Intending to sail for America in the early part of June, I
determined to spend the interval of six weeks in England, to
which country my mind's eye only had as yet been introduced. I
had formed in Italy and France a resolute preference for old
inns, considering that what they sometimes cost the ungratified
body they repay the delighted mind. On my arrival in London,
therefore, I lodged at a certain antique hostelry, much to the
east of Temple Bar, deep in the quarter that I had inevitably
figured as the Johnsonian. Here, on the first evening of my stay,
I descended to the little coffee-room and bespoke my dinner of
the genius of "attendance" in the person of the solitary waiter.
No sooner had I crossed the threshold of this retreat than I felt
I had cut a golden-ripe crop of English "impressions." The
coffee-room of the Red Lion, like so many other places and things
I was destined to see in the motherland, seemed to have been
waiting for long years, with just that sturdy sufferance of time
written on its visage, for me to come and extract the romantic
essence of it.
The latent preparedness of the American mind even for the most
characteristic features of English life was a matter I meanwhile
failed to get to the bottom of. The roots of it are indeed so
deeply buried in the soil of our early culture that, without some
great upheaval of feeling, we are at a loss to say exactly when
and where and how it begins. It makes an American's enjoyment of
England an emotion more searching than anything Continental. I
had seen the coffee-room of the Red Lion years ago, at home--at
Saragossa Illinois--in books, in visions, in dreams, in Dickens,
in Smollett, in Boswell. It was small and subdivided into six
narrow compartments by a series of perpendicular screens of
mahogany, something higher than a man's stature, furnished on
either side with a meagre uncushioned ledge, denominated in
ancient Britain a seat. In each of these rigid receptacles was a
narrow table--a table expected under stress to accommodate no
less than four pairs of active British elbows. High pressure
indeed had passed away from the Red Lion for ever. It now knew
only that of memories and ghosts and atmosphere. Round the room
there marched, breast-high, a magnificent panelling of mahogany,
so dark with time and so polished with unremitted friction that
by gazing a while into its lucid blackness I made out the dim
reflexion of a party of wigged gentlemen in knee-breeches just
arrived from York by the coach. On the dark yellow walls, coated
by the fumes of English coal, of English mutton, of Scotch
whiskey, were a dozen melancholy prints, sallow-toned with age--
the Derby favourite of the year 1807, the Bank of England, her
Majesty the Queen. On the floor was a Turkey carpet--as old as
the mahogany almost, as the Bank of England, as the Queen--into
which the waiter had in his lonely revolutions trodden so many
massive soot-flakes and drops of overflowing beer that the
glowing looms of Smyrna would certainly not have recognised it.
To say that I ordered my dinner of this archaic type would be
altogether to misrepresent the process owing to which, having
dreamed of lamb and spinach and a salade de saison, I sat down in
penitence to a mutton-chop and a rice pudding. Bracing my feet
against the cross-beam of my little oaken table, I opposed to the
mahogany partition behind me the vigorous dorsal resistance that
must have expressed the old-English idea of repose. The sturdy
screen refused even to creak, but my poor Yankee joints made up
While I was waiting there for my chop there came into the room a
person whom, after I had looked at him a moment, I supposed to be
a fellow lodger and probably the only one. He seemed, like
myself, to have submitted to proposals for dinner; the table on
the other side of my partition had been prepared to receive him.
He walked up to the fire, exposed his back to it and, after
consulting his watch, looked directly out of the window and
indirectly at me. He was a man of something less than middle age
and more than middle stature, though indeed you would have called
him neither young nor tall. He was chiefly remarkable for his
emphasised leanness. His hair, very thin on the summit of his
head, was dark short and fine. His eye was of a pale turbid grey,
unsuited, perhaps, to his dark hair and well-drawn brows, but not
altogether out of harmony with his colourless bilious complexion.
His nose was aquiline and delicate; beneath it his moustache
languished much rather than bristled. His mouth and chin were
negative, or at the most provisional; not vulgar, doubtless, but
ineffectually refined. A cold fatal gentlemanly weakness was
expressed indeed in his attenuated person. His eye was restless
and deprecating; his whole physiognomy, his manner of shifting
his weight from foot to foot, the spiritless droop of his head,
told of exhausted intentions, of a will relaxed. His dress was
neat and "toned down"--he might have been in mourning. I made up
my mind on three points: he was a bachelor, he was out of health,
he was not indigenous to the soil. The waiter approached him, and
they conversed in accents barely audible. I heard the words
"claret," "sherry" with a tentative inflexion, and finally "beer"
with its last letter changed to "ah." Perhaps he was a Russian in
reduced circumstances; he reminded me slightly of certain
sceptical cosmopolite Russians whom I had met on the Continent.
While in my extravagant way I followed this train--for you see I
was interested--there appeared a short brisk man with reddish-
brown hair, with a vulgar nose, a sharp blue eye and a red beard
confined to his lower jaw and chin. My putative Russian, still in
possession of the rug, let his mild gaze stray over the dingy
ornaments of the room. The other drew near, and his umbrella
dealt a playful poke at the concave melancholy waistcoat. "A
penny ha'penny for your thoughts!"
My friend, as I call him, uttered an exclamation, stared, then
laid his two hands on the other's shoulders. The latter looked
round at me keenly, compassing me in a momentary glance. I read
in its own vague light that this was a transatlantic eyebeam; and
with such confidence that I hardly needed to see its owner, as he
prepared, with his companion, to seat himself at the table
adjoining my own, take from his overcoat-pocket three New York
newspapers and lay them beside his plate. As my neighbours
proceeded to dine I felt the crumbs of their conversation
scattered pretty freely abroad. I could hear almost all they
said, without straining to catch it, over the top of the
partition that divided us. Occasionally their voices dropped to
recovery of discretion, but the mystery pieced itself together as
if on purpose to entertain me. Their speech was pitched in the
key that may in English air be called alien in spite of a few
coincidences. The voices were American, however, with a
difference; and I had no hesitation in assigning the softer and
clearer sound to the pale thin gentleman, whom I decidedly
preferred to his comrade. The latter began to question him about
"Horrible, horrible! I was deadly sick from the hour we left New
"Well, you do look considerably reduced," said the second-comer.
"Reduced! I've been on the verge of the grave. I haven't slept
six hours for three weeks." This was said with great gravity.
"Well, I've made the voyage for the last time."
"The plague you have! You mean to locate here permanently?"
"Oh it won't be so very permanent!"
There was a pause; after which: "You're the same merry old boy,
Searle. Going to give up the ghost to-morrow, eh?"
"I almost wish I were."
"You're not so sweet on England then? I've heard people say at
home that you dress and talk and act like an Englishman. But I
know these people here and I know you. You're not one of this
crowd, Clement Searle, not you. You'll go under here, sir; you'll
go under as sure as my name's Simmons."
Following this I heard a sudden clatter as of the drop of a knife
and fork. "Well, you're a delicate sort of creature, if it IS
your ugly name! I've been wandering about all day in this
accursed city, ready to cry with homesickness and heartsickness
and every possible sort of sickness, and thinking, in the absence
of anything better, of meeting you here this evening and of your
uttering some sound of cheer and comfort and giving me some
glimmer of hope. Go under? Ain't I under now? I can't do more
than get under the ground!"
Mr. Simmons's superior brightness appeared to flicker a moment in
this gust of despair, but the next it was burning steady again.
"DON'T 'cry,' Searle," I heard him say. "Remember the waiter.
I've grown Englishman enough for that. For heaven's sake don't
let's have any nerves. Nerves won't do anything for you here.
It's best to come to the point. Tell me in three words what you
expect of me."
I heard another movement, as if poor Searle had collapsed in his
chair. "Upon my word, sir, you're quite inconceivable. You never
got my letter?"
"Yes, I got your letter. I was never sorrier to get anything in
At this declaration Mr. Searle rattled out an oath, which it was
well perhaps that I but partially heard. "Abijah Simmons," he
then cried, "what demon of perversity possesses you? Are you
going to betray me here in a foreign land, to turn out a false
friend, a heartless rogue?"
"Go on, sir," said sturdy Simmons. "Pour it all out. I'll wait
till you've done. Your beer's lovely," he observed independently
to the waiter. "I'll have some more."
"For God's sake explain yourself!" his companion appealed.
There was a pause, at the end of which I heard Mr. Simmons set
down his empty tankard with emphasis. "You poor morbid mooning
man," he resumed, "I don't want to say anything to make you feel
sore. I regularly pity you. But you must allow that you've acted
more like a confirmed crank than a member of our best society--
in which every one's so sensible."
Mr. Searle seemed to have made an effort to compose himself. "Be
so good as to tell me then what was the meaning of your letter."
"Well, you had got on MY nerves, if you want to know, when I
wrote it. It came of my always wishing so to please folks. I had
much better have let you alone. To tell you the plain truth I
never was so horrified in my life as when I found that on the
strength of my few kind words you had come out here to seek your
"What then did you expect me to do?"
"I expected you to wait patiently till I had made further
enquiries and had written you again."
"And you've made further enquiries now?"
"Enquiries! I've committed assaults."
"And you find I've no claim?"
"No claim that one of THESE big bugs will look at. It struck me
at first that you had rather a neat little case. I confess the
look of it took hold of me--"
"Thanks to your liking so to please folks!" Mr. Simmons appeared
for a moment at odds with something; it proved to be with his
liquor. "I rather think your beer's too good to be true," he said
to the waiter. "I guess I'll take water. Come, old man," he
resumed, "don't challenge me to the arts of debate, or you'll
have me right down on you, and then you WILL feel me. My native
sweetness, as I say, was part of it. The idea that if I put the
thing through it would be a very pretty feather in my cap and a
very pretty penny in my purse was part of it. And the
satisfaction of seeing a horrid low American walk right into an
old English estate was a good deal of it. Upon my word, Searle,
when I think of it I wish with all my heart that, extravagant
vain man as you are, I COULD, for the charm of it, put you
through! I should hardly care what you did with the blamed place
when you got it. I could leave you alone to turn it into Yankee
notions--into ducks and drakes as they call 'em here. I should
like to see you tearing round over it and kicking up its sacred
dust in their very faces!"
"You don't know me one little bit," said Mr. Searle, rather
shirking, I thought, the burden of this tribute and for all
response to the ambiguity of the compliment.
"I should be very glad to think I didn't, sir. I've been to no
small amount of personal inconvenience for you. I've pushed my
way right up to the headspring. I've got the best opinion that's
to be had. The best opinion that's to be had just gives you one
leer over its spectacles. I guess that look will fix you if you
ever get it straight. I've been able to tap, indirectly," Mr.
Simmons went on, "the solicitor of your usurping cousin, and he
evidently knows something to be in the wind. It seems your elder
brother twenty years ago put out a feeler. So you're not to have
the glory of even making them sit up."
"I never made any one sit up," I heard Mr. Searle plead. "I
shouldn't begin at this time of day. I should approach the
subject like a gentleman."
"Well, if you want very much to do something like a gentleman
you've got a capital chance. Take your disappointment like a
I had finished my dinner and had become keenly interested in poor
Mr. Searle's unencouraging--or unencouraged--claim; so interested
that I at last hated to hear his trouble reflected in his voice
without being able--all respectfully!--to follow it in his face.
I left my place, went over to the fire, took up the evening paper
and established a post of observation behind it.
His cold counsellor was in the act of choosing a soft chop from
the dish--an act accompanied by a great deal of prying and poking
with that gentleman's own fork. My disillusioned compatriot had
pushed away his plate; he sat with his elbows on the table,
gloomily nursing his head with his hands. His companion watched
him and then seemed to wonder--to do Mr. Simmons justice--how he
could least ungracefully give him up. "I say, Searle,"--and for
my benefit, I think, taking me for a native ingenuous enough to
be dazzled by his wit, he lifted his voice a little and gave it
an ironical ring--"in this country it's the inestimable privilege
of a loyal citizen, under whatsoever stress of pleasure or of
pain, to make a point of eating his dinner."
Mr. Searle gave his plate another push. "Anything may happen now.
I don't care a straw."
"You ought to care. Have another chop and you WILL care. Have
some better tipple. Take my advice!" Mr. Simmons went on.
My friend--I adopt that name for him--gazed from between his two
hands coldly before him. "I've had enough of your advice."
"A little more," said Simmons mildly; "I shan't trouble you
again. What do you mean to do?"
"Nothing, nothing, nothing!"
"Nothing but starve. How about meeting expenses?"
"Why do you ask?" said my friend. "You don't care."
"My dear fellow, if you want to make me offer you twenty pounds
you set most clumsily about it. You said just now I don't know
you," Mr. Simmons went on. "Possibly. Come back with me then," he
said kindly enough, "and let's improve our acquaintance."
"I won't go back. I shall never go back."
Mr. Simmons thought it shrewdly over. "Well, you ARE sick!" he
exclaimed presently. "All I can say is that if you're working out
a plan for cold poison, or for any other act of desperation, you
had better give it right up. You can't get a dose of the
commonest kind of cold poison for nothing, you know. Look here,
Searle"--and the worthy man made what struck me as a very decent
appeal. "If you'll consent to return home with me by the steamer
of the twenty-third I'll pay your passage down. More than that,
I'll pay for your beer."
My poor gentleman met it. "I believe I never made up my mind to
anything before, but I think it's made up now. I shall stay here
till I take my departure for a newer world than any patched-up
newness of ours. It's an odd feeling--I rather like it! What
should I do at home?"
"You said just now you were homesick."
"I meant I was sick for a home. Don't I belong here? Haven't I
longed to get here all my life? Haven't I counted the months and
the years till I should be able to 'go' as we say? And now that
I've 'gone,' that is that I've come, must I just back out? No,
no, I'll move on. I'm much obliged to you for your offer. I've
enough money for the present. I've about my person some forty
pounds' worth of British gold, and the same amount, say, of the
toughness of the heaven-sent idiot. They'll see me through
together! After they're gone I shall lay my head in some English
churchyard, beside some ivied tower, beneath an old gnarled black
I had so far distinctly followed the dialogue; but at this point
the landlord entered and, begging my pardon, would suggest that
number 12, a most superior apartment, having now been vacated, it
would give him pleasure if I would look in. I declined to look
in, but agreed for number 12 at a venture and gave myself again,
with dissimulation, to my friends. They had got up; Simmons had
put on his overcoat; he stood polishing his rusty black hat with
his napkin. "Do you mean to go down to the place?" he asked.
"Possibly. I've thought of it so often that I should like to see
"Shall you call on Mr. Searle?"
"Something has just occurred to me," Simmons pursued with a grin
that made his upper lip look more than ever denuded by the razor
and jerked the ugly ornament of his chin into the air. "There's a
certain Miss Searle, the old man's sister."
"Well?" my gentleman quavered.
"Well, sir!--you talk of moving on. You might move on the
Mr. Searle frowned in silence and his companion gave him a tap on
the stomach. "Line those ribs a bit first!" He blushed crimson;
his eyes filled with tears. "You ARE a coarse brute," he said.
The scene quite harrowed me, but I was prevented from seeing it
through by the reappearance of the landlord on behalf of number
12. He represented to me that I ought in justice to him to come
and see how tidy they HAD made it. Half an hour afterwards I was
rattling along in a hansom toward Covent Garden, where I heard
Madame Bosio in The Barber of Seville. On my return from the
opera I went into the coffee-room; it had occurred to me I might
catch there another glimpse of Mr. Searle. I was not
disappointed. I found him seated before the fire with his head
sunk on his breast: he slept, dreaming perhaps of Abijah Simmons.
