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Title: A Passionate Pilgrim
Author: James, Henry
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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A PASSIONATE PILGRIM


By Henry James



I

Intending to sail for America in the early part of June, I determined to
spend the interval of six weeks in England, to which country my mind’s
eye only had as yet been introduced. I had formed in Italy and France a
resolute preference for old inns, considering that what they sometimes
cost the ungratified body they repay the delighted mind. On my arrival
in London, therefore, I lodged at a certain antique hostelry, much
to the east of Temple Bar, deep in the quarter that I had inevitably
figured as the Johnsonian. Here, on the first evening of my stay, I
descended to the little coffee-room and bespoke my dinner of the genius
of “attendance” in the person of the solitary waiter. No sooner had
I crossed the threshold of this retreat than I felt I had cut a
golden-ripe crop of English “impressions.” The coffee-room of the Red
Lion, like so many other places and things I was destined to see in the
motherland, seemed to have been waiting for long years, with just that
sturdy sufferance of time written on its visage, for me to come and
extract the romantic essence of it.

The latent preparedness of the American mind even for the most
characteristic features of English life was a matter I meanwhile failed
to get to the bottom of. The roots of it are indeed so deeply buried
in the soil of our early culture that, without some great upheaval
of feeling, we are at a loss to say exactly when and where and how it
begins. It makes an American’s enjoyment of England an emotion more
searching than anything Continental. I had seen the coffee-room of
the Red Lion years ago, at home--at Saragossa Illinois--in books, in
visions, in dreams, in Dickens, in Smollett, in Boswell. It was small
and subdivided into six narrow compartments by a series of perpendicular
screens of mahogany, something higher than a man’s stature, furnished
on either side with a meagre uncushioned ledge, denominated in ancient
Britain a seat. In each of these rigid receptacles was a narrow table--a
table expected under stress to accommodate no less than four pairs of
active British elbows. High pressure indeed had passed away from the
Red Lion for ever. It now knew only that of memories and ghosts and
atmosphere. Round the room there marched, breast-high, a magnificent
panelling of mahogany, so dark with time and so polished with unremitted
friction that by gazing a while into its lucid blackness I made out
the dim reflexion of a party of wigged gentlemen in knee-breeches just
arrived from York by the coach. On the dark yellow walls, coated by
the fumes of English coal, of English mutton, of Scotch whiskey, were a
dozen melancholy prints, sallow-toned with age--the Derby favourite of
the year 1807, the Bank of England, her Majesty the Queen. On the floor
was a Turkey carpet--as old as the mahogany almost, as the Bank
of England, as the Queen--into which the waiter had in his lonely
revolutions trodden so many massive soot-flakes and drops of overflowing
beer that the glowing looms of Smyrna would certainly not have
recognised it. To say that I ordered my dinner of this archaic type
would be altogether to misrepresent the process owing to which, having
dreamed of lamb and spinach and a salade de saison, I sat down in
penitence to a mutton-chop and a rice pudding. Bracing my feet against
the cross-beam of my little oaken table, I opposed to the mahogany
partition behind me the vigorous dorsal resistance that must have
expressed the old-English idea of repose. The sturdy screen refused even
to creak, but my poor Yankee joints made up the deficiency.

While I was waiting there for my chop there came into the room a person
whom, after I had looked at him a moment, I supposed to be a fellow
lodger and probably the only one. He seemed, like myself, to have
submitted to proposals for dinner; the table on the other side of my
partition had been prepared to receive him. He walked up to the fire,
exposed his back to it and, after consulting his watch, looked directly
out of the window and indirectly at me. He was a man of something less
than middle age and more than middle stature, though indeed you would
have called him neither young nor tall. He was chiefly remarkable for
his emphasised leanness. His hair, very thin on the summit of his head,
was dark short and fine. His eye was of a pale turbid grey, unsuited,
perhaps, to his dark hair and well-drawn brows, but not altogether out
of harmony with his colourless bilious complexion. His nose was aquiline
and delicate; beneath it his moustache languished much rather than
bristled. His mouth and chin were negative, or at the most provisional;
not vulgar, doubtless, but ineffectually refined. A cold fatal
gentlemanly weakness was expressed indeed in his attenuated person. His
eye was restless and deprecating; his whole physiognomy, his manner of
shifting his weight from foot to foot, the spiritless droop of his head,
told of exhausted intentions, of a will relaxed. His dress was neat and
“toned down”--he might have been in mourning. I made up my mind on three
points: he was a bachelor, he was out of health, he was not indigenous
to the soil. The waiter approached him, and they conversed in accents
barely audible. I heard the words “claret,” “sherry” with a tentative
inflexion, and finally “beer” with its last letter changed to “ah.”
 Perhaps he was a Russian in reduced circumstances; he reminded me
slightly of certain sceptical cosmopolite Russians whom I had met on the
Continent. While in my extravagant way I followed this train--for
you see I was interested--there appeared a short brisk man with
reddish-brown hair, with a vulgar nose, a sharp blue eye and a red
beard confined to his lower jaw and chin. My putative Russian, still in
possession of the rug, let his mild gaze stray over the dingy ornaments
of the room. The other drew near, and his umbrella dealt a playful
poke at the concave melancholy waistcoat. “A penny ha’penny for your
thoughts!”

My friend, as I call him, uttered an exclamation, stared, then laid
his two hands on the other’s shoulders. The latter looked round at me
keenly, compassing me in a momentary glance. I read in its own vague
light that this was a transatlantic eyebeam; and with such confidence
that I hardly needed to see its owner, as he prepared, with his
companion, to seat himself at the table adjoining my own, take from his
overcoat-pocket three New York newspapers and lay them beside his
plate. As my neighbours proceeded to dine I felt the crumbs of their
conversation scattered pretty freely abroad. I could hear almost all
they said, without straining to catch it, over the top of the partition
that divided us. Occasionally their voices dropped to recovery of
discretion, but the mystery pieced itself together as if on purpose to
entertain me. Their speech was pitched in the key that may in English
air be called alien in spite of a few coincidences. The voices were
American, however, with a difference; and I had no hesitation in
assigning the softer and clearer sound to the pale thin gentleman, whom
I decidedly preferred to his comrade. The latter began to question him
about his voyage.

“Horrible, horrible! I was deadly sick from the hour we left New York.”

“Well, you do look considerably reduced,” said the second-comer.

“Reduced! I’ve been on the verge of the grave. I haven’t slept six hours
for three weeks.” This was said with great gravity.

“Well, I’ve made the voyage for the last time.”

“The plague you have! You mean to locate here permanently?”

“Oh it won’t be so very permanent!”

There was a pause; after which: “You’re the same merry old boy, Searle.
Going to give up the ghost to-morrow, eh?”

“I almost wish I were.”

“You’re not so sweet on England then? I’ve heard people say at home that
you dress and talk and act like an Englishman. But I know these people
here and I know you. You’re not one of this crowd, Clement Searle, not
you. You’ll go under here, sir; you’ll go under as sure as my name’s
Simmons.”

Following this I heard a sudden clatter as of the drop of a knife and
fork. “Well, you’re a delicate sort of creature, if it IS your ugly
name! I’ve been wandering about all day in this accursed city, ready
to cry with homesickness and heartsickness and every possible sort of
sickness, and thinking, in the absence of anything better, of meeting
you here this evening and of your uttering some sound of cheer and
comfort and giving me some glimmer of hope. Go under? Ain’t I under now?
I can’t do more than get under the ground!”

Mr. Simmons’s superior brightness appeared to flicker a moment in this
gust of despair, but the next it was burning steady again. “DON’T ‘cry,’
Searle,” I heard him say. “Remember the waiter. I’ve grown Englishman
enough for that. For heaven’s sake don’t let’s have any nerves. Nerves
won’t do anything for you here. It’s best to come to the point. Tell me
in three words what you expect of me.”

I heard another movement, as if poor Searle had collapsed in his
chair. “Upon my word, sir, you’re quite inconceivable. You never got my
letter?”

“Yes, I got your letter. I was never sorrier to get anything in my
life.”

At this declaration Mr. Searle rattled out an oath, which it was well
perhaps that I but partially heard. “Abijah Simmons,” he then cried,
“what demon of perversity possesses you? Are you going to betray me here
in a foreign land, to turn out a false friend, a heartless rogue?”

“Go on, sir,” said sturdy Simmons. “Pour it all out. I’ll wait till
you’ve done. Your beer’s lovely,” he observed independently to the
waiter. “I’ll have some more.”

“For God’s sake explain yourself!” his companion appealed.

There was a pause, at the end of which I heard Mr. Simmons set down his
empty tankard with emphasis. “You poor morbid mooning man,” he resumed,
“I don’t want to say anything to make you feel sore. I regularly pity
you. But you must allow that you’ve acted more like a confirmed crank
than a member of our best society--in which every one’s so sensible.”

Mr. Searle seemed to have made an effort to compose himself. “Be so good
as to tell me then what was the meaning of your letter.”

“Well, you had got on MY nerves, if you want to know, when I wrote it.
It came of my always wishing so to please folks. I had much better have
let you alone. To tell you the plain truth I never was so horrified in
my life as when I found that on the strength of my few kind words you
had come out here to seek your fortune.”

“What then did you expect me to do?”

“I expected you to wait patiently till I had made further enquiries and
had written you again.”

“And you’ve made further enquiries now?”

“Enquiries! I’ve committed assaults.”

“And you find I’ve no claim?”

“No claim that one of THESE big bugs will look at. It struck me at first
that you had rather a neat little case. I confess the look of it took
hold of me--”

“Thanks to your liking so to please folks!” Mr. Simmons appeared for
a moment at odds with something; it proved to be with his liquor. “I
rather think your beer’s too good to be true,” he said to the waiter. “I
guess I’ll take water. Come, old man,” he resumed, “don’t challenge me
to the arts of debate, or you’ll have me right down on you, and then you
WILL feel me. My native sweetness, as I say, was part of it. The idea
that if I put the thing through it would be a very pretty feather in
my cap and a very pretty penny in my purse was part of it. And the
satisfaction of seeing a horrid low American walk right into an old
English estate was a good deal of it. Upon my word, Searle, when I think
of it I wish with all my heart that, extravagant vain man as you are, I
COULD, for the charm of it, put you through! I should hardly care what
you did with the blamed place when you got it. I could leave you alone
to turn it into Yankee notions--into ducks and drakes as they call ‘em
here. I should like to see you tearing round over it and kicking up its
sacred dust in their very faces!”

“You don’t know me one little bit,” said Mr. Searle, rather shirking,
I thought, the burden of this tribute and for all response to the
ambiguity of the compliment.

“I should be very glad to think I didn’t, sir. I’ve been to no small
amount of personal inconvenience for you. I’ve pushed my way right up
to the headspring. I’ve got the best opinion that’s to be had. The best
opinion that’s to be had just gives you one leer over its spectacles. I
guess that look will fix you if you ever get it straight. I’ve been
able to tap, indirectly,” Mr. Simmons went on, “the solicitor of your
usurping cousin, and he evidently knows something to be in the wind. It
seems your elder brother twenty years ago put out a feeler. So you’re
not to have the glory of even making them sit up.”

“I never made any one sit up,” I heard Mr. Searle plead. “I shouldn’t
begin at this time of day. I should approach the subject like a
gentleman.”

“Well, if you want very much to do something like a gentleman you’ve got
a capital chance. Take your disappointment like a gentleman.”

I had finished my dinner and had become keenly interested in poor Mr.
Searle’s unencouraging--or unencouraged--claim; so interested that I
at last hated to hear his trouble reflected in his voice without being
able--all respectfully!--to follow it in his face. I left my place, went
over to the fire, took up the evening paper and established a post of
observation behind it.

His cold counsellor was in the act of choosing a soft chop from the
dish--an act accompanied by a great deal of prying and poking with that
gentleman’s own fork. My disillusioned compatriot had pushed away his
plate; he sat with his elbows on the table, gloomily nursing his head
with his hands. His companion watched him and then seemed to wonder--to
do Mr. Simmons justice--how he could least ungracefully give him up.
“I say, Searle,”--and for my benefit, I think, taking me for a native
ingenuous enough to be dazzled by his wit, he lifted his voice a little
and gave it an ironical ring--“in this country it’s the inestimable
privilege of a loyal citizen, under whatsoever stress of pleasure or of
pain, to make a point of eating his dinner.”

Mr. Searle gave his plate another push. “Anything may happen now. I
don’t care a straw.”

“You ought to care. Have another chop and you WILL care. Have some
better tipple. Take my advice!” Mr. Simmons went on.

My friend--I adopt that name for him--gazed from between his two hands
coldly before him. “I’ve had enough of your advice.”

“A little more,” said Simmons mildly; “I shan’t trouble you again. What
do you mean to do?”

“Nothing.”

“Oh come!”

“Nothing, nothing, nothing!”

“Nothing but starve. How about meeting expenses?”

“Why do you ask?” said my friend. “You don’t care.”

“My dear fellow, if you want to make me offer you twenty pounds you set
most clumsily about it. You said just now I don’t know you,” Mr. Simmons
went on. “Possibly. Come back with me then,” he said kindly enough, “and
let’s improve our acquaintance.”

“I won’t go back. I shall never go back.”

“Never?”

“Never.”

Mr. Simmons thought it shrewdly over. “Well, you ARE sick!” he exclaimed
presently. “All I can say is that if you’re working out a plan for cold
poison, or for any other act of desperation, you had better give it
right up. You can’t get a dose of the commonest kind of cold poison
for nothing, you know. Look here, Searle”--and the worthy man made what
struck me as a very decent appeal. “If you’ll consent to return home
with me by the steamer of the twenty-third I’ll pay your passage down.
More than that, I’ll pay for your beer.”

My poor gentleman met it. “I believe I never made up my mind to anything
before, but I think it’s made up now. I shall stay here till I take my
departure for a newer world than any patched-up newness of ours. It’s an
odd feeling--I rather like it! What should I do at home?”

“You said just now you were homesick.”

“I meant I was sick for a home. Don’t I belong here? Haven’t I longed to
get here all my life? Haven’t I counted the months and the years till I
should be able to ‘go’ as we say? And now that I’ve ‘gone,’ that is that
I’ve come, must I just back out? No, no, I’ll move on. I’m much obliged
to you for your offer. I’ve enough money for the present. I’ve about my
person some forty pounds’ worth of British gold, and the same amount,
say, of the toughness of the heaven-sent idiot. They’ll see me through
together! After they’re gone I shall lay my head in some English
churchyard, beside some ivied tower, beneath an old gnarled black yew.”

I had so far distinctly followed the dialogue; but at this point the
landlord entered and, begging my pardon, would suggest that number 12,
a most superior apartment, having now been vacated, it would give him
pleasure if I would look in. I declined to look in, but agreed for
number 12 at a venture and gave myself again, with dissimulation, to
my friends. They had got up; Simmons had put on his overcoat; he stood
polishing his rusty black hat with his napkin. “Do you mean to go down
to the place?” he asked.

“Possibly. I’ve thought of it so often that I should like to see it.”

“Shall you call on Mr. Searle?”

“Heaven forbid!”

“Something has just occurred to me,” Simmons pursued with a grin that
made his upper lip look more than ever denuded by the razor and jerked
the ugly ornament of his chin into the air. “There’s a certain Miss
Searle, the old man’s sister.”

“Well?” my gentleman quavered.

“Well, sir!--you talk of moving on. You might move on the damsel.”

Mr. Searle frowned in silence and his companion gave him a tap on the
stomach. “Line those ribs a bit first!” He blushed crimson; his eyes
filled with tears. “You ARE a coarse brute,” he said. The scene
quite harrowed me, but I was prevented from seeing it through by the
reappearance of the landlord on behalf of number 12. He represented to
me that I ought in justice to him to come and see how tidy they HAD
made it. Half an hour afterwards I was rattling along in a hansom toward
Covent Garden, where I heard Madame Bosio in The Barber of Seville. On
my return from the opera I went into the coffee-room; it had occurred
to me I might catch there another glimpse of Mr. Searle. I was not
disappointed. I found him seated before the fire with his head sunk on
his breast: he slept, dreaming perhaps of Abijah Simmons. I watched him
for some moments. His closed eyes, in the dim lamplight, looked even
more helpless and resigned, and I seemed to see the fine grain of his
nature in his unconscious mask. They say fortune comes while we sleep,
and, standing there, I felt really tender enough--though otherwise most
unqualified--to be poor Mr. Searle’s fortune. As I walked away I noted
in one of the little prandial pews I have described the melancholy
waiter, whose whiskered chin also reposed on the bulge of his
shirt-front. I lingered a moment beside the old inn-yard in which, upon
a time, the coaches and post-chaises found space to turn and disgorge.
Above the dusky shaft of the enclosing galleries, where lounging lodgers
and crumpled chambermaids and all the picturesque domesticity of a
rattling tavern must have leaned on their elbows for many a year, I made
out the far-off lurid twinkle of the London constellations. At the foot
of the stairs, enshrined in the glittering niche of her well-appointed
bar, the landlady sat napping like some solemn idol amid votive brass
and plate.

