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´╗┐Title: Where the Blue Begins
Author: Morley, Christopher, 1890-1957
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Where the Blue Begins" ***

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WHERE THE BLUE BEGINS

by Christopher Morley



               TO FELIX and TOTO



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

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

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



CHAPTER ONE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"It's spring," Mike said.

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

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

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



CHAPTER TWO

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

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

He picked them up carefully and carried them home.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER THREE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER FOUR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     MR. GISHING FAMILY WOSH

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

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



CHAPTER FIVE

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. Poodle was rather embarrassed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Daddy, a keeto, a keeto!"

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

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

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



CHAPTER SIX

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I wish to see Mr. Beagle."

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

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

"Have you an appointment?"

"Yes," he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gissing negligently dusted his shoes with a handkerchief.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"In the Bargain Basement," said Gissing promptly.

"He'll do!" cried the president.

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. Beagle looked thoughtfully out of the window.

"Thirty dollars a week," he said.

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



CHAPTER SEVEN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"God, I defy you!" he cried.



CHAPTER EIGHT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

           MR. GISSING.

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

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

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

              MRS. SPANIEL.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Oh, Mr. Gissing," she exclaimed, "I've been waiting all evening for
you to come in. Purp and I wondered if you'd seen this in the paper
to-night? Purp noticed it in the ads., but we couldn't understand what
it meant."

She held out a page of classified advertising, in which he read with
amazement:


PERSONAL

If MR. GISSING, late floorwalker at Beagle and Company, will communicate
with Mr. Beagle Senior, he will hear matters greatly to his advantage.



CHAPTER NINE

There had been great excitement in the private offices of Beagle
and Company after Gissing's sudden disappearance. Old Mr. Beagle was
furious, and hotly scolded his son. In spite of his advanced age, Beagle
senior was still an autocrat and insisted on regulating the details
of the great business he had built up. "You numbskull!" he shouted to
Beagle junior, "that fellow was worth any dozen others in the place, and
you let him be fired by a mongrel superintendent."

"But, Papa," protested the vice-president, "the superintendent had to
obey the rules. You know how strict the underwriters are about smoking.
Of course he should have warned Gissing, instead of discharging him."

"Rules!" interrupted old Beagle fiercely--"Rules don't apply in a case
like this. I tell you that fellow has a genius for storekeeping. Haven't
I watched him on the floor? I've never seen one like him. What's the
good of your newfangled methods, your card indexes and overhead charts,
when you haven't even got a record of his address?"

Growling and showing his teeth, the head of the firm plodded stiffly
downstairs and discharged the superintendent himself. Already he saw
signs of disorganization in the main aisle. Miss Whippet was tearful:
customers were waiting impatiently to have exchange slips O. K.'d: Mrs.
Dachshund was turning over some jewelled lorgnettes, but it was plain
that she was only "looking," and had no intention to purchase.

So when, after many vain inquiries, the advertisement reached its
target, the old gentleman welcomed Gissing with genuine emotion. He
received him into his private office, locked the door, and produced a
decanter. Evidently beneath his irritable moods he had sensibilities of
his own.

"I have given my life to trade," he said, "and I have grown weary of
watching the half-hearted simpletons who imagine they can rise to the
top by thinking more about themselves than they do about the business.
You, Mr. Gissing, have won my heart. You see storekeeping as I do--a
fine art, an absorbing passion, a beautiful, thrilling sport. It is an
art as lovely and subtle as the theatre, with the same skill in wooing
and charming the public."

Gissing bowed, and drank Mr. Beagle's health, to cover his astonishment.
The aged merchant fixed him with a glittering eye.

"I can see that storekeeping is your genius in life. I can see that you
are naturally consecrated to it. My son is a good steady fellow, but he
lacks the divine gift. I am getting old. We need new fire, new brains,
in the conduct of this business. I ask you to forgive the unlucky
blunder we made lately, and devote yourself to us."

Gissing was very much embarrassed. He wanted to say that if he was
going to consecrate himself to floorwalking, he would relish a raise
in salary; but old Beagle was so tremulous and kept blowing his nose so
loudly that Gissing doubted if he could make himself heard.

"I want you to take a position as General Manager," said Mr. Beagle,
"with a salary of ten thousand a year."

He rose and threw open a mahogany door that led out of his own sanctum.
"Here is your office," he said.

The bewildered Gissing looked about the room--the mahogany flat-topped
desk with a great sheet of plate glass shining greenly at its thick
edges; an inkwell, pens and pencils, a little glass bowl full of bright
paper-clips; one of those rocking blotters that are so tempting; a water
cooler which just then uttered a seductive gulping bubble; an electric
fan, gently humming; wooden trays for letters and memoranda; on one
wall a great chart of names, lettered Organization of Personnel; a nice
domestic-looking hat-and-coat stand; a soft green rug--Ah, how alluring
it all was!

Mr. Beagle pointed to the outer door of the room, which had a frosted
pane. Through the glass the astounded floorwalker could read the words

REGANAM LARENEG GNISSIG.RM

What a delightful little room to meditate in. From the broad windows he
could see the whole shining tideway of Fifth Avenue, passing lazily in
the warm sunlight. He turned to Mr. Beagle, greatly moved.

The next day an advertisement appeared in the leading papers, to this
effect:--

          ________________________
          BEAGLE AND COMPANY
          take pleasure in announcing to
          their patrons and friends that
          MR. GISSING
           has been admitted to the firm in
          the status of General Manager
          Je Maintiendrai
          __________________________

Mrs. Purp's excitement at this is easier imagined than described. Her
only fear was that now she would lose her best lodger. She made Purp
go out and buy a new shirt and a collar; she told Gissing, rather
pathetically, that she intended to have the whole house repapered in the
fall. The big double suite downstairs, which could be used as bedroom
and sitting-room, she suggested as a comfortable change. But Gissing
preferred to remain where he was. He had grown fond of the top floor.

Certainly there was an exhilaration in his new importance and
prosperity. The store buzzed with the news. At his request, Miss Whippet
was promoted to the seventh floor to be his secretary. It was delightful
to make his morning tour of inspection through the vast building. Mr.
Hound, the store detective, loved to tell his cronies how suspiciously
he had followed "The Duke" that first day. As Gissing moved through the
busy departments he saw eyes following him, tails wagging. Customers
were more flattered than ever by his courteous attentions. One day
he even held a little luncheon party in the restaurant, at which Mrs.
Dachshund, Mrs. Mastiff, and Mrs. Sealyham were his guests. He invited
their husbands, but the latter were too busy to come. It would have been
more prudent of them to attend. That afternoon Mrs. Dachshund, carried
away by enthusiasm, bought a platinum wrist-watch. Mrs. Mastiff bought
a diamond dog-collar. Mrs. Sealyham, whose husband was temporarily
embarrassed in Wall Street, contented herself with a Sheraton
chifforobe.

But it began to be evident that his delightful little office was not
going to be a shrine for quiet meditation. His vanity had been pleased
by the large advertisement about him, but he suddenly realized the
poison that lies in printer's ink. Almost overnight, it seemed, he had
been added to ten thousand mailing lists. Little Miss Whippet, although
she was fast at typewriting, was hard put to it to keep up with his
correspondence. She quivered eagerly over her machine, her small
paws flying. New pink ribbons gleamed through her translucent summery
georgette blouse. They were her flag of exultation at her surprising
rise in life. She felt it was immensely important to get all these
letters answered promptly.

And so did Gissing. In his new zeal, and in his innocent satisfaction
at having entered the inner circle of Big Business, he insisted on
answering everything. He did not realize that dictating letters is the
quaint diversion of business men, and that most of them mean nothing. It
is simply the easiest way of assuring yourself that you are busy.

This job was no sinecure. Old Mr. Beagle had so much affectionate
confidence in Gissing that he referred almost everything to him
for decision. Mr. Beagle junior, perhaps a little annoyed at the
floorwalker's meteoric translation, spent the summer afternoons at
golf. The infinite details of a great business crowded upon him.
Inexperienced, he had not learned the ways in which seasoned
"executives" protect themselves against useless intrusion. His telephone
buzzed like a hornet. Not five minutes went by without callers or
interruptions of some sort.

Most amazing of all, he found, was the miscellaneous passion for
palaver displayed by Big Business. Immediately he was invited to join
innumerable clubs, societies, merchants' associations. Every day would
arrive letters, on heavily embossed paper--"The Sales Managers Club will
hold a round-table discussion on Friday at one o'clock. We would greatly
appreciate it if you would be with us and say a few words."--"Will you
be our guest at the monthly dinner of the Fifth Avenue Guild, and give
us any preachment that is on your mind?"--"The Merchandising Uplift
Group of Murray Hill will meet at the Commodore for an informal
lunch. It has been suggested that you contribute to the discussion on
Underwriting Overhead."--"The Executives Association plans a clambake
and barbecue at the Barking Rock Country Club. Around the bonfire a few
impromptu remarks on Business Cycles will be called for. May we count on
you?"--"Will you address the Convention of Knitted Bodygarment Buyers,
on whatever topic is nearest your heart?"--"Will you write for Bunion
and Callous, the trade organ of the Floorwalkers' Union, a thousand-word
review of your career?"--"Will you broadcast a twenty-minute talk on
Department Store Ethics, at the radio station in Newark? 250,000 radio
fans will be listening in." New to the strange and high-spirited world
of "executives," it was natural that Gissing did not realize that the
net importance of this kind of thing was absolute zero. It did strike
him as odd, perhaps, that merchants did not dare to go on a junket or
plan a congenial dinner without pretending to themselves that it had
some business significance. But, having been so amazingly lifted into
this atmosphere of great affairs, he felt it was his duty to the store
to play the game according to the established rules. He was borne
along on a roaring spate of conferences, telephone calls, appointments,
Rotarian lunches, Chamber of Commerce dinners, picnics to talk tariff,
house-parties to discuss demurrage, tennis tournaments to settle the
sales-tax, golf foursomes to regulate price-maintenance. Of all these
matters he knew nothing whatever; and he also saw that as far as the
business of Beagle and Company was concerned it would be better not
to waste his time on such side-issues. The way he could really be of
service was in the store itself, tactfully lubricating that complicated
engine of goods and personalities. But he learned to utter, when called
upon, a few suave generalities, barbed with a rollicking story. This
made him always welcome. He was of a studious disposition, and liked
to examine this queer territory of life with an unprejudiced eye. After
all, his inward secret purpose had nothing to do with the success or
failure of retail trade. He was still seeking a horizon that would stay
blue when he reached it.

More and more he was interested to perceive how transparent the mummery
of business was. He was interested to note how persistently men fled
from success, how carefully most of them avoided the obvious principles
of utility, honesty, prudence, and courtesy, which are inevitably
rewarded. These sagacious, humorous fellows who were amusing themselves
with twaddling trade apothegms and ridiculous banqueteering solemnities,
surely they were aware that this had no bearing upon their own jobs?
He suspected that it was all a feverish anodyne to still some inward
unease. Since they must (not being fools) be aware that these antics
were mere subtraction of time from their business, the obvious
conclusion was, they were not happy with business. There was some
strange wistfulness in the conduct of Big Business Dogs, he thought.
Under the pretence of transacting affairs, they were really trying to
discover something that had eluded them.

The same thing, strangely enough, seemed to be going on in a sphere of
which he knew nothing, the world of art. He gathered from the papers
that writers, painters, musicians, were holding shindies almost every
night, at which delightful rebels, too busy to occupy themselves with
actual creation, talked charmingly about their plans. Poets were reading
poems incessantly, forgetting to write any. Much of the newspaper
comment on literature made him shudder, for though this was a province
quite strange to him, he had sound instincts. He discerned fatal
ignorance and absurdity between the pompous lines. Yet, in its own way,
it seemed a bold and honest ignorance. Were these, too, like the wistful
executives, seeking where the blue begins?

But what was this strange agitation that forbade his fellow-creatures
from enjoying the one thing that makes achievement possible--Solitude?
He himself, so happy to be left alone--was no one else like that? And
yet this very solitude that he craved and revelled in was, by a sublime
paradox, haunted by mysterious loneliness. He felt sometimes as though
his heart had been broken off from some great whole, to which it yearned
to be reunited. It felt like a bone that had been buried, which God
would some day dig up. Sometimes, in his caninomorphic conception
of deity, he felt near him the thunder of those mighty paws. In rare
moments of silence he gazed from his office window upon the sun-gilded,
tempting city. Her madness was upon him--her splendid craze of haste,
ambition, pride. Yet he wondered. This God he needed, this liberating
horizon, was it after all in the cleverest of hiding-places--in himself?
Was it in his own undeluded heart?

Miss Whippet came scurrying in to say that the Display Manager begged
him to attend a conference. The question of apportioning window space
to the various departments was to be reconsidered. Also, the book
department had protested having rental charged against them for books
exhibited merely to add a finishing touch to a furniture display. Other
agenda: the Personnel Director wished an appointment to discuss
the ruling against salesbitches bobbing their hair. The Commissary
Department wished to present revised figures as to the economy that
would be effected by putting the employees' cafeteria on the same floor
as the store's restaurant. He must decide whether early closing on
Saturdays would continue until Labor Day.

As he went about these and a hundred other fascinating trivialities, he
had a painful sense of treachery to Mr. Beagle senior. The old gentleman
was so touchingly certain that he had found in him the ideal shoulders
on which to unload his honourable and crushing burden. With more than
paternal pride old Beagle saw Gissing, evidently urbane and competent,
cheerfully circulating here and there. The shy angel of doubt that lay
deep in Gissing's cider-coloured eye, the proprietor did not come near
enough to observe.

