Saturday, November 10, 2007


WHERE THE BLUE BEGINS by Christopher Morley

by Christopher Morley
"I am not free--
And it may be
Life is too tight around my shins;
For, unlike you,
I can't break through
A truant where the blue begins.
"Out of the very element
Of bondage, that here holds me pent,
I'll make my furious sonnet:
I'll turn my noose
To tightrope use
And madly dance upon it.
"So I will take
My leash, and make
A wilder and more subtle fleeingÆ’
And I shall be
More escapading and more free
Than you have ever dreamed of being!"
Gissing lived alone (except for his Japanese butler) in a little
house in the country, in that woodland suburb region called the
Canine Estates. He lived comfortably and thoughtfully, as
bachelors often do. He came of a respectable family, who had
always conducted themselves calmly and without too much argument.
They had bequeathed him just enough income to live on cheerfully,
without display but without having to do addition and subtraction
at the end of the month and then tear up the paper lest Fuji (the
butler) should see it.
It was strange, since Gissing was so pleasantly situated in life,
that he got into these curious adventures that I have to relate.
I do not attempt to explain it.
He had no responsibilities, not even a motor car, for his tastes
were surprisingly simple. If he happened to be spending an
evening at the country club, and a rainstorm came down, he did
not worry about getting home. He would sit by the fire and
chuckle to see the married members creep away one by one. He
would get out his pipe and sleep that night at the club, after
telephoning Fuji not to sit up for him. When he felt like it he
used to read in bed, and even smoke in bed. When he went to town
to the theatre, he would spend the night at a hotel to avoid the
fatigue of the long ride on the 11:44 train. He chose a different
hotel each time, so that it was always an Adventure. He had a
great deal of fun.
But having fun is not quite the same as being happy. Even an
income of 1000 bones a year does not answer all questions. That
charming little house among the groves and thickets seemed to him
surrounded by strange whispers and quiet voices. He was uneasy.
He was restless, and did not know why. It was his theory that
discipline must be maintained in the household, so he did not
tell Fuji his feelings. Even when he was alone, he always kept up
a certain formality in the domestic routine. Fuji would lay out
his dinner jacket on the bed: he dressed, came down to the dining
room with quiet dignity, and the evening meal was served by
candle-light. As long as Fuji was at work, Gissing sat carefully
in the armchair by the hearth, smoking a cigar and pretending to
read the paper. But as soon as the butler had gone upstairs,
Gissing always kicked oft his dinner suit and stiff shirt, and
lay down on the hearth-rug. But he did not sleep. He would watch
the wings of flame gilding the dark throat of the chimney, and
his mind seemed drawn upward on that rush of light, up into the
pure chill air where the moon was riding among sluggish thick
floes of cloud. In the darkness he heard chiming voices,
wheedling and tantalizing. One night he was walking on his little
verandah. Between rafts of silver-edged clouds were channels of
ocean-blue sky, inconceivably deep and transparent. The air was
serene, with a faint acid taste. Suddenly there shrilled a soft,
sweet, melancholy whistle, earnestly repeated. It seemed to come
from the little pond in the near-by copses. It struck him
strangely. It might be anything, he thought. He ran furiously
through the field, and to the brim of the pond. He could find
nothing, all was silent. Then the whistlings broke out again, all
round him, maddeningly. This kept on, night after night. The
parson, whom he consulted, said it was only frogs; but Gissing
told the constable he thought God had something to do with it.
Then willow trees and poplars showed a pallid bronze sheen,
forsythias were as yellow as scrambled eggs, maples grew knobby
with red buds. Among the fresh bright grass came, here and there,
exhilarating smells of last year's buried bones. The little
upward slit at the back of Gissing's nostrils felt prickly. He
thought that if he could bury it deep enough in cold beef broth
it would be comforting. Several times he went out to the pantry
intending to try the experiment, but every time Fuji happened to
be around. Fuji was a Japanese pug, and rather correct, so
Gissing was ashamed to do what he wanted to. He pretended he had
come out to see that the icebox pan had been emptied properly.
"I must get the plumber to put in a pukka drain-pipe to take the
place of the pan," Gissing said to Fuji; but he knew that he had
no intention of doing so. The ice-box pan was his private test of
a good servant. A cook who forgot to empty it was too careless,
he thought, to be a real success.
But certainly there was some curious elixir in the air. He went
for walks, and as soon as he was out of sight of the houses he
threw down his hat and stick and ran wildly, with great
exultation, over the hills and fields. "I really ought to turn
all this energy into some sort of constructive work," he said to
himself. No one else, he mused, seemed to enjoy life as keenly
and eagerly as he did. He wondered, too, about the other sex. Did
they feel these violent impulses to run, to shout, to leap and
caper in the sunlight? But he was a little startled, on one of
his expeditions, to see in the distance the curate rushing hotly
through the underbrush, his clerical vestments dishevelled, his
tongue hanging out with excitement.
"I must go to church more often," said Gissing.
In the golden light and pringling air he felt excitable and
high-strung. His tail curled upward until it ached. Finally he
asked Mike Terrier, who lived next door, what was wrong.
"It's spring," Mike said.
"Oh, yes, of course, jolly old spring!" said Gissing, as though
this was something he had known all along, and had just forgotten
for the moment. But he didn't know. This was his first spring,
for he was only ten months old.
Outwardly he was the brisk, genial figure that the suburb knew
and esteemed. He was something of a mystery among his neighbours
of the Canine Estates, because he did not go daily to business in
the city, as most of them did; nor did he lead a life of
brilliant amusement like the Airedales, the wealthy people whose
great house was near by. Mr. Poodle, the conscientious curate,
had called several times but was not able to learn anything
definite. There was a little card-index of parishioners, which it
was Mr. Poodle's duty to fill in with details of each person's
business, charitable inclinations, and what he could do to amuse
a Church Sociable. The card allotted to Gissing was marked, in
Mr. Poodle's neat script, Friendly, but vague as to definite
participation in Xian activities. Has not communicated.
But in himself, Gissing was increasingly disturbed. Even his
seizures of joy, which came as he strolled in the smooth spring
air and sniffed the wild, vigorous aroma of the woodland earth,
were troublesome because he did not know why he was so glad.
Every morning it seemed to him that life was about to exhibit
some delicious crisis in which the meaning and excellence of all
things would plainly appear. He sang in the bathtub. Daily it
became more difficult to maintain that decorum which Fuji
expected. He felt that his life was being wasted. He wondered
what ought to be done about it.
It was after dinner, an April evening, and Gissing slipped away
from the house for a stroll. He was afraid to stay in, because
he knew that if he did, Fuji would ask him again to fix the
dishcloth rack in the kitchen. Fuji was very short in stature,
and could not reach up to the place where the rack was screwed
over the sink. Like all people whose minds are very active,
Gissing hated to attend to little details like this. It was a
weakness in his character. Fuji had asked him six times to fix
the rack, but Gissing always pretended to forget about it. To
appease his methodical butler he had written on a piece of paper
FIX DISHCLOTH RACK and pinned it on his dressing-table
pincushion; but he paid no attention to the memorandum.
He went out into a green April dusk. Down by the pond piped those
repeated treble whistlings: they still distressed him with a
mysterious unriddled summons, but Mike Terrier had told him that
the secret of respectability is to ignore whatever you don't
understand. Careful observation of this maxim had somewhat dulled
the cry of that shrill queer music. It now caused only a faint
pain in his mind. Still, he walked that way because the little
meadow by the pond was agreeably soft underfoot. Also, when he
walked close beside the water the voices were silent. That is
worth noting, he said to himself. If you go directly at the heart
of a mystery, it ceases to be a mystery, and becomes only a
question of drainage. (Mr. Poodle had told him that if he had the
pond and swamp drained, the frog-song would not annoy him.) But
to-night, when the keen chirruping ceased, there was still
another sound that did not cease--a faint, appealing cry. It
caused a prickling on his shoulder blades, it made him both angry
and tender. He pushed through the bushes. In a little hollow were
three small puppies, whining faintly. They were cold and draggled
with mud. Someone had left them there, evidently, to perish. They
were huddled close together; their eyes, a cloudy unspeculative
blue, were only just opened. "This is gruesome," said Gissing,
pretending to be shocked. "Dear me, innocent pledges of sin, I
dare say. Well, there is only one thing to do."
He picked them up carefully and carried them home.
"Quick, Fuji!" he said. "Warm some milk, some of the Grade A, and
put a little brandy in it. I'll get the spare-room bed ready."
He rushed upstairs, wrapped the puppies in a blanket, and turned
on the electric heater to take the chill from the spare-room. The
little pads of their paws were ice-cold, and he filled the hot
water bottle and held it carefully to their twelve feet. Their
pink stomachs throbbed, and at first he feared they were dying.
"They must not die!" he said fiercely. "If they did, it would be
a matter for the police, and no end of trouble."
Fuji came up with the milk, and looked very grave when he saw the
muddy footprints on the clean sheet.
"Now, Fuji," said Gissing, "do you suppose they can lap, or will
we have to pour it down?"
In spite of his superior manner, Fuji was a good fellow in an
emergency. It was he who suggested the fountain-pen filler. They
washed the ink out of it, and used it to drip the hot
brandy-and-milk down the puppies' throats. Their noses, which had
been icy, suddenly became very hot and dry. Gissing feared a
fever and thought their temperatures should be taken.
"The only thermometer we have," he said, "is the one on the
porch, with the mercury split in two. I don't suppose that would
do. Have you a clinical thermometer, Fuji?"
Fuji felt that his employer was making too much fuss over the
"No, sir," he said firmly. "They are quite all right. A good
sleep will revive them. They will be as fit as possible in the
Fuji went out into the garden to brush the mud from his neat
white jacket. His face was inscrutable. Gissing sat by the
spare-room bed until he was sure the puppies were sleeping
correctly. He closed the door so that Fuji would not hear him
humming a lullaby. Three Blind Mice was the only nursery song he
could remember, and he sang it over and over again.
When he tiptoed downstairs, Fuji had gone to bed. Gissing went
into his study, lit a pipe, and walked up and down, thinking. By
and bye he wrote two letters. One eras to a bookseller in the
city, asking him to send (at once) one copy of Dr. Holt's book on
the Care and Feeding of Children, and a well-illustrated edition
of Mother Goose. The other was to Mr. Poodle, asking him to fix a
date for the christening of Mr. Gissing's three small nephews,
who had come to live with him.
"It is lucky they are all boys," said Gissing. "I would know
nothing about bringing up girls."
"I suppose," he added after a while, "that I shall have to raise
Fuji's wages."
Then he went into the kitchen and fixed the dishcloth rack.
Before going to bed that night he took his usual walk around the
house. The sky was freckled with stars. It was generally his
habit to make a tour of his property toward midnight, to be sure
everything was in good order. He always looked into the ice-box,
and admired the cleanliness of Fuji's arrangements. The milk
bottles were properly capped with their round cardboard tops; the
cheese was never put on the same rack with the butter; the doors
of the ice-box were carefully latched. Such observations, and the
slow twinkle of the fire in the range, deep down under the curfew
layer of coals, pleased him. In the cellar he peeped into the
garbage can, for it was always a satisfaction to assure himself
that Fuji did not waste anything that could be used. One of the
laundry tub taps was dripping, with a soft measured tinkle: he
said to himself that he really must have it attended to. All
these domestic matters seemed more significant than ever when he
thought of youthful innocence sleeping upstairs in the spare-room
bed. His had been a selfish life hitherto, he feared. These
puppies were just what he needed to take him out of himself.
Busy with these thoughts, he did not notice the ironical
whistling coming from the pond. He tasted the night air with
cheerful satisfaction. "At any rate, to-morrow will be a fine
day," he said.
The next day it rained. But Gissing was too busy to think about
the weather. Every hour or so during the night he had gone into
the spare room to listen attentively to the breathing of the
puppies, to pull the blanket over them, and feel their noses. It
seemed to him that they were perspiring a little, and he was
worried lest they catch cold. His morning sleep (it had always
been his comfortable habit to lie abed a trifle late) was
interrupted about seven o'clock by a lively clamour across the
hall. The puppies were awake, perfectly restored, and while they
were too young to make their wants intelligible, they plainly
expected some attention. He gave them a pair of old slippers to
play with, and proceeded to his own toilet.
As he was bathing them, after breakfast, he tried to enlist
Fuji's enthusiasm. "Did you ever see such fat rascals?" he said.
"I wonder if we ought to trim their tails? How pink their
stomachs are, and how pink and delightful between their toes! You
hold these two while I dry the other. No, not that way! Hold them
so you support their spines. A puppy's back is very delicate: you
can't be too careful. We'll have to do things in a
rough-and-ready way until Dr. Holt's book comes. After that we
can be scientific."
Fuji did not seem very keen. Presently, in spite of the rain, he
was dispatched to the village department store to choose three
small cribs and a multitude of safety pins. "Plenty of safety
pins is the idea," said Gissing. "With enough safety pins handy,
children are easy to manage."
As soon as the puppies were bestowed on the porch, in the
sunshine, for their morning nap, he telephoned to the local
"I want you" (he said) "to come up as soon as you can with some
nice samples of nursery wallpaper. A lively Mother Goose pattern
would do very well." He had already decided to change the spare
room into a nursery. He telephoned the carpenter to make a gate
for the top of the stairs. He was so busy that he did not even
have time to think of his pipe, or the morning paper. At last,
just before lunch, he found a breathing space. He sat down in the
study to rest his legs, and looked for the Times. It was not in
its usual place on his reading table. At that moment the puppies
woke up, and he ran out to attend them. He would have been
distressed if he had known that Fuji had the paper in the
kitchen, and was studying the HELP WANTED columns.
A great deal of interest was aroused in the neighbourhood by the
arrival of Gissing's nephews, as he called them. Several of the
ladies, who had ignored him hitherto, called, in his absence, and
left extra cards. This implied (he supposed, though he was not
closely versed in such niceties of society) that there was a Mrs.
Gissing, and he was annoyed, for he felt certain they knew he was
a bachelor. But the children were a source of nothing but pride
to him. They grew with astounding rapidity, ate their food
without coaxing, rarely cried at night, and gave him much
amusement by their naive ways. He was too occupied to be troubled
with introspection. Indeed, his well-ordered home was very
different from before. The trim lawn, in spite of his zealous
efforts, was constantly littered with toys. In sheer mischief the
youngsters got into his wardrobe and chewed off. the tails of his
evening dress coat. But he felt a satisfying dignity and
happiness in his new status as head of a family.
What worried him most was the fear that Fuji would complain of
this sudden addition to his duties. The butler's face was rather
an enigma, particularly at meal times, when Gissing sat at the
dinner table surrounded by the three puppies in their high
chairs, with a spindrift of milk and prune-juice spattering
generously as the youngsters plied their spoons. Fuji had
arranged a series of scuppers, made of oilcloth, underneath the
chairs; but in spite of this the dining-room rug, after a meal,
looked much as the desert place must have after the feeding of
the multitude. Fuji, who was pensive, recalled the five loaves
and two fishes that produced twelve baskets of fragments. The
vacuum cleaner got clogged by a surfeit of crumbs.
Gissing saw that it would be a race between heart and head. If
Fuji's heart should become entangled (that is, if the innocent
charms of the children should engage his affections before his
reason convinced him that the situation was now too arduous,
there was some hope. He tried to ease the problem also by mental
suggestion. "It is really remarkable" (he said to Fuji) "that
children should give one so little trouble." As he made this
remark, he was speeding hotly to and fro between the bathroom and
the nursery, trying to get one tucked in bed and another
undressed, while the third was lashing the tub into soapy foam.
Fuji made his habitual response, "Very good, sir." But one fears
that he detected some insincerity, for the next day, which was
Sunday, he gave notice. This generally happens on a Sunday,
because the papers publish more Help Wanted advertisements then
than on any other day.
"I'm sorry, sir," he said. "But when I took this place there was
nothing said about three children."
This was unreasonable of Fuji. It is very rare to have everything
explained beforehand. When Adam and Eve were put into the Garden
of Eden, there was nothing said about the serpent.
However, Gissing did not believe in entreating a servant to stay.
He offered to give Fuji a raise, but the butler was still
determined to leave.
"My senses are very delicate," he said. "I really cannot stand
the--well, the aroma exhaled by those three children when they
have had a warm bath."
"What nonsense!" cried Gissing. "The smell of wet, healthy
puppies? Nothing is more agreeable. You are cold-blooded: I don't
believe you are fond of puppies. Think of their wobbly black
noses. Consider how pink is the little cleft between their toes
and the main cushion of their feet. Their ears are like silk.
Inside their upper jaws are parallel black ridges, most
remarkable. I never realized before how beautifully and carefully
we are made. I am surprised that you should be so indifferent to
these things."
There was a moisture in Fuji's eyes, but he left at the end of
the week.
A solitary little path ran across the fields not far from the
house. It lay deep among tall grasses and the withered brittle
stalks of last autumn's goldenrod, and here Gissing rambled in
the green hush of twilight, after the puppies were in bed. In
less responsible days he would have lain down on his back, with
all four legs upward, and cheerily shrugged and rolled to and
fro, as the crisp ground-stubble was very pleasing to the spine.
But now he paced soberly, the smoke from his pipe eddying just
above the top of the grasses. He had much to meditate.
The dogwood tree by the house was now in flower. The blossoms,
with their four curved petals, seemed to spin like tiny white
propellers in the bright air. When he saw them fluttering Gissing
had a happy sensation of movement. The business of those
tremulous petals seemed to be thrusting his whole world forward
and forward, through the viewless ocean of space. He felt as
though he were on a ship--as, indeed, we are. He had never been
down to the open sea, but he had imagined it. There, he thought,
there must be the satisfaction of a real horizon.
Horizons had been a great disappointment to him. In earlier days
he had often slipped out of the house not long after sunrise, and
had marvelled at the blue that lies upon the skyline. Here, about
him, were the clear familiar colours of the world he knew; but
yonder, on the hills, were trees and spaces of another more
heavenly tint. That soft blue light, if he could reach it, must
be the beginning of what his mind required.
He envied Mr. Poodle, whose cottage was on that very hillslope
that rose so imperceptibly into sky. One morning he ran and ran,
in the lifting day, but always the blue receded. Hot and
unbuttoned, he came by the curate's house, just as the latter
emerged to pick up the morning paper.
"Where does the blue begin?" Gissing panted, trying hard to keep
his tongue from sliding out so wetly.
The curate looked a trifle disturbed. He feared that something
unpleasant had happened, and that his assistance might be
required before breakfast.
"It is going to be a warm day," he said politely, and stooped for
the newspaper, as a delicate hint.
"Where does--?" began Gissing, quivering; but at that moment,
looking round, he saw that it had hoaxed him again. Far away, on
his own hill the other side of the village, shone the evasive
colour. As usual, he had been too impetuous. He had not watched
it while he ran; it had circled round behind him. He resolved to
be more methodical.
The curate gave him a blank to fill in, relative to baptizing the
children, and was relieved to see him hasten away.
But all this was some time ago. As he walked the meadow path,
Gissing suddenly realized that lately he had had little
opportunity for pursuing blue horizons. Since Fuji's departure
every moment, from dawn to dusk, was occupied. In three weeks he
had had three different servants, but none of them would stay.
The place was too lonely, they said, and with three puppies the
work was too hard. The washing, particularly was a horrid
problem. Inexperienced as a parent, Gissing was probably too
proud: he wanted the children always to look clean and soigne.
The last cook had advertised herself as a General Houseworker,
afraid of nothing; but as soon as she saw the week's wash in the
hamper (including twenty-one grimy rompers), she telephoned to
the station for a taxi. Gissing wondered why it was that the
working classes were not willing to do one-half as much as he,
who had been reared to indolent ease. Even more, he was irritated
by a suspicion of the ice-wagon driver. He could not prove it,
but he had an idea that this uncouth fellow obtained a commission
from the Airedales and Collies, who had large mansions in the
neighbourhood, for luring maids from the smaller homes. Of course
Mrs. Airedale and Mrs. Collie could afford to pay any wages at
all. So now the best he could do was to have Mrs. Spaniel, the
charwoman, come up from the village to do the washing and
ironing, two days a week. The rest of the work he undertook
himself. On a clear afternoon, when the neighbours were not
looking, he would take his own shirts and things down to the
pond--putting them neatly in the bottom of the red express-wagon,
with the puppies sitting on the linen, so no one would see. While
the puppies played about and hunted for tadpoles, he would wash
his shirts himself.
His legs ached as he took his evening stroll-- keeping within
earshot of the house, so as to hear any possible outcry from the
nursery. He had been on his feet all day. But he reflected that
there was a real satisfaction in his family tasks, however
gruelling. Now, at last (he said to himself), I am really a
citizen, not a mere dilettante. Of course it is arduous. No one
who is not a parent realizes, for example, the extraordinary
amount of buttoning and unbuttoning necessary in rearing
children. I calculate that 50,000 buttonings are required for
each one before it reaches the age of even rudimentary
independence. With the energy so expended one might write a great
novel or chisel a statue. Never mind: these urchins must be my
Works of Art. If one were writing a novel, he could not delegate
to a hired servant the composition of laborious chapters.
So he took his responsibility gravely. This was partly due to
the christening service, perhaps, which had gone off very
charmingly. It had not been without its embarrassments. None of
the neighbouring ladies would stand as godmother, for they were
secretly dubious as to the children's origin; so he had asked
good Mrs. Spaniel to act in that capacity. She, a simple kindly
creature, was much flattered, though certainly she can have
understood very little of the symbolical rite. Gissing, filling
out the form that Mr. Poodle had given him, had put down the
names of an entirely imaginary brother and sister-in-law of his,
"deceased," whom he asserted as the parents. He had been so busy
with preparations that he did not find time, before the
ceremony, to study the text of the service; and when he and Mrs.
Spaniel stood beneath the font with an armful of ribboned
infancy, he was frankly startled by the magnitude of the
promises exacted from him. He found that, on behalf of the
children, he must "renounce the devil and all his work, the vain
pomp and glory of the world;" that he must pledge himself to see
that these infants would "crucify the old man and utterly
abolish the whole body of sin." It was rather doubtful whether
they would do so, he reflected, as he felt them squirming in his
arms while Mrs. Spaniel was busy trying to keep their socks on.
When the curate exhorted him "to follow the innocency" of these
little ones, it was disconcerting to have one of them burst into
a piercing yammer, and wriggle so forcibly that it slipped quite
out of its little embroidered shift and flannel band. But the
actual access to the holy basin was more seemly, perhaps due to
the children imagining they were going to find tadpoles there.
When Mr. Poodle held them up they smiled with a vague almost
bashful simplicity; and Mrs. Spaniel could not help murmuring
"The darlings!" The curate, less experienced with children, had
insisted on holding all three at once, and Gissing feared lest
one of them might swarm over the surpliced shoulder and fall
splash into the font. But though they panted a little with
excitement, they did nothing to mar the solemn instant. While
Mrs. Spaniel was picking up the small socks with which the floor
was strewn, Gissing was deeply moved by the poetry of the
ceremony. He felt that something had really been accomplished
toward "burying the Old Adam." And if Mrs. Spaniel ever grew
disheartened at the wash-tubs, he was careful to remind her of
the beautiful phrase about the mystical washing away of sin.
They had been christened Groups, Bunks, and Yelpers, three
traditional names in his family.
Indeed, he was reflecting as he walked in the dusk, Mrs. Spaniel
was now his sheet anchor. Fortunately she showed signs of
becoming extraordinarily attached to the puppies. On the two days
a week when she came up from the village, it was even possible
for him to get a little relaxation--to run down to the station
for tobacco, or to lie in the hammock briefly with a book.
