Sketches in Lavender, Blue and Green
Jerome K. Jerome
Part 2 out of 4
every man she comes across: that is 'life' to such women. And I
shall trot behind her, the laughing stock of every fool, the
contempt of every man."
His vehemence made any words I could say sound weak before they
were uttered. What argument could I show stronger than that he had
already put before himself? I knew his answer to everything I
My mistake had been in imagining him different from other men. I
began to see that he was like the rest of us: part angel, part
devil. But the new point he revealed to me was that the higher the
one, the lower the other. It seems as if nature must balance her
work; the nearer the leaves to heaven, the deeper the roots
striking down into the darkness. I knew that his passion for this
woman made no change in his truer love. The one was a spiritual,
the other a mere animal passion. The memory of incidents that had
puzzled me came back to enlighten me. I remembered how often on
nights when I had sat up late, working, I had heard his steps pass
my door, heavy and uncertain; how once in a dingy quarter of
London, I had met one who had strangely resembled him. I had
followed him to speak, but the man's bleared eyes had stared
angrily at me, and I had turned away, calling myself a fool for my
mistake. But as I looked at the face beside me now, I understood.
And then there rose up before my eyes the face I knew better, the
eager noble face that to merely look upon had been good. We had
reached a small, evil-smelling street, leading from Leicester
Square towards Holborn. I caught him by the shoulders and turned
him round with his back against some church railings. I forget
what I said. We are strange mixtures. I thought of the shy,
backward boy I had coached and bullied at old Fauerberg's, of the
laughing handsome lad I had watched grow into manhood. The very
restaurant we had most frequented in his old Oxford days--where we
had poured out our souls to one another, was in this very street
where we were standing. For the moment I felt towards him as
perhaps his mother might have felt; I wanted to scold him and to
cry with him; to shake him and to put my arms about him. I pleaded
with him, and urged him, and called him every name I could put my
tongue to. It must have seemed an odd conversation. A passing
policeman, making a not unnatural mistake, turned his bull's-eye
upon us, and advised us sternly to go home. We laughed, and with
that laugh Cyril came back to his own self, and we walked on to
Staple Inn more soberly. He promised me to go away by the very
first train the next morning, and to travel for some four or five
months, and I undertook to make all the necessary explanations for
We both felt better for our talk, and when I wished him good-night
at his door, it was the real Cyril Harjohn whose hand I gripped--
the real Cyril, because the best that is in a man is his real self.
If there be any future for man beyond this world, it is the good
that is in him that will live. The other side of him is of the
earth; it is that he will leave behind him.
He kept his word. In the morning he was gone, and I never saw him
again. I had many letters from him, hopeful at first, full of
strong resolves. He told me he had written to Elspeth, not telling
her everything, for that she would not understand, but so much as
would explain; and from her he had had sweet womanly letters in
reply. I feared she might have been cold and unsympathetic, for
often good women, untouched by temptation themselves, have small
tenderness for those who struggle. But her goodness was something
more than a mere passive quantity; she loved him the better because
he had need of her. I believe she would have saved him from
himself, had not fate interfered and taken the matter out of her
hands. Women are capable of big sacrifices; I think this woman
would have been content to lower herself, if by so doing she could
have raised him.
But it was not to be. From India he wrote to me that he was coming
home. I had not met the Fawley woman for some time, and she had
gone out of my mind until one day, chancing upon a theatrical
paper, some weeks old, I read that "Miss Fawley had sailed for
Calcutta to fulfil an engagement of long standing."
I had his last letter in my pocket. I sat down and worked out the
question of date. She would arrive in Calcutta the day before he
left. Whether it was chance or intention on her part I never knew;
as likely as not the former, for there is a fatalism in this world
shaping our ends.
I heard no more from him, I hardly expected to do so, but three
months later a mutual acquaintance stopped me on the Club steps.
"Have you heard the news," he said, "about young Harjohn?"
"No," I replied. "Is he married?"
"Married," he answered, "No, poor devil, he's dead!"
"Thank God," was on my lips, but fortunately I checked myself.
"How did it happen?" I asked.
"At a shooting party, up at some Rajah's place. Must have caught
his gun in some brambles, I suppose. The bullet went clean through
"Dear me," I said, "how very sad!" I could think of nothing else
to say at the moment.
THE MATERIALISATION OF CHARLES AND MIVANWAY
The fault that most people will find with this story is that it is
unconvincing. Its scheme is improbable, its atmosphere artificial.
To confess that the thing really happened--not as I am about to set
it down, for the pen of the professional writer cannot but adorn
and embroider, even to the detriment of his material--is, I am well
aware, only an aggravation of my offence, for the facts of life are
the impossibilities of fiction. A truer artist would have left
this story alone, or at most have kept it for the irritation of his
private circle. My lower instinct is to make use of it. A very
old man told me the tale. He was landlord of the Cromlech Arms,
the only inn of a small, rock-sheltered village on the north-east
coast of Cornwall, and had been so for nine and forty years. It is
called the Cromlech Hotel now, and is under new management, and
during the season some four coach-loads of tourists sit down each
day to table d'hote lunch in the low-ceilinged parlour. But I am
speaking of years ago, when the place was a mere fishing harbour,
undiscovered by the guide books.
The old landlord talked, and I hearkened the while we both sat
drinking thin ale from earthenware mugs, late one summer's evening,
on the bench that runs along the wall just beneath the latticed
windows. And during the many pauses, when the old landlord stopped
to puff his pipe in silence, and lay in a new stock of breath,
there came to us the murmuring voices of the Atlantic; and often,
mingled with the pompous roar of the big breakers farther out, we
would hear the rippling laugh of some small wave that, maybe, had
crept in to listen to the tale the landlord told.
The mistake that Charles Seabohn, Junior partner of the firm of
Seabohn & Son, civil engineers of London and Newcastle-upon-Tyne,
and Mivanway Evans, youngest daughter of the Rev. Thomas Evans,
Pastor of the Presbyterian Church at Bristol, made originally, was
marrying too young. Charles Seabohn could hardly have been twenty
years of age, and Mivanway could have been little more than
seventeen, when they first met upon the cliffs, two miles beyond
the Cromlech Arms. Young Charles Seabohn, coming across the
village in the course of a walking tour, had decided to spend a day
or two exploring the picturesque coast, and Mivanway's father had
hired that year a neighbouring farmhouse wherein to spend his
Early one morning--for at twenty one is virtuous, and takes
exercise before breakfast--as young Charles Seabohn lay upon the
cliffs, watching the white waters coming and going upon the black
rocks below, he became aware of a form rising from the waves. The
figure was too far off for him to see it clearly, but judging from
the costume, it was a female figure, and promptly the mind of
Charles, poetically inclined, turned to thoughts of Venus--or
Aphrodite, as he, being a gentleman of delicate taste would have
preferred to term her. He saw the figure disappear behind a head-
land, but still waited. In about ten minutes or a quarter of an
hour it reappeared, clothed in the garments of the eighteen-
sixties, and came towards him. Hidden from sight himself behind a
group of rocks, he could watch it at his leisure, ascending the
steep path from the beach, and an exceedingly sweet and dainty
figure it would have appeared, even to eyes less susceptible than
those of twenty. Sea-water--I stand open to correction--is not, I
believe, considered anything of a substitute for curling tongs, but
to the hair of the youngest Miss Evans it had given an additional
and most fascinating wave. Nature's red and white had been most
cunningly laid on, and the large childish eyes seemed to be
searching the world for laughter, with which to feed a pair of
delicious, pouting lips. Charles's upturned face, petrified into
admiration, was just the sort of thing for which they were on the
look-out. A startled "Oh!" came from the slightly parted lips,
followed by the merriest of laughs, which in its turn was suddenly
stopped by a deep blush. Then the youngest Miss Evans looked
offended, as though the whole affair had been Charles's fault,
which is the way of women. And Charles, feeling himself guilty
under that stern gaze of indignation, rose awkwardly and apologised
meekly, whether for being on the cliffs at all or for having got up
too early, he would have been unable to explain.
The youngest Miss Evans graciously accepted the apology thus
tendered with a bow, and passed on, and Charles stood staring after
her till the valley gathered her into its spreading arms and hid
her from his view.
That was the beginning of all things. I am speaking of the
Universe as viewed from the standpoint of Charles and Mivanway.
Six months later they were man and wife, or perhaps it would be
more correct to say boy and wifelet. Seabohn senior counselled
delay, but was overruled by the impatience of his junior partner.
The Reverend Mr. Evans, in common with most theologians, possessed
a goodly supply of unmarried daughters, and a limited income.
Personally he saw no necessity for postponement of the marriage.
The month's honeymoon was spent in the New Forest. That was a
mistake to begin with. The New Forest in February is depressing,
and they had chosen the loneliest spot they could find. A
fortnight in Paris or Rome would have been more helpful. As yet
they had nothing to talk about except love, and that they had been
talking and writing about steadily all through the winter. On the
tenth morning Charles yawned, and Mivanway had a quiet half-hour's
cry about it in her own room. On the sixteenth evening, Mivanway,
feeling irritable, and wondering why (as though fifteen damp,
chilly days in the New Forest were not sufficient to make any woman
irritable), requested Charles not to disarrange her hair; and
Charles, speechless with astonishment, went out into the garden,
and swore before all the stars that he would never caress
Mivanway's hair again as long as he lived.