The next morning, not finding the subject of my benevolent curiosity in
the coffee-room, I learned from the waiter that he had ordered breakfast
in bed. Into this asylum I was not yet prepared to pursue him. I spent
the morning in the streets, partly under pressure of business, but
catching all kinds of romantic impressions by the way. To the searching
American eye there is no tint of association with which the great grimy
face of London doesn’t flush. As the afternoon approached, however,
I began to yearn for some site more gracefully classic than what
surrounded me, and, thinking over the excursions recommended to the
ingenuous stranger, decided to take the train to Hampton Court. The day
was the more propitious that it yielded just that dim subaqueous light
which sleeps so fondly upon the English landscape.

At the end of an hour I found myself wandering through the apartments of
the great palace. They follow each other in infinite succession, with no
great variety of interest or aspect, but with persistent pomp and a fine
specific effect. They are exactly of their various times. You pass from
painted and panelled bedchambers and closets, anterooms, drawing-rooms,
council-rooms, through king’s suite, queen’s suite, prince’s suite,
until you feel yourself move through the appointed hours and stages
of some rigid monarchical day. On one side are the old monumental
upholsteries, the big cold tarnished beds and canopies, with the
circumference of disapparelled royalty symbolised by a gilded
balustrade, and the great carved and yawning chimney-places where
dukes-in-waiting may have warmed their weary heels; on the other,
in deep recesses, rise the immense windows, the framed and draped
embrasures where the sovereign whispered and favourites smiled, looking
out on terraced gardens and misty park. The brown walls are dimly
illumined by innumerable portraits of courtiers and captains, more
especially with various members of the Batavian entourage of William
of Orange, the restorer of the palace; with good store too of the
lily-bosomed models of Lely and Kneller. The whole tone of this
processional interior is singularly stale and sad. The tints of all
things have both faded and darkened--you taste the chill of the place
as you walk from room to room. It was still early in the day and in
the season, and I flattered myself that I was the only visitor. This
complacency, however, dropped at sight of a person standing motionless
before a simpering countess of Sir Peter Lely’s creation. On hearing
my footstep this victim of an evaporated spell turned his head and I
recognised my fellow lodger of the Red Lion. I was apparently recognised
as well; he looked as if he could scarce wait for me to be kind to him,
and in fact didn’t wait. Seeing I had a catalogue he asked the name of
the portrait. On my satisfying him he appealed, rather timidly, as to my
opinion of the lady.

“Well,” said I, not quite timidly enough perhaps, “I confess she strikes
me as no great matter.”

He remained silent and was evidently a little abashed. As we strolled
away he stole a sidelong glance of farewell at his leering shepherdess.
To speak with him face to face was to feel keenly that he was no less
interesting than infirm. We talked of our inn, of London, of the palace;
he uttered his mind freely, but seemed to struggle with a weight of
depression. It was an honest mind enough, with no great cultivation but
with a certain natural love of excellent things. I foresaw that I
should find him quite to the manner born--to ours; full of glimpses and
responses, of deserts and desolations. His perceptions would be fine and
his opinions pathetic; I should moreover take refuge from his sense of
proportion in his sense of humour, and then refuge from THAT, ah me!--in
what? On my telling him that I was a fellow citizen he stopped short,
deeply touched, and, silently passing his arm into my own, suffered me
to lead him through the other apartments and down into the gardens. A
large gravelled platform stretches itself before the basement of the
palace, taking the afternoon sun. Parts of the great structure are
reserved for private use and habitation, occupied by state-pensioners,
reduced gentlewomen in receipt of the Queen’s bounty and other deserving
persons. Many of the apartments have their dependent gardens, and here
and there, between the verdure-coated walls, you catch a glimpse of
these somewhat stuffy bowers. My companion and I measured more than once
this long expanse, looking down on the floral figures of the rest of the
affair and on the stoutly-woven tapestry of creeping plants that muffle
the foundations of the huge red pile. I thought of the various images of
old-world gentility which, early and late, must have strolled in front
of it and felt the protection and security of the place. We peeped
through an antique grating into one of the mossy cages and saw an old
lady with a black mantilla on her head, a decanter of water in one hand
and a crutch in the other, come forth, followed by three little dogs and
a cat, to sprinkle a plant. She would probably have had an opinion on
the virtue of Queen Caroline. Feeling these things together made us
quickly, made us extraordinarily, intimate. My companion seemed to ache
with his impression; he scowled, all gently, as if it gave him pain. I
proposed at last that we should dine somewhere on the spot and take
a late train to town. We made our way out of the gardens into the
adjoining village, where we entered an inn which I pronounced, very
sincerely, exactly what we wanted. Mr. Searle had approached our board
as shyly as if it had been a cold bath; but, gradually warming to his
work, he declared at the end of half an hour that for the first time in
a month he enjoyed his victuals.

“I’m afraid you’re rather out of health,” I risked.

“Yes, sir--I’m an incurable.”

The little village of Hampton Court stands clustered about the entrance
of Bushey Park, and after we had dined we lounged along into the
celebrated avenue of horse-chestnuts. There is a rare emotion, familiar
to every intelligent traveller, in which the mind seems to swallow the
sum total of its impressions at a gulp. You take in the whole place,
whatever it be. You feel England, you feel Italy, and the sensation
involves for the moment a kind of thrill. I had known it from time to
time in Italy and had opened my soul to it as to the spirit of the
Lord. Since my landing in England I had been waiting for it to arrive. A
bottle of tolerable Burgundy, at dinner, had perhaps unlocked to it the
gates of sense; it arrived now with irresistible force. Just the scene
around me was the England of one’s early reveries. Over against us, amid
the ripeness of its gardens, the dark red residence, with its formal
facings and its vacant windows, seemed to make the past definite and
massive; the little village, nestling between park and palace, around
a patch of turfy common, with its taverns of figurative names, its
ivy-towered church, its mossy roofs, looked like the property of a
feudal lord. It was in this dark composite light that I had read the
British classics; it was this mild moist air that had blown from the
pages of the poets; while I seemed to feel the buried generations in the
dense and elastic sod. And that I must have testified in some form or
other to what I have called my thrill I gather, remembering it, from a
remark of my companion’s.

“You’ve the advantage over me in coming to all this with an educated
eye. You already know what old things can be. I’ve never known it but by
report. I’ve always fancied I should like it. In a small way at home, of
course, I did try to stand by my idea of it. I must be a conservative by
nature. People at home used to call me a cockney and a fribble. But it
wasn’t true,” he went on; “if it had been I should have made my way over
here long ago: before--before--” He paused, and his head dropped sadly
on his breast.

The bottle of Burgundy had loosened his tongue; I had but to choose my
time for learning his story. Something told me that I had gained his
confidence and that, so far as attention and attitude might go, I was
“in” for responsibilities. But somehow I didn’t dread them. “Before you
lost your health,” I suggested.

“Before I lost my health,” he answered. “And my property--the little I
had. And my ambition. And any power to take myself seriously.”

“Come!” I cried. “You shall recover everything. This tonic English
climate will wind you up in a month. And THEN see how you’ll take
yourself--and how I shall take you!”

“Oh,” he gratefully smiled, “I may turn to dust in your hands! I should
like,” he presently pursued, “to be an old genteel pensioner, lodged
over there in the palace and spending my days in maundering about these
vistas. I should go every morning, at the hour when it gets the sun,
into that long gallery where all those pretty women of Lely’s are
hung--I know you despise them!--and stroll up and down and say something
kind to them. Poor precious forsaken creatures! So flattered and courted
in their day, so neglected now! Offering up their shoulders and ringlets
and smiles to that musty deadly silence!”

I laid my hand on my friend’s shoulder. “Oh sir, you’re all right!”

Just at this moment there came cantering down the shallow glade of the
avenue a young girl on a fine black horse--one of those little budding
gentlewomen, perfectly mounted and equipped, who form to alien eyes one
of the prettiest incidents of English scenery. She had distanced her
servant and, as she came abreast of us, turned slightly in her saddle
and glanced back at him. In the movement she dropped the hunting-crop
with which she was armed; whereupon she reined up and looked shyly at
us and at the implement. “This is something better than a Lely,” I
said. Searle hastened forward, picked up the crop and, with a particular
courtesy that became him, handed it back to the rider. Fluttered and
blushing she reached forward, took it with a quick sweet sound, and the
next moment was bounding over the quiet turf. Searle stood watching her;
the servant, as he passed us, touched his hat. When my friend turned
toward me again I saw that he too was blushing. “Oh sir, you’re all
right,” I repeated.

At a short distance from where we had stopped was an old stone bench. We
went and sat down on it and, as the sun began to sink, watched the light
mist powder itself with gold. “We ought to be thinking of the train back
to London, I suppose,” I at last said.

“Oh hang the train!” sighed my companion.

“Willingly. There could be no better spot than this to feel the English
evening stand still.” So we lingered, and the twilight hung about us,
strangely clear in spite of the thickness of the air. As we sat there
came into view an apparition unmistakeable from afar as an immemorial
vagrant--the disowned, in his own rich way, of all the English ages. As
he approached us he slackened pace and finally halted, touching his cap.
He was a man of middle age, clad in a greasy bonnet with false-looking
ear-locks depending from its sides. Round his neck was a grimy red
scarf, tucked into his waistcoat; his coat and trousers had a remote
affinity with those of a reduced hostler. In one hand he had a stick; on
his arm he bore a tattered basket, with a handful of withered
vegetables at the bottom. His face was pale haggard and degraded beyond
description--as base as a counterfeit coin, yet as modelled somehow as
a tragic mask. He too, like everything else, had a history. From what
height had he fallen, from what depth had he risen? He was the perfect
symbol of generated constituted baseness; and I felt before him in
presence of a great artist or actor.

“For God’s sake, gentlemen,” he said in the raucous tone of
weather-beaten poverty, the tone of chronic sore-throat exacerbated
by perpetual gin, “for God’s sake, gentlemen, have pity on a poor
fern-collector!”--turning up his stale daisies. “Food hasn’t passed my
lips, gentlemen, for the last three days.” We gaped at him and at each
other, and to our imagination his appeal had almost the force of a
command. “I wonder if half-a-crown would help?” I privately wailed. And
our fasting botanist went limping away through the park with the grace
of controlled stupefaction still further enriching his outline.

“I feel as if I had seen my Doppelganger,” said Searle. “He reminds me
of myself. What am I but a mere figure in the landscape, a wandering
minstrel or picker of daisies?”

“What are you ‘anyway,’ my friend?” I thereupon took occasion to ask.
“Who are you? kindly tell me.”

The colour rose again to his pale face and I feared I had offended
him. He poked a moment at the sod with the point of his umbrella before
answering. “Who am I?” he said at last. “My name is Clement Searle. I
was born in New York, and that’s the beginning and the end of me.”

“Ah not the end!” I made bold to plead.

“Then it’s because I HAVE no end--any more than an ill-written book. I
just stop anywhere; which means I’m a failure,” the poor man all lucidly
and unreservedly pursued: “a failure, as hopeless and helpless, sir, as
any that ever swallowed up the slender investments of the widow and
the orphan. I don’t pay five cents on the dollar. What I might have
been--once!--there’s nothing left to show. I was rotten before I was
ripe. To begin with, certainly, I wasn’t a fountain of wisdom. All the
more reason for a definite channel--for having a little character and
purpose. But I hadn’t even a little. I had nothing but nice tastes, as
they call them, and fine sympathies and sentiments. Take a turn through
New York to-day and you’ll find the tattered remnants of these things
dangling on every bush and fluttering in every breeze; the men to whom
I lent money, the women to whom I made love, the friends I trusted, the
follies I invented, the poisonous fumes of pleasure amid which nothing
was worth a thought but the manhood they stifled! It was my fault that I
believed in pleasure here below. I believe in it still, but as I believe
in the immortality of the soul. The soul is immortal, certainly--if
you’ve got one; but most people haven’t. Pleasure would be right if it
were pleasure straight through; but it never is. My taste was to be the
best in the world; well, perhaps it was. I had a little money; it went
the way of my little wit. Here in my pocket I have the scant dregs
of it. I should tell you I was the biggest kind of ass. Just now that
description would flatter me; it would assume there’s something left of
me. But the ghost of a donkey--what’s that? I think,” he went on with
a charming turn and as if striking off his real explanation, “I should
have been all right in a world arranged on different lines. Before
heaven, sir--whoever you are--I’m in practice so absurdly tender-hearted
that I can afford to say it: I entered upon life a perfect gentleman.
I had the love of old forms and pleasant rites, and I found them
nowhere--found a world all hard lines and harsh lights, without shade,
without composition, as they say of pictures, without the lovely mystery
of colour. To furnish colour I melted down the very substance of my own
soul. I went about with my brush, touching up and toning down; a very
pretty chiaroscuro you’ll find in my track! Sitting here in this old
park, in this old country, I feel that I hover on the misty verge of
what might have been! I should have been born here and not there; here
my makeshift distinctions would have found things they’d have been true
of. How it was I never got free is more than I can say. It might have
cut the knot, but the knot was too tight. I was always out of health or
in debt or somehow desperately dangling. Besides, I had a horror of the
great black sickening sea. A year ago I was reminded of the existence of
an old claim to an English estate, which has danced before the eyes of
my family, at odd moments, any time these eighty years. I confess it’s a
bit of a muddle and a tangle, and am by no means sure that to this hour
I’ve got the hang of it. You look as if you had a clear head: some other
time, if you consent, we’ll have a go at it, such as it is, together.
Poverty was staring me in the face; I sat down and tried to commit the
‘points’ of our case to memory, as I used to get nine-times-nine by
heart as a boy. I dreamed of it for six months, half-expecting to wake
up some fine morning and hear through a latticed casement the cawing of
an English rookery. A couple of months ago there came out to England on
business of his own a man who once got me out of a dreadful mess (not
that I had hurt anyone but myself), a legal practitioner in our courts,
a very rough diamond, but with a great deal of FLAIR, as they say in New
York. It was with him yesterday you saw me dining. He undertook, as
he called it, to ‘nose round’ and see if anything could be made of our
questionable but possible show. The matter had never seriously been
taken up. A month later I got a letter from Simmons assuring me that it
seemed a very good show indeed and that he should be greatly surprised
if I were unable to do something. This was the greatest push I had ever
got in my life; I took a deliberate step, for the first time; I sailed
for England. I’ve been here three days: they’ve seemed three months.
After keeping me waiting for thirty-six hours my legal adviser makes his
appearance last night and states to me, with his mouth full of mutton,
that I haven’t a leg to stand on, that my claim is moonshine, and that
I must do penance and take a ticket for six more days of purgatory
with his presence thrown in. My friend, my friend--shall I say I was
disappointed? I’m already resigned. I didn’t really believe I had
any case. I felt in my deeper consciousness that it was the crowning
illusion of a life of illusions. Well, it was a pretty one. Poor legal
adviser!--I forgive him with all my heart. But for him I shouldn’t be
sitting in this place, in this air, under these impressions. This is a
world I could have got on with beautifully. There’s an immense charm in
its having been kept for the last. After it nothing else would have been
tolerable. I shall now have a month of it, I hope, which won’t be long
enough for it to “go back on me. There’s one thing!”--and here, pausing,
he laid his hand on mine; I rose and stood before him--“I wish it were
possible you should be with me to the end.”

“I promise you to leave you only when you kick me downstairs.” But I
suggested my terms. “It must be on condition of your omitting from your
conversation this intolerable flavour of mortality. I know nothing of
‘ends.’ I’m all for beginnings.”

He kept on me his sad weak eyes. Then with a faint smile: “Don’t cut
down a man you find hanging. He has had a reason for it. I’m bankrupt.”

