Various.

Stories by American Authors, Volume 8 online

. (page 4 of 12)
Online LibraryVariousStories by American Authors, Volume 8 → online text (page 4 of 12)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


swells are easier to know than you think. All that is wanted is a
little cheek. But take it in a smaller way; say that we resolve to
cultivate the best society within our reach. Doubtless there are
numbers of interesting and distinguished people right here in New
Haven whose acquaintance it would be worth while to have. But how long
would you beggars live here without making the least effort to look
them out, and meanwhile put up with the same old every-day bores - like
me, or Polisson here? And it's the same way with marriage. A fellow
blunders into matrimony with the first attractive girl that gives him
the opportunity. He knows, if he takes the time to think about it,
that there are a thousand others better than she, if he will wait and
look through the world a little. 'Juxtaposition in fine,' as Clough
says."

"Of course, with such a brilliant destiny before you, _you'll_ never
marry," said I.

"Yes, I think I shall. I fancy that the noblest possibilities of life
are never realized without marriage. Yes, I can think of nothing finer
than to have a lot of manly boys and sweet girls growing up around
one. But when I marry it shall be so as to give completeness and
expansion to life, not narrowness and dullness. I shall never marry
and settle down. Settle down! What a damnable expression that is! A
man ought to settle _up_. I mean to have my fling first, too. I should
like to gamble a bit at Baden-Baden. I should like to go out to
Colorado and have a lick at mining speculations. I want to rough it
some too, and see how life is lived close to the bone: ship for a
voyage before the mast; enlist for a campaign or two somewhere and
have joy of battle; join the gypsies or the Mormons or the Shakers for
awhile, and taste all the queerness of things. And then I want to
float for another while on the very top-most crest of society. I want
to fight a duel or two, elope with a marquise, do a little of
everything for the experience's sake, as a man ought to take opium
once in his life just to know how it feels."

Whether it was indeed the cognac, or only the unusual excitement
attending this outburst of pent-up fire, Berkeley's cheek had got
a flush upon it. Perhaps, too, it was owing to the influences of
the day and the hour, the splash of the fountain, the rustle of
the vine-leaves, and the wavering shadows which played about the
court-yard as the gas-jets flickered in the breeze of night, that made
his boastful words seem less extravagantly out of character than they
otherwise would. The silence which followed his speech was broken by
Clay, who sat with his foot on the rim of the fountain, balancing on
the hind legs of his chair, and looking thoughtfully at the slender
jet as it rose and fell. He still wore the dress suit in which he had
figured on the Commencement platform in the afternoon, and which set
off the aristocratic grace of his slight figure. There was a pale
intellectual light in his face, and his black eyes had the glow of
genius.

"I think," he began, "that Berkeley makes a mistake in confounding a
full life with a restless one. I believe in a full experience too, but
the satisfactions should be inward ones. Take the matter of foreign
travel, for one thing, on which you lay so much stress. It is a great
stimulus to the imagination, no doubt; but then foreign countries are
accessible to the imagination by other means - through books and art,
for example. I think it likely that the reality is, quite as often as
not, disappointing. Place, after all, is indifferent. 'The soul is its
own place': you can't get rid of yourself by going abroad, and it's
himself that a man gets sooner tired of than of anything else. Then as
to acquaintances, I don't know that I should care to know personally
such men as Thackeray and Carlyle, and the big composers and
artists and other people that you mentioned. It might be equally
disenchanting. They put the best of themselves into their books, or
pictures, or music. I certainly would not seek their society through
a formal introduction, at all events. It is hard for a small man to
keep his self-respect in face of a great man when he obtains his
acquaintance as a special favor. If I could meet some of those
fellows, quite naturally and accidentally, on equal terms, I might
like it, but not otherwise. But, leaving that point out of account, I
think that the career which Berkeley proposes to himself would turn
out very hollow. It would result in the superficial gratification of
the curiosity and the senses; and, as soon as the novelty got rubbed
off, what is there left?"

"So then," said Berkeley, "you've swung into line with Armstrong, have
you? You mean to plod along in some professional rut too. What has got
into all our idealists?"

