And would the same good fellows, a little more serious, because long since married, be cracking jokes and loafing near the fire-guard, in some rare safe hour, of the afternoon when all the partners were out, to make a spring for the desks, as the carefully learnt tread of one or another of those partners followed the opening of the front door.
The very work that he hated seemed to wear an unwonted look of tenderness. Who would keep the books he had kept—with something of his father’s neatness; who would look after the accounts of “the Rev. Thomas Salthouse,” or take charge of “Ex’ors James Shuttleworth, Esqre”?
Of course, it was absurd—absurd, perhaps, just because it was human. For was he not going to be free, free to fulfil his dreams, free to follow those voices that had so often called him from beyond the sunset? Soon he would be able to cry out to them, with literal truth, “I am yours, yours—all yours!” And in those ten years which were to pass so invariably for Mr. Smith, and for Jenkins and the rest, what various and dazzling changes might be, must be, in store for him. Long before the end of them he must have written masterpieces and become famous, and Angel and he be long settled together in their paradise of home.
Henry was pleased to find that his chums were to miss him no less than he was to miss them. As an unofficial master of their pale revels, his place would not be easy to fill; and he was much touched, when, a day or two before the end of the month, which was the time mutually agreed upon for Henry to look round, they intimated their desire to give a little dinner in his honour at “The Jovial Clerks” tavern.
Henry was nothing loth, and the evening came and went with no little emotion and no little wine, on either side. He had bidden good-bye to his employers in the afternoon, and Mr. Lingard had shaken his hand, and admonished him as to his future with something of paternal affection.
Toward the close of the dinner, Bob Cherry, who acted as chairman, rose, with an unaccustomed blush upon his cheek, to propose the toast of the evening. They had had the honour and pleasure, he said, to be associated for several years past with a gentleman to whom that evening they were to say good-bye. No better fellow had ever graced the offices of Lingard and Fields, and his would be a real loss to the gaiety of their little world. They understood that he was a poet; and indeed had he not already published a charming volume with which they were all acquainted!—still this made no difference to them. Certain high powers might object, but they liked him none the less; and whether he was a poet or not, he was certainly a jolly good fellow, and wherever his new career might take him, the good wishes of his old chums would certainly follow him. The chairman concluded his speech by requesting his acceptance of a copy of the “Works of Lord Macaulay,” as a small remembrance of the days they had spent together.