Part 1 out of 4
THE LITTLE WHITE BIRD
I. David and I Set Forth Upon a Journey
II. The Little Nursery Governess
III. Her Marriage, Her Clothes, Her Appetite, and an
Inventory of Her Furniture.
IV. A Night-Piece
V. The Fight For Timothy
VI. A Shock
VII. The Last of Timothy
VIII. The Inconsiderate Waiter
IX. A Confirmed Spinster
X. Sporting Reflections
XI. The Runaway Perambulator
XII. The Pleasantest Club in London
XIII. The Graound Tour of the Gardens
XIV. Peter Pan
XV. The Thrush's Nest
XVI. Lock-Out Time
XVII. The Little House
XVIII. Peter's Goat
XIX. An Interloper
XX. David and Porthos Compared
XXI. William Paterson
XXV. The Cricket Match
XXVI. The Dedication
THE LITTLE WHITE BIRD
David and I Set Forth Upon a Journey
Sometimes the little boy who calls me father brings me an
invitation from his mother: "I shall be so pleased if you will
come and see me," and I always reply in some such words as these:
"Dear madam, I decline." And if David asks why I decline, I
explain that it is because I have no desire to meet the woman.
"Come this time, father," he urged lately, "for it is her
birthday, and she is twenty-six," which is so great an age to
David, that I think he fears she cannot last much longer.
"Twenty-six, is she, David?" I replied. "Tell her I said she
I had my delicious dream that night. I dreamt that I too was
twenty-six, which was a long time ago, and that I took train to a
place called my home, whose whereabouts I see not in my waking
hours, and when I alighted at the station a dear lost love was
waiting for me, and we went away together. She met me in no
ecstasy of emotion, nor was I surprised to find her there; it was
as if we had been married for years and parted for a day. I like
to think that I gave her some of the things to carry.
Were I to tell my delightful dream to David's mother, to whom I
have never in my life addressed one word, she would droop her
head and raise it bravely, to imply that I make her very sad but
very proud, and she would be wishful to lend me her absurd little
pocket handkerchief. And then, had I the heart, I might make a
disclosure that would startle her, for it is not the face of
David's mother that I see in my dreams.
Has it ever been your lot, reader, to be persecuted by a pretty
woman who thinks, without a tittle of reason, that you are bowed
down under a hopeless partiality for her? It is thus that I have
been pursued for several years now by the unwelcome sympathy of
the tender-hearted and virtuous Mary A----. When we pass in the
street the poor deluded soul subdues her buoyancy, as if it were
shame to walk happy before one she has lamed, and at such times
the rustle of her gown is whispered words of comfort to me, and
her arms are kindly wings that wish I was a little boy like
David. I also detect in her a fearful elation, which I am unaware
of until she has passed, when it comes back to me like a faint
note of challenge. Eyes that say you never must, nose that says
why don't you? and a mouth that says I rather wish you could:
such is the portrait of Mary A---- as she and I pass by.
Once she dared to address me, so that she could boast to David
that I had spoken to her. I was in the Kensington Gardens, and
she asked would I tell her the time please, just as children ask,
and forget as they run back with it to their nurse. But I was
prepared even for this, and raising my hat I pointed with my
staff to a clock in the distance. She should have been
overwhelmed, but as I walked on listening intently, I thought
with displeasure that I heard her laughing.
Her laugh is very like David's, whom I could punch all day in
order to hear him laugh. I dare say she put this laugh into him.
She has been putting qualities into David, altering him, turning
him forever on a lathe since the day she first knew him, and
indeed long before, and all so deftly that he is still called a
child of nature. When you release David's hand he is immediately
lost like an arrow from the bow. No sooner do you cast eyes on
him than you are thinking of birds. It is difficult to believe
that he walks to the Kensington Gardens; he always seems to have
alighted there: and were I to scatter crumbs I opine he would
come and peck. This is not what he set out to be; it is all the
doing of that timid-looking lady who affects to be greatly
surprised by it. He strikes a hundred gallant poses in a day;
when he tumbles, which is often, he comes to the ground like a
Greek god; so Mary A---- has willed it. But how she suffers that
he may achieve! I have seen him climbing a tree while she stood
beneath in unutterable anguish; she had to let him climb, for
boys must be brave, but I am sure that, as she watched him, she
fell from every branch.
David admires her prodigiously; he thinks her so good that she
will be able to get him into heaven, however naughty he is.
Otherwise he would trespass less light-heartedly. Perhaps she
has discovered this; for, as I learn from him, she warned him
lately that she is not such a dear as he thinks her.
"I am very sure of it," I replied.
"Is she such a dear as you think her?" he asked me.
"Heaven help her," I said, "if she be not dearer than that."
Heaven help all mothers if they be not really dears, for their
boy will certainly know it in that strange short hour of the day
when every mother stands revealed before her little son. That
dread hour ticks between six and seven; when children go to bed
later the revelation has ceased to come. He is lapt in for the
night now and lies quietly there, madam, with great, mysterious
eyes fixed upon his mother. He is summing up your day. Nothing
in the revelations that kept you together and yet apart in play
time can save you now; you two are of no age, no experience of
life separates you; it is the boy's hour, and you have come up
for judgment. "Have I done well to-day, my son?" You have got
to say it, and nothing may you hide from him; he knows all. How
like your voice has grown to his, but more tremulous, and both so
solemn, so unlike the voice of either of you by day.
"You were a little unjust to me to-day about the apple; were you
Stand there, woman, by the foot of the bed and cross your hands
and answer him.
"Yes, my son, I was. I thought--"
But what you thought will not affect the verdict.
"Was it fair, mother, to say that I could stay out till six, and
then pretend it was six before it was quite six?"
"No, it was very unfair. I thought--"
"Would it have been a lie if I had said it was quite six?"
"Oh, my son, my son! I shall never tell you a lie again."
"No, mother, please don't."
"My boy, have I done well to-day on the whole?"
Suppose he were unable to say yes.
These are the merest peccadilloes, you may say. Is it then a
little thing to be false to the agreement you signed when you got
the boy? There are mothers who avoid their children in that
hour, but this will not save them. Why is it that so many women
are afraid to be left alone with their thoughts between six and
seven? I am not asking this of you, Mary. I believe that when
you close David's door softly there is a gladness in your eyes,
and the awe of one who knows that the God to whom little boys say
their prayers has a face very like their mother's.
I may mention here that David is a stout believer in prayer, and
has had his first fight with another young Christian who
challenged him to the jump and prayed for victory, which David
thought was taking an unfair advantage.
"So Mary is twenty-six! I say, David, she is getting on. Tell
her that I am coming in to kiss her when she is fifty-two."
He told her, and I understand that she pretended to be indignant.
When I pass her in the street now she pouts. Clearly preparing
for our meeting. She has also said, I learn, that I shall not
think so much of her when she is fifty-two, meaning that she will
not be so pretty then. So little does the sex know of beauty.
Surely a spirited old lady may be the prettiest sight in the
world. For my part, I confess that it is they, and not the young
ones, who have ever been my undoing. Just as I was about to fall
in love I suddenly found that I preferred the mother. Indeed, I
cannot see a likely young creature without impatiently
considering her chances for, say, fifty-two. Oh, you mysterious
girls, when you are fifty-two we shall find you out; you must
come into the open then. If the mouth has fallen sourly yours
the blame: all the meannesses your youth concealed have been
gathering in your face. But the pretty thoughts and sweet ways
and dear, forgotten kindnesses linger there also, to bloom in
your twilight like evening primroses.
Is it not strange that, though I talk thus plainly to David about
his mother, he still seems to think me fond of her? How now, I
reflect, what sort of bumpkin is this, and perhaps I say to him
cruelly: "Boy, you are uncommonly like your mother."
To which David: "Is that why you are so kind to me?"
I suppose I am kind to him, but if so it is not for love of his
mother, but because he sometimes calls me father. On my honour
as a soldier, there is nothing more in it than that. I must not
let him know this, for it would make him conscious, and so break
the spell that binds him and me together. Oftenest I am but
Captain W---- to him, and for the best of reasons. He addresses me
as father when he is in a hurry only, and never have I dared ask
him to use the name. He says, "Come, father," with an accursed
beautiful carelessness. So let it be, David, for a little while
I like to hear him say it before others, as in shops. When in
shops he asks the salesman how much money he makes in a day, and
which drawer he keeps it in, and why his hair is red, and does he
like Achilles, of whom David has lately heard, and is so
enamoured that he wants to die to meet him. At such times the
shopkeepers accept me as his father, and I cannot explain the
peculiar pleasure this gives me. I am always in two minds then,
to linger that we may have more of it, and to snatch him away
before he volunteers the information, "He is not really my
When David meets Achilles I know what will happen. The little
boy will take the hero by the hand, call him father, and drag him
away to some Round Pond.
One day, when David was about five, I sent him the following
letter: "Dear David: If you really want to know how it began,
will you come and have a chop with me to-day at the club?"
Mary, who, I have found out, opens all his letters, gave her
consent, and, I doubt not, instructed him to pay heed to what
happened so that he might repeat it to her, for despite her
curiosity she knows not how it began herself. I chuckled,
guessing that she expected something romantic.
