STORIES BY ENGLISH AUTHORS: LONDON
Part 1 out of 3
Etext prepared by Dagny, email@example.com
and John Bickers, firstname.lastname@example.org
STORIES BY ENGLISH AUTHORS
THE INCONSIDERATE WAITER, J. M. Barrie
THE BLACK POODLE, F. Anstey
THAT BRUTE SIMMONS, Arthur Morrison
A ROSE OF THE GHETTO, I. Zangwill
AN IDYL OF LONDON, Beatrice Harraden
THE OMNIBUS, "Q" [Quiller-Couch]
THE HIRED BABY, Marie Correlli
THE INCONSIDERATE WAITER
J. M. BARRIE
Frequently I have to ask myself in the street for the name of the man
I bowed to just now, and then, before I can answer, the wind of the
first corner blows him from my memory. I have a theory, however, that
those puzzling faces, which pass before I can see who cut the coat,
all belong to club waiters.
Until William forced his affairs upon me that was all I did know of
the private life of waiters, though I have been in the club for twenty
years. I was even unaware whether they slept downstairs or had their
own homes; nor had I the interest to inquire of other members, nor
they the knowledge to inform me. I hold that this sort of people
should be fed and clothed and given airing and wives and children, and
I subscribe yearly, I believe for these purposes; but to come into
closer relation with waiters is bad form; they are club fittings, and
William should have kept his distress to himself, or taken it away and
patched it up like a rent in one of the chairs. His inconsiderateness
has been a pair of spectacles to me for months.
It is not correct taste to know the name of a club waiter, so I must
apologise for knowing William's, and still more for not forgetting it.
If, again, to speak of a waiter is bad form, to speak bitterly is the
comic degree of it. But William has disappointed me sorely. There were
years when I would defer dining several minutes that he might wait on
me. His pains to reserve the window-seat for me were perfectly
satisfactory. I allowed him privileges, as to suggest dishes, and
would give him information, as that some one had startled me in the
reading-room by slamming a door. I have shown him how I cut my finger
with a piece of string. Obviously he was gratified by these
attentions, usually recommending a liqueur; and I fancy he must have
understood my sufferings, for he often looked ill himself. Probably he
was rheumatic, but I cannot say for certain, as I never thought of
asking, and he had the sense to see that the knowledge would be
offensive to me.
In the smoking-room we have a waiter so independent that once, when he
brought me a yellow chartreuse, and I said I had ordered green, he
replied, "No, sir; you said yellow." William could never have been
guilty of such effrontery. In appearance, of course, he is mean, but I
can no more describe him than a milkmaid could draw cows. I suppose we
distinguish one waiter from another much as we pick our hat from the
rack. We could have plotted a murder safely before William. He never
presumed to have any opinions of his own. When such was my mood he
remained silent, and if I announced that something diverting had
happened to me he laughed before I told him what it was. He turned the
twinkle in his eye off or on at my bidding as readily as if it was the
gas. To my "Sure to be wet to-morrow," he would reply, "Yes, sir;" and
to Trelawney's "It doesn't look like rain," two minutes afterward, he
would reply, "No, sir." It was one member who said Lightning Rod would
win the Derby and another who said Lightning Rod had no chance, but it
was William who agreed with both. He was like a cheroot, which may be
smoked from either end. So used was I to him that, had he died or got
another situation (or whatever it is such persons do when they
disappear from the club), I should probably have told the head waiter
to bring him back, as I disliked changes.
It would not become me to know precisely when I began to think William
an ingrate, but I date his lapse from the evening when he brought me
oysters. I detest oysters, and no one knew it better than William. He
has agreed with me that he could not understand any gentleman's liking
them. Between me and a certain member who smacks his lips twelve times
to a dozen of them William knew I liked a screen to be placed until we
had reached the soup, and yet he gave me the oysters and the other man
my sardine. Both the other member and I quickly called for brandy and
the head waiter. To do William justice, he shook, but never can I
forget his audacious explanation: "Beg pardon, sir, but I was thinking
of something else."
In these words William had flung off the mask, and now I knew him for
what he was.
I must not be accused of bad form for looking at William on the
following evening. What prompted me to do so was not personal interest
in him, but a desire to see whether I dare let him wait on me again.
So, recalling that a caster was off a chair yesterday, one is entitled
to make sure that it is on to-day before sitting down. If the
expression is not too strong, I may say that I was taken aback by
William's manner. Even when crossing the room to take my orders he let
his one hand play nervously with the other. I had to repeat "Sardine
on toast" twice, and instead of answering "Yes, sir," as if my
selection of sardine on toast was a personal gratification to him,
which is the manner one expects of a waiter, he glanced at the clock,
then out at the window, and, starting, asked, "Did you say sardine on
It was the height of summer, when London smells like a chemist's shop,
and he who has the dinner-table at the window needs no candles to show
him his knife and fork. I lay back at intervals, now watching a
starved-looking woman sleep on a door-step, and again complaining of
the club bananas. By-and-by I saw a girl of the commonest kind, ill-
clad and dirty, as all these Arabs are. Their parents should be
compelled to feed and clothe them comfortably, or at least to keep
them indoors, where they cannot offend our eyes. Such children are for
pushing aside with one's umbrella; but this girl I noticed because she
was gazing at the club windows. She had stood thus for perhaps ten
minutes when I became aware that some one was leaning over me to look
out at the window. I turned round. Conceive my indignation on seeing
that the rude person was William.
"How dare you, William?" I said, sternly. He seemed not to hear me.
Let me tell, in the measured words of one describing a past incident,
what then took place. To get nearer the window he pressed heavily on
"William, you forget yourself!" I said, meaning--as I see now--that he
had forgotten me.
I heard him gulp, but not to my reprimand. He was scanning the street.
His hands chattered on my shoulder, and, pushing him from me, I saw
that his mouth was agape.
"What are you looking for?" I asked.
He stared at me, and then, like one who had at last heard the echo of
my question, seemed to be brought back to the club. He turned his face
from me for an instant, and answered shakily:
"I beg your pardon, sir! I--I shouldn't have done it. Are the bananas
too ripe, sir?"
He recommended the nuts, and awaited my verdict so anxiously while I
ate one that I was about to speak graciously, when I again saw his
eyes drag him to the window.
"William," I said, my patience giving way at last, "I dislike being
waited on by a melancholy waiter."
"Yes, sir," he replied, trying to smile, and then broke out
passionately, "For God's sake, sir, tell me, have you seen a little
girl looking in at the club windows?"
He had been a good waiter once, and his distracted visage was spoiling
"There," I said, pointing to the girl, and no doubt would have added
that he must bring me coffee immediately, had he continued to listen.
But already he was beckoning to the child. I have not the least
interest in her (indeed, it had never struck me that waiters had
private affairs, and I still think it a pity that they should have);
but as I happened to be looking out at the window I could not avoid
seeing what occurred. As soon as the girl saw William she ran into the
street, regardless of vehicles, and nodded three times to him. Then
I have said that she was quite a common child, without attraction of
any sort, and yet it was amazing the difference she made in William.
He gasped relief, like one who had broken through the anxiety that
checks breathing, and into his face there came a silly laugh of
happiness. I had dined well, on the whole, so I said:
"I am glad to see you cheerful again, William."
I meant that I approved his cheerfulness because it helped my
digestion, but he must needs think I was sympathising with him.
"Thank you, sir," he answered. "Oh, sir! when she nodded and I saw it
was all right I could have gone down on my knees to God."
I was as much horrified as if he had dropped a plate on my toes. Even
William, disgracefully emotional as he was at the moment, flung out
his arms to recall the shameful words.
"Coffee, William!" I said, sharply.
I sipped my coffee indignantly, for it was plain to me that William
had something on his mind.
"You are not vexed with me, sir?" he had the hardihood to whisper.
"It was a liberty," I said.
"I know, sir; but I was beside myself."
"That was a liberty also."
He hesitated, and then blurted out:
"It is my wife, sir. She--"
I stopped him with my hand. William, whom I had favoured in so many
ways, was a married man! I might have guessed as much years before had
I ever reflected about waiters, for I knew vaguely that his class did
this sort of thing. His confession was distasteful to me, and I said
"Remember where you are, William."
"Yes, sir; but you see, she is so delicate--"
"Delicate! I forbid your speaking to me on unpleasant topics."
"Yes, sir; begging your pardon."
It was characteristic of William to beg my pardon and withdraw his
wife, like some unsuccessful dish, as if its taste would not remain in
the mouth. I shall be chided for questioning him further about his
wife, but, though doubtless an unusual step, it was only bad form
superficially, for my motive was irreproachable. I inquired for his
wife, not because I was interested in her welfare, but in the hope of
allaying my irritation. So I am entitled to invite the wayfarer who
has bespattered me with mud to scrape it off.
I desired to be told by William that the girl's signals meant his
wife's recovery to health. He should have seen that such was my wish
and answered accordingly. But, with the brutal inconsiderateness of
his class, he said:
"She has had a good day; but the doctor, he--the doctor is afeard she
Already I repented my questions. William and his wife seemed in league
against me, when they might so easily have chosen some other member.
"Pooh! the doctor," I said.
"Yes, sir," he answered.
"Have you been married long, William?"
"Eight years, sir. Eight years ago she was--I--I mind her when . . .
and now the doctor says--"
The fellow gaped at me. "More coffee, sir?" he asked.
"What is her ailment?"
