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 IN WHICH PAUL IS SHIPWRECKED, AND CAST INTO DEEP WATERS. My father died, enough, on the morning of his birthday. We had not expected the end to arrive for some time, and at first did not know that it had come.
“I have left him sleeping,” said my mother, who had slipped out very quietly in her dressing-gown. “Washburn gave him a last night. We won't disturb him.”
So we sat round the breakfast table, speaking in low tones, for the house was small and flimsy, all sound easily heard through its thin partitions. Afterwards my mother crept upstairs, I following, and cautiously opened the door a little way.
The blinds were still down, and the room dark. It seemed a long time that my mother stood there listening, her ear against the jar. The first costermonger—a girl's voice, it sounded—passed, crying : “Watercreases, fine fresh watercreases with your breakfast-a'penny a bundle watercreases;” and further off a youth was : “Mee-ilk-mee-ilk-oi.”
Inch by inch my mother opened the door wider and we stole in. He was lying with his eyes still closed, the lips just slightly parted. I had never seen death before, and could not realise it. All that I could see was that he looked even younger than I had ever seen him look before. By slow degrees only, it came home to me, the knowledge that he was gone away from us. For days—for weeks, I would hear his step behind me in the street, his voice calling to me, see his face among the crowds, and hastening to meet him, stand bewildered because it had mysteriously disappeared. But at first I felt no pain whatever.
To my mother it was but a short parting. Into her faith had never fallen fear nor doubt. He was waiting for her. In God's good time they would meet again. What need of sorrow! Without him the days passed slowly: the house must ever be a little dull when the good man's away. But that was all. So my mother would speak of him always—of his dear, kind ways, of his oddities and we loved so to recall, not through tears, but smiles, thinking of him not as of one belonging to the past, but as of one to her from the future.
We lived on still in the old house though ever planning to move, for the great brick monster had crept closer round about us year by year, in his progress all things fair. Field and garden, tree and cottage, time-mellowed house suggesting story, kind hedgerow hiding beyond—the few spots yet in that land lingering to remind one of the sunshine, one by one had he them between his ugly teeth. A world apart, this east end of London, this of the poor for ever growing, added year by year to dreariness, hopelessness stretching ever farther its long, shrivelled arms, these endless rows of cells where London her slaves. Often of a afternoon when we knew that without this city of the dead life was stirring in the sunshine, we would fare to house-hunt in pleasant suburbs, now themselves added to the weary catacomb of narrow streets—to Highgate, then a tiny town connected by a coach with leafy Holloway; to Hampstead with its rows of ancient red-brick houses, from whose wind-blown heath one saw beyond the woods and farms, far London's and , to Wood Green among the pastures, where smock-coated labourers discussed their politics and ale beneath wide-spreading elms; to Hornsey, then a village consisting of an ivy-covered church and one grass-bordered way. But though we often saw “the very thing for us” and would discuss its possibilities from every point of view and find them good, we yet delayed.
“We must think it over,” would say my mother; “there is no hurry; for some reasons I shall be sorry to leave Poplar.”
“For what reasons, mother?”
“Oh, well, no particular reason, Paul. Only we have lived there so long, you know. It will be a leaving the old house.”
To the making of man go all things, even to the instincts of the clinging vine. We fling our tendrils round what is the nearest castle-keep or pig-stye wall, rain and sunshine fastening them but firmer. Dying Sir Walter Scott—do you remember?—hastening home from Italy, fearful lest he might not be in time to breathe again the damp mists of the barren hills. An ancient I knew, they had carried her from her in slumland that she might be fanned by the sea breezes, and the poor old soul lay pining for what she called her “home.” Wife, mother, widow, she had lived there till the alley's good to her , till its riot was the voices of her people. Who shall understand us save He who fashioned us?
So the old house held us to its ; and not until within its but unlovely arms, first my aunt, and later on my mother had died, and I had said good-bye to Amy, crying in the midst of littered emptiness, did I leave it.
My aunt died as she had lived, .
“You will be glad to get rid of me, all of you!” she said, dropping for the first and last time I can into the retort direct; “and I can't say I shall be very sorry to go myself. It hasn't been my idea of life.”
Poor old lady! That was only a couple of weeks before the end. I do not suppose she guessed it was so certain or perhaps she might have been more .
