The Yellow Book/Volume 5/Pierre Gascon

2613923The Yellow Book, Volume 5 — Pierre GasconCharles Kennett Burrow

Pierre Gascon

By Charles Kennett Burrow

Pierre Gascon was old, so old that he seemed to have drifted into a backwater of time, and to lie there forgotten. His age had grown upon him imperceptibly. He had not felt its steady besiegement, like other men, in the waning of the vital fires of life; it was only something more placid than his youth; a time of less excursive contemplation, a season of calm more wholly personal than before. He had deliberately shut out the world, and knew it only by rumour as a place where people committed intolerable follies both of body and mind, rearing children to reap what they had sown, loving with preposterous fatuity and a devotion, Pierre Gascon in his blind soul believed, a hundred times more worthy than its object.

He lived in a great house surrounded by a beautiful and luxuriant garden, enclosed by high walls. It was not far from a busy city, and on silent evenings as he sat under his lime trees, the humming of the restless hive reached him in an unvarying undertone. Sometimes, on clear mornings, he caught the gleam of distant spires—the symbols, in his eyes, of a vain and idle worship. He argued with the almost divine assumption of lack of knowledge, and for many years had held himself the only true philosopher.

Pierre Gascon's face bore none of the marks that blazon a man's life to the seeing eye. It was the face of a child grown old in the smallest part of childishness, and the white hair that crowned it struck a note of curious incongruity. He hung upon the fringes of life as a cobweb may hang upon a briar; he breathed like ordinary men, but was divorced from the human impulses of the body; he had chosen his way and followed it almost to the end; and the end, he thought, because it still seemed far off, should be of a piece with the rest.

One only of the associates of his early youth ever visited him. He was a physician in the town which smoked on the horizon; and sometimes Doctor Carton, snatching a few hours from the persistent ardour of his occupation, would bring within the walls of Pierre Gascon's house the only manlike element that ever came there. The Doctor had watched the course of the man, whom he had known in his boyhood, with a growing wonder that at last had settled into a steady flame of scorn. He, coming fresh from the great city, where life and death jostled together on the footways, where crime and virtue lived side by side in apparent union, and where the passions of the soul broke loose in strenuous mastery, was amazed at this man who knew nothing of it all. Sometimes he found it in his heart to pity him, but it was less a pity of the emotions than of the mind, a mental exercise that left no good with the bestower. The Doctor was steeped in the mystery and strangeness of life, in the element which it was his task to nurture; and his familiarity with death but strung him to a higher note of purpose. In Pierre Gascon he saw a man to whom death meant nothing but dissolution, and he shuddered to think that this man had once been young.

The Doctor had not seen Pierre Gascon for many months, and one day, thinking of him as he hurried along the street, he dispatched his business at an earlier hour than usual, and, towards Page:The Yellow Book - 05.djvu/137 Page:The Yellow Book - 05.djvu/138 Page:The Yellow Book - 05.djvu/139 Page:The Yellow Book - 05.djvu/140 Page:The Yellow Book - 05.djvu/141 Page:The Yellow Book - 05.djvu/142 When Doctor Carton stood by the dead man in a hospital ward an hour later, the face seemed more resolute and stronger than it had ever been in life. It wore a look almost of triumph, and the lips seemed half drawn into a smile.

"Poor Pierre Gascon!" said the Doctor. "How many men would have done as much? His last act may have saved him, after all."