Or, once more, you may be one of the thousand clerks of a great manufacturer, and be humbly related to one of the arts or crafts that gladden the eye or add to the comforts of man. Or even, though you may be denied so close an association with the elements, or the arts, you may be the pen to some subtle legal confidante of human nature. Your office may be stored with records of human perversity and whimsicality. You may be the witness to fantastic wills, or assist in the administration of the estates of lunatics. At all events, you will come within hearing of the human passions. Misers will visit you at times, and beautiful ladies in mourning deep as their distress; and from your desk you will catch a glimpse of the sombre pageantry of litigious man.
Though it is true that a certain far-off flavour of these legal excitements occasionally enlivened the business to which Henry had been sacrificially indentured, for the most part it was an abstract parasitical thing which had succeeded in persuading other businesses, more directly fed from the human spring, of its obliging usefulness in relieving them of detachable burdens. In fact, it had no activity or interest of its own to account for, so it proposed, in default of any such original reason for existence, to look after the accounts of others, as a self-constituted body of financial police. For those engaged in it, except those who had been born mentally deformed, or those who had become unnaturally perverted by long usage, it was a sort of penitentiary of the mathematics.
THE GRASS BETWEEN THE FLAG-STONES
Yes, it was a curiously unreal world; and, for the first day or two, as Henry, bent, lonely and bewildered, over his desk, studied it furtively with questioning eyes, it seemed to him as though he had strayed into some asylum for the insane, where fantastic interests and mock honours take the place of the real interests and honours of sane human beings.
Part of the business of the firm consisted in the collection of house-rents, frequently entailing visits from tenants and questions of repairs. A certain Mr. Smith, a wiry little grey-headed man, with a keen face and a decisive manner, looked after this branch; and the gusto with which he did it was one of Henry’s earliest and most instructive amazements. House-repairs were quite evidently his poetry, and he never seemed so happy as when passionately wrangling with a tenant on some question of drains. The words “cesspool” and “wet-trap”—words to which I don’t pretend to attach any meaning—seemed to be particular favourites of his. In fact, an hour seldom passed without their falling from his lips. But Mr. Smith’s great opportunity was a gale. For that always meant an exciting harvest of dislodged chimney-pots, flying slates, and smashed skylights, which would impart an energetic interest to his life for days.