“Don't be foolish,” said my mother, “you're not going to die!”
“What's the use of talking like an idiot,” retorted my aunt, “I've got to do it some time. Why not now, when everything's all ready for it. It isn't as if I was enjoying myself.”
“I am sure we do all we can for you,” said my mother. “I know you do,” replied my aunt. “I'm a burden to you. I always have been.”
“Not a burden,” corrected my mother.
“What does the woman call it then,” snapped back my aunt. “Does she reckon I've been a sunbeam in the house? I've been a trial to everybody. That's what I was born for; it's my metier.”
My mother put her arms about the poor old soul and kissed her. “We should miss you very much,” she said.
“I'm sure I hope they all will!” answered my aunt. “It's the only thing I've got to leave 'em, worth having.”
My mother laughed.
“Maybe it's been a good thing for you, Maggie,” my aunt; “if it wasn't for , disagreeable people like me, gentle, patient people like you wouldn't get any practice. Perhaps, after all, I've been a to you in disguise.”
I cannot honestly say we ever wished her back; though we certainly did miss her—missed many a joke at her oddities, many a laugh at her cornery ways. It takes all sorts, as the saying goes, to make a world. Possibly enough if only we perfect folk were left in it we would find it uncomfortably .
As for Amy, I believe she really regretted her.
“One never knows what's good for one till one's lost it,” sighed Amy.
“I'm glad to think you liked her,” said my mother.
“You see, mum,” explained Amy, “I was one of a large family; and a bit of a row now and again cheers one up, I always think. I'll be losing the power of my tongue if something doesn't come along soon.”
“Well, you are going to be married in a few weeks now,” my mother reminded her.
But Amy remained . “They're poor things, the men, at a few words, the best of them,” she replied. “As likely as not just when you're getting interested you turn round to find that they've put on their hat and gone out.”
My mother and I were very much alone after my aunt's death. Barbara had gone abroad to put the finishing touches to her education—to learn the tricks of the Nobs' trade, as old Hasluck phrased it; and I had left school and taken employment with Mr. Stillwood, without salary, the idea being that I should study for the law.
“You are in luck's way, my boy, in luck's way,” old Mr. Gadley had assured me. “To have commenced your career in the office of Stillwood, Waterhead and Royal will be a passport for you anywhere. It will stamp you, my boy.”
Mr. Stillwood himself was an extremely old and feeble gentleman—so old and feeble it seemed strange that he, a wealthy man, had not long ago .
“I am always meaning to,” he explained to me one day soon after my in his office. “When your poor father came to me he told me very the sad fact—that he had only a few more years to live. 'Mr. Kelver,' I answered him, 'do not let that trouble you, so far as I am concerned. There are one or two matters in the office I should like to see cleared up, and in these you can help me. When they are completed I shall retire! Yet, you see, I linger on. I am like the old hackney coach horse, Mr. Weller—or is it Mr. Jingle—tells us of; if the were away I should probably . So I jog on, I jog on.'”
He had married late in life a common woman much younger than himself, who had brought to him a of and greedy relatives, and no doubt, as a refuge from her noisy neighbourhood, the daily peace of Lombard Street was welcome to him. We saw her occasionally. She was one of those , “managing” women who go through life under the impression that making a is somehow “putting things to rights.” Ridiculously ashamed of her origin, she sought to hide it under what her friends assured her was the air of a duchess, but which, as a matter of fact, resembled rather the Sunday manners of an elderly barmaid. Mr. Gadley alone was not afraid of her; but, on the contrary, kept her always very much in fear of him, often speaking to her with candour. He had known her in the days it was her desire should be buried in oblivion, and had always resented as a personal insult her entry into the old established aristocratic firm of Stillwood & Co.
Her history was . Mr. Stillwood, when a man about town, on forty, had first seen her, then a fair-haired, ethereal-looking child, in spite of her dirt, playing in the . To his self-reproach it was young Gadley himself, accompanying his employer home from Westminster, who had drawn Mr. Stillwood's attention to the girl by boxing her ears for having, as he passed, slapped his face with a convenient sprat. Stillwood, on the impulse of the moment, had taken the child by the hand and dragged her, , to her father's place of business—a small coal shed in the Horseferry Road. The arrangement he there made amounted practically to the purchase of the child. She was sent abroad to school and the coal shed closed. On her return, ten years later, a big, handsome young woman, he married her, and learned at leisure the truth of the old saying, “what's bred in the bone will come out in the flesh,” scrub it and paint it and hide it away under fine clothes as you will.
