Jerome K. Jerome
Part 3 out of 4
with each, and lived like a fighting cock. His return was always
greeted with enthusiasm, and every means were adopted to induce him
to stay. His little whims were carefully studied, his favourite
dishes kept in constant readiness.
"The destination of his goings leaked out at length, and then the
two families quarrelled about him over the fence. My friend accused
the newspaper man of having lured him away. The newspaper man
retorted that the poor creature had come to his door wet and
starving, and added that he would be ashamed to keep an animal
merely to ill-treat it. They have a quarrel about him twice a week
on the average. It will probably come to blows one of these days."
Jephson appeared much surprised by this story. He remained
thoughtful and silent. I asked him if he would like to hear any
more, and as he offered no active opposition I went on. (Maybe he
was asleep; that idea did not occur to me at the time.)
I told him of my grandmother's cat, who, after living a blameless
life for upwards of eleven years, and bringing up a family of
something like sixty-six, not counting those that died in infancy
and the water-butt, took to drink in her old age, and was run over
while in a state of intoxication (oh, the justice of it! ) by a
brewer's dray. I have read in temperance tracts that no dumb animal
will touch a drop of alcoholic liquor. My advice is, if you wish to
keep them respectable, don't give them a chance to get at it. I
knew a pony-- But never mind him; we are talking about my
A leaky beer-tap was the cause of her downfall. A saucer used to be
placed underneath it to catch the drippings. One day the cat,
coming in thirsty, and finding nothing else to drink, lapped up a
little, liked it, and lapped a little more, went away for half an
hour, and came back and finished the saucerful. Then sat down
beside it, and waited for it to fill again.
From that day till the hour she died, I don't believe that cat was
ever once quite sober. Her days she passed in a drunken stupor
before the kitchen fire. Her nights she spent in the beer cellar.
My grandmother, shocked and grieved beyond expression, gave up her
barrel and adopted bottles. The cat, thus condemned to enforced
abstinence, meandered about the house for a day and a half in a
disconsolate, quarrelsome mood. Then she disappeared, returning at
eleven o'clock as tight as a drum.
Where she went, and how she managed to procure the drink, we never
discovered; but the same programme was repeated every day. Some
time during the morning she would contrive to elude our vigilance
and escape; and late every evening she would come reeling home
across the fields in a condition that I will not sully my pen by
attempting to describe.
It was on Saturday night that she met the sad end to which I have
before alluded. She must have been very drunk, for the man told us
that, in consequence of the darkness, and the fact that his horses
were tired, he was proceeding at little more than a snail's pace.
I think my grandmother was rather relieved than otherwise. She had
been very fond of the cat at one time, but its recent conduct had
alienated her affection. We children buried it in the garden under
the mulberry tree, but the old lady insisted that there should be no
tombstone, not even a mound raised. So it lies there, unhonoured,
in a drunkard's grave.
I also told him of another cat our family had once possessed. She
was the most motherly thing I have ever known. She was never happy
without a family. Indeed, I cannot remember her when she hadn't a
family in one stage or another. She was not very particular what
sort of a family it was. If she could not have kittens, then she
would content herself with puppies or rats. Anything that she could
wash and feed seemed to satisfy her. I believe she would have
brought up chickens if we had entrusted them to her.
All her brains must have run to motherliness, for she hadn't much
sense. She could never tell the difference between her own children
and other people's. She thought everything young was a kitten. We
once mixed up a spaniel puppy that had lost its own mother among her
progeny. I shall never forget her astonishment when it first
barked. She boxed both its ears, and then sat looking down at it
with an expression of indignant sorrow that was really touching.
"You're going to be a credit to your mother," she seemed to be
saying "you're a nice comfort to any one's old age, you are, making
a row like that. And look at your ears flopping all over your face.
I don't know where you pick up such ways."
He was a good little dog. He did try to mew, and he did try to wash
his face with his paw, and to keep his tail still, but his success
was not commensurate with his will. I do not know which was the
sadder to reflect upon, his efforts to become a creditable kitten,
or his foster-mother's despair of ever making him one.
Later on we gave her a baby squirrel to rear. She was nursing a
family of her own at the time, but she adopted him with enthusiasm,
under the impression that he was another kitten, though she could
not quite make out how she had come to overlook him. He soon became
her prime favourite. She liked his colour, and took a mother's
pride in his tail. What troubled her was that it would cock up over
his head. She would hold it down with one paw, and lick it by the
half-hour together, trying to make it set properly. But the moment
she let it go up it would cock again. I have heard her cry with
vexation because of this.
One day a neighbouring cat came to see her, and the squirrel was
clearly the subject of their talk.
"It's a good colour," said the friend, looking critically at the
supposed kitten, who was sitting up on his haunches combing his
whiskers, and saying the only truthfully pleasant thing about him
that she could think of.
"He's a lovely colour," exclaimed our cat proudly.
"I don't like his legs much," remarked the friend.
"No," responded his mother thoughtfully, "you're right there. His
legs are his weak point. I can't say I think much of his legs
"Maybe they'll fill out later on," suggested the friend, kindly.
"Oh, I hope so," replied the mother, regaining her momentarily
dashed cheerfulness. "Oh yes, they'll come all right in time. And
then look at his tail. Now, honestly, did you ever see a kitten
with a finer tail?"
"Yes, it's a good tail," assented the other; "but why do you do it
up over his head?"
"I don't," answered our cat. "It goes that way. I can't make it
out. I suppose it will come straight as he gets older."
"It will be awkward if it don't," said the friend.
"Oh, but I'm sure it will," replied our cat. "I must lick it more.
It's a tail that wants a good deal of licking, you can see that."
And for hours that afternoon, after the other cat had gone, she sat
trimming it; and, at the end, when she lifted her paw off it, and it
flew back again like a steel spring over the squirrel's head, she
sat and gazed at it with feelings that only those among my readers
who have been mothers themselves will be able to comprehend.
"What have I done," she seemed to say--"what have I done that this
trouble should come upon me?"
Jephson roused himself on my completion of this anecdote and sat up.
"You and your friends appear to have been the possessors of some
very remarkable cats," he observed.
"Yes," I answered, "our family has been singularly fortunate in its
"Singularly so," agreed Jephson; "I have never met but one man from
whom I have heard more wonderful cat talk than, at one time or
another, I have from you."
"Oh," I said, not, perhaps without a touch of jealousy in my voice,
"and who was he?"
"He was a seafaring man," replied Jephson. "I met him on a
Hampstead tram, and we discussed the subject of animal sagacity.
"'Yes, sir,' he said, 'monkeys is cute. I've come across monkeys as
could give points to one or two lubbers I've sailed under; and
elephants is pretty spry, if you can believe all that's told of 'em.
I've heard some tall tales about elephants. And, of course, dogs
has their heads screwed on all right: I don't say as they ain't.
But what I do say is: that for straightfor'ard, level-headed
reasoning, give me cats. You see, sir, a dog, he thinks a powerful
deal of a man--never was such a cute thing as a man, in a dog's
opinion; and he takes good care that everybody knows it. Naturally
enough, we says a dog is the most intellectual animal there is. Now
a cat, she's got her own opinion about human beings. She don't say
much, but you can tell enough to make you anxious not to hear the
whole of it. The consequence is, we says a cat's got no
intelligence. That's where we let our prejudice steer our judgment
wrong. In a matter of plain common sense, there ain't a cat living
as couldn't take the lee side of a dog and fly round him. Now, have
you ever noticed a dog at the end of a chain, trying to kill a cat
as is sitting washing her face three-quarters of an inch out of his
reach? Of course you have. Well, who's got the sense out of those
two? The cat knows that it ain't in the nature of steel chains to
stretch. The dog, who ought, you'd think, to know a durned sight
more about 'em than she does, is sure they will if you only bark
"'Then again, have you ever been made mad by cats screeching in the
night, and jumped out of bed and opened the window and yelled at
them? Did they ever budge an inch for that, though you shrieked
loud enough to skeer the dead, and waved your arms about like a man
in a play? Not they. They've turned and looked at you, that's all.
"Yell away, old man," they've said, "we like to hear you: the more
the merrier." Then what have you done? Why, you've snatched up a
hair-brush, or a boot, or a candlestick, and made as if you'd throw
it at them. They've seen your attitude, they've seen the thing in
your hand, but they ain't moved a point. They knew as you weren't
going to chuck valuable property out of window with the chance of
getting it lost or spoiled. They've got sense themselves, and they
give you credit for having some. If you don't believe that's the
reason, you try showing them a lump of coal, or half a brick, next
time--something as they know you WILL throw. Before you're ready to
heave it, there won't be a cat within aim.
"'Then as to judgment and knowledge of the world, why dogs are
babies to 'em. Have you ever tried telling a yarn before a cat,
"I replied that cats had often been present during anecdotal
recitals of mine, but that, hitherto, I had paid no particular
attention to their demeanour.
"'Ah, well, you take an opportunity of doing so one day, sir,'
answered the old fellow; 'it's worth the experiment. If you're
telling a story before a cat, and she don't get uneasy during any
part of the narrative, you can reckon you've got hold of a thing as
it will be safe for you to tell to the Lord Chief Justice of
"'I've got a messmate,' he continued; 'William Cooley is his name.
We call him Truthful Billy. He's as good a seaman as ever trod
quarter-deck; but when he gets spinning yarns he ain't the sort of
man as I could advise you to rely upon. Well, Billy, he's got a
dog, and I've seen him sit and tell yarns before that dog that would
make a cat squirm out of its skin, and that dog's taken 'em in and
believed 'em. One night, up at his old woman's, Bill told us a yarn
by the side of which salt junk two voyages old would pass for spring
chicken. I watched the dog, to see how he would take it. He
listened to it from beginning to end with cocked ears, and never so
much as blinked. Every now and then he would look round with an
expression of astonishment or delight that seemed to say:
"Wonderful, isn't it!" "Dear me, just think of it!" "Did you
ever!" "Well, if that don't beat everything!" He was a chuckle-
headed dog; you could have told him anything.
"'It irritated me that Bill should have such an animal about him to
encourage him, and when he had finished I said to him, "I wish you'd
tell that yarn round at my quarters one evening."
"'Why?' said Bill.
