Jerome K. Jerome
Part 2 out of 4
him, undertook to qualify himself for the vacancy by getting
intoxicated at least once a week. He said he could not promise more
than once a week at first, he unfortunately possessing a strong
natural distaste for all alcoholic liquors, which it would be
necessary for him to overcome. As he got more used to them, he
would do better.
"Over the disagreeable old man, my cousin also had trouble. It was
hard to hit the right degree of disagreeableness. Some of them were
so very unpleasant. He eventually made choice of a decayed cab-
driver with advanced Radical opinions, who insisted on a three
"The plan worked exceedingly well, and does so, my cousin tells me,
to this day. The drunken father has completely conquered his
dislike to strong drink. He has not been sober now for over three
weeks, and has lately taken to knocking his wife about. The
disagreeable fellow is most conscientious in fulfilling his part of
the bargain, and makes himself a perfect curse to the whole village.
The others have dropped into their respective positions and are
working well. The lady visits them all every afternoon, and is most
charitable. They call her Lady Bountiful, and everybody blesses
Brown rose as he finished speaking, and mixed himself a glass of
whisky and water with the self-satisfied air of a benevolent man
about to reward somebody for having done a good deed; and
MacShaughnassy lifted up his voice and talked.
"I know a story bearing on the subject, too," he said. "It happened
in a tiny Yorkshire village--a peaceful, respectable spot, where
folks found life a bit slow. One day, however, a new curate
arrived, and that woke things up considerably. He was a nice young
man, and, having a large private income of his own, was altogether a
most desirable catch. Every unmarried female in the place went for
him with one accord.
"But ordinary feminine blandishments appeared to have no effect upon
him. He was a seriously inclined young man, and once, in the course
of a casual conversation upon the subject of love, he was heard to
say that he himself should never be attracted by mere beauty and
charm. What would appeal to him, he said, would be a woman's
goodness--her charity and kindliness to the poor.
"Well, that set the petticoats all thinking. They saw that in
studying fashion plates and practising expressions they had been
going upon the wrong tack. The card for them to play was 'the
poor.' But here a serious difficulty arose. There was only one
poor person in the whole parish, a cantankerous old fellow who lived
in a tumble-down cottage at the back of the church, and fifteen
able-bodied women (eleven girls, three old maids, and a widow)
wanted to be 'good' to him.
"Miss Simmonds, one of the old maids, got hold of him first, and
commenced feeding him twice a day with beef-tea; and then the widow
boarded him with port wine and oysters. Later in the week others of
the party drifted in upon him, and wanted to cram him with jelly and
The old man couldn't understand it. He was accustomed to a small
sack of coals now and then, accompanied by a long lecture on his
sins, and an occasional bottle of dandelion tea. This sudden spurt
on the part of Providence puzzled him. He said nothing, however,
but continued to take in as much of everything as he could hold. At
the end of a month he was too fat to get through his own back door.
"The competition among the women-folk grew keener every day, and at
last the old man began to give himself airs, and to make the place
hard for them. He made them clean his cottage out, and cook his
meals, and when he was tired of having them about the house, he set
them to work in the garden.
"They grumbled a good deal, and there was a talk at one time of a
sort of a strike, but what could they do? He was the only pauper
for miles round, and knew it. He had the monopoly, and, like all
monopolises, he abused his position.
"He made them run errands. He sent them out to buy his 'baccy,' at
their own expense. On one occasion he sent Miss Simmonds out with a
jug to get his supper beer. She indignantly refused at first, but
he told her that if she gave him any of her stuck-up airs out she
would go, and never come into his house again. If she wouldn't do
it there were plenty of others who would. She knew it and went.
"They had been in the habit of reading to him--good books with an
elevating tendency. But now he put his foot down upon that sort of
thing. He said he didn't want Sunday-school rubbish at his time of
life. What he liked was something spicy. And he made them read him
French novels and sea-faring tales, containing realistic language.
And they didn't have to skip anything either, or he'd know the
"He said he liked music, so a few of them clubbed together and
bought him a harmonium. Their idea was that they would sing hymns
and play high-class melodies, but it wasn't his. His idea was--
'Keeping up the old girl's birthday' and 'She winked the other eye,'
with chorus and skirt dance, and that's what they sang.
"To what lengths his tyranny would have gone it is difficult to say,
had not an event happened that brought his power to a premature
collapse. This was the curate's sudden and somewhat unexpected
marriage with a very beautiful burlesque actress who had lately been
performing in a neighbouring town. He gave up the Church on his
engagement, in consequence of his fiancee's objection to becoming a
minister's wife. She said she could never 'tumble to' the district
"With the curate's wedding the old pauper's brief career of
prosperity ended. They packed him off to the workhouse after that,
and made him break stones."
At the end of the telling of his tale, MacShaughnassy lifted his
feet off the mantelpiece, and set to work to wake up his legs; and
Jephson took a hand, and began to spin us stories.
But none of us felt inclined to laugh at Jephson's stories, for they
dealt not with the goodness of the rich to the poor, which is a
virtue yielding quick and highly satisfactory returns, but with the
goodness of the poor to the poor, a somewhat less remunerative
investment and a different matter altogether.
For the poor themselves--I do not mean the noisy professional poor,
but the silent, fighting poor--one is bound to feel a genuine
respect. One honours them, as one honours a wounded soldier.
In the perpetual warfare between Humanity and Nature, the poor stand
always in the van. They die in the ditches, and we march over their
bodies with the flags flying and the drums playing.
One cannot think of them without an uncomfortable feeling that one
ought to be a little bit ashamed of living in security and ease,
leaving them to take all the hard blows. It is as if one were
always skulking in the tents, while one's comrades were fighting and
dying in the front.
They bleed and fall in silence there. Nature with her terrible
club, "Survival of the Fittest"; and Civilisation with her cruel
sword, "Supply and Demand," beat them back, and they give way inch
by inch, fighting to the end. But it is in a dumb, sullen way, that
is not sufficiently picturesque to be heroic.
I remember seeing an old bull-dog, one Saturday night, lying on the
doorstep of a small shop in the New Cut. He lay there very quiet,
and seemed a bit sleepy; and, as he looked savage, nobody disturbed
him. People stepped in and out over him, and occasionally in doing
so, one would accidentally kick him, and then he would breathe a
little harder and quicker.
At last a passer-by, feeling something wet beneath his feet, looked
down, and found that he was standing in a pool of blood, and,
looking to see where it came from, found that it flowed in a thick,
dark stream from the step on which the dog was lying.
Then he stooped down and examined the dog, and the dog opened its
eyes sleepily and looked at him, gave a grin which may have implied
pleasure, or may have implied irritation at being disturbed, and
A crowd collected, and they turned the dead body of the dog over on
its side, and saw a fearful gash in the groin, out of which oozed
blood, and other things. The proprietor of the shop said the animal
had been there for over an hour.
I have known the poor to die in that same grim, silent way--not the
poor that you, my delicately-gloved Lady Bountiful and my very
excellent Sir Simon DoGood, know, or that you would care to know;
not the poor who march in processions with banners and collection-
boxes; not the poor that clamour round your soup kitchens and sing
hymns at your tea meetings; but the poor that you don't know are
poor until the tale is told at the coroner's inquest--the silent,
proud poor who wake each morning to wrestle with Death till night-
time, and who, when at last he overcomes them, and, forcing them
down on the rotting floor of the dim attic, strangles them, still
die with their teeth tight shut.
There was a boy I came to know when I was living in the East End of
London. He was not a nice boy by any means. He was not quite so
clean as are the good boys in the religious magazines, and I have
known a sailor to stop him in the street and reprove him for using
He and his mother and the baby, a sickly infant of about five months
old, lived in a cellar down a turning off Three Colt Street. I am
not quite sure what had become of the father. I rather think he had
been "converted," and had gone off round the country on a preaching
tour. The lad earned six shillings a week as an errand-boy; and the
mother stitched trousers, and on days when she was feeling strong
and energetic would often make as much as tenpence, or even a
shilling. Unfortunately, there were days when the four bare walls
would chase each other round and round, and the candle seem a faint
speck of light, a very long way off; and the frequency of these
caused the family income for the week to occasionally fall somewhat
One night the walls danced round quicker and quicker till they
danced away altogether, and the candle shot up through the ceiling
and became a star and the woman knew that it was time to put away
"Jim," she said: she spoke very low, and the boy had to bend over
her to hear, "if you poke about in the middle of the mattress you'll
find a couple of pounds. I saved them up a long while ago. That
will pay for burying me. And, Jim, you'll take care of the kid.
You won't let it go to the parish."
"Say 'S'welp me Gawd,' Jim."
"S'welp me Gawd, mother."
Then the woman, having arranged her worldly affairs, lay back ready,
and Death struck.
Jim kept his oath. He found the money, and buried his mother; and
then, putting his household goods on a barrow, moved into cheaper
apartments--half an old shed, for which he paid two shillings a
For eighteen months he and the baby lived there. He left the child
at a nursery every morning, fetching it away each evening on his
return from work, and for that he paid fourpence a day, which
included a limited supply of milk. How he managed to keep himself
and more than half keep the child on the remaining two shillings I
cannot say. I only know that he did it, and that not a soul ever
helped him or knew that there was help wanted. He nursed the child,
often pacing the room with it for hours, washed it, occasionally,
and took it out for an airing every Sunday.
Notwithstanding all which care, the little beggar, at the end of the
time above mentioned, "pegged out," to use Jimmy's own words.
The coroner was very severe on Jim. "If you had taken proper
steps," he said, "this child's life might have been preserved." (He
seemed to think it would have been better if the child's life had
been preserved. Coroners have quaint ideas!) "Why didn't you apply
to the relieving officer?"
