Richard Le Gallienne
Part 3 out of 4
to me in a year's time and, maybe, I'll tell you all about him.'"
"You dear!" said Henry, by way of interruption.
"Then," continued Angel, "she took me aside, and looked at my hand; and
she told me first what had happened to me, and then what was to come.
What she told me of the past"--as if dear Angel, whose life was as yet
all future, could as yet have had any past to speak of!--"was so true,
that I couldn't help half believing in what she said of the future. Now
you're laughing again!"
"No, indeed, I'm not," said Henry, perfectly solemn.
"She told me that just before I was twenty, I would meet a young man
with dark hair and blue eyes, very unexpectedly,--I shall be twenty in
six weeks,--and that he would be my fate. But the strangest is yet to
come. 'Would you like to see his face?' she said. She made me a little
frightened; but, of course, I said, 'Yes,' and then she brought out of
her pocket a sort of glass egg, and told me to look in it, and tell her
what I saw. So I looked, but for a long time I could see nothing; but
suddenly there seemed to be something moving in the centre of the glass,
like clouds breaking when the sun is coming out; and presently I could
see a lamp burning on a table; and then round the lamp shelves of books
began to grow out of the mist; then I saw a picture hanging in a recess,
a bowed head with a strange sort of head-dress on it, a dark thin face,
"Why, that must have been my Dante!" said Henry, astonished in spite of
The exclamation was a "score" for Angel; and she continued, with greater
confidence, "And then I seemed to see some one sitting there; but,
though I tried and tried, I couldn't catch sight of his face. I told the
old woman what I saw. 'Wait a minute,' she said, 'then try again.' So I
waited, and presently tried again. This time I hadn't so long to wait
before I saw a room again; but it was quite different, a big desk ran
along in front of a window, and there were two tall office-stools. 'Why,
it's father's office,' I said. 'Go on looking,' said the old woman, 'and
tell me what you see.' In a moment or two, I saw some one sitting on
one of the stools, first dimly and then clearer and clearer. 'Why,' I
almost cried out, for I felt more and more frightened, 'I see a young
man sitting at a desk, with a pen behind his ear.' 'Can you see him
clearly?' 'Yes,' I said; 'he's got dark curly hair and blue eyes.'
'You're sure you won't forget his face? You'd know him if you saw him
again?' 'Indeed, I would,' I said. 'All right,' said the old woman, 'you
can give me back the crystal. You keep a look out for that young
man,--you will see him some day, mark my words, and that young man will
be your fate.'
"Now, surely, you won't deny that was strange, will you?" asked Angel,
in conclusion. "And I shall never forget the start it gave me that day
when I came in, quite unsuspecting, with your lunch-tray, and saw you
talking to father, with your pen behind your ear, and your blue eyes and
dark hair. Now, isn't it strange? How can one help being superstitious
after a thing like that?"
"Are you quite sure it was I?" Henry asked, quizzically. "It appears to
me that any presentable young man with a pen behind his ear would have
answered nearly enough to the vision. You would hardly have been quite
sure of the colour of the eyes, would you, now, if the old woman hadn't
mentioned it first, as she looked at your hand?"
"You are horrid!" said Angel; "I wish I hadn't told you now. But it
wasn't merely the colour of the eyes. It was the look in them."
"Look again, and see if you haven't made a mistake. Look very
carefully," said Henry.
"I won't," said Angel; "I think you're cruel."
"Angel, if you'll only look, and say you are quite sure, I'll believe
every word the old woman said."
At last Angel was persuaded to look, and to look again, and the old
woman's credit rose at each look.
"Yes, Henry, whatever happens, I know it is true. My life is in your
Those are solemn words for one human being to hear uttered by another;
and a shiver of new responsibility involuntarily ran through
"May the hands be always strong and clean enough to hold so precious a
gift," he answered, gravely.
"Are you sad, dear?" asked Angel, presently, with a sort of divination.
"Not sad, dear, but serious," he answered.
"Have I turned to a responsibility so soon?"
"You strange, wise child, I believe you are a witch."
"Oh, I was right then."
"Right in one way, but perhaps wrong in another. Don't you know that
some responsibilities are the most dearly coveted of mortal honours? But
then we shouldn't be worthy of them, if they didn't make us feel a
little serious. Can't you imagine that to hear another say that her life
is in one's hands makes one feel just a little solemn?"
"But isn't your life in mine, Henry?" asked Angel, simply.
"Of course it is, dear," answered Henry.
And then the moon began to rise through the trees, pouring enchantment
over the sleeping woods, and the meadows half-submerged in lakes
Angel drew close to Henry, and watched it with big eyes.
"What a wonderful world it is! How beautiful and how sad!" she said,
half to herself.
"Yes; there is nothing in the world so sad as beauty," answered Henry.
"If only to-night could last forever! If only we could die now, sitting
just like this, with the moon rising yonder."
"But we shall have many nights like this together," said Henry.
"No; we shall never have this night again. We may have other wonderful
nights, but they will be different. This will never come again."
Henry instinctively realised that here was a mystical side to Angel's
nature which, however it might charm him, was not to be indiscriminately
encouraged, and he tried to rally her out of her sadness, but her
feeling was too much his own for him to persist; and as the moonlight
moved in its ascension from one beautiful change to another, now woven
by branches and leaves into weird tapestries of light and darkness, now
hanging like some golden fruit from the boughs, and now uplifted like a
lamp in some window of space, they sat together, alike held by the
ancient spell; and, presently, Henry so far lost himself in it as to
quote some lines entirely in Angel's mood:
"She dwells with Beauty--Beauty that must die;
And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips
Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh,
Turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips:
Ay, in the very temple of Delight
Veiled Melancholy has her sov'ran shrine,
Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue
Can burst Joy's grape against his palate fine;
His soul shall taste the sadness of her might,
And be among her cloudy trophies hung."
"What wonderful lines!" said Angel; "who wrote them? Are they your own?"
"Ah, Angel, what would I give if they were! No, they are by John Keats.
You must let me give you his poems."
Presently, the moonlight began to lose its lustre. It grew pale, and, as
it were, anxious; dark billows of clouds threatened to swallow up its
silver coracle, and presently the world grew suddenly black with its
submergence, the woods and meadows disappeared, and Henry and Angel
began playfully to strike matches to see each other's faces. Thus they
suddenly flared up to each other out of the darkness, like Rembrandts
seen by lightning, and then they were lost again, and were only voices
fumbling for each other in the dark.
Yet, even so, lips and arms found each other without much difficulty,
and when they began to think of the last train, and fear they would miss
it, but waited for just one last good-night kiss under their sacred
tree, the world suddenly lit up again, for the moon had triumphed over
its enemies, and come out just in time to give them its blessing.
CONCERNING THE BEST KIND OF WIFE FOR A POET
We are apt sometimes to complain that so much of importance in our lives
is at the dispensation of accident, yet how often too are we compelled
to confess that some of the happiest and most fruitful circumstances of
our lives are due to the far-seeing diplomacies of chance.
Among no set of circumstances is this more true than in the fateful
relations of men and women. While, in a blind sort of way, we may be
said to choose for ourselves the man or woman with whom we are to share
the joys and sorrows of our years, yet the choice is only superficially
ours. Frequently our brains, our antecedent plans, have no part in the
decision. The woman we choose appears at the wrong time, in the wrong
place, in an undesirable environment, with hair and eyes and general
complexion different in colour from what we had predestined for
ourselves, short when we had made up our minds for tall, and tall when
we had hoped for short. Yet, in in spite of all our preconceptions, we
choose her. This is not properly a choice in which the intelligence
confessedly submits to violence. It is the compulsion of mysterious
instincts that know better than our brains or our tastes.
Now had she been asked beforehand, Esther might not have sketched out a
Mike as the ideal of her maiden dreams, nor indeed might Henry have
described an Angelica, any more than perhaps Mike an Esther, or Angelica
a Henry. Yet chance has only to place Esther and Mike, and Angelica and
Henry in the same room together for less than a minute of time, and they
fly into the arms of each other's souls with an instant recognition.
This is a mystery which it will take more than biology to explain.
A young man's dreams of the woman he will some day marry are apt to be
meretricious, or at all events conventional. A young poet, especially,
is likely to err in the direction of paragons of beauty, or fame, or
romance. Perhaps he dreams of a great singer, or an illustrious beauty,
ignorant of the natural law which makes great singers and illustrious
beauties, in common with all artists, incapable of loving really any one
but themselves. Or perhaps it will be some woman of great and exquisite
culture. But chance knows that women of great and exquisite culture are
usually beings lacking in those plastic elemental qualities which a
poet, above all men, needs in the woman he shall love. Their very
culture, while it may seem to broaden, really narrows them, limits them
to a caste of mind, and, for an infinite suggestiveness, substitutes a
few finite accomplishments.
Critics without understanding have wondered now and again at attachments
such as that of Heine for his Mathilde. Yet in some ways Mathilde was
the type of wife best suited for a poet. She was just a wondering child,
a bit of unspoiled chaos. She meant as little intellectually, and as
much spiritually, as a wave of the sea, a bird of the air, a star in
Another great poet always kept in his room a growing plant in a big tub
of earth, and another tub full of fresh water. With the fire going, he
used to say that he had the four elements within his four walls; and to
people unaccustomed to talk with the elements these no doubt seemed dull
and even remarkable companions,--like Heine's Mathilde.
Now Angel, though far more than a goose intellectually, having, indeed,
a very keen and subtle mind, was only secondarily intellectual, being
primarily something far more important. You no more asked of her to be
intellectual, than you expect a spirit to be mathematical. She was just
a dream-child, thrilling with wonder and love before the strange world
in which she had been mysteriously placed,--a dream-child and an
excellent housewife in one, as full of common-sense on the one hand, as
she was filled with fairy "nonsense" on the other. She was just, in
fact, the wife for a poet.
The interest taken in each other by Angel and the Man in Possession had
not been unobserved by Angel's family. Her sisters had teased her
considerably on the subject.
"Why have you changed the way of wearing your hair, Angel?" they would
say, "Does Mr. Mesurier like it that way?" or, "My word! we are getting
smart and particular, now a certain gentleman has come into the
office!" or again, "How small your writing is nowadays, Angel! What have
you changed it for? I like your big old writing best; but I suppose--"
and then they would retreat to a safe distance to finish--"Mr. Mesurier
isn't of the same opinion!"
Sometimes Esther would start in pursuit, and playful scrimmages would
ensue, the hilarious uproar of which would turn poor Mrs.
Mrs. Flower had certainly not been unobservant, and one may perhaps
suspect that those cakes and other delicacies which she had so often
sent up the yard, had not been sent entirely without those ulterior
designs which every thoughtful mother may becomingly cherish for her
After Angel and Henry's excursion to the country together, Henry felt
that some official announcement of the state of his heart was demanded
of him, and lost no time in finding Mr. Flower alone for that tremulous
purpose. However, it was soon over. There were no questions of _dots_
and marriage settlements to discuss. Genealogically, both sides were
about equally distinguished, and, socially, belonged to that large
undefined class called "respectable"--though it must not be supposed
that, when so minded, families of that "respectable" zone do not
occasionally make nice distinctions. "Do you know what you are asking
for?" once said a retired tradesman's wife in Sidon to her daughter's
suitor. "Do you know that both Katie's grandfathers were mayors?"
