After rather more than three months' service in the shop, it was arranged that Francis should go home for the Christmas of 1886. There is not much to tell of his home-coming. Other members of the Thompson family were adepts, like Francis, in reserve, and it was practised rigorously during his holiday. It was known that he had suffered ; and his sufferings, or the occasion of them, were no more to be spoken of than misdeeds that had had their punishment. He volunteered no account of himself and was asked for none, it being supposed that he had found a settled though humble way of life which allowed the past to fall back into the past. From his sister I learn that he filled his place in the family saddened, perhaps, but yet much as he had filled it before he left it: affection was there, on his side and on hers.
On his return from Manchester, where he lingered-or was delayed-longer than had been expected, the shop was even less well served than before. He returned as from a bout of drinking, and with no regard for the things around him. He had periodic visitations of much more than customary uselessness; they were such as Mr. McMaster observed in their approach. He would grow very restless and flushed, and then retire into an equally disconcerting satisfaction and peace of mind. These, of course, were the workings of opium, although Mr. McMaster mistook them, as Dr. Thompson had done previously, for those of alcohol. " There were accidents," says Mr. McMaster, with some horror of details. It seems Francis had let the shutter slip on a certain evening of delirium, and, it is gathered, a foot- the foot of a customer, no less-had been hurt. Whatever the immediate cause, Francis had to leave Panton Street in the middle of January 1887. Mr. McMaster stands an example. His charity was of such exceptional fortune as commends mankind to daily good works lest great benefits be left unperformed, lest our omissions starve a Francis Thompson. The persuasion of "Ye did it unto Me" may be varied by "Perhaps ye did it unto a Poet."
Before he left, Francis had sent manuscripts, Mr. McMaster avers, to more than one magazine ; for the discarded McMaster account-books had all the while been as freely covered with poetry and prose as had been the bulky business folios of Mme. Corot, Marchande de Modes, with Jean Baptiste Camille's landscapes of pen and ink. But Francis left Panton Street unanswered; he left Panton Street for less kindly thoroughfares. Nor did he ever return, though immediately after his dismissal he came to be in desperate need of any charity. How little he felt himself bounden by the ties of gratitude or kindly feeling, both of which he felt strongly in an inactive manner, is shown in this as in all his negotiations with his family and friends. He never forgot a kindness or an injury (nor failed to forgive either). Both meant too much to him. If he neglected the obligations of gratitude, he also, by a hard habit of constraint and a close conscience, kept his tongue consistently innocent of recriminations, so that I have never heard him use really hard words of any man. Mr. McMaster was never told till after his assistant's death that Francis came to find success as a writer of books and a journalist. That Francis was fond of him might be gathered in the few words in which he mentioned him no less than in Mr. McMaster's own account, and in his brother's, who says that Francis's eyes would follow the boot-maker round the room with a persistence that made him, seemingly, entirely like a fawn. " I can only compare him to a fawn," declared the brother; and he " not the only one to notice it 1"
As he stood on the threshold of the shop-" Still, as I turned inwards to the echoing chambers, or outwards to the wild, wild night, I saw London extending her visionary gate to receive me, like some dreadful mouth of Acheron " (de Quincey's words became his own by right of succession)-he was in no mood to fight for existence. He gave himself to Covent Garden, the archways and more desperate straits-"a flood-tide of disaster"-than he had known before.
Jane Eyre, while she felt the vulture, hunger, sinking beak and talons in her side, knew that solitude was no solitude, rest no rest, and instinct kept her roaming round the village and its store of food, even while she dared not ask for it. But that you are in a city of larders, and that you sleep in Covent Garden, the pulse of London's kitchens, does not scare the vulture; it is a town-bird, a cockney like the sparrow. I know that Thompson suffered hunger; so much he told me. But he found no simile for his pain, and perhaps Charlotte Bronte, in that she did find one, was as deeply scarred. Misery is a bottle-imp which you may put to your lips without going through the swing-doors of experience. Francis came back through them with a light heart, while Charlotte Bronte's was heavy with inexperience. Many of the horrors of the street Francis knew only in later years, when the bandages with which nature covers the eyes of those whom she condemns were removed. He had walked the battlefield among bullets and not known that one nestled in his heart, another in his brain, another in his flesh ; only twenty years later did he grow weak with their poison, and develop a delirium of fear of the sights and sounds of London. It was in later years that he wrote : "The very streets weigh upon me. Those horrible streets, with their gangrenous multitude blackening ever into lower mortifications of humanity. . . . These lads who have almost lost the faculty of human speech : these girls whose very utterance is a hideous blasphemy against the sacrosanctity of lover's language. . . . We lament the smoke of London :-it were nothing without the fumes of congregated evil."1 It was later, too, that he wrote of the places infamous to tell, Where God wipes not the tears from any eyes.
1 Of the despoiling of the Lady Poverty he writes in an unpublished poem:-