If there is tragedy in our story, alas here it is. Gissing, incorrigible
seceder from responsibilities that did not touch his soul, did not dare
tell his benefactor the horrid truth. But the worm was in his heart.
Late one night, in his room at Mrs. Purp's, he wrote a letter to Mr.
Poodle. After mailing it at a street-box, he had a sudden pang. To the
dreamer, decisions are fearful. Then he shook himself and ran lightly to
a little lunchroom on Amsterdam Avenue, where he enjoyed doughnuts and
iced tea. His mind was resolved. The doughnuts, by a simple symbolism,
made him think of Rotary Clubs, also of millstones. No, he must be
fugitive from honour, from wealth, from Chambers of Commerce. Fugitive
from all save his own instinct. Those who have bound themselves are only
too eager to see the chains on others. There was no use attempting to
explain to Mr. Beagle--the dear old creature would not understand.

The next day, after happily and busily discharging his duties, and
staying late to clean up his desk, Gissing left Beagle and Company
for good. The only thing that worried him, as he looked round his
comfortable office for the last time, was the thought of little Miss
Whippet's chagrin when she found her new promotion at an end. She had
taken such delight in their mutual dignity. On the filing cabinet beside
her typewriter desk was a pink geranium in a pot, which she watered
every morning. He could not resist pulling out a drawer of her desk, and
smiled gently to see the careful neatness of its compartments, with
all her odds and ends usefully arranged. The ink-eraser, with an absurd
little whisk attached to it for brushing away fragments of rubbed paper;
the fascicle of sharpened pencils held together by an elastic band; the
tiny phial of typewriter oil; a small box of peppermints; a crumpled
handkerchief; the stenographic notebook with a pencil inserted at the
blank page, so as to be ready for instant service the next day; the long
paper-cutter for slitting envelopes; her memorandum pad, on which was
written Remind Mr. G. of Window Display Luncheon--it seemed cruel to
deprive her of all these innocent amusements in which she delighted so
much. And yet he could not go on as a General Manager simply for the
happiness of Miss Whippet.

In the foliage of the geranium, where he knew she would find it the
first thing in the morning, he left a note:--

MISS WHIPPET: I am leaving the store to-night and will not be back.
Please notify Mr. Beagle. Explain to him that I shall never take a
position with one of his competitors; I am leaving not because I didn't
enjoy the job, but because if I stayed longer I might enjoy it too much.
Tell Mr. Beagle that I specially urge him to retain you as assistant
to the new Manager, whoever that may be. You are entirely competent to
attend to the routine, and the new Manager can spend all his time at
business lunches.

Please inform the Display Managers' Club that I can't speak at their
meeting to-morrow.

I wish you all possible good-fortune.

                           MR. GISSING.

As he passed through the dim and silent aisles of the store, he surveyed
them again with mixed emotions. Here he might, apparently, have been
king. But he had no very poignant regret. Another of his numerous
selves, he reflected, had committed suicide. That was the right idea:
to keep sloughing them off, throwing overboard the unreal and factitious
Gissings, paring them down until he discovered the genuine and
inalienable creature.

And so, for the second time, he made a stealthy exit from the employees'
door.

Four days later he read in the paper of old Mr. Beagle's death. There
can be no doubt about it. The merchant died of a broken heart.



CHAPTER TEN

Mr. Poodle's reply was disappointing. He said:--

St. Bernard's Rectory, September 1st.

MY DEAR MR. GISSING:

I regret that I cannot conscientiously see my way to writing to the
Bishop in your behalf. Any testimonial I could compose would be doubtful
at best, for I cannot agree with you that the Church is your true
vocation. I do not believe that one who has deserted his family, as
you have, and whose record (even on the most charitable interpretation)
cannot be described as other than eccentric, would be useful in Holy
Orders. You say that your life in the city has been a great purgation.
If so, I suggest that you return and take up the burdens laid upon you.
It has meant great mortification to me that one of my own parish has
been the cause of these painful rumours that have afflicted our quiet
community. Notwithstanding, I wish you well, and hope that chastening
experience may bring you peace.

Very truly yours,

J. ROVER POODLE.

Gissing meditated this letter in the silence of along evening in
his room. He brought to the problem his favourite aid to clear
thinking--strong coffee mixed with condensed milk. Mrs. Purp had made
concession to his peculiarities when he had risen so high in the world:
better to break any rules, she thought, than lose so notable a tenant.
She had even installed a small gas-plate for him, so that he could brew
his morning and evening coffee.

So he took counsel with his percolator, whose bubbling was a sound he
found both soothing and stimulating. He regarded it as a kind of private
oracle, with a calm voice of its own. He listened attentively as
he waited for the liquid to darken. Appeal--to--the--Bishop,
Appeal--to-the--Bishop, seemed to be the speech of the jetting
gurgitation under the glass lid.

He determined to act upon this, and lay his case before Bishop Borzoi
even without the introduction he had hoped for. Fortunately he still had
some sheets of Beagle and Company notepaper, with the engraved lettering
and Office of the General Manager embossed thereon. He was in some doubt
as to the proper formality and style of address in communicating with a
Bishop: was it "Very Reverend," or "Right Reverend"? and which of these
indicated a superior grade of reverendability? But he decided that a
masculine frankness would not be amiss. He wrote:--

VERY RIGHT REVEREND BISHOP BORZOI,

Dear Bishop:--

May one of the least of your admirers solicit an interview with your
very right reverence, to discuss matters pertaining to religion,
theology, and a possible vacancy in the Church? If there are any sees
outstanding, it would be a favour. This is very urgent. I enclose a
stamped addressed envelope.

         Respectfully yours,

                 MR. GISSING.

A prompt reply from the Bishop's secretary granted him an appointment.

Scrupulously attired in his tail-coat and silk hat, Gissing proceeded
toward the rendezvous. To tell the truth, he was nervous: his mind
flitted uneasily among possible embarrassments. Suppose Mr. Poodle had
written to the Bishop to prejudice his application? Another, but more
absurd, idea troubled him. One of the problems in visiting the houses
of the Great (he had learned in his brief career in Big Business) is
to find the door-bell. It is usually mysteriously concealed. Suppose he
should have to peer hopelessly about the vestibule, in a shameful and
suspicious manner, until some flunky came out to chide? In the sunny
park below the Cathedral he saw nurses sitting by their puppy-carriages;
for an instant he almost envied their gross tranquillity. THEY have not
got (he said to himself) to call on a Bishop!

He was early, so he strolled for a few minutes in the park that lies
underneath that rocky scarp. On the summit, clear-surging against the
blue, the great church rode like a ship on a long ridge of sea. The
angel with a trumpet on the jut of the roof was like a valiant seaman in
the crow's nest. His agitation was calmed by this noble sight. Yes, he
said, the Church is a ship behind whose bulwarks I will find rest. She
sails an unworldly sea: her crew are exempt from earthly ambition and
fallacy.

He ran nimbly up the long steps that scale the cliff, and approached
the episcopal residence. The bell was plainly visible. He rang, and
presently came a tidy little housemaid. He had meditated a form of
words. It would be absurd to say "Is the Bishop in?" for he knew the
Bishop WAS in. So he said "This is Mr. Gissing. I think the Bishop is
expecting me."

Bishop Borzoi was an impressive figure--immensely tall and slender,
with long, narrow ascetic face and curly white hair. He was surprisingly
cordial.

"Ah, Mr. Gissing?" he said. "Sit down, sir. I know Beagle and Company
very well. Too well, in fact-Mrs. Borzoi has an account there."

Gissing, feeling rather aghast and tentative, had no comment ready. He
was still worrying a little as to the proper mode of address.

"It is very pleasant to find you Influential Merchants interested in the
Church," continued the Bishop. "I often thought of approaching the late
Mr. Beagle on the subject of a small contribution to the cathedral.
Indeed, I have spent so much in your store that it would be only a fair
return. Mr. Collie, of Greyhound, Collie and Company, has been very
handsome with us: he has just provided for repaving the choir."

Gissing began to fear that the object of his visit had perhaps been
misunderstood, but the prelate's eyes were bright with benignant
enthusiasm and he dared not interrupt.

"You inquired most kindly in your letter as to a possible vacancy in the
Church. Indeed there is a niche in the transept that I should be happy
to see filled. It is intended for some kind of memorial statue, and
perhaps, in honour of the late Mr. Beagle--"

"I must explain, Sir Bishop," said Gissing, very much disturbed, "that
I have left Beagle and Company. The contribution I wish to make to the
Church is not a decorative one, I fear. It is myself."

"Yourself?" queried the Bishop, politely puzzled.

"Yes," stammered Gissing, "I--in fact, I am hoping to--to enter the
ministry."

The Bishop was plainly amazed, and his long, aristocratic nose seemed
longer than ever as he gazed keenly at his caller.

"But have you had any formal training in theology?"

"None, right reverend Bishop," said Gissing, "But it's this way," and,
incoherently at first, but with increasing energy and copious eloquence,
he poured out the story of his mental struggles.

"This is singularly interesting," said the Bishop at length. "I can
see that you are wholly lacking in the rudiments of divinity. Of modern
exegesis and criticism you are quite innocent. But you evidently have
something which is much rarer--what the Quakers call a CONCERN. Of
course you should really go to the theological seminary and establish
this naif intuitive mysticism upon a disciplined basis. You will realize
that we churchmen can only meet modern rationalism by a rationalism of
our own--by a philosophical scholarship which is unshakable. I do not
suppose that you can even harmonize the Gospels?"

Gissing ruefully admitted his ignorance.

"Well, at least I must make sure of a few fundamentals," said the
Bishop. "Of course a symbological latitude is permissible, but there are
some essentials of dogma and creed that may not be foregone."

He subjected the candidate to a rapid catechism. Gissing, in a state of
mind curiously mingled of excitement and awe, found himself assenting to
much that, in a calmer moment, he would hardly have admitted; but
having plunged so deep into the affair he felt it would be the height of
discourtesy to give negative answers to any of the Bishop's queries.
By dint of hasty mental adjustments and symbolic interpretations, he
satisfied his conscience.

"It is very irregular," the Bishop admitted, "but I must confess
that your case interests me greatly. Of course I cannot admit you
to ordination until you have passed through the regular theological
curriculum. Yet I find you singularly apt for one without proper
training."

He brooded a while, fixing the candidate with a clear darkly burning
eye.

"It struck me that you were a trifle vague upon some of the Articles of
Religion, and the Table of Kindred and Affinity. You must remember that
these articles are not to be subjected to your own sense or comment, but
must be taken in the literal and grammatical meaning. However, you
show outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace. It so
happens that I know of a small chapel, in the country, that has been
closed for lack of a minister. I can put you in charge there as lay
reader."

Gissing's face showed his elation.

"And wear a cassock?" he cried.

"Certainly not," said the Bishop sternly. "Not even a surplice. You must
remember you have not been ordained. If you are serious in your zeal,
you must work your way up gradually, beginning at the bottom."

"I have seen some of your cloth with a little purple dickey which looks
very well in the aperture of the waistcoat," said Gissing humbly. "How
long would it take me to work up to that?"

Bishop Borzoi, who had a sense of humour, laughed genially.

"Look here," he said. "It's a fine afternoon: I'll order my car and
we'll drive out to Dalmatian Heights. I'll show you your chapel, and
tell you exactly what your duties will be."

Gissing was startled. Dalmatian Heights was only a few miles from the
Canine Estates. If the news should reach Mr. Poodle...

"Sir Bishop," he said nervously, "I begin to fear that perhaps after all
I am unworthy. Now about those Articles of Religion: I may perhaps have
given some of them a conjectural and commentating assent. Possibly I
have presumed too far--"

The Bishop was already looking forward to a ride into the country with
his unusual novice.

"Not at all, not at all," he said cheerily. "In a mere lay reader, a
slight laxity is allowable. You understand, of course, that you are
expressly restricted from the pulpit. You will have to read the lessons,
conduct the service, and may address the congregation upon matters not
homiletic nor doctrinal; preaching and actual entry into the pulpit are
defended. But I see excellent possibility in you. Perform the duties
punctually in this very lowly office, and high ranks of service in the
church militant will be open."

He put on a very fine shovel-hat, and led the way to his large touring
car.

It was a very uncomfortable ride for Gissing. A silk hat is the least
stable apparel for swift motoring, and the chauffeur drove at high
speed. The Bishop, leaning back in the open tonneau, crossed one
delicately slender shank over another, gazed in a kind of ecstasy at the
countryside, and talked gaily about his days as a young curate. Gissing
sat holding his hat on. He saw only too well that, by the humiliating
oddity of chance, they were going to take the road that led exactly
past his own house. He could only hope that Mrs. Spaniel and the
various children would not be visible, for explanations would be too
complicated. Desperately he praised the view to be obtained on another
road, but Bishop Borzoi was too interested in his own topic to pay much
attention.

"By the way," said the latter, as they drew near the familiar region, "I
must introduce you to Miss Airedale. She lives in the big place on the
hill over there. Her family always used to attend what I will now call
YOUR chapel; she is a very ardent churchgoer, and it was a sincere grief
to her when the place had to be closed. You will find her a great aid
and comfort; not only that, she is--what one does not always find in the
devouter members of her sex--young and beautiful. I think I understood
you to say you are a bachelor?"

They were approaching the last turning at which it was still possible to
avoid the fatal road, and Gissing's attention was divided.

