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Brooksmith

We are scattered now, the friends of the late Mr. Oliver Offord;
but whenever we chance to meet I think we are conscious of a
certain esoteric respect for each other. "Yes, you too have been
in Arcadia," we seem not too grumpily to allow. When I pass the
house in Mansfield Street I remember that Arcadia was there. I
don't know who has it now, and don't want to know; it's enough to
be so sure that if I should ring the bell there would be no such
luck for me as that Brooksmith should open the door. Mr. Offord,
the most agreeable, the most attaching of bachelors, was a retired
diplomatist, living on his pension and on something of his own over
and above; a good deal confined, by his infirmities, to his
fireside and delighted to be found there any afternoon in the year,
from five o'clock on, by such visitors as Brooksmith allowed to
come up. Brooksmith was his butler and his most intimate friend,
to whom we all stood, or I should say sat, in the same relation in
which the subject of the sovereign finds himself to the prime
minister. By having been for years, in foreign lands, the most
delightful Englishman any one had ever known, Mr. Offord had in my
opinion rendered signal service to his country. But I suppose he
had been too much liked--liked even by those who didn't like IT--so
that as people of that sort never get titles or dotations for the
horrid things they've NOT done, his principal reward was simply
that we went to see him.

Oh we went perpetually, and it was not our fault if he was not
overwhelmed with this particular honour. Any visitor who came once
came again; to come merely once was a slight nobody, I'm sure, had
ever put upon him. His circle therefore was essentially composed
of habitues, who were habitues for each other as well as for him,
as those of a happy salon should be. I remember vividly every
element of the place, down to the intensely Londonish look of the
grey opposite houses, in the gap of the white curtains of the high
windows, and the exact spot where, on a particular afternoon, I put
down my tea-cup for Brooksmith, lingering an instant, to gather it
up as if he were plucking a flower. Mr. Offord's drawing-room was
indeed Brooksmith's garden, his pruned and tended human parterre,
and if we all flourished there and grew well in our places it was
largely owing to his supervision.

Many persons have heard much, though most have doubtless seen
little, of the famous institution of the salon, and many are born
to the depression of knowing that this finest flower of social life
refuses to bloom where the English tongue is spoken. The
explanation is usually that our women have not the skill to
cultivate it--the art to direct through a smiling land, between
suggestive shores, a sinuous stream of talk. My affectionate, my
pious memory of Mr. Offord contradicts this induction only, I fear,
more insidiously to confirm it. The sallow and slightly smoked
drawing-room in which he spent so large a portion of the last years
of his life certainly deserved the distinguished name; but on the
other hand it couldn't be said at all to owe its stamp to any
intervention throwing into relief the fact that there was no Mrs.
Offord. The dear man had indeed, at the most, been capable of one
of those sacrifices to which women are deemed peculiarly apt: he
had recognised--under the influence, in some degree, it is true, of
physical infirmity--that if you wish people to find you at home you
must manage not to be out. He had in short accepted the truth
which many dabblers in the social art are slow to learn, that you
must really, as they say, take a line, and that the only way as yet
discovered of being at home is to stay at home. Finally his own
fireside had become a summary of his habits. Why should he ever
have left it?--since this would have been leaving what was
notoriously pleasantest in London, the compact charmed cluster
(thinning away indeed into casual couples) round the fine old last-
century chimney-piece which, with the exception of the remarkable
collection of miniatures, was the best thing the place contained.
Mr. Offord wasn't rich; he had nothing but his pension and the use
for life of the somewhat superannuated house.

When I'm reminded by some opposed discomfort of the present hour
how perfectly we were all handled there, I ask myself once more
what had been the secret of such perfection. One had taken it for
granted at the time, for anything that is supremely good produces
more acceptance than surprise. I felt we were all happy, but I
didn't consider how our happiness was managed. And yet there were
questions to be asked, questions that strike me as singularly
obvious now that there's nobody to answer them. Mr. Offord had
solved the insoluble; he had, without feminine help--save in the
sense that ladies were dying to come to him and that he saved the
lives of several--established a salon; but I might have guessed
that there was a method in his madness, a law in his success. He
hadn't hit it off by a mere fluke. There was an art in it all, and
how was the art so hidden? Who indeed if it came to that was the
occult artist? Launching this inquiry the other day I had already
got hold of the tail of my reply. I was helped by the very wonder
of some of the conditions that came back to me--those that used to
seem as natural as sunshine in a fine climate.