"Not by any means," answered Clay. "Armstrong talks about
independence, and yet destines himself to the worst kind of
dependence - slavery to money-getting. Most people, it seems to me,
spend the best part of their lives not in living, but in getting the
means to live. We'll give Armstrong, say twenty years, to lay up
enough money to retire on and begin to live. What sort of a position
will he be in then to enjoy his independence? His nature will have got
so subdued to what it works in that the only safety for him will be to
keep on at the law."

"All right! Then I'll keep on," interjected Armstrong.

"What the devil do _you_ mean to do then?" asked Berkeley of Clay.

"I don't quite know yet," replied the latter. "I shall 'loaf and
invite my soul' whenever I feel like it. I shall live as I go along,
and not postpone it till I am forty. I sha'n't put myself into any
mill that will grind me just so much a day. I need my leisure too
badly for that. I presume I shall spend most of my time at first in
reading and walking. Then, whenever I think of anything to write I
shall write it, and if I can sell what I write to some publisher or
other, so much the better. If not, go on as before."

"Meanwhile, where will your bread and butter come from?" asked
Armstrong.

"Oh, I sha'n't starve. I can get some sort of hack work - something
that won't take much of my time, and which I can do with my left hand.
But the great point, after all, is to make your wants simple; to live
like an Arab, content with a few dates and a swallow from the gourd.
'Lessen your denominator.' It's easier than raising your numerator,
and the quotient is the same."

"No, it's not the same," Berkeley retorted. "Renunciation and
enjoyment are not the same. It makes a heap of difference whether you
have a thing or simply do without it. The plain living and high
thinking philosophy may do for Clay, whose mind to him a kingdom is;
but a fellow like me, whose mind is only a small Central American
republic, can't live on the revenues of the spirit. The fact is, Clay,
you've read too much Emerson. I went into that myself once, but I soon
found out that it wouldn't wear. I want mine thicker. The worst thing
about the career of a literary man or an artist is that if he fails
there are no compensations; and success is mighty uncertain. Nobody
doubts that you are smart enough, Clay, and I am sure we expect great
things of you, whatever line you take up. But, for the sake of the
argument, suppose you have grubbed along in a small way, living on
crusts and water, till you are fifty, without doing any really good
work. Then where are you? You haven't had any fun. You've no other
string to your bow. You haven't that practical experience of the world
which would enable you to turn your hand to something else. You have
no influence or reputation; for, of all poor things, poor art of any
kind is the worst - hateful to gods and men and columns. In short,
where are you? You're out of the dance; you don't count."

"Yes," added Armstrong, "and you've no professional success or solid
standing in the community; and, what's worse, you've no money, which
might make up for the want of all the rest."

"I don't think you get my meaning. I may fail," said Clay, proudly; "I
may never even try to succeed, in your sense of the word. I decline
all mean competitions and all low views of success. The noblest ideal
of life - at least, the noblest to me - is self-culture in the high
meaning of the word; the harmonious development of one's whole nature.
Armstrong has drawn a picture of his future in the likeness of old
Tulkinghorn. I suppose we are all accustomed to put our anticipations
into some such concrete shape before our mind's eye. The typical
situation which I am fond of imagining is something like this: I like
to fancy myself sitting in a dark old upper room in some remote
farm-house, at the close of a winter day, after three or four hours of
steady reading or writing. The room is full of books - the _best_
books. There is a little fire on the hearth, there is a dingy curtain
at the window. It is solitary and still, and when the light gets too
scant to let me read any more, I fill my pipe, and go and stand in the
window. Outside, there is a row of leafless elms, and beyond that a
dim, wide landscape of lakes and hills, and beyond that a red, windy
sunset. I can sit in that window and smoke my pipe and have my own
thoughts till the hills grow black. There is no one to say to me 'Go'
or 'Come'; no patient to visit; no confounded case on the docket next
morning at nine; no distasteful, mean, slavish job of any kind. How
can I fail to have thoughts worth the thinking, and to live a rich and
free life when I breathe every day the bracing air of nature and the
great poets? Isn't such a life in itself the best kind of success,
even if a man accomplishes nothing in particular that you can put your
hand on?"

"Yes, I know," said Armstrong, taking a long breath. "I have felt that
way too. But a man has got to put all that sternly behind him and do
the world's work for the world's wages, if he means to amount to
anything. It's only a finer kind of self-indulgence, after
all - egoistic Hedonism and that sort of thing."

