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´╗┐Title: The Birthplace
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Birthplace" ***

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The Birthplace

Henry James



It seemed to them at first, the offer, too good to be true, and their
friend's letter, addressed to them to feel, as he said, the ground, to
sound them as to inclinations and possibilities, had almost the effect of a
brave joke at their expense. Their friend, Mr. Grant-Jackson, a highly
preponderant pushing person, great in discussion and arrangement, abrupt in
overture, unexpected, if not perverse, in attitude, and almost equally
acclaimed and objected to in the wide midland region to which he had
taught, as the phrase was, the size of his foot--their friend had launched
his bolt quite out of the blue and had thereby so shaken them as to make
them fear almost more than hope. The place had fallen vacant by the death
of one of the two ladies, mother and daughter, who had discharged its
duties for fifteen years; the daughter was staying on alone, to
accommodate, but had found, though extremely mature, an opportunity of
marriage that involved retirement, and the question of the new incumbents
was not a little pressing. The want thus determined was of a united couple
of some sort, of the right sort, a pair of educated and competent sisters
possibly preferred, but a married pair having its advantages if other
qualifications were marked. Applicants, candidates, besiegers of the door
of every one supposed to have a voice in the matter, were already beyond
counting, and Mr. Grant-Jackson, who was in his way diplomatic and whose
voice, though not perhaps of the loudest, possessed notes of insistence,
had found his preference fixing itself on some person or brace of persons
who had been decent and dumb. The Gedges appeared to have struck him as
waiting in silence--though absolutely, as happened, no busy body had
brought them, far away in the North, a hint either of bliss or of danger;
and the happy spell, for the rest, had obviously been wrought in him by a
remembrance which, though now scarcely fresh, had never before borne any
such fruit.

Morris Gedge had for a few years, as a young man, carried on a small
private school of the order known as preparatory, and had happened then to
receive under his roof the small son of the great man, who was not at that
time so great. The little boy, during an absence of his parents from
England, had been dangerously ill, so dangerously that they had been
recalled in haste, though with inevitable delays, from a far country--they
had gone to America, with the whole continent and the great sea to cross
again--and had got back to find the child saved, but saved, as couldn't
help coming to light, by the extreme devotion and perfect judgement of Mrs.
Gedge. Without children of her own she had particularly attached herself to
this tiniest and tenderest of her husband's pupils, and they had both
dreaded as a dire disaster the injury to their little enterprise that would
be caused by their losing him. Nervous anxious sensitive persons, with a
pride--as they were for that matter well aware--above their position,
never, at the best, to be anything but dingy, they had nursed him in terror
and had brought him through in exhaustion. Exhaustion, as befell, had thus
overtaken them early and had for one reason and another managed to assert
itself as their permanent portion. The little boy's death would, as they
said, have done for them, yet his recovery hadn't saved them; with which it
was doubtless also part of a shy but stiff candour in them that they didn't
regard themselves as having in a more indirect manner laid up treasure.
Treasure was not to be, in any form whatever, of their dreams or of their
waking sense; and the years that followed had limped under their weight,
had now and then rather grievously stumbled, had even barely escaped laying
them in the dust. The school hadn't prospered, had but dwindled to a close.
Gedge's health had failed and still more every sign in him of a capacity to
publish himself as practical. He had tried several things, he had tried
many, but the final appearance was of their having tried him not less. They
mostly, at the time I speak of, were trying his successors, while he found
himself, with an effect of dull felicity that had come in this case from
the mere postponement of change, in charge of the grey town-library of
Blackport-on-Dwindle, all granite, fog and female fiction. This was a
situation in which his general intelligence--admittedly his strong
point--was doubtless imaged, around him, as feeling less of a strain than
that mastery of particulars in which he was recognised as weak.

It was at Blackport-on-Dwindle that the silver shaft reached and pierced
him; it was as an alternative to dispensing dog's-eared volumes the very
titles of which, on the lips of innumerable glib girls, were a challenge to
his nerves, that the wardenship of so different a temple presented itself.
The stipend named exceeded little the slim wage at present paid him, but
even had it been less the interest and the honour would have struck him as
determinant. The shrine at which he was to preside--though he had always
lacked occasion to approach it--figured to him as the most sacred known to
the steps of men, the early home of the supreme poet, the Mecca of the
English-speaking race. The tears came into his eyes sooner still than into
his wife's while he looked about with her at their actual narrow prison, so
grim with enlightenment, so ugly with industry, so turned away from any
dream, so intolerable to any taste. He felt as if a window had opened into
a great green woodland, a woodland that had a name all glorious, immortal,
that was peopled with vivid figures, each of them renowned, and that gave
out a murmur, deep as the sound of the sea, which was the rustle in forest
shade of all the poetry, the beauty, the colour of life. It would be
prodigious that of this transfigured world _he_ should keep the key. No--he
couldn't believe it, not even when Isabel, at sight of his face, came and
helpfully kissed him. He shook his head with a strange smile. "We shan't
get it. Why should we? It's perfect."

"If we don't he'll simply have been cruel; which is impossible when he has
waited all this time to be kind." Mrs. Gedge did believe--she _would_;
since the wide doors of the world of poetry had suddenly pushed back for
them it was in the form of poetic justice that they were first to know it.
She had her faith in their patron; it was sudden, but now complete. "He
remembers--that's all; and that's our strength."

"And what's _his_?" Gedge asked. "He may want to put us through, but that's
a different thing from being able. What are our special advantages?"

"Well, that we're just the thing." Her knowledge of the needs of the case
was as yet, thanks to scant information, of the vaguest, and she had never,
more than her husband, stood on the sacred spot; but she saw herself waving
a nicely-gloved hand over a collection of remarkable objects and saying to
a compact crowd of gaping awestruck persons: "And now, please, _this_ way."
She even heard herself meeting with promptness and decision an occasional
inquiry from a visitor in whom audacity had prevailed over awe. She had
once been with a cousin, years before, to a great northern castle, and that
was the way the housekeeper had taken them round. And it was not moreover,
either, that she thought of herself as a housekeeper: she was well above
that, and the wave of her hand wouldn't fail to be such as to show it. This
and much else she summed up as she answered her mate. "Our special
advantages are that you're a gentleman."

"Oh!" said Gedge as if he had never thought of it, and yet as if too it
were scarce worth thinking of.

"I see it all," she went on; "they've _had_ the vulgar--they find they
don't do. We're poor and we're modest, but any one can see what we are."

Gedge wondered. "Do you mean----?" More modest than she, he didn't know quite
what she meant.

"We're refined. We know how to speak."

"Do we?"--he still, suddenly, wondered.

But she was from the first surer of everything than he; so that when a few
weeks more had elapsed and the shade of uncertainty--though it was only a
shade--had grown almost to sicken him, her triumph was to come with the
news that they were fairly named. "We're on poor pay, though we
manage"--she had at the present juncture contended for her point. "But
we're highly cultivated, and for them to get _that_, don't you see? without
getting too much with it in the way of pretensions and demands, must be
precisely their dream. We've no social position, but we don't _mind_ that
we haven't, do we? a bit; which is because we know the difference between
realities and shams. We hold to reality, and that gives us common sense,
which the vulgar have less than anything and which yet must be wanted
there, after all, as well as anywhere else."

Her companion followed her, but musingly, as if his horizon had within a
few moments grown so great that he was almost lost in it and required a new
orientation. The shining spaces surrounded him; the association alone gave
a nobler arch to the sky. "Allow that we hold also a little to the romance.
It seems to me that that's the beauty. We've missed it all our life, and
now it's come. We shall be at headquarters for it. We shall have our fill
of it."

She looked at his face, at the effect in it of these prospects, and her own
lighted as if he had suddenly grown handsome. "Certainly--we shall live as
in a fairy-tale. But what I mean is that we shall give, in a way--and so
gladly--quite as much as we get. With all the rest of it we're for instance
neat." Their letter had come to them at breakfast, and she picked a fly out
of the butter-dish. "It's the way we'll _keep_ the place"--with which she
removed from the sofa to the top of the cottage-piano a tin of biscuits
that had refused to squeeze into the cupboard. At Blackport they were in
lodgings--of the lowest description, she had been known to declare with a
freedom felt by Blackport to be slightly invidious. The Birthplace--and
that itself, after such a life, was exaltation--wouldn't be lodgings, since
a house close beside it was set apart for the warden, a house joining on to
it as a sweet old parsonage is often annexed to a quaint old church. It
would all together be their home, and such a home as would make a little
world that they would never want to leave. She dwelt on the gain, for that
matter, to their income; as obviously, though the salary was not a change
for the better, the house given them would make all the difference. He
assented to this, but absently, and she was almost impatient at the range
of his thoughts. It was as if something for him--the very swarm of
them--veiled the view; and he presently of himself showed what it was.

"What I can't get over is its being such a man--!" He almost, from inward
emotion, broke down.

"Such a man----?"

"Him, _him_, HIM----!" It was too much.

"Grant-Jackson? Yes, it's a surprise, but one sees how he has been meaning,
all the while, the right thing by us."

"I mean _Him_," Gedge returned more coldly; "our becoming familiar and
intimate--for that's what it will come to. We shall just live with Him."

"Of course--it _is_ the beauty." And she added quite gaily: "The more we do
the more we shall love Him."

"No doubt--but it's rather awful. The more we _know_ Him," Gedge reflected,
"the more we shall love Him. We don't as yet, you see, know Him so very

"We do so quite as well, I imagine, as the sort of people they've had. And
that probably isn't--unless you care, as we do--so awfully necessary. For
there are the facts."

"Yes--there are the facts."

"I mean the principal ones. They're all that the people--the people who

"Yes--they must be all _they_ want."

"So that they're all that those who've been in charge have needed to know."

"Ah," he said as if it were a question of honour, "we must know

She cheerfully acceded: she had the merit, he felt, of keeping the case
within bounds. "Everything. But about him personally," she added, "there
isn't, is there? so very very much."

"More, I believe, than there used to be. They've made discoveries."

It was a grand thought. "Perhaps _we_ shall make some!"

"Oh I shall be content to be a little better up in what has been done." And
his eyes rested on a shelf of books, half of which, little worn but much
faded, were of the florid "gift" order and belonged to the house. Of those
among them that were his own most were common specimens of the reference
sort, not excluding an old Bradshaw and a catalogue of the town-library.
"We've not even a Set of our own. Of the Works," he explained in quick
repudiation of the sense, perhaps more obvious, in which she might have
taken it.

As a proof of their scant range of possessions this sounded almost abject,
till the painful flush with which they met on the admission melted
presently into a different glow. It was just for that kind of poorness that
their new situation was, by its intrinsic charm, to console them. And Mrs.
Gedge had a happy thought. "Wouldn't the Library more or less have them?"

"Oh no, we've nothing of that sort: for what do you take us?" This,
however, was but the play of Gedge's high spirits: the form both depression
and exhilaration most frequently took with him being a bitterness on the
subject of the literary taste of Blackport. No one was so deeply acquainted
with it. It acted with him in fact as so lurid a sign of the future that
the charm of the thought of removal was sharply enhanced by the prospect of
escape from it. The institution he served didn't of course deserve the
particular reproach into which his irony had flowered; and indeed if the
several Sets in which the Works were present were a trifle dusty, the dust
was a little his own fault. To make up for that now he had the vision of
immediately giving his time to the study of them; he saw himself indeed,
inflamed with a new passion, earnestly commenting and collating. Mrs.
Gedge, who had suggested that, till their move should come, they ought to
read Him regularly of an evening--certain as they were to do it still more
when in closer quarters with Him--Mrs. Gedge felt also, in her degree, the
spell; so that the very happiest time of their anxious life was perhaps to
have been the series of lamplight hours, after supper, in which,
alternately taking the book, they declaimed, they almost performed, their
beneficent author. He became speedily more than their author--their
personal friend, their universal light, their final authority and divinity.
Where in the world, they were already asking themselves, would they have
been without Him? By the time their appointment arrived in form their
relation to Him had immensely developed. It was amusing to Morris Gedge
that he had so lately blushed for his ignorance, and he made this remark to
his wife during the last hour they were able to give their study before
proceeding, across half the country, to the scene of their romantic future.
It was as if, in deep close throbs, in cool after-waves that broke of a
sudden and bathed his mind, all possession and comprehension and sympathy,
all the truth and the life and the story, had come to him, and come, as the
newspapers said, to stay. "It's absurd," he didn't hesitate to say, "to
talk of our not 'knowing.' So far as we don't it's because we're dunces.
He's _in_ the thing, over His ears, and the more we get into it the more
we're with Him. I seem to myself at any rate," he declared, "to _see_ Him
in it as if He were painted on the wall."