How was it for instance that we never were a crowd, never either
too many or too few, always the right people WITH the right people-
-there must really have been no wrong people at all--always coming
and going, never sticking fast nor overstaying, yet never popping
in or out with an indecorous familiarity? How was it that we all
sat where we wanted and moved when we wanted and met whom we wanted
and escaped whom we wanted; joining, according to the accident of
inclination, the general circle or falling in with a single talker
on a convenient sofa? Why were all the sofas so convenient, the
accidents so happy, the talkers so ready, the listeners so willing,
the subjects presented to you in a rotation as quickly foreordained
as the courses at dinner? A dearth of topics would have been as
unheard of as a lapse in the service. These speculations couldn't
fail to lead me to the fundamental truth that Brooksmith had been
somehow at the bottom of the mystery. If he hadn't established the
salon at least he had carried it on. Brooksmith in short was the
artist!

We felt this covertly at the time, without formulating it, and were
conscious, as an ordered and prosperous community, of his even-
handed justice, all untainted with flunkeyism. He had none of that
vulgarity--his touch was infinitely fine. The delicacy of it was
clear to me on the first occasion my eyes rested, as they were so
often to rest again, on the domestic revealed, in the turbid light
of the street, by the opening of the house-door. I saw on the spot
that though he had plenty of school he carried it without
arrogance--he had remained articulate and human. L'Ecole Anglaise
Mr. Offord used laughingly to call him when, later on, it happened
more than once that we had some conversation about him. But I
remember accusing Mr. Offord of not doing him quite ideal justice.
That he wasn't one of the giants of the school, however, was
admitted by my old friend, who really understood him perfectly and
was devoted to him, as I shall show; which doubtless poor
Brooksmith had himself felt, to his cost, when his value in the
market was originally determined. The utility of his class in
general is estimated by the foot and the inch, and poor Brooksmith
had only about five feet three to put into circulation. He
acknowledged the inadequacy of this provision, and I'm sure was
penetrated with the everlasting fitness of the relation between
service and stature. If HE had been Mr. Offord he certainly would
have found Brooksmith wanting, and indeed the laxity of his
employer on this score was one of many things he had had to condone
and to which he had at last indulgently adapted himself.

I remember the old man's saying to me: "Oh my servants, if they
can live with me a fortnight they can live with me for ever. But
it's the first fortnight that tries 'em." It was in the first
fortnight for instance that Brooksmith had had to learn that he was
exposed to being addressed as "my dear fellow" and "my poor child."
Strange and deep must such a probation have been to him, and he
doubtless emerged from it tempered and purified. This was written
to a certain extent in his appearance; in his spare brisk little
person, in his cloistered white face and extraordinarily polished
hair, which told of responsibility, looked as if it were kept up to
the same high standard as the plate; in his small clear anxious
eyes, even in the permitted, though not exactly encouraged, tuft on
his chin. "He thinks me rather mad, but I've broken him in, and
now he likes the place, he likes the company," said the old man. I
embraced this fully after I had become aware that Brooksmith's main
characteristic was a deep and shy refinement, though I remember I
was rather puzzled when, on another occasion, Mr. Offord remarked:
"What he likes is the talk--mingling in the conversation." I was
conscious I had never seen Brooksmith permit himself this freedom,
but I guessed in a moment that what Mr. Offord alluded to was a
participation more intense than any speech could have represented--
that of being perpetually present on a hundred legitimate pretexts,
errands, necessities, and breathing the very atmosphere of
criticism, the famous criticism of life. "Quite an education, sir,
isn't it, sir?" he said to me one day at the foot of the stairs
when he was letting me out; and I've always remembered the words
and the tone as the first sign of the quickening drama of poor
Brooksmith's fate. It was indeed an education, but to what was
this sensitive young man of thirty-five, of the servile class,
being educated?