I watched him for some moments. His closed eyes, in the dim
lamplight, looked even more helpless and resigned, and I seemed
to see the fine grain of his nature in his unconscious mask. They
say fortune comes while we sleep, and, standing there, I felt
really tender enough--though otherwise most unqualified--to be
poor Mr. Searle's fortune. As I walked away I noted in one of the
little prandial pews I have described the melancholy waiter,
whose whiskered chin also reposed on the bulge of his shirt-
front. I lingered a moment beside the old inn-yard in which, upon
a time, the coaches and post-chaises found space to turn and
disgorge. Above the dusky shaft of the enclosing galleries, where
lounging lodgers and crumpled chambermaids and all the
picturesque domesticity of a rattling tavern must have leaned on
their elbows for many a year, I made out the far-off lurid
twinkle of the London constellations. At the foot of the stairs,
enshrined in the glittering niche of her well-appointed bar, the
landlady sat napping like some solemn idol amid votive brass and
The next morning, not finding the subject of my benevolent
curiosity in the coffee-room, I learned from the waiter that he
had ordered breakfast in bed. Into this asylum I was not yet
prepared to pursue him. I spent the morning in the streets,
partly under pressure of business, but catching all kinds of
romantic impressions by the way. To the searching American eye
there is no tint of association with which the great grimy face
of London doesn't flush. As the afternoon approached, however, I
began to yearn for some site more gracefully classic than what
surrounded me, and, thinking over the excursions recommended to
the ingenuous stranger, decided to take the train to Hampton
Court. The day was the more propitious that it yielded just that
dim subaqueous light which sleeps so fondly upon the English
At the end of an hour I found myself wandering through the
apartments of the great palace. They follow each other in
infinite succession, with no great variety of interest or aspect,
but with persistent pomp and a fine specific effect. They are
exactly of their various times. You pass from painted and
panelled bedchambers and closets, anterooms, drawing-rooms,
council-rooms, through king's suite, queen's suite, prince's
suite, until you feel yourself move through the appointed hours
and stages of some rigid monarchical day. On one side are the old
monumental upholsteries, the big cold tarnished beds and
canopies, with the circumference of disapparelled royalty
symbolised by a gilded balustrade, and the great carved and
yawning chimney-places where dukes-in-waiting may have warmed
their weary heels; on the other, in deep recesses, rise the
immense windows, the framed and draped embrasures where the
sovereign whispered and favourites smiled, looking out on
terraced gardens and misty park. The brown walls are dimly
illumined by innumerable portraits of courtiers and captains,
more especially with various members of the Batavian entourage of
William of Orange, the restorer of the palace; with good store
too of the lily-bosomed models of Lely and Kneller. The whole
tone of this processional interior is singularly stale and sad.
The tints of all things have both faded and darkened--you taste
the chill of the place as you walk from room to room. It was
still early in the day and in the season, and I flattered myself
that I was the only visitor. This complacency, however, dropped
at sight of a person standing motionless before a simpering
countess of Sir Peter Lely's creation. On hearing my footstep
this victim of an evaporated spell turned his head and I
recognised my fellow lodger of the Red Lion. I was apparently
recognised as well; he looked as if he could scarce wait for me
to be kind to him, and in fact didn't wait. Seeing I had a
catalogue he asked the name of the portrait. On my satisfying him
he appealed, rather timidly, as to my opinion of the lady.
"Well," said I, not quite timidly enough perhaps, "I confess she
strikes me as no great matter."
He remained silent and was evidently a little abashed. As we
strolled away he stole a sidelong glance of farewell at his
leering shepherdess. To speak with him face to face was to feel
keenly that he was no less interesting than infirm. We talked of
our inn, of London, of the palace; he uttered his mind freely,
but seemed to struggle with a weight of depression. It was an
honest mind enough, with no great cultivation but with a certain
natural love of excellent things. I foresaw that I should find
him quite to the manner born--to ours; full of glimpses and
responses, of deserts and desolations. His perceptions would be
fine and his opinions pathetic; I should moreover take refuge
from his sense of proportion in his sense of humour, and then
refuge from THAT, ah me!--in what? On my telling him that I was a
fellow citizen he stopped short, deeply touched, and, silently
passing his arm into my own, suffered me to lead him through the
other apartments and down into the gardens. A large gravelled
platform stretches itself before the basement of the palace,
taking the afternoon sun. Parts of the great structure are
reserved for private use and habitation, occupied by state-
pensioners, reduced gentlewomen in receipt of the Queen's bounty
and other deserving persons. Many of the apartments have their
dependent gardens, and here and there, between the verdure-coated
walls, you catch a glimpse of these somewhat stuffy bowers. My
companion and I measured more than once this long expanse,
looking down on the floral figures of the rest of the affair and
on the stoutly-woven tapestry of creeping plants that muffle the
foundations of the huge red pile. I thought of the various images
of old-world gentility which, early and late, must have strolled
in front of it and felt the protection and security of the place.
We peeped through an antique grating into one of the mossy cages
and saw an old lady with a black mantilla on her head, a decanter
of water in one hand and a crutch in the other, come forth,
followed by three little dogs and a cat, to sprinkle a plant. She
would probably have had an opinion on the virtue of Queen
Caroline. Feeling these things together made us quickly, made us
extraordinarily, intimate. My companion seemed to ache with his
impression; he scowled, all gently, as if it gave him pain. I
proposed at last that we should dine somewhere on the spot and
take a late train to town. We made our way out of the gardens
into the adjoining village, where we entered an inn which I
pronounced, very sincerely, exactly what we wanted. Mr. Searle
had approached our board as shyly as if it had been a cold bath;
but, gradually warming to his work, he declared at the end of
half an hour that for the first time in a month he enjoyed his
"I'm afraid you're rather out of health," I risked.
"Yes, sir--I'm an incurable."
The little village of Hampton Court stands clustered about the
entrance of Bushey Park, and after we had dined we lounged along
into the celebrated avenue of horse-chestnuts. There is a rare
emotion, familiar to every intelligent traveller, in which the
mind seems to swallow the sum total of its impressions at a gulp.
You take in the whole place, whatever it be. You feel England,
you feel Italy, and the sensation involves for the moment a kind
of thrill. I had known it from time to time in Italy and had
opened my soul to it as to the spirit of the Lord. Since my
landing in England I had been waiting for it to arrive. A bottle
of tolerable Burgundy, at dinner, had perhaps unlocked to it the
gates of sense; it arrived now with irresistible force. Just the
scene around me was the England of one's early reveries. Over
against us, amid the ripeness of its gardens, the dark red
residence, with its formal facings and its vacant windows, seemed
to make the past definite and massive; the little village,
nestling between park and palace, around a patch of turfy common,
with its taverns of figurative names, its ivy-towered church, its
mossy roofs, looked like the property of a feudal lord. It was in
this dark composite light that I had read the British classics;
it was this mild moist air that had blown from the pages of the
poets; while I seemed to feel the buried generations in the dense
and elastic sod. And that I must have testified in some form or
other to what I have called my thrill I gather, remembering it,
from a remark of my companion's.
"You've the advantage over me in coming to all this with an
educated eye. You already know what old things can be. I've never
known it but by report. I've always fancied I should like it. In
a small way at home, of course, I did try to stand by my idea of
it. I must be a conservative by nature. People at home used to
call me a cockney and a fribble. But it wasn't true," he went on;
"if it had been I should have made my way over here long ago:
before--before--" He paused, and his head dropped sadly on his
The bottle of Burgundy had loosened his tongue; I had but to
choose my time for learning his story. Something told me that I
had gained his confidence and that, so far as attention and
attitude might go, I was "in" for responsibilities. But somehow I
didn't dread them. "Before you lost your health," I suggested.
"Before I lost my health," he answered. "And my property--the
little I had. And my ambition. And any power to take myself
"Come!" I cried. "You shall recover everything. This tonic
English climate will wind you up in a month. And THEN see how
you'll take yourself--and how I shall take you!"
"Oh," he gratefully smiled, "I may turn to dust in your hands! I
should like," he presently pursued, "to be an old genteel
pensioner, lodged over there in the palace and spending my days
in maundering about these vistas. I should go every morning, at
the hour when it gets the sun, into that long gallery where all
those pretty women of Lely's are hung--I know you despise them!--
and stroll up and down and say something kind to them. Poor
precious forsaken creatures! So flattered and courted in their
day, so neglected now! Offering up their shoulders and ringlets
and smiles to that musty deadly silence!"
I laid my hand on my friend's shoulder. "Oh sir, you're all
Just at this moment there came cantering down the shallow glade
of the avenue a young girl on a fine black horse--one of those
little budding gentlewomen, perfectly mounted and equipped, who
form to alien eyes one of the prettiest incidents of English
scenery. She had distanced her servant and, as she came abreast
of us, turned slightly in her saddle and glanced back at him. In
the movement she dropped the hunting-crop with which she was
armed; whereupon she reined up and looked shyly at us and at the
implement. "This is something better than a Lely," I said. Searle
hastened forward, picked up the crop and, with a particular
courtesy that became him, handed it back to the rider. Fluttered
and blushing she reached forward, took it with a quick sweet
sound, and the next moment was bounding over the quiet turf.
Searle stood watching her; the servant, as he passed us, touched
his hat. When my friend turned toward me again I saw that he too
was blushing. "Oh sir, you're all right," I repeated.
At a short distance from where we had stopped was an old stone
bench. We went and sat down on it and, as the sun began to sink,
watched the light mist powder itself with gold. "We ought to be
thinking of the train back to London, I suppose," I at last said.
"Oh hang the train!" sighed my companion.
"Willingly. There could be no better spot than this to feel the
English evening stand still." So we lingered, and the twilight
hung about us, strangely clear in spite of the thickness of the
air. As we sat there came into view an apparition unmistakeable
from afar as an immemorial vagrant--the disowned, in his own rich
way, of all the English ages. As he approached us he slackened
pace and finally halted, touching his cap. He was a man of middle
age, clad in a greasy bonnet with false-looking ear-locks
depending from its sides. Round his neck was a grimy red scarf,
tucked into his waistcoat; his coat and trousers had a remote
affinity with those of a reduced hostler. In one hand he had a
stick; on his arm he bore a tattered basket, with a handful of
withered vegetables at the bottom. His face was pale haggard and
degraded beyond description--as base as a counterfeit coin, yet
as modelled somehow as a tragic mask. He too, like everything
else, had a history. From what height had he fallen, from what
depth had he risen? He was the perfect symbol of generated
constituted baseness; and I felt before him in presence of a
great artist or actor.
"For God's sake, gentlemen," he said in the raucous tone of
weather-beaten poverty, the tone of chronic sore-throat
exacerbated by perpetual gin, "for God's sake, gentlemen, have
pity on a poor fern-collector!"--turning up his stale daisies.
"Food hasn't passed my lips, gentlemen, for the last three days."
We gaped at him and at each other, and to our imagination his
appeal had almost the force of a command. "I wonder if half-a-
crown would help?" I privately wailed. And our fasting botanist
went limping away through the park with the grace of controlled
stupefaction still further enriching his outline.
"I feel as if I had seen my Doppelganger" said Searle. "He
reminds me of myself. What am I but a mere figure in the
landscape, a wandering minstrel or picker of daisies?"
"What are you 'anyway,' my friend?" I thereupon took occasion to
ask. "Who are you? kindly tell me."
The colour rose again to his pale face and I feared I had
offended him. He poked a moment at the sod with the point of his
umbrella before answering. "Who am I?" he said at last. "My name
is Clement Searle. I was born in New York, and that's the
beginning and the end of me."
"Ah not the end!" I made bold to plead.
"Then it's because I HAVE no end--any more than an ill-written
book. I just stop anywhere; which means I'm a failure," the poor
man all lucidly and unreservedly pursued: "a failure, as hopeless
and helpless, sir, as any that ever swallowed up the slender
investments of the widow and the orphan. I don't pay five cents
on the dollar. What I might have been--once!--there's nothing
left to show. I was rotten before I was ripe. To begin with,
certainly, I wasn't a fountain of wisdom. All the more reason for
a definite channel--for having a little character and purpose.
But I hadn't even a little. I had nothing but nice tastes, as
they call them, and fine sympathies and sentiments. Take a turn
through New York to-day and you'll find the tattered remnants of
these things dangling on every bush and fluttering in every
breeze; the men to whom I lent money, the women to whom I made
love, the friends I trusted, the follies I invented, the
poisonous fumes of pleasure amid which nothing was worth a
thought but the manhood they stifled! It was my fault that I
believed in pleasure here below. I believe in it still, but as I
believe in the immortality of the soul. The soul is immortal,
certainly--if you've got one; but most people haven't. Pleasure
would be right if it were pleasure straight through; but it never
is. My taste was to be the best in the world; well, perhaps it
was. I had a little money; it went the way of my little wit. Here
in my pocket I have the scant dregs of it. I should tell you I
was the biggest kind of ass. Just now that description would
flatter me; it would assume there's something left of me. But the
ghost of a donkey--what's that? I think," he went on with a
charming turn and as if striking off his real explanation, "I
should have been all right in a world arranged on different
lines. Before heaven, sir--whoever you are--I'm in practice so
absurdly tender-hearted that I can afford to say it: I entered
upon life a perfect gentleman. I had the love of old forms and
pleasant rites, and I found them nowhere--found a world all hard
lines and harsh lights, without shade, without composition, as
they say of pictures, without the lovely mystery of colour. To
furnish colour I melted down the very substance of my own soul. I
went about with my brush, touching up and toning down; a very
pretty chiaroscuro you'll find in my track! Sitting here in this
old park, in this old country, I feel that I hover on the misty
verge of what might have been! I should have been born here and
not there; here my makeshift distinctions would have found things
they'd have been true of. How it was I never got free is more
than I can say. It might have cut the knot, but the knot was too
tight. I was always out of health or in debt or somehow
desperately dangling. Besides, I had a horror of the great black
sickening sea. A year ago I was reminded of the existence of an
old claim to an English estate, which has danced before the eyes
of my family, at odd moments, any time these eighty years. I
confess it's a bit of a muddle and a tangle, and am by no means
sure that to this hour I've got the hang of it. You look as if
you had a clear head: some other time, if you consent, we'll have
a go at it, such as it is, together. Poverty was staring me in
the face; I sat down and tried to commit the 'points' of our case
to memory, as I used to get nine-times-nine by heart as a boy. I
dreamed of it for six months, half-expecting to wake up some fine
morning and hear through a latticed casement the cawing of an
English rookery. A couple of months ago there came out to England
on business of his own a man who once got me out of a dreadful
mess (not that I had hurt anyone but myself), a legal
practitioner in our courts, a very rough diamond, but with a
great deal of FLAIR, as they say in New York. It was with him
yesterday you saw me dining. He undertook, as he called it, to
'nose round' and see if anything could be made of our
questionable but possible show. The matter had never seriously
been taken up. A month later I got a letter from Simmons assuring
me that it seemed a very good show indeed and that he should be
greatly surprised if I were unable to do something. This was the
greatest push I had ever got in my life; I took a deliberate
step, for the first time; I sailed for England. I've been here
three days: they've seemed three months. After keeping me waiting
for thirty-six hours my legal adviser makes his appearance last
night and states to me, with his mouth full of mutton, that I
haven't a leg to stand on, that my claim is moonshine, and that I
must do penance and take a ticket for six more days of purgatory
with his presence thrown in. My friend, my friend--shall I say I
was disappointed? I'm already resigned. I didn't really believe I
had any case. I felt in my deeper consciousness that it was the
crowning illusion of a life of illusions. Well, it was a pretty
one. Poor legal adviser!--I forgive him with all my heart. But
for him I shouldn't be sitting in this place, in this air, under
these impressions. This is a world I could have got on with
beautifully. There's an immense charm in its having been kept for
the last. After it nothing else would have been tolerable. I
shall now have a month of it, I hope, which won't be long enough
for it to "go back on me. There's one thing!"--and here,
pausing, he laid his hand on mine; I rose and stood before him--
"I wish it were possible you should be with me to the end."
"I promise you to leave you only when you kick me downstairs."
But I suggested my terms. "It must be on condition of your
omitting from your conversation this intolerable flavour of
mortality. I know nothing of 'ends.' I'm all for beginnings."
He kept on me his sad weak eyes. Then with a faint smile: "Don't
cut down a man you find hanging. He has had a reason for it. I'm
"Oh health's money!" I said. "Get well, and the rest will take
care of itself. I'm interested in your questionable claim--it's
the question that's the charm; and pretenders, to anything big
enough, have always been, for me, an attractive class. Only their
first duty's to be gallant."
