In fact, whatever the individual character of each component object, there was included in the general effect a certain indefinable dignity, which had doubtless nothing to do with the mahogany, but was probably one of those subtle atmospheric impressions which a room takes from the people who habitually live in it. Had you entered that room when it was empty, you would instinctively have felt that it was accustomed to the occupancy of calm and refined people. There was something almost religious in its quiet. Some one often sat there who, whatever his commonplace disguises as a provincial man of business, however inadequate to his powers the work life had given him to do, provincial and humiliating as were the formulae with which narrowing conditions had supplied him for expression of himself, was in his central being an aristocrat,—though that was the very last word James Mesurier would have thought of applying to himself. He was a man of business, serving God and his employers with stern uprightness, and bringing up a large family with something of the Puritan severity which had marked his own early training; and, as in his own case no such allowance had been made, making no allowance in his rigid abstract code for the diverse temperaments of his children,—children in whom certain qualities and needs of his own nature, dormant from his birth, were awakening, supplemented by the fuller-fed intelligence and richer nature of the mother, into expansive and rebellious individualities.
It was now about eleven o’clock, and the house was thus lit and alive half-an-hour beyond the rigorously enforced bed-time. An hour before, James Mesurier had been peacefully engaged on the task which had been nightly with him at this hour for twenty-five years,—the writing of his diary, in a shorthand which he wrote with a neatness, almost a daintiness, that always marked his use of pen and ink, and gave to his merely commercial correspondence and his quite exquisitely kept accounts, a certain touch of the scholar,—again an air of distinction in excess of, and unaccounted for, by the nature of the interests which it dignified.
His somewhat narrow range of reading, had you followed it by his careful markings through those bound volumes of sermons in the bookcase, bore the same evidence of inherited and inadequately occupied refinement. His life from boyhood had been too much of a struggle to leave him much leisure for reading, and such as he had enjoyed had been diverted into evangelical channels by the influence of a certain pious old lady, with whom as a young man he had boarded, and for whose memory all his life he cherished a reverence little short of saint-worship.