"'Oh, it's just a fancy of mine,' I says. I didn't tell him I was
wanting my old cat to hear it.
"'Oh, all right,' says Bill, 'you remind me.' He loved yarning,
"'Next night but one he slings himself up in my cabin, and I does
so. Nothing loth, off he starts. There was about half-a-dozen of
us stretched round, and the cat was sitting before the fire fussing
itself up. Before Bill had got fairly under weigh, she stops
washing and looks up at me, puzzled like, as much as to say, "What
have we got here, a missionary?" I signalled to her to keep quiet,
and Bill went on with his yarn. When he got to the part about the
sharks, she turned deliberately round and looked at him. I tell you
there was an expression of disgust on that cat's face as might have
made a travelling Cheap Jack feel ashamed of himself. It was that
human, I give you my word, sir, I forgot for the moment as the poor
animal couldn't speak. I could see the words that were on its lips:
"Why don't you tell us you swallowed the anchor?" and I sat on
tenter-hooks, fearing each instant that she would say them aloud.
It was a relief to me when she turned her back on Bill.
"'For a few minutes she sat very still, and seemed to be wrestling
with herself like. I never saw a cat more set on controlling its
feelings, or that seemed to suffer more in silence. It made my
heart ache to watch it.
"'At last Bill came to the point where he and the captain between
'em hold the shark's mouth open while the cabin-boy dives in head
foremost, and fetches up, undigested, the gold watch and chain as
the bo'sun was a-wearing when he fell overboard; and at that the old
cat giv'd a screech, and rolled over on her side with her legs in
"'I thought at first the poor thing was dead, but she rallied after
a bit, and it seemed as though she had braced herself up to hear the
"'But a little further on, Bill got too much for her again, and this
time she owned herself beat. She rose up and looked round at us:
"You'll excuse me, gentlemen," she said--leastways that is what she
said if looks go for anything--"maybe you're used to this sort of
rubbish, and it don't get on your nerves. With me it's different.
I guess I've heard as much of this fool's talk as my constitution
will stand, and if it's all the same to you I'll get outside before
"'With that she walked up to the door, and I opened it for her, and
she went out.
"'You can't fool a cat with talk same as you can a dog.'"
Does man ever reform? Balzac says he doesn't. So far as my
experience goes, it agrees with that of Balzac--a fact the admirers
of that author are at liberty to make what use of they please.
When I was young and accustomed to take my views of life from people
who were older than myself, and who knew better, so they said, I
used to believe that he did. Examples of "reformed characters" were
frequently pointed out to me--indeed, our village, situate a few
miles from a small seaport town, seemed to be peculiarly rich in
such. They were, from all accounts, including their own, persons
who had formerly behaved with quite unnecessary depravity, and who,
at the time I knew them, appeared to be going to equally
objectionable lengths in the opposite direction. They invariably
belonged to one of two classes, the low-spirited or the aggressively
unpleasant. They said, and I believed, that they were happy; but I
could not help reflecting how very sad they must have been before
they were happy.
One of them, a small, meek-eyed old man with a piping voice, had
been exceptionally wild in his youth. What had been his special
villainy I could never discover. People responded to my inquiries
by saying that he had been "Oh, generally bad," and increased my
longing for detail by adding that little boys ought not to want to
know about such things. From their tone and manner I assumed that
he must have been a pirate at the very least, and regarded him with
awe, not unmingled with secret admiration.
Whatever it was, he had been saved from it by his wife, a bony lady
of unprepossessing appearance, but irreproachable views.
One day he called at our house for some purpose or other, and, being
left alone with him for a few minutes, I took the opportunity of
interviewing him personally on the subject.
"You were very wicked once, weren't you?" I said, seeking by
emphasis on the "once" to mitigate what I felt might be the
disagreeable nature of the question.
To my intense surprise, a gleam of shameful glory lit up his wizened
face, and a sound which I tried to think a sigh, but which sounded
like a chuckle, escaped his lips.
"Ay," he replied; "I've been a bit of a spanker in my time."
The term "spanker" in such connection puzzled me. I had been
hitherto led to regard a spanker as an eminently conscientious
person, especially where the short-comings of other people were
concerned; a person who laboured for the good of others. That the
word could also be employed to designate a sinful party was a
revelation to me.
"But you are good now, aren't you?" I continued, dismissing further
reflection upon the etymology of "spanker" to a more fitting
"Ay, ay," he answered, his countenance resuming its customary aspect
of resigned melancholy. "I be a brand plucked from the burning, I
be. There beant much wrong wi' Deacon Sawyers, now."
"And it was your wife that made you good, wasn't it?" I persisted,
determined, now that I had started this investigation, to obtain
confirmation at first hand on all points.
At the mention of his wife his features became suddenly transformed.
Glancing hurriedly round, to make sure, apparently, that no one but
myself was within hearing, he leaned across and hissed these words
into my ear--I have never forgotten them, there was a ring of such
evident sincerity about them -
"I'd like to skin her, I'd like to skin her alive."
It struck me, even in the light of my then limited judgment, as an
unregenerate wish; and thus early my faith in the possibility of
man's reformation received the first of those many blows that have
resulted in shattering it.
Nature, whether human or otherwise, was not made to be reformed.
You can develop, you can check, but you cannot alter it.
You can take a small tiger and train it to sit on a hearthrug, and
to lap milk, and so long as you provide it with hearthrugs to lie on
and sufficient milk to drink, it will purr and behave like an
affectionate domestic pet. But it is a tiger, with all a tiger's
instincts, and its progeny to the end of all time will be tigers.
In the same way, you can take an ape and develop it through a few
thousand generations until it loses its tail and becomes an
altogether superior ape. You can go on developing it through still
a few more thousands of generations until it gathers to itself out
of the waste vapours of eternity an intellect and a soul, by the aid
of which it is enabled to keep the original apish nature more or
less under control.
But the ape is still there, and always will be, and every now and
again, when Constable Civilisation turns his back for a moment, as
during "Spanish Furies," or "September massacres," or Western mob
rule, it creeps out and bites and tears at quivering flesh, or
plunges its hairy arms elbow deep in blood, or dances round a
I knew a man once--or, rather, I knew of a man--who was a confirmed
drunkard. He became and continued a drunkard, not through weakness,
but through will. When his friends remonstrated with him, he told
them to mind their own business, and to let him mind his. If he saw
any reason for not getting drunk he would give it up. Meanwhile he
liked getting drunk, and he meant to get drunk as often as possible.
He went about it deliberately, and did it thoroughly. For nearly
ten years, so it was reported, he never went to bed sober. This may
be an exaggeration--it would be a singular report were it not--but
it can be relied upon as sufficiently truthful for all practical
Then there came a day when he did see a reason for not getting
drunk. He signed no pledge, he took no oath. He said, "I will
never touch another drop of drink," and for twenty-six years he kept
At the end of that time a combination of circumstances occurred that
made life troublesome to him, so that he desired to be rid of it
altogether. He was a man accustomed, when he desired a thing within
his reach, to stretch out his hand and take it. He reviewed the
case calmly, and decided to commit suicide.
If the thing were to be done at all, it would be best, for reasons
that if set forth would make this a long story, that it should be
done that very night, and, if possible, before eleven o'clock, which
was the earliest hour a certain person could arrive from a certain
It was then four in the afternoon. He attended to some necessary
business, and wrote some necessary letters. This occupied him until
seven. He then called a cab and drove to a small hotel in the
suburbs, engaged a private room, and ordered up materials for the
making of the particular punch that had been the last beverage he
had got drunk on, six-and-twenty years ago.
For three hours he sat there drinking steadily, with his watch
before him. At half-past ten he rang the bell, paid his bill, came
home, and cut his throat.
For a quarter of a century people had been calling that man a
"reformed character." His character had not reformed one jot. The
craving for drink had never died. For twenty-six years he had,
being a great man, held it gripped by the throat. When all things
became a matter of indifference to him, he loosened his grasp, and
the evil instinct rose up within him as strong on the day he died as
on the day he forced it down.
That is all a man can do, pray for strength to crush down the evil
that is in him, and to keep it held down day after day. I never
hear washy talk about "changed characters" and "reformed natures"
but I think of a sermon I once heard at a Wesleyan revivalist
meeting in the Black Country.
"Ah! my friends, we've all of us got the devil inside us. I've got
him, you've got him," cried the preacher--he was an old man, with
long white hair and beard, and wild, fighting eyes. Most of the
preachers who came "reviving," as it was called, through that
district, had those eyes. Some of them needed "reviving"
themselves, in quite another sense, before they got clear out of it.
I am speaking now of more than thirty years ago.
"Ah! so us have--so us have," came the response.
"And you carn't get rid of him," continued the speaker.
"Not of oursel's," ejaculated a fervent voice at the end of the
room, "but the Lord will help us."
The old preacher turned on him almost fiercely:-
"But th' Lord woan't," he shouted; "doan't 'ee reckon on that, lad.
Ye've got him an' ye've got ta keep him. Ye carn't get rid of him.
Th' Lord doan't mean 'ee to."
Here there broke forth murmurs of angry disapproval, but the old
fellow went on, unheeding:-
"It arn't good for 'ee to get rid of him. Ye've just got to hug him
tight. Doan't let him go. Hold him fast, and--LAM INTO HIM. I
tell 'ee it's good, healthy Christian exercise."
We had been discussing the subject with reference to our hero. It
had been suggested by Brown as an unhackneyed idea, and one lending
itself, therefore, to comparative freshness of treatment, that our
hero should be a thorough-paced scamp.
Jephson seconded the proposal, for the reason that it would the
better enable us to accomplish artistic work. He was of opinion
that we should be more sure of our ground in drawing a villain than
in attempting to portray a good man.
MacShaughnassy thirded (if I may coin what has often appeared to me
to be a much-needed word) the motion with ardour. He was tired, he
said, of the crystal-hearted, noble-thinking young man of fiction.
Besides, it made bad reading for the "young person." It gave her
false ideas, and made her dissatisfied with mankind as he really is.
And, thereupon, he launched forth and sketched us his idea of a
hero, with reference to whom I can only say that I should not like
to meet him on a dark night.
Brown, our one earnest member, begged us to be reasonable, and
reminded us, not for the first time, and not, perhaps, altogether
unnecessarily, that these meetings were for the purpose of
discussing business, not of talking nonsense.
