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    Chapter 12

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    Chapter 12
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    There were few things which Maude liked so much as a long winter evening when Frank and she dined together, and then sat beside the fire and made good cheer. It would be an exaggeration to say that she preferred it to a dance, but next to that supreme joy, and higher even than the theatre in her scale of pleasures, were those serene and intimate evenings when they talked at their will, and were silent at their will, within their home brightened by those little jokes and endearments and allusions which make up that inner domestic masonry which is close-tiled for ever to the outsider. Five or six evenings a week, she with her sewing and Frank with his book, settled down to such enjoyment as men go to the ends of the earth to seek, while it awaits them, if they will but atune their souls to sympathy, beside their own hearthstones. Now and again their sweet calm would be broken by a ring at the bell, when some friend of Frank's would come round to pay them an evening visit. At the sound Maude would say 'bother,' and Frank something shorter and stronger, but, as the intruder appeared, they would both break into, 'Well, really now it WAS good of you to drop in upon us in this homely way.' Without such hypocrisy, the world would be a hard place to live in.

    I may have mentioned somewhere that Frank had a catholic taste in literature. Upon a shelf in their bedroom--a relic of his bachelor days--there stood a small line of his intimate books, the books which filled all the chinks of his life when no new books were forthcoming. They were all volumes which he had read in his youth, and many times since, until they had become the very tie-beams of his mind. His tastes were healthy and obvious without being fine. Macaulay's Essays, Holmes' Autocrat, Gibbons' History, Jefferies' Story of my Heart, Carlyle's Life, Pepys' Diary, and Borrow's Lavengro were among his inner circle of literary friends. The sturdy East Anglian, half prize-fighter, half missionary, was a particular favourite of his, and so was the garrulous Secretary of the Navy. One day it struck him that it would be a pleasant thing to induce his wife to share his enthusiasms, and he suggested that the evenings should be spent in reading selections from these old friends of his. Maude was delighted. If he had proposed to read the rig-vedas in the original Sanskrit, Maude would have listened with a smiling face. It is in such trifles that a woman's love is more than a man's.

    That night Frank came downstairs with a thick well-thumbed volume in his hand.

    'This is Mr. Pepys,' said he solemnly.

    'What a funny name!' cried Maude. 'It makes me think of indigestion. Why? Oh yes, pepsine, of course.'

    'We shall take a dose of him every night after dinner to complete the resemblance. But seriously, dear, I think that now that we have taken up a course of reading, we should try to approach it in a grave spirit, and endeavour to realise--Oh, I say, don't!'

    'I AM so sorry, dear! I do hope I didn't hurt, you!'

    'You did--considerably.'

    'It all came from my having the needle in my hand at the time--and you looked so solemn--and--well, I couldn't help it.'

    'Little wretch--!'

    'No, dear; Jemima may come in any moment with the coffee. Now, do sit down and read about Mr Pepys to me. And first of all, would you mind explaining all about the gentleman, from the beginning, and taking nothing for granted, just as if I had never heard of him before.'

    'I don't believe--'

    'Never mind, sir! Be a good boy and do exactly what you are told. Now begin!'

    'Well, Maude, Mr. Pepys was born--'

    'What was his first name?'


    'Oh dear, I'm sure I should not have liked him.'

    'Well, it's too late to change that. He was born--I could see by looking, but it really doesn't matter, does it? He was born somewhere in sixteen hundred and something or other, and I forget what his father was.'

    'I must try to remember what you tell me.'

    'Well, it all amounts to this, that he got on very well in the world, that he became at last a high official of the navy in the time of Charles the Second, and that he died in fairly good circumstances, and left his library, which was a fine one, to one of the universities, I can't remember which.'

    'There is an accuracy about your information, Frank--'

    'I know, dear, but it really does not matter. All this has nothing to do with the main question.'

    'Go on, then!'