"Their first duty's to understand their own points and to know
their own mind," he returned with hopeless lucidity. "Don't ask
me to climb our family tree now," he added; "I fear I haven't the
head for it. I'll try some day--if it will bear my weight; or
yours added to mine. There's no doubt, however, that we, as they
say, go back. But I know nothing of business. If I were to take
the matter in hand I should break in two the poor little silken
thread from which everything hangs. In a better world than this I
think I should be listened to. But the wind doesn't set to ideal
justice. There's no doubt that a hundred years ago we suffered a
palpable wrong. Yet we made no appeal at the time, and the dust
of a century now lies heaped upon our silence. Let it rest!"
"What then," I asked, "is the estimated value of your interest?"
"We were instructed from the first to accept a compromise.
Compared with the whole property our ideas have been small. We
were once advised in the sense of a hundred and thirty thousand
dollars. Why a hundred and thirty I'm sure I don't know. Don't
beguile me into figures."
"Allow me one more question," I said. "Who's actually in
"A certain Mr. Richard Searle. I know nothing about him."
"He's in some way related to you?"
"Our great-grandfathers were half-brothers. What does that make
"Twentieth cousins, say. And where does your twentieth cousin
"At a place called Lackley--in Middleshire."
I thought it over. "Well, suppose we look up Lackley in
He got straight up. "Go and see it?"
"Go and see it."
"Well," he said, "with you I'll go anywhere."
On our return to town we determined to spend three days there
together and then proceed to our errand. We were as conscious one
as the other of that deeper mystic appeal made by London to those
superstitious pilgrims who feel it the mother-city of their race,
the distributing heart of their traditional life. Certain
characteristics of the dusky Babylon, certain aspects, phases,
features, "say" more to the American spiritual ear than anything
else in Europe. The influence of these things on Searle it
charmed me to note. His observation I soon saw to be, as I
pronounced it to him, searching and caressing. His almost morbid
appetite for any over-scoring of time, well-nigh extinct from
long inanition, threw the flush of its revival into his face and
We looked out the topography of Middleshire in a county-guide,
which spoke highly, as the phrase is, of Lackley Park, and took
up our abode, our journey ended, at a wayside inn where, in the
days of leisure, the coach must have stopped for luncheon and
burnished pewters of rustic ale been handed up as straight as
possible to outsiders athirst with the sense of speed. We stopped
here for mere gaping joy of its steep-thatched roof, its latticed
windows, its hospitable porch, and allowed a couple of days to
elapse in vague undirected strolls and sweet sentimental
observance of the land before approaching the particular business
that had drawn us on. The region I allude to is a compendium of
the general physiognomy of England. The noble friendliness of the
scenery, its latent old-friendliness, the way we scarcely knew
whether we were looking at it for the first or the last time,
made it arrest us at every step. The countryside, in the full
warm rains of the last of April, had burst into sudden perfect
spring. The dark walls of the hedgerows had turned into blooming
screens, the sodden verdure of lawn and meadow been washed over
with a lighter brush. We went forth without loss of time for a
long walk on the great grassy hills, smooth arrested central
billows of some primitive upheaval, from the summits of which you
find half England unrolled at your feet. A dozen broad counties,
within the scope of your vision, commingle their green
exhalations. Closely beneath us lay the dark rich hedgy flats and
the copse-chequered slopes, white with the blossom of apples. At
widely opposite points of the expanse two great towers of
cathedrals rose sharply out of a reddish blur of habitation,
taking the mild English light.
We gave an irrepressible attention to this same solar reserve,
and found in it only a refinement of art. The sky never was empty
and never idle; the clouds were continually at play for our
benefit. Over against us, from our station on the hills, we saw
them piled and dissolved, condensed and shifted, blotting the
blue with sullen rain-spots, stretching, breeze-fretted, into
dappled fields of grey, bursting into an explosion of light or
melting into a drizzle of silver. We made our way along the
rounded ridge of the downs and reached, by a descent, through
slanting angular fields, green to cottage-doors, a russet village
that beckoned us from the heart of the maze in which the hedges
wrapped it up. Close beside it, I admit, the roaring train
bounces out of a hole in the hills; yet there broods upon this
charming hamlet an old-time quietude that makes a violation of
confidence of naming it so far away. We struck through a narrow
lane, a green lane, dim with its barriers of hawthorn; it led us
to a superb old farmhouse, now rather rudely jostled by the
multiplied roads and by-ways that have reduced its ancient
appanage. It stands there in stubborn picturesqueness, doggedly
submitting to be pointed out and sketched. It is a wonderful
image of the domiciliary conditions of the past--cruelly
complete; with bended beams and joists, beneath the burden of
gables, that seem to ache and groan with memories and regrets.
The short low windows, where lead and glass combine equally to
create an inward gloom, retain their opacity as a part of the
primitive idea of defence. Such an old house provokes on the part
of an American a luxury of respect. So propped and patched, so
tinkered with clumsy tenderness, clustered so richly about its
central English sturdiness, its oaken vertebrations, so humanised
with ages of use and touches of beneficent affection, it seemed
to offer to our grateful eyes a small rude symbol of the great
English social order. Passing out upon the highroad, we came to
the common browsing-patch, the "village-green" of the tales of
our youth. Nothing was absent: the shaggy mouse-coloured donkey,
nosing the turf with his mild and huge proboscis, the geese, the
old woman--THE old woman, in person, with her red cloak and her
black bonnet, frilled about the face and double-frilled beside
her decent placid cheeks--the towering ploughman with his white
smock-frock puckered on chest and back, his short corduroys, his
mighty calves, his big red rural face. We greeted these things as
children greet the loved pictures in a storybook lost and mourned
and found again. We recognised them as one recognises the
handwriting on letter-backs. Beside the road we saw a ploughboy
straddle whistling on a stile, and he had the merit of being not
only a ploughboy but a Gainsborough. Beyond the stile, across the
level velvet of a meadow, a footpath wandered like a streak drawn
by a finger over a surface of fine plush. We followed it from
field to field and from stile to stile; it was all adorably the
way to church. At the church we finally arrived, lost in its
rook-haunted churchyard, hidden from the workday world by the
broad stillness of pastures--a grey, grey tower, a huge black
yew, a cluster of village-graves with crooked headstones and
protrusions that had settled and sunk. The place seemed so to
ache with consecration that my sensitive companion gave way to
the force of it.
"You must bury me here, you know"--he caught at my arm. "It's the
first place of worship I've seen in my life. How it makes a
Sunday where it stands!"
It took the Church, we agreed, to make churches, but we had the
sense the next day of seeing still better why. We walked over
some seven miles, to the nearer of the two neighbouring seats of
that lesson; and all through such a mist of local colour that we
felt ourselves a pair of Smollett's pedestrian heroes faring
tavernward for a night of adventures. As we neared the provincial
city we saw the steepled mass of the cathedral, long and high,
rise far into the cloud-freckled blue; and as we got closer
stopped on a bridge and looked down at the reflexion of the solid
minster in a yellow stream. Going further yet we entered the
russet town--where surely Miss Austen's heroines, in chariots and
curricles, must often have come a-shopping for their sandals and
mittens; we lounged in the grassed and gravelled precinct and
gazed insatiably at that most soul-soothing sight, the waning
wasting afternoon light, the visible ether that feels the voices
of the chimes cling far aloft to the quiet sides of the
cathedral-tower; saw it linger and nestle and abide, as it loves
to do on all perpendicular spaces, converting them irresistibly
into registers and dials; tasted too, as deeply, of the peculiar
stillness of this place of priests; saw a rosy English lad come
forth and lock the door of the old foundation-school that
dovetailed with cloister and choir, and carry his big responsible
key into one of the quiet canonical houses: and then stood musing
together on the effect on one's mind of having in one's boyhood
gone and come through cathedral-shades as a King's scholar, and
yet kept ruddy with much cricket in misty river meadows. On the
third morning we betook ourselves to Lackley, having learned that
parts of the "grounds" were open to visitors, and that indeed on
application the house was sometimes shown.
Within the range of these numerous acres the declining spurs of
the hills continued to undulate and subside. A long avenue wound
and circled from the outermost gate through an untrimmed
woodland, whence you glanced at further slopes and glades and
copses and bosky recesses--at everything except the limits of the
place. It was as free and untended as I had found a few of the
large loose villas of old Italy, and I was still never to see the
angular fact of English landlordism muffle itself in so many
concessions. The weather had just become perfect; it was one of
the dozen exquisite days of the English year--days stamped with a
purity unknown in climates where fine weather is cheap. It was as
if the mellow brightness, as tender as that of the primroses
which starred the dark waysides like petals wind-scattered
over beds of moss, had been meted out to us by the cubic foot--
distilled from an alchemist's crucible. From this pastoral
abundance we moved upon the more composed scene, the park proper
--passed through a second lodge-gate, with weather-worn gilding
on its twisted bars, to the smooth slopes where the great trees
stood singly and the tame deer browsed along the bed of a
woodland stream. Here before us rose the gabled grey front of the
Tudor-time, developed and terraced and gardened to some later
loss, as we were afterwards to know, of type.
"Here you can wander all day," I said to Searle, "like an exiled
prince who has come back on tiptoe and hovers about the dominion
of the usurper."
"To think of 'others' having hugged this all these years!" he
answered. "I know what I am, but what might I have been? What do
such places make of a man?"
"I dare say he gets stupidly used to them," I said. "But I dare
say too, even then, that when you scratch the mere owner you find
the perfect lover."
"What a perfect scene and background it forms!" my friend,
however, had meanwhile gone on. "What legends, what histories it
knows! My heart really breaks with all I seem to guess. There's
Tennyson's Talking Oak! What summer days one could spend here!
How I could lounge the rest of my life away on this turf of the
middle ages! Haven't I some maiden-cousin in that old hall, or
grange, or court--what in the name of enchantment do you call the
thing?--who would give me kind leave?" And then he turned almost
fiercely upon me. "Why did you bring me here? Why did you drag me
into this distraction of vain regrets?"
At this moment there passed within call a decent lad who had
emerged from the gardens and who might have been an underling in
the stables. I hailed him and put the question of our possible
admittance to the house. He answered that the master was away
from home, but that he thought it probable the housekeeper would
consent to do the honours. I passed my arm into Searle's. "Come,"
I said; "drain the cup, bitter-sweet though it be. We must go
in." We hastened slowly and approached the fine front. The house
was one of the happiest fruits of its freshly-feeling era, a
multitudinous cluster of fair gables and intricate chimneys,
brave projections and quiet recesses, brown old surfaces
weathered to silver and mottled roofs that testified not to
seasons but to centuries. Two broad terraces commanded the wooded
horizon. Our appeal was answered by a butler who condescended to
our weakness. He renewed the assertion that Mr. Searle was away
from home, but he would himself lay our case before the
housekeeper. We would be so good, however, as to give him our
cards. This request, following so directly on the assertion that
Mr. Searle was absent, was rather resented by my companion.
"Surely not for the housekeeper."
The butler gave a diplomatic cough. "Miss Searle is at home,
"Yours alone will have to serve," said my friend. I took out a
card and pencil and wrote beneath my name NEW YORK. As I stood
with the pencil poised a temptation entered into it. Without in
the least considering proprieties or results I let my implement
yield--I added above my name that of Mr. Clement Searle. What
would come of it?
Before many minutes the housekeeper waited upon us--a fresh rosy
little old woman in a clean dowdy cap and a scanty sprigged gown;
a quaint careful person, but accessible to the tribute of our
pleasure, to say nothing of any other. She had the accent of the
country, but the manners of the house. Under her guidance we
passed through a dozen apartments, duly stocked with old
pictures, old tapestry, old carvings, old armour, with a hundred
ornaments and treasures. The pictures were especially valuable.
The two Vandykes, the trio of rosy Rubenses, the sole and sombre
Rembrandt, glowed with conscious authenticity. A Claude, a
Murillo, a Greuze, a couple of Gainsboroughs, hung there with
high complacency. Searle strolled about, scarcely speaking, pale
and grave, with bloodshot eyes and lips compressed. He uttered no
comment on what we saw--he asked but a question or two. Missing
him at last from my side I retraced my steps and found him in a
room we had just left, on a faded old ottoman and with his elbows
on his knees and his face buried in his hands. Before him, ranged
on a great credence, was a magnificent collection of old Italian
majolica; plates of every shape, with their glaze of happy
colour, jugs and vases nobly bellied and embossed. There seemed
to rise before me, as I looked, a sudden vision of the young
English gentleman who, eighty years ago, had travelled by slow
stages to Italy and been waited on at his inn by persuasive
toymen. "What is it, my dear man?" I asked. "Are you unwell?"
He uncovered his haggard face and showed me the flush of a
consciousness sharper, I think, to myself than to him. "A memory
of the past! There comes back to me a china vase that used to
stand on the parlour mantel-shelf when I was a boy, with a
portrait of General Jackson painted on one side and a bunch of
flowers on the other. How long do you suppose that majolica has
been in the family?"
"A long time probably. It was brought hither in the last century,
into old, old England, out of old, old Italy, by some
contemporary dandy with a taste for foreign gimcracks. Here it
has stood for a hundred years, keeping its clear firm hues in
this quiet light that has never sought to advertise it."
Searle sprang to his feet. "I say, for mercy's sake, take me
away! I can't stand this sort of thing. Before I know it I shall
do something scandalous. I shall steal some of their infernal
crockery. I shall proclaim my identity and assert my rights. I
shall go blubbering to Miss Searle and ask her in pity's name to
'put me up.'"
If he could ever have been said to threaten complications he
rather visibly did so now. I began to regret my officious
presentation of his name and prepared without delay to lead him
out of the house. We overtook the housekeeper in the last room of
the series, a small unused boudoir over whose chimney-piece hung
a portrait of a young man in a powdered wig and a brocaded
waistcoat. I was struck with his resemblance to my companion
while our guide introduced him. "This is Mr. Clement Searle, Mr.
Searle's great-uncle, by Sir Joshua Reynolds. He died young, poor
gentleman; he perished at sea, going to America."
"He was the young buck who brought the majolica out of Italy," I
"Indeed, sir, I believe he did," said the housekeeper without
"He's the image of you, my dear Searle," I further observed.
"He's remarkably like the gentleman, saving his presence," said
My friend stood staring. "Clement Searle--at sea--going to
America--?" he broke out. Then with some sharpness to our old
woman: "Why the devil did he go to America?"
"Why indeed, sir? You may well ask. I believe he had kinsfolk
there. It was for them to come to him."
Searle broke into a laugh. "It was for them to come to him! Well,
well," he said, fixing his eyes on our guide, "they've come to
him at last!"
She blushed like a wrinkled rose-leaf. "Indeed, sir, I verily
believe you're one of US!"
"My name's the name of that beautiful youth," Searle went on.
"Dear kinsman I'm happy to meet you! And what do you think of
this?" he pursued as he grasped me by the arm. "I have an idea.
He perished at sea. His spirit came ashore and wandered about in
misery till it got another incarnation--in this poor trunk!" And
he tapped his hollow chest. "Here it has rattled about these
forty years, beating its wings against its rickety cage, begging
to be taken home again. And I never knew what was the matter with
me! Now at last the bruised spirit can escape!"
Our old lady gaped at a breadth of appreciation--if not at the
disclosure of a connexion--beyond her. The scene was really
embarrassing, and my confusion increased as we became aware of
another presence. A lady had appeared in the doorway and the
housekeeper dropped just audibly: "Miss Searle!" My first
impression of Miss Searle was that she was neither young nor
beautiful. She stood without confidence on the threshold, pale,
trying to smile and twirling my card in her fingers. I
immediately bowed. Searle stared at her as if one of the pictures
had stepped out of its frame.
"If I'm not mistaken one of you gentlemen is Mr. Clement Searle,"
the lady adventured.
"My friend's Mr. Clement Searle," I took upon myself to reply.
"Allow me to add that I alone am responsible for your having
received his name."
