Intending to sail for America in the early part of June, I determined to spen_he interval of six weeks in England, to which country my mind's eye only ha_s yet been introduced. I had formed in Italy and France a resolute preferenc_or old inns, considering that what they sometimes cost the ungratified bod_hey repay the delighted mind. On my arrival in London, therefore, I lodged a_ certain antique hostelry, much to the east of Temple Bar, deep in th_uarter that I had inevitably figured as the Johnsonian. Here, on the firs_vening of my stay, I descended to the little coffee-room and bespoke m_inner of the genius of "attendance" in the person of the solitary waiter. N_ooner had I crossed the threshold of this retreat than I felt I had cut _olden-ripe crop of English "impressions." The coffee-room of the Red Lion, like so many other places and things I was destined to see in the motherland, seemed to have been waiting for long years, with just that sturdy sufferanc_f time written on its visage, for me to come and extract the romantic essenc_f it.
The latent preparedness of the American mind even for the most characteristi_eatures of English life was a matter I meanwhile failed to get to the botto_f. The roots of it are indeed so deeply buried in the soil of our earl_ulture that, without some great upheaval of feeling, we are at a loss to sa_xactly when and where and how it begins. It makes an American's enjoyment o_ngland an emotion more searching than anything Continental. I had seen th_offee-room of the Red Lion years ago, at home—at Saragossa Illinois—in books, in visions, in dreams, in Dickens, in Smollett, in Boswell. It was small an_ubdivided into six narrow compartments by a series of perpendicular screen_f mahogany, something higher than a man's stature, furnished on either sid_ith a meagre uncushioned ledge, denominated in ancient Britain a seat. I_ach of these rigid receptacles was a narrow table—a table expected unde_tress to accommodate no less than four pairs of active British elbows. Hig_ressure indeed had passed away from the Red Lion for ever. It now knew onl_hat of memories and ghosts and atmosphere. Round the room there marched, breast-high, a magnificent panelling of mahogany, so dark with time and s_olished with unremitted friction that by gazing a while into its luci_lackness I made out the dim reflexion of a party of wigged gentlemen in knee- breeches just arrived from York by the coach. On the dark yellow walls, coate_y the fumes of English coal, of English mutton, of Scotch whiskey, were _ozen melancholy prints, sallow-toned with age— the Derby favourite of th_ear 1807, the Bank of England, her Majesty the Queen. On the floor was _urkey carpet—as old as the mahogany almost, as the Bank of England, as th_ueen—into which the waiter had in his lonely revolutions trodden so man_assive soot-flakes and drops of overflowing beer that the glowing looms o_myrna would certainly not have recognised it. To say that I ordered my dinne_f this archaic type would be altogether to misrepresent the process owing t_hich, having dreamed of lamb and spinach and a salade de saison, I sat dow_n penitence to a mutton-chop and a rice pudding. Bracing my feet against th_ross-beam of my little oaken table, I opposed to the mahogany partitio_ehind me the vigorous dorsal resistance that must have expressed the old- English idea of repose. The sturdy screen refused even to creak, but my poo_ankee joints made up the deficiency.
While I was waiting there for my chop there came into the room a person whom, after I had looked at him a moment, I supposed to be a fellow lodger an_robably the only one. He seemed, like myself, to have submitted to proposal_or dinner; the table on the other side of my partition had been prepared t_eceive him. He walked up to the fire, exposed his back to it and, afte_onsulting his watch, looked directly out of the window and indirectly at me.
He was a man of something less than middle age and more than middle stature, though indeed you would have called him neither young nor tall. He was chiefl_emarkable for his emphasised leanness. His hair, very thin on the summit o_is head, was dark short and fine. His eye was of a pale turbid grey, unsuited, perhaps, to his dark hair and well-drawn brows, but not altogethe_ut of harmony with his colourless bilious complexion. His nose was aquilin_nd delicate; beneath it his moustache languished much rather than bristled.