"She was always one of the delicate kind, but full of spirit, and--and
you see, she has had a baby lately--"
"And she--I--the doctor is afeard she's not picking up."
"I feel sure she will pick up."
It must have been the wine I had drunk that made me tell him:
"I was once married, William. My wife--it was just such a case as
"She did not get better sir?"
After a pause he said, "Thank you, sir," meaning for the sympathy that
made me tell him that. But it must have been the wine.
"That little girl comes here with a message from your wife?"
"Yes; if she nods three times it means my wife is a little better."
"She nodded thrice to-day."
"But she is told to do that to relieve me, and maybe those nods don't
tell the truth."
"Is she your girl?"
"No; we have none but the baby. She is a neighbour's; she comes twice
"It is heartless of her parents not to send her every hour."
"But she is six years old," he said, "and has a house and two sisters
to look after in the daytime, and a dinner to cook. Gentlefolk don't
"I suppose you live in some low part, William."
"Off Drury Lane," he answered, flushing; "but--but it isn't low. You
see, we were never used to anything better, and I mind when I let her
see the house before we were married, she--she a sort of cried because
she was so proud of it. That was eight years ago, and now--she's
afeard she'll die when I'm away at my work."
"Did she tell you that?"
"Never; she always says she is feeling a little stronger."
"Then how can you know she is afraid of that?"
"I don't know how I know, sir; but when I am leaving the house in the
morning I look at her from the door, and she looks at me, and then I--
"A green chartreuse, William!"
I tried to forget William's vulgar story in billiards, but he had
spoiled my game. My opponent, to whom I can give twenty, ran out when
I was sixty-seven, and I put aside my cue pettishly. That in itself
was bad form, but what would they have thought had they known that a
waiter's impertinence caused it! I grew angrier with William as the
night wore on, and next day I punished him by giving my orders through
As I had my window-seat, I could not but see that the girl was late
again. Somehow I dawdled over my coffee. I had an evening paper before
me, but there was so little in it that my eyes found more of interest
in the street. It did not matter to me whether William's wife died,
but when that girl had promised to come, why did she not come? These
lower classes only give their word to break it. The coffee was
At last I saw her. William was at another window, pretending to do
something with the curtains. I stood up, pressing closer to the
window. The coffee had been so bad that I felt shaky. She nodded three
times, and smiled.
"She is a little better," William whispered to me, almost gaily.
"Whom are you speaking of?" I asked, coldly, and immediately retired
to the billiard-room, where I played a capital game. The coffee was
much better there than in the dining-room.
Several days passed, and I took care to show William that I had
forgotten his maunderings. I chanced to see the little girl (though I
never looked for her) every evening, and she always nodded three
times, save once, when she shook her head, and then William's face
grew white as a napkin. I remember this incident because that night I
could not get into a pocket. So badly did I play that the thought of
it kept me awake in bed, and that, again, made me wonder how William's
wife was. Next day I went to the club early (which was not my custom)
to see the new books. Being in the club at any rate, I looked into the
dining-room to ask William if I had left my gloves there, and the
sight of him reminded me of his wife; so I asked for her. He shook his
head mournfully, and I went off in a rage.
So accustomed am I to the club that when I dine elsewhere I feel
uncomfortable next morning, as if I had missed a dinner. William knew
this; yet here he was, hounding me out of the club! That evening I
dined (as the saying is) at a restaurant, where no sauce was served
with the asparagus. Furthermore, as if that were not triumph enough
for William, his doleful face came between me and every dish, and I
seemed to see his wife dying to annoy me.
I dined next day at the club for self-preservation, taking, however, a
table in the middle of the room, and engaging a waiter who had once
nearly poisoned me by not interfering when I put two lumps of sugar
into my coffee instead of one, which is my allowance. But no William
came to me to acknowledge his humiliation, and by-and-by I became
aware that he was not in the room. Suddenly the thought struck me that
his wife must be dead, and I-- It was the worst cooked and the worst
served dinner I ever had in the club.
I tried the smoking-room. Usually the talk there is entertaining, but
on that occasion it was so frivolous that I did not remain five
minutes. In the card-room a member told me excitedly that a policeman
had spoken rudely to him; and my strange comment was:
"After all, it is a small matter."
In the library, where I had not been for years, I found two members
asleep, and, to my surprise, William on a ladder dusting books.
"You have not heard, sir?" he said, in answer to my raised eyebrows.
Descending the ladder, he whispered tragically: "It was last evening,
sir. I--I lost my head, and I--swore at a member."
I stepped back from William, and glanced apprehensively at the two
members. They still slept.
"I hardly knew," William went on, "what I was doing all day yesterday,
for I had left my wife so weakly that--"
I stamped my foot.
"I beg your pardon for speaking of her," he had the grace to say, "but
I couldn't help slipping up to the window often yesterday to look for
Jenny, and when she did come, and I saw she was crying, it--it sort of
confused me, and I didn't know right, sir, what I was doing. I hit
against a member, Mr. Myddleton Finch, and he--he jumped and swore at
me. Well, sir, I had just touched him after all, and I was so
miserable, it a kind of stung me to be treated like--like that, and me
a man as well as him; and I lost my senses, and--and I swore back."
William's shamed head sank on his chest, but I even let pass his
insolence in likening himself to a member of the club, so afraid was I
of the sleepers waking and detecting me in talk with a waiter.
"For the love of God," William cried, with coarse emotion, "don't let
them dismiss me!"
"Speak lower!" I said. "Who sent you here?"
"I was turned out of the dining-room at once, and told to attend to
the library until they had decided what to do with me. Oh, sir, I'll
lose my place!"
He was blubbering, as if a change of waiters, was a matter of
"This is very bad, William," I said. "I fear I can do nothing for
"Have mercy on a distracted man!" he entreated. "I'll go on my knees
to Mr. Myddleton Finch."
How could I but despise a fellow who would be thus abject for a pound
"I dare not tell her," he continued, "that I have lost my place. She
would just fall back and die."
"I forbade your speaking of your wife," I said, sharply, "unless you
can speak pleasantly of her."
"But she may be worse now, sir, and I cannot even see Jenny from here.
The library windows look to the back."
"If she dies," I said, "it will be a warning to you to marry a
stronger woman next time."
Now every one knows that there is little real affection among the
lower orders. As soon as they have lost one mate they take another.
Yet William, forgetting our relative positions, drew himself up and
raised his fist, and if I had not stepped back I swear he would have
The highly improper words William used I will omit, out of
consideration for him. Even while he was apologising for them I
retired to the smoking-room, where I found the cigarettes so badly
rolled that they would not keep alight. After a little I remembered
that I wanted to see Myddleton Finch about an improved saddle of which
a friend of his has the patent. He was in the newsroom, and, having
questioned him about the saddle, I said:
"By the way, what is this story about your swearing at one of the
"You mean about his swearing at me," Myddleton Finch replied,
"I am glad that was it," I said; "for I could not believe you guilty
of such bad form."
"If I did swear--" he was beginning, but I went on:
"The version which has reached me was that you swore at him, and he
repeated the word. I heard he was to be dismissed and you
"Who told you that?" asked Myddleton Finch, who is a timid man.
"I forget; it is club talk," I replied, lightly. "But of course the
committee will take your word. The waiter, whichever one he is, richly
deserves his dismissal for insulting you without provocation."
Then our talk returned to the saddle, but Myddleton Finch was
abstracted, and presently he said:
"Do you know, I fancy I was wrong in thinking that the waiter swore at
me, and I'll withdraw my charge to-morrow."
Myddleton Finch then left me, and, sitting alone, I realised that I
had been doing William a service. To some slight extent I may have
intentionally helped him to retain his place in the club, and I now
see the reason, which was that he alone knows precisely to what extent
I like my claret heated.
For a mere second I remembered William's remark that he should not be
able to see the girl Jenny from the library windows. Then this
recollection drove from my head that I had only dined in the sense
that my dinner-bill was paid. Returning to the dining-room, I happened
to take my chair at the window, and while I was eating a deviled
kidney I saw in the street the girl whose nods had such an absurd
effect on William.
The children of the poor are as thoughtless as their parents, and this
Jenny did not sign to the windows in the hope that William might see
her, though she could not see him. Her face, which was disgracefully
dirty, bore doubt and dismay on it, but whether she brought good news
it would not tell. Somehow I had expected her to signal when she saw
me, and, though her message could not interest me, I was in the mood
in which one is irritated at that not taking place which he is
awaiting. Ultimately she seemed to be making up her mind to go away.
A boy was passing with the evening papers, and I hurried out to get
one, rather thoughtlessly, for we have all the papers in the club.
Unfortunately, I misunderstood the direction the boy had taken; but
round the first corner (out of sight of the club windows) I saw the
girl Jenny, and so asked her how William's wife was.
"Did he send you to me?" she replied, impertinently taking me for a
waiter. "My!" she added, after a second scrutiny, "I b'lieve you're
one of them. His missis is a bit better, and I was to tell him as she
took all the tapiocar."
"How could you tell him?" I asked.
"I was to do like this," she replied, and went through the supping of
something out of a plate in dumb-show.
"That would not show she ate all the tapioca," I said.
"But I was to end like this," she answered, licking an imaginary plate
with her tongue.
I gave her a shilling (to get rid of her), and returned to the club
Later in the evening I had to go to the club library for a book, and
while William was looking in vain for it (I had forgotten the title) I
said to him:
"By the way, William, Mr. Myddleton Finch is to tell the committee
that he was mistaken in the charge he brought against you, so you will
doubtless be restored to the dining-room to-morrow."
