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The Silent Isle - Chapter 17 Post by :eggibiz Category :Essays Author :Arthur C. Benson Date :May 2012 Read :2407

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The Silent Isle - Chapter 17

CHAPTER XVII

What a strange, illusory power memory has in dealing with the past, of creating a scene and an emotion that not only never existed, but that could not possibly ever have existed. When I look back to my own commonplace, ordinary, straightforward boyhood, wrapped up in tiny ambitions, vexed with trivial cares, full of trifling events, with a constant sense of small dissatisfaction, I am amazed at the colours with which memory tints the scene. She selects a few golden hours, scenes of peculiar and instantaneous radiance, when the old towers and trees were touched with a fine sunshine, when the sky was unclouded, the heart light, and when one lived for a moment in a sense of some romance of ambition or friendship; and she bids one believe that all one's boyhood was thus bright and goodly, although one knows in one's heart that the texture of it was often mean, pitiful, and selfish; though reason at the same time overwhelms one with reproach and shame for not having made a brighter and braver thing of it, when all the conditions were so favourable.

It is so too with pathos--that pathos which centres so firmly upon the smallest details, and neglects the larger sadnesses. I had so curious an instance of this the other day that I cannot refrain from telling it, because I suppose it can hardly ever have happened to anyone before.

I have an old friend who lives by himself in London, where I sometimes visit him. He is a studious, unmethodical, untidy man. His rooms are dusty and neglected, and he is quite unaware of his surroundings. By his favourite arm-chair stands a table covered with papers, books, cigar-boxes, paper-knives, pencils, in horrible confusion; a condition of things which causes him great discomfort and frequent loss of time. I have often exhorted him to sort the mess; he has always smilingly undertaken to do so, but has never succeeded.

A few weeks ago I called to see him; the servant who let me in, whose face was new to me, looked very grave; and when I asked if my friend was in, turned pale and said: "I suppose you do not know what has happened, sir--Mr. A---- died yesterday at Brighton. I think that Mr. B----" (naming the owner of the house, who lets lodgings) "can tell you all about it--will you go upstairs? I will tell him you are here."

I went up: the sun was streaming into the room, with its well-known furniture and pictures, shabby and yet somehow home-like. There was the familiar table, with all its litter. I was stunned with the news, unable to realise it; and the sight of the table, with all the customary details in the old disorder, fairly unmanned me; so it was all over and done with, and my friend was gone without a word or sign.

I heard rapid steps along the passage; Mr. B----, the owner of the house, entered with an apologetic smile. "I am afraid that there has been a mistake, sir," he said. "Mr. A---- is not dead, as the servant informed you; it is the gentleman who lives on the floor above, who has been an invalid for some time, who is dead; the servant is new to the place, and has made a confusion; we only had a wire a few minutes ago. Mr. A---- is perfectly well, and will be in in a few minutes if you will wait"

I waited, in a strange revulsion of spirit; but the most singular thing is that the crowded table, which had been a few minutes before the most pathetic thing in the world, had become by the time that A---- entered smiling, as irritating and annoying as ever; changed from the poor table where his earthly litter had accumulated, which he could touch no more for ever, into the table which he ought to have put straight long ago and should be ashamed of leaving in so vile a condition.

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