One supreme folly they had conspired to commit, even before the
commencement of the honeymoon. Charles, after the manner of very
young lovers, had earnestly requested Mivanway to impose upon him
some task. He desired to do something great and noble to show his
devotion. Dragons was the thing he had in mind, though he may not
have been aware of it. Dragons also, no doubt, flitted through
Mivanway's brain, but unfortunately for lovers the supply of
dragons has lapsed. Mivanway, liking the conceit, however, thought
over it, and then decided that Charles must give up smoking. She
had discussed the matter with her favourite sister, and that was
the only thing the girls could think of. Charles's face fell. He
suggested some more Herculean labour, some sacrifice more worthy to
lay at Mivanway's feet. But Mivanway had spoken. She might think
of some other task, but the smoking prohibition would, in any case,
remain. She dismissed the subject with a pretty hauteur that would
have graced Marie Antoinette.
Thus tobacco, the good angel of all men, no longer came each day to
teach Charles patience and amiability, and he fell into the ways of
short temper and selfishness.
They took up their residence in a suburb of Newcastle, and this was
also unfortunate for them, because there the society was scanty and
middle-aged; and, in consequence, they had still to depend much
upon their own resources. They knew little of life, less of each
other, and nothing at all of themselves. Of course they
quarrelled, and each quarrel left the wound a little more raw. No
kindly, experienced friend was at hand to laugh at them. Mivanway
would write down all her sorrows in a bulky diary, which made her
feel worse; so that before she had written for ten minutes her
pretty, unwise head would drop upon her dimpled arm, and the book--
the proper place for which was behind the fire--would become damp
with her tears; and Charles, his day's work done and the clerks
gone, would linger in his dingy office and hatch trifles into
The end came one evening after dinner, when, in the heat of a silly
squabble, Charles boxed Mivanway's ears. That was very
ungentlemanly conduct, and he was heartily ashamed of himself the
moment he had done it, which was right and proper for him to be.
The only excuse to be urged on his behalf is that girls
sufficiently pretty to have been spoilt from childhood by everyone
about them can at times be intensely irritating. Mivanway rushed
up to her room, and locked herself in. Charles flew after her to
apologise, but only arrived in time to have the door slammed in his
It had only been the merest touch. A boy's muscles move quicker
than his thoughts. But to Mivanway it was a blow. This was what
it had come to! This was the end of a man's love!
She spent half the night writing in the precious diary, with the
result that in the morning she came down feeling more bitter than
she had gone up. Charles had walked the streets of Newcastle all
night, and that had not done him any good. He met her with an
apology combined with an excuse, which was bad tactics. Mivanway,
of course, fastened upon the excuse, and the quarrel recommenced.
She mentioned that she hated him; he hinted that she had never
loved him, and she retorted that he had never loved her. Had there
been anybody by to knock their heads together and suggest
breakfast, the thing might have blown over, but the combined effect
of a sleepless night and an empty stomach upon each proved
disastrous. Their words came poisoned from their brains, and each
believed they meant what they said. That afternoon Charles sailed
from Hull, on a ship bound for the Cape, and that evening Mivanway
arrived at the paternal home in Bristol with two trunks and the
curt information that she and Charles had separated for ever. The
next morning both thought of a soft speech to say to the other, but
the next morning was just twenty-four hours too late.
Eight days afterwards Charles's ship was run down in a fog, near
the coast of Portugal, and every soul on board was supposed to have
perished. Mivanway read his name among the list of lost; the child
died within her, and she knew herself for a woman who had loved
deeply, and will not love again.
Good luck intervening, however, Charles and one other man were
rescued by a small trading vessel, and landed in Algiers. There
Charles learnt of his supposed death, and the idea occurred to him
to leave the report uncontradicted. For one thing, it solved a
problem that had been troubling him. He could trust his father to
see to it that his own small fortune, with possibly something
added, was handed over to Mivanway, and she would be free if she
wished to marry again. He was convinced that she did not care for
him, and that she had read of his death with a sense of relief. He
would make a new life for himself, and forget her.
He continued his journey to the Cape, and once there he soon gained
for himself an excellent position. The colony was young, engineers
were welcome, and Charles knew his business. He found the life
interesting and exciting. The rough, dangerous up-country work
suited him, and the time passed swiftly.
But in thinking he would forget Mivanway, he had not taken into
consideration his own character, which at bottom was a very
gentlemanly character. Out on the lonely veldt he found himself
dreaming of her. The memory of her pretty face and merry laugh
came back to him at all hours. Occasionally he would curse her
roundly, but that only meant that he was sore because of the
thought of her; what he was really cursing was himself and his own
folly. Softened by the distance, her quick temper, her very
petulance became mere added graces; and if we consider women as
human beings and not as angels, it was certainly a fact that he had
lost a very sweet and lovable woman. Ah! if she only were by his
side now--now that he was a man capable of appreciating her, and
not a foolish, selfish boy. This thought would come to him as he
sat smoking at the door of his tent, and then he would regret that
the stars looking down upon him were not the same stars that were
watching her, it would have made him feel nearer to her. For,
though young people may not credit it, one grows more sentimental
as one grows older; at least, some of us do, and they perhaps not
the least wise.
One night he had a vivid dream of her. She came to him and held
out her hand, and he took it, and they said good-bye to one
another. They were standing on the cliff where he had first met
her, and one of them was going upon a long journey, though he was
not sure which.
In the towns men laugh at dreams, but away from civilisation we
listen more readily to the strange tales that Nature whispers to
us. Charles Seabohn recollected this dream when he awoke in the
"She is dying," he said, "and she has come to wish me good-bye."
He made up his mind to return to England at once; perhaps if he
made haste he would be in time to kiss her. But he could not start
that day, for work was to be done; and Charles Seabohn, lover
though he still was, had grown to be a man, and knew that work must
not be neglected even though the heart may be calling. So for a
day or two he stayed, and on the third night he dreamed of Mivanway
again, and this time she lay within the little chapel at Bristol
where, on Sunday mornings, he had often sat with her. He heard her
father's voice reading the burial service over her, and the sister
she had loved best was sitting beside him, crying softly. Then
Charles knew that there was no need for him to hasten. So he
remained to finish his work. That done, he would return to
England. He would like again to stand upon the cliffs, above the
little Cornish village, where they had first met.
Thus a few months later Charles Seabohn, or Charles Denning, as he
called himself, aged and bronzed, not easily recognisable by those
who had not known him well, walked into the Cromlech Arms, as six
years before he had walked in with his knapsack on his back, and
asked for a room, saying he would be stopping in the village for a
In the evening he strolled out and made his way to the cliffs. It
was twilight when he reached the place of rocks to which the fancy-
loving Cornish folk had given the name of the Witches' Cauldron.
It was from this spot that he had first watched Mivanway coming to
him from the sea.
He took the pipe from his mouth, and leaning against a rock, whose
rugged outline seemed fashioned into the face of an old friend,
gazed down the narrow pathway now growing indistinct in the dim
light. And as he gazed the figure of Mivanway came slowly up the
pathway from the sea, and paused before him.
He felt no fear. He had half expected it. Her coming was the
complement of his dreams. She looked older and graver than he
remembered her, but for that the face was the sweeter.
He wondered if she would speak to him, but she only looked at him
with sad eyes; and he stood there in the shadow of the rocks
without moving, and she passed on into the twilight.
Had he on his return cared to discuss the subject with his
landlord, had he even shown himself a ready listener--for the old
man loved to gossip--he might have learnt that a young widow lady
named Mrs. Charles Seabohn, accompanied by an unmarried sister, had
lately come to reside in the neighbourhood, having, upon the death
of a former tenant, taken the lease of a small farmhouse sheltered
in the valley a mile beyond the village, and that her favourite
evening's walk was to the sea and back by the steep footway leading
past the Witches' Cauldron.
Had he followed the figure of Mivanway into the valley, he would
have known that out of sight of the Witches' Cauldron it took to
running fast till it reached a welcome door, and fell panting into
the arms of another figure that had hastened out to meet it.
"My dear," said the elder woman, "you are trembling like a leaf.
What has happened?"
"I have seen him," answered Mivanway.
"Charles!" repeated the other, looking at Mivanway as though she
thought her mad.
"His spirit, I mean," explained Mivanway, in an awed voice. "It
was standing in the shadow of the rocks, in the exact spot where we
first met. It looked older and more careworn; but, oh! Margaret,
so sad and reproachful."
"My dear," said her sister, leading her in, "you are overwrought.
I wish we had never come back to this house."
"Oh! I was not frightened," answered Mivanway, "I have been
expecting it every evening. I am so glad it came. Perhaps it will
come again, and I can ask it to forgive me."
So next night Mivanway, though much against her sister's wishes and
advice, persisted in her usual walk, and Charles at the same
twilight hour started from the inn.
Again Mivanway saw him standing in the shadow of the rocks.
Charles had made up his mind that if the thing happened again he
would speak, but when the silent figure of Mivanway, clothed in the
fading light, stopped and gazed at him, his will failed him.
That it was the spirit of Mivanway standing before him he had not
the faintest doubt. One may dismiss other people's ghosts as the
phantasies of a weak brain, but one knows one's own to be
realities, and Charles for the last five years had mingled with a
people whose dead dwell about them. Once, drawing his courage
around him, he made to speak, but as he did so the figure of
Mivanway shrank from him, and only a sigh escaped his lips, and
hearing that the figure of Mivanway turned and again passed down
the path into the valley, leaving Charles gazing after it.
But the third night both arrived at the trysting spot with
determination screwed up to the sticking point.
Charles was the first to speak. As the figure of Mivanway came
towards him, with its eyes fixed sadly on him, he moved from the
shadow of the rocks, and stood before it.
"Mivanway!" he said.
"Charles!" replied the figure of Mivanway. Both spoke in an awed
whisper suitable to the circumstances, and each stood gazing
sorrowfully upon the other.
"Are you happy?" asked Mivanway.
