John Sherman and Dhoyañêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
They sat there, the child watching the mouse, Sherman pondering on his letter, until the music ceased and the children came tramping down the room. The mouse having fled, Sherman’s self-appointed hostess got up with a sigh and went out with the others.
Mary Carton closed the harmonium and came towards Sherman. Her face and all her movements showed a gentle decision of character. Her glance was serene, her features regular, her figure at the same time ample and beautifully moulded; her dress plain yet not without a certain air of distinction. In a different society she would have had many suitors. But she was of a type that in country towns does not get married at all. Its beauty is too lacking in pink and white, its nature in that small assertiveness admired for character by the uninstructed. Elsewhere she would have known her own beauty – as it is right that all the beautiful should – and have learnt how to display it, to add gesture to her calm and more of mirth and smiles to her grave cheerfulness. As it was, her manner was much older than herself.
She sat down by Sherman with the air of an old friend. They had long been accustomed to consult together on every matter. They were such good friends they had never fallen in love with each other. Perfect love and perfect friendship are indeed incompatible; for the one is a battlefield where shadows war beside the combatants, and the other a placid country where Consultation has her dwelling.
These two were such good friends that the most gossiping townspeople had given them up with a sigh. The doctor’s wife, a faded beauty and devoted romance reader, said one day, as they passed, “They are such cold creatures.” The old maid who kept the Berlin-wool shop remarked, “They are not of the marrying sort,” and now their comings and goings were no longer noticed. Nothing had ever come to break in on their quiet companionship and give obscurity as a dwelling-place for the needed illusions. Had one been weak and the other strong, one plain and the other handsome, one guide and the other guided, one wise and the other foolish, love might have found them out in a moment, for love is based on inequality as friendship is on equality.
“John,” said Mary Carton, warming her hands at the fire, “I have had a troublesome day. Did you come to help me teach the children to sing? It was good of you: you were just too late.”
“No,” he answered, “I have come to be your pupil. I am always your pupil.”
“Yes, and a most disobedient one.”
“Well, advise me this time at any rate. My uncle has written, offering me ?100 a year to begin with in his London office. Am I to go?”
“You know quite well my answer,” she said.
“Indeed I do not. Why should I go? I am contented here. I am now making my garden ready for spring. Later on there will be trout fishing and saunters by the edge of the river in the evening when the bats are flickering about. In July there will be races.
I enjoy the bustle. I enjoy life here. When anything annoys me I keep away from it, that is all. You know I am always busy. I have occupation and friends and am quite contented.”
“It is a great loss to many of us, but you must go, John,” she said. “For you know you will be old some day, and perhaps when the vitality of youth is gone you will feel that your life is empty and find that you are too old to change it; and you will give up, perhaps, trying to be happy and likeable and become as the rest are. I think I can see you,” she said, with a laugh, “a hypochondriac, like Gorman, the retired excise officer, or with a red nose like Dr. Stephens, or growing like Peters, the elderly cattle merchant, who starves his horse.”
“They were bad material to begin with,” he answered, “and besides, I cannot take my mother away with me at her age, and I cannot leave her alone.”
“What annoyance it may be,” she answered, “will soon be forgotten. You will be able to give her many more comforts. We women – we all like to be dressed well and have pleasant rooms to sit in, and a young man at your age should not be idle. You must go away from this little backward place. We shall miss you, but you are clever and must go and work with other men and have your talents admitted.”
“How emulous you would have me. Perhaps I shall be well-to-do some day; meanwhile I only wish to stay here with my friends.”
She went over to the window and looked out with her face turned from him. The evening light cast a long shadow behind her on the floor. After some moments, she said, “I see people ploughing on the slope of the hill. There are people working on a house to the right. Everywhere there are people busy,” and, with a slight tremble in her voice, she added, “and, John, nowhere are there any doing what they wish. One has to think of so many things – of duty and God.”
“Mary, I didn’t know you were so religious.”
Coming towards him with a smile, she said, “No more did I, perhaps. But sometimes the self in one is very strong. One has to think a great deal and reason with it. Yet I try hard to lose myself in things about me. These children now – I often lie awake thinking about them. That child who was talking to you is often on my mind. I do not know what will happen to her. She makes me unhappy. I am afraid she is not a good child at all. I am afraid she is not taught well at home. I try hard to be gentle and patient with her. I am a little displeased with myself to-day; so I have lectured you. There! I have made my confession. But,” she added, taking one of his hands in both hers and reddening, “you must go away. You must not be idle. You will gain everything.”