The two members were still in their chairs, probably sleeping lightly;
yet he had the effrontery to thank me.
"Don't thank me," I said, blushing at the imputation. "Remember your
"But Mr. Myddleton Finch knew I swore," he insisted.
"A gentleman," I replied, stiffly, "cannot remember for twenty-four
hours what a waiter has said to him."
"No, sir; but--"
To stop him I had to say: "And, ah, William, your wife is a little
better. She has eaten the tapioca--all of it."
"How can your know, sir?"
"By an accident."
"Jenny signed to the window?"
"Then you saw her, and went out, and--"
"Oh, sir, to do that for me! May God bl--"
"Forgive me, sir; but--when I tell my missis, she will say it was
thought of your own wife as made you do it."
He wrung my hand. I dared not withdraw it, lest we should waken the
William returned to the dining-room, and I had to show him that if he
did not cease looking gratefully at me I must change my waiter. I also
ordered him to stop telling me nightly how his wife was, but I
continued to know, as I could not help seeing the girl Jenny from the
window. Twice in a week I learned from this objectionable child that
the ailing woman had again eaten all the tapioca. Then I became
suspicious of William. I will tell why.
It began with a remark of Captain Upjohn's. We had been speaking of
the inconvenience of not being able to get a hot dish served after 1
A.M., and he said:
"It is because these lazy waiters would strike. If the beggars had a
love of their work they would not rush away from the club the moment
one o'clock strikes. That glum fellow who often waits on you takes to
his heels the moment he is clear of the club steps. He ran into me the
other night at the top of the street, and was off without
"You mean the foot of the street, Upjohn," I said; for such is the way
to Drury Lane.
"No; I mean the top. The man was running west."
I smiled, which so annoyed him that he bet me two to one in
sovereigns. The bet could have been decided most quickly by asking
William a question, but I thought, foolishly doubtless, that it might
hurt his feelings, so I watched him leave the club. The possibility of
Upjohn's winning the bet had seemed remote to me. Conceive my
surprise, therefore when William went westward.
Amazed, I pursued him along two streets without realising that I was
doing so. Then curiosity put me into a hansom. We followed William,
and it proved to be a three-shilling fare, for, running when he was in
breath and walking when he was out of it, he took me to West
I discharged my cab, and from across the street watched William's
incomprehensible behaviour. He had stopped at a dingy row of workmen's
houses, and knocked at the darkened window of one of them. Presently a
light showed. So far as I could see, some one pulled up the blind and
for ten minutes talked to William. I was uncertain whether they
talked, for the window was not opened, and I felt that, had William
spoken through the glass loud enough to be heard inside, I must have
heard him too. Yet he nodded and beckoned. I was still bewildered
when, by setting off the way he had come, he gave me the opportunity
of going home.
Knowing from the talk of the club what the lower orders are, could I
doubt that this was some discreditable love-affair of William's? His
solicitude for his wife had been mere pretence; so far as it was
genuine, it meant that he feared she might recover. He probably told
her that he was detained nightly in the club till three.
I was miserable next day, and blamed the deviled kidneys for it.
Whether William was unfaithful to his wife was nothing to me, but I
had two plain reasons for insisting on his going straight home from
his club: the one that, as he had made me lose a bet, I must punish
him; the other that he could wait upon me better if he went to bed
Yet I did not question him. There was something in his face that--
Well, I seemed to see his dying wife in it.
I was so out of sorts that I could eat no dinner. I left the club.
Happening to stand for some time at the foot of the street, I chanced
to see the girl Jenny coming, and-- No; let me tell the truth, though
the whole club reads: I was waiting for her.
"How is William's wife to-day?" I asked.
"She told me to nod three times," the little slattern replied; "but
she looked like nothink but a dead one till she got the brandy.
"Hush, child!" I said, shocked. "You don't know how the dead look."
"Bless yer," she answered, "don't I just! Why, I've helped to lay 'em
out. I'm going on seven."
"Is William good to his wife?"
"Course he is. Ain't she his missis?"
"Why should that make him good to her?" I asked, cynically, out of my
knowledge of the poor. But the girl, precocious in many ways, had
never had any opportunities of studying the lower classes in the
newspapers, fiction, and club talk. She shut one eye, and, looking up
"Ain't you green--just!"
"When does William reach home at night?"
" 'Tain't night; it's morning. When I wakes up at half dark and half
light, and hears a door shutting, I know as it's either father going
off to his work or Mr. Hicking come home from his."
"Who is Mr. Hicking?"
"Him as we've been speaking on--William. We calls him mister, 'cause
he's a toff. Father's just doing jobs in Covent Gardens, but Mr.
Hicking, he's a waiter, and a clean shirt every day. The old woman
would like father to be a waiter, but he hain't got the 'ristocratic
"What old woman?"
"Go 'long! that's my mother. Is it true there's a waiter in the club
just for to open the door?"
"And another just for to lick the stamps? My!"
"William leaves the club at one o'clock?" I said, interrogatively.
She nodded. "My mother," she said, "is one to talk, and she says Mr.
Hicking as he should get away at twelve, 'cause his missis needs him
more'n the gentlemen need him. The old woman do talk."
"And what does William answer to that?"
"He says as the gentlemen can't be kept waiting for their cheese."
"But William does not go straight home when he leaves the club?"
"That's the kid."
"Kid!" I echoed, scarcely understanding, for, knowing how little the
poor love their children, I had asked William no questions about the
"Didn't you know his missis had a kid?"
"Yes; but that is no excuse for William's staying away from his sick
wife," I answered, sharply. A baby in such a home as William's, I
reflected, must be trying; but still-- Besides, his class can sleep
through any din.
"The kid ain't in our court," the girl explained. "He's in W., he is,
and I've never been out of W.C.; leastwise, not as I knows on."
"This is W. I suppose you mean that the child is at West Kensington?
Well, no doubt it was better for William's wife to get rid of the
"Better!" interposed the girl. " 'Tain't better for her not to have
the kid. Ain't her not having him what she's always thinking on when
she looks like a dead one?"
"How could you know that?"
"Cause," answered the girl, illustrating her words with a gesture, "I
watches her, and I sees her arms going this way, just like as she
wanted to hug her kid."
"Possibly you are right," I said, frowning; "but William had put the
child out to nurse because it disturbed his night's rest. A man who
has his work to do--"
"You are green!"
"Then why have the mother and child been separated?"
"Along of that there measles. Near all the young 'uns in our court has
"Have you had them?"
"I said the young 'uns."
"And William sent the baby to West Kensington to escape infection?"
"Took him, he did."
"Against his wife's wishes?"
"You said she was dying for want of the child?"
"Wouldn't she rayther die than have the kid die?"
"Don't speak so heartlessly, child. Why does William not go straight
home from the club? Does he go to West Kensington to see it?"
" 'Tain't a hit, it's an 'e. Course he do."
"Then he should not. His wife has the first claim on him."
"Ain't you green! It's his missis as wants him to go. Do you think she
could sleep till she knowed how the kid was?"
"But he does not go into the house at West Kensington?"
"Is he soft? Course he don't go in, fear of taking the infection to
the kid. They just holds the kid up at the window to him, so as he can
have a good look. Then he comes home and tells his missis. He sits
foot of the bed and tells."
"And that takes place every night? He can't have much to tell."
"He has just."
"He can only say whether the child is well or ill."
"My! He tells what a difference there is in the kid since he seed him
"There can be no difference!"
"Go 'long! Ain't a kid always growing? Haven't Mr. Hicking to tell how
the hair is getting darker, and heaps of things beside?"
"Such as what?"
"Like whether he larfed, and if he has her nose, and how as he knowed
him. He tells her them things more 'n once."
"And all this time he is sitting at the foot of the bed?"
" 'Cept when he holds her hand."
"But when does he get to bed himself?"
"He don't get much. He tells her as he has a sleep at the club."
"He cannot say that."
"Hain't I heard him? But he do go to his bed a bit, and then they both
lies quiet, her pretending she is sleeping so as he can sleep, and him
'feard to sleep case he shouldn't wake up to give her the bottle
"What does the doctor say about her?"
"He's a good one, the doctor. Sometimes he says she would get better
if she could see the kid through the window."
"And if she was took to the country."
"Then why does not William take her?"
"My! you are green! And if she drank port wines."
"No; but William, he tells her about the gentlemen drinking them."
On the tenth day after my conversation with this unattractive child I
was in my brougham, with the windows up, and I sat back, a paper
before my face lest any one should look in. Naturally, I was afraid of
being seen in company of William's wife and Jenny, for men about town
are uncharitable, and, despite the explanation I had ready, might have
charged me with pitying William. As a matter of fact, William was
sending his wife into Surrey to stay with an old nurse of mine, and I
was driving her down because my horses needed an outing. Besides, I
was going that way at any rate.
I had arranged that the girl Jenny, who was wearing an outrageous
bonnet, should accompany us, because, knowing the greed of her class,
I feared she might blackmail me at the club.
