It took Henry more than a year to win that testimonial; but the odds had been so great against him that the wonder is he was ever able to win it at all. Mr. Lingard wrote “demoralise.” It was his way of saying “humanise.”
HUMANITY IN HIGH PLACES
One day, however, Henry was to make the still more surprising discovery, that not only were the clerks human beings, but that one of the partners—only one of them—was also human. He made this discovery about the senior partner, whose old-world figure and quaint name, Septimus Searle Lingard, had, in spite of his severity, attracted him by a certain musty distinction.
A stranger figure than Septimus Searle Lingard has seldom walked the streets of any town. Though not actually much over sixty, you would have said he must be a thousand; his abnormally long, narrow, shaven face was so thin and gaunt and hollowed, and his tall, upright figure was so painfully fragile, that his black broadcloth seemed almost too heavy for the worn frame inside it. And nothing in the world else was ever so piercingly solemn as his keen weary old eyes. With his tall silk hat, his thin white hair, his long white face, long black frock-coat, and black trousers, he looked for all the world like a distinguished skeleton. Henry could never be quite sure whether he was to be classed as a “character,” or as a genuine personality. One thing was certain, that, sometime or other, or many times, in his life he had done something, or many things, which had won for him a respect as deep as his solemnity of aspect; and certainly, if gravity of demeanour goes for anything, all the owls of all the ages in collaboration could not have produced an expression of time-honoured wisdom so convincing. Sometimes his old lantern-jaws would emit an uncanny cackle of a laugh, and a ghastly flicker of humour play across his parchment features; but these only deepened the general sense of solemnity, as the hoot of a night-bird deepens the loneliness of some desolate hollow among the hills.
It was this strange old ghost of a man that was to be the next to turn human, and it came about like this. Right away at the top of the building was a lonely room where the sun never shone, in which were stored away the old account-books, diaries, and various dead-and-done-with documents of the firm; and here too was deposited, from time to time, various wreckage of the same kind from other businesses whose last offices had been done by the firm, and whose records were still preserved, in the unlikely event of any chance resurrection of claim upon, or interest in, their long forgotten names.