Part 1 out of 4
Produced by Brendan Lane, Charlie Kirschner and the Online Distributed
RICHARD LE GALLIENNE
IN MEMORY OF ANGEL
_Let thy soul strive that still the same
Be early friendship's sacred flame;
The affinities have strongest part
In youth, and draw men heart to heart:
As life wears on and finds no rest,
The individual in each breast
Is tyrannous to sunder them_.
I. HARD YOUNG HEARTS.
II. CONCERNING THOSE "ATLANTIC LINERS" AND AN OLD DESK.
III. OF THE LOVE OF HENRY AND ESTHER.
IV. OF THE PROFESSIONS THAT CHOOSE, AND MIKE LAFLIN.
V. OF THE LOVE OF ESTHER AND MIKE, AND THE MESURIER LAW IN REGARD TO
VI. THE BEGINNING OF THE END OF HOME.
VII. A LINK WITH CIVILISATION.
VIII. A RHAPSODY OF TYRE.
IX. A PENITENTIARY OF THE MATHEMATICS.
X. THE GRASS BETWEEN THE FLAG-STONES.
XI. HUMANITY IN HIGH PLACES.
XII. DAMON AND PYTHIAS.
XIII. DAMON AND PYTHIAS AT THE THEATRE.
XIV. CONTRIBUTIONS TOWARDS A GENEALOGY.
XV. MERELY A HUMBLE INTERRUPTION AND ILLUSTRATION OF THE LAST.
XVI. CHAPTER FOURTEEN CONCLUDED.
XVII. DOT'S DECISION.
XVIII. MIKE AND HIS MILLION POUNDS.
XIX. ON CERTAIN ADVANTAGES OF A BACKWATER.
XX. THE MAN IN POSSESSION.
XXI. LITTLE MISS FLOWER.
XXII. MIKE'S FIRST LAURELS.
XXIII. THE MOTHER OF AN ANGEL.
XXIV. AN ANCIENT THEORY OF HEAVEN.
XXV. THE LAST CONTINUED, AFTER A BRIEF INTERVAL.
XXVI. CONCERNING THE BEST KIND OF WIFE FOR A POET.
XXVII. THE BOOK OF ANGELICA.
XXVIII. WHAT COMES OF PUBLISHING A BOOK.
XXIX. MIKE'S TURN TO MOVE.
XXX. UNCHARTERED FREEDOM.
XXXI. A PREPOSTEROUS AUNT.
XXXII. THE LITERARY GENTLEMAN IN THE BACK PARLOUR.
XXXIII. "THIS IS LONDON, THIS IS LIFE".
XXXIV. THE WITS.
XXXV. BACK TO REALITY.
XXXVI. THE OLD HOME MEANWHILE.
XXXVII. STAGE WAITS, MR. LAFLIN.
XXXVIII. ESTHER AND HENRY ONCE MORE.
XXXIX. MIKE AFAR.
XL. A LEGACY MORE PRECIOUS THAN GOLD.
XLI. LABORIOUS DAYS.
XLII. A HEAVIER FOOTFALL.
XLIII. STILL ANOTHER CALLER.
XLIV. THE END OF A BEGINNING.
HARD YOUNG HEARTS
Behind the Venetian blinds of a respectable middle-class,
fifty-pound-a-year, "semi-detached," "family" house, in a respectable
middle-class road of the little north-county town of Sidon, midway
between the trees of wealth upon the hill, and the business quarters
that ended in squalor on the bank of the broad and busy river,--a house
boasting a few shabby trees of its own, in its damp little rockeried
slips of front and back gardens,--on a May evening some ten or twelve
years ago, a momentous crisis of contrasts had been reached.
The house was still as for a battle. It was holding its breath to hear
what was going on in the front parlour, the door of which seemed to wear
an expression of being more than usually closed. A mournful half-light
fell through a little stained-glass vestibule into a hat-racked hall, on
the walls of which hung several pictures of those great steamships known
as "Atlantic liners" in big gilt frames--pictures of a significance
presently to be noted. A beautiful old eight-day clock ticked solemnly
to the flickering of the hall lamp. From below came occasionally a
furtive creaking of the kitchen stairs. The two servants were half way
up them listening. The stairs a flight above the hall also creaked at
intervals. Two young girls, respectively about fourteen and fifteen,
were craning necks out of nightdresses over the balusters in a shadowy
angle of the staircase. On the floor above them three other little girls
of gradually diminishing ages slept, unconscious of the issues being
decided between their big brother and their eldest sister on the one
side, and their father and mother on the other, in the front
That parlour, a room of good size, was unostentatiously furnished with
good bourgeois mahogany. A buxom mahogany chiffonier, a large square
dining-table, a black marble clock with two dials, one being a
barometer, three large oil landscapes of exceedingly umbrageous trees
and glassy lakes, inoffensively uninteresting, more Atlantic liners, and
a large bookcase, apparently filled with serried lines of bound
magazines, and an excellent Brussels carpet of quiet pattern, were
mainly responsible for a general effect of middle-class comfort, in
which, indeed, if beauty had not been included, it had not been wilfully
violated, but merely unthought of. The young people for whom these
familiar objects meant a symbolism deep-rooted in their earliest
memories could hardly in fairness have declared anything positively
painful in that room--except perhaps those Atlantic liners; their
charges against furniture, which was unconsciously to them accumulating
memories that would some day bring tears of tenderness to their eyes,
could only have been negative. Beauty had been left out, but at least
ugliness had not been ostentatiously called in. There was no bad taste.
In fact, whatever the individual character of each component object,
there was included in the general effect a certain indefinable dignity,
which had doubtless nothing to do with the mahogany, but was probably
one of those subtle atmospheric impressions which a room takes from the
people who habitually live in it. Had you entered that room when it was
empty, you would instinctively have felt that it was accustomed to the
occupancy of calm and refined people. There was something almost
religious in its quiet. Some one often sat there who, whatever his
commonplace disguises as a provincial man of business, however
inadequate to his powers the work life had given him to do, provincial
and humiliating as were the formulae with which narrowing conditions had
supplied him for expression of himself, was in his central being an
aristocrat,--though that was the very last word James Mesurier would
have thought of applying to himself. He was a man of business, serving
God and his employers with stern uprightness, and bringing up a large
family with something of the Puritan severity which had marked his own
early training; and, as in his own case no such allowance had been made,
making no allowance in his rigid abstract code for the diverse
temperaments of his children,--children in whom certain qualities and
needs of his own nature, dormant from his birth, were awakening,
supplemented by the fuller-fed intelligence and richer nature of the
mother, into expansive and rebellious individualities.
It was now about eleven o'clock, and the house was thus lit and alive
half-an-hour beyond the rigorously enforced bed-time. An hour before,
James Mesurier had been peacefully engaged on the task which had been
nightly with him at this hour for twenty-five years,--the writing of his
diary, in a shorthand which he wrote with a neatness, almost a
daintiness, that always marked his use of pen and ink, and gave to his
merely commercial correspondence and his quite exquisitely kept
accounts, a certain touch of the scholar,--again an air of distinction
in excess of, and unaccounted for, by the nature of the interests which
His somewhat narrow range of reading, had you followed it by his careful
markings through those bound volumes of sermons in the bookcase, bore
the same evidence of inherited and inadequately occupied refinement. His
life from boyhood had been too much of a struggle to leave him much
leisure for reading, and such as he had enjoyed had been diverted into
evangelical channels by the influence of a certain pious old lady, with
whom as a young man he had boarded, and for whose memory all his life
he cherished a reverence little short of saint-worship.
The name of Mrs. Quiggins, whose portrait had still a conspicuous niche
among the _lares_ of the household,--a little thin silvery old
widow-lady, suggesting great sadness, much gentleness, and a little
severity,--had thus become for the family of James Mesurier a symbol of
sanctity, with which a properly accredited saint of the calendar could
certainly not, in that Protestant home, have competed. It was she who
had given him that little well-worn Bible which lay on the table with
his letters and papers, as he wrote under the lamplight, and than which
a world full of sacred relics contains none more sacred. A business-like
elastic band encircled its covers, as a precaution against pages
becoming loose with much turning; and inside you would have found
scarcely a chapter unpencilled,--texts underlined, and sermons of
special helpfulness noted by date and preacher on the margin,--the
itinerary of a devout human soul on its way through this world to
The Bible and the sermons of a certain famous Nonconformist Divine of
the day were James Mesurier's favourite and practically his only
reading, at this time; though as a young man he had picked up a fair
education for himself, and had taken a certain interest in modern
history. For novels he had not merely disapproval, but absolutely no
taste. Once in a specially genial mood he had undertaken to try
"Ivanhoe," to please his favourite daughter,--this night in revolt
against him,--and in half-an-hour he had been surprised with laughter,
sound asleep. The sermon that would send him to sleep had never been
written, at all events by his favourite theologian, whose sermons he
read every Sunday afternoon, and annotated with that same loving
appreciation and careful pencil with which a scholar annotates some
classic; so true is it that it is we who dignify our occupations,
not they us.
Similarly, James Mesurier presided over the destinies of a large
commercial undertaking, with the air of one who had been called rather
to direct an empire than a business. You would say as he went by, "There
goes one accustomed to rule, accustomed to be regarded with great
respect;" but that air had been his long before the authority that once
more inadequately accounted for it.
Thus this night, as he sat writing, his handsome, rather small,
iron-grey head bent over his papers, his face somewhat French in
character, his short beard slightly pointed; distinguished, refined,
severe; he had the look of a marshal of France engrossed with
documents of state.
The mother, who sat in an armchair by the fire, reading, was a woman of
about forty-five, with a fine blonde, aquiline face, distinctively
English, and radiating intelligence from its large sympathetic lines.
She was in some respects so different from her husband as at times to
make children precociously wise--but nevertheless, far from knowing
everything--wonder why she had ever married their father, for whom, at
that time, it would be hypocrisy to describe their attitude as one of
love. To them he was not so much a father as the policeman of home,--a
personification of stern negative decrees, a systematic thwarter of
almost everything they most cared to do. He was a sort of embodied "Thou
shalt not," only to be won into acquiescence by one influence,--that of
the mother, whose married life, as she looked back on it, seemed to
consist of little else than bringing children into the world, with a
Christian-like regularity, and interceding with the father for their
varying temperaments when there.
Though it might have been regarded as certain beforehand, that seven
children would differ each from each other in at least as many ways, it
never seems to have occurred to the father that one inflexible system
for them all could hardly be wise or comfortable. But, indeed, like so
many parents similarly trained and circumstanced, it is questionable
whether he ever realised their possession of separate individualities
till they were pleaded for by the mother, or made, as on this evening,
surprising assertion of themselves.
