HERE ARE LADIES
THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
Set up and electrotyped. Published October, 1913
Reprinted March, 1914.
THREE HEAVY HUSBANDS
A GLASS OF BEER
ONE AND ONE
THREE WOMEN WHO WEPT
THREE ANGRY PEOPLE
THE THREEPENNY PIECE
THREE YOUNG WIVES
MISTRESS QUIET EYES
THREE LOVERS WHO LOST
THE BLIND MAN
THREE HAPPY PLACES
THERE IS A TAVERN IN THE TOWN
HERE ARE LADIES
Listen! If but women were
Half as kind as they are fair
There would be an end to all
Miseries that do appal.
Cloud and wind would fly together
In a dance of sunny weather,
And the happy trees would throw
Gifts to travellers below.
Then the lion, meek and mild,
With the lamb would, side by side,
Couch him friendly, and would be
Innocent of enmity.
Then the Frozen Pole would go,
Shaking off his fields of snow,
To a kinder clime and dance
Warmly with the girls of France.
These; if women only were
Half as kind as they are fair.
THREE HEAVY HUSBANDS
He had a high nose. He looked at one over the collar, so to speak.
His regard was very assured, and his speech was that short bundle of
monosyllables which the subaltern throws at the orderly. He had never
been questioned, and, the precedent being absent, he had never
questioned himself. Why should he? We live by question and answer,
but we do not know the reply to anything until a puzzled comrade
bothers us and initiates that divine curiosity which both humbles and
He wanted all things for himself. What he owned he wished to own
completely. He would give anything away with the largest generosity,
but he would share with no one—
"Whatever is mine," said he, "must be entirely mine. If it is alive I
claim its duty to the last respiration of its breath, and if it is dead
I cannot permit a mortgage on it. Have you a claim on anything
belonging to me? then you may have it entirely, I must have all of it
He was a stockbroker, and, by the methods peculiar to that mysterious
profession, he had captured a sufficiency of money to enable him to
regard the future with calmness and his fellow-creatures with
condescension—perhaps the happiest state to which a certain humanity
So far matters were in order. There remained nothing to round his life
into the complete, harmonious circle except a wife; but as a stated
income has the choice of a large supply, he shortly discovered a lady
whose qualifications were such as would ornament any, however exalted,
position—She was sound in wind and limb. She spoke grammar with the
utmost precision, and she could play the piano with such skill that it
was difficult to explain why she played it badly.
This also was satisfactory, and if the world had been made of machinery
he would have had the fee-simple of happiness. But to both happiness
and misery there follows the inevitable second act, and beyond that,
and to infinity, action and interaction, involution and evolution,
forging change for ever. Thus he failed to take into consideration
that the lady was alive, that she had a head on her shoulders which was
native to her body, and that she could not be aggregated as chattel
property for any longer period than she agreed to.
After their marriage he discovered that she had dislikes which did not
always coincide with his, and appreciations which set his teeth on
edge. A wife in the house is a critic on the hearth—this truth was
daily and unpleasantly impressed upon him: but, of course, every man
knows that every woman is a fool, and a tolerant smile is the only
recognition we allow to their whims. God made them as they are—we
grin, and bear it.
His wife found that the gospel of her husband was this—Love me to the
exclusion of all human creatures. Believe in me even when I am in the
wrong. Women should be seen and not heard. When you want excitement
make a fuss of your husband.—But while he entirely forgot that his
wife had been bought and paid for, she did not forget it: indeed, she
could not help remembering it. A wrong had been done her not to be
obscured even by economics, the great obscurer. She had been won and
not wooed. (The very beasts have their privileges!) She had been
defrauded of how many teasing and provoking prerogatives, aloofnesses,
and surrenders, and her body, if not her mind, resented and remembered
There are times when calmness is not recognised as a virtue. Of
course, he had wooed her in a way. He took her to the opera, he gave
her jewels, he went to Church with her twice every Sunday, and once a
month he knelt beside her in more profound reverences: sometimes he
petted her, always he was polite—
But he had not told her that her eyes were the most wonderful and
inspiring orbs into which a tired man could look. He never said that
there would not be much to choose between good and evil if he lost her.
He never said that one touch of her lips would electrify a paralytic
into an acrobat. He never swore that he would commit suicide and dive
to deep perdition if she threw him over—none of these things. It is
possible that she did not wish him to say or do such extravagances, but
he had not played the game, and, knowing that something was badly
wrong, she nursed a grievance, that horrid fosterling.
He was fiercely jealous, not of his love, but of his property, and
while he was delighted to observe that other men approved of his taste,
he could not bear that his wife should admire these outsiders. This
was his attitude to her: Give me your admirations, all of them, every
note of exclamation of which you are mistress, every jot and tittle of
your thoughts must be mine, for, lacking these, I have nothing. I am
good to you. I have interposed between you and the buffets of
existence. I temper all winds to the bloom of your cheek. Do you your
part, and so we will be happy.
There was a clerk in his office, a black-haired, slim, frowning young
man, who could talk like a cascade for ten minutes and be silent for a
month: he was a very angry young man, with many hatreds and many
ambitions. His employer prized him as a reliable and capable worker,
liked his manners, and paid him thirty-five shillings per week—Outside
of these matters the young man abode no more in his remembrance than
did the flower on the heath or the bird on the tree.
It happened one day that the employer fell sick of influenza and was
confined to his bed. This clerk, by order, waited on him to see to his
correspondence; for, no matter who sneezes, work must be attended to.
The young man stayed in the house for a week, and during his sojourn
there he met the lady. She fair, young, brooding! he also young,
silent, and angry! After the first look had passed between them, there
was little more to be said. They came together as though they had been
magnetised. Love or passion, by whatever name it is called, was born
abruptly. There is a force in human relations drawing too imperatively
for denial; defying self-interest, and dragging at all anchors of duty
and religion. Is it in man only the satisfaction of self? Egotism
standing like a mountain, and demanding, "Give me yourself or I will
kill myself." And women! is their love the degradation of self, the
surrender and very abasement of lowliness? or is it also egotism set on
a pinnacle, so careless and self-assured as to be fearful of nothing?
In their eyes the third person, a shadow already, counted as less than
a shadow. He was a name with no significance, a something without a
locality. His certain and particular income per annum was a thing to
laugh at . . . there was a hot, a swift voice speaking—"I love you,"
it said, "I love you": he would batter his way into heaven, he would
tear delight from wherever delight might be—or else, and this was
harder, a trembling man pleading, "Aid me or I perish," and it is
woman's instinct not to let a man perish. "If I help you, I hurt
myself," she sighed; and, "Hurt yourself, then," sighed the man; "would
you have me perish. . .?"
So the owner by purchase smiled—
"You are mine," said he, "altogether mine, no one else has a lien upon
you. When the weather is fine I will take you for drives in the
sunshine. In the nights we will go to the opera, hearkening together
to the tenor telling his sweet romanza, and when the wintry rain beats
on the windows you will play the piano for me, and so we will be happy."
When he was quite recovered he went back to his office, and found that
one of his clerks had not arrived—this angered him; when he returned
home again in the evening, he found that his wife was not there. So
He was one of those who shy at the tête-à-tête life which, for a long
time, matrimony demands. As his wedding-day approached he grew fearful
of the prolonged conversation which would stretch from the day of
marriage, down the interminable vistas, to his death, and, more and
more, he became doubtful of his ability to cope with, or his endurance
to withstand, the extraordinary debate called marriage.
He was naturally a silent man. He did not dislike conversation if it
was kept within decent limits: indeed, he responded to it contentedly
enough, but when he had spoken or been addressed for more than an hour
he became, first, impatient, then bored, and, finally, sulky or
ill-mannered.—"With men," said he, "one can talk or be silent as one
wishes, for between them there is a community of understanding which
turns the occasional silence into a pregnant and fruitful interlude
wherein a thought may keep itself warm until it is wanted: but with a
woman!"—he could not pursue that speculation further, for his
acquaintance with the sex was limited.
In every other respect his bride was a happiness. Her good looks
soothed and pleased him. The touch of her hand gave him an
extraordinary pleasure which concealed within it a yet more
extraordinary excitement. Her voice, as a mere sound, enchanted him.
It rippled and flowed, deepened and tinkled. It cooed and sang to him
at times like the soft ringdove calling to its mate, and, at times
again, it gurgled and piped like a thrush happy in the sunlight. The
infinite variation of her tone astonished and delighted him, and if it
could have remained something as dexterous and impersonal as a wind he
would have been content to listen to it for ever—but, could he give
her pipe for pipe? Would the rich gurgle or the soft coo sound at last
as a horrid iteration, a mere clamour to which he must not only give an
obedient heed, but must even answer from a head wherein silence had so
His mind was severe, his utterance staccato, and he had no knowledge of
those conversational arts whereby nouns and verbs are amazingly
transfigured into a gracious frolic or an intellectual pleasure. To
snatch the chatter from its holder, toss and keep it playing in the air
until another snatched it from him; to pluck a theory hot from the
stating, and expand it until it was as iridescent and, perhaps, as thin
as a soap-bubble: to light up and vivify a weighty conversation until
the majestic thing sparkled and glanced like a jewel—these things he
could not do, and he knew it. Many a time he had sat, amazed as at an
exhibition of acrobatics, while around him the chatter burst and sang
and shone. He had tried to bear his part, but had never been able to
edge more than one word into that tossing cataract, and so he fell to
the habit of listening instead of speaking.
With some reservations, he enjoyed listening, but particularly he
enjoyed listening to his own thoughts as they trod slowly, but very
certainly, to foregone conclusions. Into the silent arena of his mind
no impertinent chatter could burst with a mouthful of puns or ridicule,
or a reminiscence caught on the wing and hurled apropos to the very
centre of discussion. His own means of conveying or gathering
information was that whereby one person asked a question and another
person answered it, and, if the subject proved deeper than the
assembled profundity, then one pulled out the proper volume of an
encyclopaedia, and the pearl was elicited as with a pin.
Meanwhile, his perturbation was real. There are people to whom we need
not talk—let them pass: we overlook or smile distantly at the
wretches, retaining our reputation abroad and our self-respect in its
sanctuary: but there are others with whom we may not be silent, and
into this latter category a wife enters with assured emphasis. He
foresaw endless opportunities for that familiar discussion to which he
was a stranger. There were breakfast-tables, dinner-tables,
tea-tables, and, between these, there might be introduced those
preposterous other tables which women invent for no purpose unless it
be that of making talk. His own breakfast, dinner, and tea-tables had
been solitary ones, whereat he lounged with a newspaper propped against
a lamp, or a book resting one end against the sugar-bowl and the other
against his plate.—This quietude would be ravaged from him for ever,
and that tumult nothing could exorcise or impede. Further than these,
he foresaw an interminable drawing-room, long walks together, and
other, even more confidential and particular, sequestrations.
After one has married a lady, what does one say to her? He could not
conceive any one saying anything beyond "Good-morning." Then the other
aspect arrested him, "What does a woman find to say to a man?" Perhaps
safety lay in this direction, for they were reputed notable and
tireless speakers to whom replies are not pressingly necessary. He
looked upon his sweetheart as from a distance, and tried to reconstruct
her recent conversations.—He was amazed at the little he could
remember. "I, I, I, we, we, we, this shop, that shop, Aunt Elsa, and
chocolates." She had mentioned all these things on the previous day,
but she did not seem to have said anything memorable about them, and,
so far as he could recollect, he had said nothing in reply but "Oh,
yes" and "To be sure!" Could he sustain a lifetime of small-talk on
these meagre responses? He saw in vision his most miserable
tea-table—a timid husband and a mad wife glaring down their noses at
plates. The picture leaped at him as from a cinematograph and appalled
him. . . . After a time they would not even dare to look at each
other. Hatred would crouch behind these figures, waiting for its chain
to be loosed!
So he came to the knowledge that he, so soon to be a husband, had been
specially fashioned by nature to be a bachelor. For him safety lay in
solitude: others, less rigorously planned, might safely venture into
the haphazard, gregarious state of wedlock, but he not only could not,
but must not, do so, and he meditated an appeal to his bride to release
him from the contract. Several times the meditation almost became
audible, but always, just as he toppled on the surge of speech, the
dear lady loosed a torrent of irrelevancies which swirled him from all
anchorage, and left him at the last stranded so distantly from his
thought that he did not know how to find his way back to it.
It would be too brutally direct to shatter information about silk at
one shilling the yard with a prayer for matrimonial freedom. The girl
would be shocked—he could see her—she would stare at him, and
suddenly grow red in the face and stammer; and he would be forced to
trail through a lengthy, precise explanation of this matter which was
not at all precise to himself. Furthermore, certain obscure emotions
rendered him unwilling to be sundered from this girl.—There was the
touch of her hand; more, the touch of her lips given bravely and with
ready modesty—a contact not lightly to be relinquished. He did not
believe he could ever weary of looking at her eyes: they were grey,
widely open, and of a kindness such as he could not disbelieve in; a
radiant cordiality, a soft, limpid goodwill; believing and trustful
eyes which held no guile when they looked at him: there were her
movements, her swiftness, spaciousness, her buoyant certainty: one
remembered her hair, her hands, the way she wore a frock, and a
strange, seductive something about the look of her shoe.
The thing was not possible! It is the last and darkest insult to tell
the woman who loves you that you do not wish to marry her. Her
indignant curiosity may be appeased only by the excuse that you like
some other woman better, and although she may hate the explanation she
will understand it—but no less legitimate excuse than this may pass
sunderingly between a man and a woman.
It lay, therefore, that he must amend his own hand, and, accordingly,
for the purpose of marital intercourse, he began a sad inquiry into the
nature of things. The world was so full of things: clouds and winds
and sewing machines, kings and brigands, hats and heads, flower-pots,
jam and public-houses—surely one could find a little to chat about at
any moment if one were not ambitiously particular. With inanimate
objects one could speak of shape and colour and usefulness. Animate
objects had, beside these, movements and aptitudes for eating and
drinking, playing and quarrelling. Artistic things were well or badly
executed, and were also capable of an inter-comparison which could not
but be interesting and lengthy.—These things could all be talked
about. There were positive and negative qualities attaching to
everything, and when the former was exhausted the latter could still be
profitably mined—"Order," said he, "subsists in everything, and even
conversation must be subject to laws capable of ascertainment."
He carefully, and under the terms of badinage, approached other men,
inquiring how they bore themselves in the matrimonial dispute, and what
were the subjects usually spoken of in the intimacies of family life.
But from these people he received the smallest assistance.—Some were
ribald, some jocose, some so darkly explanatory that intelligence could
not peer through the mist or could only divine that these hated their
wives. One man held that all domestic matters should be left entirely
to the wife and that talking was a domestic matter. Another said that
the words "yes, no, and why" would safeguard a man through any
labyrinth, however tortuous. Another said that he always went out when
the wife began to speak; and yet another suggested that the only
possible basis for conversation was that of perpetual opposition, where
an affirmation was always countered by a denial, and the proving of the
case exercised both time and intelligence.
As he sat in the train beside his wife the silence which he so dreaded
came upon them. Emptiness buzzed in his head. He sought diligently
for something to speak about—the characteristics of objects! There
were objects and to spare, but he could not say—"that window is
square, it is made of glass," or, "the roof of this carriage is flat,
it is made of wood."
Suddenly his wife buried her face in her muff, and her shoulders were
convulsed. . . .
Love and contrition possessed him on the instant. He eased his husky
throat, and the dreaded, interminable conversation began—
"What are you crying for, my dear?" said he.
Her voice, smothered by the fur, replied—
"I am not crying, darling," said she, "I am only laughing."
He got stiffly up from his seat before the fire—
"Be hanged," said he, "if I wait any longer for her. If she doesn't
please to come in before this hour let her stop out." He stared into
the fire for a few moments—"Let her go to Jericho," said he, and he
tramped up to bed.
They had been married just six months, after, as he put it, the hardest
courtship a man ever undertook. She was more like a piece of
quicksilver than a girl. She was as uncertain as a spring wind, as
flighty as a ball of thistledown—"Doesn't know her own mind for ten
minutes together," he groaned. "Hasn't any mind at all," he'd think an
hour later. While, on the following day, it might be—"That woman is
too deep, she is dodging all round me, she is sticking her finger in my
eye. She treats me as if I wasn't there at one moment, and diddles me
as if I was Tom Fool the next—I'll get out of it."
He had got out of it three or four times—halted her against a wall,
and, with a furious forefinger, wagged all her misdeeds in her face;
then, rating her up, down and round, he had prepared to march away
complacent and refreshed like Justice taking leave of a sinner, only to
find that if the jade wept he could not go away—
"Dash it all," said he, "you can't leave a girl squatting down against
a wall, with her head in her lap and she crying. Hang it," said he,
"you feel as if there was water round your legs and you'll splash if
So he leavened justice with mercy, and, having dried her tears with his
lips, he found himself in the same position as before, with a mad
suspicion tattering through his brain that maybe he had been "diddled"
But he married her, and to do that was a job also. She shied at
matrimony. She shied at everything that looked plain or straight. She
was like a young dog out for a walk: when she met a side-street she
bolted down it and was instantly surrounded by adventure and misery,
returning, like the recovered pup, thick with the mud of those
excursions. There was a lust in her blood for side-streets, laneways
"Marriage!" said she, and she was woebegone—"Marriage will be for
"So will heaven," he retorted comfortingly.
"So will—the other place," said she, with a giggle, and crushed him
under the feeling that she envisaged him as the devil of that
particular Hades, instead of as an unfortunate sinner plucked up by the
heels and soused into the stew-pan by his wife.
He addressed himself—
"When we are married," said he, "I'll keep a hand on you, my lady, that
you won't be able to wriggle away from. If you are slippery, and faith
you are, why I'm tough, and so you'll find it." "Get rid of your kinks
before you marry," said he. "I've no use for a wife with one eye on
me, and it a dubious one, and the other one squinting into a parlour
two streets off. You've got to settle down and quit tricks. A wife
has no one else to deceive but her husband, that's all she can want
tricks for, and there's not going to be any in my house. It's all
right for a pretty girl to be a bit larky——"
"Am I really pretty?" said she, deeply interested and leaning forward
with her hands clasping her knees—"Do you really and truly think I am
pretty? I met a man one time, he had a brown moustache and blue eyes,
outside a tailor's shop in Georges Street, with a public-house on one
side, and he said he thought I was very pretty: he told me what his
name was, but I forget it: maybe, you know him: he wears a tweed suit
with a stripe and a soft hat—Let me see, no, his name began with a
"His name was Thief," he roared, "and that was his profession too.
Don't let me catch you talking with a strange man, or you'll get hurt,
and his brown eyes will be mixed up with his blue moustache."
So married they were, six months now, and the wits were nearly worried
out of him in trying to keep pace with his wife's vagaries. Matrimony
had not cured her love for side-streets, short cuts and chance
acquaintances, and she was gradually making her husband travel at a
similar tangent. When they started to go to church he would find, to
his amazement, that they were in the Museum. If they journeyed with a
Museum for an objective they were certain to pull up in the Botanic
Gardens. A call on a friend usually turned into a visit to a theatre
or a walk by the Dodder—
"Heart-scalded I am," said he, "with her hopping and trotting. She
travels sideways like a crab, so she does. She has a squint in her
walk. Her boots have a bias outwards. I'm getting bow-legged, so I
am, slewing round corners after her. I'll have to put my foot down,"
And now it was all finished. Here was twelve o'clock at night and an
absent wife—a detestable combination. Twelve o'clock at night outside
a house is an immoral hour, inside a house it is non-moral, but
respectable. There is nothing in the street at that time but dubiety.
Who would be a husband listening through the tolling of midnight for a
muffled footfall?—And he had told her not to go: had given an order,
formulated his imperative and inflexible will—
"Never mind! I'll stand by it," said he, "this is the last straw. One
break and then freedom. Surgery is better than tinkering. Cut the
knot and let who will try to join it then. One pang, and afterwards
ease, fresh air, and freedom: fresh air! gulps of it, with the head
back and an easy mind. I'm not the man to be fooled for ever—surgery!
His wife had wished to see a friend that night and requested her
husband to go with her—he refused—
"You're always trapsin about," said he.
He heaved an angry forehead at her, puckered an eye, toned a long No
that wagged vibration behind it like an undocked tail.
She persisted, whereupon he loosed his thunder—
"You're not to step outside the house this night, ma'am," said he; and
to her angry "I will go," he barked, "If you do go, don't come back
here. I'll have a dutiful wife or I'll have none—stay in or stay out.
I'm tired humouring your whimsies, let you humour mine now——"
Then a flame gathered on her face, it grew hot in her voice, flashed to
a point in her eyes—
"I'm going out to-night," said she loudly; "are you coming with me?"
"I'm not," said he.
"Then," she snapped, "I'll go by myself."
"Wherever you go to-night you can stay," he roared. "Don't come back
to this house."
"I'm not mad enough to want to," she replied. "I wish I'd never seen
your old house. I wish I'd never seen yourself. You are just as dull
as your house is, and nearly as flat. It's a stupid, uninteresting,
slow house, so it is, and you are a stupid, dissatisfied grump of a
man, so you are. I'd sooner live in a cave with a hairy bear, so I
would——" and out she ran.
Two minutes later he had heard the door bang, and then silence.
That was five hours ago, and during all these long hours he had sat
staring sourly into the fire, seeing goodness knows what burnt-up
visions therein, waiting to hear a footfall, and an entreating voice at
the key-hole; apologies and tears perhaps, and promises of amendment.
Now it was after twelve o'clock, darkness everywhere and silence. Time
and again a policeman's tramp or the hasty, light footfall of adventure
went by. So he stood up at last sour and vindictive—
"She would have her fling. She wouldn't give in. She doesn't care a
tinker's curse what I say. . . . Let her go to Jericho," said he, and
he tramped up to bed.
In his bedroom he did not trouble to get a light. He undressed in a
bitterly savage mood and rolled into bed, only to jump out again in
sudden terror, for there was some one in it. It was his wife. He lay
down with a hazy, half-mad mind. Had he wronged her? Was she more
amenable than he had fancied? She had not gone out at all—or, had she
gone out, sneaked in again by the back door and crept noiselessly to
bed. . . .?
He fell asleep at last on the tattered fringe of a debate—Had he
wronged her? or had she diddled him again?
A GLASS OF BEER
It was now his custom to sit there. The world has its habits, why
should a man not have his? The earth rolls out of light and into
darkness as punctually as a business man goes to and from his office;
the seasons come with the regularity of automata, and go as if they
were pushed by an ejector; so, night after night, he strolled from the
Place de l'Observatoire to the Font St. Michel, and, on the return
journey, sat down at the same Café, at the same table, if he could
manage it, and ordered the same drink.
So regular had his attendance become that the waiter would suggest the
order before it was spoken. He did not drink beer because he liked it,
but only because it was not a difficult thing to ask for. Always he
had been easily discouraged, and he distrusted his French almost as
much as other people had reason to. The only time he had varied the
order was to request "un vin blanc gommée," but on that occasion he had
been served with a postage stamp for twenty-five centimes, and he still
wondered when he remembered it.
He liked to think of his first French conversation. He wanted
something to read in English, but was timid of asking for it. He
walked past all the newspaper kiosks on the Boulevard, anxiously
scanning the vendors inside—they were usually very stalwart, very
competent females, who looked as though they had outgrown their sins
but remembered them with pleasure. They had the dully-polished,
slightly-battered look of a modern antique. The words "M'sieu, Madame"
rang from them as from bells. They were very alert, sitting, as it
were, on tiptoe, and their eyes hit one as one approached. They were
like spiders squatting in their little houses waiting for their daily
He found one who looked jolly and harmless, sympathetic indeed, and to
her, with a flourished hat, he approached. Said he, "Donnez-moi,
Madame, s'il vous plaît, le Daily Mail." At the second repetition
the good lady smiled at him, a smile compounded of benevolence and
comprehension, and instantly, with a "V'la M'sieu," she handed him The
New York Herald. They had saluted each other, and he marched down the
road in delight, with his first purchase under his arm and his first
foreign conversation accomplished.
At that time everything had delighted him—the wide, well-lighted
Boulevard, the concierges knitting in their immense doorways, each
looking like a replica of the other, each seeming sister to a
kiosk-keeper or a cat. The exactly-courteous speech of the people and
their not quite so rigorously courteous manners pleased him. He
listened to the voluble men who went by, speaking in a haste so
breathless that he marvelled how the prepositions and conjunctions
stuck to their duty in so swirling an ocean of chatter. There was a
big black dog with a mottled head who lay nightly on the pavement
opposite the Square de l'Observatoire. At intervals he raised his lean
skull from the ground and composed a low lament to an absent friend.
His grief was respected. The folk who passed stepped sidewards for
him, and he took no heed of their passage—a lonely, introspective dog
to whom a caress or a bone were equally childish things: Let me alone,
he seemed to say, I have my grief, and it is company enough. There was
the very superior cat who sat on every window-ledge, winking at life.
He (for in France all cats are masculine by order of philology), he did
not care a rap for man or dog, but he liked women and permitted them to
observe him. There was the man who insinuated himself between the
tables at the Café, holding out postcard-representations of the
Pantheon, the Louvre, Notre Dame, and other places. From beneath these
cards his dexterous little finger would suddenly flip others. One saw
a hurried leg, an arm that shone and vanished, a bosom that fled shyly
again, an audacious swan, a Leda who was thoroughly enjoying herself
and had never heard of virtue. His look suggested that he thought
better of one than to suppose that one was not interested in the nude.
"M'sieu," he seemed to say, with his fixed, brown-eyed regard, "this is
indeed a leg, an authentic leg, not disguised by even the littlest of
stockings; it is arranged precisely as M'sieu would desire it." His
sorrow as he went away was dignified with regret for an inartistic
gentleman. One was en garçon, and yet one would not look at one's
postcards! One had better then cease to be an artist and take to
peddling onions and asparagus as the vulgar do.
It was all a long time ago, and now, somehow, the savour had departed
from these things. Perhaps he had seen them too often. Perhaps a kind
of public surreptitiousness, a quite open furtiveness, had troubled
him. Maybe he was not well. He sat at his Café, three quarters down
the Boulevard, and before him a multitude of grotesque beings were
pacing as he sipped his bock.
Good manners decreed that he should not stare too steadfastly, and he
was one who obeyed these delicate dictations. Alas! he was one who
obeyed all dictates. For him authority wore a halo, and many sins
which his heyday ought to have committed had been left undone only
because they were not sanctioned by immediate social usage. He was
often saddened when he thought of the things he had not done. It was
the only sadness to which he had access, because the evil deeds which
he had committed were of so tepid and hygienic a character that they
could not be mourned for without hypocrisy, and now that he was
released from all privileged restraints and overlookings and could do
whatever he wished he had no wish to do anything.
His wife had been dead for over a year. He had hungered, he had prayed
for her death. He had hated that woman (and for how many years!) with
a kind of masked ferocity. How often he had been tempted to kill her
or to kill himself! How often he had dreamed that she had run away
from him or that he had run away from her! He had invented Russian
Princes, and Music Hall Stars, and American Billionaires with whom she
could adequately elope, and he had both loved and loathed the prospect.
What unending, slow quarrels they had together! How her voice had
droned pitilessly on his ears! She in one room, he in another, and
through the open door there rolled that unending recitation of woes and
reproaches, an interminable catalogue of nothings, while he sat dumb as
a fish, with a mind that smouldered or blazed. He had stood unseen
with a hammer, a poker, a razor in his hand, on tiptoe to do it. A
movement, a rush, one silent rush and it was done! He had revelled in
her murder. He had caressed it, rehearsed it, relished it, had jerked
her head back, and hacked, and listened to her entreaties bubbling
And then she died! When he stood by her bed he had wished to taunt
her, but he could not do it. He read in her eyes—I am dying, and in a
little time I shall have vanished like dust on the wind, but you will
still be here, and you will never see me again—He wished to ratify
that, to assure her that it was actually so, to say that he would come
home on the morrow night, and she would not be there, and that he would
return home every night, and she would never be there. But he could
not say it. Somehow the words, although he desired them, would not
come. His arm went to her neck and settled there. His hand caressed
her hair, her cheek. He kissed her eyes, her lips, her languid hands;
and the words that came were only an infantile babble of regrets and
apologies, assurances that he did love her, that he had never loved any
one before, and never would love any one again. . . .
Every one who passed looked into the Café where he sat. Every one who
passed looked at him. There were men with sallow faces and wide black
hats. Some had hair that flapped about them in the wind, and from
their locks one gathered, with some distaste, the spices of Araby.
Some had cravats that fluttered and fell and rose again like banners in
a storm. There were men with severe, spade-shaped, most
responsible-looking beards, and quizzical little eyes which gave the
lie to their hairy sedateness—eyes which had spent long years in
looking sidewards as a woman passed. There were men of every stage of
foppishness—men who had spent so much time on their moustaches that
they had only a little left for their finger-nails, but their
moustaches exonerated them; others who were coated to happiness,
trousered to grotesqueness, and booted to misery. He thought—In this
city the men wear their own coats, but they all wear some one else's
trousers, and their boots are syndicated.
He saw no person who was self-intent. They were all deeply conscious,
not of themselves, but of each other. They were all looking at each
other. They were all looking at him; and he returned the severe, or
humourous, or appraising gaze of each with a look nicely proportioned
to the passer, giving back exactly what was given to him, and no more.
He did not stare, for nobody stared. He just looked and looked away,
and was as mannerly as was required.