The question strikes one as somewhat farcical, but it must be
remembered that Mivanway was the daughter of a Gospeller of the old
school, and had been brought up to beliefs that were not then out
"As happy as I deserve to be," was the sad reply, and the answer--
the inference was not complimentary to Charles's deserts--struck a
chill to Mivanway's heart.
"How could I be happy having lost you?" went on the voice of
Now this speech fell very pleasantly upon Mivanway's ears. In the
first place it relieved her of her despair regarding Charles's
future. No doubt his present suffering was keen, but there was
hope for him. Secondly, it was a decidedly "pretty" speech for a
ghost, and I am not at all sure that Mivanway was the kind of woman
to be averse to a little mild flirtation with the spirit of
"Can you forgive me?" asked Mivanway.
"Forgive YOU!" replied Charles, in a tone of awed astonishment.
"Can you forgive me? I was a brute--a fool--I was not worthy to
A most gentlemanly spirit it seemed to be. Mivanway forgot to be
afraid of it.
"We were both to blame," answered Mivanway. But this time there
was less submission in her tones. "But I was the most at fault. I
was a petulant child. I did not know how deeply I loved you."
"You loved me!" repeated the voice of Charles, and the voice
lingered over the words as though it found them sweet.
"Surely you never doubted it," answered the voice of Mivanway. "I
never ceased to love you. I shall love you always and ever."
The figure of Charles sprang forward as though it would clasp the
ghost of Mivanway in its arms, but halted a step or two off.
"Bless me before you go," he said, and with uncovered head the
figure of Charles knelt to the figure of Mivanway.
Really, ghosts could be exceedingly nice when they liked. Mivanway
bent graciously towards her shadowy suppliant, and, as she did so,
her eye caught sight of something on the grass beside it, and that
something was a well-coloured meerschaum pipe. There was no
mistaking it for anything else, even in that treacherous light; it
lay glistening where Charles, in falling upon his knees had jerked
it from his breast-pocket.
Charles, following Mivanway's eyes, saw it also, and the memory of
the prohibition against smoking came back to him.
Without stopping to consider the futility of the action--nay, the
direct confession implied thereby--he instinctively grabbed at the
pipe, and rammed it back into his pocket; and then an avalanche of
mingled understanding and bewilderment, fear and joy, swept
Mivanway's brain before it. She felt she must do one of two
things, laugh or scream and go on screaming, and she laughed. Peal
after peal of laughter she sent echoing among the rocks, and
Charles springing to his feet was just in time to catch her as she
fell forward a dead weight into his arms.
Ten minutes later the eldest Miss Evans, hearing heavy footsteps,
went to the door. She saw what she took to be the spirit of
Charles Seabohn, staggering under the weight of the lifeless body
of Mivanway, and the sight not unnaturally alarmed her. Charles's
suggestion of brandy, however, sounded human, and the urgent need
of attending to Mivanway kept her mind from dwelling upon problems
tending towards insanity.
Charles carried Mivanway to her room, and laid her upon the bed.
"I'll leave her with you," he whispered to the eldest Miss Evans.
"It will be better for her not to see me until she is quite
recovered. She has had a shock."
Charles waited in the dark parlour for what seemed to him an
exceedingly long time. But at last the eldest Miss Evans returned.
"She's all right now," were the welcome words he heard.
"I'll go and see her," he said.
"But she's in bed," exclaimed the scandalised Miss Evans.
And then as Charles only laughed, "Oh, ah--yes, I suppose--of
course," she added.
And the eldest Miss Evans, left alone, sat down and wrestled with
the conviction that she was dreaming.
PORTRAIT OF A LADY
My work pressed upon me, but the louder it challenged me--such is
the heart of the timid fighter--the less stomach I felt for the
contest. I wrestled with it in my study, only to be driven to my
books. I walked out to meet it in the streets, only to seek
shelter from it in music-hall or theatre. Thereupon it waxed
importunate and over-bearing, till the shadow of it darkened all my
doings. The thought of it sat beside me at the table, and spoilt
my appetite. The memory of it followed me abroad, and stood
between me and my friends, so that all talk died upon my lips, and
I moved among men as one ghost-ridden.
Then the throbbing town, with its thousand distracting voices, grew
maddening to me. I felt the need of converse with solitude, that
master and teacher of all the arts, and I bethought me of the
Yorkshire Wolds, where a man may walk all day, meeting no human
creature, hearing no voice but the curlew's cry; where, lying prone
upon the sweet grass, he may feel the pulsation of the earth,
travelling at its eleven hundred miles a minute through the ether.
So one morning I bundled many things, some needful, more needless,
into a bag, hurrying lest somebody or something should happen to
stay me, and that night I lay in a small northern town that stands
upon the borders of smokedom at the gate of the great moors; and at
seven the next morning I took my seat beside a one-eyed carrier
behind an ancient piebald mare. The one-eyed carrier cracked his
whip, the piebald horse jogged forward. The nineteenth century,
with its turmoil, fell away behind us; the distant hills, creeping
nearer, swallowed us up, and we became but a moving speck upon the
face of the quiet earth.
Late in the afternoon we arrived at a village, the memory of which
had been growing in my mind. It lies in the triangle formed by the
sloping walls of three great fells, and not even the telegraph wire
has reached it yet, to murmur to it whispers of the restless world-
-or had not at the time of which I write. Nought disturbs it save,
once a day, the one-eyed carrier--if he and his piebald mare have
not yet laid their ancient bones to rest--who, passing through,
leaves a few letters and parcels to be called for by the people of
the scattered hill-farms round about. It is the meeting-place of
two noisy brooks. Through the sleepy days and the hushed nights,
one hears them ever chattering to themselves as children playing
alone some game of make-believe. Coming from their far-off homes
among the hills, they mingle their waters here, and journey on in
company, and then their converse is more serious, as becomes those
who have joined hands and are moving onward towards life together.
Later they reach sad, weary towns, black beneath a never-lifted
pall of smoke, where day and night the clang of iron drowns all
human voices, where the children play with ashes, where the men and
women have dull, patient faces; and so on, muddy and stained, to
the deep sea that ceaselessly calls to them. Here, however, their
waters are fresh and clear, and their passing makes the only stir
that the valley has ever known. Surely, of all peaceful places,
this was the one where a tired worker might find strength.
My one-eyed friend had suggested I should seek lodgings at the
house of one Mistress Cholmondley, a widow lady, who resided with
her only daughter in the white-washed cottage that is the last
house in the village, if you take the road that leads over Coll
"Tha' can see th' house from here, by reason o' its standing so
high above t'others," said the carrier, pointing with his whip.
"It's theer or nowhere, aw'm thinking, for folks don't often coom
seeking lodgings in these parts."
The tiny dwelling, half smothered in June roses, looked idyllic,
and after a lunch of bread and cheese at the little inn I made my
way to it by the path that passes through the churchyard. I had
conjured up the vision of a stout, pleasant, comfort-radiating
woman, assisted by some bright, fresh girl, whose rosy cheeks and
sunburnt hands would help me banish from my mind all clogging
recollections of the town; and hopeful, I pushed back the half-
opened door and entered.
The cottage was furnished with a taste that surprised me, but in
themselves my hosts disappointed me. My bustling, comely housewife
turned out a wizened, blear-eyed dame. All day long she dozed in
her big chair, or crouched with shrivelled hands spread out before
the fire. My dream of winsome maidenhood vanished before the
reality of a weary-looking, sharp-featured woman of between forty
and fifty. Perhaps there had been a time when the listless eyes
had sparkled with roguish merriment, when the shrivelled, tight-
drawn lips had pouted temptingly; but spinsterhood does not sweeten
the juices of a woman, and strong country air, though, like old
ale, it is good when taken occasionally, dulls the brain if lived
upon. A narrow, uninteresting woman I found her, troubled with a
shyness that sat ludicrously upon her age, and that yet failed to
save her from the landlady's customary failing of loquacity
concerning "better days," together with an irritating, if harmless,
affectation of youthfulness.
All other details were, however, most satisfactory; and at the
window commanding the road that leads through the valley towards
the distant world I settled down to face my work.
But the spirit of industry, once driven forth, returns with coy
steps. I wrote for perhaps an hour, and then throwing down my
halting pen I looked about the room, seeking distraction. A
Chippendale book-case stood against the wall and I strolled over to
it. The key was in the lock, and opening its glass doors, I
examined the well-filled shelves. They held a curious collection:
miscellanies with quaint, glazed bindings; novels and poems; whose
authors I had never heard of; old magazines long dead, their very
names forgotten; "keepsakes" and annuals, redolent of an age of
vastly pretty sentiments and lavender-coloured silks. On the top
shelf, however, was a volume of Keats wedged between a number of
the Evangelical Rambler and Young's Night Thoughts, and standing on
tip-toe, I sought to draw it from its place.
The book was jambed so tightly that my efforts brought two or three
others tumbling about me, covering me with a cloud of fine dust,
and to my feet there fell, with a rattle of glass and metal, a
small miniature painting, framed in black wood.
I picked it up, and, taking it to the window, examined it. It was
the picture of a young girl, dressed in the fashion of thirty years
ago--I mean thirty years ago then. I fear it must be nearer fifty,
speaking as from now--when our grandmothers wore corkscrew curls,
and low-cut bodices that one wonders how they kept from slipping
down. The face was beautiful, not merely with the conventional
beauty of tiresome regularity and impossible colouring such as one
finds in all miniatures, but with soul behind the soft deep eyes.
As I gazed, the sweet lips seemed to laugh at me, and yet there
lurked a sadness in the smile, as though the artist, in some rare
moment, had seen the coming shadow of life across the sunshine of
the face. Even my small knowledge of Art told me that the work was
clever, and I wondered why it should have lain so long neglected,
when as a mere ornament it was valuable. It must have been placed
in the book-case years ago by someone, and forgotten.