He came to me arrayed as for a mighty journey, and looking
unusually solemn, as little boys always do look when they are
wearing a great coat. There was a shawl round his neck. "You
can take some of them off," I said, "when we come to summer."
"Shall we come to summer?" he asked, properly awed.
"To many summers," I replied, "for we are going away back, David,
to see your mother as she was in the days before there was you."
We hailed a hansom. "Drive back six years," I said to the cabby,
"and stop at the Junior Old Fogies' Club."
He was a stupid fellow, and I had to guide him with my umbrella.
The streets were not quite as they had been in the morning. For
instance, the bookshop at the corner was now selling fish. I
dropped David a hint of what was going on.
"It doesn't make me littler, does it?" he asked anxiously; and
then, with a terrible misgiving: "It won't make me too little,
will it, father?" by which he meant that he hoped it would not do
for him altogether. He slipped his hand nervously into mine, and
I put it in my pocket.
You can't think how little David looked as we entered the portals
of the club.
The Little Nursery Governess
As I enter the club smoking-room you are to conceive David
vanishing into nothingness, and that it is any day six years ago
at two in the afternoon. I ring for coffee, cigarette, and
cherry brandy, and take my chair by the window, just as the
absurd little nursery governess comes tripping into the street.
I always feel that I have rung for her.
While I am lifting the coffee-pot cautiously lest the lid fall
into the cup, she is crossing to the post-office; as I select the
one suitable lump of sugar she is taking six last looks at the
letter; with the aid of William I light my cigarette, and now she
is re-reading the delicious address. I lie back in my chair, and
by this time she has dropped the letter down the slit. I toy
with my liqueur, and she is listening to hear whether the postal
authorities have come for her letter. I scowl at a fellow-member
who has had the impudence to enter the smoking-room, and her two
little charges are pulling her away from the post-office. When I
look out at the window again she is gone, but I shall ring for
her to-morrow at two sharp.
She must have passed the window many times before I noticed her.
I know not where she lives, though I suppose it to be hard by.
She is taking the little boy and girl, who bully her, to the St.
James's Park, as their hoops tell me, and she ought to look
crushed and faded. No doubt her mistress overworks her. It must
enrage the other servants to see her deporting herself as if she
were quite the lady.
I noticed that she had sometimes other letters to post, but that
the posting of the one only was a process. They shot down the
slit, plebeians all, but it followed pompously like royalty. I
have even seen her blow a kiss after it.
Then there was her ring, of which she was as conscious as if it
rather than she was what came gaily down the street. She felt it
through her glove to make sure that it was still there. She took
off the glove and raised the ring to her lips, though I doubt not
it was the cheapest trinket. She viewed it from afar by
stretching out her hand; she stooped to see how it looked near
the ground; she considered its effect on the right of her and on
the left of her and through one eye at a time. Even when you saw
that she had made up her mind to think hard of something else,
the little silly would take another look.
I give anyone three chances to guess why Mary was so happy.
No and no and no. The reason was simply this, that a lout of a
young man loved her. And so, instead of crying because she was
the merest nobody, she must, forsooth, sail jauntily down Pall
Mall, very trim as to her tackle and ticketed with the
insufferable air of an engaged woman. At first her complacency
disturbed me, but gradually it became part of my life at two
o'clock with the coffee, the cigarette, and the liqueur. Now
comes the tragedy.
Thursday is her great day. She has from two to three every
Thursday for her very own; just think of it: this girl, who is
probably paid several pounds a year, gets a whole hour to herself
once a week. And what does she with it? Attend classes for
making her a more accomplished person? Not she. This is what
she does: sets sail for Pall Mall, wearing all her pretty things,
including the blue feathers, and with such a sparkle of
expectation on her face that I stir my coffee quite fiercely. On
ordinary days she at least tries to look demure, but on a
Thursday she has had the assurance to use the glass door of the
club as a mirror in which to see how she likes her engaging
trifle of a figure to-day.
In the meantime a long-legged oaf is waiting for her outside the
post-office, where they meet every Thursday, a fellow who always
wears the same suit of clothes, but has a face that must ever
make him free of the company of gentlemen. He is one of your
lean, clean Englishmen, who strip so well, and I fear me he is
handsome; I say fear, for your handsome men have always annoyed
me, and had I lived in the duelling days I swear I would have
called every one of them out. He seems to be quite unaware that
he is a pretty fellow, but Lord, how obviously Mary knows it. I
conclude that he belongs to the artistic classes, he is so easily
elated and depressed; and because he carries his left thumb
curiously, as if it were feeling for the hole of a palette, I
have entered his name among the painters. I find pleasure in
deciding that they are shocking bad pictures, for obviously no
one buys them. I feel sure Mary says they are splendid, she is
that sort of woman. Hence the rapture with which he greets her.
Her first effect upon him is to make him shout with laughter. He
laughs suddenly haw from an eager exulting face, then haw again,
and then, when you are thanking heaven that it is at last over,
comes a final haw, louder than the others. I take them to be
roars of joy because Mary is his, and they have a ring of youth
about them that is hard to bear. I could forgive him everything
save his youth, but it is so aggressive that I have sometimes to
order William testily to close the window.
How much more deceitful than her lover is the little nursery
governess. The moment she comes into sight she looks at the
post- office and sees him. Then she looks straight before her,
and now she is observed, and he rushes across to her in a glory,
and she starts--positively starts--as if he had taken her by
surprise. Observe her hand rising suddenly to her wicked little
heart. This is the moment when I stir my coffee violently. He
gazes down at her in such rapture that he is in everybody's way,
and as she takes his arm she gives it a little squeeze, and then
away they strut, Mary doing nine-tenths of the talking. I fall
to wondering what they will look like when they grow up.
What a ludicrous difference do these two nobodies make to each
other. You can see that they are to be married when he has
Thus I have not an atom of sympathy with this girl, to whom
London is famous only as the residence of a young man who
mistakes her for someone else, but her happiness had become part
of my repast at two P.M., and when one day she walked down Pall
Mall without gradually posting a letter I was most indignant. It
was as if William had disobeyed orders. Her two charges were as
surprised as I, and pointed questioningly to the slit, at which
she shook her head. She put her finger to her eyes, exactly like
a sad baby, and so passed from the street.
Next day the same thing happened, and I was so furious that I bit
through my cigarette. Thursday came, when I prayed that there
might be an end of this annoyance, but no, neither of them
appeared on that acquainted ground. Had they changed their post-
office? No, for her eyes were red every day, and heavy was her
foolish little heart. Love had put out his lights, and the
little nursery governess walked in darkness.
I felt I could complain to the committee.
Oh, you selfish young zany of a man, after all you have said to
her, won't you make it up and let me return to my coffee? Not
Little nursery governess, I appeal to you. Annoying girl, be
joyous as of old during the five minutes of the day when you are
anything to me, and for the rest of the time, so far as I am
concerned, you may be as wretched as you list. Show some
courage. I assure you he must be a very bad painter; only the
other day I saw him looking longingly into the window of a cheap
Italian restaurant, and in the end he had to crush down his
aspirations with two penny scones.
You can do better than that. Come, Mary.
All in vain. She wants to be loved; can't do without love from
morning till night; never knew how little a woman needs till she
lost that little. They are all like this.
Zounds, madam, if you are resolved to be a drooping little figure
till you die, you might at least do it in another street.
Not only does she maliciously depress me by walking past on
ordinary days, but I have discovered that every Thursday from two
to three she stands afar off, gazing hopelessly at the romantic
post-office where she and he shall meet no more. In these windy
days she is like a homeless leaf blown about by passers-by.
There is nothing I can do except thunder at William.
At last she accomplished her unworthy ambition. It was a wet
Thursday, and from the window where I was writing letters I saw
the forlorn soul taking up her position at the top of the street:
in a blast of fury I rose with the one letter I had completed,
meaning to write the others in my chambers. She had driven me
from the club.
I had turned out of Pall Mall into a side street, when whom
should I strike against but her false swain! It was my fault,
but I hit out at him savagely, as I always do when I run into
anyone in the street. Then I looked at him. He was hollow-eyed;
he was muddy; there was not a haw left in him. I never saw a
more abject young man; he had not even the spirit to resent the
testy stab I had given him with my umbrella. But this is the
important thing: he was glaring wistfully at the post-office and
thus in a twink I saw that he still adored my little governess.
Whatever had been their quarrel he was as anxious to make it up
as she, and perhaps he had been here every Thursday while she was
round the corner in Pall Mall, each watching the post-office for
an apparition. But from where they hovered neither could see the
I think what I did was quite clever. I dropped my letter unseen
at his feet, and sauntered back to the club. Of course, a
gentleman who finds a letter on the pavement feels bound to post
it, and I presumed that he would naturally go to the nearest
With my hat on I strolled to the smoking-room window, and was
just in time to see him posting my letter across the way. Then I
looked for the little nursery governess. I saw her as woe-begone
as ever; then, suddenly--oh, you poor little soul, and has it
really been as bad as that!
She was crying outright, and he was holding both her hands. It
was a disgraceful exhibition. The young painter would evidently
explode if he could not make use of his arms. She must die if
she could not lay her head upon his breast. I must admit that he
rose to the occasion; he hailed a hansom.
