Part 3 out of 4
cheap gasalier, they framed the fly-blown mirror and the tawdry
pictures; and I know tired hands and eyes worked many hours to
fashion and fix those foolish chains, saying, "It will please him--
she will like to see the room look pretty;" and as I have looked at
them they have grown, in some mysterious manner, beautiful to me.
The gaudy-coloured child and dog irritates me, I confess; but I have
watched a grimy, inartistic personage, smoothing it affectionately
with toil-stained hand, while eager faces crowded round to admire
and wonder at its blatant crudity. It hangs to this day in its
cheap frame above the chimney-piece, the one bright spot relieving
those damp-stained walls; dull eyes stare and stare again at it,
catching a vista, through its flashy tints, of the far-off land of
art. Christmas Waits annoy me, and I yearn to throw open the window
and fling coal at them--as once from the window of a high flat in
Chelsea I did. I doubted their being genuine Waits. I was inclined
to the opinion they were young men seeking excuse for making a
noise. One of them appeared to know a hymn with a chorus, another
played the concertina, while a third accompanied with a step dance.
Instinctively I felt no respect for them; they disturbed me in my
work, and the desire grew upon me to injure them. It occurred to me
it would be good sport if I turned out the light, softly opened the
window, and threw coal at them. It would be impossible for them to
tell from which window in the block the coal came, and thus
subsequent unpleasantness would be avoided. They were a compact
little group, and with average luck I was bound to hit one of them.
I adopted the plan. I could not see them very clearly. I aimed
rather at the noise; and I had thrown about twenty choice lumps
without effect, and was feeling somewhat discouraged, when a yell,
followed by language singularly unappropriate to the season, told me
that Providence had aided my arm. The music ceased suddenly, and
the party dispersed, apparently in high glee--which struck me as
One man I noticed remained behind. He stood under the lamp-post,
and shook his fist at the block generally.
"Who threw that lump of coal?" he demanded in stentorian tones.
To my horror, it was the voice of the man at Eighty-eight, an Irish
gentleman, a journalist like myself. I saw it all, as the
unfortunate hero always exclaims, too late, in the play. He--number
Eighty-eight--also disturbed by the noise, had evidently gone out to
expostulate with the rioters. Of course my lump of coal had hit
him--him the innocent, the peaceful (up till then), the virtuous.
That is the justice Fate deals out to us mortals here below. There
were ten to fourteen young men in that crowd, each one of whom fully
deserved that lump of coal; he, the one guiltless, got it--
seemingly, so far as the dim light from the gas lamp enabled me to
judge, full in the eye.
As the block remained silent in answer to his demand, he crossed the
road and mounted the stairs. On each landing he stopped and
"Who threw that lump of coal? I want the man who threw that lump of
coal. Out you come."
Now a good man in my place would have waited till number
Eighty-eight arrived on his landing, and then, throwing open the
door would have said with manly candour--
"_I_ threw that lump of coal. I was-," He would not have got
further, because at that point, I feel confident, number Eighty--
eight would have punched his head. There would have been an
unseemly fracas on the staircase, to the annoyance of all the other
tenants and later, there would have issued a summons and a
cross-summons. Angry passions would have been roused, bitter
feeling engendered which might have lasted for years.
I do not pretend to be a good man. I doubt if the pretence would be
of any use were I to try: I am not a sufficiently good actor. I
said to myself, as I took off my boots in the study, preparatory to
retiring to my bedroom--"Number Eighty-eight is evidently not in a
frame of mind to listen to my story. It will be better to let him
shout himself cool; after which he will return to his own flat,
bathe his eye, and obtain some refreshing sleep. In the morning,
when we shall probably meet as usual on our way to Fleet Street, I
will refer to the incident casually, and sympathize with him. I
will suggest to him the truth--that in all probability some
fellow-tenant, irritated also by the noise, had aimed coal at the
Waits, hitting him instead by a regrettable but pure accident. With
tact I may even be able to make him see the humour of the incident.
Later on, in March or April, choosing my moment with judgment, I
will, perhaps, confess that I was that fellow-tenant, and over a
friendly brandy-and-soda we will laugh the whole trouble away."
As a matter of fact, that is what happened. Said number
Eighty-eight--he was a big man, as good a fellow at heart as ever
lived, but impulsive--"Damned lucky for you, old man, you did not
tell me at the time."
"I felt," I replied, "instinctively that it was a case for delay."
There are times when one should control one's passion for candour;
and as I was saying, Christmas waits excite no emotion in my breast
save that of irritation. But I have known "Hark, the herald angels
sing," wheezily chanted by fog-filled throats, and accompanied,
hopelessly out of tune, by a cornet and a flute, bring a great look
of gladness to a work-worn face. To her it was a message of hope
and love, making the hard life taste sweet. The mere thought of
family gatherings, so customary at Christmas time, bores us superior
people; but I think of an incident told me by a certain man, a
friend of mine. One Christmas, my friend, visiting in the country,
came face to face with a woman whom in town he had often met amid
very different surroundings. The door of the little farmhouse was
open; she and an older woman were ironing at a table, and as her
soft white hands passed to and fro, folding and smoothing the
rumpled heap, she laughed and talked, concerning simple homely
things. My friend's shadow fell across her work, and she looking
up, their eyes met; but her face said plainly, "I do not know you
here, and here you do not know me. Here I am a woman loved and
respected." My friend passed in and spoke to the older woman, the
wife of one of his host's tenants, and she turned towards, and
introduced the younger--"My daughter, sir. We do not see her very
often. She is in a place in London, and cannot get away. But she
always spends a few days with us at Christmas."
"It is the season for family re-unions," answered my friend with
just the suggestion of a sneer, for which he hated himself.
"Yes, sir," said the woman, not noticing; "she has never missed her
Christmas with us, have you, Bess?"
"No, mother," replied the girl simply, and bent her head again over
So for these few days every year this woman left her furs and
jewels, her fine clothes and dainty foods, behind her, and lived for
a little space with what was clean and wholesome. It was the one
anchor holding her to womanhood; and one likes to think that it was,
perhaps, in the end strong enough to save her from the drifting
waters. All which arguments in favour of Christmas and of Christmas
customs are, I admit, purely sentimental ones, but I have lived long
enough to doubt whether sentiment has not its legitimate place in
the economy of life.
ON THE TIME WASTED IN LOOKING BEFORE ONE LEAPS
Have you ever noticed the going out of a woman?
When a man goes out, he says--"I'm going out, shan't be long."
"Oh, George," cries his wife from the other end of the house, "don't
go for a moment. I want you to--" She hears a falling of hats,
followed by the slamming of the front door.
"Oh, George, you're not gone!" she wails. It is but the voice of
despair. As a matter of fact, she knows he is gone. She reaches
the hall, breathless.
"He might have waited a minute," she mutters to herself, as she
picks up the hats, "there were so many things I wanted him to do."
She does not open the door and attempt to stop him, she knows he is
already half-way down the street. It is a mean, paltry way of going
out, she thinks; so like a man.
When a woman, on the other hand, goes out, people know about it.
She does not sneak out. She says she is going out. She says it,
generally, on the afternoon of the day before; and she repeats it,
at intervals, until tea-time. At tea, she suddenly decides that she
won't, that she will leave it till the day after to-morrow instead.
An hour later she thinks she will go to-morrow, after all, and makes
arrangements to wash her hair overnight. For the next hour or so
she alternates between fits of exaltation, during which she looks
forward to going out, and moments of despondency, when a sense of
foreboding falls upon her. At dinner she persuades some other woman
to go with her; the other woman, once persuaded, is enthusiastic
about going, until she recollects that she cannot. The first woman,
however, convinces her that she can.
"Yes," replies the second woman, "but then, how about you, dear?
You are forgetting the Joneses."
"So I was," answers the first woman, completely non-plussed. "How
very awkward, and I can't go on Wednesday. I shall have to leave it
till Thursday, now."
"But _I_ can't go Thursday," says the second woman.
"Well, you go without me, dear," says the first woman, in the tone
of one who is sacrificing a life's ambition.
"Oh no, dear, I should not think of it," nobly exclaims the second
woman. "We will wait and go together, Friday!"
"I'll tell you what we'll do," says the first woman. "We will start
early" (this is an inspiration), "and be back before the Joneses
They agree to sleep together; there is a lurking suspicion in both
their minds that this may be their last sleep on earth. They retire
early with a can of hot water. At intervals, during the night, one
overhears them splashing water, and talking.
They come down very late for breakfast, and both very cross. Each
seems to have argued herself into the belief that she has been lured
into this piece of nonsense, against her better judgment, by the
persistent folly of the other one. During the meal each one asks
the other, every five minutes, if she is quite ready. Each one, it
appears, has only her hat to put on. They talk about the weather,
and wonder what it is going to do. They wish it would make up its
mind, one way or the other. They are very bitter on weather that
cannot make up its mind. After breakfast it still looks cloudy, and
they decide to abandon the scheme altogether. The first woman then
remembers that it is absolutely necessary for her, at all events, to
"But there is no need for you to come, dear," she says.
Up to that point the second woman was evidently not sure whether she
wished to go or whether she didn't. Now she knows.
"Oh yes, I'll come," she says, "then it will be over!"
"I am sure you don't want to go," urges the first woman, "and I
shall be quicker by myself. I am ready to start now."
The second woman bridles.
"_I_ shan't be a couple of minutes," she retorts. "You know, dear,
it's generally I who have to wait for you."
"But you've not got your boots on," the first woman reminds her.
"Well, they won't take ANY time," is the answer. "But of course,
dear, if you'd really rather I did not come, say so." By this time
she is on the verge of tears.
"Of course, I would like you to come, dear," explains the first in a
resigned tone. "I thought perhaps you were only coming to please
"Oh no, I'd LIKE to come," says the second woman.
"Well, we must hurry up," says the first; "I shan't be more than a
minute myself, I've merely got to change my skirt."
Half-an-hour later you hear them calling to each other, from
different parts of the house, to know if the other one is ready. It
appears they have both been ready for quite a long while, waiting
only for the other one.
"I'm afraid," calls out the one whose turn it is to be down-stairs,
"it's going to rain."
"Oh, don't say that," calls back the other one.
"Well, it looks very like it."
"What a nuisance," answers the up-stairs woman; "shall we put it
"Well, what do YOU think, dear?" replies the down-stairs.
They decide they will go, only now they will have to change their
boots, and put on different hats.
For the next ten minutes they are still shouting and running about.
Then it seems as if they really were ready, nothing remaining but
for them to say "Good-bye," and go.
They begin by kissing the children. A woman never leaves her house
without secret misgivings that she will never return to it alive.
One child cannot be found. When it is found it wishes it hadn't
been. It has to be washed, preparatory to being kissed. After
that, the dog has to be found and kissed, and final instructions
given to the cook.
Then they open the front door.
"Oh, George," calls out the first woman, turning round again. "Are
"Hullo," answers a voice from the distance. "Do you want me?"
