Part 1 out of 4
This etext was prepared by David Price, email email@example.com
from the 1893 Leadenhall Press Ltd. edition.
by Jerome K. Jerome
Years ago, when I was very small, we lived in a great house in a
long, straight, brown-coloured street, in the east end of London.
It was a noisy, crowded street in the daytime; but a silent,
lonesome street at night, when the gas-lights, few and far between,
partook of the character of lighthouses rather than of illuminants,
and the tramp, tramp of the policeman on his long beat seemed to be
ever drawing nearer, or fading away, except for brief moments when
the footsteps ceased, as he paused to rattle a door or window, or to
flash his lantern into some dark passage leading down towards the
The house had many advantages, so my father would explain to friends
who expressed surprise at his choosing such a residence, and among
these was included in my own small morbid mind the circumstance that
its back windows commanded an uninterrupted view of an ancient and
much-peopled churchyard. Often of a night would I steal from
between the sheets, and climbing upon the high oak chest that stood
before my bedroom window, sit peering down fearfully upon the aged
gray tombstones far below, wondering whether the shadows that crept
among them might not be ghosts--soiled ghosts that had lost their
natural whiteness by long exposure to the city's smoke, and had
grown dingy, like the snow that sometimes lay there.
I persuaded myself that they were ghosts, and came, at length, to
have quite a friendly feeling for them. I wondered what they
thought when they saw the fading letters of their own names upon the
stones, whether they remembered themselves and wished they were
alive again, or whether they were happier as they were. But that
seemed a still sadder idea.
One night, as I sat there watching, I felt a hand upon my shoulder.
I was not frightened, because it was a soft, gentle hand that I well
knew, so I merely laid my cheek against it.
"What's mumma's naughty boy doing out of bed? Shall I beat him?"
And the other hand was laid against my other cheek, and I could feel
the soft curls mingling with my own.
"Only looking at the ghosts, ma," I answered. "There's such a lot
of 'em down there." Then I added, musingly, "I wonder what it feels
like to be a ghost."
My mother said nothing, but took me up in her arms, and carried me
back to bed, and then, sitting down beside me, and holding my hand
in hers--there was not so very much difference in the size--began to
sing in that low, caressing voice of hers that always made me feel,
for the time being, that I wanted to be a good boy, a song she often
used to sing to me, and that I have never heard any one else sing
since, and should not care to.
But while she sang, something fell on my hand that caused me to sit
up and insist on examining her eyes. She laughed; rather a strange,
broken little laugh, I thought, and said it was nothing, and told me
to lie still and go to sleep. So I wriggled down again and shut my
eyes tight, but I could not understand what had made her cry.
Poor little mother, she had a notion, founded evidently upon inborn
belief rather than upon observation, that all children were angels,
and that, in consequence, an altogether exceptional demand existed
for them in a certain other place, where there are more openings for
angels, rendering their retention in this world difficult and
undependable. My talk about ghosts must have made that foolishly
fond heart ache with a vague dread that night, and for many a night
onward, I fear.
For some time after this I would often look up to find my mother's
eyes fixed upon me. Especially closely did she watch me at feeding
times, and on these occasions, as the meal progressed, her face
would acquire an expression of satisfaction and relief.
Once, during dinner, I heard her whisper to my father (for children
are not quite so deaf as their elders think), "He seems to eat all
"Eat!" replied my father in the same penetrating undertone; "if he
dies of anything, it will be of eating."
So my little mother grew less troubled, and, as the days went by,
saw reason to think that my brother angels might consent to do
without me for yet a while longer; and I, putting away the child
with his ghostly fancies, became, in course of time, a grown-up
person, and ceased to believe in ghosts, together with many other
things that, perhaps, it were better for a man if he did believe in.
But the memory of that dingy graveyard, and of the shadows that
dwelt therein, came back to me very vividly the other day, for it
seemed to me as though I were a ghost myself, gliding through the
silent streets where once I had passed swiftly, full of life.
Diving into a long unopened drawer, I had, by chance, drawn forth a
dusty volume of manuscript, labelled upon its torn brown paper
cover, NOVEL NOTES. The scent of dead days clung to its dogs'-eared
pages; and, as it lay open before me, my memory wandered back to the
summer evenings--not so very long ago, perhaps, if one but adds up
the years, but a long, long while ago if one measures Time by
feeling--when four friends had sat together making it, who would
never sit together any more. With each crumpled leaf I turned, the
uncomfortable conviction that I was only a ghost, grew stronger.
The handwriting was my own, but the words were the words of a
stranger, so that as I read I wondered to myself, saying: did I
ever think this? did I really hope that? did I plan to do this? did
I resolve to be such? does life, then, look so to the eyes of a
young man? not knowing whether to smile or sigh.
The book was a compilation, half diary, half memoranda. In it lay
the record of many musings, of many talks, and out of it--selecting
what seemed suitable, adding, altering, and arranging--I have shaped
the chapters that hereafter follow.
That I have a right to do so I have fully satisfied my own
conscience, an exceptionally fussy one. Of the four joint authors,
he whom I call "MacShaughnassy" has laid aside his title to all
things beyond six feet of sun-scorched ground in the African veldt;
while from him I have designated "Brown" I have borrowed but little,
and that little I may fairly claim to have made my own by reason of
the artistic merit with which I have embellished it. Indeed, in
thus taking a few of his bald ideas and shaping them into readable
form, am I not doing him a kindness, and thereby returning good for
evil? For has he not, slipping from the high ambition of his youth,
sunk ever downward step by step, until he has become a critic, and,
therefore, my natural enemy? Does he not, in the columns of a
certain journal of large pretension but small circulation, call me
"'Arry" (without an "H," the satirical rogue), and is not his
contempt for the English-speaking people based chiefly upon the fact
that some of them read my books? But in the days of Bloomsbury
lodgings and first-night pits we thought each other clever.
From "Jephson" I hold a letter, dated from a station deep in the
heart of the Queensland bush. "Do what you like with it, dear boy,"
the letter runs, "so long as you keep me out of it. Thanks for your
complimentary regrets, but I cannot share them. I was never fitted
for a literary career. Lucky for me, I found it out in time. Some
poor devils don't. (I'm not getting at you, old man. We read all
your stuff, and like it very much. Time hangs a bit heavy, you
know, here, in the winter, and we are glad of almost anything.)
This life suits me better. I love to feel my horse between my
thighs, and the sun upon my skin. And there are the youngsters
growing up about us, and the hands to look after, and the stock. I
daresay it seems a very commonplace unintellectual life to you, but
it satisfies my nature more than the writing of books could ever do.
Besides, there are too many authors as it is. The world is so busy
reading and writing, it has no time left for thinking. You'll tell
me, of course, that books are thought, but that is only the jargon
of the Press. You come out here, old man, and sit as I do sometimes
for days and nights together alone with the dumb cattle on an
upheaved island of earth, as it were, jutting out into the deep sky,
and you will know that they are not. What a man thinks--really
thinks--goes down into him and grows in silence. What a man writes
in books are the thoughts that he wishes to be thought to think."
Poor Jephson! he promised so well at one time. But he always had
When, on returning home one evening, after a pipe party at my friend
Jephson's, I informed my wife that I was going to write a novel, she
expressed herself as pleased with the idea. She said she had often
wondered I had never thought of doing so before. "Look," she added,
"how silly all the novels are nowadays; I'm sure you could write
one." (Ethelbertha intended to be complimentary, I am convinced;
but there is a looseness about her mode of expression which, at
times, renders her meaning obscure.)
When, however, I told her that my friend Jephson was going to
collaborate with me, she remarked, "Oh," in a doubtful tone; and
when I further went on to explain to her that Selkirk Brown and
Derrick MacShaughnassy were also going to assist, she replied, "Oh,"
in a tone which contained no trace of doubtfulness whatever, and
from which it was clear that her interest in the matter, as a
practical scheme, had entirely evaporated.
I fancy that the fact of my three collaborators being all bachelors
diminished somewhat our chances of success, in Ethelbertha's mind.
Against bachelors, as a class, she entertains a strong prejudice. A
man's not having sense enough to want to marry, or, having that, not
having wit enough to do it, argues to her thinking either weakness
of intellect or natural depravity, the former rendering its victim
unable, and the latter unfit, ever to become a really useful
I tried to make her understand the peculiar advantages our plan
"You see," I explained, "in the usual common-place novel we only
get, as a matter of fact, one person's ideas. Now, in this novel,
there will be four clever men all working together. The public will
thus be enabled to obtain the thoughts and opinions of the whole
four of us, at the price usually asked for merely one author's
views. If the British reader knows his own business, he will order
this book early, to avoid disappointment. Such an opportunity may
not occur again for years."
Ethelbertha agreed that this was probable.
"Besides," I continued, my enthusiasm waxing stronger the more I
reflected upon the matter, "this work is going to be a genuine
bargain in another way also. We are not going to put our mere
everyday ideas into it. We are going to crowd into this one novel
all the wit and wisdom that the whole four of us possess, if the
book will hold it. We shall not write another novel after this one.
Indeed, we shall not be able to; we shall have nothing more to
write. This work will partake of the nature of an intellectual
clearance sale. We are going to put into this novel simply all we
Ethelbertha shut her lips, and said something inside; and then
remarked aloud that she supposed it would be a one volume affair.
I felt hurt at the implied sneer. I pointed out to her that there
already existed a numerous body of specially-trained men employed to
do nothing else but make disagreeable observations upon authors and
their works--a duty that, so far as I could judge, they seemed
capable of performing without any amateur assistance whatever. And
I hinted that, by his own fireside, a literary man looked to breathe
a more sympathetic atmosphere.
Ethelbertha replied that of course I knew what she meant. She said
that she was not thinking of me, and that Jephson was, no doubt,
sensible enough (Jephson is engaged), but she did not see the object
of bringing half the parish into it. (Nobody suggested bringing
"half the parish" into it. Ethelbertha will talk so wildly.) To
suppose that Brown and MacShaughnassy could be of any use whatever,
she considered absurd. What could a couple of raw bachelors know
about life and human nature? As regarded MacShaughnassy in
particular, she was of opinion that if we only wanted out of him all
that HE knew, and could keep him to the subject, we ought to be able
to get that into about a page.
