
a new floorwalker."

"I beg your pardon again," said Gissing, "but you are not au
courant with the affairs of the store. One has just died, right
by the silk-stocking counter. Very bad for business."

At this moment the telephone rang, and Mr. Beagle seized it. He
listened, sharply examining his caller meanwhile.

"You are right," he said, as he put down the receiver. "Well,
sir, have you had any experience?"

"Not exactly of that sort," said Gissing; "but I think I
understand the requirements. The tone of the store--"

"I will ask you to be here at four-thirty this afternoon," said
Mr. Beagle. "We have a particular routine in regard to candidates
for that position. You will readily perceive that it is a post of
some importance. The floorwalker is our point of social contact
with patrons "

Gissing negligently dusted his shoes with a handkerchief.

"Pray do not apologize," he said kindly. "I am willing to
congratulate with you on your good fortune. It was mere hazard
that I was in the store. To-day, of course, business will be
poor. But to-morrow, I think you will find--"

"At four-thirty," said Mr. Beagle, a little puzzled.

That day Gissing went without lunch. First he explored the whole
building from top to bottom, until he knew the location of every
department, and had the store directory firmly memorized. With
almost proprietary tenderness he studied the shining goods and
trinkets; noted approvingly the clerks who seemed to him
specially prompt and obliging to customers; scowled a little at
any sign of boredom or inattention. He heard the soft sigh of the
pneumatic tubes as they received money and blew it to some
distant coffer: this money, he thought, was already partly his.
That square-cut creature whom he presently discerned following
him was undoubtedly the store detective: he smiled to think what
a pleasant anecdote this would be when he was admitted to junior
partnership. Then he went, finally, to the special Masculine Shop
on the fifth floor, where he bought a silk hat, a cutaway coat
and waistcoat, and trousers of pearly stripe. He did not forget
patent leather shoes, nor white spats. He refused-the little
white linen margins which the clerk wished to affix to the V of
his waistcoat. That, he felt, was the ultra touch which would
spoil all. The just less than perfection, how perfect it is!

It was getting late. He hurried to Penn Station where he hired
one of those little dressing booths, and put on his regalia. His
tweeds, in a neat package, he checked at the parcel counter. Then
he returned to the store for the important interview.

He had expected a formal talk with the two Messrs. Beagle,
perhaps touching on such matters as duties, hours, salary, and so
on. To his surprise he was ushered by the secretary into a
charming Louis XVI salon farther down the private corridor. There
were several ladies: one was pouring tea. Mr. Beagle junior came
forward. The vice-president (such was Mr. Beagle junior's rank,
Gissing had learned by the sign on his door) still wore his
business garb of the morning. Gissing immediately felt himself to
have the advantage. But what a pleasant idea, he thought, for the
members of the firm to have tea together every afternoon. He
handed his hat, gloves, and stick to the secretary.

"Very kind of you to come," said Mr. Beagle. "Let me present you
to my wife."

Mrs. Beagle, at the tea-urn, received him graciously.

"Cream or lemon?" she said. "Two lumps?"

This is really delightful, Gissing thought. Only on Fifth Avenue
could this kind of thing happen. He looked down the hostess from
his superior height, and smiled charmingly.

"Do you permit three?" he said. "A little weakness of mine." As a
matter of fact, he hated tea so sweet; but he felt it was
strategic to fix himself in Mrs. Beagle's mind as a polished

"You must have a meringue," she said. "Ah, Mrs. Pomeranian has
them. Mrs. Pomeranian, let me present Mr. Gissing."

Mrs. Pomeranian, small and plump and tightly corseted, offered
the meringues, while Mrs. Beagle pressed upon him a plate with a
small doily, embroidered with the arms of the store, and its
motto je maintiendrai--referring, no doubt, to its prices. Mr.
Beagle then introduced him to several more ladies in rapid
succession. Gissing passed along the line, bowing slightly but
with courteous interest to each. To each one he raised his
eyebrows and permitted himself a small significant smile, as
though to convey that this was a moment he had long been
anticipating. How different, he thought, was this life of
enigmatic gaiety from the suburban drudgery of recent months. If
only Mrs. Spaniel could see him now! He eras about to utilize a
brief pause by sipping his tea, when a white-headed patriarch
suddenly appeared beside him.