Though this system of mediation had been responsible for the only
disagreements in their married life, there had never been any long or
serious difference between husband and wife; for, in spite of natures so
different, they loved each other with that love which is given us for
the very purpose of such situations, the love that no strain can snap,
the love that reconciles all such disparities. Though Mary Mesurier had
also been brought up among Nonconformists, and though the conditions of
her youth, like her husband's, had been far from adequate to the
demands of her nature, yet her religion had been of a gentler character,
broadening instead of narrowing in its effects, and had concerned itself
less with divinity than humanity. Her home life, if humble, had been
genial and rich in love, and there had come into it generous influences
from the outer world,--books with more of the human beat in them than is
to be found in sermons; and particularly an old travelled grandfather
who had been regarded as the rolling stone of his family, but in whom,
at all events, failure and travel had developed a great gentleness and
understanding of the human creature, which in long walks and talks with
his little grand-daughter somehow passed over into her young character,
and proved the best legacy he could have left her. Through him too was
encouraged a native love of poetry, of which in her childhood her memory
acquired a stock which never failed her, and which had often cheered her
lonely hours by successive cradles. She had a fine natural gift of
recitation, and in evening hours when the home was particularly united
in some glow of visitors or birthday celebration, she would be persuaded
to recall some of those old songs and simple apologues, with such charm
that even her husband, to whom verse was naturally an incomprehensible
triviality, was visibly softened, and perhaps, deep in the sadness of
his silent nature, moved to a passing realisation of a certain something
kind and musical in life which he had strangely missed.
This greater breadth of temperament and training enabled Mary Mesurier
to understand and make allowances for the narrower and harder nature of
her husband, whom she learnt in time rather to pity for the bleakness of
his early days, than to condemn for their effect upon his character. He
was strong, good, clever, and handsome, and exceptionally all those four
good reasons for loving him; and the intellectual sympathy, the sharing
of broader interests, which she sometimes missed in him, she had for
some three or four years come to find in her eldest son, who, to his
father's bewilderment and disappointment, had reincarnated his own
strong will, in connection with literary practices and dreams which
threatened to end in his becoming a poet, instead of the business man
expected of him, for which development that love of poetry in one
parent, and a certain love of books in both, was no doubt to some degree
James Mesurier, as we have said, was no judge of poetry; and, had he
been so, a reading of his son's early effusions would have made him
still more obdurate in the choice for him of a commercial career; but on
general principles he was quite sufficiently firm against any but the
most non-committing, leisure-hour flirtation with the Muse. The mother,
while agreeing with the father's main proposition of the undesirability,
nay, impossibility, of literature as a livelihood,--had not the great
and successful Sir Walter himself described it as a good walking-stick,
but a poor crutch; a stick applied, since its first application as an
image, to the shoulders of how many generations of youthful genius,--was
naturally more sympathetic towards her son's ambition, and encouraged it
to the extent of helping from her housekeeping money the formation of
his little library, even occasionally proving successful in winning sums
of money from the father for the purchase of some book specially, as the
young man would declare, necessary for his development.
As this little library had outgrown the accommodation of the common
rooms, a daring scheme had been conceived between mother and son,--no
less than that he should have a small room set apart for himself as a
study. When first broached to the father, this scheme had met with an
absolute denial that seemed to promise no hope of further consideration;
but the mother, accepting defeat at the time, had tried again and again,
with patient dexterity at favourable moments, till at last one proud day
the little room, with its bookshelves, a cast of Dante, and a strange
picture or two, was a beautiful, significant fact--all ready for the
possible visitation of the Muse.
In such ways had the mother negotiated the needs of all her children;
though the youth of the rest--save the eldest girl, whose music lessons
had meant a battle, and whose growing attractiveness for the boys of the
district, and one in particular, was presently to mean another--made as
yet but small demands. In one question, however, periodically fruitful
of argument, even the youngest was becoming interested,--the question of
the visits to the household of the various friends and playmates of the
children. To these, it must be admitted, James Mesurier was apt to be
hardly less of a figure of fear than to his own children; for, apart
from the fact that such inroads from without were apt to disturb his few
quiet evening hours with rollicking and laughter, he, being entirely
unsocial in his own nature, had a curious idea that the family should be
sufficient to itself, and that the desire for any form of entertainment
outside it was a sign of dissatisfaction with God's gifts of a good
home, and generally a frivolity to be discouraged.
As a boy he had grown up without companions, and as a man had remained
lonely, till he had met in his wife the one comrade of his days. What
had been good enough for their father should be good enough for his
children, was a formula which he applied all round to their bringing up,
curiously forgetful, for a man at heart so just, of the pleasure one
would have expected it to be to make sure that the errors of his own
training were not repeated in that of his offspring. But, indeed, there
was in him constitutionally something of the Puritan suspicion of, and
aversion from, pleasure, which it had never occurred to him to consider
as the end of, or, indeed, as a considerable element of existence. Life
was somehow too serious for play, spiritually as well as materially; and
much work and a little rest was the eternal and, on the whole, salutary
lot of man.
Such were some of the conditions among which the young Mesuriers found
themselves, and of which their impatience had become momentously
explosive this February evening.
For some days there had been an energetic simmer of rebellion among the
four elder children against a new edict of early rising which was surely
somewhat arbitrary. Early rising was one of James Mesurier's articles of
faith; and he was always up and dressed by half-past six, though there
was no breakfast till eight, and absolutely no necessity for his rising
at that hour beyond his own desire. There was still less, indeed none at
all, for his children to rise thus early; but nevertheless he had
recently decreed that such, for the future, must be the rule. The rule
fell heaviest upon the sisters, for the elder brother had always enjoyed
a certain immunity from such edicts. His sense of justice, however,
kindled none the less at this final piece of tyranny. He blazed and
fumed indignantly on behalf of his sisters, in the sanctuary of that
little study,--a spot where the despot seldom set foot; and out of this
comparatively trivial cause had sprung a mighty resolution, which he and
she whom he proudly honoured as "sister and friend" had, after some
girding of the loins, repaired to the front parlour this evening to
They had entered somewhat abruptly, and stood rather dramatically by the
table on which the father was writing,--the son with dark set face, in
which could be seen both the father and mother, and the daughter, timid
and close to him, resolutely keeping back her tears, a slim young copy
of the mother.
"Well, my dears?" said the father, looking up with a keen, rather
surprised glance, and in a tone which qualified with some severity the
The son had had some exceedingly fine beginnings in his head, but they
fled ignominiously with the calm that was necessary for their successful
delivery, and he blurted at once to the point.
"We have come to say that we are no longer comfortable at home, and have
decided to leave it."
"Henry," exclaimed the mother, hastily, "what do you mean, how can you
be so ungrateful?"
"Mary, my dear," interrupted the father, "please leave the matter to
me." Then turning to the son: "What is this you are saying? I'm afraid I
"I mean that Esther and I have decided to leave home and live together;
because it is impossible for us to live here any longer in happiness--"
"On what do you propose to live?"
"My salary will be sufficient for the present."
"Sixty pounds a year!"
"And may I ask what is wrong with your home? You have every comfort--far
more than your mother or father were accustomed to."
"Yes, indeed!" echoed the mother.
"Yes, we know you are very good and kind, and mean everything for our
good; but you don't understand other needs of our natures, and you make
no allowance for our individualities--"
"Indeed! Individualities--I should like you to have heard what my
father would have said to talk about individualities. A rope's end would
have been his answer to that--"
"It would have been a very silly one, and no argument."
"It would have been effective, at all events."
"Not with me--"
"Well, please don't bandy words with me, sir. If you," particularly
addressing his son, "wish to go--then go; but remember that once you
have left your father's roof, you leave it for ever. As for your sister,
she has no power to leave her mother and father without my consent, and
that I shall certainly withhold till she is of a proper age to know what
is best for herself--"
"She will go then without your consent," defiantly answered the son.
"Oh, Henry, for shame!" exclaimed Mrs. Mesurier.
"Mother dear, I'm sorry,--we don't mean to be disrespectful or
undutiful,--but father's petty tyrannies are more than we can bear. He
objects to the friends we care for; he denies us the theatre--"
"Most certainly, and shall continue to do so. I have never been inside a
theatre in my life; nor, with my consent, shall any child of mine enter
one of them."
"You can evidently know little about them then, and you'd be a much
finer man if you had," flashed out the son.
"Your sitting in judgment on your father is certainly very pretty, I
must say,"--answered the father,--"very pretty; and I can only hope that
you will not have cause to regret it some future day. But I cannot allow
you to disturb me," for, with something of a pang, Henry noticed signs
of agitation amid the severity of his parent, though the matter was too
momentous for him to allow the indulgence of pity.
"You have been a source of much anxiety to your mother and me, a child
of many prayers;" the father continued. "Whether it is the books you
read, or the friends you associate with, that are responsible for your
strange and, to my thinking, impious opinions, I do not know; but this I
know, that your influence on your sister has not of late been for good,
and for her sake, and the sake of your young sisters, it may perhaps be
well that your influence in the home be removed--"
"Oh, James," exclaimed the wife.
"Mary, my dear, you must let me finish. If Henry will go, go he shall;
but if he still stays, he must learn that I am master in this house, and
that while I remain so, not he, but I shall dictate how it is to be
It was at this point that Esther ventured to lift the girlish tremor of
"But, father, if you'll forgive my saying so, I think it would be best
for another reason for us to go. There are too many of us. We haven't
room to grow. We get in each other's way. And then it would ease you; it
would be less expense--"
"When I complain of having to support my children, it will be time to
speak of that--"
"But you have complained," hotly interrupted the son; "you have
reproached us many a time for what we cost you for clothes and food--"
"Yes, when you have shown yourselves ungrateful for them, as you do
"Ungrateful! For what should we be grateful? That you do your bare duty
of feeding and clothing us, and even for that, expect, in my case at all
events, that I shall prove so much business capital invested for the
future. Was it we who asked to come into the world? Did you consult us,
or did you beget us for anything but your own selfish pleasure, without
Henry got no further. His father had grown white, and, with terrible
anger pointed to the door.
"Leave the room, sir," he said, "and to-morrow leave my house for ever."
The son was not cowed. He stood with an unflinching defiance before the
father, in whom he forgot the father and saw only the tyrant. For a
moment it seemed as if some unnatural blow would be struck; but so much
of pain was spared the future memory of the scene, and saying only, "It
is true for all that," he turned and left the room. The sister followed
him in silence, and the door closed.
Mother and father looked at each other. They had brought up children,
they had suffered and toiled for them,--that they should talk to them
like this! Mrs. Mesurier came over to her husband, and put her arm
tenderly on his shoulder.
"Never mind, dear. I'm sure he didn't mean to talk like that. He is a
good boy at heart, but you don't understand each other."
"Mary dear, we will talk no more of it to-night," he replied; "I will
try and put it from me. You go to bed. I will finish my diary, and be
up in a few minutes."
