The Second Thoughts of An Idle Fellow
Jerome K. Jerome
Part 2 out of 4
And then my thoughts travelled to small homes in distant suburbs,
and these bright lads and lasses round me came to look older and
more careworn. But what of that? Are not old faces sweet when
looked at by old eyes a little dimmed by love, and are not care and
toil but the parents of peace and joy?
But as I drew nearer, I saw that many of the faces were seared with
sour and angry looks, and the voices that rose round me sounded
surly and captious. The pretty compliment and praise had changed to
sneers and scoldings. The dimpled smile had wrinkled to a frown.
There seemed so little desire to please, so great a determination
not to be pleased.
And the flirtations! Ah me, they had forgotten how to flirt! Oh,
the pity of it! All the jests were bitter, all the little services
were given grudgingly. The air seemed to have grown chilly. A
darkness had come over all things.
And then I awoke to reality, and found I had been sitting in my
chair longer than I had intended. The band-stand was empty, the sun
had set; I rose and made my way home through the scattered crowd.
Nature is so callous. The Dame irritates one at times by her
devotion to her one idea, the propagation of the species.
"Multiply and be fruitful; let my world be ever more and more
For this she trains and fashions her young girls, models them with
cunning hand, paints them with her wonderful red and white, crowns
them with her glorious hair, teaches them to smile and laugh, trains
their voices into music, sends them out into the world to captivate,
to enslave us.
"See how beautiful she is, my lad," says the cunning old woman.
"Take her; build your little nest with her in your pretty suburb;
work for her and live for her; enable her to keep the little ones
that I will send."
And to her, old hundred-breasted Artemis whispers, "Is he not a
bonny lad? See how he loves you, how devoted he is to you! He will
work for you and make you happy; he will build your home for you.
You will be the mother of his children."
So we take each other by the hand, full of hope and love, and from
that hour Mother Nature has done with us. Let the wrinkles come;
let our voices grow harsh; let the fire she lighted in our hearts
die out; let the foolish selfishness we both thought we had put
behind us for ever creep back to us, bringing unkindness and
indifference, angry thoughts and cruel words into our lives. What
cares she? She has caught us, and chained us to her work. She is
our universal mother-in-law. She has done the match-making; for the
rest, she leaves it to ourselves. We can love or we can fight; it
is all one to her, confound her.
I wonder sometimes if good temper might not be taught. In business
we use no harsh language, say no unkind things to one another. The
shopkeeper, leaning across the counter, is all smiles and
affability, he might put up his shutters were he otherwise. The
commercial gent, no doubt, thinks the ponderous shopwalker an ass,
but refrains from telling him so. Hasty tempers are banished from
the City. Can we not see that it is just as much to our interest to
banish them from Tooting and Hampstead?
The young man who sat in the chair next to me, how carefully he
wrapped the cloak round the shoulders of the little milliner beside
him. And when she said she was tired of sitting still, how readily
he sprang from his chair to walk with her, though it was evident he
was very comfortable where he was. And she! She had laughed at his
jokes; they were not very clever jokes, they were not very new. She
had probably read them herself months before in her own particular
weekly journal. Yet the harmless humbug made him happy. I wonder
if ten years hence she will laugh at such old humour, if ten years
hence he will take such clumsy pains to put her cape about her.
Experience shakes her head, and is amused at my question.
I would have evening classes for the teaching of temper to married
couples, only I fear the institution would languish for lack of
pupils. The husbands would recommend their wives to attend,
generously offering to pay the fee as a birthday present. The wife
would be indignant at the suggestion of good money being thus
wasted. "No, John, dear," she would unselfishly reply, "you need
the lessons more than I do. It would be a shame for me to take them
away from you," and they would wrangle upon the subject for the rest
of the day.
Oh! the folly of it. We pack our hamper for life's picnic with such
pains. We spend so much, we work so hard. We make choice pies, we
cook prime joints, we prepare so carefully the mayonnaise, we mix
with loving hands the salad, we cram the basket to the lid with
every delicacy we can think of. Everything to make the picnic a
success is there except the salt. Ah! woe is me, we forget the
salt. We slave at our desks, in our workshops, to make a home for
those we love; we give up our pleasures, we give up our rest. We
toil in our kitchen from morning till night, and we render the whole
feast tasteless for want of a ha'porth of salt--for want of a
soupcon of amiability, for want of a handful of kindly words, a
touch of caress, a pinch of courtesy.
Who does not know that estimable housewife, working from eight till
twelve to keep the house in what she calls order? She is so good a
woman, so untiring, so unselfish, so conscientious, so irritating.
Her rooms are so clean, her servants so well managed, her children
so well dressed, her dinners so well cooked; the whole house so
uninviting. Everything about her is in apple-pie order, and
My good Madam, you polish your tables, you scour your kettles, but
the most valuable piece of furniture in the whole house you are
letting to rack and ruin for want of a little pains. You will find
it in your own room, my dear Lady, in front of your own mirror. It
is getting shabby and dingy, old-looking before its time; the polish
is rubbed off it, Madam, it is losing its brightness and charm. Do
you remember when he first brought it home, how proud he was of it?
Do you think you have used it well, knowing how he valued it? A
little less care of your pots and your pans, Madam, a little more of
yourself were wiser. Polish yourself up, Madam; you had a pretty
wit once, a pleasant laugh, a conversation that was not confined
exclusively to the short-comings of servants, the wrong-doings of
tradesmen. My dear Madam, we do not live on spotless linen, and
crumbless carpets. Hunt out that bundle of old letters you keep
tied up in faded ribbon at the back of your bureau drawer--a pity
you don't read them oftener. He did not enthuse about your cuffs
and collars, gush over the neatness of your darning. It was your
tangled hair he raved about, your sunny smile (we have not seen it
for some years, Madam--the fault of the Cook and the Butcher, I
presume), your little hands, your rosebud mouth--it has lost its
shape, Madam, of late. Try a little less scolding of Mary Ann, and
practise a laugh once a day: you might get back the dainty curves.
It would be worth trying. It was a pretty mouth once.
Who invented that mischievous falsehood that the way to a man's
heart was through his stomach? How many a silly woman, taking it
for truth, has let love slip out of the parlour, while she was busy
in the kitchen. Of course, if you were foolish enough to marry a
pig, I suppose you must be content to devote your life to the
preparation of hog's-wash. But are you sure that he IS a pig? If
by any chance he be not?--then, Madam, you are making a grievous
mistake. My dear Lady, you are too modest. If I may say so without
making you unduly conceited, even at the dinner-table itself, you
are of much more importance than the mutton. Courage, Madam, be not
afraid to tilt a lance even with your own cook. You can be more
piquant than the sauce a la Tartare, more soothing surely than the
melted butter. There was a time when he would not have known
whether he was eating beef or pork with you the other side of the
table. Whose fault is it? Don't think so poorly of us. We are not
ascetics, neither are we all gourmets: most of us plain men, fond
of our dinner, as a healthy man should be, but fonder still of our
sweethearts and wives, let us hope. Try us. A moderately-cooked
dinner--let us even say a not-too-well-cooked dinner, with you
looking your best, laughing and talking gaily and cleverly--as you
can, you know--makes a pleasanter meal for us, after the day's work
is done, than that same dinner, cooked to perfection, with you
silent, jaded, and anxious, your pretty hair untidy, your pretty
face wrinkled with care concerning the sole, with anxiety regarding
My poor Martha, be not troubled about so many things. YOU are the
one thing needful--if the bricks and mortar are to be a home. See
to it that YOU are well served up, that YOU are done to perfection,
that YOU are tender and satisfying, that YOU are worth sitting down
to. We wanted a wife, a comrade, a friend; not a cook and a nurse
on the cheap.
But of what use is it to talk? the world will ever follow its own
folly. When I think of all the good advice that I have given it,
and of the small result achieved, I confess I grow discouraged. I
was giving good advice to a lady only the other day. I was
instructing her as to the proper treatment of aunts. She was
sucking a lead-pencil, a thing I am always telling her not to do.
She took it out of her mouth to speak.
"I suppose you know how everybody ought to do everything," she said.
There are times when it is necessary to sacrifice one's modesty to
"Of course I do," I replied.
"And does Mama know how everybody ought to do everything?" was the
My conviction on this point was by no means so strong, but for
domestic reasons I again sacrificed myself to expediency.
"Certainly," I answered; "and take that pencil out of your mouth.
I've told you of that before. You'll swallow it one day, and then
you'll get perichondritis and die."
She appeared to be solving a problem.
"All grown-up people seem to know everything," she summarized.
There are times when I doubt if children are as simple as they look.
If it be sheer stupidity that prompts them to make remarks of this
character, one should pity them, and seek to improve them. But if
it be not stupidity? well then, one should still seek to improve
them, but by a different method.
The other morning I overheard the nurse talking to this particular
specimen. The woman is a most worthy creature, and she was
imparting to the child some really sound advice. She was in the
middle of an unexceptional exhortation concerning the virtue of
silence, when Dorothea interrupted her with--
"Oh, do be quiet, Nurse. I never get a moment's peace from your
Such an interruption discourages a woman who is trying to do her
Last Tuesday evening she was unhappy. Myself, I think that rhubarb
should never be eaten before April, and then never with lemonade.
Her mother read her a homily upon the subject of pain. It was
impressed upon her that we must be patient, that we must put up with
the trouble that God sends us. Dorothea would descend to details,
as children will.
"Must we put up with the cod-liver oil that God sends us?"
"And with the nurses that God sends us?"
"Certainly; and be thankful that you've got them, some little girls
haven't any nurse. And don't talk so much."
On Friday I found the mother in tears.
"What's the matter?" I asked.
"Oh, nothing," was the answer; "only Baby. She's such a strange
child. I can't make her out at all. "
"What has she been up to now?"
"Oh, she will argue, you know."
She has that failing. I don't know where she gets it from, but
she's got it.
"Well, she made me cross; and, to punish her, I told her she
shouldn't take her doll's perambulator out with her."
"Well, she didn't say anything then, but so soon as I was outside
the door, I heard her talking to herself--you know her way?"
"Yes, she said?"
"She said, 'I must be patient. I must put up with the mother God
has sent me.'"
She lunches down-stairs on Sundays. We have her with us once a week
to give her the opportunity of studying manners and behaviour.
