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Title: Young Lives
Author: Le Gallienne, Richard, 1866-1947
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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YOUNG LIVES

BY

RICHARD LE GALLIENNE


1899



TO

ALFRED LEE

IN MEMORY OF ANGEL

_September, 1898_.

     _Let thy soul strive that still the same
     Be early friendship's sacred flame;
     The affinities have strongest part
     In youth, and draw men heart to heart:
     As life wears on and finds no rest,
     The individual in each breast
     Is tyrannous to sunder them_.



CONTENTS

Chapter
      I. HARD YOUNG HEARTS.
     II. CONCERNING THOSE "ATLANTIC LINERS" AND AN OLD DESK.
    III. OF THE LOVE OF HENRY AND ESTHER.
     IV. OF THE PROFESSIONS THAT CHOOSE, AND MIKE LAFLIN.
      V. OF THE LOVE OF ESTHER AND MIKE, AND THE MESURIER LAW IN REGARD TO
         "SWEETHEARTS".
     VI. THE BEGINNING OF THE END OF HOME.
    VII. A LINK WITH CIVILISATION.
   VIII. A RHAPSODY OF TYRE.
     IX. A PENITENTIARY OF THE MATHEMATICS.
      X. THE GRASS BETWEEN THE FLAG-STONES.
     XI. HUMANITY IN HIGH PLACES.
    XII. DAMON AND PYTHIAS.
   XIII. DAMON AND PYTHIAS AT THE THEATRE.
    XIV. CONTRIBUTIONS TOWARDS A GENEALOGY.
     XV. MERELY A HUMBLE INTERRUPTION AND ILLUSTRATION OF THE LAST.
    XVI. CHAPTER FOURTEEN CONCLUDED.
   XVII. DOT'S DECISION.
  XVIII. MIKE AND HIS MILLION POUNDS.
    XIX. ON CERTAIN ADVANTAGES OF A BACKWATER.
     XX. THE MAN IN POSSESSION.
    XXI. LITTLE MISS FLOWER.
   XXII. MIKE'S FIRST LAURELS.
  XXIII. THE MOTHER OF AN ANGEL.
   XXIV. AN ANCIENT THEORY OF HEAVEN.
    XXV. THE LAST CONTINUED, AFTER A BRIEF INTERVAL.
   XXVI. CONCERNING THE BEST KIND OF WIFE FOR A POET.
  XXVII. THE BOOK OF ANGELICA.
 XXVIII. WHAT COMES OF PUBLISHING A BOOK.
   XXIX. MIKE'S TURN TO MOVE.
    XXX. UNCHARTERED FREEDOM.
   XXXI. A PREPOSTEROUS AUNT.
  XXXII. THE LITERARY GENTLEMAN IN THE BACK PARLOUR.
 XXXIII. "THIS IS LONDON, THIS IS LIFE".
  XXXIV. THE WITS.
   XXXV. BACK TO REALITY.
  XXXVI. THE OLD HOME MEANWHILE.
 XXXVII. STAGE WAITS, MR. LAFLIN.
XXXVIII. ESTHER AND HENRY ONCE MORE.
  XXXIX. MIKE AFAR.
     XL. A LEGACY MORE PRECIOUS THAN GOLD.
    XLI. LABORIOUS DAYS.
   XLII. A HEAVIER FOOTFALL.
  XLIII. STILL ANOTHER CALLER.
   XLIV. THE END OF A BEGINNING.



YOUNG LIVES



CHAPTER I


HARD YOUNG HEARTS

Behind the Venetian blinds of a respectable middle-class,
fifty-pound-a-year, "semi-detached," "family" house, in a respectable
middle-class road of the little north-county town of Sidon, midway
between the trees of wealth upon the hill, and the business quarters
that ended in squalor on the bank of the broad and busy river,--a house
boasting a few shabby trees of its own, in its damp little rockeried
slips of front and back gardens,--on a May evening some ten or twelve
years ago, a momentous crisis of contrasts had been reached.

The house was still as for a battle. It was holding its breath to hear
what was going on in the front parlour, the door of which seemed to wear
an expression of being more than usually closed. A mournful half-light
fell through a little stained-glass vestibule into a hat-racked hall, on
the walls of which hung several pictures of those great steamships known
as "Atlantic liners" in big gilt frames--pictures of a significance
presently to be noted. A beautiful old eight-day clock ticked solemnly
to the flickering of the hall lamp. From below came occasionally a
furtive creaking of the kitchen stairs. The two servants were half way
up them listening. The stairs a flight above the hall also creaked at
intervals. Two young girls, respectively about fourteen and fifteen,
were craning necks out of nightdresses over the balusters in a shadowy
angle of the staircase. On the floor above them three other little girls
of gradually diminishing ages slept, unconscious of the issues being
decided between their big brother and their eldest sister on the one
side, and their father and mother on the other, in the front
parlour below.

That parlour, a room of good size, was unostentatiously furnished with
good bourgeois mahogany. A buxom mahogany chiffonier, a large square
dining-table, a black marble clock with two dials, one being a
barometer, three large oil landscapes of exceedingly umbrageous trees
and glassy lakes, inoffensively uninteresting, more Atlantic liners, and
a large bookcase, apparently filled with serried lines of bound
magazines, and an excellent Brussels carpet of quiet pattern, were
mainly responsible for a general effect of middle-class comfort, in
which, indeed, if beauty had not been included, it had not been wilfully
violated, but merely unthought of. The young people for whom these
familiar objects meant a symbolism deep-rooted in their earliest
memories could hardly in fairness have declared anything positively
painful in that room--except perhaps those Atlantic liners; their
charges against furniture, which was unconsciously to them accumulating
memories that would some day bring tears of tenderness to their eyes,
could only have been negative. Beauty had been left out, but at least
ugliness had not been ostentatiously called in. There was no bad taste.

In fact, whatever the individual character of each component object,
there was included in the general effect a certain indefinable dignity,
which had doubtless nothing to do with the mahogany, but was probably
one of those subtle atmospheric impressions which a room takes from the
people who habitually live in it. Had you entered that room when it was
empty, you would instinctively have felt that it was accustomed to the
occupancy of calm and refined people. There was something almost
religious in its quiet. Some one often sat there who, whatever his
commonplace disguises as a provincial man of business, however
inadequate to his powers the work life had given him to do, provincial
and humiliating as were the formulae with which narrowing conditions had
supplied him for expression of himself, was in his central being an
aristocrat,--though that was the very last word James Mesurier would
have thought of applying to himself. He was a man of business, serving
God and his employers with stern uprightness, and bringing up a large
family with something of the Puritan severity which had marked his own
early training; and, as in his own case no such allowance had been made,
making no allowance in his rigid abstract code for the diverse
temperaments of his children,--children in whom certain qualities and
needs of his own nature, dormant from his birth, were awakening,
supplemented by the fuller-fed intelligence and richer nature of the
mother, into expansive and rebellious individualities.

It was now about eleven o'clock, and the house was thus lit and alive
half-an-hour beyond the rigorously enforced bed-time. An hour before,
James Mesurier had been peacefully engaged on the task which had been
nightly with him at this hour for twenty-five years,--the writing of his
diary, in a shorthand which he wrote with a neatness, almost a
daintiness, that always marked his use of pen and ink, and gave to his
merely commercial correspondence and his quite exquisitely kept
accounts, a certain touch of the scholar,--again an air of distinction
in excess of, and unaccounted for, by the nature of the interests which
it dignified.

His somewhat narrow range of reading, had you followed it by his careful
markings through those bound volumes of sermons in the bookcase, bore
the same evidence of inherited and inadequately occupied refinement. His
life from boyhood had been too much of a struggle to leave him much
leisure for reading, and such as he had enjoyed had been diverted into
evangelical channels by the influence of a certain pious old lady, with
whom as a young man he had boarded, and for whose memory all his life
he cherished a reverence little short of saint-worship.

The name of Mrs. Quiggins, whose portrait had still a conspicuous niche
among the _lares_ of the household,--a little thin silvery old
widow-lady, suggesting great sadness, much gentleness, and a little
severity,--had thus become for the family of James Mesurier a symbol of
sanctity, with which a properly accredited saint of the calendar could
certainly not, in that Protestant home, have competed. It was she who
had given him that little well-worn Bible which lay on the table with
his letters and papers, as he wrote under the lamplight, and than which
a world full of sacred relics contains none more sacred. A business-like
elastic band encircled its covers, as a precaution against pages
becoming loose with much turning; and inside you would have found
scarcely a chapter unpencilled,--texts underlined, and sermons of
special helpfulness noted by date and preacher on the margin,--the
itinerary of a devout human soul on its way through this world to
the next.

The Bible and the sermons of a certain famous Nonconformist Divine of
the day were James Mesurier's favourite and practically his only
reading, at this time; though as a young man he had picked up a fair
education for himself, and had taken a certain interest in modern
history. For novels he had not merely disapproval, but absolutely no
taste. Once in a specially genial mood he had undertaken to try
"Ivanhoe," to please his favourite daughter,--this night in revolt
against him,--and in half-an-hour he had been surprised with laughter,
sound asleep. The sermon that would send him to sleep had never been
written, at all events by his favourite theologian, whose sermons he
read every Sunday afternoon, and annotated with that same loving
appreciation and careful pencil with which a scholar annotates some
classic; so true is it that it is we who dignify our occupations,
not they us.

Similarly, James Mesurier presided over the destinies of a large
commercial undertaking, with the air of one who had been called rather
to direct an empire than a business. You would say as he went by, "There
goes one accustomed to rule, accustomed to be regarded with great
respect;" but that air had been his long before the authority that once
more inadequately accounted for it.

Thus this night, as he sat writing, his handsome, rather small,
iron-grey head bent over his papers, his face somewhat French in
character, his short beard slightly pointed; distinguished, refined,
severe; he had the look of a marshal of France engrossed with
documents of state.

The mother, who sat in an armchair by the fire, reading, was a woman of
about forty-five, with a fine blonde, aquiline face, distinctively
English, and radiating intelligence from its large sympathetic lines.
She was in some respects so different from her husband as at times to
make children precociously wise--but nevertheless, far from knowing
everything--wonder why she had ever married their father, for whom, at
that time, it would be hypocrisy to describe their attitude as one of
love. To them he was not so much a father as the policeman of home,--a
personification of stern negative decrees, a systematic thwarter of
almost everything they most cared to do. He was a sort of embodied "Thou
shalt not," only to be won into acquiescence by one influence,--that of
the mother, whose married life, as she looked back on it, seemed to
consist of little else than bringing children into the world, with a
Christian-like regularity, and interceding with the father for their
varying temperaments when there.

Though it might have been regarded as certain beforehand, that seven
children would differ each from each other in at least as many ways, it
never seems to have occurred to the father that one inflexible system
for them all could hardly be wise or comfortable. But, indeed, like so
many parents similarly trained and circumstanced, it is questionable
whether he ever realised their possession of separate individualities
till they were pleaded for by the mother, or made, as on this evening,
surprising assertion of themselves.

Though this system of mediation had been responsible for the only
disagreements in their married life, there had never been any long or
serious difference between husband and wife; for, in spite of natures so
different, they loved each other with that love which is given us for
the very purpose of such situations, the love that no strain can snap,
the love that reconciles all such disparities. Though Mary Mesurier had
also been brought up among Nonconformists, and though the conditions of
her youth, like her husband's, had been far from adequate to the
demands of her nature, yet her religion had been of a gentler character,
broadening instead of narrowing in its effects, and had concerned itself
less with divinity than humanity. Her home life, if humble, had been
genial and rich in love, and there had come into it generous influences
from the outer world,--books with more of the human beat in them than is
to be found in sermons; and particularly an old travelled grandfather
who had been regarded as the rolling stone of his family, but in whom,
at all events, failure and travel had developed a great gentleness and
understanding of the human creature, which in long walks and talks with
his little grand-daughter somehow passed over into her young character,
and proved the best legacy he could have left her. Through him too was
encouraged a native love of poetry, of which in her childhood her memory
acquired a stock which never failed her, and which had often cheered her
lonely hours by successive cradles. She had a fine natural gift of
recitation, and in evening hours when the home was particularly united
in some glow of visitors or birthday celebration, she would be persuaded
to recall some of those old songs and simple apologues, with such charm
that even her husband, to whom verse was naturally an incomprehensible
triviality, was visibly softened, and perhaps, deep in the sadness of
his silent nature, moved to a passing realisation of a certain something
kind and musical in life which he had strangely missed.

This greater breadth of temperament and training enabled Mary Mesurier
to understand and make allowances for the narrower and harder nature of
her husband, whom she learnt in time rather to pity for the bleakness of
his early days, than to condemn for their effect upon his character. He
was strong, good, clever, and handsome, and exceptionally all those four
good reasons for loving him; and the intellectual sympathy, the sharing
of broader interests, which she sometimes missed in him, she had for
some three or four years come to find in her eldest son, who, to his
father's bewilderment and disappointment, had reincarnated his own
strong will, in connection with literary practices and dreams which
threatened to end in his becoming a poet, instead of the business man
expected of him, for which development that love of poetry in one
parent, and a certain love of books in both, was no doubt to some degree
guiltily responsible.

James Mesurier, as we have said, was no judge of poetry; and, had he
been so, a reading of his son's early effusions would have made him
still more obdurate in the choice for him of a commercial career; but on
general principles he was quite sufficiently firm against any but the
most non-committing, leisure-hour flirtation with the Muse. The mother,
while agreeing with the father's main proposition of the undesirability,
nay, impossibility, of literature as a livelihood,--had not the great
and successful Sir Walter himself described it as a good walking-stick,
but a poor crutch; a stick applied, since its first application as an
image, to the shoulders of how many generations of youthful genius,--was
naturally more sympathetic towards her son's ambition, and encouraged it
to the extent of helping from her housekeeping money the formation of
his little library, even occasionally proving successful in winning sums
of money from the father for the purchase of some book specially, as the
young man would declare, necessary for his development.

As this little library had outgrown the accommodation of the common
rooms, a daring scheme had been conceived between mother and son,--no
less than that he should have a small room set apart for himself as a
study. When first broached to the father, this scheme had met with an
absolute denial that seemed to promise no hope of further consideration;
but the mother, accepting defeat at the time, had tried again and again,
with patient dexterity at favourable moments, till at last one proud day
the little room, with its bookshelves, a cast of Dante, and a strange
picture or two, was a beautiful, significant fact--all ready for the
possible visitation of the Muse.

In such ways had the mother negotiated the needs of all her children;
though the youth of the rest--save the eldest girl, whose music lessons
had meant a battle, and whose growing attractiveness for the boys of the
district, and one in particular, was presently to mean another--made as
yet but small demands. In one question, however, periodically fruitful
of argument, even the youngest was becoming interested,--the question of
the visits to the household of the various friends and playmates of the
children. To these, it must be admitted, James Mesurier was apt to be
hardly less of a figure of fear than to his own children; for, apart
from the fact that such inroads from without were apt to disturb his few
quiet evening hours with rollicking and laughter, he, being entirely
unsocial in his own nature, had a curious idea that the family should be
sufficient to itself, and that the desire for any form of entertainment
outside it was a sign of dissatisfaction with God's gifts of a good
home, and generally a frivolity to be discouraged.

As a boy he had grown up without companions, and as a man had remained
lonely, till he had met in his wife the one comrade of his days. What
had been good enough for their father should be good enough for his
children, was a formula which he applied all round to their bringing up,
curiously forgetful, for a man at heart so just, of the pleasure one
would have expected it to be to make sure that the errors of his own
training were not repeated in that of his offspring. But, indeed, there
was in him constitutionally something of the Puritan suspicion of, and
aversion from, pleasure, which it had never occurred to him to consider
as the end of, or, indeed, as a considerable element of existence. Life
was somehow too serious for play, spiritually as well as materially; and
much work and a little rest was the eternal and, on the whole, salutary
lot of man.

Such were some of the conditions among which the young Mesuriers found
themselves, and of which their impatience had become momentously
explosive this February evening.

For some days there had been an energetic simmer of rebellion among the
four elder children against a new edict of early rising which was surely
somewhat arbitrary. Early rising was one of James Mesurier's articles of
faith; and he was always up and dressed by half-past six, though there
was no breakfast till eight, and absolutely no necessity for his rising
at that hour beyond his own desire. There was still less, indeed none at
all, for his children to rise thus early; but nevertheless he had
recently decreed that such, for the future, must be the rule. The rule
fell heaviest upon the sisters, for the elder brother had always enjoyed
a certain immunity from such edicts. His sense of justice, however,
kindled none the less at this final piece of tyranny. He blazed and
fumed indignantly on behalf of his sisters, in the sanctuary of that
little study,--a spot where the despot seldom set foot; and out of this
comparatively trivial cause had sprung a mighty resolution, which he and
she whom he proudly honoured as "sister and friend" had, after some
girding of the loins, repaired to the front parlour this evening to
communicate.

They had entered somewhat abruptly, and stood rather dramatically by the
table on which the father was writing,--the son with dark set face, in
which could be seen both the father and mother, and the daughter, timid
and close to him, resolutely keeping back her tears, a slim young copy
of the mother.

"Well, my dears?" said the father, looking up with a keen, rather
surprised glance, and in a tone which qualified with some severity the
"my dears."

The son had had some exceedingly fine beginnings in his head, but they
fled ignominiously with the calm that was necessary for their successful
delivery, and he blurted at once to the point.

"We have come to say that we are no longer comfortable at home, and have
decided to leave it."

"Henry," exclaimed the mother, hastily, "what do you mean, how can you
be so ungrateful?"

"Mary, my dear," interrupted the father, "please leave the matter to
me." Then turning to the son: "What is this you are saying? I'm afraid I
don't understand."

"I mean that Esther and I have decided to leave home and live together;
because it is impossible for us to live here any longer in happiness--"

"On what do you propose to live?"

"My salary will be sufficient for the present."

"Sixty pounds a year!"

"Yes!"

"And may I ask what is wrong with your home? You have every comfort--far
more than your mother or father were accustomed to."

"Yes, indeed!" echoed the mother.

"Yes, we know you are very good and kind, and mean everything for our
good; but you don't understand other needs of our natures, and you make
no allowance for our individualities--"

"Indeed! Individualities--I should like you to have heard what my
father would have said to talk about individualities. A rope's end would
have been his answer to that--"

"It would have been a very silly one, and no argument."

"It would have been effective, at all events."

"Not with me--"

"Well, please don't bandy words with me, sir. If you," particularly
addressing his son, "wish to go--then go; but remember that once you
have left your father's roof, you leave it for ever. As for your sister,
she has no power to leave her mother and father without my consent, and
that I shall certainly withhold till she is of a proper age to know what
is best for herself--"

"She will go then without your consent," defiantly answered the son.

"Oh, Henry, for shame!" exclaimed Mrs. Mesurier.

"Mother dear, I'm sorry,--we don't mean to be disrespectful or
undutiful,--but father's petty tyrannies are more than we can bear. He
objects to the friends we care for; he denies us the theatre--"

"Most certainly, and shall continue to do so. I have never been inside a
theatre in my life; nor, with my consent, shall any child of mine enter
one of them."

"You can evidently know little about them then, and you'd be a much
finer man if you had," flashed out the son.

"Your sitting in judgment on your father is certainly very pretty, I
must say,"--answered the father,--"very pretty; and I can only hope that
you will not have cause to regret it some future day. But I cannot allow
you to disturb me," for, with something of a pang, Henry noticed signs
of agitation amid the severity of his parent, though the matter was too
momentous for him to allow the indulgence of pity.

"You have been a source of much anxiety to your mother and me, a child
of many prayers;" the father continued. "Whether it is the books you
read, or the friends you associate with, that are responsible for your
strange and, to my thinking, impious opinions, I do not know; but this I
know, that your influence on your sister has not of late been for good,
and for her sake, and the sake of your young sisters, it may perhaps be
well that your influence in the home be removed--"

"Oh, James," exclaimed the wife.

"Mary, my dear, you must let me finish. If Henry will go, go he shall;
but if he still stays, he must learn that I am master in this house, and
that while I remain so, not he, but I shall dictate how it is to be
carried on."

It was at this point that Esther ventured to lift the girlish tremor of
her voice.

"But, father, if you'll forgive my saying so, I think it would be best
for another reason for us to go. There are too many of us. We haven't
room to grow. We get in each other's way. And then it would ease you; it
would be less expense--"

"When I complain of having to support my children, it will be time to
speak of that--"

"But you have complained," hotly interrupted the son; "you have
reproached us many a time for what we cost you for clothes and food--"

"Yes, when you have shown yourselves ungrateful for them, as you do
to-night--"

"Ungrateful! For what should we be grateful? That you do your bare duty
of feeding and clothing us, and even for that, expect, in my case at all
events, that I shall prove so much business capital invested for the
future. Was it we who asked to come into the world? Did you consult us,
or did you beget us for anything but your own selfish pleasure, without
a thought--"

Henry got no further. His father had grown white, and, with terrible
anger pointed to the door.

"Leave the room, sir," he said, "and to-morrow leave my house for ever."

The son was not cowed. He stood with an unflinching defiance before the
father, in whom he forgot the father and saw only the tyrant. For a
moment it seemed as if some unnatural blow would be struck; but so much
of pain was spared the future memory of the scene, and saying only, "It
is true for all that," he turned and left the room. The sister followed
him in silence, and the door closed.

Mother and father looked at each other. They had brought up children,
they had suffered and toiled for them,--that they should talk to them
like this! Mrs. Mesurier came over to her husband, and put her arm
tenderly on his shoulder.

"Never mind, dear. I'm sure he didn't mean to talk like that. He is a
good boy at heart, but you don't understand each other."

"Mary dear, we will talk no more of it to-night," he replied; "I will
try and put it from me. You go to bed. I will finish my diary, and be
up in a few minutes."

When he was alone, he sat still a little while, with a great lonely pain
on his face, and almost visibly upon it too the smart of the wounded
pride of his haughty nature. Never in his life had he been spoken to
like that,--and by his own son! The pang of it was almost more than he
could bear. But presently he had so far mastered himself as to take up
his pen and continue his writing. When that was finished, he opened his
Bible and read his wonted chapter. It was just the simple twenty-third
psalm: "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want." It was his favourite
psalm, and always had a remarkable tranquillising effect upon him. James
Mesurier's faith in God was very great. Then he knelt down and prayed in
silence,--prayed with a great love for his disobedient children; and,
when he rose from his knees, anger and pain had been washed away from
his face, and a serenity that is not of this world was there instead.



CHAPTER II


CONCERNING THOSE "ATLANTIC LINERS" AND
AN OLD DESK

Of all battles in this complicated civil warfare of human life, none is
more painful than that being constantly waged from generation to
generation between young and old, and none, it would appear, more
inevitable, or indeed necessary. "The good gods sigh for the cost and
pain," and as, growing older ourselves, we become spectators of such a
conflict, with eyes able to see the real goodness and truth of both
combatants, how often must we exclaim: "Oh, just for a little touch of
sympathetic comprehension on either side!"

And yet, after all, it is from the older generation that we have a right
to expect that. If that vaunted "experience" with which they are
accustomed to extinguish the voice of the young means anything, it
should surely include some knowledge of the needs of expanding youth,
and be prepared to meet them, not in a spirit of despotic denial, but in
that of thoughtful provision. The young cannot afford to be generous,
even if they possess the necessary insight. It would mean their losing
their battle,--a battle very necessary for them to win.

Sometimes it would seem that a very little kindly explanation on the
part of the elder would set the younger at a point of view where greater
sympathy would be possible. The great demand of the young is for some
form of poetry in their lives and surroundings; and it is largely the
fault of the old if the poetry of one generation is almost invariably
the prose of the next.

Those "Atlantic liners" are an illustration of my meaning. To the young
Mesuriers they were hideous chromo-lithographs in vulgar gilt frames,
arbitrary defacements of home; but undoubtedly even they would have
found a tolerant tenderness for them, had they realised that they
represented the poetry--long since renounced and put behind him--of
James Mesurier's life. He had come of a race of sea-captains, two of his
brothers had been sailors, and deep down in his heart the spirit of
romance answered, with voice fresh and young as ever, to any breath or
association of the sea. But he seldom, if ever, spoke of it, and only in
an anecdote or two was it occasionally brought to mind. Sometimes his
wife would tease him with the vanity which, on holidays by the sea,
would send him forth on blustering tempestuous nights clad in a
greatcoat of blue pilot-cloth and a sealskin cap, and tell how proud he
was on one occasion, as he stood on the wharf, at being addressed as
"captain," and asked what ship he had brought into port. Even the hard
heart of youth must soften at such a reminiscence.

Then scattered about the house was many a prosaic bit of furniture which
was musical with memories for the parents,--memories of their first
little homes and their early struggles together. This side-board, now
relegated to the children's play-room, had once been their _pièce de
resistance_ in such and such a street, twelve years ago, before their
children had risen up and--not called them blessed.

A few years, and the light of poetry will be upon these things for their
children too; but, meanwhile, can we blame them that they cannot accept
the poetry of their elders in exchange for that of their own which they
are impatient to make? And when that poetry is made and resident in
similar concrete objects of home--how will it seem, one wonders, to
their children? This old desk which Esther has been allowed to
appropriate, and in a secret drawer of which are already accumulating
certain love-letters and lavender, will it ever, one wonders, turn to
lumber in younger hands? For a little while she leans her sweet young
bosom against it, and writes scented letters in a girlish hand to a
little red-headed boy who has these past weeks begun to love her. Can it
be possible that the desk on which Esther once wrote to her little Mike
will ever hear itself spoken of as "this ugly old thing"? Let us
hope not.



CHAPTER III


OF THE LOVE OF HENRY AND ESTHER

Father and son had both meant what they said; and even the mother, for
whom it would be the cruellest wrench of all, knew that Henry was going
to leave home. Not literally on the morrow, for the following evening he
had appeared before his father to apologise for the manner--carefully
for the manner, not _the matter_,--in which he had spoken to him the
evening before, and asked for a day or two in which to make his
arrangements for departure. James Mesurier was too strong a man to be
resentful, and he accepted his son's apology with a gentleness that, as
each knew, detracted nothing from the resolution which each had come to.

"My boy," he said, "you will never have such good friends as your father
and mother; but it is best that you go out into the world to learn it."

There is something terribly winning and unnerving to the blackest
resolution, when the severity of the strong dissolves for a brief moment
into tenderness. The rare kind words of the stern, explain it as we
will, and unjust as the preference must surely be, one values beyond the
frequent forgivenesses of the gentle. Mary Mesurier would have laid down
her life in defence of her son's greatest fault, and James Mesurier
would as readily have court-martialled him for his smallest, and yet,
somehow, a kind word from him brought the tears to his son's eyes.

He had no longer the heart to stimulate the rebellion of Esther, as he
felt it his duty to do; and, to her disappointment, he announced that,
on the whole, it would perhaps be best for him to go alone.

"It would almost kill poor mother," he said; "and father means well
after all," he added.

"I'm afraid it would break father's heart," said Esther.

So these two young people agreed to spare their parents, though--let it
not be otherwise imagined--at a great sacrifice. The little paper on
which they had carefully worked out their housekeeping, skilfully
allotting so much for rent, butcher's meat, milk, coals, and washing,
and making "everything" come most optimistically to _£59 17s. 9d._ a
year, would be of no use now, at all events for the present. Their
little Charles and Mary Lamb dream must be laid aside--for, of course,
they had thought of Charles and Mary Lamb; and indeed, out beyond this
history of a few youthful years, their friendship was to prove itself
far from unworthy of its famous model.

Yet at this time it was of no great antiquity; for, but a very few years
back, Henry had been a miniature tyrant too, and ruled it over his
kingdom of six sisters with all the hideous egoism of a pampered "son
and heir." Although in the very middle class of society into which Henry
Mesurier was born, the dignity of eldest son is one but very
contingently connected with tangible inheritance, it is none the less
vigorously kept up; and, no doubt, without any consciousness of
partiality, Henry Mesurier, from his childhood, had been brought up to
regard himself as a sort of young prince, for whom all the privileges of
home were, by divine right, reserved. For example, he took his meals
with his parents fully five years before any of his sisters were
allowed to do so; and for retention of this privilege, when at length
the democratic measure of its extension to his two elder sisters was
proposed, he fought with the bitterest spirit of caste. Indeed, few
oligarchs have been more wildly hated than Henry Mesurier up to the age,
say, of fourteen. That was the age of his last thrashing, and it was in
the gloomy dusk of that momentous occasion, as he lay alone with
smarting back in the twilight of an unusually early bed-time, that a
possible new view of woman--as a creature of like passions and
privileges--presented itself to him.

His thrashing had been so unjustly severe, that even the granite little
hearts of his sisters had been softened; and Esther, managing to secrete
a cake that he loved from the tea that was lost to him, stole with it to
the top of the house, where he writhed amid lonely echoes and shadows.

She had brought it to him awkwardly, by no means sure of its reception,
but sure in her heart that she would hate him for ever, if he missed the
meaning of the little solatium. But fortunately his back was far too
sore, and his spirit too broken to remember his pride, and he accepted
the offering with gratitude and tears.

"Kiss me, Esther," he had said; and a wonderful thrill had gone through
the little girl at this strange softness in the mighty, while the dawn
of a wonderful pity for the lot of woman had, unconsciously, broken in
the soul of the boy.

"Kiss me again, Esther," he had said, and, with the tears that mingled
in that kiss, an eternal friendship was baptized.

Henry rose on the morrow a changed being. The grosser pretensions of the
male had fallen from him for ever, and there was at first something
almost awe-inspiring to his sisters in the gentle solicitude for them
and their rights and pleasures which replaced the old despotism. From
that time, Esther and he became closer and closer companions, and as
they more and more formed an oligarchy of two, a rearrangement of
parties in the little parliament of home came about, to be upset again
as Dot and Mat qualified for admission into that exclusive
little circle.

So soon as Henry had a new dream or a new thought, he shared it with
Esther; and freely as he had received from Carlyle, or Emerson, or
Thoreau, freely he passed it on to her. For the gloomiest occasion he
had some strengthening text, and one of the last things he did before he
left home was to make for her a little book which he called "Faith for
Cloudy Days," consisting of energising and sustaining phrases from
certain great writers,--as it were, a bottle of philosophical phosphates
against seasons of spiritual cowardice or debility. There one opened and
read: "_Sudden the worst turns best to the brave_" or Thoreau's "_I have
yet to hear a single word of wisdom spoken to me by my elders,_" or
again Matthew Arnold's

     "_Tasks in hours of insight willed
     May be through hours of gloom fulfilled_."

James Mesurier knew nothing of all this; but if he had, he might have
understood that after all his children were not so far from the kingdom
of heaven.



CHAPTER IV


OF THE PROFESSIONS THAT CHOOSE, AND
MIKE LAFLIN

However we may hint at its explanation by theories of inheritance, it
still remains curious with what unerring instinct a child of character
will from the first, and when it is so evidently ignorant of the field
of choice, select, out of all life's occupations and distinctions, one
special work it hungers to do, one special distinction that to it seems
the most desirable of earthly honours. That Mary Mesurier loved poetry,
and James Mesurier sermons, in face of the fact that so many mothers and
fathers have done the same with no such result, hardly seems adequate to
account for the peculiar glamour which, almost before he could read,
there was for Henry Mesurier in any form of print. While books were
still being read to him, there had already come into his mind,
unaccountably, as by outside suggestion, that there could be nothing so
splendid in the world as to write a book for one's self. To be either a
soldier, a sailor, an architect, or an engineer, would, doubtless, have
its fascinations as well; but to make a real printed book, with your
name in gilt letters outside, was real romance.

