Quality and Other Studies and Essays, by John Galsworthy
This etext was produced by David Widger
STUDIES AND ESSAYS
By John Galsworthy
"Je vous dirai que l'exces est toujours un mal."
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
THE GRAND JURY
THAT OLD-TIME PLACE
I knew him from the days of my extreme youth, because he made my
father's boots; inhabiting with his elder brother two little shops
let into one, in a small by-street-now no more, but then most
fashionably placed in the West End.
That tenement had a certain quiet distinction; there was no sign upon
its face that he made for any of the Royal Family--merely his own
German name of Gessler Brothers; and in the window a few pairs of
boots. I remember that it always troubled me to account for those
unvarying boots in the window, for he made only what was ordered,
reaching nothing down, and it seemed so inconceivable that what he
made could ever have failed to fit. Had he bought them to put there?
That, too, seemed inconceivable. He would never have tolerated in
his house leather on which he had not worked himself. Besides, they
were too beautiful--the pair of pumps, so inexpressibly slim, the
patent leathers with cloth tops, making water come into one's mouth,
the tall brown riding boots with marvellous sooty glow, as if, though
new, they had been worn a hundred years. Those pairs could only have
been made by one who saw before him the Soul of Boot--so truly were
they prototypes incarnating the very spirit of all foot-gear. These
thoughts, of course, came to me later, though even when I was
promoted to him, at the age of perhaps fourteen, some inkling haunted
me of the dignity of himself and brother. For to make boots--such
boots as he made--seemed to me then, and still seems to me,
mysterious and wonderful.
I remember well my shy remark, one day, while stretching out to him
my youthful foot:
"Isn't it awfully hard to do, Mr. Gessler?"
And his answer, given with a sudden smile from out of the sardonic
redness of his beard: "Id is an Ardt!"
Himself, he was a little as if made from leather, with his yellow
crinkly face, and crinkly reddish hair and beard; and neat folds
slanting down his cheeks to the corners of his mouth, and his
guttural and one-toned voice; for leather is a sardonic substance,
and stiff and slow of purpose. And that was the character of his
face, save that his eyes, which were grey-blue, had in them the
simple gravity of one secretly possessed by the Ideal. His elder
brother was so very like him--though watery, paler in every way, with
a great industry--that sometimes in early days I was not quite sure
of him until the interview was over. Then I knew that it was he, if
the words, "I will ask my brudder," had not been spoken; and that, if
they had, it was his elder brother.
When one grew old and wild and ran up bills, one somehow never ran
them up with Gessler Brothers. It would not have seemed becoming to
go in there and stretch out one's foot to that blue iron-spectacled
glance, owing him for more than--say--two pairs, just the comfortable
reassurance that one was still his client.
For it was not possible to go to him very often--his boots lasted
terribly, having something beyond the temporary--some, as it were,
essence of boot stitched into them.
One went in, not as into most shops, in the mood of: "Please serve
me, and let me go!" but restfully, as one enters a church; and,
sitting on the single wooden chair, waited--for there was never
anybody there. Soon, over the top edge of that sort of well--rather
dark, and smelling soothingly of leather--which formed the shop,
there would be seen his face, or that of his elder brother, peering
down. A guttural sound, and the tip-tap of bast slippers beating the
narrow wooden stairs, and he would stand before one without coat, a
little bent, in leather apron, with sleeves turned back, blinking--as
if awakened from some dream of boots, or like an owl surprised in
daylight and annoyed at this interruption.
And I would say: "How do you do, Mr. Gessler? Could you make me a
pair of Russia leather boots?"
Without a word he would leave me, retiring whence he came, or into
the other portion of the shop, and I would, continue to rest in the
wooden chair, inhaling the incense of his trade. Soon he would come
back, holding in his thin, veined hand a piece of gold-brown leather.
With eyes fixed on it, he would remark: "What a beaudiful biece!"
When I, too, had admired it, he would speak again. "When do you wand
dem?" And I would answer: "Oh! As soon as you conveniently can."
And he would say: "To-morrow fordnighd?" Or if he were his elder
brother: "I will ask my brudder!"
Then I would murmur: "Thank you! Good-morning, Mr. Gessler." "Goot-
morning!" he would reply, still looking at the leather in his hand.
And as I moved to the door, I would hear the tip-tap of his bast
slippers restoring him, up the stairs, to his dream of boots. But if
it were some new kind of foot-gear that he had not yet made me, then
indeed he would observe ceremony--divesting me of my boot and holding
it long in his hand, looking at it with eyes at once critical and
loving, as if recalling the glow with which he had created it, and
rebuking the way in which one had disorganized this masterpiece.
Then, placing my foot on a piece of paper, he would two or three
times tickle the outer edges with a pencil and pass his nervous
fingers over my toes, feeling himself into the heart of my
I cannot forget that day on which I had occasion to say to him; "Mr.
Gessler, that last pair of town walking-boots creaked, you know."
He looked at me for a time without replying, as if expecting me to
withdraw or qualify the statement, then said:
"Id shouldn'd 'ave greaked."
"It did, I'm afraid."
"You goddem wed before dey found demselves?"
"I don't think so."
At that he lowered his eyes, as if hunting for memory of those boots,
and I felt sorry I had mentioned this grave thing.
"Zend dem back!" he said; "I will look at dem."
A feeling of compassion for my creaking boots surged up in me, so
well could I imagine the sorrowful long curiosity of regard which he
would bend on them.
"Zome boods," he said slowly, "are bad from birdt. If I can do
noding wid dem, I dake dem off your bill."
Once (once only) I went absent-mindedly into his shop in a pair of
boots bought in an emergency at some large firm's. He took my order
without showing me any leather, and I could feel his eyes penetrating
the inferior integument of my foot. At last he said:
"Dose are nod my boods."
The tone was not one of anger, nor of sorrow, not even of contempt,
but there was in it something quiet that froze the blood. He put his
hand down and pressed a finger on the place where the left boot,
endeavouring to be fashionable, was not quite comfortable.
"Id 'urds you dere,", he said. "Dose big virms 'ave no self-respect.
Drash!" And then, as if something had given way within him, he spoke
long and bitterly. It was the only time I ever heard him discuss the
conditions and hardships of his trade.
"Dey get id all," he said, "dey get id by adverdisement, nod by work.
Dey dake it away from us, who lofe our boods. Id gomes to this--
bresently I haf no work. Every year id gets less you will see." And
looking at his lined face I saw things I had never noticed before,
bitter things and bitter struggle--and what a lot of grey hairs there
seemed suddenly in his red beard!
As best I could, I explained the circumstances of the purchase of
those ill-omened boots. But his face and voice made so deep
impression that during the next few minutes I ordered many pairs.
Nemesis fell! They lasted more terribly than ever. And I was not
able conscientiously to go to him for nearly two years.
When at last I went I was surprised to find that outside one of the
two little windows of his shop another name was painted, also that of
a bootmaker-making, of course, for the Royal Family. The old
familiar boots, no longer in dignified isolation, were huddled in the
single window. Inside, the now contracted well of the one little
shop was more scented and darker than ever. And it was longer than
usual, too, before a face peered down, and the tip-tap of the bast
slippers began. At last he stood before me, and, gazing through
those rusty iron spectacles, said:
"Mr.-----, isn'd it?"
"Ah! Mr. Gessler," I stammered, "but your boots are really too
good, you know! See, these are quite decent still!" And I stretched
out to him my foot. He looked at it.
"Yes," he said, "beople do nod wand good hoods, id seems."
To get away from his reproachful eyes and voice I hastily remarked:
"What have you done to your shop?"
He answered quietly: "Id was too exbensif. Do you wand some boods?"
I ordered three pairs, though I had only wanted two, and quickly
left. I had, I do not know quite what feeling of being part, in his
mind, of a conspiracy against him; or not perhaps so much against him
as against his idea of boot. One does not, I suppose, care to feel
like that; for it was again many months before my next visit to his
shop, paid, I remember, with the feeling: "Oh! well, I can't leave
the old boy--so here goes! Perhaps it'll be his elder brother!"
For his elder brother, I knew, had not character enough to reproach
me, even dumbly.
And, to my relief, in the shop there did appear to be his elder
brother, handling a piece of leather.
"Well, Mr. Gessler," I said, "how are you?"
He came close, and peered at me.
"I am breddy well," he said slowly "but my elder brudder is dead."
And I saw that it was indeed himself--but how aged and wan! And
never before had I heard him mention his brother. Much shocked;
I murmured: "Oh! I am sorry!"
"Yes," he answered, "he was a good man, he made a good bood; but he
is dead." And he touched the top of his head, where the hair had
suddenly gone as thin as it had been on that of his poor brother, to
indicate, I suppose, the cause of death. "He could nod ged over
losing de oder shop. Do you wand any hoods?" And he held up the
leather in his hand: "Id's a beaudiful biece."
I ordered several pairs. It was very long before they came--but they
were better than ever. One simply could not wear them out. And soon
after that I went abroad.
It was over a year before I was again in London. And the first shop
I went to was my old friend's. I had left a man of sixty, I came
back to one of seventy-five, pinched and worn and tremulous, who
genuinely, this time, did not at first know me.
"Oh! Mr. Gessler," I said, sick at heart; "how splendid your boots
are! See, I've been wearing this pair nearly all the time I've been
abroad; and they're not half worn out, are they?"
He looked long at my boots--a pair of Russia leather, and his face
seemed to regain steadiness. Putting his hand on my instep, he said:
"Do dey vid you here? I 'ad drouble wid dat bair, I remember."
I assured him that they had fitted beautifully.
"Do you wand any boods?" he said. "I can make dem quickly; id is a
I answered: "Please, please! I want boots all round--every kind!"
"I will make a vresh model. Your food must be bigger." And with
utter slowness, he traced round my foot, and felt my toes, only once
looking up to say:
"Did I dell you my brudder was dead?"
To watch him was painful, so feeble had he grown; I was glad to get
I had given those boots up, when one evening they came. Opening the
parcel, I set the four pairs out in a row. Then one by one I tried
them on. There was no doubt about it. In shape and fit, in finish
and quality of leather, they were the best he had ever made me. And
in the mouth of one of the Town walking-boots I found his bill.
