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   Chapter 6 No.6

Paul Patoff By F. Marion Crawford Characters: 28469

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


Mankind may be divided and classified in many ways, according to the tests applied, and the reason why any new classification of people is always striking is not far to seek. For, since all the mental and moral qualities of which we have ever heard belong to men and women, it is obviously easy to say that we can divide our fellow-creatures into two classes, one class possessing the vice or virtue in point, and the other not possessing it. The only division which is hard to make is that which should separate the human race into classes of good and bad,-to speak biblically, the division of the sheep from the goats; but as no one has ever been able to draw the line, some people have said, in their haste, that all men are bad, while others have arrived at the no less hasty and equally false conclusion that all men are good. The Preacher was nearer the truth when he said, "All is vanity," than was David when he said in his heart, "All men are liars;" for if the bad man is foolish enough to boast of his error, the good man is generally inclined to vaunt his virtue after the most mature reflection, and the secret of success, whether in good or in evil, is not to allow the right hand to know the doings of the left. There are men who give lavishly with the one hand, while they steal even more freely with the other, and are covered with glory, until their biography is written by an intelligent enemy.

The faculty of persuading the world at large to consider that you are in the right is called your "prestige," a word closely connected with the term "prestidigitation,"-if not in derivation, most certainly in meaning. When you have found out your neighbor's sin, your prestige is increased; when your neighbor has found out yours, your prestige is gone. There is little credit to be got from charity; for if you conceal your good deeds it is certain that nobody will suspect you of doing them, and if you do them before the world every one will say that you are vainglorious and purse-proud, and altogether a dangerous hypocrite. On the other hand, there is undeniably much social interest attached to a man who is supposed to be bad, but who has never been caught in his wickedness; and if a thorough-going sinner is discovered, after having concealed his doings for many years, people at least give him all the credit he can expect, saying, "Surely he was a very clever fellow to deceive us for so long!" There are plenty of ways which serve to conceal evil doings, from the vulgar lies which make up the code of schoolboy honor, to the national bad faith which systematically violates all treaties when they cease to be lucrative; from the promising youth who borrows money from his tailor, and has it charged to his father with compound interest as "account rendered for clothes furnished," down to the driveling dishonesty of some old statesman who clings to office because his ornate eloquence still survives his scanty wit. Verily, if the boy be father to the man, it is not pleasant to imagine what manner of men they will be to whom the modern boy stands in the relation of paternity. The big boys who kill little ones with their fists, and spend a pleasant hour in watching a couple of cats, slung over a clothes-line by the tails, fight each other to death, are likely to be less remarkable for their singular lack of intelligence than for their extraordinary excess of brutality. It is true that a nation's greatest activity for good is developed in the time of its transition from coarseness to refinement. It may also be true that its period of greatest harmfulness is when, from a fictitious refinement, it is dragged down again by the natural brutality of its nature; when the ideal has ceased to correspond with the real; when the poet has lost his hold upon the hearts of the people; when poetry itself is no longer the strong fire bursting through the thick, foul crust of the earth, but is only the faint and shadowy smoke of the fire, wreathed for a moment into ethereal shapes of fleeting grace that have neither heat enough to burn the earth from which they come, nor strength to withstand the rough winds of heaven by which they shall soon be scattered. For as the evolution of the ideal from the real is life, so the final separation of the soul from the body is death.

Almost all men have the qualities which can give moderate success. Very few have those gifts which lead to greatness, and those who have them invariably become great. There is no unrecognized genius; for genius means the production of what is not only beautiful, but enduring, and the works of man are all sooner or later judged by his fellows, and judged fairly. But it is unprofitable to discuss these matters; for those who are very great seldom know that they are, and those who are not cannot be persuaded that they might not attain to greatness if circumstances were slightly changed in their favor. Perhaps also there is very little use in making any preamble to what I have to tell. I remember to have been at a great meeting of American bankers at Niagara some years ago, where, as usual at American meetings, many speeches were made. There was an old gentleman there from the West who appeared to have something to say, but although his voice rose to impassioned tones and his gestures were highly effective as he delivered a variety of ornate phrases, he did not come to the point. An irreverent hearer rose and inquired what was the object of his distinguished friend's discourse, which did not appear to bear at all upon the matters in hand. The old gentleman stopped instantly in his flow of words, and said very quietly and naturally, "I feel a little shy, and I want to speak some before getting to the point, so as to get used to you." There was a good-natured laugh, in which the speaker joined. But he presently began again, and before long he was talking very well and very much to the point. It may be doubted, however, whether any well-conditioned chronicler needs a preliminary breather before so short a race as this is likely to be. In these wild days there is small time for man to work or for woman to weep, and those who would tell a tale must tell it quickly, lest the traveler be out of hearing before the song is ended, and the minstrel be left harping at the empty air and wasting his eloquence upon the stones.

