To watch him was painful, so feeble had he grown; I was glad to get away.
I had given those boots up, when one evening they came. Opening the parcel, I set the four pairs out in a row. Then one by one I tried them on. There was no doubt about it. In shape and fit, in finish and quality of leather, they were the best he had ever made me. And in the mouth of one of the Town walking-boots I found his bill.
The amount was the same as usual, but it gave me quite a shock. He had never before sent it in till quarter day. I flew down-stairs, and wrote a cheque, and posted it at once with my own hand.
A week later, passing the little street, I thought I would go in and tell him how splendidly the new boots fitted. But when I came to where his shop had been, his name was gone. Still there, in the window, were the slim pumps, the patent leathers with cloth tops, the sooty riding boots.
I went in, very much disturbed. In the two little shops—again made into one—was a young man with an English face.
“Mr. Gessler in?” I said.
He gave me a strange, ingratiating look.
“No, sir,” he said, “no. But we can attend to anything with pleasure. We’ve taken the shop over. You’ve seen our name, no doubt, next door. We make for some very good people.”
“Yes, Yes,” I said; “but Mr. Gessler?”
“Oh!” he answered; “dead.”
“Dead! But I only received these boots from him last Wednesday week.”
“Ah!” he said; “a shockin’ go. Poor old man starved ’imself.”
“Slow starvation, the doctor called it! You see he went to work in such a way! Would keep the shop on; wouldn’t have a soul touch his boots except himself. When he got an order, it took him such a time. People won’t wait. He lost everybody. And there he’d sit, goin’ on and on—I will say that for him not a man in London made a better boot! But look at the competition! He never advertised! Would ’ave the best leather, too, and do it all ’imself. Well, there it is. What could you expect with his ideas?”
“That may be a bit flowery, as the sayin’ is—but I know myself he was sittin’ over his boots day and night, to the very last. You see I used to watch him. Never gave ’imself time to eat; never had a penny in the house. All went in rent and leather. How he lived so long I don’t know. He regular let his fire go out. He was a character. But he made good boots.”
“Yes,” I said, “he made good boots.”
And I turned and went out quickly, for I did not want that youth to know that I could hardly see. 1911
Read that piece of paper, which summoned me to sit on the Grand Jury at the approaching Sessions, lying in a scoop of the shore close to the great rollers of the sea—that span of eternal freedom, deprived just there of too great liberty by the word “Atlantic.” And I remember thinking, as I read, that in each breaking wave was some particle which had visited every shore in all the world—that in each sparkle of hot sunlight stealing that bright water up into the sky, was the microcosm of all change, and of all unity.