Read CHAPTER XXXIII - AND THE DOOR WAS SHUT of The Dew of Their Youth , free online book, by S. R. Crockett, on

We were poor, very poor indeed in these days. Irma had many a wrinkled brow and many an anxious heart over the weekly expenses-so much to be set aside for rent, so much for mysterious things called taxes-which, seeing no immediate good arise from them, my little rebel hated with all her heart, and devised all sorts of schemes to evade.

But every week there was the joy of a victory won. Untoward circumstances had been vanquished-the butcher, the baker had been settled with or-done without. For sometimes Amelia Craven came to give us a day’s baking, and an array of fragrant scones and girdle-cakes, which I was taken into the kitchen to see on my return home, gave us the assurance of not having to starve for many days yet.

I was glad, too, for it was my busy season, and I had to be much from home. There was, indeed, a certain nondescript Mistress McGrier, who came to help with the heavier duties of the house. She was the daughter of one janitor at the college, the wife of yet another (presently suspended for gross dereliction of duty), and she did some charing to earn an honest penny. But there was little human to be found about her. Whisky, poor food, neglect, and actual ill treatment had left her mind after the pattern of her countenance, mostly blank. Yet I was not sorry when she stayed, especially as the autumnal days shortened, till near the time of my return. Mrs. McGrier frankly tarried for her tea, and her conversation was not enlivening, since she could talk of little save her sorrows as a wife, and how she was trusting to some one in the office (meaning me) for the future reinstatement of her erring janitor.

Sometimes, on Sundays, she would bring him, as it were framed and glazed to a painful pitch of perfection. His red hair was plastered with pomatum, identical with that which had been used upon his boots. Janitor McGrier had been a soldier, and always moved as if to words of command unheard to other mortals. If he had only two yards to go, he started as if from the halt. His pale blue eyes were fixed in his head, and he chewed steadily at lozenges of peppermint or cinnamon to hide the perfume of the glass of “enlivener” with which his wife had bribed him as an argument for submitting to get up and be dressed.

It was only on such show occasions that Mrs. McGrier was voluble. And that, solely, because “Pathrick” said nothing. Even as I remembered him in the days of his pride at the door of the Greek classroom, Pathrick had always possessed the shut mouth, the watery, appealing eye, and the indicative thumb which answered the question of a novice only with a quick jerk in the requisite direction.

I think Pathrick sometimes conceived dark suspicions that I had changed Irma in the intervals of his visits. You see, this small witch had but two dresses that were any way respectable-that is to say, street-going or Sabbath-keeping. But then she had naturally such an instinct of arrangement that a scrap of ribbon, or the lace scarf my grandmother had given her, made so great a difference that she seemed to have an entire wardrobe at her command. No doubt a woman would have picked out the fundamental sameness at a glance. But it did very well for men, who only care for the effect.

Even the Advocate would look in on his way to or from the Sciennes for a cup of tea from Irma. And in our little parlour he would sit and rap on his snuffbox, talking all the while, and forgetting to go till it was dark-as gentle and human as any common man.

When Freddy and Amelia Craven came in he would give the student advice about his work, or ask Amelia when she was going to call in his assistance to get married-which was his idea of jocularity, and, I must admit, also, that of Amelia. Indeed, we were wonderfully glad to see him, and he brightened many a dull afternoon for Irma.

Sometimes, if I got away early, I would find him already installed, his hat stuck on his gold-headed cane in the corner-as it were, all his high authority laid aside, while he regarded with moist eyes the work-basket in which Irma kept her interminable scraplets of white things which I would not have meddled with the tip of one of my fingers, but which the Advocate turned over with an ancient familiarity, humming a tune all the while-a tune, however, apt to break off suddenly with a “Humph,” and an appeal to the much-enduring lid of the tortoise-shell snuffbox.

