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An essay by Richard Le Gallienne

Transferable Lives

Title:     Transferable Lives
Author: Richard Le Gallienne [More Titles by Le Gallienne]

I sometimes have a fancy to speculate how, supposing the matter still undecided, I would like to spend my life. Often I feel how good it would be to give it in service to one of my six dear friends: just to offer it to them as so much capital, for whatever it may be worth. In pondering the fancy, I need hardly say that I do not assess myself at any extravagant value. I but venture to think that the devotion of one human creature, however humble, throughout a lifetime, is not a despicable offering. To use me as they would, to fetch and carry with me, to draw on me for whatever force resides in me, as they would on a bank account, to the last penny, to use my brains for their plans, my heart for their love, my blood for added length of days: and thus be so much the more true in their love, the more prosperous in their business, the more buoyant in their health--by the addition of _me_.

But then embarrassment comes upon me. Which of my friends do I love the most? To whose account of the six would I fain be credited? Then again I think of the ten thousand virgins who go mateless about the world, sweet women, with hearts like hidden treasure, awaiting the 'Prince's kiss' that never comes; virgin mothers, whose bosoms shall never know the light warm touch of baby-hands:

'Pale primroses
That die unmarried, ere they can behold
Bright Phoebus in his strength.'

How often one sees such a one in train or omnibus, her eyes, may be, spilling the precious spikenard of their maternal love on some happier woman's child. I noticed one of them withering on the stalk on my way to town this morning. She was, I surmised, nearly twenty-eight, she carried a roll of music, and I had a strong impression that she was the sole support of an invalid mother. I could hardly resist suggesting to one of my men companions what a good wife she was longing to make, what a Sleeping Beauty she was, waiting for the marital kiss that would set all the sweet bells of her nature a-chime. I had the greatest difficulty in preventing myself from leaning over to her, and putting it to her in this way--

'Excuse me, madam, but I love you. Will you be my wife? I am just turning thirty. I have so much a year, a comfortable little home, and probably another thirty years of life to spend. Will you not go shares with me?'

And my imagination went on making pictures: how her eyes would suddenly brighten up like the northern aurora, how a strange bloom would settle on her somewhat weary face, and a dimple steal into her chin; how, when she reached home and sat down to read Jane Austen to her mother, her mother would suddenly imagine roses in the room, and she would blushingly answer, 'Nay, mother--it is my cheeks!'; and presently the mother would ask, 'Where is that smell of violets coming from?' and again she would answer, 'Nay, mother--it is my thoughts!'; and yet again the mother would say, 'Hush! listen to that wonderful bird singing yonder!' and she would answer, 'Nay, mother dear--it is only my heart!'

But, alas! she alighted at Charing Cross, and not one of us in the compartment had asked her to be his wife.

The weary clerk, the sweated shopman, the jaded engineer--how good it would be to say to any of them, 'Here, let us change places awhile. Here is my latch-key, my cheque-book, my joy and my leisure. Use them as long as you will. Quick, let us change clothes, and let me take my share of the world's dreariness and pain'!

Or to stop the old man of sixty, as he hobbles down the hill, with never a thought of youth or spring in his heart, not a hope in his pocket, and his faith long since run dry--to stop him and say: 'See, here are thirty years; I have no use for them. Will you not take them? If you are quick, you may yet catch up Phyllis by the stile. She has a wonderful rose in her hand. She will sell it you for these thirty years; and she knows a field where a lark is singing as though it were in heaven!'

To take the old lady from the bath-chair, and let her run with her daughter to gather buttercups, or make eyes at the church gallants. Oh, this were better far than living to one's-self, if we were only selfish enough to see it!

But, best of all were it to go to the churchyard, where the dead have long since given up all hopes of resurrection, and find some new grave, whose inhabitant was not yet so fast asleep but that he might be awakened by a kind word. To go to Alice's grave and call, 'Alice! Alice!' and then whisper: 'The spring is here! Didn't you hear the birds calling you? I have come to tell you it is time to get ready. In two hours the church-bells will be ringing, and Edward will be waiting for you at the altar. The organist is already trying over the 'Wedding March,' and the bridesmaids have had their dresses on and off twice. They can talk of nothing but orange-blossom and rice. Alice, dear, awaken. Ah, did you have strange dreams, poor girl--dream that you were dead! Indeed, it was a dream--an evil dream.'

And, then, as Alice stepped bewildered homewards, to steal down into her place, and listen, and listen, till the sound of carriages rolled towards the gate, listen till the low hush of the marriage service broke into the wild happy laughter of the organ, and the babbling sound of sweet girls stole through the church porch; then to lie back and to think that Alice and Edward had been married after all--that your little useless life had been so much use, at least: just to dream of that awhile, and then softly fall asleep.

Ah, who would not give all his remaining days to ransom his beloved dead?--to give them the joys they missed, the hopes they clutched at, the dreams they dreamed? O river that runs so sweetly by their feet, when you shall have stopped running will they rise? O sun that shines above their heads, when you have ceased from shining will they come to us again? When the lark shall have done with singing, and the hawthorn bud no more, shall we then, indeed, hear the voices of our beloved, sweeter than song of river or bird?

[The end]
Richard Le Gallienne's Essay: Transferable Lives