Thus adjured, we attacked the subject conscientiously.
Brown's idea was that the man should be an out-and-out blackguard,
until about the middle of the book, when some event should transpire
that would have the effect of completely reforming him. This
naturally brought the discussion down to the question with which I
have commenced this chapter: Does man ever reform? I argued in the
negative, and gave the reasons for my disbelief much as I have set
them forth here. MacShaughnassy, on the other hand, contended that
he did, and instanced the case of himself--a man who, in his early
days, so he asserted, had been a scatterbrained, impracticable
person, entirely without stability.
I maintained that this was merely an example of enormous will-power
enabling a man to overcome and rise superior to the defects of
character with which nature had handicapped him.
"My opinion of you," I said, "is that you are naturally a hopelessly
irresponsible, well-meaning ass. But," I continued quickly, seeing
his hand reaching out towards a complete Shakespeare in one volume
that lay upon the piano, "your mental capabilities are of such
extraordinary power that you can disguise this fact, and make
yourself appear a man of sense and wisdom."
Brown agreed with me that in MacShaughnassy's case traces of the
former disposition were clearly apparent, but pleaded that the
illustration was an unfortunate one, and that it ought not to have
weight in the discussion.
"Seriously speaking," said he, "don't you think that there are some
experiences great enough to break up and re-form a man's nature?"
"To break up," I replied, "yes; but to re-form, no. Passing through
a great experience may shatter a man, or it may strengthen a man,
just as passing through a furnace may melt or purify metal, but no
furnace ever lit upon this earth can change a bar of gold into a bar
of lead, or a bar of lead into one of gold."
I asked Jephson what he thought. He did not consider the bar of
gold simile a good one. He held that a man's character was not an
immutable element. He likened it to a drug--poison or elixir--
compounded by each man for himself from the pharmacopoeia of all
things known to life and time, and saw no impossibility, though some
improbability, in the glass being flung aside and a fresh draught
prepared with pain and labour.
"Well," I said, "let us put the case practically; did you ever know
a man's character to change?"
"Yes," he answered, "I did know a man whose character seemed to me
to be completely changed by an experience that happened to him. It
may, as you say, only have been that he was shattered, or that the
lesson may have taught him to keep his natural disposition ever
under control. The result, in any case, was striking."
We asked him to give us the history of the case, and he did so.
"He was a friend of some cousins of mine," Jephson began, "people I
used to see a good deal of in my undergraduate days. When I met him
first he was a young fellow of twenty-six, strong mentally and
physically, and of a stern and stubborn nature that those who liked
him called masterful, and that those who disliked him--a more
numerous body--termed tyrannical. When I saw him three years later,
he was an old man of twenty-nine, gentle and yielding beyond the
border-line of weakness, mistrustful of himself and considerate of
others to a degree that was often unwise. Formerly, his anger had
been a thing very easily and frequently aroused. Since the change
of which I speak, I have never known the shade of anger to cross his
face but once. In the course of a walk, one day, we came upon a
young rough terrifying a small child by pretending to set a dog at
her. He seized the boy with a grip that almost choked him, and
administered to him a punishment that seemed to me altogether out of
proportion to the crime, brutal though it was.
"I remonstrated with him when he rejoined me.
"'Yes,' he replied apologetically; 'I suppose I'm a hard judge of
some follies.' And, knowing what his haunted eyes were looking at,
I said no more.
"He was junior partner in a large firm of tea brokers in the City.
There was not much for him to do in the London office, and when,
therefore, as the result of some mortgage transactions, a South
Indian tea plantation fell into the hands of the firm, it was
suggested that he should go out and take the management of it. The
plan suited him admirably. He was a man in every way qualified to
lead a rough life; to face a by no means contemptible amount of
difficulty and danger, to govern a small army of native workers more
amenable to fear than to affection. Such a life, demanding thought
and action, would afford his strong nature greater interest and
enjoyment than he could ever hope to obtain amid the cramped
surroundings of civilisation.
"Only one thing could in reason have been urged against the
arrangement, that thing was his wife. She was a fragile, delicate
girl, whom he had married in obedience to that instinct of
attraction towards the opposite which Nature, for the purpose of
maintaining her average, has implanted in our breasts--a timid,
meek-eyed creature, one of those women to whom death is less
terrible than danger, and fate easier to face than fear. Such women
have been known to run screaming from a mouse and to meet martyrdom
with heroism. They can no more keep their nerves from trembling
than an aspen tree can stay the quivering of its leaves.
"That she was totally unfitted for, and would be made wretched by
the life to which his acceptance of the post would condemn her might
have readily occurred to him, had he stopped to consider for a
moment her feelings in the matter. But to view a question from any
other standpoint than his own was not his habit. That he loved her
passionately, in his way, as a thing belonging to himself, there can
be no doubt, but it was with the love that such men have for the dog
they will thrash, the horse they will spur to a broken back. To
consult her on the subject never entered his head. He informed her
one day of his decision and of the date of their sailing, and,
handing her a handsome cheque, told her to purchase all things
necessary to her, and to let him know if she needed more; and she,
loving him with a dog-like devotion that was not good for him,
opened her big eyes a little wider, but said nothing. She thought
much about the coming change to herself, however, and, when nobody
was by, she would cry softly; then, hearing his footsteps, would
hastily wipe away the traces of her tears, and go to meet him with a
"Now, her timidity and nervousness, which at home had been a butt
for mere chaff, became, under the new circumstances of their life, a
serious annoyance to the man. A woman who seemed unable to repress
a scream whenever she turned and saw in the gloom a pair of piercing
eyes looking out at her from a dusky face, who was liable to drop
off her horse with fear at the sound of a wild beast's roar a mile
off, and who would turn white and limp with horror at the mere sight
of a snake, was not a companionable person to live with in the
neighbourhood of Indian jungles.
"He himself was entirely without fear, and could not understand it.
To him it was pure affectation. He had a muddled idea, common to
men of his stamp, that women assume nervousness because they think
it pretty and becoming to them, and that if one could only convince
them of the folly of it they might be induced to lay it aside, in
the same way that they lay aside mincing steps and simpering voices.
A man who prided himself, as he did, upon his knowledge of horses,
might, one would think, have grasped a truer notion of the nature of
nervousness, which is a mere matter of temperament. But the man was
"The thing that vexed him most was her horror of snakes. He was
unblessed--or uncursed, whichever you may prefer--with imagination
of any kind. There was no special enmity between him and the seed
of the serpent. A creature that crawled upon its belly was no more
terrible to him than a creature that walked upon its legs; indeed,
less so, for he knew that, as a rule, there was less danger to be
apprehended from them. A reptile is only too eager at all times to
escape from man. Unless attacked or frightened, it will make no
onset. Most people are content to acquire their knowledge of this
fact from the natural history books. He had proved it for himself.
His servant, an old sergeant of dragoons, has told me that he has
seen him stop with his face six inches from the head of a hooded
cobra, and stand watching it through his eye-glass as it crawled
away from him, knowing that one touch of its fangs would mean death
from which there could be no possible escape. That any reasoning
being should be inspired with terror--sickening, deadly terror--by
such pitifully harmless things, seemed to him monstrous; and he
determined to try and cure her of her fear of them.
"He succeeded in doing this eventually somewhat more thoroughly than
he had anticipated, but it left a terror in his own eyes that has
not gone out of them to this day, and that never will.
"One evening, riding home through a part of the jungle not far from
his bungalow, he heard a soft, low hiss close to his ear, and,
looking up, saw a python swing itself from the branch of a tree and
make off through the long grass. He had been out antelope-shooting,
and his loaded rifle hung by his stirrup. Springing from the
frightened horse, he was just in time to get a shot at the creature
before it disappeared. He had hardly expected, under the
circumstances, to even hit it. By chance the bullet struck it at
the junction of the vertebrae with the head, and killed it
instantly. It was a well-marked specimen, and, except for the small
wound the bullet had made, quite uninjured. He picked it up, and
hung it across the saddle, intending to take it home and preserve
"Galloping along, glancing down every now and again at the huge,
hideous thing swaying and writhing in front of him almost as if
still alive, a brilliant idea occurred to him. He would use this
dead reptile to cure his wife of her fear of living ones. He would
fix matters so that she should see it, and think it was alive, and
be terrified by it; then he would show her that she had been
frightened by a mere dead thing, and she would feel ashamed of
herself, and be healed of her folly. It was the sort of idea that
would occur to a fool.
"When he reached home, he took the dead snake into his smoking-room;
then, locking the door, the idiot set out his prescription. He
arranged the monster in a very natural and life-like position. It
appeared to be crawling from the open window across the floor, and
any one coming into the room suddenly could hardly avoid treading on
it. It was very cleverly done.
"That finished, he picked out a book from the shelves, opened it,
and laid it face downward upon the couch. When he had completed all
things to his satisfaction he unlocked the door and came out, very
pleased with himself.
"After dinner he lit a cigar and sat smoking a while in silence.
"'Are you feeling tired?' he said to her at length, with a smile.
"She laughed, and, calling him a lazy old thing, asked what it was
"'Only my novel that I was reading. I left it in my den. Do you
mind? You will find it open on the couch.'
"She sprang up and ran lightly to the door.
"As she paused there for a moment to look back at him and ask the
name of the book, he thought how pretty and how sweet she was; and
for the first time a faint glimmer of the true nature of the thing
he was doing forced itself into his brain.
"'Never mind,' he said, half rising, 'I'll--'; then, enamoured of
the brilliancy of his plan, checked himself; and she was gone.
"He heard her footsteps passing along the matted passage, and smiled
to himself. He thought the affair was going to be rather amusing.
One finds it difficult to pity him even now when one thinks of it.
"The smoking-room door opened and closed, and he still sat gazing
dreamily at the ash of his cigar, and smiling.
"One moment, perhaps two passed, but the time seemed much longer.
The man blew the gray cloud from before his eyes and waited. Then
he heard what he had been expecting to hear--a piercing shriek.
Then another, which, expecting to hear the clanging of the distant
door and the scurrying back of her footsteps along the passage,
puzzled him, so that the smile died away from his lips.
"Then another, and another, and another, shriek after shriek.
"The native servant, gliding noiselessly about the room, laid down
the thing that was in his hand and moved instinctively towards the
door. The man started up and held him back.
