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den an explanation, and he had persisted in his refusal. She had tried one or two pleasant surprises; but he had shown annoyance rather than pleasure at such evasions of his will, and that method of procedure had had to be abandoned. So for the last ten years she had simply offered him a gift, and he had as simply, but very firmly, declined it.
in the meantime some vague fear of hers had gradually been realized. The City had year by year cast a heavier spell upon him, and he had become more and more engrossed in his business, less and less interested in his home and his wife. Inevitably, as his character hardened and his views of values changed, he had allowed a gulf between them to widen, and had made no attempt to bridge it. Brusqueness and impatience, absent-mindedness and self-absorption, the City column at the breakfast-table—all had been signs of the tendency she had seen a long way off and could not prevent. in a sense she had centred her hopes in the House in Islington, feeling that such a contribution to the common welfare would always claim his respect and gratitude, if nothing more. But the House had failed egregiously in its mission, and on this account she could claim nothing. To-day he had. as he had said, settled the matter once and for all.
She could forgive him for the way in which he had done it; she could even overlook the fact that he had described it as a trifle. A trifle! But she would not forget the fact that she must not mention the matter again. The last hope was gone, after having been many years agoing.
So she sighed gently, and then blamed herself for desiring the unattainable; and with a faint smile upon a face which had not yet lost its sweetness, she rang the bell for the maid and turned to the duties of the day.
Seated in his first-class compartment, Mr. Burchell again attacked his newspaper to cover the last traces of his breakfast-table outhreak. He was not sorry for it—indeed, he had not the slightest difficulty in finding full justification; but it had been unpleasant, if necessary, and he was willing to forget it.
He was able to complete his examination of the City columns, and might have done more if he had not been interrupted. Conversation in a first-class compartment on the ninethirty-six was sufficiently unusual to be noticeable, sufficiently disturbing to be resented. He could scarcely help hearing in some subconscious fashion, much as he desired to avoid it.
The two men who conversed were City men, and he knew them both by sight. Their talk was market-talk of an ordinary type, but to him markettalk was always interesting. Moreover, this conversation seemed to be somewhere in the region of his own business, though he would hardly have said how he became aware of the fact. The noise of the train was such that only imperfect phrases reached him.
"i heard a rumor last night," said the nearest man; "... are in trouble. Heard anything yourself?"
"Not a word. What was it?"
"Oh, . . . deal—South Americans— pulled them all to pieces. Won't open to-day probably."
"Others will go with them," suggested the second man callously.
"Certain! . . . and more than one. There will be a slump in that line for a time."
The conversation went on jerkily; but Mr. Burchell had ceased to follow it. as the topic was changed. He had failed to catch the name of the firm under discussion, but it seemed to have been one full of labials and sibilants. Of course there were several names of a similar character, and it was quite unreasonably that his mind sprang to Bassetts, and persisted in staying there. South Americans, too! Then he thrust the suggestion aside with an emphatic refusal.
"Rubbish!" he thought impatiently. "That's out of the question. South Americans—absurd!"
A few minutes later he was in his own building and in his own room. The atmosphere was exactly as usual, and it was not until he had opened his letters that he called in his cashier, an experienced man of advanced years.
"By the way," he said, "have you heard anything about Bassetts—in connection with South Americans?"
"Bassetts? No, sir, not a word!"
"Very good. It must have been some other house."
Two minutes later he was at the telephone, making the same inquiry elsewhere. "Bassetts?" came the reassuring answer. "No—nothing. What have you heard? They're all right." But then he called up another number, to receive another reply. "Bassetts? Yes, we've heard. They've closed this morning. . . . Hope you're not in with them?"
He left the instrument after a moment, and recalled the cashier. "Bassetts have gone," he said calmly. "There was a South American muddle after alL They are bound to drag others with them. I expect we shall hear the worst by noon."
The man retired dumfounded, and Mr. Burchell drew his handkerchief across his brows before he turned to the work of the day. Long before the cashier's task was completed he had gone out, and it was some time after noon before he returned. Then he called the man again.
"Gillinghams are as good as gone too," he said. "It was bound to be, and Trescott is certain to go. Lambtons will, I believe, stand. You can
go into the whole matter now, and get at the total loss. There is no hurry about it—any time before five will do."
The cashier had lost his nerve long ago, but his employer's manner steadied him. He seemed to see a man standing in the midst of a quaking house and propping up the walls by sheer force of wilL He retired again after asking a question or two, and the routine of the day was proceeded with.