William joined us in the suburbs, bringing the baby with him, as I had
foreseen they would all be occupied with it, and to save me the
trouble of conversing with them. Mrs. Hicking I found too pale and
fragile for a workingman's wife, and I formed a mean opinion of her
intelligence from her pride in the baby, which was a very ordinary
one. She created quite a vulgar scene when it was brought to her,
though she had given me her word not to do so, what irritated me even
more than her tears being her ill-bred apology that she "had been
'feared baby wouldn't know her again." I would have told her they
didn't know any one for years had I not been afraid of the girl Jenny,
who dandled the infant on her knees and talked to it as if it
understood. She kept me on tenter-hooks by asking it offensive
questions, such as, " 'Oo know who give me that bonnet?" and answering
them herself, "It was the pretty gentleman there;" and several times I
had to affect sleep because she announced, "Kiddy wants to kiss the
Irksome as all this necessarily was to a man of taste, I suffered even
more when we reached our destination. As we drove through the village
the girl Jenny uttered shrieks of delight at the sight of flowers
growing up the cottage walls, and declared they were "just like a
music-'all without the drink license." As my horses required a rest, I
was forced to abandon my intention of dropping these persons at their
lodgings and returning to town at once, and I could not go to the inn
lest I should meet inquisitive acquaintances. Disagreeable
circumstances, therefore, compelled me to take tea with a waiter's
family--close to a window too, through which I could see the girl
Jenny talking excitedly to the villagers, and telling them, I felt
certain, that I had been good to William. I had a desire to go out and
put myself right with those people.
William's long connection with the club should have given him some
manners, but apparently his class cannot take them on, for, though he
knew I regarded his thanks as an insult, he looked them when he was
not speaking them, and hardly had he sat down, by my orders, than he
remembered that I was a member of the club, and jumped up. Nothing is
in worse form than whispering, yet again and again, when he thought I
was not listening, he whispered to Mrs. Hicking, "You don't feel
faint?" or "How are you now?" He was also in extravagant glee because
she ate two cakes (it takes so little to put these people in good
spirits), and when she said she felt like another being already the
fellow's face charged me with the change. I could not but conclude,
from the way Mrs. Hicking let the baby pound her, that she was
stronger than she had pretended.
I remained longer than was necessary, because I had something to say
to William which I knew he would misunderstand, and so I put off
saying it. But when he announced that it was time for him to return to
London,--at which his wife suddenly paled, so that he had to sign to
her not to break down,--I delivered the message.
"William," I said, "the head waiter asked me to say that you could
take a fortnight's holiday just now. Your wages will be paid as
Confound them! William had me by the hand, and his wife was in tears
before I could reach the door.
"Is it your doing again, sir?" William cried.
"William!" I said, fiercely.
"We owe everything to you," he insisted. "The port wine--"
"Because I had no room for it in my cellar."
"The money for the nurse in London--"
"Because I objected to being waited on by a man who got no sleep."
"Because I wanted to do something for my old nurse."
"And now, sir, a fortnight's holiday!"
"Good-bye, William!" I said, in a fury.
But before I could get away Mrs. Hicking signed to William to leave
the room, and then she kissed my hand. She said something to me. It
was about my wife. Somehow I-- What business had William to tell her
about my wife?
They are all back in Drury Lane now, and William tells me that his
wife sings at her work just as she did eight years ago. I have no
interest in this, and try to check his talk of it; but such people
have no sense of propriety, and he even speaks of the girl Jenny, who
sent me lately a gaudy pair of worsted gloves worked by her own hand.
The meanest advantage they took of my weakness, however, was in
calling their baby after me. I have an uncomfortable suspicion, too,
that William has given the other waiters his version of the affair;
but I feel safe so long as it does not reach the committee.
THE BLACK POODLE
I have set myself the task of relating in the course of this story,
without suppressing or altering a single detail, the most painful and
humiliating episode of my life.
I do this, not because it will give me the least pleasure, but simply
because it affords me an opportunity of extenuating myself, which has
hitherto been wholly denied to me.
As a general rule, I am quite aware that to publish a lengthy
explanation of one's conduct in any questionable transaction is not
the best means of recovering a lost reputation; but in my own case
there is one to whom I shall nevermore be permitted to justify by word
of mouth--even if I found myself able to attempt it. And as she could
not possibly think worse of me than she does at present, I write this,
knowing it can do me no harm, and faintly hoping that it may come to
her notice and suggest a doubt whether I am quite so unscrupulous a
villain, so consummate a hypocrite, as I have been forced to appear in
The bare chance of such a result makes me perfectly indifferent to all
else; I cheerfully expose to the derision of the whole reading world
the story of my weakness and my shame, since by doing so I may
possibly rehabilitate myself somewhat in the good opinion of one
Having said so much, I will begin my confession without further delay.
My name is Algernon Weatherhead, and I may add that I am in one of the
government departments, that I am an only son, and live at home with
We had had a house at Hammersmith until just before the period covered
by this history, when, our lease expiring, my mother decided that my
health required country air at the close of the day, and so we took a
"desirable villa residence" on one of the many new building estates
which have lately sprung up in such profusion in the home counties.
We have called it "Wistaria Villa." It is a pretty little place, the
last of a row of detached villas, each with its tiny rustic carriage-
gate and gravel sweep in front, and lawn enough for a tennis-court
behind, which lines the road leading over the hill to the railway-
I could certainly have wished that our landlord, shortly after giving
us the agreement, could have found some other place to hang himself in
than one of our attics, for the consequence was that a housemaid left
us in violent hysterics about every two months, having learned the
tragedy from the tradespeople, and naturally "seen a somethink"
Still it is a pleasant house, and I can now almost forgive the
landlord for what I shall always consider an act of gross selfishness
on his part.
In the country, even so near town, a next-door neighbor is something
more than a mere numeral; he is a possible acquaintance, who will at
least consider a new-comer as worth the experiment of a call. I soon
knew that "Shuturgarden," the next house to our own, was occupied by a
Colonel Currie, a retired Indian officer; and often, as across the low
boundary wall I caught a glimpse of a graceful girlish figure flitting
about among the rose-bushes in the neighbouring garden, I would lose
myself in pleasant anticipations of a time not too far distant when
the wall which separated us would be (metaphorically) levelled.
I remember--ah, how vividly!--the thrill of excitement with which I
heard from my mother, on returning from town one evening, that the
Curries had called, and seemed disposed to be all that was neighbourly
I remember, too, the Sunday afternoon on which I returned their call--
alone, as my mother had already done so during the week. I was
standing on the steps of the colonel's villa, waiting for the door to
open, when I was startled by a furious snarling and yapping behind,
and, looking round, discovered a large poodle in the act of making for
He was a coal-black poodle, with half of his right ear gone, and
absurd little thick moustaches at the end of his nose; he was shaved
in the shamlion fashion, which is considered, for some mysterious
reason, to improve a poodle, but the barber had left sundry little
tufts of hair, which studded his haunches capriciously.
I could not help being reminded, as I looked at him, of another black
poodle, which Faust entertained for a short time with unhappy results,
and I thought that a very moderate degree of incantation would be
enough to bring the fiend out of this brute.
He made me intensely uncomfortable, for I am of a slightly nervous
temperament, with a constitutional horror of dogs, and a liability to
attacks of diffidence on performing the ordinary social rites under
the most favourable conditions, and certainly the consciousness that a
strange and apparently savage dog was engaged in worrying the heels of
my boots was the reverse of reassuring.
The Currie family received me with all possible kindness. "So charmed
to make your acquaintance, Mr. Weatherhead," said Mrs. Currie, as I
shook hands. "I see," she added, pleasantly, "you've brought the
doggie in with you." As a matter of fact, I had brought the doggie in
at the ends of my coat-tails; but it was evidently no unusual
occurrence for visitors to appear in this undignified manner, for she
detached him quite as a matter of course, and as soon as I was
sufficiently collected we fell into conversation.
I discovered that the colonel and his wife were childless, and the
slender willowy figure I had seen across the garden wall was that of
Lilian Roseblade, their niece and adopted daughter. She came into the
room shortly afterward, and I felt, as I went through the form of an
introduction, that her sweet, fresh face, shaded by soft masses of
dusky-brown hair, more than justified all the dreamy hopes and fancies
with which I had looked forward to that moment.
She talked to me in a pretty, confidential, appealing way, which I
have heard her dearest friends censure as childish and affected; but I
thought then that her manner had an indescribable charm and
fascination about it, and the memory of it makes my heart ache now
with a pang that is not all pain.
Even before the colonel made his appearance I had begun to see that my
enemy, the poodle, occupied an exceptional position in that household.
It was abundantly clear by the time I took my leave.
He seemed to be the centre of their domestic system, and even lovely
Lilian revolved contentedly around him as a kind of satellite; he
could do no wrong in his owner's eyes, his prejudices (and he was a
narrow-minded animal) were rigorously respected, and all domestic
arrangements were made with a primary view to his convenience.
I may be wrong, but I cannot think that it is wise to put any poodle
upon such a pedestal as that. How this one in particular, as ordinary
a quadruped as ever breathed, had contrived to impose thus upon his
infatuated proprietors, I never could understand, but so it was; he
even engrossed the chief part of the conversation, which after any
lull seemed to veer round to him by a sort of natural law.
I had to endure a long biographical sketch of him,--what a society
paper would call an "anecdotal photo,"--and each fresh anecdote seemed
to me to exhibit the depraved malignity of the beast in a more glaring
light, and render the doting admiration of the family more astounding
"Did you tell Mr. Weatherhead, Lily, about Bingo" (Bingo was the
poodle's preposterous name) "and Tacks? No? Oh, I /must/ tell him
that; it'll make him laugh. Tacks is our gardener down in the village
(d' ye know Tacks?). Well, Tacks was up here the other day, nailing up
some trellis-work at the top of a ladder, and all the time there was
Master Bingo sitting quietly at the foot of it looking on; wouldn't
leave it on any account. Tacks said he was quite company for him.
