I am in danger, I see, of being included among the whimsical fellows, which I so little desire that I have got me into my writing-chair to combat the charge, but, having sat for an unconscionable time with pen poised, I am come agitatedly to the fear that there may be something in it.
So long a time has elapsed, you must know, since I abated of the ardours of self-inquiry that I revert in vain (through many rusty doors) for the beginning of this change in me, if changed I am; I seem ever to see this same man until I am back in those wonderful months which were half of my life, when, indeed, I know that I was otherwise than I am now; no whimsical fellow then, for that was one of the possibilities I put to myself while seeking for the explanation of things, and found to be inadmissible. Having failed in those days to discover why I was driven from the garden, I suppose I ceased to be enamoured of myself, as of some dull puzzle, and then perhaps the whimsicalities began to collect unnoticed.
It is a painful thought to me to-night, that he could wake up glorious once, this man in the elbow-chair by the fire, who is humourously known at the club as a “confirmed spinster.” I remember him well when his years told four and twenty; on my soul the proudest subaltern of my acquaintance, and with the most reason to be proud. There was nothing he might not do in the future, having already done the biggest thing, this toddler up club-steps to-day.
Not, indeed, that I am a knave; I am tolerably kind, I believe, and most inoffensive, a gentleman, I trust, even in the eyes of the ladies who smile at me as we converse; they are an ever-increasing number, or so it seems to me to-night. Ah, ladies, I forget when I first began to notice that smile and to be made uneasy by it. I think I understand it now, and in some vague way it hurts me. I find that I watch for it nowadays, but I hope I am still your loyal, obedient servant.
You will scarcely credit it, but I have just remembered that I once had a fascinating smile of my own. What has become of my smile? I swear I have not noticed that it was gone till now; I am like one who revisiting his school feels suddenly for his old knife. I first heard of my smile from another boy, whose sisters had considered all the smiles they knew and placed mine on top. My friend was scornful, and I bribed him to mention the plebiscite to no one, but secretly I was elated and amazed. I feel lost to-night without my smile. I rose a moment ago to look for it in my mirror.
I like to believe that she has it now. I think she may have some other forgotten trifles of mine with it that make the difference between that man and this. I remember her speaking of my smile, telling me it was my one adornment, and taking it from me, so to speak, for a moment to let me see how she looked in it; she delighted to make sport of me when she was in a wayward mood, and to show me all my ungainly tricks of voice and gesture, exaggerated and glorified in her entrancing self, like a star calling to the earth: “See, I will show you how you hobble round,” and always there was a challenge to me in her eyes to stop her if I dared, and upon them, when she was most audacious, lay a sweet mist.