"Oh _doesn't_ one rather, the dear thing? And don't you feel where it is?"
Mrs. Gedge finely asked. "We see Him because we love Him--that's what we
do. How can we not, the old darling--with what He's doing for us? There's
no light"--she had a sententious turn--"like true affection."

"Yes, I suppose that's it. And yet," her husband mused, "I see, confound
me, the faults."

"That's because you're so critical. You see them, but you don't mind them.
You see them, but you forgive them. You mustn't mention them _there_. We
shan't, you know, be there for _that_."

"Dear no!" he laughed: "we'll chuck out any one who hints at them."


If the sweetness of the preliminary months had been great, great too,
though almost excessive as agitation, was the wonder of fairly being housed
with Him, of treading day and night in the footsteps He had worn, of
touching the objects, or at all events the surfaces, the substances, over
which His hands had played, which His arms, His shoulders had rubbed, of
breathing the air--or something not too unlike it--in which His voice had
sounded. They had had a little at first their bewilderments, their
disconcertedness; the place was both humbler and grander than they had
exactly prefigured, more at once of a cottage and of a museum, a little
more archaically bare and yet a little more richly official. But the sense
was strong with them that the point of view, for the inevitable ease of the
connexion, patiently, indulgently awaited them; in addition to which, from
the first evening, after closing-hour, when the last blank pilgrim had
gone, the mere spell, the mystic presence--as if they had had it quite to
themselves--were all they could have desired. They had received, at
Grant-Jackson's behest and in addition to a table of instructions and
admonitions by the number and in some particulars by the nature of which
they found themselves slightly depressed, various little guides, manuals,
travellers' tributes, literary memorials and other catch-penny
publications; which, however, were to be for the moment swallowed up in the
interesting episode of the induction or initiation appointed for them in
advance at the hands of several persons whose relation to the establishment
was, as superior to their own, still more official, and at those in
especial of one of the ladies who had for so many years borne the brunt.
About the instructions from above, about the shilling books and the
well-known facts and the full-blown legend, the supervision, the
subjection, the submission, the view as of a cage in which he should
circulate and a groove in which he should slide, Gedge had preserved a
certain play of mind; but all power of reaction appeared suddenly to desert
him in the presence of his so visibly competent predecessor and as an
effect of her good offices. He had not the resource, enjoyed by his wife,
of seeing himself, with impatience, attired in black silk of a make
characterised by just the right shade of austerity; so that this firm
smooth expert and consummately respectable middle-aged person had him
somehow, on the whole ground, completely at her mercy.

It was evidently something of a rueful moment when, as a lesson--she being
for the day or two still in the field--he accepted Miss Putchin's
suggestion of "going round" with her and with the successive squads of
visitors she was there to deal with. He appreciated her method--he saw
there had to be one; he admired her as succinct and definite; for there
were the facts, as his wife had said at Blackport, and they were to be
disposed of in the time; yet he felt a very little boy as he dangled, more
than once, with Mrs. Gedge, at the tail of the human comet. The idea had
been that they should by this attendance more fully embrace the possible
accidents and incidents, so to put it, of the relation to the great public
in which they were to find themselves; and the poor man's excited
perception of the great public rapidly became such as to resist any
diversion meaner than that of the admirable manner of their guide. It
wandered from his gaping companions to that of the priestess in black silk,
whom he kept asking himself if either he or Isabel could hope by any
possibility ever remotely to resemble; then it bounded restlessly back to
the numerous persons who revealed to him as it had never yet been revealed
the happy power of the simple to hang upon the lips of the wise. The great
thing seemed to be--and quite surprisingly--that the business was easy and
the strain, which as a strain they had feared, moderate; so that he might
have been puzzled, had he fairly caught himself in the act, by his
recognising as the last effect of the impression an odd absence of the
power really to rest in it, an agitation deep within him that vaguely
threatened to grow. "It isn't, you see, so very complicated," the black
silk lady seemed to throw off, with everything else, in her neat crisp
cheerful way; in spite of which he already, the very first time--that is
after several parties had been in and out and up and down--went so far as
to wonder if there weren't more in it than she imagined. She was, so to
speak, kindness itself--was all encouragement and reassurance; but it was
just her slightly coarse redolence of these very things that, on
repetition, before they parted, dimmed a little, as he felt, the light of
his acknowledging smile. This again she took for a symptom of some pleading
weakness in him--he could never be as brave as she; so that she wound up
with a few pleasant words from the very depth of her experience. "You'll
get into it, never fear--it will _come_; and then you'll feel as if you had
never done anything else." He was afterwards to know that, on the spot, at
this moment, he must have begun to wince a little at such a menace; that he
might come to feel as if he had never done anything but what Miss Putchin
did loomed for him, in germ, as a penalty to pay. The support she offered,
none the less, continued to strike him; she put the whole thing on so sound
a basis when she said: "You see they're so nice about it--they take such an
interest. And they never do a thing they shouldn't. That was always every
thing to mother and me." "They," Gedge had already noticed, referred
constantly and hugely, in the good woman's talk, to the millions who
shuffled through the house; the pronoun in question was for ever on her
lips, the hordes it represented filled her consciousness, the addition of
their numbers ministered to her glory. Mrs. Gedge promptly fell in. "It
must be indeed delightful to see the effect on so many and to feel that one
may perhaps do something to make it--well, permanent." But he was kept
silent by his becoming more sharply aware that this was a new view, for
him, of the reference made, that he had never thought of the quality of the
place as derived from Them, but from Somebody Else, and that They, in
short, seemed to have got into the way of crowding Him out. He found
himself even a little resenting this for Him--which perhaps had something
to do with the slightly invidious cast of his next inquiry.

"And are They always, as one might say--a--stupid?"

"Stupid!" She stared, looking as if no one _could_ be such a thing in such
a connexion. No one had ever been anything but neat and cheerful and
fluent, except to be attentive and unobjectionable and, so far as was
possible, American.

"What I mean is," he explained, "is there any perceptible proportion that
take an interest in Him?"

His wife stepped on his toe; she deprecated levity.

But his mistake fortunately was lost on their friend.

"That's just why they come, that they take such an interest. I sometimes
think they take more than about anything else in the world." With which
Miss Putchin looked about at the place. "It _is_ pretty, don't you think,
the way they've got it now?" This, Gedge saw, was a different "They"; it
applied to the powers that were--the people who had appointed him, the
governing, visiting Body, in respect to which he was afterwards to remark
to Mrs. Gedge that a fellow--it was the difficulty--didn't know "where to
have her." His wife, at a loss, questioned at that moment the necessity of
having her anywhere, and he said, good-humouredly, "Of course; it's all
right." He was in fact content enough with the last touches their friend
had given the picture. "There are many who know all about it when they
come, and the Americans often are tremendously up. Mother and me really
enjoyed"--it was her only slip--"the interest of the Americans. We've
sometimes had ninety a day, and all wanting to see and hear everything. But
you'll work them off; you'll see the way--it's all experience." She came
back for his comfort to that. She came back also to other things: she did
justice to the considerable class who arrived positive and primed. "There
are those who know more about it than you do. But _that_ only comes from
their interest."

"Who know more about what?" Gedge inquired.

"Why about the place. I mean they have their ideas--of what everything is,
and _where_ it is, and what it isn't and where it _should_ be. They do ask
questions," she said, yet not so much in warning as in the complacency of
being herself seasoned and sound; "and they're down on you when they think
you go wrong. As if you ever could! You know too much," she astutely
smiled; "or you _will_."

"Oh you mustn't know _too_ much, must you?" And Gedge now smiled as well. He
knew, he thought, what he meant.

"Well, you must know as much as anybody else. I claim at any rate that I
do," Miss Putchin declared. "They never really caught me out."

"I'm very certain of _that_"--and Mrs. Gedge had an elation almost

"Surely," he said, "I don't want to be caught out." She rejoined that in
such a case he would have _Them_ down on him, and he saw that this time she
meant the powers above. It quickened his sense of all the elements that
were to reckon with, yet he felt at the same time that the powers above
were not what he should most fear. "I'm glad," he observed, "that they ever
ask questions; but I happened to notice, you know, that no one did to-day."

"Then you missed several--and no loss. There were three or four put to me
too silly to remember. But of course they mostly _are_ silly."

"You mean the questions?"

She laughed with all her cheer. "Yes, sir; I don't mean the answers."

Whereupon, for a moment snubbed and silent, he felt like one of the crowd.
Then it made him slightly vicious. "I didn't know but you meant the people
in general--till I remembered that I'm to understand from you that
_they're_ wise, only occasionally breaking down."

It wasn't really till then, he thought, that she lost patience; and he had
had, much more than he meant no doubt, a cross-questioning air. "You'll see
for yourself." Of which he was sure enough. He was in fact so ready to take
this that she came round to full accommodation, put it frankly that every
now and then they broke out--not the silly, oh no, the intensely inquiring.
"We've had quite lively discussions, don't you know, about well-known
points. They want it all _their_ way, and I know the sort that are going to
as soon as I see them. That's one of the things you do--you get to know the
sorts. And if it's what you're afraid of--their taking you up," she was
further gracious enough to say, "you needn't mind a bit. What _do_ they
know, after all, when for us it's our life? I've never moved an inch,
because, you see, I shouldn't have been here if I didn't know where I was.
No more will _you_ be a year hence--you know what I mean, putting it
impossibly--if you don't. I expect you do, in spite of your fancies." And
she dropped once more to bed-rock. "There are the facts. Otherwise where
would any of us be? That's all you've got to go upon. A person, however
cheeky, can't have them _his_ way just because he takes it into his head.
There can only be _one_ way, and," she gaily added as she took leave of
them, "I'm sure it's quite enough!"


Gedge not only assented eagerly--one way _was_ quite enough if it were the
right one--but repeated it, after this conversation, at odd moments,
several times over to his wife. "There can only be one way, one way," he
continued to remark--though indeed much as if it were a joke; till she
asked him how many more he supposed she wanted. He failed to answer this
question, but resorted to another repetition. "There are the facts, the
facts," which perhaps, however, he kept a little more to himself, sounding
it at intervals in different parts of the house. Mrs. Gedge was full of
comment on their clever introductress, though not restrictively save in the
matter of her speech, "Me and mother," and a general tone--which certainly
was not their sort of thing. "I don't know," he said, "perhaps it comes
with the place, since speaking in immortal verse doesn't seem to come. It
must be, one seems to see, one thing or the other. I daresay that in a few
months I shall also be at it--'me and the wife.'"

"Why not 'me and the missus' at once?" Mrs. Gedge resentfully inquired. "I
don't think," she observed at another time, "that I quite know what's the
matter with you."

"It's only that I'm excited, awfully excited--as I don't see how one can't
be. You wouldn't have a fellow drop into this berth as into an appointment
at the Post Office. Here on the spot it goes to my head--how can that be
helped? But we shall live into it, and perhaps," he said with an
implication of the other possibility that was doubtless but part of his
fine ecstasy, "we shall live through it." The place acted on his
imagination--how, surely, shouldn't it? And his imagination acted on his
nerves, and these things together, with the general vividness and the new
and complete immersion, made rest for him almost impossible, so that he
could scarce go to bed at night and even during the first week more than
once rose in the small hours to move about, up and down, with his
lamp--standing, sitting, listening, wondering, in the stillness, as if
positively to recover some echo, to surprise some secret, of the _genius
loci_. He couldn't have explained it--and didn't in fact need to explain
it, at least to himself, since the impulse simply held him and shook him;
but the time after closing, the time above all after the people--Them, as
he felt himself on the way habitually to put it, predominant, insistent,
all in the foreground--brought him, or ought to have brought him, he seemed
to see, nearer to the enshrined Presence, enlarging the opportunity for
communion and intensifying the sense of it. These nightly prowls, as he
called them, were disquieting to his wife, who had no disposition to share
in them, speaking with decision of the whole place as just the place to be
forbidding after dark. She rejoiced in the distinctness, contiguous though
it was, of their own little residence, where she trimmed the lamp and
stirred the fire and heard the kettle sing, repairing the while the
omissions of the small domestic who slept out; she foresaw her self, with
some promptness, drawing rather sharply the line between her own precinct
and that in which the great spirit might walk. It would be with them, the
great spirit, all day--even if indeed on her making that remark, and in
just that form, to her husband, he replied with a queer "But will he
though?" And she vaguely imaged the development of a domestic antidote
after a while, precisely, in the shape of curtains more markedly drawn and
everything most modern and lively, tea, "patterns," the newspapers, the
female fiction itself that they had reacted against at Blackport, quite
defiantly cultivated.