Well, at last, when Tacks had finished and was coming down, what do
you thing that rascal there did? Just sneaked quietly up behind and
nipped him in both calves and ran off. Been looking out for that the
whole time! Ha, ha!--deep that, eh?"
I agreed, with an inward shudder, that it was very deep, thinking
privately that, if this was a specimen of Bingo's usual treatment of
the natives, it would be odd if he did not find himself deeper still
before--probably /just/ before--he died.
"Poor, faithful old doggie!" murmured Mrs. Currie; "he thought Tacks
was a nasty burglar, didn't he? He wasn't going to see master robbed
"Capital house-dog, sir," struck in the colonel. "Gad, I shall never
forget how he made poor Heavisides run for it the other day! Ever met
Heavisides of the Bombay Fusileers? Well, Heavisides was staying here,
and the dog met him one morning as he was coming down from the bath-
room. Didn't recognise him in 'pajamas' and a dressing-gown, of
course, and made at him. He kept poor old Heavisides outside the
landing window on top of the cistern for a quarter of an hour, till I
had to come and raise the siege!"
Such were the stories of that abandoned dog's blunderheaded ferocity
to which I was forced to listen, while all the time the brute sat
opposite me on the hearth-rug, blinking at me from under his shaggy
mane with his evil, bleared eyes, and deliberating where he would have
me when I rose to go.
This was the beginning of an intimacy which soon displaced all
ceremony. It was very pleasant to go in there after dinner, even to
sit with the colonel over his claret, and hear more stories about
Bingo; for afterward I could go into the pretty drawing-room and take
my tea from Lilian's hands, and listen while she played Schubert to us
in the summer twilight.
The poodle was always in the way, to be sure, but even his ugly black
head seemed to lose some of its ugliness and ferocity when Lilian laid
her pretty hand on it.
On the whole, I think that the Currie family were well disposed toward
me, the colonel considering me as a harmless specimen of the average
eligible young man,--which I certainly was,--and Mrs. Currie showing
me favour for my mother's sake, for whom she had taken a strong
As for Lilian, I believed I saw that she soon suspected the state of
my feelings toward her, and was not displeased by it. I looked forward
with some hopefulness to a day when I could declare myself with no
fear of a repulse.
But it was a serious obstacle in my path that I could not secure
Bingo's good opinion on any terms. The family would often lament this
pathetically themselves. "You see," Mrs. Currie would observe in
apology, "Bingo is a dog that does not attach himself easily to
strangers"--though, for that matter, I thought he was unpleasantly
ready to attach himself to /me/.
I did try hard to conciliate him. I brought him propitiatory buns,
which was weak and ineffectual, as he ate them with avidity, and hated
me as bitterly as ever; for he had conceived from the first a profound
contempt for me, and a distrust which no blandishments of mine could
remove. Looking back now, I am inclined to think it was a prophetic
instinct that warned him of what was to come upon him through my
Only his approbation was wanting to establish for me a firm footing
with the Curries, and perhaps determine Lilian's wavering heart in my
direction; but, though I wooed that inflexible poodle with an
assiduity I blush to remember, he remained obstinately firm.
Still, day by day, Lilian's treatment of me was more encouraging; day
by day I gained in the esteem of her uncle and aunt; I began to hope
that soon I should be able to disregard canine influence altogether.
Now there was one inconvenience about our villa (besides its flavour
of suicide) which it is necessary to mention here. By common consent
all the cats of the neighbourhood had selected our garden for their
evening reunions. I fancy that a tortoise-shell kitchen cat of ours
must have been a sort of leader of local feline society--I know she
was "at home," with music and recitations, on most evenings.
My poor mother found this to interfere with her after-dinner nap, and
no wonder; for if a cohort of ghosts had been "shrieking and
squealing," as Calpurnia puts it, in our back garden, or it had been
fitted up as a creche for a nursery of goblin infants in the agonies
of teething, the noise could not possibly have been more unearthly.
We sought for some means of getting rid of the nuisance: there was
poison, of course; but we thought it would have an invidious
appearance, and even lead to legal difficulties, if each dawn were to
discover an assortment of cats expiring in hideous convulsions in
various parts of the same garden.
Firearms too were open to objection, and would scarcely assist my
mother's slumbers; so for some time we were at a loss for a remedy. At
last, one day, walking down the Strand, I chanced to see (in an evil
hour) what struck me as the very thing: it was an air-gun of superior
construction, displayed in a gunsmith's window. I went in at once,
purchased it, and took it home in triumph; it would be noiseless, and
would reduce the local average of cats without scandal,--one or two
examples,--and feline fashion would soon migrate to a more secluded
I lost no time in putting this to the proof. That same evening I lay
in wait after dusk at the study window, protecting my mother's repose.
As soon as I heard the long-drawn wail, the preliminary sputter, and
the wild stampede that followed, I let fly in the direction of the
sound. I suppose I must have something of the national sporting
instinct in me, for my blood was tingling with excitement; but the
feline constitution assimilates lead without serious inconvenience,
and I began to fear that no trophy would remain to bear witness to my
But all at once I made out a dark, indistinct form slinking in from
behind the bushes. I waited till it crossed a belt of light which
streamed from the back kitchen below me, and then I took careful aim
and pulled the trigger.
This time at least I had not failed; there was a smothered yell, a
rustle, and then silence again. I ran out with the calm pride of a
successful revenge to bring in the body of my victim, and I found
underneath a laurel no predatory tom-cat, but (as the discerning
reader will no doubt have foreseen long since) the quivering carcass
of the colonel's black poodle!
I intend to set down here the exact unvarnished truth, and I confess
that at first, when I knew what I had done, I was /not/ sorry. I was
quite innocent of any intention of doing it, but I felt no regret. I
even laughed--madman that I was--at the thought that there was the end
of Bingo, at all events; that impediment was removed; my weary task of
conciliation was over for ever!
But soon the reaction came; I realised the tremendous nature of my
deed, and shuddered. I had done that which might banish me from
Lilian's side for ever! All unwittingly I had slaughtered a kind of
sacred beast, the animal around which the Currie household had
wreathed their choicest affections! How was I to break it to them?
Should I send Bingo in, with a card tied to his neck and my regrets
and compliments? That was too much like a present of game. Ought I not
to carry him in myself? I would wreathe him in the best crape, I would
put on black for him; the Curries would hardly consider a taper and a
white sheet, or sack-cloth and ashes, an excessive form of atonement,
but I could not grovel to quite such an abject extent.
I wondered what the colonel would say. Simple and hearty, as a general
rule, he had a hot temper on occasions, and it made me ill as I
thought, would he and, worse still, would /Lilian/ believe it was
really an accident? They knew what an interest I had in silencing the
deceased poodle--would they believe the simple truth?
I vowed that they /should/ believe me. My genuine remorse and the
absence of all concealment on my part would speak powerfully for me. I
would choose a favourable time for my confession; that very evening I
would tell all.
Still I shrank from the duty before me, and, as I knelt down
sorrowfully by the dead form and respectfully composed his stiffening
limbs, I thought that it was unjust of fate to place a well-meaning
man, whose nerves were not of iron, in such a position.
Then, to my horror, I heard a well-known ringing tramp on the road
outside, and smelled the peculiar fragrance of a Burmese cheroot. It
was the colonel himself, who had been taking out the doomed Bingo for
his usual evening run.
I don't know how it was, exactly, but a sudden panic came over me. I
held my breath, and tried to crouch down unseen behind the laurels;
but he had seen me, and came over at once to speak to me across the
He stood there, not two yards from his favourite's body! Fortunately
it was unusually dark that evening.
"Ha, there you are, eh!" he began, heartily; "don't rise, my boy,
I was trying to put myself in front of the poodle, and did not rise--
at least, only my hair did.
"You're out late, ain't you?" he went on; "laying out your garden,
I could not tell him that I was laying out his poodle! My voice shook
as, with a guilty confusion that was veiled by the dusk, I said it was
a fine evening--which it was not.
"Cloudy, sir," said the colonel, "cloudy; rain before morning, I
think. By the way, have you seen anything of Bingo in here?"
This was the turning-point. What I /ought/ to have done was to say
mournfully, "Yes, I'm sorry to say I've had a most unfortunate
accident with him. Here he is; the fact is, I'm afraid I've /shot/
But I couldn't. I could have told him at my own time, in a prepared
form of words--but not then. I felt I must use all my wits to gain
time, and fence with the questions.
"Why," I said, with a leaden airiness, "he hasn't given you the slip,
"Never did such a thing in his life!" said the colonel, warmly; "he
rushed off after a rat or a frog or something a few minutes ago, and
as I stopped to light another cheroot I lost sight of him. I thought I
saw him slip in under your gate, but I've been calling him from the
front there and he won't come out."
No, and he never /would/ come out any more. But the colonel must not
be told that just yet. I temporised again: "If," I said, unsteadily--
"if he had slipped in under the gate I should have seen him. Perhaps
he took it into his head to run home?"
"Oh, I shall find him on the door-step, I expect, the knowing old
scamp! Why, what d' ye think was the last thing he did, now?"
I could have given him the very latest intelligence, but I dared not.