Practically and inevitably, for the time, to companionship, to the
perpetual, the even exaggerated reference and appeal of a person
brought to dependence by his time of life and his infirmities and
always addicted moreover--this was the exaggeration--to the art of
giving you pleasure by letting you do things for him. There were
certain things Mr. Offord was capable of pretending he liked you to
do even when he didn't--this, I mean, if he thought YOU liked them.
If it happened that you didn't either--which was rare, yet might
be--of course there were cross-purposes; but Brooksmith was there
to prevent their going very far. This was precisely the way he
acted as moderator; he averted misunderstandings or cleared them
up. He had been capable, strange as it may appear, of acquiring
for this purpose an insight into the French tongue, which was often
used at Mr. Offord's; for besides being habitual to most of the
foreigners, and they were many, who haunted the place or arrived
with letters--letters often requiring a little worried
consideration, of which Brooksmith always had cognisance--it had
really become the primary language of the master of the house. I
don't know if all the malentendus were in French, but almost all
the explanations were, and this didn't a bit prevent Brooksmith's
following them. I know Mr. Offord used to read passages to him
from Montaigne and Saint-Simon, for he read perpetually when alone-
-when THEY were alone, that is--and Brooksmith was always about.
Perhaps you'll say no wonder Mr. Offord's butler regarded him as
"rather mad." However, if I'm not sure what he thought about
Montaigne I'm convinced he admired Saint-Simon. A certain feeling
for letters must have rubbed off on him from the mere handling of
his master's books, which he was always carrying to and fro and
putting back in their places.

I often noticed that if an anecdote or a quotation, much more a
lively discussion, was going forward, he would, if busy with the
fire or the curtains, the lamp or the tea, find a pretext for
remaining in the room till the point should be reached. If his
purpose was to catch it you weren't discreet, you were in fact
scarce human, to call him off, and I shall never forget a look, a
hard stony stare--I caught it in its passage--which, one day when
there were a good many people in the room, he fastened upon the
footman who was helping him in the service and who, in an
undertone, had asked him some irrelevant question. It was the only
manifestation of harshness I ever observed on Brooksmith's part,
and I at first wondered what was the matter. Then I became
conscious that Mr. Offord was relating a very curious anecdote,
never before perhaps made so public, and imparted to the narrator
by an eye-witness of the fact, bearing on Lord Byron's life in
Italy. Nothing would induce me to reproduce it here, but
Brooksmith had been in danger of losing it. If I ever should
venture to reproduce it I shall feel how much I lose in not having
my fellow auditor to refer to.

The first day Mr Offord's door was closed was therefore a dark date
in contemporary history. It was raining hard and my umbrella was
wet, but Brooksmith received it from me exactly as if this were a
preliminary for going upstairs. I observed however that instead of
putting it away he held it poised and trickling over the rug, and I
then became aware that he was looking at me with deep acknowledging
eyes--his air of universal responsibility. I immediately
understood--there was scarce need of question and answer as they
passed between us. When I took in that our good friend had given
up as never before, though only for the occasion, I exclaimed
dolefully: "What a difference it will make--and to how many
people!"

"I shall be one of them, sir!" said Brooksmith; and that was the
beginning of the end.

