George du Marier et al
Part 5 out of 6
prevented it all!
We two alone are alive and substantial in all this strange world of
shadows, who seem, as far as we can hear and see, no less substantial
and alive than ourselves. They exist for us; we do not exist for them.
We exist for each other only, waking or sleeping; for even the people
among whom our waking life is spent know hardly more of us, and what our
real existence is, than poor little André Corbin, who has just broken
his legs for us over again!
And so, back to "Magna sed Apta," both saddened by this deplorable
misadventure, to muse and talk and marvel over these wonders; penetrated
to the very heart's core by a dim sense of some vast, mysterious power,
latent in the sub-consciousness of man--unheard of, undreamed of as yet,
but linking him with the Infinite and the Eternal.
And how many things we always had to talk about besides!
Heaven knows, I am not a brilliant conversationalist, but she was the
most easily amusable person in the world--interested in everything that
interested me, and I disdamaged myself (to use one of her
Anglo-Gallicisms) of the sulky silence of years.
Of her as a companion it is not for me to speak. It would be
impertinent, and even ludicrous, for a person in my position to dilate
on the social gifts of the famous Duchess of Towers.
Incredible as it may appear, however, most of our conversation was about
very common and earthly topics--her homes and refuges, the difficulties
of their management, her eternal want of money, her many schemes and
plans and experiments and failures and disenchantments--in all of which
I naturally took a very warm interest. And then my jail, and all that
occurred there--in all of which I became interested myself because it
interested her so passionately; she knew every corner of it that I knew,
every detail of the life there--the name, appearance, and history of
almost every inmate, and criticised its internal economy with a
practical knowledge of affairs; a business-like sagacity at which I
never ceased to marvel.
One of my drollest recollections is of a visit she
paid there _in the flesh_, by some famous philanthropists of both sexes.
I was interviewed by them all as the model prisoner, who, for his
unorthodoxy, was a credit to the institution. She listened demurely to
my intelligent answers when I was questioned as to my bodily health,
etc., and asked whether I had any complaints to make. Complaints! Never
was jail-bird so thoroughly satisfied with his nest--so healthy, so
happy, so well-behaved. She took notes all the time.
[Illustration: MARY, DUCHESS OF TOWERS. From a photograph by
Eight hours before we had been strolling hand in hand through the Uffizi
Gallery in Florence; eight hours later we should be in each
* * * * *
Strange to relate, this happiness of ours--so deep, so acute, so
transcendent, so unmatched in all the history of human affection--was
not always free of unreasonable longings and regrets. Man is never so
blessed but what he would have his blessedness still greater.
The reality of our close companionship, of our true possession of each
other (during our allotted time), was absolute, complete, and thorough.
No Darby that ever lived can ever have had sweeter, warmer, more tender
memories of any Joan than I have now of Mary Seraskier! Although each
was, in a way, but a seeming illusion of the other's brain, the illusion
was no illusion for us. It was an illusion that showed the truth, as
does the illusion of sight. Like twin kernels in one shell
("Philipschen," as Mary called it), we touched at more points and were
closer than the rest of mankind (with each of them a separate shell of
his own). We tried and tested this in every way we could devise, and
never found ourselves at fault, and never ceased to marvel at so great a
wonder. For instance, I received letters from her in jail (and answered
them) in an intricate cipher we had invented and perfected together
entirely during sleep, and referring to things that had happened to us
both when together.[A]
[Footnote A: _Note_.--Several of these letters are in my possession.
Our privileges were such as probably no human beings could have ever
enjoyed before. Time and space were annihilated for us at the mere wish
of either--we lived in a palace of delight; all conceivable luxuries
were ours--and, better than all, and perennially, such freshness and
elation as belong only to the morning of life--and such a love for each
other (the result of circumstances not to be paralleled) as time could
never slake or quench till death should come and part us. All this, and
more, was our portion for eight hours out of twenty-four.
So what must we do sometimes, but fret that the sixteen hours which
remained did not belong to us well; that we must live two-thirds of our
lives apart; that we could not share the toils and troubles of our
work-a-day, waking existence, as we shared the blissful guerdon of our
seeming sleep--the glories of our common dream.
And then we would lament the lost years we had spent in mutual ignorance
and separation--a deplorable waste of life; when life, sleeping or
waking, was so short.
How different things might have been with us had we but known!
We need never have lost sight and touch of each other; we might have
grown up, and learned and worked and struggled together from the
first--boy and girl, brother and sister, lovers, man and wife--and yet
have found our blessed dream-land and dwelt in it just the same.
Children might have been born to us! Sweet children, _beaux comme le
jour_, as in Madame Perrault's fairy tales; even beautiful and good as
And as we talked of these imaginary little beings and tried to picture
them, we felt in ourselves such a stupendous capacity for loving the
same that we would fall to weeping on each other's shoulders. Full well
I knew, even as if they had formed a part of my own personal experience,
all the passion and tenderness, all the wasted anguish of her brief,
ill-starred motherhood: the very ache of my jealousy that she should
have borne a child to another man was forgotten in that keen and
thorough comprehension! Ah, yes ... that hungry love, that woful pity,
which not to know is hardly quite to have lived! Childless as I am
(though old enough to be a grandfather) I have it all by heart!
Never could we hope for son or daughter of our own. For us the blessed
flower of love in rich, profuse, unfading bloom; but its blessed fruit
of life, never, never, never!
Our only children were Mimsey and Gogo, between whom and ourselves was
an impassable gulf, and who were unconscious of our very existence,
except for Mimsey's strange consciousness that a Fairy Tarapatapoum and
a Prince Charming were watching over them.
All this would always end, as it could not but end, in our realizing the
more fully our utter dependence on each other for all that made life not
only worth living, ingrates that we were, but a heaven on earth for us
both; and, indeed, we could not but recognize that merely thus to love
and be loved was in itself a thing so immense (without all the other
blessings we had) that we were fain to tremble at our audacity in daring
to wish for more.
* * * * *
Thus sped three years, and would have sped all the rest, perhaps, but
for an incident that made an epoch in our joint lives, and turned all
our thoughts and energies in a new direction.
Some petty annoyance to which I had been subjected by one of the prison
authorities had kept me awake for a little while after I had gone to
bed, so that when at last I awoke in "Magna sed Apta," and lay on my
couch there (with that ever-fresh feeling of coming to life in heaven
after my daily round of work in an earthly jail), I was conscious that
Mary was there already, making coffee, the fragrance of which filled
the room, and softly humming a tune as she did so--a quaint, original,
but most beautiful tune, that thrilled me with indescribable emotion,
for I had never heard it with the bodily ear before, and yet it was as
familiar to me as "God save the Queen."
As I listened with rapt ears and closed eyes, wonderful scenes passed
before my mental vision: the beautiful white-haired lady of my childish
dreams, leading a small _female_ child by the hand, and that child was
myself; the pigeons and their tower, the stream and the water-mill; the
white-haired young man with red heels to his shoes; a very fine lady,
very tall, stout, and middle-aged, magnificently dressed in brocaded
silk; a park with lawns and alleys and trees cut into trim formal
shapes; a turreted castle--all kinds of charming scenes and people of
another age and country.
"What on earth is that wonderful tune, Mary?" I exclaimed, when she had
"It's my favorite tune," she answered; "I seldom hum it for fear of
wearing away its charm. I suppose that is why you have never heard it
before. Isn't it lovely? I've been trying to lull you awake with it.
"My grandfather, the violinist, used to play it with variations of his
own, and made it famous in his time; but it was never published, and
it's now forgotten.
"It is called 'Le Chant du Triste Commensal,' and was composed by his
grandmother, a beautiful French woman, who played the fiddle too; but
not as a profession. He remembered her playing it when he was a child
and she was quite an old lady, just as I remember _his_ playing it when
I was a girl in Vienna, and he was a white-haired old man. She used to
play holding her fiddle downward, on her knee, it seems; and always
played in perfect tune, quite in the middle of the note, and with
excellent taste and expression; it was her playing that decided his
career. But she was like 'Single-speech Hamilton,' for this was the only
thing she ever composed. She composed it under great grief and
excitement, just after her husband had died from the bite of a wolf, and
just before the birth of her twin-daughters--her only children--one of
whom was my great-grandmother."
"And what was this wonderful old lady's name?"
"Gatienne Aubéry; she married a Breton squire called Budes, who was a
_gentilhomme verrier_ near St. Prest, in Anjou--that is, he made
glass--decanters, water-bottles, tumblers, and all that, I suppose--in
spite of his nobility. It was not considered derogatory to do so;
indeed, it was the only trade permitted to the _noblesse_, and one had
to be at least a squire to engage in it.
"She was a very notable woman, _la belle Verrière_, as she was called;
and she managed the glass factory for many years after her husband's
death, and made lots of money for her two daughters."
"How strange!" I exclaimed; "Gatienne Aubéry! Dame du Brail--Budes--the
names are quite familiar to me. Mathurin Budes, Seigneur de Monhoudéard
et de Verny le Moustier."
"Yes, that's it. How wonderful that you should know! One daughter,
Jeanne, married my greatgrandfather, an officer in the Hungarian army;
and Seraskier, the fiddler, was their only child. The other (so like her
sister that only her mother could distinguish them) was called Anne, and
married a Comte de Bois something."
"Boismorinel. Why, all those names are in my family too. My father used
to make me paint their arms and quarterings when I was a child, on
Sunday mornings, to keep me quiet. Perhaps we are related by blood,
you and I."
"Oh, that would be too delightful!" said Mary. "I wonder how we could
find out? Have you no family papers?"
_I_. "There were lots of them, in a horse-hair trunk, but I don't know
where they are now. What good would family papers have been to me?
Ibbetson took charge of them when I changed my name. I suppose his
lawyers have got them."
_She_. "Happy thought; we will do without lawyers. Let us go round to
your old house, and make Gogo paint the quarterings over again for us,
and look over his shoulder."
Happy thought, indeed! We drank our coffee and went straight to my old
house, with the wish (immediate father to the deed) that Gogo should be
there, once more engaged in his long forgotten accomplishment of
painting coats of arms.
It was a beautiful Sunday morning, and we found Gogo hard at work at a
small table by an open window. The floor was covered with old deeds and
parchments and family papers; and le beau Pasquier, at another table,
was deep in his own pedigree, making notes on the margin--an occupation
in which he delighted--and unconsciously humming as he did so. The sunny
room was filled with the penetrating soft sound of his voice, as a
conservatory is filled with the scent of its flowers.