"'Cos I didn't want no relief," replied Jim sullenly. "I promised
my mother it should never go on the parish, and it didn't."
The incident occurred, very luckily, during the dead season, and the
evening papers took the case up, and made rather a good thing out of
it. Jim became quite a hero, I remember. Kind-hearted people
wrote, urging that somebody--the ground landlord, or the Government,
or some one of that sort--ought to do something for him. And
everybody abused the local vestry. I really think some benefit to
Jim might have come out of it all if only the excitement had lasted
a little longer. Unfortunately, however, just at its height a spicy
divorce case cropped up, and Jim was crowded out and forgotten.
I told the boys this story of mine, after Jephson had done telling
his, and, when I had finished, we found it was nearly one o'clock.
So, of course, it was too late to do any more work to the novel that
We held our next business meeting on my houseboat. Brown was
opposed at first to my going down to this houseboat at all. He
thought that none of us should leave town while the novel was still
MacShaughnassy, on the contrary, was of opinion that we should work
better on a houseboat. Speaking for himself, he said he never felt
more like writing a really great work than when lying in a hammock
among whispering leaves, with the deep blue sky above him, and a
tumbler of iced claret cup within easy reach of his hand. Failing a
hammock, he found a deck chair a great incentive to mental labour.
In the interests of the novel, he strongly recommended me to take
down with me at least one comfortable deck chair, and plenty of
I could not myself see any reason why we should not be able to think
as well on a houseboat as anywhere else, and accordingly it was
settled that I should go down and establish myself upon the thing,
and that the others should visit me there from time to time, when we
would sit round and toil.
This houseboat was Ethelbertha's idea. We had spent a day, the
summer before, on one belonging to a friend of mine, and she had
been enraptured with the life. Everything was on such a
delightfully tiny scale. You lived in a tiny little room; you slept
on a tiny little bed, in a tiny, tiny little bedroom; and you cooked
your little dinner by a tiny little fire, in the tiniest little
kitchen that ever you did see. "Oh, it must be lovely, living on a
houseboat," said Ethelbertha, with a gasp of ecstasy; "it must be
like living in a doll's house."
Ethelbertha was very young--ridiculously young, as I think I have
mentioned before--in those days of which I am writing, and the love
of dolls, and of the gorgeous dresses that dolls wear, and of the
many-windowed but inconveniently arranged houses that dolls inhabit-
-or are supposed to inhabit, for as a rule they seem to prefer
sitting on the roof with their legs dangling down over the front
door, which has always appeared to me to be unladylike: but then,
of course, I am no authority on doll etiquette--had not yet, I
think, quite departed from her. Nay, am I not sure that it had not?
Do I not remember, years later, peeping into a certain room, the
walls of which are covered with works of art of a character
calculated to send any aesthetic person mad, and seeing her, sitting
on the floor, before a red brick mansion, containing two rooms and a
kitchen; and are not her hands trembling with delight as she
arranges the three real tin plates upon the dresser? And does she
not knock at the real brass knocker upon the real front door until
it comes off, and I have to sit down beside her on the floor and
screw it on again?
Perhaps, however, it is unwise for me to recall these things, and
bring them forward thus in evidence against her, for cannot she in
turn laugh at me? Did not I also assist in the arrangement and
appointment of that house beautiful? We differed on the matter of
the drawing-room carpet, I recollect. Ethelbertha fancied a dark
blue velvet, but I felt sure, taking the wall-paper into
consideration, that some shade of terra-cotta would harmonise best.
She agreed with me in the end, and we manufactured one out of an old
chest protector. It had a really charming effect, and gave a
delightfully warm tone to the room. The blue velvet we put in the
kitchen. I deemed this extravagance, but Ethelbertha said that
servants thought a lot of a good carpet, and that it paid to humour
them in little things, when practicable.
The bedroom had one big bed and a cot in it; but I could not see
where the girl was going to sleep. The architect had overlooked her
altogether: that is so like an architect. The house also suffered
from the inconvenience common to residences of its class, of
possessing no stairs, so that to move from one room to another it
was necessary to burst your way up through the ceiling, or else to
come outside and climb in through a window; either of which methods
must be fatiguing when you come to do it often.
Apart from these drawbacks, however, the house was one that any doll
agent would have been justified in describing as a "most desirable
family residence"; and it had been furnished with a lavishness that
bordered on positive ostentation. In the bedroom there was a
washing-stand, and on the washing-stand there stood a jug and basin,
and in the jug there was real water. But all this was as nothing.
I have known mere ordinary, middle-class dolls' houses in which you
might find washing-stands and jugs and basins and real water--ay,
and even soap. But in this abode of luxury there was a real towel;
so that a body could not only wash himself, but wipe himself
afterwards, and that is a sensation that, as all dolls know, can be
enjoyed only in the very first-class establishments.
Then, in the drawing-room, there was a clock, which would tick just
so long as you continued to shake it (it never seemed to get tired);
also a picture and a piano, and a book upon the table, and a vase of
flowers that would upset the moment you touched it, just like a real
vase of flowers. Oh, there was style about this room, I can tell
But the glory of the house was its kitchen. There were all things
that heart could desire in this kitchen, saucepans with lids that
took on and off, a flat-iron and a rolling-pin. A dinner service
for three occupied about half the room, and what space was left was
filled up by the stove--a REAL stove! Think of it, oh ye owners of
dolls' houses, a stove in which you could burn real bits of coal,
and on which you could boil real bits of potato for dinner--except
when people said you mustn't, because it was dangerous, and took the
grate away from you, and blew out the fire, a thing that hampers a
I never saw a house more complete in all its details. Nothing had
been overlooked, not even the family. It lay on its back, just
outside the front door, proud but calm, waiting to be put into
possession. It was not an extensive family. It consisted of four--
papa, and mamma, and baby, and the hired girl; just the family for a
It was a well-dressed family too--not merely with grand clothes
outside, covering a shameful condition of things beneath, such as,
alas! is too often the case in doll society, but with every article
necessary and proper to a lady or gentleman, down to items that I
could not mention. And all these garments, you must know, could be
unfastened and taken off. I have known dolls--stylish enough dolls,
to look at, some of them--who have been content to go about with
their clothes gummed on to them, and, in some cases, nailed on with
tacks, which I take to be a slovenly and unhealthy habit. But this
family could be undressed in five minutes, without the aid of either
hot water or a chisel.
Not that it was advisable from an artistic point of view that any of
them should. They had not the figure that looks well in its natural
state--none of them. There was a want of fulness about them all.
Besides, without their clothes, it might have been difficult to
distinguish the baby from the papa, or the maid from the mistress,
and thus domestic complications might have arisen.
When all was ready for their reception we established them in their
home. We put as much of the baby to bed as the cot would hold, and
made the papa and mamma comfortable in the drawing-room, where they
sat on the floor and stared thoughtfully at each other across the
table. (They had to sit on the floor because the chairs were not
big enough.) The girl we placed in the kitchen, where she leant
against the dresser in an attitude suggestive of drink, embracing
the broom we had given her with maudlin affection. Then we lifted
up the house with care, and carried it cautiously into another room,
and with the deftness of experienced conspirators placed it at the
foot of a small bed, on the south-west corner of which an absurdly
small somebody had hung an absurdly small stocking.
To return to our own doll's house, Ethelbertha and I, discussing the
subject during our return journey in the train, resolved that, next
year, we ourselves would possess a houseboat, a smaller houseboat,
if possible, than even the one we had just seen. It should have
art-muslin curtains and a flag, and the flowers about it should be
wild roses and forget-me-nots. I could work all the morning on the
roof, with an awning over me to keep off the sun, while Ethelbertha
trimmed the roses and made cakes for tea; and in the evenings we
would sit out on the little deck, and Ethelbertha would play the
guitar (she would begin learning it at once), or we could sit quiet
and listen to the nightingales.
For, when you are very, very young you dream that the summer is all
sunny days and moonlight nights, that the wind blows always softly
from the west, and that roses will thrive anywhere. But, as you
grow older, you grow tired of waiting for the gray sky to break. So
you close the door and come in, and crouch over the fire, wondering
why the winds blow ever from the east: and you have given up trying
to rear roses.
I knew a little cottage girl who saved up her money for months and
months so as to buy a new frock in which to go to a flower-show.
But the day of the flower-show was a wet day, so she wore an old
frock instead. And all the fete days for quite a long while were
wet days, and she feared she would never have a chance of wearing
her pretty white dress. But at last there came a fete day morning
that was bright and sunny, and then the little girl clapped her
hands and ran upstairs, and took her new frock (which had been her
"new frock" for so long a time that it was now the oldest frock she
had) from the box where it lay neatly folded between lavender and
thyme, and held it up, and laughed to think how nice she would look
But when she went to put it on, she found that she had out-grown it,
and that it was too small for her every way. So she had to wear a
common old frock after all.
Things happen that way, you know, in this world. There were a boy
and girl once who loved each other very dearly. But they were both
poor, so they agreed to wait till he had made enough money for them
to live comfortably upon, and then they would marry and be happy.
It took him a long while to make, because making money is very slow
work, and he wanted, while he was about it, to make enough for them
to be very happy upon indeed. He accomplished the task eventually,
however, and came back home a wealthy man.
Then they met again in the poorly-furnished parlour where they had
parted. But they did not sit as near to each other as of old. For
she had lived alone so long that she had grown old-maidish, and she
was feeling vexed with him for having dirtied the carpet with his
muddy boots. And he had worked so long earning money that he had
grown hard and cold like the money itself, and was trying to think
of something affectionate to say to her.
So for a while they sat, one each side of the paper "fire-stove
ornament," both wondering why they had shed such scalding tears on
that day they had kissed each other good-bye; then said "good-bye"
again, and were glad.
