Sketches in Lavender, Blue and Green
Jerome K. Jerome
Part 4 out of 4
conservatory, and wondered whether she had done it on purpose. I
thought how good and sweet she was to that irritatingly silly old
frump her mother, and wondered if it really were her mother, or
only hired. I pictured her crown of gold-brown hair as I had last
seen it with the sunlight kissing its wanton waves, and felt I
would like to be quite sure that it were all her own.
Once I clutched the flying skirts of my enthusiasm with sufficient
firmness to remark that in my own private opinion a good woman was
more precious than rubies; adding immediately afterwards--the words
escaping me unconsciously before I was aware even of the thought--
"pity it's so difficult to tell 'em."
Then I gave it up, and sat trying to remember what I had said to
her the evening before, and hoping I had not committed myself.
Dick's voice roused me from my unpleasant reverie.
"No," he said, "I thought you would not be able to. None of them
"None of them can what?" I asked. Somehow I was feeling angry with
Dick and with Dick's cat, and with myself and most other things.
"Why talk love or any other kind of sentiment before old Pyramids
here?" he replied, stroking the cat's soft head as it rose and
arched its back.
"What's the confounded cat got to do with it?" I snapped.
"That's just what I can't tell you," he answered, "but it's very
remarkable. Old Leman dropped in here the other evening and began
in his usual style about Ibsen and the destiny of the human race,
and the Socialistic idea and all the rest of it--you know his way.
Pyramids sat on the edge of the table there and looked at him, just
as he sat looking at you a few minutes ago, and in less than a
quarter of an hour Leman had come to the conclusion that society
would do better without ideals and that the destiny of the human
race was in all probability the dust heap. He pushed his long hair
back from his eyes and looked, for the first time in his life,
quite sane. 'We talk about ourselves,' he said, 'as though we were
the end of creation. I get tired listening to myself sometimes.
Pah!' he continued, 'for all we know the human race may die out
utterly and another insect take our place, as possibly we pushed
out and took the place of a former race of beings. I wonder if the
ant tribe may not be the future inheritors of the earth. They
understand combination, and already have an extra sense that we
lack. If in the courses of evolution they grow bigger in brain and
body, they may become powerful rivals, who knows?' Curious to hear
old Leman talking like that, wasn't it?"
"What made you call him 'Pyramids'?" I asked of Dick.
"I don't know," he answered, "I suppose because he looked so old.
The name came to me."
I leaned across and looked into the great green eyes, and the
creature, never winking, never blinking, looked back into mine,
until the feeling came to me that I was being drawn down into the
very wells of time. It seemed as though the panorama of the ages
must have passed in review before those expressionless orbs--all
the loves and hopes and desires of mankind; all the everlasting
truths that have been found false; all the eternal faiths
discovered to save, until it was discovered they damned. The
strange black creature grew and grew till it seemed to fill the
room, and Dick and I to be but shadows floating in the air.
I forced from myself a laugh, that only in part, however, broke the
spell, and inquired of Dick how he had acquired possession of it.
"It came to me," he answered, "one night six months ago. I was
down on my luck at the time. Two of my plays, on which I had built
great hopes, had failed, one on top of the other--you remember
them--and it appeared absurd to think that any manager would ever
look at anything of mine again. Old Walcott had just told me that
he did not consider it right of me under all the circumstances to
hold Lizzie any longer to her engagement, and that I ought to go
away and give her a chance of forgetting me, and I had agreed with
him. I was alone in the world, and heavily in debt. Altogether
things seemed about as hopeless as they could be, and I don't mind
confessing to you now that I had made up my mind to blow out my
brains that very evening. I had loaded my revolver, and it lay
before me on the desk. My hand was toying with it when I heard a
faint scratching at the door. I paid no attention at first, but it
grew more persistent, and at length, to stop the faint noise which
excited me more than I could account for, I rose and opened the
door and IT walked in.
"It perched itself upon the corner of my desk beside the loaded
pistol, and sat there bolt upright looking at me; and I, pushing
back my chair, sat looking at it. And there came a letter telling
me that a man of whose name I had never heard had been killed by a
cow in Melbourne, and that under his will a legacy of three
thousand pounds fell into the estate of a distant relative of my
own who had died peacefully and utterly insolvent eighteen months
previously, leaving me his sole heir and representative, and I put
the revolver back into the drawer."
"Do you think Pyramids would come and stop with me for a week?" I
asked, reaching over to stroke the cat as it lay softly purring on
"Maybe he will some day," replied Dick in a low voice, but before
the answer came--I know not why--I had regretted the jesting words.
"I came to talk to him as though he were a human creature,"
continued Dick, "and to discuss things with him. My last play I
regard as a collaboration; indeed, it is far more his than mine."
I should have thought Dick mad had not the cat been sitting there
before me with its eyes looking into mine. As it was, I only grew
more interested in his tale.
"It was rather a cynical play as I first wrote it," he went on, "a
truthful picture of a certain corner of society as I saw and knew
it. From an artistic point of view I felt it was good; from the
box-office standard it was doubtful. I drew it from my desk on the
third evening after Pyramids' advent, and read it through. He sat
on the arm of the chair and looked over the pages as I turned them.
"It was the best thing I had ever written. Insight into life ran
through every line, I found myself reading it again with delight.
Suddenly a voice beside me said:-
"'Very clever, my boy, very clever indeed. If you would just turn
it topsy-turvy, change all those bitter, truthful speeches into
noble sentiments; make your Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs
(who never has been a popular character) die in the last act
instead of the Yorkshireman, and let your bad woman be reformed by
her love for the hero and go off somewhere by herself and be good
to the poor in a black frock, the piece might be worth putting on
"I turned indignantly to see who was speaking. The opinions
sounded like those of a theatrical manager. No one was in the room
but I and the cat. No doubt I had been talking to myself, but the
voice was strange to me.
"'Be reformed by her love for the hero!' I retorted,
contemptuously, for I was unable to grasp the idea that I was
arguing only with myself, 'why it's his mad passion for her that
ruins his life.'