By the strangest inconsistency my dear father, a genuine republican at
heart (for all his fancied loyalty to the white lily of the Bourbons), a
would-be scientist, who in reality was far more impressed by a clever
and industrious French mechanic than by a prince (and would, I think,
have preferred the former's friendship and society), yet took both a
pleasure and a pride in his quaint old parchments and obscure
quarterings. So would I, perhaps, if things had gone differently with
me--for what true democrat, however intolerant of such weakness in
others, ever thinks lightly of his own personal claims to aristocratic
descent, shadowy as these may be!
He was fond of such proverbs and aphorisms as "noblesse oblige," "bon
sang ne sait mentir," "bon chien chasse de race," etc., and had even
invented a little aphorism of his own, to comfort him when he was extra
hard up, "bon gentilhomme n'a jamais honte de la misère." All of which
sayings, to do him justice, he reserved for home consumption
exclusively, and he would have been the first to laugh on hearing them
in the mouth of any one else.
Of his one great gift, the treasure in his throat, he thought absolutely
nothing at all.
"Ce que c'est que de nous!"
Gogo was coloring the quarterings of the Pasquier family--_la maison
de Pasquier_, as it was called--in a printed book (_Armorial Général du
Maine et de l'Anjou_), according to the instructions that were given
underneath. He used one of Madame Liard's three-sou boxes, and the tints
left much to be desired.
We looked over his shoulder and read the picturesque old jargon, which
sounds even prettier and more comforting and more idiotic in French than
in English. It ran thus--
"Pasquier (branche des Seigneurs de la Marière et du Hirel), party de 4
pièces et coupé de 2.
"Au premier, de Hérault, qui est de écartelé de gueules et d'argent.
"Au deux, de Budes, qui est d'or au pin de sinople.
"Au trois, d'Aubéry--qui est d'azur à trois croissants d'argent.
"Au quatre, de Busson qui est d'argent au lyon de sable armé couronné et
lampassé d'or," And so on, through the other quarterings: Bigot, Epinay,
Malestroit, Mathefelon. And finally, "Sur le tout, de Pasquier qui est
d'or à trois lyons d'azur, au franc quartier écartelé des royames de
Castille et de Léon."
Presently my mother came home from the English chapel in the Rue
Marboeuf, where she had been with Sarah, the English maid. Lunch was
announced, and we were left alone with the family papers. With infinite
precautions, for fear of blurring the dream, we were able to find what
we wanted to find--namely, that we were the great-great-grandchildren
and only possible living descendants of Gatienne, the fair glassmaker
and composer of "Le Chant du Triste Commensal."
Thus runs the descent--
Jean Aubéry, Seigneur du Brail, married Anne Busson. His daughter,
Gatienne Aubéry, Dame du Brail, married Mathurin Budes, Seigneur de
Verny le Moustier et de Monhoudéard.
Anne Budes, Dame de Jeanne Budes, Dame du
Verny le Moustier, married Brail et de Monhoudéard,
Guy Hérault, Comte married Ulric
de Boismorinel. Seraskier.
Jeanne François Hérault de Otto Seraskier, violinist,
Boismorinel married married Teresa Pulci.
François Pasquier de la
Jean Pasquier de la Marière Johann Seraskier, M.D.,
married Catherine married Laura Desmond.
Pierre Pasquier de la Marière Mary Seraskier, Duchess of
(_alias_ Peter Ibbetson, Towers.
We walked back to "Magna sed Apta" in great joy, and there we celebrated
our newly-discovered kinship by a simple repast, out of _my_ répertoire
this time. It consisted of oysters from Rules's in Maiden Lane, when
they were sixpence a dozen, and bottled stout (_l'eau m'en vient à la
bouche_); and we spent the rest of the hours allotted to us that night
in evolving such visions as we could from the old tune "Le Chant du
Triste Commensal," with varying success; she humming it, accompanying
herself on the piano in her masterly, musician-like way, with one hand,
and seeing all that I saw by holding my hand with the other.
By slow degrees the scenes and people evoked grew less dim, and whenever
the splendid and important lady, whom we soon identified for certain as
Gatienne, our common great-great-grandmother, appeared--"la belle
verrière de Verny le Moustier"--she was more distinct than the others;
no doubt, because we both had part and parcel in her individuality, and
also because her individuality was so strongly marked.
And before I was called away at the inexorable hour, we had the supreme
satisfaction of seeing her play the fiddle to a shadowy company of
patched and powdered and bewigged ladies and gentlemen, who seemed to
take much sympathetic delight in her performance, and actually, even, of
just hearing the thin, unearthly tones of that most original and
exquisite melody, "Le Chant du Triste Commensal," to a quite inaudible
accompaniment on the spinet by her daughter, evidently Anne Hérault,
Comtesse de Boismorinel (_née_ Budes), while the small child Jeanne de
Boismorinel (afterwards Dame Pasquier de la Marière) listened with
And, just as Mary had said, she played her fiddle with its body
downward, and resting on her knees, as though it had been an undersized
'cello. I then vaguely remembered having dreamed of such a figure when a
Within twenty-four hours of this strange adventure the practical and
business-like Mary had started, in the flesh and with her maid, for that
part of France where these, my ancestors, had lived, and within a
fortnight she had made herself mistress of all my French family history,
and had visited such of the different houses of my kin as were still in
The turreted castle of my childish dreams, which, with the adjacent
glass-factory, was still called Verny le Moustier, was one of these. She
found it in the possession of a certain Count Hector du Chamorin, whose
grandfather had purchased it at the beginning of the century.
He had built an entirely new plant, and made it one of the first
glass-factories in Western France. But the old turreted _corps de logis_
still remained, and his foreman lived there with his wife and family.
The _pigeonnier_ had been pulled down to make room for a shed with a
steam-engine, and the whole aspect of the place was revolutionized; but
the stream and water-mill (the latter a mere picturesque ruin) were
still there; the stream was, however, little more than a ditch, some ten
feet deep and twenty broad, with a fringe of gnarled and twisted willows
and alders, many of them dead.
It was called "Le Brail," and had given its name to my
great-great-grandmother's property, whence it had issued thirty miles
away (and many hundred years ago); but the old Château du Brail, the
manor of the Aubérys, had become a farm-house.
The Château de la Marière, in its walled park, and with its beautiful,
tall, hexagonal tower, dated 1550, and visible for miles around, was now
a prosperous cider brewery; it is still, and lies on the high-road from
Angers to Le Mans.
The old forest of Boismorinel, that had once belonged to the family of
Hérault, was still in existence; charcoal-burners were to be found in
its depths, and a stray roebuck or two; but no more wolves and
wild-boars, as in the olden time. And where the old castle had been now
stood the new railway station of Boismorinel et Saint Maixent.
[Illustration: LA BELLE VERRIERE]
Most of such Budes, Bussons, Héraults, Aubérys, and Pasquiers as were
still to be found in the country, probably distant kinsmen of Mary's
and mine, were lawyers, doctors, or priests, or had gone into trade and
become respectably uninteresting; such as they were, they would scarcely
have cared to claim kinship with such as I.
But a hundred years ago and more these were names of importance in Maine
and Anjou; their bearers were descended for the most part from younger
branches of houses which in the Middle Ages had intermarried with all
there was of the best in France; and although they were looked down upon
by the _noblesse_ of the court and Versailles, as were all the
provincial nobility, they held their own well in their own country;
feasting, hunting, and shooting with each other; dancing and fiddling
and making love and intermarrying; and blowing glass, and growing richer
and richer, till the Revolution came and blew them and their glass into
space, and with them many greater than themselves, but few better. And
all record of them and of their doings, pleasant and genial people as
they were, is lost, and can only be recalled by a dream.
Verny le Moustier was not the least interesting of these old manors.
It had been built three hundred years ago, on the site of a still older
monastery (whence its name); the ruined walls of the old abbey were (and
are) still extant in the house-garden, covered with apricot and pear and
peach trees, which had been sown or planted by our common ancestress
when she was a bride.
Count Hector, who took a great pleasure in explaining all the past
history of the place to Mary, had built himself a fine new house in
what remained of the old park, and a quarter of a mile away from the
old manor-house. Every room of the latter was shown to her; old wood
panels still remained, prettily painted in a by-gone fashion; old
documents, and parchment deeds, and leases concerning fish-ponds,
farms, and the like, were brought out for her inspection, signed by
my grandfather Pasquier, my great-grandfather Boismorinel, and our
great-great-grandmother and her husband, Mathurin Budes, the lord of
Verny le Moustier; and the tradition of Gatienne, _la belle Verrière_
(also nicknamed _la reine de Hongrie_, it seems) still lingered in the
county; and many old people still remembered, more or less correctly,
"Le Chant du Triste Commensal," which a hundred years ago had been in
She was said to have been the tallest and handsomest woman in Anjou, of
an imperious will and very masculine character, but immensely popular
among rich and poor alike; of indomitable energy, and with a finger in
every pie; but always more for the good of others than her own--a
typical, managing, business-like French woman, and an exquisite
musician to boot.
Such was our common ancestress, from whom, no doubt, we drew our love of
music and our strange, almost hysterical susceptibility to the power of
sound; from whom had issued those two born nightingales of our
race--Seraskier, the violinist, and my father, the singer. And, strange
to say, her eyebrows met at the bridge of her nose just like mine, and
from under them beamed the luminous, black-fringed, gray-blue eyes of
Mary, that suffered eclipse whenever their owners laughed or smiled!
During this interesting journey of Mary's in the flesh, we met every
night at "Magna sed Apta" in the spirit, as usual; and I was made to
participate in every incident of it.
We sat by the magic window, and had for our entertainment, now the
Verrerie de Verny le Moustier in its present state, all full of modern
life, color, and sound, steam and gas, as she had seen it a few hours
before; now the old château as it was a hundred years ago; dim and
indistinct, as though seen by nearsighted eyes at the close of a gray,
misty afternoon in late autumn through a blurred window-pane, with busy
but silent shadows moving about--silent, because at first we could not
hear their speech; it was too thin for our mortal ears, even in this
dream within our dream! Only Gatienne, the authoritative and commanding
Gatienne, was faintly audible.
