Part 2 out of 4
though they had got up early to meet some one who had not arrived. Damon
sped through them like a sea-gull that has the harbour to itself, and
was not long in reaching the theatre. How desolate the play-bills looked
that had been so companionable but three or four hours before! And there
was her photograph! Surely it was an omen.
"Ah, my angel! See, I am bringing you my heart in a song. 'All my heart
in this my singing!'"
He dropped the letter into the box; but, as he turned away, momentarily
glancing up the long street, he caught sight of an approaching figure
that could hardly be mistaken. Good Heavens! it was Pythias, and he too
was carrying a letter.
CONTRIBUTIONS TOWARDS A GENEALOGY
The egregious Miss Bashkirtseff did not greatly fascinate Esther. Her
egotism was too hard, too self-bounded, even for egotism, and there was
generally about her a lack of sympathy. Her passion for fame had
something provincial in its eagerness, and her broadest ideals seemed to
become limited by her very anxiety to compass them. Even her love of art
seemed a form of snobbery. In all these young Mesuriers there was
implicit,--partly as a bye-product of the sense of humour, and partly as
an unconscious mysticism,--a surprising instinct for allowing the
successes of this world their proper value and no more. Even Esther, who
was perhaps the most worldly of them all, and whose ambitions were
largely social, as became a bonny girl whom nature had marked out to be
popular, and on whom, some day when Mike was a great actor,--and had a
theatre of his own!--would devolve the cares of populous "at home" days,
bright after-the-performance suppers, and all the various diplomacies of
the popular wife of fame,--even Esther, however brilliant her life might
become, would never for a moment imagine that such success was a thing
worth winning, at the expense of the smallest loss to such human
realities as the affection she felt for Mike and Henry. To love some one
well and faithfully, to be one of a little circle vowed to eternal
fidelity one to the other,--such was the initial success of these young
lives; and it was to make them all their days safe from the dangers of
more meretricious successes.
All the same, though the chief performer in Marie Bashkirtseff's
"Confessions" interested her but little, the stage on which for a little
while she had scolded and whimpered did interest her--for should it not
have been her stage too, and Henry's stage, and Dot's stage, father's
and mother's stage too? You had only to look at father to realise that
nature had really meant him for the great stage; here in Sidon, what was
he but a god in exile, bending great powers and a splendid character
upon ridiculously unimportant interests? Indeed, was not his destiny,
more or less, their destiny as a family? Henry would escape from it
through literature, and she through Mike. But what of Dot, what of Mat,
not yet to speak of "the children"?
All she envied Marie Bashkirtseff was her opportunity. Great Goddess
Opportunity! So much had come to Marie in the cradle, and came daily to
a hundred thousand insignificant aristocratic babes, to approach which
for the Mesuriers, even ten years too late, meant convulsions of the
home, and to attain which in any satisfactory degree was probably
impossible. French, for example, and music! Why, if so disposed, Marie
Bashkirtseff might have read old French romances at ten, and to play
Chopin at an earlier age was not surprising in the opportunitied,
so-called "aristocratic" infant. Oh, why had they not been born like the
other Sidonians, whose natures and ideals had been mercifully calculated
to the meridian of Sidon! Why didn't they think the Proudfoots and the
Wilkinsons and the Wagstaffs, and other local nobody-somebodies, people
of importance, and why did they think the mayor a ludicrous upstart,
and the adjacent J.P. a sententious old idiot? Far better to have rested
content in that state of life to which God had called them. To talk
French, or to play Chopin! What did it matter? In one sense nothing, but
in another it mattered like other convenient facilities of life. To the
immortal soul it mattered nothing, but to the mortal social unit it made
life the easier, made the passage of ideas, the intercourse of
individualities, the readier, and, in general, facilitated spiritual and
intellectual, as well as social, communication. To be first-rate
in your instincts, in all your fibres, and third-rate in your
opportunities,--that was a bitter indignity of circumstance.
This sub-conscious sense of aristocracy--it must be observed, lest it
should have been insufficiently implied--was almost humorously
dissociated in the minds of the young Mesuriers from any recorded family
distinctions. In so far as it was conscious, it was defiantly
independent of genealogy. Had the Mesuriers possessed a coat-of-arms,
James Mesurier would probably have kept it locked up as a frivolity to
be ashamed of, for it was a part of his Puritanism that such earthly
distinctions were foolishness with God; but, as a matter of fact,
between Adam and the immediate great-grandparents of the young
Mesuriers, there was a void which the Herald's office would have found a
difficulty in filling. This it never occurred to them to mind in
It was one of Henry's deep-sunken maxims that "a distinguished product
implied a distinguished process," and that, at all events, the
genealogical process was only illustratively important. It would have
been interesting to know how they, the Mesuriers, came to be what they
were. In the dark night of their history a family portrait or two, or an
occasional reference in history, would have been an entertaining
illumination--but, such not being forthcoming, they were, documentally,
so much the less indebted to their progenitors. Yet if they had only
been able to claim some ancestor with a wig and a degree for the
humanities, or some beautiful ancestress with a romantic reputation!
One's own present is so much more interesting for developing, or even
repeating, some one else's past. And yet how much better it was to be as
they were, than as most scions of aristocratic lineage, whose present
was so often nothing and their past everything. How humiliating to be so
pathetically inadequate an outcome of such long and elaborate
preparation,--the mouse of a genealogical mountain! Yes, it was
immeasurably more satisfactory to one's self-respect to be Something out
of Nothing, than Nothing out of Everything. Here so little had made so
much; here so much had made--hardly even a lord. It was better for your
circumstances to be inadequate for you, than you to be inadequate for
Henry had amused himself one day in making a list of all their
"ancestors" to whom any sort of worldly or romantic distinction could
attach, and it ran somewhat as follows:--
(1) A great-grandmother on the father's side, fabled to live in some
sort of a farm-house chateau in Guernsey, who once a year, up till two
years ago, when she died, had sent them a hamper of apples from Channel
Island orchards. Said "chateau" believed by his children to descend to
James Mesurier, but the latter indifferent to the matter, and relatives
on the spot probably able to look after it.
(2) A great-grandfather on the mother's side given to travel, a
"rolling-stone," fond of books and talk, and rich in humanity. Surviving
still in a high-nosed old silhouette.
(3) A grand-uncle on the father's side who was one of Napoleon's guard
at St. Helena!
(4) A grandfather on the mother's side, who used to design and engrave
little wooden blocks for patterns on calico-stuffs, and whose little box
of delicate instruments, evidently made for the tracing of lines and
flowers, was one of the few family heirlooms.
(5) A grandmother on the father's side of whom nothing was known beyond
the beautiful fact that she was Irish.
(6) A grandfather on the father's side who was a sea-captain, sailing
his own ship (barque "the Lucretia") to the West Indies, and who died of
yellow fever, and was buried, in the odour of romance, on the Isthmus
(7) An uncle who had also been a sea-captain, and who, in rescuing a
wrecked crew from an Australian reef, was himself capsized, and after a
long swim finally eaten by a shark,--said shark being captured next day,
and found to contain his head entire, two gold rings still in his ears,
which he wore for near-sightedness, after the manner of common sailors,
and one of which, after its strange vicissitudes, had found a
resting-place in the secretaire of his brother, James Mesurier.
Such was the only accessible "ancestry" of the Mesuriers, and it is to
be feared that the last state of the family was socially worse than the
first. James Mesurier was unapproachably its present summit, its Alpine
peak; and he was made to suffer for it no little by humble and
impecunious relatives. Still, whatever else they lacked, Henry Mesurier
loved to insist that these various connections were rich in character,
one or two of them inexhaustible in humour; and their rare and somewhat
timorous visits to the castle of their exalted relative, James Mesurier,
were occasions of much mirthful embarrassment to the young people. Here
the reader is requested to excuse a brief parenthetical chapter by way
of illustration, which, if he pleases, he may skip without any loss of
continuity in the narrative, or the least offence in the world to the
writer. This present chapter will be found continued in chapter sixteen.
MERELY A HUMBLE INTERRUPTION AND
ILLUSTRATION OF THE LAST
Some peaceable afternoon when Mrs. Mesurier was enjoying a little doze
on the parlour sofa, and her three elder daughters were snatching an
hour or two from housework--they had already left school--for a little
private reading, the drowsy house would suddenly be awakened by one loud
wooden knock at the door.
"Now, whoever can that be!" the three girls would impatiently exclaim;
and presently the maid would come to Miss Esther to say that there was
an old man at the door asking for Mrs. Mesurier.
"What's his name, Jane?"
"He wouldn't give it, miss. He said it would be all right. Mrs. Mesurier
would know him well enough."
"Whoever can it be? What's he like, Jane?"
"He looks like a workman, miss,--very old, and rather dotey."
"Who can it be? Go and ask him his name again."
Esther would then arouse her mother; and the maid would come in to say
that at last the old man had been persuaded to confide his name as
"Tell the missus it's Samuel Clegg," the old man had said, with a
certain amusing conceit. "She'll be glad enough to see Samuel Clegg."
"Why!" said Mrs. Mesurier, "it's your father's poor old uncle, Mr.
Clegg. Now, girls, you mustn't run away, but try and be nice to him.
He's a simple, good, old man."
Mrs. Mesurier was no more interested in Mr. Clegg than her daughters;
but she had a great fund of humanity, and an inexhaustible capacity for
suffering bores brilliantly.
"Why, I never!" she would say, adapting her idiom to make the old man
feel at home, as he was presently ushered in, chuntering and triumphant;
"you don't mean to say it's Uncle Clegg. Well, we are glad to see you! I
was just having a little nap, and so you must excuse my keeping
"Ay, Mary. It's right nice of you to make me so welcome. I got a bit
misdoubtful at the door, for the young maid seemed somehow a little
frightened of me; but when I told the name it was all right. 'Samuel
Clegg,' I said. 'She'll be glad enough to see Samuel Clegg,' I said."
"Glad indeed," murmured Mrs. Mesurier, "I should think so. Find a chair
for your uncle, Esther."
"Ay, the name did it," chuckled the old man, who as a matter of fact was
anything but a humble old person, and to whom the bare fact of
existence, and the name of Clegg, seemed warrant enough for thinking
quite a lot of yourself.
