Puslapio vaizdai
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By GRANVILLE BARKER

Author of “ The Madras House," etc.

Illustrations by Thomas J. Fogarty

,

ANY times have I paced the relent- every corner and crevice the gusty wind

was dislodging them, and it seemed as if harder than stone was ever meant to be, they clung to the walls. I looked on the and smoother than any false welcome in ground. I thought I saw several blowing the world. I have paced it at all hours past. I thought I saw one flat and still. and seasons, when it was shadowless in a I went up to put my foot on it. No, that burning sun, with the snow clouding and was only a little facet of the pavement that whitening the night. Why I started up it had lost the reflection of the street lights. that early autumn morning is no matter Then I turned to go back to inspect the to any one but myself; but never had I cathedral door. seen the avenue emptier, found it more As I turned, there, quite distinctly, in silent. Day would not dawn yet for an the corner of a window-sill, within my hour. The sky was clear; as I went on, reach, was one small gray shape. Against it grew opaque, pressing down upon the the red stone one could n't miss it. I went world. There was an eddying wind, closer. It was thicker than I 'd fancied, which surprised one at the street corners.

and might have been almost transparent Since I was alone, and rather lonelier than but that it was patchily covered with a that, my spirit sought refuge among im- sort of silvery fur not unlike the growth possible things. Even Fifth Avenue itself on an edelweiss flower. Beneath the fur was not at that moment very real to me; it was of a rather mottled, dirty gray. a place for the body to tire in, that was all. There were odd markings on it that might

I had noticed somewhere about Forty- have been made by hand. It was just fourth Street, at a good height from the about as wide at its widest as my palm and ground, a whirl in the air of what seemed as long as a glove would be; but the shape

- snow, ashes, dead leaves ? Not snow, I of the shape was no shape you could name: thought, and too gray for snow, besides. it looked like a rag. It was indeed very Not ashes; and what would dead leaves do ugly, and more than anything else looked there? I did not stop. By the cathedral, like a dirty little bit of soiled gray flannel. too, there was something curious. It I noticed that the thing seemed somehow seemed as if large gray Aakes of many to palpitate. That was queerest of all, shapes and sizes were being blown about though then I remembered the fermenting and caught upon the crockets of the spires. mass against St. Patrick's door. After a "My eyes.are queer to-night," I said. Up moment I took it gingerly in my hand. against the great door there seemed to be It had no weight; but by this time I was a shadowy drift of gray, thick and fer- so surprised that I think I spoke aloud. menting. Still, I did not cross the road. "What on earth is it?” I said. I looked about, though, now for these And there seemed to come from it a strange things, and, heavens! when I sound like the echo of a scraped violin looked the air of the avenue was full of shaping into words which were: them. They were much larger than snow- “I am the soul of the late Mrs. Henry flakes, and some were of the queerest shape. Brett van Goylen, and I 'll trouble you to One saw them best when they blew up

put me down.” against the sky, though by peering care- Politely and in some alarm I put her fully I could find them, too, gray against down, and as I did so one of the eddying the gray walls, well above my head. From gusts of wind blew the shape of her away.

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Thus then I began my search for souls. the indignity of it was great, and I felt I caught no more that night, for the dawn that I could not stop and talk to any of came soon; but many a night after, for an them that night. Besides, they were all hour or two before the morning broke, mashed up one with the other, like jujubes would I adventure up the

avenue and

that a child has warmed in its pocket. I make my bag. They were easy to find should have had to pick them apart. when one knew how to look, and after a A blizzard upsets them badly. I retime easy enough to catch. I thought first member a soul telling me that once for a of buying a butterfly-net for the sport, but long time she was blown and blown bepolicemen would have noticed that. As tween Forty-second and Forty-fifth it was, I had to mind not to loiter long. streets, never farther either way. She 'd

