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    Chapter 20

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    Chapter 20
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    Frank had brought home the Life of Carlyle, and Maude had been dipping into it in the few spare half-hours which the many duties of a young housekeeper left her. At first it struck her as dry, but from the moment that she understood that this was, among other things, an account of the inner life of a husband and a wife, she became keenly interested, and a passionate and unreasonable partisan. For Frederick and Cromwell and the other great issues her feelings were tolerant but lukewarm. But the great sex-questions of 'How did he treat her?' and of 'How did she stand it?' filled her with that eternal and personal interest with which they affect every woman. Her gentle nature seldom disliked any one, but certainly amongst those whom she liked least, the gaunt figure of the Chelsea sage began to bulk largely. One night, as Frank sat reading in front of the fire, he suddenly found his wife on her knees upon the rug, and a pair of beseeching eyes upon his face.

    'Frank, dear, I want you to make me a promise.'

    'Well, what is it?'

    'Will you grant it?'

    'How can I tell you when I have not heard it?'

    'How horrid you are, Frank! A year ago you would have promised first and asked afterwards.'

    'But I am a shrewd old married man now. Well, let me hear it.'

    'I want you to promise me that you will never be a Carlyle.'

    'No, no, never.'


    'Really and truly.'

    'You swear it?'

    'Yes, I do.'

    'O Frank, you can't think what a relief that is to me. That dear, good, helpful, little lady--it really made me cry this morning when I thought how she had been used.'

    'How, then?'

    'I have been reading that green-covered book of yours, and he seemed so cold and so sarcastic and so unsympathetic. He never seemed to appreciate all that she did for him. He had no thought for her. He lived in his books and never in her--such a harsh, cruel man!'

    Frank went upstairs, and returned with a volume in his hand.

    'When you have finished the 'Life,' you must read this, dear.'

    'What is it?'

    'It is her letters. They were arranged for publication after her death, while her husband was still alive. You know that--'

    'Please take it for granted, darling, that I know nothing. It is so jolly to have some one before whom it is not necessary to keep up appearances. Now, begin at the beginning and go ahead.' She pillowed her head luxuriously against his knees.

    'There's nothing to tell--or very little. As you say, they had their troubles in life. The lady could take particularly good care of herself, I believe. She had a tongue like a lancet when she chose to use it. He, poor chap, was all liver and nerves, porridge-poisoned in his youth. No children to take the angles off them. Half a dozen little buffer states would have kept them at peace. However, to hark back to what I was about to say, he outlived her by fifteen years or so. During that time he collected these letters, and he has annotated them. You can read those notes here, and the man who wrote those notes loved his wife and cherished her memory, if ever a man did upon earth.'

    The graceful head beside his knee shook impatiently.

    'What is the use of that to the poor dead woman? Why could not he show his love by kindness and thought for her while she was alive?'

    'I tell you, Maude, there were two sides to that. Don't be so prejudiced! And remember that no one has ever blamed Carlyle as bitterly as he has blamed himself. I could read you bits of these notes--'

    'Well, do.'

    'Here's the first letter, in which she is talking about how they first moved into the house at Cheyne Row. They spent their early years in Scotland, you know, and he was a man going on to the forties when he came to London. The success of Sartor Resartus encouraged them to the step. Her letter describes all the incoming. Here is his comment, written after her death: "In about a week all was swept and garnished, fairly habitable; and continued incessantly to get itself polished, civilised, and beautified to a degree that surprised one. I have elsewhere alluded to all that, and to my little Jeannie's conduct of it; heroic, lovely, pathetic, mournfully beautiful as in the light of Eternity that little scene of time now looks to me. From birth upwards she had lived in opulence, and now became poor for me--so nobly poor. No such house for beautiful thrift, quiet, spontaneous, nay, as it were, unconscious minimum of money reconciled to human comfort and human dignity, have I anywhere looked upon where I have been." Now, Maude, did that man appreciate his wife?'

    But the obstinate head still shook.

    'Words, words,' said she.

