by George du Marier et al
by George du Maurier
With an Introduction by His Cousin Lady **** (“Madge Plunket")
Edited and Illustrated by George Du Maurier
The writer of this singular autobiography was my cousin, who died at
the ——-Criminal Lunatic Asylum, of which he had been an inmate three
He had been removed thither after a sudden and violent attack of
homicidal mania (which fortunately led to no serious consequences),
from ——-Jail, where he had spent twenty-five years, having been
condemned to penal servitude for life, for the murder of ————, his
He had been originally sentenced to death.
It was at ——Lunatic Asylum that he wrote these memoirs, and I
received the MS. soon after his decease, with the most touching letter,
appealing to our early friendship, and appointing me his literary
It was his wish that the story of his life should be published just
as he had written it.
I have found it unadvisable to do this. It would revive, to no
useful purpose, an old scandal, long buried and forgotten, and thereby
give pain or annoyance to people who are still alive.
Nor does his memory require rehabilitation among those who knew him,
or knew anything of him—the only people really concerned. His dreadful
deed has long been condoned by all (and they are many) who knew the
provocation he had received and the character of the man who had
On mature consideration, and with advice, I resolved (in order that
his dying wishes should not be frustrated altogether) to publish the
memoir with certain alterations and emendations.
I have nearly everywhere changed the names of people and places;
suppressed certain details, and omitted some passages of his life (most
of the story of his school-days, for instance, and that of his brief
career as a private in the Horse Guards) lest they should too easily
lead to the identification and annoyance of people still alive, for he
is strongly personal at times, and perhaps not always just; and some
other events I have carefully paraphrased (notably his trial at the Old
Bailey), and given for them as careful an equivalent as I could manage
without too great a loss of verisimilitude.
I may as well state at once that, allowing for these alterations,
every incident of his natural life as described by himself is
absolutely true, to the minutest detail, as I have been able to
For the early part of it—the life at Passy he describes with such
affection—I can vouch personally; I am the Cousin “Madge” to whom he
once or twice refers.
I well remember the genial abode where he lived with his parents (my
dear uncle and aunt); and the lovely “Madame Seraskier,” and her
husband and daughter, and their house, “Parva sed Apta,” and “Major
Duquesnois,” and the rest.
And although I have never seen him since he was twelve years old,
when his parents died and he went to London (as most of my life has
been spent abroad), I received occasional letters from him.
I have also been able to obtain much information about him from
others, especially from a relative of the late “Mr. and Mrs. Lintot,”
who knew him well, and from several officers in his regiment who
remembered him; also from the “Vicar's daughter,” whom he met at “Lady
Cray's” and who perfectly recollects the conversation she had with him
at dinner, his sudden indisposition, and his long interview with the
“Duchess of Towers,” under the ash-tree next morning; she was one of
He was the most beautiful boy I ever saw, and so charming, lively,
and amiable that everybody was fond of him. He had a horror of cruelty,
especially to animals (quite singular in a boy of his age), and was
very truthful and brave.
According to all accounts (and from a photograph in my possession),
he grew up to be as handsome as a man can well be, a personal gift
which he seems to have held of no account whatever, though he thought
so much of it in others. But he also became singularly shy and reserved
in manner, over-diffident and self-distrustful; of a melancholy
disposition, loving solitude, living much alone, and taking nobody into
his confidence; and yet inspiring both affection and respect. For he
seems to have always been thoroughly gentlemanlike in speech, bearing,
manner, and aspect.
It is possible, although he does not say so, that having first
enlisted, and then entered upon a professional career under somewhat
inauspicious conditions, he felt himself to have fallen away from the
social rank (such as it was) that belonged to him by birth; and he may
have found his associates uncongenial.
His old letters to me are charmingly open and effusive.
Of the lady whom (keeping her title and altering her name) I have
called the “Duchess of Towers,” I find it difficult to speak. That they
only met twice, and in the way he describes, is a fact about which
there can be no doubt.
It is also indubitable that he received in Newgate, on the morning
after his sentence to death, an envelope containing violets, and the
strange message he mentions. Both letter and violets are in my
possession, and the words are in her handwriting; about that there can
be no mistake.
It is certain, moreover, that she separated from her husband almost
immediately after my cousin's trial and condemnation, and lived in
comparative retirement from the world, as it is certain that he went
suddenly mad, twenty-five years later, in ——Jail, a few hours after
her tragic death, and before he could possibly have heard of it by the
ordinary channels; and that he was sent to ——Asylum, where, after his
frenzy had subsided, he remained for many days in a state of suicidal
melancholia, until, to the surprise of all, he rose one morning in high
spirits, and apparently cured of all serious symptoms of insanity; so
he remained until his death. It was during the last year of his life
that he wrote his autobiography, in French and English.
There is nothing to be surprised at, taking all the circumstances
into consideration, that even so great a lady, the friend of queens and
empresses, the bearer of a high title and an illustrious name, justly
celebrated for her beauty and charm (and her endless charities), of
blameless repute, and one of the most popular women in English society,
should yet have conceived a very warm regard for my poor cousin;
indeed, it was an open secret in the family of “Lord Cray” that she had
done so. But for them she would have taken the whole world into her
After her death she left him what money had come to her from her
father, which he disposed of for charitable ends, and an immense
quantity of MS. in cipher—a cipher which is evidently identical with
that he used himself in the annotations he put under innumerable
sketches he was allowed to make during his long period of confinement,
which (through her interest, and no doubt through his own good conduct)
was rendered as bearable to him as possible. These sketches (which are
very extraordinary) and her Grace's MS. are now in my possession.
They constitute a mystery into which I have not dared to pry.
From papers belonging to both I have been able to establish beyond
doubt the fact (so strangely discovered) of their descent from a common
French ancestress, whose name I have but slightly modified and the
tradition of whom still lingers in the “Departement de la Sarthe,”
where she was a famous person a century ago; and her violin, a valuable
Amati, now belongs to me.
Of the non-natural part of his story I will not say much.
It is, of course, a fact that he had been absolutely and, to all
appearance, incurably insane before he wrote his life.
There seems to have been a difference of opinion, or rather a doubt,
among the authorities of the asylum as to whether he was mad after the
acute but very violent period of his brief attack had ended.
Whichever may have been the case, I am at least convinced of this:
that he was no romancer, and thoroughly believed in the extraordinary
mental experience he has revealed.
At the risk of being thought to share his madness—if he was
mad—I will conclude by saying that I, for one, believe him to have
been sane, and to have told the truth all through.
I am but a poor scribe; ill-versed in the craft of wielding words
and phrases, as the cultivated reader (if I should ever happen to have
one) will no doubt very soon find out for himself.
I have been for many years an object of pity and contempt to all who
ever gave me a thought—to all but one! Yet of all that ever
lived on this earth I have been, perhaps, the happiest and most
privileged, as that reader will discover if he perseveres to the end.
My outer and my inner life have been as the very poles—asunder; and
if, at the eleventh hour, I have made up my mind to give my story to
the world, it is not in order to rehabilitate myself in the eyes of my
fellow-men, deeply as I value their good opinion; for I have always
loved them and wished them well, and would fain express my goodwill and
win theirs, if that were possible.
It is because the regions where I have found my felicity are
accessible to all, and that many, better trained and better gifted,
will explore them to far better purpose than I, and to the greater
glory and benefit of mankind, when once I have given them the clew.
Before I can do this, and in order to show how I came by this clew
myself, I must tell, as well as I may, the tale of my checkered
career—in telling which, moreover, I am obeying the last behest of one
whose lightest wish was my law.
If I am more prolix than I need be, it must be set down to my want
of experience in the art of literary composition—to a natural wish I
have to show myself neither better nor worse than I believe myself to
be; to the charm, the unspeakable charm, that personal reminiscences
have for the person principally concerned, and which he cannot hope to
impart, however keenly he may feel it, without gifts and advantages
that have been denied to me.
And this leads me to apologize for the egotism of this Memoir, which
is but an introduction to another and longer one that I hope to publish
later. To write a story of paramount importance to mankind, it is true,
but all about one's outer and one's inner self, to do this without
seeming somewhat egotistical, requires something akin to genius—and I
am but a poor scribe.
* * * * *
“Combien j'ai douce souvenance
Du joli lieu de ma naissance!”
These quaint lines have been running in my head at intervals through
nearly all my outer life, like an oft-recurring burden in an endless
ballad—sadly monotonous, alas! the ballad, which is mine; sweetly
monotonous the burden, which is by Chateaubriand.
I sometimes think that to feel the full significance of this refrain
one must have passed one's childhood in sunny France, where it was
written, and the remainder of one's existence in mere London—or worse
than mere London—as has been the case with me. If I had spent all my
life from infancy upward in Bloomsbury, or Clerkenwell, or Whitechapel,
my early days would be shorn of much of their retrospective glamour as
I look back on them in these my after-years.
“Combien j'ai douce souvenance!”
It was on a beautiful June morning in a charming French garden,
where the warm, sweet atmosphere was laden with the scent of lilac and
syringa, and gay with butterflies and dragon-flies and humblebees, that
I began my conscious existence with the happiest day of all my outer
It is true that I had vague memories (with many a blank between) of
a dingy house in the heart of London, in a long street of desolating
straightness, that led to a dreary square and back again, and nowhere
else for me; and then of a troubled and exciting journey that seemed of
jumbled days and nights. I could recall the blue stage-coach with the
four tall, thin, brown horses, so quiet and modest and well-behaved;
the red-coated guard and his horn; the red-faced driver and his husky
voice and many capes.
Then the steamer with its glistening deck, so beautiful and white it
seemed quite a desecration to walk upon it—this spotlessness did not
last very long; and then two wooden piers with a light-house on each,
and a quay, and blue-bloused workmen and red-legged little soldiers
with mustaches, and bare-legged fisher-women, all speaking a language
that I knew as well as the other commoner language I had left behind;
but which I had always looked upon as an exclusive possession of my
father's and mother's and mine for the exchange of sweet confidence and
the bewilderment of outsiders; and here were little boys and girls in
the street, quite common children, who spoke it as well and better than
I did myself.
After this came the dream of a strange, huge, top-heavy vehicle,
that seemed like three yellow carriages stuck together, and a mountain
of luggage at the top under an immense black tarpaulin, which ended in
a hood; and beneath the hood sat a blue-bloused man with a singular
cap, like a concertina, and mustaches, who cracked a loud whip over
five squealing, fussy, pugnacious white and gray horses, with bells on
their necks and bushy fox-tails on their foreheads, and their own tails
carefully tucked up behind.
From the coupe where I sat with my father and mother I could
watch them well as they led us through dusty roads with endless
apple-trees or poplars on either side. Little barefooted urchins (whose
papas and mammas wore wooden shoes and funny white nightcaps) ran after
us for French half-pennies, which were larger than English ones, and
pleasanter to have and to hold! Up hill and down we went; over sounding
wooden bridges, through roughly paved streets in pretty towns to large
court-yards, where five other quarrelsome steeds, gray and white, were
waiting to take the place of the old ones—worn out, but quarreling
And through the night I could hear the gay music of the bells and
hoofs, the rumbling of the wheels the cracking of the eternal whip, as
I fidgeted from one familiar lap to the other in search of sleep; and
waking out of a doze I could see the glare of the red lamps on the five
straining white and gray backs that dragged us so gallantly through the
dark summer night.
[Illustration: “A STRANGE, HUGE, TOP-HEAVY VEHICLE.”]
Then it all became rather tiresome and intermittent and confused,
till we reached at dusk next day a quay by a broad river; and as we
drove along it, under thick trees, we met other red and blue and green
lamped five-horsed diligences starting on their long journey just as
ours was coming to an end.
Then I knew (because I was a well-educated little boy, and heard my
father exclaim, “Here's Paris at last!”) that we had entered the
capital of France—a fact that impressed me very much—so much, it
seems, that I went to sleep for thirty-six hours at a stretch, and woke
up to find myself in the garden I have mentioned, and to retain
possession of that self without break or solution of continuity (except
when I went to sleep again) until now.
* * * * *
The happiest day in all my outer life!
For in an old shed full of tools and lumber at the end of the
garden, and half-way between an empty fowl-house and a disused stable
(each an Eden in itself) I found a small toy-wheelbarrow—quite the
most extraordinary, the most unheard of and undreamed of, humorously,
daintily, exquisitely fascinating object I had ever come across in all
my brief existence.
I spent hours—enchanted hours—in wheeling brick-bats from the
stable to the fowl-house, and more enchanted hours in wheeling them all
back again, while genial French workmen, who were busy in and out of
the house where we were to live, stopped every now and then to ask
good-natured questions of the “p'tit Anglais,” and commend his
knowledge of their tongue, and his remarkable skill in the management
of a wheelbarrow. Well I remember wondering, with newly-aroused
self-consciousness, at the intensity, the poignancy, the extremity of
my bliss, and looking forward with happy confidence to an endless
succession of such hours in the future.
But next morning, though the weather was as fine, and the
wheelbarrow and the brick-bats and the genial workmen were there, and
all the scents and sights and sounds were the same, the first fine
careless rapture was not to be caught again, and the glory and the
freshness had departed.
Thus did I, on the very dawning of life, reach at a single tide the
high-water-mark of my earthly bliss—never to be reached again by me on
this side of the ivory gate—and discover that to make the perfection
of human happiness endure there must be something more than a sweet
French garden, a small French wheelbarrow, and a nice little English
boy who spoke French and had the love of approbation—a fourth
dimension is required.
I found it in due time.
But if there were no more enchanted hours like the first, there were
to be seven happy years that have the quality of enchantment as I look
back on them.
* * * * *
Oh, the beautiful garden! Roses, nasturtiums and convolvulus,
wallflowers, sweet-pease and carnations, marigolds and sunflowers,
dahlias and pansies and hollyhocks and poppies, and Heaven knows what
besides! In my fond recollection they all bloom at once, irrespective
of time and season.
To see and smell and pick all these for the first time at the
susceptible age of five! To inherit such a kingdom after five years of
Gower Street and Bedford Square! For all things are relative, and
everything depends upon the point of view. To the owner of Chatsworth
(and to his gardeners) my beautiful French Garden would have seemed a
[Illustration: LE P'TIT ANGLAIS.]
And what a world of insects—Chatsworth could not beat these
(indeed, is no doubt sadly lacking in them)—beautiful, interesting,
comic, grotesque, and terrible; from the proud humble-bee to the earwig
and his cousin, the devil's coach-horse; and all those rampant, many
footed things that pullulate in damp and darkness under big flat
stones. To think that I have been friends with all these—roses and
centipedes and all—and then to think that most of my outer life has
been spent between bare whitewashed walls, with never even a flea or a
spider to be friends with again!
Our house (where, by-the-way, I had been born five years before), an
old yellow house with green shutters and Mansard-roofs of slate, stood
between this garden and the street—a long winding street, roughly
flagged, with oil-lamps suspended across at long intervals; these lamps
were let down with pulleys at dusk, replenished and lit, and then
hauled up again to make darkness visible for a few hours on nights when
the moon was away.
Opposite to us was a boys' school—“Maison d'Education, Dirigee par
M. Jules Saindou, Bachelier et Maitre es Lettres et es Sciences,” and
author of a treatise on geology, with such hauntingly terrific pictures
of antediluvian reptiles battling in the primeval slime that I have
never been able to forget them. My father, who was fond of science,
made me a present of it on my sixth birthday. It cost me many a
From our windows we could see and hear the boys at play—at a proper
distance French boys sound just like English ones, though they do not
look so, on account of their blue blouses and dusky, cropped heads—and
we could see the gymnastic fixtures in the play-ground, M. Saindou's
pride. “Le portique! la poutre! le cheval! et les barres paralleles!”
Thus they were described in M. Saindou's prospectus.
On either side of the street (which was called “the Street of the
Pump"), as far as eye could reach looking west, were dwelling-houses
just like our own, only agreeably different; and garden walls
overtopped with the foliage of horse-chestnut, sycamore, acacia, and
lime; and here and there huge portals and iron gates defended by posts
of stone gave ingress to mysterious abodes of brick and plaster and
granite, many-shuttered, and embosomed in sun-shot greenery.
Looking east one could see in the near distance unsophisticated
shops with old-fashioned windows of many panes—Liard, the grocer;
Corbin, the poulterer; the butcher, the baker, the candlestick-maker.
And this delightful street, as it went on its winding way, led not
to Bedford Square or the new University College Hospital, but to Paris
through the Arc de Triomphe at one end, and to the river Seine at the
other; or else, turning to the right, to St. Cloud through the Bois de
Boulogne of Louis Philippe Premier, Roi des Francais—as different from
the Paris and the Bois de Boulogne of to-day as a diligence from an
On one side of the beautiful garden was another beautiful garden,
separated from ours by a high wall covered with peach and pear and plum
and apricot trees; on the other, accessible to us through a small door
in another lower wall clothed with jasmine, clematis, convolvulus, and
nasturtium, was a long, straight avenue of almond-trees, acacia,
laburnum, lilac, and may, so closely planted that the ivy-grown walls
on either side could scarcely be seen. What lovely patches they made on
the ground when the sun shone! One end of this abutted on “the Street
of the Pump,” from which it was fenced by tall, elaborately-carved iron
gates between stone portals, and at the side was a “porte batarde,”
guarded by le Pere et la Mere Francois, the old concierge and his old
wife. Peace to their ashes, and Heaven rest their kindly, genial souls!
The other end of the avenue, where there was also an iron gate,
admitted to a large private park that seemed to belong to nobody, and
of which we were free—a very wilderness of delight, a heaven, a terror
of tangled thickets and not too dangerous chalk cliffs, disused old
quarries and dark caverns, prairies of lush grass, sedgy pools, turnip
fields, forests of pine, groves and avenues of horse-chestnut, dank
valleys of walnut-trees and hawthorn, which summer made dark at noon;
bare, wind-swept mountainous regions whence one could reconnoitre afar;
all sorts of wild and fearsome places for savages and wild beasts to
hide and small boys to roam quite safely in quest of perilous
All this vast enclosure (full of strange singing, humming,
whistling, buzzing, twittering, cooing, booming, croaking, flying,
creeping, crawling, jumping, climbing, burrowing, splashing, diving
things) had been neglected for ages—an Eden where one might gather and
eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge without fear, and learn
lovingly the ways of life without losing one's innocence; a forest that
had remade for itself a new virginity, and become primeval once more;
where beautiful Nature had reasserted her own sweet will, and massed
and tangled everything together as though a Beauty had been sleeping
there undisturbed for close on a hundred years, and was only waiting
for the charming Prince—or, as it turned out a few years later, alas!
the speculative builder and the railway engineer—those princes of our
My fond remembrance would tell me that this region was almost
boundless, well as I remember its boundaries. My knowledge of physical
geography, as applied to this particular suburb of Paris, bids me
assign more modest limits to this earthly paradise, which again was
separated by an easily surmounted fence from Louis Philippe's Bois de
Boulogne; and to this I cannot find it in my heart to assign any limits
whatever, except the pretty old town from which it takes its name, and
whose principal street leads to that magical combination of river,
bridge, palace, gardens, mountain, and forest, St. Cloud.
What more could be wanted for a small boy fresh (if such be
freshness) from the very heart of Bloomsbury?
That not a single drop should be lacking to the full cup of that
small boy's felicity, there was a pond on the way from Passy to St.
Cloud—a memorable pond, called “La Mare d'Auteuil,” the sole aquatic
treasure that Louis Philippe's Bois de Boulogne could boast. For in
those ingenuous days there existed no artificial lake fed by an
artificial stream, no pre-Catelan, no Jardin d'Acclimatation. The wood
was just a wood, and nothing more—a dense, wild wood, that covered
many hundreds of acres, and sheltered many thousands of wild live
things. Though mysteriously deep in the middle, this famous pond (which
may have been centuries old, and still exists) was not large; you might
almost fling a stone across it anywhere.
Bounded on three sides by the forest (now shorn away), it was just
hidden from the dusty road by a fringe of trees; and one could have it
all to one's self, except on Sunday and Thursday afternoons, when a few
love-sick Parisians remembered its existence, and in its loveliness
forgot their own.
To be there at all was to be happy; for not only was it quite the
most secluded, picturesque, and beautiful pond in all the habitable
globe—that pond of ponds, the only pond—but it teemed with a
far greater number and variety of wonderful insects and reptiles than
any other pond in the world. Such, at least, I believed must be the
case, for they were endless.
To watch these creatures, to learn their ways, to catch them (which
we sometimes did), to take them home and be kind to them, and try to
tame them, and teach them our ways (with never varying non-success, it
is true, but in, oh, such jolly company!) became a hobby that lasted
me, on and off, for seven years.
La Mare d'Auteuil! The very name has a magic, from all the
associations that gathered round it during that time, to cling forever.
How I loved it! At night, snoozing in my warm bed, I would awesomely
think of it, and how solemn it looked when I had reluctantly left it at
dusk, an hour or two before; then I would picture it to myself, later,
lying deep and cold and still under the stars, in the dark thicket,
with all that weird, uncanny lite seething beneath its stagnant
Then gradually the water would sink, and the reeds, left naked,
begin to move and rustle ominously, and from among their roots in the
uncovered slush everything alive would make for the middle—hopping,
gliding, writhing frantically....
Down shrank the water; and soon in the slimy bottom, yards below,
huge fat salamanders, long-lost and forgotten tadpoles as large as
rats, gigantic toads, enormous flat beetles, all kinds of hairy, scaly,
spiny, blear-eyed, bulbous, shapeless monsters without name,
mud-colored offspring of the mire that had been sleeping there for
hundreds of years, woke up, and crawled in and out, and wallowed and
interwriggled, and devoured each other, like the great saurians and
batrachians in my Manuel de Geologie Elementaire. Edition
illustree a l'usage des enfants. Par Jules Saindou, Bachelier et Maitre
es Lettres et es Sciences.
Then would I wake up with a start, in a cold perspiration, an icy
chill shooting through me that roughed my skin and stirred the roots of
my hair, and ardently wish for to-morrow morning.
In after-years, and far away among the cold fogs of Clerkenwell,
when the frequent longing would come over me to revisit “the pretty
place of my birth,” it was for the Mare d'Auteuil I longed the most;
that was the loadstar, the very pole of my home-sick desires;
always thither the wings of my hopeless fancy bore me first of all; it
was, oh! to tread that sunlit grassy brink once more, and to watch the
merry tadpoles swarm, and the green frog takes its header like a little
man, and the water-rat swim to his hole among the roots of the willow,
and the horse-leech thread his undulating way between the water-lily
stems; and to dream fondly of the delightful, irrevocable past, on the
very spot of all where I and mine were always happiest!
”...Qu'ils etaient beaux, les jours De France!”
In the avenue I have mentioned (the avenue, as it is still to
me, and as I will always call it) there was on the right hand, half the
way up, a maison de sante, or boarding-house, kept by one Madame
Pele; and there among others came to board and lodge, a short while
after our advent, four or five gentlemen who had tried to invade
France, with a certain grim Pretender at their head, and a tame eagle
as a symbol of empire to rally round.
The expedition had failed; the Pretender had been consigned to a
fortress; the eagle had found a home in the public slaughter-house of
Boulogne-sur-Mer, which it adorned for many years, and where it fed as
it had never probably fed before; and these, the faithful followers, le
Colonel Voisil, le Major Duquesnois, le Capitaine Audenis, le Docteur
Lombal (and one or two others whose names I have forgotten), were
prisoners on parole at Madame Pele's, and did not seem to find their
durance very vile.
[Illustration: (no caption)]
I grew to know and love them all, especially the Major Duquesnois,
an almost literal translation into French of Colonel Newcome. He took
to me at once, in spite of my Englishness, and drilled me, and taught
me the exercise as it was performed in the Vieille Garden and told me a
new fairy-tale, I verily believe, every afternoon for seven years.
Scheherezade could do no more for a Sultan, and to save her own neck
from the bowstring!
Cher et bien ame “Vieux de la Vieille!” with his big iron-gray
mustache, his black satin stock, his spotless linen, his long green
frock-coat so baggy about the skirts, and the smart red ribbon in his
button-hole! He little foresaw with what warm and affectionate regard
his memory would be kept forever sweet and green in the heart of his
hereditary foe and small English tyrant and companion!
* * * * *
Opposite Madame Pele's, and the only other dwelling besides hers and
ours in the avenue, was a charming little white villa with a Grecian
portico, on which were inscribed in letters of gold the words “Parva
sed Apta”; but it was not tenanted till two or three years after our
In the genial French fashion of those times we soon got on terms of
intimacy with these and other neighbors, and saw much of each other at
all times of the day.
My tall and beautiful young mother (la belle Madame Pasquier, as she
was gallantly called) was an Englishwoman who had been born and partly
brought up in Paris.
My gay and jovial father (le beau Pasquier, for he was also tall and
comely to the eye) was a Frenchman, although an English subject, who
had been born and partly brought up in London; for he was the child of
emigres from France during the Reign of Terror.
“When in death I shall calm recline,
Oh take my heart to my mistress dear!
Tell her it lived upon smiles and wine
Of the brightest hue while it lingered here!”
He was gifted with a magnificent, a phenomenal voice—a barytone and
tenor rolled into one; a marvel of richness, sweetness, flexibility,
and power—and had intended to sing at the opera; indeed, he had
studied for three years at the Paris Conservatoire to that end; and
there he had carried all before him, and given rise to the highest
hopes. But his family, who were Catholics of the blackest and
Legitimists of the whitest dye—and as poor as church rats had objected
to such a godless and derogatory career; so the world lost a great
singer, and the great singer a mine of wealth and fame.
However, he had just enough to live upon, and had married a wife (a
heretic!) who had just about as much, or as little; and he spent his
time, and both his money and hers, in scientific inventions—to little
purpose, for well as he had learned how to sing, he had not been to any
conservatoire where they teach one how to invent.
So that, as he waited “for his ship to come home,” he sang only to
amuse his wife, as they say the nightingale does; and to ease himself
of superfluous energy, and to charm the servants, and le Pere et la
Mere Francois, and the five followers of Napoleon, and all and
everybody who cared to listen, and last and least (and most!), myself.
For this great neglected gift of his, on which he set so little
store, was already to me the most beautiful and mysterious thing in the
world; and next to this, my mother's sweet playing on the harp and
piano, for she was an admirable musician.
It was her custom to play at night, leaving the door of my bedroom
ajar, and also the drawing-room door, so that I could hear her till I
Sometimes, when my father was at home, the spirit would move him to
hum or sing the airs she played, as he paced up and down the room on
the track of a new invention.
And though he sang and hummed “pian-piano,” the sweet, searching,
manly tones seemed to fill all space.
The hushed house became a sounding-board, the harp a mere
subservient tinkle, and my small, excitable frame would thrill and
vibrate under the waves of my unconscious father's voice; and oh, the
charming airs he sang!
His stock was inexhaustible, and so was hers; and thus an endless
succession of lovely melodies went ringing through that happy period.
And just as when a man is drowning, or falling from a height, his
whole past life is said to be mapped out before his mental vision as in
a single flash, so seven years of sweet, priceless home love—seven
times four changing seasons of simple, genial, prae-imperial
Frenchness; an ideal house, with all its pretty furniture, and shape,
and color; a garden full of trees and flowers; a large park, and all
the wild live things therein; a town and its inhabitants; a mile or two
of historic river; a wood big enough to reach from the Arc de Triomphe
to St. Cloud (and in it the pond of ponds); and every wind and weather
that the changing seasons can bring—all lie embedded and embalmed for
me in every single bar of at least a hundred different tunes, to be
evoked at will for the small trouble and cost of just whistling or
humming the same, or even playing it with one finger on the piano—when
I had a piano within reach.
Enough to last me for a lifetime—with proper economy, of course—it
will not do to exhaust, by too frequent experiment, the strange
capacity of a melodic bar for preserving the essence of by-gone things,
and days that are no more.
Oh, Nightingale! whether thou singest thyself or, better still, if
thy voice by not in thy throat, but in thy fiery heart and subtle
brain, and thou makest songs for the singing of many others, blessed be
thy name! The very sound of it is sweet in every clime and tongue:
Nightingale, Rossignol, Usignuolo, Bulbul! Even Nachtigall does not
sound amiss in the mouth of a fair English girl who has had a
Hanoverian for a governess! and, indeed, it is in the Nachtigall's
country that the best music is made!
[Illustration: “OH, NIGHTINGALE!”]
And oh, Nightingale! never, never grudge thy song to those who love
it—nor waste it upon those who do not....
Thus serenaded, I would close my eyes, and lapped in darkness and
warmth and heavenly sound, be lulled asleep—perchance to dream!
For my early childhood was often haunted by a dream, which at first
I took for a reality—a transcendant dream of some interest and
importance to mankind, as the patient reader will admit in time. But
many years of my life passed away before I was able to explain and
account for it.
I had but to turn my face to the wall, and soon I found myself in
company with a lady who had white hair and a young face—a very
beautiful young face.
Sometimes I walked with her, hand in hand—I being quite a small
child—and together we fed innumerable pigeons who lived in a tower by
a winding stream that ended in a water-mill. It was too lovely, and I
Sometimes we went into a dark place, where there was a fiery furnace
with many holes, and many people working and moving about—among them a
man with white hair and a young face, like the lady, and beautiful red
heels to his shoes. And under his guidance I would contrive to make in
the furnace a charming little cocked hat of colored glass—a treasure!
And the sheer joy thereof would wake me.
Sometimes the white-haired lady and I would sit together at a square
box from which she made lovely music, and she would sing my favorite
song—a song that I adored. But I always woke before this song came to
an end, on account of the too insupportably intense bliss I felt on
hearing it; and all I could remember when awake were the words
“triste—comment—sale.” The air, which I knew so well in my dream, I
could not recall.
It seemed as though some innermost core of my being, some childish
holy of holies, secreted a source of supersubtle reminiscence, which,
under some stimulus that now and again became active during sleep,
exhaled itself in this singular dream—shadowy and slight, but
invariably accompanied by a sense of felicity so measureless and so
penetrating that I would always wake in a mystic flutter of ecstasy,
the bare remembrance of which was enough to bless and make happy many a
* * * * *
Besides this happy family of three, close by (in the Street of the
Tower) lived my grandmother Mrs. Biddulph, and my Aunt Plunket, a
widow, with her two sons, Alfred and Charlie, and her daughter Madge.
They also were fair to look at—extremely so—of the gold-haired,
white-skinned, well-grown Anglo-Saxon type, with frank, open, jolly
manners, and no beastly British pride.
So that physically, at least, we reflected much credit on the
English name, which was not in good odor just then at Passy-les-Paris,
where Waterloo was unforgotten. In time, however, our nationality was
condoned on account of our good looks—“non Angli sed angeli!” as M.
Saindou was gallantly pleased to exclaim when he called (with a
prospectus of his school) and found us all gathered together under the
big apple-tree on our lawn.
But English beauty in Passy was soon to receive a memorable addition
to its ranks in the person of a certain Madame Seraskier, who came with
an invalid little daughter to live in the house so modestly described
in gold as “Parva sed Apta.”
She was the English, or rather the Irish, wife of a Hungarian
patriot and man of science, Dr. Seraskier (son of the famous
violinist); an extremely tall, thin man, almost gigantic, with a grave,
benevolent face, and a head like a prophet's; who was, like my father,
very much away from his family—conspiring perhaps—or perhaps only
inventing (like my father), and looking out “for his ship to come
[Illustration: “SHE TOPPED MY TALL MOTHER.”]
This fair lady's advent was a sensation—to me a sensation that
never palled or wore itself away; it was no longer now “la belle Madame
Pasquier,” but “la divine Madame Seraskier”—beauty-blind as the French
are apt to be.
She topped my tall mother by more than half a head; as was remarked
by Madame Pele, whose similes were all of the kitchen and dining-room,
“elle lui mangerait des petits pates sur la tete!” And height, that
lends dignity to ugliness, magnifies beauty on a scale of geometrical
progression—2, 4, 8, 16, 32—for every consecutive inch, between five
feet five, let us say, and five feet ten or eleven (or thereabouts),
which I take to have been Madame Seraskier's measurement.
She had black hair and blue eyes—of the kind that turns violet in a
novel—and a beautiful white skin, lovely hands and feet, a perfect
figure, and features chiselled and finished and polished and turned out
with such singular felicitousness that one gazed and gazed till the
heart was full of a strange jealous resentment at any one else having
the right to gaze on something so rare, so divinely, so sacredly
fair—any one in the world but one's self!
But a woman can be all this without being Madame Seraskier—she was
For the warmth and genial kindness of her nature shone through her
eyes and rang in her voice. All was of a piece with her—her
simplicity, her grace, her naturalness and absence of vanity; her
courtesy, her sympathy, her mirthfulness.
I do not know which was the most irresistible: she had a slight
Irish accent when she spoke English, a less slight English accent when
she spoke French!
I made it my business to acquire both.
Indeed, she was in heart and mind and body what we should all
be but for the lack of a little public spirit and self-denial (under
proper guidance) during the last few hundred years on the part of a few
thousand millions of our improvident fellow-creatures.
There should be no available ugly frames for beautiful souls to be
hurried into by carelessness or mistake, and no ugly souls should be
suffered to creep, like hermit-crabs, into beautiful shells never
intended for them. The outward and visible form should mark the inward
and spiritual grace; that it seldom does so is a fact there is no
gainsaying. Alas! such beauty is such an exception that its possessor,
like a prince of the blood royal, is pampered and spoiled from the very
cradle, and every good and generous and unselfish impulse is corroded
by adulation—that spontaneous tribute so lightly won, so quickly paid,
and accepted so royally as a due.
So that only when by Heaven's grace the very beautiful are also very
good, is it time for us to go down on our knees, and say our prayers in
thankfulness and adoration; for the divine has been permitted to make
itself manifest for a while in the perishable likeness of our poor
A beautiful face! a beautiful tune! Earth holds nothing to beat
these, and of such, for want of better materials, we have built for
ourselves the kingdom of Heaven.
“Plus oblige, et peut davantage
Un beau visage
Qu'un homme arme—
Et rien n'est meilleur que d'entendre
Air doux et tendre
My mother soon became the passionately devoted friend of the divine
Madame Seraskier; and I, what would I not have done—what danger would
I not have faced—what death would I not have died for her!
I did not die; I lived her protestant to be, for nearly fifty years.
For nearly fifty years to recollect the rapture and the pain it was to
look at her; that inexplicable longing ache, that dumb, delicious,
complex, innocent distress, for which none but the greatest poets have
ever found expression; and which, perhaps, they have not felt half so
acutely, these glib and gifted ones, as I did, at the
susceptible age of seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, and twelve.
She had other slaves of my sex. The five Napoleonic heroes did
homage each after his fashion: the good Major with a kind of sweet
fatherly tenderness touching to behold; the others with perhaps less
unselfish adoration; notably the brave Capitaine Audenis, of the fair
waxed mustache and beautiful brown tail coat, so tightly buttoned with
gilt buttons across his enormous chest, and imperceptible little feet
so tightly imprisoned in shiny tipped female cloth boots, with buttons
of mother-of-pearl; whose hobby was, I believe, to try and compensate
himself for the misfortunes of war by more successful attempts in
another direction. Anyhow he betrayed a warmth that made my small bosom
a Gehenna, until she laughed and snubbed him into due propriety and
It soon became evident that she favored two, at least, out of all
this little masculine world—the Major myself; and a strange trio we
Her poor little daughter, the object of her passionate solicitude, a
very clever and precocious child, was the reverse of beautiful,
although she would have had fine eyes but for her red lashless lids.
She wore her thick hair cropped short, like a boy, and was pasty and
sallow in complexion, hollow-cheeked, thick-featured, and overgrown,
with long thin hands and feet, and arms and legs of quite pathetic
length and tenuity; a silent and melancholy little girl, who sucked her
thumb perpetually, and kept her own counsel. She would have to lie in
bed for days together, and when she got well enough to sit up, I (to
please her mother) would read to her Le Robinson Suisse,
Sandford and Merton, Evenings at Home, Les Contes de
Madame Perrault, the shipwreck from “Don Juan,” of which we never
tired, and the “Giaour,” the “Corsair,” and “Mazeppa”; and last, but
not least, Peter Parleys Natural History, which we got to know
And out of this latter volume I would often declaim for her benefit
what has always been to me the most beautiful poem in the world,
possibly because it was the first I read for myself, or else because it
is so intimately associated with those happy days. Under an engraving
of a wild duck (after Bewick, I believe) were quoted W.C. Bryant's
lines “To a Water-fowl.” They charmed me then and charm me now as
nothing else has quite charmed me; I become a child again as I think of
them, with a child's virgin subtlety of perception and magical
susceptibility to vague suggestions of the Infinite.
Poor little Mimsey Seraskier would listen with distended eyes and
quick comprehension. She had a strange fancy that a pair of invisible
beings, “La fee Tarapatapoum,” and “Le Prince Charmant” (two favorite
characters of M. le Major's) were always in attendance upon us—upon
her and me—and were equally fond of us both; that is, “La fee
Tarapatapoum” of me, and “Le Prince Charmant” of her—and watched over
us and would protect us through life.
“O! ils sont joliment bien ensemble, tous les deux—ils sont
inseparables!” she would often exclaim, apropos of these
visionary beings; and apropos of the water-fowl she would say—
“Il aime beaucoup cet oiseau-la, le Prince Charmant! dis encore,
quand il vole si haut, et qu'il fait froid, et qu'il est fatigue, et
que la nuit vient, mais qu'il ne veut pas descendre!”
And I would re-spout—
“'All day thy wings have fanned,
At that far height, the cold, thin atmosphere,
Yet stoop not, weary, to the welcome land,
Though the dark night be near!'”
And poor, morbid, precocious, overwrought Mimsey's eyes would fill,
and she would meditatively suck her thumb and think unutterable things.
And then I would copy Bewick's wood-cuts for her, as she sat on the
arm of my chair and patiently watched; and she would say: “La fee
Tarapatapoum trouve que tu dessines dans la perfection!” and treasure
up these little masterpieces—“pour l'album de la fee Tarapatapoum!”
There was one drawing she prized above all others—a steel engraving
in a volume of Byron, which represented two beautiful beings of either
sex, walking hand in hand through a dark cavern. The man was in
sailor's garb; the lady, who went barefoot and lightly clad, held a
torch; and underneath was written—
“And Neuha led her Torquil by the hand,
And waved along the vaults her flaming brand.”
I spent hours in copying it for her, and she preferred the copy to
the original, and would have it that the two figures were excellent
portraits of her Prince and Fairy.
Sometimes during these readings and sketchings under the apple-tree
on the lawn, the sleeping Medor (a huge nondescript sort of dog, built
up of every breed in France, with the virtues of all and the vices of
none) would wag his three inches of tail, and utter soft whimperings of
welcome in his dream; and she would say—
“C'est le Prince Charmant qui lui dit; 'Medor donne la patte!'“
Or our old tomcat would rise from his slumbers with his tail up, and
rub an imaginary skirt; and it was—
“Regarde Mistigris! La fee Tarapatapoum est en train de lui frotter
We mostly spoke French, in spite of strict injunctions to the
contrary from our fathers and mothers, who were much concerned lest we
should forget our English altogether.
In time we made a kind of ingenious compromise; for Mimsey, who was
full of resource, invented a new language, or rather two, which we
called Frankingle and Inglefrank, respectively. They consisted in
anglicizing French nouns and verbs and then conjugating and pronouncing
them Englishly, or vice versa.
For instance, it was very cold, and the school-room window was open,
so she would say in Frankingle—
“Dispeach yourself to ferm the feneeter, Gogo. It geals to
pier-fend! we shall be inrhumed!” or else, if I failed to immediately
understand—“Gogo, il frise a splitter les stonnes—maque aste et chute
le vindeau; mais chute—le donc vite! Je snize deja!” which was
With this contrivance we managed to puzzle and mystify the
uninitiated, English and French alike. The intelligent reader, who sees
it all in print, will not be so easily taken in.
When Mimsey was well enough, she would come with my cousins and me
into the park, where we always had a good time—lying in ambush for red
Indians, rescuing Madge Plunket from a caitiff knight, or else hunting
snakes and field-mice and lizards, and digging for lizard's eggs, which
we would hatch at home—that happy refuge for all manner of beasts, as
well as little boys and girls. For there were squirrels, hedgehogs, and
guinea-pigs; an owl, a raven, a monkey, and white mice; little birds
that had strayed from the maternal nest before they could fly (they
always died!), the dog Medor, and any other dog who chose; not to
mention a gigantic rocking-horse made out of a real stuffed pony—the
smallest pony that had ever been!
Often our united high spirits were too boisterous for Mimsey.
Dreadful headaches would come on, and she would sit in a corner,
nursing a hedgehog with one arm and holding her thumb in her mouth with
the other. Only when we were alone together was she happy, and then,
On summer evenings whole parties of us, grown-up and small, would
walk through the park and the Bois de Boulogne to the “Mare d'Auteuil”;
as we got near enough for Medor to scent the water, he would bark and
grin and gyrate, and go mad with excitement, for he had the gift of
diving after stones, and liked to show it off.
There we would catch huge olive-colored water-beetles, yellow
underneath; red-bellied newts; green frogs, with beautiful spots and a
splendid parabolic leap; gold and silver fish, pied with purply brown.
I mention them in the order of their attractiveness. The fish were too
tame and easily caught, and their beauty of too civilized an order; the
rare, flat, vicious dytiscus “took the cake.”
Sometimes, even, we would walk through Boulogne to St. Cloud, to see
the new railway and the trains—an inexhaustible subject of wonder and
delight—and eat ices at the “Tete Noire” (a hotel which had been the
scene of a terrible murder, that led to a cause celebre); and we would
come back through the scented night, while the glowworms were shining
in the grass, and the distant frogs were croaking in the Mare
d'Auteuil. Now and then a startled roebuck would gallop in short bounds
across the path, from thicket to thicket, and Medor would go mad again
and wake the echoes of the new Paris fortification, which were still in
the course of construction.
He had not the gift of catching roebucks!
If my father were of the party, he would yodel Tyrolese melodies,
and sing lovely songs of Boieldieu, Herold, and Gretry; or “Drink to me
only with thine eyes,” or else the “Bay of Dublin” for Madame
Seraskier, who had the nostalgia of her beloved country whenever her
beloved husband was away.
Or else we would break out into a jolly chorus and march to the
“Marie, trempe ton pain,
Marie, trempe ton pain,
Marie, trempe ton pain dans la soupe;
Marie, trempe ton pain,
Marie, trempe ton pain,
Marie, trempe ton pain dans le vin!”
“La—soupe aux choux—se fait dans la marmite;
Dans—la marmite—se fait la soupe aux choux.”
which would give us all the nostalgia of supper.
Or else, again, if it were too hot to sing, or we were too tired, M.
le Major, forsaking the realms of fairy-land, and uncovering his high
bald head as he walked, would gravely and reverently tell us of his
great master, of Brienne, of Marengo, and Austerlitz; of the farewells
at Fontainebleau, and the Hundred Days—never of St. Helena; he would
not trust himself to speak to us of that! And gradually working his way
to Waterloo, he would put his hat on, and demonstrate to us, by A+B,
how, virtually, the English had lost the day, and why and wherefore.
And on all the little party a solemn, awe-struck stillness would fall
as we listened, and on some of us the sweet nostalgia of bed!
Oh, the good old time!
The night was consecrated for me by the gleam and scent and rustle
of Madame Seraskier's gown, as I walked by her side in the deepening
dusk—a gleam of yellow, or pale blue, or white—a scent of
sandalwood—a rustle that told of a light, vigorous tread on firm,
narrow, high-arched feet, that were not easily tired; of an anxious,
motherly wish to get back to Mimsey, who was not strong enough for
these longer expeditions.
On the shorter ones I used sometimes to carry Mimsey on my back most
of the way home (to please her mother)—a frail burden, with her poor,
long, thin arms round my neck, and her pale, cold cheek against my
ear—she weighed nothing! And when I was tired M. le Major would
relieve me, but not for long. She always wanted to be carried by Gogo
(for so I was called, for no reason whatever, unless it was that my
name was Peter).
She would start at the pale birches that shone out against the
gloom, and shiver if a bough scraped her, and tell me all about the
Erl-king—“mais comme ils sont la tous les deux” (meaning the Prince
and the Fairy) “il n'y a absolument rien a craindre.”
And Mimsey was si bonne camarade, in spite of her solemnity
and poor health and many pains, so grateful for small kindnesses, so
appreciative of small talents, so indulgent to small vanities (of which
she seemed to have no more share than her mother), and so deeply
humorous in spite of her eternal gravity—for she was a real tomboy at
heart—that I soon carried her, not only to please her mother, but to
please herself, and would have done anything for her.
As for M. le Major, he gradually discovered that Mimsey was half a
martyr and half a saint, and possessed all the virtues under the sun.
“Ah, vous ne la comprenez pas, cette enfant; vous verrez un jour
quand ca ira mieux! vous verrez! elle est comme sa mere ... elle a
toutes les intelligences de la tete et du coeur!” and he would wish it
had pleased Heaven that he should be her grandfather—on the maternal
L'art d'etre grandpere! This weather-beaten, war-battered old
soldier had learned it, without ever having had either a son or a
daughter of his own. He was a born grandfather!
Moreover, Mimsey and I had many tastes and passions in
common—music, for instance, as well as Bewick's wood-cuts and Byron's
poetry, and roast chestnuts and domestic pets; and above all, the Mare
d'Auteuil, which she preferred in the autumn, when the brown and yellow
leaves were eddying and scampering and chasing each other round its
margin, or drifting on its troubled surface, and the cold wet wind
piped through the dishevelled boughs of the forest, under the leaden
She said it was good to be there then, and think of home and the
fireside; and better still, when home was reached at last, to think of
the desolate pond we had left; and good, indeed, it was to trudge home
by wood and park and avenue at dusk, when the bats were about, with
Alfred and Charlie and Mimsey and Madge and Medor; swishing our way
through the lush, dead leaves, scattering the beautiful, ripe
horse-chestnut out of its split creamy case, or picking up acorns and
beechnuts here and there as we went.
And, once home, it was good, very good, to think how dark and
lonesome and shivery it must be out there by the mare, as we
squatted and chatted and roasted chestnuts by the wood fire in the
school-room before the candles were lit—entre chien et loup, as
was called the French gloaming—while Therese was laying the
tea-things, and telling us the news, and cutting bread and butter; and
my mother played the harp in the drawing-room above; till the last red
streak died out of the wet west behind the swaying tree-tops, and the
curtains were drawn, and there was light, and the appetites were let
I love to sit here, in my solitude and captivity, and recall every
incident of that sweet epoch—to ache with the pangs of happy
remembrance; than which, for the likes of me, great poets tell us there
is no greater grief. This sorrow's crown of sorrow is my joy and my
consolation, and ever has been; and I would not exchange it for youth,
health, wealth, honor, and freedom; only for thrice happy childhood
itself once more, over and over again, would I give up its thrice happy
That it should not be all beer and skittles with us, and therefore
apt to pall, my cousins and I had to work pretty hard. In the first
place, my dear mother did all she could to make me an infant prodigy of
learning. She tried to teach me Italian, which she spoke as fluently as
English or French (for she had lived much in Italy), and I had to
translate the “Gierusalemme Liberata” into both those latter
languages—a task which has remained unfinished—and to render the
“Allegro” and the “Penseroso” into Miltonian French prose, and “Le Cid"
into Corneillian English. Then there were Pinnock's histories of Greece
and Rome to master, and, of course, the Bible; and, every Sunday, the
Collect, the Gospel, and the Epistle to get by heart. No, it was not
all beer and skittles.
It was her pleasure to teach, but, alas! not mine to learn; and we
cost each other many a sigh, but loved each other all the more,
Then we went in the mornings, my cousins and I, to M. Saindou's,
opposite, that we might learn French grammar and French-Latin and
French-Greek. But on three afternoons out of the weekly six Mr. Slade,
a Cambridge sizar stranded in Paris, came to anglicize (and neutralize)
the Latin and Greek we had learned in the morning, and to show us what
sorry stuff the French had made of them and of their quantities.
Perhaps the Greek and Latin quantities are a luxury of English
growth—a mere social test—a little pitfall of our own invention, like
the letter h, for the tripping up of unwary pretenders; or else,
French education being so deplorably cheap in those days, the
school-masters there could not afford to take such fanciful
superfluities into consideration; it was not to be done at the price.
In France, be it remembered, the King and his greengrocer sent their
sons to the same school (which did not happen to be M. Saindou's, by
the way, where it was nearly all greengrocer and no King); and the fee
for bed, board, and tuition, in all public schools alike, was something
like thirty pounds a year.
The Latin, in consequence, was without the distinction that comes of
exclusiveness, and quite lacked that aristocratic flavor, so grateful
and comforting to scholar and ignoramus alike, which the costly British
public-school system (and the British accent) alone can impart to a
dead language. When French is dead we shall lend it a grace it never
had before; some of us even manage to do so already.
That is (no doubt) why the best French writers so seldom point their
morals and adorn their tales, as ours do, with the usual pretty,
familiar, and appropriate lines out of Horace or Virgil; and why Latin
is so little quoted in French talk, except here and there by a weary
shop-walker, who sighs—
“Varium et mutabile semper femina!” as he rolls up the unsold silk;
or exclaims, “O rus! quando te aspiciam!” as he takes his railway
ticket for Asnieres on the first fine Sunday morning in spring.
But this is a digression, and we have wandered far away from Mr.
Good old Slade!
We used to sit on the tone posts outside the avenue gate and watch
for his appearance at a certain distant corner of the winding street.
With his green tail coat, his stiff shirt collar, his flat thumbs
stuck in the armholes of his nankeen waistcoat, his long flat feet
turned inward, his reddish mutton-chop whiskers his hat on the back of
his head, and his clean, fresh, blooming, virtuous, English face—the
sight of him was not sympathetic when he appeared at last.
[Illustration: “GOOD OLD SLADE"]
Occasionally, in the course of his tuition, illness or domestic
affairs would, to his great regret, detain him from our midst, and the
beatitude we would experience when the conviction gradually dawned upon
us that we were watching for him in vain was too deep for either words
or deeds or outward demonstration of any sort. It was enough to sit on
our stone posts and let it steal over us by degrees.
These beatitudes were few and far between. It would be infelicitous,
perhaps, to compare the occasional absences of a highly respectable
English tutor to an angel's visits, but so we felt them.
And then he would make up for it next afternoon, that conscientious
Englishman; which was fair enough to our parents, but not to us. And
then what extra severity, as interest for the beggarly loan of half an
afternoon! What rappings on ink-stained knuckles with a beastly, hard,
round, polished, heavy-wooded, business-like English ruler!
It was our way in those days to think that everything English was
beastly—an expression our parents thought we were much too fond of
But perhaps we were not without some excuse for this unpardonable
sentiment. For there was another English family in Passy—the
Prendergasts, an older family than ours—that is, the parents (and
uncles and aunts) were middle-aged, the grandmother dead, and the
children grown up. We had not the honor of their acquaintance. But
whether that was their misfortune and our fault (or vice versa)
I cannot tell. Let us hope the former.
They were of an opposite type to ours, and, though I say it, their
type was a singularly unattractive one; perhaps it may have been the
original of those caricatures of our compatriots by which French comic
artists have sought to avenge Waterloo. It was stiff, haughty,
contemptuous. It had prominent front teeth, a high nose, a long upper
lip, a receding jaw; it had dull, cold, stupid, selfish green eyes,
like a pike's, that swerved neither to right nor left, but looked
steadily over peoples' heads as it stalked along in its pride of
impeccable British self-righteousness.
At the sudden sight of it (especially on Sundays) all the cardinal
virtues became hateful on the spot and respectability a thing to run
away from. Even that smooth, close-shaven cleanliness was so
Puritanically aggressive as to make one abhor the very idea of soap.