"Mr. Gissing," said the vice-president, "this is my father, Mr.
Beagle senior."

Gissing, by quick work, shuffled the teacup into his left paw,
and the meringue plate into the crook of his elbow, so he was
ready for the old gentleman's salutation. Mr. Beagle senior was
indeed very old: his white hair hung over his eyes, he spoke with
growling severity. Gissing's manner to the old merchant was one
of respectful reassurance: he attempted to make an impression
that would console: to impart--of course without saying so--the
thought that though the head of the firm could not last much
longer, yet he would leave his great traffic in capable care.

"Where will I find an aluminum cooking pot?" growled the elder
Beagle unexpectedly.

"In the Bargain Basement," said Gissing promptly.

"He'll do!" cried the president.

To his surprise, on looking round, Gissing saw that all the
ladies had vanished. Beagle junior was grinning at him.

"You have the job, Mr. Gissing," he said. "You will pardon the
harmless masquerade--we always try out a floorwalker in that way.
My father thinks that if he can handle a teacup and a meringue
while being introduced to ladies, he can manage anything on the
main aisle downstairs. Mrs. Pomeranian, our millinery buyer, said
she had never seen it better done, and she mixes with some of the
swellest people in Paris."

"Nine to six, with half an hour off for lunch," said the senior
partner, and left the room.

Gissing calmly swallowed his tea, and ate the meringue. He would
have enjoyed another, but the capable secretary had already
removed them. He poured himself a second cup of tea. Mr. Beagle
junior showed signs of eagerness to leave, but Gissing detained

"One moment," he said suavely. "There is a little matter that we
have not discussed. The question of salary."

Mr. Beagle looked thoughtfully out of the window.

"Thirty dollars a week," he said.

After all, Gissing thought, it will only take four weeks to pay
for what I have spent on clothes.


There was some dramatic nerve in Gissing's nature that responded
eloquently to the floorwalking job. Never, in the history of
Beagle and Company, had there been a floorwalker who threw so
much passion and zeal into his task. The very hang of his
coattails, even the erect carriage of his back, the rubbery way
in which his feet trod the aisles, showed his sense of dignity
and glamour. There seemed to be a great tradition which enriched
and upheld him. Mr. Beagle senior used to stand on the little
balcony at the rear of the main floor, transfixed with the
pleasure of seeing Gissing move among the crowded passages.
Alert, watchful, urbane, with just the ideal blend of courtesy
and condescension, he raised floorwalking to a social art. Female
customers asked him the way to departments they knew perfectly
well, for the pleasure of hearing him direct them. Business began
to improve before he had been there a week.

And how he enjoyed himself! The perfection of his bearing on the
floor was no careful pose: it was due to the brimming overplus of
his happiness. Happiness is surely the best teacher of good
manners: only the unhappy are churlish in deportment. He was
young, remember; and this was his first job. His precocious
experience as a paterfamilias had added to his mien just that
suggestion of unconscious gravity which is so appealing to
ladies. He looked (they thought) as though he had been touched--
but Oh so lightly!--by poetic sorrow or strange experience: to
ask him the way to the notion counter was as much of an adventure
as to meet a reigning actor at a tea. The faint cloud of
melancholy that shadowed his brow may have been only due to the
fact that his new boots were pinching painfully; but they did not
know that.

So, quite unconsciously, he began to "establish" himself in his
role, just as an actor does. At first he felt his way tentatively
and with tact. Every store has its own tone and atmosphere: in a
day or so he divined the characteristic cachet of the Beagle
establishment. He saw what kind of customers were typical, and
what sort of conduct they expected. And the secret of conquest
being always to give people a little more than they expect, he
pursued that course. Since they expected in a floorwalker the
mechanical and servile gentility of a hired puppet, he exhibited
the easy, offhand simplicity of a fellow club-member. With
perfect naturalness he went out of his way to assist in their
shopping concerns: gave advice in the selection of dress
materials, acted as arbiter in the matching of frocks and
stockings. His taste being faultless, it often happened that the
things he recommended were not the most expensive: this again
endeared him to customers. When sales slips were brought to him
by ladies who wished to make an exchange, he affixed his O. K.
with a magnificent flourish, and with such evident pleasure, that
patrons felt genuine elation, and plunged into the tumult with
new enthusiasm. It was not long before there were always people
waiting for his counsel; and husbands would appear at the store
to convey (a little irritably) some such message as: "Mrs.
Sealyham says, please choose her a scarf that will go nicely with
that brown moire dress of hers. She says you will remember the
dress."--This popularity became even a bit perplexing, as for
instance when old Mrs. Dachshund, the store's biggest Charge
Account, insisted on his leaving his beat at a very busy time, to
go up to the tenth floor to tell her which piano he thought had
the richer tone.