These possibilities, however, were all right, as her companion said it was,
all the first autumn--they had arrived at summer's end; and he might have
been more than content with a special set of his own that he had access to
from behind, passing out of their low door for the few steps between it and
the Birthplace. With his lamp ever so carefully guarded and his nursed keys
that made him free of treasures, he crossed the dusky interval so often
that she began to qualify it as a habit that "grew." She spoke of it almost
as if he had taken to drink, and he humoured that view of it by allowing
the cup to be strong. This had been in truth altogether his immediate sense
of it; strange and deep for him the spell of silent sessions before
familiarity and, to some small extent, disappointment had set in. The
exhibitional side of the establishment had struck him, even on arrival, as
qualifying too much its character; he scarce knew what he might best have
looked for, but the three or four rooms bristled overmuch, in the garish
light of day, with busts and relics, not even ostensibly always _His_, old
prints and old editions, old objects fashioned in His likeness, furniture
"of the time" and autographs of celebrated worshippers. In the quiet hours
and the deep dusk, none the less, under the play of the shifted lamp and
that of his own emotion, these things too recovered their advantage,
ministered to the mystery, or at all events to the impression, seemed
consciously to offer themselves as personal to the poet. Not one of them
was really or unchallengeably so, but they had somehow, through long
association, got, as Gedge always phrased it, into the secret, and it was
about the secret he asked them while he restlessly wandered. It wasn't till
months had elapsed that he found how little they had to tell him, and he
was quite at his ease with them when he knew they were by no means where
his sensibility had first placed them. They were as out of it as he; only,
to do them justice, they had made him immensely feel. And still, too, it
was not they who had done that most, since his sentiment had gradually
cleared itself to deep, to deeper refinements.

The Holy of Holies of the Birthplace was the low, the sublime Chamber of
Birth, sublime because, as the Americans usually said--unlike the natives
they mostly found words--it was so pathetic; and pathetic because it
was--well, really nothing else in the world that one could name, number or
measure. It was as empty as a shell of which the kernel has withered, and
contained neither busts nor prints nor early copies; it contained only the
Fact--_the_ Fact itself--which, as he stood sentient there at midnight, our
friend, holding his breath, allowed to sink into him. He _had_ to take it
as the place where the spirit would most walk and where He would therefore
be most to be met, with possibilities of recognition and reciprocity. He
hadn't, most probably--_He_ hadn't--much inhabited the room, as men weren't
apt, as a rule, to convert to their later use and involve in their wider
fortune the scene itself of their nativity. But as there were moments when,
in the conflict of theories, the sole certainty surviving for the critic
threatened to be that He had not--unlike other successful men--_not_ been
born, so Gedge, though little of a critic, clung to the square feet of
space that connected themselves, however feebly, with the positive
appearance. He was little of a critic--he was nothing of one; he hadn't
pretended to the character before coming, nor come to pretend to it; also,
luckily for him, he was seeing day by day how little use he could possibly
have for it. It would be to him, the attitude of a high expert, distinctly
a stumbling-block, and that he rejoiced, as the winter waned, in his
ignorance, was one of the propositions he betook himself, in his odd
manner, to enunciating to his wife. She denied it, for hadn't she in the
first place been present, wasn't she still present, at his pious, his
tireless study of everything connected with the subject?--so present that
she had herself learned more about it than had ever seemed likely. Then in
the second place he wasn't to proclaim on the house-tops any point at which
he might be weak, for who knew, if it should get abroad that they were
ignorant, what effect might be produced----?

"On the attraction"--he took her up--"of the Show?"

He had fallen into the harmless habit of speaking of the place as the
"Show"; but she didn't mind this so much as to be diverted by it. "No; on
the attitude of the Body. You know they're pleased with us, and I don't see
why you should want to spoil it. We got in by a tight squeeze--you know
we've had evidence of that, and that it was about as much as our backers
could manage. But we're proving a comfort to them, and it's absurd of you
to question your suitability to people who were content with the Putchins."

"I don't, my dear," he returned, "question any thing; but if I should do so
it would be precisely because of the greater advantage constituted for the
Putchins by the simplicity of their spirit. They were kept straight by the
quality of their ignorance--which was denser even than mine. It was a
mistake in us from the first to have attempted to correct or to disguise
ours. We should have waited simply to become good parrots, to learn our
lesson--all on the spot here, so little of it is wanted--and squawk it

"Ah 'squawk,' love--what a word to use about Him!"

"It isn't about Him--nothing's about Him. None of Them care tuppence about
Him. The only thing They care about is this empty shell--or rather, for it
isn't empty, the extraneous preposterous stuffing of it."

"Preposterous?"--he made her stare with this as he hadn't yet done.

At sight of her look, however--the gleam, as it might have been, of a queer
suspicion--he bent to her kindly and tapped her cheek. "Oh it's all right.
We _must_ fall back on the Putchins. Do you remember what she
said?--'They've made it so pretty now.' They _have_ made it pretty, and
it's a first-rate show. It's a first-rate show and a first-rate billet, and
He was a first-rate poet, and you're a first-rate woman--to put up so
sweetly, I mean, with my nonsense."

She appreciated his domestic charm and she justified that part of his
tribute which concerned herself. "I don't care how much of your nonsense
you talk to me, so long as you _keep_ it all for me and don't treat _Them_
to it."

"The pilgrims? No," he conceded--"it isn't fair to Them. They mean well."

"What complaint have we after all to make of Them so long as They don't
break off bits--as They used, Miss Putchin told us, so awfully--in order to
conceal them about Their Persons? She broke Them at least of that."

"Yes," Gedge mused again; "I wish awfully she hadn't!"

"You'd like the relics destroyed, removed? That's all that's wanted!"

"There _are_ no relics."

"There won't be any _soon_--unless you take care." But he was already
laughing, and the talk wasn't dropped without his having patted her once
more. An impression or two nevertheless remained with her from it, as he
saw from a question she asked him on the morrow. "What did you mean
yesterday about Miss Putchin's simplicity--its keeping her 'straight'? Do
you mean mentally?"

Her "mentally" was rather portentous, but he practically confessed. "Well,
it kept her up. I mean," he amended, laughing, "it kept her down."

It was really as if she had been a little uneasy. "You consider there's a
danger of your being affected? You know what I mean--of its going to your
head. You do know," she insisted as he said nothing. "Through your caring
for him so. You'd certainly be right in that case about its having been a
mistake for you to plunge so deep." And then as his listening without
reply, though with his look a little sad for her, might have denoted that,
allowing for extravagance of statement, he saw there was something in it:
"Give up your prowls. Keep it for daylight. Keep it for _Them_."

"Ah," he smiled, "if one could! My prowls," he added, "are what I most
enjoy. They're the only time, as I've told you before, that I'm really with
_Him_. Then I don't see the place. He isn't the place."

"I don't care for what you 'don't see,'" she returned with vivacity; "the
question is of what you do see."

Well, if it was, he waited before meeting it. "Do you know what I sometimes
do?" And then as she waited too: "In the Birthroom there, when I look in
late, I often put out my light. That makes it better."

"Makes what----?"


"What is it then you see in the dark?"

"Nothing!" said Morris Gedge.

"And what's the pleasure of that?"

"Well, what the American ladies say. It's so fascinating!"


The autumn was brisk, as Miss Putchin had told them it would be, but
business naturally fell off with the winter months and the short days.
There was rarely an hour indeed without a call of some sort, and they were
never allowed to forget that they kept the shop in all the world, as they
might say, where custom was least fluctuating. The seasons told on it, as
they tell on travel, but no other influence, consideration or convulsion to
which the population of the globe is exposed. This population, never
exactly in simultaneous hordes, but in a full swift and steady stream,
passed through the smoothly-working mill and went, in its variety of
degrees duly impressed and edified, on its artless way. Gedge gave himself
up, with much ingenuity of spirit, to trying to keep in relation with it;
having even at moments, in the early time, glimpses of the chance that the
impressions gathered from so rare an opportunity for contact with the
general mind might prove as interesting as anything else in the connexion.
Types, classes, nationalities, manners, diversities of behaviour, modes of
seeing, feeling, of expression, would pass before him and become for him,
after a fashion, the experience of an untravelled man. His journeys had
been short and saving, but poetic justice again seemed inclined to work for
him in placing him just at the point in all Europe perhaps where the
confluence of races was thickest. The theory at any rate carried him on,
operating helpfully for the term of his anxious beginnings and gilding in a
manner--it was the way he characterised the case to his wife--the somewhat
stodgy gingerbread of their daily routine. They hadn't known many people
and their visiting-list was small--which made it again poetic justice that
they should be visited on such a scale. They dressed and were at home, they
were under arms and received, and except for the offer of refreshment--and
Gedge had his view that there would eventually be a _buffet_ farmed out to
a great firm--their hospitality would have made them princely if mere
hospitality ever did. Thus they were launched, and it was interesting; so
that from having been ready to drop, originally, with fatigue they emerged
as even-winded and strong in the legs as if they had had an Alpine holiday.
This experience, Gedge opined, also represented, as a gain, a like
seasoning of the spirit--by which he meant a certain command of
impenetrable patience.

The patience was needed for the particular feature of the ordeal that, by
the time the lively season was with them again, had disengaged itself as
the sharpest--the immense assumption of veracities and sanctities, of the
general soundness of the legend, with which every one arrived. He was well
provided certainly for meeting it, and he gave all he had, yet he had
sometimes the sense of a vague resentment on the part of his pilgrims at
his not ladling out their fare with a bigger spoon. An irritation had begun
to grumble in him during the comparatively idle months of winter when a
pilgrim would turn up singly. The pious individual, entertained for the
half-hour, had occasionally seemed to offer him the promise of beguilement
or the semblance of a personal relation; it came back again to the few
pleasant calls he had received in the course of a life almost void of
social amenity. Sometimes he liked the person, the face, the speech: an
educated man, a gentleman, not one of the herd; a graceful woman, vague,
accidental, unconscious of him, but making him wonder, while he hovered,
who she was. These chances represented for him light yearnings and faint
flutters; they acted indeed within him to a special, an extraordinary tune.
He would have liked to talk with such stray companions, to talk with them
_really_, to talk with them as he might have talked had he met them where
he couldn't meet them--at dinner, in the "world," on a visit at a
country-house. Then he could have said--and about the shrine and the idol
always--things he couldn't say now. The form in which his irritation first
came to him was that of his feeling obliged to say to them--to the single
visitor, even when sympathetic, quite as to the gaping group--the
particular things, a dreadful dozen or so, that they expected. If he had
thus arrived at characterising these things as dreadful the reason touched
the very point that, for a while turning everything over, he kept dodging,
not facing, trying to ignore. The point was that he was on his way to
become two quite different persons, the public and the private--as to which
it would somehow have to be managed that these persons should live
together. He was splitting into halves, unmistakably--he who, whatever else
he had been, had at least always been so entire and in his way so solid.
One of the halves, or perhaps even, since the split promised to be rather
unequal, one of the quarters, was the keeper, the showman, the priest of
the idol; the other piece was the poor unsuccessful honest man he had
always been.

There were moments when he recognised this primary character as he had
never done before; when he in fact quite shook in his shoes at the idea
that it perhaps had in reserve some supreme assertion of its identity. It
was honest, verily, just by reason of the possibility. It was poor and
unsuccessful because here it was just on the verge of quarrelling with its
bread and butter. Salvation would be of course--the salvation of the
showman--rigidly to _keep_ it on the verge; not to let it, in other words,
overpass by an inch. He might count on this, he said to himself, if there
weren't any public--if there weren't thousands of people demanding of him
what he was paid for. He saw the approach of the stage at which they would
affect him, the thousands of people--and perhaps even more the earnest
individual--as coming really to see if he were earning his wage. Wouldn't
he soon begin to fancy them in league with the Body, practically deputed by
it--given, no doubt, a kindled suspicion--to look in and report
observations? It was the way he broke down with the lonely pilgrim that led
to his first heart-searchings--broke down as to the courage required for
damping an uncritical faith. What they all most wanted was to feel that
everything was "just as it was"; only the shock of having to part with that
vision was greater than any individual could bear unsupported. The bad
moments were upstairs in the Birthroom, for here the forces pressing on the
very edge assumed a dire intensity. The mere expression of eye,
all-credulous, omnivorous and fairly moistening in the act, with which many
persons gazed about, might eventually make it difficult for him to remain
fairly civil. Often they came in pairs--sometimes one had come before---and
then they explained to each other. He in that case never corrected; he
listened, for the lesson of listening: after which he would remark to his
wife that there was no end to what he was learning. He saw that if he
should really ever break down it would be with her he would begin. He had
given her hints and digs enough, but she was so inflamed with appreciation
that she either didn't feel them or pretended not to understand.