"I should have been sorry not to--not to see him," said Miss
Searle, beginning to blush. "Your being from America has led me--
perhaps to intrude!"
"The intrusion, madam, has been on our part. And with just that
excuse--that we come from so far away."
Miss Searle, while I spoke, had fixed her eyes on my friend as he
stood silent beneath Sir Joshua's portrait. The housekeeper,
agitated and mystified, fairly let herself go. "Heaven preserve
us, Miss! It's your great-uncle's picture come to life."
"I'm not mistaken then," said Miss Searle--"we must be distantly
related." She had the air of the shyest of women, for whom it was
almost anguish to make an advance without help. Searle eyed her
with gentle wonder from head to foot, and I could easily read his
thoughts. This then was his maiden-cousin, prospective mistress
of these hereditary treasures. She was of some thirty-five years
of age, taller than was then common and perhaps stouter than is
now enjoined. She had small kind grey eyes, a considerable
quantity of very light-brown hair and a smiling well-formed
mouth. She was dressed in a lustreless black satin gown with a
short train. Disposed about her neck was a blue handkerchief, and
over this handkerchief, in many convolutions, a string of amber
beads. Her appearance was singular; she was large yet somehow
vague, mature yet undeveloped. Her manner of addressing us spoke
of all sorts of deep diffidences. Searle, I think, had prefigured
to himself some proud cold beauty of five-and-twenty; he was
relieved at finding the lady timid and not obtrusively fair. He
at once had an excellent tone.
"We're distant cousins, I believe. I'm happy to claim a
relationship which you're so good as to remember. I hadn't
counted on your knowing anything about me."
"Perhaps I've done wrong." And Miss Searle blushed and smiled
anew. "But I've always known of there being people of our blood
in America, and have often wondered and asked about them--without
ever learning much. To-day, when this card was brought me and I
understood a Clement Searle to be under our roof as a stranger, I
felt I ought to do something. But, you know, I hardly knew what.
My brother's in London. I've done what I think he would have
done. Welcome as a cousin." And with a resolution that ceased to
be awkward she put out her hand.
"I'm welcome indeed if he would have done it half so graciously!"
Again Searle, taking her hand, acquitted himself beautifully.
"You've seen what there is, I think," Miss Searle went on.
"Perhaps now you'll have luncheon." We followed her into a small
breakfast-room where a deep bay window opened on the mossy flags
of a terrace. Here, for some moments, she remained dumb and
abashed, as if resting from a measurable effort. Searle too had
ceased to overflow, so that I had to relieve the silence. It was
of course easy to descant on the beauties of park and mansion,
and as I did so I observed our hostess. She had no arts, no
impulses nor graces--scarce even any manners; she was queerly,
almost frowsily dressed; yet she pleased me well. She had an
antique sweetness, a homely fragrance of old traditions. To be so
simple, among those complicated treasures, so pampered and yet so
fresh, so modest and yet so placid, told of just the spacious
leisure in which Searle and I had imagined human life to be
steeped in such places as that. This figure was to the Sleeping
Beauty in the Wood what a fact is to a fairy-tale, an
interpretation to a myth. We, on our side, were to our hostess
subjects of a curiosity not cunningly veiled.
"I should like so to go abroad!" she exclaimed suddenly, as if
she meant us to take the speech for an expression of interest in
"Have you never been?" one of us asked.
"Only once. Three years ago my brother took me to Switzerland. We
thought it extremely beautiful. Except for that journey I've
always lived here. I was born in this house. It's a dear old
place indeed, and I know it well. Sometimes one wants a change."
And on my asking her how she spent her time and what society she
saw, "Of course it's very quiet," she went on, proceeding by
short steps and simple statements, in the manner of a person
called upon for the first time to analyse to that extent her
situation. "We see very few people. I don't think there are many
nice ones hereabouts. At least we don't know them. Our own
family's very small. My brother cares for nothing but riding and
books. He had a great sorrow ten years ago. He lost his wife and
his only son, a dear little boy, who of course would have had
everything. Do you know that that makes me the heir, as they've
done something--I don't quite know what--to the entail? Poor old
me! Since his loss my brother has preferred to be quite alone.
I'm sorry he's away. But you must wait till he comes back. I
expect him in a day or two." She talked more and more, as if our
very strangeness led her on, about her circumstances, her
solitude, her bad eyes, so that she couldn't read, her flowers,
her ferns, her dogs, and the vicar, recently presented to the
living by her brother and warranted quite safe, who had lately
begun to light his altar candles; pausing every now and then to
gasp in self-surprise, yet, in the quaintest way in the world,
keeping up her story as if it were a slow rather awkward old-time
dance, a difficult pas seul in which she would have been better
with more practice, but of which she must complete the figure. Of
all the old things I had seen in England this exhibited mind of
Miss Searle's seemed to me the oldest, the most handed down and
taken for granted; fenced and protected as it was by convention
and precedent and usage, thoroughly acquainted with its
subordinate place. I felt as if I were talking with the heroine
of a last-century novel. As she talked she rested her dull eyes
on her kinsman with wondering kindness. At last she put it to
him: "Did you mean to go away without asking for us?"
"I had thought it over, Miss Searle, and had determined not to
trouble you. You've shown me how unfriendly I should have been."
"But you knew of the place being ours, and of our relationship?"
"Just so. It was because of these things that I came down here--
because of them almost that I came to England. I've always liked
to think of them," said my companion.
"You merely wished to look then? We don't pretend to be much to
He waited; her words were too strange. "You don't know what you
are, Miss Searle."
"You like the old place then?"
Searle looked at her again in silence. "If I could only tell
you!" he said at last.
"Do tell me. You must come and stay with us."
It moved him to an oddity of mirth. "Take care, take care--I
should surprise you! I'm afraid I should bore you. I should never
"Oh you'd get homesick--for your real home!"
At this he was still more amused. "By the way, tell Miss Searle
about our real home," he said to me. And he stepped, through the
window, out upon the terrace, followed by two beautiful dogs, a
setter and a young stag-hound who from the moment we came in had
established the fondest relation with him. Miss Searle looked at
him, while he went, as if she vaguely yearned over him; it began
to be plain that she was interested in her exotic cousin. I
suddenly recalled the last words I had heard spoken by my
friend's adviser in London and which, in a very crude form, had
reference to his making a match with this lady. If only Miss
Searle could be induced to think of that, and if one had but the
tact to put it in a light to her! Something assured me that her
heart was virgin-soil, that the flower of romantic affection had
never bloomed there. If I might just sow the seed! There seemed
to shape itself within her the perfect image of one of the
patient wives of old.
"He has lost his heart to England," I said. "He ought to have
been born here."
"And yet he doesn't look in the least an Englishman," she still
rather guardedly prosed.
"Oh it isn't his looks, poor fellow."
"Of course looks aren't everything. I never talked with a
foreigner before; but he talks as I have fancied foreigners."
"Yes, he's foreign enough."
"Is he married?"
"His wife's dead and he's all alone in the world."
"Has he much property?"
"None to speak of."
"But he has means to travel."
I meditated. "He has not expected to travel far," I said at last.
"You know, he's in very poor health."
"Poor gentleman! So I supposed."
"But there's more of him to go on with than he thinks. He came
here because he wanted to see your place before he dies."
"Dear me--kind man!" And I imagined in the quiet eyes the hint of
a possible tear. "And he was going away without my seeing him?"
"He's very modest, you see."
"He's very much the gentleman."
I couldn't but smile. "He's ALL--"
At this moment we heard on the terrace a loud harsh cry. "It's
the great peacock!" said Miss Searle, stepping to the window and
passing out while I followed her. Below us, leaning on the
parapet, stood our appreciative friend with his arm round the
neck of the setter. Before him on the grand walk strutted the
familiar fowl of gardens--a splendid specimen--with ruffled neck
and expanded tail. The other dog had apparently indulged in a
momentary attempt to abash the gorgeous biped, but at Searle's
summons had bounded back to the terrace and leaped upon the
ledge, where he now stood licking his new friend's face. The
scene had a beautiful old-time air: the peacock flaunting in the
foreground like the genius of stately places; the broad terrace,
which flattered an innate taste of mine for all deserted walks
where people may have sat after heavy dinners to drink coffee in
old Sevres and where the stiff brocade of women's dresses may
have rustled over grass or gravel; and far around us, with one
leafy circle melting into another, the timbered acres of the
park. "The very beasts have made him welcome," I noted as we
rejoined our companion.
"The peacock has done for you, Mr. Searle," said his cousin,
"what he does only for very great people. A year ago there came
here a great person--a grand old lady--to see my brother. I don't
think that since then he has spread his tail as wide for any one
else--not by a dozen feathers."
"It's not alone the peacock," said Searle. "Just now there came
slipping across my path a little green lizard, the first I ever
saw, the lizard of literature! And if you've a ghost, broad
daylight though it be, I expect to see him here. Do you know the
annals of your house, Miss Searle?"
"Oh dear, no! You must ask my brother for all those things."
"You ought to have a collection of legends and traditions. You
ought to have loves and murders and mysteries by the roomful. I
shall be ashamed of you if you haven't."
"Oh Mr. Searle! We've always been a very well-behaved family,"
she quite seriously pleaded. "Nothing out of the way has ever
happened, I think."
"Nothing out of the way? Oh that won't do! We've managed better
than that in America. Why I myself!"--and he looked at her
ruefully enough, but enjoying too his idea that he might embody
the social scandal or point to the darkest drama of the Searles.
"Suppose I should turn out a better Searle than you--better than
you nursed here in romance and extravagance? Come, don't
disappoint me. You've some history among you all, you've some
poetry, you've some accumulation of legend. I've been famished
all my days for these things. Don't you understand? Ah you can't
understand! Tell me," he rambled on, "something tremendous. When
I think of what must have happened here; of the lovers who must
have strolled on this terrace and wandered under the beeches, of
all the figures and passions and purposes that must have haunted
these walls! When I think of the births and deaths, the joys and
sufferings, the young hopes and the old regrets, the rich
experience of life--!" He faltered a moment with the increase of
his agitation. His humour of dismay at a threat of the
commonplace in the history he felt about him had turned to a
deeper reaction. I began to fear however that he was really
losing his head. He went on with a wilder play. "To see it all
called up there before me, if the Devil alone could do it I'd
make a bargain with the Devil! Ah Miss Searle," he cried, "I'm a
most unhappy man!"
"Oh dear, oh dear!" she almost wailed while I turned half away.
"Look at that window, that dear little window!" I turned back to
see him point to a small protruding oriel, above us, relieved
against the purple brickwork, framed in chiselled stone and
curtained with ivy.
"It's my little room," she said.
"Of course it's a woman's room. Think of all the dear faces--all
of them so mild and yet so proud--that have looked out of that
lattice, and of all the old-time women's lives whose principal
view of the world has been this quiet park! Every one of them was
a cousin of mine. And you, dear lady, you're one of them yet."
With which he marched toward her and took her large white hand.
She surrendered it, blushing to her eyes and pressing her other
hand to her breast. "You're a woman of the past. You're nobly
simple. It has been a romance to see you. It doesn't matter what
I say to you. You didn't know me yesterday, you'll not know me
to-morrow. Let me to-day do a mad sweet thing. Let me imagine in
you the spirit of all the dead women who have trod the terrace-
flags that lie here like sepulchral tablets in the pavement of a
church. Let me say I delight in you!"--he raised her hand to his
lips. She gently withdrew it and for a moment averted her face.
Meeting her eyes the next instant I saw the tears had come. The
Sleeping Beauty was awake.
There followed an embarrassed pause. An issue was suddenly
presented by the appearance of the butler bearing a letter. "A
telegram, Miss," he announced.
"Oh what shall I do?" cried Miss Searle. "I can't open a
telegram. Cousin, help me."
Searle took the missive, opened it and read aloud: "I shall be
home to dinner. Keep the American."
"KEEP the American!" Miss Searle, in compliance with the
injunction conveyed in her brother's telegram (with something
certainly of telegraphic curtness), lost no time in expressing
the pleasure it would give her that our friend should remain.
"Really you must," she said; and forthwith repaired to the house-
keeper to give orders for the preparation of a room.
"But how in the world did he know of my being here?" my companion
put to me.
I answered that he had probably heard from his solicitor of the
other's visit. "Mr. Simmons and that gentleman must have had
another interview since your arrival in England. Simmons, for
reasons of his own, has made known to him your journey to this
neighbourhood, and Mr. Searle, learning this, has immediately
taken for granted that you've formally presented yourself to his
sister. He's hospitably inclined and wishes her to do the proper
thing by you. There may even," I went on, "be more in it than
that. I've my little theory that he's the very phoenix of
usurpers, that he has been very much struck with what the experts
have had to say for you, and that he wishes to have the
originality of making over to you your share--so limited after
all--of the estate."
"I give it up!" my friend mused. "Come what come will!"
"You, of course," said Miss Searle, reappearing and turning to
me, "are included in my brother's invitation. I've told them to
see about a room for you. Your luggage shall immediately be sent
It was arranged that I in person should be driven over to our
little inn and that I should return with our effects in time to
meet Mr. Searle at dinner. On my arrival several hours later I
was immediately conducted to my room. The servant pointed out to
me that it communicated by a door and a private passage with that
of my fellow visitor. I made my way along this passage--a low
narrow corridor with a broad latticed casement through which
there streamed upon a series of grotesquely sculptured oaken
closets and cupboards the vivid animating glow of the western sun
--knocked at his door and, getting no answer, opened it. In an
armchair by the open window sat my friend asleep, his arms and
legs relaxed and head dropped on his breast. It was a great
relief to see him rest thus from his rhapsodies, and I watched
him for some moments before waking him. There was a faint glow of
colour in his cheek and a light expressive parting of his lips,
something nearer to ease and peace than I had yet seen in him. It
was almost happiness, it was almost health. I laid my hand on his
arm and gently shook it. He opened his eyes, gazed at me a
moment, vaguely recognised me, then closed them again. "Let me
dream, let me dream!"
"What are you dreaming about?"
A moment passed before his answer came. "About a tall woman in a
quaint black dress, with yellow hair and a sweet, sweet smile,
and a soft low delicious voice! I'm in love with her."
"It's better to see her than to dream about her," I said. "Get up
and dress; then we'll go down to dinner and meet her."
"Dinner--dinner--?" And he gradually opened his eyes again. "Yes,
upon my word I shall dine!"
"Oh you're all right!" I declared for the twentieth time as he
rose to his feet. "You'll live to bury Mr. Simmons." He told me
he had spent the hours of my absence with Miss Searle--they had
strolled together half over the place. "You must be very
intimate," I smiled.
"She's intimate with ME. Goodness knows what rigmarole I've
treated her to!" They had parted an hour ago; since when, he
believed, her brother had arrived.
The slow-fading twilight was still in the great drawing-room when
we came down. The housekeeper had told us this apartment was
rarely used, there being others, smaller and more convenient, for
the same needs. It seemed now, however, to be occupied in my
comrade's honour. At the furthest end, rising to the roof like a
royal tomb in a cathedral, was a great chimney-piece of chiselled
white marble, yellowed by time, in which a light fire was
crackling. Before the fire stood a small short man, with his
hands behind him; near him was Miss Searle, so transformed by her
dress that at first I scarcely knew her. There was in our
entrance and reception something remarkably chilling and solemn.
We moved in silence up the long room; Mr. Searle advanced slowly,
a dozen steps, to meet us; his sister stood motionless. I was
conscious of her masking her visage with a large white tinselled
fan, and that her eyes, grave and enlarged, watched us intently
over the top of it. The master of Lackley grasped in silence the
proffered hand of his kinsman and eyed him from head to foot,
suppressing, I noted, a start of surprise at his resemblance to
Sir Joshua's portrait. "This is a happy day." And then turning to
me with an odd little sharp stare: "My cousin's friend is my
friend." Miss Searle lowered her fan.