At that early day, and for a long while after, the boy had no preference
for any particular kind of book. It was an entirely abstract passion for
print and paper. To have been the author of "The Iliad" or of Beeton's
"Book of Household Recipes" would have given him almost the same
exaltation of authorship; and the thrill of worship which came over him
when, one early day, a man who had actually had an article on the sugar
bounties accepted by a commercial magazine was pointed out to him in the
street, was one he never forgot; nor in after years did he ever
encounter that transfigured contributor without an involuntary
recurrence of that old feeling of awe. No subsequent acquaintance with
editorial rooms ever led him into materialistic explanations of that
enchanted piece of work--a newspaper. The editors might do their
best--and succeed surprisingly--in looking like ordinary mortals, you
might even know the leader-writers, and, with the very public, gaze
through gratings into the subterranean printing-rooms,--the mystery none
the less remained. No exposure of editorial staffs or other machinery
could destroy the sense of enchantment, as no amount of anatomy or
biology can destroy the mystery of the human miracle.

So I suppose Nature first makes us in love with the tools we are to use,
long before we have a thought upon what we shall use them. Perhaps the
first desire of the born writer is to be a compositor. Out of the love
of mere type quickly evolves a love of mere words for their own sake;
but whether we shall make use of them as a historian, novelist,
philosopher, or poet, is a secondary consideration, a mere afterthought.
To Henry Mesurier had already come the time when the face of life began
to Wear a certain aspect, the peculiar attraction of which for himself
he longed to fix, a certain mystical importance attaching to the
commonest every-day objects and circumstances, a certain ecstatic
quality in the simplest experiences; but even so far as it had been
revealed, this dawning vision of the world seemed only to have come to
him, not so much to find expression, as to mock him with his childish
incapacity adequately to use the very tools he loved. He would hang for
hours over some scene in nature, caught in a woodland spell, like a
nympholept of old; but when he tried to put in words what he had seen,
what a poor piece of ornamental gardening the thing was! There were
trees and birds and grass, to be sure; but there was nothing of that
meaning look which they had worn, that look of being tiptoe with
revelation which is one of the most fascinating tricks of the visible
world, and which even a harsh town full of chimneys can sometimes take
on when seen in given moments and lights. And it was astonishing to see
into what lifeless imitative verse his most original and passionate
moments could be transformed.

Still some unreasonably indulgent spirit of the air, that had evidently
not read his manuscripts, whispered him to be of good cheer: the
lifeless words would not always be lifeless, some day the birds would
sing in his verses too. This sense of failure did not, it must be said,
immediately follow composition; for, for a little while the original
expression of the thing seen reinforced with reflected significance its
pale copy. It was only some weeks after, when the written copy was left
to do all the work itself, that its foolish inadequacy was exposed.

"However, there is one consolation, they are not worse than Keats and
Shelley wrote at the same age," he said to himself, as he looked through
a bundle of the poor things the evening before his room was to be
dismantled. "Indeed, they couldn't be," he added, with a smile.
Fortunately he was but nineteen as yet; would he venture on a like
comparison were he twenty-five?

Yes, his little room was to be dismantled on the morrow,--this first
little private chapel of his spirit. This fair order of shelves, this
external harmony answering to an inner harmony of his spirit, were to be
broken up for ever. Often as he had sat in the folioed lamplit nook
which was, as it were, the very chancel of the little church, and gazed
in an ecstasy at the books, each with a great shining name of fame upon
its cover, it had seemed as though he had put his very soul outside him,
externalised it in this little corner of books and pictures. His soul
shivered, as one who must go houseless awhile, at the thought that
to-morrow its home would be no more. When and how would be its
reincarnation? More magnificent, maybe, but never this again. It was
sacrilege,--was it not ingratitude too? When once more the books and the
pictures began to form into a new harmony, there would be no mother's
love to help the work go on....

But as he mused in this no doubt sentimental fashion, the door opened
and the little red-headed Mike entered. His was a little Flibbertigibbet
of a face, already lined with the practice of mimicry; and there was in
it a very attractive blending of tenderness and humour. Mike was also
one of those whom life at the beginning had impressed with the delight
of one kind of work and no other. When a mere imp of a boy, the
heartless tormentor of a large and sententious stepmother, the despair
of schoolmasters, the most ingenious of truants, a humorous ragamuffin
invulnerable to punishment, it was already revealed to him that his
mission in life was to be the observation and reproduction of human
character, particularly in its humorous aspects. To this end Nature had
gifted him with a face that was capable of every form of transformation,
and at an early age he hastened to put it in training. All day long he
was pulling faces. As an artist will sketch everything he comes across,
so Mike would endeavour to imitate any characteristic expression or
attitude, animate or inanimate, in the world around him. Dogs, little
boys, and grotesque old men were his special delight, and of all his
elders he had, it goes without saying, a private gallery of irreverently
faithful portraits.

In addition to his plastic face, Nature had given him a larynx which was
capable of imitating every human and inhuman sound. To squeak like a
pig, bark like a dog, low like a cow, and crow like a cock, were the
veriest juvenilia of his attainments; and he could imitate the buzzing
of a fly so cunningly that flies themselves have often been deceived. It
was this delight in imitation for its own sake, and not so much that he
had been caught by the usual allurements of the theatre, that he looked
upon the career of an actor as his natural and ultimate calling. It was
already privately whispered in the little circle that Mike would some
day go on the stage. But don't tell that as yet to old Mr. Laflin,
whatever you do.

There was a good deal more in Mike than pulling faces, as Esther
recently, and Henry before her, had discovered. His acting was some day
to stir the hearts of audiences, because he had instincts for knowing
human nature inside as well as out, knew the secret springs of tears, as
well as the open secrets of laughter; and it was rather on this common
ground of a rich "many-veined humanity" that these two had met and
become friends, rather than on any real community of tastes and ideas.
Yet Mike loved books too, and had an excellent taste in them, though
perhaps he had hardly loved them, had not Henry and Esther loved them
first, and it is quite certain, and quite proper, that he never found a
page of any book so fascinating as the face of some lined and battered
human being. Over that writing he was never found asleep.

There was one other literary matter on which he held a very personal and
unshakable opinion,--Henry Mesurier's future as a poet; and on this he
came just in the nick of time to cheer him this evening.

"The next move will be to London, old fellow," he said; "and then you'll
soon see my prophecies come true. My opinion mayn't be worth much, but
you know what it is. You'll be a great writer some day, never fear."

"Thank you, dear old boy. And you know what I think about your acting,
don't you?"

Then it was that Esther appeared, and Henry made some transparent excuse
to leave them awhile together.

"You dear old thing," said Esther, kissing him, "now don't stay away too
long."



CHAPTER V


OF THE LOVE OF ESTHER AND MIKE, AND
THE MESURIER LAW IN REGARD TO
"SWEETHEARTS"

I'm afraid Esther was little more than fourteen when she had first seen
and fallen in love with Mike. She had heard much of him from her
brother; but, for one reason or another, he had never been to the house.
One evening, however, at a concert, Henry had told her to look in a
certain direction and she would see Mike.

"I don't suppose you'll call him good looking," he said.

So Esther had looked round, and seen the pretty curly red hair and the
eager little wistful humorous face for the first time.

"Why, he's got a lovely little face!" she said, blushing deeply for no
reason at all,--except perhaps that there had seemed something pleading
and shelter-seeking in that little face, something that cried out to be
"mothered," and that instantly there had welled up in her heart a great
warm wish that some day she might be that for it and more.

And at the same instant it had occurred to the boy, that the face thus
turned to him for a moment was the loveliest face he had ever seen, the
only lovely face he would ever care to see. But with that thought, too,
had come a curious pang of hopelessness into his heart. For Esther
Mesurier was one of those girls who are the prizes of men. With all
those pretty tall fellows about her, it was unlikely indeed that she
would care for a little red-headed, face-pulling ragamuffin like him!
And yet if she never could care for him,--never, never at all, what a
lonely place the world would be!

When, after the concert, Henry looked round to introduce Mike to his
sister, he had somehow slipped away and was nowhere to be seen.

However, it was not long after this that Mike paid a visit to Henry's
study one evening, and, coming ostensibly to look at his books, once
more saw his sister, and spoke to her a brief introductory word. His
interest in literature became positively remarkable from this time; and
the enthusiasm with which his actor's mind reflected, and, no doubt in
all good faith, mimicked the various philosophical and literary
enthusiasms of his friend, was, though neither realised it, a sure
earnest of his future. More and more frequent visits to that study
became necessary for its gratification; and, in the course of one of
them, Mike confessed to Henry that he loved his sister, previously
piling upon himself many anticipatory terms of ignominy for daring to do
so presumptuous a thing. Henry, however, was so taken with the idea
that, in his singleness of mind, he suffered no pang of retrospective
suspicion of his friend's love for himself. Pending Esther's
decision,--and of her mind in the matter, he had something more than a
glimmering,--he welcomed Mike with gladness as a prospective
brother-in-law, and, as soon as he found an opportunity, left them alone
together, returning quite a long time afterwards--to find them
extraordinarily happy, it would appear, at his safe return.

Esther and Mike had thus been fortunate enough to get that important
question of a mate settled quite early in life, and to be saved from
those arduous and desolating experiments in being fitted with a heart
which so many less happy people have to go through. But this happy fact
was as yet a secret beyond this strict circle of three; for, strange as
it may sound, the beautiful attraction of a girl for a boy, the
beautiful worship of a boy for a girl, were matters not even mentionable
as yet in the Mesurier household. For a child, particularly a girl,
under twenty to speak of having a "sweetheart" was an offence which had
a strong savour of disgust in it, even for Mrs. Mesurier, broad-minded
as in most matters she was.

So far as the only decent theory of the relations of the sexes was
involuntarily explicit, by virtue of certain explosions on the subject,
it was something like this: That, at a certain age, say twenty-one, or,
for leniency, twenty, as it were on the striking of a clock, the young
girl, who previously had been profoundly and inexpressibly unconscious
that the male being existed, would suddenly sit up wide awake in an
attitude of attention to offers of marriage; and that, similarly, the
young man, who had meanwhile lived with his eyes shut and his senses
asleep, would jump up also at the striking of a clock, and, as it were,
with hilarity, say, "It is high time I chose a wife," and thereupon
begin to look about, among the streets and tennis-parties known to him,
for that impossible paragon,--a wife to satisfy both his parents.

One or two of Henry's earliest troubles and most drastic punishments had
come of a propensity to "sweethearts," developed at an indecorously
early age, and in fact at the time of which I write he could barely
recall the name of Miss This or Miss The Other by the association of
ancient physical pangs suffered for their sake. The greatest danger to
such contraband passions was undoubtedly the post; for, in the Mesurier
household, a more than Russian censorship was exercised over the
incoming and--as far as it could be controlled--the outgoing mail. One
old morning, at family breakfast, which the subsequent events of the
evening were to fix on his mind, Henry Mesurier had grown white with
fear, as the stupid maid had handed him a fat letter addressed in a
sprawling school-girl's hand.

"Who is your letter from, Henry?" asked the father.

Henry blushed and boggled.

"Pass it over to me."

Resistance was worse than useless. As in war-time a woman will see her
husband set up against a wall and shot before her face, as a
conspirator sees the hands of the police close upon papers of the most
terrible secrecy, so did Henry watch that scented little package pass
with a sense of irrevocable loss into the cold hands of his father. The
father opened it, placed a little white enclosure by the side of his
coffee-cup for further inspection, and then read the letter--full of
"darlings" and "for evers"--with the severe attention he would have
given a business letter. Then he handed it across to the mother without
a word, but with the look one doctor gives another in discovering a new
and terrible symptom in a patient on whom they are consulting. While the
mother read, the father opened the little packet, and out rolled a tiny
plait of silky brown hair tied into a loop with a blue ribbon.

"Disgusting!" exclaimed the father and mother, simultaneously, to each
other, as though the boy was not there.

"I am shocked at you, Henry," said the mother.

"I shall certainly write to the forward little girl's parents," said the
father.

"Oh, don't do that, father," exclaimed the boy, in terror, and half
wondering if so sweet a thing could really be so criminal.

"Don't dare to speak to me," said the father. "Leave the
breakfast-table. I will see you again this evening."

Henry knew too well what the verb "to see" signified under the
circumstances, and the day passed in such apprehensive gloom that it was
a positive relief, when evening had at last come, to feel a walking-cane
about him, at once more snaky and more notched than any previously
applied to his stubborn young frame. Not to cry was, of course, a point
of honour; and as the infuriating absence of tears inflamed the
righteous anger of the parent, the stick splintered and broke with a
crash, in which accident Henry learned he was responsible for a
double offence.

"I wouldn't have broken that stick for five pounds," said the father,
his interest suddenly withdrawn from his son; "it was given to me by my
old friend Tarporley," which, as can be imagined, was a mighty
satisfaction to the sad small soul, smarting, not merely from the stick,
but from the sense that life held something stupid in its injustice, in
that he was thus being mauled for the most beautiful exalted feeling
that had ever visited his young heart.

Those dark ages of oppression were long since passed for Henry and
Esther, when Mike began to steal in of an evening to see Esther, and
they were only referred to now and again, anecdotally, as the nineteenth
century looks back at the days of the Holy Inquisition; but still it was
wise to be cautious, for an interdict against Mike's coming to the house
was quite within possibility, even in this comparatively enlightened
epoch; and that would have been even more effective than James
Mesurier's old friend Tarporley's stick of sacred memory.



CHAPTER VI


THE BEGINNING OF THE END OF HOME

Recalling for another moment or two the ancient affair of the heart
described in the last chapter, it may pertinently be added that James
Mesurier fulfilled his threat on that occasion, and had in fact written
to the "forward little girl's" parents. Could he have seen the rather
amused reception of his letter, he would have realised with sorrow that
an age of parental leniency, little short of degeneration, was in
certain quarters unmistakably supplanting the stern age of which he was
in a degree an anachronistic survival. That forward little girl's
parents chanced to know James Mesurier enough by sight and reputation to
respect him, while they smiled across to each other at his rather quaint
disciplinarianism. Could Henry Mesurier have seen that smile, he would
not only have felt reassured as to the fate of his little sweetheart,
but have understood that there were temperate zones of childhood, as
well as arctic, when young life waxed gaily to the sound of laughter
and other musical accompaniments.

This revelation, however, was deferred some few years, till he became
acquainted with the merry family of which Mike Laflin was the
characteristic expression. Old Mr. Laflin was a little, jolly,
bald-headed gentleman, bubbling over with mirth, who liked to have young
people about him, and in his quips and cranks was as young as, and much
cleverer than, any of them. It almost startled Henry on his first
introduction to this family of two daughters and two brothers, where the
father was rather like a brother grown prematurely bald, and the
stepmother supplied with monumental dignity that element of solemnity
without which no properly regulated household is complete, to notice the
_camaraderie_ which prevailed amongst them all. Jokes were flying about
from one to another all the time, and the father made a point of capping
them all. This was home in a liberal sense which the word had never
meant to Henry. Doubtless, it had its own individual restrictions and
censorships; but its surface was at all events debonair, and it was
serviceable to Henry as revealing the existence of more genial social
climates than that in which he had been nurtured--though in making the
comparison with his own atmosphere, he realised that this _bonhomie_ was
nothing more important than a grace.

Perhaps, nay, very surely, the seriousness, even the severity of, his
own training, had been among the very conditions needed to make him what
he some day hoped to be, though they had seemed so purposely inimical.
Had James Mesurier's religion been more free and easy, a matter less
personally assured and momentous, his son's almost oppressive sense of
the spiritual significance of existence had been less radiant and
constantly supporting. Life might have gained in superficial
liveableness; but it would have lost in intensity, in real importance,
and with that loss would have gone too Henry's chance of being a poet."
The poet in a golden clime was born!"--once and again, maybe, but more
often he comes from a land of iron and tears.

It is in the nature of things that Henry should begin to appreciate the
services of his home to his development at the moment when he was
leaving it. And the mere pang of the parting from it, when one day the
hour for parting had surely come, was much more deep and complicated
than he could have dreamed. As in our bodies we become conscious of
certain vital centres, certain dependencies of relation and harmony,
only when they have suffered shock, so often in life we may go along
unconscious of the vital dependencies of our human relationships, till
the moment comes to strain or sever them. Then a thousand hidden nerves
quiver at the discovering touch of the knife. Henry's leaving home,
though it had been originally the suggestion of violent feeling, was not
to be an actual severance. His father's "leave my house for ever" had
owed something to the rhetoric of anger, and the expulsion and cutting
off which it had implied had since been so softened as practically to
have disappeared. Henry was certainly not leaving his father's house for
ever, but merely going into lodgings with a friend, with full privileges
to visit his own home as often as he chose.

Still, he was, all the same, leaving home, and he was the first to leave
it. The mother, at all events, knew that this was the beginning of the
end, knew that, with her first-born's departure (desertion, she may have
called it), a new era had commenced for the home,--the era of
disintegration. For twenty years and more it had been all building and
building; now it would be all just pulling down again; and there was a
dreary sound as of demolition and wind-driven rain in her ears.

Oh, tragic love of mothers! Of no love is the final loss and doom so
inevitably destined. The husband may desert the wife, but the son is
sure to desert his mother--must, for nature demands the desertion. Put
not your trust in princes--and yet put it rather in princes, oh, fond
and doting parents, than in the blue-eyed flower of childhood for which
year after year, with labours infinite, you would buy all the sunshine
of the world.

Henry's pang at leaving home was mainly the pang of parting with his
mother. It seemed more than a mere physical parting. It was his
childhood that was parting from her for ever. When he came to see them
he would be something different,--a man, an independent being. As long
ago physically, now spiritually, the umbilical cord had been cut.

With Esther and Dot and Mat the parting was hardly a parting, as it was
rather a promise of their all meeting together some day in a new place
of freedom, which there was a sense of his going out to prepare for
them. Their way would be his way, as the mother's could not; for theirs
was the highway of youth, which, sooner or later, they would all take
together, singing in the morning sun.

The three younger sisters, the as yet unopened buds of the family
flower, took Henry's departure with the surface tears and the central
indifference of childhood. When a family is so large, it practically
includes two generations in itself; and these three girls were really to
prove a generation so different in characteristics from their four
elders as to demand a separate chronicle to themselves.

Thus as Henry drove away amid his trunks from the home of his father
(genealogical poverty denies us the romantic grandiloquence of the
plural), it was his mother's farewell arms and farewell tears, and his
farewell promises to her, of which he was mainly conscious. He had
promised "to take care of himself," and particularly to beware of damp
sheets, and then he too had burst into tears. Indeed, it was generally a
tearful business, after which everybody was glad to retire into corners
to subside privately and dry themselves.

Henry crouched in the corner of his cab with fully half his cry to
finish out; and, curiously, all the time a sad little story from an old
holiday in the country kept haunting him. It was at once a fact and a
fable concerning a happy little family of swallows, whose sudden tragedy
he had seen with his own boyish, pitying eyes.

In a little vinery attached to an old country house which the Mesuriers
had rented for a month or so for certain successive summers, two
swallows had built their nest, and, in due course, there were three
young swallows to keep them company. It was understood that the door of
the vinery must be left open, that the parent swallows might fly to and
fro for food; but by some accident it chanced that the door was one day
closed, and the vinery not visited again for several days. When at last
the door was opened again, the sight that met young eyes was one Henry
had never forgotten. Three little starved swallows, hardly bigger than
butterflies, lay upon the floor, and from the nest above hung the long
horse-hairs with which the parents had vainly sought to anchor them
safely to the home. But still sadder details were forthcoming, when the
children, who had been wondering what had become of the parents, had
suddenly discovered their wasted bodies in the grass a yard or two away
from the vinery door. A few days ago this had been a happy, thriving
home, and now it was absolutely desolated, done away with for ever. It
needed no exceptional imagination or sympathy to conceive the agonised
longing of the parents, as they had dashed themselves again and again
upon that cruel, unyielding door, hearing the piteous cries of their
young ones within, and the anguish in which their exhausted little lives
had at last gone out. The young swallows had died for lack of food; but
the old ones had died--for love. Had some other hand brought them food,
would the young ones have missed the old ones like that?



CHAPTER VII

A LINK WITH CIVILISATION


On the afternoon following Henry's departure, Esther went out for a
walk, and she came presently to a pretty little house half hidden in its
big garden. A well-kept lawn, richly bathed in sunlight, flashed through
the trees; and, opening the gate and following the tree-shaded path
along one side of the house, Esther presently mounted to a small
terrace, where, as she had hoped, she came upon a dainty little lady
watering her flowers.

"Why, Esther, it's you! How sweet of you! I was just dying to see you!"
exclaimed the little lady, turning a pretty, but somewhat worn, and
brilliantly sad face from her gardening. "Just let me finish this
thirsty bed, and then you must give me a kiss. There!"

Then the two embraced; and as Mrs. Myrtilla Williamson held Esther at
arm's length and looked at her admiringly,--

"How pretty you look to-day!" she exclaimed, generously. "That new
hat's a great success. Didn't I tell you mauve was your colour? Turn
round. Yes, dear, you look charming. Where in the world, I wonder, did
you all get that grand look of yours from?--I don't mean your good looks
merely, but that look of distinction. Your father and mother have it
too; but where did _they_ get it from? You're a puzzle-family--all of
you. But wouldn't you like a cup of tea? Come in," and she led the way
indoors to a tiny, sweet-smelling boudoir on the left of the hall, of
which a dainty glimpse, with its books and water-colours and bibelots,
was to be caught from the terrace.

Everything about Myrtilla Williamson was scrupulously, determinedly
dainty, from the flowered tea-gown about her slim, girlish figure,--her
predilection for that then novel and suspected garment was regarded as a
sure mark of a certain Parisian levity by her neighbours,--to her just a
little "precious" enunciation. In France, in the seventeenth century,
she would almost certainly have been a visitor at the Hotel Rambouillet,
and to-day she was mysteriously and disapprovingly spoken of as
"aesthetic." She had a look as if she had tripped out of a Japanese fan,
and slept at night in a pot-pourri jar. And she had brains, those good
things--brains.

Her name was very like her life, one-half of which might be described as
Myrtilla, the other half as Williamson. She was Myrtilla during the day,
dabbling with her water-colours, her flowers, or her books; but at six
o'clock each afternoon, with the sound of aggressive masculine boots in
the hall, her life suddenly changed with a sigh to Williamson. The
Williamson half of her life was so clumsily, so grotesquely ill-matched
with the Myrtilla half that it was, and probably will always remain, a
mystery why she had ever attempted so tasteless and inconvenient an
addition,--a mystery, however, far from unique in the history of those
mysteriously stupid unhappy marriages with evident boors which refined
and charming women will, it is to be feared, go on making to the end of
the human chapter.

It was perhaps a day hardly less interesting for Myrtilla than for the
young people themselves when she had first met Henry and Esther
Mesurier. Before, in the dull bourgeois society into which Williamson
had transplanted her from London, she had found none with whom she dared
be her natural Myrtilla. There she was expected to be Williamson to the
bone. Henry and Esther, however, were only too grateful for Myrtilla,
through whom was to come to them the revelation of some minor graces of
life for which they had the instincts, but on which they had lacked
instruction; and who, still more important, at least for Henry, was to
be their first fragile link with certain strenuous new northern writers,
translations of whom in every tongue had just then descended, Gothlike,
upon Europe, to the great energising of its various literatures. She it
was too who first handed them the fretted golden key to the enchanted
garden of the Pre-Raphaelites, and the striking head of the young Dante
in sepia, which had hung in a sort of shrine-recess in Henry's study,
had been copied for him from Rossetti's sketch by Myrtilla's own hand.

She had, too, one of the most precious gifts for friendship, the gift of
unselfish and diligent and progressive appreciation of all a friend's
good points. She never flattered; but she never missed the smallest
opportunity for praise. She was one of those rare people who make you
feel happy in yourself, who send you away somehow dignified, profitably
raised in your own esteem; just as others have a mysterious power of
dejecting you in your proudest moments. If you had any charm, however
shy, Myrtilla Williamson would find it, and send you away with a great
gush of gratitude to her because it had been found at last. This was
perhaps the greatest charm of her clever letters; they were all about
"you,"--not, of course, that you didn't want to hear about her. But
frequently all she told you of herself was her name. Perhaps she would
write in the half-hour that remained between, say, a visit from Esther
and the arrival of Williamson, to fix in a few intimate vivid words the
charm of their afternoon together, and tell Esther in some new
gratifying way what she was to her and why and how she was it; or when
Henry had been there--even more carefully in the absence of
Williamson--to read her his new poem, she would write him a long letter
of literary criticism, just perceptibly vibrating with the emotion she
might have felt for the romantic young poet, whom she allowed to call
himself her "cavaliere servente," had she not been Williamson as well as
Myrtilla, and had she not, as she somewhat unscientifically declared,
been old enough to be his mother.

"Well," she said, as they sipped their tea, "so Henry's really gone. He
slipped round to bid me a sort of good-bye yesterday, and told me the
whole story. On the whole, I'm glad, though I know how you'll miss each
other. But I'm sorriest for your mother. Yes, yes, I'm sorry for her.
You must try to make it up to her, dear child. I think just that, above
all things, would make me fear to be a mother. One can do without
children," and there was a certain implication in the conversational
atmosphere that children of the name of Williamson had been mercifully
spared the world; "but when once they have come into one's life, it must
be terrible to see them go out again. I should like to come round and
have a little talk with your mother. I wonder if she'd care to see me?"

"So long as you don't come in your tea-gown," said Esther, with a laugh.

"Cruel child!" and then with a way she had of suddenly finding
something she wanted to hear of among the interests of her friends,
"Now," she said, "tell me something about Mike. I suppose the course of
true love runs as smoothly as ever. Happy children! Give him my love
when you see him, won't you?"

Esther told all there was to tell about Mike up-to-date, and wished she
could have repaid her friend's sympathetic interest with a request for
something similar about Williamson. But it was tacitly understood that
there was nothing further to be said on that subject, and that the news
of Myrtilla's life could hardly again take any more excitingly personal
form than the bric-a-brac excitements of art or literature,--though
indeed art and literature were, to be just to them, far more than
bric-a-brac in the life of Myrtilla Williamson. They were, indeed, it
was easy to see, a very sustaining religion for the lonely little woman
who, having no children to study, and having completed her studies of
Williamson, was driven a good deal upon the study and development of
herself. The Williamson half of the day provided her fully with
opportunities for the practice of all the philosophy she was likely to
acquire from writers ancient and modern, and for the absorption of all
the consolation history and biography was likely to afford in the
stories of women similarly circumstanced. It is to be feared that
Myrtilla not only wore tea-gowns in advance of her time, but was also
somewhat prematurely something of a "new" woman; but this was a subject
on which she really did very little to "poison" Esther's "young mind."
Esther's young mind, in common with those of her two subsequent sisters,
was little in need of "poisoning" from outside on such subjects. Indeed,
it was a curious phenomenon to observe how all these young minds, sprung
from a stock of such ancient, unquestioning faith, had, so to say, been
born "poisoned;" or, to state the matter less metaphorically, had all
been born with instincts for the most pitiless and effortless reasoning
on all subjects human and divine.

As the hour approached when poor Myrtilla must change back to
Williamson, Esther rose to say good-bye.

"Come again soon, dear girl; you don't know the good you do me."

The good, dear woman was entirely done by her unwearied, sympathetic
discussion of the affairs and dreams of Esther, Mike, and Henry.

"Oh, here is a wonderful new book I intended to talk to you about. You
can take it with you; I have finished it. Come next week and tell me
what you think of it."

As Esther walked down the path, Myrtilla watched her, and, as she passed
out of the gate, waved her a final kiss of parting, and turned indoors.
There seemed something ever so sad about her dainty back as it
disappeared into the doorway.

"Poor little woman!" said Esther to herself, as she looked to see the
title of the book she was carrying. It included a curious Russian name,
the correct pronunciation of which she foresaw she must ask Myrtilla on
their next meeting. It was "The Journal of Marie Bashkirtseff."



CHAPTER VIII

A RHAPSODY OF TYRE


Sidon, the stage of the moving events so far recorded, though it makes
much of possessing a separate importance, is really a cross-river
residential suburb of Tyre, the great seaport in which all the ships of
the world come to and fro. During the day Sidon is virtually emptied of
its men-folk, and is given up to perambulators and feminine activities
generally; for the men have streamed across the ferries that bridge the
sunny, boisterous river, to the docks and offices of Tyre.

Though Tyre is not a very old city, it is not so new as to be denied a
few of those associations known as "historical." Tyre had once the
honour to be taken by Prince Rupert, and long before that its nucleus
had existed as a monk's ferry, by which travellers were rowed across the
river to the monastery and posting-house at Sidon. Sometimes of an
evening Henry and Mike would think of those far-off times as they looked
over the ferry-boat at the long lines of river lights, with their
restless heaving reflections; and sometimes they could picture to
themselves the green sloping banks of the virgin fields, and hear the
priory bell calling to them out of the darkness. But such were the
faintest of their visions; and they loved the river banks best as they
are to-day, with their Egyptian walls and swarming lights and
tangled ships.

And whoso should think that that sordid commercial city, given up to all
the prose of trade day by day, is not a poet at heart, has never seen
her strange smile at evening when the shops are shut, and the offices
empty, and the men who know her not gone home. For then across the
crowded roofs softly comes a strange sweetness, and deep down among the
gloomy wynds of deserted warehouses, still as temples, sudden fairies of
sunset dance and dazzle, and touch the grimy walls with soft hands. In
lonely back rooms, full of desks and dust, haunted lights of evening
stand like splendid apparitions; and sometimes, if you lingered at the
top of High Street, beneath the dark old church, and the moon was out
on the left of the steeple and the sunset dying on the right, dying
beyond the tangled masts and fading from the river, you would forget you
were a city clerk, and you would wonder why the world was so beautiful,
why the moon was made of pearl, and what it was that called to you out
of yonder golden sea; and your heart would fill with a strange gladness,
and you would call back to those unearthly voices, "I am yours, yours,
all yours!"

Thus would this town of bales and merchants, of office-desks and stools,
make poets at evening that she might stone them at noon. For, of course,
she would have forgotten it all in the morning; and it were well not to
remind her with your dreaming eyes of her last night's softness. She
will look back at you with stony misunderstanding, and her new lover
Reality will sharply box your ears.

It is no use reminding the Exchange that it looked like a scene from
Romeo and Juliet in the moonlight. It dare not admit it. But wait
patiently till the evening. Tyre will be yours again with the sunset.
She pretends all day that it is the Mayor in the gilded coach and the
pursy merchantmen she cares for; but it is really you, a poor shabby
poet, she loves all the time, for you only does she wear her gauzy silks
at evening!



CHAPTER IX

A PENITENTIARY OF THE MATHEMATICS


Yes, Mike was some day to be another Kean, and Henry was to prove a
serious rival to Shakespeare; but, meanwhile, they were clerks in the
offices of Tyre.

Of the rigours, and therefore too the truancies and humours of the lot
official, Mike was comparatively so comfortably circumstanced as to have
little knowledge. His father was the king of a little flourishing prison
of desks, and Mike was one of the heirs-apparent. Consequently, his lot,
though dull, was seldom bitter; and many mitigations of it were within
his privilege. With Henry it was different. He was a humble unit among
twenty other slaves, chained to that modern substitute for the galleys,
the desk; and, in a wicked bargain, he had contracted to give his
life-blood from nine in the morning till six in the evening, for sixty
pounds a year, with an occasional "rise," which, after thirty years'
service, might end in your having reached a proud annual three hundred
for the rest of your maimed and narrowed days.

Henry had come to the office straight from school, at the age of
sixteen; and, though classrooms breathe an air sufficiently frigid and
suggestive of inhuman interests and unmeaning discipline, the icy air of
that office had at first almost taken his breath. The place was so
ridiculously serious! There might conceivedly be interests in the world
worthy of so abject an absorption, so bleaching an obeisance of the
individual; but Henry, with the dews of certain classics still upon him,
remembered that anything really Olympian in its importance is always
strong enough to smile. It is a lesser strength that must make the
muscular effort of severity. True dignities, as often as possible, stand
at ease. But here indeed were no true strengths and dignities,--only
prison-strengths and prison-dignities. Here the majesties, the
occupations, the offences, were alike frivolities, fantastically changed
about into solemnities.