But there were no traditional mayoralties to keep these two young hearts
asunder. It was understood on both sides that they had nothing to bring
but each other, and they asked nothing better. Angel was going to marry
a poet, and Henry a fairy; and not only they themselves, but the whole
family, was more than satisfied. Mr. Flower was undisguisedly pleased,
and the tears stood in his eyes as he gripped Henry's hand.
"I've liked you," he said, "since the first time we shook hands. There
was something honest about your grip I liked, and I go a good deal by
these things. It is not many men I would trust with my little Angel; for
when you take her, you take her father's great treasure. Guard her well,
dear lad, guard her well."
THE BOOK OF ANGELICA
The first duty of a poet's wife is to inspire him. When she ceases to do
that--but that is a consideration which need not occupy us in this
unsophisticated story. We have already seen that Angelica in this
respect early began her wifely duties towards Henry; and that little
song he read in chapter twenty-five was but one of many he had written
to her in his capacity of man in possession.
The feminine inspirations of his early youth had been numerous, but
mediocre in quality. Even in love, as in all else, his opportunities had
been second and even third-rate. He had broken his boy's heart, time
after time, for some commonplace, little provincial miss who knew not
"the god's wonder or his woe." But, at last, in circumstances so
unforeseen, the maiden of the Lord had been revealed to him, and with
the revelation a great impulse of metrical expression had come upon the
young poet. All day long rhythms and fancies were effervescing within
him, till at length he had quite a publishable mass of verse for which,
it is to be feared, Angelica must be counted responsible.
Of these he was busily making a surreptitious fair copy one morning,
when old Mr. Septimus Lingard suddenly visited his seclusion, with the
announcement that his task there was at an end, so that he might now
return to his regular office. Though, of course, Henry had realised that
the present happy arrangement could not go on for ever, the news brought
temporary desolation to the two young lovers. For four months their days
had been spent within a few yards of each other; and though Angel's
excursions up the yard to Henry's desk could not be many, or long, each
day, yet each was conscious that the other was near at hand. When Angel
sang at her housework, it was from the secure sense that Henry was close
by. Their separation was little more than that of a husband and wife
working in different rooms of the same house. But now their meetings
would have to be arranged out somewhere in a cold world, little
considerate of the convenience of lovers, and, for whole days of warm
proximity, they would have to exchange occasional snatched
Well, the only thing to do was for Henry to work away at their dream of
a home together--home together, however little, just four walls to love
each other in, away from the gaze of prying eyes, none daring to make
them afraid. How that home was to be compassed was far from clear in
either of their minds; but vaguely it was felt that it would be brought
about by the powerful enchantments of literature. Henry had recently had
one of Angel's poems accepted by a rather good magazine, and the trance
of joy in which for fully two hours he had sat gazing at that, his
first, proof-sheet, was hardly less rapturous than that into which he
had fallen after seeing Angel for the first time,--so dear are the
emblems of his craft to the artist, at the beginning, and still at the
end, of his career.
So Henry had to finish the fair copy of his poems at home in his
lodgings of an evening, for so ambitious a private enterprise could not
be carried on in his own office without perilous interruptions. He was
making the copy with especial care, in the form of a real book; and when
it was made, he daintily bound it in vellum with his own hands. Then he
wrapped it lovingly in tissue paper, and kept it by him two or three
days, in readiness for Angel's birthday, on the morning of which day he
hid it in a box of flowers and sent it to Angel. The sympathetic reader
can imagine her delight, as she discovered among the flowers a dainty
little white volume, bearing the title-page, "The Book of Angelica, by
Henry Mesurier. Tyre, 1886. Edition limited to one copy."
Now this little book presently began to enjoy a certain very carefully
limited circulation among Angel's friends. Of course they were not
allowed to take it away. They were only allowed to look at it now and
again for a few minutes, Angel anxiously standing by to see that they
did not soil her treasure. Sometimes Mr. Flower would ask Angel to show
it to one of the family friends; and thus one evening it came beneath
the eyes of a little Scotch printer who had a great love for poetry and
some taste in it.
"The man's a genius," he said, with all that authority with which a
strong Scotch accent mysteriously endows the humblest Scot.
"The man's a genius," he repeated; "his poems must be printed."
Henry had already found that this was easier said than done, for he had
already tried several London publishers who professed their willingness
to publish--at his expense. This little Scotch printer, however, was to
prove more venturesome. He forthwith communicated a proposal to Henry
through the Flowers. If Henry would provide him with a list of a certain
number of friends he could rely on for subscriptions, he would take the
risk of printing an edition, and give Henry half the profits,--a
proposal as generous as it was rash. Angel communicated the offer in an
excited little letter, with the result that Mr. Leith and Henry met one
morning in the bar-parlour of "The Green Man Still," and parted an hour
or so after in a high state of friendship, and deeply pledged together
to a mutual adventure of three hundred copies of a book to be called
"The Book of Angelica," and to be printed in so dainty a fashion that
the mere outside should attract buyers.
Mr. Leith worked under difficulties, for his business, small as it was,
was much saddled with pecuniary obligations which it but inadequately
supported. His printing of Henry's poems was really a work of sheer
idealism which none but a Scotsman, or perhaps an Irishman, would have
undertaken; and it was a work that might at any moment be interrupted by
bailiffs, empowered to carry away the presses and the very types over
which Henry loved to hang in his spare hours, trying to read in the
lines of mysteriously carved metal, his "Madrigal to Angelica singing,"
or his "Sonnet on first beholding Angelica."
Then Mr. Leith was of a convivial disposition; and Henry and he must
have spent more hours drinking to the success of the little book than
would have sufficed to print it twice over. However, the day did at last
come when it was a living, breathing reality, and when Angel and Henry
sat with tears of joy over the little new-born "Book of Angelica." Was
it not, they told each other, the little spirit-child of their love? How
wonderful it all was! How wonderful their future was going to be!
"What does it feel like?" said Henry, playfully recalling their old
talk, "to have a book written all about one's self?"
"It is to feel the happiest and proudest girl in the world."
That all the other young people were hardly less happy and excited
about the little book goes without saying. Mike spent quite a large sum
in copies, and for a while employed his luncheon-hour in asking at
book-shops with a nonchalant air, as though he had barely heard of the
author, if they sold a little book called "The Book of Angelica." Mrs.
Mesurier seemed to see her faith in her boy beginning to be justified;
and when James Mesurier opened his local paper one morning, and found a
long and appreciative article on a certain "fellow-townsman," he cut it
out to paste in his diary. Perhaps the lad would prove right, after all.
WHAT COMES OF PUBLISHING A BOOK
It is only just to Tyre to acknowledge that it behaved quite
sympathetically towards the young poet thus discovered in its midst. Its
newspapers reviewed him with marked kindness,--a kindness which in a few
years' time, when he had long since grown out of his baby volume, he was
obliged to set to the credit of the general goodness of human nature,
rather than to the poetic quality of his own verses. In many unexpected
quarters also he met with recognition which, if not always intelligent,
was at least gratifying. For praise, or at least some form of notice, is
breath in the nostrils of the young poet. He hungers to feel that his
personality counts for something, though it be merely to anger his
fellow-men. It was perhaps no very culpable vanity on his part to be
pleased that people began to point him out in the streets, and whisper
that that was the young poet; and that distant acquaintances seemed
more ready to smile at him than before. Now and again one of these would
stop him to say how pleased he had been to see the kind article about
him in _The Tyrian Daily Mail_, and that he intended to buy "the work"
as soon as possible. Henry smiled to himself, to hear his frail little
flower of a volume spoken of as a "work," as though it had been the
Encyclopaedia Britannica; and he rather wondered what that would-be
purchaser would make of it, as he turned over pages of which so large a
proportion was reserved for a spotless frame of margin. No doubt he
would decide that the margin had been left for the purpose of making
notes,--making notes on those abstruse rose-petals of boyish song!
Even in far-away London,--which was as yet merely a sounding name to
these young people,--hard-worked reviewers, contemptuously disposing of
batches of new poetry in a few lines, found a kind word or two to say
for the little provincial volume; and, through one agency or another,
Mr. Leith, within six weeks of the publication, was able to announce
that the edition was exhausted and that there was something like forty
pounds profit to share between them.
That poetry could be exchanged for real money, Henry had heard, but had
never hoped to work the miracle in his own case. It was like selling
moonlight, or Angelica's smiles. Was it not, indeed, Angelica's smiles
turned from one kind of gold into another? One more change they should
undergo, and then return to her from whom they had come. From minted
gold of the realm they should change into the gold of a ring, and thus
Angel should wear upon her finger the ornament of her own smiles.
Setting aside a small proportion of his gains to buy Esther and Mike,
Dot and Mat and his mother, a little memorial present each, he then
spent the rest on Angel's ring. Angel pretended to scold him for his
extravagance; but, as no woman can resist a ring, her remonstrance was
not convincing, and then, as Henry said, was it not their betrothal
ring, and, therefore, one of the legitimate expenses of love?
Three other acknowledgments his poems brought him. The first was a
delightful letter from Myrtilla Williamson. How much men of talent owe
to the letters of women has never been sufficiently acknowledged, as
the debt can never be adequately repaid. Of the many branches of woman's
unselfishness, this is perhaps the most important to the world. Always
behind the flaming renown of some great soldier, statesman, or poet,
there is a woman's hand, or the hands, maybe, of many women, pouring,
unseen, the nutritive oil of praise.
This letter Henry, in the gladness of his heart, ingenuously showed to
Angel, with the result that it provoked their first quarrel. With the
charms of a child, Angel, it now appeared, united also the faults. She
had it in her to be bitterly and unreasonably jealous. She read the
"You seem very proud of her praise," she said; "is it so very valuable?"
"I value it a good deal, at all events," answered Henry.
"Oh, I see!" retorted Angel; "I suppose my praise is nothing to hers."
"Angel dear, what _do_ you mean?"
"Oh, nothing, of course; but I'm sure you must regret caring for an
ignorant girl like me, when there are such clever, talented women in the
world as your Mrs. Williamson. I hate your learned women!"
"Angel, I'm surprised you can talk like that. Because we love each
other, are we to have no other friends?"
"Have as many as you like, dear. Don't think I mind. But I don't want to
see their letters."
"Very well, Angel," answered Henry, quietly. He was making one of those
discoveries of temperament which have to be made, and have to be
accepted, in all close relationships. This was evidently one of Angel's
faults. He must try to help her with it, as he must try and let her help
him with his.