As she stood there with bright eyes, the light of evening about her, Sherman for perhaps the first time saw how beautiful she was, and was flattered by her interest. For the first time also her presence did not make him at peace with the world.
“Will you be an obedient pupil?”
“You know so much more than I do,” he answered, “and are so much wiser. I will write to my uncle and agree to his offer.”
“Now you must go home,” she said. “You must not keep your mother waiting for her tea. There! I have raked the fire out. We must not forget to lock the door behind us.”
As they stood on the doorstep the wind blew a whirl of dead leaves about them.
“They are my old thoughts,” he said; “see, they are all withered.”
They walked together silently. At the vicarage he left her and went homeward.
The deserted flour store at the corner of two roads, the house that had been burnt hollow ten years before and still lifted its blackened beams, the straggling and leafless fruit-trees rising above garden walls, the church where he was christened – these foster-mothers of his infancy seemed to nod and shake their heads over him.
“Mother,” he said, hurriedly entering the room, “we are going to London.”
“As you wish. I always knew you would be a rolling stone,” she answered, and went out to tell the servant that as soon as she had finished the week’s washing they must pack up everything, for they were going to London.
“Yes, we must pack up,” said the old peasant; she did not stop peeling the onion in her hand – she had not comprehended. In the middle of the night she suddenly started up in bed with a pale face and a prayer to the Virgin whose image hung over her head – she had now comprehended.
On January the 5th about two in the afternoon, Sherman sat on the deck of the steamer Lavinia enjoying a period of sunshine between two showers. The steamer Lavinia was a cattle boat. It had been his wish to travel by some more expensive route, but his mother, with her old-fashioned ideas of duty, would not hear of it, and now, as he foresaw, was extremely uncomfortable below, while he, who was a good sailor, was pretty happy on deck, and would have been quite so if the pigs would only tire of their continual squealing. With the exception of a very dirty old woman sitting by a crate of geese, all the passengers but himself were below. This old woman made the journey monthly with geese for the Liverpool market.
Sherman was dreaming. He began to feel very desolate, and commenced a letter to Mary Carton in his notebook to state this fact. He was a laborious and unpractised writer, and found it helped him to make a pencil copy. Sometimes he stopped and watched the puffin sleeping on the waves. Each one of them had its head tucked in in a somewhat different way.
“That is because their characters are different,” he thought.
Gradually he began to notice a great many corks floating by, one after the other. The old woman saw them too, and said, waking out of a half sleep —
“Misther John Sherman, we will be in the Mersey before evening. Why are ye goin’ among them savages in London, Misther John? Why don’t ye stay among your own people – for what have we in this life but a mouthful of air?”
Sherman and his mother rented a small house on the north side of St. Peter’s Square, Hammersmith. The front windows looked out on to the old rank and green square, the windows behind on to a little patch of garden round which the houses gathered and pressed as though they already longed to trample it out. In this garden was a single tall pear-tree that never bore fruit.
Three years passed by without any notable event. Sherman went every day to his office in Tower Hill Street, abused his work a great deal, and was not unhappy perhaps. He was probably a bad clerk, but then nobody was very exacting with the nephew of the head of the firm.
The firm of Sherman and Saunders, ship brokers, was a long-established, old-fashioned house. Saunders had been dead some years and old Michael Sherman ruled alone – an old bachelor full of family pride and pride in his wealth. He lived, for all that, in a very simple fashion. His mahogany furniture was a little solider than other people’s perhaps. He did not understand display. Display finds its excuse in some taste good or bad, and in a long industrious life Michael Sherman had never found leisure to form one. He seemed to live only from habit. Year by year he grew more silent, gradually ceasing to regard anything but his family and his ships. His family were represented by his nephew and his nephew’s mother. He did not feel much affection for them. He believed in his family – that was all. To remind him of the other goal of his thoughts hung round his private office pictures with such inscriptions as “S.S. Indus at the Cape of Good Hope,” “The barque Mary in the Mozambique Channel,” “The barque Livingstone at Port Said,” and many more. Every rope was drawn accurately with a ruler, and here and there were added distant vessels sailing proudly by with all that indifference to perspective peculiar to the drawings of sailors. On every ship was the flag of the firm spread out to show the letters.