    'Yes, but words with the ring of truth in them. Can't you tell real feeling from sham? I don't believe women can, or they would not be so often taken in. Here's the heading of the next letter: "Mournfully beautiful is this letter to me, a clear little household light shining pure and brilliant in the dark obstructive places of the past"--a little later comes the note: "Oh my poor little woman-- become poor for me."'

    'I like to hear him talk like that. Yes, I do like him better after what you have said, Frank.'

    'You must remember two things about him, Maude. The first, that he was a Scotchman, who are of all men the least likely to wear their hearts upon their sleeves; the other, that his mind was always grappling with some far-away subject which made him forget the smaller things close by him.'

    'But the smaller things are everything to a woman,' said Maude. 'If ever you forget those smaller things, sir, to be as courteous to your wife as you would be to any other lady, to be loving and thoughtful and sympathetic, it will be no consolation to me to know that you have written the grandest book that ever was. I should just hate that book, and I believe that in her inmost heart this poor lady hated all the books that had taken her husband away from her. I wonder if their house is still standing.'

    'Certainly it is. Would you like to visit it?'

    'I don't think there is anything I should like more.'

    'Why, Maude, we are getting quite a distinguished circle of acquaintances. Mr. Pepys last month--and now the Carlyles. Well, we could not spend a Saturday afternoon better, so if you will meet me to-morrow at Charing Cross, we shall have a cosy little lunch together at Gatti's, and then go down to Chelsea.'

    Maude was a rigid economist, and so was Frank in his way, for with the grand self-respect of the middle classes the thought of debt was unendurable to them. A cab in preference to a 'bus gave both of them a feeling of dissipation, but none the less they treated themselves to one on the occasion of this, their little holiday. It is a delightful thing to snuggle up in, is a hansom; but in order to be really trim and comfortable one has to put one's arm round one's companion's waist. No one can observe it there, for the vehicle is built upon intelligent principles. The cabman, it is true, can overlook you through a hole in the roof. This cabman did so, and chuckled in his cravat. 'If that cove's wife could see him--huddup, then!' said the cabman.

    He was an intelligent cabman too, for having heard Frank say 'Thomas Carlyle's house' after giving the address 5 Cheyne Row, he pulled up on the Thames Embankment. Right ahead of them was Chelsea Bridge, seen through a dim, soft London haze--monstrous, Cyclopean, giant arches springing over a vague river of molten metal, the whole daintily blurred, as though out of focus. The glamour of the London haze, what is there upon earth so beautiful? But it was not to admire it that the cabman had halted.

    'I beg your pardin', sir,' said he, in the softly insinuating way of the Cockney, 'but I thought that maybe the lidy would like to see Mr. Carlyle's statue. That's 'im, sir, a-sittin' in the overcoat with the book in 'is 'and.'

    Frank and Maude got out and entered the small railed garden, in the centre of which the pedestal rose. It was very simple and plain--an old man in a dressing-gown, with homely wornout boots, a book upon his knee, his eyes and thoughts far away. No more simple statue in all London, but human to a surprising degree. They stood for five minutes and stared at it.

    'Well,' said Frank at last, 'small as it is, I think it is worthy of the man.'

    'It is so natural.'

    'You can see him think. By Jove, it is splendid!' Frank had enough of the true artist to be able to feel that rush of enthusiasm which adequate work should cause. That old man, with his head shamefully defiled by birds, was a positive joy to him. Among the soulless, pompous, unspeakable London statues, here at last there was one over which it is pleasant to linger.

    'What other one is there?'

    'Gordon in Trafalgar Square.'

    'Well, Gordon, perhaps. But our Nelsons and Napiers and Havelocks-- to think that we could do no better than that for them! Now, dear, we have seen the man--let us look at the house!'

    It had evidently been an old-fashioned building when first they came to it. 1708 was the date at the corner of the street. Six or seven drab-coloured, flat-chested, dim-windowed houses stood in a line-- theirs wedged in the middle of them. A poor medallion with a profile head of him had been clumsily let into the wall. Several worn steps led to the thin high door with an old-fashioned fanlight above it. Frank rang the bell, and a buxom cheerful matron came at the call.