The second was a letter, forwarded care of his printer, by one of the
London reviews which had noticed his verses. It was from a rising young
London publisher who, it appeared from an envelope enclosed, had already
tried to reach him direct at Tyre. "Henry Mesurier, Esqre, Author of
'The Book of Angelica,' Tyre," the address had run, but the post-office
of Tyre had returned it to the sender, with the words "Not known"
officially stamped upon it.
He was as yet "not known," even in Tyre! "In another five years he shall
try again," said Henry, savagely, to himself, "and we shall see whether
it will be 'not known' then!"
The letter expressed the writer's pleasure in the extracts he had seen
from Mr. Mesurier's book, and hoped that when his next book was ready,
he would give the writer an opportunity of publishing it. Fortune was
beginning already to smile.
But the third acknowledgment was something more like a frown, and was,
at all events, by far the most momentous outcome of Henry's first
publication. One morning, soon after Mr. Leith had paid over to him his
twenty pounds profit, he found himself unexpectedly requested to step
into "the private office." There, at Mr. Lingard's table, he found the
three partners seated in solemn conclave, as for a court-martial. Mr.
Lingard, as senior partner, was the spokesman.
"Mr. Mesurier," he began, "the firm has been having a very serious
consultation in regard to you, and has been obliged, very reluctantly, I
would have you believe, to come to a painful conclusion. We gladly
acknowledge that during the last few months your work has given us more
satisfaction than at one time we expected it to give. But,
unfortunately, that is not all. Your attention to your duties, we admit,
has been very satisfactory. It is not a sin of omission, but one of
commission, of which we have to complain. What we have to complain of as
business men is a matter which perhaps you will say does not concern us,
though on that point we must respectfully differ from you. Mr. Mesurier,
you have recently published a book."
Henry drew himself up haughtily. Surely that was nothing to be ashamed
"It is quite a pretty little book," continued Mr. Lingard, with one of
his grim smiles. "It contains some quite pretty verses. Oh, yes, I have
seen it," and Henry noticed a copy of the offending little volume lying,
like a rose, among some legal papers at Mr. Lingard's left hand; "but
its excellence as poetry is not to the point here. Our difficulty is
that you are now branded so unmistakably as a poet, that it is no use
our any longer pretending to our clients that you are a clerk. So long
as you were only suspected of being a poet," and the old man smiled
again, "it did not so much matter; but now that all Tyre knows you, by
your own act and deed, as a poet, the case is different. We can no
longer, without risk of losing confidence with our clients, send an
acknowledged poet to inspect their books--though, personally, we may
have every faith in your capacity. No doubt they will be glad enough to
buy your books in the future; but they will be nervous of trusting you
with theirs at the moment." And the old man laughed heartily at his
"You mean, then, sir, that you will have no further need for my
services?" said Henry, looking somewhat pale; for it is one thing to
hate the means of one's livelihood, and another to exchange it for none.
"I'm afraid, my dear lad, that that is what it comes to. We are, I hope
you will believe, exceedingly sorry to come to such a conclusion, both
for our own sakes and yours, as well as that of your father,--who is an
old and valued friend of ours; but we are able to see no other way out
of the difficulty. Of course, you will not leave us this minute; but
take what time you need to look round and arrange your future plans; and
so far as we are concerned, we shall part from you as good friends and
The old man held out his hand, and Henry took it, with a grateful sense
of the friendly manner in which Mr. Lingard had performed a painful
task, and a certain recognition that, after all, a poet must be
something of a nuisance to business-men.
When he returned to his desk, he sat for a long time thoughtful, divided
in mind between exultation that he was soon to be free to take the
adventurous highway of literature, and anxiety as to where in a month's
time his preliminary meals were to come from.
Yet, after all, the main thing was to be free of this servitude. Out of
freedom all things might be hoped.
Still, as Henry looked round at the familiar faces of his fellow-clerks,
and realised that in a month's time his comradeship with them would be
at an end, he was surprised to feel a certain pang of separation. Mere
custom has so great a part in our affections, that though a routine may
have been dull and distasteful, if it has any extenuating circumstances
at all, we change it with a certain irrational regret. After all, his
office-life was associated with much contraband merriment; and,
unconsciously, his associates had taken a valuable part in his training,
humanised him in certain directions, as he had humanised them in others.
They had saved him from dilettanteism, and whatever he wrote in future
would owe something warm and kindly to the years he had spent with them.
His very desk took on a pathetic expression, as of a place that was so
soon to know him no more for ever; and Mr. Smith, wrangling over
wet-traps and cesspools at the counter, just as on the first day he had
heard him, almost moved him to tears. Perhaps in ten years' time, were
he to come back, he would find him still at his post, fervidly engaged
in the same altercations, with only a little additional greyness at the
temples to mark the lapse of time.
And Jenkins would still be sitting in the little screened-off cupboard,
with "cashier" painted on the glass window. As three o'clock approached,
he would still be heard loudly counting his cash and shovelling the gold
into wash-leather bags, and the silver into little paper-bags marked L5
apiece, in a wild rush to reach the bank before it closed.
And would the same good fellows, a little more serious, because long
since married, be cracking jokes and loafing near the fire-guard, in
some rare safe hour, of the afternoon when all the partners were out, to
make a spring for the desks, as the carefully learnt tread of one or
another of those partners followed the opening of the front door.
The very work that he hated seemed to wear an unwonted look of
tenderness. Who would keep the books he had kept--with something of his
father's neatness; who would look after the accounts of "the Rev. Thomas
Salthouse," or take charge of "Ex'ors James Shuttleworth, Esqre"?
Of course, it was absurd--absurd, perhaps, just because it was human.
For was he not going to be free, free to fulfil his dreams, free to
follow those voices that had so often called him from beyond the sunset?
Soon he would be able to cry out to them, with literal truth, "I am
yours, yours--all yours!" And in those ten years which were to pass so
invariably for Mr. Smith, and for Jenkins and the rest, what various and
dazzling changes might be, must be, in store for him. Long before the
end of them he must have written masterpieces and become famous, and
Angel and he be long settled together in their paradise of home.
Henry was pleased to find that his chums were to miss him no less than
he was to miss them. As an unofficial master of their pale revels, his
place would not be easy to fill; and he was much touched, when, a day or
two before the end of the month, which was the time mutually agreed upon
for Henry to look round, they intimated their desire to give a little
dinner in his honour at "The Jovial Clerks" tavern.
Henry was nothing loth, and the evening came and went with no little
emotion and no little wine, on either side. He had bidden good-bye to
his employers in the afternoon, and Mr. Lingard had shaken his hand, and
admonished him as to his future with something of paternal affection.
Toward the close of the dinner, Bob Cherry, who acted as chairman, rose,
with an unaccustomed blush upon his cheek, to propose the toast of the
evening. They had had the honour and pleasure, he said, to be associated
for several years past with a gentleman to whom that evening they were
to say good-bye. No better fellow had ever graced the offices of Lingard
and Fields, and his would be a real loss to the gaiety of their little
world. They understood that he was a poet; and indeed had he not already
published a charming volume with which they were all acquainted!--still
this made no difference to them. Certain high powers might object, but
they liked him none the less; and whether he was a poet or not, he was
certainly a jolly good fellow, and wherever his new career might take
him, the good wishes of his old chums would certainly follow him. The
chairman concluded his speech by requesting his acceptance of a copy of
the "Works of Lord Macaulay," as a small remembrance of the days they
had spent together.
The toast having been seconded and drunk with resounding cordiality,
Henry responded in a speech of mingled playfulness and emotion, assuring
them, on his part, that though they might not be poets, he thought no
worse of them for that, but should always remember them as the best
fellows he had ever known. The talk then became general, and tender with
reminiscence. After all, what a lot of pleasant things those hard years
had given them to remember! So they kept the evening going, and it was
not till an early hour of the following day that this important volume
of Henry's life was finally closed.
MIKE'S TURN TO MOVE
While Henry had been busily engaged in winning Angelica and writing and
printing his little book, Mike's fortunes had not been idle. Meanwhile,
the Sothern Dramatic Club had given two more performances, in which his
parts had been considerable, and been played by him with such success as
to make the former pieman's apprentice one of the chief members of the
club. Mike and his friends therefore became more and more eager for him
to try his talents on the great stage. But this was an experiment not so
easy to make.
However unknown a writer may be, he can still at least write his book in
his obscurity, and, when done, bring it to market, with a reasonable
hope of its finding a publisher; moreover, though he may remain for
years unappreciated, his writings still go on fighting for him till his
due recognition is won. He has not to find his publisher before he
begins to write. Yet it is actually such a disability under which the
unproved and often the proved actor must labour. Unless some one engages
him to act, and provides an audience for him, he has no opportunity of
showing his powers. And such opportunities are difficult to find, unless
you are a dissolute young lord, or belong to one of the traditional
theatrical families,--whose members are brought up to the stage, as the
sons of a lawyer are brought up to law. For the avenues to the stage are
blocked by perhaps more frivolous incompetents than any other
profession. Any idle girl with good looks, and any idle gentleman with
something of a good carriage, deem themselves qualified for one of the
most arduous of the arts.
Mike's plan had been to try every considerable actor that came to Tyre,
who might possibly have a vacant place in his company; but he had tried
many in vain. While one or two were unable to see him at all, most of
them treated him with a kindness remarkable in men daily besieged by the
innumerable hopeless. They gave him good advice; they wished him well;
but already they had long lists of experienced applicants waiting their
turn for the coveted vacancy. At last, however, there came to Tyre a
famous romantic actor who was said to be more sympathetic towards the
youthful aspirant than the other heads of his profession, and as, too,
he was rumoured to be vulnerable on the side of literature, Mike and
Henry agreed to make a joint attack upon him. Mike should write a brief
note asking for an interview, and Henry should follow it up with another
letter to the same effect, and at the same time send him a copy of "The
Book of Angelica."
The plan was carried out. Both letters and the book were sent, and the
young men awaited with impatience the result. Henry had adopted a very
lofty tone. "In granting my friend an interview," he had said, "you may
be giving his first chance to an actor of genius. Of course you may not;
but at least you will have had the satisfaction of giving to possible
genius that benefit of the doubt which we have a right to expect from
the creator of ----," and he named one of the actor's most famous roles.
A cordial answer came by return, enclosing two stalls for the following
evening, when, said the great actor, he would be glad to see Mr. Laflin
during or after the performance. The two young men were in their places
as the curtain rose, and it goes without saying that their enthusiasm
was unequalled in the audience. Between the third and fourth acts there
was a considerable interval, and early in the performance it had been
notified to Mike that the great actor would see him then. So when the
time came, with a whispered "good luck" from Henry, he left his place
and was led through a little mysterious iron door at the back of the
boxes, on to the stage and into the great man's dressing-room. Opening
suddenly out of the darkness at one side of the stage, it was more like
a brilliantly lighted cave hung with mirrors than a room. Mirrors and
lights and laurel wreaths with cards attached, and many photographs with
huge signatures scrawled across them, and a magnificent being reading a
book, while his dresser laced up some high boots he was to wear in the
following act,--made Mike's first impression. Then the magnificent being
looked up with a charming smile.