"I'm afraid you don't remember your old uncle," said the old man to
Esther, looking dimly round, and rather bewildered by the fine young
ladies. Actually, he was only a remote courtesy uncle, having married
their father's mother's sister.
"Oh, of course, Uncle Clegg," said Esther, a true daughter of her
mother; "but, you see, it's a long time since we saw you."
"And this is Dorcas. Come and kiss your uncle, Dorcas. And this is
Matilda," said Mrs. Mesurier.
"Ay," said the old man, "and you're all growing up such fine young
ladies. Deary me, Mary, but they must make you feel old."
"We were just going to have some tea," said Esther; "wouldn't you like a
"I daresay your uncle would rather have a glass of beer," said Mrs.
"Ay, you're right there, Mary," answered the old man, "right there. A
glass of beer is good enough for Samuel Clegg. A glass of beer and some
bread and cheese, as the old saying is, is good enough for a king; but
bread and cheese and water isn't fit for a beggar."
All laughed obligingly; and the old man turned to a bulging pocket which
had evidently been on his mind from his entrance.
"I've got a little present here from Esther," he said,--"Esther" being
the aunt after whom Mike's Esther had been named,--bringing out a little
newspaper parcel. "But I must tell you from the beginning.
"Well, you know, Mary," he continued, "I was feeling rather low
yesterday, and Esther said to me, 'Why not take a day off to-morrow,
Samuel, and see Mary, it'll shake you up a bit, and I'll be bound she's
right glad to see you?' 'Why, lass!' I said, 'it's the very thing. See
if I don't go in the morning.'
"So this morning," he continued, "she tidies me up--you know her
way--and sends me off. But before I started, she said, 'Here, Samuel,
you must take this, with my love, to Mary.' I've kept it wrapped up in
this drawer for thirty years, and only the other day our Mary Elizabeth
said, 'Mother, you might give me that old jug. It would look nice in our
little parlour.'" "But no!" I says, "Mary Elizabeth, if any one's to have
that jug, it's your Aunt Mary."
"How kind of her!" murmured Mrs. Mesurier, sympathetically.
"Yes, those were her words, Mary," said the old man, unfolding the
newspaper parcel, and revealing an ugly little jug of metallically
glistening earthenware, such as were turned out with strange pride from
certain English potteries about seventy years ago. It seemed made in
imitation of metal,--a sort of earthenware pewter; and evidently it had
been a great aesthetic treasure in the eyes of Mrs. Clegg. Mrs. Mesurier
received it accordingly.
"How pretty," she said, "and how kind of Aunt Esther! They don't make
such things nowadays."
"No, it's a vallyble relic," said the old man; "but you're worthy of
it, Mary. I'd rather see you have it than any of them. My word, but I'm
glad I've got it here safely. Esther would never have forgiven me.' Now,
Samuel,' she said, as I left, 'mind you get home before dark, and don't
sit on the jug, whatever you do.'"
Meanwhile the "young ladies" were in imminent danger of convulsions;
and, at that moment, further to enhance the situation, an old lady of
the neighbourhood, who occasionally dropped in for a gossip, was
announced. She was a prim little lady, with "Cranford" curls, and a
certain old-world charm and old-world vanity about her, and very deaf.
She too was a "character" in her way, but so different from old Mr.
Clegg that the entertainment to be expected from their conjunction was
irresistible even to anticipate.
"This is Mr. Clegg, an uncle of Mr. Mesurier," said poor Mrs. Mesurier,
by way of introduction.
"Howd'ye do, marm?" said Mr. Clegg, without rising.
Mrs. Turtle bowed primly. "Are you sure, my dear, I don't interrupt?"
she said to Mrs. Mesurier; "shall I not call in some other day?"
"Oh, dear, no!" said Mrs. Mesurier. "Esther, get Mrs. Turtle a little
whisky and water."
"Oh, my dear!" exclaimed Mrs. Turtle, "only the least little drop in the
world, Esther dear. My heart, you know, my dear. Even so short a walk as
this tires me out."
Mrs. Mesurier responded sympathetically; and then, by way of making
himself pleasant, Mr. Clegg suddenly broke in with such an extraordinary
amenity of old-world gallantry that everybody's hair stood on end.
"How old do you be?" he said, bowing to the new-comer.
"I beg your pardon," said Mrs. Turtle, putting her hand to her ear; "but
I'm slightly deaf."
"How old do you be?" shouted the old man.
Though not unnaturally taken aback at such an unwonted conception of
conversational intercourse, Mrs. Turtle recovered herself with
considerable humour, and, bridling, with an old-world shake of her
"What would you take me for?"
"I should say you were seventy, if you're a day," promptly answered the
"Oh, dear, no!" replied Mrs. Turtle, with some pique; "I was only sixty
"Well, you carry your age badly," retorted the old man, not to be
"What does he say, my dear?" said the poor old lady turning to Mrs.
"You carry your age badly," shouted the determined old man; "she should
see our Esther, shouldn't she, Mary?"
The silence here of the young people was positively electric with
suppressed laughter. Two of them escaped to explode in another room, and
Esther and her mother were left to save the situation. But on such
occasions as these Mrs. Mesurier grew positively great; and the manner
in which she contrived to "turn the conversation," and smooth over the
terrible hiatus, was a feat that admits of no worthy description.
Presently the old man rose to go, as the clock neared five. He had
promised to be home before dark, and Esther would think him "benighted"
if he should be late. He evidently had been to America and back in that
"Well, Mary, good-bye," he said; "one never knows whether we shall meet
again. I'm getting an old man."
"Eh, Uncle Clegg, you're worth twenty dead ones yet," said Mrs.
"What a strange old gentleman!" said Mrs. Turtle, somewhat bewildered,
as this family apparition left the room.
"Good-bye, Uncle Clegg," Esther was heard singing in the hall.
"Good-bye, be careful of the steps. Good-bye. Give our love to
Then the door would bang, and the whole house breathe a gigantic sigh of
(This was the kind of thing girls at home had to put up with!)
"Well, mother, did you ever see such a funny old person?" said Esther,
on her return to the parlour.
"You mustn't laugh at him," Mrs. Mesurier would say, laughing herself;
"he's a good old man."
"No doubt he's good enough, mother dear; but he's unmistakably funny,"
Esther would reply, with a whimsical thought of the family tree. Yes,
they were a distinguished race!
CHAPTER FOURTEEN CONCLUDED
No, the Mesuriers had absolutely nothing to hope for from their
relations,--nothing to look back upon, less to look forward to. Most
families, however poor and even _bourgeois_, had some memories to
dignify them or some one possible contingency of pecuniary inheritance.
At the very least, they had a ghost-story in the family. You seldom read
the biographies of writers or artists without finding references,
however remote, to at least one person of some distinction or substance.
To have had even a curate for an ancestor, or a connection, would have
been something, some frail link with gentility.
Now if, instead of being a rough old sea-captain of a trading ship,
Grandfather Mesurier had only been a charming old white-headed admiral
living in London, and glad, now and again, to welcome his little country
granddaughters to stay with him! He would probably have been very dull,
but then he would have looked distinguished, and taken one for walks in
the Park, or bought one presents in the Burlington arcade. At least old
admirals always seemed to serve this indulgent purpose in stories. At
all events, he would have been something, some possible link with an
existence of more generous opportunities. Dot and Mat would then at
least have seen a nice boy or two occasionally, and in time got married
as they deserved to be, and thus escape from this little provincial
theatre of Sidon. Who could look at Dot and think that anything short of
a miracle--a miracle like Esther's own meeting with Mike--was going to
find her a worthy mate in Sidon; and, suppose the miracle happened once
more in her case, what of Mat and all the rest? To be the wife of a
Sidonian town-councillor, at the highest,--what a fate!
Henry and she had often discussed this inadequate outlook for their
younger sisters, quite in the manner of those whose positions of
enlargement were practically achieved. The only thing to be done was for
Henry to make haste to win a name as a writer, and Mike to make his
fortune as an actor. Then another society would be at once opened to
them all. Yes, what wonders were to take place then, particularly when
Mike had made his fortune!--for the financial prospects of the young
people were mainly centred in him. Literature seldom made much
money--except when it wasn't literature. Henry hoped to be too good a
writer to hope to make money as well. But that would be a mere detail,
when Mike was a flourishing manager; for when that had come about, had
not Henry promised him that he would not be too proud to regard him as
his patron to the extent of accepting from him an allowance of, say, a
thousand a year. No, he positively wouldn't agree to more than a
thousand; and Mike had to be content with his promising to take that.
Meanwhile, what could girls at home do, but watch and wait and make home
as pretty as possible, and, by the aid of books and pictures, reflect as
much light from a larger world into their lives as might be.
On Henry's going away, the three girls had promptly bespoken the
reversion of his study as a little sitting-room for themselves. Here
they concentrated their books, and some few pictures that appealed to
tastes in revolt against Atlantic liners, but not yet developed to the
appreciation of those true classics of art--to which indeed they had yet
to be introduced. Such half-way masters as Leighton, Alma-Tadema, Sant,
and Dicksee were as yet to them something of what Rossetti and
Burne-Jones, and certain old Italian masters, were soon to become. In
books, they had already learnt from Henry a truer, or at all events a
more strenuous, taste; and they would grapple manfully with Carlyle and
Browning, and presently Meredith, long before their lives had use or
understanding for such tremendous nourishment.
One evening, as they were all three sitting cosily in Henry's study,--as
they still faithfully called it,--Esther was reading "Pride and
Prejudice" aloud, while Dot and Mat busied themselves respectively with
"macrame" work and a tea-cosy against a coming bazaar. Esther's tasks in
the house were somewhat illustrated by her part in the trio this
evening. Her energies were mainly devoted to "the higher nights" of
housekeeping, to the aesthetic activities of the home,--arranging
flowers, dusting vases and pictures, and so on,--and the lightness of
these employments was, it is to be admitted, an occasionally raised
grievance among the sisters. To Dot and Mat fell much more arduous and
manual spheres of labour. Yet all were none the less grateful for the
decorative innovations which Esther, acting on occasional hints from her
friend Myrtilla Williamson, was able to make; and if it were true that
she hardly took her fair share of bed-making and pastry-cooking, it was
equally undeniable that to her was due the introduction of Liberty silk
curtains and cushions in two or three rooms. She too--alas, for the
mistakes of young taste!--had also introduced painted tambourines, and
swathed the lamps in wonderful turbans of puffed tissue paper. Was she
to receive no credit for these services? Then it was she who had dared
to do battle with her mother's somewhat old-fashioned taste in dress;
and whenever the Mesurier sisters came out in something specially pretty
or fashionable, it was due to Esther.