Mr. Offord came down again, but the spell was broken, the great
sign being that the conversation was for the first time not
directed. It wandered and stumbled, a little frightened, like a
lost child--it had let go the nurse's hand. "The worst of it is
that now we shall talk about my health--c'est la fin de tout," Mr.
Offord said when he reappeared; and then I recognised what a note
of change that would be--for he had never tolerated anything so
provincial. We "ran" to each other's health as little as to the
daily weather. The talk became ours, in a word--not his; and as
ours, even when HE talked, it could only be inferior. In this form
it was a distress to Brooksmith, whose attention now wandered from
it altogether: he had so much closer a vision of his master's
intimate conditions than our superficialities represented. There
were better hours, and he was more in and out of the room, but I
could see he was conscious of the decline, almost of the collapse,
of our great institution. He seemed to wish to take counsel with
me about it, to feel responsible for its going on in some form or
other. When for the second period--the first had lasted several
days--he had to tell me that his employer didn't receive, I half
expected to hear him say after a moment "Do you think I ought to,
sir, in his place?"--as he might have asked me, with the return of
autumn, if I thought he had better light the drawing-room fire.

He had a resigned philosophic sense of what his guests--our guests,
as I came to regard them in our colloquies--would expect. His
feeling was that he wouldn't absolutely have approved of himself as
a substitute for Mr. Offord; but he was so saturated with the
religion of habit that he would have made, for our friends, the
necessary sacrifice to the divinity. He would take them on a
little further and till they could look about them. I think I saw
him also mentally confronted with the opportunity to deal--for once
in his life--with some of his own dumb preferences, his limitations

of sympathy, WEEDING a little in prospect and returning to a purer
tradition. It was not unknown to me that he considered that toward
the end of our host's career a certain laxity of selection had
crept in.

At last it came to be the case that we all found the closed door
more often than the open one; but even when it was closed
Brooksmith managed a crack for me to squeeze through; so that
practically I never turned away without having paid a visit. The
difference simply came to be that the visit was to Brooksmith. It
took place in the hall, at the familiar foot of the stairs, and we
didn't sit down, at least Brooksmith didn't; moreover it was
devoted wholly to one topic and always had the air of being already
over--beginning, so to say, at the end. But it was always
interesting--it always gave me something to think about. It's true
that the subject of my meditation was ever the same--ever "It's all
very well, but what WILL become of Brooksmith?" Even my private
answer to this question left me still unsatisfied. No doubt Mr.
Offord would provide for him, but WHAT would he provide?--that was
the great point. He couldn't provide society; and society had
become a necessity of Brooksmith's nature. I must add that he
never showed a symptom of what I may call sordid solicitude--
anxiety on his own account. He was rather livid and intensely
grave, as befitted a man before whose eyes the "shade of that which
once was great" was passing away. He had the solemnity of a person
winding up, under depressing circumstances, a long-established and
celebrated business; he was a kind of social executor or
liquidator. But his manner seemed to testify exclusively to the
uncertainty of OUR future. I couldn't in those days have afforded
it--I lived in two rooms in Jermyn Street and didn't "keep a man";
but even if my income had permitted I shouldn't have ventured to
say to Brooksmith (emulating Mr. Offord) "My dear fellow, I'll
take you on." The whole tone of our intercourse was so much more
an implication that it was I who should now want a lift. Indeed
there was a tacit assurance in Brooksmith's whole attitude that he
should have me on his mind.

One of the most assiduous members of our circle had been Lady
Kenyon, and I remember his telling me one day that her ladyship had
in spite of her own infirmities, lately much aggravated, been in
person to inquire. In answer to this I remarked that she would
feel it more than any one. Brooksmith had a pause before saying in
a certain tone--there's no reproducing some of his tones--"I'll go
and see her." I went to see her myself and learned he had waited
on her; but when I said to her, in the form of a joke but with a
core of earnest, that when all was over some of us ought to
combine, to club together, and set Brooksmith up on his own
account, she replied a trifle disappointingly: "Do you mean in a
public-house?" I looked at her in a way that I think Brooksmith
himself would have approved, and then I answered: "Yes, the Offord
Arms." What I had meant of course was that for the love of art
itself we ought to look to it that such a peculiar faculty and so
much acquired experience shouldn't be wasted. I really think that
if we had caused a few black-edged cards to be struck off and
circulated--"Mr. Brooksmith will continue to receive on the old
premises from four to seven; business carried on as usual during
the alterations"--the greater number of us would have rallied.