This was the greater complication that, with the return of the spring and
the increase of the public, her services were more required. She took the
field with him from an early hour; she was present with the party above
while he kept an eye, and still more an ear, on the party below; and how
could he know, he asked himself, what she might say to them and what she
might suffer _Them_ to say--or in other words, poor wretches, to
believe--while removed from his control? Some day or other, and before too
long, he couldn't but think, he must have the matter out with her--the
matter, namely, of the _morality_ of their position. The morality of women
was special--he was getting lights on that. Isabel's conception of her
office was to cherish and enrich the legend. It was already, the legend,
very taking, but what was she there for but to make it more so? She
certainly wasn't there to chill any natural piety. If it was all in the
air--all in their "eye," as the vulgar might say--that He _had_ been born
in the Birthroom, where was the value of the sixpences they took? where the
equivalent they had engaged to supply? "Oh dear, yes--just about _here_";
and she must tap the place with her foot. "Altered? Oh dear, no--save in a
few trifling particulars; you see the place--and isn't that just the charm
of it?--quite as _He_ saw it. Very poor and homely, no doubt; but that's
just what's so wonderful." He didn't want to hear her, and yet he didn't
want to give her her head; he didn't want to make difficulties or to snatch
the bread from her mouth. But he must none the less give her a warning
before they had gone _too_ far. That was the way, one evening in June, he
put it to her; the affluence, with the finest weather, having lately been
of the largest and the crowd all day fairly gorged with the story. "We
mustn't, you know, go _too_ far."

The odd thing was that she had now ceased even to be conscious of what
troubled him--she was so launched in her own career. "Too far for what?"

"To save our immortal souls. We mustn't, love, tell too many lies."

She looked at him with dire reproach. "Ah now are you going to begin

"I never _have_ begun; I haven't wanted to worry you. But, you know, we
don't know anything about it." And then as she stared, flushing: "About His
having been born up there. About anything really. Not the least little
scrap that would weigh in any other connexion as evidence. So don't rub it
in so."

"Rub it in how?"

"That He _was_ born----" But at sight of her face he only sighed. "Oh dear,
oh dear!"

"Don't you think," she replied cuttingly, "that He was born anywhere?"

He hesitated--it was such an edifice to shake. "Well, we don't know.
There's very little _to_ know. He covered His tracks as no other human
being has ever done."

She was still in her public costume and hadn't taken off the gloves she
made a point of wearing as a part of that uniform; she remembered how the
rustling housekeeper in the Border castle, on whom she had begun by
modelling herself, had worn them. She seemed official and slightly distant.
"To cover His tracks He must have had to exist. Have we got to give
_that_ up?"

"No, I don't ask you to give it up _yet_. But there's very little to go

"And is that what I'm to tell Them in return for everything?"

Gedge waited--he walked about. The place was doubly still after the bustle of
the day, and the summer evening rested on it as a blessing, making it, in its
small state and ancientry, mellow and sweet. It was good to be there and it
would be good to stay. At the same time there was something incalculable in the
effect on one's nerves of the great gregarious density. This was an attitude
that had nothing to do with degrees and shades, the attitude of wanting all or
nothing. And you couldn't talk things over with it. You could only do that with
friends, and then but in cases where you were sure the friends wouldn't betray
you. "Couldn't you adopt," he replied at last, "a slightly more discreet method?
What we can say is that things have been _said_; that's all we have to do with.
'And is this really'--when they jam their umbrellas into the floor--'the very
_spot_ where He was born?' 'So it has, from a long time back, been described as
being.' Couldn't one meet Them, to be decent a little, in some such way as

She looked at him very hard. "Is that the way _you_ meet them?"

"No; I've kept on lying--without scruple, without shame."

"Then why do you haul me up?"

"Because it has seemed to me we might, like true companions, work it out a
little together."

This was not strong, he felt, as, pausing with his hands in his pockets, he
stood before her; and he knew it as weaker still after she had looked at
him a minute. "Morris Gedge, I propose to be _your_ true companion, and
I've come here to stay. That's all I've got to say." It was not, however,
for "You had better try yourself and see," she presently added. "Give the
place, give the story away, by so much as a look, and--well, I'd allow you
about nine days. Then you'd see."

He feigned, to gain time, an innocence. "They'd take it so ill?" And then
as she said nothing: "They'd turn and rend me? They'd tear me to pieces?"

But she wouldn't make a joke of it. "They wouldn't _have_ it, simply."

"No--They wouldn't. That's what I say. They won't."

"You had better," she went on, "begin with Grant-Jackson. But even that
isn't necessary. It would get to him, it would get to the Body, like

"I see," said poor Gedge. And indeed for the moment he did see, while his
companion followed up what she believed her advantage.

"Do you consider it's _all_ a fraud?"

"Well, I grant you there was somebody. But the details are naught. The
links are missing. The evidence--in particular about that room upstairs, in
itself our Casa Santa--is _nil_. It was so awfully long ago." Which he knew
again sounded weak.

"Of course it was awfully long ago--that's just the beauty and the
interest. Tell Them, _tell_ Them," she continued, "that the evidence is
_nil_, and I'll tell Them something else." She spoke it with such meaning
that his face seemed to show a question, to which she was on the spot of
replying, "I'll tell Them you're a----" She stopped, however, changing it.
"I'll tell Them exactly the opposite. And I'll find out what you say--it
won't take long--to do it. If we tell different stories _that_ possibly may
save us."

"I see what you mean. It would perhaps, as an oddity, have a success of
curiosity. It might become a draw. Still, They but want broad masses." And
he looked at her sadly. "You're no more than one of Them."

"If it's being no more than one of Them to love it," she answered, "then I
certainly am. And I'm not ashamed of my company."

"To love _what_?" said Morris Gedge.

"To love to think He was born there."

"You think too much. It's bad for you." He turned away with his chronic
moan. But it was without losing what she called after him.

"I decline to let the place down." And what was there indeed to say? They
_were_ there to keep it up.


He kept it up through the summer, but with the queerest consciousness, at times,
of the want of proportion between his secret rage and the spirit of those from
whom the friction came. He said to himself--so sore his sensibility had
grown--that They were gregariously ferocious at the very time he was seeing Them
as individually mild. He said to himself that They were mild only because _he_
was--he flattered himself that he was divinely so, considering what he might be;
and that he should, as his wife had warned him, soon enough have news of it were
he to deflect by a hair's breadth from the line traced for him. _That_ was the
collective fatuity--that it was capable of turning on the instant both to a
general and to a particular resentment. Since the least breath of discrimination
would get him the sack without mercy, it was absurd, he reflected, to speak of
his discomfort as light. He was gagged, he was goaded, as in omnivorous
companies he doubtless sometimes showed by a strange silent glare. They'd get
him the sack for that as well, if he didn't look out; therefore wasn't it in
effect ferocity when you mightn't even hold your tongue? They wouldn't let you
off with silence--They insisted on your committing yourself. It was the pound of
flesh--They _would_ have it; so under his coat he bled. But a wondrous peace, by
exception, dropped on him one afternoon at the end of August. The pressure had,
as usual, been high, but it had diminished with the fall of day, and the place
was empty before the hour for closing. Then it was that, within a few minutes of
this hour, there presented themselves a pair of pilgrims to whom in the ordinary
course he would have remarked that they were, to his regret, too late. He was to
wonder afterwards why the course had at sight of the visitors--a gentleman and a
lady, appealing and fairly young--shown for him as other than ordinary; the
consequence sprang doubtless from something rather fine and unnameable,
something for example in the tone of the young man or in the light of his eye,
after hearing the statement on the subject of the hour. "Yes, we know it's late;
but it's just, I'm afraid, _because_ of that. We've had rather a notion of
escaping the crowd--as I suppose you mostly have one now; and it was really on
the chance of finding you alone----!"

These things the young man said before being quite admitted, and they were
words any one might have spoken who hadn't taken the trouble to be punctual
or who desired, a little ingratiatingly, to force the door. Gedge even
guessed at the sense that might lurk in them, the hint of a special tip if
the point were stretched. There were no tips, he had often thanked his
stars, at the Birthplace; there was the charged fee and nothing more;
everything else was out of order, to the relief of a palm not formed by
nature as a scoop. Yet in spite of everything, in spite especially of the
almost audible chink of the gentleman's sovereigns, which might in another
case exactly have put him out, he presently found himself, in the
Birthroom, access to which he had gracefully enough granted, almost
treating the visit as personal and private. The reason--well, the reason
would have been, if anywhere, in something naturally persuasive on the part
of the couple; unless it had been rather again, in the way the young man,
once he was in the place, met the caretaker's expression of face, held it a
moment and seemed to wish to sound it. That they were Americans was
promptly clear, and Gedge could very nearly have told what kind; he had
arrived at the point of distinguishing kinds, though the difficulty might
have been with him now that the case before him was rare. He saw it
suddenly in the light of the golden midland evening which reached them
through low old windows, saw it with a rush of feeling, unexpected and
smothered, that made him a moment wish to keep it before him as a case of
inordinate happiness. It made him feel old shabby poor, but he watched it
no less intensely for its doing so. They were children of fortune, of the
greatest, as it might seem to Morris Gedge, and they were of course lately
married; the husband, smooth-faced and soft, but resolute and fine, several
years older than the wife, and the wife vaguely, delicately, irregularly,
but mercilessly pretty. Some how the world was theirs; they gave the person
who took the sixpences at the Birthplace such a sense of the high luxury of
freedom as he had never had. The thing was that the world was theirs not
simply because they had money--he had seen rich people enough--but because
they could in a supreme degree think and feel and say what they liked. They
had a nature and a culture, a tradition, a facility of some sort--and all
producing in them an effect of positive beauty--that gave a light to their
liberty and an ease to their tone. These things moreover suffered nothing
from the fact that they happened to be in mourning; this was probably worn
for some lately-deceased opulent father--if not some delicate mother who
would be sure to have been a part of the source of the beauty; and it
affected Gedge, in the gathered twilight and at his odd crisis, as the very
uniform of their distinction.

He couldn't quite have said afterwards by what steps the point had been
reached, but it had become at the end of five minutes a part of their
presence in the Birthroom, a part of the young man's look, a part of the
charm of the moment, and a part above all of a strange sense within him of
"Now or never!" that Gedge had suddenly, thrillingly, let himself go. He
hadn't been definitely conscious of drifting to it; he had been, for that,
too conscious merely of thinking how different, in all their range, were
such a united couple from another united couple known to him. They were
everything he and his wife weren't; this was more than anything else the
first lesson of their talk. Thousands of couples of whom the same was true
certainly had passed before him, but none of whom it was true with just
that engaging intensity. And just _because_ of their transcendent freedom;
that was what, at the end of five minutes, he saw it all come back to. The
husband, who had been there at some earlier time, had his impression, which
he wished now to make his wife share. But he already, Gedge could see,
hadn't concealed it from her. A pleasant irony in fine our friend seemed to
taste in the air--he who hadn't yet felt free to taste his own.

"I think you weren't here four years ago"--that was what the young man had
almost begun by remarking. Gedge liked his remembering it, liked his
frankly speaking to him; all the more that he had offered, as it were, no
opening. He had let them look about below and then had taken them up, but
without words, without the usual showman's song, of which he would have
been afraid. The visitors didn't ask for it; the young man had taken the
matter out of his hands by himself dropping for the benefit of the young
woman a few detached remarks. What Gedge oddly felt was that these remarks
were not inconsiderate of him; he had heard others, both of the priggish
order and the crude, that might have been called so. And as the young man
hadn't been aided to this cognition of him as new, it already began to make
for them a certain common ground. The ground became immense when the
visitor presently added with a smile: "There was a good lady, I recollect,
who had a great deal to say."

