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How I Came to know Clare Skymer.
It was a day when everything around seemed almost perfect: everything does, now and then, come nearly right for a moment or two, preparatory to coming all right for good at the last. It was the third week in June. The great furnace was glowing and shining in full force, driving the ship of our life at her best speed through the ocean of space. For on deck, and between decks, and aloft, there is so much more going on at one time than at another, that I may well say she was then going at her best speed, for there is quality as well as rate in motion. The trees were all well clothed, most of them in their very best. Their garments were soaking up the light and the heat, and the wind was going about among them, telling now one and now another, that all was well, and getting through an immense amount of comfort-work in a single minute. It said a word or two to myself as often as it passed me, and made me happier than any boy I know just at present, for I was an old man, and ought to be more easily made happy than any mere beginner.
I was walking through the thin edge of a little wood of big trees, with a slope of green on my left stretching away into the sunny distance, and the shadows of the trees on my right lying below my feet. The earth and the grass and the trees and the air were together weaving a harmony, and the birds were leading the big orchestra--which was indeed on the largest scale. For the instruments were so different, that some of them only were meant for sound; the part of others was in odour, of others yet in shine, and of still others in motion; while the birds turned it all as nearly into words as they could. Presently, to complete the score, I heard the tones of a man's voice, both strong and sweet. It was talking to some one in a way I could not understand. I do not mean I could not understand the words: I was too far off even to hear them; but I could not understand how the voice came to be so modulated. It was deep, soft, and musical, with something like coaxing in it, and something of tenderness, and the intent of it puzzled me. For I could not conjecture from it the age, or sex, or relation, or kind of the person to whom the words were spoken. You can tell by the voice when a man is talking to himself; it ought to be evident when he is talking to a woman; and you can, surely, tell when he is talking to a child; you could tell if he were speaking to him who made him; and you would be pretty certain if he was holding communication with his dog: it made me feel strange that I could not tell the kind of ear open to the gentle manly voice saying things which the very sound of them made me long to hear. I confess to hurrying my pace a little, but I trust with no improper curiosity, to see--I cannot say the interlocutors, for I had heard, and still heard, only one voice.
About a minute's walk brought me to the corner of the wood where it stopped abruptly, giving way to a field of beautiful grass; and then I saw something it does not need to be old to be delighted withal: the boy that would not have taken pleasure in it, I should count half-way to the gallows. Up to the edge of the wood came, I say, a large field--acres on acres of the sweetest grass; and dividing it from both wood and path stood a fence of three bars, which at the moment separated two as genuine lovers as ever wall of "stones with lime and hair knit up" could have sundered. On one side of the fence stood a man whose face I could not see, and on the other one of the loveliest horses I had ever set eyes upon. I am no better than a middling fair horseman, but, for this horse's sake, I may be allowed to mention that my friends will all have me look at any horse they think of buying. He was over sixteen hands, with well rounded barrel, clean limbs, small head, and broad muzzle; hollows above his eyes of hazy blue, and delicacy of feature, revealed him quite an old horse. His ears pointed forward and downward, as if they wanted on their own account to get a hold of the man the nose was so busily caressing. Neither, I presume, had heard my approach; for all true-love-endearments are shy, and the man had his arm round the horse's neck, and was caressing his face, talking to him much as Philip Sidney's lady, whose lips "seemed at once to kiss and speak," murmured to her pet sparrow, only here the voice was a musical baritone. That there was something between them more than an ordinary person would be likely to understand appeared patent.
Whether or not I made an involuntary sound I cannot tell: I was so taken with the sight, bearing to me an aspect of something eternal, that I do not know how I carried myself; but the horse gave a little start, half lifted his head, saw me, threw it up, uttered a shrill neigh of warning, stepped hack a pace, and stood motionless, waiting apparently for an order from his master--if indeed I ought not rather to call them friends than master and servant.
