William Yeats.

John Sherman and Dhoya





I only came here to tell you I was going to be married.

Do you not think it would have been better to have written? she said, beginning to put away the childrens tea-things in a cupboard by the fireplace.

It would have been better, he answered, drooping his head.

Without a word, locking the door behind them, they went out. Without a word they walked the grey streets. Now and then a woman or a child curtseyed as they passed. Some wondered, perhaps, to see these old friends so silent. At the rectory they bade each other good-bye.

I hope you will be always happy, she said. I will pray for you and your wife. I am very busy with the children and old people, but I shall always find a moment to wish you well in. Good-bye now.

They parted; the gate in the wall closed behind her. He stayed for a few moments looking up at the tops of the trees and bushes showing over the wall, and at the house a little way beyond. He stood considering his problem her life, his life. His, at any rate, would have incident and change; hers would be the narrow existence of a woman who, failing to fulfil the only abiding wish she has ever formed, seeks to lose herself in routine mournfulest of things on this old planet.

This had been revealed: he loved Mary Carton, she loved him. He remembered Margaret Leland, and murmured she did well to be jealous. Then all her contemptuous words about the town and its inhabitants came into his mind. Once they made no impression on him, but now the sense of personal identity having been disturbed by this sudden revelation, alien as they were to his way of thinking, they began to press in on him. Mary, too, would have agreed with them, he thought; and might it be that at some distant time weary monotony in abandonment would have so weighed down the spirit of Mary Carton, that she would be merely one of the old and sleepy whose dulness filled the place like a cloud?

He went sadly towards the hotel; everything about him, the road, the sky, the feet wherewith he walked seeming phantasmal and without meaning.

He told the waiter he would leave by the first train in the morning. What! and you only just come home? the man answered. He ordered coffee and could not drink it. He went out and came in again immediately. He went down into the kitchen and talked to the servants. They told him of everything that had happened since he had gone. He was not interested, and went up to his room. I must go home and do what people expect of me; one must be careful to do that.

Through all the journey home his problem troubled him. He saw the figure of Mary Carton perpetually passing through a round of monotonous duties. He saw his own life among aliens going on endlessly, wearily.

From Holyhead to London his fellow-travellers were a lady and her three young daughters, the eldest about twelve. The smooth faces shining with well-being became to him ominous symbols. He hated them.

They were symbolic of the indifferent world about to absorb him, and of the vague something that was dragging him inch by inch from the nook he had made for himself in the chimney corner. He was at one of those dangerous moments when the sense of personal identity is shaken, when ones past and present seem about to dissolve partnership. He sought refuge in memory, and counted over every word of Marys he could remember. He forgot the present and the future. Without love, he said to himself, we would be either gods or vegetables.

The rain beat on the window of the carriage. He began to listen; thought and memory became a blank; his mind was full of the sound of rain-drops.

PART IV.
THE REV. WILLIAM HOWARD

I

After his return to London Sherman for a time kept to himself, going straight home from his office, moody and self-absorbed, trying not to consider his problem her life, his life. He often repeated to himself, I must do what people expect of me. It does not rest with me now my choosing time is over. He felt that whatever way he turned he would do a great evil to himself and others. To his nature all sudden decisions were difficult, and so he kept to the groove he had entered upon. It did not even occur to him to do otherwise. He never thought of breaking this engagement off and letting people say what they would. He was bound in hopelessly by a chain of congratulations.

A week passed slowly as a month. The wheels of the cabs and carriages seemed to be rolling through his mind. He often remembered the quiet river at the end of his garden in the town of Ballah. How the weeds swayed there, and the salmon leaped! At the weeks end came a note from Miss Leland, complaining of his neglecting her so many days. He sent a rather formal answer, promising to call soon. To add to his other troubles a cold east wind arose and made him shiver continually.

One evening he and his mother were sitting silent, the one knitting, the other half-asleep. He had been writing letters and was now in a reverie. Round the walls were one or two drawings, done by him at school. His mother had got them framed. His eyes were fixed on a drawing of a stream and some astonishing cows.