"No, dear, only to say good-bye. I'm going."
"Good-bye, dear. Do you think it's going to rain?"
"Oh no, I should not say so."
"Have you got any money?"
Five minutes later they come running back; the one has forgotten her
parasol, the other her purse.
And speaking of purses, reminds one of another essential difference
between the male and female human animal. A man carries his money
in his pocket. When he wants to use it, he takes it out and lays it
down. This is a crude way of doing things, a woman displays more
subtlety. Say she is standing in the street, and wants fourpence to
pay for a bunch of violets she has purchased from a flower-girl.
She has two parcels in one hand, and a parasol in the other. With
the remaining two fingers of the left hand she secures the violets.
The question then arises, how to pay the girl? She flutters for a
few minutes, evidently not quite understanding why it is she cannot
do it. The reason then occurs to her: she has only two hands and
both these are occupied. First she thinks she will put the parcels
and the flowers into her right hand, then she thinks she will put
the parasol into her left. Then she looks round for a table or even
a chair, but there is not such a thing in the whole street. Her
difficulty is solved by her dropping the parcels and the flowers.
The girl picks them up for her and holds them. This enables her to
feel for her pocket with her right hand, while waving her open
parasol about with her left. She knocks an old gentleman's hat off
into the gutter, and nearly blinds the flower-girl before it occurs
to her to close it. This done, she leans it up against the
flower-girl's basket, and sets to work in earnest with both hands.
She seizes herself firmly by the back, and turns the upper part of
her body round till her hair is in front and her eyes behind. Still
holding herself firmly with her left hand--did she let herself go,
goodness knows where she would spin to;--with her right she
prospects herself. The purse is there, she can feel it, the problem
is how to get at it. The quickest way would, of course, be to take
off the skirt, sit down on the kerb, turn it inside out, and work
from the bottom of the pocket upwards. But this simple idea never
seems to occur to her. There are some thirty folds at the back of
the dress, between two of these folds commences the secret passage.
At last, purely by chance, she suddenly discovers it, nearly
upsetting herself in the process, and the purse is brought up to the
surface. The difficulty of opening it still remains. She knows it
opens with a spring, but the secret of that spring she has never
mastered, and she never will. Her plan is to worry it generally
until it does open. Five minutes will always do it, provided she is
At last it does open. It would be incorrect to say that she opens
it. It opens because it is sick of being mauled about; and, as
likely as not, it opens at the moment when she is holding it upside
down. If you happen to be near enough to look over her shoulder,
you will notice that the gold and silver lies loose within it. In
an inner sanctuary, carefully secured with a second secret spring,
she keeps her coppers, together with a postage-stamp and a draper's
receipt, nine months old, for elevenpence three-farthings.
I remember the indignation of an old Bus-conductor, once. Inside we
were nine women and two men. I sat next the door, and his remarks
therefore he addressed to me. It was certainly taking him some time
to collect the fares, but I think he would have got on better had he
been less bustling; he worried them, and made them nervous.
"Look at that," he said, drawing my attention to a poor lady
opposite, who was diving in the customary manner for her purse,
"they sit on their money, women do. Blest if you wouldn't think
they was trying to 'atch it."
At length the lady drew from underneath herself an exceedingly fat
"Fancy riding in a bumpby bus, perched up on that thing," he
continued. "Think what a stamina they must have." He grew
confidential. "I've seen one woman," he said, "pull out from
underneath 'er a street doorkey, a tin box of lozengers, a
pencil-case, a whopping big purse, a packet of hair-pins, and a
smelling-bottle. Why, you or me would be wretched, sitting on a
plain door-knob, and them women goes about like that all day. I
suppose they gets used to it. Drop 'em on an eider-down pillow, and
they'd scream. The time it takes me to get tuppence out of them,
why, it's 'eart-breaking. First they tries one side, then they
tries the other. Then they gets up and shakes theirselves till the
bus jerks them back again, and there they are, a more 'opeless 'eap
than ever. If I 'ad my way I'd make every bus carry a female
searcher as could over'aul 'em one at a time, and take the money
from 'em. Talk about the poor pickpocket. What I say is, that a
man as finds his way into a woman's pocket--well, he deserves what
But it was the thought of more serious matters that lured me into
reflections concerning the over-carefulness of women. It is a
theory of mine--wrong possibly; indeed I have so been informed--that
we pick our way through life with too much care. We are for ever
looking down upon the ground. Maybe, we do avoid a stumble or two
over a stone or a brier, but also we miss the blue of the sky, the
glory of the hills. These books that good men write, telling us
that what they call "success" in life depends on our flinging aside
our youth and wasting our manhood in order that we may have the
means when we are eighty of spending a rollicking old age, annoy me.
We save all our lives to invest in a South Sea Bubble; and in
skimping and scheming, we have grown mean, and narrow, and hard. We
will put off the gathering of the roses till tomorrow, to-day it
shall be all work, all bargain-driving, all plotting. Lo, when to-
morrow comes, the roses are blown; nor do we care for roses, idle
things of small marketable value; cabbages are more to our fancy by
the time to-morrow comes.
Life is a thing to be lived, not spent, to be faced, not ordered.
Life is not a game of chess, the victory to the most knowing; it is
a game of cards, one's hand by skill to be made the best of. Is it
the wisest who is always the most successful? I think not. The
luckiest whist-player I ever came across was a man who was never
QUITE certain what were trumps, and whose most frequent observation
during the game was "I really beg your pardon," addressed to his
partner; a remark which generally elicited the reply, "Oh, don't
apologize. All's well that ends well." The man I knew who made the
most rapid fortune was a builder in the outskirts of Birmingham, who
could not write his name, and who, for thirty years of his life,
never went to bed sober. I do not say that forgetfulness of trumps
should be cultivated by whist-players. I think my builder friend
might have been even more successful had he learned to write his
name, and had he occasionally--not overdoing it--enjoyed a sober
evening. All I wish to impress is, that virtue is not the road to
success--of the kind we are dealing with. We must find other
reasons for being virtuous; maybe, there are some. The truth is,
life is a gamble pure and simple, and the rules we lay down for
success are akin to the infallible systems with which a certain
class of idiot goes armed each season to Monte Carlo. We can play
the game with coolness and judgment, decide when to plunge and when
to stake small; but to think that wisdom will decide it, is to
imagine that we have discovered the law of chance. Let us play the
game of life as sportsmen, pocketing our winnings with a smile,
leaving our losings with a shrug. Perhaps that is why we have been
summoned to the board and the cards dealt round: that we may learn
some of the virtues of the good gambler; his self-control, his
courage under misfortune, his modesty under the strain of success,
his firmness, his alertness, his general indifference to fate. Good
lessons these, all of them. If by the game we learn some of them
our time on the green earth has not been wasted. If we rise from
the table having learned only fretfulness and self-pity I fear it
The grim Hall Porter taps at the door: "Number Five hundred billion
and twenty-eight, your boatman is waiting, sir."
So! is it time already? We pick up our counters. Of what use are
they? In the country the other side of the river they are no
tender. The blood-red for gold, and the pale-green for love, to
whom shall we fling them? Here is some poor beggar longing to play,
let us give them to him as we pass out. Poor devil! the game will
amuse him--for a while.
Keep your powder dry, and trust in Providence, is the motto of the
wise. Wet powder could never be of any possible use to you. Dry,
it may be, WITH the help of Providence. We will call it Providence,
it is a prettier name than Chance--perhaps also a truer.
Another mistake we make when we reason out our lives is this: we
reason as though we were planning for reasonable creatures. It is a
big mistake. Well-meaning ladies and gentlemen make it when they
picture their ideal worlds. When marriage is reformed, and the
social problem solved, when poverty and war have been abolished by
acclamation, and sin and sorrow rescinded by an overwhelming
parliamentary majority! Ah, then the world will be worthy of our
living in it. You need not wait, ladies and gentlemen, so long as
you think for that time. No social revolution is needed, no slow
education of the people is necessary. It would all come about
to-morrow, IF ONLY WE WERE REASONABLE CREATURES.
Imagine a world of reasonable beings! The Ten Commandments would be
unnecessary: no reasoning being sins, no reasoning creature makes
mistakes. There would be no rich men, for what reasonable man cares
for luxury and ostentation? There would be no poor: that I should
eat enough for two while my brother in the next street, as good a
man as I, starves, is not reasonable. There would be no difference
of opinion on any two points: there is only one reason. You, dear
Reader, would find, that on all subjects you were of the same
opinion as I. No novels would be written, no plays performed; the
lives of reasonable creatures do not afford drama. No mad loves, no
mad laughter, no scalding tears, no fierce unreasoning, brief-lived
joys, no sorrows, no wild dreams--only reason, reason everywhere.
But for the present we remain unreasonable. If I eat this
mayonnaise, drink this champagne, I shall suffer in my liver. Then,
why do I eat it? Julia is a charming girl, amiable, wise, and
witty; also she has a share in a brewery. Then, why does John marry
Ann? who is short-tempered, to say the least of it, who, he feels,
will not make him so good a house-wife, who has extravagant notions,
who has no little fortune. There is something about Ann's chin that
fascinates him--he could not explain to you what. On the whole,
Julia is the better-looking of the two. But the more he thinks of
Julia, the more he is drawn towards Ann. So Tom marries Julia and
the brewery fails, and Julia, on a holiday, contracts rheumatic
fever, and is a helpless invalid for life; while Ann comes in for
ten thousand pounds left to her by an Australian uncle no one had
ever heard of,
I have been told of a young man, who chose his wife with excellent
care. Said he to himself, very wisely, "In the selection of a wife
a man cannot be too circumspect." He convinced himself that the
girl was everything a helpmate should be. She had every virtue that
could be expected in a woman, no faults, but such as are inseparable
from a woman. Speaking practically, she was perfection. He married
her, and found she was all he had thought her. Only one thing could
he urge against her--that he did not like her. And that, of course,
was not her fault.
How easy life would be did we know ourselves. Could we always be
sure that tomorrow we should think as we do today. We fall in love
during a summer holiday; she is fresh, delightful, altogether
charming; the blood rushes to our head every time we think of her.
Our ideal career is one of perpetual service at her feet. It seems
impossible that Fate could bestow upon us any greater happiness than
the privilege of cleaning her boots, and kissing the hem of her
garment--if the hem be a little muddy that will please us the more.
We tell her our ambition, and at that moment every word we utter is
sincere. But the summer holiday passes, and with it the holiday
mood, and winter finds us wondering how we are going to get out of
the difficulty into which we have landed ourselves. Or worse still,
perhaps, the mood lasts longer than is usual. We become formally
engaged. We marry--I wonder how many marriages are the result of a
passion that is burnt out before the altar-rails are reached?--and
three months afterwards the little lass is broken-hearted to find
that we consider the lacing of her boots a bore. Her feet seem to
have grown bigger. There is no excuse for us, save that we are
silly children, never sure of what we are crying for, hurting one
another in our play, crying very loudly when hurt ourselves.