Its accent, when it spoke French (in shops), instead of being
musical and sweet and sympathetic, like Madame Seraskier's, was
barbarous and grotesque, with dreadful “ongs,” and “angs,” and “ows,”
and “ays”; and its manner overbearing, suspicious, and disdainful; and
then we could hear its loud, insolent English asides; and though it was
tall and straight and not outwardly deformed, it looked such a kill-joy
skeleton at a feast, such a portentous carnival mask of solemn
emptiness, such a dreary, doleful, unfunny figure of fun, that one felt
Waterloo might some day be forgiven, even in Passy; but the
I have lived so long away from the world that, for all I know, this
ancient British type, this “grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous
bird of yore,” may have become extinct, like another, but less
unprepossessing bird—the dodo; whereby our state is the more gracious.
But in those days, and generalizing somewhat hastily as young people
are apt to do, we grew to think that England must be full of
Prendergasts, and did not want to go there.
To this universal English beastliness of things we made a few
exceptions, it is true, but the list was not long: tea, mustard,
pickles, gingerbread-nuts, and, of all things in the world, the English
loaf of household bread that came to us once a week as a great treat
and recompense for our virtues, and harmonized so well with Passy
butter. It was too delicious! But there was always a difficulty, a
dilemma—whether to eat it with butter alone, or with “cassonade"
(French brown sugar) added.
Mimsey knew her own mind, and loved it with French brown sugar, and
if she were not there I would save for her half of my slices, and
carefully cassonade them for her myself.
On the other hand, we thought everything French the reverse of
beastly—except all the French boys we knew, and at M. Saindou's there
were about two hundred; then there were all the boys in Passy (whose
name was legion, and who did not go to M. Saindou's), and we
knew all the boys in Passy. So that we were not utterly bereft of
material for good, stodgy, crusty, patriotic English prejudice.
Nor did the French boys fail to think us beastly in return, and
sometimes to express the thought; especially the little vulgar boys,
whose playground was the street—the voyous de Passy. They hated
our white silk chimney-pot hats and large collars and Eton jackets, and
called us “sacred godems,” as their ancestors used to call ours in the
days of Joan of Arc. Sometimes they would throw stones, and then there
were collisions, and bleedings of impertinent little French noses, and
runnings away of cowardly little French legs, and dreadful wails of “O
la, la! O, la, la—maman!” when they were overtaken by English ones.
Not but what our noses were made to bleed now and then,
unvictoriously, by a certain blacksmith—always the same young
It is always a young blacksmith who does these things—or a young
Of course, for the honor of Great Britain, one of us finally licked
him to such a tune that he has never been able to hold up his head
since. It was about a cat. It came off at dusk, one Christmas Eve, on
the “Isle of Swans,” between Passy and Grenelle (too late to save the
I was the hero of this battle. “It's now or never,” I thought, and
saw scarlet, and went for my foe like a maniac. The ring was kept by
Alfred and Charlie helped, oddly enough, by a couple of male
Prendergasts, who so far forgot themselves as to take an interest in
the proceedings. Madge and Mimsey looked on, terrified and charmed.
It did not last long, and was worthy of being described by Homer, or
even in Bell's Life. That is one of the reasons why I will not
describe it. The two Prendergasts seemed to enjoy it very much while it
lasted, and when it was over they remembered themselves again, and said
nothing, and stalked away.
As we grew older and wiser we had permission to extend our
explorations to Meudon, Versailles, St. Germain, and other delightful
places; to ride thither on hired horses, after having duly learned to
ride at the famous “School of Equitation,” in the Rue Duphot.
[Illustration: “OMINOUS BIRDS OF YORE.”]
Also, we swam in those delightful summer baths in the Seine, that
are so majestically called “Schools of Natation,” and became past
masters in “la coupe” (a stroke no other Englishman but ourselves has
ever been quite able to manage), and in all the different delicate
“nuances” of header-taking—“la coulante,” “la hussarde,” “la
tete-beche,” “la tout ce que vous voudrez.”
Also, we made ourselves at home in Paris, especially old Paris.
For instance, there was the island of St. Louis, with its stately
old mansions entre cour et jardin, behind grim stone portals and
high walls where great magistrates and lawyers dwelt in dignified
seclusion—the nobles of the rove: but where once had dwelt, in days
gone by, the greater nobles of the sword-crusaders, perhaps, and
knights templars, like Brian de Bois Guilbert.
And that other more famous island, la Cite, where Paris itself was
born, where Notre Dame reared its twin towers above the melancholy,
gray, leprous walls and dirty brown roofs of the Hotel-Dieu.
Pathetic little tumble down old houses, all out of drawing and
perspective, nestled like old spiders' webs between the buttresses of
the great cathedral and on two sides of the little square in front (the
Place du Parvis Notre Dame) stood ancient stone dwellings, with high
slate roofs and elaborately wrought iron balconies. They seemed to have
such romantic histories that I never tired of gazing at them, and
wondering what the histories could be; and now I think of it, one of
these very dwellings must have been the Hotel de Gondelaurier, where,
according to the most veracious historian that ever was, poor Esmeralda
once danced and played the tambourine to divert the fair damsel
Fleur-de-Lys de Gondelaurier and her noble friends, all of whom she so
transcended in beauty, purity, goodness, and breeding (although she was
but an untaught, wandering gypsy girl, out of the gutter); and there,
before them all and the gay archer, she was betrayed to her final
undoing by her goat, whom she had so imprudently taught how to spell
the beloved name of “Phebus.”
Close by was the Morgue, that grewsome building which the great
etcher Meryon has managed to invest with some weird fascination akin to
that it had for me in those days—and has now, as I see it with the
charmed eyes of Memory.
La Morgue! what a fatal twang there is about the very name!
[Illustration: SETTLING AN OLD SCORE.]
After gazing one's fill at the horrors within (as became a
healthy-minded English boy) it was but a step to the equestrian statue
of Henri Quatre, on the Pont-Neuf (the oldest bridge in Paris, by the
way); there, astride his long-tailed charger, he smiled, le roy vert
et galant, just midway between either bank of the historic river,
just where it was most historic; and turned his back on the Paris of
the Bourgeois King with the pear-shaped face and the mutton-chop
And there one stood, spellbound in indecision, like the ass of
Buridan between two sacks of oats; for on either side, north or south
of the Pont-Neuf, were to be found enchanting slums, all more
attractive the ones than the others, winding up and down hill and
roundabout and in and out, like haunting illustrations by Gustave Dore
to Drolatick Tales by Balzac (not seen or read by me till many
years later, I beg to say).
Dark, narrow, silent, deserted streets that would turn up afterwards
in many a nightmare—with the gutter in the middle and towerlets and
stone posts all along the sides; and high fantastic walls (where it was
defendre d'afficher), with bits of old battlement at the top, and
overhanging boughs of sycamore and lime, and behind them gray old
gardens that dated from the days of Louis le Hutin and beyond! And
suggestive names printed in old rusty iron letters at the street
corners—“Rue Videgousset,” “Rue Coupe-gorge,” “Rue de la Vieille
Truanderie,” “Impasse de la Tour de Nesle,” etc., that appealed to the
imagination like a chapter from Hugo or Dumas.
And the way to these was by long, tortuous, busy thoroughfares, most
irregularly flagged, and all alive with strange, delightful people in
blue blouses, brown woollen tricots, wooden shoes, red and white cotton
nightcaps, rags and patches; most graceful girls, with pretty,
self-respecting feet, and flashing eyes, and no head-dress but their
own hair; gay, fat hags, all smile; thin hags, with faces of appalling
wickedness or misery; precociously witty little gutter-imps of either
sex; and such cripples! jovial hunchbacks, lusty blind beggars, merry
creeping paralytics, scrofulous wretches who joked and punned about
their sores; light-hearted, genial, mendicant monsters without arms or
legs, who went ramping through the mud on their bellies from one
underground wine-shop to another; and blue-chinned priests and
barefooted brown monks and demure Sisters of Charity, and here and
there a jolly chiffonnier with his hook, and his knap-basket behind; or
a cuirassier, or a gigantic carbineer, or gay little “Hunter of
Africa,” or a couple of bold gendarmes riding abreast, with their
towering black bonnets a poil; or a pair of pathetic little
red-legged soldiers, conscripts just fresh from the country, with
innocent light eyes and straw-coloured hair and freckled brown faces,
walking hand in hand, and staring at all the pork-butchers' shops—and
sometimes at the pork-butcher's wife!
Then a proletarian wedding procession—headed by the bride and
bridegroom, an ungainly pair in their Sunday best—all singing noisily
together. Then a pauper funeral, or a covered stretcher, followed by
sympathetic eyes on its way to the Hotel-Dieu; or the last sacrament,
with bell and candle, bound for the bedside of some humble agonizer
in extremis—and we all uncovered as it went by.
And then, for a running accompaniment of sound the clanging chimes,
the itinerant street cries, the tinkle of the marchand de coco,
the drum, the cor de chasse, the organ of Barbary, the
ubiquitous pet parrot, the knife-grinder, the bawling fried-potato
monger, and, most amusing of all, the poodle-clipper and his son,
strophe and antistrophe, for every minute the little boy would yell out
in his shrill treble that “his father clipped poodles for thirty sous,
and was competent also to undertake the management of refractory
tomcats,” upon which the father would growl in his solemn bass, “My son
speaks the truth”—L'enfant dit vrai!
And rising above the general cacophony the din of the eternally
cracking whip, of the heavy carwheel jolting over the uneven stones,
the stamp and neigh of the spirited little French cart-horse and the
music of his many bells, and the cursing and swearing and hue! dia!
of his driver! It was all entrancing.
Thence home—to quite, innocent, suburban Passy—by the quays,
walking on the top of the stone parapet all the way, so as to miss
nothing (till a gendarme was in sight), or else by the Boulevards, the
Rue de Rivoli, the Champs Elysees, the Avenue de St. Cloud, and the
Chaussee de la Muette. What a beautiful walk! Is there another like it
anywhere as it was then, in the sweet early forties of this worn-out
old century, and before this poor scribe had reached his teens?
Ah! it is something to have known that Paris, which lay at one's
feet as one gazed from the heights of Passy, with all its pinnacles and
spires and gorgeously-gilded domes, its Arch of Triumph, its Elysian
Fields, its Field of Mars, its Towers of our Lady, its far-off Column
of July, its Invalids, and Vale of Grace, and Magdalen, and Place of
the Concord, where the obelisk reared its exotic peak by the beautiful
There flowed the many-bridged winding river, always the same way,
unlike our tidal Thames, and always full; just beyond it was spread
that stately, exclusive suburb, the despair of the newly rich and
recently ennobled, where almost every other house bore a name which
read like a page of French history; and farther still the merry, wicked
Latin quarter and the grave Sorbonne, the Pantheon, the Garden of
Plants; on the hither side, in the middle distance, the Louvre, where
the kings of France had dwelt for centuries; the Tuileries, where “the
King of the French” dwelt then, and just for a little while yet.
Well I knew and loved it all; and most of all I loved it when the
sun was setting at my back, and innumerable distant windows reflected
the blood-red western flame. It seemed as though half Paris were on
fire, with the cold blue east for a background.
Yes, it is something to have roamed over it as a small boy—a small
English boy (that is, a small boy unattended by his mother or his
nurse), curious, inquisitive, and indefatigable; full of imagination;
all his senses keen with the keenness that belongs to the morning of
life: the sight of a hawk, the hearing of a bat, almost the scent of a
Indeed, it required a nose both subtle and unprejudiced to
understand and appreciate and thoroughly enjoy that Paris—not the
Paris of M. le Baron Haussmann, lighted by gas and electricity, and
flushed and drained by modern science; but the “good old Paris” of
Balzac and Eugene Sue and Les Mysteres—the Paris of dim
oil-lanterns suspended from iron gibbets (where once aristocrats had
been hung); of water-carriers who sold water from their hand-carts, and
delivered it at your door (au cinqueme) for a penny a pail—to
drink of, and wash in, and cook with, and all.
There were whole streets—and these by no means the least
fascinating and romantic—where the unwritten domestic records of every
house were afloat in the air outside it—records not all savory or
sweet, but always full of interest and charm!
One knew at a sniff as one passed the porte cochere what kind
of people lived behind and above; what they ate and what they drank,
and what their trade was; whether they did their washing at home, and
burned tallow or wax, and mixed chicory with their coffee, and were
over-fond of Gruyere cheese—the biggest, cheapest, plainest, and most
formidable cheese in the world; whether they fried with oil or butter,
and liked their omelets overdone and garlic in their salad, and sipped
black-currant brandy or anisette as a liqueur; and were overrun with
mice, and used cats or mouse-traps to get rid of them, or neither; and
bought violets, or pinks, or gillyflowers in season, and kept them too
long; and fasted on Friday with red or white beans, or lentils, or had
a dispensation from the Pope—or, haply, even dispensed with the Pope's
For of such a telltale kind were the overtones in that complex,
I will not define its fundamental note—ever there, ever the same;
big with a warning of quick-coming woe to many households; whose
unheeded waves, slow but sure, and ominous as those that rolled on
great occasions from le Bourdon de Notre Dame (the Big Ben of Paris),
drove all over the gay city and beyond, night and day—penetrating
every corner, overflowing the most secret recesses, drowning the very
incense by the altar-steps.
“Le pauvre en sa cabane ou le chaume le couvre
Est sujet a ses lois;
Et la garde qui veille aux barrieres du Louvre
N'en defend point nos rois.”
And here, as I write, the faint, scarcely perceptible, ghost-like
suspicion of a scent—a mere nostalgic fancy, compound, generic,
synthetic and all-embracing—an abstract olfactory symbol of the “Tout
Paris” of fifty years ago, comes back to me out of the past; and fain
would I inhale it in all its pristine fulness and vigour. For scents,
like musical sounds, are rare sublimaters of the essence of memory
(this is a prodigious fine phrase—I hope it means something), and
scents need not be seductive in themselves to recall the seductions of
scenes and days gone by.
Alas! scents cannot be revived at will, like an
“Air doux et tendre
Oh, that I could hum or whistle an old French smell! I could evoke
all Paris, sweet, prae-imperial Paris, in a single whiff!
* * * * *
In such fashion did we three small boys, like the three musketeers
(the fame of whose exploits was then filling all France), gather and
pile up sweet memories, to chew the cud thereof in after years, when
far away and apart.
Of all that bande joyeuse—old and young and middle-aged,
from M. le Major to Mimsey Seraskier—all are now dead but me—all
except dear Madge, who was so pretty and light-hearted; and I have
never seen her since.
* * * * *
Thus have I tried, with as much haste as I could command (being one
of the plodding sort) to sketch that happy time, which came to an end
suddenly and most tragically when I was twelve years old.
My dear and jovial happy-go-lucky father was killed in a minute by
the explosion of a safety lamp of his own invention, which was to have
superseded Sir Humphry Davy's, and made our fortune! What a brutal
irony of fate.
So sanguine was he of success, so confident that his ship had come
home at last, that he had been in treaty for a nice little old manor in
Anjou (with a nice little old castle to match), called la Mariere,
which had belonged to his ancestors, and from which we took our name
(for we were Pasquier de la Mariere, of quite a good old family); and
there we were to live on our own land, as gentilshommes campagnards, and be French for evermore, under a paternal, pear-faced bourgeois
king as a temporary pis-aller until Henri Cinq, Comte de
Chambord, should come to his own again, and make us counts and barons
and peers of France—Heaven knows what for!
My mother, who was beside herself with grief, went over to London,
where this miserable accident had occurred, and had barely arrived
there when she was delivered of a still-born child, and died almost
immediately; and I became an orphan in less than a week, and a
penniless one. For it turned out that my father had by this time spent
every penny of his own and my mother's capital, and had, moreover, died
deeply in debt. I was too young and too grief-stricken to feel anything
but the terrible bereavement, but it soon became patent to me that an
immense alteration was to be made in my mode of life.
A relative of my mother's, Colonel Ibbetson (who was well off) came
to Passy to do his best for me, and pay what debts had been incurred in
the neighborhood, and settle my miserable affairs.
After a while it was decided by him and the rest of the family that
I should go back with him to London, there to be disposed of for the
best, according to his lights.
And on a beautiful June Morning, redolent of lilac and syringa, gay
with dragon-flies and butterflies and bumblebees, my happy childhood
ended as it had begun. My farewells were heartrending (to me), but
showed that I could inspire affection as well as feel it, and that was
some compensation for my woe.
“Adieu, cher Monsieur Gogo. Bonne chance, et le Bon Dieu vous
benisse,” said le Pere et la Mere Francois. Tears trickled down the
Major's hooked nose on to his mustache, now nearly white.
Madame Seraskier strained me to her kind heart, and blessed and
kissed me again and again, and rained her warm tears on my face; and
hers was the last figure I saw as our fly turned into the Rue de la
Tour on our way to London, Colonel Ibbetson exclaiming—
“Gad! who's the lovely young giantess that seems so fond of you, you
little rascal, hey? By George! you young Don Giovanni, I'd have given
something to be in your place! And who's that nice old man with the
long green coat and the red ribbon? A vieille moustache, I
suppose: almost like a gentleman. Precious few Frenchmen can do that!”
Such was Colonel Ibbetson.
And then and there, even as he spoke, a little drop of sullen, chill
dislike to my guardian and benefactor, distilled from his voice, his
aspect, the expression of his face, and his way of saying things,
suddenly trickled into my consciousness—never to be whiped away!
As for so poor Mimsey, her grief was so overwhelming that she could
not come out and wish me goodbye like the others; and it led, as I
afterwards heard, to a long illness, the worst she ever had; and when
she recovered it was to find that her beautiful mother was no more.
Madame Seraskier died of the cholera, and so did le Pere et la Mere
Francois, and Madame Pele, and one of the Napoleonic prisoners (not M.
le Major), and several other people we had known, including a servant
of our own, Therese, the devoted Therese, to whom we were all devoted
in return. That malodorous tocsin, which I have compared to the big
bell of Notre Dame, had warned, and warned, and warned in vain.
The maison de sante was broken up. M. le Major and his
friends went and roosted on parole elsewhere, until a good time arrived
for them, when their lost leader came back and remained—first as
President of the French Republic, then as Emperor of the French
themselves. No more parole was needed after that.
My grandmother and Aunt Plunket and her children fled in terror to
Tours, and Mimsey went to Russia with her father.
Thus miserably ended that too happy septennate, and so no more at
“Le joli lieu de ma naissance!”
The next decade of my outer life is so uninteresting, even to
myself, that I will hurry through it as fast as I can. It will prove
dull reading, I fear.
My Uncle Ibbetson (as I now called him) took to me and arranged to
educate and start me in life, and make “a gentleman” of me—an “English
gentleman.” But I had to change my name and adopt his; for some reason
I did not know, he seemed to hate my father's very name. Perhaps it was
because he had injured my father through life in many ways, and my
father had always forgiven him; a very good reason! Perhaps it was
because he had proposed to my mother three times when she was a girl,
and had been thrice refused! (After the third time, he went to India
for seven years, and just before his departure my father and mother
were married, and a year after that I was born.)
So Pierre Pasquier de la Mariere, alias Monsieur Gogo, became
Master Peter Ibbetson, and went to Bluefriars, the gray-coat school,
where he spent six years—an important slice out of a man's life,
especially at that age.
I hated the garb, I hated the surroundings—the big hospital at the
back, and that reek of cruelty, drunkenness, and filth, the
cattle-market—where every other building was either a slaughter-house,
a gin-palace, or a pawnbroker's shop, more than all I hated the gloomy
jail opposite, where they sometimes hanged a man in public on a Monday
morning. This dismal prison haunted my dreams when I wanted to dream of
Passy, of my dear dead father and mother and Madame Seraskier.
For the first term or two they were ever in my thoughts, and I was
always trying to draw their profiles on desks and slates and copybooks,
till at last all resemblance seemed to fade out of them; and then I
drew M. le Major till his side face became quite demoralized and
impossible, and ceased to be like anything in life. Then I fell back on
others: le Pere Francois, with his eternal bonnet de colon and
sabots stuffed with straw; the dog Medor, the rocking-horse, and all
the rest of the menagerie; the diligence that brought me away from
Paris; the heavily jack-booted couriers in shiny hats and pigtails, and
white breeches, and short-tailed blue coats covered with silver
buttons, who used to ride through Passy, on their way to and fro
between the Tuileries and St. Cloud, on little, neighing, gray
stallions with bells round their necks and tucked-up tails, and
beautiful heads like the horses' heads in the Elgin Marbles.
In my sketches they always looked and walked and trotted the same
way: to the left, or westward as it would be on the map. M. le Major,
Madame Seraskier, Medor, the diligences and couriers, were all bound
westward by common consent—all going to London, I suppose, to look
after me, who was so dotingly fond of them.
Some of the boys used to admire these sketches and preserve
them—some of the bigger boys would value my idealized (!) profiles of
Madame Seraskier, with eyelashes quite an inch in length, and an eye
three times the size of her mouth; and thus I made myself an artistic
reputation for a while. But it did not last long, for my vein was
limited; and soon another boy came to the school, who surpassed me in
variety and interest of subject, and could draw profiles looking either
way with equal ease; he is now a famous Academician, and seems to have
preserved much of his old facility.[A]
[Footnote A: Note.—I have here omitted several pages,
containing a description in detail of my cousin's life “at Bluefriars”;
and also the portraits (not always flattering) which he has written of
masters and boys, many of whom are still alive, and some of whom have
risen to distinction; but these sketches would be without special
interest unless the names were given as well, and that would be
unadvisable for many reasons. Moreover, there is not much in what I
have left out that has any bearing on his subsequent life, or the
development of his character. MADGE PLUNKET.]
* * * * *
Thus, on the whole, my school career was neither happy nor unhappy,
nor did I distinguish myself in any way, nor (though I think I was
rather liked than otherwise) make any great or lasting friendships; on
the other hand. I did not in any way disgrace myself, nor make a single
enemy that I knew of. Except that I grew our of the common tall and
very strong, a more commonplace boy than I must have seemed (after my
artistic vein gad run itself dry) never went to a public school. So
much for my outer life at Bluefriars.
[Illustration: A DREAM OF CHIVALRY]
But I had an inner world of my own, whose capital was Passy, whose
fauna and flora were not to be surpassed by anything in Regent's Park
or the Zoological Gardens.
It was good to think of it by day, to dream of it by night,
although I had not yet learned how to dream!
There were soon other and less exclusive regions, however, which I
shared with other boys of that bygone day. Regions of freedom and
delight, where I heard the ominous crack of Deerslayer's rifle, and was
friends with Chingachgook and his noble son—the last, alas! of the
Mohicans: where Robin Hood and Friar Tuck made merry, and exchanged
buffets with Lion-hearted Richard under the green-wood tree: where
Quentin Durward, happy squire of dames, rode midnightly by their side
through the gibbet-and-gipsy-haunted forests of Touraine.... Ah! I had
my dream of chivalry!
Happy times and climes! One must be a gray-coated school-boy, in the
heart of foggy London, to know that nostalgia.
Not, indeed, but what London has its merits. Sam Weller lived there,
and Charley Bates, and the irresistible Artful Dodger—and Dick
Swiveller, and his adorable Marchioness, who divided my allegiance with
Rebecca of York and sweet Diana Vernon.
It was good to be an English boy in those days, and care for such
friends as these! But it was good to be a French boy also; to have
known Paris, to possess the true French feel of things—and the
Indeed, bilingual boys—boys double-tongued from their very birth
(especially in French and English)—enjoy certain rare privileges. It
is not a bad thing for a school-boy (since a school-boy he must be) to
hail from two mother-countries if he can, and revel now and then in the
sweets of homesickness for that of his two mother-countries in which he
does not happen to be; and read Les Trois Mousquetaires in the
cloisters of Bluefriars, or Ivanhoe in the dull, dusty
prison-yard that serves for a playground in so many a French lycee!
Without listening, he hears all round him the stodgy language of
every day, and the blatant shouts of his school-fellows, in the voices
he knows so painfully well—those shrill trebles, those cracked
barytones and frog-like early basses! There they go, bleating and
croaking and yelling; Dick, Tom, and Harry, or Jules, Hector, and
Alphonse! How vaguely tiresome and trivial and commonplace they
are—those too familiar sounds; yet what an additional charm they lend
to that so utterly different but equally familiar word-stream that
comes silently flowing into his consciousness through his rapt eyes!
The luxurious sense of mental exclusiveness and self-sequestration is
made doubly complete by the contrast!
And for this strange enchantment to be well and thoroughly felt,
both his languages must be native; not acquired, however perfectly.
Every single word must have its roots deep down in a personal past so
remote for him as to be almost unremembered; the very sound and printed
aspect of each must be rich in childish memories of home; in all the
countless, nameless, priceless associations that make it sweet and
fresh and strong, and racy of the soil.
Oh! Porthos, Athos, and D'Artagnan—how I loved you, and your
immortal squires, Planchet, Grimaud, Mousqueton! How well and wittily
you spoke the language I adored—better even than good Monsieur
Lallemand, the French master at Bluefriars, who could wield the most
irregular subjunctives as if they had been mere feathers—trifles light
Then came the Count of Monte-Cristo, who taught me (only too well)
his terrible lesson of hatred and revenge; and Les Mysteres de
Paris, Le Juif Errant, and others.
But no words that I can think of in either mother-tongue can express
what I felt when first, through these tear-dimmed eyes of mine, and
deep into my harrowed soul, came silently flowing the
never-to-be-forgotten history of poor Esmeralda,[A] my first love!
whose cruel fate filled with pity, sorrow, and indignation the last
term of my life at school. It was the most important, the most solemn,
the most epoch-making event of my school life. I read it, reread it,
and read it again. I have not been able to read it since; it is rather
long! but how well I remember it, and how short it seemed then! and oh!
how short those well-spent hours!
[Footnote A: Notre Dame de Paris, par Victor Hugo.]
That mystic word [Greek: Anagkae]! I wrote it on the flyleaf of all
my books. I carved it on my desk. I intoned it in the echoing
cloisters! I vowed I would make a pilgrimage to Notre Dame some day,
that I might hunt for it in every hole and corner there, and read it
with my own eyes, and feel it with my own forefinger.
And then that terrible prophetic song the old hag sings in the dark
slum—how it haunted me, too! I could not shake it out of my troubled
consciousness for months:
Grouille, greve, greve, grouille,
File, File, ma quenouille:
File sa corde au bourreau
Qui siffle dans le preau.
Yes; it was worth while having been a little French boy just for a
I especially found it so during the holidays, which I regularly
spent at Bluefriars; for there was a French circulating library in
Holborn, close by—a paradise. It was kept by a delightful old French
lady who had seen better days, and was very kind to me, and did not
lend me all the books I asked for!
Thus irresistibly beguiled by these light wizards of our degenerate
age, I dreamed away most of my school life, utterly deaf to the voices
of the older enchanters—Homer, Horace, Virgil—whom I was sent to
school on purpose to make friends with; a deafness I lived to deplore,
like other dunces, when it was too late.
* * * * *
And I was not only given to dream by day—I dreamed by night; my
sleep was full of dreams—terrible nightmares, exquisite visions,
strange scenes full of inexplicable reminiscence; all vague and
incoherent, like all men's dreams that have hitherto been; for I had
not yet learned how to dream.
A vast world, a dread and beautiful chaos, an ever-changing
kaleidoscope of life, too shadowy and dim to leave any lasting
impression on the busy, waking mind; with here and there more vivid
images of terror or delight, that one remembered for a few hours with a
strange wonder and questioning, as Coleridge remembered his Abyssinian
maid who played upon the dulcimer (a charming and most original
The whole cosmos is in a man's brains—as much of it, at least, as a
man's brains will hold; perhaps it is nowhere else. And when sleep
relaxes the will, and there are no earthly surroundings to distract
attention—no duty, pain, or pleasure to compel it—riderless Fancy
takes the bit in its teeth, and the whole cosmos goes mad and has its
wild will of us.
[Illustration: “NOTRE DAME DE PARIS.”]
Ineffable false joys, unspeakable false terror and distress, strange
phantoms only seen as in a glass darkly, chase each other without rhyme
or reason, and play hide-and-seek across the twilit field and through
the dark recesses of our clouded and imperfect consciousness.
And the false terrors and distress, however unspeakable, are no
worse than such real terrors and distress as are only too often the
waking lot of man, or even so bad; but the ineffable false joys
transcend all possible human felicity while they last, and a little
while it is! We wake, and wonder, and recall the slight foundation on
which such ultra-human bliss has seemed to rest. What matters the
foundation if but the bliss be there, and the brain has nerves to feel
Poor human nature, so richly endowed with nerves of anguish, so
splendidly organized for pain and sorrow, is but slenderly equipped for
What hells have we not invented for the afterlife! Indeed, what
hells we have often made of this, both for ourselves and others, and at
really such a very small cost of ingenuity, after all!
Perhaps the biggest and most benighted fools have been the best
Whereas the best of our heavens is but a poor perfunctory
conception, for all that the highest and cleverest among us have done
their very utmost to decorate and embellish it, and make life there
seem worth living. So impossible it is to imagine or invent beyond the
sphere of our experience.
Now, these dreams of mine (common to many) of the false but
ineffable joys, are they not a proof that there exist in the human
brain hidden capacities, dormant potentialities of bliss, unsuspected
hitherto, to be developed some day, perhaps, and placed within the
reach of all, wakers and sleepers alike?
A sense of ineffable joy, attainable at will, and equal in intensity
and duration to (let us say) an attack of sciatica, would go far to
equalize the sorrowful, one-sided conditions under which we live.
* * * * *
But there is one thing which, as a school-boy, I never
dreamed—namely, that I, and one other holding a torch, should one day,
by common consent, find our happiness in exploring these mysterious
caverns of the brain; and should lay the foundations of order where
only misrule had been before: and out of all those unreal, waste, and
transitory realms of illusion, evolve a real, stable, and habitable
world, which all who run may reach.
* * * * *
At last I left school for good, and paid a visit to my Uncle
Ibbetson in Hopshire, where he was building himself a lordly new
pleasure-house on his own land, as the old one he had inherited a year
or two ago was no longer good enough for him.
It was an uninteresting coast on the German Ocean, without a rock,
or a cliff, or a pier, or a tree; even without cold gray stones for the
sea to break on—nothing but sand!—a bourgeois kind of sea, charmless
in its best moods, and not very terrible in its wrath, except to a few
stray fishermen whom it employed, and did not seem to reward very
Inland it was much the same. One always thought of the country as
gray, until one looked and found that it was green; and then, if one
were old and wise, one thought no more about it, and turned one's gaze
inward. Moreover, it seemed to rain incessantly.
But it was the country and the sea, after Bluefriars and the
cloisters—after Newgate, St. Bartholomew, and Smithfield.
And one could fish and bathe in the sea after all, and ride in the
country, and even follow the hounds, a little later; which would have
been a joy beyond compare if one had not been blessed with an uncle who
thought one rode like a French tailor, and told one so, and mimicked
one, in the presence of charming young ladies who rode in perfection.
In fact, it was heaven itself by comparison, and would have remained
so longer but for Colonel Ibbetson's efforts to make a gentleman of
me—an English gentleman.
What is a gentleman? It is a grand old name; but what does it mean?
At one time, to say of a man that he is a gentleman, is to confer on
him the highest title of distinction we can think of; even if we are
speaking of a prince.
At another, to say of a man that he is not a gentleman is
almost to stigmatize him as a social outcast, unfit for the company of
his kind—even if it is only one haberdasher speaking of another.
Who is a gentleman, and yet who is not?
The Prince of Darkness was one, and so was Mr. John Halifax, if we
are to believe those who knew them best; and so was one “Pelham,”
according to the late Sir Edward Bulwer, Earl of Lytton, etc.; and it
certainly seemed as if he ought to know.
And I was to be another, according to Roger Ibbetson, Esquire, of
Ibbetson Hall, late Colonel of the—, and it certainly seemed as if he
ought to know too! The word was as constantly on his lips (when talking
to me) as though, instead of having borne her Majesty's
commission, he were a hairdresser's assistant who had just come into an
This course of tuition began pleasantly enough, before I left
London, by his sending me to his tailors, who made me several beautiful
suits; especially an evening suit, which has lasted me for life, alas;
and these, after the uniform of the gray-coat school, were like an
initiation to the splendors of freedom and manhood.
Colonel Ibbetson—or Uncle Ibbetson, as I used to call him—was my
mother's first cousin; my grandmother, Mrs. Biddulph, was the sister of
his father, the late Archdeacon Ibbetson, a very pious, learned, and
exemplary divine, of good family.
But his mother (the Archdeacon's second wife) had been the only
child and heiress of an immensely rich pawnbroker, by name Mendoza; a
Portuguese Jew, with a dash of colored blood in his veins besides, it
was said; and, indeed, this remote African strain still showed itself
in Uncle Ibbetson's thick lips, wide open nostrils, and big black eyes
with yellow whites—and especially in his long, splay, lark-heeled
feet, which gave both himself and the best bootmaker in London a great
deal of trouble.
Otherwise, and in spite of his ugly face, he was not without a
certain soldier-like air of distinction, being very tall and powerfully
built. He wore stays, and an excellent wig, for he was prematurely
bald; and he carried his hat on one side, which (in my untutored eyes)
made him look very much like a “swell,” but not quite like a
To wear your hat jauntily cocked over one eye, and yet “look like a
It can be done, I am told; and has been, and is even still! It is
not, perhaps, a very lofty achievement—but such as it is, it requires
a somewhat rare combination of social and physical gifts in the wearer;
and the possession of either Semitic or African blood does not seem to
be one of these.
[Illustration: “PORTRAIT CHARMANT, PORTRAIT DE MON AMIE ...”]
Colonel Ibbetson could do a little of everything—sketch (especially
a steam-boat on a smooth sea, with beautiful thick smoke reflected in
the water), play the guitar, sing chansonnettes and canzonets, write
society verses, quote De Musset—
“Avez-vous vu dans Barcelone
Une Andalouse au sein bruni?”
He would speak French whenever he could, even to an English ostler,
and then recollect himself suddenly, and apologize for his
thoughtlessness; and even when he spoke English, he would embroider it
with little two-penny French tags and idioms: “Pour tout potage”; “Nous
avons change tout cela”; “Que diable allait-il faire dans cette
galere?” etc.; or Italian, “Chi lo sa?” “Pazienza!” “Ahime!” or even
Latin, “Eheu fugaces,” and “Vidi tantum!” for he had been an Eton boy.
It must have been very cheap Latin, for I could always understand it
myself! He drew the line at German and Greek; fortunately, for so do I.
He was a bachelor, and his domestic arrangements had been irregular,
and I will not dwell upon them; but his house, as far as it went,
seemed to promise better things.
His architect, Mr. Lintot, an extraordinary little man, full of
genius and quite self-made, became my friend and taught me to smoke,
and drink gin and water.
He did his work well; but of an evening he used to drink more than
was good for him, and rave about Shelley, his only poet. He would
recite “The Skylark” (his only poem) with uncertain h's, and a
rather cockney accent—
“'Ail to thee blythe sperrit!
Bird thou never wert,
That from 'eaven, or near it
Po'rest thy full 'eart
In profuse strains of hunpremeditated hart.”
As the evening wore on his recitations became “low comic,” and quite
admirable for accent and humour. He could imitate all the actors in
London (none of which I had seen) so well as to transport me with
delight and wonder; and all this with nobody but me for an audience, as
we sat smoking and drinking together in his room at the “Ibbetson
I felt grateful to adoration.
Later still, he would become sentimental again; and dilate to me on
the joys of his wedded life, on the extraordinary of intellect and
beauty of Mrs. Lintot. First he would describe to me the beauties of
her mind, and compare her to “L.E.L.” and Felicia Hemans. Then he would
fall back on her physical perfections; there was nobody worthy to be
compared to her in these—but I draw the veil.
He was very egotistical. Whatever he did, whatever he liked,
whatever belonged to him, was better than anything else in world; and
he was cleverer than any one else, except Mrs. Lintot, to whom he
yielded the palm; and then he would cheer up and become funny again.
In fact his self-satisfaction was quite extraordinary; and what is
more extraordinary still, it was not a bit offensive—at least, to me;
perhaps because he was such a tiny little man; or because much of this
vanity of his seemed to have no very solid foundation, for it was not
of the gifts I most admired in him that he was vainest; or because it
came out most when he was most tipsy, and genial tipsiness redeems so
much; or else because he was most vain about things I should never have
been vain about myself; and the most unpardonable vanity in others is
that which is secretly our own, whether we are conscious of it or not.
[Illustration: “I FELT GRATEFUL TO ADORATION.”]
And then he was the first funny man I had ever met. What a gift it
is! He was always funny when he tried to be, whether one laughed with
him or at him, and I loved him for it. Nothing on earth is more
pathetically pitiable than the funny man when he still tries and
succeeds no longer.
The moment Lintot's vein was exhausted, he had the sense to leave
off and begin to cry, which was still funny; and then I would jump out
of his clothes and into his bed and be asleep in a second, with the
tears still trickling down his little nose—and even that was funny!
But next morning he was stern and alert and indefatiguable, as
though gin and poetry and conjugal love had never been, and fun were a
Uncle Ibbetson thought highly of him as an architect, but not
otherwise; he simply made use of him.
“He's a terrible little snob, of course, and hasn't got an h
in his head” (as if that were a capital crime); “but he's very
clever—look at that campanile—and then he's cheap, my boy, cheap.”
There were several fine houses in fine parks not very far from
Ibbetson Hall; but although Uncle Ibbetson appeared in name and wealth
and social position to be on a par with their owners, he was not on
terms of intimacy with any of them, or even of acquaintance, as far as
I know, and spoke of them with contempt, as barbarians—people with
whom he had nothing in common. Perhaps they, too, had found out this
incompatibility, especially the ladies; for, school-boy as I was, I was
not long in discovering that his manner towards those of the other sex
was not always such as to please either of them or their husbands or
fathers or brothers. The way he looked at them was enough. Indeed, most
of his lady-friends and acquaintances through life had belonged to the
corps de ballet, the demi-monde, etc.—not, I should
imagine, the best school of manners in the world.
On the other hand, he was very friendly with some families in the
town; the doctor's, the rector's, his own agent's (a broken-down
brother officer and bosom friend, who had ceased to love him since he
received his pay); and he used to take Mr. Lintot and me to parties
there; and he was the life of those parties.
He sang little French songs, with no voice, but quite a good French
accent, and told little anecdotes with no particular point, but in
French and Italian (so that the point was never missed); and we all
laughed and admired without quite knowing why, except that he was the
lord of the manor.
On these festive occasions poor Lintot's confidence and power of
amusing seemed to desert him altogether; he sat glum in a corner.
Though a radical and a sceptic, and a peace-at-any-price man, he was
much impressed by the social status of the army and the church.
Of the doctor, a very clever and accomplished person, and the best
educated man for miles around, he thought little; but the rector, the
colonel, the poor captain, even, now a mere land-steward, seemed to
fill him with respectful awe. And for his pains he was cruelly snubbed
by Mrs. Captain and Mrs. Rector and their plain daughters, who little
guessed what talents he concealed, and thought him quite a common
little man, hardly fit to turn over the leaves of their music.
It soon became pretty evident that Ibbetson was very much smitten
with a Mrs. Deane, the widow of a brewer, a very handsome woman indeed,
in her own estimation and mine, and everybody else's, except Mr.
Lintot's, who said, “Pooh, you should see my wife!”
Her mother, Mrs. Glyn, excelled us all in her admiration of Colonel
For instance, Mrs. Deane would play some common little waltz of the
cheap kind that is never either remembered or forgotten, and Mrs. Glyn
would exclaim, “Is not that lovely?”
And Ibbetson would say: “Charming! charming! Whose is it? Rossini's?
“Why, no, my dear colonel. Don't you remember? It's your own!”
“Ah, so it is! I had quite forgotten.” And general laughter and
applause would burst forth at such a natural mistake on the part of our
Well, I could neither play nor sing, and found it far easier by this
time to speak English than French, especially to English people who
were ignorant of any language but their own. Yet sometimes Colonel
Ibbetson would seem quite proud of me.
“Deux metres, bien sonnes!” he would say, alluding to my stature,
“et le profil d'Antinoues!” which he would pronounce without the two
little dots on the u.
And afterwards, if he had felt his evening a pleasant one, if he had
sung all he knew, if Mrs. Deane had been more than usually loving and
self-surrendering, and I had distinguished myself by skilfully turning
over the leaves when her mother had played the piano, he would tell me,
as we walked home together, that I “did credit to his name, and that I
would make an excellent figure in the world as soon as I had
decrasse myself; that I must get another dress-suit from his
tailor, just an eighth of an inch longer in the tails; that I should
have a commission in his old regiment (the Eleventeenth Royal
Bounders), a deuced crack cavalry regiment; and see the world and break
a few hearts (it is not for nothing that our friends have pretty wives
and sisters); and finally marry some beautiful young heiress of title,
and make a home for him when he was a poor solitary old fellow. Very
little would do for him: a crust of bread, a glass of wine and water,
and a clean napkin, a couple of rooms, and an old piano and a few good
books. For, of course, Ibbetson Hall would be mine and every penny he
possessed in the world.”
All this in confidential French—lest the very clouds should hear
us—and with the familiar thee and thou of blood-relationship, which I
did not care to return.
It did not seem to bode very serious intentions towards Mrs. Deane,
and would scarcely have pleased her mother.
Or else, if something had crossed him, and Mrs. Deane had flirted
outrageously with somebody else, and he had not been asked to sing (or
somebody else had), he would assure me in good round English that I was
the most infernal lout that ever disgraced a drawing-room, or ate a man
out of house and home, and that he was sick and ashamed of me. “Why
can't you sing, you d—d French milksop? The d—d roulade-monger of a
father of yours could sing fast enough, if he could do nothing else,
confound him! Why can't you talk French, you infernal British booby?
Why can't you hand round the tea and muffins, confound you! Why, twice
Mrs. Glyn dropped her pocket-handkerchief and had to pick it up
herself! What, 'at the other end of the room,' were you? Well, you
should have skipped across the room, and picked it up, and
handed it to her with a pretty speech, like a gentleman! When I was
your age I was always on the lookout for ladies'
pocket-handkerchiefs to drop—or their fans! I never missed one!”
Then he would take me out to shoot with him (for it was quite
essential that an English gentleman should be a sportsman)—a terrible
ordeal to both of us.
A snipe that I did not want to kill in the least would sometimes
rise and fly right and left like a flash of lightning, and I would miss
it—always; and he would d—n me for a son of a confounded French
Micawber, and miss the next himself, and get into a rage and thrash his
dog, a pointer that I was very fond of. Once he thrashed her so cruelly
that I saw scarlet, and nearly yielded to the impulse of emptying both
my barrels in his broad back. If I had done so it would have passed for
a mere mishap, after all, and saved many future complications.
* * * * *
One day he pointed out to me a small bird pecking in a field—an
extremely pretty bird—I think it was a skylark—and whispered to me in
his most sarcastic manner—
“Look here, you Peter without any salt, do you think, if you were to
kneel down and rest your gun comfortably on this gate without making a
noise, and take a careful aim, you could manage to shoot that bird
sitting? I've heard of some Frenchmen who would be equal to that!”
I said I would try, and, resting my gun as he told me, I carefully
aimed a couple of yards above the bird's head, and mentally
“'All to thee blythe sperrit!”
I fired both barrels (for fear of any after-mishap to Ibbetson), and
the bird naturally flew away.
After this he never took me out shooting with him again; and,
indeed, I had discovered to my discomfiture that I, the friend and
admirer and would-be emulator of Natty Bumppo the Deerslayer, I, the
familiar of the last of the Mohicans and his scalp-lifting father,
could not bear the sight of blood—least of all, of blood shed by
myself, and for my own amusement.
The only beast that ever fell to my gun during those shootings with
Uncle Ibbetson was a young rabbit, and that more by accident than
design, although I did not tell Uncle Ibbetson so.
As I picked it off the ground, and felt its poor little warm narrow
chest, and the last beats of its heart under its weak ribs, and saw the
blood on its fur, I was smitten with pity, shame, and remorse; and
settled with myself that I would find some other road to English
gentlemanhood than the slaying of innocent wild things whose happy life
seems so well worth living.
[Illustration: “'AIL TO THEE BLYTHE SPERRIT!”]
I must eat them, I suppose, but I would never shoot them any more;
my hands, at least, should be clean of blood henceforward.
Alas, the irony of fate!
The upshot of all this was that he confided to Mrs. Deane the task
of licking his cub of a nephew into shape. She took me in hand with
right good-will, began by teaching me how to dance, that I might dance
with her at the coming hunt ball; and I did so nearly all night, to my
infinite joy and triumph, and to the disgust of Colonel Ibbetson, who
could dance much better than I—to the disgust, indeed, of many smart
men in red coats and black, for she was considered the belle of the
[Illustration: THE DANCING LESSON.]
Of course I fell, or fancied I fell, in love with her. To her
mother's extreme distress, she gave me every encouragement, partly for
fun, partly to annoy Colonel Ibbetson, whom she had apparently grown to
hate. And, indeed, from the way he spoke of her to me (this trainer of
English gentlemen), he well deserved that she should hate him. He never
had the slightest intention of marrying her—that is certain; and yet
he had made her the talk of the place.
And here I may state that Ibbetson was one of those singular men who
go through life afflicted with the mania that they are fatally
irresistible to women.
He was never weary of pursuing them—not through any special love of
gallantry for its own sake, I believe, but from the mere wish to appear
as a Don Giovanni in the eyes of others. Nothing made him happier than
to be seen whispering mysteriously in corners with the prettiest woman
in the room. He did not seem to perceive that for one woman silly or
vain or vulgar enough to be flattered by his idiotic persecution, a
dozen would loathe the very sight of him, and show it plainly enough.
This vanity had increased with years and assumed a very dangerous
form. He became indiscreet, and, more disastrous still, he told lies!
The very dead—the honored and irreproachable dead—were not even safe
in their graves. It was his revenge for unforgotten slights.
He who kisses and tells, he who tells even though he has not
kissed—what can be said for him, what should be done to him?
Ibbetson one day expiated this miserable craze with his life, and
the man who took it—more by accident than design, it is true—has not
yet found it in his heart to feel either compunction or regret.
* * * * *
So there was a great row between Ibbetson and myself. He d——d and
confounded and abused me in every way, and my father before me, and
finally struck me; and I had sufficient self-command not to strike him
back, but left him then and there with as much dignity as I could
Thus unsuccessfully ended my brief experience of English country
life—a little hunting and shooting and fishing, a little dancing and
flirting; just enough of each to show me I was unfit for all.
A bitter-sweet remembrance, full of humiliation, but not altogether
without charm. There was the beauty of sea and open sky and changing
country weather; and the beauty of Mrs. Deane, who made a fool of me to
revenge herself on Colonel Ibbetson for trying to make a fool of her,
whereby he became the laughing-stock of the neighborhood for at least
And I revenged myself on both—heroically, as I thought; though
where the heroism comes in, and where the revenge, does not appear
For I ran away to London, and enlisted in her Majesty's Household
Cavalry, where I remained a twelvemonth, and was happy enough, and
learned a great deal more good than harm.
* * * * *
Then I was bought out and articled to Mr. Lintot, architect and
surveyor: a conclave of my relatives agreeing to allow me ninety pounds
a year for three years; then all hands were to be washed of me
[Footnote A: Note.—I have thought it better to leave out, in
its entirety, my cousin's account of his short career as a private
soldier. It consists principally of personal descriptions that are not
altogether unprejudiced; he seems never to have quite liked those who
were placed in authority above him, either at school or in the army.
* * * * *
So I took a small lodging in Pentonville, to be near Mr. Lintot, and
worked hard at my new profession for three years, during which nothing
of importance occurred in my outer life. After this Lintot employed me
as a salaried clerk, and I do not think he had any reason to complain
of me, nor did he make any complaint. I was worth my hire, I think, and
something over; which I never got and never asked for.
Nor did I complain of him; for with all his little foibles of
vanity, irascibility, and egotism, and a certain close-fistedness, he
was a good fellow and a very clever one.
His paragon of a wife was by no means the beautiful person he had
made her out to be, nor did anybody but he seem to think her so.
She was a little older than himself; very large and massive, with
stern but not irregular features, and a very high forehead; she had a
slight tendency to baldness, and colorless hair that she wore in an
austere curl on each side of her face, and a menacing little topknot on
her occiput. She had been a Unitarian and a governess, was fond of good
long words, like Dr. Johnson, and very censorious.
But one of my husband's intimate friends, General——, who was
cornet in the Life Guards in my poor cousin's time, writes me that “he
remembers him well, as far and away the tallest and handsomest lad in
the whole regiment, of immense physical strength, unimpeachable good
conduct, and a thorough gentleman from top to toe.”
Her husband's occasional derelictions in the matter of grammar and
accent must have been very trying to her!
She knew her own mind about everything under the sun, and expected
that other people should know it, too, and be of the same mind as
herself. And yet she was not proud; indeed, she was a very dragon of
humility, and had raised injured meekness to the rank of a militant
virtue. And well she knew how to be master and mistress in her own
But with all this she was an excellent wife to Mr. Lintot and a
devoted mother to his children, who were very plain and subdued (and
adored their father); so that Lintot, who thought her Venus and Diana
and Minerva in one, was the happiest man in all Pentonville.
And, on the whole, she was kind and considerate to me, and I always
did my best to please her.
Moreover (a gift for which I could never be too grateful), she
presented me with an old square piano, which had belonged to her
mother, and had done duty in her school-room, till Lintot gave her a
new one (for she was a highly cultivated musician of the severest
classical type). It became the principal ornament of my small
sitting-room, which it nearly filled, and on it I tried to learn my
notes, and would pick out with one finger the old beloved melodies my
father used to sing, and my mother play on the harp.
To sing myself was, it seems, out of the question; my voice (which I
trust was not too disagreeable when I was content merely to speak)
became as that of a bull-frog under a blanket whenever I strove to
express myself in song; my larynx refused to produce the notes I held
so accurately in my mind, and the result was disaster.
On the other hand, in my mind I could sing most beautifully. Once on
a rainy day, inside an Islington omnibus, I mentally sang “Adelaida"
with the voice of Mr. Sims Reeves—an unpardonable liberty to take; and
although it is not for me to say so, I sang it even better than he, for
I made myself shed tears—so much so that a kind old gentleman sitting
opposite seemed to feel for me very much.
I also had the faculty of remembering any tune I once heard, and
would whistle it correctly ever after—even one of Uncle Ibbetson's
As an instance of this, worth recalling, one night I found myself in
Guildford Street, walking in the same direction as another belated
individual (only on the other side of the road), who, just as the moon
came out of a cloud, was moved to whistle.
He whistled exquisitely, and, what was more, he whistled quite the
most beautiful tune I had ever heard. I felt all its changes and
modulations, its majors and minors, just as if a whole band had been
there to play the accompaniment, so cunning and expressive a whistler
And so entranced was I that I made up my mind to cross over and ask
him what it was—“Your melody or your life!” But he suddenly stopped at
No. 48, and let himself in with his key before I could prefer my humble
Well, I went whistling that tune all next day, and for many days
after, without ever finding out what it was; till one evening,
happening to be at the Lintots. I asked Mrs. Lintot (who happened to be
at the piano) if she knew it, and began to whistle it once more. To my
delight and surprise she straightway accompanied it all through (a
wonderful condescension in so severe a purist), and I did not make a
single wrong note.
“Yes,” said Mrs. Lintot, “it's a pretty, catchy little tune—of a
kind to achieve immediate popularity.”
Now, I apologize humbly to the reader for this digression; but if he
be musical he will forgive me, for that tune was the “Serenade” of
Schubert, and I had never even heard Schubert's name!
And having thus duly apologized, I will venture to transgress and
digress anew, and mention here a kind of melodic malady, a singular
obsession to which I am subject, and which I will call unconscious
I am never without some tune running in my head—never for a moment;
not that I am always aware of it; existence would be insupportable if I
were. What part of my brain sings it, or rather in what part of my
brain it sings itself, I cannot imagine—probably in some useless
corner full of cobwebs and lumber that is fit for nothing else.
