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Benjamin, Park / Stories by American Authors, Volume 5
Produced by Stan Goodman and PG Distributed Proofreaders




[Illustration: H. James]




Stories by American Authors V.


A LIGHT MAN.

By Henry James.


YATIL.

By F.D. Millet.


THE END OF NEW YORK.

By Park Benjamin.


WHY THOMAS WAS DISCHARGED.

By George Arnold.


THE TACHYPOMP.

By E.P. Mitchell.




1884




A LIGHT MAN.

BY Henry James.[1]


"And I--what I seem to my friend, you see--
What I soon shall seem to his love, you guess.
What I seem to myself, do you ask of me?
No hero, I confess."

_A Light Woman.--Browning's Men and Women_.

April 4, 1857.--I have changed my sky without changing my mind. I resume
these old notes in a new world. I hardly know of what use they are; but
it's easier to stick to the habit than to drop it. I have been at home
now a week--at home, forsooth! And yet, after all, it is home. I am
dejected, I am bored, I am blue. How can a man be more at home than
that? Nevertheless, I am the citizen of a great country, and for that
matter, of a great city. I walked to-day some ten miles or so along
Broadway, and on the whole I don't blush for my native land. We are a
capable race and a good-looking withal; and I don't see why we
shouldn't prosper as well as another. This, by the way, ought to be a
very encouraging reflection. A capable fellow and a good-looking withal;
I don't see why he shouldn't die a millionaire. At all events he must do
something. When a man has, at thirty-two, a net income of considerably
less than nothing, he can scarcely hope to overtake a fortune before he
himself is overtaken by age and philosophy--two deplorable obstructions.
I am afraid that one of them has already planted itself in my path. What
am I? What do I wish? Whither do I tend? What do I believe? I am
constantly beset by these impertinent whisperings. Formerly it was
enough that I was Maximus Austin; that I was endowed with a cheerful
mind and a good digestion; that one day or another, when I had come to
the end, I should return to America and begin at the beginning; that,
meanwhile, existence was sweet in--in the Rue Tronchet. But now! Has the
sweetness really passed out of life? Have I eaten the plums and left
nothing but the bread and milk and corn-starch, or whatever the horrible
concoction is?--I had it to-day for dinner. Pleasure, at least, I
imagine--pleasure pure and simple, pleasure crude, brutal and
vulgar--this poor flimsy delusion has lost all its charm. I shall never
again care for certain things--and indeed for certain persons. Of such
things, of such persons, I firmly maintain, however, that I was never an
enthusiastic votary. It would be more to my credit, I suppose, if I had
been. More would be forgiven me if I had loved a little more, if into
all my folly and egotism I had put a little more _naïveté_ and
sincerity. Well, I did the best I could, I was at once too bad and too
good for it all. At present, it's far enough off; I have put the sea
between us; I am stranded. I sit high and dry, scanning the horizon for
a friendly sail, or waiting for a high tide to set me afloat. The wave
of pleasure has deposited me here in the sand. Shall I owe my rescue to
the wave of pain? At moments I feel a kind of longing to expiate my
stupid little sins. I see, as through a glass, darkly, the beauty of
labor and love. Decidedly, I am willing to work. It's written.

7th.--My sail is in sight; it's at hand; I have all but boarded the
vessel. I received this morning a letter from the best man in the world.
Here it is:

DEAR MAX: I see this very moment, in an old newspaper which had
already passed through my hands without yielding up its most
precious item, the announcement of your arrival in New York. To
think of your having perhaps missed the welcome you had a right to
expect from me! Here it is, dear Max--as cordial as you please.
When I say I have just read of your arrival, I mean that twenty
minutes have elapsed by the clock. These have been spent in
conversation with my excellent friend Mr. Sloane--we having taken
the liberty of making you the topic. I haven't time to say more
about Frederick Sloane than that he is very anxious to make your
acquaintance, and that, if your time is not otherwise engaged, he
would like you very much to spend a month with him. He is an
excellent host, or I shouldn't be here myself. It appears that he
knew your mother very intimately, and he has a taste for visiting
the amenities of the parents upon the children; the original ground
of my own connection with him was that he had been a particular
friend of my father. You may have heard your mother speak of him.
He is a very strange old fellow, but you will like him. Whether or
no you come for his sake, come for mine.

Yours always, THEODORE LISLE.