However, it was altogether too ghastly to kneel there and laugh at
anecdotes of Bingo told across Bingo's dead body; I could not stand
that. "Listen," I said, suddenly, "wasn't that his bark? There, again;
it seems to come from the front of your house, don't you think?"
"Well," said the colonel, "I'll go and fasten him up before he's off
again. How your teeth are chattering! You've caught a chill, man; go
indoors at once, and, if you feel equal to it, look in half an hour
later, about grog-time, and I'll tell you all about it. Compliments to
your mother. Don't forget--about grog-time!"
I had got rid of him at last, and I wiped my forehead, gasping with
relief. I would go round in half an hour, and then I should be
prepared to make my melancholy announcement. For, even then, I never
thought of any other course, until suddenly it flashed upon me with
terrible clearness that my miserable shuffling by the hedge had made
it impossible to tell the truth! I had not told a direct lie, to be
sure, but then I had given the colonel the impression that I had
denied having seen the dog. Many people can appease their consciences
by reflecting that, whatever may be the effect their words produce,
they did contrive to steer clear of a downright lie. I never quite
knew where the distinction lay morally, but there /is/ that feeling--I
have it myself.
Unfortunately, prevarication has this drawback: that, if ever the
truth comes to light, the prevaricator is in just the same case as if
he had lied to the most shameless extent, and for a man to point out
that the words he used contained no absolute falsehood will seldom
I might, of course, still tell the colonel of my misfortune, and leave
him to infer that it had happened after our interview; but the poodle
was fast becoming cold and stiff, and they would most probably suspect
the real time of the occurrence.
And then Lilian would hear that I had told a string of falsehoods to
her uncle over the dead body of their idolised Bingo--an act, no
doubt, of abominable desecration, of unspeakable profanity, in her
If it would have been difficult before to prevail on her to accept a
blood-stained hand, it would be impossible after that. No, I had
burned my ships, I was cut off for ever from the straightforward
course; that one moment of indecision had decided my conduct in spite
of me; I must go on with it now, and keep up the deception at all
It was bitter. I had always tried to preserve as many of the moral
principles which had been instilled into me as can be conveniently
retained in this grasping world, and it had been my pride that,
roughly speaking, I had never been guilty of an unmistakable
But henceforth, if I meant to win Lilian, that boast must be
relinquished for ever. I should have to lie now with all my might,
without limit or scruple, to dissemble incessantly, and "wear a mask,"
as the poet Bunn beautifully expressed it long ago, "over my hollow
heart." I felt all this keenly; I did not think it was right, but what
was I to do?
After thinking all this out very carefully, I decided that my only
course was to bury the poor animal where he fell, and say nothing
about it. With some vague idea of precaution, I first took off the
silver collar he wore, and then hastily interred him with a garden-
trowel, and succeeded in removing all traces of the disaster.
I fancy I felt a certain relief in the knowledge that there would now
be no necessity to tell my pitiful story and risk the loss of my
By-and-by, I thought, I would plant a rose-tree over his remains, and
some day, as Lilian and I, in the noontide of our domestic bliss,
stood before it admiring its creamy luxuriance, I might (perhaps) find
courage to confess that the tree owed some of that luxuriance to the
There was a touch of poetry in this idea that lightened my gloom for
I need scarcely say that I did not go round to Shuturgarden that
evening. I was not hardened enough for that yet; my manner might
betray me, and so I very prudently stayed at home.
But that night my sleep was broken by frightful dreams. I was
perpetually trying to bury a great, gaunt poodle, which would persist
in rising up through the damp mould as fast as I covered him up. . . .
Lilian and I were engaged, and we were in church together on Sunday,
and the poodle, resisting all attempts to eject him, forbade our banns
with sepulchral barks. . . . It was our wedding-day, and at the
critical moment the poodle leaped between us and swallowed the
ring. . . . Or we were at the wedding-breakfast, and Bingo, a grisly
black skeleton with flaming eyes, sat on the cake and would not allow
Lilian to cut it. Even the rose-tree fancy was reproduced in a
distorted form--the tree grew, and every blossom contained a miniature
Bingo, which barked; and as I woke I was desperately trying to
persuade the colonel that they were ordinary dog-roses.
I went up to the office next day with my gloomy secret gnawing my
bosom, and, whatever I did, the spectre of the murdered poodle rose
before me. For two days after that I dared not go near the Curries,
until at last one evening after dinner I forced myself to call,
feeling that it was really not safe to keep away any longer.
My conscience smote me as I went in. I put on an unconscious, easy
manner, which was such a dismal failure that it was lucky for me that
they were too much engrossed to notice it.
I never before saw a family so stricken down by a domestic misfortune
as the group I found in the drawing-room, making a dejected pretence
of reading or working. We talked at first--and hollow talk it was--on
indifferent subjects, till I could bear it no longer, and plunged
boldly into danger.
"I don't see the dog," I began, "I suppose you--you found him all
right the other evening, colonel?" I wondered, as I spoke, whether
they would not notice the break in my voice, but they did not.
"Why, the fact is," said the colonel, heavily, gnawing his gray
moustache, "we've not heard anything of him since; he's--he's run
"Gone, Mr. Weatherhead; gone without a word!" said Mrs. Currie,
plaintively, as if she thought the dog might at least have left an
"I wouldn't have believed it of him," said the colonel; "it has
completely knocked me over. Haven't been so cut up for years--the
"O uncle!" pleaded Lilian, "don't talk like that; perhaps Bingo
couldn't help it--perhaps some one has s-s-shot him!"
"Shot!" cried the colonel, angrily. "By heaven! if I thought there was
a villain on earth capable of shooting that poor inoffensive dog,
I'd-- Why /should/ they shoot him, Lilian? Tell me that! I--I hope you
won't let me hear you talk like that again. /You/ don't think he's
shot, eh, Weatherhead?"
I said--Heaven forgive me!--that I thought it highly improbable.
"He's not dead!" cried Mrs. Currie. "If he were dead I should know it
somehow--I'm sure I should! But I'm certain he's alive. Only last
night I had such a beautiful dream about him. I thought he came back
to us, Mr. Weatherhead, driving up in a hansom-cab, and he was just
the same as ever--only he wore blue spectacles, and the shaved part of
him was painted a bright red. And I woke up with the joy--so, you
know, it's sure to come true!"
It will be easily understood what torture conversations like these
were to me, and how I hated myself as I sympathised and spoke
encouraging words concerning the dog's recovery, when I knew all the
time he was lying hid under my garden mould. But I took it as a part
of my punishment, and bore it all uncomplainingly; practice even made
me an adept in the art of consolation--I believe I really was a great
comfort to them.
I had hoped that they would soon get over the first bitterness of
their loss, and that Bingo would be first replaced and then forgotten
in the usual way; but there seemed no signs of this coming to pass.
The poor colonel was too plainly fretting himself ill about it; he
went pottering about forlornly, advertising, searching, and seeing
people, but all, of course, to no purpose; and it told upon him. He
was more like a man whose only son and heir had been stolen than an
Anglo-Indian officer who had lost a poodle. I had to affect the
liveliest interest in all his inquiries and expeditions, and to listen
to and echo the most extravagant eulogies of the departed; and the
wear and tear of so much duplicity made me at last almost as ill as
the colonel himself.
I could not help seeing that Lilian was not nearly so much impressed
by my elaborate concern as her relatives, and sometimes I detected an
incredulous look in her frank brown eyes that made me very uneasy.
Little by little, a rift widened between us, until at last in despair
I determined to know the worst before the time came when it would be
hopeless to speak at all. I chose a Sunday evening as we were walking
across the green from church in the golden dusk, and then I ventured
to speak to her of my love. She heard me to the end, and was evidently
very much agitated. At last she murmured that it could not be, unless
--no, it never could be now.
"Unless, what?" I asked. "Lilian--Miss Roseblade, something has come
between us lately; you will tell me what that something is, won't
"Do you want to know /really/?" she said, looking up at me through her
tears. "Then I'll tell you; it--it's Bingo!"
I started back overwhelmed. Did she know all? If not, how much did she
suspect? I must find out that at once. "What about Bingo?" I managed
to pronounce, with a dry tongue.
"You never l-loved him when he was here," she sobbed; "you know you
I was relieved to find it was no worse than this.
"No," I said, candidly; "I did not love Bingo. Bingo didn't love /me/,
Lilian; he was always looking out for a chance of nipping me
somewhere. Surely you won't quarrel with me for that!"
"Not for that," she said; "only, why do you pretend to be so fond of
him now, and so anxious to get him back again? Uncle John believes
you, but /I/ don't. I can see quite well that you wouldn't be glad to
find him. You could find him easily if you wanted to!"
"What do you mean, Lilian?" I said, hoarsely. "/How/ could I find
him?" Again I feared the worst.
"You're in a government office," cried Lilian, "and if you only chose,
you could easily g-get g-government to find Bingo! What's the use of
government if it can't do that? Mr. Travers would have found him long
ago if I'd asked him!"
Lilian had never been so childishly unreasonable as this before, and
yet I loved her more madly than ever; but I did not like this allusion
to Travers, a rising barrister, who lived with his sister in a pretty
cottage near the station, and had shown symptoms of being attracted by
He was away on circuit just then, luckily; but, at least, even he
would have found it a hard task to find Bingo--there was comfort in
"You know that isn't just, Lilian," I observed; "but only tell me what
you want me to do."
"Bub-bub-bring back Bingo!" she said.