When he was alone, he sat still a little while, with a great lonely pain
on his face, and almost visibly upon it too the smart of the wounded
pride of his haughty nature. Never in his life had he been spoken to
like that,--and by his own son! The pang of it was almost more than he
could bear. But presently he had so far mastered himself as to take up
his pen and continue his writing. When that was finished, he opened his
Bible and read his wonted chapter. It was just the simple twenty-third
psalm: "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want." It was his favourite
psalm, and always had a remarkable tranquillising effect upon him. James
Mesurier's faith in God was very great. Then he knelt down and prayed in
silence,--prayed with a great love for his disobedient children; and,
when he rose from his knees, anger and pain had been washed away from
his face, and a serenity that is not of this world was there instead.
CONCERNING THOSE "ATLANTIC LINERS" AND
AN OLD DESK
Of all battles in this complicated civil warfare of human life, none is
more painful than that being constantly waged from generation to
generation between young and old, and none, it would appear, more
inevitable, or indeed necessary. "The good gods sigh for the cost and
pain," and as, growing older ourselves, we become spectators of such a
conflict, with eyes able to see the real goodness and truth of both
combatants, how often must we exclaim: "Oh, just for a little touch of
sympathetic comprehension on either side!"
And yet, after all, it is from the older generation that we have a right
to expect that. If that vaunted "experience" with which they are
accustomed to extinguish the voice of the young means anything, it
should surely include some knowledge of the needs of expanding youth,
and be prepared to meet them, not in a spirit of despotic denial, but in
that of thoughtful provision. The young cannot afford to be generous,
even if they possess the necessary insight. It would mean their losing
their battle,--a battle very necessary for them to win.
Sometimes it would seem that a very little kindly explanation on the
part of the elder would set the younger at a point of view where greater
sympathy would be possible. The great demand of the young is for some
form of poetry in their lives and surroundings; and it is largely the
fault of the old if the poetry of one generation is almost invariably
the prose of the next.
Those "Atlantic liners" are an illustration of my meaning. To the young
Mesuriers they were hideous chromo-lithographs in vulgar gilt frames,
arbitrary defacements of home; but undoubtedly even they would have
found a tolerant tenderness for them, had they realised that they
represented the poetry--long since renounced and put behind him--of
James Mesurier's life. He had come of a race of sea-captains, two of his
brothers had been sailors, and deep down in his heart the spirit of
romance answered, with voice fresh and young as ever, to any breath or
association of the sea. But he seldom, if ever, spoke of it, and only in
an anecdote or two was it occasionally brought to mind. Sometimes his
wife would tease him with the vanity which, on holidays by the sea,
would send him forth on blustering tempestuous nights clad in a
greatcoat of blue pilot-cloth and a sealskin cap, and tell how proud he
was on one occasion, as he stood on the wharf, at being addressed as
"captain," and asked what ship he had brought into port. Even the hard
heart of youth must soften at such a reminiscence.
Then scattered about the house was many a prosaic bit of furniture which
was musical with memories for the parents,--memories of their first
little homes and their early struggles together. This side-board, now
relegated to the children's play-room, had once been their _piece de
resistance_ in such and such a street, twelve years ago, before their
children had risen up and--not called them blessed.
A few years, and the light of poetry will be upon these things for their
children too; but, meanwhile, can we blame them that they cannot accept
the poetry of their elders in exchange for that of their own which they
are impatient to make? And when that poetry is made and resident in
similar concrete objects of home--how will it seem, one wonders, to
their children? This old desk which Esther has been allowed to
appropriate, and in a secret drawer of which are already accumulating
certain love-letters and lavender, will it ever, one wonders, turn to
lumber in younger hands? For a little while she leans her sweet young
bosom against it, and writes scented letters in a girlish hand to a
little red-headed boy who has these past weeks begun to love her. Can it
be possible that the desk on which Esther once wrote to her little Mike
will ever hear itself spoken of as "this ugly old thing"? Let us
OF THE LOVE OF HENRY AND ESTHER
Father and son had both meant what they said; and even the mother, for
whom it would be the cruellest wrench of all, knew that Henry was going
to leave home. Not literally on the morrow, for the following evening he
had appeared before his father to apologise for the manner--carefully
for the manner, not _the matter_,--in which he had spoken to him the
evening before, and asked for a day or two in which to make his
arrangements for departure. James Mesurier was too strong a man to be
resentful, and he accepted his son's apology with a gentleness that, as
each knew, detracted nothing from the resolution which each had come to.
"My boy," he said, "you will never have such good friends as your father
and mother; but it is best that you go out into the world to learn it."
There is something terribly winning and unnerving to the blackest
resolution, when the severity of the strong dissolves for a brief moment
into tenderness. The rare kind words of the stern, explain it as we
will, and unjust as the preference must surely be, one values beyond the
frequent forgivenesses of the gentle. Mary Mesurier would have laid down
her life in defence of her son's greatest fault, and James Mesurier
would as readily have court-martialled him for his smallest, and yet,
somehow, a kind word from him brought the tears to his son's eyes.
He had no longer the heart to stimulate the rebellion of Esther, as he
felt it his duty to do; and, to her disappointment, he announced that,
on the whole, it would perhaps be best for him to go alone.
"It would almost kill poor mother," he said; "and father means well
after all," he added.
"I'm afraid it would break father's heart," said Esther.
So these two young people agreed to spare their parents, though--let it
not be otherwise imagined--at a great sacrifice. The little paper on
which they had carefully worked out their housekeeping, skilfully
allotting so much for rent, butcher's meat, milk, coals, and washing,
and making "everything" come most optimistically to _L59 17s. 9d._ a
year, would be of no use now, at all events for the present. Their
little Charles and Mary Lamb dream must be laid aside--for, of course,
they had thought of Charles and Mary Lamb; and indeed, out beyond this
history of a few youthful years, their friendship was to prove itself
far from unworthy of its famous model.
Yet at this time it was of no great antiquity; for, but a very few years
back, Henry had been a miniature tyrant too, and ruled it over his
kingdom of six sisters with all the hideous egoism of a pampered "son
and heir." Although in the very middle class of society into which Henry
Mesurier was born, the dignity of eldest son is one but very
contingently connected with tangible inheritance, it is none the less
vigorously kept up; and, no doubt, without any consciousness of
partiality, Henry Mesurier, from his childhood, had been brought up to
regard himself as a sort of young prince, for whom all the privileges of
home were, by divine right, reserved. For example, he took his meals
with his parents fully five years before any of his sisters were
allowed to do so; and for retention of this privilege, when at length
the democratic measure of its extension to his two elder sisters was
proposed, he fought with the bitterest spirit of caste. Indeed, few
oligarchs have been more wildly hated than Henry Mesurier up to the age,
say, of fourteen. That was the age of his last thrashing, and it was in
the gloomy dusk of that momentous occasion, as he lay alone with
smarting back in the twilight of an unusually early bed-time, that a
possible new view of woman--as a creature of like passions and
privileges--presented itself to him.
His thrashing had been so unjustly severe, that even the granite little
hearts of his sisters had been softened; and Esther, managing to secrete
a cake that he loved from the tea that was lost to him, stole with it to
the top of the house, where he writhed amid lonely echoes and shadows.
She had brought it to him awkwardly, by no means sure of its reception,
but sure in her heart that she would hate him for ever, if he missed the
meaning of the little solatium. But fortunately his back was far too
sore, and his spirit too broken to remember his pride, and he accepted
the offering with gratitude and tears.
"Kiss me, Esther," he had said; and a wonderful thrill had gone through
the little girl at this strange softness in the mighty, while the dawn
of a wonderful pity for the lot of woman had, unconsciously, broken in
the soul of the boy.
"Kiss me again, Esther," he had said, and, with the tears that mingled
in that kiss, an eternal friendship was baptized.
Henry rose on the morrow a changed being. The grosser pretensions of the
male had fallen from him for ever, and there was at first something
almost awe-inspiring to his sisters in the gentle solicitude for them
and their rights and pleasures which replaced the old despotism. From
that time, Esther and he became closer and closer companions, and as
they more and more formed an oligarchy of two, a rearrangement of
parties in the little parliament of home came about, to be upset again
as Dot and Mat qualified for admission into that exclusive
So soon as Henry had a new dream or a new thought, he shared it with
Esther; and freely as he had received from Carlyle, or Emerson, or
Thoreau, freely he passed it on to her. For the gloomiest occasion he
had some strengthening text, and one of the last things he did before he
left home was to make for her a little book which he called "Faith for
Cloudy Days," consisting of energising and sustaining phrases from
certain great writers,--as it were, a bottle of philosophical phosphates
against seasons of spiritual cowardice or debility. There one opened and
read: "_Sudden the worst turns best to the brave_" or Thoreau's "_I have
yet to hear a single word of wisdom spoken to me by my elders,_" or
again Matthew Arnold's
"_Tasks in hours of insight willed
May be through hours of gloom fulfilled_."
James Mesurier knew nothing of all this; but if he had, he might have
understood that after all his children were not so far from the kingdom
OF THE PROFESSIONS THAT CHOOSE, AND
However we may hint at its explanation by theories of inheritance, it
still remains curious with what unerring instinct a child of character
will from the first, and when it is so evidently ignorant of the field
of choice, select, out of all life's occupations and distinctions, one
special work it hungers to do, one special distinction that to it seems
the most desirable of earthly honours. That Mary Mesurier loved poetry,
and James Mesurier sermons, in face of the fact that so many mothers and
fathers have done the same with no such result, hardly seems adequate to
account for the peculiar glamour which, almost before he could read,
there was for Henry Mesurier in any form of print. While books were
still being read to him, there had already come into his mind,
unaccountably, as by outside suggestion, that there could be nothing so
splendid in the world as to write a book for one's self. To be either a
soldier, a sailor, an architect, or an engineer, would, doubtless, have
its fascinations as well; but to make a real printed book, with your
name in gilt letters outside, was real romance.
At that early day, and for a long while after, the boy had no preference
for any particular kind of book. It was an entirely abstract passion for
print and paper. To have been the author of "The Iliad" or of Beeton's
"Book of Household Recipes" would have given him almost the same
exaltation of authorship; and the thrill of worship which came over him
when, one early day, a man who had actually had an article on the sugar
bounties accepted by a commercial magazine was pointed out to him in the
street, was one he never forgot; nor in after years did he ever
encounter that transfigured contributor without an involuntary
recurrence of that old feeling of awe. No subsequent acquaintance with
editorial rooms ever led him into materialistic explanations of that
enchanted piece of work--a newspaper. The editors might do their
best--and succeed surprisingly--in looking like ordinary mortals, you
might even know the leader-writers, and, with the very public, gaze
through gratings into the subterranean printing-rooms,--the mystery none
the less remained. No exposure of editorial staffs or other machinery
could destroy the sense of enchantment, as no amount of anatomy or
biology can destroy the mystery of the human miracle.
So I suppose Nature first makes us in love with the tools we are to use,
long before we have a thought upon what we shall use them. Perhaps the
first desire of the born writer is to be a compositor. Out of the love
of mere type quickly evolves a love of mere words for their own sake;
but whether we shall make use of them as a historian, novelist,
philosopher, or poet, is a secondary consideration, a mere afterthought.