At four a foolscap sheet of figures was laid on Mr. Burchell's desk by a hand that trembled. He scanned it closely, without a sign of emotion, and even checked the totals with that cool precision which his wife knew so well. He transferred the final caiculation to his pocket-book with the same care.
"if you will allow me, sir," said the elderly cashier, in earnest agitation, "l should like to express my regret—and my sympathy."
Mr. Burchell seemed a little surprised. "lt is very good of you, Simms," he said pleasantly. "Very good! Yes, this must be, of course, a serious check. Thank you."
"A serious check!" muttered Mr. Simms as he returned to his own desk. "A serious check! Well!" And it was with feelings of mingled respect and pity that he saw Mr. Burchell pass through the office later, on his way home, precisely at his usual time. The proud front of the beaten fighter is good to see, but it has its painful aspect.
Mr. Burchell walked to his usual train through the thronging City. There was in his bearing no betrayal of dejection, no shrinkage of dignity and confidence, and it was an unmoved face that he turned upon the scene of his misfortunes. "You have struck hard," he seemed to say in farewell, "but I shall be here again to-morrow!" And if the defiance found an echo in the groan of a stricken man, it reached no ears but his own.
Before he reached Highgate he had fully realized the whole extent of his losses, but had no spirit to begin to rebuild. The shock found him lacking in that power of recovery which had brought him trinmphantly through earlier crises. On his way home from the station he turned into the Queen's Wood, to find a little solitude in the leafy alleys where he had often planned his business enterprises. Then after a while he went quietly to his house.
At this point he seemed actually at the nadir of his fortunes, and bitterly conscious that it was beyond his power to right them. It was not until he approached his own gate, however, that he thought of his wife at all in connection with the blow, and then his pity was curiously tinged with something much less noble. He might explain, but she would not understand. it would be useless to give her any details. He knew so well what her limits were. And in the bitterness of his defeat it occurred to him to make a study of the woman at this crisis. He would tell her the truth, and would observe the way in which she received it. It was a pity that she could not enter into his schemes a little more, that her limitations were so definite. She would have nothing to offer in the way of ideas—nothing.
He discovered now that the day's experience had quickened his perceptions to an almost painful extent. He noted, as for the first time, the beauty and tastefuiness of his garden, the substantial structure of his house, the richness of his windows and of his hall. They looked different, he thought, because he saw them under the shadow of possible loss. In the morningroom, overlooking the garden, his wife was sitting, and she smiled a greeting as he passed. A moment later it occurred to him that she was almost al
ways there. With a little impatience, he found himself making the acknowledgment that a very domestic wife was sometimes an ndvantage. It was an advantage to have her in her place on this particular evening, even if she had no ideas to offer.
Entering the room, he went to a couch and sat down where he could see her face. He was still intent upon his purpose. His wife looked at him in silence for a moment, and he observed—because he was there to make observations—a certain timidity in the look. At once he felt a little surprised. Surely he had never given her cause for timidity!
"Have you had a good day?" she asked gently.
That was about as far as she could penetrate lnto his business affairs, he reflected; but an instant later came the further reflection, "She always asks that. But she never forgets to ask that." And then he answered simply, "No; a very bad day. The worst in twenty years."
He spoke so calmly that she had to search his face for an endorsement of the statement. She lowered her work with a troubled look, and waited for more. With all her limitations, she seemed to have a faculty for reading his features.
"Three firms heavily in my debt," he said, "are closing their doors. The end of it is that I am very nearly ruined. Practically, I have lost threefourths of all I had."
She certainly seemed to take it seriously enough, he thought, for she sat as if transfixed. Then he saw, very clearly, her effort to comprehend the meaning of such a disaster, and looked to see horror and dismay in her eyes. He saw neither, and for a moment failed to realize what it was that he did see. Could it be that she felt no horror of loss, no fear of the future, only an overwhelming and infinite pity? And pity for whom? For him? He knew as soon as she spoke. "Oh, Philip!"
He was certainly seeing something now. The pain in that one exclamation was inexpressible, and he stirred uneasily under the knowledge of it. He wondered that she did not come to him, and somehow his conscience connected this with something he had noticed previously—her timidity. But then she spoke further, the words issuing from her lips unconsidered, unmeasured. indeed, she had never intended to utter them aloud.
"The House in Islington—i will sell it"
She stopped, suddenly conscious that she had spoken, and aware of an immense folly. The silence that fell was painful. Burchell raised his head a little to stare at his wife, and she fluttered and trembled. As for him, he almost laughed, the thing seemed for a moment so grotesque. But then, looking still at her face, he checked himself.