But it never leaves off; now it is one tune, now another; now a song
without words, now with; sometimes it is near the surface,
so to speak, and I am vaguely conscious of it as I read or work, or
talk or think; sometimes to make sure it is there I have to dive for it
deep into myself, and I never fail to find it after a while, and bring
it up to the top. It is the “Carnival of Venice,” let us say; then I
let it sink again, and it changes without my knowing; so that when I
take another dive the “Carnival of Venice” has become “Il Mio Tesoro,”
or the “Marseillaise,” or “Pretty Little Polly Perkins of Paddington
Green.” And Heaven knows what tunes, unheard and unperceived, this
internal barrel-organ has been grinding meanwhile.
Sometimes it intrudes itself so persistently as to become a
nuisance, and the only way to get rid of it is to whistle or sing
myself. For instance, I may be mentally reciting for my solace and
delectation some beloved lyric like “The Waterfowl,” or “Tears, Idle
Tears,” or “Break, Break, Break”; and all the while, between the lines,
this fiend of a subcerebral vocalist, like a wandering minstrel in a
distant square, insists on singing, “Cheer, Boys, Cheer,” or, “Tommy,
make room for your uncle” (tunes I cannot abide), with words,
accompaniment, and all, complete, and not quite so refined an accent as
I could wish; so that I have to leave off my recitation and whistle
“J'ai du Bon Tabac” in quite a different key to exorcise it.
But this, at least, I will say for this never still small voice of
mine: its intonation is always perfect; it keeps ideal time, and its
quality, though rather thin and somewhat nasal and quite peculiar, is
not unsympathetic. Sometimes, indeed (as in that Islington omnibus), I
can compel it to imitate, a s'y meprendre, the tones of some
singer I have recently heard, and thus make for myself a ghostly music
which is not to be despised.
Occasionally, too, and quite unbidden, it would warble little
impromptu inward melodies of my own composition, which often seemed to
me extremely pretty, old-fashioned, and quaint; but one is not a fair
judge of one's own productions, especially during the heat of
inspiration; and I had not the means of recording them, as I had never
learned the musical notes. What the world has lost!
Now whose this small voice was I did not find out till many years
later, for it was not mine!
* * * * *
In spite of such rare accomplishments and resources within myself, I
was not a happy or contented young man; nor had my discontent in it
anything of the divine.
I disliked my profession, for which I felt no particular aptitude,
and would fain have followed another—poetry, science, literature,
music, painting, sculpture; for all of which I most unblushingly
thought myself better fitted by the gift of nature.
I disliked Pentonville, which, although clean, virtuous, and
respectable, left much to be desired on the score of shape, color,
romantic tradition, and local charm; and I would sooner have lived
anywhere else: in the Champs-Elysees, let us say—yes, indeed, even on
the fifth branch of the third tree on the left-hand side as you leave
the Arc de Triomphe, like one of those classical heroes in Henri
Murger's Vie de Boheme.
I disliked my brother apprentices, and did not get on well with
them, especially a certain very clever but vicious and deformed youth
called Judkins, who seemed to have conceived an aversion for me from
the first; he is now an associate of the Royal Academy. They thought I
gave myself airs because I did not share in their dissipations; such
dissipations as I could have afforded would have been cheap and nasty
Yet such pothouse dissipation seemed to satisfy them, since they
took not only a pleasure in it, but a pride.
They even took a pride in a sick headache, and liked it, if it were
the result of a debauch on the previous night; and were as pompously
mock-modest about a black eye, got in a squabble at the Argyll Rooms,
as if it had been the Victoria Cross. To pass the night in a police
cell was such glory that it was worth while pretending they had done so
when it was untrue.
They looked upon me as a muff, a milksop, and a prig, and felt the
greatest contempt for me; and if they did not openly show it, it was
only because they were not quite so fond of black eyes as they made
So I left them to their inexpensive joys, and betook myself to
pursuits of my own, among others to the cultivation of my body, after
methods I had learned in the Life Guards. I belonged to a gymnastic and
fencing and boxing club, of which I was a most assiduous frequenter; a
more persevering dumb-beller and Indian-clubber never was, and I became
in time an all-round athlete, as wiry and lean as a greyhound, just
under fifteen stone, and four inches over six feet in height, which was
considered very tall thirty years ago; especially in Pentonville, where
the distinction often brought me more contumely than respect.
Altogether a most formidable person; but that I was of a timid
nature, afraid to hurt, and the peacefulest creature in the world.
My old love for slums revived, and I found out and haunted the worst
in London. They were very good slums, but they were not the slums of
Paris—they manage these things better in France.
Even Cow Cross (where the Metropolitan Railway now runs between
King's Cross and Farringdon Street)—Cow Cross, that whilom labyrinth
of slaughter-houses, gin-shops, and thieves' dens, with the famous
Fleet Ditch running underneath it all the while, lacked the fascination
and mystery of mediaeval romance. There were no memories of such
charming people as Le roi des Truands and Gringoire and Esmeralda; with
a sigh one had to fall back on visions of Fagin and Bill Sykes and
And as to the actual denizens! One gazed with a dull, wondering pity
at the poor, pale, rickety children; the slatternly, coarse women who
never smiled (except when drunk); the dull, morose, miserable men. How
they lacked the grace of French deformity, the ease and lightness of
French depravity, the sympathetic distinction of French grotesqueness.
How unterrible they were, who preferred the fist to the noiseless and
insidious knife! who fought with their hands instead of their feet,
quite loyally; and reserved the kicks of their hobnailed boots for
their recalcitrant wives!
And then there was no Morgue; one missed one's Morgue badly.
And Smithfield! It would split me truly to the heart (as M. le Major
used to say) to watch the poor beasts that came on certain days to make
a short station in that hideous cattle-market, on their way to the
What bludgeons have I seen descend on beautiful, bewildered, dazed,
meek eyes, so thickly fringed against the country sun; on soft, moist,
tender nostrils that clouded the poisonous reek with a fragrance of the
far-off fields! What torture of silly sheep and genially cynical pigs!
The very dogs seemed demoralized, and brutal as their masters. And
there one day I had an adventure, a dirty bout at fisticuffs, most
humiliating in the end for me and which showed that chivalry is often
its own reward, like virtue, even when the chivalrous are young and big
and strong, and have learned to box.
A brutal young drover wantonly kicked a sheep, and, as I thought,
broke her hind-leg, and in my indignation I took him by the ear and
flung him round onto a heap of mud and filth. He rose and squared at me
in a most plucky fashion; he hardly came up to my chin, and I refused
to fight him. A crowd collected round us, and as I tried to explain to
the by-standers the cause of our quarrel, he managed to hit me in the
face with a very muddy fist.
“Bravo, little 'un!” shouted the crowd, and he squared up again. I
felt wretchedly ashamed and warded off all his blows, telling him that
I could not hit him or I should kill him.
“Yah!” shouted the crowd again; “go it, little un! Let 'im 'ave it!
The long un's showing the white feather,” etc., and finally I gave him
a slight backhander that made his nose bleed and seemed to demoralize
him completely. “Yah!” shouted the crowd; “'it one yer own size!”
I looked round in despair and rage, and picking out the biggest man
I could see, said, “Are you big enough?” The crowd roared with
“Well, guv'ner, I dessay I might do at a pinch,” he replied; and I
tried to slap his face, but missed it, and received such a tremendous
box on the ear that I was giddy for a second or two, and when I
recovered I found him still grinning at me. I tried to hit him again
and again, but always missed; and at last, without doing me any
particular damage, he laid me flat three times running onto the very
heap where I had flung the drover, the crowd applauding madly. Dazed,
hatless, and panting, and covered with filth, I stared at him in
hopeless impotence. He put out his hand, and said, “You're all right,
ain't yer, guv'ner? I 'ope I 'aven't 'urt yer! My name's Tom Sayers. If
you'd a 'it me, I should 'a' gone down like a ninepin, and I ain't so
sure as I should ever 'ave got up again.”
He was to become the most famous fighting-man in England!
I wrung his hand and thanked him, and offered him a sovereign, which
he refused; and then he led me into a room in a public-house close by,
where he washed and brushed me down, and insisted on treating me to a
glass of brandy-and-water.
I have had a fondness for fighting-men ever since, and a respect for
the noble science I had never felt before. He was many inches shorter
than I, and did not look at all the Hercules he was.
He told me I was the strongest built man for a youngster that he had
ever seen, barring that I was “rather leggy.” I do not know if he was
sincere or not, but no possible compliment could have pleased me more.
Such is the vanity of youth.
And here, although it savors somewhat of vaingloriousness, I cannot
resist the temptation of relating another adventure of the same kind,
but in which I showed to greater advantage.
It was on a boxing-day (oddly enough), and I was returning with
Lintot and one of his boys from a walk in the Highgate Fields. As we
plodded our dirty way homeward through the Caledonian Road we were
stopped by a crowd outside a public-house. A gigantic drayman (they
always seem bigger than they really are) was squaring up to a poor
drunken lout of a navvy not half his size, who had been put up to fight
him, and who was quite incapable of even an attempt it self-defence; he
could scarcely lift his arms, I thought at first it was only
horse-play; and as little Joe Lintot wanted to see, I put him up on my
shoulder, just as the drayman, who had been drinking, but was not
drunk, and had a most fiendishly brutal face, struck the poor tipsy
wretch with all his might between the eyes, and felled him (it was like
pole-axing a bullock), to the delight of the crowd.
Little Joe, a very gentle and sensitive boy, began to cry; and his
father, who had the pluck of a bull-terrier, wanted to interfere, in
spite of his diminutive stature. I was also beside myself with
indignation, and pulling off my coat and hat, which I gave to Lintot,
made my way to the drayman, who was offering to fight any three men in
the crowd, an offer that met with no response.
“Now, then, you cowardly skunk!” I said, tucking up my
shirt-sleeves; “stand up, and I will knock every tooth down your ugly
His face went the colors of a mottled Stilton cheese, and he asked
what I meddled with him for. A ring formed itself, and I felt the
sympathy of the crowd with me this time—a very agreeable
“Now, then, up with your arms! I'm going to kill you!”
“I ain't going to fight you, mister; I ain't going to fight
nobody. Just you let me alone!”
“Oh yes, you are, or you're going on your marrow-bones to be pardon
for being a brutal, cowardly skunk”; and I gave him a slap on the face
that rang like a pistol-shot—a most finished, satisfactory, and
successful slap this time. My finger-tips tingle at the bare
He tried to escape, but was held opposite to me. He began to snivel
and whimper, and said he had never meddled with me, and asked what
should I meddle with him for?
“Then down on your knees—quick—this instant!” and I made as if I
were going to begin serious business at once, and no mistake.
So down he plumped on his knees, and there he actually fainted from
sheer excess of emotion.
As I was helped on with my coat, I tasted, for once in my life the
sweets of popularity, and knew what it was to be the idol of a mob.
Little Joey Lintot and his brothers and sisters, who had never held
me in any particular regard before that I knew of, worshipped me from
that day forward.
And I should be insincere if I did not confess that on that one
occasion I was rather pleased with myself, although the very moment I
stood opposite the huge, hulking, beer-sodden brute (who had looked so
formidable from afar) I felt, with a not unpleasant sense of relief,
that he did not stand a chance. He was only big, and even at that I
The real honors of the day belonged to Lintot, who, I am convinced,
was ready to act the David to that Goliath. He had the real stomach for
fighting, which I lacked, as very tall men are often said to do.
And that, perhaps, is why I have made so much of my not very
wonderful prowess on that occasion; not, indeed, that I am physically a
coward—at least, I do not think so. If I thought I were I should avow
it with no more shame than I should avow that I had a bad digestion, or
a weak heart, which makes cowards of us all.
It is that I hate a row, and violence, and bloodshed, even from a
nose—any nose, either my own or my neighbor's.
* * * * *
There are slums at the east end of London that many fashionable
people know something of by this time; I got to know them by heart. In
addition to the charm of the mere slum, there was the eternal
fascination of the seafaring element; of Jack ashore—a lovable
creature who touches nothing but what he adorns it in his own peculiar
I constantly haunted the docks, where the smell of tar and the sight
of ropes and masts filled me with unutterable longings for the sea—for
distant lands—for anywhere but where it was my fate to be.
I talked to ship captains and mates and sailors, and heard many
marvellous tales, as the reader may well believe, and framed for myself
visions of cloudless skies, and sapphire seas, and coral reefs, and
groves of spice, and dusky youths in painted plumage roving, and
friendly isles where a lovely half-clad, barefooted Neuha would wave
her torch, and lead me, her Torquil, by the hand through caverns of
Especially did I haunt a wharf by London Bridge, from whence two
steamers—the Seine and the Dolphin, I believe—started
on alternate days for Boulogne-sur-Mer.
I used to watch the happy passengers bound for France, some of them,
in their holiday spirits, already fraternizing together on the sunny
deck, and fussing with camp-stools and magazines and novels and bottles
of bitter beer, or retiring before the funnel to smoke the pipe of
[Illustration: THE BOULOGNE STEAMER.]
The sound of the boiler getting up steam—what delicious music it
was! Would it ever get up steam for me? The very smell of the cabin,
the very feel of the brass gangway and the brass-bound, oil-clothed
steps were delightful; and down-stairs, on the snowy cloth, were the
cold beef and ham, the beautiful fresh mustard, the bottles of pale ale
and stout. Oh, happy travellers, who could afford all this, and France
into the bargain!
Soon would a large white awning make the after-deck a paradise, from
which, by-and-by, to watch the quickly gliding panorama of the Thames.
The bell would sound for non-passengers like me to go ashore—“Que
diable allait-il faire dans cette galere!” as Uncle Ibbetson would have
said. The steamer, disengaging itself from the wharf with a pleasant
yoho-ing of manly throats and a slow, intermittent plashing of the
paddle-wheels, would carefully pick its sunny, eastward way among the
small craft of the river, while a few handkerchiefs were waved in a
friendly, make-believe farewell—auf wiedersehen!
Oh, to stand by that unseasonably sou'-westered man at the wheel,
and watch St. Paul's and London Bridge and the Tower of London fade out
of sight—never, never to see them again. No auf wiedersehen for
Sometimes I would turn my footsteps westward and fill my hungry,
jealous eyes with a sight of the gay summer procession in Hyde Park, or
listen to the band in Kensington Gardens, and see beautiful,
welldressed women, and hear their sweet, refined voices and happy
laughter; and a longing would come into my heart more passionate than
my longing for the sea and France and distant lands, and quite as
unutterable. I would even forget Neuha and her torch.
After this it was a dreary downfall to go and dine for tenpence all
by myself, and finish up with a book at my solitary lodgings in
Pentonville. The book would not let itself be read; it sulked and had
to be laid down, for “beautiful woman! beautiful girl!” spelled
themselves between me and the printed page. Translate me those words
into French, O ye who can even render Shakespeare into French
Alexandrines—“Belle femme? Belle fille?” Ha! ha!
If you want to get as near it as you can, you will have to write,
“Belle Anglaise,” or “Belle Americaine;” only then will you be
understood, even in France!
Ah! elle etait bien belle, Madame Seraskier!
At other times, more happily inspired, I would slake my thirst for
nature by long walks into the country. Hampstead was my Passy—the
Leg-of-Mutton Pond my Mare d'Auteuil; Richmond was my St. Cloud, with
Kew Gardens for a Bois de Boulogne; and Hampton Court made a very fair
Versailles—how incomparably fairer, even a pupil of Lintot's should
And after such healthy fatigue and fragrant impressions the tenpenny
dinner had a better taste, the little front parlor in Pentonville was
more like a home, the book more like a friend.
For I read all I could get in English or French.
Novels, travels, history, poetry, science—everything came as grist
to that most melancholy mill, my mind.
I tried to write; I tried to draw; I tried to make myself an inner
life apart from the sordid, commonplace ugliness of my outer one—a
private oasis of my own; and to raise myself a little, if only
mentally, above the circumstances in which it had pleased the Fates to
[Footnote A: Note—It Is with great reluctance that I now
come to my cousin's account of deplorable opinions he held, at that
period of his life, on the most important subject that can ever engross
the mind of man. I have left out much, but I feel that in
suppressing it altogether, I should rob his sad story of all its moral
significance; for it cannot be doubted that most of his unhappiness is
attributable to the defective religious training of his childhood, and
that his parents (otherwise the best and kindest people I have ever
known) incurred a terrible responsibility when they determined to leave
him “unbiased,” as he calls it, at that tender and susceptible age when
the mind is
“Wax to receive, marble to retain.”
* * * * *
It goes without saying that, like many thoughtful youths of a
melancholy temperament, impecunious and discontented with their lot,
and much given to the smoking of strong tobacco (on an empty stomach),
I continuously brooded on the problems of existence—free-will and
determinism, the whence and why and whither of man, the origin of evil,
the immortality of the soul, the futility of life, etc., and made
myself very miserable over such questions.
Often the inquisitive passer-by, had he peeped through the blinds of
No.—Wharton Street, Pentonville, late at night, would have been
rewarded by the touching spectacle of a huge, rawboned ex-private in
her Majesty's Life Guards, with his head bowed over the black and
yellow key-board of a venerable square piano-forte (on which he could
not play), dropping the bitter tear of loneliness and Weltschmertz
It never once occurred to me to seek relief in the bosom of any
Some types are born and not made. I was a born “infidel;” if ever
there was a congenital agnostic, one agnostically constituted from his
very birth, it was I. Not that I had ever heard such an expression as
agnosticism; it is an invention of late years....
“J'avais fait de la prose toute ma vie sans le savoir!“
But almost the first conscious dislike I can remember was for the
black figure of the priest, and there were several of these figures in
Monsieur le Major called them maitres corbeaux, and seemed to
hold them in light esteem. Dr. Seraskier hated them; his gentle
Catholic wife had grown to distrust them. My loving, heretic mother
loved them not; my father, a Catholic born and bred, had an equal
aversion. They had persecuted his gods—the thinkers, philosophers, and
scientific discoverers—Galileo, Bruno, Copernicus; and brought to his
mind the cruelties of the Holy Inquisition, the Massacre of St.
Bartholomew; and I always pictured them as burning little heretics
alive if they had their will—Eton jackets, white chimney-pot hats, and
I have no doubt they were in reality the best and kindest of men.
The parson (and parsons were not lacking in Pentonville) was not so
insidiously repellent as the blue-cheeked, blue-chinned Passy priest;
but he was by no means to me a picturesque or sympathetic apparition,
with his weddedness, his whiskers, his black trousers, his frock-coat,
his tall hat, his little white tie, his consciousness of being a
“gentleman” by profession. Most unattractive, also, were the cheap,
brand-new churches wherein he spoke the word to his dreary-looking,
Sunday-clad flock, with scarcely one of whom his wife would have sat
down to dinner—especially if she had been chosen from among them.
[Illustration: SUNDAY IN PENTONVILLE.]
To watch that flock pouring in of a Sunday morning, or afternoon, or
evening, at the summons of those bells, and pouring out again after the
long service, and banal, perfunctory sermon, was depressing. Weekdays,
in Pentonville, were depressing enough; but Sundays were depressing
beyond words, though nobody seemed to think so but myself. Early
training had acclimatized them.
I have outlived those physical antipathies of my salad days; even
the sight of an Anglican bishop is no longer displeasing to me, on the
contrary; and I could absolutely rejoice in the beauty of a cardinal.
Indeed, I am now friends with both a parson and a priest, and do not
know which of the two I love and respect the most. They ought to hate
me, but they do not; they pity me too much, I suppose. I am too
negative to rouse in either the deep theological hate; and all the
little hate that the practice of love and charity has left in their
kind hearts is reserved for each other—an unquenchable hate in which
they seem to glory, and which rages all the more that it has to be
concealed. It saddens me to think that I am a bone of contention
And yet, for all my unbelief, the Bible was my favorite book, and
the Psalms my adoration; and most truly can I affirm that my mental
attitude has ever been one of reverence and humility.
But every argument that has ever been advanced against Christianity
(and I think I know them all by this time) had risen spontaneously and
unprompted within me, and they have all seemed to me unanswerable, and
indeed, as yet, unanswered. Nor had any creed of which I ever heard
appeared to me either credible or attractive or even sensible, but for
the central figure of the Deity—a Deity that in no case could ever be
The awe-inspiring and unalterable conception that had wrought itself
into my consciousness, whether I would or no, was that of a Being
infinitely more abstract, remote, and inaccessible than any the genius
of mankind has ever evolved after its own image and out of the needs of
its own heart—inscrutable, unthinkable, unspeakable; above all human
passions, beyond the reach of any human appeal; One upon whose
attributes it was futile to speculate—One whose name was It,
The thought of total annihilation was uncongenial, but had no
Even as a child I had shrewdly suspected that hell was no more than
a vulgar threat for naughty little boys and girls, and heaven than a
vulgar bribe, from the casual way in which either was meted out to me
as my probable portion, by servants and such people, according to the
way I behaved. Such things were never mentioned to me by either my
father or mother, or M. le Major, or the Seraskiers—the only people in
whom I trusted.
But for the bias against the priest, I was left unbiassed at that
tender and susceptible age. I had learned my catechism and read my
Bible, and used to say the Lord's Prayer as I went to bed, and “God
bless papa and mamma” and the rest, in the usual perfunctory manner.
Never a word against religion was said in my hearing by those few on
whom I had pinned my childish faith; on the other hand, no such
importance was attached to it, apparently, as was attached to the
virtues of truthfulness, courage, generosity, self-denial, politeness,
and especially consideration for others, high or low, human and animal
I imagine that my parents must have compromised the matter between
them, and settled that I should work out all the graver problems of
existence for myself, when I came to a thinking age, out of my own
conscience, and such knowledge of life as I should acquire, and such
help as they would no doubt have given me, according to their lights,
had they survived.
I did so, and made myself a code of morals to live by, in which
religion had but a small part.
For me there was but one sin, and that was cruelty, because I hated
it; though Nature, for inscrutable purposes of her own, almost teaches
it as a virtue. All sins that did not include cruelty were merely sins
against health, or taste, or common-sense, or public expediency.
Free-will was impossible. We could only seem to will freely,
and that only within the limits of a small triangle, whose sides were
heredity, education, and circumstance—a little geometrical arrangement
of my own, of which I felt not a little proud, although it does not
quite go on all-fours—perhaps because it is only a triangle.
That is, we could will fast enough—too fast; but could not
will how to will—fortunately, for we were not fit as yet, and
for a long time to come, to be trusted, constituted as we are!
Even the characters of a novel must act according to the nature,
training, and motives their creator the novelist has supplied them
with, or we put the novel down and read something else; for human
nature must be consistent with itself in fiction as well as in fact.
Even in its madness there must be a method, so how could the will be
To pray for any personal boon or remission of evil—to bend the
knee, or lift one's voice in praise or thanksgiving for any earthly
good that had befallen one, either through inheritance, or chance, or
one's own successful endeavor—was in my eyes simply futile; but,
putting its futility aside, it was an act of servile presumption, of
wheedling impertinence, not without suspicion of a lively sense of
favors to come.
It seemed to me as though the Jews—a superstitious and
business-like people, who know what they want and do not care how they
get it—must have taught us to pray like that.
It was not the sweet, simple child innocently beseeching that
to-morrow might be fine for its holiday, or that Santa Claus would be
generous; it was the cunning trader, fawning, flattering, propitiating,
bribing with fulsome, sycophantic praise (an insult in itself), as well
as burnt-offerings, working for his own success here and hereafter, and
his enemy's confounding.
It was the grovelling of the dog, without the dog's single-hearted
love, stronger than even its fear or its sense of self-interest.
What an attitude for one whom God had made after His own image—even
towards his Maker!
* * * * *
The only permissible prayer was a prayer for courage or resignation;
for that was a prayer turned inward, an appeal to what is best in
ourselves—our honor, our stoicism, our self-respect.
And for a small detail, grace before and after meals seemed to me
especially self-complacent and iniquitous, when there were so many with
scarcely ever a meal to say grace for. The only decent and proper grace
was to give half of one's meal away—not, indeed, that I was in the
habit of doing so! But at least I had the grace to reproach myself for
my want of charity, and that was my only grace.
* * * * *
Fortunately, since we had no free-will of our own, the tendency that
impelled us was upward, like the sparks, and bore us with it
willy-nilly—the good and the bad, and the worst and the best.
By seeing this clearly, and laying it well to heart, the motive was
supplied to us for doing all we could in furtherance of that upward
tendency—pour aider le bon Dieu—that we might rise the faster
and reach Him the sooner, if He were! And when once the human will has
been set going, like a rocket or a clock or a steam-engine, and in the
right direction, what can it not achieve?
We should in time control circumstance instead of being controlled
thereby; education would day by day become more adapted to one
consistent end; and, finally, conscience-stricken, we should guide
heredity with our own hands instead of leaving it to blind chance;
unless, indeed, a well-instructed paternal government wisely took the
reins, and only sanctioned the union of people who were thoroughly in
love with each other, after due and careful elimination of the unfit.
Thus, cruelty should at least be put into harness, and none of its
valuable energy wasted on wanton experiments, as it is by Nature.
And thus, as the boy is father to the man, should the human race one
day be father to—what?
That is just where my speculations would arrest themselves; that was
the X of a sum in rule of three, not to be worked out by Peter
Ibbetson, Architect and Surveyor, Wharton Street, Pentonville.
As the orang-outang is to Shakespeare, so is Shakespeare to ... X?
As the female chimpanzee is to the Venus of Milo, so is the Venus of
Milo to ... X?
Finally, multiply these two X's by each other, and try to conceive
* * * * *
Such was, crudely, the simple creed I held at this time; and, such
as it was, I had worked it all out for myself, with no help from
outside—a poor thing, but mine own; or, as I expressed it in the words
of De Musset, “Mon verre n'est pas grand—mais je bois dans mon verre.”
For though such ideas were in the air, like wholesome clouds, they
had not yet condensed themselves into printed words for the million.
People did not dare to write about these things, as they do at present,
in popular novels and cheap magazines, that all who run may read, and
learn to think a little for themselves, and honestly say what they
think, without having to dread a howl of execration, clerical and lay.
And it was not only that I thought like this and could not think
otherwise; it was that I felt like this and could not feel otherwise;
and I should have appeared to myself as wicked, weak, and base had I
ever even desired to think or feel otherwise, however personally
despairing of this life—a traitor to what I jealously guarded as my
And yet to me the faith of others, if but unaggressive, humble, and
sincere, had often seemed touching and pathetic, and sometimes even
beautiful, as childish things seem sometimes beautiful, even in those
who are no longer children, and should have put them away. It had
caused many heroic lives, and rendered many obscure lives blameless and
happy; and then its fervor and passion seemed to burn with a lasting
At brief moments now and then, and especially in the young, unfaith
can be as fervent and as passionate as faith, and just as narrow and
unreasonable, as I found; but alas! its flame was intermittent,
and its light was not a kindly light.
It had no food for babes; it could not comfort the sick or sorry,
nor resolve into submissive harmony the inner discords of the soul; nor
compensate us for our own failures and shortcomings, nor make up to us
in any way for the success and prosperity of others who did not choose
to think as we did.
It was without balm for wounded pride, or stay for weak despondency,
or consolation for bereavement; its steep and rugged thoroughfares led
to no promised land of beatitude, and there were no soft resting-places
by the way.
Its only weapon was steadfastness; its only shield, endurance; its
earthly hope, the common weal; its earthly prize, the opening of all
roads to knowledge, and the release from a craven inheritance of fear;
its final guerdon—sleep? Who knows?
Sleep was not bad.
So that simple, sincere, humble, devout, earnest, fervent,
passionate, and over-conscientious young unbelievers like myself had to
be very strong and brave and self-reliant (which I was not), and very
much in love with what they conceived to be the naked Truth (a figure
of doubtful personal attractions at first sight), to tread the ways of
life with that unvarying cheerfulness, confidence, and serenity which
the believer claims as his own special and particular appanage.
So much for my profession of unfaith, shared (had I but known it) by
many much older and wiser and better educated than I, and only reached
by them after great sacrifice of long-cherished illusions, and terrible
pangs of soul-questioning—a struggle and a wrench that I was spared
through my kind parents' thoughtfulness when I was a little boy.
* * * * *
It thus behooved me to make the most of this life; since, for all I
knew, or believed, or even hoped to the contrary, to-morrow we must
Not, indeed, that I might eat and drink and be merry; heredity and
education had not inclined me that way, I suppose, and circumstances
did not allow it; but that I might try and live up to the best ideal I
could frame out of my own conscience and the past teaching of mankind.
And man, whose conception of the Infinite and divine has been so
inadequate, has furnished us with such human examples (ancient and
modern, Hebrew, Pagan, Buddhist, Christian, Agnostic, and what not) as
the best of us can only hope to follow at a distance.
I would sometimes go to my morning's work, my heart elate with lofty
hope and high resolve.
How easy and simple it seemed to lead a life without fear, or
reproach, or self-seeking, or any sordid hope of personal reward,
either here or hereafter!—a life of stoical endurance, invincible
patience and meekness, indomitable cheerfulness and self-denial!
After all, it was only for another forty or fifty years at the most,
and what was that? And after that—que scais-je?
The thought was inspiring indeed!
By luncheon-time (and luncheon consisted of an Abernethy biscuit and
a glass of water, and several pipes of shag tobacco, cheap and rank)
some subtle change would come over the spirit of my dream.
Other people did not have high resolves. Some people had very bad
tempers, and rubbed one very much the wrong way.
What a hideous place was Pentonville to slave away one's life in!
What a grind it was to be forever making designs for little new
shops in Rosoman Street, and not making them well, it seemed! ...
Why should a squinting, pock-marked, bowlegged, hunch-backed little
Judkins (a sight to make a recruiting-sergeant shudder) forever taunt
one with having enlisted as a private soldier? ...
And then why should one be sneeringly told to “hit a fellow one's
own size,” merely because, provoked beyond endurance, one just grabbed
him by the slack of his trousers and gently shook him out of them onto
the floor, terrified but quite unhurt? ...
And so on, and so on; constant little pin-pricks, sordid
humiliations, ugliness, meannesses, and dirt, that called forth in
resistance all that was lowest and least commendable in one's self.
One has attuned one's nerves to the leading of a forlorn hope, and a
gnat gets into one's eye, or a little cinder grit, and there it sticks;
and there is no question of leading any forlorn hope, after all, and
never will be; all that was in the imagination only: it is
always gnats and cinder grits, gnats and cinder grits.
By the evening I had ignominiously broken down, and was plunged in
the depths of an exasperated pessimism too deep even for tears, and
would have believed myself the meanest and most miserable of mankind,
but that everybody else, without exception, was even meaner and
miserabler than myself.
They could still eat and drink and be merry. I could not, and did
not even want to.
* * * * *
And so on, day after day, week after week, for months and years....
Thus I grew weary in time of my palling individuality, ever the same
through all these uncontrollable variations of mood.
Oh, that alternate ebb and flow of the spirits! It is a disease,
and, what is most distressing, it is no real change; it is more
sickeningly monotonous than absolute stagnation itself. And from that
dreary seesaw I could never escape, except through the gates of
dreamless sleep, the death in life; for even in our dreams we are still
ourselves. There was no rest!
I loathed the very sight of myself in the shop-windows as I went by;
and yet I always looked for it there, in the forlorn hope of at least
finding some alteration, even for the worse. I passionately longed to
be somebody else; and yet I never met anybody else I could have borne
to be for a moment.
And then the loneliness of us!
Each separate unit of our helpless race is inexorably bounded by the
inner surface of his own mental periphery, a jointless armor in which
there is no weak place, never a fault, never a single gap of egress for
ourselves, of ingress for the nearest and dearest of our fellow-units.
At only five points can we just touch each other, and all that is—and
that only by the function of our poor senses—from the outside. In vain
we rack them that we may get a little closer to the best beloved and
most implicitly trusted; ever in vain, from the cradle to the grave.
Why should so fantastic a thought have persecuted me so cruelly? I
knew nobody with whom I should have felt such a transfusion of soul
even tolerable for a second. I cannot tell! But it was like a gadfly
which drove me to fatigue my body that I should have by day the stolid
peace of mind that comes of healthy physical exhaustion; that I should
sleep at night the dreamless sleep—the death in life!
“Of such materials wretched men are made!” Especially wretched young
men; and the wretcheder one is, the more one smokes; and the more one
smokes, the wretcheder one gets—a vicious circle!
Such was my case. I grew to long for the hour of my release (as I
expressed it pathetically to myself), and caressed the idea of suicide.
I even composed for myself a little rhymed epitaph in French which I
thought very neat—
Je n'etais point. Je fus.
Je ne suis plus.
* * * * *
Oh, to perish in some noble cause—to die saving another's life,
even another's worthless life, to which he clung!
I remember formulating this wish, in all sincerity, one moonlit
night as I walked up Frith Street, Soho. I came upon a little group of
excited people gathered together at the foot of a house built over a
shop. From a broken window-pane on the second floor an ominous cloud of
smoke rose like a column into the windless sky. An ordinary ladder was
placed against the house, which, they said, was densely inhabited; but
no fire-engine or fire-escape had arrived as yet, and it appeared
useless to try and rouse the inmates by kicking and beating at the door
A brave man was wanted—a very brave man, who would climb the
ladder, and make his way into the house through the broken window. Here
was a forlorn hope to lead at last!
Such a man was found. To my lasting shame and contrition, it was not
He was short and thick and middle-aged, and had a very jolly red
face and immense whiskers—quite a common sort of man, who seemed by no
means tired of life.
His heroism was wasted, as it happened; for the house was an empty
one, as we all heard, to our immense relief, before he had managed to
force a passage into the burning room. His whiskers were not even
Nevertheless, I slunk home, and gave up all thoughts of
self-destruction—even in a noble cause; and there, in penance, I
somewhat hastily committed to flame the plodding labor of many
midnights—an elaborate copy in pen and ink, line for line, of Retel's
immortal wood-engraving “Der Tod als Freund,” which Mrs. Lintot had
been kind enough to lend me—and under which I had written, in
beautiful black Gothic letters and red capitals (and without the
slightest sense of either humor or irreverence), the following poem,
which had cost me infinite pains:
F, i, fi—n, i, ni!
Bon dieu Pere, j'ai fini...
Vous qui m'avez lant puni,
Dans ma triste vie,
Pour tant d'horribles forfaits
Que je ne commis jamais
Laissez-moi jouir en paix
De mon agonie!
Les faveurs que je Vous dois,
Je les compte sur mes doigts:
Tout infirme que je sois,
Ca se fait bien vite!
Prenez patience, et comptez
Tous mes maux—puis computez
Toutes Vos severites—
Vous me tiendrez quitte!
Ne pour souffrir, et souffrant—
Bas, honni, bete, ignorant,
Vieux, laid, chetif—et mourant
Dans mon trou sans plainte,
Je suis aussi sans desir
Autre que d'en bien finir—
Sans regret, sans repentir—
Sans espoir ni crainte!
Pere inflexible et jaloux,
Votre Fils est mort pour nous!
Aussi, je reste envers Vous
Si bien sans rancune,
Que je voudrais, sans facon,
Faire, au seuil de ma prison,
Quelque petite oraison ...
Je n'en sais pas une!
J'entends sonner l'Angelus
Qui rassemble Vos Elus:
Pour moi, du bercail exclus.
C'est la mort qui sonne!
Prier ne profite rien ...
Pardonner est le seul bien:
C'est le Votre, et c'est le mien:
Moi, je Vous pardonne!
Soyez d'un egard pareil!
S'il est quelque vrai sommeil
Sans ni reve, ni reveil,
Ouvrez-m'en la porte—
Faites que l'immense Oubli
Couvre, sous un dernier pli,
Dans mon corps enseveli,
Ma conscience morte!
Oh me duffer! What a hopeless failure was I in all things, little
I had no friends but the Lintots and their friends. “Les amis de nos
amis sont nos amis!”
My cousin Alfred had gone into the army, like his father before him.
My cousin Charlie had gone into the Church, and we had drifted
completely apart. My grandmother was dead. My Aunt Plunket, a great
invalid, lived in Florence. Her daughter, Madge, was in India, happily
married to a young soldier who is now a most distinguished general.
The Lintots held their heads high as representatives of a liberal
profession, and an old Pentonville family. People were generally
exclusive in those days—an exclusiveness that was chiefly kept up by
the ladies. There were charmed circles even in Pentonville.
Among the most exclusive were the Lintots. Let us hope, in common
justice, that those they excluded were at least able to exclude others.
I have eaten their bread and salt, and it would ill become me to
deny that their circle was charming as well as charmed. But I had no
gift for making friends, although I was often attracted by people the
very opposite of myself; especially by little, clever, quick, but not
too familiar men; but even if they were disposed to make advances, a
miserable shyness and stiffness of manner on my part, that I could not
help, would raise a barrier of ice between us.
They were most hospitable people, these good Lintots, and had many
friends, and gave many parties, which my miserable shyness prevented me
from enjoying to the full. They were both too stiff and too free.
In the drawing-room, Mrs. Lintot and one or two other ladies,
severely dressed, would play the severest music in a manner that did
not mitigate its severity. They were merciless! It was nearly always
Bach, or Hummel, or Scarlatti, each of whom, they would say, could
write both like an artist and a gentleman—a very rare but
indispensable combination, it seemed.
Other ladies, young and middle-aged, and a few dumb-struck youths
like myself, would be suffered to listen, but never to retaliate—never
to play or sing back again.
If one ventured to ask for a song without words by Mendelssohn—or a
song with words, even by Schubert, even with German words—one was
rebuked and made to blush for the crime of musical frivolity.
Meanwhile, in Lintot's office (built by himself in the back garden),
grave men and true, pending the supper hour, would smoke and sip
spirits-and-water, and talk shop; formally at first, and with much
politeness. But gradually, feeling their way, as it were, they would
relax into social unbuttonment, and drop the “Mister” before each
other's names (to be resumed next morning), and indulge in lively
professional chaff, which would soon become personal and free and
boisterous—a good-humored kind of warfare in which I did not shine,
for lack of quickness and repartee. For instance, they would ask one
whether one would rather be a bigger fool than one looked, or look a
bigger fool than one was; and whichever way one answered the question,
the retort would be that “that was impossible!” amid roars of laughter
from all but one.
So that I would take a middle course, and spend most of the evening
on the stairs and in the hall, and study (with an absorbing interest
much too well feigned to look natural) the photographs of famous
cathedrals and public buildings till supper came; when, by assiduously
attending on the ladies, I would cause my miserable existence to be
remembered, and forgiven; and soon forgotten again, I fear.
I hope I shall not be considered an overweening coxcomb for saying
that, on the whole, I found more favor with the ladies than with the
gentlemen; especially at supper-time.
After supper there would be a change—for the better, some thought.
Lintot, emboldened by good-cheer and good-fellowship, would become
unduly, immensely, uproariously funny, in spite of his wife. He had a
genuine gift of buffoonery. His friends would whisper to each other
that Lintot was “on,” and encourage him. Bach and Hummel and Scarlatti
were put on the shelf, and the young people would have a good time.
There were comic songs and negro melodies, with a chorus all round.
Lintot would sing “Vilikins and his Dinah,” in the manner of Mr.
Robson, so well that even Mrs. Lintot's stern mask would relax into
indulgent smiles. It was irresistible. And when the party broke up, we
could all (thanks to our host) honestly thank our hostess “for a very
pleasant evening,” and cheerfully, yet almost regretfully, wish her
It is good to laugh sometimes—wisely if one can; if not,
quocumque modo! There are seasons when even “the crackling of
thorns under a pot” has its uses. It seems to warm the pot—all the
pots—and all the emptiness thereof, if they be empty.
* * * * *
Once, indeed, I actually made a friend, but he did not last me very
It happened thus: Mrs. Lintot gave a grander party than usual. One
of the invited was Mr. Moses Lyon, the great picture-dealer—a client
of Lintot's; and he brought with him young Raphael Merridew, the
already famous painter, the most attractive youth I had ever seen.
Small and slight, but beautifully made, and dressed in the extreme of
fashion, with a handsome face, bright and polite manners, and an
irresistible voice, he became his laurels well; he would have been
sufficiently dazzling without them. Never had those hospitable doors in
Myddelton Square been opened to so brilliant a guest.
I was introduced to him, and he discovered that the bridge of my
nose was just suited for the face of the sun-god in his picture of “The
Sun-god and the Dawn-maiden,” and begged I would favor him with a
sitting or two.
Proud indeed was I to accede to such a request, and I gave him many
sittings. I used to rise at dawn to sit, before my work at Lintot's
began; and to sit again as soon as I could be spared.
It seems I not only had the nose and brow of a sun-god (who is not
supposed to be a very intellectual person), but also his arms and his
torso; and sat for these, too. I have been vain of myself ever since.
During these sittings, which he made delightful, I grew to love him
as David loved Jonathan.
We settled that we would go to the Derby together in a hansom. I
engaged the smartest hansom in London days beforehand. On the great
Wednesday morning I was punctual with it at his door in Charlotte
Street. There was another hansom there already—a smarter hansom still
than mine, for it was a private one—and he came down and told me he
had altered his mind, and was going with Lyon, who had asked him the
“One of the first picture-dealers in London, my dear fellow. Hang it
all, you know, I couldn't refuse—awfully sorry!”
So I drove to the Derby in solitary splendor, but the bright
weather, the humors of the road, all the gay scenes were thrown away
upon me, such was the bitterness of my heart.
In the early afternoon I saw Merridew lunching on the top of a drag,
among some men of smart and aristocratic appearance. He seemed to be
the life of the party, and gave me a good-humored nod as I passed. I
soon found Lyon sitting disconsolate in his hansom, scowling and
solitary; he invited me to lunch with him, and disembosomed himself of
a load of bitterness as intense as mine (which I kept to myself). The
shrewd Hebrew tradesman was sunk in the warm-hearted, injured friend.
Merridew had left Lyon for the Earl of Chiselhurst, just as he had left
me for Lyon.
That was a dull Derby for us both!
A few days later I met Merridew, radiant as ever. All he said was:
“Awful shame of me to drop old Lyon for Chiselhurst, eh? But an
earl, my dear fellow! Hang it all, you know! Poor old Mo had to get
back in his hansom all by himself, but he's bought the 'Sun-god' all
Merridew soon dropped me altogether, to my great sorrow, for I
forgave him his Derby desertion as quickly as Lyon did, and would have
forgiven him anything. He was one of those for whom allowances are
always being made, and with a good grace.
He died before he was thirty, poor boy! but his fame will never die.
The “Sun-god” (even with the bridge of that nose which had been so
wofully put out of joint) is enough by itself to place him among the
immortals. Lyon sold it to Lord Chiselhurst for three thousand
pounds—it had cost him five hundred. It is now in the National
Poetical justice was satisfied!
* * * * *
Nor was I more fortunate in love than in friendship.
All the exclusiveness in the world cannot exclude good and beautiful
maidens, and these were not lacking, even in Pentonville.
There is always one maiden much more beautiful and good than all the
others—like Esmeralda among the ladies of the Hotel de Gondelaurier.
There was such a maiden in Pentonville, or rather Clerkenwell, close
by. But her station was so humble (like Esmeralda's) that even the
least exclusive would have drawn the line at her! She was one of
a large family, and they sold tripe and pig's feet, and food for cats
and dogs, in a very small shop opposite the western wall of the
Middlesex House of Detention. She was the eldest, and the busy,
responsible one at this poor counter. She was one of Nature's ladies,
one of Nature's goddesses—a queen! Of that I felt sure every time I
passed her shop, and shyly met her kind, frank, uncoquettish gaze. A
time was approaching when I should have to overcome my shyness, and
tell her that she of all women was the woman for me, and that it was
indispensable, absolutely indispensable, that we two should be made
one—immediately! at once! forever!
But before I could bring myself to this she married somebody else,
and we had never exchanged a single word!
If she is alive now she is an old woman—a good and beautiful old
woman, I feel sure, wherever she is, and whatever her rank in life. If
she should read this book, which is not very likely, may she accept
this small tribute from an unknown admirer; for whom, so many years
ago, she beautified and made poetical the hideous street that still
bounds the Middlesex House of Detention on its western side; and may
she try to think not the less of it because since then its writer has
been on the wrong side of that long, blank wall, of that dreary portal
where the agonized stone face looks down on the desolate slum:
“Per me si va tra la perduta gente ...!”
After this disappointment I got myself a big dog (like Byron,
Bismarck, and Wagner), but not in the spirit of emulation. Indeed, I
had never heard of either Bismarck or Wagner in those days, or their
dogs, and I had lost my passion for Byron and any wish to emulate him
in any way; it was simply for the want of something to be fond of, and
that would be sure to love me back again.
He was not a big dog when I bought him, but just a little ball of
orange-tawny fluff that I could carry with one arm. He cost me all the
money I had saved up for a holiday trip to Passy. I had seen his
father, a champion St. Bernard, at a dog-show, and felt that life would
be well worth living with such a companion; but his price was
five hundred guineas. When I saw the irresistible son, just six weeks
old, and heard that he was only one-fiftieth of his sire's value, I
felt Passy must wait, and became his possessor.
[Illustration: PORTHOS AND HIS ATTENDANT SQUIRE.]
I gave him of the best that money could buy—real milk at fivepence
a quart, three quarts a day, I combed his fluff every morning, and
washed him three times a week, and killed all his fleas one by one—a
labour of love. I weighed him every Saturday, and found he increased at
the rate of six to nine weekly; and his power of affection increased as
the square of his weight. I christened him Porthos, because he was so
big and fat and jolly; but in his noble puppy face and his beautiful
pathetic eyes I already foresaw for his middle age that distinguished
and melancholy grandeur which characterized the sublime Athos, Comte de
He was a joy. It was good to go to sleep at night and know he would
be there in the morning. Whenever we took our walks abroad, everybody
turned round to look at him and admire, and to ask if he was
good-tempered, and what his particular breed was, and what I fed him
on. He became a monster in size—a beautiful, playful, gracefully
galumphing, and most affectionate monster, and I, his happy
Frankenstein, congratulated myself on the possession of a treasure that
would last twelve years at least, or even fourteen, with the care I
meant to take of him. But he died of distemper when he was eleven
I do not know if little dogs cause as large griefs when they die as
big ones; but I settled there should be no more dogs—big or
* * * * *
After this I took to writing verses and sending them to magazines,
where they never appeared. They were generally about my being reminded,
by a tune, of things that had happened a long time ago: my poetic, like
my artistic vein, was limited.
Here are the last I made, thirty years back. My only excuse for
giving them is that they are so singularly prophetic.
The reminding tune (an old French chime which my father used to
sing) is very simple and touching; and the old French words run thus:
Notre Dame de Clery!
Quel chagrin, quel ennui
De compter toute la nuit
Les heures—Les heures!”
That is all. They are supposed to be sung by a mediaeval prisoner
who cannot sleep; and who, to beguile the tediousness of his insomnia,
sets any words that come into his head to the tune of the chime which
marks the hours from a neighboring belfry. I tried to fancy that his
name was Pasquier de la Mariere, and that he was my ancestor.
There is an old French air,
A little song of loneliness and grief—
Simple as nature, sweet beyond compare—
And sad—past all belief!
Nameless is he that wrote
The melody—but this I opine:
Whoever made the words was some remote
French ancestor of mine.
I know the dungeion deep
Where long he lay—and why he lay therein;
And all his anguish, that he could not sleep
For conscience of a sin.
I see his cold, hard bed;
I hear the chimes that jingled in his ears
As he pressed nightly, with that wakeful head,
A pillow wet with tears.
Oh, restless little chime!
It never changed—but rang its roundelay
For each dark hour of that unhappy time
That sighed itself away.
And ever, more and more,
Its burden grew of his lost self a part—
And mingled with his memories, and wore
Its way into his heart.
And there it wove the name
Of many a town he loved, for one dear sake,
Into its web of music; thus he came
His little song to make.
Of all that ever heard
And loved it for its sweetness, none but I
Divined the clew that, as a hidden word,
The notes doth underlie.
That wail from lips long dead
Has found its echo in this breast alone!
Only to me, by blood-remembrance led,
Is that wild story known!
And though 'tis mine, by right
Of treasure-trove, to rifle and lay bare—
A heritage of sorrow and delight
The world would gladly share—
Yet must I not unfold
For evermore, nor whisper late or soon,
The secret that a few slight bars thus hold
Imprisoned in a tune.
For when that little song
Goes ringing in my head, I know that he,
My luckless lone forefather, dust so long,
Relives his life in me!
I sent them to ——'s Magazine, with the six French lines on at the
which they were founded at the top. ——'s Magazine published
only the six French lines—the only lines in my handwriting that ever
got into print. And they date from the fifteenth century!
Thus was my little song lost to the world, and for a time to me. But
long, long afterwards, I found it again, where Mr. Longfellow once
found a song of his: “in the heart of a friend”—surely the
sweetest bourne that can ever be for any song!
Little did I foresee that a day was not far off when real blood
remembrance would carry me—but that is to come.
* * * * *
Poetry, friendship and love having failed, I sought for consolation
in art, and frequented the National Gallery, Marlborough House (where
the Vernon collection was), the British Museum, the Royal Academy, and
I prostrated myself before Titian, Rembrandt, Velasquez, Veronese,
Da Vinci, Botticelli, Signorelli—the older the better; and tried my
best to honestly feel the greatness I knew and know to be there; but
for want of proper training I was unable to reach those heights, and,
like most outsiders, admired them for the wrong things, for the very
beauties they lack—such transcendent, ineffable beauties of feature,
form, and expression as an outsider always looks for in an old master,
and often persuades himself he finds there—and oftener still,
pretends he does!
I was far more sincerely moved (although I did not dare to say so)
by some works of our own time—for instance, by the “Vale of Rest,” the
“Autumn Leaves,” “The Huguenot” of young Mr. Millais—just as I found
such poems as Maud and In Memoriam, by Mr. Alfred
Tennyson, infinitely more precious and dear to me than Milton's
Paradise Lost and Spenser's Faerie Queene.
Indeed, I was hopelessly modern in those days—quite an every-day
young man; the names I held in the warmest and deepest regard were
those of then living men and women. Darwin, Browning, and George Eliot
did not, it is true, exist for me as yet; but Tennyson, Thackeray,
Dickens, Millais, John Leech, George Sand, Balzac, the old Dumas,
Victor Hugo, and Alfred de Musset!
I have never beheld them in the flesh; but, like all the world, I
know their outer aspect well, and could stand a pretty stiff
examination in most they have ever written, drawn, or painted.
Other stars of magnitude have risen since, but of the old galaxy
four at least still shine out of the past with their ancient lustre
undimmed in my eyes—Thackeray; dear John Leech, who still has power to
make me laugh as I like to laugh; and for the two others it is plain
that the Queen, the world, and I are of a like mind as to their
deserts, for one of them is now an ornament to the British peerage, the
other a baronet and a millionaire; only I would have made dukes of them
straight off, with precedence over the Archbishop of Canterbury, if
they would care to have it so.
It is with a full but humble heart that I thus venture to record my
long indebtedness, and pay this poor tribute, still fresh from the days
of my unquestioning hero-worship. It will serve, at least, to show my
reader (should I ever have one sufficiently interested to care) in what
mental latitudes and longitudes I dwelt, who was destined to such
singular experience—a kind of reference, so to speak—that he may be
able to place me at a glance, according to the estimation in which he
holds these famous and perhaps deathless names.
It will be admitted, at least, that my tastes were normal, and
shared by a large majority—the tastes of an every-day young man at
that particular period of the nineteenth century—one much given to
athletics and cold tubs, and light reading and cheap tobacco, and
endowed with the usual discontent; the last person for whom or from
whom or by whom to expect anything out of the common.
* * * * *
But the splendor of the Elgin Marbles! I understood that at
once—perhaps because there is not so much to understand. Mere
physically beautiful people appeal to us all, whether they be in flesh
By some strange intuition, or natural instinct, I knew that
people ought to be built like that, before I had ever seen a single
statue in that wondrous room. I had divined them—so completely did
they realize an aesthetic ideal I had always felt.
I had often, as I walked the London streets, peopled an imaginary
world of my own with a few hundreds of such beings, made flesh and
blood, and pictured them as a kind of beneficent aristocracy seven feet
high, with minds and manners to match their physique, and set above the
rest of the world for its good; for I found it necessary (so that my
dream should have a point) to provide them with a foil in the shape of
millions of such people as we meet every day. I was egotistic and
self-seeking enough, it is true, to enroll myself among the former, and
had chosen for my particular use and wear just such a frame as that of
the Theseus, with, of course, the nose and hands and feet (of which
time has bereft him) restored, and all mutilations made good.