"'Keep where you are,' he said hoarsely. 'It is nothing. Your
mistress is frightened, that is all. She must learn to get over
this folly.' Then he listened again, and the shrieks ended with
what sounded curiously like a smothered laugh; and there came a
"And out of that bottomless silence, Fear for the first time in his
life came to the man, and he and the dusky servant looked at each
other with eyes in which there was a strange likeness; and by a
common instinct moved together towards the place where the silence
"When the man opened the door he saw three things: one was the dead
python, lying where he had left it; the second was a live python,
its comrade apparently, slowly crawling round it; the third a
crushed, bloody heap in the middle of the floor.
"He himself remembered nothing more until, weeks afterwards, he
opened his eyes in a darkened, unfamiliar place, but the native
servant, before he fled screaming from the house, saw his master
fling himself upon the living serpent and grasp it with his hands,
and when, later on, others burst into the room and caught him
staggering in their arms, they found the second python with its head
"That is the incident that changed the character of my man--if it be
changed," concluded Jephson. "He told it me one night as we sat on
the deck of the steamer, returning from Bombay. He did not spare
himself. He told me the story, much as I have told it to you, but
in an even, monotonous tone, free from emotion of any kind. I asked
him, when he had finished, how he could bear to recall it.
"'Recall it!' he replied, with a slight accent of surprise; 'it is
always with me.'"
One day we spoke of crime and criminals. We had discussed the
possibility of a novel without a villain, but had decided that it
would be uninteresting.
"It is a terribly sad reflection," remarked MacShaughnassy,
musingly; "but what a desperately dull place this earth would be if
it were not for our friends the bad people. Do you know," he
continued, "when I hear of folks going about the world trying to
reform everybody and make them good, I get positively nervous. Once
do away with sin, and literature will become a thing of the past.
Without the criminal classes we authors would starve."
"I shouldn't worry," replied Jephson, drily; "one half mankind has
been 'reforming' the other half pretty steadily ever since the
Creation, yet there appears to be a fairly appreciable amount of
human nature left in it, notwithstanding. Suppressing sin is much
the same sort of task that suppressing a volcano would be--plugging
one vent merely opens another. Evil will last our time."
"I cannot take your optimistic view of the case," answered
MacShaughnassy. "It seems to me that crime--at all events,
interesting crime--is being slowly driven out of our existence.
Pirates and highwaymen have been practically abolished. Dear old
'Smuggler Bill' has melted down his cutlass into a pint-can with a
false bottom. The pressgang that was always so ready to rescue our
hero from his approaching marriage has been disbanded. There's not
a lugger fit for the purposes of abduction left upon the coast. Men
settle their 'affairs of honour' in the law courts, and return home
wounded only in the pocket. Assaults on unprotected females are
confined to the slums, where heroes do not dwell, and are avenged by
the nearest magistrate. Your modern burglar is generally an out-of-
work green-grocer. His 'swag' usually consists of an overcoat and a
pair of boots, in attempting to make off with which he is captured
by the servant-girl. Suicides and murders are getting scarcer every
season. At the present rate of decrease, deaths by violence will be
unheard of in another decade, and a murder story will be laughed at
as too improbable to be interesting. A certain section of
busybodies are even crying out for the enforcement of the seventh
commandment. If they succeed authors will have to follow the advice
generally given to them by the critics, and retire from business
altogether. I tell you our means of livelihood are being filched
from us one by one. Authors ought to form themselves into a society
for the support and encouragement of crime."
MacShaughnassy's leading intention in making these remarks was to
shock and grieve Brown, and in this object he succeeded. Brown is--
or was, in those days--an earnest young man with an exalted--some
were inclined to say an exaggerated--view of the importance and
dignity of the literary profession. Brown's notion of the scheme of
Creation was that God made the universe so as to give the literary
man something to write about. I used at one time to credit Brown
with originality for this idea; but as I have grown older I have
learned that the theory is a very common and popular one in cultured
Brown expostulated with MacShaughnassy. "You speak," he said, "as
though literature were the parasite of evil."
"And what else is she?" replied the MacShaughnassy, with enthusiasm.
"What would become of literature without folly and sin? What is the
work of the literary man but raking a living for himself out of the
dust-heap of human woe? Imagine, if you can, a perfect world--a
world where men and women never said foolish things and never did
unwise ones; where small boys were never mischievous and children
never made awkward remarks; where dogs never fought and cats never
screeched; where wives never henpecked their husbands and mothers-
in-law never nagged; where men never went to bed in their boots and
sea-captains never swore; where plumbers understood their work and
old maids never dressed as girls; where niggers never stole chickens
and proud men were never sea-sick! where would be your humour and
your wit? Imagine a world where hearts were never bruised; where
lips were never pressed with pain; where eyes were never dim; where
feet were never weary; where stomachs were never empty! where would
be your pathos? Imagine a world where husbands never loved more
wives than one, and that the right one; where wives were never
kissed but by their husbands; where men's hearts were never black
and women's thoughts never impure; where there was no hating and no
envying; no desiring; no despairing! where would be your scenes of
passion, your interesting complications, your subtle psychological
analyses? My dear Brown, we writers--novelists, dramatists, poets--
we fatten on the misery of our fellow-creatures. God created man
and woman, and the woman created the literary man when she put her
teeth into the apple. We came into the world under the shadow of
the serpent. We are special correspondents with the Devil's army.
We report his victories in our three-volume novels, his occasional
defeats in our five-act melodramas."
"All of which is very true," remarked Jephson; "but you must
remember it is not only the literary man who traffics in misfortune.
The doctor, the lawyer, the preacher, the newspaper proprietor, the
weather prophet, will hardly, I should say, welcome the millennium.
I shall never forget an anecdote my uncle used to relate, dealing
with the period when he was chaplain of the Lincolnshire county
jail. One morning there was to be a hanging; and the usual little
crowd of witnesses, consisting of the sheriff, the governor, three
or four reporters, a magistrate, and a couple of warders, was
assembled in the prison. The condemned man, a brutal ruffian who
had been found guilty of murdering a young girl under exceptionally
revolting circumstances, was being pinioned by the hangman and his
assistant; and my uncle was employing the last few moments at his
disposal in trying to break down the sullen indifference the fellow
had throughout manifested towards both his crime and his fate.
My uncle failing to make any impression upon him, the governor
ventured to add a few words of exhortation, upon which the man
turned fiercely on the whole of them.
"'Go to hell,' he cried, 'with your snivelling jaw. Who are you, to
preach at me? YOU'RE glad enough I'm here--all of you. Why, I'm
the only one of you as ain't going to make a bit over this job.
Where would you all be, I should like to know, you canting swine, if
it wasn't for me and my sort? Why, it's the likes of me as KEEPS
the likes of you,' with which he walked straight to the gallows and
told the hangman to 'hurry up' and not keep the gentlemen waiting."
"There was some 'grit' in that man," said MacShaughnassy.
"Yes," added Jephson, "and wholesome wit also."
MacShaughnassy puffed a mouthful of smoke over a spider which was
just about to kill a fly. This caused the spider to fall into the
river, from where a supper-hunting swallow quickly rescued him.
"You remind me," he said, "of a scene I once witnessed in the office
of The Daily--well, in the office of a certain daily newspaper. It
was the dead season, and things were somewhat slow. An endeavour
had been made to launch a discussion on the question 'Are Babies a
Blessing?' The youngest reporter on the staff, writing over the
simple but touching signature of 'Mother of Six,' had led off with a
scathing, though somewhat irrelevant, attack upon husbands, as a
class; the Sporting Editor, signing himself 'Working Man,' and
garnishing his contribution with painfully elaborated orthographical
lapses, arranged to give an air of verisimilitude to the
correspondence, while, at the same time, not to offend the
susceptibilities of the democracy (from whom the paper derived its
chief support), had replied, vindicating the British father, and
giving what purported to be stirring midnight experiences of his
own. The Gallery Man, calling himself, with a burst of imagination,
'Gentleman and Christian,' wrote indignantly that he considered the
agitation of the subject to be both impious and indelicate, and
added he was surprised that a paper holding the exalted, and
deservedly popular, position of The--should have opened its columns
to the brainless vapourings of 'Mother of Six' and 'Working Man.'
"The topic had, however, fallen flat. With the exception of one man
who had invented a new feeding-bottle, and thought he was going to
advertise it for nothing, the outside public did not respond, and
over the editorial department gloom had settled down.
"One evening, as two or three of us were mooning about the stairs,
praying secretly for a war or a famine, Todhunter, the town
reporter, rushed past us with a cheer, and burst into the Sub-
editor's room. We followed. He was waving his notebook above his
head, and clamouring, after the manner of people in French
exercises, for pens, ink, and paper.
"'What's up?' cried the Sub-editor, catching his enthusiasm;
"'Better than that!' shouted Todhunter. 'Excursion steamer run
down, a hundred and twenty-five lives lost--four good columns of
"'By Jove!' said the Sub, 'couldn't have happened at a better time
either'--and then he sat down and dashed off a leaderette, in which
he dwelt upon the pain and regret the paper felt at having to
announce the disaster, and drew attention to the exceptionally
harrowing account provided by the energy and talent of 'our special
"It is the law of nature," said Jephson: "we are not the first
party of young philosophers who have been struck with the fact that
one man's misfortune is another man's opportunity."
"Occasionally, another woman's," I observed.
I was thinking of an incident told me by a nurse. If a nurse in
fair practice does not know more about human nature--does not see
clearer into the souls of men and women than all the novelists in
little Bookland put together--it must be because she is physically
blind and deaf. All the world's a stage, and all the men and women
merely players; so long as we are in good health, we play our parts
out bravely to the end, acting them, on the whole, artistically and
with strenuousness, even to the extent of sometimes fancying
ourselves the people we are pretending to be. But with sickness
comes forgetfulness of our part, and carelessness of the impression
we are making upon the audience. We are too weak to put the paint
and powder on our faces, the stage finery lies unheeded by our side.
The heroic gestures, the virtuous sentiments are a weariness to us.
In the quiet, darkened room, where the foot-lights of the great
stage no longer glare upon us, where our ears are no longer strained
to catch the clapping or the hissing of the town, we are, for a
brief space, ourselves.