With his unusual keenness of perception, a not unnatural result of his terrible experience and his new relation to circumstances, he saw every thing that came. Moreover, he was impelled to examine everything that came, to study it with an almost morbid desire for truth. That one phrase, "The House in islington"—how banal, how foolish, how suggestively characteristic! Yet at once his mind fastened upon it for absolutely the first time, and in the space of a minute its whole significance was laid bare to him.
The House in Islington! In an instant he was back in the beginnings. He remembered how she had revealed her little secret on the day after their marriage, the shy pleasure and pride in her face as she told the story, halfexpecting his surprise and delight, halfafraid that he would scold her. "You thought I had nothing, Philip, but it is
not quite so bad as that. I shall have one-fourth, and it will probably be the House in islington." And then they thronged upon him swiftly—soul-stirring pictures and echoes of the days that followed—the joys and hopes of their early housekeeping, the efforts to make the ends meet, the long, dark days of heavy toil and straitened means and abounding hope, with the House as a shadowy stand-by, giving so little, promising so much. He remembered that she had never called it her House, never claimed it as hers apart from him; and yet, in a way, she had regarded it as her own, so that she might give it to him freely. And in those dull days he had never noticed her limitations!
The House in islington! Was there any limit to the content of those four words? Looking at her face, with its eloquence of pity, he swiftly linked those old days with these new ones— nay, with this last of all, this moment in which he sat and watched her. The phrase was pregnant with significance, full of revelation, for he saw her last words not as the helpless outhurst of incapacity, but as the keynote of a life, the crowning words of a story extending over many years. It was the sum of all her aims, a motto, as it were, that covered all her thousand silent sacrifices of self, her timid, unfinished sentences, her patient smile. And she had offered him her poor little House year after year since, as the emblem or perhaps the materialization of a devotion that found in this its most hopeful form of expression. And he? He realized now that he had failed to see the meaning of the offering, had turned away from it and contemned it. Only to-day in his pride of power and prosperity, he had finally thrust it away from him, and had even trampled upon It . He could not be worried with trifles. Trifles! That persistent and indescribable devotion!
The House iil lslington! Yes, revelation brought self-revelation in its train, and he saw the real cause of her vague timidity, her silences; and, as if in contrast, he saw again the quaint pleasure she had found in the one gift he had accepted from her since the tide had turned—that wonderful pair of boots. He did not remember it now with amusement. Quite clearly he saw the House in islington for what it had always been from the first day to the last, and the truth struck him with the force of a blow. Unaccustomed emotion gathered in his throat and dimmed his eyes. That flash of perception dissipated a thousand vapors of vanity and self-esteem, and stirred into sudden life the older, nobler spirit which had lain so long under the deepening spell of the world and the City. He had reached a bad pass, indeed, that he had failed to see so much, had been so blind to the tragedy of his own hearth!
"Come here, Mary," he said huskily. She came, half-afraid and fully ashamed of her blunder. But he drew her down to his side, and did not afterwards release her hands.
"You are very good, Mary," he said in slow and labored words. "i will not have you sell the House. We must keep it in the family—it is too precious to part with. But l shall be glad of what you may be able to spare me from it."
She could see that he was not jesting, and her incredulity grew into wonder. He went on, growing stronger moment by moment, a better spirit rising from the ashes of his shame. He was minded to attack life again, to reconquer it so that he might prove himself worthy of the love he had seen revealed to him and at last had realized. And under this influence other things fell back into their true perspective.
"Still," he said, "l do not think these losses will break me. i am not broken as long as you are here to help me—as you have always done."
Slowly and doubtfully her wonder grew into joy. Now he was smoothing her hair,—a little awkwardly, with an unaccustomed touch—and scanning her face with strange intentness. Perhaps there were no lines there that might not be smoothed out.
"But—but i am so sorry, Philip!" she murmured.
Rapidly, in the new light he had been given, he summed up what he had lost and what he had gained through his losses. it seemed to him that it was his disaster that had placed in his hand the key of a better future, and he answered simply, "l am not sorry. i am glad!"
And thus it was that the House in islington achieved its mission.
W. E. Cule.
Mr. Galsworthy has chosen an alluring title. No work so poor but it desires comment; better adverse than none at all. And when the text of the commentator is life itself, and the object of his criticism living men and women, vanity should see to it that he • " A Commentary." By John Galsworthy
gets a hearing. Mr. Galsworthy's commentary, one may guess, is not intended to be a wholly soothing document. You may, if you choose, bring a man abruptly home to himself by confronting him with the unmistakable effigy of his own solid form and substance, or, more subtly, by drawing bis