A negro went by arm in arm with a girl who was so sallow that she was
only white by courtesy. He was a bulky man, and as he bent greedily
over his companion it was evident that to him she was whiter than the
snow of a single night.
Women went past in multitudes, and he knew the appearance of them all.
How many times he had watched them or their duplicates striding and
mincing and bounding by, each moving like an animated note of
interrogation! They were long, and medium, and short. There were
women of a thinness beyond comparison, sheathed in skirts as featly as
a rapier in a scabbard. There were women of a monumental, a mighty
fatness, who billowed and rolled in multitudinous, stormy garments.
There were slow eyes that drooped on one heavily as a hand, and quick
ones that stabbed and withdrew, and glanced again appealingly, and slid
away cursing. There were some who lounged with a false sedateness, and
some who fluttered in an equally false timidity. Some wore velvet
shoes without heels. Some had shoes, the heels whereof were of such
inordinate length that the wearers looked as though they were perched
on stilts and would topple to perdition if their skill failed for an
instant. They passed and they looked at him; and from each, after the
due regard, he looked away to the next in interminable procession.
There were faces also to be looked at: round chubby faces wherefrom the
eyes of oxen stared in slow, involved rumination. Long faces that were
keener than hatchets and as cruel. Faces that pretended to be scornful
and were only piteous. Faces contrived to ape a temperament other than
their own. Raddled faces with heavy eyes and rouged lips. Ragged lips
that had been chewed by every mad dog in the world. What lips there
were everywhere! Bright scarlet splashes in dead-white faces. Thin
red gashes that suggested rat-traps instead of kisses. Bulbous, flabby
lips that would wobble and shiver if attention failed them. Lips of a
horrid fascination that one looked at and hated and ran to. . . .
Looking at him slyly or boldly, they passed along, and turned after a
while and repassed him, and turned again in promenade.
He had a sickness of them all. There had been a time when these were
among the things he mourned for not having done, but that time was long
past. He guessed at their pleasures, and knew them to be without salt.
Life, said he, is as unpleasant as a plate of cold porridge. Somehow
the world was growing empty for him. He wondered was he outgrowing his
illusions, or his appetites, or both? The things in which other men
took such interest were drifting beyond him, and (for it seemed that
the law of compensation can fail) nothing was drifting towards him in
recompense. He foresaw himself as a box with nothing inside it, and he
thought—It is not through love or fear or distress that men commit
suicide: it is because they have become empty: both the gods and the
devils have deserted them and they can no longer support that solemn
stagnation. He marvelled to see with what activity men and women
played the most savourless of games! With what zest of pursuit they
tracked what petty interests. He saw them as ants scurrying with
scraps of straw, or apes that pick up and drop and pick again, and he
marvelled from what fount they renewed themselves, or with what charms
they exorcised the demons of satiety.
On this night life did not seem worth while. The taste had gone from
his mouth; his bock was water vilely coloured; his cigarette was a hot
stench. And yet a full moon was peeping in the trees along the path,
and not far away, where the countryside bowed in silver quietude, the
rivers ran through undistinguishable fields chanting their lonely
songs. The seas leaped and withdrew, and called again to the stars,
and gathered in ecstasy and roared skywards, and the trees did not rob
each other more than was absolutely necessary. The men and women were
all hidden away, sleeping in their cells, where the moon could not see
them, nor the clean wind, nor the stars. They were sundered for a
little while from their eternal arithmetic. The grasping hands were
lying as quietly as the paws of a sleeping dog. Those eyes held no
further speculation than the eyes of an ox who lies down. The tongues
that had lied all day, and been treacherous and obscene and respectful
by easy turn, said nothing more; and he thought it was very good that
they were all hidden, and that for a little time the world might swing
darkly with the moon in its own wide circle and its silence.
He paid for his bock, gave the waiter a tip, touched his hat to a lady
by sex and a gentleman by clothing, and strolled back to his room that
was little, his candle that was three-quarters consumed, and his
picture which might be admired when he was dead but which he would
never be praised for painting; and, after sticking his foot through the
canvas, he tugged himself to bed, agreeing to commence the following
morning just as he had the previous one, and the one before that, and
the one before that again.
ONE AND ONE
Do you hate me, you!
Sitting quietly there,
With the burnished hair
That frames the two
Deep eyes of your face
In a smooth embrace.
And you say naught,
And I never speak;
But you rest your cheek
On your hand, a thought
Showing plain as the brow
Goes wrinkling now.
Of what do you think,
Sitting opposite me,
As you stir the tea
That you do not drink,
And frown at nought
With those brows of thought.
THREE WOMEN WHO WEPT
He was one of those men who can call ladies by their Christian names.
One day he met twenty-four duchesses walking on a red carpet, and he
winked at them, and they were all delighted. It was so at first he
appeared to her. Has a mere girl any protection against a man of that
quality? and she was the very merest of girls—she knew it. It was not
that she was ignorant, for she had read widely about men, and she had
three brothers as to whom she knew divers intimate things.
The girl who has been reared among brothers has few defences against
other males. She has acquired two things—a belief in the divine right
of man, and a curiosity as to what those men are like who are not her
brothers. She may love her brothers, but she cannot believe that they
adequately represent the other sex. Does not every girl wish to marry
the antithesis of her brother? The feeling is that one should marry as
far outside of the family as is possible, and as far outside of one's
self as may be; but love has become subject to geography, and our
choice is often bounded by the tramline upon which we travel from our
houses to our businesses and back again.
While she loved and understood her brothers, she had not in the least
understood or believed in the stories she had read, and so, when the
Young Man out of a Book came to her, she was delighted but perplexed.
It was difficult to live up to him worthily. It was difficult to know
what he would do next, and it was exceedingly difficult to keep out of
his way; for, indeed, he seemed to pervade the part of the world where
she lived. He was as ubiquitous as the air or the sky. If she went
into a shop, he was pacing on the pavement when she came out. If she
went for a walk he was standing at the place farther than which she had
decided not to go. She had found him examining a waterfall on the
Dodder, leaning over the bear-pit in the Zoological Gardens, and
kneeling beside her in the Chapel, and her sleep had been distressed by
the reflection that maybe he was sitting on her window-sill like a sad
sparrow drenched in the rain, all its feathers on end with the cold,
and its eyes wide open staring at misery.
The first time they met he spoke to her. He plucked a handkerchief
from somewhere and thrust it into her hand, saying—
"You have dropped this, I think"—and she had been too alarmed to
It was a mighty handkerchief. It was so big that it would scarcely fit
into her muff.—"It is a table-cloth," said she, as she solemnly
stuffed away its lengthy flaps. "It is his own," she thought a moment
later, and she would have laughed like a mad woman, only that she had
no time, for he was pacing delicately by her side, and talking in a low
voice that was partly a whisper and partly a whistle, and was entirely
and disturbingly delicious.
The next time they met very suddenly. Scarcely a dozen paces separated
them. She could see him advancing towards her, and knew by his knitted
brows that he was searching anxiously for something to say. When they
drew together he lifted his hat and murmured—
"How is your handkerchief to-day?"
The query so astonished her that (the verb is her own) she simply
bawled with laughter. From that moment he treated her with freedom,
for if once you laugh with a person you admit him to equality, you have
ranked him definitely as a vertebrate, your hand is his by right of
species, scarcely can you withhold even your lips from his advances.
Another, a strange, a fascinating thing, was that he was afraid of her.
It was inconceivable, it was mad, but it was true. He looked at her
with disguised terror. His bravado was the slenderest mask. Every
word he said was uttered tentatively, it was subject to her approval,
and if she opposed a statement he dropped it instantly and adopted her
alternative as one adopts a gift. This astonished her who had been
prepared to be terrified. He kept a little distance between them as he
walked, and when she looked at him he looked away. She had a vision of
herself as an ogre—whiskers sprouted all over her face, her ears
bulged and swaggled, her voice became a cavernous rumble, her
conversation sounded like fee-faw-fum—and yet, her brothers were not
afraid of her in the least; they pinched her and kicked her hat.
He spoke (but always without prejudice) of the loveliest things
imaginable—matters about which brothers had no conception, and for
which they would not have any reverence. He said one day that the sky
was blue, and, on looking she found that it was so. The sky was
amazingly blue. It had never struck her before, but there was a colour
in the firmament before which one might fall down and worship.
Sunlight was not the hot glare which it had been: it was rich,
generous, it was inexpressibly beautiful. The colour and scent of
flowers became more varied. The world emerged as from shrouds and
cerements. It was tender and radiant, comeliness lived everywhere, and
goodwill. Laughter! the very ground bubbled with it: the grasses waved
their hands, the trees danced and curtsied to one another with gentle
dignity, and the wind lurched down the path with its hat on the side of
its head and its hands in its pockets, whistling like her younger
And then he went away. She did not see him any more. He was not by
the waterfall on the Dodder, nor hanging over the bear-pit in the Zoo.
He was not in the Chapel, nor on the pavement when she came out of a
shop. He was not anywhere. She searched, but he was not anywhere.
And the sun became the hot pest it had always been: the heavens were
stuffed with dirty clouds the way a second-hand shop is stuffed with
dirty bundles: the trees were hulking corner-boys with muddy boots: the
wind blew dust into her eye, and her brothers pulled her hair and
kicked her hat; so that she went apart from all these. She sat before
the mirror regarding herself with woeful amazement—
"He was afraid of me!" she said.
And she wept into his monstrous handkerchief.
When he came into the world he came howling, and he howled without
ceasing for seven long years, except at the times when he happened to
be partaking of nourishment, or was fast asleep, and, even then, he
snored with a note of defiance and protest which proved that his humour
was not for peace.
The time came when he ceased to howl and became fascinated by the
problem of how to make other people howl. In this art he became an
adept. When he and another child chanced to be left together there
came, apparently from the uttermost ends of the earth, a pin, and the
other child and the pin were soon in violent and lamentable conjunction.
So he grew.
"Be hanged if I know what to do with him," said his father as he
rebuckled on his belt. "The devil's self hasn't got the shape or match
of such an imp in all the length and breadth of his seven hells. I'm
sick, sore and sorry whacking him, so I am, and before long I'll be
hung on the head of him. I'm saying that there's more deceit and
devilment in his bit of a carcass than there is in a public-house full
of tinkers, so there is."
He turned to his wife—
"It's no credit at all the son you've bore me, ma'am, but a sorrow and
a woe that'll be killing us in our old age and maybe damning our souls
at the heel of it. Where he got his blackguardly ways from I'm not
saying, but it wasn't from my side of the house anyway, so it wasn't,
and that's a moral. Get out of my sight you sniffling lout, and if
ever I catch you at your practices again I'll lam you till you won't be
able to wink without help, so I will."
"Musha," sobbed his wife, "don't be always talking out of you. Any one
would think that it was an old, criminal thief you were instructing,
instead of a bit of a child that'll be growing out of his wildness in
no time. Come across to me, child, come over to your mother, my lamb."
That night, when his father got into bed, he prodded his foot against
something under the sheets. Investigation discovered a brown paper bag
at the end of the bed. A further search revealed a wasp's nest, inside
of which there was an hundred angry wasps blazing for combat. His
father left the room with more expedition than decency. He did not
stop to put on as much as his hat. He fled to the stream which ran
through the meadow at the back of their house, and lay down in it, and
in two seconds there was more bad language than water in the stream.
Every time he lifted his head for air the wasps flew at him with their
tails curled. They kept him there for half an hour, and in that time
he laid in the seeds of more rheumatism than could be cured in two
When he returned home he found his wife lying on the floor with a
blanket wrapped about her head, groaning by instinct, for she was
Her face had disappeared. There was nothing where it had been but
poisoned lumps. A few days later it was found that she was blind of
one eye, and there was danger of erysipelas setting in.
The boy could not be found for some time, but a neighbour, observing a
stone come from nowhere in particular and hit a cat, located the first
cause in a ditch. He brought the boy home, and grabbed his father just
in time to prevent murder being done.
It was soon found that the only thing which eased the restless moaning
woman was the touch of her son. All her unmanageable, delirious
thoughts centred on him—
"Sure he's only a boy; beating never did good to anything. Give him a
chance now for wouldn't a child be a bit wild anyhow. You will be a
good boy, won't you? Come to your mother, my lamb."
So the lad grew, from twelve to fifteen, from fifteen to twenty. Soon
he attained to manhood. To his mother he seemed to have leaped in a
day from the careless, prattling babe to the responsibly-whiskered
miracle at whom mothers sit and laugh in secret delight. This
towering, big-footed, hairy person! was he really the little boy who
used to hide in her skirts when his father scowled? She had only to
close her eyes and she could feel again a pair of little hands clawing
at her breast, sore from the violent industry of soft, wee lips.
So he grew. Breeches that were big became small. Bony wrists were
continually pushing out of coat cuffs. His feet would burst out of his
boots. He grew out of everything but one. A man may outgrow his
breeches, he cannot outgrow his nature: his body is never too big or
too small to hold that.
Every living thing in the neighbourhood knew him. When a cat saw him
coming it climbed a tree and tried to look as much like a lump of wood
as it could. When a dog heard his step it tucked its tail out of sight
and sought for a hole in the hedge. The birds knew he carried stones
in his pockets. No tree cast so black a shadow in the sunlight as he
did. There were stories of a bottle of paraffin oil and a cat that
screeched in flames. Folk told of a maltreated dog that pointed its
nose to heaven and bayed a curse against humanity until a terrified man
battered it to death with a shovel. No one knew who did it, but every
one said there were only two living hearts capable of these
iniquities—one belonged to the devil, the other to our young man, and
they acquitted Satan of the deeds.
The owner of the dog swore by the beasts in the field and the stars in
the sky that he would tear the throat of the man who had injured his
The father drove his one-eyed wife from the house, and went with her to
live elsewhere; but she left him and went back to her son, and her
husband forswore the twain.
When women saw him in the road they got past him with their breath
hissing through their teeth in fear. When men passed him they did it
warily, with their fists clenched and their eyes alert. He was shunned
by every one. The strength of his arms also was a thing to be afraid
of, and in the world there was but two welcomes for him, one from his
mother, the other from an old, grey rat that slept in his breast—
"Sure, you're all against him," his mother would say. "Why don't you
give the boy a chance? It's only the hot blood of youth that's working
in him—and he never did it either. Look how kind he is to me! never
the bad word or the hard look! Ye black hearts that blame my boy, look
among yourselves for the villain. No matter who is against you, come
to your mother, my lamb."
He was found one day at the foot of the cliff with his neck broken.
Some said that he had slipped and fallen, some said he had committed
suicide, other some pursed their lips tightly and said nothing. All
were relieved that he was gone, saving his mother only, she mourned for
her only son, and wept bitterly, refusing to be comforted until she
She had begun to get thin. Her face was growing sharp and peaked. The
steady curve of her cheek had become a little indeterminate. Her chin
had begun to sag and her eyes to look a little weary. But she had not
observed these things, for we do not notice ourselves very much until
some other person thinks we are worthy of observation and tells us so;
and these changes are so gradual and tiny that we seldom observe them
until we awaken for a moment or two in our middle age and then we get
ready to fall asleep again.
When her uncle died, the solicitors who had administered his will handed
her a small sum of money and intimated that from that date she must hew
out her own path in life, and as she had most of the household furniture
of her late uncle at her disposal, she decided to let lodgings. Setting
about that end with all possible expedition she finished writing
"apartments to let" on a square of pasteboard, and, having placed it
prominently in a window, she folded her mittened hands and sat down with
some trepidation to await the advent of a lodger.
He came in the night time with the stars and the moon. He was running
like a youthful god, she thought, for her mind had not yet been weaned
from certain vanities, and she could not see that a gigantic policeman
was in his wake, tracking him with elephantine bounds, and now and again
snatching a gasp from hurry to blow furious warnings on a whistle.
It was the sound of the whistle which opened her eyes through her ears.
She went to the door and saw him coming framed in the moonlight, his arms
pressed tightly to his sides, his head well up and his feet kicking a
mile a minute on the pavement. Behind him the whistle shrilled with
angry alarm, and the thunder of monumental feet came near as the
policeman sprinted in majesty.
As the lodger ran she looked at him. He was a long-legged, young man
with a pleasant, clean-shaven face. His eyes met hers, and, although he
grinned anxiously, she saw that he was frightened. That frightened smile
gripped her and she panted noiselessly, "Oh, run, run!"
As he drew level he fixed his gaze on her, and, stopping suddenly, he
ducked under her arm and was inside the house in a twinkling.
The poor lady's inside curled up in fear and had started to uncurl in
screams when she felt a hand laid gently on her arm, and, "Don't make a
noise, or I'm caught," said a voice, whereupon, and with exceeding
difficulty, she closed her mouth while the scream went sizzling through
her teeth in little gasps. But now the enemy appeared round the corner,
tooting incessantly on his whistle, and whacking sparks from the
cobblestones as he ran. Behind her she could hear the laboured breathing
of a spent runner. The lodger was kneeling at her skirts: he caught her
hand and pressed his face against it entreatingly—
The policeman drew near—
"Did you see a fellow skedaddling along here, ma'am?" said he.
She hesitated for only a moment and then, pointing to a laneway opposite,
"He went up there."
"Thank you, ma'am," said the policeman with a genial smile, and he
sprinted up the laneway whistling cheerily.
She turned to the lodger—
"You had better go now," said she.
He looked at her ruefully and hesitated—
"If I go now," he replied, "I'll be caught and get a month. I'll have to
eat skilly, you know, and pick oakum, and get my hair cut."
She looked at his hair—it was brown and wavy, just at his ears it
crisped into tiny curls, and she thought it would be a great pity to cut
it. He bore her scrutiny well, with just a trifle of embarrassment and a
shyly humorous eye—
"You are the kindest woman I ever met," said he, "and I'll never forget
you as long as I live. I'll go away now because I wouldn't like to get
you into trouble for helping me."
"What did you do?" she faltered.
"I got into a fight with another man," he replied, "and while we were
hammering each other the policeman came up. He was going to arrest me,
and, before I knew what I was doing, I knocked him down."
She shook her head—
"You should not have done that. That was very wrong, for he was only
doing his duty."
"I know it," he admitted, "but, do you see, I didn't know what I was
doing, and then, when I hit him, I got frightened and ran."
"You poor boy," said she tenderly.
"And somehow, when I saw you, I knew you wouldn't give me up: wasn't it
What a nice, gentlemanly young fellow he is, she thought.
"But, of course, I cannot be trespassing on your kindness any longer," he
continued, "so I'll leave at once, and if ever I get the chance to repay
your kindness to a stranger——"
"Perhaps," said she, "it might not be quite safe for you to go yet. Come
inside and I will give you a cup of tea. You must be worn out with the
excitement and the danger. Why, you are shaking all over: a cup of tea
will steady your nerves and give him time to stop looking for you."
"Perhaps," said he, "if I turned my coat inside out and turned my
trousers up, they wouldn't notice me."
"We will talk it over," she replied with a wise nod.
That was how the lodger came. He told her his name and his
employment—he was a bookmaker's clerk. He brought his luggage,
consisting mostly of neckties, to her house the following day from his
"Had a terrible time getting away from them," said he. "They rather
liked me, you know, and couldn't make out why I wanted to leave."
"As if you weren't quite free to do as you wished," quoth his indignant
"And then, when they found I would go, they made me pay two weeks' rent
in lieu of notice—mean, wasn't it?"
"The low people," she replied. "I will not ask you to pay anything this
He put his bandbox on the ground, and shook hands with her—
"You are a brick," said he, "the last and the biggest of them. There
isn't the like of you in this or any other world, and never was and never
will be, world without end, amen."
"Oh, don't say that," said she shyly.
"I will," he replied, "for it's the truth. I'll hire a sandwichman to
stop people in the street and tell it to them. I'll get a week's
engagement at the theatre and sing it from the stage. I'll make up a
poem about your goodness. I don't know what to do to thank you. Do you
see, if I had to pay you now I'd have to pawn something, and I really
believe I have pawned everything they'd lend on to get the money for that
two weeks' rent. I'm broke until Friday, that's my pay day, but that
night I'll come home with my wages piled up on a cart."
"I can lend you a few shillings until then," said she laughing.
"Oh, no," said he. "It's not fair. I couldn't do that," but he could.
Well the light of the world shone out of the lodger. He was like a sea
breeze in a soap factory. When he awakened in the morning he whistled.
When he came down to breakfast he sang. When he came home in the evening
he danced. He had an amazing store of vitality: from the highest hair on
the top of his head down to his heels he was alive. His average language
was packed with jokes and wonderful curses. He was as chatty as a girl,
as good-humoured as a dog, as unconscious as a kitten—and she knew
nothing at all of men, except, perhaps, that they wore trousers and were
not girls. The only man with whom she had ever come in contact was her
uncle, and he might have been described as a sniffy old man with a cold;
a blend of gruel and grunt, living in an atmosphere of ointment and pills
and patent medicine advertisements—and, behold, she was living in
unthinkable intimacy with the youngest of young men; not an old,
ache-ridden, cough-racked, corn-footed septuagenarian, but a young,
fresh-faced, babbling rascal who laughed like the explosion of a
blunderbuss, roared songs as long as he was within earshot and danced
when he had nothing else to do. He used to show her how to do
hand-balances on the arm-chair, and while his boots were cocked up in the
air she would grow stiff with terror for his safety and for that of the
The first morning she was giving him his breakfast, intending afterwards
to have her own meal in the kitchen, but he used language of such
strangely attractive ferocity, and glared at her with such a
humorously-mad eye that she was compelled to breakfast with him.
At night, when he returned to his tea, he swore by this and by that he
would die of hunger unless she ate with him; and then he told her all the
doings of the day, the bets that had been made and lost, and what sort of
a man his boss was, and he extolled the goodness of his friends, and
lectured on the vast iniquity of his enemies.
So things went until she was as intimate with him as if he had been her
brother. One night he came home just a trifle tipsy. She noted at last
what was wrong with him, and her heart yearned over the sinner. There
were five or six glasses inside of him, and each was the father of an
antic. He was an opera company, a gymnasium, and a menagerie at once,
all tinged with a certain hilarious unsteadiness which was fascinating.
But at last he got to his bed, which was more than she did.
She sat through the remainder of the night listening to the growth of her
half-starved heart. Oh, but there was a warmth there now. . . .!
Springtime and the moon in flood. What new leaves are these which the
trees put forth? Bird, singing at the peep of morn, where gottest thou
thy song? Be still, be still, thou stranger, fluttering a wing at my
breast. . . .
At the end of a month the gods moved, and when the gods move they trample
mortals in the dust.
The lodger's employer left Dublin for London, taking his clerk with him.
"Good-bye," said he.
"Good-bye," she replied, "and a pleasant journey to you."
And she took the card with "Apartments to Let" written upon it and placed
it carefully in the window, and then, folding her mittened hands, she sat
down to await the coming of another lodger, and as she sat she wept
Nothing is true for ever. A man and a fact will become equally
decrepit and will tumble in the same ditch, for truth is as mortal as
man, and both are outlived by the tortoise and the crow.
To say that two is company and three is a crowd is to make a very
temporary statement. After a short time satiety or use and wont has
crept sunderingly between the two, and, if they are any company at all,
they are bad company, who pray discreetly but passionately for the
crowd which is censured by the proverb.
If there had not been a serpent in the Garden of Eden it is likely that
the bored inhabitants of Paradise would have been forced to import one
from the outside wilds merely to relax the tedium of a too-sustained
duet. There ought to be a law that when a man and a woman have been
married for a year they should be forcibly separated for another year.
In the meantime, as our law-givers have no sense, we will continue to
invoke the serpent.
Mrs. Mary Morrissy had been married for quite a time to a gentleman of
respectable mentality, a sufficiency of money, and a surplus of
leisure—Good things? We would say so if we dared, for we are growing
old and suspicious of all appearances, and we do not easily recognize
what is bad or good. Beyond the social circumference we are confronted
with a debatable ground where good and bad are so merged that we cannot
distinguish the one from the other. To her husband's mental
attainments (from no precipitate, dizzy peaks did he stare; it was only
a tiny plain with the tiniest of hills in the centre) Mrs. Morrissy
extended a courtesy entirely unmixed with awe. For his money she
extended a hand which could still thrill to an unaccustomed
prodigality, but for his leisure (and it was illimitable) she could
find no possible use.
The quality of permanency in a transient world is terrifying. A
permanent husband is a bore, and we do not know what to do with him.
He cannot be put on a shelf. He cannot be hung on a nail. He will not
go out of the house. There is no escape from him, and he is always the
same. A smile of a certain dimension, moustaches of this inevitable
measurement, hands that waggle and flop like those of automata—these
are his. He eats this way and he drinks that way, and he will continue
to do so until he stiffens into the ultimate quietude. He snores on
this note, he laughs on that, dissonant, unescapeable, unchanging.
This is the way he walks, and he does not know how to run. A
predictable beast indeed! He is known inside and out, catalogued,
ticketed, and he cannot be packed away.
Mrs. Morrissy did not yet commune with herself about it, but if her
grievance was anonymous it was not unknown. There is a back-door to
every mind as to every house, and although she refused it house-room,
the knowledge sat on her very hearthstone whistling for recognition.
Indeed, she could not look anywhere without seeing her husband. He was
included in every landscape. His moustaches and the sun rose together.
His pyjamas dawned with the moon. When the sea roared so did he, and
he whispered with the river and the wind. He was in the picture but
was out of drawing. He was in the song but was out of tune. He
agitated her dully, surreptitiously, unceasingly. She questioned of
space in a whisper, "Are we glued together?" said she. There was a bee
in a flower, a burly rascal who did not care a rap for any one: he sat
enjoying himself in a scented and gorgeous palace, and in him she
"If," said she to the bee, "if that man doesn't stop talking to me I'll
kick him. I'll stick a pin in him if he does not go out for a walk."
She grew desperately nervous. She was afraid that if she looked at him
any longer she would see him. To-morrow, she thought, I may notice
that he is a short, fat man in spectacles, and that will be the end of
everything. But the end of everything is also the beginning of
everything, and so she was one half in fear and the other half in hope.
A little more and she would hate him, and would begin the world again
with the same little hope and the same little despair for her meagre
She had already elaborated a theory that man was intended to work, and
that male sloth was offensive to Providence and should be forbidden by
the law. At times her tongue thrilled, silently as yet, to certain
dicta of the experienced Aunt who had superintended her youth, to the
intent that a lazy man is a nuisance to himself and to everybody else;
and, at last, she disguised this saying as an anecdote and repeated it
pleasantly to her husband.
He received it coldly, pondered it with disfavour, and dismissed it by
arguing that her Aunt had whiskers, that a whiskered female is a freak,
and that the intellectual exercises of a freak are—— He lifted his
eyebrows and his shoulders. He brushed her Aunt from the tips of his
fingers and blew her delicately beyond good manners and the mode.
But time began to hang heavily on both. The intellectual antics of a
leisured man become at last wearisome; his methods of thought, by mere
familiarity, grow distasteful; the time comes when all the arguments
are finished, there is nothing more to be said on any subject, and
boredom, without even the covering, apologetic hand, yawns and yawns
and cannot be appeased. Thereupon two cease to be company, and even a
serpent would be greeted as a cheery and timely visitor. Dismal
indeed, and not infrequent, is that time, and the vista therefrom is a
long, dull yawn stretching to the horizon and the grave. If at any
time we do revalue the values, let us write it down that the person who
makes us yawn is a criminal knave, and then we will abolish matrimony
and read Plato again.
The serpent arrived one morning hard on Mrs. Morrissy's pathetic
pressure. It had three large trunks, a toy terrier, and a volume of
verse. The trunks contained dresses, the dog insects, and the book
emotion—a sufficiently enlivening trilogy! Miss Sarah O'Malley wore
the dresses in exuberant rotation, Mr. Morrissy read the emotional
poetry with great admiration, Mrs. Morrissy made friends with the dog,
and life at once became complex and joyful.
Mr. Morrissy, exhilarated by the emotional poetry, drew, with an
instinct too human to be censured, more and more in the direction of
his wife's cousin, and that lady, having a liking for comedy, observed
the agile posturings of the gentleman on a verbal summit up and down
and around which he flung himself with equal dexterity and
satisfaction—crudely, he made puns—and the two were further thrown
together by the enforced absences of Mrs. Morrissy, into a privacy more
than sealed, by reason of the attentions of a dog who would climb to
her lap, and there, with an angry nose, put to no more than temporary
rout the nimble guests of his jacket. Shortly Mrs. Morrissy began to
look upon the toy terrier with a meditative eye.
It was from one of these, now periodical, retreats that Mrs. Morrissy
first observed the rapt attitude of her husband, and, instantly, life
for her became bounding, plentiful, and engrossing.
There is no satisfaction in owning that which nobody else covets. Our
silver is no more than second-hand, tarnished metal until some one else
speaks of it in terms of envy. Our husbands are barely tolerable until
a lady friend has endeavoured to abstract their cloying attentions.
Then only do we comprehend that our possessions are unique, beautiful,
well worth guarding.
Nobody has yet pointed out that there is an eighth sense; and yet the
sense of property is more valuable and more detestable than all the
others in combination. The person who owns something is civilised. It
is man's escape from wolf and monkeydom. It is individuality at last,
or the promise of it, while those other ownerless people must remain
either beasts of prey or beasts of burden, grinning with ineffective
teeth, or bowing stupid heads for their masters' loads, and all begging
humbly for last straws and getting them.
Under a sufficiently equable exterior Mrs. Morrissy's blood was pulsing
with greater activity than had ever moved it before. It raced! It
flew! At times the tide of it thudded to her head, boomed in her ears,
surged in fierce waves against her eyes. Her brain moved with a
complexity which would have surprised her had she been capable of
remarking upon it. Plot and counterplot! She wove webs horrid as a
spider's. She became, without knowing it, a mistress of psychology.