My wife's present estimate of MacShaughnassy's knowledge is the
result of reaction. The first time she ever saw him, she and he got
on wonderfully well together; and when I returned to the drawing-
room, after seeing him down to the gate, her first words were, "What
a wonderful man that Mr. MacShaughnassy is. He seems to know so
much about everything."
That describes MacShaughnassy exactly. He does seem to know a
tremendous lot. He is possessed of more information than any man I
ever came across. Occasionally, it is correct information; but,
speaking broadly, it is remarkable for its marvellous unreliability.
Where he gets it from is a secret that nobody has ever yet been able
Ethelbertha was very young when we started housekeeping. (Our first
butcher very nearly lost her custom, I remember, once and for ever
by calling her "Missie," and giving her a message to take back to
her mother. She arrived home in tears. She said that perhaps she
wasn't fit to be anybody's wife, but she did not see why she should
be told so by the tradespeople.) She was naturally somewhat
inexperienced in domestic affairs, and, feeling this keenly, was
grateful to any one who would give her useful hints and advice.
When MacShaughnassy came along he seemed, in her eyes, a sort of
glorified Mrs. Beeton. He knew everything wanted to be known inside
a house, from the scientific method of peeling a potato to the cure
of spasms in cats, and Ethelbertha would sit at his feet,
figuratively speaking, and gain enough information in one evening to
make the house unlivable in for a month.
He told her how fires ought to be laid. He said that the way fires
were usually laid in this country was contrary to all the laws of
nature, and he showed her how the thing was done in Crim Tartary, or
some such place, where the science of laying fires is alone properly
understood. He proved to her that an immense saving in time and
labour, to say nothing of coals, could be effected by the adoption
of the Crim Tartary system; and he taught it to her then and there,
and she went straight downstairs and explained it to the girl.
Amenda, our then "general," was an extremely stolid young person,
and, in some respects, a model servant. She never argued. She
never seemed to have any notions of her own whatever. She accepted
our ideas without comment, and carried them out with such pedantic
precision and such evident absence of all feeling of responsibility
concerning the result as to surround our home legislation with quite
a military atmosphere.
On the present occasion she stood quietly by while the
MacShaughnassy method of fire-laying was expounded to her. When
Ethelbertha had finished she simply said:-
"You want me to lay the fires like that?"
"Yes, Amenda, we'll always have the fires laid like that in future,
if you please."
"All right, mum," replied Amenda, with perfect unconcern, and there
the matter ended, for that evening.
On coming downstairs the next morning we found the breakfast table
spread very nicely, but there was no breakfast. We waited. Ten
minutes went by--a quarter of an hour--twenty minutes. Then
Ethelbertha rang the bell. In response Amenda presented herself,
calm and respectful.
"Do you know that the proper time for breakfast is half-past eight,
"And do you know that it's now nearly nine?"
"Well, isn't breakfast ready?"
"Will it EVER be ready?"
"Well, mum," replied Amenda, in a tone of genial frankness, "to tell
you the truth, I don't think it ever will."
"What's the reason? Won't the fire light?"
"Oh yes, it lights all right."
"Well, then, why can't you cook the breakfast?"
"Because before you can turn yourself round it goes out again."
Amenda never volunteered statements. She answered the question put
to her and then stopped dead. I called downstairs to her on one
occasion, before I understood her peculiarities, to ask her if she
knew the time. She replied, "Yes, sir," and disappeared into the
back kitchen. At the end of thirty seconds or so, I called down
again. "I asked you, Amenda," I said reproachfully, "to tell me the
time about ten minutes ago."
"Oh, did you?" she called back pleasantly. "I beg your pardon. I
thought you asked me if I knew it--it's half-past four."
Ethelbertha inquired--to return to our fire--if she had tried
lighting it again.
"Oh yes, mum," answered the girl. "I've tried four times." Then
she added cheerfully, "I'll try again if you like, mum."
Amenda was the most willing servant we ever paid wages to.
Ethelbertha said she would step down and light the fire herself, and
told Amenda to follow her and watch how she did it. I felt
interested in the experiment, and followed also. Ethelbertha tucked
up her frock and set to work. Amenda and I stood around and looked
At the end of half an hour Ethelbertha retired from the contest,
hot, dirty, and a trifle irritable. The fireplace retained the same
cold, cynical expression with which it had greeted our entrance.
Then I tried. I honestly tried my best. I was eager and anxious to
succeed. For one reason, I wanted my breakfast. For another, I
wanted to be able to say that I had done this thing. It seemed to
me that for any human being to light a fire, laid as that fire was
laid, would be a feat to be proud of. To light a fire even under
ordinary circumstances is not too easy a task: to do so,
handicapped by MacShaughnassy's rules, would, I felt, be an
achievement pleasant to look back upon. My idea, had I succeeded,
would have been to go round the neighbourhood and brag about it.
However, I did not succeed. I lit various other things, including
the kitchen carpet and the cat, who would come sniffing about, but
the materials within the stove appeared to be fire-proof.
Ethelbertha and I sat down, one each side of our cheerless hearth,
and looked at one another, and thought of MacShaughnassy, until
Amenda chimed in on our despair with one of those practical
suggestions of hers that she occasionally threw out for us to accept
or not, as we chose.
"Maybe," said she, "I'd better light it in the old way just for to-
"Do, Amenda," said Ethelbertha, rising. And then she added, "I
think we'll always have them lighted in the old way, Amenda, if you
Another time he showed us how to make coffee--according to the
Arabian method. Arabia must be a very untidy country if they made
coffee often over there. He dirtied two saucepans, three jugs, one
tablecloth, one nutmeg-grater, one hearthrug, three cups, and
himself. This made coffee for two--what would have been necessary
in the case of a party, one dares not think.
That we did not like the coffee when made, MacShaughnassy attributed
to our debased taste--the result of long indulgence in an inferior
article. He drank both cups himself, and afterwards went home in a
He had an aunt in those days, I remember, a mysterious old lady, who
lived in some secluded retreat from where she wrought incalculable
mischief upon MacShaughnassy's friends. What he did not know--the
one or two things that he was NOT an authority upon--this aunt of
his knew. "No," he would say with engaging candour--"no, that is a
thing I cannot advise you about myself. But," he would add, "I'll
tell you what I'll do. I'll write to my aunt and ask her." And a
day or two afterwards he would call again, bringing his aunt's
advice with him; and, if you were young and inexperienced, or a
natural born fool, you might possibly follow it.
She sent us a recipe on one occasion, through MacShaughnassy, for
the extermination of blackbeetles. We occupied a very picturesque
old house; but, as with most picturesque old houses, its advantages
were chiefly external. There were many holes and cracks and
crevices within its creaking framework. Frogs, who had lost their
way and taken the wrong turning, would suddenly discover themselves
in the middle of our dining-room, apparently quite as much to their
own surprise and annoyance as to ours. A numerous company of rats
and mice, remarkably fond of physical exercise, had fitted the place
up as a gymnasium for themselves; and our kitchen, after ten
o'clock, was turned into a blackbeetles' club. They came up through
the floor and out through the walls, and gambolled there in their
light-hearted, reckless way till daylight.
The rats and mice Amenda did not object to. She said she liked to
watch them. But against the blackbeetles she was prejudiced.
Therefore, when my wife informed her that MacShaughnassy's aunt had
given us an infallible recipe for their annihilation, she rejoiced.
We purchased the materials, manufactured the mixture, and put it
about. The beetles came and ate it. They seemed to like it. They
finished it all up, and were evidently vexed that there was not
more. But they did not die.
We told these facts to MacShaughnassy. He smiled, a very grim
smile, and said in a low tone, full of meaning, "Let them eat!"
It appeared that this was one of those slow, insidious poisons. It
did not kill the beetle off immediately, but it undermined his
constitution. Day by day he would sink and droop without being able
to tell what was the matter with himself, until one morning we
should enter the kitchen to find him lying cold and very still.
So we made more stuff and laid it round each night, and the
blackbeetles from all about the parish swarmed to it. Each night
they came in greater quantities. They fetched up all their friends
and relations. Strange beetles--beetles from other families, with
no claim on us whatever--got to hear about the thing, and came in
hordes, and tried to rob our blackbeetles of it. By the end of a
week we had lured into our kitchen every beetle that wasn't lame for
MacShaughnassy said it was a good thing. We should clear the suburb
at one swoop. The beetles had now been eating this poison steadily
for ten days, and he said that the end could not be far off. I was
glad to hear it, because I was beginning to find this unlimited
hospitality expensive. It was a dear poison that we were giving
them, and they were hearty eaters.
We went downstairs to see how they were getting on. MacShaughnassy
thought they seemed queer, and was of opinion that they were
breaking up. Speaking for myself, I can only say that a healthier-
looking lot of beetles I never wish to see.
One, it is true, did die that very evening. He was detected in the
act of trying to make off with an unfairly large portion of the
poison, and three or four of the others set upon him savagely and
But he was the only one, so far as I could ever discover, to whom
MacShaughnassy's recipe proved fatal. As for the others, they grew
fat and sleek upon it. Some of them, indeed, began to acquire quite
a figure. We lessened their numbers eventually by the help of some
common oil-shop stuff. But such vast numbers, attracted by
MacShaughnassy's poison, had settled in the house, that to finally
exterminate them now was hopeless.
I have not heard of MacShaughnassy's aunt lately. Possibly, one of
MacShaughnassy's bosom friends has found out her address and has
gone down and murdered her. If so, I should like to thank him.
I tried a little while ago to cure MacShaughnassy of his fatal
passion for advice-giving, by repeating to him a very sad story that
was told to me by a gentleman I met in an American railway car. I
was travelling from Buffalo to New York, and, during the day, it
suddenly occurred to me that I might make the journey more
interesting by leaving the cars at Albany and completing the
distance by water. But I did not know how the boats ran, and I had
no guide-book with me. I glanced about for some one to question. A
mild-looking, elderly gentleman sat by the next window reading a
book, the cover of which was familiar to me. I deemed him to be
intelligent, and approached him.