Several times he took me upstairs--always by his own proposal--and
our dear old friend, in bed (in a curious flowered and brocaded
casaque which made him, especially as his head was tied up in a
handkerchief to match, look, to my imagination, like the dying
Voltaire) held for ten minutes a sadly shrunken little salon. I
felt indeed each time as if I were attending the last coucher of
some social sovereign. He was royally whimsical about his
sufferings and not at all concerned--quite as if the Constitution
provided for the case about his successor. He glided over OUR
sufferings charmingly, and none of his jokes--it was a gallant
abstention, some of them would have been so easy--were at our
expense. Now and again, I confess, there was one at Brooksmith's,
but so pathetically sociable as to make the excellent man look at
me in a way that seemed to say: "Do exchange a glance with me, or
I shan't be able to stand it." What he wasn't able to stand was
not what Mr. Offord said about him, but what he wasn't able to say
in return. His idea of conversation for himself was giving you the
convenience of speaking to him; and when he went to "see" Lady
Kenyon for instance it was to carry her the tribute of his
receptive silence. Where would the speech of his betters have been
if proper service had been a manifestation of sound? In that case
the fundamental difference would have had to be shown by their
dumbness, and many of them, poor things, were dumb enough without
that provision. Brooksmith took an unfailing interest in the
preservation of the fundamental difference; it was the thing he had
most on his conscience.

What had become of it however when Mr. Offord passed away like any
inferior person--was relegated to eternal stillness after the
manner of a butler above-stairs? His aspect on the event--for the
several successive days--may be imagined, and the multiplication by
funereal observance of the things he didn't say. When everything
was over--it was late the same day--I knocked at the door of the
house of mourning as I so often had done before. I could never
call on Mr. Offord again, but I had come literally to call on
Brooksmith. I wanted to ask him if there was anything I could do
for him, tainted with vagueness as this inquiry could only be. My
presumptuous dream of taking him into my own service had died away:
my service wasn't worth his being taken into. My offer could only
be to help him to find another place, and yet there was an
indelicacy, as it were, in taking for granted that his thoughts
would immediately be fixed on another. I had a hope that he would
be able to give his life a different form--though certainly not the
form, the frequent result of such bereavements, of his setting up a
little shop. That would have been dreadful; for I should have
wished to forward any enterprise he might embark in, yet how could
I have brought myself to go and pay him shillings and take back
coppers, over a counter? My visit then was simply an intended
compliment. He took it as such, gratefully and with all the tact
in the world. He knew I really couldn't help him and that I knew
he knew I couldn't; but we discussed the situation--with a good
deal of elegant generality--at the foot of the stairs, in the hall
already dismantled, where I had so often discussed other situations
with him. The executors were in possession, as was still more
apparent when he made me pass for a few minutes into the dining-
room, where various objects were muffled up for removal.

Two definite facts, however, he had to communicate; one being that
he was to leave the house for ever that night (servants, for some
mysterious reason, seem always to depart by night), and the other--
he mentioned it only at the last and with hesitation--that he was
already aware his late master had left him a legacy of eighty
pounds. "I'm very glad," I said, and Brooksmith was of the same
mind: "It was so like him to think of me." This was all that
passed between us on the subject, and I know nothing of his
judgement of Mr. Offord's memento. Eighty pounds are always eighty
pounds, and no one has ever left ME an equal sum; but, all the
same, for Brooksmith, I was disappointed. I don't know what I had
expected, but it was almost a shock. Eighty pounds might stock a
small shop--a VERY small shop; but, I repeat, I couldn't bear to
think of that. I asked my friend if he had been able to save a
little, and he replied: "No, sir; I've had to do things." I
didn't inquire what things they might have been; they were his own
affair, and I took his word for them as assentingly as if he had
had the greatness of an ancient house to keep up; especially as
there was something in his manner that seemed to convey a prospect
of further sacrifice.

