Lesson No. 6
Our talk at the Club one day was of opportunity and determination. Some said opportunity was required for success, and millions never had it; others that only determination was needed. And then Jorkens joined in, all for determination. If a man was determined to get anything, and stuck to it long enough, he got it, said Jorkens.
‘Anything?’ asked Terbut.
‘Anything,’ Jorkens replied, ‘so long as he stick to it, and sticks to it hard enough and long enough. Anything whatever.’
‘Life is like a race.’ Jorkens went on, ‘in which thy tire after a while and sit down, or get interested in something else instead. The man who keeps on wins the race.’
‘And suppose a man wanted to be skating champion of the Sahara,’ said Terbut, ‘and couldn’t afford the money to get there.’
‘He’d make the money,’ said Jorkens. ‘And he’d build a skating-rink in the Sahara and organize a competition there. He’d be skating champion all right, if he really gives all his time to it.’
‘Could you tell us a case like that?’ asked one of us.
‘As a matter of fact, I can,’ said Jorkens, ‘a very similar case.’
‘Let’s hear it, said Terbut.
‘There was a young fellow,’ said Jorkens, ‘to whom his parents probably used to say the very things that we have been saying now; and very likely he, as many young fellows do, may have wanted to prove them wrong. I don’t know: it was a long time ago. But, whatever his motive was, he hit on a most extraordinary ambition, and stuck to it. It was notion less than to be appointed Court acrobat.’
‘What?’ said Terbut.
‘Acrobat,’ Jorkens went on, ‘to the Court of the country in which he lived.’
‘What kind of country was that?’ asked Terbut.
‘Never mind what country it was,’ said Jorkens. ‘And as a matter of fact its customs weren’t so silly as you suppose. They had no post of Court acrobat, and never had had. But that didn’t stop young Gorgios. That was him name. He was a good athlete when he came by his wild idea at about the age of sixteen, and had won the high jump and the hurdles and the hundred yards at his school.’
‘Well, there was opportunity,’ argued Terbut, ‘if he was born a good athlete.’
‘But wait a moment,’ said Jorkens. ‘You don’t remain an athlete all your life, and he still had to get the post created.’
‘How did he do that?’ asked Terbut.
‘Simply by sticking to it,’ said Jorkens. ‘He went into politics. They all do in that country. But he went into them harder than anyone else, and never gave up his ambition. Of course he made speeches and fine ones on many other subjects; but all the while he stuck to his one idea. The years went by, and thy day came when he had power enough to preach his ambition openly, and he told them how the glory of their country and of its ancient throne would be increased if the post of Court acrobat were created. He gave examples of other Courts and grater ones. Of course many opposed him: that is politics. Of course it took a long time: that is politics too. But as the years went by he wore down opposing arguments, till he had taught people what a lesson it would be to all the nations to have a young athlete at Court exhibiting perfect physical fitness, and how such an example would strengthen their soldiers and enable them finally to win the jus rights of the nation in victorious battle against their accursed neighbors. And so the idea caught on; and to make a very long story short, the post of Court acrobat was duly created.’
Both parents of Gorgios were by then long dead. By then, little remained to be done: he had only to stick for a few more days to that wild idea of his, and then, when the question arose of choosing an athlete to fill the newly-made post, whom could they choose but the man who had worked for it all those years?’
‘So Gorgios was appointed acrobat to the Court, and learned so late in life, what always takes time, that his parents were right after all. It only remained then to inaugurate him. And that is where I came on the scene, wandering about Europe as I used to do in those days when food used to be cheap and I was young and could easily walk long distances. I came to that country and they were wonderfully friendly, and they let me see the great ceremony, which took places as soon after the creation of the post as Gorgios’s uniform could be got ready. And very magnificent clothing it was, a tight-fitting suit of red velvet, all gay with gold buttons and shining with lines of gold lace that wound twisted about it. The great throne-room had been turned into a kind og gymnasium, with the members of the Royal House seated along a raised platform at one end, and the principal officers standing beside and behind them. Great curtains of red and gold were hung along the walls, and the high swings of acrobats hung down with gilded ropes from the ceiling and a row of neat hurdles was arranged on the polished floor: like the ones over which Gorgios had won his race when at school. Lights glittered a band in pale green and gold played softly, and it was indeed a splendid scene. I will not describe it to you because, everything there, the uniforms and the ladies’ brilliant dresses, was utterly put in the shade by the moment when the doors opened with a flood of golden right, and the old man in his brilliant uniform appeared between them for the crowning of his life’s work. His white hair and the red uniform of the Court acrobat showed each other off to perfection, and his thin figure worn with age was made all the more melancholy by the tight-fitting uniform. As though tired by his long patience and the work of a lifetime, he walked slowly in his pointed shoes and leaned on gilded stick. He came to the hurdles that he remembered, over which once he had won so easy a victory. As he came to the first he looked up for a moment with a slightly sad expression towards the royal platform, as though he asked some question with his eyes. Whatever the question was it was at once understood: royal smiles were directed towards him. And gentle applause broke out from every hand, which he understood at once, and the old bent form moved on away from the hurdle. Once he raised a hand to touch the lowest of the wings that were hung from the ceiling. But again the applause broke out, assuring him that no actual activity was expected of him. And so; having made his bows, he was led to a seat, his life’s ambition achieved. It must have taken him more than sixty years to do it, since first he came by that strange ambition of his. But he did it. Not many stick to a thing for so long.’
And Jorkens uttered a quiet sign, so clearly mourning over some lost ambition that he himself had given up, that nor even Terbut asked him what it was.