Theodore's letter is of course very kind, but it's remarkably obscure.
My mother may have had the highest regard for Mr. Sloane, but she never
mentioned his name in my hearing. Who is he, what is he, and what is the
nature of his relations with Theodore? I shall learn betimes. I have
written to Theodore that I gladly accept (I believe I suppressed the
"gladly" though) his friend's invitation, and that I shall immediately
present myself. What can I do that is better? Speaking sordidly, I shall
obtain food and lodging while I look about me. I shall have a base of
operations. D., it appears, is a long day's journey, but enchanting when
you reach it. I am curious to see an enchanting American town. And to
stay a month! Mr. Frederick Sloane, whoever you are, _vous faites bien
les choses_, and the little that I know of you is very much to your
credit. You enjoyed the friendship of my dear mother, you possess the
esteem of the virtuous Theodore, you commend yourself to my own
affection. At this rate, I shall not grudge it.

D--, 14th.--I have been here since Thursday evening--three days. As we
rattled up to the tavern in the village, I perceived from the top of the
coach, in the twilight, Theodore beneath the porch, scanning the
vehicle, with all his amiable disposition in his eyes. He has grown
older, of course, in these five years, but less so than I had expected.
His is one of those smooth, unwrinkled souls that keep their bodies fair
and fresh. As tall as ever, moreover, and as lean and clean. How short
and fat and dark and debauched he makes one feel! By nothing he says or
means, of course, but merely by his old unconscious purity and
simplicity--that slender straightness which makes him remind you of the
spire of an English abbey. He greeted me with smiles, and stares, and
alarming blushes. He assures me that he never would have known me, and
that five years have altered me--_sehr_! I asked him if it were for the
better? He looked at me hard for a moment, with his eyes of blue, and
then, for an answer, he blushed again.

On my arrival we agreed to walk over from the village. He dismissed his
wagon with my luggage, and we went arm-in-arm through the dusk. The town
is seated at the foot of certain mountains, whose names I have yet to
learn, and at the head of a big sheet of water, which, as yet, too, I
know only as "the Lake." The road hitherward soon leaves the village and
wanders in rural loveliness by the margin of this expanse. Sometimes the
water is hidden by clumps of trees, behind which we heard it lapping and
gurgling in the darkness: sometimes it stretches out from your feet in
shining vagueness, as if it were tired of making, all day, a million
little eyes at the great stupid hills. The walk from the tavern takes
some half an hour, and in this interval Theodore made his position a
little more clear. Mr. Sloane is a rich old widower; his age is
seventy-two, and as his health is thoroughly broken, is practically even
greater; and his fortune--Theodore, characteristically, doesn't know
anything definite about that. It's probably about a million. He has
lived much in Europe, and in the "great world;" he has had adventures
and passions and all that sort of thing; and now, in the evening of his
days, like an old French diplomatist, he takes it into his head to write
his memoirs. To this end he has lured poor Theodore to his gruesome
side, to mend his pens for him. He has been a great scribbler, says
Theodore, all his days, and he proposes to incorporate a large amount of
promiscuous literary matter into these _souvenirs intimes_. Theodore's
principal function seems to be to get him to leave things out. In fact,
the poor youth seems troubled in conscience. His patron's lucubrations
have taken the turn of many other memoirs, and have ceased to address
themselves _virginibus puerisque_. On the whole, he declares they are a
very odd mixture--a medley of gold and tinsel, of bad taste and good
sense. I can readily understand it. The old man bores me, puzzles me,
and amuses me.

He was in waiting to receive me. We found him in his library--which, by
the way, is simply the most delightful apartment that I ever smoked a
cigar in--a room arranged for a lifetime. At one end stands a great
fireplace, with a florid, fantastic mantelpiece in carved white
marble--an importation, of course, and, as one may say, an
interpolation; the groundwork of the house, the "fixtures," being
throughout plain, solid and domestic. Over the mantel-shelf is a large
landscape, a fine Gainsborough, full of the complicated harmonies of an
English summer. Beneath it stands a row of bronzes of the Renaissance
and potteries of the Orient. Facing the door, as you enter, is an
immense window set in a recess, with cushioned seats and large clear
panes, stationed as it were at the very apex of the lake (which forms an
almost perfect oval) and commanding a view of its whole extent. At the
other end, opposite the fireplace, the wall is studded, from floor to
ceiling, with choice foreign paintings, placed in relief against the
orthodox crimson screen. Elsewhere the walls are covered with books,
arranged neither in formal regularity nor quite helter-skelter, but in a
sort of genial incongruity, which tells that sooner or later each volume
feels sure of leaving the ranks and returning into different company.
Mr. Sloane makes use of his books. His two passions, according to
Theodore, are reading and talking; but to talk he must have a book in
his hand. The charm of the room lies in the absence of certain pedantic
tones--the browns, blacks and grays--which distinguish most libraries.
The apartment is of the feminine gender. There are half a dozen light
colors scattered about--pink in the carpet, tender blue in the curtains,
yellow in the chairs. The result is a general look of brightness and
lightness; it expresses even a certain cynicism. You perceive the place
to be the home, not of a man of learning, but of a man of fancy.