No man cared for old Michael Sherman. Every one liked John. Both were silent, but the young man had sometimes a talkative fit. The old man lived for his ledger, the young man for his dreams.
In spite of all these differences, the uncle was on the whole pleased with the nephew. He noticed a certain stolidity that was of the family. It sometimes irritated others. It pleased him. He saw a hundred indications besides that made him say, “He is a true Sherman. We Shermans begin that way and give up frivolity as we grow old. We are all the same in the end.”
Mrs. Sherman and her son had but a small round of acquaintances – a few rich people, clients of the house of Sherman and Saunders for the most part. Among these was a Miss Margaret Leland who lived with her mother, the widow of the late Henry Leland, ship-broker, on the eastern side of St. Peter’s Square. Their house was larger than the Shermans, and noticeable among its fellows by the newly-painted hall door. Within on every side were bronzes and china vases and heavy curtains. In all were displayed the curious and vagrant taste of Margaret Leland. The rich Italian and medi?val draperies of the pre-Raphaelites jostling the brightest and vulgarest products of more native and Saxon schools. Vases of the most artistic shape and colour side by side with artificial flowers and stuffed birds. This house belonged to the Lelands. They had bought it in less prosperous days, and having altered it according to their taste and the need of their growing welfare could not decide to leave it.
Sherman was an occasional caller at the Lelands, and had certainly a liking, though not a very deep one, for Margaret. As yet he knew little more about her than that she wore the most fascinating hats, that the late Lord Lytton was her favourite author, and that she hated frogs. It is clear that she did not know that a French writer on magic says the luxurious and extravagant hate frogs because they are cold, solitary, and dreary. Had she done so, she would have been more circumspect about revealing her tastes.
For the rest John Sherman was forgetting the town of Ballah. He corresponded indeed with Mary Carton, but his laborious letter writing made his letters fewer and fewer. Sometimes, too, he heard from Howard, who had a curacy in Glasgow and was on indifferent terms with his parishioners. They objected to his way of conducting the services. His letters were full of it. He would not give in, he said, whatever happened. His conscience was involved.
One afternoon Mrs. Leland called on Mrs. Sherman. She very often called – this fat, sentimental woman, moving in the midst of a cloud of scent. The day was warm, and she carried her too elaborate and heavy dress as a large caddis-fly drags its case with much labour and patience. She sat down on the sofa with obvious relief, leaning so heavily among the cushions that a clothes-moth in an antimacassar thought the end of the world had come and fluttered out only to be knocked down and crushed by Mrs. Sherman, who was very quick in her movements.
As soon as she found her breath, Mrs. Leland began a long history of her sorrows. Her daughter Margaret, had been jilted and was in despair, had taken to her bed with every resolution to die, and was growing paler and paler. The hard-hearted man, though she knew he had heard, did not relent. She knew he had heard because her daughter had told his sister all about it, and his sister had no heart, because she said it was temper that ailed Margaret, and she was a little vixen, and that if she had not flirted with everybody the engagement would never have been broken off. But Mr. Sims had no heart clearly, as Miss Marriot and Mrs. Eliza Taylor, her daughter’s friends, said, when they heard, and Lock, the butler, said the same too, and Mary Young, the housemaid, said so too – and she knew all about it, for Margaret used to read his letters to her often when having her hair brushed.
“She must have been very fond of him,” said Mrs. Sherman.
“She is so romantic, my dear,” answered Mrs. Leland, with a sigh. “I am afraid she takes after an uncle on her father’s side, who wrote poetry and wore a velvet jacket and ran away with an Italian countess who used to get drunk. When I married Mr. Leland people said he was not worthy of me, and that I was throwing myself away – and he in business, too! But Margaret is so romantic. There was Mr. Walters, the gentleman farmer, and Simpson who had a jeweller’s shop – I never approved of him! – and Mr. Samuelson, and the Hon. William Scott. She tired of them all except the Hon. William Scott, who tired of her because some one told him she put belladonna in her eyes – and it is not true; and now there is Mr. Sims!” She then cried a little, and allowed herself to be consoled by Mrs. Sherman.
“You talk so intelligently and are so well informed,” she said at parting. “I have made a very pleasant call,” and the caddis-worm toiled upon its way, arriving in due course at other cups of tea.
