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.
In answer to that piece of paper, I presented myself at the proper place in due course and with a certain trepidation. What was it that I was about to do? For I had no experience of these things. And, being too early, I walked a little to and fro, looking at all those my partners in this matter of the purification of Society. Prosecutors, witnesses, officials, policemen, detectives, undetected, pressmen, barristers, loafers, clerks, cadgers, jurymen. And I remember having something of the feeling that one has when one looks into a sink without holding one’s nose. There was such uneasy hurry, so strange a disenchanted look, a sort of spiritual dirt, about all that place, and there were—faces! And I thought: To them my face must seem as their faces seem to me!