That first impression of abject bowed heads and chains rattled beneath
desks, was roughly correct. For all that was human in a man, this was a
prison. These men who bent over foolish papers were evidently convicts
of the most desperate character; so, at all events, you would judge when
occasionally one or other of the prison-governors, known as "partners,"
passed among them with the lash of his eye. Such faint human twittering
as may have grown up amongst even these poor exiles would suddenly die
into a silence white with fear, as when the shadow of a hawk falls
across the song of smaller birds.

No human relations are acknowledged here. Outside, you may be a husband
wonderfully beloved and tragically important; you may be a man whose
courage has be-medalled your brave breast; you may be a passionate and
subtle musician in your private hours; you may even on Sundays be a much
appreciated vessel of the divine: but all such distinctions are not
current here; here they are foreign coin, diplomas unacknowledged in
this barbarous realm of ink and steel. The more ignorant, the more
narrow, the more mean, the more unnatural, you can contrive to be, the
better will be your lot in this sad monastery of Mammon. When the door
hissed behind you, with that little patent pneumatic device, you ceased
to be a human being, and began to be--the human machine. All the
vitality you have stored within that pale body you are expected to
exhaust here,--you have sold it, don't you remember, for sixty or three
hundred pounds a year; you are not expected to have any left over for
pleasures. That will be robbery. Masters suffer much from peculation
indeed in this way; but a machine is in course of invention which shall
put an end to this, by the application of which to your heart the
task-master will know whether or not you have spent every available
heart-beat in his slavery during the day, or whether you are
endeavouring, you miserable thief, to steal home with a little remnant
of it for your children at night.

This was the theory of the office, as Henry once heard it expressed,
with a cynicism more brief and direct from the lips of one of his
task-masters; but it must be admitted that in certain respects his
experience was extreme. There are offices which are the ears and eyes of
activities absorbingly and even romantically human. To be in a
shipping-office is not perhaps to be the rose, but it is to live near
it,--the great rose of the sea. You are, so to say, a land-sailor, a
supercargo left on shore. Your office-windows are lashed with
hurricanes; your talk is frequently of cyclones. The names of far
romantic isles are constantly on your lips, and your bills of lading are
threepenny romances in themselves. Strange produce of distant lands are
your daily concern, and the four winds meet at your counter with a
savour of tar. For all you know, a pirate may claim your attention any
minute of the day.

Or, again, to be, say, in a corn-merchant's, a clearing-house of the
fruitful earth. There at your telephone you may hear the corn-fields
whispering to you, hear the wheat waving in the wind, and the thin
chatter of oats. Or you may sell butter and cheese in an office that
smells of farms. However removed, you are an indirect agent of the
earth, a humble go-between of the seasons and the eternal needs of man.

Or, once more, you may be one of the thousand clerks of a great
manufacturer, and be humbly related to one of the arts or crafts that
gladden the eye or add to the comforts of man. Or even, though you may
be denied so close an association with the elements, or the arts, you
may be the pen to some subtle legal confidante of human nature. Your
office may be stored with records of human perversity and whimsicality.
You may be the witness to fantastic wills, or assist in the
administration of the estates of lunatics. At all events, you will come
within hearing of the human passions. Misers will visit you at times,
and beautiful ladies in mourning deep as their distress; and from your
desk you will catch a glimpse of the sombre pageantry of litigious man.

Though it is true that a certain far-off flavour of these legal
excitements occasionally enlivened the business to which Henry had been
sacrificially indentured, for the most part it was an abstract
parasitical thing which had succeeded in persuading other businesses,
more directly fed from the human spring, of its obliging usefulness in
relieving them of detachable burdens. In fact, it had no activity or
interest of its own to account for, so it proposed, in default of any
such original reason for existence, to look after the accounts of
others, as a self-constituted body of financial police. For those
engaged in it, except those who had been born mentally deformed, or
those who had become unnaturally perverted by long usage, it was a sort
of penitentiary of the mathematics.



CHAPTER X


THE GRASS BETWEEN THE FLAG-STONES

Yes, it was a curiously unreal world; and, for the first day or two, as
Henry, bent, lonely and bewildered, over his desk, studied it furtively
with questioning eyes, it seemed to him as though he had strayed into
some asylum for the insane, where fantastic interests and mock honours
take the place of the real interests and honours of sane human beings.

Part of the business of the firm consisted in the collection of
house-rents, frequently entailing visits from tenants and questions of
repairs. A certain Mr. Smith, a wiry little grey-headed man, with a keen
face and a decisive manner, looked after this branch; and the gusto with
which he did it was one of Henry's earliest and most instructive
amazements. House-repairs were quite evidently his poetry, and he never
seemed so happy as when passionately wrangling with a tenant on some
question of drains. The words "cesspool" and "wet-trap"--words to which
I don't pretend to attach any meaning--seemed to be particular
favourites of his. In fact, an hour seldom passed without their falling
from his lips. But Mr. Smith's great opportunity was a gale. For that
always meant an exciting harvest of dislodged chimney-pots, flying
slates, and smashed skylights, which would impart an energetic interest
to his life for days.

Again, in Henry's department--for the office was cut into two halves,
with about ten clerks in each, the partners having, of course, their own
private offices, from which they might dart out at any moment--there was
a certain little fussy chief clerk who was obviously a person of very
mysterious importance. He was frequently away, evidently on missions of
great moment, for always on his return he would be closeted immediately
with one or other of the partners, who in turn seemed to consider him
important too, and would sometimes treat him almost like one of
themselves, actually condescending to laugh with him now and again over
some joke, evidently as mysterious as all the rest. This Mr. Perkins
seldom noticed the juniors in his department, though occasionally he
would select one of them to accompany him on one of his missions to
clients of the firm; and they would start off together, as you may see a
plumber and his apprentice sometimes in the streets,--the proud
master-plumber in front, and the little apprentice plumber behind,
carrying the lead pipe and the iron smelting-pot.

Now, did Mr. Smith really take such a heart-interest in cesspools and
wet-traps as he appeared to do? and did Mr. Perkins really think he
mattered all that?

These were two of the earliest questions which Henry asked himself, and
as time brought the answers to them, and kindred questions, there were
unexpected elements of comfort for the heart of the boy, longing so
desperately in that barren place for any hint of the human touch. One
day Mr. Smith startled him by mentioning Dickens, and even Charles Lamb.
It was a kindly recognition of Mesurier's rumoured interest in
literature. Henry looked at him in amazement. "Oh, you read then!" he
exclaimed. Of anything so human as reading he had suspected no one in
that office.

Then as to the great Mr. Perkins, the time came when he was to prove
very human indeed. For, dying suddenly one day, his various work had to
pass into other hands; and, bit by bit, it began to leak out that those
missions had not been so industriously devoted to the interests of the
firm, nor been so carefully executed, as had been imagined. For Mr.
Perkins, it transpired, had been fond of his pleasures, could appreciate
wine, and liked an occasional informal holiday. So, posthumously, he
began to wear for Henry a faint halo of humanity.

Indeed, it did not take Henry many days to realise that, as grass will
force its way even between the flag-stones in a prison-yard, no little
humanity contrived to support its existence even in this dead place. By
degrees, he realised that these apparently colourless and frigid figures
about him had each their separate individuality, engaging or otherwise;
that their interests were by no means centred on the dull pages before
them; and that, for the most part, they were very much in a like case
with himself. Although thus immured from the world of realities, they
still maintained, in vigorous activity, many healthy outdoor interests,
and were quite keen in their enthusiasm for, and remarkably instructed
in, the latest developments of horse-racing, football, and
prize-fighting. Likewise, they had retained an astonishingly fresh and
unimpaired interest in women, and still enjoyed the simple earth-born
pleasures of the glass and the pipe.

As he understood this, Henry began to feel more at home; and, as the
characters of his associates revealed themselves, he began to see that
there were amongst them several pleasant and indeed merry fellows, and
that, after all, fortune might have thrown him into much worse company.
They, on their side, making like discoveries in him, he presently found
himself admitted to their freemasonry, and initiated into their many
secret ways of mitigating their lot, and shortening their long days.
Thus, this chill, stern world of automata, which, on first sight, looked
as if no human word or smile or jest could escape the detection of its
iron laws, revealed, when you were once inside it, an under-world of
pleasant escapes and exciting truancies, of which, as you grew
accustomed to the risks and general conditions of the life, you were
able skilfully to avail yourself.

The main principle of these was to seem to spend twice as much time on
each task as it needed, that you might have the other half for such
private uses as were within your reach,--to elongate dinner-hours at
both ends so adroitly, and on such carefully selected propitious
occasions, that the elongation, or at least the whole extent of it,
would pass unobserved; and, in general, to gain time, any waste ends of
five minutes or quarter hours, on all possible occasions. If the reader
calls this shirking and robbery, he must. Technically, no doubt, it was;
but these clerks, without so formulating it, merely exercised the right
of all oppressed beings liberally to interpret to their own advantage,
where possible, the terms of an unjust contract which grinding economic
conditions had compelled them to make. They had been forced to promise
too much in exchange for too little, and they equalised the disparity
where they could.

Whether they spent the time thus hoarded in a profitable fashion, is a
question of personal definition. It was usually expended in companies of
twos or threes, with a pipe and a pot of beer and much spirited talk, in
the warm corners of adjacent taverns; and, so long as you don't drink
too much, there has perhaps been invented none pleasanter than that
old-fashioned way of spending an hour. Certainly, it was the way for ale
to taste good, and a pipe to seem the most satisfying of all earthly
consolations. It was almost worth the bondage to enjoy the keen relish
of the escape.

By degrees, though the youngest there, Henry came to be allowed a
certain leadership in these sorties of the human element. He made it his
business to stimulate these unthrifty instincts, and to fan the welcome
sparks of natural idleness; and so successfully that at times there
seemed to have entered with him into that gloomy place a certain Bacchic
influence, which now and again would prompt his comrades to such daring
clutches of animated release, that the spirit of it even pervaded the
penetralia of the senior partner's office, with the result that some
mishap of truancy would undo the genial work of months, and precipitate
upon them for a while the rigours of a ten-fold discipline. It was after
such an occasion that, in writing to James Mesurier as to the progress
of his son, old Mr. Septimus Lingard had paid Henry one of the proudest
compliments of his young days. "I fear that we shall make little of your
son Henry," he wrote. "His head seems full of literature, and he is so
idle that he is demoralising the whole office."

It took Henry more than a year to win that testimonial; but the odds had
been so great against him that the wonder is he was ever able to win it
at all. Mr. Lingard wrote "demoralise." It was his way of saying
"humanise."



CHAPTER XI


HUMANITY IN HIGH PLACES

One day, however, Henry was to make the still more surprising discovery,
that not only were the clerks human beings, but that one of the
partners--only one of them--was also human. He made this discovery about
the senior partner, whose old-world figure and quaint name, Septimus
Searle Lingard, had, in spite of his severity, attracted him by a
certain musty distinction.

A stranger figure than Septimus Searle Lingard has seldom walked the
streets of any town. Though not actually much over sixty, you would have
said he must be a thousand; his abnormally long, narrow, shaven face was
so thin and gaunt and hollowed, and his tall, upright figure was so
painfully fragile, that his black broadcloth seemed almost too heavy for
the worn frame inside it. And nothing in the world else was ever so
piercingly solemn as his keen weary old eyes. With his tall silk hat,
his thin white hair, his long white face, long black frock-coat, and
black trousers, he looked for all the world like a distinguished
skeleton. Henry could never be quite sure whether he was to be classed
as a "character," or as a genuine personality. One thing was certain,
that, sometime or other, or many times, in his life he had done
something, or many things, which had won for him a respect as deep as
his solemnity of aspect; and certainly, if gravity of demeanour goes for
anything, all the owls of all the ages in collaboration could not have
produced an expression of time-honoured wisdom so convincing. Sometimes
his old lantern-jaws would emit an uncanny cackle of a laugh, and a
ghastly flicker of humour play across his parchment features; but these
only deepened the general sense of solemnity, as the hoot of a
night-bird deepens the loneliness of some desolate hollow among
the hills.

It was this strange old ghost of a man that was to be the next to turn
human, and it came about like this. Right away at the top of the
building was a lonely room where the sun never shone, in which were
stored away the old account-books, diaries, and various
dead-and-done-with documents of the firm; and here too was deposited,
from time to time, various wreckage of the same kind from other
businesses whose last offices had been done by the firm, and whose
records were still preserved, in the unlikely event of any chance
resurrection of claim upon, or interest in, their long forgotten names.

Here crumbled the last relics of many an ambitious enterprise,--great
ledgers, with their covers still fresh, lay like slabs, from which, if
you wiped away the dust, the gilded names of foundered companies would
flash as from gaudy tombstones; letter-books bursting with letters that
no eye would read again so long as the world lasted; yellow title-deeds
from which all the virtue had long since exhaled, and to which no
dangling of enormous seals could any longer lend a convincing air of
importance. Here everything was dead and dusty as an old shoe. The dry
bones in the valley of Askelon were as children skipping in the morning
sun compared with the dusty death that mouldered and mouldered in this
lonely locked-up room,--this catacomb of dead businesses.

It was seldom necessary to visit this room; but occasionally Henry
would find an excuse to loiter an hour there, for there was a certain
dreary romance about the place, and the almost choking smell of old
leather seemed to promise all sorts of buried secrets. It cannot be said
that the place ever adequately gratified the sense of mystery it
excited; but, after all, to excite the sense of mystery is perhaps
better than to gratify it, and, considering its poor material, this room
was quite a clever old mysteriarch.

One day, however, Henry came upon some writing that did greatly interest
him, though it was almost contemporary. It was old Mr. Septimus
Lingard's diary for the year preceding, which he had got hold of,--not
his private diary, but the entirely public official diary in which he
kept account of the division of his days among his various clients--for
the most part an unexciting record. But at the end of the book, on one
of the general memoranda pages, Henry noticed a square block of writing
which, to his surprise, proved to be a long quotation from a book which
the old man had been reading,--on the Immortality of the soul!

Had old Mr. Septimus Lingard a soul too, a soul that troubled him
maybe, a soul that had its moving memories, and its immortal
aspirations? Yes, somewhere hidden in that strange legal document of a
body, there was evidently a soul. Mr. Lingard had a soul!

But wait a moment, here was an addition of the old man's own! The
passage quoted had been of death and its possible significance, and it
was just a sigh, a fear, the old man had breathed after it: _How high
has the winding-sheet encompassed my own bosom_!

Solemn as were the words in themselves, they seemed doubly so in that
lonely room; and Henry was glad to lock the door and return to the
comparatively living world downstairs. But from that moment old Mr.
Lingard was transfigured in his eyes. Beneath all the sternness of his
exterior, the grimness of the business interests which seemed to absorb
him, Henry had discovered the blessed human spring. And he came too to
wear a certain pathos and sanctity in Henry's eyes, as he remembered how
old a man he was, and that secretly all this time, while he seemed so
busy with this public company and another, he was quietly preparing to
die. From this moment tasks done for him came to have a certain joy in
them. For his sake, as it were, he began to understand how you might
take a pride in doing well something that, in your opinion, was not
worth doing; and one day when the old man, well satisfied with some work
he had done, patted him kindly on the back and said, "We'll make a
business man of you after all!" the tears started to his eyes, and for a
moment he almost hoped that they would.



CHAPTER XII


DAMON AND PYTHIAS

By an odd coincidence, the night which had seen Henry and Esther
confront their father, had seen, in another household in which the young
people counted another member of their secret society of youth, a
similar but even less seemly clash between the generations. Ned Hazell
would be a poet too, and a painter as well, and perhaps a romantic
actor; but his father's tastes for his son's future lay in none of these
directions, and Ned was for the present in cotton. Now the elder Mr.
Hazell was a man of violently convivial habits, and the _bonhomie_, with
which he was accustomed to enliven bar-parlours up till eleven of an
evening, was apt to suffer a certain ungenial transformation as he
reached his own front door. There the wit would fail upon his lips, the
twinkle die out of his glance, and an unaccountable ferocity towards the
household that was waiting up for him take their place. When possible,
he would fix upon some trivial reason to give an air of plausibility to
this curious change in him; but if that were not forthcoming, he would,
it appeared, fly into a violent rage for just that very reason.

However, on this particular night, Heaven had provided him with an
heroic occasion. His son, he discovered, was for once out later than his
father. In what haunt of vice, or low place of drinking, he was at the
moment ensnared, no one better than his father could imagine. The
opportunity was one not to be missed. The outraged parent at last
realised that he had borne with him long enough, borne long enough with
his folderols of art and nonsense; and so determined was he on the
instant that he would have no more of it, that, with a quite remarkable
energy, he had thereupon repaired to his son's room, opened the window,
and begun vigorously to throw his pretty editions, his dainty
water-colours, his drawers full of letters, his cast of the Venus of
Milo, out on to the lawn, upon which at the moment a heavy rain was
also falling.

In the very whirlwind of his righteous vandalism his son had returned,
and, being a muscular, hot-blooded lad, had taken his father by the
throat, called him a drunken beast, and hurled him to the floor, where
he pinned him down with a knee on his chest, and might conceivably have
made an end of him, but for the interference of mother and sisters, who
succeeded at last in getting the dazed and somewhat sobered parent
to bed.

Having raked together from the sodden _débris_ beneath his window some
disfigured remains of his poor treasures, Ned Hazell had left the house
in the early hours of the morning, in good earnest for ever.

When he confided the excitements of the night to Henry at lunch next
day, and heard in return his friend's news, nothing could be more plain
than that they should set up lodgings together; and it was, therefore,
to the rooms of which Ned was already in possession that Henry's cab had
toppled with his various belongings, after those tearful farewells at
his father's door. Esther followed presently to help make the place
straight and dainty for the two boys, and having left them, late that
evening, with flowers in all the jars, and the curtains as they should
be, they were fairly launched on their new life together.

In Mike Henry had a stanch friend and an admirer against all comers, and
in Henry Mike had a friend and admirer no less loyal; but their
friendship was one for which an on-looker might have found it less easy
to give reasons than for that of Henry and Ned. Mike and Henry loved
each other, it would appear, less for any correspondence in dispositions
or tastes, as just because they were Mike and Henry. Right away down in
their natures there was evidently some central affinity which operated
even in spite of surface contradictions. There was much of this
intrinsic quality in the affection of Henry and Ned also, but it was
much more to be accounted for by evident mutual sympathies. It was
largely the impassioned fellowship of two craftsmen in love with the
same art. Both had their literary ambitions; but, irrespective of those,
they both loved poetry. Yes, how they loved it! Ned was perhaps
particularly a born appreciator; and it was worth seeing how the tears
would come into his fine eyes, as his voice shook with tenderness over a
fine phrase or a noble passage. They had discovered some of the most
thrilling things in English literature together, at that impressionable
age when such things mean most to us. Together they had read Keats for
the first wonderful time; together learned Shakespeare's Sonnets by
heart; together rolled out over tavern-tables the sumptuous cadences of
De Quincey. Wonderful indeed, and never to be forgotten, were those
evenings when, the day at last over, they would leave their offices
behind them, and, while the sunset was turning the buildings of Tyre
into enchanted towers, and a clemency of release breathed upon its
streets, steal to the quiet corner of their favourite tavern; to drink
port and share their last new author, or their own latest rhymes, and
then to emerge again, with high calm hearts and eloquent eyes, beneath
the splendid stars.

All the arts within their reach they thus shared together,--pictures,
music, theatres,--in a fine comradeship. Together they had bravoed the
great tragedians, and together hopelessly worshipped the beautiful
faces, enskied and sainted, of famous actresses. In fact, they were the
Damon and Pythias of Tyre.



CHAPTER XIII


DAMON AND PYTHIAS AT THE THEATRE


Once, long before the beginning of this story, Damon and Pythias were
sitting in a theatre together, with the wonderful overture just
beginning to steal through their senses.

Ah, violins, whither would you take their souls? You call to them like
the voice of one waiting by the sea, bathed in sunset. What are these
wonderful things you are whispering to their souls? You promise--ah,
what things you promise, strange voices of the string!

Oh, sirens, have pity! Their hearts are pure, their bodies sweet as
apples. Oh, be faithful, betray them not, beautiful voices of the
wondrous world!

The overture had succeeded. Their souls had followed it over the
footlights, and, floating in the limelight, shone there awaiting the
fulfilment of the promise.

The play was "Pygmalion and Galatea," and at the appearance of Galatea
they knew that the overture had not lied. There, in dazzling white
flesh, was all it had promised; and when she called "Pyg-ma-lion!" how
their hearts thumped!--for they knew it was really them she was calling.

"Pyg-ma-lion! Pyg-ma-lion!"

It was as though Cleopatra called them from the tomb.

Their hands met. They could hear each other's blood singing. And was not
the play itself an allegory of their coming lives? Did not Galatea
symbolise all the sleeping beauty of the world that was to awaken, warm
and fragrant, at the kiss of their youth? And somewhere, too, shrouded
in enchanted quiet, such a white white woman waited for their kiss. In a
vision they saw life like the treasure cave of the Arabian thief; and
they said to their beating hearts that they had the secret of the magic
word, that the "open Sesame" was youth.

No fall of the curtain could hide the vision from their young eyes. It
transfigured the faces of their fellow-playgoers, crowding from the pit;
it made another stage of the embers of the sunset, a distant bridge of
silver far down the street. Then they took it with them to the tavern;
and to write of the solemn libations of that night would be to laugh or
cry. Only youth can be so radiantly ridiculous.

They had found their own corner. Turning down the gas, the fire played
at day and night with their faces. Imagine them in one of the flashes,
solemnly raising their glasses, hands clasped across the table, earnest
gleaming eyes holding each other above it.

"Old man, some day, somewhere, a woman like that!"

But there was still a sequel. At home at last and in bed, how could
Damon sleep! It seemed as if he had got into a rosy sunset cloud in
mistake for his bed. The candle was out, and yet the room was full of
rolling light.

It was no use; he must get up. So, striking a light, he was presently
deep in the composition of a fiery sonnet. It was evidently that which
had caused all the phosphorescence. But a sonnet is a mere pill-box; it
holds nothing. A mere cockle-shell,--and, oh, the raging sea it could
not hold! Besides being confessedly an art-form, duly licenced to lie,
it was apt to be misunderstood. It could not say in plain words, "Meet
me at the pier to-morrow at three in the afternoon;" it could make no
assignation nearer than the Isles of the Blest, "after life's fitful
fever." Therefore, it seemed well to add a postscript to that effect
in prose.

But then, how was she to receive it? There was nothing to be hoped from
the post, and Damon's home in Sidon was three miles from the ferry.
Likewise, it was now nearing three in the morning. Just time to catch
the half-past three boat, run up to the theatre, a mile away, and meet
the return boat. So down, down through the creaking house, carefully, as
though he were a Jason picking his way among the coils of the sleeping
dragon; and soon he was shooting through the phantom streets, like
Mercury on a message through Hades.

At last the river came in sight, growing slate-colour in the earliest
dawn. He could see the boat nuzzling up against the pier, and snoring in
its sleep. He said to himself that this was Styx and the fare an obolus.
As he jumped on board, with hot face and hotter heart, Charon clicked
his signal to the engines; the boat slowly snuffled itself half awake,
and shoved out into the sleepy water.

As they crossed, the light grew, and the gas-lamps of Tyre beaconed with
fading gleam. Overhead began a restlessness in the clouds, as of a giant
drowsily shuffling off some of his bedclothes; but as yet he slept, and
only the silver bosom of his spouse, the moon, was uncovered.

When they landed, the streets of Tyre were already light, but empty, as
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.



CHAPTER XIV


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
the least.

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
your circumstances.

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 château 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 "château" 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
of Panama.

(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.



CHAPTER XV


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
Clegg--Samuel Clegg.

"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
you waiting."

"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
cup, uncle?"

"I daresay your uncle would rather have a glass of beer," said Mrs.
Mesurier.

"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
head, said,--

"What would you take me for?"

"I should say you were seventy, if you're a day," promptly answered the
old man.

"Oh, dear, no!" replied Mrs. Turtle, with some pique; "I was only sixty
last January."

"Well, you carry your age badly," retorted the old man, not to be
beaten.

"What does he say, my dear?" said the poor old lady turning to Mrs.
Mesurier.

"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
short afternoon.

"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.
Mesurier, reassuringly.

"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
Aunt Esther."

Then the door would bang, and the whole house breathe a gigantic sigh of
humorous relief.

(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 XVI


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
"macramé" 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
Christ Jesus.

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!"



CHAPTER XVII


DOT'S DECISION

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
understand."

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
would say.

"Yes."

"You do not for a moment think that any materialistic science has
remotely approached an adequate explanation of its meaning?"

"Certainly not."

"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?"

"Yes."

"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
exceptions."

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
the water.

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.



CHAPTER XVIII

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
to-morrow."

"Who told you?"

"The Weenty."

"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,
out-in-the-wind-and-the-snow-and-the-rain, Mike!"

"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."

"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
Sothern."

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
forthcoming performance.

"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
Tyrian Wyndham."

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 _rôle_ 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
whole body."

"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,"
laughed Esther.

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
the kissing?

Thus was Mike's first part rehearsed and rewarded.



CHAPTER XIX

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
hundred more.

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?



CHAPTER XX

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
laughed uncannily.

"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
accompanied it.

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
the sea.

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
favourite.

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
to horses.

"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
George Eliot."

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
country air."

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 face!"



CHAPTER XXI

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
something else.

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 naïve, 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
Angelica."

"I wonder if I might call you Angelica?" presently ventured Henry, in a
low voice.

"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
Angelica's hand,--

"I think, after all, I'd rather call you Angel," he said.



CHAPTER XXII

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
the heart.

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,
you know."

"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 why?"

"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
the yard.

       *       *       *       *       *

Mike's _début_ 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
boy best.

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
direction.

"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.



CHAPTER XXIII

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.



CHAPTER XXIV

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?"

"Now."

"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
so happy?"

"Why should anything make us happy?"

"Or sad?"

"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
prophecy first."

"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!"

"Henry!"

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
a dream.

       *       *       *       *       *

"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,
       Little Angelica,
     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."



CHAPTER XXV

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
imagination.

"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
impatience.

"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
to me in a year's time and, maybe, I'll tell you all about him.'"

"You dear!" said Henry, by way of interruption.

"Then," continued Angel, "she took me aside, and looked at my hand; and
she told me first what had happened to me, and then what was to come.
What she told me of the past"--as if dear Angel, whose life was as yet
all future, could as yet have had any past to speak of!--"was so true,
that I couldn't help half believing in what she said of the future. Now
you're laughing again!"

"No, indeed, I'm not," said Henry, perfectly solemn.

"She told me that just before I was twenty, I would meet a young man
with dark hair and blue eyes, very unexpectedly,--I shall be twenty in
six weeks,--and that he would be my fate. But the strangest is yet to
come. 'Would you like to see his face?' she said. She made me a little
frightened; but, of course, I said, 'Yes,' and then she brought out of
her pocket a sort of glass egg, and told me to look in it, and tell her
what I saw. So I looked, but for a long time I could see nothing; but
suddenly there seemed to be something moving in the centre of the glass,
like clouds breaking when the sun is coming out; and presently I could
see a lamp burning on a table; and then round the lamp shelves of books
began to grow out of the mist; then I saw a picture hanging in a recess,
a bowed head with a strange sort of head-dress on it, a dark thin face,
very sad-looking--"

"Why, that must have been my Dante!" said Henry, astonished in spite of
himself.

The exclamation was a "score" for Angel; and she continued, with greater
confidence, "And then I seemed to see some one sitting there; but,
though I tried and tried, I couldn't catch sight of his face. I told the
old woman what I saw. 'Wait a minute,' she said, 'then try again.' So I
waited, and presently tried again. This time I hadn't so long to wait
before I saw a room again; but it was quite different, a big desk ran
along in front of a window, and there were two tall office-stools. 'Why,
it's father's office,' I said. 'Go on looking,' said the old woman, 'and
tell me what you see.' In a moment or two, I saw some one sitting on
one of the stools, first dimly and then clearer and clearer. 'Why,' I
almost cried out, for I felt more and more frightened, 'I see a young
man sitting at a desk, with a pen behind his ear.' 'Can you see him
clearly?' 'Yes,' I said; 'he's got dark curly hair and blue eyes.'
'You're sure you won't forget his face? You'd know him if you saw him
again?' 'Indeed, I would,' I said. 'All right,' said the old woman, 'you
can give me back the crystal. You keep a look out for that young
man,--you will see him some day, mark my words, and that young man will
be your fate.'

"Now, surely, you won't deny that was strange, will you?" asked Angel,
in conclusion. "And I shall never forget the start it gave me that day
when I came in, quite unsuspecting, with your lunch-tray, and saw you
talking to father, with your pen behind your ear, and your blue eyes and
dark hair. Now, isn't it strange? How can one help being superstitious
after a thing like that?"

"Are you quite sure it was I?" Henry asked, quizzically. "It appears to
me that any presentable young man with a pen behind his ear would have
answered nearly enough to the vision. You would hardly have been quite
sure of the colour of the eyes, would you, now, if the old woman hadn't
mentioned it first, as she looked at your hand?"

"You are horrid!" said Angel; "I wish I hadn't told you now. But it
wasn't merely the colour of the eyes. It was the look in them."

"Look again, and see if you haven't made a mistake. Look very
carefully," said Henry.

"I won't," said Angel; "I think you're cruel."

"Angel, if you'll only look, and say you are quite sure, I'll believe
every word the old woman said."

At last Angel was persuaded to look, and to look again, and the old
woman's credit rose at each look.

"Yes, Henry, whatever happens, I know it is true. My life is in your
hands."

Those are solemn words for one human being to hear uttered by another;
and a shiver of new responsibility involuntarily ran through
Henry's veins.

"May the hands be always strong and clean enough to hold so precious a
gift," he answered, gravely.

"Are you sad, dear?" asked Angel, presently, with a sort of divination.

"Not sad, dear, but serious," he answered.

"Have I turned to a responsibility so soon?"

"You strange, wise child, I believe you are a witch."

"Oh, I was right then."

"Right in one way, but perhaps wrong in another. Don't you know that
some responsibilities are the most dearly coveted of mortal honours? But
then we shouldn't be worthy of them, if they didn't make us feel a
little serious. Can't you imagine that to hear another say that her life
is in one's hands makes one feel just a little solemn?"

"But isn't your life in mine, Henry?" asked Angel, simply.

"Of course it is, dear," answered Henry.

And then the moon began to rise through the trees, pouring enchantment
over the sleeping woods, and the meadows half-submerged in lakes
of mist.

Angel drew close to Henry, and watched it with big eyes.

"What a wonderful world it is! How beautiful and how sad!" she said,
half to herself.

"Yes; there is nothing in the world so sad as beauty," answered Henry.

"If only to-night could last forever! If only we could die now, sitting
just like this, with the moon rising yonder."

"But we shall have many nights like this together," said Henry.

"No; we shall never have this night again. We may have other wonderful
nights, but they will be different. This will never come again."

Henry instinctively realised that here was a mystical side to Angel's
nature which, however it might charm him, was not to be indiscriminately
encouraged, and he tried to rally her out of her sadness, but her
feeling was too much his own for him to persist; and as the moonlight
moved in its ascension from one beautiful change to another, now woven
by branches and leaves into weird tapestries of light and darkness, now
hanging like some golden fruit from the boughs, and now uplifted like a
lamp in some window of space, they sat together, alike held by the
ancient spell; and, presently, Henry so far lost himself in it as to
quote some lines entirely in Angel's mood:

     "She dwells with Beauty--Beauty that must die;
       And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips
     Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh,
       Turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips:
     Ay, in the very temple of Delight
       Veiled Melancholy has her sov'ran shrine,
     Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue
       Can burst Joy's grape against his palate fine;
     His soul shall taste the sadness of her might,
       And be among her cloudy trophies hung."