The amount was the same as usual, but it gave me quite a shock. He
had never before sent it in till quarter day. I flew down-stairs,
and wrote a cheque, and posted it at once with my own hand.
A week later, passing the little street, I thought I would go in and
tell him how splendidly the new boots fitted. But when I came to
where his shop had been, his name was gone. Still there, in the
window, were the slim pumps, the patent leathers with cloth tops, the
sooty riding boots.
I went in, very much disturbed. In the two little shops--again made
into one--was a young man with an English face.
"Mr. Gessler in?" I said.
He gave me a strange, ingratiating look.
"No, sir," he said, "no. But we can attend to anything with
pleasure. We've taken the shop over. You've seen our name, no
doubt, next door. We make for some very good people."
"Yes, Yes," I said; "but Mr. Gessler?"
"Oh!" he answered; "dead."
"Dead! But I only received these boots from him last Wednesday
"Ah!" he said; "a shockin' go. Poor old man starved 'imself."
"Slow starvation, the doctor called it! You see he went to work in
such a way! Would keep the shop on; wouldn't have a soul touch his
boots except himself. When he got an order, it took him such a time.
People won't wait. He lost everybody. And there he'd sit, goin' on
and on--I will say that for him not a man in London made a better
boot! But look at the competition! He never advertised! Would 'ave
the best leather, too, and do it all 'imself. Well, there it is.
What could you expect with his ideas?"
"That may be a bit flowery, as the sayin' is--but I know myself he
was sittin' over his boots day and night, to the very last. You see
I used to watch him. Never gave 'imself time to eat; never had a
penny in the house. All went in rent and leather. How he lived so
long I don't know. He regular let his fire go out. He was a
character. But he made good boots."
"Yes," I said, "he made good boots."
And I turned and went out quickly, for I did not want that youth to
know that I could hardly see.
THE GRAND JURY--IN TWO PANELS AND A FRAME
Read that piece of paper, which summoned me to sit on the Grand Jury
at the approaching Sessions, lying in a scoop of the shore close to
the great rollers of the sea--that span of eternal freedom, deprived
just there of too great liberty by the word "Atlantic." And I
remember thinking, as I read, that in each breaking wave was some
particle which had visited every shore in all the world--that in each
sparkle of hot sunlight stealing that bright water up into the sky,
was the microcosm of all change, and of all unity.
In answer to that piece of paper, I presented myself at the proper
place in due course and with a certain trepidation. What was it that
I was about to do? For I had no experience of these things. And,
being too early, I walked a little to and fro, looking at all those
my partners in this matter of the purification of Society.
Prosecutors, witnesses, officials, policemen, detectives, undetected,
pressmen, barristers, loafers, clerks, cadgers, jurymen. And I
remember having something of the feeling that one has when one looks
into a sink without holding one's nose. There was such uneasy hurry,
so strange a disenchanted look, a sort of spiritual dirt, about all
that place, and there were--faces! And I thought: To them my face
must seem as their faces seem to me!
Soon I was taken with my accomplices to have my name called, and to
be sworn. I do not remember much about that process, too occupied
with wondering what these companions of mine were like; but presently
we all came to a long room with a long table, where nineteen lists of
indictments and nineteen pieces of blotting paper were set alongside
nineteen pens. We did not, I recollect, speak much to one another,
but sat down, and studied those nineteen lists. We had eighty-seven
cases on which to pronounce whether the bill was true or no; and the
clerk assured us we should get through them in two days at most.
Over the top of these indictments I regarded my eighteen fellows.
There was in me a hunger of inquiry, as to what they thought about
this business; and a sort of sorrowful affection for them, as if we
were all a ship's company bound on some strange and awkward
expedition. I wondered, till I thought my wonder must be coming
through my eyes, whether they had the same curious sensation that I
was feeling, of doing something illegitimate, which I had not been
born to do, together with a sense of self-importance, a sort of
unholy interest in thus dealing with the lives of my fellow men. And
slowly, watching them, I came to the conclusion that I need not
wonder. All with the exception perhaps of two, a painter and a Jew
looked such good citizens. I became gradually sure that they were
not troubled with the lap and wash of speculation; unclogged by any
devastating sense of unity; pure of doubt, and undefiled by an uneasy
But now they began to bring us in the evidence. They brought it
quickly. And at first we looked at it, whatever it was, with a sort
of solemn excitement. Were we not arbiters of men's fates, purifiers
of Society, more important by far than Judge or Common Jury? For if
we did not bring in a true bill there was an end; the accused would
We set to work, slowly at first, then faster and still faster,
bringing in true bills; and after every one making a mark in our
lists so that we might know where we were. We brought in true bills
for burglary, and false pretences, larceny, and fraud; we brought
them in for manslaughter, rape, and arson. When we had ten or so,
two of us would get up and bear them away down to the Court below and
lay them before the Judge. "Thank you, gentlemen!" he would say, or
words to that effect; and we would go up again, and go on bringing in
true bills. I noticed that at the evidence of each fresh bill we
looked with a little less excitement, and a little less solemnity,
making every time a shorter tick and a shorter note in the margin of
our lists. All the bills we had--fifty-seven--we brought in true.
And the morning and the afternoon made that day, till we rested and
went to our homes.
Next day we were all back in our places at the appointed hour, and,
not greeting each other much, at once began to bring in bills. We
brought them in, not quite so fast, as though some lurking megrim,
some microbe of dissatisfaction with ourselves was at work within us.
It was as if we wanted to throw one out, as if we felt our work too
perfect. And presently it came. A case of defrauding one Sophie
Liebermann, or Laubermann, or some such foreign name, by giving her
one of those five-pound Christmas-card banknotes just then in
fashion, and receiving from her, as she alleged, three real
sovereigns change. There was a certain piquancy about the matter,
and I well remember noticing how we sat a little forward and turned
in our seats when they brought in the prosecutrix to give evidence.
Pale, self-possessed, dressed in black, and rather comely, neither
brazen nor furtive, speaking but poor English, her broad, matter-of-
fact face, with its wide-set grey eyes and thickish nose and lips,
made on me, I recollect, an impression of rather stupid honesty. I
do not think they had told us in so many words what her calling was,
nor do I remember whether she actually disclosed it, but by our
demeanour I could tell that we had all realized what was the nature
of the service rendered to the accused, in return for which he had
given her this worthless note. In her rather guttural but pleasant
voice she answered all our questions--not very far from tears, I
think, but saved by native stolidity, and perhaps a little by the
fear that purifiers of Society might not be the proper audience for
emotion. When she had left us we recalled the detective, and still,
as it were, touching the delicate matter with the tips of our
tongues, so as not, being men of the world, to seem biassed against
anything, we definitely elicited from him her profession and these
words: "If she's speaking the truth, gentlemen; but, as you know,
these women, they don't always, specially the foreign ones!" When
he, too, had gone, we looked at each other in unwonted silence. None
of us quite liked, it seemed, to be first to speak. Then our foreman
said: "There's no doubt, I think, that he gave her the note--mean
trick, of course, but we can't have him on that alone--bit too
irregular--no consideration in law, I take it."
He smiled a little at our smiles, and then went on: "The question,
gentlemen, really seems to be, are we to take her word that she
actually gave him change?" Again, for quite half a minute; we were
silent, and then, the fattest one of us said, suddenly: "Very
dangerous--goin' on the word of these women."
And at once, as if he had released something in our souls, we all
(save two or three) broke out. It wouldn't do! It wasn't safe!
Seeing what these women were! It was exactly as if, without word
said, we had each been swearing the other to some secret compact to
protect Society. As if we had been whispering to each other
something like this: "These women--of course, we need them, but for
all that we can't possibly recognise them as within the Law; we can't
do that without endangering the safety of every one of us. In this
matter we are trustees for all men--indeed, even for ourselves, for
who knows at what moment we might not ourselves require their
services, and it would be exceedingly awkward if their word were
considered the equal of our own!" Not one of us, certainly said
anything so crude as this; none the less did many of us feel it.
Then the foreman, looking slowly round the table, said: "Well,
gentlemen, I think we are all agreed to throw out this bill"; and
all, except the painter, the Jew, and one other, murmured: "Yes."
And, as though, in throwing out this bill we had cast some trouble
off our minds, we went on with the greater speed, bringing in true
bills. About two o'clock we finished, and trooped down to the Court
to be released. On the stairway the Jew came close, and, having
examined me a little sharply with his velvety slits of eyes, as if to
see that he was not making a mistake, said: "Ith fonny--we bring in
eighty thix bills true, and one we throw out, and the one we throw
out we know it to be true, and the dirtieth job of the whole lot.
Ith fonny!" "Yes," I answered him, "our sense of respectability does
seem excessive." But just then we reached the Court, where, in his
red robe and grey wig, with his clear-cut, handsome face, the judge
seemed to shine and radiate, like sun through gloom. "I thank you,
gentlemen," he said, in a voice courteous and a little mocking, as
though he had somewhere seen us before: "I thank you for the way in
which you have performed your duties. I have not the pleasure of
assigning to you anything for your services except the privilege of
going over a prison, where you will be able to see what sort of
existence awaits many of those to whose cases you have devoted so
much of your valuable time. You are released, gentlemen."
Looking at each, other a little hurriedly, and not taking too much
farewell, for fear of having to meet again, we separated.
I was, then, free--free of the injunction of that piece of paper
reposing in my pocket. Yet its influence was still upon me. I did
not hurry away, but lingered in the courts, fascinated by the notion
that the fate of each prisoner had first passed through my hands. At
last I made an effort, and went out into the corridor. There I
passed a woman whose figure seemed familiar. She was sitting with
her hands in her lap looking straight before her, pale-faced and not
uncomely, with thickish mouth and nose--the woman whose bill we had
thrown out. Why was she sitting there? Had she not then realised
that we had quashed her claim; or was she, like myself, kept here by
mere attraction of the Law? Following I know not what impulse, I
said: "Your case was dismissed, wasn't it?" She looked up at me
stolidly, and a tear, which had evidently been long gathering,
dropped at the movement. "I do nod know; I waid to see," she said in
her thick voice; "I tink there has been mistake." My face, no doubt,
betrayed something of my sentiments about her case, for the thick
tears began rolling fast down her pasty cheeks, and her pent-up
feeling suddenly flowed forth in words: "I work 'ard; Gott! how I
work hard! And there gomes dis liddle beastly man, and rob me. And
they say: 'Ah! yes; but you are a bad woman, we don' trust you--you
speak lie.' But I speak druth, I am nod a bad woman--I gome from
Hamburg." "Yes, yes," I murmured; "yes, yes." "I do not know this
country well, sir. I speak bad English. Is that why they do not
drust my word?" She was silent for a moment, searching my face, then
broke out again: "It is all 'ard work in my profession, I make very
liddle, I cannot afford to be rob. Without the men I cannod make my
living, I must drust them--and they rob me like this, it is too
'ard." And the slow tears rolled faster and faster from her eyes on
to her hands and her black lap. Then quietly, and looking for a
moment singularly like a big, unhappy child, she asked: "Will you
blease dell me, sir, why they will not give me the law of that dirty
I knew--and too well; but I could not tell her.