He rose from his chair--the man of fancy, to greet me--the man of fact.
As I looked at him, in the lamplight, it seemed to me, for the first
five minutes, that I had seldom seen an uglier little person. It took me
five minutes to get the point of view; then I began to admire. He is
diminutive, or at best of my own moderate stature, and bent and
contracted with his seventy years; lean and delicate, moreover, and very
highly finished. He is curiously pale, with a kind of opaque yellow
pallor. Literally, it's a magnificent yellow. His skin is of just the
hue and apparent texture of some old crumpled Oriental scroll. I know a
dozen painters who would give more than they have to arrive at the exact
"tone" of his thick-veined, bloodless hands, his polished ivory
knuckles. His eyes are circled with red, but in the battered little
setting of their orbits they have the lustre of old sapphires. His nose,
owing to the falling away of other portions of his face, has assumed a
grotesque, unnatural prominence; it describes an immense arch, gleaming
like a piece of parchment stretched on ivory. He has, apparently, all
his teeth, but has muffled his cranium in a dead black wig; of course
he's clean shaven. In his dress he has a muffled, wadded look and an
apparent aversion to linen, inasmuch as none is visible on his person.
He seems neat enough, but not fastidious. At first, as I say, I fancied
him monstrously ugly; but on further acquaintance I perceived that what
I had taken for ugliness is nothing but the incomplete remains of
remarkable good looks. The line of his features is pure; his nose,
_caeteris paribus_, would be extremely handsome; his eyes are the oldest
eyes I ever saw, and yet they are wonderfully living. He has something
remarkably insinuating.

He offered his two hands, as Theodore introduced me; I gave him my own,
and he stood smiling at me like some quaint old image in ivory and
ebony, scanning my face with a curiosity which he took no pains to
conceal. "God bless me," he said, at last, "how much you look like your
father!" I sat down, and for half an hour we talked of many things--of
my journey, of my impressions of America, of my reminiscences of Europe,
and, by implication, of my prospects. His voice is weak and cracked, but
he makes it express everything. Mr. Sloane is not yet in his dotage--oh
no! He nevertheless makes himself out a poor creature. In reply to an
inquiry of mine about his health, he favored me with a long list of his
infirmities (some of which are very trying, certainly) and assured me
that he was quite finished.

"I live out of mere curiosity," he said.

"I have heard of people dying from the same motive."

He looked at me a moment, as if to ascertain whether I were laughing at
him. And then, after a pause, "Perhaps you don't know that I disbelieve
in a future life," he remarked, blandly.

At these words Theodore got up and walked to the fire.

"Well, we shan't quarrel about that," said I. Theodore turned round,
staring.

"Do you mean that you agree with me?" the old man asked.

"I certainly haven't come here to talk theology! Don't ask me to
disbelieve, and I'll never ask you to believe."

"Come," cried Mr. Sloane, rubbing his hands, "you'll not persuade me you
are a Christian--like your friend Theodore there."

"Like Theodore--assuredly not." And then, somehow, I don't know why, at
the thought of Theodore's Christianity I burst into a laugh. "Excuse me,
my dear fellow," I said, "you know, for the last ten years I have lived
in pagan lands."

"What do you call pagan?" asked Theodore, smiling.

I saw the old man, with his hands locked, eying me shrewdly, and waiting
for my answer. I hesitated a moment, and then I said, "Everything that
makes life tolerable!"

Hereupon Mr. Sloane began to laugh till he coughed. Verily, I thought,
if he lives for curiosity, he's easily satisfied.

