A Broken Journey by Logan Pearsall Smith

I.

The air tasted fresh; through the sunshiny mist the London houses shone beautiful and vague; the passers-by seemed to be whistling and singing as they went to their morning work. Already at Paddington cabs were arriving; they drove down under the clock in an endless procession; the family luggage was unloaded, and the passengers, muffled for winter journeys, hurried into the station.

Then a hansom pulled up sharply, and a young man got out, whose air of fashion and slim figure, as he stood there paying his driver, drew for a moment the notice of the other travellers.

On the platform within, by the waiting trains, all was movement; the great adventurous station was full of grey light, and a confusion of sounds and echoes. Arthur Lestrange, as he walked across, looked about with quick eyes on the orderly tumult, the heaps of moving luggage, the hurrying people. They were all starting off on pleasant holiday journeys, he fancied; indeed, everything seemed eager and gay that morning.

He chose an empty first-class carriage in the train going northwards; but in a moment he hurried out back to the bookstall to get a paper, and returned with several novels in his hands. On the top of one was pictured, in bright tragic colours, a young man suspended over the edge of a perilous cliff.

"Why did I buy them?" Arthur wondered, looking at the books with amusement.

Settling himself again, he watched through his window the anxious procession of people who came peering by, looking for corner seats. Then he saw his own luggage passing.

"Oh, you can put those things in here with me," he called out to the porter.

"I've labelled them, sir," the porter said, looking up with a stupid face.

"Put them in, put them in, don't you see there's plenty of room," Arthur said with a certain sharpness and nervous agitation.

There were two young men standing on the platform near his window.

"Well, good-bye," one of them said, as he looked at the other with friendly eyes, "you mustn't wait, and you'll come up and see us, won't you?"

They were Oxford men, young Lestrange thought, as he watched them, feeling envious, and almost lonely for a moment as he remembered the times when he had travelled down so often with friends from Paddington to Oxford.

But surely it was time for the train to start! The movement on the platform seemed to be increasing; the tumult and screaming whistles sounded louder and louder in his ears, as he waited, leaning uncomfortably forward.

At last all the doors were shut; the platform grew more vacant; a few belated people hurried up; a green flag was waved; a whistle blown; everything about him seemed to glide backwards, and then, with the shaking and noise of travel, the train drew itself slowly out of the station. Arthur leaned back with a sensation of immense relief. He was really away at last. Away from everybody! He had been almost afraid that they might come to the station and try to stop him. But it was absurd, he told himself, as he opened the morning paper, it was absurd to make so much trouble; for what was there to bother about? He could take care of himself; and anyhow his relations had better mind their own business. As for talking about ruin! He thought of his pompous uncle and dull pale cousins, and then of the people with whom he was going to stay.

"Good old ruin," he said half aloud, running down the news of the day with eyes that hardly noticed what he read. In a moment he turned to look out of the window.

After making its way through the suburbs, the train had begun at last to travel more quickly through the open country. The trees and earth and houses near at hand drifted backwards; the more distant fields moved back with a slower motion, while the horizon seemed to glide forward with the train. The sun shone on the brown earth and mist and leafless trees; a young horse galloped the length of his field in a playful race with the moving carriages.

Young Lestrange changed his seat restlessly. Then he began to rearrange his luggage on the rack; he looked at himself in the mirror, caressing his slight moustache. His hair was smooth and dark over his handsome young face. Only his straight eyebrows, twitching nervously now and then, would give him rather a harassed, anxious look for a moment.

What was the use of bothering, he said to himself, smiling as he turned carelessly away. If one was young! Men sowed their wild oats; he would settle down soon enough, but in the meantime he would enjoy himself. You have only one life to live....

The winter morning seemed unusually bright and clear; the train went swiftly; its wheels beat on the rails an unquiet and delicious measure, answering and echoing his thoughts. Restless and excited, he again threw down the paper, for the bright images of desire, that floated before his eyes, made the printed words seem almost meaningless.