"What wonderful lines!" said Angel; "who wrote them? Are they your own?"

"Ah, Angel, what would I give if they were! No, they are by John Keats.
You must let me give you his poems."

Presently, the moonlight began to lose its lustre. It grew pale, and, as
it were, anxious; dark billows of clouds threatened to swallow up its
silver coracle, and presently the world grew suddenly black with its
submergence, the woods and meadows disappeared, and Henry and Angel
began playfully to strike matches to see each other's faces. Thus they
suddenly flared up to each other out of the darkness, like Rembrandts
seen by lightning, and then they were lost again, and were only voices
fumbling for each other in the dark.

Yet, even so, lips and arms found each other without much difficulty,
and when they began to think of the last train, and fear they would miss
it, but waited for just one last good-night kiss under their sacred
tree, the world suddenly lit up again, for the moon had triumphed over
its enemies, and come out just in time to give them its blessing.



CHAPTER XXVI

CONCERNING THE BEST KIND OF WIFE FOR A POET


We are apt sometimes to complain that so much of importance in our lives
is at the dispensation of accident, yet how often too are we compelled
to confess that some of the happiest and most fruitful circumstances of
our lives are due to the far-seeing diplomacies of chance.

Among no set of circumstances is this more true than in the fateful
relations of men and women. While, in a blind sort of way, we may be
said to choose for ourselves the man or woman with whom we are to share
the joys and sorrows of our years, yet the choice is only superficially
ours. Frequently our brains, our antecedent plans, have no part in the
decision. The woman we choose appears at the wrong time, in the wrong
place, in an undesirable environment, with hair and eyes and general
complexion different in colour from what we had predestined for
ourselves, short when we had made up our minds for tall, and tall when
we had hoped for short. Yet, in in spite of all our preconceptions, we
choose her. This is not properly a choice in which the intelligence
confessedly submits to violence. It is the compulsion of mysterious
instincts that know better than our brains or our tastes.

Now had she been asked beforehand, Esther might not have sketched out a
Mike as the ideal of her maiden dreams, nor indeed might Henry have
described an Angelica, any more than perhaps Mike an Esther, or Angelica
a Henry. Yet chance has only to place Esther and Mike, and Angelica and
Henry in the same room together for less than a minute of time, and they
fly into the arms of each other's souls with an instant recognition.
This is a mystery which it will take more than biology to explain.

A young man's dreams of the woman he will some day marry are apt to be
meretricious, or at all events conventional. A young poet, especially,
is likely to err in the direction of paragons of beauty, or fame, or
romance. Perhaps he dreams of a great singer, or an illustrious beauty,
ignorant of the natural law which makes great singers and illustrious
beauties, in common with all artists, incapable of loving really any one
but themselves. Or perhaps it will be some woman of great and exquisite
culture. But chance knows that women of great and exquisite culture are
usually beings lacking in those plastic elemental qualities which a
poet, above all men, needs in the woman he shall love. Their very
culture, while it may seem to broaden, really narrows them, limits them
to a caste of mind, and, for an infinite suggestiveness, substitutes a
few finite accomplishments.

Critics without understanding have wondered now and again at attachments
such as that of Heine for his Mathilde. Yet in some ways Mathilde was
the type of wife best suited for a poet. She was just a wondering child,
a bit of unspoiled chaos. She meant as little intellectually, and as
much spiritually, as a wave of the sea, a bird of the air, a star in
the sky.

Another great poet always kept in his room a growing plant in a big tub
of earth, and another tub full of fresh water. With the fire going, he
used to say that he had the four elements within his four walls; and to
people unaccustomed to talk with the elements these no doubt seemed dull
and even remarkable companions,--like Heine's Mathilde.

Now Angel, though far more than a goose intellectually, having, indeed,
a very keen and subtle mind, was only secondarily intellectual, being
primarily something far more important. You no more asked of her to be
intellectual, than you expect a spirit to be mathematical. She was just
a dream-child, thrilling with wonder and love before the strange world
in which she had been mysteriously placed,--a dream-child and an
excellent housewife in one, as full of common-sense on the one hand, as
she was filled with fairy "nonsense" on the other. She was just, in
fact, the wife for a poet.

The interest taken in each other by Angel and the Man in Possession had
not been unobserved by Angel's family. Her sisters had teased her
considerably on the subject.

"Why have you changed the way of wearing your hair, Angel?" they would
say, "Does Mr. Mesurier like it that way?" or, "My word! we are getting
smart and particular, now a certain gentleman has come into the
office!" or again, "How small your writing is nowadays, Angel! What have
you changed it for? I like your big old writing best; but I suppose--"
and then they would retreat to a safe distance to finish--"Mr. Mesurier
isn't of the same opinion!"

Sometimes Esther would start in pursuit, and playful scrimmages would
ensue, the hilarious uproar of which would turn poor Mrs.
Flower's brain.

Mrs. Flower had certainly not been unobservant, and one may perhaps
suspect that those cakes and other delicacies which she had so often
sent up the yard, had not been sent entirely without those ulterior
designs which every thoughtful mother may becomingly cherish for her
daughters.

After Angel and Henry's excursion to the country together, Henry felt
that some official announcement of the state of his heart was demanded
of him, and lost no time in finding Mr. Flower alone for that tremulous
purpose. However, it was soon over. There were no questions of _dots_
and marriage settlements to discuss. Genealogically, both sides were
about equally distinguished, and, socially, belonged to that large
undefined class called "respectable"--though it must not be supposed
that, when so minded, families of that "respectable" zone do not
occasionally make nice distinctions. "Do you know what you are asking
for?" once said a retired tradesman's wife in Sidon to her daughter's
suitor. "Do you know that both Katie's grandfathers were mayors?"

But there were no traditional mayoralties to keep these two young hearts
asunder. It was understood on both sides that they had nothing to bring
but each other, and they asked nothing better. Angel was going to marry
a poet, and Henry a fairy; and not only they themselves, but the whole
family, was more than satisfied. Mr. Flower was undisguisedly pleased,
and the tears stood in his eyes as he gripped Henry's hand.

"I've liked you," he said, "since the first time we shook hands. There
was something honest about your grip I liked, and I go a good deal by
these things. It is not many men I would trust with my little Angel; for
when you take her, you take her father's great treasure. Guard her well,
dear lad, guard her well."



CHAPTER XXVII

THE BOOK OF ANGELICA


The first duty of a poet's wife is to inspire him. When she ceases to do
that--but that is a consideration which need not occupy us in this
unsophisticated story. We have already seen that Angelica in this
respect early began her wifely duties towards Henry; and that little
song he read in chapter twenty-five was but one of many he had written
to her in his capacity of man in possession.

The feminine inspirations of his early youth had been numerous, but
mediocre in quality. Even in love, as in all else, his opportunities had
been second and even third-rate. He had broken his boy's heart, time
after time, for some commonplace, little provincial miss who knew not
"the god's wonder or his woe." But, at last, in circumstances so
unforeseen, the maiden of the Lord had been revealed to him, and with
the revelation a great impulse of metrical expression had come upon the
young poet. All day long rhythms and fancies were effervescing within
him, till at length he had quite a publishable mass of verse for which,
it is to be feared, Angelica must be counted responsible.

Of these he was busily making a surreptitious fair copy one morning,
when old Mr. Septimus Lingard suddenly visited his seclusion, with the
announcement that his task there was at an end, so that he might now
return to his regular office. Though, of course, Henry had realised that
the present happy arrangement could not go on for ever, the news brought
temporary desolation to the two young lovers. For four months their days
had been spent within a few yards of each other; and though Angel's
excursions up the yard to Henry's desk could not be many, or long, each
day, yet each was conscious that the other was near at hand. When Angel
sang at her housework, it was from the secure sense that Henry was close
by. Their separation was little more than that of a husband and wife
working in different rooms of the same house. But now their meetings
would have to be arranged out somewhere in a cold world, little
considerate of the convenience of lovers, and, for whole days of warm
proximity, they would have to exchange occasional snatched
precarious hours.

Well, the only thing to do was for Henry to work away at their dream of
a home together--home together, however little, just four walls to love
each other in, away from the gaze of prying eyes, none daring to make
them afraid. How that home was to be compassed was far from clear in
either of their minds; but vaguely it was felt that it would be brought
about by the powerful enchantments of literature. Henry had recently had
one of Angel's poems accepted by a rather good magazine, and the trance
of joy in which for fully two hours he had sat gazing at that, his
first, proof-sheet, was hardly less rapturous than that into which he
had fallen after seeing Angel for the first time,--so dear are the
emblems of his craft to the artist, at the beginning, and still at the
end, of his career.

So Henry had to finish the fair copy of his poems at home in his
lodgings of an evening, for so ambitious a private enterprise could not
be carried on in his own office without perilous interruptions. He was
making the copy with especial care, in the form of a real book; and when
it was made, he daintily bound it in vellum with his own hands. Then he
wrapped it lovingly in tissue paper, and kept it by him two or three
days, in readiness for Angel's birthday, on the morning of which day he
hid it in a box of flowers and sent it to Angel. The sympathetic reader
can imagine her delight, as she discovered among the flowers a dainty
little white volume, bearing the title-page, "The Book of Angelica, by
Henry Mesurier. Tyre, 1886. Edition limited to one copy."

Now this little book presently began to enjoy a certain very carefully
limited circulation among Angel's friends. Of course they were not
allowed to take it away. They were only allowed to look at it now and
again for a few minutes, Angel anxiously standing by to see that they
did not soil her treasure. Sometimes Mr. Flower would ask Angel to show
it to one of the family friends; and thus one evening it came beneath
the eyes of a little Scotch printer who had a great love for poetry and
some taste in it.

"The man's a genius," he said, with all that authority with which a
strong Scotch accent mysteriously endows the humblest Scot.

"The man's a genius," he repeated; "his poems must be printed."

Henry had already found that this was easier said than done, for he had
already tried several London publishers who professed their willingness
to publish--at his expense. This little Scotch printer, however, was to
prove more venturesome. He forthwith communicated a proposal to Henry
through the Flowers. If Henry would provide him with a list of a certain
number of friends he could rely on for subscriptions, he would take the
risk of printing an edition, and give Henry half the profits,--a
proposal as generous as it was rash. Angel communicated the offer in an
excited little letter, with the result that Mr. Leith and Henry met one
morning in the bar-parlour of "The Green Man Still," and parted an hour
or so after in a high state of friendship, and deeply pledged together
to a mutual adventure of three hundred copies of a book to be called
"The Book of Angelica," and to be printed in so dainty a fashion that
the mere outside should attract buyers.

Mr. Leith worked under difficulties, for his business, small as it was,
was much saddled with pecuniary obligations which it but inadequately
supported. His printing of Henry's poems was really a work of sheer
idealism which none but a Scotsman, or perhaps an Irishman, would have
undertaken; and it was a work that might at any moment be interrupted by
bailiffs, empowered to carry away the presses and the very types over
which Henry loved to hang in his spare hours, trying to read in the
lines of mysteriously carved metal, his "Madrigal to Angelica singing,"
or his "Sonnet on first beholding Angelica."

Then Mr. Leith was of a convivial disposition; and Henry and he must
have spent more hours drinking to the success of the little book than
would have sufficed to print it twice over. However, the day did at last
come when it was a living, breathing reality, and when Angel and Henry
sat with tears of joy over the little new-born "Book of Angelica." Was
it not, they told each other, the little spirit-child of their love? How
wonderful it all was! How wonderful their future was going to be!

"What does it feel like?" said Henry, playfully recalling their old
talk, "to have a book written all about one's self?"

"It is to feel the happiest and proudest girl in the world."

That all the other young people were hardly less happy and excited
about the little book goes without saying. Mike spent quite a large sum
in copies, and for a while employed his luncheon-hour in asking at
book-shops with a nonchalant air, as though he had barely heard of the
author, if they sold a little book called "The Book of Angelica." Mrs.
Mesurier seemed to see her faith in her boy beginning to be justified;
and when James Mesurier opened his local paper one morning, and found a
long and appreciative article on a certain "fellow-townsman," he cut it
out to paste in his diary. Perhaps the lad would prove right, after all.



CHAPTER XXVIII

WHAT COMES OF PUBLISHING A BOOK


It is only just to Tyre to acknowledge that it behaved quite
sympathetically towards the young poet thus discovered in its midst. Its
newspapers reviewed him with marked kindness,--a kindness which in a few
years' time, when he had long since grown out of his baby volume, he was
obliged to set to the credit of the general goodness of human nature,
rather than to the poetic quality of his own verses. In many unexpected
quarters also he met with recognition which, if not always intelligent,
was at least gratifying. For praise, or at least some form of notice, is
breath in the nostrils of the young poet. He hungers to feel that his
personality counts for something, though it be merely to anger his
fellow-men. It was perhaps no very culpable vanity on his part to be
pleased that people began to point him out in the streets, and whisper
that that was the young poet; and that distant acquaintances seemed
more ready to smile at him than before. Now and again one of these would
stop him to say how pleased he had been to see the kind article about
him in _The Tyrian Daily Mail_, and that he intended to buy "the work"
as soon as possible. Henry smiled to himself, to hear his frail little
flower of a volume spoken of as a "work," as though it had been the
Encyclopaedia Britannica; and he rather wondered what that would-be
purchaser would make of it, as he turned over pages of which so large a
proportion was reserved for a spotless frame of margin. No doubt he
would decide that the margin had been left for the purpose of making
notes,--making notes on those abstruse rose-petals of boyish song!

Even in far-away London,--which was as yet merely a sounding name to
these young people,--hard-worked reviewers, contemptuously disposing of
batches of new poetry in a few lines, found a kind word or two to say
for the little provincial volume; and, through one agency or another,
Mr. Leith, within six weeks of the publication, was able to announce
that the edition was exhausted and that there was something like forty
pounds profit to share between them.

That poetry could be exchanged for real money, Henry had heard, but had
never hoped to work the miracle in his own case. It was like selling
moonlight, or Angelica's smiles. Was it not, indeed, Angelica's smiles
turned from one kind of gold into another? One more change they should
undergo, and then return to her from whom they had come. From minted
gold of the realm they should change into the gold of a ring, and thus
Angel should wear upon her finger the ornament of her own smiles.
Setting aside a small proportion of his gains to buy Esther and Mike,
Dot and Mat and his mother, a little memorial present each, he then
spent the rest on Angel's ring. Angel pretended to scold him for his
extravagance; but, as no woman can resist a ring, her remonstrance was
not convincing, and then, as Henry said, was it not their betrothal
ring, and, therefore, one of the legitimate expenses of love?

Three other acknowledgments his poems brought him. The first was a
delightful letter from Myrtilla Williamson. How much men of talent owe
to the letters of women has never been sufficiently acknowledged, as
the debt can never be adequately repaid. Of the many branches of woman's
unselfishness, this is perhaps the most important to the world. Always
behind the flaming renown of some great soldier, statesman, or poet,
there is a woman's hand, or the hands, maybe, of many women, pouring,
unseen, the nutritive oil of praise.

This letter Henry, in the gladness of his heart, ingenuously showed to
Angel, with the result that it provoked their first quarrel. With the
charms of a child, Angel, it now appeared, united also the faults. She
had it in her to be bitterly and unreasonably jealous. She read the
letter coldly.

"You seem very proud of her praise," she said; "is it so very valuable?"

"I value it a good deal, at all events," answered Henry.

"Oh, I see!" retorted Angel; "I suppose my praise is nothing to hers."

"Angel dear, what _do_ you mean?"

"Oh, nothing, of course; but I'm sure you must regret caring for an
ignorant girl like me, when there are such clever, talented women in the
world as your Mrs. Williamson. I hate your learned women!"

"Angel, I'm surprised you can talk like that. Because we love each
other, are we to have no other friends?"

"Have as many as you like, dear. Don't think I mind. But I don't want to
see their letters."

"Very well, Angel," answered Henry, quietly. He was making one of those
discoveries of temperament which have to be made, and have to be
accepted, in all close relationships. This was evidently one of Angel's
faults. He must try to help her with it, as he must try and let her help
him with his.

The second was a letter, forwarded care of his printer, by one of the
London reviews which had noticed his verses. It was from a rising young
London publisher who, it appeared from an envelope enclosed, had already
tried to reach him direct at Tyre. "Henry Mesurier, Esqre, Author of
'The Book of Angelica,' Tyre," the address had run, but the post-office
of Tyre had returned it to the sender, with the words "Not known"
officially stamped upon it.

He was as yet "not known," even in Tyre! "In another five years he shall
try again," said Henry, savagely, to himself, "and we shall see whether
it will be 'not known' then!"

The letter expressed the writer's pleasure in the extracts he had seen
from Mr. Mesurier's book, and hoped that when his next book was ready,
he would give the writer an opportunity of publishing it. Fortune was
beginning already to smile.

But the third acknowledgment was something more like a frown, and was,
at all events, by far the most momentous outcome of Henry's first
publication. One morning, soon after Mr. Leith had paid over to him his
twenty pounds profit, he found himself unexpectedly requested to step
into "the private office." There, at Mr. Lingard's table, he found the
three partners seated in solemn conclave, as for a court-martial. Mr.
Lingard, as senior partner, was the spokesman.

"Mr. Mesurier," he began, "the firm has been having a very serious
consultation in regard to you, and has been obliged, very reluctantly, I
would have you believe, to come to a painful conclusion. We gladly
acknowledge that during the last few months your work has given us more
satisfaction than at one time we expected it to give. But,
unfortunately, that is not all. Your attention to your duties, we admit,
has been very satisfactory. It is not a sin of omission, but one of
commission, of which we have to complain. What we have to complain of as
business men is a matter which perhaps you will say does not concern us,
though on that point we must respectfully differ from you. Mr. Mesurier,
you have recently published a book."

Henry drew himself up haughtily. Surely that was nothing to be ashamed
of.

"It is quite a pretty little book," continued Mr. Lingard, with one of
his grim smiles. "It contains some quite pretty verses. Oh, yes, I have
seen it," and Henry noticed a copy of the offending little volume lying,
like a rose, among some legal papers at Mr. Lingard's left hand; "but
its excellence as poetry is not to the point here. Our difficulty is
that you are now branded so unmistakably as a poet, that it is no use
our any longer pretending to our clients that you are a clerk. So long
as you were only suspected of being a poet," and the old man smiled
again, "it did not so much matter; but now that all Tyre knows you, by
your own act and deed, as a poet, the case is different. We can no
longer, without risk of losing confidence with our clients, send an
acknowledged poet to inspect their books--though, personally, we may
have every faith in your capacity. No doubt they will be glad enough to
buy your books in the future; but they will be nervous of trusting you
with theirs at the moment." And the old man laughed heartily at his
own humour.

"You mean, then, sir, that you will have no further need for my
services?" said Henry, looking somewhat pale; for it is one thing to
hate the means of one's livelihood, and another to exchange it for none.

"I'm afraid, my dear lad, that that is what it comes to. We are, I hope
you will believe, exceedingly sorry to come to such a conclusion, both
for our own sakes and yours, as well as that of your father,--who is an
old and valued friend of ours; but we are able to see no other way out
of the difficulty. Of course, you will not leave us this minute; but
take what time you need to look round and arrange your future plans; and
so far as we are concerned, we shall part from you as good friends and
sincere well-wishers."

The old man held out his hand, and Henry took it, with a grateful sense
of the friendly manner in which Mr. Lingard had performed a painful
task, and a certain recognition that, after all, a poet must be
something of a nuisance to business-men.

When he returned to his desk, he sat for a long time thoughtful, divided
in mind between exultation that he was soon to be free to take the
adventurous highway of literature, and anxiety as to where in a month's
time his preliminary meals were to come from.

Yet, after all, the main thing was to be free of this servitude. Out of
freedom all things might be hoped.

Still, as Henry looked round at the familiar faces of his fellow-clerks,
and realised that in a month's time his comradeship with them would be
at an end, he was surprised to feel a certain pang of separation. Mere
custom has so great a part in our affections, that though a routine may
have been dull and distasteful, if it has any extenuating circumstances
at all, we change it with a certain irrational regret. After all, his
office-life was associated with much contraband merriment; and,
unconsciously, his associates had taken a valuable part in his training,
humanised him in certain directions, as he had humanised them in others.
They had saved him from dilettanteism, and whatever he wrote in future
would owe something warm and kindly to the years he had spent with them.

His very desk took on a pathetic expression, as of a place that was so
soon to know him no more for ever; and Mr. Smith, wrangling over
wet-traps and cesspools at the counter, just as on the first day he had
heard him, almost moved him to tears. Perhaps in ten years' time, were
he to come back, he would find him still at his post, fervidly engaged
in the same altercations, with only a little additional greyness at the
temples to mark the lapse of time.

And Jenkins would still be sitting in the little screened-off cupboard,
with "cashier" painted on the glass window. As three o'clock approached,
he would still be heard loudly counting his cash and shovelling the gold
into wash-leather bags, and the silver into little paper-bags marked £5
apiece, in a wild rush to reach the bank before it closed.

And would the same good fellows, a little more serious, because long
since married, be cracking jokes and loafing near the fire-guard, in
some rare safe hour, of the afternoon when all the partners were out, to
make a spring for the desks, as the carefully learnt tread of one or
another of those partners followed the opening of the front door.

The very work that he hated seemed to wear an unwonted look of
tenderness. Who would keep the books he had kept--with something of his
father's neatness; who would look after the accounts of "the Rev. Thomas
Salthouse," or take charge of "Ex'ors James Shuttleworth, Esqre"?

Of course, it was absurd--absurd, perhaps, just because it was human.
For was he not going to be free, free to fulfil his dreams, free to
follow those voices that had so often called him from beyond the sunset?
Soon he would be able to cry out to them, with literal truth, "I am
yours, yours--all yours!" And in those ten years which were to pass so
invariably for Mr. Smith, and for Jenkins and the rest, what various and
dazzling changes might be, must be, in store for him. Long before the
end of them he must have written masterpieces and become famous, and
Angel and he be long settled together in their paradise of home.

Henry was pleased to find that his chums were to miss him no less than
he was to miss them. As an unofficial master of their pale revels, his
place would not be easy to fill; and he was much touched, when, a day or
two before the end of the month, which was the time mutually agreed upon
for Henry to look round, they intimated their desire to give a little
dinner in his honour at "The Jovial Clerks" tavern.

Henry was nothing loth, and the evening came and went with no little
emotion and no little wine, on either side. He had bidden good-bye to
his employers in the afternoon, and Mr. Lingard had shaken his hand, and
admonished him as to his future with something of paternal affection.

Toward the close of the dinner, Bob Cherry, who acted as chairman, rose,
with an unaccustomed blush upon his cheek, to propose the toast of the
evening. They had had the honour and pleasure, he said, to be associated
for several years past with a gentleman to whom that evening they were
to say good-bye. No better fellow had ever graced the offices of Lingard
and Fields, and his would be a real loss to the gaiety of their little
world. They understood that he was a poet; and indeed had he not already
published a charming volume with which they were all acquainted!--still
this made no difference to them. Certain high powers might object, but
they liked him none the less; and whether he was a poet or not, he was
certainly a jolly good fellow, and wherever his new career might take
him, the good wishes of his old chums would certainly follow him. The
chairman concluded his speech by requesting his acceptance of a copy of
the "Works of Lord Macaulay," as a small remembrance of the days they
had spent together.

The toast having been seconded and drunk with resounding cordiality,
Henry responded in a speech of mingled playfulness and emotion, assuring
them, on his part, that though they might not be poets, he thought no
worse of them for that, but should always remember them as the best
fellows he had ever known. The talk then became general, and tender with
reminiscence. After all, what a lot of pleasant things those hard years
had given them to remember! So they kept the evening going, and it was
not till an early hour of the following day that this important volume
of Henry's life was finally closed.



CHAPTER XXIX

MIKE'S TURN TO MOVE


While Henry had been busily engaged in winning Angelica and writing and
printing his little book, Mike's fortunes had not been idle. Meanwhile,
the Sothern Dramatic Club had given two more performances, in which his
parts had been considerable, and been played by him with such success as
to make the former pieman's apprentice one of the chief members of the
club. Mike and his friends therefore became more and more eager for him
to try his talents on the great stage. But this was an experiment not so
easy to make.

However unknown a writer may be, he can still at least write his book in
his obscurity, and, when done, bring it to market, with a reasonable
hope of its finding a publisher; moreover, though he may remain for
years unappreciated, his writings still go on fighting for him till his
due recognition is won. He has not to find his publisher before he
begins to write. Yet it is actually such a disability under which the
unproved and often the proved actor must labour. Unless some one engages
him to act, and provides an audience for him, he has no opportunity of
showing his powers. And such opportunities are difficult to find, unless
you are a dissolute young lord, or belong to one of the traditional
theatrical families,--whose members are brought up to the stage, as the
sons of a lawyer are brought up to law. For the avenues to the stage are
blocked by perhaps more frivolous incompetents than any other
profession. Any idle girl with good looks, and any idle gentleman with
something of a good carriage, deem themselves qualified for one of the
most arduous of the arts.

Mike's plan had been to try every considerable actor that came to Tyre,
who might possibly have a vacant place in his company; but he had tried
many in vain. While one or two were unable to see him at all, most of
them treated him with a kindness remarkable in men daily besieged by the
innumerable hopeless. They gave him good advice; they wished him well;
but already they had long lists of experienced applicants waiting their
turn for the coveted vacancy. At last, however, there came to Tyre a
famous romantic actor who was said to be more sympathetic towards the
youthful aspirant than the other heads of his profession, and as, too,
he was rumoured to be vulnerable on the side of literature, Mike and
Henry agreed to make a joint attack upon him. Mike should write a brief
note asking for an interview, and Henry should follow it up with another
letter to the same effect, and at the same time send him a copy of "The
Book of Angelica."

The plan was carried out. Both letters and the book were sent, and the
young men awaited with impatience the result. Henry had adopted a very
lofty tone. "In granting my friend an interview," he had said, "you may
be giving his first chance to an actor of genius. Of course you may not;
but at least you will have had the satisfaction of giving to possible
genius that benefit of the doubt which we have a right to expect from
the creator of ----," and he named one of the actor's most famous rôles.

A cordial answer came by return, enclosing two stalls for the following
evening, when, said the great actor, he would be glad to see Mr. Laflin
during or after the performance. The two young men were in their places
as the curtain rose, and it goes without saying that their enthusiasm
was unequalled in the audience. Between the third and fourth acts there
was a considerable interval, and early in the performance it had been
notified to Mike that the great actor would see him then. So when the
time came, with a whispered "good luck" from Henry, he left his place
and was led through a little mysterious iron door at the back of the
boxes, on to the stage and into the great man's dressing-room. Opening
suddenly out of the darkness at one side of the stage, it was more like
a brilliantly lighted cave hung with mirrors than a room. Mirrors and
lights and laurel wreaths with cards attached, and many photographs with
huge signatures scrawled across them, and a magnificent being reading a
book, while his dresser laced up some high boots he was to wear in the
following act,--made Mike's first impression. Then the magnificent being
looked up with a charming smile.

"Good-evening, Mr. Laflin. I am delighted to see you. I hope you will
excuse my rising."

He said "Mr. Laflin" with a captivating familiarity of intonation, as
though Mike was something between an old friend and a distinguished
stranger.

"So you are thinking of joining our profession. I hope you liked the
performance. I saw you in front, or at least I thought it was you. And
your friend? I hope he will come and see me some other time. I have been
delighted with his poems."

There is something dazzling and disconcerting to an average layman about
an actor's dressing-room, even though the dressing-room be that of an
intimate friend. He feels like a being on the confines of two worlds and
belonging to neither, awkwardly suspended 'twixt fact and fancy. The
actor for a while has laid aside his part and forgotten his wig and his
make-up. As he talks to you, he is thinking of himself merely as a
private individual; whereas his visitor cannot forget that in appearance
he is a king, or an eighteenth-century dandy, or--though you know him
well enough as a clean-shaven young man of thirty--a bowed and wrinkled
greybeard. The visitor's voice rings thin and hestitating. It cannot
strike the right pitch, and generally he does himself no sort
of justice.

Perhaps, however, it was because Mike had been born for this world in
which now for the first time he found himself, that he suffered from
none of this embarrassment; perhaps, too, it was some half-conscious
instinct of his own gifts that made him quite self-contained in the
presence of acknowledged distinction, so self-contained that you might
have thought he had no reverence. As he had passed across the stage, he
had eyed that mysterious behind-the-scenes rather with the eye of a
future stage-manager, than of a youth all whose dreams converged at this
point, and at this moment.

One touch of the poetry of contrast caught his eye, of which custom
would probably have made him unobservant. In an alcove of the stage, a
"scene-dock," as Mike knew already to call it, a beautiful spirit in
gauze and tights was silently rehearsing to herself a dance which she
had to perform in the next act. Softly and silently she danced,
absorbed in the evolutions of her lithe young body, paying as little
heed to the rough stage-hands who hurried scenery about her on every
side, as those hardened stage-hands paid to her dancing. Henry or Ned
would probably have fallen madly in love with her on the spot. To Mike,
she was but a part of the economy of the stage; and had she been
Cleopatra herself, eyes filled to overflowing with the beauty of Esther
would have taken no more intimate note of her. So, it is said, painters
and sculptors regard their models with cold, artistic eyes.

This self-possession enabled Mike to show to the best advantage; and
while they talked, the great actor, with an eye accustomed to read
faces, soon made up his mind about him.

"I believe you and your friend are right, Mr. Laflin," he said. "I am
much mistaken if you are not a born actor. But if you are that, you will
not need to be told that the way is long and difficult, nor will you
mind that it is so. Every true artist rather loves than fears the
drudgery of his art. It is one of the tests of his being an artist. Art
is undoubtedly the pleasantest of all work; but it is work for all
that, and none of the easiest. Perhaps it is the pleasantest because it
is the hardest. So if you really want to be an artist, you won't object
to beginning your journey to the top right away at the bottom."

"Anywhere at all, sir," said Mike, his heart beating at this hint of
what was coming.

"Well, in that case," continued the other, "I can perhaps do something,
though a very little, for you."

Mike eagerly murmured his gratitude.

"I'm sorry to say I have no vacancy in my own company at present; but
would you be willing to take a part in my Christmas pantomime? I may say
that I myself began life as harlequin."

"I will gladly take anything you can offer me," said Mike.

"Shall we call it settled then? But I sha'n't need you for another four
months. Meanwhile I will have a contract made out and sent to you--"

"Curtain rising for fourth act, sir," cried the call-boy, putting his
head in at the door at that moment.

"You see I shall have to say good-bye," said the good-natured manager,
rising and moving towards the door; "but I shall look forward to seeing
you in October. My good wishes to your friend;" and so the happiest
person in that theatre slipped back to his seat by the side of a friend
who was surely as happy at his good news as though it had been his own.

Meanwhile Esther had been counting the hours till ten, when she made a
pretence of going to bed with the rest. But there was no sleep for her
till she had heard Mike's news. Her bedroom looked out from the top of
the house into the front garden, and she had arranged to have a lamp
burning at the window, so that Mike, on his way home, should understand
that all was safe for a snatched five minutes' talk in the porch. She
sat trying to read till about midnight, when through her half-opened
windows came the soft whistle she had been waiting for. Turning down the
lamp to show that she had heard, she stole down through the quiet house
and cautiously opened the front door, fastened, it seemed, with a
hundred bolts and chains.

"Is that you, Mike?"

For answer two arms, which she didn't mistake for a burglar's, were
thrown round her.

"Esther, I've found my million pounds."

"Oh, Mike! He's really going to help you?"

And here there is no further necessity for eaves-dropping. All persons
except Mike and Esther will please leave the porch.



