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A Rolling Stone Vol. II

Chapter XIV

page 266

Chapter XIV.

Gut verloren—etwas verloren!
Musst rasch dich besinnen.
Und neues gewinnen.
Ehre verloren—viel verloren!
Muss Ruhm gewinnen
Da werden die Leute sich anders besinnen
Muth verloren—alles’ verloren!
Da wär’ es besser nicht geboren.'


The afflicted Stephen arose early the next morning. He was becoming quite as remarkable for early rising as he had been for the opposite practice. People said he was improving in many ways. Probably he was; he thought less of himself and his own comfort, and he had lost most of that languid indifference to others and their affairs which had once marked his conduct.

He walked so perseveringly this cool autumn morning that one might have thought he was going into training. He wandered about the lawn and through the garden, until he came to a road that was cut through a little piece of bush down to the creek. He stopped at the entrance, for he heard voices and knew them, and did not wish to meet the two who were walking there: why should he vex page 267 himself with that sight? He tried to avoid them, but they took an unexpected turning—there was a perfect maze of winding walks in this place—and crossed his path. And both smiled and said good morning as if they did not care in the least whether he saw them or not. They hardly interrupted their conversation for him. Some few words he heard as they passed him. ‘She is actually advising him—that worthless fellow!—and urging him to do something,’ he said to himself, and smiled pityingly. ‘What can have blinded her so? what can she find in him?’ Ah, my dear Mr. Stephen, if you had been the person whom the lady advised, would your impartial mind have exercised itself in wondering what she could find in you?

‘Can you guess what surprised me the most when you told me your story?’ she was saying to the other—the one who was so worthless in Stephen's eyes. ‘It is this: you have been clever — I must give you that praise — in adapting yourself to all kinds of situations, you have tried almost everything, you have not been easily discouraged, and yet (I only repeat your own words) — you have succeeded in nothing. Isn't that true?’

‘Quite true—unfortunately.’

‘And did you really fancy you could succeed when you never gave yourself up to anything in earnest? Does any one succeed who changes his occupation as soon as he is tired of it—before he has page 268 learnt enough to make it easy to him. You will fancy I am going to lecture you.’

‘I wish you would,’ he said.

‘Well, then, to begin—you have been very versatile and very fickle. All the while (it seems so strange you did not see it!) there was a way open before you which you never tried; a way you were much more likely to succeed in than any of the others. There was a profession, and a very honourable one, in which, long ago, when you were a boy, it had been said you might make yourself famous if you tried. You have never thought it worth your while to try.’

‘Oh, you mean music.’

‘Yes. You laughed at poor Professor Crasher because he groaned aloud when he found you spending your days in painting. I think he was right. It is something else you ought to be doing.’

‘Don't I know that? I am cured of fancying myself a painter. I shall spoil no more canvas. But it is not easy to succeed as a musician. In this, just as in other professions, hundreds fail for every one who succeeds. What can I, a man utterly unknown, do in music?’

‘Yes; every one is unknown at the beginning,’ she replied, with spirit. ‘Is that going to daunt you? Am I to believe you are afraid of a few difficulties? Oh! if I were in your place’—and the colour deepened in her face, and her eyes brightened with enthusiasm— ‘I wouldn't rest till I had made page 269 myself known. No difficulty, no misfortune should discourage me. If I failed at first—and you must not expect success to come all at once—I would say to myself I have so much the more to win to make this to be forgotten.’

Her earnestness startled him. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘that is what I ought to think, and what ought to have been my resolve long ago. I did not know you were so ambitious.’

‘It is for you that I am ambitious, and what I complain of in you is that you have not enough ambition. Can anything be done without it? And you forest yourself. When you studied music under men who were masters in the art, what did they tell you?’

‘They told me I had a future,’ he answered gloomily, ‘and I threw it away.’

‘Oh, not so! you have a future yet. Don't despair’—and she smiled at him—‘it is all to come. If you believed it as I do you would not lose another day; you wouldn't wait for opportunities, you would make them.’