    'Well, this library was left as a kind of dust-catcher, as such libraries are, until one day, more than a hundred years after the old boy's death, some enterprising person seems to have examined his books, and he found a number of volumes of writing which were all in cipher, so that no one could make head or tail of them.'

    'Dear me, how very interesting!'

    'Yes, it naturally excited curiosity. Why should a man write volumes of cipher? Imagine the labour of it! So some one set to work to solve the cipher. This was about the year 1820. After three years they succeeded.'

    'How in the world did they do it?'

    'Well, they say that human ingenuity never yet invented a cipher which human ingenuity could not also solve. Anyhow, they did succeed. And when they had done so, and copied it all out clean, they found they had got hold of such a book as was never heard of before in the whole history of literature.'

    Maude laid her sewing on her lap, and looked across with her lips parted and her eyebrows raised.

    'They found that it was an inner Diary of the life of this man, with all his impressions, and all his doings, and all his thoughts--not his ought-to-be thoughts, but his real, real thoughts, just as he thought then at the back of his soul. You see this man, and you know him very much better than his own wife knew him. It is not only that he tells of his daily doings, and gives us such an intimate picture of life in those days, as could by no other means have been conveyed, but it is as a piece of psychology that the thing is so valuable. Remember the dignity of the man, a high government official, an orator, a writer, a patron of learning, and here you have the other side, the little thoughts, the mean ideas which may lurk under a bewigged head, and behind a solemn countenance. Not that he is worse than any of us. Not a bit. But he is frank. And that is why the book is really a consoling one, for every sinner who reads it can say to himself, "Well, if this man who did so well, and was so esteemed, felt like this, it is no very great wonder that I do."'

    Maude looked at the fat brown book with curiosity. 'Is it really all there?' she asked.

    'No, dear, it will never all be published. A good deal of it is, I believe, quite impossible. And when he came to the impossible places, he doubled and trebled his cipher, so as to make sure that it should never be made out. But all that is usually published is here.' Frank turned over the leaves, which were marked here and there with pencilings.

    'Why are you smiling, Frank?'

    'Only at his way of referring to his wife.'

    'Oh, he was married?'

    'Yes, to a very charming girl. She must have been a sweet creature. He married her at fifteen on account of her beauty. He had a keen eye for beauty had old Pepys.'

    'Were they happy?'

    'Oh yes, fairly so. She was only twenty-nine when she died!'

    'Poor girl!'

    'She was happy in her life--though he DID blacken her eye once.'

    'Not really?'

    'Yes, he did. And kicked the housemaid.'

    'Oh, the brute!'

    'But on the whole he was a good husband. He had a few very good points about him.'

    'But how does he allude to his wife?'

    'He has a trick of saying, "my wife, poor wretch!"'

    'Impertinent! Frank, you said to-night that other men think what this odious Mr. Pepys says. Yes, you did! Don't deny it! Does that mean that you always think of me as "poor wretch"?'

    'We have come along a little since then. But how these passages take you back to the homely life of those days!'

    'Do read some.'

    'Well, listen to this, "And then to bed without prayers, to-morrow being washing-day." Fancy such a detail coming down to us through two centuries.'

    'Why no prayers?'

    'I don't know. I suppose they had to get up early on washing-days, and so they wanted to go to sleep soon.'

    'I'm afraid, dear, you do the same without as good an excuse. Read another!'

    'He goes to dine with some one--his uncle, I think. He says, "An excellent dinner, but the venison pasty was palpable beef, which was not handsome."'

    'How beautiful! Mrs. Hunt Mortimer's sole last week was palpable plaice. Mr. Pepys is right. It was not handsome.'

    'Here's another grand entry: "Talked with my wife of the poorness and meanness of all that the people about us do, compared with what we do." I dare say he was right, for they did things very well. When he dined out, he says that his host gave him "the meanest dinner of beef, shoulder and umbles of venison, and a few pigeons, and all in the meanest manner that ever I did see, to the basest degree."