Milson had dropped in, and we were discussing politics. I was
interested, and, pushing my plate aside, leant forward with my
elbows on the table. Dorothea has a habit of talking to herself in
a high-pitched whisper capable of being heard above an Adelphi love
scene. I heard her say--
"I must sit up straight. I mustn't sprawl with my elbows on the
table. It is only common, vulgar people behave that way."
I looked across at her; she was sitting most correctly, and appeared
to be contemplating something a thousand miles away. We had all of
us been lounging! We sat up stiffly, and conversation flagged.
Of course we made a joke of it after the child was gone. But
somehow it didn't seem to be OUR joke.
I wish I could recollect my childhood. I should so like to know if
children are as simple as they can look.
ON THE DELIGHTS AND BENEFITS OF SLAVERY
My study window looks down upon Hyde Park, and often, to quote the
familiar promise of each new magazine, it amuses and instructs me to
watch from my tower the epitome of human life that passes to and fro
beneath. At the opening of the gates, creeps in the woman of the
streets. Her pitiful work for the time being is over. Shivering in
the chill dawn, she passes to her brief rest. Poor Slave! Lured to
the galley's lowest deck, then chained there. Civilization, tricked
fool, they say has need of such. You serve as the dogs of Eastern
towns. But at least, it seems to me, we need not spit on you. Home
to your kennel! Perchance, if the Gods be kind, they may send you
dreams of a cleanly hearth, where you lie with a silver collar round
Next comes the labourer--the hewer of wood, the drawer of water-
-slouching wearily to his toil; sleep clinging still about his
leaden eyes, his pittance of food carried tied up in a dish-clout.
The first stroke of the hour clangs from Big Ben. Haste thee,
fellow-slave, lest the overseer's whip, "Out, we will have no
lie-a-beds here," descend upon thy patient back.
Later, the artisan, with his bag of tools across his shoulder. He,
too, listens fearfully to the chiming of the bells. For him also
there hangs ready the whip.
After him, the shop boy and the shop girl, making love as they walk,
not to waste time. And after these the slaves of the desk and of
the warehouse, employers and employed, clerks and tradesmen, office
boys and merchants. To your places, slaves of all ranks. Get you
unto your burdens.
Now, laughing and shouting as they run, the children, the sons and
daughters of the slaves. Be industrious, little children, and learn
your lessons, that when the time comes you may be ready to take from
our hands the creaking oar, to slip into our seat at the roaring
loom. For we shall not be slaves for ever, little children. It is
the good law of the land. So many years in the galleys, so many
years in the fields; then we can claim our freedom. Then we shall
go, little children, back to the land of our birth. And you we must
leave behind us to take up the tale of our work. So, off to your
schools, little children, and learn to be good little slaves.
Next, pompous and sleek, come the educated slaves--journalists,
doctors, judges, and poets; the attorney, the artist, the player,
the priest. They likewise scurry across the Park, looking anxiously
from time to time at their watches, lest they be late for their
appointments; thinking of the rates and taxes to be earned, of the
bonnets to be paid for, the bills to be met. The best scourged,
perhaps, of all, these slaves. The cat reserved for them has fifty
tails in place of merely two or three. Work, you higher
middle-class slave, or you shall come down to the smoking of
twopenny cigars; harder yet, or you shall drink shilling claret;
harder, or you shall lose your carriage and ride in a penny bus;
your wife's frocks shall be of last year's fashion; your trousers
shall bag at the knees; from Kensington you shall be banished to
Kilburn, if the tale of your bricks run short. Oh, a many-thonged
whip is yours, my genteel brother.
The slaves of fashion are the next to pass beneath me in review.
They are dressed and curled with infinite pains. The liveried,
pampered footman these, kept more for show than use; but their
senseless tasks none the less labour to them. Here must they come
every day, merry or sad. By this gravel path and no other must they
walk; these phrases shall they use when they speak to one another.
For an hour they must go slowly up and down upon a bicycle from Hyde
Park Corner to the Magazine and back. And these clothes must they
wear; their gloves of this colour, their neck-ties of this pattern.
In the afternoon they must return again, this time in a carriage,
dressed in another livery, and for an hour they must pass slowly to
and fro in foolish procession. For dinner they must don yet another
livery, and after dinner they must stand about at dreary social
functions till with weariness and boredom their heads feel dropping
from their shoulders.
With the evening come the slaves back from their work: barristers,
thinking out their eloquent appeals; school-boys, conning their
dog-eared grammars; City men, planning their schemes; the wearers of
motley, cudgelling their poor brains for fresh wit with which to
please their master; shop boys and shop girls, silent now as,
together, they plod homeward; the artisan; the labourer. Two or
three hours you shall have to yourselves, slaves, to think and love
and play, if you be not too tired to think, or love, or play. Then
to your litter, that you may be ready for the morrow's task.
The twilight deepens into dark; there comes back the woman of the
streets. As the shadows, she rounds the City's day. Work strikes
its tent. Evil creeps from its peering place.
So we labour, driven by the whip of necessity, an army of slaves.
If we do not our work, the whip descends upon us; only the pain we
feel in our stomach instead of on our back. And because of that, we
call ourselves free men.
Some few among us bravely struggle to be really free: they are our
tramps and outcasts. We well-behaved slaves shrink from them, for
the wages of freedom in this world are vermin and starvation. We
can live lives worth living only by placing the collar round our
There are times when one asks oneself: Why this endless labour? Why
this building of houses, this cooking of food, this making of
clothes? Is the ant so much more to be envied than the grasshopper,
because she spends her life in grubbing and storing, and can spare
no time for singing? Why this complex instinct, driving us to a
thousand labours to satisfy a thousand desires? We have turned the
world into a workshop to provide ourselves with toys. To purchase
luxury we have sold our ease.
Oh, Children of Israel! why were ye not content in your wilderness?
It seems to have been a pattern wilderness. For you, a simple
wholesome food, ready cooked, was provided. You took no thought for
rent and taxes; you had no poor among you--no poor-rate collectors.
You suffered not from indigestion, nor the hundred ills that follow
over-feeding; an omer for every man was your portion, neither more
nor less. You knew not you had a liver. Doctors wearied you not
with their theories, their physics, and their bills. You were
neither landowners nor leaseholders, neither shareholders nor
debenture holders. The weather and the market reports troubled you
not. The lawyer was unknown to you; you wanted no advice; you had
nought to quarrel about with your neighbour. No riches were yours
for the moth and rust to damage. Your yearly income and expenditure
you knew would balance to a fraction. Your wife and children were
provided for. Your old age caused you no anxiety; you knew you
would always have enough to live upon in comfort. Your funeral, a
simple and tasteful affair, would be furnished by the tribe. And
yet, poor, foolish child, fresh from the Egyptian brickfield, you
could not rest satisfied. You hungered for the fleshpots, knowing
well what flesh-pots entail: the cleaning of the flesh-pots, the
forging of the flesh-pots, the hewing of wood to make the fires for
the boiling of the flesh-pots, the breeding of beasts to fill the
pots, the growing of fodder to feed the beasts to fill the pots.
All the labour of our life is centred round our flesh-pots. On the
altar of the flesh-pot we sacrifice our leisure, our peace of mind.
For a mess of pottage we sell our birthright.
Oh! Children of Israel, saw you not the long punishment you were
preparing for yourselves, when in your wilderness you set up the
image of the Calf, and fell before it, crying--"This shall be our
You would have veal. Thought you never of the price man pays for
Veal? The servants of the Golden Calf! I see them, stretched
before my eyes, a weary, endless throng. I see them toiling in the
mines, the black sweat on their faces. I see them in sunless
cities, silent, and grimy, and bent. I see them, ague-twisted, in
the rain-soaked fields. I see them, panting by the furnace doors.
I see them, in loin-cloth and necklace, the load upon their head. I
see them in blue coats and red coats, marching to pour their blood
as an offering on the altar of the Calf. I see them in homespun and
broadcloth, I see them in smock and gaiters, I see them in cap and
apron, the servants of the Calf. They swarm on the land and they
dot the sea. They are chained to the anvil and counter; they are
chained to the bench and the desk. They make ready the soil, they
till the fields where the Golden Calf is born. They build the ship,
and they sail the ship that carries the Golden Calf. They fashion
the pots, they mould the pans, they carve the tables, they turn the
chairs, they dream of the sauces, they dig for the salt, they weave
the damask, they mould the dish to serve the Golden Calf.
The work of the world is to this end, that we eat of the Calf. War
and Commerce, Science and Law! what are they but the four pillars
supporting the Golden Calf? He is our God. It is on his back that
we have journeyed from the primeval forest, where our ancestors ate
nuts and fruit. He is our God. His temple is in every street. His
blue-robed priest stands ever at the door, calling to the people to
worship. Hark! his voice rises on the gas-tainted air--"Now's your
time! Now's your time! Buy! Buy! ye people. Bring hither the
sweat of your brow, the sweat of your brain, the ache of your heart,
buy Veal with it. Bring me the best years of your life. Bring me
your thoughts, your hopes, your loves; ye shall have Veal for them.
Now's your time! Now's your time! Buy! Buy!"
Oh! Children of Israel, was Veal, even with all its trimmings, quite
worth the price?
And we! what wisdom have we learned, during the centuries? I talked
with a rich man only the other evening. He calls himself a
Financier, whatever that may mean. He leaves his beautiful house,
some twenty miles out of London, at a quarter to eight, summer and
winter, after a hurried breakfast by himself, while his guests still
sleep, and he gets back just in time to dress for an elaborate
dinner he himself is too weary or too preoccupied to more than
touch. If ever he is persuaded to give himself a holiday it is for
a fortnight in Ostend, when it is most crowded and uncomfortable.
He takes his secretary with him, receives and despatches a hundred
telegrams a day, and has a private telephone, through which he can
speak direct to London, brought up into his bedroom.
