Ships That Pass In The Night
Part 3 out of 3
"If you could harden your heart against me. But I am not sure about
that. I believe that . . . Ah, well, I'm a foolish fellow; but some day,
dear, I'll tell you what I think . . . I have treasured many of your
sayings in my memory. I can never be as though I had never known you.
Many of your words I have repeated to myself afterwards until they
seemed to represent my own thoughts. I specially remember what you
said about God having made us lonely, so that we might be obliged to
turn to him. For we are all lonely, though some of us not quite so much
as others. You yourself spoke often of being lonely. Oh, my own little
one! Your loneliness is nothing compared to mine. How often I could
have told you that.
"I have never seen any of your work, but I think you have now something
to say to others, and that you will say it well. And if you have the
courage to be simple when it comes to the point, you will succeed. And
I believe you will have the courage, I believe everything of you.
"But whatever you do or do not, you will always be the same to me: my
own little one, my very own. I have been waiting all my life for you;
and I have given you my heart entire. If you only knew that, you could
not call yourself lonely any more. If any one was ever loved, it is you,
"Do you remember how those peasants at the Gasthaus thought we were
betrothed? I thought that might annoy you; and though I was relieved at
the time, still, later on, I wished you had been annoyed. That would
have shown that you were not indifferent. From that time my love for
you grew apace. You must not mind me telling you so often; I must go on
telling you. Just think, dear, this is the first love-letter I have ever
written: and every word of love is a whole world of love. I shall never
call my life a failure now. I may have failed in everything else, but
not in loving. Oh, little one, it can't be that I am not to be with you,
and not to have you for my own! And yet how can that be? It is not I who
may hold you in my arms. Some strong man must love and wrap you round
with tenderness and softness. You little independent child, in spite of
all your wonderful views and theories, you will soon be glad to lean on
some one for comfort and sympathy. And then perhaps that troubled little
spirit of yours may find its rest. Would to God I were that strong man!
"But because I love you, my own little darling, I will not spoil your
life. I won't ask you to give me even one thought. But if I believed
that it were of any good to say a prayer, I should pray that you may
soon find that strong man; for it is not well for any of us to stand
alone. There comes a time when the loneliness is more than we can bear.
"There is one thing I want you to know: indeed I am not the gruff fellow
I have so often seemed. Do believe that. Do you remember how I told you
that I dreamed of losing you? And now the dream has come true. I am
always looking for you, and cannot find you.
"You have been very good to me; so patient, and genial, and frank. No
one before has ever been so good. Even if I did not love you, I should
"But I do love you, no one can take that from me: it is my own dignity,
the crown of my life. Such a poor life . . . no, no, I won't say that
now. I cannot pity myself now . . . no, I cannot . . ."
The Disagreeable Man stopped writing, and the pen dropped on the table.
He buried his tear-stained face in his hands. He cried his heart out,
this Disagreeable Man.
Then he took the letter which he had just been writing, and he tore it
END OF PART I.
THE DUSTING OF THE BOOKS.
IT was now more than three weeks since Bernardine's return to London.
She had gone back to her old home, at her uncle's second-hand book-shop.
She spent her time in dusting the books, and arranging them in some
kind of order; for old Zerviah Holme had ceased to interest himself
much in his belongings, and sat in the little inner room reading as
usual Gibbon's "History of Rome." Customers might please themselves
about coming: Zerviah Holme had never cared about amassing money, and
now he cared even less than before. A frugal breakfast, a frugal dinner,
a box full of snuff, and a shelf full of Gibbon were the old man's only
requirements: an undemanding life, and therefore a loveless one; since
the less we ask for, the less we get.
When Malvina his wife died, people said: "He will miss her."
But he did not seem to miss her: he took his breakfast, his pinch of
snuff, his Gibbon, in precisely the same way as before, and in the same
When Bernardine first fell ill, people said: "He will be sorry. He is
fond of her in his own queer way."
But he did not seem to be sorry. He did not understand anything about
illness. The thought of it worried him; so he put it from him. He
remembered vaguely that Bernardine's father had suddenly become ill,
that his powers had all failed him, and that he lingered on, just a
wreck of humanity, and then died. That was twenty years ago. Then he
thought of Bernardine, and said to himself, "History repeats itself."
That was all.
Unkind? No; for when it was told him that she must go away, he looked
at her wonderingly, and then went out. It was very rarely that he went
out. He came back with fifty pounds.
"When that is done," he told her, "I can find more."