And for my mistress and companion I had duly selected no less a
person than the Venus of Milo (no longer armless), of which Lintot
possessed a plaster-cast, and whose beauties I had foreseen before I
ever beheld them with the bodily eye.
“Monsieur n'est pas degoute!” as Ibbetson would have remarked.
But most of all did I pant for the music which is divine.
Alas, that concerts and operas and oratorios should not be as free
to the impecunious as the National Gallery and the British Museum—a
privilege which is not abused!
Impecunious as I was, I sometimes had pence enough to satisfy this
craving, and discovered in time such realms of joy as I had never
dreamed of; such monarchs as Mozart, Handel, and Beethoven, and others,
of whom my father knew apparently so little; and yet they were more
potent enchanters than Gretry, Herold, and Boieldieu, whose music he
sang so well.
I discovered, moreover, that they could do more than charm—they
could drive my weary self out of my weary soul, and for a space fill
that weary soul with courage, resignation, and hope. No Titian, no
Shakespeare, no Phidias could ever accomplish that—not even Mr.
William Makepeace Thackeray or Mr. Alfred Tennyson.
My sweetest recollections of this period of my life (indeed, the
only sweet recollections) are of the music I heard, and the places
where I heard it; it was an enchantment! With what vividness I can
recall it all! The eager anticipation for days; the careful selection,
beforehand, from such an embarras de richesses as was duly
advertised; then the long waiting in the street, at the doors reserved
for those whose portion is to be the gallery. The hard-won seat aloft
is reached at last, after a selfish but good-humored struggle up the
long stone staircase (one is sorry for the weak, but a famished ear has
no conscience). The gay and splendid house is crammed; the huge
chandelier is a golden blaze; the delight of expectation is in the air,
and also the scent of gas, and peppermint, and orange-peel, and
music-loving humanity, whom I have discovered to be of sweeter
fragrance than the common herd.
The orchestra fills, one by one; instruments tune up—a familiar
cacophony, sweet with seductive promise. The conductor takes his
seat—applause—a hush—three taps—the baton waves once, twice,
thrice—the eternal fountain of magic is let loose, and at the very
“The cares that infest the day
Shall fold their tents, like the Arabs,
And as silently steal away.”
Then lo! the curtain rises, and straightway we are in
Seville—Seville, after Pentonville! Count Alma-viva, lordly, gallant,
and gay beneath his disguise, twangs his guitar, and what sounds issue
from it! For every instrument that was ever invented is in that
guitar—the whole orchestra!
“Ecco ridente il cielo....,” so sings he (with the most
beautiful male voice of his time) under Rosina's balcony; and soon
Rosina's voice (the most beautiful female voice of hers) is heard
behind her curtains—so girlish, so innocent, so young and
light-hearted, that the eyes fill with involuntary tears.
Thus encouraged, he warbles that his name is Lindoro, that he would
fain espouse her; that he is not rich in the goods of this world, but
gifted with an inordinate, inexhaustible capacity for love (just like
Peter Ibbetson); and vows that he will always warble to her, in this
wise, from dawn till when daylight sinks behind the mountain. But what
matter the words?
“Go on, my love, go on, like this!” warbles back Rosina—and
no wonder—till the dull, despondent, commonplace heart of Peter
Ibbetson has room for nothing else but sunny hope and love and joy! And
yet it is all mere sound—impossible, unnatural, unreal nonsense!
Or else, in a square building, decent and well-lighted enough, but
not otherwise remarkable—the very chapel of music—four business-like
gentlemen, in modern attire and spectacles, take their places on an
unpretentious platform amid refined applause; and soon the still air
vibrates to the trembling of sixteen strings—only that and nothing
But in that is all Beethoven, or Schubert, or Schumann has got to
say to us for the moment, and what a say it is! And with what
consummate precision and perfection it is said—with what a
mathematical certainty, and yet with what suavity, dignity, grace, and
They are the four greatest players in the world, perhaps; but they
forget themselves, and we forget them (as it is their wish we should),
in the master whose work they interpret so reverently, that we may
yearn with his mighty desire and thrill with his rapture and triumph,
or ache with his heavenly pain and submit with his divine resignation.
Not all the words in all the tongues that ever were—dovetail them,
rhyme them, alliterate them, torture them as you will—can ever pierce
to the uttermost depths of the soul of man, and let in a glimpse of the
Infinite, as do the inarticulate tremblings of those sixteen strings.
Ah, songs without words are the best!
Then a gypsy-like little individual, wiry and unkempt, who looks as
if he had spent his life listening to the voices of the night in Heaven
knows what Lithuanian forests, with wolves and wild-boars for his
familiars, and the wind in the trees for his teacher, seats himself at
the great brass-bound oaken Broadwood piano-forte. And under his
phenomenal fingers, a haunting, tender, world-sorrow, full of
questionings—a dark mystery of moonless, starlit nature—exhales
itself in nocturnes, in impromptus, in preludes—in mere waltzes and
mazourkas even! But waltzes and mazourkas such as the most frivolous
would never dream of dancing to. A capricious, charming sorrow—not too
deep for tears, if one be at all inclined to shed them—so delicate, so
fresh, and yet so distinguished, so ethereally civilized and worldly
and well-bred that it has crystallized itself into a drawing-room
ecstasy, to last forever. It seems as though what was death (or rather
euthanasia) to him who felt it, is play for us—surely an immortal
sorrow whose recital will never, never pall—the sorrow of Chopin.
Though why Chopin should have been so sorry we cannot even guess;
for mere sorrow's sake, perhaps; the very luxury of woe—the real
sorrow which has no real cause (like mine in those days); and that is
the best and cheapest kind of sorrow to make music of, after all!
And this great little gypsy pianist, who plays his Chopin so well;
evidently he has not spent his life in Lithuanian forests, but hard at
the key-board, night and day; and he has had a better master than the
wind in the trees—namely, Chopin himself (for it is printed in the
programme). It was his father and mother before him, and theirs, who
heard the voices of the night; but he remembers it all, and puts it all
into his master's music, and makes us remember it, too.
Or else behold the chorus, rising tier upon tier, and culminating in
the giant organ. But their thunder is just hushed.
Some Liliputian figure, male or female, as the case may be, rises on
its little legs amid the great Liliputian throng, and through the
sacred stillness there peals forth a perfect voice (by no means
Liliputian). It bids us “Rest in the Lord,” or else it tells us that
“He was despised and rejected of men”; but, again, what matter the
words? They are almost a hinderance, beautiful though they be.
The hardened soul melts at the tones of the singer, at the
unspeakable pathos of the sounds that cannot lie; one almost
believes—one believes at least in the belief of others. At last one
understands, and is purged of intolerance and cynical contempt, and
would kneel with the rest, in sheer human sympathy!
Oh, wretched outsider that one is (if it all be true)—one whose
heart, so hopelessly impervious to the written word, so helplessly
callous to the spoken message, can be reached only by the organized
vibrations of a trained larynx, a metal pipe, a reed, a
fiddle-string—by invisible, impalpable, incomprehensible little
air-waves in mathematical combination, that beat against a tiny drum at
the back of one's ear. And these mathematical combinations and the laws
that govern them have existed forever, before Moses, before Pan, long
before either a larynx or a tympanum had been evolved. They are
Oh, mystery of mysteries!
Euterpe, Muse of Muses, what a personage hast thou become since
first thou sattest for thy likeness (with that ridiculous lyre in thy
untaught hands) to some Greek who could carve so much better than thou
Four strings; but not the fingerable strings of Stradivarius. Nay, I
beg thy pardon—five; for thy scale was pentatonic, I believe. Orpheus
himself had no better, it is true. It was with just such an instrument
that he all but charmed his Eurydice out of Hades. But, alas, she went
back; on second thoughts, she liked Hades best!
Couldst thou fire and madden and wring the heart, and then melt and
console and charm it into the peace that passeth all understanding,
with those poor five rudimentary notes, and naught between?
Couldst thou, out of those five sounds of fixed, unalterable pitch,
make, not a sixth sound, but a star?
What were they, those five sounds? “Do, re, mi, fa, sol?” What must
thy songs without words have been, if thou didst ever make any?
Thou wast in very deed a bread-and-butter miss in those days,
Euterpe, for all that thy eight twin sisters were already grown up, and
out; and now thou toppest them all by half a head, at least. “Tu leur
mangerais des petits pates sur la tete—comme Madame Seraskier!”
And oh, how thou beatest them all for beauty! In my
estimation, at least—like—like Madame Seraskier again!
And hast thou done growing at last?
Nay, indeed; thou art not even yet a bread-and-butter miss—thou art
but a sweet baby, one year old, and seven feet high, tottering midway
between some blessed heaven thou hast only just left and the dull home
of us poor mortals.
The sweet one-year-old baby of our kin puts its hands upon our knees
and looks up into our eyes with eyes full of unutterable meaning. It
has so much to say! It can only say “ga-ga” and “ba-ba”; but with oh!
how searching a voice, how touching a look—that is, if one is fond of
babies! We are moved to the very core; we want to understand, for it
concerns us all; we were once like that ourselves—the individual and
the race—but for the life of us we cannot remember.
And what canst thou say to us yet, Euterpe, but thy “ga-ga"
and thy “ba-ba,” the inarticulate sweetness whereof we feel and cannot
comprehend? But how beautiful it is—and what a look thou hast, and
what a voice—that is, if one is fond of music!
“Je suis las des mois—je suis d'entendre
Ce qui peut mentir;
J'aime mieux les sons, qu'au lieu de comprendre
je n'ai qu'a sentir.”
Next day I would buy or beg or borrow the music that had filled me
with such emotion and delight, and take it home to my little square
piano, and try to finger it all out for myself. But I had begun too
late in life.
To sit, longing and helpless, before an instrument one cannot play,
with a lovely score one cannot read! Even Tantalus was spared such an
ordeal as that.
It seemed hard that my dear father and mother, so accomplished in
music themselves, should not even have taught me the musical notes, at
an age when it was so easy to learn them; and thus have made me free of
that wonder-world of sound in which I took such an extraordinary
delight, and might have achieved distinction—perhaps.
But no, my father had dedicated me to the Goddess of Science from
before my very birth; that I might some day be better equipped than he
for the pursuit, capture, and utilization of Nature's sterner secrets.
There must be no dallying with light Muses. Alas! I have fallen between
And thus, Euterpe absent, her enchantment would pass away; her
handwriting was before me, but I had not learned how to decipher it,
and my weary self would creep back into its old prison—my soul.
[Illustration: (no caption)]
Self-sickness-selbstschmerz, le mal do soi! What a disease!
It is not to be found in any dictionary, medical or otherwise.
I ought to have been whipped for it, I know; but nobody was big
enough, or kind enough, to whip me!
* * * * *
At length there came a day when that weary, weak, and most
ridiculous self of mine was driven out—and exorcised for good—by a
still more potent enchanter than even Handel or Beethoven or Schubert!
There was a certain Lord Cray, for whom Lintot had built some
laborers' cottages in Hertfordshire, and I sometimes went there to
superintend the workmen. When the cottages were finished, Lord Cray and
his wife (a very charming, middle-aged lady) came to see them, and were
much pleased with all that had been done, and also seemed to be much
interested in me, of all people in the world! and a few days
later I received a card of invitation to their house in town for a
At first I felt much too shy to go; but Mr. Lintot insisted that it
was my duty to do so, as it might lead to business; so that when the
night came, I screwed up my courage to the sticking-place, and went.
That evening was all enchantment, or would have been but for the
somewhat painful feeling that I was such an outsider.
But I was always well content to be the least observed of all
observers, and felt happy in the security that here I should at least
be left alone; that no perfect stranger would attempt to put me at my
ease by making me the butt of his friendly and familiar banter; that no
gartered duke, or belted earl (I have no doubt they were as plentiful
there as blackberries, though they did not wear their insignia) would
pat me on the back and ask me if I would sooner look a bigger fool than
I was, or be a bigger fool than I looked. (I have not found a repartee
for that insidious question yet; that is why it rankles so.)
I had always heard that the English were a stiff people. There
seemed to be no stiffness at Lady Cray's; nor was there any
facetiousness; it put one at one's ease merely to look at them. They
were mostly big, and strong, and healthy, and quiet, and good-humored,
with soft and pleasantly-modulated voices. The large, well-lighted
rooms were neither hot nor cold; there were beautiful pictures on the
walls, and an exquisite scent of flowers came from an immense
conservatory. I had never been to such a gathering before; all was new
and a surprise, and very much to my taste, I confess. It was my first
glimpse of “Society;” and last—but one!
There were crowds of people—but no crowd; everybody seemed to know
everybody else quite intimately, and to resume conversations begun an
hour ago somewhere else.
Presently these conversations were hushed, and Grisi and Mario sang!
It was as much as I could do to restrain my enthusiasm and delight. I
could have shouted out loud—I could almost have sung myself!
In the midst of the applause that followed that heavenly duet, a
lady and gentleman came into the room, and at the sight of that lady a
new interest came into my life; and all the old half-forgotten
sensations of mute pain and rapture that the beauty of Madame Seraskier
used to make me feel as a child were revived once more; but with a
depth and intensity, in comparison, that were as a strong man's
barytone to a small boy's treble.
It was the quick, sharp, cruel blow, the coup de poignard,
that beauty of the most obvious, yet subtle, consummate, and
highly-organized order can deal to a thoroughly prepared victim.
And what a thoroughly prepared victim was I! A poor, shy,
over-susceptible, virginal savage—Uncas, the son of Chingachgook,
astray for the first time in a fashionable London drawing-room.
A chaste mediaeval knight, born out of his due time, ascetic both
from reverence and disgust, to whom woman in the abstract was the one
religion; in the concrete, the cause of fifty disenchantments a day!
A lusty, love-famished, warm-blooded pagan, stranded in the middle
of the nineteenth century; in whom some strange inherited instinct had
planted a definite, complete, and elaborately-finished conception of
what the ever-beloved shape of woman should be—from the way the hair
should grow on her brow and her temples and the nape of her neck, down
to the very rhythm that should regulate the length and curve and
position of every single individual toe! and who had found, to his
pride and delight, that his preconceived ideal was as near to that of
Phidias as if he had lived in the time of Pericles and Aspasia.
For such was this poor scribe, and such he had been from a child,
until this beautiful lady first swam into his ken.
She was so tall that her eyes seemed almost on a level with mine,
but she moved with the alert lightness and grace of a small person. Her
thick, heavy hair was of a dark coppery brown, her complexion clear and
pale, her eyebrows and eyelashes black, her eyes a light bluish gray.
Her nose was short and sharp, and rather tilted at the tip, and her red
mouth large and very mobile; and here, deviating from my preconceived
ideal, she showed me how tame a preconceived ideal can be. Her perfect
head was small, and round her long, thick throat two slight creases
went parallel, to make what French sculptors call le collier de
Venus; the skin of her neck was like a white camellia, and slender
and square-shouldered as she was, she did not show a bone. She was that
beautiful type the French define as la fausse maigre, which does
not mean a “false, thin woman.”
She seemed both thoughtful and mirthful at once, and genial as I had
never seen any one genial before—a person to confide in, to tell all
one's troubles to, without even an introduction! When she laughed she
showed both top and bottom teeth, which were perfect, and her eyes
nearly closed, so that they could no longer be seen for the thick
lashes that fringed both upper and under eyelids; at which time the
expression of her face was so keenly, cruelly sweet that it went
through one like a knife. And then the laugh would suddenly cease, her
full lips would meet, and her eyes beam out again like two mild gray
suns, benevolently humorous and kindly inquisitive, and full of
interest in everything and everybody around her. But there—I cannot
describe her any more than one can describe a beautiful tune.
Out of those magnificent orbs kindness, kindness, kindness was shed
like a balm; and after a while, by chance, that balm was shed for a few
moments on me, to my sweet but terrible confusion. Then I saw that she
asked my hostess who I was, and received the answer; on which she shed
her balm on me for one moment more, and dismissed me from her thoughts.
Madame Grisi sang again—Desdemona's song from Othello—and
the beautiful lady thanked the divine singer, whom she seemed to know
quite intimately; and I thought her thanks—Italian thanks—even
diviner than the song—not that I could quite understand them or even
hear them well—I was too far; but she thanked with eyes and hands and
shoulders— slight, happy movements—as well as words; surely the
sweetest and sincerest words ever spoken.
She was much surrounded and made up to—evidently a person of great
importance; and I ventured to ask another shy man standing in my corner
who she was, and he answered—
“The Duchess of Towers.”
She did not stay long, and when she departed all turned dull and
commonplace that had seemed so bright before she came; and seeing that
it was not necessary to bid my hostess good-night and thank her for a
pleasant evening, as we did in Pentonville, I got myself out of the
house and walked back to my lodgings an altered man.
I should probably never meet that lovely young duchess again, and
certainly never know her; but her shaft had gone straight and true into
my very heart, and I felt how well barbed it was, beyond all
possibility of its ever being torn out of that blessed wound; might
this never heal; might it bleed on forever!
She would be an ideal in my lonely life, to live up to in thought
and word and deed. An instinct which I felt to be infallible told me
she was as good as she was fair—
“Dowered with the hate of hate, the scorn of scorn, the love
[Illustration: THE DUCHESS OP TOWERS.]
And just as Madame Seraskier's image was fading away, this new star
had arisen to guide me by its light, though seen but for a moment;
breaking once, through a parted cloud, I knew in which portion of the
heavens it dwelt and shone apart, among the fairest constellations; and
ever after turned my face that way. Nevermore in my life would I do or
say or think a mean thing, or an impure, or an unkind one, if I could
* * * * *
Next day, as we walked to the Foundling Hospital for divine service,
Mrs. Lintot severely deigned—under protest, as it were—to
cross-examine me on the adventures of the evening.
I did not mention the Duchess of Towers, nor was I able to describe
the different ladies' dresses; but I described everything else in a
manner I thought calculated to interest her deeply—the flowers, the
splendid pictures and curtains and cabinets, the beautiful music, the
many lords and ladies gay.
She disapproved of them all.
Existence on such an opulent scale was unconducive to any qualities
of real sterling value, either moral or intellectual. Give her,
for one, plain living and high thinking!
“By-the-way,” she asked, “what kind of supper did they give you?
Something extremely recherche, I have no doubt. Ortolans,
nightingales' tongues, pearls dissolved in wine?”
Candor obliged me to confess there had been no supper, or that if
there had I had managed to miss it. I suggested that perhaps everybody
had dined late; and all the pearls, I told her, were on the ladies'
necks and in their hair; and not feeling hungry, I could not wish them
anywhere else; and the nightingales' tongues were in their throats to
sing heavenly Italian duets with.
“And they call that hospitality!” exclaimed Lintot, who loved his
supper; and then, as he was fond of summing up and laying down the law
when once his wife had given him the lead, he did so to the effect that
though the great were all very well in their superficial way, and might
possess many external charms for each other, and for all who were so
deplorably weak as to fall within the sphere of their attraction, there
was a gulf between the likes of them and the likes of us, which it
would be better not to try and bridge if one wished to preserve one's
independence and one's self-respect; unless, of course, it led to
business; and this, he feared, it would never do with me.
“They take you up one day and they drop you like a 'ot potato the
next; and, moreover, my dear Peter,” he concluded, affectionately
linking his arm in mine, as was often his way when we walked together
(although he was twelve good inches shorter than myself), “inequality
of social condition is a bar to any real intimacy. It is something like
disparity of physical stature. One can walk arm in arm only with a man
of about one's own size.”
This summing up seemed so judicious, so incontrovertible, that
feeling quite deplorably weak enough to fall within the sphere of Lady
Cray's attraction if I saw much of her, and thereby losing my
self-respect, I was deplorably weak enough not to leave a card on her
after the happy evening I had spent at her house.
Snob that I was, I dropped her—“like a 'ot potato” for fear of her
Besides which I had on my conscience a guilty, snobby feeling that
in merely external charms at least these fine people were more to my
taste than the charmed circle of my kind old friends the Lintots,
however inferior they might be to these (for all that I knew) in
sterling qualities of the heart and head—just as I found the outer
aspect of Park Lane and Piccadilly more attractive than that of
Pentonville, though possibly the latter may have been the more
wholesome for such as I to live in.
But people who can get Mario and Grisi to come and sing for them
(and the Duchess of Towers to come and listen); people whose walls are
covered with beautiful pictures; people for whom the smooth and
harmonious ordering of all the little external things of social life
has become a habit and a profession—such people are not to be dropped
without a pang.
So with a pang I went back to my usual round as though nothing had
happened; but night and day the face of the Duchess of Towers was ever
present to me, like a fixed idea that dominates a life.
* * * * *
On reading and rereading these past pages, I find that I have been
unpardonably egotistic, unconscionably prolix and diffuse; and with
such small beer to chronicle!
And yet I feel that if I strike out this, I must also strike out
that; which would lead to my striking out all, in sheer discouragement;
and I have a tale to tell which is more than worth the telling!
Once having got into the way of it, I suppose, I must have found the
temptation to talk about myself irresistible.
It is evidently a habit easy to acquire, even in old age—perhaps
especially in old age, for it has never been my habit through life. I
would sooner have talked to you about yourself, reader, or about you to
somebody else—your friend, or even your enemy; or about them to you.
But, indeed, at present, and until I die, I am without a soul to
talk to about anybody or anything worth speaking of, so that most of my
talking is done in pen and ink—a one-sided conversation, O patient
reader, with yourself. I am the most lonely old man in the world,
although perhaps the happiest.
Still, it is not always amusing where I live, cheerfully awaiting my
translation to another sphere.
There is the good chaplain, it is true, and the good priest; who
talk to me about myself a little too much, methinks; and the doctor,
who talks to me about the priest and the chaplain, which is better. He
does not seem to like them. He is a very witty man.
But, my brother maniacs!
They are lamentably comme tout le monde, after all. They are
only interesting when the mad fit seizes them. When free from their
awful complaint they are for the most part very common mortals:
conventional Philistines, dull dogs like myself, and dull dogs do not
like each other.
Two of the most sensible (one a forger, the other a kleptomaniac on
an important scale) are friends of mine. They are fairly well educated,
respectable city men, clean, solemn, stodgy, punctilious, and resigned,
but they are both unhappy; not because they are cursed with the double
brand of madness and crime, and have forfeited their freedom in
consequence; but because they find there are so few “ladies and
gentlemen” in a criminal lunatic asylum, and they have always been used
to “the society of ladies and gentlemen.” Were it not for this, they
would be well content to live here. And each is in the habit of
confiding to me that he considers the other a very high-minded,
trustworthy fellow, and all that, but not altogether “quite a
gentleman.” I do not know what they consider me; they probably confide
that to each other.
Can anything be less odd, less eccentric or interesting?
Another, when quite sane, speaks English with a French accent and
demonstrative French gestures, and laments the lost glories of the old
French regime, and affects to forget the simplest English words. He
doesn't know a word of French, however. But when his madness comes on,
and he is put into a strait-waistcoat, all his English comes back, and
very strong, fluent, idiomatic English it is, of the cockneyest kind,
with all its “h's” duly transposed.
Another (the most unpleasant and ugliest person here) has chosen me
for the confidant of his past amours; he gives me the names and dates
and all. The less I listen the more he confides. He makes me sick. What
can I do to prevent his believing that I believe him? I am tired of
killing people for lying about women. If I call him a liar and a cad,
it may wake in him Heaven knows what dormant frenzy—for I am quite in
the dark as to the nature of his mental infirmity.
Another, a weak but amiable and well-intentioned youth, tries to
think that he is passionately fond of music; but he is so exclusive, if
you please, that he can only endure Bach and Beethoven, and when he
hears Mendelssohn or Chopin, is obliged to leave the room. If I want to
please him I whistle “Le Bon Roi Dagobert,” and tell him it is the
motif of one of Bach's fugues; and to get rid of him I whistle it
again and tell him it is one of Chopin's impromptus. What his madness
is I can never be quite sure, for he is very close, but have heard that
he is fond of roasting cats alive; and that the mere sight of a cat is
enough to rouse his terrible propensity, and drive all wholesome,
innocent, harmless, natural affectation out of his head.
There is a painter here who (like others one has met outside)
believes himself the one living painter worthy of the name. Indeed, he
has forgotten the names of all the others, and can only despise and
abuse them in the lump. He triumphantly shows you his own work, which
consists of just the kind of crude, half-clever, irresponsible,
impressionist daubs you would expect from an amateur who talks in that
way; and you wonder why on earth he should be in a lunatic asylum, of
all places in the world. And (just as would happen outside, again) some
of his fellow-sufferers take him at his own valuation and believe him a
great genius; some of them want to kick him for an impudent impostor
(but that he is so small); and the majority do not care.
His mania is arson, poor fellow; and when the terrible wish comes
over him to set the place on fire he forgets his artistic conceit, and
his mean, weak, silly face becomes almost grand.
And with the female inmates it is just the same. There is a lady who
has spent twenty years of her life here. Her father was a small country
doctor, called Snogget; her husband an obscure, hard-working curate;
and she is absolutely normal, common-place, and even vulgar. For her
hobby is to discourse of well-born and titled people and county
families, with whom (and with no others) it has always been her hope
and desire to mix; and is still, though her hair is nearly white, and
she is still here. She thinks and talks and cares about nothing else
but “smart people,” and has conceived a very warm regard for me, on
account of Lieutenant-colonel Ibbetson, of Ibbetson Hall, Hopshire; not
because I killed him and was sentenced to be hanged for it, or because
he was a greater criminal than I (all of which is interesting enough);
but because he was my relative, and that through him I must be
distantly connected, she thinks, with the Ibbetsons of
Lechmere—whoever they may be, and whom neither she nor I have ever met
(indeed, I had never heard of them), but whose family history she knows
almost by heart. What can be tamer, duller, more prosaic, more sordidly
humdrum, more hopelessly sane, more characteristic of common,
under-bred, provincial feminine cackle?
And yet this woman, in a fit of conjugal jealousy, murdered her own
children; and her father went mad in consequence, and her husband cut
In fact, during their lucid intervals it would never enter one's
mind that they were mad at all, they are so absolutely like the people
one meets every day in the world—such narrow-minded idiots, such
deadly bores! One might as well be back in Pentonville or Hopshire
again, or live in Passionate Brompton (as I am told it is called); or
even in Belgravia, for that matter!
For we have a young lord and a middle-aged baronet—a shocking pair,
who should not be allowed to live; but for family influence they would
be doing their twenty years' penal servitude in jail, instead of living
comfortably sequestered here. Like Ouida's high-born heroes, they
“stick to their order,” and do not mingle with the rest of us. They
ignore us so completely that we cannot help looking up to them in spite
of their vices—just as we should do outside.
And we, of the middle class, we stick to our order, too, and do not
mingle with the small shop-keepers—who do not mingle with the
laborers, artisans, and mechanics—who (alas, for them!) have nobody to
look down upon but each other—but they do not; and are the best-bred
people in the place.
Such are we! It is only when our madness is upon us that we cease to
be commonplace, and wax tragical and great, or else original and
grotesque and humorous, with that true deep humor that compels both our
laughter and our tears, and leaves us older, sadder, and wiser than it
“Sunt lacrimae rerum, et mentem mortalia tangunt.”
(So much, if little more, can I recall of the benign Virgil.)
And now to my small beer again, which will have more of a head to it
* * * * *
Thus did I pursue my solitary way, like Bryant's Water-fowl, only
with a less definite purpose before me—till at last there dawned for
me an ever-memorable Saturday in June.
I had again saved up enough money to carry my long longed-for
journey to Paris into execution. The Seine's boiler got up its
steam, the Seine's white awning was put up for me as well as
others; and on a beautiful cloudless English morning I stood by the man
at the wheel, and saw St. Paul's and London Bridge and the Tower fade
out of sight; with what hope and joy I cannot describe. I almost forgot
that I was me!
And next morning (a beautiful French morning) how I exulted as I
went up the Champs Elysees and passed under the familiar Arc de
Triomphe on my way to the Rue de la Pompe, Passy, and heard all around
the familiar tongue that I still knew so well, and rebreathed the
long-lost and half-forgotten, but now keenly remembered, fragrance of
the genius loci; that vague, light, indescribable, almost
imperceptible scent of a place, that is so heavenly laden with the past
for those who have lived there long ago—the most subtly intoxicating
ether that can be!
When I came to the meeting of the Rue de la Tour and the Rue de la
Pompe, and, looking in at the grocer's shop at the corner, I recognized
the handsome mustachioed groceress, Madame Liard (whose mustache twelve
prosperous years had turned gray), I was almost faint with emotion. Had
any youth been ever so moved by that face before?
There, behind the window (which was now of plate-glass), and among
splendid Napoleonic wares of a later day, were the same old
India-rubber balls in colored net-work; the same quivering lumps of
fresh paste in brown paper, that looked so cool and tempting; the same
three-sou boxes of water-colors (now marked seventy-five centimes), of
which I had consumed so many in the service of Mimsey Seraskier! I went
in and bought one, and resmelt with delight the smell of all my by-gone
dealings there, and received her familiar sounding—
“Merci, monsieur! faudrait-il autre chose?” as if it had been a
blessing; but I was too shy to throw myself into her arms and tell her
that I was the “lone, wandering, but not lost” Gogo Pasquier. She might
“Eh bien, et apres?”
The day had begun well.
Like an epicure, I deliberated whether I should walk to the old gate
in the Rue de la Pompe, and up the avenue and back to our old garden,
or make my way round to the gap in the park hedge that we had worn of
old by our frequent passage in and out, to and from the Bois de
I chose the latter as, on the whole, the more promising in exquisite
gradations of delight.
The gap in the park hedge, indeed! The park hedge had disappeared,
the very park itself was gone, cut up, demolished, all parcelled out
into small gardens, with trim white villas, except where a railway ran
through a deep cutting in the chalk. A train actually roared and panted
by, and choked me with its filthy steam as I looked round in
stupefaction on the ruins of my long-cherished hope.
If that train had run over me and I had survived it, it could not
have given me a greater shock; it all seemed too cruel and brutal an
A winding carriage-road had been pierced through the very heart of
the wilderness; and on this, neatly-paled little brand-new gardens
abutted, and in these I would recognize, here and there, an old friend
in the shape of some well-remembered tree that I had often climbed as a
boy, and which had been left standing out of so many, but so changed by
the loss of its old surroundings that it had a tame, caged,
transplanted look—almost apologetic, and as if ashamed of being found
out at last!
Nothing else remained. Little hills and cliffs and valleys and
chalk-pits that had once seemed big had been levelled up, or away, and
I lost my bearings altogether, and felt a strange, creeping chill of
blankness and bereavement.
But how about the avenue and my old home? I hastened back to the Rue
de la Pompe with the quick step of aroused anxiety. The avenue was
gone—blocked within a dozen yards of the gate by a huge brick building
covered with newly-painted trellis-work! My old house was no more, but
in its place a much larger and smarter edifice of sculptured stone. The
old gate at least had not disappeared, nor the porter's lodge; and I
feasted my sorrowful eyes on these poor remains, that looked snubbed
and shabby and out of place in the midst of all this new splendor.
Presently a smart concierge, with a beautiful pink ribboned cap,
came out and stared at me for a while, and inquired if monsieur desired
I could not speak.
“Est-ce que monsieur est indispose? Cette chaleur! Monsieur ne parle
pas le Francais, peut-etre?”
When I found my tongue I explained to her that I had once lived
there in a modest house overlooking the street, but which had been
replaced by this much more palatial abode.
“O, oui, monsieur—on a balaye tout ca!” she replied.
“Balaye!” What an expression for me to hear!
And she explained how the changes had taken place, and how valuable
the property had become. She showed me a small plot of garden, a
fragment of my old garden, that still remained, and where the old
apple-tree might still have been, but that it had been sawed away. I
saw the stump; that did duty for a rustic table.
Presently, looking over a new wall, I saw another small garden, and
in it the ruins of the old shed where I had found the toy
wheelbarrow—soon to disappear, as they were building there too.
I asked after all the people I could think of, beginning with those
of least interest—the butcher, the baker, the candlestick-maker.
Some were dead; some had retired and had left their “commerce” to
their children and children-in-law. Three different school-masters had
kept the school since I had left. Thank Heaven, there was still the
school—much altered, it is true. I had forgotten to look for it.
[Illustration: THE OLD APPLE-TREE.]
She had no remembrance of my name, or the Seraskiers'—I asked, with
a beating heart. We had left no trace. Twelve short years had effaced
all memory of us! But she told me that a gentleman, decore, mais
tombe en enfance, lived at a maison de sante in the Chaussee
de la Muette, close by, and that his name was le Major Duquesnois; and
thither I went, after rewarding and warmly thanking her.
I inquired for le Major Duquesnois, and I was told he was out for a
walk, and I soon found him, much aged and bent, and leaning on the arm
of a Sister of Charity. I was so touched that I had to pass him two or
three times before I could speak. He was so small—so pathetically
[Illustration: M. LE MAJOR.]
It was a long time before I could give him an idea of who I
Then after a while he seemed to recall the past a little.
“Ha, ha! Gogo—gentil petit Gogo!—oui—oui—l'exercice? Portez ...
arrrmes! arrmes ... bras? Et Mimse? bonne petite Mimse! toujours mal a
He could just remember Madame Seraskier; and repeated her name
several times and said, “Ah! elle etait bien belle, Madame Seraskier!”
In the old days of fairy-tale telling, when he used to get tired and
I still wanted him to go on, he had arranged that if, in the course of
the story, he suddenly brought in the word “Cric,” and I failed to
immediately answer “Crac,” the story would be put off till our next
walk (to be continued in our next!) and he was so ingenious in the way
he brought in the terrible word that I often fell into the trap, and
had to forego my delight for that afternoon.
I suddenly thought of saying “Cric!” and he immediately said “Crac!”
and laughed in a touching, senile way—“Cric!—Crac! c'est bien ca!”
and then he became quite serious and said—
“Et la suite au prochain numero!”
After this he began to cough, and the good Sister said—
“Je crains que monsieur ne le fatigue un peu!”
So I had to bid him good-bye; and after I had squeezed and kissed
his hand, he made me a most courtly bow, as though I had been a
I rushed away, tossing up my arms like a madman in my pity and
sorrow for my dear old friend, and my general regret and
disenchantment. I made for the Bois de Boulogne, there to find, instead
of the old rabbit-and-roebuck-haunted thickets and ferneries and
impenetrable growth, a huge artificial lake, with row-boats and skiffs,
and a rockery that would have held its own in Rosherville gardens. And
on the way thither, near the iron gates in the fortifications, whom
should I meet but one of my friends the couriers, on his way from St.
Cloud to the Tuileries! There he rode with his arms jogging up and
down, and his low glazed hat, and his immense jack-boots, just the same
as ever, never rising in his stirrups, as his horse trotted to the
jingle of the sweet little chime round its neck.
[Illustration: GREEN AND GOLD]
Alas! his coat was no longer the innocent, unsophisticated blue and
silver livery of the bourgeois king, but the hateful green and gold of
Farther on the Mare d'Auteuil itself had suffered change and become
respectable—imperially respectable. No more frogs or newts or
water-beetles, I felt sure; but gold and silver fish in vulgar
No words that I can find would give any idea of the sadness and
longing that filled me as I trod once more that sunlit grassy
brink—the goal of my fond ambition for twelve long years.
It was Sunday, and many people were about—many children, in their
best Sunday clothes and on their best behavior, discreetly throwing
crumbs to the fish. A new generation, much quieter and better dressed
than my cousins and I, who had once so filled the solitude with the
splashing of our nets, and the excited din of our English voices.
As I sat down on a bench by the old willow (where the rat lived),
and gazed and gazed, it almost surprised me that the very intensity of
my desire did not of itself suffice to call up the old familiar faces
and forms, and conjure away these modern intruders. The power to do
this seemed almost within my reach; I willed and willed and willed with
all my might, but in vain; I could not cheat my sight or hearing for a
moment. There they remained, unconscious and undisturbed, those happy,
well-mannered, well-appointed little French people, and fed the gold
and silver fish; and there, with an aching heart, I left them.
Oh, surely, surely, I cried to myself, we ought to find some means
of possessing the past more fully and completely than we do. Life is
not worth living for many of us if a want so desperate and yet so
natural can never be satisfied. Memory is but a poor, rudimentary thing
that we had better be without, if it can only lead us to the verge of
consummation like this, and madden us with a desire it cannot slake.
The touch of a vanished hand, the sound of a voice that is still, the
tender grace of a day that is dead, should be ours forever, at out beck
and call, by some exquisite and quite conceivable illusion of the
Alas! alas! I have hardly the hope of ever meeting my beloved ones
again in another life. Oh, to meet their too dimly remembered forms in
this, just as they once were, by some trick of my own brain! To see
them with the eye, and hear them with the ear, and tread with them the
old obliterated ways as in a waking dream! It would be well worth going
mad to become such a self-conjurer as that.
Thus musing sadly, I reached St. Cloud, and that, at least,
and the Boulogne that led me to it, had not been very perceptibly
altered, and looked as though I had only left them a week ago. The
sweet aspect from the bridge, on either side and beyond, filled me with
the old enchantment. There, at least, the glory had not departed.
I hastened through the gilded gates and up the broad walk to the
grand cascade. There, among the lovely wreathed urns and jars of
geranium, still sat or reclined or gesticulated, the old, unalterable
gods; there squatted the grimly genial monsters in granite and marble
and bronze, still spouting their endless gallons for the delectation of
hot Parisian eyes. Unchanged, and to all appearance unchangeable (save
that they were not nearly so big as I had imagined), their cold,
smooth, ironical patience shamed and braced me into better cheer.
Beautiful, hideous, whatever you please, they seemed to revel in the
very sense of their insensibility of their eternal stability—their
stony scorn of time and wind and weather, and the peevish, weak-kneed,
short-lived discontent of man. It was good to fondly pat them on the
back once more—when one could reach them—and cling to them for a
little while, after all the dust and drift and ruin I had been tramping
through all day.
Indeed, they woke in me a healthy craving for all but forgotten
earthly joys—even for wretched meat and drink—so I went and ordered a
sumptuous repast at the Tete Noire—a brand-new Tete Noire, alas! quite
white, all in stone and stucco, and without a history!
It was a beautiful sunset. Waiting for my dinner, I gazed out of the
first-floor window, and found balm for my disappointed and regretful
spirit in all that democratic joyousness of French Sunday life. I had
seen it over and over again just like that in the old days; this, at least, was like coming back home to something I had known and
The cafes on the little “Place” between the bridge and the park were
full to overflowing. People chatting over their consommations
sat right out, almost into the middle of the square, so thickly packed
that there was scarcely room for the busy, lively, white-aproned
waiters to move between them. The air was full of the scent of trodden
grass and macaroons and French tobacco, blown from the park; of gay
French laughter and the music of mirlitons; of a light dusty
haze, shot with purple and gold by the setting sun. The river, alive
with boats and canoes, repeated the glory of the sky, and the
well-remembered, thickly-wooded hills rose before me, culminating in
the Lanterne de Diogene.
I could have threaded all that maze of trees blindfolded.
Two Roman pifferari came on to the Place and began to play an
extraordinary and most exciting melody that almost drew me out of the
window; it seemed to have no particular form, no beginning or middle or
end; it went soaring higher and higher, like the song of a lark, with
never a pause for breath, to the time of a maddening jig—a tarantella,
perhaps—always on the strain and stress, always getting nearer and
nearer to some shrill climax of ecstasy quite high up and away, beyond
the scope of earthly music; while the persistent drone kept buzzing of
the earth and the impossibility to escape. All so gay, so sad, there is
no name for it!
Two little deformed and discarded-looking dwarfs, beggars, brother
and sister, with large toothless gaps for mouths and no upper lip,
began to dance; and the crowd laughed and applauded. Higher and higher,
nearer and nearer to the impossible, rose the quick, piercing notes of
the piffero. Heaven seemed almost within reach—the nirvana of music
after its quick madness—the region of the ultra-treble that lies
beyond the ken of ordinary human ears!
A carriage and four, with postilions and “guides,” came clattering
royally down the road from the palace, and dispersed the crowd as it
bowled on its way to the bridge. In it were two ladies and two
gentlemen. One of the ladies was the young Empress of the French; the
other looked up at my window—for a moment, as in a soft flash of
summer lightning, her face seemed ablaze with friendly
recognition—with a sweet glance of kindness and interest and
surprise—a glance that pierced me like a sudden shaft of light from
It was the Duchess of Towers!
I felt as though the bagpipes had been leading up to this! In a
moment more the carriage was out of sight, the sun had quite gone down,
the pifferari had ceased to play and were walking round with the hat,
and all was over.
I dined, and made my way back to Paris on foot through the Bois de
Boulogne, and by the Mare d'Auteuil, and saw my old friend the
water-rat swim across it, trailing the gleam of his wake after him like
a silver comet's tail.
“Allons-nous-en, gens de la nous! Allons-nous-en chacun chez nous!”
So sang a festive wedding-party as it went merrily arm in arm
through the long high street of Passy, with a gleeful trust that would
have filled the heart with envy but for sad experience of the vanity of
Chacun chez nous! How charming it sounds!
Was each so sure that when he reached his home he would find his
heart's desire? Was the bridegroom himself so very sure?
[Illustration: THE OLD WATER-RAT.]
The heart's desire—the heart's regret! I flattered myself that I
had pretty well sounded the uttermost depths of both on that eventful
I got back to my hotel in the Rue de la Michodiere.
Prostrate with emotion and fatigue, the tarantella still jingling in
my ears, and that haunting, beloved face, with its ineffable smile
still printed on the retina of my closed eyes, I fell asleep.
And then I dreamed a dream, and the first phase of my real, inner
All the events of the day, distorted and exaggerated and jumbled
together after the usual manner of dreams, wove themselves into a kind
of nightmare and oppression. I was on my way to my old abode:
everything that I met or saw was grotesque and impossible, yet had now
the strange, vague charm of association and reminiscence, now the
distressing sense of change and loss and desolation.
As I got near to the avenue gate, instead of the school on my left
there was a prison; and at the door a little thick-set jailer, three
feet high and much deformed, and a little deformed jaileress no bigger
than himself, were cunningly watching me out of the corners of their
eyes, and toothlessly smiling. Presently they began to waltz together
to an old, familiar tune, with their enormous keys dangling at their
sides; and they looked so funny that I laughed and applauded. But soon
I perceived that their crooked faces were not really funny; indeed,
they were fatal and terrible in the extreme, and I was soon conscious
that these deadly dwarfs were trying to waltz between me and the avenue
gate for which I was bound—to cut me off, that they might run me into
the prison, where it was their custom to hang people of a Monday
In an agony of terror I made a rush for the avenue gate, and there
stood the Duchess of Towers, with mild surprise in her eyes and a kind
smile—a heavenly vision of strength and reality.
“You are not dreaming true!” she said. “Don't be afraid—those
little people don't exist! Give me your hand and come in here.”
And as I did so she waved the troglodytes away, and they vanished;
and I felt that this was no longer a dream, but something else—some
strange thing that had happened to me, some new life that I had woke up
For at the touch of her hand my consciousness, my sense of being I,
myself, which hitherto in my dream (as in all previous dreams up to
then) had been only partial, intermittent, and vague, suddenly blazed
into full, consistent, practical activity—just as it is in life, when
one is well awake and much interested in what is going on—only with
perceptions far keener and more alert.
I knew perfectly who I was and what I was, and remembered all the
events of the previous day. I was conscious that my real body,
undressed and in bed, now lay fast asleep in a small room on the fourth
floor of an hotel garni in the Rue de la Michodiere. I knew this
perfectly; and yet here was my body, too, just as substantial, with all
my clothes on; my boots rather dusty, my shirt-collar damp with the
heat, for it was hot. With my disengaged hand I felt in my
trousers-pocket; there were my London latch-keys, my purse, my
penknife; my handkerchief in the breastpocket of my coat, and in its
tail-pockets my gloves and pipe-case, and the little water-color box I
had bought that morning. I looked at my watch; it was going, and marked
eleven. I pinched myself, I coughed, I did all one usually does under
the pressure of some immense surprise, to assure myself that I was
awake; and I was, and yet here I stood, actually hand in hand
with a great lady to whom I had never been introduced (and who seemed
much tickled at my confusion); and staring now at her, now at my old
The prison had tumbled down like a house of cards, and loi! in its
place was M. Saindou's maison d'education, just as it had been
of old. I even recognized on the yellow wall the stamp of a hand in dry
mud, made fifteen years ago by a day boy called Parisot, who had fallen
down in the gutter close by, and thus left his mark on getting up
again; and it had remained there for months, till it had been
whitewashed away in the holidays. Here it was anew, after fifteen
The swallows were flying and twittering. A yellow omnibus was drawn
up to the gates of the school; the horses stamped and neighed, and bit
each other, as French horses always did in those days. The driver swore
at them perfunctorily.
A crowd was looking on—le Pere et la Mere Francois, Madame Liard,
the grocer's wife, and other people, whom I remembered at once with
delight. Just in front of us a small boy and girl were looking on, like
the rest, and I recognized the back and the cropped head and thin legs
of Mimsey Seraskier.
A barrel-organ was playing a pretty tune I knew quite well, and had
The school gates opened, and M. Saindou, proud and full of
self-importance (as he always was), and half a dozen boys whose faces
and names were quite familiar to me, in smart white trousers and
shining boots, and silken white bands round their left arms, got into
the omnibus, and were driven away in a glorified manner—as it
seemed—to heaven in a golden chariot. It was beautiful to see and
I was still holding the duchess's hand, and felt the warmth of it
through her glove; it stole up my arm like a magnetic current. I was in
Elysium; a heavenly sense had come over me that at last my periphery
had been victoriously invaded by a spirit other than mine—a most
powerful and beneficent spirit. There was a blessed fault in my
impenetrable armor of self, after all, and the genius of strength and
charity and loving-kindness had found it out.
“Now you're dreaming true,” she said. “Where are those boys going?”
“To church, to make their premiere communion,” I replied.
“That's right. You're dreaming true because I've got you by the
hand. Do you know that tune?”
I listened, and the words belonging to it came out of the past and I
said them to her, and she laughed again, with her eyes screwed up
“Quite right—quite!” she exclaimed. “How odd that you should know
them! How well you pronounce French for an Englishman! For you are Mr.
Ibbetson, Lady Cray's architect?”
I assented, and she let go my hand.
The street was full of people—familiar forms and faces and voices,
chatting together and looking down the road after the yellow omnibus;
old attitudes, old tricks of gait and manner, old forgotten French ways
of speech—all as it was long ago. Nobody noticed us, and we walked up
the now deserted avenue.
The happiness, the enchantment of it all! Could it be that I was
dead, that I had died suddenly in my sleep, at the hotel in the Rue de
la Michodiere! Could it be that the Duchess of Towers was dead too—had
been killed by some accident on her way from St. Cloud to Paris? and
that, both having died so near each other, we had begun our eternal
afterlife in this heavenly fashion?
That was too good to be true, I reflected; some instinct told me
that this was not death, but transcendent earthly life—and also, alas!
that it would not endure forever!
I was deeply conscious of every feature in her face, every movement
of her body, every detail of her dress—more so then I could have been
in actual life—and said to myself, “Whatever this is, it is no dream.”
But I felt there was about me the unspeakable elation which can come to
us only in our waking moments when we are at our very best; and then
only feebly, in comparison with this, and to many of us never, ft never
had to me, since that morning when I had found the little wheelbarrow.
I was also conscious, however, that the avenue itself had a slight
touch of the dream in it. It was no longer quite right, and was getting
out of drawing and perspective, so to speak. I had lost my stay—the
touch of her hand.
“Are you still dreaming true, Mr. Ibbetson?”
“I am afraid not quite,” I replied.
“You must try by yourself a little—try hard. Look at this house;
what is written on the portico?”
I saw written in gold letters the words, “Tete Noire,” and said so.
She rippled with laughter, and said, “No; try again”; and just
touched me with the tip of her finger for a moment.
I tried again and said, “Parvis Notre Dame.”
“That's rather better,” she said, and touched me again; and I read,
“Parva sed Apta,” as I had so often read there before in old days.
“And now look at that old house over there,” pointing to my old
home; “how many windows are there in the top story?”
I said seven.
“No; there are five. Look again!” and there were five; and the whole
house was exactly, down to its minutest detail, as it had been once
upon a time. I could see Therese through one of the windows, making my
“That's better,” said the duchess; “you will soon do it—it's very
easy—ce n'est que le premier pas! My father taught me; you must
always sleep on your back with your arms above your head, your hands
clasped under it and your feet crossed, the right one over the left,
unless you are left-handed; and you must never for a moment cease
thinking of where you want to be in your dream till you are asleep and
get there; and you must never forget in your dream where and what you
were when awake. You must join the dream on to reality. Don't forget.
And now I will say good-bye; but before I go give me both hands and
look round everywhere as far as your eyes can see.”
It was hard to look away from her; her face drew my eyes, and
through them all my heart; but I did as she told me, and took in the
whole familiar scene, even to the distant woods of Ville d'Avray, a
glimpse of which was visible through an opening in the trees; even to
the smoke of a train making its way to Versailles, miles off; and the
old telegraph, working its black arms on the top of Mont Valerien.
[Illustration: “It was hard to look away from her.”]
“Is it all right?” she asked. “That's well. Henceforward, whenever
you come here, you will be safe as far as your sight can reach—from
this spot—all through my introduction. See what it is to have a friend
at court! No more little dancing jailers! And then you can gradually
get farther by yourself.
“Out there, through that park, leads to the Bois de
Boulogne—there's a gap in the hedge you can get through; but mind and
make everything plain in front of you—true, before you go a
step farther, or else you'll have to wake and begin it all over again.
You have only to will it, and think of yourself as awake, and it will
come—on condition, of course, that you have been there before. And
mind, also, you must take care how you touch things or people—you may
hear, and see, and smell; but you mustn't touch, nor pick flowers or
leaves, nor move things about. It blurs the dream, like breathing on a
window-pane. I don't know why, but it does. You must remember that
everything here is dead and gone by. With you and me it is different;
we're alive and real—that is, I am; and there would seem to be
no mistake about your being real too, Mr. Ibbetson, by the grasp of
your hands. But you're not; and why you are here, and what
business you have in this, my particular dream, I cannot understand; no
living person has ever come into it before. I can't make it out. I
suppose it's because I saw your reality this afternoon, looking out of
the window at the 'Tete Noire,' and you are just a stray figment of my
overtired brain—a very agreeable figment, I admit; but you don't exist
here just now—you can't possibly; you are somewhere else, Mr.
Ibbetson; dancing at Mabille, perhaps, or fast asleep somewhere, and
dreaming of French churches and palaces, and public fountains, like a
good young British architect—otherwise I shouldn't talk to you like
this, you may be sure!
“Never mind. I am very glad to dream that I have been of use to you,
and you are very welcome here, if it amuses you to come—especially as
you are only a false dream of mine, for what else can you be?
And now I must leave you, so good-bye.”
She disengaged her hands, and laughed her angelic laugh, and then
turned towards the park. I watched her tall, straight figure and
blowing skirts, and saw her follow some ladies and children into a
thicket that I remembered well, and she was soon out of sight.
I felt as if all warmth had gone out of my life; as if a joy had
taken flight; as if a precious something had withdrawn itself from my
possession, and the gap in my periphery had closed again.
Long I stood in thought, with my eyes fixed on the spot where she
had disappeared; and I felt inclined to follow, but then considered
this would not have been discreet. For although she was only a false
dream of mine, a mere recollection of the exciting and eventful day, a
stray figment of my overtired and excited brain—a more than
agreeable figment (what else could she be!)—she was also a
great lady, and had treated me, a perfect stranger and a perfect
nobody, with singular courtesy and kindness; which I repaid, it is
true, with a love so deep and strong that my very life was hers, to do
what she liked with, and always had been since I first saw her, and
always would be as long as there was breath in my body! But this did
not constitute an acquaintance without a proper introduction, even in
France—even in a dream. Even in dreams one must be polite, even to
stray figments of one's tired, sleeping brain.