I suppose the telephone is really a useful invention. Business men
tell me they wonder how they contrived to conduct their affairs
without it. My own wonder always is, how any human being with the
ordinary passions of his race can conduct his business, or even
himself, creditably, within a hundred yards of the invention. I can
imagine Job, or Griselda, or Socrates liking to have a telephone
about them as exercise. Socrates, in particular, would have made
quite a reputation for himself out of a three months' subscription
to a telephone. Myself, I am, perhaps, too sensitive. I once lived
for a month in an office with a telephone, if one could call it
life. I was told that if I had stuck to the thing for two or three
months longer, I should have got used to it. I know friends of
mine, men once fearless and high-spirited, who now stand in front of
their own telephone for a quarter of an hour at a time, and never so
much as answer it back. They tell me that at first they used to
swear and shout at it as I did; but now their spirit seems crushed.
That is what happens: you either break the telephone, or the
telephone breaks you. You want to see a man two streets off. You
might put on your hat, and be round at his office in five minutes.
You are on the point of starting when the telephone catches your
eye. You think you will ring him up to make sure he is in. You
commence by ringing up some half-dozen times before anybody takes
any notice of you whatever. You are burning with indignation at
this neglect, and have left the instrument to sit down and pen a
stinging letter of complaint to the Company when the ring-back
re-calls you. You seize the ear trumpets, and shout--
"How is it that I can never get an answer when I ring? Here have I
been ringing for the last half-hour. I have rung twenty times."
(This is a falsehood. You have rung only six times, and the
"half-hour" is an absurd exaggeration; but you feel the mere truth
would not be adequate to the occasion.) "I think it disgraceful,"
you continue, "and I shall complain to the Company. What is the use
of my having a telephone if I can't get any answer when I ring?
Here I pay a large sum for having this thing, and I can't get any
notice taken. I've been ringing all the morning. Why is it?"
Then you wait for the answer.
"What--what do you say? I can't hear what you say."
"I say I've been ringing here for over an hour, and I can't get any
reply," you call back. "I shall complain to the Company."
"You want what? Don't stand so near the tube. I can't hear what
you say. What number?"
"Bother the number; I say why is it I don't get an answer when I
"Eight hundred and what?"
You can't argue any more, after that. The machine would give way
under the language you want to make use of. Half of what you feel
would probably cause an explosion at some point where the wire was
weak. Indeed, mere language of any kind would fall short of the
requirements of the case. A hatchet and a gun are the only
intermediaries through which you could convey your meaning by this
time. So you give up all attempt to answer back, and meekly mention
that you want to be put in communication with four-five-seven-six.
"Four-nine-seven-six?" says the girl.
"Did you say seven-six or six-seven?"
"Six-seven--no! I mean seven-six: no--wait a minute. I don't know
what I do mean now."
"Well, I wish you'd find out," says the young lady severely. "You
are keeping me here all the morning."
So you look up the number in the book again, and at last she tells
you that you are in connection; and then, ramming the trumpet tight
against your ear, you stand waiting.
And if there is one thing more than another likely to make a man
feel ridiculous it is standing on tip-toe in a corner, holding a
machine to his head, and listening intently to nothing. Your back
aches and your head aches, your very hair aches. You hear the door
open behind you and somebody enter the room. You can't turn your
head. You swear at them, and hear the door close with a bang. It
immediately occurs to you that in all probability it was Henrietta.
She promised to call for you at half-past twelve: you were to take
her to lunch. It was twelve o'clock when you were fool enough to
mix yourself up with this infernal machine, and it probably is
half-past twelve by now. Your past life rises before you,
accompanied by dim memories of your grandmother. You are wondering
how much longer you can bear the strain of this attitude, and
whether after all you do really want to see the man in the next
street but two, when the girl in the exchange-room calls up to know
if you're done.
"Done!" you retort bitterly; "why, I haven't begun yet."
"Well, be quick," she says, "because you're wasting time."
Thus admonished, you attack the thing again. "ARE you there?" you
cry in tones that ought to move the heart of a Charity Commissioner;
and then, oh joy! oh rapture! you hear a faint human voice replying-
"Yes, what is it?"
"Oh! Are you four-five-seven-six?"
"Are you four-five-seven-six, Williamson?"
"What! who are you?"
"No, JONES. Are you four-five-seven-six?"
"Yes; what is it?"
"Is Mr. Williamson in?"
"Will I what--who are you?"
"Jones! Is Mr. Williamson in?"
"You're the son of what? I can't hear what you say."
Then you gather yourself for one final effort, and succeed, by
superhuman patience, in getting the fool to understand that you wish
to know if Mr. Williamson is in, and he says, so it sounds to you,
"Be in all the morning."
So you snatch up your hat and run round.
"Oh, I've come to see Mr. Williamson," you say.
"Very sorry, sir," is the polite reply, "but he's out."
"Out? Why, you just now told me through the telephone that he'd be
in all the morning."
"No, I said, he 'WON'T be in all the morning.'"
You go back to the office, and sit down in front of that telephone
and look at it. There it hangs, calm and imperturbable. Were it an
ordinary instrument, that would be its last hour. You would go
straight down-stairs, get the coal-hammer and the kitchen-poker, and
divide it into sufficient pieces to give a bit to every man in
London. But you feel nervous of these electrical affairs, and there
is a something about that telephone, with its black hole and curly
wires, that cows you. You have a notion that if you don't handle it
properly something may come and shock you, and then there will be an
inquest, and bother of that sort, so you only curse it.
That is what happens when you want to use the telephone from your
end. But that is not the worst that the telephone can do. A
sensible man, after a little experience, can learn to leave the
thing alone. Your worst troubles are not of your own making. You
are working against time; you have given instructions not to be
disturbed. Perhaps it is after lunch, and you are thinking with
your eyes closed, so that your thoughts shall not be distracted by
the objects about the room. In either case you are anxious not to
leave your chair, when off goes that telephone bell and you spring
from your chair, uncertain, for the moment, whether you have been
shot, or blown up with dynamite. It occurs to you in your weakness
that if you persist in taking no notice, they will get tired, and
leave you alone. But that is not their method. The bell rings
violently at ten-second intervals. You have nothing to wrap your
head up in. You think it will be better to get this business over
and done with. You go to your fate and call back savagely--
"What is it? What do you want?"
No answer, only a confused murmur, prominent out of which come the
voices of two men swearing at one another. The language they are
making use of is disgraceful. The telephone seems peculiarly
adapted for the conveyance of blasphemy. Ordinary language sounds
indistinct through it; but every word those two men are saying can
be heard by all the telephone subscribers in London.
It is useless attempting to listen till they have done. When they
are exhausted, you apply to the tube again. No answer is
obtainable. You get mad, and become sarcastic; only being sarcastic
when you are not sure that anybody is at the other end to hear you
At last, after a quarter of an hour or so of saying, "Are you
there?" "Yes, I'm here," "Well?" the young lady at the Exchange
asks what you want.
"I don't want anything," you reply.
"Then why do you keep talking?" she retorts; "you mustn't play with
This renders you speechless with indignation for a while, upon
recovering from which you explain that somebody rang you up.
"WHO rang you up?" she asks.
"I don't know."
"I wish you did," she observes.
Generally disgusted, you slam the trumpet up and return to your
chair. The instant you are seated the bell clangs again; and you
fly up and demand to know what the thunder they want, and who the
thunder they are.
"Don't speak so loud, we can't hear you. What do you want?" is the
"I don't want anything. What do you want? Why do you ring me up,
and then not answer me? Do leave me alone, if you can!"
"We can't get Hong Kongs at seventy-four."
"Well, I don't care if you can't."
"Would you like Zulus?"
"What are you talking about?" you reply; "I don't know what you
"Would you like Zulus--Zulus at seventy-three and a half?"
"I wouldn't have 'em at six a penny. What are you talking about?"
"Hong Kongs--we can't get them at seventy-four. Oh, half-a-minute"
(the half-a-minute passes). "Are you there?"
"Yes, but you are talking to the wrong man."
"We can get you Hong Kongs at seventy-four and seven-eights."
"Bother Hong Kongs, and you too. I tell you, you are talking to the
wrong man. I've told you once."
"Why, that I am the wrong man--I mean that you are talking to the
"Who are you?"
"Oh, aren't you one-nine-eight?"
How can a man after that sit down and write pleasantly of the
European crisis? And, if it were needed, herein lies another
indictment against the telephone. I was engaged in an argument,
which, if not in itself serious, was at least concerned with a
serious enough subject, the unsatisfactory nature of human riches;
and from that highly moral discussion have I been lured, by the
accidental sight of the word "telephone," into the writing of matter
which can have the effect only of exciting to frenzy all critics of
the New Humour into whose hands, for their sins, this book may come.
Let me forget my transgression and return to my sermon, or rather to
the sermon of my millionaire acquaintance.
It was one day after dinner, we sat together in his magnificently
furnished dining-room. We had lighted our cigars at the silver
lamp. The butler had withdrawn.
"These cigars we are smoking," my friend suddenly remarked, a propos
apparently of nothing, "they cost me five shillings apiece, taking
them by the thousand."
"I can quite believe it," I answered; "they are worth it."
"Yes, to you," he replied, almost savagely. "What do you usually
pay for your cigars?"
We had known each other years ago. When I first met him his offices
consisted of a back room up three flights of stairs in a dingy by-
street off the Strand, which has since disappeared. We occasionally
dined together, in those days, at a restaurant in Great Portland
Street, for one and nine. Our acquaintanceship was of sufficient
standing to allow of such a question.
"Threepence," I answered. "They work out at about twopence
three-farthings by the box."
"Just so," he growled; "and your twopenny-three-farthing weed gives
you precisely the same amount of satisfaction that this five
shilling cigar affords me. That means four and ninepence farthing
wasted every time I smoke. I pay my cook two hundred a year. I
don't enjoy my dinner as much as when it cost me four shillings,
including a quarter flask of Chianti. What is the difference,
personally, to me whether I drive to my office in a carriage and
pair, or in an omnibus? I often do ride in a bus: it saves
trouble. It is absurd wasting time looking for one's coachman, when
the conductor of an omnibus that passes one's door is hailing one a
few yards off. Before I could afford even buses--when I used to
walk every morning to the office from Hammersmith--I was healthier.
It irritates me to think how hard I work for no earthly benefit to
myself. My money pleases a lot of people I don't care two straws
about, and who are only my friends in the hope of making something
out of me. If I could eat a hundred-guinea dinner myself every
night, and enjoy it four hundred times as much as I used to enjoy a
five-shilling dinner, there would be some sense in it. Why do I do
I had never heard him talk like this before. In his excitement he
rose from the table, and commenced pacing the room.