His mouth and chin were negative, or at the most provisional; not vulgar, doubtless, but ineffectually refined. A cold fatal gentlemanly weakness wa_xpressed indeed in his attenuated person. His eye was restless an_eprecating; his whole physiognomy, his manner of shifting his weight fro_oot to foot, the spiritless droop of his head, told of exhausted intentions, of a will relaxed. His dress was neat and "toned down"—he might have been i_ourning. I made up my mind on three points: he was a bachelor, he was out o_ealth, he was not indigenous to the soil. The waiter approached him, and the_onversed in accents barely audible. I heard the words "claret," "sherry" wit_ tentative inflexion, and finally "beer" with its last letter changed to
"ah." Perhaps he was a Russian in reduced circumstances; he reminded m_lightly of certain sceptical cosmopolite Russians whom I had met on th_ontinent. While in my extravagant way I followed this train—for you see I wa_nterested—there appeared a short brisk man with reddish- brown hair, with _ulgar nose, a sharp blue eye and a red beard confined to his lower jaw an_hin. My putative Russian, still in possession of the rug, let his mild gaz_tray over the dingy ornaments of the room. The other drew near, and hi_mbrella dealt a playful poke at the concave melancholy waistcoat. "A penn_a'penny for your thoughts!"
My friend, as I call him, uttered an exclamation, stared, then laid his tw_ands on the other's shoulders. The latter looked round at me keenly, compassing me in a momentary glance. I read in its own vague light that thi_as a transatlantic eyebeam; and with such confidence that I hardly needed t_ee its owner, as he prepared, with his companion, to seat himself at th_able adjoining my own, take from his overcoat-pocket three New Yor_ewspapers and lay them beside his plate. As my neighbours proceeded to dine _elt the crumbs of their conversation scattered pretty freely abroad. I coul_ear almost all they said, without straining to catch it, over the top of th_artition that divided us. Occasionally their voices dropped to recovery o_iscretion, but the mystery pieced itself together as if on purpose t_ntertain me. Their speech was pitched in the key that may in English air b_alled alien in spite of a few coincidences. The voices were American, however, with a difference; and I had no hesitation in assigning the softe_nd clearer sound to the pale thin gentleman, whom I decidedly preferred t_is comrade. The latter began to question him about his voyage.
"Horrible, horrible! I was deadly sick from the hour we left New York."
"Well, you do look considerably reduced," said the second-comer.
"Reduced! I've been on the verge of the grave. I haven't slept six hours fo_hree weeks." This was said with great gravity.
"Well, I've made the voyage for the last time."
"The plague you have! You mean to locate here permanently?"
"Oh it won't be so very permanent!"
There was a pause; after which: "You're the same merry old boy, Searle. Goin_o give up the ghost to-morrow, eh?"
"I almost wish I were."
"You're not so sweet on England then? I've heard people say at home that yo_ress and talk and act like an Englishman. But I know these people here and _now you. You're not one of this crowd, Clement Searle, not you. You'll g_nder here, sir; you'll go under as sure as my name's Simmons."
Following this I heard a sudden clatter as of the drop of a knife and fork.
"Well, you're a delicate sort of creature, if it IS your ugly name! I've bee_andering about all day in this accursed city, ready to cry with homesicknes_nd heartsickness and every possible sort of sickness, and thinking, in th_bsence of anything better, of meeting you here this evening and of you_ttering some sound of cheer and comfort and giving me some glimmer of hope.
Go under? Ain't I under now? I can't do more than get under the ground!"
Mr. Simmons's superior brightness appeared to flicker a moment in this gust o_espair, but the next it was burning steady again. "DON'T 'cry,' Searle," _eard him say. "Remember the waiter. I've grown Englishman enough for that.
For heaven's sake don't let's have any nerves. Nerves won't do anything fo_ou here. It's best to come to the point. Tell me in three words what yo_xpect of me."
I heard another movement, as if poor Searle had collapsed in his chair. "Upo_y word, sir, you're quite inconceivable. You never got my letter?"
"Yes, I got your letter. I was never sorrier to get anything in my life."
At this declaration Mr. Searle rattled out an oath, which it was well perhap_hat I but partially heard. "Abijah Simmons," he then cried, "what demon o_erversity possesses you? Are you going to betray me here in a foreign land, to turn out a false friend, a heartless rogue?"
"Go on, sir," said sturdy Simmons. "Pour it all out. I'll wait till you'v_one. Your beer's lovely," he observed independently to the waiter. "I'll hav_ome more."
"For God's sake explain yourself!" his companion appealed.
There was a pause, at the end of which I heard Mr. Simmons set down his empt_ankard with emphasis. "You poor morbid mooning man," he resumed, "I don'_ant to say anything to make you feel sore. I regularly pity you. But you mus_llow that you've acted more like a confirmed crank than a member of our bes_ociety— in which every one's so sensible."
Mr. Searle seemed to have made an effort to compose himself. "Be so good as t_ell me then what was the meaning of your letter."
"Well, you had got on MY nerves, if you want to know, when I wrote it. It cam_f my always wishing so to please folks. I had much better have let you alone.
To tell you the plain truth I never was so horrified in my life as when _ound that on the strength of my few kind words you had come out here to see_our fortune."
"What then did you expect me to do?"
"I expected you to wait patiently till I had made further enquiries and ha_ritten you again."
"And you've made further enquiries now?"
"Enquiries! I've committed assaults."
"And you find I've no claim?"
"No claim that one of THESE big bugs will look at. It struck me at first tha_ou had rather a neat little case. I confess the look of it took hold of me—"
"Thanks to your liking so to please folks!" Mr. Simmons appeared for a momen_t odds with something; it proved to be with his liquor. "I rather think you_eer's too good to be true," he said to the waiter. "I guess I'll take water.
Come, old man," he resumed, "don't challenge me to the arts of debate, o_ou'll have me right down on you, and then you WILL feel me. My nativ_weetness, as I say, was part of it. The idea that if I put the thing throug_t would be a very pretty feather in my cap and a very pretty penny in m_urse was part of it. And the satisfaction of seeing a horrid low America_alk right into an old English estate was a good deal of it. Upon my word, Searle, when I think of it I wish with all my heart that, extravagant vain ma_s you are, I COULD, for the charm of it, put you through! I should hardl_are what you did with the blamed place when you got it. I could leave yo_lone to turn it into Yankee notions—into ducks and drakes as they call 'e_ere. I should like to see you tearing round over it and kicking up its sacre_ust in their very faces!"
"You don't know me one little bit," said Mr. Searle, rather shirking, _hought, the burden of this tribute and for all response to the ambiguity o_he compliment.
"I should be very glad to think I didn't, sir. I've been to no small amount o_ersonal inconvenience for you. I've pushed my way right up to the headspring.
I've got the best opinion that's to be had. The best opinion that's to be ha_ust gives you one leer over its spectacles. I guess that look will fix you i_ou ever get it straight. I've been able to tap, indirectly," Mr. Simmons wen_n, "the solicitor of your usurping cousin, and he evidently knows somethin_o be in the wind. It seems your elder brother twenty years ago put out _eeler. So you're not to have the glory of even making them sit up."
"I never made any one sit up," I heard Mr. Searle plead. "I shouldn't begin a_his time of day. I should approach the subject like a gentleman."
"Well, if you want very much to do something like a gentleman you've got _apital chance. Take your disappointment like a gentleman."
I had finished my dinner and had become keenly interested in poor Mr. Searle'_nencouraging—or unencouraged—claim; so interested that I at last hated t_ear his trouble reflected in his voice without being able—al_espectfully!—to follow it in his face. I left my place, went over to th_ire, took up the evening paper and established a post of observation behin_t.
His cold counsellor was in the act of choosing a soft chop from the dish—a_ct accompanied by a great deal of prying and poking with that gentleman's ow_ork. My disillusioned compatriot had pushed away his plate; he sat with hi_lbows on the table, gloomily nursing his head with his hands. His companio_atched him and then seemed to wonder—to do Mr. Simmons justice—how he coul_east ungracefully give him up. "I say, Searle,"—and for my benefit, I think, taking me for a native ingenuous enough to be dazzled by his wit, he lifte_is voice a little and gave it an ironical ring—"in this country it's th_nestimable privilege of a loyal citizen, under whatsoever stress of pleasur_r of pain, to make a point of eating his dinner."
Mr. Searle gave his plate another push. "Anything may happen now. I don't car_ straw."
"You ought to care. Have another chop and you WILL care. Have some bette_ipple. Take my advice!" Mr. Simmons went on.
My friend—I adopt that name for him—gazed from between his two hands coldl_efore him. "I've had enough of your advice."
"A little more," said Simmons mildly; "I shan't trouble you again. What do yo_ean to do?"
"Nothing, nothing, nothing!"
"Nothing but starve. How about meeting expenses?"
"Why do you ask?" said my friend. "You don't care."
"My dear fellow, if you want to make me offer you twenty pounds you set mos_lumsily about it. You said just now I don't know you," Mr. Simmons went on.
"Possibly. Come back with me then," he said kindly enough, "and let's improv_ur acquaintance."
"I won't go back. I shall never go back."
Mr. Simmons thought it shrewdly over. "Well, you ARE sick!" he exclaime_resently. "All I can say is that if you're working out a plan for col_oison, or for any other act of desperation, you had better give it right up.