To Henry Mesurier had already come the time when the face of life began
to Wear a certain aspect, the peculiar attraction of which for himself
he longed to fix, a certain mystical importance attaching to the
commonest every-day objects and circumstances, a certain ecstatic
quality in the simplest experiences; but even so far as it had been
revealed, this dawning vision of the world seemed only to have come to
him, not so much to find expression, as to mock him with his childish
incapacity adequately to use the very tools he loved. He would hang for
hours over some scene in nature, caught in a woodland spell, like a
nympholept of old; but when he tried to put in words what he had seen,
what a poor piece of ornamental gardening the thing was! There were
trees and birds and grass, to be sure; but there was nothing of that
meaning look which they had worn, that look of being tiptoe with
revelation which is one of the most fascinating tricks of the visible
world, and which even a harsh town full of chimneys can sometimes take
on when seen in given moments and lights. And it was astonishing to see
into what lifeless imitative verse his most original and passionate
moments could be transformed.
Still some unreasonably indulgent spirit of the air, that had evidently
not read his manuscripts, whispered him to be of good cheer: the
lifeless words would not always be lifeless, some day the birds would
sing in his verses too. This sense of failure did not, it must be said,
immediately follow composition; for, for a little while the original
expression of the thing seen reinforced with reflected significance its
pale copy. It was only some weeks after, when the written copy was left
to do all the work itself, that its foolish inadequacy was exposed.
"However, there is one consolation, they are not worse than Keats and
Shelley wrote at the same age," he said to himself, as he looked through
a bundle of the poor things the evening before his room was to be
dismantled. "Indeed, they couldn't be," he added, with a smile.
Fortunately he was but nineteen as yet; would he venture on a like
comparison were he twenty-five?
Yes, his little room was to be dismantled on the morrow,--this first
little private chapel of his spirit. This fair order of shelves, this
external harmony answering to an inner harmony of his spirit, were to be
broken up for ever. Often as he had sat in the folioed lamplit nook
which was, as it were, the very chancel of the little church, and gazed
in an ecstasy at the books, each with a great shining name of fame upon
its cover, it had seemed as though he had put his very soul outside him,
externalised it in this little corner of books and pictures. His soul
shivered, as one who must go houseless awhile, at the thought that
to-morrow its home would be no more. When and how would be its
reincarnation? More magnificent, maybe, but never this again. It was
sacrilege,--was it not ingratitude too? When once more the books and the
pictures began to form into a new harmony, there would be no mother's
love to help the work go on....
But as he mused in this no doubt sentimental fashion, the door opened
and the little red-headed Mike entered. His was a little Flibbertigibbet
of a face, already lined with the practice of mimicry; and there was in
it a very attractive blending of tenderness and humour. Mike was also
one of those whom life at the beginning had impressed with the delight
of one kind of work and no other. When a mere imp of a boy, the
heartless tormentor of a large and sententious stepmother, the despair
of schoolmasters, the most ingenious of truants, a humorous ragamuffin
invulnerable to punishment, it was already revealed to him that his
mission in life was to be the observation and reproduction of human
character, particularly in its humorous aspects. To this end Nature had
gifted him with a face that was capable of every form of transformation,
and at an early age he hastened to put it in training. All day long he
was pulling faces. As an artist will sketch everything he comes across,
so Mike would endeavour to imitate any characteristic expression or
attitude, animate or inanimate, in the world around him. Dogs, little
boys, and grotesque old men were his special delight, and of all his
elders he had, it goes without saying, a private gallery of irreverently
In addition to his plastic face, Nature had given him a larynx which was
capable of imitating every human and inhuman sound. To squeak like a
pig, bark like a dog, low like a cow, and crow like a cock, were the
veriest juvenilia of his attainments; and he could imitate the buzzing
of a fly so cunningly that flies themselves have often been deceived. It
was this delight in imitation for its own sake, and not so much that he
had been caught by the usual allurements of the theatre, that he looked
upon the career of an actor as his natural and ultimate calling. It was
already privately whispered in the little circle that Mike would some
day go on the stage. But don't tell that as yet to old Mr. Laflin,
whatever you do.
There was a good deal more in Mike than pulling faces, as Esther
recently, and Henry before her, had discovered. His acting was some day
to stir the hearts of audiences, because he had instincts for knowing
human nature inside as well as out, knew the secret springs of tears, as
well as the open secrets of laughter; and it was rather on this common
ground of a rich "many-veined humanity" that these two had met and
become friends, rather than on any real community of tastes and ideas.
Yet Mike loved books too, and had an excellent taste in them, though
perhaps he had hardly loved them, had not Henry and Esther loved them
first, and it is quite certain, and quite proper, that he never found a
page of any book so fascinating as the face of some lined and battered
human being. Over that writing he was never found asleep.
There was one other literary matter on which he held a very personal and
unshakable opinion,--Henry Mesurier's future as a poet; and on this he
came just in the nick of time to cheer him this evening.
"The next move will be to London, old fellow," he said; "and then you'll
soon see my prophecies come true. My opinion mayn't be worth much, but
you know what it is. You'll be a great writer some day, never fear."
"Thank you, dear old boy. And you know what I think about your acting,
Then it was that Esther appeared, and Henry made some transparent excuse
to leave them awhile together.
"You dear old thing," said Esther, kissing him, "now don't stay away too
OF THE LOVE OF ESTHER AND MIKE, AND
THE MESURIER LAW IN REGARD TO
I'm afraid Esther was little more than fourteen when she had first seen
and fallen in love with Mike. She had heard much of him from her
brother; but, for one reason or another, he had never been to the house.
One evening, however, at a concert, Henry had told her to look in a
certain direction and she would see Mike.
"I don't suppose you'll call him good looking," he said.
So Esther had looked round, and seen the pretty curly red hair and the
eager little wistful humorous face for the first time.
"Why, he's got a lovely little face!" she said, blushing deeply for no
reason at all,--except perhaps that there had seemed something pleading
and shelter-seeking in that little face, something that cried out to be
"mothered," and that instantly there had welled up in her heart a great
warm wish that some day she might be that for it and more.
And at the same instant it had occurred to the boy, that the face thus
turned to him for a moment was the loveliest face he had ever seen, the
only lovely face he would ever care to see. But with that thought, too,
had come a curious pang of hopelessness into his heart. For Esther
Mesurier was one of those girls who are the prizes of men. With all
those pretty tall fellows about her, it was unlikely indeed that she
would care for a little red-headed, face-pulling ragamuffin like him!
And yet if she never could care for him,--never, never at all, what a
lonely place the world would be!
When, after the concert, Henry looked round to introduce Mike to his
sister, he had somehow slipped away and was nowhere to be seen.
However, it was not long after this that Mike paid a visit to Henry's
study one evening, and, coming ostensibly to look at his books, once
more saw his sister, and spoke to her a brief introductory word. His
interest in literature became positively remarkable from this time; and
the enthusiasm with which his actor's mind reflected, and, no doubt in
all good faith, mimicked the various philosophical and literary
enthusiasms of his friend, was, though neither realised it, a sure
earnest of his future. More and more frequent visits to that study
became necessary for its gratification; and, in the course of one of
them, Mike confessed to Henry that he loved his sister, previously
piling upon himself many anticipatory terms of ignominy for daring to do
so presumptuous a thing. Henry, however, was so taken with the idea
that, in his singleness of mind, he suffered no pang of retrospective
suspicion of his friend's love for himself. Pending Esther's
decision,--and of her mind in the matter, he had something more than a
glimmering,--he welcomed Mike with gladness as a prospective
brother-in-law, and, as soon as he found an opportunity, left them alone
together, returning quite a long time afterwards--to find them
extraordinarily happy, it would appear, at his safe return.
Esther and Mike had thus been fortunate enough to get that important
question of a mate settled quite early in life, and to be saved from
those arduous and desolating experiments in being fitted with a heart
which so many less happy people have to go through. But this happy fact
was as yet a secret beyond this strict circle of three; for, strange as
it may sound, the beautiful attraction of a girl for a boy, the
beautiful worship of a boy for a girl, were matters not even mentionable
as yet in the Mesurier household. For a child, particularly a girl,
under twenty to speak of having a "sweetheart" was an offence which had
a strong savour of disgust in it, even for Mrs. Mesurier, broad-minded
as in most matters she was.
So far as the only decent theory of the relations of the sexes was
involuntarily explicit, by virtue of certain explosions on the subject,
it was something like this: That, at a certain age, say twenty-one, or,
for leniency, twenty, as it were on the striking of a clock, the young
girl, who previously had been profoundly and inexpressibly unconscious
that the male being existed, would suddenly sit up wide awake in an
attitude of attention to offers of marriage; and that, similarly, the
young man, who had meanwhile lived with his eyes shut and his senses
asleep, would jump up also at the striking of a clock, and, as it were,
with hilarity, say, "It is high time I chose a wife," and thereupon
begin to look about, among the streets and tennis-parties known to him,
for that impossible paragon,--a wife to satisfy both his parents.
One or two of Henry's earliest troubles and most drastic punishments had
come of a propensity to "sweethearts," developed at an indecorously
early age, and in fact at the time of which I write he could barely
recall the name of Miss This or Miss The Other by the association of
ancient physical pangs suffered for their sake. The greatest danger to
such contraband passions was undoubtedly the post; for, in the Mesurier
household, a more than Russian censorship was exercised over the
incoming and--as far as it could be controlled--the outgoing mail. One
old morning, at family breakfast, which the subsequent events of the
evening were to fix on his mind, Henry Mesurier had grown white with
fear, as the stupid maid had handed him a fat letter addressed in a
sprawling school-girl's hand.
"Who is your letter from, Henry?" asked the father.
Henry blushed and boggled.
"Pass it over to me."
Resistance was worse than useless. As in war-time a woman will see her
husband set up against a wall and shot before her face, as a
conspirator sees the hands of the police close upon papers of the most
terrible secrecy, so did Henry watch that scented little package pass
with a sense of irrevocable loss into the cold hands of his father. The
father opened it, placed a little white enclosure by the side of his
coffee-cup for further inspection, and then read the letter--full of
"darlings" and "for evers"--with the severe attention he would have
given a business letter. Then he handed it across to the mother without
a word, but with the look one doctor gives another in discovering a new
and terrible symptom in a patient on whom they are consulting. While the
mother read, the father opened the little packet, and out rolled a tiny
plait of silky brown hair tied into a loop with a blue ribbon.
"Disgusting!" exclaimed the father and mother, simultaneously, to each
other, as though the boy was not there.
"I am shocked at you, Henry," said the mother.
"I shall certainly write to the forward little girl's parents," said the
"Oh, don't do that, father," exclaimed the boy, in terror, and half
wondering if so sweet a thing could really be so criminal.
"Don't dare to speak to me," said the father. "Leave the
breakfast-table. I will see you again this evening."