It was the gentleman's smile that had done it; the irony _was_ there. "Ah
there has been a great deal said." And Gedge's look at his interlocutor
doubtless showed his sense of being sounded. It was extraordinary of course
that a perfect stranger should have guessed the travail of his spirit,
should have caught the gleam of his inner commentary. That probably leaked
in spite of him out of his poor old eyes. "Much of it, in such places as
this," he heard himself adding, "is of course said very irresponsibly."
_Such places as this!_--he winced at the words as soon as he had uttered

There was no wincing, however, on the part of his pleasant companions.
"Exactly so; the whole thing becomes a sort of stiff smug convention--like
a dressed-up sacred doll in a Spanish church--which you're a monster if you

"A monster," Gedge assented, meeting his eyes.

The young man smiled, but he thought looking at him a little harder. "A

"A blasphemer."

It seemed to do his visitor good--he certainly _was_ looking at him harder.
Detached as he was he was interested--he was at least amused. "Then you
don't claim or at any rate don't insist----? I mean you personally."

He had an identity for him, Gedge felt, that he couldn't have had for a
Briton, and the impulse was quick in our friend to testify to this
perception. "I don't insist to _you_."

The young man laughed. "It really--I assure you if I may--wouldn't do any
good. I'm too awfully interested."

"Do you mean," his wife lightly inquired, "in--a--pulling it down? That's
rather in what you've said to me."

"Has he said to you," Gedge intervened, though quaking a little, "that he
would like to pull it down?"

She met, in her free sweetness, this appeal with such a charm! "Oh perhaps
not quite the _house_----!"

"Good. You see we live on it--I mean _we_ people."

The husband had laughed, but had now so completely ceased to look about him
that there seemed nothing left for him but to talk avowedly with the
caretaker. "I'm interested," he explained, "in what I think _the_
interesting thing--or at all events the eternally tormenting one. The fact
of the abysmally little that, in proportion, we know."

"In proportion to what?" his companion asked.

"Well, to what there must have been--to what in fact there _is_--to wonder
about. That's the interest; it's immense. He escapes us like a thief at
night, carrying off--well, carrying off everything. And people pretend to
catch Him like a flown canary, over whom you can close your hand, and put
Him back in the cage. He won't _go_ back; he won't _come_ back. He's
not"--the young man laughed--"such a fool! It makes Him the happiest of all
great men."

He had begun by speaking to his wife, but had ended, with his friendly, his
easy, his indescribable competence, for Gedge--poor Gedge who quite held
his breath and who felt, in the most unexpected way, that he had somehow
never been in such good society. The young wife, who for herself meanwhile
had continued to look about, sighed out, smiled out--Gedge couldn't have
told which--her little answer to these remarks. "It's rather a pity, you
know, that He _isn't_ here. I mean as Goethe's at Weimar. For Goethe _is_
at Weimar."

"Yes, my dear; that's Goethe's bad luck. There he sticks. _This_ man isn't
anywhere. I defy you to catch him."

"Why not say, beautifully," the young woman laughed, "that, like the wind,
He's everywhere?"

It wasn't of course the tone of discussion, it was the tone of pleasantry,
though of better pleasantry, Gedge seemed to feel, and more within his own
appreciation, than he had ever listened to; and this was precisely why the
young man could go on without the effect of irritation, answering his wife
but still with eyes for their companion. "I'll be hanged if He's _here_!"

It was almost as if he were taken--that is, struck and rather held--by
their companion's unruffled state, which they hadn't meant to ruffle, but
which suddenly presented its interest, perhaps even projected its light.
The gentleman didn't know, Gedge was afterwards to say to himself, how that
hypocrite was inwardly all of a tremble, how it seemed to him his fate was
being literally pulled down on his head. He was trembling for the moment
certainly too much to speak; abject he might be, but he didn't want his
voice to have the absurdity of a quaver. And the young woman--charming
creature!--still had another word. It was for the guardian of the spot, and
she made it in her way delightful. They had remained in the Holy of Holies,
where she had been looking for a minute, with a ruefulness just marked
enough to be pretty, at the queer old floor. "Then if you say it _wasn't_
in this room He was born--well, what's the use?"

"What's the use of what?" her husband asked. "The use, you mean, of our
coming here? Why the place is charming in itself. And it's also
interesting," he added to Gedge, "to know how you get on."

Gedge looked at him a moment in silence, but answering the young woman
first. If poor Isabel, he was thinking, could only have been like
that!--not as to youth, beauty, arrangement of hair or picturesque grace of
hat--these things he didn't mind; but as to sympathy, facility, light
perceptive, and yet not cheap, detachment! "I don't say it wasn't--but I
don't say it _was_."

"Ah but doesn't that," she returned, "come very much to the same thing? And
don't They want also to see where He had His dinner and where He had His

"They want everything," said Morris Gedge. "They want to see where He hung
up His hat and where He kept His boots and where His mother boiled her

"But if you don't show them----?"

"They show _me_. It's in all their little books."

"You mean," the husband asked, "that you've only to hold your tongue?"

"I try to," said Gedge.

"Well," his visitor smiled, "I see you _can_."

Gedge hesitated. "I can't."

"Oh well," said his friend, "what does it matter?"

"I do speak," he continued. "I can't sometimes not."

"Then how do you get on?"

Gedge looked at him more abjectly, to his own sense, than ever at any
one--even at Isabel when she frightened him. "I don't get on. I speak," he
said--"since I've spoken to _you_."

"Oh _we_ shan't hurt you!" the young man reassuringly laughed.

The twilight meanwhile had sensibly thickened, the end of the visit was
indicated. They turned together out of the upper room and came down the
narrow stair. The words just exchanged might have been felt as producing an
awkwardness which the young woman gracefully felt the impulse to dissipate.
"You must rather wonder why we've come." And it was the first note for
Gedge of a further awkwardness--as if he had definitely heard it make the
husband's hand, in a full pocket, begin to fumble.

It was even a little awkwardly that the husband still held off. "Oh we like
it as it is. There's always _something_." With which they had approached
the door of egress.

"What is there, please?" asked Morris Gedge, not yet opening the door,
since he would fain have kept the pair on, and conscious only for a moment
after he had spoken that his question was just having for the young man too
dreadfully wrong a sound. This personage wondered yet feared, and had
evidently for some minutes been putting himself a question; so that, with
his preoccupation, the caretaker's words had represented to him inevitably:
"What is there, please, for _me_?" Gedge already knew with it moreover
that he wasn't stopping him in time. He had uttered that challenge to show
he himself wasn't afraid, and he must have had in consequence, he was
subsequently to reflect, a lamentable air of waiting.

The visitor's hand came out. "I hope I may take the liberty----?" What
afterwards happened our friend scarcely knew, for it fell into a slight
confusion, the confusion of a queer gleam of gold--a sovereign fairly
thrust at him; of a quick, almost violent motion on his own part, which, to
make the matter worse, might well have sent the money roiling on the floor;
and then of marked blushes all round and a sensible embarrassment;
producing indeed in turn rather oddly and ever so quickly an increase of
communion. It was as if the young man had offered him money to make up to
him for having, as it were, led him on, and then, perceiving the mistake,
but liking him the better for his refusal, had wanted to obliterate this
aggravation of his original wrong. He had done so, presently, while Gedge
got the door open, by saying the best thing, he could, and by saying it
frankly and gaily. "Luckily it doesn't at all affect the _work_!"

The small town-street, quiet and empty in the summer eventide, stretched to
right and left, with a gabled and timbered house or two, and fairly seemed
to have cleared itself to congruity with the historic void over which our
friends, lingering an instant to converse, looked at each other. The young
wife, rather, looked about a moment at all there wasn't to be seen, and
then, before Gedge had found a reply to her husband's remark, uttered,
evidently in the interest of conciliation, a little question of her own
that she tried to make earnest. "It's our unfortunate ignorance, you mean,
that doesn't?"

"Unfortunate or fortunate. I like it so," said the husband. "'The play's
the thing.' Let the author alone."

Gedge, with his key on his forefinger, leaned against the door-post, took
in the stupid little street and was sorry to see them go--they seemed so to
abandon him. "That's just what They won't do--nor let _me_ do. It's all I
want--to let the author alone. Practically"--he felt himself getting the
last of his chance--"there is no author; that is for us to deal with. There
are all the immortal people--_in_ the work; but there's nobody else."

"Yes," said the young man--"that's what it comes to. There should really,
to clear the matter up, be no such Person."

"As you say," Gedge returned, "it's what it comes to. There _is_ no such

The evening air listened, in the warm thick midland stillness, while the
wife's little cry rang out. "But _wasn't_ there----?"

"There was somebody," said Gedge against the door-post. "But They've killed
Him. And, dead as He is, They keep it up, They do it over again, They kill
Him every day."

He was aware of saying this so grimly--more than he wished--that his
companions exchanged a glance and even perhaps looked as if they felt him
extravagant. That was really the way Isabel had warned him all the others
would be looking if he should talk to Them as he talked to _her_. He liked,
however, for that matter, to hear how he should sound when pronounced
incapable through deterioration of the brain. "Then if there's no author,
if there's nothing to be said but that there isn't anybody," the young
woman smilingly asked, "why in the world should there be a house?"

"There shouldn't," said Morris Gedge.

Decidedly, yes, he affected the young man. "Oh, I don't say, mind you, that
you should pull it down!"

"Then where would you _go_?" their companion sweetly inquired.

"That's what my wife asks," Gedge returned.

"Then keep it up, keep it up!" And the husband held out his hand.

"That's what my wife says," Gedge went on as he shook it.

The young woman, charming creature, emulated the other visitor; she offered
their remarkable friend her handshake. "Then mind your wife."

The poor man faced her gravely. "I would if she were such a wife as you!"


It had made for him, all the same, an immense difference; it had given him
an extraordinary lift, so that a certain sweet aftertaste of his freedom
might a couple of months later have been suspected of aiding to produce for
him another and really a more considerable adventure. It was an absurd way
to reason, but he had been, to his imagination, for twenty minutes in good
society--that being the term that best described for him the company of
people to whom he hadn't to talk, as he phrased it, rot. It was his title
to good society that he had, in his doubtless awkward way, affirmed; and
the difficulty was just that, having affirmed it, he couldn't take back the
affirmation. Few things had happened to him in life, that is few that were
agreeable, but at least _this_ had, and he wasn't so constructed that he
could go on as if it hadn't. It was going on as if it had, however, that
landed him, alas! in the situation unmistakably marked by a visit from
Grant-Jackson late one afternoon toward the end of October. This had been
the hour of the call of the young Americans. Every day that hour had come
round something of the deep throb of it, the successful secret, woke up;
but the two occasions were, of a truth, related only by being so intensely
opposed. The secret had been successful in that he had said nothing of it
to Isabel, who, occupied in their own quarter while the incident lasted,
had neither heard the visitors arrive nor seen them depart. It was on the
other hand scarcely successful in guarding itself from indirect betrayals.
There were two persons in the world at least who felt as he did; they were
persons also who had treated him, benignly, as feeling after _their_ style;
who had been ready in fact to overflow in gifts as a sign of it, and though
they were now off in space they were still with him sufficiently in spirit
to make him play, as it were, with the sense of their sympathy. This in
turn made him, as he was perfectly aware, more than a shade or two
reckless, so that, in his reaction from that gluttony of the public for
false facts which had from the first tormented him, he fell into the habit
of sailing, as he would have said, too near the wind, or in other
words--all in presence of the people--of washing his hands of the legend.
He had crossed the line--he knew it; he had struck wild--They drove him to
it; he had substituted, by a succession of uncontrollable profanities, an
attitude that couldn't be understood for an attitude that but too evidently
_had_ been.

This was of course the franker line, only he hadn't taken it, alas! for
frankness--hadn't in the least really adopted it at all, but had been
simply himself caught up and disposed of by it, hurled by his fate against
the bedizened walls of the temple, quite in the way of a priest possessed
to excess of the god, or, more vulgarly, that of a blind bull in a
china-shop--an animal to which he often compared himself. He had let
himself fatally go, in fine, just for irritation, for rage, having, in his
predicament, nothing whatever to do with frankness--a luxury reserved for
quite other situations. It had always been his view that one lived to
learn; he had learned something every hour of his life, though people
mostly never knew what, in spite of its having generally been--hadn't
it?--at somebody's expense. What he was at present continually learning was
the sense of a form of words heretofore so vain--the famous "false
position" that had so often helped out a phrase. One used names in that way
without knowing what they were worth; then of a sudden, one fine day, their
meaning grew bitter in the mouth. This was a truth with the relish of which
his fireside hours were occupied, and he was aware of how much it exposed a
man to look so perpetually as if something had disagreed with him. The look
to be worn at the Birthplace was properly the beatific, and when once it
had fairly been missed by those who took it for granted, who indeed paid
sixpence for it--like the table-wine in provincial France it was
_compris_--one would be sure to have news of the remark.