“Oh health’s money!” I said. “Get well, and the rest will take care of
itself. I’m interested in your questionable claim--it’s the question
that’s the charm; and pretenders, to anything big enough, have always
been, for me, an attractive class. Only their first duty’s to be
gallant.”

“Their first duty’s to understand their own points and to know their own
mind,” he returned with hopeless lucidity. “Don’t ask me to climb our
family tree now,” he added; “I fear I haven’t the head for it. I’ll try
some day--if it will bear my weight; or yours added to mine. There’s
no doubt, however, that we, as they say, go back. But I know nothing of
business. If I were to take the matter in hand I should break in two the
poor little silken thread from which everything hangs. In a better world
than this I think I should be listened to. But the wind doesn’t set to
ideal justice. There’s no doubt that a hundred years ago we suffered
a palpable wrong. Yet we made no appeal at the time, and the dust of a
century now lies heaped upon our silence. Let it rest!”

“What then,” I asked, “is the estimated value of your interest?”

“We were instructed from the first to accept a compromise. Compared with
the whole property our ideas have been small. We were once advised in
the sense of a hundred and thirty thousand dollars. Why a hundred and
thirty I’m sure I don’t know. Don’t beguile me into figures.”

“Allow me one more question,” I said. “Who’s actually in possession?”

“A certain Mr. Richard Searle. I know nothing about him.”

“He’s in some way related to you?”

“Our great-grandfathers were half-brothers. What does that make us?”

“Twentieth cousins, say. And where does your twentieth cousin live?”

“At a place called Lackley--in Middleshire.”

I thought it over. “Well, suppose we look up Lackley in Middleshire!”

He got straight up. “Go and see it?”

“Go and see it.”

“Well,” he said, “with you I’ll go anywhere.”

On our return to town we determined to spend three days there together
and then proceed to our errand. We were as conscious one as the other of
that deeper mystic appeal made by London to those superstitious pilgrims
who feel it the mother-city of their race, the distributing heart of
their traditional life. Certain characteristics of the dusky Babylon,
certain aspects, phases, features, “say” more to the American spiritual
ear than anything else in Europe. The influence of these things on
Searle it charmed me to note. His observation I soon saw to be, as
I pronounced it to him, searching and caressing. His almost morbid
appetite for any over-scoring of time, well-nigh extinct from long
inanition, threw the flush of its revival into his face and his talk.



II

We looked out the topography of Middleshire in a county-guide, which
spoke highly, as the phrase is, of Lackley Park, and took up our abode,
our journey ended, at a wayside inn where, in the days of leisure, the
coach must have stopped for luncheon and burnished pewters of rustic
ale been handed up as straight as possible to outsiders athirst with
the sense of speed. We stopped here for mere gaping joy of its
steep-thatched roof, its latticed windows, its hospitable porch, and
allowed a couple of days to elapse in vague undirected strolls and sweet
sentimental observance of the land before approaching the particular
business that had drawn us on. The region I allude to is a compendium
of the general physiognomy of England. The noble friendliness of the
scenery, its latent old-friendliness, the way we scarcely knew whether
we were looking at it for the first or the last time, made it arrest us
at every step. The countryside, in the full warm rains of the last
of April, had burst into sudden perfect spring. The dark walls of the
hedgerows had turned into blooming screens, the sodden verdure of lawn
and meadow been washed over with a lighter brush. We went forth without
loss of time for a long walk on the great grassy hills, smooth arrested
central billows of some primitive upheaval, from the summits of which
you find half England unrolled at your feet. A dozen broad counties,
within the scope of your vision, commingle their green exhalations.
Closely beneath us lay the dark rich hedgy flats and the copse-chequered
slopes, white with the blossom of apples. At widely opposite points of
the expanse two great towers of cathedrals rose sharply out of a reddish
blur of habitation, taking the mild English light.

We gave an irrepressible attention to this same solar reserve, and found
in it only a refinement of art. The sky never was empty and never idle;
the clouds were continually at play for our benefit. Over against
us, from our station on the hills, we saw them piled and dissolved,
condensed and shifted, blotting the blue with sullen rain-spots,
stretching, breeze-fretted, into dappled fields of grey, bursting into
an explosion of light or melting into a drizzle of silver. We made our
way along the rounded ridge of the downs and reached, by a descent,
through slanting angular fields, green to cottage-doors, a russet
village that beckoned us from the heart of the maze in which the hedges
wrapped it up. Close beside it, I admit, the roaring train bounces out
of a hole in the hills; yet there broods upon this charming hamlet an
old-time quietude that makes a violation of confidence of naming it so
far away. We struck through a narrow lane, a green lane, dim with its
barriers of hawthorn; it led us to a superb old farmhouse, now rather
rudely jostled by the multiplied roads and by-ways that have reduced its
ancient appanage. It stands there in stubborn picturesqueness, doggedly
submitting to be pointed out and sketched. It is a wonderful image of
the domiciliary conditions of the past--cruelly complete; with bended
beams and joists, beneath the burden of gables, that seem to ache and
groan with memories and regrets. The short low windows, where lead and
glass combine equally to create an inward gloom, retain their opacity as
a part of the primitive idea of defence. Such an old house provokes on
the part of an American a luxury of respect. So propped and patched, so
tinkered with clumsy tenderness, clustered so richly about its central
English sturdiness, its oaken vertebrations, so humanised with ages
of use and touches of beneficent affection, it seemed to offer to our
grateful eyes a small rude symbol of the great English social order.
Passing out upon the highroad, we came to the common browsing-patch,
the “village-green” of the tales of our youth. Nothing was absent: the
shaggy mouse-coloured donkey, nosing the turf with his mild and huge
proboscis, the geese, the old woman--THE old woman, in person, with
her red cloak and her black bonnet, frilled about the face and
double-frilled beside her decent placid cheeks--the towering ploughman
with his white smock-frock puckered on chest and back, his short
corduroys, his mighty calves, his big red rural face. We greeted these
things as children greet the loved pictures in a storybook lost and
mourned and found again. We recognised them as one recognises the
handwriting on letter-backs. Beside the road we saw a ploughboy straddle
whistling on a stile, and he had the merit of being not only a ploughboy
but a Gainsborough. Beyond the stile, across the level velvet of a
meadow, a footpath wandered like a streak drawn by a finger over a
surface of fine plush. We followed it from field to field and from
stile to stile; it was all adorably the way to church. At the church we
finally arrived, lost in its rook-haunted churchyard, hidden from the
workday world by the broad stillness of pastures--a grey, grey tower, a
huge black yew, a cluster of village-graves with crooked headstones and
protrusions that had settled and sunk. The place seemed so to ache with
consecration that my sensitive companion gave way to the force of it.

“You must bury me here, you know”--he caught at my arm. “It’s the first
place of worship I’ve seen in my life. How it makes a Sunday where it
stands!”

It took the Church, we agreed, to make churches, but we had the sense
the next day of seeing still better why. We walked over some seven
miles, to the nearer of the two neighbouring seats of that lesson; and
all through such a mist of local colour that we felt ourselves a pair
of Smollett’s pedestrian heroes faring tavernward for a night of
adventures. As we neared the provincial city we saw the steepled mass of
the cathedral, long and high, rise far into the cloud-freckled blue; and
as we got closer stopped on a bridge and looked down at the reflexion of
the solid minster in a yellow stream. Going further yet we entered
the russet town--where surely Miss Austen’s heroines, in chariots
and curricles, must often have come a-shopping for their sandals and
mittens; we lounged in the grassed and gravelled precinct and gazed
insatiably at that most soul-soothing sight, the waning wasting
afternoon light, the visible ether that feels the voices of the chimes
cling far aloft to the quiet sides of the cathedral-tower; saw it linger
and nestle and abide, as it loves to do on all perpendicular spaces,
converting them irresistibly into registers and dials; tasted too, as
deeply, of the peculiar stillness of this place of priests; saw a rosy
English lad come forth and lock the door of the old foundation-school
that dovetailed with cloister and choir, and carry his big responsible
key into one of the quiet canonical houses: and then stood musing
together on the effect on one’s mind of having in one’s boyhood gone and
come through cathedral-shades as a King’s scholar, and yet kept ruddy
with much cricket in misty river meadows. On the third morning we betook
ourselves to Lackley, having learned that parts of the “grounds” were
open to visitors, and that indeed on application the house was sometimes
shown.

Within the range of these numerous acres the declining spurs of the
hills continued to undulate and subside. A long avenue wound and circled
from the outermost gate through an untrimmed woodland, whence you
glanced at further slopes and glades and copses and bosky recesses--at
everything except the limits of the place. It was as free and untended
as I had found a few of the large loose villas of old Italy, and I was
still never to see the angular fact of English landlordism muffle itself
in so many concessions. The weather had just become perfect; it was one
of the dozen exquisite days of the English year--days stamped with a
purity unknown in climates where fine weather is cheap. It was as if the
mellow brightness, as tender as that of the primroses which starred the
dark waysides like petals wind-scattered over beds of moss, had been
meted out to us by the cubic foot--distilled from an alchemist’s
crucible. From this pastoral abundance we moved upon the more composed
scene, the park proper--passed through a second lodge-gate, with
weather-worn gilding on its twisted bars, to the smooth slopes where the
great trees stood singly and the tame deer browsed along the bed of
a woodland stream. Here before us rose the gabled grey front of the
Tudor-time, developed and terraced and gardened to some later loss, as
we were afterwards to know, of type.

“Here you can wander all day,” I said to Searle, “like an exiled
prince who has come back on tiptoe and hovers about the dominion of the
usurper.”

“To think of ‘others’ having hugged this all these years!” he answered.
“I know what I am, but what might I have been? What do such places make
of a man?”

“I dare say he gets stupidly used to them,” I said. “But I dare say too,
even then, that when you scratch the mere owner you find the perfect
lover.”

“What a perfect scene and background it forms!” my friend, however,
had meanwhile gone on. “What legends, what histories it knows! My heart
really breaks with all I seem to guess. There’s Tennyson’s Talking Oak!
What summer days one could spend here! How I could lounge the rest of my
life away on this turf of the middle ages! Haven’t I some maiden-cousin
in that old hall, or grange, or court--what in the name of enchantment
do you call the thing?--who would give me kind leave?” And then he
turned almost fiercely upon me. “Why did you bring me here? Why did you
drag me into this distraction of vain regrets?”

At this moment there passed within call a decent lad who had emerged
from the gardens and who might have been an underling in the stables. I
hailed him and put the question of our possible admittance to the house.
He answered that the master was away from home, but that he thought it
probable the housekeeper would consent to do the honours. I passed my
arm into Searle’s. “Come,” I said; “drain the cup, bitter-sweet though
it be. We must go in.” We hastened slowly and approached the fine front.
The house was one of the happiest fruits of its freshly-feeling era,
a multitudinous cluster of fair gables and intricate chimneys, brave
projections and quiet recesses, brown old surfaces weathered to silver
and mottled roofs that testified not to seasons but to centuries. Two
broad terraces commanded the wooded horizon. Our appeal was answered by
a butler who condescended to our weakness. He renewed the assertion that
Mr. Searle was away from home, but he would himself lay our case before
the housekeeper. We would be so good, however, as to give him our cards.
This request, following so directly on the assertion that Mr. Searle
was absent, was rather resented by my companion. “Surely not for the
housekeeper.”

The butler gave a diplomatic cough. “Miss Searle is at home, sir.”

“Yours alone will have to serve,” said my friend. I took out a card and
pencil and wrote beneath my name NEW YORK. As I stood with the pencil
poised a temptation entered into it. Without in the least considering
proprieties or results I let my implement yield--I added above my name
that of Mr. Clement Searle. What would come of it?

Before many minutes the housekeeper waited upon us--a fresh rosy little
old woman in a clean dowdy cap and a scanty sprigged gown; a quaint
careful person, but accessible to the tribute of our pleasure, to say
nothing of any other. She had the accent of the country, but the manners
of the house. Under her guidance we passed through a dozen apartments,
duly stocked with old pictures, old tapestry, old carvings, old armour,
with a hundred ornaments and treasures. The pictures were especially
valuable. The two Vandykes, the trio of rosy Rubenses, the sole and
sombre Rembrandt, glowed with conscious authenticity. A Claude, a
Murillo, a Greuze, a couple of Gainsboroughs, hung there with high
complacency. Searle strolled about, scarcely speaking, pale and grave,
with bloodshot eyes and lips compressed. He uttered no comment on what
we saw--he asked but a question or two. Missing him at last from my side
I retraced my steps and found him in a room we had just left, on a faded
old ottoman and with his elbows on his knees and his face buried in
his hands. Before him, ranged on a great credence, was a magnificent
collection of old Italian majolica; plates of every shape, with their
glaze of happy colour, jugs and vases nobly bellied and embossed. There
seemed to rise before me, as I looked, a sudden vision of the young
English gentleman who, eighty years ago, had travelled by slow stages to
Italy and been waited on at his inn by persuasive toymen. “What is it,
my dear man?” I asked. “Are you unwell?”

He uncovered his haggard face and showed me the flush of a consciousness
sharper, I think, to myself than to him. “A memory of the past!
There comes back to me a china vase that used to stand on the parlour
mantel-shelf when I was a boy, with a portrait of General Jackson
painted on one side and a bunch of flowers on the other. How long do you
suppose that majolica has been in the family?”

“A long time probably. It was brought hither in the last century, into
old, old England, out of old, old Italy, by some contemporary dandy with
a taste for foreign gimcracks. Here it has stood for a hundred years,
keeping its clear firm hues in this quiet light that has never sought to
advertise it.”

Searle sprang to his feet. “I say, for mercy’s sake, take me away! I
can’t stand this sort of thing. Before I know it I shall do something
scandalous. I shall steal some of their infernal crockery. I shall
proclaim my identity and assert my rights. I shall go blubbering to Miss
Searle and ask her in pity’s name to ‘put me up.’”

If he could ever have been said to threaten complications he rather
visibly did so now. I began to regret my officious presentation of
his name and prepared without delay to lead him out of the house. We
overtook the housekeeper in the last room of the series, a small unused
boudoir over whose chimney-piece hung a portrait of a young man in a
powdered wig and a brocaded waistcoat. I was struck with his resemblance
to my companion while our guide introduced him. “This is Mr. Clement
Searle, Mr. Searle’s great-uncle, by Sir Joshua Reynolds. He died young,
poor gentleman; he perished at sea, going to America.”

“He was the young buck who brought the majolica out of Italy,” I
supplemented.

“Indeed, sir, I believe he did,” said the housekeeper without wonder.

“He’s the image of you, my dear Searle,” I further observed.

“He’s remarkably like the gentleman, saving his presence,” said the
housekeeper.

My friend stood staring. “Clement Searle--at sea--going to America--?”
 he broke out. Then with some sharpness to our old woman: “Why the devil
did he go to America?”

“Why indeed, sir? You may well ask. I believe he had kinsfolk there. It
was for them to come to him.”

Searle broke into a laugh. “It was for them to come to him! Well, well,”
 he said, fixing his eyes on our guide, “they’ve come to him at last!”

She blushed like a wrinkled rose-leaf. “Indeed, sir, I verily believe
you’re one of US!”

“My name’s the name of that beautiful youth,” Searle went on. “Dear
kinsman I’m happy to meet you! And what do you think of this?” he
pursued as he grasped me by the arm. “I have an idea. He perished at
sea. His spirit came ashore and wandered about in misery till it got
another incarnation--in this poor trunk!” And he tapped his hollow
chest. “Here it has rattled about these forty years, beating its wings
against its rickety cage, begging to be taken home again. And I never
knew what was the matter with me! Now at last the bruised spirit can
escape!”

Our old lady gaped at a breadth of appreciation--if not at the
disclosure of a connexion--beyond her. The scene was really
embarrassing, and my confusion increased as we became aware of another
presence. A lady had appeared in the doorway and the housekeeper dropped
just audibly: “Miss Searle!” My first impression of Miss Searle was that
she was neither young nor beautiful. She stood without confidence on the
threshold, pale, trying to smile and twirling my card in her fingers.
I immediately bowed. Searle stared at her as if one of the pictures had
stepped out of its frame.

“If I’m not mistaken one of you gentlemen is Mr. Clement Searle,” the
lady adventured.

“My friend’s Mr. Clement Searle,” I took upon myself to reply. “Allow me
to add that I alone am responsible for your having received his name.”