There is another tale with much the same moral that I learnt at
school out of a copy-book. If I remember rightly, it runs somewhat
Once upon a time there lived a wise grasshopper and a foolish ant.
All through the pleasant summer weather the grasshopper sported and
played, gambolling with his fellows in and out among the sun-beams,
dining sumptuously each day on leaves and dew-drops, never troubling
about the morrow, singing ever his one peaceful, droning song.
But there came the cruel winter, and the grass-hopper, looking
around, saw that his friends, the flowers, lay dead, and knew
thereby that his own little span was drawing near its close.
Then he felt glad that he had been so happy, and had not wasted his
life. "It has been very short," said he to himself; "but it has
been very pleasant, and I think I have made the best use of it. I
have drunk in the sunshine, I have lain on the soft, warm air, I
have played merry games in the waving grass, I have tasted the juice
of the sweet green leaves. I have done what I could. I have spread
my wings, I have sung my song. Now I will thank God for the sunny
days that are passed, and die."
Saying which, he crawled under a brown leaf, and met his fate in the
way that all brave grasshoppers should; and a little bird that was
passing by picked him up tenderly and buried him.
Now when the foolish ant saw this, she was greatly puffed up with
Pharisaical conceit. "How thankful I ought to be," said she, "that
I am industrious and prudent, and not like this poor grasshopper.
While he was flitting about from flower to flower, enjoying himself,
I was hard at work, putting by against the winter. Now he is dead,
while I am about to make myself cosy in my warm home, and eat all
the good things that I have been saving up."
But, as she spoke, the gardener came along with his spade, and
levelled the hill where she dwelt to the ground, and left her lying
dead amidst the ruins.
Then the same kind little bird that had buried the grasshopper came
and picked her out and buried her also; and afterwards he composed
and sang a song, the burthen of which was, "Gather ye rosebuds while
ye may." It was a very pretty song, and a very wise song, and a man
who lived in those days, and to whom the birds, loving him and
feeling that he was almost one of themselves, had taught their
language, fortunately overheard it and wrote it down, so that all
may read it to this day.
Unhappily for us, however, Fate is a harsh governess, who has no
sympathy with our desire for rosebuds. "Don't stop to pick flowers
now, my dear," she cries, in her sharp, cross tones, as she seizes
our arm and jerks us back into the roadway; "we haven't time to-day.
We will come back again to-morrow, and you shall pick them then."
And we have to follow her, knowing, if we are experienced children,
that the chances are that we shall never come that way to-morrow; or
that, if we do, the roses will be dead.
Fate would not hear of our having a houseboat that summer,--which
was an exceptionally fine summer,--but promised us that if we were
good and saved up our money, we should have one next year; and
Ethelbertha and I, being simple-minded, inexperienced children, were
content with the promise, and had faith in its satisfactory
As soon as we reached home we informed Amenda of our plan. The
moment the girl opened the door, Ethelbertha burst out with:- "Oh!
can you swim, Amenda?"
"No, mum," answered Amenda, with entire absence of curiosity as to
why such a question had been addressed to her, "I never knew but one
girl as could, and she got drowned."
"Well, you'll have to make haste and learn, then," continued
Ethelbertha, "because you won't be able to walk out with your young
man, you'll have to swim out. We're not going to live in a house
any more. We're going to live on a boat in the middle of the
Ethelbertha's chief object in life at this period was to surprise
and shock Amenda, and her chief sorrow that she had never succeeded
in doing so. She had hoped great things from this announcement, but
the girl remained unmoved. "Oh, are you, mum," she replied; and
went on to speak of other matters.
I believe the result would have been the same if we had told her we
were going to live in a balloon.
I do not know how it was, I am sure. Amenda was always most
respectful in her manner. But she had a knack of making Ethelbertha
and myself feel that we were a couple of children, playing at being
grown up and married, and that she was humouring us.
Amenda stayed with us for nearly five years--until the milkman,
having saved up sufficient to buy a "walk" of his own, had become
practicable--but her attitude towards us never changed. Even when
we came to be really important married people, the proprietors of a
"family," it was evident that she merely considered we had gone a
step further in the game, and were playing now at being fathers and
By some subtle process she contrived to imbue the baby also with
this idea. The child never seemed to me to take either of us quite
seriously. She would play with us, or join with us in light
conversation; but when it came to the serious affairs of life, such
as bathing or feeding, she preferred her nurse.
Ethelbertha attempted to take her out in the perambulator one
morning, but the child would not hear of it for a moment.
"It's all right, baby dear," explained Ethelbertha soothingly.
"Baby's going out with mamma this morning."
"Oh no, baby ain't," was baby's rejoinder, in effect if not in
words. "Baby don't take a hand in experiments--not this baby. I
don't want to be upset or run over."
Poor Ethel! I shall never forget how heart-broken she was. It was
the want of confidence that wounded her.
But these are reminiscences of other days, having no connection with
the days of which I am--or should be--writing; and to wander from
one matter to another is, in a teller of tales, a grievous sin, and
a growing custom much to be condemned. Therefore I will close my
eyes to all other memories, and endeavour to see only that little
white and green houseboat by the ferry, which was the scene of our
Houseboats then were not built to the scale of Mississippi steamers,
but this boat was a small one, even for that primitive age. The man
from whom we hired it described it as "compact." The man to whom,
at the end of the first month, we tried to sub-let it, characterised
it as "poky." In our letters we traversed this definition. In our
hearts we agreed with it.
At first, however, its size--or, rather, its lack of size--was one
of its chief charms in Ethelbertha's eyes. The fact that if you got
out of bed carelessly you were certain to knock your head against
the ceiling, and that it was utterly impossible for any man to put
on his trousers except in the saloon, she regarded as a capital
That she herself had to take a looking-glass and go upon the roof to
do her back hair, she thought less amusing.
Amenda accepted her new surroundings with her usual philosophic
indifference. On being informed that what she had mistaken for a
linen-press was her bedroom, she remarked that there was one
advantage about it, and that was, that she could not tumble out of
bed, seeing there was nowhere to tumble; and, on being shown the
kitchen, she observed that she should like it for two things--one
was that she could sit in the middle and reach everything without
getting up; the other, that nobody else could come into the
apartment while she was there.
"You see, Amenda," explained Ethelbertha apologetically, "we shall
really live outside."
"Yes, mum," answered Amenda, "I should say that would be the best
place to do it."
If only we could have lived more outside, the life might have been
pleasant enough, but the weather rendered it impossible, six days
out of the seven, for us to do more than look out of the window and
feel thankful that we had a roof over our heads.
I have known wet summers before and since. I have learnt by many
bitter experiences the danger and foolishness of leaving the shelter
of London any time between the first of May and the thirty-first of
October. Indeed, the country is always associate in my mind with
recollections of long, weary days passed in the pitiless rain, and
sad evenings spent in other people's clothes. But never have I
known, and never, I pray night and morning, may I know again, such a
summer as the one we lived through (though none of us expected to)
on that confounded houseboat.
In the morning we would be awakened by the rain's forcing its way
through the window and wetting the bed, and would get up and mop out
the saloon. After breakfast I would try to work, but the beating of
the hail upon the roof just over my head would drive every idea out
of my brain, and, after a wasted hour or two, I would fling down my
pen and hunt up Ethelbertha, and we would put on our mackintoshes
and take our umbrellas and go out for a row. At mid-day we would
return and put on some dry clothes, and sit down to dinner.
In the afternoon the storm generally freshened up a bit, and we were
kept pretty busy rushing about with towels and cloths, trying to
prevent the water from coming into the rooms and swamping us.
During tea-time the saloon was usually illuminated by forked
lightning. The evenings we spent in baling out the boat, after
which we took it in turns to go into the kitchen and warm ourselves.
At eight we supped, and from then until it was time to go to bed we
sat wrapped up in rugs, listening to the roaring of the thunder, and
the howling of the wind, and the lashing of the waves, and wondering
whether the boat would hold out through the night.
Friends would come down to spend the day with us--elderly, irritable
people, fond of warmth and comfort; people who did not, as a rule,
hanker after jaunts, even under the most favourable conditions; but
who had been persuaded by our silly talk that a day on the river
would be to them like a Saturday to Monday in Paradise.
They would arrive soaked; and we would shut them up in different
bunks, and leave them to strip themselves and put on things of
Ethelbertha's or of mine. But Ethel and I, in those days, were
slim, so that stout, middle-aged people in our clothes neither
looked well nor felt happy.
Upon their emerging we would take them into the saloon and try to
entertain them by telling them what we had intended to do with them
had the day been fine. But their answers were short, and
occasionally snappy, and after a while the conversation would flag,
and we would sit round reading last week's newspapers and coughing.
The moment their own clothes were dry (we lived in a perpetual
atmosphere of steaming clothes) they would insist upon leaving us,
which seemed to me discourteous after all that we had done for them,
and would dress themselves once more and start off home, and get wet
again before they got there.
We would generally receive a letter a few days afterwards, written
by some relative, informing us that both patients were doing as well
as could be expected, and promising to send us a card for the
funeral in case of a relapse.
Our chief recreation, our sole consolation, during the long weeks of
our imprisonment, was to watch from our windows the pleasure-seekers
passing by in small open boats, and to reflect what an awful day
they had had, or were going to have, as the case might be.
In the forenoon they would head up stream--young men with their
sweethearts; nephews taking out their rich old aunts; husbands and
wives (some of them pairs, some of them odd ones); stylish-looking
girls with cousins; energetic-looking men with dogs; high-class
silent parties; low-class noisy parties; quarrelsome family parties-
-boatload after boatload they went by, wet, but still hopeful,
pointing out bits of blue sky to each other.