"Good-evening, Mr. Laflin. I am delighted to see you. I hope you will
excuse my rising."
He said "Mr. Laflin" with a captivating familiarity of intonation, as
though Mike was something between an old friend and a distinguished
"So you are thinking of joining our profession. I hope you liked the
performance. I saw you in front, or at least I thought it was you. And
your friend? I hope he will come and see me some other time. I have been
delighted with his poems."
There is something dazzling and disconcerting to an average layman about
an actor's dressing-room, even though the dressing-room be that of an
intimate friend. He feels like a being on the confines of two worlds and
belonging to neither, awkwardly suspended 'twixt fact and fancy. The
actor for a while has laid aside his part and forgotten his wig and his
make-up. As he talks to you, he is thinking of himself merely as a
private individual; whereas his visitor cannot forget that in appearance
he is a king, or an eighteenth-century dandy, or--though you know him
well enough as a clean-shaven young man of thirty--a bowed and wrinkled
greybeard. The visitor's voice rings thin and hestitating. It cannot
strike the right pitch, and generally he does himself no sort
Perhaps, however, it was because Mike had been born for this world in
which now for the first time he found himself, that he suffered from
none of this embarrassment; perhaps, too, it was some half-conscious
instinct of his own gifts that made him quite self-contained in the
presence of acknowledged distinction, so self-contained that you might
have thought he had no reverence. As he had passed across the stage, he
had eyed that mysterious behind-the-scenes rather with the eye of a
future stage-manager, than of a youth all whose dreams converged at this
point, and at this moment.
One touch of the poetry of contrast caught his eye, of which custom
would probably have made him unobservant. In an alcove of the stage, a
"scene-dock," as Mike knew already to call it, a beautiful spirit in
gauze and tights was silently rehearsing to herself a dance which she
had to perform in the next act. Softly and silently she danced,
absorbed in the evolutions of her lithe young body, paying as little
heed to the rough stage-hands who hurried scenery about her on every
side, as those hardened stage-hands paid to her dancing. Henry or Ned
would probably have fallen madly in love with her on the spot. To Mike,
she was but a part of the economy of the stage; and had she been
Cleopatra herself, eyes filled to overflowing with the beauty of Esther
would have taken no more intimate note of her. So, it is said, painters
and sculptors regard their models with cold, artistic eyes.
This self-possession enabled Mike to show to the best advantage; and
while they talked, the great actor, with an eye accustomed to read
faces, soon made up his mind about him.
"I believe you and your friend are right, Mr. Laflin," he said. "I am
much mistaken if you are not a born actor. But if you are that, you will
not need to be told that the way is long and difficult, nor will you
mind that it is so. Every true artist rather loves than fears the
drudgery of his art. It is one of the tests of his being an artist. Art
is undoubtedly the pleasantest of all work; but it is work for all
that, and none of the easiest. Perhaps it is the pleasantest because it
is the hardest. So if you really want to be an artist, you won't object
to beginning your journey to the top right away at the bottom."
"Anywhere at all, sir," said Mike, his heart beating at this hint of
what was coming.
"Well, in that case," continued the other, "I can perhaps do something,
though a very little, for you."
Mike eagerly murmured his gratitude.
"I'm sorry to say I have no vacancy in my own company at present; but
would you be willing to take a part in my Christmas pantomime? I may say
that I myself began life as harlequin."
"I will gladly take anything you can offer me," said Mike.
"Shall we call it settled then? But I sha'n't need you for another four
months. Meanwhile I will have a contract made out and sent to you--"
"Curtain rising for fourth act, sir," cried the call-boy, putting his
head in at the door at that moment.
"You see I shall have to say good-bye," said the good-natured manager,
rising and moving towards the door; "but I shall look forward to seeing
you in October. My good wishes to your friend;" and so the happiest
person in that theatre slipped back to his seat by the side of a friend
who was surely as happy at his good news as though it had been his own.
Meanwhile Esther had been counting the hours till ten, when she made a
pretence of going to bed with the rest. But there was no sleep for her
till she had heard Mike's news. Her bedroom looked out from the top of
the house into the front garden, and she had arranged to have a lamp
burning at the window, so that Mike, on his way home, should understand
that all was safe for a snatched five minutes' talk in the porch. She
sat trying to read till about midnight, when through her half-opened
windows came the soft whistle she had been waiting for. Turning down the
lamp to show that she had heard, she stole down through the quiet house
and cautiously opened the front door, fastened, it seemed, with a
hundred bolts and chains.
"Is that you, Mike?"
For answer two arms, which she didn't mistake for a burglar's, were
thrown round her.
"Esther, I've found my million pounds."
"Oh, Mike! He's really going to help you?"
And here there is no further necessity for eaves-dropping. All persons
except Mike and Esther will please leave the porch.
On the morning after the dinner with which he bade farewell to Messrs.
Lingard and Fields, Henry awoke at his usual hour to a very unusual
feeling. For the first time in his life he could stay in bed as long as
On the other side of the room Ned Hazell lay sleeping the deep sleep of
the unpunctual clerk; and Henry, when he had for a moment or two dwelt
upon his own happiness, took a malicious joy in arousing him.
"Ned," he shouted, "get up! You'll be late for the office."
Ned gave out a deep sound, something between a snore, a moan, and an
"Ned!" his tormentor persisted, drawing the clothes warmly round him, in
a luxury of indifference to the time of day.
Ned presently began rubbing his head vigorously, which was one of his
preliminaries of awakening, and then mournfully raised himself in bed, a
pillar of somnolence.
"You might let a fellow have his sleep out," he said; "why don't you get
up yourself?--oh, I remember, you're a literary gentleman from to-day.
That's why you're so mighty ready to root me out," and he aimed a pillow
at Henry's bed in derision.
Yes, Henry was free, an independent gentleman of time and space. The
clock might strike itself hoarse, yet, if he wished, he might go on
staying in bed. He was free! His late task-masters had no jurisdiction
here. It would even be in his power here to order Mr. Fields out of the
room, and, if he refused, forcibly to eject him into the street. Why
didn't Mr. Fields appear to gratify him in this matter?
So he indulged his imagination, while Ned dressed in haste, with the
fear of the tyrant evident upon him. Poor fellow, he would have to
choose between two cups of coffee and two eggs and five minutes late!
Probably he would split the difference, bolt one cup of coffee and one
egg, and arrive two and a half minutes late. Henry watched him with
compassion; and when he had gone his ways, himself rose languidly and
dressed indolently, as with the aid of an invisible valet. At length he
sauntered down to breakfast, and sent out for a morning paper, which he
on no account ever read. He could imagine no more insulting waste of
time. He looked it through, but found no reference to the real
significance of the day.
Breakfast over, he wondered what he should do with himself, how he
should spend the day. His clear duty was to begin being a great man on
the spot, and work at being a great man every day punctually from nine
till six. But where should he begin? Should he sit down in a
business-like way and begin his long romantic poem, or should he write
an essay, or again should he make a start on his novel?
Romantic poems, he felt, however, are only well begun on special days
not easy to define; essays are only written on days when we have
determined to be idle,--and this, after the opening flirtation with
indolence, must be a busy day,--and it is not every day that one can
begin a novel. He might arrange his books, but really they were very
well arranged already. Or suppose he went out for a walk. Walking
quickened the brain. He might go and look in at the Art Gallery, where
he hadn't been for a long while, and see the new picture the morning
paper was talking about. It was by a painter whose poems he already knew
and loved. That might inspire him. So, by an accident of idleness, he
presently found himself standing rapt before the most wonderful picture
he had ever seen,--a picture to see which, he said to himself, men would
make pilgrimages to Tyre, when Tyre was a moss-grown, ruinous seaport,
from which the traffic of the world had long since passed away.
Henry at this time had visited none of the great galleries and, except
in a few reproductions, knew nothing of the great Italian masters.
Therefore to him this picture was Italy, the Renaissance, and
Catholicism, all concentrated into one enthralling canvas. But it was
something greater than that. It was the terrible meeting of Youth and
Love and Death in one tremendous moment of infinite loss. Infinite
passion and infinite loss were here pictured, in a medium which
combined all that was spiritual and all that was sensual in a harmony
of beauty that was in the same moment delirium and peace. The
irresistible cry of the colour to the senses, the spheral call of the
theme and its agony to the soul. Beatrice dead, and Dante taken in a
dream across the strewn poppies of her death-chamber, to look his last
on the sleeping face, yet a little smiling in the after-glow of life;
her soul already carried by angels far over the curved and fluted roofs
of the Florentine houses, on its way to Paradise. Little Beatrice! Not
till they meet again in Paradise shall he see again that holy face. In a
dream of loss he gazes upon her, as the angels lift up the
flower-garnished sheet; and not only her face, but every detail of that
room of death is etched in tears upon his eyes,--the distant winding
stair, the pallid death-lamps, the intruding light of day. All Passion
and all Loss, all Youth, all Love, and all Death met together in an
everlasting requiem of tragic colour.
Henry sat long before this picture, enveloped, as it were, in its rich
gloom, as the painted profundity of a church absorbs one in its depths.
And with the impression of its solemn beauty was blent a despairing awe
of the artist who, of a little coloured earth, had created such a
masterpiece of vitality, thrown on to a thin screen of canvas so
enduringly palpable, so sumptuous, and so poignantly dominating a
reflection of his visions. What a passionate energy of beauty must have
been in this man's soul; what a constant fury of meditation upon
When Henry came back to himself, his first thought was to share it with
Angel. Little soul, how her face would flame, how her body would tremble
with the wonder of it! In the minutiae, the technicalities of
appreciation, Angel, like Henry himself, might be lacking; but in the
motive fervour of appreciation, who was like her! It was almost painful
to see the joy which certain simple wonders gave her. Anything intense
or prodigal in nature, any splendidly fluent outpouring of the
elements,--the fierce life of streaming fire, water in gliding or
tumultuous masses, the vivid gold of crocus and daffodil spouting up
through the earth in spring, the exquisite liquidity of a bird
singing,--these, as with all elemental poetic natures, gave her the
same keen joy which we fable for those who, in the intense morning of
the world, first heard them; fable, indeed, for why should we suppose
that because ears deaf a thousand years heard the nightingale too, it
should therefore be less new for those who to-night hear it for the
first time? Rather shall it be more than less for us, by the memories
transmitted in our blood from all the generations who before have
listened and gone their way.
So Henry sought out Angel, and they both stood in front of the great
picture for a long while without a word. Presently Angel put the feeling
of both of them into a single phrase,--
"Henry, dear, we have found our church."
And indeed for many months henceforth this picture was to be their
altar, their place of prayer. Often hereafter when their hopes were
overcast, or life grew mean with little cares, they would slip, singly,
or together, into that gallery, and--
"let the beauty of Eternity
Smooth from their brows the little frets of time."
