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Do We Lie A-Bed Too Late?
by [?]

It was in Paris, many years ago, that I fell by chance into this habit of early rising. My night–by reasons that I need not enter into–had been a troubled one. Tired of the hot bed that gave no sleep, I rose and dressed myself, crept down the creaking stairs, experiencing the sensations of a burglar new to his profession, unbolted the great door of the hotel, and passed out into an unknown, silent city, bathed in a mysterious soft light. Since then, this strange sweet city of the dawn has never ceased to call to me. It may be in London, in Paris again, in Brussels, Berlin, Vienna, that I have gone to sleep, but if perchance I wake before the returning tide of human life has dimmed its glories with the mists and vapours of the noisy day, I know that beyond my window blind the fairy city, as I saw it first so many years ago–this city that knows no tears, no sorrow, through which there creeps no evil thing; this city of quiet vistas, fading into hope; this city of far-off voices whispering peace; this city of the dawn that still is young–invites me to talk with it awhile before the waking hours drive it before them, and with a sigh it passes whence it came.

It is the great city’s one hour of purity, of dignity. The very rag- picker, groping with her filthy hands among the ashes, instead of an object of contempt, moves from door to door an accusing Figure, her thin soiled garments, her bent body, her scarred face, hideous with the wounds of poverty, an eloquent indictment of smug Injustice, sleeping behind its deaf shutters. Yet even into her dim brain has sunk the peace that fills for this brief hour the city. This, too, shall have its end, my sister! Men and women were not born to live on the husks that fill the pails outside the rich man’s door. Courage a little while longer, you and yours. Your rheumy eyes once were bright, your thin locks once soft and wavy, your poor bent back once straight; and maybe, as they tell you in their gilded churches, this bulging sack shall be lifted from your weary shoulders, your misshapen limbs be straight again. You pass not altogether unheeded through these empty streets. Not all the eyes of the universe are sleeping.

The little seamstress, hurrying to her early work! A little later she will be one of the foolish crowd, joining in the foolish laughter, in the coarse jests of the work-room: but as yet the hot day has not claimed her. The work-room is far beyond, the home of mean cares and sordid struggles far behind. To her, also, in this moment are the sweet thoughts of womanhood. She puts down her bag, rests herself upon a seat. If all the day were dawn, this city of the morning always with us! A neighbouring clock chimes forth the hour. She starts up from her dream and hurries on–to the noisy work-room.

A pair of lovers cross the park, holding each other’s hands. They will return later in the day, but there will be another expression in their eyes, another meaning in the pressure of their hands. Now the purity of the morning is with them.

Some fat, middle-aged clerk comes puffing into view: his ridiculous little figure very podgy. He stops to take off his hat and mop his bald head with his handkerchief: even to him the morning lends romance. His fleshy face changes almost as one looks at him. One sees again the lad with his vague hopes, his absurd ambitions.

There is a statue of Aphrodite in one of the smaller Paris parks. Twice in the same week, without particularly meaning it, I found myself early in the morning standing in front of this statue gazing listlessly at it, as one does when in dreamy mood; and on both occasions, turning to go, I encountered the same man, also gazing at it with, apparently, listless eyes. He was an uninteresting looking man–possibly he thought the same of me. From his dress he might have been a well-to-do tradesman, a minor Government official, doctor, or lawyer. Quite ten years later I paid my third visit to the same statue at about the same hour. This time he was there before me. I was hidden from him by some bushes. He glanced round but did not see me; and then he did a curious thing. Placing his hands on the top of the pedestal, which may have been some seven feet in height, he drew himself up, and kissed very gently, almost reverentially, the foot of the statue, begrimed though it was with the city’s dirt. Had he been some long-haired student of the Latin Quarter one would not have been so astonished. But he was such a very commonplace, quite respectable looking man. Afterwards he drew a pipe from his pocket, carefully filled and lighted it, took his umbrella from the seat where it had been lying, and walked away.