The Promise of Air
The Promise of Air
Joseph Wimble was the only son of an analytical chemist, who, having made considerable profits out of an Invisible Sticking Plaster, sent the boy to Charterhouse and Cambridge in the hope that he would turn out a gentleman. When Joseph left Cambridge his father left business, referred to himself as Expert, used a couple of letters after his name, and suggested making the Grand Tour of Europe together as a finishing touch. 'To talk familiarly of Rome and Vienna and Constantinople as though you knew them,' he explained, 'is a useful thing. It helps one with the women, and to be helped by women in life is half the battle.' His ambitions for his son were considerable, including above all a suitable marriage. The abrupt destruction of these ambitions, accordingly, was so bitter a disappointment that he felt justified in giving the lad a nominal sum and mentioning that he had better shift for himself. For Joseph married secretly the daughter of a Norfolk corn-chandler, announcing the news to his father upon the very eve of starting for the Grand Tour. Joseph found himself with Pds. 500 and a wife.
Joseph himself was of that placid temperament to which things in life just came and went apparently without making very deep impressions. He was a careless, indifferent sort of fellow even as a boy, careless of consequences, indifferent to results: not irresponsible, yet very easy-going. There was no intensity in him; he did not realise things. 'Oh, it's much the same to me,' would be his reply to most proposals. 'I'd as soon as not.' There was something fluid in his nature that accepted life nonchalantly, as if all things were one to him; yet, again, not that he was devoid of feeling or desires, but that he did not realise life in the solid way of the majority. At school he did not realise that he was what the world calls 'not quite a gentleman,' although the boys made a point of proving it to him. At Cambridge he did not realise that to pass his Little-go, or acquire the letters B.Sc., was of any importance, although various learned and older men received good pay in order to convince him of the fact. He just went along in a loose, careless, big-hearted way of living, and took whatever came-exactly as it came. He had a delightful smile and put on fat; shared his money with one and all; existed in a methodical way as most other fellows of his age existed, and grew older much as they did. So ordinary was he in fact, so little distinguished from the rest of his kind, that men who knew him well would stop and think when questioned if they numbered Joseph Wimble among their acquaintances. 'Wimble, lemme see-oh yes, of course! Why, I've known him for a couple of years!' That was Joseph Wimble. Only it made no difference to him whether they remembered him or not. He behaved rather as if everything was one to him in a very literal sense; as if the whole bewildering kaleidoscope of life conveyed a single vast impression; there was no reason to get excited over particular details; in the end it was literally all one. His smattering of physics taught him that all things could be expressed, more or less, in terms of one another. That was his attitude, at any rate. 'Take it as a whole,' he would say vaguely, 'and it's all right. It's all the same.'
Yet his indifference to things was not so colourless as it appeared; but was due, perhaps, to the transference of his interests elsewhere. His centre of gravity hardly seemed on earth is one way of expressing it. Behind the apparent stolidity hid something that danced and sang; something almost flighty. It was laborious explanation that he dreaded and despised, as though things capable of being 'explained' were of small importance to him. He was eager to know things he wanted to know, yet in a way he was too intensely curious, too impatient certainly, to put himself to much trouble to find out. He refused to work, to 'grind' he knew not how; yet he absorbed a good