    'Names in this book, sir--AND address, if you please,' said the cheery matron. 'One shilling each--thank you, sir. First door to the left, sir! This was the dining-room, sir--'

    But Frank had come to a dead stop in the dim, dull, wood-panelled hall. In front of them rose the stairs with old-fashioned banisters, cracked, warped, and dusty.

    'It's awful to think of, Maude--awful! To think that she ran up those stairs as a youngish woman--that he took them two at a time as an active man, and then that they hobbled and limped down them, old and weary and broken, and now both dead and gone for ever, and the stairs standing, the very rails, the very treads--I don't know that I ever felt so strongly what bubbles of the air we are, so fragile, so utterly dissolved when the prick comes.'

    'How COULD they be happy in such a house?' said Maude. 'I can feel that there have been sorrow and trouble here. There is an atmosphere of gloom.'

    The matron-attendant approved of emotion, but in its due order. One should be affected in the dining-room first, and then in the hall. And so at her summons they followed her into the long, low, quaint room in which this curious couple had lived their everyday life. Little of the furniture was left, and the walls were lined with collected pictures bearing upon the life of the Carlyles.

    'There's the fireplace that he smoked his pipe up,' said Frank.

    'Why up the fireplace?'

    'She did not like the smell in the room. He often at night took his friends down into the kitchen.'

    'Fancy my driving you into the kitchen.'

    'Well, the habit of smoking was looked upon much less charitably at that time.'

    'And besides, he smoked clay pipes,' said the matron. 'This is considered a good print of Mrs. Carlyle.'

    It was a peaky eager face, with a great spirit looking out of it, and possibilities of passion both for good and evil in the keen, alert features. Just beside her was the dour, grim outline of her husband. Their life-histories were in those two portraits.

    'Poor dear!' said Maude.

    'Ay, you may say so,' said the matron, whose accent showed that she was from the north of the Tweed. 'He was gey ill to live wi'. His own mither said so. Now, what think you that room was for?'

    It was little larger than a cupboard, without window or skylight, opening out of the end of the dining-room.

    'I can't imagine.'

    'Well, sir, it was the powdering-room in the days when folk wore wigs. The powder made such a mess that they just had a room for nothing else. There was a hole in the door, and the man put his head through the hole, and the barber on the other side powdered him out of the flour-dredger.'

    It was curious to be brought back in this fashion to those far-off days, and to suddenly realise how many other people had played their tragi-comedies within these walls. Wigs! Only the dressy people wore wigs. So people of fashion in the days of the early Georges trod these same rooms where Carlyle grumbled and his wife fretted. And they too had grumbled and fretted--or worse perhaps. It was a ghostly old house.

    'This,' said the matron, when they had passed up the stair, 'used to be the drawing-room. That's their sofa.'

    'Not THE sofa,' said Frank.

    'Yes, sir, the sofa that is mentioned in the letters.'

    'She was so proud of it, Maude. Gave eighteen shillings for it, and covered and stuffed it herself. And that, I suppose, is THE screen. She was a great housekeeper--brought up a spoiled child, according to her own account, but a great housekeeper all the same. What's that writing in the case?'

    'It is the history that he was at work on when he died--something about the kings of Norway, sir. Those are his corrections in blue.'

    'I can't read them.'

    'No more could any one else, sir. Perhaps that's why the book has never been published. Those are the portraits of the kings of Prussia, about whom he wrote a book.'

    Frank looked with interest at the old engravings, one of the schoolmaster face of the great Frederick, the other of the frog-like features of Frederick William, the half-mad recruiter of the big Potsdam grenadiers. When he had finished, the matron had gone down to open the door, and they were alone. Maude's hand grasped his.

    'Is it not strange, dear?' she said. 'Here they lived, the most talented couple in the world, and yet with all their wisdom they missed what we have got--what perhaps that good woman who showed us round has got--the only thing, as it seems to me, that is really worth living for. What are all the wit and all the learning and all the insight into things compared to love.'

    'By Jove, little woman, in all this house of wise sayings, no wiser or deeper saying has been said than that. Well, thank God, we have that anyhow!' And he kissed his wife, while six grand electors of Brandenburg and kings of Prussia looked fiercely out upon them from the wall.