Looking off from his airy porch, he could see the same blue
distances that had always tempted him, but he felt too passive to
wonder about them. He had given up the idea of trying to get any
other servants. If it had been possible, he would have engaged
Mrs. Spaniel to sleep in the house and be there permanently; but
she had children of her own down in the shantytown quarter of the
village, and had to go back to them at night. But certainly he
made every effort to keep her contented. It was a long steep
climb up from the hollow, so he allowed her to come in a taxi and
charge it to his account. Then, on condition that she would come
on Saturdays also, to help him clean up for Sunday, he allowed
her, on that day, to bring her own children too, and all the
puppies played riotously together around the place. But this he
presently discontinued, for the clamour became so deafening that
the neighbours complained. Besides, the young Spaniels, who were
a little older, got Groups, Bunks, and Yelpers into noisy and
careless habits of speech.
He was anxious that they should grow up refined, and was
distressed by little Shaggy Spaniel having brought up the Comic
Section of a Sunday paper. With childhood's instinctive taste for
primitive effects, the puppies fell in love with the coloured
cartoons, and badgered him continually for "funny papers."
There is a great deal more to think about in raising children (he
said to himself) than is intimated in Dr. Holt's book on Care and
Feeding. Even in matters that he had always taken for granted,
such as fairy tales, he found perplexity. After supper--(he now
joined the children in their evening bread and milk, for after
cooking them a hearty lunch of meat and gravy and potatoes and
peas and the endless spinach and carrots that the doctors advise,
to say nothing of the prunes, he had no energy to prepare a
special dinner for himself)--after supper it was his habit to
read to them, hoping to give their imaginations a little exercise
before they went to bed. He was startled to find that Grimm and
Hans Andersen, which he had considered as authentic classics for
childhood, were full of very strong stuff--morbid sentiment,
bloodshed, horror, and all manner of painful circumstance.
Reading the tales aloud, he edited as he went along; but he was
subject to that curious weakness that afflicts some people:
reading aloud made him helplessly sleepy: after a page or so he
would fall into a doze, from which he would be awakened by the
crash of a lamp or some other furniture. The children, seized
with that furious hilarity that usually begins just about
bedtime, would race madly about the house until some breakage or
a burst of tears woke him from his trance. He would thrash them
all and put them to bed howling. When they were asleep he would
be touched with tender compassion, and steal in to tuck them up,
admiring the innocence of each unconscious muzzle on its pillow.
Sometimes, in a crisis of his problems, he thought of writing to
Dr. Holt for advice; but the will-power was lacking.
It is really astonishing how children can exhaust one, he used to
think. Sometimes, after a long day, he was even too weary to
correct their grammar. "You lay down!" Groups would admonish
Yelpers, who was capering in his crib while Bunks was being
lashed in with the largest size of safety pins. And Gissing,
doggedly passing from one to another, was really too fatigued to
reprove the verb, picked up from Mrs. Spaniel.
Fairy tales proving a disappointment, he had great hopes of
encouraging them in drawing. He bought innumerable coloured
crayons and stacks of scribbling paper. After supper they would
all sit down around the dining-room table and he drew pictures
for them. Tongues depending with concentrated excitement, the
children would try to copy these pictures and colour them. In
spite of having three complete sets of crayons, a full roster of
colours could rarely be found at drawing time. Bunks had the
violet when Groups wanted it, and so on. But still, this was
often the happiest hour of the day. Gissing drew amazing trains,
elephants, ships, and rainbows, with the spectrum of colours
correctly arranged and blended. The children specially loved his
landscapes, which were opulently tinted and magnificent in long
perspectives. He found himself always colouring the far horizons
a pale and haunting blue.
He was meditating these things when a shrill yammer recalled him
to the house.
In this warm summer weather Gissing slept on a little outdoor
balcony that opened off the nursery. The world, rolling in her
majestic seaway, heeled her gunwale slowly into the trough of
space. Disked upon this bulwark, the sun rose, and promptly
Gissing woke. The poplars flittered in a cool stir. Beyond the
tadpole pond, through a notch in the landscape, he could see the
far darkness of the hills. That fringe of woods was a railing
that kept the sky from flooding over the earth.
The level sun, warily peering over the edge like a cautious
marksman, fired golden volleys unerringly at him. At once Gissing
was aware and watchful. Brief truce was over: the hopeless war
with Time began anew.
This was his placid hour. Light, so early, lies timidly along the
ground. It steals gently from ridge to ridge; it is soft, unsure.
That blue dimness, receding from bole to bole, is the skirt of
Night's garment, trailing off toward some other star. As easily
as it slips from tree to tree, it glides from earth to Orion.
Light, which later will riot and revel and strike pitilessly
down, still is tender and tentative. It sweeps in rosy
scythe-strokes, parallel to earth. It gilds, where later it will
Gissing lay, without stirring. The springs of the old couch were
creaky, and the slightest sound might arouse the children within.
Now, until they woke, was his peace. Purposely he had had the
sleeping porch built on the eastern side of the house. Making the
sun his alarm clock, he prolonged the slug-a-bed luxury. He had
procured the darkest and most opaque of all shades for the
nursery windows, to cage as long as possible in that room Night
the silencer. At this time of the year, the song of the mosquito
was his dreaded nightingale. In spite of fine-mesh screens,
always one or two would get in. Mrs. Spaniel, he feared, left the
kitchen door ajar during the day, and these Borgias of the insect
world, patiently invasive, seized their chance. It was a rare
night when a sudden scream did not come from the nursery every
hour or so. "Daddy, a keeto, a keeto!" was the anguish from one
of the trio. The other two were up instantly, erect and yelping
in their cribs, small black paws on the rail, pink stomachs
candidly exposed to the winged stilleto. Lights on, and the room
must be explored for the lurking foe. Scratching themselves
vigorously, the fun of the chase assuaged the smart of those red
welts. Gissing, wise by now, knew that after a forager the
mosquito always retires to the ceiling, so he kept a stepladder
in the room. Mounted on this, he would pursue the enemy with a
towel, while the children screamed with merriment. Then stomachs
must be anointed with more citronella; sheets and blankets
reassembled, and quiet gradually restored. Life, as parents know,
can be supported on very little sleep.
But how delicious to lie there, in the morning freshness, to hear
the earth stir with reviving gusto, the merriment of birds, the
exuberant clink of milk-bottles set down by the back-door, the
whole complex machinery of life begin anew! Gissing was amazed
now, looking back upon his previous existence, to see himself so
busy, so active. Few people are really lazy, he thought: what we
call laziness is merely maladjustment. For in any department of
life where one is genuinely interested, he will be zealous beyond
belief. Certainly he had not dreamed, until he became (in a
manner of speaking) a parent, that he had in him such capacity
for detail.
This business of raising a family, though-- had he any true
aptitude for it? or was he forcing himself to go through with it?
Wasn't he, moreover, incurring all the labours of parenthood
without any of its proper dignity and social esteem? Mrs. Chow
down the street, for instance, why did she look so sniffingly
upon him when she heard the children, in the harmless uproar of
their play, cry him aloud as Daddy? Uncle, he had intended they
should call him; but that is, for beginning speech, a hard
saying, embracing both a palatal and a liquid. Whereas Da-da--the
syllables come almost unconsciously to the infant mouth. So he
had encouraged it, and even felt an irrational pride in the
honourable but unearned title.
A little word, Daddy, but one of the most potent, he was
thinking. More than a word, perhaps: a great social engine: an
anchor which, cast carelessly overboard, sinks deep and fast into
the very bottom. The vessel rides on her hawser, and where are
your blue horizons then?
But come now, isn't one horizon as good as another? And do they
really remain blue when you reach them?
Unconsciously he stirred, stretching his legs deeply into the
comfortable nest of his couch. The springs twanged. Simultaneous
clamours! The puppies were awake.
They yelled to be let out from the cribs. This was the time of
the morning frolic. Gissing had learned that there is only one
way to deal with the almost inexhaustible energy of childhood.
That is, not to attempt to check it, but to encourage and draw it
out. To start the day with a rush, stimulating every possible
outlet of zeal; meanwhile taking things as calmly and quietly as
possible himself, sitting often to take the weight off his legs,
and allowing the youngsters to wear themselves down. This, after
all, is Nature's own way with man; it is the wise parent's tactic
with children. Thus, by dusk, the puppies will have run
themselves almost into a stupor; and you, if you have shrewdly
husbanded your strength, may have still a little power in reserve
for reading and smoking.
The before-breakfast game was conducted on regular routine.
Children show their membership in the species by their love of
strict habit.
Gissing let them yell for a few moments--as long as he thought
the neighbours would endure it--while he gradually gathered
strength and resolution, shook off the cowardice of bed. Then he
strode into the nursery. As soon as they heard him raising the
shades there was complete silence. They hastened to pull the
blankets over themselves, and lay tense, faces on paws, with
bright expectant upward eyes. They trembled a little with
impatience. It was all he could do to restrain himself from
patting the sleek heads, which always seemed to shine with extra
polish after a night's rolling to and fro on the flattened
pillows. But sternness was a part of the game at this moment. He
solemnly unlatched and lowered the tall sides of the cribs.
He stood in the middle of the room, with a gesture of command.
"Quiet now," he said. "Quiet, until I tell you!"
Yelpers could not help a small whine of intense emotion, which
slipped out unintended. The eyes of Groups and Bunks swivelled
angrily toward their unlucky brother. It was his failing: in
crises he always emitted haphazard sounds. But this time Gissing,
with lenient forgiveness, pretended not to have heard.
He returned to the balcony, and reentered his couch, where he lay
feigning sleep. In the nursery was a terrific stillness.
It was the rule of the game that they should lie thus, in
absolute quiet, until he uttered a huge imitation snore. Once,
after a particularly exhausting night, he had postponed the snore
too long: he fell asleep. He did not wake for an hour, and then
found the tragic three also sprawled in amazing slumber. But
their pillows were wet with tears. He never succumbed again, no
matter how deeply tempted.
He snored. There were three sprawling thumps, a rush of feet, and
a tumbling squeeze through the screen door. Then they were on the
couch and upon him, with panting yelps of glee. Their hot tongues
rasped busily over his face. This was the great tickling game.
Remembering his theory of conserving energy, he lay passive while
they rollicked and scrambled, burrowing in the bedclothes,
quivering imps of absurd pleasure. All that was necessary was to
give an occasional squirm, to tweak their ribs now and then, so
that they believed his heart was in the sport. Really he got
quite a little rest while they were scuffling. No one knew
exactly what was the imagined purpose of the lark--whether he was
supposed to be trying to escape from them, or they from him. Like
all the best games, it had not been carefully thought out.
"Now, children," said Gissing presently. "Time to get dressed."
It was amazing how fast they were growing. Already they were
beginning to take a pride in trying to dress themselves. While
Gissing was in the bathroom, enjoying his cold tub (and under the
stimulus of that icy sluice forming excellent resolutions for the
day) the children were sitting on the nursery floor eagerly
studying the intricacies of their gear. By the time he returned
they would have half their garments on wrong; waist and trousers
front side to rear; right shoes on left feet; buttons hopelessly
mismated to buttonholes; shoelacings oddly zigzagged. It was far
more trouble to permit their ambitious bungling, which must be
undone and painstakingly reassembled, than to have clad them all
himself, swiftly revolving and garmenting them like dolls. But in
these early hours of the day, patience still is robust. It was
his pedagogy to encourage their innocent initiatives, so long as
endurance might permit.
Best of all, he enjoyed watching them clean their teeth. It was
delicious to see them, tiptoe on their hind legs at the basin, to
which their noses just reached; mouths gaping wide as they
scrubbed with very small toothbrushes. They were so elated by
squeezing out the toothpaste from the tube that he had not the
heart to refuse them this privilege, though it was wasteful. For
they always squeezed out more than necessary, and after a
moment's brushing their mouths became choked and clotted with the
pungent foam. Much of this they swallowed, for he had not been
able to teach them to rinse and gargle. Their only idea regarding
any fluid in the mouth was to swallow it; so they coughed and
strangled and barked. Gissing had a theory that this toothpaste
foam most be an appetizer, for he found that the more of it they
swallowed, the better they ate their breakfast.
After breakfast he hurried them out into the garden, before the
day became too hot. As he put a new lot of prunes to soak in cold
water, he could not help reflecting how different the kitchen and
pantry looked from the time of Fuji. The ice-box pan seemed to be
continually brimming over. Somehow--due, he feared, to a laxity
on Mrs. Spaniel's part--ants had got in. He was always finding
them inside the ice-box, and wondered where they came from. He
was amazed to find how negligent he was growing about pots and
pans: he began cooking a new mess of oatmeal in the double boiler
without bothering to scrape out the too adhesive remnant of the
previous porridge. He had come to the conclusion that children
are tougher and more enduring than Dr. Holt will admit; and that
a little carelessness in matters of hygiene and sterilization
does not necessarily mean instant death.
Truly his once dainty menage was deteriorating. He had put away
his fine china, put away the linen napery, and laid the table
with oil cloth. He had even improved upon Fuji's invention of
scuppers by a little trough which ran all round the rim of the
table, to catch any possible spillage. He was horrified to
observe how inevitably callers came at the worst possible moment.
Mr. and Mrs. Chow, for instance, drew up one afternoon in their
spick-and-span coupe with their intolerably spotless only child
sitting self-consciously beside them. Groups, Bunks, and Yelpers
were just then filling the garden with horrid clamour. They had
been quarrelling, and one had pushed the other two down the back
steps. Gissing, who had attempted to find a quiet moment to scald
the ants out of the ice-box, had just rushed forth and boxed them
all. As he stood there, angry and waving a steaming dishclout, to
Chows appeared. The puppies at once set upon little Sandy Chow,
and had thoroughly. mauled his starched sailor suit in the
driveway before two minutes were past. Gissing could not help
laughing, for he suspected that there had been a touch of malice
in the Chows coming just at that time.
He had given up his flower garden, too. It was all he could do to
shove the lawn-mower around, in the dusk, after the puppies were
in bed. Formerly he had found the purr of the twirling blades a
soothing stimulus to thought; but nowadays he could not even
think consecutively. Perhaps, he thought, the residence of the
mind is in the legs, not in the head; for when your legs are
thoroughly weary you can't seem to think.
So he had decided that he simply must have more help in the
cooking and housework. He had instructed Mrs. Spaniel to send the
washing to the steam-laundry, and spend her three days in the
kitchen instead. A huge bundle had come back from the laundry,
and he had paid the driver $15.98. With dismay he sorted the
clean, neatly folded garments. Here was the worthy Mrs. Spaniel's
list, painstakingly written out in her straggling script:--
8 towls
6 pymjarm Mr Gishing
12 rompers
3 blowses
6 cribb sheets
1 Mr. Gishing sheat
4 wastes
3 wosh clothes
2 onion sutes Mr Gishing
6 smal onion sutes
4 pillo slipes
3 sherts
18 hankerchifs smal
6 hankerchifs large
8 colers
3 overhauls
10 bibbs
2 table clothes (coca stane)
1 table clothe (prun juce and eg)
After contemplating this list, Gissing went to his desk and began
to study his accounts. A resolve was forming in his mind.
The summer evenings sounded a very different music from that thin
wheedling of April. It was now a soft steady vibration, the
incessant drone and throb of locust and cricket, and sometimes
the sudden rasp, dry and hard, of katydids. Gissing, in spite of
his weariness, was all fidgets. He would walk round and round the
house in the dark, unable to settle down to anything; tired, but
incapable of rest. What is this uneasiness in the mind, he asked
himself? The great sonorous drumming of the summer night was like
the bruit of Time passing steadily by. Even in the soft eddy of
the leaves, lifted on a drowsy creeping air, was a sound of
discontent, of troublesome questioning. Through the trees he
could see the lighted oblongs of neighbours' windows, or hear
stridulent jazz records. Why were all others so cheerfully
absorbed in the minutiae of their lives, and he so painfully ill
at ease? Sometimes, under the warm clear darkness, the noises of
field and earth swelled to a kind of soft thunder: his quickened
ears heard a thousand small outcries contributing to the awful
energy of the world--faint chimings and whistlings in the grass,
and endless flutter, rustle, and whirr. His own body, on which
hair and nails grew daily like vegetation, startled and appalled
him. Consciousness of self, that miserable ecstasy, was heavy
upon him.
He envied the children, who lay upstairs sprawled under their
mosquito nettings. Immersed in living, how happily unaware of
being alive! He saw, with tenderness, how naively they looked to
him as the answer and solution of their mimic problems. But where
could he find someone to be to him what he was to them? The truth
apparently was that in his inward mind he was desperately lonely.
Reading the poets by fits and starts, he suddenly realized that
in their divine pages moved something of this loneliness, this
exquisite unhappiness. But these great hearts had had the
consolation of setting down their moods in beautiful words, words
that lived and spoke. His own strange fever burned inexpressibly
inside him. Was he the only one who felt the challenge offered by
the maddening fertility and foison of the hot sun-dazzled earth?
Life, he realized, was too amazing to be frittered out in this
aimless sickness of heart. There were truths and wonders to be
grasped, if he could only throw off this wistful vague desire. He
felt like a clumsy strummer seated at a dark shining grand piano,
which he knows is capable of every glory of rolling music, yet he
can only elicit a few haphazard chords.
He had his moments of arrogance, too. Ah, he was very young! This
miracle of blue unblemished sky that had baffled all others since
life began--he, he would unriddle it! He was inclined to sneer at
his friends who took these things for granted, and did not
perceive the infamous insolubility of the whole scheme.
Remembering the promises made at the christening, he took the
children to church; but alas, carefully analyzing his mind, he
admitted that his attention had been chiefly occupied with
keeping them orderly, and he had gone through the service almost
automatically. Only in singing hymns did he experience a tingle
of exalted feeling. But Mr. Poodle was proud of his well-trained
choir, and Gissing had a feeling that the congregation was not
supposed to do more than murmur the verses, for fear of spoiling
the effect. In his favourite hymns he had a tendency to forget
himself and let go: his vigorous tenor rang lustily. Then he
realized that the backs of people's heads looked surprised. The
children could not be kept quiet unless they stood up on the
pews. Mr. Poodle preached rather a long sermon, and Yelpers,
toward twelve-thirty, remarked in a clear tone of interested
inquiry, "What time does God have dinner?"
Gissing had a painful feeling that he and Mr. Poodle did not
thoroughly understand each other. The curate, who was kindness
itself, called one evening, and they had a friendly chat. Gissing
was pleased to find that Mr. Poodle enjoyed a cigar, and after
some hesitation ventured to suggest that he still had something
in the cellar. Mr. Poodle said that he didn't care for anything,
but his host could not help hearing the curate's tail quite
unconsciously thumping on the chair cushions. So he excused
himself and brought up one of his few remaining bottles of White
Horse. Mr. Poodle crossed his legs and they chatted about golf,
politics, the income tax, and some of the recent books; but when
Gissing turned the talk on religion, Mr. Poodle became
diffident.. Gissing, warmed and cheered by the vital Scotch, was
perhaps too direct.
"What ought I to do to 'crucify the old man'?" he said.
Mr. Poodle was rather embarrassed.
"You must mortify the desires of the flesh," he replied. "You
must dig up the old bone of sin that is buried in all our
There were many more questions Gissing wanted to ask about this,
but Mr. Poodle said he really must be going, as he had a call to
pay on Mr. and Mrs. Chow.
Gissing walked down the path with him, and the curate did indeed
set ok toward the Chows'. But Gissing wondered, for a little
later he heard a cheerful canticle upraised in the open fields.
He himself was far from gay. He longed to tear out this malady
from his breast. Poor dreamer, he did not know that to do so is
to tear out God Himself. "Mrs. Spaniel," he said when the
laundress next came up from the village, "you are a widow, aren't
"Yes, sir," she said. "Poor Spaniel was killed by a truck, two
years ago April." Her face was puzzled, but beneath her apron
Gissing could see her tail wagging.
"Don't misunderstand me," he said quickly. "I've got to go away
on business. I want you to bring your children and move into this
house while I'm gone. I'll make arrangements at the bank about
paying all the bills. You can give up your outside washing and
devote yourself entirely to looking after this place."
Mrs. Spaniel was so much surprised that she could not speak. In
her amazement a bright bubble dripped from the end of her curly
tongue. Hastily she caught it in her apron, and apologized.
"How long will you be away, sir?" she asked.
"I don't know. It may be quite a long time."
"But all your beautiful things, furniture and everything," said
Mrs. Spaniel. "I'm afraid my children are a bit rough. They're
not used to living in a house like this--"
"Well," said Gissing, "you must do the best you can. There are
some things more important than furniture. It will be good for
your children to get accustomed to refined surroundings, and
it'll be good for my nephews to have someone to play with.
Besides, I don't want them to grow up spoiled mollycoddles. I
think I've been fussing over them too much. If they have good
stuff in them, a little roughening won't do any permanent harm."
"Dear me," cried Mrs. Spaniel, "what will the neighbours think?"
"They won't," said Gissing. "I don't doubt they'll talk, but they
won't think. Thinking is very rare. I've got to do some myself,
that's one reason why I'm going. You know, Mrs. Spaniel, God is a
horizon, not someone sitting on a throne." Mrs. Spaniel didn't
understand this--in fact, she didn't seem to hear it. Her mind
was full of the idea that she would simply have to have a new
dress, preferably black silk, for Sundays. Gissing, very
sagacious, had already foreseen this point. "Let's not have any
argument," he continued. "I have planned everything. Here is
some money for immediate needs. I'll speak to them at the bank,
and they will give you a weekly allowance. I leave you here as
caretaker. Later on I'll send you an address and you can write me
how things are going."
Poor Mrs. Spaniel was bewildered. She came of very decent people,
but since Spaniel took to drink, and then left her with a family
to support, she had sunk in the world. She was wondering now how
she could face it out with Mrs. Chow and Mrs. Fox-Terrier and the
other neighbours.
"Oh, dear," she cried, "I don't know what to say, sir. Why, my
boys are so disreputable-looking, they haven't even a collar
between them."
"Get them collars and anything else they need," said Gissing
kindly. "Don't worry, Mrs. Spaniel, it will be a fine thing for
you. There will be a little gossip, I dare say, but we'll have to
chance that. Now you had better go down to the village and make
your arrangements. I'm leaving tonight."
Late that evening, after seeing Mrs. Spaniel and her brood safely
installed, Gissing walked to the station with his suitcase. He
felt a pang as he lifted the mosquito nettings and kissed the
cool moist noses of the sleeping trio. But he comforted himself
by thinking that this was no merely vulgar desertion. If he was
to raise the family, he must earn some money. His modest income
would not suffice for this sudden increase in expenses. Besides,
he had never known what freedom meant until it was curtailed. For
the past three months he had lived in ceaseless attendance; had
even slept with one ear open for the children's cries. Now he
owed it to himself to make one great strike for peace. Wealth, he
could see, was the answer. With money, everything was attainable:
books, leisure for study, travel, prestige--in short, command
over the physical details of life. He would go in for Big
Business. Already he thrilled with a sense of power and
The little house stood silent in the darkness as he went down the
path. The night was netted with the weaving sparkle of fireflies.
He stood for a moment, looking. Suddenly there came a frightened
cry from the nursery.
"Daddy, a keeto, a keeto!"
He nearly turned to run back, but checked himself. No, Mrs.
Spaniel was now in charge. It was up to her. Besides, he had only
just enough time to catch the last train to the city.
But he sat on the cinder-speckled plush of the smoker in a mood
that was hardly revelry. "By Jove," he said to himself, "I got
away just in time. Another month and I couldn't have done it."
It was midnight when he saw the lights of town, panelled in gold
against a peacock sky. Acres and acres of blue darkness lay
close-pressing upon the gaudy grids of light. Here one might
really look at this great miracle of shadow and see its texture.
The dulcet air drifted lazily in deep, silent crosstown streets.
"Ah," he said, "here is where the blue begins."
"For students of the troubled heart
Cities are perfect works of art."
There is a city so tall that even the sky above her seems to have
lifted in a cautious remove, inconceivably far. There is a city
so proud, so mad, so beautiful and young, that even heaven has
retreated, lest her placid purity be too nearly tempted by that
brave tragic spell. In the city which is maddest of all, Gissing
had come to search for sanity. In the city so strangely beautiful
that she has made even poets silent, he had come to find a voice.