CHAPTER XXX

UNCHARTERED FREEDOM


On the morning after the dinner with which he bade farewell to Messrs.
Lingard and Fields, Henry awoke at his usual hour to a very unusual
feeling. For the first time in his life he could stay in bed as long as
he pleased.

On the other side of the room Ned Hazell lay sleeping the deep sleep of
the unpunctual clerk; and Henry, when he had for a moment or two dwelt
upon his own happiness, took a malicious joy in arousing him.

"Ned," he shouted, "get up! You'll be late for the office."

Ned gave out a deep sound, something between a snore, a moan, and an
imprecation.

"Ned!" his tormentor persisted, drawing the clothes warmly round him, in
a luxury of indifference to the time of day.

Ned presently began rubbing his head vigorously, which was one of his
preliminaries of awakening, and then mournfully raised himself in bed, a
pillar of somnolence.

"You might let a fellow have his sleep out," he said; "why don't you get
up yourself?--oh, I remember, you're a literary gentleman from to-day.
That's why you're so mighty ready to root me out," and he aimed a pillow
at Henry's bed in derision.

Yes, Henry was free, an independent gentleman of time and space. The
clock might strike itself hoarse, yet, if he wished, he might go on
staying in bed. He was free! His late task-masters had no jurisdiction
here. It would even be in his power here to order Mr. Fields out of the
room, and, if he refused, forcibly to eject him into the street. Why
didn't Mr. Fields appear to gratify him in this matter?

So he indulged his imagination, while Ned dressed in haste, with the
fear of the tyrant evident upon him. Poor fellow, he would have to
choose between two cups of coffee and two eggs and five minutes late!
Probably he would split the difference, bolt one cup of coffee and one
egg, and arrive two and a half minutes late. Henry watched him with
compassion; and when he had gone his ways, himself rose languidly and
dressed indolently, as with the aid of an invisible valet. At length he
sauntered down to breakfast, and sent out for a morning paper, which he
on no account ever read. He could imagine no more insulting waste of
time. He looked it through, but found no reference to the real
significance of the day.

Breakfast over, he wondered what he should do with himself, how he
should spend the day. His clear duty was to begin being a great man on
the spot, and work at being a great man every day punctually from nine
till six. But where should he begin? Should he sit down in a
business-like way and begin his long romantic poem, or should he write
an essay, or again should he make a start on his novel?

Romantic poems, he felt, however, are only well begun on special days
not easy to define; essays are only written on days when we have
determined to be idle,--and this, after the opening flirtation with
indolence, must be a busy day,--and it is not every day that one can
begin a novel. He might arrange his books, but really they were very
well arranged already. Or suppose he went out for a walk. Walking
quickened the brain. He might go and look in at the Art Gallery, where
he hadn't been for a long while, and see the new picture the morning
paper was talking about. It was by a painter whose poems he already knew
and loved. That might inspire him. So, by an accident of idleness, he
presently found himself standing rapt before the most wonderful picture
he had ever seen,--a picture to see which, he said to himself, men would
make pilgrimages to Tyre, when Tyre was a moss-grown, ruinous seaport,
from which the traffic of the world had long since passed away.

Henry at this time had visited none of the great galleries and, except
in a few reproductions, knew nothing of the great Italian masters.
Therefore to him this picture was Italy, the Renaissance, and
Catholicism, all concentrated into one enthralling canvas. But it was
something greater than that. It was the terrible meeting of Youth and
Love and Death in one tremendous moment of infinite loss. Infinite
passion and infinite loss were here pictured, in a medium which
combined all that was spiritual and all that was sensual in a harmony
of beauty that was in the same moment delirium and peace. The
irresistible cry of the colour to the senses, the spheral call of the
theme and its agony to the soul. Beatrice dead, and Dante taken in a
dream across the strewn poppies of her death-chamber, to look his last
on the sleeping face, yet a little smiling in the after-glow of life;
her soul already carried by angels far over the curved and fluted roofs
of the Florentine houses, on its way to Paradise. Little Beatrice! Not
till they meet again in Paradise shall he see again that holy face. In a
dream of loss he gazes upon her, as the angels lift up the
flower-garnished sheet; and not only her face, but every detail of that
room of death is etched in tears upon his eyes,--the distant winding
stair, the pallid death-lamps, the intruding light of day. All Passion
and all Loss, all Youth, all Love, and all Death met together in an
everlasting requiem of tragic colour.

Henry sat long before this picture, enveloped, as it were, in its rich
gloom, as the painted profundity of a church absorbs one in its depths.
And with the impression of its solemn beauty was blent a despairing awe
of the artist who, of a little coloured earth, had created such a
masterpiece of vitality, thrown on to a thin screen of canvas so
enduringly palpable, so sumptuous, and so poignantly dominating a
reflection of his visions. What a passionate energy of beauty must have
been in this man's soul; what a constant fury of meditation upon
things divine!

When Henry came back to himself, his first thought was to share it with
Angel. Little soul, how her face would flame, how her body would tremble
with the wonder of it! In the minutiae, the technicalities of
appreciation, Angel, like Henry himself, might be lacking; but in the
motive fervour of appreciation, who was like her! It was almost painful
to see the joy which certain simple wonders gave her. Anything intense
or prodigal in nature, any splendidly fluent outpouring of the
elements,--the fierce life of streaming fire, water in gliding or
tumultuous masses, the vivid gold of crocus and daffodil spouting up
through the earth in spring, the exquisite liquidity of a bird
singing,--these, as with all elemental poetic natures, gave her the
same keen joy which we fable for those who, in the intense morning of
the world, first heard them; fable, indeed, for why should we suppose
that because ears deaf a thousand years heard the nightingale too, it
should therefore be less new for those who to-night hear it for the
first time? Rather shall it be more than less for us, by the memories
transmitted in our blood from all the generations who before have
listened and gone their way.

So Henry sought out Angel, and they both stood in front of the great
picture for a long while without a word. Presently Angel put the feeling
of both of them into a single phrase,--

"Henry, dear, we have found our church."

And indeed for many months henceforth this picture was to be their
altar, their place of prayer. Often hereafter when their hopes were
overcast, or life grew mean with little cares, they would slip, singly,
or together, into that gallery, and--

           "let the beauty of Eternity
     Smooth from their brows the little frets of time."

Thus Henry's first day of freedom had begun auspiciously with the
unexpected discovery of an inalienable possession of beauty. Yet the
little cares were not far off, waiting their time; and that night, Henry
lay long awake asking himself what he was going to do? Whence was to
come the material gold and silver by which this impetuous spirit was to
be sustained? A sum not exceeding five pounds represented his
accumulated resources, and they would not last longer than--five pounds.
He needed little, but that little he needed emphatically. Soon a new
book and other literary projects would keep him going, but--meanwhile!
How were the next two or three months to be bridged? Return to his
father's house, he neither would, nor perhaps, indeed, could.

So he lay awake a long while, fruitlessly thinking; but, just before he
slept, a thought that made him laugh himself awake suggested itself:
"Why not go and ask Aunt Tipping to take pity on you?"

So he went to sleep, resolved, if only for the fun of it, to pay a visit
to Aunt Tipping on the morrow.



CHAPTER XXXI

A PREPOSTEROUS AUNT


No doubt it has been surmised from what has gone before, that when Henry
said to himself that he would go and see Aunt Tipping, he did not
propose to himself a visit to the country seat of some quaint old lady
of quality. Baronial towers and stately avenues of ancestral elm did not
make a picturesque background for his thoughts as he recalled
Aunt Tipping.

Poor kind Aunt Tipping, it is a shame to banter her memory even in so
obvious a fashion; for if ever there was a kind heart, it was hers. In
fact she possessed, in a degree that amounted to genius, one of the
rarest of human qualities,--unconditional pity for the unhappy human
creature. Within her narrow and squalid sphere, she was never known to
fail of such succour as was hers to give to misfortune, however
well-merited, or misery however self-made.

No religion or philosophy has ever yet been merciful enough to human
weakness. Matilda Tipping repaired the lack so far as she went. In fact,
she had unconsciously realised that weakness _is_ human nature. It would
be difficult to fix upon an offence that would disqualify you for Aunt
Tipping's pity. To the prodigalities of the passions, and the appetites
disastrously indulged, she was accustomed by a long succession of those
sad and shady lodgers to whom it was part of her precarious livelihood
to let her rooms, and, not infrequently, to forgive them their rent.
That men and women should drink too much, and love too many, was, her
experience told her, one of those laws of nature that seemed to make a
good deal of unnecessary inconvenience in mortal affairs, but against
which mere preaching or punishment availed nothing. All that was to be
done was, so far as possible, to repair their ravages in particular
instances, and heal the wounds of human passion with simple
human kindness.

Of two vessels, one for honour and the other for dishonour, surely
nature never made so complete a contrast as Matilda Tipping and her
sister, Mary Mesurier. Both country girls, born in a humble, though
defiantly respectable, stratum of society, the ways of the two sisters
had already parted in childhood. Mary was studious, neat, and religious;
Matilda was tomboyish, impatient of restraint, and fond of unedifying
associates.

"Your aunt never aspired," Mrs. Mesurier would say of Aunt Tipping
sometimes to her children; and, while still a child, she had often
reproached her with her fondness for gossiping with companions "beneath
her." Matilda could never be persuaded to care for books. She was
naturally illiterate, and even late in life had a fixed aversion to
writing her own letters; whereas, at the age of seven, Mary had been
public scrivener for the whole village. But with these regrettable
instincts, from the first Matilda had also manifested a whimsical
liveliness, an unconquerable lightheartedness which made you forgive her
anything, and for which, poor soul, she had use enough before she was
done with life. At seventeen, added to good looks, of which at fifty
there was scarcely a trace in the thin and meanly worn face, this
vivacity had proved a tragic snare. A certain young capitalist--known as
a great gentleman--of that countryside had pounced down on the gay and
careless young Matilda, and had at once provided her life with its
formative tragedy and its deathless romance. Even at fifty, hopelessly
buried among the back streets and pawnshops of life, heaven still opened
in the heart of Matilda Tipping at the mention of the name of William
Allsopp. For several years she had lived with the Mesuriers, as general
help to her sister, between whom and her, in spite of surface
disparities, there was an indissoluble bond of affection; till, at
thirty-five or so, she had suddenly won the heart of a sad old widower
of fifty-five, named Samuel Tipping.

Samuel Tipping was no ordinary widower. As you looked at his severe,
thoughtful face, surmounted by a shock of beautiful white hair, you
instinctively respected him; and when you heard that he lived by
cobbling shoes by day and playing a violin in the Theatre Royal
orchestra by night, occasionally putting off his leather apron to give a
music lesson in the front parlour of an afternoon, you respected him
all the more. There had been but one thing against Mr. Tipping's
eligibility for marriage, Matilda Tipping would tell you, even years
after, with a lowering of her voice: he was said to be an "atheist," and
a reader of strange books. Yet he seemed a quiet, manageable man, and
likely--again in Mrs. Tipping's phrase--to prove a "good provider;" so
she had risked his heterodoxy, which indeed was a somewhat fanciful
objection on her part, and made him, as he declared with his dying
breath, the best of wives.

It chanced that when Henry, in pursuance of his over-night resolve, made
his way the following afternoon through a dingy little street, and
knocked on the door of a dingy little house, bearing upon a brass plate
the legend "Boots neatly repaired," Mr. Tipping was engaged in giving
one of those very music lessons. A dingy little maid-of-all-work opened
the door, and said that Mrs. Tipping was out shopping, but would be back
soon. From the front parlour came the lifeless tum-tumming of the piano,
and Mr. Tipping's voice gruffly counting time to the cheerless
five-finger exercises of a very evident beginner.

"One--two--three! One--two--three! One--two--three!" went Mr. Tipping's
voice, with an occasional infusion of savagery.

"But Mr. Tipping is at home?" said Henry. "I will wait till he is
disengaged. I will make myself comfortable in the kitchen," (Henry knew
his way about at Aunt Tipping's, and remembered there was only one front
parlour) adding, with something of pride, "I'm Mrs. Tipping's nephew,
you know."

Presently the torture in the front parlour was at an end; and, as Mr.
Tipping was about to turn upstairs to the little back room where he
mended his shoes, Henry emerged upon him from the kitchen. They had had
some talks on books and the general misgovernment of the universe,--for
Mr. Tipping really was something of an "atheist,"--on Henry's occasional
visits, and were no strangers to each other.

"Why, Henry, lad, whoever expected to see you! Your aunt's out at
present; but she'll be back soon. Come into the parlour."

"If you don't mind, Uncle Tipping, I'd rather come upstairs with you. I
love the smell of the leather and the sight of all those sharp little
knives, and the black, shiny 'dubbin,' do you call it? And we can have a
talk about books till aunt comes home."

"All right, lad. But it's a dusty place, and there's hardly a corner to
sit down in."

So up they went to a little room where, in a chaos of boots mended on
one hand, and boots to mend on the other, sheets of leather lying about,
in one corner a great tubfull of water in which the leather was
soaked,--an old boyish fascination of Henry's,--Mr. Tipping spent the
greater part of his days. He sat on a low bench near a window, along
which ran a broad sill full of tools. On this, too, lay an opened book,
into which Mr. Tipping would dip now and again, when he could safely
leave the boot he was engaged upon to the mechanical skill of his hands.
At one end of the tool-shelf was a small collection of books, a dozen or
so shabby volumes, though these were far from constituting Mr. Tipping's
complete library.

Mr. Tipping belonged to that pathetic army of book-lovers who subsist on
the refuse of the stalls, which he hunted not for rare editions, but for
the sheer bread of life, or rather the stale crusts of knowledge. His
tastes were not literary in the special sense of the word. For
belles-lettres he had no fancy, and fine passages, except in so far as
they were controversial, left him cold. His mind was primarily
scientific, secondarily philosophic, and occasionally historic. Travels
and books of physical science were the finds for which, mainly, he
rummaged the stalls. At the moment his pet study was astronomy; and a
curious apparatus in one of the corners, which Henry had noticed as he
entered, was his sad attempt to rig up a telescope for himself.

"It's not so bad as it looks," he said, pointing it out; "but then," he
added, with a smile half sad and half humorous, "there are not many
stars to be seen from Tichborne Street."

It was a touching characteristic of the type of bookman to which Mr.
Tipping belonged, that the astronomy from which he was reading by no
means embodied the latest discoveries. In fact, it narrowly escaped
being eighteenth-century science, for it was dated very early in the
eighteen hundreds. But an astronomy was an astronomy to Mr. Tipping; and
had Copernicus been born late enough, he would most certainly have
imbibed Ptolemaic doctrines with grateful unsuspicion. Indeed, had it
been put to him: "This astronomy after Copernicus at half-a-crown, and
this after Ptolemy for sixpence," his means alone would have left him no
choice. It is so the old clothes of the mind, like the old clothes of
the body,--superseded science, forgotten philosophy,--find a market, and
a book remains a book, with the power of comforting or diverting some
indigent, poor soul, so long as the stitching holds it together.

Presently there was a knock at the front door.

"There's your aunt," said Mr. Tipping; and, as the door opened, the
little maid-of-all-work was to be heard whispering her mistress that a
young gentleman who said he was her nephew had come and was upstairs
with "the master."

"Well, I never!" exclaimed Mrs. Tipping, immediately starting upstairs
towards the open door of the cobblery.

Henry was standing on the threshold, and the warm-hearted little woman
gave him a hearty hug of welcome.

"Well, I _am_ glad to see you! And how are they all at home?" and she
ran over the list, name for name. "We mustn't forget your father. But
he's a hard 'un and no mistake," said the aunt, putting on a mimic
expression of severity.

"He's an upright man, is James Mesurier," said Mr. Tipping, rather
severely.

"Oh, yes, yes; we know that, crosspatch. I'm saying nothing against
him. He's good at heart, I know; but he's a little hard on the
surface--like some other folks I know," making a face at her husband.
"But you must come down and talk to me a bit, lad; you'll have had
enough of him and his old books. You never saw the like of him! Here he
sits day after day over his musty books, and you can hardly get him away
for his meals. He's no company for any one."

"Talk of something you can understand, lass," retorted the husband, in a
voice that took any unkindness from the words, rather like a father than
a husband. "You don't ail much for lack of company, I'm sure."

"Now if it was only a good novel," his wife persisted; "but nothing but
travels, geographies, and such like. Last thing he's taken up with is
the stars. I suppose he's been telling you about them--" and she said
this half as though it were a new form of lunacy Mr. Tipping had
developed, and half as though he had been opening up new realms of
knowledge--original but useless. She was far indeed from understanding
that lonely mind and its tragedy, thirsting so hopelessly for
knowledge, and to die athirst. She heard him knock, knock all day
upstairs; but the knocking told her nothing of his loneliness. He was
just a good, hard-working, rather cross old man, unaccountably fond of
printed matter, whom she liked to be good to, and if in her time that
knocking upstairs should stop for ever--well! she wasn't one to meet
trouble half way, but she would miss it a good deal, old man as he was.

She was herself nearing fifty; but her slim little wiry body and her
elfish, wrinkled face, never still, but ever alive with the same
vivacity that years ago had attracted William Allsopp, made her seem
younger than her years; and her husband treated her as though she were
still a child, a wilful child.

"Eh, Matilda," he said, "you're just a child. No more nor less,--just a
child. The years haven't tamed you one bit--"

"Get out with you and your old stars!" she said, laughing. "Henry, come
along and have a talk with your old aunt."

Though invincibly cheerful through it all, Aunt Tipping was always in
trouble, if not for herself, for somebody else. To-day, it was for
herself, though it was but a minor reverse in the guerilla warfare of
her life. A distressed lodger who had just left had begged her to
accept, in lieu of rent, the pawn-ticket of a handsome clock which had
been hers in happier days; and Mrs. Tipping, moved as she always was by
any tale of woe, however elaborate, had consented. Nor in her world was
such a way of settling accounts very exceptional, for pawn-tickets were
there looked upon as legitimately negotiable securities. Indeed, Aunt
Tipping was seldom without a selection of such securities upon her
hands; and, if a neighbour should chance to be in need, say, of a new
set of chimney ornaments, as likely as not Aunt Tipping had in her purse
a pledge for the very thing. This she would sell at a reasonable profit,
which would probably amount to but a small proportion of the original
debt for which she had accepted it. It was not a lucrative business,
though there were occasional "bargains" in it.

In that word "bargains," all the active romance of Aunt Tipping's life
was now centred. In all departments of the cast-off and the second-hand
she was a daring speculator; and a spirited "auction" now and again
exhilarated her as much as a fortnight by the sea. That house which she
fought so desperately to keep tidy and respectable, had been furnished
almost entirely in this way. There was hardly an article in it that had
not already lived other lives in other houses, before it had been picked
up, "dirt cheap," by Aunt Tipping.

But this afternoon her confidence in human nature had received a cruel
wound. When, after an hour's weary drag to a remote end of the town, she
had arrived at the pawnshop where was preserved the handsome clock of
the distressed lady, and had confidently presented the ticket and the
necessary money, the man had looked awhile perplexed. They had no such
clock, he said. And then, as he further examined the ticket, a light
broke in upon him.

"My dear lady," he said, "look here. The year on this ticket has been
changed."

So indeed it had, and poor Aunt Tipping was at least a year too late.

"Did you ever hear of such treatment?" she said to Henry; "and such a
nice lady she was. 'I shall never forget your goodness to me, Mrs.
Tipping,' she said as she went away, 'never, if I live to be a hundred.'
I'll 'goodness' her, if ever I catch her. Cheating honest folks like
that! Such people oughtn't to be allowed. I don't know how people can
behave so!"

Aunt Tipping's indignation seldom outlived a few plaintive words of this
sort; and had the offending lady of the clock appeared next moment, and
given some Arabian Nights' explanation, there is little doubt that Aunt
Tipping would have forgiven her on the spot. A tendency to do so was
already active in her next remark,--

"Well, poor soul, we mustn't be too hard on her. We never know what we
may be brought to ourselves." For it was Aunt Tipping's unformulated
axiom that, whatever cock-and-bull stories misfortune may tell, there is
always some truth in human misery.

When Henry had told Aunt Tipping his story, and ventured to hint a
suggestion that, if it should not be inconvenient for her, he would like
to take sanctuary with her for a month or two, till he got his hopes
into working order, her little sharp face fairly gleamed with delight.
You would have thought that he was bringing her some great benefit,
instead of proposing to take something from her. That he should have
thought of _her_, such a little humble aunt; that, added to the love
she had for any one with any tincture of her family's blood running in
their veins, plus her general weakness for any one in trouble, brought
tears to her eyes that made her look quite young again.

"I should think so indeed!" she said. "The best your poor old auntie's
got is yours with all her heart--Ah, your father never understood you.
You've got too much of our side of the family in you. You're a bit wild,
you know, lad; but you're none the worse for that, eh?"

There is no need to say that Aunt Tipping's understanding of the tastes
and ambitions which had driven Henry momentarily to take refuge with her
was of the vaguest; but all she needed to know of such a situation was
that: here on the one hand was something somebody very much wanted to
do, and here on the other were certain stern powers ranked against his
doing it. That was enough for her. Her sympathy with all forms of revolt
was instantaneous. For law and order, as such, she had an instinctive
antipathy, as in all contests whatsoever her one general rule was: "Side
with the weaker." And it cannot but have been perceived that so much
sympathy with weakness could hardly have been in the gift of weakness.
No; Aunt Tipping was entirely impersonal in these charities of feeling,
and it was because there was so much sterling honesty and strength
hidden in her little wiry frame, that she could afford so much succour
to those who were neither honest nor strong.

"Well, it was nice of you to think of your poor old aunt," she repeated
again and again; and then she remarked on the good fortune which had
caused the vacation of the front room over the parlour, her grievance
against the lady of the handsome clock quite forgotten.

"It's a nice airy room," she said; and then she began planning how she
might best arrange it for his comfort.

"Dear little aunt," said Henry, taking the little wisp of a woman into
his arms, "you're the salt of the earth."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Why ever didn't I think of it before!" exclaimed Aunt Tipping,
presently. "I've got the very gentleman to help you with your writing."

"Indeed," said Henry, somewhat sceptical.

"Yes; he's down there in the back parlour. They say he's a great
writer," continued Aunt Tipping; "but he's not very well the last day or
two, and doesn't see anybody. To tell the truth, poor gentleman," she
confided, lowering her voice, "he's just a little too fond of his glass.
But he's as good and kind a gentleman as ever stepped, and always
regular with his rent every Monday morning."

There was usually something mysterious about Aunt Tipping's lodgers. At
their best, she had known them as elaborately wronged bye-products of
aristocracy. Many of them were lawful expectants of illegally delayed
fortunes, and at the very least they always drank romantically.

Thus it was that to the somewhat amused surprise of his family, Henry
came to take up his abode for a while with Aunt Tipping, and that his
books and the cast of Dante, and the sketch of the young Dante done in
sepia by Myrtilla Williamson's own fair hand, came to find themselves in
the incongruous environment of Tichborne Street.



CHAPTER XXXII

THE LITERARY GENTLEMAN IN THE BACK PARLOUR


Aunt Tipping proved not so ludicrously out of it after all in regard to
the literary gentleman in the back parlour. Henry had hardly known what
to expect; but certainly he had pictured no one so interesting as Ashton
Gerard proved to be. For a dark den smelling strongly of whisky and
water, and some slovenly creature of the under-world crouched in a dirty
armchair over the fire, he found instead a pleasant little room, very
neatly kept, with books, two or three good pictures, and general
evidence of cultivated tastes; and on Mr. Gerard's refined sad face,
which, being shaven, and surmounted by a tuft of vigorous curly hair,
once black but now curiously splashed with vivid flakes of white,
retained something of boyish beauty even at forty, you looked in vain
for the marks of one who was in the grip of an imperious vice. Only by
the marked dimness and weariness of his blue eyes, which gave the face a
rather helpless, dreamy expression, might the experienced observer have
understood. So to speak, the ocular will had gone out of them; they no
longer grasped the visible, but glided listlessly over it; nor did they
seem to be looking on things invisible. They were the eyes of
the drowned.

Mr. Gerard had exceedingly gentle manners. It was easy to understand
that a landlady would worship him. He gave little trouble, asked for the
most necessary service as though it were a courtesy, and never forgot an
interest in Aunt Tipping's affairs. On bright days he revealed a vein of
quite boyish gaiety; and in his talk with Henry he flashed out a strange
paradoxical humour, too often morbid in its themes, which, as usually
the case with such humour, was really sadness coming to the surface in
a jest.

It soon transpired that a favourite subject of his talk was that very
weakness which most men would have been at pains to hide.

"So you're going to be a poet, Mr. Mesurier," he said. "Well, so was I
once, so was I--but," he continued, "all too early another Muse took
hold of me, a terrible Muse--yet a Muse who never forsakes you--" and
he laid his hand on a decanter which stood near him on the table,--"yes,
Mr. Mesurier, the terrible Muse of Drink! You may be surprised to hear
me talk so; yet were this laudanum instead of brandy, there would seem
to you a certain element of the poetic in the service of such a Muse.
Drinks with Oriental or unfamiliar names have a romantic sound. Thus
Alfred de Musset as the slave to absinthe sounds much more poetic than,
say, Alfred de Musset as a slave to rum or gin, or even this brandy
here. Yet this, too, is no less the stuff that dreams are made of; and
the opium-eater, the absinthe-sipper, the brandy-drinker, are all
members of the same great brotherhood of tragic idealists--"

He talked deliberately; but there was a smile playing at the corners of
the mouth which took from his talk the sense of a painful
self-revelation, and gave it the air of a playful fantasia upon a
paradox that for the moment amused him.

"Idealists! Yes," he continued; "for what few understand is that drink
is an idealism--and," he presently added with a laugh, "and, of course,
like all idealisms, it has its dangers."

With a monomaniac, conversation is apt to limit itself to monologue;
so, while Henry was greatly interested in this odd talk, it left him but
little to say.

"I'm afraid I shock you a little, Mr. Mesurier, perhaps even--disgust
you," said Mr. Gerard.

"Indeed, no!" exclaimed Henry; "but both the subject and your way of
treating it are, I confess, a little new to me."

"You are surprised to find one who is what is popularly known as a
drunkard not so much ashamed of as interested in himself; isn't that it?
Well, that comes of the introspective literary temperament. It is only
the oyster fascinated by the pearl that is killing it."

"You should write some 'Confessions' after the manner of De Quincey,"
said Henry.

"Indeed, I've often thought of it, for there's so much that needs saying
on the subject. There is nothing with which we are at once so familiar
and of which we know so little. For example"--and now he was quite
plainly off again--"for example, the passion for, I might say the dream
of, drink is usually regarded as a sensual appetite, a physical
indulgence. No doubt in its first crude stages it often is so; but soon
it becomes something much more strange and abstract. It becomes a
mysterious command, issuing we know not whence. It is hardly a desire,
and it is not so much a joyless, as a quite colourless, obedience to an
imperious necessity, decreed by some unknown will. You might well
imagine that I like the taste of this brandy there, as a child is
greedily fond of sweetstuff; but it would be quite a mistake. For my own
personal taste, there is no drink like a cup of tea; it is the demon,
the strange will that has imposed itself upon me, that has a taste
for brandy.

"I sometimes wonder whether we poor drunkards are not the victims of
disembodied powers of the air who, by some chance, have contracted a
craving for earthly liquors, and can only satisfy that craving by
fastening themselves upon some unhappy human organism. At times there
comes an intermission of the command, as mysterious almost as the
command itself. For weeks together we give no thought to our tyrant. We
grow gay and young and innocent again. We are free,--so free, we seem to
have forgotten that we were ever enslaved. Then suddenly one day we hear
the call again. We cry for mercy; we throw ourselves on our knees in
prayer. We clutch sacred relics; we conjure the aid of holy memories; we
say over to ourselves the names of the dead we have loved: but it is all
in vain--surely we are dragged to the feet of that inexorable will,
surely we submit ourselves once more to the dark dominion."

Henry listened, fascinated, and a little frightened.

"The longer I live, the more I grow convinced that this is no mere
fancy, but actual science," Mr. Gerard continued; "for, again, you might
well imagine that one drinks for the dreams or other illusory effects it
is said to produce. At first, perhaps, yes; but such effects speedily
pass away, they pass away indeed before the tyranny has established
itself, while it would still be possible to shake it off. No, the dreams
of drink are poor things, not worth having at the best. Indeed, there
are no dreams worth having, believe me, but those of youth and health
and spring-water."

And Mr. Gerard passed for awhile in silence into some hidden country of
his lost dreams.

Henry gazed at him with a curious wonder. Here was a man evidently of
considerable gifts, a man of ideals, of humour, a man witty and gentle,
who surely could have easily made his mark in the world, and yet he had
thrown all away for a mechanical habit which he himself did not pretend
to be a passion,--a mere abstract attraction: as though a man should
say, "I care not for the joys or successes of this world. My destiny is
to sit alone all day and count my fingers and toes, count them over and
over and over again. There is not much pleasure in it, and I should be
glad to break off the habit,--but there it is. It is imposed upon me by
a will stronger than mine which I must obey. It is my destiny."

"Yes, idealists!" said Mr. Gerard, presently coming back from his dreams
to his great subject, with a laugh. "That reminds me of a story a
business friend of mine told me the other day. A clerk in his office was
an incorrigible drunkard. He was quite alone in the world, and had no
one dependent upon him. The firm had been lenient to him, and again and
again forgiven his outbreaks. But one morning they called him in and
said: 'Look here, Jones, we have had a great deal of patience with you;
but the time has come when you must choose between the drink and the
office.' To their surprise, Jones, instead of eagerly promising reform,
looked up gravely, and replied, 'Will you give me a week to think it
over, sir? It is a very serious matter.' Drink was all the poor fellow
had outside his drudgery; was it to be expected that he should thus
lightly sacrifice it?--

"But, to talk about something else, your aunt, Mrs. Tipping, who has a
great idea of my literary importance, has a notion that I may be of some
help to you, Mr. Mesurier. Well, I'll tell you the whole extent of my
present literary engagements, and you are perfectly at liberty to laugh.
At the present time I do the sporting notes for the _Tyrian Daily Mail_,
and I write the theological reviews for _The Fleet Street Review_. These
apparently incongruous occupations are the relics of an old taste for
sport, which as a boy in the country I had ample opportunity for
indulging, and of an interrupted training for the Church--'twixt then
and now there is an eventful gap which, if you don't mind, we won't
sadden each other by filling--Let us fill our glasses and our pipes
instead; and, having failed so entirely myself, I will give you minute
directions how to succeed in literature."

Mr. Gerard's discourse on how to succeed in literature was partly
practical and partly ironical, and probably too technical to interest
the general reader, who has no intention of being a great or a little
writer, and who perhaps has already found Mr. Gerard's previous
discourse a little too special in its character. Suffice it that Henry
heard much to remember, and much to laugh over, and that Mr. Gerard
concluded with a practical offer of kindness.

"I don't know how much use it may be to you," he said; "but if you care
to have it, I should be very glad to give you a letter to the editor of
_The Fleet Street Review_. He has, I think, a certain regard for me, and
he might send you a book to do now and again. At all events, it would be
something."

Henry embraced the offer gratefully; and it occurred to him that in a
day or two's time there was a five days' excursion running from Tyre to
London and back, for half-a-guinea. Why not take it, and expend his last
five pounds in a stimulating glimpse of the city he some day hoped to
conquer? He could then see his friend the publisher, present his letter
to the editor, and perhaps bring home with him some little work and a
renewed stock of hopes.

So, before they parted that night, Mr. Gerard wrote him the letter.



