The Second Thoughts of An Idle Fellow
Jerome K. Jerome
Part 4 out of 4
"Open it and see," he answered, in the tone of a pantomime fairy.
I opened it and looked, but I was no wiser.
"It's tea," he explained.
"Oh!" I replied; "I was wondering if it could be snuff."
"Well, it's not exactly tea," he continued, "it's a sort of tea.
You take one cup of that--one cup, and you will never care for any
other kind of tea again."
He was quite right, I took one cup. After drinking it I felt I
didn't care for any other tea. I felt I didn't care for anything,
except to die quietly and inoffensively. He called on me a week
"You remember that tea I gave you?" he said.
"Distinctly," I answered; "I've got the taste of it in my mouth
"Did it upset you?" he asked.
"It annoyed me at the time," I answered; "but that's all over now."
He seemed thoughtful. "You were quite correct," he answered; "it
WAS snuff, a very special snuff, sent me all the way from India."
"I can't say I liked it," I replied.
"A stupid mistake of mine," he went on--"I must have mixed up the
"Oh, accidents will happen," I said, "and you won't make another
mistake, I feel sure; so far as I am concerned."
We can all give advice. I had the honour once of serving an old
gentleman whose profession it was to give legal advice, and
excellent legal advice he always gave. In common with most men who
know the law, he had little respect for it. I have heard him say to
a would-be litigant--
"My dear sir, if a villain stopped me in the street and demanded of
me my watch and chain, I should refuse to give it to him. If he
thereupon said, 'Then I shall take it from you by brute force,' I
should, old as I am, I feel convinced, reply to him, 'Come on.' But
if, on the other hand, he were to say to me, 'Very well, then I
shall take proceedings against you in the Court of Queen's Bench to
compel you to give it up to me,' I should at once take it from my
pocket, press it into his hand, and beg of him to say no more about
the matter. And I should consider I was getting off cheaply."
Yet that same old gentleman went to law himself with his next-door
neighbour over a dead poll parrot that wasn't worth sixpence to
anybody, and spent from first to last a hundred pounds, if he spent
"I know I'm a fool," he confessed. "I have no positive proof that
it WAS his cat; but I'll make him pay for calling me an Old Bailey
Attorney, hanged if I don't!"
We all know how the pudding OUGHT to be made. We do not profess to
be able to make it: that is not our business. Our business is to
criticize the cook. It seems our business to criticize so many
things that it is not our business to do. We are all critics
nowadays. I have my opinion of you, Reader, and you possibly have
your own opinion of me. I do not seek to know it; personally, I
prefer the man who says what he has to say of me behind my back. I
remember, when on a lecturing tour, the ground-plan of the hall
often necessitated my mingling with the audience as they streamed
out. This never happened but I would overhear somebody in front of
me whisper to his or her companion--"Take care, he's just behind
you." I always felt so grateful to that whisperer.
At a Bohemian Club, I was once drinking coffee with a Novelist, who
happened to be a broad-shouldered, athletic man. A fellow-member,
joining us, said to the Novelist, "I have just finished that last
book of yours; I'll tell you my candid opinion of it." Promptly
replied the Novelist, "I give you fair warning--if you do, I shall
punch your head." We never heard that candid opinion.
Most of our leisure time we spend sneering at one another. It is a
wonder, going about as we do with our noses so high in the air, we
do not walk off this little round world into space, all of us. The
Masses sneer at the Classes. The morals of the Classes are
shocking. If only the Classes would consent as a body to be taught
behaviour by a Committee of the Masses, how very much better it
would be for them. If only the Classes would neglect their own
interests and devote themselves to the welfare of the Masses, the
Masses would be more pleased with them.
The Classes sneer at the Masses. If only the Masses would follow
the advice given them by the Classes; if only they would be thrifty
on their ten shillings a week; if only they would all be
teetotalers, or drink old claret, which is not intoxicating; if only
all the girls would be domestic servants on five pounds a year, and
not waste their money on feathers; if only the men would be content
to work for fourteen hours a day, and to sing in tune, "God bless
the Squire and his relations," and would consent to be kept in their
proper stations, all things would go swimmingly--for the Classes.
The New Woman pooh-poohs the Old; the Old Woman is indignant with
the New. The Chapel denounces the Stage; the Stage ridicules Little
Bethel; the Minor Poet sneers at the world; the world laughs at the
Man criticizes Woman. We are not altogether pleased with woman. We
discuss her shortcomings, we advise her for her good. If only
English wives would dress as French wives, talk as American wives,
cook as German wives! if only women would be precisely what we want
them to be--patient and hard-working, brilliantly witty and
exhaustively domestic, bewitching, amenable, and less suspicious;
how very much better it would be for them--also for us. We work so
hard to teach them, but they will not listen. Instead of paying
attention to our wise counsel, the tiresome creatures are wasting
their time criticizing us. It is a popular game, this game of
school. All that is needful is a doorstep, a cane, and six other
children. The difficulty is the six other children. Every child
wants to be the schoolmaster; they will keep jumping up, saying it
is their turn.