Henry knew too well what the verb "to see" signified under the
circumstances, and the day passed in such apprehensive gloom that it was
a positive relief, when evening had at last come, to feel a walking-cane
about him, at once more snaky and more notched than any previously
applied to his stubborn young frame. Not to cry was, of course, a point
of honour; and as the infuriating absence of tears inflamed the
righteous anger of the parent, the stick splintered and broke with a
crash, in which accident Henry learned he was responsible for a
"I wouldn't have broken that stick for five pounds," said the father,
his interest suddenly withdrawn from his son; "it was given to me by my
old friend Tarporley," which, as can be imagined, was a mighty
satisfaction to the sad small soul, smarting, not merely from the stick,
but from the sense that life held something stupid in its injustice, in
that he was thus being mauled for the most beautiful exalted feeling
that had ever visited his young heart.
Those dark ages of oppression were long since passed for Henry and
Esther, when Mike began to steal in of an evening to see Esther, and
they were only referred to now and again, anecdotally, as the nineteenth
century looks back at the days of the Holy Inquisition; but still it was
wise to be cautious, for an interdict against Mike's coming to the house
was quite within possibility, even in this comparatively enlightened
epoch; and that would have been even more effective than James
Mesurier's old friend Tarporley's stick of sacred memory.
THE BEGINNING OF THE END OF HOME
Recalling for another moment or two the ancient affair of the heart
described in the last chapter, it may pertinently be added that James
Mesurier fulfilled his threat on that occasion, and had in fact written
to the "forward little girl's" parents. Could he have seen the rather
amused reception of his letter, he would have realised with sorrow that
an age of parental leniency, little short of degeneration, was in
certain quarters unmistakably supplanting the stern age of which he was
in a degree an anachronistic survival. That forward little girl's
parents chanced to know James Mesurier enough by sight and reputation to
respect him, while they smiled across to each other at his rather quaint
disciplinarianism. Could Henry Mesurier have seen that smile, he would
not only have felt reassured as to the fate of his little sweetheart,
but have understood that there were temperate zones of childhood, as
well as arctic, when young life waxed gaily to the sound of laughter
and other musical accompaniments.
This revelation, however, was deferred some few years, till he became
acquainted with the merry family of which Mike Laflin was the
characteristic expression. Old Mr. Laflin was a little, jolly,
bald-headed gentleman, bubbling over with mirth, who liked to have young
people about him, and in his quips and cranks was as young as, and much
cleverer than, any of them. It almost startled Henry on his first
introduction to this family of two daughters and two brothers, where the
father was rather like a brother grown prematurely bald, and the
stepmother supplied with monumental dignity that element of solemnity
without which no properly regulated household is complete, to notice the
_camaraderie_ which prevailed amongst them all. Jokes were flying about
from one to another all the time, and the father made a point of capping
them all. This was home in a liberal sense which the word had never
meant to Henry. Doubtless, it had its own individual restrictions and
censorships; but its surface was at all events debonair, and it was
serviceable to Henry as revealing the existence of more genial social
climates than that in which he had been nurtured--though in making the
comparison with his own atmosphere, he realised that this _bonhomie_ was
nothing more important than a grace.
Perhaps, nay, very surely, the seriousness, even the severity of, his
own training, had been among the very conditions needed to make him what
he some day hoped to be, though they had seemed so purposely inimical.
Had James Mesurier's religion been more free and easy, a matter less
personally assured and momentous, his son's almost oppressive sense of
the spiritual significance of existence had been less radiant and
constantly supporting. Life might have gained in superficial
liveableness; but it would have lost in intensity, in real importance,
and with that loss would have gone too Henry's chance of being a poet."
The poet in a golden clime was born!"--once and again, maybe, but more
often he comes from a land of iron and tears.
It is in the nature of things that Henry should begin to appreciate the
services of his home to his development at the moment when he was
leaving it. And the mere pang of the parting from it, when one day the
hour for parting had surely come, was much more deep and complicated
than he could have dreamed. As in our bodies we become conscious of
certain vital centres, certain dependencies of relation and harmony,
only when they have suffered shock, so often in life we may go along
unconscious of the vital dependencies of our human relationships, till
the moment comes to strain or sever them. Then a thousand hidden nerves
quiver at the discovering touch of the knife. Henry's leaving home,
though it had been originally the suggestion of violent feeling, was not
to be an actual severance. His father's "leave my house for ever" had
owed something to the rhetoric of anger, and the expulsion and cutting
off which it had implied had since been so softened as practically to
have disappeared. Henry was certainly not leaving his father's house for
ever, but merely going into lodgings with a friend, with full privileges
to visit his own home as often as he chose.
Still, he was, all the same, leaving home, and he was the first to leave
it. The mother, at all events, knew that this was the beginning of the
end, knew that, with her first-born's departure (desertion, she may have
called it), a new era had commenced for the home,--the era of
disintegration. For twenty years and more it had been all building and
building; now it would be all just pulling down again; and there was a
dreary sound as of demolition and wind-driven rain in her ears.
Oh, tragic love of mothers! Of no love is the final loss and doom so
inevitably destined. The husband may desert the wife, but the son is
sure to desert his mother--must, for nature demands the desertion. Put
not your trust in princes--and yet put it rather in princes, oh, fond
and doting parents, than in the blue-eyed flower of childhood for which
year after year, with labours infinite, you would buy all the sunshine
of the world.
Henry's pang at leaving home was mainly the pang of parting with his
mother. It seemed more than a mere physical parting. It was his
childhood that was parting from her for ever. When he came to see them
he would be something different,--a man, an independent being. As long
ago physically, now spiritually, the umbilical cord had been cut.
With Esther and Dot and Mat the parting was hardly a parting, as it was
rather a promise of their all meeting together some day in a new place
of freedom, which there was a sense of his going out to prepare for
them. Their way would be his way, as the mother's could not; for theirs
was the highway of youth, which, sooner or later, they would all take
together, singing in the morning sun.
The three younger sisters, the as yet unopened buds of the family
flower, took Henry's departure with the surface tears and the central
indifference of childhood. When a family is so large, it practically
includes two generations in itself; and these three girls were really to
prove a generation so different in characteristics from their four
elders as to demand a separate chronicle to themselves.
Thus as Henry drove away amid his trunks from the home of his father
(genealogical poverty denies us the romantic grandiloquence of the
plural), it was his mother's farewell arms and farewell tears, and his
farewell promises to her, of which he was mainly conscious. He had
promised "to take care of himself," and particularly to beware of damp
sheets, and then he too had burst into tears. Indeed, it was generally a
tearful business, after which everybody was glad to retire into corners
to subside privately and dry themselves.
Henry crouched in the corner of his cab with fully half his cry to
finish out; and, curiously, all the time a sad little story from an old
holiday in the country kept haunting him. It was at once a fact and a
fable concerning a happy little family of swallows, whose sudden tragedy
he had seen with his own boyish, pitying eyes.
In a little vinery attached to an old country house which the Mesuriers
had rented for a month or so for certain successive summers, two
swallows had built their nest, and, in due course, there were three
young swallows to keep them company. It was understood that the door of
the vinery must be left open, that the parent swallows might fly to and
fro for food; but by some accident it chanced that the door was one day
closed, and the vinery not visited again for several days. When at last
the door was opened again, the sight that met young eyes was one Henry
had never forgotten. Three little starved swallows, hardly bigger than
butterflies, lay upon the floor, and from the nest above hung the long
horse-hairs with which the parents had vainly sought to anchor them
safely to the home. But still sadder details were forthcoming, when the
children, who had been wondering what had become of the parents, had
suddenly discovered their wasted bodies in the grass a yard or two away
from the vinery door. A few days ago this had been a happy, thriving
home, and now it was absolutely desolated, done away with for ever. It
needed no exceptional imagination or sympathy to conceive the agonised
longing of the parents, as they had dashed themselves again and again
upon that cruel, unyielding door, hearing the piteous cries of their
young ones within, and the anguish in which their exhausted little lives
had at last gone out. The young swallows had died for lack of food; but
the old ones had died--for love. Had some other hand brought them food,
would the young ones have missed the old ones like that?
A LINK WITH CIVILISATION
On the afternoon following Henry's departure, Esther went out for a
walk, and she came presently to a pretty little house half hidden in its
big garden. A well-kept lawn, richly bathed in sunlight, flashed through
the trees; and, opening the gate and following the tree-shaded path
along one side of the house, Esther presently mounted to a small
terrace, where, as she had hoped, she came upon a dainty little lady
watering her flowers.
"Why, Esther, it's you! How sweet of you! I was just dying to see you!"
exclaimed the little lady, turning a pretty, but somewhat worn, and
brilliantly sad face from her gardening. "Just let me finish this
thirsty bed, and then you must give me a kiss. There!"
Then the two embraced; and as Mrs. Myrtilla Williamson held Esther at
arm's length and looked at her admiringly,--
"How pretty you look to-day!" she exclaimed, generously. "That new
hat's a great success. Didn't I tell you mauve was your colour? Turn
round. Yes, dear, you look charming. Where in the world, I wonder, did
you all get that grand look of yours from?--I don't mean your good looks
merely, but that look of distinction. Your father and mother have it
too; but where did _they_ get it from? You're a puzzle-family--all of
you. But wouldn't you like a cup of tea? Come in," and she led the way
indoors to a tiny, sweet-smelling boudoir on the left of the hall, of
which a dainty glimpse, with its books and water-colours and bibelots,
was to be caught from the terrace.
Everything about Myrtilla Williamson was scrupulously, determinedly
dainty, from the flowered tea-gown about her slim, girlish figure,--her
predilection for that then novel and suspected garment was regarded as a
sure mark of a certain Parisian levity by her neighbours,--to her just a
little "precious" enunciation. In France, in the seventeenth century,
she would almost certainly have been a visitor at the Hotel Rambouillet,
and to-day she was mysteriously and disapprovingly spoken of as
"aesthetic." She had a look as if she had tripped out of a Japanese fan,
and slept at night in a pot-pourri jar. And she had brains, those good
Her name was very like her life, one-half of which might be described as
Myrtilla, the other half as Williamson. She was Myrtilla during the day,
dabbling with her water-colours, her flowers, or her books; but at six
o'clock each afternoon, with the sound of aggressive masculine boots in
the hall, her life suddenly changed with a sigh to Williamson. The
Williamson half of her life was so clumsily, so grotesquely ill-matched
with the Myrtilla half that it was, and probably will always remain, a
mystery why she had ever attempted so tasteless and inconvenient an
addition,--a mystery, however, far from unique in the history of those
mysteriously stupid unhappy marriages with evident boors which refined
and charming women will, it is to be feared, go on making to the end of
the human chapter.