"'And will ruin the play with the great B.P.,' returned the other
voice. 'The British dramatic hero has no passion, but a pure and
respectful admiration for an honest, hearty English girl--
pronounced "gey-url." You don't know the canons of your art.'
"'And besides,' I persisted, unheeding the interruption, 'women
born and bred and soaked for thirty years in an atmosphere of sin
"'Well, this one's got to, that's all,' was the sneering reply,
'let her hear an organ.'
"'But as an artist -,' I protested.
"'You will be always unsuccessful,' was the rejoinder. 'My dear
fellow, you and your plays, artistic or in artistic, will be
forgotten in a very few years hence. You give the world what it
wants, and the world will give you what you want. Please, if you
wish to live.'
"So, with Pyramids beside me day by day, I re-wrote the play, and
whenever I felt a thing to be utterly impossible and false I put it
down with a grin. And every character I made to talk clap-trap
sentiment while Pyramids purred, and I took care that everyone of
my puppets did that which was right in the eyes of the lady with
the lorgnettes in the second row of the dress circle; and old
Hewson says the play will run five hundred nights.
"But what is worst," concluded Dick, "is that I am not ashamed of
myself, and that I seem content."
"What do you think the animal is?" I asked with a laugh, "an evil
spirit"? For it had passed into the next room and so out through
the open window, and its strangely still green eyes no longer
drawing mine towards them, I felt my common sense returning to me.
"You have not lived with it for six months," answered Dick quietly,
"and felt its eyes for ever on you as I have. And I am not the
only one. You know Canon Whycherly, the great preacher?"
"My knowledge of modern church history is not extensive," I
replied. "I know him by name, of course. What about him?"
"He was a curate in the East End," continued Dick, and for ten
years he laboured, poor and unknown, leading one of those noble,
heroic lives that here and there men do yet live, even in this age.
Now he is the prophet of the fashionable up-to-date Christianity of
South Kensington, drives to his pulpit behind a pair of thorough-
bred Arabs, and his waistcoat is taking to itself the curved line
of prosperity. He was in here the other morning on behalf of
Princess --. They are giving a performance of one of my plays in
aid of the Destitute Vicars' Fund."
"And did Pyramids discourage him?" I asked, with perhaps the
suggestion of a sneer.
"No," answered Dick, "so far as I could judge, it approved the
scheme. The point of the matter is that the moment Whycherly came
into the room the cat walked over to him and rubbed itself
affectionately against his legs. He stood and stroked it."
"'Oh, so it's come to you, has it?' he said, with a curious smile.
"There was no need for any further explanation between us. I
understood what lay behind those few words."
I lost sight of Dick for some time, though I heard a good deal of
him, for he was rapidly climbing into the position of the most
successful dramatist of the day, and Pyramids I had forgotten all
about, until one afternoon calling on an artist friend who had
lately emerged from the shadows of starving struggle into the
sunshine of popularity, I saw a pair of green eyes that seemed
familiar to me gleaming at me from a dark corner of the studio.
"Why, surely," I exclaimed, crossing over to examine the animal
more closely, "why, yes, you've got Dick Dunkerman's cat."
He raised his face from the easel and glanced across at me.
"Yes," he said, "we can't live on ideals," and I, remembering,
hastened to change the conversation.
Since then I have met Pyramids in the rooms of many friends of
mine. They give him different names, but I am sure it is the same
cat, I know those green eyes. He always brings them luck, but they
are never quite the same men again afterwards.
Sometimes I sit wondering if I hear his scratching at the door.
THE MINOR POET'S STORY
"It doesn't suit you at all," I answered.
"You're very disagreeable," said she, "I shan't ever ask your
"Nobody," I hastened to add, "would look well in it. You, of
course, look less awful in it than any other woman would, but it's
not your style."
"He means," exclaimed the Minor Poet, "that the thing itself not
being pre-eminently beautiful, it does not suit, is not in
agreement with you. The contrast between you and anything
approaching the ugly or the commonplace, is too glaring to be aught
else than displeasing."
"He didn't say it," replied the Woman of the World; "and besides it
isn't ugly. It's the very latest fashion."
"Why is it," asked the Philosopher, "that women are such slaves to
fashion? They think clothes, they talk clothes, they read clothes,
yet they have never understood clothes. The purpose of dress,
after the primary object of warmth has been secured, is to adorn,
to beautify the particular wearer. Yet not one woman in a thousand
stops to consider what colours will go best with her complexion,
what cut will best hide the defects or display the advantages of
her figure. If it be the fashion, she must wear it. And so we
have pale-faced girls looking ghastly in shades suitable to dairy-
maids, and dots waddling about in costumes fit and proper to six-
footers. It is as if crows insisted on wearing cockatoo's feathers
on their heads, and rabbits ran about with peacocks' tails fastened
"And are not you men every bit as foolish?" retorted the Girton
Girl. "Sack coats come into fashion, and dumpy little men trot up
and down in them, looking like butter-tubs on legs. You go about
in July melting under frock-coats and chimney-pot hats, and because
it is the stylish thing to do, you all play tennis in still shirts
and stand-up collars, which is idiotic. If fashion decreed that
you should play cricket in a pair of top-boots and a diver's
helmet, you would play cricket in a pair of top-boots and a diver's
helmet, and dub every sensible fellow who didn't a cad. It's worse
in you than in us; men are supposed to think for themselves, and to
be capable of it, the womanly woman isn't."
"Big women and little men look well in nothing," said the Woman of
the World. "Poor Emily was five foot ten and a half, and never
looked an inch under seven foot, whatever she wore. Empires came
into fashion, and the poor child looked like the giant's baby in a
pantomime. We thought the Greek might help her, but it only
suggested a Crystal Palace statue tied up in a sheet, and tied up
badly; and when puff-sleeves and shoulder-capes were in and Teddy
stood up behind her at a water-party and sang 'Under the spreading
chestnut-tree,' she took it as a personal insult and boxed his
ears. Few men liked to be seen with her, and I'm sure George
proposed to her partly with the idea of saving himself the expense
of a step-ladder, she reaches down his boots for him from the top
"I," said the Minor Poet, "take up the position of not wanting to
waste my brain upon the subject. Tell me what to wear, and I will
wear it, and there is an end of the matter. If Society says, 'Wear
blue shirts and white collars,' I wear blue shirts and white
collars. If she says, 'The time has now come when hats should be
broad-brimmed,' I take unto myself a broad-brimmed hat. The
question does not interest me sufficiently for me to argue it. It
is your fop who refuses to follow fashion. He wishes to attract
attention to himself by being peculiar. A novelist whose books
pass unnoticed, gains distinction by designing his own necktie; and
many an artist, following the line of least resistance, learns to
let his hair grow instead of learning to paint."
