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A Beautiful Accident

By Stanley V. Makower

WHAT an exquisite feeling there is about this spring after-
noon. A tender grace clings to every object in the
scene. On one side of the road a row of shops : milliners, grocers,
florists, a little second-hand book-shop wedged in between a pastry-
cook and a chemist, and so on. On the other side a block of tall,
soft brown houses standing a little way back from the road, with
small, narrow gardens in front of them. It is about three o’clock
in the afternoon. All the people in the neighbourhood have come
out—more to enjoy the air than to attend to the business on which
they pretend to be bent. But the shops are well filled, and there
is a ceaseless clapping of heels outside on the pavement. Ladies
in twos and threes wander slowly along, talking, and stopping now
and then to gaze in at a shop window, and all the time the sun
shines lazily from a mild blue sky streaked here and there with
thin white clouds. Blue shadows are on the pavement and in
little pools of water left from the rain of yesterday ; carriages and
cabs in the road, and people crossing in and out of them. From
time to time some one goes into one of the houses on the other
side of the road.

First, it is a straggling schoolboy, with a load of books and a
lazy, reluctant air, as if he would rather stay outside. Then a


                        298 A Beautiful Accident

tall, elegant lady, with a light feather boa that quivers all over
with the soft breeze. Now an old and infirm man stands on his
doorstep listening to the pleasing bustle of the scene and sniffing
in the spring air. He, too, enjoys it, for it puts fresh life into
him, and awakens many dim reminiscences of spring. He does
not think of things that have happened : he is only conscious of
having felt like this before, and in a way very intimately associated
with his life. You can see it in his face as he looks in a kind of
meditative, satisfied way at the people who pass before him on the

The whole scene is perfect. You could not pick a fault in it
anywhere. Just now a child wanders across the road, following a
little hoop which quivers and rolls in front of it. The anxious
nurse runs after it to take its hand for fear of a passing carriage.
Perfect. It must have happened. If it had not you would have
missed something. A sense of uneasiness would have come to you
from the scene. But it does happen. The nurse and child reach
the other side of the road ; and now you see that the line they
took in crossing was also necessary to the whole picture. You
cannot tell why, but you feel that it is part of a scheme. Examine
everything round you : a satisfying proportion suggests itself to
you, an appropriateness in the relationship of one thing to another,
and this not through the cunning of an architect : for the build-
ings are in mixed styles, some very different from those standing
next to them, but the colours, softened by age, mingle into a
harmony made all the more subtle by the light haze that is over

How strange the houses opposite look as soon as the pictorial
view of them fades from the mind. It is so impossible to believe
that they contain all the attributes of the interior of a house and
that people actually live in them. They are so high, and then


                        By Stanley V. Makower 299

those rows upon rows of windows—not mere pieces of glass fixed
in a flat wall such as would suggest that they were to let in the
light of the sun for human use—but elaborate contrivances of
some fanciful builder, with cornices and ornamental frames. No,
it is impossible to think of them as having anything to do with a
place where people dwell, and yet there is a consistent beauty
about the whole scene of which they are a part.

Look at a small window at the corner of a block right at the
top. This has a beauty of its own. You can look at it by day
or by night, in summer or winter, it is always beautiful. Only a
narrow border of wall separates it from the air above and on one
side. Look at it now.

The lower sash has been raised a little. In the middle, hanging
a little below the level to which the sash has been raised, is a tassel
on a fine cord belonging to a yellow blind now rolled up. This
tassel is gently swinging about in the breeze while the people are
walking to and fro below in the sunlit street. See how it bobs
backwards and forwards with a kind of silent laziness.

Now it is swinging sideways. It almost touches the white
muslin curtains that hang on each side. They are not quite still
either. Occasionally they flutter as a breath of wind catches
them. Standing on the sill outside is a tiny little pot with a
fuzzy green plant in it. The leaves are so small that you can
only just see that the wind is playing with them too, very

No one comes to the window ; very likely there is no one in
the room ; at all events, this tassel has nothing to do with the
inmates. It is part of the outside of the house : one gem in the
great beauty of the street outside. Besides, the inmates cannot
have intended things to be so. Are not windows made to see out
of ! Who would put pretty white curtains in front to flutter in


The Yellow Book—Vol. VI. S

                        300 A Beautiful Accident

the wind and a tassel to swing about so gracefully ? No, they
have got there somehow, because the street wanted it—that
is all.

∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗

The sun has thrown a red glow on to the window pane. The
tassel is almost still. It is evening now, and all the pretty ladies
have gone home. Their afternoon lounge is over. The shops
are putting up great shutters, and all the street is growing black
and dark.

Look at the little window. The yellow blind is down and a
light behind gives to it a soft, warm colour. In the centre is a
black shadow which we can recognise to be the shape of the back
of a small looking-glass. But we do not think of the looking-
glass. We only see a bright yellow ground with a queerly shaped
black shadow in the centre, and on each side of it a dark wing
formed by the shape of the muslin curtains. The little fuzzy
plant is gone. The rest of the street has lost the aspect that it
wore this afternoon, but the little window is still beautiful.

∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗

And now it is a hot summer night and the stars are out, and
lovers are walking in couples along the dusty street, and there is
stillness in the air. It has been so hot all day. The sun blazed
down upon the white pavement and the people crawled lazily
along the streets. The window was wide open all day, but the
tassel hung straight down like a rod and never moved, and the
little fuzzy plant became quite brown and shrivelled as the
burning rays beat down upon it.

Now it is dark, and still there is something beautiful in the
window—a white patch up in the corner of the pane—the reflection
of a large brilliant star. And underneath, the lazy shuffling of


                        By Stanley V. Makower 301

the lovers’ feet along the pavement. Surely no living person
could have lifted the sash so skilfully that the glass could catch
the image of that star ?

∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗

The heat has passed away. A mild damp wind is sweeping
over the street, whirling along the dry leaves from the trees in
the little gardens in front of the houses ; they rush and crackle
as they fly along the pavement. People hurry along, struggling
with the wind. They do not loiter at the shop windows. The
little window is closed. Occasionally the tassel moves in a
spasmodic way, and the white curtains shudder when the wind
rushes in through some crevice. So far there is nothing beautiful ;
but in a moment the light shifts. Look, now there is a thin
metallic blue reflection in the pane ; and now great masses of
white float swiftly across it. Watch them, one after another.
How quickly they pass ! Who put that window in such a position
that it might catch the beauty of these fleeting clouds ? Is it to
make up for the little fuzzy plant ? For that is gone for ever.

∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗

A thin yellow fog is over the street, and under foot there is
a thick mud from the recent snow ; the air is very cold, and a
drizzling rain is trickling through the fog upon the few people
who are in the street. There is a cold silence about it to-day.
Occasionally you may hear the sticky noise made by a cart or
carriage making its way through the muddy floor of the street.
It is not dark enough to light the gas inside the houses, and so
the street looks dead and deserted.

As you look up at the little window, a yellow glimmer springs
up behind the water-bespattered pane. The thin yellow fog
round the window is scattered into single points of black and


                        302 A Beautiful Accident

pale green that tingle. The rest of the street is as before, but
now it seems a mere setting to this window, exactly the right
deadness of tone and feeling to set off the brilliance of this bit.
And then this patch of light appeared exactly at the right
moment. A second later, the lights spring up in all the
windows, and the character of the scene is changed. The little
window would have a fresh relation to the other things in the
street, but some singular beauty in its new form would surely
appear. It must : it is inevitable. And yet it was only an acci-
dent that that light appeared when it did. Some one may have
wanted to read and found it necessary to light the gas, but the
street has nothing to do with that, nor has the little window.
All that was necessary for it to preserve its reputation was a
particular light at a particular moment behind the watery pane.
So it happened—by accident of course : a beautiful accident.

MLA citation:

Makower, Stanley V. “A Beautiful Accident.” The Yellow Book, vol. 6, July 1895, pp. 297-302. Yellow Book Digital Edition, edited by Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2010-2014. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2020.