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Weighed and Wanting

Library of Alexandria
It was a gray, windy noon in the beginning of autumn. The sky and the sea were almost of the same color, and that not a beautiful one. The edge of the horizon where they met was an edge no more, but a bar thick and blurred, across which from the unseen came troops of waves that broke into white crests, the flying manes of speed, as they rushed at, rather than ran towards the shore: in their eagerness came out once more the old enmity between moist and dry. The trees and the smoke were greatly troubled, the former because they would fain stand still, the latter because it would fain ascend, while the wind kept tossing the former and beating down the latter. Not one of the hundreds of fishing boats belonging to the coast was to be seen; not a sail even was visible; not the smoke of a solitary steamer ploughing its own miserable path through the rain-fog to London or Aberdeen. It was sad weather and depressing to not a few of the thousands come to Burcliff to enjoy a holiday which, whether of days or of weeks, had looked short to the labor weary when first they came, and was growing shorter and shorter, while the days that composed it grew longer and longer by the frightful vitality of dreariness. Especially to those of them who hated work, a day like this, wrapping them in a blanket of fog, whence the water was every now and then squeezed down upon them in the wettest of all rains, seemed a huge bite snatched by that vague enemy against whom the grumbling of the world is continually directed out of the cake that by every right and reason belonged to them. For were they not born to be happy, and how was human being to fulfill his destiny in such circumstances? There are men and women who can be happy in any—even in such circumstances and worse, but they are rare, and not a little better worth knowing than the common class of mortals—alas that they will be common! content to be common they are not and cannot be. Among these exceptional mortals I do not count such as, having secured the corner of a couch within the radius of a good fire, forget the world around them by help of the magic lantern of a novel that interests them: such may not be in the least worth knowing for their disposition or moral attainment—not even although the noise of the waves on the sands, or the storm in the chimney, or the rain on the windows but serves to deepen the calm of their spirits. Take the novel away, give the fire a black heart; let the smells born in a lodging-house kitchen invade the sitting-room, and the person, man or woman, who can then, on such a day, be patient with a patience pleasant to other people, is, I repeat, one worth knowing—and such there are, though not many. Mrs. Raymount, half the head and more than half the heart of a certain family in a certain lodging house in the forefront of Burcliff, was one of such. It was not a large family, yet contained perhaps as many varieties of character and temper as some larger ones, with as many several ways of fronting such a misfortune—for that is what poor creatures, the slaves of the elements, count it—as rainy weather in a season concerning which all men agree that it ought to be fine, and that something is out of order, giving ground of complaint, if it be not fine. The father met it with tolerably good humor; but he was so busy writing a paper for one of the monthly reviews, that he would have kept the house had the day been as fine as both the church going visitors, and the mammon-worshipping residents with income depending on the reputation of their weather, would have made it if they could, nor once said by your leave; therefore he had no credit, and his temper must pass as not proven. But if you had taken from the mother her piece of work—she was busy embroidering a lady’s pinafore in a design for which she had taken colors and arrangement from a peacock’s feather, but was disposing them in the form of a sun which with its rays covered the stomacher, the deeper tints making the shadow between the golden arrows—had you taken from her this piece of work, I say, and given her nothing to do instead, she would yet have looked and been as peaceful as she now looked, for she was not like Doctor Doddridge’s dog that did not know who made him. A longish lad stood in the bow window, leaning his head on the shutter, in a mood of smouldering rebellion against the order of things. He was such a mere creature of moods, that individual judgments of his character might well have proved irreconcilable. He had not yet begun by the use of his will—constantly indeed mistaking impulse for will—to blend the conflicting elements of his nature into one. He was therefore a man much as the mass of flour and raisins, etc., when first put into the bag, is a plum-pudding; and had to pass through something analogous to boiling to give him a chance of becoming worthy of the name he would have arrogated. But in his own estimate of himself he claimed always the virtues of whose presence he was conscious in his good moods letting the bad ones slide, nor taking any account of what was in them. He substituted forgetfulness for repudiation, a return of good humor for repentance, and at best a joke for apology