Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

A Rolling Stone Vol.III

Chapter I

page break

Chapter I.

‘My lot hath long had little of my care;
But chafes my pride, thus baffled in the snare.
Is this my skill? my craft? to set at last
Hope, power, and life upon a single cast?’

Mr. Philimore was a successful man. He had risen to the highest rank of his profession at a bound, escaping the various stages of trial and probation through which most men have to journey slowly and carefully before they can ever catch a glimpse of the gates of that palace where dwells the charming goddess with the wheel. But Mr. Philimore was clever, and cleverness rightly directed tends to economy of labour. He had not wasted his best years in trying to do something he disliked or could not understand. His parents, like those of many persons, had been laudably desirous that he should push himself into so-called openings in one or other of the professions, and as they had never considered the angularities of his character, were astonished when it was found that he would not exactly fit any of those openings. He was not to be moulded like a ball of wax either, so at last they let him alone, and he went to travel as secre- page 2 tary to a great man who was benevolently allowing the uttermost ends of the earth to behold his greatness.

Travel—not the advantages of daily intercourse and communion with the great man—opened Mr. Philimore's eyes. He perceived, first of all, that great people abroad were greater by tenfold than they were at home. Then he discovered that genius and talent of the highest order were not equally distributed over the face of the globe. In some parts the illuminated elbowed one another, and were sorely pressed for want of breathing-room; in others —in newly settled or half-civilised countries, for example—they wandered singly, or were with difficulty to be found at all. Not that men are born without brains in those regions, but because those who are hewing farms out of the wilderness, founding cities, and building up a nation in all haste, have little time to consider whether Heaven has endowed them with genius. They know without consideration that hands have been given them, and that, as the work which lies before them demands the use of muscle rather than of brain, they must use those hands right manfully, or give place to other men. As for finer work, that may well be left to those people of leisure who shall come after them, and enter into the fruit of their labours.

But it has often been observed that people entertain the greatest respect for the qualities which they have not, and admire most that learning and that page 3 culture to which they know full well they can lay no claim. And in all communities there are great numbers who desire nothing so much as to see or hear some new thing. To bring a bright light into a dark place is to dazzle the eyes and gladden the hearts of those who before were well pleased with their own obscurity. Mr. Philimore's idea was to enable those lights which were not needed at home, being in the way of other luminaries, to shine upon the unfortunates sitting in darkness, in remote colonies of the empire, or neglected corners of the earth. In other words, he constituted himself a purveyor of genius to America, India, the Australias, and, indeed, to any part where there was a demand for that valuable commodity.

It would not be easy to enumerate how many distinguished persons crossed the Atlantic under his guidance, or trusted themselves with him to the mercies of the broad Pacific. They were of all classes, of all kinds, and, as their agent soon found out, of all tempers. He was believed to know more than any other man living of the eccentricities and caprices of celebrated men and women, since most of those who had travelled—and who does not travel nowadays?—had been under his wing at one time or another. He had borne with much, poor little man! He had been annoyed by prima donnas who would not sing except according to their own sweet wills, he had had much to do with fiery-spirited actors and irascible novelists, with travellers page 4 who were always tortured by an insatiable craving for notoriety, and with lecturers who could never rest from lecturing—in private as well as before the public. In fact, he had seen so much of the weaker side of the characters of these famous people, that it would not have been safe for him to be at large had he not been a very discreet man. He never betrayed any one who had been in his charge—great men or women might be as little as they liked in his company—the world they were posing for heard nothing thereof, and what mattered Philimore's opinions? — those were buried in his own bosom. If he had been capable of keeping a diary and maliciously exposing them to future generations by means of that abominable contrivance, then they might have feared him; but, thanks to an early sickening with much writing, Philimore was not to be suspected of writing anything less innocent in its nature than his own letters, or his account-books, which were models of all that bookkeeping should be. He had a clear head for matters of arithmetic; and, as his management was clever, and he only exported sound sterling talent, and would take out no failures, he made a fortune: nothing colossal, of course, but still one sufficiently large to stop the mouths of the elderly people who had prophesied his downfall and future poverty, because he would be neither lawyer, doctor, nor clergyman. And then he came home, and married a lady whom every one had said he never would or could marry, page 5 because he had been violently repulsed by the whole of her kith and kin, and because, worse still, the lady herself had refused him thrice. But he had great faith in the virtues of perseverance, and he was not afraid to do many things which were called impossible, for he had learnt that nearly every difficulty is pronounced impossible by some person or other.