She dissected motions and motives. She builded theories precariously
upon an eyelash. She pondered and weighed the turning of a head, the
handing of a sugar-bowl. She read treason in a laugh, assignations in
a song, villainy in a new dress. Deeper and darker things! Profound
and vicious depths plunging stark to where the devil lodged in
darknesses too dusky for registration! She looked so steadily on these
gulfs and murks that at last she could see anything she wished to see;
and always, when times were critical, when this and that, abominations
indescribable, were separate by no more than a pin's point, she must
retire from her watch (alas for a too-sensitive nature!) to chase the
enemies of a dog upon which, more than ever, she fixed a meditative eye.
To get that woman out of the house became a pressing necessity. Her
cousin carried with her a baleful atmosphere. She moved cloudy with
doubt. There was a diabolic aura about her face, and her hair was red!
These things were patent. Was one blind or a fool? A straw will
reveal the wind, so will an eyelash, a smile, the carriage of a dress.
Ankles also! One saw too much of them. Let it be said then. Teeth
and neck were bared too often and too broadly. If modesty was indeed
more than a name, then here it was outraged. Shame too! was it only a
word? Does one do this and that without even a blush? Even vice
should have its good manners, its own decent retirements. If there is
nothing else let there be breeding! But at this thing the world might
look and understand and censure if it were not brass-browed and stupid.
Sneak! Traitress! Serpent! Oh, Serpent! do you slip into our very
Eden? looping your sly coils across our flowers, trailing over our beds
of narcissus and our budding rose, crawling into our secret arbours and
whispering-places and nests of happiness! Do you flaunt and sway your
crested head with a new hat on it every day? Oh, that my Aunt were
here, with the dragon's teeth, and the red breath, and whiskers to
match! Here Mrs. Morrissy jumped as if she had been bitten (as indeed
she had been) and retired precipitately, eyeing the small dog that
frisked about her with an eye almost petrified with meditation.
To get that woman out of the house quickly and without scandal. Not to
let her know for a moment, for the blink and twitter of an eyelid, of
her triumph. To eject her with ignominy, retaining one's own dignity
in the meantime. Never to let her dream of an uneasiness that might
have screamed, an anger that could have bitten and scratched and been
happy in the primitive exercise. Was such a task beyond her adequacy?
Below in the garden the late sun slanted upon her husband, as with
declamatory hands and intense brows he chanted emotional poetry, ready
himself on the slope of opportunity to roll into verses from his own
resources. He criticised, with agile misconception, the inner meaning,
the involved, hard-hidden heart of the poet; and the serpent sat before
him and nodded. She smiled enchantments at him, and allurements, and
subtle, subtle disagreements. On the grass at their feet the toy
terrier bounded from his slumbers and curved an imperative and furious
hind-leg in the direction of his ear.
Mrs. Morrissy called the dog, and it followed her into the house,
frisking joyously. From the kitchen she procured a small basket, and
into this she packed some old cloths and pieces of biscuit. Then she
picked up the terrier, cuffed it on both sides of the head, popped it
into the basket, tucked its humbly-agitated tail under its abject ribs,
closed the basket, and fastened it with a skewer. She next addressed a
label to her cousin's home, tied it to the basket, and despatched a
servant with it to the railway-station, instructing her that it should
be paid for on delivery.
At breakfast the following morning her cousin wondered audibly why her
little, weeny, tiny pet was not coming for its brecky.
Mrs. Morrissy, with a smile of infinite sweetness, suggested that Miss
O'Malley's father would surely feed the brute when it arrived. "It was
a filthy little beast," said she brightly; and she pushed the
toast-rack closer to her husband.
There followed a silence which drowsed and buzzed to eternity, and
during which Mr. Morrissy's curled moustaches straightened and grew
limp and drooped. An edge of ice stiffened around Miss O'Malley.
Incredulity, frozen and wan, thawed into swift comprehension and
dismay, lit a flame in her cheeks, throbbed burningly at the lobes of
her ears, spread magnetic and prickling over her whole stung body, and
ebbed and froze again to immobility. She opposed her cousin's kind
eyes with a stony brow.
"I think," said she rising, "that I had better see to my packing."
"Must you go?" said Mrs. Morrissy, with courteous unconcern, and she
helped herself to cream. Her husband glared insanely at a pat of
butter, and tried to look like some one who was somewhere else.
Miss O'Malley closed the door behind her with extreme gentleness.
So the matter lay. But the position was unchanged. For a little time
peace would reign in that household, but the same driving necessity
remained, and before long another, and perhaps more virulent, serpent
would have to be requisitioned for the assuagement of those urgent
woes. A man's moustaches will arise with the sun; not Joshua could
constrain them to the pillow after the lark had sung reveille. A woman
will sit pitilessly at the breakfast table however the male eye may
shift and quail. It is the business and the art of life to degrade
permanencies. Fluidity is existence, there is no other, and for ever
the chief attraction of Paradise must be that there is a serpent in it
to keep it lively and wholesome. Lacking the serpent we are no longer
in Paradise, we are at home, and our sole entertainment is to yawn when
we wish to.
In the scented bud of the morning—O,
When the windy grass went rippling far,
I saw my dear one walking slow
In the field where the daisies are.
We did not laugh and we did not speak
As we wandered happily to and fro;
I kissed my dear on either cheek
In the bud of the morning—O.
A lark sang up from the breezy land,
A lark sang down from a cloud afar,
And she and I went hand in hand
In the field where the daisies are.
THREE ANGRY PEOPLE
He sat cross-legged on the roadside beside a heap of stones, and with
slow regularity his hammer swung up and down, cracking a stone into
small pieces at each descent. But his heart was not in the work. He
hit whatever stone chanced to be nearest. There was no cunning
selection in his hammer, nor any of these oddities of stroke which a
curious and interested worker would have essayed for the mere trial of
He was not difficult to become acquainted with, and, after a little
conversation, I discovered that all the sorrows of the world were
sagging from his shoulders. Everything he had ever done was wrong, he
said. Everything that people had done to him was wrong, that he
affirmed; nor had he any hope that matters would mend, for life was
poisoned at the fountain-head and there was no justice anywhere.
Justice! he raised his eyebrows with the horrid stare of a man who
searches for apparitions; he lowered them again to the bored blink of
one who will not believe in apparitions even though he see them—there
was not even fairness! Perhaps (and his bearing was mildly tolerant),
perhaps some people believed there was fairness, but he had his share
of days to count by and remember. Forty-nine years of here and there,
and in and out, and up and down; walking all kinds of roads in all
kinds of weathers; meeting this sort of person and that sort, and many
an adventure that came and passed away without any good to it—"and
now," said he sternly, "I am breaking stones on a bye-way."
"A bye-road such as this," said I, "has very few travellers, and it may
prove a happy enough retreat."
"Or a hiding-place," said he gloomily.
We sat quietly for a few moments—
"Is there no way of being happy?" said I.
"How could you be happy if you have not got what you want?" and he
thumped solidly with his hammer.
"What do you want?" I asked.
"Many a thing," said he, "many a thing."
I squatted on the ground in front of him, and he continued—
"You that are always travelling, did you ever meet a contented person
in all your travels?"
"Yes," said I, "I met a man yesterday, three hills away from here, and
he told me he was happy."
"Maybe he wasn't a poor man?"
"I asked him that, and he said he had enough to be going on with."
"I wonder what he had."
"I wondered too, and he told me.—He said that he had a wife, a son, an
apple-tree, and a fiddle.
"He said, that his wife was dumb, his son was deaf, his apple-tree was
barren, and his fiddle was broken."
"It didn't take a lot to satisfy that man."
"And he said, that these things, being the way they were, gave him no
trouble attending on them, and so he was left with plenty of time for
"I think the man you are telling me about was a joker; maybe you are a
joker yourself for that matter."
"Tell me," said I, "the sort of things a person should want, for I am a
young man, and everything one learns is so much to the good."
He rested his hammer and stared sideways down the road, and he remained
so, pursing and relaxing his lips, for a little while. At last he said
in a low voice—
"A person wants respect from other people.—If he doesn't get that,
what does he signify more than a goat or a badger? We live by what
folk think of us, and if they speak badly of a man doesn't that finish
him for ever?"
"Do people speak well of you?" I asked.
"They speak badly of me," said he, "and the way I am now is this, that
I wouldn't have them say a good word of me at all."
"Would you tell me why the people speak badly of you?"
"You are travelling down the road," said he, "and I am staying where I
am. We never met before in all the years, and we may never meet again,
and so I'll tell you what is in my mind.—A person that has neighbours
will have either friends or enemies, and it's likely enough that he'll
have the last unless he has a meek spirit. And it's the same way with
a man that's married, or a man that has a brother. For the neighbours
will spy on you from dawn to dark, and talk about you in every place,
and a wife will try to rule you in the house and out of the house until
you are badgered to a skeleton, and a brother will ask you to give him
whatever thing you value most in the world."
He remained silent for a few minutes, with his hammer eased on his
knee, and then, in a more heated strain, he continued—
"These are three things a man doesn't like—he doesn't like to be spied
on, and he doesn't like to be ruled and regulated, and he doesn't like
to be asked for a thing he wants himself. And, whether he lets himself
be spied on or not, he'll be talked about, and in any case he'll be
made out to be a queer man; and if he lets his wife rule him he'll be
scorned and laughed at, and if he doesn't let her rule him he'll be
called a rough man; and if he once gives to his brother he will have to
keep on giving for ever, and if he doesn't give in at all he'll get the
bad name and the sour look as he goes about his business."
"You have bad neighbours, indeed," said I.
"I'd call them that."
"And a brother that would ask you for a thing you wanted yourself
wouldn't be a decent man."
"He would not."
"Tell me," said I, "what kind of a wife have you?"
"She's the same as any one else's wife to look at, but I fancy the
other women must be different to live with."
"Why do you say that?"
"Because you can hear men laughing and singing in every public-house
that you'd go into, and they wouldn't do that if their wives were hard
to live with, for nobody could stand a bad comrade. A good wife, a
good brother, a good neighbour—these are three good things, but you
don't find them lying in every ditch."
"If you went to a ditch for your wife——!" said I.
He pursed up his lips at me.
"I think," said I, "that you need not mind the neighbours so very much
for no one can spy on you but yourself. If your mind was in a glass
case instead of in a head it would be different; and no one can really
rule and regulate you but yourself, and that's well worth doing."
"Different people," said he shortly, "are made differently."
"Maybe," said I, "your wife would be a good wife to some other husband,
and your brother might be decent enough if he had a different brother."
He wrinkled up his eyes and looked at me very steadily—
"I'll be saying good-bye to you, young man," said he, and he raised his
hammer again and began to beat solemnly on the stones.
I stood by him for a few minutes, but as he neither spoke nor looked at
me again I turned to my own path intending to strike Dublin by the Paps
of Dana and the long slopes beyond them.
One day he chucked his job, put up his tools, told the boss he could do
this and that, called hurroo to the boys, and sauntered out of the place
with a great deal of dignity and one week's wages in cash.
There were many reasons why he should not have quitted his work, not the
lightest of them being that the food of a wife and family depended on his
sticking to it, but a person who has a temper cannot be expected to have
Nothing makes a man feel better than telling his employer that he and his
job can go bark at one another. It is the dream of a great many people,
and were it not for the glamour of that idea most folk would commit
suicide through sheer disgust. Getting the "sack" is an experience which
wearies after the first time. Giving the sack is a felicity granted only
to a few people. To go home to one's wife with the information that you
have been discharged is an adventure which one does not wish to repeat,
but to go home and hand her thirty shillings with the statement that you
have discharged yourself is not one of the pleasantest ways of passing
His wife's habits were as uncertain as her temper, but not as bad. She
had a hot tongue, a red head, a quick fist and a big family—ingredients
to compose a peppery dish. They had been only a short time married when
she gave her husband to understand that there was to be only one head of
that household, and that would not be he. He fought fiercely for a
position on the executive but he did not get it. His voice in the
household economy, which had commenced with the lordly "Let this be
done," concluded in the timidly blustering "All right, have it your own
Furthermore, the theory that a woman is helpmate to a man was repugnant
to her. She believed and asserted that a man had to be managed, and she
had several maxims to which she often gave forcible and contemptuous
"Let a man go his own road to-day and he will be shaking hands with the
"Give a man his head and he'll lose it.
"Whiskers and sense were never found in the same patch.
"There's more brains in one woman's finger than there is in the
congregated craniums of a battalion of men folk.
"Where there is two men there's one fight. Where there's three there's a
drinking match, two fights and a fine to be paid."
But while advocating peace at any price and a tax on muscles that were
bigger than a fly's knuckle she was herself a warrior of the breed of
Finn and strong enough to scare a pugilist. When she was angry her
family got over the garden wall, her husband first. She did not think
very much of him, and she told him so, but he was sufficient of a man not
to believe her.
For a long time he had been a dissatisfied person, leading a grumpy
existence which was only made bearable by gusts of solitary blasphemy.
When a man curses openly he is healthy enough, but when he takes to
either swearing or drinking in secret then he has travelled almost beyond
So behold our man knocking at the door, still warmed by the fray with his
late employer, but with the first tremors of fear beginning to tatter up
and down his spine.
His wife opened the door herself. She was engaged in cleaning the place,
a duty in which she was by no means remiss, one of the prime points in
her philosophy being that a house was not clean until one's food could be
eaten off the floor. She was a big comely woman, but at the moment she
did not look dainty. A long wisp of red hair came looping down on her
shoulders. A smear of soot toned down the roses of her cheek, her arms
were smothered in soap suds, and the fact that she was wearing a pair of
her husband's boots added nothing to her attractions.
When she saw her husband standing in the doorway at this unaccustomed
hour she was a little taken aback, but, scenting trouble, she at once
opened the attack—
"What in the name of heaven brings you here at this hour of the day, and
the place upset the way it is? Don't walk on the soap, man, haven't you
got eyes in your head?"
"I'm not walking on the soap with my head," he retorted, "if I was I'd
see it, and if it wasn't on the floor it wouldn't be tripping folk up. A
nice thing it is that a man can't come into his own house without being
set slipping and sliding like an acrobat on an iceberg."
"And," cried his wife, "if I kept the soap locked up it's the nice, clean
house you'd have to come into. Not that you'd mind if the place was
dirty, I'll say that much for you, for what one is reared to one likes,
and what is natural is pleasant. But I got a different rearing let me
tell you, and while I'm in it I'll have the clean house no matter who
wants the dirty one."
"You will so," said he, looking at the soapy water for a place to walk on.
"Can't you be coming in then, and not stand there framed in the doorway,
gawking like a fool at a miracle."
"I'll sail across if you'll get a canal boat or a raft," said he, "or, if
the children are kept out of sight, I'll strip, ma'm, and swim for it."
His wife regarded him with steady gloom.
"If you took the smallest interest in your home," said she, "and were
less set on gallivanting about the country, going to the Lord knows
where, with the Lord knows who, you'd know that the children were away in
school at this hour. Nice indeed the places you visit and the company
you keep, if the truth were known—walk across it, man, and wipe your
feet on the kitchen mat."
So he walked into the kitchen, and sat down, and, as he sat, the last
remnants of his courage trembled down into his boots and evaporated.
His wife came in after him—she drooped a speculative eye on her lord—
"You didn't say what brought you home so early," said she.
When a hard thing has to be done the quickest way is generally the best
way. It is like the morning bath—don't ruminate, jump in, for the
longer you wait the more dubious you get, and the tub begins to look
arctic and repellent.
Some such philosophy as this dictated his attitude. He lugged out his
week's wages, slapped it on the table, and said—
"I've got the sack."
Then he stretched his legs out, pushed his fists deep into his trouser
pockets, and waited.
His wife sat down too, slowly and with great care, and she stared in
silence at her husband—
"Do you tell me you have lost your employment?" said she in a quiet voice.
"I do, then," said he. "I chucked it myself. I told old Whiskers that
he could go and boil his job and his head together and sell the soup for
"You threw up your situation yourself."
"You've got the truth of it, ma'm," he rejoined.
"Maybe you'd be telling me what you did the like of that for?"
"Because," said he, "I'm a man and not a mouse. Because I don't want to
be at the beck and call of every dog and devil that has a bit more money
than I have—a man has got to be a man sometimes," he growled.
"Sure, you're telling the truth," said his wife, nodding her head at him.
"A man should be a man sometimes. It's the pity of the world that he
can't be a man always: and, indeed, it's the hard thing for a woman to
tell herself that the man she has got isn't a man at all, but a big fool
with no more wit than a boy."
Now this was the first time he had found his wife take trouble lying
down. As a rule she was readier for a fight than he was. She jumped
into a row with the alacrity of a dog: and the change worked on him. He
looked at her listless hands, and the sight of those powerful organs
hanging so powerlessly wrought on him. Women often forget that their
weakness is really their strength. The weakest things in the world are
by a queer paradox always the strongest. The toughest stone will wear
away under the dropping of water, a mushroom will lift a rock on its
delicate head, a child will make its father work for it. So the too
capable woman will always have a baby to nurse, and that baby will be her
husband. If she buttress her womanhood too much she saps his manhood.
Let her love all she can and never stint that blessing, but a woman
cannot often be obeyed and loved at the same time. A man cannot obey a
woman constantly and retain his self-respect: the muscles of his arms
reproach him if he does, and the man with his self-respect gone is a man
with a grudge, he will learn to hate the agent who brought him low. A
day may come when he will rise and beat her in self-defence, with his
fists if he is sufficiently brutalised, some subtler, but no less
efficient, weapon if his manhood refuses to be degraded—and this was our
case. His wife had grabbed the reins and driven the matrimonial coach:
driven it well, that is true, but the driver, by right of precedent, had
sat by hurt and angry, and at last, in an endeavour to prove his manhood
among men, he had damned his employer's self and work, although in
reality all his fury was directed against the mother of his children. He
threw up his work, and the semi-conscious thought that went home with him
was—"Now she will be sorry. If she must do everything let her earn the
The woman knew what poverty meant, and she had four young children. It
was the thought of these helpless ones crying with hunger (she could hear
them already, her ears were dinned with their hungry lamentation) that
took the fibre out of her arms, and left her without any fight. She
could only sit and look with wretched eyes on the man whom she had been
demoralising, and, for the first time since he knew her, the tears came,
and the poor woman laid her head on the kitchen table and wept.
He was astonished, he was dismayed, but he could not stand her tears: he
ran to her—the first time he ever did run to her—
"Sure, darling," said he, "is it crying you are? What would you be doing
that for? If I've lost one job I can get another. I'm not afraid of
work, and I know how to do it. I'll get something to do at once, if it's
only wheeling a handcart, or selling cockles in public-houses. Wisha,
dry your eyes—they're as pretty as they ever were," said he, trying to
look at them, while his wife, with a strange shyness, would not let him
see, for she felt that there was a strange man with her, some one she did
not know. That was a man's hand on her shoulder, and she had never felt
a man's hand before, as long as she was married.
"I'll go out at once," said he, "and when I come in to-night I'll have a
job if I have to bang it out of some one with a shovel."
He slapped on his hat, kicked the soap out of the way, tramped through
the water on the floor, and when at the door he turned again and came
back to kiss his wife, a form of caress which had long fallen into
desuetude, and so, out into the street, a man again.
When he had gone his wife returned to her scrubbing, and, as she worked
she smiled at something she was remembering, and, now and again, a bit of
a song came from lips that had scolded so much. Having finished her work
she spent nearly an hour at the looking-glass doing up her hair (grand
hair it was, too) with her ears listening for a footstep. Now and again
she would run to the pot to see were the potatoes doing all right—"The
children will be in shortly," said she, "and hungry to the bone, poor
But she was not thinking of the children. The warmth of a kiss was still
on her lips. Something in the back of her head was saying—"He will do
it again when he comes in."
And the second honeymoon was pleasanter than the first.
She was tall and angular. Her hair was red, and scarce, and untidy.
Her hands were large and packed all over with knuckles and her feet
would have turned inwards at the toes, only that she was aware of and
corrected their perversities.
She was sitting all alone, and did not look up as I approached—
"Tell me," said I, "why you have sat for more than an hour with your
eyes fixed on nothing, and your hands punching your lap?"
She looked at me for a fleeting instant, and then, looking away again,
she began to speak.—Her voice was pleasant enough, but it was so
strong that one fancied there were bones in it—
"I do not dislike women," said she, "but I think they seldom speak of
anything worth listening to, nor do they often do anything worth
looking at: they bore and depress me, and men do not."
"But," said I, "you have not explained why you thump your lap with your
"I do not hate women, nor do I love men. It was only that I did not
take much notice of the one, and that I liked being with the other,
for, as things are, there is very little life for a person except in
thinking. All our actions are so cumbered by laws and customs that we
cannot take a step beyond the ordinary without finding ourselves either
in gaol or in Coventry."
Having said this, she raised her bleak head and stared like an eagle
across the wastes.
After I had coughed twice I touched her arm, and said—
"One must live," said she quickly. "I do not mean that we must eat and
sleep—these mechanical matters are settled for many of us, but life
consists in thinking, and nothing else, yet many people go from the
cradle to the grave without having lived differently from animals. I
do not want to be one of them. Their whole theory of life is
mechanical. They eat and drink. They invite each other to their
houses to eat and drink, and they use such speech as they are gifted
with in discussing their food and whatever other palpable occurrence
may have chanced to them in the day. It is a step, perhaps, towards
living, but it is still only one step removed from stagnation. They
have some interest in an occurrence, but how that occurrence happened,
and what will result from it does not exercise them in the least, and
these, which are knowledge and prophecy, are the only interesting
aspects of any event."
"But," said I, "you have not told me why you sit for a full hour
staring at vacancy, and thumping on your knee with your hand?"
"Sometimes one meets certain people who have sufficient of the divine
ferment in their heads to be called alive: they are almost always men.
We fly to them as to our own people. We abase ourselves before them in
happy humility. We crave to be allowed to live near them in order that
we may be assured that everything in the world is not nonsense and
machinery—and then, what do we find—?"
She paused, and turned a large fierce eye upon me.
"I do not know," said I, and I endeavoured vainly to look everywhere
but at her eye.
"We find always that they are married," said she, and, saying so, she
lapsed again to a tense and worried reflection.
"You have not told me," I insisted gently, "why you peer earnestly into
space, and thump at intervals upon your knee with the heel of your
"These men," said she sternly, "are surrounded by their wives. They
are in gaol and their wives are their warders. You cannot go to them
without a permit. You may not speak to them without a listener. You
may not argue with them for fear of raising an alien and ridiculous
hostility. Scarcely can you even look at them without reproach.—How
then can we live, and how will the torch of life be kept alight?"
"I do not know," I murmured.
She turned her pale eye to me again.
"I am not beautiful," said she.
But there was just a tremor of doubt in her voice, so that the apparent
statement became packed with curiosity, and had all the quality of a
I did not shrug my shoulder nor raise an eyebrow—
"You are very nice," I replied.
"I do not want to be beautiful," she continued severely. "Why should
I? I have no interest in such things. I am interested only in living,
and living is thinking; but I demand access to my fellows who are
alive. Perhaps, I did not pay those others enough attention. How
could I? They cannot think. They cannot speak. They make a
complicated verbal noise, but all I am able to translate from it is,
that a something called lip-salve can be bought in some particular shop
one penny cheaper than it can in a certain other shop. They will
twitter for hours about the way a piece of ribbon was stitched to a hat
which they saw in a tramcar. They agitate themselves wondering whether
a muff should be this size or that size?—I say, they depress me, and
if I do turn my back on them when men are present I am only acting
sensibly and justly. Why cannot they twitter to each other and let me
and other people alone?"
She turned to me again—
"I do not know," said I meekly.
"And," she continued, "the power they have; the amazing power they have
to annoy other folk. All kinds of sly impertinences, vulgar evasions,
and sneering misunderstandings. Why should such women be allowed to
take men into their captivity, to sequester, and gag, and restrain them
from those whom they would naturally be eager to meet?
"What," she continued fiercely, "had my hat to do with that woman, or
I nodded slowly and grievously, and repeated—
"A hat," said she, "is something to cover one's head from the rain, and
a frock is something to guard one's limbs from inclement weather.—To
that extent I am interested in these things: but they would put a hat
on my mind, and a black cloth on my understanding."
We sat in silence for a little time, while she surveyed the bleak
horizon as an eagle might.
"And when I call at their houses," said she, "their servants say 'Not
at home,' a lie, you know, and they close their doors on me."
She was silent again—
"I do not know what to do," said she.
"Is that," said I, "the reason why you beat your lap with your hand,
and stare abroad like a famished eagle?"
She turned quickly to me—
"What shall I do to open those doors?" said she.
"If I happened to be you," I replied, "I would cut off my hair, I'd buy
a man's clothes and wear them always, I'd call myself Harry or Tom; and
then I'd go wherever I pleased, and meet whoever I wanted to meet?"
She stared fixedly at herself in these garments, and under these
"They would know I was not a man," said she gravely.
I looked at her figure—
"No person in the world would ever guess it," said I.
She arose from her seat. She clutched her reticule to her breast—
"I'll do it," said she, and she stalked gauntly across the fields.
When Brien O'Brien died, people said that it did not matter very much,
because he would have died young in any case. He would have been
hanged, or his head would have been split in two halves with a hatchet,
or he would have tumbled down the cliff when he was drunk and been
smashed into jelly. Something like that was due to him, and everybody
likes to see a man get what he deserves to get.
But, as ethical writs cease to run when a man is dead, the neighbours
did not stay away from his wake. They came, and they said many
mitigating things across the body with the bandaged jaws and the sly
grin, and they reminded each other of this and that queer thing which
he had done, for his memory was crusted over with stories of wild,
laughable things, and other things which were wild but not laughable.
Meanwhile, he was dead, and one was at liberty to be a trifle sorry for
him. Further, he belonged to the O'Brien nation, a stock to whom
reverence was due. A stock not easily forgotten. The historic memory
could reconstruct forgotten glories of station and battle, of terrible
villainy and terrible saintliness, the pitiful, valorous, slow descent
to the degradation which was not yet wholly victorious. A great stock!
The O'Neills remembered it. The O'Tools and the MacSweeneys had
stories by the hundred of love and hate. The Burkes and the Geraldines
and the new strangers had memories also.
His family was left in the poorest way, but they were used to that, for
he had kept them as poor as he left them, or found them, for that
matter. They had shaken hands with Charity so often that they no
longer disliked the sallow-faced lady, and, so, certain small gifts
made by the neighbours were accepted, not very thankfully, but very
readily. These gifts were almost always in kind. A few eggs. A bag
of potatoes. A handful of meal. A couple of twists of tea—such like.
One of the visitors, however, moved by an extraordinary dejection,
slipped a silver threepenny-piece into the hand of Brien's little
daughter, Sheila, aged four years, and later on she did not like to ask
for it back again.
Little Sheila had been well trained by her father. She knew exactly
what should be done with money, and so, when nobody was looking, she
tip-toed to the coffin and slipped the threepenny-piece into Brien's
hand. That hand had never refused money when it was alive, it did not
reject it either when it was dead.
They buried him the next day.
He was called up for judgment the day after, and made his appearance
with a miscellaneous crowd of wretches, and there he again received
what was due to him. He was removed protesting and struggling to the
"Down," said Rhadamanthus, pointing with his great hand, and down he
In the struggle he dropped the threepenny-piece, but he was so bustled
and heated that he did not observe his loss. He went down, far down,
out of sight, out of remembrance, to a howling, black gulf with others
of his unseen kind.
A young seraph, named Cuchulain, chancing to pass that way shortly
afterwards, saw the threepenny-piece peeping brightly from the rocks,
and he picked it up.
He looked at it in astonishment. He turned it over and over, this way
and that way. Examined it at the stretch of his arm, and peered
minutely at it from two inches distance—
"I have never in my life seen anything so beautifully wrought," said
he, and, having stowed it in his pouch along with some other trinkets,
he strolled homewards again through the massy gates.
It was not long until Brien discovered his loss, and, suddenly, through
the black region, his voice went mounting and brawling.
"I have been robbed," he yelled. "I have been robbed in heaven!"
Having begun to yell he did not stop. Sometimes he was simply angry
and made a noise. Sometimes he became sarcastic and would send his
query swirling upwards—
"Who stole the threepenny-bit?" he roared. He addressed the
surrounding black space—
"Who stole the last threepenny-bit of a poor man?"
Again and again his voice pealed upwards. The pains of his habitation
lost all their sting for him. His mind had nourishment and the heat
within him vanquished the fumes without. He had a grievance, a
righteous cause, he was buoyed and strengthened, nothing could silence
him. They tried ingenious devices, all kinds of complicated things,
but he paid no heed, and the tormentors were in despair.
"I hate these sinners from the kingdom of Kerry," said the Chief
Tormentor, and he sat moodily down on his own circular saw; and that
worried him also, for he was clad only in a loin cloth.
"I hate the entire Clan of the Gael," said he; "why cannot they send
them somewhere else?" and then he started practising again on Brien.
It was no use. Brien's query still blared upwards like the sound of
the great trump itself. It wakened and rung the rocky caverns,
screamed through fissure and funnel, and was battered and slung from
pinnacle to crag and up again. Worse! his companions in doom became
interested and took up the cry, until at last the uproar became so
appalling that the Master himself could not stand it.
"I have not had a wink of sleep for three nights," said that harassed
one, and he sent a special embassy to the powers.