It was perhaps a day hardly less interesting for Myrtilla than for the
young people themselves when she had first met Henry and Esther
Mesurier. Before, in the dull bourgeois society into which Williamson
had transplanted her from London, she had found none with whom she dared
be her natural Myrtilla. There she was expected to be Williamson to the
bone. Henry and Esther, however, were only too grateful for Myrtilla,
through whom was to come to them the revelation of some minor graces of
life for which they had the instincts, but on which they had lacked
instruction; and who, still more important, at least for Henry, was to
be their first fragile link with certain strenuous new northern writers,
translations of whom in every tongue had just then descended, Gothlike,
upon Europe, to the great energising of its various literatures. She it
was too who first handed them the fretted golden key to the enchanted
garden of the Pre-Raphaelites, and the striking head of the young Dante
in sepia, which had hung in a sort of shrine-recess in Henry's study,
had been copied for him from Rossetti's sketch by Myrtilla's own hand.
She had, too, one of the most precious gifts for friendship, the gift of
unselfish and diligent and progressive appreciation of all a friend's
good points. She never flattered; but she never missed the smallest
opportunity for praise. She was one of those rare people who make you
feel happy in yourself, who send you away somehow dignified, profitably
raised in your own esteem; just as others have a mysterious power of
dejecting you in your proudest moments. If you had any charm, however
shy, Myrtilla Williamson would find it, and send you away with a great
gush of gratitude to her because it had been found at last. This was
perhaps the greatest charm of her clever letters; they were all about
"you,"--not, of course, that you didn't want to hear about her. But
frequently all she told you of herself was her name. Perhaps she would
write in the half-hour that remained between, say, a visit from Esther
and the arrival of Williamson, to fix in a few intimate vivid words the
charm of their afternoon together, and tell Esther in some new
gratifying way what she was to her and why and how she was it; or when
Henry had been there--even more carefully in the absence of
Williamson--to read her his new poem, she would write him a long letter
of literary criticism, just perceptibly vibrating with the emotion she
might have felt for the romantic young poet, whom she allowed to call
himself her "cavaliere servente," had she not been Williamson as well as
Myrtilla, and had she not, as she somewhat unscientifically declared,
been old enough to be his mother.
"Well," she said, as they sipped their tea, "so Henry's really gone. He
slipped round to bid me a sort of good-bye yesterday, and told me the
whole story. On the whole, I'm glad, though I know how you'll miss each
other. But I'm sorriest for your mother. Yes, yes, I'm sorry for her.
You must try to make it up to her, dear child. I think just that, above
all things, would make me fear to be a mother. One can do without
children," and there was a certain implication in the conversational
atmosphere that children of the name of Williamson had been mercifully
spared the world; "but when once they have come into one's life, it must
be terrible to see them go out again. I should like to come round and
have a little talk with your mother. I wonder if she'd care to see me?"
"So long as you don't come in your tea-gown," said Esther, with a laugh.
"Cruel child!" and then with a way she had of suddenly finding
something she wanted to hear of among the interests of her friends,
"Now," she said, "tell me something about Mike. I suppose the course of
true love runs as smoothly as ever. Happy children! Give him my love
when you see him, won't you?"
Esther told all there was to tell about Mike up-to-date, and wished she
could have repaid her friend's sympathetic interest with a request for
something similar about Williamson. But it was tacitly understood that
there was nothing further to be said on that subject, and that the news
of Myrtilla's life could hardly again take any more excitingly personal
form than the bric-a-brac excitements of art or literature,--though
indeed art and literature were, to be just to them, far more than
bric-a-brac in the life of Myrtilla Williamson. They were, indeed, it
was easy to see, a very sustaining religion for the lonely little woman
who, having no children to study, and having completed her studies of
Williamson, was driven a good deal upon the study and development of
herself. The Williamson half of the day provided her fully with
opportunities for the practice of all the philosophy she was likely to
acquire from writers ancient and modern, and for the absorption of all
the consolation history and biography was likely to afford in the
stories of women similarly circumstanced. It is to be feared that
Myrtilla not only wore tea-gowns in advance of her time, but was also
somewhat prematurely something of a "new" woman; but this was a subject
on which she really did very little to "poison" Esther's "young mind."
Esther's young mind, in common with those of her two subsequent sisters,
was little in need of "poisoning" from outside on such subjects. Indeed,
it was a curious phenomenon to observe how all these young minds, sprung
from a stock of such ancient, unquestioning faith, had, so to say, been
born "poisoned;" or, to state the matter less metaphorically, had all
been born with instincts for the most pitiless and effortless reasoning
on all subjects human and divine.
As the hour approached when poor Myrtilla must change back to
Williamson, Esther rose to say good-bye.
"Come again soon, dear girl; you don't know the good you do me."
The good, dear woman was entirely done by her unwearied, sympathetic
discussion of the affairs and dreams of Esther, Mike, and Henry.
"Oh, here is a wonderful new book I intended to talk to you about. You
can take it with you; I have finished it. Come next week and tell me
what you think of it."
As Esther walked down the path, Myrtilla watched her, and, as she passed
out of the gate, waved her a final kiss of parting, and turned indoors.
There seemed something ever so sad about her dainty back as it
disappeared into the doorway.
"Poor little woman!" said Esther to herself, as she looked to see the
title of the book she was carrying. It included a curious Russian name,
the correct pronunciation of which she foresaw she must ask Myrtilla on
their next meeting. It was "The Journal of Marie Bashkirtseff."
A RHAPSODY OF TYRE
Sidon, the stage of the moving events so far recorded, though it makes
much of possessing a separate importance, is really a cross-river
residential suburb of Tyre, the great seaport in which all the ships of
the world come to and fro. During the day Sidon is virtually emptied of
its men-folk, and is given up to perambulators and feminine activities
generally; for the men have streamed across the ferries that bridge the
sunny, boisterous river, to the docks and offices of Tyre.
Though Tyre is not a very old city, it is not so new as to be denied a
few of those associations known as "historical." Tyre had once the
honour to be taken by Prince Rupert, and long before that its nucleus
had existed as a monk's ferry, by which travellers were rowed across the
river to the monastery and posting-house at Sidon. Sometimes of an
evening Henry and Mike would think of those far-off times as they looked
over the ferry-boat at the long lines of river lights, with their
restless heaving reflections; and sometimes they could picture to
themselves the green sloping banks of the virgin fields, and hear the
priory bell calling to them out of the darkness. But such were the
faintest of their visions; and they loved the river banks best as they
are to-day, with their Egyptian walls and swarming lights and
And whoso should think that that sordid commercial city, given up to all
the prose of trade day by day, is not a poet at heart, has never seen
her strange smile at evening when the shops are shut, and the offices
empty, and the men who know her not gone home. For then across the
crowded roofs softly comes a strange sweetness, and deep down among the
gloomy wynds of deserted warehouses, still as temples, sudden fairies of
sunset dance and dazzle, and touch the grimy walls with soft hands. In
lonely back rooms, full of desks and dust, haunted lights of evening
stand like splendid apparitions; and sometimes, if you lingered at the
top of High Street, beneath the dark old church, and the moon was out
on the left of the steeple and the sunset dying on the right, dying
beyond the tangled masts and fading from the river, you would forget you
were a city clerk, and you would wonder why the world was so beautiful,
why the moon was made of pearl, and what it was that called to you out
of yonder golden sea; and your heart would fill with a strange gladness,
and you would call back to those unearthly voices, "I am yours, yours,
Thus would this town of bales and merchants, of office-desks and stools,
make poets at evening that she might stone them at noon. For, of course,
she would have forgotten it all in the morning; and it were well not to
remind her with your dreaming eyes of her last night's softness. She
will look back at you with stony misunderstanding, and her new lover
Reality will sharply box your ears.
It is no use reminding the Exchange that it looked like a scene from
Romeo and Juliet in the moonlight. It dare not admit it. But wait
patiently till the evening. Tyre will be yours again with the sunset.
She pretends all day that it is the Mayor in the gilded coach and the
pursy merchantmen she cares for; but it is really you, a poor shabby
poet, she loves all the time, for you only does she wear her gauzy silks
A PENITENTIARY OF THE MATHEMATICS
Yes, Mike was some day to be another Kean, and Henry was to prove a
serious rival to Shakespeare; but, meanwhile, they were clerks in the
offices of Tyre.
Of the rigours, and therefore too the truancies and humours of the lot
official, Mike was comparatively so comfortably circumstanced as to have
little knowledge. His father was the king of a little flourishing prison
of desks, and Mike was one of the heirs-apparent. Consequently, his lot,
though dull, was seldom bitter; and many mitigations of it were within
his privilege. With Henry it was different. He was a humble unit among
twenty other slaves, chained to that modern substitute for the galleys,
the desk; and, in a wicked bargain, he had contracted to give his
life-blood from nine in the morning till six in the evening, for sixty
pounds a year, with an occasional "rise," which, after thirty years'
service, might end in your having reached a proud annual three hundred
for the rest of your maimed and narrowed days.
Henry had come to the office straight from school, at the age of
sixteen; and, though classrooms breathe an air sufficiently frigid and
suggestive of inhuman interests and unmeaning discipline, the icy air of
that office had at first almost taken his breath. The place was so
ridiculously serious! There might conceivedly be interests in the world
worthy of so abject an absorption, so bleaching an obeisance of the
individual; but Henry, with the dews of certain classics still upon him,
remembered that anything really Olympian in its importance is always
strong enough to smile. It is a lesser strength that must make the
muscular effort of severity. True dignities, as often as possible, stand
at ease. But here indeed were no true strengths and dignities,--only
prison-strengths and prison-dignities. Here the majesties, the
occupations, the offences, were alike frivolities, fantastically changed
about into solemnities.
That first impression of abject bowed heads and chains rattled beneath
desks, was roughly correct. For all that was human in a man, this was a
prison. These men who bent over foolish papers were evidently convicts
of the most desperate character; so, at all events, you would judge when
occasionally one or other of the prison-governors, known as "partners,"
passed among them with the lash of his eye. Such faint human twittering
as may have grown up amongst even these poor exiles would suddenly die
into a silence white with fear, as when the shadow of a hawk falls
across the song of smaller birds.
No human relations are acknowledged here. Outside, you may be a husband
wonderfully beloved and tragically important; you may be a man whose
courage has be-medalled your brave breast; you may be a passionate and
subtle musician in your private hours; you may even on Sundays be a much
appreciated vessel of the divine: but all such distinctions are not
current here; here they are foreign coin, diplomas unacknowledged in
this barbarous realm of ink and steel. The more ignorant, the more
narrow, the more mean, the more unnatural, you can contrive to be, the
better will be your lot in this sad monastery of Mammon. When the door
hissed behind you, with that little patent pneumatic device, you ceased
to be a human being, and began to be--the human machine. All the
vitality you have stored within that pale body you are expected to
exhaust here,--you have sold it, don't you remember, for sixty or three
hundred pounds a year; you are not expected to have any left over for
pleasures. That will be robbery. Masters suffer much from peculation
indeed in this way; but a machine is in course of invention which shall
put an end to this, by the application of which to your heart the
task-master will know whether or not you have spent every available
heart-beat in his slavery during the day, or whether you are
endeavouring, you miserable thief, to steal home with a little remnant
of it for your children at night.