The man looked round, saw me, turned toward me, and showing no sign that my appearance was unexpected, lifted his hat with a courtesy most Englishmen would reserve for a lady, and advanced a step, almost as if to welcome a guest. I may have owed something of this reception to the fact that he saw before him a man advanced in years, for my beard is very gray, and that by no means prematurely. I saw before me one nearly, if not quite as old as myself. His hair and beard, both rather long, were quite white. His face was wonderfully handsome, with the stillness of a summer sea upon it. Its features were very marked and regular and fine, for the habit of the man was rather spare. What with his white hair and beard, and a certain radiance in his pale complexion, which, I learned afterward, no sun had ever more than browned a little, he reminded me for a moment as he turned, of Cato on the shore of Dante's purgatorial island.
"I fear," I said, "I have intruded!" There was no path where I had come along.
The man laughed--and his laugh was more friendly than an invitation to dinner.
"The land is mine," he answered; "no one can say you intrude."
"Thank you heartily. I live not very far off, and know the country pretty well, but have got into a part of which I am ignorant."
"You are welcome to go where you will on my property," he answered. "I could not close a field without some sense of having thrown a fellow- being into a dungeon. Whatever be the rights of land, space can belong to the individual only 'as it were,' to use a Shakspere-phrase. All the best things have to be shared. The house plainly was designed for a family."
While he spoke I scarce heeded his words for looking at the man, so much he interested me. His face was of the palest health, with a faint light from within. He looked about sixty years of age. His forehead was square, and his head rather small, but beautifully modelled; his eyes were of a light hazel, friendly as those of a celestial dog. Though slender in build, he looked strong, and every movement denoted activity.
I was not ready with an answer to what he said. He turned from me, and as if to introduce a companion and so render the interview easier, he called, in tone as gentle as if he spoke to a child, but with that peculiar intonation that had let me understand it was not to a child he was speaking, "Memnon! come;" and turned again to me. His movement and words directed my attention again to the horse, who had stood motionless. At once, but without sign of haste, the animal walked up to the rails, rose gently on his hind legs, came over without touching, walked up to his master, and laid his head on his shoulder.
I bethought me now who the man was. He had been but a year or two in the neighbourhood, though the property on which we now stood had been his own for a good many years. Some said he had bought it; others knew he had inherited it. All agreed he was a very peculiar person, with ways so oddly unreasonable that it was evident he had, in his wanderings over the face of the earth, gradually lost hold of what sense he might at one time have possessed, and was in consequence a good deal cracked. There seemed nothing, however, in his behaviour or appearance to suggest such a conclusion: a man could hardly be counted beside himself because he was on terms of friendship with his horse. It took me but a moment to recall his name--Skymer--one odd enough to assist the memory. I caught it ere he had done mingling fresh caresses with those of his long-tailed friend. When I came to know him better, I knew that he had thus given me opportunity--such as he would to a horse--of thinking whether I should like to know him better: Mr. Skymer's way was not to offer himself, but to give easy opportunity to any who might wish to know him. I learned afterward that he knew my name and suspected my person: being rather prejudiced in my favour because of the kind of thing I wrote, he was now waiting to see whether approximation would follow.
"Pardon my rude lingering," I said; "that lovely animal is enough to make one desire nearer acquaintance with his owner. I don't think I ever saw such a perfect creature!"
I remembered the next moment that I had heard said of Mr. Skymer that he liked beasts better than men, but I soon found this was only one of the foolish things constantly said of honest men by those who do not understand them.
There are women even who love dogs and dislike children; but, nauseous fact as this is, it is not so nauseous as the fact that there are men who believe in no animal rights, or in any God of the animals, and think we may do what we please with them, indulging at their cost an insane thirst after knowledge. Injustice may discover facts, but never truth.
"I grant him nearly a perfect creature," he answered, "But he is far more nearly perfect than you yet know him! Excuse me for speaking so confidently; but if we were half as far on for men, as Memnon is for a horse, the kingdom of heaven would be a good deal nearer!"