"I shall have to turn round a bit, sir--I shall have to look about
me," he said; and then he added indulgently, magnanimously: "If
you should happen to hear of anything for me--"

I couldn't let him finish; this was, in its essence, too much in
the really grand manner. It would be a help to my getting him off
my mind to be able to pretend I COULD find the right place, and
that help he wished to give me, for it was doubtless painful to him
to see me in so false a position. I interposed with a few words to
the effect of how well aware I was that wherever he should go,
whatever he should do, he would miss our old friend terribly--miss
him even more than I should, having been with him so much more.
This led him to make the speech that has remained with me as the
very text of the whole episode.

"Oh sir, it's sad for YOU, very sad indeed, and for a great many
gentlemen and ladies; that it is, sir. But for me, sir, it is, if
I may say so, still graver even than that: it's just the loss of
something that was everything. For me, sir," he went on with
rising tears, "he was just ALL, if you know what I mean, sir. You
have others, sir, I daresay--not that I would have you understand
me to speak of them as in any way tantamount. But you have the
pleasures of society, sir; if it's only in talking about him, sir,
as I daresay you do freely--for all his blest memory has to fear
from it--with gentlemen and ladies who have had the same honour.
That's not for me, sir, and I've to keep my associations to myself.
Mr. Offord was MY society, and now, you see, I just haven't any.
You go back to conversation, sir, after all, and I go back to my
place," Brooksmith stammered, without exaggerated irony or dramatic
bitterness, but with a flat unstudied veracity and his hand on the
knob of the street-door. He turned it to let me out and then he
added: "I just go downstairs, sir, again, and I stay there."

"My poor child," I replied in my emotion, quite as Mr. Offord used
to speak, "my dear fellow, leave it to me: WE'LL look after you,
we'll all do something for you."

"Ah if you could give me some one LIKE him! But there ain't two
such in the world," Brooksmith said as we parted.

He had given me his address--the place where he would be to be
heard of. For a long time I had no occasion to make use of the
information: he proved on trial so very difficult a case. The
people who knew him and had known Mr. Offord didn't want to take
him, and yet I couldn't bear to try to thrust him among strangers--
strangers to his past when not to his present. I spoke to many of
our old friends about him and found them all governed by the odd
mixture of feelings of which I myself was conscious--as well as
disposed, further, to entertain a suspicion that he was "spoiled,"
with which, I then would have nothing to do. In plain terms a
certain embarrassment, a sensible awkwardness when they thought of
it, attached to the idea of using him as a menial: they had met
him so often in society. Many of them would have asked him, and
did ask him, or rather did ask me to ask him, to come and see them,
but a mere visiting-list was not what I wanted for him. He was too
short for people who were very particular; nevertheless I heard of
an opening in a diplomatic household which led me to write him a
note, though I was looking much less for something grand than for
something human. Five days later I heard from him. The
secretary's wife had decided, after keeping him waiting till then,
that she couldn't take a servant out of a house in which there
hadn't been a lady. The note had a P.S.: "It's a good job there
wasn't, sir, such a lady as some."

A week later he came to see me and told me he was "suited,"
committed to some highly respectable people--they were something
quite immense in the City--who lived on the Bayswater side of the
Park. "I daresay it will be rather poor, sir," he admitted; "but
I've seen the fireworks, haven't I, sir?--it can't be fireworks
EVERY night. After Mansfield Street there ain't much choice."
There was a certain amount, however, it seemed; for the following
year, calling one day on a country cousin, a lady of a certain age
who was spending a fortnight in town with some friends of her own,
a family unknown to me and resident in Chester Square, the door of
the house was opened, to my surprise and gratification, by
Brooksmith in person. When I came out I had some conversation with
him from which I gathered that he had found the large City people
too dull for endurance, and I guessed, though he didn't say it,
that he had found them vulgar as well. I don't know what judgement
he would have passed on his actual patrons if my relative hadn't
been their friend; but in view of that connexion he abstained from
comment.