This nurse was a quiet, demure little woman, with a pair of dreamy,
soft gray eyes that had a curious power of absorbing everything that
passed before them without seeming to look at anything. Gazing upon
much life, laid bare, had given to them a slightly cynical
expression, but there was a background of kindliness behind.
During the evenings of my convalescence she would talk to me of her
nursing experiences. I have sometimes thought I would put down in
writing the stories that she told me, but they would be sad reading.
The majority of them, I fear, would show only the tangled, seamy
side of human nature, and God knows there is little need for us to
point that out to each other, though so many nowadays seem to think
it the only work worth doing. A few of them were sweet, but I think
they were the saddest; and over one or two a man might laugh, but it
would not be a pleasant laugh.
"I never enter the door of a house to which I have been summoned,"
she said to me one evening, "without wondering, as I step over the
threshold, what the story is going to be. I always feel inside a
sick-room as if I were behind the scenes of life. The people come
and go about you, and you listen to them talking and laughing, and
you look into your patient's eyes, and you just know that it's all a
The incident that Jephson's remark had reminded me of, she told me
one afternoon, as I sat propped up by the fire, trying to drink a
glass of port wine, and feeling somewhat depressed at discovering I
did not like it.
"One of my first cases," she said, "was a surgical operation. I was
very young at the time, and I made rather an awkward mistake--I
don't mean a professional mistake--but a mistake nevertheless that I
ought to have had more sense than to make.
"My patient was a good-looking, pleasant-spoken gentleman. The wife
was a pretty, dark little woman, but I never liked her from the
first; she was one of those perfectly proper, frigid women, who
always give me the idea that they were born in a church, and have
never got over the chill. However, she seemed very fond of him, and
he of her; and they talked very prettily to each other--too prettily
for it to be quite genuine, I should have said, if I'd known as much
of the world then as I do now.
"The operation was a difficult and dangerous one. When I came on
duty in the evening I found him, as I expected, highly delirious. I
kept him as quiet as I could, but towards nine o'clock, as the
delirium only increased, I began to get anxious. I bent down close
to him and listened to his ravings. Over and over again I heard the
name 'Louise.' Why wouldn't 'Louise' come to him? It was so unkind
of her--they had dug a great pit, and were pushing him down into it-
-oh! why didn't she come and save him? He should be saved if she
would only come and take his hand.
"His cries became so pitiful that I could bear them no longer. His
wife had gone to attend a prayer-meeting, but the church was only in
the next street. Fortunately, the day-nurse had not left the house:
I called her in to watch him for a minute, and, slipping on my
bonnet, ran across. I told my errand to one of the vergers and he
took me to her. She was kneeling, but I could not wait. I pushed
open the pew door, and, bending down, whispered to her, 'Please come
over at once; your husband is more delirious than I quite care
about, and you may be able to calm him.'
"She whispered back, without raising her head, 'I'll be over in a
little while. The meeting won't last much longer.'
"Her answer surprised and nettled me. 'You'll be acting more like a
Christian woman by coming home with me,' I said sharply, 'than by
stopping here. He keeps calling for you, and I can't get him to
"She raised her head from her hands: 'Calling for me?' she asked,
with a slightly incredulous accent.
"'Yes,' I replied, 'it has been his one cry for the last hour:
Where's Louise, why doesn't Louise come to him.'
"Her face was in shadow, but as she turned it away, and the faint
light from one of the turned-down gas-jets fell across it, I fancied
I saw a smile upon it, and I disliked her more than ever.
"'I'll come back with you,' she said, rising and putting her books
away, and we left the church together.
"She asked me many questions on the way: Did patients, when they
were delirious, know the people about them? Did they remember
actual facts, or was their talk mere incoherent rambling? Could one
guide their thoughts in any way?
"The moment we were inside the door, she flung off her bonnet and
cloak, and came upstairs quickly and softly.
"She walked to the bedside, and stood looking down at him, but he
was quite unconscious of her presence, and continued muttering. I
suggested that she should speak to him, but she said she was sure it
would be useless, and drawing a chair back into the shadow, sat down
"Seeing she was no good to him, I tried to persuade her to go to
bed, but she said she would rather stop, and I, being little more
than a girl then, and without much authority, let her. All night
long he tossed and raved, the one name on his lips being ever
Louise--Louise--and all night long that woman sat there in the
shadow, never moving, never speaking, with a set smile on her lips
that made me long to take her by the shoulders and shake her.
"At one time he imagined himself back in his courting days, and
pleaded, 'Say you love me, Louise. I know you do. I can read it in
your eyes. What's the use of our pretending? We KNOW each other.
Put your white arms about me. Let me feel your breath upon my neck.
Ah! I knew it, my darling, my love!'
"The whole house was deadly still, and I could hear every word of
his troubled ravings. I almost felt as if I had no right to be
there, listening to them, but my duty held me. Later on, he fancied
himself planning a holiday with her, so I concluded. 'I shall start
on Monday evening,' he was saying, and you can join me in Dublin at
Jackson's Hotel on the Wednesday, and we'll go straight on.'
"His voice grew a little faint, and his wife moved forward on her
chair, and bent her head closer to his lips.
"'No, no,' he continued, after a pause, 'there's no danger whatever.
It's a lonely little place, right in the heart of the Galway
Mountains--O'Mullen's Half-way House they call it--five miles from
Ballynahinch. We shan't meet a soul there. We'll have three weeks
of heaven all to ourselves, my goddess, my Mrs. Maddox from Boston--
don't forget the name.'
"He laughed in his delirium; and the woman, sitting by his side,
laughed also; and then the truth flashed across me.
"I ran up to her and caught her by the arm. 'Your name's not
Louise,' I said, looking straight at her. It was an impertinent
interference, but I felt excited, and acted on impulse.
"'No,' she replied, very quietly; 'but it's the name of a very dear
school friend of mine. I've got the clue to-night that I've been
waiting two years to get. Good-night, nurse, thanks for fetching
"She rose and went out, and I listened to her footsteps going down
the stairs, and then drew up the blind and let in the dawn.
"I've never told that incident to any one until this evening," my
nurse concluded, as she took the empty port wine glass out of my
hand, and stirred the fire. "A nurse wouldn't get many engagements
if she had the reputation for making blunders of that sort."
Another story that she told me showed married life more lovelit, but
then, as she added, with that cynical twinkle which glinted so oddly
from her gentle, demure eyes, this couple had only very recently
been wed--had, in fact, only just returned from their honeymoon.
They had been travelling on the Continent, and there had both
contracted typhoid fever, which showed itself immediately on their
"I was called in to them on the very day of their arrival," she
said; "the husband was the first to take to his bed, and the wife
followed suit twelve hours afterwards. We placed them in adjoining
rooms, and, as often as was possible, we left the door ajar so that
they could call out to one another.
"Poor things! They were little else than boy and girl, and they
worried more about each other than they thought about themselves.
The wife's only trouble was that she wouldn't be able to do anything
for 'poor Jack.' 'Oh, nurse, you will be good to him, won't you?'
she would cry, with her big childish eyes full of tears; and the
moment I went in to him it would be: 'Oh, don't trouble about me,
nurse, I'm all right. Just look after the wifie, will you?'
"I had a hard time between the two of them, for, with the help of
her sister, I was nursing them both. It was an unprofessional thing
to do, but I could see they were not well off, and I assured the
doctor that I could manage. To me it was worth while going through
the double work just to breathe the atmosphere of unselfishness that
sweetened those two sick-rooms. The average invalid is not the
patient sufferer people imagine. It is a fretful, querulous, self-
pitying little world that we live in as a rule, and that we grow
hard in. It gave me a new heart, nursing these young people.
"The man pulled through, and began steadily to recover, but the wife
was a wee slip of a girl, and her strength--what there was of it--
ebbed day by day. As he got stronger he would call out more and
more cheerfully to her through the open door, and ask her how she
was getting on, and she would struggle to call back laughing
answers. It had been a mistake to put them next to each other, and
I blamed myself for having done so, but it was too late to change
then. All we could do was to beg her not to exhaust herself, and to
let us, when he called out, tell him she was asleep. But the
thought of not answering him or calling to him made her so wretched
that it seemed safer to let her have her way.
"Her one anxiety was that he should not know how weak she was. 'It
will worry him so,' she would say; 'he is such an old fidget over
me. And I AM getting stronger, slowly; ain't I, nurse?'
"One morning he called out to her, as usual, asking her how she was,
and she answered, though she had to wait for a few seconds to gather
strength to do so. He seemed to detect the effort, for he called
back anxiously, 'Are you SURE you're all right, dear?'
"'Yes,' she replied, 'getting on famously. Why?'
"'I thought your voice sounded a little weak, dear,' he answered;
'don't call out if it tries you.'
"Then for the first time she began to worry about herself--not for
her own sake, but because of him.
"'Do you think I AM getting weaker, nurse?' she asked me, fixing her
great eyes on me with a frightened look.
"'You're making yourself weak by calling out,' I answered, a little
sharply. 'I shall have to keep that door shut.'
"'Oh, don't tell him'--that was all her thought--'don't let him know
it. Tell him I'm strong, won't you, nurse? It will kill him if he
thinks I'm not getting well.'
"I was glad when her sister came up, and I could get out of the
room, for you're not much good at nursing when you feel, as I felt
then, as though you had swallowed a tablespoon and it was sticking
in your throat.
"Later on, when I went in to him, he drew me to the bedside, and
whispered me to tell him truly how she was. If you are telling a
lie at all, you may just as well make it a good one, so I told him
she was really wonderfully well, only a little exhausted after the
illness, as was natural, and that I expected to have her up before
"Poor lad! that lie did him more good than a week's doctoring and
nursing; and next morning he called out more cheerily than ever to
her, and offered to bet her a new bonnet against a new hat that he
would race her, and be up first.
"She laughed back quite merrily (I was in his room at the time).
'All right,' she said, 'you'll lose. I shall be well first, and I
shall come and visit you.'
"Her laugh was so bright, and her voice sounded so much stronger,
that I really began to think she had taken a turn for the better, so
that when on going in to her I found her pillow wet with tears, I
could not understand it.