"Yes, after a fashion," he replied. "Bishop, do you know that road down
into the valley? The view is really superb--Yes, that road--Oh, no, I am
a bachelor--"

It was too late. The chauffeur, unconscious of this private crisis, was
spinning along the homeward way. With a tender emotion Gissing saw
the spires of the poplar trees, the hemlocks down beyond the pond, the
fringe of woods that concealed the house until you were quite upon it--

The car swerved suddenly and the driver only saved it by a quick and
canny manoeuvre from going down the bank. He came to a stop, and almost
from underneath the rear wheels appeared a scuffling dusty group of
youngsters who had been playing in the road. There they were--Bunks,
Groups, and Yelpers (inordinately grown!) and two of the Spaniels. Their
clothes were deplorable, their faces grimed, their legs covered with
burrs, their whole demeanour was ragamuffin and wild: yet Gissing felt
a pang of pride to see his godchildren's keen, independent bearing
contrasted with the rowdier, disreputable look of the young Spaniels.
Quickly he averted his head to escape recognition. But the urchins were
all gaping at the Bishop's shovel hat.

"Hot dog!" cried Yelpers "Some hat!"

To his horror, Gissing now saw Mrs. Spaniel, hastening in alarm
down from the house, spilling potatoes from her apron as she ran. He
hurriedly urged the driver to proceed.

"What terrible looking children," observed the Bishop, who seemed
fascinated by their stare. "Really, my good sister," he said to Mrs.
Spaniel, who was now panting by the running board; "you must keep them
off the road or someone will get hurt."

Gissing was looking for an imaginary object on the floor of the car. To
his great relief he heard the roar of the motor as they started again.
But he sat up a little too soon. A simultaneous roar of "Daddy!" burst
from the trio.

"What was that they were shouting at us?" inquired the Bishop, looking
back.

Gissing shook his head. He was too overcome to speak.



CHAPTER ELEVEN

The little chapel at Dalmatian Heights sat upon a hill, among a grove
of pines, the most romantic of all trees. Life, a powerful but clumsy
dramatist, does not reject the most claptrap "situations," which a
sophisticated playwright would discard as too obvious. For this sandy
plateau, strewn with satiny pine-needles, was the very horizon that had
looked so blue and beckoning from the little house by the pond. Not far
away was the great Airedale estate, which Gissing had known only at an
admiring distance--and now he was living there as an honoured guest.

The Bishop had taken him to call upon the Airedales; and they, delighted
that the chapel was to be re-opened, had insisted upon his staying with
them. The chapel, in fact, was a special interest with Mr. Airedale, who
had been a leading contributor toward its erection. Gissing was finding
that life seemed to be continually putting him into false positions;
and now he discovered, somewhat to his chagrin, that the lovely little
shrine of St. Spitz, whose stained windows glowed like rubies in its
cloister of dark trees, was rather a fashionable hobby among the wealthy
landowners of Dalmatian Hills. It had been closed all summer, and they
had missed it. The Bishop, in his airy and indefinite way, had not made
it quite plain that Gissing was only a lay reader; and in spite of his
embarrassed disclaimers, he found himself introduced by Mr. Airedale to
the country-house clique as the new "vicar."

But at any rate it was lucky that the Airedales had insisted on taking
him in as a guest; for he had learned from the Bishop (just as the
latter was leaving) that there was no stipend attached to the office of
lay reader. Fortunately he still had much of the money he had saved from
his salary as General Manager. And whatever sense of anomaly he felt
was quickly assuaged by the extraordinary comfort and novelty of his
environment. In the great Airedale mansion he experienced for the first
time that ultimate triumph of civilization--a cup of tea served in bed
before breakfast, with slices of bread-and-butter of tenuous and amazing
fragile thinness. He was pleased, too, with the deference paid him as a
representative of the cloth, even though it compelled him to a
solemnity he did not inwardly feel. But most of all, undoubtedly, he was
captivated by the loveliness and warmth of Miss Airedale.

The Bishop had not erred. Admiring the aristocratic Roman trend of
her brow and nose; the proud, inquisitive carriage of her somewhat
rectangular head, her admirable, vigorous figure and clear topaz
eyes, Gissing was aware of something he had not experienced before--a
disturbance both urgent and agreeable, in which the intellect seemed to
play little part. He was startled by the strength of her attractiveness,
amazed to learn how pleasing it was to be in her company. She was very
young and brisk: wore clothes of a smart sporting cut, and was
(he thought) quite divine in her riding breeches. But she was also
completely devoted to the chapel, where she played the music on Sundays.
She was a volatile creature, full of mischievous surprise: at their
first music practice, after playing over some hymns on the pipe-organ,
she burst into jazz, filling the quiet grove with the clamorous syncope
of Paddy-Paws, a favourite song that summer.

So into the brilliant social life of the Airedales and their friends
he found himself suddenly pitchforked. In spite of the oddity of the
situation, and of occasional anxiety when he considered the possibility
of Mr. Poodle finding him out, he was very happy. This was not quite
what he had expected, but he was always adaptable. Miss Airedale was an
enchanting companion. In the privacy of his bedroom he measured himself
for a pair of riding breeches and wrote to his tailor in town to have
them made as soon as possible. He served the little chapel assiduously,
though he felt it better to conceal from the Airedales the fact that he
went there every day. He suspected they would think him slightly mad if
they knew, so he used to pretend that he had business in town. Then he
would slip away to the balsam-scented hilltop and be perfectly happy
sweeping the chapel floor, dusting the pews, polishing the brasswork,
rearranging the hymnals in the racks. He arranged with the milkman to
leave a bottle of milk and some cinnamon buns at the chapel gate
every morning, so he had a cheerful and stealthy little lunch in
the vestry-room, though always a trifle nervous lest some of his
parishioners should discover him.

He practiced reading the lessons aloud at the brass lectern, and
discovered how easy is dramatic elocution when you are alone. He wished
it were possible to hold a service daily. For the first time he was able
to sing hymns as loud as he liked. Miss Airedale played the organ with
emphatic fervour, and the congregation, after a little hesitation,
enjoyed the lusty sincerity of a hymn well trolled. Some of his flock,
who had previously relished taking part in the general routine of the
service, were disappointed by his zeal, for Gissing insisted on doing
everything himself. He rang the bell, ushered the congregation to their
seats, read the service, recited the Quadrupeds' Creed, led the
choir, gave out as many announcements as he could devise, took up the
collection, and at the close skipped out through the vestry and was
ready and beaming in the porch before the nimblest worshipper had
reached the door. On his first Sunday, indeed, he carried enthusiasm
rather too far: in an innocent eagerness to prolong the service as much
as possible, and being too excited to realize quite what he was doing,
he went through the complete list of supplications for all possible
occasions. The congregation were startled to find themselves praying
simultaneously both for rain and for fair weather.

In a cupboard in the vestry-room he had found an old surplice hanging;
he took it down, tried it on before the mirror, and wistfully put it
back. To this symbolic vestment his mind returned as he sat solitary
under the pine-trees, looking down upon the valley of home. It was the
season of goldenrod and aster on the hillsides: a hot swooning silence
lay upon the late afternoon. The weight and closeness of the air had
struck even the insects dumb. Under the pines, generally so murmurous,
there was something almost gruesome in the blank stillness: a suspension
so absolute that the ears felt dull and sealed. He tried, involuntarily,
to listen more clearly, to know if this uncanny hush were really so.
There was a sense of being imprisoned, but only most delicately, in a
spell, which some sudden cracking might disrupt.

The surplice tempted him strongly, for it suggested the sermon he felt
impelled to deliver, against the Bishop's orders. For the beautiful
chapel in the piny glade was, somehow, false: or, at any rate, false for
him. The architect had made it a dainty poem in stone and polished wood,
but somehow God had evaded the neat little trap. Moreover, the God
his well-bred congregation worshipped, the old traditionally imagined
snow-white St. Bernard with radiant jowls of tenderness, shining dewlaps
of love; paternal, omnipotent, calm--this deity, though sublime in its
way, was too plainly an extension of their own desires. His prominent
parishioners--Mr. Dobermann-Pinscher, Mrs. Griffon, Mrs. Retriever;
even the delightful Mr. Airedale himself--was it not likely that they
esteemed a deity everlastingly forgiving because they themselves felt
need of forgiveness? He had been deeply shocked by the docility with
which they followed the codes of the service: even when he had committed
his blunder of the contradictory prayers, they had murmured the words
automatically, without protest. To the terrific solemnities of the
Litany they had made the responses with prompt gabbling precision, and
with a rapidity that frankly implied impatience to take the strain off
their knees.

Somehow he felt that to account for a world of unutterable strangeness
they had invented a God far too cheaply simple. His mood was certainly
not one of ribald easy scoff. It was they (he assured himself) whose
theology was essentially cynical; not he. He was a little weary of
this just, charitable, consoling, hebdomadal God; this God who might be
sufficiently honoured by a decorously memorized ritual. Yet was he
too shallow? Was it not seemly that his fellows, bound on this dark,
desperate venture of living, should console themselves with decent
self-hypnosis?

No, he thought. No, it was not entirely seemly. If they pretended that
their God was the highest thing knowable, then they must bring to
His worship the highest possible powers of the mind. He had a strange
yearning for a God less lazily conceived: a God perhaps inclement,
awful, master of inscrutable principles. Yet was it desirable to shake
his congregation's belief in their traditional divinity? He thought of
them--so amiable, amusing, spirited and generous, but utterly untrained
for abstract imaginative thought on any subject whatever. His own
strange surmisings about deity would only shock and horrify them And
after all, was it not exactly their simplicity that made them lovable?
The great laws of truth would work their own destinies without
assistance from him! Even if these pleasant creatures did not genuinely
believe the rites they so politely observed (he knew they did not, for
BELIEF is an intellectual process of extraordinary range and depth), was
it not socially useful that they should pretend to do so?

And yet--with another painful swing of the mind--was it necessary
that Truth should be worshipped with the aid of such astonishingly
transparent formalisms, hoaxes, and mummeries? Alas, it seemed that this
was an old, old struggle that must be troublesomely fought out, again
and again down the generations. Prophets were twice stoned--first in
anger; then, after their death, with a handsome slab in the graveyard.
But words uttered in sincerity (he thought) never fail of some response.
Though he saw his fellows leashed with a heavy chain of ignorance,
stupidity, passion, and weakness, yet he divined in life some
inscrutable principle of honour and justice; some unreckonable essence
of virtue too intimate to understand; some fumbling aspiration toward
decency, some brave generosity of spirit, some cheerful fidelity to
Beauty. He could not see how, in a world so obviously vast and uncouth
beyond computation, they could find a puny, tidy, assumptive, scheduled
worship so satisfying. But perhaps, since all Beauty was so staggering,
it was better they should cherish it in small formal minims. Perhaps
in this whole matter there was some lovely symbolism that he did not
understand.

The soft brightness was already lifting into upper air, a mingled tissue
of shadows lay along the valley. In the magical clarity of the evening
light he suddenly felt (as one often does, by unaccountable planetary
instinct) that there was a new moon. Turning, he saw it, a silver
snipping daintily afloat; and not far away, an early star. He had found
no creed in the prayer-book that accounted for the stars. Here at
the bottom of an ocean of sky, we look aloft and see them
thick-speckled--mere barnacles, perhaps, on the keel of some greater
ship of space. He remembered how at home there had been a certain
burning twinkle that peeped through the screen of the dogwood tree.
As he moved on his porch, it seemed to flit to and fro, appearing and
vanishing. He was often uncertain whether it was a firefly a few yards
away, or a star the other side of Time. Possibly Truth was like that.

There was a light swift rustle behind him, and Miss Airedale appeared.

"Hullo!" she said. "I wondered where you were. Is this how you spend
your afternoons, all alone?"

Stars, creeds, cosmologies, promptly receded into remote perspective
and had to shift for themselves. It was true that Gissing had somewhat
avoided her lately, for he feared her fascination. He wished nothing
else to interfere with his search for what he had not yet found.
Postpone the female problem to the last, was his theory: not because
it was insoluble, but because the solution might prove to be less
interesting than the problem itself. But side by side with her, she was
irresistible. A skittish brightness shone in her eyes.

"Great news!" she exclaimed. "I've persuaded Papa to take us all down to
Atlantic City for a couple of days."

"Wonderful!" cried Gissing. "Do you know, I've never been to the
seashore."

"Don't worry," she replied. "I won't let you see much of the ocean.
We'll go to the Traymore, and spend the whole time dancing in the
Submarine Grill."

"But I must be back in time for the service on Sunday," he said.

"We're going to leave first thing in the morning. We'll go in the car,
and I'll drive. Will you sit with me in the front seat?"

"Watch me!" replied Gissing gallantly.

"Come on then, or you'll be late for dinner. I'll race you home!" And
she was off like a flash.

But in spite of Miss Airedale's threat, at Atlantic City they both fell
into a kind of dreamy reverie. The wine-like tingle of that salty air
was a quiet drug. The apparently inexhaustible sunshine was sharpened
with a faint sting of coming autumn. Gissing suddenly remembered that it
was ages since he had simply let his mind run slack and allowed life to
go by unstudied. Mr. and Mrs. Airedale occupied a suite high up in the
terraced mass of the huge hotel; they wrapped themselves in rugs and
basked on their private balcony. Gissing and the daughter were left
to their own amusements. They bathed in the warm September surf; they
strolled the Boardwalk up beyond the old Absecon light, where the green
glimmer of water runs in under the promenade. They sat on the deck
of the hotel--or rather Miss Airedale sat, while Gissing, courteously
attentive, leaned over her steamer-chair. He stood so for hours,
apparently in devoted chat; but in fact he was half in dream. The smooth
flow of the little rolling shays just below had a soothing hypnotic
erect. But it was the glorious polished blue of the sea-horizon that
bounded all his thoughts. Even while Miss Airedale gazed archly up at
him, and he was busy with cheerful conversation, he was conscious of
that broad band of perfect colour, monotonous, comforting, thrilling.
For the first time he realized the great rondure of the world. His mind
went back to the section of the prayer-book that had always touched him
most pointedly--the "Forms of Prayer to be Used at Sea." In them he had
found a note of sincere terror and humility. And now he viewed the sea
for the first time in this setting of notable irony. The open dazzle of
placid elements, obedient only to some cosmic calculus, lay as a serene
curtain against which the quaint flamboyance of the Boardwalk was all
the more amusing. The clear rim of sea curving off into space drew him
with painful curiosity. Here at last was what he had needed. The proud
waters went over his soul. Here indeed the blue began.