    They sat down together in two old chairs in the window, and they looked out into the dingy street, and Frank tried to recount all the great men--'the other great men, as Maude said, half chaffing and half earnest--who had looked through those panes. Tennyson, Ruskin, Emerson, Mill, Froude, Mazzini, Leigh Hunt--he had got so far when the matron returned.

    There was a case in the corner with some of the wreckage from those vanished vessels. Notes from old Goethe in a singularly neat boyish writing inscribed upon little ornamented cards. Here, too, were small inscriptions which had lain upon presents from Carlyle to his wife. It was pleasant among all that jangling of the past to think of the love which had written them, and that other love which had so carefully preserved them. On one was written: 'All good attend my darling through this gulf of time and through the long ocean it is leading to. Amen. Amen. T. C.' On another, dated 1850, and attached evidently to some birthday present, was: 'Many years to my poor little Jeannie, and may the worst of them be past. No good that is in me to give her shall ever be wanting while I live. May God bless her.' How strange that this apostle of reticence should have such privacies as these laid open before the curious public within so few years of his death!

    'This is her bedroom,' said the matron.

    'And here is the old red bed,' cried Frank. It looked bare and gaunt and dreary with its uncurtained posts.

    'The bed belonged to Mrs. Carlyle's mother,' the matron explained. 'It's the same bed that Mrs. Carlyle talks about in her letters when she says how she pulled it to pieces.'

    'Why did she pull it to pieces?' asked Maude.

    'Better not inquire, dear.'

    'Indeed you're right, sir. If you get them into these old houses, it is very hard to get them out. A cleaner woman than Mrs. Carlyle never came out of Scotland. This little room behind was his dressing-room. There's his stick in the corner. Look what's written upon the window!'

    Decidedly it was a ghostly house. Scratched upon one of the panes with a diamond was the following piece of information--'John Harbel Knowles cleaned all the windows in this house, and painted part, in the eighteenth year of age. March 7th, 1794.'

    'Who was HE?' asked Maude.

    'Nobody knows, miss!' It was characteristic of Maude that she was so gentle in her bearing that every one always took it for granted that she was Miss. Frank examined the writing carefully.

    'He was the son of the house and a young aristocrat who had never done a stroke of work before in his life,' said he.

    The matron was surprised.

    'What makes you say that, sir?'

    'What would a workman do with such a name as John Harbel Knowles, or with a diamond ring for that matter? And who would dare to disfigure a window so, if he were not of the family? And why should he be so proud of his work, unless work was a new and wondrous thing to him. To paint PART of the windows also sounds like the amateur and not the workman. So I repeat that it was the first achievement of the son of the house.'

    'Well, indeed, I dare say you are right, though I never thought of it before,' said the matron. 'Now this, up here, is Carlyle's own room, in which he slept for forty-seven years. In the case is a cast of his head taken after death.'

    It was strange and rather ghastly to see a plaster head in this room where the head of flesh had so often lain. Maude and Frank stood beside it, and gazed long and silently while the matron, half-bored and half-sympathetic, waited for them to move on. It was an aquiline face, very different from any picture which they had seen, sunken cheeks, an old man's toothless mouth, a hawk nose, a hollow eye--the gaunt timbers of what had once been a goodly house. There was repose, and something of surprise also, in the features--also a very subtle serenity and dignity.

    'The distance from the ear to the forehead is said to be only equalled by Napoleon and by Gladstone. That's what they SAY,' said the matron, with Scotch caution.

    'It's the face of a noble man when all is said and done,' said Frank. 'I believe that the true Thomas Carlyle without the dyspepsia, and the true Jane Welsh without the nerves, are knowing and loving each other in some further life.'

    'It is sweet to think so,' cried Maude. 'Oh, I do hope that it is so! How dear death would be if we could only be certain of that!'

    The matron smiled complacently in the superior wisdom of the Shorter Catechism. 'There is neither marriage nor giving in marriage,' said she, shaking her head. 'This is the spare bedroom, sir, where Mr. Emerson slept when he was here. And now if you will step this way I will show you the study.'