Of course all this was very entertaining, and an admirable
opportunity for studying his fellow-creatures; but it did not go
very deep into his mind. He lived for some time in a confused
glamour and glitter; surrounded by the fascinating specious life
of the store, but drifting merely superficially upon it. The
great place, with its columns of artificial marble and white
censers of upward-shining electricity, glimmered like a birch
forest by moonlight. Silver and jewels and silks and slippers
flashed all about him. It was a marvellous education, for he soon
learned to estimate these things at their proper value; which is
low, for they have little to do with life itself. His work was
tiring in the extreme--merely having to remain upright on his
hind legs for such long hours WAS an ordeal--but it did not
penetrate to the secret observant self of which he was always
aware. This was advantageous. If you have no intellect, or only
just enough to get along with, it does not much matter what you
do. But if you really have a mind--by which is meant that rare
and curious power of reason, of imagination, and of emotion; very
different from a mere fertility of conversation and intelligent
curiosity--it is better not to weary and wear it out over

So, when he left the store in the evening, no matter how his legs
ached, his head was clear and untarnished. He did not hurry away
at closing time. Places where people work are particularly
fascinating after the bustle is over. He loved to linger in the
long aisles, to see the tumbled counters being swiftly brought to
order, to hear the pungent cynicisms of the weary shopgirls. To
these, by the way, he was a bit of a mystery. The punctilio of
his manner, the extreme courtliness of his remarks, embarrassed
them a little. Behind his back they spoke of him as "The Duke"
and admired him hugely; little Miss Whippet, at the stocking
counter, said that he was an English noble of long pedigree, who
had been unjustly deprived of his estates.

Down in the basement of this palatial store was a little dressing
room and lavatory for the floorwalkers, where they doffed their
formal raiment and resumed street attire. His colleagues grumbled
and hastened to depart, but Gissing made himself entirely
comfortable. In his locker he kept a baby's bathtub, which he
leisurely filled with hot water at one of the basins. Then he sat
serenely and bathed his feet; although it was against the rules
he often managed to smoke a pipe while doing so. Then he hung up
his store clothes neatly, and went off refreshed into the summer

A warm rosy light floods the city at that hour. At the foot of
every crosstown street is a bonfire of sunset. What a mood of
secret smiling beset him as he viewed the great territory of his
enjoyment. "The freedom of the city"--a phrase he had somewhere
heard--echoed in his mind. The freedom of the city! A magnificent
saying Electric signs, first burning wanly in the pink air, then
brightened and grew strong. "Not light, but rather darkness
visible," in that magic hour that just holds the balance between
paling day and the spendthrift jewellery of evening. Or, if it
rained, to sit blithely on the roof of a bus, revelling in the
gust and whipping of the shower. Why had no one told him of the
glory of the city? She was pride, she was exultation, she was
madness. She was what he had obscurely craved. In every line of
her gallant profile he saw conquest, triumph, victory! Empty
conquest, futile triumph, doomed victory--but that was the
essence of the drama. In thunderclaps of dumb ecstasy he saw her
whole gigantic fabric, leaning and clamouring upward with
terrible yearning. Burnt with pitiless sunlight, drenched with
purple explosions of summer storm, he saw her cleansed and pure.
Where were her recreant poets that they had never made these
things plain?