"The fact is," remarked the Philosopher, "we are the mere creatures
of fashion. Fashion dictates to us our religion, our morality, our
affections, our thoughts. In one age successful cattle-lifting is
a virtue, a few hundred years later company-promoting takes its
place as a respectable and legitimate business. In England and
America Christianity is fashionable, in Turkey, Mohammedanism, and
'the crimes of Clapham are chaste in Martaban.' In Japan a woman
dresses down to the knees, but would be considered immodest if she
displayed bare arms. In Europe it is legs that no pure-minded
woman is supposed to possess. In China we worship our mother-in-
law and despise our wife; in England we treat our wife with
respect, and regard our mother-in-law as the bulwark of comic
journalism. The stone age, the iron age, the age of faith, the age
of infidelism, the philosophic age, what are they but the passing
fashions of the world? It is fashion, fashion, fashion wherever we
turn. Fashion waits beside our cradle to lead us by the hand
through life. Now literature is sentimental, now hopefully
humorous, now psychological, now new-womanly. Yesterday's pictures
are the laughing-stock of the up-to-date artist of to-day, and to-
day's art will be sneered at to-morrow. Now it is fashionable to
be democratic, to pretend that no virtue or wisdom can exist
outside corduroy, and to abuse the middle classes. One season we
go slumming, and the next we are all socialists. We think we are
thinking; we are simply dressing ourselves up in words we do not
understand for the gods to laugh at us."
"Don't be pessimistic," retorted the Minor Poet, "pessimism is
going out. You call such changes fashions, I call them the
footprints of progress. Each phase of thought is an advance upon
the former, bringing the footsteps of the many nearer to the
landmarks left by the mighty climbers of the past upon the mountain
paths of truth. The crowd that was satisfied with The Derby Day
now appreciates Millet. The public that were content to wag their
heads to The Bohemian Girl have made Wagner popular."
"And the play lovers, who stood for hours to listen to
Shakespeare," interrupted the Philosopher, "now crowd to music-
"The track sometimes descends for a little way, but it will wind
upwards again," returned the Poet. "The music-hall itself is
improving; I consider it the duty of every intellectual man to
visit such places. The mere influence of his presence helps to
elevate the tone of the performance. I often go myself!"
"I was looking," said the Woman of the World, "at some old
illustrated papers of thirty years ago, showing the men dressed in
those very absurd trousers, so extremely roomy about the waist, and
so extremely tight about the ankles. I recollect poor papa in
them; I always used to long to fill them out by pouring in sawdust
at the top."
"You mean the peg-top period," I said. "I remember them distinctly
myself, but it cannot be more than three-and-twenty years ago at
"That is very nice of you," replied the Woman of the World, "and
shows more tact than I should have given you credit for. It could,
as you say, have been only twenty-three years ago. I know I was a
very little girl at the time. I think there must be some subtle
connection between clothes and thought. I cannot imagine men in
those trousers and Dundreary whiskers talking as you fellows are
talking now, any more than I could conceive of a woman in a
crinoline and a poke bonnet smoking a cigarette. I think it must
be so, because dear mother used to be the most easy-going woman in
the world in her ordinary clothes, and would let papa smoke all
over the house. But about once every three weeks she would put on
a hideous old-fashioned black silk dress, that looked as if Queen
Elizabeth must have slept in it during one of those seasons when
she used to go about sleeping anywhere, and then we all had to sit
up. 'Look out, ma's got her black silk dress on,' came to be a
regular formula. We could always make papa take us out for a walk
or a drive by whispering it to him."
"I can never bear to look at those pictures of by-gone fashions,"
said the Old Maid, "I see the by-gone people in them, and it makes
me feel as though the faces that we love are only passing fashions
with the rest. We wear them for a little while upon our hearts,
and think so much of them, and then there comes a time when we lay
them by, and forget them, and newer faces take their place, and we
are satisfied. It seems so sad."
"I wrote a story some years ago," remarked the Minor Poet, "about a
young Swiss guide, who was betrothed to a laughing little French
"Named Suzette," interrupted the Girton Girl. "I know her. Go
"Named Jeanne," corrected the Poet, "the majority of laughing
French girls, in fiction, are named Suzette, I am well aware. But
this girl's mother's family was English. She was christened Jeanne
after an aunt Jane, who lived in Birmingham, and from whom she had
"I beg your pardon," apologised the Girton Girl, "I was not aware
of that fact. What happened to her?"
"One morning, a few days before the date fixed for the wedding,"
said the Minor Poet, "she started off to pay a visit to a relative
living in the village, the other side of the mountain. It was a
dangerous track, climbing half-way up the mountain before it
descended again, and skirting more than one treacherous slope, but
the girl was mountain born and bred, sure-footed as a goat, and no
one dreamed of harm."
"She went over, of course," said the Philosopher, "those sure-
footed girls always do."
"What happened," replied the Minor Poet, "was never known. The
girl was never seen again."
"And what became of her lover?" asked the Girton Girl. "Was he,
when next year's snow melted, and the young men of the village went
forth to gather Edelweiss, wherewith to deck their sweethearts,
found by them dead, beside her, at the bottom of the crevasse?"
"No," said the Poet; "you do not know this story, you had better
let me tell it. Her lover returned the morning before the wedding
day, to be met with the news. He gave way to no sign of grief, he
repelled all consolation. Taking his rope and axe he went up into
the mountain by himself. All through the winter he haunted the
track by which she must have travelled, indifferent to the danger
that he ran, impervious apparently to cold, or hunger, or fatigue,
undeterred by storm, or mist, or avalanche. At the beginning of
the spring he returned to the village, purchased building utensils,
and day after day carried them back with him up into the mountain.