Thus Henry's first day of freedom had begun auspiciously with the
unexpected discovery of an inalienable possession of beauty. Yet the
little cares were not far off, waiting their time; and that night, Henry
lay long awake asking himself what he was going to do? Whence was to
come the material gold and silver by which this impetuous spirit was to
be sustained? A sum not exceeding five pounds represented his
accumulated resources, and they would not last longer than--five pounds.
He needed little, but that little he needed emphatically. Soon a new
book and other literary projects would keep him going, but--meanwhile!
How were the next two or three months to be bridged? Return to his
father's house, he neither would, nor perhaps, indeed, could.
So he lay awake a long while, fruitlessly thinking; but, just before he
slept, a thought that made him laugh himself awake suggested itself:
"Why not go and ask Aunt Tipping to take pity on you?"
So he went to sleep, resolved, if only for the fun of it, to pay a visit
to Aunt Tipping on the morrow.
A PREPOSTEROUS AUNT
No doubt it has been surmised from what has gone before, that when Henry
said to himself that he would go and see Aunt Tipping, he did not
propose to himself a visit to the country seat of some quaint old lady
of quality. Baronial towers and stately avenues of ancestral elm did not
make a picturesque background for his thoughts as he recalled
Poor kind Aunt Tipping, it is a shame to banter her memory even in so
obvious a fashion; for if ever there was a kind heart, it was hers. In
fact she possessed, in a degree that amounted to genius, one of the
rarest of human qualities,--unconditional pity for the unhappy human
creature. Within her narrow and squalid sphere, she was never known to
fail of such succour as was hers to give to misfortune, however
well-merited, or misery however self-made.
No religion or philosophy has ever yet been merciful enough to human
weakness. Matilda Tipping repaired the lack so far as she went. In fact,
she had unconsciously realised that weakness _is_ human nature. It would
be difficult to fix upon an offence that would disqualify you for Aunt
Tipping's pity. To the prodigalities of the passions, and the appetites
disastrously indulged, she was accustomed by a long succession of those
sad and shady lodgers to whom it was part of her precarious livelihood
to let her rooms, and, not infrequently, to forgive them their rent.
That men and women should drink too much, and love too many, was, her
experience told her, one of those laws of nature that seemed to make a
good deal of unnecessary inconvenience in mortal affairs, but against
which mere preaching or punishment availed nothing. All that was to be
done was, so far as possible, to repair their ravages in particular
instances, and heal the wounds of human passion with simple
Of two vessels, one for honour and the other for dishonour, surely
nature never made so complete a contrast as Matilda Tipping and her
sister, Mary Mesurier. Both country girls, born in a humble, though
defiantly respectable, stratum of society, the ways of the two sisters
had already parted in childhood. Mary was studious, neat, and religious;
Matilda was tomboyish, impatient of restraint, and fond of unedifying
"Your aunt never aspired," Mrs. Mesurier would say of Aunt Tipping
sometimes to her children; and, while still a child, she had often
reproached her with her fondness for gossiping with companions "beneath
her." Matilda could never be persuaded to care for books. She was
naturally illiterate, and even late in life had a fixed aversion to
writing her own letters; whereas, at the age of seven, Mary had been
public scrivener for the whole village. But with these regrettable
instincts, from the first Matilda had also manifested a whimsical
liveliness, an unconquerable lightheartedness which made you forgive her
anything, and for which, poor soul, she had use enough before she was
done with life. At seventeen, added to good looks, of which at fifty
there was scarcely a trace in the thin and meanly worn face, this
vivacity had proved a tragic snare. A certain young capitalist--known as
a great gentleman--of that countryside had pounced down on the gay and
careless young Matilda, and had at once provided her life with its
formative tragedy and its deathless romance. Even at fifty, hopelessly
buried among the back streets and pawnshops of life, heaven still opened
in the heart of Matilda Tipping at the mention of the name of William
Allsopp. For several years she had lived with the Mesuriers, as general
help to her sister, between whom and her, in spite of surface
disparities, there was an indissoluble bond of affection; till, at
thirty-five or so, she had suddenly won the heart of a sad old widower
of fifty-five, named Samuel Tipping.
Samuel Tipping was no ordinary widower. As you looked at his severe,
thoughtful face, surmounted by a shock of beautiful white hair, you
instinctively respected him; and when you heard that he lived by
cobbling shoes by day and playing a violin in the Theatre Royal
orchestra by night, occasionally putting off his leather apron to give a
music lesson in the front parlour of an afternoon, you respected him
all the more. There had been but one thing against Mr. Tipping's
eligibility for marriage, Matilda Tipping would tell you, even years
after, with a lowering of her voice: he was said to be an "atheist," and
a reader of strange books. Yet he seemed a quiet, manageable man, and
likely--again in Mrs. Tipping's phrase--to prove a "good provider;" so
she had risked his heterodoxy, which indeed was a somewhat fanciful
objection on her part, and made him, as he declared with his dying
breath, the best of wives.
It chanced that when Henry, in pursuance of his over-night resolve, made
his way the following afternoon through a dingy little street, and
knocked on the door of a dingy little house, bearing upon a brass plate
the legend "Boots neatly repaired," Mr. Tipping was engaged in giving
one of those very music lessons. A dingy little maid-of-all-work opened
the door, and said that Mrs. Tipping was out shopping, but would be back
soon. From the front parlour came the lifeless tum-tumming of the piano,
and Mr. Tipping's voice gruffly counting time to the cheerless
five-finger exercises of a very evident beginner.
"One--two--three! One--two--three! One--two--three!" went Mr. Tipping's
voice, with an occasional infusion of savagery.
"But Mr. Tipping is at home?" said Henry. "I will wait till he is
disengaged. I will make myself comfortable in the kitchen," (Henry knew
his way about at Aunt Tipping's, and remembered there was only one front
parlour) adding, with something of pride, "I'm Mrs. Tipping's nephew,
Presently the torture in the front parlour was at an end; and, as Mr.
Tipping was about to turn upstairs to the little back room where he
mended his shoes, Henry emerged upon him from the kitchen. They had had
some talks on books and the general misgovernment of the universe,--for
Mr. Tipping really was something of an "atheist,"--on Henry's occasional
visits, and were no strangers to each other.
"Why, Henry, lad, whoever expected to see you! Your aunt's out at
present; but she'll be back soon. Come into the parlour."
"If you don't mind, Uncle Tipping, I'd rather come upstairs with you. I
love the smell of the leather and the sight of all those sharp little
knives, and the black, shiny 'dubbin,' do you call it? And we can have a
talk about books till aunt comes home."
"All right, lad. But it's a dusty place, and there's hardly a corner to
sit down in."
So up they went to a little room where, in a chaos of boots mended on
one hand, and boots to mend on the other, sheets of leather lying about,
in one corner a great tubfull of water in which the leather was
soaked,--an old boyish fascination of Henry's,--Mr. Tipping spent the
greater part of his days. He sat on a low bench near a window, along
which ran a broad sill full of tools. On this, too, lay an opened book,
into which Mr. Tipping would dip now and again, when he could safely
leave the boot he was engaged upon to the mechanical skill of his hands.
At one end of the tool-shelf was a small collection of books, a dozen or
so shabby volumes, though these were far from constituting Mr. Tipping's
Mr. Tipping belonged to that pathetic army of book-lovers who subsist on
the refuse of the stalls, which he hunted not for rare editions, but for
the sheer bread of life, or rather the stale crusts of knowledge. His
tastes were not literary in the special sense of the word. For
belles-lettres he had no fancy, and fine passages, except in so far as
they were controversial, left him cold. His mind was primarily
scientific, secondarily philosophic, and occasionally historic. Travels
and books of physical science were the finds for which, mainly, he
rummaged the stalls. At the moment his pet study was astronomy; and a
curious apparatus in one of the corners, which Henry had noticed as he
entered, was his sad attempt to rig up a telescope for himself.
"It's not so bad as it looks," he said, pointing it out; "but then," he
added, with a smile half sad and half humorous, "there are not many
stars to be seen from Tichborne Street."
It was a touching characteristic of the type of bookman to which Mr.
Tipping belonged, that the astronomy from which he was reading by no
means embodied the latest discoveries. In fact, it narrowly escaped
being eighteenth-century science, for it was dated very early in the
eighteen hundreds. But an astronomy was an astronomy to Mr. Tipping; and
had Copernicus been born late enough, he would most certainly have
imbibed Ptolemaic doctrines with grateful unsuspicion. Indeed, had it
been put to him: "This astronomy after Copernicus at half-a-crown, and
this after Ptolemy for sixpence," his means alone would have left him no
choice. It is so the old clothes of the mind, like the old clothes of
the body,--superseded science, forgotten philosophy,--find a market, and
a book remains a book, with the power of comforting or diverting some
indigent, poor soul, so long as the stitching holds it together.
Presently there was a knock at the front door.
"There's your aunt," said Mr. Tipping; and, as the door opened, the
little maid-of-all-work was to be heard whispering her mistress that a
young gentleman who said he was her nephew had come and was upstairs
with "the master."
"Well, I never!" exclaimed Mrs. Tipping, immediately starting upstairs
towards the open door of the cobblery.
Henry was standing on the threshold, and the warm-hearted little woman
gave him a hearty hug of welcome.
"Well, I _am_ glad to see you! And how are they all at home?" and she
ran over the list, name for name. "We mustn't forget your father. But
he's a hard 'un and no mistake," said the aunt, putting on a mimic
expression of severity.
"He's an upright man, is James Mesurier," said Mr. Tipping, rather
"Oh, yes, yes; we know that, crosspatch. I'm saying nothing against
him. He's good at heart, I know; but he's a little hard on the
surface--like some other folks I know," making a face at her husband.
"But you must come down and talk to me a bit, lad; you'll have had
enough of him and his old books. You never saw the like of him! Here he
sits day after day over his musty books, and you can hardly get him away
for his meals. He's no company for any one."
"Talk of something you can understand, lass," retorted the husband, in a
voice that took any unkindness from the words, rather like a father than
a husband. "You don't ail much for lack of company, I'm sure."
"Now if it was only a good novel," his wife persisted; "but nothing but
travels, geographies, and such like. Last thing he's taken up with is
the stars. I suppose he's been telling you about them--" and she said
this half as though it were a new form of lunacy Mr. Tipping had
developed, and half as though he had been opening up new realms of
knowledge--original but useless. She was far indeed from understanding
that lonely mind and its tragedy, thirsting so hopelessly for
knowledge, and to die athirst. She heard him knock, knock all day
upstairs; but the knocking told her nothing of his loneliness. He was
just a good, hard-working, rather cross old man, unaccountably fond of
printed matter, whom she liked to be good to, and if in her time that
knocking upstairs should stop for ever--well! she wasn't one to meet
trouble half way, but she would miss it a good deal, old man as he was.
She was herself nearing fifty; but her slim little wiry body and her
elfish, wrinkled face, never still, but ever alive with the same
vivacity that years ago had attracted William Allsopp, made her seem
younger than her years; and her husband treated her as though she were
still a child, a wilful child.
