Monday, February 17, 2014

On the Departure of a Guest

C’est ma Jeunesse qui s’en va.
Adieu! La trés gente compagne—
Oncques ne suis moins gai pour ça
(C’est ma Jeunesse qui s’en va)
Et lon-lon-laire, et lon-lon-là
Peut-être perds; peut-être gagne.
C’est ma Jeunesse qui s’en va.
(From the Author’s MSS. In the library of the Abbey of Theleme.)

HOST: Well, Youth, I see you are about to leave me, and since it is in the terms of your service by no means to exceed a certain period in my house, I must make up my mind to bid your farewell.

YOUTH: Indeed, I would stay if I could; but the matter lies as you know in other hands, and I may not stay. 

HOST: I trust, dear Youth, that you have found all comfortable while you were my guest, that the air has suited you and the company? 

YOUTH: I thank you, I have never enjoyed a visit more, you may say that I have been most usually happy. 

HOST: Then let me ring for the servant who shall bring down your things. 

YOUTH: I thank you civilly!  I have brought them down already—see, they are here. I have but two, one very large bag and this other small one.

HOST: Why, you have not locked the small one! See it gapes! 

YOUTH (somewhat embarrassed): My dear Host . . . to tell the truth . . . I usually put it off till the end of my visits . . . but the truth . . . to tell the truth, my luggage is of two kinds. 

HOST: I do not see why that need so greatly confuse you. 

YOUTH (still more embarrassed): But you see—the fact is—I stay with people so long that—well, that very often they forget which things are mine and which belong to the house . . . And—well, the truth is that I have to take away with me a number of things which . . . which, in a word, you may possibly have thought your own. 

HOST (coldly): Oh! 

YOUTH (eagerly): Pray do not think the worse of me—you know how strict are my orders. 

HOST (sadly): Yes, I know; you will plead that Master of yours, and no doubt you are right. . . . But tell me, Youth, what are those things? 

YOUTH: They fill this big bag. But I am not so ungracious as you think. See, in this little bag, which I have purposely left open, are a number of things properly mine, yet of which I am allowed to make gifts to those with whom I lingered—you shall choose among them, or if you will, you shall have them all. 

HOST: Well, first tell me what you have packed in the big bag and mean to take away. 

YOUTH: I will open it and let you see. (He unlocks it and pulls the things out.) I fear they are familiar to you. 

HOST: Oh! Youth! Youth! Must you take away all of these? Why, you are taking away, as it were, my very self! Here is the love of women, as deep and changeable as an opal; and here is carelessness that looks like a shower of pearls. And here I see—Oh! Youth, for shame!—you are taking away that silken stuff which used to wrap up the whole and which you once told me had no name, but which lent to everything it held plenitude and satisfaction. Without it surely pleasures are not all themselves. Leave me that at least. 

YOUTH: No, I must take it, for it is not yours, though from courtesy I forbore to tell you so till now. These also go: Facility, the ointment; Sleep, the drug; Full Laughter, that tolerated all follies. It was the only musical thing in the house. And I must take—yes, I fear I must take Verse. 

HOST: Then there is nothing left! 

YOUTH: Oh! Yes! See this little open bag which you may choose from! Feel it! 

HOST (lifting it): Certainly it is very heavy, but it rattles and is uncertain. 

YOUTH: That is because it is made up of divers things having no similarity; and you may take all or leave all, or choose as you will. Here (holding up a clout) is Ambition: Will you have that? . .

HOST (doubtfully): I cannot tell. . . It has been mine and yet . . . without those other things . .

YOUTH (cheerfully): Very well, I will leave it. You shall decide on it a few years hence. Then, here is the perfume Pride. Will you have that? 

HOST: No; I will have none of it. It is false and corrupt, and only yesterday I was for throwing it out of window to sweeten the air in my room. 

YOUTH: So far you have chosen well; now pray choose more. 

HOST: I will have this—and this—and this. I will take Health (takes it out of the bag,) not that it is of much use to me without those other things, but I have grown used to it. Then I will take this (takes out a plain steel purse and chain), which is the tradition of my family, and which I desire to leave to my son. I must have it cleaned. Then I will take this (pulls out a trinket), which is the Sense of Form and Colour. I am told it is of less value later on, but it is a pleasant ornament. . . . And so, Youth, goodbye.

YOUTH (with a mysterious smile): Wait—I have something else for you (he feels in his ticket pocket); no less a thing (he feels again in his watch pocket) than (he looks a trifle anxious and feels in his waistcoat pockets) a promise from my Master, signed and sealed, to give you back all I take and more in Immortality! (He feels in his handkerchief pocket.

HOST: Oh! Youth! 

YOUTH (still feeling): Do you thank me! It is my Master you should thank. (Frowns.) Dear me! I hope I have not lost it! (Feels in his trousers pockets.

HOST (loudly): Lost it? 

YOUTH (pettishly): I did not say I had lost it! I said I hoped I had not . . . (feels in his great-coat pocket, and pulls out an envelope). Ah! Here it is! (His face clouds over.) No, that is the message to Mrs George, telling her the time has come to get a wig . . . (Hopelessly): Do you know I am afraid I have lost it! I am really very sorry—I cannot wait. (He goes off.

~Hilaire Belloc, 1908.
(From The Oxford Book of Essays, pp. 348-50, ed. John Gross, 1991)

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