He hired no labour, he rejected the proffered assistance of his
brother guides. Choosing an almost inaccessible spot, at the edge
of the great glacier, far from all paths, he built himself a hut,
with his own hands; and there for eighteen years he lived alone.
"In the 'season' he earned good fees, being known far and wide as
one of the bravest and hardiest of all the guides, but few of his
clients liked him, for he was a silent, gloomy man, speaking
little, and with never a laugh or jest on the journey. Each fall,
having provisioned himself, he would retire to his solitary hut,
and bar the door, and no human soul would set eyes on him again
until the snows melted.
"One year, however, as the spring days wore on, and he did not
appear among the guides, as was his wont, the elder men, who
remembered his story and pitied him, grew uneasy; and, after much
deliberation, it was determined that a party of them should force
their way up to his eyrie. They cut their path across the ice
where no foot among them had trodden before, and finding at length
the lonely snow-encompassed hut, knocked loudly with their axe-
staves on the door; but only the whirling echoes from the glacier's
thousand walls replied, so the foremost put his strong shoulder to
the worn timber and the door flew open with a crash.
"They found him dead, as they had more than half expected, lying
stiff and frozen on the rough couch at the farther end of the hut;
and, beside him, looking down upon him with a placid face, as a
mother might watch beside her sleeping child, stood Jeanne. She
wore the flowers pinned to her dress that she had gathered when
their eyes had last seen her. The girl's face that had laughed
back to their good-bye in the village, nineteen years ago.
"A strange steely light clung round her, half illuminating, half
obscuring her, and the men drew back in fear, thinking they saw a
vision, till one, bolder than the rest, stretched out his hand and
touched the ice that formed her coffin.
"For eighteen years the man had lived there with this face that he
had loved. A faint flush still lingered on the fair cheeks, the
laughing lips were still red. Only at one spot, above her temple,
the wavy hair lay matted underneath a clot of blood."
The Minor Poet ceased.
"What a very unpleasant way of preserving one's love!" said the
"When did the story appear?" I asked. "I don't remember reading
"I never published it," explained the Minor Poet. "Within the same
week two friends of mine, one of whom had just returned from Norway
and the other from Switzerland, confided to me their intention of
writing stories about girls who had fallen into glaciers, and who
had been found by their friends long afterwards, looking as good as
new; and a few days later I chanced upon a book, the heroine of
which had been dug out of a glacier alive three hundred years after
she had fallen in. There seemed to be a run on ice maidens, and I
decided not to add to their number."
"It is curious," said the Philosopher, "how there seems to be a
fashion even in thought. An idea has often occurred to me that has
seemed to me quite new, and taking up a newspaper I have found that
some man in Russia or San Francisco has just been saying the very
same thing in almost the very same words. We say a thing is 'in
the air'; it is more true than we are aware of. Thought does not
grow in us. It is a thing apart, we simply gather it. All truths,
all discoveries, all inventions, they have not come to us from any
one man. The time grows ripe for them, and from this corner of the
earth and from that, hands, guided by some instinct, grope for and
grasp them. Buddha and Christ seize hold of the morality needful
to civilisation, and promulgate it, unknown to one another, the one
on the shores of the Ganges, the other by the Jordan. A dozen
forgotten explorers, FEELING America, prepared the way for Columbus
to discover it. A deluge of blood is required to sweep away old
follies, and Rousseau and Voltaire, and a myriad others are set to
work to fashion the storm clouds. The steam-engine, the spinning
loom is 'in the air.' A thousand brains are busy with them, a few
go further than the rest. It is idle to talk of human thought;
there is no such thing. Our minds are fed as our bodies with the
food God has provided for us. Thought hangs by the wayside, and we
pick it and cook it, and eat it, and cry out what clever 'thinkers'
"I cannot agree with you," replied the Minor Poet, "if we were
simply automata, as your argument would suggest, what was the
purpose of creating us?"
"The intelligent portion of mankind has been asking itself that
question for many ages," returned the Philosopher.
"I hate people who always think as I do," said the Girton Girl;
"there was a girl in our corridor who never would disagree with me.
Every opinion I expressed turned out to be her opinion also. It
always irritated me."
"That might have been weak-mindedness," said the Old Maid, which
"It is not so unpleasant as having a person always disagreeing with
you," said the Woman of the World. "My cousin Susan never would
agree with any one. If I came down in red she would say, 'Why
don't you try green, dear? every one says you look so well in
green'; and when I wore green she would say, 'Why have you given up
red dear? I thought you rather fancied yourself in red.' When I
told her of my engagement to Tom, she burst into tears and said she
couldn't help it. She had always felt that George and I were
intended for one another; and when Tom never wrote for two whole
months, and behaved disgracefully in--in other ways, and I told her
I was engaged to George, she reminded me of every word I had ever
said about my affection for Tom, and of how I had ridiculed poor
George. Papa used to say, 'If any man ever tells Susan that he
loves her, she will argue him out of it, and will never accept him
until he has jilted her, and will refuse to marry him every time he
asks her to fix the day."'
"Is she married?" asked the Philosopher.
"Oh, yes," answered the Woman of the World, "and is devoted to her
children. She lets them do everything they don't want to."
THE DEGENERATION OF THOMAS HENRY
The most respectable cat I have ever known was Thomas Henry. His
original name was Thomas, but it seemed absurd to call him that.
The family at Hawarden would as soon think of addressing Mr.
Gladstone as "Bill." He came to us from the Reform Club, via the
butcher, and the moment I saw him I felt that of all the clubs in
London that was the club he must have come from. Its atmosphere of
solid dignity and petrified conservatism seemed to cling to him.
Why he left the club I am unable, at this distance of time, to
remember positively, but I am inclined to think that it came about
owing to a difference with the new chef, an overbearing personage
who wanted all the fire to himself. The butcher, hearing of the
quarrel, and knowing us as a catless family, suggested a way out of
the impasse that was welcomed both by cat and cook. The parting
between them, I believe, was purely formal, and Thomas arrived
prejudiced in our favour.