"'Why, we were so cheerful just a minute ago,' I said; 'what's the
"'Oh, poor Jack!' she moaned, as her little, wasted fingers opened
and closed upon the counterpane. 'Poor Jack, it will break his
"It was no good my saying anything. There comes a moment when
something tells your patient all that is to be known about the case,
and the doctor and the nurse can keep their hopeful assurances for
where they will be of more use. The only thing that would have
brought comfort to her then would have been to convince her that he
would soon forget her and be happy without her. I thought it at the
time, and I tried to say something of the kind to her, but I
couldn't get it out, and she wouldn't have believed me if I had.
"So all I could do was to go back to the other room, and tell him
that I wanted her to go to sleep, and that he must not call out to
her until I told him.
"She lay very still all day. The doctor came at his usual hour and
looked at her. He patted her hand, and just glanced at the
untouched food beside her.
"'Yes,' he said, quietly. 'I shouldn't worry her, nurse.' And I
"Towards evening she opened her eyes, and beckoned to her sister,
who was standing by the bedside, to bend down.
"'Jeanie,' she whispered, 'do you think it wrong to deceive any one
when it's for their own good?'
"'I don't know,' said the girl, in a dry voice; 'I shouldn't think
so. Why do you ask?'
"'Jeanie, your voice was always very much like mine--do you
remember, they used to mistake us at home. Jeanie, call out for me-
-just till--till he's a bit better; promise me.'
"They had loved each other, those two, more than is common among
sisters. Jeanie could not answer, but she pressed her sister closer
in her arms, and the other was satisfied.
"Then, drawing all her little stock of life together for one final
effort, the child raised herself in her sister's arms.
"'Good-night, Jack,' she called out, loud and clear enough to be
heard through the closed door.
"'Good-night, little wife,' he cried back, cheerily; 'are you all
"'Yes, dear. Good-night.'
"Her little, worn-out frame dropped back upon the bed, and the next
thing I remember is snatching up a pillow, and holding it tight-
pressed against Jeanie's face for fear the sound of her sobs should
penetrate into the next room; and afterwards we both got out,
somehow, by the other door, and rushed downstairs, and clung to each
other in the back kitchen.
"How we two women managed to keep up the deceit, as, for three whole
days, we did, I shall never myself know. Jeanie sat in the room
where her dead sister, from its head to its sticking-up feet, lay
outlined under the white sheet; and I stayed beside the living man,
and told lies and acted lies, till I took a joy in them, and had to
guard against the danger of over-elaborating them.
"He wondered at what he thought my 'new merry mood,' and I told him
it was because of my delight that his wife was out of danger; and
then I went on for the pure devilment of the thing, and told him
that a week ago, when we had let him think his wife was growing
stronger, we had been deceiving him; that, as a matter of fact, she
was at that time in great peril, and I had been in hourly alarm
concerning her, but that now the strain was over, and she was safe;
and I dropped down by the foot of the bed, and burst into a fit of
laughter, and had to clutch hold of the bedstead to keep myself from
rolling on the floor.
"He had started up in bed with a wild white face when Jeanie had
first answered him from the other room, though the sisters' voices
had been so uncannily alike that I had never been able to
distinguish one from the other at any time. I told him the slight
change was the result of the fever, that his own voice also was
changed a little, and that such was always the case with a person
recovering from a long illness. To guide his thoughts away from the
real clue, I told him Jeanie had broken down with the long work, and
that, the need for her being past, I had packed her off into the
country for a short rest. That afternoon we concocted a letter to
him, and I watched Jeanie's eyes with a towel in my hand while she
wrote it, so that no tears should fall on it, and that night she
travelled twenty miles down the Great Western line to post it,
returning by the next up-train.
"No suspicion of the truth ever occurred to him, and the doctor
helped us out with our deception; yet his pulse, which day by day
had been getting stronger, now beat feebler every hour. In that
part of the country where I was born and grew up, the folks say that
wherever the dead lie, there round about them, whether the time be
summer or winter, the air grows cold and colder, and that no fire,
though you pile the logs half-way up the chimney, will ever make it
warm. A few months' hospital training generally cures one of all
fanciful notions about death, but this idea I have never been able
to get rid of. My thermometer may show me sixty, and I may try to
believe that the temperature IS sixty, but if the dead are beside me
I feel cold to the marrow of my bones. I could SEE the chill from
the dead room crawling underneath the door, and creeping up about
his bed, and reaching out its hand to touch his heart.
"Jeanie and I redoubled our efforts, for it seemed to us as if Death
were waiting just outside in the passage, watching with his eye at
the keyhole for either of us to make a blunder and let the truth
slip out. I hardly ever left his side except now and again to go
into that next room, and poke an imaginary fire, and say a few
chaffing words to an imaginary living woman on the bed where the
dead one lay; and Jeanie sat close to the corpse, and called out
saucy messages to him, or reassuring answers to his anxious
"At times, knowing that if we stopped another moment in these rooms
we should scream, we would steal softly out and rush downstairs,
and, shutting ourselves out of hearing in a cellar underneath the
yard, laugh till we reeled against the dirty walls. I think we were
both getting a little mad.
"One day--it was the third of that nightmare life, so I learned
afterwards, though for all I could have told then it might have been
the three hundredth, for Time seemed to have fled from that house as
from a dream, so that all things were tangled--I made a slip that
came near to ending the matter, then and there.
"I had gone into that other room. Jeanie had left her post for a
moment, and the place was empty.
"I did not think what I was doing. I had not closed my eyes that I
can remember since the wife had died, and my brain and my senses
were losing their hold of one another. I went through my usual
performance of talking loudly to the thing underneath the white
sheet, and noisily patting the pillows and rattling the bottles on
"On my return, he asked me how she was, and I answered, half in a
dream, 'Oh, bonny, she's trying to read a little,' and he raised
himself on his elbow and called out to her, and for answer there
came back silence--not the silence that IS silence, but the silence
that is as a voice. I do not know if you understand what I mean by
that. If you had lived among the dead as long as I have, you would
"I darted to the door and pretended to look in. 'She's fallen
asleep,' I whispered, closing it; and he said nothing, but his eyes
looked queerly at me.
"That night, Jeanie and I stood in the hall talking. He had fallen
to sleep early, and I had locked the door between the two rooms, and
put the key in my pocket, and had stolen down to tell her what had
happened, and to consult with her.
"'What can we do! God help us, what can we do!' was all that Jeanie
could say. We had thought that in a day or two he would be
stronger, and that the truth might be broken to him. But instead of
that he had grown so weak, that to excite his suspicions now by
moving him or her would be to kill him.
"We stood looking blankly in each other's faces, wondering how the
problem could be solved; and while we did so the problem solved
"The one woman-servant had gone out, and the house was very silent--
so silent that I could hear the ticking of Jeanie's watch inside her
dress. Suddenly, into the stillness there came a sound. It was not
a cry. It came from no human voice. I have heard the voice of
human pain till I know its every note, and have grown careless to
it; but I have prayed God on my knees that I may never hear that
sound again, for it was the sob of a soul.
"It wailed through the quiet house and passed away, and neither of
"At length, with the return of the blood to our veins, we went
upstairs together. He had crept from his own room along the passage
into hers. He had not had strength enough to pull the sheet off,
though he had tried. He lay across the bed with one hand grasping
My nurse sat for a while without speaking, a somewhat unusual thing
for her to do.
"You ought to write your experiences," I said.
"Ah!" she said, giving the fire a contemplative poke, "if you'd seen
as much sorrow in the world as I have, you wouldn't want to write a
"I think," she added, after a long pause, with the poker still in
her hand, "it can only be the people who have never KNOWN suffering
who can care to read of it. If I could write a book, I should write
a merry book--a book that would make people laugh."
The discussion arose in this way. I had proposed a match between
our villain and the daughter of the local chemist, a singularly
noble and pure-minded girl, the humble but worthy friend of the
Brown had refused his consent on the ground of improbability. "What
in thunder would induce him to marry HER?" he asked.
"Love!" I replied; "love, that burns as brightly in the meanest
villain's breast as in the proud heart of the good young man."
"Are you trying to be light and amusing," returned Brown, severely,
"or are you supposed to be discussing the matter seriously? What
attraction could such a girl have for such a man as Reuben Neil?"
"Every attraction," I retorted. "She is the exact moral contrast to
himself. She is beautiful (if she's not beautiful enough, we can
touch her up a bit), and, when the father dies, there will be the
"Besides," I added, "it will make the thing seem more natural if
everybody wonders what on earth could have been the reason for their
marrying each other."
Brown wasted no further words on me, but turned to MacShaughnassy.
"Can YOU imagine our friend Reuben seized with a burning desire to
marry Mary Holme?" he asked, with a smile.
"Of course I can," said MacShaughnassy; "I can imagine anything, and
believe anything of anybody. It is only in novels that people act
reasonably and in accordance with what might be expected of them. I
knew an old sea-captain who used to read the Young Ladies' Journal
in bed, and cry over it. I knew a bookmaker who always carried
Browning's poems about with him in his pocket to study in the train.
I have known a Harley Street doctor to develop at forty-eight a
sudden and overmastering passion for switchbacks, and to spend every
hour he could spare from his practice at one or other of the
exhibitions, having three-pen'orths one after the other. I have
known a book-reviewer give oranges (not poisoned ones) to children.
A man is not a character, he is a dozen characters, one of them
prominent, the other eleven more or less undeveloped. I knew a man
once, two of whose characters were of equal value, and the
consequences were peculiar."
We begged him to relate the case to us, and he did so.
"He was a Balliol man," said MacShaughnassy, "and his Christian name
was Joseph. He was a member of the 'Devonshire' at the time I knew
him, and was, I think, the most superior person I have ever met. He
sneered at the Saturday Review as the pet journal of the suburban
literary club; and at the Athenaeum as the trade organ of the
unsuccessful writer. Thackeray, he considered, was fairly entitled
to his position of favourite author to the cultured clerk; and
Carlyle he regarded as the exponent of the earnest artisan. Living
authors he never read, but this did not prevent his criticising them
contemptuously. The only inhabitants of the nineteenth century that
he ever praised were a few obscure French novelists, of whom nobody
but himself had ever heard. He had his own opinion about God
Almighty, and objected to Heaven on account of the strong Clapham
contingent likely to be found in residence there. Humour made him
sad, and sentiment made him ill. Art irritated him and science
bored him. He despised his own family and disliked everybody else.