“I should have been sorry not to--not to see him,” said Miss Searle,
beginning to blush. “Your being from America has led me--perhaps to
intrude!”

“The intrusion, madam, has been on our part. And with just that
excuse--that we come from so far away.”

Miss Searle, while I spoke, had fixed her eyes on my friend as he stood
silent beneath Sir Joshua’s portrait. The housekeeper, agitated and
mystified, fairly let herself go. “Heaven preserve us, Miss! It’s your
great-uncle’s picture come to life.”

“I’m not mistaken then,” said Miss Searle--“we must be distantly
related.” She had the air of the shyest of women, for whom it was almost
anguish to make an advance without help. Searle eyed her with gentle
wonder from head to foot, and I could easily read his thoughts. This
then was his maiden-cousin, prospective mistress of these hereditary
treasures. She was of some thirty-five years of age, taller than was
then common and perhaps stouter than is now enjoined. She had small
kind grey eyes, a considerable quantity of very light-brown hair and a
smiling well-formed mouth. She was dressed in a lustreless black
satin gown with a short train. Disposed about her neck was a blue
handkerchief, and over this handkerchief, in many convolutions, a string
of amber beads. Her appearance was singular; she was large yet somehow
vague, mature yet undeveloped. Her manner of addressing us spoke of all
sorts of deep diffidences. Searle, I think, had prefigured to himself
some proud cold beauty of five-and-twenty; he was relieved at finding
the lady timid and not obtrusively fair. He at once had an excellent
tone.

“We’re distant cousins, I believe. I’m happy to claim a relationship
which you’re so good as to remember. I hadn’t counted on your knowing
anything about me.”

“Perhaps I’ve done wrong.” And Miss Searle blushed and smiled anew. “But
I’ve always known of there being people of our blood in America, and
have often wondered and asked about them--without ever learning much.
To-day, when this card was brought me and I understood a Clement Searle
to be under our roof as a stranger, I felt I ought to do something. But,
you know, I hardly knew what. My brother’s in London. I’ve done what I
think he would have done. Welcome as a cousin.” And with a resolution
that ceased to be awkward she put out her hand.

“I’m welcome indeed if he would have done it half so graciously!” Again
Searle, taking her hand, acquitted himself beautifully.

“You’ve seen what there is, I think,” Miss Searle went on. “Perhaps now
you’ll have luncheon.” We followed her into a small breakfast-room where
a deep bay window opened on the mossy flags of a terrace. Here, for some
moments, she remained dumb and abashed, as if resting from a measurable
effort. Searle too had ceased to overflow, so that I had to relieve the
silence. It was of course easy to descant on the beauties of park and
mansion, and as I did so I observed our hostess. She had no arts, no
impulses nor graces--scarce even any manners; she was queerly, almost
frowsily dressed; yet she pleased me well. She had an antique sweetness,
a homely fragrance of old traditions. To be so simple, among those
complicated treasures, so pampered and yet so fresh, so modest and yet
so placid, told of just the spacious leisure in which Searle and I had
imagined human life to be steeped in such places as that. This figure
was to the Sleeping Beauty in the Wood what a fact is to a fairy-tale,
an interpretation to a myth. We, on our side, were to our hostess
subjects of a curiosity not cunningly veiled.

“I should like so to go abroad!” she exclaimed suddenly, as if she meant
us to take the speech for an expression of interest in ourselves.

“Have you never been?” one of us asked.

“Only once. Three years ago my brother took me to Switzerland. We
thought it extremely beautiful. Except for that journey I’ve always
lived here. I was born in this house. It’s a dear old place indeed, and
I know it well. Sometimes one wants a change.” And on my asking her
how she spent her time and what society she saw, “Of course it’s very
quiet,” she went on, proceeding by short steps and simple statements, in
the manner of a person called upon for the first time to analyse to that
extent her situation. “We see very few people. I don’t think there are
many nice ones hereabouts. At least we don’t know them. Our own family’s
very small. My brother cares for nothing but riding and books. He had
a great sorrow ten years ago. He lost his wife and his only son, a dear
little boy, who of course would have had everything. Do you know that
that makes me the heir, as they’ve done something--I don’t quite
know what--to the entail? Poor old me! Since his loss my brother has
preferred to be quite alone. I’m sorry he’s away. But you must wait till
he comes back. I expect him in a day or two.” She talked more and more,
as if our very strangeness led her on, about her circumstances, her
solitude, her bad eyes, so that she couldn’t read, her flowers, her
ferns, her dogs, and the vicar, recently presented to the living by
her brother and warranted quite safe, who had lately begun to light his
altar candles; pausing every now and then to gasp in self-surprise, yet,
in the quaintest way in the world, keeping up her story as if it were
a slow rather awkward old-time dance, a difficult pas seul in which
she would have been better with more practice, but of which she must
complete the figure. Of all the old things I had seen in England this
exhibited mind of Miss Searle’s seemed to me the oldest, the most handed
down and taken for granted; fenced and protected as it was by convention
and precedent and usage, thoroughly acquainted with its subordinate
place. I felt as if I were talking with the heroine of a last-century
novel. As she talked she rested her dull eyes on her kinsman with
wondering kindness. At last she put it to him: “Did you mean to go away
without asking for us?”

“I had thought it over, Miss Searle, and had determined not to trouble
you. You’ve shown me how unfriendly I should have been.”

“But you knew of the place being ours, and of our relationship?”

“Just so. It was because of these things that I came down here--because
of them almost that I came to England. I’ve always liked to think of
them,” said my companion.

“You merely wished to look then? We don’t pretend to be much to look
at.”

He waited; her words were too strange. “You don’t know what you are,
Miss Searle.”

“You like the old place then?”

Searle looked at her again in silence. “If I could only tell you!” he
said at last.

“Do tell me. You must come and stay with us.”

It moved him to an oddity of mirth. “Take care, take care--I should
surprise you! I’m afraid I should bore you. I should never leave you.”

“Oh you’d get homesick--for your real home!”

At this he was still more amused. “By the way, tell Miss Searle about
our real home,” he said to me. And he stepped, through the window, out
upon the terrace, followed by two beautiful dogs, a setter and a young
stag-hound who from the moment we came in had established the fondest
relation with him. Miss Searle looked at him, while he went, as if she
vaguely yearned over him; it began to be plain that she was interested
in her exotic cousin. I suddenly recalled the last words I had heard
spoken by my friend’s adviser in London and which, in a very crude form,
had reference to his making a match with this lady. If only Miss Searle
could be induced to think of that, and if one had but the tact to put it
in a light to her! Something assured me that her heart was virgin-soil,
that the flower of romantic affection had never bloomed there. If I
might just sow the seed! There seemed to shape itself within her the
perfect image of one of the patient wives of old.

“He has lost his heart to England,” I said. “He ought to have been born
here.”

“And yet he doesn’t look in the least an Englishman,” she still rather
guardedly prosed.

“Oh it isn’t his looks, poor fellow.”

“Of course looks aren’t everything. I never talked with a foreigner
before; but he talks as I have fancied foreigners.”

“Yes, he’s foreign enough.”

“Is he married?”

“His wife’s dead and he’s all alone in the world.”

“Has he much property?”

“None to speak of.”

“But he has means to travel.”

I meditated. “He has not expected to travel far,” I said at last. “You
know, he’s in very poor health.”

“Poor gentleman! So I supposed.”

“But there’s more of him to go on with than he thinks. He came here
because he wanted to see your place before he dies.”

“Dear me--kind man!” And I imagined in the quiet eyes the hint of a
possible tear. “And he was going away without my seeing him?”

“He’s very modest, you see.”

“He’s very much the gentleman.”

I couldn’t but smile. “He’s ALL--”

At this moment we heard on the terrace a loud harsh cry. “It’s the great
peacock!” said Miss Searle, stepping to the window and passing out while
I followed her. Below us, leaning on the parapet, stood our appreciative
friend with his arm round the neck of the setter. Before him on
the grand walk strutted the familiar fowl of gardens--a splendid
specimen--with ruffled neck and expanded tail. The other dog had
apparently indulged in a momentary attempt to abash the gorgeous biped,
but at Searle’s summons had bounded back to the terrace and leaped upon
the ledge, where he now stood licking his new friend’s face. The scene
had a beautiful old-time air: the peacock flaunting in the foreground
like the genius of stately places; the broad terrace, which flattered
an innate taste of mine for all deserted walks where people may have sat
after heavy dinners to drink coffee in old Sevres and where the stiff
brocade of women’s dresses may have rustled over grass or gravel; and
far around us, with one leafy circle melting into another, the timbered
acres of the park. “The very beasts have made him welcome,” I noted as
we rejoined our companion.

“The peacock has done for you, Mr. Searle,” said his cousin, “what he
does only for very great people. A year ago there came here a great
person--a grand old lady--to see my brother. I don’t think that since
then he has spread his tail as wide for any one else--not by a dozen
feathers.”

“It’s not alone the peacock,” said Searle. “Just now there came slipping
across my path a little green lizard, the first I ever saw, the lizard
of literature! And if you’ve a ghost, broad daylight though it be,
I expect to see him here. Do you know the annals of your house, Miss
Searle?”

“Oh dear, no! You must ask my brother for all those things.”

“You ought to have a collection of legends and traditions. You ought to
have loves and murders and mysteries by the roomful. I shall be ashamed
of you if you haven’t.”

“Oh Mr. Searle! We’ve always been a very well-behaved family,” she quite
seriously pleaded. “Nothing out of the way has ever happened, I think.”

“Nothing out of the way? Oh that won’t do! We’ve managed better than
that in America. Why I myself!”--and he looked at her ruefully enough,
but enjoying too his idea that he might embody the social scandal or
point to the darkest drama of the Searles. “Suppose I should turn out
a better Searle than you--better than you nursed here in romance and
extravagance? Come, don’t disappoint me. You’ve some history among you
all, you’ve some poetry, you’ve some accumulation of legend. I’ve been
famished all my days for these things. Don’t you understand? Ah you
can’t understand! Tell me,” he rambled on, “something tremendous. When
I think of what must have happened here; of the lovers who must have
strolled on this terrace and wandered under the beeches, of all the
figures and passions and purposes that must have haunted these walls!
When I think of the births and deaths, the joys and sufferings, the
young hopes and the old regrets, the rich experience of life--!” He
faltered a moment with the increase of his agitation. His humour of
dismay at a threat of the commonplace in the history he felt about him
had turned to a deeper reaction. I began to fear however that he was
really losing his head. He went on with a wilder play. “To see it all
called up there before me, if the Devil alone could do it I’d make a
bargain with the Devil! Ah Miss Searle,” he cried, “I’m a most unhappy
man!”

“Oh dear, oh dear!” she almost wailed while I turned half away.

“Look at that window, that dear little window!” I turned back to see him
point to a small protruding oriel, above us, relieved against the purple
brickwork, framed in chiselled stone and curtained with ivy.

“It’s my little room,” she said.

“Of course it’s a woman’s room. Think of all the dear faces--all of them
so mild and yet so proud--that have looked out of that lattice, and of
all the old-time women’s lives whose principal view of the world has
been this quiet park! Every one of them was a cousin of mine. And you,
dear lady, you’re one of them yet.” With which he marched toward her and
took her large white hand. She surrendered it, blushing to her eyes
and pressing her other hand to her breast. “You’re a woman of the past.
You’re nobly simple. It has been a romance to see you. It doesn’t matter
what I say to you. You didn’t know me yesterday, you’ll not know me
to-morrow. Let me to-day do a mad sweet thing. Let me imagine in you the
spirit of all the dead women who have trod the terrace-flags that lie
here like sepulchral tablets in the pavement of a church. Let me say I
delight in you!”--he raised her hand to his lips. She gently withdrew it
and for a moment averted her face. Meeting her eyes the next instant I
saw the tears had come. The Sleeping Beauty was awake.

There followed an embarrassed pause. An issue was suddenly presented by
the appearance of the butler bearing a letter. “A telegram, Miss,” he
announced.

“Oh what shall I do?” cried Miss Searle. “I can’t open a telegram.
Cousin, help me.”

Searle took the missive, opened it and read aloud: “I shall be home to
dinner. Keep the American.”



III

“KEEP the American!” Miss Searle, in compliance with the injunction
conveyed in her brother’s telegram (with something certainly of
telegraphic curtness), lost no time in expressing the pleasure it would
give her that our friend should remain. “Really you must,” she said;
and forthwith repaired to the house-keeper to give orders for the
preparation of a room.

“But how in the world did he know of my being here?” my companion put to
me.

I answered that he had probably heard from his solicitor of the other’s
visit. “Mr. Simmons and that gentleman must have had another interview
since your arrival in England. Simmons, for reasons of his own, has
made known to him your journey to this neighbourhood, and Mr. Searle,
learning this, has immediately taken for granted that you’ve formally
presented yourself to his sister. He’s hospitably inclined and wishes
her to do the proper thing by you. There may even,” I went on, “be more
in it than that. I’ve my little theory that he’s the very phoenix of
usurpers, that he has been very much struck with what the experts have
had to say for you, and that he wishes to have the originality of making
over to you your share--so limited after all--of the estate.”

“I give it up!” my friend mused. “Come what come will!”

“You, of course,” said Miss Searle, reappearing and turning to me, “are
included in my brother’s invitation. I’ve told them to see about a room
for you. Your luggage shall immediately be sent for.”

It was arranged that I in person should be driven over to our little inn
and that I should return with our effects in time to meet Mr. Searle at
dinner. On my arrival several hours later I was immediately conducted
to my room. The servant pointed out to me that it communicated by a
door and a private passage with that of my fellow visitor. I made my way
along this passage--a low narrow corridor with a broad latticed casement
through which there streamed upon a series of grotesquely sculptured
oaken closets and cupboards the vivid animating glow of the western
sun--knocked at his door and, getting no answer, opened it. In an
armchair by the open window sat my friend asleep, his arms and legs
relaxed and head dropped on his breast. It was a great relief to see him
rest thus from his rhapsodies, and I watched him for some moments before
waking him. There was a faint glow of colour in his cheek and a light
expressive parting of his lips, something nearer to ease and peace than
I had yet seen in him. It was almost happiness, it was almost health. I
laid my hand on his arm and gently shook it. He opened his eyes, gazed
at me a moment, vaguely recognised me, then closed them again. “Let me
dream, let me dream!”

“What are you dreaming about?”

A moment passed before his answer came. “About a tall woman in a quaint
black dress, with yellow hair and a sweet, sweet smile, and a soft low
delicious voice! I’m in love with her.”

“It’s better to see her than to dream about her,” I said. “Get up and
dress; then we’ll go down to dinner and meet her.”

“Dinner--dinner--?” And he gradually opened his eyes again. “Yes, upon
my word I shall dine!”

“Oh you’re all right!” I declared for the twentieth time as he rose to
his feet. “You’ll live to bury Mr. Simmons.” He told me he had spent the
hours of my absence with Miss Searle--they had strolled together half
over the place. “You must be very intimate,” I smiled.

“She’s intimate with ME. Goodness knows what rigmarole I’ve treated her
to!” They had parted an hour ago; since when, he believed, her brother
had arrived.

The slow-fading twilight was still in the great drawing-room when we
came down. The housekeeper had told us this apartment was rarely used,
there being others, smaller and more convenient, for the same needs.
It seemed now, however, to be occupied in my comrade’s honour. At the
furthest end, rising to the roof like a royal tomb in a cathedral, was
a great chimney-piece of chiselled white marble, yellowed by time, in
which a light fire was crackling. Before the fire stood a small short
man, with his hands behind him; near him was Miss Searle, so transformed
by her dress that at first I scarcely knew her. There was in our
entrance and reception something remarkably chilling and solemn. We
moved in silence up the long room; Mr. Searle advanced slowly, a dozen
steps, to meet us; his sister stood motionless. I was conscious of her
masking her visage with a large white tinselled fan, and that her eyes,
grave and enlarged, watched us intently over the top of it. The master
of Lackley grasped in silence the proffered hand of his kinsman and eyed
him from head to foot, suppressing, I noted, a start of surprise at his
resemblance to Sir Joshua’s portrait. “This is a happy day.” And then
turning to me with an odd little sharp stare: “My cousin’s friend is my
friend.” Miss Searle lowered her fan.

