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首页 » 经典英文小说 » A Strange World » CHAPTER XVI. 'THERE IS A HISTORY IN ALL MEN'S LIVES.'
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CHAPTER XVI. 'THERE IS A HISTORY IN ALL MEN'S LIVES.'
Upon his return to London, Churchill lost very little time before presenting himself in Cavendish Row. He did not go there on the day of his cousin's funeral. That gloomy ceremonial had unfitted him for social pleasures, above all for commune with so bright a spirit as Madge Bellingham. He felt as if to go to her straight from that place of tombs would be to carry the atmosphere of the grave into her home. The funeral seemed to affect him more than such a solemnity might have been supposed to affect a man of his philosophical temper. But then these quiet, reserved men—men who hold themselves in check, as it were—are sometimes men of deepest feeling. So Mr. Pergament thought as he stood opposite the new master of Penwyn in the vault at245 Kensal Green, and observed his pallid face, and the settled gloom of his brow.

Churchill drove straight back to the Temple with Mr. Pergament for his companion, that gentleman being anxious to return to New Square for his afternoon letters, before going down to his luxurious villa at Beckenham, where he lived sumptuously, or—as his enemies averred—battened, ghoul-like, on the rotten carcasses of the defunct chancery suits which he had lost. From Kensal Green to Fleet Street seemed an interminable pilgrimage in that gloomy vehicle. Mr. Pergament and his client had exhausted their conversational powers on the way to the cemetery, and now on the return home had but little to say for themselves. It was a blazing summer afternoon—an August day which had slipped unawares into June through an error in the calendar. The mourning coach was like a locomotive oven; the shabby suburban thoroughfares seemed baking under the pitiless sky. Never had the Harrow Road looked dustier; never had the Edgware Road looked untidier or more out at elbows than to-day.

246

'How I detest the ragged fringe of shabby suburbs that hangs round London!' said Mr. Penwyn. It was the first remark he had made after half an hour's thoughtful silence.

His only reply from the solicitor was a gentle snore, a snore which sounded full of placid enjoyment. Perhaps there is nothing more dreamily delightful than a stolen doze on a sultry afternoon, lulled by the movement of wheels.

'How the fellow sleeps!' muttered Mr. Penwyn, almost savagely. 'I wish I had the knack of sleeping like that.'

It is the curse of these hyper-active intellects to be strangers to rest.

The carriage drew up at one of the Temple gates at last, and Mr. Pergament woke with a start, jerked into the waking world again by that sudden pull-up.

'Bless my soul!' exclaimed the lawyer. 'I was asleep!'

'Didn't you know it?' asked Churchill, rather fretfully.

'Not the least idea. Weather very oppressive.247 Here we are at your place. Dear me! By the way, when do you think of going down to Penwyn?'

'The day after to-morrow. I should like you to go with me and put me in formal possession. And you may as well take the title-deeds down with you. I like to have those things in my own possession. The leases you can of course retain.'

Mr. Pergament, hardly quite awake as yet, was somewhat taken aback by this request. The title-deeds of the Penwyn estate had been in the offices of Pergament and Pergament for half a century. This new lord of the manor promised to be sharper even than the old squire, Nicholas Penwyn, who among some ribald tenants of the estate had been known as Old Nick.

'If you wish it, of course—yes—assuredly,' said Mr. Pergament; and on this, with a curt good day from Churchill, they parted.

'How property changes a man!' thought the solicitor, as the coach carried him to New Square. 'That young man looks as if he had the cares of a nation on his shoulders already. Odd notion his, wanting to keep the title-deeds in his own custody248 However, I suppose he won't take his business out of our hands,—and if he should, we can do without it.'
* * * * *

Churchill went up to his chambers, on a third floor. They had a sombre and chilly look in their spotless propriety, even on this warm summer afternoon. The rooms were on the shady side of the way, and saw not the sun after nine o'clock in the morning.

Very neatly kept and furnished were those bachelor apartments, the sitting-room, at once office and living-room, the goods and chattels in it perhaps worth five-and-twenty pounds. An ancient and faded Turkey carpet, carefully darned by the deft fingers of a jobbing upholstress, whom Churchill sometimes employed to keep things in order; faded green cloth curtains; an old oak knee-hole desk, solid, substantial, shabby, with all the papers upon it neatly sorted—the inkstand stainless, and well supplied; a horsehair-covered arm-chair, high backed, square, brass-nailed, of a remote era, but comfortable withal; armless chairs of the same249 period, with an unknown crest emblazoned on their mahogany backs; a battered old bookcase, filled with law books, only one shelf reserved for that lighter literature which soothes the weariness of the student; every object as bright as labour and furniture polish could make it, everything in its place; a room in which no ancient spinster, skilled in the government of her one domestic, could have discovered ground for a complaint.

Churchill looked round the room with a thoughtful smile—not altogether joyous—as he seated himself in his arm-chair, and opened a neat cigar-box on the table at his side.

'How plain the stamp of poverty shows upon everything!' he said to himself, 'the furniture the mere refuse of an auction-room, furbished and polished into decency; the faded curtains, where there is hardly any colour visible except the neutral tints of decay; the darned carpet—premeditated poverty, as Sheridan calls it—the mark of the beast shows itself on all. And yet I have known some not all unhappy hours in this room—patient nights of study—the fire of ambition—the sunlight of250 hope—hours in which I deemed that fame and fortune were waiting for me down the long vista of industrious years—hours when I felt myself strong in patience and resolve! I shall think of these rooms sometimes in my new life—dream of them perhaps—fancy myself back again.'

He sat musing for a long time—so lost in thought that he forgot to light the cigar which he had taken from his case just now. He woke from that long reverie with a sigh, gave his shoulders an impatient shrug, as if he would have shaken off ideas that troubled him, and took a volume at random from a neat little bookstand on his table—where about half a dozen favourite volumes stood ranged, all of the cynical school—Rabelais, Sterne, Goethe's 'Faust,' a volume of Voltaire,—not books that make a man better—if one excepts Goethe, whose master-work is the Gospel of a great teacher. Under that outer husk of bitterness how much sweetness! With that cynicism, what depth of tenderness!

Churchill's hand lighted unawares upon 'Faust.' He opened the volume at the opening of that251 mightiest drama, and read on—read until the wearied student stood before him, tempting destiny with his discontent—read until the book dropped from his hand, and he sat, fixed as a statue, staring at the ground, in a gloomy reverie.

'After all, discontent is your true tempter—the fiend whose whisper for ever assails man's ear. Who could be wiser than Faust? and yet how easy a dupe! Well, I have my Margaret, at least; and neither man nor any evil spirit that walks the earth in shape impalpable to man shall ever come between us two.'

Churchill lighted his cigar, and left his quiet room, which seemed to him just now to be unpleasantly occupied by that uncanny poodle which the German doctor brought home with him. He went to the Temple Gardens, and walked up and down by the cool river, over which the mists of evening were gently creeping, like a veil of faintest grey. It was before the days of the embankment, and the Templars still possessed their peaceful walk on the brink of the river.

Here Churchill walked till late, thinking,—always252 thinking,—property has so many cares; and then, when other people were meditating supper, went out into Fleet Street to a restaurant that was just about closing, and ordered his tardy dinner. Even when it came he seemed to have but a sorry appetite, and only took his pint of claret with relish. He was looking forward eagerly to the morrow, when he should see Madge Bellingham, and verily begin his new life. Hitherto he had known only the disagreeables of his position—the inquest—the funeral. To-morrow he was to taste the sweets of prosperity.



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