My wife, the moment she saw him, suggested Henry as a more suitable
name. It struck me that the combination of the two would be still
more appropriate, and accordingly, in the privacy of the domestic
circle, Thomas Henry he was called. When speaking of him to
friends, we generally alluded to him as Thomas Henry, Esquire.
He approved of us in his quiet, undemonstrative way. He chose my
own particular easy chair for himself, and stuck to it. An
ordinary cat I should have shot out, but Thomas Henry was not the
cat one chivvies. Had I made it clear to him that I objected to
his presence in my chair, I feel convinced he would have regarded
me much as I should expect to be regarded by Queen Victoria, were
that gracious Lady to call upon me in a friendly way, and were I to
inform her that I was busy, and request her to look in again some
other afternoon. He would have risen, and have walked away, but he
never would have spoken to me again so long as we lived under the
We had a lady staying with us at the time--she still resides with
us, but she is now older, and possessed of more judgment--who was
no respecter of cats. Her argument was that seeing the tail stuck
up, and came conveniently to one's hand, that was the natural
appendage by which to raise a cat. She also laboured under the
error that the way to feed a cat was to ram things into its head,
and that its pleasure was to be taken out for a ride in a doll's
perambulator. I dreaded the first meeting of Thomas Henry with
this lady. I feared lest she should give him a false impression of
us as a family, and that we should suffer in his eyes.
But I might have saved myself all anxiety. There was a something
about Thomas Henry that checked forwardness and damped familiarity.
His attitude towards her was friendly but firm. Hesitatingly, and
with a new-born respect for cats, she put out her hand timidly
towards its tail. He gently put it on the other side, and looked
at her. It was not an angry look nor an offended look. It was the
expression with which Solomon might have received the advances of
the Queen of Sheba. It expressed condescension, combined with
He was really a most gentlemanly cat. A friend of mine, who
believes in the doctrine of the transmigration of souls, was
convinced that he was Lord Chesterfield. He never clamoured for
food, as other cats do. He would sit beside me at meals, and wait
till he was served. He would eat only the knuckle-end of a leg of
mutton, and would never look at over-done beef. A visitor of ours
once offered him a piece of gristle; he said nothing, but quietly
left the room, and we did not see him again until our friend had
But every one has his price, and Thomas Henry's price was roast
duck. Thomas Henry's attitude in the presence of roast duck came
to me as a psychological revelation. It showed me at once the
lower and more animal side of his nature. In the presence of roast
duck Thomas Henry became simply and merely a cat, swayed by all the
savage instincts of his race. His dignity fell from him as a
cloak. He clawed for roast duck, he grovelled for it. I believe
he would have sold himself to the devil for roast duck.
We accordingly avoided that particular dish: it was painful to see
a cat's character so completely demoralised. Besides, his manners,
when roast duck was on the table, afforded a bad example to the
He was a shining light among all the eats of our neighbourhood.
One might have set one's watch by his movements. After dinner he
invariably took half an hour's constitutional in the square; at ten
o'clock each night, precisely, he returned to the area door, and at
eleven o'clock he was asleep in my easy chair. He made no friends
among the other cats. He took no pleasure in fighting, and I doubt
his ever having loved, even in youth; his was too cold and self-
contained a nature, female society he regarded with utter
So he lived with us a blameless existence during the whole winter.
In the summer we took him down with us into the country. We
thought the change of air would do him good; he was getting
decidedly stout. Alas, poor Thomas Henry! the country was his
ruin. What brought about the change I cannot say: maybe the air
was too bracing. He slid down the moral incline with frightful
rapidity. The first night he stopped out till eleven, the second
night he never came home at all, the third night he came home at
six o'clock in the morning, minus half the fur on the top of his
head. Of course, there was a lady in the case, indeed, judging by
the riot that went on all night, I am inclined to think there must
have been a dozen. He was certainly a fine cat, and they took to
calling for him in the day time. Then gentleman cats who had been
wronged took to calling also, and demanding explanations, which
Thomas Henry, to do him justice, was always ready to accord.
The village boys used to loiter round all day to watch the fights,
and angry housewives would be constantly charging into our kitchen
to fling dead cats upon the table, and appeal to Heaven and myself
for justice. Our kitchen became a veritable cat's morgue, and I
had to purchase a new kitchen table. The cook said it would make
her work simpler if she could keep a table entirely to herself.
She said it quite confused her, having so many dead cats lying
round among her joints and vegetables: she was afraid of making a
mistake. Accordingly, the old table was placed under the window,
and devoted to the cats; and, after that, she would never allow
anyone to bring a cat, however dead, to her table.
"What do you want me to do with it," I heard her asking an excited
lady on one occasion; "cook it?"
"It's my cat," said the lady; "that's what that is."
"Well, I'm not making cat pie to-day," answered our cook. "You
take it to its proper table. This is my table."
At first, "Justice" was generally satisfied with half a crown, but
as time went on cats rose. I had hitherto regarded cats as a cheap
commodity, and I became surprised at the value attached to them. I
began to think seriously of breeding cats as an industry. At the
prices current in that village, I could have made an income of
"Look what your beast has done," said one irate female, to whom I
had been called out in the middle of dinner.
I looked. Thomas Henry appeared to have "done" a mangy, emaciated
animal, that must have been far happier dead than alive. Had the
poor creature been mine I should have thanked him; but some people
never know when they are well off.
"I wouldn't ha' taken a five-pun' note for that cat," said the
"It's a matter of opinion," I replied, "but personally I think you
would have been unwise to refuse it. Taking the animal as it
stands, I don't feel inclined to give you more than a shilling for
it. If you think you can do better by taking it elsewhere, you do
"He was more like a Christian than a cat," said the lady.
"I'm not taking dead Christians," I answered firmly, "and even if I
were I wouldn't give more than a shilling for a specimen like that.
You can consider him as a Christian, or you can consider him as a
cat; but he's not worth more than a shilling in either case."
We settled eventually for eighteenpence.
The number of cats that Thomas Henry contrived to dispose of also
surprised me. Quite a massacre of cats seemed to be in progress.