And then, after the senseless day, after its happy but
meaningless triviality, the throng and mixed perfumery and silly
courteous gestures, his blessed solitude! Oh solitude, that noble
peace of the mind! He loved the throng and multitude of the day:
he loved people: but sometimes he suspected that he loved them as
God does--at a judicious distance. From his rather haphazard
religious training, strange words came back to him. "For God so
loved the world . . ." So loved the world that--that what? That
He sent someone else . . . Some day he must think this out. But
you can't think things out. They think themselves, suddenly,
amazingly. The city itself is God, he cried. Was not God's
ultimate promise something about a city--The City of God? Well,
but that was only symbolic language. The city--of course that was
only a symbol for the race--for all his kind. The entire species,
the whole aspiration and passion and struggle, that was God.

On the ferries, at night, after supper, was his favourite place
for meditation. Some undeniable instinct drew him ever and again
out of the deep and shut ravines of stone, to places where he
could feed on distance. That is one of the subtleties of this
straight and narrow city, that though her ways are cliffed in,
they are a long thoroughfare for the eye: there is always a far
perspective. But best of all to go down to her environing water,
where spaces are wide: the openness that keeps her sound and
free. Ships had words for him: they had crossed many horizons:
fragments of that broken blue still shone on their cutting bows.
Ferries, the most poetical things in the city, were nearly empty
at night: he stood by the rail, saw the black outline of the town
slide by, saw the lower sky gilded with her merriment, and was
busy thinking.

Now about a God (he said to himself)--instinct tells me that
there is one, for when I think about Him I find that I
unconsciously wag my tail a little. But I must not reason on that
basis, which is too puppyish. I like to think that there is,
somewhere in this universe, an inscrutable Being of infinite
wisdom, harmony, and charity, by Whom all my desires and needs
would be understood; in association with Whom I would find peace,
satisfaction, a lightness of heart that exceed my present
understanding. Such a Being is to me quite inconceivable; yet I
feel that if I met Him, I would instantly understand. I do not
mean that I would understand Him: but I would understand my
relationship to Him, which would be perfect. Nor do I mean that
it would be always happy; merely that it would transcend anything
in the way of social significance that I now experience. But I
must not conclude that there is such a God, merely because it
would be so pleasant if there were.

Then (he continued) is it necessary to conceive that this deity
is super-canine in essence? What I am getting at is this: in
everyone I have ever known--Fuji, Mr. Poodle, Mrs. Spaniel, those
maddening delightful puppies, Mrs. Purp, Mr. Beagle, even Mrs.
Chow and Mrs. Sealyham and little Miss Whippet--I have always
been aware that there was some mysterious point of union at which
our minds could converge and entirely understand one another. No
matter what our difference of breed, of training, of experience
and education, provided we could meet and exchange ideas honestly
there would be some satisfying point of mental fusion where we
would feel our solidarity in the common mystery of life. People
complain that wars are caused by and fought over trivial things.
Why, of course! For it is only in trivial matters that people
differ: in the deep realities they must necessarily be at one.
Now I have a suspicion that in this secret sense of unity God may
lurk. Is that what we mean by God, the sum total of all these
instinctive understandings? But what is the origin of this sense
of kinship? Is it not the realization of our common subjection to
laws and forces greater than ourselves? Then, since nothing can
be greater than God, He must BE these superior mysteries. Yet He
cannot be greater than our minds, for our minds have imagined

My mathematics is very rusty, he said to himself, but I seem to
remember something about a locus, which was a curve or a surface
every point on which satisfied some particular equation of
relation among the coordinates. It begins to look to me as though
life might be a kind of locus, whose commanding equation we call
God. The points on that locus cannot conceive of the equation,
yet they are subject to it. They cannot conceive of that
equation, because of course it has no existence save as a law of
their being. It exists only for them; they, only by it. But there
it is--a perfect, potent, divine abstraction.

This carried him into a realm of disembodied thinking which his
mind was not sufficiently disciplined to summarize. It is quite
plain, he said to himself, that I must rub up my vanished
mathematics. For certainly the mathematician comes closer to God
than any other, since his mind is trained to conceive and
formulate the magnificent phantoms of legality. He smiled to
think that any one should presume to become a parson without
having at least mastered analytical geometry.