None was necessary, however, for before the lady in question
brought her visit to a close they honoured me with an invitation to
dinner, which I accepted. There was a largeish party on the
occasion, but I confess I thought of Brooksmith rather more than of
the seated company. They required no depth of attention--they were
all referable to usual irredeemable inevitable types. It was the
world of cheerful commonplace and conscious gentility and
prosperous density, a full-fed material insular world, a world of
hideous florid plate and ponderous order and thin conversation.
There wasn't a word said about Byron, or even about a minor bard
then much in view. Nothing would have induced me to look at
Brooksmith in the course of the repast, and I felt sure that not
even my overturning the wine would have induced him to meet my eye.
We were in intellectual sympathy--we felt, as regards each other, a
degree of social responsibility. In short we had been in Arcadia
together, and we had both come to THIS! No wonder we were ashamed
to be confronted. When he had helped on my overcoat, as I was
going away, we parted, for the first time since the earliest days
of Mansfield Street, in silence. I thought he looked lean and
wasted, and I guessed that his new place wasn't more "human" than
his previous one. There was plenty of beef and beer, but there was
no reciprocity. The question for him to have asked before
accepting the position wouldn't have been "How many footmen are
kept?" but "How much imagination?"

The next time I went to the house--I confess it wasn't very soon--I
encountered his successor, a personage who evidently enjoyed the
good fortune of never having quitted his natural level. Could any
be higher? he seemed to ask--over the heads of three footmen and
even of some visitors. He made me feel as if Brooksmith were dead;
but I didn't dare to inquire--I couldn't have borne his "I haven't
the least idea, sir." I despatched a note to the address that
worthy had given me after Mr. Offord's death, but I received no
answer. Six months later however I was favoured with a visit from
an elderly dreary dingy person who introduced herself to me as Mr.
Brooksmith's aunt and from whom I learned that he was out of place
and out of health and had allowed her to come and say to me that if
I could spare half an hour to look in at him he would take it as a
rare honour.

I went the next day--his messenger had given me a new address--and
found my friend lodged in a short sordid street in Marylebone, one
of those corners of London that wear the last expression of sickly
meanness. The room into which I was shown was above the small
establishment of a dyer and cleaner who had inflated kid gloves and
discoloured shawls in his shop-front. There was a great deal of
grimy infant life up and down the place, and there was a hot moist
smell within, as of the "boiling" of dirty linen. Brooksmith sat
with a blanket over his legs at a clean little window where, from
behind stiff bluish-white curtains, he could look across at a
huckster's and a tinsmith's and a small greasy public-house. He
had passed through an illness and was convalescent, and his mother,
as well as his aunt, was in attendance on him. I liked the nearer
relative, who was bland and intensely humble, but I had my doubts
of the remoter, whom I connected perhaps unjustly with the opposite
public-house--she seemed somehow greasy with the same grease--and
whose furtive eye followed every movement of my hand as to see if
it weren't going into my pocket. It didn't take this direction--I
couldn't, unsolicited, put myself at that sort of ease with
Brooksmith. Several times the door of the room opened and
mysterious old women peeped in and shuffled back again. I don't
know who they were; poor Brooksmith seemed encompassed with vague
prying beery females.

He was vague himself, and evidently weak, and much embarrassed, and
not an allusion was made between us to Mansfield Street. The
vision of the salon of which he had been an ornament hovered before
me however, by contrast, sufficiently. He assured me he was really
getting better, and his mother remarked that he would come round if
he could only get his spirits up. The aunt echoed this opinion,
and I became more sure that in her own case she knew where to go
for such a purpose. I'm afraid I was rather weak with my old
friend, for I neglected the opportunity, so exceptionally good, to
rebuke the levity which had led him to throw up honourable
positions--fine stiff steady berths in Bayswater and Belgravia,
with morning prayers, as I knew, attached to one of them. Very
likely his reasons had been profane and sentimental; he didn't want
morning prayers, he wanted to be somebody's dear fellow; but I
couldn't be the person to rebuke him. He shuffled these episodes
out of sight--I saw he had no wish to discuss them. I noted
further, strangely enough, that it would probably be a questionable
pleasure for him to see me again: he doubted now even of my power
to condone his aberrations. He didn't wish to have to explain; and
his behaviour was likely in future to need explanation. When I
bade him farewell he looked at me a moment with eyes that said
everything: "How can I talk about those exquisite years in this
place, before these people, with the old women poking their heads
in? It was very good of you to come to see me; it wasn't my idea--
SHE brought you. We've said everything; it's over; you'll lose all
patience with me, and I'd rather you shouldn't see the rest." I
sent him some money in a letter the next day, but I saw the rest
only in the light of a barren sequel.