Rhadamanthus was astonished when they arrived. His elbow was leaning
on his vast knee, and his heavy head rested on a hand that was acres
long, acres wide.
"What is all this about?" said he.
"The Master cannot go to sleep," said the spokesman of the embassy, and
he grinned as he said it, for it sounded queer even to himself.
"It is not necessary that he should sleep," said Rhadamanthus. "I have
never slept since time began, and I will never sleep until time is
over. But the complaint is curious. What has troubled your master?"
"Hell is turned upside down and inside out," said the fiend. "The
tormentors are weeping like little children. The principalities are
squatting on their hunkers doing nothing. The orders are running here
and there fighting each other. The styles are leaning against walls
shrugging their shoulders, and the damned are shouting and laughing and
have become callous to torment."
"It is not my business," said the judge.
"The sinners demand justice," said the spokesman.
"They've got it," said Rhadamanthus, "let them stew in it."
"They refuse to stew," replied the spokesman, wringing his hands.
Rhadamanthus sat up.
"It is an axiom in law," said he, "that however complicated an event
may be, there can never be more than one person at the extreme bottom
of it. Who is the person?"
"It is one Brien of the O'Brien nation, late of the kingdom of Kerry.
A bad one! He got the maximum punishment a week ago."
For the first time in his life Rhadamanthus was disturbed. He
scratched his head, and it was the first time he had ever done that
"You say he got the maximum," said Rhadamanthus, "then it's a fix! I
have damned him for ever, and better or worse than that cannot be done.
It is none of my business," said he angrily, and he had the deputation
removed by force.
But that did not ease the trouble. The contagion spread until ten
million billions of voices were chanting in unison, and uncountable
multitudes were listening between their pangs.
"Who stole the threepenny-bit? Who stole the threepenny-bit?"
That was still their cry. Heaven rang with it as well as hell. Space
was filled with that rhythmic tumult. Chaos and empty Nox had a new
discord added to their elemental throes. Another memorial was drafted
below, showing that unless the missing coin was restored to its owner
hell would have to close its doors. There was a veiled menace in the
memorial also, for Clause 6 hinted that if hell was allowed to go by
the board heaven might find itself in some jeopardy thereafter.
The document was dispatched and considered. In consequence a
proclamation was sent through all the wards of Paradise, calling on
whatever person, archangel, seraph, cherub, or acolyte had found a
threepenny-piece since midday of the tenth of August then instant, that
the same person, archangel, seraph, cherub, or acolyte, should deliver
the said threepenny-piece to Rhadamanthus at his Court, and should
receive in return a free pardon and a receipt.
The coin was not delivered,
That young seraph, Cuchulain, walked about like a person who was
strange to himself. He was not tormented: he was angry. He frowned,
he cogitated and fumed. He drew one golden curl through his fingers
until it was lank and drooping; save the end only, that was still a
ripple of gold. He put the end in his mouth and strode moodily chewing
it. And every day his feet turned in the same direction—down the long
entrance boulevard, through the mighty gates, along the strip of carved
slabs, to that piled wilderness where Rhadamanthus sat monumentally.
Here delicately he went, sometimes with a hand outstretched to help his
foothold, standing for a space to think ere he jumped to a further
rock, balancing himself for a moment ere he leaped again. So he would
come to stand and stare gloomily upon the judge.
He would salute gravely, as was meet, and say, "God bless the work";
but Rhadamanthus never replied, save by a nod, for he was very busy.
Yet the judge did observe him, and would sometimes heave ponderous lids
to where he stood, and so, for a few seconds, they regarded each other
in an interval of that unceasing business.
Sometimes for a minute or two the young seraph Cuchulain would look
from the judge to the judged as they crouched back or strained forward,
the good and the bad all in the same tremble of fear, all unknowing
which way their doom might lead. They did not look at each other.
They looked at the judge high on his ebon throne, and they could not
look away from him. There were those who knew, guessed clearly their
doom; abashed and flaccid they sat, quaking. There were some who were
uncertain—rabbit-eyed these, not less quaking than the others, biting
at their knuckles as they peeped upwards. There were those hopeful,
yet searching fearfully backwards in the wilderness of memory, chasing
and weighing their sins; and these last, even when their bliss was
sealed and their steps set on an easy path, went faltering, not daring
to look around again, their ears strained to catch a—"Halt, miscreant!
this other is your way!"
So, day by day, he went to stand near the judge; and one day
Rhadamanthus, looking on him more intently, lifted his great hand and
"Go you among those to be judged," said he.
For Rhadamanthus knew. It was his business to look deep into the heart
and the mind, to fish for secrets in the pools of being.
And the young seraph Cuchulain, still rolling his golden curl between
his lips, went obediently forward and set down his nodding plumes
between two who whimpered and stared and quaked.
When his turn came, Rhadamanthus eyed him intently for a long time—
"Well!" said Rhadamanthus.
The young seraph Cuchulain blew the curl of gold away from his mouth—
"Findings are keepings," said he loudly, and he closed his mouth and
stared very impertinently at the judge.
"It is to be given up," said the judge.
"Let them come and take it from me," said the seraph Cuchulain. And
suddenly (for these things are at the will of spirits) around his head
the lightnings span, and his hands were on the necks of thunders.
For the second time in his life Rhadamanthus was disturbed, again he
scratched his head—
"It's a fix," said he moodily. But in a moment he called to those
whose duty it was—
"Take him to this side," he roared.
And they advanced. But the seraph Cuchulain swung to meet them, and
his golden hair blazed and shrieked; and the thunders rolled at his
feet, and about him a bright network that hissed and stung—and those
who advanced turned haltingly backwards and ran screaming.
"It's a fix," said Rhadamanthus; and for a little time he stared
menacingly at the seraph Cuchulain.
But only for a little time. Suddenly he put his hands on the rests of
his throne and heaved upwards his terrific bulk. Never before had
Rhadamanthus stood from his ordained chair. He strode mightily forward
and in an instant had quelled that rebel. The thunders and lightnings
were but moonbeams and dew on that stony carcass. He seized the seraph
Cuchulain, lifted him to his breast as one lifts a sparrow, and tramped
back with him—
"Fetch me that other," said he, sternly, and he sat down.
Those whose duty it was sped swiftly downwards to find Brien of the
O'Brien nation; and while they were gone, all in vain the seraph
Cuchulain crushed flamy barbs against that bosom of doom. Now, indeed,
his golden locks were drooping and his plumes were broken and tossed;
but his fierce eye still glared courageously against the nipple of
Soon they brought Brien. He was a sight of woe—howling, naked as a
tree in winter, black as a tarred wall, carved and gashed, tattered in
all but his throat, wherewith, until one's ears rebelled, he bawled his
But the sudden light struck him to a wondering silence, and the sight
of the judge holding the seraph Cuchulain like a limp flower to his
breast held him gaping—
"Bring him here," said Rhadamanthus.
And they brought him to the steps of the throne—
"You have lost a medal!" said Rhadamanthus. "This one has it."
Brien looked straitly at the seraph Cuchulain.
Rhadamanthus stood again, whirled his arm in an enormous arc, jerked,
and let go, and the seraph Cuchulain went swirling through space like a
"Go after him, Kerryman," said Rhadamanthus, stooping; and he seized
Brien by the leg, whirled him wide and out and far; dizzy, dizzy as a
swooping comet, and down, and down, and down.
Rhadamanthus seated himself. He motioned with his hand—
"Next," said he, coldly.
Down went the seraph Cuchulain, swirling in wide tumbles, scarcely
visible for quickness. Sometimes, with outstretched hands, he was a
cross that dropped plumb. Anon, head urgently downwards, he dived
steeply. Again, like a living hoop, head and heels together, he spun
giddily. Blind, deaf, dumb, breathless, mindless; and behind him Brien
of the O'Brien nation came pelting and whizzing.
What of that journey! Who could give it words? Of the suns that
appeared and disappeared like winking eyes. Comets that shone for an
instant, went black and vanished. Moons that came, and stood, and were
gone. And around all, including all, boundless space, boundless
silence; the black, unmoving void—the deep, unending quietude, through
which they fell with Saturn and Orion, and mildly-smiling Venus, and
the fair, stark-naked moon and the decent earth wreathed in pearl and
blue. From afar she appeared, the quiet one, all lonely in the void.
As sudden as a fair face in a crowded street. Beautiful as the sound
of falling waters. Beautiful as the sound of music in a silence. Like
a white sail on a windy sea. Like a green tree in a solitary place.
Chaste and wonderful she was. Flying afar. Flying aloft like a joyous
bird when the morning breaks on the darkness and he shrills sweet
tidings. She soared and sang. Gently she sang to timid pipes and
flutes of tender straw and murmuring, distant strings. A song that
grew and swelled, gathering to a multitudinous, deep-thundered harmony,
until the over-burdened ear failed before the appalling uproar of her
ecstasy, and denounced her. No longer a star! No longer a bird! A
plumed and horned fury! Gigantic, gigantic, leaping and shrieking
tempestuously, spouting whirlwinds of lightning, tearing gluttonously
along her path, avid, rampant, howling with rage and terror she leaped,
dreadfully she leaped and flew. . . .
Enough! They hit the earth—they were not smashed, there was that
virtue in them. They hit the ground just outside the village of
Donnybrook where the back road runs to the hills; and scarcely had they
bumped twice when Brien of the O'Brien nation had the seraph Cuchulain
by the throat—
"My threepenny-bit," he roared, with one fist up—
But the seraph Cuchulain only laughed—
"That!" said he. "Look at me, man. Your little medal dropped far
beyond the rings of Saturn."
And Brien stood back looking at him—He was as naked as Brien was. He
was as naked as a stone, or an eel, or a pot, or a new-born babe. He
was very naked.
So Brien of the O'Brien nation strode across the path and sat down by
the side of a hedge—
"The first man that passes this way," said he, "will give me his
clothes, or I'll strangle him."
The seraph Cuchulain walked over to him—
"I will take the clothes of the second man that passes," said he, and
he sat down.
(AFTER THE IRISH)
Do not marry, Breed, asthore!
That old man whose head is hoar
As the winter, but instead
Mate with some young curly-head;
He will give to you a child,
He will never leave your side,
And at morning when you wake
Kiss for kiss will give and take.
I wish that I had died, I do,
Before I gave my love to you;
Love so lasting that it will
While I live be with you still:
And for it what do I get?
Pain and trouble and regret,
The terrors of the aspen-tree
Which the wind shakes fearfully.
If this country could be seen
As it ought—then you had been
Living in a castle grand
With the ladies of the land:
The friend and foe, the gael and gall,
Would be cheering, one and all,
For yourself, and, this is true,
I would be along with you.
You promised, 'twas a lie, I see,
When you said you'd come to me
At the sheep-cote; I was there,
And I whistled on the air,
And I gave our settled call—
But you were not there at all!
There was nothing anywhere
But lambs and birds and sunny air
When it is dark you pass me by,
And when the sun is in the sky
You pass me also—night or day
You look away, you walk away!
But if you would come to me,
And say the word of courtesy,
I would close the door, and then
I'd never let you out again.
But do not marry, Breed, asthore!
That old man; his heart is hoar
As his head is: you can see
Winter gripping at his knee:
His eyes and ears are blear and dim,
How can you expect of him
To see or hear or pleasure you
Half as well as I would do?
THREE YOUNG WIVES
She was about to be a mother for the second time, and the fear which is
the portion of women was upon her. In a little while she would be in
the toils, and she hated and feared physical pain with a great hatred
and a great fear. But there was something further which distressed her.
She was a soft, babyish creature, downy and clinging, soft-eyed and
gentle, the beggar folk had received gifts at her hand, the dogs knew
of her largesse. Men looked on her with approval, and women liked her.
Her husband belonged to the type known as "fine men," tall,
generously-proportioned, with the free and easy joviality which is so
common in Ireland. He was born a boy and he would never grow out of
that state. The colour of his hair or the wrinkles on his cheek would
not have anything to do with his age, for time was powerless against
the richness of his blood. He would still be a boy when he was dying
of old age; but if protestations, kisses and homage were any criterion
then the fact that he loved his wife was fixed beyond any kind of doubt.
But he did not love her.—He was as changeable as the weather of his
country. Swift to love he was equally swift to forget. His passions
were of primitive intensity, but they were not steadfast. He clutched
with both hands at the present and was surprised and irritated by the
fact that he could in nowise get away from the past: the future he did
not care a rap about. Nobody does: there is, indeed, no such thing as
the future, there is only the possibility of it, but the past and the
present are facts not to be gotten away from. What we have done and
what we are doing are things which stamp us, mould us, live with us and
after us: what we will do cannot be counted on, has no part in us, has
only a problematical existence, and can be interfered with, hindered,
nullified or amplified by the thousand unmanageable accidents of
He had married thanking God from a full heart for His goodness, and
believing implicitly that he had plucked the very Flower of Womanhood,
and the Heart of the World, and, maybe, he had.—There are many Flowers
of Womanhood, all equally fragrant, and the Heart of the World can beat
against the breast of any man who loves a woman.
Some time previously their little boy had contracted small-pox, and his
mother, nursing him, took it from him. When they recovered her beauty
was gone. The extraordinary bloom which had made her cheek a shrine to
worship and marvel at was destroyed for ever, while, by a curious
chance, the boy was unmarked.
Now the only love which he had to give was a physical love. He did not
love a woman, he loved the husk. Of the woman herself he knew nothing
and cared less. He had never sought to know his wife, never tried to
pierce beneath her beauty and discover where the woman lived and what
she was like at home. Indeed, he knew less of his wife than his
servants did, and by little and little she had seen how the matter
stood. She had plucked the heart from his mystery and read him to the
bones, while remaining herself intact. But she held him still,
although by the most primitive and fragile of bonds, by the magnetism
of her body, the shining of her eyes, the soft beauty of her cheeks;
and, behold! she was undone. The disease had stamped on her face, and,
in the recoil, had stamped on her husband's love.
How many nights of solitary tears she had known! she alone could count
them, a heavy knowledge. How many slights, shrinkings, coldnesses she
had discerned! the tale of them was hot in her brain, the index heavy
on her heart.
She knew her loss on the day that her husband looked at her after her
recovery when all fear of infection had passed—the stare, the flush,
the angry disgust. Her eyes were cameras. She had only to close them
and she could see again in dismal procession those dismal details.
And now, as she lay helpless on the bed, she watched him. She was
racked with pain, and he was mumbling that it would be all right again
in a little time. "A week from now," said he, "and you will have
forgotten all about it."
But she, looking at him with fearful eyes, traced this sentence at the
back of his brain, "I hope that she will die," and the life within her
which had been sown in happiness and love, and had grown great through
misery and tears was now beating at the gates of entrance. . . . She
might die: so many people die in labour, and she was not strong. With
a new clairvoyant gaze she saw Death standing by the bed, hooded,
cloaked and sombre; his eyes were fixed on her and they were peaceful
and kindly eyes. Had there been nothing else to care for she would
have gone gladly to the Dark One; but there remained her little son.
What heart was he to rest on when she was gone? Whose arms could open
so widely as the mother's when he fled from the terrible things which
haunt Babyland?—it was an arrow in her heart.
She knew well that her husband would marry again. He was of those men
who are inveterate husbands—and that new woman!—Who was she? What
was she like? What would be her attitude towards a motherless child?
towards her little one? She would be kindly at first, little doubt of
that, but afterwards, when her own children came, what would become of
the child of a husband's first wife? . . .
She stared down vistas of sorrow. She was a woman, and she knew women.
She saw the other little ones, strangers to her, cared for and loved,
all their childish troubles the centre of maternal interest and debate,
while her boy slunk through a lonely, pathetic childhood, frightened,
repressed, perhaps beaten, because he was not of the brood. . . .
She saw these things as she lay looking at her husband, and she
believed they would come to pass if she died.
And in the night time, when the stars were hidden behind the window
curtains, by the light of a lamp that fell on toiling, anxious people,
in a hospital-like atmosphere of pain and clamour she did die.
It was believed long ago in the ancient kingdom of Erinn that it was
death to be a poet, death to love a poet, and death to mock a poet. So
the Gael said, and, in that distant time, the people of the Gael were a
wise people, holding the ancient knowledge, and they honoured the poet
and feared him, for his fostering was among the people of the Shee, and
his curse was quickened with the authority of the gods. Even lately
the people feared the poets and did them reverence, although the New
Ignorance (known humorously as Education) was gradually strangling the
life out of Wisdom, and was setting up a different and debased standard
of mental values. There was a lady once and she scorned a poet,
wittingly and with malice, and it was ill for her in the sequel, for
the gods saw to it.
She was very beautiful—"The finest girl in three counties, sir," said
her father: but he might have been prejudiced in favour of his own, and
he had been known to speak of himself as "the finest man in Ireland,
and you know what that means, sir." Further, his dog was "the greatest
dog that ever ratted in the universe." Whatever he owned was not only
good, it was great and unique, and whatever he did not own had, in his
opinion, very little to recommend it.
But his daughter was beautiful. When the male eye encountered her it
was in no haste to look away. When the female eye lit on her it was,
and the owner of the female eye, having sniffed as was proper, went
home and tried to do up her hair or her complexion in the like
manner—as was also proper. A great many people believe (and who will
quarrel with their verities) that beauty is largely a matter of craft
and adjustment.—Such women are beautiful with a little
difficulty—they pursue loveliness, run it to earth in a shop, obtain
it with a certain amount of minted metal, and reincarnate themselves
from a box.—They deserve all the success which they undoubtedly
obtain. There are other women who are beautiful by accident—such as,
the cunning disposition of a dimple, the abilities of a certain kind of
smile, the possession of a charming voice—for, indeed, an ugly woman
with a beautiful voice is a beautiful woman. But some women are
beautiful through the spendthrift generosity of nature, and of this
last was she. Whatever of colour, line, or motion goes to the
construction of beauty that she was heiress to, and she knew it only
A person who has something of his own making may properly be proud of
his possession, even if it is nothing more than a stamp album, but a
person who has been gifted by Providence or Fairy Godmothers should not
be conceited. A self-made man may be proud of his money, but his son
may not. Pride in what has been given freely to you is an empty pride,
and she was prouder of her beauty than a poet is of his odes—it was
her undoing in the end.
She was so accustomed to the homage of men that one who failed to make
instant and humble obeisance to her proved himself to be either a very
vulgar person or else a miracle. Such folk were few, for the average
man bends as readily to beauty as a flower sways to the wind, or the
sea to the touch of the moon.
Before she was twenty years of age she had loomed in the eye of every
male in her vicinity as the special female whom nature had built to his
exclusive measure. When she was twenty-one she had withstood the
matrimonial threats of half the male population of Ireland, and she
knew how every social grade (there are not many of them) of Irish life
made love, for that was the only thing they were able to do while they
were near her. From the farmer with a spade in his fist to the
landlord with a writ in his agent's pocket, all sang the same song, the
sole difference being a matter of grammar; and, although young women
have big appetites in these cases, and great recuperative powers, she
was as tired of love and love-lorn swains as a young and healthy woman
can be, and then, suddenly, and to her own delighted consternation, she
did fall in love.
The tantalising part of the whole matter was that she was unable to
formulate any good reason for falling in love with this particular
male. Her powers of observation (and they were as sharp as a cat's
tooth) pointed out that although he was a young man his head was
beginning to push out through his hair, and she had always considered
that a bald man was outside the pale of human interest. Furthermore,
his trousers bagged at the knees, perhaps the most lamentable mishap
that can descend on manly apparel.—They were often a little jagged at
the ends. She did not understand that trousers such as these were the
correct usage, they were in the tradition: he was wearing "the bearded
breeches of the bard." He was a little weak on his legs, and his hands
sometimes got in his own way, but she said to herself with a smile,
"How different he is from other men!"
What that difference consisted in got between her and her rest, there
was a crumb in her bed on the head of it.
Meanwhile, he had not told her that he loved her, and she was strangely
anxious for news to that effect. Indeed, she sought confirmation of
her hopes as often as maidenly modesty permitted, which was pretty
frequent, for maidenly modesty has its diplomacy also; besides, has not
a reigning beauty liberty to pay court?—there are plenty of other
queens who have done it.
He was a poet by profession, but his livelihood depended upon his
ability as a barrister. When she first saw him he was crossing a
street. Suddenly, in the centre of the road, he halted, with his toes
turned in, his fingers caressing his chin, and an expression of rapt
and abstracted melancholy on his visage, while he sought for the
missing, the transfiguring word. There was a sonnet in his eye and it
impeded his vision. Meanwhile, the wheeled traffic of the street
addressed language to him which was so vigorous as almost to be
poetical. She had pulled him from beneath a horse's head which a
frantic driver was endeavouring to pull the mouth from. The words of
the driver as he sailed away were—"Go home and die, you moonstruck,
gibbering, wobbling omadhaun," and she had thought that his description
was apt and eloquent.
She saw him a second time, when her father took her for a visit to the
Four Courts. He was addressing the Court, and, while his language was
magnificent, the judge must have considered that his law was on
vacation, for he lost his cause.
They met again in her own home. Her father knew him very well, and,
although they seldom met, he had that strong admiration for him which a
vigorous and overbearing personality sometimes extends to a shy and
"A perfect frost as a lawyer," he used to say, "but as a poet, sir,
Shakespeare is an ass beside him, and if any one asks you who said so,
tell them that I did, sir."
He sat beside her at dinner and forgot her before the first course was
removed, and, later, when he knocked a glass off the table, he looked
at her as though she were responsible for the debris.
He did not make love to her, a new and remarkable omission in her
experience of men, however bald, and while this was refreshing for a
time it became intolerable shortly. She challenged him, as a woman
can, with the flash of her eyes, the quick music of her laugh, but he
was marvelling at the width of the horizon, rapt in contemplation of
the distant mountains, observing how a flower poised and nodded on its
stalk, following the long, swooping flight of a bird or watching how
the moon tramped down on the stars. So far as she could see he was
unaware that her charms were of other than average significance—
"These poets are awful fools," said she angrily.
But the task of awakening this landlocked nature was one which
presented many interesting features to her. She was really jealous
that he paid her no attention, and, being accustomed to the homage of
every male thing over fifteen years of age, she resented his
negligence, became interested in him, as every one is in the abnormal,
and when a woman becomes interested in a man she is unhappy until he
becomes interested in her.
There had arrived, with the express intention of asking her to marry
him, another young gentleman. He had a light moustache and a fancy
waistcoat, both of which looked new. He was young, rich, handsome, and
sufficiently silly to make any woman wish to take charge of him, and
her father had told him to "go in and win, my boy, there's no one I'd
like better, sir," a very good heartener for a slightly dubious youth,
even though he may consider that the lady of his choice is watching
another man more intently than is pleasant.
The young gentleman gripped, with careful frenzy, at his light, new
moustache, and growled as he watched the stalking. But the poet was
occupied and careless, and then, suddenly, it happened. What movement,
conscious or unconscious, opened his eyes one cannot say: the thing
seemed to be done without any preliminaries, and he was awakened and in
They had been reading poetry together, his poetry, and he was
expressing, more to himself than to her, how difficult and how
delightful it was to work with entire satisfaction within the "scanty
plot" of a sonnet. She was listening with bated breath, and answering
with an animation more than slightly tinged with ignorance, for she was
as little interested in the making of sonnets as in the making of
shoes.—Nobody is interested in the making of sonnets, not even poets.
He fell silent after a space and sat gazing at the moon where it globed
out on the stillness, and she also became silent. Her nerves, she told
herself, were out of order. She was more used to dismissing than to
being dismissed and yet she seemed beaten. There was nothing further
that a girl could do. He cared no more about her than he did about
whatever woman cleaned his rooms. She was not angry, but a feeling of
weariness came upon her. (It is odd that one can be so in earnest when
one is in jest.) Once or twice she shook her head at the moon, and as
she stared, moody and quiet, it seemed that the moon had slid beyond
her vision and she was looking into great caverns of space, bursting
with blackness. Some horror of emptiness was reaching to roll her in
pits of murk, where her screams would be battered back on her tongue
With an effort she drew her eyes into focus again and turned them,
smiling bitterly, on her companion, and, lo, he was looking at her with
timid eyes, amazed eyes, and they spoke, for all their timidity, louder
than trumpets. She knew that look, who could mistake it? Here was
flame from the authentic fire. He was silent, but his breath came and
went hurriedly, and he was bending towards her, little by little he was
bending, his eyes, his whole body and soul yearning.
Then she arose——
"It is getting a little cold," said she: "we had better go in."
They went indoors silently. He was walking like a man just awakened
from a dream. While she!—her head was high. Where was her equal!
She frowned in the face of the moon and stars. She beat her small feet
upon the earth and called it slave. She had torn victory from nowhere.
A man's head swung at her girdle and she owned the blood that dripped,
and her heart tossed rapture and anthem, carol and paean to the air
around.—She had her hour.
That night the other young gentleman whom any woman would like to take
charge of asked her to be his wife, and she consented gracefully,
slightly disarranging his nice, new moustache in the act of surrender.
The next day the poet left the house pleading urgent briefs as an
"You'll come to the wedding," cried her father, "or," laughing, "maybe,
you'll help us with the settlements, that's more in your line," and he
put an arm fondly about his daughter. She, regarding their visitor,
nestled to him and laughingly said—
"It would not be like my wedding at all if you stayed away. You must
write me an ode," and her eyes mocked him.
He stood, looking at her for a moment, and his eyes mocked also, for
the poet knew by his gift what she had done, and he replied with
"I will come with pleasure, and," with an emphasis she noted, "I will
dance at your wedding." So he laughed and marched away heart-whole.
Then, disengaging her arm from her father's, she smiled and walked
slowly indoors, and as she walked there spread over her body a fierce
coldness, and when her husband sought her afterwards that wintry breast
chilled him, and he died: but the poet danced at her wedding, when her
eyes were timid and pleading, and frightened.
She read the letter through twice, and then she stood for a few minutes
looking in front of her, with her arms hanging loosely by her sides,
and her foot tapping on the carpet. She was looking into the future
with the thoughtful gaze of one who has cut off all communication with
the past, and, with a strange feeling of detachment, she was wondering
how that future would reveal itself, and whether he. . .? She crossed
to the fireplace, sat down, and read the letter over again.
Her husband had gone out that evening with a friend. In his usual
hit-or-miss fashion, he kissed his wife and asked her to settle his
tie. He was always asking her to do something, but he never did
anything for her.—It was, "Will you hand me the paper, like a good
girl?" and, "I say, dear, my pipe is stuffed, you might stick a hairpin
through it," or, "You might see, old lady, if there is a match
anywhere." Before their marriage she had been accustomed to men who
did things for her, and the change was sudden: likeable enough at
. . . How red the fire is to-night! They must be sending better coal
than we usually get—there is not a single dark spot in it, and how the
shape continually changes! Now it is a deep cave with stalactites
hanging from the roof, and little swelling hillocks on the floor, and,
over all, a delicate, golden glow surging and fading. The blue flame
on the top that flits and flickers like a will-o'-the-wisp is gas, I
suppose—I wonder how they extract it. . . . I wonder will he be sorry
when he comes home, and finds. . . . Perhaps his friend will be
sufficient for him then. . . . It is curious to think of oneself as a
piece of animated furniture, a dumb waiter, always ready when required,
and decently out of sight when not wanted—not dumb, though! He cannot
say I failed to talk about it: but, of course, that is nagging and bad
temper, and "making yourself ridiculous for nothing, my dear."
Nothing! I warned him over and over again; but he must have company.
He would be stifled unless he went among men now and again—"Male
company is a physical necessity for men, my dear." I suppose women do
not need any other company than that of their husbands, and they must
not ask too much of that. . . . What strange, careless, hopeful
creatures they are, and how they cease to value what they have got!
Does the value rise again when it is gone, I wonder? . . . Out all
day, and he cannot understand why I ask him to stay with me at night.
"A man wants air, sweetheart." A woman does not, of course—she would
not have the cheek to want anything: there is something not "nice"
about a woman wanting anything. Do all men stifle in the air their
wives have breathed? If I ask him "do you love me still?" he replies,
"of course, do you mind if I run out for an hour or two, dear." One
will ask questions, of course. . . . A kiss in the morning, another at
night, and, for Heaven's sake, don't bother me in the interval: that is
marriage from a man's point of view. Do they really believe that women
are alive? Is matrimony always a bondage to them? Are all women's
lives so lonely? Are their wishes neglected, their attempts to think
laughed at, their pride stricken?—I wonder. . . . And he did love me,
I know that: but if he has forgotten I must not remember it. He could
not see enough of me then: and the things he said, and does not
remember—I was a wonder that the world could not equal—it is
laughable.—A look from me was joy, a word delight, a touch ecstasy.
He would run to the ends of the earth to gratify a whim of mine, and
life without me was not worth living. . . . If I would only love him!
If I could only bring myself to care for him a little—he was too
humble, too unworthy to imagine—and so forth, and so forth; and it was
all true then. Now I am some one who waits upon him. He wants this
and that, and asks me for it. He has cut his finger and shouts for me
to bind it up, and I must be terribly concerned about it; somehow, he
will even manage to blame me for his cut finger. He cannot sleep in
the night, so I must awaken also and listen to his complaint. He is
sick, and the medicine tastes nasty; I am to understand that if the
medicine tastes nasty I am responsible for it—I should not have given
him anything nasty: he is surprised: he trusted me not to do such a
thing to him. He turns to me like a child when he has any . . . he
turns to me like a child and trusts . . . he turns to me . . . like a
child. . . .