He looked down at Miss Airedale, who had gone to sleep while waiting for
him to say something. He tiptoed away and went to his room to write down
some ideas. Against the wide challenge of that blue hemisphere, where
half the world lay open and free to the eye, the Bishop's prohibition
lost weight. He was resolved to preach a sermon.

At dusk he met Miss Airedale on the high balcony that runs around the
reading-room of the hotel. They were quite alone up there. Along the
Boardwalk, in the pale sentimental twilight, the translucent electric
globes shone like a long string of pearls. She was very tempting in
a gay evening frock, and reproached him for having neglected her. She
shivered a little in the cool wind coming off the darkening water. The
weakness of the hour was upon him. He put his arm tenderly round her as
they leaned over the parapet.

"See those darling children down on the sand," she said. "I do adore
puppies, don't you?"

He remembered Groups, Bunks, and Yelpers. Nothing is so potent as the
love of children when you are away from them. She gazed languishing
at him; he responded with a generous pressure. But his alarmed soul
thrilled with panic.

"You must excuse me a moment, while I dress for dinner," he said. He was
strangely terrified by the look of secret understanding in her beautiful
eyes. It seemed to imply some subtle, inexpressible pact. As a matter of
truth, she was unconscious of it: it was only the old demiurge speaking
in her; the old demiurge which was pursuing him just as ardently as he
was trailing the dissolving blue of his dream. But he was much agitated
as he went down in the elevator.

"Heavens," he said to himself; "are we all only toys in the power of
these terrific instincts?"

For the first time he was informed of the infinite feminine capacity for
being wooed.

That night they danced in the Submarine Grill. She floated in his
embrace with triumphant lightness. Her eyes, utilized as temporary lamps
by a lighting-circuit of which she was quite unaware, beamed with happy
lustre. The lay reader, always docile to the necessities of occasion,
murmured delightful trifles. But his private thoughts were as aloof
and shining and evasive as the goldfish that twinkled in the glass pool
overhead. He picked up her scarf and her handkerchief when she dropped
them. He smiled vaguely when she suggested that she thought she could
persuade Mr. Airedale to stay in Atlantic City over the week-end, and
why worry about the service on Sunday? But when she and the yawning Mrs.
Airedale had retired, he hastened to his chamber and packed his bag.
Stealthily he went to the desk and explained that he was leaving
unexpectedly on business, and that the bill should go to Mr. Airedale,
whose guest he had been. He slipped away out of the side door, and
caught the late train. Mrs. Airedale chafed her daughter that night for
whining in her sleep.



CHAPTER TWELVE

The chapel of St. Spitz was crowded that fine Sunday morning, and the
clang and thud of its bells came merrily through the thin quick air to
worshippers arriving in their luxurious motors. The amiable oddity of
the lay reader's demeanour as priest had added a zest to churchgoing.
The congregation were particularly pleased, on this occasion, to see
Gissing appear in surplice and stole. They had felt that his attire on
the previous Sundays had been a little too informal. And when, at the
time usually allotted to the sermon, Gissing climbed the pulpit steps,
unfurled a sheaf of manuscript, and gazed solemnly about, they settled
back into the pew cushions in a comfortable, receptive mood. They had a
subconscious feeling that if their souls were to be saved, it was better
to have it done with all the proper formalities. They did not notice
that he was rather pale, and that his nose twitched nervously.

"My friends," he said, "in this beautiful little chapel, on this airy
hilltop, one might, if anywhere, speak with complete honesty. For you
who gather here for worship are, in the main, people of great
affairs; accustomed to looking at life with high spirit and with quick
imagination. I will ask you then to be patient with me while I exhort
you to carry into your religion the same enterprising and ambitious
gusto that has made your worldly careers a success. You are accustomed
to deal with great affairs. Let me talk to you about the Great Affairs
of God."

Gissing had been far too agitated to be able to recognize any particular
members of his audience. All the faces were fused into a common blur.
Miss Airedale, he knew, was in the organ loft, but he had not seen
her since his flight from Atlantic City, for he had removed from the
Airedale mansion before her return, and had made himself a bed in the
corner of the vestry-room. He feared she was angry: there had been a
vigorous growling note in some of the bass pipes of the organ as she
played the opening hymn. He had not seen a tall white-haired figure who
came into the chapel rather late, after the service had begun, and took
a seat at the back. Bishop Borzoi had seized the opportunity to drive
out to Dalmatian Heights this morning to see how his protege was getting
on. When the Bishop saw his lay reader appear in surplice and scarlet
hood, he was startled. But when the amateur parson actually ascended the
pulpit, the Bishop's face was a study. The hair on the back of his neck
bristled slightly.

"It is so easy," Gissing continued, "to let life go by us in its swift
amusing course, that sometimes it hardly seems worth while to attempt
any bold strokes for truth. Truth, of course, does not need our
assistance; it can afford to ignore our errors. But in this quiet place,
among the whisper of the trees, I seem to have heard a disconcerting
sound. I have heard laughter, and I think it is the laughter of God."

The congregation stirred a little, with polite uneasiness. This was not
quite the sort of thing to which they were accustomed.

"Why should God laugh? I think it is because He sees that very often,
when we pretend to be worshipping Him, we are really worshipping and
gratifying ourselves. I used the phrase 'Great Affairs.' The point I
want to make is that God deals with far greater affairs than we have
realized. We have imagined Him on too petty a scale. If God is so great,
we must approach Him in a spirit of greatness. He is not interested in
trivialities--trivialities of ritual, of creed, of ceremony. We have
imagined a vain thing--a God of our own species; merely adding to the
conception, to gild and consecrate, a futile fuzbuz of supernaturalism.
My friends, the God I imagine is something more than a formula on
Sundays and an oath during the week."

Those sitting in the rear of the Chapel were startled to hear a low
rumbling sound proceeding from the diaphragm of the Bishop, who half
rose from his seat and then, by a great effort of will, contained
himself. But Gissing, rapt in his honourable speculations, continued
with growing happiness.

"I ask you, though probably in vain, to lay aside for the moment your
inherited timidities and conventions. I ask you to lay aside pride,
which is the devil itself and the cause of most unhappiness. I ask
you to rise to the height of a great conception. To 'magnify' God is
a common phrase in our observances. Then let us truly magnify Him--not
minify, as the theologians do. If God is anything more than a social
fetich, then He must be so much more that He includes and explains
everything. It may sound inconceivable to you, it may sound
sacrilegious, but I suggest to you that it is even possible God may be a
biped--"

The Bishop could restrain himself no longer. He rose with flaming
eyes and stood in the aisle. Mr. Airedale, Mr. Dobermann-Pinscher, and
several other prominent members of the Church burst into threatening
growls. A wild bark and clamour broke from Mr. Towser, the Sunday School
superintendent, and his pupils, who sat in the little gallery over the
door. And then, to Gissing's horror and amazement, Mr. Poodle appeared
from behind a pillar where he had been chafing unseen. In a fierce tenor
voice shaken with indignation he cried:

"Heretic and hypocrite! Pay no attention to his abominable nonsense! He
deserted his family to lead a life of pleasure!"

"Seize him!" cried the Bishop in a voice of thunder.

The church was now in an uproar. A shrill yapping sounded among the
choir. Mrs. Airedale swooned; the Bishop's progress up the aisle was
impeded by a number of ladies hastening for an exit. Old Mr. Dingo, the
sexton, seized the bell-rope in the porch and set up a furious pealing.
Cries of rage mingled with hysterical howls from the ladies. Gissing,
trembling with horror, surveyed the atrocious hubbub. But it was
high time to move, or his retreat would be cut off. He abandoned his
manuscript and bounded down the pulpit stairs.

"Unfrock him!" yelled Mr. Poodle.

"He's never been frocked!" roared the Bishop.

"Impostor!" cried Mr. Airedale.

"Excommunicate him!" screamed Mr. Towser.

"Take him before the consistory!" shouted Mr. Poodle.

Gissing started toward the vestry door, but was delayed by the mass of
scuffling choir-puppies who had seized this uncomprehended diversion as
a chance to settle some scores of their own. The clamour was maddening.
The Bishop leapt the chancel rail and was about to seize him when Miss
Airedale, loyal to the last, interposed. She flung herself upon the
Bishop.

"Run, run!" she cried. "They'll kill you!"

Gissing profited by this assistance. He pushed over the lectern upon Mr.
Poodle, who was clutching at his surplice. He checked Mr. Airedale by
hurling little Tommy Bull, one of the choir, bodily at him. Tommy's
teeth fastened automatically upon Mr. Airedale's ear. The surplice,
which Mr. Poodle was still holding, parted with a rip, and Gissing
was free. With a yell of defiance he tore through the vestry and round
behind the chapel.

He could not help pausing a moment to scan the amazing scene, which had
been all Sabbath calm a few moments before. From the long line of motor
cars parked outside the chapel incredible chauffeurs were leaping,
hurrying to see what had happened. The shady grove shook with the
hideous clamour of the bell, still wildly tolled by the frantic sexton.
The sudden excitement had liberated private quarrels long decently
repressed: in the porch Mrs. Retriever and Mrs. Dobermann-Pinscher were
locked in combat. With a splintering crash one of the choir-pups
came sailing through a stained-glass window, evidently thrown by some
infuriated adult. He recognized the voice of Mr. Towser, raised in
vigorous lamentation. To judge by the sound, Mr. Towser's pupils had
turned upon him and were giving him a bad time. Above all he could
hear the clear war-cry of Miss Airedale and the embittered yells of Mr.
Poodle. Then from the quaking edifice burst Bishop Borzoi, foaming
with wrath, his clothes much tattered, and followed by Mr. Poodle, Mr.
Airedale, and several others. They cast about for a moment, and then the
Bishop saw him. With a joint halloo they launched toward him.

There was no time to lose. He fled down the shady path between the
trees, but with a hopeless horror in his heart. He could not long
outdistance such a runner as the Bishop, whose tremendous strides would
surely overhaul him in the end. If only he had known how to drive a car,
he might have commandeered one of the long row waiting by the gate. But
he was no motorist. Miss Airedale could have saved him, in her racing
roadster, but she had not emerged from the melee in the chapel. Perhaps
the Bishop had bitten her. His blood warmed with anger.

It happened that they had been mending the county highways, and a large
steam roller stood a few hundred feet down the road, drawn up beside the
ditch. Gissing knew that it was customary to leave these engines with
the fire banked and a gentle pressure of steam simmering in the boiler.
It was his only chance, and he seized it. But to his dismay, when he
reached the machine, which lay just round a bend in the road, he found
it shrouded with a huge tarpaulin. However, this suggested a desperate
chance. He whipped nimbly inside the covering and hid in the coal-box.
Lying there, he heard the chase go panting by.

As soon as he dared, he climbed out, stripped off the canvas, and
gazed at the bulky engine. It was one of those very tall and impressive
rollers with a canopy over the top. The machinery was not complicated,
and the ingenuity of desperation spurred him on. Hurriedly he opened the
draughts in the fire-box, shook up the coals, and saw the needle begin
to quiver on the pressure-gauge. He experimented with one or two levers
and handles. The first one he touched let off a loud scream from the
whistle. Then he discovered the throttle. He opened it a few notches,
cautiously. The ponderous machine, with a horrible clanking and
grinding, began to move forward.

A steam roller may seem the least helpful of all vehicles in which to
conduct an urgent flight; but Gissing's reasoning was sound. In the
first place, no one would expect to find a hunted fugitive in this
lumbering, sluggish behemoth of the road. Secondly, sitting perched high
up in the driving saddle, right under the canopy, he was not easily
seen by the casual passer-by. And thirdly, if the pursuit came to
close grips, he was still in a strategic position. For this, the most
versatile of all land-machines except the military tank, can move across
fields, crash through underbrush, and travel in a hundred places
that would stall a motor car. He rumbled off down the road somewhat
exhilarated. He found the scarlet stole twisted round his neck, and tied
it to one of the stanchions of the canopy as a flag of defiance. It was
not long before he saw the posse of pursuit returning along the road,
very hot and angry. He crunched along solemnly, busying himself to get
up a strong head of steam. There they were, the Bishop, Mr. Poodle, Mr.
Airedale, Mr. Dobermann-Pinscher, and Mr. Towser. Mr. Poodle was talking
excitedly: the Bishop's tongue ran in and out over his gleaming teeth.
He was not saying much, but his manner was full of deadly wrath. They
paid no attention to the roller, and were about to pass it without even
looking up, when Gissing, in a sudden fit of indignation, gave the wheel
a quick twirl and turned his clumsy engine upon them. They escaped
only by a hair's breadth from being flattened out like pastry. Then the
Bishop, looking up, recognized the renegade. With a cry of anger they
all leaped at the roller.