The day after Mrs. Leland’s call upon his mother, John Sherman, returning home after his not very lengthy day in the office, saw Margaret coming towards him. She had a lawn tennis racket under her arm, and was walking slowly on the shady side of the road. She was a pretty girl with quite irregular features, who though really not more than pretty, had so much manner, so much of an air, that every one called her a beauty: a trefoil with the fragrance of a rose.
“Mr. Sherman,” she cried, coming smiling to meet him, “I have been ill, but could not stand the house any longer. I am going to the Square to play tennis. Will you come with me?”
“I am a bad player,” he said.
“Of course you are,” she answered; “but you are the only person under a hundred to be found this afternoon. How dull life is!” she continued, with a sigh. “You heard how ill I have been? What do you do all day?”
“I sit at a desk, sometimes writing, and sometimes, when I get lazy, looking up at the flies. There are fourteen on the plaster of the ceiling over my head. They died two winters ago. I sometimes think to have them brushed off, but they have been there so long now I hardly like to.”
“Ah! you like them,” she said, “because you are accustomed to them. In most cases there is not much more to be said for our family affections, I think.”
“In a room close at hand,” he went on, “there is, you know, Uncle Michael, who never speaks.”
“Precisely. You have an uncle who never speaks; I have a mother who never is silent. She went to see Mrs. Sherman the other day. What did she say to her?”
“Really. What a dull thing existence is!” – this with a great sigh. “When the Fates are weaving our web of life some mischievous goblin always runs off with the dye-pot. Everything is dull and grey. Am I looking a little pale? I have been so very ill.”
“A little bit pale, perhaps,” he said, doubtfully.
The Square gate brought them to a stop. It was locked, but she had the key. The lock was stiff, but turned easily for John Sherman.
“How strong you are,” she said.
It was an iridescent evening of spring. The leaves of the bushes had still their faint green. As Margaret darted about at the tennis, a red feather in her cap seemed to rejoice with its wearer. Everything was at once gay and tranquil. The whole world had that unreal air it assumes at beautiful moments, as though it might vanish at a touch like an iridescent soap-bubble.
After a little Margaret said she was tired, and, sitting on a garden seat among the bushes, began telling him the plots of novels lately read by her. Suddenly she cried —
“The novel-writers were all serious people like you. They are so hard on people like me. They always make us come to a bad end. They say we are always acting, acting, acting; and what else do you serious people do? You act before the world. I think, do you know, we act before ourselves. All the old foolish kings and queens in history were like us. They laughed and beckoned and went to the block for no very good purpose. I dare say the headsmen were like you.”
“We would never cut off so pretty a head.”
“Oh, yes, you would – you would cut off mine to-morrow.” All this she said vehemently, piercing him with her bright eyes. “You would cut off my head to-morrow,” she repeated, almost fiercely; “I tell you you would.”
Her departure was always unexpected, her moods changed with so much rapidity. “Look!” she said, pointing where the clock on St. Peter’s church showed above the bushes. “Five minutes to five. In five minutes my mother’s tea-hour. It is like growing old. I go to gossip. Good-bye.”
The red feather shone for a moment among the bushes and was gone.
The next day and the day after, Sherman was followed by those bright eyes. When he opened a letter at his desk they seemed to gaze at him from the open paper, and to watch him from the flies upon the ceiling. He was even a worse clerk than usual.
One evening he said to his mother, “Miss Leland has beautiful eyes.”
“My dear, she puts belladonna in them.”
“What a thing to say!”
“I know she does, though her mother denies it.”
“Well, she is certainly beautiful,” he answered.
“My dear, if she has an attraction for you, I don’t want to discourage it. She is rich as girls go nowadays; and one woman has one fault, another another: one’s untidy, one fights with her servants, one fights with her friends, another has a crabbed tongue when she talks of them.”
Sherman became again silent, finding no fragment of romance in such discourse.
In the next week or two he saw much of Miss Leland. He met her almost every evening on his return from the office, walking slowly, her racket under her arm. They played tennis much and talked more. Sherman began to play tennis in his dreams. Miss Leland told him all about herself, her friends, her inmost feelings; and yet every day he knew less about her. It was not merely that saying everything she said nothing, but that continually there came through her wild words the sound of the mysterious flutes and viols of that unconscious nature which dwells so much nearer to woman than to man. How often do we not endow the beautiful and candid with depth and mystery not their own? We do not know that we but hear in their voices those flutes and viols playing to us of the alluring secret of the world.ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî