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Hocking Joseph
The Passion for Life


I am in a restless mood to-night. There seems nothing to explain this, except that perhaps I am growing tired of the life I am leading, or it may be that there are influences at work of which I have no cognizance, but which affect my nerves. As I look out of my window I can see storm-clouds driven across the wild sky, while distant lights on the heaving sea are suggestive of mystery. The wind howls around my little wooden tenement, while above the roaring of the waves I can hear the dismal screech of the sea-birds, which, for some reason or other, have left their rocky resting-places. I do not know why it is, but the cry of the sea-birds is always suggestive of the wail of lost souls as they fly through the infinite spaces.

I did not mean to begin this way at all, for I want, as far as I can, to put all sad thoughts behind me.

Let me begin again then, and, if possible, strike a more cheerful note. I want something to interest me, and it has struck me that if during these long, dark evenings when I have to be alone I can place on record some of the events which have taken place since I have drifted to this part of the country, I shall be able not only to forget the shadow which hangs over my life, but to see streaks of blue sky amidst the storm-clouds, and to catch the bright rays of the sun which are constantly shining, even although the world says that we are living in a dark time.

But I am writing this also because, as it seems to me, the happenings of the last few months are of sufficient importance to record. Even although I were sure no one would read what I am going to write, I should still go on writing. Some one has said, I do not know who, that the life of a village is the life of a nation in miniature; and even although that may contain only a suggestion of the truth, certain am I that if I can faithfully record the events which have taken place in the little village of St. Issey, I shall have written something of the history of the great world outside.

Now that I have started writing, however, I immediately realize that, if I am to make my narrative comprehensible, I shall have to give some kind of personal explanation. Who am I, where am I, and why am I here? I promised just now that I would, as far as possible, avoid the sad things of life and dwell on the sunshine rather than on the shadow. But why should I? Life is made up of sunshine and shadow, and no one can give a faithful account of life without dwelling on both. Besides, what are the things we call sorrow and joy but contrasts? And life without contrasts would be unbearable. I will tell my story just as it is, then: its light and its shade; its hope and its despair.

"Simpson," I said to my one servant and factotum, who has been with me for several years, and whom I regard more in the light of a friend and counsellor than as a paid hireling, "the doctor tells me that I have at most a year to live."

I was sitting in my chambers in London as I mentioned this interesting piece of information. Simpson had just placed my coffee and bacon before me. He stopped suddenly as I spoke, as though the news had startled him. Then he went on with his work.

"I beg your pardon, sir."

I repeated the information.

"The doctor tells me I have at most a year to live. I may not last so long. Possibly a month will see the end of me."

I thought Simpson's hand trembled, but he repeated the formula which had almost become second nature to him:

"Yes, sir; thank you, sir," he said.

"I have been thinking, Simpson," I went on, "that as I have but such a short time before me in this world I may as well spend it comfortably and in a congenial place; indeed, the doctor insists that I should."

"Yes, sir; thank you, sir. Is there anything more you want, sir?"

"Simpson," I said, "you don't appear to believe I am serious. I am simply telling you what Dr. Rhomboid told me last night. By the way, how did he ever get the name of Rhomboid? A rhomboid has something to do with mathematics, hasn't it?"

To this Simpson made no reply.

"How long did you say, sir, that the doctor gave you?" he asked presently.

He seemed by this time to have quite recovered himself.

"He is of opinion that a year at the outside will see the end of me," was my reply, "but it may be that I shall only last a month or two. There is something wrong with my inside. He gave it some sort of a name, but I won't try to repeat it. I might pronounce it wrongly. But why do you ask?"

"Well, sir, you have got an important case on, and I heard that it would last a long time. It would be a pity if you didn't live to see the end of it."

"I shall have to drop the case, Simpson," I said.

"What, Mr. Francis, drop the case? That would be a terrible pity, and you having had to wait so long for cases, too."

