The Luck of Roaring Camp and Other Tales

Condensed Novels

The Dweller of the Threshold

by Sir Ed-d L-tt-n B-lw-r

Bret Harte



IT WAS noon. Sir Edward had stepped from his brougham, and was proceeding on foot down the Strand. He was dressed with his usual faultless taste, but in alighting from his vehicle his foot had slipped, and a small round disk of conglomerated soil, which instantly appeared on his high arched instep, marred the harmonious glitter of his boots. Sir Edward was fastidious. Casting his eyes around, at a little distance he perceived the stand of a youthful bootblack. Thither he sauntered, and carelessly placing his foot on the low stool, he waited the application of the polisher’s art. “’Tis true,” said Sir Edward to himself, yet half aloud, “the contact of the Foul and the Disgusting mars the general effect of the Shiny and the Beautiful—and, yet, why am I here? I repeat it, calmly and deliberately—why am I here? Ha! Boy!”

The Boy looked up—his dark Italian eyes glanced intelligently at the Philosopher, and as with one hand he tossed back his glossy curls from his marble brow, and with the other he spread the equally glossy Day & Martin over the Baronet’s boot, he answered in deep, rich tones: “The Ideal is subjective to the Real. The exercise of apperception gives a distinctiveness to idiocracy, which is, however, subject to the limits of ME. You are an admirer of the Beautiful, sir. You wish your boots blacked. The Beautiful is attainable by means of the Coin.”

“Ah,” said Sir Edward thoughtfully, gazing upon the almost supernal beauty of the Child before him; “you speak well. You have read Kant.”

The Boy blushed deeply. He drew a copy of Kant from his blouse, but in his confusion several other volumes dropped from his bosom on the ground. The Baronet picked them up.

“Ah!” said the Philosopher, “what’s this? Cicero’s ‘De Sonertute,’—at your age, too! Martial’s ‘Epigrams,’ Cæsar’s ‘Commentaries.’ What! a classical scholar?”

E pluribus Unum. Nux vomica. Nil desperandum. Nihil fit!” said the Boy enthusiastically. The Philosopher gazed at the Child. A strange presence seemed to transfuse and possess him. Over the brow of the Boy glittered the pale nimbus of the Student.

“Ah, and Schiller’s ‘Robbers,’ too?” queried the Philosopher.

Das ist ausgespielt,” said the Boy modestly.

“Then you have read my translation of Schiller’s ‘Ballads’?” continued the Baronet, with some show of interest.

“I have, and infinitely prefer them to the original,” said the Boy, with intellectual warmth. “You have shown how in Actual life we strive for a Goal we cannot reach; how in the Ideal the Goal is attainable, and there effort is victory. You have given us the Antithesis which is a key to the Remainder, and constantly balances before us the conditions of the Actual and the privileges of the Ideal.”

“My very words,” said the Baronet; “wonderful, wonderful!” and he gazed fondly at the Italian boy, who again resumed his menial employment. Alas! the wings of the Ideal were folded. The Student had been absorbed in the Boy.

But Sir Edward’s boots were blacked, and he turned to depart. Placing his hand upon the clustering tendrils that surrounded the classic nob of the infant Italian, he said softly, like a strain of distant music,—

“Boy, you have done well. Love the Good. Protect the Innocent. Provide for the Indigent. Respect the Philosopher. . . . Stay! Can you tell me what is The True, The Beautiful, The Innocent, The Virtuous?”

“They are things that commence with a capital letter,” said the Boy promptly.

“Enough! Respect everything that commences with a capital letter! Respect ME!” and dropping a halfpenny in the hand of the boy, he departed.

The Boy gazed fixedly at the coin. A frightful and instantaneous change overspread his features. His noble brow was corrugated with baser lines of calculation. His black eye, serpent-like, glittered with suppressed passion. Dropping upon his hands and feet, he crawled to the curbstone, and hissed after the retreating form of the Baronet the single word—





“Eleven years ago,” said Sir Edward to himself, as his brougham slowly rolled him toward the Committee Room, “just eleven years ago my natural son disappeared mysteriously. I have no doubt in the world but that this little bootblack is he. His mother died in Italy. He resembles his mother very much. Perhaps I ought to provide for him. Shall I disclose myself? No! no! Better he should taste the sweets of Labor. Penury ennobles the mind and kindles the Love of the Beautiful. I will act to him, not like a Father, not like a Guardian, not like a Friend—but like a Philosopher!” With these words, Sir Edward entered the Committee Room. His Secretary approached him. “Sir Edward, there are fears of a division in the House, and the Prime Minister has sent for you.”

“I will be there,” said Sir Edward, as he placed his hand on his chest and uttered a hollow cough!

No one who heard the Baronet that night, in his sarcastic and withering speech on the Drainage and Sewerage Bill, would have recognized the Lover of the Ideal and the Philosopher of the Beautiful. No one who listened to his eloquence would have dreamed of the Spartan resolution this iron man had taken in regard to the Lost Boy—his own beloved Lionel. None!

“A fine speech from Sir Edward to-night,” said Lord Billingsgate, as, arm and arm with the Premier, he entered his carriage.

“Yes! but how dreadfully he coughs!”

“Exactly. Dr. Bolus says his lungs are entirely gone; he breathes entirely by an effort of will, and altogether independent of pulmonary assistance.”

“How strange!” And the carriage rolled away.




“Adon Ai, appear! appear!”

And as the Seer spoke, the awful Presence glided out of Nothingness, and sat, sphinx-like, at the feet of the Alchemist.

“I am come!” said the Thing.

“You should say, ‘I have come,’—it’s better grammar,” said the Boy-Neophyte, thoughtfully accenting the substituted expression.

“Hush, rash Boy,” said the Seer sternly. “Would you oppose your feeble knowledge to the infinite intelligence of the Unmistakable? A word, and you are lost forever.”

The Boy breathed a silent prayer, and handing a sealed package to the Seer, begged him to hand it to his father in case of his premature decease.

“You have sent for me,” hissed the Presence. “Behold me, Apokatharticon,—the Unpronounceable. In me all things exist that are not already coexistent. I am the Unattainable, the Intangible, the Cause, and the Effect. In me observe the Brahma of Mr. Emerson; not only Brahma himself, but also the sacred musical composition rehearsed by the faithful Hindoo. I am the real Gyges. None others are genuine.”

And the veiled Son of the Starbeam laid himself loosely about the room, and permeated Space generally.

“Unfathomable Mystery,” said the Rosicrucian in a low, sweet voice. “Brave Child with the Vitreous Optic! Thou who pervadest all things and rubbest against us without abrasion of the cuticle. I command thee, speak!”

And the misty, intangible, indefinite Presence spoke.




After the events related in the last chapter, the reader will perceive that nothing was easier than to reconcile Sir Edward to his son Lionel, nor to resuscitate the beautiful Italian girl, who, it appears, was not dead, and to cause Sir Edward to marry his first and boyish love, whom he had deserted. They were married in St. George’s, Hanover Square. As the bridal party stood before the altar, Sir Edward, with a sweet, sad smile, said in quite his old manner,—

“The Sublime and Beautiful are the Real; the only Ideal is the Ridiculous and Homely. Let us always remember this. Let us through life endeavor to personify the virtues, and always begin ’em with a capital letter. Let us, whenever we can find an opportunity, deliver our sentiments in the form of roundhand copies. Respect the Aged. Eschew Vulgarity. Admire Ourselves. Regard the Novelist.”

The Luck of Roaring Camp and Other Tales

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