Woman wants to take the stick now, and put man on the doorstep.
There are one or two things she has got to say to him. He is not at
all the man she approves of. He must begin by getting rid of all
his natural desires and propensities; that done, she will take him
in hand and make of him--not a man, but something very much
It would be the best of all possible worlds if everybody would only
follow our advice. I wonder, would Jerusalem have been the cleanly
city it is reported, if, instead of troubling himself concerning his
own twopenny-halfpenny doorstep, each citizen had gone out into the
road and given eloquent lectures to all the other inhabitants on the
subject of sanitation?
We have taken to criticizing the Creator Himself of late. The world
is wrong, we are wrong. If only He had taken our advice, during
those first six days!
Why do I seem to have been scooped out and filled up with lead? Why
do I hate the smell of bacon, and feel that nobody cares for me? It
is because champagne and lobsters have been made wrong.
Why do Edwin and Angelina quarrel? It is because Edwin has been
given a fine, high-spirited nature that will not brook
contradiction; while Angelina, poor girl, has been cursed with
Why is excellent Mr. Jones brought down next door to beggary? Mr.
Jones had an income of a thousand a year, secured by the Funds. But
there came along a wicked Company promoter (why are wicked Company
promoters permitted?) with a prospectus, telling good Mr. Jones how
to obtain a hundred per cent. for his money by investing it in some
scheme for the swindling of Mr. Jones's fellow-citizens.
The scheme does not succeed; the people swindled turn out, contrary
to the promise of the prospectus, to be Mr. Jones and his
fellow-investors. Why does Heaven allow these wrongs?
Why does Mrs. Brown leave her husband and children, to run off with
the New Doctor? It is because an ill-advised Creator has given Mrs.
Brown and the New Doctor unduly strong emotions. Neither Mrs. Brown
nor the New Doctor are to be blamed. If any human being be
answerable it is, probably, Mrs. Brown's grandfather, or some early
ancestor of the New Doctor's.
We shall criticize Heaven when we get there. I doubt if any of us
will be pleased with the arrangements; we have grown so exceedingly
It was once said of a very superior young man that he seemed to be
under the impression that God Almighty had made the universe chiefly
to hear what he would say about it. Consciously or unconsciously,
most of us are of this way of thinking. It is an age of mutual
improvement societies--a delightful idea, everybody's business being
to improve everybody else; of amateur parliaments, of literary
councils, of playgoers' clubs.
First Night criticism seems to have died out of late, the Student of
the Drama having come to the conclusion, possibly, that plays are
not worth criticizing. But in my young days we were very earnest at
this work. We went to the play, less with the selfish desire of
enjoying our evening, than with the noble aim of elevating the
Stage. Maybe we did good, maybe we were needed--let us think so.
Certain it is, many of the old absurdities have disappeared from the
Theatre, and our rough-and-ready criticism may have helped the happy
dispatch. A folly is often served by an unwise remedy.
The dramatist in those days had to reckon with his audience.
Gallery and Pit took an interest in his work such as Galleries and
Pits no longer take. I recollect witnessing the production of a
very blood-curdling melodrama at, I think, the old Queen's Theatre.
The heroine had been given by the author a quite unnecessary amount
of conversation, so we considered. The woman, whenever she appeared
on the stage, talked by the yard; she could not do a simple little
thing like cursing the Villain under about twenty lines. When the
hero asked her if she loved him she stood up and made a speech about
it that lasted three minutes by the watch. One dreaded to see her
open her mouth. In the Third Act, somebody got hold of her and shut
her up in a dungeon. He was not a nice man, speaking generally, but
we felt he was the man for the situation, and the house cheered him
to the echo. We flattered ourselves we had got rid of her for the
rest of the evening. Then some fool of a turnkey came along, and
she appealed to him, through the grating, to let her out for a few
minutes. The turnkey, a good but soft-hearted man, hesitated.
"Don't you do it," shouted one earnest Student of the Drama, from
the Gallery; "she's all right. Keep her there!"
The old idiot paid no attention to our advice; he argued the matter
to himself. "'Tis but a trifling request," he remarked; "and it
will make her happy."
"Yes, but what about us?" replied the same voice from the Gallery.
"You don't know her. You've only just come on; we've been listening
to her all the evening. She's quiet now, you let her be."
"Oh, let me out, if only for one moment!" shrieked the poor woman.
"I have something that I must say to my child."
"Write it on a bit of paper, and pass it out," suggested a voice
from the Pit. "We'll see that he gets it."
"Shall I keep a mother from her dying child?" mused the turnkey.
"No, it would be inhuman."
"No, it wouldn't," persisted the voice of the Pit; "not in this
instance. It's too much talk that has made the poor child ill."