"He seems an old horse!"
"He is an old horse--much older than you can think after seeing him come over that paling as he did. He is forty."
"Is it possible!"
"I know and can prove his age as certainly as my own. He is the son of an Arab mare and an English thoroughbred.--Come here, Memnon!"
The horse, who had been standing behind like a servant in waiting, put his beautiful head over his master's shoulder.
"Memnon," said Mr. Skymer, "go home and tell Mrs. Waterhouse I hope to bring a gentleman with me to lunch."
The horse walked gently past us, then started at a quick trot, which almost immediately became a gallop.
"The dear fellow," said his master, "would not gallop like that if he were on the hard road; he knows I would not like it."
"But, excuse me, how can the animal convey your message?--how communicate what he knows, if he does understand what you say to him?"
"He will at least take care that the housekeeper look in his mane for the knot which perhaps you did not observe me tie in it."
"You have a code of signals by knots then?"
"Yes--comprising about half a dozen possibilities.--I hope you do not object to the message I sent! You will do me the honour of lunching with me?"
"You are most kind," I answered--with a little hesitation, I suppose, fearing to bore my new acquaintance.
"Don't make me false to horse and housekeeper, Mr. Gowrie," he resumed.--"I put the horse first, because I could more easily explain the thing to Mrs. Waterhouse than to Memnon."
"Could you explain it to Memnon?"
"I should have a try!" he answered, with a peculiar smile.
"You hold yourself bound then to keep faith with your horse?"
"Bound just as with a man--that is, as far as the horse can understand me. A word understood is binding, whether spoken to horse, or man, or pig. It makes it the more important that we can do so little, must work so slowly, for the education of the lower animals. It seems to me an absolute horror that a man should lie to an inferior creature. Just think--if an angel were to lie to us! What a shock to find we had been reposing faith in a devil."
"Excuse me--I thought you said an angel!"
"When he lied, would he not be a devil?--But let us follow Memnon, and as we walk I will tell you more about him."
He turned to the wood.
"The horse," I said, pointing, "went that way!"
"Yes," answered his master; "he knew it was nearer for him to take the long way round. If I had started him and one of the dogs together, the horse would have gone that way, and the dog taken the path we are now following."
We walked a score or two of yards in silence.
"You promised to tell me more about your wonderful horse!" I said.
"With pleasure. I delight in talking about my poor brothers and sisters! Most of them are only savages yet, but there would be far fewer such if we did not treat them as slaves instead of friends. One day, however, all will be well for them as for us--thank God."
"I hope so," I responded heartily. "But please tell me," I said, "something more about your Memnon."
Mr. Skymer thought for a moment.
"Perhaps, after all," he rejoined, "his best accomplishment is that he can fetch and carry like a dog. I will tell you one of his feats that way. But first you must know that, having travelled a good deal, and in some wild countries, I have picked up things it is well to know, even if not the best of their kind. A man may fail by not knowing the second best! I was once out on Memnon, five and twenty miles from home, when I came to a cottage where I found a woman lying ill. I saw what was wanted. The country was strange to me, and I could not have found a doctor. I wrote a little pencil-note, fastened it to the saddle, and told the horse to go home and bring me what the housekeeper gave him--and not to spare himself. He went off at a steady trot of ten or twelve miles an hour. I went into the cottage, and, awaiting his return, did what I could for the woman. I confess I felt anxious!"
"You well might," I said: "why should you say confess?"
"Because I had no business to be anxious."
"It was your business to do all for her you could."
"I was doing that! If I hadn't been, I should have had good cause to be anxious! But I knew that another was looking after her; and to be anxious was to meddle with his part!"
"I see now," I answered, and said nothing more for some time.