In the evening they would return, drenched and gloomy, saying
disagreeable things to one another.
One couple, and one couple only, out of the many hundreds that
passed under our review, came back from the ordeal with pleasant
faces. He was rowing hard and singing, with a handkerchief tied
round his head to keep his hat on, and she was laughing at him,
while trying to hold up an umbrella with one hand and steer with the
There are but two explanations to account for people being jolly on
the river in the rain. The one I dismissed as being both
uncharitable and improbable. The other was creditable to the human
race, and, adopting it, I took off my cap to this damp but cheerful
pair as they went by. They answered with a wave of the hand, and I
stood looking after them till they disappeared in the mist.
I am inclined to think that those young people, if they be still
alive, are happy. Maybe, fortune has been kind to them, or maybe
she has not, but in either event they are, I am inclined to think,
happier than are most people.
Now and again, the daily tornado would rage with such fury as to
defeat its own purpose by prematurely exhausting itself. On these
rare occasions we would sit out on the deck, and enjoy the unwonted
luxury of fresh air.
I remember well those few pleasant evenings: the river, luminous
with the drowned light, the dark banks where the night lurked, the
storm-tossed sky, jewelled here and there with stars.
It was delightful not to hear for an hour or so the sullen thrashing
of the rain; but to listen to the leaping of the fishes, the soft
swirl raised by some water-rat, swimming stealthily among the
rushes, the restless twitterings of the few still wakeful birds.
An old corncrake lived near to us, and the way he used to disturb
all the other birds, and keep them from going to sleep, was
shameful. Amenda, who was town-bred, mistook him at first for one
of those cheap alarm clocks, and wondered who was winding him up,
and why they went on doing it all night; and, above all, why they
didn't oil him.
He would begin his unhallowed performance about dusk, just as every
respectable bird was preparing to settle down for the night. A
family of thrushes had their nest a few yards from his stand, and
they used to get perfectly furious with him.
"There's that fool at it again," the female thrush would say; "why
can't he do it in the day-time if he must do it at all?" (She
spoke, of course, in twitters, but I am confident the above is a
After a while, the young thrushes would wake up and begin chirping,
and then the mother would get madder than ever.
"Can't you say something to him?" she would cry indignantly to her
husband. "How do you think the children can get to sleep, poor
things, with that hideous row going on all night? Might just as
well be living in a saw-mill."
Thus adjured, the male thrush would put his head over the nest, and
call out in a nervous, apologetic manner:-
"I say, you know, you there, I wish you wouldn't mind being quiet a
bit. My wife says she can't get the children to sleep. It's too
bad, you know, 'pon my word it is."
"Gor on," the corncrake would answer surlily. "You keep your wife
herself quiet; that's enough for you to do." And on he would go
again worse than before.
Then a mother blackbird, from a little further off, would join in
"Ah, it's a good hiding he wants, not a talking to. And if I was a
cock, I'd give it him." (This remark would be made in a tone of
withering contempt, and would appear to bear reference to some
"You're quite right, ma'am," Mrs. Thrush would reply. "That's what
I tell my husband, but" (with rising inflection, so that every lady
in the plantation might hear) "HE wouldn't move himself, bless you--
no, not if I and the children were to die before his eyes for want
"Ah, he ain't the only one, my dear," the blackbird would pipe back,
"they're all alike"; then, in a voice more of sorrow than of anger:-
"but there, it ain't their fault, I suppose, poor things. If you
ain't got the spirit of a bird you can't help yourself."
I would strain my ears at this point to hear if the male blackbird
was moved at all by these taunts, but the only sound I could ever
detect coming from his neighbourhood was that of palpably
By this time the whole glade would be awake, expressing views
concerning that corncrake that would have wounded a less callous
"Blow me tight, Bill," some vulgar little hedge-sparrow would chirp
out, in the midst of the hubbub, "if I don't believe the gent thinks
"'Tain't 'is fault," Bill would reply, with mock sympathy.
"Somebody's put a penny in the slot, and 'e can't stop 'isself."
Irritated by the laugh that this would call forth from the younger
birds, the corncrake would exert himself to be more objectionable
than ever, and, as a means to this end, would commence giving his
marvellous imitation of the sharpening of a rusty saw by a steel
But at this an old crow, not to be trifled with, would cry out
"Stop that, now. If I come down to you I'll peck your cranky head
off, I will."
And then would follow silence for a quarter of an hour, after which
the whole thing would begin again.
Brown and MacShaughnassy came down together on the Saturday
afternoon; and, as soon as they had dried themselves, and had had
some tea, we settled down to work.
Jephson had written that he would not be able to be with us until
late in the evening, and Brown proposed that we should occupy
ourselves until his arrival with plots.
"Let each of us," said he, "sketch out a plot. Afterwards we can
compare them, and select the best."
This we proceeded to do. The plots themselves I forget, but I
remember that at the subsequent judging each man selected his own,
and became so indignant at the bitter criticism to which it was
subjected by the other two, that he tore it up; and, for the next
half-hour, we sat and smoked in silence.
When I was very young I yearned to know other people's opinion of me
and all my works; now, my chief aim is to avoid hearing it. In
those days, had any one told me there was half a line about myself
in a newspaper, I should have tramped London to obtain that
publication. Now, when I see a column headed with my name, I
hurriedly fold up the paper and put it away from me, subduing my
natural curiosity to read it by saying to myself, "Why should you?
It will only upset you for the day."
In my cubhood I possessed a friend. Other friends have come into my
life since--very dear and precious friends--but they have none of
them been to me quite what this friend was. Because he was my first
friend, and we lived together in a world that was much bigger than
this world--more full of joy and of grief; and, in that world, we
loved and hated deeper than we love and hate in this smaller world
that I have come to dwell in since.
He also had the very young man's craving to be criticised, and we
made it our custom to oblige each other. We did not know then that
what we meant, when we asked for "criticism," was encouragement. We
thought that we were strong--one does at the beginning of the
battle, and that we could bear to hear the truth.
Accordingly, each one pointed out to the other one his errors, and
this task kept us both so busy that we had never time to say a word
of praise to one another. That we each had a high opinion of the
other's talents I am convinced, but our heads were full of silly
saws. We said to ourselves: "There are many who will praise a man;
it is only his friend who will tell him of his faults." Also, we
said: "No man sees his own shortcomings, but when these are pointed
out to him by another he is grateful, and proceeds to mend them."
As we came to know the world better, we learnt the fallacy of these
ideas. But then it was too late, for the mischief had been done.
When one of us had written anything, he would read it to the other,
and when he had finished he would say, "Now, tell me what you think
of it--frankly and as a friend."
Those were his words. But his thoughts, though he may not have
known them, were:-
"Tell me it is clever and good, my friend, even if you do not think
so. The world is very cruel to those that have not yet conquered
it, and, though we keep a careless face, our young hearts are scored
with wrinkles. Often we grow weary and faint-hearted. Is it not
so, my friend? No one has faith in us, and in our dark hours we
doubt ourselves. You are my comrade. You know what of myself I
have put into this thing that to others will be but an idle half-
hour's reading. Tell me it is good, my friend. Put a little heart
into me, I pray you."
But the other, full of the lust of criticism, which is
civilisation's substitute for cruelty, would answer more in
frankness than in friendship. Then he who had written would flush
angrily, and scornful words would pass.
One evening, he read me a play he had written. There was much that
was good in it, but there were also faults (there are in some
plays), and these I seized upon and made merry over. I could hardly
have dealt out to the piece more unnecessary bitterness had I been a
As soon as I paused from my sport he rose, and, taking his
manuscript from the table, tore it in two, and flung it in the fire-
-he was but a very young man, you must remember--and then, standing
before me with a white face, told me, unsolicited, his opinion of me
and of my art. After which double event, it is perhaps needless to
say that we parted in hot anger.
I did not see him again for years. The streets of life are very
crowded, and if we loose each other's hands we are soon hustled far
apart. When I did next meet him it was by accident.
I had left the Whitehall Rooms after a public dinner, and, glad of
the cool night air, was strolling home by the Embankment. A man,
slouching along under the trees, paused as I overtook him.
"You couldn't oblige me with a light, could you, guv'nor?" he said.
The voice sounded strange, coming from the figure that it did.
I struck a match, and held it out to him, shaded by my hands. As
the faint light illumined his face, I started back, and let the
He answered with a short dry laugh. "I didn't know it was you," he
said, "or I shouldn't have stopped you."
"How has it come to this, old fellow?" I asked, laying my hand upon
his shoulder. His coat was unpleasantly greasy, and I drew my hand
away again as quickly as I could, and tried to wipe it covertly upon
"Oh, it's a long, story," he answered carelessly, "and too
conventional to be worth telling. Some of us go up, you know. Some
of us go down. You're doing pretty well, I hear."
"I suppose so," I replied; "I've climbed a few feet up a greasy
pole, and am trying to stick there. But it is of you I want to
talk. Can't I do anything for you?"
We were passing under a gas-lamp at the moment. He thrust his face
forward close to mine, and the light fell full and pitilessly upon
"Do I look like a man you could do anything for?" he said.
We walked on in silence side by side, I casting about for words that
might seize hold of him.
"You needn't worry about me," he continued after a while, "I'm
comfortable enough. We take life easily down here where I am.
We've no disappointments."
"Why did you give up like a weak coward?" I burst out angrily. "You
had talent. You would have won with ordinary perseverance."
"Maybe," he replied, in the same even tone of indifference. "I
suppose I hadn't the grit. I think if somebody had believed in me
it might have helped me. But nobody did, and at last I lost belief
in myself. And when a man loses that, he's like a balloon with the
gas let out."