News accordingly was what Gedge had been expecting--and what he knew, above
all, had been expected by his wife, who had a way of sitting at present as
with an ear for a certain knock. She didn't watch him, didn't follow him
about the house, at the public hours, to spy upon his treachery; and that
could touch him even though her averted eyes went through him more than her
fixed. Her mistrust was so perfectly expressed by her manner of showing she
trusted that he never felt so nervous, never tried so to keep straight, as
when she most let him alone. When the crowd thickened and they had of
necessity to receive together he tried himself to get off by allowing her
as much as possible the word. When people appealed to him he turned to
her--and with more of ceremony than their relation warranted: he couldn't
help _this_ either, if it seemed ironic--as to the person most concerned or
most competent. He flattered himself at these moments that no one would
have guessed her being his wife; especially as to do her justice, she met
his manner with a wonderful grim bravado--grim, so to say, for himself,
grim by its outrageous cheerfulness for the simple-minded. The lore she
_did_ produce for them, the associations of the sacred spot she developed,
multiplied, embroidered; the things in short she said and the stupendous
way she said them! She wasn't a bit ashamed, since why need virtue be ever
ashamed? It was virtue, for it put bread into his mouth--he meanwhile on
his side taking it out of hers. He had seen Grant-Jackson on the October
day in the Birthplace itself--the right setting of course for such an
interview; and what had occurred was that, precisely, when the scene had
ended and he had come back to their own sitting-room, the question she put
to him for information was: "Have you settled it that I'm to starve?"

She had for a long time said nothing to him so straight--which was but a proof
of her real anxiety; the straightness of Grant-Jackson's visit, following on the
very slight sinuosity of a note shortly before received from him, made tension
show for what it was. By this time, really, however, his decision had been
taken; the minutes elapsing between his reappearance at the domestic fireside
and his having, from the other threshold, seen Grant-Jackson's broad well-fitted
back, the back of a banker and a patriot, move away, had, though few, presented
themselves to him as supremely critical. They formed, as it were, the hinge of
his door, that door actually ajar so as to show him a possible fate beyond it,
but which, with his hand, in a spasm, thus tightening on the knob, he might
either open wide or close partly or altogether. He stood at autumn dusk in the
little museum that constituted the vestibule of the temple, and there, as with a
concentrated push at the crank of a windlass, he brought himself round. The
portraits on the walls seemed vaguely to watch for it; it was in their august
presence--kept dimly august for the moment by Grant-Jackson's impressive check
of his application of a match to the vulgar gas--that the great man had uttered,
as if it said all, his "You know, my dear fellow, really----!" He had managed it
with the special tact of a fat man, always, when there _was_ any, very fine;
he had got the most out of the time, the place, the setting, all the little
massed admonitions and symbols; confronted there with his victim on the spot
that he took occasion to name afresh as, to _his_ piety and patriotism, the most
sacred on earth, he had given it to be understood that in the first place he was
lost in amazement and that in the second he expected a single warning now to
suffice. Not to insist too much moreover on the question of gratitude, he would
let his remonstrance rest, if need be, solely on the question of taste. _As_ a
matter of taste alone----! But he was surely not to be obliged to follow that
up. Poor Gedge indeed would have been sorry to oblige him, for he saw it was
exactly to the atrocious taste of unthankfulness the allusion was made. When he
said he wouldn't dwell on what the fortunate occupant of the post owed him for
the stout battle originally fought on his behalf, he simply meant he _would_.
That was his tact--which, with everything else that has been mentioned, in the
scene, to help, really had the ground to itself. The day _had_ been when Gedge
couldn't have thanked him enough--though he had thanked him, he considered,
almost fulsomely--and nothing, nothing that he could coherently or reputably
name, had happened since then. From the moment he was pulled up, in short, he
had no case, and if he exhibited, instead of one, only hot tears in his eyes,
the mystic gloom of the temple either prevented his friend from seeing them or
rendered it possible that they stood for remorse. He had dried them, with the
pads formed by the base of his bony thumbs, before he went in to Isabel. This
was the more fortunate as, in spite of her inquiry, prompt and pointed, he but
moved about the room looking at her hard. Then he stood before the fire a little
with his hands behind him and his coat-tails divided, quite as the person in
permanent possession. It was an indication his wife appeared to take in; but she
put nevertheless presently another question. "You object to telling me what he

"He said 'You know, my dear fellow, really----!'"

"And is that all?"

"Practically. Except that I'm a thankless beast."

"Well!" she responded, not with dissent.

"You mean that I _am_?"

"Are those the words he used?" she asked with a scruple.

Gedge continued to think. "The words he used were that I give away the Show
and that, from several sources, it has come round to Them."

"As of course a baby would have known!" And then as her husband said
nothing: "Were _those_ the words he used?"

"Absolutely. He couldn't have used better ones."

"Did he call it," Mrs. Gedge inquired, "the 'Show'?"

"Of course he did. The Biggest on Earth."

She winced, looking at him hard--she wondered, but only for a moment.
"Well, it _is_."

"Then it's something," Gedge went on, "to have given _that_ away. But," he
added, "I've taken it back."

"You mean you've been convinced?"

"I mean I've been scared."

"At last, at last!" she gratefully breathed.

"Oh it was easily done. It was only two words. But here I am."

Her face was now less hard for him. "And what two words?"

"'You know, Mr. Gedge, that it simply won't do.' That was all. But it was
the way such a man says them."

"I'm glad then," Mrs. Gedge frankly averred, "that he _is_ such a man. How
did you ever think it _could_ do?"

"Well, it was my critical sense. I didn't ever know I had one--till They
came and (by putting me here) waked it up in me. Then I had somehow, don't
you see? to live with it; and I seemed to feel that, with one thing and
another, giving it time and in the long run, it might, it _ought_ to, come
out on top of the heap. Now that's where, he says, it simply won't 'do.' So
I must put it--I _have_ put it--at the bottom."

"A very good place then for a critical sense!" And Isabel, more placidly
now, folded her work. "_If_, that is, you can only keep it there. If it
doesn't struggle up again."

"It can't struggle." He was still before the fire, looking round at the
warm low room, peaceful in the lamplight, with the hum of the kettle for
the ear, with the curtain drawn over the leaded casement, a short moreen
curtain artfully chosen by Isabel for the effect of the olden time, its
virtue of letting the light within show ruddy to the street. "It's dead,"
he went on; "I killed it just now."

He really spoke so that she wondered. "Just now?"

"There in the other place--I strangled it, poor thing, in the dark. If
you'll go out and see, there must be blood. Which, indeed," he added, "on
an altar of sacrifice, is all right. But the place is for ever spattered."

"I don't want to go out and see." She locked her hands over the needlework
folded on her knee, and he knew, with her eyes on him, that a look he had
seen before was in her face. "You're off your head, you know, my dear, in a
way." Then, however, more cheeringly: "It's a good job it hasn't been too

"Too late to get it under?"

"Too late for Them to give you the second chance that I thank God you

"Yes, if it _had_ been----!" And he looked away as through the ruddy curtain
and into the chill street. Then he faced her again. "I've scarcely got over
my fright yet. I mean," he went on, "for you."

"And I mean for _you_. Suppose what you had come to announce to me now were
that we had _got_ the sack. How should I enjoy, do you think, seeing you turn
out? Yes, out _there_!" she added as his eyes again moved from their little
warm circle to the night of early winter on the other side of the pane, to
the rare quick footsteps, to the closed doors, to the curtains drawn like
their own, behind which the small flat town, intrinsically dull, was
sitting down to supper.

He stiffened himself as he warmed his back; he held up his head, shaking
himself a little as if to shake the stoop out of his shoulders, but he had
to allow she was right. "What would have become of us?"

"What indeed? We should have begged our bread--or I should be taking in

He was silent a little. "I'm too old. I should have begun sooner."

"Oh God forbid!" she cried.

"The pinch," he pursued, "is that I can do nothing else."

"Nothing whatever!" she agreed with elation.

"Whereas here--if I cultivate it--I perhaps _can_ still lie. But I must
cultivate it."

"Oh you old dear!" And she got up to kiss him.

"I'll do my best," he said.


"Do you remember us?" the gentleman asked and smiled--with the lady beside
him smiling too; speaking so much less as an earnest pilgrim or as a
tiresome tourist than as an old acquaintance. It was history repeating
itself as Gedge had somehow never expected, with almost everything the same
except that the evening was now a mild April-end, except that the visitors
had put off mourning and showed all their bravery--besides showing, as he
doubtless did himself, though so differently, for a little older; except,
above all, that--oh seeing them again suddenly affected him not a bit as
the thing he'd have supposed it. "We're in England again and we were near;
I've a brother at Oxford with whom we've been spending a day, so that we
thought we'd come over." This the young man pleasantly said while our
friend took in the queer fact that he must himself seem to them rather
coldly to gape. They had come in the same way at the quiet close; another
August had passed, and this was the second spring; the Birthplace, given
the hour, was about to suspend operations till the morrow; the last
lingerer had gone and the fancy of the visitors was once more for a look
round by themselves. This represented surely no greater presumption than
the terms on which they had last parted with him seemed to warrant; so that
if he did inconsequently stare it was just in fact because he was so
supremely far from having forgotten them. But the sight of the pair luckily
had a double effect, and the first precipitated the second--the second
being really his sudden vision that everything perhaps depended for him on
his recognising no complication. He must go straight on, since it was what
had for more than a year now so handsomely answered; he must brazen it out
consistently, since that only was what his dignity was at last reduced to.
He mustn't be afraid in one way any more than he had been in another;
besides which it came over him to the point of his flushing for it that
their visit, in its essence, must have been for himself. It was good
society again, and _they_ were the same. It wasn't for him therefore to
behave as if he couldn't meet them.

These deep vibrations, on Gedge's part, were as quick as they were deep;
they came in fact all at once, so that his response, his declaration that
it was all right--"Oh _rather_; the hour doesn't matter for _you_!"--had
hung fire but an instant; and when they were well across the threshold and
the door closed behind them, housed in the twilight of the temple, where,
as before, the votive offerings glimmered on the walls, he drew the long
breath of one who might by a self-betrayal have done something too
dreadful. For what had brought them back was indubitably not the glamour of
the shrine itself--since he had had a glimpse of their analysis of that
quantity; but their critical (not to say their sentimental) interest in the
queer case of the priest. Their call was the tribute of curiosity, of
sympathy, of a compassion really, as such things went, exquisite--a tribute
_to_ that queerness which entitled them to the frankest welcome. They had
wanted, for the generous wonder of it, to judge how he was getting on, how
such a man in such a place _could_; and they had doubtless more than
half-expected to see the door opened by somebody who had succeeded him.
Well, somebody _had_--only with a strange equivocation; as they would have,
poor things, to make out themselves, an embarrassment for which he pitied
them. Nothing could have been more odd, but verily it was this troubled
vision of their possible bewilderment, and this compunctious view of such a
return for their amenity, that practically determined in him his tone. The
lapse of the months had but made their name familiar to him; they had on
the other occasion inscribed it, among the thousand names, in the current
public register, and he had since then, for reasons of his own, reasons of
feeling, again and again turned back to it. It was nothing in itself; it
told him nothing--"Mr. and Mrs. B. D. Hayes, New York"--one of those
American labels that were just like every other American label and that
were precisely the most remarkable thing about people reduced to achieving
an identity in such other ways. They could be Mr. and Mrs. B. D. Hayes and
yet could be, with all presumptions missing--well, what these callers were.
It had quickly enough indeed cleared the situation a little further that
his friends had absolutely, the other time, as it came back to him, warned
him of his original danger, their anxiety about which had been the last
note sounded among them. What he was afraid of, with this reminiscence, was
that, finding him still safe, they would, the next thing, definitely
congratulate him and perhaps even, no less candidly, ask him how he had
managed. It was with the sense of nipping some such inquiry in the bud
that, losing no time and holding himself with a firm grip, he began on the
spot, downstairs, to make plain to them how he had managed. He routed the
possibility of the question in short by the assurance of his answer. "Yes,
yes, I'm still here; I suppose it _is_ in a manner to one's profit that one
does, such as it is, one's best." He did his best on the present occasion,
did it with the gravest face he had ever worn and a soft serenity that was
like a large damp sponge passed over their previous meeting--over
everything in it, that is, but the fact of its pleasantness.