I replaced it among its dusty companions, and sat down once more to
my work. But between me and the fading light came the face of the
miniature, and would not be banished. Wherever I turned it looked
out at me from the shadows. I am not naturally fanciful, and the
work I was engaged upon--the writing of a farcical comedy--was not
of the kind to excite the dreamy side of a man's nature. I grew
angry with myself, and made a further effort to fix my mind upon
the paper in front of me. But my thoughts refused to return from
their wanderings. Once, glancing back over my shoulder, I could
have sworn I saw the original of the picture sitting in the big
chintz-covered chair in the far corner. It was dressed in a faded
lilac frock, trimmed with some old lace, and I could not help
noticing the beauty of the folded hands, though in the portrait
only the head and shoulders had been drawn.
Next morning I had forgotten the incident, but with the lighting of
the lamp the memory of it awoke within me, and my interest grew so
strong that again I took the miniature from its hiding-place and
looked at it.
And then the knowledge suddenly came to me that I knew the face.
Where had I seen her, and when? I had met her and spoken to her.
The picture smiled at me, as if rallying me on my forgetfulness. I
put it back upon its shelf, and sat racking my brains trying to
recollect. We had met somewhere--in the country--a long time ago,
and had talked of common-place things. To the vision of her clung
the scent of roses and the murmuring voices of haymakers. Why had
I never seen her again? Why had she passed so completely out of my
My landlady entered to lay my supper, and I questioned her assuming
a careless tone. Reason with or laugh at myself as I would, this
shadowy memory was becoming a romance to me. It was as though I
were talking of some loved, dead friend, even to speak of whom to
commonplace people was a sacrilege. I did not want the woman to
question me in return.
"Oh, yes," answered my landlady. Ladies had often lodged with her.
Sometimes people stayed the whole summer, wandering about the woods
and fells, but to her thinking the great hills were lonesome. Some
of her lodgers had been young ladies, but she could not remember
any of them having impressed her with their beauty. But then it
was said women were never a judge of other women. They had come
and gone. Few had ever returned, and fresh faces drove out the
"You have been letting lodgings for a long time?" I asked. "I
suppose it could be fifteen--twenty years ago that strangers to you
lived in this room?"
"Longer than that," she said quietly, dropping for the moment all
affectation. "We came here from the farm when my father died. He
had had losses, and there was but little left. That is twenty-
seven years ago now."
I hastened to close the conversation, fearing long-winded
recollections of "better days." I have heard such so often from
one landlady and another. I had not learnt much. Who was the
original of the miniature, how it came to be lying forgotten in the
dusty book-case were still mysteries; and with a strange perversity
I could not have explained to myself I shrank from putting a direct
So two days more passed by. My work took gradually a firmer grip
upon my mind, and the face of the miniature visited me less often.
But in the evening of the third day, which was a Sunday, a curious
I was returning from a stroll, and dusk was falling as I reached
the cottage. I had been thinking of my farce, and I was laughing
to myself at a situation that seemed to me comical, when, passing
the window of my room, I saw looking out the sweet fair face that
had become so familiar to me. It stood close to the latticed
panes, a slim, girlish figure, clad in the old-fashioned lilac-
coloured frock in which I had imagined it on the first night of my
arrival, the beautiful hands clasped across the breast, as then
they had been folded on the lap. Her eyes were gazing down the
road that passes through the village and goes south, but they
seemed to be dreaming, not seeing, and the sadness in them struck
upon one almost as a cry. I was close to the window, but the hedge
screened me, and I remained watching, until, after a minute I
suppose, though it appeared longer, the figure drew back into the
darkness of the room and disappeared.
I entered, but the room was empty. I called, but no one answered.
The uncomfortable suggestion took hold of me that I must be growing
a little crazy. All that had gone before I could explain to myself
as a mere train of thought, but this time it had come to me
suddenly, uninvited, while my thoughts had been busy elsewhere.
This thing had appeared not to my brain but to my senses. I am not
a believer in ghosts, but I am in the hallucinations of a weak
mind, and my own explanation was in consequence not very
satisfactory to myself.
I tried to dismiss the incident, but it would not leave me, and
later that same evening something else occurred that fixed it still
clearer in my thoughts. I had taken out two or three books at
random with which to amuse myself, and turning over the leaves of
one of them, a volume of verses by some obscure poet, I found its
sentimental passages much scored and commented upon in pencil as
was common fifty years ago--as may be common now, for your Fleet
Street cynic has not altered the world and its ways to quite the
extent that he imagines.
One poem in particular had evidently appealed greatly to the
reader's sympathies. It was the old, old story of the gallant who
woos and rides away, leaving the maiden to weep. The poetry was
poor, and at another time its conventionality would have excited
only my ridicule. But, reading it in conjunction with the quaint,
naive notes scattered about its margins, I felt no inclination to
jeer. These hackneyed stories that we laugh at are deep
profundities to the many who find in them some shadow of their own
sorrows, and she--for it was a woman's handwriting--to whom this
book belonged had loved its trite verses, because in them she had
read her own heart. This, I told myself, was her story also. A
common enough story in life as in literature, but novel to those
who live it.
There was no reason for my connecting her with the original of the
miniature, except perhaps a subtle relationship between the thin
nervous handwriting and the mobile features; yet I felt
instinctively they were one and the same, and that I was tracing,
link by link, the history of my forgotten friend.
I felt urged to probe further, and next morning while my landlady
was clearing away my breakfast things, I fenced round the subject
"By the way," I said, "while I think of it, if I leave any books or
papers here behind me, send them on at once. I have a knack of
doing that sort of thing. I suppose," I added, "your lodgers often
do leave some of their belongings behind them."
It sounded to myself a clumsy ruse. I wondered if she would
suspect what was behind it.
"Not often," she answered. "Never that I can remember, except in
the case of one poor lady who died here."
I glanced up quickly.
"In this room?" I asked.
My landlady seemed troubled at my tone.
"Well, not exactly in this very room. We carried her upstairs, but
she died immediately. She was dying when she came here. I should
not have taken her in had I known. So many people are prejudiced
against a house where death has occurred, as if there were anywhere
it had not. It was not quite fair to us."
I did not speak for a while, and the rattle of the plates and
knives continued undisturbed.
"What did she leave here?" I asked at length.
"Oh, just a few books and photographs, and such-like small things
that people bring with them to lodgings," was the reply. "Her
people promised to send for them, but they never did, and I suppose
I forgot them. They were not of any value."
The woman turned as she was leaving the room.
"It won't drive you away, sir, I hope, what I have told you," she
said. "It all happened a long while ago.
"Of course not," I answered. "It interested me, that was all."
And the woman went out, closing the door behind her.
So here was the explanation, if I chose to accept it. I sat long
that morning, wondering to myself whether things I had learnt to
laugh at could be after all realities. And a day or two afterwards
I made a discovery that confirmed all my vague surmises.
Rummaging through this same dusty book-case, I found in one of the
ill-fitting drawers, beneath a heap of torn and tumbled books, a
diary belonging to the fifties, stuffed with many letters and
shapeless flowers, pressed between stained pages; and there--for
the writer of stories, tempted by human documents, is weak--in
faded ink, brown and withered like the flowers, I read the story I
Such a very old story it was, and so conventional. He was an
artist--was ever story of this type written where the hero was not
an artist? They had been children together, loving each other
without knowing it till one day it was revealed to them. Here is
"May 18th.--I do not know what to say, or how to begin. Chris
loves me. I have been praying to God to make me worthy of him, and
dancing round the room in my bare feet for fear of waking them
below. He kissed my hands and clasped them round his neck, saying
they were beautiful as the hands of a goddess, and he knelt and
kissed them again. I am holding them before me and kissing them
myself. I am glad they are so beautiful. O God, why are you so
good to me? Help me to be a true wife to him. Help me that I may
never give him an instant's pain! Oh, that I had more power of
loving, that I might love him better,"--and thus foolish thoughts
for many pages, but foolish thoughts of the kind that has kept this
worn old world, hanging for so many ages in space, from turning
Later, in February, there is another entry that carries on the
"Chris left this morning. He put a little packet into my hands at
the last moment, saying it was the most precious thing he
possessed, and that when I looked at it I was to think of him who
loved it. Of course I guessed what it was, but I did not open it
till I was alone in my room. It is the picture of myself that he
has been so secret about, but oh, so beautiful. I wonder if I am
really as beautiful as this. But I wish he had not made me look so
sad. I am kissing the little lips. I love them, because he loved
to kiss them. Oh, sweetheart! it will be long before you kiss them
again. Of course it was right for him to go, and I am glad he has
been able to manage it. He could not study properly in this quiet
country place, and now he will be able to go to Paris and Rome and
he will be great. Even the stupid people here see how clever he
is. But, oh, it will be so long before I see him again, my love!
With each letter that comes from him, similar foolish rhapsodies
are written down, but these letters of his, I gather, as I turn the
pages, grow after a while colder and fewer, and a chill fear that
dare not be penned creeps in among the words.
"March 12th. Six weeks and no letter from Chris, and, oh dear! I
am so hungry for one, for the last I have almost kissed to pieces.
I suppose he will write more often when he gets to London. He is
working hard, I know, and it is selfish of me to expect him to
write more often, but I would sit up all night for a week rather
than miss writing to him. I suppose men are not like that. O God,
help me, help me, whatever happens! How foolish I am to-night! He
was always careless. I will punish him for it when he comes back,
but not very much."
Truly enough a conventional story.
