previous
next

Chapter VIII. A Nice Young Man.

AND Horace was a nice young man. The old men said he was, for he was a good listener to their yarns, and always treated them with consideration and respect. He said his own dear father was getting an old man; should he not esteem others who were aged?

The old ladies said he was. He did not tire of their company; he used no slang expressions; he indulged in no joke at their expense; he was polite, even to reverence; he was such a good son to his mother.

The young ladies avowed he was so. He was gentle with them, and kind to them. He would undertake


  ― 57 ―
little offices without grumbling or fussiness. He did not seek to take advantage of their little weaknesses in ungentlemanly criticisms or in ungenerous sallies. He was certainly a deal too quiet for some, and, while smilingly attentive to all, had no special devotion to one.

The young fellows were divided in opinion about him. A party admired his straightforwardness, believed in his honour, and praised his cleverness, though not liking his reserve. He was not a ‘jolly young chap.’ He did not laugh boisterously, nor join boisterously in sports. He rather shunned violent exercise, and never courted companionship. No one was jealous of his glances at the special favourite, and most set him down as cut out for an old bachelor.

His long and serious illness had left a delicacy of constitution that required judicious management. He was cheerful, if not gay, and indulged in amusements that were not too exactive to vital energy. As he grew stronger by exercise, and living in so glorious a climate, he gradually exhibited more force of character, and took a heartier interest in the sports of youth.

In physical appearance he presented no peculiarities. He could hardly be called handsome, though his person was rather above middle height, and his countenance was not wanting in attractive expressions. His nose was not of Grecian beauty, nor of Roman dignity. His lips were not full, and neither were they thin. His chin may have failed in decision, and his brow in


  ― 58 ―
energy. His cheeks were not sallow, but their delicacy was seldom enlivened with ruddiness. His forehead was rather lofty than broad, and in marble smoothness rivalled that of the other sex. His hair was darkbrown in colour, silky in texture, with a gentle inclination to curl. His eyes were somewhat dark, but singularly mild in their light. They were not flashing orbs, but there was that unmistakeable something in their aspect that marked at once the gentleman of refinement, the man of honour, the master of himself.

Having had the good sense to make use of advantages he possessed, his education was advanced. His studies had led him to the culture of ancient learning, but his tastes had been matured by modern literature, and refined by Christian ethics. The love of beauty was a strong part of his mental organisation, and led him to the culture of the fine arts. He handled the pencil with skill, and the brush with taste.

And yet, notwithstanding his imaginative faculty, there was a good substratum of common sense which he had inherited from his father. For all his devotion to the muses, his interest in science was profound, and his acquaintance with mathematics gained him reputation.

Left to choose his line of life, while quite a boy, he showed more judgment than lads usually display. Very early he decided not to follow the profession of arms, and declined an offer to go to Sandhurst, while in England. With no mean artistic skill, he saw no


  ― 59 ―
road to a maintenance, leave alone distinction, in a painter's career. It was positively necessary, he was told, that he should carve out his own future. To go to the law was foreign to his tastes. He objected to the medical college for several reasons. He believed the practice of medicine injurious for his health, especially in India, his ultimate home; surgical operations were abhorrent to his gentle nature; and he shuddered at the thought of being the servant of the public at all hours, night as well as day.

In his high tone of thought, and his purity of conduct, he might have been regarded as a suitable subject for the ministry. But his very truthfulness and conscientiousness here interfered with the projects of some of his friends. ‘I have no internal call for the Church,’ said he, ‘and could not presume to enter without it.’

But as India opened a field for constructive ability, and as his own mental inclinations went that way, he decided upon being a civil engineer. His ready command of the pencil, and his intimate acquaintance with mathematics, were thus made available in a profession. By earnest devotion of time and intellect to his adopted course he gained the esteem of his employers, and promised to become a distinguished engineer.