"You see," I said, "it's just a case of your word against his." "Oh!
no; but," she said eagerly, "he give me the note--I would not have
taken it if I 'ad not thought it good, would I? That is sure, isn't
it? But five pounds it is not my price. It must that I give 'im
change! Those gentlemen that heard my case, they are men of
business, they must know that it is not my price. If I could tell
the judge--I think he is a man of business too he would know that
too, for sure. I am not so young. I am not so veree beautiful as
all that; he must see, mustn't he, sir?"
At my wits' end how to answer that most strange question, I stammered
out: "But, you know, your profession is outside the law."
At that a slow anger dyed her face. She looked down; then, suddenly
lifting one of her dirty, ungloved hands, she laid it on her breast
with the gesture of one baring to me the truth in her heart. "I am
not a bad woman," she said: "Dat beastly little man, he do the same
as me--I am free-woman, I am not a slave bound to do the same to-
morrow night, no more than he. Such like him make me what I am; he
have all the pleasure, I have all the work. He give me noding--he
rob my poor money, and he make me seem to strangers a bad woman. Oh,
dear! I am not happy!"
The impulse I had been having to press on her the money, died within
me; I felt suddenly it would be another insult. From the movement of
her fingers about her heart I could not but see that this grief of
hers was not about the money. It was the inarticulate outburst of a
bitter sense of deep injustice; of all the dumb wondering at her own
fate that went about with her behind that broad stolid face and
bosom. This loss of the money was but a symbol of the furtive,
hopeless insecurity she lived with day and night, now forced into the
light, for herself and all the world to see. She felt it suddenly a
bitter, unfair thing. This beastly little man did not share her
insecurity. None of us shared it--none of us, who had brought her
down to this. And, quite unable to explain to her how natural and
proper it all was, I only murmured: "I am sorry, awfully sorry," and
It was just a week later when, having for passport my Grand Jury
summons, I presented myself at that prison where we had the privilege
of seeing the existence to which we had assisted so many of the
"I'm afraid," I said to the guardian of the gate, "that I am rather
late in availing myself--the others, no doubt----?"
"Not at all, sir," he said, smiling. "You're the first, and if
you'll excuse me, I think you'll be the last. Will you wait in here
while I send for the chief warder to take you over?"
He showed me then to what he called the Warder's Library--an iron-
barred room, more bare and brown than any I had seen since I left
school. While I stood there waiting and staring out into the prison
court-yard, there came, rolling and rumbling in, a Black Maria. It
drew up with a clatter, and I saw through the barred door the single
prisoner--a young girl of perhaps eighteen--dressed in rusty black.
She was resting her forehead against a bar and looking out, her
quick, narrow dark eyes taking in her new surroundings with a sort of
sharp, restless indifference; and her pale, thin-upped, oval face
quite expressionless. Behind those bars she seemed to me for all the
world like a little animal of the cat tribe being brought in to her
Zoo. Me she did not see, but if she had I felt she would not shrink-
-only give me the same sharp, indifferent look she was giving all
else. The policeman on the step behind had disappeared at once, and
the driver now got down from his perch and, coming round, began to
gossip with her. I saw her slink her eyes and smile at him, and he
smiled back; a large man; not unkindly. Then he returned to his
horses, and she stayed as before, with her forehead against the bars,
just staring out. Watching her like that, unseen, I seemed to be
able to see right through that tight-lipped, lynx-eyed mask. I
seemed to know that little creature through and through, as one knows
anything that one surprises off its guard, sunk in its most private
moods. I seemed to see her little restless, furtive, utterly unmoral
soul, so stripped of all defence, as if she had taken it from her
heart and handed it out to me. I saw that she was one of those whose
hands slip as indifferently into others' pockets as into their own;
incapable of fidelity, and incapable of trusting; quick as cats, and
as devoid of application; ready to scratch, ready to purr, ready to
scratch again; quick to change, and secretly as unchangeable as a
little pebble. And I thought: "Here we are, taking her to the Zoo
(by no means for the first time, if demeanour be any guide), and we
shall put her in a cage, and make her sew, and give her good books
which she will not read; and she will sew, and walk up and down,
until we let her out; then she will return to her old haunts, and at
once go prowling and do exactly the same again, what ever it was,
until we catch her and lock her up once more. And in this way we
shall goon purifying Society until she dies. And I thought: If
indeed she had been created cat in body as well as in soul, we should
not have treated her thus, but should have said: 'Go on, little cat,
you scratch us sometimes, you steal often, you are as sensual as the
night. All this we cannot help. It is your nature. So were you
made--we know you cannot change--you amuse us! Go on, little cat!'
Would it not then be better, and less savoury of humbug if we said
the same to her whose cat-soul has chanced into this human shape?
For assuredly she will but pilfer, and scratch a little, and be
mildly vicious, in her little life, and do no desperate harm, having
but poor capacity for evil behind that petty, thin-upped mask. What
is the good of all this padlock business for such as she; are we not
making mountains out of her mole hills? Where is our sense of
proportion, and our sense of humour? Why try to alter the make and
shape of Nature with our petty chisels? Or, if we must take care of
her, to save ourselves, in the name of Heaven let us do it in a
better way than this! And suddenly I remembered that I was a Grand
Juryman, a purifier of Society, who had brought her bill in true;
and, that I might not think these thoughts unworthy of a good
citizen, I turned my eyes away from her and took up my list of
indictments. Yes, there she was, at least so I decided: Number 42,
"Pilson, Jenny: Larceny, pocket-picking. "And I turned my memory
back to the evidence about her case, but I could not remember a
single word. In the margin I had noted: "Incorrigible from a child
up; bad surroundings. And a mad impulse came over me to go back to
my window and call through the bars to her: "Jenny Pilson! Jenny
Pilson! It was I who bred you and surrounded you with evil! It was
I who caught you for being what I made you! I brought your bill in
true! I judged you, and I caged you! Jenny Pilson! Jenny Pilson!"
But just as I reached the window, the door of my waiting-room was
fortunately opened, and a voice said: "Now, sir; at your service!"...
I sat again in that scoop of the shore by the long rolling seas,
burying in the sand the piece of paper which had summoned me away to
my Grand Jury; and the same thoughts came to me with the breaking of
the waves that had come to me before: How, in every wave was a
particle that had known the shore of every land; and in each sparkle
of the hot sunlight stealing up that bright water into the sky, the
microcosm of all change and of all unity!
Not possible to conceive of rarer beauty than that which clung about
the summer day three years ago when first we had the news of the poor
Herds. Loveliness was a net of golden filaments in which the world
was caught. It was gravity itself, so tranquil; and it was a sort of
intoxicating laughter. From the top field that we crossed to go down
to their cottage, all the far sweep of those outstretched wings of
beauty could be seen. Very wonderful was the poise of the sacred
bird, that moved nowhere but in our hearts. The lime-tree scent was
just stealing out into air for some days already bereft of the scent
of hay; and the sun was falling to his evening home behind our pines
and beeches. It was no more than radiant warm. And, as we went, we
wondered why we had not been told before that Mrs. Herd was so very
ill. It was foolish to wonder--these people do not speak of
suffering till it is late. To speak, when it means what this meant
loss of wife and mother--was to flatter reality too much. To be
healthy, or--die! That is their creed. To go on till they drop--
then very soon pass away! What room for states between--on their
poor wage, in their poor cottages?
We crossed the mill-stream in the hollow--to their white, thatched
dwelling; silent, already awed, almost resentful of this so-varying
Scheme of Things. At the gateway Herd himself was standing, just in
from his work. For work in the country does not wait on illness--
even death claims from its onlookers but a few hours, birth none at
all, and it is as well; for what must be must, and in work alone man
rests from grief. Sorrow and anxiety had made strange alteration
already in Herd's face. Through every crevice of the rough, stolid
mask the spirit was peeping, a sort of quivering suppliant, that
seemed to ask all the time: "Is it true?" A regular cottager's
figure, this of Herd's--a labourer of these parts--strong, slow, but
active, with just a touch of the untamed somewhere, about the swing
and carriage of him, about the strong jaw, and wide thick-lipped
mouth; just that something independent, which, in great variety,
clings to the natives of these still remote, half-pagan valleys by
We all moved silently to the lee of the outer wall, so that our
voices might not carry up to the sick woman lying there under the
eaves, almost within hand reach. "Yes, sir." "No, sir." "Yes,
ma'am." This, and the constant, unforgettable supplication of his
eyes, was all that came from him; yet he seemed loath to let us go,
as though he thought we had some mysterious power to help him--the
magic, perhaps, of money, to those who have none. Grateful at our
promise of another doctor, a specialist, he yet seemed with his eyes
to say that he knew that such were only embroideries of Fate. And
when we had wrung his hand and gone, we heard him coming after us:
His wife had said she would like to see us, please. Would we come
An old woman and Mrs. Herd's sister were in the sitting-room; they
showed us to the crazy, narrow stairway. Though we lived distant but
four hundred yards of a crow's flight, we had never seen Mrs. Herd
before, for that is the way of things in this land of minding one's
own business--a slight, dark, girlish-looking woman, almost quite
refined away, and with those eyes of the dying, where the spirit is
coming through, as it only does when it knows that all is over except
just the passing. She lay in a double bed, with clean white sheets.