A few days ago he had found an old sketch-book for children among some forgotten papers, which taught how to draw a horse by making three ovals for the basis of his body, one lying down in the middle, two standing up at each end for flank and chest, and how to draw a cow by basing its body on a square. He kept trying to fit squares into the cows. He was half inclined to take them out of their frames and retouch on this new principle. Then he began somehow to remember the child with the swollen face who threw a stone at the dog the day he resolved to leave home first. Then some other image came. His problem moved before him in a disjointed way. He was dropping asleep. Through his reverie came the click, click of his mothers needles. She had found some London children to knit for. He was at that marchland between waking and dreaming where our thoughts begin to have a life of their own the region where art is nurtured and inspiration born.

He started, hearing something sliding and rustling, and looked up to see a piece of cardboard fall from one end of the mantlepiece, and, driven by a slight gust of air, circle into the ashes under the grate.

Oh, said his mother, that is the portrait of the locum tenens. She still spoke of the Rev. William Howard by the name she had first known him by. He is always being photographed. They are all over the house, and I, an old woman, have not had one taken all my life. Take it out with the tongs. Her son after some poking in the ashes, for it had fallen far back, brought out a somewhat dusty photograph. That, she continued, is one he sent us two or three months ago. It has been lying in the letter-rack since.

He is not so spick and span looking as usual, said Sherman, rubbing the ashes off the photograph with his sleeve.

By the by, his mother replied, he has lost his parish, I hear. He is very medi?val, you know, and he lately preached a sermon to prove that children who die unbaptized are lost. He had been reading up the subject and was full of it. The mothers turned against him, not being so familiar with St. Augustine as he was. There were other reasons in plenty too. I wonder that any one can stand that monkeyish fantastic family.

As the way is with so many country-bred people, the world for her was divided up into families rather than individuals.

While she was talking, Sherman, who had returned to his chair, leant over the table and began to write hurriedly. She was continuing her denunciation when he interrupted with Mother, I have just written this letter to him:

My dear Howard:

Will you come and spend the autumn with us? I hear you are unoccupied just now. I am engaged to be married, as you know; it will be a long engagement. You will like my betrothed. I hope you will be great friends.

Yours expectantly,
John Sherman.

You rather take me aback, she said.

I really like him, he answered. You were always prejudiced against the Howards. Forgive me, but I really want very much to have him here.

Well, if you like him, I suppose I have no objection.

I do like him. He is very clever, said her son, and knows a great deal. I wonder he does not marry. Do you not think he would make a good husband? for you must admit he is sympathetic.

It is not difficult to sympathize with every one if you have no true principles and convictions.

Principles and convictions were her names for that strenuous consistency attained without trouble by men and women of few ideas.

I am sure you will like him better, said the other, when you see more of him.

Is that photograph quite spoilt? she answered.

No; there was nothing on it but ashes.

That is a pity, for one less would be something.

After this they both became silent, she knitting, he gazing at the cows browsing at the edge of their stream, and trying to fit squares into their bodies; but now a smile played about his lips.

Mrs. Sherman looked a little troubled. She would not object to any visitor of her sons, but quite made up her mind in no manner to put herself out to entertain the Rev. William Howard. She was puzzled as well. She did not understand the suddenness of this invitation. They usually talked over things for weeks.

II

Next day his fellow-clerks noticed a decided improvement in Shermans spirits. He had a lark-like cheerfulness and alacrity breaking out at odd moments. When evening came he called, for the first time since his return, on Miss Leland. She scolded him roundly for having answered her note in such a formal way, but was sincerely glad to see him return to his allegiance. We have said he had sometimes, though rarely, a talkative fit. He had one this evening. The last play they had been to, the last party, the picture of the year, all in turn he glanced at. She was delighted. Her training had not been in vain. Her barbarian was learning to chatter. This flattered her a deal.

I was never engaged, she thought, to a more interesting creature.

When he had risen to go Sherman said I have a friend coming to visit me in a few days; you will suit each other delightfully. He is very medi?val.

Do tell me about him; I like everything medi?val.

Oh, he cried, with a laugh, his medi?valism is not in your line. He is neither a gay troubadour nor a wicked knight. He is a High Church curate.

Do not tell me anything more about him, she answered; I will try to be civil to him, but you know I never liked curates. I have been an agnostic for many years. You, I believe, are orthodox.