"What a lather poor Memnon came back in! You should have seen him! He had been gone nearly five hours, and neither time nor distance accounted for the state he was in. I did not let him do anything for a week. I should have had to sit up with him that night, if I had not been sitting up at any rate. The poor fellow had been caught, and had made his escape. His bridle was broken, and there were several long skin wounds in his belly, as if he had scraped the top of a wall set with bits of glass. How far he had galloped, there was no telling."
"Not in vain, I hope! The poor woman?"
"She recovered. The medicine was all right in a pocket under the flap of the saddle. Before morning she was much better, and lived many years after. Memnon and I did not lose sight of her.--But you should have seen the huge creature lying on the floor of that cabin like a worn-out dog, abandoned and content! I rubbed him down carefully, as well as I could, and tied my poncho round him, before I let him go to sleep. Then as soon as my patient seemed quieted for the night, I made up a big fire of her peats, and they slept like two babies, only they both snored.--The woman beat," he added with a merry laugh. "It was the first, almost the only time I ever heard a horse snore.--As we walked home next day he kept steadily behind me. In general we walked side by side. Either he felt too tired to talk to me, or he was not satisfied with himself because of something that had happened the day before. Perhaps he had been careless, and so allowed himself to be taken. I do not think it likely."
"What a loss it will be to you when he dies!" I said.
He looked grave for an instant, then replied cheerfully--
"Of course I shall miss the dear fellow--but not more than he will miss me; and it will be good for us both."
"Then," said I,--a little startled, I confess, "you really think--" and there I stopped.
"Do you think, Mr. Gowrie," he rejoined, answering my unpropounded question, "that a God like Jesus Christ, would invent such a delight for his children as the society and love of animals, and then let death part them for ever? I don't."
"I am heartily willing to be your disciple in the matter," I replied.
"I know well," he resumed, "the vulgar laugh that serves the poor public for sufficient answer to anything, and the common-place retort: 'You can't give a shadow of proof for your theory!'--to which I answer, 'I never was the fool to imagine I could; but as surely as you go to bed at night expecting to rise again in the morning, so surely do I expect to see my dear old Memnon again when I wake from what so many Christians call the sleep that knows no waking.'--Think, Mr. Gowrie, just think of all the children in heaven--what a superabounding joy the creatures would be to them!--There is one class, however," he went on, "which I should like to see wait a while before they got their creatures back;--I mean those foolish women who, for their own pleasure, so spoil their dogs that they make other people hate them, doing their best to keep them from rising in the scale of God's creation."
"They don't know better!" I said. For every time he stopped, I wanted to hear what he would say next.
"True," he answered; "but how much do they want to know the right way of anything? They have good and lovely instincts--like their dogs, but do they care that there is a right way and a wrong way of following them?"
We walked in silence, and were now coming near the other side of the small wood.
"I hope I shall not interfere with your plans for the day!" I said.
"I seldom have any plans for the day," he answered. "Or if I have, they are made to break easily. In general I wait. The hour brings its plans with it--comes itself to tell me what is wanted of me. It has done so now. And see, there is Memnon again in attendance on us!"
There, sure enough, was the horse, on the other side of the paling that here fenced the wood from a well-kept country-road. His long neck was stretched over it toward his master.
"Memnon," said Mr. Skymer as we issued by the gate, "I want you to carry this gentleman home."
I had often enough in my youth ridden without a saddle, but seldom indeed without some sort of bridle, however inadequate: I did not, at the first thought of the thing, relish mounting without one a horse of which all I knew was that he and his master were on better terms than I had ever seen man and horse upon before. But even while the thought was passing through my head, Memnon was lying at my feet, flat as his equine rotundity would permit. Ashamed of my doubt, I lost not a moment in placing myself in the position suggested by Sir John Falstaff to Prince Hal for the defence of his own bulky carcase--astride the body of the animal, namely. At once he rose and lifted me into the natural relation of man and horse. Then he looked round at his master, and they set off at a leisurely pace.
"You have me captive!" I said.
"Memnon and I," answered Mr. Skymer, "will do what we can to make your captivity pleasant."