The turnkey would not be guided by us. He opened the cell door
amidst the execrations of the whole house. She talked to her child
for about five minutes, at the end of which time it died.
"Ah, he is dead!" shrieked the distressed parent.
"Lucky beggar!" was the unsympathetic rejoinder of the house.
Sometimes the criticism of the audience would take the form of
remarks, addressed by one gentleman to another. We had been
listening one night to a play in which action seemed to be
unnecessarily subordinated to dialogue, and somewhat poor dialogue
at that. Suddenly, across the wearying talk from the stage, came
the stentorian whisper--
"Wake me up when the play begins."
This was followed by an ostentatious sound as of snoring. Then the
voice of the second speaker was heard--
His friend appeared to awake.
"Eh? Yes? What's up? Has anything happened?"
"Wake you up at half-past eleven in any event, I suppose?"
"Thanks, do, sonny." And the critic slept again.
Yes, we took an interest in our plays then. I wonder shall I ever
enjoy the British Drama again as I enjoyed it in those days? Shall
I ever enjoy a supper again as I enjoyed the tripe and onions washed
down with bitter beer at the bar of the old Albion? I have tried
many suppers after the theatre since then, and some, when friends
have been in generous mood, have been expensive and elaborate. The
cook may have come from Paris, his portrait may be in the
illustrated papers, his salary may be reckoned by hundreds; but
there is something wrong with his art, for all that, I miss a
flavour in his meats. There is a sauce lacking.
Nature has her coinage, and demands payment in her own currency. At
Nature's shop it is you yourself must pay. Your unearned increment,
your inherited fortune, your luck, are not legal tenders across her
You want a good appetite. Nature is quite willing to supply you.
"Certainly, sir," she replies, "I can do you a very excellent
article indeed. I have here a real genuine hunger and thirst that
will make your meal a delight to you. You shall eat heartily and
with zest, and you shall rise from the table refreshed, invigorated,
"Just the very thing I want," exclaims the gourmet delightedly.
"Tell me the price."
"The price," answers Mrs. Nature, "is one long day's hard work."
The customer's face falls; he handles nervously his heavy purse.
"Cannot I pay for it in money?" he asks. "I don't like work, but I
am a rich man, I can afford to keep French cooks, to purchase old
Nature shakes her head.
"I cannot take your cheques, tissue and nerve are my charges. For
these I can give you an appetite that will make a rump-steak and a
tankard of ale more delicious to you than any dinner that the
greatest chef in Europe could put before you. I can even promise
you that a hunk of bread and cheese shall be a banquet to you; but
you must pay my price in my money; I do not deal in yours."
And next the Dilettante enters, demanding a taste for Art and
Literature, and this also Nature is quite prepared to supply.
"I can give you true delight in all these things," she answers.
"Music shall be as wings to you, lifting you above the turmoil of
the world. Through Art you shall catch a glimpse of Truth. Along
the pleasant paths of Literature you shall walk as beside still
"And your charge?" cries the delighted customer.
"These things are somewhat expensive," replies Nature. "I want from
you a life lived simply, free from all desire of worldly success, a
life from which passion has been lived out; a life to which appetite
has been subdued."
"But you mistake, my dear lady," replies the Dilettante; "I have
many friends, possessed of taste, and they are men who do not pay
this price for it. Their houses are full of beautiful pictures,
they rave about 'nocturnes' and 'symphonies,' their shelves are
packed with first editions. Yet they are men of luxury and wealth
and fashion. They trouble much concerning the making of money, and
Society is their heaven. Cannot I be as one of these?"
"I do not deal in the tricks of apes," answers Nature coldly; "the
culture of these friends of yours is a mere pose, a fashion of the
hour, their talk mere parrot chatter. Yes, you can purchase such
culture as this, and pretty cheaply, but a passion for skittles
would be of more service to you, and bring you more genuine
enjoyment. My goods are of a different class. I fear we waste each
And next comes the boy, asking with a blush for love, and Nature's
motherly old heart goes out to him, for it is an article she loves
to sell, and she loves those who come to purchase it of her. So she
leans across the counter, smiling, and tells him that she has the
very thing he wants, and he, trembling with excitement, likewise
asks the figure.
"It costs a good deal," explains Nature, but in no discouraging
tone; "it is the most expensive thing in all my shop."
"I am rich," replies the lad. "My father worked hard and saved, and
he has left me all his wealth. I have stocks and shares, and lands
and factories; and will pay any price in reason for this thing."
But Nature, looking graver, lays her hand upon his arm.
"Put by your purse, boy," she says, "my price is not a price in
reason, nor is gold the metal that I deal in. There are many shops
in various streets where your bank-notes will be accepted. But if
you will take an old woman's advice, you will not go to them. The
thing they will sell you will bring sorrow and do evil to you. It
is cheap enough, but, like all things cheap, it is not worth the
buying. No man purchases it, only the fool."
"And what is the cost of the thing YOU sell then?" asks the lad.