You can't get a dose of the commonest kind of cold poison for nothing, yo_now. Look here, Searle"—and the worthy man made what struck me as a ver_ecent appeal. "If you'll consent to return home with me by the steamer of th_wenty-third I'll pay your passage down. More than that, I'll pay for you_eer."
My poor gentleman met it. "I believe I never made up my mind to anythin_efore, but I think it's made up now. I shall stay here till I take m_eparture for a newer world than any patched-up newness of ours. It's an od_eeling—I rather like it! What should I do at home?"
"You said just now you were homesick."
"I meant I was sick for a home. Don't I belong here? Haven't I longed to ge_ere all my life? Haven't I counted the months and the years till I should b_ble to 'go' as we say? And now that I've 'gone,' that is that I've come, mus_ just back out? No, no, I'll move on. I'm much obliged to you for your offer.
I've enough money for the present. I've about my person some forty pounds'
worth of British gold, and the same amount, say, of the toughness of th_eaven-sent idiot. They'll see me through together! After they're gone I shal_ay my head in some English churchyard, beside some ivied tower, beneath a_ld gnarled black yew."
I had so far distinctly followed the dialogue; but at this point the landlor_ntered and, begging my pardon, would suggest that number 12, a most superio_partment, having now been vacated, it would give him pleasure if I would loo_n. I declined to look in, but agreed for number 12 at a venture and gav_yself again, with dissimulation, to my friends. They had got up; Simmons ha_ut on his overcoat; he stood polishing his rusty black hat with his napkin.
"Do you mean to go down to the place?" he asked.
"Possibly. I've thought of it so often that I should like to see it."
"Shall you call on Mr. Searle?"
"Something has just occurred to me," Simmons pursued with a grin that made hi_pper lip look more than ever denuded by the razor and jerked the ugl_rnament of his chin into the air. "There's a certain Miss Searle, the ol_an's sister."
"Well?" my gentleman quavered.
"Well, sir!—you talk of moving on. You might move on the damsel."
Mr. Searle frowned in silence and his companion gave him a tap on the stomach.
"Line those ribs a bit first!" He blushed crimson; his eyes filled with tears.
"You ARE a coarse brute," he said. The scene quite harrowed me, but I wa_revented from seeing it through by the reappearance of the landlord on behal_f number 12. He represented to me that I ought in justice to him to come an_ee how tidy they HAD made it. Half an hour afterwards I was rattling along i_ hansom toward Covent Garden, where I heard Madame Bosio in The Barber o_eville. On my return from the opera I went into the coffee-room; it ha_ccurred to me I might catch there another glimpse of Mr. Searle. I was no_isappointed. I found him seated before the fire with his head sunk on hi_reast: he slept, dreaming perhaps of Abijah Simmons. I watched him for som_oments. His closed eyes, in the dim lamplight, looked even more helpless an_esigned, and I seemed to see the fine grain of his nature in his unconsciou_ask. They say fortune comes while we sleep, and, standing there, I fel_eally tender enough—though otherwise most unqualified—to be poor Mr. Searle'_ortune. As I walked away I noted in one of the little prandial pews I hav_escribed the melancholy waiter, whose whiskered chin also reposed on th_ulge of his shirt- front. I lingered a moment beside the old inn-yard i_hich, upon a time, the coaches and post-chaises found space to turn an_isgorge. Above the dusky shaft of the enclosing galleries, where loungin_odgers and crumpled chambermaids and all the picturesque domesticity of _attling tavern must have leaned on their elbows for many a year, I made ou_he far-off lurid twinkle of the London constellations. At the foot of th_tairs, enshrined in the glittering niche of her well-appointed bar, th_andlady sat napping like some solemn idol amid votive brass and plate.
The next morning, not finding the subject of my benevolent curiosity in th_offee-room, I learned from the waiter that he had ordered breakfast in bed.
Into this asylum I was not yet prepared to pursue him. I spent the morning i_he streets, partly under pressure of business, but catching all kinds o_omantic impressions by the way. To the searching American eye there is n_int of association with which the great grimy face of London doesn't flush.
As the afternoon approached, however, I began to yearn for some site mor_racefully classic than what surrounded me, and, thinking over the excursion_ecommended to the ingenuous stranger, decided to take the train to Hampto_ourt. The day was the more propitious that it yielded just that di_ubaqueous light which sleeps so fondly upon the English landscape.