And then what business had she, in this, my
particular dream—as she herself had asked of me?
But was it a dream? I remembered my lodgings at Pentonville,
that I had left yesterday morning. I remembered what I was—why I came
to Paris; I remembered the very bedroom at the Paris hotel where I was
now fast asleep, its loudly-ticking clock, and all the meagre
furniture. And here was I, broad awake and conscious, in the middle of
an old avenue that had long ceased to exist—that had been built over
by a huge brick edifice covered with newly-painted trellis-work. I saw
it, this edifice, myself, only twelve hours ago. And yet here was
everything as it had been when I was a child; and all through the
agency of this solid phantom of a lovely young English duchess, whose
warm gloved hands I had only this minute been holding in mine! The
scent of her gloves was still in my palm. I looked at my watch; it
marked twenty-three minutes to twelve. All this had happened in less
than three-quarters of an hour!
Pondering over all this in hopeless bewilderment, I turned my steps
towards my old home, and, to my surprise, was just able to look over
the garden wall, which I had once thought about ten feet high.
Under the old apple-tree in full bloom sat my mother, darning small
socks; with her flaxen side-curls (as it was her fashion to wear them)
half-concealing her face. My emotion and astonishment were immense. My
heart beat fast. I felt its pulse in my temples, and my breath was
At a little green table that I remembered well sat a small boy,
rather quaintly dressed in a by-gone fashion, with a frill round his
wide shirt-collar, and his golden hair cut quite close at the top, and
rather long at the sides and back. It was Gogo Pasquier. He seemed a
very nice little boy. He had pen and ink and copy-book before him, and
a gilt-edged volume bound in red morocco. I knew it at a glance; it was
Elegant Extracts. The dog Medor lay asleep in the shade. The bees
were droning among the nasturtiums and convolvulus.
A little girl ran up the avenue from the porter's lodge and pushed
the garden gate, which rang the bell as it opened, and she went into
the garden, and I followed her; but she took no notice of me, nor did
the others. It was Mimsey Seraskier.
I went out and sat at my mother's feet, and looked long in her face.
I must not speak to her, nor touch her—not even touch her busy hand
with my lips, or I should “blur the dream.”
I got up and looked over the boy Gogo's shoulder. He was translating
Gray's Elegy into French; he had not got very far, and seemed to
be stumped by the line—
“And leaves the world to darkness and to me.”
Mimsey was silently looking over his other shoulder, her thumb in
her mouth, one arm on the back of his chair. She seemed to be stumped
also: it was an awkward line to translate.
I stooped and put my hand to Medor's nose, and felt his warm breath.
He wagged his rudiment of a tail, and whimpered in his sleep. Mimsey
“Regarde Medor, comme il remue la queue! C'est le Prince Charmant
qui lui chatouille le bout du nez.“
Said my mother, who had not spoken hitherto: “Do speak English,
Oh, my God! My mother's voice, so forgotten, yet so familiar, so
unutterably dear! I rushed to her, and threw myself on my knees at her
feet, and seized her hand and kissed it, crying, “Mother, mother!”
A strange blur came over everything; the sense of reality was lost.
All became as a dream—a beautiful dream—but only a dream; and I woke.
* * * * *
I woke in my small hotel bedroom, and saw all the furniture, and my
hat and clothes, by the light of a lamp outside, and heard the ticking
of the clock on the mantel-piece, and the rumbling of a cart and
cracking of a whip in the street, and yet felt I was not a bit more
awake than I had been a minute ago in my strange vision—not so much!
I heard my watch ticking its little tick on the mantel-piece by the
side of the clock, like a pony trotting by a big horse. The clock
struck twelve, I got up and looked at my watch by the light of the
gas-lit streets; it marked the same. My dream had lasted an hour—I had
gone to bed at half-past ten.
I tried to recall it all, and did so to the smallest particular—all
except the tune the organ had played, and the words belonging to it;
they were on the tip of my tongue, and refused to come further, I got
up again and walked about the room, and felt that it had not been like
a dream at all; it was more “recollectable” than all my real adventures
of the previous day. It had ceased to be like a dream, and had become
an actuality from the moment I first touched the duchess's hand to the
moment I kissed my mother's, and the blur came. It was an entirely new
and utterly bewildering experience that I had gone through.
In a dream there are always breaks, inconsistencies, lapses,
incoherence, breaches of continuity, many links missing in the chain;
only at points is the impression vivid enough to stamp itself
afterwards on the waking mind, and even then it is never so really
vivid as the impression of real life, although it ought to have seemed
so in the dream: One remembers it well on awaking, but soon it fades,
and then it is only one's remembrance of it that one remembers.
[Illustration: “MOTHER, MOTHER!”]
There was nothing of this in my dream.
It was something like the “camera-obscura” on Ramsgate pier: one
goes in and finds one's self in total darkness; the eye is prepared;
one is thoroughly expectant and wide-awake.
Suddenly there flashes on the sight the moving picture of the port
and all the life therein, and the houses and cliffs beyond; and farther
still the green hills, the white clouds, and blue sky.
Little green waves chase each other in the harbor, breaking into
crisp white foam. Sea-gulls wheel and dash and dip behind masts and
ropes and pulleys; shiny brass fittings on gangway and compass flash in
the sun without dazzling the eye; gay Liliputians walk and talk, their
white teeth, no bigger than a pin's point, gleam in laughter, with
never a sound; a steamboat laden with excursionists comes in, its
paddles churning the water, and you cannot hear them. Not a detail is
missed—not a button on a sailor's jacket, not a hair on his face. All
the light and color of sea and earth and sky, that serve for many a
mile, are here concentrated within a few square feet. And what color it
is! A painter's despair! It is light itself, more beautiful than that
which streams through old church windows of stained glass. And all is
framed in utter darkness, so that the fully dilated pupils can see
their very utmost. It seems as though all had been painted life-size
and then shrunk, like a Japanese picture on crape, to a millionth of
its natural size, so as to intensify and mellow the effect.
It is all over: you come out into the open sunshine, and all seems
garish and bare and bald and commonplace. All magic has faded out of
the scene; everything is too far away from everything else; everybody
one meets seems coarse and Brobdingnagian and too near. And one has
been looking at the like of it all one's life!
Thus with my dream, compared to common, waking, every-day
experience; only instead of being mere flat, silent little images
moving on a dozen square feet of Bristol-board, and appealing to the
eye alone, the things and people in my dream had the same roundness and
relief as in life, and were life-size; one could move among them and
behind them, and feel as if one could touch and clasp and embrace them
if one dared. And the ear, as well as the eye, was made free of this
dark chamber of the brain: one heard their speech and laughter as in
life. And that was not all, for soft breezes fanned the cheek, the
sparrows twittered, the sun gave out its warmth, and the scent of many
flowers made the illusion complete.
And then the Duchess of Towers! She had been not only visible and
audible like the rest, but tangible as well, to the fullest extent of
the sensibility that lay in my nerves of touch; when my hands held hers
I felt as though I were drawing all her life into mine.
With the exception of that one figure, all had evidently been as it
had been in reality a few years ago, to the very droning of
an insect, to the very fall of a blossom!
Had I gone mad by any chance? I had possessed the past, as I had
longed to do a few hours before.
What are sight and hearing and touch and the rest?
Five senses in all.
The stars, worlds upon worlds, so many billions of miles away, what
are they for us but mere shiny specks on a net-work of nerves behind
the eye? How does one feel them there?
The sound of my friend's voice, what is it? The clasp of his hand,
the pleasant sight of his face, the scent of his pipe and mine, the
taste of the bread and cheese and beer we eat and drink together, what
are they but figments (stray figments, perhaps) of the brain—little
thrills through nerves made on purpose, and without which there would
be no stars, no pipe, no bread and cheese and beer, no voice, no
friend, no me?
And is there, perchance, some sixth sense embedded somewhere in the
thickness of the flesh—some survival of the past, of the race, of our
own childhood even, etiolated by disuse? or some rudiment, some effort
to begin, some priceless hidden faculty to be developed into a future
source of bliss and consolation for our descendants? some nerve that
now can only be made to thrill and vibrate in a dream, too delicate as
yet to ply its function in the light of common day?
And was I, of all people in the world—I, Peter Ibbetson, architect
and surveyor, Wharton Street, Pentonville—most futile, desultory, and
uneducated dreamer of dreams—destined to make some great psychical
Pondering deeply over these solemn things, I sent myself to sleep
again, as was natural enough—but no more to dream. I slept soundly
until late in the morning, and breakfasted at the Bains Deligny, a
delightful swimming-bath near the Pont de la Concorde (on the other
side), and spent most of the day there, alternately swimming, and
dozing, and smoking cigarettes, and thinking of the wonders of the
night before, and hoping for their repetition on the night to follow.
I remained a week in Paris, loafing about by day among old haunts of
my childhood—a melancholy pleasure—and at night trying to “dream
true” as my dream duchess had called it. Only once did I succeed.
I had gone to bed thinking most persistently of the “Mare
d'Auteuil,” and it seemed to me that as soon as I was fairly asleep I
woke up there, and knew directly that I had come into a “true dream"
again, by the reality and the bliss. It was transcendent life
once more—a very ecstasy of remembrance made actual, and such
an exquisite surprise!
There was M. le Major, in his green frock-coat, on his knees near a
little hawthorn-tree by the brink, among the water-logged roots of
which there dwelt a cunning old dytiscus as big as the bowl of a
table-spoon—a prize we had often tried to catch in vain.
M. le Major had a net in his hand, and was watching the water
intently; the perspiration was trickling down his nose; and around him,
in silent expectation and suspense, were grouped Gogo and Mimsey and my
three cousins, and a good-humored freckled Irish boy I had quite
forgotten, and I suddenly remembered that his name was Johnstone, that
he was very combative, and that he lived in the Rue Basse (now Rue
On the other side of the pond my mother was keeping Medor from the
water, for fear of his spoiling the sport, and on the bench by the
willow sat Madame Seraskier—lovely Madame Seraskier—deeply
interested. I sat down by her side and gazed at her with a joy there is
An old woman came by, selling conical wafer-cakes, and singing—“
V'la l'plaisir, mesdames—V'la l'plaisir!” Madame Seraskier bought
ten sous' worth—a mountain!
M. le Major made a dash with his net—unsuccessfully, as usual.
Medor was let loose, and plunged with a plunge that made big waves all
round the mare, and dived after an imaginary stone, amid general shouts
and shrieks of excitement. Oh, the familiar voices! I almost wept.
Medor came out of the water without his stone and shook himself,
twisting and barking and grinning and gyrating, as was his way, quite
close to me. In my delight and sympathy I was ill-advised enough to try
and stroke him, and straight the dream was “blurred”—changed to an
ordinary dream, where all things were jumbled up and incomprehensible;
a dream pleasant enough, but different in kind and degree—an ordinary
dream; and in my distress thereat I woke, and failed to dream again (as
I wished to dream) that night.
Next morning (after an early swim) I went to the Louvre, and stood
spellbound before Leonardo da Vinci's “Lisa Gioconda,” trying hard to
find where the wondrous beauty lay that I had heard so extravagantly
extolled; and not trying very successfully, for I had seen Madame
Seraskier once more, and felt that “Gioconda” was a fraud.
Presently I was conscious of a group just behind me, and heard a
pleasant male English voice exclaim—
[Illustration: “Lisa Giaconda"]
“And now, duchess, let me present to you my first and last and only
love, Mona Lisa.” I turned round, and there stood a soldier-like old
gentleman and two ladies (one of whom was the Duchess of Towers),
staring at the picture.
As I made way for them I caught her eye, and in it again, as I felt
sure, a kindly look of recognition—just for half a second. She
evidently recollected having seen me at Lady Cray's, where I had stood
all the evening alone in a rather conspicuous corner. I was so
exceptionally tall (in those days of not such tall people as now) that
it was easy to notice and remember me, especially as I wore my beard,
which it was unusual to do then among Englishmen.
She little guessed how I remembered her; she little
knew all she was and had been to me—in life and in a dream!
My emotion was so great that I felt it in my very knees; I could
scarcely walk; I was as weak as water. My worship for the beautiful
stranger was becoming almost a madness. She was even more lovely than
Madame Seraskier. It was cruel to be like that.
It seems that I was fated to fall down and prostrate myself before
very tall, slender women, with dark hair and lily skins and light
angelic eyes. The fair damsel who sold tripe and pigs' feet in
Clerkenwell was also of that type, I remembered; and so was Mrs. Deane.
Fortunately for me it is not a common one!
All that day I spent on quays and bridges, leaning over parapets,
and looking at the Seine, and nursing my sweet despair, and calling
myself the biggest fool in Paris, and recalling over and over again
that gray-blue kindly glance—my only light, the Light of the World for
* * * * *
My brief holiday over, I went back to London—to Pentonville—and
resumed my old occupations; but the whole tenor of my existence was
The day, the working-day (and I worked harder than ever, to Lintot's
great satisfaction), passed as in an unimportant dream of mild content
and cheerful acquiescence in everything, work or play.
There was no more quarrelling with my destiny, nor wish to escape
from myself for a moment. My whole being, as I went about on business
or recreation bent, was suffused with the memory of the Duchess of
Towers as with a warm inner glow that kept me at peace with all mankind
and myself, and thrilled by the hope, the enchanting hope, of once more
meeting her image at night in a dream, in or about my old home at
Passy, and perhaps even feeling once more that ineffable bliss of
touching her hand. Though why should she be there?
When the blessed hour came round for sleep, the real business of my
life began. I practised “dreaming true” as one practises a fine art,
and after many failures I became a professed expert—a master.
I lay straight on my back, with my feet crossed, and my hands
clasped above my head in a symmetrical position; I would fix my will
intently and persistently on a certain point in space and time that was
within my memory—for instance, the avenue gate on a certain Christmas
afternoon, when I remembered waiting for M. le Major to go for a
walk—at the same time never losing touch of my own present identity as
Peter Ibbetson, architect, Wharton Street, Pentonville; all of which is
not so easy to manage as one might think, although the dream duchess
had said, “Ce n'est que le premier pas qui coute;” and finally one
night, instead of dreaming the ordinary dreams I had dreamed all my
life (but twice), I had the rapture of waking up, the minute I
was fairly asleep, by the avenue gate, and of seeing Gogo Pasquier
sitting on one of the stone posts and looking up the snowy street for
the major. Presently he jumped up to meet his old friend, whose
bottle-green-clad figure had just appeared in the distance. I saw and
heard their warm and friendly greeting, and walked unperceived by their
side through Auteuil to the mare, and back by the
fortifications, and listened to the thrilling adventures of one
Fier-a-bras, which, I confess, I had completely forgotten.
[Illustration: THE STORY OF THE GIANT FIER-A-BRAS.]
As we passed all three together through the “Porte de la Muette,” M.
le Major's powers of memory (or invention) began to flag a little—for
he suddenly said, “Cric!” But Gogo pitilessly answered, “
Crac!” and the story had to go on, till we reached at dusk the gate
of the Pasquiers' house, where these two most affectionately parted,
after making an appointment for the morrow; and I went in with Gogo,
and sat in the school-room while Therese gave him his tea, and heard
her tell him all that had happened in Passy that afternoon. Then he
read and summed and translated with his mother till it was time to go
up to bed, and I sat by his bedside as he was lulled asleep by his
mother's harp... how I listened with all my ears and heart, till the
sweet strain ceased for the night! Then out of the hushed house I
stole, thinking unutterable things—through the snow-clad garden, where
Medor was baying the moon—through the silent avenue and park—through
the deserted streets of Passy—and on by desolate quays and bridges to
dark quarters of Paris; till I fell awake in my tracks and found that
another dreary and commonplace day had dawned over London—but no
longer dreary and commonplace for me, with such experiences to look
back and forward to—such a strange inheritance of wonder and delight!
I had a few more occasional failures, such as, for instance, when
the thread between my waking and sleeping life was snapped by a
moment's carelessness, or possibly by some movement of my body in bed,
in which case the vision would suddenly get blurred, the reality of it
destroyed, and an ordinary dream rise in its place. My immediate
consciousness of this was enough to wake me on the spot, and I would
begin again, da capo till all went as I wished.
Evidently our brain contains something akin both to a photographic
plate and a phonographic cylinder, and many other things of the same
kind not yet discovered; not a sight or a sound or a smell is lost; not
a taste or a feeling or an emotion. Unconscious memory records them
all, without our even heeding what goes on around us beyond the things
that attract our immediate interest or attention.
Thus night after night I saw reacted before me scenes not only
fairly remembered, but scenes utterly forgotten, and yet as
unmistakably true as the remembered ones, and all bathed in that
ineffable light, the light of other days—the light that never was on
sea or land, and yet the light of absolute truth.
How it transcends in value as well as in beauty the garish light of
common day, by which poor humanity has hitherto been content to live
and die, disdaining through lack of knowledge the shadow for the
substance, the spirit for the matter! I verified the truth of these
sleeping experiences in every detail: old family letters I had
preserved, and which I studied on awaking, confirmed what I had seen
and heard in my dream; old stories explained themselves. It was all
by-gone truth, garnered in some remote corner of the brain, and brought
out of the dim past as I willed, and made actual once more.
And strange to say, and most inexplicable, I saw it all as an
independent spectator, an outsider, not as an actor going again through
scenes in which he has played a part before!
Yet many things perplexed and puzzled me.
For instance, Gogo's back, and the back of his head, when I stood
behind him, were as visible and apparently as true to life as his face,
and I had never seen his back or the back of his head; it was much
later in life that I learned the secret of two mirrors. And then, when
Gogo went out of the room, sometimes apparently passing through me as
he did so and coming out at the other side (with a momentary blurring
of the dream), the rest would go on talking just as reasonably, as
naturally, as before. Could the trees and walls and furniture have had
ears and eyes, those long-vanished trees and walls and furniture that
existed now only in my sleeping brain, and have retained the sound and
shape and meaning of all that passed when Gogo, my only conceivable
remembrancer, was away?
Francoise, the cook, would come into the drawing-room to discuss the
dinner with my mother when Gogo was at school; and I would hear the
orders given, and later I would assist at the eating of the meal (to
which Gogo would invariably do ample justice), and it was just as my
mother had ordered. Mystery of mysteries!
What a pleasant life it was they led together, these ghosts of a
by-gone time! Such a genial, smooth, easygoing, happy-go-lucky state of
things—half bourgeois, half Bohemian, and yet with a well-marked
simplicity, refinement, and distinction of bearing and speech that were
The servants (only three—Therese the house-maid, Francoise the
cook, and English Sarah, who had been my nurse and was now my mother's
maid) were on the kindliest and most familiar terms with us, and talked
to us like friends, and interested themselves in our concerns, and we
in theirs; I noticed that they always wished us each good-morning and
good-night—a pretty French fashion of the Passy bourgeoisie in Louis
Philippe's time (he was a bourgeois king).
Our cuisine was bourgeoise also. Peter Ibbetson's mouth watered
(after his tenpenny London dinner) to see and smell the steam of “soupe
a la bonne femme,” “soupe aux choux,” “pot au feu,” “blanquette de
veau,” “boeuf a la mode,” “cotelettes de porc a la sauce piquante,”
“vinaigrette de boeuf bouilli”—that endless variety of good things on
which French people grow fat so young—and most excellent claret (at
one franc a bottle in those happy days): its bouquet seemed to fill the
room as soon as the cork was drawn!
Sometimes, such a repast ended, “le beau Pasquier,” in the fulness
of his heart, would suddenly let off impossible fireworks of
vocalization, ascending rockets of chromatic notes which would explode
softly very high up and come down in full cadences, trills, roulades,
like beautiful colored stars; and Therese would exclaim, “Ah, q'c'est
beau!” as if she had been present at a real pyrotechnic display; and
Therese was quite right. I have never heard the like from any human
throat, and should not have believed it possible. Only Joachim's violin
can do such beautiful things so beautifully.
Or else he would tell us of wolves he had shot in Brittany, or
wild-boars in Burgundy—for he was a great sportsman—or of his
adventures as a garde du corps of Charles Dix, or of the
wonderful inventions that were so soon to bring us fame and fortune;
and he would loyally drink to Henri Cinq; and he was so droll and
buoyant and witty that it was as good to hear him speak as to hear him
But there was another and a sad side to all this strange comedy of
They built castles in the air, and made plans, and talked of all the
wealth and happiness that would be theirs when my father's ship came
home, and of all the good they would do, pathetically unconscious of
the near future; which, of course, was all past history to their loving
audience of one.
And then my tears would flow with the unbearable ache of love and
pity combined; they would fall and dry on the waxed floors of my old
home in Passy, and I would find them still wet on my pillow in
Pentonville when I woke.
* * * * *
Soon I discovered by practice that I was able for a second or two to
be more than a mere spectator—to be an actor once more; to turn myself
(Ibbetson) into my old self (Gogo), and thus be touched and caressed by
those I had so loved. My mother kissed me and I felt it; just as long
as I could hold my breath I could walk hand in hand with Madame
Seraskier, or feel Mimsey's small weight on my back and her arms round
my neck for four or five yards as I walked, before blurring the dream;
and the blur would soon pass away, if it did not wake me, and I was
Peter Ibbetson once more, walking and sitting among them, hearing them
talk and laugh, watching them at their meals, in their walks; listening
to my father's songs, my mother's sweet playing, and always unseen and
unheeded by them. Moreover, I soon learned to touch things without
sensibly blurring the dream. I would cull a rose, and stick it in my
buttonhole, and there it remained—but lo! the very rose I had just
culled was still on the rose-bush also! I would pick up a stone and
throw it at the wall, where it disappeared without a sound—and the
very same stone still lay at my feet, however often I might pick it up
and throw it!
No waking joy in the world can give, can equal in intensity, these
complex joys I had when asleep; waking joys seem so slight, so vague in
comparison—so much escapes the senses through lack of concentration
and undivided attention—the waking perceptions are so blunt.
It was a life within a life—an intenser life—in which the fresh
perceptions of childhood combined with the magic of dream-land, and in
which there was but one unsatisfied longing; but its name was Lion.
It was the passionate longing to meet the Duchess of Towers once
more in that land of dreams.
* * * * *
Thus for a time I went on, more solitary than ever, but well
compensated for all my loneliness by this strange new life that had
opened itself to me, and never ceasing to marvel and rejoice—when one
morning I received a note from Lady Cray, who wanted some stables built
at Cray, their country-seat in Hertfordshire, and begged I would go
there for the day and night.
I was bound to accept this invitation, as a mere matter of business,
of course; as a friend, Lady Cray seemed to have dropped me long ago,
“like a 'ot potato,” blissfully unconscious that it was I who had
But she received me as a friend—an old friend. All my shyness and
snobbery fell from me at the mere touch of her hand.
I had arrived at Cray early in the afternoon, and had immediately
set about my work, which took several hours, so that I got to the house
only just in time to dress for dinner.
When I came into the drawing-room there were several people there,
and Lady Cray presented me to a young lady, the vicar's daughter, whom
I was to take in to dinner.
I was very much impressed on being told by her that the company
assembled in the drawing-room included no less a person than Sir Edwin
Landseer. Many years ago I had copied an engraving of one of his
pictures for Mimsey Seraskier. It was called “The Challenge,” or
“Coming Events cast their Shadows before Them.” I feasted my eyes on
the wondrous little man, who seemed extremely chatty and genial, and
quite unembarrassed by his fame.
A guest was late, and Lord Cray, who seemed somewhat peevishly
impatient for his food, exclaimed—
“Mary wouldn't be Mary if she were punctual!”
Just then Mary came in—and Mary was no less a person than the
Duchess of Towers!
My knees trembled under me; but there was no time to give way to any
such tender weakness. Lord Cray walked away with her; the procession
filed into the dining room, and somewhere at the end of it my young
vicaress and myself.
The duchess sat a long way from me, but I met her glance for a
moment, and fancied I saw again in it that glimmer of kindly
My neighbor, who was charming, asked me if I did not think the
Duchess of Towers the most beautiful woman I had ever seen.
I assented with right good-will, and was told that she was as good
as she was beautiful, and as clever as she was good (as if I did not
know it); that she would give away the very clothes off her back; that
there was no trouble she would not take for others; that she did not
get on well with her husband, who drank, and was altogether bad and
vile; that she had a great sorrow—an only child, an idiot, to whom she
was devoted, and who would some day be the Duke of Towers; that she was
highly accomplished, a great linguist, a great musician, and about the
most popular woman in all English society.
Ah! Who loved the Duchess of Towers better than this poor scribe, in
whose soul she lived and shone like a bright particular star—like the
sun; and who, without his knowing, was being rapidly drawn into the
sphere of her attraction, as Lintot called it; one day to be finally
absorbed, I trust, forever!
“And who was this wonderful Duchess of Towers before she married?” I
“She was a Miss Seraskier. Her father was a Hungarian, a physician,
and a political reformer—a most charming person; that's where she gets
her manners. Her mother, whom she lost when she was quite a child, was
a very beautiful Irish girl of good family, a first cousin of Lord
Cray's—a Miss Desmond, who ran away with the interesting patriot. They
lived somewhere near Paris. It was there that Madame Seraskier died of
cholera—... What is the matter—are you ill?”
I made out that I was faint from the heat, and concealed as well as
I could the flood of emotion and bewilderment that overwhelmed me.
I dared not look again at the Duchess of Towers.
“Oh! little Mimsey dear, with your poor thin arms round my neck, and
your cold, pale cheek against mine. I felt them there only last night!
To have grown into such a splendid vision of female health and strength
and beauty as this—with that enchanting, ever-ready laugh and smile!
Why, of course, those eyes, so lashless then, so thickly fringed
to-day!—how could I have mistaken them? Ah, Mimsey, you never smiled
or laughed in those days, or I should have known your eyes again! Is it
possible—is it possible?”
Thus I went on to myself till the ladies left, my fair young
companion expressing her kind anxiety and polite hope that I would soon
be myself again.
I sat silent till it was time to join the ladies (I could not even
follow the witty and brilliant anecdotes of the great painter, who held
the table); and then I went up to my room. I could not face her
again so soon after what I had heard.
The good Lord Cray came to make kind inquiries, but I soon satisfied
him that my indisposition was nothing. He stayed on, however, and
talked; his dinner seemed to have done him a great deal of good, and he
wanted to smoke (and somebody to smoke with), which he had not been
able to do in the dining-room on account of some reverend old bishop
who was present. So he rolled himself a little cigarette, like a
Frenchman, and puffed away to his heart's content.
He little guessed how his humble architect wished him away, until he
began to talk of the Duchess of Towers—“Mary Towers,” as he called
her—and to tell me how “Towers” deserved to be kicked, and whipped at
the cart's tail. “Why, she's the best and most beautiful woman in
England, and as sharp as a needle! If it hadn't been for her, he'd have
been in the bankruptcy court long ago,” etc. “There's not a duchess in
England that's fit to hold the candle to her, either for looks or
brains, or breedin' either. Her mother (the loveliest woman that ever
lived, except Mary) was a connection of mine; that's where she gets her
Thus did this noble earl make music for me—sweet and bitter music.
Mary! It is a heavenly name, especially on English lips, and spelled
in the English mode with the adorable y! Great men have had a
passion for it—Byron, Shelley, Burns. But none, methinks, a greater
passion than I, nor with such good cause.
And yet there must be a bad Mary now and then, here or there, and
even an ugly one. Indeed, there was once a Bloody Mary who was both! It
Mary, indeed! Why not Hecuba? For what was I to the Duchess of
When I was alone again I went to bed, and tried to sleep on my back,
with my arms up, in the hope of a true dream; but sleep would not come,
and I passed a white night, as the French say. I rose early and walked
about the park, and tried to interest my self in the stables till it
was breakfast-time. Nobody was up, and I breakfasted alone with Lady
Cray, who was as kind as she could be. I do not think she could have
found me a very witty companion. And then I went back to the stables to
think, and fell into a doze.
At about twelve I heard the sound of wooden balls, and found a lawn
where some people were playing “croquet.” It was quite a new game, and
a few years later became the fashion.
[Illustration: SWEET AND BITTER MUSIC.]
I sat down under a large weeping-ash close to the lawn; it was like
a tent, with chairs and tables underneath.
Presently Lady Cray came there with the Duchess of Towers. I wanted
to fly, but was rooted to the spot.
[Illustration: The Introduction.]
Lady Cray presented me, and almost immediately a servant came with a
message for her, and I was left with the One Woman in the World! My
heart was in my mouth, my throat was dry, my pulse was beating in my
She asked me, in the most natural manner, if I played “croquet.”
“Yes—no—at least, sometimes—that is, I never of it—oh—I
forget!” I groaned at my idiocy and hid my face in my hands. She asked
if I were still unwell, and I said no; and then she began to talk quite
easily about anything, everything, till I felt more at my ease.
Her voice! I had never heard it well but in a dream, and it was the
same—a very rich and modulated voice—low—contralto, with many varied
and delightful inflexions; and she used more action in speaking than
the generality of Englishwomen, thereby reminding me of Madame
Seraskier. I noticed that her hands were long and very narrow, and also
her feet, and remembered that Mimsey's were like that—they were
considered poor Mimsey's only beauty. I also noticed an almost
imperceptible scar on her left temple, and remembered with a thrill
that I had noticed it in my dream as we walked up the avenue together.
In waking life I had never been near enough to her to notice a small
scar, and Mimsey had no scar of the kind in the old days—of that I
felt sure, for I had seen much of Mimsey lately.
I grew more accustomed to the situation, and ventured to say that I
had once met her at Lady Cray's in London.
“Oh yes; I remember. Giulia Grisi sand the 'Willow Song.'“ And then
she crinkled up her eyes, and laughed, and blushed, and went on: “I
noticed you standing in a corner, under the famous Gainsborough. You
reminded me of a dear little French boy I once knew who was very kind
to me when I was a little girl in France, and whose father you happen
to be like. But I found that you were Mr. Ibbetson, an English
architect, and, Lady Cray tells me, a very rising one”
“I was a little French boy once. I had to change my name to
please a relative, and become English—that is, I was always really
English, you know.”
“Good Heavens, what an extraordinary thing! What was your
“Pasquier-Gogo Pasquier!” I groaned, and the tears came into my
eyes, and I looked away. The duchess made no answer, and when I turned
and looked at her she was looking at me, very pale, her lips quite
white, her hands tightly clasped in her lap, and trembling all over.
I said, “You used to be little Mimsey Seraskier, and I used to carry
“Oh don't! oh don't!” she said, and began to cry.
I got up and walked about under the ash-tree till she had dried her
eyes. The croquet-players were intent upon their game.
I again sat down beside her; she had dried her eyes, and at length
“What a dreadful thing it was about your poor father and mother, and
my dear mother! Do you remember her? She died a week after you
left. I went to Russia with papa—Dr. Seraskier. What a terrible
break-up it all was!”
And then we gradually fell to talking quite naturally about old
times, and dear dead people. She never took her eyes off mine. After a
while I said—
“I went to Passy, and found everything changed and built over. It
nearly drove me mad to see. I went to St. Cloud, and saw you driving
with the Empress of the French. That night I had such an extraordinary
dream! I dreamed I was floundering about the Rue de la Pompe, and had
just got to the avenue gate, and you were there.”
“Good heavens!” she whispered, and turned white again, and trembled
all over, “what do you mean?”
“Yes,” I said, “you came to my rescue. I was pursued by gnomes and
She. “Good heavens! by—by two little jailers, a man and his
wife, who danced and were trying to hem you in?”
It was now my turn to ejaculate “Good heavens!” We both shook and
I said: “You gave me your hand, and all came straight at once. My
old school rose in place of the jail.”
She. “With a yellow omnibus? And boys going off to their
I. “Yes; and there was a crowd—le Pere et la Mere Francois,
and Madame Liard, the grocer's wife, and—and Mimsey Seraskier, with
her cropped head. And an organ was playing a tune I knew quite well,
but cannot now recall.” ...
She. “Wasn't it 'Maman, les p'tits bateaux?'“
I. Oh, of course!
“'Maman, les p'tits bateaux
Qui vont sur l'eau,
Ont-ils des jambes?'”
She. “That's it!”
“'Eh oui, petit beta!
S'ils n'avaient pas
Ils n'march'raient pas!'”
She sank back in her chair, pale and prostrate. After a while—
She. “And then I gave you good advice about how to dream
true, and we got to my old house, and I tried to make you read the
letters on the portico, and you read them wrong, and I laughed.”
I. “Yes; I read 'Tete Noire.' Wasn't it idiotic?”
She. “And then I touched you again and you read 'Parvis Notre
I. “Yes! and you touched me again, and I read 'Parva
sed Apta'—small but fit.”
She. “Is that what it means? Why, when you were a boy,
you told me sed apta was all one word, and was the Latin for
'Pavilion.' I believed it ever since, and thought 'Parva sed Apta'
meant petit pavillon!”
I. “I blush for my bad Latin! After this you gave me good
advice again, about not touching anything or picking flowers. I never
have. And then you went away into the park—the light went out of my
life, sleeping or waking. I have never been able to dream of you since.
I don't suppose I shall ever meet you again after to-day!”
After this we were silent for a long time, though I hummed and hawed
now and then, and tried to speak. I was sick with the conflict of my
feelings. At length she said—
“Dear Mr. Ibbetson, this is all so extraordinary that I must go away
and think it all over. I cannot tell you what it has been to me to meet
you once more. And that double dream, common to us both! Oh, I am dazed
beyond expression, and feel as if I were dreaming now—except that this
all seems so unreal and impossible—so untrue! We had better part now.
I don't know if I shall ever meet you again. You will be often in my
thoughts, but never in my dreams again—that, at least, I can
command—nor I in yours; it must not be. My poor father taught me how
to dream before he died, that I might find innocent consolation in
dreams for my waking troubles, which are many and great, as his were.
If I can see that any good may come of it, I will write—but no—you
must not expect a letter. I will now say good-bye and leave you. You go
to-day, do you not? That is best. I think this had better be a final
adieu. I cannot tell you of what interest you are to me and always have
been. I thought you had died long ago. We shall often think of each
other—that is inevitable—but never, never dream. That will not do.
“Dear Mr. Ibbetson, I wish you all the good that one human being can
wish another. And now goodbye, and may God in heaven bless you!”
She rose, trembling and white, and her eyes wet with tears, and
wrung both my hands, and left me as she had left me in the dream.
The light went out of my life, and I was once more alone—more
wretchedly and miserably alone than if I had never met her.
I went back to Pentonville, and outwardly took up the thread of my
monotonous existence, and ate, drank, and worked, and went about as
usual, but as one in an ordinary dream. For now dreams—true
dreams—had become the only reality for me.
[Illustration: A FAREWELL.]
So great, so inconceivable and unexampled a wonder had been wrought
in a dream that all the conditions of life had been altered and
I and another human being had met—actually and really met—in a
double dream, a dream common to us both, and clasped each other's
hands! And each had spoken words to the other which neither ever would
or ever could forget.
And this other human being and I had been enshrined in each other's
memory for years—since childhood—and were now linked together by a
tie so marvellous, an experience so unprecedented, that neither could
ever well be out of the other's thoughts as long as life and sense and
Her very self, as we talked to each other under the ash-tree at
Cray, was less vividly present to me than that other and still dearer
self of hers with whom I had walked up the avenue in that balmy dream
atmosphere, where we had lived and moved and had our being together for
a few short moments, yet each believing the other at the time to be a
mere figment of his own (and her) sleeping imagination; such stuff as
dreams are made of!
And lo! it was all true—as true as the common experience of
every-day life—more (ten times more), because through our keener and
more exalted sense perceptions, and less divided attention, we were
more conscious of each other's real inner being—linked closer together
for a space—than two mortals had probably ever been since the world
That clasp of the hands in the dream—how infinitely more it had
conveyed of one to the other than even that sad farewell clasp at Cray!
In my poor outer life I waited in vain for a letter; in vain I
haunted the parks and streets—the street where she lived—in the hope
of seeing her once more. The house was shut; she was away—in America,
as I afterwards learned—with her husband and child.
At night, in the familiar scenes I had learned so well to conjure
up, I explored every nook and corner with the same yearning desire to
find a trace of her. I was hardly ever away from “Parva sed Apta.”
There were Madame Seraskier and Mimsey and the major, and my mother and
Gogo, at all times, in and out, and of course as unconscious of my
solid presence as though I had never existed. And as I looked at Mimsey
and her mother I wondered at my obtuseness in not recognizing at the
very first glance who the Duchess of Towers had been, and whose
daughter. The height, the voice, the eyes, certain tricks of gait and
gesture—how could I have failed to know her again after such recent
And Seraskier, towering among them all, as his daughter now towered
among women. I saw that he lived again in his daughter; his was
the smile that closed up the eyes, as hers did; had Mimsey ever smiled
in those days, I should have known her again by this very
Of this daughter of his (the Mimsey of the past years, not the
duchess of to-day) I never now could have enough, and made her go
through again and again all the scenes with Gogo, so dear to my
remembrance, and to hers. I was, in fact, the Prince Charmant, of whose
unseen attendance she had been conscious in some inconceivable way.
What a strange foresight! But where was the fee Tarapatapoum? Never
there during this year of unutterable longing; she had said it; never,
never again should I be in her dream, or she in mine, however
constantly we might dwell in each other's thoughts.
So sped a twelvemonth after that last meeting in the flesh at Gray.
* * * * *
And now with an unwilling heart and most reluctant pen, I must come
to the great calamity of my life which I will endeavor to tell in as
few words as possible.
The reader, if he has been good enough to read without skipping,
will remember the handsome Mrs. Deane, to whom I fancied I lost my
heart, in Hopshire, a few years back.
I had not seen her since—had, indeed, almost forgotten her—but had
heard vaguely that she had left Hopshire, and come to London, and
married a wealthy man much older than herself.
Well, one day I was in Hyde Park, gazing at the people in the drive,
when a spick-and-span and very brand-new open carriage went by, and in
it sad Mrs. Deane (that was), all alone in her glory, and looking very
sulky indeed. She recognized me and bowed, and I bowed back again, with
just a moment's little flutter of the heart—an involuntary tribute to
auld lang syne—and went on my way, wondering that I could ever had
admired her so.
Presently, to my surprise, I was touched on the elbow. It was Mrs.
Deane again—I will call her Mrs. Deane still. She had got out and
followed me on foot. It was her wish that I should drive round the park
with her and talk of old times. I obeyed, and for the first and last
time found myself forming part of that proud and gay procession I had
so often watched with curious eyes.
She seemed anxious to know whether I had ever made it up with
Colonel Ibbetson, and pleased to hear that I had not, and that I
probably never should, and that my feeling against him was strong and
bitter and likely to last.
She appeared to hate him very much.
She inquired kindly after myself and my prospects in life, but did
not seem deeply interested in my answers—until later, when I talked of
my French life, and my dear father and mother, when she listened with
eager sympathy, and I was much touched. She asked if I had portraits of
them; I had—most excellent miniatures; and when we parted I had
promised to call upon her next afternoon, and bring these miniatures
She seemed a languid woman, much ennuyee, and evidently without a
large circle of acquaintance. She told me I was the only person in the
whole park whom she had bowed to that day. Her husband was in Hamburg,
and she was going to meet him in Paris in a day or two.
I had not so many friends but what I felt rather glad than otherwise
to have met her, and willingly called, as I had promised, with the
She lived in a large, new house, magnificently up near the Marble
Arch. She was quite alone when I called, and asked me immediately if I
had brought the miniatures; and looked at them quite eagerly, and then
at me, and exclaimed—
“Good heavens, you are your father's very image!”
Indeed, I had always been considered so.
Both his eyebrows and mine, especially, met in a singular and
characteristic fashion at the bridge of the nose, and she seemed much
struck by this. He was represented in the uniform of Charles X's
gardes du corps, in which he had served for two years, and had
acquired the nickname of “le beau Pasquier.” Mrs. Deane seemed never to
tire of gazing at it, and remarked that my father “must have been the
very ideal of a young girl's dream” (an indirect compliment which made
me blush after what she had just said of the likeness between us. I
almost began to wonder whether she was going to try and make a fool of
me again, as she had so successfully done a few years ago).
Then she became interested again in my early life and recollections,
and wanted to know whether my parents were fond of each other. They
were a most devoted and lover-like pair, and had loved each other at
first sight and until death, and I told her so; and so on until I
became quite excited, and imagined she must know of some good fortune
to which I was entitled, and had been kept out of by the machinations
of a wicked uncle.
For I had long discovered in my dreams that he had been my father's
bitterest enemy and the main cause of his financial ruin, by selfish,
heartless, and dishonest deeds too complicated to explain here—a
I had found this out by listening (in my dreams) to long
conversations between my father and mother in the old drawing-room at
Passy, while Gogo was absorbed in his book; and every word that had
passed through Gogo's inattentive ears into his otherwise preoccupied
little brain had been recorded there as in a phonograph, and was now
repeated over and over again for Peter Ibbetson, as he sat unnoticed
I asked her, jokingly, if she had discovered that I was the rightful
heir to Ibbetson Hall by any chance.
She replied that nothing would give her greater pleasure, but there
was no such good fortune in store for either her or me; that she had
discovered long ago that Colonel Ibbetson was the greatest blackguard
unhung, and nothing new she might discover could make him worse.
I then remembered how he would often speak of her, even to me, and
hint and insinuate things which were no doubt untrue, and which I
disbelieved. Not that the question of their truth or untruth made him
any the less despicable and vile for telling.
She asked me if he had ever spoken of her to me, and after much
persuasion and cunning cross-examination I told her as much of the
truth as I dared, and she became a tigress. She assured me that he had
managed so to injure and compromise her in Hopshire that she and her
mother had to leave, and she swore to me most solemnly (and I
thoroughly believe she spoke the truth) that there had never been any
relation between them that she could not have owned to before the whole
She had wished to marry him, it is true, for his wealth and
position; for both she and her mother were very poor, and often hard
put to it to make both ends meet and keep up a decent appearance before
the world; and he had singled her out and paid her marked attention
from the first, and given her every reason to believe that his
attentions were serious and honorable.
At this juncture her mother came in, Mrs. Glyn, and we renewed our
old acquaintance. She had quite forgiven me my school-boy admiration
for her daughter; all her power of hating, like her daughter's, had
concentrated itself on Ibbetson; and as I listened to the long story of
their wrongs and his infamy, I grew to hate him worse than ever, and
was ready to be their champion on the spot, and to take up their
quarrel there and then.
But this would not do, it appeared, for their name must nevermore be
in any way mixed up with his.
Then suddenly Mrs. Glyn asked me if I knew when he went to India.
I could satisfy her, for I knew that it was just after my parents'
marriage, nearly a year before my birth; upon which she gave the exact
date of his departure with his regiment, and the name of the transport,
and everything; and also, to my surprise, the date of my parents'
marriage at Marylebone Church, and of my baptism there fifteen months
later—just fourteen weeks after my birth in Passy. I was growing quite
bewildered with all this knowledge of my affairs, and wondered more and
We sat silent for a while, the two women looking at each other and
at me and at the miniatures. It was getting grewsome. What could it all
Presently Mrs. Glyn, at a nod from her daughter, addressed me thus:
“Mr. Ibbetson, your uncle, as you call him, though he is not your
uncle, is a very terrible villain, and has done you and your parents a
very foul wrong. Before I tell you what it is (and I think you ought to
know) you must give me your word of honor that you will do or say
nothing that will get our name publicly mixed up in any way with
Colonel Ibbetson's. The injury to my daughter, now she is happily
married to an excellent man, would be irreparable.”
With a beating heart I solemnly gave the required assurance.
“Then, Mr. Ibbetson, it is right that you should know that Colonel
Ibbetson, when he was paying his infamous addresses to my daughter,
gave her unmistakably to understand that you were his natural son, by
his cousin, Miss Catherine Biddulph, afterwards Madame Pasquier de la
“Oh, oh, oh!” I cried, “surely you must be mistaken—he knew it was
impossible—he had been refused by my mother three times—he went to
India nearly a year before I was born—he—”
Then Mrs. Deane said, producing an old letter from her pocket:
“Do you know his handwriting and his crest? Do you happen to
recollect once bringing me a note from at Ibbetson Hall? Here it is,”
and she handed it to me. It was unmistakably his, and I remembered it
at once, and this is what it said:
“For Heaven's sake, dear friend, don't breathe a word to any living
soul of what you were clever enough to guess last night! There is a
likeness, of course.
“Poor Antinoues! He is quite ignorant of the true relationship,
which has caused me many a pang of shame and remorse....
“'Que voulez-vous? Elle etait ravissaure!' ... We were cousins, much
thrown together; 'both were so young, and one so beautiful!' ... I was
but a penniless cornet in those days—hardly more than a boy. Happily
an unsuspecting Frenchman of good family was there who had loved her
long, and she married him. 'Il etait temps!' ...
“Can you forgive me this 'entrainement de jeunesse?' I have repented
in sackcloth and ashes, and made what reparation I could by adopting
and giving my name to one who is a perpetual reminder to me of a
moment's infatuation. He little knows, poor boy, and never will, I
hope. 'Il n'a plus que moi au monde!'
“Burn this as soon as you have read it, and never let the subject be
mentioned between us again.
“R. ('Qui sait aimer').”
Here was a thunderbolt out of the blue!
I sat stunned and saw scarlet, and felt as if I should see scarlet
[Illustration: THE FATAL LETTER.]
After a long silence, during which I could feel my pulse beat to
bursting-point in my temples, Mrs. Glyn said:
“Now, Mr. Ibbetson, I hope you will do nothing rash—nothing that
can bring my daughter's name into any quarrel between yourself and your
uncle. For the sake of your mother's good name, you will be prudent, I
know. If he could speak like this of his cousin, with whom he had been
in love when he was young, what lies would he not tell of my poor
daughter? He has—terrible lies! Oh, what we have suffered! When
he wrote that letter I believe he really meant to marry her. He had the
greatest trust in her, or he would never have committed himself so
“Does he know of this letter's existing?” I asked.
“No. When he and my daughter quarrelled she sent him back his
letters—all but this one, which she told him she had burned
immediately after reading it, as he had told her to do.”
“May I keep it?”
“Yes. I know you may be trusted, and my daughter's name has been
removed from the outside, as you see. No one but ourselves has ever
seen it, nor have we mentioned to a soul what it contains, as we never
believed it for a moment. Two or three years ago we had the curiosity
to find out when and where your parents had married, and when you were
born, and when he went to India, it was no surprise to us at
all. We then tried to find you, but soon gave it up, and thought it
better to leave matters alone. Then we heard he was in mischief
again—just the same sort of mischief; and then my daughter saw you in
the park, and we concluded you ought to know.”
Such was the gist of that memorable conversation, which I have
condensed as much as I could.
When I left these two ladies I walked twice rapidly round the park.
I saw scarlet often during that walk. Perhaps I looked scarlet. I
remember people staring at me.
Then I went straight to Lintot's, with the impulse to tell him my
trouble and ask his advice.
He was away from home, and I waited in his smoking-room for a while,
reading the letter over and over again.
Then I decided not to tell him, and left the house, taking with me
as I did so (but without any definite purpose) a heavy loaded stick, a
most formidable weapon, even in the hands of a boy, and which I myself
had given to Lintot on his last birthday. [Greek: Anagkae]!
Then I went to my usual eating-house near the circus and dined. To
the surprise of the waiting-maid, I drank a quart of bitter ale and two
glasses of sherry. It was my custom to drink water. She plied me with
questions as to whether I was ill or in trouble. I answered her no, and
at last begged she would leave me alone.
Ibbetson lived in St. James's Street. I went there. He was out. It
was nine o'clock, and his servant seemed uncertain when he would
return. I came back at ten. He was not yet home, and the servant, after
thinking a while, and looking up and down the street, and finding my
appearance decent and by no means dangerous, asked me to go upstairs
and wait, as I told him it was a matter of great importance.
So I went and sat in my uncle's drawing-room and waited.
The servant came with me and lit the candles, and remarked on the
weather, and handed me the Saturday Review and Punch. I
must have looked quite natural—as I tried to look—and he left me.
I saw a Malay creese on the mantel-piece and hid it behind a
picture-frame. I locked a door leading to another drawing-room where
there was a grand piano, and above it a trophy of swords, daggers,
battle-axes, etc., and put the key in my pocket.
The key of the room where I waited was inside the door.
All this time I had a vague idea of possible violence on his part,
but no idea of killing him. I felt far too strong for that. Indeed, I
had a feeling of quiet, irresistible strength—the result of suppressed
I sat down and meditated all I would say. I had settled it over and
over again, and read and reread the fatal letter.
The servant came up with glasses and soda-water. I trembled lest he
should observe that the door to the other room was locked, but he did
not. He opened the window and looked up and down the street. Presently
he said, “Here's the colonel at last, sir,” and went down to open the
I heard him come in and speak to his servant. Then he came straight
up, humming “la donna e mobile,” and walked in with just the
jaunty, airy manner I remembered. He was in evening dress, and very
little changed. He seemed much surprised to see me, and turned very
“Well, my Apollo of the T square, pourquoi cet honneur? Have
you come, like a dutiful nephew, to humble yourself and beg for
I forgot all I meant to say (indeed, nothing happened as I had
meant), but rose and said, “I have come to have a talk with you,” as
quietly as I could, though with a thick voice.
He seemed uneasy, and went towards the door.
I got there before him, and closed it, and locked it, and put the
key in my pocket.
He darted to the other door and found it locked.
Then he went to the mantel-piece and looked for the creese, and not
finding it, he turned round with his back to the fireplace and his arms
akimbo, and tried to look very contemptuous and determined. His chin
was quite white under his dyed mustache—like wax—and his eyes blinked
I walked up to him and said: “You told Mrs. Deane that I was your
“It's a lie! Who told you so?”
“She did—this afternoon.”
“It's a lie—a spiteful invention of a cast-off mistress!”
“She never was your mistress!”
“You fool! I suppose she told you that too. Leave the room, you
pitiful green jackass, or I'll have you turned out,” and he rang the
“Do you know your own handwriting?” I said, and handed him the
He read a line or two and gasped out that it was a forgery, and rang
the bell again, and looked again behind the clock for his creese. Then
he lit the letter at a candle and threw it in the fireplace, where it
I made no attempt to prevent him.
The servant tried to open the door, and Ibbetson went to the window
and called out for the police. I rushed to the picture where I had
hidden the creese, and threw it on the table. Then I swung him away
from the window by his coat-tails, and told him to defend himself,
pointing to the creese.
He seized it, and stood on the defensive; the servant had apparently
run down-stairs for assistance.
“Now, then,” I said, “down on your knees, you infamous cur, and
confess; it's your only chance.”
“Confess what, you fool?”
“That you're a coward and a liar; that you wrote that letter; that
Mrs. Deane was no more your mistress than my mother was!”
There was a sound of people running up-stairs. He listened a moment
and hissed out:
“They both were, you idiot! How can I tell for certain
whether you are my son or not? It all comes to the same. Of course I
wrote the letter. Come on, you cowardly assassin, you bastard
parricide!” ... and he advanced on me with his creese low down in his
right hand, the point upward, and made a thrust, shrieking out, “Break
open the door! quick!” They did; but too late!
[Illustration: “BASTARD! PARRICIDE!”]
I saw crimson!
He missed me, and I brought down my stick on his left arm, which he
held over his head, and then on his head, and he fell, crying:
“O my God! O Christ!”
I struck him again on his head as he was falling, and once again
when he was on the ground. It seemed to crash right in.
That is why and how I killed Uncle Ibbetson.
“Grouille, greve, greve, grouille,
File, file, ma quenouille!
File sa corde au bourreau
Qui siffle dans le preau...“
So sang the old hag in Notre Dame de Paris!
So sang to me night and day, for many nights and days, the thin
small voice that always went piping inside me, now to one tune, now to
another, but always the same words—that terrible refrain that used to
haunt me so when I was a school-boy at Bluefriars!
Oh, to be a school-boy again in a long gray coat and ridiculous pink
stockings—innocent and free—with Esmeralda for my only love, and
Athos and Porthos and D'Artagnan for my bosom friends, and no worse
tribulation than to be told on a Saturday afternoon that the third
volume was in hand—volume trois en lecture'.