Last year I was staying in an English country house on the borders of Hertfordshire and Essex. It is not what is called a "romantic neighborhood," but there are plenty of pretty places and some fine old trees where the green lanes of Essex begin to undulate into the wooded valleys of Herts. The name of the place where I was stopping is Carvel Place, and the people who generally live in it are John Carvel, Esq., formerly member for the borough; Mary Carvel, his wife, who was a Miss Dabstreak; Hermione Carvel, their daughter; and, when he is at home on leave, Macaulay Carvel, their son, a young man who has been in the diplomatic service several years, and who once had the good fortune to be selected as private secretary to Lord Mavourneen, when that noble diplomatist was sent on a special mission to India. Mrs. Carvel has a younger sister, a spinster, thirty-eight years of age, who rejoices in the name of Chrysophrasia. Her parents had christened their eldest daughter Anne, their second Mary, and had regretted the simple appellations bitterly, so that when a third little girl came into the world, seven years afterwards, their latent love for euphony was poured out upon her in a double measure at the baptismal font. Anne, eldest sister of Mrs. Carvel and Miss Chrysophrasia Dabstreak, married a Russian in the year 1850, and was never mentioned after the Crimean War, until her son, Paul Patoff, being a diplomatist, made the acquaintance of his first cousin in the person of Macaulay Carvel, who happened to be third secretary in Berlin, when Paul passed through that capital, on his return from a distant post in the East.

It is taken for granted that the Carvels have lived at Carvel Place since the memory of man. I know very little of their family history; my acquaintance with John Carvel is of comparatively recent date, and Miss Chrysophrasia eyes me with evident suspicion, as being an American and probably an adventurer. I cannot say that Carvel and I are precisely old friends, but we enjoy each other's society, and have been of considerable service to each other in the last ten years. There is a certain kind of mutual respect, not untempered by substantial mutual obligation, which very nearly approaches to friendship when the parties concerned have common tastes and are not unsympathetic. John Carvel is a man fifty years of age: he is short, well built, and active, delighting in the chase; slender rather than stout, but not thin; red in the face from constant exposure, scrupulous in the shaving of his smooth chin and in the scrubbing processes, dressed with untarnishing neatness; having large hands with large nails, smooth and tolerably thick gray hair, strongly marked eyebrows, and small, bright eyes of a gray-blue color. In his personal appearance he is a type of a fine race; in character and tastes he is a specimen of the best class of men to be met with in our day. He is a country gentleman, educated in the traditions of Rugby and Oxford at a time when those institutions had not succumbed to the subtle evils of our times, whereby the weak are corrupted into effeminate fools and the strong into abominable bullies. John Carvel's Latin has survived his school-days, and his manliness has outlived the university. He belongs to that class of Englishmen who proverbially speak the truth.

When he began life, an orphan at twenty-two years of age, he found himself comparatively poor, but in spite of the prejudices of those days he was not ashamed to better his fortunes by manufacture, and he is now a rich man. He married Mary Dabstreak for love, and has never regretted it. He has lived most of his life at Carvel Place, has hunted perpetually, and has of late years developed a taste for books which is likely to stand him in good stead in his old age. There is a fine library in the house, and much has been added to it in the last ten years. Miss Chrysophrasia occasionally strays into the repository of learning, but she has little sympathy with the contents of the shelves.

Miss Chrysophrasia Dabstreak is a lady concerning whom there is much speculation, to very little purpose, in the world as represented by the select society in which she droops,-not moves. She is an amateur.

Her eye rejoices only in the tints of the crushed strawberry and the faded olive; her ear loves the limited poetry of doubtful sound produced by abortive attempts to revive the unbarred melodies of the troubadours; and her soul thrills responsively in the checkered light falling through a stained-glass window, as a sensitive-plant waves its sticky leaves when a fly is in the neighborhood.

But life has attractions for Chrysophrasia. She enjoys it after her own fashion. It is a little disconnected. The relation between cause and effect is a little obscure. She is fragmentary. She is a series of unfinished sketches in various manners. She has her being in the past tense, and her future, if she could have it after her taste, would be the past made present. She has many aspirations, and few of them are realized, but all of them are sketched in faint hues upon the mist of her medi?val atmosphere. She is, in the language of a lyric from her own pen,

The shadow of fair and of joyous impossible, infinite, faintness

That is cast on the mist of the sea by the light of the ages to come."