At the end of an hour I found myself wandering through the apartments of th_reat palace. They follow each other in infinite succession, with no grea_ariety of interest or aspect, but with persistent pomp and a fine specifi_ffect. They are exactly of their various times. You pass from painted an_anelled bedchambers and closets, anterooms, drawing-rooms, council-rooms, through king's suite, queen's suite, prince's suite, until you feel yoursel_ove through the appointed hours and stages of some rigid monarchical day. O_ne side are the old monumental upholsteries, the big cold tarnished beds an_anopies, with the circumference of disapparelled royalty symbolised by _ilded balustrade, and the great carved and yawning chimney-places wher_ukes-in-waiting may have warmed their weary heels; on the other, in dee_ecesses, rise the immense windows, the framed and draped embrasures where th_overeign whispered and favourites smiled, looking out on terraced gardens an_isty park. The brown walls are dimly illumined by innumerable portraits o_ourtiers and captains, more especially with various members of the Batavia_ntourage of William of Orange, the restorer of the palace; with good stor_oo of the lily-bosomed models of Lely and Kneller. The whole tone of thi_rocessional interior is singularly stale and sad. The tints of all thing_ave both faded and darkened—you taste the chill of the place as you walk fro_oom to room. It was still early in the day and in the season, and I flattere_yself that I was the only visitor. This complacency, however, dropped a_ight of a person standing motionless before a simpering countess of Sir Pete_ely's creation. On hearing my footstep this victim of an evaporated spel_urned his head and I recognised my fellow lodger of the Red Lion. I wa_pparently recognised as well; he looked as if he could scarce wait for me t_e kind to him, and in fact didn't wait. Seeing I had a catalogue he asked th_ame of the portrait. On my satisfying him he appealed, rather timidly, as t_y opinion of the lady.
"Well," said I, not quite timidly enough perhaps, "I confess she strikes me a_o great matter."
He remained silent and was evidently a little abashed. As we strolled away h_tole a sidelong glance of farewell at his leering shepherdess. To speak wit_im face to face was to feel keenly that he was no less interesting tha_nfirm. We talked of our inn, of London, of the palace; he uttered his min_reely, but seemed to struggle with a weight of depression. It was an hones_ind enough, with no great cultivation but with a certain natural love o_xcellent things. I foresaw that I should find him quite to the manner born—t_urs; full of glimpses and responses, of deserts and desolations. Hi_erceptions would be fine and his opinions pathetic; I should moreover tak_efuge from his sense of proportion in his sense of humour, and then refug_rom THAT, ah me!—in what? On my telling him that I was a fellow citizen h_topped short, deeply touched, and, silently passing his arm into my own, suffered me to lead him through the other apartments and down into th_ardens. A large gravelled platform stretches itself before the basement o_he palace, taking the afternoon sun. Parts of the great structure ar_eserved for private use and habitation, occupied by state- pensioners, reduced gentlewomen in receipt of the Queen's bounty and other deservin_ersons. Many of the apartments have their dependent gardens, and here an_here, between the verdure-coated walls, you catch a glimpse of these somewha_tuffy bowers. My companion and I measured more than once this long expanse, looking down on the floral figures of the rest of the affair and on th_toutly-woven tapestry of creeping plants that muffle the foundations of th_uge red pile. I thought of the various images of old-world gentility which, early and late, must have strolled in front of it and felt the protection an_ecurity of the place. We peeped through an antique grating into one of th_ossy cages and saw an old lady with a black mantilla on her head, a decante_f water in one hand and a crutch in the other, come forth, followed by thre_ittle dogs and a cat, to sprinkle a plant. She would probably have had a_pinion on the virtue of Queen Caroline. Feeling these things together made u_uickly, made us extraordinarily, intimate. My companion seemed to ache wit_is impression; he scowled, all gently, as if it gave him pain. I proposed a_ast that we should dine somewhere on the spot and take a late train to town.
We made our way out of the gardens into the adjoining village, where w_ntered an inn which I pronounced, very sincerely, exactly what we wanted. Mr.
Searle had approached our board as shyly as if it had been a cold bath; but, gradually warming to his work, he declared at the end of half an hour that fo_he first time in a month he enjoyed his victuals.
"I'm afraid you're rather out of health," I risked.
"Yes, sir—I'm an incurable."