In the city of glorious ostent and vanity, he had come to look
for humility and peace.
All cities are mad: but the madness is gallant. All cities are
beautiful: but the beauty is grim. Who shall tell me the truth
about this one? Tragic? Even so, because wherever ambitions,
vanities, and follies are multiplied by millionfold contact,
calamity is there. Noble and beautiful? Aye, for even folly may
have the majesty of magnitude. Hasty, cruel, shallow? Agreed, but
where in this terrene orb will you find it otherwise? I know all
that can be said against her; and yet in her great library of
streets, vast and various as Shakespeare, is beauty enough for a
lifetime. O poets, why have you been so faint? Because she seems
cynical and crass, she cries with trumpet-call to the mind of the
dreamer; because she is riant and mad, she speaks to the grave
sanity of the poet.
So, in a mood perhaps too consciously lofty, Gissing was
meditating. It was rather impudent of him to accuse the city of
being mad, for he himself, in his glee over freedom regained, was
not conspicuously sane. He scoured the town in high spirits,
peering into shop-windows, riding on top of busses, going to the
Zoo, taking the rickety old steamer to the Statue of Liberty,
drinking afternoon tea at the Ritz, and all that sort of thing.
The first three nights in town he slept in one of the little
traffic-towers that perch on stilts up above Fifth Avenue. As a
matter of fact, it was that one near St. Patrick's Cathedral. He
had ridden up the Avenue in a taxi, intending to go to the Plaza
(just for a bit of splurge after his domestic confinement). As
the cab went by, he saw the traffic-tower, dark and empty, and
thought what a pleasant place to sleep. So he asked the driver to
let him out at the Cathedral, and after being sure that he was
not observed, walked back to the little turret, climbed up the
ladder, and made himself at home. He liked it so well that he
returned there the two following nights; but he didn't sleep
much, for he could not resist the fun of startling night-hawk
taxis by suddenly flashing the red, green, and yellow lights at
them, and seeing them stop in bewilderment. But after three
nights he thought it best to leave. It would have been awkward if
the police had discovered him.
It was time to settle down and begin work. He had an uncle who
was head of an important business far down-town; but Gissing,
with the quixotry of youth, was determined to make his own start
in the great world of commerce. He found a room on the top floor
of a quiet brownstone house in the West Seventies. It was not
large, and he had to go down a flight for his bath; the gas
burner over the bed whistled; the dust was rather startling after
the clean country; but it was cheap, and his sense of adventure
more than compensated. Mrs. Purp, the landlady, pleased him
greatly. She was very maternal, and urged him not to bolt his
meals in armchair lunches. She put an ashtray in his room.
Gissing sent Mrs. Spaniel a postcard with a picture of the
Pennsylvania Station. On it he wrote Arrived safely. Hard at
work. Love to the children. Then he went to look for a job.
His ideas about business were very vague. All he knew was that he
wished to be very wealthy and influential as soon as possible. He
could have had much sound advice from his uncle, who was a member
of the Union Kennel and quite a prominent dog-about-town. But
Gissing had the secretive pride of inexperience. Moreover, he did
not quite know what to say about his establishment in the
country. That houseful of children would need some explaining.
Those were days of brilliant heat; clear, golden, dry. The
society columns in the papers assured him that everyone was out
of town; but the Avenue seemed plentifully crowded with
beautiful, superb creatures. Far down the gentle slopes of that
glimmering roadway he could see the rolling stream of limousines,
dazzles of sunlight caught on their polished flanks. A faint blue
haze of gasoline fumes hung low in the bright warm air. This is
the street where even the most passive are pricked by the strange
lure of carnal dominion. Nothing less than a job on the Avenue
itself would suit his mood, he felt.
Fortune and audacity united (as they always do) to concede his
desire. He was in the beautiful department store of Beagle and
Company, one of the most splendid of its kind, looking at some
sand-coloured spats. In an aisle near by he heard a commotion--
nothing vulgar, but still an evident stir, with repressed yelps
and a genteel, horrified bustle. He hastened to the spot, and
through the crowd saw someone lying on the floor. An extremely
beautiful sales-damsel, charmingly clad in black crepe de chien,
was supporting the victim's head, vainly fanning him. Wealthy
dowagers were whining in distress. Then an ambulance clanged up
to a side door, and a stretcher was brought in. "What is it?"
said Gissing to a female at the silk-stocking counter.
"One of the floorwalkers--died of heat prostration," she said,
looking very much upset.
"Poor fellow," said Gissing. "You never know what will happen
next, do you?" He walked away, shaking his head.
He asked the elevator attendant to direct him to the offices of
the firm. On the seventh floor, down a quiet corridor behind the
bedroom suites, a rosewood fence barred his way. A secretary
faced him inquiringly.
"I wish to see Mr. Beagle."
"Mr. Beagle senior or Mr. Beagle junior?"
Youth cleaves to youth, said Gissing to himself. "Mr. Beagle
junior," he stated firmly.
"Have you an appointment?"
"Yes," he said.
She took his ward, disappeared, and returned. "This way, please,"
she said.
Mr. Beagle senior must be very old indeed, he thought; for junior
was distinctly grizzled. In fact (so rapidly does the mind run),
Mr. Beagle senior must be near the age of retirement. Very likely
(he said to himself) that will soon occur; there will be a
general stepping-up among members of the firm, and that will be
my chance. I wonder how much they pay a junior partner?
He almost uttered this question, as Mr. Beagle junior looked at
him so inquiringly. But he caught himself in time.
"I beg your pardon for intruding," said Gissing, "but I am the
new floorwalker."
"You are very kind," said Mr. Beagle junior, "but we do not need
a new floorwalker."
"I beg your pardon again," said Gissing, "but you are not au
courant with the affairs of the store. One has just died, right
by the silk-stocking counter. Very bad for business."
At this moment the telephone rang, and Mr. Beagle seized it. He
listened, sharply examining his caller meanwhile.
"You are right," he said, as he put down the receiver. "Well,
sir, have you had any experience?"
"Not exactly of that sort," said Gissing; "but I think I
understand the requirements. The tone of the store--"
"I will ask you to be here at four-thirty this afternoon," said
Mr. Beagle. "We have a particular routine in regard to candidates
for that position. You will readily perceive that it is a post of
some importance. The floorwalker is our point of social contact
with patrons "
Gissing negligently dusted his shoes with a handkerchief.
"Pray do not apologize," he said kindly. "I am willing to
congratulate with you on your good fortune. It was mere hazard
that I was in the store. To-day, of course, business will be
poor. But to-morrow, I think you will find--"
"At four-thirty," said Mr. Beagle, a little puzzled.
That day Gissing went without lunch. First he explored the whole
building from top to bottom, until he knew the location of every
department, and had the store directory firmly memorized. With
almost proprietary tenderness he studied the shining goods and
trinkets; noted approvingly the clerks who seemed to him
specially prompt and obliging to customers; scowled a little at
any sign of boredom or inattention. He heard the soft sigh of the
pneumatic tubes as they received money and blew it to some
distant coffer: this money, he thought, was already partly his.
That square-cut creature whom he presently discerned following
him was undoubtedly the store detective: he smiled to think what
a pleasant anecdote this would be when he was admitted to junior
partnership. Then he went, finally, to the special Masculine Shop
on the fifth floor, where he bought a silk hat, a cutaway coat
and waistcoat, and trousers of pearly stripe. He did not forget
patent leather shoes, nor white spats. He refused-the little
white linen margins which the clerk wished to affix to the V of
his waistcoat. That, he felt, was the ultra touch which would
spoil all. The just less than perfection, how perfect it is!
It was getting late. He hurried to Penn Station where he hired
one of those little dressing booths, and put on his regalia. His
tweeds, in a neat package, he checked at the parcel counter. Then
he returned to the store for the important interview.
He had expected a formal talk with the two Messrs. Beagle,
perhaps touching on such matters as duties, hours, salary, and so
on. To his surprise he was ushered by the secretary into a
charming Louis XVI salon farther down the private corridor. There
were several ladies: one was pouring tea. Mr. Beagle junior came
forward. The vice-president (such was Mr. Beagle junior's rank,
Gissing had learned by the sign on his door) still wore his
business garb of the morning. Gissing immediately felt himself to
have the advantage. But what a pleasant idea, he thought, for the
members of the firm to have tea together every afternoon. He
handed his hat, gloves, and stick to the secretary.
"Very kind of you to come," said Mr. Beagle. "Let me present you
to my wife."
Mrs. Beagle, at the tea-urn, received him graciously.
"Cream or lemon?" she said. "Two lumps?"
This is really delightful, Gissing thought. Only on Fifth Avenue
could this kind of thing happen. He looked down the hostess from
his superior height, and smiled charmingly.
"Do you permit three?" he said. "A little weakness of mine." As a
matter of fact, he hated tea so sweet; but he felt it was
strategic to fix himself in Mrs. Beagle's mind as a polished
"You must have a meringue," she said. "Ah, Mrs. Pomeranian has
them. Mrs. Pomeranian, let me present Mr. Gissing."
Mrs. Pomeranian, small and plump and tightly corseted, offered
the meringues, while Mrs. Beagle pressed upon him a plate with a
small doily, embroidered with the arms of the store, and its
motto je maintiendrai--referring, no doubt, to its prices. Mr.
Beagle then introduced him to several more ladies in rapid
succession. Gissing passed along the line, bowing slightly but
with courteous interest to each. To each one he raised his
eyebrows and permitted himself a small significant smile, as
though to convey that this was a moment he had long been
anticipating. How different, he thought, was this life of
enigmatic gaiety from the suburban drudgery of recent months. If
only Mrs. Spaniel could see him now! He eras about to utilize a
brief pause by sipping his tea, when a white-headed patriarch
suddenly appeared beside him.
"Mr. Gissing," said the vice-president, "this is my father, Mr.
Beagle senior."
Gissing, by quick work, shuffled the teacup into his left paw,
and the meringue plate into the crook of his elbow, so he was
ready for the old gentleman's salutation. Mr. Beagle senior was
indeed very old: his white hair hung over his eyes, he spoke with
growling severity. Gissing's manner to the old merchant was one
of respectful reassurance: he attempted to make an impression
that would console: to impart--of course without saying so--the
thought that though the head of the firm could not last much
longer, yet he would leave his great traffic in capable care.
"Where will I find an aluminum cooking pot?" growled the elder
Beagle unexpectedly.
"In the Bargain Basement," said Gissing promptly.
"He'll do!" cried the president.
To his surprise, on looking round, Gissing saw that all the
ladies had vanished. Beagle junior was grinning at him.
"You have the job, Mr. Gissing," he said. "You will pardon the
harmless masquerade--we always try out a floorwalker in that way.
My father thinks that if he can handle a teacup and a meringue
while being introduced to ladies, he can manage anything on the
main aisle downstairs. Mrs. Pomeranian, our millinery buyer, said
she had never seen it better done, and she mixes with some of the
swellest people in Paris."
"Nine to six, with half an hour off for lunch," said the senior
partner, and left the room.
Gissing calmly swallowed his tea, and ate the meringue. He would
have enjoyed another, but the capable secretary had already
removed them. He poured himself a second cup of tea. Mr. Beagle
junior showed signs of eagerness to leave, but Gissing detained
"One moment," he said suavely. "There is a little matter that we
have not discussed. The question of salary."
Mr. Beagle looked thoughtfully out of the window.
"Thirty dollars a week," he said.
After all, Gissing thought, it will only take four weeks to pay
for what I have spent on clothes.
There was some dramatic nerve in Gissing's nature that responded
eloquently to the floorwalking job. Never, in the history of
Beagle and Company, had there been a floorwalker who threw so
much passion and zeal into his task. The very hang of his
coattails, even the erect carriage of his back, the rubbery way
in which his feet trod the aisles, showed his sense of dignity
and glamour. There seemed to be a great tradition which enriched
and upheld him. Mr. Beagle senior used to stand on the little
balcony at the rear of the main floor, transfixed with the
pleasure of seeing Gissing move among the crowded passages.
Alert, watchful, urbane, with just the ideal blend of courtesy
and condescension, he raised floorwalking to a social art. Female
customers asked him the way to departments they knew perfectly
well, for the pleasure of hearing him direct them. Business began
to improve before he had been there a week.
And how he enjoyed himself! The perfection of his bearing on the
floor was no careful pose: it was due to the brimming overplus of
his happiness. Happiness is surely the best teacher of good
manners: only the unhappy are churlish in deportment. He was
young, remember; and this was his first job. His precocious
experience as a paterfamilias had added to his mien just that
suggestion of unconscious gravity which is so appealing to
ladies. He looked (they thought) as though he had been touched--
but Oh so lightly!--by poetic sorrow or strange experience: to
ask him the way to the notion counter was as much of an adventure
as to meet a reigning actor at a tea. The faint cloud of
melancholy that shadowed his brow may have been only due to the
fact that his new boots were pinching painfully; but they did not
know that.
So, quite unconsciously, he began to "establish" himself in his
role, just as an actor does. At first he felt his way tentatively
and with tact. Every store has its own tone and atmosphere: in a
day or so he divined the characteristic cachet of the Beagle
establishment. He saw what kind of customers were typical, and
what sort of conduct they expected. And the secret of conquest
being always to give people a little more than they expect, he
pursued that course. Since they expected in a floorwalker the
mechanical and servile gentility of a hired puppet, he exhibited
the easy, offhand simplicity of a fellow club-member. With
perfect naturalness he went out of his way to assist in their
shopping concerns: gave advice in the selection of dress
materials, acted as arbiter in the matching of frocks and
stockings. His taste being faultless, it often happened that the
things he recommended were not the most expensive: this again
endeared him to customers. When sales slips were brought to him
by ladies who wished to make an exchange, he affixed his O. K.
with a magnificent flourish, and with such evident pleasure, that
patrons felt genuine elation, and plunged into the tumult with
new enthusiasm. It was not long before there were always people
waiting for his counsel; and husbands would appear at the store
to convey (a little irritably) some such message as: "Mrs.
Sealyham says, please choose her a scarf that will go nicely with
that brown moire dress of hers. She says you will remember the
dress."--This popularity became even a bit perplexing, as for
instance when old Mrs. Dachshund, the store's biggest Charge
Account, insisted on his leaving his beat at a very busy time, to
go up to the tenth floor to tell her which piano he thought had
the richer tone.
Of course all this was very entertaining, and an admirable
opportunity for studying his fellow-creatures; but it did not go
very deep into his mind. He lived for some time in a confused
glamour and glitter; surrounded by the fascinating specious life
of the store, but drifting merely superficially upon it. The
great place, with its columns of artificial marble and white
censers of upward-shining electricity, glimmered like a birch
forest by moonlight. Silver and jewels and silks and slippers
flashed all about him. It was a marvellous education, for he soon
learned to estimate these things at their proper value; which is
low, for they have little to do with life itself. His work was
tiring in the extreme--merely having to remain upright on his
hind legs for such long hours WAS an ordeal--but it did not
penetrate to the secret observant self of which he was always
aware. This was advantageous. If you have no intellect, or only
just enough to get along with, it does not much matter what you
do. But if you really have a mind--by which is meant that rare
and curious power of reason, of imagination, and of emotion; very
different from a mere fertility of conversation and intelligent
curiosity--it is better not to weary and wear it out over
So, when he left the store in the evening, no matter how his legs
ached, his head was clear and untarnished. He did not hurry away
at closing time. Places where people work are particularly
fascinating after the bustle is over. He loved to linger in the
long aisles, to see the tumbled counters being swiftly brought to
order, to hear the pungent cynicisms of the weary shopgirls. To
these, by the way, he was a bit of a mystery. The punctilio of
his manner, the extreme courtliness of his remarks, embarrassed
them a little. Behind his back they spoke of him as "The Duke"
and admired him hugely; little Miss Whippet, at the stocking
counter, said that he was an English noble of long pedigree, who
had been unjustly deprived of his estates.
Down in the basement of this palatial store was a little dressing
room and lavatory for the floorwalkers, where they doffed their
formal raiment and resumed street attire. His colleagues grumbled
and hastened to depart, but Gissing made himself entirely
comfortable. In his locker he kept a baby's bathtub, which he
leisurely filled with hot water at one of the basins. Then he sat
serenely and bathed his feet; although it was against the rules
he often managed to smoke a pipe while doing so. Then he hung up
his store clothes neatly, and went off refreshed into the summer
A warm rosy light floods the city at that hour. At the foot of
every crosstown street is a bonfire of sunset. What a mood of
secret smiling beset him as he viewed the great territory of his
enjoyment. "The freedom of the city"--a phrase he had somewhere
heard--echoed in his mind. The freedom of the city! A magnificent
saying Electric signs, first burning wanly in the pink air, then
brightened and grew strong. "Not light, but rather darkness
visible," in that magic hour that just holds the balance between
paling day and the spendthrift jewellery of evening. Or, if it
rained, to sit blithely on the roof of a bus, revelling in the
gust and whipping of the shower. Why had no one told him of the
glory of the city? She was pride, she was exultation, she was
madness. She was what he had obscurely craved. In every line of
her gallant profile he saw conquest, triumph, victory! Empty
conquest, futile triumph, doomed victory--but that was the
essence of the drama. In thunderclaps of dumb ecstasy he saw her
whole gigantic fabric, leaning and clamouring upward with
terrible yearning. Burnt with pitiless sunlight, drenched with
purple explosions of summer storm, he saw her cleansed and pure.
Where were her recreant poets that they had never made these
things plain?
And then, after the senseless day, after its happy but
meaningless triviality, the throng and mixed perfumery and silly
courteous gestures, his blessed solitude! Oh solitude, that noble
peace of the mind! He loved the throng and multitude of the day:
he loved people: but sometimes he suspected that he loved them as
God does--at a judicious distance. From his rather haphazard
religious training, strange words came back to him. "For God so
loved the world . . ." So loved the world that--that what? That
He sent someone else . . . Some day he must think this out. But
you can't think things out. They think themselves, suddenly,
amazingly. The city itself is God, he cried. Was not God's
ultimate promise something about a city--The City of God? Well,
but that was only symbolic language. The city--of course that was
only a symbol for the race--for all his kind. The entire species,
the whole aspiration and passion and struggle, that was God.
On the ferries, at night, after supper, was his favourite place
for meditation. Some undeniable instinct drew him ever and again
out of the deep and shut ravines of stone, to places where he
could feed on distance. That is one of the subtleties of this
straight and narrow city, that though her ways are cliffed in,
they are a long thoroughfare for the eye: there is always a far
perspective. But best of all to go down to her environing water,
where spaces are wide: the openness that keeps her sound and
free. Ships had words for him: they had crossed many horizons:
fragments of that broken blue still shone on their cutting bows.
Ferries, the most poetical things in the city, were nearly empty
at night: he stood by the rail, saw the black outline of the town
slide by, saw the lower sky gilded with her merriment, and was
busy thinking.
Now about a God (he said to himself)--instinct tells me that
there is one, for when I think about Him I find that I
unconsciously wag my tail a little. But I must not reason on that
basis, which is too puppyish. I like to think that there is,
somewhere in this universe, an inscrutable Being of infinite
wisdom, harmony, and charity, by Whom all my desires and needs
would be understood; in association with Whom I would find peace,
satisfaction, a lightness of heart that exceed my present
understanding. Such a Being is to me quite inconceivable; yet I
feel that if I met Him, I would instantly understand. I do not
mean that I would understand Him: but I would understand my
relationship to Him, which would be perfect. Nor do I mean that
it would be always happy; merely that it would transcend anything
in the way of social significance that I now experience. But I
must not conclude that there is such a God, merely because it
would be so pleasant if there were.
Then (he continued) is it necessary to conceive that this deity
is super-canine in essence? What I am getting at is this: in
everyone I have ever known--Fuji, Mr. Poodle, Mrs. Spaniel, those
maddening delightful puppies, Mrs. Purp, Mr. Beagle, even Mrs.
Chow and Mrs. Sealyham and little Miss Whippet--I have always
been aware that there was some mysterious point of union at which
our minds could converge and entirely understand one another. No
matter what our difference of breed, of training, of experience
and education, provided we could meet and exchange ideas honestly
there would be some satisfying point of mental fusion where we
would feel our solidarity in the common mystery of life. People
complain that wars are caused by and fought over trivial things.
Why, of course! For it is only in trivial matters that people
differ: in the deep realities they must necessarily be at one.
Now I have a suspicion that in this secret sense of unity God may
lurk. Is that what we mean by God, the sum total of all these
instinctive understandings? But what is the origin of this sense
of kinship? Is it not the realization of our common subjection to
laws and forces greater than ourselves? Then, since nothing can
be greater than God, He must BE these superior mysteries. Yet He
cannot be greater than our minds, for our minds have imagined
My mathematics is very rusty, he said to himself, but I seem to
remember something about a locus, which was a curve or a surface
every point on which satisfied some particular equation of
relation among the coordinates. It begins to look to me as though
life might be a kind of locus, whose commanding equation we call
God. The points on that locus cannot conceive of the equation,
yet they are subject to it. They cannot conceive of that
equation, because of course it has no existence save as a law of
their being. It exists only for them; they, only by it. But there
it is--a perfect, potent, divine abstraction.
This carried him into a realm of disembodied thinking which his
mind was not sufficiently disciplined to summarize. It is quite
plain, he said to himself, that I must rub up my vanished
mathematics. For certainly the mathematician comes closer to God
than any other, since his mind is trained to conceive and
formulate the magnificent phantoms of legality. He smiled to
think that any one should presume to become a parson without
having at least mastered analytical geometry.
The ferry had crossed and recrossed the river several times, but
Gissing had found no conclusion for these thoughts. As the boat
drew toward her slip, she passed astern of a great liner. Gissing
saw the four tall funnels loom up above the shed of the pier
where she lay berthed. What was it that made his heart so stir?
The perfect rake of the funnels--just that satisfying angle of
slant--that, absurdly enough, was the nobility of the sight. Why,
then? Let's get at the heart of this, he said. Just that little
trick of the architect, useless in itself--what was it but the
touch of swagger, of bravado, of defiance--going out into the
vast, meaningless, unpitying sea with that dainty arrogance of
build; taking the trouble to mock the senseless elements,
hurricane, ice, and fog, with a 15-degree slope of masts and
funnels damn, what was the analogy?
It was pride, it was pride! It was the same lusty impudence that
he saw in his perfect city, the city that cried out to the hearts
of youth, jutted her mocking pinnacles toward sky, her clumsy
turrets verticalled on gold! And God, the God of gales and
gravity, loved His children to dare and contradict Him, to rally
Him with equations of their own.
"God, I defy you!" he cried.
Time is a flowing river. Happy those who allow themselves to be
carried, unresisting, with the current. They float through easy
days. They live, unquestioning, in the moment.
But Gissing was acutely conscious of Time. Though not subtle
enough to analyze the matter acutely, he had a troublesome
feeling about it. He kept checking off a series of Nows. "Now I
am having my bath," he would say to himself in the morning. "Now
I am dressing. Now I am on the way to the store. Now I am in the
jewellery aisle, being polite to customers. Now I am having
lunch." After a period in which time ran by unnoticed, he would
suddenly realize a fresh Now, and feel uneasy at the knowledge
that it would shortly dissolve into another one. He tried,
vainly, to swim up-stream against the smooth impalpable fatal
current. He tried to dam up Time, to deepen the stream so that
he could bathe in it carelessly. Time, he said, is life; and life
is God; time, then, is little bits of God. Those who waste their
time in vulgarity or folly are the true atheists.