The sound of a horse's hooves came to her, and she arose from her chair
with frightened haste. She looked swiftly at the clock, and then stood
listening in a rigid attitude, with a face that grew white and peaked,
and flushed and paled again. The car came swiftly nearer and stopped a
little way from the house. Then a foot crunched the gravel, and her
desperate eyes went roving quickly about the room as though she were
looking for a place to hide in. Next, after a little interval of
silence, a pebble struck the window. She stood for a moment staring at
the window and then ran to it, swung open a pane of glass, and, leaning
out, she called in a high, strained voice, "I will not go." Then,
closing the window again, she ran back to the fireplace, crouched down
on the rug and pushed her fingers into her ears.
Her husband came home before eleven o'clock, brushed the wraith of a
kiss half an inch from her lips, and asked was there anything nice for
supper? The supper things were already on the table, and, after
tasting a mouthful—
"Who cooked this?" said he.
She was watching him intently—
"The girl did," she replied.
"I knew it," said he angrily, "it's beastly: you might have done it
yourself when you were not busy; a lot you care about what I like."
"I will do it to-morrow," she replied quietly.
"Yes do," said he, "there is no one can cook like you."
And she, still watching him intently, suddenly began to laugh—
He leaped up from the table and, after a stare of indignant
astonishment, he stalked off to bed—
"You are always giggling about nothing," said he, and he banged the
He was tall and she was short. He was bulky, promising to be fat. She
was thin, and, with a paring here and there, would have been skinny.
His face was sternly resolute, solemn indeed, hers was prim, and
primness is the most everlasting, indestructible trait of humanity. It
can outface the Sphinx. It is destructible only by death. Whoever has
married a prim woman must hand over his breeches and his purse, he will
collect postage stamps in his old age, he will twiddle his thumbs and
smile when the visitor asks him a question, he will grow to dislike
beer, and will admit and assert that a man's place is the home—these
things come to pass as surely as the procession of the seasons.
It may be asked why he had married her, and it would be difficult to
find an answer to that question. The same query might be put to almost
any couple, for (and it is possibly right that it should be so) we do
not marry by mathematics, but by some extraordinary attraction which is
neither entirely sexual nor mental. Something other than these,
something as yet uncharted by psychology, is the determining factor.
It may be that the universal, strange chemistry of nature, planning
granite and twig, ant and onion, is also ordering us more imperatively
and more secretly than we are aware.
He had always been a hasty creature. He never had any brains, and had
never felt the lack of them. He was one of those men who are called
"strong," because of their imperfect control over themselves. His
appetites and his mental states ruled him. He was impatient of any
restraint; whatever he wanted to do he wanted urgently to do and would
touch no alternatives. He had the robust good humour which will
cheerfully forgive you to-morrow for the wrongs he has done you to-day.
He bore no malice to any one on earth except those who took their
medicine badly. Meek people got on very well with him because they
behaved themselves, but he did not like them to believe they would
inherit the earth.
Some people marry because other people have done so. It is in the air,
like clothing and art and not eating with a knife. He, of course, got
married because he wanted to, and the singular part of it was that he
did not mate with a meek woman. Perhaps he thought she was meek, for
before marriage there is a habit of deference on both sides which is
misleading and sometimes troublesome.
From the beginning of their marriage he had fought against his wife
with steadiness and even ferocity. Scarcely had they been wed when her
gently-repressive hand was laid upon him, and, like a startled horse,
he bounded at the touch into freedom—that is, as far as the limits of
the matrimonial rope would permit. Of course he came back again—there
was the rope, and the unfailing, untiring hand easing him to the way he
was wanted to go.
There was no fighting against that. Or, at least, it did not seem that
fighting was any use. One may punch a bag, but the bag does not mind,
and at last one grows weary of unproductive quarrelling. One shrugs
one's shoulders, settles to the collar, and accepts whatever destiny
the gods, in their wisdom, have ordained. Is life the anvil upon which
the gods beat out their will? It is not so. The anvil is matter, the
will of the gods is life itself, urging through whatever torment to
some identity which it can only surmise or hope for; and the one order
to life is that it shall not cease to rebel until it has ceased to
live; when, perhaps, it can take up the shaping struggle in some other
form or some other place.
But he had almost given in. Practically he had bowed to the new order.
Domestic habits were settling about him thick as cobwebs, and as
clinging. His feet were wiped on the mat when he came in. His hat was
hung on the orthodox projection. His kiss was given at the stated
time, and lasted for the regulation period. The chimney-corner claimed
him and got him. The window was his outlook on life. Beyond the hall
door were foreign lands inhabited by people who were no longer of his
kind. The cat and the canary, these were his familiars, and his wife
was rapidly becoming his friend.
Once a day he trod solemnly forth on the designated walk—
"Be back before one o'clock," said the voice of kind authority, "lunch
will be ready."
"Won't you be back before two?" said that voice, "the lawn has to be
"Don't stay out after three," the voice entreated, "we are going to
visit Aunt Kate."
And at one and two and three o'clock he paced urgently wifeward. He
ate the lunch that was punctually ready. He rolled the inevitable
lawn. He trod sturdily to meet the Aunt Kate and did not quail, and
then he went home again. One climbed to bed at ten o'clock, one was
gently spoken to until eleven o'clock, and then one went to sleep.
On a day she entrusted him with a sum of money, and requested that he
should go down to the town and pay at certain shops certain bills, the
details whereof she furnished to him on paper.
"Be back before three o'clock," said the good lady, "for the Fegans are
coming to tea. You need not take your umbrella, it won't rain, and you
ought to leave your pipe behind, it doesn't look nice. Bring some
cigarettes instead, and your walking-stick if you like, and be sure to
be back before three."
He pressed his pipe into a thing on the wall which was meant for pipes,
put his cigarette-case into his pocket, and took his walking-stick in
"You did not kiss me good-bye," said she gently.
So he returned and did that, and then he went out.
It was a delicious day. The sun was shining with all its might. One
could see that it liked shining, and hoped everybody enjoyed its art.
If there were birds about anywhere it is certain they were singing. In
this suburb, however, there were only sparrows, but they hopped and
flew, and flew and hopped, and cocked their heads sideways and chirped
something cheerful, but possibly rude, as one passed. They were busy
to the full extent of their beings, playing innocent games with happy
little flies, and there was not one worry among a thousand of them.
There was a cat lying on a hot window-ledge. She was looking drowsily
at the sparrows, and any one could see that she loved them and wished
There was a dog stretched across a doorway. He was very quiet, but he
was not in the least bored. He was taking a sun-bath, and he was
watching the cat. So steadily did he observe her that one discerned at
a glance he was her friend, and would protect her at any cost.
There was a small boy who held in his left hand a tin can and a piece
of string. With his right hand he was making affectionate gestures to
the dog. He loved playing with animals, and he always rewarded their
trust in him.
Our traveller paced slowly onwards, looking at his feet as he went. He
noticed with a little dismay that he could not see as much of his legs
as he thought he should see. There was a slight but nicely-shaped
curve between him and his past—
"I am getting fat," said he to himself, and the reflection carried him
back to the morning mirror—
"I am getting a bit bald, too," said he, and a quiet sadness took
possession of him.
But he reassured himself. One does get fat. "Every one gets fat,"
said he, "after he gets married." He reviewed his friends and
acquaintances, and found that this was true, and he bowed before an
"One does get bald," quoth he. "Everybody gets bald. The wisest
people in the world lose their hair. Kings and generals, rich people
and poor people, they are all bald! It is not a disgrace," said he;
and he trod soberly forward in the sunshine.
A young man caught up on him from behind, and strode past. He was
whistling. His coat-tails were lifted and his hands were thrust in his
pockets. His elbows jerked to left and right as he marched.
"A fellow oughtn't to swagger about like that," said our traveller.
"What does he want to tuck up his coat for, anyhow? It's not decent,"
said he in a low voice. "It makes people laugh," said he.
A girl came out of a shop near by and paced down in their direction.
She looked at the young man as they passed, and then she turned again,
a glance, no more, and looked after him without stopping her pace. She
came on. She had no pockets to stick her hands in, but she also was
swaggering. There was a left and right movement of her shoulders, an
impetus and retreat of her hips. Something very strong and yet
reticent about her surging body. She passed the traveller and went
down the road.
"She did not look at me," said he, and his mind folded its hand across
its stomach, and sat down, while he went forward in the sunlight to do
He stopped to light a cigarette, and stood for a few minutes watching
the blue smoke drifting and thinning away on the air. While he stood a
man drove up with a horse and car. The car was laden with
groceries—packets of somebody's tea, boxes of somebody's chocolate,
bottles of beer and of mineral water, tins of boot blacking, and
parcels of soap; confectionery, and tinned fish, cheese, macaroni, and
The man was beating the horse as he approached, and the traveller
looked at them both through a wreath of smoke.
"I wonder," said he, "why that man beats his horse?"
The driver was sitting at ease. He was not angry. He was not
impatient. There was nothing the matter with him at all. But he was
steadily beating the horse; not harshly, gently in truth. He beat the
horse without ill-will, almost without knowing he was doing it. It was
a sort of wrist exercise. A quick, delicate twitch of the whip that
caught the animal under the belly, always in the same place. It was
very skilful, but the driver was so proficient in his art that one
wondered why he had to practice at it any longer. And the horse did
not make any objection! Not even with his ears; they lay back to his
mane as he jogged steadily forward in the sunlight. His hooves were
shod with iron, but they moved with an unfaltering, humble regularity.
His mouth was filled with great, yellow teeth, but he kept his mouth
shut, and one could not see them. He did not increase or diminish his
pace under the lash; he jogged onwards, and did not seem to mind it.
The reins were jerked suddenly, and the horse turned into the path and
stopped, and when he stood he was not any quieter than when he had been
moving. He did not raise his head or whisk his tail. He did not move
his ears to the sounds behind and on either side of him. He did not
paw and fumble with his feet. There was a swarm of flies about his
head; they moved along from the point of his nose to the top of his
forehead, but mostly they clustered in black, obscene patches about his
eyes, and through these patches his eyes looked out with a strange
patience, a strange mildness. He was stating a fact over and over to
himself, and he could not think of anything else—
"There are no longer any meadows in the world," said he. "They came in
the night and took away the green meadows, and the horses do not know
what to do." . . . Horse! Horse! Little horse! . . . You do not
believe me. There are those who have no whips. There are children who
would love to lift you in their arms and stroke your head. . . .
The driver came again, he mounted to his seat, and the horse turned
carefully and trotted away.
The man with the cigarette looked after them for a few minutes, and
then he also turned carefully, to do his errands.
He reached the Railway Station and peered in at the clock. There were
some men in uniform striding busily about. Three or four people were
moving up the steps towards the ticket office. A raggedy man shook a
newspaper in his face, paused for half a second, and fled away bawling
his news. A red-faced woman pushed hastily past him. She was carrying
a big basket and a big baby. She was terribly engrossed by both, and
he wondered if she had to drop one which of them it would be. A short,
stout, elderly man was hoisting himself and a great leather portmanteau
by easy stages up the steps. He was very determined. He bristled at
everybody as at an enemy. He regarded inanimate nature as if he was
daring it to move. It would not be easy to make that man miss a train.
A young lady trod softly up the steps. She draped snowy garments about
her, but her ankles rebelled: whoever looked quickly saw them once, and
then she spoke very severely to them, and they hid themselves. It was
plain that she could scarcely control them, and that they would escape
again when she wasn't looking. A young man bounded up the steps; he
was too late to see them, and he looked as if he knew it. He stared
angrily at the girl, but she lifted her chin slightly and refused to
admit that he was alive. A very small boy was trying to push a large
india-rubber ball into his mouth, but his mouth was not big enough to
hold it, and he wept because of his limitations. He was towed along by
his sister, a girl so tall that one might say her legs reached to
heaven, and maybe they did.
He looked again at the hour. It was one minute to two o'clock; and
then something happened. The whole white world became red. The oldest
seas in the world went suddenly lashing into storm. An ocean of blood
thundered into his head, and the noise of that primitive flood, roaring
from what prehistoric gulfs, deafened him at an instant. The waves
whirled his feet from under him. He went foaming up the steps, was
swept violently into the ticket office, and was swirled away like a
bobbing cork into the train. A guard tried to stop him, for the train
was already taking its pace, but one cannot keep out the tide with a
ticket-puncher. The guard was overwhelmed, caught in the backwash, and
swirled somewhere, anywhere, out of sight and knowledge. The train
gathered speed, went flying out of the station into the blazing
sunlight, picked up its heels and ran, and ran, and ran; the wind
leaped by the carriage window, shrieking with laughter; the wide fields
danced with each other, shouting aloud
"The horses are coming again to the green meadows. Make way, make way
for the great, wild horses!"
And the trees went leaping from horizon to horizon shrieking and
shrieking the news.
While I sit beside the window
I can hear the pigeons coo,
That the air is warm and blue,
And how well the young bird flew—
Then I fold my arms and scold the heart
That thought the pigeons knew.
While I sit beside the window
I can watch the flowers grow
Till the seeds are ripe and blow
To the fruitful earth below—
Then I shut my eyes and tell my heart
The flowers cannot know.
While I sit beside the window
I am growing old and drear;
Does it matter what I hear,
What I see, or what I fear?
I can fold my hands and hush my heart
That is straining to a tear.
The earth is gay with leaf and flower,
The fruit is ripe upon the tree,
The pigeons coo in the swinging bower,
But I sit wearily
Watching a beggar-woman nurse
A baby on her knee.
THREE LOVERS WHO LOST
Young Mr. O'Grady was in love. It was the first time he had been in
love, and it was all sufficiently startling. He seemed to have leaped
from boyhood to manhood at a stroke, and the things which had pretended
to be of moment yesterday were to-day discovered to have only the very
meanest importance. Different affairs now occupied him. A little
while ago his cogitations had included, where he would walk to on the
next Sunday, whether his aunt in Meath Street would lend him the price
of a ticket for the coming Bank Holiday excursion, whether his brother
would be using his bicycle on Saturday afternoon, and whether the
packet of cigarettes which he was momently smoking contained as many
cigarettes as could be got elsewhere for two pence.
These things were no longer noteworthy. Clothing had assumed an
importance he could scarcely have believed in. Boots, neck-ties, the
conduct of one's hat and of one's head, the progress of one's
moustache, one's bearing towards people in the street and in the house,
this and that social observance—all these things took on a new and
important dignity. He bought a walking-stick, a card-case, a purse, a
pipe with a glass bottom wherein one could observe one's own nicotine
inexorably accumulating.—He bought a book on etiquette and a pot of
paste for making moustaches grow in spite of providence, and one day he
insisted on himself drinking a half glass of whisky—it tasted sadly,
but he drank it without a grimace. Etiquette and whisky! these things
have to be done, and one might as well do them with an air. He was in
love, he was grown up, he was a man, and he lived fearlessly up to his
razor and his lady.
From the book on etiquette he exhumed a miscellany of useful and
peculiar wisdom. Following information about the portage of knives and
forks at incredible dinners he discovered that a well-bred person
always speaks to the young lady's parents before he speaks to the young
lady. He straightened his shoulders.—It would be almost as bad, he
thought, as having to drink whisky, but if it had to be done why he
would not shrink from this any more than he had from that. He set
forth on the tingling errand.
Mr. O'Reilly was a scrivener, a husband and a father. He made copies
of all kinds of documents for a living. He also copied maps. It has
been said that scriveners have to get drunk at least twice a week in
order to preserve their sanity; but the person whose miserable
employment is to draw copies of maps is more desperately environed than
an ordinary scrivener. It was Mr. O'Reilly's misfortune that he was
unable to get drunk. He disliked liquor, and, moreover, it disagreed
with him. He had, to paraphrase Lamb, toiled after liquor as other
people toil after virtue, but the nearer he got the less did he like
it. As a consequence of this enforced decency the ill-temper, which is
the normal state of scriveners, had surged and buzzed around him so
long that he had quite forgotten what a good temper was like.—It might
be said that he hated every one, not excepting his wife and daughter.
He could avoid other people, but these he could never escape from.
They wanted to talk to him when he wanted to be let alone. They
worried him with this and that domestic question or uproar. He would
gladly have sold them both as slaves to the Barbadoes or presented them
to the seraglio of any eastern potentate. There they were! and he
often gnashed his teeth and grinned at them in amazement because they
On the evening when young Mr. O'Grady sallied forth to ask him for the
hand of his daughter in marriage he was sitting at supper with his
Mr. O'Reilly took the last slice of bread from under his wife's hand.
It was loot, so he ate it with an extra relish and his good lady
waddled away to get more bread from cupboard—
"Everything's a trouble," said she, as she cut the loaf. "Doesn't it
make you think of the hymn 'I'm but a stranger here, heaven is my
"No, ma'm," said her husband, "it does not. Where is Julia Elizabeth?"
and he daringly and skilfully abstracted the next slice of bread while
his wife was laying down the butter knife.
"I wish," said she, as she reached for the knife again, "I wish you
would give me a chance, O'Reilly: you eat much quicker than I do, God
"I wish," rapped her husband fiercely, "that you would give a plain
answer to a plain question. Now then, ma'm, in two words, where is
that girl? My whole life seems to be occupied in asking that question,
and yours seems to be spent in dodging the answer to it."
"I don't know," replied his wife severely, "and that's three words."
"You don't know!" he looked around in helpless appeal and condemnation.
"What sort of an answer is that for a mother to give about her
daughter?" and under cover of his wrath he stole the next slice of
His wife also became angry—she put her plate in her lap and sat up at
"Don't barge me, man," said she. "A nice daughter to have to give such
an answer about. Leave me alone now for I'm not well, I say, on the
head of her. I never know where she does be. One night it's (she
endeavoured to reproduce her daughter's soprano) 'I am going to a
dance, mother, at the Durkins'——'"
"Ha'penny hops!" said her husband fiercely. "Can't you cut me a bit of
"And another night, 'she wants to go out to see Mary Durkan.'"
"I know her well, a big hat and no morals, a bankrupt's baggage."
"And the night after she 'wants to go to the theatre, ma.'"
"Dens of infamy," said he. "If I had my way I'd shut them all up and
put the actors in gaol, with their hamleting and gamyacting and
ha-ha'ing out of them."
"I can't keep her in," said his wife, wringing her hands, "and I won't
try to any longer. I get a headache when I talk to her, so I do. Last
night when I mentioned about her going out with that Rorke man she
turned round as cool as you please and told me 'to shut up.' Her own
mother!" and she surveyed Providence with a condemnatory eye—
At this point her husband swung his long arm and arrested the slice of
bread in his wife's lap—
"If she spoke to me that way," he grinned, "I'll bet I'd astonish her."
His wife looked in amazement from her lap to his plate, but she had
ability for only one quarrel at a time—
"And doesn't she talk to you like that? You never say a word to her
but she has a look in her eye that's next door to calling you a
fool.—I don't know where she is at all to-day."
"What time did she go out?"
"After breakfast this morning."
"And now it's supper-time—ha! that's good! Can't you give me a bit of
bread, or do you want to eat the whole loaf yourself? Try to remember
that I do pay for my food."
With an angry shake of the head his wife began to cut the loaf, and
"'Where are you going to, Julia Elizabeth?' said I. 'Out,' said she,
and not another word could I get from her. Her own mother, mind you,
and her best clothes——"
Mr. O'Reilly ate the last slice of bread and arose from the table.
"I suppose," said he, "she is loafing about the streets with some young
puppy who has nothing of his own but a cigarette and a walking-stick,
and they both borrowed. I'll have a talk with her when she comes in,
and we'll see if she tells me to shut up."
The door banged, the room shook, and Mrs. O'Reilly settled to her
frustrated tea, but her thoughts still ran on her daughter.
It was at this point that, directed by love and etiquette, Mr. O'Grady
knocked at the door. Mrs. O'Reilly was again cutting the loaf in an
exasperation which was partly hunger and partly maternal, and, as she
cut, she communed with herself—
"As if," said she, "I haven't enough trouble trying to keep a cranky
man like her pa in good humour, without being plagued by Julia
Elizabeth"—she paused, for there was a knock at the door.—"If," said
she to the door, "you are a woman with ferns in a pot I don't want you,
and I don't want Dublin Bay herrings, or boot-laces either, so you can
go away.—The crankiness of that man is more than tongue can tell. As
Miss Carty says, I shouldn't stand it for an hour—Come in, can't
you—and well she may say it, and she a spinster without a worry under
heaven but her suspicious nature and her hair falling out. And then to
be treated the way I am by that girl! It'd make a saint waxy so it
would.—Good heavens! can't you come in, or are you deaf or lame or
what?" and in some exasperation she arose and went to the door. She
looked in perplexity for one moment from her food to her visitor, but
as good manners and a lady are never separate she welcomed and drew the
young man inside—
"Come in, Mr. O'Grady," said she. "How are you now at all? Why it's
nearly a week since you were here. Your mother's well I hope (sit down
there now and rest yourself). Some people are always well, but I'm
not—it's (sit there beside the window, like a good boy) it's hard to
have poor health and a crotchety husband, but we all have our trials.
Is your father well too? but what's the use of asking, every one's well
but me. Did your aunt get the pot of jam I sent her last Tuesday?
Raspberry is supposed to be good for the throat, but her throat's all
right. Maybe she threw it out: I'm not blaming her if she did. God
knows she can buy jam if she wants it without being beholden to any one
for presents and her husband in the Post Office.—Well, well, well, I'm
real glad to see you—and now, tell me all the news?"
The young man was a little embarrassed by this flood of language and
its multiplicity of direction, but the interval gave him time to
collect himself and get into the atmosphere.—He replied—
"I don't think there is any news to tell, ma'm. Father and mother are
quite well, thank you, and Aunt Jane got the jam all right, but she
didn't eat it, because——"
"I knew she didn't," said Mrs. O'Reilly with pained humility, "we all
have our troubles and jam doesn't matter. Give her my love all the
same, but maybe she doesn't want it either."
"You see," said the young man, "the children got at the jam before she
could, and they cleaned the pot. Aunt Jane was very angry about it."
"Was she now?" said the instantly interested lady. "It's real bad for
a stout person to be angry. Apoplexy or something might ensue and
death would be instantaneous and cemeteries the price they are in
Glasnevin and all: but the children shouldn't have eaten all the jam at
once, it's bad for the stomach that way: still, God is good and maybe
"They don't seem much the worse for it," said he, laughing; "they said
it was fine jam."
"Well they might," replied his hostess, with suppressed indignation,
"and raspberries eightpence the pound in Grafton Street, and the best
preserving sugar twopence-three-farthings, and coal the way it is.—Ah,
no matter, God is good, and we can't live for ever."
The four seconds of silence which followed was broken by the lover—
"Is Julia Elizabeth in, ma'm?" said he timidly.
"She's not, then," was the reply. "We all have our trials, Mr.
O'Grady, and she's mine. I don't complain, but I don't deserve it, for
a harder working woman never lived, but there you are."
"I'm rather glad she's out," said the youth hastily, "for I wanted to
speak to yourself and your husband before I said anything to her."
Mrs. O'Reilly wheeled slowly to face him—
"Did you now?" said she, "and is it about Julia Elizabeth you came
over? Well, well, well, just to think of it! But I guessed it long
ago, when you bought the yellow boots. She's a real good girl, Mr.
O'Grady. There's many and many's the young man, and they in good
positions, mind you—but maybe you don't mean that at all. Is it a
message from your Aunt Jane or your mother? Your Aunt Jane does send
messages, God help her!"
"It's not, Mrs. O'Reilly: it's, if I may presume to say so, about
"I knew it," was the rapid and enthusiastic reply. "She's a fine cook,
Mr. O'Grady, and a head of hair that reaches down to her waist, and won
prizes at school for composition. I'll call himself—he'll be
delighted. He's in the next room making faces at a map. Maps are a
terrible occupation, Mr. O'Grady, they spoil his eyesight and make him
She ambled to the door and called urgently—
"O'Reilly, here's young Mr. O'Grady wants to see you."
Her husband entered with a pen in his mouth and looked very severely at
"What brought you round, young man?" said he.
The youth became very nervous. He stood up stammering—
"It's a delicate subject, sir," said he, "and I thought it would only
be right to come to you first."
Here the lady broke in rapturously—
"Isn't it splendid, O'Reilly! You and me sitting here growing old and
contented, and this young gentleman talking to us the way he is.
Doesn't it make you think of the song 'John Anderson, my Jo, John'?"
Her husband turned a bewildered but savage eye on his spouse—
"It does not, ma'm," said he. "Well," he barked at Mr. O'Grady, "what
do you want?"
"I want to speak about your daughter, sir."
"She's not a delicate subject."
"No indeed," said his wife. "Never a day's illness in her life except
the measles, and they're wholesome when you're young, and an appetite
worth cooking for, two eggs every morning and more if she got it."
Her husband turned on her with hands of frenzy—
"Oh——!" said he, and then to their visitor, "What have you to say
about my daughter?"
"The fact is, sir," he stammered, "I'm in love with her."
"I see, you are the delicate subject, and what then?"
"And I want to marry her, sir."
"That's not delicacy, that's disease, young man. Have you spoken to
Julia Elizabeth about this?"
"No, sir, I wanted first to obtain your and Mrs. O'Reilly's permission
to approach her."
"And quite right, too," said the lady warmly. "Isn't it delightful,"
she continued, "to see a young, bashful youth telling of his love for
our dear child? Doesn't it make you think of Moore's beautiful song,
'Love's Young Dream,' O'Reilly?"
"It does not," her husband snapped, "I never heard of the song I tell
you, and I never want to."
He turned again to the youth—
"If you are in earnest about this, you have my permission to court
Julia Elizabeth as much as she'll let you. But don't blame me if she
marries you. People who take risks must expect accidents. Don't go
about lamenting that I hooked you in, or led you on, or anything like
that.—I tell you, here and now, that she has a rotten temper—"
His wife was aghast—
"For shame, O'Reilly," said she.
Her husband continued, looking steadily at her—
"A rotten temper," said he, "she gives back answers."
"Never," was Mrs. O'Reilly's wild exclamation.
"She scratches like a cat," said her husband.
"It's a falsehood," cried the lady, almost in tears.
"She is obstinate, sulky, stubborn and cantankerous."
"A tissue," said his wife. "An absolute tissue," she repeated with the
firmness which masks hysteria.
Her husband continued inexorably—
"She's a gad-about, a pavement-hopper, and when she has the toothache
she curses like a carman. Now, young man, marry her if you like."
These extraordinary accusations were powerless against love and
etiquette—the young man stood up: his voice rang—
"I will, sir," said he steadily, "and I'll be proud to be her husband."
In a very frenzy of enthusiasm, Mrs. O'Reilly arose—
"Good boy," said she. "Tell your Aunt Jane I'll send her another pot
of jam." She turned to her husband, "Isn't it delightful, O'Reilly,
doesn't it make you think of the song, 'True, True Till Death'?"
Mr. O'Reilly replied grimly—
"It does not, ma'm.—I'm going back to my work."
"Be a gentleman, O'Reilly," said his wife pleadingly. "Won't you offer
Mr. O'Grady a bottle of stout or a drop of spirits?"
The youth intervened hastily, for it is well to hide one's vices from
"Oh no, ma'm, not at all," said he, "I never drink intoxicating
"Splendid," said the beaming lady. "You're better without it. If you
knew the happy homes it has ruined, and the things the clergy say about
it you'd be astonished. I only take it myself for the rheumatism, but
I never did like it, did I, O'Reilly?"
"Never, ma'm," was his reply. "I only take it myself because my
hearing is bad. Now, listen to me, young man. You want to marry Julia
Elizabeth, and I'll be glad to see her married to a sensible, sober,
industrious husband.—When I spoke about her a minute ago I was only
"I knew it all the time," said his wife. "Do you remember, Mr.
O'Grady, I winked at you?"
"The girl is a good girl," said her husband, "and well brought up."
"Yes," said his wife, "her hair reaches down to her waist, and she won
a prize for composition—Jessica's First Prayer, all about a girl
Mr. O'Reilly continued—
"She brings me up a cup of tea every morning before I get up."
"She never wore spectacles in her life," said Mrs. O'Reilly, "and she
got a prize for freehand drawing."
"She did so," said Mr. O'Reilly.
His wife continued—
"The Schoolboy Baronet it was; all about a young man that broke his leg
down a coal mine and it never got well again until he met the girl of
"Tell me," said Mr. O'Reilly, "how are you young people going to live,
His wife interpolated—
"Your Aunt Jane told me that you had seventeen shillings and sixpence a
week.—Take my advice and live on the south side—two rooms easily and
The young man coughed guardedly, he had received a rise of wages since
that information passed, but candour belongs to childhood, and one must
live these frailties down—
"Seventeen and six isn't very much, of course," said he, "but I am
young and strong——"
"It's more than I had," said his host, "when I was your age. Hello,
there's the post!"
Mrs. O'Reilly went to the door and returned instantly with a letter in
her hand. She presented it to her husband—
"It's addressed to you, O'Reilly," said she plaintively. "Maybe it's a
bill, but God's good and maybe it's a cheque."
Her husband nodded at the company and tore his letter open. He read
it, and, at once as it appeared, he went mad, he raved, he stuttered,
now slapping the letter with his forefinger and, anon, shaking his fist
at his wife—
"Here's your daughter, ma'm," he stammered. "Here's your daughter, I
"Where?" cried the amazed lady. "What is it, O'Reilly?" She arose
hastily and rolled towards him.
Mr. O'Reilly repelled her fiercely—
"A good riddance," he shouted.