The little village of Hampton Court stands clustered about the entrance o_ushey Park, and after we had dined we lounged along into the celebrate_venue of horse-chestnuts. There is a rare emotion, familiar to ever_ntelligent traveller, in which the mind seems to swallow the sum total of it_mpressions at a gulp. You take in the whole place, whatever it be. You fee_ngland, you feel Italy, and the sensation involves for the moment a kind o_hrill. I had known it from time to time in Italy and had opened my soul to i_s to the spirit of the Lord. Since my landing in England I had been waitin_or it to arrive. A bottle of tolerable Burgundy, at dinner, had perhap_nlocked to it the gates of sense; it arrived now with irresistible force.
Just the scene around me was the England of one's early reveries. Over agains_s, amid the ripeness of its gardens, the dark red residence, with its forma_acings and its vacant windows, seemed to make the past definite and massive; the little village, nestling between park and palace, around a patch of turf_ommon, with its taverns of figurative names, its ivy-towered church, it_ossy roofs, looked like the property of a feudal lord. It was in this dar_omposite light that I had read the British classics; it was this mild mois_ir that had blown from the pages of the poets; while I seemed to feel th_uried generations in the dense and elastic sod. And that I must hav_estified in some form or other to what I have called my thrill I gather, remembering it, from a remark of my companion's.
"You've the advantage over me in coming to all this with an educated eye. Yo_lready know what old things can be. I've never known it but by report. I'v_lways fancied I should like it. In a small way at home, of course, I did tr_o stand by my idea of it. I must be a conservative by nature. People at hom_sed to call me a cockney and a fribble. But it wasn't true," he went on; "i_t had been I should have made my way over here long ago: before—before—" H_aused, and his head dropped sadly on his breast.
The bottle of Burgundy had loosened his tongue; I had but to choose my tim_or learning his story. Something told me that I had gained his confidence an_hat, so far as attention and attitude might go, I was "in" fo_esponsibilities. But somehow I didn't dread them. "Before you lost you_ealth," I suggested.
"Before I lost my health," he answered. "And my property—the little I had. An_y ambition. And any power to take myself seriously."
"Come!" I cried. "You shall recover everything. This tonic English climat_ill wind you up in a month. And THEN see how you'll take yourself—and how _hall take you!"
"Oh," he gratefully smiled, "I may turn to dust in your hands! I should like,"
he presently pursued, "to be an old genteel pensioner, lodged over there i_he palace and spending my days in maundering about these vistas. I should g_very morning, at the hour when it gets the sun, into that long gallery wher_ll those pretty women of Lely's are hung—I know you despise them!— and strol_p and down and say something kind to them. Poor precious forsaken creatures!
So flattered and courted in their day, so neglected now! Offering up thei_houlders and ringlets and smiles to that musty deadly silence!"
I laid my hand on my friend's shoulder. "Oh sir, you're all right!"
Just at this moment there came cantering down the shallow glade of the avenu_ young girl on a fine black horse—one of those little budding gentlewomen, perfectly mounted and equipped, who form to alien eyes one of the pretties_ncidents of English scenery. She had distanced her servant and, as she cam_breast of us, turned slightly in her saddle and glanced back at him. In th_ovement she dropped the hunting-crop with which she was armed; whereupon sh_eined up and looked shyly at us and at the implement. "This is somethin_etter than a Lely," I said. Searle hastened forward, picked up the crop and, with a particular courtesy that became him, handed it back to the rider.
Fluttered and blushing she reached forward, took it with a quick sweet sound, and the next moment was bounding over the quiet turf. Searle stood watchin_er; the servant, as he passed us, touched his hat. When my friend turne_oward me again I saw that he too was blushing. "Oh sir, you're all right," _epeated.
At a short distance from where we had stopped was an old stone bench. We wen_nd sat down on it and, as the sun began to sink, watched the light mis_owder itself with gold. "We ought to be thinking of the train back to London, I suppose," I at last said.
"Oh hang the train!" sighed my companion.
"Willingly. There could be no better spot than this to feel the Englis_vening stand still." So we lingered, and the twilight hung about us, strangely clear in spite of the thickness of the air. As we sat there cam_nto view an apparition unmistakeable from afar as an immemorial vagrant—th_isowned, in his own rich way, of all the English ages. As he approached us h_lackened pace and finally halted, touching his cap. He was a man of middl_ge, clad in a greasy bonnet with false-looking ear-locks depending from it_ides. Round his neck was a grimy red scarf, tucked into his waistcoat; hi_oat and trousers had a remote affinity with those of a reduced hostler. I_ne hand he had a stick; on his arm he bore a tattered basket, with a handfu_f withered vegetables at the bottom. His face was pale haggard and degrade_eyond description—as base as a counterfeit coin, yet as modelled somehow as _ragic mask. He too, like everything else, had a history. From what height ha_e fallen, from what depth had he risen? He was the perfect symbol o_enerated constituted baseness; and I felt before him in presence of a grea_rtist or actor.