"You seem more interested in the case than in the tenure of my existence, Simpson," was my response.

"Yes, sir; thank you, sir," replied Simpson, after hesitating some seconds.

"How long have you been with me, Simpson?" I asked.

"Ever since you went to Oxford, sir – eleven years ago last October."

"That is a long time, Simpson."

"Yes, Mr. Francis. Your father – that is, Mr. Erskine – made me promise that I would stick to you. That was before he died, sir."

I may here remark that my father, John Erskine, died just as I left Winchester. He did not make any fuss about dying. He simply called me to his side and said, "Frank, I have sent you to a good school, and you have done very well. I have left you enough money to go to Oxford, where I want you to take a good law degree. After that, I want you to read for the Bar, and, if possible, rise to be Lord Chancellor. There will not be very much money left when you finish at Oxford – something over a thousand pounds, I believe; but that should last you until your briefs begin to come in. Simpson, our old servant, will go with you. I think that is all, my boy."

The next day my father died, and I, as arranged, took Simpson to Oxford with me. Simpson is not very handsome, but he is a very valuable friend, and in his way has glimmerings of sense.

I toyed with my breakfast, for although I spoke calmly enough about it, I was not altogether pleased at the idea of dying so soon. After all, I was only just thirty, and, as Simpson had said, the briefs had only just begun to come in.

"I beg your pardon, Mr. Francis, but will you be leaving London soon?"

"I have decided to leave at once," I replied, "but the question with me is, Where shall I go? I have been thinking a good deal about it during the night, and I cannot decide. Where would you suggest?"

"Well, Mr. Francis," replied Simpson, "if you will forgive me for making a suggestion, sir, I should say that, as yours is a Cornish family, Cornwall would be a suitable place to – "

Here he stopped, and seemed in a difficulty as to how he should conclude the sentence.

"That is, sir," he went on, "would it not be appropriate?"

"Exactly," was my answer. "Cornwall it shall be, then; but I don't know Cornwall, although, as you say, I am of Cornish stock. You are also Cornish, Simpson?"

"Yes, sir; thank you, sir."

"I have been looking through my accounts," I went on, "and I find that by economy I can manage to pay my way for about a year. That fits in exactly, as you see; but I am afraid it won't include you, Simpson. You have rather a good appetite."

"My appetite can depend very much on the state of your funds, Mr. Francis," he replied.

"That means you are inclined to go with me?"

"Certainly, sir; I could not think of leaving you alone."

I confess that I was somewhat relieved at this, because, although I determined to put a brave face upon everything, the thought of spending my last days alone was not pleasant.

"That is awfully good of you, Simpson," I remarked, "but if you come with me, although, as you say, your appetite can be regulated, we shall have to be careful. I like your idea of going to Cornwall, but I don't know what part of the Delectable Duchy to go to. The doctor suggests that, in order to extend my existence as long as possible, I ought to go to some spot where the air is warm, yet bracing; that I must have no excitement, but at the same time must have interesting and pleasant companionship; that, while I ought to be out of the world, I must at the same time be in it. This fellow with a mathematical name seems to be intensely unreasonable."

"Excuse me, sir, but could you give me a short holiday?" asked Simpson.

"For how long?"

"Say four days, sir. I will arrange for you to be well cared for while I am gone, sir."

I didn't ask Simpson why he wished to go away, or where he was going. I am afraid at that moment I hadn't sufficient interest to inquire. Of course, I gave my consent, and that same day Simpson packed up his bag and left me. Here was I, then, Francis Erskine, aged thirty, barrister-at-law, member of the Inner Temple, who, a week before, had good prospects, alone, with my death-warrant signed. I hadn't felt very well for some time, but had paid no heed to my ailments. For the past twelve months I had been, for a young barrister, very busy. It so happened that I had been engaged upon a case which appeared hopeless. All my brothers at the Bar declared that my client had not the ghost of a chance, and then, by what people called a stroke of genius on my part, but which was really a pure fluke, I carried off the thing triumphantly. From that time briefs came in fairly rapidly, and I was more than once referred to as a rising young man of brilliant parts. Then came the doctor's verdict, and there was an end to everything.