This was the theory of the office, as Henry once heard it expressed,
with a cynicism more brief and direct from the lips of one of his
task-masters; but it must be admitted that in certain respects his
experience was extreme. There are offices which are the ears and eyes of
activities absorbingly and even romantically human. To be in a
shipping-office is not perhaps to be the rose, but it is to live near
it,--the great rose of the sea. You are, so to say, a land-sailor, a
supercargo left on shore. Your office-windows are lashed with
hurricanes; your talk is frequently of cyclones. The names of far
romantic isles are constantly on your lips, and your bills of lading are
threepenny romances in themselves. Strange produce of distant lands are
your daily concern, and the four winds meet at your counter with a
savour of tar. For all you know, a pirate may claim your attention any
minute of the day.
Or, again, to be, say, in a corn-merchant's, a clearing-house of the
fruitful earth. There at your telephone you may hear the corn-fields
whispering to you, hear the wheat waving in the wind, and the thin
chatter of oats. Or you may sell butter and cheese in an office that
smells of farms. However removed, you are an indirect agent of the
earth, a humble go-between of the seasons and the eternal needs of man.
Or, once more, you may be one of the thousand clerks of a great
manufacturer, and be humbly related to one of the arts or crafts that
gladden the eye or add to the comforts of man. Or even, though you may
be denied so close an association with the elements, or the arts, you
may be the pen to some subtle legal confidante of human nature. Your
office may be stored with records of human perversity and whimsicality.
You may be the witness to fantastic wills, or assist in the
administration of the estates of lunatics. At all events, you will come
within hearing of the human passions. Misers will visit you at times,
and beautiful ladies in mourning deep as their distress; and from your
desk you will catch a glimpse of the sombre pageantry of litigious man.
Though it is true that a certain far-off flavour of these legal
excitements occasionally enlivened the business to which Henry had been
sacrificially indentured, for the most part it was an abstract
parasitical thing which had succeeded in persuading other businesses,
more directly fed from the human spring, of its obliging usefulness in
relieving them of detachable burdens. In fact, it had no activity or
interest of its own to account for, so it proposed, in default of any
such original reason for existence, to look after the accounts of
others, as a self-constituted body of financial police. For those
engaged in it, except those who had been born mentally deformed, or
those who had become unnaturally perverted by long usage, it was a sort
of penitentiary of the mathematics.
THE GRASS BETWEEN THE FLAG-STONES
Yes, it was a curiously unreal world; and, for the first day or two, as
Henry, bent, lonely and bewildered, over his desk, studied it furtively
with questioning eyes, it seemed to him as though he had strayed into
some asylum for the insane, where fantastic interests and mock honours
take the place of the real interests and honours of sane human beings.
Part of the business of the firm consisted in the collection of
house-rents, frequently entailing visits from tenants and questions of
repairs. A certain Mr. Smith, a wiry little grey-headed man, with a keen
face and a decisive manner, looked after this branch; and the gusto with
which he did it was one of Henry's earliest and most instructive
amazements. House-repairs were quite evidently his poetry, and he never
seemed so happy as when passionately wrangling with a tenant on some
question of drains. The words "cesspool" and "wet-trap"--words to which
I don't pretend to attach any meaning--seemed to be particular
favourites of his. In fact, an hour seldom passed without their falling
from his lips. But Mr. Smith's great opportunity was a gale. For that
always meant an exciting harvest of dislodged chimney-pots, flying
slates, and smashed skylights, which would impart an energetic interest
to his life for days.
Again, in Henry's department--for the office was cut into two halves,
with about ten clerks in each, the partners having, of course, their own
private offices, from which they might dart out at any moment--there was
a certain little fussy chief clerk who was obviously a person of very
mysterious importance. He was frequently away, evidently on missions of
great moment, for always on his return he would be closeted immediately
with one or other of the partners, who in turn seemed to consider him
important too, and would sometimes treat him almost like one of
themselves, actually condescending to laugh with him now and again over
some joke, evidently as mysterious as all the rest. This Mr. Perkins
seldom noticed the juniors in his department, though occasionally he
would select one of them to accompany him on one of his missions to
clients of the firm; and they would start off together, as you may see a
plumber and his apprentice sometimes in the streets,--the proud
master-plumber in front, and the little apprentice plumber behind,
carrying the lead pipe and the iron smelting-pot.
Now, did Mr. Smith really take such a heart-interest in cesspools and
wet-traps as he appeared to do? and did Mr. Perkins really think he
mattered all that?
These were two of the earliest questions which Henry asked himself, and
as time brought the answers to them, and kindred questions, there were
unexpected elements of comfort for the heart of the boy, longing so
desperately in that barren place for any hint of the human touch. One
day Mr. Smith startled him by mentioning Dickens, and even Charles Lamb.
It was a kindly recognition of Mesurier's rumoured interest in
literature. Henry looked at him in amazement. "Oh, you read then!" he
exclaimed. Of anything so human as reading he had suspected no one in
Then as to the great Mr. Perkins, the time came when he was to prove
very human indeed. For, dying suddenly one day, his various work had to
pass into other hands; and, bit by bit, it began to leak out that those
missions had not been so industriously devoted to the interests of the
firm, nor been so carefully executed, as had been imagined. For Mr.
Perkins, it transpired, had been fond of his pleasures, could appreciate
wine, and liked an occasional informal holiday. So, posthumously, he
began to wear for Henry a faint halo of humanity.
Indeed, it did not take Henry many days to realise that, as grass will
force its way even between the flag-stones in a prison-yard, no little
humanity contrived to support its existence even in this dead place. By
degrees, he realised that these apparently colourless and frigid figures
about him had each their separate individuality, engaging or otherwise;
that their interests were by no means centred on the dull pages before
them; and that, for the most part, they were very much in a like case
with himself. Although thus immured from the world of realities, they
still maintained, in vigorous activity, many healthy outdoor interests,
and were quite keen in their enthusiasm for, and remarkably instructed
in, the latest developments of horse-racing, football, and
prize-fighting. Likewise, they had retained an astonishingly fresh and
unimpaired interest in women, and still enjoyed the simple earth-born
pleasures of the glass and the pipe.
As he understood this, Henry began to feel more at home; and, as the
characters of his associates revealed themselves, he began to see that
there were amongst them several pleasant and indeed merry fellows, and
that, after all, fortune might have thrown him into much worse company.
They, on their side, making like discoveries in him, he presently found
himself admitted to their freemasonry, and initiated into their many
secret ways of mitigating their lot, and shortening their long days.
Thus, this chill, stern world of automata, which, on first sight, looked
as if no human word or smile or jest could escape the detection of its
iron laws, revealed, when you were once inside it, an under-world of
pleasant escapes and exciting truancies, of which, as you grew
accustomed to the risks and general conditions of the life, you were
able skilfully to avail yourself.
The main principle of these was to seem to spend twice as much time on
each task as it needed, that you might have the other half for such
private uses as were within your reach,--to elongate dinner-hours at
both ends so adroitly, and on such carefully selected propitious
occasions, that the elongation, or at least the whole extent of it,
would pass unobserved; and, in general, to gain time, any waste ends of
five minutes or quarter hours, on all possible occasions. If the reader
calls this shirking and robbery, he must. Technically, no doubt, it was;
but these clerks, without so formulating it, merely exercised the right
of all oppressed beings liberally to interpret to their own advantage,
where possible, the terms of an unjust contract which grinding economic
conditions had compelled them to make. They had been forced to promise
too much in exchange for too little, and they equalised the disparity
where they could.
Whether they spent the time thus hoarded in a profitable fashion, is a
question of personal definition. It was usually expended in companies of
twos or threes, with a pipe and a pot of beer and much spirited talk, in
the warm corners of adjacent taverns; and, so long as you don't drink
too much, there has perhaps been invented none pleasanter than that
old-fashioned way of spending an hour. Certainly, it was the way for ale
to taste good, and a pipe to seem the most satisfying of all earthly
consolations. It was almost worth the bondage to enjoy the keen relish
of the escape.
By degrees, though the youngest there, Henry came to be allowed a
certain leadership in these sorties of the human element. He made it his
business to stimulate these unthrifty instincts, and to fan the welcome
sparks of natural idleness; and so successfully that at times there
seemed to have entered with him into that gloomy place a certain Bacchic
influence, which now and again would prompt his comrades to such daring
clutches of animated release, that the spirit of it even pervaded the
penetralia of the senior partner's office, with the result that some
mishap of truancy would undo the genial work of months, and precipitate
upon them for a while the rigours of a ten-fold discipline. It was after
such an occasion that, in writing to James Mesurier as to the progress
of his son, old Mr. Septimus Lingard had paid Henry one of the proudest
compliments of his young days. "I fear that we shall make little of your
son Henry," he wrote. "His head seems full of literature, and he is so
idle that he is demoralising the whole office."
It took Henry more than a year to win that testimonial; but the odds had
been so great against him that the wonder is he was ever able to win it
at all. Mr. Lingard wrote "demoralise." It was his way of saying
HUMANITY IN HIGH PLACES
One day, however, Henry was to make the still more surprising discovery,
that not only were the clerks human beings, but that one of the
partners--only one of them--was also human. He made this discovery about
the senior partner, whose old-world figure and quaint name, Septimus
Searle Lingard, had, in spite of his severity, attracted him by a
certain musty distinction.
A stranger figure than Septimus Searle Lingard has seldom walked the
streets of any town. Though not actually much over sixty, you would have
said he must be a thousand; his abnormally long, narrow, shaven face was
so thin and gaunt and hollowed, and his tall, upright figure was so
painfully fragile, that his black broadcloth seemed almost too heavy for
the worn frame inside it. And nothing in the world else was ever so
piercingly solemn as his keen weary old eyes. With his tall silk hat,
his thin white hair, his long white face, long black frock-coat, and
black trousers, he looked for all the world like a distinguished
skeleton. Henry could never be quite sure whether he was to be classed
as a "character," or as a genuine personality. One thing was certain,
that, sometime or other, or many times, in his life he had done
something, or many things, which had won for him a respect as deep as
his solemnity of aspect; and certainly, if gravity of demeanour goes for
anything, all the owls of all the ages in collaboration could not have
produced an expression of time-honoured wisdom so convincing. Sometimes
his old lantern-jaws would emit an uncanny cackle of a laugh, and a
ghastly flicker of humour play across his parchment features; but these
only deepened the general sense of solemnity, as the hoot of a
night-bird deepens the loneliness of some desolate hollow among
It was this strange old ghost of a man that was to be the next to turn
human, and it came about like this. Right away at the top of the
building was a lonely room where the sun never shone, in which were
stored away the old account-books, diaries, and various
dead-and-done-with documents of the firm; and here too was deposited,
from time to time, various wreckage of the same kind from other
businesses whose last offices had been done by the firm, and whose
records were still preserved, in the unlikely event of any chance
resurrection of claim upon, or interest in, their long forgotten names.