Well, on this particular evening, she was, as we have said, taking her
share in the housework by reading "Jane Austen" aloud to Dot and Mat;
when the door suddenly opened, and James Mesurier stood there, a little
aloof,--for it was seldom he entered this room, which perhaps had for
him a certain painful association of his son's rebellion. Perhaps, too,
the picture of this happy little corner of his children--a world
evidently so complete in itself, and daily developing more and more away
from the parent world in the front parlour--gave him a certain pang of
estrangement. Perhaps he too felt as he looked on them that same dreary
sense of disintegration which had overtaken the mother on Henry's
departure; and perhaps there was something of that in his voice, as,
looking at them with rather a sad smile, he said,--
"You look very comfortable here, children. I hope that's a profitable
book you are reading, Esther."
"Oh, yes, father. It's 'Jane Austen,' you know."
"Well, I'm sorry to interrupt you, but I want a few words with Dorcas.
She can join you again soon."
So Dot, wondering what was in store for her, rose and accompanied her
father to the front parlour, where Mrs. Mesurier was peacefully knitting
in the lamplight.
"Dorcas, my dear," he said, when the door was closed, "your mother and
I have had a serious talk this evening on the subject of your joining
the church. You are now nearly sixteen, and of an age to think for
yourself in such matters; and we think it is time that you made some
profession of your faith as a Christian before the world."
The Church James Mesurier referred to was that branch of the English
Nonconformists known as Baptists; and the profession of faith was the
curious rite of baptism by complete immersion, the importance claimed
for which by this sect is, perhaps, from a Christian point of view, made
the less disproportionate by another condition attaching to it,--the
condition that not till years of individual judgment have been reached
is one eligible for the sacred rite. With that rationalism which
religious sects are so skilful in applying to some unimportant point of
ritual, and so careful not to apply to vital questions of dogma, the
Baptists reasonably argue that to baptise an unthinking infant, and, by
an external rite which has no significance except as the symbol of an
internal decision, declare him a Christian, is nothing more than an
idolatrous mummery. Wait till the child is of age to choose for him or
herself, to understand the significance of the Christian revelation and
the nature of the profession it is called upon to make; then if, by the
grace of God, it chooses aright, let him or her be baptised. And for the
manner of that baptism, if symbols are to be made use of by the
Christian church,--and it is held wise among the Baptists to make use of
few, and those the most central,--should they not be designed as nearly
after the fashion set forth in the Bible itself as is possible? The
"Ordinance" of the Lord's Supper--as it is called amongst them--follows
the procedure of the Last Supper as recorded in the Gospels; should not,
therefore, the rite of baptism be in its details similarly faithful to
authority? Now in Scripture, as is well known, baptisms were complete
immersions, symbolic alike of the washing away of sin, and also of the
dying to this world and the resurrection to the Life eternal in
So much theology was bred in the bone of all the young Mesuriers; and
the youngest of them could as readily have capitulated these articles of
belief as their father, who once more briefly summarised them to-night
for the benefit of his daughter. He ended with something of a personal
appeal. It had been one of the griefs of his life that Henry and Esther
had both refused to join their father's church, though Esther always
dutifully attended it every Sunday morning; and it was thinking of them,
though without naming them, that he said,--
"I met Mr. Trotter yesterday,"--Mr. Trotter was the local Baptist
minister, and Dot remarked to herself that her father was able to
pronounce his name without the smallest suspicion that such a name, as
belonging to a minister of divine mysteries, was rather ludicrous,
though indeed Baptist ministers seemed always to have names like
that!--"and he asked me when some of my young ladies were going to join
the church. I confess the question made me feel a little ashamed; for,
you know, my dear, out of our large family not one of you has yet come
forward as a Christian."
"No, father," said Dot, at last.
"I hope, my dear, you are not going to disappoint me in this matter."
"No indeed, father," said Dot, whose nature was pliable and
sympathetic, as well as fundamentally religious; "but I'm afraid I
haven't thought quite as much about it as I should like to, and, if you
don't mind, I should like to have a few days to think it out."
"Of course, my dear. That is a very right feeling; for the step is a
solemn one, and should not be taken without reverent thought. You cannot
do better than to talk it over with Mr. Trotter. If you have any
difficulties, you can tell him; and I'm sure he would be delighted to
help you. Isn't it so, mother? Well, dear," he continued, "you can run
away now; but bear in mind what I have said, and I shall hope to hear
that you have made the right choice before long. Kiss me, dear."
And so, with something of a lump in her throat, Dot returned to the
interrupted "Jane Austen."
"Whatever did father want?" asked the two girls, looking up as she
entered the room.
"What do you think?" said Dot. "He wants me to be baptised!"
Now, in thus appealing to Dot, her father had appealed to just the one
out of all his children who was least likely to disappoint him. To Dot
and Henry had unmistakably been transmitted the largest share of their
father's spirituality. Esther was not actively religious, any more than
she was actively poetic. Hers was one of those composite, admirably
balanced natures which include most qualities and faculties, but no one
in excess of another. Such make those engaging good women of the world,
who are able to understand and sympathise with the most diverse
interests and temperaments; as it is the characteristic of a good critic
to understand all those various products of art, which it would be
impossible for him to create. Thus Esther could have delighted a saint
with her sympathetic comprehension, as she could have healed the wounds
of a sinner by her comprehensive sympathy; but it was certain she would
never be, in sufficient excess, spiritually wrought or sensually
rebellious to be one or the other. She was beautifully, buoyantly
normal, with a happy, expansive, enjoying nature, glad in the sunlight,
brave in the shadow, optimistically looking forward to blithe years of
life and love with Mike and her friends, and not feeling the necessity
of being anxious about her soul, or any other world but this. She was
not shallow; but she merely realised life more through her intelligence
than through her feelings. To have become a Baptist would have offended
her intelligence, without bringing any satisfaction to spiritual
instincts not, in any event, clamorous.
As for Henry, it was not only activity of intelligence, but activity of
spirituality, that made it impossible for him to embrace any such narrow
creed as that proposed to him; and, for the present, that spiritual
activity found ample scope for itself in poetry.
Dot's, however, was an intermediate case. With an intelligence active
too, she united a spirituality torturingly intense, but for which she
had no such natural creative outlet as Henry. With her loss of the old
creed,--in discarding which these three sisters had followed the lead of
their brother with a curious instinctiveness, almost, it would seem,
independent of reasoning,--her spirituality had been left somewhat
bleakly houseless, and she had often longed for some compromise by which
she could reconcile her intelligence to the acceptance of some
established home of faith, whose kindly enclosing walls should be more
genially habitable to the soul than the cold, star-lit spaces which
Henry declared to be sufficient temple.
Perhaps Esther's commiseration of her sisters' narrow opportunities was,
so far as it related to Dot, a little unnecessary, for indeed Dot's
ambitions were not social. By nature shy and meditative, and with her
religious bias, had she been born into a Catholic family, she might not
improbably have found the world well lost in a sisterhood. The Puritan
conscience had an uncomfortable preponderance in the deep places of her
nature, and, far down in her soul, like her father, she would ask
herself if pleasure could be the end of life--was there not something
serious each of us could and ought to do, to justify his place in the
world? Were we not all under some mysterious solemn obligation to do
something, however little, in return for life?
Mat, on the other hand, had no such scruples. She was more like Esther
in nature, with a touch of cynicism curling her dainty lip, arising,
perhaps, from an early divination that she was to lack Esther's
opportunities. Perhaps it was because she was the pessimist--the quite
cheerful pessimist--of the family, that she was by far the cleverest and
most industrious at the housework. If it was her fate to be Cinderella,
she might as well make the best of it, with a cynical endurance and
good-humour, and be Cinderella with a good grace. Probably the only
glass slipper in the family had already fallen to Esther. Never mind,
though her good looks might fade with being a good girl at home, year by
year, what did it matter, after all? Nothing mattered in the end. And
thus, out of a great indifference, Mat developed a great unselfishness;
and if you could name one special angel in the house of the Mesuriers,
she was unmistakably Mat.
In addition to her religious promptings, Dot had lately developed a
great sympathy for her father. Standing a little aside from the conflict
between him and Henry, she was able to divine something of the feelings
of both; and she had now and again caught a look of loneliness on her
father's face that made her ready to do almost anything to please him.
Of course the question was one for general consultation. She knew what
Henry would say. It didn't much matter anyhow, he would say, but it was
a pity. How was intellectual freedom to be won, if those who had seen
the light should thus deliberately forego it, time after time, from such
merely sentimental reasons? And when she saw Henry, that was just what
he did say.
"But," she said, "it would make father so happy."
"Yes, I know," he answered; "and it would be very beautiful of you.
Besides, of course, in one way it's only a matter of symbolism; but
then, on the other hand, it's symbolism hardened into dogmatism that has
done all the mischief. Do it, dear, if you like; I hardly know what to
say. As you say, it will make father happy, and I shall quite
Dot was one of those natures that like to seek, and are liable to take,
advice; so, after seeing Henry, she thought she would see what Mr.
Trotter had to say; for, in spite of his unfortunate name, Mr. Trotter
was a gentle, cultivated mind, and was indeed somewhat incongruously,
perhaps in a mild way Jesuitically, circumstanced as a Baptist minister.