I knew an American lady once who used to bore me with long accounts
of the brutalities exercised upon her by her husband. She had
instituted divorce proceedings against him. The trial came on, and
she was highly successful. We all congratulated her, and then for
some months she dropped out of my life. But there came a day when
we again found ourselves together. One of the problems of social
life is to know what to say to one another when we meet; every man
and woman's desire is to appear sympathetic and clever, and this
makes conversation difficult, because, taking us all round, we are
neither sympathetic nor clever--but this by the way.
Of course, I began to talk to her about her former husband. I asked
her how he was getting on. She replied that she thought he was very
"Married again?" I suggested.
"Yes," she answered.
"Serve him right," I exclaimed, "and his wife too." She was a
pretty, bright-eyed little woman, my American friend, and I wished
to ingratiate myself. "A woman who would marry such a man, knowing
what she must have known of him, is sure to make him wretched, and
we may trust him to be a curse to her."
My friend seemed inclined to defend him.
"I think he is greatly improved," she argued.
"Nonsense!" I returned, "a man never improves. Once a villain,
always a villain."
"Oh, hush!" she pleaded, "you mustn't call him that."
"Why not?" I answered. "I have heard you call him a villain
"It was wrong of me," she said, flushing. "I'm afraid he was not
the only one to be blamed; we were both foolish in those days, but I
think we have both learned a lesson."
I remained silent, waiting for the necessary explanation.
"You had better come and see him for yourself," she added, with a
little laugh; "to tell the truth, I am the woman who has married
him. Tuesday is my day, Number 2, K---- Mansions," and she ran off,
leaving me staring after her.
I believe an enterprising clergyman who would set up a little church
in the Strand, just outside the Law Courts, might do quite a trade,
re-marrying couples who had just been divorced. A friend of mine, a
respondent, told me he had never loved his wife more than on two
occasions--the first when she refused him, the second when she came
into the witness-box to give evidence against him.
"You are curious creatures, you men," remarked a lady once to
another man in my presence. "You never seem to know your own mind."
She was feeling annoyed with men generally. I do not blame her, I
feel annoyed with them myself sometimes. There is one man in
particular I am always feeling intensely irritated against. He says
one thing, and acts another. He will talk like a saint and behave
like a fool, knows what is right and does what is wrong. But we
will not speak further of him. He will be all he should be one day,
and then we will pack him into a nice, comfortably-lined box, and
screw the lid down tight upon him, and put him away in a quiet
little spot near a church I know of, lest he should get up and
misbehave himself again.
The other man, who is a wise man as men go, looked at his fair
critic with a smile.
"My dear madam," he replied, "you are blaming the wrong person. I
confess I do not know my mind, and what little I do know of it I do
not like. I did not make it, I did not select it. I am more
dissatisfied with it than you can possibly be. It is a greater
mystery to me than it is to you, and I have to live with it. You
should pity not blame me."
There are moods in which I fall to envying those old hermits who
frankly, and with courageous cowardice, shirked the problem of life.
There are days when I dream of an existence unfettered by the
thousand petty strings with which our souls lie bound to Lilliputia
land. I picture myself living in some Norwegian sater, high above
the black waters of a rockbound fiord. No other human creature
disputes with me my kingdom. I am alone with the whispering fir
forests and the stars. How I live I am not quite sure. Once a
month I could journey down into the villages and return laden. I
should not need much. For the rest, my gun and fishing-rod would
supply me. I would have with me a couple of big dogs, who would
talk to me with their eyes, so full of dumb thought, and together we
would wander over the uplands, seeking our dinner, after the old
primitive fashion of the men who dreamt not of ten-course dinners
and Savoy suppers. I would cook the food myself, and sit down to
the meal with a bottle of good wine, such as starts a man's thoughts
(for I am inconsistent, as I acknowledge, and that gift of
civilization I would bear with me into my hermitage). Then in the
evening, with pipe in mouth, beside my log-wood fire, I would sit
and think, until new knowledge came to me. Strengthened by those
silent voices that are drowned in the roar of Streetland, I might,
perhaps, grow into something nearer to what it was intended that a
man should be--might catch a glimpse, perhaps, of the meaning of
No, no, my dear lady, into this life of renunciation I would not
take a companion, certainly not of the sex you are thinking of, even
would she care to come, which I doubt. There are times when a man
is better without the woman, when a woman is better without the man.
Love drags us from the depths, makes men and women of us, but if we
would climb a little nearer to the stars we must say good-bye to it.
We men and women do not show ourselves to each other at our best;
too often, I fear, at our worst. The woman's highest ideal of man
is the lover; to a man the woman is always the possible beloved. We
see each other's hearts, but not each other's souls. In each
other's presence we never shake ourselves free from the earth.
Match-making mother Nature is always at hand to prompt us. A woman
lifts us up into manhood, but there she would have us stay. "Climb
up to me," she cries to the lad, walking with soiled feet in muddy
ways; "be a true man that you may be worthy to walk by my side; be
brave to protect me, kind and tender, and true; but climb no higher,
stay here by my side." The martyr, the prophet, the leader of the
world's forlorn hopes, she would wake from his dream. Her arms she
would fling about his neck holding him down.
To the woman the man says, "You are my wife. Here is your America,
within these walls, here is your work, your duty." True, in nine
hundred and ninety-nine cases out of every thousand, but men and
women are not made in moulds, and the world's work is various.
Sometimes to her sorrow, a woman's work lies beyond the home. The
duty of Mary was not to Joseph.
The hero in the popular novel is the young man who says, "I love you
better than my soul." Our favourite heroine in fiction is the woman
who cries to her lover, "I would go down into Hell to be with you."
There are men and women who cannot answer thus--the men who dream
dreams, the women who see visions--impracticable people from the
Bayswater point of view. But Bayswater would not be the abode of
peace it is had it not been for such.
Have we not placed sexual love on a pedestal higher than it
deserves? It is a noble passion, but it is not the noblest. There
is a wider love by the side of which it is but as the lamp
illumining the cottage, to the moonlight bathing the hills and
valleys. There were two women once. This is a play I saw acted in
the daylight. They had been friends from girlhood, till there came
between them the usual trouble--a man. A weak, pretty creature not
worth a thought from either of them; but women love the unworthy;
there would be no over-population problem did they not; and this
poor specimen, ill-luck had ordained they should contend for.
Their rivalry brought out all that was worst in both of them. It is
a mistake to suppose love only elevates; it can debase. It was a
mean struggle for what to an onlooker must have appeared a
remarkably unsatisfying prize. The loser might well have left the
conqueror to her poor triumph, even granting it had been gained
unfairly. But the old, ugly, primeval passions had been stirred in
these women, and the wedding-bells closed only the first act.
The second is not difficult to guess. It would have ended in the
Divorce Court had not the deserted wife felt that a finer revenge
would be secured to her by silence.
In the third, after an interval of only eighteen months, the man
died--the first piece of good fortune that seems to have occurred to
him personally throughout the play. His position must have been an
exceedingly anxious one from the beginning. Notwithstanding his
flabbiness, one cannot but regard him with a certain amount of pity-
-not unmixed with amusement. Most of life's dramas can be viewed as
either farce or tragedy according to the whim of the spectator. The
actors invariably play them as tragedy; but then that is the essence
of good farce acting.
Thus was secured the triumph of legal virtue and the punishment of
irregularity, and the play might be dismissed as uninterestingly
orthodox were it not for the fourth act, showing how the wronged
wife came to the woman she had once wronged to ask and grant
forgiveness. Strangely as it may sound, they found their love for
one another unchanged. They had been long parted: it was sweet to
hold each other's hands again. Two lonely women, they agreed to
live together. Those who knew them well in this later time say that
their life was very beautiful, filled with graciousness and
I do not say that such a story could ever be common, but it is more
probable than the world might credit. Sometimes the man is better
without the woman, the woman without the man.
ON THE NOBILITY OF OURSELVES
AN old Anglicized Frenchman, I used to meet often in my earlier
journalistic days, held a theory, concerning man's future state,
that has since come to afford me more food for reflection than, at
the time, I should have deemed possible. He was a bright-eyed,
eager little man. One felt no Lotus land could be Paradise to him.
We build our heaven of the stones of our desires: to the old,
red-bearded Norseman, a foe to fight and a cup to drain; to the
artistic Greek, a grove of animated statuary; to the Red Indian, his
happy hunting ground; to the Turk, his harem; to the Jew, his New
Jerusalem, paved with gold; to others, according to their taste,
limited by the range of their imagination.
Few things had more terrors for me, when a child, than Heaven--as
pictured for me by certain of the good folks round about me. I was
told that if I were a good lad, kept my hair tidy, and did not tease
the cat, I would probably, when I died, go to a place where all day
long I would sit still and sing hymns. (Think of it! as reward to a
healthy boy for being good.) There would be no breakfast and no
dinner, no tea and no supper. One old lady cheered me a little with
a hint that the monotony might be broken by a little manna; but the
idea of everlasting manna palled upon me, and my suggestions,
concerning the possibilities of sherbet or jumbles, were scouted as
irreverent. There would be no school, but also there would be no
cricket and no rounders. I should feel no desire, so I was assured,
to do another angel's "dags" by sliding down the heavenly banisters.
My only joy would be to sing.
"Shall we start singing the moment we get up in the morning?" I
"There won't be any morning," was the answer. "There will be no day
and no night. It will all be one long day without end."
"And shall we always be singing?" I persisted.
"Yes, you will be so happy, you will always want to sing."
"Shan't I ever get tired?"
"No, you will never get tired, and you will never get sleepy or
hungry or thirsty."
"And does it go on like that for ever?"
"Yes, for ever and ever."
"Will it go on for a million years?"
"Yes, a million years, and then another million years, and then
another million years after that. There will never be any end to
I can remember to this day the agony of those nights, when I would
lie awake, thinking of this endless heaven, from which there seemed
to be no possible escape. For the other place was equally eternal,
or I might have been tempted to seek refuge there.
We grown-up folk, our brains dulled by the slowly acquired habit of
not thinking, do wrong to torture children with these awful themes.
Eternity, Heaven, Hell are meaningless words to us. We repeat them,
as we gabble our prayers, telling our smug, self-satisfied selves
that we are miserable sinners. But to the child, the "intelligent
stranger" in the land, seeking to know, they are fearful realities.
If you doubt me, Reader, stand by yourself, beneath the stars, one
night, and SOLVE this thought, Eternity. Your next address shall be
the County Lunatic Asylum.
My actively inclined French friend held cheerier views than are
common of man's life beyond the grave. His belief was that we were
destined to constant change, to everlasting work. We were to pass
through the older planets, to labour in the greater suns.
But for such advanced career a more capable being was needed. No
one of us was sufficient, he argued, to be granted a future
existence all to himself. His idea was that two or three or four of
us, according to our intrinsic value, would be combined to make a
new and more important individuality, fitted for a higher existence.