"It won't be all standing at windows and looking at sunsets," added
Doddridge. "Has it ever occurred to you that, before entering on a
life of self-denial and devotion to rather vague ideals, a man ought
to be mighty sure of himself? Can you keep up the culture business
without growing in on yourself unhealthily, and then getting sick of
inaction? Don't you think there will be times of disappointment and
doubt when you look around and see fellows without half your talents
getting ahead of you in the world?"

"Of course," answered Clay, "I shall have to make sacrifices, and
I shall have to stick to them when made. But there have always
been plenty of people willing to make similar sacrifices for
similar compensations. Men have gone out into the wilderness or
shut themselves up in the cloister for opportunities of study or
self-communion, or for other objects which were perhaps at bottom no
more truly devotional than mine. Nowadays such opportunities may be
had by any man who will keep himself free from the servitude of a
bread-winning profession. It is not necessary now to cry _Ecce in
deserto_ or _Ecce in penetralibus_. Oh, I shall have my dark days; but
whenever the blue devils get thick I shall take to the woods and
return to sanity."

"You mean to live in the country, then?" I inquired.

"Yes; most of the time, at any rate. Nature is fully half of life to
me."

Again there was a pause.

"Well, you next, Polisson," said Armstrong, finally. "Let's hear what
your programme is."

"Oh, nothing in the least interesting," I replied. "My future is all
cut and dried. I shall spend the next two years in the south of
France - mainly at Lyons - to learn the details of the silk manufacture.
Then I shall come home to go into my father's store for a year as a
clerk in the importing department. At the close of that year the
governor will take me in as junior partner, and I shall marry my
second cousin. We shall live with my parents, and I am going to be
very domestic, though, as a matter of form, I shall join one or two
clubs. I shall go down town every morning at nine, and come up at
five."

"Quite a neat little destiny," said Armstrong. "I wish I had your
backing. Come, Dodd, what's yours? You're the only man left."

"I haven't made up my mind yet," said Doddridge, slowly.

He was a large, spare man, with a swarthy skin, a wide mouth, a dark,
steady eye, and a long jaw. There was an appearance of power and will
about him which was well borne out by his character. He had been a
systematic though not a laborious student, and while maintaining a
stand comfortably near the head of the class, had taken a course in
the Law School during Senior year, doing his double duties with
apparent ease. He was a constant speaker in the debates of the
Linonian Society, and the few who attended the meetings of that
moribund school of eloquence spoke of Doddridge's speeches as oases
in the waste of forensic dispute, being always distinguished by vigor
and soundness, though without any literary quality, such as Clay's
occasional performances had. Berkeley, who covered his own lazy and
miscellaneous reading with the mask of eclecticism, and proclaimed
his disbelief in a prescribed course of study, was wont to say
that Doddridge was the only man that he knew who was using the
opportunities given by the college for all they were worth, and really
getting out of "the old curric" that mental discipline which it
professed to impart. Though rather taciturn, he was not unsocial, and
was fond of his pipe in the evening. He liked a joke, especially if
it was of a definite kind, and at some one's expense touching a
characteristic weakness of the man. There was at bottom something a
little hard about him, though every one agreed that he was a good
fellow. We all felt sure that he would make a distinguished success in
practical life; and we doubtless thought - if we thought about it at
all - that with his clear foresight and habits of steady work, he had
already decided upon his career. His words were therefore a surprise.

"What! you don't mean to say that you are going to drift, Dodd?"
inquired Armstrong.

"Drift? Well, no; not exactly. I shall keep my steering apparatus well
in hand, but I haven't decided yet what port to run for. There's no
hurry. I have an uncle in the Northwest in the lumber business, who
would give me a chance. I may go out there and look about awhile at
first. If it doesn't promise much, there is the law to fall back upon.
My father has a fruit farm at Byzantium in western New York, - where I
come from, you know, - and he is part owner of the Byzantium weekly
'Bugle.' I've no doubt I could get on as editor, and go to the
Legislature. Or I might do worse than begin on the farm; farming is
looking up in that section. I may try several things till I find the
right one."

"That's queer," said Armstrong. "I thought you had made up your mind
to enter the Columbia Law School."