A whole year after my visit to him I became aware once, in dining
out, that Brooksmith was one of the several servants who hovered
behind our chairs. He hadn't opened the door of the house to me,
nor had I recognised him in the array of retainers in the hall.
This time I tried to catch his eye, but he never gave me a chance,
and when he handed me a dish I could only be careful to thank him
audibly. Indeed I partook of two entrees of which I had my doubts,
subsequently converted into certainties, in order not to snub him.
He looked well enough in health, but much older, and wore in an
exceptionally marked degree the glazed and expressionless mask of
the British domestic de race. I saw with dismay that if I hadn't
known him I should have taken him, on the showing of his
countenance, for an extravagant illustration of irresponsive
servile gloom. I said to myself that he had become a reactionary,
gone over to the Philistines, thrown himself into religion, the
religion of his "place," like a foreign lady sur le retour. I
divined moreover that he was only engaged for the evening--he had
become a mere waiter, had joined the band of the white-waistcoated
who "go out." There was something pathetic in this fact--it was a
terrible vulgarisation of Brooksmith. It was the mercenary prose
of butlerhood; he had given up the struggle for the poetry. If
reciprocity was what he had missed where was the reciprocity now?
Only in the bottoms of the wine-glasses and the five shillings--or
whatever they get--clapped into his hand by the permanent man.
However, I supposed he had taken up a precarious branch of his
profession because it after all sent him less downstairs. His
relations with London society were more superficial, but they were
of course more various. As I went away on this occasion I looked
out for him eagerly among the four or five attendants whose
perpendicular persons, fluting the walls of London passages, are
supposed to lubricate the process of departure; but he was not on
duty. I asked one of the others if he were not in the house, and
received the prompt answer: "Just left, sir. Anything I can do
for you, sir?" I wanted to say "Please give him my kind regards";
but I abstained--I didn't want to compromise him; and I never came
across him again.

Often and often, in dining out, I looked for him, sometimes
accepting invitations on purpose to multiply the chances of my
meeting him. But always in vain; so that as I met many other
members of the casual class over and over again I at last adopted
the theory that he always procured a list of expected guests
beforehand and kept away from the banquets which he thus learned I
was to grace. At last I gave up hope, and one day at the end of
three years I received another visit from his aunt. She was
drearier and dingier, almost squalid, and she was in great
tribulation and want. Her sister, Mrs. Brooksmith, had been dead a
year, and three months later her nephew had disappeared. He had
always looked after her a bit since her troubles; I never knew what
her troubles had been--and now she hadn't so much as a petticoat to
pawn. She had also a niece, to whom she had been everything before
her troubles, but the niece had treated her most shameful. These
were details; the great and romantic fact was Brooksmith's final
evasion of his fate. He had gone out to wait one evening as usual,
in a white waistcoat she had done up for him with her own hands--
being due at a large party up Kensington way. But he had never
come home again and had never arrived at the large party, nor at
any party that any one could make out. No trace of him had come to
light--no gleam of the white waistcoat had pierced the obscurity of
his doom. This news was a sharp shock to me, for I had my ideas
about his real destination. His aged relative had promptly, as she
said, guessed the worst. Somehow, and somewhere he had got out of
the way altogether, and now I trust that, with characteristic
deliberation, he is changing the plates of the immortal gods. As
my depressing visitant also said, he never HAD got his spirits up.
I was fortunately able to dismiss her with her own somewhat
improved. But the dim ghost of poor Brooksmith is one of those
that I see. He had indeed been spoiled.

Henry James