The life of another, it seems, is most like to a band of musick marching past us on the high road. At first faint, uncertain, inarticulate this distant music; merely such light sweet separate notes as might come from a child at Play. Then, with harsh Sweeping crescendo the band is upon us, and for a little at its high tide we discern a something of its Composition. It may be that we note only the drum-major, proud of his whirling Gavel, strongly leading his troupe. Or the leopard-skin, the motions fantastic and Wild of he who strains his limbs as he thunders the big Drum. Or one marching with rapt face, calm and inwardly listening to the haunting shrilling tenderness from his fife. Or one who has fallen silent for the time, to wipe an exhausted face, to yawn, or to Leer aside. It may be that we see but the one and yet are they all there; all in the one body, all the one Marvel that is man, marching by to the drum-beat, the Fife-crying of his own Heart.
Now that great Hammering struggling volume of sound which for the moment has been human Life at its zenith is past. Gradually, inevitably it is retreating into a purple dimness, over the wet dropped autumn leaves, under the stooping trees….
Now it is gone; vanished. And because gone for us we think that it is silenced. By what Right? Are we, pausing for an instant in our own march, the only Listeners on that high road through eternity? Did that band make Musick only for our careless ear? Is it not even now Whistling with some gay blackbird in other flowery meadows; swinging, sweetened and mellowed by use and time, past other listeners on the sunny highway, retreating undismayed and Deathless towards other stars …?
In one of the attics at old Clent another Jenny lately found this paper; yellowed and rat-eaten along with the crumpled page 148French cap ribbons, the dancing-sandals with frayed cross-ties, the little white-satin bodices folded in blue tissue papers of near eighty years ago.
Heaped on the Captain's old hair trunk containing them was a brittle pile of half-cured tobacco leaves such as William had grown and used in the 'seventies to combat scab in sheep. Those, falling to dust when moved, and a broken fencing-foil of Mab's … and memories.
Who wrote the paper we do not know. Jenny, perhaps. Or Sigurd Beverley, born a poet and bred a farmer. Or Humphrey, who never got what he wanted; or his younger brother Richard, who got too much. Perhaps the night wind knows, blowing through the old grey trees the Captain planted, now grown tall to tap the attic window-panes. Perhaps they know, those young fragrant ghosts with hooped and lace-plumed petticoats, with gauzy scarfs on immature white shoulders and nosegays in soft ringless hands as they scurry unafraid and drawn together by hushed laughter and whisperings over the rotting attic floor o' nights, along the dim corridor where Humphrey, Jenny, and the whole tottering tribe that followed them learned to walk, and down the shallow stairs that now creak woefully where no foot treads. But they have no time to tell, the young ghosts, pausing with drooped ringleted heads and dewy demure mouths at the bottom step: for there in the square hall, under the blossomed boughs of Christmas gum and the tall white Christmas lilies their eager and pomatumed beaux are waiting. And they must curtsy, and the gallants, hand to heart, must bow. For this is the Romantic Age, with Victoria unwidowed on her throne, and what was a man to swear by then except a maid's bright eyes? And what was a maid to think of then except a man?