The first thing that struck me in Mr. Searle’s appearance was his very
limited stature, which was less by half a head than that of his sister.
The second was the preternatural redness of his hair and beard. They
intermingled over his ears and surrounded his head like a huge lurid
nimbus. His face was pale and attenuated, the face of a scholar, a
dilettante, a comparer of points and texts, a man who lives in a library
bending over books and prints and medals. At a distance it might have
passed for smooth and rather blankly composed; but on a nearer view
it revealed a number of wrinkles, sharply etched and scratched, of a
singularly aged and refined effect. It was the complexion of a man of
sixty. His nose was arched and delicate, identical almost with the nose
of my friend. His eyes, large and deep-set, had a kind of auburn glow,
the suggestion of a keen metal red-hot--or, more plainly, were full
of temper and spirit. Imagine this physiognomy--grave and solemn,
grotesquely solemn, in spite of the bushy brightness which made a sort
of frame for it--set in motion by a queer, quick, defiant, perfunctory,
preoccupied smile, and you will have an imperfect notion of the
remarkable presence of our host; something better worth seeing and
knowing, I perceived as I quite breathlessly took him in, than anything
we had yet encountered. How thoroughly I had entered into sympathy
with my poor picked-up friend, and how effectually I had associated my
sensibilities with his own, I had not suspected till, within the short
five minutes before the signal for dinner, I became aware, without his
giving me the least hint, of his placing himself on the defensive. To
neither of us was Mr. Searle sympathetic. I might have guessed from her
attitude that his sister entered into our thoughts. A marked change had
been wrought in her since the morning; during the hour, indeed--as
I read in the light of the wondering glance he cast at her--that had
elapsed since her parting with her cousin. She had not yet recovered
from some great agitation. Her face was pale and she had clearly
been crying. These notes of trouble gave her a new and quite perverse
dignity, which was further enhanced by something complimentary and
commemorative in her dress.

Whether it was taste or whether it was accident I know not; but the
amiable creature, as she stood there half in the cool twilight, half in
the arrested glow of the fire as it spent itself in the vastness of its
marble cave, was a figure for a painter. She was habited in some faded
splendour of sea-green crape and silk, a piece of millinery which,
though it must have witnessed a number of dull dinners, preserved still
a festive air. Over her white shoulders she wore an ancient web of the
most precious and venerable lace and about her rounded throat a single
series of large pearls. I went in with her to dinner, and Mr. Searle,
following with my friend, took his arm, as the latter afterwards told
me, and pretended jocosely to conduct him. As dinner proceeded the
feeling grew within me that a drama had begun to be played in which the
three persons before me were actors--each of a really arduous part. The
character allotted to my friend, however, was certainly the least easy
to represent with effect, though I overflowed with the desire that he
should acquit himself to his honour. I seemed to see him urge his faded
faculties to take their cue and perform. The poor fellow tried to do
himself credit more seriously than ever in his old best days. With Miss
Searle, credulous passive and pitying, he had finally flung aside all
vanity and propriety and shown the bottom of his fantastic heart.
But with our host there might be no talking of nonsense nor taking
of liberties; there and then, if ever, sat a consummate conservative,
breathing the fumes of hereditary privilege and security. For an hour,
accordingly, I saw my poor protege attempt, all in pain, to meet a new
decorum. He set himself the task of appearing very American, in order
that his appreciation of everything Mr. Searle represented might seem
purely disinterested. What his kinsman had expected him to be I know
not; but I made Mr. Searle out as annoyed, in spite of his exaggerated
urbanity, at finding him so harmless. Our host was not the man to
show his hand, but I think his best card had been a certain implicit
confidence that so provincial a parasite would hardly have good manners.

He led the conversation to the country we had left; rather as if a leash
had been attached to the collar of some lumpish and half-domesticated
animal the tendency of whose movements had to be recognised. He spoke of
it indeed as of some fabled planet, alien to the British orbit, lately
proclaimed to have the admixture of atmospheric gases required
to support animal life, but not, save under cover of a liberal
afterthought, to be admitted into one’s regular conception of things. I,
for my part, felt nothing but regret that the spheric smoothness of
his universe should be disfigured by the extrusion even of such
inconsiderable particles as ourselves.

“I knew in a general way of our having somehow ramified over there,” Mr.
Searle mentioned; “but had scarcely followed it more than you pretend to
pick up the fruit your long-armed pear tree may drop, on the other side
of your wall, in your neighbour’s garden. There was a man I knew at
Cambridge, a very odd fellow, a decent fellow too; he and I were rather
cronies; I think he afterwards went to the Middle States. They’ll be,
I suppose, about the Mississippi? At all events, there was that
great-uncle of mine whom Sir Joshua painted. He went to America, but he
never got there. He was lost at sea. You look enough like him to make
one fancy he DID get there and that you’ve kept him alive by one of
those beastly processes--I think you have ‘em over there: what do you
call it, ‘putting up’ things? If you’re he you’ve not done a wise thing
to show yourself here. He left a bad name behind him. There’s a ghost
who comes sobbing about the house every now and then, the ghost of one
to whom he did a wrong.”

“Oh mercy ON us!” cried Miss Searle in simple horror.

“Of course YOU know nothing of such things,” he rather dryly allowed.
“You’re too sound a sleeper to hear the sobbing of ghosts.”

“I’m sure I should like immensely to hear the sobbing of a ghost,” said
my friend, the light of his previous eagerness playing up into his eyes.
“Why does it sob? I feel as if that were what we’ve come above all to
learn.”

Mr. Searle eyed his audience a moment gaugingly; he held the balance as
to measure his resources. He wished to do justice to his theme. With
the long finger-nails of his left hand nervously playing against the
tinkling crystal of his wineglass and his conscious eyes betraying that,
small and strange as he sat there, he knew himself, to his pleasure and
advantage, remarkably impressive, he dropped into our untutored minds
the sombre legend of his house. “Mr. Clement Searle, from all I gather,
was a young man of great talents but a weak disposition. His mother was
left a widow early in life, with two sons, of whom he was the elder and
the more promising. She educated him with the greatest affection and
care. Of course when he came to manhood she wished him to marry well.
His means were quite sufficient to enable him to overlook the want of
money in his wife; and Mrs. Searle selected a young lady who possessed,
as she conceived, every good gift save a fortune--a fine proud handsome
girl, the daughter of an old friend, an old lover I suspect, of her own.
Clement, however, as it appeared, had either chosen otherwise or was
as yet unprepared to choose. The young lady opened upon him in vain the
battery of her attractions; in vain his mother urged her cause. Clement
remained cold, insensible, inflexible. Mrs. Searle had a character which
appears to have gone out of fashion in my family nowadays; she was a
great manager, a maitresse-femme. A proud passionate imperious woman,
she had had immense cares and ever so many law-suits; they had sharpened
her temper and her will. She suspected that her son’s affections had
another object, and this object she began to hate. Irritated by his
stubborn defiance of her wishes she persisted in her purpose. The more
she watched him the more she was convinced he loved in secret. If he
loved in secret of course he loved beneath him. He went about the place
all sombre and sullen and brooding. At last, with the rashness of an
angry woman, she threatened to bring the young lady of her choice--who,
by the way, seems to have been no shrinking blossom--to stay in the
house. A stormy scene was the result. He threatened that if she did
so he would leave the country and sail for America. She probably
disbelieved him; she knew him to be weak, but she overrated his
weakness. At all events the rejected one arrived and Clement Searle
departed. On a dark December day he took ship at Southampton. The two
women, desperate with rage and sorrow, sat alone in this big house,
mingling their tears and imprecations. A fortnight later, on Christmas
Eve, in the midst of a great snowstorm long famous in the country,
something happened that quickened their bitterness. A young woman,
battered and chilled by the storm, gained entrance to the house and,
making her way into the presence of the mistress and her guest, poured
out her tale. She was a poor curate’s daughter out of some little hole
in Gloucestershire. Clement Searle had loved her--loved her all too
well! She had been turned out in wrath from her father’s house; his
mother at least might pity her--if not for herself then for the child
she was soon to bring forth. Hut the poor girl had been a second time
too trustful. The women, in scorn, in horror, with blows possibly, drove
her forth again into the storm. In the storm she wandered and in the
deep snow she died. Her lover, as you know, perished in that hard winter
weather at sea; the news came to his mother late, but soon enough. We’re
haunted by the curate’s daughter!”

Mr. Searle retailed this anecdote with infinite taste and point, the
happiest art; when he ceased there was a pause of some moments. “Ah well
we may be!” Miss Searle then mournfully murmured.

Searle blazed up into enthusiasm. “Of course, you know”--with which he
began to blush violently--“I should be sorry to claim any identity
with the poor devil my faithless namesake. But I should be immensely
gratified if the young lady’s spirit, deceived by my resemblance, were
to mistake me for her cruel lover. She’s welcome to the comfort of it.
What one can do in the case I shall be glad to do. But can a ghost haunt
a ghost? I AM a ghost!”

Mr. Searle stared a moment and then had a subtle sneer. “I could almost
believe you are!”

“Oh brother--and cousin!” cried Miss Searle with the gentlest yet most
appealing dignity. “How can you talk so horribly?” The horrible talk,
however, evidently possessed a potent magic for my friend; and his
imagination, checked a while by the influence of his kinsman, began
again to lead him a dance. From this moment he ceased to steer his frail
bark, to care what he said or how he said it, so long as he expressed
his passionate appreciation of the scene around him. As he kept up this
strain I ceased even secretly to wish he wouldn’t. I have wondered since
that I shouldn’t have been annoyed by the way he reverted constantly to
himself. But a great frankness, for the time, makes its own law and
a great passion its own channel. There was moreover an irresponsible
indescribable effect of beauty in everything his lips uttered. Free
alike from adulation and from envy, the essence of his discourse was a
divine apprehension, a romantic vision free as the flight of Ariel, of
the poetry of his companions’ situation and their contrasted general
irresponsiveness.

“How does the look of age come?” he suddenly broke out at dessert. “Does
it come of itself, unobserved, unrecorded, unmeasured? Or do you woo it
and set baits and traps for it, and watch it like the dawning brownness
of a meerschaum pipe, and make it fast, when it appears, just where it
peeps out, and light a votive taper beneath it and give thanks to it
daily? Or do you forbid it and fight it and resist it, and yet feel it
settling and deepening about you as irresistible as fate?”

“What the deuce is the man talking about?” said the smile of our host.

“I found a little grey hair this morning,” Miss Searle incoherently
prosed.

“Well then I hope you paid it every respect!” cried her visitor.

“I looked at it for a long time in my hand-glass,” she answered with
more presence of mind.

“Miss Searle can for many years to come afford to be amused at grey
hairs,” I interposed in the hope of some greater ease. It had its
effect. “Ten years from last Thursday I shall be forty-four,” she almost
comfortably smiled.

“Well, that’s just what I am,” said Searle. “If I had only come here ten
years ago! I should have had more time to enjoy the feast, but I should
have had less appetite. I needed first to get famished.”

“Oh why did you wait for that?” his entertainer asked. “To think of
these ten years that we might have been enjoying you!” At the vision of
which waste and loss Mr. Searle had a fine shrill laugh.

“Well,” my friend explained, “I always had a notion--a stupid vulgar
notion if there ever was one--that to come abroad properly one had to
have a pot of money. My pot was too nearly empty. At last I came with my
empty pot!”

Mr. Searle had a wait for delicacy, but he proceeded. “You’re reduced,
you’re--a--straitened?”

Our companion’s very breath blew away the veil. “Reduced to nothing.
Straitened to the clothes on my back!”

“You don’t say so!” said Mr. Searle with a large vague gasp.
“Well--well--well!” he added in a voice which might have meant
everything or nothing; and then, in his whimsical way, went on to finish
a glass of wine. His searching eye, as he drank, met mine, and for a
moment we each rather deeply sounded the other, to the effect no doubt
of a slight embarrassment. “And you,” he said by way of carrying this
off--“how about YOUR wardrobe?”

“Oh his!” cried my friend; “his wardrobe’s immense. He could dress up a
regiment!” He had drunk more champagne--I admit that the champagne
was good--than was from any point of view to have been desired. He was
rapidly drifting beyond any tacit dissuasion of mine. He was feverish
and rash, and all attempt to direct would now simply irritate him. As
we rose from the table he caught my troubled look. Passing his arm for
a moment into mine, “This is the great night!” he strangely and softly
said; “the night and the crisis that will settle me.”

Mr. Searle had caused the whole lower portion of the house to be thrown
open and a multitude of lights to be placed in convenient and effective
positions. Such a marshalled wealth of ancient candlesticks and
flambeaux I had never beheld. Niched against the dusky wainscots,
casting great luminous circles upon the pendent stiffness of sombre
tapestries, enhancing and completing with admirable effect the variety
and mystery of the great ancient house, they seemed to people the wide
rooms, as our little group passed slowly from one to another, with a
dim expectant presence. We had thus, in spite of everything, a wonderful
hour of it. Mr. Searle at once assumed the part of cicerone, and--I had
not hitherto done him justice--Mr. Searle became almost agreeable. While
I lingered behind with his sister he walked in advance with his kinsman.
It was as if he had said: “Well, if you want the old place you shall
have it--so far as the impression goes!” He spared us no thrill--I
had almost said no pang--of that experience. Carrying a tall silver
candlestick in his left hand, he raised it and lowered it and cast the
light hither and thither, upon pictures and hangings and carvings and
cornices. He knew his house to perfection. He touched upon a hundred
traditions and memories, he threw off a cloud of rich reference to
its earlier occupants. He threw off again, in his easy elegant way, a
dozen--happily lighter--anecdotes. His relative attended with a brooding
deference. Miss Searle and I meanwhile were not wholly silent.

“I suppose that by this time you and your cousin are almost old
friends,” I remarked.

She trifled a moment with her fan and then raised her kind small
eyes. “Old friends--yet at the same time strangely new! My cousin, my
cousin”--and her voice lingered on the word--“it seems so strange to
call him my cousin after thinking these many years that I’ve no one in
the world but my brother. But he’s really so very odd!”

“It’s not so much he as--well, as his situation, that deserves that
name,” I tried to reason.

“I’m so sorry for his situation. I wish I could help it in some way. He
interests me so much.” She gave a sweet-sounding sigh. “I wish I could
have known him sooner--and better. He tells me he’s but the shadow of
what he used to be.”

I wondered if he had been consciously practising on the sensibilities of
this gentle creature. If he had I believed he had gained his point. But
his position had in fact become to my sense so precarious that I hardly
ventured to be glad. “His better self just now seems again to be taking
shape,” I said. “It will have been a good deed on your part if you help
to restore him to all he ought to be.”

She met my idea blankly. “Dear me, what can I do?”

“Be a friend to him. Let him like you, let him love you. I dare say you
see in him now much to pity and to wonder at. But let him simply enjoy
a while the grateful sense of your nearness and dearness. He’ll be
a better and stronger man for it, and then you can love him, you can
esteem him, without restriction.”

She fairly frowned for helplessness. “It’s a hard part for poor stupid
me to play!”

Her almost infantine innocence left me no choice but to be absolutely
frank. “Did you ever play any part at all?”

She blushed as if I had been reproaching her with her insignificance.
“Never! I think I’ve hardly lived.”

“You’ve begun to live now perhaps. You’ve begun to care for something
else than your old-fashioned habits. Pardon me if I seem rather
meddlesome; you know we Americans are very rough and ready. It’s a great
moment. I wish you joy!”

“I could almost believe you’re laughing at me. I feel more trouble than
joy.”

“Why do you feel trouble?”

She paused with her eyes fixed on our companions. “My cousin’s arrival’s
a great disturbance,” she said at last.

“You mean you did wrong in coming to meet him? In that case the fault’s
mine. He had no intention of giving you the opportunity.”

“I certainly took too much on myself. But I can’t find it in my heart to
regret it. I never shall regret it! I did the only thing I COULD, heaven
forgive me!”

“Heaven bless you, Miss Searle! Is any harm to come of it? I did the
evil; let me bear the brunt!”

She shook her head gravely. “You don’t know my brother!”

“The sooner I master the subject the better then,” I said. I couldn’t
help relieving myself--at least by the tone of my voice--of the
antipathy with which, decidedly, this gentleman had inspired me. “Not
perhaps that we should get on so well together!” After which, as she
turned away, “Are you VERY much afraid of him?” I added.

She gave me a shuddering sidelong glance. “He’s looking at me!”

