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Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow by Jerome K. Jerome

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fourteen who would not feel ashamed of themselves at forty.

I like to sit and have a talk sometimes with that odd little chap that
was myself long ago. I think he likes it too, for he comes so often
of an evening when I am alone with my pipe, listening to the
whispering of the flames. I see his solemn little face looking at me
through the scented smoke as it floats upward, and I smile at him; and
he smiles back at me, but his is such a grave, old-fashioned smile.
We chat about old times; and now and then he takes me by the hand, and
then we slip through the black bars of the grate and down the dusky
glowing caves to the land that lies behind the firelight. There we
find the days that used to be, and we wander along them together. He
tells me as we walk all he thinks and feels. I laugh at him now and
then, but the next moment I wish I had not, for he looks so grave I am
ashamed of being frivolous. Besides, it is not showing proper respect
to one so much older than myself--to one who was myself so very long
before I became myself.

We don't talk much at first, but look at one another; I down at his
curly hair and little blue bow, he up sideways at me as he trots. And
some-how I fancy the shy, round eyes do not altogether approve of me,
and he heaves a little sigh, as though he were disappointed. But
after awhile his bashfulness wears off and he begins to chat. He
tells me his favorite fairy-tales, he can do up to six times, and he
has a guinea-pig, and pa says fairy-tales ain't true; and isn't it a
pity? 'cos he would so like to be a knight and fight a dragon and
marry a beautiful princess. But he takes a more practical view of
life when he reaches seven, and would prefer to grow up be a bargee,
and earn a lot of money. Maybe this is the consequence of falling in
love, which he does about this time with the young lady at the milk
shop aet. six. (God bless her little ever-dancing feet, whatever size
they may be now!) He must be very fond of her, for he gives her one
day his chiefest treasure, to wit, a huge pocket-knife with four rusty
blades and a corkscrew, which latter has a knack of working itself out
in some mysterious manner and sticking into its owner's leg. She is
an affectionate little thing, and she throws her arms round his neck
and kisses him for it, then and there, outside the shop. But the
stupid world (in the person of the boy at the cigar emporium next
door) jeers at such tokens of love. Whereupon my young friend very
properly prepares to punch the head of the boy at the cigar emporium
next door; but fails in the attempt, the boy at the cigar emporium
next door punching his instead.

And then comes school life, with its bitter little sorrows and its
joyous shoutings, its jolly larks, and its hot tears falling on
beastly Latin grammars and silly old copy-books. It is at school that
he injures himself for life--as I firmly believe--trying to pronounce
German; and it is there, too, that he learns of the importance
attached by the French nation to pens, ink, and paper. "Have you
pens, ink, and paper?" is the first question asked by one Frenchman of
another on their meeting. The other fellow has not any of them, as a
rule, but says that the uncle of his brother has got them all three.
The first fellow doesn't appear to care a hang about the uncle of the
other fellow's brother; what he wants to know now is, has the neighbor
of the other fellow's mother got 'em? "The neighbor of my mother has
no pens, no ink, and no paper," replies the other man, beginning to
get wild. "Has the child of thy female gardener some pens, some ink,
or some paper?" He has him there. After worrying enough about these
wretched inks, pens, and paper to make everybody miserable, it turns
out that the child of his own female gardener hasn't any. Such a
discovery would shut up any one but a French exercise man. It has no
effect at all, though, on this shameless creature. He never thinks of
apologizing, but says his aunt has some mustard.

So in the acquisition of more or less useless knowledge, soon happily
to be forgotten, boyhood passes away. The red-brick school-house
fades from view, and we turn down into the world's high-road. My
little friend is no longer little now. The short jacket has sprouted
tails. The battered cap, so useful as a combination of
pocket-handkerchief, drinking-cup, and weapon of attack, has grown
high and glossy; and instead of a slate-pencil in his mouth there is a
cigarette, the smoke of which troubles him, for it will get up his
nose. He tries a cigar a little later on as being more stylish--a big
black Havanna. It doesn't seem altogether to agree with him, for I
find him sitting over a bucket in the back kitchen afterward, solemnly
swearing never to smoke again.

And now his mustache begins to be almost visible to the naked eye,
whereupon he immediately takes to brandy-and-sodas and fancies himself
a man. He talks about "two to one against the favorite," refers to
actresses as "Little Emmy" and "Kate" and "Baby," and murmurs about
his "losses at cards the other night" in a style implying that
thousands have been squandered, though, to do him justice, the actual
amount is most probably one-and-twopence. Also, if I see aright--for
it is always twilight in this land of memories--he sticks an eyeglass
in his eye and stumbles over everything.

His female relations, much troubled at these things, pray for him
(bless their gentle hearts!) and see visions of Old Bailey trials and
halters as the only possible outcome of such reckless dissipation; and
the prediction of his first school-master, that he would come to a bad
end, assumes the proportions of inspired prophecy.

He has a lordly contempt at this age for the other sex, a blatantly
good opinion of himself, and a sociably patronizing manner toward all
the elderly male friends of the family. Altogether, it must be
confessed, he is somewhat of a nuisance about this time.

It does not last long, though. He falls in love in a little while,
and that soon takes the bounce out of him. I notice his boots are
much too small for him now, and his hair is fearfully and wonderfully
arranged. He reads poetry more than he used, and he keeps a rhyming
dictionary in his bedroom. Every morning Emily Jane finds scraps of
torn-up paper on the floor and reads thereon of "cruel hearts and
love's deep darts," of "beauteous eyes and lovers' sighs," and much
more of the old, old song that lads so love to sing and lassies love
to listen to while giving their dainty heads a toss and pretending
never to hear.

The course of love, however, seems not to have run smoothly, for later
on he takes more walking exercise and less sleep, poor boy, than is
good for him; and his face is suggestive of anything but wedding-bells
and happiness ever after.

And here he seems to vanish. The little, boyish self that has grown
up beside me as we walked is gone.

I am alone and the road is very dark. I stumble on, I know not how
nor care, for the way seems leading nowhere, and there is no light to

But at last the morning comes, and I find that I have grown into


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