I listened to his words in indignation and astonishment. "Nobody
believed in you!" I repeated. "Why, I always believed in you, you
know that I--"
Then I paused, remembering our "candid criticism" of one another.
"Did you?" he replied quietly, "I never heard you say so. Good-
In the course of our Strandward walking we had come to the
neighbourhood of the Savoy, and, as he spoke, he disappeared down
one of the dark turnings thereabouts.
I hastened after him, calling him by name, but though I heard his
quick steps before me for a little way, they were soon swallowed up
in the sound of other steps, and, when I reached the square in which
the chapel stands, I had lost all trace of him.
A policeman was standing by the churchyard railings, and of him I
"What sort of a gent was he, sir?" questioned the man.
"A tall thin gentleman, very shabbily dressed--might be mistaken for
"Ah, there's a good many of that sort living in this town," replied
the man. "I'm afraid you'll have some difficulty in finding him."
Thus for a second time had I heard his footsteps die away, knowing I
should never listen for their drawing near again.
I wondered as I walked on--I have wondered before and since--whether
Art, even with a capital A, is quite worth all the suffering that is
inflicted in her behalf--whether she and we are better for all the
scorning and the sneering, all the envying and the hating, that is
done in her name.
Jephson arrived about nine o'clock in the ferry-boat. We were made
acquainted with this fact by having our heads bumped against the
sides of the saloon.
Somebody or other always had their head bumped whenever the ferry-
boat arrived. It was a heavy and cumbersome machine, and the ferry-
boy was not a good punter. He admitted this frankly, which was
creditable of him. But he made no attempt to improve himself; that
is, where he was wrong. His method was to arrange the punt before
starting in a line with the point towards which he wished to
proceed, and then to push hard, without ever looking behind him,
until something suddenly stopped him. This was sometimes the bank,
sometimes another boat, occasionally a steamer, from six to a dozen
times a day our riparian dwelling. That he never succeeded in
staving the houseboat in speaks highly for the man who built her.
One day he came down upon us with a tremendous crash. Amenda was
walking along the passage at the moment, and the result to her was
that she received a violent blow first on the left side of her head
and then on the right.
She was accustomed to accept one bump as a matter of course, and to
regard it as an intimation from the boy that he had come; but this
double knock annoyed her: so much "style" was out of place in a
mere ferry-boy. Accordingly she went out to him in a state of high
"What do you think you are?" she cried, balancing accounts by boxing
his ears first on one side and then on the other, "a torpedo! What
are you doing here at all? What do you want?"
"I don't want nothin'," explained the boy, rubbing his head; "I've
brought a gent down."
"A gent?" said Amenda, looking round, but seeing no one. "What
"A stout gent in a straw 'at," answered the boy, staring round him
"Well, where is he?" asked Amenda.
"I dunno," replied the boy, in an awed voice; "'e was a-standin'
there, at the other end of the punt, a-smokin' a cigar."
Just then a head appeared above the water, and a spent but
infuriated swimmer struggled up between the houseboat and the bank.
"Oh, there 'e is!" cried the boy delightedly, evidently much
relieved at this satisfactory solution of the mystery; "'e must ha'
tumbled off the punt."
"You're quite right, my lad, that's just what he did do, and there's
your fee for assisting him to do it." Saying which, my dripping
friend, who had now scrambled upon deck, leant over, and following
Amenda's excellent example, expressed his feelings upon the boy's
There was one comforting reflection about the transaction as a
whole, and that was that the ferry-boy had at last received a fit
and proper reward for his services. I had often felt inclined to
give him something myself. I think he was, without exception, the
most clumsy and stupid boy I have ever come across; and that is
saying a good deal.
His mother undertook that for three-and-sixpence a week he should
"make himself generally useful" to us for a couple of hours every
Those were the old lady's very words, and I repeated them to Amenda
when I introduced the boy to her.
"This is James, Amenda," I said; "he will come down here every
morning at seven, and bring us our milk and the letters, and from
then till nine he will make himself generally useful."
Amenda took stock of him.
"It will be a change of occupation for him, sir, I should say, by
the look of him," she remarked.
After that, whenever some more than usually stirring crash or blood-
curdling bump would cause us to leap from our seats and cry: "What
on earth has happened?" Amenda would reply: "Oh, it's only James,
mum, making himself generally useful."
Whatever he lifted he let fall; whatever he touched he upset;
whatever he came near--that was not a fixture--he knocked over; if
it was a fixture, it knocked HIM over. This was not carelessness:
it seemed to be a natural gift. Never in his life, I am convinced,
had he carried a bucketful of anything anywhere without tumbling
over it before he got there. One of his duties was to water the
flowers on the roof. Fortunately--for the flowers--Nature, that
summer, stood drinks with a lavishness sufficient to satisfy the
most confirmed vegetable toper: otherwise every plant on our boat
would have died from drought. Never one drop of water did they
receive from him. He was for ever taking them water, but he never
arrived there with it. As a rule he upset the pail before he got it
on to the boat at all, and this was the best thing that could
happen, because then the water simply went back into the river, and
did no harm to any one. Sometimes, however, he would succeed in
landing it, and then the chances were he would spill it over the
deck or into the passage. Now and again, he would get halfway up
the ladder before the accident occurred. Twice he nearly reached
the top; and once he actually did gain the roof. What happened
there on that memorable occasion will never be known. The boy
himself, when picked up, could explain nothing. It is supposed that
he lost his head with the pride of the achievement, and essayed
feats that neither his previous training nor his natural abilities
justified him in attempting. However that may be, the fact remains
that the main body of the water came down the kitchen chimney; and
that the boy and the empty pail arrived together on deck before they
knew they had started.
When he could find nothing else to damage, he would go out of his
way to upset himself. He could not be sure of stepping from his own
punt on to the boat with safety. As often as not, he would catch
his foot in the chain or the punt-pole, and arrive on his chest.
Amenda used to condole with him. "Your mother ought to be ashamed
of herself," I heard her telling him one morning; "she could never
have taught you to walk. What you want is a go-cart."
He was a willing lad, but his stupidity was super-natural. A comet
appeared in the sky that year, and everybody was talking about it.
One day he said to me:-
"There's a comet coming, ain't there, sir?" He talked about it as
though it were a circus.
"Coming!" I answered, "it's come. Haven't you seen it?"
"Oh, well, you have a look for it to-night. It's worth seeing."
"Yees, sir, I should like to see it. It's got a tail, ain't it,
"Yes, a very fine tail."
"Yees, sir, they said it 'ad a tail. Where do you go to see it,
"Go! You don't want to go anywhere. You'll see it in your own
garden at ten o'clock."
He thanked me, and, tumbling over a sack of potatoes, plunged head
foremost into his punt and departed.
Next morning, I asked him if he had seen the comet.
"No, sir, I couldn't see it anywhere."
"Did you look?"
"Yees, sir. I looked a long time."
"How on earth did you manage to miss it then?" I exclaimed. "It was
a clear enough night. Where did you look?"
"In our garden, sir. Where you told me."
"Whereabouts in the garden?" chimed in Amenda, who happened to be
standing by; "under the gooseberry bushes?"
That is what he had done: he had taken the stable lantern and
searched the garden for it.
But the day when he broke even his own record for foolishness
happened about three weeks later. MacShaughnassy was staying with
us at the time, and on the Friday evening he mixed us a salad,
according to a recipe given him by his aunt. On the Saturday
morning, everybody was, of course, very ill. Everybody always is
very ill after partaking of any dish prepared by MacShaughnassy.
Some people attempt to explain this fact by talking glibly of "cause
and effect." MacShaughnassy maintains that it is simply
"How do you know," he says, "that you wouldn't have been ill if you
hadn't eaten any? You're queer enough now, any one can see, and I'm
very sorry for you; but, for all that you can tell, if you hadn't
eaten any of that stuff you might have been very much worse--perhaps
dead. In all probability, it has saved your life." And for the
rest of the day, he assumes towards you the attitude of a man who
has dragged you from the grave.
The moment Jimmy arrived I seized hold of him.
"Jimmy," I said, "you must rush off to the chemist's immediately.
Don't stop for anything. Tell him to give you something for colic--
the result of vegetable poisoning. It must be something very
strong, and enough for four. Don't forget, something to counteract
the effects of vegetable poisoning. Hurry up, or it may be too
My excitement communicated itself to the boy. He tumbled back into
his punt, and pushed off vigorously. I watched him land, and
disappear in the direction of the village.
Half an hour passed, but Jimmy did not return. No one felt
sufficiently energetic to go after him. We had only just strength
enough to sit still and feebly abuse him. At the end of an hour we
were all feeling very much better. At the end of an hour and a half
we were glad he had not returned when he ought to have, and were
only curious as to what had become of him.
In the evening, strolling through the village, we saw him sitting by
the open door of his mother's cottage, with a shawl wrapped round
him. He was looking worn and ill.
"Why, Jimmy," I said, "what's the matter? Why didn't you come back
"I couldn't, sir," Jimmy answered, "I was so queer. Mother made me
go to bed."
"You seemed all right in the morning," I said; "what's made you
"What Mr. Jones give me, sir: it upset me awful."
A light broke in upon me.
"What did you say, Jimmy, when you got to Mr. Jones's shop?" I
"I told 'im what you said, sir, that 'e was to give me something to
counteract the effects of vegetable poisoning. And that it was to
be very strong, and enough for four."
"And what did he say?"
"'E said that was only your nonsense, sir, and that I'd better have
enough for one to begin with; and then 'e asked me if I'd been
eating green apples again."
"And you told him?"
"Yees, sir, I told 'im I'd 'ad a few, and 'e said it served me
right, and that 'e 'oped it would be a warning to me. And then 'e
put something fizzy in a glass and told me to drink it."