The first thing that struck me in Mr. Searle's appearance was his
very limited stature, which was less by half a head than that of
his sister. The second was the preternatural redness of his hair
and beard. They intermingled over his ears and surrounded his
head like a huge lurid nimbus. His face was pale and attenuated,
the face of a scholar, a dilettante, a comparer of points and
texts, a man who lives in a library bending over books and prints
and medals. At a distance it might have passed for smooth and
rather blankly composed; but on a nearer view it revealed a
number of wrinkles, sharply etched and scratched, of a singularly
aged and refined effect. It was the complexion of a man of sixty.
His nose was arched and delicate, identical almost with the nose
of my friend. His eyes, large and deep-set, had a kind of auburn
glow, the suggestion of a keen metal red-hot--or, more plainly,
were full of temper and spirit. Imagine this physiognomy--grave
and solemn, grotesquely solemn, in spite of the bushy brightness
which made a sort of frame for it--set in motion by a queer,
quick, defiant, perfunctory, preoccupied smile, and you will have
an imperfect notion of the remarkable presence of our host;
something better worth seeing and knowing, I perceived as I quite
breathlessly took him in, than anything we had yet encountered.
How thoroughly I had entered into sympathy with my poor picked-up
friend, and how effectually I had associated my sensibilities
with his own, I had not suspected till, within the short five
minutes before the signal for dinner, I became aware, without his
giving me the least hint, of his placing himself on the
defensive. To neither of us was Mr. Searle sympathetic. I might
have guessed from her attitude that his sister entered into our
thoughts. A marked change had been wrought in her since the
morning; during the hour, indeed--as I read in the light of the
wondering glance he cast at her--that had elapsed since her
parting with her cousin. She had not yet recovered from some
great agitation. Her face was pale and she had clearly been
crying. These notes of trouble gave her a new and quite perverse
dignity, which was further enhanced by something complimentary
and commemorative in her dress.
Whether it was taste or whether it was accident I know not; but
the amiable creature, as she stood there half in the cool
twilight, half in the arrested glow of the fire as it spent
itself in the vastness of its marble cave, was a figure for a
painter. She was habited in some faded splendour of sea-green
crape and silk, a piece of millinery which, though it must have
witnessed a number of dull dinners, preserved still a festive
air. Over her white shoulders she wore an ancient web of the most
precious and venerable lace and about her rounded throat a single
series of large pearls. I went in with her to dinner, and Mr.
Searle, following with my friend, took his arm, as the latter
afterwards told me, and pretended jocosely to conduct him. As
dinner proceeded the feeling grew within me that a drama had
begun to be played in which the three persons before me were
actors--each of a really arduous part. The character allotted to
my friend, however, was certainly the least easy to represent
with effect, though I overflowed with the desire that he should
acquit himself to his honour. I seemed to see him urge his faded
faculties to take their cue and perform. The poor fellow tried to
do himself credit more seriously than ever in his old best days.
With Miss Searle, credulous passive and pitying, he had finally
flung aside all vanity and propriety and shown the bottom of his
fantastic heart. But with our host there might be no talking of
nonsense nor taking of liberties; there and then, if ever, sat a
consummate conservative, breathing the fumes of hereditary
privilege and security. For an hour, accordingly, I saw my poor
protege attempt, all in pain, to meet a new decorum. He set
himself the task of appearing very American, in order that his
appreciation of everything Mr. Searle represented might seem
purely disinterested. What his kinsman had expected him to be I
know not; but I made Mr. Searle out as annoyed, in spite of his
exaggerated urbanity, at finding him so harmless. Our host was
not the man to show his hand, but I think his best card had been
a certain implicit confidence that so provincial a parasite would
hardly have good manners.
He led the conversation to the country we had left; rather as if
a leash had been attached to the collar of some lumpish and half-
domesticated animal the tendency of whose movements had to be
recognised. He spoke of it indeed as of some fabled planet, alien
to the British orbit, lately proclaimed to have the admixture of
atmospheric gases required to support animal life, but not, save
under cover of a liberal afterthought, to be admitted into one's
regular conception of things. I, for my part, felt nothing but
regret that the spheric smoothness of his universe should be
disfigured by the extrusion even of such inconsiderable particles
"I knew in a general way of our having somehow ramified over
there," Mr. Searle mentioned; "but had scarcely followed it more
than you pretend to pick up the fruit your long-armed pear tree
may drop, on the other side of your wall, in your neighbour's
garden. There was a man I knew at Cambridge, a very odd fellow, a
decent fellow too; he and I were rather cronies; I think he
afterwards went to the Middle States. They'll be, I suppose,
about the Mississippi? At all events, there was that great-uncle
of mine whom Sir Joshua painted. He went to America, but he never
got there. He was lost at sea. You look enough like him to make
one fancy he DID get there and that you've kept him alive by one
of those beastly processes--I think you have 'em over there: what
do you call it, 'putting up' things? If you're he you've not done
a wise thing to show yourself here. He left a bad name behind
him. There's a ghost who comes sobbing about the house every
now and then, the ghost of one to whom he did a wrong."
"Oh mercy ON us!" cried Miss Searle in simple horror.
"Of course YOU know nothing of such things," he rather dryly
allowed. "You're too sound a sleeper to hear the sobbing of
"I'm sure I should like immensely to hear the sobbing of a
ghost," said my friend, the light of his previous eagerness
playing up into his eyes. "Why does it sob? I feel as if that
were what we've come above all to learn."
Mr. Searle eyed his audience a moment gaugingly; he held the
balance as to measure his resources. He wished to do justice to
his theme. With the long finger-nails of his left hand nervously
playing against the tinkling crystal of his wineglass and his
conscious eyes betraying that, small and strange as he sat there,
he knew himself, to his pleasure and advantage, remarkably
impressive, he dropped into our untutored minds the sombre legend
of his house. "Mr. Clement Searle, from all I gather, was a young
man of great talents but a weak disposition. His mother was left
a widow early in life, with two sons, of whom he was the elder
and the more promising. She educated him with the greatest
affection and care. Of course when he came to manhood she wished
him to marry well. His means were quite sufficient to enable him
to overlook the want of money in his wife; and Mrs. Searle
selected a young lady who possessed, as she conceived, every good
gift save a fortune--a fine proud handsome girl, the daughter of
an old friend, an old lover I suspect, of her own. Clement,
however, as it appeared, had either chosen otherwise or was as
yet unprepared to choose. The young lady opened upon him in vain
the battery of her attractions; in vain his mother urged her
cause. Clement remained cold, insensible, inflexible. Mrs. Searle
had a character which appears to have gone out of fashion in my
family nowadays; she was a great manager, a maitresse-femme. A
proud passionate imperious woman, she had had immense cares and
ever so many law-suits; they had sharpened her temper and her
will. She suspected that her son's affections had another object,
and this object she began to hate. Irritated by his stubborn
defiance of her wishes she persisted in her purpose. The more she
watched him the more she was convinced he loved in secret. If he
loved in secret of course he loved beneath him. He went about the
place all sombre and sullen and brooding. At last, with the
rashness of an angry woman, she threatened to bring the young
lady of her choice--who, by the way, seems to have been no
shrinking blossom--to stay in the house. A stormy scene was the
result. He threatened that if she did so he would leave the
country and sail for America. She probably disbelieved him; she
knew him to be weak, but she overrated his weakness. At all
events the rejected one arrived and Clement Searle departed. On a
dark December day he took ship at Southampton. The two women,
desperate with rage and sorrow, sat alone in this big house,
mingling their tears and imprecations. A fortnight later, on
Christmas Eve, in the midst of a great snowstorm long famous in
the country, something happened that quickened their bitterness.
A young woman, battered and chilled by the storm, gained entrance
to the house and, making her way into the presence of the
mistress and her guest, poured out her tale. She was a poor
curate's daughter out of some little hole in Gloucestershire.
Clement Searle had loved her--loved her all too well! She had
been turned out in wrath from her father's house; his mother at
least might pity her--if not for herself then for the child she
was soon to bring forth. Hut the poor girl had been a second time
too trustful. The women, in scorn, in horror, with blows
possibly, drove her forth again into the storm. In the storm she
wandered and in the deep snow she died. Her lover, as you know,
perished in that hard winter weather at sea; the news came to his
mother late, but soon enough. We're haunted by the curate's
Mr. Searle retailed this anecdote with infinite taste and point,
the happiest art; when he ceased there was a pause of some
moments. "Ah well we may be!" Miss Searle then mournfully
Searle blazed up into enthusiasm. "Of course, you know"--with
which he began to blush violently--"I should be sorry to claim
any identity with the poor devil my faithless namesake. But I
should be immensely gratified if the young lady's spirit,
deceived by my resemblance, were to mistake me for her cruel
lover. She's welcome to the comfort of it. What one can do in the
case I shall be glad to do. But can a ghost haunt a ghost? I AM a
Mr. Searle stared a moment and then had a subtle sneer. "I could
almost believe you are!"
"Oh brother--and cousin!" cried Miss Searle with the gentlest yet
most appealing dignity. "How can you talk so horribly?"
The horrible talk, however, evidently possessed a potent magic
for my friend; and his imagination, checked a while by the
influence of his kinsman, began again to lead him a dance. From
this moment he ceased to steer his frail bark, to care what he
said or how he said it, so long as he expressed his passionate
appreciation of the scene around him. As he kept up this strain I
ceased even secretly to wish he wouldn't. I have wondered since
that I shouldn't have been annoyed by the way he reverted
constantly to himself. But a great frankness, for the time, makes
its own law and a great passion its own channel. There was
moreover an irresponsible indescribable effect of beauty in
everything his lips uttered. Free alike from adulation and from
envy, the essence of his discourse was a divine apprehension, a
romantic vision free as the flight of Ariel, of the poetry of his
companions' situation and their contrasted general
"How does the look of age come?" he suddenly broke out at
dessert. "Does it come of itself, unobserved, unrecorded,
unmeasured? Or do you woo it and set baits and traps for it, and
watch it like the dawning brownness of a meerschaum pipe, and
make it fast, when it appears, just where it peeps out, and light
a votive taper beneath it and give thanks to it daily? Or do you
forbid it and fight it and resist it, and yet feel it settling
and deepening about you as irresistible as fate?"
"What the deuce is the man talking about?" said the smile of our
"I found a little grey hair this morning," Miss Searle
"Well then I hope you paid it every respect!" cried her visitor.
"I looked at it for a long time in my hand-glass," she answered
with more presence of mind.
"Miss Searle can for many years to come afford to be amused at
grey hairs," I interposed in the hope of some greater ease.
It had its effect. "Ten years from last Thursday I shall be
forty-four," she almost comfortably smiled.
"Well, that's just what I am," said Searle. "If I had only come
here ten years ago! I should have had more time to enjoy the
feast, but I should have had less appetite. I needed first to get
"Oh why did you wait for that?" his entertainer asked. "To think
of these ten years that we might have been enjoying you!" At the
vision of which waste and loss Mr. Searle had a fine shrill
"Well," my friend explained, "I always had a notion--a stupid
vulgar notion if there ever was one--that to come abroad properly
one had to have a pot of money. My pot was too nearly empty. At
last I came with my empty pot!"
Mr. Searle had a wait for delicacy, but he proceeded. "You're
Our companion's very breath blew away the veil. "Reduced to
nothing. Straitened to the clothes on my back!"
"You don't say so!" said Mr. Searle with a large vague gasp.
"Well--well--well!" he added in a voice which might have meant
everything or nothing; and then, in his whimsical way, went on to
finish a glass of wine. His searching eye, as he drank, met mine,
and for a moment we each rather deeply sounded the other, to the
effect no doubt of a slight embarrassment. "And you," he said by
way of carrying this off--"how about YOUR wardrobe?"
"Oh his!" cried my friend; "his wardrobe's immense. He could
dress up a regiment!" He had drunk more champagne--I admit that
the champagne was good--than was from any point of view to have
been desired. He was rapidly drifting beyond any tacit dissuasion
of mine. He was feverish and rash, and all attempt to direct
would now simply irritate him. As we rose from the table he
caught my troubled look. Passing his arm for a moment into mine,
"This is the great night!" he strangely and softly said; "the
night and the crisis that will settle me."
Mr. Searle had caused the whole lower portion of the house to be
thrown open and a multitude of lights to be placed in convenient
and effective positions. Such a marshalled wealth of ancient
candlesticks and flambeaux I had never beheld. Niched against the
dusky wainscots, casting great luminous circles upon the pendent
stiffness of sombre tapestries, enhancing and completing with
admirable effect the variety and mystery of the great ancient
house, they seemed to people the wide rooms, as our little group
passed slowly from one to another, with a dim expectant presence.
We had thus, in spite of everything, a wonderful hour of it. Mr.
Searle at once assumed the part of cicerone, and--I had not
hitherto done him justice--Mr. Searle became almost agreeable.
While I lingered behind with his sister he walked in advance with
his kinsman. It was as if he had said: "Well, if you want the old
place you shall have it--so far as the impression goes!" He
spared us no thrill--I had almost said no pang--of that
experience. Carrying a tall silver candlestick in his left hand,
he raised it and lowered it and cast the light hither and
thither, upon pictures and hangings and carvings and cornices. He
knew his house to perfection. He touched upon a hundred
traditions and memories, he threw off a cloud of rich reference
to its earlier occupants. He threw off again, in his easy elegant
way, a dozen--happily lighter--anecdotes. His relative attended
with a brooding deference. Miss Searle and I meanwhile were not
"I suppose that by this time you and your cousin are almost old
friends," I remarked.
She trifled a moment with her fan and then raised her kind small
eyes. "Old friends--yet at the same time strangely new! My
cousin, my cousin"--and her voice lingered on the word--"it seems
so strange to call him my cousin after thinking these many years
that I've no one in the world but my brother. But he's really so
"It's not so much he as--well, as his situation, that deserves
that name," I tried to reason.
"I'm so sorry for his situation. I wish I could help it in some
way. He interests me so much." She gave a sweet-sounding sigh. "I
wish I could have known him sooner--and better. He tells me he's
but the shadow of what he used to be."
I wondered if he had been consciously practising on the
sensibilities of this gentle creature. If he had I believed he
had gained his point. But his position had in fact become to my
sense so precarious that I hardly ventured to be glad. "His
better self just now seems again to be taking shape," I said.
"It will have been a good deed on your part if you help to
restore him to all he ought to be."
She met my idea blankly. "Dear me, what can I do?"
"Be a friend to him. Let him like you, let him love you. I dare
say you see in him now much to pity and to wonder at. But let him
simply enjoy a while the grateful sense of your nearness and
dearness. He'll be a better and stronger man for it, and then you
can love him, you can esteem him, without restriction."
She fairly frowned for helplessness. "It's a hard part for poor
stupid me to play!"
Her almost infantine innocence left me no choice but to be
absolutely frank. "Did you ever play any part at all?"
She blushed as if I had been reproaching her with her
insignificance. "Never! I think I've hardly lived."
"You've begun to live now perhaps. You've begun to care for
something else than your old-fashioned habits. Pardon me if I
seem rather meddlesome; you know we Americans are very rough and
ready. It's a great moment. I wish you joy!"
"I could almost believe you're laughing at me. I feel more
trouble than joy."
"Why do you feel trouble?"
She paused with her eyes fixed on our companions. "My cousin's
arrival's a great disturbance," she said at last.
"You mean you did wrong in coming to meet him? In that case the
fault's mine. He had no intention of giving you the opportunity."
"I certainly took too much on myself. But I can't find it in my
heart to regret it. I never shall regret it! I did the only thing
I COULD, heaven forgive me!"
"Heaven bless you, Miss Searle! Is any harm to come of it? I did
the evil; let me bear the brunt!"
She shook her head gravely. "You don't know my brother!"
"The sooner I master the subject the better then," I said. I
couldn't help relieving myself--at least by the tone of my voice
--of the antipathy with which, decidedly, this gentleman had
inspired me. "Not perhaps that we should get on so well
together!" After which, as she turned away, "Are you VERY much
afraid of him?" I added.
She gave me a shuddering sidelong glance. "He's looking at me!"