"Why don't I invest my money in the two and a half per cents?" he
continued. "At the very worst I should be safe for five thousand a
year. What, in the name of common sense, does a man want with more?
I am always saying to myself, I'll do it; why don't I?
"Well, why not?" I echoed.
"That's what I want you to tell me," he returned. "You set up for
understanding human nature, it's a mystery to me. In my place, you
would do as I do; you know that. If somebody left you a hundred
thousand pounds to-morrow, you would start a newspaper, or build a
theatre--some damn-fool trick for getting rid of the money and
giving yourself seventeen hours' anxiety a day; you know you would."
I hung my head in shame. I felt the justice of the accusation. It
has always been my dream to run a newspaper and own a theatre.
"If we worked only for what we could spend," he went on, "the City
might put up its shutters to-morrow morning. What I want to get at
the bottom of is this instinct that drives us to work apparently for
work's own sake. What is this strange thing that gets upon our back
and spurs us?"
A servant entered at that moment with a cablegram from the manager
of one of his Austrian mines, and he had to leave me for his study.
But, walking home, I fell to pondering on his words. WHY this
endless work? Why each morning do we get up and wash and dress
ourselves, to undress ourselves at night and go to bed again? Why
do we work merely to earn money to buy food; and eat food so as to
gain strength that we may work? Why do we live, merely in the end
to say good-bye to one another? Why do we labour to bring children
into the world that they may die and be buried?
Of what use our mad striving, our passionate desire? Will it matter
to the ages whether, once upon a time, the Union Jack or the
Tricolour floated over the battlements of Badajoz? Yet we poured
our blood into its ditches to decide the question. Will it matter,
in the days when the glacial period shall have come again, to clothe
the earth with silence, whose foot first trod the Pole? Yet,
generation after generation, we mile its roadway with our whitening
bones. So very soon the worms come to us; does it matter whether we
love, or hate? Yet the hot blood rushes through our veins, we wear
out heart and brain for shadowy hopes that ever fade as we press
The flower struggles up from seed-pod, draws the sweet sap from the
ground, folds its petals each night, and sleeps. Then love comes to
it in a strange form, and it longs to mingle its pollen with the
pollen of some other flower. So it puts forth its gay blossoms, and
the wandering insect bears the message from seed-pod to seed-pod.
And the seasons pass, bringing with them the sunshine and the rain,
till the flower withers, never having known the real purpose for
which it lived, thinking the garden was made for it, not it for the
garden. The coral insect dreams in its small soul, which is
possibly its small stomach, of home and food. So it works and
strives deep down in the dark waters, never knowing of the
continents it is fashioning.
But the question still remains: for what purpose is it all?
Science explains it to us. By ages of strife and effort we improve
the race; from ether, through the monkey, man is born. So, through
the labour of the coming ages, he will free himself still further
from the brute. Through sorrow and through struggle, by the sweat
of brain and brow, he will lift himself towards the angels. He will
come into his kingdom.
But why the building? Why the passing of the countless ages? Why
should he not have been born the god he is to be, imbued at birth
with all the capabilities his ancestors have died acquiring? Why
the Pict and Hun that _I_ may be? Why _I_, that a descendant of my
own, to whom I shall seem a savage, shall come after me? Why, if
the universe be ordered by a Creator to whom all things are
possible, the protoplasmic cell? Why not the man that is to be?
Shall all the generations be so much human waste that he may live?
Am I but another layer of the soil preparing for him?
Or, if our future be in other spheres, then why the need of this
planet? Are we labouring at some Work too vast for us to perceive?
Are our passions and desires mere whips and traces by the help of
which we are driven? Any theory seems more hopeful than the thought
that all our eager, fretful lives are but the turning of a useless
prison crank. Looking back the little distance that our dim eyes
can penetrate the past, what do we find? Civilizations, built up
with infinite care, swept aside and lost. Beliefs for which men
lived and died, proved to be mockeries. Greek Art crushed to the
dust by Gothic bludgeons. Dreams of fraternity, drowned in blood by
a Napoleon. What is left to us, but the hope that the work itself,
not the result, is the real monument? Maybe, we are as children,
asking, "Of what use are these lessons? What good will they ever be
to us?" But there comes a day when the lad understands why he
learnt grammar and geography, when even dates have a meaning for
him. But this is not until he has left school, and gone out into
the wider world. So, perhaps, when we are a little more grown up,
we too may begin to understand the reason for our living.
ON THE CARE AND MANAGEMENT OF WOMEN
I talked to a woman once on the subject of honeymoons. I said,
"Would you recommend a long honeymoon, or a Saturday to Monday
somewhere?" A silence fell upon her. I gathered she was looking
back rather than forward to her answer.
"I would advise a long honeymoon," she replied at length, "the
"Why," I persisted, "I thought the tendency of the age was to cut
these things shorter and shorter."
"It is the tendency of the age," she answered, "to seek escape from
many things it would be wiser to face. I think myself that, for
good or evil, the sooner it is over--the sooner both the man and the
woman know--the better."
"The sooner what is over?" I asked.
If she had a fault, this woman, about which I am not sure, it was an
inclination towards enigma.
She crossed to the window and stood there, looking out.
"Was there not a custom," she said, still gazing down into the wet,
glistening street, "among one of the ancient peoples, I forget
which, ordaining that when a man and woman, loving one another, or
thinking that they loved, had been joined together, they should go
down upon their wedding night to the temple? And into the dark
recesses of the temple, through many winding passages, the priest
led them until they came to the great chamber where dwelt the voice
of their god. There the priest left them, clanging-to the massive
door behind him, and there, alone in silence, they made their
sacrifice; and in the night the Voice spoke to them, showing them
their future life--whether they had chosen well; whether their love
would live or die. And in the morning the priest returned and led
them back into the day; and they dwelt among their fellows. But no
one was permitted to question them, nor they to answer should any do
so. Well, do you know, our nineteenth-century honeymoon at
Brighton, Switzerland, or Ramsgate, as the choice or necessity may
be, always seems to me merely another form of that night spent alone
in the temple before the altar of that forgotten god. Our young men
and women marry, and we kiss them and congratulate them; and,
standing on the doorstep, throw rice and old slippers, and shout
good wishes after them; and he waves his gloved hand to us, and she
flutters her little handkerchief from the carriage window; and we
watch their smiling faces and hear their laughter until the corner
hides them from our view. Then we go about our own business, and a
short time passes by; and one day we meet them again, and their
faces have grown older and graver; and I always wonder what the
Voice has told them during that little while that they have been
absent from our sight. But of course it would not do to ask them.
Nor would they answer truly if we did."
My friend laughed, and, leaving the window, took her place beside
the tea-things, and other callers dropping in, we fell to talk of
pictures, plays, and people.
But I felt it would be unwise to act on her sole advice, much as I
have always valued her opinion.
A woman takes life too seriously. It is a serious affair to most of
us, the Lord knows. That is why it is well not to take it more
seriously than need be.
Little Jack and little Jill fall down the hill, hurting their little
knees, and their little noses, spilling the hard-earned water. We
are very philosophical.
"Oh, don't cry!" we tell them, "that is babyish. Little boys and
little girls must learn to bear pain. Up you get, fill the pail
again, and try once more."
Little Jack and little Jill rub their dirty knuckles into their
little eyes, looking ruefully at their bloody little knees, and trot
back with the pail. We laugh at them, but not ill-naturedly.
"Poor little souls," we say; "how they did hullabaloo. One might
have thought they were half-killed. And it was only a broken crown,
after all. What a fuss children make!" We bear with much stoicism
the fall of little Jack and little Jill.
But when WE--grown-up Jack with moustache turning grey; grown-up
Jill with the first faint "crow's feet" showing--when WE tumble down
the hill, and OUR pail is spilt. Ye Heavens! what a tragedy has
happened. Put out the stars, turn off the sun, suspend the laws of
nature. Mr. Jack and Mrs. Jill, coming down the hill--what they
were doing on the hill we will not inquire--have slipped over a
stone, placed there surely by the evil powers of the universe. Mr.
Jack and Mrs. Jill have bumped their silly heads. Mr. Jack and Mrs.
Jill have hurt their little hearts, and stand marvelling that the
world can go about its business in the face of such disaster.
Don't take the matter quite so seriously, Jack and Jill. You have
spilled your happiness, you must toil up the hill again and refill
the pail. Carry it more carefully next time. What were you doing?
Playing some fool's trick, I'll be bound.
A laugh and a sigh, a kiss and good-bye, is our life. Is it worth
so much fretting? It is a merry life on the whole. Courage,
comrade. A campaign cannot be all drum and fife and stirrup-cup.
The marching and the fighting must come into it somewhere. There
are pleasant bivouacs among the vineyards, merry nights around the
camp fires. White hands wave a welcome to us; bright eyes dim at
our going. Would you run from the battle-music? What have you to
complain of? Forward: the medal to some, the surgeon's knife to
others; to all of us, sooner or later, six feet of mother earth.
What are you afraid of? Courage, comrade.
There is a mean between basking through life with the smiling
contentment of the alligator, and shivering through it with the
aggressive sensibility of the Lama determined to die at every cross
word. To bear it as a man we must also feel it as a man. My
philosophic friend, seek not to comfort a brother standing by the
coffin of his child with the cheery suggestion that it will be all
the same a hundred years hence, because, for one thing, the
observation is not true: the man is changed for all eternity--
possibly for the better, but don't add that. A soldier with a
bullet in his neck is never quite the man he was. But he can laugh
and he can talk, drink his wine and ride his horse. Now and again,
towards evening, when the weather is trying, the sickness will come
upon him. You will find him on a couch in a dark corner.
"Hallo! old fellow, anything up?"
"Oh, just a twinge, the old wound, you know. I will be better in a
Shut the door of the dark room quietly. I should not stay even to
sympathize with him if I were you. The men will be coming to screw
the coffin down soon. I think he would like to be alone with it
till then. Let us leave him. He will come back to the club later
on in the season. For a while we may have to give him another ten
points or so, but he will soon get back his old form. Now and
again, when he meets the other fellows' boys shouting on the
towing-path; when Brown rushes up the drive, paper in hand, to tell
him how that young scapegrace Jim has won his Cross; when he is
congratulating Jones's eldest on having passed with honours, the old
wound may give him a nasty twinge. But the pain will pass away. He
will laugh at our stories and tell us his own; eat his dinner, play
his rubber. It is only a wound.