He pictured to himself the end of his journey—the trap that would probably meet him—a dog-cart, with shining bay horse and man in livery, standing in the gravel sweep of a country station. The drive up, and then at tea, or just before dinner, he and she would meet in the drawing room, greeting each other with pretended indifference. How he hated and loved her!

After a while the train, going more slowly now, began to draw into Reading. With the beginnings of weariness and headache Arthur looked at the waste of railway trucks, the heaps of coal and blackened snow, the red factory buildings, and the dreary streets beyond. Biscuit factories—who could eat all the biscuits they made? he wondered; "Clapper's Restaurant"—suppose you should dine there, they would give you nothing but biscuits, probably. Did the train stop at Reading?—he could get some spirits at the refreshment room.

At the bar, Lestrange saw the figure and long grey coat of a man he thought he recognized; and then, getting sight of Boyle's smooth-shaven face, and remembering his supercilious manners and reputation, he felt with sudden repulsion how much he hated men of that kind—men of pleasure, who were no longer young. When you were young it was different—but to go on always....

But when Boyle turned and greeted him in an indifferent, half-friendly way, and then walked up and down with him on the platform, Arthur could not help feeling, in spite of himself, somewhat flattered and pleased. After all, Boyle knew most of the best people, and went everywhere.

"I have an empty carriage; you might as well come in with me, if you are by yourself." Boyle seemed not unwilling, and soon appeared at Arthur's carriage.

"I'm just on my way to Marcham," Arthur said, as if casually; "the Vallences', you know." There was a slight lisp in his pleasant musical voice.

Boyle was putting his golf clubs in the rack, but turned round at this and glanced at Arthur oddly. However he said nothing, and after a moment he sat down, and, lighting a cigarette, began looking at the paper.

As the train went out of Reading they began to talk, or rather Arthur talked. Soon he was discussing horses and actresses and gambling debts. It was a good game, baccarat, Arthur said, but you had to pay for it sometimes. He had just dropped a cool thousand or two, which was rather a bore. There was a music hall singer to whom Arthur referred more than once as "Mamie."

"And how about Lulu, hey?" Boyle asked, with his disagreeable laugh.

"Oh, Lulu—good old Lulu!" Arthur said, but he really had no idea of what Boyle meant.

Boyle told a story in his short, indifferent way, and Arthur exclaimed, "Capital! capital!" and laughed loudly in the fashion of a popular man he knew.

Had he ever been to the Vallences' before? Boyle asked.

No, he had never gone before. Did Boyle know them?—Boyle had been there; was going there now, in fact, he said.

"Really, are you going there now? How odd we should meet like this!" They talked a little about the place and people. It would be rather a lively set, wouldn't it? Arthur asked; and he boasted that his uncle, Lord Seabury, had warned him against them. But, good God! what did he care if people were amusing. "Do you know who else will be there?"

"Oh, a lot of people. Mrs. Stair (Arthur blushed at this), and that young Glass."

"Glass?" Arthur exclaimed; "oh, not really that man! They can't like him."

"They like his money."

"You don't mean they ask a man—a stupid boy like that—to get his money."

"They don't say they do," and Boyle looked up from his paper with an expression that seemed to say, "You young fool, you don't know much."

("Is that what I'm asked for?" Arthur wondered for a second.)

"I say, did you read about that young Hughes?" Boyle was saying. "It seems he's gone and played the fool—shot himself; wrote to his mamma he was ruined. So he won't be there."

"Used he to go to Marcham?"

"Oh, always there."

"Well, it's the pace that kills," Arthur said sententiously, though his hand, as he lighted another cigarette, shook a little. "It isn't everyone that can stand the racket."

"If they weren't all such sickening young fools," Boyle replied in a short contemptuous way, as if the talk bored him.