"Bring back Bingo!" I cried, in horror. "But suppose I /can't/--
suppose he's out of the country, or--dead, what then Lilian?"
"I can't help it," she said, "but I don't believe he /is/ out of the
country or dead. And while I see you pretending to uncle that you
cared awfully about him, and going on doing nothing at all, it makes
me think you're not quite--quite /sincere/! And I couldn't possibly
marry any one while I thought that of him. And I shall always have
that feeling unless you find Bingo!"
It was of no use to argue with her; I knew Lilian by that time. With
her pretty, caressing manner she united a latent obstinacy which it
was hopeless to attempt to shake. I feared, too, that she was not
quite certain as yet whether she cared for me or not, and that this
condition of hers was an expedient to gain time.
I left her with a heavy heart. Unless I proved my worth by bringing
back Bingo within a very short time, Travers would probably have
everything his own way. And Bingo was dead!
However, I took heart. I thought that perhaps if I could succeed by my
earnest efforts in persuading Lilian that I really was doing all in my
power to recover the poodle, she might relent in time, and dispense
with his actual production.
So, partly with this object, and partly to appease the remorse which
now revived and stung me deeper than before, I undertook long and
weary pilgrimages after office hours. I spent many pounds in
advertisements; I interviewed dogs of every size, colour, and breed,
and of course I took care to keep Lilian informed of each successive
failure. But still her heart was not touched; she was firm. If I went
on like that, she told me, I was certain to find Bingo one day; then,
but not before, would her doubts be set at rest.
I was walking one day through the somewhat squalid district which lies
between Bow Street and High Holborn, when I saw, in a small theatrical
costumer's window, a hand-bill stating that a black poodle had
"followed a gentleman" on a certain date, and if not claimed and the
finder remunerated before a stated time would be sold to pay expenses.
I went in and got a copy of the bill to show Lilian, and, although by
that time I scarcely dared to look a poodle in the face, I thought I
would go to the address given and see the animal, simply to be able to
tell Lilian I had done so.
The gentleman whom the dog had very unaccountably followed was a
certain Mr. William Blagg, who kept a little shop near Endell Street,
and called himself a bird-fancier, though I should scarcely have
credited him with the necessary imagination. He was an evil-browed
ruffian in a fur cap, with a broad broken nose and little shifty red
eyes; and after I had told him what I wanted he took me through a
horrible little den, stacked with piles of wooden, wire, and wicker
prisons, each quivering with restless, twittering life, and then out
into a back yard, in which were two or three rotten old kennels and
tubs. "That there's him," he said, jerking his thumb to the farthest
tub; "follered me all the way 'ome from Kinsington Gardens, /he/ did.
Kim out, will yer?"
And out of the tub there crawled slowly, with a snuffling whimper and
a rattling of its chain, the identical dog I had slain a few evenings
At least, so I thought for a moment, and felt as if I had seen a
spectre; the resemblance was so exact--in size, in every detail, even
to the little clumps of hair about the hind parts, even to the lop of
half an ear, this dog might have been the /doppelganger/ of the
deceased Bingo. I suppose, after all, one black poodle is very like
any other black poodle of the same size, but the likeness startled me.
I think it was then that the idea occurred to me that here was a
miraculous chance of securing the sweetest girl in the whole world,
and at the same time atoning for my wrong by bringing back gladness
with me to Shuturgarden. It only needed a little boldness; one last
deception, and I could embrace truthfulness once more.
Almost unconsciously, when my guide turned round and asked, "Is that
there dawg yourn?" I said hurriedly, "Yes, yes; that's the dog I want;
"He don't seem to be a-puttin' of 'isself out about seein' you again,"
observed Mr. Blagg, as the poodle studied me with calm interest.
"Oh, he's not exactly /my/ dog, you see," I said; "he belongs to a
friend of mine!"
He gave me a quick, furtive glance. "Then maybe you're mistook about
him," he said, "and I can't run no risks. I was a-goin' down in the
country this 'ere werry evenin' to see a party as lives at Wistaria
Willa; he's been a-hadwertisin' about a black poodle, /he/ has!"
"But look here," I said; "that's /me/."
He gave me a curious leer. "No offence, you know, guv'nor," he said,
"but I should wish for some evidence as to that afore I part with a
vallyable dawg like this 'ere!"
"Well," I said, "here's one of my cards; will that do for you?"
He took it and spelled it out with a pretence of great caution; but I
saw well enough that the old schoundrel suspected that if I had lost a
dog at all it was not this particular dog. "Ah," he said, as he put it
in his pocket, "if I part with him to you I must be cleared of all
risks. I can't afford to get into trouble about no mistakes. Unless
you likes to leave him for a day or two you must pay accordin', you
I wanted to get the hateful business over as soon as possible. I did
not care what I paid--Lilian was worth all the expense! I said I had
no doubt myself as to the real ownership of the animal, but I would
give him any sum in reason, and would remove the dog at once.
And so we settled it. I paid him an extortionate sum, and came away
with a duplicate poodle, a canine counterfeit, which I hoped to pass
off at Shuturgarden as the long-lost Bingo.
I know it was wrong,--it even came unpleasantly near dog-stealing,--
but I was a desperate man. I saw Lilian gradually slipping away from
me, I knew that nothing short of this could ever recall her, I was
sorely tempted, I had gone far on the same road already; it was the
old story of being hung for a sheep. And so I fell.
Surely some who read this will be generous enough to consider the
peculiar state of the case, and mingle a little pity with their
I was dining in town that evening, and took my purchase home by a late
train; his demeanour was grave and intensely respectable; he was not
the animal to commit himself by any flagrant indiscretion; he was
gentle and tractable too, and in all respects an agreeable contrast in
character to the original. Still, it may have been the after-dinner
workings of conscience, but I could not help fancying that I saw a
certain look in the creature's eyes, as if he were aware that he was
required to connive at a fraud, and rather resented it.
If he would only be good enough to back me up! Fortunately, however,
he was such a perfect facsimile of the outward Bingo that the risk of
detection was really inconsiderable.
When I got him home I put Bingo's silver collar round his neck,
congratulating myself on my forethought in preserving it, and took him
in to see my mother. She accepted him as what he seemed without the
slightest misgiving; but this, though it encouraged me to go on, was
not decisive--the spurious poodle would have to encounter the scrutiny
of those who knew every tuft on the genuine animal's body!
Nothing would have induced me to undergo such an ordeal as that of
personally restoring him to the Curries. We gave him supper, and tied
him up on the lawn, where he howled dolefully all night and buried
The next morning I wrote a note to Mrs. Currie, expressing my pleasure
at being able to restore the lost one, and another to Lilian,
containing only the words, "Will you believe /now/ that I am sincere?"
Then I tied both round the poodle's neck, and dropped him over the
wall into the colonel's garden just before I started to catch my train
I had an anxious walk home from the station that evening; I went round
by the longer way, trembling the whole time lest I should meet any of
the Currie household, to which I felt myself entirely unequal just
then. I could not rest until I knew whether my fraud had succeeded, or
if the poodle to which I had intrusted my fate had basely betrayed me;
but my suspense was happily ended as soon as I entered my mother's
room. "You can't think how delighted those poor Curries were to see
Bingo again," she said at once; "and they said such charming things
about you, Algy--Lilian particularly; quite affected she seemed, poor
child! And they wanted you to go round and dine there and be thanked
to-night, but at last I persuaded them to come to us instead. And
they're going to bring the dog to make friends. Oh, and I met Frank
Travers; he's back from circuit again now, so I asked him in too to
I drew a deep breath of relief. I had played a desperate game, but I
had won! I could have wished, to be sure, that my mother had not
thought of bringing in Travers on that of all evenings, but I hoped
that I could defy him after this.
The colonel and his people were the first to arrive, he and his wife
being so effusively grateful that they made me very uncomfortable
indeed; Lilian met me with downcast eyes and the faintest possible
blush, but she said nothing just then. Five minutes afterward, when
she and I were alone together in the conservatory, where I had brought
her on pretence of showing a new begonia, she laid her hand on my
sleeve and whispered, almost shyly, "Mr. Weatherhead--Algernon! Can
you ever forgive me for being so cruel and unjust to you?" And I
replied that, upon the whole, I could.
We were not in the conservatory long, but before we left it beautiful
Lilian Roseblade had consented to make my life happy. When we
reentered the drawing-room we found Frank Travers, who had been told
the story of the recovery; and I observed his jaw fall as he glanced
at our faces, and noted the triumphant smile which I have no doubt
mine wore, and the tender, dreamy look in Lilian's soft eyes. Poor
Travers! I was sorry for him, although I was not fond of him. Travers
was a good type of rising young common-law barrister, tall, not bad-
looking, with keen dark eyes, black whiskers, and the mobile forensic
mouth which can express every shade of feeling, from deferential
assent to cynical incredulity; possessed, too, of an endless flow of
conversation that was decidedly agreeable, if a trifling too
laboriously so, he had been a dangerous rival. But all that was over
now; he saw it himself at once, and during dinner sank into dismal
silence, gazing pathetically at Lilian, and sighing almost obtrusively
between the courses. His stream of small talk seemed to have been cut
off at the main.
"You've done a kind thing, Weatherhead," said the colonel. "I can't
tell you all that dog is to me, and how I missed the poor beast. I'd
quite given up all hope of ever seeing him again, and all the time
there was Weatherhead, Mr. Travers, quietly searching all London till
he found him! I sha'n't forget it. It shows a really kind feeling."