Tommy can never be ours, Jenny does not love us. We cannot afford
claret, so we will have to drink beer. Well, what would you have us
do? Yes, let us curse Fate by all means--some one to curse is
always useful. Let us cry and wring our hands--for how long? The
dinner-bell will ring soon, and the Smiths are coming. We shall
have to talk about the opera and the picture-galleries. Quick,
where is the eau-de-Cologne? where are the curling-tongs? Or would
you we committed suicide? Is it worth while? Only a few more
years--perhaps to-morrow, by aid of a piece of orange peel or a
broken chimney-pot--and Fate will save us all that trouble.
Or shall we, as sulky children, mope day after day? We are a
broken-hearted little Jack--little Jill. We will never smile again;
we will pine away and die, and be buried in the spring. The world
is sad, and life so cruel, and heaven so cold. Oh dear! oh dear! we
have hurt ourselves.
We whimper and whine at every pain. In old strong days men faced
real dangers, real troubles every hour; they had no time to cry.
Death and disaster stood ever at the door. Men were contemptuous of
them. Now in each snug protected villa we set to work to make
wounds out of scratches. Every head-ache becomes an agony, every
heart-ache a tragedy. It took a murdered father, a drowned
sweetheart, a dishonoured mother, a ghost, and a slaughtered Prime
Minister to produce the emotions in Hamlet that a modern minor poet
obtains from a chorus girl's frown, or a temporary slump on the
Stock Exchange. Like Mrs. Gummidge, we feel it more. The lighter
and easier life gets the more seriously we go out to meet it. The
boatmen of Ulysses faced the thunder and the sunshine alike with
frolic welcome. We modern sailors have grown more sensitive. The
sunshine scorches us, the rain chills us. We meet both with loud
Thinking these thoughts, I sought a second friend--a man whose
breezy common-sense has often helped me, and him likewise I
questioned on this subject of honeymoons.
"My dear boy," he replied; "take my advice, if ever you get married,
arrange it so that the honeymoon shall only last a week, and let it
be a bustling week into the bargain. Take a Cook's circular tour.
Get married on the Saturday morning, cut the breakfast and all that
foolishness, and catch the eleven-ten from Charing Cross to Paris.
Take her up the Eiffel Tower on Sunday. Lunch at Fontainebleau.
Dine at the Maison Doree, and show her the Moulin Rouge in the
evening. Take the night train for Lucerne. Devote Monday and
Tuesday to doing Switzerland, and get into Rome by Thursday morning,
taking the Italian lakes en route. On Friday cross to Marseilles,
and from there push along to Monte Carlo. Let her have a flutter at
the tables. Start early Saturday morning for Spain, cross the
Pyrenees on mules, and rest at Bordeaux on Sunday. Get back to
Paris on Monday (Monday is always a good day for the opera), and on
Tuesday evening you will be at home, and glad to get there. Don't
give her time to criticize you until she has got used to you. No
man will bear unprotected exposure to a young girl's eyes. The
honeymoon is the matrimonial microscope. Wobble it. Confuse it
with many objects. Cloud it with other interests. Don't sit still
to be examined. Besides, remember that a man always appears at his
best when active, and a woman at her worst. Bustle her, my dear
boy, bustle her: I don't care who she may be. Give her plenty of
luggage to look after; make her catch trains. Let her see the
average husband sprawling comfortably over the railway cushions,
while his wife has to sit bolt upright in the corner left to her.
Let her hear how other men swear. Let her smell other men's
tobacco. Hurry up, and get her accustomed quickly to the sight of
mankind. Then she will be less surprised and shocked as she grows
to know you. One of the best fellows I ever knew spoilt his married
life beyond repair by a long quiet honeymoon. They went off for a
month to a lonely cottage in some heaven-forsaken spot, where never
a soul came near them, and never a thing happened but morning,
afternoon, and night. There for thirty days she overhauled him.
When he yawned--and he yawned pretty often, I guess, during that
month--she thought of the size of his mouth, and when he put his
heels upon the fender she sat and brooded upon the shape of his
feet. At meal-time, not feeling hungry herself, having nothing to
do to make her hungry, she would occupy herself with watching him
eat; and at night, not feeling sleepy for the same reason, she would
lie awake and listen to his snoring. After the first day or two he
grew tired of talking nonsense, and she of listening to it (it
sounded nonsense now they could speak it aloud; they had fancied it
poetry when they had had to whisper it); and having no other
subject, as yet, of common interest, they would sit and stare in
front of them in silence. One day some trifle irritated him and he
swore. On a busy railway platform, or in a crowded hotel, she would
have said, 'Oh!' and they would both have laughed. From that
echoing desert the silly words rose up in widening circles towards
the sky, and that night she cried herself to sleep. Bustle them, my
dear boy, bustle them. We all like each other better the less we
think about one another, and the honeymoon is an exceptionally
critical time. Bustle her, my dear boy, bustle her."
My very worst honeymoon experience took place in the South of
England in eighteen hundred and--well, never mind the exact date,
let us say a few years ago. I was a shy young man at that time.
Many complain of my reserve to this day, but then some girls expect
too much from a man. We all have our shortcomings. Even then,
however, I was not so shy as she. We had to travel from Lyndhurst
in the New Forest to Ventnor, an awkward bit of cross-country work
in those days.
"It's so fortunate you are going too," said her aunt to me on the
Tuesday; "Minnie is always nervous travelling alone. You will be
able to look after her, and I shan't be anxious.
I said it would be a pleasure, and at the time I honestly thought
it. On the Wednesday I went down to the coach office, and booked
two places for Lymington, from where we took the steamer. I had not
a suspicion of trouble.
The booking-clerk was an elderly man. He said--
"I've got the box seat, and the end place on the back bench."
"Oh, can't I have two together?"
He was a kindly-looking old fellow. He winked at me. I wondered
all the way home why he had winked at me. He said--
"I'll manage it somehow."
"It's very kind of you, I'm sure.
He laid his hand on my shoulder. He struck me as familiar, but
well-intentioned. He said--
"We have all of us been there."
I thought he was alluding to the Isle of Wight. I said--
"And this is the best time of the year for it, so I'm told." It was
early summer time.
He said--"It's all right in summer, and it's good enough in winter-
-WHILE IT LASTS. You make the most of it, young 'un;" and he
slapped me on the back and laughed.
He would have irritated me in another minute. I paid for the seats
and left him.
At half-past eight the next morning Minnie and I started for the
coach-office. I call her Minnie, not with any wish to be
impertinent, but because I have forgotten her surname. It must be
ten years since I last saw her. She was a pretty girl, too, with
those brown eyes that always cloud before they laugh. Her aunt did
not drive down with us as she had intended, in consequence of a
headache. She was good enough to say she felt every confidence in
The old booking-clerk caught sight of us when we were about a
quarter of a mile away, and drew to us the attention of the
coachman, who communicated the fact of our approach to the gathered
passengers. Everybody left off talking, and waited for us. The
boots seized his horn, and blew--one could hardly call it a blast;
it would be difficult to say what he blew. He put his heart into
it, but not sufficient wind. I think his intention was to welcome
us, but it suggested rather a feeble curse. We learnt subsequently
that he was a beginner on the instrument.
In some mysterious way the whole affair appeared to be our party.
The booking-clerk bustled up and helped Minnie from the cart. I
feared, for a moment, he was going to kiss her. The coachman
grinned when I said good-morning to him. The passengers grinned,
the boots grinned. Two chamber-maids and a waiter came out from the
hotel, and they grinned. I drew Minnie aside, and whispered to her.
"There's something funny about us. All these people are grinning."
She walked round me, and I walked round her, but we could neither of
us discover anything amusing about the other. The booking-clerk
"It's all right. I've got you young people two places just behind
the box-seat. We'll have to put five of you on that seat. You
won't mind sitting a bit close, will you?"
The booking-clerk winked at the coachman, the coachman winked at the
passengers, the passengers winked at one another--those of them who
could wink--and everybody laughed. The two chamber-maids became
hysterical, and had to cling to each other for support. With the
exception of Minnie and myself, it seemed to be the merriest coach
party ever assembled at Lyndhurst.
We had taken our places, and I was still busy trying to fathom the
joke, when a stout lady appeared on the scene, and demanded to know
The clerk explained to her that it was in the middle behind the
"We've had to put five of you on that seat," added the clerk.
The stout lady looked at the seat.
"Five of us can't squeeze into that," she said.
Five of her certainly could not. Four ordinary sized people with
her would find it tight.
"Very well then," said the clerk, "you can have the end place on the
"Nothing of the sort," said the stout lady. "I booked my seat on
Monday, and you told me any of the front places were vacant.
"I'LL take the back place," I said, "I don't mind it.
"You stop where you are, young 'un," said the clerk, firmly, "and
don't be a fool. I'll fix HER."
I objected to his language, but his tone was kindness itself.
"Oh, let ME have the back seat," said Minnie, rising, "I'd so like
For answer the coachman put both his hands on her shoulders. He was
a heavy man, and she sat down again.
"Now then, mum," said the clerk, addressing the stout lady, "are you
going up there in the middle, or are you coming up here at the
"But why not let one of them take the back seat?" demanded the stout
lady, pointing her reticule at Minnie and myself; "they say they'd
like it. Let them have it."
The coachman rose, and addressed his remarks generally.
"Put her up at the back, or leave her behind," he directed. "Man
and wife have never been separated on this coach since I started
running it fifteen year ago, and they ain't going to be now."
A general cheer greeted this sentiment. The stout lady, now
regarded as a would-be blighter of love's young dream, was hustled
into the back seat, the whip cracked, and away we rolled.
So here was the explanation. We were in a honeymoon district, in
June--the most popular month in the whole year for marriage. Every
two out of three couples found wandering about the New Forest in
June are honeymoon couples; the third are going to be. When they
travel anywhere it is to the Isle of Wight. We both had on new
clothes. Our bags happened to be new. By some evil chance our very
umbrellas were new. Our united ages were thirty-seven. The wonder
would have been had we NOT been mistaken for a young married couple.