Her handwriting is Gothic. Her heart is of the type created by Mr. Swinburne in the minds of those who do not understand him,-in their minds, for in the flesh the type is not found. Moreover, she resents modernness of every kind, including the steam-engine, the electric telegraph, the continent of North America, and myself. Her political creed shadows forth the government of the future as a pleasant combination of communism and knight-baronry, wherein all oppressed persons shall have republics, and all nice people shall wear armor, and live in castles, and strew the floors of their rooms with rushes and their garments with the anatomic monstrosities of heraldic blazon.

As for religion, her mind is disturbed in its choice between a palatable form of Buddhism and a particularly luscious adaptation of Greek mythology; but in either case as much Christianity would be indispensable as would give the whole a flavor of crusading. I hope I am not hard upon Miss Chrysophrasia, but the fact is she is not-what shall I say?-not sympathetic to me. John Carvel does not often speak of her, but he has more than once attempted to argue with her, and on these occasions his sister-in-law invariably winds up her defense by remarking very wearily that "argument is the negation of poetry, and, indeed, of all that is fair and joyous."

Personally Miss Dabstreak is a faded blonde, with a very large nose, a wide mouth garnished with imperfect teeth, a very thin figure of considerable height, a poor complexion ill set off by scanty, straggling fair hair; garments of unusual greenish hues, fitted in an unusual and irregular manner, hang in fantastic folds about the angles of her frame, and her attitudes are strange and improbable. I repeat that I do not mean to be hard upon Chrysophrasia, but her looks are not much to my taste. She is too strongly contrasted with her niece, Miss Carvel. There is, besides, something in Chrysophrasia's cold green eyes which gives me an unpleasant sensation. She was at Carvel Place when I arrived, and she is generally there, although she has a little house in Brompton, where she preserves the objects she most loves, consisting chiefly of earthen vessels, abominable in color and useless to civilized man; nevertheless, so great is her influence with her sister's family that even John speaks of majolica with a certain reverence, as a man lowers his voice when he mentions some dear relation not long dead. As for Mrs. Carvel, she is silent when Chrysophrasia holds fo

rth concerning pots and plates, though I have seen her raise her gentle face and cast up her eyes with a faint, hopeless smile when her sister was more than usually eloquent about her Spanow-Morescow things, as she calls them, her Marstrow-Geawgiow and her Robby-ah. It seems to me that objects of that description are a trifle too perishable. Perhaps John Carvel wishes Miss Dabstreak were perishable, too; but she is not.

I would not weary you with too many portraits, my dear lady, and I will describe the beautiful Hermione another day. As for her mother, Mary Carvel, she is an angel upon earth, and if her trials have not been many until lately, her good deeds are without number as the sands of the sea; for it is a poor country that lies on the borders of Essex, and there have been bad times in these years. The harvests have failed, and many other misfortunes have happened, not the least of which is that the old race of farmers is dying out, and that the young ones cannot live as their fathers did, but sell their goods and chattels and emigrate, one after another, to the far, rich West. Some of them prosper, and some of them die on the road; but they leave the land behind them a waste, and there are eleven millions of acres now lying fallow in England which were ploughed and sowed and reaped ten years ago. People are poor, and Mrs. Carvel takes care of them. Her soft brown eyes have a way of finding out trouble, and when it is found her great heart cannot help easing it. She loves her husband and her daughter, understanding them in different degrees. She loves her son also, but she does not pretend to understand him; he is the outcome of a new state of things; but he has no vices, and is thought exceedingly clever. As for her sister, she is very good to her, but she does not profess to understand her, either.

I had been in Persia and Turkey some time, and had not been many days in London, when John Carvel wrote to ask me if I would spend the winter with him. I was tired and wanted to be quiet, so I accepted his offer. Carvel Place is peaceful, and I like the woods about it, and the old towers, and the great library in the house itself, and the general sense of satisfaction at being among congenial people who are friendly. I knew I should have to encounter Miss Chrysophrasia, but I reflected that there was room for both of us, and that if it were not easy to agree with her it was not easy to quarrel with her, either. I packed my traps, and went down to the country one afternoon in November.

John Carvel had grown a trifle older; I thought he was a little less cheerful than he had been in former days, but I was welcomed as warmly as ever. The great fire burned brightly in the old hall, lighting up the dark wainscoting and the heavy furniture with a glow that turned the old oak from brown to red. The dim portraits looked down as of old from the panels, and Fang, the white deerhound, shook his shaggy coat and stretched his vast jaws as I came in. It was cold outside, and the rain was falling fast, as the early darkness gathered gloomily over the landscape, so that I was glad to stand by the blazing logs after the disagreeable drive. John Carvel was alone in the hall. He stretched out his broad hand and grasped mine, and it did my heart good to see the smile of honest gladness on his clean, manly face.