Henry and he were great friends on literary matters; and Dot and he had
had many talks, greatly helpful to her, on spiritual things. In fact,
Chrysostom Trotter was one of those numerous half-way men between the
old beliefs and their new modifications, which the continuous advance of
scientific discovery and philosophical speculation on the one hand, and
the obstinate survival of Christianity on the other, necessitate--if men
of spiritual intuitions who are not poets and artists are to earn their
living. There was nothing you could say to Chrysostom Trotter, provided
you said it reverently, that would startle him. He knew all that long
ago and far more. For, though obliged to trade in this backwater of
belief, he was in many respects a very modern mind. You were hardly
likely to know your Herbert Spencer as intimately as he, and all the
most exquisite literature of doubt was upon his shelves. Though you
might declare him superficially disingenuous, you could not, unless you
were some commonplace atheist or materialist, gainsay the honest logic
of his position.
"You believe that the world, that life, is a spiritual mystery?" he
"You do not for a moment think that any materialistic science has
remotely approached an adequate explanation of its meaning?"
"You believe too that, however it comes about, and whatever it means,
there is an eternal struggle in man between what, for sake of argument,
we will call the higher and lower natures?"
"Well, then, this spiritual mystery, this struggle, are hinted at in
various media of human expression, in an ever-changing variety of human
symbols. Art chiefly concerns itself with the sexual mystery, with the
wonderful love of man and woman, in its explanation of which alone
science is so pitifully inadequate. Literature more fully concerns
itself with the mystery of man's indestructibly instinctive relation to
what we call the unseen,--that is, the Whole, the Cosmos, God, or
whatever you please to call it. But more than literature, religion has
for centuries concerned itself with these considerations, has
consciously and industriously sought to make itself the science of what
we call the soul. It has thrown its observations, just as poetry and art
have thrown their observations, into symbolic forms, of which
Christianity is incomparably the most important. You don't reject the
revelation of human love because Hero and Leander are probably creations
of the poet's fancy. Will you reject the revelation of divine love,
because it chances, for its greater efficiency in winning human hearts,
to have found expression in a similar human symbolism? Personally, I
hold that Christ actually lived, and was literally the Son of God; but,
were the human literalness of his divine story discredited, the eternal
verities of human degeneration, and a mysterious regeneration, would be
no whit disproved. Externally, Christianity may be a symbol;
essentially, it is a science of spiritual fact, as really as geology is
a science of material fact.
"And as for its miraculous, supernatural, side,--are the laws of nature
so easy to understand that we should find such a difficulty in accepting
a few divergencies from them? He who can make laws for so vast a
universe may surely be capable of inventing a few comparatively trivial
Not perhaps in so many words, but in some such spirit, would Chrysostom
Trotter argue; and it was in some such fashion that he talked in his
charmingly sympathetic way with Dorcas Mesurier, one afternoon, as she
had tea with him in a study breathing on every hand the man of letters,
rather than the minister of a somewhat antiquated sect.
"My dear Dorcas," he said, "you know me well enough--you know me perhaps
better than your father knows me--know me well enough to believe that I
wouldn't urge you to do this thing if I didn't think it was right _for
you_--as well as for your father and me. But I know it is right, and for
this reason. You are a deeply religious nature, but you need some
outward symbol to hold on to,--you need, so to say, the magnetising
association of a religious organisation. Henry can get along very well,
as many poets have, with his birds and his sunsets and so forth; but you
need something more authoritative. It happens that the church I
represent, the church of your father, is nearest to you. You might, with
all the goodwill in the world, so far as I am concerned, embrace some
other modification of the Christian faith; but here is a church, so to
say, ready for you, familiar by long association, endeared to your
father. You believe in God, you believe in the spiritual meaning of
life, you believe that we poor human beings need something to keep our
eyes fixed upon that spiritual meaning--well, dear Dorcas," he ended,
abruptly, "what do you think?"
"I'll do it," said Dot.
"Good girl," said the minister; "sometimes it is a form of righteousness
to waive our doubts for those who are at once so dear and good as your
father. And don't for a moment think that it will leave you just where
you are. These outward acts are great energisers of the soul. Dear
Dorcas, I welcome you into one of God's many churches."
So it was that Dot came to be baptised; and, to witness the ceremony,
all the Mesuriers assembled at the chapel that Sunday evening,--even
Henry, who could hardly remember when he used to sit in this
still-familiar pew, and scribble love-verses in the back of his
hymn-book during the sermon.
To the mere mocker, the rite of baptism by immersion might well seem a
somewhat grotesque antic of sectarianism; but to any one who must needs
find sympathy for any observance into which, in whatsoever forgotten and
superseded time, has passed the prayerful enthusiasm of man, the rite
could hardly fail of a moving solemnity. As Chrysostom Trotter ordered
it, it was certainly made to yield its fullest measure of
impressiveness. To begin with, the chapel was quite a comely edifice
inside and out; and its ministerial end, with its singers' gallery
backed by great organ pipes, and fronted by a handsome pulpit, which Mr.
Trotter had dared to garnish with chrysanthemums on each side of his
Bible, had a modest, sacerdotal effect. Beneath the pulpit on ordinary
occasions stood the Communion-table; but on evenings when the rite of
baptism was prepared, this table, and a boarding on which it stood,
were removed, revealing a tiled baptistry,--that is, a tiled tank, about
eight feet long, and six wide, with steps on each side descending into
about four feet of water.
Towards the close of the service, the minister would leave his pulpit,
and, during the singing of a hymn, would presently emerge from his
vestry in a long waterproof garment. As the hymn ended, some "sister" or
"brother" that night to be admitted into the church, would timidly join
him at the baptistry side, and together they would go down into
Holding the hands of the new communicant, the minister, in a solemn
voice, would say, "Sister," or "Brother, on confession of your faith in
our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, I baptise thee in the name of the
Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."
Then the organ would strike up a triumphant peal, and, to the
accompaniment of its music and the mellow plashing of the water, the
sister or brother would be plunged beneath the symbolic wave.
Great was the excitement, needless to say, in the Mesurier pew, as
little Dot at last came forth from the vestry, and, stealing down into
the water, took the minister's out-stretched hands.
"There she is! There's Dot!" passed round the pew, and the hardest young
heart, whoever it belonged to, stopped beating, to hear the minister's
words. They seemed to come with a special personal tenderness,--
"Sister, on confession of your faith in our Lord and Saviour Jesus
Christ, I baptise thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of
the Holy Ghost."
Once more the organ triumphant, and the mellow splashing of the water.
Dear little Dot, she had done it!
"Did you see father's face?" Esther whispered to Henry.
Yes; perhaps none of them would ever do such a beautiful thing as Dot
had done that night. At least there was one of James Mesurier's children
who had not disappointed him.
MIKE AND HIS MILLION POUNDS
The most exquisite compliment a man has ever paid to him is worded
something like this: "Well, dear, you certainly know how to make love;"
and this compliment is always the reward, not of passion however
sustained, or sentiment however refined, but of humour whimsically
fantasticating and balancing both. It is the gentle laugh, not
violating, but just humanising, that very solemn kiss; the quip that
just saves passion from toppling over the brink into bathos, that mark
the skilful lover. No lover will long be successful unless he is a
humourist too, and is able to keep the heart of love amused. A lover
should always be something of an actor as well; not, of course, for the
purpose of feigning what he does not feel, but so that he may the better
dramatise his sincerity!
Mike had therefore many advantages over those merely pretty fellows
whose rivalry he had once been modest enough to fear. He was a master
of all the child's play of love; and to attempt to describe the fancies
which he found to vary the game of love, would be to run the risk of
exposing the limitations of the literary medium. No words can pull those
whimsical faces, or put on those heart-breaking pathetic expressions,
with which he loved to meet Esther after some short absence. Sometimes
he would come into the room, a little forlorn sparrow of a creature,
signifying, by a dejection in which his very clothes took part, that he
was out in the east wind of circumstance and no one in the world cared a
shabby feather for him. He would stand shivering in a corner, and look
timorously from side to side, till at last he would pretend she had
warmed him with her kisses, and generally made him welcome to the world.
Sometimes he would come in with his collar dismally turned up, and an
old battered hat upon his head, and pretend that he hadn't had a
meal--of kisses--for a whole week; and occasionally he would come
blowing out his cheeks like a king's trumpeter, to announce that Mike
Laflin might be at any moment expected. But for the most part these
impersonations were in a minor key, as Mike had soon discovered that the
more pathetic he was, the more he was hugged and called a "weenty,"
which was one of his own sad little names for himself.
One of his "long-run" fairy-tales, as he would call them, was that each
morning as he went to business, he really started out in search of a
million pounds, which was somewhere awaiting him, and which he might
break his shins over at any moment. It might be here, it might be there,
it might come at any hour of the day. The next post might bring it. It
might be in yonder Parcel Delivery van,--nothing more probable. Or at
any moment it might fall from heaven in a parachute, or be at that
second passing through the dock-gates, wearily home from the Islands of
Sugar and Spice. You never could tell.
"Well, Mike," said Esther, one evening, as he came in, hopping in a
pitifully wounded way, and explaining that he had been one of the three
ravens sitting on a bough which the cruel huntsman had shot through the
wing, etc., "have you found your million pounds to-day?"
"No, not my million pounds," said Mike. "I'm told I shall find them
"Who told you?"
"You silly old thing! Give me a kiss. Are you a dear? Tell me, aren't
you a dear?"
"No-p! I'm only a poor little houseless, roofless, windowless,
chimney-less, Esther-less, brainless,
"You're the biggest dear in the world!"
"No, I'm not. I'm the littlest!"
"Suppose you found your million pounds, Mike?"
"Suppose! Didn't I tell you I'm sure of it to-morrow?"
"Well, when you find it to-morrow, what will you do with it?"
"I'll buy the moon."
"Yes; as a present for Henry."
"Wouldn't it be rather dear?"
"Not at all. Twenty thousand would buy it any time this last hundred
years. But the worst of it is, no one wants it but the poets, and they
cannot afford it. Yet if only a poet could get hold of it, why what a
literary property it would be!"
"You silly old thing!"
"No! but you don't seem to realise that I'm quite serious. Think of the
money there would be for any poet who had acquired the exclusive
literary rights in the moon! Within a week I'd have it placarded all
over, 'Literary trespassers will be prosecuted!' And then I've no doubt
Henry would lend me the Man in the Moon for my Christmas pantomimes."
"After all, it's not a bad idea," said Esther.