Letters do come from him after that, but apparently they are less
and less satisfactory, for the diary grows angry and bitter, and
the faded writing is blotted at times with tears. Then towards the
end of another year there comes this entry, written in a hand of
strange neatness and precision:-
"It is all over now. I am glad it is finished. I have written to
him, giving him up. I have told him I have ceased to care for him,
and that it is better we should both be free. It is best that way.
He would have had to ask me to release him, and that would have
given him pain. He was always gentle. Now he will be able to
marry her with an easy conscience, and he need never know what I
have suffered. She is more fitted for him than I am. I hope he
will be happy. I think I have done the right thing."
A few lines follow, left blank, and then the writing is resumed,
but in a stronger, more vehement hand.
"Why do I lie to myself? I hate her! I would kill her if I could.
I hope she will make him wretched, and that he will come to hate
her as I do, and that she will die! Why did I let them persuade me
to send that lying letter? He will show it to her, and she will
see through it and laugh at me. I could have held him to his
promise; he could not have got out of it.
"What do I care about dignity, and womanliness, and right, and all
the rest of the canting words! I want him. I want his kisses and
his arms about me. He is mine! He loved me once! I have only
given him up because I thought it a fine thing to play the saint.
It is only an acted lie. I would rather be evil, and he loved me.
Why do I deceive myself? I want him. I care for nothing else at
the bottom of my heart--his love, his kisses!"
And towards the end. "My God, what am I saying? Have I no shame,
no strength? O God, help me!"
And there the diary closes.
I looked among the letters lying between the pages of the book.
Most of them were signed simply "Chris." or "Christopher." But one
gave his name in full, and it was a name I know well as that of a
famous man, whose hand I have often shaken. I thought of his hard-
featured, handsome wife, and of his great chill place, half house,
half exhibition, in Kensington, filled constantly with its smart,
chattering set, among whom he seemed always to be the uninvited
guest; of his weary face and bitter tongue. And thinking thus
there rose up before me the sweet, sad face of the woman of the
miniature, and, meeting her eyes as she smiled at me from out of
the shadows, I looked at her my wonder.
I took the miniature from its shelf. There would be no harm now in
learning her name. So I stood with it in my hand till a little
later my landlady entered to lay the cloth.
"I tumbled this out of your book-case," I said, "in reaching down
some books. It is someone I know, someone I have met, but I cannot
think where. Do you know who it is?"
The woman took it from my hand, and a faint flush crossed her
withered face. "I had lost it," she answered. "I never thought of
looking there. It's a portrait of myself, painted years ago, by a
I looked from her to the miniature, as she stood among the shadows,
with the lamplight falling on her face, and saw her perhaps for the
"How stupid of me," I answered. "Yes, I see the likeness now."
THE MAN WHO WOULD MANAGE
It has been told me by those in a position to know--and I can
believe it--that at nineteen months of age he wept because his
grandmother would not allow him to feed her with a spoon, and that
at three and a half he was fished, in an exhausted condition, out
of the water-butt, whither he had climbed for the purpose of
teaching a frog to swim.
Two years later he permanently injured his left eye, showing the
cat how to carry kittens without hurting them, and about the same
period was dangerously stung by a bee while conveying it from a
flower where, as it seemed to him, it was only wasting its time, to
one more rich in honey-making properties.
His desire was always to help others. He would spend whole
mornings explaining to elderly hens how to hatch eggs, and would
give up an afternoon's black-berrying to sit at home and crack nuts
for his pet squirrel. Before he was seven he would argue with his
mother upon the management of children, and reprove his father for
the way he was bringing him up.
As a child nothing could afford him greater delight than "minding"
other children, or them less. He would take upon himself this
harassing duty entirely of his own accord, without hope of reward
or gratitude. It was immaterial to him whether the other children
were older than himself or younger, stronger or weaker, whenever
and wherever he found them he set to work to "mind" them. Once,
during a school treat, piteous cries were heard coming from a
distant part of the wood, and upon search being made, he was
discovered prone upon the ground, with a cousin of his, a boy twice
his own weight, sitting upon him and steadily whacking him. Having
rescued him, the teacher said:
"Why don't you keep with the little boys? What are you doing along
"Please, sir," was the answer, "I was minding him."
He would have "minded" Noah if he had got hold of him.
He was a good-natured lad, and at school he was always willing for
the whole class to copy from his slate--indeed he would urge them
to do so. He meant it kindly, but inasmuch as his answers were
invariably quite wrong--with a distinctive and inimitable wrongness
peculiar to himself--the result to his followers was eminently
unsatisfactory; and with the shallowness of youth that, ignoring
motives, judges solely from results, they would wait for him
outside and punch him.
All his energies went to the instruction of others, leaving none
for his own purposes. He would take callow youths to his chambers
and teach them to box.
"Now, try and hit me on the nose," he would say, standing before
them in an attitude of defence. "Don't be afraid. Hit as hard as
ever you can."
And they would do it. And so soon as he had recovered from his
surprise, and a little lessened the bleeding, he would explain to
them how they had done it all wrong, and how easily he could have
stopped the blow if they had only hit him properly.
Twice at golf he lamed himself for over a week, showing a novice
how to "drive"; and at cricket on one occasion I remember seeing
his middle stump go down like a ninepin just as he was explaining
to the bowler how to get the balls in straight. After which he had
a long argument with the umpire as to whether he was in or out.
He has been known, during a stormy Channel passage, to rush
excitedly upon the bridge in order to inform the captain that he
had "just seen a light about two miles away to the left"; and if he
is on the top of an omnibus he generally sits beside the driver,
and points out to him the various obstacles likely to impede their
It was upon an omnibus that my own personal acquaintanceship with
him began. I was sitting behind two ladies when the conductor came
up to collect fares. One of them handed him a sixpence telling him
to take to Piccadilly Circus, which was twopence.
"No," said the other lady to her friend, handing the man a
shilling, "I owe you sixpence, you give me fourpence and I'll pay
for the two."
The conductor took the shilling, punched two twopenny tickets, and
then stood trying to think it out.
"That's right," said the lady who had spoken last, "give my friend
The conductor did so.
"Now you give that fourpence to me."
The friend handed it to her.
"And you," she concluded to the conductor, "give me eightpence,
then we shall be all right."
The conductor doled out to her the eightpence--the sixpence he had
taken from the first lady, with a penny and two halfpennies out of
his own bag--distrustfully, and retired, muttering something about
his duties not including those of a lightning calculator.
"Now," said the elder lady to the younger, "I owe you a shilling."
I deemed the incident closed, when suddenly a florid gentleman on
the opposite seat called out in stentorian tones:-
"Hi, conductor! you've cheated these ladies out of fourpence."
"'Oo's cheated 'oo out 'o fourpence?" replied the indignant
conductor from the top of the steps, "it was a twopenny fare."
"Two twopences don't make eightpence," retorted the florid
gentleman hotly. "How much did you give the fellow, my dear?" he
asked, addressing the first of the young ladies.
"I gave him sixpence," replied the lady, examining her purse. "And
then I gave you fourpence, you know," she added, addressing her
"That's a dear two pen'oth," chimed in a common-looking man on the
"Oh, that's impossible, dear," returned the other, "because I owed
you sixpence to begin with."
"But I did," persisted the first lady.
"You gave me a shilling," said the conductor, who had returned,
pointing an accusing forefinger at the elder of the ladies.
The elder lady nodded.
"And I gave you sixpence and two pennies, didn't I?"
The lady admitted it.
"An' I give 'er"--he pointed towards the younger lady--"fourpence,
"Which I gave you, you know, dear," remarked the younger lady.
"Blow me if it ain't ME as 'as been cheated out of the fourpence,"
cried the conductor.
"But," said the florid gentleman, "the other lady gave you
"Which I give to 'er," replied the conductor, again pointing the
finger of accusation at the elder lady. "You can search my bag if
yer like. I ain't got a bloomin' sixpence on me."
By this time everybody had forgotten what they had done, and
contradicted themselves and one another. The florid man took it
upon himself to put everybody right, with the result that before
Piccadilly Circus was reached three passengers had threatened to
report the conductor for unbecoming language. The conductor had
called a policeman and had taken the names and addresses of the two
ladies, intending to sue them for the fourpence (which they wanted
to pay, but which the florid man would not allow them to do); the
younger lady had become convinced that the elder lady had meant to
cheat her, and the elder lady was in tears.
The florid gentleman and myself continued to Charing Cross Station.
At the booking office window it transpired that we were bound for
the same suburb, and we journeyed down together. He talked about
the fourpence all the way.
At my gate we shook hands, and he was good enough to express
delight at the discovery that we were near neighbours. What
attracted him to myself I failed to understand, for he had bored me
considerably, and I had, to the best of my ability, snubbed him.
Subsequently I learned that it was a peculiarity of his to be
charmed with anyone who did not openly insult him.
Three days afterwards he burst into my study unannounced--he
appeared to regard himself as my bosom friend--and asked me to
forgive him for not having called sooner, which I did.
"I met the postman as I was coming along," he said, handing me a
blue envelope, "and he gave me this, for you."
I saw it was an application for the water-rate.
"We must make a stand against this," he continued. "That's for
water to the 29th September. You've no right to pay it in June."
I replied to the effect that water-rates had to be paid, and that
it seemed to me immaterial whether they were paid in June or
"That's not it," he answered, "it's the principle of the thing.
Why should you pay for water you have never had? What right have
they to bully you into paying what you don't owe?"
He was a fluent talker, and I was ass enough to listen to him. By
the end of half an hour he had persuaded me that the question was
bound up with the inalienable rights of man, and that if I paid
that fourteen and tenpence in June instead of in September, I
should be unworthy of the privileges my forefathers had fought and
died to bestow upon me.