One evening, going into the kitchen, for I made it a practice now
to visit the kitchen each evening, to inspect the daily consignment
of dead cats, I found, among others, a curiously marked
tortoiseshell cat, lying on the table.
"That cat's worth half a sovereign," said the owner, who was
standing by, drinking beer.
I took up the animal, and examined it.
"Your cat killed him yesterday," continued the man. "It's a
"My cat has killed him three times," I replied. "He was killed on
Saturday as Mrs. Hedger's cat; on Monday he was killed for Mrs.
Myers. I was not quite positive on Monday; but I had my
suspicions, and I made notes. Now I recognise him. You take my
advice, and bury him before he breeds a fever. I don't care how
many lives a cat has got; I only pay for one."
We gave Thomas Henry every chance to reform; but he only went from
bad to worse, and added poaching and chicken-stalking to his other
crimes, and I grew tired of paying for his vices.
I consulted the gardener, and the gardener said he had known cats
taken that way before.
"Do you know of any cure for it?" I asked.
"Well, sir," replied the gardener, "I have heard as how a dose of
brickbat and pond is a good thing in a general way."
"We'll try him with a dose just before bed time," I answered. The
gardener administered it, and we had no further trouble with him.
Poor Thomas Henry! It shows to one how a reputation for
respectability may lie in the mere absence of temptation. Born and
bred in the atmosphere of the Reform Club, what gentleman could go
wrong? I was sorry for Thomas Henry, and I have never believed in
the moral influence of the country since.
THE CITY OF THE SEA
They say, the chroniclers who have written the history of that low-
lying, wind-swept coast, that years ago the foam fringe of the
ocean lay further to the east; so that where now the North Sea
creeps among the treacherous sand-reefs, it was once dry land. In
those days, between the Abbey and the sea, there stood a town of
seven towers and four rich churches, surrounded by a wall of twelve
stones' thickness, making it, as men reckoned then, a place of
strength and much import; and the monks, glancing their eyes
downward from the Abbey garden on the hill, saw beneath their feet
its narrow streets, gay with the ever passing of rich merchandise,
saw its many wharves and water-ways, ever noisy with the babel of
strange tongues, saw its many painted masts, wagging their grave
heads above the dormer roofs and quaintly-carved oak gables.
Thus the town prospered till there came a night when it did evil in
the sight of God and man. Those were troublous times to Saxon
dwellers by the sea, for the Danish water-rats swarmed round each
river mouth, scenting treasure from afar; and by none was the white
flash of their sharp, strong teeth more often seen than by the men
of Eastern Anglia, and by none in Eastern Anglia more often than by
the watchers on the walls of the town of seven towers that once
stood upon the dry land, but which now lies twenty fathom deep
below the waters. Many a bloody fight raged now without and now
within its wall of twelve stones' thickness. Many a groan of dying
man, many a shriek of murdered woman, many a wail of mangled child,
knocked at the Abbey door upon its way to Heaven, calling the
trembling-monks from their beds, to pray for the souls that were
But at length peace came to the long-troubled land: Dane and Saxon
agreeing to dwell in friendship side by side, East Anglia being
wide, and there being room for both. And all men rejoiced greatly,
for all were weary of a strife in which little had been gained on
either side beyond hard blows, and their thoughts were of the
ingle-nook. So the long-bearded Danes, their thirsty axes harmless
on their backs, passed to and fro in straggling bands, seeking
where undisturbed and undisturbing they might build their homes;
and thus it came about that Haafager and his company, as the sun
was going down, drew near to the town of seven towers, that in
those days stood on dry land between the Abbey and the sea.
And the men of the town, seeing the Danes, opened wide their gates
"We have fought, but now there is peace. Enter, and make merry
with us, and to-morrow go your way."
But Haafager made answer:-
"I am an old man, I pray you do not take my words amiss. There is
peace between us, as you say, and we thank you for your courtesy,
but the stains are still fresh upon our swords. Let us camp here
without your walls, and a little later, when the grass has grown
upon the fields where we have striven, and our young men have had
time to forget, we will make merry together, as men should who
dwell side by side in the same land."
But the men of the town still urged Haafager, calling his people
neighbours; and the Abbot, who had hastened down, fearing there
might be strife, added his words to theirs, saying:-
"Pass in, my children. Let there indeed be peace between you, that
the blessing of God may be upon the land, and upon both Dane and
Saxon"; for the Abbot saw that the townsmen were well disposed
towards the Danes, and knew that men, when they have feasted and
drunk together, think kinder of one another.
Then answered Haafager, who knew the Abbot for a holy man:-
"Hold up your staff, my father, that the shadow of the cross your
people worship may fall upon our path, so we will pass into the
town and there shall be peace between us, for though your gods are
not our gods, faith between man and man is of all altars."
And the Abbot held his staff aloft between Haafager's people and
the sun, it being fashioned in the form of a cross, and under its
shadow the Danes passed by into the town of seven towers, there
being of them, with the women and the children, nearly two thousand
souls, and the gates were made fast behind them.
So they who had fought face to face, feasted side by side, pledging
one another in the wine cup, as was the custom; and Haafager's men,
knowing themselves amongst friends, cast aside their arms, and when
the feast was done, being weary, they lay down to sleep.
Then an evil voice arose in the town, and said: "Who are these
that have come among us to share our land? Are not the stones of
our streets red with the blood of wife and child that they have
slain? Do men let the wolf go free when they have trapped him with
meat? Let us fall upon them now that they are heavy with food and
wine, so that not one of them shall escape. Thus no further harm
shall come to us from them nor from their children."
And the voice of evil prevailed, and the men of the town of seven
towers fell upon the Danes with whom they had broken meat, even to
the women and the little children; and the blood of the people of
Haafager cried with a loud voice at the Abbey door, through the
long night it cried, saying:-
"I trusted in your spoken word. I broke meat with you. I put my
faith in you and in your God. I passed beneath the shadow of your
cross to enter your doors. Let your God make answer!"
Nor was there silence till the dawn.
Then the Abbot rose from where he knelt and called to God, saying:-
"Thou hast heard, O God. Make answer."