"Of course it's not," said Mike; "but be careful not to mention it to
Henry just yet. I shouldn't like to disappoint him--for, of course,
before we took any final steps in the purchase, we'd have to make sure
that it wasn't, as some people think, made of green cheese."
"But never mind about the moon. Tell us how you got on with The
The Sothern was an amateur dramatic club in Tyre which took itself very
seriously, and to which Mike was seeking admission, as a first step
towards London management. He had that day passed an examination before
three of the official members, solemn and important as though they had
been the Honourable Directors of Drury Lane, and had been admitted to
membership in the club, with the promise of a small part in their
"Oh, that's good!" said Esther. "What were they like?"
"Oh, they were all right,--rather humorous. They gave me 'Eugene Aram'
to read--Me reading 'Eugene Aram'!--and a scene out of 'London
Assurance,' which was, of course, better. Naturally, not one of the men
was the remotest bit like himself. One was a queer kind of Irving,
another a sad sort of Arthur Roberts, and the other was--shall we say, a
Actors, like poets, have provincial parodists of their styles in even
greater numbers, so adoringly imitative is humanity. Some day, Mike
would have his imitators,--boys who pulled faces like his, and prided
themselves on having the Laflin wrinkles; just as it was once the
fashion for girls to look like Burne-Jones pictures, or young poets to
imitate Mr. Swinburne.
"Yes, I've got my first part. I've got it in my pocket," said Mike.
"Oh, really! That's splendid!" exclaimed Esther, with delight.
"Wait till you see it," said Mike, bringing out a French's acting
edition of some forgotten comedy. "Yes; guess how many words I've got to
say! Just exactly eleven. And such words!"
"Well, never mind, dear. It's a beginning."
"Certainly, it's a beginning,--the very beginning of a beginning."
"Come, let me see it, Mike. What are you supposed to be?"
At last Mike was persuaded to confess the humble little _role_ for which
the eminent actors who had consented to be his colleagues had cast him.
He was to be the comic boy of a pastry-cook's man, and his distinguished
part in the action of the piece was to come in at a certain moment with
the pie that had been ordered, and, as he delivered it, he was to
remark, "That's a pie as is a pie, is that there pie!"
"Oh, Mike, what a shame!" exclaimed Esther. "How absurd! Why, you're a
better actor with your little finger than any one of them with their
"Ah, but they don't know that yet, you see."
"Any one could see it if they looked at your face half-a-minute."
"I wanted to play the part of Snodgrass; but they couldn't think of
giving me that, of course. So, do you know what I pretended, to comfort
myself? I pretended I was Edward Kean waiting in the passages at Drury
Lane, with all the other fine fellows looking down at the shabby little
gloomy man from the provinces. That was conceit for you, wasn't it?"
The pathos of this was, of course, irresistible to Esther, and Mike was
thereupon hugged and kissed as he expected.
"Never mind," he said, "you'll see if I don't make something of the poor
little part after all."
And, thereupon, he described what he laughingly called his "conception,"
and how he proposed to dress and make up, so vividly that it was evident
that the pastry-cook's boy was already to him a personality whose
actions and interests were by no means limited to his brief appearance
on the stage, but who, though accidentally he had but few words to speak
before the audience, was a very voluble and vital little person in
scenes where the audience did not follow him.
"Yes, you see I'll do something with it. The best of a small part,"
said Mike, speaking as one of experience, "is that it gives you plenty
of opportunity for making the audience wish there was more of it."
"From that point of view, you certainly couldn't have a finer part,"
Then for a moment Mike skipped out of the room, and presently knocked,
and, putting in a funny face, entered carrying a cushion with alacrity.
"That's a pie as is a pie, is that there pie!" he fooled, throwing the
cushion into Esther's lap, where presently his little red head found
its way too.
"How can you love such a silly little creature?" he said, looking up
into Esther's blue eyes.
"I don't know, I'm sure," said Esther; "but I do," and, bending down,
she kissed the wistful boy's face. Was it because Esther was in a way
his mother, as well as his sweetheart, that she seemed to do all
Thus was Mike's first part rehearsed and rewarded.
ON CERTAIN ADVANTAGES OF A BACKWATER
Though from a maritime point of view, Tyre was perhaps the chief centre
of conjunction for all the main streams of the world, from the point of
view of literature and any other art, it was an admitted backwater. Take
what art you pleased, Tyre was a dunce. Even to music, the most
persuasive of the arts, it was deaf. Surely, of all cities, it had not
been built to music. It possessed, indeed, one private-spirited
town-councillor, who insisted on presenting it with nude sculptures and
mysterious paintings which it furiously declined. If Tyre was to be
artistically great, it must certainly be with a greatness reluctantly
thrust upon it.
Still Henry and Ned had sense enough to be glad that they had been born
there. It was from no mere recognition of an inexpensively effective
background; perhaps they hardly knew why they were glad till later on.
But, meanwhile, they instinctively laid hold of the advantages of their
limitations. Had they been London-born and Oxford-bred, they would have
been much more fashionable in their tastes; but their very isolation,
happily, saved them from the passing superstitions of fashion; and they
were thus able to enjoy the antiquities of beauty with the same
freshness of appetite as though they had been novelties. If Henry was to
meet Ned some evening with the announcement that he had a wonderful new
book to share with him, it was just as likely to be Sir Philip Sidney's
"Astrophel and Stella," as any more recent publication--though, indeed,
they contrived to keep in touch with the literary developments of the
day with a remarkable instinct, and perhaps a juster estimate of their
character and value than those who were taking part in them; for it is
seldom that one can be in the movement and at the centre as well.
As a matter of fact, there was little that interested them, or which at
all events didn't disappoint and somewhat bewilder. The novel was
groaning under the thraldom of realism; poetry, with one or two
exceptions, was given up to bric-a-brac and metrical ingenuity. To
young men for whom French romanticism was still alive, who were still
content to see the world through the spiritual eyes of Shelley and
Keats, and who had not yet learned to belittle Carlyle, there seemed a
strange lack of generosity and, indeed, vitality in the literary ideals
of the hour. The novel particularly seemed barren and unprofitable to
them, more and more an instrument of science than a branch of
literature. Laughter had deserted it, as clearly as romance or pathos,
and more and more it was becoming the vehicle of cynical biology on the
one hand, and Unitarian theology on the other. Besides, strangest of
all, men were praised for lacking those very qualities which to these
boys had seemed essential to literature. The excellences praised were
the excellences of science, not literature. In fact, there seemed to be
but one excellence, namely, accuracy of observation; and to write a
novel with any eye to beauty of language was to err, as the writer of a
scientific treatise would err who endeavoured to add charm and grace to
the sober record of his investigations. Dull sociological analysts
reigned in the once laughing domain of Cervantes, of Fielding and
Thackeray, of Dumas and Dickens, of Hugo and Gautier and George Sand.
Were they born too late? Were they anachronisms from the forgotten age
of romanticism, or were they just born in time to assist at the birth of
another romantic, idealistic age? Would dreams and love and beautiful
writing ever come into fashion again? Would the poet be again a creature
of passion, and the novelist once more make you laugh and cry; and would
there be essayists any more, whose pages you would mark and whose
phrases you would roll over and over again on your tongue, with delight
at some mysterious magic in the words?
History may be held to have answered these questions since then, much in
favour of those young men, or at all events is engaged in answering
them; but, meanwhile, what a miraculous refreshment in a dry and thirsty
land was the new book Henry Mesurier had just discovered, and had
eagerly brought to share with Ned in their tavern corner one summer
evening in 1885.
Ned was late; but when Henry had sipped a little at his port, and turned
to the new-born exquisite pages, he hardly noticed how the minutes were
going by as he read. Presently he had come to the end of the first
volume, the only one he had with him, and he raised his eyes from the
closing page with that exquisite exaltation, that beatific satisfaction
of mind and spirit,--even almost one might say of body,--which for the
lover of literature nothing in the world like a fine passage can bring.
He turned again to the closing sentences: "_Yes; what was wanting was
the heart that would make it impossible to witness all this; and the
future would be with the forces that would beget a heart like that. His
favourite philosophy had said, Trust the eye. Strive to be right always,
regarding the concrete experience. Never falsify your impressions. And
its sanction had been at least effective here, in saying: It is what I
may not see! Surely, evil was a real thing; and the wise man wanting in
the sense of it, where not to have been, by instinctive election, on the
right side was to have failed in life_."
The passage referred to the Roman gladiatorial shows, and to the
philosophic detachment by which Marcus Aurelius was able to see and yet
not to see them; and the whole book was the spiritual story of a young
Roman's soul, a priestlike artistic temperament, born in the haunted
twilight between the setting sun of pagan religion and philosophy and
the dawn of the Christian idea. The theme presented many fascinating
analogies to the present time; and in the hero's "sensations and ideas"
Henry found many correspondences with his own nature. In him, too, was
united that same joy in the sensuous form, that same adoration of the
spiritual mystery, the temperaments in one of artist and priest. He,
too, in a dim fashion indeed, and under conditions of culture less
favourable, had speculated and experimented in a similar manner upon the
literary art over which as yet he had acquired--how crushingly this
exquisite book taught him--such pathetically uncertain mastery. That
impassioned comradeship in books beautiful, was it not to-day Ned's and
his, as all those years before it had been that of Marius and Flavian?
And where in the world _was_ Ned? How he would kindle at a passage like
this: "_To keep the eye clear by a sort of exquisite personal alacrity
and cleanliness, extending even to his dwelling-place; to discriminate,
ever more and more exactly, select form and colour in things from what
was less select; to meditate much on beautiful visible objects, on
objects, more especially, connected with the period of youth,--on
children at play in the morning, the trees in early spring, on young
animals, on the fashions and amusements of young men; to keep ever by
him, if it were but a single choice flower, a graceful animal or
sea-shell, as a token and representation of the whole kingdom of such
things; to avoid jealously, in his way through the world, everything
repugnant to sight; and, should any circumstance tempt him to a general
converse in the range of such objects, to disentangle himself from that
circumstance at any cost of place, money, or opportunity: such were, in
brief outline, the duties recognised, the rights demanded, in this new
formula of life_."