"I hardly thought you would come," he said, looking into my eyes. "I was never so glad to see you in my life. You have been wandering again,-half over the world. How are you? You look tougher than ever, and here am I growing palpably old. How in the world do you manage it?"

"A hard heart, a melancholy temperament, and a large appetite," I answered, with a laugh. "Besides, you have four or five years the better of me."

"The worse, you mean. I'm as gray as a badger."

"Nonsense. It is your climate that makes people gray. How is Mrs. Carvel, and Hermione,-she must have grown up since I saw her,-and Miss Dabstreak?"

"She is after her pots and pans as usual," said John. "Mary and Hermy are all right, thank you. We will have tea with them presently."

He turned and poked the fire with a huge pair of old-fashioned tongs. I thought his cheerful manner subsided a little as he took me to my room. He lingered a moment, till the man who brought in my boxes had unstrapped them, and trimmed the candles, and was gone.

"Is there anything you would like?" he asked. "A little whiskey? a glass of sherry?"

"No, thanks,-nothing. I will come down to tea in a few minutes. It is in the same old room, I suppose?"

"Oh, yes, same as ever. By the bye, Griggs," he added suddenly, as he laid his hand on the handle of the door, "how long is it since you were here?"

"Three years and a month," I answered, after a moment's thought. "It does not seem so long. I suppose that is because we have met abroad since then."

"No, it does not seem long," said John Carvel, thoughtfully. Then he opened the door, and went out without another word.

Nothing especially worthy of mention happened on that evening, nor on the next day, nor for many days. I hunted a little, and shot a great deal more, and spent many hours in the library. The weather improved in the first week of December; it was rather warmer, and the scent lay very well. I gave myself up to the pleasant country life, and enjoyed the society of my host, without much thought of the present or care for the future. Hermione had grown, since I had seen her, from a grave and rather silent girl of seventeen to a somewhat less reserved young woman of twenty, always beautiful, but apparently not much changed. Her mother had taken her out in London during the previous season, and there was occasionally some talk about London and society, in which the young girl did not appear to take very much interest. With this exception the people and things at Carvel Place were the same as I had always known them. I was treated as one of the household, and was allowed to go my own ways without question or interference. Of course, I had to answer many questions about my wanderings and my doings in the last years, but I am used to that and do not mind it.

All this sounds as though I were going to give you some quiet chronicle of English country life, as if I were about to begin a report of household doings: how Mrs. Carvel and Hermione went to church on Sunday; how the Rev. Trumpington Soulsby used to stroll back with them across the park on fine days, and how he and Miss Dabstreak raved over the joyousness of a certain majolica plate; how the curate gently reproved, yet half indulged, Chrysophrasia's erratic religionism; how Mrs. Carvel distributed blankets to the old men and red cloaks to the old women; how the deerhound followed Hermione like Mary's little lamb, and how the worthy keeper, James Grubb, did not quite catch the wicked William Saltmarsh in the act of setting a beautiful new brass wire snare at a particular spot in the quickset hedge between the park and the twelve-acre field, but was confident he would catch him the next time he tried it, how Moses Skingle, the sexton, fell out with Mr. Speller, the superannuated village schoolmaster, because the juvenile Spellers would not refrain from the preparation of luscious mud pies upon the newly made grave of the late Peter Sullins, farmer, whose promising heir had not yet recovered sufficiently from the dissipation attending the funeral to erect a monument to his uncle; and so on and so forth, cackling through a volume or two of village chronicle, "and so home to bed."

I do not care a straw for the ducks in the horse-pond, nor for the naughty boy who throws stones at them, robs bird's-nests, and sets snares for hares under the wire fence of Carvel Park. I blush to say I have done most things of that kind myself, in one part of the world or in another, and they no longer have any sort of interest for me. No, my dear friend, the world is not yet turned into a farm-yard; there are other things to tell of besides the mud pies of the Speller children and the marks of little Billy Saltmarsh's hob-nailed shoes in the grass where he set the snare. The Turks say that a fool has three points in common with an ass,-he eats, he drinks, and he brays at other asses. I must fain eat and drink; let me at least refrain from braying.

It is not every one who cares for the beauty of nature as reflected in a horse-pond, or for the conversations of a class of people who have not more than seven or eight hundred words in their language, and with whom every word does not by any means correspond with an idea; we cannot all be farmer's lads, nor, if we were, could each of us find a Wordsworth to describe feelings we should certainly not possess.