"Eh, Matilda," he said, "you're just a child. No more nor less,--just a
child. The years haven't tamed you one bit--"
"Get out with you and your old stars!" she said, laughing. "Henry, come
along and have a talk with your old aunt."
Though invincibly cheerful through it all, Aunt Tipping was always in
trouble, if not for herself, for somebody else. To-day, it was for
herself, though it was but a minor reverse in the guerilla warfare of
her life. A distressed lodger who had just left had begged her to
accept, in lieu of rent, the pawn-ticket of a handsome clock which had
been hers in happier days; and Mrs. Tipping, moved as she always was by
any tale of woe, however elaborate, had consented. Nor in her world was
such a way of settling accounts very exceptional, for pawn-tickets were
there looked upon as legitimately negotiable securities. Indeed, Aunt
Tipping was seldom without a selection of such securities upon her
hands; and, if a neighbour should chance to be in need, say, of a new
set of chimney ornaments, as likely as not Aunt Tipping had in her purse
a pledge for the very thing. This she would sell at a reasonable profit,
which would probably amount to but a small proportion of the original
debt for which she had accepted it. It was not a lucrative business,
though there were occasional "bargains" in it.
In that word "bargains," all the active romance of Aunt Tipping's life
was now centred. In all departments of the cast-off and the second-hand
she was a daring speculator; and a spirited "auction" now and again
exhilarated her as much as a fortnight by the sea. That house which she
fought so desperately to keep tidy and respectable, had been furnished
almost entirely in this way. There was hardly an article in it that had
not already lived other lives in other houses, before it had been picked
up, "dirt cheap," by Aunt Tipping.
But this afternoon her confidence in human nature had received a cruel
wound. When, after an hour's weary drag to a remote end of the town, she
had arrived at the pawnshop where was preserved the handsome clock of
the distressed lady, and had confidently presented the ticket and the
necessary money, the man had looked awhile perplexed. They had no such
clock, he said. And then, as he further examined the ticket, a light
broke in upon him.
"My dear lady," he said, "look here. The year on this ticket has been
So indeed it had, and poor Aunt Tipping was at least a year too late.
"Did you ever hear of such treatment?" she said to Henry; "and such a
nice lady she was. 'I shall never forget your goodness to me, Mrs.
Tipping,' she said as she went away, 'never, if I live to be a hundred.'
I'll 'goodness' her, if ever I catch her. Cheating honest folks like
that! Such people oughtn't to be allowed. I don't know how people can
Aunt Tipping's indignation seldom outlived a few plaintive words of this
sort; and had the offending lady of the clock appeared next moment, and
given some Arabian Nights' explanation, there is little doubt that Aunt
Tipping would have forgiven her on the spot. A tendency to do so was
already active in her next remark,--
"Well, poor soul, we mustn't be too hard on her. We never know what we
may be brought to ourselves." For it was Aunt Tipping's unformulated
axiom that, whatever cock-and-bull stories misfortune may tell, there is
always some truth in human misery.
When Henry had told Aunt Tipping his story, and ventured to hint a
suggestion that, if it should not be inconvenient for her, he would like
to take sanctuary with her for a month or two, till he got his hopes
into working order, her little sharp face fairly gleamed with delight.
You would have thought that he was bringing her some great benefit,
instead of proposing to take something from her. That he should have
thought of _her_, such a little humble aunt; that, added to the love
she had for any one with any tincture of her family's blood running in
their veins, plus her general weakness for any one in trouble, brought
tears to her eyes that made her look quite young again.
"I should think so indeed!" she said. "The best your poor old auntie's
got is yours with all her heart--Ah, your father never understood you.
You've got too much of our side of the family in you. You're a bit wild,
you know, lad; but you're none the worse for that, eh?"
There is no need to say that Aunt Tipping's understanding of the tastes
and ambitions which had driven Henry momentarily to take refuge with her
was of the vaguest; but all she needed to know of such a situation was
that: here on the one hand was something somebody very much wanted to
do, and here on the other were certain stern powers ranked against his
doing it. That was enough for her. Her sympathy with all forms of revolt
was instantaneous. For law and order, as such, she had an instinctive
antipathy, as in all contests whatsoever her one general rule was: "Side
with the weaker." And it cannot but have been perceived that so much
sympathy with weakness could hardly have been in the gift of weakness.
No; Aunt Tipping was entirely impersonal in these charities of feeling,
and it was because there was so much sterling honesty and strength
hidden in her little wiry frame, that she could afford so much succour
to those who were neither honest nor strong.
"Well, it was nice of you to think of your poor old aunt," she repeated
again and again; and then she remarked on the good fortune which had
caused the vacation of the front room over the parlour, her grievance
against the lady of the handsome clock quite forgotten.
"It's a nice airy room," she said; and then she began planning how she
might best arrange it for his comfort.
"Dear little aunt," said Henry, taking the little wisp of a woman into
his arms, "you're the salt of the earth."
* * * * *
"Why ever didn't I think of it before!" exclaimed Aunt Tipping,
presently. "I've got the very gentleman to help you with your writing."
"Indeed," said Henry, somewhat sceptical.
"Yes; he's down there in the back parlour. They say he's a great
writer," continued Aunt Tipping; "but he's not very well the last day or
two, and doesn't see anybody. To tell the truth, poor gentleman," she
confided, lowering her voice, "he's just a little too fond of his glass.
But he's as good and kind a gentleman as ever stepped, and always
regular with his rent every Monday morning."
There was usually something mysterious about Aunt Tipping's lodgers. At
their best, she had known them as elaborately wronged bye-products of
aristocracy. Many of them were lawful expectants of illegally delayed
fortunes, and at the very least they always drank romantically.
Thus it was that to the somewhat amused surprise of his family, Henry
came to take up his abode for a while with Aunt Tipping, and that his
books and the cast of Dante, and the sketch of the young Dante done in
sepia by Myrtilla Williamson's own fair hand, came to find themselves in
the incongruous environment of Tichborne Street.
THE LITERARY GENTLEMAN IN THE BACK PARLOUR
Aunt Tipping proved not so ludicrously out of it after all in regard to
the literary gentleman in the back parlour. Henry had hardly known what
to expect; but certainly he had pictured no one so interesting as Ashton
Gerard proved to be. For a dark den smelling strongly of whisky and
water, and some slovenly creature of the under-world crouched in a dirty
armchair over the fire, he found instead a pleasant little room, very
neatly kept, with books, two or three good pictures, and general
evidence of cultivated tastes; and on Mr. Gerard's refined sad face,
which, being shaven, and surmounted by a tuft of vigorous curly hair,
once black but now curiously splashed with vivid flakes of white,
retained something of boyish beauty even at forty, you looked in vain
for the marks of one who was in the grip of an imperious vice. Only by
the marked dimness and weariness of his blue eyes, which gave the face a
rather helpless, dreamy expression, might the experienced observer have
understood. So to speak, the ocular will had gone out of them; they no
longer grasped the visible, but glided listlessly over it; nor did they
seem to be looking on things invisible. They were the eyes of
Mr. Gerard had exceedingly gentle manners. It was easy to understand
that a landlady would worship him. He gave little trouble, asked for the
most necessary service as though it were a courtesy, and never forgot an
interest in Aunt Tipping's affairs. On bright days he revealed a vein of
quite boyish gaiety; and in his talk with Henry he flashed out a strange
paradoxical humour, too often morbid in its themes, which, as usually
the case with such humour, was really sadness coming to the surface in
It soon transpired that a favourite subject of his talk was that very
weakness which most men would have been at pains to hide.
"So you're going to be a poet, Mr. Mesurier," he said. "Well, so was I
once, so was I--but," he continued, "all too early another Muse took
hold of me, a terrible Muse--yet a Muse who never forsakes you--" and
he laid his hand on a decanter which stood near him on the table,--"yes,
Mr. Mesurier, the terrible Muse of Drink! You may be surprised to hear
me talk so; yet were this laudanum instead of brandy, there would seem
to you a certain element of the poetic in the service of such a Muse.
Drinks with Oriental or unfamiliar names have a romantic sound. Thus
Alfred de Musset as the slave to absinthe sounds much more poetic than,
say, Alfred de Musset as a slave to rum or gin, or even this brandy
here. Yet this, too, is no less the stuff that dreams are made of; and
the opium-eater, the absinthe-sipper, the brandy-drinker, are all
members of the same great brotherhood of tragic idealists--"
He talked deliberately; but there was a smile playing at the corners of
the mouth which took from his talk the sense of a painful
self-revelation, and gave it the air of a playful fantasia upon a
paradox that for the moment amused him.
"Idealists! Yes," he continued; "for what few understand is that drink
is an idealism--and," he presently added with a laugh, "and, of course,
like all idealisms, it has its dangers."
With a monomaniac, conversation is apt to limit itself to monologue;
so, while Henry was greatly interested in this odd talk, it left him but
little to say.
"I'm afraid I shock you a little, Mr. Mesurier, perhaps even--disgust
you," said Mr. Gerard.
"Indeed, no!" exclaimed Henry; "but both the subject and your way of
treating it are, I confess, a little new to me."
"You are surprised to find one who is what is popularly known as a
drunkard not so much ashamed of as interested in himself; isn't that it?
Well, that comes of the introspective literary temperament. It is only
the oyster fascinated by the pearl that is killing it."
"You should write some 'Confessions' after the manner of De Quincey,"
"Indeed, I've often thought of it, for there's so much that needs saying
on the subject. There is nothing with which we are at once so familiar
and of which we know so little. For example"--and now he was quite
plainly off again--"for example, the passion for, I might say the dream
of, drink is usually regarded as a sensual appetite, a physical
indulgence. No doubt in its first crude stages it often is so; but soon
it becomes something much more strange and abstract. It becomes a
mysterious command, issuing we know not whence. It is hardly a desire,
and it is not so much a joyless, as a quite colourless, obedience to an
imperious necessity, decreed by some unknown will. You might well
imagine that I like the taste of this brandy there, as a child is
greedily fond of sweetstuff; but it would be quite a mistake. For my own
personal taste, there is no drink like a cup of tea; it is the demon,
the strange will that has imposed itself upon me, that has a taste
"I sometimes wonder whether we poor drunkards are not the victims of
disembodied powers of the air who, by some chance, have contracted a
craving for earthly liquors, and can only satisfy that craving by
fastening themselves upon some unhappy human organism. At times there
comes an intermission of the command, as mysterious almost as the
command itself. For weeks together we give no thought to our tyrant. We
grow gay and young and innocent again. We are free,--so free, we seem to
have forgotten that we were ever enslaved. Then suddenly one day we hear
the call again. We cry for mercy; we throw ourselves on our knees in
prayer. We clutch sacred relics; we conjure the aid of holy memories; we
say over to ourselves the names of the dead we have loved: but it is all
in vain--surely we are dragged to the feet of that inexorable will,
surely we submit ourselves once more to the dark dominion."