One of the things that struck him about the city was its
heedlessness of Time. On every side he saw people spending it
without adequate return. Perhaps he was young and doctrinaire:
but he devised this theory for himself--all time is wasted that
does not give you some awareness of beauty or wonder. In other
words, "the days that make us happy make us wise," he said to
himself, quoting Masefield's line. On that principle, he asked,
how much time is wasted in this city? Well, here are some six
million people. To simplify the problem (which is permitted to
every philosopher) let us (he said) assume that 2,350,000 of
those people have spent a day that could be called, on the whole,
happy: a day in which they have had glimpses of reality; a day in
which they feel satisfaction. (That was, he felt, a generous
allowance. ) Very well, then, that leaves 3,650,000 people whose
day has been unfruitful: spent in uncongenial work, or in sorrow,
suffering, and talking nonsense. This city, then, in one day, has
wasted 10,000 years, or 100 centuries. One hundred centuries
squandered in a day! It made him feel quite ill, and he tore up
the scrap of paper on which he had been figuring.
This was a new, disconcerting way to think of the subject. We are
accustomed to consider Time only as it applies to ourselves,
forgetting that it is working upon everyone else simultaneously.
Why, he thought with a sudden shock, if only 36,500 people in
this city have had a thoroughly spendthrift and useless day, that
means a net loss of a century! If the War, he said to himself,
lasted over 1,500 days and involved more than 10,000,000 men, how
many aeons--He used to think about these things during quiet
evenings in the top-floor room at Mrs. Purp's. Occasionally he
went home at night still wearing his store clothes, because it
pleased good Mrs. Purp so much. She felt that it added glamour to
her house to have him do so, and always called her husband, a
frightened silent creature with no collar and a humble air, up
from the basement to admire. Mr. Purp's time, Gissing suspected,
was irretrievably wasted--a good deal of it, to judge by his
dusty appearance, in rolling around in ashcans or in the company
of the neighbourhood bootlegger; but then, he reflected, in a
charitable seizure, you must not judge other people's
time-spendings by a calculus of your own.
Perhaps he himself was growing a little miserly in this matter.
Indulging in the rare, the sovereign luxury of thinking, he had
suddenly become aware of time's precious fluency, and wondered
why everyone else didn't think about it as passionately as he
did. In the privacy of his room, weary after the day afoot, he
took off his cutaway coat and trousers and enjoyed his old habit
of stretching out on the floor for a good rest. There he would
lie, not asleep, but in a bliss of passive meditation. He even
grudged Mrs. Purp the little chats she loved--she made a point of
coming up with clean towels when she knew he was in his room,
because she cherished hearing him talk. When he heard her knock,
he had to scramble hastily to his feet, get on his clothes, and
pretend he had been sitting calmly in the rocking chair. It would
never do to let her find him sprawled on the floor. She had an
almost painful respect for him. Once, when prospective lodgers
were bargaining for rooms, and he happened to be wearing his
Beagle and Company attire, she had asked him to do her the favour
of walking down the stairs, so that the visitors might be
impressed by the gentility of the establishment.
Of course he loved to waste time--but in his own way. He gloated
on the irresponsible vacancy of those evening hours, when there
was nothing to be done. He lay very still, hardly even thinking,
just feeling life go by. Through the open window came the lights
and noises of the street. Already his domestic life seemed dim
and far away. The shrill appeals of the puppies, their appalling
innocent comments on existence, came but faintly to memory. Here,
where life beat so much more thickly and closely, was the place
to be. Though he had solved nothing, yet he seemed closer to the
heart of the mystery. Entranced, he felt time flowing on toward
him, endless in sweep and fulness. There is only one success, he
said to himself--to be able to spend your life in your own way,
and not to give others absurd maddening claims upon it. Youth,
youth is the only wealth, for youth has Time in its purse!
In the store, however, philosophy was laid aside. A kind of
intoxication possessed him. Never before had old Mr. Beagle
(watching delightedly from the mezzanine balcony) seen such a
floorwalker. Gissing moved to and fro exulting in the great tide
of shopping. He knew all the best customers by name and had
learned their peculiarities. If a shower came up and Mrs. Mastiff
was just leaving, he hastened to give her his arm as far as her
limousine, boosting her in so expeditiously that not a drop of
wetness fell upon her. He took care to find out the special plat
du jour of the store's lunch room, and seized occasion to whisper
to Mrs. Dachshund, whose weakness was food, that the filet of
sole was very nice to-day. Mrs. Pomeranian learned that giving
Gissing a hint about some new Parisian importations was more
effective than a half page ad. in the Sunday papers. Within a few
hours, by a judicious word here and there, he would have a score
of ladies hastening to the millinery salon. A pearl necklace of
great value, which Mr. Beagle had rebuked the jewellery buyer for
getting, because it seemed more appropriate for a dealer in
precious stones than for a department store, was disposed of
almost at once. Gissing casually told Mrs. Mastiff that he had
heard Mrs. Sealyham intended to buy it. As for Mrs. Dachshund,
who had had a habit of lunching at Delmonico's, she now was to be
seen taking tiffin at Beagle's almost daily. There were many
husbands who would have been glad to shoot him at sight on the
first of the month, had they known who was the real cause of
their woe.
Indeed, Gissing had raised floorwalking to a new level. He was
more prime minister than a mere patroller of aisles. With
sparkling eye, with unending curiosity, tact, and attention, he
moved quietly among the throng. He realized that shopping is the
female paradise; that spending money she has not earned is the
only real fun an elderly and wealthy lady can have; and if to
this primitive shopping passion can be added the delights of
social amenity--flattery, courtesy, good-humoured flirtation--the
snare is complete.
But all this is not accomplished without rousing the jealousy of
rivals. Among the other floorwalkers, and particularly in the
gorgeously uniformed attendant at the front door (who was
outraged by Gissing's habit of escorting special customers to
their motors) moved anger, envy, and sneers. Gissing, completely
absorbed in the fascination of his work, was unaware of this
hostility, as he was equally unaware of the amazed satisfaction
of his employer. He went his way with naive and unconscious
pleasure. It did not take long for his enemies to find a fulcrum
for their chagrin. One evening, after closing, when he sat in the
dressing room, with his feet in the usual tub of hot water,
placidly reviewing the day's excitements and smoking his pipe,
the superintendent burst in.
"Hey!" he exclaimed. "Don't you know smoking's forbidden? What do
you want to do, get our fire insurance cancelled? Get out of
here! You're fired!"
It did not occur to Gissing to question or protest. He had known
perfectly well that smoking was not allowed. But he was like the
stage hand behind the scenes who concluded it was all right to
light a cigarette because the sign only said SMOKING FORBIDDEN,
instead of SMOKING STRICTLY FORBIDDEN. He had not troubled his
mind about it, one way or about it, one way or another.
He had drawn his salary that evening, and his first thought was,
Well, at any rate I've earned enough to pay for the clothes. He
had been there exactly four weeks. Quite calmly, he lifted his
feet out of the tub and began to towel them daintily. The
meticulous way he dried between his toes was infuriating to the
"Have you any children?" Gissing asked, mildly.
"What's that to you?" snapped the other.
"I'll sell you this bathtub for a quarter. Take it home to them.
They probably need it."
"You get out of here!" cried the angry official.
"You'd be surprised," said Gissing, "how children thrive when
they're bathed regularly. Believe me, I know."
He packed his formal clothes in a neat bundle, left the bathtub
behind, surrendered his locker key, and walked toward the
employees' door, escorted by his bristling superior. As they
passed through the empty aisles, scene of his brief triumph, he
could not help gazing a little sadly. True merchant to the last,
a thought struck him He scribbled a note on the back of a sales
slip' and left it at Miss Whippet's post by the stocking counter.
It said:--
MISS WHIPPET: Show Mrs. Sealyham some of the bisque sports hose,
Scotch wool, size 9. She's coming to-morrow. Don't let her get
size 8 1/2. They shrink.
At the door he paused, relit his pipe leisurely, raised his hat
to the superintendent, and strolled away.
In spite of this nonchalance, the situation was serious. His
money was at a low ebb. All his regular income was diverted to
the support of the large household in the country. He was too
proud to appeal to his wealthy uncle. He hated also to think of
Mrs. Purp's mortification if she learned that her star boarder
was out of work. By a curious irony, when he got home he found a
letter from Mrs. Spaniel:--
MR. GISHING, dere friend, the pupeys are well, no insecks, and
eat with nives and forx Groups is the fattest but Yelpers is the
lowdest they send wags and lix and glad to here Daddy is doing so
well in buisness with respects from
He did not let Mrs. Purp know of the change in his condition, and
every morning left his lodging at the usual time. By some curious
attraction he felt drawn to that downtown region where his
kinsman's office was. This part of the city he had not properly
It was a world wholly different from Fifth Avenue. There was none
of that sense of space and luxury he had known on the wide slopes
of Murray Hill. He wandered under terrific buildings, in a breezy
shadow where javelins of colourless sunlight pierced through thin
slits, hot brilliance fell in fans and cascades over the uneven
terrace of roofs. Here was where husbands worked to keep Fifth
Avenue going: he wondered vaguely whether Mrs. Sealyham had
bought those stockings? One day he saw his uncle hurrying along
Wall Street with an intent face. Gissing skipped into a doorway,
fearing to be recognized. He knew that the old fellow would
insist on taking him to lunch at the Pedigree Club, would talk
endlessly, and ask family questions. But he was on the scent of
matters that talk could not pursue.
He perceived a sense of pressure, of prodigious poetry and beauty
and amazement. This was a strange jungle of life. Tall coasts of
windows stood up into the pure brilliant sky: against their feet
beat a dark surf of slums. In one foreign street, too deeply
trenched for sunlight, oranges were the only gold. The water,
reaching round in two arms, came close: there was a note of husky
summons in the whistles of passing craft. Almost everywhere,
sharp above many smells of oils and spices, the whiff of coffee
tingled his busy nose. Above one huge precipice stood a gilded
statue--a boy with wings, burning in the noon. Brilliance flamed
between the vanes of his pinions: the intangible thrust of that
pouring light seemed about to hover him off into blue air.
The world of working husbands was more tender than that of
shopping wives: even in all their business, they had left space
and quietness for the dead. Sunken among the crags he found two
graveyards. They were cups of placid brightness. Here, looking
upward, it was like being drowned on the floor of an ocean of
light. Husbands had built their offices half-way to the sky
rather than disturb these. Perhaps they appreciate rest all the
more, Gissing thought, because they get so little of it? Somehow
he could not quite imagine a graveyard left at peace in the
shopping district. It would be bad for trade, perhaps? Even the
churches on the Avenue, he had noticed, were huddled up and
hemmed in so tightly by the other buildings that they had
scarcely room to kneel. If I ever become a parson, he said (this
was a fantastic dream of his), I will insist that all churches
must have a girdle of green about them, to set them apart from
the world.
The two little brown churches among the cliffs had been gifted
with a dignity far beyond the dream of their builders. Their
pointing spires were relieved against the enormous facades of
business. What other altars ever had such a reredos? Above the
strepitant racket of the streets, he heard the harsh chimes of
Trinity at noonday--strong jags of clangour hurled against the
great sounding-boards of buildings; drifting and dying away down
side alleys. There was no soft music of appeal in the bronze
volleying: it was the hoarse monitory voice of rebuke. So spoke
the church of old, he thought: not asking, not appealing, but
imperatively, sternly, as one born to command. He thought with
new respect of Mr. Sealyham, Mr. Mastiff, Mr. Dachshund, all the
others who were powers in these fantastic flumes of stone. They
were more than merely husbands of charge accounts--they were
poets. They sat at lunch on the tops of their amazing edifices,
and looked off at the blue.
Day after day went by, but with a serene fatalism Gissing did
nothing about hunting a job. He was willing to wait until the
last dollar was broken: in the meantime he was content. You never
know the soul of a city, he said, until you are down on your
luck. Now, he felt, he had been here long enough to understand
her. She did not give her secrets to the world of Fifth Avenue.
Down here, where the deep crevice of Broadway opened out into
greenness, what was the first thing he saw? Out across the
harbour, turned toward open sea--Liberty! Liberty Enlightening
the World, he had heard, was her full name. Some had mocked her,
he had also heard. Well, what was the gist of her enlightenment?
Why this, surely: that Liberty could never be more than a statue:
never a reality. Only a fool would expect complete liberty. He
himself, with all his latitude, was not free. If he were, he
would cook his meals in his room, and save money--but Mrs. Purp
was strict on that point. She had spoken scathingly of two young
females she ejected for just that reason. Nor was Mrs. Purp
free--she was ridden by the Gas Company. So it went.
It struck him, now he was down to about three dollars, that a
generous gesture toward Fortune might be valuable. When you are
nearly out of money, he reasoned, to toss coins to the gods--i.
e., to buy something quite unnecessary--may be propitiatory. It
may start something moving in your direction. It is the touch of
bravado that God relishes. In a sudden mood of tenderness, he
bought two dollars' worth of toys and had them sent to the
children. He smiled to think hoer they would frolic over the
jumping rabbit. He sent Mrs. Spaniel a postcard of the Aquarium.
There is a good deal more to this business than I had realized,
he said, as he walked uptown through the East Side slums that hot
night. The audacity, the vitality, the magnificence, are plain
enough. But I seem to see squalor too, horror and pitiful dearth.
I believe God is farther off than I thought. Look here: if the
more you know, the less you know about God, doesn't that mean
that God is really enjoyed only by the completely simple--by
faith, never by reason?
He gave twenty-five cents to a beggar, and said angrily: "I am
not interested in a God who is known only by faith."
When he got uptown he was very tired and hungry. In spite of all
Mrs. Purp's rules, he smuggled in an egg, a box of biscuits, a
small packet of tea and sugar, and a tin of condensed milk. He
emptied the milk into his shaving mug, and used the tin to boil
water in, holding it over the gas jet. He was getting on finely
when a sudden knock on the door made him jump. He spilled the hot
water on his leg, and uttered a wild yell.
Mrs. Purp burst in, but she was so excited that she did not
notice the egg seeping into the clean counterpane.
"Oh, Mr. Gissing," she exclaimed, "I've been waiting all evening
for you to come in. Purp and I wondered if you'd seen this in the
paper to-night? Purp noticed it in the ads., but we couldn't
understand what it meant."
She held out a page of classified advertising, in which he read
with amazement:
If MR. GISSING, late floorwalker at Beagle and Company, will
communicate with Mr. Beagle Senior, he will hear matters greatly
to his advantage.
There had been great excitement in the private offices of Beagle
and Company after Gissing's sudden disappearance. Old Mr. Beagle
was furious, and hotly scolded his son. In spite of his advanced
age, Beagle senior was still an autocrat and insisted on
regulating the details of the great business he had built up.
"You numbskull!" he shouted to Beagle junior, "that fellow was
worth any dozen others in the place, and you let him be fired by
a mongrel superintendent."
"But, Papa," protested the vice-president, "the superintendent
had to obey the rules. You know how strict the underwriters are
about smoking. Of course he should have warned Gissing, instead
of discharging him "
"Rules!" interrupted old Beagle fiercely--"Rules don't apply in a
case like this. I tell you that fellow has a genius for
storekeeping. Haven't I watched him on the floor? I've never seen
one like him. What's the good of your newfangled methods, your
card indexes and overhead charts, when you haven't even got a
record of his address?"
Growling and showing his teeth, the head of the firm plodded
stiffly downstairs and discharged the superintendent himself.
Already he saw signs of disorganization in the main aisle. Miss
Whippet was tearful: customers were waiting impatiently to have
exchange slips O. K.'d: Mrs. Dachshund was turning over some
jewelled lorgnettes, but it was plain that she was only
"looking," and had no intention to purchase.
So when, after many vain inquiries, the advertisement reached its
target, the old gentleman welcomed Gissing with genuine emotion.
He received him into his private office, locked the door, and
produced a decanter. Evidently beneath his irritable moods he had
sensibilities of his own.
"I have given my life to trade," he said, "and I have grown weary
of watching the half-hearted simpletons who imagine they can rise
to the top by thinking more about themselves than they do about
the business. You, Mr. Gissing, have won my heart. You see
storekeeping as I do--a fine art, an absorbing passion, a
beautiful, thrilling sport. It is an art as lovely and subtle as
the theatre, with the same skill in wooing and charming the
Gissing bowed, and drank Mr. Beagle's health, to cover his
astonishment. The aged merchant fixed him with a glittering eye.
"I can see that storekeeping is your genius in life. I can see
that you are naturally consecrated to it. My son is a good steady
fellow, but he lacks the divine gift. I am getting old. We need
new fire, new brains, in the conduct of this business. I ask you
to forgive the unlucky blunder we made lately, and devote
yourself to us."
Gissing was very much embarrassed. He wanted to say that if he
was going to consecrate himself to floorwalking, he would relish
a raise in salary; but old Beagle was so tremulous and kept
blowing his nose so loudly that Gissing doubted if he could make
himself heard.
"I want you to take a position as General Manager," said Mr.
Beagle, "with a salary of ten thousand a year."
He rose and threw open a mahogany door that led out of his own
sanctum. "Here is your office," he said.
The bewildered Gissing looked about the room --the mahogany
flat-topped desk with a great sheet of plate glass shining
greenly at its thick edges; an inkwell, pens and pencils, a
little glass bowl full of bright paper-clips; one of those
rocking blotters that are so tempting; a water cooler which just
then uttered a seductive gulping bubble; an electric fan, gently
humming; wooden trays for letters and memoranda; on one wall a
great chart of names, lettered Organization of Personnel; a nice
domestic-looking hat-and-coat stand; a soft green rug--Ah, how
alluring it all was!
Mr. Beagle pointed to the outer door of the room, which had a
frosted pane. Through the glass the astounded floorwalker could
read the words
What a delightful little room to meditate in. From the broad
windows he could see the whole shining tideway of Fifth Avenue,
passing lazily in the warm sunlight. He turned to Mr. Beagle,
greatly moved.
The next day an advertisement appeared in the leading papers, to
this effect:--
take pleasure in announcing to
their patrons and friends that
has been admitted to the firm in
the status of General Manager
Je Maintiendrai
Mrs. Purp's excitement at this is easier imagined than described.
Her only fear was that now she would lose her best lodger. She
made Purp go out and buy a new shirt and a collar; she told
Gissing, rather pathetically, that she intended to have the whole
house repapered in the fall. The big double suite downstairs,
which could be used as bedroom and sitting-room, she suggested as
a comfortable change. But Gissing preferred to remain where he
was. He had grown fond of the top floor.
Certainly there was an exhilaration in his new importance and
prosperity. The store buzzed with the news. At his request, Miss
Whippet was promoted to the seventh floor to be his secretary. It
was delightful to make his morning tour of inspection through the
vast building. Mr. Hound, the store detective, loved to tell his
cronies how suspiciously he had followed "The Duke" that first
day. As Gissing moved through the busy departments he saw eyes
following him, tails wagging. Customers were more flattered than
ever by his courteous attentions. One day he even held a little
luncheon party in the restaurant, at which Mrs. Dachshund, Mrs.
Mastiff, and Mrs. Sealyham were his guests. He invited their
husbands, but the latter were too busy to come. It would have
been more prudent of them to attend. That afternoon Mrs.
Dachshund, carried away by enthusiasm, bought a platinum
wrist-watch. Mrs. Mastiff bought a diamond dog-collar. Mrs.
Sealyham, whose husband was temporarily embarrassed in Wall
Street, contented herself with a Sheraton chifforobe.
But it began to be evident that his delightful little office was
not going to be a shrine for quiet meditation. His vanity had
been pleased by the large advertisement about him, but he
suddenly realized the poison that lies in printer's ink. Almost
overnight, it seemed, he had been added to ten thousand mailing
lists. Little Miss Whippet, although she was fast at typewriting,
was hard put to it to keep up with his correspondence. She
quivered eagerly over her machine, her small paws flying. New
pink ribbons gleamed through her translucent summery georgette
blouse. They were her flag of exultation at her surprising rise
in life. She felt it was immensely important to get all these
letters answered promptly.
And so did Gissing. In his new zeal, and in his innocent
satisfaction at having entered the inner circle of Big Business,
he insisted on answering everything. He did not realize that
dictating letters is the quaint diversion of business men, and
that most of them mean nothing. It is simply the easiest way of
assuring yourself that you are busy.
This job was no sinecure. Old Mr. Beagle had so much affectionate
confidence in Gissing that he referred almost everything to him
for decision. Mr. Beagle junior, perhaps a little annoyed at the
floorwalker's meteoric translation, spent the summer afternoons
at golf. The infinite details of a great business crowded upon
him. Inexperienced, he had not learned the ways in which seasoned
"executives" protect themselves against useless intrusion. His
telephone buzzed like a hornet. Not five minutes went by without
callers or interruptions of some sort.
Most amazing of all, he found, was the miscellaneous passion for
palaver displayed by Big Business. Immediately he was invited to
join innumerable clubs, societies, merchants' associations. Every
day would arrive letters, on heavily embossed paper--"The Sales
Managers Club will hold a round-table discussion on Friday at one
o'clock. We would greatly appreciate it if you would be with us
and say a few words."-- "Will you be our guest at the monthly
dinner of the Fifth Avenue Guild, and give us any preachment that
is on your mind?"--"The Merchandising Uplift Group of Murray Hill
will meet at the Commodore for an informal lunch. It has been
suggested that you contribute to the discussion on Underwriting
Overhead."--"The Executives Association plans a clambake and
barbecue at the Barking Rock Country Club. Around the bonfire a
few impromptu remarks on Business Cycles will be called for. May
we count on you?"--"Will you address the Convention of Knitted
Bodygarment Buyers, on whatever topic is nearest your heart?"--
"Will you write for Bunion and Callous, the trade organ of the
Floorwalkers' Union, a thousand-word review of your career?"--
"Will you broadcast a twenty-minute talk on Department Store
Ethics, at the radio station in Newark? 250,000 radio fans will
be listening in." New to the strange and high-spirited world of
"executives," it was natural that Gissing did not realize that
the net importance of this kind of thing was absolute zero. It
did strike him as odd, perhaps, that merchants did not dare to go
on a junket or plan a congenial dinner without pretending to
themselves that it had some business significance. But, having
been so amazingly lifted into this atmosphere of great affairs,
he felt it was his duty to the store to play the game according
to the established rules. He was borne along on a roaring spate
of conferences, telephone calls, appointments, Rotarian lunches,
Chamber of Commerce dinners, picnics to talk tariff,
house-parties to discuss demurrage, tennis tournaments to settle
the sales-tax, golf foursomes to regulate price-maintenance. Of
all these matters he knew nothing whatever; and he also saw that
as far as the business of Beagle and Company was concerned it
would be better not to waste his time on such side-issues. The
way he could really be of service was in the store itself,
tactfully lubricating that complicated engine of goods and
personalities. But he learned to utter, when called upon, a few
suave generalities, barbed with a rollicking story. This made him
always welcome. He was of a studious disposition, and liked to
examine this queer territory of life with an unprejudiced eye.
After all, his inward secret purpose had nothing to do with the
success or failure of retail trade. He was still seeking a
horizon that would stay blue when he reached it.
More and more he was interested to perceive how transparent the
mummery of business was. He was interested to note how
persistently men fled from success, how carefully most of them
avoided the obvious principles of utility, honesty, prudence, and
courtesy, which are inevitably rewarded. These sagacious,
humorous fellows who were amusing themselves with twaddling trade
apothegms and ridiculous banqueteering solemnities, surely they
were aware that this had no bearing upon their own jobs? He
suspected that it was all a feverish anodyne to still some inward
unease. Since they must (not being fools) be aware that these
antics were mere subtraction of time from their business, the
obvious conclusion was, they were not happy with business. There
was some strange wistfulness in the conduct of Big Business Dogs,
he thought. Under the pretence of transacting affairs, they were
really trying to discover something that had eluded them.
The same thing, strangely enough, seemed to be going on in a
sphere of which he knew nothing, the world of art. He gathered
from the papers that writers, painters, musicians, were holding
shindies almost every night, at which delightful rebels, too busy
to occupy themselves with actual creation, talked charmingly
about their plans. Poets were reading poems incessantly,
forgetting to write any. Much of the newspaper comment on
literature made him shudder, for though this was a province quite
strange to him, he had sound instincts. He discerned fatal
ignorance and absurdity between the pompous lines. Yet, in its
own way, it seemed a bold and honest ignorance. Were these, too,
like the wistful executives, seeking where the blue begins?