"Hardly," answered Doddridge, "though I may, after all. The main point
is to keep yourself in readiness for any work, and take the best thing
that turns up - like Berkeley here," he added, drily.

Armstrong looked at his watch and remarked that it was nearly
midnight.

"Boys," said I, "in fifteen years from to-night let's have a supper
here and see how each man of us has worked out his theory of life, and
how he likes it as far as he has got."

"Oh, give us twenty," said Doddridge, laughing, as we all arose and
prepared to break up. "No one accomplishes anything in this latitude
before he is forty."

* * * * *

It was in effect just fifteen years from the summer of our graduation
that I started out to look up systematically my quondam classmates and
compare notes with them. The course of my own life had been quite
other than I had planned. For one thing, I had lived in New Orleans
and not in New York, and my occasions had led me seldom to the North.
The first visit I paid was to Berkeley. I had heard that he was still
unmarried, and that he had been for years settled, as minister, over a
small Episcopal parish on the Hudson. The steamer landed me one summer
afternoon at a little dock on the west bank; and after obtaining from
the dock-keeper precise directions for finding the parsonage, I set
out on foot. After a walk of a mile along a road skirted by handsome
country seats, but contrasting strangely in its loneliness with the
broad thoroughfare of the river constantly occupied by long tows of
barges and rafts, I came to the rectory gate. The house was a stone
cottage, covered with trailers, and standing well back from the road.
In the same inclosure, surrounded by a grove of firs, was a little
stone chapel with high pitched roof and rustic belfry. In front of the
house I spied a figure which I recognized as Berkeley. He was in his
shirt-sleeves, and was pecking away with a hoe at the gravel walk,
whistling meanwhile his old favorite "Bonny Doon." He turned as I came
up the driveway, and regarded me at first without recognition. He, for
his part, was little changed by time. There was the same tall,
narrow-shouldered, slightly stooping figure; the face, smooth-shaved,
with a spot of wintry red in the cheek, and the old humorous cast in
the small blue eyes.

"You don't know me from Adam," I said, pausing in front of him.

"Ah!" he exclaimed, directly. "Polisson, old man, upon my conscience
I'm glad to see you, but I didn't know you till you spoke. You've been
having the yellow fever, haven't you? Come in - come into the house."

We passed in through the porch, which was covered with sweet-pea vines
trained on strings, and entered the library, where Berkeley resumed
his coat. The room was lined with book-shelves loaded to the ceiling,
while piles of literature had overflowed the cases and stood about on
the floor in bachelor freedom. After the first greetings and
inquiries, Berkeley carried my valise upstairs, and then returning,
said:

"I'm a methodical though not methodistical person, or rather parson
(excuse the Fullerism); and as you have got to stay with me till I let
you go, that is, several days at the least (don't interrupt), I'll
keep a little appointment for the next hour, if you will excuse me. A
boy comes three times a week to blow the bellows for my organ
practice. Perhaps you would like to step into the church and hear me."

I assented, and we went out into the yard and found the boy already
waiting in the church porch. Berkeley and his assistant climbed into
the organ loft, while I seated myself in the chancel to listen. The
instrument was small but sweet, and Berkeley really played very well.
The interior of the little church was plain to bareness; but the sun,
which had fallen low, threw red lights on the upper part of the
undecorated walls, and rich shadows darkened the lower half. Through
the white, pointed windows I saw the trembling branches of the firs. I
had been hurrying for a fortnight past over heated railways, treading
fiery pavements, and lodging in red-hot city hotels. But now the music
and the day's decline filled me with a sense of religious calm, and
for a moment I envied Berkeley. After his practicing was over the
organist locked the chapel door, and we paced up and down in the
fir-grove on the matting of dark red needles, and watched the river,
whose eastern half still shone in the evening light. After supper we
sat out on the piazza, which commanded a view of the Hudson. Berkeley
opened a bottle of Chablis and produced some very old and dry Manilla
cheroots, and, leaning back in our wicker chairs, we proceeded to
"talk Cosmos."

"You are very comfortably fixed here," I began; "but this is not
precisely what I expected to find you doing, after your declaration of
principles, fifteen years ago, you may remember, on our Commencement
night."