"For God's sake, gentlemen," he said in the raucous tone of weather-beate_overty, the tone of chronic sore-throat exacerbated by perpetual gin, "fo_od's sake, gentlemen, have pity on a poor fern-collector!"—turning up hi_tale daisies. "Food hasn't passed my lips, gentlemen, for the last thre_ays." We gaped at him and at each other, and to our imagination his appea_ad almost the force of a command. "I wonder if half-a- crown would help?" _rivately wailed. And our fasting botanist went limping away through the par_ith the grace of controlled stupefaction still further enriching his outline.
"I feel as if I had seen my Doppelganger" said Searle. "He reminds me o_yself. What am I but a mere figure in the landscape, a wandering minstrel o_icker of daisies?"
"What are you 'anyway,' my friend?" I thereupon took occasion to ask. "Who ar_ou? kindly tell me."
The colour rose again to his pale face and I feared I had offended him. H_oked a moment at the sod with the point of his umbrella before answering.
"Who am I?" he said at last. "My name is Clement Searle. I was born in Ne_ork, and that's the beginning and the end of me."
"Ah not the end!" I made bold to plead.
"Then it's because I HAVE no end—any more than an ill-written book. I jus_top anywhere; which means I'm a failure," the poor man all lucidly an_nreservedly pursued: "a failure, as hopeless and helpless, sir, as any tha_ver swallowed up the slender investments of the widow and the orphan. I don'_ay five cents on the dollar. What I might have been—once!—there's nothin_eft to show. I was rotten before I was ripe. To begin with, certainly, _asn't a fountain of wisdom. All the more reason for a definite channel—fo_aving a little character and purpose. But I hadn't even a little. I ha_othing but nice tastes, as they call them, and fine sympathies an_entiments. Take a turn through New York to-day and you'll find the tattere_emnants of these things dangling on every bush and fluttering in ever_reeze; the men to whom I lent money, the women to whom I made love, th_riends I trusted, the follies I invented, the poisonous fumes of pleasur_mid which nothing was worth a thought but the manhood they stifled! It was m_ault that I believed in pleasure here below. I believe in it still, but as _elieve in the immortality of the soul. The soul is immortal, certainly—i_ou've got one; but most people haven't. Pleasure would be right if it wer_leasure straight through; but it never is. My taste was to be the best in th_orld; well, perhaps it was. I had a little money; it went the way of m_ittle wit. Here in my pocket I have the scant dregs of it. I should tell yo_ was the biggest kind of ass. Just now that description would flatter me; i_ould assume there's something left of me. But the ghost of a donkey—what'_hat? I think," he went on with a charming turn and as if striking off hi_eal explanation, "I should have been all right in a world arranged o_ifferent lines. Before heaven, sir—whoever you are—I'm in practice s_bsurdly tender-hearted that I can afford to say it: I entered upon life _erfect gentleman. I had the love of old forms and pleasant rites, and I foun_hem nowhere—found a world all hard lines and harsh lights, without shade, without composition, as they say of pictures, without the lovely mystery o_olour. To furnish colour I melted down the very substance of my own soul. _ent about with my brush, touching up and toning down; a very prett_hiaroscuro you'll find in my track! Sitting here in this old park, in thi_ld country, I feel that I hover on the misty verge of what might have been! _hould have been born here and not there; here my makeshift distinctions woul_ave found things they'd have been true of. How it was I never got free i_ore than I can say. It might have cut the knot, but the knot was too tight. _as always out of health or in debt or somehow desperately dangling. Besides, I had a horror of the great black sickening sea. A year ago I was reminded o_he existence of an old claim to an English estate, which has danced befor_he eyes of my family, at odd moments, any time these eighty years. I confes_t's a bit of a muddle and a tangle, and am by no means sure that to this hou_'ve got the hang of it. You look as if you had a clear head: some other time, if you consent, we'll have a go at it, such as it is, together. Poverty wa_taring me in the face; I sat down and tried to commit the 'points' of ou_ase to memory, as I used to get nine-times-nine by heart as a boy. I dreame_f it for six months, half-expecting to wake up some fine morning and hea_hrough a latticed casement the cawing of an English rookery. A couple o_onths ago there came out to England on business of his own a man who once go_e out of a dreadful mess (not that I had hurt anyone but myself), a lega_ractitioner in our courts, a very rough diamond, but with a great deal o_LAIR, as they say in New York. It was with him yesterday you saw me dining.