I had been nearly a month at Carvel Place, and Christmas was approaching. We sat one afternoon in the drawing-room, drinking tea. John Carvel was turning over the leaves of a rare book he had just received, before transferring it to its place in the library. His heavy brows were contracted, and his large, clean hands touched the pages lovingly. Mrs. Carvel was installed in her favorite upright chair near an enormous student-lamp that had a pink shade, and her fingers were busy with some sort of needle-work. She, too, was silent, and her gentle face was bent over her hand. I can remember exactly how she always looks when she is working, and how her soft brown hair, that is just turning a little gray at the temples, waves above her forehead. Chrysophrasia Dabstreak lay languidly extended upon a couch, her thin hands clasped together in a studied attitude. She was bemoaning the evils of civilization, and no one was listening to her, for Hermione and I were engaged in putting a new silver collar round the neck of Fang; the great hound sat up patiently between us, yawning prodigiously from time to time, for the operation was tedious, and the patent lock of the collar would not fasten.

"I was just going to say it was time the letters came," said Mrs. Carvel, as the door opened and a servant entered with the post-bag. The master of the house unlocked the leathern case, and distributed the contents. We each received our share, and without ceremony opened our letters. There was a short silence while we were all reading.

"Macaulay has got his leave," said Mrs. Carvel, joyfully. "Is not that delightful! And he is going to bring-wait a minute-I cannot make out the name-let me get nearer to the light, dear-John, look here, is it not Paul Patoff? Look, dear!"

John looked. "It is certainly Paul Patoff," he said quietly. "I told Macaulay to bring him."

"Gracious!" ejaculated Hermione.

"How extremely interesting!" said Miss Chrysophrasia. "I adore Russians! They have such a joyous savor of the wild, free steppes!"

"You have exactly described the Russian of the steppes, Miss Dabstreak," I remarked. "His savor is so wild that it is perceptible at a great distance. But Patoff is not at all a bad fellow. I met him in Teheran last year. He had a trick of beating his servants which excited the wildest admiration among the Persians. The Shah decorated him before he left."

"Do you know him?" asked John Carvel quickly, as he caught my last words.

"Yes. I was just telling Miss Dabstreak that I met Paul Patoff last year. He was at the Russian legation in Teheran." John showed do surprise, and relapsed into silence.

"He and Macaulay are both in Paris," said Mrs. Carvel, "and I suppose Macaulay has made up his mind that we must know his cousin."

"Is not Professor Cutter coming, too, mamma?" asked Hermione. "I heard papa say so the other day."

"Oh, dear, yes!" exclaimed Chrysophrasia, wearily. "Professor Cutter is coming, with his nasty science, and his lenses, and his mathematics. Of course he will wear those vivid green spectacles morning, noon, and night,-such a dreadfully offensive color."

"Yes," said John, gazing down at his neat shoes, as he stood rubbing his broad hands slowly together before the fire, "Cutter is coming, too. What a queer party we shall be at Christmas."

And when Christmas came, we were a very queer party indeed.

At the prospect of seeing united, under an English roof, an English family, consisting of a great manufacturer,-at the same time a thorough-going country gentleman of old descent,-his wife, his beautiful daughter, and his ?sthetic sister-in-law, having with them as guests the son of the master of the house, being a young English diplomatist; an English professor, who had given up his professorship to devote himself to the study of diseases of the mind; a Russian secretary of the embassy, who had seen the world, and was thirty years old; and, lastly, your humble slave of the pen, being an American,-at the prospect of such a heterogeneous assembly of men and women, you will suppose, my dear lady, that I am about to embark upon the cerulean waters of a potentially platonic republic, humbly steering my craft by the charts of a recent voyager, who, after making a noble but ineffectual attempt to discover the Isles of the Blessed, appears to have stumbled into the drawing-rooms of the Damned.

I am not going to do anything of the kind. My story is written for the sole purpose of amusing you, and as a form of diversion for your leisure moments I would select neither the Wordsworthian pastoral, nor the platonic doctrine of Ideas. Mary Carvel would give her vote for the Dalesman, and Chrysophrasia for Plato, but I have not consulted them; and if I do not consult you, it is because I think I understand your tastes. You will, moreover, readily understand that in telling this tale I sometimes speak of things I did not actually see, because I know the people concerned very well, and some of them told me at the time, and have told me since, what they felt and thought about the things they did and saw done. For myself, I am the man you have long known, Paul Griggs, the American; a man of many acquaintances and of few friends, who has seen the world, and is forty-three years of age, ugly and tough, not so poor as I have been, not so good as I might be, melancholic by temperament, and a little sour by force of circumstances.

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