The feebleness of a frame nurtured on the plains of India, and exposed to the rigour of English winters, was not fitted for long continued study. Laid upon a bed of sickness, and, as he believed, a bed of death,


  ― 60 ―
his ambition for distinction was lamented as an error. When sufficiently recovered to return to his parents, his opinions did not alter; and he assured his father that, although physically unfit to cope with the competitive adventurer, he was morally persuaded that his future happiness lay in retirement from efforts, in the pursuit of which ambition would be laudable for others.

This resolution not to enter an honourable path to wealth and honour may have been rashly made, and have been maintained by the same morbid feeling which had originated it; nevertheless, Horace adhered to it with a consistency that silenced the appeals of others.

His father regretted the necessity there appeared for relinquishing a supposed brilliant future. His thorough faith in his son's good sense and sound principle stayed complaint, and induced resignation. A mother's pride suffered some shock, as she saw Horace turn from a course for which he was intellectually so fitted; but her womanly instinct, not less than her maternal feelings, assured her of his unfitness for the competitive race.

That which more than ever decided the young man, and which removed the lingering doubt of his parents, was the sad loss of his sister.

Between these two, in the few months they were together in Bengal, such a loving sympathy was apparent, a bond so delightful and endearing, a communion


  ― 61 ―
so intimate and elevating, that, when the connection was severed, as far as this world was concerned, the mind of the survivor reeled under the stroke, and the sorrowing parents feared the loss of their first-born son, their sole remaining child.

It was then that the decision was made as to removal to Tasmania.

But the trial had more than ever driven earthly ambition from the heart of the young man. He wished for none of the pomps and glories of life, since he regarded them as associated with care and vanity. He sought no avenues to wealth, as he esteemed it a curse and not a blessing.

He lived more and more in his own thoughts. He mingled less and less in society. But his tendency to morbid feeling was counteracted by his love of nature, and his ability to discern her mysteries. In looking at a landscape,

‘His spirit drank
The spectacle; sensation, sound, and form
All melted into his.’

He thoroughly appreciated the inner teachings of the Divine wisdom abroad in the universe. Schiller says,

‘To some she is the goddess great:
To some the milch cow of the field:
Their care is but to calculate
What butter she will yield.’

It was after the death of his sister, especially, that his imaginative impulse was called so into exercise,


  ― 62 ―
and that he withdrew himself from his kind. And yet there was not the same blind selfishness, and heathenish disposition of nature, which appeared in the eloquent language of Rousseau:—‘The impossibility of finding actual beings threw me into the regions of fancy; and seeing that no existing object was worthy of my delirium, I nourished it as an ideal world, which my creative imagination soon peopled to my heart's desire.’

The more he decided upon yielding the claims of ambition, the more was he drawn tenderly to the bosom of nature. He studied, that he might know; he observed, that he might know more accurately. He would approvingly quote these words of the great Goethe, ‘I lie down in the grass near a falling brook, and close to the earth a thousand varieties of grasses became perceptible.’

But while the music of the fountain was heard within his soul, awakening tenderness and pleasure, his religious convictions brought a Maker before him, and so exalted and purified the harmonies which flowed from communion with nature. Schiller was right in singing,

‘How blest is he whose heart ne'er pays
For gifts from knowledge flowing.’

Fully aware, with Petrarch the lover of retreat, that solitude ‘must not be inactive,’ he was accustomed to sketch at one time, read at another, or breathe out his


  ― 63 ―
soul in song. His pleasures and joys were hallowed by a chastened spirit. His favourite author, George Herbert, had said,—

‘My God, my God,
My music shall find thee;
And every string
Shall have his attributes to sing.’

Although in India, although in the age of Positive Philosophy, he deemed it no loss of manliness to avow his recognition of the Supreme, and his hopes of life beyond the grave. In spite of the mysticism shrouding the teachings of a modern New England poet, Horace frequently quoted these lines when in his lonely rambles:—

‘I know not what the future hath
Of marvel or surprise,
Assured alone that life or death
His mercy underlies.’

‘And so beside the silent sea
I wait the muffled oar;
No harm from him can come to me,
On ocean or on shore.

‘I know not where His islands lift
Their fronded palms in air;
I only know I cannot drift
Beyond his love and care.’

previous
next