"William," said I gaily, "coffee, cigarette, and cherry brandy."
As I sat there watching that old play David plucked my sleeve to
ask what I was looking at so deedily; and when I told him he ran
eagerly to the window, but he reached it just too late to see the
lady who was to become his mother. What I told him of her
doings, however, interested him greatly; and he intimated rather
shyly that he was acquainted with the man who said,
"Haw-haw-haw." On the other hand, he irritated me by betraying
an idiotic interest in the two children, whom he seemed to regard
as the hero and heroine of the story. What were their names?
How old were they? Had they both hoops? Were they iron hoops, or
just wooden hoops? Who gave them their hoops?
"You don't seem to understand, my boy," I said tartly, "that had
I not dropped that letter, there would never have been a little
boy called David A----." But instead of being appalled by this he
asked, sparkling, whether I meant that he would still be a bird
flying about in the Kensington Gardens.
David knows that all children in our part of London were once
birds in the Kensington Gardens; and that the reason there are
bars on nursery windows and a tall fender by the fire is because
very little people sometimes forget that they have no longer
wings, and try to fly away through the window or up the chimney.
Children in the bird stage are difficult to catch. David knows
that many people have none, and his delight on a summer afternoon
is to go with me to some spot in the Gardens where these
unfortunates may be seen trying to catch one with small pieces of
That the birds know what would happen if they were caught, and
are even a little undecided about which is the better life, is
obvious to every student of them. Thus, if you leave your empty
perambulator under the trees and watch from a distance, you will
see the birds boarding it and hopping about from pillow to
blanket in a twitter of excitement; they are trying to find out
how babyhood would suit them.
Quite the prettiest sight in the Gardens is when the babies stray
from the tree where the nurse is sitting and are seen feeding the
birds, not a grownup near them. It is first a bit to me and then
a bit to you, and all the time such a jabbering and laughing from
both sides of the railing. They are comparing notes and
inquiring for old friends, and so on; but what they say I cannot
determine, for when I approach they all fly away.
The first time I ever saw David was on the sward behind the
Baby's Walk. He was a missel-thrush, attracted thither that hot
day by a hose which lay on the ground sending forth a gay trickle
of water, and David was on his back in the water, kicking up his
legs. He used to enjoy being told of this, having forgotten all
about it, and gradually it all came back to him, with a number of
other incidents that had escaped my memory, though I remember
that he was eventually caught by the leg with a long string and a
cunning arrangement of twigs near the Round Pond. He never tires
of this story, but I notice that it is now he who tells it to me
rather than I to him, and when we come to the string he rubs his
little leg as if it still smarted.
So when David saw his chance of being a missel-thrush again he
called out to me quickly: "Don't drop the letter!" and there were
tree-tops in his eyes.
"Think of your mother," I said severely.
He said he would often fly in to see her. The first thing he
would do would be to hug her. No, he would alight on the water-
jug first, and have a drink.
"Tell her, father," he said with horrid heartlessness, "always to
have plenty of water in it, 'cos if I had to lean down too far I
might fall in and be drownded."
"Am I not to drop the letter, David? Think of your poor mother
without her boy!"
It affected him, but he bore up. When she was asleep, he said,
he would hop on to the frilly things of her night-gown and peck
at her mouth.
"And then she would wake up, David, and find that she had only a
bird instead of a boy."
This shock to Mary was more than he could endure. "You can drop
it," he said with a sigh. So I dropped the letter, as I think I
have already mentioned; and that is how it all began.
Her Marriage, Her Clothes, Her Appetite, and an Inventory of Her
A week or two after I dropped the letter I was in a hansom on my
way to certain barracks when loud above the city's roar I heard
that accursed haw-haw-haw, and there they were, the two of them,
just coming out of a shop where you may obtain pianos on the hire
system. I had the merest glimpse of them, but there was an
extraordinary rapture on her face, and his head was thrown
proudly back, and all because they had been ordering a piano on
the hire system.
So they were to be married directly. It was all rather
contemptible, but I passed on tolerantly, for it is only when she
is unhappy that this woman disturbs me, owing to a clever way she
has at such times of looking more fragile than she really is.
When next I saw them, they were gazing greedily into the window
of the sixpenny-halfpenny shop, which is one of the most
deliciously dramatic spots in London. Mary was taking notes
feverishly on a slip of paper while he did the adding up, and in
the end they went away gloomily without buying anything. I was
in high feather. "Match abandoned, ma'am," I said to myself;
"outlook hopeless; another visit to the Governesses' Agency
inevitable; can't marry for want of a kitchen shovel." But I was
imperfectly acquainted with the lady.
A few days afterward I found myself walking behind her. There is
something artful about her skirts by which I always know her,
though I can't say what it is. She was carrying an enormous
parcel that might have been a bird-cage wrapped in brown paper,
and she took it into a bric-a-brac shop and came out without it.
She then ran rather than walked in the direction of the sixpenny-
halfpenny shop. Now mystery of any kind is detestable to me, and
I went into the bric-a-brac shop, ostensibly to look at the
cracked china; and there, still on the counter, with the wrapping
torn off it, was the article Mary had sold in order to furnish on
the proceeds. What do you think it was? It was a wonderful
doll's house, with dolls at tea downstairs and dolls going to bed
upstairs, and a doll showing a doll out at the front door.
Loving lips had long ago licked most of the paint off, but
otherwise the thing was in admirable preservation; obviously the
joy of Mary's childhood, it had now been sold by her that she
might get married.
"Lately purchased by us," said the shopwoman, seeing me look at
the toy, "from a lady who has no further use for it."
I think I have seldom been more indignant with Mary. I bought
the doll's house, and as they knew the lady's address (it was at
this shop that I first learned her name) I instructed them to
send it back to her with the following letter, which I wrote in
the shop: "Dear madam, don't be ridiculous. You will certainly
have further use for this. I am, etc., the Man Who Dropped the
It pained me afterward, but too late to rescind the order, to
reflect that I had sent her a wedding present; and when next I
saw her she had been married for some months. The time was nine
o'clock of a November evening, and we were in a street of shops
that has not in twenty years decided whether to be genteel or
frankly vulgar; here it minces in the fashion, but take a step
onward and its tongue is in the cup of the ice-cream man. I
usually rush this street, which is not far from my rooms, with
the glass down, but to-night I was walking. Mary was in front of
me, leaning in a somewhat foolish way on the haw-er, and they
were chatting excitedly. She seemed to be remonstrating with him
for going forward, yet more than half admiring him for not
turning back, and I wondered why.
And after all what was it that Mary and her painter had come out
to do? To buy two pork chops. On my honour. She had been
trying to persuade him, I decided, that they were living too
lavishly. That was why she sought to draw him back. But in her
heart she loves audacity, and that is why she admired him for
No sooner had they bought the chops than they scurried away like
two gleeful children to cook them. I followed, hoping to trace
them to their home, but they soon out-distanced me, and that
night I composed the following aphorism: It is idle to attempt to
overtake a pretty young woman carrying pork chops. I was now
determined to be done with her. First, however, to find out
their abode, which was probably within easy distance of the shop.
I even conceived them lured into taking their house by the
advertisement, "Conveniently situated for the Pork Emporium."
Well, one day--now this really is romantic and I am rather proud
of it. My chambers are on the second floor, and are backed by an
anxiously polite street between which and mine are little yards
called, I think, gardens. They are so small that if you have the
tree your neighbour has the shade from it. I was looking out at
my back window on the day we have come to when whom did I see but
the whilom nursery governess sitting on a chair in one of these
gardens. I put up my eye-glass to make sure, and undoubtedly it
was she. But she sat there doing nothing, which was by no means
my conception of the jade, so I brought a fieldglass to bear and
discovered that the object was merely a lady's jacket. It hung
on the back of a kitchen chair, seemed to be a furry thing, and,
I must suppose, was suspended there for an airing.
I was chagrined, and then I insisted stoutly with myself that, as
it was not Mary, it must be Mary's jacket. I had never seen her
wear such a jacket, mind you, yet I was confident, I can't tell
why. Do clothes absorb a little of the character of their
wearer, so that I recognised this jacket by a certain coquetry?
If she has a way with her skirts that always advertises me of her
presence, quite possibly she is as cunning with jackets. Or
perhaps she is her own seamstress, and puts in little tucks of
Figure it what you please; but I beg to inform you that I put on
my hat and five minutes afterward saw Mary and her husband emerge
from the house to which I had calculated that garden belonged.
Now am I clever, or am I not?
When they had left the street I examined the house leisurely, and
a droll house it is. Seen from the front it appears to consist
of a door and a window, though above them the trained eye may
detect another window, the air-hole of some apartment which it
would be just like Mary's grandiloquence to call her bedroom.
The houses on each side of this bandbox are tall, and I
discovered later that it had once been an open passage to the
back gardens. The story and a half of which it consists had been
knocked up cheaply, by carpenters I should say rather than
masons, and the general effect is of a brightly coloured van that
has stuck for ever on its way through the passage.
The low houses of London look so much more homely than the tall
ones that I never pass them without dropping a blessing on their
builders, but this house was ridiculous; indeed it did not call
itself a house, for over the door was a board with the
inscription "This space to be sold," and I remembered, as I rang
the bell, that this notice had been up for years. On avowing
that I wanted a space, I was admitted by an elderly, somewhat
dejected looking female, whose fine figure was not on scale with
her surroundings. Perhaps my face said so, for her first remark
"They get me cheap," she said, "because I drink."