The ferry had crossed and recrossed the river several times, but
Gissing had found no conclusion for these thoughts. As the boat
drew toward her slip, she passed astern of a great liner. Gissing
saw the four tall funnels loom up above the shed of the pier
where she lay berthed. What was it that made his heart so stir?
The perfect rake of the funnels--just that satisfying angle of
slant--that, absurdly enough, was the nobility of the sight. Why,
then? Let's get at the heart of this, he said. Just that little
trick of the architect, useless in itself--what was it but the
touch of swagger, of bravado, of defiance--going out into the
vast, meaningless, unpitying sea with that dainty arrogance of
build; taking the trouble to mock the senseless elements,
hurricane, ice, and fog, with a 15-degree slope of masts and
funnels damn, what was the analogy?

It was pride, it was pride! It was the same lusty impudence that
he saw in his perfect city, the city that cried out to the hearts
of youth, jutted her mocking pinnacles toward sky, her clumsy
turrets verticalled on gold! And God, the God of gales and
gravity, loved His children to dare and contradict Him, to rally
Him with equations of their own.

"God, I defy you!" he cried.


Time is a flowing river. Happy those who allow themselves to be
carried, unresisting, with the current. They float through easy
days. They live, unquestioning, in the moment.

But Gissing was acutely conscious of Time. Though not subtle
enough to analyze the matter acutely, he had a troublesome
feeling about it. He kept checking off a series of Nows. "Now I
am having my bath," he would say to himself in the morning. "Now
I am dressing. Now I am on the way to the store. Now I am in the
jewellery aisle, being polite to customers. Now I am having
lunch." After a period in which time ran by unnoticed, he would
suddenly realize a fresh Now, and feel uneasy at the knowledge
that it would shortly dissolve into another one. He tried,
vainly, to swim up-stream against the smooth impalpable fatal
current. He tried to dam up Time, to deepen the stream so that
he could bathe in it carelessly. Time, he said, is life; and life
is God; time, then, is little bits of God. Those who waste their
time in vulgarity or folly are the true atheists.

One of the things that struck him about the city was its
heedlessness of Time. On every side he saw people spending it
without adequate return. Perhaps he was young and doctrinaire:
but he devised this theory for himself--all time is wasted that
does not give you some awareness of beauty or wonder. In other
words, "the days that make us happy make us wise," he said to
himself, quoting Masefield's line. On that principle, he asked,
how much time is wasted in this city? Well, here are some six
million people. To simplify the problem (which is permitted to
every philosopher) let us (he said) assume that 2,350,000 of
those people have spent a day that could be called, on the whole,
happy: a day in which they have had glimpses of reality; a day in
which they feel satisfaction. (That was, he felt, a generous
allowance. ) Very well, then, that leaves 3,650,000 people whose
day has been unfruitful: spent in uncongenial work, or in sorrow,
suffering, and talking nonsense. This city, then, in one day, has
wasted 10,000 years, or 100 centuries. One hundred centuries
squandered in a day! It made him feel quite ill, and he tore up
the scrap of paper on which he had been figuring.

This was a new, disconcerting way to think of the subject. We are
accustomed to consider Time only as it applies to ourselves,
forgetting that it is working upon everyone else simultaneously.
Why, he thought with a sudden shock, if only 36,500 people in
this city have had a thoroughly spendthrift and useless day, that
means a net loss of a century! If the War, he said to himself,
lasted over 1,500 days and involved more than 10,000,000 men, how
many aeons--He used to think about these things during quiet
evenings in the top-floor room at Mrs. Purp's. Occasionally he
went home at night still wearing his store clothes, because it
pleased good Mrs. Purp so much. She felt that it added glamour to
her house to have him do so, and always called her husband, a
frightened silent creature with no collar and a humble air, up
from the basement to admire. Mr. Purp's time, Gissing suspected,
was irretrievably wasted--a good deal of it, to judge by his
dusty appearance, in rolling around in ashcans or in the company
of the neighbourhood bootlegger; but then, he reflected, in a
charitable seizure, you must not judge other people's
time-spendings by a calculus of your own.