"I beg your pardon for interrupting you," I said, sitting down
opposite to him, "but could you give me any information about the
boats between Albany and New York?"
"Well," he answered, looking up with a pleasant smile, "there are
three lines of boats altogether. There is the Heggarty line, but
they only go as far as Catskill. Then there are the Poughkeepsie
boats, which go every other day. Or there is what we call the canal
"Oh," I said. "Well now, which would you advise me to--"
He jumped to his feet with a cry, and stood glaring down at me with
a gleam in his eyes which was positively murderous.
"You villain!" he hissed in low tones of concentrated fury, "so
that's your game, is it? I'll give you something that you'll want
advice about," and he whipped out a six-chambered revolver.
I felt hurt. I also felt that if the interview were prolonged I
might feel even more hurt. So I left him without a word, and
drifted over to the other end of the car, where I took up a position
between a stout lady and the door.
I was still musing upon the incident, when, looking up, I observed
my elderly friend making towards me. I rose and laid my hand upon
the door-knob. He should not find me unprepared. He smiled,
reassuringly, however, and held out his hand.
"I've been thinking," he said, "that maybe I was a little rude just
now. I should like, if you will let me, to explain. I think, when
you have heard my story, you will understand, and forgive me."
There was that about him which made me trust him. We found a quiet
corner in the smoking-car. I had a "whiskey sour," and he
prescribed for himself a strange thing of his own invention. Then
we lighted our cigars, and he talked.
"Thirty years ago," said he, "I was a young man with a healthy
belief in myself, and a desire to do good to others. I did not
imagine myself a genius. I did not even consider myself
exceptionally brilliant or talented. But it did seem to me, and the
more I noted the doings of my fellow-men and women, the more assured
did I become of it, that I possessed plain, practical common sense
to an unusual and remarkable degree. Conscious of this, I wrote a
little book, which I entitled How to be Happy, Wealthy, and Wise,
and published it at my own expense. I did not seek for profit. I
merely wished to be useful.
The book did not make the stir that I had anticipated. Some two or
three hundred copies went off, and then the sale practically ceased.
I confess that at first I was disappointed. But after a while, I
reflected that, if people would not take my advice, it was more
their loss than mine, and I dismissed the matter from my mind.
One morning, about a twelvemonth afterwards, I was sitting in my
study, when the servant entered to say that there was a man
downstairs who wanted very much to see me.
"I gave instructions that he should be sent up, and up accordingly
"He was a common man, but he had an open, intelligent countenance,
and his manner was most respectful. I motioned him to be seated.
He selected a chair, and sat down on the extreme edge of it.
"'I hope you'll pard'n this intrusion, sir,' he began, speaking
deliberately, and twirling his hat the while; 'but I've come more'n
two hundred miles to see you, sir.'
"I expressed myself as pleased, and he continued: 'They tell me,
sir, as you're the gentleman as wrote that little book, How to be
Happy, Wealthy, and Wise."
He enumerated the three items slowly, dwelling lovingly on each. I
admitted the fact.
"'Ah, that's a wonderful book, sir,' he went on. 'I ain't one of
them as has got brains of their own--not to speak of--but I know
enough to know them as has; and when I read that little book, I says
to myself, Josiah Hackett (that's my name, sir), when you're in
doubt don't you get addling that thick head o' yours, as will only
tell you all wrong; you go to the gentleman as wrote that little
book and ask him for his advice. He is a kind-hearted gentleman, as
any one can tell, and he'll give it you; and WHEN you've got it, you
go straight ahead, full steam, and don't you stop for nothing,
'cause he'll know what's best for you, same as he knows what's best
for everybody. That's what I says, sir; and that's what I'm here
"He paused, and wiped his brow with a green cotton handkerchief. I
prayed him to proceed.
"It appeared that the worthy fellow wanted to marry, but could not
make up his mind WHOM he wanted to marry. He had his eye--so he
expressed it--upon two young women, and they, he had reason to
believe, regarded him in return with more than usual favour. His
difficulty was to decide which of the two--both of them excellent
and deserving young persons--would make him the best wife. The one,
Juliana, the only daughter of a retired sea-captain, he described as
a winsome lassie. The other, Hannah, was an older and altogether
more womanly girl. She was the eldest of a large family. Her
father, he said, was a God-fearing man, and was doing well in the
timber trade. He asked me which of them I should advise him to
"I was flattered. What man in my position would not have been?
This Josiah Hackett had come from afar to hear my wisdom. He was
willing--nay, anxious--to entrust his whole life's happiness to my
discretion. That he was wise in so doing, I entertained no doubt.
The choice of a wife I had always held to be a matter needing a
calm, unbiassed judgment, such as no lover could possibly bring to
bear upon the subject. In such a case, I should not have hesitated
to offer advice to the wisest of men. To this poor, simple-minded
fellow, I felt it would be cruel to refuse it.
"He handed me photographs of both the young persons under
consideration. I jotted down on the back of each such particulars
as I deemed would assist me in estimating their respective fitness
for the vacancy in question, and promised to carefully consider the
problem, and write him in a day or two.
"His gratitude was touching. 'Don't you trouble to write no
letters, sir,' he said; 'you just stick down "Julia" or "Hannah" on
a bit of paper, and put it in an envelope. I shall know what it
means, and that's the one as I shall marry.'
"Then he gripped me by the hand and left me.
"I gave a good deal of thought to the selection of Josiah's wife. I
wanted him to be happy.
"Juliana was certainly very pretty. There was a lurking playfulness
about the corners of Juliana's mouth which conjured up the sound of
rippling laughter. Had I acted on impulse, I should have clasped
Juliana in Josiah's arms.
"But, I reflected, more sterling qualities than mere playfulness and
prettiness are needed for a wife. Hannah, though not so charming,
clearly possessed both energy and sense--qualities highly necessary
to a poor man's wife. Hannah's father was a pious man, and was
'doing well'--a thrifty, saving man, no doubt. He would have
instilled into her lessons of economy and virtue; and, later on, she
might possibly come in for a little something. She was the eldest
of a large family. She was sure to have had to help her mother a
good deal. She would be experienced in household matters, and would
understand the bringing up of children.
"Julia's father, on the other hand, was a retired sea-captain.
Seafaring folk are generally loose sort of fish. He had probably
been in the habit of going about the house, using language and
expressing views, the hearing of which could not but have exercised
an injurious effect upon the formation of a growing girl's
character. Juliana was his only child. Only children generally
make bad men and women. They are allowed to have their own way too
much. The pretty daughter of a retired sea-captain would be certain
to be spoilt.
"Josiah, I had also to remember, was a man evidently of weak
character. He would need management. Now, there was something
about Hannah's eye that eminently suggested management.
"At the end of two days my mind was made up. I wrote 'Hannah' on a
slip of paper, and posted it.
"A fortnight afterwards I received a letter from Josiah. He thanked
me for my advice, but added, incidentally, that he wished I could
have made it Julia. However, he said, he felt sure I knew best, and
by the time I received the letter he and Hannah would be one.
"That letter worried me. I began to wonder if, after all, I had
chosen the right girl. Suppose Hannah was not all I thought her!
What a terrible thing it would be for Josiah. What data, sufficient
to reason upon, had I possessed? How did I know that Hannah was not
a lazy, ill-tempered girl, a continual thorn in the side of her
poor, overworked mother, and a perpetual blister to her younger
brothers and sisters? How did I know she had been well brought up?
Her father might be a precious old fraud: most seemingly pious men
are. She may have learned from him only hypocrisy.
"Then also, how did I know that Juliana's merry childishness would
not ripen into sweet, cheerful womanliness? Her father, for all I
knew to the contrary, might be the model of what a retired sea-
captain should be; with possibly a snug little sum safely invested
somewhere. And Juliana was his only child. What reason had I for
rejecting this fair young creature's love for Josiah?
"I took her photo from my desk. I seemed to detect a reproachful
look in the big eyes. I saw before me the scene in the little far-
away home when the first tidings of Josiah's marriage fell like a
cruel stone into the hitherto placid waters of her life. I saw her
kneeling by her father's chair, while the white-haired, bronzed old
man gently stroked the golden head, shaking with silent sobs against
his breast. My remorse was almost more than I could bear.
"I put her aside and took up Hannah--my chosen one. She seemed to
be regarding me with a smile of heartless triumph. There began to
take possession of me a feeling of positive dislike to Hannah.
"I fought against the feeling. I told myself it was prejudice. But
the more I reasoned against it the stronger it became. I could tell
that, as the days went by, it would grow from dislike to loathing,
from loathing to hate. And this was the woman I had deliberately
selected as a life companion for Josiah!
"For weeks I knew no peace of mind. Every letter that arrived I
dreaded to open, fearing it might be from Josiah. At every knock I
started up, and looked about for a hiding-place. Every time I came
across the heading, 'Domestic Tragedy,' in the newspapers, I broke
into a cold perspiration. I expected to read that Josiah and Hannah
had murdered each other, and died cursing me.
"As the time went by, however, and I heard nothing, my fears began
to assuage, and my belief in my own intuitive good judgment to
return. Maybe, I had done a good thing for Josiah and Hannah, and
they were blessing me. Three years passed peacefully away, and I
was beginning to forget the existence of the Hacketts.
"Then he came again. I returned home from business one evening to
find him waiting for me in the hall. The moment I saw him I knew
that my worst fears had fallen short of the truth. I motioned him
to follow me to my study. He did so, and seated himself in the
identical chair on which he had sat three years ago. The change in
him was remarkable; he looked old and careworn. His manner was that
of resigned hopelessness.
"We remained for a while without speaking, he twirling his hat as at
our first interview, I making a show of arranging papers on my desk.
At length, feeling that anything would be more bearable than this
silence, I turned to him.
"'Things have not been going well with you, I'm afraid, Josiah?' I
"'No, sir,' he replied quietly; 'I can't say as they have,
altogether. That Hannah of yours has turned out a bit of a teaser.'