What I did during Simpson's absence I cannot remember. I tried to take a philosophical view of the situation, and although the disease from which I suffered was, the doctor declared, past all cure, and had made great ravages upon my constitution, I went about as usual. After all, what was the use of bothering about death?

At the end of four days Simpson came back. I thought he appeared somewhat excited, but his manner was quiet and respectful as usual.

"Enjoyed your holiday, Simpson?" I asked.

"Yes, sir; thank you, sir. When will you be ready to start, sir?"

"My tenancy of these chambers expires in three days, Simpson."

"I hope Mrs. Blandy looked after you all right while I was away, sir?"

"I really don't remember," was my reply. "I dare say."

"Could you start to-morrow morning, sir? I can get everything ready by that time."

"Where are we going, Simpson?" I asked.

He looked at me as if in surprise.

"To Cornwall, sir."

"You have made arrangements for me, then?"

"Yes, sir; thank you, sir."

I did not ask him any further questions. I did not think it worth while. After all, when one came to reflect, nothing was worth while. If Simpson had suggested the Highlands of Scotland or the Flats of Essex, I should have made no demur. On the whole, however, I was pleased that we were going to Cornwall. Both my father and mother were Cornish people, and although I had never visited the country, it seemed less disagreeable to me to go there and spend my few remaining days than to any other place. I knew that Cornwall was a narrow strip of land at the extreme west of the country, and I had heard vague reports about the fine coast-line and beautiful air, but, beyond that, very little.

"Perhaps, sir," said Simpson, "we had better put off our journey until the day after to-morrow."

"Why?" I asked.

"You will want to say good-bye to your friends, won't you, sir?"

"I think I have a remembrance of doing that, Simpson," I replied.

"You have a lot of friends here, haven't you? Excuse me for asking, sir."

"I have a lot of acquaintances, Simpson," I replied, "but only two friends – Bill Tremain and Tom Esmond. The rest don't count. I should not be surprised if they came to see me when I am in Cornwall – that is, if their wives will allow them. Have you ever reflected, Simpson, that marriage is a tremendous hindrance to friendship? Wives always make it difficult."

"Excuse me, sir, but what a pity it is you have not got a wife."

"I have never regarded the matter in that light, Simpson. Why do you say so?"

"Women always save a man from brooding. They never give him a chance of being quiet, sir," and Simpson shook his head impressively.

"You speak as one having authority. Have you ever been married?"

"Yes, sir," replied Simpson.

"I didn't know that. Why have you never told me? How long were you married?"

"Two years, sir. I never talk about those two years, but I shall never forget them."

I asked Simpson several questions, but his replies did not contain much information.

"You don't seem to be very communicative with regard to your married life."

"There's nothing to say, sir, besides what I told you. Women save a man from brooding. You see, sir, they don't give him time to brood. I have never noticed that you have paid much attention to young ladies."

"Not very much," I replied. "I don't seem to have had time. I have always been too busy with my work."

"If you had married, sir – at least, if you had married the woman I did – you would never have had any time for your work."

Next morning I found that all my bags were packed, while a taxi stood at the door. I made no inquiries as to Simpson's intentions or plans. When he went to the booking-office at Paddington I did not even ask him the name of the station for which he was booking. I remember entering a first-class carriage, where Simpson made me as comfortable as possible, after which I saw him talking to the guard, and heard him tell that worthy official that I must not be disturbed if it could possibly be helped.

Of my journey to Cornwall I remember practically nothing. I think I slept a great part of the distance. Towards evening we stopped at a little wayside station, where Simpson appeared and told me I was to alight.

"Have we come to our journey's end?" I asked.