"And you drank it?"
"It never occurred to you, Jimmy, that there was nothing the matter
with you--that you were never feeling better in your life, and that
you did not require any medicine?"
"Did one single scintilla of thought of any kind occur to you in
connection with the matter, Jimmy, from beginning to end?"
People who never met Jimmy disbelieve this story. They argue that
its premises are in disaccord with the known laws governing human
nature, that its details do not square with the average of
probability. People who have seen and conversed with Jimmy accept
it with simple faith.
The advent of Jephson--which I trust the reader has not entirely
forgotten--cheered us up considerably. Jephson was always at his
best when all other things were at their worst. It was not that he
struggled in Mark Tapley fashion to appear most cheerful when most
depressed; it was that petty misfortunes and mishaps genuinely
amused and inspirited him. Most of us can recall our unpleasant
experiences with amused affection; Jephson possessed the robuster
philosophy that enabled him to enjoy his during their actual
progress. He arrived drenched to the skin, chuckling hugely at the
idea of having come down on a visit to a houseboat in such weather.
Under his warming influence, the hard lines on our faces thawed, and
by supper time we were, as all Englishmen and women who wish to
enjoy life should be, independent of the weather.
Later on, as if disheartened by our indifference, the rain ceased,
and we took our chairs out on the deck, and sat watching the
lightning, which still played incessantly. Then, not unnaturally,
the talk drifted into a sombre channel, and we began recounting
stories, dealing with the gloomy and mysterious side of life.
Some of these were worth remembering, and some were not. The one
that left the strongest impression on my mind was a tale that
Jephson told us.
I had been relating a somewhat curious experience of my own. I met
a man in the Strand one day that I knew very well, as I thought,
though I had not seen him for years. We walked together to Charing
Cross, and there we shook hands and parted. Next morning, I spoke
of this meeting to a mutual friend, and then I learnt, for the first
time, that the man had died six months before.
The natural inference was that I had mistaken one man for another,
an error that, not having a good memory for faces, I frequently fall
into. What was remarkable about the matter, however, was that
throughout our walk I had conversed with the man under the
impression that he was that other dead man, and, whether by
coincidence or not, his replies had never once suggested to me my
As soon as I finished, Jephson, who had been listening very
thoughtfully, asked me if I believed in spiritualism "to its fullest
"That is rather a large question," I answered. "What do you mean by
'spiritualism to its fullest extent'?"
"Well, do you believe that the spirits of the dead have not only the
power of revisiting this earth at their will, but that, when here,
they have the power of action, or rather, of exciting to action?
Let me put a definite case. A spiritualist friend of mine, a
sensible and by no means imaginative man, once told me that a table,
through the medium of which the spirit of a friend had been in the
habit of communicating with him, came slowly across the room towards
him, of its own accord, one night as he sat alone, and pinioned him
against the wall. Now can any of you believe that, or can't you?"
"I could," Brown took it upon himself to reply; "but, before doing
so, I should wish for an introduction to the friend who told you the
story. Speaking generally," he continued, "it seems to me that the
difference between what we call the natural and the supernatural is
merely the difference between frequency and rarity of occurrence.
Having regard to the phenomena we are compelled to admit, I think it
illogical to disbelieve anything we are unable to disprove."
"For my part," remarked MacShaughnassy, "I can believe in the
ability of our spirit friends to give the quaint entertainments
credited to them much easier than I can in their desire to do so."
"You mean," added Jephson, "that you cannot understand why a spirit,
not compelled as we are by the exigencies of society, should care to
spend its evenings carrying on a laboured and childish conversation
with a room full of abnormally uninteresting people."
"That is precisely what I cannot understand," MacShaughnassy agreed.
"Nor I, either," said Jephson. "But I was thinking of something
very different altogether. Suppose a man died with the dearest wish
of his heart unfulfilled, do you believe that his spirit might have
power to return to earth and complete the interrupted work?"
"Well," answered MacShaughnassy, "if one admits the possibility of
spirits retaining any interest in the affairs of this world at all,
it is certainly more reasonable to imagine them engaged upon a task
such as you suggest, than to believe that they occupy themselves
with the performance of mere drawing-room tricks. But what are you
leading up to?"
"Why, to this," replied Jephson, seating himself straddle-legged
across his chair, and leaning his arms upon the back. "I was told a
story this morning at the hospital by an old French doctor. The
actual facts are few and simple; all that is known can be read in
the Paris police records of sixty-two years ago.
"The most important part of the case, however, is the part that is
not known, and that never will be known.
"The story begins with a great wrong done by one man unto another
man. What the wrong was I do not know. I am inclined to think,
however, it was connected with a woman. I think that, because he
who had been wronged hated him who had wronged him with a hate such
as does not often burn in a man's brain, unless it be fanned by the
memory of a woman's breath.
"Still that is only conjecture, and the point is immaterial. The
man who had done the wrong fled, and the other man followed him. It
became a point-to-point race, the first man having the advantage of
a day's start. The course was the whole world, and the stakes were
the first man's life.
"Travellers were few and far between in those days, and this made
the trail easy to follow. The first man, never knowing how far or
how near the other was behind him, and hoping now and again that he
might have baffled him, would rest for a while. The second man,
knowing always just how far the first one was before him, never
paused, and thus each day the man who was spurred by Hate drew
nearer to the man who was spurred by Fear.
"At this town the answer to the never-varied question would be:-
"'At seven o'clock last evening, M'sieur.'
"'Seven--ah; eighteen hours. Give me something to eat, quick, while
the horses are being put to.'
"At the next the calculation would be sixteen hours.
"Passing a lonely chalet, Monsieur puts his head out of the window:-
"'How long since a carriage passed this way, with a tall, fair man
"'Such a one passed early this morning, M'sieur.'
"'Thanks, drive on, a hundred francs apiece if you are through the
pass before daybreak.'
"'And what for dead horses, M'sieur?'
"'Twice their value when living.'
"One day the man who was ridden by Fear looked up, and saw before
him the open door of a cathedral, and, passing in, knelt down and
prayed. He prayed long and fervently, for men, when they are in
sore straits, clutch eagerly at the straws of faith. He prayed that
he might be forgiven his sin, and, more important still, that he
might be pardoned the consequences of his sin, and be delivered from
his adversary; and a few chairs from him, facing him, knelt his
enemy, praying also.
"But the second man's prayer, being a thanksgiving merely, was
short, so that when the first man raised his eyes, he saw the face
of his enemy gazing at him across the chair-tops, with a mocking
smile upon it.
"He made no attempt to rise, but remained kneeling, fascinated by
the look of joy that shone out of the other man's eyes. And the
other man moved the high-backed chairs one by one, and came towards
"Then, just as the man who had been wronged stood beside the man who
had wronged him, full of gladness that his opportunity had come,
there burst from the cathedral tower a sudden clash of bells, and
the man, whose opportunity had come, broke his heart and fell back
dead, with that mocking smile still playing round his mouth.
"And so he lay there.
'Then the man who had done the wrong rose up and passed out,
"What became of the body of the other man is not known. It was the
body of a stranger who had died suddenly in the cathedral. There
was none to identify it, none to claim it.
"Years passed away, and the survivor in the tragedy became a worthy
and useful citizen, and a noted man of science.
"In his laboratory were many objects necessary to him in his
researches, and, prominent among them, stood in a certain corner a
human skeleton. It was a very old and much-mended skeleton, and one
day the long-expected end arrived, and it tumbled to pieces.
"Thus it became necessary to purchase another.
"The man of science visited a dealer he well knew--a little
parchment-faced old man who kept a dingy shop, where nothing was
ever sold, within the shadow of the towers of Notre Dame.
"The little parchment-faced old man had just the very thing that
Monsieur wanted--a singularly fine and well-proportioned 'study.'
It should be sent round and set up in Monsieur's laboratory that
"The dealer was as good as his word. When Monsieur entered his
laboratory that evening, the thing was in its place.
"Monsieur seated himself in his high-backed chair, and tried to
collect his thoughts. But Monsieur's thoughts were unruly, and
inclined to wander, and to wander always in one direction.
"Monsieur opened a large volume and commenced to read. He read of a
man who had wronged another and fled from him, the other man
following. Finding himself reading this, he closed the book
angrily, and went and stood by the window and looked out. He saw
before him the sun-pierced nave of a great cathedral, and on the
stones lay a dead man with a mocking smile upon his face.
"Cursing himself for a fool, he turned away with a laugh. But his
laugh was short-lived, for it seemed to him that something else in
the room was laughing also. Struck suddenly still, with his feet
glued to the ground, he stood listening for a while: then sought
with starting eyes the corner from where the sound had seemed to
come. But the white thing standing there was only grinning.
"Monsieur wiped the damp sweat from his head and hands, and stole
"For a couple of days he did not enter the room again. On the
third, telling himself that his fears were those of a hysterical
girl, he opened the door and went in. To shame himself, he took his
lamp in his hand, and crossing over to the far corner where the
skeleton stood, examined it. A set of bones bought for three
hundred francs. Was he a child, to be scared by such a bogey!
"He held his lamp up in front of the thing's grinning head. The
flame of the lamp flickered as though a faint breath had passed over
"The man explained this to himself by saying that the walls of the
house were old and cracked, and that the wind might creep in
anywhere. He repeated this explanation to himself as he recrossed
the room, walking backwards, with his eyes fixed on the thing. When
he reached his desk, he sat down and gripped the arms of his chair
till his fingers turned white.
