Here crumbled the last relics of many an ambitious enterprise,—great ledgers, with their covers still fresh, lay like slabs, from which, if you wiped away the dust, the gilded names of foundered companies would flash as from gaudy tombstones; letter-books bursting with letters that no eye would read again so long as the world lasted; yellow title-deeds from which all the virtue had long since exhaled, and to which no dangling of enormous seals could any longer lend a convincing air of importance. Here everything was dead and dusty as an old shoe. The dry bones in the valley of Askelon were as children skipping in the morning sun compared with the dusty death that mouldered and mouldered in this lonely locked-up room,—this catacomb of dead businesses.
It was seldom necessary to visit this room; but occasionally Henry would find an excuse to loiter an hour there, for there was a certain dreary romance about the place, and the almost choking smell of old leather seemed to promise all sorts of buried secrets. It cannot be said that the place ever adequately gratified the sense of mystery it excited; but, after all, to excite the sense of mystery is perhaps better than to gratify it, and, considering its poor material, this room was quite a clever old mysteriarch.
One day, however, Henry came upon some writing that did greatly interest him, though it was almost contemporary. It was old Mr. Septimus Lingard’s diary for the year preceding, which he had got hold of,—not his private diary, but the entirely public official diary in which he kept account of the division of his days among his various clients—for the most part an unexciting record. But at the end of the book, on one of the general memoranda pages, Henry noticed a square block of writing which, to his surprise, proved to be a long quotation from a book which the old man had been reading,—on the Immortality of the soul!
Had old Mr. Septimus Lingard a soul too, a soul that troubled him maybe, a soul that had its moving memories, and its immortal aspirations? Yes, somewhere hidden in that strange legal document of a body, there was evidently a soul. Mr. Lingard had a soul!
But wait a moment, here was an addition of the old man’s own! The passage quoted had been of death and its possible significance, and it was just a sigh, a fear, the old man had breathed after it: How high has the winding-sheet encompassed my own bosom!
Solemn as were the words in themselves, they seemed doubly so in that lonely room; and Henry was glad to lock the door and return to the comparatively living world downstairs. But from that moment old Mr. Lingard was transfigured in his eyes. Beneath all the sternness of his exterior, the grimness of the business interests which seemed to absorb him, Henry had discovered the blessed human spring. And he came too to wear a certain pathos and sanctity in Henry’s eyes, as he remembered how old a