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Chapter 7

GILRAY.


Gilray is an actor, whose life I may be said to have strangely influenced, for it was I who brought him and the Arcadia Mixture together. After that his coming to live on our stair was only a matter of rooms being vacant.

We met first in the Merediths' house-boat, the Tawny Owl, which was then lying at Molesey. Gilray, as I soon saw, was a man trying to be miserable, and finding it the hardest task in life. It is strange that the philosophers have never hit upon this profound truth. No man ever tried harder to be unhappy than Gilray; but the luck was against him, and he was always forgetting himself. Mark Tapley succeeded in being jolly in adverse circumstances; Gilray failed, on the whole, in being miserable in a delightful house-boat. It is, however, so much more difficult to keep up misery than jollity that I like to think of his attempt as what the dramatic critics call a succès d'estime.

The Tawny Owl lay on the far side of the island. There were ladies in it; and Gilray's misery was meant to date from the moment when he asked one of them a question, and she said "No." Gilray was strangely unlucky during the whole of his time on board. His evil genius was there, though there was very little room for him, and played sad pranks. Up to the time of his asking the question referred to, Gilray meant to create a pleasant impression by being jolly, and he only succeeded in being as depressing as Jaques. Afterward he was to be unutterably miserable; and it was all he could do to keep himself at times from whirling about in waltz tune. But then the nearest boat had a piano on board, and some one was constantly playing dance music. Gilray had an idea that it would have been the proper thing to leave Molesey when she said "No;" and he would have done so had not the barbel-fishing been so good. The barbel-fishing was altogether unfortunate--at least Gilray's passion for it was. I have thought--and so sometimes has Gilray--that if it had not been for a barbel she might not have said "No." He was fishing from the house-boat when he asked the question. You know how you fish from a house-boat. The line is flung into the water and the rod laid down on deck. You keep an eye on it. Barbel-fishing, in fact, reminds one of the independent sort of man who is quite willing to play host to you, but wishes you clearly to understand at the same time that he can do without you. "Glad to see you with us if you have nothing better to do; but please yourself," is what he says to his friends. This is also the form of invitation to barbel. Now it happened that she and Gilray were left alone in the house-boat. It was evening; some Chinese lanterns had been lighted, and Gilray, though you would not think it to look at him, is romantic. He cast his line, and, turning to his companion, asked her the question. From what he has told me he asked it very properly, and all seemed to be going well. She turned away her head (which is said not to be a bad sign) and had begun to reply, when a woful thing happened. The line stiffened, and there was a whirl of the reel. Who can withstand that music? You can ask a question at any time, but, even at Molesey, barbel are only to be got now and then. Gilray rushed to his rod and began playing the fish. He called to his companion to get the landing-net. She did so; and after playing his barbel for ten minutes Gilray landed it. Then he turned to her again, and she said, "No."

Gilray sees now that he made a mistake in not departing that night by the last train. He overestimated his strength. However, we had something to do with his staying on, and he persuaded himself that he remained just to show her that she had ruined his life. Once, I believe, he repeated his question; but in reply she only asked him if he had caught any more barbel. Considering the surprisingly fine weather, the barbel-fishing, and the piano on the other boat, Gilray was perhaps as miserable as could reasonably have been expected. Where he ought to have scored best, however, he was most unlucky. She had a hammock swung between two trees, close to the boat, and there she lay, holding a novel in her hand. From the hammock she had a fine view of the deck, and this was Gilray's chance. As soon as he saw her comfortably settled, he pulled a long face and climbed on deck. There he walked up and down, trying to look the image of despair. When she made some remark to him, his plan was to show that, though he answered cordially, his cheerfulness was the result of a terrible inward struggle. He did contrive to accomplish this if he was waiting for her observation; but she sometimes took him unawares, starting a subject in which he was interested. Then, forgetting his character, he would talk eagerly or jest with her across the strip of water, until with a start he remembered what he had become. He would seek to recover himself after that; but of course it was too late to create a really lasting impression. Even when she left him alone, watching him, I fear, over the top of her novel, he disappointed himself. For five minutes or so everything would go well; he looked as dejected as possible; but as he fell he was succeeding he became so self-satisfied that he began to strut. A pleased expression crossed his face, and instead of allowing his head to hang dismally, he put it well back. Sometimes, when we wanted to please him, we said he looked as glum as a mute at a funeral. Even that, however, defeated his object, for it flattered him so much that he smiled with gratification.


Gilray made one great sacrifice by giving up smoking, though not indeed such a sacrifice as mine, for up to this time he did not know the Arcadia Mixture. Perhaps the only time he really did look as miserable as he wished was late at night when we men sat up for a second last pipe before turning in. He looked wistfully at us from a corner. Yet as She had gone to rest, cruel fate made this of little account. His gloomy face saddened us too, and we tried to entice him to shame by promising not to mention it to the ladies. He almost yielded, and showed us that while we smoked he had been holding his empty brier in his right hand. For a moment he hesitated, then said fiercely that he did not care for smoking. Next night he was shown a novel, the hero of which had been "refused." Though the lady's hard-heartedness had a terrible effect on this fine fellow, he "strode away blowing great clouds into the air." "Standing there smoking in the moonlight," the authoress says in her next chapter, "De Courcy was a strangely romantic figure. He looked like a man who had done everything, who had been through the furnace and had not come out of it unscathed." This was precisely what Gilray wanted to look like. Again he hesitated, and then put his pipe in his pocket.

It was now that I approached him with the Arcadia Mixture. I seldom recommend the Arcadia to men whom I do not know intimately, lest in the after-years I should find them unworthy of it. But just as Aladdin doubtless rubbed his lamp at times for show, there were occasions when I was ostentatiously liberal. If, after trying the Arcadia, the lucky smoker to whom I presented it did not start or seize my hand, or otherwise show that something exquisite had come into his life, I at once forgot his name and his existence. I approached Gilray, then, and without a word handed him my pouch, while the others drew nearer. Nothing was to be heard but the water oozing out and in beneath the house-boat. Gilray pushed the tobacco from him, as he might have pushed a bag of diamonds that he mistook for pebbles. I placed it against his arm, and motioned to the others not to look. Then I sat down beside Gilray, and almost smoked into his eyes. Soon the aroma reached him, and rapture struggled into his face. Slowly his fingers fastened on the pouch. He filled his pipe without knowing what he was doing, and I handed him a lighted spill. He took perhaps three puffs, and then gave me a look of reverence that I know well. It only comes to a man once in all its glory--the first time he tries the Arcadia Mixture--but it never altogether leaves him.

"Where do you get it?" Gilray whispered, in hoarse delight.

The Arcadia had him for its own.


James M. Barrie