I bowed, and we passed on to the drawing-room. I forget whether
I have described Mary's personal appearance, but if so you have a
picture of that sunny drawing-room. My first reflection was, How
can she have found the money to pay for it all! which is always
your first reflection when you see Mary herself a-tripping down
I have no space (in that little room) to catalogue all the whim-
whams with which she had made it beautiful, from the hand-sewn
bell-rope which pulled no bell to the hand-painted cigar-box that
contained no cigars. The floor was of a delicious green with
exquisite oriental rugs; green and white, I think, was the lady's
scheme of colour, something cool, you observe, to keep the sun
under. The window-curtains were of some rare material and the
colour of the purple clematis; they swept the floor grandly and
suggested a picture of Mary receiving visitors. The piano we may
ignore, for I knew it to be hired, but there were many dainty
pieces, mostly in green wood, a sofa, a corner cupboard, and a
most captivating desk, which was so like its owner that it could
have sat down at her and dashed off a note. The writing paper on
this desk had the word Mary printed on it, implying that if there
were other Marys they didn't count. There were many oil-
paintings on the walls, mostly without frames, and I must mention
the chandelier, which was obviously of fabulous worth, for she
had encased it in a holland bag.
"I perceive, ma'am," said I to the stout maid, "that your master
is in affluent circumstances."
She shook her head emphatically, and said something that I failed
"You wish to indicate," I hazarded, "that he married a fortune."
This time I caught the words. They were "Tinned meats," and
having uttered them she lapsed into gloomy silence.
"Nevertheless," I said, "this room must have cost a pretty
"She done it all herself," replied my new friend, with
"But this green floor, so beautifully stained--"
"Boiling oil," said she, with a flush of honest shame, "and a
shillingsworth o' paint."
"Remnants," she sighed, and showed me how artfully they had been
"At all events the sofa--"
She raised its drapery, and I saw that the sofa was built of
I really thought that I was safe this time, for could I not see
the drawers with their brass handles, the charming shelf for
books, the pigeon-holes with their coverings of silk?
"She made it out of three orange boxes," said the lady, at last a
little awed herself.
I looked around me despairingly, and my eye alighted on the
holland covering. "There is a fine chandelier in that holland
bag," I said coaxingly.
She sniffed and was raising an untender hand, when I checked her.
"Forbear, ma'am," I cried with authority, "I prefer to believe in
that bag. How much to be pitied, ma'am, are those who have lost
faith in everything." I think all the pretty things that the
little nursery governess had made out of nothing squeezed my hand
for letting the chandelier off.
"But, good God, ma'am," said I to madam, "what an exposure."
She intimated that there were other exposures upstairs.
"So there is a stair," said I, and then, suspiciously, "did she
No, but how she had altered it.
The stair led to Mary's bedroom, and I said I would not look at
that, nor at the studio, which was a shed in the garden.
"Did she build the studio with her own hands?"
No, but how she had altered it.
"How she alters everything," I said. "Do you think you are safe,
She thawed a little under my obvious sympathy and honoured me
with some of her views and confidences. The rental paid by Mary
and her husband was not, it appeared, one on which any self-
respecting domestic could reflect with pride. They got the house
very cheap on the understanding that they were to vacate it
promptly if anyone bought it for building purposes, and because
they paid so little they had to submit to the indignity of the
notice-board. Mary A---- detested the words "This space to be
sold," and had been known to shake her fist at them. She was as
elated about her house as if it were a real house, and always
trembled when any possible purchaser of spaces called.
As I have told you my own aphorism I feel I ought in fairness to
record that of this aggrieved servant. It was on the subject of
art. "The difficulty," she said, "is not to paint pictures, but
to get frames for them." A home thrust this.
She could not honestly say that she thought much of her master's
work. Nor, apparently, did any other person. Result, tinned
Yes, one person thought a deal of it, or pretended to do so; was
constantly flinging up her hands in delight over it; had even
been caught whispering fiercely to a friend, "Praise it, praise
it, praise it!" This was when the painter was sunk in gloom.
Never, as I could well believe, was such a one as Mary for luring
a man back to cheerfulness.
"A dangerous woman," I said, with a shudder, and fell to
examining a painting over the mantel-shelf. It was a portrait of
a man, and had impressed me favourably because it was framed.
"A friend of hers," my guide informed me, "but I never seed him."
I would have turned away from it, had not an inscription on the
picture drawn me nearer. It was in a lady's handwriting, and
these were the words: "Fancy portrait of our dear unknown."
Could it be meant for me? I cannot tell you how interested I
It represented a very fine looking fellow, indeed, and not a day
more than thirty.
"A friend of hers, ma'am, did you say?" I asked quite shakily.
"How do you know that, if you have never seen him?"
"When master was painting of it," she said, "in the studio, he
used to come running in here to say to her such like as, 'What
colour would you make his eyes?'"
"And her reply, ma'am?" I asked eagerly.
"She said, 'Beautiful blue eyes.' And he said, 'You wouldn't
make it a handsome face, would you?' and she says, 'A very
handsome face.' And says he, 'Middle-aged?' and says she,
'Twenty-nine.' And I mind him saying, 'A little bald on the top?'
and she says, says she, 'Not at all.'"
The dear, grateful girl, not to make me bald on the top.
"I have seed her kiss her hand to that picture," said the maid.
Fancy Mary kissing her hand to me! Oh, the pretty love!
I was staring at the picture, cogitating what insulting message I
could write on it, when I heard the woman's voice again. "I
think she has known him since she were a babby," she was saying,
"for this here was a present he give her."
She was on her knees drawing the doll's house from beneath the
sofa, where it had been hidden away; and immediately I thought,
"I shall slip the insulting message into this." But I did not,
and I shall tell you why. It was because the engaging toy had
been redecorated by loving hands; there were fresh gowns for all
the inhabitants, and the paint on the furniture was scarcely dry.
The little doll's house was almost ready for further use.
I looked at the maid, but her face was expressionless. "Put it
back," I said, ashamed to have surprised Mary's pretty secret,
and I left the house dejectedly, with a profound conviction that
the little nursery governess had hooked on to me again.
There came a night when the husband was alone in that street
waiting. He can do nothing for you now, little nursery
governess, you must fight it out by yourself; when there are
great things to do in the house the man must leave. Oh, man,
selfish, indelicate, coarse-grained at the best, thy woman's hour
has come; get thee gone.
He slouches from the house, always her true lover I do believe,
chivalrous, brave, a boy until to-night; but was he ever unkind
to her? It is the unpardonable sin now; is there the memory of
an unkindness to stalk the street with him to-night? And if not
an unkindness, still might he not sometimes have been a little
Shall we make a new rule of life from tonight: always to try to
be a little kinder than is necessary?
Poor youth, she would come to the window if she were able, I am
sure, to sign that the one little unkindness is long forgotten,
to send you a reassuring smile till you and she meet again; and,
if you are not to meet again, still to send you a reassuring,
Ah, no, that was for yesterday; it is too late now. He wanders
the streets thinking of her tonight, but she has forgotten him.
In her great hour the man is nothing to the woman; their love is
He and I were on opposite sides of the street, now become
familiar ground to both of us, and divers pictures rose before me
in which Mary A---- walked. Here was the morning after my only
entry into her house. The agent had promised me to have the
obnoxious notice-board removed, but I apprehended that as soon as
the letter announcing his intention reached her she would remove
it herself, and when I passed by in the morning there she was on
a chair and a foot-stool pounding lustily at it with a hammer.
When it fell she gave it such a vicious little kick.
There were the nights when her husband came out to watch for the
postman. I suppose he was awaiting some letter big with the fate
of a picture. He dogged the postman from door to door like an
assassin or a guardian angel; never had he the courage to ask if
there was a letter for him, but almost as it fell into the box he
had it out and tore it open, and then if the door closed
despairingly the woman who had been at the window all this time
pressed her hand to her heart. But if the news was good they
might emerge presently and strut off arm in arm in the direction
of the pork emporium.
One last picture. On summer evenings I had caught glimpses of
them through the open window, when she sat at the piano singing
and playing to him. Or while she played with one hand, she flung
out the other for him to grasp. She was so joyously happy, and
she had such a romantic mind. I conceived her so sympathetic
that she always laughed before he came to the joke, and I am sure
she had filmy eyes from the very start of a pathetic story.
And so, laughing and crying, and haunted by whispers, the little
nursery governess had gradually become another woman, glorified,
mysterious. I suppose a man soon becomes used to the great
change, and cannot recall a time when there were no babes
sprawling in his Mary's face.
I am trying to conceive what were the thoughts of the young
husband on the other side of the street. "If the barrier is to
be crossed to-night may I not go with her? She is not so brave
as you think her. When she talked so gaily a few hours ago, O my
God, did she deceive even you?"
Plain questions to-night. "Why should it all fall on her? What
is the man that he should be flung out into the street in this
terrible hour? You have not been fair to the man."
Poor boy, his wife has quite forgotten him and his trumpery love.