And there came a great sound from the sea as though a tongue had
been given to the deep, so that the monks fell upon their knees in
fear; but the Abbot answered:-
"It is the voice of God speaking through the waters. He hath made
And that winter a mighty storm arose, the like of which no man had
known before; for the sea was piled upon the dry land until the
highest tower of the town of seven towers was not more high; and
the waters moved forward over the dry land. And the men of the
town of seven towers fled from the oncoming of the waters, but the
waters overtook them so that not one of them escaped. And the town
of the seven towers and of the four churches, and of the many
streets and quays, was buried underneath the waters, and the feet
of the waters still moved till they came to the hill whereon the
Abbey stood. Then the Abbot prayed to God that the waters might be
stayed, and God heard, and the sea came no farther.
And that this tale is true, and not a fable made by the weavers of
words, he who doubts may know from the fisher-folk, who to-day ply
their calling amongst the reefs and sandbanks of that lonely coast.
For there are those among them who, peering from the bows of their
small craft, have seen far down beneath their keels a city of
strange streets and many quays. But as to this, I, who repeat
these things to you, cannot speak of my own knowledge, for this
city of the sea is only visible when a rare wind, blowing from the
north, sweeps the shadows from the waves; and though on many a
sunny day I have drifted where its seven towers should once have
stood, yet for me that wind has never blown, pushing back the
curtains of the sea, and, therefore, I have strained my eyes in
But this I do know, that the rumbling stones of that ancient Abbey,
between which and the foam fringe of the ocean the town of seven
towers once lay, now stand upon a wave-washed cliff, and that he
who looks forth from its shattered mullions to-day sees only the
marshland and the wrinkled waters, hears only the plaint of the
circling gulls and the weary crying of the sea.
And that God's anger is not everlasting, and that the evil that
there is in men shall be blotted out, he who doubts may also learn
from the wisdom of the simple fisher-folk, who dwell about the
borders of the marsh-land; for they will tell him that on stormy
nights there speaks a deep voice from the sea, calling the dead
monks to rise from their forgotten graves, and chant a mass for the
souls of the men of the town of seven towers. Clothed in long
glittering white, they move with slowly pacing feet around the
Abbey's grass-grown aisles, and the music of their prayers is heard
above the screaming of the storm. And to this I also can bear
witness, for I have seen the passing of their shrouded forms behind
the blackness of the shattered shafts; I have heard their sweet,
sad singing above the wailing of the wind.
Thus for many ages have the dead monks prayed that the men of the
town of seven towers may be forgiven. Thus, for many ages yet
shall they so pray, till the day come when of their once fair Abbey
not a single stone shall stand upon its fellow; and in that day it
shall be known that the anger of God against the men of the town of
seven towers has passed away; and in that day the feet of the
waters shall move back, and the town of seven towers shall stand
again upon the dry land.
There be some, I know, who say that this is but a legend; who will
tell you that the shadowy shapes that you may see with your own
eyes on stormy nights, waving their gleaming arms behind the ruined
buttresses are but of phosphorescent foam, tossed by the raging
waves above the cliffs; and that the sweet, sad harmony cleaving
the trouble of the night is but the aeolian music of the wind.
But such are of the blind, who see only with their eyes. For
myself I see the white-robed monks, and hear the chanting of their
mass for the souls of the sinful men of the town of seven towers.
For it has been said that when an evil deed is done, a prayer is
born to follow it through time into eternity, and plead for it.
Thus is the whole world clasped around with folded hands both of
the dead and of the living, as with a shield, lest the shafts of
God's anger should consume it.
Therefore, I know that the good monks of this nameless Abbey are
still praying that the sin of those they love may be forgiven.
God grant good men may say a mass for us.
MARION [their daughter].
DAN [a gentleman of no position].
SCENE: A room opening upon a garden. The shadows creep from their
corners, driving before them the fading twilight.
MRS. TRAVERS sits in a wickerwork easy chair. MR. TRAVERS, smoking
a cigar, sits the other side of the room. MARION stands by the
open French window, looking out.
MR. TRAVERS. Nice little place Harry's got down here.
MRS. TRAVERS. Yes; I should keep this on if I were you, Marion.
You'll find it very handy. One can entertain so cheaply up the
river; one is not expected to make much of a show. [She turns to
her husband.] Your poor cousin Emily used to work off quite half
her list that way--relations and Americans, and those sort of
people, you know--at that little place of theirs at Goring. You
remember it--a poky hole I always thought it, but it had a lot of
green stuff over the door--looked very pretty from the other side
of the river. She always used to have cold meat and pickles for
lunch--called it a picnic. People said it was so homely and
MR. TRAVERS. They didn't stop long, I remember.
MRS. TRAVERS. And there was a special champagne she always kept
for the river--only twenty-five shillings a dozen, I think she told
me she paid for it, and very good it was too, for the price. That
old Indian major--what was his name?--said it suited him better
than anything else he had ever tried. He always used to drink a
tumblerful before breakfast; such a funny thing to do. I've often
wondered where she got it.
MR. TRAVERS. So did most people who tasted it. Marion wants to
forget those lessons, not learn them. She is going to marry a rich
man who will be able to entertain his guests decently.
MRS. TRAVERS. Oh, well, James, I don't know. None of us can
afford to live up to the income we want people to think we've got.
One must economise somewhere. A pretty figure we should cut in the
county if I didn't know how to make fivepence look like a shilling.
And, besides, there are certain people that one has to be civil to,
that, at the same time, one doesn't want to introduce into one's
regular circle. If you take my advice, Marion, you won't encourage
those sisters of Harry's more than you can help. They're dear
sweet girls, and you can be very nice to them; but don't have them
too much about. Their manners are terribly old-fashioned, and
they've no notion how to dress, and those sort of people let down
the tone of a house.
MARION. I'm not likely to have many "dear sweet girls" on my
visiting list. [With a laugh.] There will hardly be enough in
common to make the company desired, on either side.
MRS. TRAVERS. Well, I only want you to be careful, my dear. So
much depends on how you begin, and with prudence there's really no
reason why you shouldn't do very well. I suppose there's no doubt
about Harry's income. He won't object to a few inquiries?