He was carried away by the spirit and vehemence of her words. ‘Maud, I do not wait!’ he exclaimed. ‘I have thought of this often; but I have foolishly allowed myself to be turned about by every chance. I should be ashamed if you thought the difficulties in the way could discourage me. I had resolved to waste no more of my life; you have reminded me how much I have to work for; you have made me feel as if I must succeed this time.”

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‘Yes; you are going to succeed,’ she laughed confidently. ‘You must make up your mind to succeed.’

‘But when? Who is to tell me that? If you could set me a time and say, “When that is over come and tell me you have won success”—’

‘A time—how can I?’ she answered shyly. ‘No one can say how long it will take. Does it matter so much if you have it in the end?’

‘Yes; to me. I am of an impatient nature. So many years have gone by already; I cannot bear to lose many more. And some men have to wait a lifetime for what we have been talking of.’

‘Some, but not all. Once I heard a musician who, they told me, had made himself famous in three or four years. Of course before that time he must have worked and studied for many years when no one knew or cared about him. I heard him often; he played pieces I have heard you play, and —don't smile I am not a judge, certainly; but one can feel music when one cannot understand it —I believe there was nothing in his playing you might not do if you tried. And four years is not too long a time, is it?’

‘It will seem short, indeed, if at the end I am able to tell you that I see my way clear to success. It will be long—very long, if it proves me a failure.’

‘Ah,’ she said earnestly (and her mood had changed—she was not so confident), ‘you are not to speak of failures, not to think of them. What have page 271 I been saying?—wild, foolish things. Who can be certain of good fortune? — perhaps I am setting you an impossible task; and how can I bear to hear that you have failed!’

‘You shall never hear that. Whatever may happen, my disappointments shall not grieve you. If I come again it will not be to speak of failure.’

They had forgotten poor Stephen completely, but they were still in his thoughts. ‘I wounder,’ he said, as he watched them go towards the house—‘does she know all about him? I wonder what it was he did!’

He had spoken aloud, without knowing it. A man, slovenly in his dress, handsome, but dissipated in appearance, had been leaning one the fence near him; he smiled to himself.

‘Is this the road to the settlement?’ he suddenly asked, in a loud, clear tone, so that the absorbed Stephen would be sure to hear him.

‘No; this is a private way through Mr. Wishart's property. That is the road, on the side of the hill.’

‘Thanks,’ answered the man. ‘Excuse me, you said something just now. You would like to know more of a person who has just gone past. Perhaps I can help you.’

‘When I require your help, I'll ask for it,’ said Stephen, looking at the man with disgust. He concluded he had never seen a man who was at once so fine-looking and so repulsive.

‘Don't be in a hurry,’ said the stranger, with an page 272 insinuating smile. ‘It is often our duty to do things which are unpleasant. We should not shrink from it. Perhaps that young lady does not know so much about that gentleman—let us call him—as your or I do. Do you think she would care to walk beside him if she did. I may be of service to you in this, Mr. Langridge.’

‘Do you want knocking down?’ inquired Stephen.

‘I do not,’ promptly replied the man, ‘and it would be a very bad return for the kindness I propose to do you. I could have given you an advantage over that gentleman yonder. But if you do not care that the young lady—’

‘You had better not mention her again!’ said Stephen, with such a threatening countenance that the obliging stranger mentally agreed with him that he had better not. ‘When I want to take a spy and informer into my service, I'll send for you.’

‘You are too virtuous for the age, Mr. Langridge,’ said the man, with a sneer, as he turned on his heel. ‘Your own thoughts betrayed you, and now you are ashamed of them.’

Stephen returned no answer, but he coloured to the eyes.

‘I believe the fellow is right,’ he muttered. ‘I was nearly as bad as himself. It was contemptible enough to wish to find something that would lower him in her opinion. I'm doing no good here.’

He was of the same opinion after breakfast, when he told his friends that he was going home.