If she lives she will come back to him, but if she dies she will
die triumphant and serene. Life and death, the child and the
mother, are ever meeting as the one draws into harbour and the
other sets sail. They exchange a bright "All's well" and pass
The only ghosts, I believe, who creep into this world, are dead
young mothers, returned to see how their children fare. There is
no other inducement great enough to bring the departed back.
They glide into the acquainted room when day and night, their
jailers, are in the grip, and whisper, "How is it with you, my
child?" but always, lest a strange face should frighten him, they
whisper it so low that he may not hear. They bend over him to
see that he sleeps peacefully, and replace his sweet arm beneath
the coverlet, and they open the drawers to count how many little
vests he has. They love to do these things.
What is saddest about ghosts is that they may not know their
child. They expect him to be just as he was when they left him,
and they are easily bewildered, and search for him from room to
room, and hate the unknown boy he has become. Poor, passionate
souls, they may even do him an injury. These are the ghosts that
go wailing about old houses, and foolish wild stories are
invented to explain what is all so pathetic and simple. I know
of a man who, after wandering far, returned to his early home to
pass the evening of his days in it, and sometimes from his chair
by the fire he saw the door open softly and a woman's face
appear. She always looked at him very vindictively, and then
vanished. Strange things happened in this house. Windows were
opened in the night. The curtains of his bed were set fire to.
A step on the stair was loosened. The covering of an old well in
a corridor where he walked was cunningly removed. And when he
fell ill the wrong potion was put in the glass by his bedside,
and he died. How could the pretty young mother know that this
grizzled interloper was the child of whom she was in search?
All our notions about ghosts are wrong. It is nothing so petty
as lost wills or deeds of violence that brings them back, and we
are not nearly so afraid of them as they are of us.
One by one the lights of the street went out, but still a lamp
burned steadily in the little window across the way. I know not
how it happened, whether I had crossed first to him or he to me,
but, after being for a long time as the echo of each other's
steps, we were together now. I can have had no desire to deceive
him, but some reason was needed to account for my vigil, and I
may have said something that he misconstrued, for above my words
he was always listening for other sounds. But however it came
about he had conceived the idea that I was an outcast for a
reason similar to his own, and I let his mistake pass, it seemed
to matter so little and to draw us together so naturally. We
talked together of many things, such as worldly ambition. For
long ambition has been like an ancient memory to me, some
glorious day recalled from my springtime, so much a thing of the
past that I must make a railway journey to revisit it as to look
upon the pleasant fields in which that scene was laid. But he
had been ambitious yesterday.
I mentioned worldly ambition. "Good God!" he said with a
There was a clock hard by that struck the quarters, and one
o'clock passed and two. What time is it now? Twenty past two.
And now? It is still twenty past two.
I asked him about his relatives, and neither he nor she had any.
"We have a friend--" he began and paused, and then rambled into a
not very understandable story about a letter and a doll's house
and some unknown man who had bought one of his pictures, or was
supposed to have done so, in a curiously clandestine manner. I
could not quite follow the story.
"It is she who insists that it is always the same person," he
said. "She thinks he will make himself known to me if anything
happens to her." His voice suddenly went husky. "She told me,"
he said, "if she died and I discovered him, to give him her
At this we parted abruptly, as we did at intervals throughout the
night, to drift together again presently. He tried to tell me of
some things she had asked him to do should she not get over this,
but what they were I know not, for they engulfed him at the first
step. He would draw back from them as ill-omened things, and
next moment he was going over them to himself like a child at
lessons. A child! In that short year she had made him entirely
dependent on her. It is ever thus with women: their first
deliberate act is to make their husband helpless. There are few
men happily married who can knock in a nail.
But it was not of this that I was thinking. I was wishing I had
not degenerated so much.
Well, as you know, the little nursery governess did not die. At
eighteen minutes to four we heard the rustle of David's wings.
He boasts about it to this day, and has the hour to a syllable as
if the first thing he ever did was to look at the clock.
An oldish gentleman had opened the door and waved congratulations
to my companion, who immediately butted at me, drove me against a
wall, hesitated for a second with his head down as if in doubt
whether to toss me, and then rushed away. I followed slowly. I
shook him by the hand, but by this time he was haw-haw-hawing so
abominably that a disgust of him swelled up within me, and with
it a passionate desire to jeer once more at Mary A--
"It is little she will care for you now," I said to the fellow;
"I know the sort of woman; her intellectuals (which are all she
has to distinguish her from the brutes) are so imperfectly
developed that she will be a crazy thing about that boy for the
next three years. She has no longer occasion for you, my dear
sir; you are like a picture painted out."
But I question whether he heard me. I returned to my home.
Home! As if one alone can build a nest. How often as I have
ascended the stairs that lead to my lonely, sumptuous rooms, have
I paused to listen to the hilarity of the servants below. That
morning I could not rest: I wandered from chamber to chamber,
followed by my great dog, and all were alike empty and desolate.
I had nearly finished a cigar when I thought I heard a pebble
strike the window, and looking out I saw David's father standing
beneath. I had told him that I lived in this street, and I
suppose my lights had guided him to my window.
"I could not lie down," he called up hoarsely, "until I heard
your news. Is it all right?"
For a moment I failed to understand him. Then I said sourly:
"Yes, all is right."
"Both doing well?" he inquired.
"Both," I answered, and all the time I was trying to shut the
window. It was undoubtedly a kindly impulse that had brought him
out, but I was nevertheless in a passion with him.
"Boy or girl?" persisted the dodderer with ungentlemanlike
"Boy," I said, very furiously.
"Splendid," he called out, and I think he added something else,
but by that time I had closed the window with a slam.
The Fight For Timothy
Mary's poor pretentious babe screamed continually, with a note of
exultation in his din, as if he thought he was devoting himself
to a life of pleasure, and often the last sound I heard as I got
me out of the street was his haw-haw-haw, delivered triumphantly
as if it were some entirely new thing, though he must have
learned it like a parrot. I had not one tear for the woman, but
Poor father, thought I; to know that every time your son is happy
you are betrayed. Phew, a nauseous draught.
I have the acquaintance of a deliciously pretty girl, who is
always sulky, and the thoughtless beseech her to be bright, not
witting wherein lies her heroism. She was born the merriest of
maids, but, being a student of her face, learned anon that
sulkiness best becomes it, and so she has struggled and
prevailed. A woman's history. Brave Margaret, when night falls
and thy hair is down, dost thou return, I wonder, to thy natural
state, or, dreading the shadow of indulgence, sleepest thou even
But will a male child do as much for his father? This remains to
be seen, and so, after waiting several months, I decided to buy
David a rocking-horse. My St. Bernard dog accompanied me, though
I have always been diffident of taking him to toy-shops, which
over-excite him. Hitherto the toys I had bought had always been
for him, and as we durst not admit this to the saleswoman we were
both horribly self-conscious when in the shop. A score of times
I have told him that he had much better not come, I have
announced fiercely that he is not to come. He then lets go of
his legs, which is how a St. Bernard sits down, making the noise
of a sack of coals suddenly deposited, and, laying his head
between his front paws, stares at me through the red haws that
make his eyes so mournful. He will do this for an hour without
blinking, for he knows that in time it will unman me. My dog
knows very little, but what little he does know he knows
extraordinarily well. One can get out of my chambers by a back
way, and I sometimes steal softly--but I can't help looking back,
and there he is, and there are those haws asking sorrowfully, "Is
this worthy of you?"
"Curse you," I say, "get your hat," or words to that effect.
He has even been to the club, where he waddles up the stairs so
exactly like some respected member that he makes everybody most
uncomfortable. I forget how I became possessor of him. I think
I cut him out of an old number of Punch. He costs me as much as
an eight-roomed cottage in the country.
He was a full-grown dog when I first, most foolishly, introduced
him to toys. I had bought a toy in the street for my own
amusement. It represented a woman, a young mother, flinging her
little son over her head with one hand and catching him in the
other, and I was entertaining myself on the hearth-rug with this
pretty domestic scene when I heard an unwonted sound from
Porthos, and, looking up, I saw that noble and melancholic
countenance on the broad grin. I shuddered and was for putting
the toy away at once, but he sternly struck down my arm with his,
and signed that I was to continue. The unmanly chuckle always
came, I found, when the poor lady dropped her babe, but the whole
thing entranced him; he tried to keep his excitement down by
taking huge draughts of water; he forgot all his niceties of
conduct; he sat in holy rapture with the toy between his paws,
took it to bed with him, ate it in the night, and searched for it
so longingly next day that I had to go out and buy him the man
with the scythe. After that we had everything of note, the
bootblack boy, the toper with bottle, the woolly rabbit that
squeaks when you hold it in your mouth; they all vanished as
inexplicably as the lady, but I dared not tell him my suspicions,
for he suspected also and his gentle heart would have mourned had
I confirmed his fears.
The dame in the temple of toys which we frequent thinks I want
them for a little boy and calls him "the precious" and "the
lamb," the while Porthos is standing gravely by my side. She is
a motherly soul, but over-talkative.
"And how is the dear lamb to-day?" she begins, beaming.
"Well, ma'am, well," I say, keeping tight grip of his collar.
"This blighty weather is not affecting his darling appetite?"