He told me the company had not a leg to stand upon, and at his
instigation I sat down and wrote an insulting letter to the
The secretary replied that, having regard to the attitude I had
taken up, it would be incumbent upon themselves to treat it as a
test case, and presumed that my solicitors would accept service on
When I showed him this letter he was delighted.
"You leave it to me," he said, pocketing the correspondence, "and
we'll teach them a lesson."
I left it to him. My only excuse is that at the time I was
immersed in the writing of what in those days was termed a comedy-
drama. The little sense I possessed must, I suppose, have been
absorbed by the play.
The magistrate's decision somewhat damped my ardour, but only
inflamed his zeal. Magistrates, he said, were muddle-headed old
fogies. This was a matter for a judge.
The judge was a kindly old gentleman, and said that bearing in mind
the unsatisfactory wording of the sub-clause, he did not think he
could allow the company their costs, so that, all told, I got off
for something under fifty pounds, inclusive of the original
fourteen and tenpence.
Afterwards our friendship waned, but living as we did in the same
outlying suburb, I was bound to see a good deal of him; and to hear
At parties of all kinds he was particularly prominent, and on such
occasions, being in his most good-natured mood, was most to be
dreaded. No human being worked harder for the enjoyment of others,
or produced more universal wretchedness.
One Christmas afternoon, calling upon a friend, I found some
fourteen or fifteen elderly ladies and gentlemen trotting solemnly
round a row of chairs in the centre of the drawing-room while
Poppleton played the piano. Every now and then Poppleton would
suddenly cease, and everyone would drop wearily into the nearest
chair, evidently glad of a rest; all but one, who would thereupon
creep quietly away, followed by the envying looks of those left
behind. I stood by the door watching the weird scene. Presently
an escaped player came towards me, and I enquired of him what the
ceremony was supposed to signify.
"Don't ask me," he answered grumpily. "Some of Poppleton's damned
tomfoolery." Then he added savagely, "We've got to play forfeits
The servant was still waiting a favourable opportunity to announce
me. I gave her a shilling not to, and got away unperceived.
After a satisfactory dinner, he would suggest an impromptu dance,
and want you to roll up mats, or help him move the piano to the
other end of the room.
He knew enough round games to have started a small purgatory of his
own. Just as you were in the middle of an interesting discussion,
or a delightful tete-a-tete with a pretty woman, he would swoop
down upon you with: "Come along, we're going to play literary
consequences," and dragging you to the table, and putting a piece
of paper and a pencil before you, would tell you to write a
description of your favourite heroine in fiction, and would see
that you did it.
He never spared himself. It was always he who would volunteer to
escort the old ladies to the station, and who would never leave
them until he had seen them safely into the wrong train. He it was
who would play "wild beasts" with the children, and frighten them
into fits that would last all night.
So far as intention went, he was the kindest man alive. He never
visited poor sick persons without taking with him in his pocket
some little delicacy calculated to disagree with them and make them
worse. He arranged yachting excursions for bad sailors, entirely
at his own expense, and seemed to regard their subsequent agonies
He loved to manage a wedding. Once he planned matters so that the
bride arrived at the altar three-quarters of an hour before the
groom, which led to unpleasantness upon a day that should have been
filled only with joy, and once he forgot the clergyman. But he was
always ready to admit when he made a mistake.
At funerals, also, he was to the fore, pointing out to the grief-
stricken relatives how much better it was for all concerned that
the corpse was dead, and expressing a pious hope that they would
soon join it.
The chiefest delight of his life, however, was to be mixed up in
other people's domestic quarrels. No domestic quarrel for miles
round was complete without him. He generally came in as mediator,
and finished as leading witness for the appellant.
As a journalist or politician his wonderful grasp of other people's
business would have won for him esteem. The error he made was
working it out in practice.
THE MAN WHO LIVED FOR OTHERS
The first time we met, to speak, he was sitting with his back
against a pollard willow, smoking a clay pipe. He smoked it very
slowly, but very conscientiously. After each whiff he removed the
pipe from his mouth and fanned away the smoke with his cap.
"Feeling bad?" I asked from behind a tree, at the same time making
ready for a run, big boys' answers to small boys' impertinences
being usually of the nature of things best avoided.
To my surprise and relief--for at second glance I perceived I had
under-estimated the length of his legs--he appeared to regard the
question as a natural and proper one, replying with unaffected
candour, "Not yet."
My desire became to comfort him--a sentiment I think he understood
and was grateful for. Advancing into the open, I sat down over
against him, and watched him for a while in silence. Presently he
"Have you ever tried drinking beer?"
I admitted I had not.
"Oh, it is beastly stuff," he rejoined with an involuntary shudder.
Rendered forgetful of present trouble by bitter recollection of the
past, he puffed away at his pipe carelessly and without judgment.
"Do you often drink it?" I inquired.
"Yes," he replied gloomily; "all we fellows in the fifth form drink
beer and smoke pipes."
A deeper tinge of green spread itself over his face.
He rose suddenly and made towards the hedge. Before he reached it,
however, he stopped and addressed me, but without turning round.
"If you follow me, young 'un, or look, I'll punch your head," he
said swiftly, and disappeared with a gurgle.
He left at the end of the terms and I did not see him again until
we were both young men. Then one day I ran against him in Oxford
Street, and he asked me to come and spend a few days with his
people in Surrey.
I found him wan-looking and depressed, and every now and then he
sighed. During a walk across the common he cheered up
considerably, but the moment we got back to the house door he
seemed to recollect himself, and began to sigh again. He ate no
dinner whatever, merely sipping a glass of wine and crumbling a
piece of bread. I was troubled at noticing this, but his
relatives--a maiden aunt, who kept house, two elder sisters, and a
weak-eyed female cousin who had left her husband behind her in
India--were evidently charmed. They glanced at each other, and
nodded and smiled. Once in a fit of abstraction he swallowed a bit
of crust, and immediately they all looked pained and surprised.
In the drawing-room, under cover of a sentimental song, sung by the
female cousin, I questioned his aunt on the subject.
"What's the matter with him?" I said. "Is he ill?"
The old lady chuckled.
"You'll be like that one day," she whispered gleefully.
"When," I asked, not unnaturally alarmed.
"When you're in love," she answered.
"Is HE in love?" I inquired after a pause.
"Can't you see he is?" she replied somewhat scornfully.
I was a young man, and interested in the question.
"Won't he ever eat any dinner till he's got over it?" I asked.
She looked round sharply at me, but apparently decided that I was
"You wait till your time comes," she answered, shaking her curls at
me. "You won't care much about your dinner--not if you are REALLY
In the night, about half-past eleven, I heard, as I thought,
footsteps in the passage, and creeping to the door and opening it I
saw the figure of my friend in dressing-gown and slippers,
vanishing down the stairs. My idea was that, his brain weakened by
trouble, he had developed sleep-walking tendencies. Partly out of
curiosity, partly to watch over him, I slipped on a pair of
trousers and followed him.
He placed his candle on the kitchen table and made a bee-line for
the pantry door, from where he subsequently emerged with two pounds
of cold beef on a plate and about a quart of beer in a jug; and I
came away, leaving him fumbling for pickles.
I assisted at his wedding, where it seemed to me he endeavoured to
display more ecstasy than it was possible for any human being to
feel; and fifteen months later, happening to catch sight of an
advertisement in the births column of The Times, I called on my way
home from the City to congratulate him. He was pacing up and down
the passage with his hat on, pausing at intervals to partake of an
uninviting-looking meal, consisting of a cold mutton chop and a
glass of lemonade, spread out upon a chair. Seeing that the cook
and the housemaid were wandering about the house evidently bored
for want of something to do, and that the dining-room, where he
would have been much more out of the way, was empty and quite in
order, I failed at first to understand the reason for his
deliberate choice of discomfort. I, however, kept my reflections
to myself, and inquired after the mother and child.
"Couldn't be better," he replied with a groan. "The doctor said
he'd never had a more satisfactory case in all his experience."
"Oh, I'm glad to hear that," I answered; "I was afraid you'd been
"Worried!" he exclaimed. "My dear boy, I don't know whether I'm
standing on my head or my heels" (he gave one that idea). "This is
the first morsel of food that's passed my lips for twenty-four
At this moment the nurse appeared at the top of the stairs. He
flew towards her, upsetting the lemonade in his excitement.
"What is it?" he asked hoarsely. "Is it all right?"
The old lady glanced from him to his cold chop, and smiled
"They're doing splendidly," she answered, patting him on the
shoulder in a motherly fashion. "Don't you worry."
"I can't help it, Mrs. Jobson," he replied, sitting down upon the
bottom stair, and leaning his head against the banisters.
"Of course you can't," said Mrs. Jobson admiringly; "and you
wouldn't be much of a man if you could." Then it was borne in upon
me why he wore his hat, and dined off cold chops in the passage.
The following summer they rented a picturesque old house in
Berkshire, and invited me down from a Saturday to Monday. Their
place was near the river, so I slipped a suit of flannels in my
bag, and on the Sunday morning I came down in them. He met me in
the garden. He was dressed in a frock coat and a white waistcoat;
and I noticed that he kept looking at me out of the corner of his
eye, and that he seemed to have a trouble on his mind. The first
breakfast bell rang, and then he said, "You haven't got any proper
clothes with you, have you?"
"Proper clothes!" I exclaimed, stopping in some alarm. "Why, has
anything given way?"
"No, not that," he explained. "I mean clothes to go to church in."
"Church," I said. "You're surely not going to church a fine day
like this? I made sure you'd be playing tennis, or going on the
river. You always used to."
"Yes," he replied, nervously flicking a rose-bush with a twig he
had picked up. "You see, it isn't ourselves exactly. Maud and I
would rather like to, but our cook, she's Scotch, and a little
strict in her notions."
"And does she insist on your going to church every Sunday morning?"