"Self-forgetfulness, tenderness, strength," answers the old Dame;
"the love of all things that are of good repute, the hate of all
things evil--courage, sympathy, self-respect, these things purchase
love. Put by your purse, lad, it will serve you in other ways, but
it will not buy for you the goods upon my shelves."
"Then am I no better off than the poor man?" demands the lad.
"I know not wealth or poverty as you understand it," answers Nature.
"Here I exchange realities only for realities. You ask for my
treasures, I ask for your brain and heart in exchange--yours, boy,
not your father's, not another's."
"And this price," he argues, "how shall I obtain it?"
"Go about the world," replies the great Lady. "Labour, suffer,
help. Come back to me when you have earned your wages, and
according to how much you bring me so we will do business."
Is real wealth so unevenly distributed as we think? Is not Fate the
true Socialist? Who is the rich man, who the poor? Do we know?
Does even the man himself know? Are we not striving for the shadow,
missing the substance? Take life at its highest; which was the
happier man, rich Solomon or poor Socrates? Solomon seems to have
had most things that most men most desire--maybe too much of some
for his own comfort. Socrates had little beyond what he carried
about with him, but that was a good deal. According to our scales,
Solomon should have been one of the happiest men that ever lived,
Socrates one of the most wretched. But was it so?
Or taking life at its lowest, with pleasure its only goal. Is my
lord Tom Noddy, in the stalls, so very much jollier than 'Arry in
the gallery? Were beer ten shillings the bottle, and champagne
fourpence a quart, which, think you, we should clamour for? If
every West End Club had its skittle alley, and billiards could only
be played in East End pubs, which game, my lord, would you select?
Is the air of Berkeley Square so much more joy-giving than the
atmosphere of Seven Dials? I find myself a piquancy in the air of
Seven Dials, missing from Berkeley Square. Is there so vast a
difference between horse-hair and straw, when you are tired? Is
happiness multiplied by the number of rooms in one's house? Are
Lady Ermintrude's lips so very much sweeter than Sally's of the
Alley? What IS success in life?
ON THE PLAYING OF MARCHES AT THE FUNERALS OF MARIONETTES
He began the day badly. He took me out and lost me. It would be so
much better, would he consent to the usual arrangement, and allow me
to take him out. I am far the abler leader: I say it without
conceit. I am older than he is, and I am less excitable. I do not
stop and talk with every person I meet, and then forget where I am.
I do less to distract myself: I rarely fight, I never feel I want
to run after cats, I take but little pleasure in frightening
children. I have nothing to think about but the walk, and the
getting home again. If, as I say, he would give up taking me out,
and let me take him out, there would be less trouble all round. But
into this I have never been able to persuade him.
He had mislaid me once or twice, but in Sloane Square he lost me
entirely. When he loses me, he stands and barks for me. If only he
would remain where he first barked, I might find my way to him; but,
before I can cross the road, he is barking half-way down the next
street. I am not so young as I was and I sometimes think he
exercises me more than is good for me. I could see him from where I
was standing in the King's Road. Evidently he was most indignant.
I was too far off to distinguish the barks, but I could guess what
he was saying--
"Damn that man, he's off again."
He made inquiries of a passing dog--
"You haven't smelt my man about anywhere, have you?"
(A dog, of course, would never speak of SEEING anybody or anything,
smell being his leading sense. Reaching the top of a hill, he would
say to his companion--"Lovely smell from here, I always think; I
could sit and sniff here all the afternoon." Or, proposing a walk,
he would say--"I like the road by the canal, don't you? There's
something interesting to catch your nose at every turn.")
"No, I haven't smelt any man in particular," answered the other dog.
"What sort of a smelling man is yours?"
"Oh, an egg-and-bacony sort of a man, with a dash of soap about
"That's nothing to go by," retorted the other; "most men would
answer to that description, this time of the morning. Where were
you when you last noticed him?"
At this moment he caught sight of me, and came up, pleased to find
me, but vexed with me for having got lost.
"Oh, here you are," he barked; "didn't you see me go round the
corner? Do keep closer. Bothered if half my time isn't taken up,
finding you and losing you again."
The incident appeared to have made him bad-tempered; he was just in
the humour for a row of any sort. At the top of Sloane Street a
stout military-looking gentleman started running after the Chelsea
bus. With a "Hooroo" William Smith was after him. Had the old
gentleman taken no notice, all would have been well. A butcher boy,
driving just behind, would--I could read it in his eye--have caught
Smith a flick as he darted into the road, which would have served
him right; the old gentleman would have captured his bus; and the
affair would have been ended. Unfortunately, he was that type of
retired military man all gout and curry and no sense. He stopped to
swear at the dog. That, of course, was what Smith wanted. It is
not often he gets a scrimmage with a full-grown man. "They're a
poor-spirited lot, most of them," he thinks; "they won't even answer
you back. I like a man who shows a bit of pluck." He was frenzied
with delight at his success. He flew round his victim, weaving
whooping circles and curves that paralyzed the old gentleman as
though they had been the mystic figures of a Merlin. The colonel
clubbed his umbrella, and attempted to defend himself. I called to
the dog, I gave good advice to the colonel (I judged him to be a
colonel; the louder he spoke, the less one could understand him),
but both were too excited to listen to me. A sympathetic bus driver
leaned over, and whispered hoarse counsel.