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‘What! not stay for our picnic on Wednesday, Mr. Langridge?’ said Mrs. Meade.

‘And our excursion to the coast on Thursday?’ said Mr. Wishart. ‘Bailey tells me there are pheasants by the thousand on this side of the sandhills. Why, you must stay; you haven't seen the rollers come in on the beach with a roar like thunder; it's worth the trip.’

But Stephen was not to be persuaded. He had been tempted to stay too long already, he said.

‘I shall be here again,’ he said, as he shook hands with his friends, ‘to say good-bye before I go South.’

‘Oh, are you going to the South?’

‘Yes,’ said Stephen, whose resolve had been made that very morning. ‘My father has bought a sheep-run for me, and I think I shall live, there and learn to manage it. I don't know how I shall like the work, but that doesn't matter. I have been idle long enough.’

‘You are quite right, I daresay, to wish to manage your own property,’ said Mrs. Meade; ‘but we shall miss you very much. What will become of our charades now, Maud? Mr. Langridge was to have helped us.’

‘You will manage much better without me,’ said Stephen. ‘I should only have blundered through my part. I never could act.’

Mrs. Meade laughed, and returned to her chair on the verandah and her novel, which was curling up in the sun.

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Stephen ought to have gone, but forgetful that he had already said good-bye, he lingered to say to Maud, ‘You know why I am going, Miss Desmond?’

‘You assume that I do,’ she answered, with a slight smile.

‘You will not acknowledge it,’ said Stephen; ‘but you can guess it. I need not have stayed so long, if I had believed what you told me at the first—that you would never change. Well, I shan't either; but I will say no more of that, or I might offend you. We may at least part friends.’

‘Why, we have always been friends, haven't we?’ she asked, smiling frankly.

‘I suppose so,’ said Stephen. ‘It was friendship on your part; but there was something else as well on mine.’ Then he said good-bye, and rode away.

He went towards home, where he arrived just as his parents were rising from their early dinner. They were curious at his sudden appearance, but they were too considerate to question him. Mr. Langridge could not refrain from observing to his wife, sotto voce, as usual, ‘I believe that little affair's done with, Polly.’

‘Most likely,’ curtly replied his wife. ‘So much the better for Steve.’

Stephen was not long in announcing the resolve he had made.

‘Go to the South!’ cried Mrs. Langridge, who liked her son to be at home as much as possible. page 275 ‘Send some one down to look after the place; there's no need for you to go.’

‘I must have something to do,’ said Stephen. ‘I'm tired of an idle life. Don't you think I had better go?’ he appealed to his father.

‘Just as you like, Steve, just as you like,’ replied the old gentleman. ‘Please yourself. I reckon the place is a kind of howling wilderness; cold enough in winter to freeze the marrow in one's bones, hot enough to bake it in summer; not many trees about; country either flat as a pancake or sticking up in great ridges. But sheep get a living there, though you'll find rather less grass on it than there was on your little place here. I sold that farm well. Wiggins has it now, and you should hear him brag about his cattle.’

‘I think I shall go down immediately,’ said Stephen.

‘Why, you can go when you like,’ replied his father; ‘only say the word—for money'll be wanted, you know; nothing can be done without that. You'll not have many neighbours there; no morning callers, Steve; it's lonely enough.’

‘I shan't mind that,’ said Stephen. Two months ago he would have shuddered at the idea of exiling himself to such a desert as he believed the sheep-run to be; but now he was contentedly indifferent to the prospect. He packed up a box of books and his chessmen—chess was one of the few games of skill which he had not been too indolent to master. He page 276 determined to fight off dulness with the aid of literature and chess problems. His mother and sisters, in great excitement, set to work and made an outfit for him, comprising immense stores, not only of useful things, but of useless ones also; such an outfit, in fact, as no one but an only son can expect to have wasted upon him. In a fortnight he had left the warm and humid North for a colder climate and a home where, if no other good awaited him, he would have plenty of that solitude which anchorites of old thought so healthful for the soul.