But what was this strange agitation that forbade his
fellow-creatures from enjoying the one thing that makes
achievement possible--Solitude? He himself, so happy to be left
alone--was no one else like that? And yet this very solitude that
he craved and revelled in was, by a sublime paradox, haunted by
mysterious loneliness. He felt sometimes as though his heart had
been broken off from some great whole, to which it yearned to be
reunited. It felt like a bone that had been buried, which God
would some day dig up. Sometimes, in his caninomorphic conception
of deity, he felt near him the thunder of those mighty paws. In
rare moments of silence he gazed from his office window upon the
sun-gilded, tempting city. Her madness was upon him--her splendid
craze of haste, ambition, pride. Yet he wondered. This God he
needed, this liberating horizon, was it after all in the
cleverest of hiding-places--in himself? Was it in his own
undeluded heart?
Miss Whippet came scurrying in to say that the Display Manager
begged him to attend a conference. The question of apportioning
window space to the various departments was to be reconsidered.
Also, the book department had protested having rental charged
against them for books exhibited merely to add a finishing touch
to a furniture display. Other agenda: the Personnel Director
wished an appointment to discuss the ruling against salesbitches
bobbing their hair. The Commissary Department wished to present
revised figures as to the economy that would be effected by
putting the employees' cafeteria on the same floor as the store's
restaurant. He must decide whether early closing on Saturdays
would continue until Labor Day.
As he went about these and a hundred other fascinating
trivialities, he had a painful sense of treachery to Mr. Beagle
senior. The old gentleman was so touchingly certain that he had
found in him the ideal shoulders on which to unload his
honourable and crushing burden. With more than paternal pride old
Beagle saw Gissing, evidently urbane and competent, cheerfully
circulating here and there. The shy angel of doubt that lay deep
in Gissing's cider-coloured eye, the proprietor did not come near
enough to observe.
If there is tragedy in our story, alas here it is. Gissing,
incorrigible seceder from responsibilities that did not touch his
soul, did not dare tell his benefactor the horrid truth. But the
worm was in his heart. Late one night, in his room at Mrs.
Purp's, he wrote a letter to Mr. Poodle. After mailing it at a
street-box, he had a sudden pang. To the dreamer, decisions are
fearful. Then he shook himself and ran lightly to a little
lunchroom on Amsterdam Avenue, where he enjoyed doughnuts and
iced tea. His mind was resolved. The doughnuts, by a simple
symbolism, made him think of Rotary Clubs, also of millstones.
No, he must be fugitive from honour, from wealth, from Chambers
of Commerce. Fugitive from all save his own instinct. Those who
have bound themselves are only too eager to see the chains on
others. There was no use attempting to explain to Mr. Beagle--the
dear old creature would not understand.
The next day, after happily and busily discharging his duties,
and staying late to clean up his desk, Gissing left Beagle and
Company for good. The only thing that worried him, as he looked
round his comfortable office for the last time, was the thought
of little Miss Whippet's chagrin when she found her new promotion
at an end. She had taken such delight in their mutual dignity. On
the filing cabinet beside her typewriter desk was a pink geranium
in a pot, which she watered every morning. He could not resist
pulling out a drawer of her desk, and smiled gently to see the
careful neatness of its compartments, with all her odds and ends
usefully arranged. The ink-eraser, with an absurd little whisk
attached to it for brushing away fragments of rubbed paper; the
fascicle of sharpened pencils held together by an elastic band;
the tiny phial of typewriter oil; a small box of peppermints; a
crumpled handkerchief; the stenographic notebook with a pencil
inserted at the blank page, so as to be ready for instant service
the next day; the long paper-cutter for slitting envelopes; her
memorandum pad, on which was written Remind Mr. G. of Window
Display Luncheon--it seemed cruel to deprive her of all these
innocent amusements in which she delighted so much. And yet he
could not go on as a General Manager simply for the happiness of
Miss Whippet.
In the foliage of the geranium, where he knew she would find it
the first thing in the morning, he left a note:--
I am leaving the store to-night and will not be back. Please
notify Mr. Beagle. Explain to him that I shall never take a
position with one of his competitors; I am leaving not because I
didn't enjoy the job, but because if I stayed longer I might
enjoy it too much. Tell Mr. Beagle that I specially urge him to
retain you as assistant to the new Manager, whoever that may be.
You are entirely competent to attend to the routine, and the new
Manager can spend all his time at business lunches.
Please inform the Display Managers' Club that I can't speak at
their meeting to-morrow.
I wish you all possible good-fortune.
As he passed through the dim and silent aisles of the store, he
surveyed them again with mixed emotions. Here he might,
apparently, have been king. But he had no very poignant regret.
Another of his numerous selves, he reflected, had committed
suicide. That was the right idea: to keep sloughing them off,
throwing overboard the unreal and factitious Gissings, paring
them down until he discovered the genuine and inalienable
And so, for the second time, he made a stealthy exit from the
employees' door.
Four days later he read in the paper of old Mr. Beagle's death.
There can be no doubt about it. The merchant died of a broken
Mr. Poodle's reply was disappointing. He said:--
St. Bernard's Rectory,
September 1st.
I regret that I cannot conscientiously see my way to writing to
the Bishop in your behalf. Any testimonial I could compose would
be doubtful at best, for I cannot agree with you that the Church
is your true vocation. I do not believe that one who has deserted
his family, as you have, and whose record (even on the most
charitable interpretation) cannot be described as other than
eccentric, would be useful in Holy Orders. You say that your life
in the city has been a great purgation. If so, I suggest that you
return and take up the burdens laid upon you. It has meant great
mortification to me that one of my own parish has been the cause
of these painful rumours that have afflicted our quiet community.
Notwithstanding, I wish you well, and hope that chastening
experience may bring you peace.
Very truly yours,
Gissing meditated this letter in the silence of along evening in
his room. He brought to the problem his favourite aid to clear
thinking-- strong coffee mixed with condensed milk. Mrs. Purp had
made concession to his peculiarities when he had risen so high in
the world: better to break any rules, she thought, than lose so
notable a tenant. She had even installed a small gas-plate for
him, so that he could brew his morning and evening coffee.
So he took counsel with his percolator, whose bubbling was a
sound he found both soothing and stimulating. He regarded it as a
kind of private oracle, with a calm voice of its own. He listened
attentively as he waited for the liquid to darken.
Appeal--to--the--Bishop,Appeal--to-the--Bishop, seemed to be the
speech of the jetting gurgitation under the glass lid.
He determined to act upon this, and lay his case before Bishop
Borzoi even without the introduction he had hoped for.
Fortunately he still had some sheets of Beagle and Company
notepaper, with the engraved lettering and Office of the General
Manager embossed thereon. He was in some doubt as to the proper
formality and style of address in communicating with a Bishop:
was it "Very Reverend," or "Right Reverend"? and which of these
indicated a superior grade of reverendability? But he decided
that a masculine frankness would not be amiss. He wrote:--
Dear Bishop:--
May one of the least of your admirers solicit an interview with
your very right reverence, to discuss matters pertaining to
religion, theology, and a possible vacancy in the Church? If
there are any sees outstanding, it would be a favour. This is
very urgent. I enclose a stamped addressed envelope.
Respectfully yours,
A prompt reply from the Bishop's secretary granted him an
Scrupulously attired in his tail-coat and silk hat, Gissing
proceeded toward the rendezvous. To tell the truth, he was
nervous: his mind flitted uneasily among possible embarrassments.
Suppose Mr. Poodle had written to the Bishop to prejudice his
application? Another, but more absurd, idea troubled him. One of
the problems in visiting the houses of the Great (he had learned
in his brief career in Big Business) is to find the door-bell. It
is usually mysteriously concealed. Suppose he should have to peer
hopelessly about the vestibule, in a shameful and suspicious
manner, until some flunky came out to chide? In the sunny park
below the Cathedral he saw nurses sitting by their
puppy-carriages; for an instant he almost envied their gross
tranquillity. THEY have not got (he said to himself) to call on a
He was early, so he strolled for a few minutes in the park that
lies underneath that rocky scarp. On the summit, clear-surging
against the blue, the great church rode like a ship on a long
ridge of sea. The angel with a trumpet on the jut of the roof was
like a valiant seaman in the crow's nest. His agitation was
calmed by this noble sight. Yes, he said, the Church is a ship
behind whose bulwarks I will find rest. She sails an unworldly
sea: her crew are exempt from earthly ambition and fallacy.
He ran nimbly up the long steps that scale the cliff, and
approached the episcopal residence. The bell was plainly visible.
He rang, and presently came a tidy little housemaid. He had
meditated a form of words. It would be absurd to say "Is the
Bishop in?" for he knew the Bishop WAS in. So he said "This is
Mr. Gissing. I think the Bishop is expecting me."
Bishop Borzoi was an impressive figure--immensely tall and
slender, with long, narrow ascetic face and curly white hair. He
was surprisingly cordial.
"Ah, Mr. Gissing?" he said. "Sit down, sir. I know Beagle and
Company very well. Too well, in fact-Mrs. Borzoi has an account
Gissing, feeling rather aghast and tentative, had no comment
ready. He was still worrying a little as to the proper mode of
"It is very pleasant to find you Influential Merchants interested
in the Church," continued the Bishop. "I often thought of
approaching the late Mr. Beagle on the subject of a small
contribution to the cathedral. Indeed, I have spent so much in
your store that it would be only a fair return. Mr. Collie, of
Greyhound, Collie and Company, has been very handsome with us: he
has just provided for repaving the choir."
Gissing began to fear that the object of his visit had perhaps
been misunderstood, but the prelate's eyes were bright with
benignant enthusiasm and he dared not interrupt.
"You inquired most kindly in your letter as to a possible vacancy
in the Church. Indeed there is a niche in the transept that I
should be happy to see filled. It is intended for some kind of
memorial statue, and perhaps, in honour of the late Mr. Beagle--"
"I must explain, Sir Bishop," said Gissing, very much disturbed,
"that I have left Beagle and Company. The contribution I wish to
make to the Church is not a decorative one, I fear. It is
"Yourself?" queried the Bishop, politely puzzled.
"Yes," stammered Gissing, "I--in fact, I am hoping to--to enter
the ministry."
The Bishop was plainly amazed, and his long, aristocratic nose
seemed longer than ever as he gazed keenly at his caller.
"But have you had any formal training in theology?"
"None, right reverend Bishop," said Gissing, "But it's this way,"
and, incoherently at first, but with increasing energy and
copious eloquence, he poured out the story of his mental
"This is singularly interesting," said the Bishop at length. "I
can see that you are wholly lacking in the rudiments of divinity.
Of modern exegesis and criticism you are quite innocent. But you
evidently have something which is much rarer --what the Quakers
call a CONCERN. Of course you should really go to the theological
seminary and establish this naif intuitive mysticism upon a
disciplined basis. You will realize that we churchmen can only
meet modern rationalism by a rationalism of our own--by a
philosophical scholarship which is unshakable. I do not suppose
that you can even harmonize the Gospels?"
Gissing ruefully admitted his ignorance.
"Well, at least I must make sure of a few fundamentals," said the
Bishop. "Of course a symbological latitude is permissible, but
there are some essentials of dogma and creed that may not be
He subjected the candidate to a rapid catechism. Gissing, in a
state of mind curiously mingled of excitement and awe, found
himself assenting to much that, in a calmer moment, he would
hardly have admitted; but having plunged so deep into the affair
he felt it would be the height of discourtesy to give negative
answers to any of the Bishop's queries. By dint of hasty mental
adjustments and symbolic interpretations, he satisfied his
"It is very irregular," the Bishop admitted, "but I must confess
that your case interests me greatly. Of course I cannot admit you
to ordination until you have passed through the regular
theological curriculum. Yet I find you singularly apt for one
without proper training."
He brooded a while, fixing the candidate with a clear darkly
burning eye.
"It struck me that you were a trifle vague upon some of the
Articles of Religion, and the Table of Kindred and Affinity. You
must remember that these articles are not to be subjected to your
own sense or comment, but must be taken in the literal and
grammatical meaning. However, you show outward and visible signs
of an inward and spiritual grace. It so happens that I know of a
small chapel, in the country, that has been closed for lack of a
minister. I can put you in charge there as lay reader."
Gissing's face showed his elation.
"And wear a cassock?" he cried.
"Certainly not," said the Bishop sternly. "Not even a surplice.
You must remember you have not been ordained. If you are serious
in your zeal, you must work your way up gradually, beginning at
the bottom."
"I have seen some of your cloth with a little purple dickey which
looks very well in the aperture of the waistcoat," said Gissing
humbly. "How long would it take me to work up to that?"
Bishop Borzoi, who had a sense of humour, laughed genially.
"Look here," he said. "It's a fine afternoon: I'll order my car
and we'll drive out to Dalmatian Heights. I'll show you your
chapel, and tell you exactly what your duties will be."
Gissing was startled. Dalmatian Heights was only a few miles from
the Canine Estates. If the news should reach Mr. Poodle...
"Sir Bishop," he said nervously, "I begin to fear that perhaps
after all I am unworthy. Now about those Articles of Religion: I
may perhaps have given some of them a conjectural and
commentating assent. Possibly I have presumed too far--"
The Bishop was already looking forward to a ride into the country
with his unusual novice.
"Not at all, not at all," he said cheerily. "In a mere lay
reader, a slight laxity is allowable. You understand, of course,
that you are expressly restricted from the pulpit. You will have
to read the lessons, conduct the service, and may address the
congregation upon matters not homiletic nor doctrinal; preaching
and actual entry into the pulpit are defended. But I see
excellent possibility in you. Perform the duties punctually in
this very lowly office, and high ranks of service in the church
militant will be open."
He put on a very fine shovel-hat, and led the way to his large
touring car.
It was a very uncomfortable ride for Gissing. A silk hat is the
least stable apparel for swift motoring, and the chauffeur drove
at high speed. The Bishop, leaning back in the open tonneau,
crossed one delicately slender shank over another, gazed in a
kind of ecstasy at the countryside, and talked gaily about his
days as a young curate. Gissing sat holding his hat on. He saw
only too well that, by the humiliating oddity of chance, they
were going to take the road that led exactly past his own house.
He could only hope that Mrs. Spaniel and the various children
would not be visible, for explanations would be too complicated.
Desperately he praised the view to be obtained on another road,
but Bishop Borzoi was too interested in his own topic to pay much
"By the way," said the latter, as they drew near the familiar
region, "I must introduce you to Miss Airedale. She lives in the
big place on the hill over there. Her family always used to
attend what I will now call YOUR chapel; she is a very ardent
churchgoer, and it was a sincere grief to her when the place had
to be closed. You will find her a great aid and comfort; not only
that, she is--what one does not always find in the devouter
members of her sex--young and beautiful. I think I understood you
to say you are a bachelor?"
They were approaching the last turning at which it was still
possible to avoid the fatal road, and Gissing's attention was
"Yes, after a fashion," he replied. "Bishop, do you know that
road down into the valley? The view is really superb--Yes, that
road--Oh, no, I am a bachelor--"
It was too late. The chauffeur, unconscious of this private
crisis, was spinning along the homeward way. With a tender
emotion Gissing saw the spires of the poplar trees, the hemlocks
down beyond the pond, the fringe of woods that concealed the
house until you were quite upon it--
The car swerved suddenly and the driver only saved it by a quick
and canny manoeuvre from going down the bank. He came to a stop,
and almost from underneath the rear wheels appeared a scuffling
dusty group of youngsters who had been playing in the road. There
they were-- Bunks, Groups, and Yelpers (inordinately grown!) and
two of the Spaniels. Their clothes were deplorable, their faces
grimed, their legs covered with burrs, their whole demeanour was
ragamuffin and wild: yet Gissing felt a pang of pride to see his
godchildren's keen, independent bearing contracted with the
rowdier, disreputable look of the young Spaniels. Quickly he
averted his head to escape recognition. But the urchins were all
gaping at the Bishop's shovel hat.
"Hot dog!" cried Yelpers "Some hat!"
To his horror, Gissing now saw Mrs. Spaniel, hastening in alarm
down from the house, spilling potatoes from her apron as she ran.
He hurriedly urged the driver to proceed.
"What terrible looking children," observed the Bishop, who
seemed fascinated by their stare. "Really, my good sister," he
said to Mrs. Spaniel, who was now panting by the running board;
"you must keep them off the road or someone will get hurt."
Gissing was looking for an imaginary object on the floor of the
car. To his great relief he heard the roar of the motor as they
started again. But he sat up a little too soon. A simultaneous
roar of "Daddy!" burst from the trio.
"What was that they were shouting at us?" inquired the Bishop,
looking back.
Gissing shook his head. He was too overcome to speak.
The little chapel at Dalmatian Heights sat upon a hill, among a
grove of pines, the most romantic of all trees. Life, a powerful
but clumsy dramatist, does not reject the most claptrap
"situations," which a sophisticated playwright would discard as
too obvious. For this sandy plateau, strewn with satiny
pine-needles, was the very horizon that had looked so blue and
beckoning from the little house by the pond. Not far away was the
great Airedale estate, which Gissing had known only at an
admiring distance--and now he was living there as an honoured
The Bishop had taken him to call upon the Airedales; and they,
delighted that the chapel was to be re-opened, had insisted upon
his staying with them. The chapel, in fact, was a special
interest with Mr. Airedale, who had been a leading contributor
toward its erection. Gissing was finding that life seemed to be
continually putting him into false positions; and now he
discovered, somewhat to his chagrin, that the lovely little
shrine of St. Spitz, whose stained windows glowed like rubies in
its cloister of dark trees, was rather a fashionable hobby among
the wealthy landowners of Dalmatian Hills. It had been closed all
summer, and they had missed it. The Bishop, in his airy and
indefinite way, had not made it quite plain that Gissing was only
a lay reader; and in spite of his embarrassed disclaimers, he
found himself introduced by Mr. Airedale to the country-house
clique as the new "vicar."
But at any rate it was lucky that the Airedales had insisted on
taking him in as a guest; for he had learned from the Bishop
(just as the latter was leaving) that there was no stipend
attached to the office of lay reader. Fortunately he still had
much of the money he had saved from his salary as General
Manager. And whatever sense of anomaly he felt was quickly
assuaged by the extraordinary comfort and novelty of his
environment. In the great Airedale mansion he experienced for the
first time that ultimate triumph of civilization--a cup of tea
served in bed before breakfast, with slices of bread-and-butter
of tenuous and amazing fragile thinness. He was pleased, too,
with the deference paid him as a representative of the cloth,
even though it compelled him to a solemnity he did not inwardly
feel. But most of all, undoubtedly, he was captivated by the
loveliness and warmth of Miss Airedale.
The Bishop had not erred. Admiring the aristocratic Roman trend
of her brow and nose; the proud, inquisitive carriage of her
somewhat rectangular head, her admirable, vigorous figure and
clear topaz eyes, Gissing was aware of something he had not
experienced before--a disturbance both urgent and agreeable, in
which the intellect seemed to play little part. He was startled
by the strength of her attractiveness, amazed to learn how
pleasing it was to be in her company. She was very young and
brisk: wore clothes of a smart sporting cut, and was (he thought)
quite divine in her riding breeches. But she was also completely
devoted to the chapel, where she played the music on Sundays. She
was a volatile creature, full of mischievous surprise: at their
first music practice, after playing over some hymns on the
pipe-organ, she burst into jazz, filling the quiet grove with the
clamorous syncope of Paddy-Paws, a favourite song that summer.
So into the brilliant social life of the Airedales and their
friends he found himself suddenly pitchforked. In spite of the
oddity of the situation, and of occasional anxiety when he
considered the possibility of Mr. Poodle finding him out, he was
very happy. This was not quite what he had expected, but he was
always adaptable. Miss Airedale was an enchanting companion. In
the privacy of his bedroom he measured himself for a pair of
riding breeches and wrote to his tailor in town to have them made
as soon as possible. He served the little chapel assiduously,
though he felt it better to conceal from the Airedales the fact
that he went there every day. He suspected they would think him
slightly mad if they knew, so he used to pretend that he had
business in town. Then he would slip away to the balsam-scented
hilltop and be perfectly happy sweeping the chapel floor, dusting
the pews, polishing the brasswork, rearranging the hymnals in the
racks. He arranged with the milkman to leave a bottle of milk and
some cinnamon buns at the chapel gate every morning, so he had a
cheerful and stealthy little lunch in the vestry-room, though
always a trifle nervous lest some of his parishioners should
discover him.
He practiced reading the lessons aloud at the brass lectern, and
discovered how easy is dramatic elocution when you are alone. He
wished it were possible to hold a service daily. For the first
time he was able to sing hymns as loud as he liked. Miss Airedale
played the organ with emphatic fervour, and the congregation,
after a little hesitation, enjoyed the lusty sincerity of a hymn
well trolled. Some of his flock, who had previously relished
taking part in the general routine of the service, were
disappointed by his zeal, for Gissing insisted on doing
everything himself. He rang the bell, ushered the congregation to
their seats, read the service, recited the Quadrupeds' Creed, led
the choir, gave out as many announcements as he could devise,
took up the collection, and at the close skipped out through the
vestry and was ready and beaming in the porch before the nimblest
worshipper had reached the door. On his first Sunday, indeed, he
carried enthusiasm rather too far: in an innocent eagerness to
prolong the service as much as possible, and being too excited to
realize quite what he was doing, he went through the complete
list of supplications for all possible occasions. The
congregation were startled to find themselves praying
simultaneously both for rain and for fair weather.
In a cupboard in the vestry-room he had found an old surplice
hanging; he took it down, tried it on before the mirror, and
wistfully put it back. To this symbolic vestment his mind
returned as he sat solitary under the pine-trees, looking down
upon the valley of home. It was the season of goldenrod and aster
on the hillsides: a hot swooning silence lay upon the late
afternoon. The weight and closeness of the air had struck even
the insects dumb. Under the pines, generally so murmurous, there
was something almost gruesome in the blank stillness: a
suspension so absolute that the ears felt dull and sealed. He
tried, involuntarily, to listen more clearly, to know if this
uncanny hush were really so. There was a sense of being
imprisoned, but only most delicately, in a spell, which some
sudden cracking might disrupt.
The surplice tempted him strongly, for it suggested the sermon he
felt impelled to deliver, against the Bishop's orders. For the
beautiful chapel in the piny glade was, somehow, false: or, at
any rate, false for him. The architect had made it a dainty poem
in stone and polished wood, but somehow God had evaded the neat
little trap. Moreover, the God his well-bred congregation
worshipped, the old traditionally imagined snow-white St. Bernard
with radiant jowls of tenderness, shining dewlaps of love;
paternal, omnipotent, calm--this deity, though sublime in its
way, was too plainly an extension of their own desires. His
prominent parishioners--Mr. Dobermann-Pinscher, Mrs. Griffon,
Mrs. Retriever; even the delightful Mr. Airedale himself--was it
not likely that they esteemed a deity everlastingly forgiving
because they themselves felt need of forgiveness? He had been
deeply shocked by the docility with which they followed the codes
of the service: even when he had committed his blunder of the
contradictory prayers, they had murmured the words automatically,
without protest. To the terrific solemnities of the Litany they
had made the responses with prompt gabbling precision, and with a
rapidity that frankly implied impatience to take the strain off
their knees.
Somehow he felt that to account for a world of unutterable
strangeness they had invented a God far too cheaply simple. His
mood was certainly not one of ribald easy scoff. It was they (he
assured himself) whose theology was essentially cynical; not he.
He was a little weary of this just, charitable, consoling,
hebdomadal God; this God who might be sufficiently honoured by a
decorously memorized ritual. Yet was he too shallow? Was it not
seemly that his fellows, bound on this dark, desperate venture of
living, should console themselves with decent self-hypnosis?