"Ketch 'im by the tail, sir," he advised the old gentleman; "don't
you be afraid of him; you ketch 'im firmly by the tail."
A milkman, on the other hand, sought rather to encourage Smith,
shouting as he passed--
"Good dog, kill him!"
A child, brained within an inch by the old gentleman's umbrella,
began to cry. The nurse told the old gentleman he was a fool--a
remark which struck me as singularly apt The old gentleman gasped
back that perambulators were illegal on the pavement; and, between
his exercises, inquired after myself. A crowd began to collect; and
a policeman strolled up.
It was not the right thing: I do not defend myself; but, at this
point, the temptation came to me to desert William Smith. He likes
a street row, I don't. These things are matters of temperament. I
have also noticed that he has the happy instinct of knowing when to
disappear from a crisis, and the ability to do so; mysteriously
turning up, quarter of a mile off, clad in a peaceful and
pre-occupied air, and to all appearances another and a better dog.
Consoling myself with the reflection that I could be of no practical
assistance to him and remembering with some satisfaction that, by a
fortunate accident, he was without his collar, which bears my name
and address, I slipped round the off side of a Vauxhall bus, making
no attempt at ostentation, and worked my way home through Lowndes
Square and the Park.
Five minutes after I had sat down to lunch, he flung open the
dining-room door, and marched in. It is his customary "entrance."
In a previous state of existence, his soul was probably that of an
From his exuberant self-satisfaction, I was inclined to think he
must have succeeded in following the milkman's advice; at all
events, I have not seen the colonel since. His bad temper had
disappeared, but his "uppishness" had, if possible, increased.
Previous to his return, I had given The O'Shannon a biscuit. The
O'Shannon had been insulted; he did not want a dog biscuit; if he
could not have a grilled kidney he did not want anything. He had
thrown the biscuit on the floor. Smith saw it and made for it. Now
Smith never eats biscuits. I give him one occasionally, and he at
once proceeds to hide it. He is a thrifty dog; he thinks of the
future. "You never know what may happen," he says; "suppose the
Guv'nor dies, or goes mad, or bankrupt, I may be glad even of this
biscuit; I'll put it under the door-mat--no, I won't, somebody will
find it there. I'll scratch a hole in the tennis lawn, and bury it
there. That's a good idea; perhaps it'll grow!" Once I caught him
hiding it in my study, behind the shelf devoted to my own books. It
offended me, his doing that; the argument was so palpable.
Generally, wherever he hides it somebody finds it. We find it under
our pillows--inside our boots; no place seems safe. This time he
had said to himself--"By Jove! a whole row of the Guv'nor's books.
Nobody will ever want to take these out; I'll hide it here." One
feels a thing like that from one's own dog.
But The O'Shannon's biscuit was another matter. Honesty is the best
policy; but dishonesty is the better fun. He made a dash for it,
and commenced to devour it greedily; you might have thought he had
not tasted food for a week.
The indignation of The O'Shannon was a sight for the gods. He has
the good-nature of his race: had Smith asked him for the biscuit he
would probably have given it to him; it was the insult--the
immorality of the proceeding, that maddened The O'Shannon.
For a moment he was paralyzed.
"Well, of all the--Did ye see that now?" he said to me with his
eyes. Then he made a rush and snatched the biscuit out of Smith's
very jaws. "Ye onprincipled black Saxon thief," growled The
O'Shannon; "how dare ye take my biscuit?"
"You miserable Irish cur," growled Smith; "how was I to know it was
your biscuit? Does everything on the floor belong to you? Perhaps
you think I belong to you, I'm on the floor. I don't believe it is
your biscuit, you long-eared, snubbed-nosed bog-trotter; give it me
"I don't require any of your argument, you flop-eared son of a tramp
with half a tail," replied The O'Shannon. "You come and take it, if
you think you are dog enough."
He did think he was dog enough. He is half the size of The
O'Shannon, but such considerations weigh not with him. His argument
is, if a dog is too big for you to fight the whole of him, take a
bit of him and fight that. He generally gets licked, but what is
left of him invariably swaggers about afterwards under the
impression it is the victor. When he is dead, he will say to
himself, as he settles himself in his grave--"Well, I flatter myself
I've laid out that old world at last. It won't trouble ME any more,
On this occasion, _I_ took a hand in the fight. It becomes
necessary at intervals to remind Master Smith that the man, as the
useful and faithful friend of dog, has his rights. I deemed such
interval had arrived. He flung himself on to the sofa, muttering.