"He thinks a damned lot of himself," Arthur thought, looking with a sidelong glance at Boyle. His head began to ache again; a sudden disgust came over him; he felt he hated Boyle. And he hated himself too, for talking and boasting as he had talked and boasted but a few minutes before. And they were all like Boyle, all those people; they cared only for his name and money. "Name and money, name and money," the wheels beat on the rails. Well, soon he would lose them, most likely—his name and money—like the young suicide, who had lost them both and his life too.

Still he made an effort to ward off the mood that was settling down on him—the mood he knew so well! He was not ruined, he told himself, and there was nothing ruinous in an ordinary visit. He could take care of himself. The chief of his debts were gambling debts, and he was going to stop playing soon; would settle down quietly; he would make a resolution, and keep to it.

But what was he doing now in that rattling train? Only the day before he had resolved not to come; had promised solemnly that he would not come; had made a resolution to break with all that set, and not yield to the passion which people said would ruin him. Yet here he was, going on to it all! There seemed to him something sinister in his journey, something fatal in the swiftness of the rattling train, as if he were being carried on to a dreadful place, and into misfortune, against his will. He leaned away from Boyle, and touched his cheek to the cool pane of the window. Masses of steam enveloped the train, but Arthur saw the quiet landscape now and then, glimpses of faded green fields with snow, and, over the hedges, the shining river, and bluish hills beyond. He saw a boat on the river; recognized a bit of wood, a church tower. Those were the hills that he had ridden over; the lanes through which he had so often walked; the river down which he had floated in the summer sunshine, pulling up refreshed and strong after bathing. With an eager, almost childish interest he waited for the green visions, through the shifting steam, of these familiar places.

He opened the window; the singing air tasted pleasantly cool and fresh. Over the flooded fields and the moving trees he saw the spires and towers of Oxford. He could well remember the quiet streets there; seemed to see himself, indeed, moving through them; and he almost believed that in a few minutes he would be driving up, as he had driven up so often before, in that procession of racing cabs to the old College, and to all his friends.

The steam blew again about the train, wrapped his face in its warm breath, and blotted out the view. Inside the shaking carriage was the tobacco smoke, and his luggage. "Where am I going with that man?" he asked himself suddenly, for the picture of Oxford had filled his mind entirely for a moment. The buildings and towers were so near now, the water of the reservoir gleamed slowly past. Arthur took down his luggage from the rack. At the bottom of his mind he had been wanting for a long time to go back to Oxford, and see it all, and see an old friend there; and so, eagerly, almost before the train had stopped, he hailed a porter and got out of the carriage.

"I must stay over here a few hours," he said to Boyle, with apparent calmness. "There is something I have just thought of, and must attend to. I'll telegraph, but you'd better tell them, though, not to meet me." He turned and walked away.

But as he drove up to Oxford, "What a fool I am," he kept saying to himself. Indeed Boyle's surprise, the commonplace platform, the ticket-collector's questions, the sight outside of his own luggage being lifted up on a hansom, had soon made his foolish, helpless impulse fade, like the flame of a candle, taken out into the daylight and windy air. But to go back to the train would have seemed doubly foolish, so, borne on by the impetus of his dead desire, he drove away. The next train was not till half-past six. He would get luncheon, and, after all, it might be pleasant to see the old place. But he was resolved that never again would he act on those stupid, sudden ideas—they made him seem like a fool.

II.

After luncheon Arthur went out—the time had to be spent somehow—and walked idly along the High Street. It was all so familiar: the shops, the windows of the club to which he had belonged, the rooms where his friends had lived. But he knew no one now. The streets were wet with winter mud, there was a commonplace light on the houses, and Arthur looked about him with very little interest and emotion. Walking past the Colleges, he loitered for a little on Magdalen Bridge, and then turned back again. It was still early, and he began to meet now the young men who were starting out of Oxford for the open air and country. Some were dressed for football; three or four in brown coats rode by on horses, talking and laughing as they passed; but the greater number were in flannels, and moving towards the river. These Arthur followed—he had nothing else to do—through the streets and meadows, coming at last to the barges and windy river. Men were calling to each other, boats were pushing out, and the turbid current of the Thames ran swiftly with the winter floods.