"There was no touch of reproach in his tones. He simply stated a
"'But she is a good wife to you in other ways,' I urged. 'She has
her faults, of course. We all have. But she is energetic. Come
now, you will admit she's energetic.'
"I owed it to myself to find some good in Hannah, and this was the
only thing I could think of at that moment.
"'Oh yes, she's that,' he assented. 'A little too much so for our
sized house, I sometimes think.'
"'You see,' he went on, 'she's a bit cornery in her temper, Hannah
is; and then her mother's a bit trying, at times.'
"'Her mother!' I exclaimed, 'but what's SHE got to do with you?'
"'Well, you see, sir,' he answered, 'she's living with us now--ever
since the old man went off.'
"'Hannah's father! Is he dead, then?'
"'Well, not exactly, sir,' he replied. 'He ran off about a
twelvemonth ago with one of the young women who used to teach in the
Sunday School, and joined the Mormons. It came as a great surprise
to every one.'
"I groaned. 'And his business,' I inquired--'the timber business,
who carries that on?'
"'Oh, that!' answered Josiah. 'Oh, that had to be sold to pay his
debts--leastways, to go towards 'em.'
"I remarked what a terrible thing it was for his family. I supposed
the home was broken up, and they were all scattered.
"'No, sir,' he replied simply, 'they ain't scattered much. They're
all living with us.'
"'But there,' he continued, seeing the look upon my face; 'of
course, all this has nothing to do with you sir. You've got
troubles of your own, I daresay, sir. I didn't come here to worry
you with mine. That would be a poor return for all your kindness to
"'What has become of Julia?' I asked. I did not feel I wanted to
question him any more about his own affairs.
"A smile broke the settled melancholy of his features. 'Ah,' he
said, in a more cheerful tone than he had hitherto employed, 'it
does one good to think about HER, it does. She's married to a
friend of mine now, young Sam Jessop. I slips out and gives 'em a
call now and then, when Hannah ain't round. Lord, it's like getting
a glimpse of heaven to look into their little home. He often chaffs
me about it, Sam does. "Well, you WAS a sawny-headed chunk, Josiah,
YOU was," he often says to me. We're old chums, you know, sir, Sam
and me, so he don't mind joking a bit like.'
"Then the smile died away, and he added with a sigh, 'Yes, I've
often thought since, sir, how jolly it would have been if you could
have seen your way to making it Juliana.'
"I felt I must get him back to Hannah at any cost. I said, 'I
suppose you and your wife are still living in the old place?'
"'Yes,' he replied, 'if you can call it living. It's a hard
struggle with so many of us.'
"He said he did not know how he should have managed if it had not
been for the help of Julia's father. He said the captain had
behaved more like an angel than anything else he knew of.
"'I don't say as he's one of your clever sort, you know, sir,' he
explained. 'Not the man as one would go to for advice, like one
would to you, sir; but he's a good sort for all that.'
"'And that reminds me, sir,' he went on, 'of what I've come here
about. You'll think it very bold of me to ask, sir, but--'
"I interrupted him. 'Josiah,' I said, 'I admit that I am much to
blame for what has come upon you. You asked me for my advice, and I
gave it you. Which of us was the bigger idiot, we will not discuss.
The point is that I did give it, and I am not a man to shirk my
responsibilities. What, in reason, you ask, and I can grant, I will
"He was overcome with gratitude. 'I knew it, sir,' he said. 'I
knew you would not refuse me. I said so to Hannah. I said, "I will
go to that gentleman and ask him. I will go to him and ask him for
"I said, 'His what?'
"'His advice,' repeated Josiah, apparently surprised at my tone, 'on
a little matter as I can't quite make up my mind about.'
"I thought at first he was trying to be sarcastic, but he wasn't.
That man sat there, and wrestled with me for my advice as to whether
he should invest a thousand dollars which Julia's father had offered
to lend him, in the purchase of a laundry business or a bar. He
hadn't had enough of it (my advice, I mean); he wanted it again, and
he spun me reasons why I should give it him. The choice of a wife
was a different thing altogether, he argued. Perhaps he ought NOT
to have asked me for my opinion as to that. But advice as to which
of two trades a man would do best to select, surely any business man
could give. He said he had just been reading again my little book,
How to be Happy, etc., and if the gentleman who wrote that could not
decide between the respective merits of one particular laundry and
one particular bar, both situate in the same city, well, then, all
he had got to say was that knowledge and wisdom were clearly of no
practical use in this world whatever.
"Well, it did seem a simple thing to advise a man about. Surely as
to a matter of this kind, I, a professed business man, must be able
to form a sounder judgment than this poor pumpkin-headed lamb. It
would be heartless to refuse to help him. I promised to look into
the matter, and let him know what I thought.
"He rose and shook me by the hand. He said he would not try to
thank me; words would only seem weak. He dashed away a tear and
I brought an amount of thought to bear upon this thousand-dollar
investment sufficient to have floated a bank. I did not mean to
make another Hannah job, if I could help it. I studied the papers
Josiah had left with me, but did not attempt to form any opinion
from them. I went down quietly to Josiah's city, and inspected both
businesses on the spot. I instituted secret but searching inquiries
in the neighbourhood. I disguised myself as a simple-minded young
man who had come into a little money, and wormed myself into the
confidence of the servants. I interviewed half the town upon the
pretence that I was writing the commercial history of New England,
and should like some particulars of their career, and I invariably
ended my examination by asking them which was their favourite bar,
and where they got their washing done. I stayed a fortnight in the
town. Most of my spare time I spent at the bar. In my leisure
moments I dirtied my clothes so that they might be washed at the
"As the result of my investigations I discovered that, so far as the
two businesses themselves were concerned, there was not a pin to
choose between them. It became merely a question of which
particular trade would best suit the Hacketts.
"I reflected. The keeper of a bar was exposed to much temptation.
A weak-minded man, mingling continually in the company of topers,
might possibly end by giving way to drink. Now, Josiah was an
exceptionally weak-minded man. It had also to be borne in mind that
he had a shrewish wife, and that her whole family had come to live
with him. Clearly, to place Josiah in a position of easy access to
unlimited liquor would be madness.
"About a laundry, on the other hand, there was something soothing.
The working of a laundry needed many hands. Hannah's relatives
might be used up in a laundry, and made to earn their own living.
Hannah might expend her energy in flat-ironing, and Josiah could
turn the mangle. The idea conjured up quite a pleasant domestic
picture. I recommended the laundry.
"On the following Monday, Josiah wrote to say that he had bought the
laundry. On Tuesday I read in the Commercial Intelligence that one
of the most remarkable features of the time was the marvellous rise
taking place all over New England in the value of hotel and bar
property. On Thursday, in the list of failures, I came across no
less than four laundry proprietors; and the paper added, in
explanation, that the American washing industry, owing to the rapid
growth of Chinese competition, was practically on its last legs. I
went out and got drunk.
"My life became a curse to me. All day long I thought of Josiah.
All night I dreamed of him. Suppose that, not content with being
the cause of his domestic misery, I had now deprived him of the
means of earning a livelihood, and had rendered useless the
generosity of that good old sea-captain. I began to appear to
myself as a malignant fiend, ever following this simple but worthy
man to work evil upon him.
"Time passed away, however; I heard nothing from or of him, and my
burden at last fell from me.
"Then at the end of about five years he came again.
"He came behind me as I was opening the door with my latch-key, and
laid an unsteady hand upon my arm. It was a dark night, but a gas-
lamp showed me his face. I recognised it in spite of the red
blotches and the bleary film that hid the eyes. I caught him
roughly by the arm, and hurried him inside and up into my study.
"'Sit down,' I hissed, 'and tell me the worst first.'
"He was about to select his favourite chair. I felt that if I saw
him and that particular chair in association for the third time, I
should do something terrible to both. I snatched it away from him,
and he sat down heavily on the floor, and burst into tears. I let
him remain there, and, thickly, between hiccoughs, he told his tale.
"The laundry had gone from bad to worse. A new railway had come to
the town, altering its whole topography. The business and
residential portion had gradually shifted northward. The spot where
the bar--the particular one which I had rejected for the laundry--
had formerly stood was now the commercial centre of the city. The
man who had purchased it in place of Josiah had sold out and made a
fortune. The southern area (where the laundry was situate) was, it
had been discovered, built upon a swamp, and was in a highly
unsanitary condition. Careful housewives naturally objected to
sending their washing into such a neighbourhood.
"Other troubles had also come. The baby--Josiah's pet, the one
bright thing in his life--had fallen into the copper and been
boiled. Hannah's mother had been crushed in the mangle, and was now
a helpless cripple, who had to be waited on day and night.
"Under these accumulated misfortunes Josiah had sought consolation
in drink, and had become a hopeless sot. He felt his degradation
keenly, and wept copiously. He said he thought that in a cheerful
place, such as a bar, he might have been strong and brave; but that
there was something about the everlasting smell of damp clothes and
suds, that seemed to sap his manhood.
"I asked him what the captain had said to it all. He burst into
fresh tears, and replied that the captain was no more. That, he
added, reminded him of what he had come about. The good-hearted old
fellow had bequeathed him five thousand dollars. He wanted my
advice as to how to invest it.
"My first impulse was to kill him on the spot. I wish now that I
had. I restrained myself, however, and offered him the alternative
of being thrown from the window or of leaving by the door without
"He answered that he was quite prepared to go by the window if I
would first tell him whether to put his money in the Terra del Fuego
Nitrate Company, Limited, or in the Union Pacific Bank. Life had no
further interest for him. All he cared for was to feel that this
little nest-egg was safely laid by for the benefit of his beloved
ones after he was gone.
"He pressed me to tell him what I thought of nitrates. I replied
that I declined to say anything whatever on the subject. He assumed
from my answer that I did not think much of nitrates, and announced
his intention of investing the money, in consequence, in the Union
"I told him by all means to do so, if he liked.
"He paused, and seemed to be puzzling it out. Then he smiled
knowingly, and said he thought he understood what I meant. It was
very kind of me. He should put every dollar he possessed in the
Terra del Fuego Nitrate Company.
