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Schwartz: A History From "Schwartz" by David Christie Murray   By: (1847-1907)

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By David Christie Murray

Author Of 'Aunt Rachel,' 'The Weaker Vessel,' Etc.



I was expatriated by a man with an axe. The man and the axe were alike visionary and unreal, though it needed a very considerable effort of the will to hold them at mental arm's length. I had work on hand which imperatively demanded to be finished, and I was so broken down by a long course of labour that it was a matter of actual difficulty with me when I sat down at my desk of a morning to lay hold of the thread of last night's work, and to recall the personages who had moved through my manuscript pages for the past three or four months. The day's work always began with a fog, which at first looked impenetrable, but would brighten little by little until I could see my ideal friends moving in it, and could recognise their familiar lineaments. Then the fog would disperse altogether, and a certain indescribable, exultant, feverish brightness would succeed it, and in this feverish brightness my ideal friends would move and talk as it were of their own volition.

But one morning it was in November, and the sand tinged foam flecks caught from the stormy bay were thick on the roadway before my window the fog was thicker and more obdurate than common. I read and re read the work of the day before, and the written words conveyed no meaning. In a dim sort of way this seemed lamentable, and I remember standing at the window, and looking out to where the white crests of the waves came racing shorewards under a leaden coloured sky, and saying to myself over and over again, 'Oh, that way madness lies!' but without any active sentiment of dismay or fear, and with a clouded, uninterested wonder as to where the words came from. Quite suddenly I became aware of a second presence in the chamber, and turned with an actual assurance that some one stood behind me. I was alone, as a single glance about the room informed me, but the sense of that second presence was so clearly defined and positive that the mere evidence of sight seemed doubtful.

The day's work began in the manner which had of late grown customary, and in a while the fog gave way to a brilliance unusually flushed and hectic. The uninvited, invisible personage kept his place, until, even with the constant fancy that he was there looking over my shoulder, and so close that there was always a risk of contact, I grew to disregard him. All day long he watched the pen travelling over the paper, all day long I was aware of him, featureless, shadowy, expressionless, with a vague cheek near my own. During the brief interval I gave myself for luncheon he stood behind my chair, and, being much refreshed and brightened by my morning's work, I mocked him quite gaily.

'Your name is Nerves,' I told him within myself, 'and you live in the land of Mental Overwork. I have still a fortnight's stretch across the country you inhabit, and if you so please you may accompany me all the way. You may even follow me into the land of Repose which lies beyond your own territory, but its air will not agree with you. You will dwindle, peak, and pine in that exquisite atmosphere, and in a very little while I shall have seen the last of you.'

After luncheon I took a constitutional on the pier, not without a hope that my featureless friend might be blown away by the gusty wind, which came bellowing up from the Firth of Forth, with enough stinging salt and vivifying freshness in it, one might have fancied, to shrivel up a host of phantoms. I tramped him up and down the gleaming planks in the keen salt wind for half an hour, and he shadowed me unshrinkingly. With the worst will in the world I took him home, and all afternoon and all evening he stuck his shadowy head over my shoulder, and watched the pen as it spread its cobweb lines over the white desert of the paper. He waited behind my chair at dinner, and late at night, when the long day's work at last was over, he hung his intrusive head over my shoulder and stared into the moderate glass of much watered whisky which kept a final pipe in company... Continue reading book >>

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