But for him there was too much sound about the wind and water, the cold sunshine was too bright and harsh, and he felt doubly weary, as he looked at all that life and activity and health. And yet once he would have delighted in it.

When Arthur Lestrange had come first from school to Oxford, he had entered with eagerness and youthful ambition into the pleasures and activities of university life, wishing to do everything well that he tried to do, and with distinction if he could. And all these ambitions and activities he came to share, in the pleasant, intimate Oxford way, with a friend, slightly older than himself.

But after a while he began to grow discontented; success was not so easy;—and what was the good of it after all? he asked himself, with impatient lassitude. Finding new friends and more exciting pleasures, he gradually drifted away from his old companions. What was the harm? he said impatiently to Austen, resenting his friend's affectionate advice. He would enjoy life as other people enjoyed it; he only wanted to be left alone. So they grew less intimate; and when Lestrange found himself in trouble, serious enough to make him leave Oxford, he had been too angry and proud to see Austen, or answer his friendly letter. "How stupid it has all been," he said to himself, the memory of all this coming over him rather drearily, as he walked back towards Oxford.

But his feeble attempts to make some change in his life—these were the stupidest of all his memories; how, when his father died abroad, he was really frightened, fearing for himself a death like that, and going back to the half-neglected place that was now his own, he remembered his old plans of life, and tried to do his duty there, and be a good landlord and neighbour. But in a few months he grew weary of it all; it was too lonely, too depressing....

And then a year after, when he hoped for a while that a nice girl he knew might care for him; and this last time, when his losses at play had made him mortgage his property still more heavily. Then, sobered for a moment by his uncle's warnings, and by the ruin that seemed not far off, he suddenly resolved to change, to give up playing, to keep away from all those people.

But he had started for Marcham after all. It was no good trying, and no one cared. Of course no one cared—why should they? With worldly derision he remembered now the foolish, tattered hope he had cherished all along—the hope that some day, coming back to Oxford, he would find the old life, the old friend, who had cared once. And without stopping he walked past his College, the place where Austen was still living. He did not want to see any of them, nor would they want to see him.

Oppressed by the slowness of the time, the afternoon quiet of the streets, he resolved to go back to the station and wait there, watching the railway clock slowly eat up the hours. But passing by chance the livery stable where he had always kept his horses, with an aimless impulse he sauntered into the open court. One of the stable grooms coming up, addressed him by name, and asked him if he wanted to order a horse.

"It's a long while since we've seen you in Oxford, sir."

This recognition and friendly look in the man's face, touched Arthur, and, with a revival of eagerness, he felt that a ride would be just the thing to kill the time. So, ordering a horse to be sent to the hotel where he had left his luggage, he hurried back to get ready.

III.

As he rode back towards Oxford, two hours afterwards, the light was already fading from the winter sky. Sleepily and quietly he jogged along now, his horse tired at last after the quick gallop through grass lanes and over the wet fields and commons. The young man, too, was tired; but with a healthy, physical fatigue, pleasant in all his body. He felt almost happy after the motion, the wide light, the freshness of the air. And when he rode into the old city, walking his horse through the darkening streets, it seemed to him as if he were riding home now, as often he had ridden home into Oxford before, at just this hour of the twilight. The groups in the doorways, the lighted windows in the dim buildings, the sounds about him of bells and footsteps and friendly voices, brought back to him confusedly, mixed with the memory of this and that, the charm and comfort of that old life—that life of order and disciplined ways, and high old-fashioned purposes. How quietly the days had gone by: the mornings of work, the rides with friends, or afternoons on the river, between the yellowing autumn willows; the evenings with the white lamplight and pleasant talk and books. He had quarrelled with the restraint, the subordination, sometimes; had thought it too severe, too painful, to go out on the river in the wind and rain, to get up so early in the cold of winter mornings. But now, after the stale dissipation of his life, it was only the friendly warmth, the lazily-wasted hours he remembered, the pleasant fatigue after exercise, and the taste of the winter air when he had hurried out to chapel through the earliest sunlight.