"We stand here, you see, in the old living-room, happily still to be
reconstructed in the mind's eye, in spite of the havoc of time, which we
have fortunately of late years been able to arrest. It was of course rude
and humble, but it must have been snug and quaint, and we have at least the
pleasure of knowing that the tradition in respect to the features that do
remain is delightfully uninterrupted. Across that threshold He habitually
passed; through those low windows, in childhood, He peered out into the
world that He was to make so much happier by the gift to it of His genius;
over the boards of this floor--that is over _some_ of them, for we mustn't
be carried away!--his little feet often pattered; and the beams of this
ceiling (we must really in some places take care of _our_ heads!) he
endeavoured, in boyish strife, to jump up and touch. It's not often that in
the early home of genius and renown the whole tenor of existence is laid so
bare, not often that we are able to retrace, from point to point and from
step to step, its connexion with objects, with influences--to build it
round again with the little solid facts out of which it sprang. This
therefore, I need scarcely remind you, is what makes the small space
between these walls--so modest to measurement, so insignificant of
aspect--unique on all the earth. _There's nothing like it_," Morris Gedge
went on, insisting as solemnly and softly, for his bewildered hearers, as
over a pulpit-edge; "there's nothing at all like it anywhere in the world.
There's nothing, only reflect, for the combination of greatness and, as we
venture to say, of intimacy. You may find elsewhere perhaps absolutely
fewer changes, but where shall you find a _Presence_ equally diffused,
uncontested and undisturbed? Where in particular shall you find, on the
part of the abiding spirit, an equally towering eminence? You may find
elsewhere eminence of a considerable order, but where shall you find _with_
it, don't you see, changes after all so few and the contemporary element
caught so, as it were, in the very fact?" His visitors, at first confounded
but gradually spellbound, were still gaping with the universal
gape--wondering, he judged, into what strange pleasantry he had been
suddenly moved to explode, and yet beginning to see in him an intention
beyond a joke, so that they started, at this point, they almost jumped,
when, by as rapid a transition, he made, toward the old fireplace, a dash
that seemed to illustrate precisely the act of eager catching. "It is in
this old chimney-corner, the quaint inglenook of our ancestors--just there
in the far angle, where His little stool was placed, and where, I daresay,
if we could look close enough, we should find the hearth stone scraped with
His little feet--that we see the inconceivable child gazing into the blaze
of the old oaken logs and making out there pictures and stories, see Him
conning, with curly bent head, His well-worn hornbook, or poring over some
scrap of an ancient ballad, some page of some such rudely-bound volume of
chronicles as lay, we may be sure, in His father's window-seat."

It was, he even himself felt at this moment, wonderfully done; no auditors,
for all his thousands, had ever yet so inspired him. The odd slightly
alarmed shyness in the two faces, as if in a drawing-room, in their "good
society" exactly, some act incongruous, something grazing the indecent, had
abruptly been perpetrated, the painful reality of which stayed itself
before coming home--the visible effect on his friends in fine wound him up
as to the sense that _they_ were worth the trick. It came of itself now--he
had got it so by heart; but perhaps really it had never come so well, with
the staleness so disguised, the interest so renewed and the clerical
unction demanded by the priestly character so successfully distilled. Mr.
Hayes of New York had more than once looked at his wife, and Mrs. Hayes of
New York had more than once looked at her husband--only, up to now, with a
stolen glance, with eyes it hadn't been easy to detach from the remarkable
countenance by the aid of which their entertainer held them. At present,
however, after an exchange less furtive, they ventured on a sign that they
hadn't been appealed to in vain. "Charming, charming, Mr. Gedge!" Mr. Hayes
broke out. "We feel that we've caught you in the mood."

His wife hastened to assent--it eased the tension. "It _would_ be quite the
way; except," she smiled, "that you'd be too dangerous. You've really a

Gedge looked at her hard, but yielding no inch, even though she touched him
there at a point of consciousness that quivered. This was the prodigy for
him, and had been, the year through--that he did it all, he found, easily,
did it better than he had done anything else in life; with so high and
broad an effect, in truth, an inspiration so rich and free, that his poor
wife now, literally, had been moved more than once to fresh fear. She had
had her bad moments, he knew, after taking the measure of his new
direction--moments of readjusted suspicion in which she wondered if he
hadn't simply adopted another, a different perversity. There would be more
than one fashion of giving away the Show, and wasn't _this_ perhaps a
question of giving it away by excess? He could dish them by too much
romance as well as by too little; she hadn't hitherto fairly grasped that
there might _be_ too much. It was a way like another, at any rate, of
reducing the place to the absurd; which reduction, if he didn't look out,
would reduce _them_ again to the prospect of the streets, and this time
surely without appeal. It all depended indeed--he knew she knew that--on
how much Grant-Jackson and the others, how much the Body, in a word, would
take. He knew she knew what he himself held it would take--that he
considered no limit could be imputed to the quantity. They simply wanted it
piled up, and so did every one else; wherefore if no one reported him as
before why were They to be uneasy? It was in consequence of idiots tempted
to reason that he had been dealt with before; but as there was now no form
of idiocy that he didn't systematically flatter, goading it on really to
its _own_ private doom, who was ever to pull the string of the guillotine?
The axe was in the air--yes; but in a world gorged to satiety there were no
revolutions. And it had been vain for Isabel to ask if the other
thunder-growl also hadn't come out of the blue. There was actually proof
positive that the winds were now at rest. How could they be more so?--he
appealed to the receipts. These were golden days--the Show had never so
flourished. So he had argued, so he was arguing still--and, it had to be
owned, with every appearance in his favour. Yet if he inwardly winced at
the tribute to his plausibility rendered by his flushed friends, this was
because he felt in it the real ground of his optimism. The charming woman
before him acknowledged his "genius" as he himself had had to do. He had
been surprised at his facility until he had grown used to it. Whether or no
he had, as a fresh menace to his future, found a new perversity, he had
found a vocation much older, evidently, than he had at first been prepared
to recognise. He had done himself injustice. He liked to be brave because
it came so easy; he could measure it off by the yard. It was in the
Birthroom, above all, that he continued to do this, having ushered up his
companions without, as he was still more elated to feel, the turn of a
hair. She might take it as she liked, but he had had the lucidity--all,
that is, for his own safety--to meet without the grace of an answer the
homage of her beautiful smile. She took it apparently, and her husband took
it, but as a part of his odd humour, and they followed him aloft with faces
now a little more responsive to the manner in which on _that_ spot he would
naturally come out. He came out, according to the word of his assured
private receipt, "strong." He missed a little, in truth, the usual
round-eyed question from them--the inveterate artless cue with which, from
moment to moment, clustered troops had for a year obliged him. Mr. and Mrs.
Hayes were from New York, but it was a little like singing, as he had heard
one of his Americans once say about something, to a Boston audience. He did
none the less what he could, and it was ever his practice to stop still at
a certain spot in the room and, after having secured attention by look and
gesture, suddenly shoot off: "Here!"

They always understood, the good people--he could fairly love them now for it;
they always said breathlessly and unanimously "There?" and stared down at the
designated point quite as if some trace of the grand event were still to be made
out. This movement produced he again looked round. "Consider it well: _the_ spot
of earth----!" "Oh but it isn't _earth_!" the boldest spirit--there was always a
boldest--would generally pipe out. Then the guardian of the Birthplace would be
truly superior--as if the unfortunate had figured the Immortal coming up, like a
potato, through the soil. "I'm not suggesting that He was born on the bare
ground. He was born _here_!"--with an uncompromising dig of his heel. "There
ought to be a brass, with an inscription, let in." "Into the floor?"--it always
came. "Birth and burial: seedtime, summer, autumn!"--that always, with its
special right cadence, thanks to his unfailing spring, came too. "Why not as
well as into the pavement of the church?--you've _seen_ our grand old church?"
The former of which questions nobody ever answered--abounding, on the other
hand, to make up, in relation to the latter. Mr. and Mrs. Hayes even were at
first left dumb by it--not indeed, to do them justice, having uttered the word
that called for it. They had uttered no word while he kept the game up, and
(though that made it a little more difficult) he could yet stand triumphant
before them after he had finished with his flourish. Only then it was that Mr.
Hayes of New York broke silence.

"Well, if we wanted to see I think I may say we're quite satisfied. As my
wife says, it _would_ seem your line." He spoke now, visibly, with more
ease, as if a light had come: though he made no joke of it, for a reason
that presently appeared. They were coming down the little stair, and it was
on the descent that his companion added her word.

"Do you know what we half _did_ think----?" And then to her husband: "Is it
dreadful to tell him?" They were in the room below, and the young woman,
also relieved, expressed the feeling with gaiety. She smiled as before at
Morris Gedge, treating him as a person with whom relations were possible,
yet remaining just uncertain enough to invoke Mr. Hayes's opinion. "We
_have_ awfully wanted--from what we had heard." But she met her husband's
graver face; he was not quite out of the wood. At this she was slightly
flurried--but she cut it short. "You must know--don't you?--that, with the
crowds who listen to you, we'd have heard."

He looked from one to the other, and once more again, with force, something
came over him. They had kept him in mind, they were neither ashamed nor
afraid to show it, and it was positively an interest on the part of this
charming creature and this keen cautious gentleman, an interest resisting
oblivion and surviving separation, that had governed their return. Their
other visit had been the brightest thing that had ever happened to him, but
this was the gravest; so that at the end of a minute something broke in him
and his mask dropped of itself. He chucked, as he would have said,
consistency; which, in its extinction, left the tears in his eyes. His
smile was therefore queer. "Heard how I'm going it?"

The young man, though still looking at him hard, felt sure, with this, of
his own ground. "Of course you're tremendously talked about. You've gone
round the world."

"You've heard of me in America?"

"Why almost of nothing else!"

"That was what made us feel----!" Mrs. Hayes contributed.

"That you must see for yourselves?" Again he compared, poor Gedge, their
faces. "Do you mean I excite--a--scandal?"

"Dear no! Admiration. You renew so," the young man observed, "the

"Ah there it is!" said Gedge with eyes of adventure that seemed to rest
beyond the Atlantic.

"They listen, month after month, when they're out here, as you must have
seen; then they go home and talk. But they sing your praise."

Our friend could scarce take it in. "Over _there_!"

"Over there. I think you must be even in the papers."

"Without abuse?"

"Oh we don't abuse every one."

Mrs. Hayes, in her beauty, it was clear, stretched the point. "They rave
about you."

"Then they _don't_ know?"

"Nobody knows," the young man declared; "it wasn't any one's knowledge, at
any rate, that made us uneasy."

"It was your own? I mean your own sense?"

"Well, call it that. We remembered, and we wondered what had happened. So,"
Mr. Hayes now frankly laughed, "we came to see."

Gedge stared through his film of tears. "Came from America to see _me_?"

"Oh a part of the way. But we wouldn't, in England, have missed you."

"And now we _haven't_!" the young woman soothingly added.

Gedge still could only gape at the candour of the tribute. But he tried to
meet them--it was what was least poor for him--in their own key. "Well, how
do you like it?"

Mrs. Hayes, he thought--if their answer were important--laughed a little
nervously. "Oh you see."

Once more he looked from one to the other. "It's too beastly easy, you

Her husband raised his eyebrows. "You conceal your art. The emotion--yes;
that must be easy; the general tone must flow. But about your facts--you've
so many: how do you get _them_ through?"

Gedge wondered. "You think I get too many----?"

At this they were amused together. "That's just what we came to see!"

"Well, you know, I've felt my way; I've gone step by step; you wouldn't
believe how I've tried it on. _This_--where you see me--is where I've come
out." After which, as they said nothing: "You hadn't thought I _could_ come

Again they just waited, but the husband spoke: "Are you so awfully sure you
are out?"

Gedge drew himself up in the manner of his moments of emotion, almost
conscious even that, with his sloping shoulders, his long lean neck and his
nose so prominent in proportion to other matters, he resembled the more a
giraffe. It was now at last he really caught on. "I _may_ be in danger
again--and the danger is what has moved you? Oh!" the poor man fairly
moaned. His appreciation of it quite weakened him, yet he pulled himself
together. "You've your view of my danger?"