But he was so high above them, they had no chance. He seized the
coal-scoop and whanged Mr. Poodle across the skull. The Bishop came
dangerously near reaching him, but Gissing released a jet of scalding
steam from an exhaust-cock, which gave the impetuous prelate much cause
for grief. A lump of coal, accurately thrown, discouraged Mr. Airedale.
Mr. Towser, attacking on the other side of the engine, managed to
scramble up so high that he carried away the embroidered stole, but
otherwise the fugitive had all the best of it. Mr. Dobermann-Pinscher
burned his feet trying to climb up the side of the boiler. From the
summit of his uncouth vehicle Gissing looked down undismayed.

"Miserable freethinker!" said Borzoi. "You shall be tried by the
assembly of bishops."

"In a mere lay reader," quoted Gissing, "a slight laxity is allowable.
You had better go back and calm down the congregation, or they'll tear
the chapel to bits. This kind of thing will have a very bad influence on
church discipline."

They shouted additional menace, but Gissing had already started his
deafening machinery and could not hear what was said. He left them
bickering by the roadside.

For fear of further pursuit, he turned off the highway a little beyond,
and rumbled noisily down a rustic lane between high banks and hedges
where sumac was turning red. Strangely enough, there was something very
comforting about his enormous crawling contraption. It was docile and
reliable, like an elephant. The crashing clangour of its movement was
soon forgotten--became, in fact, an actual stimulus to thought. For the
mere pleasure of novelty, he steered through a copse, and took joy in
seeing the monster thrash its way through thickets and brambles, and
then across a field of crackling stubble. Steering toward the lonelier
regions of that farming country, presently he halted in a dingle of
birches beside a small pond. He spent some time very happily, carefully
studying the machinery. He found some waste and an oilcan in the
tool-chest, and polished until the metal shone. The water looked rather
low in the gauge, and he replenished it from the pool.

It was while grooming the roller that it struck him his own appearance
was unusual for a highway mechanic. He was still wearing the famous
floorwalker suit, which he had punctiliously donned every Sunday for
chapel. But he had had to flee without a hat--even without his luggage,
which was neatly packed in a bag in the vestry. That, he felt sure, Mr.
Poodle had already burst open for evidences of heresy and schism. The
pearly trousers were stained with oil and coal-dust; the neat cutaway
coat bore smears of engine-grease. As long as he stuck to the roller
and the telltale garments, pursuit and identification would of course be
easy enough. But he had taken a fancy to the machine: he decided not to
abandon it yet.

Obviously it was better to keep to the roads, where the engine would at
any rate be less surprisingly conspicuous, and where it would leave no
trail. So he made a long circuit across meadows and pastures, carrying
a devilish clamour into the quiet Sunday afternoon. Regaining a macadam
surface, he set oil at random, causing considerable annoyance to
the motoring public. Finding that his cutaway coat caused jeers and
merriment, he removed it; and when any one showed a disposition to
inquire, he explained that he was doing penance for an ill-judged wager.
His oscillating perch above the boiler was extraordinarily warm, and he
bought a gallon jug of cider from a farmer by the way. Cheering himself
with this, and reviewing in his mind the queer experiences of the past
months, he went thundering mildly on.

At first he had feared a furious pursuit on the part of the Bishop, or
even a whole college of bishops, quickly mobilized for the event. He
had imagined them speeding after him in a huge motor-bus, and himself
keeping them at bay with lumps of coal. But gradually he realized that
the Bishop would not further jeopardize his dignity, or run the risk of
making himself ridiculous. Mr. Poodle would undoubtedly set the township
road commissioner on his trail, and he would be liable to seizure for
the theft of a steam roller. But that could hardly happen so quickly. In
the meantime, a plan had been forming in his mind, but it would require
darkness for its execution.

Darkness did not delay in coming. As he jolted cheerfully from road
to road, holding up long strings of motors at every corner while he
jovially held out his arm as a sign that he was going to turn, dark
purple clouds were massing and piling up. Foreseeing a storm, he bought
some provisions at a roadhouse, and turned into a field, where he
camped in the lee of a forest of birches. He cooked himself an excellent
supper, toasting bread and frankfurters in the firebox of the roller.
With boiling water from a steam-cock he brewed a panikin of tea; and sat
placidly admiring the fawn-pink light on wide pampas of bronze grasses,
tawny as a panther's hide. A strong wind began to draw from the
southeast. He lit the lantern at the rear of the machine and by the time
the rain came hissing upon the hot boiler, he was ready. Luckily he had
saved the tarpaulin. He spread this on the ground underneath the roller,
and curled up in it. The glow from the firebox kept him warm and dry.

"Summer is over," he said to himself, as he heard the clash and spouting
of rain all about him. He lay for some time, not sleepy, thinking
theology, and enjoying the close tumult of wind and weather.

People who have had an arm or a leg amputated, he reflected, say they
can still feel pains in the absent member. Well, there's an analogy in
that. Modern skepticism has amputated God from the heart; but there is
still a twinge where the arteries were sewn up.

He slept peacefully until about two in the morning, except when a
red-hot coal, slipping through the grate-bars, burned a lamentable hole
in his trousers. When he woke, the night still dripped, but was clear
aloft. He started the engine and drove cautiously, along black slippery
roads, to Mr. Poodle's house. In spite of the unavoidable racket, no one
stirred: he surmised that the curate slept soundly after the crises
of the day. He left the engine by the doorstep, pinning a note to the
steering-wheel. It said:

   TO REV. J. ROVER POODLE
    this useful steam-roller
  as a symbol of the theological mind

                   MR. GISSING



CHAPTER THIRTEEN

The steamship Pomerania, which had sailed at noon, was a few hours out
of port on a calm gray sea. The passengers, after the bustle of lunch
and arranging their staterooms; had settled into their deck chairs and
were telling each other how much they loved the ocean. Captain Scottie
had taken his afternoon constitutional on his private strip of starboard
deck just aft the bridge, and was sitting in his comfortable cabin
expecting a cup of tea. He was a fine old sea-dog: squat, grizzled,
severe, with wiry eyebrows, a short coarse beard, and watchful quick
eyes. A characteristic Scot, beneath his reticent conscientious dignity
there was abundant humour and affection. He would have been recognized
anywhere as a sailor: those short solid legs were perfectly adapted for
balancing on a rolling deck. He stood by habit as though he were leaning
into a stiff gale. His mouth always held a pipe, which he smoked in
short, brisk whiffs, as though expecting to be interrupted at any moment
by an iceberg.

The steward brought in the tea-tray, and Captain Scottie settled into
his large armchair to enjoy it. His eye glanced automatically at the
barometer.

"A little wind to-night," he said, his nose wrinkling unconsciously as
the cover was lifted from the dish of hot anchovy toast.

"Yes, sir," said the steward, but lingered, apparently anxious to speak
further.

"Well, Shepherd?"

"Beg pardon, sir, but the Chief Steward wanted me to say they've found
someone stowed away in the linen locker, sir. Queer kind of fellow,
sir, talks a bit like a padre. 'E must've come aboard by the engine-room
gangway, sir, and climbed into that locker near the barber shop."

The problem of stowaways is familiar enough to shipmasters. "Send him up
to me," said the Captain.

A few minutes later Gissing appeared, escorted by a burly quartermaster.
Even the experienced Captain admitted to himself that this was something
new in the category of stowaways. Never before had he seen one in a
braided cutaway coat and wedding trousers. It was true that the
garments were in grievous condition, but they were worn with an air.
The stowaway's face showed some embarrassment, but not at all the usual
hangdog mien of such wastrels. Involuntarily his tongue moistened when
he saw the tray of tea (for he had not eaten since his supper on the
steam roller the night before), but he kept his eyes politely averted
from the food. They rose to a white-painted girder that ran athwart the
cabin ceiling. CERTIFIED TO ACCOMMODATE THE MASTER he read there, in
letters deeply incised into the thick paint. "A good Christian ship,"
he said to himself. "It sounds like the Y. M. C. A." He was pleased
to think that his suspicion was already confirmed: ships were more
religious than anything on land.

The Captain dismissed the quartermaster, and addressed himself sternly
to the culprit.

"Well, what have you to say for yourself?"

"Please, Captain," said Gissing politely, "do not allow your tea to get
cold. I can talk while you eat." Behind his grim demeanour the Captain
was very near to smiling at this naivete. No Briton is wholly implacable
at tea-time, and he felt a genuine curiosity about this unusual
offender.

"What was your idea in coming aboard?" he said. "Do you know that I can
put you in irons until we get across, and then have you sent home for
punishment? I suppose it's the old story: you want to go sight-seeing on
the other side?"

"No, Captain," said Gissing. "I have come to sea to study theology."

In spite of himself the Captain was touched by this amazing statement.
He was a Scot, as we have said. He poured a cup of tea to conceal his
astonishment.

"Theology!" he exclaimed. "The theology of hard work is what you will
find most of aboard ship. Carry on and do your duty; keep a sharp
lookout, all gear shipshape, salute the bridge when going on watch,
that is the whole duty of a good officer. That's plenty theology for a
seaman." But the skipper's eye turned brightly toward his bookshelves,
where he had several volumes of sermons, mostly of a Calvinist sort.

"I am not afraid of work," said Gissing. "But I'm looking for horizons.
In my work ashore I never could find any."

"Your horizon is likely to be peeling potatoes in the galley," remarked
the Captain. "I understand they are short-handed there. Or sweeping out
bunks in the steerage. Ethics of the dust! What would you say to that?"

"Sir," replied Gissing, "I shall be grateful for any task, however
menial, that permits me to meditate. I understand your point of view. By
coming aboard your ship I have broken the law, I have committed a
crime; but not a sin. Crime and sin, every theologian admits, are not
coextensive."

The Captain sailed head-on into argument.

"What?" he cried. "Are you aware of the doctrine of Moral Inability in a
Fallen State? Sit down, sit down, and have a cup of tea. We must discuss
this."

He rang for the steward and ordered an extra cup and a fresh supply of
toast. At that moment Gissing heard two quick strokes of a bell, rung
somewhere forward, a clear, musical, melancholy tone, echoed promptly
in other parts of the ship. "What is that, Captain?" he asked anxiously.
"An accident?"

"Two bells in the first dog-watch," said the Captain. "I fear you are as
much a lubber at sea as you are in theology."

The next two hours passed like a flash. Gissing found the skipper, in
spite of his occasional moods of austerity, a delicious companion. They
discussed Theosophy, Spiritualism, and Christian Science, all of which
the Captain, with sturdy but rather troubled vehemence, linked with
Primitive Magic. Gissing, seeing that his only hope of establishing
himself in the sailor's regard was to disagree and keep the argument
going, plunged into psycho-analysis and the philosophy of the
unconscious. Rather unwarily he ventured to introduce a nautical
illustration into the talk.

"Your compass needle," he said, "points to the North Pole, and although
it has never been to the Pole, and cannot even conceive of it, yet it
testifies irresistibly to the existence of such a place."

"I trust you navigate your soul more skilfully than you would navigate
this vessel," retorted the Captain. "In the first place, the needle
does not point to the North Pole at all, but to the magnetic pole.
Furthermore, it has to be adjusted by magnets to counteract deviation.
Mr. Gissing, you may be a sincere student of theology, but you have not
allowed for your own temperamental deviation. Why, even the gyro compass
has to be adjusted for latitude error. You landsmen think that a ship is
simply a floating hotel. I should like to have the Bishop you spoke of
study a little navigation. That would put into him a healthy respect for
the marvels of science. On board ship, sir, the binnacle is kept locked
and the key is on the watch-chain of the master. It should be so in all
intellectual matters. Confide them to those capable of understanding."

Gissing saw that the Captain greatly relished his sense of superiority,
so he made a remark of intentional simplicity.

"The binnacle?" he said. "I thought that was the little shellfish that
clings to the bottom of the boat?"

"Don't you dare call my ship a BOAT!" said the Captain. "At sea, a boat
means only a lifeboat or some other small vagabond craft. Come out on
the bridge and I'll show you a thing or two."

The evening had closed in hazy, and the Pomerania swung steadily in a
long plunging roll. At the weather wing of the bridge, gazing sharply
over the canvas dodger, was Mr. Pointer, the vigilant Chief Officer,
peering off rigidly, as though mesmerized, but saying nothing. He gave
the Captain a courteous salute, but kept silence. At the large mahogany
wheel, gently steadying it to the quarterly roll of the sea, stood Dane,
a tall, solemn quartermaster. In spite of a little uneasiness, due to
the unfamiliar motion, Gissing was greatly elated by the wheelhouse,
which seemed even more thrillingly romantic than any pulpit.
Uncomprehendingly, but with admiration, he examined the binnacle, the
engine-room telegraphs, the telephones, the rack of signal-flags, the
buttons for closing the bulkheads, and the rotating clear-view screen
for lookout in thick weather. Aloft he could see the masthead light,
gently soaring in slow arcs.

"I'll show you my particular pride," said the Captain, evidently pleased
by his visitor's delighted enthusiasm.

Gissing wondered what ingenious device of science this might be.

Captain Scottie stepped to the weather gunwale of the bridge. He pointed
to the smoke, which was rolling rapidly from the funnels.

"You see," he said, "there's quite a strong breeze blowing. But look
here."

He lit a match and held it unshielded above the canvas screen which was
lashed along the front of the bridge. To Gissing's surprise it burned
steadily, without blowing out.

"I've invented a convex wind-shield which splits the air just forward
of the bridge. I can stand here and light my pipe in the stiffest gale,
without any trouble."