We went into dinner, and this repast showed me that some of his
curiosity is culinary. I observed, by the way, that for a victim of
neuralgia, dyspepsia, and a thousand other ills, Mr. Sloane plies a most
inconsequential knife and fork. Sauces and spices and condiments seem to
be the chief of his diet. After dinner he dismissed us, in consideration
of my natural desire to see my friend in private. Theodore has capital
quarters--a downy bedroom and a snug little _salon_. We talked till near
midnight--of ourselves, of each other, and of the author of the memoirs,
down stairs. That is, I spoke of myself, and Theodore listened; and then
Theodore descanted upon Mr. Sloane, and I listened. His commerce with
the old man has sharpened his wits. Sloane has taught him to observe and
judge, and Theodore turns round, observes, judges--him! He has become
quite the critic and analyst. There is something very pleasant in the
discriminations of a conscientious mind, in which criticism is tempered
by an angelic charity. Only, it may easily end by acting on one's
nerves. At midnight we repaired to the library, to take leave of our
host till the morrow--an attention which, under all circumstances, he
rigidly exacts. As I gave him my hand he held it again and looked at me
as he had done on my arrival. "Bless my soul," he said, at last, "how
much you look like your mother!"

To-night, at the end of my third day, I begin to feel decidedly at
home. The fact is, I am remarkably comfortable. The house is pervaded by
an indefinable, irresistible love of luxury and privacy. Mr. Frederick
Sloane is a horribly corrupt old mortal. Already in his relaxing
presence I have become heartily reconciled to doing nothing. But with
Theodore on one side--standing there like a tall interrogation-point--I
honestly believe I can defy Mr. Sloane on the other. The former asked me
this morning, with visible solicitude, in allusion to the bit of
dialogue I have quoted above on matters of faith, whether I am really a
materialist--whether I don't believe something? I told him I would
believe anything he liked. He looked at me a while, in friendly sadness.
"I hardly know whether you are not worse than Mr. Sloane," he said.