A day of greater misery I have rarely passed. To Minnie, so her
aunt informed me afterwards, the journey was the most terrible
experience of her life, but then her experience, up to that time,
had been limited. She was engaged, and devotedly attached, to a
young clergyman; I was madly in love with a somewhat plump girl
named Cecilia who lived with her mother at Hampstead. I am positive
as to her living at Hampstead. I remember so distinctly my weekly
walk down the hill from Church Row to the Swiss Cottage station.
When walking down a steep hill all the weight of the body is forced
into the toe of the boot, and when the boot is two sizes too small
for you, and you have been living in it since the early afternoon,
you remember a thing like that. But all my recollections of Cecilia
are painful, and it is needless to pursue them.
Our coach-load was a homely party, and some of the jokes were
broad--harmless enough in themselves, had Minnie and I really been
the married couple we were supposed to be, but even in that case
unnecessary. I can only hope that Minnie did not understand them.
Anyhow, she looked as if she didn't.
I forget where we stopped for lunch, but I remember that lamb and
mint sauce was on the table, and that the circumstance afforded the
greatest delight to all the party, with the exception of the stout
lady, who was still indignant, Minnie and myself. About my
behaviour as a bridegroom opinion appeared to be divided. "He's a
bit standoffish with her," I overheard one lady remark to her
husband; "I like to see 'em a bit kittenish myself." A young
waitress, on the other hand, I am happy to say, showed more sense of
natural reserve. "Well, I respect him for it," she was saying to
the barmaid, as we passed through the hall; "I'd just hate to be
fuzzled over with everybody looking on." Nobody took the trouble to
drop their voices for our benefit. We might have been a pair of
prize love birds on exhibition, the way we were openly discussed.
By the majority we were clearly regarded as a sulky young couple who
would not go through their tricks.
I have often wondered since how a real married couple would have
faced the situation. Possibly, had we consented to give a short
display of marital affection, "by desire," we might have been left
in peace for the remainder of the journey.
Our reputation preceded us on to the steamboat. Minnie begged and
prayed me to let it be known we were not married. How I was to let
it be known, except by requesting the captain to summon the whole
ship's company on deck, and then making them a short speech, I could
not think. Minnie said she could not bear it any longer, and
retired to the ladies' cabin. She went off crying. Her trouble was
attributed by crew and passengers to my coldness. One fool planted
himself opposite me with his legs apart, and shook his head at me.
"Go down and comfort her," he began. "Take an old man's advice.
Put your arms around her. " (He was one of those sentimental
idiots.) "Tell her that you love her."
I told him to go and hang himself, with so much vigour that he all
but fell overboard. He was saved by a poultry crate: I had no luck
At Ryde the guard, by superhuman effort, contrived to keep us a
carriage to ourselves. I gave him a shilling, because I did not
know what else to do. I would have made it half-a-sovereign if he
had put eight other passengers in with us. At every station people
came to the window to look in at us.
I handed Minnie over to her father on Ventnor platform; and I took
the first train the next morning, to London. I felt I did not want
to see her again for a little while; and I felt convinced she could
do without a visit from me. Our next meeting took place the week
before her marriage.
"Where are you going to spend your honeymoon?" I asked her; "in the
"No," she replied; "nor in the Isle of Wight."
To enjoy the humour of an incident one must be at some distance from
it either in time or relationship. I remember watching an amusing
scene in Whitefield Street, just off Tottenham Court Road, one
winter's Saturday night. A woman--a rather respectable looking
woman, had her hat only been on straight--had just been shot out of
a public-house. She was very dignified, and very drunk. A
policeman requested her to move on. She called him "Fellow," and
demanded to know of him if he considered that was the proper tone in
which to address a lady. She threatened to report him to her
cousin, the Lord Chancellor.
"Yes; this way to the Lord Chancellor," retorted the policeman.
"You come along with me; " and he caught hold of her by the arm.
She gave a lurch, and nearly fell. To save her the man put his arm
round her waist. She clasped him round the neck, and together they
spun round two or three times; while at the very moment a piano-
organ at the opposite corner struck up a waltz.
"Choose your partners, gentlemen, for the next dance," shouted a
wag, and the crowd roared.
I was laughing myself, for the situation was undeniably comical, the
constable's expression of disgust being quite Hogarthian, when the
sight of a child's face beneath the gas-lamp stayed me. Her look
was so full of terror that I tried to comfort her.
"It's only a drunken woman," I said; "he's not going to hurt her."
"Please, sir," was the answer, "it's my mother."
Our joke is generally another's pain. The man who sits down on the
tin-tack rarely joins in the laugh
ON THE MINDING OF OTHER PEOPLE'S BUSINESS
I walked one bright September morning in the Strand. I love London
best in the autumn. Then only can one see the gleam of its white
pavements, the bold, unbroken outline of its streets. I love the
cool vistas one comes across of mornings in the parks, the soft
twilights that linger in the empty bye-streets. In June the
restaurant manager is off-hand with me; I feel I am but in his way.
In August he spreads for me the table by the window, pours out for
me my wine with his own fat hands. I cannot doubt his regard for
me: my foolish jealousies are stilled. Do I care for a drive after
dinner through the caressing night air, I can climb the omnibus
stair without a preliminary fight upon the curb, can sit with easy
conscience and unsquashed body, not feeling I have deprived some
hot, tired woman of a seat. Do I desire the play, no harsh,
forbidding "House full" board repels me from the door. During her
season, London, a harassed hostess, has no time for us, her
intimates. Her rooms are overcrowded, her servants overworked, her
dinners hurriedly cooked, her tone insincere. In the spring, to be
truthful, the great lady condescends to be somewhat vulgar--noisy
and ostentatious. Not till the guests are departed is she herself
again, the London that we, her children, love.
Have you, gentle Reader, ever seen London--not the London of the
waking day, coated with crawling life, as a blossom with blight, but
the London of the morning, freed from her rags, the patient city,
clad in mists? Get you up with the dawn one Sunday in summer time.
Wake none else, but creep down stealthily into the kitchen, and make
your own tea and toast.
Be careful you stumble not over the cat. She will worm herself
insidiously between your legs. It is her way; she means it in
friendship. Neither bark your shins against the coal-box. Why the
kitchen coal-box has its fixed place in the direct line between the
kitchen door and the gas-bracket I cannot say. I merely know it as
an universal law; and I would that you escaped that coal-box, lest
the frame of mind I desire for you on this Sabbath morning be
A spoon to stir your tea, I fear you must dispense with. Knives and
forks you will discover in plenty; blacking brushes you will put
your hand upon in every drawer; of emery paper, did one require it,
there are reams; but it is a point with every housekeeper that the
spoons be hidden in a different place each night. If anybody
excepting herself can find them in the morning, it is a slur upon
her. No matter, a stick of firewood, sharpened at one end, makes an
Your breakfast done, turn out the gas, remount the stairs quietly,
open gently the front door and slip out. You will find yourself in
an unknown land. A strange city grown round you in the night.
The sweet long streets lie silent in sunlight. Not a living thing
is to be seen save some lean Tom that slinks from his gutter feast
as you approach. From some tree there will sound perhaps a fretful
chirp: but the London sparrow is no early riser; he is but talking
in his sleep. The slow tramp of unseen policeman draws near or dies
away. The clatter of your own footsteps goes with you, troubling
you. You find yourself trying to walk softly, as one does in
echoing cathedrals. A voice is everywhere about you whispering to
you "Hush." Is this million-breasted City then some tender Artemis,
seeking to keep her babes asleep? "Hush, you careless wayfarer; do
not waken them. Walk lighter; they are so tired, these myriad
children of mine, sleeping in my thousand arms. They are
over-worked and over-worried; so many of them are sick, so many
fretful, many of them, alas, so full of naughtiness. But all of
them so tired. Hush! they worry me with their noise and riot when
they are awake. They are so good now they are asleep. Walk
lightly, let them rest."
Where the ebbing tide flows softly through worn arches to the sea,
you may hear the stone-faced City talking to the restless waters:
"Why will you never stay with me? Why come but to go?"
"I cannot say, I do not understand. From the deep sea I come, but
only as a bird loosed from a child's hand with a cord. When she
calls I must return."
"It is so with these children of mine. They come to me, I know not
whence. I nurse them for a little while, till a hand I do not see
plucks them back. And others take their place."
Through the still air there passes a ripple of sound. The sleeping
City stirs with a faint sigh. A distant milk-cart rattling by
raises a thousand echoes; it is the vanguard of a yoked army. Soon
from every street there rises the soothing cry,
London like some Gargantuan babe, is awake, crying for its milk.
These be the white-smocked nurses hastening with its morning
nourishment. The early church bells ring. "You have had your milk,
little London. Now come and say your prayers. Another week has
just begun, baby London. God knows what will happen, say your
One by one the little creatures creep from behind the blinds into
the streets. The brooding tenderness is vanished from the City's
face. The fretful noises of the day have come again. Silence, her
lover of the night, kisses her stone lips, and steals away. And
you, gentle Reader, return home, garlanded with the self-sufficiency
of the early riser.
But it was of a certain week-day morning, in the Strand that I was
thinking. I was standing outside Gatti's Restaurant, where I had
just breakfasted, listening leisurely to an argument between an
indignant lady passenger, presumably of Irish extraction, and an
"For what d'ye want thin to paint Putney on ye'r bus, if ye don't GO
to Putney?" said the, lady.
"We DO go to Putney," said the conductor.
"Thin why did ye put me out here?"
"I didn't put you out, yer got out."
"Shure, didn't the gintleman in the corner tell me I was comin'
further away from Putney ivery minit?"
"Wal, and so yer was."
"Thin whoy didn't you tell me?"
"How was I to know yer wanted to go to Putney? Yer sings out
Putney, and I stops and in yer jumps."
"And for what d'ye think I called out Putney thin?"