Her constant complaint against her husband was that he was only a , a profession she considered vulgar; and nothing “riled” old Gadley more than hearing her views upon this point.
“It's not fair to the gals,” I once heard her say to him. I was working in the next room, with the door not quite closed, added to which she talked at the top of her voice on all subjects. “What real gentleman, I should like to know, is going to marry the daughter of a City attorney? As I told him years ago, he ought to have retired and gone into the House.”
“The very thing your poor father used to talk of doing whenever things were going a bit queer in the coal and potato business,” old Gadley.
Mrs. Stillwood called him a “low beast” in her most aristocratic tones, and swept out of the room.
Not that old Stillwood himself ever expressed fondness for the law.
“I am not at all sure, Kelver,” I remember his saying to me on one occasion, “that you have done wisely in choosing the law. It makes one regard humanity morally as the medical profession regards it :—as universally unsound. You suspect everybody of being a . When people are behaving themselves, we lawyers hear nothing of them. All we hear of is roguery, trickery and . It the character, Kelver. We live in a perpetual atmosphere of . I sometimes fancy it may be infectious.”
“It does not seem to have infected you, sir,” I replied; for, as I think I have already mentioned, the firm of Stillwood, Waterhead and Royal was held in legal circles as the for rectitude of quite old-fashioned.
“I hope not, Kelver, I hope not,” the old gentleman replied; “and yet, do you know, I sometimes suspect myself—wonder if I may not perhaps be a scamp without realising it. A rogue, you know, Kelver, can always explain himself into an honest man to his own satisfaction. A scamp is never a scamp to himself.”
His words for the moment alarmed me, for, acting on old Gadley's advice, I had persuaded my mother to put all her small capital into Mr. Stillwood's hands for re-investment, a transaction that had resulted in substantial increase of our small income. But, looking into his smiling eyes, my fear vanished.
Laughing, he laid his hand upon my shoulder. “One person always be suspicious of, Kelver—yourself. Nobody can do you so much harm as yourself.”
Of Washburn we saw more and more. “Hal” we both called him now, for removing with his gentle, masterful hands my mother's shyness from about her, he had established himself almost as one of the family, my mother regarding him as she might some absurdly bearded boy to her care without his knowing it, I looking up to him as to some wonderful elder brother.
“You rest me, Mrs. Kelver,” he would say, his pipe and sinking down into the deep leathern chair that always waited for him in our parlour. “Your even voice, your soft eyes, your quiet hands, they me.”
“It is good for a man,” he would say, looking from one to the other of us through the hanging smoke, “to test his wisdom by two things: the face of a good woman, and the ear of a child—I beg your pardon, Paul—of a young man. A good woman's face is the white sunlight. Under the gas-lamps who shall tell diamond from paste? Bring it into the sunlight: does it stand that test? Then it is good. And the children! they are the waiting earth on which we fling our store. Is it and dust or living seed? Wait and watch. I shower my thoughts over our Paul, Mrs. Kelver. They seem to me brilliant, deep, original. The young beggar swallows them, forgets them. They were rubbish. Then I say something that dwells with him, that grows. Ah, that was alive, that was a seed. The waiting earth, it can make use only of what is true.”
“You should marry, Hal,” my mother would say. It was her for all mankind.
“I would, Mrs. Kelver,” he answered her on one occasion, “I would to-morrow if I could marry half a dozen women. I should make an ideal husband for half a dozen wives. One I should neglect for five days, and be a burden to upon the sixth.”
From any other than Hal my mother would have taken such a remark, made even in jest, as an insult to her sex. But Hal's smile was a coating that could sugar any pill.
“I am not one man, Mrs. Kelver, I am half a dozen. If I were to marry one wife she would be married to six husbands. It is too many for any woman to manage.”
“Have you never fallen in love?” asked my mother.
“Three of me have, but on each occasion the other five of me out-voted him.”
“You're sure six would be sufficient?” my mother, smiling.