No, he thought. No, it was not entirely seemly. If they pretended
that their God was the highest thing knowable, then they must
bring to His worship the highest possible powers of the mind. He
had a strange yearning for a God less lazily conceived: a God
perhaps inclement, awful, master of inscrutable principles. Yet
was it desirable to shake his congregation's belief in their
traditional divinity? He thought of them--so amiable, amusing,
spirited and generous, but utterly untrained for abstract
imaginative thought on any subject whatever. His own strange
surmisings about deity would only shock and horrify them And
after all, was it not exactly their simplicity that made them
lovable? The great laws of truth would work their own destinies
without assistance from him! Even if these pleasant creatures did
not genuinely believe the rites they so politely observed (he
knew they did not, for BELIEF is an intellectual process of
extraordinary range and depth), was it not socially useful that
they should pretend to do so?
And yet--with another painful swing of the mind--was it necessary
that Truth should be worshipped with the aid of such
astonishingly transparent formalisms, hoaxes, and mummeries?
Alas, it seemed that this was an old, old struggle that must be
troublesomely fought out, again and again down the generations.
Prophets were twice stoned--first in anger; then, after their
death, with a handsome slab in the graveyard. But words uttered
in sincerity (he thought) never fail of some response. Though he
saw his fellows leashed with a heavy chain of ignorance,
stupidity, passion, and weakness, yet he divined in life some
inscrutable principle of honour and justice; some unreckonable
essence of virtue too intimate to understand; some fumbling
aspiration toward decency, some brave generosity of spirit, some
cheerful fidelity to Beauty. He could not see how, in a world so
obviously vast and uncouth beyond computation, they could find a
puny, tidy, assumptive, scheduled worship so satisfying. But
perhaps, since all Beauty was so staggering, it was better they
should cherish it in small formal minims. Perhaps in this whole
matter there was some lovely symbolism that he did not
The soft brightness was already lifting into upper air, a mingled
tissue of shadows lay along the valley. In the magical clarity of
the evening light he suddenly felt (as one often does, by
unaccountable planetary instinct) that there was a new moon.
Turning, he saw it, a silver snipping daintily afloat; and not
far away, an early star. He had found no creed in the prayer-book
that accounted for the stars. Here at the bottom of an ocean of
sky, we look aloft and see them thick-speckled--mere barnacles,
perhaps, on the keel of some greater ship of space. He remembered
how at home there had been a certain burning twinkle that peeped
through the screen of the dogwood tree. As he moved on his porch,
it seemed to flit to and fro, appearing and vanishing. He was
often uncertain whether it was a firefly a few yards away, or a
star the other side of Time. Possibly Truth was like that.
There was a light swift rustle behind him, and Miss Airedale
"Hullo!" she said. "I wondered where you were. Is this how you
spend your afternoons, all alone?"
Stars, creeds, cosmologies, promptly receded into remote
perspective and had to shift for themselves. It was true that
Gissing had somewhat avoided her lately, for he feared her
fascination. He wished nothing else to interfere with his search
for what he had not yet found. Postpone the female problem to the
last, was his theory: not because it was insoluble, but because
the solution might prove to be less interesting than the problem
itself. But side by side with her, she was irresistible. A
skittish brightness shone in her eyes.
"Great news!" she exclaimed. "I've persuaded Papa to take us all
down to Atlantic City for a couple of days."
"Wonderful!" cried Gissing. "Do you know, I've never been to the
"Don't worry," she replied. "I won't let you see much of the
ocean. We'll go to the Traymore, and spend the whole time dancing
in the Submarine Grill."
"But I must be back in time for the service on Sunday," he said.
"We're going to leave first thing in the morning. We'll go in the
car, and I'll drive. Will you sit with me in the front seat?"
"Watch me!" replied Gissing gallantly.
"Come on then, or you'll be late for dinner. I'll race you home!"
And she was off like a flash.
But in spite of Miss Airedale's threat, at Atlantic City they
both fell into a kind of dreamy reverie. The wine-like tingle of
that salty air was a quiet drug. The apparently inexhaustible
sunshine was sharpened with a faint sting of coming autumn.
Gissing suddenly remembered that it was ages since he had simply
let his mind run slack and allowed life to go by unstudied. Mr.
and Mrs. Airedale occupied a suite high up in the terraced mass
of the huge hotel; they wrapped themselves in rugs and basked on
their private balcony. Gissing and the daughter were left to
their own amusements. They bathed in the warm September surf;
they strolled the Boardwalk up beyond the old Absecon light,
where the green glimmer of water runs in under the promenade.
They sat on the deck of the hotel--or rather Miss Airedale sat,
while Gissing, courteously attentive, leaned over her
steamer-chair. He stood so for hours, apparently in devoted chat;
but in fact he was half in dream. The smooth flow of the little
rolling shays just below had a soothing hypnotic erect. But it
was the glorious polished blue of the sea-horizon that bounded
all his thoughts. Even while Miss Airedale gazed archly up at
him, and he was busy with cheerful conversation, he was conscious
of that broad band of perfect colour, monotonous, comforting,
thrilling. For the first time he realized the great rondure of
the world. His mind went back to the section of the prayer-book
that had always touched him most pointedly--the "Forms of Prayer
to be Used at Sea." In them he had found a note of sincere terror
and humility. And now he viewed the sea for the first time in
this setting of notable irony. The open dazzle of placid
elements, obedient only to some cosmic calculus, lay as a serene
curtain against which the quaint flamboyance of the Boardwalk was
all the more amusing. The clear rim of sea curving off into space
drew him with painful curiosity. Here at last was what he had
needed. The proud waters went over his soul. Here indeed the blue
He looked down at Miss Airedale, who had gone to sleep while
waiting for him to say something. He tiptoed away and went to his
room to write down some ideas. Against the wide challenge of that
blue hemisphere, where half the world lay open and free to the
eye, the Bishop's prohibition lost weight. He was resolved to
preach a sermon.
At dusk he met Miss Airedale on the high balcony that runs around
the reading-room of the hotel. They were quite alone up there.
Along the Boardwalk, in the pale sentimental twilight, the
translucent electric globes shone like a long string of pearls.
She was very tempting in a gay evening frock, and reproached him
for having neglected her. She shivered a little in the cool wind
coming off the darkening water. The weakness of the hour was upon
him. He put his arm tenderly round her as they leaned over the
"See those darling children down on the sand," she said. "I do
adore puppies, don't you?"
He remembered Groups, Bunks, and Yelpers. Nothing is so potent as
the love of children when you are away from them. She gazed
languishing at him; he responded with a generous pressure. But
his alarmed soul thrilled with panic.
"You must excuse me a moment, while I dress for dinner," he said.
He was strangely terrified by the look of secret understanding in
her beautiful eyes. It seemed to imply some subtle, inexpressible
pact. As a matter of truth, she was unconscious of it: it was
only the old demiurge speaking in her; the old demiurge which was
pursuing him just as ardently as he was trailing the dissolving
blue of his dream. But he was much agitated as he went down in
the elevator.
"Heavens," he said to himself; "are we all only toys in the power
of these terrific instincts?"
For the first time he was informed of the infinite feminine
capacity for being wooed.
That night they danced in the Submarine Grill. She floated in his
embrace with triumphant lightness. Her eyes, utilized as
temporary lamps by a lighting-circuit of which she was quite
unaware, beamed with happy lustre. The lay reader, always docile
to the necessities of occasion, murmured delightful trifles. But
his private thoughts were as aloof and shining and evasive as the
goldfish that twinkled in the glass pool overhead. He picked up
her scarf and her handkerchief when she dropped them. He smiled
vaguely when she suggested that she thought she could persuade
Mr. Airedale to stay in Atlantic City over the week-end, and why
worry about the service on Sunday? But when she and the yawning
Mrs. Airedale had retired, he hastened to his chamber and packed
his bag. Stealthily he went to the desk and explained that he was
leaving unexpectedly on business, and that the bill should go to
Mr. Airedale, whose guest he had been. He slipped away out of the
side door, and caught the late train. Mrs. Airedale chafed her
daughter that night for whining in her sleep.
The chapel of St. Spitz was crowded that fine Sunday morning, and
the clang and thud of its bells came merrily through the thin
quick air to worshippers arriving in their luxurious motors. The
amiable oddity of the lay reader's demeanour as priest had added
a zest to churchgoing. The congregation were particularly
pleased, on this occasion, to see Gissing appear in surplice and
stole. They had felt that his attire on the previous Sundays had
been a little too informal. And when, at the time usually
allotted to the sermon, Gissing climbed the pulpit steps,
unfurled a sheaf of manuscript, and gazed solemnly about, they
settled back into the pew cushions in a comfortable, receptive
mood. They had a subconscious feeling that if their souls were to
be saved, it was better to have it done with all the proper
formalities. They did not notice that he was rather pale, and
that his nose twitched nervously.
"My friends," he said, "in this beautiful little chapel, on this
airy hilltop, one might, if anywhere, speak with complete
honesty. For you who gather here for worship are, in the main,
people of great affairs; accustomed to looking at life with high
spirit and with quick imagination. I will ask you then to be
patient with me while I exhort you to carry into your religion
the same enterprising and ambitious gusto that has made your
worldly careers a success. You are accustomed to deal with great
affairs. Let me talk to you about the Great Affairs of God."
Gissing had been far too agitated to be able to recognize any
particular members of his audience. All the faces were fused into
a common blur. Miss Airedale, he knew, was in the organ loft, but
he had not seen her since his flight from Atlantic City, for he
had removed from the Airedale mansion before her return, and had
made himself a bed in the corner of the vestry-room. He feared
she was angry: there had been a vigorous growling note in some of
the bass pipes of the organ as she played the opening hymn. He
had not seen a tall white-haired figure who came into the chapel
rather late, after the service had begun, and took a seat at the
back. Bishop Borzoi had seized the opportunity to drive out to
Dalmatian Heights this morning to see how his protege was getting
on. When the Bishop saw his lay reader appear in surplice and
scarlet hood, he was startled. But when the amateur parson
actually ascended the pulpit, the Bishop's face was a study. The
hair on the back of his neck bristled slightly.
"It is so easy," Gissing continued, "to let life go by us in its
swift amusing course, that sometimes it hardly seems worth while
to attempt any bold strokes for truth. Truth, of course, does not
need our assistance; it can afford to ignore our errors. But in
this quiet place, among the whisper of the trees, I seem to have
heard a disconcerting sound. I have heard laughter, and I think
it is the laughter of God."
The congregation stirred a little, with polite uneasiness. This
was not quite the sort of thing to which they were accustomed.
"Why should God laugh? I think it is because He sees that very
often, when we pretend to be worshipping Him, we are really
worshipping and gratifying ourselves. I used the phrase 'Great
Affairs.' The point I want to make is that God deals with far
greater affairs than we have realized. We have imagined Him on
too petty a scale. If God is so great, we must approach Him in a
spirit of greatness. He is not interested in trivialities--
trivialities of ritual, of creed, of ceremony. We have imagined a
vain thing--a God of our own species; merely adding to the
conception, to gild and consecrate, a futile fuzbuz of
supernaturalism. My friends, the God I imagine is something more
than a formula on Sundays and an oath during the week."
Those sitting in the rear of the Chapel were startled to hear a
low rumbling sound proceeding from the diaphragm of the Bishop,
who half rose from his seat and then, by a great effort of will,
contained himself. But Gissing, rapt in his honourable
speculations, continued with growing happiness.
"I ask you, though probably in vain, to lay aside for the moment
your inherited timidities and conventions. I ask you to lay aside
pride, which is the devil itself and the cause of most
unhappiness. I ask you to rise to the height of a great
conception. To 'magnify' God is a common phrase in our
observances. Then let us truly magnify Him--not minify, as the
theologians do. If God is anything more than a social fetich,
then He must be so much more that He includes and explains
everything. It may sound inconceivable to you, it may sound
sacrilegious, but I suggest to you that it is even possible God
may be a biped--"
The Bishop could restrain himself no longer. He rose with flaming
eyes and stood in the aisle. Mr. Airedale, Mr.
Dobermann-Pinscher, and several other prominent members of the
Church burst into threatening growls. A wild bark and clamour
broke from Mr. Towser, the Sunday School superintendent, and his
pupils, who sat in the little gallery over the door. And then, to
Gissing's horror and amazement, Mr. Poodle appeared from behind a
pillar where he had been chafing unseen. In a fierce tenor voice
shaken with indignation he cried:
"Heretic and hypocrite! Pay no attention to his abominable
nonsense! He deserted his family to lead a life of pleasure!"
"Seize him!" cried the Bishop in a voice of thunder.
The church was now in an uproar. A shrill yapping sounded among
the choir. Mrs. Airedale swooned; the Bishop's progress up the
aisle was impeded by a number of ladies hastening for an exit.
Old Mr. Dingo, the sexton, seized the bell-rope in the porch and
set up a furious pealing. Cries of rage mingled with hysterical
howls from the ladies. Gissing, trembling with horror, surveyed
the atrocious hubbub. But it was high time to move, or his
retreat would be cut off. He abandoned his manuscript and bounded
down the pulpit stairs.
"Unfrock him!" yelled Mr. Poodle.
"He's never been frocked!" roared the Bishop.
"Impostor!" cried Mr. Airedale.
"Excommunicate him!" screamed Mr. Towser.
"Take him before the consistory!" shouted Mr. Poodle.
Gissing started toward the vestry door, but was delayed by the
mass of scuffling choir-puppies who had seized this
uncomprehended diversion as a chance to settle some scores of
their own. The clamour was maddening. The Bishop leapt the
chancel rail and was about to seize him when Miss Airedale, loyal
to the last, interposed. She flung herself upon the Bishop.
"Run, run!" she cried. "They'll kill you!"
Gissing profited by this assistance. He pushed over the lectern
upon Mr. Poodle, who was clutching at his surplice. He checked
Mr. Airedale by hurling little Tommy Bull, one of the choir,
bodily at him. Tommy's teeth fastened automatically upon Mr.
Airedale's ear. The surplice, which Mr. Poodle was still holding,
parted with a rip, and Gissing was free. With a yell of defiance
he tore through the vestry and round behind the chapel.
He could not help pausing a moment to scan the amazing scene,
which had been all Sabbath calm a few moments before. From the
long line of motor cars parked outside the chapel incredible
chauffeurs were leaping, hurrying to see what had happened. The
shady grove shook with the hideous clamour of the bell, still
wildly tolled by the frantic sexton. The sudden excitement had
liberated private quarrels long decently repressed: in the porch
Mrs. Retriever and Mrs. Dobermann-Pinscher were locked in combat.
With a splintering crash one of the choir-pups came sailing
through a stained-glass window, evidently thrown by some
infuriated adult. He recognized the voice of Mr. Towser, raised
in vigorous lamentation. To judge by the sound, Mr. Towser's
pupils had turned upon him and were giving him a bad time. Above
all he could hear the clear war-cry of Miss Airedale and the
embittered yells of Mr. Poodle. Then from the quaking edifice
burst Bishop Borzoi, foaming with wrath, his clothes much
tattered, and followed by Mr. Poodle, Mr. Airedale, and several
others. They cast about for a moment, and then the Bishop saw
him. With a joint halloo they launched toward him.
There was no time to lose. He fled down the shady path between
the trees, but with a hopeless horror in his heart. He could not
long outdistance such a runner as the Bishop, whose tremendous
strides would surely overhaul him in the end. If only he had
known how to drive a car, he might have commandeered one of the
long row waiting by the gate. But he was no motorist. Miss
Airedale could have saved him, in her racing roadster, but she
had not emerged from the melee in the chapel. Perhaps the Bishop
had bitten her. His blood warmed with anger.
It happened that they had been mending the county highways, and a
large steam roller stood a few hundred feet down the road, drawn
up beside the ditch. Gissing knew that it was customary to leave
these engines with the fire banked and a gentle pressure of steam
simmering in the boiler. It was his only chance, and he seized
it. But to his dismay, when he reached the machine, which lay
just round a bend in the road, he found it shrouded with a huge
tarpaulin. However, this suggested a desperate chance. He whipped
nimbly inside the covering and hid in the coal-box. Lying there,
he heard the chase go panting by.
As soon as he dared, he climbed out, stripped off the canvas, and
gazed at the bulky engine. It was one of those very tall and
impressive rollers with a canopy over the top. The machinery was
not complicated, and the ingenuity of desperation spurred him on.
Hurriedly he opened the draughts in the fire-box, shook up the
coals, and saw the needle begin to quiver on the pressure-gauge.
He experimented with one or two levers and handles. The first one
he touched let off a loud scream from the whistle. Then he
discovered the throttle. He opened it a few notches, cautiously.
The ponderous machine, with a horrible clanking and grinding,
began to move forward.
A steam roller may seem the least helpful of all vehicles in
which to conduct an urgent flight; but Gissing's reasoning was
sound. In the first place, no one would expect to find a hunted
fugitive in this lumbering, sluggish behemoth of the road.
Secondly, sitting perched high up in the driving saddle, right
under the canopy, he was not easily seen by the casual passer-by.
And thirdly, if the pursuit came to close grips, he was still in
a strategic position. For this, the most versatile of all
land-machines except the military tank, can move across fields,
crash through underbrush, and travel in a hundred places that
would stall a motor car. He rumbled off down the road somewhat
exhilarated. He found the scarlet stole twisted round his neck,
and tied it to one of the stanchions of the canopy as a flag of
defiance. It was not long before he saw the posse of pursuit
returning along the road, very hot and angry. He crunched along
solemnly, busying himself to get up a strong head of steam. There
they were, the Bishop, Mr. Poodle, Mr. Airedale, Mr.
Dobermann-Pinscher, and Mr. Towser. Mr. Poodle was talking
excitedly: the Bishop's tongue ran in and out over his gleaming
teeth. He was not saying much, but his manner was full of deadly
wrath. They paid no attention to the roller, and were about to
pass it without even looking up, when Gissing, in a sudden fit of
indignation, gave the wheel a quick twirl and turned his clumsy
engine upon them. They escaped only by a hair's breadth from
being flattened out like pastry. Then the Bishop, looking up,
recognized the renegade. With a cry of anger they all leaped at
the roller.
But he was so high above them, they had no chance. He seized the
coal-scoop and whanged Mr. Poodle across the skull. The Bishop
came dangerously near reaching him, but Gissing released a jet of
scalding steam from an exhaust-cock, which gave the impetuous
prelate much cause for grief. A lump of coal, accurately thrown,
discouraged Mr. Airedale. Mr. Towser, attacking on the other side
of the engine, managed to scramble up so high that he carried
away the embroidered stole, but otherwise the fugitive had all
the best of it. Mr. Dobermann-Pinscher burned his feet trying to
climb up the side of the boiler. From the summit of his uncouth
vehicle Gissing looked down undismayed.
"Miserable freethinker!" said Borzoi. "You shall be tried by the
assembly of bishops."
"In a mere lay reader," quoted Gissing, "a slight laxity is
allowable. You had better go back and calm down the congregation,
or they'll tear the chapel to bits. This kind of thing will have
a very bad influence on church discipline."
They shouted additional menace, but Gissing had already started
his deafening machinery and could not hear what was said. He left
them bickering by the roadside.
For fear of further pursuit, he turned off the highway a little
beyond, and rumbled noisily down a rustic lane between high banks
and hedges where sumac was turning red. Strangely enough, there
was something very comforting about his enormous crawling
contraption. It was docile and reliable, like an elephant. The
crashing clangour of its movement was soon forgotten-- became, in
fact, an actual stimulus to thought. For the mere pleasure of
novelty, he steered through a copse, and took joy in seeing the
monster thrash its way through thickets and brambles, and then
across a field of crackling stubble. Steering toward the lonelier
regions of that farming country, presently he halted in a dingle
of birches beside a small pond. He spent some time very happily,
carefully studying the machinery. He found some waste and an
oilcan in the tool-chest, and polished until the metal shone. The
water looked rather low in the gauge, and he replenished it from
the pool.
It was while grooming the roller that it struck him his own
appearance was unusual for a highway mechanic. He was still
wearing the famous floorwalker suit, which he had punctiliously
donned every Sunday for chapel. But he had had to flee without a
hat--even without his luggage, which was neatly packed in a bag
in the vestry. That, he felt sure, Mr. Poodle had already burst
open for evidences of heresy and schism. The pearly trousers were
stained with oil and coal-dust; the neat cutaway coat bore smears
of engine-grease. As long as he stuck to the roller and the
telltale garments, pursuit and identification would of course be
easy enough. But he had taken a fancy to the machine: he decided
not to abandon it yet.
Obviously it was better to keep to the roads, where the engine
would at any rate be less surprisingly conspicuous, and where it
would leave no trail. So he made a long circuit across meadows
and pastures, carrying a devilish clamour into the quiet Sunday
afternoon. Regaining a macadam surface, he set oil at random,
causing considerable annoyance to the motoring public. Finding
that his cutaway coat caused jeers and merriment, he removed it;
and when any one showed a disposition to inquire, he explained
that he was doing penance for an ill-judged wager. His
oscillating perch above the boiler was extraordinarily warm, and
he bought a gallon jug of cider from a farmer by the way.
Cheering himself with this, and reviewing in his mind the queer
experiences of the past months, he went thundering mildly on.
At first he had feared a furious pursuit on the part of the
Bishop, or even a whole college of bishops, quickly mobilized for
the event. He had imagined them speeding after him in a huge
motor-bus, and himself keeping them at bay with lumps of coal.
But gradually he realized that the Bishop would not further
jeopardize his dignity, or run the risk of making himself
ridiculous. Mr. Poodle would undoubtedly set the township road
commissioner on his trail, and he would be liable to seizure for
the theft of a steam roller. But that could hardly happen so
quickly. In the meantime, a plan had been forming in his mind,
but it would require darkness for its execution.
Darkness did not delay in coming. As he jolted cheerfully from
road to road, holding up long strings of motors at every corner
while he jovially held out his arm as a sign that he was going to
turn, dark purple clouds were massing and piling up. Foreseeing a
storm, he bought some provisions at a roadhouse, and turned into
a field, where he camped in the lee of a forest of birches. He
cooked himself an excellent supper, toasting bread and
frankfurters in the firebox of the roller. With boiling water
from a steam-cock he brewed a panikin of tea; and sat placidly
admiring the fawn-pink light on wide pampas of bronze grasses,
tawny as a panther's hide. A strong wind began to draw from the
southeast. He lit the lantern at the rear of the machine and by
the time the rain came hissing upon the hot boiler, he was ready.
Luckily he had saved the tarpaulin. He spread this on the ground
underneath the roller, and curled up in it. The glow from the
firebox kept him warm and dry.
"Summer is over," he said to himself, as he heard the clash and
spouting of rain all about him. He lay for some time, not sleepy,
thinking theology, and enjoying the close tumult of wind and
People who have had an arm or a leg amputated, he reflected, say
they can still feel pains in the absent member. Well, there's an
analogy in that. Modern skepticism has amputated God from the
heart; but there is still a twinge where the arteries were sewn
He slept peacefully until about two in the morning, except when a
red-hot coal, slipping through the grate-bars, burned a
lamentable hole in his trousers. When he woke, the night still
dripped, but was clear aloft. He started the engine and drove
cautiously, along black slippery roads, to Mr. Poodle's house. In
spite of the unavoidable racket, no one stirred: he surmised that
the curate slept soundly after the crises of the day. He left the
engine by the doorstep, pinning a note to the steering-wheel. It
this useful steam-roller
as a symbol of the theological mind
The steamship Pomerania, which had sailed at noon, was a few
hours out of port on a calm gray sea. The passengers, after the
bustle of lunch and arranging their staterooms; had settled into
their deck chairs and were telling each other how much they loved
the ocean. Captain Scottie had taken his afternoon constitutional
on his private strip of starboard deck just aft the bridge, and
was sitting in his comfortable cabin expecting a cup of tea. He
was a fine old sea-dog: squat, grizzled, severe, with wiry
eyebrows, a short coarse beard, and watchful quick eyes. A
characteristic Scot, beneath his reticent conscientious dignity
there was abundant humour and affection. He would have been
recognized anywhere as a sailor: those short solid legs were
perfectly adapted for balancing on a rolling deck. He stood by
habit as though he were leaning into a stiff gale. His mouth
always held a pipe, which he smoked in short, brisk whiffs, as
though expecting to be interrupted at any moment by an iceberg.