"No, ma'am, not at all." (She would be considerably surprised if
informed that he dined to-day on a sheepshead, a loaf, and three
cabbages, and is suspected of a leg of mutton.)
"I hope he loves his toys?"
"He carries them about with him everywhere, ma'am." (Has the one
we bought yesterday with him now, though you might not think it
to look at him.)
"What do you say to a box of tools this time?"
"I think not, ma'am."
"Is the deary fond of digging?"
"Very partial to digging." (We shall find the leg of mutton some
"Then perhaps a weeny spade and a pail?"
She got me to buy a model of Canterbury Cathedral once, she was
so insistent, and Porthos gave me his mind about it when we got
home. He detests the kindergarten system, and as she is absurdly
prejudiced in its favour we have had to try other shops. We went
to the Lowther Arcade for the rocking-horse. Dear Lowther
Arcade! Ofttimes have we wandered agape among thy enchanted
palaces, Porthos and I, David and I, David and Porthos and I. I
have heard that thou art vulgar, but I cannot see how, unless it
be that tattered children haunt thy portals, those awful yet
smiling entrances to so much joy. To the Arcade there are two
entrances, and with much to be sung in laudation of that which
opens from the Strand I yet on the whole prefer the other as the
more truly romantic, because it is there the tattered ones
congregate, waiting to see the Davids emerge with the magic lamp.
We have always a penny for them, and I have known them, before
entering the Arcade with it, retire (but whither?) to wash;
surely the prettiest of all the compliments that are paid to the
home of toys.
And now, O Arcade, so much fairer than thy West End brother, we
are told that thou art doomed, anon to be turned into an
eatinghouse or a hive for usurers, something rankly useful. All
thy delights are under notice to quit. The Noah's arks are
packed one within another, with clockwork horses harnessed to
them; the soldiers, knapsack on back, are kissing their hands to
the dear foolish girls, who, however, will not be left behind
them; all the four-footed things gather around the elephant, who
is overful of drawing-room furniture; the birds flutter their
wings; the man with the scythe mows his way through the crowd;
the balloons tug at their strings; the ships rock under a swell
of sail, everything is getting ready for the mighty exodus into
the Strand. Tears will be shed.
So we bought the horse in the Lowther Arcade, Porthos, who
thought it was for him, looking proud but uneasy, and it was sent
to the bandbox house anonymously. About a week afterward I had
the ill- luck to meet Mary's a husband in Kensington, so I asked
him what he had called his little girl.
"It is a boy," he replied, with intolerable good-humour, "we call
And then with a singular lack of taste he wanted the name of my
I flicked my glove. "Timothy," said I.
I saw a suppressed smile on his face, and said hotly that Timothy
was as good a name as David. "I like it," he assured me, and
expressed a hope that they would become friends. I boiled to say
that I really could not allow Timothy to mix with boys of the
David class, but I refrained, and listened coldly while he told
me what David did when you said his toes were pigs going to
market or returning from it, I forget which. He also boasted of
David's weight (a subject about which we are uncommonly touchy at
the club), as if children were for throwing forth for a wager.
But no more about Timothy. Gradually this vexed me. I felt what
a forlorn little chap Timothy was, with no one to say a word for
him, and I became his champion and hinted something about
teething, but withdrew it when it seemed too surprising, and
tried to get on to safer ground, such as bibs and general
intelligence, but the painter fellow was so willing to let me
have my say, and knew so much more about babies than is fitting
for men to know, that I paled before him and wondered why the
deuce he was listening to me so attentively.
You may remember a story he had told me about some anonymous
friend. "His latest," said he now, "is to send David a rocking-
I must say I could see no reason for his mirth. "Picture it,"
said he, "a rocking-horse for a child not three months old!"
I was about to say fiercely: "The stirrups are adjustable," but
thought it best to laugh with him. But I was pained to hear that
Mary had laughed, though heaven knows I have often laughed at
"But women are odd," he said unexpectedly, and explained. It
appears that in the middle of her merriment Mary had become grave
and said to him quite haughtily, "I see nothing to laugh at."
Then she had kissed the horse solemnly on the nose and said, "I
wish he was here to see me do it." There are moments when one
cannot help feeling a drawing to Mary.
But moments only, for the next thing he said put her in a
particularly odious light. He informed me that she had sworn to
hunt Mr. Anon down.
"She won't succeed," I said, sneering but nervous.
"Then it will be her first failure," said he.
"But she knows nothing about the man."
"You would not say that if you heard her talking of him. She
says he is a gentle, whimsical, lonely old bachelor."
"Old?" I cried.
"Well, what she says is that he will soon be old if he doesn't
take care. He is a bachelor at all events, and is very fond of
children, but has never had one to play with."
"Could not play with a child though there was one," I said
brusquely; "has forgotten the way; could stand and stare only."
"Yes, if the parents were present. But he thinks that if he were
alone with the child he could come out strong."
"How the deuce--" I began
"That is what she says," he explained, apologetically. "I think
she will prove to be too clever for him."
"Pooh," I said, but undoubtedly I felt a dizziness, and the next
time I met him he quite frightened me. "Do you happen to know
any one," he said, "who has a St. Bernard dog?"
"No," said I, picking up my stick.
"He has a St. Bernard dog."
"How have you found that out?"
"She has found it out."
"I don't know."
I left him at once, for Porthos was but a little way behind me.
The mystery of it scared me, but I armed promptly for battle. I
engaged a boy to walk Porthos in Kensington Gardens, and gave him
these instructions: "Should you find yourself followed by a young
woman wheeling a second-hand perambulator, instantly hand her
over to the police on the charge of attempting to steal the dog."
Now then, Mary.
"By the way," her husband said at our next meeting, "that
rocking- horse I told you of cost three guineas."
"She has gone to the shop to ask?"
"No, not to ask that, but for a description of the purchaser's
Oh, Mary, Mary.
Here is the appearance of purchaser as supplied at the Arcade:--
looked like a military gentleman; tall, dark, and rather dressy;
fine Roman nose (quite so), carefully trimmed moustache going
grey (not at all); hair thin and thoughtfully distributed over
the head like fiddlestrings, as if to make the most of it (pah!);
dusted chair with handkerchief before sitting down on it, and had
other oldmaidish ways (I should like to know what they are);
tediously polite, but no talker; bored face; age forty-five if a
day (a lie); was accompanied by an enormous yellow dog with sore
eyes. (They always think the haws are sore eyes.)
"Do you know anyone who is like that?" Mary's husband asked me
"My dear man," I said, "I know almost no one who is not like
that," and it was true, so like each other do we grow at the
club. I was pleased, on the whole, with this talk, for it at
least showed me how she had come to know of the St. Bernard, but
anxiety returned when one day from behind my curtains I saw Mary
in my street with an inquiring eye on the windows. She stopped a
nurse who was carrying a baby and went into pretended ecstasies
over it. I was sure she also asked whether by any chance it was
called Timothy. And if not, whether that nurse knew any other
nurse who had charge of a Timothy.
Obviously Mary suspicioned me, but nevertheless, I clung to
Timothy, though I wished fervently that I knew more about him;
for I still met that other father occasionally, and he always
stopped to compare notes about the boys. And the questions he
asked were so intimate, how Timothy slept, how he woke up, how he
fell off again, what we put in his bath. It is well that dogs
and little boys have so much in common, for it was really of
Porthos I told him; how he slept (peacefully), how he woke up
(supposed to be subject to dreams), how he fell off again (with
one little hand on his nose), but I glided past what we put in
his bath (carbolic and a mop).
The man had not the least suspicion of me, and I thought it
reasonable to hope that Mary would prove as generous. Yet was I
straitened in my mind. For it might be that she was only biding
her time to strike suddenly, and this attached me the more to
Timothy, as if I feared she might soon snatch him from me. As
was indeed to be the case.
It was on a May day, and I saw Mary accompany her husband as far
as the first crossing, whence she waved him out of sight as if he
had boarded an Atlantic-liner. All this time she wore the face
of a woman happily married who meant to go straight home, there
to await her lord's glorious return; and the military-looking
gentleman watching her with a bored smile saw nothing better
before him than a chapter on the Domestic Felicities. Oh, Mary,
can you not provide me with the tiniest little plot?
No sooner was she hid from him than she changed into another
woman; she was now become a calculating purposeful madam, who
looked around her covertly and, having shrunk in size in order to
appear less noticeable, set off nervously on some mysterious
"The deuce!" thought I, and followed her.
Like one anxious to keep an appointment, she frequently consulted
her watch, looking long at it, as if it were one of those watches
that do not give up their secret until you have made a mental
calculation. Once she kissed it. I had always known that she
was fond of her cheap little watch, which he gave her, I think,
on the day I dropped the letter, but why kiss it in the street?
Ah, and why then replace it so hurriedly in your leather-belt,
Mary, as if it were guilt to you to kiss to-day, or any day, the
watch your husband gave you?
It will be seen that I had made a very rapid journey from light
thoughts to uneasiness. I wanted no plot by the time she reached
her destination, a street of tawdry shops. She entered none of
them, but paced slowly and shrinking from observation up and down
the street, a very figure of shame; and never had I thought to
read shame in the sweet face of Mary A----. Had I crossed to her
and pronounced her name I think it would have felled her, and yet
she remained there, waiting. I, too, was waiting for him,
wondering if this was the man, or this, or this, and I believe I
clutched my stick.