It was very easy for those who wanted to visit Mr. Philimore to find out where he lodged. From motives of policy, he went to the best hotel in every city he visited, and made himself as conspicuous as possible. Not that he cared so much about being seen, but a man who professes to be a conductor of genius must not bury his head in the sand. So Randall had no trouble in finding out where his former acquaintance abode, or in obtaining an interview. Mr. Philimore was one of those remarkable people who have time for their own affairs and other persons' as well. Randall was shown to his room at once.

The agent was reading the newspaper, while basking in the sunshine admitted by a large window from which the curtains were drawn tightly back, and the blind pulled up as far as it would go. He was small, and slim, and delicately fair, with a complexion like a young girl's, and a hand strangely white and small for a man's. There was nothing large about Mr. Philimore, except his eyes, which were too large, some people thought, and very bright page 6 and piercing. His features were of the ordinary sort, which wear well, and seem to improve as one becomes better acquainted with the owner.

‘Ah, good morning, Mr. —’ said the agent, jumping up from his chair with a vivacious alacrity that was characteristic of him. He stopped short, and his full gray eyes surveyed Randall from head to foot with a look of amazement. ‘I really beg your pardon,’ he said. ‘I have been too hasty. I mistook you for another gentleman, an old friend of mine.’

‘But are you sure I am not an old friend of yours?’ asked Randall.

‘I never saw you in my life before,’ said Mr. Philimore stiffly.

‘And yet I have heard you say you never forgot a face,’ said Randall, coming into the sunlight before the window. ‘Will you tell me again that you do not know me?’

‘No, I won't!’ cried Mr. Philimore, with a sudden change of countenance, and seizing the other's hand in both his own. ‘Why, it is you, Randall!—the last man I should have expected to find here, and yet the second old friend I have discovered in this town. Well, I can't make that boast again of never forgetting a face, but there is some excuse for me— yours is not what it was ten or twelve years ago.’

‘Yours hasn't altered in the least,’ said Randall, laughing.

‘No, and I haven't grown either, as you have page 7 done since I saw you last. I am still “little Philimore!” But whatever are you doing here? Living in the old patriarchal style amongst your flocks and herds? The idea of you taking to that sort of life!’

‘My flocks and herds! Where are they, I wonder? No, there never was any chance of that sort of life for me. I am doing nothing at present.’

‘Indeed,’ said Philimore slowly. His eyes again sought Randall's face, with a doubtful glance. If there were one character especially abhorred by Mr. Philimore, it was that of the man who did nothing.

Just then certain vague rumours which had reached him long ago about the friend who was now sitting beside him came back to his memory. By putting these scattered pieces of information together, and by eliminating all that seemed too improbable, a process in which he was an adept, and which was only the work of a few minutes, Mr. Philimore arrived at a tolerably clear conception of the circumstances which had brought Randall to New Zealand. He went on talking meanwhile in the same cordial manner. He put no direct questions, but his remarks were skilfully contrived to extract information.

‘And so you are doing nothing?’ he said at length. ‘Would that I could know for a few weeks what it is to do nothing!’ This was not quite sincere. Philimore would have fretted himself to death in a fortnight of inactivity. ‘I am stranded here alone, now that poor Virchow is gone, and I am getting rid of the rest of our company as peaceably as I can page 8 His death has broken it up. They are all going, some one way and some another. I shall be off to Melbourne in a few days.’

‘You are going, then, by the steamer next week?

‘Why should I stay here? I am no colonist. No, I go home again to make terms with some one who may wish to star it in Australasia. These colonies are our happy hunting grounds, and although —let me whisper it in your ear—I do not love musicians, nothing draws like music.’

‘Nothing draws like music?’ repeated Randall.

‘Nothing equal to it, when it is really good, for, mind you, colonists are sharp in detecting shams. Those people who pack off inferior goods to the colonies, and think that there they will be taken for first-class, delude themselves. You were a musical prodigy in your youth. You might as well have cultivated that talent; the profession is a fine one.’

‘I have cultivated it to some degree since I knew you,’ said Randall. ‘I came to speak to you about that.’

‘Ah, it wasn't all for old acquaintance' sake,’ cried Mr. Philimore, with a little grimace.

‘I must confess it wasn't. It is best to be honest. Still I should have come in any case, and—I don't know whether I ought to say it or not, but because I have something to ask of you, I almost wish you were a stranger, not an old friend.’

‘You must have curious views of friendship,’ said Philimore, with a laugh, but he knew the real meaning of the other's words. It was never easy for you to page 9 ask favours, he thought; you've had some trouble to bring yourself here for that purpose.

‘You remember that I studied music?’

‘I should think so. Most of us thought you were rather touched on that subject.’

‘Perhaps I was. Do you believe I could have done what Virchow did while with you?’