I was alone in New York and knew get into the stream flowing down, but nobody, though ten years before, visiting it every time, at Forty-second Street, a gust with my father, a man of some fame, I had would whirl her up and round, and at known everybody there was to know. But Forty-fifth the same thing happened if now I had only work to do which took me she 'd got into the stream flowing down. day by day to the library at Forty-second She said it went on like that for a year. Street. “This time, then," I had said, “I She probably did n't mean to be inaccuwill know nobody.” It needed not any rate (these disembodied beings quickly lose effort. But now it seemed that I was to our sense of time), but I 've no doubt she know New-Yorkers as no one had ever was blown about so for days. It is the light, known them before.

eddying wind which brings them down to For a long time it was absorbingly in- earth or near it, and scatters them into co teresting. There were nights on which ners singly or by twos and threes. That one could n't catch a soul. It depended was the great weather for soul-hunting, and a good deal on the weather, but I soon I did my best never to miss a night of it. found out the quite impossible times. From first to last I suppose I had talks When the night was still, they hung-a with quite five hundred souls, but they cubic layer of them, four miles long and were difficult to get on with; that 's the more and very thick-a hundred feet or truth. I had thought at first that any of so high in the air. It was a long while be- them would be thankful for a terrestrial fore I could discover the general laws of chat. Not a bit of it. In the first place their being, but I gathered for one thing they took no interest whatever in the afthat, normally, a sort of double river of fairs of the world. They knew of nothing souls was always flowing up and down that had happened in it since their death Fifth Avenue, not side by side, the and, as a rule, they cared to know nothing. traffic flows, but above and below; below, I believe that not more than a dozen times of course, to come up and above to go was I questioned. A woman might ask down. This was the general law, and, me if I knew her widower; but it was despite interruptions and scatterings, the purely to make conversation, the habit of flow never ceased. They are supposed to small talk not having died with her. be quite invisible, and in nothing like day- Three men at various times wanted to light have I ever caught a glimpse of one. hear about the last Presidential election. Heavy rain is hard on them. It beats But two of them I found did not in the them to the ground in a sort of jellified least know how long they had been dead; mass. I went out one pouring night to it was Bryan's chances against McKinley discover what did happen then. For a they were fussed about. No doubt they long time I could see nothing; the wet had had been keen politicians, for when they made them transparent to my eyes. But

learned that eighteen years had passed soon I found that I was actually treading since then in which many most serious inches deep in a mess of souls. While such things had happened to the world, they

a a thing can give thein no actual pain, yet at once lost all interest.

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son.

Usually they would talk only about ber, of course, that he had not been dead themselves; they would n't even recognize long. I must also remember that for the existence of other souls. They were many years now the world or, at any rate, not more egotistic than they had been in that part of it that lived and moved on the material world, but now there was no Fifth Avenue had ceased to believe in hell. false shame about it, and it was carried to Now, people cannot possibly go to a place extremes for which even forty years of they don't believe in; that stands to reagrowing contempt for the human race And he quoted me a line from the found me unprepared.

Acts about the man who died and went to I remember, for instance, how the lady his own place. That had furnished him, he who was blown wildly for what had thought, with a solution of the question. seemed to her, poor dear, a year between "When I first died,” he told me, "and Forty-fifth and Forty-second streets would found myself floating lightly about here, I keep on insisting that such a thing had will own that I was puzzled and even, never happened to any soul before. I sym- though I had and still have every faith pathized with her for the uncomfortable in God's goodness, a little disappointed. time she had had; but, no, that was n't It was true that in the exercise of my enough. She kept at it till I bettered her calling I had refrained from painting any by saying that, quite obviously, such a very definite picture of the state of bliss to thing never could happen to any soul whieh the souls of the righteous should be again. Then she was satisfied.

called. My own congregation was cerThere were exceptions. There was the tainly not the sort to permit me to indulge Rev. Mr. Evan Thomas. It was from in any highly colored or romantic vision of him, indeed, that I gathered most infor- that future. They were well educated, mation, by his help that I was able to practical people. Besides, as far as I could grasp at last what really was happening to see, the use that they did already make them all in this future life.