Did I suspect Mary? Oh, surely not for a moment of time. But
there was some foolishness here; she was come without the
knowledge of her husband, as her furtive manner indicated, to a
meeting she dreaded and was ashamed to tell him of; she was come
into danger; then it must be to save, not herself but him; the
folly to be concealed could never have been Mary's. Yet what
could have happened in the past of that honest boy from the
consequences of which she might shield him by skulking here?
Could that laugh of his have survived a dishonour? The open
forehead, the curly locks, the pleasant smile, the hundred
ingratiating ways which we carry with us out of childhood, they
may all remain when the innocence has fled, but surely the laugh
of the morning of life must go. I have never known the devil
retain his grip on that.
But Mary was still waiting. She was no longer beautiful; shame
had possession of her face, she was an ugly woman. Then the
entanglement was her husband's, and I cursed him for it. But
without conviction, for, after all, what did I know of women? I
have some distant memories of them, some vain inventions. But of
men--I have known one man indifferent well for over forty years,
have exulted in him (odd to think of it), shuddered at him,
wearied of him, been willing (God forgive me) to jog along with
him tolerantly long after I have found him out; I know something
of men, and, on my soul, boy, I believe I am wronging you.
Then Mary is here for some innocent purpose, to do a good deed
that were better undone, as it so scares her. Turn back, you
foolish, soft heart, and I shall say no more about it. Obstinate
one, you saw the look on your husband's face as he left you. It
is the studio light by which he paints and still sees to hope,
despite all the disappointments of his not ignoble ambitions.
That light is the dower you brought him, and he is a wealthy man
if it does not flicker.
So anxious to be gone, and yet she would not go. Several times
she made little darts, as if at last resolved to escape from that
detestable street, and faltered and returned like a bird to the
weasel. Again she looked at her watch and kissed it.
Oh, Mary, take flight. What madness is this? Woman, be gone.
Suddenly she was gone. With one mighty effort and a last
terrified look round, she popped into a pawnshop.
Long before she emerged I understood it all, I think even as the
door rang and closed on her; why the timid soul had sought a
street where she was unknown, why she crept so many times past
that abhorred shop before desperately venturing in, why she
looked so often at the watch she might never see again. So
desperately cumbered was Mary to keep her little house over her
head, and yet the brave heart was retaining a smiling face for
her husband, who must not even know where her little treasures
It must seem monstrously cruel of me, but I was now quite light-
hearted again. Even when Mary fled from the shop where she had
left her watch, and I had peace of mind to note how thin and worn
she had become, as if her baby was grown too big for her slight
arms, even then I was light-hearted. Without attempting to
follow her, I sauntered homeward humming a snatch of song with a
great deal of fal-de-lal-de-riddle-o in it, for I can never
remember words. I saw her enter another shop, baby linen shop or
some nonsense of that sort, so it was plain for what she had
popped her watch; but what cared I? I continued to sing most
beautifully. I lunged gayly with my stick at a lamp-post and
missed it, whereat a street-urchin grinned, and I winked at him
and slipped twopence down his back.
I presume I would have chosen the easy way had time been given
me, but fate willed that I should meet the husband on his
homeward journey, and his first remark inspired me to a folly.
"How is Timothy?" he asked; and the question opened a way so
attractive that I think no one whose dull life craves for colour
could have resisted it.
"He is no more," I replied impulsively.
The painter was so startled that he gave utterance to a very oath
of pity, and I felt a sinking myself, for in these hasty words my
little boy was gone, indeed; all my bright dreams of Timothy, all
my efforts to shelter him from Mary's scorn, went whistling down
The Last of Timothy
So accomplished a person as the reader must have seen at once
that I made away with Timothy in order to give his little vests
and pinafores and shoes to David, and, therefore, dear sir or
madam, rail not overmuch at me for causing our painter pain.
Know, too, that though his sympathy ran free I soon discovered
many of his inquiries to be prompted by a mere selfish desire to
save his boy from the fate of mine. Such are parents.
He asked compassionately if there was anything he could do for
me, and, of course, there was something he could do, but were I
to propose it I doubted not he would be on his stilts at once,
for already I had reason to know him for a haughty, sensitive
dog, who ever became high at the first hint of help. So the
proposal must come from him. I spoke of the many little things
in the house that were now hurtful to me to look upon, and he
clutched my hand, deeply moved, though it was another house with
its little things he saw. I was ashamed to harass him thus, but
he had not a sufficiency of the little things, and besides my
impulsiveness had plunged me into a deuce of a mess, so I went on
distastefully. Was there no profession in this age of specialism
for taking away children's garments from houses where they were
suddenly become a pain? Could I sell them? Could I give them to
the needy, who would probably dispose of them for gin? I told
him of a friend with a young child who had already refused them
because it would be unpleasant to him to be reminded of Timothy,
and I think this was what touched him to the quick, so that he
made the offer I was waiting for.
I had done it with a heavy foot, and by this time was in a rage
with both him and myself, but I always was a bungler, and, having
adopted this means in a hurry, I could at the time see no other
easy way out. Timothy's hold on life, as you may have
apprehended, was ever of the slightest, and I suppose I always
knew that he must soon revert to the obscure. He could never
have penetrated into the open. It was no life for a boy.
Yet now, that his time had come, I was loath to see him go. I
seem to remember carrying him that evening to the window with
uncommon tenderness (following the setting sun that was to take
him away), and telling him with not unnatural bitterness that he
had got to leave me because another child was in need of all his
pretty things; and as the sun, his true father, lapt him in its
dancing arms, he sent his love to a lady of long ago whom he
called by the sweetest of names, not knowing in his innocence
that the little white birds are the birds that never have a
mother. I wished (so had the phantasy of Timothy taken
possession of me) that before he went he could have played once
in the Kensington Gardens, and have ridden on the fallen trees,
calling gloriously to me to look; that he could have sailed one
paper-galleon on the Round Pond; fain would I have had him chase
one hoop a little way down the laughing avenues of childhood,
where memory tells us we run but once, on a long summer-day,
emerging at the other end as men and women with all the fun to
pay for; and I think (thus fancy wantons with me in these
desolate chambers) he knew my longings, and said with a boy-like
flush that the reason he never did these things was not that he
was afraid, for he would have loved to do them all, but because
he was not quite like other boys; and, so saying, he let go my
finger and faded from before my eyes into another and golden
ether; but I shall ever hold that had he been quite like other
boys there would have been none braver than my Timothy.
I fear I am not truly brave myself, for though when under fire,
so far as I can recollect, I behaved as others, morally I seem to
be deficient. So I discovered next day when I attempted to buy
David's outfit, and found myself as shy of entering the shop as
any Mary at the pawnbroker's. The shop for little garments seems
very alarming when you reach the door; a man abruptly become a
parent, and thus lost to a finer sense of the proprieties, may be
able to stalk in unprotected, but apparently I could not.
Indeed, I have allowed a repugnance to entering shops of any
kind, save my tailor's, to grow on me, and to my tailor's I fear
I go too frequently.
So I skulked near the shop of the little garments, jeering at
myself, and it was strange to me to reflect at, say, three
o'clock that if I had been brazen at half-past two all would now
To show what was my state, take the case of the very gentleman-
like man whom I detected gazing fixedly at me, or so I thought,
just as I had drawn valiantly near the door. I sauntered away,
but when I returned he was still there, which seemed conclusive
proof that he had smoked my purpose. Sternly controlling my
temper I bowed, and said with icy politeness, "You have the
advantage of me, sir."
"I beg your pardon," said he, and I am now persuaded that my
words turned his attention to me for the first time, but at the
moment I was sure some impertinent meaning lurked behind his
"I have not the pleasure of your acquaintance," I barked.
"No one regrets it more than I do," he replied, laughing.
"I mean, sir," said I, "that I shall wait here until you retire,"
and with that I put my back to a shop-window.
By this time he was grown angry, and said he, "I have no
engagement," and he put his back to the shop-window. Each of us
was doggedly determined to tire the other out, and we must have
looked ridiculous. We also felt it, for ten minutes afterward,
our passions having died away, we shook hands cordially and
agreed to call hansoms.
Must I abandon the enterprise? Certainly I knew divers ladies
who would make the purchases for me, but first I must explain,
and, rather than explain it has ever been my custom to do
without. I was in this despondency when a sudden recollection of
Irene and Mrs. Hicking heartened me like a cordial, for I saw in
them at once the engine and decoy by which David should procure
You must be told who they were.
The Inconsiderate Waiter
They were the family of William, one of our club waiters who had
been disappointing me grievously of late. Many a time have I
deferred dining several minutes that I might have the attendance
of this ingrate. His efforts to reserve the window-table for me
were satisfactory, and I used to allow him privileges, as to
suggest dishes; I have given him information, as that someone had
startled me in the reading-room by slamming a door; I have shown
him how I cut my finger with a piece of string. William was none
of your assertive waiters. We could have plotted a murder safely
before him. It was one member who said to him that Saucy Sarah
would win the Derby and another who said that Saucy Sarah had no
chance, but it was William who agreed with both. The excellent
fellow (as I thought him) was like a cheroot which may be smoked
from either end.
