It is no use reminding the Exchange that it looked like a scene from Romeo and Juliet in the moonlight. It dare not admit it. But wait patiently till the evening. Tyre will be yours again with the sunset. She pretends all day that it is the Mayor in the gilded coach and the pursy merchantmen she cares for; but it is really you, a poor shabby poet, she loves all the time, for you only does she wear her gauzy silks at evening!
A PENITENTIARY OF THE MATHEMATICS
Yes, Mike was some day to be another Kean, and Henry was to prove a serious rival to Shakespeare; but, meanwhile, they were clerks in the offices of Tyre.
Of the rigours, and therefore too the truancies and humours of the lot official, Mike was comparatively so comfortably circumstanced as to have little knowledge. His father was the king of a little flourishing prison of desks, and Mike was one of the heirs-apparent. Consequently, his lot, though dull, was seldom bitter; and many mitigations of it were within his privilege. With Henry it was different. He was a humble unit among twenty other slaves, chained to that modern substitute for the galleys, the desk; and, in a wicked bargain, he had contracted to give his life-blood from nine in the morning till six in the evening, for sixty pounds a year, with an occasional “rise,” which, after thirty years’ service, might end in your having reached a proud annual three hundred for the rest of your maimed and narrowed days.
Henry had come to the office straight from school, at the age of sixteen; and, though classrooms breathe an air sufficiently frigid and suggestive of inhuman interests and unmeaning discipline, the icy air of that office had at first almost taken his breath. The place was so ridiculously serious! There might conceivedly be interests in the world worthy of so abject an absorption, so bleaching an obeisance of the individual; but Henry, with the dews of certain classics still upon him, remembered that anything really Olympian in its importance is always strong enough to smile. It is a lesser strength that must make the muscular effort of severity. True dignities, as often as possible, stand at ease. But here indeed were no true strengths and dignities,—only prison-strengths and prison-dignities. Here the majesties, the occupations, the offences, were alike frivolities, fantastically changed about into solemnities.
That first impression of abject bowed heads and chains rattled beneath desks, was roughly correct. For all that was human in a man, this was a prison. These men who bent over foolish papers were evidently convicts of the most desperate character; so, at all events, you would judge when occasionally one or other of the prison-governors, known as “partners,” passed among them with the lash of his eye. Such faint human twittering as may have grown up amongst even these poor exiles would suddenly die into a silence white with fear, as when the shadow of a hawk falls across the song of smaller birds.