And again, what gleaming single phrases, whole counsels of existence in
a dozen words! He must copy out some of them for Esther. This, for
example: "_Not pleasure, but fulness, completeness of life generally_,"
or this: "_To be able to make use of the flower when the fruit, perhaps,
was useless or poisonous_" or again this: "_To be absolutely virgin
towards a direct and concrete experience_"--and there were a
Then for the young craftsman what an insight into, what a compassionate,
childish remembrance of the moods and the little foolish accidents of
creation: "_His dilettanteism, his assiduous preoccupation with what
might seem but the details of mere form or manner, was, after all, bent
upon the function of bringing to the surface, sincerely and in their
integrity, certain strong personal intuitions, certain visions or
apprehensions of things as being, with important results, in this way
rather than that--apprehensions which the artistic or literary
expression was called upon to follow, with the exactness of wax or clay,
clothing the model within it. Flavian, too, with his fine, clear mastery
of the practically effective, had early laid hold of the principle, as
axiomatic in literature: That 'to know when one's self is interested, is
the first condition of interesting other people'"_ And once more: "_As
it oftenest happens also, with natures of genuinely poetic quality,
those piecemeal beginnings came suddenly to harmonious completeness
among the fortunate incidents, the physical heat and light, of one
singularly happy day_."
And, over all, what a beauty! a beauty at once so sensuous and so
spiritual--the beauty of flowering laurel, the beauty of austerity
aflower. Here the very senses prayed. Surely this was the most
beautiful prose book ever written! It had been compared, he saw, with
Gautier's "Mademoiselle de Maupin;" but was not the beauty of that
masterpiece, in comparison with the beauty of this, as the beauty of a
leopard-skin to the beauty of a statue of Minerva, withdrawn in a
grove of ilex.
Still Ned delayed, and, meanwhile, the third glass of port had come and
gone, and at length, reluctantly, Henry emerged from his tavern-cloister
upon the warm brilliancy of the streets. All around him the lights
beaconed, and the women called with bright eyes. But to-night there was
no temptation for him in these things. They but recalled another
exquisite quotation from his new-found treasure, which he stopped under
a lamp to fix in his memory: "_And, as the fresh, rich evening came on,
there was heard all over Rome, far above a whisper, the whole town
seeming hushed to catch it distinctly, the living, reckless call to
'play,' from the sons and daughters of foolishness to those in whom
their life was still green_--Donec virenti canities abest! Donec virenti
canities abest! _Marius could hardly doubt how Cornelius would have
taken the call. And as for himself, slight as was the burden of
positive moral obligation with which he had entered Rome, it was to no
wasteful and vagrant affections, such as these, that his Epicureanism
had committed him_."
But what could have happened to Ned?
THE MAN IN POSSESSION
One morning, two or three months after Henry had left home, old Mr.
Lingard came to him as he sat bent, drearily industrious, over some
accounts, and said that he wished him in half-an-hour's time to go with
him to a new client; and presently the two set out together, Henry
wondering what it was to be, and welcoming anything that even exchanged
for a while one prison-house for another.
"I am taking you," said the old man, as they walked along together, "to
a firm of carriers and carters whose affairs have just come into our
hands; there is a dispute arisen between the partners. We represent
certain interests, as I shall presently explain to you, and you are to
be _our_ representative,--our man in possession," and the old gentleman
"You never expected to be a man in possession, did you?"
Henry thrilled with a sense of awful intimacy, thus walking and even
jesting with his august employer.
"It may very likely be a long business," the old man continued; "and I
fear may be a little dull for you. For you must be on the spot all day
long. Your lunch will be served to you from the manager's house; I will
see to that. Actually, there will be very little for you to do, beyond
looking over the day-book and receipts for the day. The main thing is
for you to be there,--so to say, the moral effect of your
presence,"--and the old gentleman laughed again. Then, with an amused
sympathy that seemed almost exquisite to Henry, he chuckled out, looking
at him, from one corner of his eye, like a roguish skeleton--
"You'll be able to write as much poetry as you like. I see you've got a
book with you. Well, it will keep you awake. I don't mind that,--or even
the poetry,--so long as you don't forget the day-book."
"Thank you, sir," said Henry, almost hysterically.
"I suppose," the old man continued, presently, and in all he said there
was a tone of affectionate banter that quite won Henry's heart, "that
you're still as set on literature as ever. Well, well, far be it from me
to discourage you; but, my dear boy, you'll find out that we can't live
on dreams." (Henry thought, but didn't dare to say, that it was dreams
alone that made it possible to live at all.) "I suppose you think I'm a
dried-up old fellow enough. Well, well, I've had my dreams too. Yes,
I've had my dreams,"--Henry thought of what he had discovered that day
in the old man's diary,--"and I've written my verses to my lady's
eyebrow in my time too. Ah, my boy, we are all young and foolish once in
our lives!" and it was evident what a narrow and desperate escape from
being a poet the old man had had.
They had some distance to walk, for the stables to which they were bound
were situated in an old and rather disreputable part of the town. "It's
not a nice quarter," said Mr. Lingard, "not particularly salubrious or
refined," as bad smells and dirty women began to cross their path; "but
they are nice people you've got to deal with, and the place itself is
clean and nice enough, when you once get inside."
"Here we are," he said, presently, as they stopped short of an
old-fashioned house, set in a high red-brick wall which seemed to
enclose quite a considerable area of the district. In the wall, a yard
or two from the house, was set a low door, with a brass bell-pull at the
side which answered to Mr. Lingard's summons with a far-off clang. Soon
was heard the sound of hob-nailed boots, evidently over a paved yard,
and a big carter admitted them to the enclosure, which immediately
impressed them with its sense of country stable-yard cleanliness, and
its country smell of horses and provender. The stones of the courtyard
seemed to have been individually washed and scoured, and a small space
in front of a door evidently leading to the house was chalked over in
the prim, old-fashioned way.
"Is Mr. Flower about?" asked Mr. Lingard; and, as he asked the question,
a handsome, broad-shouldered man of about forty-five came down the yard.
It was a massive country face, a little heavy, a little slow, but
exceptionally gentle and refined.
"Good-morning, Mr. Lingard."
"Good-morning, Mr. Flower. This is our representative, Mr. Mesurier, of
whom I have already spoken to you. I'm sure you will get on well
together; and I'm sure he will give you as little trouble as possible."
Henry and Mr. Flower shook hands, and, as men sometimes do, took to each
other at once in the grasp of each other's hands, and the glances which
Then the three walked further up the yard, to the little office where
Henry was to pass the next few weeks; and as Mr. Lingard turned over
books, and explained to Henry what he was expected to do, the sound of
horses kicking their stalls, and rattling chains in their mangers, came
to him from near at hand with a delightful echo of the country.
When Mr. Lingard had gone, Mr. Flower asked Henry if he'd care to look
at the horses. Henry sympathetically consented, though his knowledge of
horse-flesh hardly equalled his knowledge of accounts. But with the
healthy animal, in whatever form, one always feels more or less at home,
as one feels at home with the green earth, or that simple creature
Mr. Flower led the way to a long stable where some fifty horses
protruded brown and dappled haunches on either hand. It was all
wonderfully clean and sweet, and the cobbled pavement, the straw beds,
the hay tumbling in sweet-scented bunches into the stalls from the loft
overhead, made you forget that around this bucolic enclosure swarmed and
rotted the foulest slums of the city, garrets where coiners plied their
amateur mints, and cellars where murderers lay hidden in the dark.
"It's like a breath of the country," said Henry, unconsciously striking
the right note.
"You're right there," said Mr. Flower, at the same moment heartily
slapping the shining side of a big chestnut mare, after the approved
manner of men who love horses. To thus belabour a horse on its
hinder-parts would seem to be equivalent among the horse-breeding
fraternity to chucking a buxom milkmaid under the chin.
"You're right there," he said; "and here's a good Derbyshire lass for
you," once more administering a sounding caress upon his sleek
The horse turned its head and whinnied softly at the attention; and it
was evident it loved the very sound of Mr. Flower's voice.
"Have you ever been to Derbyshire?" asked Mr. Flower, presently, and
Henry immediately scented an idealism in the question.
"No," he answered; "but I believe it's a beautiful county."
"Beautiful's no name for it," said Mr. Flower; "it's just a garden."
And as Henry caught a glance of his eyes, he realised that Derbyshire
was Mr. Flower's poetry,--the poetry of a countryman imprisoned in the
town,--and that when he died he just hoped to go to Derbyshire.
"Ah, there are places there,--places like Miller's Dale, for
instance,--I'd rather take my hat off to than any bishop,"--and Henry
eagerly scented something of a thinker; "for God made them for sure, and
bishops--well--" and Mr. Flower wisely left the rest unsaid.
Thus they made the tour of the stables; and though Henry's remarks on
the subject of slapped horse-flesh had been anything but those of an
expert, it was tacitly agreed that Mr. Flower and he had taken to each
other. Nor, as he presently found, were Mr. Flower's interests limited
"You're a reader, I see," he said, presently, when they had returned to
the office. "Well, I don't get much time to read nowadays; but there's
nothing I enjoy better, when I've got a pipe lit of an evening, than to
sit and listen to my little daughter reading Thackeray or
Of course Henry was interested.
"Now there was a woman who knew country life," Mr. Flower continued.
"'Silas Marner,' or 'Adam Bede.' How wonderfully she gets at the very
heart of the people! And not only that, but the very smell of
And Mr. Flower drew a long breath of longing for Miller's Dale.
Henry mentally furbished up his George Eliot to reply.
"And 'The Mill on the Floss'?" he said.
"And 'Scenes from Clerical Life,'" said Mr. Flower. "There are some rare
strokes of nature there."
And so they went on comparing notes, till a little blue-eyed girl of
about seventeen appeared, carrying a dainty lunch for Henry, and telling
Mr. Flower that his own lunch was ready.
"This is my daughter of whom I spoke," said Mr. Flower.