He was placed with his back to us, holding a large Venetian hand-
mirror, framed in chiselled silver, which he had taken from a
shelf of antiquities, just at such an angle that he caught the
reflexion of his sister's person. It was evident that I too was
under his attention, and was resolved I wouldn't be suspected
for nothing. "Miss Searle," I said with urgency, "promise me
She turned upon me with a start and a look that seemed to beg me
to spare her. "Oh don't ask me--please don't!" It was as if she
were standing on the edge of a place where the ground had
suddenly fallen away, and had been called upon to make a leap. I
felt retreat was impossible, however, and that it was the greater
kindness to assist her to jump.
"Promise me," I repeated.
Still with her eyes she protested. "Oh what a dreadful day!" she
cried at last.
"Promise me to let him speak to you alone if he should ask you--
any wish you may suspect on your brother's part notwithstanding."
She coloured deeply. "You mean he has something so particular to
"Something so particular!"
"Well, poor cousin! But promise me."
"I promise," she said, and moved away across the long room and
out of the door.
"You're in time to hear the most delightful story," Searle began
to me as I rejoined him and his host. They were standing before
an old sombre portrait of a lady in the dress of Queen Anne's
time, whose ill-painted flesh-tints showed livid, in the candle-
light, against her dark drapery and background. "This is Mrs.
Margaret Searle--a sort of Beatrix Esmond--qui se passait ses
fantaisies. She married a paltry Frenchman, a penniless fiddler,
in the teeth of her whole family. Pretty Mrs. Margaret, you must
have been a woman of courage! Upon my word, she looks like Miss
Searle! But pray go on. What came of it all?"
Our companion watched him with an air of distaste for his
boisterous homage and of pity for his crude imagination. But he
took up the tale with an effective dryness: "I found a year ago,
in a box of very old papers, a letter from the lady in question
to a certain Cynthia Searle, her elder sister. It was dated from
Paris and dreadfully ill-spelled. It contained a most passionate
appeal for pecuniary assistance. She had just had a baby, she was
starving and dreadfully neglected by her husband--she cursed the
day she had left England. It was a most dismal production. I
never heard she found means to return."
"So much for marrying a Frenchman!" I said sententiously.
Our host had one of his waits. "This is the only lady of the
family who ever was taken in by an adventurer."
"Does Miss Searle know her history?" asked my friend with a stare
at the rounded whiteness of the heroine's cheek.
"Miss Searle knows nothing!" said our host with expression.
"She shall know at least the tale of Mrs. Margaret," their guest
returned; and he walked rapidly away in search of her.
Mr. Searle and I pursued our march through the lighted rooms.
"You've found a cousin with a vengeance," I doubtless awkwardly
"Ah a vengeance?" my entertainer stiffly repeated.
"I mean that he takes as keen an interest in your annals and
possessions as yourself."
"Oh exactly so! He tells me he's a bad invalid," he added in a
moment. "I should never have supposed it."
"Within the past few hours he's a changed man. Your beautiful
house, your extreme kindness, have refreshed him immensely."
Mr. Searle uttered the vague ejaculation with which self-
conscious Britons so often betray the concussion of any especial
courtesy of speech. But he followed this by a sudden odd glare
and the sharp declaration: "I'm an honest man!" I was quite
prepared to assent; but he went on with a fury of frankness, as
if it were the first time in his life he had opened himself to
any one, as if the process were highly disagreeable and he were
hurrying through it as a task. "An honest man, mind you! I know
nothing about Mr. Clement Searle! I never expected to see him. He
has been to me a--a--!" And here he paused to select a word which
should vividly enough express what, for good or for ill, his
kinsman represented. "He has been to me an Amazement! I've no
doubt he's a most amiable man. You'll not deny, however, that
he's a very extraordinary sort of person. I'm sorry he's ill. I'm
sorry he's poor. He's my fiftieth cousin. Well and good. I'm an
honest man. He shall not have it to say that he wasn't received
at my house."
"He too, thank heaven, is an honest man!" I smiled.
"Why the devil then," cried Mr. Searle, turning almost fiercely
on me, "has he put forward this underhand claim to my property?"
The question, quite ringing out, flashed backward a gleam of
light upon the demeanour of our host and the suppressed agitation
of his sister. In an instant the jealous gentleman revealed
itself. For a moment I was so surprised and scandalised at the
directness of his attack that I lacked words to reply. As soon as
he had spoken indeed Mr. Searle appeared to feel he had been
wanting in form. "Pardon me," he began afresh, "if I speak of
this matter with heat. But I've been more disgusted than I can
say to hear, as I heard this morning from my solicitor, of the
extraordinary proceedings of Mr. Clement Searle. Gracious
goodness, sir, for what does the man take me? He pretends to the
Lord knows what fantastic admiration for my place. Let him then
show his respect for it by not taking too many liberties! Let
him, with his high-flown parade of loyalty, imagine a tithe of
what _I_ feel! I love my estate; it's my passion, my conscience,
my life! Am I to divide it up at this time of day with a beggarly
foreigner--a man without means, without appearance, without
proof, a pretender, an adventurer, a chattering mountebank? I
thought America boasted having lands for all men! Upon my soul,
sir, I've never been so shocked in my life."
I paused for some moments before speaking, to allow his passion
fully to expend itself and to flicker up again if it chose; for
so far as I was concerned in the whole awkward matter I but
wanted to deal with him discreetly. "Your apprehensions, sir," I
said at last, "your not unnatural surprise, perhaps, at the
candour of our interest, have acted too much on your nerves.
You're attacking a man of straw, a creature of unworthy illusion;
though I'm sadly afraid you've wounded a man of spirit and
conscience. Either my friend has no valid claim on your estate,
in which case your agitation is superfluous; or he HAS a valid
Mr. Searle seized my arm and glared at me; his pale face paler
still with the horror of my suggestion, his great eyes of alarm
glowing and his strange red hair erect and quivering. "A valid
claim!" he shouted. "Let him try it--let him bring it into
We had emerged into the great hall and stood facing the main
doorway. The door was open into the portico, through the stone
archway of which I saw the garden glitter in the blue light of a
full moon. As the master of the house uttered the words I have
just repeated my companion came slowly up into the porch from
without, bareheaded, bright in the outer moonlight, dark in the
shadow of the archway, and bright again in the lamplight at the
entrance of the hall. As he crossed the threshold the butler made
an appearance at the head of the staircase on our left, faltering
visibly a moment at sight of Mr. Searle; after which, noting my
friend, he gravely descended. He bore in his hand a small silver
tray. On the tray, gleaming in the light of the suspended lamp,
lay a folded note. Clement Searle came forward, staring a little
and startled, I think, by some quick nervous prevision of a
catastrophe. The butler applied the match to the train. He
advanced to my fellow visitor, all solemnly, with the offer of
his missive. Mr. Searle made a movement as if to spring forward,
but controlled himself. "Tottenham!" he called in a strident
"Yes, sir!" said Tottenham, halting.
"Stand where you are. For whom is that note?"
"For Mr. Clement Searle," said the butler, staring straight
before him and dissociating himself from everything.
"Who gave it to you?"
"Mrs. Horridge, sir." This personage, I afterwards learned, was
our friend the housekeeper.
"Who gave it Mrs. Horridge?"
There was on Tottenham's part just an infinitesimal pause before
"My dear sir," broke in Searle, his equilibrium, his ancient
ease, completely restored by the crisis, "isn't that rather my
"What happens in my house is my business, and detestable things
seem to be happening." Our host, it was clear, now so furiously
detested them that I was afraid he would snatch the bone of
contention without more ceremony. "Bring me that thing!" he
cried; on which Tottenham stiffly moved to obey.
"Really this is too much!" broke out my companion, affronted and
So indeed it struck me, and before Mr. Searle had time to take
the note I possessed myself of it. "If you've no consideration
for your sister let a stranger at least act for her." And I tore
the disputed object into a dozen pieces.
"In the name of decency, what does this horrid business mean?" my
Mr. Searle was about to open fire on him, but at that moment our
hostess appeared on the staircase, summoned evidently by our
high-pitched contentious voices. She had exchanged her dinner-
dress for a dark wrapper, removed her ornaments and begun to
disarrange her hair, a thick tress of which escaped from the
comb. She hurried down with a pale questioning face. Feeling
distinctly that, for ourselves, immediate departure was in the
air, and divining Mr. Tottenham to be a person of a few deep-
seated instincts and of much latent energy, I seized the
opportunity to request him, sotto voce, to send a carriage to the
door without delay. "And put up our things," I added.
Our host rushed at his sister and grabbed the white wrist that
escaped from the loose sleeve of her dress. "What was in that
note?" he quite hissed at her.
Miss Searle looked first at its scattered fragments and then at
her cousin. "Did you read it?"
"No, but I thank you for it!" said Searle.
Her eyes, for an instant, communicated with his own as I think
they had never, never communicated with any other source of
meaning; then she transferred them to her brother's face, where
the sense went out of them, only to leave a dull sad patience.
But there was something even in this flat humility that seemed to
him to mock him, so that he flushed crimson with rage and spite
and flung her away. "You always were an idiot! Go to bed."
In poor Searle's face as well the gathered serenity had been by
this time all blighted and distorted and the reflected brightness
of his happy day turned to blank confusion. "Have I been dealing
these three hours with a madman?" he woefully cried.
"A madman, yes, if you will! A man mad with the love of his home
and the sense of its stability. I've held my tongue till now, but
you've been too much for me. Who the devil are you, and what and
why and whence?" the terrible little man continued. "From what
paradise of fools do you come that you fancy I shall make over to
you, for the asking, a part of my property and my life? I'm
forsooth, you ridiculous person, to go shares with you? Prove
your preposterous claim! There isn't THAT in it!" And he kicked
one of the bits of paper on the floor.
Searle received this broadside gaping. Then turning away he went
and seated himself on a bench against the wall and rubbed his
forehead amazedly. I looked at my watch and listened for the
wheels of our carriage.
But his kinsman was too launched to pull himself up. "Wasn't it
enough that you should have plotted against my rights? Need you
have come into my very house to intrigue with my sister?"
My friend put his two hands to his face. "Oh, oh, oh!" he groaned
while Miss Searle crossed rapidly and dropped on her knees at his
"Go to bed, you fool!" shrieked her brother.
"Dear cousin," she said, "it's cruel you're to have so to think
"Oh I shall think of YOU as you'd like!" He laid a hand on her
"I believe you've done nothing wrong," she brought bravely out.
"I've done what I could," Mr. Searle went on--"but it's arrant
folly to pretend to friendship when this abomination lies between
us. You were welcome to my meat and my wine, but I wonder you
could swallow them. The sight spoiled MY appetite!" cried the
master of Lackley with a laugh. "Proceed with your trumpery case!
My people in London are instructed and prepared."
"I shouldn't wonder if your case had improved a good deal since
you gave it up," I was moved to observe to Searle.
"Oho! you don't feign ignorance then?" and our insane entertainer
shook his shining head at me. "It's very kind of you to give it
up! Perhaps you'll also give up my sister!"
Searle sat staring in distress at his adversary. "Ah miserable
man--I thought we had become such beautiful friends."
"Boh, you hypocrite!" screamed our host.
Searle seemed not to hear him. "Am I seriously expected," he
slowly and painfully pursued, "to defend myself against the
accusation of any real indelicacy--to prove I've done nothing
underhand or impudent? Think what you please!" And he rose, with
an effort, to his feet. "I know what YOU think!" he added to Miss
The wheels of the carriage resounded on the gravel, and at the
same moment a footman descended with our two portmanteaux. Mr.
Tottenham followed him with our hats and coats.
"Good God," our host broke out again, "you're not going away?"--
an ejaculation that, after all that had happened, had the
grandest comicality. "Bless my soul," he then remarked as
artlessly, "of course you're going!"
"It's perhaps well," said Miss Searle with a great effort,
inexpressibly touching in one for whom great efforts were visibly
new and strange, "that I should tell you what my poor little note
"That matter of your note, madam," her brother interrupted, "you
and I will settle together!"
"Let me imagine all sorts of kind things!" Searle beautifully
"Ah too much has been imagined!" she answered simply. "It was
only a word of warning. It was to tell you to go. I knew
something painful was coming."
He took his hat. "The pains and the pleasures of this day," he
said to his kinsman, "I shall equally never forget. Knowing you,"
and he offered his hand to Miss Searle, "has been the pleasure of
pleasures. I hoped something more might have come of it."
"A monstrous deal too much has come of it!" Mr. Searle
His departing guest looked at him mildly, almost benignantly,
from head to foot, and then with closed eyes and some collapse of
strength, "I'm afraid so, I can't stand more," he went on. I gave
him my arm and we crossed the threshold. As we passed out I heard
Miss Searle break into loud weeping.
"We shall hear from each other yet, I take it!" her brother
pursued, harassing our retreat.
My friend stopped, turning round on him fiercely. "You very
impossible man!" he cried in his face.
"Do you mean to say you'll not prosecute?" Mr. Searle kept it up.
"I shall force you to prosecute! I shall drag you into court, and
you shall be beaten--beaten--beaten!" Which grim reiteration
followed us on our course.
We drove of course to the little wayside inn from which we had
departed in the morning so unencumbered, in all broad England,
either with enemies or friends. My companion, as the carriage
rolled along, seemed overwhelmed and exhausted. "What a beautiful
horrible dream!" he confusedly wailed. "What a strange awakening!
What a long long day! What a hideous scene! Poor me! Poor woman!"
When we had resumed possession of our two little neighbouring
rooms I asked him whether Miss Searle's note had been the result
of anything that had passed between them on his going to rejoin
her. "I found her on the terrace," he said, "walking restlessly
up and down in the moonlight. I was greatly excited--I hardly
know what I said. I asked her, I think, if she knew the story of
Margaret Searle. She seemed frightened and troubled, and she used
just the words her brother had used--'I know nothing.' For the
moment, somehow, I felt as a man drunk. I stood before her and
told her, with great emphasis, how poor Margaret had married a
beggarly foreigner--all in obedience to her heart and in defiance
to her family. As I talked the sheeted moonlight seemed to close
about us, so that we stood there in a dream, in a world quite
detached. She grew younger, prettier, more attractive--I found
myself talking all kinds of nonsense. Before I knew it I had gone
very far. I was taking her hand and calling her 'Margaret, dear
Margaret!' She had said it was impossible, that she could do
nothing, that she was a fool, a child, a slave. Then with a
sudden sense--it was odd how it came over me there--of the
reality of my connexion with the place, I spoke of my claim
against the estate. 'It exists,' I declared, 'but I've given it
up. Be generous! Pay me for my sacrifice.' For an instant her
face was radiant. 'If I marry you,' she asked, 'will it make
everything right?' Of that I at once assured her--in our marriage
the whole difficulty would melt away like a rain-drop in the
great sea. 'Our marriage!' she repeated in wonder; and the deep
ring of her voice seemed to wake us up and show us our folly. 'I
love you, but I shall never see you again,' she cried; and she
hurried away with her face in her hands. I walked up and down the
terrace for some moments, and then came in and met you. That's
the only witchcraft I've used!"
The poor man was at once so roused and so shaken by the day's
events that I believed he would get little sleep. Conscious on my
own part that I shouldn't close my eyes, I but partly undressed,
stirred my fire and sat down to do some writing. I heard the
great clock in the little parlour below strike twelve, one, half-
past one. Just as the vibration of this last stroke was dying on
the air the door of communication with Searle's room was flung
open and my companion stood on the threshold, pale as a corpse,
in his nightshirt, shining like a phantom against the darkness
behind him. "Look well at me!" he intensely gasped; "touch me,
embrace me, revere me! You see a man who has seen a ghost!"
"Gracious goodness, what do you mean?"
"Write it down!" he went on. "There, take your pen. Put it into
dreadful words. How do I look? Am I human? Am I pale? Am I red?
Am I speaking English? A ghost, sir! Do you understand?"