CHAPTER XXXIII

"THIS IS LONDON, THIS IS LIFE"


Thus it was that, all unexpectedly, Henry found himself set down one
autumn morning at the homeless hour of a quarter-to-seven, in Euston
station. He was going to stay in some street off the Strand, and
chartered a hansom to take him there. Few great cities are impressive in
the neighbourhood of their railway termini. You enter them, so to speak,
by the back door; and London waves no banners of bright welcome to the
stranger who first enters it by the Euston Road.

But there was an interesting church presently, and on a dust-cart close
by Henry read "Vestry of St. Pancras."

"Can that be the St. Pancras' Church," he said to himself, "where Mary
Wollstonecraft lies buried, and Browning was married?"

Then as they drove along through Bloomsbury, the name "Great Coram
Street" caught his eye, and he exclaimed with delight: "Why, that's
where Thackeray lived for a time!"

Great Coram Street is little accustomed to create such excitement in the
breast of the passer-by. But to the stranger London is necessarily first
a museum, till he begins to love it as a home, and, in addition to dead
men's associations, begins to people it with memories of his own. When
you have lived awhile in Gray's Inn, you grow to forget that Bacon's
ghost is your fellow-tenant; and it is the kind-hearted provincial who
from time to time lays those flowers on Goldsmith's tomb. When you are
caught in a block on Westminster Bridge, with only five minutes to get
to Waterloo, you forget to say to yourself: "Ah, this is the bridge on
which Wordsworth wrote his famous sonnet." You usually say something
quite different.

The mere names of the streets,--how laden with immemorial poetry they
were! "Chancery Lane!" How wonderful! Yet the poor wretch standing
outside the public-house at the corner seemed to derive small
consolation from the fact that he was starving in Chancery Lane.

But to Henry, as yet, London was an extended Westminster Abbey, and
every other street was Poet's Corner. He had hardly patience to
breakfast, so eager was he to be out in the streets; and while he ate,
his eyes were out of the windows all the time, and his ears drinking in
all the London morning sounds like music. At the foot of the street ran
the Thames; he had caught a thrilling glimpse of it as he stepped from
his cab, and had had a childish impulse to rush down to it before
entering his hotel.

At last, free of food and baggage, light of heart, and brimming over
with youth, he stepped into the street. It was but little past eight
o'clock. He had just heard the hour chimed, in various tones of
sweetness and solemnity, from several mellow clocks, evidently hidden
high in the air in his near vicinity. For two or three hours there would
be no editor or publisher to be seen, and meanwhile he had London to
himself. He stepped out into it as into a garden,--a garden of those
old-time flowers in which antiquity has become a perfume full
of pictures.

Yes, there was the Thames! "Sweet Themmes, run softly till I end my
song!" he quoted to himself. Chaucer's, Spenser's, Elizabeth's Thames!

It was a bright morning and the river gleamed to advantage. The tall
tower of Westminster glittered richly in the sun, and the long front of
Somerset House wore a lordly smile. The embankment gardens sparkled and
rustled in morning freshness. Henry drew in the air of London as though
it had been a rose. Here was the Thames at the foot of the street, and
there at the head was the Strand, a stream of omnibuses and cabs, and
city-faring men and women. The Temple must be somewhere close by. Of
course it was here to his left. But he would first walk quietly by the
Thames side to Westminster, and then come back by the Strand. As he
walked, he stepped lightly and gently, as though reverent to the very
stones of so sacred a city, and all the time from every prospect and
every other street-corner came streaming like strains of music magnetic
memories,--"streets with the names of old kings, strong earls, and
warrior saints." If for no other reason, how important for the future of
a nation is it to preserve in such ancient cities as London and Oxford
the energising spectacle of a noble and strenuous antiquity; for there
are no such inspirers of young men as these old places! So much strength
and youth went into them long ago that even yet they have strength and
youth to give, and from them, as from the strong hills, pours out an
inexhaustible potency of bracing influence.

At last Henry found himself back at the top-end of his street. He had
walked the Strand with deliberate enjoyment. Fleet Street he still
reserved, but, as according to the tower of Clement Danes it was only
just ten o'clock, it seemed still a little early to attack his business.
A florist's close by suggested a charming commonplace way of filling the
time. He would buy some flowers and carry them to Goldsmith's grave. Why
Goldsmith's grave should thus be specially honoured, he a little
wondered. He was conscious of loving several writers quite as well. But
it was a Johnsonian tradition to love Goldy, and the accessibility of
his resting-place made sentiment easy.

He repented this momentary flippancy of thought as he stood in the
cloistered corner where Goldsmith sleeps under the eye of the law; and,
when he laid his little wreath on the worn stone, it was a genuine
offering. From it he turned away to his own personal dreams.

By eleven he had found his friend the publisher, in a dainty little
place of business crammed with pottery, Rowlandsons, and books, and
more like a curiosity-shop than a publishing-house, for the publisher
proved an enthusiast in everything that was beautiful or curious, and
had indeed taken to publishing from that rare motive in a
publisher,--the love of books, rather than the love of money. He was
aiming to make his little shop the rallying-point of all the young
talent of the day, and as young talent has never too many publishers on
the look-out for it, his task was not difficult, though it was one of
those real services to literature which such publishers and booksellers
have occasionally done in our literary history, with but scant
acknowledgment.

Henry was pleased to find that he looked upon him to make one of his
little band of youth; and as the publisher understood the art of
encouragement, Henry already felt it had been worth while to come to
London just to see him. He knew the editor to whom Henry had a letter
and volunteered him another. The afternoon would be the best time;
meanwhile, they must lunch together. He smiled when Henry suggested the
Cheshire Cheese. Henry had a sort of vague idea that literary men could
hardly think of taking their meals anywhere else. There had been an
attempt to bring it into fashion again, the publisher said; but it had
come to nothing--though he, for one, loved those old chop-houses, with
their tankards, and their sanded floors. So to the Cheshire Cheese they
repaired, and drank to a long friendship in foaming pewters of porter.

"Alas!" said Henry, "we are fallen on smaller times. Once it was 'the
poet's pint of port.' Now we must be content with the poetaster's
half-a-pint of porter!"

"You must come to my rooms to-night," said the publisher, "and be
introduced to some of our young men. I have one or two of our older
critics coming too."

Henry's fortune was evidently made.

He found the editor in a dim back room at the top of a high building, so
lost in a world of books and dust that at first Henry could hardly make
him out, writing by a window with his back to the door. Then an alert
head turned round to him, and a rather peevish gesture bade him be
seated, while the editor resumed his work. This hardly came up to
Henry's magnificent dreams of the editorial dignity. Perhaps he had a
vague idea that editors lived in palaces, and sat on thrones.

Presently the editor put down his pen with an exclamation of
satisfaction; and the first impression of peevishness vanished in the
cordiality with which he now turned to his visitor.

"You must excuse my absorption. It was a rather tough piece of
proof-reading. A subject I'm rather interested in,--new Welsh
dictionary. Don't suppose it's in your line, eh, eh?"--and the tall,
spare man laughed a boyish laugh like a mischievous bird, and tossed his
head at the jest.

His face was small and sallow and tired; but the dark eyes were full of
fun and kindness. Presently, he rose and began to walk up and down the
room with a curious, prancing walk, rolling himself a cigarette, and
talking away in a rapid, jerky fashion with his continual, "eh, eh?"
coming in all the time.

"Poor Gerard! So you know him? How is he now?" and he lowered his voice
with the suggestion of a mutual confidence, and stopped in his walk till
Henry should answer. "Poor Gerard! And he might have been--well,
well,--never mind. We were together at King's. Brilliant fellow. So you
know Gerard. Dear me! Dear me!"

Then he turned to the subject of Henry's visit.

"Well, my poor boy, nothing will satisfy you but literature? You are
determined to be a literary man, eh, eh?" Then he stopped in front of
Henry and laid his hand kindly on his shoulder, "Is it too late to say,
'Go back while there is yet time'? Perhaps--of course--you're going to
be a very great man," and he broke off into his walk again, with one of
his mischievous laughs. "But unless you are, take my word, it's a poor
game--Yet, I suppose, it's no use talking. I know, wasted breath, wasted
breath--Well, now, what can you do? and, by the way, you won't grow fat
on _The Fleet Street Review_. Ten shillings a column is our magnificent
rate of payment, and we can hardly afford that--"

Then he began pulling out one book and another from the piles of all
sorts that lay around him. "I suppose, like the rest, you'd better begin
on poetry. There's a tableful over there--go and take your pick of it,
unless, of course, you've got some special subject. You're not, I
suppose, an authority on Assyriology, eh, eh?"

Henry feared not, and then a new fit of industry came upon the editor,
and he begged Henry to take a look at the books while he ran through
another proof for the post.

That dusty table--evidently the rubbish-heap of the room--was Henry's
first object-lesson in the half tragical, half farcical, over-production
of modern literature. Such a mass of foolishness and ineptitude he had
never conceived of; such pretentiousness too--and while he made various
melancholy reflections upon human vanity, what should he unearth
suddenly from the heap, but his own little volume. He could but half
suppress a cry of recognition.

"What's that?" asked the editor, not turning round. "Found anything?"

"No," said Henry; "nothing--for a moment I thought I had."

Presently he had made a small pile of the most promising volumes, and
turned to take his leave. The editor took up one or two of them
carelessly.

"Not much here, I'm afraid," he said. "Never mind; see what you can make
of them. Not more than three columns at the most, you know. And come and
see me again. I'm glad to have seen you."

"Oh," said Henry, on the point of leaving, and laying his hand on his
own little book, "may I take this one too? It's not worth reviewing, but
it rather interested me just now."

"God bless me, yes, certainly," said the editor; "you're welcome to the
lot, if you care to bring a hand-cart. Good-bye, good-bye."

And Henry slipped his poor little neglected volume into his pocket. On
how many dusty tables, he wondered, was it then lying ignominiously
disregarded. Well, the day would come! Meanwhile, he had his first batch
of books for review.



CHAPTER XXXIV

THE WITS


There now remained the gathering of wits fixed for the evening. His
publisher had asked him to dinner, but he had declined, from a secret
and absurd desire to dine at "The Cock." This he gratified, and with his
mind full of the spacious times of the early Victorians, he turned into
the publisher's little room about nine o'clock to meet some of
the later.

There was no great muster as yet. Some half-a-dozen rather shy young men
spasmodically picked up strange drawings or odd-looking books, lying
about on the publisher's tables, struggled maidenly with cigars, sipped
a little whisky and soda; but little was said.

Among them a pale-faced lad of about fifteen, miraculously
self-possessed, stood with his back to the chimney-piece. But soon
others began to turn in, and by ten the room was as full of chatter and
smoke as it could hold. Not least conspicuous among the talkers was the
pale-faced boy of fifteen. Henry had been sitting near to him, and had
been suddenly startled by his unexpectedly breaking out into a volley of
learning, delivered in a voice impressively deliberate and sententious.

"What a remarkable boy that is!" said Henry, innocently, to the
publisher.

"Yes; but he's not quite a boy,--though he's young enough. A curious
little creature, morbidly learned. A friend of mine says that he would
like to catch him and keep him in a bottle, and label it 'the learned
homunculus.'"

"What dialect is it he is talking in?" said Henry; "I don't remember to
have heard it before."

The publisher smiled: "My dear fellow, you must be careful what you say.
That is what we call 'the Oxford voice.'"

"How remarkable!" said Henry, his attention called off by a being with a
face that half suggested a faun, and half suggested a flower,--a small,
olive-skinned face crowned with purply black hair, that kept falling in
an elflock over his forehead, and violet eyes set slant-wise. He was
talking earnestly of fairies, in a beautiful Irish accent, and Henry
liked him. The attraction seemed mutual, and Henry found himself drawn
into a remarkable relation about a fairy-hill in Connemara, and fairy
lights that for several nights had been seen glimmering about it; and
how at last he--that is, the narrator--and a particularly hard-headed
friend of his had kept watch one moonlit night, with the result that
they had actually seen and talked with the queen of the fairies and
learned many secrets of the ----. The narrator here made use of a long,
unpronounceable Irish word, which Henry could not catch.

"I should have explained some of these phenomena to you," whispered the
publisher presently, noticing that Henry looked a little bewildered.
"This is a young Irish poet, who, in the intervals of his raising the
devil, writes very beautiful lyrics that he may well have learned from
the fairies. It is his method to seem mad on magic and such things. You
will meet with many strange methods here to-night. Don't be alarmed if
some one comes and talks to you about strange sins. You have come to
London in the 'strange sins' period. I will explain afterwards."

He had hardly spoken when a pallid young man, with a preternatural
length and narrowness of face, began to talk to him about the sins of
the Borgias.

"I suppose you never committed a murder yourself?" he asked Henry,
languidly.

"No," said Henry, catching the spirit of the foolishness; "no, not yet.
I am keeping that--" implying that he was reserving so extreme a
stimulant till all his other vices failed him.

Presently there entered a tall young man with a long, thin face,
curtained on either side with enormous masses of black hair, like a slip
of the young moon glimmering through a pine-wood.

At the same moment there entered, as if by design, his very antithesis:
a short, firmly built, clerkly fellow, with a head like a billiard-ball
in need of a shave, a big brown moustache, and enormous spectacles.

"That," said the publisher, referring to the moon-in-the-pine-wood young
man, "is our young apostle of sentiment, our new man of feeling, the
best-hated man we have; and the other is our young apostle of blood. He
is all for muscle and brutality--and he makes all the money. It is one
of our many fashions just now to sing 'Britain and Brutality.' But my
impression is that our young man of feeling will have his day,--though
he will have to wait for it. He would hasten it if he would cut his
hair; but that, he says, he will never do. His hair, he says, is his
battle-cry. Well, he enjoys himself--and loves a fight, though you
mightn't think it to look at him."

A supercilious young man, with pink cheeks, and a voice which his
admirers compared to Shelley's, then came up to Henry and asked him what
he thought of Mallarmé's latest sonnet; but finding Henry confessedly at
sea, turned the conversation to the Empire ballet, of which,
unfortunately, Henry knew as little. The conversation then languished,
and the Shelley-voiced young man turned elsewhere for sympathy, with a
shrug at your country bumpkins who know nothing later than Rossetti.

In the thick of the conversational turmoil, Henry's attention had from
time to time been attracted by the noise proceeding from a blustering,
red-headed man, with a face of fire.

"Who is that?" at last he found opportunity to ask his friend.

"That is our greatest critic," said the publisher.

"Oh!" said Henry, "I must try and hear what he is saying. It seems
important from the way he is listened to."

So Henry listened, and heard how the fire-faced man said the word "damn"
with great volubility and variety of cadence, and other words to the
same effect, and how the little group around him hung upon his words and
said to each other, "How brilliant!" "How absolute!"

Henry turned to his friend. "The only word I can catch is the word
'damn,'" he said.

"That," said the publisher, with a laugh, "is the master-word of
fashionable criticism."

Presently a little talkative man came up, and said that he hoped Mr.
Mesurier was an adherent of the rightful king.

"Oh, of course!" said Henry.

"And do you belong to any secret society?" asked the little man.

Henry couldn't say that he did.

"Well, you must join us!" he said.

"I suppose there won't be a rising just yet?" asked Henry, realising
that this was the Jacobite method.

"Not just yet," said the little man, reassuringly. So Henry was
enrolled.

       *       *       *       *       *

And so it went on till past midnight, when Henry at last escaped, to
talk it all over with the stars. The evening had naturally puzzled him,
as a man will always be puzzled who has developed under the influence of
the main tendencies of his generation, and who finds himself suddenly in
a backwater of fanciful reaction. Henry, in his simple way, was a
thinker and a radical, and he had nourished himself on the great
main-road masters of English literature. He had followed the lead of
modern philosophers and scientists, and had arrived at a mystical
agnosticism,--the first step of which was to banish the dogmas of the
church as old wives' tales. He considered that he had inherited the
hard-won gains of the rationalists. But he came to London and found
young men feebly playing with the fire of that Romanism which he
regarded as at once the most childish and the most dangerous of all
intellectual obsessions. In an age of great biologists and electricians,
he came upon children prettily talking about fairies and the
philosopher's stone. In one of the greatest ages of English poetry, he
came to London to find young English poets falling on their knees to the
metrical mathematicians of France. In the great age of democracy, a fool
had come and asked him if he were not a supporter of the house of
Stuart, a Jacobite of charades. But only once had he heard the name of
Milton; it was the learned boy of fifteen who had quoted him,--a
lifelong debt of gratitude; and never once had he heard the voice of
simple human feeling, nor heard one speak of beauty, simply,
passionately, with his heart in his mouth; nor of love with his heart
upon his sleeve. Much cleverness, much learning, much charm, there had
been, but he had missed the generous human impulse. No one seemed to be
doing anything because he must. These were pleasant eddies, dainty with
lilies and curiously starred water-grasses, but the great warm stream of
English literature was not flowing here.

As he neared his hotel, he thought of his morning visit to Goldsmith's
tomb, and ten-fold he repented the little half-sneer with which he had
bought the flowers. In a boyish impulse, he rang the Temple bell, and
found his way again to the lonely corner. His flowers were lying there
in the moonlight, and again he read: "Here lies Oliver Goldsmith."

"Forgive me, Goldy," he murmured. "Well may men bring you flowers,--for
you wrote, not as those yonder; you wrote for the human heart."



CHAPTER XXXV

BACK TO REALITY


It was good to get back to reality, with Angel's blue eyes, Mike's
laugh, and Esther's common sense.

"Let me look deep into them, Angel--deep--deep. It is so good to get
back to something true."

"Are they true?" said Angel, opening them very wide.

"Something that will never forsake one, something we can never forsake!
Something in all the wide world's change that will never change.
Something that will still be Angel even in a thousand years."

"I hope to be a real angel long before that," said Angel, laughing.

"Do you think you can promise to be true so long, Angel?" asked Henry.

"Dear, you know that so long as there is one little part of me left
anywhere in the world, that part will be true to you.--But come, tell
me about London. I'm afraid you didn't enjoy it very much."

"Oh, yes, I loved London,--that is, old London; but new London made me a
little sad. I expect it was only because I didn't quite understand the
conditions."

"Perhaps so," said Angel. "But tell me,--did you go to the Zoo?"

"You dear child! Yes! I went out of pure love for you."

"Now you needn't be so grown up. You know you wanted to go just for
yourself as well. And you saw the monkey-house?"

"Yes."

"And the lions?"

"Yes."

"And the snakes?"

"Yes!"

"Oh, I'd give anything to see the snakes! Did they eat any rabbits when
you were there,--fascinate them, and then draw them slowly, slowly in?"

"Angel, what terrible interests you are developing! No, thank goodness,
they didn't."

"Why, wouldn't it fascinate you to see something wonderfully killed?"
asked Angel. "It is dreadful and wicked, of course. But it would be so
thrillingly real."

"I think I must introduce you to a young man I met in London," said
Henry, "who solemnly asked me if I had ever murdered anyone. You savage
little wild thing! I suppose this is what you mean by saying sometimes
that you are a gipsy, eh?"

"Well, and you went to the Tower, and Westminster Abbey, and everything,
and it was really wonderful?"

"Yes, I saw everything--including the Queen."

For young people of Tyre and Sidon to go to London was like what it once
was to make the pilgrimage to Rome.

Mike created some valuable nonsense on the occasion, which unfortunately
has not been preserved, and Esther was disgusted with Henry because he
could give no intelligible description of the latest London hats; and
all examined with due reverence those wonderful books for review.

In Tichborne Street Aunt Tipping had taken advantage of his absence to
enrich his room with a bargain in the shape of an old desk, which was
the very thing he wanted. Dear old Aunt Tipping! And Gerard, it is to
be feared, took a little more brandy than usual in honour of his young
friend's adventures in the capital.

These excitements over, Henry sat down at his old desk to write his
first review; and there for the present we may leave him, for he took it
very seriously and was dangerous to interrupt.



CHAPTER XXXVI

THE OLD HOME MEANWHILE


More than a year had now gone by since Henry left home, and meanwhile,
with the exception of Dot's baptism, there had been no exciting changes
to record. Perhaps uneventfulness is part of the security of a
real home. Every morning James Mesurier had risen at half-past
six,--though he no longer imposed that hour of rising upon his
daughters,--breakfasted at eight, and reached his office at nine. Every
evening during those months, punctually at half-past six his latch-key
had rattled in the front-door lock, and one or other of his daughters
had hurried out at the sound to bid him welcome home.

"Home at last, father dear!" they had said, helping him off with his
coat; and sometimes when he felt bright he would answer,--

"Yes, my dear, night brings crows home."

"Home again, James!" his wife would say, as he next entered the front
parlour, and bent down to kiss her where she sat. "It's a long day.
Isn't it time you were pulling in a bit? Surely some of the younger
heads should begin to relieve you."

"Responsibility, Mary dear! We cannot delegate responsibility," he would
answer.

"But we see nothing of you. You just sacrifice your whole life for the
business."

If he were in a good humour, he might answer with one of his rare sweet
laughs, and jokingly make one of his few French quotations: "_Telle est
la vie_! my dear, _Telle est la vie_! That's the French for it,
isn't it, Dot?"

James Mesurier was just perceptibly softening. Perhaps it was that he
was growing a little tired, that he was no longer quite the stern
disciplinarian we met in the first chapter; perhaps the influence of his
wife, and his experiences with his children, were beginning to hint to
him what it takes so long for a strong individual nature to learn, that
the law of one temperament cannot justly or fruitfully be enforced as
the law of another.

The younger children--Esther and Dot and Mat used sometimes to say to
each other--would grow up in a more clement atmosphere of home than had
been Henry's and theirs. Already they were quietly assuming privileges,
and nothing said, that would have meant beatings for their elders. For
these things had Henry and Esther gladly faced martyrdom. Henry had
looked on the Promised Land, but been denied an entrance there. By his
stripes this younger generation would be healed.

The elder girls hastened to draw close to their father in gratitude, and
home breathed a kinder, freer air than ever had been known before.
Between Esther and her father particularly a kind of comradeship began
to spring up, which perhaps more than ever made the mother miss her boy.

But, all the same, home was growing old. This was the kindness of the
setting sun!

Childless middle age is no doubt often dreary to contemplate, yet is it
an egoistical bias which leads one to find in such limitation, or one
might rather say preservation, of the ego, a certain compensation? The
childless man or woman has at least preserved his or her individuality,
as few fathers and mothers of large families are suffered to do. By the
time you are fifty, with a family of half a dozen children, you have
become comparatively impersonal as "father" or "mother." It is tacitly
recognised that your life-work is finished, that your ambitions are
accomplished or not, and that your hopes are at an end.

The young Mesuriers, for example, were all eagerly hastening towards
their several futures. They were garrulous over them at every meal. But
to what future in this world were James and Mary Mesurier looking
forward? Love had blossomed and brought forth fruit, but the fruit was
quickly ripening, and stranger hands would soon pluck it from the
boughs. In a very few years they would sit under a roof-tree bared of
fruit and blossom, and sad with falling leaves. They had dreamed their
dream, and there is only one such dream for a lifetime; now they must
sit and listen to the dreams of their children, help them to build
theirs. They mattered now no longer for themselves, but just as so much
aid and sympathy on which their children might draw. Too well in their
hearts they knew that their children only heard them with patience so
long as they talked of their to-morrows. Should they sometimes dwell
wistfully on their own yesterdays, they could too plainly see how long
the story seemed.

_Telle est la vie!_ as James Mesurier said, and, that being so, no
wonder life is a sad business. Better perhaps be childless and retain
one's own personal hopes and fears for life, than be so relegated to
history in the very zenith of one's days. If only this younger
generation at the door were always, as it assumes, stronger and better
than its elder! but, though the careless assumption that it is so is
somewhat general, history alone shows how false and impudent the
assumption often is. Too often genius itself must submit to the silly
presumption of its noisy and fatuous children, and it is the young fool
who too often knocks imperiously at the door of wise and active
middle age.

That all this is inevitable makes it none the less sad. The young
Mesuriers were neither fools nor hard of heart; and sometimes, in
moments of sympathy, their parents would be revealed to them in sudden
lights of pathos and old romance. They would listen to some old
love-affair of their mother's as though it had been their own, or go out
of their way to make their father tell once more the epic of the great
business over which he presided, and which, as he conceived it, was
doubtless a greater poem than his son would ever write. Yet still even
in such genuine sympathy, there was a certain imaginative effort to be
made. The gulf between the generations, however hidden for the moment,
was always there.

Yet, after all, James and Mary Mesurier possessed an incorruptible
treasure, which their children had neither given nor could take away. To
regard them as without future would be a shallow observation,--for love
has always a future, however old in mortal years it may have grown; and
as they grew older, their love seemed to grow stronger. Involuntarily
they seemed to draw closer together, as by an instinct of
self-preservation. Their love had been before their children; were they
to be spared, it would still be the same love, sweeter by trial, when
their children had passed from them. In this love had been wise for
them. Some parents love their children so unwisely that they forget to
love each other; and, when the children forsake them, are left
disconsolate. One has heard young mothers say that now their boy has
come, their husbands may take a second place; and often of late we have
heard the woman say: "Give me but the child, and the lover can go his
ways." Foolish, unprophetic women! Let but twenty years go by, and how
glad you will be of that rejected lover; for, though a son may suffice
for his mother, what mother has ever sufficed for her son?

But though sometimes, as they looked at their parents, the young
Mesuriers caught a glimpse of the infinite sadness of a life-work
accomplished, yet it failed to warn them against the eager haste with
which they were hurrying on towards a like conclusion. Too late they
would understand that all the joy was in the doing; too soon say to
themselves: "Was it for this that our little world shook with such fiery
commotion and molten ardours, that this present should be so firm and
insensitive beneath our feet? This habit--why, it was once a passion!
This fact--why, it was once a dream!"

Oh, why shake off youth's fragile blossoms with the very speed of your
own impatience! Why make such haste towards autumn! Who ever thought the
ruddiest lapful of apples a fair exchange for a cloud of sunlit blossom?
Whose maturity, however laden with prosperity or gilded with honour,
ever kept the fairy promise of his youth? For so brief a space youth
glitters like a dewdrop on the tree of life, glitters and is gone. For
one desperate instant of perfection it hangs poised, and is seen
no more.

But, alas! the art of enjoying youth with a wise economy is only learnt
when youth is over. It is perhaps too paradoxical an accomplishment to
be learnt before; for a youth that economised itself would be already
middle age. It is just the wasteful flare of it that leaves such a
dazzle in old eyes, as they look back in fancy to the conflagration of
fragrant fire which once bourgeoned and sang where these white ashes now
slowly smoulder towards extinction.

When Mike has a theatre of his own and can send boxes to his friends,
when Henry maybe is an editor of power, when Esther and Angel are the
enthroned wives of famous men, and the new heaven and the new earth are
quite finished,--will they never sigh sometimes to have the making of
them all over again? Then they will have everything to enjoy, so there
will be nothing left to hope for. Then there will be no spice of peril
in their loves, no keen edge that comes of enforced denial; and the game
of life will be too sure for ambition to keep its savour. "There is no
thrill, no excitement nowadays," one can almost fancy their saying, and,
like children playing with their bricks, "Now let us knock it all down,
and build another, one. It will be such fun."

However, these are intrusive, autumnal thoughts in this book of simple
youth, and our young people knew them not. They were far indeed from
Esther's mind as she talked with Dot of the future one afternoon.
Instead, her words were full of impatience with the slow march of
events, and the enforced inactivity of a girl's life at home.

"It is so much easier for the boys," she was saying. "There is something
for them to do. But we can do nothing but sit at home and wait, darn
their socks, and clap our hands at their successes. I wish I were
a man!"

"No, you don't," said Dot; "for then you couldn't marry Mike. And you
couldn't wear pretty dresses--Oh! and lots of things. I don't much envy
a man's life, after all. It's all very well talking about hard work when
you haven't got to do it; and it's not so much the work as the
responsibility. It must be such a responsibility to be a man."

"Of course you're right, Dot--but, oh! this waiting is so stupid, all
the same. If only I could be doing something--anything!"

"Well, you _are_ doing something. Is it nothing to be all the world to a
man?" said Dot, wistfully; "nothing to be his heaven upon earth? Nothing
to be the prize he is working for, and nothing to sustain and cheer him
on, as you do Mike, and as Angel cheers Henry? Would Henry have been the
same without Angel, or Mike the same without you? No, the man's work
makes more noise, but the woman's work is none the less real and useful
because it is quiet and underground."

"Dear Dot, what a wise old thing you're growing! But you know you're
longing all the time for some work to do yourself. Didn't you say the
other day that you seemed to be wasting your life here, making beds and
doing housework?"

"Yes; but I'm different. Don't you see?" retorted Dot, sadly. "I've got
no Mike. Your work is to help Mike be a great actor, but I've got no one
to help be anything. You may be sure I wouldn't complain of being idle
if I had. I think you're a bit forgetful sometimes how happy you are."

"Poor old Dot! you needn't talk as if you're such a desperate old
maid,--you're not twenty yet. And I'm sure it's a good thing for you
that you haven't got any of the young men about here--to help be
aldermen! Wait till you come and stay with us in London, then you'll
soon find some one to work for, as you call it."

"I don't know," said Dot, thoughtfully; "somehow I think I shall never
marry."

"I suppose you mean you'd rather be a nun or something serious of that
sort."

"Well, to tell the truth, I have been thinking lately if perhaps I
couldn't do something,--perhaps go into a hospital, or something of
that sort."

"Oh, nonsense, Dot! Think of all the horrible, dirty people you'd have
to attend to. Ugh!"

"Christ didn't think of that when He washed the feet of His disciples,"
said little Dot, sententiously.

"Why, Dot, how dreadfully religious you're getting! You want a good
shaking! Besides, isn't it a little impious to imply that the apostles
were horrible, dirty people?"

"You know what I meant," said Dot, flushing.

"Yes, of course, dear; and I think I know where you've been. You've been
to see that dear Sister Agatha."

"You admit she's a dear?"

"Of course I do; but I don't know whether she's quite good for you."

"If you'd only seen her among the poor little children the other day,
how beautiful and how happy she looked, you might have thought
differently," said Dot.

"Oh, yes, dear; but then you mustn't forget that her point of view is
different. She's renounced the world; she's one of those women," Esther
couldn't resist adding, maliciously, "who've given up hope of man, and
so have set all their hopes on God."

"Esther, that's unworthy of you--though what if it is as you say, is it
so great a failure after all to dedicate one's self to God rather than
to one little individual man?"

"Oh, come," said Esther, rather wilfully misunderstanding, and suddenly
flushing up, "Mike is not so little as all that!"

"Why, you goose, how earthly you are! I never thought of dear
Mike--though it would have served you right for saying such a mean thing
about Sister Agatha."

"Forgive me. I know it was mean, but I couldn't resist it. And it is
true, you'll admit, of some of those pious women, though I withdraw it
about Sister Agatha."

"Of course I couldn't be a sister like Sister Agatha," said Dot,
"without being a Catholic as well; but I might be a nurse at one of the
ordinary hospitals."

"It would be dreadfully hard work!" said Esther.

"Harder than being a man, do you think?" asked Dot, laughing.

"For goodness' sake, don't turn Catholic!" said Esther, in some alarm.
"_That_ would break father's heart, if you like."

A horror of Catholicism ran in the very marrow of these young people.
It was one of the few relics of their father's Puritanism surviving in
them. Of "Catholics" they had been accustomed to speak since childhood
as of nightmares and Red Indians with bloody scalps at their waists; and
perhaps that instinctive terror of the subtle heart of Rome is the
religious prejudice which we will do well to part with last.

Dot had not, indeed, contemplated an apostacy so unnatural; but beneath
these comparatively trivial words there was an ever-growing impulse to
fulfil that old longing of her nature to do something, as the Christians
would say, "for God," something serious, in return for the solemn and
beautiful gift of life. By an accident, she had met Sister Agatha one
day in the house of an old Irish servant of theirs, who had been
compelled to leave them on account of ill-health, and on whom she had
called with a little present of fruit. She had been struck by the
sweetness of the Sister's face, as the Sister had been struck by hers.
Sister Agatha had invited Dot to visit her some day at the home for
orphan children of which she had charge; and, with some misgiving as to
whether it was right thus to visit a Catholic, whether even it was
safe, Dot had accepted. So an acquaintance had grown up and ripened into
a friendship; and Sister Agatha, while making no attempt to turn the
friendship to the account of her church, was a great consolation to the
lonely, religious girl.