He was placed with his back to us, holding a large Venetian hand-mirror,
framed in chiselled silver, which he had taken from a shelf of
antiquities, just at such an angle that he caught the reflexion of his
sister’s person. It was evident that I too was under his attention, and
was resolved I wouldn’t be suspected for nothing. “Miss Searle,” I said
with urgency, “promise me something.”

She turned upon me with a start and a look that seemed to beg me to
spare her. “Oh don’t ask me--please don’t!” It was as if she were
standing on the edge of a place where the ground had suddenly fallen
away, and had been called upon to make a leap. I felt retreat was
impossible, however, and that it was the greater kindness to assist her
to jump.

“Promise me,” I repeated.

Still with her eyes she protested. “Oh what a dreadful day!” she cried
at last.

“Promise me to let him speak to you alone if he should ask you--any wish
you may suspect on your brother’s part notwithstanding.” She coloured
deeply. “You mean he has something so particular to say?”

“Something so particular!”

“Poor cousin!”

“Well, poor cousin! But promise me.”

“I promise,” she said, and moved away across the long room and out of
the door.

“You’re in time to hear the most delightful story,” Searle began to me
as I rejoined him and his host. They were standing before an old sombre
portrait of a lady in the dress of Queen Anne’s time, whose ill-painted
flesh-tints showed livid, in the candle-light, against her dark drapery
and background. “This is Mrs. Margaret Searle--a sort of Beatrix
Esmond--qui se passait ses fantaisies. She married a paltry Frenchman,
a penniless fiddler, in the teeth of her whole family. Pretty Mrs.
Margaret, you must have been a woman of courage! Upon my word, she looks
like Miss Searle! But pray go on. What came of it all?”

Our companion watched him with an air of distaste for his boisterous
homage and of pity for his crude imagination. But he took up the tale
with an effective dryness: “I found a year ago, in a box of very old
papers, a letter from the lady in question to a certain Cynthia Searle,
her elder sister. It was dated from Paris and dreadfully ill-spelled.
It contained a most passionate appeal for pecuniary assistance. She
had just had a baby, she was starving and dreadfully neglected by her
husband--she cursed the day she had left England. It was a most dismal
production. I never heard she found means to return.”

“So much for marrying a Frenchman!” I said sententiously.

Our host had one of his waits. “This is the only lady of the family who
ever was taken in by an adventurer.”

“Does Miss Searle know her history?” asked my friend with a stare at the
rounded whiteness of the heroine’s cheek.

“Miss Searle knows nothing!” said our host with expression.

“She shall know at least the tale of Mrs. Margaret,” their guest
returned; and he walked rapidly away in search of her.

Mr. Searle and I pursued our march through the lighted rooms. “You’ve
found a cousin with a vengeance,” I doubtless awkwardly enough laughed.

“Ah a vengeance?” my entertainer stiffly repeated.

“I mean that he takes as keen an interest in your annals and possessions
as yourself.”

“Oh exactly so! He tells me he’s a bad invalid,” he added in a moment.
“I should never have supposed it.”

“Within the past few hours he’s a changed man. Your beautiful house,
your extreme kindness, have refreshed him immensely.” Mr. Searle uttered
the vague ejaculation with which self-conscious Britons so often betray
the concussion of any especial courtesy of speech. But he followed this
by a sudden odd glare and the sharp declaration: “I’m an honest man!” I
was quite prepared to assent; but he went on with a fury of frankness,
as if it were the first time in his life he had opened himself to any
one, as if the process were highly disagreeable and he were hurrying
through it as a task. “An honest man, mind you! I know nothing about Mr.
Clement Searle! I never expected to see him. He has been to me a--a--!”
 And here he paused to select a word which should vividly enough express
what, for good or for ill, his kinsman represented. “He has been to me
an Amazement! I’ve no doubt he’s a most amiable man. You’ll not deny,
however, that he’s a very extraordinary sort of person. I’m sorry he’s
ill. I’m sorry he’s poor. He’s my fiftieth cousin. Well and good. I’m
an honest man. He shall not have it to say that he wasn’t received at my
house.”

“He too, thank heaven, is an honest man!” I smiled.

“Why the devil then,” cried Mr. Searle, turning almost fiercely on me,
“has he put forward this underhand claim to my property?”

The question, quite ringing out, flashed backward a gleam of light upon
the demeanour of our host and the suppressed agitation of his sister. In
an instant the jealous gentleman revealed itself. For a moment I was so
surprised and scandalised at the directness of his attack that I lacked
words to reply. As soon as he had spoken indeed Mr. Searle appeared to
feel he had been wanting in form. “Pardon me,” he began afresh, “if I
speak of this matter with heat. But I’ve been more disgusted than I
can say to hear, as I heard this morning from my solicitor, of the
extraordinary proceedings of Mr. Clement Searle. Gracious goodness,
sir, for what does the man take me? He pretends to the Lord knows what
fantastic admiration for my place. Let him then show his respect for it
by not taking too many liberties! Let him, with his high-flown parade
of loyalty, imagine a tithe of what _I_ feel! I love my estate; it’s my
passion, my conscience, my life! Am I to divide it up at this time of
day with a beggarly foreigner--a man without means, without appearance,
without proof, a pretender, an adventurer, a chattering mountebank? I
thought America boasted having lands for all men! Upon my soul, sir,
I’ve never been so shocked in my life.”

I paused for some moments before speaking, to allow his passion fully to
expend itself and to flicker up again if it chose; for so far as I was
concerned in the whole awkward matter I but wanted to deal with him
discreetly. “Your apprehensions, sir,” I said at last, “your not
unnatural surprise, perhaps, at the candour of our interest, have acted
too much on your nerves. You’re attacking a man of straw, a creature
of unworthy illusion; though I’m sadly afraid you’ve wounded a man
of spirit and conscience. Either my friend has no valid claim on your
estate, in which case your agitation is superfluous; or he HAS a valid
claim--”

Mr. Searle seized my arm and glared at me; his pale face paler still
with the horror of my suggestion, his great eyes of alarm glowing and
his strange red hair erect and quivering. “A valid claim!” he shouted.
“Let him try it--let him bring it into court!”

We had emerged into the great hall and stood facing the main doorway.
The door was open into the portico, through the stone archway of which
I saw the garden glitter in the blue light of a full moon. As the master
of the house uttered the words I have just repeated my companion came
slowly up into the porch from without, bareheaded, bright in the outer
moonlight, dark in the shadow of the archway, and bright again in the
lamplight at the entrance of the hall. As he crossed the threshold the
butler made an appearance at the head of the staircase on our left,
faltering visibly a moment at sight of Mr. Searle; after which, noting
my friend, he gravely descended. He bore in his hand a small silver
tray. On the tray, gleaming in the light of the suspended lamp, lay a
folded note. Clement Searle came forward, staring a little and startled,
I think, by some quick nervous prevision of a catastrophe. The butler
applied the match to the train. He advanced to my fellow visitor, all
solemnly, with the offer of his missive. Mr. Searle made a movement as
if to spring forward, but controlled himself. “Tottenham!” he called in
a strident voice.

“Yes, sir!” said Tottenham, halting.

“Stand where you are. For whom is that note?”

“For Mr. Clement Searle,” said the butler, staring straight before him
and dissociating himself from everything.

“Who gave it to you?”

“Mrs. Horridge, sir.” This personage, I afterwards learned, was our
friend the housekeeper.

“Who gave it Mrs. Horridge?”

There was on Tottenham’s part just an infinitesimal pause before
replying.

“My dear sir,” broke in Searle, his equilibrium, his ancient ease,
completely restored by the crisis, “isn’t that rather my business?”

“What happens in my house is my business, and detestable things seem to
be happening.” Our host, it was clear, now so furiously detested them
that I was afraid he would snatch the bone of contention without more
ceremony. “Bring me that thing!” he cried; on which Tottenham stiffly
moved to obey.

“Really this is too much!” broke out my companion, affronted and
helpless.

So indeed it struck me, and before Mr. Searle had time to take the note
I possessed myself of it. “If you’ve no consideration for your sister
let a stranger at least act for her.” And I tore the disputed object
into a dozen pieces.

“In the name of decency, what does this horrid business mean?” my
companion quavered.

Mr. Searle was about to open fire on him, but at that moment our hostess
appeared on the staircase, summoned evidently by our high-pitched
contentious voices. She had exchanged her dinner-dress for a dark
wrapper, removed her ornaments and begun to disarrange her hair, a
thick tress of which escaped from the comb. She hurried down with a
pale questioning face. Feeling distinctly that, for ourselves, immediate
departure was in the air, and divining Mr. Tottenham to be a person of
a few deep-seated instincts and of much latent energy, I seized the
opportunity to request him, sotto voce, to send a carriage to the door
without delay. “And put up our things,” I added.

Our host rushed at his sister and grabbed the white wrist that escaped
from the loose sleeve of her dress. “What was in that note?” he quite
hissed at her.

Miss Searle looked first at its scattered fragments and then at her
cousin. “Did you read it?”

“No, but I thank you for it!” said Searle.

Her eyes, for an instant, communicated with his own as I think they had
never, never communicated with any other source of meaning; then she
transferred them to her brother’s face, where the sense went out of
them, only to leave a dull sad patience. But there was something even
in this flat humility that seemed to him to mock him, so that he flushed
crimson with rage and spite and flung her away. “You always were an
idiot! Go to bed.”

In poor Searle’s face as well the gathered serenity had been by this
time all blighted and distorted and the reflected brightness of his
happy day turned to blank confusion. “Have I been dealing these three
hours with a madman?” he woefully cried.

“A madman, yes, if you will! A man mad with the love of his home and the
sense of its stability. I’ve held my tongue till now, but you’ve been
too much for me. Who the devil are you, and what and why and whence?”
 the terrible little man continued. “From what paradise of fools do you
come that you fancy I shall make over to you, for the asking, a part
of my property and my life? I’m forsooth, you ridiculous person, to go
shares with you? Prove your preposterous claim! There isn’t THAT in it!”
 And he kicked one of the bits of paper on the floor.

Searle received this broadside gaping. Then turning away he went and
seated himself on a bench against the wall and rubbed his forehead
amazedly. I looked at my watch and listened for the wheels of our
carriage.

But his kinsman was too launched to pull himself up. “Wasn’t it enough
that you should have plotted against my rights? Need you have come into
my very house to intrigue with my sister?”

My friend put his two hands to his face. “Oh, oh, oh!” he groaned while
Miss Searle crossed rapidly and dropped on her knees at his side.

“Go to bed, you fool!” shrieked her brother.

“Dear cousin,” she said, “it’s cruel you’re to have so to think of us!”

“Oh I shall think of YOU as you’d like!” He laid a hand on her head.

“I believe you’ve done nothing wrong,” she brought bravely out.

“I’ve done what I could,” Mr. Searle went on--“but it’s arrant folly to
pretend to friendship when this abomination lies between us. You were
welcome to my meat and my wine, but I wonder you could swallow them. The
sight spoiled MY appetite!” cried the master of Lackley with a laugh.
“Proceed with your trumpery case! My people in London are instructed and
prepared.”

“I shouldn’t wonder if your case had improved a good deal since you gave
it up,” I was moved to observe to Searle.

“Oho! you don’t feign ignorance then?” and our insane entertainer shook
his shining head at me. “It’s very kind of you to give it up! Perhaps
you’ll also give up my sister!”

Searle sat staring in distress at his adversary. “Ah miserable man--I
thought we had become such beautiful friends.”

“Boh, you hypocrite!” screamed our host.

Searle seemed not to hear him. “Am I seriously expected,” he slowly and
painfully pursued, “to defend myself against the accusation of any real
indelicacy--to prove I’ve done nothing underhand or impudent? Think what
you please!” And he rose, with an effort, to his feet. “I know what YOU
think!” he added to Miss Searle.

The wheels of the carriage resounded on the gravel, and at the same
moment a footman descended with our two portmanteaux. Mr. Tottenham
followed him with our hats and coats.

“Good God,” our host broke out again, “you’re not going away?”--an
ejaculation that, after all that had happened, had the grandest
comicality. “Bless my soul,” he then remarked as artlessly, “of course
you’re going!”

“It’s perhaps well,” said Miss Searle with a great effort, inexpressibly
touching in one for whom great efforts were visibly new and strange,
“that I should tell you what my poor little note contained.”

“That matter of your note, madam,” her brother interrupted, “you and I
will settle together!”

“Let me imagine all sorts of kind things!” Searle beautifully pleaded.

“Ah too much has been imagined!” she answered simply. “It was only a
word of warning. It was to tell you to go. I knew something painful was
coming.”

He took his hat. “The pains and the pleasures of this day,” he said to
his kinsman, “I shall equally never forget. Knowing you,” and he offered
his hand to Miss Searle, “has been the pleasure of pleasures. I hoped
something more might have come of it.”

“A monstrous deal too much has come of it!” Mr. Searle irrepressibly
declared.

His departing guest looked at him mildly, almost benignantly, from head
to foot, and then with closed eyes and some collapse of strength, “I’m
afraid so, I can’t stand more,” he went on. I gave him my arm and we
crossed the threshold. As we passed out I heard Miss Searle break into
loud weeping.

“We shall hear from each other yet, I take it!” her brother pursued,
harassing our retreat.

My friend stopped, turning round on him fiercely. “You very impossible
man!” he cried in his face.

“Do you mean to say you’ll not prosecute?” Mr. Searle kept it up. “I
shall force you to prosecute! I shall drag you into court, and you shall
be beaten--beaten--beaten!” Which grim reiteration followed us on our
course.

We drove of course to the little wayside inn from which we had departed
in the morning so unencumbered, in all broad England, either with
enemies or friends. My companion, as the carriage rolled along, seemed
overwhelmed and exhausted. “What a beautiful horrible dream!” he
confusedly wailed. “What a strange awakening! What a long long day! What
a hideous scene! Poor me! Poor woman!” When we had resumed possession of
our two little neighbouring rooms I asked him whether Miss Searle’s
note had been the result of anything that had passed between them on
his going to rejoin her. “I found her on the terrace,” he said, “walking
restlessly up and down in the moonlight. I was greatly excited--I
hardly know what I said. I asked her, I think, if she knew the story of
Margaret Searle. She seemed frightened and troubled, and she used
just the words her brother had used--‘I know nothing.’ For the moment,
somehow, I felt as a man drunk. I stood before her and told her, with
great emphasis, how poor Margaret had married a beggarly foreigner--all
in obedience to her heart and in defiance to her family. As I talked the
sheeted moonlight seemed to close about us, so that we stood there in
a dream, in a world quite detached. She grew younger, prettier, more
attractive--I found myself talking all kinds of nonsense. Before I knew
it I had gone very far. I was taking her hand and calling her ‘Margaret,
dear Margaret!’ She had said it was impossible, that she could do
nothing, that she was a fool, a child, a slave. Then with a sudden
sense--it was odd how it came over me there--of the reality of my
connexion with the place, I spoke of my claim against the estate. ‘It
exists,’ I declared, ‘but I’ve given it up. Be generous! Pay me for my
sacrifice.’ For an instant her face was radiant. ‘If I marry you,’
she asked, ‘will it make everything right?’ Of that I at once assured
her--in our marriage the whole difficulty would melt away like a
rain-drop in the great sea. ‘Our marriage!’ she repeated in wonder; and
the deep ring of her voice seemed to wake us up and show us our folly.
‘I love you, but I shall never see you again,’ she cried; and she
hurried away with her face in her hands. I walked up and down the
terrace for some moments, and then came in and met you. That’s the only
witchcraft I’ve used!”

The poor man was at once so roused and so shaken by the day’s events
that I believed he would get little sleep. Conscious on my own part that
I shouldn’t close my eyes, I but partly undressed, stirred my fire
and sat down to do some writing. I heard the great clock in the little
parlour below strike twelve, one, half-past one. Just as the vibration
of this last stroke was dying on the air the door of communication with
Searle’s room was flung open and my companion stood on the threshold,
pale as a corpse, in his nightshirt, shining like a phantom against the
darkness behind him. “Look well at me!” he intensely gasped; “touch me,
embrace me, revere me! You see a man who has seen a ghost!”

“Gracious goodness, what do you mean?”

“Write it down!” he went on. “There, take your pen. Put it into dreadful
words. How do I look? Am I human? Am I pale? Am I red? Am I speaking
English? A ghost, sir! Do you understand?”