It sounded like--"Wish I'd never got up this morning. Nobody
Nothing, however, sobers him for long. Half-an-hour later, he was
killing the next-door cat. He will never learn sense; he has been
killing that cat for the last three months. Why the next morning
his nose is invariably twice its natural size, while for the next
week he can see objects on one side of his head only, he never seems
to grasp; I suppose he attributes it to change in the weather.
He ended up the afternoon with what he no doubt regarded as a
complete and satisfying success. Dorothea had invited a lady to
take tea with her that day. I heard the sound of laughter, and,
being near the nursery, I looked in to see what was the joke. Smith
was worrying a doll. I have rarely seen a more worried-looking
doll. Its head was off, and its sawdust strewed the floor. Both
the children were crowing with delight; Dorothea, in particular, was
in an ecstasy of amusement.
"Whose doll is it?" I asked.
"Eva's," answered Dorothea, between her peals of laughter.
"Oh no, it isn't," explained Eva, in a tone of sweet content;
"here's my doll." She had been sitting on it, and now drew it forth,
warm but whole. "That's Dorry's doll."
The change from joy to grief on the part of Dorothea was distinctly
dramatic. Even Smith, accustomed to storm, was nonplussed at the
suddenness of the attack upon him.
Dorothea's sorrow lasted longer than I had expected. I promised her
another doll. But it seemed she did not want another; that was the
only doll she would ever care for so long as life lasted; no other
doll could ever take its place; no other doll would be to her what
that doll had been. These little people are so absurd: as if it
could matter whether you loved one doll or another, when all are so
much alike! They have curly hair, and pink-and-white complexions,
big eyes that open and shut, a little red mouth, two little hands.
Yet these foolish little people! they will love one, while another
they will not look upon. I find the best plan is not to reason with
them, but to sympathize. Later on--but not too soon--introduce to
them another doll. They will not care for it at first, but in time
they will come to take an interest in it. Of course, it cannot make
them forget the first doll; no doll ever born in Lowther Arcadia
could be as that, but still-- It is many weeks before they forget
entirely the first love.
We buried Dolly in the country under the yew tree. A friend of mine
who plays the fiddle came down on purpose to assist. We buried her
in the hot spring sunshine, while the birds from shady nooks sang
joyously of life and love. And our chief mourner cried real tears,
just for all the world as though it were not the fate of dolls,
sooner or later, to get broken--the little fragile things, made for
an hour, to be dressed and kissed; then, paintless and stript, to be
thrown aside on the nursery floor. Poor little dolls! I wonder do
they take themselves seriously, not knowing the springs that stir
their sawdust bosoms are but clockwork, not seeing the wires to
which they dance? Poor little marionettes! do they talk together, I
wonder, when the lights of the booth are out?
You, little sister doll, were the heroine. You lived in the
white-washed cottage, all honeysuckle and clematis without--earwiggy
and damp within, maybe. How pretty you always looked in your
simple, neatly-fitting print dress. How good you were! How nobly
you bore your poverty. How patient you were under your many wrongs.
You never harboured an evil thought, a revengeful wish--never,
little doll? Were there never moments when you longed to play the
wicked woman's part, live in a room with many doors, be-clad in furs
and jewels, with lovers galore at your feet? In those long winter
evenings? the household work is done--the greasy dishes washed, the
floor scrubbed; the excellent child is asleep in the corner; the
one-and-elevenpenny lamp sheds its dismal light on the darned
table-cloth; you sit, busy at your coarse sewing, waiting for Hero
Dick, knowing--guessing, at least, where he is--! Yes, dear, I
remember your fine speeches, when you told her, in stirring language
the gallery cheered to the echo, what you thought of her and of such
women as she; when, lifting your hand to heaven, you declared you
were happier in your attic, working your fingers to the bone, than
she in her gilded salon--I think "gilded salon" was the term, was it
not?--furnished by sin. But speaking of yourself, weak little
sister doll, not of your fine speeches, the gallery listening, did
you not, in your secret heart, envy her? Did you never, before
blowing out the one candle, stand for a minute in front of the
cracked glass, and think to yourself that you, too, would look well
in low-cut dresses from Paris, the diamonds flashing on your white
smooth skin? Did you never, toiling home through the mud, bearing
your bundle of needlework, feel bitter with the wages of virtue, as
she splashed you, passing by in her carriage? Alone, over your cup
of weak tea, did you never feel tempted to pay the price for
champagne suppers, and gaiety, and admiration? Ah, yes, it is easy
for folks who have had their good time, to prepare copybooks for
weary little inkstained fingers, longing for play. The fine maxims
sound such cant when we are in that mood, do they not? You, too,
were young and handsome: did the author of the play think you were
never hungry for the good things of life? Did he think that reading
tracts to crotchety old women was joy to a full-blooded girl in her
twenties? Why should SHE have all the love, and all the laughter?