When she went away, people said: "He will he lonely."
But he did not seem to be lonely. They asked him once, and he said:
"I always have Gibbon."
And when she came back, they said: "He will be glad."
But her return seemed to make no difference to him.
He looked at her in his usual sightless manner, and asked her what she
intended to do.
"I shall dust the books," she said.
"Ah, I dare say they want it," he remarked.
"I shall get a little teaching to do," she continued. "And I shall take
care of you."
"Ah," he said vaguely. He did not understand what she meant. She had
never been very near to him, and he had never been very near to her.
He had taken but little notice of her comings and goings; she had either
never tried to win his interest or had failed: probably the latter. Now
she was going to take care of him.
This was the home to which Bernardine had returned. She came back with
many resolutions to help to make his old age bright. She looked back
now, and saw how little she had given of herself to her aunt and her
uncle. Aunt Malvina was dead, and Bernardine did not regret her. Uncle
Zerviah was here still; she would be tender with him, and win his
affection. She thought she could not begin better than by looking after
his books. Each one was dusted carefully. The dingy old shop was
restored to cleanliness. Bernardine became interested in her task.
"I will work up the business," she thought. She did not care in the
least about the books; she never looked into them except to clean them;
but she was thankful to have the occupation at hand: something to help
her over a difficult time. For the most trying part of an illness is
when we are ill no longer; when there is no excuse for being idle and
listless; when, in fact, we could work if we would: then is the moment
for us to begin on anything which presents itself, until we have the
courage and the inclination to go back to our own particular work: that
which we have longed to do, and about which we now care nothing.
So Bernardine dusted books and sometimes sold them. All the time she
thought of the Disagreeable Man. She missed him in her life. She had
never loved before, and she loved him. The forlorn figure rose before
her, and her eyes filled with tears. Sometimes the tears fell on the
books, and spotted them.
Still, on the whole she was bright; but she found things difficult. She
had lost her old enthusiasms, and nothing yet had taken their place.
She went back to the circle of her acquaintances, and found that she
had slipped away from touch with them. Whilst she had been ill, they
had been busily at work on matters social and educational and political.
She thought them hard, the women especially: they thought her weak.
They were disappointed in her; she was now looking for the more human
qualities in them, and she, too, was disappointed.
"You have changed," they said to her: "but then of course you have been
ill, haven't you?"
With these strong, active people, to be ill and useless is a reproach.
And Bernardine felt it as such. But she had changed, and she herself
perceived it in many ways. It was not that she was necessarily better,
but that she was different; probably more human, and probably less self-
confident. She had lived in a world of books, and she had burst through
that bondage and come out into a wider and a freer land.
New sorts of interests came into her life. What she had lost in
strength, she had gained in tenderness. Her very manner was gentler,
her mode of speech less assertive. At least, this was the criticism of
those who had liked her but little before her illness.
"She has learnt," they said amongst themselves. And they were not
scholars. They _knew_.
These, two or three of them, drew her nearer to them. She was alone
there with the old man, and, though better, needed care. They mothered
her as well as they could, at first timidly, and then with that sweet
despotism which is for us all an easy yoke to bear. They were drawn to
her as they had never been drawn before. They felt that she was no
longer analysing them, weighing them in her intellectual balance, and
finding them wanting; so they were free with her now, and revealed to
her qualities at which she had never guessed before.
As the days went on, Zerviah began to notice that things were somehow
different. He found some flowers near his table. He was reading about
Nero at the time; but he put aside his Gibbon, and fondled the flowers
instead. Bernardine did not know that.
One morning when she was out, he went into the shop and saw a great
change there. Some one had been busy at work. The old man was pleased:
he loved his books, though of late he had neglected them.
"She never used to take any interest in them," he said to himself.
"I wonder why she does now?"
He began to count upon seeing her. When she came back from her outings,
he was glad. But she did not know. If he had given any sign of welcome
to her during those first difficult days, it would have been a great
encouragement to her.
He watched her feeding the sparrows. One day when she was not there, he
went and did the same. Another day when she had forgotten, he surprised
her by reminding her.
"You have forgotten to feed the sparrows," he said. "They must be quite
That seemed to break the ice a little. The next morning when she was
arranging some books in the old shop, he came in and watched her.
"It is a comfort to have you," he said. That was all he said, but
Bernardine flushed with pleasure.
"I wish I had been more to you all these years," she said gently.
He did not quite take that in: and returned hastily to Gibbon.