"'Cause it's my name, or rayther the bus's name. This 'ere IS a
"How can it be a Putney whin it isn't goin' to Putney, ye
"Ain't you an Hirishwoman?" retorted the conductor. "Course yer
are. But yer aren't always goin' to Ireland. We're goin' to Putney
in time, only we're a-going to Liverpool Street fust. 'Igher up,
The bus moved on, and I was about cross the road, when a man,
muttering savagely to himself, walked into me. He would have swept
past me had I not, recognizing him, arrested him. It was my friend
B-----, a busy editor of magazines and journals. It was some
seconds before he appeared able to struggle out of his abstraction,
and remember himself. "Halloo," he then said, "who would have
thought of seeing YOU here?"
"To judge by the way you were walking," I replied, "one would
imagine the Strand the last place in which you expected to see any
human being. Do you ever walk into a short-tempered, muscular man?"
"Did I walk into you?" he asked surprised.
"Well, not right in," I answered, "I if we are to be literal. You
walked on to me; if I had not stopped you, I suppose you would have
walked over me."
"It is this confounded Christmas business," he explained. "It
drives me off my head."
"I have heard Christmas advanced as an excuse for many things," I
replied, "but not early in September."
"Oh, you know what I mean," he answered, "we are in the middle of
our Christmas number. I am working day and night upon it. By the
bye," he added, "that puts me in mind. I am arranging a symposium,
and I want you to join. 'Should Christmas,'"--I interrupted him.
"My dear fellow," I said, "I commenced my journalistic career when I
was eighteen, and I have continued it at intervals ever since. I
have written about Christmas from the sentimental point of view; I
have analyzed it from the philosophical point of view; and I have
scarified it from the sarcastic standpoint. I have treated
Christmas humorously for the Comics, and sympathetically for the
Provincial Weeklies. I have said all that is worth saying on the
subject of Christmas--maybe a trifle more. I have told the
new-fashioned Christmas story--you know the sort of thing: your
heroine tries to understand herself, and, failing, runs off with the
man who began as the hero; your good woman turns out to be really
bad when one comes to know her; while the villain, the only decent
person in the story, dies with an enigmatic sentence on his lips
that looks as if it meant something, but which you yourself would be
sorry to have to explain. I have also written the old-fashioned
Christmas story--you know that also: you begin with a good
old-fashioned snowstorm; you have a good old-fashioned squire, and
he lives in a good old-fashioned Hall; you work in a good
old-fashioned murder; and end up with a good old-fashioned Christmas
dinner. I have gathered Christmas guests together round the
crackling logs to tell ghost stories to each other on Christmas Eve,
while without the wind howled, as it always does on these occasions,
at its proper cue. I have sent children to Heaven on Christmas
Eve--it must be quite a busy time for St. Peter, Christmas morning,
so many good children die on Christmas Eve. It has always been a
popular night with them.--I have revivified dead lovers and brought
them back well and jolly, just in time to sit down to the Christmas
dinner. I am not ashamed of having done these things. At the time
I thought them good. I once loved currant wine and girls with
towzley hair. One's views change as one grows older. I have
discussed Christmas as a religious festival. I have arraigned it as
a social incubus. If there be any joke connected with Christmas
that I have not already made I should be glad to hear it. I have
trotted out the indigestion jokes till the sight of one of them
gives me indigestion myself. I have ridiculed the family gathering.
I have scoffed at the Christmas present. I have made witty use of
paterfamilias and his bills. I have--"
"Did I ever show you," I broke off to ask as we were crossing the
Haymarket, "that little parody of mine on Poe's poem of 'The Bells'?
It begins--" He interrupted me in his turn--
"Bills, bills, bills," he repeated.
"You are quite right," I admitted. "I forgot I ever showed it to
"You never did," he replied.
"Then how do you know how it begins?" I asked.
"I don't know for certain," he admitted, "but I get, on an average,
sixty-five a year submitted to me, and they all begin that way. I
thought, perhaps, yours did also."
"I don't see how else it could begin," I retorted. He had rather
annoyed me. "Besides, it doesn't matter how a poem begins, it is
how it goes on that is the important thing and anyhow, I'm not going
to write you anything about Christmas. Ask me to make you a new
joke about a plumber; suggest my inventing something original and
not too shocking for a child to say about heaven; propose my running
you off a dog story that can be believed by a man of average
determination and we may come to terms. But on the subject of
Christmas I am taking a rest."
By this time we had reached Piccadilly Circus.
"I don't blame you," he said, "if you are as sick of the subject as
I am. So soon as these Christmas numbers are off my mind, and
Christmas is over till next June at the office, I shall begin it at
home. The housekeeping is gone up a pound a week already. I know
what that means. The dear little woman is saving up to give me an
expensive present that I don't want. I think the presents are the
worst part of Christmas. Emma will give me a water-colour that she
has painted herself. She always does. There would be no harm in
that if she did not expect me to hang it in the drawing room. Have
you ever seen my cousin Emma's water-colours?" he asked.
"I think I have," I replied.
"There's no thinking about it," he retorted angrily. "They're not
the sort of water-colours you forget."
He apostrophized the Circus generally.
"Why do people do these things?" he demanded. "Even an amateur
artist must have SOME sense. Can't they see what is happening?
There's that thing of hers hanging in the passage. I put it in the
passage because there's not much light in the passage. She's
labelled it Reverie. If she had called it Influenza I could have
understood it. I asked her where she got the idea from, and she
said she saw the sky like that one evening in Norfolk. Great
Heavens! then why didn't she shut her eyes or go home and hide
behind the bed-curtains? If I had seen a sky like that in Norfolk I
should have taken the first train back to London. I suppose the
poor girl can't help seeing these things, but why paint them?"
I said, "I suppose painting is a necessity to some natures."
"But why give the things to me?" he pleaded.
I could offer him no adequate reason.
"The idiotic presents that people give you!" he continued. "I said
I'd like Tennyson's poems one year. They had worried me to know
what I did want. I didn't want anything really; that was the only
thing I could think of that I wasn't dead sure I didn't want. Well,
they clubbed together, four of them, and gave me Tennyson in twelve
volumes, illustrated with coloured photographs. They meant kindly,
of course. If you suggest a tobacco-pouch they give you a blue
velvet bag capable of holding about a pound, embroidered with
flowers, life-size. The only way one could use it would be to put a
strap to it and wear it as a satchel. Would you believe it, I have
got a velvet smoking-jacket, ornamented with forget-me-nots and
butterflies in coloured silk; I'm not joking. And they ask me why I
never wear it. I'll bring it down to the Club one of these nights
and wake the place up a bit: it needs it."
We had arrived by this at the steps of the 'Devonshire.'
"And I'm just as bad," he went on, "when I give presents. I never
give them what they want. I never hit upon anything that is of any
use to anybody. If I give Jane a chinchilla tippet, you may be
certain chinchilla is the most out-of-date fur that any woman could
wear. 'Oh! that is nice of you,' she says; 'now that is just the
very thing I wanted. I will keep it by me till chinchilla comes in
again.' I give the girls watch-chains when nobody is wearing
watch-chains. When watch-chains are all the rage I give them
ear-rings, and they thank me, and suggest my taking them to a
fancy-dress ball, that being their only chance to wear the
confounded things. I waste money on white gloves with black backs,
to find that white gloves with black backs stamp a woman as
suburban. I believe all the shop-keepers in London save their old
stock to palm it off on me at Christmas time. And why does it
always take half-a-dozen people to serve you with a pair of gloves,
I'd like to know? Only last week Jane asked me to get her some
gloves for that last Mansion House affair. I was feeling amiable,
and I thought I would do the thing handsomely. I hate going into a
draper's shop; everybody stares at a man as if he were forcing his
way into the ladies' department of a Turkish bath. One of those
marionette sort of men came up to me and said it was a fine morning.
What the devil did I want to talk about the morning to him for? I
said I wanted some gloves. I described them to the best of my
recollection. I said, 'I want them four buttons, but they are not
to be button-gloves; the buttons are in the middle and they reach up
to the elbow, if you know what I mean.' He bowed, and said he
understood exactly what I meant, which was a damned sight more than
I did. I told him I wanted three pair cream and three pair
fawn-coloured, and the fawn-coloured were to be swedes. He
corrected me. He said I meant 'Suede.' I dare say he was right,
but the interruption put me off, and I had to begin over again. He
listened attentively until I had finished. I guess I was about five
minutes standing with him there close to the door. He said, 'Is
that all you require, sir, this morning?' I said it was.
"' Thank you, sir,' he replied. 'This way, please, sir.'
"He took me into another room, and there we met a man named Jansen,
to whom he briefly introduced me as a gentleman who 'desired
gloves.' 'Yes, sir,' said Mr. Jansen; and what sort of gloves do
"I told him I wanted six pairs altogether--three suede,
fawn-coloured, and three cream-coloured--kids.
"He said, 'Do you mean kid gloves, sir, or gloves for children?'
"He made me angry by that. I told him I was not in the habit of
using slang. Nor am I when buying gloves. He said he was sorry. I
explained to him about the buttons, so far as I could understand it
myself, and about the length. I asked him to see to it that the
buttons were sewn on firmly, and that the stitching everywhere was
perfect, adding that the last gloves my wife had had of his firm had
been most unsatisfactory. Jane had impressed upon me to add that.
She said it would make them more careful.
"He listened to me in rapt ecstacy. I might have been music.
"'And what size, sir?' he asked.
"I had forgotten that. 'Oh, sixes,' I answered, 'unless they are
very stretchy indeed, in which case they had better be five and
"'Oh, and the stitching on the cream is to be black,' I added. That
was another thing I had forgotten.
"'Thank you very much,' said Mr. Jansen; 'is there anything else
that you require this morning?'
"'No, thank you,' I replied, 'not this morning.' I was beginning to
like the man.
"He took me for quite a walk, and wherever we went everybody left
off what they were doing to stare at me. I was getting tired when
we reached the glove department. He marched me up to a young man
who was sticking pins into himself. He said 'Gloves,' and
disappeared through a curtain. The young man left off sticking pins
into himself, and leant across the counter.
"'Ladies' gloves or gentlemen's gloves?' he said.
"Well, I was pretty mad by this time, as you can guess. It is funny
when you come to think of it afterwards, but the wonder then was
that I didn't punch his head.
"I said, 'Are you ever busy in this shop? Does there ever come a
time when you feel you would like to get your work done, instead of
lingering over it and spinning it out for pure love of the thing?'