‘Why, of course, I know that when you were young you seemed to have an extraordinary talent for music, possibly as much as Virchow or other trained musicians would have at the same age. But what have you been doing since? You know, nothing rusts like talent when it lies unused.’

‘I hope to show you that it hasn't rusted away. You think me over-confident or too bold. I don't ask you to believe in me all at once. Of course, I can't expect you to know that I am not foolishly boasting; but I know it. I feel that I have a right to say, all that Virchow did, I can do; and, if I were to give my whole time and thought to it again, do better.’

Mr. Philimore's eyes were larger and rounder than ever. ‘Eh?’ he said. ‘You come to the point. Well, I'm glad to hear it. If you can do so much, you have the means ready to your hand of making your fortune. Do you want recommendations? I know many musicians, English and foreign. If I can help you, I will. I suppose you intend to go home to enter on your profession.’

page 10

‘No,’ said Randall. ‘The only person I wish to be recommended to is yourself.’

‘I am a nobody,’ replied Philimore. ‘What you want to do is to get at the public.’

‘But I wish to get at them through you. I am going to be very bold. I shall surprise— perhaps offend you. You will say to yourself, “This man was once my schoolfellow, so he thinks he has a right to all that I can do for him.” But if you think that, if you have the slightest suspicion that I am deceiving you, or presuming on our old friendship with a view to making something out of you, then I need not tell you what I have thought of.’

‘Oh, no more in that strain, if you please,’ said Philimore. ‘I beg to say that I'm not quite so suspicious or niggardly as all that. But go on; say what you have to say.’

‘I hardly know how to say it. I want to persuade you that you can find a successor to Virchow without going to the other side of the world to search for one. In plain words, I ask you to put me in his place; I have assurance enough to think that I can fill it. I don't know what terms you made with him; I should not dream of asking for the same. But if I succeed, you won't regret the choice, and in case of the other event, I will secure by some means that you shall lose nothing by me.’

Mr. Philimore leaned back in his chair, pushed the light hair away from his forehead, and seemed to page 11 be watching the fluttering of a moth across the window-pane.

‘Yes, this is all very well, Randall,’ he said at length. ‘I suppose I ought to be cruelly plain with you. I run a greater risk of offending you with my answer than you did in asking me.’

‘No; I want you to say whatever you think, and I fancy I know what it will be.’

‘Possibly; but you don't know what it is you wish to do. In the country place where I was born the rustics called it “putting the cart before the horse.” From what I remember of you when you were only a boy, I am quite prepared to believe in the existence of your talent. I am no judge of music, however, and if you were to play to me on all kinds of instruments for a day at a time, I couldn't tell you whether your playing would please the public, which, of course, is the point we wish to come to. I'm not so certain of my own judgment as to fancy that I can take the initiative in any such case; all that I can do is to go with the multitude. When a man has made himself remarkable, notorious, famous, which you will, he is the man for my business. The world doesn't make many mistakes in these matters; I believe it picks out the best of us in the long run. You may be picked out some day; but I don't know whether it's wise to anticipate the decision. Some things can't be hurried.’

‘Does not every one try to have it as quickly as possible?’

page 12

‘Oh, they try; but in nine cases out of ten they are obliged to wait all the same. You spoke of Virchow. You may be cleverer than he for all I know; but you can't put yourself into his place at once. He was ten or fifteen years in advance of you. He had a European reputation. Every one had heard of him; newspapers had written him up; he had played in almost every large city in the world, and royal personages had petted and patronised him, which goes a long way towards making a name for a man. There is everything in a name. When once a man has made himself famous, the thousands who, while he was poor and unknown, would have turned a deaf ear to him, if he had played as never man played before, at their doors every day, will rush to hear him, and even if he should lose his skill and produce discord instead of harmony, the senseless public will go on applauding him. If he should become very famous, he won't be able to do wrong in the estimation of the multitude, no matter what execrable music he may give them. Of course, bubble reputations of that kind don't outlast a lifetime—don't last that always; but they are very glorious for a while. The question is not, can you do better than this or that person, but can you make other people think so. At present people don't know of your existence. You might be more wonderful than Paganini, and yet be able to do nothing as long as you remained unknown.’

‘There are ways of becoming known, however.’

page 13

‘Yes, and I don't know why you should not succeed in the profession you are thinking of; but not with a leap into fame as I'm afraid you imagine. Years—it will take years.’

‘I am content to wait for that. I am not mad enough to dream of leaping into fame. But I mean to do this in the next four years—to gain such a position that I may have no need to fear for the future success of my enterprise. I may as well explain myself, though the idea can't be entertained. It need not have involved you in any way. I have a little of my own, enough to take me to Australia, and to provide for expenses for a short time. You are going home by that way. Our first venture might have been made there, and if it had failed you could have dropped me into obscurity again, and I should have looked for something else to do, with a better chance of finding it than in this country.’