On the decks below Gissing heard a bugle blowing gaily, a bright,
persuasive sound.

"Six bells," the Captain said. "I must dress for dinner. Before I start
you potato-peeling, I should like to clear up that little discussion of
ours about Free Will. One or two things you said interested me."

He paced the bridge for a minute, thinking hard.

"I'll test your sincerity," he said. "To-night you can bunk in the
chart-room. I'll have some dinner sent up to you. I wish you would write
me an essay of, say, two thousand words on the subject of Necessity."

For a moment Gissing pondered whether it would not be better to be put
in irons and rationed with bread and water. The wind was freshening, and
the Pomerania's sharp bow slid heavily into broad hills of sea, crashing
them into crumbling rollers of suds which fell outward and hissed
along her steep sides. The silent Mr. Pointer escorted him into
the chart-room, a bare, businesslike place with a large table, a
map-cabinet, and a settee. Here, presently, a steward appeared with
excellent viands, and a pen, ink, and notepaper. After a cautious meal,
Gissing felt more comfortable. There is something about a wet, windy
evening at sea that turns the mind naturally toward metaphysics. He
pushed away the dishes and began to write.

Later in the evening the Captain reappeared. He looked pleased when he
saw a number of sheets already covered with script.

"Rum lot of passengers this trip," he said. "I don't seem to see any who
look interesting. All Big Business and that sort of thing. I must say
it's nice to have someone who can talk about books, and so on, once in a
while."

Gissing realized that sometimes a shipmaster's life must be a lonely
one. The weight of responsibility is always upon him; etiquette prevents
his becoming familiar with his officers; small wonder if he pines
occasionally for a little congenial talk to relieve his mind.

"Big Business, did you say?" Gissing remarked. "Ah, I could write you
quite an essay about that. I used to be General Manager of Beagle and
Company."

"Come into my cabin and have a liqueur," said the skipper. "Let the
essay go until to-morrow."

The Captain turned on the electric stove in his cabin, for the night
was cold. It was a snug sanctum: at the portholes were little chintz
curtains; over the bunk was a convenient reading lamp. On the wall a
brass pendulum swung slowly, registering the roll of the ship. The ruddy
shine of the stove lit up the orderly desk and the photographs of the
Captain's family.

"Yours?" said Gissing, looking at a group of three puppies with droll
Scottish faces. "Aye," said the Captain.

"I've three of my own," said Gissing, with a private pang of
homesickness. The skipper's cosy quarters were the most truly domestic
he had seen since the evening he first fled from responsibility.

Captain Scottie was surprised. Certainly this eccentric stranger in the
badly damaged wedding garments had not given the impression of a family
head. Just then the steward entered with a decanter of Benedictine and
small glasses.

"Brew days and bonny!" said the Captain, raising his crystal.

"Secure amidst perils!" replied Gissing courteously. It was the phrase
engraved upon the ship's notepaper, on which he had been writing, and it
had impressed itself on his mind.

"You said you had been a General Manager."

Gissing told, with some vivacity, of his experiences in the world of
trade. The Captain poured another small liqueur.

"They're fine halesome liquor," he said.

"Sincerely yours," said Gissing, nodding over the glass. He was
beginning to feel quite at home in the navigating quarters of the ship,
and hoped the potato-peeling might be postponed as long as possible.

"How far had you got in your essay?" asked the Captain.

"Not very far, I fear. I was beginning by laying down a few
psychological fundamentals."

"Excellent! Will you read it to me?"

Gissing went to get his manuscript, and read it aloud. The Captain
listened attentively, puffing clouds of smoke.

"I am sorry this is such a short voyage," he said when Gissing finished.
"You have approached the matter from an entirely naif and instinctive
standpoint, and it will take some time to show you your errors. Before
I demolish your arguments I should like to turn them over in my mind. I
will reduce my ideas to writing and then read them to you."

"I should like nothing better," said Gissing. "And I can think over the
subject more carefully while I peel the potatoes."

"Nonsense," said the Captain. "I do not often get a chance to discuss
theology. I will tell you my idea. You spoke of your experience as
General Manager, when you had charge of a thousand employees. One of
the things we need on this ship is a staff-captain, to take over
the management of the personnel. That would permit me to concentrate
entirely on navigation. In a vessel of this size it is wrong that the
master should have to carry the entire responsibility."

He rang for the steward.

"My compliments to Mr. Pointer, and tell him to come here."

Mr. Pointer appeared shortly in oilskins, saluted, and gazed fixedly at
his superior, with one foot raised upon the brass door-sill.

"Mr. Pointer," said Captain Scottie, "I have appointed Captain Gissing
staff-captain. Take orders from him as you would from me. He will have
complete charge of the ship's discipline."

"Aye, aye, sir," said Mr. Pointer, stood a moment intently to see if
there were further orders, saluted again, and withdrew.

"Now you had better turn in," said the skipper. "Of course you must wear
uniform. I'll send the tailor up to you at once. He can remodel one of
my suits overnight. The trousers will have to be lengthened."

On the chart-room sofa, Gissing dozed and waked and dozed again. On the
bridge near by he heard the steady tread of feet, the mysterious words
of the officer on watch passing the course to his relief. Bells rang
with sharp double clang. Through the open port he could hear the
alternate boom and hiss of the sea under the bows. With the stately lift
and lean of the ship there mingled a faint driving vibration.



CHAPTER FOURTEEN

The first morning in any new environment is always the most exciting.
Gissing was already awake, and watching the novel sight of a patch of
sunshine sliding to and fro on the deck of the chart-room, when there
was a gentle tap at the door. The Captain's steward entered, carrying a
handsome uniform.

"Six bells, sir," he said. "Your bath is laid on."

Gissing was not very sure just what time it was, but the steward
held out a dressing gown for him to slip on, so he took the hint, and
followed him to the Captain's private bathroom where he plunged gaily
into warm salt water. He was hardly dressed before breakfast was
laid for him in the chart-room. It was a breakfast greatly to his
liking--porridge, scrambled eggs, grilled kidneys and bacon, coffee,
toast, and marmalade. Evidently the hardships of sea life had been
greatly exaggerated by fiction writers.

He was a trifle bashful about appearing on the bridge in his blue and
brass formality, and waited a while thinking Captain Scottie might come.
But no one disturbed him, so by and bye he went out. It was a brisk
morning with a fresh breeze and plenty of whitecaps. Dancing rainbows
hovered about the bow when an occasional explosion of spray burst up
into sunlight. Mr. Pointer was on the bridge, still gazing steadily into
the distance. He saluted Gissing, but said nothing. The quartermaster at
the wheel also saluted in silence. A seaman wiping down the paintwork
on the deckhouse saluted. Gissing returned these gestures punctiliously,
and began to pace the bridge from side to side. He soon grew accustomed
to the varying slant of the deck, and felt that his footing showed a
nautical assurance.

Now for the first time he enjoyed an untrammelled horizon on all sides.
The sea, he observed, was not really blue--not at any rate the blue he
had supposed. Where it seethed flatly along the hull, laced with swirls
of milky foam, it was almost black. Farther away, it was green, or
darkly violet. A ladder led to the top of the charthouse, and from this
commanding height the whole body of the ship lay below him. How alive
she seemed, how full of personality! The strong funnels, the tall masts
that moved so delicately against the pale open sky, the distant stern
that now dipped low in a comfortable hollow, and now soared and threshed
onward with a swimming thrust, the whole vital organism spoke to the eye
and the imagination. In the centre of this vast circle she moved, royal
and serene. She was more beautiful than the element she rode on, for
perhaps there was something meaningless in that pure vacant round of
sea and sky. Once its immense azure was grasped and noted, it brought
nothing to the mind. Reason was indignant to conceive it, sloping
endlessly away.

The placid, beautifully planned routine of shipboard passed on its
accustomed course, and he began to suspect that his staff-captaincy was
a sinecure. Down below he could see the passengers briskly promenading,
or drowsing under their rugs. On the hurricane deck, aft, a sailor was
chalking a shuffleboard court. It occurred to him that all this might
become monotonous unless he found some actual part in it. Just then
Captain Scottie appeared on the bridge, took a quick look round, and
joined him on top of the charthouse.

"Good morning!" he said. "You won't think me rude if you don't see much
of me? Thinking about those ideas of yours, I have come upon some rather
puzzling stuff. I must work the whole thing out more clearly. Your
suggestion that Conscience points the way to an integration of
personality into a higher type of divinity, seems to me off the track;
but I haven't quite downed it yet. I'm going to shut myself up to-day
and consider the matter. I leave you in charge."

"I shall be perfectly happy," said Gissing. "Please don't worry about
me."

"You suggest that all the conditions of life at sea, our mastery of the
forces of Nature, and so on, seem to show that we have perfect freedom
of will, and adapt everything to our desires. I believe just the
contrary. The forces of Nature compel us to approach them in their own
way, otherwise we are shipwrecked. It is in the conditions of Nature
that this ship should reach port in eight days, otherwise we should get
nowhere. We do it because it is our destiny."

"I am not so sure of that," said Gissing. But the Captain had already
departed with a clouded brow.

On the chart-room roof Gissing had discovered an alluring instrument,
the exact use of which he did not know. It seemed to be some kind of
steering control. The dial was lettered, from left to right, as follows
HARD A PORT, PORT, STEADY, COURSE, STEADY, STARBD, HARD A STARBD. At
present the handle stood upon the section marked COURSE. After a careful
study of the whole seascape, it seemed to Gissing that off to the south
the ocean looked more blue and more interesting. After some hesitation
he moved the handle to the PORT mark, and waited to see what would
happen. To his delight he saw the bow swing slowly round, and the
Pomerania's gleaming wake spread behind her in a whitened curve. He
descended to the bridge, a little nervous as to what Mr. Pointer might
say, but he found the Mate gazing across the water with the same fierce
and unwearying attention.

"I have changed the course," he said.

Mr. Pointer saluted, but said nothing.

Having succeeded so far, Gissing ventured upon another innovation.
He had been greatly tempted by the wheel, and envied the stolid
quartermaster who was steering. So, assuming an air of calm certainty,
he entered the wheelhouse.

"I'll take her for a while," he said.

"Aye, aye, sir," said the quartermaster, and surrendered the wheel to
him.

"You might string out a few flags," Gissing said. He had been noticing
the bright signal buntings in the rack, and thought it a pity not to use
them.

"I like to see a ship well dressed," he added.

"Aye, aye, sir," said Dane. "Any choice, sir?"

Gissing picked out a string of flags which were particularly lively in
colour-scheme, and had them hoisted. Then he gave his attention to the
wheel. He found it quite an art, and was surprised to learn that a big
ship requires so much helm. But it was very pleasant. He took care to
steer toward patches of sea that looked interesting, and to cut into any
particular waves that took his fancy. After an hour or so, he sighted a
fishing schooner, and gave chase. He found it so much fun to run close
beside her (taking care to pass to leeward, so as not to cut off her
wind) that a mile farther on he turned and steered a neat circle
about the bewildered craft. The Pomerania's passengers were greatly
interested, and lined the rails trying to make out what the fishermen
were shouting. The captain of the schooner seemed particularly agitated,
kept waving at the signal flags and barking through a megaphone. During
these manoeuvres Mr. Pointer gazed so hard at the horizon that Gissing
felt a bit embarrassed.

"I thought it wise to find out exactly what our turning-circle is," he
said.

Mr. Pointer saluted. He was a well-trained officer.

Late in the afternoon the Captain reappeared, looking more cheerful.
Gissing was still at the helm, which he found so fascinating he would
not relinquish it. He had ordered his tea served on a little stand
beside the wheel so that he could drink it while he steered. "Hullo!"
said the Captain. "I see you've changed the course."

"It seemed best to do so," said Gissing firmly. He felt that to show any
weakness at this point would be fatal.

"Oh, well, probably it doesn't matter. I'm coming round to some of your
ideas."

Gissing saw that this would never do. Unless he could keep the master
disturbed by philosophic doubts, Scottie would expect to resume command
of the ship.

"Well," he said, "I've been thinking about it, too. I believe I went
a bit too far. But what do you think about this? Do you believe that
Conscience is inherited or acquired? You sea how important that is. If
Conscience is a kind of automatic oracle, infallible and perfect, what
becomes of free will? And if, on the other hand, Conscience is only a
laboriously trained perception of moral and social utilities, where does
your deity come in?"

Gissing was aware that this dilemma would not hold water very long, and
was painfully impromptu; but it hit the Captain amidships.

"By Jove," he said, "that's terrible, isn't it? It's no use trying to
carry on until I've got that under the hatch. Look here, would you
mind, just as a favour, keep things going while I wrestle with that
question?--I know it's asking a lot, but perhaps--"

"It's quite all right," Gissing replied. "Naturally you want to work
these things out."

The Captain started to leave the bridge, but by old seafaring habit he
cast a keen glance at the sky. He saw the bright string of code flags
fluttering. He seemed startled.

"Are you signalling any one?" he asked.

"No one in particular. I thought it looked better to have a few flags
about."

"I daresay you're right. But better take them down if you speak a ship.
They're rather confusing."

"Confusing? I thought they were just to brighten things up."

"You have two different signals up. They read, Bubonic plague, give me a
wide berth. Am coming to your assistance."

Toward dinner time, when Gissing had left the wheel and was humming a
tune as he walked the bridge, the steward came to him.

"The Captain's compliments, sir, and would you take his place in the
saloon to-night? He says he's very busy writing, sir, and would take it
as a favour."