If he could only go back to it all; if, putting up his horse, he could walk to his rooms through the twilight, and find his books, and the fire burning there, and friends not far off! But things had been against him somehow. And yet he had meant it all to be so different. And with half a sigh he remembered the summer evenings when he and Austen had walked in the old garden, talking of their plans in life—of all they meant to do—together! if they could. But then, people never did remain friends like that.

When he gave up his horse, however, he looked at his watch, and, after standing in hesitation for a moment, he turned with a sudden impulse, and walked quickly towards his old College.

In the porch stood a group of undergraduates, just up from the river, and vaguely gossiping before they separated. But they were all strangers to Arthur, and the porter, who answered his questions, was a stranger too. Crossing the darker quadrangle, the young man went into a staircase and up two flights of steps. Then he stopped, and stood breathing quickly for a moment. There was the door, and the name over it, but he had grown suddenly ashamed of his errand. Austen might have forgotten him, or might not want to see him.... But, bah! what did he care? and his footsteps must have been heard....

"I'm afraid you don't recognize me," Arthur said, in his assured voice, as he went forward into the room. "I was in Oxford; I thought I'd look you up."

Austen, who was sitting by a lamp, turned round with a puzzled expression on his staid, pleasant face. Then, pushing aside a heap of papers, he got up and said: "Oh, Lestrange, I didn't recognize you at first, it's so dark there. But I'm glad to see you—do sit down; you'll have tea, won't you?"

He was passing through Oxford, Arthur said; and having a few hours on his hands after riding over Shotover, he had come back, and happened to look in at the old College. The plausibility of this explanation, and Austen's voice as he said politely, "That's right, that's right, I'm delighted to see you again," soon overcame most of the shyness behind Arthur's easy, unembarrassed manner. They still talked to each other rather formally, however, as men do who have not met for years.

"It's a long time since you've been in Oxford, isn't it?" Austen asked.

"Yes, it is; I've been at home, in London. But I suppose it hasn't changed much."

No, there wasn't much change, Austen said; old people went and new came.

What had become of all the men who had been with them in College, Arthur asked; he had lost sight of them somehow.

Austen said that some were at the Bar; some in the government offices; one or two in Parliament already; the most of them seemed to be getting on pretty well, he thought, though he had lost sight of many of them, as one did.

"And you've been living on here ever since? I heard you had been made a Fellow. You like it, I suppose?"

Yes, Austen said, he liked it well enough, the work was tiring sometimes; that afternoon he had been going through papers. Arthur noticed that he looked fatigued, and a good deal older. It was dry, hard work no doubt, but still it was not the kind of thing that changed you.

"I say, you have jolly rooms here, Austen; I envy you living in a place like this. Do you remember your old rooms over the garden? I think I used to live in them almost."

As the old memories revived they seemed to grow less shy of each other. Arthur leaned forward, talking in a vague, intermittent way as he stared into the fire. Sometimes he would gaze at nothing, with a vacant, dazed look, for minutes together; or he would take the fire-irons and break up the coals. Once the tongs slipped and fell with a sudden clatter; he started nervously.

"Well," he said at last, rousing himself from a reverie in which he seemed conscious of nothing but the warmth and comfort and pleasant, physical fatigue, "Well, it seems very jolly here, like old times; I almost wish I had never gone away. But then, of course, I couldn't help it," he added; "I wasn't asked."

"You had hard luck," Austen said; "I hope it hasn't made any difference."

The words sounded friendly and sympathetic to Arthur. Hard luck, yes, that was it; he had always had hard luck.

"What have you been doing since?" Austen said politely.