    'What are umbles, dear?'

    'I have no idea.'

    'Well, whatever they are, it sounds to me a very good dinner. People must have lived very well in those days.'

    'They habitually over-ate and over-drank themselves. But Pepys gives us the menu of one of his own entertainments. I've marked it somewhere. Yes, here it is. "Fricassee of rabbits and chickens, a leg of mutton boiled, three carps in a dish, a great dish of a side of lamb, a dish of roasted pigeons, a dish of four lobsters, three tarts, a lamprey pie (a most rare pie!), a dish of anchovies, good wine of several sorts, and all things mighty noble and to my great content."'

    'Good gracious! I told you that I associated him with indigestion.'

    'He did them pretty well that time.'

    'Who cooked all this?'

    'The wife helped in those days.'

    'No wonder she died at twenty-nine. Poor dear! What a splendid kitchen-range they must have had! I never understood before why they had such enormous grates in the old days. Naturally, if you have six pigeons, and a lamprey, and a lobster, and a side of lamb, and a leg of mutton, and all these other things cooking at the same time, you would need a huge fire.'

    'The wonderful thing about Pepys,' said Frank, looking thoughtfully over the pages, 'is that he is capable of noting down the mean little impulses of human nature, which most men would be so ashamed of, that they would hasten to put them out of their mind. His occasional shabbiness in money matters, his jealousies, his envies, all his petty faults, which are despicable on account of their pettiness. Fancy any man writing this. He is describing how he visited a friend and was reading a book from his library. "A very good book," says he, "especially one letter of advice to a courtier, most true and good, which made me once resolve to tear out the two leaves that it was writ in, but I forbore it." Imagine recording such a vile thought.'

    'But what you have never explained to me yet, dear, or if you did, I didn't understand--you don't mind my being a little stupid, do you?-- is, what object Mr. Pepys had in putting down all this in such a form that no one could read it.'

    'Well, you must bear in mind, dear, that he could read it himself. Besides he was a fellow with a singularly methodical side to his mind. He was, for example, continually adding up how much money he had, or cataloguing and indexing his library, and so on. He liked to have everything shipshape. And so with his life, it pleased him to have an exact record which he could turn to. And yet, after all, I don't know that that is a sufficient explanation.'

    'No, indeed, it is not. My experience of man--'

    'YOUR experience, indeed!'

    'Yes, sir, my experience of men--how rude you are, Frank!--tells me that they have funny little tricks and vanities which take the queerest shapes.'

    'Indeed! Have I any?'

    'You--you are compounded of them. Not vanity--no, I don't mean that. But pride--you are as proud as Lucifer, and much too proud to show it. That is the most subtle form of pride. Oh yes, I know perfectly well what I mean. But in this man's case, it took the form of wishing to make a sensation after his death. He could not publish such a thing when he lived, could he?'

    'Rather not.'

    'Well, then, he had to do it after his death. He had to write it in cipher, or else some one would have found him out during his lifetime. But, very likely, he left a key to the cipher, so that every one might read it when he was gone, but the key and his directions were in some way lost.'

    'Well, it is very probable.'

    The fire had died down, so Maude shipped off her chair, and sat on the black fur rug, with her back against Frank's knees. 'Now, dear, read away!' said she.

    But the lamp shone down upon her dainty head, and it gleamed upon her white neck, and upon the fluffy, capricious, untidy, adorable, little curlets, which broke out along the edges of the gathered strands of her chestnut hair. And so, after the fashion of men, his thoughts flew away from Mr. Pepys and the seventeenth century, and all that is lofty and instructive, and could fix upon nothing except those dear little wandering tendrils, and the white column on which they twined. Alas, that so small a thing can bring the human mind from its empyrean flights! Alas, that vague emotions can drag down the sovereign intellect! Alas, that even for an hour, a man should prefer the material to the spiritual!

    But the man who doesn't misses a good deal.
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