Gissing was always obliging. There was just a hint of conscious
sternness in his manner as he entered the Pomerania's beautiful dining
saloon, for he wished the passengers to realize that their lives
depended upon his prudence and sea-lore. Twice during the meal he
instructed the steward to bring him the latest barometer reading; and
after the dessert he scribbled a note on the back of a menu-card and had
it sent to the Chief Engineer. It said:--

Dear Chief: Please keep up a good head of steam to-night. I am expecting
dirty weather.

MR. GISSING,

(Staff-Captain)

What the Chief said when he received the message is not included in the
story.

But the same social aplomb that had made Gissing successful as a
floorwalker now came to his rescue as mariner. The passengers at the
Captain's table were amazed at his genial charm. His anecdotes of sea
life were heartily applauded. After dinner he circulated gracefully in
the ladies' lounge, and took coffee there surrounded by a chattering
bevy. He organized a little impromptu concert in the music room, and
when that was well started, slipped away to the smoke-room. Here he
found a pool being organized as to the exact day and hour when the
Pomerania would reach port. Appealed to for his opinion, he advised
caution. On all sides he was in demand, for dancing, for bridge, for
a recitation. At length he slipped away, pleading that he must keep
himself fit in case of fog. The passengers were loud in his praise,
asserting that they had never met so agreeable a sea-captain. One
elderly lady said she remembered crossing with him in the old Caninia,
years ago, and that he was just the same then.



CHAPTER FIFTEEN

And so the voyage went on. Gissing was quite content to do a two-hour
trick at the wheel both morning and afternoon, and worked out some new
principles of steering which gave him pleasure. In the first place, he
noticed that the shuffle-board and quoit players, on the boat deck aft,
were occasionally annoyed by cinders from the stacks, so he made it
a general plan to steer so that the smoke blew at right angles to the
ship's course. As the wind was prevailingly west, this meant that his
general trend was southerly. Whenever he saw another vessel, a mass of
floating sea-weed, a porpoise, or even a sea-gull, he steered directly
for it, and passed as close as possible, to have a good look at it. Even
Mr. Pointer admitted (in the mates' mess) that he had never experienced
so eventful a voyage. To keep the quartermasters from being idle,
Gissing had them knit him a rope hammock to be slung in the chart-room.
He felt that this would be more nautical than a plush settee.

There was a marvellous sense of power in standing at the wheel and
feeling the great hull reply to his touch. Occasionally Captain Scottie
would emerge from his cabin, look round with a faint surprise, and
come to the bridge to see what was happening. Mr. Pointer would salute
mutely, and continue to study the skyline with indignant absorption.
The Captain would approach the wheel, where Gissing was deep in thought.
Rubbing his hands, the Captain would say heartily, "Well, I think I've
got it all clear now."

Gissing sighed.

"What is it?" the Captain inquired anxiously.

"I'm bothered about the subconscious. They tell us nowadays that
it's the subconscious mind that is really important. The more mental
operations we can turn over to the subconscious realm, the happier we
will be, and the more efficient. Morality, theology, and everything
really worth while, as I understand it, spring from the subconscious."

The Captain's look of cheer would vanish.

"Maybe there's something in that."

"If so," Gissing continued, "then perhaps consciousness is entirely
spurious. It seems to me that before we can get anywhere at all, we've
got to draw the line between the conscious and the subconscious.
What bothers me is, am I conscious of having a subconscious, or not?
Sometimes I think I am, and then again I'm doubtful. But if I'm aware
of my subconscious, then it isn't a genuine subconscious, and the whole
thing's just another delusion--"

The Captain would knit his weather-beaten brow and again retire
anxiously to his quarters, after begging Gissing to be generous and
carry on a while longer. Occasionally, pacing the starboard bridge-deck,
sacred to captains, Gissing would glance through the port and see the
metaphysical commander bent over sheets of foolscap and thickly wreathed
in pipe-smoke.

He himself had fallen into a kind of tranced felicity, in which these
questions no longer had other than an ingenious interest. His heart was
drowned in the engulfing blue. As they made their southing, wind
and weather seemed to fall astern, the sun poured with a more golden
candour. He stood at the wheel in a tranquil reverie, blithely steering
toward some bright belly of cloud that had caught his fancy. Mr. Pointer
shook his head when he glanced surreptitiously at the steering recorder,
a device that noted graphically every movement of the rudder with a view
to promoting economical helmsmanship. Indeed Gissing's course, as logged
on the chart, surprised even himself, so that he forbade the officers
taking their noon observations. When Mr. Pointer said something about
isobars, the staff-captain replied serenely that he did not expect to
find any polar bears in these latitudes.

He had hoped privately for an occasional pirate, and scanned the sea-rim
sharply for suspicious topsails. But the ocean, as he remarked, is
not crowded. They proceeded, day after day, in a solitary wideness of
unblemished colour. The ship, travelling always in the centre of this
infinite disk, seemed strangely identified with his own itinerant
spirit, watchful at the gist of things, alert at the point which was
necessarily, for him, the nub of all existence. He wandered about the
Pomerania's sagely ordered passages and found her more and more magical.
She went on and on, with some strange urgent vitality of her own.
Through the fiddleys on the boat deck came a hot oily breath and the
steady drumming of her burning heart. From outer to hawse-hole, from
shaft-tunnel to crow's-nest, he explored and loved her. In the whole of
her proud, faithful, obedient fabric he divined honour and exultation.
Poised upon uncertainty, she was sure. The camber of her white-scrubbed
decks, the long, clean sheer of her hull, the concave flare of her
bows--what was the amazing joy and rightness of these things? And yet
the grotesque passengers regarded her only as a vehicle, to carry them
sedatively to some clamouring dock. Fools! She was more lovely than
anything they would ever see again! He yearned to drive her endlessly
toward that unreachable perimeter of sky.

On land there had been definite horizons, even if disappointing when
reached and examined; but here there was no horizon at all. Every hour
it slid and slid over the dark orb of sea. He lost count of time. The
tremulous cradling of the Pomerania, steadily climbing the long leagues;
her noble forecastle solemnly lifting against heaven, then descending
with grave beauty into a spread of foaming beryl and snowdrift, seemed
one with the rhythm of his pulse and heart. Perhaps there had been more
than mere ingenuity in his last riddle for the theological skipper.
Truly the subconscious had usurped him. Here he was almost happy, for he
was almost unaware of life. It was all blue vacancy and suspension. The
sea is the great answer and consoler, for it means either nothing or
everything, and so need not tease the brain.

But the passengers, though unobservant, began to murmur; especially
those who had wagered that the Pomerania would dock on the eighth day.
The world itself, they complained, was created in seven days, and why
should so fine a ship take longer to cross a comparatively small ocean?
Urbanely, over coffee and petite fours, Gissing argued with them. They
were well on their way, he protested; and then, as a hypothetical case,
he asked why one destination was more worth visiting than another? He
even quoted Shakespeare on this point--something about "ports and happy
havens"--and succeeded in turning the tide of conversation for a while.
The mention of Shakespeare suggested to some of the ladies that it
would be pleasant, now they all knew each other so well, to put on some
amateur theatricals. They compromised by playing charades in the saloon.
Another evening Gissing kept them amused by fireworks, which were very
lovely against the dark sky. For this purpose he used the emergency
rockets, star-shells and coloured flares, much to the distress of Dane,
the quartermaster, who had charge of these supplies.

Little by little, however, the querulous protests of the passengers
began to weary him. Also, he had been receiving terse memoranda from
the Chief Engineer that the coal was getting low in the bunkers and that
something must be queer in the navigating department. This seemed very
unreasonable. The fixed gaze of Mr. Pointer, perpetually examining the
horizon as though he wanted to make sure he would recognize it if they
met again, was trying. Even Captain Scottie complained one day that
the supply of fresh meat had given out and that the steward had been
bringing him tinned beef. Gissing determined upon resolute measures.

He had notice served that on account of possible danger from pirates
there would be a general boat drill on the following day--not merely for
the crew, but for everyone. He gave a little talk about it in the saloon
after dinner, and worked his audience up to quite a pitch of enthusiasm.
This would be better than any amateur theatricals, he insisted. Everyone
was to act exactly as though in a sudden calamity. They might make
up the boat-parties on the basis of congeniality if they wished; five
minutes would be given for reaching the stations, without panic or
disorder. They should prepare themselves as though they were actually
going to leave a sinking ship.

The passengers were delighted with the idea of this novel entertainment.
Every soul on board--with the exception of Captain Scottie, who had
locked himself in and refused to be disturbed--was properly advertised
of the event.

The following day, fortunately, was clear and calm. At noon Gissing
blew the syren, fired a rocket from the bridge, and swung the engine
telegraph to STOP. The ship's orchestra, by his orders, struck up a
rollicking air. Quickly and without confusion, amid cries of Women and
children first! the passengers filed to their allotted places. The crew
and officers were all at their stations.

Gissing knocked at Captain Scottie's cabin.

"We are taking to the boats," he said.

"Goad!" cried the skipper. "Wull it be a colleesion?"

"All's clear and the davits are outboard," said Gissing. He had been
studying the manual of boat handling in one of the nautical volumes in
the chart-room.

"Auld Hornie!" ejaculated the skipper. "We'll no can salve the specie!
Make note of her poseetion, Mr. Gissing!" He hastened to gather his
papers, the log, a chronometer, and a large canister of tobacco.

"The Deil's intil't," he said as he hastened to his boat. "I had yon
pragmateesm of yours on a lee shore. Two-three hours, I'd have careened
ye."

Gissing was ready with his megaphone. From the wing of the bridge he
gave the orders.

"Lower away!" and the boats dropped to the passenger rail.

"Avast lowering!" Each boat took in her roster of passengers, who were
in high spirits at this unusual excitement.

"Mind your painters! Lower handsomely!"

The boats took the water in orderly fashion, and were cast off.
Remaining members of the crew swarmed down the falls. The bandsmen had a
boat to themselves, and resumed their tune as soon as they were settled.

Gissing, left alone on the ship, waved for silence.

"Look sharp, man!" cried Captain Scottie. "Honour's satisfied! Take your
place in the boat!"

The passengers applauded, and there was quite a clatter of camera
shutters as they snapped the Pomerania looming grandly above them.

"Boats are all provisioned and equipped," shouted Gissing. "I've
broadcasted your position by radio. The barometer's at Fixed Fair. Pull
off now, and 'ware the screw."

He moved the telegraph handle to DEAD SLOW, and the Pomerania began to
slip forward gently. The boats dropped aft amid a loud miscellaneous
outcry. Mr. Pointer was already examining the horizon. Captain Scottie,
awakened to the situation, was uttering the language of theology but not
the purport.

"Don't stand up in the boats," megaphoned Gissing. "You're quite all
right, there's a ship on the way already. I wirelessed last night."

He slid the telegraph to slow, half, and then full. Once more the ship
creamed through the lifting purple swells. The little flock of boats was
soon out of sight.

Alone at the wheel, he realized that a great weight was off his mind.
The responsibility of his position had burdened him more than he knew.
Now a strange eagerness and joy possessed him. His bubbling wake cut
straight and milky across the glittering afternoon. In a ruddy sunset
glow, the sea darkened through all tints of violet, amethyst, indigo.
The horizon line sharpened so clearly that he could distinguish the
tossing profile of waves wetting the sky. "A red sky at night is the
sailor's delight," he said to himself. He switched on the port and
starboard lights and the masthead lanterns, then lashed the wheel while
he went below for supper. He did not know exactly where he was, for he
seemed to have steamed clean off the chart; but as he conned the helm
that evening, and leaned over the lighted binnacle, he had a feeling
that he was not far from some destiny. With cheerful assurance he lashed
the wheel again, and turned in. He woke once in the night, and leaped
from the hammock with a start. He thought he had heard a sound of
barking.



CHAPTER SIXTEEN

The next morning he sighted land. Coming out on the bridge, the whole
face of things was changed. The sea-colour had lightened to a tawny
green; gulls dipped and hovered; away on the horizon lay a soft blue
contour. "Land Ho!" he shouted superbly, and wondered what new country
he had discovered. He ran up a hoist of red and yellow signal flags, and
steered gaily toward the shore.

It had grown suddenly cold: he had to fetch Captain Scottie's pea-jacket
to wear at the wheel. On the long spilling crests, that crumbled and
spread running layers of froth in their hurry shoreward, the Pomerania
rode home. She knew her landfall and seemed to quicken. Steadily
swinging on the jade-green surges, she buried her nose almost to the
hawse-pipes, then lifted until her streaming forefoot gleamed out of a
frilled ruffle of foam.

Gissing, too, was eager. A tingling buoyancy and impatience took hold
of him: he fidgeted with sheer eagerness for life. Land, the beloved
stability of our dear and only earth, drew and charmed him. Behind was
the senseless, heartbreaking sea. Now he could discern hills rising in
a gilded opaline light. In the volatile thin air was a quick sense of
strangeness. A new world was close about him: a world that he could see,
and feel, and inhale, and yet knew nothing of.

Suddenly a great humility possessed him. He had been froward and silly
and vain. He had shouted arrogantly at Beauty, like a noisy tourist in
a canyon; and the only answer, after long waiting, had been the paltry
diminished echo of his own voice. He thought shamefully of his follies.
What matter how you name God or in what words you praise Him? In this
new foreign land he would quietly accept things as he found them. The
laughter of God was too strange to understand.