The steward brought in the tea-tray, and Captain Scottie settled
into his large armchair to enjoy it. His eye glanced
automatically at the barometer.
"A little wind to-night," he said, his nose wrinkling
unconsciously as the cover was lifted from the dish of hot
anchovy toast.
"Yes, sir," said the steward, but lingered, apparently anxious to
speak further.
"Well, Shepherd?"
"Beg pardon, sir, but the Chief Steward wanted me to say they've
found someone stowed away in the linen locker, sir. Queer kind of
fellow, sir, talks a bit like a padre. 'E must've come aboard by
the engine-room gangway, sir, and climbed into that locker near
the barber shop."
The problem of stowaways is familiar enough to shipmasters. "Send
him up to me," said the Captain.
A few minutes later Gissing appeared, escorted by a burly
quartermaster. Even the experienced Captain admitted to himself
that this was something new in the category of stowaways. Never
before had he seen one in a braided cutaway coat and wedding
trousers. It was true that the garments were in grievous
condition, but they were worn with an air. The stowaway's face
showed some embarrassment, but not at all the usual hangdog mien
of such wastrels. Involuntarily his tongue moistened when he saw
the tray of tea (for he had not eaten since his supper on the
steam roller the night before), but he kept his eyes politely
averted from the food. They rose to a white-painted girder that
ran athwart the cabin ceiling. CERTIFIED TO ACCOMMODATE THE
MASTER he read there, in letters deeply incised into the thick
paint. "A good Christian ship," he said to himself. "It sounds
like the Y. M. C. A." He was pleased to think that his suspicion
was already confirmed: ships were more religious than anything on
The Captain dismissed the quartermaster, and addressed himself
sternly to the culprit.
"Well, what have you to say for yourself?"
"Please, Captain," said Gissing politely, "do not allow your tea
to get cold. I can talk while you eat." Behind his grim demeanour
the Captain was very near to smiling at this naivete. No Briton
is wholly implacable at tea-time, and he felt a genuine curiosity
about this unusual offender.
"What was your idea in coming aboard?" he said. "Do you know that
I can put you in irons until we get across, and then have you
sent home for punishment? I suppose it's the old story: you want
to go sight-seeing on the other side?"
"No, Captain," said Gissing. "I have come to sea to study
In spite of himself the Captain was touched by this amazing
statement. He was a Scot, as we have said. He poured a cup of tea
to conceal his astonishment.
"Theology!" he exclaimed. "The theology of hard work is what you
will find most of aboard ship. Carry on and do your duty; keep a
sharp lookout, all gear shipshape, salute the bridge when going
on watch, that is the whole duty of a good officer. That's plenty
theology for a seaman." But the skipper's eye turned brightly
toward his bookshelves, where he had several volumes of sermons,
mostly of a Calvinist sort.
"I am not afraid of work," said Gissing. "But I'm looking for
horizons. In my work ashore I never could find any."
"Your horizon is likely to be peeling potatoes in the galley,"
remarked the Captain. "I understand they are short-handed there.
Or sweeping out bunks in the steerage. Ethics of the dust! What
would you say to that?"
"Sir," replied Gissing, "I shall be grateful for any task,
however menial, that permits me to meditate. I understand your
point of view. By coming aboard your ship I have broken the law,
I have committed a crime; but not a sin. Crime and sin, every
theologian admits, are not coextensive."
The Captain sailed head-on into argument.
"What?" he cried. "Are you aware of the doctrine of Moral
Inability in a Fallen State? Sit down, sit down, and have a cup
of tea. We must discuss this."
He rang for the steward and ordered an extra cup and a fresh
supply of toast. At that moment Gissing heard two quick strokes
of a bell, rung somewhere forward, a clear, musical, melancholy
tone, echoed promptly in other parts of the ship. "What is that,
Captain?" he asked anxiously. "An accident?"
"Two bells in the first dog-watch," said the Captain. "I fear you
are as much a lubber at sea as you are in theology."
The next two hours passed like a flash. Gissing found the
skipper, in spite of his occasional moods of austerity, a
delicious companion. They discussed Theosophy, Spiritualism, and
Christian Science, all of which the Captain, with sturdy but
rather troubled vehemence, linked with Primitive Magic. Gissing,
seeing that his only hope of establishing himself in the sailor's
regard was to disagree and keep the argument going, plunged into
psycho-analysis and the philosophy of the unconscious. Rather
unwarily he ventured to introduce a nautical illustration into
the talk.
"Your compass needle," he said, "points to the North Pole, and
although it has never been to the Pole, and cannot even conceive
of it, yet it testifies irresistibly to the existence of such a
"I trust you navigate your soul more skilfully than you would
navigate this vessel," retorted the Captain. "In the first place,
the needle does not point to the North Pole at all, but to the
magnetic pole. Furthermore, it has to be adjusted by magnets to
counteract deviation. Mr. Gissing, you may be a sincere student
of theology, but you have not allowed for your own temperamental
deviation. Why, even the gyro compass has to be adjusted for
latitude error. You landsmen think that a ship is simply a
floating hotel. I should like to have the Bishop you spoke of
study a little navigation. That would put into him a healthy
respect for the marvels of science. On board ship, sir, the
binnacle is kept locked and the key is on the watch-chain of the
master. It should be so in all intellectual matters. Confide them
to those capable of understanding."
Gissing saw that the Captain greatly relished his sense of
superiority, so he made a remark of intentional simplicity.
"The binnacle?" he said. "I thought that was the little shellfish
that clings to the bottom of the boat?"
"Don't you dare call my ship a BOAT!" said the Captain. "At sea,
a boat means only a lifeboat or some other small vagabond craft.
Come out on the bridge and I'll show you a thing or two."
The evening had closed in hazy, and the Pomerania swung steadily
in a long plunging roll. At the weather wing of the bridge,
gazing sharply over the canvas dodger, was Mr. Pointer, the
vigilant Chief Officer, peering off rigidly, as though
mesmerized, but saying nothing. He gave the Captain a courteous
salute, but kept silence. At the large mahogany wheel, gently
steadying it to the quarterly roll of the sea, stood Dane, a
tall, solemn quartermaster. In spite of a little uneasiness, due
to the unfamiliar motion, Gissing was greatly elated by the
wheelhouse, which seemed even more thrillingly romantic than any
pulpit. Uncomprehendingly, but with admiration, he examined the
binnacle, the engine-room telegraphs, the telephones, the rack of
signal-flags, the buttons for closing the bulkheads, and the
rotating clear-view screen for lookout in thick weather. Aloft he
could see the masthead light, gently soaring in slow arcs.
"I'll show you my particular pride," said the Captain, evidently
pleased by his visitor's delighted enthusiasm.
Gissing wondered what ingenious device of science this might be.
Captain Scottie stepped to the weather gunwale of the bridge. He
pointed to the smoke, which was rolling rapidly from the funnels.
"You see," he said, "there's quite a strong breeze blowing. But
look here."
He lit a match and held it unshielded above the canvas screen
which was lashed along the front of the bridge. To Gissing's
surprise it burned steadily, without blowing out.
"I've invented a convex wind-shield which splits the air just
forward of the bridge. I can stand here and light my pipe in the
stiffest gale, without any trouble."
On the decks below Gissing heard a bugle blowing gaily, a bright,
persuasive sound.
"Six bells," the Captain said. "I must dress for dinner. Before I
start you potato-peeling, I should like to clear up that little
discussion of ours about Free Will. One or two things you said
interested me."
He paced the bridge for a minute, thinking hard.
"I'll test your sincerity," he said. "To-night you can bunk in
the chart-room. I'll have some dinner sent up to you. I wish you
would write me an essay of, say, two thousand words on the
subject of Necessity."
For a moment Gissing pondered whether it would not be better to
be put in irons and rationed with bread and water. The wind was
freshening, and the Pomerania's sharp bow slid heavily into broad
hills of sea, crashing them into crumbling rollers of suds which
fell outward and hissed along her steep sides. The silent Mr.
Pointer escorted him into the chart-room, a bare, businesslike
place with a large table, a map-cabinet, and a settee. Here,
presently, a steward appeared with excellent viands, and a pen,
ink, and notepaper. After a cautious meal, Gissing felt more
comfortable. There is something about a wet, windy evening at sea
that turns the mind naturally toward metaphysics. He pushed away
the dishes and began to write.
Later in the evening the Captain reappeared. He looked pleased
when he saw a number of sheets already covered with script.
"Rum lot of passengers this trip," he said. "I don't seem to see
any who look interesting. All Big Business and that sort of
thing. I must say it's nice to have someone who can talk about
books, and so on, once in a while."
Gissing realized that sometimes a shipmaster's life must be a
lonely one. The weight of responsibility is always upon him;
etiquette prevents his becoming familiar with his officers; small
wonder if he pines occasionally for a little congenial talk to
relieve his mind.
"Big Business, did you say?" Gissing remarked. "Ah, I could write
you quite an essay about that. I used to be General Manager of
Beagle and Company."
"Come into my cabin and have a liqueur," said the skipper. "Let
the essay go until to-morrow."
The Captain turned on the electric stove in his cabin, for the
night was cold. It was a snug sanctum: at the portholes were
little chintz curtains; over the bunk was a convenient reading
lamp. On the wall a brass pendulum swung slowly, registering the
roll of the ship. The ruddy shine of the stove lit up the orderly
desk and the photographs of the Captain's family.
"Yours?" said Gissing, looking at a group of three puppies with
droll Scottish faces. "Aye," said the Captain.
"I've three of my own," said Gissing, with a private pang of
homesickness. The skipper's cosy quarters were the most truly
domestic he had seen since the evening he first fled from
Captain Scottie was surprised. Certainly this eccentric stranger
in the badly damaged wedding garments had not given the
impression of a family head. Just then the steward entered with a
decanter of Benedictine and small glasses.
"Brew days and bonny!" said the Captain, raising his crystal.
"Secure amidst perils!" replied Gissing courteously. It was the
phrase engraved upon the ship's notepaper, on which he had been
writing, and it had impressed itself on his mind.
"You said you had been a General Manager."
Gissing told, with some vivacity, of his experiences in the world
of trade. The Captain poured another small liqueur.
"They're fine halesome liquor," he said.
"Sincerely yours," said Gissing, nodding over the glass. He was
beginning to feel quite at home in the navigating quarters of the
ship, and hoped the potato-peeling might be postponed as long as
"How far had you got in your essay?" asked the Captain.
"Not very far, I fear. I was beginning by laying down a few
psychological fundamentals."
"Excellent! Will you read it to me?"
Gissing went to get his manuscript, and read it aloud. The
Captain listened attentively, puffing clouds of smoke.
"I am sorry this is such a short voyage," he said when Gissing
finished. "You have approached the matter from an entirely naif
and instinctive standpoint, and it will take some time to show
you your errors. Before I demolish your arguments I should like
to turn them over in my mind. I will reduce my ideas to writing
and then read them to you."
"I should like nothing better," said Gissing. "And I can think
over the subject more carefully while I peel the potatoes."
"Nonsense," said the Captain. "I do not often get a chance to
discuss theology. I will tell you my idea. You spoke of your
experience as General Manager, when you had charge of a thousand
employees. One of the things we need on this ship is a
staff-captain, to take over the management of the personnel. That
would permit me to concentrate entirely on navigation. In a
vessel of this size it is wrong that the master should have to
carry the entire responsibility."
He rang for the steward.
"My compliments to Mr. Pointer, and tell him to come here."
Mr. Pointer appeared shortly in oilskins, saluted, and gazed
fixedly at his superior, with one foot raised upon the brass
"Mr. Pointer," said Captain Scottie, "I have appointed Captain
Gissing staff-captain. Take orders from him as you would from me.
He will have complete charge of the ship's discipline."
"Aye, aye, sir," said Mr. Pointer, stood a moment intently to see
if there were further orders, saluted again, and withdrew.
"Now you had better turn in," said the skipper. "Of course you
must wear uniform. I'll send the tailor up to you at once. He can
remodel one of my suits overnight. The trousers will have to be
On the chart-room sofa, Gissing dozed and waked and dozed again.
On the bridge near by he heard the steady tread of feet, the
mysterious words of the officer on watch passing the course to
his relief. Bells rang with sharp double clang. Through the open
port he could hear the alternate boom and hiss of the sea under
the bows. With the stately lift and lean of the ship there
mingled a faint driving vibration.
The first morning in any new environment is always the most
exciting. Gissing was already awake, and watching the novel
sight of a patch of sunshine sliding to and fro on the deck of
the chart-room, when there was a gentle tap at the door. The
Captain's steward entered, carrying a handsome uniform.
"Six bells, sir," he said. "Your bath is laid on."
Gissing was not very sure just what time it was, but the steward
held out a dressing gown for him to slip on, so he took the hint,
and followed him to the Captain's private bathroom where he
plunged gaily into warm salt water. He was hardly dressed before
breakfast was laid for him in the chart-room. It was a breakfast
greatly to his liking--porridge, scrambled eggs, grilled kidneys
and bacon, coffee, toast, and marmalade. Evidently the hardships
of sea life had been greatly exaggerated by fiction writers.
He was a trifle bashful about appearing on the bridge in his blue
and brass formality, and waited a while thinking Captain Scottie
might come. But no one disturbed him, so by and bye he went out.
It was a brisk morning with a fresh breeze and plenty of
whitecaps. Dancing rainbows hovered about the bow when an
occasional explosion of spray burst up into sunlight. Mr. Pointer
was on the bridge, still gazing steadily into the distance. He
saluted Gissing, but said nothing. The quartermaster at the wheel
also saluted in silence. A seaman wiping down the paintwork on
the deckhouse saluted. Gissing returned these gestures
punctiliously, and began to pace the bridge from side to side. He
soon grew accustomed to the varying slant of the deck, and felt
that his footing showed a nautical assurance.
Now for the first time he enjoyed an untrammelled horizon on all
sides. The sea, he observed, was not really blue--not at any rate
the blue he had supposed. Where it seethed flatly along the hull,
laced with swirls of milky foam, it was almost black. Farther
away, it was green, or darkly violet. A ladder led to the top of
the charthouse, and from this commanding height the whole body of
the ship lay below him. How alive she seemed, how full of
personality! The strong funnels, the tall masts that moved so
delicately against the pale open sky, the distant stern that now
dipped low in a comfortable hollow, and now soared and threshed
onward with a swimming thrust, the whole vital organism spoke to
the eye and the imagination. In the centre of this vast circle
she moved, royal and serene. She was more beautiful than the
element she rode on, for perhaps there was something meaningless
in that pure vacant round of sea and sky. Once its immense azure
was grasped and noted, it brought nothing to the mind. Reason was
indignant to conceive it, sloping endlessly away.
The placid, beautifully planned routine of shipboard passed on
its accustomed course, and he began to suspect that his
staff-captaincy was a sinecure. Down below he could see the
passengers briskly promenading, or drowsing under their rugs. On
the hurricane deck, aft, a sailor was chalking a shuffleboard
court. It occurred to him that all this might become monotonous
unless he found some actual part in it. Just then Captain Scottie
appeared on the bridge, took a quick look round, and joined him
on top of the charthouse.
"Good morning!" he said. "You won't think me rude if you don't
see much of me? Thinking about those ideas of yours, I have come
upon some rather puzzling stuff. I must work the whole thing out
more clearly. Your suggestion that Conscience points the way to
an integration of personality into a higher type of divinity,
seems to me off the track; but I haven't quite downed it yet. I'm
going to shut myself up to-day and consider the matter. I leave
you in charge."
"I shall be perfectly happy," said Gissing. "Please don't worry
about me."
"You suggest that all the conditions of life at sea, our mastery
of the forces of Nature, and so on, seem to show that we have
perfect freedom of will, and adapt everything to our desires. I
believe just the contrary. The forces of Nature compel us to
approach them in their own way, otherwise we are shipwrecked. It
is in the conditions of Nature that this ship should reach port
in eight days, otherwise we should get nowhere. We do it because
it is our destiny."
"I am not so sure of that," said Gissing. But the Captain had
already departed with a clouded brow.
On the chart-room roof Gissing had discovered an alluring
instrument, the exact use of which he did not know. It seemed to
be some kind of steering control. The dial was lettered, from
left to right, as follows HARD A PORT, PORT, STEADY, COURSE,
STEADY, STARBD, HARD A STARBD. At present the handle stood upon
the section marked COURSE. After a careful study of the whole
seascape, it seemed to Gissing that off to the south the ocean
looked more blue and more interesting. After some hesitation he
moved the handle to the PORT mark, and waited to see what would
happen. To his delight he saw the bow swing slowly round, and the
Pomerania's gleaming wake spread behind her in a whitened curve.
He descended to the bridge, a little nervous as to what Mr.
Pointer might say, but he found the Mate gazing across the water
with the same fierce and unwearying attention.
"I have changed the course," he said.
Mr. Pointer saluted, but said nothing.
Having succeeded so far, Gissing ventured upon another
innovation. He had been greatly tempted by the wheel, and envied
the stolid quartermaster who was steering. So, assuming an air of
calm certainty, he entered the wheelhouse.
"I'll take her for a while," he said.
"Aye, aye, sir," said the quartermaster, and surrendered the
wheel to him.
"You might string out a few flags," Gissing said. He had been
noticing the bright signal buntings in the rack, and thought it a
pity not to use them.
"I like to see a ship well dressed," he added.
"Aye, aye, sir," said Dane. "Any choice, sir?"
Gissing picked out a string of flags which were particularly
lively in colour-scheme, and had them hoisted. Then he gave his
attention to the wheel. He found it quite an art, and was
surprised to learn that a big ship requires so much helm. But it
was very pleasant. He took care to steer toward patches of sea
that looked interesting, and to cut into any particular waves
that took his fancy. After an hour or so, he sighted a fishing
schooner, and gave chase. He found it so much fun to run close
beside her (taking care to pass to leeward, so as not to cut off
her wind) that a mile farther on he turned and steered a neat
circle about the bewildered craft. The Pomerania's passengers
were greatly interested, and lined the rails trying to make out
what the fishermen were shouting. The captain of the schooner
seemed particularly agitated, kept waving at the signal flags and
barking through a megaphone. During these manoeuvres Mr. Pointer
gazed so hard at the horizon that Gissing felt a bit embarrassed.
"I thought it wise to find out exactly what our turning-circle
is," he said.
Mr. Pointer saluted. He was a well-trained officer.
Late in the afternoon the Captain reappeared, looking more
cheerful. Gissing was still at the helm, which he found so
fascinating he would not relinquish it. He had ordered his tea
served on a little stand beside the wheel so that he could drink
it while he steered. "Hullo!" said the Captain. "I see you've
I see you've changed the course."
"It seemed best to do so," said Gissing firmly. He felt that to
show any weakness at this point would be fatal.
"Oh, well, probably it doesn't matter. I'm coming round to some
of your ideas."
Gissing saw that this would never do. Unless he could keep the
master disturbed by philosophic doubts, Scottie would expect to
resume command of the ship.
"Well," he said, "I've been thinking about it, too. I believe I
went a bit too far. But what do you think about this? Do you
believe that Conscience is inherited or acquired? You sea how
important that is. If Conscience is a kind of automatic oracle,
infallible and perfect, what becomes of free will? And if, on the
other hand, Conscience is only a laboriously trained perception
of moral and social utilities, where does your deity come in?"
Gissing was aware that this dilemma would not hold water very
long, and was painfully impromptu; but it hit the Captain
"By Jove," he said, "that's terrible, isn't it? It's no use
trying to carry on until I've got that under the hatch. Look
here, would you mind, just as a favour, keep things going while I
wrestle with that question?--I know it's asking a lot, but
"It's quite all right," Gissing replied. "Naturally you want to
work these things out."
The Captain started to leave the bridge, but by old seafaring
habit he cast a keen glance at the sky. He saw the bright string
of code flags fluttering. He seemed startled.
"Are you signalling any one?" he asked.
"No one in particular. I thought it looked better to have a few
flags about."
"I daresay you're right. But better take them down if you speak a
ship. They're rather confusing."
"Confusing? I thought they were just to brighten things up."
"You have two different signals up. They read, Bubonic plague,
give me a wide berth. Am coming to your assistance."
Toward dinner time, when Gissing had left the wheel and was
humming a tune as he walked the bridge, the steward came to him.
"The Captain's compliments, sir, and would you take his place in
the saloon to-night? He says he's very busy writing, sir, and
would take it as a favour."
Gissing was always obliging. There was just a hint of conscious
sternness in his manner as he entered the Pomerania's beautiful
dining saloon, for he wished the passengers to realize that their
lives depended upon his prudence and sea-lore. Twice during the
meal he instructed the steward to bring him the latest barometer
reading; and after the dessert he scribbled a note on the back of
a menu-card- and had it sent to the Chief Engineer. It said:--
Dear Chief: Please keep up a good head of steam to-night. I am
expecting dirty weather.
What the Chief said when he received the message is not included
in the story.
But the same social aplomb that had made Gissing successful as a
floorwalker now came to his rescue as mariner. The passengers at
the Captain's table were amazed at his genial charm. His
anecdotes of sea life were heartily applauded. After dinner he
circulated gracefully in the ladies' lounge, and took coffee
there surrounded by a chattering bevy. He organized a little
impromptu concert in the music room, and when that was well
started, slipped away to the smoke-room. Here he found a pool
being organized as to the exact day and hour when the Pomerania
would reach port. Appealed to for his opinion, he advised
caution. On all sides he was in demand, for dancing, for bridge,
for a recitation. At length he slipped away, pleading that he
must keep himself fit in case of fog. The passengers were loud in
his praise, asserting that they had never met so agreeable a
sea-captain. One elderly lady said she remembered crossing with
him in the old Caninia, years ago, and that he was just the same
And so the voyage went on. Gissing was quite content to do a
two-hour trick at the wheel both morning and afternoon, and
worked out some new principles of steering which gave him
pleasure. In the first place, he noticed that the shuffle-board
and quoit players, on the boat deck aft, were occasionally
annoyed by cinders from the stacks, so he made it a general plan
to steer so that the smoke blew at right angles to the ship's
course. As the wind was prevailingly west, this meant that his
general trend was southerly. Whenever he saw another vessel, a
mass of floating sea-weed, a porpoise, or even a sea-gull, he
steered directly for it, and passed as close as possible, to have
a good look at it. Even Mr. Pointer admitted (in the mates' mess)
that he had never experienced so eventful a voyage. To keep the
quartermasters from being idle, Gissing had them knit him a rope
hammock to be slung in the chart-room. He felt that this would be
more nautical than a plush settee.
There was a marvellous sense of power in standing at the wheel
and feeling the great hull reply to his touch. Occasionally
Captain Scottie would emerge from his cabin, look round with a
faint surprise, and come to the bridge to see what was happening.
Mr. Pointer would salute mutely, and continue to study the
skyline with indignant absorption. The Captain would approach the
wheel, where Gissing was deep in thought. Rubbing his hands, the
Captain would say heartily, "Well, I think I've got it all clear
Gissing sighed.
"What is it?" the Captain inquired anxiously.
"I'm bothered about the subconscious. They tell us nowadays that
it's the subconscious mind that is really important. The more
mental operations we can turn over to the subconscious realm, the
happier we will be, and the more efficient. Morality, theology,
and everything really worth while, as I understand it, spring
from the subconscious."
The Captain's look of cheer would vanish.
"Maybe there's something in that."