Man, he pointed out, was already a collection of the beasts. "You
and I," he would say, tapping first my chest and then his own, "we
have them all here--the ape, the tiger, the pig, the motherly hen,
the gamecock, the good ant; we are all, rolled into one. So the man
of the future, he will be made up of many men--the courage of one,
the wisdom of another, the kindliness of a third."
"Take a City man," he would continue, "say the Lord Mayor; add to
him a poet, say Swinburne; mix them with a religious enthusiast, say
General Booth. There you will have the man fit for the higher
Garibaldi and Bismarck, he held, should make a very fine mixture,
correcting one another; if needful, extract of Ibsen might be added,
as seasoning. He thought that Irish politicians would mix admirably
with Scotch divines; that Oxford Dons would go well with lady
novelists. He was convinced that Count Tolstoi, a few Gaiety
Johnnies (we called them "mashers" in those days), together with a
humourist--he was kind enough to suggest myself--would produce
something very choice. Queen Elizabeth, he fancied, was probably
being reserved to go--let us hope in the long distant future--with
Ouida. It sounds a whimsical theory, set down here in my words, not
his; but the old fellow was so much in earnest that few of us ever
thought to laugh as he talked. Indeed, there were moments on starry
nights, as walking home from the office, we would pause on Waterloo
Bridge to enjoy the witchery of the long line of the Embankment
lights, when I could almost believe, as I listened to him, in the
not impossibility of his dreams.
Even as regards this world, it would often be a gain, one thinks,
and no loss, if some half-dozen of us were rolled together, or
boiled down, or whatever the process necessary might be, and
something made out of us in that way.
Have not you, my fair Reader, sometimes thought to yourself what a
delightful husband Tom this, plus Harry that, plus Dick the other,
would make? Tom is always so cheerful and good-tempered, yet you
feel that in the serious moments of life he would be lacking. A
delightful hubby when you felt merry, yes; but you would not go to
him for comfort and strength in your troubles, now would you? No, in
your hour of sorrow, how good it would be to have near you grave,
earnest Harry. He is a "good sort," Harry. Perhaps, after all, he
is the best of the three--solid, staunch, and true. What a pity he
is just a trifle commonplace and unambitious. Your friends, not
knowing his sterling hidden qualities, would hardly envy you; and a
husband that no other girl envies you--well, that would hardly be
satisfactory, would it? Dick, on the other hand, is clever and
brilliant. He will make his way; there will come a day, you are
convinced, when a woman will be proud to bear his name. If only he
were not so self-centred, if only he were more sympathetic.
But a combination of the three, or rather of the best qualities of
the three--Tom's good temper, Harry's tender strength, Dick's
brilliant masterfulness: that is the man who would be worthy of
The woman David Copperfield wanted was Agnes and Dora rolled into
one. He had to take them one after the other, which was not so
nice. And did he really love Agnes, Mr. Dickens; or merely feel he
ought to? Forgive me, but I am doubtful concerning that second
marriage of Copperfield's. Come, strictly between ourselves, Mr.
Dickens, was not David, good human soul! now and again a wee bit
bored by the immaculate Agnes? She made him an excellent wife, I am
sure. SHE never ordered oysters by the barrel, unopened. It would,
on any day, have been safe to ask Traddles home to dinner; in fact,
Sophie and the whole rose-garden might have accompanied him, Agnes
would have been equal to the occasion. The dinner would have been
perfectly cooked and served, and Agnes' sweet smile would have
pervaded the meal. But AFTER the dinner, when David and Traddles
sat smoking alone, while from the drawing-room drifted down the
notes of high-class, elevating music, played by the saintly Agnes,
did they never, glancing covertly towards the empty chair between
them, see the laughing, curl-framed face of a very foolish little
woman--one of those foolish little women that a wise man thanks God
for making--and wish, in spite of all, that it were flesh and blood,
Oh, you foolish wise folk, who would remodel human nature! Cannot
you see how great is the work given unto childish hands? Think you
that in well-ordered housekeeping and high-class conversation lies
the whole making of a man? Foolish Dora, fashioned by clever old
magician Nature, who knows that weakness and helplessness are as a
talisman calling forth strength and tenderness in man, trouble
yourself not unduly about those oysters nor the underdone mutton,
little woman. Good plain cooks at twenty pounds a year will see to
these things for us; and, now and then, when a windfall comes our
way, we will dine together at a moderate-priced restaurant where
these things are managed even better. Your work, Dear, is to teach
us gentleness and kindliness. Lay your curls here, child. It is
from such as you that we learn wisdom. Foolish wise folk sneer at
you; foolish wise folk would pull up the useless lilies, the
needless roses, from the garden, would plant in their places only
serviceable wholesome cabbage. But the Gardener knowing better,
plants the silly short-lived flowers; foolish wise folk, asking for
As for Agnes, Mr. Dickens, do you know what she always makes me
think of? You will not mind my saying?--the woman one reads about.
Frankly, I don't believe in her. I do not refer to Agnes in
particular, but the woman of whom she is a type, the faultless woman
we read of. Women have many faults, but, thank God, they have one
redeeming virtue--they are none of them faultless.
But the heroine of fiction! oh, a terrible dragon of virtue is she.
May heaven preserve us poor men, undeserving though we be, from a
life with the heroine of fiction. She is all soul, and heart, and
intellect, with never a bit of human nature to catch hold of her by.
Her beauty, it appals one, it is so painfully indescribable. Whence
comes she, whither goes she, why do we never meet her like? Of
women I know a goodish few, and I look among them for her prototype;
but I find it not. They are charming, they are beautiful, all these
women that I know. It would not be right for me to tell you,
Ladies, the esteem and veneration with which I regard you all. You
yourselves, blushing, would be the first to cheek my ardour. But
yet, dear Ladies, seen even through my eyes, you come not near the
ladies that I read about. You are not--if I may be permitted an
expressive vulgarism--in the same street with them. Your beauty I
can look upon, and retain my reason--for whatever value that may be
to me. Your conversation, I admit, is clever and brilliant in the
extreme; your knowledge vast and various; your culture quite
Bostonian; yet you do not--I hardly know how to express it--you do
not shine with the sixteen full-moon-power of the heroine of
fiction. You do not--and I thank you for it--impress me with the
idea that you are the only women on earth. You, even you, possess
tempers of your own. I am inclined to think you take an interest in
your clothes. I would not be sure, even, that you do not mingle a
little of "your own hair" (you know what I mean) with the hair of
your head. There is in your temperament a vein of vanity, a
suggestion of selfishness, a spice of laziness. I have known you a
trifle unreasonable, a little inconsiderate, slightly exacting.
Unlike the heroine of fiction, you have a certain number of human
appetites and instincts; a few human follies, perhaps, a human
fault, or shall we say two? In short, dear Ladies, you also, even
as we men, are the children of Adam and Eve. Tell me, if you know,
where I may meet with this supernatural sister of yours, this woman
that one reads about. She never keeps any one waiting while she
does her back hair, she is never indignant with everybody else in
the house because she cannot find her own boots, she never scolds
the servants, she is never cross with the children, she never slams
the door, she is never jealous of her younger sister, she never
lingers at the gate with any cousin but the right one.
Dear me, where DO they keep them, these women that one reads about?
I suppose where they keep the pretty girl of Art. You have seen
her, have you not, Reader, the pretty girl in the picture? She
leaps the six-barred gate with a yard and a half to spare, turning
round in her saddle the while to make some smiling remark to the
comic man behind, who, of course, is standing on his head in the
ditch. She floats gracefully off Dieppe on stormy mornings. Her
baigneuse--generally of chiffon and old point lace--has not lost a
curve. The older ladies, bathing round her, look wet. Their dress
clings damply to their limbs. But the pretty girl of Art dives, and
never a curl of her hair is disarranged. The pretty girl of Art
stands lightly on tip-toe and volleys a tennis-ball six feet above
her head. The pretty girl of Art keeps the head of the punt
straight against a stiff current and a strong wind. SHE never gets
the water up her sleeve, and down her back, and all over the
cushions. HER pole never sticks in the mud, with the steam launch
ten yards off and the man looking the other way. The pretty girl of
Art skates in high-heeled French shoes at an angle of forty-five to
the surface of the ice, both hands in her muff. SHE never sits down
plump, with her feet a yard apart, and says "Ough." The pretty girl
of Art drives tandem down Piccadilly, during the height of the
season, at eighteen miles an hour. It never occurs to HER leader
that the time has now arrived for him to turn round and get into the
cart. The pretty girl of Art rides her bicycle through the town on
market day, carrying a basket of eggs, and smiling right and left.
SHE never throws away both her handles and runs into a cow. The
pretty girl of Art goes trout fishing in open-work stockings, under
a blazing sun, with a bunch of dew-bespangled primroses in her hair;
and every time she gracefully flicks her rod she hauls out a salmon.
SHE never ties herself up to a tree, or hooks the dog. SHE never
comes home, soaked and disagreeable, to tell you that she caught
six, but put them all back again, because they were merely two or
three-pounders, and not worth the trouble of carrying. The pretty
girl of Art plays croquet with one hand, and looks as if she enjoyed
the game. SHE never tries to accidentally kick her ball into
position when nobody is noticing, or stands it out that she is
through a hoop that she knows she isn't.
She is a good, all-round sportswoman, is the pretty girl in the
picture. The only thing I have to say against her is that she makes
one dissatisfied with the girl out of the picture--the girl who
mistakes a punt for a teetotum, so that you land feeling as if you
had had a day in the Bay of Biscay; and who, every now and again,
stuns you with the thick end of the pole: the girl who does not
skate with her hands in her muff; but who, throwing them up to
heaven, says, "I'm going," and who goes, taking care that you go
with her: the girl who, as you brush her down, and try to comfort
her, explains to you indignantly that the horse took the corner too
sharply and never noticed the mile-stone; the girl whose hair sea
water does NOT improve.
There can be no doubt about it: that is where they keep the good
woman of Fiction, where they keep the pretty girl of Art.
Does it not occur to you, Messieurs les Auteurs, that you are sadly
disturbing us? These women that are a combination of Venus, St.
Cecilia, and Elizabeth Fry! you paint them for us in your glowing
pages: it is not kind of you, knowing, as you must, the women we
have to put up with.