I confess there came upon me by contact a kind of supernatural
shock. I shall always feel by the whole communication of it that
I too have seen a ghost. My first movement--I can smile at it now
--was to spring to the door, close it quickly and turn the key
upon the gaping blackness from which Searle had emerged. I seized
his two hands; they were wet with perspiration. I pushed my chair
to the fire and forced him to sit down in it; then I got on my
knees and held his hands as firmly as possible. They trembled and
quivered; his eyes were fixed save that the pupil dilated and
contracted with extraordinary force. I asked no questions, but
waited there, very curious for what he would say. At last he
spoke. "I'm not frightened, but I'm--oh excited! This is life!
This is living! My nerves--my heart--my brain! They're throbbing
--don't you feel it? Do you tingle? Are you hot? Are you cold?
Hold me tight--tight--tight! I shall tremble away into waves--
into surges--and know all the secrets of things and all the
reasons and all the mysteries!" He paused a moment and then went
on: "A woman--as clear as that candle: no, far clearer! In a blue
dress, with a black mantle on her head and a little black muff.
Young and wonderfully pretty, pale and ill; with the sadness of
all the women who ever loved and suffered pleading and accusing
in her wet-looking eyes. God knows I never did any such thing!
But she took me for my elder, for the other Clement. She came to
me here as she would have come to me there. She wrung her hands
and she spoke to me 'marry me!' she moaned; 'marry me and put an
end to my shame!' I sat up in bed, just as I sit here, looked at
her, heard her--heard her voice melt away, watched her figure
fade away. Bless us and save us! Here I be!"
I made no attempt either to explain or to criticise this
extraordinary passage. It's enough that I yielded for the hour to
the strange force of my friend's emotion. On the whole I think my
own vision was the more interesting of the two. He beheld but the
transient irresponsible spectre--I beheld the human subject hot
from the spectral presence. Yet I soon recovered my judgement
sufficiently to be moved again to try to guard him against the
results of excitement and exposure. It was easily agreed that he
was not for the night to return to his room, and I made him
fairly comfortable in his place by my fire. Wishing above all to
preserve him from a chill I removed my bedding and wrapped him in
the blankets and counterpane. I had no nerves either for writing
or for sleep; so I put out my lights, renewed the fuel and sat
down on the opposite side of the hearth. I found it a great and
high solemnity just to watch my companion. Silent, swathed and
muffled to his chin, he sat rigid and erect with the dignity of
his adventure. For the most part his eyes were closed; though
from time to time he would open them with a steady expansion and
stare, never blinking, into the flame, as if he again beheld
without terror the image of the little woman with the muff. His
cadaverous emaciated face, his tragic wrinkles intensified by the
upward glow from the hearth, his distorted moustache, his
extraordinary gravity and a certain fantastical air as the red
light flickered over him, all re-enforced his fine likeness to
the vision-haunted knight of La Mancha when laid up after some
grand exploit. The night passed wholly without speech. Toward its
close I slept for half an hour. When I awoke the awakened birds
had begun to twitter and Searle, unperturbed, sat staring at me.
We exchanged a long look, and I felt with a pang that his
glittering eyes had tasted their last of natural sleep. "How is
it? Are you comfortable?" I nevertheless asked.
He fixed me for a long time without replying and then spoke with
a weak extravagance and with such pauses between his words as
might have represented the slow prompting of an inner voice. "You
asked me when you first knew me what I was. 'Nothing,' I said,
'nothing of any consequence.' Nothing I've always supposed myself
to be. But I've wronged myself--I'm a great exception. I'm a
If sleep had passed out of his eyes I felt with even a deeper
pang that sanity had abandoned his spirit. From this moment I was
prepared for the worst. There were in my friend, however, such
confirmed habits of mildness that I found myself not in the least
fearing he would prove unmanageable. As morning began fully to
dawn upon us I brought our curious vigil to a close. Searle was
so enfeebled that I gave him my hands to help him out of his
chair, and he retained them for some moments after rising to his
feet, unable as he seemed to keep his balance. "Well," he said,"
I've been once favoured, but don't think I shall be favoured
again. I shall soon be myself as fit to 'appear' as any of them.
I shall haunt the master of Lackley! It can only mean one thing--
that they're getting ready for me on the other side of the
When I touched the question of breakfast he replied that he had
his breakfast in his pocket; and he drew from his travelling-bag
a phial of morphine. He took a strong dose and went to bed. At
noon I found him on foot again, dressed, shaved, much refreshed.
"Poor fellow," he said, "you've got more than you bargained for--
not only a man with a grievance but a man with a ghost. Well, it
won't be for long!" It had of course promptly become a question
whither we should now direct our steps. "As I've so little time,"
he argued for this, "I should like to see the best, the best
alone." I answered that either for time or eternity I had always
supposed Oxford to represent the English maximum, and for Oxford
in the course of an hour we accordingly departed.
Of that extraordinary place I shall not attempt to speak with any
order or indeed with any coherence. It must ever remain one of
the supreme gratifications of travel for any American aware of
the ancient pieties of race. The impression it produces, the
emotions it kindles in the mind of such a visitor, are too rich
and various to be expressed in the halting rhythm of prose.
Passing through the small oblique streets in which the long grey
battered public face of the colleges seems to watch jealously for
sounds that may break upon the stillness of study, you feel it
the most dignified and most educated of cities. Over and through
it all the great corporate fact of the University slowly throbs
after the fashion of some steady bass in a concerted piece or
that of the mediaeval mystical presence of the Empire in the old
States of Germany. The plain perpendicular of the so mildly
conventual fronts, masking blest seraglios of culture and
leisure, irritates the imagination scarce less than the harem-
walls of Eastern towns. Within their arching portals, however,
you discover more sacred and sunless courts, and the dark verdure
soothing and cooling to bookish eyes. The grey-green quadrangles
stand for ever open with a trustful hospitality. The seat of the
humanities is stronger in her own good manners than in a
marshalled host of wardens and beadles. Directly after our
arrival my friend and I wandered forth in the luminous early
dusk. We reached the bridge that under-spans the walls of
Magdalen and saw the eight-spired tower, delicately fluted and
embossed, rise in temperate beauty--the perfect prose of Gothic--
wooing the eyes to the sky that was slowly drained of day. We
entered the low monkish doorway and stood in the dim little court
that nestles beneath the tower, where the swallows niche more
lovingly in the tangled ivy than elsewhere in Oxford, and passed
into the quiet cloister and studied the small sculptured monsters
on the entablature of the arcade. I rejoiced in every one of my
unhappy friend's responsive vibrations, even while feeling that
they might as direfully multiply as those that had preceded them.
I may say that from this time forward I found it difficult to
distinguish in his company between the riot of fancy and the
labour of thought, or to fix the balance between what he saw and
what he imagined. He had already begun playfully to exchange his
identity for that of the earlier Clement Searle, and he now
delivered himself almost wholly in the character of his old-time
"THIS was my college, you know," he would almost anywhere break
out, applying the words wherever we stood--"the sweetest and
noblest in the whole place. How often have I strolled in this
cloister with my intimates of the other world! They are all dead
and buried, but many a young fellow as we meet him, dark or fair,
tall or short, reminds me of the past age and the early
attachment. Even as we stand here, they say, the whole thing
feels about its massive base the murmurs of the tide of time;
some of the foundation-stones are loosened, some of the breaches
will have to be repaired. Mine was the old unregenerate Oxford,
the home of rank abuses, of distinctions and privileges the most
delicious and invidious. What cared I, who was a perfect
gentleman and with my pockets full of money? I had an allowance
of a thousand a year."
It was at once plain to me that he had lost the little that
remained of his direct grasp on life and was unequal to any
effort of seeing things in their order. He read my apprehension
in my eyes and took pains to assure me I was right. "I'm going
straight down hill. Thank heaven it's an easy slope, coated with
English turf and with an English churchyard at the foot." The
hysterical emotion produced by our late dire misadventure had
given place to an unruffled calm in which the scene about us was
reflected as in an old-fashioned mirror. We took an afternoon
walk through Christ-Church meadow and at the river-bank procured
a boat which I pulled down the stream to Iffley and to the
slanting woods of Nuneham--the sweetest flattest reediest stream-
side landscape that could be desired. Here of course we
encountered the scattered phalanx of the young, the happy
generation, clad in white flannel and blue, muscular fair-haired
magnificent fresh, whether floated down the current by idle punts
and lounging in friendly couples when not in a singleness that
nursed ambitions, or straining together in rhythmic crews and
hoarsely exhorted from the near bank. When to the exhibition of
so much of the clearest joy of wind and limb we added the great
sense of perfumed protection shed by all the enclosed lawns and
groves and bowers, we felt that to be young in such scholastic
shades must be a double, an infinite blessing. As my companion
found himself less and less able to walk we repaired in turn to a
series of gardens and spent long hours sitting in their greenest
places. They struck us as the fairest things in England and the
ripest and sweetest fruit of the English system. Locked in their
antique verdure, guarded, as in the case of New College, by
gentle battlements of silver-grey, outshouldering the matted
leafage of undisseverable plants, filled with nightingales and
memories, a sort of chorus of tradition; with vaguely-generous
youths sprawling bookishly on the turf as if to spare it the
injury of their boot-heels, and with the great conservative
college countenance appealing gravely from the restless outer
world, they seem places to lie down on the grass in for ever, in
the happy faith that life is all a green old English garden and
time an endless summer afternoon. This charmed seclusion was
especially grateful to my friend, and his sense of it reached its
climax, I remember, on one of the last of such occasions and
while we sat in fascinated flanerie over against the sturdy back
of Saint John's. The wide discreetly-windowed wall here perhaps
broods upon the lawn with a more effective air of property than
elsewhere. Searle dropped into fitful talk and spun his humour
into golden figures. Any passing undergraduate was a peg to hang
a fable, every feature of the place a pretext for more
"Isn't it all a delightful lie?" he wanted to know. "Mightn't one
fancy this the very central point of the world's heart, where all
the echoes of the general life arrive but to falter and die?
Doesn't one feel the air just thick with arrested voices? It's
well there should be such places, shaped in the interest of
factitious needs, invented to minister to the book-begotten
longing for a medium in which one may dream unwaked and believe
unconfuted; to foster the sweet illusion that all's well in a
world where so much is so damnable, all right and rounded, smooth
and fair, in this sphere of the rough and ragged, the pitiful
unachieved especially, and the dreadful uncommenced. The world's
made--work's over. Now for leisure! England's safe--now for
Theocritus and Horace, for lawn and sky! What a sense it all
gives one of the composite life of the country and of the
essential furniture of its luckier minds! Thank heaven they had
the wit to send me here in the other time. I'm not much visibly
the braver perhaps, but think how I'm the happier! The misty
spires and towers, seen far off on the level, have been all these
years one of the constant things of memory. Seriously, what do
the spires and towers do for these people? Are they wiser,
gentler, finer, cleverer? My diminished dignity reverts in any
case at moments to the naked background of our own education, the
deadly dry air in which we gasp for impressions and comparisons.
I assent to it all with a sort of desperate calmness; I accept it
with a dogged pride. We're nursed at the opposite pole. Naked
come we into a naked world. There's a certain grandeur in the
lack of decorations, a certain heroic strain in that young
imagination of ours which finds nothing made to its hands, which
has to invent its own traditions and raise high into our morning-
air, with a ringing hammer and nails, the castles in which we
dwell. Noblesse oblige--Oxford must damnably do so. What a
horrible thing not to rise to such examples! If you pay the pious
debt to the last farthing of interest you may go through life
with her blessing; but if you let it stand unhonoured you're a
worse barbarian than we! But for the better or worse, in a myriad
private hearts, think how she must be loved! How the youthful
sentiment of mankind seems visibly to brood upon her! Think of
the young lives now taking colour in her cloisters and halls.
Think of the centuries' tale of dead lads--dead alike with the
end of the young days to which these haunts were a present world,
and the close of the larger lives which the general mother-scene
has dropped into less bottomless traps. What are those two young
fellows kicking their heels over on the grass there? One of them
has the Saturday Review; the other--upon my soul--the other has
Artemus Ward! Where do they live, how do they live, to what end
do they live? Miserable boys! How can they read Artemus Ward
under those windows of Elizabeth? What do you think loveliest in
all Oxford? The poetry of certain windows. Do you see that one
yonder, the second of those lesser bays, with the broken cornice
and the lattice? That used to be the window of my bosom friend a
hundred years ago. Remind me to tell you the story of that broken
cornice. Don't pretend it's not a common thing to have one's
bosom friend at another college. Pray was I committed to common
things? He was a charming fellow. By the way, he was a good deal
like you. Of course his cocked hat, his long hair in a black
ribbon, his cinnamon velvet suit and his flowered waistcoat made
a difference. We gentlemen used to wear swords."
There was really the touch of grace in my poor friend's
divagations--the disheartened dandy had so positively turned
rhapsodist and seer. I was particularly struck with his having
laid aside the diffidence and self-consciousness of the first
days of our acquaintance. He had become by this time a
disembodied observer and critic; the shell of sense, growing
daily thinner and more transparent, transmitted the tremor of his
quickened spirit. He seemed to pick up acquaintances, in the
course of our contemplations, merely by putting out his hand. If
I left him for ten minutes I was sure to find him on my return in
earnest conversation with some affable wandering scholar. Several
young men with whom he had thus established relations invited him
to their rooms and entertained him, as I gathered, with rather
rash hospitality. For myself, I chose not to be present at these
symposia; I shrank partly from being held in any degree
responsible for his extravagance, partly from the pang of seeing
him yield to champagne and an admiring circle. He reported such
adventures with less keen a complacency than I had supposed he
might use, but a certain method in his madness, a certain dignity
in his desire to fraternise, appeared to save him from mischance.
If they didn't think him a harmless lunatic they certainly
thought him a celebrity of the Occident. Two things, however,
grew evident--that he drank deeper than was good for him and that
the flagrant freshness of his young patrons rather interfered
with his predetermined sense of the element of finer romance. At
the same time it completed his knowledge of the place. Making the
acquaintance of several tutors and fellows, he dined in hall in
half a dozen colleges, alluding afterwards to these banquets with
religious unction. One evening after a participation indiscreetly
prolonged he came back to the hotel in a cab, accompanied by a
friendly undergraduate and a physician and looking deadly pale.
He had swooned away on leaving table and remained so rigidly
unconscious as much to agitate his banqueters. The following
twenty-four hours he of course spent in bed, but on the third day
declared himself strong enough to begin afresh. On his reaching
the street his strength once more forsook him, so that I insisted
on his returning to his room. He besought me with tears in his
eyes not to shut him up. "It's my last chance--I want to go back
for an hour to that garden of Saint John's. Let me eat and drink
--to-morrow I die." It seemed to me possible that with a Bath-
chair the expedition might be accomplished. The hotel, it
appeared, possessed such a convenience, which was immediately
produced. It became necessary hereupon that we should have a
person to propel the chair. As there was no one on the spot at
liberty I was about to perform the office; but just as my patient
had got seated and wrapped--he now had a perpetual chill--an
elderly man emerged from a lurking-place near the door and, with
a formal salute, offered to wait upon the gentleman. We assented,
and he proceeded solemnly to trundle the chair before him. I
recognised him as a vague personage whom I had observed to lounge
shyly about the doors of the hotels, at intervals during our
stay, with a depressed air of wanting employment and a poor
semblance of finding it. He had once indeed in a half-hearted way
proposed himself as an amateur cicerone for a tour through the
colleges; and I now, as I looked at him, remembered with a pang
that I had too curtly declined his ministrations. Since then his
shyness, apparently, had grown less or his misery greater, for it
was with a strange grim avidity that he now attached himself to
our service. He was a pitiful image of shabby gentility and the
dinginess of "reduced circumstances." He would have been, I
suppose, some fifty years of age; but his pale haggard
unwholesome visage, his plaintive drooping carriage and the
irremediable disarray of his apparel seemed to add to the burden
of his days and tribulations. His eyes were weak and bloodshot,
his bold nose was sadly compromised, and his reddish beard,
largely streaked with grey, bristled under a month's neglect of
the razor. In all this rusty forlornness lurked a visible
assurance of our friend's having known better days. Obviously he
was the victim of some fatal depreciation in the market value of
pure gentility. There had been something terribly affecting in
the way he substituted for the attempt to touch the greasy rim of
his antiquated hat some such bow as one man of the world might
make another. Exchanging a few words with him as we went I was
struck with the decorum of his accent. His fine whole voice
should have been congruously cracked.
