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- Maurice Guest - 3/121 -


on earth, as for some familiar hand or voice, to take the edge off an intolerable loneliness.

He turned and walked rapidly back to the small hotel near the railway station, at which he was staying until he found lodgings. He was tired out, and for the first time became thoroughly conscious of this; but the depression that now closed in upon him, was not due to fatigue alone, and he knew it. In sane moments--such as the present--when neither excitement nor enthusiasm warped his judgment, he was under no illusion about himself; and as he strode through the darkness, he admitted that, all day long, he had been cheating himself in the usual way. He understood perfectly that it was by no means a matter of merely stretching out his hand, to pluck what he would, from this tree that waved before him; he reminded himself with some bitterness that he stood, an unheralded stranger, before a solidly compact body of things and people on which he had not yet made any impression. It was the old story: he played at expecting a ready capitulation of the whole--gods and men--and, at the same time, was only too well aware of the laborious process that was his sole means of entry and fellowship. Again--to instance another of his mental follies--the pains he had been at to take possession of the town, to make it respond to his forced interpretation of it! In reality, it had repelled him--yes, he was chilled to the heart by the aloofness of this foreign town, to which not a single tie yet bound him.

By the light of a fluttering candle, in the dingy hotel bedroom, he sat and wrote a letter, briefly announcing his safe arrival. About to close the envelope, he hesitated, and then, unfolding the sheet of paper again, added a few lines to what he had written. These cost him more trouble than all the rest.

ONCE MORE, HEARTY THANKS TO YOU BOTH, MY DEAR PARENTS, FOR LETTING ME HAVE MY OWN WAY. I HOPE YOU WILL NEVER HAVE REASON TO REGRET IT. ONE THING, AT LEAST, I CAN PROMISE YOU, AND THAT IS, THAT NOT A DAY OF MY TIME HERE SHALL BE WASTED OR MISSPENT. YOU HAVE NOT, I KNOW, THE SAME FAITH IN ME THAT I HAVE MYSELF, AND THIS HAS OFTEN BEEN A BITTER THOUGHT TO ME. BUT ONLY HAVE PATIENCE. SOMETHING STRONGER THAN MYSELF DROVE ME TO IT, AND IF I AM TO SUCCEED ANYWHERE, IT WILL BE HERE. AND I MEAN TO SUCCEED, IF HUMAN WILL CAN DO IT.

He threw himself on the creaking wooden bed and tried to sleep. But his brain was active, and the street was noisy; people talked late in the adjoining room, and trod heavily in the one above. It was long after midnight before the house was still and he fell into an uneasy sleep.

Towards morning, he had a strange dream, from which he wakened in a cold sweat. Once more he was wandering through the streets, as he had done the previous day, apparently in search of something he could not find. But he did not know himself what he sought. All of a sudden, on turning a corner, he came upon a crowd of people gathered round some object in the road, and at once said to himself, this is it, here it is. He could not, however, see what it actually was, for the people, who were muttering to themselves in angry tones, strove to keep him back. At all costs, he felt, he must get nearer to the mysterious thing, and, in a spirit of bravado, he was pushing through the crowd to reach it, when a great clamour arose; every one sprang back, and fled wildly, shrieking: "Moloch, Moloch!" He did not know in the least what it meant, but the very strangeness of the word added to the horror, and he, too, fled with the rest; fled blindly, desperately, up streets and down, watched, it seemed to him, from every window by a cold, malignant eye, but never daring to turn his head, lest he should see the awful thing behind him; fled on and on, through streets that grew ever vaguer and more shadowy, till at last his feet would carry him no further: he sank down, with a loud cry, sank down, down, down, and wakened to find that he was sitting up in bed, clammy with fear, and that dawn was stealing in at the sides of the window.

II.

In Maurice Guest, it might be said that the smouldering unrest of two generations burst into flame. As a young man, his father, then a poor teacher in a small provincial town, had been a prey to certain dreams and wishes, which harmonised ill with the conditions of his life. When, for example, on a mild night, he watched the moon scudding a silvery, cloud-flaked sky; when white clouds sailed swiftly, and soft spring breezes were hastening past; when, in a word, all things seemed to be making for some place, unknown, afar-off, where he was not, then he, too, was seized with a desire to be moving, to strap on a knapsack and be gone, to wander through foreign countries, to see strange cities and hear strange tongues, was unconsciously filled with the desire to taste, lighthearted, irresponsible, the joys and experiences of the WANDERJAHRE, before settling down to face the matter-of-factnesss of life. And as the present continually pushed the realisation of his dreams into the future, he satisfied the immediate thirst of his soul by playing the flute, and by breathing into the thin, reedy tones he drew from it, all that he dreamed of, but would never know. For he presently came to a place in his life where two paths diverged, and he was forced to make a choice between them. It was characteristic of the man that he chose the way of least resistance, and having married, more or less improvidently, he turned his back on the visions that had haunted his youth: afterwards, the cares, great and small, that came in the train of the years, drove them ever further into the background. Want of sympathy in his home-life blunted the finer edges of his nature; of a gentle and yielding disposition, he took on the commonplace colour of his surroundings. After years of unhesitating toil, it is true, the most pressing material needs died down, but the dreams and ambitions had died, too, never to come again. And as it is in the nature of things that no one is less lenient towards romantic longings than he who has suffered disappointment in them, who has failed to transmute them into reality, so, in this case, the son's first tentative leanings to a wider life, met with a more deeply-rooted, though less decisive, opposition, on the part of the father than of the mother.