MARION. I think you may trust me to see to that, mamma. It would
be a bad bargain for me, if even the cash were not certain.
MR. TRAVERS [jumping up]. Oh, I do wish you women wouldn't discuss
the matter in that horribly business-like way. One would think the
girl was selling herself.
MRS. TRAVERS. Oh, don't be foolish, James. One must look at the
practical side of these things. Marriage is a matter of sentiment
to a man--very proper that it should be. A woman has to remember
that she's fixing her position for life.
MARION. You see, papa dear, it's her one venture. If she doesn't
sell herself to advantage then, she doesn't get another
MR. TRAVERS. Umph! When I was a young man, girls talked more
about love and less about income.
MARION. Perhaps they had not our educational advantages.
[DAN enters from the garden. He is a man of a little over forty,
his linen somewhat frayed about the edges.]
MRS. TRAVERS. Ah! We were just wondering where all you people had
DAN. We've been out sailing. I've been sent up to fetch you.
It's delightful on the river. The moon is just rising.
MRS. TRAVERS. But it's so cold.
MR. TRAVERS. Oh, never mind the cold. It's many a long year since
you and I looked at the moon together. It will do us good.
MRS. TRAVERS. Ah, dear. Boys will be boys. Give me my wrap then.
[DAN places it about her. They move towards the window, where they
stand talking. MARION has slipped out and returns with her
father's cap. He takes her face between his hands and looks at
MR. TRAVERS. Do you really care for Harry, Marion?
MARION. As much as one can care for a man with five thousand a
year. Perhaps he will make it ten one day--then I shall care for
him twice as much. [Laughs.]
MR. TRAVERS. And are you content with this marriage?
[He shakes his head gravely at her.]
MRS. TRAVERS. Aren't you coming, Marion?
MARION. No. I'm feeling tired.
[MR. and MRS. TRAVERS go out.]
DAN. Are you going to leave Harry alone with two pairs of lovers?
MARION [with a laugh]. Yes--let him see how ridiculous they look.
I hate the night--it follows you and asks questions. Shut it out.
Come and talk to me. Amuse me.
DAN. What shall I talk to you about?
MARION. Oh, tell me all the news. What is the world doing? Who
has run away with whose wife? Who has been swindling whom? Which
philanthropist has been robbing the poor? What saint has been
discovered sinning? What is the latest scandal? Who has been
found out? and what is it they have been doing? and what is
everybody saying about it?
DAN. Would it amuse you?
MARION [she sits by the piano, softly touching the keys, idly
recalling many memories]. What should it do? Make me weep?
Should not one be glad to know one's friends better?
DAN. I wish you wouldn't be clever. Everyone one meets is clever
nowadays. It came in when the sun-flower went out. I preferred
the sun-flower; it was more amusing.
MARION. And stupid people, I suppose, will come in when the clever
people go out. I prefer the clever. They have better manners.
You're exceedingly disagreeable. [She leaves the piano, and,
throwing herself upon the couch, takes up a book.]
DAN. I know I am. The night has been with me also. It follows
one and asks questions.
MARION. What questions has it been asking you?
DAN. Many--and so many of them have no answer. Why am I a
useless, drifting log upon the world's tide? Why have all the
young men passed me? Why am I, at thirty-nine, let us say, with
brain, with power, with strength--nobody thinks I am worth
anything, but I am--I know it. I might have been an able editor,
devoting every morning from ten till three to arranging the affairs
of the Universe, or a popular politician, trying to understand what
I was talking about, and to believe it. And what am I? A
newspaper reporter, at three-ha'pence a line--I beg their pardon,
its occasionally twopence.
MARION. Does it matter?
DAN. Does it matter! Does it matter whether a Union Jack or a
Tricolor floats over the turrets of Badajoz? yet we pour our blood
into its ditches to decide the argument. Does it matter whether
one star more or less is marked upon our charts? yet we grow blind
peering into their depths. Does it matter that one keel should
slip through the grip of the Polar ice? yet nearer, nearer to it,
we pile our whitening bones. And it's worth playing, the game of
life. And there's a meaning in it. It's worth playing, if only
that it strengthens the muscles of our souls. I'd like to have
taken a hand in it.
MARION. Why didn't you?
DAN. No partner. Dull playing by oneself. No object.
MARION [after a silence]. What was she like?
DAN. So like you that there are times when I almost wish I had
never met you. You set me thinking about myself, and that is a
subject I find it pleasanter to forget.
MARION. And this woman that was like me--she could have made a
MARION. Won't you tell me about her? Had she many faults?
DAN. Enough to love her by.
MARION. But she must have been good.
DAN. Good enough to be a woman.
MARION. That might mean so much or so little.
DAN. It should mean much to my thinking. There are few women.
MARION. Few! I thought the economists held that there were too
many of us.
DAN. Not enough--not enough to go round. That is why a true woman
has many lovers.
[There is a silence between them. Then MARION rises, but their
eyes do not meet.]
MARION. How serious we have grown!
DAN. They say a dialogue between a man and woman always does.
MARION [she moves away, then, hesitating, half returns]. May I ask
you a question?
DAN. That is an easy favour to grant.
MARION. If--if at any time you felt regard again for a woman,
would you, for her sake, if she wished it, seek to gain, even now,
that position in the world which is your right--which would make
her proud of your friendship--would make her feel that even her
life had not been altogether without purpose?
DAN. Too late! The old hack can only look over the hedge, and
watch the field race by. The old ambition stirs within me at
times--especially after a glass of good wine--and Harry's wine--God
bless him--is excellent--but to-morrow morning--[with a shrug of
his shoulders he finishes his meaning].
MARION. Then she could do nothing?
DAN. Nothing for his fortunes--much for himself. My dear young
lady, never waste pity on a man in love--nor upon a child crying
for the moon. The moon is a good thing to cry for.
MARION. I am glad I am like her. I am glad that I have met you.
[She gives him her hand, and for a moment he holds it. Then she
[A flower has fallen from her breast, whether by chance or meaning,
he knows not. He picks it up and kisses it; stands twirling it,
undecided for a second, then lets it fall again upon the floor.]
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