"He rose (with difficulty) to go. I stopped him. I knew, as
certainly as I knew the sun would rise the next morning, that
whichever company I advised him, or he persisted in thinking I had
advised him (which was the same thing), to invest in, would, sooner
or later, come to smash. My grandmother had all her little fortune
in the Terra del Fuego Nitrate Company. I could not see her brought
to penury in her old age. As for Josiah, it could make no
difference to him whatever. He would lose his money in any event.
I advised him to invest in Union Pacific Bank Shares. He went and
"The Union Pacific Bank held out for eighteen months. Then it began
to totter. The financial world stood bewildered. It had always
been reckoned one of the safest banks in the country. People asked
what could be the cause. I knew well enough, but I did not tell.
"The Bank made a gallant fight, but the hand of fate was upon it.
At the end of another nine months the crash came.
"(Nitrates, it need hardly be said, had all this time been going up
by leaps and bounds. My grandmother died worth a million dollars,
and left the whole of it to a charity. Had she known how I had
saved her from ruin, she might have been more grateful.)
"A few days after the failure of the Bank, Josiah arrived on my
doorstep; and, this time, he brought his families with him. There
were sixteen of them in all.
"What was I to do? I had brought these people step by step to the
verge of starvation. I had laid waste alike their happiness and
their prospects in life. The least amends I could make was to see
that at all events they did not want for the necessities of
"That was seventeen years ago. I am still seeing that they do not
want for the necessities of existence; and my conscience is growing
easier by noticing that they seem contented with their lot. There
are twenty-two of them now, and we have hopes of another in the
"That is my story," he said. "Perhaps you will now understand my
sudden emotion when you asked for my advice. As a matter of fact, I
do not give advice now on any subject."
I told this tale to MacShaughnassy. He agreed with me that it was
instructive, and said he should remember it. He said he should
remember it so as to tell it to some fellows that he knew, to whom
he thought the lesson should prove useful.
I can't honestly say that we made much progress at our first
meeting. It was Brown's fault. He would begin by telling us a
story about a dog. It was the old, old story of the dog who had
been in the habit of going every morning to a certain baker's shop
with a penny in his mouth, in exchange for which he always received
a penny bun. One day, the baker, thinking he would not know the
difference, tried to palm off upon the poor animal a ha'penny bun,
whereupon the dog walked straight outside and fetched in a
policeman. Brown had heard this chestnut for the first time that
afternoon, and was full of it. It is always a mystery to me where
Brown has been for the last hundred years. He stops you in the
street with, "Oh, I must tell you!--such a capital story!" And he
thereupon proceeds to relate to you, with much spirit and gusto, one
of Noah's best known jokes, or some story that Romulus must have
originally told to Remus. One of these days somebody will tell him
the history of Adam and Eve, and he will think he has got hold of a
new plot, and will work it up into a novel.
He gives forth these hoary antiquities as personal reminiscences of
his own, or, at furthest, as episodes in the life of his second
cousin. There are certain strange and moving catastrophes that
would seem either to have occurred to, or to have been witnessed by,
nearly every one you meet. I never came across a man yet who had
not seen some other man jerked off the top of an omnibus into a mud-
cart. Half London must, at one time or another, have been jerked
off omnibuses into mud-carts, and have been fished out at the end of
Then there is the tale of the lady whose husband is taken suddenly
ill one night at an hotel. She rushes downstairs, and prepares a
stiff mustard plaster to put on him, and runs up with it again. In
her excitement, however, she charges into the wrong room, and,
rolling down the bedclothes, presses it lovingly upon the wrong man.
I have heard that story so often that I am quite nervous about going
to bed in an hotel now. Each man who has told it me has invariably
slept in the room next door to that of the victim, and has been
awakened by the man's yell as the plaster came down upon him. That
is how he (the story-teller) came to know all about it.
Brown wanted us to believe that this prehistoric animal he had been
telling us about had belonged to his brother-in-law, and was hurt
when Jephson murmured, sotto voce, that that made the twenty-eighth
man he had met whose brother-in-law had owned that dog--to say
nothing of the hundred and seventeen who had owned it themselves.
We tried to get to work afterwards, but Brown had unsettled us for
the evening. It is a wicked thing to start dog stories among a
party of average sinful men. Let one man tell a dog story, and
every other man in the room feels he wants to tell a bigger one.
There is a story going--I cannot vouch for its truth, it was told me
by a judge--of a man who lay dying. The pastor of the parish, a
good and pious man, came to sit with him, and, thinking to cheer him
up, told him an anecdote about a dog. When the pastor had finished,
the sick man sat up, and said, "I know a better story than that. I
had a dog once, a big, brown, lop-sided--"
The effort had proved too much for his strength. He fell back upon
the pillows, and the doctor, stepping forward, saw that it was a
question only of minutes.
The good old pastor rose, and took the poor fellow's hand in his,
and pressed it. "We shall meet again," he gently said.
The sick man turned towards him with a consoled and grateful look.
"I'm glad to hear you say that," he feebly murmured. "Remind me
about that dog."
Then he passed peacefully away, with a sweet smile upon his pale
Brown, who had had his dog story and was satisfied, wanted us to
settle our heroine; but the rest of us did not feel equal to
settling anybody just then. We were thinking of all the true dog
stories we had ever heard, and wondering which was the one least
likely to be generally disbelieved.
MacShaughnassy, in particular, was growing every moment more
restless and moody. Brown concluded a long discourse--to which
nobody had listened--by remarking with some pride, "What more can
you want? The plot has never been used before, and the characters
are entirely original!"
Then MacShaughnassy gave way. "Talking of plots," he said, hitching
his chair a little nearer the table, "that puts me in mind. Did I
ever tell you about that dog we had when we lived in Norwood?"
"It's not that one about the bull-dog, is it?" queried Jephson
"Well, it was a bull-dog," admitted MacShaughnassy, "but I don't
think I've ever told it you before."
We knew, by experience, that to argue the matter would only prolong
the torture, so we let him go on.
"A great many burglaries had lately taken place in our
neighbourhood," he began, "and the pater came to the conclusion that
it was time he laid down a dog. He thought a bull-dog would be the
best for his purpose, and he purchased the most savage and
murderous-looking specimen that he could find.
"My mother was alarmed when she saw the dog. 'Surely you're not
going to let that brute loose about the house!' she exclaimed.
'He'll kill somebody. I can see it in his face.'
"'I want him to kill somebody,' replied my father; 'I want him to
"'I don't like to hear you talk like that, Thomas,' answered the
mater; 'it's not like you. We've a right to protect our property,
but we've no right to take a fellow human creature's life.'
"'Our fellow human creatures will be all right--so long as they
don't come into our kitchen when they've no business there,'
retorted my father, somewhat testily. 'I'm going to fix up this dog
in the scullery, and if a burglar comes fooling around--well, that's
"The old folks quarrelled on and off for about a month over this
dog. The dad thought the mater absurdly sentimental, and the mater
thought the dad unnecessarily vindictive. Meanwhile the dog grew
more ferocious-looking every day.
"One night my mother woke my father up with: 'Thomas, there's a
burglar downstairs, I'm positive. I distinctly heard the kitchen
"'Oh, well, the dog's got him by now, then,' murmured my father, who
had heard nothing, and was sleepy.
"'Thomas,' replied my mother severely, 'I'm not going to lie here
while a fellow-creature is being murdered by a savage beast. If you
won't go down and save that man's life, I will.'
"'Oh, bother,' said my father, preparing to get up. 'You're always
fancying you hear noises. I believe that's all you women come to
bed for--to sit up and listen for burglars.' Just to satisfy her,
however, he pulled on his trousers and socks, and went down.
"Well, sure enough, my mother was right, this time. There WAS a
burglar in the house. The pantry window stood open, and a light was
shining in the kitchen. My father crept softly forward, and peeped
through the partly open door. There sat the burglar, eating cold
beef and pickles, and there, beside him, on the floor, gazing up
into his face with a blood-curdling smile of affection, sat that
idiot of a dog, wagging his tail.
"My father was so taken aback that he forgot to keep silent.
"'Well, I'm--,' and he used a word that I should not care to repeat
to you fellows.
"The burglar, hearing him, made a dash, and got clear off by the
window; and the dog seemed vexed with my father for having driven
"Next morning we took the dog back to the trainer from whom we had
"'What do you think I wanted this dog for?' asked my father, trying
to speak calmly.
"'Well,' replied the trainer, 'you said you wanted a good house
"'Exactly so,' answered the dad. 'I didn't ask for a burglar's
companion, did I? I didn't say I wanted a dog who'd chum on with a
burglar the first time he ever came to the house, and sit with him
while he had supper, in case he might feel lonesome, did I?' And my
father recounted the incidents of the previous night.
"The man agreed that there was cause for complaint. 'I'll tell you
what it is, sir,' he said. 'It was my boy Jim as trained this 'ere
dawg, and I guess the young beggar's taught 'im more about tackling
rats than burglars. You leave 'im with me for a week, sir; I'll put
that all right.'
"We did so, and at the end of the time the trainer brought him back
"'You'll find 'im game enough now, sir,' said the man. ''E ain't
what I call an intellectual dawg, but I think I've knocked the right
idea into 'im.'
"My father thought he'd like to test the matter, so we hired a man
for a shilling to break in through the kitchen window while the
trainer held the dog by a chain. The dog remained perfectly quiet
until the man was fairly inside. Then he made one savage spring at
him, and if the chain had not been stout the fellow would have
earned his shilling dearly.
"The dad was satisfied now that he could go to bed in peace; and the
mater's alarm for the safety of the local burglars was
"Months passed uneventfully by, and then another burglar sampled our
house. This time there could be no doubt that the dog was doing
something for his living. The din in the basement was terrific.
The house shook with the concussion of falling bodies.
"My father snatched up his revolver and rushed downstairs, and I
followed him. The kitchen was in confusion. Tables and chairs were
overturned, and on the floor lay a man gurgling for help. The dog
was standing over him, choking him.