“Just the right number, Mrs. Kelver. There is one of me must worship, adore a woman madly, ; before her like the Troubadour before his Queen of Song, eat her , drink the water she has washed in, himself before her window, die for a kiss of her glove flung down with a laugh. She must be scornful, contemptuous, cruel. There is another I would cherish, a tender, yielding creature, one whose face would light at my coming, cloud at my going; one to whom I should be a god. There is a third I, a child of Pan—an ugly little beast, Mrs. Kelver; horns on head and on feet, leering through the wood, seeking its fit mate. And a fourth would a , homely wench, deep of bosom, broad of ; fit mother of a sturdy brood. A fifth could only be content with a true friend, a comrade wise and , a sharer and understander of all joys and thoughts and feelings. And a last, Mrs. Kelver, for a woman pure and sweet, clothed in love and crowned with holiness. Shouldn't we be a handful, Mrs. Kelver, for any one woman in an eight-roomed house?”
But my mother was not to be discouraged. “You will find the woman one day, Hal, who will be all of them to you—all of them that are worth having, that is. And your eight-roomed house will be a kingdom!”
“A man is many, and a woman but one,” answered Hal.
“That is what men say who are too blind to see more than one side of a woman,” retorted my mother, a little sharply; for the honour and credit of her own sex in all things was very dear to my mother. And indeed this I have learned, that the flag of Womanhood you shall ever find upheld by all true women, only by the false. For a judge in petticoats is ever but a witness in a .
Hal laid aside his pipe and leant forward in his chair. “Now tell us, Mrs. Kelver, for our guidance, we two young bachelors, what must the lover of a young girl be?”
Always very serious on this subject of love, my mother answered gravely: “She asks for the whole of a man, Hal, not merely for a sixth, nor any other part of him. She is a child asking for a lover to whom she can look up, who will teach her, guide her, protect her. She is a queen demanding , and yet he is her king whom it is her joy to serve. She asks to be his partner, his fellow-worker, his playmate, and at the same time she loves to think of him as her child, her big baby she must take care of. Whatever he has to give she has also to respond with. You need not marry six wives, Hal; you will find your six in one.
“'As the water to the , woman shapes herself to man;' an old heathen said that three thousand years ago, and others have repeated him; that is what you mean.”
“I don't like that way of putting it,” answered my mother. “I mean that as you say of man, so in every true woman is contained all women. But to know her completely you must love her with all love.”
Sometimes the talk would be of religion, for my mother's faith was no dead thing that must be kept ever sheltered from the air, lest it .
One evening “Who are we that we should live?” cried Hal. “The spider is less cruel; the very pig less greedy, and ; the tiger less tigerish; our cousin ape less monkeyish. What are we but , clothed and ashamed, nine-tenths of us?”
“But Sodom and Gomorrah,” reminded him my mother, “would have been spared for the sake of ten just men.”
“Much more sensible to have hurried the ten men out, leaving the remainder to be buried with all their abominations under their own ashes,” Hal.
“And we shall be purified,” continued my mother, “the evil in us washed away.”
“Why have made us ill merely to mend us? If the were so anxious for our company, why not have made us decent in the beginning?” He had just come away from a meeting of Poor Law , and was in a state of dissatisfaction with human nature generally.
“It is His way,” answered my mother. “The precious stone lies hid in clay. He has His purpose.”
“Is the stone so very precious?”
“Would He have taken so much pains to fashion it if it were not? You see it all around you, Hal, in your daily practice—heroism, self-sacrifice, love stronger than death. Can you think He will waste it, He who uses again even the dead leaf?”
“Shall the new leaf remember the new flower?”
“Yes, if it ever knew it. Shall memory be the only thing to die?”
Often of an evening I would accompany Hal upon his rounds. By the tribe he both served and ruled he had come to be regarded as medicine man and priest combined. He was both their and their slave, working for them early and late, yet them unmercifully, enforcing his commands sometimes with tongue, and where that would not suffice with quick fists; the counsellor, helper, ruler, of thousands. Of income he could have made barely enough to live upon; but few men could have enjoyed more sense of power; and that I think it was that held him to the neighbourhood.
“Nature laid me by and forgot me for a couple of thousand years,” was his own explanation of himself. “Born in my proper period, I should have climbed to chieftainship upon uplifted shields. I might have been an Attila, an Alaric. Among the civilised one can only climb by............
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