Then we would go down and mix with them. Thus, at one moment, we would
be in the midst of a charming old-fashioned French family group of
shadows: Gatienne, with her lovely twin-daughters Jeanne and Anne, and
her gardeners round her, all trailing young peach and apricot trees
against what still remained of the ancient buttresses and walls of the
Abbaye de Verny le Moustier--all this more than a hundred years ago--the
pale sun of a long-past noon casting the fainter shadows of these faint
shadows on the shadowy garden-path.
Then, presto! Changing the scene as one changes a slide in a
magic-lantern, we would skip a century, and behold!
Another French family group, equally charming, on the self-same spot,
but in the garb of to-day, and no longer shadowy or mute by any means.
Little trees have grown big; big trees have disappeared to make place
for industrious workshops and machinery; but the old abbey walls have
been respected, and gay, genial father, and handsome mother, and lovely
daughters, all pressing on "la belle Duchesse Anglaise" peaches and
apricots of her great-great-grandmother's growing.
For this amiable family of the Chamorin became devoted to Mary in a very
short time--that is, the very moment they first saw her; and she never
forgot their kindness, courtesy, and hospitality; they made her feel in
five minutes as though she had known them for many years.
I may as well state here that a few months later she received from
Mademoiselle du Chamorin (with a charming letter) the identical violin
that had once belonged to _la belle Verrière_, and which Count Hector
had found in the possession of an old farmer--the great-grandson of
Gatienne's coachman--and had purchased, that he might present it as a
New-year's gift to her descendant, the Duchess of Towers.
It is now mine, alas! I cannot play it; but it amuses and comforts me to
hold in my hand, when broad and wide awake, an instrument that Mary and
I have so often heard and seen in our dream, and which has so often rung
in by-gone days with the strange melody that has had so great an
influence on our lives. Its aspect, shape, and color, every mark and
stain of it, were familiar to us before we had ever seen it with the
bodily eye or handled it with the hand of flesh. It thus came straight
to us out of the dim and distant past, heralded by the ghost of itself!
* * * * *
To return. Gradually, by practice and the concentration of our united
will, the old-time figures grew to gain substance and color, and their
voices became perceptible; till at length there arrived a day when we
could move among them, and hear them and see them as distinctly as we
could our own immediate progenitors close by--as Gogo and Mimsey, as
Monsieur le Major, and the rest.
The child who went about hand in hand with the white-haired lady (whose
hair was only powdered) and fed the pigeons was my grandmother, Jeanne
de Boismorinel (who married François Pasquier de la Marière). It was her
father who wore red heels to his shoes, and made her believe she could
manufacture little cocked-hats in colored glass; she had lived again in
me whenever, as a child, I had dreamed that exquisite dream.
I could now evoke her at will; and, with her, many buried memories were
called out of nothingness into life.
Among other wonderful things, I heard the red-heeled gentleman, M. de
Boismorinel (my great-grandfather), sing beautiful old songs by Lulli
and others to the spinet, which he played charmingly a rare
accomplishment in those days. And lo! these tunes were tunes that had
risen oft and unbidden in my consciousness, and I had fondly imagined
that I had composed them myself--little impromptus of my own. And lo,
again! His voice, thin, high, nasal, but very sympathetic and musical,
was that never still small voice that has been singing unremittingly for
more than half a century in the unswept, ungarnished corner of my brain
where all the cobwebs are.
[Illustration: "THAT NEVER STILL SMALL VOICE."]
And these cobwebs?
Well, I soon became aware, by deeply diving into my inner consciousness
when awake and at my daily prison toil (which left the mind singularly
clear and free), that I was full, quite full, of slight elusive
reminiscences which were neither of my waking life nor of my dream-life
with Mary: reminiscences of sub-dreams during sleep, and belonging to
the period of my childhood and early youth; sub-dreams which no doubt
had been forgotten when I woke, at which time I could only remember the
surface dreams that had just preceded my waking.
Ponds, rivers, bridges, roads, and streams, avenues of trees, arbors,
windmills and water-mills, corridors and rooms, church functions,
village fairs, festivities, men and women and animals, all of another
time and of a country where I had never set my foot, were familiar to my
remembrance. I had but to dive deep enough into myself, and there they
were; and when night came, and sleep, and "Magna sed Apta," I could
re-evoke them all, and make them real and complete for Mary and myself.
That these subtle reminiscences were true antenatal memories was soon
proved by my excursions with Mary into the past; and her experience of
such reminiscences, and their corroboration, were just as my own. We
have heard and seen her grandfather play the "Chant du Triste Commensal"
to crowded concert-rooms, applauded to the echo by men and women long
dead and buried and forgotten!
Now, I believe such reminiscences to form part of the sub-consciousness
of others, as well as Mary's and mine, and that by perseverance in
self-research many will succeed in reaching them--perhaps even more
easily and completely than we have done.
It is something like listening for the overtones of a musical note; we
do not hear them at first, though they are there, clamoring for
recognition; and when at last we hear them, we wonder at our former
obtuseness, so distinct are they.
Let a man with an average ear, however uncultivated, strike the C low
down on a good piano-forte, keeping his foot on the loud pedal. At first
he will hear nothing but the rich fundamental note C.
But let him become _expectant_ of certain other notes; for instance, of
the C in the octave immediately above, then the G immediately above
that, then the E higher still; he will hear them all in time as clearly
as the note originally struck; and, finally, a shrill little ghostly and
quite importunate B flat in the treble will pulsate so loudly in his ear
that he will never cease to hear it whenever that low C is sounded.
By just such a process, only with infinitely more pains (and in the end
with what pleasure and surprise), will he grow aware in time of a dim,
latent, antenatal experience that underlies his own personal experience
of this life.
We also found that we were able not only to assist as mere spectators at
such past scenes as I have described (and they were endless), but also
to identify ourselves occasionally with the actors, and cease for the
moment to be Mary Seraskier and Peter Ibbetson. Notably was this the
case with Gatienne. We could each be Gatienne for a space (though never
both of us together), and when we resumed our own personality again we
carried back with it a portion of hers, never to be lost again--a
strange phenomenon, if the reader will but think of it, and
constituting the germ of a comparative personal immortality on earth.
At my work in prison, even, I could distinctly remember having been
Gatienne; so that for the time being, Gatienne, a provincial French
woman who lived a hundred years ago, was contentedly undergoing penal
servitude in an English jail during the latter half of the
A questionable privilege, perhaps.
But to make up for it, when she was not alive in me she could be brought
to life in Mary (only in one at a time, it seemed), and travel by rail
and steamer, and know the uses of gas and electricity, and read the
telegrams of "our special correspondents" in the _Times_, and taste her
nineteenth century under more favorable conditions.
Thus we took _la belle Verrière_ by turns, and she saw and heard things
she little dreamed of a hundred years ago. Besides, she was made to
share in the glories of "Magna sed Apta."
And the better we knew her the more we loved her; she was a very nice
person to descend from, and Mary and I were well agreed that we could
not have chosen a better great-great-grandmother, and wondered what each
of our seven others was like, for we had fifteen of these between us,
and as many great-great-grandfathers.
Thirty great-great-grandfathers and great-great-grandmothers had made us
what we were; it was no good fighting against them and the millions at
Which of them all, strong, but gentle and shy, and hating the very
sight of blood, yet saw scarlet when he was roused, and thirsted for the
blood of his foe?
Which of them all, passionate and tender, but proud, high-minded, and
chaste, and with the world at her feet, was yet ready to "throw her cap
over the windmills," and give up all for love, deeming the world
* * * * *
That we could have thus identified ourselves, only more easily and
thoroughly, with our own more immediate progenitors, we felt certain
enough. But after mature thought we resolved to desist from any further
attempt at such transfusion of identity, for sacred reasons of
discretion which the reader will appreciate.
But that this will be done some day (now the way has been made clear),
and also that the inconveniences and possible abuses of such a faculty
will be obviated or minimized by the ever-active ingenuity of mankind,
is to my mind a foregone conclusion.
It is too valuable a faculty to be left in abeyance, and I leave the
probable and possible consequences of its culture to the reader's
imagination--merely pointing out to him (as an inducement to cultivate
that faculty in himself) that if anything can keep us well within the
thorny path that leads to happiness and virtue, it is the certainty that
those who come after us will remember having been ourselves, if only in
a dream--even as the newly-hatched chicken has remembered in its egg the
use of eyes and ears and the rest, out of the fulness of its long
antenatal experience; and more fortunate than the helpless human infant
in this respect, can enter on the business and pleasures of its brief,
irresponsible existence at once!
* * * * *
Wherefore, oh reader, if you be but sound in mind and body, it most
seriously behooves you (not only for the sake of those who come after
you, but your own) to go forth and multiply exceedingly, to marry early
and much and often, and to select the very best of your kind in the
opposite sex for this most precious, excellent, and blessed purpose;
that all your future reincarnations (and hers), however brief, may be
many; and bring you not only joy and peace and pleasurable wonderment
and recreation, but the priceless guerdon of well-earned self-approval!
For whoever remembers having once been you, wakes you for the nonce out
of--nirvana, shall we say? His strength, his beauty, and his wit are
yours; and the felicity he derives from them in this earthly life is for
you to share, whenever this subtle remembrance of you stirs in his
consciousness; and you can never quite sink back again into--nirvana,
till all your future wakers shall cease to be!
It is like a little old-fashioned French game we used to play at Passy,
and which is not bad for a dark, rainy afternoon: people sit all round
in a circle, and each hands on to his neighbor a spill or a
lucifer-match just blown out, but in which a little live spark still
lingers; saying, as he does so--
_"Petit bonhomme vit encore!"_
And he, in whose hand the spark becomes extinct, has to pay forfeit and
retire--"Hélas! petit bonhomme n'est plus! ... Pauv' petit bonhomme!"
Ever thus may a little live spark of your own individual consciousness,
when the full, quick flame of your actual life here below is
extinguished, be handed down mildly incandescent to your remotest
posterity. May it never quite go out--it need not! May you ever be able
to say of yourself, from generation to generation, "Petit bonhomme vit
encore!" and still keep one finger at least in the pleasant earthly pie!
And, reader, remember so to order your life on earth that the memory of
you (like that of Gatienne, la belle Verrière de Verny le Moustier) may
smell sweet and blossom in the dust--a memory pleasant to recall--to
this end that its recallings and its recallers may be as numerous as
filial love and ancestral pride can make them....