"Tell me, O'Reilly, I command you," cried his wife.
"A minx, a jade," snarled the man.
"I insist," said she. "I must be told. I'm not well, I tell you. My
head's going round. Give me the letter."
Mr. O'Reilly drew about him a sudden and terrible calmness—
"Listen, woman," said he, "and you too, young man, and be thankful for
"DEAR PA," he read, "this is to tell you that I got married to-day to
Christie Rorke. We are going to open a little fried-fish shop near
Amiens Street. Hoping this finds you as it leaves me at present, your
"P.S.—Give Christie's love to Ma."
Mrs. O'Reilly sank again to her chair.
Her mouth was partly open. She breathed with difficulty. Her eyes
were fixed on space, and she seemed to be communing with the guardians
"Married!" said she in a musing whisper. "Christie!" said she. She
turned to her husband—"What an amazing thing. Doesn't it make you
think, O'Reilly, of the poem, 'The World Recedes, it Disappears'?"
"It does not, ma'm," said her husband savagely.
"And what is this young gentleman going to do?" she continued, gazing
tearfully at the suitor.
"He's going to go home," replied her husband fiercely. "He ought to be
in bed long ago."
"A broken heart," said his wife, "is a sad companion to go home with.
Doesn't it make you think of the song——?"
"It does not, ma'm," roared her husband. "I'm going back to my work,"
and once again the door banged and the room shook.
Young Mr. O'Grady arose timidly. The world was swimming about him.
Love had deserted him, and etiquette was now his sole anchor; he shook
hands with Mrs. O'Reilly—
"I think I had better be going now," said he. "Good-bye, Mrs.
"Must you really go?" said that lady with the smile of a maniac.
"I'm afraid so," and he moved towards the door.
"Well," said she, "give my love to your mother and your Aunt Jane."
"I will," was his reply, "and," with firm politeness, "thank you for a
very pleasant evening."
"Don't mention it, Mr. O'Grady. Good-bye."
Mrs. O'Reilly closed the door and walked back towards the table smiling
madly. She sank into a chair. Her eye fell on the butter-knife—
"I haven't had a bit to eat this day," said she in a loud and
threatening voice, and once again she pulled the loaf towards her.
His mother finished reading the story of the Beautiful Princess, and it
was surely the saddest story he had ever heard. He could not bear to
think of that lovely and delicate lady all alone in the great, black
forest waiting until the giant came back from killing her seven brothers.
He would return with their seven heads swinging pitifully from his
girdle, and, when he reached the castle gates, he would gnash his teeth
through the keyhole with a noise like the grinding together of great
rocks, and would poke his head through the fanlight of the door, and say,
fee-faw-fum in a voice of such exceeding loudness that the castle would
be shaken to its foundation.
Thinking of this made his throat grow painful with emotion, and then his
heart swelled to the most uncomfortable dimensions, and he resolved to
devote his whole life to the rescue of the Princess, and, if necessary,
die in her defence.
Such was his impatience that he could not wait for anything more than his
dinner, and this he ate so speedily that his father called him a
Perfect-Young-Glutton, and a Disgrace-To-Any-Table. He bore these
insults in a meek and heroic spirit, whereupon his mother said that he
must be ill, and it was only by a violent and sustained outcry that he
escaped being sent to bed.
Immediately after dinner he set out in search of the giant's castle. Now
there is scarcely anything in the world more difficult to find than a
giant's castle, for it is so large that one can only see it through the
wrong end of a telescope; and, furthermore, he did not even know this
giant's name. He might never have found the place if he had not met a
certain old woman on the common.
She was a very nice old woman. She had three teeth, a red shawl, and an
umbrella with groceries inside it; so he told her of the difficulty he
She replied that he was in luck's way, and that she was the only person
in the world who could assist him. She said her name was
Really-and-Truly, and that she had a magic head, and that if he cut her
head off it would answer any questions he asked it. So he stropped his
penknife on his boot, and said he was ready if she was.
The old woman then informed him that in all affairs of this delicate
nature it was customary to take the will for the deed, and that he might
now ask her head anything he wanted to know—so he asked the head what
was the way to the nearest giant, and the head replied that if he took
the first turning to the left, the second to the right, and then the
first to the left again, and if he then knocked at the fifth door on the
right-hand side, he would see the giant.
He thanked the old woman very much for the use of her head, and she
permitted him to lend her one threepenny-piece, one pocket-handkerchief,
one gun-metal watch, one cap, and one boot-lace. She said that she never
took two of anything, because that was not fair, and that she wanted
these for a very particular, secret purpose, about which she dare not
speak, and, as to which she trusted he would not press her, and then she
took a most affectionate leave of him and went away.
He followed her directions with the utmost fidelity, and soon found
himself opposite a house which, to the eyes of any one over seven years
of age, looked very like any other house, but which, to the searching eye
of six and three quarters, was patently and palpably a giant's castle.
He tried the door, but it was locked, as, indeed, he had expected it
would be. Then he crept very cautiously, and peeped through the first
floor window. He could see in quite plainly. There was a polar bear
crouching on the floor, and the head looked at him so directly and
vindictively that if he had not been a hero he would have fled. The
unexpected is always terrible, and when one goes forth to kill a giant it
is unkind of Providence to complicate one's adventure with a gratuitous
and wholly unnecessary polar bear. He was, however, reassured by the
sight of a heavy chair standing on the polar bear's stomach, and in the
chair there sat the most beautiful woman in the world.
An ordinary person would not have understood so instantly that she was
the most beautiful woman in the world, because she looked very stout, and
much older than is customary with princesses—but that was owing to the
fact that she was under an enchantment, and she would become quite young
again when the giant was slain and three drops of his blood had been
sprinkled on her brow.
She was leaning forward in the chair, staring into the fire, and she was
so motionless that it was quite plain she must be under an enchantment.
From the very first instant he saw the princess he loved her, and his
heart swelled with pity to think that so beautiful a damsel should be
subjected to the tyranny of a giant. These twin passions of pity and
love grew to so furious a strength within him that he could no longer
contain himself. He wept in a loud and very sudden voice which lifted
the damsel out of her enchantment and her chair, and hurled her across
the room as though she had been propelled by a powerful spring.
He was so overjoyed at seeing her move that he pressed his face against
the glass and wept with great strength, and, in a few moments, the
princess came timidly to the window and looked out. She looked right
over his head at first, and then she looked down and saw him, and her
eyebrows went far up on her forehead, and her mouth opened; and so he
knew that she was delighted to see him. He nodded to give her courage,
and shouted three times, "Open Sesame, Open Sesame, Open Sesame," and
then she opened the window and he climbed in.
The princess tried to push him out again, but she was not able, and he
bade her put all her jewels in the heel of her boot and fly with him.
But she was evidently the victim of a very powerful enchantment, for she
struggled violently, and said incomprehensible things to him, such as "Is
it a fire, or were you chased?" and "Where is the cook?" But after a
little time she listened to the voice of reason, and recognised that
these were legitimate and heroic embraces from which she could not
honourably disentangle herself.
When her first transports of joy were somewhat abated she assured him
that excessive haste had often undone great schemes, and that one should
always look before one leaped, and that one should never be rescued all
at once, but gradually, in order that one might become accustomed to the
severe air of freedom—and he was overjoyed to find that she was as wise
as she was beautiful.
He told her that he loved her dearly, and she admitted, after some
persuasion, that she was not insensible to the charms of his heart and
intellect, but she confessed that her love was given to another.
At these tidings his heart withered away within him, and when the
princess admitted she loved the giant his amazement became profound and
complicated. There was a rushing sound in his ears. The debris of his
well-known world was crashing about him, and he was staring upon a new
planet, the name of which was Incredulity. He looked round with a queer
feeling of insecurity. At any moment the floor might stand up on one of
its corners, or the walls might begin to flap and waggle. But none of
these things happened. Before him sat the princess in an attitude of
deep dejection, and her lily-white hands rested helplessly on her lap.
She told him in a voice that trembled that she would have married him if
he had asked her ten years earlier, and urged that she could not fly with
him now, because, in the first place, she had six children, and, in the
second place, it would be against the law, and, in the third place, his
mother might object. She admitted that she was unworthy of his love, and
that she should have waited, and she bore his reproaches with a meekness
which finally disarmed him.
He stropped his penknife on his boot, and said that there was nothing
left but to kill the giant, and that she had better leave the room while
he did so, because it would not be a sight for a weak woman, and he
wondered audibly how much hasty-pudding would fall out of the giant if he
stabbed him right to the heart. The princess begged him not to kill her
husband, and assured him that this giant had not got any hasty-pudding in
his heart at all, and that he was really the nicest giant that ever
lived, and, further, that he had not killed her seven brothers, but the
seven brothers of quite another person entirely, which was only a
reasonable thing to do when one looked at it properly, and she continued
in a strain which proved to him that this unnatural woman really loved
It was more in pity than in anger that he recognised the impossibility of
rescuing this person. He saw at last that she was unworthy of being
rescued, and told her so. He said bitterly that he had grave doubts of
her being a princess at all, and that if she was married to a giant it
was no more than she deserved, and further he had a good mind to rescue
the giant from her, and he would do so in a minute, only that it was
against his principles to rescue giants.—And, saying so, he placed his
penknife between his teeth and climbed out through the window again.
He stood for a moment outside the window with his right hand extended to
the sky and the moonlight blazing on his penknife—a truly formidable
figure, and one which the princess never forgot; and then he walked
slowly away, hiding behind a cold and impassive demeanour a mind that was
tortured and a heart that had plumbed most of the depths of human
Aloysius Murphy went a-courting when the woods were green. There were
grapes in the air and birds in the river. A voice and a song went
everywhere, and the voice said, "Where is my beloved?" and the song
replied, "Thy beloved is awaiting thee, and she stretches her hands
abroad and laughs for thy coming; bind then the feather of a bird to
thy heel and a red rose upon thy hair, and go quickly."
So he took his hat from behind the door and his stick from beside the
bed and went out into the evening.
He had been engaged to Miss Nora MacMahon for two ecstatic months, and
held the opinion that the earth and the heavens were aware of the
intensity of his passion, and applauded the unique justice of his
By day he sat humbly in a solicitor's office, or scurried through the
thousand offices of the Four Courts, but with night came freedom, and
he felt himself to be of the kindred of the gods and marched in pomp.
By what subterranean workings had he become familiar with the lady?
Suffice it that the impossible is possible to a lover. Everything can
be achieved in time. The man who wishes to put a mountain in his
pocket can do so if his pocket and his wish be of the requisite
Now the lady towards whom the raging torrent of his affections had been
directed was the daughter of his employer, and this, while it notated
romance, pointed also to tragedy. Further, while this fact was well
within his knowledge, it was far from the cognizance of the lady. He
would have enlightened her on the point, but the longer he delayed the
revelation, the more difficult did it become. Perpetually his tongue
ached to utter the truth. When he might be squeezing her hand or
plunging his glance into the depths of her eyes, consciousness would
touch him on the shoulder with a bony hand and say, "That is the boss's
daughter you are hugging"—a reminder which was provocative sometimes
of an almost unholy delight, when to sing and dance and go mad was but
natural; but at other times it brought with it moods of woe, abysses of
In the solitude of the room wherein he lodged he sometimes indulged in
a small drama, wherein, as the hero, he would smile a slightly sad and
quizzical smile, and say gently, "Child, you are Mr. MacMahon's
daughter, I am but his clerk"—here the smile became more sadly
quizzical—"how can I ask you to forsake the luxury of a residence in
Clontarf for the uncongenial, nay, bleak surroundings of a South
Circular Road habitation?" And she, ah me! She vowed that a hut and a
crust and the love of her heart. . .! No matter!
So, nightly, Aloysius Murphy took the tram to Clontarf, and there,
wide-coated and sombreroed like a mediaeval conspirator, he trod
delicately beside his cloaked and hooded inamorata, whispering of the
spice of the wind and the great stretches of the sea.
Now a lover who comes with the shades of night, harbinger of the moon,
and hand in glove with the stars, must be a very romantic person
indeed, and, even if he is not, a lady whose years are tender can
easily supply the necessary gauze to tone down his too-rigorous
projections. But the bird that flies by night must adduce for our
curiosity substantial reason why his flight has deserted the whiteness
of the daytime; else we may be tempted to believe that his advent in
darkness is thus shrouded for even duskier purposes.—Miss MacMahon had
begun to inquire who Mr. Murphy was, and he had, accordingly, begun to
explain who he was not. This explanation had wrapped his identity in
the most labyrinthine mystery, but Miss MacMahon detected in the rapid,
incomprehensible fluctuations of his story a heart torn by unmerited
misfortune, and whose agony could only be alleviated by laying her own
dear head against its turmoil.
To a young girl a confidant is almost as necessary as a lover, and when
the rendezvous is clandestine, the youth mysterious, and his hat
broad-leafed and flapping, then the necessity for a confidant becomes
Miss MacMahon confided the knowledge of all her happiness to the
thrilled ear of her younger sister, who at once hugged her, and bubbled
query, conjecture, and admonishment. ". . . Long or short? . . .
Dark or fair?" ". . . and slender . . . with eyes . . . dove . . .
lightning . . . hair . . . and so gentle . . . and then I said . . .
and then he said . . .!" "Oh, sweet!" sighed the younger sister, and
she stretched her arms wide and crushed the absent excellences of Mr.
Murphy to her youthful breast.
On returning next day from church, having listened awe-stricken to a
sermon on filial obedience, the little sister bound her mother to
secrecy, told the story, and said she wished she were dead.
Subsequently the father of Clann MacMahon was informed, and he said
"Hum" and "Ha," and rolled a fierce, hard eye, and many times during
the progress of the narrative he interjected with furious energy these
words, "Don't be a fool, Jane," and Mrs. MacMahon responded meekly,
"Yes, dear," and Mr. MacMahon then said "Hum" and "Ha" and "Gr-r-r-up"
in a truly terrible and ogreish manner; and in her distant chamber Miss
MacMahon heard the reverberation of that sonorous grunt, and whispered
to her little sister, "Pa's in a wax," and the little sister pretended
to be asleep.
The spectacle of an elderly gentleman, side-whiskered, precise and
grey, disguising himself with mufflers and a squash hat, and stalking
with sombre fortitude the erratic wanderings of a pair of young
featherheads, is one which mirth may be pleased to linger upon. Such a
spectacle was now to be observed in the semi-rural outskirts of
Clontarf. Mr. MacMahon tracked his daughter with considerable stealth,
adopting unconsciously the elongated and nervous stride of a theatrical
villain. He saw her meet a young man wearing a broad-brimmed hat,
whose clothing was mysteriously theatrical, and whose general shape,
when it could be glimpsed, was oddly familiar.
"I have seen that fellow somewhere," said he.
The lovers met and kissed, and the glaring father spoke rapidly but
softly to himself for a few moments. He was not accustomed to walking,
and it appeared as if these two intended to walk for ever, but he kept
them in sight, and when the time came for parting he was close at hand.
The parting was prolonged, and renewed, and rehearsed again with
amendments and additions: he could not have believed that saying
good-bye to a person could be turned into so complicated and symbolic a
ceremony: but, at last, his daughter, with many a backward look and
wave of hand, departed in one direction, and the gentleman, after
similar signals, moved towards the tramway.
"I know that fellow, whoever he is," said Mr. MacMahon.
Passing a lamp-post, Mr. Aloysius Murphy stayed for a moment to light
his pipe, and Mr. MacMahon stared, he ground his teeth, he foamed at
the mouth, and his already prominent eyes bulged still further and
"Well, I'm——!" said he.
He turned and walked homewards slowly, murmuring often to himself and
to the night, "All right! wait, though! Hum! Ha! Gr-r-r-up!"
That night he repeatedly entreated his wife "not to be a fool, Jane,"
and she as repeatedly replied, "Yes, dear." Long after midnight he
awoke her by roaring violently from the very interior depths of a
dream, "Cheek of the fellow! Pup! Gr-r-r-up!"
At breakfast on the following morning he suggested to his wife and
elder daughter that they should visit his office later on in the day—
"You have never seen it, Nora," said he, "and you ought to have a look
at the den where your poor old daddy spends his time grinding dress
material for his family from the faces of the poor. I've got some
funny clerks, too: one of them is a curiosity." Here, growing suddenly
furious, he gave an egg a clout.
His daughter giggled—
"Oh, Pa," said she, "you are not breaking that egg, you are murdering
He looked at her gloomily—
"It wasn't the egg I was hitting," said he. "Gr-r-r-up," said he
suddenly, and he stabbed a piece of butter, squashed it to death on a
slice of bread, and tore it to pieces with his teeth.
The young lady looked at him with some amazement, but she said nothing,
for she believed, as most ladies do, that men are a little mad
sometimes, and are foolish always.
Her father intercepted that glance, and instantly snarled—
"Can you cook, young woman?" said he.
"Of course, father," replied the perplexed maiden.
He laid aside his spoon and gave her his full attention.
"Can you cook potatoes?" said he. "Can you mash 'em, eh? Can you mash
'em? What! You can. They call them Murphies in this country, girl.
Can you mash Murphys, eh? I can. There's a Murphy I know, and,
although it's been mashed already, by the Lord Harry, I'll mash it
again. Did you ever know that potatoes had eyes, miss? Did you ever
notice it when you were cooking them? Did you ever look into the eyes
of a Murphy, eh? When you mashed it, what? Don't answer me, girl."
"I don't know what you are talking about, Pa," said the young lady.
"Don't you, now?" grinned the furious gentleman, and his bulging eyes
looked like little round balls of glass. "Who said you did, miss?
Gr-r-r-up," said he, and the poor girl jumped as though she had been
prodded with a pin.
Mr. Aloysius Murphy's activities began at ten o'clock in the morning by
opening the office letters with an ivory instrument and handing them to
his employer; then, as each letter was read, he entered its receipt and
date in a book kept for that purpose.
When Mr. MacMahon came in on the morning following the occurrences I
have detailed he neglected, for the first time in many years, to
respond to his clerk's respectfully-cordial salutation. To the
discreet "Good-morning, sir," he vouchsafed no reply. Mr. Murphy was a
trifle indignant and a good deal perturbed, for to an unquiet
conscience a word or the lack of it is a goad. Once or twice, looking
up from his book, he discovered his employer's hard eyes fixed upon him
with a regard too particular to be pleasant.
An employer seldom does more than glance at his clerk, just the
sideward glint of a look which remarks his presence without admitting
his necessity, and in return the clerk slants a hurried eye on his
employer, notes swiftly if his aspect be sulky or benign, and stays his
vision at that. But, now, Mr. Murphy, with sudden trepidation, with a
frightful sinking in the pit of his stomach, became aware that his
employer was looking at him stealthily; and, little by little, he took
to sneaking glances at his employer. After a few moments neither
seemed to be able to keep his eyes from straying—they created
opportunities in connection with the letters; the one looking intent,
wide-eyed, and with a cold, frigid, rigid, hard stare, and the other
scurrying and furtive, in-and-away, hit-and-miss-and-try-again, wink,
blink, and twitter.
Mr. MacMahon spoke—
"Have you anything in Court to-day?"
"Yes, sir, an ex parte application, Donald and Cluggs."
"Let O'Neill attend to it. I shall want you to draft a deed for some
ladies who will call here at noon. You can come down at ten minutes
"Yes, sir," said Murphy.
He grabbed his share of the letters and got to the door bathed in
perspiration and forebodings. He closed the door softly behind him,
and stood for a few seconds staring at the handle. "Blow you!" said he
viciously to nothing in particular, and he went slowly upstairs.
"He can't know," said he on the first landing. On the second floor he
thought, "She couldn't have told for she didn't know herself." He
reached his desk. "I wish I had a half of whisky," said the young man
Before, however, twelve o'clock arrived he had journeyed on the hopeful
pinions of youth from the dogmatic "could not be" to the equally
immovable "is not," and his mind resumed its interrupted equilibrium.
At twelve o'clock Mrs. and Miss MacMahon arrived, and were at once
shown into the private office. At ten minutes past, Mr. Murphy's
respectful tap was heard. "Don't, Eddie," said Mrs. MacMahon in a
queer, flurried voice. "Come in," said her husband. Nora was
examining some judicial cartoons pinned over the mantelpiece. Mr.
Murphy opened the door a few inches, slid through the aperture, and was
at once caught and held by his employer's eye, which, like a hand,
guided him to the table with his notebook. Under the almost physical
pressure of that authoritative glare he did not dare to look who was in
the room, but the rim of his eye saw the movement of a skirt like the
far-away, shadowy canter of a ghost's robe. He fixed his attention on
Mr. MacMahon began to dictate a Deed of Conveyance from a precedent
deed in his hand. After dictating for some few minutes—
"Murphy," said he, and at the word the young lady studying the cartoons
stiffened, "I've rather lost the thread of that clause; please read
what you have down."
Murphy began to read, and, at the first word, the girl made a tiny,
shrill, mouse's noise, and then stood stock-still, tightened up and
frightened, with her two wild eyes trying to peep around her ears.
Mr. Murphy heard the noise and faltered—he knew instinctively.
Something told him with the bellowing assurance of a cannon who was
there. He must look. He forced his slack face past the granite image
that was his employer, saw a serge-clad figure that he knew, one ear
and the curve of a cheek. Then a cascade broke inside his head. It
buzzed and chattered and crashed, with now and again the blank
brutality of thunder bashing through the noise. The serge-clad figure
swelled suddenly to a tremendous magnitude, and then it receded just as
swiftly, and the vast earth spun minutely on a pin's point ten million
miles away, and she was behind it, her eyes piercing with scorn. . . .
Through the furious winds that whirled about his brain he heard a
whisper, thin and cold, and insistent as a razor's edge, "Go on,
Murphy; go on, Murphy." He strove to fix his attention on his
shorthand notes—To fight it down, to stand the shock like a man, and
then crawl into a hole somewhere and die; but his mind would not grip,
nor his eyes focus. The only words which his empty brain could pump up
were these, irrelevant and idiotic, "'A frog he would a-wooing go,
heigho,' said Rowley"; and they must not be said. "It is a bit
difficult, perhaps," said the whispering voice that crept through the
tumult of winds and waters in his head. "Never mind, take down the
rest of it," and the far-away whisper began to say things all about
nothing, making queer little noises and pauses, running for a moment
into a ripple of sound, and eddying and dying away and coming back
again—buz-z-z! His notebook lying on the table was as small as a
postage stamp, while the pencil in his hand was as big as an elephant's
leg. How can a man write on a microscopic blur with the stump of a fir
tree? He poked and prodded, and Mr. MacMahon watched for a few moments
his clerk poking his note-book with the wrong end of a pencil. He
silently pulled his daughter forward and made her look. After a
"That will do, Murphy," said he, and Mr. Murphy, before he got out,
made two severe attempts to walk through a wall.
For half an hour he sat at his desk in a trance, with his eyes fixed
upon an ink-bottle. At last, nodding his head slowly—
"I'll bet you a shilling," said he to the ink-bottle, "that I get the
And the ink-bottle lost the wager.
THE BLIND MAN
He was one who would have passed by the Sphinx without seeing it. He
did not believe in the necessity for sphinxes, or in their reality, for
that matter—they did not exist for him. Indeed, he was one to whom
the Sphinx would not have been visible. He might have eyed it and
noted a certain bulk of grotesque stone, but nothing more significant.
He was sex-blind, and, so, peculiarly limited by the fact that he could
not appreciate women. If he had been pressed for a theory or
metaphysic of womanhood he would have been unable to formulate any.
Their presence he admitted, perforce: their utility was quite apparent
to him on the surface, but, subterraneously, he doubted both their
existence and their utility. He might have said perplexedly—Why
cannot they do whatever they have to do without being always in the
way? He might have said—Hang it, they are everywhere and what good
are they doing? They bothered him, they destroyed his ease when he was
near them, and they spoke a language which he did not understand and
did not want to understand. But as his limitations did not press on
him neither did they trouble him. He was not sexually deficient, and
he did not dislike women; he simply ignored them, and was only really
at home with men. All the crudities which we enumerate as masculine
delighted him—simple things, for, in the gender of abstract ideas,
vice is feminine, brutality is masculine, the female being older,
vastly older than the male, much more competent in every way, stronger,
even in her physique, than he, and, having little baggage of mental or
ethical preoccupations to delay her progress, she is still the guardian
of evolution, requiring little more from man than to be stroked and
petted for a while.
He could be brutal at times. He liked to get drunk at seasonable
periods. He would cheerfully break a head or a window, and would
bandage the one damage or pay for the other with equal skill and
pleasure. He liked to tramp rugged miles swinging his arms and
whistling as he went, and he could sit for hours by the side of a ditch
thinking thoughts without words—an easy and a pleasant way of
thinking, and one which may lead to something in the long run.
Even his mother was an abstraction to him. He was kind to her so far
as doing things went, but he looked over her, or round her, and marched
away and forgot her.
Sex-blindness carries with it many other darknesses. We do not know
what masculine thing is projected by the feminine consciousness, and
civilisation, even life itself, must stand at a halt until that has
been discovered or created, but art is the female projected by the
male: science is the male projected by the male—as yet a poor thing,
and to remain so until it has become art; that is, has become
fertilised and so more psychological than mechanical. The small part
of science which came to his notice (inventions, machinery, etc.) was
easily and delightedly comprehended by him. He could do intricate
things with a knife and a piece of string, or a hammer and a saw: but a
picture, a poem, a statue, a piece of music—these left him as
uninterested as they found him: more so, in truth, for they left him
bored and dejected.
His mother came to dislike him, and there were many causes and many
justifications for her dislike. She was an orderly, busy, competent
woman, the counterpart of endless millions of her sex, who liked to
understand what she saw or felt, and who had no happiness in reading
riddles. To her he was at times an enigma, and at times again a
simpleton. In both aspects he displeased and embarrassed her. One has
one's sense of property, and in him she could not put her finger on
anything that was hers. We demand continuity, logic in other words,
but between her son and herself there was a gulf fixed, spanned by no
bridge whatever; there was complete isolation; no boat plied between
them at all. All the kindly human things which she loved were
unintelligible to him, and his coarse pleasures or blunt evasions
distressed and bewildered her. When she spoke to him he gaped or
yawned; and yet she did not speak on weighty matters, just the
necessary small-change of existence—somebody's cold, somebody's dress,
somebody's marriage or death. When she addressed him on sterner
subjects, the ground, the weather, the crops, he looked at her as if
she were a baby, he listened with stubborn resentment, and strode away
a confessed boor. There was no contact anywhere between them, and he
was a slow exasperation to her.—What can we do with that which is ours
and not ours? either we own a thing or we do not, and, whichever way it
goes, there is some end to it; but certain enigmas are illegitimate and
are so hounded from decent cogitation.
She could do nothing but dismiss him, and she could not even do that,
for there he was at the required periods, always primed with the wrong
reply to any question, the wrong aspiration, the wrong conjecture; a
perpetual trampler on mental corns, a person for whom one could do
nothing but apologise.
They lived on a small farm and almost the entire work of the place was
done by him. His younger brother assisted, but that assistance could
have easily been done without. If the cattle were sick he cured them
almost by instinct. If the horse was lame or wanted a new shoe he knew
precisely what to do in both events. When the time came for ploughing
he gripped the handles and drove a furrow which was as straight and as
economical as any furrow in the world. He could dig all day long and
be happy; he gathered in the harvest as another would gather in a
bride; and, in the intervals between these occupations, he fled to the
nearest publichouse and wallowed among his kind.
He did not fly away to drink; he fled to be among men.—Then he
awakened. His tongue worked with the best of them, and adequately too.
He could speak weightily on many things—boxing, wrestling, hunting,
fishing, the seasons, the weather, and the chances of this and the
other man's crops. He had deep knowledge about brands of tobacco and
the peculiar virtues of many different liquors. He knew birds and
beetles and worms; how a weazel would behave in extraordinary
circumstances; how to train every breed of horse and dog. He recited
goats from the cradle to the grave, could tell the name of any tree
from its leaf; knew how a bull could be coerced, a cow cut up, and what
plasters were good for a broken head. Sometimes, and often enough, the
talk would chance on women, and then he laughed as heartily as any one
else, but he was always relieved when the conversation trailed to more
His mother died and left the farm to the younger instead of the elder
son; an unusual thing to do, but she did detest him. She knew her
younger son very well. He was foreign to her in nothing. His temper
ran parallel with her own, his tastes were hers, his ideas had been
largely derived from her, she could track them at any time and make or
demolish him. He would go to a dance or a picnic and be as exhilarated
as she was, and would discuss the matter afterwards. He could speak
with some cogency on the shape of this and that female person, the hat
of such an one, the disagreeableness of tea at this house and the
goodness of it at the other. He could even listen to one speaking
without going to sleep at the fourth word. In all he was a decent,
quiet lad who would become a father the exact replica of his own, and
whose daughters would resemble his mother as closely as two peas
resemble their green ancestors.—So she left him the farm.
Of course, there was no attempt to turn the elder brother out. Indeed,
for some years the two men worked quietly together and prospered and
were contented; then, as was inevitable, the younger brother got
married, and the elder had to look out for a new place to live in, and
to work in—things had become difficult.
It is very easy to say that in such and such circumstances a man should
do this and that well-pondered thing, but the courts of logic have as
yet the most circumscribed jurisdiction. Just as statistics can prove
anything and be quite wrong, so reason can sit in its padded chair
issuing pronouncements which are seldom within measurable distance of
any reality. Everything is true only in relation to its centre of
thought. Some people think with their heads—their subsequent actions
are as logical and unpleasant as are those of the other sort who think
only with their blood, and this latter has its irrefutable logic also.