Would we not be happier, we men and women, were we to idealize one
another less? My dear young lady, you have nothing whatever to
complain to Fate about, I assure you. Unclasp those pretty hands of
yours, and come away from the darkening window. Jack is as good a
fellow as you deserve; don't yearn so much. Sir Galahad, my dear--
Sir Galahad rides and fights in the land that lies beyond the
sunset, far enough away from this noisy little earth where you and I
spend much of our time tittle-tattling, flirting, wearing fine
clothes, and going to shows. And besides, you must remember, Sir
Galahad was a bachelor: as an idealist he was wise. Your Jack is
by no means a bad sort of knight, as knights go nowadays in this un-
idyllic world. There is much solid honesty about him, and he does
not pose. He is not exceptional, I grant you; but, my dear, have
you ever tried the exceptional man? Yes, he is very nice in a
drawing-room, and it is interesting to read about him in the Society
papers: you will find most of his good qualities there: take my
advice, don't look into him too closely. You be content with Jack,
and thank heaven he is no worse. We are not saints, we men--none of
us, and our beautiful thoughts, I fear, we write in poetry not
action. The White Knight, my dear young lady, with his pure soul,
his heroic heart, his life's devotion to a noble endeavour, does not
live down here to any great extent. They have tried it, one or two
of them, and the world--you and I: the world is made up of you and
I--has generally starved, and hooted them. There are not many of
them left now: do you think you would care to be the wife of one,
supposing one were to be found for you? Would you care to live with
him in two furnished rooms in Clerkenwell, die with him on a chair
bedstead? A century hence they will put up a statue to him, and you
may be honoured as the wife who shared with him his sufferings. Do
you think you are woman enough for that? If not, thank your stars
you have secured, for your own exclusive use, one of us
UNexceptional men, who knows no better than to admire you. YOU are
And in us ordinary men there is some good. It wants finding, that
is all. We are not so commonplace as you think us. Even your Jack,
fond of his dinner, his conversation four-cornered by the Sporting
Press--yes, I agree he is not interesting, as he sits snoring in the
easy-chair; but, believe it or not, there are the makings of a great
hero in Jack, if Fate would but be kinder to him, and shake him out
of his ease.
Dr. Jekyll contained beneath his ample waist-coat not two egos, but
three--not only Hyde but another, a greater than Jekyll--a man as
near to the angels as Hyde was to the demons. These well-fed City
men, these Gaiety Johnnies, these plough-boys, apothecaries,
thieves! within each one lies hidden the hero, did Fate, the
sculptor, choose to use his chisel. That little drab we have
noticed now and then, our way taking us often past the end of the
court, there was nothing by which to distinguish her. She was not
over-clean, could use coarse language on occasion--just the spawn of
the streets: take care lest the cloak of our child should brush
One morning the district Coroner, not, generally speaking, a poet
himself, but an adept at discovering poetry buried under unlikely
rubbish-heaps, tells us more about her. She earned six shillings a
week, and upon it supported a bed-ridden mother and three younger
children. She was housewife, nurse, mother, breadwinner, rolled
into one. Yes, there are heroines OUT of fiction.
So loutish Tom has won the Victoria Cross--dashed out under a storm
of bullets and rescued the riddled flag. Who would have thought it
of loutish Tom? The village alehouse one always deemed the goal of
his endeavours. Chance comes to Tom and we find him out. To Harry
the Fates were less kind. A ne'er-do-well was Harry--drank, knocked
his wife about, they say. Bury him, we are well rid of him, he was
good for nothing. Are we sure?
Let us acknowledge we are sinners. We know, those of us who dare to
examine ourselves, that we are capable of every meanness, of every
wrong under the sun. It is by the accident of circumstance, aided
by the helpful watchfulness of the policeman, that our possibilities
of crime are known only to ourselves. But having acknowledged our
evil, let us also acknowledge that we are capable of greatness. The
martyrs who faced death and torture unflinchingly for conscience'
sake, were men and women like ourselves. They had their wrong side.
Before the small trials of daily life they no doubt fell as we fall.
By no means were they the pick of humanity. Thieves many of them
had been, and murderers, evil-livers, and evil-doers. But the
nobility was there also, lying dormant, and their day came. Among
them must have been men who had cheated their neighbours over the
counter; men who had been cruel to their wives and children;
selfish, scandal-mongering women. In easier times their virtue
might never have been known to any but their Maker.
In every age and in every period, when and where Fate has called
upon men and women to play the man, human nature has not been found
wanting. They were a poor lot, those French aristocrats that the
Terror seized: cowardly, selfish, greedy had been their lives. Yet
there must have been good, even in them. When the little things
that in their little lives they had thought so great were swept away
from them, when they found themselves face to face with the
realities; then even they played the man. Poor shuffling Charles
the First, crusted over with weakness and folly, deep down in him at
last we find the great gentleman.
I like to hear stories of the littleness of great men. I like to
think that Shakespeare was fond of his glass. I even cling to the
tale of that disgraceful final orgie with friend Ben Jonson.
Possibly the story may not be true, but I hope it was. I like to
think of him as poacher, as village ne'er-do-well, denounced by the
local grammar-school master, preached at by the local J. P. of the
period. I like to reflect that Cromwell had a wart on his nose; the
thought makes me more contented with my own features. I like to
think that he put sweets upon the chairs, to see finely-dressed
ladies spoil their frocks; to tell myself that he roared with
laughter at the silly jest, like any East End 'Arry with his Bank
Holiday squirt of dirty water. I like to read that Carlyle threw
bacon at his wife and occasionally made himself highly ridiculous
over small annoyances, that would have been smiled at by a man of
well-balanced mind. I think of the fifty foolish things a week _I_
do, and say to myself, "I, too, am a literary man."
I like to think that even Judas had his moments of nobility, his
good hours when he would willingly have laid down his life for his
Master. Perhaps even to him there came, before the journey's end,
the memory of a voice saying--"Thy sins be forgiven thee." There
must have been good, even in Judas.
Virtue lies like the gold in quartz, there is not very much of it,
and much pains has to be spent on the extracting of it. But Nature
seems to think it worth her while to fashion these huge useless
stones, if in them she may hide away her precious metals. Perhaps,
also, in human nature, she cares little for the mass of dross,
provided that by crushing and cleansing she can extract from it a
little gold, sufficient to repay her for the labour of the world.
We wonder why she troubles to make the stone. Why cannot the gold
lie in nuggets on the surface? But her methods are secrets to us.
Perchance there is a reason for the quartz. Perchance there is a
reason for the evil and folly, through which run, unseen to the
careless eye, the tiny veins of virtue.
Aye, the stone predominates, but the gold is there. We claim to
have it valued. The evil that there is in man no tongue can tell.
We are vile among the vile, a little evil people. But we are great.
Pile up the bricks of our sins till the tower knocks at Heaven's
gate, calling for vengeance, yet we are great--with a greatness and
a virtue that the untempted angels may not reach to. The written
history of the human race, it is one long record of cruelty, of
falsehood, of oppression. Think you the world would be spinning
round the sun unto this day, if that written record were all?
Sodom, God would have spared had there been found ten righteous men
within its walls. The world is saved by its just men. History sees
them not; she is but the newspaper, a report of accidents. Judge
you life by that? Then you shall believe that the true Temple of
Hymen is the Divorce Court; that men are of two classes only, the
thief and the policeman; that all noble thought is but a
politician's catchword. History sees only the destroying
conflagrations, she takes no thought of the sweet fire-sides.
History notes the wrong; but the patient suffering, the heroic
endeavour, that, slowly and silently, as the soft processes of
Nature re-clothing with verdure the passion-wasted land, obliterate
that wrong, she has no eyes for. In the days of cruelty and
oppression--not altogether yet of the past, one fears--must have
lived gentle-hearted men and women, healing with their help and
sympathy the wounds that else the world had died of. After the
thief, riding with jingle of sword and spur, comes, mounted on his
ass, the good Samaritan. The pyramid of the world's evil--God help
us! it rises high, shutting out almost the sun. But the record of
man's good deeds, it lies written in the laughter of the children,
in the light of lovers' eyes, in the dreams of the young men; it
shall not be forgotten. The fires of persecution served as torches
to show Heaven the heroism that was in man. From the soil of
tyranny sprang self-sacrifice, and daring for the Right. Cruelty!
what is it but the vile manure, making the ground ready for the
flowers of tenderness and pity? Hate and Anger shriek to one
another across the ages, but the voices of Love and Comfort are none
the less existent that they speak in whispers, lips to ear.
We have done wrong, oh, ye witnessing Heavens, but we have done
good. We claim justice. We have laid down our lives for our
friends: greater love hath no man than this. We have fought for
the Right. We have died for the Truth--as the Truth seemed to us.
We have done noble deeds; we have lived noble lives; we have
comforted the sorrowful; we have succoured the weak. Failing,
falling, making in our blindness many a false step, yet we have
striven. For the sake of the army of just men and true, for the
sake of the myriads of patient, loving women, for the sake of the
pitiful and helpful, for the sake of the good that lies hidden
within us,--spare us, O Lord.
ON THE MOTHERLINESS OF MAN
It was only a piece of broken glass. From its shape and colour, I
should say it had, in its happier days, formed portion of a cheap
scent-bottle. Lying isolated on the grass, shone upon by the early
morning sun, it certainly appeared at its best. It attracted him.
He cocked his head, and looked at it with his right eye. Then he
hopped round to the other side, and looked at it with his left eye.
With either optic it seemed equally desirable.
That he was an inexperienced young rook goes without saying. An
older bird would not have given a second glance to the thing.
Indeed, one would have thought his own instinct might have told him
that broken glass would be a mistake in a bird's nest. But its
glitter drew him too strongly for resistance. I am inclined to
suspect that at some time, during the growth of his family tree,
there must have occurred a mesalliance, perhaps worse. Possibly a
strain of magpie blood?--one knows the character of magpies, or
rather their lack of character--and such things have happened. But
I will not pursue further so painful a train: I throw out the
suggestion as a possible explanation, that is all.
He hopped nearer. Was it a sweet illusion, this flashing fragment
of rainbow; a beautiful vision to fade upon approach, typical of so
much that is un-understandable in rook life? He made a dart forward
and tapped it with his beak. No, it was real--as fine a lump of
jagged green glass as any newly-married rook could desire, and to be
had for the taking. SHE would be pleased with it. He was a well-
meaning bird; the mere upward inclination of his tail suggested
earnest though possibly ill-directed endeavour.
He turned it over. It was an awkward thing to carry; it had so very
many corners. But he succeeded at last in getting it firmly between
his beak, and in haste, lest some other bird should seek to dispute
with him its possession, at once flew off with it.
A second rook who had been watching the proceedings from the lime
tree, called to a third who was passing. Even with my limited
knowledge of the language I found it easy to follow the
conversation: it was so obvious.
"What do you think? Zebulan's found a piece of broken bottle. He's
going to line his nest with it."
"God's truth. Look at him. There he goes, he's got it in his
"Well, I'm --!"
And they both burst into a laugh.
But Zebulan heeded them not. If he overheard, he probably put down
the whole dialogue to jealousy. He made straight for his tree. By
standing with my left cheek pressed close against the window-pane, I
was able to follow him. He is building in what we call the Paddock
elms--a suburb commenced only last season, but rapidly growing. I
wanted to see what his wife would say.
At first she said nothing. He laid it carefully down on the branch
near the half-finished nest, and she stretched up her head and
looked at it.