I confess there came upon me by contact a kind of supernatural shock. I
shall always feel by the whole communication of it that I too have seen
a ghost. My first movement--I can smile at it now--was to spring to the
door, close it quickly and turn the key upon the gaping blackness from
which Searle had emerged. I seized his two hands; they were wet with
perspiration. I pushed my chair to the fire and forced him to sit down
in it; then I got on my knees and held his hands as firmly as possible.
They trembled and quivered; his eyes were fixed save that the pupil
dilated and contracted with extraordinary force. I asked no questions,
but waited there, very curious for what he would say. At last he spoke.
“I’m not frightened, but I’m--oh excited! This is life! This is living!
My nerves--my heart--my brain! They’re throbbing--don’t you feel it? Do
you tingle? Are you hot? Are you cold? Hold me tight--tight--tight! I
shall tremble away into waves--into surges--and know all the secrets of
things and all the reasons and all the mysteries!” He paused a moment
and then went on: “A woman--as clear as that candle: no, far clearer! In
a blue dress, with a black mantle on her head and a little black muff.
Young and wonderfully pretty, pale and ill; with the sadness of all
the women who ever loved and suffered pleading and accusing in her
wet-looking eyes. God knows I never did any such thing! But she took me
for my elder, for the other Clement. She came to me here as she would
have come to me there. She wrung her hands and she spoke to me ‘marry
me!’ she moaned; ‘marry me and put an end to my shame!’ I sat up in bed,
just as I sit here, looked at her, heard her--heard her voice melt away,
watched her figure fade away. Bless us and save us! Here I be!”

I made no attempt either to explain or to criticise this extraordinary
passage. It’s enough that I yielded for the hour to the strange force
of my friend’s emotion. On the whole I think my own vision was the
more interesting of the two. He beheld but the transient irresponsible
spectre--I beheld the human subject hot from the spectral presence. Yet
I soon recovered my judgement sufficiently to be moved again to try to
guard him against the results of excitement and exposure. It was easily
agreed that he was not for the night to return to his room, and I made
him fairly comfortable in his place by my fire. Wishing above all to
preserve him from a chill I removed my bedding and wrapped him in the
blankets and counterpane. I had no nerves either for writing or for
sleep; so I put out my lights, renewed the fuel and sat down on the
opposite side of the hearth. I found it a great and high solemnity just
to watch my companion. Silent, swathed and muffled to his chin, he sat
rigid and erect with the dignity of his adventure. For the most part
his eyes were closed; though from time to time he would open them with
a steady expansion and stare, never blinking, into the flame, as if he
again beheld without terror the image of the little woman with the muff.
His cadaverous emaciated face, his tragic wrinkles intensified by the
upward glow from the hearth, his distorted moustache, his extraordinary
gravity and a certain fantastical air as the red light flickered over
him, all re-enforced his fine likeness to the vision-haunted knight of
La Mancha when laid up after some grand exploit. The night passed wholly
without speech. Toward its close I slept for half an hour. When I awoke
the awakened birds had begun to twitter and Searle, unperturbed, sat
staring at me. We exchanged a long look, and I felt with a pang that his
glittering eyes had tasted their last of natural sleep. “How is it? Are
you comfortable?” I nevertheless asked.

He fixed me for a long time without replying and then spoke with a
weak extravagance and with such pauses between his words as might have
represented the slow prompting of an inner voice. “You asked me when
you first knew me what I was. ‘Nothing,’ I said, ‘nothing of any
consequence.’ Nothing I’ve always supposed myself to be. But I’ve
wronged myself--I’m a great exception. I’m a haunted man!”

If sleep had passed out of his eyes I felt with even a deeper pang that
sanity had abandoned his spirit. From this moment I was prepared for
the worst. There were in my friend, however, such confirmed habits of
mildness that I found myself not in the least fearing he would prove
unmanageable. As morning began fully to dawn upon us I brought our
curious vigil to a close. Searle was so enfeebled that I gave him
my hands to help him out of his chair, and he retained them for some
moments after rising to his feet, unable as he seemed to keep his
balance. “Well,” he said, “I’ve been once favoured, but don’t think I
shall be favoured again. I shall soon be myself as fit to ‘appear’ as
any of them. I shall haunt the master of Lackley! It can only mean
one thing--that they’re getting ready for me on the other side of the
grave.”

When I touched the question of breakfast he replied that he had his
breakfast in his pocket; and he drew from his travelling-bag a phial of
morphine. He took a strong dose and went to bed. At noon I found him
on foot again, dressed, shaved, much refreshed. “Poor fellow,” he said,
“you’ve got more than you bargained for--not only a man with a grievance
but a man with a ghost. Well, it won’t be for long!” It had of course
promptly become a question whither we should now direct our steps. “As
I’ve so little time,” he argued for this, “I should like to see the
best, the best alone.” I answered that either for time or eternity I had
always supposed Oxford to represent the English maximum, and for Oxford
in the course of an hour we accordingly departed.



IV

Of that extraordinary place I shall not attempt to speak with any order
or indeed with any coherence. It must ever remain one of the supreme
gratifications of travel for any American aware of the ancient pieties
of race. The impression it produces, the emotions it kindles in the
mind of such a visitor, are too rich and various to be expressed in the
halting rhythm of prose. Passing through the small oblique streets in
which the long grey battered public face of the colleges seems to watch
jealously for sounds that may break upon the stillness of study, you
feel it the most dignified and most educated of cities. Over and through
it all the great corporate fact of the University slowly throbs after
the fashion of some steady bass in a concerted piece or that of the
mediaeval mystical presence of the Empire in the old States of Germany.
The plain perpendicular of the so mildly conventual fronts, masking
blest seraglios of culture and leisure, irritates the imagination
scarce less than the harem-walls of Eastern towns. Within their arching
portals, however, you discover more sacred and sunless courts, and
the dark verdure soothing and cooling to bookish eyes. The grey-green
quadrangles stand for ever open with a trustful hospitality. The seat of
the humanities is stronger in her own good manners than in a marshalled
host of wardens and beadles. Directly after our arrival my friend and
I wandered forth in the luminous early dusk. We reached the bridge
that under-spans the walls of Magdalen and saw the eight-spired tower,
delicately fluted and embossed, rise in temperate beauty--the perfect
prose of Gothic--wooing the eyes to the sky that was slowly drained
of day. We entered the low monkish doorway and stood in the dim little
court that nestles beneath the tower, where the swallows niche more
lovingly in the tangled ivy than elsewhere in Oxford, and passed into
the quiet cloister and studied the small sculptured monsters on the
entablature of the arcade. I rejoiced in every one of my unhappy
friend’s responsive vibrations, even while feeling that they might as
direfully multiply as those that had preceded them. I may say that from
this time forward I found it difficult to distinguish in his company
between the riot of fancy and the labour of thought, or to fix the
balance between what he saw and what he imagined. He had already begun
playfully to exchange his identity for that of the earlier Clement
Searle, and he now delivered himself almost wholly in the character of
his old-time kinsman.

“THIS was my college, you know,” he would almost anywhere break out,
applying the words wherever we stood--“the sweetest and noblest in
the whole place. How often have I strolled in this cloister with my
intimates of the other world! They are all dead and buried, but many a
young fellow as we meet him, dark or fair, tall or short, reminds me of
the past age and the early attachment. Even as we stand here, they say,
the whole thing feels about its massive base the murmurs of the tide of
time; some of the foundation-stones are loosened, some of the breaches
will have to be repaired. Mine was the old unregenerate Oxford, the home
of rank abuses, of distinctions and privileges the most delicious and
invidious. What cared I, who was a perfect gentleman and with my pockets
full of money? I had an allowance of a thousand a year.”

It was at once plain to me that he had lost the little that remained of
his direct grasp on life and was unequal to any effort of seeing things
in their order. He read my apprehension in my eyes and took pains to
assure me I was right. “I’m going straight down hill. Thank heaven it’s
an easy slope, coated with English turf and with an English churchyard
at the foot.” The hysterical emotion produced by our late dire
misadventure had given place to an unruffled calm in which the scene
about us was reflected as in an old-fashioned mirror. We took an
afternoon walk through Christ-Church meadow and at the river-bank
procured a boat which I pulled down the stream to Iffley and to the
slanting woods of Nuneham--the sweetest flattest reediest stream-side
landscape that could be desired. Here of course we encountered the
scattered phalanx of the young, the happy generation, clad in white
flannel and blue, muscular fair-haired magnificent fresh, whether
floated down the current by idle punts and lounging in friendly couples
when not in a singleness that nursed ambitions, or straining together
in rhythmic crews and hoarsely exhorted from the near bank. When to the
exhibition of so much of the clearest joy of wind and limb we added the
great sense of perfumed protection shed by all the enclosed lawns and
groves and bowers, we felt that to be young in such scholastic shades
must be a double, an infinite blessing. As my companion found himself
less and less able to walk we repaired in turn to a series of gardens
and spent long hours sitting in their greenest places. They struck us as
the fairest things in England and the ripest and sweetest fruit of the
English system. Locked in their antique verdure, guarded, as in the case
of New College, by gentle battlements of silver-grey, outshouldering the
matted leafage of undisseverable plants, filled with nightingales and
memories, a sort of chorus of tradition; with vaguely-generous youths
sprawling bookishly on the turf as if to spare it the injury of
their boot-heels, and with the great conservative college countenance
appealing gravely from the restless outer world, they seem places to
lie down on the grass in for ever, in the happy faith that life is all
a green old English garden and time an endless summer afternoon. This
charmed seclusion was especially grateful to my friend, and his sense of
it reached its climax, I remember, on one of the last of such occasions
and while we sat in fascinated flanerie over against the sturdy back of
Saint John’s. The wide discreetly-windowed wall here perhaps broods upon
the lawn with a more effective air of property than elsewhere. Searle
dropped into fitful talk and spun his humour into golden figures. Any
passing undergraduate was a peg to hang a fable, every feature of the
place a pretext for more embroidery.

“Isn’t it all a delightful lie?” he wanted to know. “Mightn’t one fancy
this the very central point of the world’s heart, where all the echoes
of the general life arrive but to falter and die? Doesn’t one feel the
air just thick with arrested voices? It’s well there should be such
places, shaped in the interest of factitious needs, invented to minister
to the book-begotten longing for a medium in which one may dream unwaked
and believe unconfuted; to foster the sweet illusion that all’s well in
a world where so much is so damnable, all right and rounded, smooth and
fair, in this sphere of the rough and ragged, the pitiful unachieved
especially, and the dreadful uncommenced. The world’s made--work’s over.
Now for leisure! England’s safe--now for Theocritus and Horace, for
lawn and sky! What a sense it all gives one of the composite life of
the country and of the essential furniture of its luckier minds! Thank
heaven they had the wit to send me here in the other time. I’m not much
visibly the braver perhaps, but think how I’m the happier! The misty
spires and towers, seen far off on the level, have been all these years
one of the constant things of memory. Seriously, what do the spires and
towers do for these people? Are they wiser, gentler, finer, cleverer?
My diminished dignity reverts in any case at moments to the naked
background of our own education, the deadly dry air in which we gasp for
impressions and comparisons. I assent to it all with a sort of desperate
calmness; I accept it with a dogged pride. We’re nursed at the opposite
pole. Naked come we into a naked world. There’s a certain grandeur
in the lack of decorations, a certain heroic strain in that young
imagination of ours which finds nothing made to its hands, which has to
invent its own traditions and raise high into our morning-air, with
a ringing hammer and nails, the castles in which we dwell. Noblesse
oblige--Oxford must damnably do so. What a horrible thing not to rise
to such examples! If you pay the pious debt to the last farthing of
interest you may go through life with her blessing; but if you let it
stand unhonoured you’re a worse barbarian than we! But for the better or
worse, in a myriad private hearts, think how she must be loved! How the
youthful sentiment of mankind seems visibly to brood upon her! Think of
the young lives now taking colour in her cloisters and halls. Think of
the centuries’ tale of dead lads--dead alike with the end of the young
days to which these haunts were a present world, and the close of
the larger lives which the general mother-scene has dropped into less
bottomless traps. What are those two young fellows kicking their heels
over on the grass there? One of them has the Saturday Review; the
other--upon my soul--the other has Artemus Ward! Where do they live,
how do they live, to what end do they live? Miserable boys! How can they
read Artemus Ward under those windows of Elizabeth? What do you think
loveliest in all Oxford? The poetry of certain windows. Do you see that
one yonder, the second of those lesser bays, with the broken cornice
and the lattice? That used to be the window of my bosom friend a hundred
years ago. Remind me to tell you the story of that broken cornice. Don’t
pretend it’s not a common thing to have one’s bosom friend at another
college. Pray was I committed to common things? He was a charming
fellow. By the way, he was a good deal like you. Of course his cocked
hat, his long hair in a black ribbon, his cinnamon velvet suit and his
flowered waistcoat made a difference. We gentlemen used to wear swords.”

There was really the touch of grace in my poor friend’s divagations--the
disheartened dandy had so positively turned rhapsodist and seer. I
was particularly struck with his having laid aside the diffidence and
self-consciousness of the first days of our acquaintance. He had become
by this time a disembodied observer and critic; the shell of sense,
growing daily thinner and more transparent, transmitted the tremor of
his quickened spirit. He seemed to pick up acquaintances, in the course
of our contemplations, merely by putting out his hand. If I left him for
ten minutes I was sure to find him on my return in earnest conversation
with some affable wandering scholar. Several young men with whom he had
thus established relations invited him to their rooms and entertained
him, as I gathered, with rather rash hospitality. For myself, I chose
not to be present at these symposia; I shrank partly from being held
in any degree responsible for his extravagance, partly from the pang of
seeing him yield to champagne and an admiring circle. He reported such
adventures with less keen a complacency than I had supposed he might
use, but a certain method in his madness, a certain dignity in his
desire to fraternise, appeared to save him from mischance. If they
didn’t think him a harmless lunatic they certainly thought him a
celebrity of the Occident. Two things, however, grew evident--that he
drank deeper than was good for him and that the flagrant freshness of
his young patrons rather interfered with his predetermined sense of the
element of finer romance. At the same time it completed his knowledge
of the place. Making the acquaintance of several tutors and fellows,
he dined in hall in half a dozen colleges, alluding afterwards to these
banquets with religious unction. One evening after a participation
indiscreetly prolonged he came back to the hotel in a cab, accompanied
by a friendly undergraduate and a physician and looking deadly pale. He
had swooned away on leaving table and remained so rigidly unconscious
as much to agitate his banqueters. The following twenty-four hours he of
course spent in bed, but on the third day declared himself strong enough
to begin afresh. On his reaching the street his strength once more
forsook him, so that I insisted on his returning to his room. He
besought me with tears in his eyes not to shut him up. “It’s my last
chance--I want to go back for an hour to that garden of Saint John’s.
Let me eat and drink--to-morrow I die.” It seemed to me possible that
with a Bath-chair the expedition might be accomplished. The hotel, it
appeared, possessed such a convenience, which was immediately produced.
It became necessary hereupon that we should have a person to propel the
chair. As there was no one on the spot at liberty I was about to perform
the office; but just as my patient had got seated and wrapped--he now
had a perpetual chill--an elderly man emerged from a lurking-place near
the door and, with a formal salute, offered to wait upon the gentleman.
We assented, and he proceeded solemnly to trundle the chair before him.
I recognised him as a vague personage whom I had observed to lounge
shyly about the doors of the hotels, at intervals during our stay, with
a depressed air of wanting employment and a poor semblance of finding
it. He had once indeed in a half-hearted way proposed himself as an
amateur cicerone for a tour through the colleges; and I now, as I
looked at him, remembered with a pang that I had too curtly declined his
ministrations. Since then his shyness, apparently, had grown less or
his misery greater, for it was with a strange grim avidity that he
now attached himself to our service. He was a pitiful image of shabby
gentility and the dinginess of “reduced circumstances.” He would
have been, I suppose, some fifty years of age; but his pale haggard
unwholesome visage, his plaintive drooping carriage and the irremediable
disarray of his apparel seemed to add to the burden of his days and
tribulations. His eyes were weak and bloodshot, his bold nose was sadly
compromised, and his reddish beard, largely streaked with grey, bristled
under a month’s neglect of the razor. In all this rusty forlornness
lurked a visible assurance of our friend’s having known better days.
Obviously he was the victim of some fatal depreciation in the market
value of pure gentility. There had been something terribly affecting in
the way he substituted for the attempt to touch the greasy rim of his
antiquated hat some such bow as one man of the world might make another.
Exchanging a few words with him as we went I was struck with the
decorum of his accent. His fine whole voice should have been congruously
cracked.