How fortunate that the villain, the Wicked Baronet, never opened the
cottage door at that moment, eh, dear! He always came when you were
strong, when you felt that you could denounce him, and scorn his
temptations. Would that the villain came to all of us at such time;
then we would all, perhaps, be heroes and heroines.
Ah well, it was only a play: it is over now. You and I, little
tired dolls, lying here side by side, waiting to know our next part,
we can look back and laugh. Where is she, this wicked dolly, that
made such a stir on our tiny stage? Ah, here you are, Madam; I
thought you could not be far; they have thrown us all into this
corner together. But how changed you are, Dolly: your paint rubbed
off, your golden hair worn to a wisp. No wonder; it was a trying
part you had to play. How tired you must have grown of the glare
and the glitter! And even hope was denied you. The peace you so
longed for you knew you had lost the power to enjoy. Like the girl
bewitched in the fairy tale, you knew you must dance ever faster and
faster, with limbs growing palsied, with face growing ashen, and
hair growing grey, till Death should come to release you; and your
only prayer was he might come ere your dancing grew comic.
Like the smell of the roses to Nancy, hawking them through the hot
streets, must the stifling atmosphere of love have been to you. The
song of passion, how monotonous in your ears, sung now by the young
and now by the old; now shouted, now whined, now shrieked; but ever
the one strident tune. Do you remember when first you heard it?
You dreamt it the morning hymn of Heaven. You came to think it the
dance music of Hell, ground from a cracked hurdy-gurdy, lent out by
the Devil on hire.
An evil race we must have seemed to you, Dolly Faustine, as to some
Old Bailey lawyer. You saw but one side of us. You lived in a
world upside down, where the leaves and the blossoms were hidden,
and only the roots saw your day. You imagined the worm-beslimed
fibres the plant, and all things beautiful you deemed cant.
Chivalry, love, honour! how you laughed at the lying words. You
knew the truth--as you thought: aye, half the truth. We were swine
while your spell was upon us, Daughter of Circe, and you, not
knowing your island secret, deemed it our natural shape.
No wonder, Dolly, your battered waxen face is stamped with an angry
sneer. The Hero, who eventually came into his estates amid the
plaudits of the Pit, while you were left to die in the streets! you
remembered, but the house had forgotten those earlier scenes in
always wicked Paris. The good friend of the family, the breezy man
of the world, the Deus ex Machina of the play, who was so good to
everybody, whom everybody loved! aye, YOU loved him once--but that
was in the Prologue. In the Play proper, he was respectable. (How
you loathed that word, that meant to you all you vainly longed for!)
To him the Prologue was a period past and dead; a memory, giving
flavour to his life. To you, it was the First Act of the Play,
shaping all the others. His sins the house had forgotten: at
yours, they held up their hands in horror. No wonder the sneer lies
on your waxen lips.
Never mind, Dolly; it was a stupid house. Next time, perhaps, you
will play a better part; and then they will cheer, instead of
hissing you. You were wasted, I am inclined to think, on modern
comedy. You should have been cast for the heroine of some old-world
tragedy. The strength of character, the courage, the power of
self-forgetfulness, the enthusiasm were yours: it was the part that
was lacking. You might have worn the mantle of a Judith, a
Boadicea, or a Jeanne d'Arc, had such plays been popular in your
time. Perhaps they, had they played in your day, might have had to
be content with such a part as yours. They could not have played
the meek heroine, and what else would there have been for them in
modern drama? Catherine of Russia! had she been a waiter's daughter
in the days of the Second Empire, should we have called her Great?
The Magdalene! had her lodging in those days been in some bye-street
of Rome instead of in Jerusalem, should we mention her name in our
You were necessary, you see, Dolly, to the piece. We cannot all
play heroes and heroines. There must be wicked people in the play,
or it would not interest. Think of it, Dolly, a play where all the
women were virtuous, all the men honest! We might close the booth;
the world would be as dull as an oyster-bed. Without you wicked
folk there would be no good. How should we have known and honoured
the heroine's worth, but by contrast with your worthlessness? Where
would have been her fine speeches, but for you to listen to them?
Where lay the hero's strength, but in resisting temptation of you?
Had not you and the Wicked Baronet between you robbed him of his
estates, falsely accused him of crime, he would have lived to the
end of the play an idle, unheroic, incomplete existence. You
brought him down to poverty; you made him earn his own bread--a most
excellent thing for him; gave him the opportunity to play the man.
But for your conduct in the Prologue, of what value would have been
that fine scene at the end of the Third Act, that stirred the house
to tears and laughter? You and your accomplice, the Wicked Baronet,
made the play possible. How would Pit and Gallery have known they
were virtuous, but for the indignation that came to them, watching
your misdeeds? Pity, sympathy, excitement, all that goes to the
making of a play, you were necessary for. It was ungrateful of the
house to hiss you.