"What have I been doing, Charles? Oh, nothing much; seeing about things at home a little. There were some cottages I had rebuilt. You remember we used to talk about it. It isn't so easy though, or I suppose I'm not so clever at it. But of course you know a great deal more about those things."

"No, oh no! I've been so busy. That sort of thing is good in moderation, and I'm glad you keep it up."

"Oh yes, in a way ... but no, what am I saying? I don't really keep it up. It was all two years ago. I haven't done much of anything since—anything good. Things, you know," he went on, as he stared into the fire, "haven't gone just—I mean, it's been rather stupid—stupid, and worse, I'm afraid; I don't seem good for much somehow."

The familiar Oxford room, with its order, and books, and shaded light, seemed so shut in, so far from the friendless world in which he lived, that for the moment Arthur almost forgot the lonely distrust, the derision of everything, which his life had taught him. "I suppose it's fate," he added, staring into the fire, as if he were half-ashamed of what he was saying. "I suppose it is fate—but still, I wonder—sometimes it seems if—that if I had had a chance, if anybody—" He waited a minute indecisively. But Austen said nothing. Arthur glanced at him, and then, flushing slightly, he got up. "But I must be going now," he said, with a curious change and coldness in his voice; "I have a train to catch."

"Oh, don't go," Austen replied awkwardly, "don't go just yet. I'm sorry to hear what you say; but don't you think, if you will allow me to say so, don't you think it is a mistake to blame fate for such things? If you would tell me more—"

"Oh, thanks," Arthur said, "I think I must be going."

"But you were going to say something," Austen urged, "and if you would tell me more, I might be able to help you, or give you advice at least."

Arthur glanced at him quickly. Then suddenly the idea seemed to amuse him, and coming back a step or two he said, with a smile, "Tell you more, Austen? Oh, I was only going to tell you what everyone knows, that I've turned out a bad lot, that's all."

"I'm sorry to hear that," said Austen, in a rather shocked voice; "I hope it's not so bad."

Arthur smiled pleasantly. "Oh well, you know, it is pretty bad, I'm afraid."

"But what do you mean, Lestrange?"

"What do I mean? Oh, all the usual things—bad company, gambling, and women."

Austen looked still more shocked. "But surely you could change if you wanted to!"

"I suppose I might, if I wanted to," Arthur said, playing with his riding whip. "But I'm afraid I don't want to. What's the good?"

"What's the good?" Austen repeated. "I don't see how you can ask such a question; if what you say is true, you ought to want to change."

Arthur mused a moment. Then looking up, with apparent candour, he said, "Well, I suppose it is odd; but honestly, you know, I don't want to change in the least. You see, your respectable people, they don't want to have anything to do with me; and anyhow, the things they care for bore me to death, really they do. You only have one life, so why not be happy in your own way? that's my principle."

"But surely, Lestrange, you can't go on—"

"No, I suppose I can't for ever; but you try to enjoy it while it lasts; and anyhow, my father, you know how he died—I suppose it's fate; heredity you call those things, don't you?"

"Really, I'm shocked to hear you talk so recklessly, as if you didn't care. You seem very much changed."

"Am I changed? I don't know; I suppose I am. We've both changed a little, don't you think? At least, things seem different. I wonder where I put my gloves,—I really must be going."

"Well, of course, I can't keep you, Lestrange; I can only give you my advice. But I can't believe you're happy."

For a moment Arthur looked at him sullenly.

"Well, what if I ain't?" he asked. "What's that to you?"

"I was only going to say," Austen went on, "I was only going to say that it seems to me that if you would try—"

"Try! Good Lord, I've tried enough, but what's the good?" Arthur said, with his old calmness and indifference, as he turned away towards the door. "I don't care, and no one else does, either. But I must be off. Good bye."

He went down the steps quickly, whistling as he walked away through the darkness. He was angry at himself, and bitterly ashamed of his visit to Austen. They were all like that—he ought to have known. And yet it was a pity, too!