of their imagination was very questionI found the soul of this once popular able. To say that they used it merely as preacher on a September night wedged in a stimulus to erotic frivolities would perthe shutters of a candy shop. I dug him haps have been too harsh, though I have out, and he thanked me. He was about at times been tempted to put my comseven inches long by three broad, quite plaint in so many words. But what they straight down one side, but with undulary needed from me surely was sobering, comindentations upon the other; of no thick- monplace morality. Still, let me confess ness to speak of, with rather a rubbery that when it actually came to entering surface, and in color a sort of bluish gray. upon a more blessed existence, I had in my It was a fine night. The harsh gust of secret heart looked forward to something wind that had wedged him in the shutter in the nature of a pleasant little surprise. had died down, and we had a long and And to find myself drifting-" pleasant chat.

"Still drifting," I said rather wickedly. He spoke with equal ease and cheerful- He was not to be checked by any mere ness about his past life and his present witticism. "Drifting," he went on, "and, death. Was this state of things the heaven for all I knew, drifting for an eternity up he had spent much time and energy preach- and down Fifth Avenue, was disappointing about? No; on the whole he did n't ing. think it was. But in that case had his “But I reflected. As a rational Chrissoul (I had to put this delicately) and tian I was eager to assure myself of God's the thousands upon thousands of other laws and then to square them, if possible, souls besides that we knew were drifting with the exigencies of any world in which up and down-had they taken, so to it might please Him to place me. And speak, the wrong turning ? No, he did n't I have always been ready, nay, anxious, to exactly think that either. I must remem- search out my own faults and, if necessary, to repent of them. So in the course of I was sampling them, sizing them up, demuch drifting and some whirling, often termining by personal and unprejudiced round the very steeple that pointed to observation upon which most prevalent heaven from above the pulpit of my late vice or failing the sword of my spiritual labors, I disinterestedly reviewed my for- condemnation should first fall, I merely mer existence and gathered it up, so to say, preached week by week, not to be rash, as even the longest life may be gathered, not to be unfair, sermons upon less disinto a dozen sentences. See, now, if they putable subjects-sermons that purposely do not give you the key to this mystery. avoided any vital thrusts into that body

“I remembered my call from a sphere of politic to which I was now the chosen minpopular eloquence in England to the ister. church that-well, it can hardly be said to "They were admirable to preach to; ornament Fifth Avenue, but it is a pleas- quick to seize on a point, ever ready for ant, comfortable church. I knew nothing those little sub-humorous sallies which are of America at that time, but I had heard the salt of a sermon, the delight of a stories of the luxury of New York women preacher who can discreetly indulge in and of financial corruption among the them. One could not hold their attention men, and when the flattering offer came long, it is true, but it was keen while it I naturally asked myself whether God lasted. They liked to have their intellihad not summoned me to scarify, though gence appealed to; they welcomed my reflovingly, these highly placed sinners, to erences to the very latest things in science bring them to repentance and a more hum- and literature. I projected a series of ble following in the footsteps of their sermons in which I purposed to take SunLord. I settled, if possible, to turn a sur- day by Sunday the works of some famous plus of the enormous stipend they were to skeptical philosopher and endeavor to give me into a trust fund for some sensible reconcile them with Christian ethics. Such and suitable charity-"

a course would not have been possible in I looked. We were opposite the very England, where, I confess, the indifferchurch.

ence of congregations to my very extensive "Is the stipend so big?" I asked, and modern reading and the quotations I could nodded across.

make from it had often nettled me exceed"When it came to the point,” he said, ingly. But these New-Yorkers I did find, "I found it not big enough. I had a to use a vulgar phrase, to be both mentally grown-up son and daughters. They had, and spiritually a thoroughly up-to-date of course, to mix on terms of equality crowd. with my congregation. We had to keep “Not, mind you, that I had weakened up appearances; the lay patrons of the in my resolve to scarify them, when need church expected it. Still, we were never were and opportunity came, for their seriously in debt.