“Take me by some long roundabout way,” said Searle, “so that I may see
as many college-walls as possible.”

“You know,” I asked of our attendant, “all these wonderful ins and
outs?”

“I ought to, sir,” he said, after a moment, with pregnant gravity. And
as we were passing one of the colleges, “That used to be my place,” he
added.

At these words Searle desired him to stop and come round within sight.
“You say that’s YOUR college?”

“The place might deny me, sir; but heaven forbid I should seem to take
it ill of her. If you’ll allow me to wheel you into the quad I’ll show
you my windows of thirty years ago.”

Searle sat staring, his huge pale eyes, which now left nothing else
worth mentioning in his wasted face, filled with wonder and pity. “If
you’ll be so kind,” he said with great deference. But just as this
perverted product of a liberal education was about to propel him across
the threshold of the court he turned about, disengaged the mercenary
hands, with one of his own, from the back of the chair, drew their owner
alongside and turned to me. “While we’re here, my dear fellow,” he said,
“be so good as to perform this service. You understand?” I gave our
companion a glance of intelligence and we resumed our way. The latter
showed us his window of the better time, where a rosy youth in a scarlet
smoking-fez now puffed a cigarette at the open casement. Thence we
proceeded into the small garden, the smallest, I believe, and certainly
the sweetest, of all the planted places of Oxford. I pushed the chair
along to a bench on the lawn, turned it round, toward the front of
the college and sat down by it on the grass. Our attendant shifted
mournfully from one foot to the other, his patron eyeing him
open-mouthed. At length Searle broke out: “God bless my soul, sir, you
don’t suppose I expect you to stand! There’s an empty bench.”

“Thank you,” said our friend, who bent his joints to sit.

“You English are really fabulous! I don’t know whether I most admire or
most abominate you! Now tell me: who are you? what are you? what brought
you to this?”

The poor fellow blushed up to his eyes, took off his hat and wiped his
forehead with an indescribable fabric drawn from his pocket. “My name’s
Rawson, sir. Beyond that it’s a long story.”

“I ask out of sympathy,” said Searle. “I’ve a fellow-feeling. If you’re
a poor devil I’m a poor devil as well.”

“I’m the poorer devil of the two,” said the stranger with an assurance
for once presumptuous.

“Possibly. I suppose an English poor devil’s the poorest of all
poor devils. And then you’ve fallen from a height. From a gentleman
commoner--is that what they called you?--to a propeller of Bath-chairs.
Good heavens, man, the fall’s enough to kill you!”

“I didn’t take it all at once, sir. I dropped a bit one time and a bit
another.”

“That’s me, that’s me!” cried Searle with all his seriousness.

“And now,” said our friend, “I believe I can’t drop any further.”

“My dear fellow”--and Searle clasped his hand and shook it--“I too am at
the very bottom of the hole.”

Mr. Rawson lifted his eyebrows. “Well, sir, there’s a difference between
sitting in such a pleasant convenience and just trudging behind it!”

“Yes--there’s a shade. But I’m at my last gasp, Mr. Rawson.”

“I’m at my last penny, sir.”

“Literally, Mr. Rawson?”

Mr. Rawson shook his head with large loose bitterness. “I’ve almost come
to the point of drinking my beer and buttoning my coat figuratively; but
I don’t talk in figures.”

Fearing the conversation might appear to achieve something like gaiety
at the expense of Mr. Rawson’s troubles, I took the liberty of asking
him, with all consideration, how he made a living.

“I don’t make a living,” he answered with tearful eyes; “I can’t make
a living. I’ve a wife and three children--and all starving, sir. You
wouldn’t believe what I’ve come to. I sent my wife to her mother’s, who
can ill afford to keep her, and came to Oxford a week ago, thinking I
might pick up a few half-crowns by showing people about the colleges.
But it’s no use. I haven’t the assurance. I don’t look decent. They
want a nice little old man with black gloves and a clean shirt and a
silver-headed stick. What do I look as if I knew about Oxford, sir?”

“Mercy on us,” cried Searle, “why didn’t you speak to us before?”

“I wanted to; half a dozen times I’ve been on the point of it. I knew
you were Americans.”

“And Americans are rich!” cried Searle, laughing. “My dear Mr. Rawson,
American as I am I’m living on charity.”

“And I’m exactly not, sir! There it is. I’m dying for the lack of that
same. You say you’re a pauper, but it takes an American pauper to go
bowling about in a Bath-chair. America’s an easy country.”

“Ah me!” groaned Searle. “Have I come to the most delicious corner of
the ancient world to hear the praise of Yankeeland?”

“Delicious corners are very well, and so is the ancient world,” said Mr.
Rawson; “but one may sit here hungry and shabby, so long as one isn’t
too shabby, as well as elsewhere. You’ll not persuade me that it’s not
an easier thing to keep afloat yonder than here. I wish _I_ were in
Yankeeland, that’s all!” he added with feeble force. Then brooding for
a moment on his wrongs: “Have you a bloated brother? or you, sir? It
matters little to you. But it has mattered to me with a vengeance!
Shabby as I sit here I can boast that advantage--as he his five thousand
a year. Being but a twelvemonth my elder he swaggers while I go thus.
There’s old England for you! A very pretty place for HIM!”

“Poor old England!” said Searle softly.

“Has your brother never helped you?” I asked.

“A five-pound note now and then! Oh I don’t say there haven’t been times
when I haven’t inspired an irresistible sympathy. I’ve not been what I
should. I married dreadfully out of the way. But the devil of it is that
he started fair and I started foul; with the tastes, the desires, the
needs, the sensibilities of a gentleman--and not another blessed ‘tip.’
I can’t afford to live in England.”

“THIS poor gentleman fancied a couple of months ago that he couldn’t
afford to live in America,” I fondly explained.

“I’d ‘swap’--do you call it?--chances with him!” And Mr. Rawson looked
quaintly rueful over his freedom of speech.

Searle sat supported there with his eyes closed and his face twitching
for violent emotion, and then of a sudden had a glare of gravity. “My
friend, you’re a dead failure! Be judged! Don’t talk about ‘swapping.’
Don’t talk about chances. Don’t talk about fair starts and false starts.
I’m at that point myself that I’ve a right to speak. It lies neither
in one’s chance nor one’s start to make one a success; nor in anything
one’s brother--however bloated--can do or can undo. It lies in one’s
character. You and I, sir, have HAD no character--that’s very plain.
We’ve been weak, sir; as weak as water. Here we are for it--sitting
staring in each other’s faces and reading our weakness in each other’s
eyes. We’re of no importance whatever, Mr. Rawson!”

Mr. Rawson received this sally with a countenance in which abject
submission to the particular affirmed truth struggled with the
comparative propriety of his general rebellion against fate. In the
course of a minute a due self-respect yielded to the warm comfortable
sense of his being relieved of the cares of an attitude. “Go on, sir, go
on,” he said. “It’s wholesome doctrine.” And he wiped his eyes with what
seemed his sole remnant of linen.

“Dear, dear,” sighed Searle, “I’ve made you cry! Well, we speak as from
man to man. I should be glad to think you had felt for a moment the
side-light of that great undarkening of the spirit which precedes--which
precedes the grand illumination of death.”

Mr. Rawson sat silent a little, his eyes fixed on the ground and his
well-cut nose but the more deeply dyed by his agitation. Then at last
looking up: “You’re a very good-natured man, sir, and you’ll never
persuade me you don’t come of a kindly race. Say what you please about a
chance; when a man’s fifty--degraded, penniless, a husband and father--a
chance to get on his legs again is not to be despised. Something tells
me that my luck may be in your country--which has brought luck to so
many. I can come on the parish here of course, but I don’t want to come
on the parish. Hang it, sir, I want to hold up my head. I see thirty
years of life before me yet. If only by God’s help I could have a real
change of air! It’s a fixed idea of mine. I’ve had it for the last ten
years. It’s not that I’m a low radical. Oh I’ve no vulgar opinions. Old
England’s good enough for me, but I’m not good enough for old England.
I’m a shabby man that wants to get out of a room full of staring
gentlefolk. I’m for ever put to the blush. It’s a perfect agony of
spirit; everything reminds me of my younger and better self. The thing
for me would be a cooling cleansing plunge into the unknowing and the
unknown! I lie awake thinking of it.”

Searle closed his eyes, shivering with a long-drawn tremor which I
hardly knew whether to take for an expression of physical or of mental
pain. In a moment I saw it was neither. “Oh my country, my country,
my country!” he murmured in a broken voice; and then sat for some time
abstracted and lost. I signalled our companion that it was time we
should bring our small session to a close, and he, without hesitating,
possessed himself of the handle of the Bath-chair and pushed it before
him. We had got halfway home before Searle spoke or moved. Suddenly
in the High Street, as we passed a chop-house from whose open doors we
caught a waft of old-fashioned cookery and other restorative elements,
he motioned us to halt. “This is my last five pounds”--and he drew a
note from his pocket-book. “Do me the favour, Mr. Rawson, to accept
it. Go in there and order the best dinner they can give you. Call for a
bottle of Burgundy and drink it to my eternal rest!”

Mr. Rawson stiffened himself up and received the gift with fingers
momentarily irresponsive. But Mr. Rawson had the nerves of a gentleman.
I measured the spasm with which his poor dispossessed hand closed upon
the crisp paper, I observed his empurpled nostril convulsive under the
other solicitation. He crushed the crackling note in his palm with a
passionate pressure and jerked a spasmodic bow. “I shall not do you the
wrong, sir, of anything but the best!” The next moment the door swung
behind him.

Searle sank again into his apathy, and on reaching the hotel I helped
him to get to bed. For the rest of the day he lay without motion or
sound and beyond reach of any appeal. The doctor, whom I had constantly
in attendance, was sure his end was near. He expressed great surprise
that he should have lasted so long; he must have been living for a
month on the very dregs of his strength. Toward evening, as I sat by his
bedside in the deepening dusk, he roused himself with a purpose I had
vaguely felt gathering beneath his stupor. “My cousin, my cousin,” he
said confusedly. “Is she here?” It was the first time he had spoken of
Miss Searle since our retreat from her brother’s house, and he continued
to ramble. “I was to have married her. What a dream! That day was like
a string of verses--rhymed hours. But the last verse is bad measure.
What’s the rhyme to ‘love’? ABOVE! Was she a simple woman, a kind sweet
woman? Or have I only dreamed it? She had the healing gift; her touch
would have cured my madness. I want you to do something. Write three
lines, three words: ‘Good-bye; remember me; be happy.’” And then after
a long pause: “It’s strange a person in my state should have a wish. Why
should one eat one’s breakfast the day one’s hanged? What a creature
is man! What a farce is life! Here I lie, worn down to a mere throbbing
fever-point; I breathe and nothing more, and yet I DESIRE! My desire
lives. If I could see her! Help me out with it and let me die.”

Half an hour later, at a venture, I dispatched by post a note to Miss
Searle: “Your cousin is rapidly sinking. He asks to see you.” I was
conscious of a certain want of consideration in this act, since it would
bring her great trouble and yet no power to face the trouble; but out
of her distress I fondly hoped a sufficient force might be born. On the
following day my friend’s exhaustion had become so great that I began
to fear his intelligence altogether broken up. But toward evening he
briefly rallied, to maunder about many things, confounding in a sinister
jumble the memories of the past weeks and those of bygone years. “By the
way,” he said suddenly, “I’ve made no will. I haven’t much to bequeath.
Yet I have something.” He had been playing listlessly with a large
signet-ring on his left hand, which he now tried to draw off. “I leave
you this”--working it round and round vainly--“if you can get it off.
What enormous knuckles! There must be such knuckles in the mummies of
the Pharaohs. Well, when I’m gone--! No, I leave you something more
precious than gold--the sense of a great kindness. But I’ve a little
gold left. Bring me those trinkets.” I placed on the bed before him
several articles of jewellery, relics of early foppery: his watch
and chain, of great value, a locket and seal, some odds and ends
of goldsmith’s work. He trifled with them feebly for some moments,
murmuring various names and dates associated with them. At last, looking
up with clearer interest, “What has become,” he asked, “of Mr. Rawson?”

“You want to see him?”

“How much are these things worth?” he went on without heeding me. “How
much would they bring?” And he weighed them in his weak hands. “They’re
pretty heavy. Some hundred or so? Oh I’m richer than I thought!
Rawson--Rawson--you want to get out of this awful England?”

I stepped to the door and requested the servant whom I kept in constant
attendance in our adjacent sitting-room to send and ascertain if Mr.
Rawson were on the premises. He returned in a few moments, introducing
our dismal friend. Mr. Rawson was pale even to his nose and derived from
his unaffectedly concerned state an air of some distinction. I led him
up to the bed. In Searle’s eyes, as they fell on him, there shone for a
moment the light of a human message.

“Lord have mercy!” gasped Mr. Rawson.

“My friend,” said Searle, “there’s to be one American the less--so let
there be at the same time one the more. At the worst you’ll be as good a
one as I. Foolish me! Take these battered relics; you can sell them; let
them help you on your way. They’re gifts and mementoes, but this is a
better use. Heaven speed you! May America be kind to you. Be kind, at
the last, to your own country!”

“Really this is too much; I can’t,” the poor man protested, almost
scared and with tears in his eyes. “Do come round and get well and I’ll
stop here. I’ll stay with you and wait on you.”

“No, I’m booked for my journey, you for yours. I hope you don’t mind the
voyage.”

Mr. Rawson exhaled a groan of helpless gratitude, appealing piteously
from so strange a windfall. “It’s like the angel of the Lord who bids
people in the Bible to rise and flee!”

Searle had sunk back upon his pillow, quite used up; I led Mr. Rawson
back into the sitting-room, where in three words I proposed to him
a rough valuation of our friend’s trinkets. He assented with perfect
good-breeding; they passed into my possession and a second bank-note
into his.

From the collapse into which this wondrous exercise of his imagination
had plunged him my charge then gave few signs of being likely to emerge.
He breathed, as he had said, and nothing more. The twilight deepened; I
lighted the night-lamp. The doctor sat silent and official at the foot
of the bed; I resumed my constant place near the head. Suddenly our
patient opened his eyes wide. “She’ll not come,” he murmured. “Amen!
she’s an English sister.” Five minutes passed; he started forward.
“She’s come, she’s here!” he confidently quavered. His words conveyed to
my mind so absolute an assurance that I lightly rose and passed into the
sitting-room. At the same moment, through the opposite door, the
servant introduced a lady. A lady, I say; for an instant she was simply
such--tall pale dressed in deep mourning. The next instant I had uttered
her name--“Miss Searle!” She looked ten years older.

She met me with both hands extended and an immense question in her
face. “He has just announced you,” I said. And then with a fuller
consciousness of the change in her dress and countenance: “What has
happened?”

“Oh death, death!” she wailed. “You and I are left.”

There came to me with her words a sickening shock, the sense of poetic
justice somehow cheated, defeated. “Your brother?” I panted.

She laid her hand on my arm and I felt its pressure deepen as she spoke.
“He was thrown from his horse in the park. He died on the spot. Six days
have passed. Six months!”

She accepted my support and a moment later we had entered the room and
approached the bedside, from which the doctor withdrew. Searle opened
his eyes and looked at her from head to foot. Suddenly he seemed to make
out her mourning. “Already!” he cried audibly and with a smile, as I
felt, of pleasure.

She dropped on her knees and took his hand. “Not for you, cousin,” she
whispered. “For my poor brother.”

He started, in all his deathly longitude, as with a galvanic shock.
“Dead! HE dead! Life itself!” And then after a moment and with a slight
rising inflexion: “You’re free?”

“Free, cousin. Too sadly free. And now--NOW--with what use for freedom?”

He looked steadily into her eyes, dark in the heavy shadow of her musty
mourning-veil. “For me wear colours!”

In a moment more death had come, the doctor had silently attested it,
and she had burst into sobs.

We buried him in the little churchyard in which he had expressed the
wish to lie; beneath one of the blackest and widest of English yews and
the little tower than which none in all England has a softer and hoarier
grey. A year has passed; Miss Searle, I believe, has begun to wear
colours.





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