Then she looked at him. For about a minute neither spoke. I could
see that the situation was becoming strained. When she did open her
beak, it was with a subdued tone, that had a vein of weariness
running through it.
"What is it?" she asked.
He was evidently chilled by her manner. As I have explained, he is
an inexperienced young rook. This is clearly his first wife, and he
stands somewhat in awe of her.
"Well, I don't exactly know what it's CALLED," he answered.
"No. But it's pretty, isn't it?" he added. He moved it, trying to
get it where the sun might reach it. It was evident he was
admitting to himself that, seen in the shade, it lost much of its
"Oh, yes; very pretty," was the rejoinder; "perhaps you'll tell me
what you're going to do with it."
The question further discomforted him. It was growing upon him that
this thing was not going to be the success he had anticipated. It
would be necessary to proceed warily.
"Of course, it's not a twig," he began.
"I see it isn't."
"No. You see, the nest is nearly all twigs as it is, and I thought-
"Oh, you did think."
"Yes, my dear. I thought--unless you are of opinion that it's too
showy--I thought we might work it in somewhere."
Then she flared out.
"Oh, did you? You thought that a good idea. An A1 prize idiot I
seem to have married, I do. You've been gone twenty minutes, and
you bring me back an eight-cornered piece of broken glass, which you
think we might 'work into' the nest. You'd like to see me sitting
on it for a month, you would. You think it would make a nice bed
for the children to lie on. You don't think you could manage to
find a packet of mixed pins if you went down again, I suppose.
They'd look pretty 'worked in' somewhere, don't you think?--Here,
get out of my way. I'll finish this nest by myself." She always
had been short with him.
She caught up the offending object--it was a fairly heavy lump of
glass--and flung it out of the tree with all her force. I heard it
crash through the cucumber frame. That makes the seventh pane of
glass broken in that cucumber frame this week. The couple in the
branch above are the worst. Their plan of building is the most
extravagant, the most absurd I ever heard of. They hoist up ten
times as much material as they can possibly use; you might think
they were going to build a block, and let it out in flats to the
other rooks. Then what they don't want they fling down again.
Suppose we built on such a principle? Suppose a human husband and
wife were to start erecting their house in Piccadilly Circus, let us
say; and suppose the man spent all the day steadily carrying bricks
up the ladder while his wife laid them, never asking her how many
she wanted, whether she didn't think he had brought up sufficient,
but just accumulating bricks in a senseless fashion, bringing up
every brick he could find. And then suppose, when evening came, and
looking round, they found they had some twenty cart-loads of bricks
lying unused upon the scaffold, they were to commence flinging them
down into Waterloo Place. They would get themselves into trouble;
somebody would be sure to speak to them about it. Yet that is
precisely what those birds do, and nobody says a word to them. They
are supposed to have a President. He lives by himself in the yew
tree outside the morning-room window. What I want to know is what
he is supposed to be good for. This is the sort of thing I want him
to look into. I would like him to be worming underneath one evening
when those two birds are tidying up: perhaps he would do something
then. I have done all I can. I have thrown stones at them, that,
in the course of nature, have returned to earth again, breaking more
glass. I have blazed at them with a revolver; but they have come to
regard this proceeding as a mere expression of light-heartedness on
my part, possibly confusing me with the Arab of the Desert, who, I
am given to understand, expresses himself thus in moments of deep
emotion. They merely retire to a safe distance to watch me; no
doubt regarding me as a poor performer, inasmuch as I do not also
dance and shout between each shot. I have no objection to their
building there, if they only would build sensibly. I want somebody
to speak to them to whom they will pay attention.
You can hear them in the evening, discussing the matter of this
"Don't you work any more," he says, as he comes up with the last
load, "you'll tire yourself."
"Well, I am feeling a bit done up," she answers, as she hops out of
the nest and straightens her back.
"You're a bit peckish, too, I expect," he adds sympathetically. "I
know I am. We will have a scratch down, and be off."
"What about all this stuff?" she asks, while titivating herself;
"we'd better not leave it about, it looks so untidy."
"Oh, we'll soon get rid of that," he answers. "I'll have that down
in a jiffy."
To help him, she seizes a stick and is about to drop it. He darts
forward and snatches it from her.
"Don't you waste that one," he cries, "that's a rare one, that is.
You see me hit the old man with it."
And he does. What the gardener says, I will leave you to imagine.
Judged from its structure, the rook family is supposed to come next
in intelligence to man himself. Judging from the intelligence
displayed by members of certain human families with whom I have come
in contact, I can quite believe it. That rooks talk I am positive.
No one can spend half-an-hour watching a rookery without being
convinced of this. Whether the talk be always wise and witty, I am
not prepared to maintain; but that there is a good deal of it is
certain. A young French gentleman of my acquaintance, who visited
England to study the language, told me that the impression made upon
him by his first social evening in London was that of a
parrot-house. Later on, when he came to comprehend, he, of course,
recognized the brilliancy and depth of the average London
drawing-room talk; but that is how, not comprehending, it impressed
him at first. Listening to the riot of a rookery is much the same
experience. The conversation to us sounds meaningless; the rooks
themselves would probably describe it as sparkling.
There is a Misanthrope I know who hardly ever goes into Society. I
argued the question with him one day. "Why should I?" he replied;
"I know, say, a dozen men and women with whom intercourse is a
pleasure; they have ideas of their own which they are not afraid to
voice. To rub brains with such is a rare and goodly thing, and I
thank Heaven for their friendship; but they are sufficient for my
leisure. What more do I require? What is this 'Society' of which
you all make so much ado? I have sampled it, and I find it
unsatisfying. Analyze it into its elements, what is it? Some
person I know very slightly, who knows me very slightly, asks me to
what you call an 'At Home.' The evening comes, I have done my day's
work and I have dined. I have been to a theatre or concert, or I
have spent a pleasant hour or so with a friend. I am more inclined
for bed than anything else, but I pull myself together, dress, and
drive to the house. While I am taking off my hat and coat in the
hall, a man enters I met a few hours ago at the Club. He is a man I
have very little opinion of, and he, probably, takes a similar view
of me. Our minds have no thought in common, but as it is necessary
to talk, I tell him it is a warm evening. Perhaps it is a warm
evening, perhaps it isn't; in either case he agrees with me. I ask
him if he is going to Ascot. I do not care a straw whether he is
going to Ascot or not. He says he is not quite sure, but asks me
what chance Passion Flower has for the Thousand Guineas. I know he
doesn't value my opinion on the subject at a brass farthing--he
would be a fool if he did, but I cudgel my brains to reply to him,
as though he were going to stake his shirt on my advice. We reach
the first floor, and are mutually glad to get rid of one another. I
catch my hostess' eye. She looks tired and worried; she would be
happier in bed, only she doesn't know it. She smiles sweetly, but
it is clear she has not the slightest idea who I am, and is waiting
to catch my name from the butler. I whisper it to him. Perhaps he
will get it right, perhaps he won't; it is quite immaterial. They
have asked two hundred and forty guests, some seventy-five of whom
they know by sight, for the rest, any chance passer-by, able, as the
theatrical advertisements say, 'to dress and behave as a gentleman,'
would do every bit as well. Indeed, I sometimes wonder why people
go to the trouble and expense of invitation cards at all. A
sandwich-man outside the door would answer the purpose. 'Lady
Tompkins, At Home, this afternoon from three to seven; Tea and
Music. Ladies and Gentlemen admitted on presentation of visiting
card. Afternoon dress indispensable.' The crowd is the thing
wanted; as for the items, well, tell me, what is the difference,
from the Society point of view, between one man in a black
frock-coat and another?
"I remember being once invited to a party at a house in Lancaster
Gate. I had met the woman at a picnic. In the same green frock and
parasol I might have recognized her the next time I saw her. In any
other clothes I did not expect to. My cabman took me to the house
opposite, where they were also giving a party. It made no
difference to any of us. The hostess--I never learnt her name--said
it was very good of me to come, and then shunted me off on to a
Colonial Premier (I did not catch his name, and he did not catch
mine, which was not extraordinary, seeing that my hostess did not
know it) who, she whispered to me, had come over, from wherever it
was (she did not seem to be very sure) principally to make my
acquaintance. Half through the evening, and by accident, I
discovered my mistake, but judged it too late to say anything then.
I met a couple of people I knew, had a little supper with them, and
came away. The next afternoon I met my right hostess--the lady who
should have been my hostess. She thanked me effusively for having
sacrificed the previous evening to her and her friends; she said she
knew how seldom I went out: that made her feel my kindness all the
more. She told me that the Brazilian Minister's wife had told her
that I was the cleverest man she had ever met. I often think I
should like to meet that man, whoever he may be, and thank him.
"But perhaps the butler does pronounce my name rightly, and perhaps
my hostess actually does recognize me. She smiles, and says she was
so afraid I was not coming. She implies that all the other guests
are but as a feather in her scales of joy compared with myself. I
smile in return, wondering to myself how I look when I do smile. I
have never had the courage to face my own smile in the
looking-glass. I notice the Society smile of other men, and it is
not reassuring. I murmur something about my not having been likely
to forget this evening; in my turn, seeking to imply that I have
been looking forward to it for weeks. A few men shine at this sort
of thing, but they are a small percentage, and without conceit I
regard myself as no bigger a fool than the average male. Not
knowing what else to say, I tell her also that it is a warm evening.
She smiles archly as though there were some hidden witticism in the
remark, and I drift away, feeling ashamed of myself. To talk as an
idiot when you ARE an idiot brings no discomfort; to behave as an
idiot when you have sufficient sense to know it, is painful. I hide
myself in the crowd, and perhaps I'll meet a woman I was introduced
to three weeks ago at a picture gallery. We don't know each other's
names, but, both of us feeling lonesome, we converse, as it is
called. If she be the ordinary type of woman, she asks me if I am
going on to the Johnsons'. I tell her no. We stand silent for a
moment, both thinking what next to say. She asks me if I was at the
Thompsons' the day before yesterday. I again tell her no. I begin
to feel dissatisfied with myself that I was not at the Thompsons'.
Trying to get even with her, I ask her if she is going to the
Browns' next Monday. (There are no Browns, she will have to say,
No.) She is not, and her tone suggests that a social stigma rests
upon the Browns. I ask her if she has been to Barnum's Circus; she
hasn't, but is going. I give her my impressions of Barnum's Circus,
which are precisely the impressions of everybody else who has seen
"Or if luck be against me, she is possibly a smart woman, that is to
say, her conversation is a running fire of spiteful remarks at the
expense of every one she knows, and of sneers at the expense of
every one she doesn't. I always feel I could make a better woman
myself, out of a bottle of vinegar and a penn'orth of mixed pins.
Yet it usually takes one about ten minutes to get away from her.
