A. V. LAIDER
A. V. LAIDER
I UNPACKED my things and went down to await luncheon.
It was good to be here again in this little old sleepy hostel by the
sea. Hostel I say though it spelt itself without an "s" and even placed a
circumflex above the "o." It made no other pretension. It was very cozy
I had been here just a year before in mid-February after an attack
of influenza. And now I had returned after an attack of influenza.
Nothing was changed. It had been raining when I left and the waiter--
there was but a single a very old waiter--had told me it was only a
shower. That waiter was still here not a day older. And the shower had
Steadfastly it fell on to the sands steadfastly into the iron-gray sea.
I stood looking out at it from the windows of the hall admiring it very
much. There seemed to be little else to do. What little there was I did. I
mastered the contents of a blue hand-bill which pinned to the wall just
beneath the framed engraving of Queen Victoria's Coronation gave
token of a concert that was to be held--or rather was to have been held
some weeks ago--in the town hall for the benefit of the Life-Boat Fund. I
looked at the barometer tapped it was not the wiser. I wandered to the
These letter-boards always fascinate me. Usually some two or three
of the envelops stuck into the cross-garterings have a certain newness
and freshness. They seem sure they will yet be claimed. Why not? Why
SHOULDN'T John Doe Esq. or Mrs. Richard Roe turn up at any
moment? I do not know. I can only say that nothing in the world seems
to me more unlikely. Thus it is that these young bright envelops touch
my heart even more than do their dusty and sallowed seniors. Sour
resignation is less touching than impatience for what will not be than the
eagerness that has to wane and wither. Soured beyond measure these old
envelops are. They are not nearly so nice as they should be to the young
ones. They lose no chance of sneering and discouraging. Such dialogues
as this are only too frequent:
A Very Young Envelop: Something in me whispers that he
will come to-day!
A Very Old Envelop: He? Well that's good! Ha ha ha!
Why didn't he come last week when YOU came? What reason
have you for supposing he'll ever come now? It isn't as if he were a
frequenter of the place. He's never been here. His name is utterly
unknown here. You don't suppose he's coming on the chance of finding
A. V. Y. E.: It may seem silly but--something in me
A. V. O. E.: Something in YOU? One has only to
look at you to see there's nothing in you but a note scribbled to him by a
cousin. Look at ME! There are three sheets closely written in
ME. The lady to whom I am addressed--
A. V. Y. E.: Yes sir yes; you told me all about her
A. V. O. E.: And I shall do so to-day and to-morrow and
every day and all day long. That young lady was a widow. She stayed
here many times. She was delicate and the air suited her. She was poor
and the tariff was just within her means. She was lonely and had need
of love. I have in me for her a passionate avowal and strictly honorable
proposal written to her after many rough copies by a gentleman who
had made her acquaintance under this very roof. He was rich he was
charming he was in the prime of life. He had asked if he might write to
her. She had flutteringly granted his request. He posted me to
her the day after his return to London. I looked forward to being torn
open by her. I was very sure she would wear me and my contents next to
her bosom. She was gone. She had left no address. She never returned.
This I tell you and shall continue to tell you not because I want any of
your callow sympathy--no THANK you!--but that you may judge
how much less than slight are the probabilities that you yourself--
But my reader has overheard these dialogues as often as I. He
wants to know what was odd about this particular letter-board before
which I was standing. At first glance I saw nothing odd about it. But
presently I distinguished a handwriting that was vaguely familiar. It was
mine. I stared I wondered. There is always a slight shock in seeing an
envelop of one's own after it has gone through the post. It looks as if it
had gone through so much. But this was the first time I had ever seen an
envelop of mine eating its heart out in bondage on a letter-board. This
was outrageous. This was hardly to be believed. Sheer kindness had
impelled me to write to "A. V. Laider Esq." and this was the result! I
hadn't minded receiving no answer. Only now indeed did I remember
that I hadn't received one. In multitudinous London the memory of A. V.
Laider and his trouble had soon passed from my mind. But--well what a
lesson not to go out of one's way to write to casual acquaintances!
My envelop seemed not to recognize me as its writer. Its gaze was
the more piteous for being blank. Even so had I once been gazed at by a
dog that I had lost and after many days found in the Battersea Home.
"I don't know who you are but whoever you are claim me take me out
of this!" That was my dog's appeal. This was the appeal of my envelop.
I raised my hand to the letter-board meaning to effect a swift and
lawless rescue but paused at sound of a footstep behind me. The old
waiter had come to tell me that my luncheon was ready. I followed him
out of the hall not however without a bright glance across my shoulder
to reassure the little captive that I should come back.
I had the sharp appetite of the convalescent and this the sea air had
whetted already to a finer edge. In touch with a dozen oysters and with
stout I soon shed away the unreasoning anger I had felt against A. V.
Laider. I became merely sorry for him that he had not received a letter
which might perhaps have comforted him. In touch with cutlets I felt
how sorely he had needed comfort. And anon by the big bright fireside
of that small dark smoking-room where a year ago on the last evening
of my stay here he and I had at length spoken to each other I reviewed
in detail the tragic experience he had told me; and I simply reveled in
reminiscent sympathy with him.