A white-washed room, so low that the ceiling almost touched our
heads, some flowers in a bowl, the small lattice window open. Though
it was hot in there, it was better far than the rooms of most
families in towns, living on a wage of twice as much; for here was no
sign of defeat in decency or cleanliness. In her face, as in poor
Herd's, was that same strange mingling of resigned despair and almost
eager appeal, so terrible to disappoint. Yet, trying not to
disappoint it, one felt guilty of treachery: What was the good, the
kindness, in making this poor bird flutter still with hope against
the bars, when fast prison had so surely closed in round her? But
what else could we do? We could not give her those glib assurances
that naive souls make so easily to others concerning their after
Secretly, I think, we knew that her philosophy of calm reality, that
queer and unbidden growing tranquillity which precedes death, was
nearer to our own belief, than would be any gilt-edged orthodoxy; but
nevertheless (such is the strength of what is expected), we felt it
dreadful that we could not console her with the ordinary
"You mustn't give up hope," we kept on saying: "The new doctor will
do a lot for you; he's a specialist--a very clever man."
And she kept on answering: "Yes, sir." "Yes, ma'am." But still her
eyes went on asking, as if there were something else she wanted. And
then to one of us came an inspiration:
"You mustn't let your husband worry about expense. That will be all
She smiled then, as if the chief cloud on her soul had been the
thought of the arrears her illness and death would leave weighing on
him with whom she had shared this bed ten years and more. And with
that smile warming the memory of those spirit-haunted eyes, we crept
down-stairs again, and out into the fields.
It was more beautiful than ever, just touched already with evening
mystery--it was better than ever to be alive. And the immortal
wonder that has haunted man since first he became man, and haunts,
I think, even the animals--the unanswerable question,--why joy and
beauty must ever be walking hand in hand with ugliness and pain
haunted us across those fields of life and loveliness. It was all
right, no doubt, even reasonable, since without dark there is no
light. It was part of that unending sum whose answer is not given;
the merest little swing of the great pendulum! And yet----!
To accept this violent contrast without a sigh of revolt, without a
question! No sirs, it was not so jolly as all that! That she should
be dying there at thirty, of a creeping malady which she might have
checked, perhaps, if she had not had too many things to do for the
children and husband, to do anything for herself--if she had not been
forced to hold the creed: Be healthy, or die! This was no doubt
perfectly explicable and in accordance with the Supreme Equation; yet
we, enjoying life, and health, and ease of money, felt horror and
revolt on, this evening of such beauty. Nor at the moment did we
derive great comfort from the thought that life slips in and out of
sheath, like sun-sparks on water, and that of all the cloud of summer
midges dancing in the last gleam, not one would be alive to-morrow.
It was three evenings later that we heard uncertain footfalls on the
flagstones of the verandah, then a sort of brushing sound against the
wood of the long, open window. Drawing aside the curtain, one of us
looked out. Herd was standing there in the bright moonlight,
bareheaded, with roughened hair. He came in, and seeming not to know
quite where he went, took stand by the hearth, and putting up his
dark hand, gripped the mantelshelf. Then, as if recollecting
himself, he said: "Gude evenin', sir; beg pardon, M'm." No more for
a full minute; but his hand, taking some little china thing, turned
it over and over without ceasing, and down his broken face tears ran.
Then, very suddenly, he said: "She's gone. "And his hand turned over
and over that little china thing, and the tears went on rolling down.
Then, stumbling, and swaying like a man in drink, he made his way out
again into the moonlight. We watched him across the lawn and path,
and through the gate, till his footfalls died out there in the field,
and his figure was lost in the black shadow of the holly hedge.
And the night was so beautiful, so utterly, glamourously beautiful,
with its star-flowers, and its silence, and its trees clothed in
moonlight. All was tranquil as a dream of sleep. But it was long
before our hearts, wandering with poor Herd, would let us remember
that she had slipped away into so beautiful a dream.
The dead do not suffer from their rest in beauty. But the living---!
When the drone of the thresher breaks through the autumn sighing of
trees and wind, or through that stillness of the first frost, I get
restless and more restless, till, throwing down my pen, I have gone
out to see. For there is nothing like the sight of threshing for
making one feel good--not in the sense of comfort, but at heart.
There, under the pines and the already leafless elms and beech-trees,
close to the great stacks, is the big, busy creature, with its small
black puffing engine astern; and there, all around it, is that
conglomeration of unsentimental labour which invests all the crises
of farm work with such fascination. The crew of the farm is only
five all told, but to-day they are fifteen, and none strangers, save
the owners of the travelling thresher.
They are working without respite and with little speech, not at all
as if they had been brought together for the benefit of some one
else's corn, but as though they, one and all, had a private grudge
against Time and a personal pleasure in finishing this job, which,
while it lasts, is bringing them extra pay and most excellent free
feeding. Just as after a dilatory voyage a crew will brace
themselves for the run in, recording with sudden energy their
consciousness of triumph over the elements, so on a farm the harvests
of hay and corn, sheep-shearing, and threshing will bring out in all
a common sentiment, a kind of sporting energy, a defiant spurt, as it
were, to score off Nature; for it is only a philosopher here and
there among them, I think, who sees that Nature is eager to be scored
off in this fashion, being anxious that some one should eat her
With ceremonial as grave as that which is at work within the thresher
itself, the tasks have been divided. At the root of all things,
pitchforking from the stack, stands--the farmer, moustached, and
always upright was he not in the Yeomanry?--dignified in a hard black
hat, no waistcoat, and his working coat so ragged that it would never
cling to him but for pure affection. Between him and the body of the
machine are five more pitch forks, directing the pale flood of raw
material. There, amongst them, is poor Herd, still so sad from his
summer loss, plodding doggedly away. To watch him even now makes one
feel how terrible is that dumb grief which has never learned to moan.
And there is George Yeoford, almost too sober; and Murdon plying his
pitchfork with a supernatural regularity that cannot quite dim his
queer brigand's face of dark, soft gloom shot with sudden humours,
his soft, dark corduroys and battered hat. Occasionally he stops,
and taking off that hat, wipes his corrugated brow under black hair,
and seems to brood over his own regularity.
Down here, too, where I stand, each separate function of the thresher
has its appointed slave. Here Cedric rakes the chaff pouring from
the side down into the chaff-shed. Carting the straw that streams
from the thresher bows, are Michelmore and Neck--the little man who
cannot read, but can milk and whistle the hearts out of his cows till
they follow him like dogs. At the thresher's stern is Morris, the
driver, selected because of that utter reliability which radiates
from his broad, handsome face. His part is to attend the sacking of
the three kinds of grain for ever sieving out. He murmurs: "Busy
work, sir!" and opens a little door to show me how "the machinery
does it all," holding a sack between his knees and some string in his
white teeth. Then away goes the sack--four bushels, one hundred and
sixty pounds of "genuines, seconds, or seed"--wheeled by Cedric on a
little trolley thing, to where George-the-Gaul or Jim-the-Early-Saxon
is waiting to bear it on his back up the stone steps into the corn-
It has been raining in the night; the ground is a churn of straw and
mud, and the trees still drip; but now there is sunlight, a sweet
air, and clear sky, wine-coloured through the red, naked, beechtwigs
tipped with white untimely buds. Nothing can be more lovely than
this late autumn day, so still, save for the droning of the thresher
and the constant tinny chuckle of the grey, thin-headed Guinea-fowl,
driven by this business away from their usual haunts.
And soon the, feeling that I knew would come begins creeping over me,
the sense of an extraordinary sanity in this never-ceasing harmonious
labour pursued in the autumn air faintly perfumed with wood-smoke,
with the scent of chaff, and whiffs from that black puffing-Billy;
the sense that there is nothing between this clean toil--not too hard
but hard enough--and the clean consumption of its clean results; the
sense that nobody except myself is in the least conscious of how sane
it all is. The brains of these sane ones are all too busy with the
real affairs of life, the disposition of their wages, anticipation of
dinner, some girl, some junketing, some wager, the last rifle match,
and, more than all, with that pleasant rhythmic nothingness,
companion of the busy swing and play of muscles, which of all states
is secretly most akin to the deep unconsciousness of life itself.
Thus to work in the free air for the good of all and the hurt of
none, without worry or the breath of acrimony--surely no phase of
human life so nears the life of the truly civilised community--the
life of a hive of bees. Not one of these working so sanely--unless
it be Morris, who will spend his Sunday afternoon on some high rock
just watching sunlight and shadow drifting on the moors--not one, I
think, is distraught by perception of his own sanity, by knowledge of
how near he is to Harmony, not even by appreciation of the still
radiance of this day, or its innumerable fine shades of colour. It
is all work, and no moody consciousness--all work, and will end in
I leave them soon, and make my way up the stone steps to the "corn
chamber," where tranquillity is crowned. In the whitewashed room the
corn lies in drifts and ridges, three to four feet deep, all silvery-
dun, like some remote sand desert, lifeless beneath the moon. Here
it lies, and into it, staggering under the sacks, George-the-Gaul and
Jim-the-Early Saxon tramp up to their knees, spill the sacks over
their heads, and out again; and above where their feet have plunged
the patient surface closes again, smooth. And as I stand there in
the doorway, looking at that silvery corn drift, I think of the whole
process, from seed sown to the last sieving into this tranquil
resting-place. I think of the slow, dogged ploughman, with the crows
above him on the wind; of the swing of the sower's arm, dark up
against grey sky on the steep field. I think of the seed snug-
burrowing for safety, and its mysterious ferment under the warm
Spring rain, of the soft green shoots tapering up so shyly toward the
first sun, and hardening in air to thin wiry stalk. I think of the
unnumerable tiny beasts that have jangled in that pale forest; of the
winged blue jewels of butterfly risen from it to hover on the wild-
rustling blades; of that continual music played there by the wind; of
the chicory and poppy flowers that have been its lights-o' love, as
it grew tawny and full of life, before the appointed date when it
should return to its captivity. I think of that slow-travelling hum
and swish which laid it low, of the gathering to stack, and the long
waiting under the rustle and drip of the sheltering trees, until
yesterday the hoot of the thresher blew, and there began the falling
into this dun silvery peace. Here it will lie with the pale sun
narrowly filtering in on it, and by night the pale moon, till slowly,
week by week, it is stolen away, and its ridges and drifts sink and
sink, and the beasts have eaten it all....