"Even when, by chance, one meets a flesh-and-blood man or woman at
such gatherings, it is not the time or place for real conversation;
and as for the shadows, what person in their senses would exhaust a
single brain cell upon such? I remember a discussion once
concerning Tennyson, considered as a social item. The dullest and
most densely-stupid bore I ever came across was telling how he had
sat next to Tennyson at dinner. 'I found him a most uninteresting
man,' so he confided to us; 'he had nothing to say for himself--
absolutely nothing.' I should like to resuscitate Dr. Samuel
Johnson for an evening, and throw him into one of these 'At Homes'
My friend is an admitted misanthrope, as I have explained; but one
cannot dismiss him as altogether unjust. That there is a certain
mystery about Society's craving for Society must be admitted. I
stood one evening trying to force my way into the supper room of a
house in Berkeley Square. A lady, hot and weary, a few yards in
front of me was struggling to the same goal.
"Why," remarked she to her companion, "why do we come to these
places, and fight like a Bank Holiday crowd for eighteenpenny-worth
"We come here," replied the man, whom I judged to be a philosopher,
"to say we've been here."
I met A----- the other evening, and asked him to dine with me on
Monday. I don't know why I ask A----- to dine with me, but about
once a month I do. He is an uninteresting man.
"I can't," he said, "I've got to go to the B-----s'; confounded
nuisance, it will be infernally dull."
"Why go?" I asked.
"I really don't know," he replied.
A little later B----- met me, and asked me to dine with him on
"I can't," I answered, "some friends are coming to us that evening.
It's a duty dinner, you know the sort of thing."
"I wish you could have managed it," he said, "I shall have no one to
talk to. The A-----s are coming, and they bore me to death."
"Why do you ask him?" I suggested.
"Upon my word, I really don't know," he replied.
But to return to our rooks. We were speaking of their social
instincts. Some dozen of them--the "scallywags" and bachelors of
the community, I judge them to be--have started a Club. For a month
past I have been trying to understand what the affair was. Now I
know: it is a Club.
And for their Club House they have chosen, of course, the tree
nearest my bedroom window. I can guess how that came about; it was
my own fault, I never thought of it. About two months ago, a single
rook--suffering from indigestion or an unhappy marriage, I know not-
-chose this tree one night for purposes of reflection. He woke me
up: I felt angry. I opened the window, and threw an empty
soda-water bottle at him. Of course it did not hit him, and finding
nothing else to throw, I shouted at him, thinking to frighten him
away. He took no notice, but went on talking to himself. I shouted
louder, and woke up my own dog. The dog barked furiously, and woke
up most things within a quarter of a mile. I had to go down with a
boot-jack--the only thing I could find handy--to soothe the dog.
Two hours later I fell asleep from exhaustion. I left the rook
The next night he came again. I should say he was a bird with a
sense of humour. Thinking this might happen, I had, however, taken
the precaution to have a few stones ready. I opened the window
wide, and fired them one after another into the tree. After I had
closed the window, he hopped down nearer, and cawed louder than
ever. I think he wanted me to throw more stones at him: he
appeared to regard the whole proceeding as a game. On the third
night, as I heard nothing of him, I flattered myself that, in spite
of his bravado, I had discouraged him. I might have known rooks
What happened when the Club was being formed, I take it, was this:
"Where shall we fix upon for our Club House?" said the secretary,
all other points having been disposed of. One suggested this tree,
another suggested that. Then up spoke this particular rook:
"I'll tell you where," said he, "in the yew tree opposite the porch.
And I'll tell you for why. Just about an hour before dawn a man
comes to the window over the porch, dressed in the most comical
costume you ever set eyes upon. I'll tell you what he reminds me
of--those little statues that men use for decorating fields. He
opens the window, and throws a lot of things out upon the lawn, and
then he dances and sings. It's awfully interesting, and you can see
it all from the yew tree."
That, I am convinced, is how the Club came to fix upon the tree next
my window. I have had the satisfaction of denying them the
exhibition they anticipated, and I cheer myself with the hope that
they have visited their disappointment upon their misleader.
There is a difference between Rook Clubs and ours. In our clubs the
respectable members arrive early, and leave at a reasonable hour; in
Rook Clubs, it would appear, this principle is reversed. The Mad
Hatter would have liked this Club--it would have been a club after
his own heart. It opens at half-past two in the morning, and the
first to arrive are the most disreputable members. In Rook-land the
rowdy-dowdy, randy-dandy, rollicky-ranky boys get up very early in
the morning and go to bed in the afternoon. Towards dawn, the
older, more orderly members drop in for reasonable talk, and the
Club becomes more respectable. The tree closes about six. For the
first two hours, however, the goings-on are disgraceful. The
proceedings, as often as not, open with a fight. If no two
gentlemen can be found to oblige with a fight, the next noisiest
thing to fall back upon is held to be a song. It is no satisfaction
to me to be told that rooks cannot sing. _I_ know that, without the
trouble of referring to the natural history book. It is the rook
who does not know it; HE thinks he can; and as a matter of fact, he
does. You can criticize his singing, you can call it what you like,
but you can't stop it--at least, that is my experience. The song
selected is sure to be one with a chorus. Towards the end it
becomes mainly chorus, unless the soloist be an extra powerful bird,
determined to insist upon his rights.
The President knows nothing of this Club. He gets up himself about
seven--three hours after all the others have finished breakfast--and
then fusses round under the impression that he is waking up the
colony, the fat-headed old fool. He is the poorest thing in
Presidents I have ever heard of. A South American Republic would
supply a better article. The rooks themselves, the married
majority, fathers of families, respectable nestholders, are as
indignant as I am. I hear complaints from all quarters.
Reflection comes to one as, towards the close of these chill
afternoons in early spring, one leans upon the paddock gate watching
the noisy bustling in the bare elms.
So the earth is growing green again, and love is come again unto the
hearts of us old sober-coated fellows. Oh, Madam, your feathers
gleam wondrous black, and your bonnie bright eye stabs deep. Come,
sit by our side, and we'll tell you a tale such as rook never told
before. It's the tale of a nest in a topmost bough, that sways in
the good west wind. It's strong without, but it's soft within,
where the little green eggs lie safe. And there sits in that nest a
lady sweet, and she caws with joy, for, afar, she sees the rook she
loves the best. Oh, he has been east, and he has been west, and his
crop it is full of worms and slugs, and they are all for her.
We are old, old rooks, so many of us. The white is mingling with
the purple black upon our breasts. We have seen these tall elms
grow from saplings; we have seen the old trees fall and die. Yet
each season come to us again the young thoughts. So we mate and
build and gather that again our old, old hearts may quiver to the
thin cry of our newborn.
Mother Nature has but one care, the children. We talk of Love as
the Lord of Life: it is but the Minister. Our novels end where
Nature's tale begins. The drama that our curtain falls upon, is but
the prologue to her play. How the ancient Dame must laugh as she
listens to the prattle of her children. "Is Marriage a Failure?"
"Is Life worth Living?" "The New Woman versus the Old." So,
perhaps, the waves of the Atlantic discuss vehemently whether they
shall flow east or west.
Motherhood is the law of the Universe. The whole duty of man is to
be a mother. We labour: to what end? the children--the woman in
the home, the man in the community. The nation takes thought for
its future: why? In a few years its statesmen, its soldiers, its
merchants, its toilers, will be gathered unto their fathers. Why
trouble we ourselves about the future? The country pours its blood
and treasure into the earth that the children may reap. Foolish
Jacques Bonhomie, his addled brain full of dreams, rushes with
bloody hands to give his blood for Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.
He will not live to see, except in vision, the new world he gives
his bones to build--even his spinning word-whipped head knows that.
But the children! they shall live sweeter lives. The peasant leaves
his fireside to die upon the battle-field. What is it to him, a
grain in the human sand, that Russia should conquer the East, that
Germany should be united, that the English flag should wave above
new lands? the heritage his fathers left him shall be greater for
his sons. Patriotism! what is it but the mother instinct of a
Take it that the decree has gone forth from Heaven: There shall be
no more generations, with this life the world shall die. Think you
we should move another hand? The ships would rot in the harbours,
the grain would rot in the ground. Should we paint pictures, write
books, make music? hemmed in by that onward creeping sea of silence.
Think you with what eyes husband and wife would look on one another.
Think you of the wooing--the spring of Love dried up; love only a
pool of stagnant water.
How little we seem to realize this foundation of our life. Herein,
if nowhere else, lies our eternity. This Ego shall never die--
unless the human race from beginning to end be but a passing jest of
the Gods, to be swept aside when wearied of, leaving room for new
experiments. These features of mine--we will not discuss their
aesthetic value--shall never disappear; modified, varied, but in
essential the same, they shall continue in ever increasing circles
to the end of Time. This temperament of mine--this good and evil
that is in me, it shall grow with every age, spreading ever wider,
combining, amalgamating. I go into my children and my children's
children, I am eternal. I am they, they are I. The tree withers
and you clear the ground, thankful if out of its dead limbs you can
make good firewood; but its spirit, its life, is in fifty saplings.
The tree dies not, it changes.
These men and women that pass me in the street, this one hurrying to
his office, this one to his club, another to his love, they are the
mothers of the world to come.
This greedy trickster in stocks and shares, he cheats, he lies, he
wrongs all men--for what? Follow him to his luxurious home in the
suburbs: what do you find? A man with children on his knee,
telling them stories, promising them toys. His anxious, sordid
life, for what object is it lived? That these children may possess
the things that he thinks good for them. Our very vices, side by
side with our virtues, spring from this one root, Motherhood. It is
the one seed of the Universe. The planets are but children of the
sun, the moon but an offspring of the earth, stone of her stone,
iron of her iron. What is the Great Centre of us all, life animate
and inanimate--if any life be inanimate? Is the eternal universe one
dim figure, Motherhood, filling all space?
This scheming Mother of Mayfair, angling for a rich son-in-law! Not
a pleasing portrait to look upon, from one point of view. Let us
look at it, for a moment, from another. How weary she must be!
This is her third "function" to-night; the paint is running off her
poor face. She has been snubbed a dozen times by her social
superiors, openly insulted by a Duchess; yet she bears it with a
patient smile. It is a pitiful ambition, hers: it is that her
child shall marry money, shall have carriages and many servants,
live in Park Lane, wear diamonds, see her name in the Society
Papers. At whatever cost to herself, her daughter shall, if
possible, enjoy these things. She could so much more comfortably go
to bed, and leave the child to marry some well-to-do commercial
traveller. Justice, Reader, even for such. Her sordid scheming is
but the deformed child of Motherhood.
Motherhood! it is the gamut of God's orchestra, savageness and
cruelty at the one end, tenderness and self-sacrifice at the other.
The sparrow-hawk fights the hen: he seeking food for his brood, she
defending hers with her life. The spider sucks the fly to feed its
myriad young; the cat tortures the mouse to give its still throbbing
carcase to her kittens, and man wrongs man for children's sake.
Perhaps when the riot of the world reaches us whole, not broken, we
shall learn it is a harmony, each jangling discord fallen into its
place around the central theme, Motherhood.