As Sherman was on his way home he met a fellow-clerk, and stopped him with

Are you an agnostic?

No. Why, what is that?

Oh, nothing! Good-bye, he made answer, and hurried on his way.

III

The letter reached the Rev. William Howard at the right moment, arriving as it did in the midst of a crisis in his fortunes. In the course of a short life he had lost many parishes. He considered himself a martyr, but was considered by his enemies a clerical coxcomb. He had a habit of getting his mind possessed with some strange opinion, or what seemed so to his parishioners, and of preaching it while the notion lasted in the most startling way. The sermon on unbaptized children was an instance. It was not so much that he thought it true as that it possessed him for a day. It was not so much the thought as his own relation to it that allured him. Then, too, he loved what appeared to his parishioners to be the most unusual and dangerous practices. He put candles on the altar and crosses in unexpected places. He delighted in the intricacies of High Church costume, and was known to recommend confession and prayers for the dead.

Gradually the anger of his parishioners would increase. The rector, the washerwoman, the labourers, the squire, the doctor, the school teachers, the shoemakers, the butchers, the seamstresses, the local journalist, the master of the hounds, the innkeeper, the veterinary surgeon, the magistrate, the children making mud pies, all would be filled with one dread popery. Then he would fly for consolation to his little circle of the faithful, the younger ladies, who still repeated his fine sentiments and saw him in their imaginations standing perpetually before a wall covered with tapestry and holding a crucifix in some constrained and ancient attitude. At last he would have to go, feeling for his parishioners a gay and lofty disdain, and for himself that reverend approbation one gives to the captains who lead the crusade of ideas against those who merely sleep and eat. An efficient crusader he certainly was too efficient, indeed, for his efficiency gave to all his thoughts a certain over-completeness and isolation, and a kind of hardness to his mind. His intellect was like a musicians instrument with no sounding-board. He could think carefully and cleverly, and even with originality, but never in such a way as to make his thoughts an allusion to something deeper than themselves. In this he was the reverse of poetical, for poetry is essentially a touch from behind a curtain.

This conformation of his mind helped to lead him into all manner of needless contests and to the loss of this last parish among much else. Did not the world exist for the sake of these hard, crystalline thoughts, with which he played as with so many bone spilikins, delighting in his own skill? and were not all who disliked them merely the many?

In this way it came about that Shermans letter reached Howard at the right moment. Now, next to a new parish, he loved a new friend. A visit to London meant many. He had found he was, on the whole, a success at the beginning of friendships.

He at once wrote an acceptance in his small and beautiful handwriting, and arrived shortly after his letter. Sherman, on receiving him, glanced at his neat and shining boots, the little medal at the watch-chain and the well-brushed hat, and nodded as though in answer to an inner query. He smiled approval at the slight, elegant figure in its black clothes, at the satiny hair, and at the face, mobile as moving waters.

For several days the Shermans saw little of their guest. He had friends everywhere to turn into enemies and acquaintances to turn into friends. His days passed in visiting, visiting, visiting. Then there were theatres and churches to see, and new clothes to be bought, over which he was as anxious as a woman. Finally he settled down.

He passed his mornings in the smoking-room. He asked Shermans leave to hang on the walls one or two religious pictures, without which he was not happy, and to place over the mantlepiece, under the pipe-rack, an ebony crucifix. In one corner of the room he laid a rug neatly folded for covering his knees on chilly days, and on the table a small collection of favourite books a curious and carefully-chosen collection, in which Cardinal Newman and Bourget, St. Chrysostom and Flaubert, lived together in perfect friendship.

Early in his visit Sherman brought him to the Lelands. He was a success. The three Margaret, Sherman, and Howard played tennis in the Square. Howard was a good player, and seemed to admire Margaret. On the way home Sherman once or twice laughed to himself. It was like the clucking of a hen with a brood of chickens. He told Howard, too, how wealthy Margaret was said to be.

After this Howard always joined Sherman and Margaret at the tennis. Sometimes, too, after a little, on days when the study seemed dull and lonely, and the unfinished essay on St. Chrysostom more than usually laborious, he would saunter towards the Square before his friends arrival, to find Margaret now alone, now with an acquaintance or two. About this time also press of work, an unusual thing with him, began to delay Sherman in town half an hour after his usual time. In the evenings they often talked of Margaret Sherman frankly and carefully, as though in all anxiety to describe her as she was; and Howard with some enthusiasm: She has a religious vocation, he said once, with a slight sigh.