deeper sins. But I had found that they "To continue"

were not children, they were not fools, “Please!" I begged him. I was enjoy- that the thing needed doing well, and from ing it. He had evidently been a preacher the point of view of a thorough underof some style.

standing of the very peculiar circumstances “My congregation at once impressed under which fashionable life must be lived me as being made up of charming people, here; otherwise it had better be left alone kindly, clever, and hospitable, boundlessly altogether. That thorough understandhospitable. We spent several weeks, my ing I set myself conscientiously to acquire. wife and I, or my eldest daughter and I, "But, dear me!” he broke off, "my night after night, dining with the chief twelve sentences have been much exfamilies among them. One should always ceeded. Old habits! And about myself! accept such invitations; one should view It is inexcusable." Again I begged him to the home life of one's flock. And while continue. Quite cheerfully he did.

me.

"I found many difficulties in my way. away subjects, wars with the heathen, Society women undoubtedly did indulge Greek legends, or the latest good novel, in outrageous luxury, but the worst of- I never failed, I think, in the end to bring fenders did not come to my church, and my hearers, though at the time they might to berate them in their absence would hardly be aware of it, one small step merely have given undeserved satisfaction nearer to Jesus. It is true that a really to the women who did come and were strong man in my place might have done themselves by no means innocent in the better before they turned him out. All I matter. That is a danger in preaching. can say is that I did the best that was in Your congregation will always imagine But looking back, I see quite clearly that you are, as one says, getting at their now what happened. I had set out to neighbors and not at them. I did make a convert Fifth Avenue; it was Fifth Avemost strenuous effort, though, to tackle nue converted me. the question of financial corruption. I "And that, my dear sir, is why, though worked at it for weeks; but it was a very disembodied, I am still here, and why we difficult subject, involving a great compli- are all here, poor souls. In our lifetime cation of figures-at which, indeed, I was this, at its best, was all we strove toward, never good-as well as several tricky and in our death we have come 'to our points of difference between state and fed- own place.'” eral law which it really needed an expert He ceased. His shape had all the time to solve. But I could not, above all been lying comfortably along my left forethings, risk exposing my ignorance. That arm. I looked up from it to where, in the would have done more harm than good. air above me, the river of souls flowed The habit that newspapers in this country ceaselessly on. It was a still night now. have of reporting sermons flatters, it is I could never make out why, since they true, but also intimidates. In the end, to had absolutely no personal power of volimy lasting regret, I felt compelled to tion, some always got along faster than abandon the idea.

others. On an average they seemed to “I remember I made one attempt to

make about three miles an hour. It was deal with the simple sin of overeating, of a wonderfully weary sight. which quite seventy per cent. of my con- "Who are they, generally speaking?" I gregation were without doubt guilty. I asked. hung the constructive part of the sermon "Well," said the preacher's soul, "it's upon the subject of food reform, a very a most curious mixture. There are the popular one just then; but the destructive tip-top people who used to belong here part had to be too delicately done to make and never thought there was any further a real effect. It had to be; for had I not to get; and then there are all the people myself fed and fed well at most of their who badly wanted to get here in their lifetables ? And in the flesh I was a little times and never could." inclined to stoutness.

“I take it that the two sorts don't mix “And so after a while I found that I well,” I said. slipped into preaching to my congregation “There again,” he went on, "it does n't only such sermons as my congregation work out as you'd expect. We 're all wanted to hear. What else was to be here

because belong here. done? They would not otherwise have There's no escape; and, as we can't concome to hear me at all, for there is no trol our movements, we've no power now law to make them, and nowadays precious of associating with one lot of souls more little public opinion. I should have lost than with another. The wind bloweth us any chance at all of doing good. As it where it listeth. So the consequence is was, by contriving at any cost to be inter- that we don't worry much about our beesting, my church was kept full, and, havior; and the people who are rude by starting ostensibly from strange and far- nature are just rude to everybody, and the

now

we

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