But Theodore is, after all, in duty bound to give a man a long rope in
these matters. His own rope is one of the longest. He reads Voltaire
with Mr. Sloane, and Emerson in his own room. He is the stronger man of
the two; he has the larger stomach. Mr. Sloane delights, of course, in
Voltaire, but he can't read a line of Emerson. Theodore delights in
Emerson, and enjoys Voltaire, though he thinks him superficial. It
appears that since we parted in Paris, five years ago, his conscience
has dwelt in many lands. _C'est tout une histoire_--which he tells very
prettily. He left college determined to enter the church, and came
abroad with his mind full of theology and Tübingen. He appears to have
studied, not wisely but too well. Instead of faith full-armed and
serene, there sprang from the labor of his brain a myriad sickly
questions, piping for answers. He went for a winter to Italy, where, I
take it, he was not quite so much afflicted as he ought to have been at
the sight of the beautiful spiritual repose that he had missed. It was
after this that we spent those three months together in Brittany--the
best-spent months of my long residence in Europe. Theodore inoculated
me, I think, with some of his seriousness, and I just touched him with
my profanity; and we agreed together that there were a few good things
left--health, friendship, a summer sky, and the lovely byways of an old
French province. He came home, searched the Scriptures once more,
accepted a "call," and made an attempt to respond to it. But the inner
voice failed him. His outlook was cheerless enough. During his absence
his married sister, the elder one, had taken the other to live with her,
relieving Theodore of the charge of contribution to her support. But
suddenly, behold the husband, the brother-in-law, dies, leaving a mere
figment of property; and the two ladies, with their two little girls,
are afloat in the wide world. Theodore finds himself at twenty-six
without an income, without a profession, and with a family of four
females to support. Well, in his quiet way he draws on his courage. The
history of the two years that passed before he came to Mr. Sloane is
really absolutely edifying. He rescued his sisters and nieces from the
deep waters, placed them high and dry, established them somewhere in
decent gentility--and then found at last that his strength had left
him--had dropped dead like an over-ridden horse. In short, he had worked
himself to the bone. It was now his sisters' turn. They nursed him with
all the added tenderness of gratitude for the past and terror of the
future, and brought him safely through a grievous malady. Meanwhile Mr.
Sloane, having decided to treat himself to a private secretary and
suffered dreadful mischance in three successive experiments, had heard
of Theodore's situation and his merits; had furthermore recognized in
him the son of an early and intimate friend, and had finally offered him
the very comfortable position he now occupies. There is a decided
incongruity between Theodore as a man--as Theodore, in fine--and the
dear fellow as the intellectual agent, confidant, complaisant, purveyor,
pander--what you will--of a battered old cynic and dilettante--a
worldling if there ever was one. There seems at first sight a perfect
want of agreement between his character and his function. One is gold
and the other brass, or something very like it. But on reflection I can
enter into it--his having, under the circumstances, accepted Mr.
Sloane's offer and been content to do his duties. _Ce que c'est de
nous!_ Theodore's contentment in such a case is a theme for the
moralist--a better moralist than I. The best and purest mortals are an
odd mixture, and in none of us does honesty exist on its own terms.
Ideally, Theodore hasn't the smallest business _dans cette galère_. It
offends my sense of propriety to find him here. I feel that I ought to
notify him as a friend that he has knocked at the wrong door, and that
he had better retreat before he is brought to the blush. However, I
suppose he might as well be here as reading Emerson "evenings" in the
back parlor, to those two very plain sisters--judging from their
photographs. Practically it hurts no one not to be too much of a prig.
Poor Theodore was weak, depressed, out of work. Mr. Sloane offers him a
lodging and a salary in return for--after all, merely a little tact. All
he has to do is to read to the old man, lay down the book a while, with
his finger in the place, and let him talk; take it up again, read
another dozen pages and submit to another commentary. Then to write a
dozen pages under his dictation--to suggest a word, polish off a period,
or help him out with a complicated idea or a half-remembered fact. This
is all, I say; and yet this is much. Theodore's apparent success proves
it to be much, as well as the old man's satisfaction. It is a part; he
has to simulate. He has to "make believe" a little--a good deal; he has
to put his pride in his pocket and send his conscience to the wash. He
has to be accommodating--to listen and pretend and flatter; and he does
it as well as many a worse man--does it far better than I. I might bully
the old man, but I don't think I could humor him. After all, however,
it is not a matter of comparative merit. In every son of woman there are
two men--the practical man and the dreamer. We live for our dreams--but,
meanwhile, we live by our wits. When the dreamer is a poet, the other
fellow is an artist. Theodore, at bottom, is only a man of taste. If he
were not destined to become a high priest among moralists, he might be a
prince among connoisseurs. He plays his part, therefore, artistically,
with spirit, with originality, with all his native refinement. How can
Mr. Sloane fail to believe that he possesses a paragon? He is no such
fool as not to appreciate a _nature distinguée_ when it comes in his
way. He confidentially assured me this morning that Theodore has the
most charming mind in the world, but that it's a pity he's so simple as
not to suspect it. If he only doesn't ruin him with his flattery!

19th.--I am certainly fortunate among men. This morning when,
tentatively, I spoke of going away, Mr. Sloane rose from his seat in
horror and declared that for the present I must regard his house as my
home. "Come, come," he said, "when you leave this place where do you
intend to go?" Where, indeed? I graciously allowed Mr. Sloane to have
the best of the argument. Theodore assures me that he appreciates these
and other affabilities, and that I have made what he calls a "conquest"
of his venerable heart. Poor, battered, bamboozled old organ! he would
have one believe that it has a most tragical record of capture and
recapture. At all events, it appears that I am master of the citadel.
For the present I have no wish to evacuate. I feel, nevertheless, in
some far-off corner of my soul, that I ought to shoulder my victorious
banner and advance to more fruitful triumphs.

I blush for my beastly laziness. It isn't that I am willing to stay here
a month, but that I am willing to stay here six. Such is the charming,
disgusting truth. Have I really outlived the age of energy? Have I
survived my ambition, my integrity, my self-respect? Verily, I ought to
have survived the habit of asking myself silly questions. I made up my
mind long ago to go in for nothing but present success; and I don't care
for that sufficiently to secure it at the cost of temporary suffering. I
have a passion for nothing--not even for life. I know very well the
appearance I make in the world. I pass for a clever, accomplished,
capable, good-natured fellow, who can do anything if he would only try.
I am supposed to be rather cultivated, to have latent talents. When I
was younger I used to find a certain entertainment in the spectacle of
human affairs. I liked to see men and women hurrying on each other's
heels across the stage. But I am sick and tired of them now; not that I
am a misanthrope, God forbid! They are not worth hating. I never knew
but one creature who was, and her I went and loved. To be consistent, I
ought to have hated my mother, and now I ought to detest Theodore. But I
don't--truly, on the whole, I don't--any more than I dote on him. I
firmly believe that it makes a difference to him, his idea that I _am_
fond of him. He believes in that, as he believes in all the rest of
it--in my culture, my latent talents, my underlying "earnestness," my
sense of beauty and love of truth. Oh, for a _man_ among them all--a
fellow with eyes in his head--eyes that would know me for what I am and
let me see they had guessed it. Possibly such a fellow as that might get
a "rise" out of me.