I saw by Travers's face that he was telling himself he would have
found fifty Bingos in half the time--if he had only thought of it; he
smiled a melancholy assent to all the colonel said, and then began to
study me with an obviously depreciatory air.
"You can't think," I heard Mrs. Currie telling my mother, "how really
/touching/ it was to see poor Bingo's emotion at seeing all the old
familiar objects again! He went up and sniffed at them all in turn,
quite plainly recognising everything. And he was quite put out to find
that we had moved his favourite ottoman out of the drawing-room. But
he /is/ so penitent too, and so ashamed of having run away; he kept
under a chair in the hall all the morning; he wouldn't come in here,
either, so we had to leave him in your garden."
"He's been sadly out of spirits all day," said Lilian; "he hasn't
bitten one of the tradespeople."
"Oh, /he's/ all right, the rascal!" said the colonel, cheerily. "He'll
be after the cats again as well as ever in a day or two."
"Ah, those cats!" said my poor innocent mother. "Algy, you haven't
tried the air-gun on them again lately, have you? They're worse than
I troubled the colonel to pass the claret. Travers laughed for the
first time. "That's a good idea," he said, in that carrying "bar-mess"
voice of his; "an air-gun for cats, ha, ha! Make good bags, eh,
Weatherhead?" I said that I did, /very/ good bags, and felt I was
getting painfully red in the face.
"Oh, Algy is an excellent shot--quite a sportsman," said my mother. "I
remember, oh, long ago, when we lived at Hammersmith, he had a pistol,
and he used to strew crumbs in the garden for the sparrows, and shoot
at them out of the pantry window; he frequently hit one."
"Well," said the colonel, not much impressed by these sporting
reminiscences, "don't go rolling over our Bingo by mistake, you know,
Weatherhead, my boy. Not but what you've a sort of right after this--
only don't. I wouldn't go through it all twice for anything."
"If you really won't take any more wine," I said, hurriedly,
addressing the colonel and Travers, "suppose we all go out and have
our coffee on the lawn? It--it will be cooler there." For it was
getting very hot indoors, I thought.
I left Travers to amuse the ladies--he could do no more harm now; and,
taking the colonel aside, I seized the opportunity, as we strolled up
and down the garden path, to ask his consent to Lilian's engagement to
me. He gave it cordially. "There's not a man in England," he said,
"that I'd sooner see her married to after to-day. You're a quiet,
steady young fellow, and you've a good kind heart. As for the money,
that's neither here nor there; Lilian won't come to you without a
penny, you know. But really, my boy, you can hardly believe what it is
to my poor wife and me to see that dog. Why, bless my soul, look at
him now! What's the matter with him, eh?"
To my unutterable horror, I saw that that miserable poodle, after
begging unnoticed at the tea-table for some time, had retired to an
open space before it, where he was industriously standing on his head.
We gathered round and examined the animal curiously, as he continued
to balance himself gravely in his abnormal position. "Good gracious,
John," cried Mrs. Currie, "I never saw Bingo do such a thing before in
"Very odd," said the colonel, putting up his glasses; "never learned
that from /me/."
"I tell you what I fancy it is," I suggested wildly. "You see, he was
always a sensitive, excitable animal, and perhaps the--the sudden joy
of his return has gone to his head--/upset/ him, you know."
They seemed disposed to accept this solution, and, indeed, I believe
they would have credited Bingo with every conceivable degree of
sensibility; but I felt myself that if this unhappy animal had many
more of these accomplishments I was undone, for the original Bingo had
never been a dog of parts.
"It's very odd," said Travers, reflectively, as the dog recovered his
proper level, "but I always thought that it was half the /right/ ear
that Bingo had lost."
"So it is, isn't it?" said the colonel. "Left, eh? Well, I thought
myself it was the right."
My heart almost stopped with terror; I had altogether forgotten that.
I hastened to set the point at rest. "Oh, it /was/ the left," I said,
positively; "I know it because I remember so particularly thinking how
odd it was that it /should/ be the left ear, and not the right!" I
told myself this should be positively my last lie.
"/Why/ odd?" asked Frank Travers, with his most offensive Socratic
"My dear fellow, I can't tell you," I said, impatiently; "everything
seems odd when you come to think at all about it."
"Algernon," said Lilian, later on, "will you tell Aunt Mary and Mr.
Travers and--me how it was you came to find Bingo? Mr. Travers is
quite anxious to hear all about it."
I could not very well refuse; I sat down and told the story, all my
own way. I painted Blagg perhaps rather bigger and blacker than life,
and described an exciting scene, in which I recognised Bingo by his
collar in the streets, and claimed and bore him off then and there in
spite of all opposition.
I had the inexpressible pleasure of seeing Travers grinding his teeth
with envy as I went on, and feeling Lilian's soft, slender hand glide
silently into mine as I told my tale in the twilight.
All at once, just as I reached the climax, we heard the poodle barking
furiously at the hedge which separated my garden from the road.
"There's a foreign-looking man staring over the hedge," said Lilian;
"Bingo always /did/ hate foreigners."
There certainly was a swarthy man there, and, though I had no reason
for it then, somehow my heart died within me at the sight of him.
"Don't be alarmed, sir," cried the colonel; "the dog won't bite you--
unless there's a hole in the hedge anywhere."
The stranger took off his small straw hat with a sweep. "Ah, I am not
afraid," he said, and his accent proclaimed him a Frenchman; "he is
not enrage at me. May I ask, it is pairmeet to speak viz Misterre
I felt I must deal with this person alone, for I feared the worst;
and, asking them to excuse me, I went to the hedge and faced the
Frenchman with the frightful calm of despair. He was a short, stout
little man, with blue cheeks, sparkling black eyes, and a vivacious
walnut-coloured countenance; he wore a short black alpaca coat, and a
large white cravat, with an immense oval malachite brooch in the
centre of it, which I mention because I found myself staring
mechanically at it during the interview.
"My name is Weatherhead," I began with the bearing of a detected
pickpocket. "Can I be of any service to you?"
"Of a great service," he said, emphatically; "you can restore to me ze
poodle vich I see zere!"
Nemesis had called at last in the shape of a rival claimant. I
staggered for an instant; then I said, "Oh, I think you are under a
mistake; that dog is not mine."
"I know it," he said; "zere 'as been leetle mistake, so if ze dog is
not to you, you give him back to me, /hein/?"
"I tell you," I said, "that poodle belongs to the gentleman over
there." And I pointed to the colonel, seeing that it was best now to
bring him into the affair without delay.
"You are wrong," he said, doggedly; "ze poodle is my poodle! And I was
direct to you--it is your name on ze carte!" And he presented me with
that fatal card which I had been foolish enough to give to Blagg as a
proof of my identity. I saw it all now; the old villain had betrayed
me, and to earn a double reward had put the real owner on my track.
I decided to call the colonel at once, and attempt to brazen it out
with the help of his sincere belief in the dog.
"Eh, what's that; what's it all about?" said the colonel, bustling up,
followed at intervals by the others.
The Frenchman raised his hat again. "I do not vant to make a trouble,"
he began, "but zere is leetle mistake. My word of honour, sare, I see
my own poodle in your garden. Ven I appeal to zis gentilman to restore
'im he reffer me to you."
"You must allow me to know my own dog, sir," said the colonel. "Why,
I've had him from a pup. Bingo, old boy, you know your name, don't
But the brute ignored him altogether, and began to leap wildly at the
hedge in frantic efforts to join the Frenchman. It needed no Solomon
to decide /his/ ownership!
"I tell you, you 'ave got ze wrong poodle--it is my own dog, my Azor!
He remember me well, you see? I lose him, it is three, four
days. . . . I see a nottice zat he is found, and ven I go to ze
address zey tell me, 'Oh, he is reclaim, he is gone viz a strangaire
who has advertise.' Zey show me ze placard; I follow 'ere, and ven I
arrive I see my poodle in ze garden before me!"
"But look here," said the colonel, impatiently; "it's all very well to
say that, but how can you prove it? I give you /my/ word that the dog
belongs to /me/! You must prove your claim, eh, Travers?"
"Yes," said Travers, judicially; "mere assertion is no proof; it's
oath against oath at present."
"Attend an instant; your poodle, was he 'ighly train, had he some
talents--a dog viz tricks, eh?"
"No, he's not," said the colonel; "I don't like to see dogs taught to
play the fool; there's none of that nonsense about /him/, sir!"
"Ah, remark him well, then. /Azor, mon chou, danse donc un peu/!"
And, on the foreigner's whistling a lively air, that infernal poodle
rose on his hind legs and danced solemnly about half-way round the
garden! We inside followed his movements with dismay.
"Why, dash it all!" cried the disgusted colonel, "he's dancing along
like a d--d mountebank! But it's my Bingo, for all that!"
"You are not convince? You shall see more. Azor, ici! Pour Beesmarck,
Azor!" (the poodle barked ferociously.) "Pour Gambetta!" (He wagged
his tail and began to leap with joy.) "Meurs pour la patrie!" And the
too accomplished animal rolled over as if killed in battle!
"Where could Bingo have picked up so much French?" cried Lilian,
"Or so much French history?" added that serpent, Travers.
"Shall I command 'im to jump, or reverse 'imself?" inquired the
"We've seen that, thank you," said the colonel, gloomily. "Upon my
word, I don't know what to think. It can't be that that's not my Bingo
after all--I'll never believe it!"
Back to Full Books