There was silence. Mr. Philimore delayed to answer, but looked at his friend. That person rose from his seat; he was impatient to end the interview.

‘Good morning,’ he said unconcernedly. ‘Thank you for being plain with me. You are right. I am in too great a hurry to be successful. I will see you again to say good-bye before you leave for Melbourne.’

Sometimes, by inspiration as it were, we may read another's thoughts. Just for an instant Mr. page 14 Philimore saw into the other man's mind, saw that which the calm expression of the face and the composed manner were intended to hide, saw that his friend was humiliated and ashamed. He had stooped to beg a favour, and it had been withheld; he had forced himself to argue his own claims, and they had been coldly put aside. Oh, torment for a proud heart!

It was not generally supposed that the agent was of a very tender or sympathetic nature. Most people thought better of his head than his heart, because he was so cool in business, and because he had driven one or two hard bargains with intellectual sharpers who had tried to outwit him. But then he had known the sort of man he had to deal with. And just now his apprehension of things which generally escape notice was so quick, that he felt very uncomfortable. A curious feeling came over him; a feeling he was not accustomed to, and which was remarkably lively considering his habits and experience. In fact, I am not at all sure whether, if Mr. Philimore had been a woman, he would not have cried.

But, being one of those who are denied the relief of tears, he only took the hand which was offered to him in good-bye, and held it rather tightly, as if he would detain his friend.

‘Did I tell you to go?’ he asked. ‘Do you think I meet an old schoolmate every day? I haven't done with you yet. I have stated the case page 15 against you, but we haven't heard the pleading on the other side. You have more to tell me.’

‘No. I have said enough.’

‘Not by one half. You should have said, “Philimore, you remember that school, don't you —that den of wicked, mischievous youngsters, always on the look-out for some one to torment. You remember yourself, awkward, stupid, small in stature but a great dunce, plodding on amongst the little fellows when you were old enough to have known as much as any boy there. Poor and shabby, despised, scouted, sent to Coventry—amongst all those boys you'd only one friend. He was younger than you, but before you in everything —clever, rich, popular, a favourite with every one, masters and all. And he didn't laugh when others jeered at you; he took your part and helped your idle brain to do its tasks; he believed, or pretended to believe, that you weren't such a dolt after all.”’

A flush suddenly darkened the face of the other man. ‘Why do you remind me of this? It is not worth remembering.’

You remind me,’ said Philimore. ‘Not worth remembering, is it? I ought to know best. Well, never mind; you always hated fuss, and so do I. Don't go yet, or if you must, come again to-morrow and we'll settle the affair. I don't believe in talking of business in an unbusinesslike manner. Do you know?’—and his smile was irresistible, he had a most infectious smile—‘I'm wavering. I've made page 16 stranger bargains out of pure bravado because people said I couldn't succeed in them.’

‘I will come to-morrow or any day you like, but not to talk of business, if by that you mean what we have discussed already. You have no faith in my scheme, I can see that; and do you think I will let you take it up for friendship's sake, just as if you owed me some immense debt and must pay it off?’

‘I could laugh at you, Randall, if you weren't so serious. Your sensitiveness—a nasty sort of thing that; I've lost mine with knocking about the world —makes you bristle like a porcupine. Oh, no, if I do anything—mind that if! I've not promised—it will be out of malignity and spite, and so on. But come now, I'm going to introduce you to my wife, whom you will remember as Miss Hollis.’

‘As Miss Hollis?’

‘Yes, when you knew her it wasn't thought she would ever write her name Philimore. Myra!’ he cried, going towards the door which opened into another room, ‘here is some one whom you ought to remember.’

Mrs. Philimore greeted Randall very pleasantly. She was a little taller than Philimore, and she had the advantage of him in another respect, for though the agent was not handsome his wife most certainly was. As there was no reserve between these three, who had known each other when they were in their teens, she told the gentlemen, with a mischievous page 17 laugh, that she had overheard some of their conversation.

‘And though you are no judge of music, as you had the grace to acknowledge,’ she said to her husband, ‘please remember that I am. I feel certain that Mr. Randall's playing will please the public you talk so much of. I have not forgotten your music, Mr. Randall, and if you have that wonderful old violin yet I am sure your fortune is made.’

‘There are two sanguine people in the room now,’ said Philimore, ‘and I believe I'm catching the complaint. Yes, Randall, I expect I shall have to “run” you, as our American cousins say.’