When the dusk is falling, I go out to them again. They have nearly
finished now; the chaff in the chaff-shed is mounting hillock-high;
only the little barley stack remains unthreshed. Mrs. George-the-
Gaul is standing with a jug to give drink to the tired ones. Some
stars are already netted in the branches of the pines; the Guinea-
fowl are silent. But still the harmonious thresher hums and showers
from three sides the straw, the chaff, the corn; and the men fork,
and rake, and cart, and carry, sleep growing in their muscles,
silence on their tongues, and the tranquillity of the long day nearly
ended in their souls. They will go on till it is quite dark.
THAT OLD-TIME PLACE
"Yes, suh--here we are at that old-time place! "And our dark driver
drew up his little victoria gently.
Through the open doorway, into a dim, cavernous, ruined house of New
Orleans we passed. The mildew and dirt, the dark denuded dankness of
that old hostel, rotting down with damp and time!
And our guide, the tall, thin, grey-haired dame, who came forward
with such native ease and moved before us, touching this fungused
wall, that rusting stairway, and telling, as it were, no one in her
soft, slow speech, things that any one could see--what a strange and
Before the smell of the deserted, oozing rooms, before that old
creature leading us on and on, negligent of all our questions, and
talking to the air, as though we were not, we felt such discomfort
that we soon made to go out again into such freshness as there was on
that day of dismal heat. Then realising, it seemed, that she was
losing us, our old guide turned; for the first time looking in our
faces, she smiled, and said in her sweet, weak voice, like the sound
from the strings of a spinet long unplayed on: "Don' you wahnd to see
the dome-room: an' all the other rooms right here, of this old-time
Again those words! We had not the hearts to disappoint her. And as
we followed on and on, along the mouldering corridors and rooms where
the black peeling papers hung like stalactites, the dominance of our
senses gradually dropped from us, and with our souls we saw its soul
--the soul of this old-time place; this mustering house of the old
South, bereft of all but ghosts and the grey pigeons niched in the
rotting gallery round a narrow courtyard open to the sky.
"This is the dome-room, suh and lady; right over the slave-market it
is. Here they did the business of the State--sure; old-time heroes
up therein the roof--Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson, Davis, Lee-
there they are! All gone--now! Yes, suh!"
A fine--yea, even a splendid room, of great height, and carved
grandeur, with hand-wrought bronze sconces and a band of metal
bordering, all blackened with oblivion. And the faces of those old
heroes encircling that domed ceiling were blackened too, and scarred
with damp, beyond recognition. Here, beneath their gaze, men had
banqueted and danced and ruled. The pride and might and vivid
strength of things still fluttered their uneasy flags of spirit,
moved disherited wings! Those old-time feasts and grave discussions
--we seemed to see them printed on the thick air, imprisoned in this
great chamber built above their dark foundations. The pride and the
might and the vivid strength of things--gone, all gone!
We became conscious again of that soft, weak voice.
"Not hearing very well, suh, I have it all printed, lady--beautifully
told here--yes, indeed!"
She was putting cards into our hands; then, impassive, maintaining
ever her impersonal chant, the guardian of past glory led us on.
"Now we shall see the slave-market--downstairs, underneath! It's wet
for the lady the water comes in now yes, suh!"
On the crumbling black and white marble floorings the water indeed
was trickling into pools. And down in the halls there came to us
wandering--strangest thing that ever strayed through deserted
grandeur--a brown, broken horse, lean, with a sore flank and a head
of tremendous age. It stopped and gazed at us, as though we might be
going to give it things to eat, then passed on, stumbling over the
ruined marbles. For a moment we had thought him ghost--one of the
many. But he was not, since his hoofs sounded. The scrambling
clatter of them had died out into silence before we came to that
dark, crypt-like chamber whose marble columns were ringed in iron,
veritable pillars of foundation. And then we saw that our old
guide's hands were full of newspapers. She struck a match; they
caught fire and blazed. Holding high that torch, she said: "See! Up
there's his name, above where he stood. The auctioneer. Oh yes,
indeed! Here's where they sold them!"
Below that name, decaying on the wall, we had the slow, uncanny
feeling of some one standing there in the gleam and flicker from that
paper torch. For a moment the whole shadowy room seemed full of
forms and faces. Then the torch lied out, and our old guide,
pointing through an archway with the blackened stump of it, said:
"'Twas here they kept them indeed, yes!"
We saw before us a sort of vault, stone-built, and low, and long.
The light there was too dim for us to make out anything but walls and
heaps of rusting scrap-iron cast away there and mouldering own. But
trying to pierce that darkness we became conscious, as it seemed, of
innumerable eyes gazing, not at us, but through the archway where we
stood; innumerable white eyeballs gleaming out of blackness. From
behind us came a little laugh. It floated past through the archway,
toward those eyes. Who was that? Who laughed in there? The old
South itself--that incredible, fine, lost soul! That "old-time"
thing of old ideals, blindfolded by its own history! That queer
proud blend of simple chivalry and tyranny, of piety and the
abhorrent thing! Who was it laughed there in the old slave-market--
laughed at these white eyeballs glaring from out of the blackness of
their dark cattle-pen? What poor departed soul in this House of
Melancholy? But there was no ghost when we turned to look--only our
old guide with her sweet smile.
"Yes, suh. Here they all came--'twas the finest hotel--before the
war-time; old Southern families--buyin' an' sellin' their property.
Yes, ma'am, very interesting! This way! And here were the bells to
all the rooms. Broken, you see--all broken!"
And rather quickly we passed away, out of that "old-time place";
where something had laughed, and the drip, drip, drip of water down
the walls was as the sound of a spirit grieving.
On that New Year's morning when I drew up the blind it was still
nearly dark, but for the faintest pink flush glancing out there on
the horizon of black water. The far shore of the river's mouth was
just soft dusk; and the dim trees below me were in perfect stillness.
There was no lap of water. And then--I saw her, drifting in on the
tide-the little ship, passaging below me, a happy ghost. Like no
thing of this world she came, ending her flight, with sail-wings
closing and her glowing lantern eyes. There was I know not what of
stealthy joy about her thus creeping in to the unexpecting land. And
I wished she would never pass, but go on gliding by down there for
ever with her dark ropes, and her bright lanterns, and her mysterious
felicity, so that I might have for ever in my heart the blessed
feeling she brought me, coming like this out of that great mystery
the sea. If only she need not change to solidity, but ever be this
visitor from the unknown, this sacred bird, telling with her half-
seen, trailing-down plume--sails the story of uncharted wonder. If
only I might go on trembling, as I was, with the rapture of all I did
not know and could not see, yet felt pressing against me and touching
my face with its lips! To think of her at anchor in cold light was
like flinging-to a door in the face of happiness. And just then she
struck her bell; the faint silvery far-down sound fled away before
her, and to every side, out into the utter hush, to discover echo.
But nothing answered, as if fearing to break the spell of her coming,
to brush with reality the dark sea dew from her sail-wings. But
within me, in response, there began the song of all unknown things;
the song so tenuous, so ecstatic, that seems to sweep and quiver
across such thin golden strings, and like an eager dream dies too
soon. The song of the secret-knowing wind that has peered through so
great forests and over such wild sea; blown on so many faces, and in
the jungles of the grass the song of all that the wind has seen and
felt. The song of lives that I should never live; of the loves that
I should never love singlng to me as though I should! And suddenly I
felt that I could not bear my little ship of dreams to grow hard and
grey, her bright lanterns drowned in the cold light, her dark ropes
spidery and taut, her sea-wan sails all furled, and she no more en
chanted; and turning away I let fall the curtain.
Then what happens to the moon? She, who, shy and veiled, slips out
before dusk to take the air of heaven, wandering timidly among the
columned clouds, and fugitive from the staring of the sun; she, who,
when dusk has come, rules the sentient night with such chaste and icy
spell--whither and how does she retreat?
I came on her one morning--I surprised her. She was stealing into a
dark wintry wood, and five little stars were chasing her. She was
orange-hooded, a light-o'-love dismissed--unashamed and unfatigued,
having taken--all. And she was looking back with her almond eyes,
across her dark-ivory shoulder, at Night where he still lay drowned
in the sleep she had brought him. What a strange, slow, mocking
look! So might Aphrodite herself have looked back at some weary
lover, remembering the fire of his first embrace. Insatiate, smiling
creature, slipping down to the rim of the world to her bath in the
sweet waters of dawn, whence emerging, pure as a water lily, she
would float in the cool sky till evening came again! And just then
she saw me looking, and hid behind a holm-oak tree; but I could still
see the gleam of one shoulder and her long narrow eyes pursuing me.
I went up to the tree and parted its dark boughs to take her; but she
had slipped behind another. I called to her to stand, if only for
one moment. But she smiled and went slip ping on, and I ran
thrusting through the wet bushes, leaping the fallen trunks. The
scent of rotting leaves disturbed by my feet leaped out into the
darkness, and birds, surprised, fluttered away. And still I ran--she
slipping ever further into the grove, and ever looking back at me.
And I thought: But I will catch you yet, you nymph of perdition! The
wood will soon be passed, you will have no cover then! And from her
eyes, and the scanty gleam of her flying limbs, I never looked away,
not even when I stumbled or ran against tree trunks in my blind
haste. And at every clearing I flew more furiously, thinking to
seize all of her with my gaze before she could cross the glade; but
ever she found some little low tree, some bush of birch ungrown, or
the far top branches of the next grove to screen her flying body and
preserve allurement. And all the time she was dipping, dipping to
the rim of the world. And then I tripped; but, as I rose, I saw that
she had lingered for me; her long sliding eyes were full, it seemed
to me, of pity, as if she would have liked for me to have enjoyed the
sight of her. I stood still, breathless, thinking that at last she
would consent; but flinging back, up into the air, one dark-ivory
arm, she sighed and vanished. And the breath of her sigh stirred all
the birch-tree twigs just coloured with the dawn. Long I stood in
that thicket gazing at the spot where she had leapt from me over the
edge of the world-my heart quivering.