And you, Mr. Merryman, the painted grin worn from your pale lips,
you too were dissatisfied, if I remember rightly, with your part.
You wanted to make the people cry, not laugh. Was it a higher
ambition? The poor tired people! so much happens in their life to
make them weep, is it not good sport to make them merry for awhile?
Do you remember that old soul in the front row of the Pit? How she
laughed when you sat down on the pie! I thought she would have to
be carried out. I heard her talking to her companion as they passed
the stage-door on their way home. "I have not laughed, my dear,
till to-night," she was saying, the good, gay tears still in her
eyes, "since the day poor Sally died." Was not that alone worth the
old stale tricks you so hated? Aye, they were commonplace and
conventional, those antics of yours that made us laugh; are not the
antics that make us weep commonplace and conventional also? Are not
all the plays, played since the booth was opened, but of one
pattern, the plot old-fashioned now, the scenes now commonplace?
Hero, villain, cynic--are their parts so much the fresher? The love
duets, are they so very new? The death-bed scenes, would you call
them UNcommonplace? Hate, and Evil, and Wrong--are THEIR voices new
to the booth? What are you waiting for, people? a play with a plot
that is novel, with characters that have never strutted before? It
will be ready for you, perhaps, when you are ready for it, with new
tears and new laughter.
You, Mr. Merryman, were the true philosopher. You saved us from
forgetting the reality when the fiction grew somewhat strenuous.
How we all applauded your gag in answer to the hero, when, bewailing
his sad fate, he demanded of Heaven how much longer he was to suffer
evil fortune. "Well, there cannot be much more of it in store for
you," you answered him; "it's nearly nine o'clock already, and the
show closes at ten." And true to your prophecy the curtain fell at
the time appointed, and his troubles were of the past. You showed
us the truth behind the mask. When pompous Lord Shallow, in ermine
and wig, went to take his seat amid the fawning crowd, you pulled
the chair from under him, and down he sat plump on the floor. His
robe flew open, his wig flew off. No longer he awed us. His aped
dignity fell from him; we saw him a stupid-eyed, bald little man; he
imposed no longer upon us. It is your fool who is the only true
Yours was the best part in the play, Brother Merryman, had you and
the audience but known it. But you dreamt of a showier part, where
you loved and fought. I have heard you now and again, when you did
not know I was near, shouting with sword in hand before your
looking-glass. You had thrown your motley aside to don a dingy red
coat; you were the hero of the play, you performed the gallant
deeds, you made the noble speeches. I wonder what the play would be
like, were we all to write our own parts. There would be no clowns,
no singing chambermaids. We would all be playing lead in the centre
of the stage, with the lime-light exclusively devoted to ourselves.
Would it not be so?
What grand acting parts they are, these characters we write for
ourselves alone in our dressing-rooms. We are always brave and
noble--wicked sometimes, but if so, in a great, high-minded way;
never in a mean or little way. What wondrous deeds we do, while the
house looks on and marvels. Now we are soldiers, leading armies to
victory. What if we die: it is in the hour of triumph, and a
nation is left to mourn. Not in some forgotten skirmish do we ever
fall; not for some "affair of outposts" do we give our blood, our
very name unmentioned in the dispatches home. Now we are passionate
lovers, well losing a world for love--a very different thing to
being a laughter-provoking co-respondent in a sordid divorce case.
And the house is always crowded when we play. Our fine speeches
always fall on sympathetic ears, our brave deeds are noted and
applauded. It is so different in the real performance. So often we
play our parts to empty benches, or if a thin house be present, they
misunderstand, and laugh at the pathetic passages. And when our
finest opportunity comes, the royal box, in which HE or SHE should
be present to watch us, is vacant.
Poor little dolls, how seriously we take ourselves, not knowing the
springs that stir our bosoms are but clockwork, not seeing the wires
to which we dance. Poor little marionettes, shall we talk together,
I wonder, when the lights of the booth are out?
We are little wax dollies with hearts. We are little tin soldiers
with souls. Oh, King of many toys, are you merely playing with us?
IS it only clockwork within us, this thing that throbs and aches?
Have you wound us up but to let us run down? Will you wind us again
to-morrow, or leave us here to rust? IS it only clockwork to which
we respond and quiver? Now we laugh, now we cry, now we dance; our
little arms go out to clasp one another, our little lips kiss, then
say good-bye. We strive, and we strain, and we struggle. We reach
now for gold, now for laurel. We call it desire and ambition: are
they only wires that you play? Will you throw the clockwork aside,
or use it again, O Master?
The lights of the booth grow dim. The springs are broken that kept
our eyes awake. The wire that held us erect is snapped, and
helpless we fall in a heap on the stage. Oh, brother and sister
dollies we played beside, where are you? Why is it so dark and
silent? Why are we being put into this black box? And hark! the
little doll orchestra--how far away the music sounds! what is it
they are playing:--
[Start of Gounod's Funeral March of a Marionette]
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