"If so," Gissing continued, "then perhaps consciousness is
entirely spurious. It seems to me that before we can get anywhere
at all, we've got to draw the line between the conscious and the
subconscious. What bothers me is, am I conscious of having a
subconscious, or not? Sometimes I think I am, and then again I'm
doubtful. But if I'm aware of my subconscious, then it isn't a
genuine subconscious, and the whole thing's just another
The Captain would knit his weather-beaten brow and again retire
anxiously to his quarters, after begging Gissing to be generous
and carry on a while longer. Occasionally, pacing the starboard
bridge-deck, sacred to captains, Gissing would glance through the
port and see the metaphysical commander bent over sheets of
foolscap and thickly wreathed in pipe-smoke.
He himself had fallen into a kind of tranced felicity, in which
these questions no longer had other than an ingenious interest.
His heart was drowned in the engulfing blue. As they made their
southing, wind and weather seemed to fall astern, the sun poured
with a more golden candour. He stood at the wheel in a tranquil
reverie, blithely steering toward some bright belly of cloud that
had caught his fancy. Mr. Pointer shook his head when he glanced
surreptitiously at the steering recorder, a device that noted
graphically every movement of the rudder with a view to promoting
economical helmsmanship. Indeed Gissing's course, as logged on
the chart, surprised even himself, so that he forbade the
officers taking their noon observations. When Mr. Pointer said
something about isobars, the staff-captain replied serenely that
he did not expect to find any polar bears in these latitudes.
He had hoped privately for an occasional pirate, and scanned the
sea-rim sharply for suspicious topsails. But the ocean, as he
remarked, is not crowded. They proceeded, day after day, in a
solitary wideness of unblemished colour. The ship, travelling
always in the centre of this infinite disk, seemed strangely
identified with his own itinerant spirit, watchful at the gist of
things, alert at the point which was necessarily, for him, the
nub of all existence. He wandered about the pomerania~s sagely
ordered passages and found her more and more magical. She went on
and on, with some strange urgent vitality of her own. Through the
fiddleys on the boat deck came a hot oily breath and the steady
drumming of her burning heart. From outer to hawse-hole, from
shaft-tunnel to crow's-nest, he explored and loved her. In the
whole of her proud, faithful, obedient fabric he divined honour
and exultation. Poised upon uncertainty, she was sure. The camber
of her white-scrubbed decks, the long, clean sheer of her hull,
the concave flare of her bows--what was the amazing joy and
rightness of these things? And yet the grotesque passengers
regarded her only as a vehicle, to carry them sedatively to some
clamouring dock. Fools! She was more lovely than anything they
would ever see again! He yearned to drive her endlessly toward
that unreachable perimeter of sky.
On land there had been definite horizons, even if disappointing
when reached and examined; but here there was no horizon at all.
Every hour it slid and slid over the dark orb of sea. He lost
count of time. The tremulous cradling of the Pomerania, steadily
climbing the long leagues; her noble forecastle solemnly lifting
against heaven, then descending with grave beauty into a spread
of foaming beryl and snowdrift, seemed one with the rhythm of his
pulse and heart. Perhaps there had been more than mere ingenuity
in his last riddle for the theological skipper. Truly the
subconscious had usurped him. Here he was almost happy, for he
was almost unaware of life. It was all blue vacancy and
suspension. The sea is the great answer and consoler, for it
means either nothing or everything, and so need not tease the
But the passengers, though unobservant, began to murmur;
especially those who had wagered that the Pomerania would dock on
the eighth day. The world itself, they complained, was created in
seven days, and why should so fine a ship take longer to cross a
comparatively small ocean? Urbanely, over coffee and petite
fours, Gissing argued with them. They were well on their way, he
protested; and then, as a hypothetical case, he asked why one
destination was more worth visiting than another? He even quoted
Shakespeare on this point--something about "ports and happy
havens"--and succeeded in turning the tide of conversation for a
while. The mention of Shakespeare suggested to some of the ladies
that it would be pleasant, now they all knew each other so well,
to put on some amateur theatricals. They compromised by playing
charades in the saloon. Another evening Gissing kept them amused
by fireworks, which were very lovely against the dark sky. For
this purpose he used the emergency rockets, star-shells and
coloured flares, much to the distress of Dane, the quartermaster,
who had charge of these supplies.
Little by little, however, the querulous protests of the
passengers began to weary him. Also, he had been receiving terse
memoranda from the Chief Engineer that the coal was getting low
in the bunkers and that something must be queer in the navigating
department. This seemed very unreasonable. The fixed gaze of Mr.
Pointer, perpetually examining the horizon as though he wanted to
make sure he would recognize it if they met again, was trying.
Even Captain Scottie complained one day that the supply of fresh
meat had given out and that the steward had been bringing him
tinned beef. Gissing determined upon resolute measures.
He had notice served that on account of possible danger from
pirates there would be a general boat drill on the following day-
-not merely for the crew, but for everyone. He gave a little talk
about it in the saloon after dinner, and worked his audience up
to quite a pitch of enthusiasm. This would be better than any
amateur theatricals, he insisted. Everyone was to act exactly as
though in a sudden calamity. They might make up the boat-parties
on the basis of congeniality if they wished; five minutes would
be given for reaching the stations, without panic or disorder.
They should prepare themselves as though they were actually going
to leave a sinking ship.
The passengers were delighted with the idea of this novel
entertainment. Every soul on board-- with the exception of
Captain Scottie, who had locked himself in and refused to be
disturbed--was properly advertised of the event.
The following day, fortunately, was clear and calm. At noon
Gissing blew the syren, fired a rocket from the bridge, and swung
the engine telegraph to STOP. The ship's orchestra, by his
orders, struck up a rollicking air. Quickly and without
confusion, amid cries of Women and children first! the passengers
filed to their allotted places. The crew and officers were all at
their stations.
Gissing knocked at Captain Scottie's cabin.
"We are taking to the boats," he said.
"Goad!" cried the skipper. "Wull it be a colleesion?"
"All's clear and the davits are outboard," said Gissing. He had
been studying the manual of boat handling in one of the nautical
volumes in the chart-room.
"Auld Hornie!" ejaculated the skipper. "we'll no can salve the
specie! Make note of her poseetion, Mr. Gissing!" He hastened to
gather his papers, the log, a chronometer, and a large canister
of tobacco.
"The Deil's intil't," he said as he hastened to his boat. "I had
yon pragmateesm of yours on a lee shore. Two-three hours, I'd
have careened ye."
Gissing was ready with his megaphone. From the wing of the bridge
he gave the orders.
"Lower away!" and the boats dropped to the passenger rail.
"Avast lowering!" Each boat took in her roster of passengers, who
were in high spirits at this unusual excitement.
"Mind your painters! Lower handsomely!"
The boats took the water in orderly fashion, and were cast off.
Remaining members of the crew swarmed down the falls. The
bandsmen had a boat to themselves, and resumed their tune as soon
as they were settled.
Gissing, left alone on the ship, waved for silence.
"Look sharp, man!" cried Captain Scottie. "Honour's satisfied!
Take your place in the boat!"
The passengers applauded, and there was quite a clatter of camera
shutters as they snapped the Pomerania looming grandly above
"Boats are all provisioned and equipped," shouted Gissing. "I've
broadcasted your position by radio. The barometer's at Fixed
Fair. Pull off now, and 'ware the screw."
He moved the telegraph handle to DEAD SLOW, and the Pomerania
began to slip forward gently. The boats dropped aft amid a loud
miscellaneous outcry. Mr. Pointer was already examining the
horizon. Captain Scottie, awakened to the situation, was uttering
the language of theology but not the purport.
"Don't stand up in the boats," megaphoned Gissing. "You're quite
all right, there's a ship on the way already. I wirelessed last
He slid the telegraph to slow, half, and then full. Once more the
ship creamed through the lifting purple swells. The little flock
of boats was soon out of sight.
Alone at the wheel, he realized that a great weight was off his
mind. The responsibility of his position had burdened him more
than he knew. Now a strange eagerness and joy possessed him. His
bubbling wake cut straight and milky across the glittering
afternoon. In a ruddy sunset glow, the sea darkened through all
tints of violet, amethyst, indigo. The horizon line sharpened so
clearly that he could distinguish the tossing profile of waves
wetting the sky. "A red sky at night is the sailor's delight," he
said to himself. He switched on the port and starboard lights and
the masthead lanterns, then lashed the wheel while he went below
for supper. He did not know exactly where he was, for he seemed
to have steamed clean off the chart; but as he conned the helm
that evening, and leaned over the lighted binnacle, he had a
feeling that he was not far from some destiny. With cheerful
assurance he lashed the wheel again, and turned in. He woke once
in the night, and leaped from the hammock with a start. He
thought he had heard a sound of barking.
The next morning he sighted land. Coming out on the bridge, the
whole face of things was changed. The sea-colour had lightened to
a tawny green; gulls dipped and hovered; away on the horizon lay
a soft blue contour. "Land Ho!" he shouted superbly, and wondered
what new country he had discovered. He ran up a hoist of red and
yellow signal flags, and steered gaily toward the shore.
It had grown suddenly cold: he had to fetch Captain Scottie's
pea-jacket to wear at the wheel. On the long spilling crests,
that crumbled and spread running layers of froth in their hurry
shoreward, the Pomerania rode home. She knew her landfall and
seemed to quicken. Steadily swinging on the jade-green surges,
she buried her nose almost to the hawse-pipes, then lifted until
her streaming forefoot gleamed out of a frilled ruffle of foam.
Gissing, too, was eager. A tingling buoyancy and impatience took
hold of him: he fidgeted with sheer eagerness for life. Land, the
beloved stability of our dear and only earth, drew and charmed
him. Behind was the senseless, heartbreaking sea. Now he could
discern hills rising in a gilded opaline light. In the volatile
thin air was a quick sense of strangeness. A new world was close
about him: a world that he could see, and feel, and inhale, and
yet knew nothing of.
Suddenly a great humility possessed him. He had been froward and
silly and vain. He had shouted arrogantly at Beauty, like a noisy
tourist in a canyon; and the only answer, after long waiting, had
been the paltry diminished echo of his own voice. He thought
shamefully of his follies. What matter how you name God or in
what words you praise Him? In this new foreign land he would
quietly accept things as he found them. The laughter of God was
too strange to understand.
No, there was no answer. He was doubly damned, for he had made
truth a mere sport of intellectual riddling. The mind, like a
spinning flywheel of fatigued steel, was gradually racked to
bursting by the conflict of stresses. And yet: every equilibrium
was an opposure of forces. Rotation, if swift enough, creates
amazing stability: he had seen how the gyroscope can balance at
apparently impossible angles. Perhaps it was so of the mind. If
it twirls at high speed it can lean right out over the abyss
without collapse. But the stationary mind--he thought of Bishop
Borzoi--must keep away from the edge. Try to force it to the
edge, it raves in panic. Every mind, very likely, knows its own
frailties, and does well to safeguard them. At any rate, that was
the most generous interpretation. Most minds, undoubtedly, were
uneasy in high places. They doubted their ability to refrain from
jumping off. How many bones of fine intellects lay whitening at
the foot of the theological cliff-- It seemed to be a lonely
coast, and wintry. Patches of snow lay upon the hills, the woods
were bare and brown. A bottle-necked harbour opened out before
him. He reduced the engines to Dead Slow and glided gaily through
the strait. He had been anxious lest his navigation might not be
equal to the occasion: he did not want to disgrace himself at
this final test. But all seemed to arrange itself with enchanted
ease. A steep ledge of ground offered a natural pier, with
tree-stumps for bollards. He let her come gently beyond the spot;
reversed the propellers just at the right time, and backed neatly
alongside. He moved the telegraph handle to FINISHED WITH
ENGINES; ran out the gangplank smartly, and stepped ashore. He
moored the vessel fore and aft, and hung out fenders to prevent
The first thing to do, he said to himself, is to get the lie of
the land, and find out whether it is inhabited.
A hillside rising above the water promised a clear view. The
stubble grass was dry and frosty, after the warm days at sea the
chill was nipping; but what an elixir of air! If this is a desert
island, he thought, it will be a glorious discovery. His heart
was jocund with anticipation. A curious foreign look in the
landscape, he thought; quite unlike anything-- Suddenly, where
the hill arched against pearly sky, he saw narrow thread of smoke
rising. He halted in alarm. Who might this be, friend or foe? But
eager agitation pushed him on. Burning to know, he hurried up to
the brow of the hill.
The smoke mounted from a small bonfire of sticks in a sheltered
thicket, where a miraculous being--who was, as a matter of fact,
a rather ragged and dingy vagabond--was cooking a tin of stew
over the blaze.
Gissing stood, quivering with emotion. Joy such as he had never
known darted through all the cords of his body. He ran, shouting,
in mirth and terror. In fear, in a passion of love and knowledge
and understanding, he abased himself and yearned before this
marvel. Impossible to have conceived, yet, once seen, utterly
satisfying and the fulfilment of all needs. He laughed and leaped
and worshipped. When the first transport was over, he laid his
head against this being's knee, he nestled there and was content.
This was the inscrutable perfect answer.
"Cripes!" said the puzzled tramp, as he caressed the nuzzling
head. "The purp's loco. Maybe he's been lost. You might think
he'd never seen a man before."
He was right.
And Gissing sat quietly, his throat resting upon the soiled knee
of a very old and spicy trouser.
"I have found God," he said.
Presently he thought of the ship. It would not do to leave her so
insecurely moored. Reluctantly, with many a backward glance and a
heart full of glory, he left the Presence. He ran to the edge of
the hill to look down upon the harbour.
The outlook was puzzlingly altered. He gazed in astonishment.
What were those poplars, rising naked into the bright air?--there
was something familiar about them. And that little house beyond .
. . he stared bewildered.
The great shining breadth of the ocean had shrunk to the
roundness of a tiny pond. And the Pomerania? He leaned over,
shaken with questions. There, beside the bank, was a little plank
of wood, a child's plaything, roughly fashioned shipshape: two
chips for funnels; red and yellow frosted leaves for flags; a
withered dogwood blossom for propeller. He leaned closer, with
whirling mind. In the clear cool surface of the pond he could see
the sky mirrored, deeper than any ocean, pellucid, infinite,
He ran up the path to the house. The scuffled ragged garden lay
naked and hard. At the windows, he saw with surprise, were holly
wreaths tied with broad red ribbon. On the porch, some battered
toys. He opened the door.
A fluttering rosy light filled the room. By the fireplace the
puppies--how big they were!--were sitting with Mrs. Spaniel.
Joyous uproar greeted him: they flung themselves upon him. Shouts
of "Daddy! Daddy!" filled the house, while the young Spaniels
stood by more bashfully.
Good Mrs. Spaniel was gratefully moved. Her moist eyes shone
brightly in the firelight.
"I knew you'd be home for Christmas, Mr. Gissing," she said.
"I've been telling them so all afternoon. Now, children, be still
a moment and let me speak. I've been telling you your Daddy would
be home in time for a Christmas Eve story. I've got to go and fix
that plum pudding."
In her excitement a clear bubble dripped from the tip of her
tongue. She caught it in her apron, and hurried to the kitchen.
The children insisted on leading him all through the house to
show how nicely they had taken care of things. And in every room
Gissing saw the marks of riot and wreckage. There were
tooth-scars on all furniture-legs; the fringes of rugs were
chewed off; there were prints of mud, ink, paints, and whatnot,
on curtains and wallpapers and coverlets. Poor Mrs. Spaniel kept
running anxiously from the kitchen to renew apologies.
"I DID try to keep 'em in order," she said, "but they seem to
bash things when you're not looking."
But Gissing was too happy to stew about such trifles. When the
inspection was over, they all sat down by the chimney and he
piled on more logs.
"Well, chilluns," he said, "what do you want Santa Claus to bring
you for Christmas?"
"An aunbile!" exclaimed Groups
"An elphunt!" exclaimed Bunks
"A little train with hammers!" exclaimed Yelpers
"A little train with hammers?" asked Gissing. "What does he
"Oh," said Groups and Bunks, with condescending pity, "he means a
typewriter. He calls it a little train because it moves on a
track when you hit it."
A painful apprehension seized him, and he went hastily to his
study. He had not noticed the typewriter, which Mrs. Spaniel had-
-too late--put out of reach. Half the keys were sticking upright,
jammed together and tangled in a whirl of ribbon; the carriage
was strangely dislocated. And yet even this mischance, which
would once have horrified him, left him unperturbed. It's my own
fault, he thought: I shouldn't have left it where they could play
with it. Perhaps God thinks the same when His creatures make a
mess of the dangerous laws of life.
"A Christmas story!" the children were clamouring.
Can it really be Christmas Eve? Gissing thought. Christmas seems
to have come very suddenly this year, I haven't really adjusted
my mind to it yet.
"All right," he said. "Now sit still and keep quiet. Bunks, give
Yelpers a little more room. If there's any bickering Santa Claus
might hear it."
He sat in the big chair by the fire, and the three looked upward
expectantly from the hearthrug.
"Once upon a time there were three little puppies, who lived in a
house in the country in the Canine Estates. And their names were
Groups, Bunks, and Yelpers."
The three tails thumped in turn as the names were mentioned, but
the children were too excitedly absorbed to interrupt.
"And one year, just before Christmas, they heard a dreadful
"What's a rumour?" cried Yelpers, alarmed.
This was rather difficult to explain, so Gissing did not attempt
it. He began again.
"They heard that Santa Claus might not be able to come because he
was so behind with his housework. You see, Santa Claus is a great
big Newfoundland dog with a white beard, and he lives in a frosty
kennel at the North Pole, all shining with icicles round the roof
and windows. But it's so far away from everywhere that poor Santa
couldn't get a servant. All the maids who went there refused to
stay because it was so cold and lonely, and so far from the
movies. Santa Claus was busy in his workshop, making toys; he was
busy taking care of the reindeer in their snow-stables; and he
didn't have time to wash his dishes. So all summer he just let
them pile up and pile up in the kitchen. And when Christmas came
near, there was his lovely house in a dreadful state of
untidiness. He couldn't go away and leave it like that. And so,
if he didn't get his dishes washed and the house cleaned up for
Christmas, all the puppies all over the world would have to go
without toys. When Groups and Bunks and Yelpers heard this, they
were very much worried."
"How did they hear it?" asked Bunks, who was the analytical
member of the trio.
"A very sensible question," said Gissing, approvingly. "They
heard it from the chipmunk who lives in the wood behind the
house. The chipmunk heard it underground."
"In his chipmonastery?" cried Groups. It was a family joke to
call the chipmunk's burrow by that name, and though the puppies
did not understand the pun they relished the long word.
"Yes," continued Gissing. "The reindeer in Santa Claus's stable
were so unhappy about the dishes not being washed, and the chance
of missing their Christmas frolic, that they broadcasted a radio
message. Their horns are very fine for sending radio, and the
chipmunk, sitting at his little wireless outfit, with the
receivers over his ears, heard it. And Chippy told Groups and
Bunks and Yelpers.
"So these puppies decided to help Santa Claus. They didn't know
exactly where to find him, but the chipmunk told them the
direction, and off they went. They travelled and travelled, and
when they came to the ocean they begged a ride from the seagulls,
and each one sat on a seagull's back just as though he was on a
little airplane. They flew and flew, and at last they came to
Santa Claus's house. Through the stable-walls, which were made of
clear ice, they could see the reindeer stamping in their stalls.
In the big workshop, where Santa Claus was busy making toys, they
could hear a lively sound of hammering. The big red sleigh was
standing outside the stables, all ready to be hitched up to the
"They slipped into Santa Claus's house quickly and quietly, so no
one would see or hear them. The house was in a terrible state,
but they set to work to clean up. Groups found the vacuum cleaner
and sucked up all the crumbs from the dining-room rug. Bunks ran
upstairs and made Santa Claus's bed for him and swept the floors
and put clean towels in the bathroom. And Yelpers hurried into
the kitchen and washed the dishes, and scrubbed the pots, and
polished the egg-stains off the silver spoons, and emptied the
ice-box pan. All working hard, they got through very soon, and
made Santa Claus's house as clean as any house could be. They
fixed the window-shades so that they would all hang level, not
just anyhow, as poor Santa had them. Then, when everything was
spick and span, they ran outdoors again and beckoned the
seagulls. They climbed on the gulls' backs, and away they flew
"Was Santa Claus pleased?" asked Bunks.
"Indeed he was, when he came back from his
workshop, very tired after making toys all day "
"What kind of toys did he make?" exclaimed Yelpers anxiously.
"Did he make a typewriter?"
"He made every kind of toy. And when he saw how his house had
been cleaned up, he thought the fairies must have done it. He lit
his pipe, and filled a thermos bottle with hot cocoa to keep him
warm on his long journey. Then he put on his red coat, and his
long boots, and his fur cap, and went out to harness the
reindeer. That very night he drove off with his sleigh packed
full of toys for all the puppies in the world. In fact, he was so
pleased that he loaded his big bag with more toys than he had
ever carried before. And that was how a queer thing happened."
They waited in eager suspense.
"You know, Santa Claus always drives into the Canine Estates by
the little back road through the woods, where the chipmunk lives.
You know the gateway, at the bend in the lane: well, it's rather
narrow, and Santa Claus's sleigh is very wide. And this time,
because his bag had so many toys in it, the bag bulged over the
edge of the sleigh, and one corner of the bag caught on the
gatepost as he drove by. Three toys fell out, and what do you
suppose they were?"
"An aunbile!"
"An elphunt!"
"A typewriter!"
"Yes, that's quite right. And it happened that the chipmunk was
out that night, digging up some nuts for his Christmas dinner, a
little sad because he had no presents to give his children; and
he found the three toys. He took them home to the little
chipmunks, and they were tremendously pleased. That was only
fair, because if it hadn't been for the chipmunk and his radio
set, no one would have had any toys that Christmas."
"Did Santa Claus have any more typewriters in his bag?" asked
Yelpers gravely.
"Oh, yes, he had plenty more of everything. And when he got to
the house where Groups and Bunks and Yelpers lived, he slid down
the chimney and took a look round. He didn't see any crumbs on
the floor, or any toys lying about not put away, so he filled the
stockings with all kinds of lovely things, and an aunbile and an
elphunt and a typewriter."
"What did the puppies say?" they inquired.
"They were sound asleep upstairs, and didn't know anything about
it until Christmas morning. Come on now, it's time for bed."
"We can undress ourselves now," said Groups.
"Will you tuck me in?" said Bunks.
"You're sure he had another typewriter in his bag?" said Yelpers.
They scrambled upstairs.
Later, when the house was quiet, Gissing went out to the kitchen
to see Mrs. Spaniel. She was diligently rolling pastry, and her
nose was white with flour.
"Oh, sir, I'm glad you got home in time for Christmas," she said.
"The children were counting on it. Did you have a successful
trip, sir?"
"Every trip is successful when you get home again," said Gissing.
"I suppose the shops will be open late to-night, won't they? I'm
going to run down to the village to get some toys."
Before leaving the house, he went down to the cellar to see if
the furnace was all right. He was amazed to see how naturally and
cheerfully he had slipped back into the old sense of
responsibility. Where was the illusory freedom he had dreamed of?
Even the epiphany on the hilltop now seemed a distant miracle.
That fearful happiness might never come again. And yet here,
among the familiar difficult minutiae of home, what a lightness
he felt. A great phrase from the prayer-book came to his mind--
"Whose service is perfect freedom."
Ah, he said to himself, it is all very well to wear a crown of
thorns, and indeed every sensitive creature carries one in
secret. But there are times when it ought to be worn cocked over
one ear.
He opened the furnace door. A bright glow filled the fire-box: he
could hear a stir and singing in the boiler, and the rustle of
warm pipes that chuckled quietly through winter nights of storm.
Over the coals hovered a magic evasive flicker, the very soul of
fire. It was a Pentecostal flame, perfect and heavenly in tint,
the essence of pure colour, a clear immortal blue.

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