And oh! looking _backward_ (as _we_ did), be tender to the failings of
your forbears, who little guessed when alive that the secrets of their
long buried hearts should one day be revealed to _you_! Their faults are
really your own, like the faults of your innocent, ignorant childhood,
so to say, when you did not know better, as you do now; or will
soon, thanks to
_"Le Chant du Triste Commensal!"_
* * * * *
Wherefore, also, beware and be warned in time, ye tenth transmitters of
a foolish face, ye reckless begetters of diseased or puny bodies, with
hearts and brains to match! Far down the corridors of time shall
club-footed retribution follow in your footsteps, and overtake you at
every turn! Most remorselessly, most vindictively, will you be aroused,
in sleepless hours of unbearable misery (future-waking nightmares), from
your false, uneasy dream of death; to participate in an inheritance of
woe still worse than yours--worse with all the accumulated interest of
long years and centuries of iniquitous self-indulgence, and poisoned by
the sting of a self-reproach that shall never cease till the last of
your tainted progeny dies out, and finds his true nirvana, and yours, in
the dim, forgetful depths of interstellar space!
* * * * *
And here let me most conscientiously affirm that, partly from my keen
sense of the solemnity of such an appeal, and the grave responsibility I
take upon myself in making it; but more especially in order to impress
you, oh reader, with the full significance of this apocalyptic and
somewhat minatory utterance (that it may haunt your finer sense during
your midnight hours of introspective self-communion), I have done my
best, my very best, to couch it in the obscurest and most unintelligible
phraseology I could invent. If I have failed to do this, if I have
unintentionally made any part of my meaning clear, if I have once
deviated by mistake into what might almost appear like sense--mere
common-sense--it is the fault of my half-French and wholly imperfect
education. I am but a poor scribe!
Thus roughly have I tried to give an account of this, the most
important of our joint discoveries in the strange new world revealed to
us by chance. More than twenty years of our united lives have been
devoted to the following out of this slender clew--with what surprising
results will, I trust, be seen in subsequent volumes.
We have not had time to attempt the unravelling of our English ancestry
as well--the Crays, and the Desmonds, the Ibbetsons, and Biddulphs,
etc.--which connects us with the past history of England. The farther we
got back into France, the more fascinating it became, and the
easier--and the more difficult to leave.
What an unexampled experience has been ours! To think that we have
seen--actually seen--_de nos propres yeux vu_--Napoleon Bonaparte
himself, the arch-arbiter of the world, on the very pinnacle of his
pride and power; in his little cocked hat and gray double-breasted
overcoat, astride his white charger, with all his staff around him, just
as he has been so often painted! Surely the most impressive,
unforgettable, ineffaceable little figure in all modern history, and
clothed in the most cunningly imagined make-up that ever theatrical
costumier devised to catch the public eye and haunt the public memory
for ages and ages yet to come!
It is a singularly new, piquant, and exciting sensation to stare in
person, and as in the present, at bygone actualities, and be able to
foretell the past and remember the future all in one!
To think that we have even beheld him before he was first consul--slim
and pale, his lank hair dangling down his neck and cheeks, if possible
more impressive still as innocent as a child of all that lay before him!
Europe at his feet--the throne--Waterloo-St. Helena--the Iron English
Duke--the pinnacle turned into a pillory so soon!
_"O corse à cheveux plats, que la France était belle Au soleil de
And Mirabeau and Robespierre, and Danton and Marat and Charlotte Corday!
we have seen them too; and Marie Antoinette and the fish-wives, and "the
beautiful head of Lamballe" (on its pike!) ... and watched the tumbrils
go by to the Place du Carrousel, and gazed at the guillotine by
moonlight--silent and terror-stricken, our very hearts in our mouths....
And in the midst of it all, ridiculous stray memories of Madame Tussaud
would come stealing into our ghastly dream of blood and retribution,
mixing up past and present and future in a manner not to be described,
and making us smile through our tears!
Then we were present (several times!) at the taking of the Bastille, and
indeed witnessed most of the stormy scenes of that stormy time, with our
Carlyle in our hands; and often have we thought, and with many a hearty
laugh, what fun it must be to write immortal histories, with never an
eye-witness to contradict you!
And going further back we have haunted Versailles in the days of its
splendor, and drunk our fill of all the glories of the court of
What imposing ceremonials, what stupendous royal functions have we not
attended--where all the beauty, wit, and chivalry of France, prostrate
with reverence and awe (as in the very presence of a god), did loyal
homage to the greatest monarch this world has ever seen--while we sat
by, on the very steps of his throne, as he solemnly gave out his royal
command! and laughed aloud under his very nose--the shallow, silly,
pompous little snob--and longed to pull it! and tried to disinfect his
greasy, civet-scented, full-bottomed wig with wholesome whiffs from a
Nothing of that foolish but fascinating period escaped us. Town, hamlet,
river, forest, and field; royal palace, princely castle, and starving
peasants' hut; pulpit, stage, and salon; port, camp, and marketplace;
tribunal and university; factory, shop, studio, smithy; tavern and
gambling-hell and den of thieves; convent and jail, torture-chamber and
gibbet-close, and what not all!
And at every successive step our once desponding, over-anxious,
over-burdened latter-day souls have swelled with joy and pride and hope
at the triumphs of our own day all along the line! Yea, even though we
have heard the illustrious Bossuet preach, and applauded Molière in one
of his own plays, and gazed at and listened to (and almost forgiven)
Racine and Corneille, and Boileau and Fénélon, and the good
Lafontaine--those five ruthless persecutors of our own innocent French
And still ascending the stream of time, we have hobnobbed with Montaigne
and Rabelais, and been personally bored by Malherbe, and sat at
Ronsard's feet, and ridden by Froissart's side, and slummed with
François Villon--in what enchanted slums! ...
François Villon! Think of that, ye fond British bards and bardlets
of to-day--ye would-be translators and imitators of that
never-to-be-translated, never-to-be-imitated lament, the immortal
_Ballade des Dames du Temps jadis_!
And while I speak of it, I may as well mention that we have seen them
too, or some of them--those fair ladies _he_ had never seen, and who had
already melted away before his coming, like the snows of yester year,
_les neiges d'antan!_ Bertha, with the big feet; Joan of Arc, the good
Lorrainer (what would she think of her native province now!); the very
learned Héloïse, for love of whom one Peter Esbaillart, or Abélard (a
more luckless Peter than even I!), suffered such cruel indignities at
monkish hands; and that haughty, naughty queen, in her Tower of Nesle,
_"Qui commanda que Buridan Fut jecté en ung Sac en Seine...."_
Yes, we have seen them with the eye, and heard them speak and sing, and
scold and jest, and laugh and weep, and even pray! And I have sketched
them, as you shall see some day, good reader! And let me tell you that
their beauty was by no means maddening: the standard of female
loveliness has gone up, even in France! Even _la très sage Héloïs_ was
scarcely worth such a sacrifice as--but there! Possess your soul in
patience; all that, and it is all but endless, will appear in due time,
with such descriptions and illustrations as I flatter myself the world
has never bargained for, and will value as it has never valued any
historical records yet!
Day after day, for more than twenty years, Mary has kept a voluminous
diary (in a cipher known to us both); it is now my property, and in it
every detail of our long journey into the past has been set down.
Contemporaneously, day by day (during the leisure accorded to me by the
kindness of Governor----) I have drawn over again from memory the
sketches of people and places I was able to make straight from nature
during those wonderful nights at "Magna sed Apta." I can guarantee the
correctness of them, and the fidelity of their likenesses; no doubt
their execution leaves much to be desired.
Both her task and mine (to the future publication of which this
autobiography is but an introduction) have been performed with the
minutest care and conscientiousness; no time or trouble have been
spared. For instance, the Massacre of St. Bartholomew alone, which we
were able to study from seventeen different points of view, cost us no
less than two months' unremitting labor.
As we reached further and further back through the stream of time, the
task became easier in a way; but we have had to generalize more, and
often, for want of time and space, to use types in lieu of individuals.
For with every successive generation the number of our progenitors
increased in geometrical progression (as in the problem of the nails in
the horseshoe) until a limit of numbers was reached--namely, the sum of
the inhabitants of the terrestrial globe. In the seventh century there
was not a person living in France (not to mention Europe) who was not in
the line of our direct ancestry, excepting, of course, those who had
died without issue and were mere collaterals.
[Illustration: "THE MAMMOTH."]
We have even just been able to see, as in a glass darkly, the faint
shadows of the Mammoth and the cave bear, and of the man who hunted and
killed and ate them, that he might live and prevail.
We have walked round him and under him as he browsed, and even _through_
him where he lay and rested, as one walks through the dun mist in a
little hollow on a still, damp morning; and turning round to look (at
the proper distance) there was the unmistakable shape again, just thick
enough to blot out the lines of the dim primeval landscape beyond, and
make a hole in the blank sky. A dread silhouette, thrilling our hearts
with awe--blurred and indistinct like a composite photograph--merely the
_type_, as it had been seen generally by all who had ever seen it at
all, every one of whom _(exceptis excipiendis)_ was necessarily an
ancestor of ours, and of every man now living.
There it stood or reclined, the monster, like the phantom of an
overgrown hairy elephant; we could almost see, or fancy we saw, the
expression of his dull, cold, antediluvian eye--almost perceive a
suggestion of russet-brown in his fell.
Mary firmly believed that we should have got in time to our hairy
ancestor with pointed ears and a tail, and have been able to ascertain
whether he was arboreal in his habits or not. With what passionate
interest she would have followed and studied and described him! And I!
With what eager joy, and yet with what filial reverence, I would have
sketched his likeness--with what conscientious fidelity as far as my poor
powers would allow! (For all we know to the contrary he may have been
the most attractive and engaging little beast that ever was, and far
less humiliating to descend from than many a titled yahoo of the
Fate, alas, has willed that it should be otherwise, and on others, duly
trained, must devolve the delightful task of following up the clew we
have been so fortunate as to discover.
* * * * *
And now the time has come for me to tell as quickly as I may the story
of my bereavement--a bereavement so immense that no man, living or dead,
can ever have experienced the like; and to explain how it is that I have
not only survived it and kept my wits (which some people seem to doubt),
but am here calmly and cheerfully writing my reminiscences, just as if I
were a famous Academician, actor, novelist, statesman, or general
diner-out--blandly garrulous and well-satisfied with myself and
During the latter years of our joint existence Mary and I engrossed by
our fascinating journey through the centuries, had seen little or
nothing of each other's outer lives, or rather I had seen nothing of
hers (for she still came back sometimes with me to my jail); I only saw
her as she chose to appear in our dream.
