On The Vain Quest of Situations
On your left hand as you go north: Queen Square, sacred to humane and
liberal arts, where the sparrows were plentiful and loud, and where groups
of patient little ones would escape the watch of that unsleeping eye of
In the dead level and solitude of my existence, this was the one eastern
window and the one door of hope. And this I presently perceived to be a
heap of cocks, hares, dogs.
It was terrible, indeed; but so was death, the universal law.
So passed the night, in alternations of rebellion and despair, of hate and
pity; and with the next morning I was only to comprehend more fully my
I boast myself a total disbeliever, not only in revealed religion, but in
the data, method, and conclusions of the whole of ethics. And even if the
talk should wax still bolder, full of ominous silences and nods, and I
should hear named in a whisper the Destroying Angels.
It is in vain to argue. Who can? How was a child to understand these
"I am a traveller," said I.
I am not considered clever, and can only speak out plainly what is in my
heart: I regard you as a reptile, whom I would rejoice, whom I long, to
stamp under my heel. I shall do my best to have you murdered; and if that
fails, I hand you over to the law. Blackmail won.t do for me. Let me
completely undeceive you. One more such indiscretion and you return to
"I do not recognise your face," replied Mr. Godall; "but I remember the
cut of your beard, which I have the misfortune to dislike."
The most crushing seizure of despair descended on his soul; and struck
into abject dumbness. He would have given years, had he possessed them,
for a glass of spirits; but time failed, and he must deny himself this
"I have a mother, too," he added, with a broken voice.
Before midnight, under an obscure and starless heaven, we had left far
behind us the plantations of the valley, and were mounting a certain
canyon in the hills, narrow, encumbered with great rocks. The moon swam
clear; the cliffs and mountains in this strong light lay utterly deserted.
The horse cast a shoe; night overtook us halfway home.
But some look in his eye, some pallor, whether of fear or moonlight on his
face, caused the words to die upon my lips.
"What do I ask of Heaven but to die?"
"Is this it?" she asked. And this added perplexity to my distress.
In my ignorance, vainly consulting the disposition of the stars, when
there fell upon my ear, from somewhere far in front, the sound of many
voices hurriedly singing. All that while, I fought an uphill battle to
shield him from the swarms of ants and the clouds of mosquitoes: the
prisoner of my crime.
"You have brought me here to die," he said; "at the risk of your own days,
you have condemned me. Why?"
"That is all I want," said I: "I only wish you to be swift. The swamp has
an ill name." And at the word I ominously nodded.
See, where the caiman lies ready to devour us! If, by the least divergence
from the path, we should be snared in a morass. A little after, I observed
a worm upon the ground, and told, in a whisper, that its touch was death.
He was an honest man, and would not stand to be defrauded, and so forth,
panting the while, like a sick dog. And but for these sentient vegetables,
all in that den of pestilence was motionless and noiseless.
Innocent as an angel.all these qualities that should disarm the very
wolves and crocodiles, are, in the eyes of those to whom I stand indebted,
commodities to buy and sell: a design too long procrastinated; for death,
at the last moment, intervened.
"Hullo!" said he, "this is bad; this is deuced bad."
Hover all day long before the hospital, if by chance they might kiss their
hand or speak a word to their sick brother at the window and echoing with
the roar of a tumultuous torrent.
To my young eyes, after the hair-oiled, chin-bearded elders of the city,
and the ill-favoured and mentally stunted women of their harems, there was
something agreeable in the correct manner. But I was alone, as he had
said, alone in that dark land.
The dawn crept among the sleeping villas and over the smokeless fields of
city; and still the unfortunate sceptic sobbed over his fall from
I groped a devious way and getting somehow or other out of the apartment
and from the circle of that radiant sorceress, he found himself in the
strange out-of-doors, beholding dull houses, wondering at dull passers-by,
a fallen angel, the half-domestic cats and the visitors that hung before
the windows of the Children.s Hospital.
"Follow me," said he, "follow me. My mood is on; I must have air, I must
behold the plain of battle." I did not wait to be twice threatened; I
obeyed at once.
Him you will implicitly obey. And remember, silence!
But even as I said the words, the most insolent revolt surged through my
arteries. And had there been any choice but death or a Mormon marriage, I
declare before Heaven I had embraced it.
If you swear to hold your tongue about this island, these little bonfire
arrangements, and the whole episode of my unfortunate marriage. I have, I
must confess, the fatal trick of spoiling my inferiors.
"This is the best news I ever had since I was born; for that hag was no
less a person than my wife." He sat down upon a tar-barrel, as if unmanned
She set down the basket on the steps, moved into the centre of the ring,
grovelled in the dust before the reptiles, and still grovelling lifted up
her voice with so insane a fervour of excitement, as struck a sort of
horror through my blood.
"Where is it?" she asked; and the sound of her voice surprised him.
"It?" he said. "What?"
"The box. I am in fearful haste. Let the man take it," she whispered. "Let
the man take it."
In one hand she held a packet.
In that box that you have dragged about and carried on your defenceless
shoulders, sleep, at the trigger.s mercy, the destroying energies of
"Dynamitist," he adds, "I could understand." Madam," he began, yielding to
impulse and with no clear knowledge of what he was to add.
And yet all the time he would be laying out vast fields of future, and
planning, with all the confidence of youth, the most unbounded schemes of
pleasure and ambition. He who had clearly recognised the common moral
basis of war, of commercial competition, and of crime; he who was prepared
to help the escaping murderer or to embrace the impenitent thief, found
that he objected to the use of dynamite.
A dram of spirits restored the plotter to something of his customary
self-possession. That inequality between kind sentiments which, to
generous characters, will always seem to be a sort of guilt, oppressed him
to the ground; and he stammered vague and lying words.
As long as the bars were open, he travelled from one to another, seeking
light, safety, and the companionship of human faces; when these resources
failed him, he fell back on the belated baked-potato man; and at length,
still pacing the streets, he was goaded to fraternise with the police.
That he should have suffered himself to be led into the semblance of
intimacy with such a man, appeared, in the cold light of day, a mystery of
Innocent prattler, you relieve the weight of my concerns.
My thoughts, so far from clarifying, grew the more distracted and
confused; dreams began to mingle and confound them; and at length, by
insensible transition, I sank into a slumber.
The interior was long, low, and quite unfurnished, but filled, almost from
end to end, with sugar-cane, tar-barrels, old tarry rope, and other
incongruous and highly inflammable material.
Before the bulwarks were lined with the heads of a great crowd of seamen,
black, white, and yellow; and these and the few who manned the boat began
exchanging shouts in some lingua franca incomprehensible to me.
She stood a moment dumb, and then, recalling her self-possession handed me
a tumbler of neat rum.
Sometimes it swam high, rising on the night wind; sometimes again it
crawled upon the earth, and I would walk in it, no higher than to my
shoulders, like some mountain fog in my character of the still
untransformed; finding myself quite helpless and exposed.
The grievance, soberly considered, is no more than sentimental. "You seem
to be unwell, sir," said the hireling.
My bold companion paused; he looked about him closely; here and there,
other men an abstraction, feigning to gaze, feigning to talk, feigning to
Even while I wept and raged to hear him.
And yet consumed by anxiety about the strange experiment that was going