He thought in this subterranean fashion, and if he had thought in the
other the issue would not have been any different.
Still, it was not an easy problem for him, or for any person lacking
initiative—a sexual characteristic. He might have emigrated, but his
roots were deeply struck in his own place, so the idea never occurred
to him; furthermore, our thoughts are often no deeper than our pockets,
and one wants money to move anywhere. For any other life than that of
farming he had no training and small desire. He had no money and he
was a farmer's son. Without money he could not get a farm; being a
farmer's son he could not sink to the degradation of a day labourer;
logically he could sink, actually he could not without endangering his
own centres and verities—so he also got married.
He married a farm of about ten acres, and the sun began to shine on him
once more; but only for a few days. Suddenly the sun went away from
the heavens; the moon disappeared from the silent night; the silent
night itself fled afar, leaving in its stead a noisy, dirty blackness
through which one slept or yawned as one could. There was the farm, of
course, one could go there and work; but the freshness went out of the
very ground; the crops lost their sweetness and candour; the horses and
cows disowned him; the goats ceased to be his friends—It was all up
with him. He did not whistle any longer. He did not swing his
shoulders as he walked, and, although he continued to smoke, he did not
look for a particular green bank whereon he could sit quietly flooded
with those slow thoughts that had no words.
For he discovered that he had not married a farm at all. He had
married a woman—a thin-jawed, elderly slattern, whose sole beauty was
her farm. How her jaws worked! The processions and congregations of
words that fell and dribbled and slid out of them! Those jaws were
never quiet, and in spite of all he did not say anything. There was
not anything to say, but much to do from which he shivered away in
terror. He looked at her sometimes through the muscles of his arms,
through his big, strong hands, through fogs and fumes and singular,
quiet tumults that raged within him. She lessoned him on the things he
knew so well, and she was always wrong. She lectured him on those
things which she did know, but the unending disquisition, the perpetual
repetition, the foolish, empty emphasis, the dragging weightiness of
her tongue made him repudiate her knowledge and hate it as much as he
Sometimes, looking at her, he would rub his eyes and yawn with fatigue
and wonder—there she was! A something enwrapped about with
petticoats. Veritably alive. Active as an insect! Palpable to the
touch! And what was she doing to him? Why did she do it? Why didn't
she go away? Why didn't she die? What sense was there in the making
of such a creature that clothed itself like a bolster, without any
freedom or entertainment or shapeliness?
Her eyes were fixed on him and they always seemed to be angry; and her
tongue was uttering rubbish about horses, rubbish about cows, rubbish
about hay and oats. Nor was this the sum of his weariness. It was not
alone that he was married; he was multitudinously, egregiously married.
He had married a whole family, and what a family—
Her mother lived with her, her eldest sister lived with her, her
youngest sister lived with her—and these were all swathed about with
petticoats and shawls. They had no movement. Their feet were like
those of no creature he had ever observed. One could hear the
flip-flap of their slippers all over the place, and at all hours. They
were down-at-heel, draggle-tailed, and futile. There was no
workmanship about them. They were as unfinished, as unsightly as a
puddle on a road. They insulted his eyesight, his hearing, and his
energy. They had lank hair that slapped about them like wet seaweed,
and they were all talking, talking, talking.
The mother was of an incredible age. She was senile with age. Her
cracked cackle never ceased for an instant. She talked to the dog and
the cat; she talked to the walls of the room; she spoke out through the
window to the weather; she shut her eyes in a corner and harangued the
circumambient darkness. The eldest sister was as silent as a deep
ditch and as ugly. She slid here and there with her head on one side
like an inquisitive hen watching one curiously, and was always doing
nothing with an air of futile employment. The youngest was a
semi-lunatic who prattled and prattled without ceasing, and was always
catching one's sleeve, and laughing at one's face.—And everywhere
those flopping, wriggling petticoats were appearing and disappearing.
One saw slack hair whisking by the corner of one's eye. Mysteriously,
urgently, they were coming and going and coming again, and never, never
More and more he went running to the public-house. But it was no
longer to be among men, it was to get drunk. One might imagine him
sitting there thinking those slow thoughts without words. One might
predict that the day would come when he would realise very suddenly,
very clearly all that he had been thinking about, and, when this
urgent, terrible thought had been translated into its own terms of
action, he would be quietly hanged by the neck until he was as dead as
he had been before he was alive.
At the end of the bough, at the top of the tree
(As fragrant, as high, and as lovely as thou)
One sweet apple reddens which all men may see,
At the end of the bough.
Swinging full to the view, tho' the gatherers now
Pass, and evade, and o'erlook busily:
Overlook! nay, but pluck it! they cannot tell how.
For it swings out of reach as a cloud, and as free
As a star, or thy beauty, which seems too, I vow,
Remote as the sweet rosy apple—ah me!
At the end of the bough.
THREE HAPPY PLACES
One awakened suddenly in those days. Sleep was not followed by the
haze which trails behind more mature slumbers. One's eyes opened wide
and bright, and brains and legs became instantly active. If by a
chance the boy lying next to you was still asleep, it was the thing to
hit him with a pillow. Even among boys, however, there are certain
morose creatures who are ill-tempered in the morning, and these, on
being struck with a pillow, become malignantly active, and desire to
fight with fists instead of pillows.
Bull was such a boy. He was densely packed with pugnacity. He lived
for ever on the extreme slope of a fight, down which he slid at a word,
a nod, a wink, into strenuous and bloodthirsty warfare. He was never
seen without a black eye, a bruised lip, or something wrong with his
ear. He had the most miscellaneous collection of hurts that one could
imagine, and he was always prepared to exhibit his latest injury in
exchange for a piece of toffee. If this method of barter was not
relished, he would hit the proprietor of the toffee and confiscate the
goods to his own use.
His knowledge of who had sweets was uncanny. He had an extra sense in
that direction, which was a trouble to all smaller boys. No matter how
cunningly one concealed a sticky treasure, just when one was secretly
enjoying it he came leaping out of space with the most offensive
friendliness crinkling all over his face, and his desire to participate
in the confection was advanced without any preliminary courtesies—
"What have you got? Show! Give us a bit. Can't you give a fellow a
When the bit was tendered he snatched it, swallowed it, and growled—
"Do you call that a bit? Give us a real bit."
There are plenty of boys who will defend their toffee with their lives.
Such boys he liked to meet, for their refusal to surrender a part gave
him an opportunity to fight and a reason for confiscating the whole of
the ravished sweetmeat. One often had to devour one's sweets at a full
gallop. It was no uncommon thing to see a small boy scudding furiously
around a field with Bull pounding behind, intent as a bloodhound, and
as horribly vocal. A close examination would discover that the small
boy's jaws were moving with even greater rapidity than his legs. If he
managed to get his stuff devoured before he was caught it was all
right, but he got hammered anyhow when he was caught. However, Bull's
approach was usually managed with great skill and strategy, and before
the small boy was aware Bull was squatting beside him using
blandishments both moral and minatory.
He was a very gifted boy. He had no bent for learning lessons but he
had a great gift for collecting and turning to his own use the property
of other people. Sometimes three or four boys swore a Solemn League
and Covenant against him. His perplexity then was extreme. He saw
toffee being devoured and none of it coming his way. Possibly his
method of thinking was in pictures, and he could visualise with painful
clarity the alien gullets down which toffee was traveling, and,
simultaneously, he could see the woeful emptiness of his own red lane.
He must have felt that all was not right with a Providence which could
allow such happenings. A world wherein there was toffee for others and
none for him was certainly a world out of joint. His idea of Utopia
would be a place where there were lots of things for him to eat and a
circle of hungry boys who watched his deliberate jaws with envy and
humility. Furthermore, the idea that smaller boys could have, not the
courage, but the heart to congregate against him, must have come to him
with a shock. He was appalled by a sense of the sinfulness of human
nature, and dismayed by the odds against which virtue has to fight.
The others, strong in numbers, followed him on such occasions chewing
their tuck with grave deliberation, descanting minutely and loudly on
the taste of each bit, the splendid length of time it took to dissolve,
and the blessedly large quantity which yet remained to be eaten. He
threatened them, but his threats were received with yawns. He wheedled
(a thing he could do consummately well) but they were not to be
blandished. He mapped out on his own person the particular and painful
places where later on he would hit them unless he was bound over to the
peace by toffee. And they sucked their sweetstuff and made diagrams on
each other of the places where they could hit Bull if they had a mind
to, and told each other and him that he was not worth hitting and,
would probably die if he were hit. But they were careful not dissolve
partnership until the sweets were eaten and beyond even the wildest
hopes of salvage. Then, in the later-on that had been predicted, Bull
captured them in detail, and, as he had promised, he "lammed the
stuffing" out of them.
He had all the grave wisdom of the stupid, and the extraordinary energy
and persistence which perpetuates them. He never could learn a lesson,
but he could, and did, pinch the boy next to him into adept prompting,
and would intimidate any one into doing his sums. Indeed, the man of
whom he was the promise had no need for ordinary learning. The lighter
accomplishments of life had no appeal, nor would the deeper lessons
have any meaning for him. He is simply a big, physical appetite,
untrammelled by anything like introspection or conscience, and working
in perfect innocence for the fulfilment of its simple wants. For at
base his species are surely the most simple of human creatures. In
spite of their complex physical structure they are one-celled organisms
driven through life with only a passionate hunger as their motive
power, and with no complexities of thought or emotion to hamper their
loud progressions. None but those of their own kind can suffer from
their ravages, and, even so, they fly the contact of each other with
Doubtless by this time Bull is a prosperous and wealthy citizen
somewhere, the proprietor of a curved waistcoat and a gold watch.
Possessions other than these he would regard with the amiable tolerance
of a philosopher regarding a child with toys. So strongly acquisitive
a nature must win the particular little battles which it is fitted to
wage. When a conscienceless mind is buttressed by a pugnacious
temperament then houses and land, and cattle and maidservants, and
such-like, the small change of existence, are easily gotten.
The sunlight of youth has a special quality which will never again be
known until we rediscover it in Paradise. What a time it was! How the
sun shone, and how often it shone! I remember playing about in a
parched and ragged field with a leaf from a copy-book stuck under my
cap to aid its quarter-inch peak in keeping off the glare of that
Tip-and-Tig, Horneys and Robbers, Relievo we played, and another game,
the name of which did not then seem at all strange, but which now wears
an amazing appearance—it was, Twenty-four Yards on the Billy-Goat's
Tail. I wonder now what was that Billy-Goat, and was he able to wag the
triumphant tail of which twenty-four yards was probably no more than an
inconsiderable moiety. There were other games: Ball-in-the-Decker,
Cap-on-the-Back, and Towns or Rounders. These were all summer games.
With the lightest effort of imagination I can see myself and other
tireless atoms scooting across reaches of sunlight. I can hear the
continuous howl which accompanied our play, and can see that ragged,
parched field spreading, save for the cluster of boys, wide and silent
to the further, greener fields, where the cows were lying down in great
coloured lumps, and one antic deer, a pet, would make such astonishing
journeys, jumping the entire circuit of the field on four thin and
absolutely rigid legs; for when it made these peculiar excursions it
never seemed to use its legs—these were held quite rigidly, and the
deer bounded by some powerful, spring-like action, its brown coat
flashing in the sunlight, and its movement a rhythmic glory which the
boys watched with ecstasy and laughter.
An old ass was native to that field also. He had been a bright,
kind-hearted donkey at one time: a donkey whose nose might be tickled,
and who would allow one to climb upon his back. But the presence of
boys grew disturbing as he grew old, and the practical jokes of which
his youth took no heed induced a kind of insanity in his latter age.
He took to kicking the cows as they browsed peacefully, and, later, he
developed a horrid appetite for fowl, and would stalk and kill and eat
hens whenever possible. Later still he directed this unhealthy
appetite towards small boys, and after he had eaten part of one lad's
shoulder and the calf from another boy's leg he disappeared—whether he
was sold to some innocent person, or had been slaughtered mysteriously,
we did not know. We professed to believe that he had died of the
horrible taste of the boys he had bitten, and, afterwards, whenever we
played cannibals, we refused, greatly to their chagrin, to kill and eat
these two boys, on the ground that their flesh was poisonous; but the
others we slaughtered and fed on with undiminished gusto.
There were only two trees in the field—great, gnarled monsters casting
a deep shade. In that shade the grass grew long and green and juicy.
After a game the boys would fling themselves down in the shadow of the
trees to chew the sweet grass, and play "knifey," and talk.—Such
talk!—endless and careless, and loud as the converse of young bulls.
What did we talk about? Delightful and inconsequent shoutings—
"That is a hawk up there, he's going to soar. How does he keep so
steady without moving his wings? Watch now! down he drops like a
stone. . . . If you give your rabbit too many cabbage leaves he'll die
of the gripes. . . . Did you ever play jack-stones? a fellow showed me
how, look! . . . When we were at the sea yesterday Jimmy Nelson
wouldn't go out from the shore. He was afraid of his life—he wouldn't
even duck down. I swam nearly out of sight, didn't I, Sam? So did
Sam. . . . You could climb right up to the top of that tree if you
tried. No you couldn't.—Yes I could, it's forked all the way
up. . . . The new master wears specs—Old Four-Eyes! and he grins at a
fellow. I don't think he's much. . . . How do midges get born? . . .
My brother has one with four blades and a thing for poking stones out
of a horse's hoof. . . . A horse-hair won't break the cane at all:
it's all bosh: rosin is the only thing. . . ."
There was a little stream which twisted a six-foot path through the
field, the sunshine dashing off its waters in brilliant flashes. The
top of the water swarmed with flying insects and strange, small
spider-things skimmed over its surface with amazing swiftness. We
believed there were otters in that stream—they came out at nightfall
and, unless you had the good fortune to be rescued by a Newfoundland
dog, they would hold you down under water until you were drowned. We
also held there were leeches in the stream—they would grip you by the
hundred thousand and suck you to death in five minutes, and they clung
so tightly that one could not prise their mouths open with a poker. We
hoped there were whales in it, but not one of us desired a shark
because it is the Sailor's Enemy.
An iron railing ran by part of the field. Every hole and joint of it
was crammed with earwigs, and these could be poked out of the crevices
with a straw. When an amazing number of them had been poked out there
was always another one left. The very last earwig that could be
discovered was the King. He was able and willing to bite ten times as
badly as any of the others, and he was awfully vicious when his nest
was broken into. Furthermore, he had the ability to put a curse on you
before he died, and he always did this because he was so vicious. If a
King Earwig had time to curse you before he was killed terrible things
might happen. His favourite curse was to translate himself into the
next piece of bread you would eat, and then you would see one-half of
him waggling in a hole in the bread: the other half you had already
eaten.—For this reason the King Earwig was always allowed to go free
until he was not looking, then he was killed with great suddenness.
I remember how the slow evening shadows drew over the quiet fields. The
sunlight slowly faded to a mist of gold, into which the great trees
thrust timorous, shy fingers, and these gradually widened, until, at
last, the whole horizon bowed into the twilight.
Across the field there could be heard the voice of the river, a
furtive, desolate hoarseness in the dusk. The cows in the far fields
had long ago wandered home to be milked, scarcely a bird moved in the
high silences, the gnats had hidden themselves away in the deep, rugged
bark of the trees, and, through the dimness, the heavy beetles were
hurling like stones, and dropping and rising again in a laborious
He could remember that he had wept to be allowed go to school. Even
more vivid was his recollection of the persuasive and persistent tears
which he had shed to be allowed to stay at home.
Most of the joys of school were exhausted after he had submitted to one
hour of dreary discipline.—To be compelled to sit still when every
inch of one's being clamoured to move about; to have to stand up and
stare at a blackboard upon which meaningless white scrawls were
perpetually being drawn, and as perpetually being wiped out to a
master's meaningless, monotonous verbal accompaniment; to have to join
in a chant which began with "a, b, c," and droned steadily through a
complexity of sounds to a ridiculously inadequate "z"—such things
became desperately boring. One was not even let go to sleep, and if
one wept from sheer ennui, then one was clouted. School, he shortly
decided, was not worth anybody's while, but he also discovered that a
torment had commenced which was not by any artifice to be evaded.
Along the road to school there ran a succession of meadows—the path
was really a footway through fields—and how not to stray into these
meadows was a problem demanding the entire of one's attention.
Sometimes a rabbit bolted almost from under one's feet—it flapped away
through the grass, and bobbed up and down in a great hurry. Then his
heart filled with envy. He said to himself—
"That rabbit is not going to school: if it was it wouldn't run so
It was paltry comfort to hurl a wad of grass after it.
Through most of the journey there was an immense, lazy bee with a bass
voice, and he droned defiance three feet away from one's cap which
almost jolted to be put over him. He seemed to understand that at such
an hour he was not in any danger, and so he would drop to the grass,
roll on his back, and cock up his legs in ecstasy.
"Bees," said he to himself in amazement and despair, "do not go to
Each bush and tree seemed, for the moment, to be inhabited by a bird
whose song was unfamiliar and the markings on whom he could not
remember to have seen before; and he had no time to stay and note them.
He dragged beyond these objects reluctantly, pondering on the
unreasonable savagery of parents who sent one to school when the sun
But the greatest obstacle to getting to school was the river which
danced briskly through the fields. The footpath went for a stretch
along this stream, and, during that piece of the journey, haste was not
possible. There are so many things in a river to look at. The
movement of the water in itself exercises fascinations over a boy.
There are always bubbles, based strongly in froth, sailing gallantly
along.—One speculates how long a bubble will swim before it hits a
rock, or is washed into nothing by an eddy, or is becalmed in a
sheltered corner to ride at jaunty anchor with a navy of similar
Further, if one finds a twig on the path, or a leaf, there is nothing
more natural than to throw these into the river and see how fast or how
erratically they sail. Pebbles also clamour to be cast into the
stream. Perhaps a dragon-fly whirls above the surface of the water to
hold one late from school. The grasses and rushes by the marge may
stir as a grey rat slips out to take to the water and swim low down and
very fast on some strange and important journey. The inspection of
such an event cannot be hurried. One must, if it is possible, discover
where he swims to, and if his hole is found it has to be blocked up
with stones, even though the persistent bell is clanging down over the
Perhaps a big frog will push out from the grass and go in fat leaps
down to the water—plop! and away he swims with his sarcastic nose up
and his legs going like fury. The strange, very-little-boy motions of
a frog in water is a thing to ponder over. There are small frogs also,
every bit as interesting, thin-legged, round-bellied anatomies who try
to jump two ways at once when they are observed, and are caught so
easily that it is scarcely worth one's trouble to chase them at all.
Just where the path turned there was an arch under which the river
flowed.—It was covered in with an iron grating. Surely it was a place
of mystery. Through the bars the dark, swirling waters were dimly
visible—there were things in there. Black lumps rose out of the
water, and, for a little distance, the slimy, shimmering, cold-looking
walls could be seen. Beyond there was a deeper gloom, and, beyond that
again, a blank, mysterious darkness. Through the grating the voice of
the stream came back with a strange note. On the outside, under the
sun, it was a tinkle and a rush, a dance indeed, but within it was a
low snarl that deepened to a grim whisper. There was an edge of malice
to the sound: something dark and very terrible brooded on the face of
those hidden waters. It was the home of surmise.—What might there not
be there? There might be gully-holes where the waters whirled in wide
circles, and then flew smoothly down, and down, and down. If one could
have got in there to see! To crawl along by the slippery edge in the
darkness and solitude! It was very hard to get away from this place.
A little farther on two goats were tethered. As one passed they would
cease to pluck the grass and begin to dance slowly, such dainty, antic
steps, with their heads held down and their pale eyes looking upwards
with a joke in them. They did not really want to fight; they wanted to
play but were too shy to admit it.
And here the schoolhouse was in sight. The bell had stopped: it was
now time to run.
He gripped the mouth of his satchel with one hand to prevent the lesson
books from jumping out as he ran, he gripped his pocket with the other
hand to prevent his lunch from being jolted into the road.
Another few yards and he was at the gate—some one was glaring out
through a window. It was a big face rimmed with spectacles and
whiskers—a master. He knew that when yonder severe eye had lifted
from him it had dropped to look at a watch, and he also knew exactly
what the owner of the severe eye would say to him as he sidled in.
If the Moon had a hand
I wonder would she
Stretch it down unto me?
If she did, I would go
To her glacier land,
To her ice-covered strand.
I would run, I would fly,
Were the cold ever so,
And be warm in the snow.
O Moon of all Light,
Sailing far, sailing high
In the infinite sky.
Do not come down to me,
Lest I shriek in affright,
Lest I die in the night
Of your chill ecstasy.
THERE IS A TAVERN IN THE TOWN
The old gentleman entered, and was about to sit down, when a button
became detached from some portion of his raiment and rolled upon the
floor. He picked the button up and observed that he would keep it for
his housekeeper to sew on, and, while speaking on the strangeness of
housekeeping and buttons, he came slowly to the subject of matrimony—
"Like so many other customs," said he, "marriage is not native to the
human race, nor is it altogether peculiar to it. So far as I am aware
no person was ever born married, and in extreme youth bachelors and
spinsters are so common as to call for no remark. Nature strives, not
for duality as in the case of the Siamese Twins but for individuality.
We are all born strongly separated, and I am often inclined to fancy
that this ceremony of joining appears very like flying in the face of
Providence. I have also thought, on the other hand, that the
segregation of humanity into male and female is not an economic
practice, but I fear the foundation of the sex habit is by this time so
deeply trenched in our natures as to be practically ineradicable.
"Throughout nature the male and female habit is usual: all beasts are
born of one or the other gender, and this is also the case in the
vegetable kingdom: but I am not aware that the ridiculous and wasteful
preparations with which we encumber matrimony obtain also among plants
and animals. Certainly, among some animals courtship, as we understand
it, is practised—Wolves, for instance, are an extraordinarily acute
people who make good husbands and fathers, and in these relations they
display a tenderness and courtesy which one only acquainted with their
out-of-door manners would scarcely credit them with. Their courtship
is conducted under circumstances of extraordinary rigour. A he-wolf
who becomes enamoured of a female from another tribe is forced, in
attempting to wed her, to set his life upon the venture, and,
disdaining all the fury of her numerous relatives, he must forcibly
detach her from her family, kill or maim all her other suitors, sustain
in a wounded and desperate condition a prolonged chase over the
snow-clad Russian Steppes, and, ultimately, consummate his nuptials, if
he can, with as many limbs as his lady's family have failed to collect
off him. This is a courtship admirably fitted to evolve a hardy and
Spartan race strong in the virtues of reliance and self-control.
"Spiders, on the other hand, are a people whom I despise on several
counts, but must admire on others. They conduct their love affairs in
an even more tragic style. In every event matrimony is a tragedy, but
in the case of spiders it is a catastrophe. Spiders are a very sour
and pessimistic people who live in walls, corners of hotel bedrooms and
holes generally, in which places they weave very delicate webs, and sit
for a long period in a state of philosophic ecstasy, contemplating the
infinite. Their principal pastimes are killing flies and committing
suicide—both of which games should be encouraged. Like so many other
unhappy creatures they are born with a gender from which there is no
escape. The male spider is very much smaller than the female, and he
does not care greatly for his life. When he does not desire to live
any longer he commits matrimony or suicide. He weds a large and fierce
wife, who, when in expectation of progeny, kills him, and, being a
thorough-going person as all females are, she also eats him, possibly
at his own request, and thus she relieves her husband of the tedium of
existence and herself of the necessity for seeking immediate victual.
I do not know whether male spiders are very plentiful or extremely
scarce, but I cite this as an example of the extravagance and economy
of the female gender.
"Of the courting habits of fish I have scanty knowledge. Fish are very
ugly, dirty creatures who appear to live entirely in water, and they
have been known to follow a ship for miles in the disgusting hope of
garbage being thrown to them by the steward. Their chief pastime is
weighing each other, for which purpose they are liberally provided with
scales. They can be captured by nets, or rods and lines, or, when they
are cockles, they can be captured by the human hand, but, in this
latter case, they cannot be tamed, having very little intelligence.
The cockle has no scale, and feels the deprivation keenly, hiding
himself deep in the sea and seldom venturing forth except at
night-time. He is composed of two shells and a soft piece, is chiefly
useful for poisoning children and is found at Sandymount, a place where
nobody but a cockle would live. Other fish may be generally described
as, crabs, pinkeens, red herrings and whales. How these conduct their
matrimonial adventures I do not know—the statement that whales are
fond of pinkeens is true only in a food sense, for these races have
never been observed to intermarry.
"A great many creatures capture or captivate their mates by
singing.—These are usually, but not always, birds, and include wily
wagtails, larks, canary birds and the crested earwig. Poets, music
hall comedians and cats may also be included in this category. Dogs
are imperative and dashing wooers, but they seldom sing. Peacocks
expand their tails before the astonished gaze of their brides, showing
how the female sex is over-borne by minor, unimportant advantages.
Frogs, I believe, make love in the dark, which is a wise thing for them
to do—they are very witty folk, but confirmed sentimentalists.
Grocers' assistants attract their mates by exposing very tall collars
and brown boots. Drapers' assistants follow suit, with the comely
addition of green socks and an umbrella—they are never known to fail.
Some creatures do not marry at all. At a certain period they break in
two halves, and each half, fully equipped for existence, waggles away
from the other.—They are the only perfectly happy folk of whom I am
aware. For myself, I was born single and I will remain so, I will
never be a slave to the disgusting habit of matrimony."
Having said this with great firmness, the old gentleman shed two more
buttons from his waistcoat, and, after sticking three nails and a piece
of twine through his garments, he departed very happily. The
gentleman-in-waiting sneezed three times in a loud voice, and gave a
war-whoop, but I took no notice of these impertinences.
I had not seen the old gentleman for a long time, and when he entered
with one foot in a boot and the other in a carpet slipper, I was
overjoyed. When the bubbling tankard which I had ordered was placed
before him he seized my two hands, wrung them heartily and dashed into
the following subject—
"It must be remembered," said he, "that dancing is not an art but a
pastime, and should, therefore, be freed from the too-burdensome
regulations wherewith an art is encumbered. An art is a
highly-specialised matter hedged in on every side by intellectual
policemen, a pastime is not specialised, and never takes place in the
presence of policemen, who are well known to be the sworn enemies of
gaiety. For example, theology is an art but religion is a pastime: we
learn the collects only under compulsion, but we sing anthems because
it is pleasant to do so. Thus, eating oysters is an art by dint of the
elaborate ceremonial including shell-openers, lemons, waiters and
pepper, which must be grouped around your oyster before you can
conveniently swallow him, but eating nuts, or blackberries, or a
privily-acquired turnip—these are pastimes.
"The practice of dancing is of an undoubted antiquity. History teems
with reference to this custom, but it is difficult to discover what
nationality or what era first witnessed its evolution. I myself
believe that the first dance was performed by a domestic hen who found
an ostrich's egg, and bounded before Providence in gratitude for
something worthy of being sat upon.
"In all places and in all ages dancing has been utilised as a first-aid
to language. The function of language is intellectual, that of dancing
is emotional. It is scarcely possible to say anything of an emotional
nature in words without adventuring into depths or bogs of
sentimentality from which one can only emerge greasy with dishonour.
When we are happy we cannot say so with any degree of intelligibility:
in such a context the spoken word is miserably inadequate, and must be
supplemented by some bodily antic. If we are merry we must skip to be
understood. If we are happy we must dance. If we are wildly and
ecstatically joyous then we will become creators, and some new and
beneficent dance-movements will be added to the repertory of our
"Children will dance upon the slightest provocation, so also do lambs
and goats; but policemen, and puckauns, and advertisement agents, and
fish do not dance at all, and this is because they have hard hearts.
Worms and Members of Parliament, between whom, in addition to their
high general culture, there is a singular and subtle correspondence, do
not dance, because the inelastic quality of their environment forbids
anything in the nature of freedom. Frogs, dogs, and very young
mountains do dance.
"A frog is a most estimable person. He has a cold body but a warm
heart, and a countenance of almost parental benevolence, and the joy of
life moves him to an almost ceaseless activity. I can never observe a
frog on a journey without fancying that his gusto for travel is
directed by a philanthropic impulse towards the bedside of a sick
friend or a meeting to discuss the Housing of the Working Classes. He
has danced all the way to, he will dance all the way from his
objective, but the spectacle of many men dancing is provocative of
pain.—To them dancing is a duty, and a melancholy one. If one danced
to celebrate a toothache one might take lessons from them. They stand
in the happy circle, their features are composed to an iron gravity,
their hands are as rigid as those of a graven image, and then, the
fatal moment having arrived, they agitate their legs with a cold fury
which is distinctly unpleasant. Having finished they dash their
partners from their sides and retire to blush and curse in a corner.
"When a man dances he should laugh and crow and snap his fingers and
make faces; otherwise, he is not dancing at all, he is taking exercise.
No person should be allowed to dance without first swearing that he
feels only six years of age. People who admit to feeling more than ten
years old should be sent to hospital, and any one proved guilty of
fourteen years of age should be lodged in gaol without the option.
"It is peculiar how often opposite emotions may meet on a common plane
of expression. The extremes of love and hate strive to get equally
close to kiss or to bite the object of their regard. Work and play may
be equally strenuous and equally enthralling. Hunger and satiety unite
in a common boredom. A happy person will dance from sheer delight, and
the man in whom a pin has been secreted can only by dancing express the
exquisite sensibility of his cuticle. Whatever one does or refrains
from doing one must be tired by bed-time—it is a law—but one may be
"I will suspect the morals of a man who cannot dance. I will look
curiously into his sugar or statecraft. I will impeach his candour or
reticence, and sneer at his method of lighting a fire unless he can
frolic when he goes out for a walk with a dog—that is the beginning of
dancing: the end of it is the beginning of a world. A young dog is a
piece of early morning disguised in an earthly fell, and the man who
can resist his contagion is a sour, dour, miserable mistake, without
bravery, without virtue, without music, with a cranky body and a
shrivelled soul, and with eyes incapable of seeing the sunlight.