We embarked on the estuary steamer that winter morning just as
daylight came full. The sun was on the wing scattering little white
clouds, as an eagle might scatter doves. They scurried up before him
with their broken feathers tipped and tinged with gold. In the air
was a touch of frost, and a smoky mist-drift clung here and there
above the reeds, blurring the shores of the lagoon so that we seemed
to be steaming across boundless water, till some clump of trees would
fling its top out of the fog, then fall back into whiteness.
And then, in that thick vapour, rounding I suppose some curve, we
came suddenly into we knew not what--all white and moving it was, as
if the mist were crazed; murmuring, too, with a sort of restless
beating. We seemed to be passing through a ghost--the ghost of all
the life that had sprung from this water and its, shores; we seemed
to have left reality, to be travelling through live wonder.
And the fantastic thought sprang into my mind: I have died. This is
the voyage of my soul in the wild. I am in the final wilderness of
spirits--lost in the ghost robe that wraps the earth. There seemed
in all this white murmuration to be millions of tiny hands stretching
out to me, millions of whispering voices, of wistful eyes. I had no
fear, but a curious baked eagerness, the strangest feeling of having
lost myself and become part of this around me; exactly as if my own
hands and voice and eyes had left me and were groping, and
whispering, and gazing out there in the eeriness. I was no longer a
man on an estuary steamer, but part of sentient ghostliness. Nor did
I feel unhappy; it seemed as though I had never been anything but
this Bedouin spirit wandering.
We passed through again into the stillness of plain mist, and all
those eerie sensations went, leaving nothing but curiosity to know
what this was that we had traversed. Then suddenly the sun came
flaring out, and we saw behind us thousands and thousands of white
gulls dipping, wheeling, brushing the water with their wings,
bewitched with sun and mist. That was all. And yet that white-
winged legion through whom we had ploughed our way were not, could
never be, to me just gulls--there was more than mere sun-glamour
gilding their misty plumes; there was the wizardry of my past wonder,
the enchantment of romance.
We set out to meet him at Waterloo Station on a dull day of February
--I, who had owned his impetuous mother, knowing a little what to
expect, while to my companion he would be all original. We stood
there waiting (for the Salisbury train was late), and wondering with
a warm, half-fearful eagerness what sort of new thread Life was going
to twine into our skein. I think our chief dread was that he might
have light eyes--those yellow Chinese eyes of the common, parti-
coloured spaniel. And each new minute of the train's tardiness
increased our anxious compassion: His first journey; his first
separation from his mother; this black two-months' baby! Then the
train ran in, and we hastened to look for him. "Have you a dog for
"A dog! Not in this van. Ask the rearguard."
"Have you a dog for us?"
"That's right. From Salisbury. Here's your wild beast, Sir!"
>From behind a wooden crate we saw a long black muzzled nose poking
round at us, and heard a faint hoarse whimpering.
I remember my first thought:
"Isn't his nose too long?"
But to my companion's heart it went at once, because it was swollen
from crying and being pressed against things that he could not see
through. We took him out--soft, wobbly, tearful; set him down on his
four, as yet not quite simultaneous legs, and regarded him. Or,
rather, my companion did, having her head on one side, and a
quavering smile; and I regarded her, knowing that I should thereby
get a truer impression of him.
He wandered a little round our legs, neither wagging his tail nor
licking at our hands; then he looked up, and my companion said: "He's
I was not so certain. He seemed hammer-headed, with no eyes at all,
and little connection between his head, his body, and his legs. His
ears were very long, as long as his poor nose; and gleaming down in
the blackness of him I could see the same white star that disgraced
his mother's chest.
Picking him up, we carried him to a four-wheeled cab, and took his
muzzle off. His little dark-brown eyes were resolutely fixed on
distance, and by his refusal to even smell the biscuits we had.
brought to make him happy, we knew that the human being had not yet
come into a life that had contained so far only a mother, a wood-
shed, and four other soft, wobbly, black, hammer-headed angels,
smelling of themselves, and warmth, and wood shavings. It was
pleasant to feel that to us he would surrender an untouched love,
that is, if he would surrender anything. Suppose he did not take to
And just then something must have stirred in him, for he turned up
his swollen nose and stared at my companion, and a little later
rubbed the dry pinkness of his tongue against my thumb. In that
look, and that unconscious restless lick; he was trying hard to leave
unhappiness behind, trying hard to feel that these new creatures with
stroking paws and queer scents, were his mother; yet all the time he
knew, I am sure, that they were something bigger, more permanently,
desperately, his. The first sense of being owned, perhaps (who
knows) of owning, had stirred in him. He would never again be quite
the same unconscious creature.
A little way from the end of our journey we got out and dismissed the
cab. He could not too soon know the scents and pavements of this
London where the chief of his life must pass. I can see now his
first bumble down that wide, back-water of a street, how continually
and suddenly he sat down to make sure of his own legs, how
continually he lost our heels. He showed us then in full perfection
what was afterwards to be an inconvenient--if endearing--
characteristic: At any call or whistle he would look in precisely the
opposite direction. How many times all through his life have I not
seen him, at my whistle, start violently and turn his tail to me,
then, with nose thrown searchingly from side to side, begin to canter
toward the horizon.
In that first walk, we met, fortunately, but one vehicle, a brewer's
dray; he chose that moment to attend to the more serious affairs of
life, sitting quietly before the horses' feet and requiring to be
moved by hand. From the beginning he had his dignity, and was
extremely difficult to lift, owing to the length of his middle
What strange feelings must have stirred in his little white soul when
he first smelled carpet! But it was all so strange to him that day--
I doubt if he felt more than I did when I first travelled to my
private school, reading "Tales of a Grandfather," and plied with
tracts and sherry by my 'father's man of business.
That night, indeed, for several nights, he slept with me, keeping me
too warm down my back, and waking me now and then with quaint sleepy
whimperings. Indeed, all through his life he flew a good deal in his
sleep, fighting dogs and seeing ghosts, running after rabbits and
thrown sticks; and to the last one never quite knew whether or no to
rouse him when his four black feet began to jerk and quiver. His
dreams were like our dreams, both good and bad; happy sometimes,
sometimes tragic to weeping point.
He ceased to sleep with me the day we discovered that he was a
perfect little colony, whose settlers were of an active species which
I have never seen again. After that he had many beds, for
circumstance ordained that his life should be nomadic, and it is to
this I trace that philosophic indifference to place or property,
which marked him out from most of his own kind. He learned early
that for a black dog with long silky ears, a feathered tail, and head
of great dignity, there was no home whatsoever, away from those
creatures with special scents, who took liberties with his name, and
alone of all created things were privileged to smack him with a
slipper. He would sleep anywhere, so long as it was in their room,
or so close outside it as to make no matter, for it was with him a
principle that what he did not smell did not exist. I would I could
hear again those long rubber-lipped snufflings of recognition
underneath the door, with which each morning he would regale and
reassure a spirit that grew with age more and more nervous and
delicate about this matter of propinquity! For he was a dog of fixed
ideas, things stamped on his mind were indelible; as, for example,
his duty toward cats, for whom he had really a perverse affection,
which had led to that first disastrous moment of his life, when he
was brought up, poor bewildered puppy, from a brief excursion to the
kitchen, with one eye closed and his cheek torn! He bore to his
grave that jagged scratch across the eye. It was in dread of a
repetition of this tragedy that he was instructed at the word "Cats"
to rush forward with a special "tow-row-rowing," which he never used
toward any other form of creature. To the end he cherished a hope
that he would reach the cat; but never did; and if he had, we knew he
would only have stood and wagged his tail; but I well remember once,
when he returned, important, from some such sally, how dreadfully my
companion startled a cat-loving friend by murmuring in her most
honeyed voice: "Well, my darling, have you been killing pussies in
His eye and nose were impeccable in their sense of form; indeed, he
was very English in that matter: People must be just so; things smell
properly; and affairs go on in the one right way. He could tolerate
neither creatures in ragged clothes, nor children on their hands and
knees, nor postmen, because, with their bags, they swelled-up on one
side, and carried lanterns on their stomachs. He would never let the
harmless creatures pass without religious barks. Naturally a
believer in authority and routine, and distrusting spiritual
adventure, he yet had curious fads that seemed to have nested in him,
quite outside of all principle. He would, for instance, follow
neither carriages nor horses, and if we tried to make him, at once
left for home, where he would sit with nose raised to Heaven,
emitting through it a most lugubrious, shrill noise. Then again, one
must not place a stick, a slipper, a glove, or anything with which he
could play, upon one's head--since such an action reduced him at once
to frenzy. For so conservative a dog, his environment was sadly
anarchistic. He never complained in words of our shifting habits,
but curled his head round over his left paw and pressed his chin very
hard against the ground whenever he smelled packing. What necessity,
he seemed continually to be saying, what real necessity is there for
change of any kind whatever? Here we were all together, and one day
was like another, so that I knew where I was--and now you only know
what will happen next; and I--I can't tell you whether I shall be
with you when it happens! What strange, grieving minutes a dog
passes at such times in the underground of his subconsciousness,
refusing realisation, yet all the time only too well divining. Some
careless word, some unmuted compassion in voice, the stealthy
wrapping of a pair of boots, the unaccustomed shutting of a door that
ought to be open, the removal from a down-stair room of an object
always there--one tiny thing, and he knows for certain that he is not
going too. He fights against the knowledge just as we do against
what we cannot bear; he gives up hope, but not effort, protesting in
the only way he knows of, and now and then heaving a great sigh.
Those sighs of a dog! They go to the heart so much more deeply than
the sighs of our own kind, because they are utterly unintended,
regardless of effect, emerging from one who, heaving them, knows not
that they have escaped him!
The words: "Yes--going too!" spoken in a certain tone, would call up
in his eyes a still-questioning half-happiness, and from his tail a
quiet flutter, but did not quite serve to put to rest either his
doubt or his feeling that it was all unnecessary--until the cab
arrived. Then he would pour himself out of door or window, and be
found in the bottom of the vehicle, looking severely away from an
admiring cabman. Once settled on our feet he travelled with
philosophy, but no digestion.
I think no dog was ever more indifferent to an outside world of human
creatures; yet few dogs have made more conquests--especially among
strange women, through whom, however, he had a habit of looking--very
discouraging. He had, natheless, one or two particular friends, such
as him to whom this book is dedicated, and a few persons whom he knew
he had seen before, but, broadly speaking, there were in his world of
men, only his mistress, and--the almighty.