A. V. LAIDER--I had looked him up in the visitors'-book on the night of
his arrival. I myself had arrived the day before and had been rather sorry
there was no one else staying here. A convalescent by the sea likes to
have some one to observe to wonder about at meal-time. I was glad
when on my second evening I found seated at the table opposite to mine
another guest. I was the gladder because he was just the right kind of
guest. He was enigmatic. By this I mean that he did not look soldierly or
financial or artistic or anything definite at all. He offered a clean slate
for speculation. And thank heaven! he evidently wasn't going to spoil
the fun by engaging me in conversation later on. A decently unsociable
man anxious to be left alone.
The heartiness of his appetite in contrast with his extreme fragility
of aspect and limpness of demeanor assured me that he too had just had
influenza. I liked him for that. Now and again our eyes met and were
instantly parted. We managed as a rule to observe each other indirectly.
I was sure it was not merely because he had been ill that he looked
interesting. Nor did it seem to me that a spiritual melancholy
though I imagined him sad at the best of times was his sole asset.
I conjectured that he was clever. I thought he might also be
imaginative. At first glance I had mistrusted him. A shock of
white hair combined with a young face and dark eyebrows does somehow
make a man look like a charlatan. But it is foolish to be guided by an
accident of color. I had soon rejected my first impression of my
fellow-diner. I found him very sympathetic.
Anywhere but in England it would be impossible for two solitary
men howsoever much reduced by influenza to spend five or six days in
the same hostel and not exchange a single word. That is one of the
charms of England. Had Laider and I been born and bred in any other
land than Eng we should have become acquainted before the end of our
first evening in the small smoking-room and have found ourselves
irrevocably committed to go on talking to each other throughout the rest
of our visit. We might it is true have happened to like each other more
than any one we had ever met. This off chance may have occurred to
us both. But it counted for nothing against the certain surrender of
quietude and liberty. We slightly bowed to each other as we entered or
left the dining-room or smoking-room and as we met on the wide-spread
sands or in the shop that had a small and faded circulating library. That
was all. Our mutual aloofness was a positive bond between us.
Had he been much older than I the responsibility for our silence
would of course have been his alone. But he was not I judged more
than five or six years ahead of me and thus I might without impropriety
have taken it on myself to perform that hard and perilous feat which
English people call with a shiver "breaking the ice." He had reason
therefore to be as grateful to me as I to him. Each of us not the less
frankly because silently recognized his obligation to the other. And
when on the last evening of my stay the ice actually was broken there
was no ill-will between us: neither of us was to blame.
It was a Sunday evening. I had been out for a long last walk and
had come in very late to dinner. Laider had left his table almost directly
after I sat down to mine. When I entered the smoking-room I found him
reading a weekly review which I had bought the day before. It was a
crisis. He could not silently offer nor could I have silently accepted six-pence. It was a
crisis. We faced it like men. He made by word of
mouth a graceful apology. Verbally not by signs I besought him to go
on reading. But this of course was a vain counsel of perfection. The
social code forced us to talk now. We obeyed it like men. To reassure
him that our position was not so desperate as it might seem I took the
earliest opportunity to mention that I was going away early next morning.
In the tone of his "Oh are you?" he tried bravely to imply that he was
sorry even now to hear that. In a way perhaps he really was sorry. We
had got on so well together he and I. Nothing could efface the memory
of that. Nay we seemed to be hitting it off even now. Influenza was not
our sole theme. We passed from that to the aforesaid weekly review and
to a correspondence that was raging therein on faith and reason.
This correspondence had now reached its fourth and penultimate
stage--its Australian stage. It is hard to see why these correspondences
spring up; one only knows that they do spring up suddenly like street
crowds. There comes it would seem a moment when the whole
English-speaking race is unconsciously bursting to have its say about
some one thing--the split infinitive or the habits of migratory birds or
faith and reason or what-not. Whatever weekly review happens at such
a moment to contain a reference however remote to the theme in
question reaps the storm. Gusts of letters come in from all corners of the
British Isles. These are presently reinforced by Canada in full blast. A
few weeks later the Anglo-Indians weigh in. In due course we have the
help of our Australian cousins. By that time however we of the mother
country have got our second wind and so determined are we to
make the most of it that at last even the editor suddenly loses patience
and says "This correspondence must now cease.--Ed." and wonders why
on earth he ever allowed anything so tedious and idiotic to begin.
I pointed out to Laider one of the Australian letters that had
especially pleased me in the current issue. It was from "A Melbourne
Man" and was of the abrupt kind which declares that "all your
correspondents have been groping in the dark" and then settles the whole
matter in one short sharp flash. The flash in this instance was "Reason is
faith faith reason--that is all we know on earth and all we need to know."
The writer then inclosed his card and was etc. "A Melbourne Man." I
said to Laider how very restful it was after influenza to read anything
that meant nothing whatsoever. Laider was inclined to take the letter
more seriously than I and to be mildly metaphysical. I said that for me
faith and reason were two separate things and as I am no good at
metaphysics however mild I offered a definite example to coax the talk
on to ground where I should be safer.
"Palmistry for example" I said. "Deep down in my heart I believe
Laider turned in his chair.
"You believe in palmistry?"
"Yes somehow I do. Why? I haven't the slightest notion. I can
give myself all sorts of reasons for laughing it to scorn. My common
sense utterly rejects it. Of course the shape of the hand means
something is more or less an index of character. But the idea that my
past and future are neatly mapped out on my palms--" I shrugged my
"You don't like that idea?" asked Laider in his gentle rather