"He tried to work, but the empty sockets in that grinning head
seemed to be drawing him towards them. He rose and battled with his
inclination to fly screaming from the room. Glancing fearfully
about him, his eye fell upon a high screen, standing before the
door. He dragged it forward, and placed it between himself and the
thing, so that he could not see it--nor it see him. Then he sat
down again to his work. For a while he forced himself to look at
the book in front of him, but at last, unable to control himself any
longer, he suffered his eyes to follow their own bent.
"It may have been an hallucination. He may have accidentally placed
the screen so as to favour such an illusion. But what he saw was a
bony hand coming round the corner of the screen, and, with a cry, he
fell to the floor in a swoon.
"The people of the house came running in, and lifting him up,
carried him out, and laid him upon his bed. As soon as he
recovered, his first question was, where had they found the thing--
where was it when they entered the room? and when they told him they
had seen it standing where it always stood, and had gone down into
the room to look again, because of his frenzied entreaties, and
returned trying to hide their smiles, he listened to their talk
about overwork, and the necessity for change and rest, and said they
might do with him as they would.
"So for many months the laboratory door remained locked. Then there
came a chill autumn evening when the man of science opened it again,
and closed it behind him.
"He lighted his lamp, and gathered his instruments and books around
him, and sat down before them in his high-backed chair. And the old
terror returned to him.
"But this time he meant to conquer himself. His nerves were
stronger now, and his brain clearer; he would fight his unreasoning
fear. He crossed to the door and locked himself in, and flung the
key to the other end of the room, where it fell among jars and
bottles with an echoing clatter.
"Later on, his old housekeeper, going her final round, tapped at his
door and wished him good-night, as was her custom. She received no
response, at first, and, growing nervous, tapped louder and called
again; and at length an answering 'good-night' came back to her.
"She thought little about it at the time, but afterwards she
remembered that the voice that had replied to her had been strangely
grating and mechanical. Trying to describe it, she likened it to
such a voice as she would imagine coming from a statue.
"Next morning his door remained still locked. It was no unusual
thing for him to work all night and far into the next day, so no one
thought to be surprised. When, however, evening came, and yet he
did not appear, his servants gathered outside the room and
whispered, remembering what had happened once before.
"They listened, but could hear no sound. They shook the door and
called to him, then beat with their fists upon the wooden panels.
But still no sound came from the room.
"Becoming alarmed, they decided to burst open the door, and, after
many blows, it gave way, and they crowded in.
He sat bolt upright in his high-backed chair. They thought at first
he had died in his sleep. But when they drew nearer and the light
fell upon him, they saw the livid marks of bony fingers round his
throat; and in his eyes there was a terror such as is not often seen
in human eyes."
Brown was the first to break the silence that followed. He asked me
if I had any brandy on board. He said he felt he should like just a
nip of brandy before going to bed. That is one of the chief charms
of Jephson's stories: they always make you feel you want a little
"Cats," remarked Jephson to me, one afternoon, as we sat in the punt
discussing the plot of our novel, "cats are animals for whom I
entertain a very great respect. Cats and Nonconformists seem to me
the only things in this world possessed of a practicable working
conscience. Watch a cat doing something mean and wrong--if ever one
gives you the chance; notice how anxious she is that nobody should
see her doing it; and how prompt, if detected, to pretend that she
was not doing it--that she was not even thinking of doing it--that,
as a matter of fact, she was just about to do something else, quite
different. You might almost think they had a soul.
"Only this morning I was watching that tortoise-shell of yours on
the houseboat. She was creeping along the roof, behind the flower-
boxes, stalking a young thrush that had perched upon a coil of rope.
Murder gleamed from her eye, assassination lurked in every twitching
muscle of her body. As she crouched to spring, Fate, for once
favouring the weak, directed her attention to myself, and she
became, for the first time, aware of my presence. It acted upon her
as a heavenly vision upon a Biblical criminal. In an instant she
was a changed being. The wicked beast, going about seeking whom it
might devour, had vanished. In its place sat a long-tailed, furry
angel, gazing up into the sky with an expression that was one-third
innocence and two-thirds admiration of the beauties of nature. What
was she doing there, did I want to know? Why, could I not see,
playing with a bit of earth. Surely I was not so evil-minded as to
imagine she wanted to kill that dear little bird--God bless it.
"Then note an old Tom, slinking home in the early morning, after a
night spent on a roof of bad repute. Can you picture to yourself a
living creature less eager to attract attention? 'Dear me,' you can
all but hear it saying to itself, 'I'd no idea it was so late; how
time does go when one is enjoying oneself. I do hope I shan't meet
any one I know--very awkward, it's being so light.'
"In the distance it sees a policeman, and stops suddenly within the
shelter of a shadow. 'Now what's he doing there,' it says, 'and
close to our door too? I can't go in while he's hanging about.
He's sure to see and recognise me; and he's just the sort of man to
talk to the servants.'
"It hides itself behind a post and waits, peeping cautiously round
the corner from time to time. The policeman, however, seems to have
taken up his residence at that particular spot, and the cat becomes
worried and excited.
"'What's the matter with the fool?' it mutters indignantly; 'is he
dead? Why don't he move on, he's always telling other people to.
"Just then a far-off cry of 'milk' is heard, and the cat starts up
in an agony of alarm. 'Great Scott, hark at that! Why, everybody
will be down before I get in. Well, I can't help it. I must chance
"He glances round at himself, and hesitates. 'I wouldn't mind if I
didn't look so dirty and untidy,' he muses; 'people are so prone to
think evil in this world.'
"'Ah, well,' he adds, giving himself a shake, 'there's nothing else
for it, I must put my trust in Providence, it's pulled me through
before: here goes.'
"He assumes an aspect of chastened sorrow, and trots along with a
demure and saddened step. It is evident he wishes to convey the
idea that he has been out all night on work connected with the
Vigilance Association, and is now returning home sick at heart
because of the sights that he has seen.
"He squirms in, unnoticed, through a window, and has just time to
give himself a hurried lick down before he hears the cook's step on
the stairs. When she enters the kitchen he is curled up on the
hearthrug, fast asleep. The opening of the shutters awakes him. He
rises and comes forward, yawning and stretching himself.
"'Dear me, is it morning, then?' he says drowsily. 'Heigh-ho! I've
had such a lovely sleep, cook; and such a beautiful dream about poor
"Cats! do you call them? Why, they are Christians in everything
except the number of legs."
"They certainly are," I responded, "wonderfully cunning little
animals, and it is not by their moral and religious instincts alone
that they are so closely linked to man; the marvellous ability they
display in taking care of 'number one' is worthy of the human race
itself. Some friends of mine had a cat, a big black Tom: they have
got half of him still. They had reared him from a kitten, and, in
their homely, undemonstrative way, they liked him. There was
nothing, however, approaching passion on either side.
"One day a Chinchilla came to live in the neighbourhood, under the
charge of an elderly spinster, and the two cats met at a garden wall
"'What sort of diggings have you got?' asked the Chinchilla.
"'Oh, pretty fair.'
"'Yes, nice enough--as people go.'
"'Pretty willing? Look after you well, and all that sort of thing?'
"'Yes--oh yes. I've no fault to find with them.'
"'What's the victuals like?'
"'Oh, the usual thing, you know, bones and scraps, and a bit of dog-
biscuit now and then for a change.'
"'Bones and dog-biscuits! Do you mean to say you eat bones?'
"'Yes, when I can get 'em. Why, what's wrong about them?'
"'Shade of Egyptian Isis, bones and dog-biscuits! Don't you ever
get any spring chickens, or a sardine, or a lamb cutlet?'
"'Chickens! Sardines! What are you talking about? What are
"'What are sardines! Oh, my dear child (the Chinchilla was a lady
cat, and always called gentlemen friends a little older than herself
'dear child'), these people of yours are treating you just
shamefully. Come, sit down and tell me all about it. What do they
give you to sleep on?'
"'I thought so; and skim milk and water to drink, I suppose?'
"'It IS a bit thin.'
"'I can quite imagine it. You must leave these people, my dear, at
"'But where am I to go to?'
"'But who'll take me in?'
"'Anybody, if you go the right way to work. How many times do you
think I've changed my people? Seven!--and bettered myself on each
occasion. Why, do you know where I was born? In a pig-sty. There
were three of us, mother and I and my little brother. Mother would
leave us every evening, returning generally just as it was getting
light. One morning she did not come back. We waited and waited,
but the day passed on and she did not return, and we grew hungrier
and hungrier, and at last we lay down, side by side, and cried
ourselves to sleep.
"'In the evening, peeping through a hole in the door, we saw her
coming across the field. She was crawling very slowly, with her
body close down against the ground. We called to her, and she
answered with a low "crroo"; but she did not hasten her pace.
"'She crept in and rolled over on her side, and we ran to her, for
we were almost starving. We lay long upon her breasts, and she
licked us over and over.
"'I dropped asleep upon her, and in the night I awoke, feeling cold.
I crept closer to her, but that only made me colder still, and she
was wet and clammy with a dark moisture that was oozing from her
side. I did not know what it was at that time, but I have learnt
"'That was when I could hardly have been four weeks old, and from
that day to this I've looked after myself: you've got to do that in
this world, my dear. For a while, I and my brother lived on in that
sty and kept ourselves. It was a grim struggle at first, two babies
fighting for life; but we pulled through. At the end of about three
months, wandering farther from home than usual, I came upon a
cottage, standing in the fields. It looked warm and cosy through
the open door, and I went in: I have always been blessed with
plenty of nerve. Some children were playing round the fire, and
they welcomed me and made much of me. It was a new sensation to me,
and I stayed there. I thought the place a palace at the time.