"Well," he answered, "she thinks it strange if we don't, and so we
generally do, just in the morning--and evening. And then in the
afternoon a few of the village girls drop in, and we have a little
singing and that sort of thing. I never like hurting anyone's
feelings if I can help it."
I did not say what I thought. Instead I said, "I've got that tweed
suit I wore yesterday. I can put that on if you like."
He ceased flicking the rose-bush, and knitted his brows. He seemed
to be recalling it to his imagination.
"No," he said, shaking his head, "I'm afraid it would shock her.
It's my fault, I know," he added, remorsefully. "I ought to have
Then an idea came to him.
"I suppose," he said, "you wouldn't care to pretend you were ill,
and stop in bed just for the day?"
I explained that my conscience would not permit my being a party to
"No, I thought you wouldn't," he replied. "I must explain it to
her. I think I'll say you've lost your bag. I shouldn't like her
to think bad of us."
Later on a fourteenth cousin died, leaving him a large fortune. He
purchased an estate in Yorkshire, and became a "county family," and
then his real troubles began.
From May to the middle of August, save for a little fly fishing,
which generally resulted in his getting his feet wet and catching a
cold, life was fairly peaceful; but from early autumn to late
spring he found the work decidedly trying. He was a stout man,
constitutionally nervous of fire-arms, and a six-hours' tramp with
a heavy gun across ploughed fields, in company with a crowd of
careless persons who kept blazing away within an inch of other
people's noses, harassed and exhausted him. He had to get out of
bed at four on chilly October mornings to go cub-hunting, and twice
a week throughout the winter--except when a blessed frost brought
him a brief respite--he had to ride to hounds. That he usually got
off with nothing more serious than mere bruises and slight
concussions of the spine, he probably owed to the fortunate
circumstances of his being little and fat. At stiff timber he shut
his eyes and rode hard; and ten yards from a river he would begin
to think about bridges.
Yet he never complained.
"If you are a country gentleman," he would say, "you must behave as
a country gentleman, and take the rough with the smooth."
As ill fate would have it a chance speculation doubled his fortune,
and it became necessary that he should go into Parliament and start
a yacht. Parliament made his head ache, and the yacht made him
sick. Notwithstanding, every summer he would fill it with a lot of
expensive people who bored him, and sail away for a month's misery
in the Mediterranean.
During one cruise his guests built up a highly-interesting gambling
scandal. He himself was confined to his cabin at the time, and
knew nothing about it; but the Opposition papers, getting hold of
the story, referred casually to the yacht as a "floating hell," and
The Police News awarded his portrait the place of honour as the
chief criminal of the week.
Later on he got into a cultured set, ruled by a thick-lipped
undergraduate. His favourite literature had hitherto been of the
Corelli and Tit-Bits order, but now he read Meredith and the yellow
book, and tried to understand them; and instead of the Gaiety, he
subscribed to the Independent Theatre, and fed "his soul," on Dutch
Shakespeares. What he liked in art was a pretty girl by a cottage-
door with an eligible young man in the background, or a child and a
dog doing something funny. They told him these things were wrong
and made him buy "Impressions" that stirred his liver to its
deepest depths every time he looked at them--green cows on red
hills by pink moonlight, or scarlet-haired corpses with three feet
He said meekly that such seemed to him unnatural, but they answered
that nature had nothing to do with the question; that the artist
saw things like that, and that whatever an artist saw--no matter in
what condition he may have been when he saw it--that was art.
They took him to Wagner festivals and Burne-Jones's private views.
They read him all the minor poets. They booked seats for him at
all Ibsen's plays. They introduced him into all the most soulful
circles of artistic society. His days were one long feast of other
One morning I met him coming down the steps of the Arts Club. He
looked weary. He was just off to a private view at the New
Gallery. In the afternoon he had to attend an amateur performance
of "The Cenci," given by the Shelley Society. Then followed three
literary and artistic At Homes, a dinner with an Indian nabob who
couldn't speak a word of English, "Tristam and Isolde" at Covent
Garden Theatre, and a ball at Lord Salisbury's to wind up the day.
I laid my hand upon his shoulder.
"Come with me to Epping Forest," I said. "There's a four-horse
brake starts from Charing Cross at eleven. It's Saturday, and
there's bound to be a crowd down there. I'll play you a game of
skittles, and we will have a shy at the cocoa-nuts. You used to be
rather smart at cocoa-nuts. We can have lunch there and be back at
seven, dine at the Troc., spend the evening at the Empire, and sup
at the Savoy. What do you say?"
He stood hesitating on the steps, a wistful look in his eyes.
His brougham drew up against the curb, and he started as if from a
"My dear fellow," he replied, "what would people say?" And shaking
me by the hand, he took his seat, and the footman slammed the door
A MAN OF HABIT
There were three of us in the smoke-room of the Alexandra--a very
good friend of mine, myself, and, in the opposite corner, a shy-
looking, unobtrusive man, the editor, as we subsequently learned,
of a New York Sunday paper.
My friend and I were discussing habits, good and bad.
"After the first few months," said my friend, "it is no more effort
for a man to be a saint than to be a sinner; it becomes a mere
matter of habit."
"I know," I interrupted, "it is every whit as easy to spring out of
bed the instant you are called as to say 'All Right,' and turn over
for just another five minutes' snooze, when you have got into the
way of it. It is no more trouble not to swear than to swear, if
you make a custom of it. Toast and water is as delicious as
champagne, when you have acquired the taste for it. Things are
also just as easy the other way about. It is a mere question of
making your choice and sticking to it."
He agreed with me.
"Now take these cigars of mine," he said, pushing his open case
"Thank you," I replied hurriedly, "I'm not smoking this passage."
"Don't be alarmed," he answered, "I meant merely as an argument.
Now one of these would make you wretched for a week."
I admitted his premise.
"Very well," he continued. "Now I, as you know, smoke them all day
long, and enjoy them. Why? Because I have got into the habit.
Years ago, when I was a young man, I smoked expensive Havanas. I
found that I was ruining myself. It was absolutely necessary that
I should take a cheaper weed. I was living in Belgium at the time,
and a friend showed me these. I don't know what they are--probably
cabbage leaves soaked in guano; they tasted to me like that at
first--but they were cheap. Buying them by the five hundred, they
cost me three a penny. I determined to like them, and started with
one a day. It was terrible work, I admit, but as I said to myself,
nothing could be worse than the Havanas themselves had been in the
beginning. Smoking is an acquired taste, and it must be as easy to
learn to like one flavour as another. I persevered and I
conquered. Before the year was over I could think of them without
loathing, at the end of two I could smoke them without positive
discomfort. Now I prefer them to any other brand on the market.
Indeed, a good cigar disagrees with me."
I suggested it might have been less painful to have given up
"I did think of it," he replied, "but a man who doesn't smoke
always seems to me bad company. There is something very sociable
He leant back and puffed great clouds into the air, filling the
small den with an odour suggestive of bilge water and cemeteries.
"Then again," he resumed after a pause, "take my claret. No, you
don't like it." (I had not spoken, but my face had evidently
betrayed me.) "Nobody does, at least no one I have ever met.
Three years ago, when I was living in Hammersmith, we caught two
burglars with it. They broke open the sideboard, and swallowed
five bottlefuls between them. A policeman found them afterwards,
sitting on a doorstep a hundred yards off, the 'swag' beside them
in a carpet bag. They were too ill to offer any resistance, and
went to the station like lambs, he promising to send the doctor to
them the moment they were safe in the cells. Ever since then I
have left out a decanterful upon the table every night.
"Well, I like that claret, and it does me good. I come in
sometimes dead beat. I drink a couple of glasses, and I'm a new
man. I took to it in the first instance for the same reason that I
took to the cigars--it was cheap. I have it sent over direct from
Geneva, and it costs me six shillings a dozen. How they do it I
don't know. I don't want to know. As you may remember, it's
fairly heady and there's body in it.
"I knew one man," he continued, "who had a regular Mrs. Caudle of a
wife. All day long she talked to him, or at him, or of him, and at
night he fell asleep to the rising and falling rhythm of what she
thought about him. At last she died, and his friends congratulated
him, telling him that now he would enjoy peace. But it was the
peace of the desert, and the man did not enjoy it. For two-and-
twenty years her voice had filled the house, penetrated through the
conservatory, and floated in faint shrilly waves of sound round the
garden, and out into the road beyond. The silence now pervading
everywhere frightened and disturbed him. The place was no longer
home to him. He missed the breezy morning insult, the long winter
evening's reproaches beside the flickering fire. At night he could
not sleep. For hours he would lie tossing restlessly, his ears
aching for the accustomed soothing flow of invective.
"'Ah!' he would cry bitterly to himself, 'it is the old story, we
never know the value of a thing until we have lost it.'
"He grew ill. The doctors dosed him with sleeping draughts in
vain. At last they told him bluntly that his life depended upon
his finding another wife, able and willing to nag him to sleep.
"There were plenty of wives of the type he wanted in the
neighbourhood, but the unmarried women were, of necessity,
inexperienced, and his health was such that he could not afford the
time to train them.
"Fortunately, just as despair was about to take possession of him,
a man died in the next parish, literally talked to death, the
gossip said, by his wife. He obtained an introduction, and called
upon her the day after the funeral. She was a cantankerous old
woman, and the wooing was a harassing affair, but his heart was in
his work, and before six months were gone he had won her for his
"She proved, however, but a poor substitute. The spirit was
willing but the flesh was weak. She had neither that command of
language nor of wind that had distinguished her rival. From his
favourite seat at the bottom of the garden he could not hear her at
all, so he had his chair brought up into the conservatory. It was
all right for him there so long as she continued to abuse him; but
every now and again, just as he was getting comfortably settled
down with his pipe and his newspaper, she would suddenly stop.