Perhaps he himself was growing a little miserly in this matter.
Indulging in the rare, the sovereign luxury of thinking, he had
suddenly become aware of time's precious fluency, and wondered
why everyone else didn't think about it as passionately as he
did. In the privacy of his room, weary after the day afoot, he
took off his cutaway coat and trousers and enjoyed his old habit
of stretching out on the floor for a good rest. There he would
lie, not asleep, but in a bliss of passive meditation. He even
grudged Mrs. Purp the little chats she loved--she made a point of
coming up with clean towels when she knew he was in his room,
because she cherished hearing him talk. When he heard her knock,
he had to scramble hastily to his feet, get on his clothes, and
pretend he had been sitting calmly in the rocking chair. It would
never do to let her find him sprawled on the floor. She had an
almost painful respect for him. Once, when prospective lodgers
were bargaining for rooms, and he happened to be wearing his
Beagle and Company attire, she had asked him to do her the favour
of walking down the stairs, so that the visitors might be
impressed by the gentility of the establishment.

Of course he loved to waste time--but in his own way. He gloated
on the irresponsible vacancy of those evening hours, when there
was nothing to be done. He lay very still, hardly even thinking,
just feeling life go by. Through the open window came the lights
and noises of the street. Already his domestic life seemed dim
and far away. The shrill appeals of the puppies, their appalling
innocent comments on existence, came but faintly to memory. Here,
where life beat so much more thickly and closely, was the place
to be. Though he had solved nothing, yet he seemed closer to the
heart of the mystery. Entranced, he felt time flowing on toward
him, endless in sweep and fulness. There is only one success, he
said to himself--to be able to spend your life in your own way,
and not to give others absurd maddening claims upon it. Youth,
youth is the only wealth, for youth has Time in its purse!

In the store, however, philosophy was laid aside. A kind of
intoxication possessed him. Never before had old Mr. Beagle
(watching delightedly from the mezzanine balcony) seen such a
floorwalker. Gissing moved to and fro exulting in the great tide
of shopping. He knew all the best customers by name and had
learned their peculiarities. If a shower came up and Mrs. Mastiff
was just leaving, he hastened to give her his arm as far as her
limousine, boosting her in so expeditiously that not a drop of
wetness fell upon her. He took care to find out the special plat
du jour of the store's lunch room, and seized occasion to whisper
to Mrs. Dachshund, whose weakness was food, that the filet of
sole was very nice to-day. Mrs. Pomeranian learned that giving
Gissing a hint about some new Parisian importations was more
effective than a half page ad. in the Sunday papers. Within a few
hours, by a judicious word here and there, he would have a score
of ladies hastening to the millinery salon. A pearl necklace of
great value, which Mr. Beagle had rebuked the jewellery buyer for
getting, because it seemed more appropriate for a dealer in
precious stones than for a department store, was disposed of
almost at once. Gissing casually told Mrs. Mastiff that he had
heard Mrs. Sealyham intended to buy it. As for Mrs. Dachshund,
who had had a habit of lunching at Delmonico's, she now was to be
seen taking tiffin at Beagle's almost daily. There were many
husbands who would have been glad to shoot him at sight on the
first of the month, had they known who was the real cause of
their woe.

Indeed, Gissing had raised floorwalking to a new level. He was
more prime minister than a mere patroller of aisles. With
sparkling eye, with unending curiosity, tact, and attention, he
moved quietly among the throng. He realized that shopping is the
female paradise; that spending money she has not earned is the
only real fun an elderly and wealthy lady can have; and if to
this primitive shopping passion can be added the delights of
social amenity--flattery, courtesy, good-humoured flirtation--the
snare is complete.

But all this is not accomplished without rousing the jealousy of
rivals. Among the other floorwalkers, and particularly in the
gorgeously uniformed attendant at the front door (who was
outraged by Gissing's habit of escorting special customers to
their motors) moved anger, envy, and sneers. Gissing, completely
absorbed in the fascination of his work, was unaware of this
hostility, as he was equally unaware of the amazed satisfaction
of his employer. He went his way with naive and unconscious
pleasure. It did not take long for his enemies to find a fulcrum
for their chagrin. One evening, after closing, when he sat in the
dressing room, with his feet in the usual tub of hot water,
placidly reviewing the day's excitements and smoking his pipe,
the superintendent burst in.