In the name of bread and butter, what am I to do? (I was obliged this
morning to borrow fifty dollars from Theodore, who remembered gleefully
that he has been owing me a trifling sum for the past four years, and in
fact has preserved a note to this effect.) Within the last week I have
hatched a desperate plan: I have made up my mind to take a wife--a rich
one, _bien entendu_. Why not accept the goods of the gods? It is not my
fault, after all, if I pass for a good fellow. Why not admit that
practically, mechanically--as I may say--maritally, I _may_ be a good
fellow? I warrant myself kind. I should never beat my wife; I don't
think I should even contradict her. Assume that her fortune has the
proper number of zeros and that she herself is one of them, and I can
even imagine her adoring me. I really think this is my only way.
Curiously, as I look back upon my brief career, it all seems to tend to
this consummation. It has its graceful curves and crooks, indeed, and
here and there a passionate tangent; but on the whole, if I were to
unfold it here _à la_ Hogarth, what better legend could I scrawl beneath
the series of pictures than So-and-So's Progress to a Mercenary
Marriage?

Coming events do what we all know with their shadows. My noble fate is,
perhaps, not far off. I already feel throughout my person a magnificent
languor--as from the possession of many dollars. Or is it simply my
sense of well-being in this perfectly appointed house? Is it simply the
contact of the highest civilization I have known? At all events, the
place is of velvet, and my only complaint of Mr. Sloane is that, instead
of an old widower, he's not an old widow (or a young maid), so that I
might marry him, survive him, and dwell forever in this rich and mellow
home. As I write here, at my bedroom table, I have only to stretch out
an arm and raise the window-curtain to see the thick-planted garden
budding and breathing and growing in the silvery silence. Far above in
the liquid darkness rolls the brilliant ball of the moon; beneath, in
its light, lies the lake, in murmuring, troubled sleep; round about, the
mountains, looking strange and blanched, seem to bare their heads and
undrape their shoulders. So much for midnight. To-morrow the scene will
be lovely with the beauty of day. Under one aspect or another I have it
always before me. At the end of the garden is moored a boat, in which
Theodore and I have indulged in an immense deal of irregular
navigation. What lovely landward coves and bays--what alder-smothered
creeks--what lily-sheeted pools--what sheer steep hillsides, making the
water dark and quiet where they hang. I confess that in these excursions
Theodore looks after the boat and I after the scenery. Mr. Sloane avoids
the water--on account of the dampness, he says; because he's afraid of
drowning, I suspect.