Perhaps at the bottom of this there may have been a feminine dislike on
her part to be seen growing older, for at "Magna sed Apta" we were
always twenty-eight or thereabouts--at our very best. We had truly
discovered the fountain of perennial youth, and had drunk thereof! And
in our dream we always felt even younger than we looked; we had the
buoyancy of children and their freshness.
Often had we talked of death and separation and the mystery beyond, but
only as people do for whom such contingencies are remote; yet in reality
time flew as rapidly for us as for others, although we were less
sensible of its flight.
There came a day when Mary's exuberant vitality, so constantly
overtaxed, broke down, and she was ill for a while; although that did
not prevent our meeting as usual, and there was no perceptible
difference in her when we met. But I am certain that in reality she was
never quite the same again as she had been, and the dread possibility of
parting any day would come up oftener in our talk; in our minds, only
too often, and our minds were as one.
She knew that if I died first, everything I had brought into "Magna sed
Apta" (and little it was) would be there no more; even to my body, ever
lying supine on the couch by the enchanted window, it she had woke by
chance to our common life before I had, or remained after I had been
summoned away to my jail.
And I knew that, if she died, not only her body on the adjacent couch,
but all "Magna sed Apta" itself would melt away, and be as if it had
never been, with its endless galleries and gardens and magic windows,
and all the wonders it contained.
Sometimes I felt a hideous nervous dread, on sinking into sleep, lest I
should find it was so, and the ever-heavenly delight of waking there,
and finding all as usual, was but the keener. I would kneel by her
inanimate body, and gaze at her with a passion of love that seemed made
up of all the different kinds of love a human being can feel; even the
love of a dog for his mistress was in it, and that of a wild beast for
With eager, tremulous anxiety and aching suspense I would watch for the
first light breath from her lips, the first faint tinge of carmine in
her cheek, that always heralded her coming back to life. And when she
opened her eyes and smiled, and stretched her long young limbs in the
joy of waking, what transports of gratitude and relief!
Ah me! the recollection!
* * * * *
At last a terrible unforgettable night arrived when my presentiment was
I awoke in the little lumber-room of "Parva sed Apta," where the door
had always been that led to and from our palace of delight; but there
was no door any longer--nothing but a blank wall....
I woke back at once in my cell, in such a state as it is impossible to
describe. I felt there must be some mistake, and after much time and
effort was able to sink into sleep again, but with the same result: the
blank wall, the certainty that "Magna sed Apta" was closed forever, that
Mary was dead; and then the terrible jump back into my prison
This happened several times during the night, and when the morning
dawned I was a raving madman. I took the warder who first came
(attracted by my cries of "Mary!") for Colonel Ibbetson, and tried to
kill him, and should have done so, but that he was a very big man,
almost as powerful as myself and only half my age.
Other warders came to the rescue, and I took them all for Ibbetsons, and
fought like the maniac I was.
When I came to myself, after long horrors and brain-fever and what not,
I was removed from the jail infirmary to another place, where I am now.
I had suddenly recovered my reason, and woke to mental agony such as I,
who had stood in the dock and been condemned to a shameful death, had
never even dreamed of.
I soon had the knowledge of my loss confirmed, and heard (it had been
common talk for more than nine days) that the famous Mary, Duchess of
Towers, had met her death at the ------ station of the Metropolitan
A woman, carrying a child, had been jostled by a tipsy man just as a
train was entering the station, and dropped her child onto the metals.
She tried to jump after it but was held back, and Mary, who had just
come up, jumped in her stead, and by a miracle of strength and agility
was just able to clutch the child and get onto the six-foot way as the
engine came by.
She was able to carry the child to the end of the train, and was helped
onto the platform. It was her train, and she got into a carriage, but
she was dead before it reached the next station. Her heart, (which, it
seems, had been diseased for some time) had stopped, and all was over.
So died Mary Seraskier, at fifty-three.
* * * * *
I lay for many weeks convalescent in body, but in a state of dumb, dry
tearless, despair, to which there never came a moment's relief, except
in the dreamless sleep I got from chloral, which was given to me in
large quantities--and then, the _waking_!
I never spoke nor answered a question, and hardly ever stirred. I had
one fixed idea--that of self-destruction; and after two unsuccessful
attempts, I was so closely bound and watched night and day that any
further attempt was impossible. They would not trust me with a toothpick
or a button or a piece of common packthread.
I tried to starve myself to death and refused all solid food: but an
intolerable thirst (perhaps artificially brought on) made it impossible
for me to refuse any liquid that was offered, and I was tempted with
milk, beef-tea, port, and sherry, and these kept me alive....
* * * * *
I had lost all wish to dream.
At length, one afternoon, a strange, inexplicable, overwhelming
nostalgic desire came over me to see once more the Mare d'Auteuil--only
once; to walk thither for the last time through the Chaussée de la
Muette, and by the fortifications.
It grew upon me till it became a torture to wait for bedtime, so frantic
was my impatience.
When the long-wished-for hour arrived at last, I laid myself down once
more (as nearly as I could for my bonds) in the old position I had not
tried for so long; my will intent upon the Porte de la Muette, an old
stone gate-way that separated the Grande Rue de Passy from the entrance
to the Bois de Boulogne--a kind of Temple Bar.
It was pulled down forty-five years ago.
I soon found myself there, just where the Grande Rue meets the Rue de la
Pompe, and went through the arch and looked towards the Bois.
It was a dull, leaden day in autumn; few people were about, but a gay
_repas de noces_ was being held at a little restaurant on my right-hand
side. It was to celebrate the wedding of Achille Grigoux, the
green-grocer, with Félicité Lenormand, who had been the Seraskiers'
house-maid. I suddenly remembered all this, and that Mimsey and Gogo
were of the party--the latter, indeed, being _premier garçon d'honneur_,
on whom would soon devolve the duty of stealing the bride's garter, and
cutting it up into little bits to adorn the button-holes of the male
guests before the ball began.
In an archway on my left some forlorn, worn-out old rips, broken-kneed
and broken-winded, were patiently waiting, ready saddled and bridled, to
be hired--Chloris, Murat, Rigolette, and others: I knew and had ridden
them all nearly half a century ago. Poor old shadows of the long-dead
past, so life-like and real and pathetic--it "split me the heart" to
A handsome young blue-coated, silver-buttoned courier of the name of
Lami came trotting along from St. Cloud on a roan horse, with a great
jingling of his horse's bells and clacking of his short-handled whip. He
stopped at the restaurant and called for a glass of white wine, and
rising in his stirrups, shouted gayly for Monsieur et Madame Grigoux.
They appeared at the first-floor window, looking very happy, and he
drank their health, and they his. I could see Gogo and Mimsey in the
crowd behind them, and mildly wondered again, as I had so often wondered
before, how I came to see it all from the outside--from another point of
view than Gogo's.
Then the courier bowed gallantly, and said, _"Bonne chance!"_ and went
trotting down the Grande Rue on his way to the Tuileries, and the
wedding guests began to sing: they sang a song beginning--
_"Il était un petit navire, Qui n'avait jamais navigué_...."
I had quite forgotten it, and listened till the end, and thought it very
pretty; and was interested in a dull, mechanical way at discovering
that it must be the original of Thackeray's famous ballad of "Little
Billee," which I did not hear till many years after. When they came to
the last verse--
"_Si cette histoire vous embête, Nous allons la recommencer_,"
I went on my way. This was my last walk in dreamland, perhaps, and
dream-hours are uncertain, and I would make the most of them, and
look about me.
I walked towards Ranelagh, a kind of casino, where they used to give
balls and theatrical performances on Sunday and Thursday nights (and
where afterwards Rossini spent the latter years of his life; then it was
pulled down, I am told, to make room for many smart little villas).
In the meadow opposite M. Erard's park, Saindou's school-boys were
playing rounders--_la balle au camp_--from which I concluded it was a
Thursday afternoon, a half-holiday; if they had had clean shirts on
(which they had not) it would have been Sunday, and the holiday a
I knew them all, and the two _pions_, or ushers, M. Lartigue and _le
petit Cazal_; but no longer cared for them or found them amusing or
interesting in the least.
Opposite the Ranelagh a few old hackney-coach men were pacifically
killing time by a game of _bouchon_--knocking sous off a cork with other
sous--great fat sous and double sous long gone out of fashion. It is a
very good game, and I watched it for a while and envied the
Close by was a small wooden shed, or _baraque_, prettily painted and
glazed, and ornamented at the top with little tricolor flags; it
belonged to a couple of old ladies, Mère Manette and Grandmère
Manette-the two oldest women ever seen. They were very keen about
business, and would not give credit for a centime--not even to English
boys. They were said to be immensely rich and quite alone in the world.
How very dead they must be now! I thought. And I gazed at them and
wondered at their liveliness and the pleasure they took in living. They
sold many things: nougat, _pain d'èpices_, mirlitons, hoops, drums,
noisy battledoors and shuttlecocks; and little ten-sou hand-mirrors,
neatly bound in zinc, that could open and shut.
I looked at myself in one of these that was hanging outside; I was old
and worn and gray-my face badly shaven--my hair almost white. I had
never been old in a dream before.
I walked through the gate in the fortifications on to the outer Talus
(which was quite bare in those days), in the direction of the Mare
d'Auteuil. The place seemed very deserted and dull for a Thursday. It
was a sad and sober walk; my melancholy was not to be borne--my heart
was utterly broken, and my body so tired I could scarcely drag myself
along. Never before had I known in a dream what it was to be tired.
I gazed at the famous fortifications in all their brand-new pinkness,
the scaffoldings barely removed--some of them still lying in the dry
ditch between--and smiled to think how these little brick and granite
walls would avail to keep the Germans out of Paris thirty years later
(twenty years ago). I tried to throw a stone across the narrow part, and
found I could no longer throw stones; so I sat down and rested. How thin
my legs were! and how miserably clad--in old prison trousers, greasy,
stained, and frayed, and ignobly kneed--and what boots!
[Illustration: "I sat down and rested."]
Never had I been shabby in a dream before.
Why could not I, once for all, walk round to the other side and take a
header _à la hussarde_ off those lofty bulwarks, and kill myself for
good and all? Alas! I should only blur the dream, and perhaps even wake
in my miserable strait-waistcoat. And I wanted to see the _mare_ once
more, very badly.