ON THE INADVISABILITY OF FOLLOWING ADVICE
I was pacing the Euston platform late one winter's night, waiting
for the last train to Watford, when I noticed a man cursing an
automatic machine. Twice he shook his fist at it. I expected every
moment to see him strike it. Naturally curious, I drew near softly.
I wanted to catch what he was saying. However, he heard my
approaching footsteps, and turned on me. "Are you the man," said
he, "who was here just now?"
"Just where?" I replied. I had been pacing up and down the platform
for about five minutes.
"Why here, where we are standing," he snapped out. "Where do you
think 'here' is--over there?" He seemed irritable.
"I may have passed this spot in the course of my peregrinations, if
that is what you mean," I replied. I spoke with studied politeness;
my idea was to rebuke his rudeness.
"I mean," he answered, "are you the man that spoke to me, just a
"I am not that man," I said; "good-night."
"Are you sure?" he persisted.
"One is not likely to forget talking to you," I retorted.
His tone had been most offensive. "I beg your pardon," he replied
grudgingly. "I thought you looked like the man who spoke to me a
minute or so ago."
I felt mollified; he was the only other man on the platform, and I
had a quarter of an hour to wait. "No, it certainly wasn't me," I
returned genially, but ungrammatically. "Why, did you want him?"
"Yes, I did," he answered. "I put a penny in the slot here," he
continued, feeling apparently the need of unburdening himself:
"wanted a box of matches. I couldn't get anything put, and I was
shaking the machine, and swearing at it, as one does, when there
came along a man, about your size, and--you're SURE it wasn't you?"
"Positive," I again ungrammatically replied; "I would tell you if it
had been. What did he do?"
"Well, he saw what had happened, or guessed it. He said, 'They are
troublesome things, those machines; they want understanding.' I
said, 'They want taking up and flinging into the sea, that's what
they want!' I was feeling mad because I hadn't a match about me,
and I use a lot. He said, 'They stick sometimes; the thing to do is
to put another penny in; the weight of the first penny is not always
sufficient. The second penny loosens the drawer and tumbles out
itself; so that you get your purchase together with your first penny
back again. I have often succeeded that way.' Well, it seemed a
silly explanation, but he talked as if he had been weaned by an
automatic machine, and I was sawney enough to listen to him. I
dropped in what I thought was another penny. I have just discovered
it was a two-shilling piece. The fool was right to a certain
extent; I have got something out. I have got this."
He held it towards me; I looked at it. It was a packet of Everton
"Two and a penny," he remarked, bitterly. "I'll sell it for a third
of what it cost me."
"You have put your money into the wrong machine," I suggested.
"Well, I know that!" he answered, a little crossly, as it seemed to
me--he was not a nice man: had there been any one else to talk to I
should have left him. "It isn't losing the money I mind so much;
it's getting this damn thing, that annoys me. If I could find that
idiot Id ram it down his throat."
We walked to the end of the platform, side by side, in silence.
"There are people like that," he broke out, as we turned, "people
who will go about, giving advice. I'll be getting six months over
one of them, I'm always afraid. I remember a pony I had once." (I
judged the man to be a small farmer; he talked in a wurzelly tone.
I don't know if you understand what I mean, but an atmosphere of
wurzels was the thing that somehow he suggested.) "It was a
thoroughbred Welsh pony, as sound a little beast as ever stepped.
I'd had him out to grass all the winter, and one day in the early
spring I thought I'd take him for a run. I had to go to Amersham on
business. I put him into the cart, and drove him across; it is just
ten miles from my place. He was a bit uppish, and had lathered
himself pretty freely by the time we reached the town.
"A man was at the door of the hotel. He says, 'That's a good pony
"'Pretty middling,' I says.
"'It doesn't do to over-drive 'em, when they're young,' he says.
"I says, 'He's done ten miles, and I've done most of the pulling. I
reckon I'm a jolly sight more exhausted than he is.
"I went inside and did my business, and when I came out the man was
still there. 'Going back up the hill?' he says to me.
"Somehow, I didn't cotton to him from the beginning. 'Well, I've
got to get the other side of it,' I says, 'and unless you know any
patent way of getting over a hill without going up it, I reckon I
"He says, 'You take my advice: give him a pint of old ale before you
"'Old ale,' I says; 'why he's a teetotaler.'
"'Never you mind that,' he answers; 'you give him a pint of old ale.
I know these ponies; he's a good 'un, but he ain't set. A pint of
old ale, and he'll take you up that hill like a cable tramway, and
not hurt himself.'
"I don't know what it is about this class of man. One asks oneself
afterwards why one didn't knock his hat over his eyes and run his
head into the nearest horse-trough. But at the time one listens to
them. I got a pint of old ale in a hand-bowl, and brought it out.
About half-a-dozen chaps were standing round, and of course there
was a good deal of chaff.
"'You're starting him on the downward course, Jim,' says one of
them. 'He'll take to gambling, rob a bank, and murder his mother.
That's always the result of a glass of ale, 'cording to the tracts.'
"'He won't drink it like that,' says another; 'it's as flat as ditch
water. Put a head on it for him.'
"'Ain't you got a cigar for him?' says a third.
"'A cup of coffee and a round of buttered toast would do him a sight
more good, a cold day like this,' says a fourth.
"I'd half a mind then to throw the stuff away, or drink it myself;
it seemed a piece of bally nonsense, giving good ale to a
four-year-old pony; but the moment the beggar smelt the bowl he
reached out his head, and lapped it up as though he'd been a
Christian; and I jumped into the cart and started off, amid cheers.
We got up the hill pretty steady. Then the liquor began to work
into his head. I've taken home a drunken man more than once and
there's pleasanter jobs than that. I've seen a drunken woman, and
they're worse. But a drunken Welsh pony I never want to have
anything more to do with so long as I live. Having four legs he
managed to hold himself up; but as to guiding himself, he couldn't;
and as for letting me do it, he wouldn't. First we were one side of
the road, and then we were the other. When we were not either side,
we were crossways in the middle. I heard a bicycle bell behind me,
but I dared not turn my head. All I could do was to shout to the
fellow to keep where he was.
"'I want to pass you,' he sang out, so soon as he was near enough.
"'Well, you can't do it,' I called back.
"'Why can't I?' he answered. 'How much of the road do YOU want?'
"'All of it and a bit over,' I answered him, 'for this job, and
nothing in the way.'
"He followed me for half-a-mile, abusing me; and every time he
thought he saw a chance he tried to pass me. But the pony was
always a bit too smart for him. You might have thought the brute
was doing it on purpose.
"'You're not fit to be driving,' he shouted. He was quite right; I
wasn't. I was feeling just about dead beat.
"'What do you think you are?' he continued, 'the charge of the Light
Brigade?' (He was a common sort of fellow.) 'Who sent YOU home with
"Well, he was making me wild by this time. 'What's the good of
talking to me?' I shouted back. 'Come and blackguard the pony if
you want to blackguard anybody. I've got all I can do without the
help of that alarm clock of yours. Go away, you're only making him
"'What's the matter with the pony?' he called out.
"'Can't you see?' I answered. 'He's drunk.'
"Well, of course it sounded foolish; the truth often does.
"'One of you's drunk,' he retorted; 'for two pins I'd come and haul
you out of the cart.'
"I wish to goodness he had; I'd have given something to be out of
that cart. But he didn't have the chance. At that moment the pony
gave a sudden swerve; and I take it he must have been a bit too
close. I heard a yell and a curse, and at the same instant I was
splashed from head to foot with ditch water. Then the brute bolted.
A man was coming along, asleep on the top of a cart-load of windsor
chairs. It's disgraceful the way those wagoners go to sleep; I
wonder there are not more accidents. I don't think he ever knew
what had happened to him. I couldn't look round to see what became
of him; I only saw him start. Half-way down the hill a policeman
holla'd to me to stop. I heard him shouting out something about
furious driving. Half-a-mile this side of Chesham we came upon a
girls' school walking two and two--a 'crocodile' they call it, I
think. I bet you those girls are still talking about it. It must
have taken the old woman a good hour to collect them together again.
"It was market-day in Chesham; and I guess there has not been a
busier market-day in Chesham before or since. We went through the
town at about thirty miles an hour. I've never seen Chesham so
lively--it's a sleepy hole as a rule. A mile outside the town I
sighted the High Wycombe coach. I didn't feel I minded much; I had
got to that pass when it didn't seem to matter to me what happened;
I only felt curious. A dozen yards off the coach the pony stopped
dead; that jerked me off the seat to the bottom of the cart. I
couldn't get up, because the seat was on top of me. I could see
nothing but the sky, and occasionally the head of the pony, when he
stood upon his hind legs. But I could hear what the driver of the
coach said, and I judged he was having trouble also.
"'Take that damn circus out of the road,' he shouted. If he'd had
any sense he'd have seen how helpless I was. I could hear his
cattle plunging about; they are like that, horses--if they see one
fool, then they all want to be fools.
"'Take it home, and tie it up to its organ,' shouted the guard.
"Then an old woman went into hysterics, and began laughing like an
hyena. That started the pony off again, and, as far as I could
calculate by watching the clouds, we did about another four miles at
the gallop. Then he thought he'd try to jump a gate, and finding, I
suppose, that the cart hampered him, he started kicking it to
pieces. I'd never have thought a cart could have been separated
into so many pieces, if I hadn't seen it done. When he had got rid
of everything but half a wheel and the splashboard he bolted again.
I remained behind with the other ruins, and glad I was to get a
little rest. He came back later in the afternoon, and I was pleased
to sell him the next week for a five-pound-note: it cost me about
another ten to repair myself.
"To this day I am chaffed about that pony, and the local temperance
society made a lecture out of me. That's what comes of following
I sympathized with him. I have suffered from advice myself. I have
a friend, a City man, whom I meet occasionally. One of his most
ardent passions in life is to make my fortune. He button-holes me
in Threadneedle Street. "The very man I wanted to see," he says;
"I'm going to let you in for a good thing. We are getting up a
little syndicate." He is for ever "getting up" a little syndicate,
and for every hundred pounds you put into it you take a thousand
out. Had I gone into all his little syndicates, I could have been
worth at the present moment, I reckon, two million five hundred
thousand pounds. But I have not gone into all his little
syndicates. I went into one, years ago, when I was younger. I am
still in it; my friend is confident that my holding, later on, will
yield me thousands. Being, however, hard-up for ready money, I am
willing to part with my share to any deserving person at a genuine
reduction, upon a cash basis. Another friend of mine knows another
man who is "in the know" as regards racing matters. I suppose most
people possess a friend of this type. He is generally very popular
just before a race, and extremely unpopular immediately afterwards.
A third benefactor of mine is an enthusiast upon the subject of
diet. One day he brought me something in a packet, and pressed it
into my hand with the air of a man who is relieving you of all your
"What is it?" I asked.