"To the end of the railway journey," was his reply.

"I seem to smell the sea, Simpson," I said.

"Yes, sir, we are close to the sea."

He led the way to the station-yard, where a carriage stood, evidently waiting for me. This I entered, while Simpson, after attending to the luggage, and expressing the hope that he was not inconveniencing me, took his seat by my side. Once in the carriage I began to take more interest in my surroundings. I saw that we were in a beautifully wooded country, while away in the distance rose giant hills and rocky tors. I heard the roll of the waves, too, while the air was like some life-giving elixir. Presently we entered a village, which nestled among the trees.

"Simpson," I asked, "what is the name of this village?"

"This is St. Issey, sir."

"It is a very pretty place."

"Yes, sir; thank you, sir."

I saw a number of cottages, built in higgledy-piggledy fashion, each surrounded by its own garden. I saw the villagers standing gossiping with each other, heard the laughter of little children as they played in the lane, smelt the sweetness and purity of the air. After all, it was good to live.

"Is there no hotel here?" I asked.

"No, sir; no hotel, sir."

I did not ask him where we were going, or how I was to be accommodated. After all, it was not worth while. One place was as good as another. We passed some lodge gates, which evidently appertained to a big house, and I noted the great granite pillars and the heavy palisading.

"The Squire of the parish lives there, I suppose?"

"Yes, sir, Squire Treherne. That, sir," pointing to a comfortable-looking house which stood back from the road, "is the Vicarage. Mr. Trelaske lives there. And that, sir, is the Wesleyan Chapel. I am of the Wesleyan persuasion myself – at least, I was when I was a boy."

"That is a long time ago, Simpson."

"I am fifty-five, sir, but it doesn't seem long since I was a boy – that is, except for those two years when I was married; those seem very long."

Simpson's face looked so comical that I could not help laughing. It was the first time I had laughed since my interview with the doctor.

We passed by a great square tower and a low, many-gabled church, with the churchyard around it. I turned my eyes away. The place was not pleasant to me. Presently we began to descend a steep hill, and the sound of the waves rolling upon a hard and sandy beach became more and more clear. The carriage entered a narrow lane, which ended in a kind of copse close to a rugged cliff. A little later I saw, built within a few feet from the edge of the cliff, a wooden house. At the back of it a steep and almost precipitous piece of country, covered with brushwood, rose skyward. In front was the Atlantic. The house was in a bay looking towards the sea. The cliffs on the right side were not very high, but on the left they rose up almost perpendicular, rugged and imposing. I noticed that the rocks of which the cliffs were composed were in one place discolored, and I pointed it out.

"Yes, sir," replied Simpson. "When I was a boy there was a copper-mine here. There's a level under the hill now – at least, I believe so, sir. This is the house I have settled on, sir."

I alighted from the carriage and looked more closely at what was to be my future dwelling. As I have said, it was a wooden erection, and was evidently built with some care. All along the front was a veranda, the floor of which was roughly paved with granite slabs. The few yards of land between the veranda and the edge of the cliff had been cultivated, and flowers grew in wild profusion. At the back of the house many kinds of wild flowers bloomed. In the near distance, on the top of the cliffs, the land was covered with furze bushes and heather. I stood and took a deep breath and listened while the waves rolled on the golden sand hundreds of feet down.

"Won't you come into the house, sir?" asked Simpson. "I have paid the driver, and there is a man coming along with the luggage in a cart."

"Not yet," I replied. "I want to take my fill of this. This is wonderful – simply wonderful. I want to live."

Simpson stood watching me. I thought I saw his lips tremble.


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The Passion for Life

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На этой странице вы можете прочитать онлайн книгу «The Passion for Life», автора Joseph Hocking. Данная книга имеет возрастное ограничение 12+, относится к жанру «Зарубежные любовные романы».. Книга «The Passion for Life» была издана в 2017 году. Приятного чтения!