This set me thinking. I would fill my pockets with stones, and throw
myself into the Mare d'Auteuil after I had taken a last good look at it,
and around. Perhaps the shock of emotion, in my present state of
weakness, might really kill me in my sleep. Who knows? it was worth
I got up and dragged myself to the _mare_. It was deserted but for one
solitary female figure, soberly clad in black and gray, that sat
motionless on the bench by the old willow.
I walked slowly round in her direction, picking up stones and putting
them into my pockets, and saw that she was gray-haired and middle-aged,
with very dark eyebrows, and extremely tall, and that her magnificent
eyes were following me.
Then, as I drew nearer, she smiled and showed gleaming white teeth, and
her eyes crinkled and nearly closed up as she did so.
"Oh, my God!" I shrieked; "it is Mary Seraskier!"
* * * * *
I ran to her--I threw myself at her feet, and buried my face in her lap,
and there I sobbed like a hysterical child, while she tried to soothe me
as one soothes a child.
After a while I looked up into her face. It was old and worn and gray,
and her hair nearly white, like mine. I had never seen her like that
before; she had always been eight-and-twenty. But age became her
well--she looked so benignly beautiful and calm and grand that I was
awed--and quick, chill waves went down my backbone.
Her dress and bonnet were old and shabby, her gloves had been
mended--old kid gloves with fur about the wrists. She drew them off, and
took my hands and made me sit beside her, and looked at me for a while
with all her might in silence.
At length she said: "Gogo mio, I know all you have been through by the
touch of your hands. Does the touch of mine tell you nothing?"
It told me nothing but her huge love for me, which was all I cared for,
and I said so.
She sighed, and said: "I was afraid it would be like this. The old
circuit is broken, and can't be restored--not yet!"
We tried again hard; but it was useless.
She looked round and about and up at the tree-tops, everywhere; and then
at me again, with great wistfulness, and shivered, and finally began to
speak, with hesitation at first, and in a manner foreign to her. But
soon she became apparently herself, and found her old swift smile and
laugh, her happy slight shrugs and gestures, and quaint polyglot
colloquialisms (which I omit, as I cannot always spell them); her
homely, simple ways of speech, her fluent, magnetic energy, the winning
and sympathetic modulations of her voice, its quick humorous changes
from grave to gay--all that made everything she said so suggestive of
all she wanted to say besides.
"Gogo, I knew you would come. I _wished_ it! How dreadfully you have
suffered! How thin you are! It shocks me to see you! But that will not
be any more; we are going to change all that.
"Gogo, you have no idea how difficult it has been for me to come back,
even for a few short hours, for I can't hold on very long. It is like
hanging on to the window-sill by one's wrists. This time it is Hero
swimming to Leander, or Juliet climbing up to Romeo.
"Nobody has ever come back before.
"I am but a poor husk of my former self, put together at great pains for
you to know me by. I could not make myself again what I have always been
to you. I had to be content with this, and so must you. These are the
clothes I died in. But you knew me directly, dear Gogo.
"I have come a long way--such a long way--to have an _abboccamento_ with
you. I had so many things to say. And now we are both here, hand in hand
as we used to be, I can't even understand what they were; and if I
could, I couldn't make _you_ understand. But you will know some day, and
there is no hurry whatever.
"Every thought you have had since I died, I know already; _your_ share
of the circuit is unbroken at least. I know now why you picked up those
stones and put them in your pockets. You must never think of _that_
again--you never will. Besides, it would be of no use, poor Gogo!"
Then she looked up at the sky and all round her again, and smiled in her
old happy manner, and rubbed her eyes with the backs of her hands, and
seemed to settle herself for a good long talk--an _abboccamento!_
* * * * *
Of all she said I can only give a few fragments--whatever I can recall
and understand when awake. Wherever I have forgotten I will put a line
of little dots. Only when I sleep and dream can I recall and understand
the rest. It seems all very simple then. I often say to myself, "I will
fix it well in my mind, and put it into well-chosen words--_her_
words--and learn them by heart; and then wake cautiously and remember
them, and write them all down in a book, so that they shall do for
others all they have done for me, and turn doubt into happy certainty,
and despair into patience and hope and high elation."
[Illustration: "IT IS MARY SERASKIER!"]
But the bell rings and I wake, and my memory plays me false. Nothing
remains but the knowledge _that all will be well for us all, and of such
a kind that those who do not sigh for the moon will be well content_.
Alas, this knowledge: I cannot impart it to others. Like many who have
lived before me, I cannot prove--I can only affirm....
* * * * *
"How odd and old-fashioned it feels," she began, "to have eyes and ears
again, and all that--little open windows on to what is near us. They are
very clumsy contrivances! I had already forgotten them."
* * * * *
Look, there goes our old friend, the water-rat, under the bank--the old
fat father--_le bon gros père_--as we used to call him. He is only a
little flat picture moving upsidedown in the opposite direction across
the backs of our eyes, and the farther he goes the smaller he seems. A
couple of hundred yards off we shouldn't see him at all. As it is, we
can only see the outside of him, and that only on one side at a time;
and yet he is full of important and wonderful things that have taken
millions of years to make--like us! And to see him at all we have to
look straight at him--and then we can't see what's behind us or
around--and if it was dark we couldn't see anything whatever.
Poor eyes! Little bags full of water, with a little magnifying-glass
inside, and a nasturtium leaf behind--to catch the light and feel it!
A celebrated German oculist once told papa that if his instrument-maker
were to send him such an ill-made machine as a human eye, he would send
it back and refuse to pay the bill. I can understand that now; and yet
on earth where should we be without eyes? And afterwards where should we
be if some of us hadn't once had them on earth?
* * * * *
I can hear your dear voice, Gogo, with both ears. Why two ears? Why
only two? What you want, or think, or feel, you try to tell me in sounds
that you have been taught--English, French. If I didn't know English and
French, it would be no good whatever. Language is a poor thing. You fill
your lungs with wind and shake a little slit in your throat, and make
mouths, and that shakes the air; and the air shakes a pair of little
drums in my head--a very complicated arrangement, with lots of bones
behind--and my brain seizes your meaning in the rough. What a roundabout
way, and what a waste of time!
* * * * *
And so with all the rest. We can't even smell straight! A dog would
laugh at us--not that even a dog knows much!
And feeling! We can feel too hot or too cold, and it sometimes makes us
ill, or even kills us. But we can't feel the coming storm, or which is
north and south, or where the new moon is, or the sun at midnight, or
the stars at noon, or even what o'clock it is by our own measurement. We
cannot even find our way home blindfolded--not even a pigeon can do
that, nor a swallow, nor an owl! Only a mole, or a blind man, perhaps,
feebly groping with a stick, if he has already been that way before.
And taste! It is well said there is no accounting for it.
And then, to keep all this going, we have to eat, and drink, and sleep,
and all the rest. What a burden!
* * * * *
And you and I are the only mortals that I know of who ever found a way
to each other's inner being by the touch of the hands. And then we had
to go to sleep first. Our bodies were miles apart; not that _that_ would
have made any difference, for we could never have done it waking--never;
not if we hugged each other to extinction!
* * * * *
Gogo, I cannot find any words to tell you _how_, for there are none in
any language that _I_ ever knew to tell it; but where I am it is all ear
and eye and the rest in _one_, and there is, oh, how much more besides!
Things a homing-pigeon has known, and an ant, and a mole, and a
water-beetle, and an earthworm, and a leaf, and a root, and a
magnet--even a lump of chalk, and more. One can see and smell and touch
and taste a sound, as well as hear it, and _vice versâ_. It is very
simple, though it may not seem so to you now.
And the sounds! Ah, what sounds! The thick atmosphere of earth is no
conductor for such as _they_, and earthly ear-drums no receiver. Sound
is everything. Sound and light are one.
* * * * *
And what does it all mean?
I knew what it meant when I was there--part of it, at least--and should
know again in a few hours. But this poor old earth-brain of mine, which
I have had to put on once more as an old woman puts on a nightcap, is
like my eyes and ears. It can now only understand what is of the
earth--what _you_ can understand, Gogo, who are still of the earth. I
forget, as one forgets an ordinary dream, as one sometimes forgets the
answer to a riddle, or the last verse of a song. It is on the tip of the
tongue; but there it sticks, and won't come any farther.
Remember, it is only in your brain I am living now--your earthly brain,
that has been my only home for so many happy years, as mine has
How we have nestled!
* * * * *
But this I know: one must have had them all once--brains, ears, eyes,
and the rest--on earth. 'Il faut avoir passé par là!' or no
after-existence for man or beast would be possible or even conceivable.
One cannot teach a born deaf-mute how to understand a musical score,
nor a born blind man how to feel color. To Beethoven, who had once heard
with the ear, his deafness made no difference, nor their blindness to
Homer and Milton.
Can you make out my little parable?
* * * * *
Sound and light and heat, and electricity and motion, and will and
thought and remembrance, and love and hate and pity, and the desire to
be born and to live, and the longing of all things alive and dead to get
near each other, or to fly apart--and lots of other things besides! All
that comes to the same--'C'est comme qui dirait bonnet blanc et blanc
bonnet,' as Monsieur le Major used to say. 'C'est simple comme bonjour!'
Where I am, Gogo, I can hear the sun shining on the earth and making
the flowers blow, and the birds sing, and the bells peal for birth and
marriage and death--happy, happy death, if you only knew--'C'est la clef
It shines on moons and planets, and I can hear it, and hear the echo
they give back again. The very stars are singing; rather a long way off!
but it is well worth their while with such an audience as lies between
us and them; and they can't help it....
I can't hear it here--not a bit--now that I've got my ears on; besides,
the winds of the earth are too loud....
Ah, that _is_ music, if you like; but men and women are stone-deaf to
it--their ears are in the way! ...
Those poor unseen flat fish that live in the darkness and mud at the
bottom of deep seas can't catch the music men and women make upon the
earth--such poor music as it is! But if ever so faint a murmur, borne on
the wings and fins of a sunbeam, reaches them for a few minutes at
mid-day, and they have a speck of marrow in their spines to feel it, and
no ears or eyes to come between, they are better off than any man, Gogo.
Their dull existence is more blessed than his.
But alas for them, as yet! They haven't got the memory of the eye and
ear, and without that no speck of spinal marrow will avail; they must be
content to wait, like you.
The blind and deaf?