* * * * *
Sometimes, I remember, I could hardly sleep on a Sunday night, for
pity of the poor wretch who was to be hanged close by on Monday
morning, and it has come to that with me!
* * * * *
Oh, Mary, Mary, Duchess of Towers, sweet friend of my childhood, and
love of my life, what must you think of me now?
* * * * *
How blessed are the faithful! How good it must be to trust in God
and heaven, and the forgiveness of sin, and be as a little child in all
but innocence! A whole career of crime wiped out in a moment by just
one cheap little mental act of faith at the eleventh hour, in the
extreme terror of well-merited dissolution; and all the evil one has
worked through life (that goes on breeding evil for ages to come) taken
off one's shoulders like a filthy garment, and just cast aside,
anywhere, anyhow, for the infecting of others—who do not count.
What matter if it be a fool's paradise? Paradise is paradise, for
whoever owns it!
* * * * *
They say a Sicilian drum-major, during the French occupation of
Palermo, was sentenced to be shot. He was a well-known coward, and it
was feared he would disgrace his country at the last moment in the
presence of the French soldiers, who had a way of being shot with a
good grace and a light heart: they had grown accustomed to it.
For the honor of Sicily his confessor told him, in the strictest
confidence, that his sentence was a mock one, and that he would be
fired at with blank cartridges.
It was a pious fraud. All but two of the twelve cartridges had
bullets, and he fell, riddled through and through. No Frenchman ever
died with a lighter heart, a better grace. He was superb, and the
national honor was saved.
Thrice happy Sicilian drum-major, if the story be true! That trust
in blank cartridges was his paradise.
* * * * *
Oh, it is uphill work to be a stoic when the moment comes and the
tug! But when the tug lasts for more than a moment—days and nights,
days and nights! Oh, happy Sicilian drum-major!
* * * * *
Pray? Yes, I will pray night and morning, and all day long, to
whatever there is left of inherited strength and courage in that
luckless, misbegotten waif, Peter Ibbetson; that it may bear him up a
little while yet; that he may not disgrace himself in the dock or on
* * * * *
Repent? Yes, of many things. But of the thing for which I am here?
* * * * *
It is a ghastly thing to be judge and jury and executioner all in
one, and for a private and personal wrong—to condemn and strike and
Pity comes after—when it is too late, fortunately—the wretched
weakness of pity! Pooh! no Calcraft will ever pity me, and I do
not want him to.
* * * * *
He had his long, snaky knife against my stick; he, too, was a big
strong man, well skilled in self-defence! Down he went, and I struck
him again and again. “O my God! O Christ!” he shrieked....
“It will ring in my heart and my ears till I die—till I die!”
* * * * *
There was no time to lose—no time to think for the best. It is all
for the best as it is. What might he not have said if he had lived!
* * * * *
Thank Heaven, pity is not remorse or shame; and what crime could
well be worse than his? To rob one's dearly beloved dead of their fair
* * * * *
He might have been mad, perhaps, and have grown in time to believe
the lies he told himself. Such things have been. But such a madman
should no more be suffered to live than a mad dog. The only way to kill
the lie was to kill the liar—that is, if one can ever kill a
* * * * *
Poor worm! after all, he could not help it, I suppose! he was
built like that! and I was built to kill him for it, and be
hanged.' [Greek: Anagkae]!
What an exit for “Gogo—gentil petit Gogo!”
* * * * *
Just opposite that wall, on the other side, was once a small tripe
and trotter shop, kept by a most lovely daughter of the people, so fair
and good in my eyes that I would have asked her to be my wife. What
would she think of me now? That I should have dared to aspire! What a
* * * * *
What does everybody think? I can never breathe the real cause to a
soul. Only two women know the truth, and they will take good care not
to tell. Thank Heaven for that!
What matters what anybody thinks? “It will be all the same as a
hundred years hence.” That is the most sensible proverb ever invented.
* * * * *
* * * * *
The judge puts on the black cap, and it is all for you! Every eye is
fixed on you, so big and young and strong and full of life! Ugh!
* * * * *
They pinion you, and you have to walk and be a man, and the chaplain
exhorts and prays and tries to comfort. Then a sea of faces; people
opposite, who have been eating and drinking and making merry, waiting
for you! A cap is pulled over your eyes—oh, horror! horror!
* * * * *
“Heureux tambour-major de Sicile!”
* * * * *
“Il faut laver son ligne sale en famille, et c'est ce que j'ai fait.
Mais ca va ma couter cher!”
* * * * *
Would I do it all over again? Oh, let me hope, yes!
* * * * *
Ah, he died too quick; I dealt him those four blows in less than as
many seconds. It was five minutes, perhaps—or, at the most, ten—from
the moment he came into the room to that when I finished him and was
caught red-handed. And I—what a long agony!
Oh, that I might once more dream a “true dream,” and see my dear
people once more! But it seems that I have lost the power of dreaming
true since that fatal night. I try and try, but it will not come. My
dreams are dreadful; and, oh, the waking!
* * * * *
After all, my life hitherto, but for a few happy years of childhood,
has not been worth living; it is most unlikely that it ever would have
been, had I lived to a hundred! Oh, Mary! Mary!
* * * * *
And penal servitude! Better any death than that. It is good that my
secret must die with me—that there will be no extenuating
circumstances, no recommendation to mercy, no commutation of the swift
penalty of death.
“File, file... File sa corde au bourreau!”
By such monotonous thoughts, and others as dreary and hopeless,
recurring again and again in the same dull round, I beguiled the
terrible time that intervened between Ibbetson's death and my trial at
the Old Bailey.
It all seems very trivial and unimportant now—not worth
recording—even hard to remember.
But at the time my misery was so great, my terror of the gallows so
poignant, that each day I thought I must die of sheer grief before
another twenty-four hours could possibly pass over me.
The intolerable strain would grow more and more severe till a climax
of tension was reached, and a hysterical burst of tears would relieve
me for a while, and I would feel reconciled to my fate, and able to
face death like a man.... Then the anguish would gradually steal over
me again, and the uncontrollable weakness of the flesh....
And each of these two opposite moods, while it lasted, made the
other seem impossible, and as if it never could come back again; yet
back it came with the regularity of a tide—the most harrowing seesaw
that ever was.
I had always been unstable like that; but whereas I had hitherto
oscillated between high elation and despondency, it was now from a
dumb, resigned despair to the wildest agony and terror.
I sought in vain for the only comfort it was in me to seek; but
when, overdone with suffering, I fell asleep at last, I could no longer
dream true; I could dream only as other wretches dream.
I always dreamed those two little dancing, deformed jailers, man and
wife, had got me at last; and that I shrieked aloud for my beloved
duchess to succor me, as they ran me in, each butting at me sideways,
and showing their toothless gums in a black smile, and poisoning me
with their hot sour breath! The gate was there, and the avenue, all
distorted and quite unlike; and, opposite, a jail; but no powerful
Duchess of Towers to wave the horror away.
* * * * *
It will be remembered by some, perhaps, how short was my trial.
The plea of “not guilty” was entered for me. The defence set up was
insanity, based on the absence of any adequate motive. This defence was
soon disposed of by the prosecution; witnesses to my sanity were not
wanting, and motives enough were found in my past relations with
Colonel Ibbetson to “make me—a violent, morose, and vindictive-natured
man—imbrue my hands in the gore of my relative and benefactor—a man
old enough to be my father—who, indeed, might have been my father, for
the love he had bestowed upon me, with his honored name, when I was
left a penniless, foreign orphan on his hands.”
Here I laughed loud and long, and made a most painful impression, as
is duly recorded in the reports of the trial.
The jury found me guilty quite early in the afternoon of the second
day, without leaving the box; and I, “preserving to the last the
callous and unmoved demeanor I had borne all through the trial,” was
duly sentenced to death without any hope of mercy, but with an
expression of regret on the part of the judge—a famous hanging
judge—that a man of my education and promise should be brought by his
own evil nature and uncontrollable passions to so deplorable an end.
Now whether the worst of certainties is better than
suspense—whether my nerves of pain had been so exercised during the
period preceding my trial that I had really become callous, as they say
a man's back does after a certain number of strokes from the
“cat”—certain it was that I knew the worst, and acquiesced in it with
a surprised sense of actual relief, and found it in me to feel it not
Such, at least, was my mood that night. I made the most of it. It
was almost happiness by comparison with what I had gone through. I
remember eating with a heartiness that surprised me. I could have gone
straight from my dinner to the gallows, and died with a light heart and
a good grace—like a Sicilian drum-major.
I resolved to write the whole true story to the Duchess of Towers,
with an avowal of my long and hopeless adoration for her, and the
expression of a hope that she would try to think of me only as her old
playfellow, and as she had known me before this terrible disaster. And
thinking of the letter I would write till very late, I fell asleep in
my cell, with two warders to watch over me; and then—Another phase of
my inner life began.
* * * * *
Without effort, without let or hindrance of any kind, I was at the
The pink and white may, the lilacs and laburnums were in full bloom,
the sun made golden paths everywhere. The warm air was full of
fragrance, and alive with all the buzz and chirp of early summer.
I was half crying with joy to reach the land of my true dreams
again, to feel at home once more—chez moi! chez moi!
La Mere Francois sat peeling potatoes at the door of her loge
; she was singing a little song about cinq sous, sinq sous, pour
monter notre menage. I had forgotten it, but it all came back now.
[Illustration: “CINQ SOUS, CINQ SOUS, POUR MONTER NOTRE MENAGE.”]
The facetious postman, Yverdon, went in at the gate of my old
garden; the bell rang as he pushed it, and I followed him.
Under the apple-tree, which was putting forth shoots of blossom in
profusion, sat my mother and Monsieur le Major. My mother took the
letter from the postman's hand as he said, “Pour Vous? Oh yes, Madame
Pasquier, God sev ze Kveen!” and paid the postage. It was from Colonel
Ibbetson, then in Ireland, and not yet a colonel.
Medor lay snoring on the grass, and Gogo and Mimsey were looking at
the pictures in the musee des familles.
In a garden chair lolled Dr. Seraskier, apparently asleep, with his
long porcelain pipe across his knees.
Madame Seraskier, in a yellow nankeen gown with gigot sleeves, was
cutting curl-papers out of the Constitutionnel.
I gazed on them all with unutterable tenderness. I was gazing on
them perhaps for the last time.
I called out to them by name.
“Oh, speak to me, beloved shades! Oh, my father! oh, mother, I want
you so desperately! Come out of the past for a few seconds, and give me
some words of comfort! I'm in such woful plight! If you could only
But they could neither hear nor see me.
Then suddenly another figure stepped forth from behind the
apple-tree—no old-fashioned, unsubstantial shadow of by-gone days that
one can only see and hear, and that cannot hear and see one back again;
but one in all the splendid fulness of life, a pillar of help and
strength—Mary, Duchess of Towers!
I fell on my knees as she came to me with both hands extended.
“Oh, Mr. Ibbetson, I have been seeking and waiting for you here
night after night! I have been frantic! If you hadn't come at last, I
must have thrown everything to the winds, and gone to see you in
Newgate, waking and before the world, to have a talk with you—an
abboccamento. I suppose you couldn't sleep, or were unable to
I could not answer at first. I could only cover her hands with
kisses, as I felt her warm life-current mixing with mine—a rapture!
And then I said—
“I swear to you by all I hold most sacred—by my mother's
memory and yours—by yourself—that I never meant to take
Ibbetson's life, or even strike him; the miserable blow was dealt....”
“As if you need tell me that! As if I didn't know you of old, my
poor friend, kindest and gentlest of men! Why, I am holding your hands,
and see into the very depths of your heart!”
(I put down all she said as she said it. Of course I am not, and
never have been, what her old affectionate regard made me seem in her
eyes, any more than I am the bloodthirsty monster I passed for.
Woman-like, she was the slave of her predilections.)
“And now, Mr. Ibbetson,” she went on, “let me first of all tell you,
for a certainty, that the sentence will be commuted. I saw the Home
Secretary three or four hours ago. The real cause of your deplorable
quarrel with your uncle is an open secret. His character is well known.
A Mrs. Gregory (whom you knew in Hopshire as Mrs. Deane) has been with
the Home Secretary this afternoon. Your chivalrous reticence at the
“Oh,” I interrupted, “I don't care to live any longer! Now that I
have met you once more, and that you have forgiven me and think well of
me in spite of everything, I am ready to die. There has never been
anybody but you in the world for me—never a ghost of a woman,
never even a friend since my mother died and yours. Between that time
and the night I first saw you at Lady Cray's concert, I can scarcely be
said to have lived at all. I fed on scraps of remembrance. You see I
have no talent for making new friends, but oh, such a genius for
fidelity to old ones! I was waiting for Mimsey to come back again, I
suppose, the one survivor to me of that sweet time, and when she came
at last I was too stupid to recognize her. She suddenly blazed and
dazzled into my poor life like a meteor, and filled it with a maddening
love and pain. I don't know which of the two has been the sweetest;
both have been my life. You cannot realize what it has been. Trust me,
I have lived my fill. I am ready and willing to die. It is the only
perfect consummation I can think of. Nothing can ever equal this
moment—nothing on earth or in heaven. And if I were free to-morrow,
life would not be worth having without you. I would not take it
as a gift.”
She sat down by me on the grass with her hands clasped across her
knees, close to the unconscious shadows of our kith and kin, within
hearing of their happy talk and laughter.
Suddenly we both heard Mimsey say to Gogo—
“O, ils sont joliment bien ensemble, le Prince Charmant et la fee
We looked at each other and actually laughed aloud. The duchess
“Was there ever, since the world began, such a muse en scene,
and for such a meeting, Mr. Ibbetson? Think of it! Conceive it! I
arranged it all. I chose a day when they were all together. As they
would say in America, I am the boss of this particular dream.”
And she laughed again, through her tears, that enchanting ripple of
a laugh that closed her eyes and made her so irresistible.
“Was there ever,” said I—“ever since the world began, such ecstasy
as I feel now? After this what can there be for me but death—well
earned and well paid for? Welcome and lovely death!”
“You have not yet thought, Mr. Ibbetson—you have not realized what
life may have in store for you if—if all you have said about your
affection for me is true. Oh, it is too terrible for me to think of, I
know, that you, scarcely more than a boy, should have to spend the rest
of your life in miserable confinement and unprofitable monotonous toil.
But there is another side to that picture.
“Now listen to your old friend's story—poor little Mimsey's
confession. I will make it as short as I can.
“Do you remember when you first saw me, a sickly, plain, sad little
girl, at the avenue gate, twenty years ago?
“Le Pere Francois was killing a fowl—cutting its throat with a
clasp-knife—and the poor thing struggled frantically in his grasp as
its blood flowed into the gutter. A group of boys were looking on in
great glee, and all the while Pere Francois was gossiping with M. le
Cure, who didn't seem to mind in the least. I was fainting with pity
and horror. Suddenly you came out of the school opposite with Alfred
and Charlie Plunket, and saw it all, and in a fit of noble rage you
called Pere Francois a 'sacred pig of assassin'—which, as you know, is
very rude in French—and struck him as near his face as you could
“Have you forgotten that? Ah, I haven't! It was not an
effectual deed, perhaps, and certainly came too late to save the fowl.
Besides, Pere Francois struck you back again, and left some of the
fowl's blood on your cheek. It was a baptism! You became on the spot my
hero—my angel of light. Look at Gogo over there. Is he beautiful
enough? That was you, Mr. Ibbetson.
“M. le Cure said something about 'ces Anglais' who go mad if
a man whips his horse, and yet pay people to box each other to death.
Don't you really remember? Oh, the recollection to me!
“And that little language we invented and used to talk so fluently!
Don't you rappel it to yourself? 'Ne le recollectes tu
pas?' as we would have said in those days, for it used to be thee
and thou with us then.
“Well, at all events, you must remember how for five happy years we
were so often together; how you drew for me, read to me, played with
me; took my part in everything, right or wrong; carried me pickaback
when I was tired. Your drawings—I have them all. And oh! you were so
funny sometimes! How you used to make mamma laugh, and M. le Major!
Just look at Gogo again. Have you forgotten what he is doing now? I
haven't.... He has just changed the musee des familles for the
Penny Magazine, and is explaining Hogarth's pictures of the 'Idle
and Industrious Apprentices' to Mimsey, and they are both agreed that
the idle one is much the less objectionable of the two!
“Mimsey looks passive enough, with her thumb in her mouth, doesn't
she? Her little heart is so full of gratitude and love for Gogo that
she can't speak. She can only suck her thumb. Poor, sick, ungainly
child! She would like to be Gogo's slave—she would die for Gogo. And
her mother adores Gogo too; she is almost jealous of dear Madame
Pasquier for having so sweet a son. In just one minute from now, when
she has cut that last curl-paper, poor long-dead mamma will call Gogo
to her and give him a good 'Irish hug,' and make him happy for a week.
Wait a minute and see. There! What did I tell you?
“Well, all that came to an end. Madame Pasquier went away and never
came back, and so did Gogo. Monsieur and Madame Pasquier were dead, and
dear mamma died in a week from the cholera. Poor heartbroken Mimsey was
taken away to St. Petersburg, Warsaw, Leipsic, Venice, all over Europe,
by her father, as heart-broken as herself.
“It was her wish and her father's that she should become a pianist
by profession, and she studied hard for many years in almost every
capital, and under almost every master in Europe, and she gave promise
“And so, wandering from one place to another, she became a young
woman—a greatly petted and spoiled and made-much-of young woman, Mr.
Ibbetson, although she says it who shouldn't; and had many suitors of
all kinds and countries.
“But the heroic and angelic Gogo, with his lovely straight nose, and
his hair aux enfants d'Edouard, and his dear little white silk
chimney-pot hat and Eton jacket, was always enshrined in her memory, in
her inmost heart, as the incarnation of all that was beautiful and
brave and good. But alas! what had become of this Gogo in the mean
time? Ah, he was never even heard of—he was dead!
“Well, this long-legged, tender-hearted, grown-up young Mimsey of
nineteen was attracted by a very witty and accomplished English attache
at Vienna—a Mr. Harcourt, who seemed deeply in love with her, and
wished her to be his wife.
“He was not rich, but Dr. Seraskier liked and trusted him so much
that he dispossessed himself of almost everything he had to enable this
young couple to marry—and they did. And truth compels me to admit that
for a year they were very happy and contented with fate and each other.
“Then a great misfortune befell them both. In a most unexpected
manner, through four or five consecutive deaths in Mr. Harcourt's
family, he became, first, Lord Harcourt, and then the Duke of Towers.
And since then, Mr. Ibbetson, I have not had an hour's peace or
“In the first place a son was born to me—a cripple, poor dear! and
deformed from his birth; and as he grew older it soon became evident
that he was also born without a mind.
“Then my unfortunate husband changed completely; he drank and
gambled and worse, till we came to live together as strangers, and only
spoke to each other in public and before the world....”
“Ah,” I said, “you were still a great lady—an English duchess!”
I could not endure the thought of that happy twelvemonth with that
bestial duke! I, sober, chaste, and clean—of all but blood, alas!—and
a condemned convict!
Oh, Mr. Ibbetson, you must make no mistake about me! I was
never intended by nature for a duchess—especially an English one. Not
but what, if dukes and duchesses are necessary, the English are the
best—and, of course, by dukes and duchesses I mean all that
upper-ten-thousand in England which calls itself 'society'—as if there
were no other worth speaking of. Some of them are almost angelic, but
they are not for outsiders like me. Perpetual hunting and shooting and
fishing and horseracing—eating, drinking, and killing, and making
love—eternal court gossip and tittle-tattle—the Prince—the
Queen—whom and what the Queen likes, whom and what she doesn't!—tame
English party politics—the Church—a Church that doesn't know its own
mind, in spite of its deans, bishops, archbishops, and their wives and
daughters—and all their silly, solemn sense of social rank and
dignity! Endless small-talk, dinners, and drums, and no society from
year's end to year's end but each other! Ah, one must be caught young,
and put in harness early, to lead such an existence as that and be
content! And I had met and known such men and women with my
father! They were something to know!
There is another society in London and elsewhere—a freemasonry of
intellect and culture and hard work—la haute boheme du talent
—men and women whose names are or ought to be household words all over
the world; many of them are good friends of mine, both here and abroad;
and that society, which was good enough for my father and mother, is
quite good enough for me.
I am a republican, Mr. Ibbetson—a cosmopolite—a born Bohemian!
“'Mon grand pere etait rossignol; Ma grand mere etait
Look at my dear people there—look at your dear people! What waifs
and strays, until their ship comes home, which we know it never will!
Our fathers forever racking their five wits in the pursuit of an idea!
Our mothers forever racking theirs to save money and make both ends
meet!... Why, Mr. Ibbetson, you are nearer to the rossignol than
I am. Do you remember your father's voice? Shall I ever forget it! He
sang to me only last night, and in the midst of my harrowing anxiety
about you I was beguiled into listening outside the window. He sang
Rossini's 'Cujus Animam.' He was the nightingale; that was
his vocation, if he could but have known it. And you are my brother
Bohemian; that is yours! ... Ah, my vocation! It was to
be the wife of some busy brain-worker—man of
science—conspirator—writer—artist—architect, if you like; to fence
him round and shield him from all the little worries and troubles and
petty vexations of life. I am a woman of business par excellence
—a manager, and all that. He would have had a warm, well-ordered little
nest to come home to after hunting his idea!
“Well, I thought myself the most unhappy woman alive, and wrapped
myself up in my affection for my much-afflicted little son; and as I
held him to my breast, and vainly tried to warm and mesmerize him into
feeling and intelligence, Gogo came back into my heart, and I was
forever thinking, 'Oh, if I had a son like Gogo what a happy woman I
should be!' and pitied Madame Pasquier for dying and leaving him so
soon, for I had just begun to dream true, and had seen Gogo and his
sweet mother once again.
“And then one night—one never-to-be-forgotten night—I went to Lady
Gray's concert, and saw you standing in a corner by yourself; and I
thought, with a leap of my heart, 'Why, that must be Gogo, grown dark,
and with a beard and mustache like a Frenchman!' But alas, I found that
you were only a Mr. Ibbetson, Lady Cray's architect, whom she had asked
to her house because he was 'quite the handsomest young man she had
“You needn't laugh. You looked very nice, I assure you!
“Well, Mr. Ibbetson, although you were not Gogo, you became suddenly
so interesting to me that I never forgot you—you were never quite out
of my mind. I wanted to counsel and advise you, and take you by the
hand, and be an elder sister to you, for I felt myself already older
than you in the world and its ways. I wanted to be twenty years older
still, and to have you for my son. I don't know what I wanted!
You seemed so lonely, and fresh, and unspotted from the world, among
all those smart worldlings, and yet so big and strong and square and
invincible—oh, so strong! And then you looked at me with such sincere
and sweet and chivalrous admiration and sympathy—there, I cannot speak
of it—and then you were so like what Gogo might have become!
Oh, you made as warm and devoted a friend of me at first sight as any
one might desire!
“And at the same time you made me feel so self-conscious and shy
that I dared not ask to be introduced to you—I, who scarcely know what
“Dear Giulia Grisi sang 'Sedut' al Pie d' un' Salice,' and that
tune has always been associated in my mind with your tongue ever since,
and always will be. Your dear mother used to play it on the harp. Do
“Then came that extraordinary dream, which you remember as well as I
do: wasn't it a wonder? You see, my dear father had learned a
strange secret of the brain—how in sleep to recall past things and
people and places as they had once been seen or known by him—even
unremembered things. He called it 'dreaming true,' and by long
practice, he told me, he had brought the art of doing this to
perfection. It was the one consolation of his troubled life to go over
and over again in sleep all his happy youth and childhood, and the few
short years he had spent with his beloved young wife. And before he
died, when he saw I had become so unhappy that life seemed to have no
longer any possible hope of pleasure for me, he taught me his very
“Thus have I revisited in sleep every place I have ever lived in,
and especially this, the beloved spot where I first as a little girl
That night when we met again in our common dream I was looking at
the boys from Saindou's school going to their premiere communion, and thinking very much of you, as I had seen you, when awake, a few
hours before, looking out of the window at the 'Tete Noire;' when you
suddenly appeared in great seeming trouble and walking like a tipsy
man; and my vision was disturbed by the shadow of a prison—alas!
alas!—and two little jailers jingling their keys and trying to hem you
My emotion at seeing you again so soon was so great that I nearly
woke. But I rescued you from your imaginary terrors and held you by the
hand. You remember all the rest.
I could not understand why you should be in my dream, as I had
almost always dreamed true—that is, about things that had been
in my life—not about things that might be; nor could I account
for the solidity of your hand, nor understand why you didn't fade away
when I took it, and blur the dream. It was a most perplexing mystery
that troubled many hours of both my waking and sleeping life. Then came
that meeting with you at Cray, and part of the mystery was accounted
for, for you were my old friend Gogo, after all. But it is still a
mystery, an awful mystery, that two people should meet as we are
meeting now in one and the same dream—should dovetail so accurately
into each other's brains. What a link between us two, Mr. Ibbetson,
already linked by such memories!
After meeting you at Cray I felt that I must never meet you again,
either waking or dreaming. The discovery that you were Gogo, after all,
combined with the preoccupation which as a mere stranger you had
already caused me for so long, created such a disturbance in my spirit
that—that—there, you must try and imagine it for yourself.
Even before that revelation at Cray I had often known you were here
in my dream, and I had carefully avoided you ... though little dreaming
you were here in your own dream too! Often from that little
dormer-window up there I have seen you wandering about the park and
avenue in seeming search of me, and wondered why and how you
came. You drove me into attics and servants' bedrooms to conceal myself
from you. It was quite a game of hide-and-seek—cache-cache, as
we used to call it.
But after our meeting at Cray I felt there must be no more
cache-cache; I avoided coming here at all; you drove me away
Now try to imagine what I felt when the news of your terrible
quarrel with Mr. Ibbetson burst upon the world. I was beside myself! I
came here night after night; I looked for you everywhere—in the park,
in the Bois de Boulogne, at the Mare d'Auteuil, at St. Cloud—in every
place I could think of! And now here you are at last—at last!
Hush! Don't speak yet! I have soon done!
Six months ago I lost my poor little son, and, much as I loved him,
I cannot wish him back again. In a fortnight I shall be legally
separated from my wretched husband—I shall be quite alone in the
world! And then, Mr. Ibbetson—oh, then, dearest friend that
child or woman ever had—every hour that I can steal from my waking
existence shall henceforward be devoted to you as long as both of us
live, and sleep the same hours out of the twenty-four. My one object
and endeavor shall be to make up for the wreck of your sweet and
valuable young life. 'Stone walls shall not a prison make, nor iron
bars a cage!' [And here she laughed and cried together, so that her
eyes, closing up, squeezed out her tears, and I thought, “Oh, that I
might drink them!”]
And now I will leave you. I am a weak and loving woman, and must not
stay by your side till I can do so without too much self-reproach.
And indeed I feel I shall soon fall awake from sheer exhaustion of
joy. Oh, selfish and jealous wretch that I am, to talk of joy!
“I cannot help rejoicing that no other woman can be to you what I
hope to be. No other woman can ever come near you! I am your
tyrant and your slave—your calamity has made you mine forever; but all
my life—all—all—shall be spent in trying to make you forget yours,
and I think I shall succeed.”
“Oh, don't make such dreadful haste!” I exclaimed. “Am I
dreaming true? What is to prove all this to me when I wake? Either I am
the most abject and wretched of men, or life will never have another
unhappy moment. How am I to know?'
“Listen. Do you remember 'Parva sed Apta, le petit pavilion,' as you
used to call it? That is still my home when I am here. It shall be
yours, if you like, when the time comes. You will find much to interest
you there. Well, to-morrow early, in your cell, you will receive from
me an envelope with a slip of paper in it, containing some violets, and
the words 'Parva sed Apta—a bientot' written in violet ink. Will that
“Oh yes, yes!”
“Well, then, give me your hands, dearest and best—both hands! I
shall soon be here again, by this apple-tree; I shall count the hours.
Good-bye!” and she was gone, and I woke.
I woke to the gaslit darkness of my cell. It was just before dawn.
One of the warders asked me civilly if I wanted anything, and gave me a
drink of water.
I thanked him quietly, and recalled what had just happened to me,
with a wonder, an ecstasy, for which I can find no words.
No, it had not been a dream—of that I felt quite
sure—not in any one single respect; there had been nothing of the
dream about it except its transcendent, ineffable enchantment.
Every inflexion of that beloved voice, with its scarcely perceptible
foreign accent that I had never noticed before; every animated gesture,
with its subtle reminiscence of both her father and her mother; her
black dress trimmed with gray; her black and gray hat; the scent of
sandal-wood about her—all were more distinctly and vividly impressed
upon me than if she had just been actually, and in the flesh, at my
bedside. Her tones still rang in my ears. My eyes were full of her: now
her profile, so pure and chiselled; now her full face, with her gray
eyes (sometimes tender and grave and wet with tears, sometimes half
closed in laughter) fixed on mine; her lithe sweet body curved forward,
as she sat and clasped her knees; her arched and slender smooth
straight feet so delicately shod, that seemed now and then to beat time
to her story....
And then that strange sense of the transfusion of life at the
touching of the hands! Oh, it was no dream! Though what it was I
I turned on my side, happy beyond expression, and fell asleep
again—a dreamless sleep that lasted till I was woke and told to dress.
[Illustration: “MY EYES WERE FULL OF HER.”]
Some breakfast was brought to me, and with it an envelope, open,
which contained some violets, and a slip of paper, scented with
sandal-wood, on which were written, in violet ink, the words—
“Parva sed Apla—a bientot! Tarapatapoum.”
I will pass over the time that elapsed between my sentence and its
commutation; the ministrations and exhortations of the good chaplain;
the kind and touching farewells of Mr. and Mrs. Lintot, who had also
believed that I was Ibbetson's son (I undeceived them); the visit of my
old friend Mrs. Deane ... and her strange passion of gratitude and
I have no doubt it would all be interesting enough, if properly
remembered and ably told. But it was all too much like a
dream—anybody's dream—not one of mine—all too slight and
flimsy to have left an abiding remembrance, or to matter much.
In due time I was removed to the jail at——, and bade farewell to
the world, and adapted myself to the conditions of my new outer life
with a good grace and with a very light heart.
The prison routine, leaving the brain so free and unoccupied; the
healthy labor, the pure air, the plain, wholesome food were delightful
to me—a much-needed daily mental rest after the tumultuous emotions of
For I was soon back again in Passy, where I spent every hour of my
sleep, you may be sure, never very far from the old apple-tree, which
went through all its changes, from bare bough to tender shoots and
blossoms, from blossom to ripe fruit, from fruit to yellow falling
leaf, and then to bare boughs again, and all in a few peaceful nights,
which were my days. I flatter myself by this time that I know the
habits of a French apple-tree, and its caterpillars!
And all the dear people I loved, and of whom I could never tire,
were about—all but one. The One!
At last she arrived. The garden door was pushed, the bell rang, and
she came across the lawn, radiant and tall and swift, and opened wide
her arms. And there, with our little world around us—all that we had
ever loved and cared for, but quite unseen and unheard by them—for the
first time in my life since my mother and Madame Seraskier had died I
held a woman in my arms, and she pressed her lips to mine.
[Illustration: “AT LAST SHE ARRIVED.”]
Round and round the lawn we walked and talked, as we had often done
fifteen, sixteen, twenty years ago. There were many things to say. “The
Charming Prince” and the “Fairy Tarapatapoum” were “prettily well
The time sped quickly—far too quickly. I said—
“You told me I should see your house—'Parva sed Apta'—that I
should find much to interest me there.” ...
She blushed a little and smiled, and said—
“You mustn't expect too much,” and we soon found ourselves
walking thither up the avenue. Thus we had often walked as children,
and once—a memorable once—besides.
There stood the little white house with its golden legend, as I had
seen it a thousand times when a boy—a hundred since.
How sweet and small it looked in the mellow sunshine! We mounted the
stone perron, and opened the door and entered. My heart beat
Everything was as it had always been, as far as I could see. Dr.
Seraskier sat in a chair by the window reading Schiller, and took no
notice of us. His hair moved in the gentle breeze. Overhead we heard
the rooms being swept and the beds made.
I followed her into a little lumber-room, where I did not remember
to have been before; it was full of odds and ends.
“Why have you brought me here?” I asked.
She laughed and said—
“Open the door in the wall opposite.”
There was no door, and I said so.
Then she took my hand, and lo! there was a door! And she
pushed, and we entered another suite of apartments that never could
have been there before; there had never been room for them—nor ever
could have been—in all Passy!
[Illustration: “'AND NEUHA LED HER TORQUIL BY THE HAND.'“]
“Come,” she said, laughing and blushing at once; for she seemed
nervous and excited and shy—do you remember—
'And Neuha led her Torquil by the hand,
And waved along the vault her flaming brand!'
—do you remember your little drawing out of The Island, in
the green morocco Byron? Here it is, in the top drawer of this
beautiful cabinet. Here are all the drawings you ever did for me—plain
and colored—with dates, explanations, etc., all written by myself—
l'album de la fee Tarapatapoum. They are only duplicates. I have the
real ones at my house in Hampshire.
The cabinet also is a duplicate;—isn't it a beauty?—it's from the
Czar's Winter Palace. Everything here is a duplicate, more or less.
See, this is a little dining-room;—did you ever see anything so
perfect?—it is the famous salle a manger of Princesse de
Chevagne. I never use it, except now and then to eat a slice of English
household bread with French butter and 'cassonade.' Little Mimsey, out
there, does so sometimes, when Gogo brings her one, and it makes big
Mimsey's mouth water to see her, so she has to go and do likewise.
Would you like a slice?
You see the cloth is spread, deux couverts. There is a bottle
of famous champagne from Mr. De Rothschild's; there's plenty more where
that came from. The flowers are from Chatsworth, and this is a lobster
salad for you. Papa was great at lobster salads and taught me. I
mixed it myself a fortnight ago, and, as you see, it is as fresh and
sweet as if I had only just made it, and the flowers haven't faded a
Here are cigarettes and pipes and cigars. I hope they are good. I
don't smoke myself.
Isn't all the furniture rare and beautiful? I have robbed every
palace in Europe of its very best, and yet the owners are not a penny
the worse. You should see up-stairs.
Look at those pictures—the very pick of Raphael and Titian and
Velasquez. Look at that piano—I have heard Liszt play upon it over and
over again, in Leipsic!
Here is my library. Every book I ever read is there, and every
binding I ever admired. I don't often read them, but I dust them
carefully. I've arranged that dust shall fall on them in the usual way
to make it real, and remind one of the outer life one is so glad to
leave. All has to be taken very seriously here, and one must put one's
self to a little trouble. See, here is my father's microscope, and
under it a small spider caught on the premises by myself. It is still
alive. It seems cruel, doesn't it? but it only exists in our brains.
Look at the dress I've got on—feel it; how every detail is worked
out. And you have unconsciously done the same: that's the suit you wore
that morning at Cray under the ash-tree—the nicest suit I ever saw.
Here is a spot of ink on your sleeve as real as can be (bravo!). And
this button is coming off—quite right; I will sew it on with a dream
needle, and dream thread, and a dream thimble!
This little door leads to every picture-gallery in Europe. It took
me a long time to build and arrange them all by myself—quite a week of
nights. It is very pleasant to walk there with a good catalogue, and
make it rain cats and dogs outside.
Through this curtain is an opera box—the most comfortable one I've
ever been in; it does for theatres as well, and oratorios and concerts
and scientific lectures. You shall see from it every performance I've
ever been at, in half a dozen languages; you shall hold my hand and
understand them all. Every singer that I ever heard, you shall hear.
Dear Giulia Grisi shall sing the 'Willow Song' again and again, and you
shall hear the applause. Ah, what applause!
Come into this little room—my favorite; out of this window
and down these steps we can walk or drive to any place you or I have
ever been to, and other places besides. Nothing is far, and we have
only to go hand in hand. I don't know yet where my stables and
coach-houses are; you must help me to find out. But so far I have never
lacked a carriage at the bottom of those steps when I wanted to drive,
nor a steam-launch, nor a gondola, nor a lovely place to go to.
Out of this window, from this divan, we can sit and gaze on
whatever we like. What shall it be? Just now, you perceive, there is a
wild and turbulent sea, with not a ship in sight. Do you hear the waves
tumbling and splashing, and see the albatross? I had been reading
Keats's 'Ode to the Nightingale,' and was so fascinated by the idea of
a lattice opening on the foam
'Of perilous seas by faery lands forlorn'
that I thought it would be nice to have a lattice like that myself.
I tried to evolve that sea from my inner consciousness, you know, or
rather from seas that I have sailed over. Do you like it? It was done a
fortnight ago, and the waves have been tumbling about ever since. How
they roar! and hark at the wind! I couldn't manage the 'faery lands.'
It wants one lattice for the sea, and one for the land, I'm afraid. You
must help me. Mean while, what would you like there tonight—the
Yosemite Valley? the Nevski Prospect in the winter, with the sledges?
the Rialto? the Bay of Naples after sunset, with Vesuvius in
—“Oh Mary—Mimsey—what do I care for Vesuvius, and sunsets, and
the Bay of Naples ... just now? ... Vesuvius is in my heart!”
* * * * *
Thus began for us both a period of twenty-five years, during which
we passed eight or nine hours out of the twenty-four in each other's
company—except on a few rare occasions, when illness or some other
cause prevented one of us from sleeping at the proper time.
I idolized her while she lived; I idolize her memory.
For her sake all women are sacred to me, even the lowest and most
depraved and God-forsaken. They always found a helping friend in her.
How can I pay a fitting tribute to one so near to me—nearer than
any woman can ever have been to any man?
I know her mind as I know my own! No two human souls can ever have
interpenetrated each other as ours have done, or we should have heard
of it. Every thought she ever had from her childhood to her death has
been revealed—every thought of mine! Living as we did, it was
inevitable. The touch of a finger was enough to establish the strange
circuit, and wake a common consciousness of past and present, either
hers or mine.
And oh, how thankful am I that some lucky chance has preserved me,
murderer and convict as I am, from anything she would have found it
impossible to condone!
I try not to think that shyness and poverty, ungainliness and social
imbecility combined, have had as much to do as self-restraint and
self-respect in keeping me out of so many pitfalls that have been fatal
to so many men better and more gifted than myself.
I try to think that her extraordinary affection, the chance result
of a persistent impression received in childhood, has followed me
through life without my knowing it, and in some occult, mysterious way
has kept me from thoughts and deeds that would have rendered me
unworthy, even in her too indulgent eyes.
Who knows but that her sweet mother's farewell kiss and blessing,
and the tender tears she shed over me when I bade her good-bye at the
avenue gate so many years ago, may have had an antiseptic charm? Mary!
I have followed her from her sickly, suffering childhood to her
girlhood—from her half-ripe, gracefully lanky girlhood to the day of
her retirement from the world of which she was so great an ornament.
From girl to woman it seems like a triumphal procession through all the
courts of Europe—scenes the like of which I have never even
dreamed—flattery and strife to have turned the head of any princess!
And she was the simple daughter of a working scientist and
physician—the granddaughter of a fiddler.
Yet even Austrian court etiquette was waived in favor of the child
of plain Dr. Seraskier.
What men have I seen at her feet—how splendid, handsome, gallant,
brilliant, chivalrous, lordly, and gay! And to all, from her, the same
happy geniality—the same kindly, laughing, frolicsome, innocent
gayety, with never a thought of self.
M. le Major was right—“elle avait toutes les intelligences de la
tete et du coeur.” And old and young, the best and the worst, seemed to
love and respect her alike—and women as well as men—for her perfect
sincerity, her sweet reasonableness.
And all this time I was plodding at my dull drawing-board in
Pentonville, carrying out another's designs for a stable or a pauper's
cottage, and not even achieving that poor task particularly well!
It would have driven me mad with humiliation and jealousy to see
this past life of hers, but we saw it all hand in hand together—the
magical circuit was established! And I knew, as I saw, how it all
affected her, and marvelled at her simplicity in thinking all this pomp
and splendor of so little consequence.
And I trembled to find that what space in her heart was not filled
by the remembrance of her ever-beloved mother and the image of her
father (one of the noblest and best of men) enshrined the ridiculous
figure of a small boy in a white silk hat and an Eton jacket. And that
small boy was I!
Then came a dreadful twelvemonth that I was fain to leave a
blank—the twelvemonth during which her girlish fancy for her husband
lasted—and then her life was mine again forever!
And my life!
The life of a convict is not, as a rule, a happy one; his bed is not
generally thought a bed of roses.
If I had been the most miserable leper that ever crawled to his
wattled hut in Molokai, I should also have been the happiest of men,
could sleep but have found me there, and could I but sleeping have been
the friend of sleeping Mary Seraskier. She would have loved me all the
She has filled my long life of bondage with such felicity as no
monarch has ever dreamed, and has found her own felicity in doing so.
That poor, plodding existence I led before my great misadventure, and
have tried to describe—she has witnessed almost every hour of it with
passionate interest and sympathy, as we went hand in hand together
through each other's past. She would at any time have been only too
glad to share it, leaving her own.
I dreaded the effect of such a sordid revelation upon one who had
lived so brilliantly and at such an altitude. I need have had no fear!
Just as she thought me an “angelic hero” at eight years old, she
remained persuaded all through her life that I was an Apollo—a
misunderstood genius—a martyr!
I am sick with shame when I think of it. But I am not the first
unworthy mortal on whom blind, undiscriminating love has chosen to
lavish its most priceless treasures. Tarapatapoum is not the only fairy
who has idealized a hulking clown with an ass's head into a Prince
Charming; the spectacle, alas! is not infrequent. But at least I have
been humbly thankful for the undeserved blessing, and known its value.
And, moreover, I think I may lay claim to one talent: that of also
knowing by intuition when and where and how to love—in a moment—in a
It seems like a thousand, so much have we seen and felt and done in
that busy enchanted quarter of a century. And yet how quickly the time
And now I must endeavor to give some account of our wonderful inner
life—a deux—a delicate and difficult task.
There is both an impertinence and a lack of taste in any man's
laying bare to the public eye—to any eye—the bliss that has come to
him through the love of a devoted woman, with whose life his own has
been bound up.
The most sympathetic reader is apt to be repelled by such a
revelation—to be sceptical of the beauties and virtues and mental
gifts of one he has never seen; at all events, to feel that they are no
concern of his, and ought to be the subject of a sacred reticence on
the part of her too fortunate lover or husband.
The lack of such reticence has marred the interest of many an
autobiography—of many a novel, even; and in private life, who does not
know by painful experience how embarrassing to the listener such tender
confidences can sometimes be? I will try my best not to transgress in
this particular. If I fail (I may have failed already), I can only
plead that the circumstances are quite exceptional and not to be
matched; and that allowances must be made for the deep gratitude I owe
and feel over and above even my passionate admiration and love.
For the next three years of my life has nothing to show but the
alternation of such honeymooning as never was before with a dull but
contented prison life, not one hour of which is worth recording, or
even remembering, except as a foil to its alternative.
It had but one hour for me, the bed hour, and fortunately that was
an early one.
Healthily tired in body, blissfully expectant in mind, I would lie
on my back, with my hands duly crossed under my head, and sleep would
soon steal over me like balm; and before I had forgotten who and what
and where I really was, I would reach the goal on which my will was
intent, and waking up, find my body in another place, in another garb,
on a couch by an enchanted window, still with my arms crossed behind my
head—in the sacramental attitude.
Then would I stretch my limbs and slip myself free of my outer life,
as a new-born butterfly from the durance of its self-spun cocoon, with
an unutterable sense of youth and strength and freshness and felicity;
and opening my eyes I would see on the adjacent couch the form of Mary,
also supine, but motionless and inanimate as a statue. Nothing could
wake her to life till the time came: her hours were somewhat later, and
she was still in the toils of the outer life I had just left behind me.
And these toils, in her case, were more complicated than in mine.
Although she had given up the world, she had many friends and an
immense correspondence. And then, being a woman endowed with boundless
health and energy, splendid buoyancy of animal spirits, and a great
capacity for business, she had made for herself many cares and
She was the virtual mistress of a home for fallen women, a
reformatory for juvenile thieves, and a children's convalescent
hospital—to all of which she gave her immediate personal
superintendence, and almost every penny she had. She had let her house
in Hampshire, and lived with a couple of female servants in a small
furnished house on Campden Hill. She did without a carriage, and went
about in cabs and omnibuses, dressed like a daily governess, though
nobody could appear more regally magnificent than she did when we were
She still kept her name and title, as a potent weapon of influence
on behalf of her charities, and wielded it mercilessly in her constant
raid on the purse of the benevolent Philistine, who is fond of great
All of which gave rise to much comment that did not affect her
equanimity in the least.
She also attended lectures, committees, boards, and councils; opened
bazaars and soup kitchens and coffee taverns, etc. The list of her
self-imposed tasks was endless. Thus her outer life was filled to
overflowing, and, unlike mine, every hour of it was worth record—as I
well know, who have witnessed it all. But this is not the place in
which to write the outer life of the Duchess of Towers; another hand
has done that, as everybody knows.
Every page henceforward must be sacred to Mary Seraskier, the “fee
Tarapatapoum” of “Magna sed Apta” (for so we had called the new home
and palace of art she had added on to “Parva sed Apta,” the home of her
To return thither, where we left her lying unconscious. Soon the
color would come back to her cheeks, the breath to her nostrils, the
pulse to her heart, and she would wake to her Eden, as she called
it—our common inner life—that we might spend it in each other's
company for the next eight hours.
Pending this happy moment, I would make coffee (such coffee!), and
smoke a cigarette or two; and to fully appreciate the bliss of that
one must be an habitual smoker who lives his real life in an English
When she awoke from her sixteen hours' busy trance in the outer
world, such a choice of pleasures lay before us as no other mortal has
ever known. She had been all her life a great traveller, and had dwelt
in many lands and cities, and seen more of life and the world and
nature than most people. I had but to take her hand, and one of us had
but to wish, and, lo! wherever either of us had been, whatever either
of us had seen or heard or felt, or even eaten or drunk, there it was
all over again to choose from, with the other to share in it—such a
hypnotism of ourselves and each other as was never dreamed of before.
Everything was as life-like, as real to us both, as it had been to
either at the actual time of its occurrence, with an added freshness
and charm that never belonged to mortal existence. It was no dream; it
was a second life, a better land.
We had, however, to stay within certain bounds, and beware of
transgressing certain laws that we discovered for ourselves, but could
not quite account for. For instance, it was fatal to attempt exploits
that were outside of our real experience; to fly, or to jump from a
height, or do any of these non-natural things that make the charm and
wonder of ordinary dreams. If we did so our true dream was blurred, and
became as an ordinary dream—vague, futile, unreal, and untrue—the
baseless fabric of a vision. Nor must we alter ourselves in any way;
even to the shape of a finger-nail, we must remain ourselves; although
we kept ourselves at our very best, and could choose what age we should
be. We chose from twenty-six to twenty-eight, and stuck to it.
Yet there were many things, quite as impossible in real life, that
we could do with impunity—most delightful things!
For instance, after the waking cup of coffee, it was certainly
delightful to spend a couple of hours in the Yosemite Valley, leisurely
strolling about and gazing at the giant pines—a never-palling source
of delight to both of us—breathing the fragrant fresh air, looking at
our fellow-tourists and listening to their talk, with the agreeable
consciousness that, solid and substantial as we were to each other, we
were quite inaudible, invisible, and intangible to them. Often we would
dispense with the tourists, and have the Yosemite Valley all to
ourselves. (Always there, and in whatever place she had visited with
her husband, we would dispense with the figure of her former self and
him, a sight I could not have borne.)
When we had strolled and gazed our fill, it was delightful again,
just by a slight effort of her will and a few moments' closing of our
eyes, to find ourselves driving along the Via Cornice to an exquisite
garden concert in Dresden, or being rowed in a gondola to a Saturday
Pop at St. James's Hall. And thence, jumping into a hansom, we would be
whisked through Piccadilly and the park to the Arc de Triomphe home to
“Magna sed Apta,” Rue de la Pompe, Passy (a charming drive, and not a
bit too long), just in time for dinner.
A very delicious little dinner, judiciously ordered out of her
remembrance, not mine (and served in the most exquisite little
dining-room in all Paris—the Princesse de Chevagne's): “huitres
d'Ostende,” let us say, and “soupe a la bonne femme,” with a “perdrix
aux choux” to follow, and pancakes, and “fromage de Brie;” and to
drink, a bottle of “Romane Conti;” without even the bother of waiters
to change the dishes; a wish, a moment's shutting of the eyes—
augenblick! and it was done—and then we could wait on each other.
After my prison fare, and with nothing but tenpenny London dinners
to recollect in the immediate past, I trust I shall not be thought a
gross materialist for appreciating these small banquets, and in such
company. (The only dinner I could recall which was not a tenpenny one,
except the old dinners of my childhood, was that famous dinner at Cray,
where I had discovered that the Duchess of Towers was Mimsey Seraskier,
and I did not eat much of that.)
Then a cigarette and a cup of coffee, and a glass of curacoa; and
after, to reach our private box we had but to cross the room and lift a
And there before us was the theatre or opera-house brilliantly
lighted, and the instruments tuning up, and the splendid company
pouring in: crowned heads, famous beauties, world-renowned warriors and
statesmen, Garibaldi, Gortschakoff, Cavour, Bismarck, and Moltke, now
so famous, and who not? Mary would point them out to me. And in the
next box Dr. Seraskier and his tall daughter, who seemed friends with
all that brilliant crowd.
Now it was St. Petersburg, now Berlin, now Vienna, Paris, Naples,
Milan, London—every great city in turn. But our box was always the
same, and always the best in the house, and I the one person privileged
to smoke my cigar in the face of all that royalty, fashion, and
Then, after the overture, up went the curtain. If it was a play, and
the play was in German or Russian or Italian, I had but to touch Mary's
little finger to understand it all—a true but incomprehensible thing.
For well as I might understand, I could not have spoken a word of
either, and the moment that slight contact was discontinued, they might
as well have been acting in Greek or Hebrew, for me.
But it was for music we cared the most, and I think I may say that
of music during those three years (and ever after) we have had our
glut. For all through her busy waking life Mary found time to hear
whatever good music was going on in London, that she might bring it
back to me at night; and we would rehear it together, again and again,
and da capo.
It is a rare privilege for two private individuals, and one of them
a convict, to assist at a performance honored by the patronage and
presence of crowned heads, and yet be able to encore any particular
thing that pleases them. How often have we done that!
Oh, Joachim! oh, Clara Schumann! oh, Piattil—all of whom I know so
well, but have never heard with the fleshly ear! Oh, others, whom it
would be invidious to mention without mentioning all—a glorious list!
How we have made you, all unconscious, repeat the same movements over
and over again, without ever from you a sign of impatience or fatigue!
How often have we summoned Liszt to play to us on his own favorite
piano, which adorned our own favorite sitting-room! How little he knew
(or will ever know now, alas!) what exquisite delight he gave us!
Oh, Pattit, Angelina! Oh, Santley and Sims Reeves! Oh, De Soria,
nightingale of the drawing-room, I wonder you have a note left!
And you, Ristori, and you, Salvini, et vous, divine Sarah, qui
debutiez alors! On me dit que votre adorable voix a perdu un peu de sa
premiere fraicheur. Cela ne m'etonne pas! Bien sur, nous y sommes pour
* * * * *
And then the picture-galleries, the museums, the botanical and
zoological gardens of all countries—“Magna sed Apta” had space for
them all, even to the Elgin Marbles room of the British Museum, which I
What enchanted hours have we spent among the pictures and statues of
the world, weeding them here and there, perhaps, or hanging them
differently, or placing them in what we thought a better light! The
“Venus of Milo” showed to far greater advantage in “Magna sed Apta"
than at the Louvre.