22d.--Theodore is right. The _bonhomme_ has taken me into his favor. I
protest I don't see how he was to escape it. _Je l'ai bien soigné_, as
they say in Paris. I don't blush for it. In one coin or another I must
repay his hospitality--which is certainly very liberal. Theodore dots
his _i_'s, crosses his _t_'s, verifies his quotations; while I set traps
for that famous "curiosity." This speaks vastly well for my powers. He
pretends to be surprised at nothing, and to possess in perfection--poor,
pitiable old fop--the art of keeping his countenance; but repeatedly, I
know, I have made him stare. As for his corruption, which I spoke of
above, it's a very pretty piece of wickedness, but it strikes me as a
purely intellectual matter. I imagine him never to have had any real
senses. He may have been unclean; morally, he's not very tidy now; but
he never can have been what the French call a _viveur_. He's too
delicate, he's of a feminine turn; and what woman was ever a _viveur_?
He likes to sit in his chair and read scandal, talk scandal, make
scandal, so far as he may without catching a cold or bringing on a
headache. I already feel as if I had known him a lifetime. I read him
as clearly as if I had. I know the type to which he belongs; I have
encountered, first and last, a good many specimens of it. He's neither
more nor less than a gossip--a gossip flanked by a coxcomb and an
egotist. He's shallow, vain, cold, superstitious, timid, pretentious,
capricious: a pretty list of foibles! And yet, for all this, he has his
good points. His caprices are sometimes generous, and his rebellion
against the ugliness of life frequently makes him do kind things. His
memory (for trifles) is remarkable, and (where his own performances are
not involved) his taste is excellent. He has no courage for evil more
than for good. He is the victim, however, of more illusions with regard
to himself than I ever knew a single brain to shelter. At the age of
twenty, poor, ignorant and remarkably handsome, he married a woman of
immense wealth, many years his senior. At the end of three years she
very considerately took herself off and left him to the enjoyment of his
freedom and riches. If he had remained poor he might from time to time
have rubbed at random against the truth, and would be able to recognize
the touch of it. But he wraps himself in his money as in a wadded
dressing-gown, and goes trundling through life on his little gold
wheels. The greater part of his career, from the time of his marriage
till about ten years ago, was spent in Europe, which, superficially, he
knows very well. He has lived in fifty places, known thousands of
people, and spent a very large fortune. At one time, I believe, he
spent considerably too much, trembled for an instant on the verge of a
pecuniary crash, but recovered himself, and found himself more
frightened than hurt, yet audibly recommended to lower his pitch. He
passed five years in a species of penitent seclusion on the lake of--I
forget what (his genius seems to be partial to lakes), and laid the
basis of his present magnificent taste for literature. I can't call him
anything but magnificent in this respect, so long as he must have his
punctuation done by a _nature distinguée_. At the close of this period,
by economy, he had made up his losses. His turning the screw during
those relatively impecunious years represents, I am pretty sure, the
only act of resolution of his life. It was rendered possible by his
morbid, his actually pusillanimous dread of poverty; he doesn't feel
safe without half a million between him and starvation. Meanwhile he had
turned from a young man into an old man; his health was broken, his
spirit was jaded, and I imagine, to do him justice, that he began to
feel certain natural, filial longings for this dear American mother of
us all. They say the most hopeless truants and triflers have come to it.
He came to it, at all events; he packed up his books and pictures and
gimcracks, and bade farewell to Europe. This house which he now occupies
belonged to his wife's estate. She had, for sentimental reasons of her
own, commended it to his particular care. On his return he came to see
it, liked it, turned a parcel of carpenters and upholsterers into it,
and by inhabiting it for nine years transformed it into the perfect
dwelling which I find it. Here he has spent all his time, with the
exception of a usual winter's visit to New York--a practice recently
discontinued, owing to the increase of his ailments and the projection
of these famous memoirs. His life has finally come to be passed in
comparative solitude. He tells of various distant relatives, as well as
intimate friends of both sexes, who used formerly to be entertained at
his cost; but with each of them, in the course of time, he seems to have
succeeded in quarrelling. Throughout life, evidently, he has had capital
fingers for plucking off parasites. Rich, lonely, and vain, he must have
been fair game for the race of social sycophants and cormorants; and
it's much to the credit of his sharpness and that instinct of
self-defence which nature bestows even on the weak, that he has not been
despoiled and _exploité_. Apparently they have all been bunglers. I
maintain that something is to be done with him still. But one must work
in obedience to certain definite laws. Doctor Jones, his physician,
tells me that in point of fact he has had for the past ten years an
unbroken series of favorites, _protégés_, heirs presumptive; but that
each, in turn, by some fatally false movement, has spilled his pottage.
The doctor declares, moreover, that they were mostly very common people.
Gradually the old man seems to have developed a preference for two or
three strictly exquisite intimates, over a throng of your vulgar
pensioners. His tardy literary schemes, too--fruit of his all but
sapless senility--have absorbed more and more of his time and attention.
The end of it all is, therefore, that Theodore and I have him quite to
ourselves, and that it behooves us to hold our porringers straight.