"The pater held his revolver to the man's ear, while I, by
superhuman effort, dragged our preserver away, and chained him up to
the sink, after which I lit the gas.
"Then we perceived that the gentleman on the floor was a police
"'Good heavens!' exclaimed my father, dropping the revolver,
'however did you come here?'
"''Ow did I come 'ere?' retorted the man, sitting up and speaking in
a tone of bitter, but not unnatural, indignation. 'Why, in the
course of my dooty, that's 'ow I come 'ere. I see a burglar getting
in through the window, so I just follows and slips in after 'im.'
"'Did you catch him?' asked my father.
"'Did I catch 'im!' almost shrieked the man. "Ow could I catch 'im
with that blasted dog of yours 'olding me down by the throat, while
'e lights 'is pipe and walks out by the back door?'
"The dog was for sale the next day. The mater, who had grown to
like him, because he let the baby pull his tail, wanted us to keep
him. The mistake, she said, was not the animal's fault. Two men
broke into the house almost at the same time. The dog could not go
for both of them. He did his best, and went for one. That his
selection should have fallen upon the policeman instead of upon the
burglar was unfortunate. But still it was a thing that might have
happened to any dog.
"My father, however, had become prejudiced against the poor
creature, and that same week he inserted an advertisement in The
Field, in which the animal was recommended as an investment likely
to prove useful to any enterprising member of the criminal classes."
MacShaughnassy having had his innings, Jephson took a turn, and told
us a pathetic story about an unfortunate mongrel that was run over
in the Strand one day and its leg broken. A medical student, who
was passing at the time, picked it up and carried it to the Charing
Cross Hospital, where its leg was set, and where it was kept and
tended until it was quite itself again, when it was sent home.
The poor thing had quite understood what was being done for it, and
had been the most grateful patient they had ever had in the
hospital. The whole staff were quite sorry when it left.
One morning, a week or two later, the house-surgeon, looking out of
the window, saw the dog coming down the street. When it came near
he noticed that it had a penny in its mouth. A cat's-meat barrow
was standing by the kerb, and for a moment, as he passed it, the dog
But his nobler nature asserted itself, and, walking straight up to
the hospital railings, and raising himself upon his hind legs, he
dropped his penny into the contribution box.
MacShaughnassy was much affected by this story. He said it showed
such a beautiful trait in the dog's character. The animal was a
poor outcast, vagrant thing, that had perhaps never possessed a
penny before in all its life, and might never have another. He said
that dog's penny seemed to him to be a greater gift than the biggest
cheque that the wealthiest patron ever signed.
The other three were very eager now to get to work on the novel, but
I did not quite see the fairness of this. I had one or two dog
stories of my own.
I knew a black-and-tan terrier years ago. He lodged in the same
house with me. He did not belong to any one. He had discharged his
owner (if, indeed, he had ever permitted himself to possess one,
which is doubtful, having regard to his aggressively independent
character), and was now running himself entirely on his own account.
He appropriated the front hall for his sleeping-apartment, and took
his meals with the other lodgers--whenever they happened to be
At five o'clock he would take an early morning snack with young
Hollis, an engineer's pupil, who had to get up at half-past four and
make his own coffee, so as to be down at the works by six. At
eight-thirty he would breakfast in a more sensible fashion with Mr.
Blair, on the first floor, and on occasions would join Jack Gadbut,
who was a late riser, in a devilled kidney at eleven.
From then till about five, when I generally had a cup of tea and a
chop, he regularly disappeared. Where he went and what he did
between those hours nobody ever knew. Gadbut swore that twice he
had met him coming out of a stockbroker's office in Threadneedle
Street, and, improbable though the statement at first appeared, some
colour of credibility began to attach to it when we reflected upon
the dog's inordinate passion for acquiring and hoarding coppers.
This craving of his for wealth was really quite remarkable. He was
an elderly dog, with a great sense of his own dignity; yet, on the
promise of a penny, I have seen him run round after his own tail
until he didn't know one end of himself from the other.
He used to teach himself tricks, and go from room to room in the
evening, performing them, and when he had completed his programme he
would sit up and beg. All the fellows used to humour him. He must
have made pounds in the course of the year.
Once, just outside our door, I saw him standing in a crowd, watching
a performing poodle attached to a hurdy-gurdy. The poodle stood on
his head, and then, with his hind legs in the air, walked round on
his front paws. The people laughed very much, and, when afterwards
he came amongst them with his wooden saucer in his mouth, they gave
Our dog came in and immediately commenced to study. In three days
HE could stand on his head and walk round on his front legs, and the
first evening he did so he made sixpence. It must have been
terribly hard work for him at his age, and subject to rheumatism as
he was; but he would do anything for money. I believe he would have
sold himself to the devil for eightpence down.
He knew the value of money. If you held out to him a penny in one
hand and a threepenny-bit in the other, he would snatch at the
threepence, and then break his heart because he could not get the
penny in as well. You might safely have left him in the room with a
leg of mutton, but it would not have been wise to leave your purse
Now and then he spent a little, but not often. He was desperately
fond of sponge-cakes, and occasionally, when he had had a good week,
he would indulge himself to the extent of one or two. But he hated
paying for them, and always made a frantic and frequently successful
effort to get off with the cake and the penny also. His plan of
operations was simple. He would walk into the shop with his penny
in his mouth, well displayed, and a sweet and lamblike expression in
his eyes. Taking his stand as near to the cakes as he could get,
and fixing his eyes affectionately upon them, he would begin to
whine, and the shopkeeper, thinking he was dealing with an honest
dog, would throw him one.
To get the cake he was obliged, of course, to drop the penny, and
then began a struggle between him and the shopkeeper for the
possession of the coin. The man would try to pick it up. The dog
would put his foot upon it, and growl savagely. If he could finish
the cake before the contest was over, he would snap up the penny and
bolt. I have known him to come home gorged with sponge-cakes, the
original penny still in his mouth.
So notorious throughout the neighbourhood did this dishonest
practice of his become, that, after a time, the majority of the
local tradespeople refused to serve him at all. Only the
exceptionally quick and able-bodied would attempt to do business
Then he took his custom further afield, into districts where his
reputation had not yet penetrated. And he would pick out shops kept
by nervous females or rheumatic old men.
They say that the love of money is the root of all evil. It seemed
to have robbed him of every shred of principle.
It robbed him of his life in the end, and that came about in this
way. He had been performing one evening in Gadbut's room, where a
few of us were sitting smoking and talking; and young Hollis, being
in a generous mood, had thrown him, as he thought, a sixpence. The
dog grabbed it, and retired under the sofa. This was an odd thing
for him to do, and we commented upon it. Suddenly a thought
occurred to Hollis, and he took out his money and began counting it.
"By Jove," he exclaimed, "I've given that little beast half-a-
But Tiny only backed further underneath the sofa, and no mere verbal
invitation would induce him to stir. So we adopted a more pressing
plan, and coaxed him out by the scruff of his neck.
He came, an inch at a time, growling viciously, and holding Hollis's
half-sovereign tight between his teeth. We tried sweet
reasonableness at first. We offered him a sixpence in exchange; he
looked insulted, and evidently considered the proposal as tantamount
to our calling him a fool. We made it a shilling, then half-a-
crown--he seemed only bored by our persistence.
"I don't think you'll ever see this half-sovereign again, Hollis,"
said Gadbut, laughing. We all, with the exception of young Hollis,
thought the affair a very good joke. He, on the contrary, seemed
annoyed, and, taking the dog from Gadbut, made an attempt to pull
the coin out of its mouth.
Tiny, true to his life-long principle of never parting if he could
possibly help it, held on like grim death, until, feeling that his
little earnings were slowly but surely going from him, he made one
final desperate snatch, and swallowed the money. It stuck in his
throat, and he began to choke.
Then we became seriously alarmed for the dog. He was an amusing
chap, and we did not want any accident to happen to him. Hollis
rushed into his room and procured a long pair of pincers, and the
rest of us held the little miser while Hollis tried to relieve him
of the cause of his suffering.
But poor Tiny did not understand our intentions. He still thought
we were seeking to rob him of his night's takings, and resisted
vehemently. His struggles fixed the coin firmer, and, in spite of
our efforts, he died--one more victim, among many, to the fierce
fever for gold.
I dreamt a very curious dream about riches once, that made a great
impression upon me. I thought that I and a friend--a very dear
friend--were living together in a strange old house. I don't think
anybody else dwelt in the house but just we two. One day, wandering
about this strange old rambling place, I discovered the hidden door
of a secret room, and in this room were many iron-bound chests, and
when I raised the heavy lids I saw that each chest was full of gold.
And, when I saw this, I stole out softly and closed the hidden door,
and drew the worn tapestries in front of it again, and crept back
along the dim corridor, looking behind me, fearfully.
And the friend that I had loved came towards me, and we walked
together with our hands clasped. But I hated him.
And all day long I kept beside him, or followed him unseen, lest by
chance he should learn the secret of that hidden door; and at night
I lay awake watching him.
But one night I sleep, and, when I open my eyes, he is no longer
near me. I run swiftly up the narrow stairs and along the silent
corridor. The tapestry is drawn aside, and the hidden door stands
open, and in the room beyond the friend that I loved is kneeling
before an open chest, and the glint of the gold is in my eyes.
His back is towards me, and I crawl forward inch by inch. I have a
knife in my hand, with a strong, curved blade; and when I am near
enough I kill him as he kneels there.
His body falls against the door, and it shuts to with a clang, and I
try to open it, and cannot. I beat my hands against its iron nails,
and scream, and the dead man grins at me. The light streams in
through the chink beneath the massive door, and fades, and comes
again, and fades again, and I gnaw at the oaken lids of the iron-
bound chests, for the madness of hunger is climbing into my brain.
Then I awake, and find that I really am hungry, and remember that in
consequence of a headache I did not eat any dinner. So I slip on a
few clothes, and go down to the kitchen on a foraging expedition.