I date his lapse from one evening when I was dining by the
window. I had to repeat my order "Devilled kidney," and instead
of answering brightly, "Yes, sir," as if my selection of devilled
kidney was a personal gratification to him, which is the manner
one expects of a waiter, he gazed eagerly out at the window, and
then, starting, asked, "Did you say devilled kidney, sir?" A few
minutes afterward I became aware that someone was leaning over
the back of my chair, and you may conceive my indignation on
discovering that this rude person was William. Let me tell, in
the measured words of one describing a past incident, what next
took place. To get nearer the window he pressed heavily on my
shoulder. "William," I said, "you are not attending to me!"
To be fair to him, he shook, but never shall I forget his
audacious apology, "Beg pardon, sir, but I was thinking of
And immediately his eyes resought the window, and this burst from
him passionately, "For God's sake, sir, as we are man and man,
tell me if you have seen a little girl looking up at the club-
Man and man! But he had been a good waiter once, so I pointed
out the girl to him. As soon as she saw William she ran into the
middle of Pall Mall, regardless of hansoms (many of which seemed
to pass over her), nodded her head significantly three times and
then disappeared (probably on a stretcher). She was the
tawdriest little Arab of about ten years, but seemed to have
brought relief to William. "Thank God!" said he fervently, and
in the worst taste.
I was as much horrified as if he had dropped a plate on my toes.
"Bread, William," I said sharply.
"You are not vexed with me, sir?" he had the hardihood to
"It was a liberty," I said.
"I know, sir, but I was beside myself."
"That was a liberty again."
"It is my wife, sir, she--"
So William, whom I had favoured in so many ways, was a married
man. I felt that this was the greatest liberty of all.
I gathered that the troublesome woman was ailing, and as one who
likes after dinner to believe that there is no distress in the
world, I desired to be told by William that the signals meant her
return to health. He answered inconsiderately, however, that the
doctor feared the worst.
"Bah, the doctor," I said in a rage.
"Yes, sir," said William.
"What is her confounded ailment?"
"She was allus one of the delicate kind, but full of spirit, and
you see, sir, she has had a baby-girl lately--"
"William, how dare you," I said, but in the same moment I saw
that this father might be useful to me. "How does your baby
sleep, William?" I asked in a low voice, "how does she wake up?
what do you put in her bath?"
I saw surprise in his face, so I hurried on without waiting for
an answer. "That little girl comes here with a message from your
"Yes, sir, every evening; she's my eldest, and three nods from
her means that the missus is a little better."
"There were three nods to-day?"
"I suppose you live in some low part, William?"
The impudent fellow looked as if he could have struck me. "Off
Drury Lane," he said, flushing, "but it isn't low. And now," he
groaned, "she's afeared she will die without my being there to
hold her hand."
"She should not say such things."
"She never says them, sir. She allus pretends to be feeling
stronger. But I knows what is in her mind when I am leaving the
house in the morning, for then she looks at me from her bed, and
I looks at her from the door--oh, my God, sir!"
At last he saw that I was angry, and it was characteristic of him
to beg my pardon and withdraw his wife as if she were some
unsuccessful dish. I tried to forget his vulgar story in
billiards, but he had spoiled my game, and next day to punish him
I gave my orders through another waiter. As I had the window-
seat, however, I could not but see that the little girl was late,
and though this mattered nothing to me and I had finished my
dinner, I lingered till she came. She not only nodded three
times but waved her hat, and I arose, having now finished my
William came stealthily toward me. "Her temperature has gone
down, sir," he said, rubbing his hands together.
"To whom are you referring?" I asked coldly, and retired to the
billiard-room, where I played a capital game.
I took pains to show William that I had forgotten his
maunderings, but I observed the girl nightly, and once, instead
of nodding, she shook her head, and that evening I could not get
into a pocket. Next evening there was no William in the
dining-room, and I thought I knew what had happened. But,
chancing to enter the library rather miserably, I was surprised
to see him on a ladder dusting books. We had the room
practically to ourselves, for though several members sat on
chairs holding books in their hands they were all asleep, and
William descended the ladder to tell me his blasting tale. He
had sworn at a member!
"I hardly knew what I was doing all day, sir, for I had left her
so weakly that--"
I stamped my foot.
"I beg your pardon for speaking of her," he had the grace to say.
"But Irene had promised to come every two hours; and when she
came about four o'clock and I saw she was crying, it sort of
blinded me, sir, and I stumbled against a member, Mr. B----, and he
said, 'Damn you!' Well, sir, I had but touched him after all,
and I was so broken it sort of stung me to be treated so and I
lost my senses, and I said, 'Damn you!'"
His shamed head sank on his chest, and I think some of the
readers shuddered in their sleep.
"I was turned out of the dining-room at once, and sent here until
the committee have decided what to do with me. Oh, sir, I am
willing to go on my knees to Mr. B----"
How could I but despise a fellow who would be thus abject for a
pound a week?
"For if I have to tell her I have lost my place she will just
fall back and die."
"I forbid your speaking to me of that woman," I cried wryly,
"unless you can speak pleasantly," and I left him to his fate and
went off to look for B----. "What is this story about your
swearing at one of the waiters?" I asked him.
"You mean about his swearing at me," said B----, reddening.
"I am glad that was it," I said, "for I could not believe you
guilty of such bad form. The version which reached me was that
you swore at each other, and that he was to be dismissed and you
"Who told you that?" asked B----, who is a timid man.
"I am on the committee," I replied lightly, and proceeded to talk
of other matters, but presently B----, who had been reflecting,
said: "Do you know I fancy I was wrong in thinking that the
waiter swore at me, and I shall withdraw the charge to-morrow."
I was pleased to find that William's troubles were near an end
without my having to interfere in his behalf, and I then
remembered that he would not be able to see the girl Irene from
the library windows, which are at the back of the club. I was
looking down at her, but she refrained from signalling because
she could not see William, and irritated by her stupidity I went
out and asked her how her mother was.
"My," she ejaculated after a long scrutiny of me, "I b'lieve you
are one of them!" and she gazed at me with delighted awe. I
suppose William tells them of our splendid doings.
The invalid, it appeared, was a bit better, and this annoying
child wanted to inform William that she had took all the
tapiocar. She was to indicate this by licking an imaginary plate
in the middle of Pall Mall. I gave the little vulgarian a
shilling, and returned to the club disgusted.
"By the way, William," I said, "Mr. B---- is to inform the
committee that he was mistaken in thinking you used improper
language to him, so you will doubtless be restored to the
dining-room to- morrow."
I had to add immediately, "Remember your place, William."
"But Mr. B---- knows I swore," he insisted.
"A gentleman," I replied stiffly, "cannot remember for many hours
what a waiter has said to him."
"No, sir, but--"
To stop him I had to say, "And--ah--William, your wife is decidedly
better. She has eaten the tapioca--all of it."
"How can you know, sir?"
"By an accident."
"Irene signed to the window?"
"Then you saw her and went out and--"
"How dare you, William?"
"Oh, sir, to do that for me! May God bl--"
He was reinstated in the dining-room, but often when I looked at
him I seemed to see a dying wife in his face, and so the
relations between us were still strained. But I watched the
girl, and her pantomime was so illuminating that I knew the
sufferer had again cleaned the platter on Tuesday, had attempted
a boiled egg on Wednesday (you should have seen Irene chipping it
in Pall Mall, and putting in the salt), but was in a woful state
of relapse on Thursday.
"Is your mother very ill to-day, Miss Irene?" I asked, as soon as
I had drawn her out of range of the club-windows.
"My!" she exclaimed again, and I saw an ecstatic look pass
between her and a still smaller girl with her, whom she referred
to as a neighbour.
I waited coldly. William's wife, I was informed, had looked like
nothing but a dead one till she got the brandy.
"Hush, child," I said, shocked. "You don't know how the dead
"Bless yer!" she replied.
Assisted by her friend, who was evidently enormously impressed by
Irene's intimacy with me, she gave me a good deal of
miscellaneous information, as that William's real name was Mr.
Hicking, but that he was known in their street, because of the
number of his shirts, as Toff Hicking. That the street held he
should get away from the club before two in the morning, for his
missus needed him more than the club needed him. That William
replied (very sensibly) that if the club was short of waiters at
supper-time some of the gentlemen might be kept waiting for their
marrow- bone. That he sat up with his missus most of the night,
and pretended to her that he got some nice long naps at the club.
That what she talked to him about mostly was the kid. That the
kid was in another part of London (in charge of a person called
the old woman), because there was an epidemic in Irene's street.
"And what does the doctor say about your mother?"
"He sometimes says she would have a chance if she could get her
"And if she was took to the country."
"Then why does not William take her?"
"My! And if she drank porty wine."
"No. But father, he tells her 'bout how the gentlemen drinks
I turned from her with relief, but she came after me.
"Ain't yer going to do it this time?" she demanded with a falling
face. "You done it last time. I tell her you done it"--she
pointed to her friend who was looking wistfully at me--"ain't you
to let her see you doing of it?"
For a moment I thought that her desire was another shilling, but
by a piece of pantomime she showed that she wanted me to lift my
hat to her. So I lifted it, and when I looked behind she had her