Poor, pretentious old simpleton! It's not his fault, after all, that he
fancies himself a great little man. How are you to judge of the stature
of mankind when men have forever addressed you on their knees? Peace and
joy to his innocent fatuity! He believes himself the most rational of
men; in fact, he's the most superstitious. He fancies himself a
philosopher, an inquirer, a discoverer. He has not yet discovered that
he is a humbug, that Theodore is a prig, and that I am an adventurer. He
prides himself on his good manners, his urbanity, his knowing a rule of
conduct for every occasion in life. My private impression is that his
skinny old bosom contains unsuspected treasures of impertinence. He
takes his stand on his speculative audacity--his direct, undaunted gaze
at the universe; in truth, his mind is haunted by a hundred dingy
old-world spectres and theological phantasms. He imagines himself one of
the most solid of men; he is essentially one of the hollowest. He thinks
himself ardent, impulsive, passionate, magnanimous--capable of boundless
enthusiasm for an idea or a sentiment. It is clear to me that on no
occasion of disinterested action can he ever have done anything in
time. He believes, finally, that he has drained the cup of life to the
dregs; that he has known, in its bitterest intensity, every emotion of
which the human spirit is capable; that he has loved, struggled,
suffered. Mere vanity, all of it. He has never loved any one but
himself; he has never suffered from anything but an undigested supper or
an exploded pretension; he has never touched with the end of his lips
the vulgar bowl from which the mass of mankind quaffs its floods of joy
and sorrow. Well, the long and short of it all is, that I honestly pity
him. He may have given sly knocks in his life, but he can't hurt any one
now. I pity his ignorance, his weakness, his pusillanimity. He has
tasted the real sweetness of life no more than its bitterness; he has
never dreamed, nor experimented, nor dared; he has never known any but
mercenary affection; neither men nor women have risked aught for
_him_--for his good spirits, his good looks, his empty pockets. How I
should like to give him, for once, a real sensation!

26th.--I took a row this morning with Theodore a couple of miles along
the lake, to a point where we went ashore and lounged away an hour in
the sunshine, which is still very comfortable. Poor Theodore seems
troubled about many things. For one, he is troubled about me: he is
actually more anxious about my future than I myself; he thinks better of
me than I do of myself; he is so deucedly conscientious, so scrupulous,
so averse to giving offence or to _brusquer_ any situation before it
has played itself out, that he shrinks from betraying his apprehensions
or asking direct questions. But I know that he would like very much to
extract from me some intimation that there is something under the sun I
should like to do. I catch myself in the act of taking--heaven forgive
me!--a half-malignant joy in confounding his expectations--leading his
generous sympathies off the scent by giving him momentary glimpses of my
latent wickedness. But in Theodore I have so firm a friend that I shall
have a considerable job if I ever find it needful to make him change his
mind about me. He admires me--that's absolute; he takes my low moral
tone for an eccentricity of genius, and it only imparts an extra
flavor--a _haut goût_--to the charm of my intercourse. Nevertheless, I
can see that he is disappointed. I have even less to show, after all
these years, than he had hoped. Heaven help us! little enough it must
strike him as being. What a contradiction there is in our being friends
at all! I believe we shall end with hating each other. It's all very
well now--our agreeing to differ, for we haven't opposed interests. But
if we should _really_ clash, the situation would be warm! I wonder, as
it is, that Theodore keeps his patience with me. His education since we
parted should tend logically to make him despise me. He has studied,
thought, suffered, loved--loved those very plain sisters and nieces.
Poor me! how should I be virtuous? I have no sisters, plain or
pretty!--nothing to love, work for, live for. My dear Theodore, if you
are going one of these days to despise me and drop me--in the name of
comfort, come to the point at once, and make an end of our state of
tension.

He is troubled, too, about Mr. Sloane. His attitude toward the
_bonhomme_ quite passes my comprehension. It's the queerest jumble of
contraries. He penetrates him, disapproves of him--yet respects and
admires him. It all comes of the poor boy's shrinking New England
conscience. He's afraid to give his perceptions a fair chance, lest,
forsooth, they should look over his neighbor's wall. He'll not
understand that he may as well sacrifice the old reprobate for a lamb as
for a sheep. His view of the gentleman, therefore, is a perfect tissue
of cobwebs--a jumble of half-way sorrows, and wire-drawn charities, and
hair-breadth 'scapes from utter damnation, and sudden platitudes of
generosity--fit, all of it, to make an angel curse!

"The man's a perfect egotist and fool," say I, "but I like him." Now
Theodore likes him--or rather wants to like him; but he can't reconcile
it to his self-respect--fastidious deity!--to like a fool. Why the deuce
can't he leave it alone altogether? It's a purely practical matter.
He ought to do the duties of his place all the better for having his
head clear of officious sentiment. I don't believe in disinterested
service; and Theodore is too desperately bent on preserving his
disinterestedness. With me it's different. I am perfectly free to love
the _bonhomme_--for a fool. I'm neither a scribe nor a Pharisee; I am
simply a student of the art of life.

And then, Theodore is troubled about his sisters.



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