A silence followed my thanks. In this procession of horse and foot, we went about half a mile ere anything more was said worth setting down. Then began evidence that we were drawing nigh to a house: the grassy lane between hedges in which we had been moving, was gradually changing its character. First came trees in the hedge-rows. Then the hedges gave way to trees--a grand avenue of splendid elms and beeches alternated. The ground under our feet was the loveliest sward, and between us and the sun came the sweetest shadow. A glad heave but instant subsidence of the live power under me, let me know Memnon's delight at feeling the soft elastic turf under his feet: he had said to himself, "Now we shall have a gallop!" but immediately checked the thought with the reflection that he was no longer a colt ignorant of manners.
"What a lovely road the turf makes!" I said. "It is a lower sky--solidified for feet that are not yet angelic."
My host looked up with a brighter smile than he had shown before.
"It is the only kind of road I really like," he said, "--though turf has its disadvantages! I have as much of it about the place as it will bear. Such roads won't do for carriages!"
"You ride a good deal, I suppose?"
"I do. I was at one time so accustomed to horseback that, without thinking, I was not aware whether I was on my horse's feet or my own."
"Where, may I ask, does my friend who is now doing me the favour to carry 'this weight and size,' come from?"
"He was born in England, but his mother was a Syrian--of one of the oldest breeds there known. He was born into my arms, and for a week never touched the ground. Next month, as I think I mentioned, he will be forty years old!"
"It is a great age for a horse!" I said.
"The more the shame as well as the pity!" he answered.
"Then you think horses might live longer?"
"Much longer than they are allowed to live in this country," he answered. "And a part of our punishment is that we do not know them. We treat them so selfishly that they do not live long enough to become our friends. At present there are but few men worthy of their friendship. What else is a man's admiration, when it is without love or respect or justice, but a bitter form of despite! It is small wonder there should be so many stupid horses, when they receive so little education, have such bad associates, and die so much too young to have gained any ripe experience to transmit to their posterity. Where would humanity be now, if we all went before five-and-twenty?"
"I think you must be right. I have myself in my possession at this moment, given me by one who loved her, an ink-stand made from the hoof of a pony that died at the age of at least forty-two, and did her part of the work of a pair till within a year or two of her death.--Poor little Zephyr!"
"Why, Mr. Gowrie, you talk of her as if she were a Christian!" exclaimed Mr. Skymer.
"That's how you talked of Memnon a moment ago! Where is the difference? Not in the size, though Memnon would make three of Zephyr!"
"I didn't say poor Memnon, did I? You said poor Zephyr! That is the way Christians talk about their friends gone home to the grand old family mansion! Why they do, they would hardly like one to tell them!"
"It is true," I responded. "I understand you now! I don't think I ever heard a widow speak of her departed husband without putting poor, or poor dear, before his name.--By the way, when you hear a woman speak of her late husband, can you help thinking her ready to marry again?"
"It does sound as if she had done with him! But here we are at the gate!--Call, Memnon."
The horse gave a clear whinny, gentle, but loud enough to be heard at some distance. It was a tall gate of wrought iron, but Memnon's summons was answered by one who could clear it--though not open it any more than he: a little bird, which I was not ornithologist enough to recognize--mainly because of my short-sightedness, I hope--came fluttering from the long avenue within, perched on the top of the gate, looked down at our party for a moment as if debating the prudent, dropped suddenly on Memnon's left ear, and thence to his master's shoulder, where he sat till the gate was opened. The little one went half-way up the inner avenue with us, making several flights and returns before he left us.
The boy that opened the gate, a chubby little fellow of seven, looked up in Mr. Skymer's face as if he had been his father and king in one, and stood gazing after him as long as he was in sight. I noticed also--who could have failed to notice?--that every now and then a bird would drop from the tree we were passing under, and alight for a minute on my host's head. Once when he happened to uncover it, seven or eight perched together upon it. One tiny bird got caught in his beard by the claws.