Each August, till he was six, he was sent for health, and the
assuagement of his hereditary instincts, up to a Scotch shooting,
where he carried many birds in a very tender manner. Once he was
compelled by Fate to remain there nearly a year; and we went up
ourselves to fetch him home. Down the long avenue toward the
keeper's cottage we walked: It was high autumn; there had been frost
already, for the ground was fine with red and yellow leaves; and
presently we saw himself coming; professionally questing among those
leaves, and preceding his dear keeper with the businesslike self-
containment of a sportsman; not too fat, glossy as a raven's wing,
swinging his ears and sporran like a little Highlander. We
approached him silently. Suddenly his nose went up from its imagined
trail, and he came rushing at our legs. From him, as a garment drops
from a man, dropped all his strange soberness; he became in a single
instant one fluttering eagerness. He leaped from life to life in one
bound, without hesitation, without regret. Not one sigh, not one
look back, not the faintest token of gratitude or regret at leaving
those good people who had tended him for a whole year, buttered oat-
cake for him, allowed him to choose each night exactly where he would
sleep. No, he just marched out beside us, as close as ever he could
get, drawing us on in spirit, and not even attending to the scents,
until the lodge gates were passed.
It was strictly in accordance with the perversity of things, and
something in the nature of calamity that he had not been ours one
year, when there came over me a dreadful but overmastering aversion
from killing those birds and creatures of which he was so fond as
soon as they were dead. And so I never knew him as a sportsman; for
during that first year he was only an unbroken puppy, tied to my
waist for fear of accidents, and carefully pulling me off every shot.
They tell me he developed a lovely nose and perfect mouth, large
enough to hold gingerly the biggest hare. I well believe it,
remembering the qualities of his mother, whose character, however, in
stability he far surpassed. But, as he grew every year more devoted
to dead grouse and birds and rabbits, I liked them more and more
alive; it was the only real breach between us, and we kept it out of
sight. Ah! well; it is consoling to reflect that I should infallibly
have ruined his sporting qualities, lacking that peculiar habit of
meaning what one says, so necessary to keep dogs virtuous. But
surely to have had him with me, quivering and alert, with his solemn,
eager face, would have given a new joy to those crisp mornings when
the hope of wings coming to the gun makes poignant in the sports man
as nothing else will, an almost sensual love of Nature, a fierce
delight in the soft glow of leaves, in the white birch stems and
tracery of sparse twigs against blue sky, in the scents of sap and
grass and gum and heather flowers; stivers the hair of him with
keenness for interpreting each sound, and fills the very fern or moss
he kneels on, the very trunk he leans against, with strange
Slowly Fate prepares for each of us the religion that lies coiled in
our most secret nerves; with such we cannot trifle, we do not even
try! But how shall a man grudge any one sensations he has so keenly
felt? Let such as have never known those curious delights, uphold
the hand of horror--for me there can be no such luxury. If I could,
I would still perhaps be knowing them; but when once the joy of life
in those winged and furry things has knocked at the very portals of
one's spirit, the thought that by pressing a little iron twig one
will rive that joy out of their vitals, is too hard to bear. Call it
aestheticism, squeamishness, namby-pamby sentimentalism, what you
will it is stronger than oneself!
Yes, after one had once watched with an eye that did not merely see,
the thirsty gaping of a slowly dying bird, or a rabbit dragging a
broken leg to a hole where he would lie for hours thinking of the
fern to which he should never more come forth--after that, there was
always the following little matter of arithmetic: Given, that all
those who had been shooting were "good-fair" shots--which, Heaven
knew, they never were--they yet missed one at least in four, and did
not miss it very much; so that if seventy-five things were slain,
there were also twenty-five that had been fired at, and, of those
twenty-five, twelve and a half had "gotten it" somewhere in their
bodies, and would "likely" die at their great leisure.
This was the sum that brought about the only cleavage in our lives;
and so, as he grew older, and trying to part from each other we no
longer could, he ceased going to Scotland. But after that I often
felt, and especially when we heard guns, how the best and most secret
instincts of him were being stifled. But what was to be done? In
that which was left of a clay pigeon he would take not the faintest
interest--the scent of it was paltry. Yet always, even in his most
cosseted and idle days, he managed to preserve the grave
preoccupation of one professionally concerned with retrieving things
that smell; and consoled himself with pastimes such as cricket, which
he played in a manner highly specialised, following the ball up the
moment it left the bowler's hand, and sometimes retrieving it before
it reached the batsman. When remonstrated with, he would consider a
little, hanging out a pink tongue and looking rather too eagerly at
the ball, then canter slowly out to a sort of forward short leg. Why
he always chose that particular position it is difficult to say;
possibly he could lurk there better than anywhere else, the batsman's
eye not being on him, and the bowler's not too much. As a fieldsman
he was perfect, but for an occasional belief that he was not merely
short leg, but slip, point, midoff, and wicket-keep; and perhaps a
tendency to make the ball a little "jubey." But he worked
tremendously, watching every movement; for he knew the game
thoroughly, and seldom delayed it more than three minutes when he
secured the ball. And if that ball were really lost, then indeed he
took over the proceedings with an intensity and quiet vigour that
destroyed many shrubs, and the solemn satisfaction which comes from
being in the very centre of the stage.
But his most passionate delight was swimming in anything except the
sea, for which, with its unpleasant noise and habit of tasting salt,
he had little affection. I see him now, cleaving the Serpentine,
with his air of "the world well lost," striving to reach my stick
before it had touched water. Being only a large spaniel, too small
for mere heroism, he saved no lives in the water but his own--and
that, on one occasion, before our very eyes, from a dark trout
stream, which was trying to wash him down into a black hole among the
The call of the wild-Spring running--whatever it is--that besets men
and dogs, seldom attained full mastery over him; but one could often
see it struggling against his devotion to the scent of us, and,
watching that dumb contest, I have time and again wondered how far
this civilisation of ours was justifiably imposed on him; how far the
love for us that we had so carefully implanted could ever replace in
him the satisfaction of his primitive wild yearnings: He was like a
man, naturally polygamous, married to one loved woman.
It was surely not for nothing that Rover is dog's most common name,
and would be ours, but for our too tenacious fear of losing
something, to admit, even to ourselves, that we are hankering. There
was a man who said: Strange that two such queerly opposite qualities
as courage and hypocrisy are the leading characteristics of the
Anglo-Saxon! But is not hypocrisy just a product of tenacity, which
is again the lower part of courage? Is not hypocrisy but an active
sense of property in one's good name, the clutching close of
respectability at any price, the feeling that one must not part, even
at the cost of truth, with what he has sweated so to gain? And so we
Anglo-Saxons will not answer to the name of Rover, and treat our dogs
so that they, too, hardly know their natures.
The history of his one wandering, for which no respectable reason can
be assigned, will never, of course, be known. It was in London, of
an October evening, when we were told he had slipped out and was not
anywhere. Then began those four distressful hours of searching for
that black needle n that blacker bundle of hay. Hours of real dismay
and suffering for it is suffering, indeed, to feel a loved thing
swallowed up in that hopeless haze of London streets. Stolen or run
over? Which was worst? The neighbouring police stations visited,
the Dog's Home notified, an order of five hundred "Lost Dog" bills
placed in the printer's hands, the streets patrolled! And then, in a
lull snatched for food, and still endeavouring to preserve some
aspect of assurance, we heard the bark which meant: "Here is a door I
cannot open!" We hurried forth, and there he was on the top
doorstep--busy, unashamed, giving no explanations, asking for his
supper; and very shortly after him came his five hundred "Lost Dog"
bills. Long I sat looking at him that night after my companion had
gone up, thinking of the evening, some years before, when there
followed as that shadow of a spaniel who had been lost for eleven
days. And my heart turned over within me. But he! He was asleep,
for he knew not remorse.
Ah! and there was that other time, when it was reported to me,
returning home at night, that he had gone out to find me; and I went
forth again, disturbed, and whistling his special call to the empty
fields. Suddenly out of the darkness I heard a rushing, and he came
furiously dashing against my heels from he alone knew where he had
been lurking and saying to himself: I will not go in till he comes!
I could not scold, there was something too lyrical in the return of
that live, lonely, rushing piece of blackness through the blacker
night. After all, the vagary was but a variation in his practice
when one was away at bed-time, of passionately scratching up his bed
in protest, till it resembled nothing; for, in spite of his long and
solemn face and the silkiness of his ears, there was much in him yet
of the cave bear--he dug graves on the smallest provocations, in
which he never buried anything. He was not a "clever" dog; and
guiltless of all tricks. Nor was he ever "shown." We did not even
dream of subjecting him to this indignity. Was our dog a clown, a
hobby, a fad, a fashion, a feather in our caps that we should subject
him to periodic pennings in stuffy halls, that we should harry his
faithful soul with such tomfoolery? He never even heard us talk
about his lineage, deplore the length of his nose, or call him
"clever-looking." We should have been ashamed to let him smell about
us the tar-brush of a sense of property, to let him think we looked
on him as an asset to earn us pelf or glory. We wished that there
should be between us the spirit that was between the sheep dog and
that farmer, who, when asked his dog's age, touched the old
creature's head, and answered thus: "Teresa" (his daughter) "was born
in November, and this one in August." That sheep dog had seen
eighteen years when the great white day came for him, and his spirit
passed away up, to cling with the wood-smoke round the dark rafters
of the kitchen where he had lain so vast a time beside his master's
boots. No, no! If a man does not soon pass beyond the thought "By
what shall this dog profit me?" into the large state of simple
gladness to be with dog, he shall never know the very essence of that
companion ship which depends not on the points of dog, but on some
strange and subtle mingling of mute spirits. For it is by muteness
that a dog becomes for one so utterly beyond value; with him one is
at peace, where words play no torturing tricks. When he just sits,
loving, and knows that he is being loved, those are the moments that
I think are precious to a dog; when, with his adoring soul coming
through his eyes, he feels that you are really thinking of him. But
he is touchingly tolerant of one's other occupations. The subject of
these memories always knew when one was too absorbed in work to be so
close to him as he thought proper; yet he never tried to hinder or
distract, or asked for attention. It dinged his mood, of course, so
that the red under his eyes and the folds of his crumply cheeks--
which seemed to speak of a touch of bloodhound introduced a long way
back into his breeding--drew deeper and more manifest. If he could
have spoken at such times, he would have said: "I have been a long
time alone, and I cannot always be asleep; but you know best, and I
must not criticise."
