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Tasker Norcross
by [?]


“Whether all towns and all who live in them —
So long as they be somewhere in this world
That we in our complacency call ours —
Are more or less the same, I leave to you.
I should say less. Whether or not, meanwhile,
We’ve all two legs — and as for that, we haven’t —
There were three kinds of men where I was born:
The good, the not so good, and Tasker Norcross.
Now there are two kinds.”

“Meaning, as I divine,
Your friend is dead,” I ventured.

Ferguson,
Who talked himself at last out of the world
He censured, and is therefore silent now,
Agreed indifferently: “My friends are dead —
Or most of them.”

“Remember one that isn’t,”
I said, protesting. “Honor him for his ears;
Treasure him also for his understanding.”
Ferguson sighed, and then talked on again:
“You have an overgrown alacrity
For saying nothing much and hearing less;
And I’ve a thankless wonder, at the start,
How much it is to you that I shall tell
What I have now to say of Tasker Norcross,
And how much to the air that is around you.
But given a patience that is not averse
To the slow tragedies of haunted men —
Horrors, in fact, if you’ve a skilful eye
To know them at their firesides, or out walking, –“

“Horrors,” I said, “are my necessity;
And I would have them, for their best effect,
Always out walking.”

Ferguson frowned at me:
“The wisest of us are not those who laugh
Before they know. Most of us never know —
Or the long toil of our mortality
Would not be done. Most of us never know —
And there you have a reason to believe
In God, if you may have no other. Norcross,
Or so I gather of his infirmity,
Was given to know more than he should have known,
And only God knows why. See for yourself
An old house full of ghosts of ancestors,
Who did their best, or worst, and having done it,
Died honorably; and each with a distinction
That hardly would have been for him that had it,
Had honor failed him wholly as a friend.
Honor that is a friend begets a friend.
Whether or not we love him, still we have him;
And we must live somehow by what we have,
Or then we die. If you say chemistry,
Then you must have your molecules in motion,
And in their right abundance. Failing either,
You have not long to dance. Failing a friend,
A genius, or a madness, or a faith
Larger than desperation, you are here
For as much longer than you like as may be.
Imagining now, by way of an example,
Myself a more or less remembered phantom —
Again, I should say less — how many times
A day should I come back to you? No answer.
Forgive me when I seem a little careless,
But we must have examples, or be lucid
Without them; and I question your adherence
To such an undramatic narrative
As this of mine, without the personal hook.”

“A time is given in Ecclesiastes
For divers works,” I told him. “Is there one
For saying nothing in return for nothing?
If not, there should be.” I could feel his eyes,
And they were like two cold inquiring points
Of a sharp metal. When I looked again,
To see them shine, the cold that I had felt
Was gone to make way for a smouldering
Of lonely fire that I, as I knew then,
Could never quench with kindness or with lies.
I should have done whatever there was to do
For Ferguson, yet I could not have mourned
In honesty for once around the clock
The loss of him, for my sake or for his,
Try as I might; nor would his ghost approve,
Had I the power and the unthinking will
To make him tread again without an aim
The road that was behind him — and without
The faith, or friend, or genius, or the madness
That he contended was imperative.