"You cannot surely have tamed all the birds in your grounds!" I said.
"If I have," he answered, "it has been by permitting them to be themselves."
"You mean it is the nature of birds to be friendly with man?"
"I do. Through long ages men have been their enemies, and so have alienated them--they too not being themselves."
"You mean that unfriendliness is not natural to men?"
"It cannot be human to be cruel!"
"How is it, then, that so many boys are careless what suffering they inflict?"
"Because they have in them the blood of men who loved cruelty, and never repented of it."
"But how do you account for those men loving cruelty--for their being what you say is contrary to their nature?"
"Ah, if I could account for that, I should be at the secret of most things! All I meant to half-explain was, how it came that so many who have no wish to inflict suffering, yet are careless of inflicting it."
I saw that we must know each other better before he would quite open his mind to me. I saw that though, hospitable of heart, he threw his best rooms open to all, there were others in his house into which he did not invite every acquaintance.
The avenue led to a wide gravelled space before a plain, low, long building in whitish stone, with pillared portico. In the middle of the space was a fountain, and close to it a few chairs. Mr. Skymer begged me to be seated. Memnon walked up to the fountain, and lay down, that I might get off his back as easily as I had got on it. Once down, he turned on his side, and lay still.
"The air is so mild," said my host, "I fancy you will prefer this to the house."
"Mild!" I rejoined; "I should call it hot!"
"I have been so much in real heat!" he returned. "Notwithstanding my love of turf, I keep this much in gravel for the sake of the desert."
I took the seat he offered me, wondering whether Memnon was comfortable where he lay; and, absorbed in the horse, did not see my host go to the other side of the basin. Suddenly we were "clothed upon" with a house which, though it came indeed from the earth, might well have come direct from heaven: a great uprush of water spread above us a tent-like dome, through which the sun came with a cool, broken, almost frosty glitter. We seemed in the heart of a huge soap-bubble. I exclaimed with delight.
"I thought you would enjoy my sun-shade!" said Mr. Skymer. "Memnon and I often come here of a hot morning, when nobody wants us. Don't we, Memnon?"
The horse lifted his nose a little, and made a low soft noise, a chord of mingled obedience and delight--a moan of pleasure mixed with a half-born whinny.
We had not been seated many moments, and had scarcely pushed off the shore of silence into a new sea of talk, when we were interrupted by the invasion of half a dozen dogs. They were of all sorts down to no sort. Mr. Skymer called one of them Tadpole--I suppose because he had the hugest tail, while his legs were not visible without being looked for.
"That animal," said his master, "--he looks like a dog, but who would be positive what he was!--is the cleverest in the pack. He seems to me a rare individuality. His ancestors must have been of all sorts, and he has gathered from them every good quality possessed by each. Think what a man might be--made up that way!"
"Why is there no such man?" I said.
"There may be some such men. There must be many one day," he answered, "--but not for a while yet. Men must first be made willing to be noble."
"And you don't think men willing to be made noble?"
"Oh yes! willing enough, some of them, to be made noble!"
"I do not understand. I thought you said they were not!"
"They are willing enough to be made noble; but that is very different from being willing to be noble: that takes trouble. How can any one become noble who desires it so little as not to fight for it!"
The man drew me more and more. He had a way of talking about things seldom mentioned except in dull fashion in the pulpit, as if he cared about them. He spoke as of familiar things, but made you feel he was looking out of a high window. There are many who never speak of real things except in a false tone; this man spoke of such without an atom of assumed solemnity--in his ordinary voice: they came into his mind as to their home--not as dreams of the night, but as facts of the day.
I sat for a while, gazing up through the thin veil of water at the blue sky so far beyond. I thought how like that veil was to our little life here, overdomed by that boundless foreshortening of space.
The lines in Shelley's Adonais came to me:
"Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass, Stains the white radiance of Eternity, Until Death tramples it to fragments."