Then they began to stroll out together. They had nothing to talk about:
he was not interested in the outside world, and she was not interested
in Roman History. But they were trying to get nearer to each other: they
had lived years together, but they had never advanced a step; now they
were trying, she consciously, he unconsciously. But it was a slow
process, and pathetic, as everything human is.
"If we could only find some subject which we both liked," Bernardine
thought to herself. "That might knit us together."
Well, they found a subject; though, perhaps, it was an unlikely one.
The cart-horses: those great, strong, patient toilers of the road
attracted their attention, and after that no walk was without its
pleasure or interest. The brewers' horses were the favourites, though
there were others, too, which met with their approval. He began to know
and recognize them. He was almost like a child in his newfound interest.
On Whit Monday they both went to the cart-horse parade in Regent's Park.
They talked about the enjoyment for days afterwards.
"Next year," he told her, "we must subscribe to the fund, even if we
have to sell a book."
He did not like to sell his books: he parted with them painfully, as
some people part with their illusions.
Bernardine bought a paper for herself every day; but one evening she
came in without one. She had been seeing after some teaching, and had
without any difficulty succeeded in getting some temporary light work
at one of the high schools. She forgot to buy her newspaper.
The old man noticed this. He put on his shabby felt hat, and went down
the street, and brought in a copy of the _Daily News_.
"I don't remember what you like, but will this do?" he asked.
He was quite proud of himself for showing her this attention, almost as
proud as the Disagreeable Man, when he did something kind and thoughtful.
Bernardine thought of him, and the tears came into her eyes at once.
When did she not think of him? Then she glanced at the front sheet, and
in the death column her eye rested on his name: and she read that Robert
Allitsen's mother had passed away. So the Disagreeable Man had won his
freedom at last. His words echoed back to her:
"But I know how to wait: if I have not learnt anything else, I have
learnt how to wait. And some day I shall be free. And then . . ."
BERNARDINE BEGINS HER BOOK.
AFTER the announcement of Mrs. Allitsen's death, Bernardine lived in a
misery of suspense. Every day she scanned the obituary, fearing to find
the record of another death, fearing and yet wishing to know. The
Disagreeable Man had yearned for his freedom these many years, and now
he was at liberty to do what he chose with his poor life. It was of no
value to him. Many a time she sat and shuddered. Many a time she began
to write to him. Then she remembered that after all he had cared nothing
for her companionship. He would not wish to hear from her. And besides,
what had she to say to him?
A feeling of desolation came over her. It was not enough for her to take
care of the old man who was drawing nearer to her every day; nor was it
enough for her to dust the books, and serve any chance customers who
might look in. In the midst of her trouble she remembered some of her
old ambitions; and she turned to them for comfort as we turn to old
"I will try to begin my book," she said to herself. "If I can only get
interested in it, I shall forget my anxiety!"
But the love of her work had left her. Bernardine fretted. She sat in
the old bookshop, her pen unused, her paper uncovered. She was very
Then one evening when she was feeling that it was of no use trying to
force herself to begin her book, she took her pen suddenly, and wrote
the following prologue.
FAILURE AND SUCCESS: A PROLOGUE.
FAILURE and Success passed away from Earth, and found themselves in a
Foreign Land. Success still wore her laurel-wreath which she had won on
Earth. There was a look of ease about her whole appearance; and there
was a smile of pleasure and satisfaction on her face, as though she knew
she had done well and had deserved her honours.
Failure's head was bowed: no laurel-wreath encircled it. Her face was
wan, and pain-engraven. She had once been beautiful and hopeful, but
she had long since lost both hope and beauty. They stood together,
these two, waiting for an audience with the Sovereign of the Foreign
Land. An old grey-haired man came to them and asked their names.
"I am Success," said Success, advancing a step forward, and smiling at
him, and pointing to her laurel-wreath.
He shook his head.
"Ah," he said, "do not be too confident. Very often things go by
opposites in this land. What you call Success, we often call Failure;
what you call Failure, we call Success. Do you see those two men waiting
there? The one nearer to us was thought to be a good man in your world;
the other was generally accounted bad. But here we call the bad man
good, and the good man bad. That seems strange to you. Well then, look
yonder. You considered that statesman to be sincere; but we say he was
insincere. We chose as our poet-laureate a man at whom your world
scoffed. Ay, and those flowers yonder: for us they have a fragrant
charm; we love to see them near us. But you do not even take the trouble
to pluck them from the hedges where they grow in rich profusion. So, you
see, what we value as a treasure, you do not value at all."