Oh yes; _là bas_, it is all right for the poor deaf-mutes and born
blind of the earth; they can remember with the past eyes and ears of all
the rest. Besides, it is no longer _they_. There is no _they_! That is
only a detail.
* * * * *
You must try and realize that it is just as though all space between us
and the sun and stars were full of little specks of spinal marrow, much
too small to be seen in any microscope--smaller than anything in the
world. All space is full of them, shoulder to shoulder--almost as close
as sardines in a box--and there is still room for more! Yet a single
drop of water would hold them all, and not be the less transparent. They
all remember having been alive on earth or elsewhere, in some form or
other, and each knows all the others remember. I can only compare it
Once all that space was only full of stones, rushing, whirling,
meeting, and crushing together, and melting and steaming in the
white-heat of their own hurry. But now there's a crop of something
better than stones, I can promise you! It goes on gathering, and being
garnered and mingled and sifted and winnowed--the precious,
indestructible harvest of how many millions of years of life!
* * * * *
And this I know: the longer and more strenuously and completely one
lives one's life on earth the better for all. It is the foundation of
everything. Though if men could guess what is in store for them when
they die, without also knowing _that_, they would not have the patience
to live--they wouldn't wait! For who would fardels bear? They would just
put stones in their pockets, as you did, and make for the nearest pond.
* * * * *
Nothing is lost--nothing! From the ineffable, high, fleeting thought a
Shakespeare can't find words to express, to the slightest sensation of
an earthworm--nothing! Not a leaf's feeling of the light, not a
loadstone's sense of the pole, not a single volcanic or electric thrill
of the mother earth.
All knowledge must begin on earth for _us_. It is the most favored
planet in this poor system of ours just now, and for a few short
millions of years to come. There are just a couple of others, perhaps
three; but they are not of great consequence. 'Il y fait trop chaud--ou
pas assez!' They are failures.
The sun, the father sun, _le bon gros père_, rains life on to the
mother earth. A poor little life it was at first, as you know--grasses
and moss, and little wriggling, transparent things--all stomach; it is
quite true! That is what we come from--Shakespeare, and you, and I!
* * * * *
After each individual death the earth retains each individual clay to
be used again and again; and, as far as I can see, it rains back each
individual essence to the sun--or somewhere near it--like a precious
water-drop returned to the sea, where it mingles, after having been
about and seen something of the world, and learned the use of five small
wits--and remembering all! Yes, like that poor little exiled wandering
water-drop in the pretty song your father used to sing, and which always
manages to find its home at last--
_'Va passaggier' in fiume,
Va prigionier' in fonte,
Ma sempre ritorn' al mar.'_
Or else it is as if little grains of salt were being showered into the
Mare d'Auteuil, to melt and mingle with the water and each other till
the Mare d'Auteuil itself was as salt as salt can be.
Not till that Mare d'Auteuil of the sun is saturated with the salt of
the earth, of earthly life and knowledge, will the purpose be complete,
and then old mother earth may well dry up into a cinder like the moon;
its occupation will be gone, like hers--'adieu, panier, les vendanges
And, as for the sun and its surrounding ocean of life--ah, that is
beyond _me_! but the sun will dry up, too, and its ocean of life no
doubt be drawn to other greater suns. For everything seems to go on more
or less in the same way, only crescendo, everywhere and forever.
* * * * *
You must understand that it is not a bit like an ocean, nor a bit like
water-drops, or grains of salt, or specks of spinal marrow; but it is
only by such poor metaphors that I can give you a glimpse of what I
mean, since you can no longer understand me, as you used to do on
earthly things, by the mere touch of our hands.
* * * * *
Gogo, I am the only little water-drop, the one grain of salt that has
not yet been able to dissolve and melt away in that universal sea; I am
It is as though a long, invisible chain bound me still to the earth,
and I were hung at the other end of it in a little transparent locket, a
kind of cage, which lets me see and hear things all round, but keeps me
from melting away.
And soon I found that this locket was made of that half of you that is
still in me, so that I couldn't dissolve, because half of me wasn't dead
at all; for the chain linked me to that half of myself I had left in
you, so that half of me actually wasn't there to be dissolved.... I am
getting rather mixed!
But oh, my heart's true love, how I hugged my chain, with you at the
other end of it!
With such pain and effort as you cannot conceive, I have crept along it
back to you, like a spider on an endless thread of its own spinning.
Such love as mine is stronger then death indeed!
* * * * *
I have come to tell you that we are inseparable forever, you and I, one
double speck of spinal marrow--'Philipschen!'--one little grain of salt,
one drop. There is to be no parting for _us_--I can see that; but such
extraordinary luck seems reserved for you and me alone up to now; and it
is all our own doing.
But not till you join me shall you and I be complete, and free to melt
away in that universal ocean, and take our part, as One, in all is
That moment--you must not hasten it by a moment. Time is nothing. I'm
even beginning to believe there's no such thing; there is so little
difference, _là-bas_, between a year and a day. And as for space--dear
me, an inch is as as an ell!
Things cannot be measured like that.
A midge's life is as long as a man's, for it has time to learn its
business, and do all the harm it can, and fight, and make love, and
marry, and reproduce its kind, and grow disenchanted and bored and sick
and content to die--all in a summer afternoon. An average man can live
to seventy years without doing much more.
And then there are tall midges, and clever and good-looking ones, and
midges of great personal strength and cunning, who can fly a little
faster and a little farther than the rest, and live an hour longer to
drink a whole drop more of some other creature's blood; but it does not
make a very great difference!
* * * * *
No, time and space mean just the same as 'nothing.'
But for you they mean much, as you have much to do. Our joint life must
be revealed--that long, sweet life of make-believe, that has been so
much more real than reality. Ah! where and what were time or space to
* * * * *
And you must tell all we have found out, and how; the way must be shown
to others with better brains and better training than _we_ had. The
value to mankind--to mankind here and hereafter--may be incalculable.
* * * * *
For some day, when all is found out that can be found out on earth, and
made the common property of all (or even before that), the great man
will perhaps arise and make the great guess that is to set us all free,
here and hereafter. Who knows?
I feel this splendid guesser will be some inspired musician of the
future, as simple as a little child in all things but his knowledge of
the power of sound; but even little children will have learned much in
those days. He will want new notes and find them--new notes between the
black and white keys. He will go blind like Milton and Homer, and deaf
like Beethoven; and then, all in the stillness and the dark, all in the
depths of his forlorn and lonely soul, he will make his best music, and
out of the endless mazes of its counterpoint he will evolve a secret, as
we did from the "Chant du Triste Commensal," but it will be a greater
secret than ours. Others will have been very near this hidden treasure;
but he will happen right _on_ it, and unearth it, and bring it to light.
I think I see him sitting at the key-board, so familiar of old to the
feel of his consummate fingers; painfully dictating his score to some
most patient and devoted friend--mother, sister, daughter, wife--that
score that he will never see or hear.
What a stammerer! Not only blind and deaf, but _mad_--mad in the
world's eyes, for fifty, a hundred, a thousand years. Time is nothing;
but that score will survive....
He will die of it, of course; and when he dies and comes to us, there
will be joy from here to Sirius, and beyond.
And one day they will find out on earth that he was only deaf and
blind--not mad at all. They will hear and _understand_--they will know
that he saw and heard as none had ever heard or seen before!
* * * * *
For 'as we sow we reap'; that is a true saying, and all the sowing is
done here on earth, and the reaping beyond. Man is a grub; his dead
clay, as he lies coffined in his grave, is the left-off cocoon he has
spun for himself during his earthly life, to burst open and soar from
with all his memories about him, even his lost ones. Like the
dragon-fly, the butterfly, the moth ... and when _they_ die it is the
same, and the same with a blade of grass. We are all, _tous tant que
nous sommes_, little bags of remembrance that never dies; that's what
we're _for_. But we can only bring with us to the common stock what
we've got. As Père François used to say, 'La plus belle fille au monde
ne peut donner que ce qu'elle a.'
* * * * *
Besides all this I am your earthly wife, Gogo--your loving, faithful,
devoted wife, and I wish it to be known.
* * * * *
And then at last, in the fulness of time--a very few years--ah,
"Once more shall Neuha lead her Torquil by the hand."
* * * * *
"Oh, Mary!" I cried, "shall we be transcendently happy again? As happy
as we were--_happier_ even?"
Ah, Gogo, is a man happier than a mouse, or a mouse than a turnip, or
a turnip than a lump of chalk? But what man would be a mouse or a
turnip, or _vice versâ_? What turnip would be a lump--of anything but
itself? Are two people happier than one? You and I, yes; because we
_are_ one; but who else? It is one and all. Happiness is like time
and space--we make and measure it ourselves; it is a fancy--as big, as
little, as you please; just a thing of contrasts and comparisons, like
health or strength or beauty or any other good--that wouldn't even be
noticed but for sad personal experience of its opposite!--or
"I have forgotten all I know but this, which is for you and me: we are
inseparable forever. Be sure we shall not want to go back again for
"And is there no punishment or reward?"
Oh, there again! What a detail! Poor little naughty perverse
midges--who were _born_ so--and _can't_ keep straight! poor little
exemplary midges who couldn't go wrong if they tried! Is it worth while?
Isn't it enough for either punishment or reward that the secrets of all
midges' hearts shall be revealed, and for all other midges to see?
Think of it!
* * * * *
There are battles to be fought and races to be won, but no longer
against '_each other_.' And strength and swiftness to win them; but no
longer any strong and swift. There is weakness and cowardice, but no
longer any cowards or weaklings. The good and the bad and the worst and
the best--it is all mixed up. But the good comes to the top; the bad
goes to the bottom--it is precipitated, as papa used to say. It is not
an agreeable sediment, with its once useful cruelty at the lowest bottom
of all--out of sight, out of mind--all but forgotten. _C'est déjà
* * * * *
"And the goal? The cause, the whither, and the why of it all? Ah!
Gogo--as inscrutable, as unthinkable as ever, till the great guesser
comes! At least so it seems to me, speaking as a fool, out of the depths
of my poor ignorance; for I am a new arrival, and a complete outsider,
with my chain and locket, waiting for you.