"Fifteen years! So it is - so it is," he answered, with a sigh. "Well,
_l'homme propose_, you know. I don't quite remember what it was that
I said on that occasion: dreadful nonsense, no doubt. As Thackeray
says, a boy _is_ an ass. Whatever it was, it proceeded, I suppose,
from some temporary mood rather than from any permanent conviction;
though, to be sure, I slipped into this way of life almost by accident
at first. But, being in, I have found it easy to continue. I am rather
too apt, perhaps, to stay where I am put. I am a quietist by
constitution." He paused, and I waited for him to enter upon a fuller
and more formal apology. Finally, he went on much as follows:

"Just after I left college I made application through some parties at
Washington for a foreign consulate. While I was waiting for the
application to be passed on (it was finally unsuccessful), I came up
here to visit my uncle, who was the rector of this parish. He was a
widower, without any children, and the church was his hobby. It is a
queer little affair, something like the old field-kirks or chapels of
ease in some parts of England. It was built partly by my uncle and
partly by a few New York families who have country places here,
and who use it in the summer. This is all glebe land," he said,
indicating, with a sweep of his hand, the twilight fields below the
house sloping down toward the faintly glimmering river. "My uncle had
a sort of prescription or lien by courtesy on the place. There's not
much salary to speak of, but he had a nice plum of his own, and lived
inexpensively. Well, that first summer I moped about here, got
acquainted with the summer residents, read a good deal of the time,
took long walks into the interior, - a rough, aboriginal country, where
they still talk Dutch, - and waited for an answer to my application.
When it came at last, I fretted about it considerably, and was for
starting off in search of something else. I had an idea of getting a
place as botanist on Coprolite's survey of the Nth parallel, and I
wrote to New Haven for letters. I thought it would be a good outdoor,
horseback sort of life, and might lead to something better. But that
fell through, and meanwhile the dominie kept saying: 'My dear fellow,
don't be in too much of a hurry to begin. Young America goes so fast
nowadays that it is like the dog in the hunting story, - a _leetle_ bit
ahead of the hare. Why not stay here for awhile and ripen - ripen?' The
dominie had a good library, - all my old college favorites, old Burton,
old Fuller, and Browne, etc., and it seemed the wisest course to
follow his advice for the present. But in the fall my uncle had a
slight stroke of paralysis, and really needed my help for awhile; so
that what had been a somewhat aimless life, considered as loafing,
became all at once a duty. At first he had a theological student, from
somewhere across the river, come to stay in the house and read service
for him on Sundays. But he was a ridiculous animal, whose main idea of
a minister's duties was to intone the responses in a sonorous manner.
He used to practice this on week days in his surplice, and I remember
especially the cadence with which he delivered the sentence: 'Yea,
like a broken _wall_ shall ye be and as a ruined _hedge_.'

"He got the huckleberry, as we used to say in college, on that
particular text, and it has stuck by me ever since. The dominie fired
him out after a fortnight, and one day said to me: 'Jack, why don't
_you_ study for orders and take up the succession here? You are a
bookworm, and the life seems to be to your liking.' Of course, I
declined very vigorously in the beginning, though offering to stay on
so long as the dominie needed my help. I used to do lay reading on
Sundays when he was too feeble. Gradually, 'the idea of the life did
sweetly creep into my study of imagination.' The quaintness of the
place appealed to me. And here was a future all cut out for me: no
preliminary struggle, no contact with vulgar people, no cut-throat
competition, but everything gentlemanly and independent about it. I
had strong doubts touching my theology, and used to discuss them with
my uncle; but he said, - and said rightly, I now think, - 'You young
fellows in college fancy that it's a mighty fine, bold thing to effect
radicalism and atheism, and the Lord knows what all; but it won't
stick to you when you get older. Experience will soften your heart,
and you'll find after awhile that belief and doubt are not matters of
the pure reason, but of the will. It is a question of _attitude_.
Besides, the church is broad enough to cover a good many private
differences in opinion. It isn't as if you were going to be a
blue-nosed Presbyterian. You can stay here and make your studies with
me, instead of going into a seminary, and when you are ready to go


1 2 4 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

Online LibraryVariousStories by American Authors, Volume 8 → online text (page 4 of 12)