"Hey!" he exclaimed. "Don't you know smoking's forbidden? What do
you want to do, get our fire insurance cancelled? Get out of
here! You're fired!"

It did not occur to Gissing to question or protest. He had known
perfectly well that smoking was not allowed. But he was like the
stage hand behind the scenes who concluded it was all right to
light a cigarette because the sign only said SMOKING FORBIDDEN,
instead of SMOKING STRICTLY FORBIDDEN. He had not troubled his
mind about it, one way or about it, one way or another.

He had drawn his salary that evening, and his first thought was,
Well, at any rate I've earned enough to pay for the clothes. He
had been there exactly four weeks. Quite calmly, he lifted his
feet out of the tub and began to towel them daintily. The
meticulous way he dried between his toes was infuriating to the

"Have you any children?" Gissing asked, mildly.

"What's that to you?" snapped the other.

"I'll sell you this bathtub for a quarter. Take it home to them.
They probably need it."

"You get out of here!" cried the angry official.

"You'd be surprised," said Gissing, "how children thrive when
they're bathed regularly. Believe me, I know."

He packed his formal clothes in a neat bundle, left the bathtub
behind, surrendered his locker key, and walked toward the
employees' door, escorted by his bristling superior. As they
passed through the empty aisles, scene of his brief triumph, he
could not help gazing a little sadly. True merchant to the last,
a thought struck him He scribbled a note on the back of a sales
slip' and left it at Miss Whippet's post by the stocking counter.
It said:--

MISS WHIPPET: Show Mrs. Sealyham some of the bisque sports hose,
Scotch wool, size 9. She's coming to-morrow. Don't let her get
size 8 1/2. They shrink.

At the door he paused, relit his pipe leisurely, raised his hat
to the superintendent, and strolled away.

In spite of this nonchalance, the situation was serious. His
money was at a low ebb. All his regular income was diverted to
the support of the large household in the country. He was too
proud to appeal to his wealthy uncle. He hated also to think of
Mrs. Purp's mortification if she learned that her star boarder
was out of work. By a curious irony, when he got home he found a
letter from Mrs. Spaniel:--

MR. GISHING, dere friend, the pupeys are well, no insecks, and
eat with nives and forx Groups is the fattest but Yelpers is the
lowdest they send wags and lix and glad to here Daddy is doing so
well in buisness with respects from

He did not let Mrs. Purp know of the change in his condition, and
every morning left his lodging at the usual time. By some curious
attraction he felt drawn to that downtown region where his
kinsman's office was. This part of the city he had not properly

It was a world wholly different from Fifth Avenue. There was none
of that sense of space and luxury he had known on the wide slopes
of Murray Hill. He wandered under terrific buildings, in a breezy
shadow where javelins of colourless sunlight pierced through thin
slits, hot brilliance fell in fans and cascades over the uneven
terrace of roofs. Here was where husbands worked to keep Fifth
Avenue going: he wondered vaguely whether Mrs. Sealyham had
bought those stockings? One day he saw his uncle hurrying along
Wall Street with an intent face. Gissing skipped into a doorway,
fearing to be recognized. He knew that the old fellow would
insist on taking him to lunch at the Pedigree Club, would talk
endlessly, and ask family questions. But he was on the scent of
matters that talk could not pursue.

He perceived a sense of pressure, of prodigious poetry and beauty
and amazement. This was a strange jungle of life. Tall coasts of
windows stood up into the pure brilliant sky: against their feet
beat a dark surf of slums. In one foreign street, too deeply
trenched for sunlight, oranges were the only gold. The water,
reaching round in two arms, came close: there was a note of husky
summons in the whistles of passing craft. Almost everywhere,
sharp above many smells of oils and spices, the whiff of coffee
tingled his busy nose. Above one huge precipice stood a gilded
statue--a boy with wings, burning in the noon. Brilliance flamed
between the vanes of his pinions: the intangible thrust of that
pouring light seemed about to hover him off into blue air.

