Read CHAPTER II of The Book-Bills of Narcissus, free online book, by Le Gallienne‚ Richard, on


On the left-hand side of Tithefields, just as one turns out of Prince Street, in a certain well-known Lancashire town, is the unobtrusive bookshop of Mr. Samuel Dale. It must, however, be a very superficial glance which does not discover in it something characteristic, distinguishing it from other ‘second-hand’ shops of the same size and style.

There are, alas! treatises on farriery in the window; geographies, chemistries, and French grammars, on the trestles outside; for Samuel, albeit so great a philosopher as indeed to have founded quite a school, must nevertheless live. Those two cigars and that ‘noggin’ of whiskey, which he purchases with such a fine solemnity as he and I go home together for occasional symposia in his bachelor lodging those, I say, come not without sale of such treatises, such geographies, chemistries, and French grammars.

But I am digressing. There is a distinguishing air, I but meant to say, about the little shop. Looking closer, one generally finds that it comes of a choice bit of old binding, or the quaint title-page of some tuneful Elizabethan. It was an old Crashaw that first drew me inside; and, though for some reason I did not buy it then, I bought it a year after, because to it I owed the friendship of Samuel Dale.

And thus for three bright years that little shop came to be, for a daily hour or so, a blessed palm-tree away from the burden and heat of the noon, a holy place whither the money-changers and such as sold doves might never come, let their clamour in the outer courts ring never so loud. There in Samuel’s talk did two weary-hearted bond-servants of Egypt draw a breath of the Infinite into their lives of the desk; there could they sit awhile by the eternal springs, and feel the beating of the central heart.

So it happened one afternoon, about five years ago, that I dropped in there according to wont. But Samuel was engaged with some one in that dim corner at the far end of the shop, where his desk and arm-chair, tripod of that new philosophy, stood: so I turned to a neighbouring shelf to fill the time. At first I did not notice his visitor; but as, in taking down this book and that, I had come nearer to the talkers, I was struck with something familiar in the voice of the stranger. It came upon me like an old song, and looking up why, of course, it was Narcissus!

The letter N does not make one of the initials on the Gladstone bag which he had with him on that occasion, and which, filled with books, lay open on the floor close by; nor does it appear on any of those tobacco-pouches, cigar-cases, or handkerchiefs with which men beloved of fair women are familiar. And Narcissus might, moreover, truthfully say that it has never appeared upon any manner of stamped paper coming under a certain notable Act.

To be less indulgent to a vice from which the Reader will, I fear, have too frequent occasion to suffer in these pages, and for which he may have a stronger term than digression, let me at once say that Narcissus is but the name Love knew him by, Love and the Reader; for that name by which he was known to the postman and others is no necessity here. How and why he came to be so named will appear soon enough.

Yes! it was the same old Narcissus, and he was wielding just the same old magic, I could see, as in our class-rooms and playgrounds five years before. What is it in him that made all men take him so on his own terms, made his talk hold one so, though it so often stumbled in the dark, and fell dumb on many a verbal cul-de-sac? Whatever it is, Samuel felt it, and, with that fine worshipful spirit of his an attitude which always reminds me of the elders listening to the boy Jesus was doing that homage for which no beauty or greatness ever appeals to him in vain. What an eye for soul has Samuel! How inevitably it pierces through all husks and excrescences to the central beauty! In that short talk he knew Narcissus through and through; three years or thirty years could add but little. But the talk was not ended yet; indeed, it seemed like so many of those Tithefields talks, as if in the ‘eternal fitness of things’ it never could, would, or should end. It was I at last who gave it pause, and yes! indeed, it was he. We had, somehow, not met for quite three years, chums as we had been at school. He had left there for an office some time before I did, and, oddly enough, this was our first meeting since then. A purchaser for one of those aforesaid treatises on farriery just then coming in, dislodged us; so, bidding Samuel good-bye he and Narcissus already arranging for ’a night’ we obeyed a mutual instinct, and presently found ourselves in the snuggery of a quaint tavern, which was often to figure hereafter in our sentimental history, though probably little in these particular chapters of it. The things ‘seen done at “The Mermaid “’ may some day be written in another place, where the Reader will know from the beginning what to expect, and not feel that he has been induced to buy a volume under false pretences.