For exercise he yawned, and his conversation was mainly confined to
an occasional shrug.
"Nobody liked him, but everybody respected him. One felt grateful
to him for his condescension in living at all.
"One summer, I was fishing over the Norfolk Broads, and on the Bank
Holiday, thinking I would like to see the London 'Arry in his glory,
I ran over to Yarmouth. Walking along the sea-front in the evening,
I suddenly found myself confronted by four remarkably choice
specimens of the class. They were urging on their wild and erratic
career arm-in-arm. The one nearest the road was playing an
unusually wheezy concertina, and the other three were bawling out
the chorus of a music-hall song, the heroine of which appeared to be
They spread themselves right across the pavement, compelling all the
women and children they met to step into the roadway. I stood my
ground on the kerb, and as they brushed by me something in the face
of the one with the concertina struck me as familiar.
"I turned and followed them. They were evidently enjoying
themselves immensely. To every girl they passed they yelled out,
'Oh, you little jam tart!' and every old lady they addressed as
'Mar.' The noisiest and the most vulgar of the four was the one
with the concertina.
"I followed them on to the pier, and then, hurrying past, waited for
them under a gas-lamp. When the man with the concertina came into
the light and I saw him clearly I started. From the face I could
have sworn it was Joseph; but everything else about him rendered
such an assumption impossible. Putting aside the time and the
place, and forgetting his behaviour, his companions, and his
instrument, what remained was sufficient to make the suggestion
absurd. Joseph was always clean shaven; this youth had a smudgy
moustache and a pair of incipient red whiskers. He was dressed in
the loudest check suit I have ever seen, off the stage. He wore
patent-leather boots with mother-of-pearl buttons, and a necktie
that in an earlier age would have called down lightning out of
Heaven. He had a low-crowned billycock hat on his head, and a big
evil-smelling cigar between his lips.
"Argue as I would, however, the face was the face of Joseph; and,
moved by a curiosity I could not control, I kept near him, watching
"Once, for a little while, I missed him; but there was not much fear
of losing that suit for long, and after a little looking about I
struck it again. He was sitting at the end of the pier, where it
was less crowded, with his arm round a girl's waist. I crept close.
She was a jolly, red-faced girl, good-looking enough, but common to
the last degree. Her hat lay on the seat beside her, and her head
was resting on his shoulder. She appeared to be fond of him, but he
was evidently bored.
"'Don'tcher like me, Joe?' I heard her murmur.
"'Yas,' he replied, somewhat unconvincingly, 'o' course I likes
"She gave him an affectionate slap, but he did not respond, and a
few minutes afterwards, muttering some excuse, he rose and left her,
and I followed him as he made his way towards the refreshment-room.
At the door he met one of his pals.
"'Hullo!' was the question, 'wot 'a yer done wi' 'Liza?'
"'Oh, I carn't stand 'er,' was his reply; 'she gives me the bloomin'
'ump. You 'ave a turn with 'er.'
"His friend disappeared in the direction of 'Liza, and Joe pushed
into the room, I keeping close behind him. Now that he was alone I
was determined to speak to him. The longer I had studied his
features the more resemblance I had found in them to those of my
superior friend Joseph.
"He was leaning across the bar, clamouring for two of gin, when I
tapped him on the shoulder. He turned his head, and the moment he
saw me, his face went livid.
"'Mr. Joseph Smythe, I believe,' I said with a smile.
"'Who's Mr. Joseph Smythe?' he answered hoarsely; 'my name's Smith,
I ain't no bloomin' Smythe. Who are you? I don't know yer.'
"As he spoke, my eyes rested upon a curious gold ring of Indian
workmanship which he wore upon his left hand. There was no
mistaking the ring, at all events: it had been passed round the
club on more than one occasion as a unique curiosity. His eyes
followed my gaze. He burst into tears, and pushing me before him
into a quiet corner of the saloon, sat down facing me.
"'Don't give me away, old man,' he whimpered; 'for Gawd's sake,
don't let on to any of the chaps 'ere that I'm a member of that
blessed old waxwork show in Saint James's: they'd never speak to me
agen. And keep yer mug shut about Oxford, there's a good sort. I
wouldn't 'ave 'em know as 'ow I was one o' them college blokes for
"I sat aghast. I had listened to hear him entreat me to keep
'Smith,' the rorty 'Arry, a secret from the acquaintances of
'Smythe,' the superior person. Here was 'Smith' in mortal terror
lest his pals should hear of his identity with the aristocratic
'Smythe,' and discard him. His attitude puzzled me at the time,
but, when I came to reflect, my wonder was at myself for having
expected the opposite.
"'I carn't 'elp it,' he went on; 'I 'ave to live two lives. 'Arf my
time I'm a stuck-up prig, as orter be jolly well kicked--'
"'At which times,' I interrupted, 'I have heard you express some
extremely uncomplimentary opinions concerning 'Arries.'
"'I know,' he replied, in a voice betraying strong emotion; 'that's
where it's so precious rough on me. When I'm a toff I despises
myself, 'cos I knows that underneath my sneering phiz I'm a bloomin'
'Arry. When I'm an 'Arry, I 'ates myself 'cos I knows I'm a toff.'
"'Can't you decide which character you prefer, and stick to it?' I
"'No,' he answered, 'I carn't. It's a rum thing, but whichever I
am, sure as fate, 'bout the end of a month I begin to get sick o'
"'I can quite understand it,' I murmured; 'I should give way myself
in a fortnight.'
"'I've been myself, now,' he continued, without noticing my remark,
'for somethin' like ten days. One mornin', in 'bout three weeks'
time, I shall get up in my diggins in the Mile End Road, and I shall
look round the room, and at these clothes 'angin' over the bed, and
at this yer concertina' (he gave it an affectionate squeeze), 'and I
shall feel myself gettin' scarlet all over. Then I shall jump out
o' bed, and look at myself in the glass. "You howling little cad,"
I shall say to myself, "I have half a mind to strangle you"; and I
shall shave myself, and put on a quiet blue serge suit and a bowler
'at, tell my landlady to keep my rooms for me till I comes back,
slip out o' the 'ouse, and into the fust 'ansom I meets, and back to
the Halbany. And a month arter that, I shall come into my chambers
at the Halbany, fling Voltaire and Parini into the fire, shy me 'at
at the bust of good old 'Omer, slip on my blue suit agen, and back
to the Mile End Road.'
"'How do you explain your absence to both parties?' I asked.
"'Oh, that's simple enough,' he replied. 'I just tells my
'ousekeeper at the Halbany as I'm goin' on the Continong; and my
mates 'ere thinks I'm a traveller.'
"'Nobody misses me much,' he added, pathetically; 'I hain't a
partic'larly fetchin' sort o' bloke, either of me. I'm sich an out-
and-outer. When I'm an 'Arry, I'm too much of an 'Arry, and when
I'm a prig, I'm a reg'lar fust prize prig. Seems to me as if I was
two ends of a man without any middle. If I could only mix myself up
a bit more, I'd be all right.'
"He sniffed once or twice, and then he laughed. 'Ah, well,' he
said, casting aside his momentary gloom; 'it's all a game, and wot's
the odds so long as yer 'appy. 'Ave a wet?'
"I declined the wet, and left him playing sentimental airs to
himself upon the concertina.
"One afternoon, about a month later, the servant came to me with a
card on which was engraved the name of 'Mr. Joseph Smythe.' I
requested her to show him up. He entered with his usual air of
languid superciliousness, and seated himself in a graceful attitude
upon the sofa.
"'Well,' I said, as soon as the girl had closed the door behind her,
'so you've got rid of Smith?'
"A sickly smile passed over his face. 'You have not mentioned it to
any one?' he asked anxiously.
"'Not to a soul,' I replied; 'though I confess I often feel tempted
"'I sincerely trust you never will,' he said, in a tone of alarm.
'You can have no conception of the misery the whole thing causes me.
I cannot understand it. What possible affinity there can be between
myself and that disgusting little snob passes my comprehension. I
assure you, my dear Mac, the knowledge that I was a ghoul, or a
vampire, would cause me less nausea than the reflection that I am
one and the same with that odious little Whitechapel bounder. When
I think of him every nerve in my body--'
"'Don't think about him any more,' I interrupted, perceiving his
strongly-suppressed emotion. 'You didn't come here to talk about
him, I'm sure. Let us dismiss him.'
"'Well,' he replied, 'in a certain roundabout way it is slightly
connected with him. That is really my excuse for inflicting the
subject upon you. You are the only man I CAN speak to about it--if
I shall not bore you?'
"'Not in the least,' I said. 'I am most interested.' As he still
hesitated, I asked him point-blank what it was.
"He appeared embarrassed. 'It is really very absurd of me,' he
said, while the faintest suspicion of pink crossed his usually
colourless face; 'but I feel I must talk to somebody about it. The
fact is, my dear Mac, I am in love.'
"'Capital!' I cried; 'I'm delighted to hear it.' (I thought it
might make a man of him.) 'Do I know the lady?'
"'I am inclined to think you must have seen her,' he replied; 'she
was with me on the pier at Yarmouth that evening you met me.'
"'Not 'Liza!' I exclaimed.
"'That was she,' he answered; 'Miss Elizabeth Muggins.' He dwelt
lovingly upon the name.
"'But,' I said, 'you seemed--I really could not help noticing, it
was so pronounced--you seemed to positively dislike her. Indeed, I
gathered from your remark to a friend that her society was
distinctly distasteful to you.'
"'To Smith,' he corrected me. 'What judge would that howling little
blackguard be of a woman's worth! The dislike of such a man as that
is a testimonial to her merit!'
"'I may be mistaken,' I said; 'but she struck me as a bit common.'
"'She is not, perhaps, what the world would call a lady,' he
admitted; 'but then, my dear Mac, my opinion of the world is not
such as to render ITS opinion of much value to me. I and the world
differ on most subjects, I am glad to say. She is beautiful, and
she is good, and she is my choice.'
"'She's a jolly enough little girl,' I replied, 'and, I should say,
affectionate; but have you considered, Smythe, whether she is quite-
-what shall we say--quite as intellectual as could be desired?'
