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An essay by Richard Le Gallienne

The Apparition Of Youth

Title:     The Apparition Of Youth
Author: Richard Le Gallienne [More Titles by Le Gallienne]

Sententious people are fond of telling us that we change entirely every seven years, that in that time every single atomy of body (and soul?) finds a substitute. Personally, I am of opinion that we change oftener, that rather we are triennial in our constitution. In fact, it is a change we owe to our spiritual cleanliness. But there is a truth pertaining to the change of which the sententious people are not, I think, aware. When they speak of our sloughing our dead selves, they imagine the husk left behind as a dead length of hollow scale or skin. Would it were so. These sententious people, with all their information, have probably never gone through the process of which they speak. They have never changed from the beginning, but have been consistently their dull selves all through. To those, however, who can look back on many a metamorphosis, the quick-change artists of life, a fearful thing is known. The length of discarded snake lies glistering in the greenwood, motionless, and slowly perishes with the fallen leaves in autumn. But for the dead self is no autumn. By some mysterious law of spiritual propagation, it breaks away from us, a living thing, as the offspring of primitive organisms are, it is said, broken off the tail of their sole and undivided parent. It goes on living as we go on living; often, indeed, if we be poets or artists, it survives us many years; it may be a friend, but it is oftener a foe; and it is always a sad companion.

I sat one evening in my sumptuous library near Rutland Gate. I was deep in my favourite author, my bank-book, when presently an entry--as a matter of fact, a quarterly allowance to a friend (well, a woman friend) of my youth--set me thinking. Just then my man entered. A youth wished to see me. He would not give his name, but sent word that I knew him very well for all that. Being in a good humour, I consented to see him. He was a young man of about twenty, and his shabby clothes could not conceal that he was comely. He entered the room with light step and chin in air, and to my surprise he strode over to where I sat and seated himself without a word. Then he looked at me with his blue eyes, and I recognised him with a start 'What's the new book?' he asked eagerly, pointing to my open bank-book.

Bending over he looked at it: 'Pshaw! Figures. You used not to care much about them. When we were together it used to be Swinburne's _Poems and Ballads_, or Shakespeare's _Sonnets_!'

As he spoke he tugged a faded copy of the _Sonnets_ from his pocket. It slipped from his hand. As it fell it opened, and faded violets rained from its leaves. The youth gathered them up carefully, as though they had been valuable, and replaced them.

'How do you sell your violets?' I asked, ironically. 'I'll give you a pound apiece for them!'

'A pound! Twenty pounds apiece wouldn't buy them,' he laughed, and I remembered that they were the violets Alice Sunshine and I had gathered one spring day when I was twenty. We had found them in a corner of the dingle, where I had been reading the _Sonnets_ to her, till in our book that day we read no more. As we parted she pressed them between the leaves and kissed them. I remember, too, that I had been particular to write the day and hour against them, and I remember further how it puzzled me a couple of years after what the date could possibly mean.

Having secured his book, my visitor once more looked me straight in the face, and as he did so he seemed to grow perplexed and disappointed. As I gazed at him my contentment, too, seemed to be slowly melting away. Five minutes before I had felt the most comfortable _bourgeois_ in the world. There seemed nothing I was in need of, but there was something about this youth that was dangerously disillusionising. Here was I already envying him his paltry violets. I was even weak enough to offer him five pounds apiece for them, but he still smilingly shook his head.

'Well!' he said presently, 'what have you been doing with yourself all these years?'

I told him of my marriage and my partnership in a big city house.

'Phew!' he said. 'Monstrous dull, isn't it? As for me, I never intend to marry. And if you don't marry, what do you want with money? You used to despise it enough once. And do you remember our favourite line: "_Our loves into corpses or wives_?"'

'Hush!' I said, for wives have ears.

'Is it Alice Sunshine?' he asked.

'No,' I said, 'not Alice Sunshine.'

'Maud Willow?'

'No, not Maud Willow.'

'Jenny Hopkins?'

'No, not Jenny Hopkins.'

'Lucy Rainbow?'

'No, not Lucy Rainbow.'

'Now who else was there? I cannot remember them all. Ah, I remember now. It wasn't Lilian, after all?'

'No, poor Lilian died ten years ago. I am afraid you don't know my wife. I don't think you ever met.'

'It isn't Edith Appleblossom, surely? Is it?'

'No, I ...' and then I stopped just in time! 'No, you don't know my wife, I'm sure, and if you don't mind my saying so, I think I had better not introduce you. Forgive me, but she wouldn't quite understand you, I fear....'

'Wouldn't quite approve, eh?' said he, with a merry laugh. 'Poor old chap!'

'Well, I'm better off than that,' he continued. 'Why, Doll and I love for a week, and then forget each other's names in a twelvemonth, when Poll comes along, and so on. And neither of us is any the worse, believe me. We're one as fickle as the other, so where's the harm?'

'Ah, my dear fellow, you did make a mistake,' he ran on. 'I suppose you forget Robert Louis' advice--_"Times are changed with him who marries,"_ etc.'

'He's married himself,' I replied.

'And I suppose you never drop in for a pipe at "The Three Tuns" now of an evening?'

'No! I haven't been near the place these many years.'

'Poor old fellow! The Bass is superb at present.

I recollected. 'Won't you have some wine with me?' I said. 'I have some fine old Chianti. And take a cigar?'

'No, thanks, old man. I'm too sad. Come with me to "The Three Tuns," and let's have an honest pint and an honest pipe together. I don't care about cigars. Come to-night. Let's make a night of it. We'll begin at "The Three Tuns," then call at "The Blue Posts," look in at "The Dog and Fire-irons," and finish up at "The Shakespeare's Head." What was it we used to troll?--

'From tavern to tavern
Youth passes along,
With an armful of girl
And a heart-full of song.'

'Hush!' I cried in terror; 'it is impossible. I cannot. Come to my club instead.' But he shook his head.

I persuaded him to have some Chianti at last, but he drank it without spirit, and thus we sat far into the night talking of old days.

Before he went I made him a definite offer--he must have bewitched me, I am sure--I offered him no less than L5000 and a share in the business for the sprig of almond-blossom the ridiculous young pagan carried in his hat.

And will you believe me? He declined the offer.

[The end]
Richard Le Gallienne's Essay: Apparition Of Youth