"She who reads Thackeray and George Eliot to you?" said the Man in
Possession; and, when they had gone, he said to himself "What a bright
LITTLE MISS FLOWER
Little Miss Flower continued to bring Henry his lunch with great
punctuality each day; and each day he found himself more and more
interested in its arrival, though when it had come he ate it with no
special haste. Indeed, sometimes it almost seemed that it had served its
purpose in merely having been brought, judging by the moments of reverie
in which Henry seemed to have forgotten it, and to be thinking of
Yes, he had soon begun to watch for that bright little face, and it was
hardly to be wondered at; for, particularly come upon against such a
background, the face had something of the surprise of an apparition. It
seemed all made of light; and when one o'clock had come, and Henry heard
the expected footsteps of his little waiting-maid, and the tinkle of the
tray she carried, coming up the yard, her entrance was as though some
one had carried a lamp into the dark office. Surely it was more like
the face of a spirit than that of a little human girl, and you would
almost have expected it to shine in the dark. When you got used to the
light of it, you realised that the radiance poured from singularly, even
disproportionately, large blue eyes, set beneath a broad white brow of
great purity, and that what at first had seemed rays of light around her
head was a mass of sunny gold-brown hair which glinted even in shadow.
Strange indeed are the vagaries of the Spirit of Beauty! From how many
high places will she turn away, yet delight to waste herself upon a slum
like this! How fantastic the accident that had brought such a face to
flower in such a spot!--and yet hardly more fantastic, he reflected,
than that which had sown his own family haphazard where they were. Was
it the ironic fate of power to be always a god in exile, turning mean
wheels with mighty hands; and was Cinderella the fable of the eternal
lot of beauty in this capriciously ordered world?
Yes, what chance wind, blowing all the way from Derbyshire, had set down
Mr. Flower with his little garden of girls in this uncongenial spot?
For by this Henry had made the acquaintance of the whole family: Mr. and
Mrs. Flower and four daughters in all,--all pretty girls, but not one of
the others with a face like that,--which was another puzzle. How is it
that out of one family one will be chosen by the Spirit of Beauty or
genius, and the others so unmistakably left? There could be no doubt as
to whom had been chosen here.
One day the step coming up the yard at one o'clock seemed to be
different, and when the door opened it was another sister who had
brought his lunch that day. Her eldest sister was ill, she explained,
and in bed; and it was so for the next day, and again the next. Could it
be possible that Henry had watched so eagerly for that little face, that
he missed it so much already?
The next morning he bought some roses on his way through town, and
begged that they might be allowed to brighten her room; and the next day
surely it was the same light little tread once more coming up the yard.
Joy! she was better again. She looked pale, he said anxiously, and
ventured to say too that he had missed her. As she blushed and looked
down, he saw that she wore one of his roses in her bosom.
He had already begun to lend her books, which she returned, always with
some clever little criticism, often girlishly naive, but never merely
conventional. There were brains under her bright hair. One day Henry had
run out of literature, and asked her if she could lend him a book.
Anything,--some novel he had read before; it didn't matter. Oh, yes, he
hadn't read George Eliot for ever so long. Had she "The Mill on the
Floss"? Yes, it had been a present from her father. She would bring
that. As she lingered a moment, while Henry looked at the book, his eye
fell upon a name on the title-page: "Angel Flower."
"Is that your name, Miss Flower?" he said.
"Yes; father wrote it there. My real name is Angelica; but they call me
Angel, for short," she answered, smiling.
"Are you surprised?" said Henry, suddenly blushing like a girl, as
though he had never ventured on such a small gallantry before.
"Angelica! How did you come to get such a beautiful name?"
"Father loves beautiful names, and his grandmother was called
"I wonder if I might call you Angelica?" presently ventured Henry, in a
"Do you think you know me well enough?" said Angelica, with a little
gasp, which was really joy, in her breath.
Henry didn't answer; but their eyes met in a long, still look. In each
heart behind the stillness was a storm of indescribable sweetness. Henry
leaned forward, his face grown very pale, and impulsively took
"I think, after all, I'd rather call you Angel," he said.
MIKE'S FIRST LAURELS
The gardens of Sidon had a curious habit of growing laurel-trees;
laurels and rhododendrons were the only wear in shrubs. Rhododendrons
one can understand. They are to the garden what mahogany is to the front
parlour,--the _bourgeoisie_ of the vegetable kingdom. But the
laurel,--what use could they have for laurel in Sidon? Possibly they
supplied it to the rest of the world,--market-gardeners, so to say, to
the Temple of Fame; it could hardly be for home consumption. Well, at
all events, it was a peculiarity fortunate for Esther's purpose, as one
morning, soon after breakfast, she went about the garden cutting the
glossiest branches of the distinguished tree. As she filled her arms
with them, she recalled with a smile the different purpose for which,
dragged at the heels of one of Henry's enthusiasms, she had gathered
them several years before.
At that period Henry had been a mighty entomologist; and, as the late
summer came on, he and all available sisters would set out, armed with
butterfly-nets and other paraphernalia, just before twilight, to the
nearest woodland, where they would proceed to daub the trees with an
intoxicating preparation of honey and rum,--a temptation to which moths
were declared in text-books to be incapable of resistance. Then, as
night fell, Henry would light his bull's-eye, and cautiously visit the
various snares. It was a sight worth seeing to come upon those little
night-clubs of drunken and bewildered moths, hanging on to the sweetness
with tragic gluttony,--an easy prey for Henry's eager fingers, which, as
greedy of them as they of the honey, would seize and thrust them into
the lethal chamber, in the form of a cigar-box loosely filled with
bruised laurel leaves, which hung by a strap from his shoulder.
It was for such exciting employment that Esther had once gathered laurel
leaves. And, once again, she remembered gathering them one Shakespeare's
birthday, to crown a little bust in Henry's study. The sacred head had
worn them proudly all day, and they all had a feeling that somehow
Shakespeare must know about it, and appreciate the little offering; just
as even to-day one might bring roses and myrtle, or the blood of a
maiden dove to Venus, and expect her to smile upon our affairs of
But it was for a dearer purpose that Esther was gathering them this
morning. That coming evening Mike was to utter his first stage-words in
public. The laurel was to crown the occasion on which Mike was to make
that memorable utterance: "That's a pie as is a pie, is that there pie!"
Now while Esther was busily weaving this laurel into a wreath, Henry was
busily weaving the best words he could find into a sonnet to accompany
the wreath. When Angel duly brought him his lunch, it was finished, and
lay about on his desk in rags and tatters of composition. Angel was
going to the performance with her sisters,--for all these young people
were fond of advertising each other, and he had soon told her about
Mike,--so she was interested to hear the sonnet. Whatever other
qualities poetry may lack, the presence of generous sincerity will
always give it a certain value, to all but the merely supercilious; and
this sonnet, boyish in its touches of grandiloquence, had yet a certain
pathos of strong feeling about it.
Not unto him alone whom loud acclaim
Declares the victor does the meed belong,
For others, standing silent in the throng,
May well be worthier of a nobler fame;
And so, dear friend, although unknown thy name
Unto the shouting herd, we would give tongue
To our deep thought, and the world's great among
By this symbolic laurel thee proclaim.
And if, perchance, the herd shall find thee out
In coming time, and many a nobler crown
To one they love to honour gladly throw;
Wilt thou not turn thee from their eager shout,
And whisper o'er these leaves, then sere and brown:
'Thou'rt late, O world! love knew it long ago?'
The reader will probably agree with Angel in considering the last line
the best. But, of course, she thought the whole was wonderful.
"How wonderful it must be to be able to write!" she said, with a look in
her face which was worth all the books ever written.
"And how wonderful even to have something written to one like that!"
"Surely that must have happened to you," said Henry, slyly.
"You're only laughing at me."
"No, I'm not. You don't know what may have been written to you. Poems
may quite well have been written to you without your having heard of
them. The poet mayn't have thought them worthy of you."
"What nonsense! Why, I don't know any poets!"
"Oh!" said Henry.
"I mean, except you."
"And how do you know that I haven't written a whole book full of poems
to you? I've known you--how long now?"
"Two months next Monday," said Angel, with that chronological accuracy
on such matters which seems to be a special gift of women in love. Men
in love are nothing like so accurate.
"Well, that's long enough, isn't it? And I've had nothing else to do,
"But you don't care enough about me?"
"You never know."
"But tell me really, have you written something for me?"
"Ah, you'd like to know now, wouldn't you?"
"Of course I would. Tell me. It would make me very happy."
"It really would?"
"You know it would."
"But you couldn't care for the poetry, unless you cared for the poet?"
"Oh, I don't know. Poetry's poetry, isn't it, whoever makes it? But what
if I did care a little for the poet?"
"Do you mean you do, Angel?"
"Ah, you want to know now, don't you?"
"Tell me. Do tell me."
"I'll tell you when you read me my poem," and as Angel prepared to run
off with a laugh, Henry called after her,--
"You will really? It's a bargain?"
"Yes, it's a bargain," she called back, as she tripped off again down
* * * * *
Mike's _debut_ was as great a success as so small a part could make it;
and the main point about it was the excitement of knowing that this was
an actual beginning. He had made them all laugh and cry in drawing-rooms
for ever so long; but to-night he was on the stage, the real
stage--real, at all events, for him, for Mike could never be an
amateur. Esther's eyes filled with glad tears as the well-loved little
figure popped in, with a baker's paper hat on his head, and delivered
the absurd words; and if you had looked at Henry's face too, you would
have been at a loss to know which loved the little pastry-cook's
When Mike returned to his dressing-room, a mysterious box was awaiting
him. He opened it, and found Esther's wreath and Henry's sonnet.
"God bless them," he said.
No doubt it was very childish and sentimental, and old-fashioned; but
these young people certainly loved each other.
As Mike had left the stage, Henry had turned round and smiled at some
one a few seats away. Esther had noticed him, and looked in the same
"Who was that you bowed to, Henry?"
"I'll tell you another time," he said; for he had a good deal to tell
her about Angel Flower.
THE MOTHER OF AN ANGEL
The Man in Possession was becoming more and more a favourite at Mr.