Dot retained too much rationalism ever to become a Catholic, but the
longing to do something grew and grew. At a certain moment, with each
new generation of girls, there comes an epidemical desire in maiden
bosoms to dedicate their sweet young lives to the service of what Esther
called "horrible dirty people." At these periods the hospitals are
flooded with applications from young girls whom the vernal equinox urges
first to be mothers, and, failing motherhood, nurses. Just before she
met Henry, Angel had done her best to miss him by frantic endeavours to
nurse people whom the hospital doctors decided she was far too slight a
thing to lift,--for unless you can lift your patients, not to say throw
them about, you fail in the muscular qualifications of a hospital nurse.
Dot, as we have seen, was impelled in this direction from no merely
sentimental impulse, unless the religious impulse, which paradoxically
makes nuns of disappointed mothers, may so be called. Perhaps,
unacknowledged, deep down in her heart, she longed to be the nurse--of
one little wonderful child. Had this been granted her, it is probable
that the maimed and the halt would have had less attraction for her
pitying imagination. As it was, however, she persuaded herself that she
loved them. Was it because, at the moment, no one else seemed to
need her love?



CHAPTER XXXVII

STAGE WAITS, MR. LAFLIN


Esther's impatience was to be appeased, perhaps a little to her regret
after all, by an unexpected remission of the time appointed between Mike
and his first real engagement. Suddenly one day came an exciting letter
from the great actor, saying that he saw his way to giving him a part in
his own London company, if he could join him for rehearsal in a
week's time.

Here was news! At last a foundation-stone of the new heaven was to be
laid! In a week's time Mike would be working at one of the alabaster
walls. Perhaps in two years' time, perhaps even in a year, with good
fortune, the roof would be on, the door wreathed with garlands, and a
modest little heaven ready for occupation.

Now all that remained was to make the momentous break with the old life.
Old Mr. Laflin had been left in peaceful ignorance of the mine which
must now be exploded beneath his evening armchair. Mike loved his
father, and this had been a dread long and wisely postponed. But now,
when the moment for inevitable decision had come, Mike remembered, with
a certain shrinking, that responsibility of which Dot had spoken,--the
responsibility of being a man. It was his dream to be an actor, to earn
his bread with joy. To earn it with less than joy seemed unworthy of
man. Yet there was another dream for him, still more, immeasurably more,
important--to be Esther's husband. If he stayed where he was, in slow
revolutions of a dull business, his father's place and income would
become his. If he renounced that certain prospect, he committed himself
to a destiny of brilliant chances; and for the first time he realised
that among those chances lurked, too, the chance of failure. Esther must
decide; and Henry's counsel, too, must be taken. Mike thought he knew
what the decision and the counsel would be; and, of course, he was
not mistaken.

"Why, Mike, how can you hesitate?" said Esther. "Fail, if you like, and
I shall still love you; but you don't surely think I could go on loving
a man who was frightened to try?"

That was a little hard of Esther, for Mike's fear had been for her sake,
not his own. However, that and the even more vehement counsel of Henry
had the desired bracing effect; and Mike nerved himself to deal the
necessary blow at his father's tranquillity.

As the writer of this book takes no special joy in heart-breaking scenes
with fathers, the painful and somewhat violent scene with Mr. Laflin is
here omitted, and left to the imagination of any reader with a taste for
such unnatural collisions. Any one over thirty will agree that all the
reason was on Mr. Laflin's side, as all the instinct was on his son's.
Luckily for Mike, the instinct was to prove genuine, and his father to
live to be prouder of his rebellion than ever he would have been of his
obedience.

This scene over, it was only a matter of days--five alone were
left--before Mike must up and away in right good earnest.

"Oh, Mike," said Esther, "you're sure you'll go on loving me? I'm
awfully frightened of those pretty girls in ----'s company."

"You needn't be," said Mike; "there's only one girl in the world will
look at a funny bit of a thing like me."

"Oh, I don't know," said Esther, laughing, "some big girls have such
strange tastes."

"Well, let's hope that before many months you can come and look after
me."

"If we'd only a certain five pounds a week, we could get
along,--anything to be together. Of course, we'd have to be
economical--" said Esther, thoughtfully.

On the last night but one before his leaving, it was Mike's turn for a
farewell dinner. Half-a-dozen of his best friends assembled at the
"Golden Bee," and toasts and tears were mingled to do him honour. Henry
happily caught the general feeling of the occasion in the following
verses, not hitherto printed. Henry was too much in earnest at the time
to regard the bathos of rhyming "stage waits" with such dignities as
"summoning fates," except for which _naïveté_ the poem is perhaps not a
bad example of sincere, occasional verse:

     _Dear Mike, at last the wishéd hour draws nigh--
     Weary indeed, the watching of a sky
     For golden portent tarrying afar;
     But here to-night we hail your risen star,
     To-night we hear the cry of summoning fates--
                                Stage waits!

     Stage waits! and we who love our brother so
     Would keep him not; but only ere he go,
     Led by the stars along the untried ways,
     We'd hold his hand in ours a little space,
     With grip of love that girdeth up the heart,
     And kiss of eyes that giveth strength to part.

     Some of your lovers may be half afraid
     To bid you forth, for fear of pitfalls laid
     About your feet; but we have no such fears,
     That cry is as a trumpet in our ears;
     We dare not, would not, mock those summoning fates--
                                Stage waits!

     Stage waits! and shall you fear and make delay?
     Yes! when the mariner who long time lay,
     Waiting the breeze, shall anchor when it blows;
     Yes! when a thirsty summer-flower shall close
     Against the rain; or when, in reaping days,
     The husbandman shall set his fields ablaze.

     Nay, take your breeze, drink in your strengthening rain,
     And, while you can, make harvest of your grain;
     The land is fair to which that breeze shall blow.
     The flower is sweet the rain shall set aglow,
     The grain be rich within your garner gates--
                               Stage waits!

     Stage waits! and we must loosen now your hand,
     And miss your face's gold in all our land;
     But yet we know that in a little while
     You come again a conqueror, so smile
     Godspeed, not parting, and, with hearts elate,
                               We wait_.

Yes, for the second time the die was cast. Henry was already afoot on
the adventure perilous. Now it was Mike's turn. These young people had
passionately invoked those terrible gods who fulfil our dreams, and
already the celestial machinery was beginning to move in answer. Perhaps
it just a little took their breath, to see the great wheels so readily
turning at the touch of their young hands; but they were in for it now,
and with stout hearts must abide the issue.

This was to be Esther and Mike's first experience of parting, and their
hearts sickened at the thought. Love surely does well in this world, so
full of snares and dangers, to fear to lose from its eyes for a moment
the face of its beloved; and in this respect the courage of love is the
more remarkable. How bravely it takes the appalling risks of life! To
separate for an hour may mean that never as long as the world lasts will
love hear the voice it loves again. "Good-bye," love has called gaily so
often, and waved hands from the threshold, and the beloved has called
"good-bye" and waved, and smiled back--for the last time. And yet love
faces the fears, not only of hours, but of weeks and months; weeks and
months on seas bottomless with danger, in lands rife with unknown evils,
dizzily taking the chances of desperate occupations. And the courage is
the greater, because, finally, in this world, love alone has anything to
lose. Other losses may be more or less repaired; but love's loss is, of
its essence, irreparable. Other fair faces and brave hearts the world
may bring us, but never that one face! Alas! for the most precious of
earthly things, the only precious thing of earth, there is no system of
insurance. The many waters have quenched love, and the floods drowned
it,--yet in the wide world is there no help, no hope, no recompense.

The love that bound this little circle of young people together was so
strong and warm that it had developed in them an almost painful
sensibility to such risks of loss. So it was that expressions of
affection and outward endearments were more current among them than is
usual in a land where manners, from a proper fear of exaggeration, run
to a silly extreme of unresponsiveness. They never met without showing
their joy to be again together; never parted without that inner fear
that this might be their last chance of showing their love for
each other.

"You all say good-bye as if you were going to America!" Myrtilla
Williamson had once said; "I suppose it's your Irish grandmother." And
no doubt the _empressement_ had its odd side for those who saw only
the surface.

Thus for those who love love, who love to watch for it on human faces,
Mike's good-bye at the railway station was a sight worth going far
to see.

"My word, they seem to be fond of each other, these young people!" said
a lady standing at the door of the next carriage.

Mike was leaning through the window, and Esther was pressing near to
him. They murmured low to each other, and their eyes were bright with
tears. A little apart stood a small group, in which Henry and Angel and
Ned were conspicuous, and Mike's sisters and Dot and Mat were there. A
callous observer might have laughed, so sad and solemn they were. Mike's
fun tried a rally; but his jests fell spiritless. It was not so much a
parting, one might have thought, as a funeral. Little was said, but eyes
were eloquent, either with tears, or with long strong glances that meant
undying faithfulness all round; and Mike knew that Henry's eyes were
quoting "_Allons_! after the great Companions, and to belong to them!"

Henry's will to achieve was too strong for him to think of this as a
parting; he could only think of it as a glorious beginning. There is
something impersonal in ambition, and in the absorption of the work to
be done the ambitious man forgets his merely individual sensibilities.
To achieve, though the heavens fall,--that was Henry's ambition for Mike
and for himself.

No one really believed that the train would have the hard-heartedness to
start; but at last, with deliberate intention, evidently not to be
swayed by human pity, the guard set the estranging whistle to his lips,
cold and inexorable as Nero turning down the thumb of death, and surely
Mike's sad little face began to move away from them. Hands reached out
to him, eyes streamed, handkerchiefs fluttered,--but nothing could hold
him back; and when at last a curve in the line had swallowed the white
speck of his face, they turned away from the dark gulf where the train
had been as though it were a newly opened grave.

A great to-do to make about a mere parting!--says someone. No doubt, my
dear sir! All depends upon one's standard of value. No doubt these young
people weighed life in fantastic scales. Their standard of value was, no
doubt, uncommon. To love each other was better than rubies; to lose each
other was bitter as death. For others other values,--they had found
their only realities in the human affections.



CHAPTER XXXVIII

ESTHER AND HENRY ONCE MORE


Yes, Mike had really gone. Henceforth for ever so long, he would only
exist for Esther in letters, or as a sad little voice at the end of a
wire. It had been arranged that Henry should take Esther with him for
dinner that evening to the brightest restaurant in Tyre. He was a great
believer in being together, and also in dinner, as comforters of your
sad heart. Perhaps, too, he was a little glad to feel Esther leaning
gently upon him once more. Their love was too sure and lasting and
ever-present to have many opportunities of being dramatic. Nature does
not make a fuss about gravitation. One of the most wonderful and
powerful of laws, it is yet of all laws the most retiring. Gravitation
never decks itself in rainbows, nor does it vaunt its undoubted strength
in thunder. It is content to make little show, because it is very
strong; yet you have always to reckon with it. It is undemonstrative,
but it is always there. The love of Esther and Henry was like that. It
has made little show in this history, but few readers can have missed
its presence in the atmosphere. It might go for weeks without its
festival; but there it was all the time, ready for any service, staunch
for any trial. It was one of the laws which kept the little world I have
been describing slung safely in space, and securely shining.

It was, indeed, something like a perfect relationship,--this love of
Esther and Henry. Had the laws of nature permitted it, it is probable
that Mike and Angel would have been forced to seek their mates
elsewhere. As it was, though it was thus less than marriage, it was more
than friendship--as the holy intercourse of a mother and a son is more
than friendship. Freed from the perturbations of sex, it yet gained
warmth and exhilaration from the unconscious presence of that
stimulating difference. Though they were brother and sister, friend and
friend, Henry and Esther were also man and woman. So satisfying were
they to each other, that when they sat thus together, the truth must be
told, that, for the time at all events, they missed no other man
or woman.

"I have always you," said Esther.

"Do I still matter, then?" said Henry. "Are you sure the old love is not
growing old?"

"You know it can never grow old. There is only one Mike; but there is
only one Henry too. It's a good love to have, Harry, isn't it? It makes
one feel so much safer in the world."

"Dear little Esther! Do you remember those old beatings, and that night
you brought me the cake? Bless you!"--and Henry reached his hand across
the table, and laid it so kindly on Esther's that a hovering waiter
retreated out of delicacy, mistaking the pair for lovers. It was a
mistake that was often made when they were together; and they had
sometimes laughed, when travelling, at the kind-hearted way passengers
on the point of entering their carriage had suddenly made up their minds
not to disturb the poor newly-married young things.

"And how we used to hate you once!" said Esther; "one can hardly
understand it now. Do you remember how on Sunday afternoons you would
insist on playing at church, and how, with a tablecloth for a surplice,
you used to be the minister? How you used to storm if we poor things
missed any of the responses!"

"The monstrous egoism of it all!" said Henry, laughing. "It was all got
up to give me a stage, and nothing else. I didn't care whether you
enjoyed it or not. What dragons children are!"

"'Dragons of the prime, that tare each other in their slime,'" quoted
Esther. "Yes, we tore each other, and no mistake--"

"Well, I've made up for it since, haven't I?" said Henry. "I hope I'm a
humble enough brother of the beautiful to please you nowadays."

"You're the truest, most reliable thing in the world," said Esther; "I
always think of you as something strong and true to come to--"

"Except Mike!"

"No, not even except Mike. We'll call it a draw--dear little Mike! To
think of him going further and further away every minute! I wonder where
he is by now. He must have reached Rugby long since."

At that moment the waiter ventured to approach with a silver tray. A
telegram,--it was indeed a telegram of tears and distance from Mike,
given in at Rugby. Even so long parted and so far away, Mike was still
true. He had not yet forgotten!

These young people were great extravagants of the emotional telegram.
They were probably among the earliest to apply electricity for
heart-breaking messages. Some lovers feel it a profanation thus to
reveal their souls beneath the eye of a telegraph-operator; but the
objection of delicacy ceases if you can regard the operator in his
actual capacity as a part of the machine. French perhaps is an advisable
medium; though, if the operator misunderstands it, your love is apt to
take strange forms at its destination, and if he understands it, you may
as well use English at once.

"Dear Mike! God bless him!" and they pledged Mike in Esther's favourite
champagne. The wives of great actor-managers must early inure themselves
to champagne.

"But if you're jealous of Mike," said Esther, presently, taking up the
dropped thread of their talk; "what about Angel?"

"Of course it was only nonsense," said Henry. "I know you love Angel far
too much to be jealous of her, as I love Mike; and that's just the
beautiful harmony of it all. We are just a little impregnable world of
four,--four loving hearts against the world."

"How clever it was of you to find Angel!"

"I found Mike, too!" said Henry, laughing.

"Oh, yes, I know; but then I discovered you."

"Ah, but a still higher honour belongs to me, for I discovered you,"
retorted Henry. "When you consider that I discovered three such
wonderful persons as you and Angel and Mike, don't you think, on the
whole, that I'm singularly modest?"

"Do you love me?" said Esther, presently, quite irrelevantly.

"Do you love _me_?"

"I asked first."

"Well, for the sake of argument, let us say 'yes.'"

"How much?"

"As big as the world."

"Oh, well, then, let's have some Benedictine with the coffee!" said
Esther.

"I've thought of something better, more 'sacramental,'" said Henry,
smiling, "but you couldn't conscientiously drink it with me. It's the
red drink of perfect love. Will you drink it with me?"

"Of course I will."

So the waiter brought a bottle bearing the beautiful words, "_Parfait
Amour_."

"It's like blood," said Esther; "it makes me a little frightened."

"Would you rather not drink it?" asked Henry. "You know if you drink it
with me, you must drink it with no one else. It is the law of it that we
can only drink it with one."

"Not even with Mike?"

"Not even with Mike."

"What of Angel?"

"I will drink it with no one but you as long as I live."

"I will drink it then."

They held up their glasses.

"Dear old Esther!"

"Dear old Henry!"

And then they laughed at their solemnity. It was deeply sworn!

When Esther reached home that evening, she found a further telegram from
Mike, announcing his arrival at Euston; and she had scarcely read it
when she heard her father's voice calling her. She went immediately to
the dining-room.

"Esther, dear," he said, "your mother and I want a word with you."

"No, James, you must speak for yourself in this," said Mrs. Mesurier,
evidently a little perturbed.

"Well, dear, if I must be alone in the matter, I must bear it; I cannot
shrink from my duty on that account." Then, turning to Esther, "I called
you in to speak to you about Mike Laflin--"

"Yes, father," exclaimed Esther, with a little gasp of surprise.

"I met Mr. Laflin on the boat this morning, and was much astonished and
grieved to hear of the rash step his son has chosen to take. The matter
has evidently been kept from me,"--strictly speaking, it had; "I
understand, though on that again I have not been consulted, that you and
Mike have for some time been informally engaged to each other. Now you
know my views on the theatre, and I am sure that you must see that
Mike's having taken such a step must at once put an end to any such
idea. Your own sense of propriety would, I am sure, tell you that,
without any words from me--"

"Father!" cried Esther, in astonishment.

"You know that I considered Mike a very nice lad. His family is
respectable; and he would have come into a very comfortable business, if
he hadn't taken this foolish freak into his head--"

"But, father, you have laughed at his recitations, yourself, many a
time, here of an evening. What difference can there be?"

"There is the difference of the theatre, the contaminating atmosphere,
the people it attracts, the harm it does--your father, as you know, has
never been within a theatre in his life; is it likely that he can look
with calmness upon his daughter marrying a man whose livelihood is to be
gained in a scandalous and debasing profession?"

"Father, I cannot listen to your talking of Mike like that. If it is
wrong to make people innocently happy, to make them laugh and forget
their troubles, to--to--well, if it's wrong to be Mike--I'm sorry; but,
wrong or right, I love him, and nothing will ever make me give him up."

Mrs. Mesurier here interrupted, "I told you, James, how it would be. You
cannot change young hearts. The times are not the same as when you and I
were young; and, though I'm sure I don't want to go against you, I
think you are too hard on Esther. Love is love after all--and Mike's one
of the best-hearted lads that ever walked."

"Thank you, mother," said Esther, impulsively, throwing her arms round
her mother's neck, and bursting into tears, "I--I will never
give--give--him up."

"No, dear, no; now don't distress yourself. It will all come right. Your
father doesn't quite understand." And then a great tempest of sobbing
came over Esther, and swept her away to her own room.

The father and mother turned to each other with some anger.

"James, I'm surprised at your distressing the poor child like that
to-night; you might have known she would be sensitive, with Mike only
gone to-day! You could surely have waited till to-morrow."

"I am surprised, Mary, that you can encourage her as you did. You cannot
surely uphold the theatre?"

"Well, James, I don't know,--there are theatres and theatres, and actors
and actors; and there have been some very good men actors after all, and
some very bad men ministers, if it comes to that," she added; "and
theatre or no theatre, love's love in spite of all the fathers and
mothers in the world--"

"All right, Mary, I would prefer then that we spoke no more on the
matter for this evening," and James Mesurier turned to his diary, to
record, along with the state of the weather, and the engagements of the
day, the undutiful conduct of Esther, and a painful difference with
his wife.

Strange, that men who have themselves loved and begotten should thus for
a moment imagine that a small social prejudice, or a narrow religious
formula, can break the purpose of a young and vigorous passion. Do they
realise what it is they are proposing to obstruct? This is love--_love_,
my dear sir, at once the mightiest might, and the rightest right in the
universe! This is--Niagara--the Atlantic--the power of the stars--and
the strength of the tides. It is all the winds of the world, and all the
fires of the centre. You surely cannot be serious in asking it to take,
in exchange, some obsolete objection against its beloved!



CHAPTER XXXIX

MIKE AFAR


This collision with her father braced up Esther's nerves, and made
Mike's absence easier to bear. Her father made no more allusion to it.
He was entering that period when fathers, however despotic, content
themselves with protest, where once they have governed by royal
proclamation. He was losing heart to contend with his children. They
must go their own ways--though it must not be without occasional severe
and solemn warnings on his part.

Mike and Esther wrote to each other twice a week. They had talked of
every day, but a wise instinct prompted them to the less romantic, but
likely the more enduring arrangement. It would be none the less open to
them to write fourteen letters a week if they wished, but to have had to
admit that one letter a day was a serious tax, not only on one's other
occupations, including idleness, but also on the amount of
subject-matter available, would have been a dangerous correction of an
impulsive miscalculation.

Second-rate London lodgings are not great cheerers of the human spirit,
and Mike was very lonely in his first letter or two; but, as the
rehearsals proceeded, it was evident that he was taking hold of his new
world, and the letter which told of his first night, and of his own
encouraging success in it, was buoyant with the rising tide of the
future. His chief had affectionately laid his hand on his shoulder, as
he came off from his scene, and, in the hearing of the whole company,
prophesied a great future for him.

Mike had been born under a lucky star; and he had hardly been in London
two months when accident very perceptibly brightened it. The chief
comedian in the company fell ill; and though Mike had had so little
experience, his chief had so much confidence in his native gift, that he
cast him for the vacant part. Mike more than justified the confidence,
and not only pleased him, but succeeded in individualising himself with
the audience. He had only played it for a week, when one Saturday
evening the audience, after calling the manager himself three times, set
up a cry for "Laflin." The obsequious attendant pretended to consider it
as a fourth call for the manager, and made as if to move the curtain
aside for him once more; but, with a magnanimity rare indeed in a "star"
of his magnitude, "No, no!" he said; "it is Mr. Laflin they want. Quick,
lad, and take your first call."

So little Mike stepped before the curtain, and made his first bow to an
affectionate burst of applause. What happy tears would have glittered in
Esther's eyes had she been there to see it, and in Henry's too, and
particularly, perhaps, in excitable Angel's!

Even so soon was the blossom giving promise of the fruit.



CHAPTER XL

A LEGACY MORE PRECIOUS THAN GOLD


Meanwhile, Henry plodded away at Aunt Tipping's, working sometimes on a
volume of essays for the London publisher, and sometimes on his novel,
now and again writing a review, and earning an odd guinea for a poem;
and now and again indulging in a day of richly doing nothing. Otherwise,
one day was like another, with the many exceptions of the days on which
he saw Angel or Esther. With Ned, he spent many of his evenings; and he
soon formed the pleasant habit of dropping in on Gerard, last thing
before bed-time, for a smoke and half an hour's chat.

There is always a good deal of youth left in any one who genuinely loves
youth; and Gerard always spoke of his youth as Adam, in his declining
years, might have spoken of Paradise. For him life was just youth--and
the rest of it death.

"After thirty," he would say, "the happiest life is only history
repeating itself. I am no cynic,--far from it; but the worst of life is
the monotony of the bill of fare. To do a thing once, even twice, is
delightful--perhaps even a third time is successfully possible; but to
do it four times, is middle age. If you think of it, what is there to do
after thirty that one ought not to have achieved to perfection before?
You know the literary dictum, that the poet who hasn't written a
masterpiece before he is thirty will never write any after. Of course,
there are exceptions; I am speaking of the rule. In business, for
example, what future is there for the man who has not already a dashing
past at thirty? Of course, the bulk, the massive trunk and the
impressive foliage of his business, must come afterwards; but the tree
must have been firmly rooted and stoutly branched before then, and able
to go on growing on its own account. The work, in fact, must have
been done.

"Take perhaps the only thing really worth doing in life," and Gerard
perceptibly saddened. "That is, marrying a woman you love, or I
should say _the_ woman, for you only really _love_ one woman--I'm
old-fashioned enough to think that,--well, I say, marrying the woman you
love, and bringing into the world that miracle of miracles,--a child
that shall be something of you and all her: that certainly is something
to have done before thirty, and not to be repeated, perhaps, more than
once before or after. She will want a boy like you, and you will have a
girl like her. That you may easily accomplish before thirty. Afterwards,
however, if you go on repeating each other, what do you do but blur the
individuality of the original masterpieces--though," pursued Gerard,
laughing, always ready to forget his original argument in the
seductiveness of an unexpected development of it, "though, after all, I
admit, there might be a temptation sometimes to improve upon the
originals. 'Agnes, my dear,' we might say, 'I'm not quite satisfied yet
with the shade of Eva's hair. It's nearly yours, but not quite. It's an
improvement on Anna's, whose eyes now are exactly yours. Eva's,
unfortunately, are not so faithful. I'm afraid we'll have to try again.'

"No, but seriously," he once more began, "for a really vital and
successful life there is no adequate employment of the faculties after
thirty, except, of course, in the repetition of former successes. No; I
even withdraw that,--not the repetition, only the conservation, the
feeding, of former successes. The success is in the creation. When a
world is once created, any fool can keep it spinning.

"Man's life is at least thirty years too long. Two score years is more
than enough for us to say what we were sent here to say; and if you'll
consider those biographies in which you are most interested, the
biographies of great writers, you cannot but bear me out. What, for
instance, did Keats and Shelley and Burns and Byron lose by dying, all
of them long before they were forty,--Keats even long before he was
thirty; and what did Wordsworth and Coleridge gain by living so long
after? Wordsworth and Coleridge didn't even live to repeat themselves,
else, of course, one would have begged them to go on living for ever;
for some repetitions, it is admitted, are welcome,--for instance, won't
you have a little more whisky?"

Henry always agreed so completely with Gerard's talk, or at least so
delighted in it, that he had little scope of opportunity to say much
himself; and Gerard was too keen a talker to complain of a rapt
young listener.

"How old are you?" he said, presently.

"Twenty-two next month."

"Twenty-two! How wonderful to be twenty-two! Yet I don't suppose you've
realised it in the least. In your own view, you're an aged philosopher,
white with a past, and bowed down with the cares of a future. Just you
stay in bed all day to-morrow, and ponder on the wonderfulness of being
twenty-two!

"I'm forty-two. You're beginning--I'm done with. And yet, in some ways,
I believe I'm younger than you--though, perhaps, alas! what I consider
the youth in me is only the wish to be young again, the will to do and
enjoy, without the force and the appetite. But, by the way, when I say
I'm forty-two, I mean that I'm forty-two in the course of next week,
next Thursday, in fact, and if you'll do me that kindness, I should be
grateful if you would join me that evening in celebrating the melancholy
occasion. I've got a great mind to enlist your sympathy in a little
ancient history, if it won't be too great a tax upon your goodness; but
I'll think it over between now and then."

Gerard's birthday had come; and the ancient history he had spoken of
had proved to be a chapter of his own history, the beauty and sadness of
which had made an impression upon Henry, to be rendered ineffaceable a
very few days after in a sudden and terrible manner.

One early morning about four, just as it was growing light, he had
suddenly awakened with a strong feeling that some one was bending over
him. He opened his eyes, to see, as he thought, Gerard hastily leaving
his bedside.

"Gerard!" he cried, "what's the matter?" but the figure gave no answer,
faded away down the long room, and disappeared. Henry sat up in bed and
struck a light, his heart beating violently. But there was no one there,
and the door was closed. It had evidently been one of those dreams that
persist on the eye for a moment after waking. Yet it left him uneasy;
and presently he wondered if Gerard could be ill. He determined to see;
so, slipping on his dressing-gown, he crossed the landing to Gerard's
room, and, softly knocking, opened the door and put in his head.

"Gerard, old chap, are you all right?--Gerard--"

There was no answer, and the room seemed unaccountably still. He
listened for the sound of breathing, but he couldn't hear it.

"Gerard!" he cried, again louder, but there was still no answer; and
then, with the silence, a chill terror began to creep through his blood.
He had never yet seen death; and perhaps if he had the terror in his
thought would not have been lessened. With a heart that had almost
stopped beating, and knees that shook beneath him, he pushed open the
door and walked over to the bed. It was still too dark to see more than
outlines and masses of white and black; but even so he could see that
the stillness with which Gerard was lying was the stillness of death.

His next thought was to rouse Aunt Tipping; and together the two bent
over the dead face.

"Yes, he's gone," said Aunt Tipping; "poor gentlemen, how beautiful he
looks!" and they both gazed in silence upon the calm, smiling face.

"Well, he's better off," she said, presently, leaning over him, and
softly pressing down the lids of his eyes.

Henry involuntarily drew away.

"Dear lad, there's nothing to be frightened of," said his aunt. "He's
as harmless as a baby."

Then she took a handkerchief from a drawer, and spread it gently over
the dead man's face. To Aunt Tipping the dead were indeed as little
children, and inspired her with a strange motherly tenderness. Many had
been the tired silent ones whose eyes she had closed, and whose limbs
she had washed against their last resting place. They were so helpless
now; they could do nothing any more for themselves.

Later in the day, Henry came again and sat long by the dead man's side.
It seemed uncompanionable to have grown thus suddenly afraid of him, to
leave him thus alone in that still room. And as he sat and watched him,
he gave to his memory a solemn service of faithful thought. Thus it was
he went over again the words in which Gerard had made him the
depository, the legatee, of his most sacred possession.

Gerard had evidently had some presentiment of his approaching end.

"I am going," he had said, "to place the greatest confidence in you one
man can place in another, pay you the greatest compliment. I shall die
some day, and something tells me that that divine event is not very far
off. Now I have no one in the world who cares an old 'J' pen for me, and
a new one is perhaps about as much as I care for any one--with one
exception, and that is a woman whom I shall never see again. She is not
dead, but has been worse than dead for me these ten years. I am optimist
enough to believe that her old love for me still survives, making sweet
the secret places of her soul. Never once in all these years to have
doubted her love has been more than most marriages; but were I to live
for another ten years, and still another, I would believe in it still.
But the stars were against us. We met too late. We met when she had long
been engaged to a friend of her youth, a man noble and true, to whom she
owed much, and whom she felt it a kind of murder to desert. It was one
of those fallacious chivalries of feeling which are the danger of
sensitive and imaginative minds. Religion strengthened it, as it is so
apt to strengthen any form of self-destruction, short of technical
suicide. There was but a month to their marriage when we met. For us it
was a month of rapture and agonies, of heaven shot through with hell. I
saw further than she. I begged her at least to wait a year; but the
force of my appeal was weakened by scruples similar to her own. To rob
another of his happiness is an act from which we may well shrink, though
we can clearly see that the happiness was really destined for us, and
can never be his in any like degree. During this time I had received
from her many letters, letters such as a woman only writes in the
May-morning of her passion; and one day I received the last. There was
in it one sentence which when I read it I think my heart broke, 'Do you
believe,' it ran, 'in a love that can lie asleep, as in a trance, in
this world, to awaken again in another, a love that during centuries of
silence can still be true, and be love still in a thousand years? If you
do, go on loving me. For that is the only love I dare give you. I must
love you no more in this world.'

"Each morning as I have risen, and each night as I have turned to sleep,
those words have repeated themselves again and again in my heart, for
ten years. It was so I became the Ashton Gerard you know to-day. Since
that day, we have never met or written to each other. All I know is that
she is still alive, and still with him, and never would I disturb their
peace. When I die, I would not have her know it. If love _is_ immortal,
we shall meet again--when I am worthier to meet her. Such reunions are
either mere dreams, or they are realities to which the strongest forces
of the universe are pledged."

Henry's only comment had been to grip Gerard's hand, and give him the
sympathy of silence.

"Now," said Gerard, once more after a while, "it is about those letters
I want to speak to you. They are here," and he unlocked a drawer and
drew from it a little silver box. "I always keep them here. The key of
the drawer is on this ring, and this little gold key is the key of the
box itself. I tell you this, because I have what you may regard as a
strange request to make.