"'I might have gone on thinking so if it had not been that, passing
through the village one day, I happened to catch sight of a room
behind a shop. There was a carpet on the floor, and a rug before
the fire. I had never known till then that there were such luxuries
in the world. I determined to make that shop my home, and I did
"'How did you manage it?' asked the black cat, who was growing
"'By the simple process of walking in and sitting down. My dear
child, cheek's the "Open sesame" to every door. The cat that works
hard dies of starvation, the cat that has brains is kicked
downstairs for a fool, and the cat that has virtue is drowned for a
scamp; but the cat that has cheek sleeps on a velvet cushion and
dines on cream and horseflesh. I marched straight in and rubbed
myself against the old man's legs. He and his wife were quite taken
with what they called my "trustfulness," and adopted me with
enthusiasm. Strolling about the fields of an evening I often used
to hear the children of the cottage calling my name. It was weeks
before they gave up seeking for me. One of them, the youngest,
would sob herself to sleep of a night, thinking that I was dead:
they were affectionate children.
"'I boarded with my shopkeeping friends for nearly a year, and from
them I went to some new people who had lately come to the
neighbourhood, and who possessed a really excellent cook. I think I
could have been very satisfied with these people, but,
unfortunately, they came down in the world, and had to give up the
big house and the cook, and take a cottage, and I did not care to go
back to that sort of life.
"'Accordingly I looked about for a fresh opening. There was a
curious old fellow who lived not far off. People said he was rich,
but nobody liked him. He was shaped differently from other men. I
turned the matter over in my mind for a day or two, and then
determined to give him a trial. Being a lonely sort of man, he
might make a fuss over me, and if not I could go.
"'My surmise proved correct. I have never been more petted than I
was by "Toady," as the village boys had dubbed him. My present
guardian is foolish enough over me, goodness knows, but she has
other ties, while "Toady" had nothing else to love, not even
himself. He could hardly believe his eyes at first when I jumped up
on his knees and rubbed myself against his ugly face. "Why, Kitty,"
he said, "do you know you're the first living thing that has ever
come to me of its own accord." There were tears in his funny little
red eyes as he said that.
"'I remained two years with "Toady," and was very happy indeed.
Then he fell ill, and strange people came to the house, and I was
neglected. "Toady" liked me to come up and lie upon the bed, where
he could stroke me with his long, thin hand, and at first I used to
do this. But a sick man is not the best of company, as you can
imagine, and the atmosphere of a sick room not too healthy, so, all
things considered, I felt it was time for me to make a fresh move.
"'I had some difficulty in getting away. "Toady" was always asking
for me, and they tried to keep me with him: he seemed to lie easier
when I was there. I succeeded at length, however, and, once outside
the door, I put sufficient distance between myself and the house to
ensure my not being captured, for I knew "Toady" so long as he lived
would never cease hoping to get me back.
"'Where to go, I did not know. Two or three homes were offered me,
but none of them quite suited me. At one place, where I put up for
a day, just to see how I liked it, there was a dog; and at another,
which would otherwise have done admirably, they kept a baby.
Whatever you do, never stop at a house where they keep a baby. If a
child pulls your tail or ties a paper bag round your head, you can
give it one for itself and nobody blames you. "Well, serve you
right," they say to the yelling brat, "you shouldn't tease the poor
thing." But if you resent a baby's holding you by the throat and
trying to gouge out your eye with a wooden ladle, you are called a
spiteful beast, and "shoo'd" all round the garden. If people keep
babies, they don't keep me; that's my rule.
"'After sampling some three or four families, I finally fixed upon a
banker. Offers more advantageous from a worldly point of view were
open to me. I could have gone to a public-house, where the victuals
were simply unlimited, and where the back door was left open all
night. But about the banker's (he was also a churchwarden, and his
wife never smiled at anything less than a joke by the bishop) there
was an atmosphere of solid respectability that I felt would be
comforting to my nature. My dear child, you will come across cynics
who will sneer at respectability: don't you listen to them.
Respectability is its own reward--and a very real and practical
reward. It may not bring you dainty dishes and soft beds, but it
brings you something better and more lasting. It brings you the
consciousness that you are living the right life, that you are doing
the right thing, that, so far as earthly ingenuity can fix it, you
are going to the right place, and that other folks ain't. Don't you
ever let any one set you against respectability. It's the most
satisfying thing I know of in this world--and about the cheapest.
"'I was nearly three years with this family, and was sorry when I
had to go. I should never have left if I could have helped it, but
one day something happened at the bank which necessitated the
banker's taking a sudden journey to Spain, and, after that, the
house became a somewhat unpleasant place to live in. Noisy,
disagreeable people were continually knocking at the door and making
rows in the passage; and at night folks threw bricks at the windows.
"'I was in a delicate state of health at the time, and my nerves
could not stand it. I said good-bye to the town, and making my way
back into the country, put up with a county family.
"'They were great swells, but I should have preferred them had they
been more homely. I am of an affectionate disposition, and I like
every one about me to love me. They were good enough to me in their
distant way, but they did not take much notice of me, and I soon got
tired of lavishing attentions on people that neither valued nor
responded to them.
"'From these people I went to a retired potato merchant. It was a
social descent, but a rise so far as comfort and appreciation were
concerned. They appeared to be an exceedingly nice family, and to
be extremely fond of me. I say they "appeared" to be these things,
because the sequel proved that they were neither. Six months after
I had come to them they went away and left me. They never asked me
to accompany them. They made no arrangements for me to stay behind.
They evidently did not care what became of me. Such egotistical
indifference to the claims of friendship I had never before met
with. It shook my faith--never too robust--in human nature. I
determined that, in future, no one should have the opportunity of
disappointing my trust in them. I selected my present mistress on
the recommendation of a gentleman friend of mine who had formerly
lived with her. He said she was an excellent caterer. The only
reason he had left her was that she expected him to be in at ten
each night, and that hour didn't fit in with his other arrangements.
It made no difference to me--as a matter of fact, I do not care for
these midnight reunions that are so popular amongst us. There are
always too many cats for one properly to enjoy oneself, and sooner
or later a rowdy element is sure to creep in. I offered myself to
her, and she accepted me gratefully. But I have never liked her,
and never shall. She is a silly old woman, and bores me. She is,
however, devoted to me, and, unless something extra attractive turns
up, I shall stick to her.
"'That, my dear, is the story of my life, so far as it has gone. I
tell it you to show you how easy it is to be "taken in." Fix on
your house, and mew piteously at the back door. When it is opened
run in and rub yourself against the first leg you come across. Rub
hard, and look up confidingly. Nothing gets round human beings, I
have noticed, quicker than confidence. They don't get much of it,
and it pleases them. Always be confiding. At the same time be
prepared for emergencies. If you are still doubtful as to your
reception, try and get yourself slightly wet. Why people should
prefer a wet cat to a dry one I have never been able to understand;
but that a wet cat is practically sure of being taken in and gushed
over, while a dry cat is liable to have the garden hose turned upon
it, is an undoubted fact. Also, if you can possibly manage it, and
it is offered you, eat a bit of dry bread. The Human Race is always
stirred to its deepest depths by the sight of a cat eating a bit of
"My friend's black Tom profited by the Chinchilla's wisdom. A
catless couple had lately come to live next door. He determined to
adopt them on trial. Accordingly, on the first rainy day, he went
out soon after lunch and sat for four hours in an open field. In
the evening, soaked to the skin, and feeling pretty hungry, he went
mewing to their door. One of the maids opened it, he rushed under
her skirts and rubbed himself against her legs. She screamed, and
down came the master and the mistress to know what was the matter.
"'It's a stray cat, mum,' said the girl.
"'Turn it out,' said the master.
"'Oh no, don't,' said the mistress.
"'Oh, poor thing, it's wet,' said the housemaid.
"'Perhaps it's hungry,' said the cook.
"'Try it with a bit of dry bread,' sneered the master, who wrote for
the newspapers, and thought he knew everything.
"A stale crust was proffered. The cat ate it greedily, and
afterwards rubbed himself gratefully against the man's light
"This made the man ashamed of himself, likewise of his trousers.
'Oh, well, let it stop if it wants to,' he said.
"So the cat was made comfortable, and stayed on.
"Meanwhile its own family were seeking for it high and low. They
had not cared over much for it while they had had it; now it was
gone, they were inconsolable. In the light of its absence, it
appeared to them the one thing that had made the place home. The
shadows of suspicion gathered round the case. The cat's
disappearance, at first regarded as a mystery, began to assume the
shape of a crime. The wife openly accused the husband of never
having liked the animal, and more than hinted that he and the
gardener between them could give a tolerably truthful account of its
last moments; an insinuation that the husband repudiated with a
warmth that only added credence to the original surmise.
"The bull-terrier was had up and searchingly examined. Fortunately
for him, he had not had a single fight for two whole days. Had any
recent traces of blood been detected upon him, it would have gone
hard with him.
"The person who suffered most, however, was the youngest boy. Three
weeks before, he had dressed the cat in doll's clothes and taken it
round the garden in the perambulator. He himself had forgotten the
incident, but Justice, though tardy, was on his track. The misdeed
was suddenly remembered at the very moment when unavailing regret
for the loss of the favourite was at its deepest, so that to box his
ears and send him, then and there, straight off to bed was felt to
be a positive relief.
"At the end of a fortnight, the cat, finding he had not, after all,
bettered himself, came back. The family were so surprised that at
first they could not be sure whether he was flesh and blood, or a
spirit come to comfort them. After watching him eat half a pound of
raw steak, they decided he was material, and caught him up and
hugged him to their bosoms. For a week they over-fed him and made
much of him. Then, the excitement cooling, he found himself
dropping back into his old position, and didn't like it, and went
next door again.
"The next door people had also missed him, and they likewise greeted
his return with extravagant ebullitions of joy. This gave the cat
an idea. He saw that his game was to play the two families off one
against the other; which he did. He spent an alternate fortnight
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