Henry listened, fascinated, and a little frightened.
"The longer I live, the more I grow convinced that this is no mere
fancy, but actual science," Mr. Gerard continued; "for, again, you might
well imagine that one drinks for the dreams or other illusory effects it
is said to produce. At first, perhaps, yes; but such effects speedily
pass away, they pass away indeed before the tyranny has established
itself, while it would still be possible to shake it off. No, the dreams
of drink are poor things, not worth having at the best. Indeed, there
are no dreams worth having, believe me, but those of youth and health
And Mr. Gerard passed for awhile in silence into some hidden country of
his lost dreams.
Henry gazed at him with a curious wonder. Here was a man evidently of
considerable gifts, a man of ideals, of humour, a man witty and gentle,
who surely could have easily made his mark in the world, and yet he had
thrown all away for a mechanical habit which he himself did not pretend
to be a passion,--a mere abstract attraction: as though a man should
say, "I care not for the joys or successes of this world. My destiny is
to sit alone all day and count my fingers and toes, count them over and
over and over again. There is not much pleasure in it, and I should be
glad to break off the habit,--but there it is. It is imposed upon me by
a will stronger than mine which I must obey. It is my destiny."
"Yes, idealists!" said Mr. Gerard, presently coming back from his dreams
to his great subject, with a laugh. "That reminds me of a story a
business friend of mine told me the other day. A clerk in his office was
an incorrigible drunkard. He was quite alone in the world, and had no
one dependent upon him. The firm had been lenient to him, and again and
again forgiven his outbreaks. But one morning they called him in and
said: 'Look here, Jones, we have had a great deal of patience with you;
but the time has come when you must choose between the drink and the
office.' To their surprise, Jones, instead of eagerly promising reform,
looked up gravely, and replied, 'Will you give me a week to think it
over, sir? It is a very serious matter.' Drink was all the poor fellow
had outside his drudgery; was it to be expected that he should thus
lightly sacrifice it?--
"But, to talk about something else, your aunt, Mrs. Tipping, who has a
great idea of my literary importance, has a notion that I may be of some
help to you, Mr. Mesurier. Well, I'll tell you the whole extent of my
present literary engagements, and you are perfectly at liberty to laugh.
At the present time I do the sporting notes for the _Tyrian Daily Mail_,
and I write the theological reviews for _The Fleet Street Review_. These
apparently incongruous occupations are the relics of an old taste for
sport, which as a boy in the country I had ample opportunity for
indulging, and of an interrupted training for the Church--'twixt then
and now there is an eventful gap which, if you don't mind, we won't
sadden each other by filling--Let us fill our glasses and our pipes
instead; and, having failed so entirely myself, I will give you minute
directions how to succeed in literature."
Mr. Gerard's discourse on how to succeed in literature was partly
practical and partly ironical, and probably too technical to interest
the general reader, who has no intention of being a great or a little
writer, and who perhaps has already found Mr. Gerard's previous
discourse a little too special in its character. Suffice it that Henry
heard much to remember, and much to laugh over, and that Mr. Gerard
concluded with a practical offer of kindness.
"I don't know how much use it may be to you," he said; "but if you care
to have it, I should be very glad to give you a letter to the editor of
_The Fleet Street Review_. He has, I think, a certain regard for me, and
he might send you a book to do now and again. At all events, it would be
Henry embraced the offer gratefully; and it occurred to him that in a
day or two's time there was a five days' excursion running from Tyre to
London and back, for half-a-guinea. Why not take it, and expend his last
five pounds in a stimulating glimpse of the city he some day hoped to
conquer? He could then see his friend the publisher, present his letter
to the editor, and perhaps bring home with him some little work and a
renewed stock of hopes.
So, before they parted that night, Mr. Gerard wrote him the letter.
"THIS IS LONDON, THIS IS LIFE"
Thus it was that, all unexpectedly, Henry found himself set down one
autumn morning at the homeless hour of a quarter-to-seven, in Euston
station. He was going to stay in some street off the Strand, and
chartered a hansom to take him there. Few great cities are impressive in
the neighbourhood of their railway termini. You enter them, so to speak,
by the back door; and London waves no banners of bright welcome to the
stranger who first enters it by the Euston Road.
But there was an interesting church presently, and on a dust-cart close
by Henry read "Vestry of St. Pancras."
"Can that be the St. Pancras' Church," he said to himself, "where Mary
Wollstonecraft lies buried, and Browning was married?"
Then as they drove along through Bloomsbury, the name "Great Coram
Street" caught his eye, and he exclaimed with delight: "Why, that's
where Thackeray lived for a time!"
Great Coram Street is little accustomed to create such excitement in the
breast of the passer-by. But to the stranger London is necessarily first
a museum, till he begins to love it as a home, and, in addition to dead
men's associations, begins to people it with memories of his own. When
you have lived awhile in Gray's Inn, you grow to forget that Bacon's
ghost is your fellow-tenant; and it is the kind-hearted provincial who
from time to time lays those flowers on Goldsmith's tomb. When you are
caught in a block on Westminster Bridge, with only five minutes to get
to Waterloo, you forget to say to yourself: "Ah, this is the bridge on
which Wordsworth wrote his famous sonnet." You usually say something
The mere names of the streets,--how laden with immemorial poetry they
were! "Chancery Lane!" How wonderful! Yet the poor wretch standing
outside the public-house at the corner seemed to derive small
consolation from the fact that he was starving in Chancery Lane.
But to Henry, as yet, London was an extended Westminster Abbey, and
every other street was Poet's Corner. He had hardly patience to
breakfast, so eager was he to be out in the streets; and while he ate,
his eyes were out of the windows all the time, and his ears drinking in
all the London morning sounds like music. At the foot of the street ran
the Thames; he had caught a thrilling glimpse of it as he stepped from
his cab, and had had a childish impulse to rush down to it before
entering his hotel.
At last, free of food and baggage, light of heart, and brimming over
with youth, he stepped into the street. It was but little past eight
o'clock. He had just heard the hour chimed, in various tones of
sweetness and solemnity, from several mellow clocks, evidently hidden
high in the air in his near vicinity. For two or three hours there would
be no editor or publisher to be seen, and meanwhile he had London to
himself. He stepped out into it as into a garden,--a garden of those
old-time flowers in which antiquity has become a perfume full
Yes, there was the Thames! "Sweet Themmes, run softly till I end my
song!" he quoted to himself. Chaucer's, Spenser's, Elizabeth's Thames!
It was a bright morning and the river gleamed to advantage. The tall
tower of Westminster glittered richly in the sun, and the long front of
Somerset House wore a lordly smile. The embankment gardens sparkled and
rustled in morning freshness. Henry drew in the air of London as though
it had been a rose. Here was the Thames at the foot of the street, and
there at the head was the Strand, a stream of omnibuses and cabs, and
city-faring men and women. The Temple must be somewhere close by. Of
course it was here to his left. But he would first walk quietly by the
Thames side to Westminster, and then come back by the Strand. As he
walked, he stepped lightly and gently, as though reverent to the very
stones of so sacred a city, and all the time from every prospect and
every other street-corner came streaming like strains of music magnetic
memories,--"streets with the names of old kings, strong earls, and
warrior saints." If for no other reason, how important for the future of
a nation is it to preserve in such ancient cities as London and Oxford
the energising spectacle of a noble and strenuous antiquity; for there
are no such inspirers of young men as these old places! So much strength
and youth went into them long ago that even yet they have strength and
youth to give, and from them, as from the strong hills, pours out an
inexhaustible potency of bracing influence.
At last Henry found himself back at the top-end of his street. He had
walked the Strand with deliberate enjoyment. Fleet Street he still
reserved, but, as according to the tower of Clement Danes it was only
just ten o'clock, it seemed still a little early to attack his business.
A florist's close by suggested a charming commonplace way of filling the
time. He would buy some flowers and carry them to Goldsmith's grave. Why
Goldsmith's grave should thus be specially honoured, he a little
wondered. He was conscious of loving several writers quite as well. But
it was a Johnsonian tradition to love Goldy, and the accessibility of
his resting-place made sentiment easy.
He repented this momentary flippancy of thought as he stood in the
cloistered corner where Goldsmith sleeps under the eye of the law; and,
when he laid his little wreath on the worn stone, it was a genuine
offering. From it he turned away to his own personal dreams.
By eleven he had found his friend the publisher, in a dainty little
place of business crammed with pottery, Rowlandsons, and books, and
more like a curiosity-shop than a publishing-house, for the publisher
proved an enthusiast in everything that was beautiful or curious, and
had indeed taken to publishing from that rare motive in a
publisher,--the love of books, rather than the love of money. He was
aiming to make his little shop the rallying-point of all the young
talent of the day, and as young talent has never too many publishers on
the look-out for it, his task was not difficult, though it was one of
those real services to literature which such publishers and booksellers
have occasionally done in our literary history, with but scant
Henry was pleased to find that he looked upon him to make one of his
little band of youth; and as the publisher understood the art of
encouragement, Henry already felt it had been worth while to come to
London just to see him. He knew the editor to whom Henry had a letter
and volunteered him another. The afternoon would be the best time;
meanwhile, they must lunch together. He smiled when Henry suggested the
Cheshire Cheese. Henry had a sort of vague idea that literary men could
hardly think of taking their meals anywhere else. There had been an
attempt to bring it into fashion again, the publisher said; but it had
come to nothing--though he, for one, loved those old chop-houses, with
their tankards, and their sanded floors. So to the Cheshire Cheese they
repaired, and drank to a long friendship in foaming pewters of porter.
"Alas!" said Henry, "we are fallen on smaller times. Once it was 'the
poet's pint of port.' Now we must be content with the poetaster's
half-a-pint of porter!"
"You must come to my rooms to-night," said the publisher, "and be
introduced to some of our young men. I have one or two of our older
critics coming too."
Henry's fortune was evidently made.
He found the editor in a dim back room at the top of a high building, so
lost in a world of books and dust that at first Henry could hardly make
him out, writing by a window with his back to the door. Then an alert
head turned round to him, and a rather peevish gesture bade him be
seated, while the editor resumed his work. This hardly came up to
Henry's magnificent dreams of the editorial dignity. Perhaps he had a
vague idea that editors lived in palaces, and sat on thrones.
Presently the editor put down his pen with an exclamation of
satisfaction; and the first impression of peevishness vanished in the
cordiality with which he now turned to his visitor.
"You must excuse my absorption. It was a rather tough piece of
proof-reading. A subject I'm rather interested in,--new Welsh
dictionary. Don't suppose it's in your line, eh, eh?"--and the tall,
spare man laughed a boyish laugh like a mischievous bird, and tossed his
head at the jest.
His face was small and sallow and tired; but the dark eyes were full of
fun and kindness. Presently, he rose and began to walk up and down the
room with a curious, prancing walk, rolling himself a cigarette, and
talking away in a rapid, jerky fashion with his continual, "eh, eh?"
coming in all the time.