No, there was no answer. He was doubly damned, for he had made truth a
mere sport of intellectual riddling. The mind, like a spinning flywheel
of fatigued steel, was gradually racked to bursting by the conflict
of stresses. And yet: every equilibrium was an opposure of forces.
Rotation, if swift enough, creates amazing stability: he had seen how
the gyroscope can balance at apparently impossible angles. Perhaps it
was so of the mind. If it twirls at high speed it can lean right out
over the abyss without collapse. But the stationary mind--he thought
of Bishop Borzoi--must keep away from the edge. Try to force it to
the edge, it raves in panic. Every mind, very likely, knows its own
frailties, and does well to safeguard them. At any rate, that was the
most generous interpretation. Most minds, undoubtedly, were uneasy in
high places. They doubted their ability to refrain from jumping off.
How many bones of fine intellects lay whitening at the foot of the
theological cliff--It seemed to be a lonely coast, and wintry.
Patches of snow lay upon the hills, the woods were bare and brown. A
bottle-necked harbour opened out before him. He reduced the engines to
Dead Slow and glided gaily through the strait. He had been anxious lest
his navigation might not be equal to the occasion: he did not want to
disgrace himself at this final test. But all seemed to arrange itself
with enchanted ease. A steep ledge of ground offered a natural pier,
with tree-stumps for bollards. He let her come gently beyond the spot;
reversed the propellers just at the right time, and backed neatly
alongside. He moved the telegraph handle to FINISHED WITH ENGINES; ran
out the gangplank smartly, and stepped ashore. He moored the vessel fore
and aft, and hung out fenders to prevent chafing.

The first thing to do, he said to himself, is to get the lie of the
land, and find out whether it is inhabited.

A hillside rising above the water promised a clear view. The stubble
grass was dry and frosty, after the warm days at sea the chill was
nipping; but what an elixir of air! If this is a desert island, he
thought, it will be a glorious discovery. His heart was jocund with
anticipation. A curious foreign look in the landscape, he thought; quite
unlike anything--Suddenly, where the hill arched against pearly sky, he
saw narrow thread of smoke rising. He halted in alarm. Who might this
be, friend or foe? But eager agitation pushed him on. Burning to know,
he hurried up to the brow of the hill.

The smoke mounted from a small bonfire of sticks in a sheltered thicket,
where a miraculous being--who was, as a matter of fact, a rather ragged
and dingy vagabond--was cooking a tin of stew over the blaze.

Gissing stood, quivering with emotion. Joy such as he had never known
darted through all the cords of his body. He ran, shouting, in mirth and
terror. In fear, in a passion of love and knowledge and understanding,
he abased himself and yearned before this marvel. Impossible to have
conceived, yet, once seen, utterly satisfying and the fulfilment of all
needs. He laughed and leaped and worshipped. When the first transport
was over, he laid his head against this being's knee, he nestled there
and was content. This was the inscrutable perfect answer.

"Cripes!" said the puzzled tramp, as he caressed the nuzzling head. "The
purp's loco. Maybe he's been lost. You might think he'd never seen a man
before."

He was right.

And Gissing sat quietly, his throat resting upon the soiled knee of a
very old and spicy trouser.

"I have found God," he said.

Presently he thought of the ship. It would not do to leave her so
insecurely moored. Reluctantly, with many a backward glance and a heart
full of glory, he left the Presence. He ran to the edge of the hill to
look down upon the harbour.

The outlook was puzzlingly altered. He gazed in astonishment. What were
those poplars, rising naked into the bright air?--there was something
familiar about them. And that little house beyond... he stared
bewildered.

The great shining breadth of the ocean had shrunk to the roundness of
a tiny pond. And the Pomerania? He leaned over, shaken with questions.
There, beside the bank, was a little plank of wood, a child's plaything,
roughly fashioned shipshape: two chips for funnels; red and yellow
frosted leaves for flags; a withered dogwood blossom for propeller. He
leaned closer, with whirling mind. In the clear cool surface of the
pond he could see the sky mirrored, deeper than any ocean, pellucid,
infinite, blue.

He ran up the path to the house. The scuffled ragged garden lay naked
and hard. At the windows, he saw with surprise, were holly wreaths tied
with broad red ribbon. On the porch, some battered toys. He opened the
door.

A fluttering rosy light filled the room. By the fireplace the
puppies--how big they were!--were sitting with Mrs. Spaniel. Joyous
uproar greeted him: they flung themselves upon him. Shouts of "Daddy!
Daddy!" filled the house, while the young Spaniels stood by more
bashfully.

Good Mrs. Spaniel was gratefully moved. Her moist eyes shone brightly in
the firelight.

"I knew you'd be home for Christmas, Mr. Gissing," she said. "I've been
telling them so all afternoon. Now, children, be still a moment and let
me speak. I've been telling you your Daddy would be home in time for a
Christmas Eve story. I've got to go and fix that plum pudding."

In her excitement a clear bubble dripped from the tip of her tongue. She
caught it in her apron, and hurried to the kitchen.



CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

The children insisted on leading him all through the house to show how
nicely they had taken care of things. And in every room Gissing saw
the marks of riot and wreckage. There were tooth-scars on all
furniture-legs; the fringes of rugs were chewed off; there were prints
of mud, ink, paints, and whatnot, on curtains and wallpapers and
coverlets. Poor Mrs. Spaniel kept running anxiously from the kitchen to
renew apologies.

"I DID try to keep 'em in order," she said, "but they seem to bash
things when you're not looking."

But Gissing was too happy to stew about such trifles. When the
inspection was over, they all sat down by the chimney and he piled on
more logs.

"Well, chilluns," he said, "what do you want Santa Claus to bring you
for Christmas?"

"An aunbile!" exclaimed Groups

"An elphunt!" exclaimed Bunks

"A little train with hammers!" exclaimed Yelpers

"A little train with hammers?" asked Gissing. "What does he mean?"

"Oh," said Groups and Bunks, with condescending pity, "he means a
typewriter. He calls it a little train because it moves on a track when
you hit it."

A painful apprehension seized him, and he went hastily to his study. He
had not noticed the typewriter, which Mrs. Spaniel had--too late--put
out of reach. Half the keys were sticking upright, jammed together and
tangled in a whirl of ribbon; the carriage was strangely dislocated. And
yet even this mischance, which would once have horrified him, left him
unperturbed. It's my own fault, he thought: I shouldn't have left it
where they could play with it. Perhaps God thinks the same when His
creatures make a mess of the dangerous laws of life.

"A Christmas story!" the children were clamouring.

Can it really be Christmas Eve? Gissing thought. Christmas seems to have
come very suddenly this year, I haven't really adjusted my mind to it
yet.

"All right," he said. "Now sit still and keep quiet. Bunks, give Yelpers
a little more room. If there's any bickering Santa Claus might hear it."

He sat in the big chair by the fire, and the three looked upward
expectantly from the hearthrug.

"Once upon a time there were three little puppies, who lived in a house
in the country in the Canine Estates. And their names were Groups,
Bunks, and Yelpers."

The three tails thumped in turn as the names were mentioned, but the
children were too excitedly absorbed to interrupt.

"And one year, just before Christmas, they heard a dreadful rumour."

"What's a rumour?" cried Yelpers, alarmed.

This was rather difficult to explain, so Gissing did not attempt it. He
began again.

"They heard that Santa Claus might not be able to come because he was
so behind with his housework. You see, Santa Claus is a great big
Newfoundland dog with a white beard, and he lives in a frosty kennel at
the North Pole, all shining with icicles round the roof and windows. But
it's so far away from everywhere that poor Santa couldn't get a servant.
All the maids who went there refused to stay because it was so cold
and lonely, and so far from the movies. Santa Claus was busy in his
workshop, making toys; he was busy taking care of the reindeer in their
snow-stables; and he didn't have time to wash his dishes. So all summer
he just let them pile up and pile up in the kitchen. And when Christmas
came near, there was his lovely house in a dreadful state of untidiness.
He couldn't go away and leave it like that. And so, if he didn't get his
dishes washed and the house cleaned up for Christmas, all the puppies
all over the world would have to go without toys. When Groups and Bunks
and Yelpers heard this, they were very much worried."

"How did they hear it?" asked Bunks, who was the analytical member of
the trio.

"A very sensible question," said Gissing, approvingly. "They heard it
from the chipmunk who lives in the wood behind the house. The chipmunk
heard it underground."

"In his chipmonastery?" cried Groups. It was a family joke to call
the chipmunk's burrow by that name, and though the puppies did not
understand the pun they relished the long word.

"Yes," continued Gissing. "The reindeer in Santa Claus's stable were
so unhappy about the dishes not being washed, and the chance of missing
their Christmas frolic, that they broadcasted a radio message. Their
horns are very fine for sending radio, and the chipmunk, sitting at his
little wireless outfit, with the receivers over his ears, heard it. And
Chippy told Groups and Bunks and Yelpers.

"So these puppies decided to help Santa Claus. They didn't know exactly
where to find him, but the chipmunk told them the direction, and off
they went. They travelled and travelled, and when they came to the ocean
they begged a ride from the seagulls, and each one sat on a seagull's
back just as though he was on a little airplane. They flew and flew,
and at last they came to Santa Claus's house. Through the stable-walls,
which were made of clear ice, they could see the reindeer stamping in
their stalls. In the big workshop, where Santa Claus was busy making
toys, they could hear a lively sound of hammering. The big red sleigh
was standing outside the stables, all ready to be hitched up to the
reindeer.

"They slipped into Santa Claus's house quickly and quietly, so no one
would see or hear them. The house was in a terrible state, but they set
to work to clean up. Groups found the vacuum cleaner and sucked up all
the crumbs from the dining-room rug. Bunks ran upstairs and made Santa
Claus's bed for him and swept the floors and put clean towels in the
bathroom. And Yelpers hurried into the kitchen and washed the dishes,
and scrubbed the pots, and polished the egg-stains off the silver
spoons, and emptied the ice-box pan. All working hard, they got through
very soon, and made Santa Claus's house as clean as any house could be.
They fixed the window-shades so that they would all hang level, not
just anyhow, as poor Santa had them. Then, when everything was spick and
span, they ran outdoors again and beckoned the seagulls. They climbed on
the gulls' backs, and away they flew homeward."

"Was Santa Claus pleased?" asked Bunks.

"Indeed he was, when he came back from his workshop, very tired after
making toys all day."

"What kind of toys did he make?" exclaimed Yelpers anxiously. "Did he
make a typewriter?"

"He made every kind of toy. And when he saw how his house had been
cleaned up, he thought the fairies must have done it. He lit his pipe,
and filled a thermos bottle with hot cocoa to keep him warm on his long
journey. Then he put on his red coat, and his long boots, and his fur
cap, and went out to harness the reindeer. That very night he drove off
with his sleigh packed full of toys for all the puppies in the world. In
fact, he was so pleased that he loaded his big bag with more toys than
he had ever carried before. And that was how a queer thing happened."

They waited in eager suspense.

"You know, Santa Claus always drives into the Canine Estates by the
little back road through the woods, where the chipmunk lives. You know
the gateway, at the bend in the lane: well, it's rather narrow, and
Santa Claus's sleigh is very wide. And this time, because his bag had
so many toys in it, the bag bulged over the edge of the sleigh, and one
corner of the bag caught on the gatepost as he drove by. Three toys fell
out, and what do you suppose they were?"

"An aunbile!"

"An elphunt!"

"A typewriter!"

"Yes, that's quite right. And it happened that the chipmunk was out
that night, digging up some nuts for his Christmas dinner, a little sad
because he had no presents to give his children; and he found the
three toys. He took them home to the little chipmunks, and they were
tremendously pleased. That was only fair, because if it hadn't been
for the chipmunk and his radio set, no one would have had any toys that
Christmas."

"Did Santa Claus have any more typewriters in his bag?" asked Yelpers
gravely.

"Oh, yes, he had plenty more of everything. And when he got to the house
where Groups and Bunks and Yelpers lived, he slid down the chimney and
took a look round. He didn't see any crumbs on the floor, or any toys
lying about not put away, so he filled the stockings with all kinds of
lovely things, and an aunbile and an elphunt and a typewriter."

"What did the puppies say?" they inquired.

"They were sound asleep upstairs, and didn't know anything about it
until Christmas morning. Come on now, it's time for bed."

"We can undress ourselves now," said Groups.

"Will you tuck me in?" said Bunks.

"You're sure he had another typewriter in his bag?" said Yelpers.

They scrambled upstairs.

Later, when the house was quiet, Gissing went out to the kitchen to see
Mrs. Spaniel. She was diligently rolling pastry, and her nose was white
with flour.

"Oh, sir, I'm glad you got home in time for Christmas," she said. "The
children were counting on it. Did you have a successful trip, sir?"

"Every trip is successful when you get home again," said Gissing. "I
suppose the shops will be open late to-night, won't they? I'm going to
run down to the village to get some toys."

Before leaving the house, he went down to the cellar to see if the
furnace was all right. He was amazed to see how naturally and cheerfully
he had slipped back into the old sense of responsibility. Where was the
illusory freedom he had dreamed of? Even the epiphany on the hilltop now
seemed a distant miracle. That fearful happiness might never come again.
And yet here, among the familiar difficult minutiae of home, what a
lightness he felt. A great phrase from the prayer-book came to his
mind--"Whose service is perfect freedom."

Ah, he said to himself, it is all very well to wear a crown of thorns,
and indeed every sensitive creature carries one in secret. But there are
times when it ought to be worn cocked over one ear.

He opened the furnace door. A bright glow filled the fire-box: he could
hear a stir and singing in the boiler, and the rustle of warm pipes that
chuckled quietly through winter nights of storm. Over the coals hovered
a magic evasive flicker, the very soul of fire. It was a Pentecostal
flame, perfect and heavenly in tint, the essence of pure colour, a clear
immortal blue.

THE END





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