"I suppose most men would consider it their duty either to burn these
letters, or leave instructions for them to be buried with them. That is
a gruesome form of sentiment in which I have too much imagination to
indulge. Both my ideas of duty and sentiment take a different form. The
surname of the writer of these letters is nowhere revealed in them, nor
are there any references in them by which she could ever be identified.
Therefore the menace to her fair fame in their preservation is not a
question involved. Now when the simplest woman is in love, she writes
wonderfully; but when a woman of imagination and intellect is caught by
the fire of passion, she becomes a poet. Once in her life, every such
woman is an artist; once, for some one man's unworthy sake, she becomes
inspired, and out of the fulness of her heart writes him letters warm
and real as the love-cries of Sappho. Such are the letters in this
little box. They are the classic of a month's passion, written as no man
has ever yet been able to write his love. Do you think it strange then
that I should shrink from destroying them? I would as soon burn the
songs of Shelley. They are living things. Shall I selfishly bury the
beating heart of them in the silence of the grave?

"So, Mesurier," he continued, affectionately, "when I met you and
understood something of your nature, I thought that in you I had found
one who was worthy to guard this treasure for me, and perhaps pass it on
again to some other chosen spirit--so that these beautiful words of a
noble woman's heart shall not die--for when a man loves a woman,
Mesurier, as you yourself must know, he is insatiable to hear her
praise, and it is agony for him to think that her memory may suffer
extinction. Therefore, Mesurier,--Henry, let me call you,--I want to
give the memory of my love into your hands. I want you to love it for
me, when perhaps I can love it no more. I want you sometimes to open
this box, and read in these letters, as if they were your own; I want
you sometimes to speak softly the name of 'Helen,' when my lips can
speak it no more."

Such was the beautiful legacy of which Henry found himself the possessor
by Gerard's death. Early on that day he had remembered his promise to
his dead friend, and had found the silver box, and locked it away among
his own most sacred things. Some day, in an hour and place upon which
none might break, he would open the little box and read Helen's letters,
as Gerard had wished. Already one sentence was fixed unforgettably upon
his mind, and he said it over softly to himself as he sat by Gerard's
silent bed: "Do you believe in a love that can lie asleep, as in a
trance in this world, to awaken again in another,--a love that during
centuries of silence can still be true, and be love still in a thousand
years? If you do, go on loving me. For that is the only love I dare give
you; I must love you no more in this world."

Strange dreams of the indomitable dust! Already another man's love was
growing dear to him. Already his soul said the name of "Helen" softly
for Gerard's sake.



CHAPTER XLI

LABORIOUS DAYS


With Gerard's death, Henry began to find Aunt Tipping's too sad a place
to go on living in. It had become haunted; and when new people moved
into Gerard's rooms, it became still more painful for him. It was as
though Gerard had been dispossessed and driven out. So he cast about for
some new shelter; and, one day, chance having taken him to the shipping
end of the city, he came upon some old offices which seemed full of
anxiety to be let. Inquiring of a chatty little housekeeper's wife, he
discovered, away at the echoing top of the building, a big, well-lighted
room, for which she thought the owner would be glad to take ten pounds a
year. That whole storey was deserted. Henry made up his mind at once,
and broke the news to Aunt Tipping that evening. It was the withering of
one of her few rays of poetry, and she struggled to keep him; but when
she saw how it was, the good woman insisted that he should take
something from her towards furnishing. Receiving was nothing like so
blessed as giving for Aunt Tipping. That old desk,--yes, she had bought
it for him,--that he must certainly take, and think of his old aunt
sometimes as he wrote his great books on it; and some bed-linen she
could well afford. She would take no denial.

Angel and Esther were then called in to help him in the purchase of a
carpet, a folding-bed, an old sofa, and a few chairs. A carpenter got to
work on the bookshelves, and in a fortnight's time still another
habitation had been built for the Muse,--a habitation from which she was
not destined to remove again, till she and Angel and Henry all moved
into one house together,--a removal which was, as yet, too far off to be
included in this history.

Ten pounds a year, a folding-bed, and a teapot!--this was Henry's new
formula for the cultivation of literature. He had so far progressed in
his ambitions as to have arrived at the dignity of a garret of his own,
and he liked to pretend that soon he might be romantically fortunate
enough to sit face to face with starvation. He knew, however, that it
would be a starvation mitigated by supplies from three separate,
well-lardered homes. A lad with a sweetheart and a sister, a mother and
an aunt, all in love with him, is not likely to become an authority on
starvation in its severest forms.

A stern law had been passed that Henry's daytime hours were to be as
strictly respected as those of a man of business; yet quite often, about
eleven o'clock in the morning, there would come a heavenly whisper along
the passage and a little knock on the door, soft as a flower tapping
against a window-pane.

"Thank goodness, that's Angel!

"Angel, bless you! How glad I am to see you! I can't get on a bit with
my work this morning."

"Oh, but I haven't come to interrupt you, dear. I sha'n't keep you five
minutes. Only I thought, dear, you'd be so tired of pressed beef and
tinned tongue, and so I thought I'd make a little hot-pot for you. I
bought the things for it as I came along, and it won't take five
minutes, if Mrs. Glass [the housekeeper] will only lend me a basin to
put it in, and bake it for you in her oven. Now, dear, you mustn't--you
know I mustn't stay. See now, I'll just take off my hat and jacket and
run along to Mrs. Glass, to get what I want. I'll be back in a minute.
Well, then, just one--now that's enough; good-bye," and off she
would skip.

If you want to know how fairies look when they are making hot-pot, you
should have seen Angel's absorbed little shining face.

"Now, do be quiet, Henry. I'm busy. Why don't you get on with your work?
I won't speak a word."

"Angel, dear, you might just as well stay and help me to eat it. I
sha'n't do any work to-day, I know for certain. It's one of my
bad days."

"Now, Henry, that's lazy. You mustn't give way like that. You'll make me
wish I hadn't come. It's all my fault."

"No, really, dear, it isn't. I haven't done a stroke all morning--though
I've sat with my pen for two hours. You might stay, Angel, just an
hour or two."

"No, Henry; mother wants me back soon. She's house-cleaning. And
besides, I mustn't. No--no--you see I've nearly finished now--see! Get
me the salt and pepper. There now--that looks nice, doesn't it? Now
aren't I a good little housewife?"

"You would be, if you'd only stay. Do stay, Angel. Really, darling, it
will be all the same if you go. I know I shall do nothing. Look at my
morning's work, and he brought her a sheet of paper containing two lines
and a half of new-born prose, one line and a half of which was
plentifully scratched out. To this argument he added two or three
persuasive embraces.

"It's really true, Henry? Well, of course, I oughtn't; but if you can't
work, of course you can't. And you must have a little rest sometimes, I
know. Well, then, I'll stay; but only till we've finished lunch, you
know, and we must have it early. I won't stay a minute past two o'clock,
do you hear? And now I'll run along with this to Mrs. Glass."

When Angel had gone promptly at three, as likely as not another step
would be heard coming down the passage, and a feminine rustle,
suggesting a fuller foliage of skirts, pause outside the door, then a
sort of brotherly-sisterly knock.

"Esther! Why, you've just missed Angel; what a pity!"

"Well, dear, I only ran up for half-a-minute. I was shopping in town,
and I couldn't resist looking in to see how the poor boy was getting on.
No, dear, I won't take my things off. I must catch the half-past three
boat, and then I'll keep you from your work?"

Esther always said this with a sort of suggestion in her voice that it
was just possible Henry might have found some new way of both keeping
her there and doing his work at the same time; as though she had said,
"I know you cannot possibly work while I am here; but, of course, if you
can, and talking to me all the time won't interfere with it--well,
I'll stay."

"Oh, no, you won't really. To tell the truth, I've done none to-day. I
can't get into the mood."

"So you've been getting Angel to help you. Oh, well, of course, if Angel
can be allowed to interrupt you, I suppose I can too. Well, then, I'll
stay a quarter of an hour."

"But you may as well take your things off, and I'll make a cup of tea,
eh? That'll be cosey, won't it? And then you can read me Mike's last
letter, eh?"

"Oh, he's doing splendidly, dear! I had a lovely letter from him this
morning. Would you really care to hear a bit of it?"

And Esther would proceed to read, picking her way among the endearments
and the diminutives.

"I _am_ glad, dear. Why, if he goes on at this rate, you'll be able to
get married in no time."

"Yes; isn't it splendid, dear? I am so happy! What I'd give to see his
little face for five minutes! Wouldn't you?"

"Rather. Perhaps he'll be able to run up on Bank Holiday."

"I'm afraid not, dear. He speaks of it in his letter, and just hopes for
it; but rather fears they'll have to play at Brighton, or some other
stupid seaside place."

"That's a bother. Yes, dear old Mike! To think of him working away there
all by himself--God bless him! Do you know he's never seen this old
room? It struck me yesterday. It doesn't seem quite warmed till he's
seen it. Wouldn't it be lovely to have him here some night?--one of our
old, long evenings. Well, I suppose it will really come one of these
days. And then we shall be having you married, and going off to London
in clouds of glory, while poor old Henry grubs away down here in Tyre."

"Well, if we do go first, you will not be long after us, dear; and if
only Mike could make a really great hit, why, in five years' time we
might all be quite rich. Won't it be wonderful?"

Then the kettle boiled, and Henry made the tea; and when it had long
since been drunk, Esther began to think it must be five o'clock, and,
horrified to find it a quarter to six, confessed to being ashamed of
herself, and tried to console her conscience by the haste of
her good-bye.

"I'm afraid I've wasted your afternoon," she said; "but we don't often
get a chat nowadays, do we? Good-bye, dear. Go on loving me, won't you?"

After that, Henry would give the day up as a bad job, and begin to
wonder if Ned would be dropping in that evening for a smoke; and as that
was Ned's almost nightly custom about eight o'clock, the chances of
Henry's disappointment were not serious.



CHAPTER XLII

A HEAVIER FOOTFALL


One morning, as Henry was really doing a little work, a more ponderous
step broke the silence of his landing, a heavy footfall full of
friendship. Certainly that was not Angel, nor even the more weighty
Esther, though when the knock came it was little and shy as a woman's.

Henry threw open the door, but for a moment there was no one to be seen;
and then, recalling the idiosyncrasy of a certain new friend whom by
that very token he guessed it might be, he came out on to the landing,
to find a great big friendly man in corpulent blue serge, a rough, dark
beard, and a slouched hat, standing a few feet off in a deprecating
way,--which really meant that if there were any ladies in the room with
Mr. Mesurier, he would prefer to call another time. For though he had
two or three grownup daughters of his own, this giant of a man was as
shy of a bit of a thing like Angel, whom he had met there one day, as
though he were a mere boy. He always felt, he once said in explanation,
as though he might break them in shaking hands. They affected him like
the presence of delicate china, and yet he could hold a baby deftly as
an elephant can nip up a flower; and to see him turn over the pages of a
delicate _édition de luxe_ was a lesson in tenderness. For this big man
who, as he would himself say, looked for all the world like a pirate,
was as insatiable of fine editions as a school-girl of chocolate creams.
He was one of those dearest of God's creatures, a gentle giant; and his
voice, when it wasn't necessary to be angry, was as low and kind as an
old nurse at the cradle's side.

Henry had come to know him through his little Scotch printer, who
printed circulars and bill-heads, for the business over which Mr.
Fairfax--for that was his name--presided. By day he was the vigorous
brain of a huge emporium, a sort of Tyrian Whiteley's; but day and night
he was a lover of books, and you could never catch him so busy but that
he could spare the time mysteriously to beckon you into his private
office, and with the glee of a child, show you his last large paper. He
not only loved books; but he was rumoured liberally to have assisted one
or two distressed men of genius well-known to the world. The tales of
the surreptitious goodness of his heart were many; but it was known too
that the big kind man had a terribly searching eye under his briery
brows, and could be as stern towards ingratitude as he was soft to
misfortune. Henry once caught a glimpse of this as they spoke of a
mutual friend whom he had helped to no purpose. Mr. Fairfax never used
many words, on this occasion he was grimly laconic.

"Rat-poison!" he said, shaking his head. "Rat-poison!" It was his way of
saying that that was the only cure for that particular kind of man.

It was evident that his generous eye had seen how things were with
Henry. He had subscribed for at least a dozen copies of "The Book of
Angelica," and in several ways shown his interest in the struggling
young poet. As has been said, he had seen Angelica one day, and his
shyness had not prevented his heart from going out to these two young
people, and the dream he saw in their eyes. He had determined to do
what he could to help them, and to-day he had come with a plan.

"I hope you're not too proud to give me a hand, Mr. Mesurier, in a
little idea I've got," he said.

"I think you know how proud I am, and how proud I'm not, Mr. Fairfax,"
said Henry. "I'm sure anything I could do for you would make me proud,
if that's what you mean."

"Thank you. Thank you. But you mustn't speak too fast. It's
advertising--does the word frighten you? No? Well, it's a scheme I've
thought of for a little really artistic and humorous advertising
combined. I've got a promise from one of the most original artists of
the day, you know his name, to do the pictures; and I want you to do the
verses--at, I may say, your own price. It's not, perhaps, the highest
occupation for a poet; but it's something to be going on with; and if
we've got good posters as advertisements, I don't see why we shouldn't
have good humorous verse. What do you think of it?"

"I think it's capital," said Henry, who was almost too ready to turn his
hand to anything. "Of course I'll do it; only too glad."

"Well, that's settled. Now, name your price. Don't be frightened!"

"Really, I can't. I haven't the least idea what I should get. Wait till
I have done a few of the verses, and you can give me what you please."

"No, sir," said Mr. Fairfax; "business is business. If you won't name a
figure, I must. Will you consider a hundred pounds sufficient?"

"A hundred pounds!" Henry gasped out, the tears almost starting to his
eyes.

Mr. Fairfax did not miss his frank joy, and liked him for his
ingenuousness.

"All right, then; we'll call it settled. I shall be ready for the verses
as soon as you care to write them."

"Mr. Fairfax, I will tell you frankly that this is a great deal to me,
and I thank you from my heart."

"Not a word, not a word, my boy. We want your verses, we want your
verses. That's right, isn't it? Good verses, good money! Now no more of
that," and the good man, in alarm lest he should be thanked further,
made an abrupt and awkward farewell.

"It will keep the lad going a few months anyhow," he said to himself,
as he tramped downstairs, glad that he'd been able to think of
something; for, while the scheme was admirable as an advertisement, and
would more than repay Messrs. Owens' outlay, its origin had been pure
philanthropy. Such good angels do walk this world in the guise of bulky,
quite unpoetic-looking business-men.

"One hundred pounds!" said Henry, over and over again to himself. "One
hundred pounds! What news for Angel!"

He had soon a scheme in his head for the book, which entirely hit Mr.
Fairfax's fancy. It was to make a volume of verse celebrating each of
the various departments of the great store, in metres parodying the
styles of the old English ballads and various poets, ancient and modern,
and was to be called, "Bon Marché Ballads."

"Something like this, for example," said Henry, a few days later,
pulling an envelope covered with pencil-scribble from his pocket. "This
for the ladies' department,--

     _"Oh, where do you buy your hats, lady?
           And where do you buy your hose?
         And where do you buy your shoes, lady?
           And where your underclothes?_

_"Hats, shoes, and stockings, everything
       A lady's heart requires,
     Quality good, and prices low,
       We are the largest buyers!

     "The stock we bought on Wednesday last
       Is fading fast away,
     To-morrow it may be too late--
       Oh, come and buy to-day!"_

Mr. Fairfax fairly trumpeted approval. "If they're all as good as that,"
he said; "you must have more money. Yes, you must. Well, well,--we'll
see, we'll see!" And when the "Bon Marché Ballads" actually appeared,
the generous creature insisted on adding another fifty pounds to
the cheque.

As many were afterwards of opinion that Henry never again did such good
work as these nonsense rhymes, written thus for a frolic,--and one
hundred and fifty pounds,--and as copies of the "Bon Marché Ballads" are
now exceedingly scarce, it may possibly be of interest to quote two or
three more of its preposterous numbers. This is a lyric illustrative of
cheese, for the provision department:--

     "_Are you fond of cheese?
       Do you sometimes sigh
     For a really good
       Gorgonzola? Try,

     "Try our one-and-ten,
       Wonderfully rotten,
     Tasted once, it never can
       Be again forgotten_!"

Here is "a Ballad of Baby's Toys:"--

     "_Oh, give me a toy" the baby said--
       The babe of three months old,--
     Oh, what shall I buy my little babee,
       With silver and with gold?"

     "I would you buy a trumpet fine,
       And a rocking-horse for me,
     And a bucket and a spade, mother,
       To dig beside the sea."

     "But where shall I buy these pretty things?"
       The mother's heart inquires.
     "Oh, go to Owens!" cried the babe;
       "They are the largest buyers."_

The subject of our last selection is "Melton Mowbray," which bore
beneath its title due apologies to Mr. Swinburne:--

     _"Strange pie, that is almost a passion,
       O passion immoral, for pie!
     Unknown are the ways that they fashion,
       Unknown and unseen of the eye,
     The pie that is marbled and mottled,
       The pie that digests with a sigh:
     For all is not Bass that is bottled,
       And all is not pork that is pie."_

Of all the goodness else that Henry and Angel were to owe in future days
to Mr. Fairfax, there is not room in this book to write. But that
matters little, for is it not written in the Book of Love?



CHAPTER XLIII

STILL ANOTHER CALLER


One afternoon the step coming along the corridor was almost light enough
to be Angel's, though a lover's ear told him that hers it was not. Once
more that feminine rustle, the very whisper of romantic mystery; again
the little feminine knock.

Daintiness and Myrtilla!

"Well, this is lovely of you, Myrtilla! But what courage! How did you
ever dare venture into this wild and savage spot,--this
mountain-fastness of Bohemia?"

"Yes, it was brave of me, wasn't it?" said Myrtilla, with a little
laugh, for which the stairs had hardly left her breath. "But what a
climb! It is like having your rooms on the Matterhorn. I think I must
write a magazine article: 'How I climbed the fifty-thousand stairs,'
with illustrations,--and we could have some quite pretty ones," she
said, looking round the room.

"That big skylight is splendid! As close, dear lad, to the stars as you
can get it? Are you as devoted to them as ever?"

"Aren't you, Myrtilla?"

"Oh, yes; but they don't get any nearer, you know."

"It's awfully good to see you again, Myrtilla," said Henry, going over
to her and taking both her hands. "It's quite a long time, you know,
since we had a talk. It was a sweet thought of you to come. You'll have
some tea, won't you?"

"Yes, I should love to see you make tea. Bachelors always make such good
tea. What pretty cups! My word, we are dainty! I suppose it was Esther
bought them for you?"

Henry detected the little trap and smiled. No, it hadn't been Esther.

"No? Someone else then? eh! I think I can guess her name. It was mean of
you not to tell me about her, Henry. I hear she's called Angel, and that
she looks like one. I wish I could have seen her before I went away."

"Going away, Myrtilla? why, where? I've heard nothing of it. Tell me
about it."

The atmosphere perceptibly darkened with the thought of Williamson.

"Well!" she said, in the little airy melodious way she had when she was
telling something particularly unhappy about herself--a sort of
harpsichord bravado--"Well, you know, he's taken to fancying himself
seriously ill lately, and the doctors have aided and abetted him; and so
we're going to Davos Platz, or some such health-wilderness--and well,
that's all!"

"And you I suppose are to nurse the--to nurse him?" said Henry,
savagely.

"Hush, lad! It's no use, not a bit! You won't help me that way," she
said, laying her hand kindly on his, and her eyes growing bright with
suppressed tears.

"It's a shame, nevertheless, Myrtilla, a cruel shame!"

"You'd like to say it was a something-else shame, wouldn't you, dear
boy? Well, you can, if you like: but then you must say no more. And if
you really want to help me, you shall send me a long letter now and
again, with some of your new poems enclosed; and tell me what new books
are worth sending for? Will you do that?"

"Of course, I will. That's precious little to do anyhow."

"It's a good deal, really. But be sure you do it."

"And, of course, you'll write to me sometimes. I don't think you know
yet what your letters are to me. I never work so well as when I've had a
letter from you."

"Really, dear lad, I don't fancy you know how happy that makes me to
hear."

"Yes, you take just the sort of interest in my work I want, and that no
one else takes."

"Not even Angel?" said Myrtilla, slily.

"Angel, bless her, loves my work; and is a brave little critic of it;
but then it isn't disloyal to her to say that she doesn't know as much
as you. Besides, she doesn't approach it in quite the same way. She
cares for it, first, because it is mine, and only secondly for its own
sake. Now you care for it just for what it is--"

"I care for it, certainly, for what it's going to be," said Myrtilla,
making one of those honest distinctions which made her opinion so
stimulating to Henry.

"Yes, there you are. You're artistically ambitious for me; you know what
I want to do, even before I know myself. That's why you're so good for
me. No one but you is that for me; and--poor stuff as I know it
is--never write a word without wondering what you will think of it."

"You're sure it's quite true," said Myrtilla; "don't say so if it isn't.
Because you know you're saying what I care most to hear, perhaps, of
anything you could say. You know how I love literature, and--well, you
know too how fond I am of you, dear lad, don't you?"

Literary criticism had kindled into emotion; and Henry bent down, and
kissed Myrtilla's hand. In return she let her hand rest a moment lightly
on his hair, and then, rather spasmodically, turned to remark on his
bookshelves with suspicious energy.

At that moment another step was heard in the corridor, again feminine.
Henry knew it for Angel's; and it may be that his expression grew a
shade embarrassed, as he said:

"I believe I shall be able to introduce you to Angel after all--for I
think this is she coming along the passage."

As Henry opened the door, Angel was on the point of throwing her arms
round his neck, when, noticing a certain constraint in his manner of
greeting, she realised that he was not alone.

"We were just talking of you, dear," said Henry. "This is my friend,
Mrs. Williamson,--'Myrtilla,' of whom you've often heard me speak."

"Oh, yes, I've often heard of Mrs. Williamson," said Angel, not of
course suffering the irony of her thought to escape into her voice.

"And I've heard no less of Miss Flower," said Mrs. Williamson, "not
indeed from this faithless boy here,--for I haven't seen him for so long
that I've had to humble myself at last and call,--but from Esther."

Myrtilla loved the transparent face, pulsing with light, flushing or
fading with her varying mood, answering with exquisite delicacy to any
advance and retreat of the soul within. But an invincible prejudice, or
perhaps rather fear, shut Angel's eyes from the appreciation of
Myrtilla. She was sweet and beautiful, but to the child that Angel still
was she suggested malign artifice. Angel looked at her as an imaginative
child looks at the moon, with suspicion.

So, in spite of Myrtilla's efforts to make friends, the conversation
sustained a distinct loss in sprightliness by Angel's arrival.

Myrtilla, perhaps divining a little of the truth, rose to go.

"Well, I'm afraid it's quite a long good-bye," she said.

"Oh, you're going away?" said Angel, with a shade of relief
involuntarily in her voice.

"Oh, yes, perhaps before we meet again, you and Henry will be married.
I'm sure I sincerely hope so."

"Thank you," said Angel, somewhat coldly.

"Well, good-bye, Henry," said Myrtilla,--it was rather a strangled
good-bye,--and then, in an evil moment, she caught sight of the Dante's
head which, hidden in a recess, she had not noticed before. "I see
you're still faithful to the Dante," she said; "that's sweet of
you,--good-bye, good-bye, Miss Flower, Angel, perhaps you'll let me say,
good-bye."

When she had gone there seemed a curious constraint in the air. You
might have said that the consistency of the air had been doubled.
Gravitation was at least twice as many pounds as usual to the square
inch. Every little movement seemed heavy as though the medium had been
water instead of air. As Henry raised his hands to help Angel off with
her jacket, they seemed weighted with lead.

"No, thank you," said Angel, "I won't take it off. I can't stay long."

"Why, dear, what do you mean? I thought you were going to stay the
evening with me. I've quite a long new chapter to read to you."

"I'm sorry, Henry,--but I find I can't."

"Why, dear, how's that? Won't you tell me the reason? Has anything
happened?"

Angel stood still in the middle of the room, with her face as firmly
miserable as she could make it.

"Won't you tell me?" Henry pleaded. "Won't you speak to me? Come,
dear--what's the matter?"

"You know well enough, Henry, what's the matter!" came an unexpected
flash of speech.

"Indeed, I don't. I know of no reason whatever. How should I?"

"Well, then, Mrs. Williamson's the matter!--'Myrtilla,' as you call her.
Something told me it was like this all along, though I couldn't bear to
doubt you, and so I put it away. I wonder how often she's been here when
I have known nothing about it."

"This is the very first time she has ever set foot in these rooms,"
said Henry, growing cold in his turn. "I'll give you my word of honour,
if you need it."

"I don't want to hear any more. I'm going. Good-bye."

"Going, Angel?" said Henry, standing between her and the door. "What can
you mean? See now,--give your brains a chance! You're not thinking in
the least. You've just let yourself go--for no reason at all. You'll be
sorry to-morrow."

"Reason enough, I should think, when I find that you love another
woman!"

"I love Myrtilla Williamson! It's a lie, Angel--and you ought to be
ashamed to say it. It's unworthy of you."

"Why have you never told me then who made that sketch of Dante for you?
I suppose I should never have known, if she hadn't let it out. I asked
you once, but you put me off."

Henry had indeed prevaricated, for Angel had chanced to ask him just
after Myrtilla's letter about his poems.

"Well, I'll be frank," said Henry. "I didn't tell you, just because I
feared an unreasonable scene like this--"

"If there had been nothing in it, there was nothing to fear; and, in
any case, why should she paint pictures for you, if she doesn't care for
you?--No, I'm going. Nothing will persuade me otherwise. Henry, please
let pass, if you're a gentleman--" and poor little Angel's face fairly
flamed. "No power on earth will keep me here--"

"All right, Angel--" and Henry let her have her way. Her feet echoed
down the stairs, further and further away. She was gone; and Henry spent
that evening in torturingly imagining every kind of accident that might
happen to her on the way home. Every hour he expected to be suddenly
called to look at her dead body--his work. And so the night passed, and
the morning dawned in agony. So went the whole of the next day, for he
could be proud too--and the fault had been hers.

Thus they sat apart for three days, poles of determined silence. And
then at last, on the evening of the third day, Henry, who was half
beside himself with suspense, heard, with wild thankfulness, once more
the little step in the passage--it seemed fainter, he thought, and
dragged a little, and the knock at the door was like a ghost's.

There, with a wan smile, Angel stood; and with joy, wordless because
unspeakable, they fell almost like dead things into each other's arms.
For an hour they sat thus, and never spoke a word, only stroking each
other's hands and hair. It was so good for each to know that the other
was alive. It took so long for the stored agony in the nerves to relax.

"I haven't eaten a morsel since Wednesday," said Angel, at last.

"Nor I," said Henry.

"Henry, dear, I'm sorry. I know now I was wrong. I give you my word
never to doubt you again."

"Thank you, Angel. Don't let us even think of it any more."

"I couldn't live through it again, darling."

"But it can never happen any more, can it?"

"No!--but--if you ever love any woman better than you love me, you'll
tell me, won't you? I could bear that better than to be deceived."

"Yes, Angel, I promise to tell you."

"Well, we're really happy again now--are we? I can hardly believe it--"

"You didn't see me outside your house last night, did you?"

"Henry!"

"Yes, I was there. And I watched you carry the light into your bedroom,
and when you came to the window to draw down the blind, I thought you
must have seen me. Yes, I waited and waited, till I saw the light go out
and long after--"

"Oh, Henry--you do love me then?"

"And we do know how to hate each other sometimes, don't we, child?" said
Henry, laughing into Angel's eyes, all rainbows and tears.



CHAPTER XLIV

THE END OF A BEGINNING


And now blow, all ye trumpets, and, all ye organs, tremble with exultant
sound! Bring forth the harp, and the psaltry, and the sackbut! For the
long winter of waiting is at an end, and Mike is flying north to fetch
his bride. Now are the walls of heaven built four-square, and to-day was
the roof-beam hung with garlands. 'Tis but a small heaven, yet is it big
enough for two,--and Mike is flying north, flying north, through the
midnight, to fetch his bride.

Henry and the morning meet him at Tyre. Blessings on his little wrinkled
face! The wrinkles are deeper and sweeter by a year's hard work. He has
laughed with them every night for full twelve months, laughed to make
others laugh. To-day he shall laugh for himself alone. The very river
seems glad, and tosses its shaggy waves like a faithful dog; and over
yonder in Sidon, where the sun is building a shrine of gold and pearl,
Esther, sleepless too, all night, waits at a window like the
morning-star.

Oh, Mike! Mike! Mike! is it you at last?

Oh, Esther, Esther, is it you?

Their faces were so bright, as they gazed at each other, that it seemed
they might change to stars and wing together away up into the morning.
Henry snatched one look at the brightness and turned away.

"She looked like a spirit!" said Mike, as they met again further along
the road.

"He looked like a little angel," said Esther, as she threw herself into
Dot's sympathetic arms.

A few miles from Sidon there stood an old church, dim with memories, in
a churchyard mossy with many graves. It was hither some few hours after
that unwonted carriages were driving through the snow of that happy
winter's day. In one of them Esther and Henry were sitting,--Esther
apparelled in--but here the local papers shall speak for us: "The
bride," it said, "was attired in a dress of grey velvet trimmed with
beaver, and a large picturesque hat with feathers to match; she carried
a bouquet of white chrysanthemums and hyacinths."

"The very earth has put on white to be your bridesmaid!" said Henry,
looking out on the sunlit snow.

"After all, though, of course, I'm sad in one way," said Esther, more
practical in her felicitations, "I'm glad in another that father
wouldn't give me away. For it was really you who gave me to Mike long
ago; wasn't it?--and so it's only as it should be that you should give
me to him to-day."

"You'll never forget what we've been to each other?"

"Don't you know?"

"Yes, but our love has no organs and presents and prayer-books to bind
it together."

"Do you think it needs it?"

"Of course not! But it would be fun for us too some day to have a
marriage. Why should only one kind of love have its marriage ceremony?
When Mike's and your wedding is over, let's tell him that we're going
to send out cards for ours!"

"All right. What form shall the ceremony take--_Parfait Amour_?"

"You haven't forgotten?"

"I shall forget just the second after you--not before--and, no, I won't
be mean, I'll not even forget you then."

"Kiss me, Esther," said Henry.

"Kiss me again, Esther," he said. "Do you remember?"

"The cake and the beating?"

"Yes, that was our marriage."

       *       *       *       *       *

When all the glory of that happy day hung in crimson low down in the
west, like a chariot of fire in which Mike and Esther were speeding to
their paradise, Henry walked with Angel, homeward through the streets of
Tyre, solemn with sunset. In both that happy day still lived like music
richly dying.

"Well," said Angel, in words far too practical for such a sunset, "I am
so glad it all went off so well. Poor dear Mrs. Mesurier, how bonny she
looked! And your dear old Aunt Tipping! Fancy her hiding there in
the church--"

"Of course we'd asked her," said Henry; "but, poor old thing, she
didn't feel grand enough, as she would say, to come publicly."

"And your poor father! Fancy him coming home for the lunch like that!"

"After all, it was logical of him," said Henry. "I suppose he had made
up his mind that he would resist as long as it was any use, and after
that--gracefully give in. And he was always fond of Mike."

"But didn't Esther cry, when he kissed her, and said that, since she'd
chosen Mike, he supposed he must choose him too. And Mike was as good as
crying too?"

"I think every one was. Poor mother was just a mop."

"Well, they're nearly home by now, I suppose."

"Yes, another half-hour or so."

"Oh, Henry, fancy! How wonderful for them! God bless them. I _am_ glad!"

"I wonder when we shall get our home," said Henry, presently.

"Oh, Henry, never mind us! I can't think of any one but them to-day."

"Well, dear, I didn't mean to be selfish--I was only wondering how
long you'd be willing to wait for me?"

"Suppose I were to say 'for ever!' Would that make you happy?"

"Well, I think, dear--I might perhaps arrange things by then."



THE END





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