Here crumbled the last relics of many an ambitious enterprise,--great
ledgers, with their covers still fresh, lay like slabs, from which, if
you wiped away the dust, the gilded names of foundered companies would
flash as from gaudy tombstones; letter-books bursting with letters that
no eye would read again so long as the world lasted; yellow title-deeds
from which all the virtue had long since exhaled, and to which no
dangling of enormous seals could any longer lend a convincing air of
importance. Here everything was dead and dusty as an old shoe. The dry
bones in the valley of Askelon were as children skipping in the morning
sun compared with the dusty death that mouldered and mouldered in this
lonely locked-up room,--this catacomb of dead businesses.
It was seldom necessary to visit this room; but occasionally Henry
would find an excuse to loiter an hour there, for there was a certain
dreary romance about the place, and the almost choking smell of old
leather seemed to promise all sorts of buried secrets. It cannot be said
that the place ever adequately gratified the sense of mystery it
excited; but, after all, to excite the sense of mystery is perhaps
better than to gratify it, and, considering its poor material, this room
was quite a clever old mysteriarch.
One day, however, Henry came upon some writing that did greatly interest
him, though it was almost contemporary. It was old Mr. Septimus
Lingard's diary for the year preceding, which he had got hold of,--not
his private diary, but the entirely public official diary in which he
kept account of the division of his days among his various clients--for
the most part an unexciting record. But at the end of the book, on one
of the general memoranda pages, Henry noticed a square block of writing
which, to his surprise, proved to be a long quotation from a book which
the old man had been reading,--on the Immortality of the soul!
Had old Mr. Septimus Lingard a soul too, a soul that troubled him
maybe, a soul that had its moving memories, and its immortal
aspirations? Yes, somewhere hidden in that strange legal document of a
body, there was evidently a soul. Mr. Lingard had a soul!
But wait a moment, here was an addition of the old man's own! The
passage quoted had been of death and its possible significance, and it
was just a sigh, a fear, the old man had breathed after it: _How high
has the winding-sheet encompassed my own bosom_!
Solemn as were the words in themselves, they seemed doubly so in that
lonely room; and Henry was glad to lock the door and return to the
comparatively living world downstairs. But from that moment old Mr.
Lingard was transfigured in his eyes. Beneath all the sternness of his
exterior, the grimness of the business interests which seemed to absorb
him, Henry had discovered the blessed human spring. And he came too to
wear a certain pathos and sanctity in Henry's eyes, as he remembered how
old a man he was, and that secretly all this time, while he seemed so
busy with this public company and another, he was quietly preparing to
die. From this moment tasks done for him came to have a certain joy in
them. For his sake, as it were, he began to understand how you might
take a pride in doing well something that, in your opinion, was not
worth doing; and one day when the old man, well satisfied with some work
he had done, patted him kindly on the back and said, "We'll make a
business man of you after all!" the tears started to his eyes, and for a
moment he almost hoped that they would.
DAMON AND PYTHIAS
By an odd coincidence, the night which had seen Henry and Esther
confront their father, had seen, in another household in which the young
people counted another member of their secret society of youth, a
similar but even less seemly clash between the generations. Ned Hazell
would be a poet too, and a painter as well, and perhaps a romantic
actor; but his father's tastes for his son's future lay in none of these
directions, and Ned was for the present in cotton. Now the elder Mr.
Hazell was a man of violently convivial habits, and the _bonhomie_, with
which he was accustomed to enliven bar-parlours up till eleven of an
evening, was apt to suffer a certain ungenial transformation as he
reached his own front door. There the wit would fail upon his lips, the
twinkle die out of his glance, and an unaccountable ferocity towards the
household that was waiting up for him take their place. When possible,
he would fix upon some trivial reason to give an air of plausibility to
this curious change in him; but if that were not forthcoming, he would,
it appeared, fly into a violent rage for just that very reason.
However, on this particular night, Heaven had provided him with an
heroic occasion. His son, he discovered, was for once out later than his
father. In what haunt of vice, or low place of drinking, he was at the
moment ensnared, no one better than his father could imagine. The
opportunity was one not to be missed. The outraged parent at last
realised that he had borne with him long enough, borne long enough with
his folderols of art and nonsense; and so determined was he on the
instant that he would have no more of it, that, with a quite remarkable
energy, he had thereupon repaired to his son's room, opened the window,
and begun vigorously to throw his pretty editions, his dainty
water-colours, his drawers full of letters, his cast of the Venus of
Milo, out on to the lawn, upon which at the moment a heavy rain was
In the very whirlwind of his righteous vandalism his son had returned,
and, being a muscular, hot-blooded lad, had taken his father by the
throat, called him a drunken beast, and hurled him to the floor, where
he pinned him down with a knee on his chest, and might conceivably have
made an end of him, but for the interference of mother and sisters, who
succeeded at last in getting the dazed and somewhat sobered parent
Having raked together from the sodden _debris_ beneath his window some
disfigured remains of his poor treasures, Ned Hazell had left the house
in the early hours of the morning, in good earnest for ever.
When he confided the excitements of the night to Henry at lunch next
day, and heard in return his friend's news, nothing could be more plain
than that they should set up lodgings together; and it was, therefore,
to the rooms of which Ned was already in possession that Henry's cab had
toppled with his various belongings, after those tearful farewells at
his father's door. Esther followed presently to help make the place
straight and dainty for the two boys, and having left them, late that
evening, with flowers in all the jars, and the curtains as they should
be, they were fairly launched on their new life together.
In Mike Henry had a stanch friend and an admirer against all comers, and
in Henry Mike had a friend and admirer no less loyal; but their
friendship was one for which an on-looker might have found it less easy
to give reasons than for that of Henry and Ned. Mike and Henry loved
each other, it would appear, less for any correspondence in dispositions
or tastes, as just because they were Mike and Henry. Right away down in
their natures there was evidently some central affinity which operated
even in spite of surface contradictions. There was much of this
intrinsic quality in the affection of Henry and Ned also, but it was
much more to be accounted for by evident mutual sympathies. It was
largely the impassioned fellowship of two craftsmen in love with the
same art. Both had their literary ambitions; but, irrespective of those,
they both loved poetry. Yes, how they loved it! Ned was perhaps
particularly a born appreciator; and it was worth seeing how the tears
would come into his fine eyes, as his voice shook with tenderness over a
fine phrase or a noble passage. They had discovered some of the most
thrilling things in English literature together, at that impressionable
age when such things mean most to us. Together they had read Keats for
the first wonderful time; together learned Shakespeare's Sonnets by
heart; together rolled out over tavern-tables the sumptuous cadences of
De Quincey. Wonderful indeed, and never to be forgotten, were those
evenings when, the day at last over, they would leave their offices
behind them, and, while the sunset was turning the buildings of Tyre
into enchanted towers, and a clemency of release breathed upon its
streets, steal to the quiet corner of their favourite tavern; to drink
port and share their last new author, or their own latest rhymes, and
then to emerge again, with high calm hearts and eloquent eyes, beneath
the splendid stars.
All the arts within their reach they thus shared together,--pictures,
music, theatres,--in a fine comradeship. Together they had bravoed the
great tragedians, and together hopelessly worshipped the beautiful
faces, enskied and sainted, of famous actresses. In fact, they were the
Damon and Pythias of Tyre.
DAMON AND PYTHIAS AT THE THEATRE
Once, long before the beginning of this story, Damon and Pythias were
sitting in a theatre together, with the wonderful overture just
beginning to steal through their senses.
Ah, violins, whither would you take their souls? You call to them like
the voice of one waiting by the sea, bathed in sunset. What are these
wonderful things you are whispering to their souls? You promise--ah,
what things you promise, strange voices of the string!
Oh, sirens, have pity! Their hearts are pure, their bodies sweet as
apples. Oh, be faithful, betray them not, beautiful voices of the
The overture had succeeded. Their souls had followed it over the
footlights, and, floating in the limelight, shone there awaiting the
fulfilment of the promise.
The play was "Pygmalion and Galatea," and at the appearance of Galatea
they knew that the overture had not lied. There, in dazzling white
flesh, was all it had promised; and when she called "Pyg-ma-lion!" how
their hearts thumped!--for they knew it was really them she was calling.
It was as though Cleopatra called them from the tomb.
Their hands met. They could hear each other's blood singing. And was not
the play itself an allegory of their coming lives? Did not Galatea
symbolise all the sleeping beauty of the world that was to awaken, warm
and fragrant, at the kiss of their youth? And somewhere, too, shrouded
in enchanted quiet, such a white white woman waited for their kiss. In a
vision they saw life like the treasure cave of the Arabian thief; and
they said to their beating hearts that they had the secret of the magic
word, that the "open Sesame" was youth.
No fall of the curtain could hide the vision from their young eyes. It
transfigured the faces of their fellow-playgoers, crowding from the pit;
it made another stage of the embers of the sunset, a distant bridge of
silver far down the street. Then they took it with them to the tavern;
and to write of the solemn libations of that night would be to laugh or
cry. Only youth can be so radiantly ridiculous.
They had found their own corner. Turning down the gas, the fire played
at day and night with their faces. Imagine them in one of the flashes,
solemnly raising their glasses, hands clasped across the table, earnest
gleaming eyes holding each other above it.
"Old man, some day, somewhere, a woman like that!"
But there was still a sequel. At home at last and in bed, how could
Damon sleep! It seemed as if he had got into a rosy sunset cloud in
mistake for his bed. The candle was out, and yet the room was full of
It was no use; he must get up. So, striking a light, he was presently
deep in the composition of a fiery sonnet. It was evidently that which
had caused all the phosphorescence. But a sonnet is a mere pill-box; it
holds nothing. A mere cockle-shell,--and, oh, the raging sea it could
not hold! Besides being confessedly an art-form, duly licenced to lie,
it was apt to be misunderstood. It could not say in plain words, "Meet
me at the pier to-morrow at three in the afternoon;" it could make no
assignation nearer than the Isles of the Blest, "after life's fitful
fever." Therefore, it seemed well to add a postscript to that effect
But then, how was she to receive it? There was nothing to be hoped from
the post, and Damon's home in Sidon was three miles from the ferry.
Likewise, it was now nearing three in the morning. Just time to catch
the half-past three boat, run up to the theatre, a mile away, and meet
the return boat. So down, down through the creaking house, carefully, as
though he were a Jason picking his way among the coils of the sleeping
dragon; and soon he was shooting through the phantom streets, like
Mercury on a message through Hades.
At last the river came in sight, growing slate-colour in the earliest
dawn. He could see the boat nuzzling up against the pier, and snoring in
its sleep. He said to himself that this was Styx and the fare an obolus.
As he jumped on board, with hot face and hotter heart, Charon clicked
his signal to the engines; the boat slowly snuffled itself half awake,
and shoved out into the sleepy water.
As they crossed, the light grew, and the gas-lamps of Tyre beaconed with
fading gleam. Overhead began a restlessness in the clouds, as of a giant
drowsily shuffling off some of his bedclothes; but as yet he slept, and
only the silver bosom of his spouse, the moon, was uncovered.
When they landed, the streets of Tyre were already light, but empty, as