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The Butcher’s Bills
by [?]

His wife was ten years younger than he–hardly less than beautiful–only that over her countenance seemed to have gathered a kind of haze of commonness. At first sight, notwithstanding, one could not help perceiving that she was china and he was delft. She was graceful as she sat, long-necked, slope-shouldered, and quite as tall as her husband, with a marked daintiness about her in the absence of the extremes of the fashion, in the quality of the lace she wore on her black silk dress, and in the wide white sleeves of fine cambric that covered her arms from the shoulder to the wrist. She had a morally delicate air, a look of scrupulous nicety and lavender-stored linen. She had long dark lashes; and when they rose, the eyelids revealed eyes of uncommon beauty. She had good features, good teeth, and a good complexion. The main feeling she produced and left was of ladyhood–little more.

Sunday afternoon came fifty-two times in the year. I mention this because then always, and nearly then only, could one calculate on seeing them together. It came to them in a surburb of London, and the look of it was dull. Doubtless Mr. Dempster’s dinner and his repose after it were interesting to him, but I cannot help thinking his wife found it dreary. She had, however, got used to it. The house was a good old one, of red brick, much larger than they required, but not expensive, and had a general look of the refinement of its mistress. In the summer the windows of the dining-room would generally be open, for they looked into a really lovely garden behind the house, and the scent of the jasmine that crept all around them would come in plentifully. I wonder what the scent of jasmine did in Duncan Dempster’s world. Perhaps it never got farther than the general ante-chamber of the sensorium. It often made his wife sad–she could not tell why. To him I daresay it smelt agreeable, but I can hardly believe it ever woke in him that dreamy sensation it gave her–of something she had not had enough of, she could not say what. When the heat was gone off a little he would walk out on the lawn, which was well kept and well watered, with many flowering shrubs about it. Why he did so, I cannot tell. He looked at nothing in particular, only walked about for a few minutes, no doubt derived some pleasure of a mild nature from something, and walked in again to tea. One might have expected he would have cultivated the acquaintance of his garden a little, if it were only for the pleasure the contrast would give him when he got back to his loved office, for a greater contrast could not well have been found than between his dingy dreary haunt on weekdays–a place which nothing but duty could have made other than repugnant to any free soul–and this nest of greenery and light and odour. Sweet scents floated in clouds invisible about the place; flower eyes and stars and bells and bunches shone and glowed and lurked all around; his very feet might have learned a lesson of that which is beyond the sense from the turf he trod; but all the time, if he were not exactly seeing in his mind’s eye the walls and tables of his office in the City square, his thoughts were not the less brooding over such business as he there transacted. For Mr. Dempster’s was not a free soul. How could it be when all his energies were given to making money? This he counted his calling–and I believe actually contrived to associate some feeling of duty with the notion of leaving behind him a plump round sum of money, as if money in accumulation and following flood, instead of money in peaceful current, were the good thing for the world! Hence the whole realm of real life, the universe of thought and growth, was a high-hedged park to him, within which he never even tried to look–not even knowing that he was shut out from it, for the hedge was of his own growing. What shall ever wake such a man to a sense of indwelling poverty, or make him begin to hunger after any lowliest expansion? Does a reader retort, “The man was comfortable, and why should he be troubled?” If the end of being, I answer, is only comfort in self, I yield. But what if there should be at the heart of the universe a Thought to which the being of such men is distasteful? What if to that Thought they look blots in light, ugly things? May there not lie in that direction some possible reason why they should bethink themselves? Dempster, however, was not yet a clinker out of which all the life was burned, however much he looked like one. There was in him that which might yet burn–and give light and heat.