"He would drop his paper and sit listening, with a troubled,
"'Are you there, dear?' he would call out after a while.
"'Yes, I'm here. Where do you think I am you old fool?' she would
gasp back in an exhausted voice.
"His face would brighten at the sound of her words. 'Go on, dear,'
he would answer. 'I'm listening. I like to hear you talk.'
"But the poor woman was utterly pumped out, and had not so much as
a snort left.
"Then he would shake his head sadly. 'No, she hasn't poor dear
Susan's flow,' he would say. 'Ah! what a woman that was!'
"At night she would do her best, but it was a lame and halting
performance by comparison. After rating him for little over three-
quarters of an hour, she would sink back on the pillow, and want to
go to sleep. But he would shake her gently by the shoulder.
"'Yes, dear,' he would say, 'you were speaking about Jane, and the
way I kept looking at her during lunch.'
"It's extraordinary," concluded my friend, lighting a fresh cigar,
"what creatures of habit we are."
"Very," I replied. "I knew a man who told tall stories till when
he told a true one nobody believed it."
"Ah, that was a very sad case," said my friend.
"Speaking of habit," said the unobtrusive man in the corner, "I can
tell you a true story that I'll bet my bottom dollar you won't
"Haven't got a bottom dollar, but I'll bet you half a sovereign I
do," replied my friend, who was of a sporting turn. "Who shall be
"I'll take your word for it," said the unobtrusive man, and started
"He was a Jefferson man, this man I'm going to tell you of," he
begun. "He was born in the town, and for forty-seven years he
never slept a night outside it. He was a most respectable man--a
drysalter from nine to four, and a Presbyterian in his leisure
moments. He said that a good life merely meant good habits. He
rose at seven, had family prayer at seven-thirty, breakfasted at
eight, got to his business at nine, had his horse brought round to
the office at four, and rode for an hour, reached home at five, had
a bath and a cup of tea, played with and read to the children (he
was a domesticated man) till half-past six, dressed and dined at
seven, went round to the club and played whist till quarter after
ten, home again to evening prayer at ten-thirty, and bed at eleven.
For five-and-twenty years he lived that life with never a
variation. It worked into his system and became mechanical. The
church clocks were set by him. He was used by the local
astronomers to check the sun.
"One day a distant connection of his in London, an East Indian
Merchant and an ex-Lord Mayor died, leaving him sole legatee and
executor. The business was a complicated one and needed
management. He determined to leave his son by his first wife, now
a young man of twenty-four, in charge at Jefferson, and to
establish himself with his second family in England, and look after
the East Indian business.
"He set out from Jefferson City on October the fourth, and arrived
in London on the seventeenth. He had been ill during the whole of
the voyage, and he reached the furnished house he had hired in
Bayswater somewhat of a wreck. A couple of days in bed, however,
pulled him round, and on the Wednesday evening he announced his
intention of going into the City the next day to see to his
"On the Thursday morning he awoke at one o'clock. His wife told
him she had not disturbed him, thinking the sleep would do him
good. He admitted that perhaps it had. Anyhow, he felt very well,
and he got up and dressed himself. He said he did not like the
idea of beginning his first day by neglecting a religious duty, and
his wife agreeing with him, they assembled the servants and the
children in the dining-room, and had family prayer at half-past
one. After which he breakfasted and set off, reaching the City
"His reputation for punctuality had preceded him, and surprise was
everywhere expressed at his late arrival. He explained the
circumstances, however, and made his appointments for the following
day to commence from nine-thirty.
"He remained at the office until late, and then went home. For
dinner, usually the chief meal of the day, he could manage to eat
only a biscuit and some fruit. He attributed his loss of appetite
to want of his customary ride. He was strangely unsettled all the
evening. He said he supposed he missed his game of whist, and
determined to look about him without loss of time for some quiet,
respectable club. At eleven he retired with his wife to bed, but
could not sleep. He tossed and turned, and turned and tossed, but
grew only more and more wakeful and energetic. A little after
midnight an overpowering desire seized him to go and wish the
children good-night. He slipped on a dressing-gown and stole into
the nursery. He did not intend it, but the opening of the door
awoke them, and he was glad. He wrapped them up in the quilt, and,
sitting on the edge of the bed, told them moral stories till one
"Then he kissed them, bidding them be good and go to sleep; and
finding himself painfully hungry, crept downstairs, where in the
back kitchen he made a hearty meal off cold game pie and cucumber.
"He retired to bed feeling more peaceful, yet still could not
sleep, so lay thinking about his business affairs till five, when
he dropped off.
"At one o'clock to the minute he awoke. His wife told him she had
made every endeavour to rouse him, but in vain. The man was vexed
and irritated. If he had not been a very good man indeed, I
believe he would have sworn. The same programme was repeated as on
the Thursday, and again he reached the City at three.
"This state of things went on for a month. The man fought against
himself, but was unable to alter himself. Every morning, or rather
every afternoon at one he awoke. Every night at one he crept down
into the kitchen and foraged for food. Every morning at five he
"He could not understand it, nobody could understand it. The
doctor treated him for water on the brain, hypnotic
irresponsibility and hereditary lunacy. Meanwhile his business
suffered, and his health grew worse. He seemed to be living upside
down. His days seemed to have neither beginning nor end, but to be
all middle. There was no time for exercise or recreation. When he
began to feel cheerful and sociable everybody else was asleep.
"One day by chance the explanation came. His eldest daughter was
preparing her home studies after dinner.
"'What time is it now in New York?' she asked, looking up from her
"'New York,' said her father, glancing at his watch, 'let me see.
It's just ten now, and there's a little over four and a half hours'
difference. Oh, about half-past five in the afternoon.'
"'Then in Jefferson,' said the mother, 'it would be still earlier,
"'Yes,' replied the girl, examining the map, 'Jefferson is nearly
two degrees further west.'
"'Two degrees,' mused the father, 'and there's forty minutes to a
degree. That would make it now, at the present moment in
He leaped to his feet with a cry:
"'I've got it!' he shouted, 'I see it.'
"'See what?' asked his wife, alarmed.
"'Why, it's four o'clock in Jefferson, and just time for my ride.
That's what I'm wanting.'
"There could be no doubt about it. For five-and-twenty years he
had lived by clockwork. But it was by Jefferson clockwork, not
London clockwork. He had changed his longitude, but not himself.
The habits of a quarter of a century were not to be shifted at the
bidding of the sun.
"He examined the problem in all its bearings, and decided that the
only solution was for him to return to the order of his old life.
He saw the difficulties in his way, but they were less than those
he was at present encountering. He was too formed by habit to
adapt himself to circumstances. Circumstances must adapt
themselves to him.
"He fixed his office hours from three till ten, leaving himself at
half-past nine. At ten he mounted his horse and went for a canter
in the Row, and on very dark nights he carried a lantern. News of
it got abroad, and crowds would assemble to see him ride past.
"He dined at one o'clock in the morning, and afterwards strolled
down to his club. He had tried to discover a quiet, respectable
club where the members were willing to play whist till four in the
morning, but failing, had been compelled to join a small Soho
gambling-hell, where they taught him poker. The place was
occasionally raided by the police, but thanks to his respectable
appearance, he generally managed to escape.
"At half-past four he returned home, and woke up the family for
evening prayers. At five he went to bed and slept like a top.
"The City chaffed him, and Bayswater shook its head over him, but
that he did not mind. The only thing that really troubled him was
loss of spiritual communion. At five o'clock on Sunday afternoons
he felt he wanted chapel, but had to do without it. At seven he
ate his simple mid-day meal. At eleven he had tea and muffins, and
at midnight he began to crave again for hymns and sermons. At
three he had a bread-and-cheese supper, and retired early at four
a.m., feeling sad and unsatisfied.
"He was essentially a man of habit."
The unobtrusive stranger ceased, and we sat gazing in silence at
At length my friend rose, and taking half-a-sovereign from his
pocket, laid it upon the table, and linking his arm in mine went
out with me upon the deck.
THE ABSENT-MINDED MAN
You ask him to dine with you on Thursday to meet a few people who
are anxious to know him.
"Now don't make a muddle of it," you say, recollectful of former
mishaps, "and come on the Wednesday."
He laughs good-naturedly as he hunts through the room for his
"Shan't be able to come Wednesday," he says, "shall be at the
Mansion House, sketching dresses, and on Friday I start for
Scotland, so as to be at the opening of the Exhibition on Saturday.
It's bound to be all right this time. Where the deuce is that
diary! Never mind, I'll make a note of it on this--you can see me
You stand over him while he writes the appointment down on a sheet
of foolscap, and watch him pin it up over his desk. Then you come
"I do hope he'll turn up," you say to your wife on the Thursday
evening, while dressing.
"Are you sure you made it clear to him?" she replies, suspiciously,
and you instinctively feel that whatever happens she is going to
blame you for it.
Eight o'clock arrives, and with it the other guests. At half-past
eight your wife is beckoned mysteriously out of the room, where the
parlour-maid informs her that the cook has expressed a
determination, in case of further delay, to wash her hands,
figuratively speaking, of the whole affair.
Your wife, returning, suggests that if the dinner is to be eaten at
all it had better be begun. She evidently considers that in
pretending to expect him you have been merely playing a part, and
that it would have been manlier and more straightforward for you to
have admitted at the beginning that you had forgotten to invite
During the soup and the fish you recount anecdotes of his
unpunctuality. By the time the entree arrives the empty chair has
begun to cast a gloom over the dinner, and with the joint the
conversation drifts into talk about dead relatives.
On Friday, at a quarter past eight, he dashes to the door and rings
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