And when busied thus delightfully at home, and to enhance the
delight, we made it shocking bad weather outside; it rained cats and
dogs, or else the north wind piped, and snow fell on the desolate
gardens of “Magna sed Apta,” and whitened the landscape as far as eye
Nearest to our hearts, however, were many pictures of our own time,
for we were moderns of the moderns, after all, in spite of our efforts
There was scarcely a living or recently living master in Europe
whose best works were not in our possession, so lighted and hung that
even the masters themselves would have been content; for we had plenty
of space at our command, and each picture had a wall to itself, so
toned as to do full justice to its beauty, and a comfortable sofa for
two just opposite.
But in the little room we most lived in, the room with the magic
window, we had crowded a few special favorites of the English school,
for we had so much foreign blood in us that we were more British than
John Bull himself—plus royalistes que le Roi.
There was Millais's “Autumn Leaves,” his “Youth of Sir Walter
Raleigh,” his “Chill October”; Watts's “Endymion,” and “Orpheus and
Eurydice”; Burne-Jones's “Chant d'Amour,” and his “Laus Veneris”;
Alma-Tadema's “Audience of Agrippa,” and the “Women of Amphissa”; J.
Whistler's portrait of his mother; the “Venus and Aesculapius,” by E.
J. Poynter; F. Leighton's “Daphnephoria”; George Mason's “Harvest
Moon”; and Frederic Walker's “Harbor of Refuge,” and, of course,
While on a screen, designed by H. S. Marks, and exquisitely
decorated round the margin with golden plovers and their eggs (which I
adore), were smaller gems in oil and water-color that Mary had fallen
in love with at one time or another. The immortal “Moonlight Sonata,”
by Whistler; E, J. Poynter's exquisite “Our Lady of the Fields” (dated
Paris, 1857); a pair of adorable “Bimbi” by V. Prinsep, who seems very
fond of children; T. R. Lamont's touching “L'Apres Diner de l'Abbe
Constantin,” with the sweet girl playing the old spinet; and that
admirable work of T. Armstrong, in his earlier and more realistic
manner, “Le Zouave et la Nounou,” not to mention splendid rough
sketches by John Leech, Charles Keene, Tenniel, Sambourne, Furniss,
Caldecott, etc.; not to mention, also, endless little sketches in
silver point of a most impossibly colossal, blackavised, shaggy-coated
St. Bernard—signed with the familiar French name of some gay
troubadour of the pencil, some stray half-breed like myself, and who
seems to have loved his dog as much as I loved mine.
Then suddenly, in the midst of all this unparalleled artistic
splendor, we felt that a something was wanting. There was a certain
hollowness about it; and we discovered that in our case the principal
motives for collecting all these beautiful things were absent.
1. We were not the sole possessors.
2. We had nobody to show them to.
3. Therefore we could take no pride in them.
[Illustration: THE NURSERY SCHOOL-ROOM.]
And found that when we wanted bad weather for a change, and the joys
of home, we could be quite as happy in my old school-room, where the
squirrels and the monkey and the hedgehog were, with each of us on a
cane-bottomed arm-chair by the wood-fire, each roasting chestnuts for
the other, and one book between us, for one of us to read out loud; or,
better still, the morning and evening papers she had read a few hours
earlier; and marvellous to relate, she had not even read them
when awake! she had merely glanced through them carefully, taking in
the aspect of each column one after another, from top to bottom—and
yet she was able to read out every word from the dream-paper she held
in her hands—thus truly chewing the very cud of journalism!
This always seemed to us, in a small but practical way, the most
complete and signal triumph of mind over matter we had yet achieved.
Not, indeed, that we could read much, we had so much to talk about.
Unfortunately, the weak part of “Magna sed Apta” was its library.
Naturally it could only consist of books that one or the other of us
had read when awake. She had led such an active life that but little
leisure had been left her for books, and I had read only as an
every-day young man reads who is fond of reading.
However, such books as we had read were made the most of, and
so magnificently bound that even their authors would have blushed with
pride and pleasure had they been there to see. And though we had little
time for reading them over again, we could enjoy the true bibliophilous
delight of gazing at their backs, and taking them down and fingering
them and putting them carefully back again.
In most of these treats, excursions, festivities, and pleasures of
the fireside, Mary was naturally leader and hostess; it could scarcely
have been otherwise.
There was once a famous Mary, of whom it was said that to know her
was a liberal education. I think I may say that to have known Mary
Seraskier has been all that to me!
But now and then I would make some small attempt at returning her
We have slummed together in Clerkenwell, Smithfield, Cow Cross,
Petticoat Lane, Ratcliffe Highway, and the East India and West India
She has been with me to penny gaffs and music-halls; to Greenwich
Fair, and Cremorne and Rosherville gardens—and liked them all. She
knew Pentonville as well as I do; and my old lodgings there, where we
have both leaned over my former shoulder as I read or drew. It was she
who rescued from oblivion my little prophetic song about “The Chime,”
which I had quite forgotten. She has been to Mr. Lintot's parties, and
found them most amusing—especially Mr. Lintot.
And going further back into the past, she has roamed with me all
over Paris, and climbed with me the towers of Notre Dame, and looked in
vain for the mystic word [Greek: Anagkae]!
But I had also better things to show, untravelled as I was.
She had never seen Hampstead Heath, which I knew by heart; and
Hampstead Heath at any time, but especially on a sunny morning in late
October, is not to be disdained by any one.
Half the leaves have fallen, so that one can see the fading glory of
those that remain; yellow and brown and pale and hectic red, shining
like golden guineas and bright copper coins against the rich, dark,
business-like green of the trees that mean to flourish all the winter
through, like the tall slanting pines near the Spaniards, and the old
cedar-trees, and hedges of yew and holly, for which the Hampstead
gardens are famous.
Before us lies a sea of fern, gone a russet-brown from decay, in
which are isles of dark green gorse, and little trees with little
scarlet and orange and lemon-colored leaflets fluttering down, and
running after each other on the bright grass, under the brisk west wind
which makes the willows rustle, and turn up the whites of their leaves
in pious resignation to the coming change.
Harrow-on-the-Hill, with its pointed spire, rises blue in the
distance; and distant ridges, like receding waves, rise into blueness,
one after the other, out of the low-lying mist; the last ridge bluely
melting into space. In the midst of it all gleams the Welsh Harp Lake,
like a piece of sky that has become unstuck and tumbled into the
landscape with its shiny side up.
On the other side, all London, with nothing but the gilded cross of
St. Paul's on a level with the eye; it lies at our feet, as Paris used
to do from the heights of Passy, a sight to make true dreamers gaze and
think and dream the more; and there we sit thinking and dreaming and
gazing our fill, hand in hand, our spirits rushing together.
Once as we sat we heard the clatter of hoofs behind us, and there
was a troop of my old regiment out exercising. Invisible to all but
ourselves, and each other, we watched the wanton troopers riding by on
their meek black chargers.
First came the cornet—a sunny-haired Apollo, a gilded youth,
graceful and magnificent to the eye—careless, fearless, but stupid,
harsh, and proud—an English Phebus de Chateaupers—the son of a great
contractor; I remembered him well, and that he loved me not. Then the
rank and file in stable jackets, most of them (but for a stalwart
corporal here and there) raw, lanky youths, giving promise of much
future strength, and each leading a second horse; and among them,
longest and lankiest of them all, but ruddy as a ploughboy, and
stolidly whistling “On revient toujours a ses premiers amours,”
rode my former self—a sight (or sound) that seemed to touch some
tender chord in Mary's nature, where there were so many, since it
filled her eyes with tears.
To describe in full a honey-moon filled with such adventures, and
that lasted for three years, is unnecessary. It would be but another
superficial record of travel, by another unskilled pen. And what a pen
is wanted for such a theme! It was not mere life, it was the very cream
and essence of life, that we shared with each other—all the toil and
trouble, the friction and fatigue, left out. The necessary earthly
journey through time and space from one joy to another was omitted,
unless such a journey were a joy in itself.
For instance, a pleasant hour can be spent on the deck of a splendid
steamer, as it cleaves its way through a sapphire tropical sea, bound
for some lovely West Indian islet; with a good cigar and the dearest
companion in the world, watching the dolphins and the flying-fish, and
mildly interesting one's self in one's fellow-passengers, the captain,
the crew. And then, the hour spent and the cigar smoked out, it is well
to shut one's eyes and have one's self quietly lowered down the side of
the vessel into a beautiful sledge, and then, half smothered in costly
furs, to be whirled along the frozen Neva to a ball at the Winter
Palace, there to valse with one's Mary among all the beauty and
chivalry of St. Petersburg, and never a soul to find fault with one's
valsing, which at first was far from perfect, or one's attire, which
was not that of the fashionable world of the day, nor was Mary's
either. We were aesthetic people, and very Greek, who made for
ourselves fashions of our own, which I will not describe.
Where have we not waltzed together, from Buckingham Palace downward?
I confess I grew to take a delight in valsing, or waltzing, or whatever
it is properly called; and although it is not much to boast of, I may
say that after a year or two no better dancer than I was to be found in
And here, by the way, I may mention what pleasure it gave me (hand
in hand with Mary, of course, as usual) to renew and improve my
acquaintance with our British aristocracy, begun so agreeably many
years ago at Lady Cray's concert.
Our British aristocracy does not waltz well by any means, and lacks
lightness generally; but it may gratify and encourage some of its
members to hear that Peter Ibbetson (ex-private soldier, architect and
surveyor, convict and criminal lunatic), who has had unrivalled
opportunities for mixing with the cream of European society, considers
our British aristocracy quite the best-looking, best-dressed, and
best-behaved aristocracy of them all, and the most sensible and the
least exclusive—perhaps the most sensible because the least
It often snubs, but does not altogether repulse, those gifted and
privileged outsiders who (just for the honor and glory of the thing)
are ever so ready to flatter and instruct and amuse it, and run its
errands, and fetch and carry, and tumble for its pleasure, and even to
marry such of its “ugly ducklings” (or shall we say such of its
“unprepossessing cygnets?”) as cannot hope to mate with birds of their
For it has the true English eye for physical beauty.
Indeed, it is much given to throw the handkerchief—successfully, of
course—and, most fortunately for itself, beyond the pale of its own
narrow precincts—nay, beyond the broad Atlantic, even, to the land
where beauty and dollars are to be found in such happy combination.
Nor does it disdain the comeliness of the daughters of Israel, nor
their shekels, nor their brains, nor their ancient and most valuable
blood. It knows the secret virtue of that mechanical transfusion of
fluids familiar to science under the name of “endosmoses” and
“exosmoses” (I hope I have spelled them rightly), and practises the
same. Whereby it shows itself wise in its generation, and will endure
the longer, which cannot be very long.
Peter Ibbetson (etc., etc.), for one, wishes it no manner of harm.
* * * * *
But to return. With all these temptations of travel and amusement
and society and the great world, such was our insatiable fondness for
“the pretty place of our childhood” and all its associations, that our
greatest pleasure of all was to live our old life over again and again,
and make Gogo and Mimsey and our parents and cousins and M. le Major go
through their old paces once more; and to recall new old paces
for them, which we were sometimes able to do, out of stray forgotten
bits of the past; to hunt for which was the most exciting sport in the
Our tenderness for these beloved shades increased with familiarity.
We could see all the charm and goodness and kindness of these dear
fathers and mothers of ours with the eyes of matured experience, for we
were pretty much of an age with them now; no other children could ever
say as much since the world began, and how few young parents could bear
such a scrutiny as ours.
Ah! what would we not have given to extort just a spark of
recognition, but that was impossible; or to have been able to whisper
just a word of warning, which would have averted the impending strokes
of inexorable fate! They might have been alive now, perhaps—old
indeed, but honored and loved as no parents ever were before. How
different everything would have been! Alas! alas!
And of all things in the world, we never tired of that walk through
the avenue and park and Bois de Boulogne to the Mare d'Auteuil;
strolling there leisurely on an early spring afternoon, just in time to
spend a midsummer hour or two on its bank, and watch the old water-rat
and the dytiscus and the tadpoles and newts, and see the frogs jump;
and then walking home at dusk in the school-room of my old home; and
then back to war, well-lighted “Magna sed Apta” by moonlight through
the avenue on New Year's Eve, ankle-deep in snow; all in a few short
Dream winds and dream weathers—what an enchantment! And all real!
Soft caressing rains that do not wet us if we do not wish them to;
sharp frosts that brace but never chill; blazing suns that neither
scorch nor dazzle.
Blustering winds of early spring, that seem to sweep right through
these solid frames of ours, and thrill us to the very marrow with the
old heroic excitement and ecstasy we knew so well in happy childhood,
but can no longer feel now when awake!
Bland summer breezes, heavy with the scent of long lost French woods
and fields and gardens in full flower; swift, soft, moist equinoctial
gales, blowing from the far-off orchards of Meudon, or the old market
gardens of Suresnes in their autumnal decay, and laden, we do not know
why, with strange, mysterious, troubling reminiscence too subtle and
elusive to be expressed in any tongue—too sweet for any words! And
then the dark December wind that comes down from the north, and brings
the short, early twilights and the snow, and drives us home, pleasantly
shivering, to the chimney-corner and the hissing logs—chez nous!
It is the last night of an old year—la veille du jour de l'an.
Ankle-deep in snow, we walk to warm, well-lighted “Magna sed Apta,”
up the moonlit avenue. It is dream snow, and yet we feel it crunch
beneath our feet; but if we turn to look, the tracks of our footsteps
have disappeared—and we cast no shadows, though the moon is full!
M. le Major goes by, and Yverdon the postman, and Pere Francois,
with his big sabots, and others, and their footprints remain—and their
shadows are strong and sharp!
They wish each other the compliments of the season as they meet and
pass; they wish us nothing! We give them la bonne annee at the
tops of our voices; they do not heed us in the least, though our voices
are as resonant as theirs. We are wishing them a “Happy New Year,” that
dawned for good or evil nearly twenty years ago.
Out comes Gogo from the Seraskiers', with Mimsey. He makes a
snowball and throws it. It flies straight through me, and splashes
itself on Pere Francois's broad back. “Ah, ce polisson de Monsieur Gogo
... attendez un peu!” and Pere Francois returns the
compliment—straight through me again, as it seems; and I do not even
feel it! Mary and I are as solid to each other as flesh and blood can
make us. We cannot even touch these dream people without their melting
away into thin air; we can only hear and see them, but that in
There goes that little Andre Corbin, the poulterer's son, running
along the slippery top of Madame Pele's garden wall, which is nearly
ten feet high.
“Good heavens,” cries Mary, “stop him! Don't you remember? When he
gets to the corner he'll fall down and break both his legs!”
I rush and bellow out to him—
“Descends donc, malheureux; tu vas te casser les deux jambes! Saute!
saute!” ... I cry, holding out my arms. He does not pay the slightest
attention: he reaches the corner, followed low down by Gogo and Mimsey,
who are beside themselves with generous envy and admiration. Stimulated
by their applause, he becomes more foolhardy than ever, and even tries
to be droll, and standing on one leg, sings a little song that begins—
“Maman m'a donne quat' sous Pour m'en aller a la foire, Non pas
pour manger ni boire, Alais pour m'regaler d'joujoux!”
Then suddenly down he slips, poor boy, and breaks both his legs
below the knee on an iron rail, whereby he becomes a cripple for life.
All this sad little tragedy of a New-year's Eve plays itself anew.
The sympathetic crowd collects; Mimsey and Gogo weep; the heart-broken
parents arrive, and the good little doctor Larcher; and Mary and I look
on like criminals, so impossible it seems not to feel that we might
have prevented it all!
We two alone are alive and substantial in all this strange world of
shadows, who seem, as far as we can hear and see, no less substantial
and alive than ourselves. They exist for us; we do not exist for them.
We exist for each other only, waking or sleeping; for even the people
among whom our waking life is spent know hardly more of us, and what
our real existence is, than poor little Andre Corbin, who has just
broken his legs for us over again!
And so, back to “Magna sed Apta,” both saddened by this deplorable
misadventure, to muse and talk and marvel over these wonders;
penetrated to the very heart's core by a dim sense of some vast,
mysterious power, latent in the sub-consciousness of man—unheard of,
undreamed of as yet, but linking him with the Infinite and the Eternal.
And how many things we always had to talk about besides!
Heaven knows, I am not a brilliant conversationalist, but she was
the most easily amusable person in the world—interested in everything
that interested me, and I disdamaged myself (to use one of her
Anglo-Gallicisms) of the sulky silence of years.
Of her as a companion it is not for me to speak. It would be
impertinent, and even ludicrous, for a person in my position to dilate
on the social gifts of the famous Duchess of Towers.
Incredible as it may appear, however, most of our conversation was
about very common and earthly topics—her homes and refuges, the
difficulties of their management, her eternal want of money, her many
schemes and plans and experiments and failures and disenchantments—in
all of which I naturally took a very warm interest. And then my jail,
and all that occurred there—in all of which I became interested myself
because it interested her so passionately; she knew every corner of it
that I knew, every detail of the life there—the name, appearance, and
history of almost every inmate, and criticised its internal economy
with a practical knowledge of affairs; a business-like sagacity at
which I never ceased to marvel.
One of my drollest recollections is of a visit she paid there in
the flesh, by some famous philanthropists of both sexes. I was
interviewed by them all as the model prisoner, who, for his
unorthodoxy, was a credit to the institution. She listened demurely to
my intelligent answers when I was questioned as to my bodily health,
etc., and asked whether I had any complaints to make. Complaints! Never
was jail-bird so thoroughly satisfied with his nest—so healthy, so
happy, so well-behaved. She took notes all the time.
[Illustration: MARY, DUCHESS OF TOWERS. From a photograph by
Eight hours before we had been strolling hand in hand through the
Uffizi Gallery in Florence; eight hours later we should be in each
* * * * *
Strange to relate, this happiness of ours—so deep, so acute, so
transcendent, so unmatched in all the history of human affection—was
not always free of unreasonable longings and regrets. Man is never so
blessed but what he would have his blessedness still greater.
The reality of our close companionship, of our true possession of
each other (during our allotted time), was absolute, complete, and
thorough. No Darby that ever lived can ever have had sweeter, warmer,
more tender memories of any Joan than I have now of Mary Seraskier!
Although each was, in a way, but a seeming illusion of the other's
brain, the illusion was no illusion for us. It was an illusion that
showed the truth, as does the illusion of sight. Like twin kernels in
one shell (“Philipschen,” as Mary called it), we touched at more points
and were closer than the rest of mankind (with each of them a separate
shell of his own). We tried and tested this in every way we could
devise, and never found ourselves at fault, and never ceased to marvel
at so great a wonder. For instance, I received letters from her in jail
(and answered them) in an intricate cipher we had invented and
perfected together entirely during sleep, and referring to things that
had happened to us both when together.[A]
[Footnote A: Note.—Several of these letters are in my
possession. MADGE PLUNKET.]
Our privileges were such as probably no human beings could have ever
enjoyed before. Time and space were annihilated for us at the mere wish
of either—we lived in a palace of delight; all conceivable luxuries
were ours—and, better than all, and perennially, such freshness and
elation as belong only to the morning of life—and such a love for each
other (the result of circumstances not to be paralleled) as time could
never slake or quench till death should come and part us. All this, and
more, was our portion for eight hours out of twenty-four.
So what must we do sometimes, but fret that the sixteen hours which
remained did not belong to us well; that we must live two-thirds of our
lives apart; that we could not share the toils and troubles of our
work-a-day, waking existence, as we shared the blissful guerdon of our
seeming sleep—the glories of our common dream.
And then we would lament the lost years we had spent in mutual
ignorance and separation—a deplorable waste of life; when life,
sleeping or waking, was so short.
How different things might have been with us had we but known!
We need never have lost sight and touch of each other; we might have
grown up, and learned and worked and struggled together from the
first—boy and girl, brother and sister, lovers, man and wife—and yet
have found our blessed dream-land and dwelt in it just the same.
Children might have been born to us! Sweet children, beaux comme
le jour, as in Madame Perrault's fairy tales; even beautiful and
good as their mother.
And as we talked of these imaginary little beings and tried to
picture them, we felt in ourselves such a stupendous capacity for
loving the same that we would fall to weeping on each other's
shoulders. Full well I knew, even as if they had formed a part of my
own personal experience, all the passion and tenderness, all the wasted
anguish of her brief, ill-starred motherhood: the very ache of my
jealousy that she should have borne a child to another man was
forgotten in that keen and thorough comprehension! Ah, yes ... that
hungry love, that woful pity, which not to know is hardly quite to have
lived! Childless as I am (though old enough to be a grandfather) I have
it all by heart!
Never could we hope for son or daughter of our own. For us the
blessed flower of love in rich, profuse, unfading bloom; but its
blessed fruit of life, never, never, never!
Our only children were Mimsey and Gogo, between whom and ourselves
was an impassable gulf, and who were unconscious of our very existence,
except for Mimsey's strange consciousness that a Fairy Tarapatapoum and
a Prince Charming were watching over them.
All this would always end, as it could not but end, in our realizing
the more fully our utter dependence on each other for all that made
life not only worth living, ingrates that we were, but a heaven on
earth for us both; and, indeed, we could not but recognize that merely
thus to love and be loved was in itself a thing so immense (without all
the other blessings we had) that we were fain to tremble at our
audacity in daring to wish for more.
* * * * *
Thus sped three years, and would have sped all the rest, perhaps,
but for an incident that made an epoch in our joint lives, and turned
all our thoughts and energies in a new direction.
Some petty annoyance to which I had been subjected by one of the
prison authorities had kept me awake for a little while after I had
gone to bed, so that when at last I awoke in “Magna sed Apta,” and lay
on my couch there (with that ever-fresh feeling of coming to life in
heaven after my daily round of work in an earthly jail), I was
conscious that Mary was there already, making coffee, the fragrance of
which filled the room, and softly humming a tune as she did so—a
quaint, original, but most beautiful tune, that thrilled me with
indescribable emotion, for I had never heard it with the bodily ear
before, and yet it was as familiar to me as “God save the Queen.”
As I listened with rapt ears and closed eyes, wonderful scenes
passed before my mental vision: the beautiful white-haired lady of my
childish dreams, leading a small female child by the hand, and
that child was myself; the pigeons and their tower, the stream and the
water-mill; the white-haired young man with red heels to his shoes; a
very fine lady, very tall, stout, and middle-aged, magnificently
dressed in brocaded silk; a park with lawns and alleys and trees cut
into trim formal shapes; a turreted castle—all kinds of charming
scenes and people of another age and country.
“What on earth is that wonderful tune, Mary?” I exclaimed, when she
had finished it.
“It's my favorite tune,” she answered; “I seldom hum it for fear of
wearing away its charm. I suppose that is why you have never heard it
before. Isn't it lovely? I've been trying to lull you awake with it.
“My grandfather, the violinist, used to play it with variations of
his own, and made it famous in his time; but it was never published,
and it's now forgotten.
“It is called 'Le Chant du Triste Commensal,' and was composed by
his grandmother, a beautiful French woman, who played the fiddle too;
but not as a profession. He remembered her playing it when he was a
child and she was quite an old lady, just as I remember his
playing it when I was a girl in Vienna, and he was a white-haired old
man. She used to play holding her fiddle downward, on her knee, it
seems; and always played in perfect tune, quite in the middle of the
note, and with excellent taste and expression; it was her playing that
decided his career. But she was like 'Single-speech Hamilton,' for this
was the only thing she ever composed. She composed it under great grief
and excitement, just after her husband had died from the bite of a
wolf, and just before the birth of her twin-daughters—her only
children—one of whom was my great-grandmother.”
“And what was this wonderful old lady's name?”
“Gatienne Aubery; she married a Breton squire called Budes, who was
a gentilhomme verrier near St. Prest, in Anjou—that is, he made
glass—decanters, water-bottles, tumblers, and all that, I suppose—in
spite of his nobility. It was not considered derogatory to do so;
indeed, it was the only trade permitted to the noblesse, and one
had to be at least a squire to engage in it.
“She was a very notable woman, la belle Verriere, as she was
called; and she managed the glass factory for many years after her
husband's death, and made lots of money for her two daughters.”
“How strange!” I exclaimed; “Gatienne Aubery! Dame du
Brail—Budes—the names are quite familiar to me. Mathurin Budes,
Seigneur de Monhoudeard et de Verny le Moustier.”
“Yes, that's it. How wonderful that you should know! One daughter,
Jeanne, married my greatgrandfather, an officer in the Hungarian army;
and Seraskier, the fiddler, was their only child. The other (so like
her sister that only her mother could distinguish them) was called
Anne, and married a Comte de Bois something.”
“Boismorinel. Why, all those names are in my family too. My father
used to make me paint their arms and quarterings when I was a child, on
Sunday mornings, to keep me quiet. Perhaps we are related by blood, you
“Oh, that would be too delightful!” said Mary. “I wonder how we
could find out? Have you no family papers?”
I. “There were lots of them, in a horse-hair trunk, but I
don't know where they are now. What good would family papers have been
to me? Ibbetson took charge of them when I changed my name. I suppose
his lawyers have got them.”
She. “Happy thought; we will do without lawyers. Let us go
round to your old house, and make Gogo paint the quarterings over again
for us, and look over his shoulder.”
Happy thought, indeed! We drank our coffee and went straight to my
old house, with the wish (immediate father to the deed) that Gogo
should be there, once more engaged in his long forgotten accomplishment
of painting coats of arms.
It was a beautiful Sunday morning, and we found Gogo hard at work at
a small table by an open window. The floor was covered with old deeds
and parchments and family papers; and le beau Pasquier, at another
table, was deep in his own pedigree, making notes on the margin—an
occupation in which he delighted—and unconsciously humming as he did
so. The sunny room was filled with the penetrating soft sound of his
voice, as a conservatory is filled with the scent of its flowers.
By the strangest inconsistency my dear father, a genuine republican
at heart (for all his fancied loyalty to the white lily of the
Bourbons), a would-be scientist, who in reality was far more impressed
by a clever and industrious French mechanic than by a prince (and
would, I think, have preferred the former's friendship and society),
yet took both a pleasure and a pride in his quaint old parchments and
obscure quarterings. So would I, perhaps, if things had gone
differently with me—for what true democrat, however intolerant of such
weakness in others, ever thinks lightly of his own personal claims to
aristocratic descent, shadowy as these may be!
He was fond of such proverbs and aphorisms as “noblesse oblige,”
“bon sang ne sait mentir,” “bon chien chasse de race,” etc., and had
even invented a little aphorism of his own, to comfort him when he was
extra hard up, “bon gentilhomme n'a jamais honte de la misere.” All of
which sayings, to do him justice, he reserved for home consumption
exclusively, and he would have been the first to laugh on hearing them
in the mouth of any one else.
Of his one great gift, the treasure in his throat, he thought
absolutely nothing at all.
“Ce que c'est que de nous!”
Gogo was coloring the quarterings of the Pasquier family—la
maison de Pasquier, as it was called—in a printed book (
Armorial General du Maine et de l'Anjou), according to the
instructions that were given underneath. He used one of Madame Liard's
three-sou boxes, and the tints left much to be desired.
We looked over his shoulder and read the picturesque old jargon,
which sounds even prettier and more comforting and more idiotic in
French than in English. It ran thus—
“Pasquier (branche des Seigneurs de la Mariere et du Hirel), party
de 4 pieces et coupe de 2.
“Au premier, de Herault, qui est de ecartele de gueules et d'argent.
“Au deux, de Budes, qui est d'or au pin de sinople.
“Au trois, d'Aubery—qui est d'azur a trois croissants d'argent.
“Au quatre, de Busson qui est d'argent au lyon de sable arme
couronne et lampasse d'or,” And so on, through the other quarterings:
Bigot, Epinay, Malestroit, Mathefelon. And finally, “Sur le tout, de
Pasquier qui est d'or a trois lyons d'azur, au franc quartier ecartele
des royames de Castille et de Leon.”
Presently my mother came home from the English chapel in the Rue
Marboeuf, where she had been with Sarah, the English maid. Lunch was
announced, and we were left alone with the family papers. With infinite
precautions, for fear of blurring the dream, we were able to find what
we wanted to find—namely, that we were the great-great-grandchildren
and only possible living descendants of Gatienne, the fair glassmaker
and composer of “Le Chant du Triste Commensal.”
Thus runs the descent—
Jean Aubery, Seigneur du Brail, married Anne Busson. His daughter,
Gatienne Aubery, Dame du Brail, married Mathurin Budes, Seigneur de
Verny le Moustier et de Monhoudeard.
—————————————^————————————— / \
Anne Budes, Dame de Jeanne Budes, Dame du
Verny le Moustier, married Brail et de Monhoudeard,
Guy Herault, Comte married Ulric
de Boismorinel. Seraskier.
Jeanne Francois Herault de Otto Seraskier, violinist,
Boismorinel married married Teresa Pulci.
Francois Pasquier de la
Jean Pasquier de la Mariere Johann Seraskier, M.D.,
married Catherine married Laura Desmond.
Pierre Pasquier de la Mariere Mary Seraskier, Duchess of
(alias Peter Ibbetson, Towers.
We walked back to “Magna sed Apta” in great joy, and there we
celebrated our newly-discovered kinship by a simple repast, out of
my repertoire this time. It consisted of oysters from Rules's in
Maiden Lane, when they were sixpence a dozen, and bottled stout (
l'eau m'en vient a la bouche); and we spent the rest of the hours
allotted to us that night in evolving such visions as we could from the
old tune “Le Chant du Triste Commensal,” with varying success; she
humming it, accompanying herself on the piano in her masterly,
musician-like way, with one hand, and seeing all that I saw by holding
my hand with the other.
By slow degrees the scenes and people evoked grew less dim, and
whenever the splendid and important lady, whom we soon identified for
certain as Gatienne, our common great-great-grandmother, appeared—“la
belle verriere de Verny le Moustier”—she was more distinct than the
others; no doubt, because we both had part and parcel in her
individuality, and also because her individuality was so strongly
And before I was called away at the inexorable hour, we had the
supreme satisfaction of seeing her play the fiddle to a shadowy company
of patched and powdered and bewigged ladies and gentlemen, who seemed
to take much sympathetic delight in her performance, and actually,
even, of just hearing the thin, unearthly tones of that most original
and exquisite melody, “Le Chant du Triste Commensal,” to a quite
inaudible accompaniment on the spinet by her daughter, evidently Anne
Herault, Comtesse de Boismorinel (nee Budes), while the small
child Jeanne de Boismorinel (afterwards Dame Pasquier de la Mariere)
listened with dreamy rapture.
And, just as Mary had said, she played her fiddle with its body
downward, and resting on her knees, as though it had been an undersized
'cello. I then vaguely remembered having dreamed of such a figure when
a small child.
Within twenty-four hours of this strange adventure the practical and
business-like Mary had started, in the flesh and with her maid, for
that part of France where these, my ancestors, had lived, and within a
fortnight she had made herself mistress of all my French family
history, and had visited such of the different houses of my kin as were
still in existence.
The turreted castle of my childish dreams, which, with the adjacent
glass-factory, was still called Verny le Moustier, was one of these.
She found it in the possession of a certain Count Hector du Chamorin,
whose grandfather had purchased it at the beginning of the century.
He had built an entirely new plant, and made it one of the first
glass-factories in Western France. But the old turreted corps de
logis still remained, and his foreman lived there with his wife and
family. The pigeonnier had been pulled down to make room for a
shed with a steam-engine, and the whole aspect of the place was
revolutionized; but the stream and water-mill (the latter a mere
picturesque ruin) were still there; the stream was, however, little
more than a ditch, some ten feet deep and twenty broad, with a fringe
of gnarled and twisted willows and alders, many of them dead.
It was called “Le Brail,” and had given its name to my
great-great-grandmother's property, whence it had issued thirty miles
away (and many hundred years ago); but the old Chateau du Brail, the
manor of the Auberys, had become a farm-house.
The Chateau de la Mariere, in its walled park, and with its
beautiful, tall, hexagonal tower, dated 1550, and visible for miles
around, was now a prosperous cider brewery; it is still, and lies on
the high-road from Angers to Le Mans.
The old forest of Boismorinel, that had once belonged to the family
of Herault, was still in existence; charcoal-burners were to be found
in its depths, and a stray roebuck or two; but no more wolves and
wild-boars, as in the olden time. And where the old castle had been now
stood the new railway station of Boismorinel et Saint Maixent.
[Illustration: LA BELLE VERRIERE]
Most of such Budes, Bussons, Heraults, Auberys, and Pasquiers as
were still to be found in the country, probably distant kinsmen of
Mary's and mine, were lawyers, doctors, or priests, or had gone into
trade and become respectably uninteresting; such as they were, they
would scarcely have cared to claim kinship with such as I.
But a hundred years ago and more these were names of importance in
Maine and Anjou; their bearers were descended for the most part from
younger branches of houses which in the Middle Ages had intermarried
with all there was of the best in France; and although they were looked
down upon by the noblesse of the court and Versailles, as were
all the provincial nobility, they held their own well in their own
country; feasting, hunting, and shooting with each other; dancing and
fiddling and making love and intermarrying; and blowing glass, and
growing richer and richer, till the Revolution came and blew them and
their glass into space, and with them many greater than themselves, but
few better. And all record of them and of their doings, pleasant and
genial people as they were, is lost, and can only be recalled by a
Verny le Moustier was not the least interesting of these old manors.
It had been built three hundred years ago, on the site of a still
older monastery (whence its name); the ruined walls of the old abbey
were (and are) still extant in the house-garden, covered with apricot
and pear and peach trees, which had been sown or planted by our common
ancestress when she was a bride.
Count Hector, who took a great pleasure in explaining all the past
history of the place to Mary, had built himself a fine new house in
what remained of the old park, and a quarter of a mile away from the
old manor-house. Every room of the latter was shown to her; old wood
panels still remained, prettily painted in a by-gone fashion; old
documents, and parchment deeds, and leases concerning fish-ponds,
farms, and the like, were brought out for her inspection, signed by my
grandfather Pasquier, my great-grandfather Boismorinel, and our
great-great-grandmother and her husband, Mathurin Budes, the lord of
Verny le Moustier; and the tradition of Gatienne, la belle Verriere
(also nicknamed la reine de Hongrie, it seems) still lingered in
the county; and many old people still remembered, more or less
correctly, “Le Chant du Triste Commensal,” which a hundred years ago
had been in everybody's mouth.
She was said to have been the tallest and handsomest woman in Anjou,
of an imperious will and very masculine character, but immensely
popular among rich and poor alike; of indomitable energy, and with a
finger in every pie; but always more for the good of others than her
own—a typical, managing, business-like French woman, and an exquisite
musician to boot.
Such was our common ancestress, from whom, no doubt, we drew our
love of music and our strange, almost hysterical susceptibility to the
power of sound; from whom had issued those two born nightingales of our
race—Seraskier, the violinist, and my father, the singer. And, strange
to say, her eyebrows met at the bridge of her nose just like mine, and
from under them beamed the luminous, black-fringed, gray-blue eyes of
Mary, that suffered eclipse whenever their owners laughed or smiled!
During this interesting journey of Mary's in the flesh, we met every
night at “Magna sed Apta” in the spirit, as usual; and I was made to
participate in every incident of it.
We sat by the magic window, and had for our entertainment, now the
Verrerie de Verny le Moustier in its present state, all full of modern
life, color, and sound, steam and gas, as she had seen it a few hours
before; now the old chateau as it was a hundred years ago; dim and
indistinct, as though seen by nearsighted eyes at the close of a gray,
misty afternoon in late autumn through a blurred window-pane, with busy
but silent shadows moving about—silent, because at first we could not
hear their speech; it was too thin for our mortal ears, even in this
dream within our dream! Only Gatienne, the authoritative and commanding
Gatienne, was faintly audible.
Then we would go down and mix with them. Thus, at one moment, we
would be in the midst of a charming old-fashioned French family group
of shadows: Gatienne, with her lovely twin-daughters Jeanne and Anne,
and her gardeners round her, all trailing young peach and apricot trees
against what still remained of the ancient buttresses and walls of the
Abbaye de Verny le Moustier—all this more than a hundred years
ago—the pale sun of a long-past noon casting the fainter shadows of
these faint shadows on the shadowy garden-path.
Then, presto! Changing the scene as one changes a slide in a
magic-lantern, we would skip a century, and behold!
Another French family group, equally charming, on the self-same
spot, but in the garb of to-day, and no longer shadowy or mute by any
means. Little trees have grown big; big trees have disappeared to make
place for industrious workshops and machinery; but the old abbey walls
have been respected, and gay, genial father, and handsome mother, and
lovely daughters, all pressing on “la belle Duchesse Anglaise” peaches
and apricots of her great-great-grandmother's growing.
For this amiable family of the Chamorin became devoted to Mary in a
very short time—that is, the very moment they first saw her; and she
never forgot their kindness, courtesy, and hospitality; they made her
feel in five minutes as though she had known them for many years.
I may as well state here that a few months later she received from
Mademoiselle du Chamorin (with a charming letter) the identical violin
that had once belonged to la belle Verriere, and which Count
Hector had found in the possession of an old farmer—the great-grandson
of Gatienne's coachman—and had purchased, that he might present it as
a New-year's gift to her descendant, the Duchess of Towers.
It is now mine, alas! I cannot play it; but it amuses and comforts
me to hold in my hand, when broad and wide awake, an instrument that
Mary and I have so often heard and seen in our dream, and which has so
often rung in by-gone days with the strange melody that has had so
great an influence on our lives. Its aspect, shape, and color, every
mark and stain of it, were familiar to us before we had ever seen it
with the bodily eye or handled it with the hand of flesh. It thus came
straight to us out of the dim and distant past, heralded by the ghost
* * * * *
To return. Gradually, by practice and the concentration of our
united will, the old-time figures grew to gain substance and color, and
their voices became perceptible; till at length there arrived a day
when we could move among them, and hear them and see them as distinctly
as we could our own immediate progenitors close by—as Gogo and Mimsey,
as Monsieur le Major, and the rest.
The child who went about hand in hand with the white-haired lady
(whose hair was only powdered) and fed the pigeons was my grandmother,
Jeanne de Boismorinel (who married Francois Pasquier de la Mariere). It
was her father who wore red heels to his shoes, and made her believe
she could manufacture little cocked-hats in colored glass; she had
lived again in me whenever, as a child, I had dreamed that exquisite
I could now evoke her at will; and, with her, many buried memories
were called out of nothingness into life.
Among other wonderful things, I heard the red-heeled gentleman, M.
de Boismorinel (my great-grandfather), sing beautiful old songs by
Lulli and others to the spinet, which he played charmingly a rare
accomplishment in those days. And lo! these tunes were tunes that had
risen oft and unbidden in my consciousness, and I had fondly imagined
that I had composed them myself—little impromptus of my own. And lo,
again! His voice, thin, high, nasal, but very sympathetic and musical,
was that never still small voice that has been singing unremittingly
for more than half a century in the unswept, ungarnished corner of my
brain where all the cobwebs are.
[Illustration: “THAT NEVER STILL SMALL VOICE.”]
And these cobwebs?
Well, I soon became aware, by deeply diving into my inner
consciousness when awake and at my daily prison toil (which left the
mind singularly clear and free), that I was full, quite full, of slight
elusive reminiscences which were neither of my waking life nor of my
dream-life with Mary: reminiscences of sub-dreams during sleep, and
belonging to the period of my childhood and early youth; sub-dreams
which no doubt had been forgotten when I woke, at which time I could
only remember the surface dreams that had just preceded my waking.
Ponds, rivers, bridges, roads, and streams, avenues of trees,
arbors, windmills and water-mills, corridors and rooms, church
functions, village fairs, festivities, men and women and animals, all
of another time and of a country where I had never set my foot, were
familiar to my remembrance. I had but to dive deep enough into myself,
and there they were; and when night came, and sleep, and “Magna sed
Apta,” I could re-evoke them all, and make them real and complete for
Mary and myself.
That these subtle reminiscences were true antenatal memories was
soon proved by my excursions with Mary into the past; and her
experience of such reminiscences, and their corroboration, were just as
my own. We have heard and seen her grandfather play the “Chant du
Triste Commensal” to crowded concert-rooms, applauded to the echo by
men and women long dead and buried and forgotten!
Now, I believe such reminiscences to form part of the
sub-consciousness of others, as well as Mary's and mine, and that by
perseverance in self-research many will succeed in reaching
them—perhaps even more easily and completely than we have done.
It is something like listening for the overtones of a musical note;
we do not hear them at first, though they are there, clamoring for
recognition; and when at last we hear them, we wonder at our former
obtuseness, so distinct are they.
Let a man with an average ear, however uncultivated, strike the C
low down on a good piano-forte, keeping his foot on the loud pedal. At
first he will hear nothing but the rich fundamental note C.
But let him become expectant of certain other notes; for
instance, of the C in the octave immediately above, then the G
immediately above that, then the E higher still; he will hear them all
in time as clearly as the note originally struck; and, finally, a
shrill little ghostly and quite importunate B flat in the treble will
pulsate so loudly in his ear that he will never cease to hear it
whenever that low C is sounded.
By just such a process, only with infinitely more pains (and in the
end with what pleasure and surprise), will he grow aware in time of a
dim, latent, antenatal experience that underlies his own personal
experience of this life.
We also found that we were able not only to assist as mere
spectators at such past scenes as I have described (and they were
endless), but also to identify ourselves occasionally with the actors,
and cease for the moment to be Mary Seraskier and Peter Ibbetson.
Notably was this the case with Gatienne. We could each be Gatienne for
a space (though never both of us together), and when we resumed our own
personality again we carried back with it a portion of hers, never to
be lost again—a strange phenomenon, if the reader will but think of
it, and constituting the germ of a comparative personal immortality on
At my work in prison, even, I could distinctly remember having been
Gatienne; so that for the time being, Gatienne, a provincial French
woman who lived a hundred years ago, was contentedly undergoing penal
servitude in an English jail during the latter half of the nineteenth
A questionable privilege, perhaps.
But to make up for it, when she was not alive in me she could be
brought to life in Mary (only in one at a time, it seemed), and travel
by rail and steamer, and know the uses of gas and electricity, and read
the telegrams of “our special correspondents” in the Times, and
taste her nineteenth century under more favorable conditions.
Thus we took la belle Verriere by turns, and she saw and
heard things she little dreamed of a hundred years ago. Besides, she
was made to share in the glories of “Magna sed Apta.”
And the better we knew her the more we loved her; she was a very
nice person to descend from, and Mary and I were well agreed that we
could not have chosen a better great-great-grandmother, and wondered
what each of our seven others was like, for we had fifteen of these
between us, and as many great-great-grandfathers.
Thirty great-great-grandfathers and great-great-grandmothers had
made us what we were; it was no good fighting against them and the
millions at their backs.
Which of them all, strong, but gentle and shy, and hating the very
sight of blood, yet saw scarlet when he was roused, and thirsted for
the blood of his foe?
Which of them all, passionate and tender, but proud, high-minded,
and chaste, and with the world at her feet, was yet ready to “throw her
cap over the windmills,” and give up all for love, deeming the world
* * * * *
That we could have thus identified ourselves, only more easily and
thoroughly, with our own more immediate progenitors, we felt certain
enough. But after mature thought we resolved to desist from any further
attempt at such transfusion of identity, for sacred reasons of
discretion which the reader will appreciate.
But that this will be done some day (now the way has been made
clear), and also that the inconveniences and possible abuses of such a
faculty will be obviated or minimized by the ever-active ingenuity of
mankind, is to my mind a foregone conclusion.
It is too valuable a faculty to be left in abeyance, and I leave the
probable and possible consequences of its culture to the reader's
imagination—merely pointing out to him (as an inducement to cultivate
that faculty in himself) that if anything can keep us well within the
thorny path that leads to happiness and virtue, it is the certainty
that those who come after us will remember having been ourselves, if
only in a dream—even as the newly-hatched chicken has remembered in
its egg the use of eyes and ears and the rest, out of the fulness of
its long antenatal experience; and more fortunate than the helpless
human infant in this respect, can enter on the business and pleasures
of its brief, irresponsible existence at once!
* * * * *
Wherefore, oh reader, if you be but sound in mind and body, it most
seriously behooves you (not only for the sake of those who come after
you, but your own) to go forth and multiply exceedingly, to marry early
and much and often, and to select the very best of your kind in the
opposite sex for this most precious, excellent, and blessed purpose;
that all your future reincarnations (and hers), however brief, may be
many; and bring you not only joy and peace and pleasurable wonderment
and recreation, but the priceless guerdon of well-earned self-approval!
For whoever remembers having once been you, wakes you for the nonce
out of—nirvana, shall we say? His strength, his beauty, and his wit
are yours; and the felicity he derives from them in this earthly life
is for you to share, whenever this subtle remembrance of you stirs in
his consciousness; and you can never quite sink back again
into—nirvana, till all your future wakers shall cease to be!
It is like a little old-fashioned French game we used to play at
Passy, and which is not bad for a dark, rainy afternoon: people sit all
round in a circle, and each hands on to his neighbor a spill or a
lucifer-match just blown out, but in which a little live spark still
lingers; saying, as he does so—
“Petit bonhomme vit encore!”
And he, in whose hand the spark becomes extinct, has to pay forfeit
and retire—“Helas! petit bonhomme n'est plus! ... Pauv' petit
Ever thus may a little live spark of your own individual
consciousness, when the full, quick flame of your actual life here
below is extinguished, be handed down mildly incandescent to your
remotest posterity. May it never quite go out—it need not! May you
ever be able to say of yourself, from generation to generation, “Petit
bonhomme vit encore!” and still keep one finger at least in the
pleasant earthly pie!
And, reader, remember so to order your life on earth that the memory
of you (like that of Gatienne, la belle Verriere de Verny le Moustier)
may smell sweet and blossom in the dust—a memory pleasant to
recall—to this end that its recallings and its recallers may be as
numerous as filial love and ancestral pride can make them....
And oh! looking backward (as we did), be tender to the
failings of your forbears, who little guessed when alive that the
secrets of their long buried hearts should one day be revealed to
you! Their faults are really your own, like the faults of your
innocent, ignorant childhood, so to say, when you did not know better,
as you do now; or will soon, thanks to
“Le Chant du Triste Commensal!”
* * * * *
Wherefore, also, beware and be warned in time, ye tenth transmitters
of a foolish face, ye reckless begetters of diseased or puny bodies,
with hearts and brains to match! Far down the corridors of time shall
club-footed retribution follow in your footsteps, and overtake you at
every turn! Most remorselessly, most vindictively, will you be aroused,
in sleepless hours of unbearable misery (future-waking nightmares),
from your false, uneasy dream of death; to participate in an
inheritance of woe still worse than yours—worse with all the
accumulated interest of long years and centuries of iniquitous
self-indulgence, and poisoned by the sting of a self-reproach that
shall never cease till the last of your tainted progeny dies out, and
finds his true nirvana, and yours, in the dim, forgetful depths of
* * * * *
And here let me most conscientiously affirm that, partly from my
keen sense of the solemnity of such an appeal, and the grave
responsibility I take upon myself in making it; but more especially in
order to impress you, oh reader, with the full significance of this
apocalyptic and somewhat minatory utterance (that it may haunt your
finer sense during your midnight hours of introspective
self-communion), I have done my best, my very best, to couch it in the
obscurest and most unintelligible phraseology I could invent. If I have
failed to do this, if I have unintentionally made any part of my
meaning clear, if I have once deviated by mistake into what might
almost appear like sense—mere common-sense—it is the fault of my
half-French and wholly imperfect education. I am but a poor scribe!
Thus roughly have I tried to give an account of this, the most
important of our joint discoveries in the strange new world revealed to
us by chance. More than twenty years of our united lives have been
devoted to the following out of this slender clew—with what surprising
results will, I trust, be seen in subsequent volumes.
We have not had time to attempt the unravelling of our English
ancestry as well—the Crays, and the Desmonds, the Ibbetsons, and
Biddulphs, etc.—which connects us with the past history of England.
The farther we got back into France, the more fascinating it became,
and the easier—and the more difficult to leave.
What an unexampled experience has been ours! To think that we have
seen—actually seen—de nos propres yeux vu—Napoleon Bonaparte
himself, the arch-arbiter of the world, on the very pinnacle of his
pride and power; in his little cocked hat and gray double-breasted
overcoat, astride his white charger, with all his staff around him,
just as he has been so often painted! Surely the most impressive,
unforgettable, ineffaceable little figure in all modern history, and
clothed in the most cunningly imagined make-up that ever theatrical
costumier devised to catch the public eye and haunt the public memory
for ages and ages yet to come!
It is a singularly new, piquant, and exciting sensation to stare in
person, and as in the present, at bygone actualities, and be able to
foretell the past and remember the future all in one!
To think that we have even beheld him before he was first
consul—slim and pale, his lank hair dangling down his neck and cheeks,
if possible more impressive still as innocent as a child of all that
lay before him! Europe at his feet—the throne—Waterloo-St.
Helena—the Iron English Duke—the pinnacle turned into a pillory so
“O corse a cheveux plats, que la France etait belle Au soleil de
And Mirabeau and Robespierre, and Danton and Marat and Charlotte
Corday! we have seen them too; and Marie Antoinette and the fish-wives,
and “the beautiful head of Lamballe” (on its pike!) ... and watched the
tumbrils go by to the Place du Carrousel, and gazed at the guillotine
by moonlight—silent and terror-stricken, our very hearts in our
And in the midst of it all, ridiculous stray memories of Madame
Tussaud would come stealing into our ghastly dream of blood and
retribution, mixing up past and present and future in a manner not to
be described, and making us smile through our tears!
Then we were present (several times!) at the taking of the Bastille,
and indeed witnessed most of the stormy scenes of that stormy time,
with our Carlyle in our hands; and often have we thought, and with many
a hearty laugh, what fun it must be to write immortal histories, with
never an eye-witness to contradict you!
And going further back we have haunted Versailles in the days of its
splendor, and drunk our fill of all the glories of the court of Louis
What imposing ceremonials, what stupendous royal functions have we
not attended—where all the beauty, wit, and chivalry of France,
prostrate with reverence and awe (as in the very presence of a god),
did loyal homage to the greatest monarch this world has ever
seen—while we sat by, on the very steps of his throne, as he solemnly
gave out his royal command! and laughed aloud under his very nose—the
shallow, silly, pompous little snob—and longed to pull it! and tried
to disinfect his greasy, civet-scented, full-bottomed wig with
wholesome whiffs from a nineteenth-century regalia!
Nothing of that foolish but fascinating period escaped us. Town,
hamlet, river, forest, and field; royal palace, princely castle, and
starving peasants' hut; pulpit, stage, and salon; port, camp, and
marketplace; tribunal and university; factory, shop, studio, smithy;
tavern and gambling-hell and den of thieves; convent and jail,
torture-chamber and gibbet-close, and what not all!
And at every successive step our once desponding, over-anxious,
over-burdened latter-day souls have swelled with joy and pride and hope
at the triumphs of our own day all along the line! Yea, even though we
have heard the illustrious Bossuet preach, and applauded Moliere in one
of his own plays, and gazed at and listened to (and almost forgiven)
Racine and Corneille, and Boileau and Fenelon, and the good
Lafontaine—those five ruthless persecutors of our own innocent French
And still ascending the stream of time, we have hobnobbed with
Montaigne and Rabelais, and been personally bored by Malherbe, and sat
at Ronsard's feet, and ridden by Froissart's side, and slummed with
Francois Villon—in what enchanted slums! ...
Francois Villon! Think of that, ye fond British bards and bardlets
of to-day—ye would-be translators and imitators of that
never-to-be-translated, never-to-be-imitated lament, the immortal
Ballade des Dames du Temps jadis!
And while I speak of it, I may as well mention that we have seen
them too, or some of them—those fair ladies he had never seen,
and who had already melted away before his coming, like the snows of
yester year, les neiges d'antan! Bertha, with the big feet; Joan
of Arc, the good Lorrainer (what would she think of her native province
now!); the very learned Heloise, for love of whom one Peter Esbaillart,
or Abelard (a more luckless Peter than even I!), suffered such cruel
indignities at monkish hands; and that haughty, naughty queen, in her
Tower of Nesle,
“Qui commanda que Buridan Fut jecte en ung Sac en Seine....”