The world of working husbands was more tender than that of
shopping wives: even in all their business, they had left space
and quietness for the dead. Sunken among the crags he found two
graveyards. They were cups of placid brightness. Here, looking
upward, it was like being drowned on the floor of an ocean of
light. Husbands had built their offices half-way to the sky
rather than disturb these. Perhaps they appreciate rest all the
more, Gissing thought, because they get so little of it? Somehow
he could not quite imagine a graveyard left at peace in the
shopping district. It would be bad for trade, perhaps? Even the
churches on the Avenue, he had noticed, were huddled up and
hemmed in so tightly by the other buildings that they had
scarcely room to kneel. If I ever become a parson, he said (this
was a fantastic dream of his), I will insist that all churches
must have a girdle of green about them, to set them apart from
the world.

The two little brown churches among the cliffs had been gifted
with a dignity far beyond the dream of their builders. Their
pointing spires were relieved against the enormous facades of
business. What other altars ever had such a reredos? Above the
strepitant racket of the streets, he heard the harsh chimes of
Trinity at noonday--strong jags of clangour hurled against the
great sounding-boards of buildings; drifting and dying away down
side alleys. There was no soft music of appeal in the bronze
volleying: it was the hoarse monitory voice of rebuke. So spoke
the church of old, he thought: not asking, not appealing, but
imperatively, sternly, as one born to command. He thought with
new respect of Mr. Sealyham, Mr. Mastiff, Mr. Dachshund, all the
others who were powers in these fantastic flumes of stone. They
were more than merely husbands of charge accounts--they were
poets. They sat at lunch on the tops of their amazing edifices,
and looked off at the blue.

Day after day went by, but with a serene fatalism Gissing did
nothing about hunting a job. He was willing to wait until the
last dollar was broken: in the meantime he was content. You never
know the soul of a city, he said, until you are down on your
luck. Now, he felt, he had been here long enough to understand
her. She did not give her secrets to the world of Fifth Avenue.
Down here, where the deep crevice of Broadway opened out into
greenness, what was the first thing he saw? Out across the
harbour, turned toward open sea--Liberty! Liberty Enlightening
the World, he had heard, was her full name. Some had mocked her,
he had also heard. Well, what was the gist of her enlightenment?
Why this, surely: that Liberty could never be more than a statue:
never a reality. Only a fool would expect complete liberty. He
himself, with all his latitude, was not free. If he were, he
would cook his meals in his room, and save money--but Mrs. Purp
was strict on that point. She had spoken scathingly of two young
females she ejected for just that reason. Nor was Mrs. Purp
free--she was ridden by the Gas Company. So it went.

It struck him, now he was down to about three dollars, that a
generous gesture toward Fortune might be valuable. When you are
nearly out of money, he reasoned, to toss coins to the gods--i.
e., to buy something quite unnecessary--may be propitiatory. It
may start something moving in your direction. It is the touch of
bravado that God relishes. In a sudden mood of tenderness, he
bought two dollars' worth of toys and had them sent to the
children. He smiled to think hoer they would frolic over the
jumping rabbit. He sent Mrs. Spaniel a postcard of the Aquarium.

There is a good deal more to this business than I had realized,
he said, as he walked uptown through the East Side slums that hot
night. The audacity, the vitality, the magnificence, are plain
enough. But I seem to see squalor too, horror and pitiful dearth.
I believe God is farther off than I thought. Look here: if the
more you know, the less you know about God, doesn't that mean
that God is really enjoyed only by the completely simple--by
faith, never by reason?

He gave twenty-five cents to a beggar, and said angrily: "I am
not interested in a God who is known only by faith."

When he got uptown he was very tired and hungry. In spite of all
Mrs. Purp's rules, he smuggled in an egg, a box of biscuits, a
small packet of tea and sugar, and a tin of condensed milk. He
emptied the milk into his shaving mug, and used the tin to boil
water in, holding it over the gas jet. He was getting on finely
when a sudden knock on the door made him jump. He spilled the hot
water on his leg, and uttered a wild yell.

Mrs. Purp burst in, but she was so excited that she did not
notice the egg seeping into the clean counterpane.

"Oh, Mr. Gissing," she exclaimed, "I've been waiting all evening
for you to come in. Purp and I wondered if you'd seen this in the

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