He did not at all mind one's being absorbed in other humans; he
seemed to enjoy the sounds of conversation lifting round him, and to
know when they were sensible. He could not, for instance, stand
actors or actresses giving readings of their parts, perceiving at
once that the same had no connection with the minds and real feelings
of the speakers; and, having wandered a little to show his
disapproval, he would go to the door and stare at it till it opened
and let him out. Once or twice, it is true, when an actor of large
voice was declaiming an emotional passage, he so far relented as to
go up to him and pant in his face. Music, too, made him restless,
inclined to sigh, and to ask questions. Sometimes, at its first
sound, he would cross to the window and remain there looking for Her.
At others, he would simply go and lie on the loud pedal, and we never
could tell whether it was from sentiment, or because he thought that
in this way he heard less. At one special Nocturne of Chopin's he
always whimpered. He was, indeed, of rather Polish temperament--very
gay when he was gay, dark and brooding when he was not.
On the whole, perhaps his life was uneventful for so far-travelling a
dog, though it held its moments of eccentricity, as when he leaped
through the window of a four-wheeler into Kensington, or sat on a
Dartmoor adder. But that was fortunately of a Sunday afternoon--when
adder and all were torpid, so nothing happened, till a friend, who
was following, lifted him off the creature with his large boot.
If only one could have known more of his private life--more of his
relations with his own kind! I fancy he was always rather a dark dog
to them, having so many thoughts about us that he could not share
with any one, and being naturally fastidious, except with ladies, for
whom he had a chivalrous and catholic taste, so that they often
turned and snapped at him. He had, however, but one lasting love
affair, for a liver-coloured lass of our village, not quite of his
own caste, but a wholesome if somewhat elderly girl, with loving and
sphinx-like eyes. Their children, alas, were not for this world, and
Nor was he a fighting dog; but once attacked, he lacked a sense of
values, being unable to distinguish between dogs that he could beat
and dogs with whom he had "no earthly." It was, in fact, as well to
interfere at once, especially in the matter of retrievers, for he
never forgot having in his youth been attacked by a retriever from
behind. No, he never forgot, and never forgave, an enemy. Only a
month before that day of which I cannot speak, being very old and
ill, he engaged an Irish terrier on whose impudence he had long had
his eye, and routed him. And how a battle cheered his spirit! He
was certainly no Christian; but, allowing for essential dog, he was
very much a gentleman. And I do think that most of us who live on
this earth these days would rather leave it with that label on us
than the other. For to be a Christian, as Tolstoy understood the
word--and no one else in our time has had logic and love of truth
enough to give it coherent meaning--is (to be quite sincere) not
suited to men of Western blood. Whereas--to be a gentleman! It is a
far cry, but perhaps it can be done. In him, at all events, there
was no pettiness, no meanness, and no cruelty, and though he fell
below his ideal at times, this never altered the true look of his
eyes, nor the simple loyalty in his soul.
But what a crowd of memories come back, bringing with them the
perfume of fallen days! What delights and glamour, what long hours
of effort, discouragements, and secret fears did he not watch over--
our black familiar; and with the sight and scent and touch of him,
deepen or assuage! How many thousand walks did we not go together,
so that we still turn to see if he is following at his padding gait,
attentive to the invisible trails. Not the least hard thing to bear
when they go from us, these quiet friends, is that they carry away
with them so many years of our own lives. Yet, if they find warmth
therein, who would grudge them those years that they have so guarded?
Nothing else of us can they take to lie upon with outstretched paws
and chin pressed to the ground; and, whatever they take, be sure they
Do they know, as we do, that their time must come? Yes, they know,
at rare moments. No other way can I interpret those pauses of his
latter life, when, propped on his forefeet, he would sit for long
minutes quite motionless--his head drooped, utterly withdrawn; then
turn those eyes of his and look at me. That look said more plainly
than all words could: "Yes, I know that I must go!" If we have
spirits that persist--they have. If we know after our departure, who
we were they do. No one, I think, who really longs for truth, can
ever glibly say which it will be for dog and man persistence or
extinction of our consciousness. There is but one thing certain--the
childishness of fretting over that eternal question. Whichever it
be, it must be right, the only possible thing. He felt that too, I
know; but then, like his master, he was what is called a pessimist.
My companion tells me that, since he left us, he has once come back.
It was Old Year's Night, and she was sad, when he came to her in
visible shape of his black body, passing round the dining-table from
the window-end, to his proper place beneath the table, at her feet.
She saw him quite clearly; she heard the padding tap-tap of his paws
and very toe-nails; she felt his warmth brushing hard against the
front of her skirt. She thought then that he would settle down upon
her feet, but something disturbed him, and he stood pausing, pressed
against her, then moved out toward where I generally sit, but was not
sitting that night.
She saw him stand there, as if considering; then at some sound or
laugh, she became self-conscious, and slowly, very slowly, he was no
longer there. Had he some message, some counsel to give, something
he would say, that last night of the last year of all those he had
watched over us? Will he come back again?
No stone stands over where he lies. It is on our hearts that his
life is engraved.
When God is so good to the fields, of what use are words--those poor
husks of sentiment! There is no painting Felicity on the wing! No
way of bringing on to the canvas the flying glory of things! A
single buttercup of the twenty million in one field is worth all
these dry symbols--that can never body forth the very spirit of that
froth of May breaking over the hedges, the choir of birds and bees,
the lost-travelling down of the wind flowers, the white-throated
swallows in their Odysseys. Just here there are no skylarks, but
what joy of song and leaf; of lanes lighted with bright trees, the
few oaks still golden brown, and the ashes still spiritual! Only the
blackbirds and thrushes can sing-up this day, and cuckoos over the
hill. The year has flown so fast that the apple-trees have dropped
nearly all their bloom, and in "long meadow" the "daggers" are out
early, beside the narrow bright streams. Orpheus sits there on a
stone, when nobody is by, and pipes to the ponies; and Pan can often
be seen dancing with his nymphs in the raised beech-grove where it is
always twilight, if you lie still enough against the far bank.
Who can believe in growing old, so long as we are wrapped in this
cloak of colour and wings and song; so long as this unimaginable
vision is here for us to gaze at--the soft-faced sheep about us, and
the wool-bags drying out along the fence, and great numbers of tiny
ducks, so trustful that the crows have taken several.
Blue is the colour of youth, and all the blue flowers have a "fey"
look. Everything seems young too young to work. There is but one
thing busy, a starling, fetching grubs for its little family, above
my head--it must take that flight at least two hundred times a day.
The children should be very fat.
When the sky is so happy, and the flowers so luminous, it does not
seem possible that the bright angels of this day shall pass into dark
night, that slowly these wings shall close, and the cuckoo praise
himself to sleep, mad midges dance-in the evening; the grass shiver
with dew, wind die, and no bird sing . . . .
Yet so it is. Day has gone--the song and glamour and swoop of wings.
Slowly, has passed the daily miracle. It is night. But Felicity has
not withdrawn; she has but changed her robe for silence, velvet, and
the pearl fan of the moon. Everything is sleeping, save only a
single star, and the pansies. Why they should be more wakeful than
the other flowers, I do not know. The expressions of their faces, if
one bends down into the dusk, are sweeter and more cunning than ever.
They have some compact, no doubt, in hand.
What a number of voices have given up the ghost to this night of but
one voice--the murmur of the stream out there in darkness!
With what religion all has been done! Not one buttercup open; the
yew-trees already with shadows flung down! No moths are abroad yet;
it is too early in the year for nightjars; and the owls are quiet.
But who shall say that in this silence, in this hovering wan light,
in this air bereft of wings, and of all scent save freshness, there
is less of the ineffable, less of that before which words are dumb?
It is strange how this tranquillity of night, that seems so final, is
inhabited, if one keeps still enough. A lamb is bleating out there
on the dim moor; a bird somewhere, a little one, about three fields
away, makes the sweetest kind of chirruping; some cows are still
cropping. There is a scent, too, underneath the freshness-sweet-
brier, I think, and our Dutch honeysuckle; nothing else could so
delicately twine itself with air. And even in this darkness the
roses have colour, more beautiful perhaps than ever. If colour be,
as they say, but the effect of light on various fibre, one may think
of it as a tune, the song of thanksgiving that each form puts forth,
to sun and moon and stars and fire. These moon-coloured roses are
singing a most quiet song. I see all of a sudden that there are many
more stars beside that one so red and watchful. The flown kite is
there with its seven pale worlds; it has adventured very high and far
to-night-with a company of others remoter still. . . .
This serenity of night! What could seem less likely ever more to
move, and change again to day? Surely now the world has found its
long sleep; and the pearly glimmer from the moon will last, and the
precious silence never again yield to clamour; the grape-bloom of
this mystery never more pale out into gold . . . .
And yet it is not so. The nightly miracle has passed. It is dawn.
Faint light has come. I am waiting for the first sound. The sky as
yet is like nothing but grey paper, with the shadows of wild geese
passing. The trees are phantoms. And then it comes--that first call
of a bird, startled at discovering day! Just one call--and now,
here, there, on all the trees, the sudden answers swelling, of that
most sweet and careless choir. Was irresponsibility ever so divine
as this, of birds waking? Then--saffron into the sky, and once more
silence! What is it birds do after the first Chorale? Think of
their sins and business? Or just sleep again? The trees are fast
dropping unreality, and the cuckoos begin calling. Colour is burning
up in the flowers already; the dew smells of them.
The miracle is ended, for the starling has begun its job; and the sun
is fretting those dark, busy wings with gold. Full day has come
again. But the face of it is a little strange, it is not like
yesterday. Queer-to think, no day is like to a day that's past and
no night like a night that's coming! Why, then, fear death, which is
but night? Why care, if next day have different face and spirit?
The sun has lighted buttercup-field now, the wind touches the lime-
tree. Something passes over me away up there.
It is Felicity on her wings!
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