"'Really, to tell the truth, I have not troubled myself much about
her intellect,' he replied, with one of his sneering smiles. 'I
have no doubt that the amount of intellect absolutely necessary to
the formation of a British home, I shall be able to supply myself.
I have no desire for an intellectual wife. One is compelled to meet
tiresome people, but one does not live with them if one can avoid
"'No,' he continued, reverting to his more natural tone; 'the more I
think of Elizabeth the more clear it becomes to me that she is the
one woman in the world for whom marriage with me is possible. I
perceive that to the superficial observer my selection must appear
extraordinary. I do not pretend to explain it, or even to
understand it. The study of mankind is beyond man. Only fools
attempt it. Maybe it is her contrast to myself that attracts me.
Maybe my, perhaps, too spiritual nature feels the need of contact
with her coarser clay to perfect itself. I cannot tell. These
things must always remain mysteries. I only know that I love her--
that, if any reliance is to be placed upon instinct, she is the mate
to whom Artemis is leading me.'
"It was clear that he was in love, and I therefore ceased to argue
with him. 'You kept up your acquaintanceship with her, then, after
you'--I was going to say 'after you ceased to be Smith,' but not
wishing to agitate him by more mention of that person than I could
help, I substituted, 'after you returned to the Albany?'
"'Not exactly,' he replied; 'I lost sight of her after I left
Yarmouth, and I did not see her again until five days ago, when I
came across her in an aerated bread shop. I had gone in to get a
glass of milk and a bun, and SHE brought them to me. I recognised
her in a moment.' His face lighted up with quite a human smile. 'I
take tea there every afternoon now,' he added, glancing towards the
clock, 'at four.'
"'There's not much need to ask HER views on the subject,' I said,
laughing; 'her feelings towards you were pretty evident.'
"'Well, that is the curious part of it,' he replied, with a return
to his former embarrassment; 'she does not seem to care for me now
at all. Indeed, she positively refuses me. She says--to put it in
the dear child's own racy language--that she wouldn't take me on at
any price. She says it would be like marrying a clockwork figure
without the key. She's more frank than complimentary, but I like
"'Wait a minute,' I said; 'an idea occurs to me. Does she know of
your identity with Smith?'
"'No,' he replied, alarmed, 'I would not have her know it for
worlds. Only yesterday she told me that I reminded her of a fellow
she had met at Yarmouth, and my heart was in my mouth.'
"'How did she look when she told you that?' I asked.
"'How did she look?' he repeated, not understanding me.
"'What was her expression at that moment?' I said--'was it severe or
"'Well,' he replied, 'now I come to think of it, she did seem to
soften a bit just then.'
"'My dear boy,' I said, 'the case is as clear as day-light. She
loves Smith. No girl who admired Smith could be attracted by
Smythe. As your present self you will never win her. In a few
weeks' time, however, you will be Smith. Leave the matter over
until then. Propose to her as Smith, and she will accept you.
After marriage you can break Smythe gently to her.'
"'By Jove!' he exclaimed, startled out of his customary lethargy, 'I
never thought of that. The truth is, when I am in my right senses,
Smith and all his affairs seem like a dream to me. Any idea
connected with him would never enter my mind.'
"He rose and held out his hand. 'I am so glad I came to see you,'
he said; 'your suggestion has almost reconciled me to my miserable
fate. Indeed, I quite look forward to a month of Smith, now.'
"'I'm so pleased,' I answered, shaking hands with him. 'Mind you
come and tell me how you get on. Another man's love affairs are not
usually absorbing, but there is an element of interest about yours
that renders the case exceptional.'
"We parted, and I did not see him again for another month. Then,
late one evening, the servant knocked at my door to say that a Mr.
Smith wished to see me.
"'Smith, Smith,' I repeated; 'what Smith? didn't he give you a
"'No, sir,' answered the girl; 'he doesn't look the sort that would
have a card. He's not a gentleman, sir; but he says you'll know
him.' She evidently regarded the statement as an aspersion upon
"I was about to tell her to say I was out, when the recollection of
Smythe's other self flashed into my mind, and I directed her to send
"A minute passed, and then he entered. He was wearing a new suit of
a louder pattern, if possible, than before. I think he must have
designed it himself. He looked hot and greasy. He did not offer to
shake hands, but sat down awkwardly on the extreme edge of a small
chair, and gaped about the room as if he had never seen it before.
"He communicated his shyness to myself. I could not think what to
say, and we sat for a while in painful silence.
"'Well,' I said, at last, plunging head-foremost into the matter,
according to the method of shy people, 'and how's 'Liza?'
"'Oh, SHE'S all right,' he replied, keeping his eyes fixed on his
"'Have you done it?' I continued.
"'Done wot?' he asked, looking up.
"'No,' he answered, returning to the contemplation of his hat.
"'Has she refused you then?' I said.
"'I ain't arst 'er,' he returned.
He seemed unwilling to explain matters of his own accord. I had to
put the conversation into the form of a cross-examination.
"'Why not?' I asked; 'don't you think she cares for you any longer?'
He burst into a harsh laugh. 'There ain't much fear o' that,' he
said; 'it's like 'aving an Alcock's porous plaster mashed on yer,
blowed if it ain't. There's no gettin' rid of 'er. I wish she'd
giv' somebody else a turn. I'm fair sick of 'er.'
"'But you were enthusiastic about her a month ago!' I exclaimed in
"'Smythe may 'ave been,' he said; 'there ain't no accounting for
that ninny, 'is 'ead's full of starch. Anyhow, I don't take 'er on
while I'm myself. I'm too jolly fly.'
"'That sort o' gal's all right enough to lark with,' he continued;
'but yer don't want to marry 'em. They don't do yer no good. A man
wants a wife as 'e can respect--some one as is a cut above 'imself,
as will raise 'im up a peg or two--some one as 'e can look up to and
worship. A man's wife orter be to 'im a gawddess--a hangel, a--'
"'You appear to have met the lady,' I remarked, interrupting him.
"He blushed scarlet, and became suddenly absorbed in the pattern of
the carpet. But the next moment he looked up again, and his face
seemed literally transformed.
"'Oh! Mr. MacShaughnassy,' he burst out, with a ring of genuine
manliness in his voice, 'you don't know 'ow good, 'ow beautiful she
is. I ain't fit to breathe 'er name in my thoughts. An' she's so
clever. I met 'er at that Toynbee 'All. There was a party of toffs
there all together. You would 'ave enjoyed it, Mr. MacShaughnassy,
if you could 'ave 'eard 'er; she was makin' fun of the pictures and
the people round about to 'er pa--such wit, such learnin', such
'aughtiness. I follered them out and opened the carriage door for
'er, and she just drew 'er skirt aside and looked at me as if I was
the dirt in the road. I wish I was, for then perhaps one day I'd
kiss 'er feet.'
"His emotion was so genuine that I did not feel inclined to laugh at
him. 'Did you find out who she was?' I asked.
"'Yes,' he answered; 'I 'eard the old gentleman say "'Ome" to the
coachman, and I ran after the carriage all the way to 'Arley Street.
Trevior's 'er name, Hedith Trevior.'
"'Miss Trevior!' I cried, 'a tall, dark girl, with untidy hair and
rather weak eyes?'
"'Tall and dark,' he replied 'with 'air that seems tryin' to reach
'er lips to kiss 'em, and heyes, light blue, like a Cambridge
necktie. A 'undred and seventy-three was the number.'
"'That's right,' I said; 'my dear Smith, this is becoming
complicated. You've met the lady and talked to her for half an
hour--as Smythe, don't you remember?'
"'No,' he said, after cogitating for a minute, 'carn't say I do; I
never can remember much about Smythe. He allers seems to me like a
"'Well, you met her,' I said; 'I'm positive. I introduced you to
her myself, and she confided to me afterwards that she thought you a
most charming man.'
"'No--did she?' he remarked, evidently softening in his feelings
towards Smythe; 'and did I like 'ER?'
"'Well, to tell the truth,' I answered, 'I don't think you did. You
looked intensely bored.'
"'The Juggins,' I heard him mutter to himself, and then he said
aloud: 'D'yer think I shall get a chance o' seein' 'er agen, when
I'm--when I'm Smythe?'
"'Of course,' I said, 'I'll take you round myself. By the bye,' I
added, jumping up and looking on the mantelpiece, 'I've got a card
for a Cinderella at their place--something to do with a birthday.
Will you be Smythe on November the twentieth?'
"'Ye--as,' he replied; 'oh, yas--bound to be by then.'
"'Very well, then,' I said, 'I'll call round for you at the Albany,
and we'll go together.'
"He rose and stood smoothing his hat with his sleeve. 'Fust time
I've ever looked for'ard to bein' that hanimated corpse, Smythe,' he
said slowly. 'Blowed if I don't try to 'urry it up--'pon my sivey I
"'He'll be no good to you till the twentieth,' I reminded him.
'And,' I added, as I stood up to ring the bell, 'you're sure it's a
genuine case this time. You won't be going back to 'Liza?'
"'Oh, don't talk 'bout 'Liza in the same breath with Hedith,' he
replied, 'it sounds like sacrilege.'
"He stood hesitating with the handle of the door in his hand. At
last, opening it and looking very hard at his hat, he said, 'I'm
goin' to 'Arley Street now. I walk up and down outside the 'ouse
every evening, and sometimes, when there ain't no one lookin', I get
a chance to kiss the doorstep.'
"He disappeared, and I returned to my chair.
"On November twentieth, I called for him according to promise. I
found him on the point of starting for the club: he had forgotten
all about our appointment. I reminded him of it, and he with
difficulty recalled it, and consented, without any enthusiasm, to
accompany me. By a few artful hints to her mother (including a
casual mention of his income), I manoeuvred matters so that he had
Edith almost entirely to himself for the whole evening. I was proud
of what I had done, and as we were walking home together I waited to
receive his gratitude.
"As it seemed slow in coming, I hinted my expectations.
"'Well,' I said, 'I think I managed that very cleverly for you.'
"'Managed what very cleverly?' said he.
"'Why, getting you and Miss Trevior left together for such a long
time in the conservatory,' I answered, somewhat hurt; 'I fixed that
"'Oh, it was YOU, was it,' he replied; 'I've been cursing
"I stopped dead in the middle of the pavement, and faced him.
'Don't you love her?' I said.
Back to Full Books