Sometimes they played chess a game that Sherman had recently become devoted to, for he found it drew him out of himself more than anything else.

Howard now began to notice a curious thing. Sherman grew shabbier and shabbier, and at the same time more and more cheerful. This puzzled him, for he had noticed that he himself was not cheerful when shabby, and did not even feel upright and clever when his hat was getting old. He also noticed that when Sherman was talking to him he seemed to be keeping some thought to himself. When he first came to know him long ago in Ballah he had noticed occasionally the same thing, and set it down to a kind of suspiciousness and over-caution, natural to one who lived in such an out-of-the-way place. It seemed more persistent now, however. He is not well trained, he thought; he is half a peasant. He has not the brilliant candour of the man of the world.

All this while the mind of Sherman was clucking continually over its brood of thoughts. Ballah was being constantly suggested to him. The grey corner of a cloud slanting its rain upon Cheapside called to mind by some remote suggestion the clouds rushing and falling in cloven surf on the seaward steep of a mountain north of Ballah. A certain street corner made him remember an angle of the Ballah fish-market. At night a lantern, marking where the road was fenced off for mending, made him think of a tinkers cart, with its swing can of burning coals, that used to stop on market days at the corner of Peters Lane at Ballah. Delayed by a crush in the Strand, he heard a faint trickling of water near by; it came from a shop window where a little water-jet balanced a wooden ball upon its point. The sound suggested a cataract with a long Gaelic name, that leaped crying into the Gate of the Winds at Ballah. Wandering among these memories a footstep went to and fro continually and the figure of Mary Carton moved among them like a phantom. He was set dreaming a whole day by walking down one Sunday morning to the border of the Thames a few hundred yards from his house and looking at the osier-covered Chiswick eyot. It made him remember an old day-dream of his. The source of the river that passed his garden at home was a certain wood-bordered and islanded lake, whither in childhood he had often gone blackberry-gathering. At the further end was a little islet called Inniscrewin. Its rocky centre, covered with many bushes, rose some forty feet above the lake. Often when life and its difficulties had seemed to him like the lessons of some elder boy given to a younger by mistake, it had seemed good to dream of going away to that islet and building a wooden hut there and burning a few years out, rowing to and fro, fishing, or lying on the island slopes by day, and listening at night to the ripple of the water and the quivering of the bushes full always of unknown creatures and going out at morning to see the islands edge marked by the feet of birds.

These pictures became so vivid to him that the world about him that Howard, Margaret, his mother even began to seem far off. He hardly seemed aware of anything they were thinking and feeling. The light that dazzled him flowed from the vague and refracting regions of hope and memory; the light that made Howards feet unsteady was ever the too glaring lustre of life itself.

IV

On the evening of the 20th of June, after the blinds had been pulled down and the gas lighted, Sherman was playing chess in the smoking-room, right hand against left. Howard had gone out with a message to the Lelands. He would often say, Is there any message I can deliver for you? I know how lazy you are, and will save you the trouble. A message was always found for him. A pile of books lent for Shermans improvement went home one by one.

Look here, said Howards voice in the doorway, I have been watching you for some time. You are cheating the red men most villainously. You are forcing them to make mistakes that the white men may win. Why, a few such games would ruin any mans moral nature.

He was leaning against the doorway, looking, to Shermans not too critical eyes, an embodiment of all that was self-possessed and brilliant. The great care with which he was dressed and his whole manner seemed to say, Look at me; do I not combine perfectly the zealot with the man of the world? He seemed excited to-night. He had been talking at the Lelands, and talking well, and felt that elation which brings us many thoughts.

My dear Sherman, he went on, do cease that game. It is very bad for you. There is nobody alive who is honest enough to play a game of chess fairly out right hand against left. We are so radically dishonest that we even cheat ourselves. We can no more play chess than we can think altogether by ourselves with security. You had much better play with me.

Very well, but you will beat me; I have not much practice, replied the other.





: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7