Then he turned to Failure.
"And your name?" he asked kindly, though indeed he must have known it.
"I am Failure," she said sadly.
He took her by the hand.
"Come, now, Success," he said to her: "let me lead you into the
Then she who had been called Failure, and was now called Success,
lifted up her bowed head, and raised her weary frame, and smiled at
the music of her new name. And with that smile she regained her beauty
and her hope. And hope having come back to her, all her strength
"But what of her," she asked regretfully of the old grey-haired man;
"must she be left?"
"She will learn," the old man whispered. "She is learning already.
Come, now: we must not linger."
So she of the new name passed into the Presence-Chamber.
But the Sovereign said:
"The world needs you, dear and honoured worker. You know your real
name: do not heed what the world may call you. Go back and work, but
take with you this time unconquerable hope."
So she went back and worked, taking with her unconquerable hope, and
the sweet remembrance of the Sovereign's words, and the gracious music
of her Real Name.
THE DISAGREEABLE MAN GIVES UP HIS FREEDOM.
THE morning after Bernardine began her book, she and old Zerviah were
sitting together in the shop. He had come from the little inner room
where he had been reading Gibbon for the last two hours. He still held
the volume in his hand; but he did not continue reading, he watched her
arranging the pages of a dilapidated book.
Suddenly she looked up from her work.
"Uncle Zerviah," she said brusquely, "you have lived through a long
life, and must have passed through many different experiences. Was
there ever a time when you cared for people rather than books?"
"Yes," he answered a little uneasily. He was not accustomed to have
questions asked of him.
"Tell me about it," she said.
"It was long ago," he said half dreamily, "long before I married
Malvina. And she died. That was all."
"That was all," repeated Bernardine, looking at him wonderingly.
Then she drew nearer to him.
"And you have loved, Uncle Zerviah? And you were loved?"
"Yes, indeed," he answered, softly.
"Then you would not laugh at me if I were to unburden my heart to you?"
For answer, she felt the touch of his old hand on her head. And thus
encouraged, she told him the story of the Disagreeable Man. She told him
how she had never before loved any one until she loved the Disagreeable
It was all very quietly told, in a simple and dignified manner:
nevertheless, for all that, it was an unburdening of her heart; her
listener being an old scholar who had almost forgotten the very name of
She was still talking, and he was still listening, when the shop door
creaked. Zerviah crept quietly away, and Bernardine looked up.
The Disagreeable Man stood at the counter.
"You little thing," he said, "I have come to see you. It is eight years
since I was in England."
Bernardine leaned over the counter.
"And you ought not to be here now," she said, looking at his thin face.
He seemed to have shrunk away since she had last seen him.
"I am free to do what I choose," he said. "My mother is dead."
"I know." Bernardine said gently. "But you are not free."
He made no answer to that, but slipped into the chair.
"You look tired," he said. "What have you been doing?"
"I have been dusting the books," she answered, smiling at him. "You
remember you told me I should be content to do that. The very oldest
and shabbiest have had my tenderest care. I found the shop in disorder.
You see it now."
"I should not call it particularly tidy now," he said grimly. "Still,
I suppose you have done your best. Well, and what else?"
"I have been trying to take care of my old uncle," she said. "We are
just beginning to understand each other a little. And he is beginning
to feel glad to have me. When I first discovered that, the days became
easier to me. It makes us into dignified persons when we find out that
there is a place for us to fill."
"Some people never find it out," he said.
"Probably, like myself, they went on for a long time, without caring,"
she answered. "I think I have had more luck than I deserve."
"Well," said the Disagreeable Man. "And you are glad to take up your
"No," she said quietly. "I have not got as far as that yet. But I
believe that after some little time I may be glad. I hope so, I am
working for that. Sometimes I begin to have a keen interest in
everything. I wake up with an enthusiasm. After about two hours I have
lost it again."
"Poor little child," he said tenderly. "I, too know what that is. But
you _will_ get back to gladness: not the same kind of satisfaction as
before; but some other satisfaction, that compensation which is said
to be included in the scheme."
"And I have begun my book," she said, pointing to a few sheets lying on
the counter: that is to say, I have written the Prologue."
"Then the dusting of the books has not sufficed?" he said, scanning her
"I wanted not to think of myself," Bernardine, said. "Now that I have
begun it, I shall enjoy going on with it. I hope it will be a companion
"I wonder whether you will make a failure or a success of it?" he
remarked. "I wish I could have seen."
"So you will," she said. "I shall finish it, and you will read it in
"I shall not be going back to Petershof," he said. "Why should I go
"For the same reason that you went there eight years ago," she said.
"I went there for my mother's sake," he said.
"Then you will go there now for my sake," she said deliberately.
He looked up quickly my little
"Little Bernardine," he cried, "my Little Bernardine--is it possible
that you care what becomes of me?"
She had been leaning against the counter, and now she raised herself,
and stood erect, a proud, dignified little figure.
"Yes, I do care," she said simply, and with true earnestness. "I care
with all my heart. And even if I did not care, you know you would not
be free. No one is free. You know that better than I do. We do not
belong to ourselves: there are countless people depending on us, people
whom we have never seen, and whom we never shall see. What we do,
decides what they will be."
He still did not speak.
"But it is not for those others that I plead," she continued. "I plead
for myself. I can't spare you, indeed, indeed I can't spare you! . . ."
Her voice trembled, but she went on bravely:
"So you will go back to the mountains," she said. "You will live out
your life like a man. Others may prove themselves cowards, but the
Disagreeable Man has a better part to play."
He still did not speak. Was it that he could not trust himself to words?
But in that brief time, the thoughts which passed through his mind were
such as to overwhelm him. A picture rose up before him: a picture of a
man and woman leading their lives together, each happy in the other's
love; not a love born of fancy, but a love based on comradeship and true
understanding of the soul. The picture faded, and the Disagreeable Man
raised his eyes and looked at the little figure standing near him.
"Little child, little child," he said wearily, "since it is your wish,
I will go back to the mountains."
Then he bent over the counter, and put his hand on hers.
"I will come and see you to-morrow," he said. "I think there are one or
two things I want to say to you."
The next moment he was gone.
In the afternoon of that same day Bernardine went to the City. She was
not unhappy: she had been making plans for herself. She would work hard,
and fill her life as full as possible. There should be no room for
unhealthy thought. She would go and spend her holidays in Petershof.
There would be pleasure in that for him and for her. She would tell him
so to-morrow. She knew he would be glad.
"Above all," she said to herself, "there shall be no room for unhealthy
thought. I must cultivate my garden."
That was what she was thinking of at four in the afternoon: how she
could best cultivate her garden.
At five she was lying unconscious in the accident-ward of the New
Hospital: she had been knocked down by a waggon, and terribly injured.
She will not recover, the Doctor said to the nurse. "You see she is
sinking rapidly. Poor little thing!"
At six she regained consciousness, and opened her eyes. The nurse bent
over her. Then she whispered:
"Tell the Disagreeable Man how I wish I could have seen him to-morrow.
We had so much to say to each other. And now . . ."
The brown eyes looked at the nurse so entreatingly. It was a long time
before she could forget the pathos of those brown eyes.
A few minutes later, she made another sign as though she wished to
speak. Nurse Katharine bent nearer. Then she whispered:
"Tell the Disagreeable Man to go back to the mountains, and begin to
build his bridge: it must be strong and . . ."
THE BUILDING OF THE BRIDGE.
ROBERT ALLITSEN came to the old book-shop to see Zerviah Holme before
returning to the mountains. He found him reading Gibbon. These two men
had stood by Bernardine's grave.
"I was beginning to know her," the old man said.
"I have always known her," the young man said. "I cannot remember a
time when she has not been part of my life."
"She loved you," Zerviah said. "She was telling me so the very morning
when you came."
Then, with a tenderness which was almost foreign to him, Zerviah told
Robert Allitsen how Bernardine had opened her heart to him. She had
never loved any one before: but she had loved the Disagreeable Man.
"I did not love him because I was sorry for him," she had said. "I
loved him for himself."
Those were her very words.
"Thank you," said the Disagreeable Man. "And God bless you for telling
Then he added:
"There were some few loose sheets of paper on the counter. She had
begun her book. May I have them?"
Zerviah placed them in his hand.
"And this photograph," the old man said kindly. "I will spare it for
The picture of the little thin eager face was folded up with the papers.
The two men parted.
Zerviah Holme went back to his Roman History. The Disagreeable Man went
back to the mountains: to live his life out there, and to build his
bridge, as we all do, whether consciously or unconsciously. If it
breaks down, we build it again.
"We will build it stronger this time," we say to ourselves.
So we begin once more.
We are very patient.
And meanwhile the years pass.
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