    It was the singular room which Carlyle had constructed in the hopes that he could shut out all the noises of the universe, the crowing of cocks, and the jingling of a young lady's five-finger exercise in particular. It had cost him a hundred odd pounds, and had ended in being unendurably hot in summer, impossibly cold in winter, and so constructed acoustically that it reverberated every sound in the neighbourhood. For once even his wild and whirling words could hardly match the occasion--not all his kraft sprachen would be too much. For the rest it was at least a roomy and lofty apartment, with space for many books, and for an irritable man to wander to and fro. Prints there were of many historical notables, and slips of letters and of memoranda in a long glass case.

    'That is one of his clay pipes,' said the matron. 'He had them all sent through to him from Glasgow. And that is the pen with which he wrote Frederick.'

    It was a worn, stubby old quill, much the worse for its monstrous task. It at least of all quill pens might rest content with having done its work in the world. Some charred paper beside it caught Frank's eye.

    'Oh look, Maude,' he cried. 'This is a little bit of the burned French Revolution.'

    'Oh, I remember. He lent the only copy to a friend, and it was burned by mistake.'

    'What a blow! What a frightful blow! And to think that his first comment to his wife was, "Well, Mill, poor fellow, is very much cut up about this." There is Carlyle at his best. And here is actually a shred of the old manuscript. How beautifully he wrote in those days!'

    'Read this, sir,' said the matron.

    It was part of a letter from Carlyle to his publisher about his ruined work. 'Do not pity me,' said he; 'forward me rather as a runner that is tripped but will not lie there, but run and run again.'

    'See what positive misfortune can do for a man,' said Frank. 'It raised him to a hero. And yet he could not stand the test of a crowing cock. How infinitely complex is the human soul--how illimitably great and how pitiably small! Now, if ever I have a study of my own, this is what I want engraved upon the wall. This alone is well worth our pilgrimage to Chelsea.'

    It was a short exclamation which had caught his eye.

    'Rest! Rest! Shall I not have all eternity to rest in!' That serene plaster face down yonder gave force to the brave words. Frank copied them down onto the back of one of Maude's cards.

    And now they had finished the rooms, but the matron, catching a glow from these enthusiastic pilgrims, had yet other things to show them. There was the back garden. Here was the green pottery seat upon which the unphilosophic philosopher had smoked his pipe--a singularly cold and uncomfortable perch. And here was where Mrs. Carlyle had tried to build a tent and to imagine herself in the country. And here was the famous walnut tree--or at least the stumpy bole thereof. And here was where the dog Nero was buried, best known of small white mongrels.

    And last of all there was the subterranean and gloomy kitchen, in which there had lived that long succession of serving-maids of whom we gain shadowy glimpses in the Letters and in the Journal. Poor souls, dwellers in the gloom, working so hard for others, so bitterly reviled when by chance some weakness of humanity comes to break, for an instant, the routine of their constant labour, so limited in their hopes and in their pleasures, they are of all folk upon this planet those for whom a man's heart may most justly soften. So said Frank as he gazed around him in the dark-cornered room. 'And never one word of sympathy for them, or of anything save scorn in all his letters. His pen upholding human dignity, but where was the dignity of these poor girls for whom he has usually one bitter line of biography in his notes to his wife's letters? It's the worst thing I have against him.'

    'Jemima wouldn't have stood it,' said Maude.

    It was pleasant to be out in the open air once more, but they were in the pine groves of Woking before Maude had quite shaken off the gloom of that dark, ghost-haunted house. 'After all, you are only twenty- seven,' she remarked as they walked up from the station. She had a way of occasionally taking a subject by the middle in that way.

    'What then, dear?'

    'When Carlyle was only twenty-seven I don't suppose he knew he was going to do all this.'

    'No, I don't suppose so.'

    'And his wife--if he were married then--would feel as I do to you.'

    'No doubt.'

    'Then what guarantee have I that you won't do it after all?'

    'Do what?'

    'Why, turn out a second Carlyle.'

    'Hear me swear!' cried Frank, and they turned laughing into their own little gateway at the Lindens.
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