"He did not appear to understand me. I said, 'I met a man at your
door a quarter of an hour ago, and we talked about these gloves that
I want, and I told him all my ideas on the subject. He took me to
your Mr. Jansen, and Mr. Jansen and I went over the whole business
again. Now Mr. Jansen leaves it with you--you who do not even know
whether I want ladies' or gentlemen's gloves. Before I go over this
story for the third time, I want to know whether you are the man who
is going to serve me, or whether you are merely a listener, because
personally I am tired of the subject?'
"Well, this was the right man at last, and I got my gloves from him.
But what is the explanation--what is the idea? I was in that shop
from first to last five-and-thirty minutes. And then a fool took me
out the wrong way to show me a special line in sleeping-socks. I
told him I was not requiring any. He said he didn't want me to buy,
he only wanted me to see them. No wonder the drapers have had to
start luncheon and tea-rooms. They'll fix up small furnished flats
soon, where a woman can live for a week."
I said it was very trying, shopping. I also said, as he invited me,
and as he appeared determined to go on talking, that I would have a
brandy-and-soda. We were in the smoke-room by this time.
"There ought to be an association," he continued, "a kind of
clearing-house for the collection and distribution of Christmas
presents. One would give them a list of the people from whom to
collect presents, and of the people to whom to send. Suppose they
collected on my account twenty Christmas presents, value, say, ten
pounds, while on the other hand they sent out for me thirty presents
at a cost of fifteen pounds. They would debit me with the balance
of five pounds, together with a small commission. I should pay it
cheerfully, and there would be no further trouble. Perhaps one
might even make a profit. The idea might include birthdays and
weddings. A firm would do the business thoroughly. They would see
that all your friends paid up--I mean sent presents; and they would
not forget to send to your most important relative. There is only
one member of our family capable of leaving a shilling; and of
course if I forget to send to any one it is to him. When I remember
him I generally make a muddle of the business. Two years ago I gave
him a bath--I don't mean I washed him--an india-rubber thing, that
he could pack in his portmanteau. I thought he would find it useful
for travelling. Would you believe it, he took it as a personal
affront, and wouldn't speak to me for a month, the snuffy old
"I suppose the children enjoy it," I said.
"Enjoy what?" he asked.
"Why, Christmas," I explained.
"I don't believe they do," he snapped; "nobody enjoys it. We excite
them for three weeks beforehand, telling them what a good time they
are going to have, over-feed them for two or three days, take them
to something they do not want to see, but which we do, and then
bully them for a fortnight to get them back into their normal
condition. I was always taken to the Crystal Palace and Madame
Tussaud's when I was a child, I remember. How I did hate that
Crystal Palace! Aunt used to superintend. It was always a bitterly
cold day, and we always got into the wrong train, and travelled half
the day before we got there. We never had any dinner. It never
occurs to a woman that anybody can want their meals while away from
home. She seems to think that nature is in suspense from the time
you leave the house till the time you get back to it. A bun and a
glass of milk was her idea of lunch for a school-boy. Half her time
was taken up in losing us, and the other half in slapping us when
she had found us. The only thing we really enjoyed was the row with
the cabman coming home."
I rose to go.
"Then you won't join that symposium?" said B-----. "It would be an
easy enough thing to knock off--'Why Christmas should be
"It sounds simple," I answered. "But how do you propose to abolish
it?" The lady editor of an "advanced" American magazine once set
the discussion--"Should sex be abolished?" and eleven ladies and
gentlemen seriously argued the question.
"Leave it to die of inanition," said B-----; "the first step is to
arouse public opinion. Convince the public that it should be
"But why should it be abolished?" I asked.
"Great Scott! man," he exclaimed; "don't you want it abolished?"
"I'm not sure that I do," I replied.
"Not sure," he retorted; "you call yourself a journalist, and admit
there is a subject under Heaven of which you are not sure!"
"It has come over me of late years," I replied. "It used not to be
my failing, as you know."
He glanced round to make sure we were out of earshot, then sunk his
voice to a whisper.
"Between ourselves," he said, "I'm not so sure of everything myself
as I used to be. Why is it?"
"Perhaps we are getting older," I suggested.
He said--"I started golf last year, and the first time I took the
club in my hand I sent the ball a furlong. 'It seems an easy game,'
I said to the man who was teaching me. 'Yes, most people find it
easy at the beginning,' he replied dryly. He was an old golfer
himself; I thought he was jealous. I stuck well to the game, and
for about three weeks I was immensely pleased with myself. Then,
gradually, I began to find out the difficulties. I feel I shall
never make a good player. Have you ever gone through that
"Yes," I replied; "I suppose that is the explanation. The game
seems so easy at the beginning. "
I left him to his lunch, and strolled westward, musing on the time
when I should have answered that question of his about Christmas, or
any other question, off-hand. That good youth time when I knew
everything, when life presented no problems, dangled no doubts
In those days, wishful to give the world the benefit of my wisdom,
and seeking for a candle-stick wherefrom my brilliancy might be
visible and helpful unto men, I arrived before a dingy portal in
Chequers Street, St. Luke's, behind which a conclave of young men,
together with a few old enough to have known better, met every
Friday evening for the purpose of discussing and arranging the
affairs of the universe. "Speaking members" were charged
ten-and-sixpence per annum, which must have worked out at an
extremely moderate rate per word; and "gentlemen whose subscriptions
were more than three months in arrear," became, by Rule seven,
powerless for good or evil. We called ourselves "The Stormy
Petrels," and, under the sympathetic shadow of those wings, I
laboured two seasons towards the reformation of the human race;
until, indeed, our treasurer, an earnest young man, and a tireless
foe of all that was conventional, departed for the East, leaving
behind him a balance sheet, showing that the club owed forty-two
pounds fifteen and fourpence, and that the subscriptions for the
current year, amounting to a little over thirty-eight pounds, had
been "carried forward," but as to where, the report afforded no
indication. Whereupon our landlord, a man utterly without ideals,
seized our furniture, offering to sell it back to us for fifteen
pounds. We pointed out to him that this was an extravagant price,
and tendered him five.
The negotiations terminated with ungentlemanly language on his part,
and "The Stormy Petrels" scattered, never to be foregathered
together again above the troubled waters of humanity. Now-a-days,
listening to the feeble plans of modern reformers, I cannot help but
smile, remembering what was done in Chequers Street, St. Luke's, in
an age when Mrs. Grundy still gave the law to literature, while yet
the British matron was the guide to British art. I am informed that
there is abroad the question of abolishing the House of Lords! Why,
"The Stormy Petrels" abolished the aristocracy and the Crown in one
evening, and then only adjourned for the purpose of appointing a
committee to draw up and have ready a Republican Constitution by the
following Friday evening. They talk of Empire lounges! We closed
the doors of every music-hall in London eighteen years ago by
twenty-nine votes to seventeen. They had a patient hearing, and
were ably defended; but we found that the tendency of such
amusements was anti-progressive, and against the best interests of
an intellectually advancing democracy. I met the mover of the
condemnatory resolution at the old "Pav" the following evening, and
we continued the discussion over a bottle of Bass. He strengthened
his argument by persuading me to sit out the whole of the three
songs sung by the "Lion Comique"; but I subsequently retorted
successfully, by bringing under his notice the dancing of a lady in
blue tights and flaxen hair. I forget her name but never shall I
cease to remember her exquisite charm and beauty. Ah, me! how
charming and how beautiful "artistes" were in those golden days!
Whence have they vanished? Ladies in blue tights and flaxen hair
dance before my eyes to-day, but move me not, unless it be towards
boredom. Where be the tripping witches of twenty years ago, whom to
see once was to dream of for a week, to touch whose white hand would
have been joy, to kiss whose red lips would have been to foretaste
Heaven. I heard only the other day that the son of an old friend of
mine had secretly married a lady from the front row of the ballet,
and involuntarily I exclaimed, "Poor devil!" There was a time when
my first thought would have been, "Lucky beggar! is he worthy of
her?" For then the ladies of the ballet were angels. How could one
gaze at them--from the shilling pit--and doubt it? They danced to
keep a widowed mother in comfort, or to send a younger brother to
school. Then they were glorious creatures a young man did well to
worship; but now-a-days--
It is an old jest. The eyes of youth see through rose-tinted
glasses. The eyes of age are dim behind smoke-clouded spectacles.
My flaxen friend, you are not the angel I dreamed you, nor the
exceptional sinner some would paint you; but under your feathers,
just a woman--a bundle of follies and failings, tied up with some
sweetness and strength. You keep a brougham I am sure you cannot
afford on your thirty shillings a week. There are ladies I know, in
Mayfair, who have paid an extravagant price for theirs. You paint
and you dye, I am told: it is even hinted you pad. Don't we all of
us deck ourselves out in virtues that are not our own? When the
paint and the powder, my sister, is stripped both from you and from
me, we shall know which of us is entitled to look down on the other
Forgive me, gentle Reader, for digressing. The lady led me astray.
I was speaking of "The Stormy Petrels," and of the reforms they
accomplished, which were many. We abolished, I remember, capital
punishment and war; we were excellent young men at heart. Christmas
we reformed altogether, along with Bank Holidays, by a majority of
twelve. I never recollect any proposal to abolish anything ever
being lost when put to the vote. There were few things that we
"Stormy Petrels" did not abolish. We attacked Christmas on grounds
of expediency, and killed it by ridicule. We exposed the hollow
mockery of Christmas sentiment; we abused the indigestible Christmas
dinner, the tiresome Christmas party, the silly Christmas pantomime.
Our funny member was side-splitting on the subject of Christmas
Waits; our social reformer bitter upon Christmas drunkenness; our
economist indignant upon Christmas charities. Only one argument of
any weight with us was advanced in favour of the festival, and that
was our leading cynic's suggestion that it was worth enduring the
miseries of Christmas, to enjoy the soul-satisfying comfort of the
after reflection that it was all over, and could not occur again for
But since those days when I was prepared to put this old world of
ours to rights upon all matters, I have seen many sights and heard
many sounds, and I am not quite so sure as I once was that my
particular views are the only possibly correct ones. Christmas
seems to me somewhat meaningless; but I have looked through windows
in poverty-stricken streets, and have seen dingy parlours gay with
many chains of coloured paper. They stretched from corner to corner
of the smoke-grimed ceiling, they fell in clumsy festoons from the
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