"I have only picked up a few grains of sand on the shore of that sea--a
few little shells, and I can't even show you what they are like. I see
that it is no good even talking of it, alas! And I had promised myself
"Oh! how my earthly education was neglected, and yours! and how I feel
it now, with so much to say in words, mere words! Why, to tell you in
words the little I can see, the very little--so that you could
understand--would require that each of us should be the greatest poet
and the greatest mathematician that ever were, rolled into one! How I
pity you, Gogo--with your untrained, unskilled, innocent pen, poor
scribe! having to write all this down--for you _must_--and do your poor
little best, as I have done mine in telling you! You must let the heart
speak, and not mind style or manner! Write _any_ how! write for the
greatest need and the greatest number.
"But do just try and see this, dearest, and make the best of it you can:
as far as _I_ can make it out, everything everywhere seems to be an
ever-deepening, ever-broadening stream that makes with inconceivable
velocity for its own proper level, WHERE PERFECTION IS! ... and ever
gets nearer and nearer, and never finds it, and fortunately never will!
"Only that, unlike an earthly stream, and more like a fresh flowing tide
up an endless, boundless, shoreless creek (if you can imagine that), the
level it seeks is immeasurably higher than its source. And everywhere in
it is Life, Life, Life! ever renewing and doubling itself, and ever
swelling that mighty river which has no banks!
"And everywhere in it like begets like, _plus_ a little better or a
little worse; and the little worse finds its way into some backwater and
sticks there, and finally goes to the bottom, and nobody cares. And the
little better goes on bettering and bettering--not all man's folly or
perverseness can hinder _that_, nor make that headlong torrent stay, or
ebb, or roll backward for a moment--_c'est plus fort que nous_! ... The
record goes on beating itself, the high-water-mark gets higher and
higher till the highest on earth is reached that can be--and then, I
suppose, the earth grows cold and the sun goes out--to be broken up into
bits, and used all over again, perhaps! And betterness flies to warmer
climes and higher systems, to better itself still! And so on, from
better to better, from higher to higher, from warmer to warmer, and
bigger to bigger--for ever and ever and ever!
"But the final superlative of all, absolute all--goodness and
all-highness, absolute all-wisdom, absolute omnipotence, beyond which
there neither is nor can be anything more, will never be reached at
all--since there are no such things; they are abstractions; besides
which, attainment means rest, and rest stagnation, and stagnation an end
of all! And there is no end, and never can be--no end to Time and all
the things that are done in it--no end to Space and all the things that
fill it, or all would come together in a heap and smash up in the
middle--and there _is_ no middle!--no end, no beginning, no middle! _no
middle_, Gogo! think of _that_! it is the most inconceivable thing
"So who shall say where Shakespeare and you and I come in--tiny links in
an endless chain, so tiny that even Shakespeare is no bigger than we!
And just a little way behind us, those little wriggling transparent
things, all stomach, that we descend from; and far ahead of ourselves,
but in the direct line of a long descent from _us_, an ever-growing
conscious Power, so strong, so glad, so simple, so wise, so mild, and so
beneficent, that what can we do, even now, but fall on our knees with
our foreheads in the dust, and our hearts brimful of wonder, hope, and
love, and tender shivering awe; and worship as a yet unborn, barely
conceived, and scarce begotten _Child_--that which we have always been
taught to worship as a _Father_--That which is not now, but _is_ to
be--That which we shall all share in and be part and parcel of in the
dim future--That which is slowly, surely, painfully weaving Itself out
of us and the likes of us all through the limitless Universe, and Whose
coming we can but faintly foretell by the casting of its shadow on our
own slowly, surely, painfully awakening souls!"
* * * * *
Then she went on to speak of earthly things, and ask questions in her
old practical way. First of my bodily health, with the tenderest
solicitude and the wisest advice--as a mother to a son. She even
insisted on listening to my heart, like a doctor.
Then she spoke at great length of the charities in which she had been
interested, and gave me many directions which I was to write, as coming
from myself, to certain people whose names and addresses she impressed
upon me with great care.
I have done as she wished, and most of these directions have been
followed to the letter, with no little wonder on the world's part (as
the world well knows) that such sagacious and useful reforms should have
originated with the inmate of a criminal lunatic asylum.
* * * * *
At last the time came for us to part. She foresaw that I should have to
wake in a few minutes, and said, rising----
"And now, Gogo, the best beloved that ever was on earth, take me once
more in your dear arms, and kiss me good-bye for a little while--_auf
wiedersehen_. Come here to rest and think and remember when your body
sleeps. My spirit will always be here with you. I may even be able to
come back again myself--just this poor husk of me--hardly more to look
at than a bundle of old clothes; but yet a world made up of love for
_you_. Good-bye, good-bye, dearest and best. Time is nothing, but I
shall count the hours. Good-bye...."
Even as she strained me to her breast I awoke.
* * * * *
I awoke, and knew that the dread black shadow of melancholia had passed
away from me like a hideous nightmare--like a long and horrible winter.
My heart was full of the sunshine of spring--the gladness of awaking to
a new life.
I smiled at my night attendant, who stared back at me in astonishment,
"Why, sir, blest if you ain't a new man altogether. There, now!"
I wrung his hand, and thanked him for all his past patience, kindness,
and forbearance with such effusion that his eyes had tears in them. I
had not spoken for weeks, and he heard my voice for the first time.
That day, also, without any preamble or explanation, I gave the doctor
and the chaplain and the governor my word of honor that I would not
attempt my life again, or any one else's, and was believed and trusted
on the spot; and they unstrapped me.
I was never so touched in my life.
In a week I recovered much of my strength; but I was an old man. That
was a great change.
Most people age gradually and imperceptibly. To me old age had come of a
sudden--in a night, as it were; but with it, and suddenly also, the
resigned and cheerful acquiescence, the mild serenity, that are its
compensation and more.
My hope, my certainty to be one with Mary some day--that is my haven, my
heaven--a consummation of completeness beyond which there is nothing to
wish for or imagine. Come what else may, that is safe, and that is all I
care for. She was able to care for me, and for many other things
besides, and I love her all the more for it; but I can only care
Sooner or later--a year--ten years; it does not matter much. I also am
beginning to disbelieve in the existence of time.
That waking was the gladdest in my life--gladder even than the waking
in my condemned cell the morning after my sentence of death, when
another black shadow passed away--that of the scaffold.
Oh, Mary! What has she not done for me--what clouds has she not
When night came round again I made once more, step by step, the journey
from the Porte de la Muette to the Mare d'Auteuil, with everything the
same--the gay wedding-feast, the blue and silver courier, the merry
_"Il était un petit navire."_
Nothing was altered, even to the dull gray weather. But, oh, the
difference to me!
I longed to play at _bouchon_ with the hackney coachmen, or at _la balle
au camp_ with my old schoolfellows. I could have even waltzed with
"Monsieur Lartigue" and "le petit Cazal."
I looked in Mère Manette's little mirror and saw my worn, gray, haggard,
old face again; and liked it, and thought it quite good-looking. I sat
down and rested by the fortifications as I had done the night before,
for I was still tired, but with a most delicious fatigue; my very
shabbiness was agreeable to me--_pauvre, mais honnête_. A convict, a
madman, but a prince among men--still the beloved of Mary!
And when at last I reached the spot I had always loved the best on earth
ever since I first saw it as a child, I fell on my knees and wept for
sheer excess of joy. It was mine indeed; it belonged to me as no land or
water had ever belonged to any man before.
Mary was not there, of course; I did not expect her.
But, strange and incomprehensible as it seems, she had forgotten her
gloves; she had left them behind her. One was on the bench, one was on
the ground; poor old gloves that had been mended, with the well-known
shape of her dear hand in them; every fold and crease preserved as in a
mould--the very cast of her finger-nails; and the scent of sandal-wood
she and her mother had so loved.
I laid them side by side, palms upward, on the bench where we had sat
the night before. No dream-wind has blown them away; no dream-thief has
stolen them; there they lie still, and will lie till the great change
comes over me, and I am one with their owner.
* * * * *
I am there every night--in the lovely spring or autumn
sunshine--meditating, remembering, taking notes--dream-notes to be
learned by heard, and used next day for a real purpose.
I walk round and round, or sit on the benches, or lie in the grass by
the brink, and smoke cigarettes without end, and watch the old
amphibious life I found so charming half a century ago, and find it
Sometimes I dive into the forest (which has now been razed to the
ground. Ever since 1870 there is an open space all round the Mare
d'Auteuil. I had seen it since then in a dream with Mary, who went to
Paris after the war, and mad pilgrimages by day to all the places so
dear to our hearts, and so changed; and again, when the night came,
with me for a fellow-pilgrim. It was a sad disenchantment for us both).
_My_ Mare d'Auteuil, where I spend so many hours, is the Mare d'Auteuil
of Louis Philippe, unchangeable except for such slight changes as _will_
occur, now and then, between the years 1839 and 1846: a broken bench
mended, a new barrier put up by the high-road, a small wooden dike
where the brink is giving way.
[Illustration: "I AM THERE EVERY NIGHT."]
And the thicket beside and behind it is dark and dense for miles, with
many tall trees and a rich, tangled undergrowth.
There is a giant oak which it is difficult to find in that labyrinth (it
now stands, for the world, alone in the open; an ornament to the Auteuil
race-course) I have often climbed it as a boy, with Mimsey and the
rest; I cannot climb it now, but I love to lie on the grass in its
shade, and dream in my dream there, shut in on all sides by fragrant,
impenetrable verdure; with birds and bees and butterflies and
dragon-flies and strange beetles and little field-mice with bright eyes,
and lithe spotted snakes and lively brown squirrels and beautiful green
lizards for my company. Now and then a gentle roebuck comes and feeds
close by me without fear, and the mole throws up his little mound of
earth and takes an airing.
It is a very charming solitude.
It amuses me to think by day, when broad awake in my sad English prison,
and among my crazy peers, how this nightly umbrageous French solitude of
mine, so many miles and years away, is now but a common, bare, wide
grassy plain, overlooked by a gaudy, beflagged grand-stand. It is
Sunday, let us say--and for all I know a great race may be going on--all
Paris is there, rich and poor. Little red-legged soldiers, big
blue-legged gendarmes, keep the course clear; the sun shines, the
tricolour waves, the gay, familiar language makes the summer breeze
musical. I dare say it is all very bright and animated, but the whole
place rings with the vulgar din of the bookmakers, and the air is full
of dust and foul with the scent of rank tobacco, the reek of struggling
French humanity; and the gaunt Eiffel Tower looks down upon it all from
the sky over Paris (so, at least, I am told) like a skeleton at a feast.
Back to Full Books