Then I thought of what my host had said concerning the too short lives of horses, and wondered what he would say about those of dogs.
"Dogs are more intelligent than horses," I said: "why do they live a yet shorter time?"
"I doubt if you would say so in an Arab's tent," he returned. "If you had said, 'still more affectionate,' I should have known better how to answer you."
"Then I do say so," I replied.
"And I return, that is just why they live no longer. They do not find the world good enough for them, die, and leave it."
"They have a much happier life than horses!"
"Many dogs than some horses, I grant."
That instant arose what I fancied must be an unusual sound in the place: two of the dogs were fighting. The master got up. I thought with myself, "Now we shall see his notions of discipline!" nor had I long to wait. In his hand was a small riding-whip, which I afterward found he always carried in avoidance of having to inflict a heavier punishment from inability to inflict a lighter; for he held that in all wrong-doing man can deal with, the kindest thing is not only to punish, but, with animals especially, to punish at once. He ran to the conflicting parties. They separated the moment they heard the sound of his coming. One came cringing and crawling to his feet; the other--it was the nondescript Tadpole--stood a little way off, wagging his tail, and cocking his head up in his master's face. He gave the one at his feet several pretty severe cuts with the whip, and sent him off. The other drew nearer. His master turned away and took no notice of him.
"May I ask," I said, when he returned to his seat, "why you did not punish both the animals for their breach of the peace?"
"They did not both deserve it."
"How could you tell that? You were not looking when the quarrel began!"
"Ah, but you see I know the dogs! One of them--I saw at a glance how it was--had found a bone, and dog-rule about finding is, that what you find is yours. The other, notwithstanding, wanted a share. It was Tadpole who found the bone, and he--partly from his sense of justice--cannot endure to have his claims infringed upon. Every dog of them knows that Tadpole must be in the right."
"He looked as if he expected you to approve of his conduct!"
"Yes, that is the worst of Tadpole! he is so self-righteous as to imagine he deserves praise for standing on his rights! He is but a dog, you see, and knows no better!"
"I noticed you disregarded his appeal."
"I was not going to praise him for nothing!"
"You expect them to understand your treatment?"
"No one can tell how infinitesimally small the beginnings of understanding, as of life, may be. The only way to make animals reasonable--more reasonable, I mean--is to treat them as reasonable. Until you can go down into the abysses of creation, you cannot know when a nature begins to see a difference in quality of action."
"I confess," I said, "Mr. Tadpole did seem a little ashamed as he went away."
"And you see Blanco White at my feet, taking care not to touch them. He is giving time, he thinks, for my anger to pass."
He laughed the merriest laugh. The dog looked up eagerly, but dropped his head again.
If I go on like this, however, I shall have to take another book to tell the story for which I began the present! In short, I was drawn to the man as never to another since the friend of my youth went where I shall go to seek and find him one day--or, more likely, one solemn night. I was greatly his inferior, but love is a quick divider of shares: he that gathers much has nothing over, and he that gathers little has no lack. I soon ceased to think of him as my new friend, for I seemed to have known him before I was born.
I am going to tell the early part of his history. If only I could tell it as it deserves to be told! The most interesting story may be so narrated as that only the eyes of a Shakspere could spy the shine underneath its dull surface.
He never told me any great portion of the tale of his life continuously. One thing would suggest another--generally with no connection in time. I have pieced the parts together myself. He did indeed set out more than once or twice to give me his history, but always we got discussing something, and so it was interrupted.
I will not write what I have set in order as if he were himself narrating: the most modest man in the world would that way be put at a disadvantage. The constant recurrence of the capital I, is apt to rouse in the mind of the reader, especially if he be himself egotistic, more or less of irritation at the egotism of the narrator--while in reality the freedom of a man's personal utterance may be owing to his lack of the egotistic. Partly for my friend's sake, therefore, I shall tell the story as--what indeed it is--a narrative of my own concerning him.
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In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
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