He undertook, as he called it, to 'nose round' and see if anything could b_ade of our questionable but possible show. The matter had never seriousl_een taken up. A month later I got a letter from Simmons assuring me that i_eemed a very good show indeed and that he should be greatly surprised if _ere unable to do something. This was the greatest push I had ever got in m_ife; I took a deliberate step, for the first time; I sailed for England. I'v_een here three days: they've seemed three months. After keeping me waitin_or thirty-six hours my legal adviser makes his appearance last night an_tates to me, with his mouth full of mutton, that I haven't a leg to stand on, that my claim is moonshine, and that I must do penance and take a ticket fo_ix more days of purgatory with his presence thrown in. My friend, m_riend—shall I say I was disappointed? I'm already resigned. I didn't reall_elieve I had any case. I felt in my deeper consciousness that it was th_rowning illusion of a life of illusions. Well, it was a pretty one. Poo_egal adviser!—I forgive him with all my heart. But for him I shouldn't b_itting in this place, in this air, under these impressions. This is a world _ould have got on with beautifully. There's an immense charm in its havin_een kept for the last. After it nothing else would have been tolerable. _hall now have a month of it, I hope, which won't be long enough for it to "g_ack on me. There's one thing!"—and here, pausing, he laid his hand on mine; _ose and stood before him— "I wish it were possible you should be with me t_he end."
"I promise you to leave you only when you kick me downstairs." But I suggeste_y terms. "It must be on condition of your omitting from your conversatio_his intolerable flavour of mortality. I know nothing of 'ends.' I'm all fo_eginnings."
He kept on me his sad weak eyes. Then with a faint smile: "Don't cut down _an you find hanging. He has had a reason for it. I'm bankrupt."
"Oh health's money!" I said. "Get well, and the rest will take care of itself.
I'm interested in your questionable claim—it's the question that's the charm; and pretenders, to anything big enough, have always been, for me, a_ttractive class. Only their first duty's to be gallant."
"Their first duty's to understand their own points and to know their ow_ind," he returned with hopeless lucidity. "Don't ask me to climb our famil_ree now," he added; "I fear I haven't the head for it. I'll try some day—i_t will bear my weight; or yours added to mine. There's no doubt, however, that we, as they say, go back. But I know nothing of business. If I were t_ake the matter in hand I should break in two the poor little silken threa_rom which everything hangs. In a better world than this I think I should b_istened to. But the wind doesn't set to ideal justice. There's no doubt tha_ hundred years ago we suffered a palpable wrong. Yet we made no appeal at th_ime, and the dust of a century now lies heaped upon our silence. Let i_est!"
"What then," I asked, "is the estimated value of your interest?"
"We were instructed from the first to accept a compromise. Compared with th_hole property our ideas have been small. We were once advised in the sense o_ hundred and thirty thousand dollars. Why a hundred and thirty I'm sure _on't know. Don't beguile me into figures."
"Allow me one more question," I said. "Who's actually in possession?"
"A certain Mr. Richard Searle. I know nothing about him."
"He's in some way related to you?"
"Our great-grandfathers were half-brothers. What does that make us?"
"Twentieth cousins, say. And where does your twentieth cousin live?"
"At a place called Lackley—in Middleshire."
I thought it over. "Well, suppose we look up Lackley in Middleshire!"
He got straight up. "Go and see it?"
"Go and see it."
"Well," he said, "with you I'll go anywhere."
On our return to town we determined to spend three days there together an_hen proceed to our errand. We were as conscious one as the other of tha_eeper mystic appeal made by London to those superstitious pilgrims who fee_t the mother-city of their race, the distributing heart of their traditiona_ife. Certain characteristics of the dusky Babylon, certain aspects, phases, features, "say" more to the American spiritual ear than anything else i_urope. The influence of these things on Searle it charmed me to note. Hi_bservation I soon saw to be, as I pronounced it to him, searching an_aressing. His almost morbid appetite for any over-scoring of time, well-nig_xtinct from long inanition, threw the flush of its revival into his face an_is talk.