"Take me by some long roundabout way," said Searle, "so that I
may see as many college-walls as possible."
"You know," I asked of our attendant, "all these wonderful ins
"I ought to, sir," he said, after a moment, with pregnant
gravity. And as we were passing one of the colleges, "That used
to be my place," he added.
At these words Searle desired him to stop and come round within
sight. "You say that's YOUR college?"
"The place might deny me, sir; but heaven forbid I should seem to
take it ill of her. If you'll allow me to wheel you into the quad
I'll show you my windows of thirty years ago."
Searle sat staring, his huge pale eyes, which now left nothing
else worth mentioning in his wasted face, filled with wonder and
pity. "If you'll be so kind," he said with great deference. But
just as this perverted product of a liberal education was about
to propel him across the threshold of the court he turned about,
disengaged the mercenary hands, with one of his own, from the
back of the chair, drew their owner alongside and turned to me.
"While we're here, my dear fellow," he said, "be so good as to
perform this service. You understand?" I gave our companion a
glance of intelligence and we resumed our way. The latter showed
us his window of the better time, where a rosy youth in a scarlet
smoking-fez now puffed a cigarette at the open casement. Thence
we proceeded into the small garden, the smallest, I believe, and
certainly the sweetest, of all the planted places of Oxford. I
pushed the chair along to a bench on the lawn, turned it round,
toward the front of the college and sat down by it on the grass.
Our attendant shifted mournfully from one foot to the other, his
patron eyeing him open-mouthed. At length Searle broke out: "God
bless my soul, sir, you don't suppose I expect you to stand!
There's an empty bench."
"Thank you," said our friend, who bent his joints to sit.
"You English are really fabulous! I don't know whether I most
admire or most abominate you! Now tell me: who are you? what are
you? what brought you to this?"
The poor fellow blushed up to his eyes, took off his hat and
wiped his forehead with an indescribable fabric drawn from his
pocket. "My name's Rawson, sir. Beyond that it's a long story."
"I ask out of sympathy," said Searle. "I've a fellow-feeling. If
you're a poor devil I'm a poor devil as well."
"I'm the poorer devil of the two," said the stranger with an
assurance for once presumptuous.
"Possibly. I suppose an English poor devil's the poorest of all
poor devils. And then you've fallen from a height. From a
gentleman commoner--is that what they called you?--to a propeller
of Bath-chairs. Good heavens, man, the fall's enough to kill
"I didn't take it all at once, sir. I dropped a bit one time and
a bit another."
"That's me, that's me!" cried Searle with all his seriousness.
"And now," said our friend, "I believe I can't drop any further."
"My dear fellow"--and Searle clasped his hand and shook it--"I
too am at the very bottom of the hole."
Mr. Rawson lifted his eyebrows. "Well, sir, there's a difference
between sitting in such a pleasant convenience and just trudging
"Yes--there's a shade. But I'm at my last gasp, Mr. Rawson."
"I'm at my last penny, sir."
"Literally, Mr. Rawson?"
Mr. Rawson shook his head with large loose bitterness. "I've
almost come to the point of drinking my beer and buttoning my
coat figuratively; but I don't talk in figures."
Fearing the conversation might appear to achieve something like
gaiety at the expense of Mr. Rawson's troubles, I took the
liberty of asking him, with all consideration, how he made a
"I don't make a living," he answered with tearful eyes; "I can't
make a living. I've a wife and three children--and all starving,
sir. You wouldn't believe what I've come to. I sent my wife to
her mother's, who can ill afford to keep her, and came to Oxford
a week ago, thinking I might pick up a few half-crowns by showing
people about the colleges. But it's no use. I haven't the
assurance. I don't look decent. They want a nice little old man
with black gloves and a clean shirt and a silver-headed stick.
What do I look as if I knew about Oxford, sir?"
"Mercy on us," cried Searle, "why didn't you speak to us before?"
"I wanted to; half a dozen times I've been on the point of it. I
knew you were Americans."
"And Americans are rich!" cried Searle, laughing. "My dear Mr.
Rawson, American as I am I'm living on charity."
"And I'm exactly not, sir! There it is. I'm dying for the lack of
that same. You say you're a pauper, but it takes an American
pauper to go bowling about in a Bath-chair. America's an easy
"Ah me!" groaned Searle. "Have I come to the most delicious
corner of the ancient world to hear the praise of Yankeeland?"
"Delicious corners are very well, and so is the ancient world,"
said Mr. Rawson; "but one may sit here hungry and shabby, so long
as one isn't too shabby, as well as elsewhere. You'll not
persuade me that it's not an easier thing to keep afloat yonder
than here. I wish _I_ were in Yankeeland, that's all!" he added
with feeble force. Then brooding for a moment on his wrongs:
"Have you a bloated brother? or you, sir? It matters little to
you. But it has mattered to me with a vengeance! Shabby as I sit
here I can boast that advantage--as he his five thousand a year.
Being but a twelvemonth my elder he swaggers while I go thus.
There's old England for you! A very pretty place for HIM!"
"Poor old England!" said Searle softly.
"Has your brother never helped you?" I asked.
"A five-pound note now and then! Oh I don't say there haven't
been times when I haven't inspired an irresistible sympathy. I've
not been what I should. I married dreadfully out of the way. But
the devil of it is that he started fair and I started foul; with
the tastes, the desires, the needs, the sensibilities of a
gentleman--and not another blessed 'tip.' I can't afford to live
"THIS poor gentleman fancied a couple of months ago that he
couldn't afford to live in America," I fondly explained.
"I'd 'swap'--do you call it?--chances with him!" And Mr. Rawson
looked quaintly rueful over his freedom of speech.
Searle sat supported there with his eyes closed and his face
twitching for violent emotion, and then of a sudden had a glare
of gravity. "My friend, you're a dead failure! Be judged! Don't
talk about 'swapping.' Don't talk about chances. Don't talk about
fair starts and false starts. I'm at that point myself that I've
a right to speak. It lies neither in one's chance nor one's start
to make one a success; nor in anything one's brother--however
bloated--can do or can undo. It lies in one's character. You and
I, sir, have HAD no character--that's very plain. We've been
weak, sir; as weak as water. Here we are for it--sitting staring
in each other's faces and reading our weakness in each other's
eyes. We're of no importance whatever, Mr. Rawson!"
Mr. Rawson received this sally with a countenance in which abject
submission to the particular affirmed truth struggled with the
comparative propriety of his general rebellion against fate. In
the course of a minute a due self-respect yielded to the warm
comfortable sense of his being relieved of the cares of an
attitude. "Go on, sir, go on," he said. "It's wholesome
doctrine." And he wiped his eyes with what seemed his sole
remnant of linen.
"Dear, dear," sighed Searle, "I've made you cry! Well, we speak
as from man to man. I should be glad to think you had felt for a
moment the side-light of that great undarkening of the spirit
which precedes--which precedes the grand illumination of death."
Mr. Rawson sat silent a little, his eyes fixed on the ground and
his well-cut nose but the more deeply dyed by his agitation. Then
at last looking up: "You're a very good-natured man, sir, and
you'll never persuade me you don't come of a kindly race. Say
what you please about a chance; when a man's fifty--degraded,
penniless, a husband and father--a chance to get on his legs
again is not to be despised. Something tells me that my luck may
be in your country--which has brought luck to so many. I can come
on the parish here of course, but I don't want to come on the
parish. Hang it, sir, I want to hold up my head. I see thirty
years of life before me yet. If only by God's help I could have a
real change of air! It's a fixed idea of mine. I've had it for
the last ten years. It's not that I'm a low radical. Oh I've no
vulgar opinions. Old England's good enough for me, but I'm not
good enough for old England. I'm a shabby man that wants to get
out of a room full of staring gentlefolk. I'm for ever put to the
blush. It's a perfect agony of spirit; everything reminds me of
my younger and better self. The thing for me would be a cooling
cleansing plunge into the unknowing and the unknown! I lie awake
thinking of it."
Searle closed his eyes, shivering with a long-drawn tremor which
I hardly knew whether to take for an expression of physical or of
mental pain. In a moment I saw it was neither. "Oh my country, my
country, my country!" he murmured in a broken voice; and then sat
for some time abstracted and lost. I signalled our companion that
it was time we should bring our small session to a close, and he,
without hesitating, possessed himself of the handle of the Bath-
chair and pushed it before him. We had got halfway home before
Searle spoke or moved. Suddenly in the High Street, as we passed
a chop-house from whose open doors we caught a waft of old-
fashioned cookery and other restorative elements, he motioned us
to halt. "This is my last five pounds"--and he drew a note from
his pocket-book. "Do me the favour, Mr. Rawson, to accept it. Go
in there and order the best dinner they can give you. Call for a
bottle of Burgundy and drink it to my eternal rest!"
Mr. Rawson stiffened himself up and received the gift with
fingers momentarily irresponsive. But Mr. Rawson had the nerves
of a gentleman. I measured the spasm with which his poor
dispossessed hand closed upon the crisp paper, I observed his
empurpled nostril convulsive under the other solicitation. He
crushed the crackling note in his palm with a passionate pressure
and jerked a spasmodic bow. "I shall not do you the wrong, sir,
of anything but the best!" The next moment the door swung behind
Searle sank again into his apathy, and on reaching the hotel I
helped him to get to bed. For the rest of the day he lay without
motion or sound and beyond reach of any appeal. The doctor, whom
I had constantly in attendance, was sure his end was near. He
expressed great surprise that he should have lasted so long; he
must have been living for a month on the very dregs of his
strength. Toward evening, as I sat by his bedside in the
deepening dusk, he roused himself with a purpose I had vaguely
felt gathering beneath his stupor. "My cousin, my cousin," he
said confusedly. "Is she here?" It was the first time he had
spoken of Miss Searle since our retreat from her brother's house,
and he continued to ramble. "I was to have married her. What a
dream! That day was like a string of verses--rhymed hours. But
the last verse is bad measure. What's the rhyme to 'love'? ABOVE!
Was she a simple woman, a kind sweet woman? Or have I only
dreamed it? She had the healing gift; her touch would have cured
my madness. I want you to do something. Write three lines, three
words: 'Good-bye; remember me; be happy.'" And then after a long
pause: "It's strange a person in my state should have a wish. Why
should one eat one's breakfast the day one's hanged? What a
creature is man! What a farce is life! Here I lie, worn down to a
mere throbbing fever-point; I breathe and nothing more, and yet I
DESIRE! My desire lives. If I could see her! Help me out with it
and let me die."
Half an hour later, at a venture, I dispatched by post a note to
Miss Searle: "Your cousin is rapidly sinking. He asks to see
you." I was conscious of a certain want of consideration in this
act, since it would bring her great trouble and yet no power to
face the trouble; but out of her distress I fondly hoped a
sufficient force might be born. On the following day my friend's
exhaustion had become so great that I began to fear his
intelligence altogether broken up. But toward evening he briefly
rallied, to maunder about many things, confounding in a sinister
jumble the memories of the past weeks and those of bygone years.
"By the way," he said suddenly, "I've made no will. I haven't
much to bequeath. Yet I have something." He had been playing
listlessly with a large signet-ring on his left hand, which he
now tried to draw off. "I leave you this"--working it round and
round vainly--"if you can get it off. What enormous knuckles!
There must be such knuckles in the mummies of the Pharaohs. Well,
when I'm gone--! No, I leave you something more precious than
gold--the sense of a great kindness. But I've a little gold left.
Bring me those trinkets." I placed on the bed before him several
articles of jewellery, relics of early foppery: his watch and
chain, of great value, a locket and seal, some odds and ends of
goldsmith's work. He trifled with them feebly for some moments,
murmuring various names and dates associated with them. At last,
looking up with clearer interest, "What has become," he asked,
"of Mr. Rawson?"
"You want to see him?"
"How much are these things worth?" he went on without heeding me.
"How much would they bring?" And he weighed them in his weak
hands. "They're pretty heavy. Some hundred or so? Oh I'm richer
than I thought! Rawson--Rawson--you want to get out of this awful
I stepped to the door and requested the servant whom I kept in
constant attendance in our adjacent sitting-room to send and
ascertain if Mr. Rawson were on the premises. He returned in a
few moments, introducing our dismal friend. Mr. Rawson was pale
even to his nose and derived from his unaffectedly concerned
state an air of some distinction. I led him up to the bed. In
Searle's eyes, as they fell on him, there shone for a moment the
light of a human message.
"Lord have mercy!" gasped Mr. Rawson.
"My friend," said Searle, "there's to be one American the less--
so let there be at the same time one the more. At the worst
you'll be as good a one as I. Foolish me! Take these battered
relics; you can sell them; let them help you on your way. They're
gifts and mementoes, but this is a better use. Heaven speed you!
May America be kind to you. Be kind, at the last, to your own
"Really this is too much; I can't," the poor man protested,
almost scared and with tears in his eyes. "Do come round and get
well and I'll stop here. I'll stay with you and wait on you."
"No, I'm booked for my journey, you for yours. I hope you don't
mind the voyage."
Mr. Rawson exhaled a groan of helpless gratitude, appealing
piteously from so strange a windfall. "It's like the angel of the
Lord who bids people in the Bible to rise and flee!"
Searle had sunk back upon his pillow, quite used up; I led Mr.
Rawson back into the sitting-room, where in three words I
proposed to him a rough valuation of our friend's trinkets. He
assented with perfect good-breeding; they passed into my
possession and a second bank-note into his.
From the collapse into which this wondrous exercise of his
imagination had plunged him my charge then gave few signs of
being likely to emerge. He breathed, as he had said, and nothing
more. The twilight deepened; I lighted the night-lamp. The doctor
sat silent and official at the foot of the bed; I resumed my
constant place near the head. Suddenly our patient opened his
eyes wide. "She'll not come," he murmured. "Amen! she's an
English sister." Five minutes passed; he started forward. "She's
come, she's here!" he confidently quavered. His words conveyed to
my mind so absolute an assurance that I lightly rose and passed
into the sitting-room. At the same moment, through the opposite
door, the servant introduced a lady. A lady, I say; for an
instant she was simply such--tall pale dressed in deep mourning.
The next instant I had uttered her name--"Miss Searle!" She
looked ten years older.
She met me with both hands extended and an immense question in
her face. "He has just announced you," I said. And then with a
fuller consciousness of the change in her dress and countenance:
"What has happened?"
"Oh death, death!" she wailed. "You and I are left."
There came to me with her words a sickening shock, the sense of
poetic justice somehow cheated, defeated. "Your brother?" I
She laid her hand on my arm and I felt its pressure deepen as she
spoke. "He was thrown from his horse in the park. He died on the
spot. Six days have passed. Six months!"
She accepted my support and a moment later we had entered the
room and approached the bedside, from which the doctor withdrew.
Searle opened his eyes and looked at her from head to foot.
Suddenly he seemed to make out her mourning. "Already!" he cried
audibly and with a smile, as I felt, of pleasure.
She dropped on her knees and took his hand. "Not for you,
cousin," she whispered. "For my poor brother."
He started, in all his deathly longitude, as with a galvanic
shock. "Dead! HE dead! Life itself!" And then after a moment and
with a slight rising inflexion: "You're free?"
"Free, cousin. Too sadly free. And now--NOW--with what use for
He looked steadily into her eyes, dark in the heavy shadow of her
musty mourning-veil. "For me wear colours!"
In a moment more death had come, the doctor had silently attested
it, and she had burst into sobs.
We buried him in the little churchyard in which he had expressed
the wish to lie; beneath one of the blackest and widest of
English yews and the little tower than which none in all England
has a softer and hoarier grey. A year has passed; Miss Searle, I
believe, has begun to wear colours.