Flower's. One day Mr. Flower, taking pity on his loneliness, suggested
that he might possibly prefer to have his lunch in company with them all
down at the house. Henry gladly embraced the proposal, and thus became
the daily honoured guest of a family, each member of which had some
simple human attraction for him. He had already won the heart of simple
Mrs. Flower, few and brief as had been his encounters with her, and that
heart she had several times coined in unexpected cakes and other
dainties of her own making; but when he thus became partially domiciled
with the family, she was his slave outright. There was a reason for
this, which will need, and may perhaps excuse, a few lines entirely
devoted to Mrs. Flower, who, on her own peculiar merits, deserves them.
Perhaps to introduce Eliza Flower in this way is to take her more
seriously than any of her affectionate acquaintance were able to do.
For, somehow, people had a bad habit of laughing at Mrs. Flower, though
they admitted she was the hardest-working, best-hearted little housewife
in the world. Housewife in fact she was _in excelsis_, not to say _ad
absurdum_. No little woman who worked herself to skin-and-bone to keep
things straight, and the home comfortable, was ever a more typical
"squaw." Whatever her religious opinions, which, one may be sure, were
inflexibly orthodox, there can be no question that Mr. Flower was her
god, and, as the hymn says, heaven was her home. To serve God and Mr.
Flower were to her the same thing; and there can be little doubt that a
god who had no socks to darn, or linen to keep spotless, was a god whom
Mrs. Flower would have found it impossible to conceive.
A more complete and delighted absorption in the physical comforts and
nourishments of the human creature than Mrs. Flower's, it would be
impossible for dreamer to imagine. Such an absolute adjustment between a
being of presumably infinite aspirations and immortal discontents and
its environment, is a happiness seldom encountered by philosophers. To
think of death for poor Mrs. Flower was to conceive a homelessness
peculiarly pathetic; unless, indeed, there are kitcheners to
superintend, beds to make, rooms to "turn out," and four
spring-cleanings a year in heaven. Of what use else was the bewildering
gift of immortality to one who was touchingly mortal in all her tastes?
Indeed, Henry used to say that Mrs. Flower was the most convincing
argument against the immortality of the soul that he had ever met.
Yet, though it was quite evident that there was nothing in the world
else she cared so much to do, and though indeed it was equally evident
that she was one of the best-natured little creatures in the world, she
did not deny herself a certain more or less constant asperity of
reference to occupations which kept her on her feet from morning till
night, and made her the slave of the whole house, in spite of four big
idle daughters. And she with rheumatism too, so bad that she could
hardly get up and down stairs!
Probably nothing so much as Henry's respectful sympathy for this
immemorial rheumatism had contributed to win Mrs. Flower's heart. As to
the precise amount of rheumatism from which Mrs. Flower suffered, Henry
soon realised that there seemed to be an irreverent scepticism in the
family, nothing short of heartless; for rheumatism so poignantly
expressive, so movingly dramatised, he never remembered to have met.
Mrs. Flower could not walk across the floor without grimaces of pain, or
piteous indrawings of her breath; and yet demonstrations that you might
have thought would have softened stones, left her unfeeling audience not
only unmoved, but apparently even unobservant. From sheer decency, Henry
would flute out something to show that her suffering was not lost on
him; but it is to be feared the young ones would only wink at each other
at this sign of unsophistication.
"Oh, you unfeeling child!" Mrs. Flower would exclaim, as sometimes she
caught them exchanging comments in this way. "And your father, there, is
just as bad," she would say, impatient to provoke somebody.
This remark would probably prompt Mr. Flower to the indulgence of a form
of matrimonial banter which was not unlike the endearments he bestowed
upon his horses, and which, when you knew that he loved the little
quaint woman with all his heart, you were able to translate into more
customary modes of affection.
"Yes, indeed," he would say, "it's evidently time I was looking out for
some active young woman, Eliza--when you begin limping about like that.
It's a pity, but the best of us must wear out some day--"
This superficially heartless pleasantry he would deliver with a sweeping
wink at Henry and his four girls; but Mrs. Flower would see nothing to
laugh at, for humour was not her strong point.
"You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Ralph," she said, "before the
children. I was once young and active enough to take your fancy, anyhow.
Mr. Mesurier, won't you have a little more spinach? Do; it's fresh from
the country this morning. You mustn't mind Mr. Flower. He's fond of his
joke; and, whatever he likes to say, he'd get on pretty badly without
his old Eliza."
"Gracious, no!" Mr. Flower would retort. "Don't flatter yourself, old
girl. I've got my eye on two or three fine young women who'll be glad
of the job, I assure you;" but this, perhaps, proving too much for poor
Mrs. Flower, whose tears were never far away, and apt to require
smelling-salts, he would change his tone in an instant and say, dropping
into his Derbyshire "thous,"--
"Nonsense, lass, can't thee take a bit of a joke? Come now, come. Don't
be silly. Thou knowest well enough what thou art to me, and so do the
girls. See, let's have a drive out to Livingstone Cemetery this
afternoon. Thou'rt a bit out o' sorts. It'll cheer thee up a bit."
And so Mrs. Flower would recover, and harmony would be restored, and
nobody would wink for a quarter of an hour. Certainly it was a quaint
little mother for an Angel.
AN ANCIENT THEORY OF HEAVEN
"When are you going to read me my poem?" said Angelica, one day.
"When are you going to tell me what I asked?" replied Henry.
"Whenever you read me my poem," retorted Angelica.
"All right. When would you like to hear it?"
"But I haven't got it with me to-day."
"Can't you remember it?"
"No, not to-day."
"When will you bring it?"
"I'll tell you what. Come with me to Woodside Meadows on Saturday
afternoon. Your father won't mind?"
"Oh, no; father likes you."
"I'm glad, because I'm very fond of him."
"Yes, he's a dear; and he's got far more in him than perhaps you think,
under his country ways. If you could see him in the country, it would
make you cry. He loves it so."
"Yes, I could tell that by the way he talked of Derbyshire the first day
we met. But you'll come on Saturday?"
"Yes, I'll come."
* * * * *
Angel! Yes, it was the face of an angel; but, bright as it had seemed on
that dark background, it seemed almost brighter still as it moved by
Henry's side among the green lanes. He had never known Angel till then,
never known what primal ecstasy her nature was capable of. In the town,
her soul was like a flame in a lamp of pearl; here in the country, it
was like a star in a vase of dew. To be near trees, to touch their rough
barks, to fill one's hands with green leaves, to hear birds, to listen
to running water, to look up into the sky,--oh, this was to come
home!--and Angel's joy in these things was that of some wood-spirit who
you might expect any moment, like Undine, to slip out of your hands in
some laughing brook, or change to a shower of blossom over your head.
"Oh, how good the country is! I wish father were here. I could eat the
grass. And I just want to take the sky in my arms." As she swept across
meadow and through woodland, with the eagerness of a child, greedily
hastening from room to room of some inexhaustible palace, her little
tense body seemed like a transparent garment fluttering round the flying
feet of her soul.
At length she flung herself down, almost breathless, at the grassy foot
of a great tree.
"I suppose you think I'm mad," she said. "And really I think I must be;
for why should mere green grass and blue sky and a few birds make one
"Why should anything make us happy?"
"But now you're going to read my poem," she said, presently.
"Yes; but something has to happen before I can read it," said Henry,
growing unaccountably serious; "for it is in the nature of a prophecy,
or at all events of an anticipation. You have to fulfil that
"It seems to me a very mysterious poem. But what have I to do?"
"I don't know whether you can do it."
"Well, what is it? Try me."
"Oh, Angel, I care nothing about poems. Can't you see how I love you?
That's all poetry will ever mean to me. Just to say over and over again,
'I love Angel.' Just to find new and wonderful ways of saying that--"
"Listen, Henry. I've loved you from the first moment I saw you that day
talking to father, and I shall love you till I die."
"Dear, dear Angel!"
Then Henry's arms enfolded Angel with wonderful love, and her fresh
young lips were on his, and the world faded away like a dream within
* * * * *
"Now perhaps you can read me your poem," said Angel, after a while; and
she noticed a curious something different in her way of speaking to him,
as in his way of speaking to her,--something blissfully homelike, as it
were, as though they had sat like this for ever and ever, and were quite
used to it, though at the same time it remained thrillingly new.
"It's only a silly little childish rhyme," said Henry; "some day I'll
write you far better."
Then, coming close to Angel, he whispered,--
This is Angelica,
Fallen from heaven,
Fallen from heaven
Into my arms.
Will you go back again,
Back up to heaven,
Out of my arms!
"No," said Angelica,
"Here is my heaven,
Here is my heaven,
Here in your arms.
"Not out of heaven,
But into my heaven,
Here have I fallen,
Here in your arms."
THE LAST CONTINUED, AFTER A BRIEF INTERVAL
After the long happy silence which followed Henry's recitation of his
verses, Angel at length spoke,--
"Shall I tell _you_ something now?" she said. "I'm almost ashamed to,
for I know you'll laugh at me, and call me superstitious."
"Go on, little child," said Henry.
"You remember the day," said Angel, in a hushed little impressive voice,
"I first saw you in father's office?"
Henry was able to remember it.
"Well, that was not the first time I had seen you."
"Really, Angel! Why didn't you tell me before? Where was it, then? In
the street, or where?"
"No, it was much stranger than that," said Angel. "Do you believe the
future can be foretold to us?"
"Oh, it was in a dream, you funny Angel; was that it?" said Henry,
whose rationalism at this period was the chief danger to his
"No, not a dream. Something stranger than that."
"Oh, well, I give it up."
"It was like this," Angel continued; "there's a strange old gipsy woman
who lives near us--"
"Oh, I see, your hand--palmistry," said Henry, with a touch of gentle
"Henry, dear, I said you would laugh at me. I won't tell you now, if
you're going to take it in that spirit."
Henry promptly locked up his reason for the moment, with apologies, and
professed himself open to conviction.
"Well, mother sometimes helps this poor old woman, and, one day, when
she happened to call, Alice and Edith and I were in the kitchen helping
mother. 'God bless you, lady,' she said,--you know how they
talk,--'you've got a kind heart; and how are all the young ladies? It's
time, I'm thinking, they had their fortunes told.' 'Oh, yes,' we all
said, 'tell us our fortunes, mother,'--we always called her mother.
'I'll tell you yours, my dear,' she said, taking hold of my hand. 'Your
fortunes are too young yet, ladies,' she said to Alice and Edith; 'come