But I think the dearest and best remembered of all these early experiences happened one winter’s evening in the midst of the press and bustle which always attended the opening of the autumn session. The winter number of the Universal was almost due, and we were backward, having had to wait for the copy of an important contributor, whose communication, in the present state of affairs, might even overturn a policy-or, at least, in the opinion of the Advocate, could not be done without. I need not say that the article in question represented his own views with remarkable exactitude, and he looked to it to further his rising influence in London. As he grew greater, he was more often in the south, and we saw less and less of him. On the other hand, the practical work of the Review fell more and more upon me.

So this night, as I say, I was late, and on turning out into the south-going street which leads past the Surgeons’ Hall and St. Patrick’s Square-my mind being busy with an extra article which I must write to give our readers the necessary number of sheets-for the first and certainly for the last time in my life I continued my train of thought without remembering either that I was a married man, or that my little Irma must be tired waiting for me.

In mitigation of sentence I can only urge the day-long preoccupations in which I had been plunged, and the article, suddenly become necessary, which I must begin to write instanter. But at any rate, excuse or no excuse, it is certain that I woke from my daydream to find myself in Rankeillor Street, almost at the foot of the old Craven stairs which, as a bachelor, I had climbed so often.

Then, with a sudden shamed leap of the heart and a plunge of the hand into my breeches pocket for my door key, I turned about. I had forgotten, though only for a moment, the little wife working among her cloud of feathery linen and trimmings, and the little white house round the corner above the Meadows. You may guess whether or no I hurried along between ash “backets” of the most unparklike Gifford Park, how sharply I turned and scudded along Hope Park, dodging the clothes’ posts to the right, from which prudent housewives had removed the ropes with the deepening of the twilight.

The dark surface of the Meadows spread suddenly before me in an amplitude of bleakness. A thin, sleety scuff of passing snow-cloud beat in my face. A tall man wrapped in a cloak edged suspiciously nearer as if to take stock of me, but my haste, and perhaps a certain wildness in the disorder of my dress and hat made him think better of it-that is, if indeed he ever thought ill of it-and with a muttered “Good-e’en to ye,” he passed upon his way.

I could see it now. The light in the window, the two candles that were always set at the elbow of the busy little housewife, the supper, frugal but well-considered, simmering on the hob, the table spread white and dainty, with knives and forks of silver (the Advocate’s gift) laid out in order.

Then all the warm and loving things that sleep in the breast of a man rose up within me. The long, weary day was forgotten. The article I must write was shoved into a corner out of the way. For this one hour, in spite of whistling wintry winds and scouring sleet-drifts, the little light yonder in the window was sufficient.

Two farthing dips, a hearth fire, and a loving heart! Earth had nothing more to give, and my spirit seemed glorified within me. I had a curious feeling of melting within me, which was by no means a desire to weep, but rather as if all the vital parts of the man I was had been suddenly turned to warm water. I cannot tell if any one has ever felt the like before, but certainly I did that night, and “warm water” comes as near to the real thing as I can find words to express.

It seemed an age while I was crossing the short, stubbly grass of the Meadows. The light within beaconed redder and warmer. On the window-blind I saw a gracious silhouette. Then there was the putting aside the edge of the blind with exploring finger-sure sign that my little wife had been regarding the clock and finding me a little late in getting home.

As I ran up the short path to the gate I blew into my key. The latch of the garden-gate clicked in the blast which swept across from the Blackfords. But there at last before me was the door. The key glided, well-accustomed, into its place, not rattling, but with the slide of long-polished and intimate steel-soft, like silk on silk.

But the key never turned. The door opened, seemingly of itself, and, gloriously loving, a candle held high in her hand, her full, white house-gown sweeping to her feet, the little wife stood waiting.

I said nothing about the overplus of work that had filled my head as I turned from the high, bleak portals of the University-nothing of how, all unknowing, my traitor feet had carried me to the stairway in Rankeillor Street-nothing of the long way, or the suspicious man in the cloak, of the blast and the bent and the sting of the sleet in my face.

I was at home, just she and I-the two of us alone. And upon us two the door was shut.