Yes, we have seen them with the eye, and heard them speak and sing,
and scold and jest, and laugh and weep, and even pray! And I have
sketched them, as you shall see some day, good reader! And let me tell
you that their beauty was by no means maddening: the standard of female
loveliness has gone up, even in France! Even la tres sage Helois
was scarcely worth such a sacrifice as—but there! Possess your soul in
patience; all that, and it is all but endless, will appear in due time,
with such descriptions and illustrations as I flatter myself the world
has never bargained for, and will value as it has never valued any
historical records yet!
Day after day, for more than twenty years, Mary has kept a
voluminous diary (in a cipher known to us both); it is now my property,
and in it every detail of our long journey into the past has been set
Contemporaneously, day by day (during the leisure accorded to me by
the kindness of Governor——) I have drawn over again from memory the
sketches of people and places I was able to make straight from nature
during those wonderful nights at “Magna sed Apta.” I can guarantee the
correctness of them, and the fidelity of their likenesses; no doubt
their execution leaves much to be desired.
Both her task and mine (to the future publication of which this
autobiography is but an introduction) have been performed with the
minutest care and conscientiousness; no time or trouble have been
spared. For instance, the Massacre of St. Bartholomew alone, which we
were able to study from seventeen different points of view, cost us no
less than two months' unremitting labor.
As we reached further and further back through the stream of time,
the task became easier in a way; but we have had to generalize more,
and often, for want of time and space, to use types in lieu of
individuals. For with every successive generation the number of our
progenitors increased in geometrical progression (as in the problem of
the nails in the horseshoe) until a limit of numbers was
reached—namely, the sum of the inhabitants of the terrestrial globe.
In the seventh century there was not a person living in France (not to
mention Europe) who was not in the line of our direct ancestry,
excepting, of course, those who had died without issue and were mere
[Illustration: “THE MAMMOTH.”]
We have even just been able to see, as in a glass darkly, the faint
shadows of the Mammoth and the cave bear, and of the man who hunted and
killed and ate them, that he might live and prevail.
We have walked round him and under him as he browsed, and even
through him where he lay and rested, as one walks through the dun
mist in a little hollow on a still, damp morning; and turning round to
look (at the proper distance) there was the unmistakable shape again,
just thick enough to blot out the lines of the dim primeval landscape
beyond, and make a hole in the blank sky. A dread silhouette, thrilling
our hearts with awe—blurred and indistinct like a composite
photograph—merely the type, as it had been seen generally by
all who had ever seen it at all, every one of whom (exceptis
excipiendis) was necessarily an ancestor of ours, and of every man
There it stood or reclined, the monster, like the phantom of an
overgrown hairy elephant; we could almost see, or fancy we saw, the
expression of his dull, cold, antediluvian eye—almost perceive a
suggestion of russet-brown in his fell.
Mary firmly believed that we should have got in time to our hairy
ancestor with pointed ears and a tail, and have been able to ascertain
whether he was arboreal in his habits or not. With what passionate
interest she would have followed and studied and described him! And I!
With what eager joy, and yet with what filial reverence, I would have
sketched his likeness—with what conscientious fidelity as far as my
poor powers would allow! (For all we know to the contrary he may have
been the most attractive and engaging little beast that ever was, and
far less humiliating to descend from than many a titled yahoo of the
Fate, alas, has willed that it should be otherwise, and on others,
duly trained, must devolve the delightful task of following up the clew
we have been so fortunate as to discover.
* * * * *
And now the time has come for me to tell as quickly as I may the
story of my bereavement—a bereavement so immense that no man, living
or dead, can ever have experienced the like; and to explain how it is
that I have not only survived it and kept my wits (which some people
seem to doubt), but am here calmly and cheerfully writing my
reminiscences, just as if I were a famous Academician, actor, novelist,
statesman, or general diner-out—blandly garrulous and well-satisfied
with myself and the world.
During the latter years of our joint existence Mary and I engrossed
by our fascinating journey through the centuries, had seen little or
nothing of each other's outer lives, or rather I had seen nothing of
hers (for she still came back sometimes with me to my jail); I only saw
her as she chose to appear in our dream.
Perhaps at the bottom of this there may have been a feminine dislike
on her part to be seen growing older, for at “Magna sed Apta” we were
always twenty-eight or thereabouts—at our very best. We had truly
discovered the fountain of perennial youth, and had drunk thereof! And
in our dream we always felt even younger than we looked; we had the
buoyancy of children and their freshness.
Often had we talked of death and separation and the mystery beyond,
but only as people do for whom such contingencies are remote; yet in
reality time flew as rapidly for us as for others, although we were
less sensible of its flight.
There came a day when Mary's exuberant vitality, so constantly
overtaxed, broke down, and she was ill for a while; although that did
not prevent our meeting as usual, and there was no perceptible
difference in her when we met. But I am certain that in reality she was
never quite the same again as she had been, and the dread possibility
of parting any day would come up oftener in our talk; in our minds,
only too often, and our minds were as one.
She knew that if I died first, everything I had brought into “Magna
sed Apta” (and little it was) would be there no more; even to my body,
ever lying supine on the couch by the enchanted window, it she had woke
by chance to our common life before I had, or remained after I had been
summoned away to my jail.
And I knew that, if she died, not only her body on the adjacent
couch, but all “Magna sed Apta” itself would melt away, and be as if it
had never been, with its endless galleries and gardens and magic
windows, and all the wonders it contained.
Sometimes I felt a hideous nervous dread, on sinking into sleep,
lest I should find it was so, and the ever-heavenly delight of waking
there, and finding all as usual, was but the keener. I would kneel by
her inanimate body, and gaze at her with a passion of love that seemed
made up of all the different kinds of love a human being can feel; even
the love of a dog for his mistress was in it, and that of a wild beast
for its young.
With eager, tremulous anxiety and aching suspense I would watch for
the first light breath from her lips, the first faint tinge of carmine
in her cheek, that always heralded her coming back to life. And when
she opened her eyes and smiled, and stretched her long young limbs in
the joy of waking, what transports of gratitude and relief!
Ah me! the recollection!
* * * * *
At last a terrible unforgettable night arrived when my presentiment
I awoke in the little lumber-room of “Parva sed Apta,” where the
door had always been that led to and from our palace of delight; but
there was no door any longer—nothing but a blank wall....
I woke back at once in my cell, in such a state as it is impossible
to describe. I felt there must be some mistake, and after much time and
effort was able to sink into sleep again, but with the same result: the
blank wall, the certainty that “Magna sed Apta” was closed forever,
that Mary was dead; and then the terrible jump back into my prison life
This happened several times during the night, and when the morning
dawned I was a raving madman. I took the warder who first came
(attracted by my cries of “Mary!”) for Colonel Ibbetson, and tried to
kill him, and should have done so, but that he was a very big man,
almost as powerful as myself and only half my age.
Other warders came to the rescue, and I took them all for Ibbetsons,
and fought like the maniac I was.
When I came to myself, after long horrors and brain-fever and what
not, I was removed from the jail infirmary to another place, where I am
I had suddenly recovered my reason, and woke to mental agony such as
I, who had stood in the dock and been condemned to a shameful death,
had never even dreamed of.
I soon had the knowledge of my loss confirmed, and heard (it had
been common talk for more than nine days) that the famous Mary, Duchess
of Towers, had met her death at the ———station of the Metropolitan
A woman, carrying a child, had been jostled by a tipsy man just as a
train was entering the station, and dropped her child onto the metals.
She tried to jump after it but was held back, and Mary, who had just
come up, jumped in her stead, and by a miracle of strength and agility
was just able to clutch the child and get onto the six-foot way as the
engine came by.
She was able to carry the child to the end of the train, and was
helped onto the platform. It was her train, and she got into a
carriage, but she was dead before it reached the next station. Her
heart, (which, it seems, had been diseased for some time) had stopped,
and all was over.
So died Mary Seraskier, at fifty-three.
* * * * *
I lay for many weeks convalescent in body, but in a state of dumb,
dry tearless, despair, to which there never came a moment's relief,
except in the dreamless sleep I got from chloral, which was given to me
in large quantities—and then, the waking!
I never spoke nor answered a question, and hardly ever stirred. I
had one fixed idea—that of self-destruction; and after two
unsuccessful attempts, I was so closely bound and watched night and day
that any further attempt was impossible. They would not trust me with a
toothpick or a button or a piece of common packthread.
I tried to starve myself to death and refused all solid food: but an
intolerable thirst (perhaps artificially brought on) made it impossible
for me to refuse any liquid that was offered, and I was tempted with
milk, beef-tea, port, and sherry, and these kept me alive....
* * * * *
I had lost all wish to dream.
At length, one afternoon, a strange, inexplicable, overwhelming
nostalgic desire came over me to see once more the Mare d'Auteuil—only
once; to walk thither for the last time through the Chaussee de la
Muette, and by the fortifications.
It grew upon me till it became a torture to wait for bedtime, so
frantic was my impatience.
When the long-wished-for hour arrived at last, I laid myself down
once more (as nearly as I could for my bonds) in the old position I had
not tried for so long; my will intent upon the Porte de la Muette, an
old stone gate-way that separated the Grande Rue de Passy from the
entrance to the Bois de Boulogne—a kind of Temple Bar.
It was pulled down forty-five years ago.
I soon found myself there, just where the Grande Rue meets the Rue
de la Pompe, and went through the arch and looked towards the Bois.
It was a dull, leaden day in autumn; few people were about, but a
gay repas de noces was being held at a little restaurant on my
right-hand side. It was to celebrate the wedding of Achille Grigoux,
the green-grocer, with Felicite Lenormand, who had been the Seraskiers'
house-maid. I suddenly remembered all this, and that Mimsey and Gogo
were of the party—the latter, indeed, being premier garcon
d'honneur, on whom would soon devolve the duty of stealing the
bride's garter, and cutting it up into little bits to adorn the
button-holes of the male guests before the ball began.
In an archway on my left some forlorn, worn-out old rips,
broken-kneed and broken-winded, were patiently waiting, ready saddled
and bridled, to be hired—Chloris, Murat, Rigolette, and others: I knew
and had ridden them all nearly half a century ago. Poor old shadows of
the long-dead past, so life-like and real and pathetic—it “split me
the heart” to see them!
A handsome young blue-coated, silver-buttoned courier of the name of
Lami came trotting along from St. Cloud on a roan horse, with a great
jingling of his horse's bells and clacking of his short-handled whip.
He stopped at the restaurant and called for a glass of white wine, and
rising in his stirrups, shouted gayly for Monsieur et Madame Grigoux.
They appeared at the first-floor window, looking very happy, and he
drank their health, and they his. I could see Gogo and Mimsey in the
crowd behind them, and mildly wondered again, as I had so often
wondered before, how I came to see it all from the outside—from
another point of view than Gogo's.
Then the courier bowed gallantly, and said, “Bonne chance!”
and went trotting down the Grande Rue on his way to the Tuileries, and
the wedding guests began to sing: they sang a song beginning—
“Il etait un petit navire, Qui n'avait jamais navigue....”
I had quite forgotten it, and listened till the end, and thought it
very pretty; and was interested in a dull, mechanical way at
discovering that it must be the original of Thackeray's famous ballad
of “Little Billee,” which I did not hear till many years after. When
they came to the last verse—
“Si cette histoire vous embete, Nous allons la recommencer,”
I went on my way. This was my last walk in dreamland, perhaps, and
dream-hours are uncertain, and I would make the most of them, and look
I walked towards Ranelagh, a kind of casino, where they used to give
balls and theatrical performances on Sunday and Thursday nights (and
where afterwards Rossini spent the latter years of his life; then it
was pulled down, I am told, to make room for many smart little villas).
In the meadow opposite M. Erard's park, Saindou's school-boys were
playing rounders—la balle au camp—from which I concluded it
was a Thursday afternoon, a half-holiday; if they had had clean shirts
on (which they had not) it would have been Sunday, and the holiday a
I knew them all, and the two pions, or ushers, M. Lartigue
and le petit Cazal; but no longer cared for them or found them
amusing or interesting in the least.
Opposite the Ranelagh a few old hackney-coach men were pacifically
killing time by a game of bouchon—knocking sous off a cork with
other sous—great fat sous and double sous long gone out of fashion. It
is a very good game, and I watched it for a while and envied the
Close by was a small wooden shed, or baraque, prettily
painted and glazed, and ornamented at the top with little tricolor
flags; it belonged to a couple of old ladies, Mere Manette and
Grandmere Manette-the two oldest women ever seen. They were very keen
about business, and would not give credit for a centime—not even to
English boys. They were said to be immensely rich and quite alone in
the world. How very dead they must be now! I thought. And I gazed at
them and wondered at their liveliness and the pleasure they took in
living. They sold many things: nougat, pain d'epices, mirlitons,
hoops, drums, noisy battledoors and shuttlecocks; and little ten-sou
hand-mirrors, neatly bound in zinc, that could open and shut.
I looked at myself in one of these that was hanging outside; I was
old and worn and gray-my face badly shaven—my hair almost white. I had
never been old in a dream before.
I walked through the gate in the fortifications on to the outer
Talus (which was quite bare in those days), in the direction of the
Mare d'Auteuil. The place seemed very deserted and dull for a Thursday.
It was a sad and sober walk; my melancholy was not to be borne—my
heart was utterly broken, and my body so tired I could scarcely drag
myself along. Never before had I known in a dream what it was to be
I gazed at the famous fortifications in all their brand-new
pinkness, the scaffoldings barely removed—some of them still lying in
the dry ditch between—and smiled to think how these little brick and
granite walls would avail to keep the Germans out of Paris thirty years
later (twenty years ago). I tried to throw a stone across the narrow
part, and found I could no longer throw stones; so I sat down and
rested. How thin my legs were! and how miserably clad—in old prison
trousers, greasy, stained, and frayed, and ignobly kneed—and what
[Illustration: “I sat down and rested.”]
Never had I been shabby in a dream before.
Why could not I, once for all, walk round to the other side and take
a header a la hussarde off those lofty bulwarks, and kill myself
for good and all? Alas! I should only blur the dream, and perhaps even
wake in my miserable strait-waistcoat. And I wanted to see the mare
once more, very badly.
This set me thinking. I would fill my pockets with stones, and throw
myself into the Mare d'Auteuil after I had taken a last good look at
it, and around. Perhaps the shock of emotion, in my present state of
weakness, might really kill me in my sleep. Who knows? it was worth
I got up and dragged myself to the mare. It was deserted but
for one solitary female figure, soberly clad in black and gray, that
sat motionless on the bench by the old willow.
I walked slowly round in her direction, picking up stones and
putting them into my pockets, and saw that she was gray-haired and
middle-aged, with very dark eyebrows, and extremely tall, and that her
magnificent eyes were following me.
Then, as I drew nearer, she smiled and showed gleaming white teeth,
and her eyes crinkled and nearly closed up as she did so.
“Oh, my God!” I shrieked; “it is Mary Seraskier!”
* * * * *
I ran to her—I threw myself at her feet, and buried my face in her
lap, and there I sobbed like a hysterical child, while she tried to
soothe me as one soothes a child.
After a while I looked up into her face. It was old and worn and
gray, and her hair nearly white, like mine. I had never seen her like
that before; she had always been eight-and-twenty. But age became her
well—she looked so benignly beautiful and calm and grand that I was
awed—and quick, chill waves went down my backbone.
Her dress and bonnet were old and shabby, her gloves had been
mended—old kid gloves with fur about the wrists. She drew them off,
and took my hands and made me sit beside her, and looked at me for a
while with all her might in silence.
At length she said: “Gogo mio, I know all you have been through by
the touch of your hands. Does the touch of mine tell you nothing?”
It told me nothing but her huge love for me, which was all I cared
for, and I said so.
She sighed, and said: “I was afraid it would be like this. The old
circuit is broken, and can't be restored—not yet!”
We tried again hard; but it was useless.
She looked round and about and up at the tree-tops, everywhere; and
then at me again, with great wistfulness, and shivered, and finally
began to speak, with hesitation at first, and in a manner foreign to
her. But soon she became apparently herself, and found her old swift
smile and laugh, her happy slight shrugs and gestures, and quaint
polyglot colloquialisms (which I omit, as I cannot always spell them);
her homely, simple ways of speech, her fluent, magnetic energy, the
winning and sympathetic modulations of her voice, its quick humorous
changes from grave to gay—all that made everything she said so
suggestive of all she wanted to say besides.
“Gogo, I knew you would come. I wished it! How dreadfully you
have suffered! How thin you are! It shocks me to see you! But that will
not be any more; we are going to change all that.
“Gogo, you have no idea how difficult it has been for me to come
back, even for a few short hours, for I can't hold on very long. It is
like hanging on to the window-sill by one's wrists. This time it is
Hero swimming to Leander, or Juliet climbing up to Romeo.
“Nobody has ever come back before.
“I am but a poor husk of my former self, put together at great pains
for you to know me by. I could not make myself again what I have always
been to you. I had to be content with this, and so must you. These are
the clothes I died in. But you knew me directly, dear Gogo.
“I have come a long way—such a long way—to have an abboccamento
with you. I had so many things to say. And now we are both here, hand
in hand as we used to be, I can't even understand what they were; and
if I could, I couldn't make you understand. But you will know
some day, and there is no hurry whatever.
“Every thought you have had since I died, I know already; your
share of the circuit is unbroken at least. I know now why you picked up
those stones and put them in your pockets. You must never think of
that again—you never will. Besides, it would be of no use, poor
Then she looked up at the sky and all round her again, and smiled in
her old happy manner, and rubbed her eyes with the backs of her hands,
and seemed to settle herself for a good long talk—an abboccamento!
* * * * *
Of all she said I can only give a few fragments—whatever I can
recall and understand when awake. Wherever I have forgotten I will put
a line of little dots. Only when I sleep and dream can I recall and
understand the rest. It seems all very simple then. I often say to
myself, “I will fix it well in my mind, and put it into well-chosen
words—her words—and learn them by heart; and then wake
cautiously and remember them, and write them all down in a book, so
that they shall do for others all they have done for me, and turn doubt
into happy certainty, and despair into patience and hope and high
[Illustration: “IT IS MARY SERASKIER!”]
But the bell rings and I wake, and my memory plays me false. Nothing
remains but the knowledge that all will be well for us all, and of
such a kind that those who do not sigh for the moon will be well
Alas, this knowledge: I cannot impart it to others. Like many who
have lived before me, I cannot prove—I can only affirm....
* * * * *
“How odd and old-fashioned it feels,” she began, “to have eyes and
ears again, and all that—little open windows on to what is near us.
They are very clumsy contrivances! I had already forgotten them.”
* * * * *
Look, there goes our old friend, the water-rat, under the bank—the
old fat father—le bon gros pere—as we used to call him. He is
only a little flat picture moving upsidedown in the opposite direction
across the backs of our eyes, and the farther he goes the smaller he
seems. A couple of hundred yards off we shouldn't see him at all. As it
is, we can only see the outside of him, and that only on one side at a
time; and yet he is full of important and wonderful things that have
taken millions of years to make—like us! And to see him at all we have
to look straight at him—and then we can't see what's behind us or
around—and if it was dark we couldn't see anything whatever.
Poor eyes! Little bags full of water, with a little magnifying-glass
inside, and a nasturtium leaf behind—to catch the light and feel it!
A celebrated German oculist once told papa that if his
instrument-maker were to send him such an ill-made machine as a human
eye, he would send it back and refuse to pay the bill. I can understand
that now; and yet on earth where should we be without eyes? And
afterwards where should we be if some of us hadn't once had them on
* * * * *
I can hear your dear voice, Gogo, with both ears. Why two ears? Why
only two? What you want, or think, or feel, you try to tell me in
sounds that you have been taught—English, French. If I didn't know
English and French, it would be no good whatever. Language is a poor
thing. You fill your lungs with wind and shake a little slit in your
throat, and make mouths, and that shakes the air; and the air shakes a
pair of little drums in my head—a very complicated arrangement, with
lots of bones behind—and my brain seizes your meaning in the rough.
What a roundabout way, and what a waste of time!
* * * * *
And so with all the rest. We can't even smell straight! A dog would
laugh at us—not that even a dog knows much!
And feeling! We can feel too hot or too cold, and it sometimes makes
us ill, or even kills us. But we can't feel the coming storm, or which
is north and south, or where the new moon is, or the sun at midnight,
or the stars at noon, or even what o'clock it is by our own
measurement. We cannot even find our way home blindfolded—not even a
pigeon can do that, nor a swallow, nor an owl! Only a mole, or a blind
man, perhaps, feebly groping with a stick, if he has already been that
And taste! It is well said there is no accounting for it.
And then, to keep all this going, we have to eat, and drink, and
sleep, and all the rest. What a burden!
* * * * *
And you and I are the only mortals that I know of who ever found a
way to each other's inner being by the touch of the hands. And then we
had to go to sleep first. Our bodies were miles apart; not that that
would have made any difference, for we could never have done it
waking—never; not if we hugged each other to extinction!
* * * * *
Gogo, I cannot find any words to tell you how, for there are
none in any language that I ever knew to tell it; but where I am
it is all ear and eye and the rest in one, and there is, oh, how
much more besides! Things a homing-pigeon has known, and an ant, and a
mole, and a water-beetle, and an earthworm, and a leaf, and a root, and
a magnet—even a lump of chalk, and more. One can see and smell and
touch and taste a sound, as well as hear it, and vice versa. It
is very simple, though it may not seem so to you now.
And the sounds! Ah, what sounds! The thick atmosphere of earth is no
conductor for such as they, and earthly ear-drums no receiver.
Sound is everything. Sound and light are one.
* * * * *
And what does it all mean?
I knew what it meant when I was there—part of it, at least—and
should know again in a few hours. But this poor old earth-brain of
mine, which I have had to put on once more as an old woman puts on a
nightcap, is like my eyes and ears. It can now only understand what is
of the earth—what you can understand, Gogo, who are still of
the earth. I forget, as one forgets an ordinary dream, as one sometimes
forgets the answer to a riddle, or the last verse of a song. It is on
the tip of the tongue; but there it sticks, and won't come any farther.
Remember, it is only in your brain I am living now—your earthly
brain, that has been my only home for so many happy years, as mine has
How we have nestled!
* * * * *
But this I know: one must have had them all once—brains, ears,
eyes, and the rest—on earth. 'Il faut avoir passe par la!' or no
after-existence for man or beast would be possible or even conceivable.
One cannot teach a born deaf-mute how to understand a musical score,
nor a born blind man how to feel color. To Beethoven, who had once
heard with the ear, his deafness made no difference, nor their
blindness to Homer and Milton.
Can you make out my little parable?
* * * * *
Sound and light and heat, and electricity and motion, and will and
thought and remembrance, and love and hate and pity, and the desire to
be born and to live, and the longing of all things alive and dead to
get near each other, or to fly apart—and lots of other things besides!
All that comes to the same—'C'est comme qui dirait bonnet blanc et
blanc bonnet,' as Monsieur le Major used to say. 'C'est simple comme
Where I am, Gogo, I can hear the sun shining on the earth and making
the flowers blow, and the birds sing, and the bells peal for birth and
marriage and death—happy, happy death, if you only knew—'C'est la
clef des champs!'
It shines on moons and planets, and I can hear it, and hear the echo
they give back again. The very stars are singing; rather a long way
off! but it is well worth their while with such an audience as lies
between us and them; and they can't help it....
I can't hear it here—not a bit—now that I've got my ears on;
besides, the winds of the earth are too loud....
Ah, that is music, if you like; but men and women are
stone-deaf to it—their ears are in the way! ...
Those poor unseen flat fish that live in the darkness and mud at the
bottom of deep seas can't catch the music men and women make upon the
earth—such poor music as it is! But if ever so faint a murmur, borne
on the wings and fins of a sunbeam, reaches them for a few minutes at
mid-day, and they have a speck of marrow in their spines to feel it,
and no ears or eyes to come between, they are better off than any man,
Gogo. Their dull existence is more blessed than his.
But alas for them, as yet! They haven't got the memory of the eye
and ear, and without that no speck of spinal marrow will avail; they
must be content to wait, like you.
The blind and deaf?
Oh yes; la bas, it is all right for the poor deaf-mutes and
born blind of the earth; they can remember with the past eyes and ears
of all the rest. Besides, it is no longer they. There is no
they! That is only a detail.
* * * * *
You must try and realize that it is just as though all space between
us and the sun and stars were full of little specks of spinal marrow,
much too small to be seen in any microscope—smaller than anything in
the world. All space is full of them, shoulder to shoulder—almost as
close as sardines in a box—and there is still room for more! Yet a
single drop of water would hold them all, and not be the less
transparent. They all remember having been alive on earth or elsewhere,
in some form or other, and each knows all the others remember. I can
only compare it to that.
Once all that space was only full of stones, rushing, whirling,
meeting, and crushing together, and melting and steaming in the
white-heat of their own hurry. But now there's a crop of something
better than stones, I can promise you! It goes on gathering, and being
garnered and mingled and sifted and winnowed—the precious,
indestructible harvest of how many millions of years of life!
* * * * *
And this I know: the longer and more strenuously and completely one
lives one's life on earth the better for all. It is the foundation of
everything. Though if men could guess what is in store for them when
they die, without also knowing that, they would not have the
patience to live—they wouldn't wait! For who would fardels bear? They
would just put stones in their pockets, as you did, and make for the
* * * * *
Nothing is lost—nothing! From the ineffable, high, fleeting thought
a Shakespeare can't find words to express, to the slightest sensation
of an earthworm—nothing! Not a leaf's feeling of the light, not a
loadstone's sense of the pole, not a single volcanic or electric thrill
of the mother earth.
All knowledge must begin on earth for us. It is the most
favored planet in this poor system of ours just now, and for a few
short millions of years to come. There are just a couple of others,
perhaps three; but they are not of great consequence. 'Il y fait trop
chaud—ou pas assez!' They are failures.
The sun, the father sun, le bon gros pere, rains life on to
the mother earth. A poor little life it was at first, as you
know—grasses and moss, and little wriggling, transparent things—all
stomach; it is quite true! That is what we come from—Shakespeare, and
you, and I!
* * * * *
After each individual death the earth retains each individual clay
to be used again and again; and, as far as I can see, it rains back
each individual essence to the sun—or somewhere near it—like a
precious water-drop returned to the sea, where it mingles, after having
been about and seen something of the world, and learned the use of five
small wits—and remembering all! Yes, like that poor little exiled
wandering water-drop in the pretty song your father used to sing, and
which always manages to find its home at last—
'Va passaggier' in fiume,
Va prigionier' in fonte,
Ma sempre ritorn' al mar.'
Or else it is as if little grains of salt were being showered into
the Mare d'Auteuil, to melt and mingle with the water and each other
till the Mare d'Auteuil itself was as salt as salt can be.
Not till that Mare d'Auteuil of the sun is saturated with the salt
of the earth, of earthly life and knowledge, will the purpose be
complete, and then old mother earth may well dry up into a cinder like
the moon; its occupation will be gone, like hers—'adieu, panier, les
vendanges sont faites!'
And, as for the sun and its surrounding ocean of life—ah, that is
beyond me! but the sun will dry up, too, and its ocean of life
no doubt be drawn to other greater suns. For everything seems to go on
more or less in the same way, only crescendo, everywhere and forever.
* * * * *
You must understand that it is not a bit like an ocean, nor a bit
like water-drops, or grains of salt, or specks of spinal marrow; but it
is only by such poor metaphors that I can give you a glimpse of what I
mean, since you can no longer understand me, as you used to do on
earthly things, by the mere touch of our hands.
* * * * *
Gogo, I am the only little water-drop, the one grain of salt that
has not yet been able to dissolve and melt away in that universal sea;
I am the exception.
It is as though a long, invisible chain bound me still to the earth,
and I were hung at the other end of it in a little transparent locket,
a kind of cage, which lets me see and hear things all round, but keeps
me from melting away.
And soon I found that this locket was made of that half of you that
is still in me, so that I couldn't dissolve, because half of me wasn't
dead at all; for the chain linked me to that half of myself I had left
in you, so that half of me actually wasn't there to be dissolved.... I
am getting rather mixed!
But oh, my heart's true love, how I hugged my chain, with you at the
other end of it!
With such pain and effort as you cannot conceive, I have crept along
it back to you, like a spider on an endless thread of its own spinning.
Such love as mine is stronger then death indeed!
* * * * *
I have come to tell you that we are inseparable forever, you and I,
one double speck of spinal marrow—'Philipschen!'—one little grain of
salt, one drop. There is to be no parting for us—I can see
that; but such extraordinary luck seems reserved for you and me alone
up to now; and it is all our own doing.
But not till you join me shall you and I be complete, and free to
melt away in that universal ocean, and take our part, as One, in all is
That moment—you must not hasten it by a moment. Time is nothing.
I'm even beginning to believe there's no such thing; there is so little
difference, la-bas, between a year and a day. And as for
space—dear me, an inch is as as an ell!
Things cannot be measured like that.
A midge's life is as long as a man's, for it has time to learn its
business, and do all the harm it can, and fight, and make love, and
marry, and reproduce its kind, and grow disenchanted and bored and sick
and content to die—all in a summer afternoon. An average man can live
to seventy years without doing much more.
And then there are tall midges, and clever and good-looking ones,
and midges of great personal strength and cunning, who can fly a little
faster and a little farther than the rest, and live an hour longer to
drink a whole drop more of some other creature's blood; but it does not
make a very great difference!
* * * * *
No, time and space mean just the same as 'nothing.'
But for you they mean much, as you have much to do. Our joint life
must be revealed—that long, sweet life of make-believe, that has been
so much more real than reality. Ah! where and what were time or space
to us then?
* * * * *
And you must tell all we have found out, and how; the way must be
shown to others with better brains and better training than we
had. The value to mankind—to mankind here and hereafter—may be
* * * * *
For some day, when all is found out that can be found out on earth,
and made the common property of all (or even before that), the great
man will perhaps arise and make the great guess that is to set us all
free, here and hereafter. Who knows?
I feel this splendid guesser will be some inspired musician of the
future, as simple as a little child in all things but his knowledge of
the power of sound; but even little children will have learned much in
those days. He will want new notes and find them—new notes between the
black and white keys. He will go blind like Milton and Homer, and deaf
like Beethoven; and then, all in the stillness and the dark, all in the
depths of his forlorn and lonely soul, he will make his best music, and
out of the endless mazes of its counterpoint he will evolve a secret,
as we did from the “Chant du Triste Commensal,” but it will be a
greater secret than ours. Others will have been very near this hidden
treasure; but he will happen right on it, and unearth it, and
bring it to light.
I think I see him sitting at the key-board, so familiar of old to
the feel of his consummate fingers; painfully dictating his score to
some most patient and devoted friend—mother, sister, daughter,
wife—that score that he will never see or hear.
What a stammerer! Not only blind and deaf, but mad—mad in
the world's eyes, for fifty, a hundred, a thousand years. Time is
nothing; but that score will survive....
He will die of it, of course; and when he dies and comes to us,
there will be joy from here to Sirius, and beyond.
And one day they will find out on earth that he was only deaf and
blind—not mad at all. They will hear and understand—they will
know that he saw and heard as none had ever heard or seen before!
* * * * *
For 'as we sow we reap'; that is a true saying, and all the sowing
is done here on earth, and the reaping beyond. Man is a grub; his dead
clay, as he lies coffined in his grave, is the left-off cocoon he has
spun for himself during his earthly life, to burst open and soar from
with all his memories about him, even his lost ones. Like the
dragon-fly, the butterfly, the moth ... and when they die it is
the same, and the same with a blade of grass. We are all, tous tant
que nous sommes, little bags of remembrance that never dies; that's
what we're for. But we can only bring with us to the common
stock what we've got. As Pere Francois used to say, 'La plus belle
fille au monde ne peut donner que ce qu'elle a.'
* * * * *
Besides all this I am your earthly wife, Gogo—your loving,
faithful, devoted wife, and I wish it to be known.
* * * * *
And then at last, in the fulness of time—a very few years—ah,
“Once more shall Neuha lead her Torquil by the hand.”
* * * * *
“Oh, Mary!” I cried, “shall we be transcendently happy again? As
happy as we were—happier even?”
Ah, Gogo, is a man happier than a mouse, or a mouse than a turnip,
or a turnip than a lump of chalk? But what man would be a mouse or a
turnip, or vice versa? What turnip would be a lump—of anything
but itself? Are two people happier than one? You and I, yes; because we
are one; but who else? It is one and all. Happiness is like time
and space—we make and measure it ourselves; it is a fancy—as big, as
little, as you please; just a thing of contrasts and comparisons, like
health or strength or beauty or any other good—that wouldn't even be
noticed but for sad personal experience of its opposite!—or its
“I have forgotten all I know but this, which is for you and me: we
are inseparable forever. Be sure we shall not want to go back again for
“And is there no punishment or reward?”
Oh, there again! What a detail! Poor little naughty perverse
midges—who were born so—and can't keep straight! poor
little exemplary midges who couldn't go wrong if they tried! Is it
worth while? Isn't it enough for either punishment or reward that the
secrets of all midges' hearts shall be revealed, and for all other
midges to see? Think of it!
* * * * *
There are battles to be fought and races to be won, but no longer
against 'each other.' And strength and swiftness to win them;
but no longer any strong and swift. There is weakness and cowardice,
but no longer any cowards or weaklings. The good and the bad and the
worst and the best—it is all mixed up. But the good comes to the top;
the bad goes to the bottom—it is precipitated, as papa used to say. It
is not an agreeable sediment, with its once useful cruelty at the
lowest bottom of all—out of sight, out of mind—all but forgotten.
C'est deja le ciel.
* * * * *
“And the goal? The cause, the whither, and the why of it all? Ah!
Gogo—as inscrutable, as unthinkable as ever, till the great guesser
comes! At least so it seems to me, speaking as a fool, out of the
depths of my poor ignorance; for I am a new arrival, and a complete
outsider, with my chain and locket, waiting for you.
“I have only picked up a few grains of sand on the shore of that
sea—a few little shells, and I can't even show you what they are like.
I see that it is no good even talking of it, alas! And I had promised
myself so much.
“Oh! how my earthly education was neglected, and yours! and how I
feel it now, with so much to say in words, mere words! Why, to tell you
in words the little I can see, the very little—so that you could
understand—would require that each of us should be the greatest poet
and the greatest mathematician that ever were, rolled into one! How I
pity you, Gogo—with your untrained, unskilled, innocent pen, poor
scribe! having to write all this down—for you must—and do your
poor little best, as I have done mine in telling you! You must let the
heart speak, and not mind style or manner! Write any how! write
for the greatest need and the greatest number.
“But do just try and see this, dearest, and make the best of it you
can: as far as I can make it out, everything everywhere seems to
be an ever-deepening, ever-broadening stream that makes with
inconceivable velocity for its own proper level, WHERE PERFECTION IS!
... and ever gets nearer and nearer, and never finds it, and
fortunately never will!
“Only that, unlike an earthly stream, and more like a fresh flowing
tide up an endless, boundless, shoreless creek (if you can imagine
that), the level it seeks is immeasurably higher than its source. And
everywhere in it is Life, Life, Life! ever renewing and doubling
itself, and ever swelling that mighty river which has no banks!
“And everywhere in it like begets like, plus a little better
or a little worse; and the little worse finds its way into some
backwater and sticks there, and finally goes to the bottom, and nobody
cares. And the little better goes on bettering and bettering—not all
man's folly or perverseness can hinder that, nor make that
headlong torrent stay, or ebb, or roll backward for a moment—c'est
plus fort que nous! ... The record goes on beating itself, the
high-water-mark gets higher and higher till the highest on earth is
reached that can be—and then, I suppose, the earth grows cold and the
sun goes out—to be broken up into bits, and used all over again,
perhaps! And betterness flies to warmer climes and higher systems, to
better itself still! And so on, from better to better, from higher to
higher, from warmer to warmer, and bigger to bigger—for ever and ever
“But the final superlative of all, absolute all—goodness and
all-highness, absolute all-wisdom, absolute omnipotence, beyond which
there neither is nor can be anything more, will never be reached at
all—since there are no such things; they are abstractions; besides
which, attainment means rest, and rest stagnation, and stagnation an
end of all! And there is no end, and never can be—no end to Time and
all the things that are done in it—no end to Space and all the things
that fill it, or all would come together in a heap and smash up in the
middle—and there is no middle!—no end, no beginning, no
middle! no middle, Gogo! think of that! it is the most
inconceivable thing of all!!!
“So who shall say where Shakespeare and you and I come in—tiny
links in an endless chain, so tiny that even Shakespeare is no bigger
than we! And just a little way behind us, those little wriggling
transparent things, all stomach, that we descend from; and far ahead of
ourselves, but in the direct line of a long descent from us, an
ever-growing conscious Power, so strong, so glad, so simple, so wise,
so mild, and so beneficent, that what can we do, even now, but fall on
our knees with our foreheads in the dust, and our hearts brimful of
wonder, hope, and love, and tender shivering awe; and worship as a yet
unborn, barely conceived, and scarce begotten Child—that which
we have always been taught to worship as a Father—That which is
not now, but is to be—That which we shall all share in and be
part and parcel of in the dim future—That which is slowly, surely,
painfully weaving Itself out of us and the likes of us all through the
limitless Universe, and Whose coming we can but faintly foretell by the
casting of its shadow on our own slowly, surely, painfully awakening
* * * * *
Then she went on to speak of earthly things, and ask questions in
her old practical way. First of my bodily health, with the tenderest
solicitude and the wisest advice—as a mother to a son. She even
insisted on listening to my heart, like a doctor.
Then she spoke at great length of the charities in which she had
been interested, and gave me many directions which I was to write, as
coming from myself, to certain people whose names and addresses she
impressed upon me with great care.
I have done as she wished, and most of these directions have been
followed to the letter, with no little wonder on the world's part (as
the world well knows) that such sagacious and useful reforms should
have originated with the inmate of a criminal lunatic asylum.
* * * * *
At last the time came for us to part. She foresaw that I should have
to wake in a few minutes, and said, rising——
“And now, Gogo, the best beloved that ever was on earth, take me
once more in your dear arms, and kiss me good-bye for a little while—
auf wiedersehen. Come here to rest and think and remember when your
body sleeps. My spirit will always be here with you. I may even be able
to come back again myself—just this poor husk of me—hardly more to
look at than a bundle of old clothes; but yet a world made up of love
for you. Good-bye, good-bye, dearest and best. Time is nothing,
but I shall count the hours. Good-bye....”
Even as she strained me to her breast I awoke.
* * * * *
I awoke, and knew that the dread black shadow of melancholia had
passed away from me like a hideous nightmare—like a long and horrible
winter. My heart was full of the sunshine of spring—the gladness of
awaking to a new life.
I smiled at my night attendant, who stared back at me in
astonishment, and exclaimed——
“Why, sir, blest if you ain't a new man altogether. There, now!”
I wrung his hand, and thanked him for all his past patience,
kindness, and forbearance with such effusion that his eyes had tears in
them. I had not spoken for weeks, and he heard my voice for the first
That day, also, without any preamble or explanation, I gave the
doctor and the chaplain and the governor my word of honor that I would
not attempt my life again, or any one else's, and was believed and
trusted on the spot; and they unstrapped me.
I was never so touched in my life.
In a week I recovered much of my strength; but I was an old man.
That was a great change.
Most people age gradually and imperceptibly. To me old age had come
of a sudden—in a night, as it were; but with it, and suddenly also,
the resigned and cheerful acquiescence, the mild serenity, that are its
compensation and more.
My hope, my certainty to be one with Mary some day—that is my
haven, my heaven—a consummation of completeness beyond which there is
nothing to wish for or imagine. Come what else may, that is safe, and
that is all I care for. She was able to care for me, and for many other
things besides, and I love her all the more for it; but I can only care
Sooner or later—a year—ten years; it does not matter much. I also
am beginning to disbelieve in the existence of time.
That waking was the gladdest in my life—gladder even than the
waking in my condemned cell the morning after my sentence of death,
when another black shadow passed away—that of the scaffold.
Oh, Mary! What has she not done for me—what clouds has she not
When night came round again I made once more, step by step, the
journey from the Porte de la Muette to the Mare d'Auteuil, with
everything the same—the gay wedding-feast, the blue and silver
courier, the merry guests singing
“Il etait un petit navire.”
Nothing was altered, even to the dull gray weather. But, oh, the
difference to me!
I longed to play at bouchon with the hackney coachmen, or at
la balle au camp with my old schoolfellows. I could have even
waltzed with “Monsieur Lartigue” and “le petit Cazal.”
I looked in Mere Manette's little mirror and saw my worn, gray,
haggard, old face again; and liked it, and thought it quite
good-looking. I sat down and rested by the fortifications as I had done
the night before, for I was still tired, but with a most delicious
fatigue; my very shabbiness was agreeable to me—pauvre, mais
honnete. A convict, a madman, but a prince among men—still the
beloved of Mary!
And when at last I reached the spot I had always loved the best on
earth ever since I first saw it as a child, I fell on my knees and wept
for sheer excess of joy. It was mine indeed; it belonged to me as no
land or water had ever belonged to any man before.
Mary was not there, of course; I did not expect her.
But, strange and incomprehensible as it seems, she had forgotten her
gloves; she had left them behind her. One was on the bench, one was on
the ground; poor old gloves that had been mended, with the well-known
shape of her dear hand in them; every fold and crease preserved as in a
mould—the very cast of her finger-nails; and the scent of sandal-wood
she and her mother had so loved.
I laid them side by side, palms upward, on the bench where we had
sat the night before. No dream-wind has blown them away; no dream-thief
has stolen them; there they lie still, and will lie till the great
change comes over me, and I am one with their owner.
* * * * *
I am there every night—in the lovely spring or autumn
sunshine—meditating, remembering, taking notes—dream-notes to be
learned by heard, and used next day for a real purpose.
I walk round and round, or sit on the benches, or lie in the grass
by the brink, and smoke cigarettes without end, and watch the old
amphibious life I found so charming half a century ago, and find it
Sometimes I dive into the forest (which has now been razed to the
ground. Ever since 1870 there is an open space all round the Mare
d'Auteuil. I had seen it since then in a dream with Mary, who went to
Paris after the war, and mad pilgrimages by day to all the places so
dear to our hearts, and so changed; and again, when the night came,
with me for a fellow-pilgrim. It was a sad disenchantment for us both).
My Mare d'Auteuil, where I spend so many hours, is the Mare
d'Auteuil of Louis Philippe, unchangeable except for such slight
changes as will occur, now and then, between the years 1839 and
1846: a broken bench mended, a new barrier put up by the high-road, a
small wooden dike where the brink is giving way.
[Illustration: “I AM THERE EVERY NIGHT.”]
And the thicket beside and behind it is dark and dense for miles,
with many tall trees and a rich, tangled undergrowth.
There is a giant oak which it is difficult to find in that labyrinth
(it now stands, for the world, alone in the open; an ornament to the
Auteuil race-course) I have often climbed it as a boy, with Mimsey and
the rest; I cannot climb it now, but I love to lie on the grass in its
shade, and dream in my dream there, shut in on all sides by fragrant,
impenetrable verdure; with birds and bees and butterflies and
dragon-flies and strange beetles and little field-mice with bright
eyes, and lithe spotted snakes and lively brown squirrels and beautiful
green lizards for my company. Now and then a gentle roebuck comes and
feeds close by me without fear, and the mole throws up his little mound
of earth and takes an airing.
It is a very charming solitude.
It amuses me to think by day, when broad awake in my sad English
prison, and among my crazy peers, how this nightly umbrageous French
solitude of mine, so many miles and years away, is now but a common,
bare, wide grassy plain, overlooked by a gaudy, beflagged grand-stand.
It is Sunday, let us say—and for all I know a great race may be going
on—all Paris is there, rich and poor. Little red-legged soldiers, big
blue-legged gendarmes, keep the course clear; the sun shines, the
tricolour waves, the gay, familiar language makes the summer breeze
musical. I dare say it is all very bright and animated, but the whole
place rings with the vulgar din of the bookmakers, and the air is full
of dust and foul with the scent of rank tobacco, the reek of struggling
French humanity; and the gaunt Eiffel Tower looks down upon it all from
the sky over Paris (so, at least, I am told) like a skeleton at a
Then twilight comes, and the crowds have departed; on foot, on
horseback, on bicycles and tricycles, in every kind of vehicle; many by
the chemin de fer de ceinture, the Auteuil station of which is
close by ... all is quiet and bare and dull.
Then down drops the silent night like a curtain, and beneath its
friendly cover the strange transformation effects itself quickly, and
all is made ready for me. The grand-stand evaporates, the
railway station melts away into thin air; there is no more Eiffel Tower
with its electric light! The sweet forest of fifty years ago rises
suddenly out of the ground, and all the wild live things that once
lived in it wake to their merry life again.
A quiet deep old pond in a past French forest, hallowed by such
memories! What can be more enchanting? Oh, soft and sweet
nostalgia, so soon to be relieved!
Up springs the mellow sun, the light of other days, to its appointed
place in the heavens—zenith, or east or west, according to order. A
light wind blows from the south—everything is properly disinfected,
and made warm and bright and comfortable—and lo! old Peter Ibbetson
appears upon the scene, absolute monarch of all he surveys for the next
eight hours—one whose right there are literally none to dispute.
I do not encourage noisy gatherings there as a rule, nor by the
pond; I like to keep the sweet place pretty much to myself; there is no
selfishness in this, for I am really depriving nobody. Whoever comes
there now, comes there nearly fifty years ago and does not know it;
they must have all died long since.
Sometimes it is a garde champetre in Louis Philippe's blue
and silver, with his black pipe, his gaiters, his old flint gun, and
his embroidered game-bag. He does well in the landscape.
Sometimes it is a pair of lovers, if they are good-looking and
well-behaved, or else the boys from Saindou's school to play fly the
Sometimes it is Monsieur le Cure, peacefully conning his “Hours,” as
with slow and thoughtful step he paces round and round. I can now read
his calm, benevolent face by the light of half a century's experience
of life, and have learned to love that still, black, meditative aspect
which I found so antipathetic as a small boy—he is no burner
alive of little heretics! This world is big enough for us both—and so
is the world to come! And he knows it. Now, at all events!
[Illustration: “THIS WORLD IS BIG ENOUGH FOR US BOTH"]
Sometimes even a couple of Prendergasts are admitted, or even three;
they are not so bad, after all; they have the qualities of their
faults, although you might not think it.
But very often the old beloved shades arrive with their
fishing-nets, and their high spirits, and their ringing
Anglo-French—Charlie, and Alfred, and Madge, and the rest, and the
grinning, barking, gyrating Medor, who dives after stones.
Oh, how it does my heart good to see and hear them!
They make me feel like a grandfather. Even Monsieur le Major is
younger than I—his mustache less white than mine. He only comes to my
chin; but I look up to him still, and love and revere him as when I was
a little child.
And Dr. Seraskier! I place myself between him and what he is looking
at, so that he seems to be looking straight at me; but with a far-away
look in his eyes, as is only natural. Presently something amuses him,
and he smiles, and his eyes crinkle up as his daughter's used to do
when she was a woman, and his majestic face becomes as that of an
angel, like hers.
L'ange du sourire!
And my gay, young, light-hearted father, with his vivacity and
rollicking laugh and eternal good-humor! He is just like a boy to me
now, le beau Pasquier! He has got a new sling of his own invention; he
pulls it out of his pocket, and slings stones high over the tree-tops
and far away out of sight—to the joy of himself and everybody
else—and does not trouble much as to where they will fall.
My mother is young enough now to be my daughter; it is as a
daughter, a sweet, kind, lovely daughter, that I love her now—a
happily-married daughter with a tall, handsome husband who yodles
divinely and slings stones, and who has presented me with a grandson—
beau comme le jour—for whatever Peter Ibbetson may have been in his
time, there is no gainsaying the singular comeliness of little Gogo
And Mimsey is just a child angel! Monsieur le Major is infallible.
“Elle a toutes les intelligences de la tete et du coeur! Vous verrez
un jour, quand ca ira mieux; vous verrez!”
That day has long come and gone; it is easy to see all that now—to
have the eyes of Monsieur le Major.
Ah, poor little Mimsey, with her cropped head and her pale face, and
long, thin arms and legs, and grave, kind, luminous eyes, that have not
yet learned to smile. What she is to me!!!!
And Madame Seraskier, in all the youthful bloom and splendor of her
sacred beauty! A chosen lily among women—the mother of Mary!
She sits on the old bench by the willow, close to her daughter's
gloves. Sometimes (a trivial and almost comic detail!) she actually
seems to sit upon them, to my momentary distress; but when she
goes away, there they are still, not flattened a bit—the precious
mould of those beautiful, generous hands to which I owe everything here
* * * * *
I have not been again to my old home. I dread the sight of the
avenue. I cannot face “Parva sed Apta.”
But I have seen Mary again—seven times.
And every time she comes she brings a book with her, gilt-edged and
bound in green morocco like the Byron we read when we were children, or
in red morocco like the Elegant Extracts out of which we used to
translate Gray's “Elegy,” and the “Battle of Hohenlinden,” and
Cunningham's “Pastorals” into French.
Such is her fancy!
But inside these books are very different. They are printed in
cipher, and in a language I can only understand in my dream. Nothing
that I, or any one else, has ever read in any living book can approach,
for interest and importance, what I read in these. There are seven of
I say to myself when I read them: it is perhaps well that I shall
not remember this when I wake, after all!
For I might be indiscreet and injudicious, and either say too much
or not enough; and the world might come to a stand-still, all through
me. For who would fardels bear, as Mary said! No! The world must be
content to wait for the great guesser!
Thus my lips are sealed.
All I know is this: that all will be well for us all, and of such
a kind that all who do not sigh for the moon will be well content.
* * * * *
In such wise have I striven, with the best of my ability, to give
some account of my two lives and Mary's. We have lived three lives
between us—three lives in one.
It has been a happy task, however poorly performed, and all the
conditions of its performance have been singularly happy also.
A cell in a criminal lunatic asylum! That does not sound like a
bower in the Elysian Fields! It is, and has been for me.
Besides the sun that lights and warms my inner life, I have been
treated with a kindness and sympathy and consideration by everybody
here, from the governor downward, that fills me with unspeakable
Most especially do I feel grateful to my good friends, the doctor,
the chaplain, and the priest—best and kindest of men—each of whom has
made up his mind about everything in heaven and earth and below, and
each in a contrary sense to the two others!
There is but one thing they are neither of them quite cocksure
about, and that is whether I am mad or sane.
And there is one thing—the only one on which they are agreed;
namely, that, mad or sane, I am a great undiscovered genius!
My little sketches, plain or colored, fill them with admiration and
ecstasy. Such boldness and facility and execution, such an overwhelming
fertility in the choice of subjects, such singular realism in the
conception and rendering of past scenes, historical and otherwise, such
astounding knowledge of architecture, character, costume, and what not,
such local color—it is all as if I had really been there to see!
I have the greatest difficulty in keeping my fame from spreading
beyond the walls of the asylum. My modesty is as great as my talent!
No, I do not wish this great genius to be discovered just yet. It
must all go to help and illustrate and adorn the work of a much greater
genius, from which it has drawn every inspiration it ever had.
It is a splendid and delightful task I have before me: to unravel
and translate and put in order these voluminous and hastily-penned
reminiscences of Mary's, all of them written in the cipher we invented
together in our dream—a very transparent cipher when once you have got
It will take five years at least, and I think that, without
presumption, I can count on that, strong and active as I feel, and
still so far from the age of the Psalmist.
First of all, I intend
* * * * *
Note.—Here ends my poor cousin's memoir. He was found dead
from effusion of blood on the brain, with his pen still in his hand,
and his head bowed down on his unfinished manuscript, on the margin of
which he had just sketched a small boy wheeling a toy wheelbarrow full
of stones from one open door to another. One door is labelled Passe, the other Avenir.
I arrived in England, after a long life spent abroad, at the time
his death occurred, but too late to see him alive. I heard much about
him and his latter days. All those whose duties brought them into
contact with him seemed to have regarded him with a respect that
bordered on veneration.
I had the melancholy satisfaction of seeing him in his coffin. I had
not seen him since he was twelve years old.
As he lay there, in his still length and breadth, he appeared
gigantic—the most magnificent human being I ever beheld; and the
splendor of his dead face will haunt my memory till I die.