It is said that dreams are momentary conglomerations of thought,
centring round the incident that awakens us, and, as with most
scientific facts, this is occasionally true. There is one dream
that, with slight variations, is continually recurring to me. Over
and over again I dream that I am suddenly called upon to act an
important part in some piece at the Lyceum. That poor Mr. Irving
should invariably be the victim seems unfair, but really it is
entirely his own fault. It is he who persuades and urges me. I
myself would much prefer to remain quietly in bed, and I tell him
so. But he insists on my getting up at once and coming down to the
theatre. I explain to him that I can't act a bit. He seems to
consider this unimportant, and says, "Oh, that will be all right."
We argue for a while, but he makes the matter quite a personal one,
and to oblige him and get him out of the bedroom I consent, though
much against my own judgment. I generally dress the character in my
nightshirt, though on one occasion, for Banquo, I wore pyjamas, and
I never remember a single word of what I ought to say. How I get
through I do not know. Irving comes up afterwards and congratulates
me, but whether upon the brilliancy of my performance, or upon my
luck in getting off the stage before a brickbat is thrown at me, I
Whenever I dream this incident I invariably wake up to find that the
bedclothes are on the floor, and that I am shivering with cold; and
it is this shivering, I suppose, that causes me to dream I am
wandering about the Lyceum stage in nothing but my nightshirt. But
still I do not understand why it should always be the Lyceum.
Another dream which I fancy I have dreamt more than once--or, if
not, I have dreamt that I dreamt it before, a thing one sometimes
does--is one in which I am walking down a very wide and very long
road in the East End of London. It is a curious road to find there.
Omnibuses and trams pass up and down, and it is crowded with stalls
and barrows, beside which men in greasy caps stand shouting; yet on
each side it is bordered by a strip of tropical forest. The road,
in fact, combines the advantages of Kew and Whitechapel.
Some one is with me, but I cannot see him, and we walk through the
forest, pushing our way among the tangled vines that cling about our
feet, and every now and then, between the giant tree-trunks, we
catch glimpses of the noisy street.
At the end of this road there is a narrow turning, and when I come
to it I am afraid, though I do not know why I am afraid. It leads
to a house that I once lived in when a child, and now there is some
one waiting there who has something to tell me.
I turn to run away. A Blackwall 'bus is passing, and I try to
overtake it. But the horses turn into skeletons and gallop away
from me, and my feet are like lead, and the thing that is with me,
and that I cannot see, seizes me by the arm and drags me back.
It forces me along, and into the house, and the door slams to behind
us, and the sound echoes through the lifeless rooms. I recognise
the rooms; I laughed and cried in them long ago. Nothing is
changed. The chairs stand in their places, empty. My mother's
knitting lies upon the hearthrug, where the kitten, I remember,
dragged it, somewhere back in the sixties.
I go up into my own little attic. My cot stands in the corner, and
my bricks lie tumbled out upon the floor (I was always an untidy
child). An old man enters--an old, bent, withered man--holding a
lamp above his head, and I look at his face, and it is my own face.
And another enters, and he also is myself. Then more and more, till
the room is thronged with faces, and the stair-way beyond, and all
the silent house. Some of the faces are old and others young, and
some are fair and smile at me, and many are foul and leer at me.
And every face is my own face, but no two of them are alike.
I do not know why the sight of myself should alarm me so, but I rush
from the house in terror, and the faces follow me; and I run faster
and faster, but I know that I shall never leave them behind me.
As a rule one is the hero of one's own dreams, but at times I have
dreamt a dream entirely in the third person--a dream with the
incidents of which I have had no connection whatever, except as an
unseen and impotent spectator. One of these I have often thought
about since, wondering if it could not be worked up into a story.
But, perhaps, it would be too painful a theme.
I dreamt I saw a woman's face among a throng. It is an evil face,
but there is a strange beauty in it. The flickering gleams thrown
by street lamps flash down upon it, showing the wonder of its evil
fairness. Then the lights go out.
I see it next in a place that is very far away, and it is even more
beautiful than before, for the evil has gone out of it. Another
face is looking down into it, a bright, pure face. The faces meet
and kiss, and, as his lips touch hers, the blood mounts to her
cheeks and brow. I see the two faces again. But I cannot tell
where they are or how long a time has passed. The man's face has
grown a little older, but it is still young and fair, and when the
woman's eyes rest upon it there comes a glory into her face so that
it is like the face of an angel. But at times the woman is alone,
and then I see the old evil look struggling back.
Then I see clearer. I see the room in which they live. It is very
poor. An old-fashioned piano stands in one corner, and beside it is
a table on which lie scattered a tumbled mass of papers round an
ink-stand. An empty chair waits before the table. The woman sits
by the open window.
From far below there rises the sound of a great city. Its lights
throw up faint beams into the dark room. The smell of its streets
is in the woman's nostrils.
Every now and again she looks towards the door and listens: then
turns to the open window. And I notice that each time she looks
towards the door the evil in her face shrinks back; but each time
she turns to the window it grows more fierce and sullen.
Suddenly she starts up, and there is a terror in her eyes that
frightens me as I dream, and I see great beads of sweat upon her
brow. Then, very slowly, her face changes, and I see again the evil
creature of the night. She wraps around her an old cloak, and
creeps out. I hear her footsteps going down the stairs. They grow
fainter and fainter. I hear a door open. The roar of the streets
rushes up into the house, and the woman's footsteps are swallowed
Time drifts onward through my dream. Scenes change, take shape, and
fade; but all is vague and undefined, until, out of the dimness,
there fashions itself a long, deserted street. The lights make
glistening circles on the wet pavement. A figure, dressed in gaudy
rags, slinks by, keeping close against the wall. Its back is
towards me, and I do not see its face. Another figure glides from
out the shadows. I look upon its face, and I see it is the face
that the woman's eyes gazed up into and worshipped long ago, when my
dream was just begun. But the fairness and the purity are gone from
it, and it is old and evil, as the woman's when I looked upon her
last. The figure in the gaudy rags moves slowly on. The second
figure follows it, and overtakes it. The two pause, and speak to
one another as they draw near. The street is very dark where they
have met, and the figure in the gaudy rags keeps its face still
turned aside. They walk together in silence, till they come to
where a flaring gas-lamp hangs before a tavern; and there the woman
turns, and I see that it is the woman of my dream. And she and the
man look into each other's eyes once more.
In another dream that I remember, an angel (or a devil, I am not
quite sure which) has come to a man and told him that so long as he
loves no living human thing--so long as he never suffers himself to
feel one touch of tenderness towards wife or child, towards kith or
kin, towards stranger or towards friend, so long will he succeed and
prosper in his dealings--so long will all this world's affairs go
well with him; and he will grow each day richer and greater and more
powerful. But if ever he let one kindly thought for living thing
come into his heart, in that moment all his plans and schemes will
topple down about his ears; and from that hour his name will be
despised by men, and then forgotten.
And the man treasures up these words, for he is an ambitious man,
and wealth and fame and power are the sweetest things in all the
world to him. A woman loves him and dies, thirsting for a loving
look from him; children's footsteps creep into his life and steal
away again, old faces fade and new ones come and go.
But never a kindly touch of his hand rests on any living thing;
never a kindly word comes from his lips; never a kindly thought
springs from his heart. And in all his doings fortune favours him.
The years pass by, and at last there is left to him only one thing
that he need fear--a child's small, wistful face. The child loves
him, as the woman, long ago, had loved him, and her eyes follow him
with a hungry, beseeching look. But he sets his teeth, and turns
away from her.
The little face grows thin, and one day they come to him where he
sits before the keyboard of his many enterprises, and tell him she
is dying. He comes and stands beside the bed, and the child's eyes
open and turn towards him; and, as he draws nearer, her little arms
stretch out towards him, pleading dumbly. But the man's face never
changes, and the little arms fall feebly back upon the tumbled
coverlet, and the wistful eyes grow still, and a woman steps softly
forward, and draws the lids down over them; then the man goes back
to his plans and schemes.
But in the night, when the great house is silent, he steals up to
the room where the child still lies, and pushes back the white,
"Dead--dead," he mutters. Then he takes the tiny corpse up in his
arms, and holds it tight against his breast, and kisses the cold
lips, and the cold cheeks, and the little, cold, stiff hands.
And at that point my story becomes impossible, for I dream that the
dead child lies always beneath the sheet in that quiet room, and
that the little face never changes, nor the limbs decay.
I puzzle about this for an instant, but soon forget to wonder; for
when the Dream Fairy tells us tales we are only as little children,
sitting round with open eyes, believing all, though marvelling that
such things should be.
Each night, when all else in the house sleeps, the door of that room
opens noiselessly, and the man enters and closes it behind him.
Each night he draws away the white sheet, and takes the small dead
body in his arms; and through the dark hours he paces softly to and
fro, holding it close against his breast, kissing it and crooning to
it, like a mother to her sleeping baby.
When the first ray of dawn peeps into the room, he lays the dead
child back again, and smooths the sheet above her, and steals away.
And he succeeds and prospers in all things, and each day he grows
richer and greater and more powerful.
We had much trouble with our heroine. Brown wanted her ugly.
Brown's chief ambition in life is to be original, and his method of
obtaining the original is to take the unoriginal and turn it upside
If Brown were given a little planet of his own to do as he liked
with, he would call day, night, and summer, winter. He would make
all his men and women walk on their heads and shake hands with their
feet, his trees would grow with their roots in the air, and the old
cock would lay all the eggs while the hens sat on the fence and
crowed. Then he would step back and say, "See what an original
world I have created, entirely my own idea!"
There are many other people besides Brown whose notion of
originality would seem to be precisely similar.
I know a little girl, the descendant of a long line of politicians.
The hereditary instinct is so strongly developed in her that she is
almost incapable of thinking for herself. Instead, she copies in
everything her elder sister, who takes more after the mother. If
her sister has two helpings of rice pudding for supper, then she has
two helpings of rice pudding. If her sister isn't hungry and
doesn't want any supper at all, then she goes to bed without any
This lack of character in the child troubles her mother, who is not
an admirer of the political virtues, and one evening, taking the
little one on her lap, she talked seriously to her.