"Poor Gerard! So you know him? How is he now?" and he lowered his voice
with the suggestion of a mutual confidence, and stopped in his walk till
Henry should answer. "Poor Gerard! And he might have been--well,
well,--never mind. We were together at King's. Brilliant fellow. So you
know Gerard. Dear me! Dear me!"
Then he turned to the subject of Henry's visit.
"Well, my poor boy, nothing will satisfy you but literature? You are
determined to be a literary man, eh, eh?" Then he stopped in front of
Henry and laid his hand kindly on his shoulder, "Is it too late to say,
'Go back while there is yet time'? Perhaps--of course--you're going to
be a very great man," and he broke off into his walk again, with one of
his mischievous laughs. "But unless you are, take my word, it's a poor
game--Yet, I suppose, it's no use talking. I know, wasted breath, wasted
breath--Well, now, what can you do? and, by the way, you won't grow fat
on _The Fleet Street Review_. Ten shillings a column is our magnificent
rate of payment, and we can hardly afford that--"
Then he began pulling out one book and another from the piles of all
sorts that lay around him. "I suppose, like the rest, you'd better begin
on poetry. There's a tableful over there--go and take your pick of it,
unless, of course, you've got some special subject. You're not, I
suppose, an authority on Assyriology, eh, eh?"
Henry feared not, and then a new fit of industry came upon the editor,
and he begged Henry to take a look at the books while he ran through
another proof for the post.
That dusty table--evidently the rubbish-heap of the room--was Henry's
first object-lesson in the half tragical, half farcical, over-production
of modern literature. Such a mass of foolishness and ineptitude he had
never conceived of; such pretentiousness too--and while he made various
melancholy reflections upon human vanity, what should he unearth
suddenly from the heap, but his own little volume. He could but half
suppress a cry of recognition.
"What's that?" asked the editor, not turning round. "Found anything?"
"No," said Henry; "nothing--for a moment I thought I had."
Presently he had made a small pile of the most promising volumes, and
turned to take his leave. The editor took up one or two of them
"Not much here, I'm afraid," he said. "Never mind; see what you can make
of them. Not more than three columns at the most, you know. And come and
see me again. I'm glad to have seen you."
"Oh," said Henry, on the point of leaving, and laying his hand on his
own little book, "may I take this one too? It's not worth reviewing, but
it rather interested me just now."
"God bless me, yes, certainly," said the editor; "you're welcome to the
lot, if you care to bring a hand-cart. Good-bye, good-bye."
And Henry slipped his poor little neglected volume into his pocket. On
how many dusty tables, he wondered, was it then lying ignominiously
disregarded. Well, the day would come! Meanwhile, he had his first batch
of books for review.
There now remained the gathering of wits fixed for the evening. His
publisher had asked him to dinner, but he had declined, from a secret
and absurd desire to dine at "The Cock." This he gratified, and with his
mind full of the spacious times of the early Victorians, he turned into
the publisher's little room about nine o'clock to meet some of
There was no great muster as yet. Some half-a-dozen rather shy young men
spasmodically picked up strange drawings or odd-looking books, lying
about on the publisher's tables, struggled maidenly with cigars, sipped
a little whisky and soda; but little was said.
Among them a pale-faced lad of about fifteen, miraculously
self-possessed, stood with his back to the chimney-piece. But soon
others began to turn in, and by ten the room was as full of chatter and
smoke as it could hold. Not least conspicuous among the talkers was the
pale-faced boy of fifteen. Henry had been sitting near to him, and had
been suddenly startled by his unexpectedly breaking out into a volley of
learning, delivered in a voice impressively deliberate and sententious.
"What a remarkable boy that is!" said Henry, innocently, to the
"Yes; but he's not quite a boy,--though he's young enough. A curious
little creature, morbidly learned. A friend of mine says that he would
like to catch him and keep him in a bottle, and label it 'the learned
"What dialect is it he is talking in?" said Henry; "I don't remember to
have heard it before."
The publisher smiled: "My dear fellow, you must be careful what you say.
That is what we call 'the Oxford voice.'"
"How remarkable!" said Henry, his attention called off by a being with a
face that half suggested a faun, and half suggested a flower,--a small,
olive-skinned face crowned with purply black hair, that kept falling in
an elflock over his forehead, and violet eyes set slant-wise. He was
talking earnestly of fairies, in a beautiful Irish accent, and Henry
liked him. The attraction seemed mutual, and Henry found himself drawn
into a remarkable relation about a fairy-hill in Connemara, and fairy
lights that for several nights had been seen glimmering about it; and
how at last he--that is, the narrator--and a particularly hard-headed
friend of his had kept watch one moonlit night, with the result that
they had actually seen and talked with the queen of the fairies and
learned many secrets of the ----. The narrator here made use of a long,
unpronounceable Irish word, which Henry could not catch.
"I should have explained some of these phenomena to you," whispered the
publisher presently, noticing that Henry looked a little bewildered.
"This is a young Irish poet, who, in the intervals of his raising the
devil, writes very beautiful lyrics that he may well have learned from
the fairies. It is his method to seem mad on magic and such things. You
will meet with many strange methods here to-night. Don't be alarmed if
some one comes and talks to you about strange sins. You have come to
London in the 'strange sins' period. I will explain afterwards."
He had hardly spoken when a pallid young man, with a preternatural
length and narrowness of face, began to talk to him about the sins of
"I suppose you never committed a murder yourself?" he asked Henry,
"No," said Henry, catching the spirit of the foolishness; "no, not yet.
I am keeping that--" implying that he was reserving so extreme a
stimulant till all his other vices failed him.
Presently there entered a tall young man with a long, thin face,
curtained on either side with enormous masses of black hair, like a slip
of the young moon glimmering through a pine-wood.
At the same moment there entered, as if by design, his very antithesis:
a short, firmly built, clerkly fellow, with a head like a billiard-ball
in need of a shave, a big brown moustache, and enormous spectacles.
"That," said the publisher, referring to the moon-in-the-pine-wood young
man, "is our young apostle of sentiment, our new man of feeling, the
best-hated man we have; and the other is our young apostle of blood. He
is all for muscle and brutality--and he makes all the money. It is one
of our many fashions just now to sing 'Britain and Brutality.' But my
impression is that our young man of feeling will have his day,--though
he will have to wait for it. He would hasten it if he would cut his
hair; but that, he says, he will never do. His hair, he says, is his
battle-cry. Well, he enjoys himself--and loves a fight, though you
mightn't think it to look at him."
A supercilious young man, with pink cheeks, and a voice which his
admirers compared to Shelley's, then came up to Henry and asked him what
he thought of Mallarme's latest sonnet; but finding Henry confessedly at
sea, turned the conversation to the Empire ballet, of which,
unfortunately, Henry knew as little. The conversation then languished,
and the Shelley-voiced young man turned elsewhere for sympathy, with a
shrug at your country bumpkins who know nothing later than Rossetti.
In the thick of the conversational turmoil, Henry's attention had from
time to time been attracted by the noise proceeding from a blustering,
red-headed man, with a face of fire.
"Who is that?" at last he found opportunity to ask his friend.
"That is our greatest critic," said the publisher.
"Oh!" said Henry, "I must try and hear what he is saying. It seems
important from the way he is listened to."
So Henry listened, and heard how the fire-faced man said the word "damn"
with great volubility and variety of cadence, and other words to the
same effect, and how the little group around him hung upon his words and
said to each other, "How brilliant!" "How absolute!"
Henry turned to his friend. "The only word I can catch is the word
'damn,'" he said.
"That," said the publisher, with a laugh, "is the master-word of
Presently a little talkative man came up, and said that he hoped Mr.
Mesurier was an adherent of the rightful king.
"Oh, of course!" said Henry.
"And do you belong to any secret society?" asked the little man.
Henry couldn't say that he did.
"Well, you must join us!" he said.
"I suppose there won't be a rising just yet?" asked Henry, realising
that this was the Jacobite method.
"Not just yet," said the little man, reassuringly. So Henry was
* * * * *
And so it went on till past midnight, when Henry at last escaped, to
talk it all over with the stars. The evening had naturally puzzled him,
as a man will always be puzzled who has developed under the influence of
the main tendencies of his generation, and who finds himself suddenly in
a backwater of fanciful reaction. Henry, in his simple way, was a
thinker and a radical, and he had nourished himself on the great
main-road masters of English literature. He had followed the lead of
modern philosophers and scientists, and had arrived at a mystical
agnosticism,--the first step of which was to banish the dogmas of the
church as old wives' tales. He considered that he had inherited the
hard-won gains of the rationalists. But he came to London and found
young men feebly playing with the fire of that Romanism which he
regarded as at once the most childish and the most dangerous of all
intellectual obsessions. In an age of great biologists and electricians,
he came upon children prettily talking about fairies and the
philosopher's stone. In one of the greatest ages of English poetry, he
came to London to find young English poets falling on their knees to the
metrical mathematicians of France. In the great age of democracy, a fool
had come and asked him if he were not a supporter of the house of
Stuart, a Jacobite of charades. But only once had he heard the name of
Milton; it was the learned boy of fifteen who had quoted him,--a
lifelong debt of gratitude; and never once had he heard the voice of
simple human feeling, nor heard one speak of beauty, simply,
passionately, with his heart in his mouth; nor of love with his heart
upon his sleeve. Much cleverness, much learning, much charm, there had
been, but he had missed the generous human impulse. No one seemed to be
doing anything because he must. These were pleasant eddies, dainty with
lilies and curiously starred water-grasses, but the great warm stream of
English literature was not flowing here.
As he neared his hotel, he thought of his morning visit to Goldsmith's
tomb, and ten-fold he repented the little half-sneer with which he had
bought the flowers. In a boyish impulse, he rang the Temple bell, and
found his way again to the lonely corner. His flowers were lying there
in the moonlight, and again he read: "Here lies Oliver Goldsmith."
"Forgive me, Goldy," he murmured. "Well may men bring you flowers,--for
you wrote, not as those yonder; you wrote for the human heart."
BACK TO REALITY
It was good to get back to reality, with Angel's blue eyes, Mike's
laugh, and Esther's common sense.
"Let me look deep into them, Angel--deep--deep. It is so good to get
back to something true."
"Are they true?" said Angel, opening them very wide.
"Something that will never forsake one, something we can never forsake!
Something in all the wide world's change that will never change.
Something that will still be Angel even in a thousand years."
"I hope to be a real angel long before that," said Angel, laughing.
"Do you think you can promise to be true so long, Angel?" asked Henry.
"Dear, you know that so long as there is one little part of me left
anywhere in the world, that part will be true to you.--But come, tell
me about London. I'm afraid you didn't enjoy it very much."
"Oh, yes, I loved London,--that is, old London; but new London made me a
little sad. I expect it was only because I didn't quite understand the
"Perhaps so," said Angel. "But tell me,--did you go to the Zoo?"
Back to Full Books