It was wondrous how, with that note definitely sounded, the air was
cleared. Lucid Mr. Hayes, at the end of a minute, had put the thing in a
nutshell. "I don't know what you'll think of us--for being so beastly

"I think," poor Gedge grimaced, "you're only too beastly kind."

"It's all your own fault," his friend returned, "for presenting us (who are
not idiots, say) with so striking a picture of a crisis. At our other
visit, you remember," he smiled, "you created an anxiety for the opposite
reason. Therefore if _this_ should again be a crisis for you, you'd really
give us the case with an ideal completeness."

"You make me wish," said Morris Gedge, "that it might be one."

"Well, don't try--for our amusement--to bring one on. I don't see, you
know, how you can have much margin. Take care--take care."

Gedge did it pensive justice. "Yes, that was what you said a year ago. You
did me the honour to be uneasy--as my wife was."

Which determined on the young woman's part an immediate question. "May I
ask then if Mrs. Gedge is now at rest?"

"No--since you do ask. _She_ fears at least that I go too far; she doesn't
believe in my margin. You see we _had_ our scare after your visit. They
came down."

His friends were all interest. "Ah! They came down?"

"Heavy. They brought _me_ down. That's _why_--"

"Why you _are_ down?" Mrs. Hayes sweetly demanded.

"Ah but my dear man," her husband interposed, "you're not down; you're
_up_! You're only up a different tree, but you're up at the tip-top."

"You mean I take it too high?"

"That's exactly the question," the young man answered; "and the
possibility, as matching your first danger, is just what we felt we
couldn't, if you didn't mind, miss the measure of."

Gedge gazed at him. "I feel that I know what you at bottom _hoped_."

"We at bottom 'hope,' surely, that you're all right?"

"In spite of the fool it makes of every one?"

Mr. Hayes of New York smiled. "Say _because_ of that. We only ask to
believe every one _is_ a fool!"

"Only you haven't been, without reassurance, able to imagine fools of the
size that my case demands?" And Gedge had a pause while, as if on the
chance of some proof, his companion waited. "Well, I won't pretend to you
that your anxiety hasn't made me, doesn't threaten to make me, a bit
nervous; though I don't quite understand it if, as you say, people but rave
about me."

"Oh _that_ report was from the other side; people in our country so very
easily rave. You've seen small children laugh to shrieks when tickled in a
new place. So there are amiable millions with us who are but small
shrieking children. They perpetually present new places for the tickler.
What we've seen in further lights," Mr. Hayes good-humouredly pursued, "is
your people _here_--the Committee, the Board, or whatever the powers to
whom you're responsible."

"Call them my friend Grant-Jackson then--my original backer, though I admit
for that reason perhaps my most formidable critic. It's with him
practically I deal; or rather it's by him I'm dealt with--_was_ dealt with
before. I stand or fall by him. But he has given me my head."

"Mayn't he then want you," Mrs. Hayes inquired, "just to show as flagrantly
running away?"

"Of course--I see what you mean. I'm riding, blindly, for a fall, and
They're watching (to be tender of me!) for the smash that may come of
itself. It's Machiavellic--but everything's possible. And what did you just
now mean," Gedge asked--"especially if you've only heard of my
prosperity--by your 'further lights'?"

His friends for an instant looked embarrassed, but Mr. Hayes came to the
point. "We've heard of your prosperity, but we've also, remember, within a
few minutes, heard _you_."

"I was determined you _should_," said Gedge. "I'm good then--but I overdo?"
His strained grin was still sceptical.

Thus challenged, at any rate, his visitor pronounced. "Well, if you don't;
if at the end of six months more it's clear that you haven't overdone;
then, _then_----"

"Then what?"

"Then it's great."

"But it _is_ great--greater than anything of the sort ever was. I overdo,
thank goodness, yes; or I would if it were a thing you _could_."

"Oh well, if there's _proof_ that you can't----!" With which and an
expressive gesture Mr. Hayes threw up his fears.

His wife, however, for a moment seemed unable to let them go. "Don't They
want then _any_ truth?--none even for the mere look of it?"

"The look of it," said Morris Gedge, "is what I give!"

It made them, the others, exchange a look of their own. Then she smiled.
"Oh, well, if they think so----!"

"You at least don't? You're like my wife--which indeed, I remember," Gedge
added, "is a similarity I expressed a year ago the wish for! At any rate I
frighten _her_."

The young husband, with an "Ah wives are terrible!" smoothed it over, and
their visit would have failed of further excuse had not at this instant a
movement at the other end of the room suddenly engaged them. The evening
had so nearly closed in, though Gedge, in the course of their talk, had
lighted the lamp nearest them, that they had not distinguished, in
connexion with the opening of the door of communication to the warden's
lodge, the appearance of another person, an eager woman who in her
impatience had barely paused before advancing. Mrs. Gedge--her identity
took but a few seconds to become vivid--was upon them, and she had not been
too late for Mr. Hayes's last remark. Gedge saw at once that she had come
with news; no need even, for that certitude, of her quick retort to the
words in the air--"You may say as well, sir, that they're often, poor
wives, terrified!" She knew nothing of the friends whom, at so unnatural an
hour, he was showing about; but there was no livelier sign for him that
this didn't matter than the possibility with which she intensely charged
her "Grant-Jackson, to see you at once!"--letting it, so to speak, fly in
his face.

"He has been with you?"

"Only a minute--he's there. But it's you he wants to see."

He looked at the others. "And what does he want, dear?"

"God knows! There it is. It's his horrid hour--it _was_ that other time."

She had nervously turned to the others, overflowing to them, in her dismay,
for all their strangeness--quite, as he said to himself, like a woman of
the people. She was the bareheaded good wife talking in the street about
the row in the house, and it was in this character that he instantly
introduced her: "My dear doubting wife, who will do her best to entertain
you while I wait upon our friend." And he explained to her as he could his
now protesting companions--"Mr. and Mrs. Hayes of New York, who have been
here before." He knew, without knowing why, that her announcement chilled
him; he failed at least to see why it should chill him so much. His good
friends had themselves been visibly affected by it, and heaven knew that
the depths of brooding fancy in him were easily stirred by contact. If they
had wanted a crisis they accordingly had found one, albeit they had already
asked leave to retire before it. This he wouldn't have. "Ah no, you must
really see!"

"But we shan't be able to bear it, you know," said the young woman, "if it
_is_ to turn you out."

Her crudity attested her sincerity, and it was the latter, doubtless, that
instantly held Mrs. Gedge. "It _is_ to turn us out."

"Has he told you that, madam?" Mr. Hayes inquired of her--it being wondrous
how the breath of doom had drawn them together.

"No, not told me; but there's something in him there--I mean in his awful
manner--that matches too well with other things. We've seen," said the poor
pale lady, "other things enough."

The young woman almost clutched her. "Is his manner very awful?"

"It's simply the manner," Gedge interposed, "of a very great man."

"Well, very great men," said his wife, "are very awful things."

"It's exactly," he laughed, "what we're finding out! But I mustn't keep him
waiting. Our friends here," he went on, "are directly interested. You
mustn't, mind you, let them go until we know."

Mr. Hayes, however, held him; he found himself stayed. "We're so directly
interested that I want you to understand this. If anything happens----"

"Yes?" said Gedge, all gentle as he faltered.

"Well, _we_ must set you up."

Mrs. Hayes quickly abounded. "Oh _do_ come to us!"

Again he could but take them in. They were really wonderful folk. And with
it all but Mr. and Mrs. Hayes! It affected even Isabel through her alarm;
though the balm, in a manner, seemed to foretell the wound. He had reached
the threshold of his own quarters; he stood there as at the door of the
chamber of judgement. But he laughed; at least he could be gallant in going
up for sentence. "Very good then--I'll come to you!"

This was very well, but it didn't prevent his heart, a minute later, at the
end of the passage, from thumping with beats he could count. He had paused
again before going in; on the other side of this second door his poor
future was to be let loose at him. It was broken, at best, and spiritless,
but wasn't Grant-Jackson there like a beast-tamer in a cage, all tights and
spangles and circus attitudes, to give it a cut with the smart official
whip and make it spring at him? It was during this moment that he fully
measured the effect for his nerves of the impression made on his so oddly
earnest friends--whose earnestness he verily, in the spasm of this last
effort, came within an ace of resenting. They had upset him by contact; he
was afraid literally of meeting his doom on his knees; it wouldn't have
taken much more, he absolutely felt, to make him approach with his forehead
in the dust the great man whose wrath was to be averted. Mr. and Mrs. Hayes
of New York had brought tears to his eyes, but was it to be reserved for
Grant-Jackson to make him cry like a baby? He wished, yes, while he
palpitated, that Mr. and Mrs. Hayes of New York hadn't had such an
eccentricity of interest, for it seemed somehow to come from _them_ that he
was going so fast to pieces. Before he turned the knob of the door,
however, he had another queer instant; making out that it had been,
strictly, his case that was interesting, his funny power, however
accidental, to show as in a picture the attitude of others--not his poor
pale personality. It was this latter quantity, none the less, that was
marching to execution. It is to our friend's credit that he _believed_, as
he prepared to turn the knob, that he was going to be hanged; and it's
certainly not less to his credit that his wife, on the chance, had his
supreme thought. Here it was that--possibly with his last articulate
breath--he thanked his stars, such as they were, for Mr. and Mrs. Hayes of
New York. At least they would take care of her.

They were doing that certainly with some success when he returned to them
ten minutes later. She sat between them in the beautified Birthplace, and
he couldn't have been sure afterwards that each wasn't holding her hand.
The three together had at any rate the effect of recalling to him--it was
too whimsical--some picture, a sentimental print, seen and admired in his
youth, a "Waiting for the Verdict," a "Counting the Hours," or something of
that sort; humble respectability in suspense about humble innocence. He
didn't know how he himself looked, and he didn't care; the great thing was
that he wasn't crying--though he might have been; the glitter in his eyes
was assuredly dry, though that there _was_ a glitter, or something
slightly to bewilder, the faces of the others as they rose to meet him
sufficiently proved. His wife's eyes pierced his own, but it was Mrs. Hayes
of New York who spoke. "_Was_ it then for that----?"

He only looked at them at first--he felt he might now enjoy it. "Yes, it
was for 'that.' I mean it was about the way I've been going on. He came to
speak of it."

"And he's gone?" Mr. Hayes permitted himself to inquire.

"He's gone."

"It's over?" Isabel hoarsely asked.

"It's over."

"Then we go?"

This it was that he enjoyed. "No, my dear; we stay."

There was fairly a triple gasp; relief took time to operate. "Then why did
he come?"

"In the fulness of his kind heart and of _Their_ discussed and decreed
satisfaction. To express Their sense----!"

Mr. Hayes broke into a laugh, but his wife wanted to know. "Of the grand
work you're doing?"

"Of the way I polish it off. They're most handsome about it. The receipts,
it appears, speak----"

He was nursing his effect; Isabel intently watched him and the others hung
on his lips. "Yes, speak----?"

"Well, volumes. They tell the truth."

At this Mr. Hayes laughed again. "Oh _they_ at least do?"

Near him thus once more Gedge knew their intelligence as one--which was so
good a consciousness to get back that his tension now relaxed as by the
snap of a spring and he felt his old face at ease. "So you can't say," he
continued, "that we don't want it."

"I bow to it," the young man smiled. "It's what I said then. It's _great_."

"It's great," said Morris Gedge. "It couldn't be greater."

His wife still watched him; her irony hung behind. "Then we're just as we

"No, not as we were."

She jumped at it. "Better?"

"Better. They give us a rise."

"Of income?"

"Of our sweet little stipend--by a vote of the Committee. That's what, as
Chairman, he came to announce."

The very echoes of the Birthplace were themselves, for the instant, hushed;
the warden's three companions showed in the conscious air a struggle for
their own breath. But Isabel, almost with a shriek, was the first to
recover hers. "They double us?"

"Well--call it that. 'In recognition.' There you are." Isabel uttered
another sound--but this time inarticulate; partly because Mrs. Hayes of New
York had already jumped at her to kiss her. Mr. Hayes meanwhile, as with
too much to say, but put out his hand, which our friend took in silence. So
Gedge had the last word. "And there _you_ are!"

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Birthplace" ***

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