"Do try to think for yourself," said she. "Don't always do just
what Jessie does, that's silly. Have an idea of your own now and
then. Be a little original."
The child promised she'd try, and went to bed thoughtful.
Next morning, for breakfast, a dish of kippers and a dish of kidneys
were placed on the table, side by side. Now the child loved kippers
with an affection that amounted almost to passion, while she loathed
kidneys worse than powders. It was the one subject on which she did
know her own mind.
"A kidney or a kipper for you, Jessie?" asked the mother, addressing
the elder child first.
Jessie hesitated for a moment, while her sister sat regarding her in
an agony of suspense.
"Kipper, please, ma," Jessie answered at last, and the younger child
turned her head away to hide the tears.
"You'll have a kipper, of course, Trixy?" said the mother, who had
"No, thank you, ma," said the small heroine, stifling a sob, and
speaking in a dry, tremulous voice, "I'll have a kidney."
"But I thought you couldn't bear kidneys," exclaimed her mother,
"No, ma, I don't like 'em much."
"And you're so fond of kippers!"
"Well, then, why on earth don't you have one?"
"'Cos Jessie's going to have one, and you told me to be original,"
and here the poor mite, reflecting upon the price her originality
was going to cost her, burst into tears.
The other three of us refused to sacrifice ourselves upon the altar
of Brown's originality. We decided to be content with the customary
"Good or bad?" queried Brown.
"Bad," responded MacShaughnassy emphatically. "What do you say,
"Well," replied Jephson, taking the pipe from between his lips, and
speaking in that soothingly melancholy tone of voice that he never
varies, whether telling a joke about a wedding or an anecdote
relating to a funeral, "not altogether bad. Bad, with good
instincts, the good instincts well under control."
"I wonder why it is," murmured MacShaughnassy reflectively, "that
bad people are so much more interesting than good."
"I don't think the reason is very difficult to find," answered
Jephson. "There's more uncertainty about them. They keep you more
on the alert. It's like the difference between riding a well-
broken, steady-going hack and a lively young colt with ideas of his
own. The one is comfortable to travel on, but the other provides
you with more exercise. If you start off with a thoroughly good
woman for your heroine you give your story away in the first
chapter. Everybody knows precisely how she will behave under every
conceivable combination of circumstances in which you can place her.
On every occasion she will do the same thing--that is the right
"With a bad heroine, on the other hand, you can never be quite sure
what is going to happen. Out of the fifty or so courses open to
her, she may take the right one, or she may take one of the forty-
nine wrong ones, and you watch her with curiosity to see which it
"But surely there are plenty of good heroines who are interesting,"
"At intervals--when they do something wrong," answered Jephson. "A
consistently irreproachable heroine is as irritating as Socrates
must have been to Xantippe, or as the model boy at school is to all
the other lads. Take the stock heroine of the eighteenth-century
romance. She never met her lover except for the purpose of telling
him that she could not be his, and she generally wept steadily
throughout the interview. She never forgot to turn pale at the
sight of blood, nor to faint in his arms at the most inconvenient
moment possible. She was determined never to marry without her
father's consent, and was equally resolved never to marry anybody
but the one particular person she was convinced he would never agree
to her marrying. She was an excellent young woman, and nearly as
uninteresting as a celebrity at home."
"Ah, but you're not talking about good women now," I observed.
"You're talking about some silly person's idea of a good woman."
"I quite admit it," replied Jephson. "Nor, indeed, am I prepared to
say what is a good woman. I consider the subject too deep and too
complicated for any mere human being to give judgment upon. But I
AM talking of the women who conformed to the popular idea of
maidenly goodness in the age when these books were written. You
must remember goodness is not a known quantity. It varies with
every age and every locality, and it is, generally speaking, your
'silly persons' who are responsible for its varying standards. In
Japan, a 'good' girl would be a girl who would sell her honour in
order to afford little luxuries to her aged parents. In certain
hospitable islands of the torrid zone the 'good' wife goes to
lengths that we should deem altogether unnecessary in making her
husband's guest feel himself at home. In ancient Hebraic days, Jael
was accounted a good woman for murdering a sleeping man, and Sarai
stood in no danger of losing the respect of her little world when
she led Hagar unto Abraham. In eighteenth-century England,
supernatural stupidity and dulness of a degree that must have been
difficult to attain, were held to be feminine virtues--indeed, they
are so still--and authors, who are always among the most servile
followers of public opinion, fashioned their puppets accordingly.
Nowadays 'slumming' is the most applauded virtue, and so all our
best heroines go slumming, and are 'good to the poor.'"
"How useful 'the poor' are," remarked MacShaughnassy, somewhat
abruptly, placing his feet on the mantelpiece, and tilting his chair
back till it stood at an angle that caused us to rivet our attention
upon it with hopeful interest. "I don't think we scribbling fellows
ever fully grasp how much we owe to 'the poor.' Where would our
angelic heroines and our noble-hearted heroes be if it were not for
'the poor'? We want to show that the dear girl is as good as she is
beautiful. What do we do? We put a basket full of chickens and
bottles of wine on her arm, a fetching little sun-bonnet on her
head, and send her round among the poor. How do we prove that our
apparent scamp of a hero is really a noble young man at heart? Why,
by explaining that he is good to the poor.
"They are as useful in real life as they are in Bookland. What is
it consoles the tradesman when the actor, earning eighty pounds a
week, cannot pay his debts? Why, reading in the theatrical
newspapers gushing accounts of the dear fellow's invariable
generosity to the poor. What is it stills the small but irritating
voice of conscience when we have successfully accomplished some
extra big feat of swindling? Why, the noble resolve to give ten per
cent of the net profits to the poor.
"What does a man do when he finds himself growing old, and feels
that it is time for him to think seriously about securing his
position in the next world? Why, he becomes suddenly good to the
poor. If the poor were not there for him to be good to, what could
he do? He would be unable to reform at all. It's a great comfort
to think that the poor will always be with us. They are the ladder
by which we climb into heaven."
There was silence for a few moments, while MacShaughnassy puffed
away vigorously, and almost savagely, at his pipe, and then Brown
said: "I can tell you rather a quaint incident, bearing very aptly
on the subject. A cousin of mine was a land-agent in a small
country town, and among the houses on his list was a fine old
mansion that had remained vacant for many years. He had despaired
of ever selling it, when one day an elderly lady, very richly
dressed, drove up to the office and made inquiries about it. She
said she had come across it accidentally while travelling through
that part of the country the previous autumn, and had been much
struck by its beauty and picturesqueness. She added she was looking
out for some quiet spot where she could settle down and peacefully
pass the remainder of her days, and thought this place might
possibly prove to be the very thing for her.
"My cousin, delighted with the chance of a purchaser, at once drove
her across to the estate, which was about eight miles distant from
the town, and they went over it together. My cousin waxed eloquent
upon the subject of its advantages. He dwelt upon its quiet and
seclusion, its proximity--but not too close proximity--to the
church, its convenient distance from the village.
"Everything pointed to a satisfactory conclusion of the business.
The lady was charmed with the situation and the surroundings, and
delighted with the house and grounds. She considered the price
"'And now, Mr. Brown,' said she, as they stood by the lodge gate,
'tell me, what class of poor have you got round about?'
"'Poor?' answered my cousin; 'there are no poor.'
"'No poor!' exclaimed the lady. 'No poor people in the village, or
"'You won't find a poor person within five miles of the estate,' he
replied proudly. 'You see, my dear madam, this is a thinly
populated and exceedingly prosperous county: this particular
district especially so. There is not a family in it that is not,
comparatively speaking, well-to-do.'
"'I'm sorry to hear that,' said the lady, in a tone of
disappointment. 'The place would have suited me so admirably but
"'But surely, madam,' cried my cousin, to whom a demand for poor
persons was an entirely new idea, 'you don't mean to say that you
WANT poor people! Why, we've always considered it one of the chief
attractions of the property--nothing to shock the eye or wound the
susceptibilities of the most tender-hearted occupant.'
"'My dear Mr. Brown,' replied the lady, 'I will be perfectly frank
with you. I am becoming an old woman, and my past life has not,
perhaps, been altogether too well spent. It is my desire to atone
for the--er--follies of my youth by an old age of well-doing, and to
that end it is essential that I should be surrounded by a certain
number of deserving poor. I had hoped to find in this charming
neighbourhood of yours the customary proportion of poverty and
misery, in which case I should have taken the house without
hesitation. As it is, I must seek elsewhere.'
"My cousin was perplexed, and sad. 'There are plenty of poor people
in the town,' he said, 'many of them most interesting cases, and you
could have the entire care of them all. There'd be no opposition
whatever, I'm positive.'
"'Thank you,' replied the lady, 'but I really couldn't go as far as
the town. They must be within easy driving distance or they are no
"My cousin cudgelled his brains again. He did not intend to let a
purchaser slip through his fingers if he could help it. At last a
bright thought flashed into his mind. 'I'll tell you what we could
do,' he said. 'There's a piece of waste land the other end of the
village that we've never been able to do much with, in consequence
of its being so swampy. If you liked, we could run you up a dozen
cottages on that, cheap--it would be all the better their being a
bit ramshackle and unhealthy--and get some poor people for you, and
put into them.'
"The lady reflected upon the idea, and it struck her as a good one.
"'You see,' continued my cousin, pushing his advantage, 'by adopting
this method you would be able to select your own poor. We would get
you some nice, clean, grateful poor, and make the thing pleasant for
"It ended in the lady's accepting my cousin's offer, and giving him
a list of the poor people she would like to have. She selected one
bedridden old woman (Church of England preferred); one paralytic old
man; one blind girl who would want to be read aloud to; one poor
atheist, willing to be converted; two cripples; one drunken father
who would consent to be talked to seriously; one disagreeable old
fellow, needing much patience; two large families, and four ordinary
"My cousin experienced some difficulty in securing the drunken
father. Most of the drunken fathers he interviewed upon the subject
had a rooted objection to being talked to at all. After a long
search, however, he discovered a mild little man, who, upon the
lady's requirements and charitable intentions being explained to