But Maurice Guest had a more tenacious hold on life.

The home in which he grew up, was one of those cheerless, middle-class homes, across which never passes a breath of the great gladness, the ideal beauty of life; where thought never swings itself above the material interests of the day gone, the day to come, and existence grows as timid and trivial as the petty griefs and pleasures that intersperse it. The days drip past, one by one, like water from a spout after a rain-shower; and the dull monotony of them benumbs all wholesome temerity at its core. Maurice Guest had known days of this kind. For before the irksomeness of the school-bench was well behind him, he had begun his training as a teacher, and as soon as he had learnt how to instil his own half-digested knowledge into the minds of others, he received a small post in the school at which his father taught. The latter had, for some time, secretly cherished a wish to send the boy to study at the neighbouring university, to make a scholar of his eldest son; but the longer he waited, the more unfavourable did circumstances seem, and the idea finally died before it was born.

Maurice Guest looked back on the four years he had just come through, with bitterness; and it was only later, when he was engrossed heart and soul in congenial work, that he began to recognise, and be vaguely grateful for, the spirit of order with which they had familiarised him. At first, he could not recall them without an aversion that was almost physical: this machine-like regularity, which, in its disregard of mood and feeling, had something of a divine callousness to human stirrings; the jarring contact with automaton-like people; his inadequacy and distaste for a task that grew day by day more painful. His own knowledge was so hesitating, so uncertain, too slight for self-confidence, just too much and too fresh to allow him to generalise with the unthinking assurance that was demanded of him. Yet had anyone, he asked himself, more obstacles to overcome than he, in his efforts to set himself free? This silent, undemonstrative father, who surrounded himself with an unscalable wall of indifference; this hard-faced, careworn mother, about whose mouth the years had traced deep lines, and for whom, in the course of a single-handed battle with life, the true reality had come to be success or failure in the struggle for bread. What was art to them but an empty name, a pastime for the drones and idlers of existence? How could he set up his ambitions before them, to be bowled over like so many ninepins? When, at length, after much heartburning and conscientious scrupling, he was mastered by a healthier spirit of self-assertion, which made him rebel against the uselessness of the conflict, and doggedly resolve to put an end to it, he was only enabled to stand firm by summoning to his aid all the strengthening egoism, which is latent in every more or less artistic nature. To the mother, in her honest narrowness, the son's choice of a calling which she held to be unfitting, was something of a tragedy. She allowed no item of her duty to escape her, and moved about the house as usual, sternly observant of her daily task, but her lips were compressed to a thin line, and her face reflected the anger that burnt in her heart, too deep for speech. In the months that followed, Maurice learnt that the censure hardest to meet is that which is never put into words, which refuses to argue or discuss: he chafed inwardly against the unspoken opposition that will not come out to be grappled with, and overthrown. And, as he was only too keenly aware, there was more to be faced than a mere determined aversion to the independence with which he had struck out: there was, in the first place, a pardonably human sense of aggrievedness that the eldest-born should cross their plans and wishes; that, after the year-long care and thought they had bestowed on him, he should demand fresh efforts from them; and, again, most harassing of all and most invulnerable, such an entire want of faith in the powers he was yearning to test--the prophet's lot in the mean blindness of the family--that, at times, it threatened to shake his hard-won faith in himself.--But before the winter drew to a close he was away.

Away!--to go out into the world and be a musican--that was his longing and his dream. And he never came to quite an honest understanding with himself on this point, for desire and dream were interwoven in his mind; he could not separate the one from the other. But when he weighed them, and allowed them to rise up and take shape before him, it was invariably in this order that they did so. In reality, although he himself was but vaguely conscious of the fact, it was to some extent as means to an end, that, when his eyes had been opened to its presence, he clutched--like a drowning man who seizes upon a spar--clutched and held fast to his talent. But the necessary insight into his powers had first to be gained, for it was not one of those talents which, from the beginning, strut their little world with the assurance of the peacock. He was, it is true, gifted with an instinctive feeling for the value and significance of tones--as a child he sang by ear in a small, sweet voice, which gained him the only notice he received at school, and he easily picked out his notes, and taught himself little pieces, on the old-fashioned, silk-faced piano, which had belonged to his mother as a girl, and at which, in the early days of her marriage, she had sung in a high, shrill voice, the sentimental songs of her youth. But here, for want of incentive, matters remained; Maurice was kept close at his school-books, and, boylike, he had no ambition to distinguish himself in a field so


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