"I have often thought that dogs are a very superior race of people.
They are certainly more highly organised on the affectional plane than
man. A dog will love you just for the fun of it—and that is virtue.
Pat a dog on the head and he will dance around you in an ecstasy of
good-fellowship. Let us, at least, be the equal of these sagacities.
Let us put away our false intellectual pride. Let us learn to be
unconscious. The average man trembles into a dance imagining that all
eyes are rayed upon him wonderingly or admiringly, whereas, in truth,
he will only be looked at if he dances very well or very badly. Both
of these extremities of perfection ought to be avoided. We should
exercise our very bad or very good qualities in solitude lest average
people be saddened by their disabilities in either direction. Let your
curses be as private as your prayers for both are purgative operations.
In public we must conform to the standard, in private only may we do
our best or our worst. Acting so, we will be freed from false pride
and cowardly self-consciousness. Let us be brave. Let us caress the
waists of our neighbours without fear. Let everybody's chin be our
toy. Let us pat one another on the hats as we pass in the melancholy
streets.—Thus only shall we learn to be gay and careless who for so
long have been miserable and suspicious. We will be fearless and
companionable who have been so timid and solitary. A new, a better, a
real police force will arrest people who don't dance as they travel to
and from their labour. The world will be happy at last, and
civilisation will begin to be possible."
Here, in an ecstasy of good-fellowship, the old gentleman seized his
pewter with his left hand and my glass with his right hand, and he
emptied them both before recognising his mistake. I had, however, run
out of tobacco, whereupon he became very angry, and refused to bid me
The old gentleman condescended to accept the last cigar which I had,
and, having lit it with my only match, he earnestly advised me never to
smoke to excess, because this indulgence brought spots before the eyes,
deteriorated the moral character, and was, moreover, exceedingly
expensive.—On the subject of smoking and tobacco he spoke as follows—
"I have observed that people who do not smoke are usually of a sour and
unsociable disposition. All red-haired people smoke naturally, and
they almost invariably use cut-plug. Very dark-haired men smoke twist,
and their natural strength and virtue is such that in the intervals of
smoking they also chew tobacco. Fair-haired men generally smoke
cigarettes—they do this, not for the purpose of enjoyment, but purely
in imitation of their betters. However, in later life, when they
become bald, as they invariably do, they also became regenerate and
smoke pig-tail. Men with mouse-coloured hair do not smoke at all.
They collect postage stamps and sea-shells, and are usually to be found
sitting round a fire with other girls eating chocolates and seeking for
replies to such questions as, when is a door not a door? and why does a
chicken cross the road? They are miserable creatures whom I will not
"The usage of tobacco, or some smokable substitute, is as old as
primitive man. Almost all nations of the earth are adepts in this
particular habit. It is, of course, an acquired taste, as also are
washing and tomatoes. We are born with appetites which are static and
unchangeable, but we are also born with a yearning for pleasure which
is almost as positive as an appetite and only needs cultivation to
become equally imperative. Doubtless, a traveller from some distant
planet, who knew nothing of tobacco, would be astonished at the
spectacle of a man exhaling smoke from his lips with splendid
unconcern, and our traveller's conjectures as to the origin of the
smoke and the immunity of the smoker would be highly amusing and
"I am often surprised on reflecting that our immediate ancestors were
debarred from this pleasant indulgence, and I have wondered how they
made the evenings pass. The lack of tobacco and pockets in their
clothes (both of which are great civilising agents) may have been
responsible for the wars, harryings, kidnappings and cattle raids
which, alternating with rigorous and austere religious ceremonial,
formed the bulk of their pleasures. Nowadays we leave these violent
entertainments to children and the semi-literate and take our pleasures
more composedly. A man who can put his hands in his pockets will
seldom remove them for the purpose of slaying some one whose only fault
is that he was born in the County Sligo. A man with a pipe in his
teeth will be too much at peace with society to endanger its existence.
"If the blessings of tobacco should be extended to the remainder of the
vertebrates (as, why should it not?) I am sure that lions, elephants,
and wild boars would avail themselves of it. So, also, would
kangaroos, a beautiful and agile race living in Polynesia, or
thereabouts—they are beautiful hoppers, and collect large quantities
of this plant. In this direction they are especially well equipped,
each having a pouch in her stomach in which to carry tobacco and hops,
but wherein they now ignorantly secrete their young. Serpents would
smoke a pipe with considerable elegance, and might become more
benevolent in consequence. Frogs would smoke, but I fancy they would
expectorate too elaborately to be neighbourly. Fish, however, would
not smoke at all.—They are a cowardly and corrupt people, living in
water, which is a singular thing to do. Neither would many birds
smoke, they have neither the stamina nor the teeth, but I am certain
that crows and jackdaws would chew tobacco eagerly and with true
relish. A large proportion of the insecta are too light-minded and
frivolous to care for smoking. Beetles, however, a very reserved and
dignified race, would smoke cigars, and so would cockroaches, a rather
saturnine and cynical people; but no others.
"As for women—I am astonished they have not smoked, by mere contagion,
long ago. If they did they would certainly grow more kind-hearted and
manly, and I am sure that a deputation of ladies with pipes in their
mouths and hands in their pockets would only have to demand the
franchise from an astounded ministry to obtain it.
"Members of Parliament are, I believe, either a separate creation or a
composite of the parrot and the magpie. I have not yet discovered
their particular function in nature but have observed them with some
particularity. They wear top hats and are constantly making speeches,
both of which are easy things to do and quite pleasant minor
accomplishments.—So far as I can gather their chief use has been to
pass something called a Budget. From the fact that this Budget
contains a disgraceful imposition on tobacco I must take it that
Members of Parliament are among the lower animals who do not
smoke—they are also uninteresting in other ways."
Having said this my old friend bowed to me and departed genially with
my cigar case in his pocket. The shirt-sleeved Adonis behind the
counter wagged his head solemnly at a fly and then clouted it with a
The old gentleman took an athletic pull at his liquor, and continued
his discourse. He had been discussing more to himself than to me the
merits of Professor James and Monsieur Bergson, and had inquired was I
aware of the nature of the Pragmatic Sanction. The gentleman behind
the counter remarked, that he had one on his bicycle, but that they
were no good. This statement was denounced by the Philosopher as an
unnatural and clumsy falsehood, and, anathematising the ignorance of
his interrupter, he came by slow degrees to the following discourse—
"I have but little faith in any of the methods of education with which
I am presently acquainted. The objective of every system of teaching
should be to enable the person who is being subjected to this repulsive
treatment to do something which will fit him to maintain a place in
life where he will be as little liable as possible to the changes and
vicissitudes of civilised existence.
"The cumbrous and inadequate preparation which is now in vogue can
scarcely be spoken of by a person of understanding without the use of
language unbefitting one who is a member of (inter alia) the Reformed
Church and the highest order of the vertebrates.
"If one walks into any school in this kingdom one is certain to meet a
tall, thin, anaemic youth with a draggled moustache and a worried eye
who is endeavouring to coerce a mass of indigestible, inelastic and
unimportant facts into the heads of divers sleepy and disgusted
children. If a small boy, on being asked where Labrador is, replies
that it is the most northerly point of the Berlin Archipelago, he may
be wrong in quite a variety of ways, but even if he answered correctly
he would still know just as little about the matter, while if he were
to give the only proper reply to so ridiculous a conundrum, he would
tell his tormentor that he did not care a rap where it was, that he had
not put it there, and that he would tell his mother if the man did not
leave him alone. What has he got to do with Labrador, Terra del Fuego,
or the Isles of Greece? Give him a fistful of facts about Donnybrook,
and send him away to hunt out the truth of it, with a sandwich in his
pocket and the promise of a lump of toffee when he came back with his
cargo of truths—that would interest him, the toffee would make the
information stick, while the verification of his facts would make his
head fat and fertile.
"When we ceased to be natural creatures and put on the oppressive
shrouds, wraps and disguises which we label in the villainous aggregate
civilisation, we ceased to know either how to teach or how to learn.
We exchanged the freedom and spaciousness of life for a cramped
existence compounded of spectacles and bad grammar, this complicated
still further by the multiplication tables, the dead languages and
indigestion tabloids. During his school-days many a healthy boy had to
parse ten square miles of dead language. Why? he does not know and he
will never be told, for no one else knows any more than he. The only
thing of which he is certain is, that he did not do anything to deserve
"Civilisation, which is responsible for all the woes of life, such as
washing, shaving and buying boots, is responsible for this also.
Potatoes are more productive than Latin roots, are twice as nourishing
and cannot be parsed. Teach a girl how to recognise an egg by the
naked eye, and then teach her how to cook it. Teach a boy how to
discover the kind of trees eggs grow on and what is the best kind of
soil to plant them in. Teach a girl how to keep her hands from
scratching, her tongue from telling lies, and her teeth from dropping
out prematurely, and she will, maybe, turn out a healthy kind of mammal
having a house filled with brightness and laughter. Teach a boy how to
prevent another boy from mashing the head off him, teach him how to be
good to his mother when she is old, teach him how to give two-pence to
a beggar without imagining that he is investing his savings in Paradise
at fifty per cent and a bonus; and then, having eliminated
civilisation, education, clothes, tin whistles and soap this earth will
not be such a bad old ball-alley for a man to smoke a pipe in.
"Everything is wrong. People should rise to their feet and salute when
a farmer or a teacher comes into a room. No man should be allowed into
Parliament who has not engaged in one or other of these professions,
but because they are the two most important professions in the world
their exponents are robbed and harried into slaves and fools."
Having said this with great earnestness the old gentleman
absent-mindedly impounded my drink, absorbed it, and strode away
wrapped in thought. The gentleman-in-waiting sympathetically asked me
if I would have another one, but on learning that I had no more money
he said good-night.
The old gentleman was in a state of most unusual content. It might
have been because the sun was shining, or it might have been because he
had just finished his third glass: whatever it was, the smile upon his
face was of a depth and a radiance impossible to describe. He spoke
for a while upon the pleasant smell of hay passing through a city, and,
remarking upon the enviable thirst of hay-makers, he swept gradually to
the following weighty monologue—
"From the earliest times," said he, "drinking has been regarded not
alone as a necessary lubricant, but also as a pastime, and the
ingenuity of every race under the sun has been exercised in the attempt
to give variety and distinction to its beverages.
"We may take it that the earliest race of men drank nothing but water,
and hot water to boot, for at that era the earth must have been, if not
hot, at least tepid. One can easily imagine that the contemporaries of
the five-toed horse might have welcomed death as a happy release from
their too sultry existence.
"I suppose man is the only brewing animal known to scientific research.
All other creatures take their food and drink neat, or in a raw state.
Of course, almost all mammals are enabled by a highly ingenious
internal mechanism to brew milk, or some other lacteal substitute, but
this is performed by a natural, instinctive impulse towards the
preservation of their young and conserves none of the spirit of
artifice and calculation so necessary to authentic brewing operations.
"Brewing was possible only when the stability of the human race was,
more or less, assured and permanent. Our primal ancestors existed in a
state as nearly resembling chaos as well might be. They had not yet
aggregated into communities, but vast hordes of families—a father, an
uncertain number of mothers, and an astounding complexity of
children—wandered wherever food seemed most abundant, and fought with
or eluded such other families as they chanced upon. This state of
existence was too precarious and haphazard to allow of the niceties of
brewing being evolved.
"But the natural tendency of families to lengthen, the gregarious
instincts of the race, and the need of mutual protection and assistance
ultimately welded these indiscriminate families into communities of
ever-varying extent, and the movement of these huge troops and
transportation of their baggage becoming more and more difficult
(vehicles being unknown and horses, perhaps, treble-toed, wily and
ferocious) and food, which until then had only been obtained in a
fugitive state, becoming less easy of access, these communities were
forced to select a settled habitation, scratch the earth for provender,
settled down to the breeding of one-toed horses, and exercise the
respectable virtues of thrift and industry for their preservation.
Thus, laws were formulated, tentative and unsatisfactory at first, and
ever tending, as to this day, to become more complex and less
satisfactory. Villages took shape, straggled into towns, widened into
cities and coalesced into kingdoms and empires: and so, the
civilisation of which we are partakers crawled laboriously into being,
with the brewer somewhere in the centre, active, rubicund and
disputatious, as he has continued to date, with a seat on the County
Council which he had swindled some thirsty statesman out of, and more
property than he could deal with by himself.
"It is a singular reflection that thirst has very little to do with the
consumption of drink, nor is this appetite subject to the vagaries of
climate, for the inhabitants of the coldest regions will, it is feared,
drink on equal terms with those dwelling in the sun-burnt tropics. In
almost all ceremonial observances drinking has had a special place, and
this diversion lends itself to an infinite number of objects—we can
from the same bowl quaff health to our friends and confusion to our
enemies, doubtless with equal results. Here alone men meet on equal
terms. There is no religion, nationality or politics in liquor: let it
be but sufficiently wet and potent and it matters not if the brew has
been fermented in the tub of a Christian or the vessel of a heathen
"I understand that this latter race are forbidden, by the form of
heresy which they call religion, to use liquors more potent than
sherbet. Some thinkers believe that this deprivation is possibly the
reason of their being Turks.—They are Turks, not from conviction, but
from habit, spite, and the bile engendered by a too rigid and bigoted
abstinence. In this belief, however, I do not concur, for I consider
that a Turk is a Turk naturally, and without any further constraint
than those imposed by the laws of geography and primogeniture.
"Meanwhile it is interesting to speculate on the future of an abstinent
nation whose politics have the misfortune to be guided by a Peerage
instead of a Beerage, and whose national destiny is irrationally
divorced from the interests of 'The Trade.' Any departure from the
established customs of humanity must be criticised unsparingly, and, if
necessary, destructively. To overthrow the customs of antiquity must
entail its own punishment and that punishment may be an awe-inspiring
and chastening Success. Therefore, this happy whisky-governed land of
ours should never forsake its liquor or it may be forced by opportunity
and work to become great. The foundations of our civilisation are
steeped in beer—let no sacrilegious hand seek to interfere with it,
for, even if the foundations were rotten, the interests of the Trade
must not be disturbed, the grave and learned members of our Corporation
might be horribly reduced to working for their living, and our
unfortunate City might have the extraordinary misfortune to scramble
out of debt in the absence of its statesmen."
The old gentleman, with a bright smile, said that "he did not mind if
he did," and he "did" with such gusto that I had to call a cab.
The old gentleman came in hurriedly and called for that to which he was
accustomed. He fumbled in one pocket after another, and after going over
all his pockets several times he remarked to me "I have forgotten my
purse." His air was so friendly and confiding that it more than repaid
me for the small sum which I had to advance. He sat down close beside
me, and, after touching on the difficulty of being understood in a
tavern, he drew genially to these remarks—
"Language may be described as a medium for recording one's sensations.
It is gesture translated into sound. It is noise with a meaning. Music
cannot at all compare with it, for music is no more than the scientific
distribution of noise, and it does not impart any meaning to the
disintegrated and harried tumults. Language may be divided into several
heads, which, again, may be subdivided almost indefinitely.—The primary
heads are, language, talk, and speech. Speech is the particular form of
noise which is made by Members of Parliament. Language is the symbols
whereby one lady in a back street makes audible her impressions of the
lady who lives on the same floor—it is often extremely sinewy. Talk may
be described as the crime of people who make one tired.
"It is my opinion that people talk too much. I think the world would be
a healthier and better place if it were more silent. On every day that
passes there is registered over all the earth a vast amount of language
which, so far as I can see, has not the slightest bearing on anything
"I have been told of a race living in Central Africa, or elsewhere, who
by an inherent culture were enabled to dispense with speech. They
whistled, and by practice had attained so copious and flexible a
vocabulary that they could whistle good-morning and good-night, or
how-do-you-do with equal facility and distinction. This, while it is a
step in the right direction, is not a sufficiently long step. To live
among these people might appear very like living in a cageful of canaries
or parrots. Parrots are a very superior race who usually travel with
sailors. They have a whistle which can be guided or deflected into
various by-ways. I once knew a parrot who was employed by a sailor-man
to curse for him when his own speech was suspended by liquor. He could
also whistle ballads and polkas, and had attained an astonishing
proficiency in these arts; for, by long practice, he could dovetail
curses and whistles in a most energetic and, indeed, astonishing manner.
It would often project two whistles and a curse, sometimes two curses and
a whistle, while all the time keeping faithfully to the tune of 'The
Sailor's Grave' or another. It was a highly cultivated and erudite
person. As it advanced in learning it took naturally to chewing tobacco,
but, being a person of strongly experimental habits, it tried one day to
curse and whistle and chew tobacco at the one moment, with the
unfortunate result that a piece of honeydew got jammed between a whistle
and a curse, and the poor thing perished miserably of strangulation.
"It is indeed singular that while every race of mankind is competent to
speak, none of the other races, such as cats, cows, caterpillars, and
crabs, have shown the slightest interest in the making of this ordered
noise. This is the more strange when we reflect that almost all animals
are provided with a throat and a mouth which are capable of making a
noise certainly equal in volume and intelligibility to the sounds made by
a German or a Spaniard.
"Long ago men lived in trees and had elongated backbones which they were
able to twitch. There were no shops, theatres, or churches in those
times, and, consequently, no necessity for a specialized and meticulous
prosody. Man barked at his fellow-man when he wanted something, and if
his request was not understood he bit his fellow-man and was quit of him.
When they forsook the trees and became ground-walkers they came into
contact with a variety of theretofore unknown objects, the necessity for
naming which so exercised their tongues that gradually their bark took on
a different quality and became susceptible of more complicated sounds.
Then, with the dawning of the Pastoral Age, food in a gregarious
community became a matter of more especial importance. When a man barked
at his wife for a cocoanut and she handed him a baby or a bowl of soup or
an evening paper it became necessary, in order to minimise her
alternatives, that he should elaborate his bark to meet this and an
hundred other circumstances. I do not know at what period of history man
was able to call his wife names with the certainty of reprisal. It was
possible quite early, because I have often heard a dog bark in a
dissatisfied and important manner at another dog and be perfectly
"A difficulty would certainly arise as to the selection of a word when
forty or fifty men might at the same time label any article with as many
different names, and, it is reasonable to suppose, that they would be
reluctant to adopt any other expression but that of their own creation.
In such a crux the strongest man of the community would be likely to
clout the others to an admission that his terminology was standard.
"Thus, by slow accretions, the various languages crept into currency, and
the youth of innumerable schoolboys has been embittered by having to
learn to spell.
"Grasshoppers are a fine, sturdy race of people. A great many of them
live on the Hill of Howth, where I have often spent hours hearkening to
their charming conversation. They do not speak with the same machinery
that we use—they convey their ideas to each other by rubbing their
hind-legs together, whereupon noises are produced of exceeding variety
and interest. As a method of speech this is simply delightful, and I
wish we could be trained to converse in so majestical a manner. Perhaps
we shall live to see the day when the journals will chronicle that Mr.
Redmond had rubbed his legs together for three hours at the Treasury
Bench and was removed frothing at the feet, but after a little rest he
was enabled to return and make more noise than ever."
The old gentleman smiled very genially and went out. The assistant
suggested that he had a terrible lot of old "guff," but I did not agree
Between impartial sips at his own and my liquor the old gentleman
perused the small volume which he had taken from my pocket. After he
had read it he buttoned the book in his own pouch and addressed me with
"In some respects," said he, "poets differ materially from other
animals. For instance, they seldom marry, and when they do it is only
under extreme compulsion.—This is the more singular when we remember
that poets are almost continually singing about love. When they do
marry they instantly cease to make poetry and turn to labour like the
rest of the community.
"It has been finely said that the poet is born and not made, but I
fancy that this might be postulated of the rest of creation.
"Many people believe that all poets arise from their beds in the middle
of the night, and that they walk ten miles until they come to a
hillside, where they remain until the dawn whistling to the little
birds; but this, while it is true in some instances, is not invariably
true. A proper poet would not walk ten miles for any one except a
"The art of writing poetry is very difficult at first, but it becomes
easy by practice. The best way for a beginner is to take a line from
another poem; then he should construct a line to fit it; then, having
won his start, he should strike out the first line (which, of course,
does not belong to him) and go ahead. When the poet has written three
verses of four lines each he should run out and find a girl somewhere
and read it to her. Girls are always delighted when this is done.
They usually clasp their hands together as though in pain, roll their
eyes in an ecstasy, and shout, 'How perfectly perfect!' Then the poet
will grip both her hands very tightly and say he loves her but will not
marry her, and, in an agony of inspiration, he will tear himself away
and stand drinks to himself until he is put out. This is, of course,
only one way of being a poet. If he perseveres he will ultimately
write lyrics for the music halls and make a fortune. He will then wear
a fur coat that died of the mange, he will support a carnation in his
buttonhole, wear eighteen rings on his right hand and one hundred and
twenty-seven on his left. He will also be entitled to wear two
breast-pins at once and yellow boots. He will live in England when he
is at home, and be very friendly with duchesses.
"Poetry is the oldest of the arts. Indeed, it may be called the parent
of the arts. Poetry, music, and dancing are the only relics which have
come down to us from those ancient times which are termed impartially
the Golden or the Arboreal Ages. In ancient Ireland the part played by
the poet was very important. Not alone was he the singer of songs, he
was also the bestower of fame and the keeper of genealogies, and,
therefore, he was treated with a dignity which he has since refused to
forget. When a poet made a song in public, it was customary that the
king and the nobility should divest themselves of their jewels, gold
chains, and rings, and give this light plunder to him. They also
bestowed on him goblets of gold and silver, herds of cattle, farms, and
maidservants. The poets are not at all happy in these constricted
times, and will proclaim their astonishment and repugnance in the
"A few days ago I was speaking in Grafton Street to a poet of great
eminence, and, with tears in his voice, he told me that he had never
been offered as much as a bracelet by any lady. Times have changed;
but for the person who still wishes to enter this decayed profession
there is still every opportunity, for poetry is only the art of cutting
sentences into equal lengths, and then getting these sentences printed
by a publisher. It is in the latter part of this formula that the real
"There are a great many poets in Ireland, particularly in Dublin. In
an evening's walk one may meet at least a dozen of this peculiar
people. They may be known by the fact that they wear large, soft hats,
and that the breast-pockets of their coats have a more than noticeable
bulge, due to their habit of carrying therein the twenty-seven
masterpieces which they have just written. They are very ethereal
creatures, composed largely of soul and thirst. Soul is a far-away,
eerie thing, generally produced by eating fish."
The old gentleman borrowed the price of a tram home; but as he
instantly stood himself a drink with it, I was forced to relend him the
money when we got outside.
The old gentleman was in a very bad temper when I arrived. He had a
large glass of porter in his hand—a pint, in fact—and he was gazing
on this liquid with no great favour. I was a little surprised at his
choice of a drink, for I had never before known him care for any other
refreshment than spirits; but I did not like to make any reference to
the change. Looking thus, with great disgust, upon his pint, he began
to talk with some asperity about the English nation.
"The ways of Providence," said he, "are indeed inscrutable, else why
should there be such things in the world as lobsters, gutta-percha,
ballet-dancers, and Englishmen? These four objects, and some
others—notably water, tram-cars, and warts—I can find no necessity
for in nature; but there must be some reason for such, or else they
could not have arrived at the more or less mature stage of development
at which they are found.
"If we apply the canons of the Pragmatic philosophy to these objects we
will arrive at some conclusion which, although it may not justify their
existence, will give a hint as to their expediency. The question to be
put to any doubtful fact in nature is this—'What is your use?' and the
reality of the fact is in ratio to the degree of usefulness inhering in
it. Thus treated, most of the objects to which I have referred may be
able to adduce some excuse for their existence. A lobster may aver
that if he were not alive his absence would be a severe blow to the
lobster-pot industry, and would throw many respectable families on the
already-overburdened rates. Gutta-percha might plead that it has
aspired through many millions of ages to a maturity which would enable
it to rub out lead-pencil marks. Ballet-dancers would have a great
deal to say for themselves, possibly on moral grounds; but I really see
no reason for Englishmen.
"I have said that an object is real in ratio to its usefulness. If we
examine an Englishman thus pragmatically we must discover that his
usefulness is zero, and we are then forced to inquire why he exists at
all, for he does undoubtedly exist, as witness this pint of porter
which I hold in my hand, and which I do hold in my hand solely on
account of the unexplainable existence of Englishmen.
"I may say at once that I never indulge in this particular form of
refreshment, against which I have nothing further to charge than it
does not agree with my system, but I am no bigot in such matters, and
can quite willingly believe that lower natures and less cultivated
palates may take pleasure in secreting this inordinately lengthy
liquid. I cannot avoid the belief that any liquid which may be imbibed
by the imperial pint is an essentially gross drink, and one unfitted
for persons of a high culture. Nor can I find in nature that any of
the more specialised organisms take their drink in such extravagant
quantities. Camels, who, I am informed, are a very well-behaved and
moral race leading rigorous and chaste lives in a desert, do drink
deeply, but their excess is more apparent than real, for Providence in
an aberration endowed these folk with more stomachs than the average
person possesses, and the necessity for filling these additional
cisterns accounts for and justifies their liberal use of moisture.
Worms, on the other hand, are a folk for whom I have very little
reverence and no affection. I am not aware whether they are all
stomach or all neck, but from their corner-boy expression I am inclined
to fancy that worms would drink pints if they could. Happily, this
disgusting exhibition is forbidden by the imperfect state of their
civilisation and the inelastic quality of their environment.
"But this is beside the point. My grievance is, that in my old age I
am forced to drink porter which disagrees with my liver, and am
compelled to abstain from spirits which have a sustaining and medicinal
effect on that organ, and this deprivation is solely due to the
unnatural and inexplicable existence of Englishmen. It may be that
nature grew Englishmen for the sole purpose of interfering with my
organs, and so, by modifying my teaching in accordance with my diseased
interior, nature may be striving to evolve a new culture wherein bile
will have a rare ability. If this is so, then I am not at all obliged
to nature for singling me out as the instrument of her changes; if it
is not so I can only confess my ignorance and wash my hands of the
"Mark you, it was only during my lifetime that an exorbitant tax was
placed on whisky. Before my era the interference with this refreshment
was of the most tentative and apologetic description.
"I can remember, and I do remember with dismay, the time when whisky
was purchaseable at two bronze pennies for the naggin, but now one may
discharge a ruinous impost for the privilege of imbibing one poor
fourth of that happy measure.
"This has been brought about by the continuous interference of
Englishmen with my liquor. Time and again they have added additional
difficulties to my obtaining this medicinal refreshment, and, while I
am compelled to bow my head to the ideas of nature for the improvement
of our race, I am often inclined, having bowed it, to charge goat-like
at these intolerable people and butt them off the face of the earth
into the nowhere for which their villainous and ungenial habits have
fitted them. Otherwise, by their future exactions I may be brought to
the drinking of benzene or printer's ink for lack of a fortune
wherewith to purchase fitter refreshment."
Having said this with great fury, the old gentleman laid down his
untasted pint and stalked out. The acolyte behind the counter made a
sympathetic clicking noise with his tongue and sold the pint to another
man.—He probably did this thoughtlessly, and I did not care to
embarrass him by remarking on it.
I met the old gentleman marching solemnly across Cork Hill. There was
a tramcar in his immediate rear, a cab in front of him, an outside-car
and a bicycle on his right hand, and a dray laden with barrels on his
left. The drivers of all these vehicles were entreating him in one
voice to stroll elsewhere. He looked around and, observing that
matters were complicated, he opened his umbrella, held it over his
head, and awaited events with the most admirable fortitude. When I had
escorted him to the pavement, and further to his own hostelry, he
seized the third button of my waistcoat and spake as follows:—
"It is an admirable example of the wisdom of nature that she has
refrained in every case from equipping her creatures with wheels
instead of legs, and she might easily have done this. So far as I am
aware there are but four methods of progression in nature—these are,
flying, swimming, walking and crawling. None of these are performed
with a rotary motion, and all are admirably adapted to the people using
them, and are sufficiently expeditious to suit their needs.
"There is no doubt that the most primitive of movements is that of
crawling, and by this method of progression, one is brought into an
intimate contact with the earth which cannot fail to be beneficial. I
do not see any real difficulty in the way of our again becoming a race
of happy and crawling people. The initial essay towards this end is to
shed our arms and legs as useless incumbrances, and then to aim at a
stronger growth of jaw and cranium. Among certain organisms it will be
found that the jaws are the most immediately useful parts of the body,
performing the most varied and delicate functions with the greatest
ease. A dog, for example, will, with the one organ, play with a ball,
kill a cat, or nip the calf of a Christian, and, when the moon is high,
he can make a noise with his mouth which is as loud and quite as
melodious as the professional clamour of a ballad-vocalist.
"One of the greatest evils of civilisation is the longing for speed,
which, within the past hundred years, has developed from a simple vice
to a complicated mania. Long ago men were accustomed to use their legs
in order to propel themselves forward, and, when greater speed was
necessary, they assisted their legs with their hands—this was coeval
with, or shortly after, the arboreal age. Next came the hunting epoch,
when some person, probably a commercial traveller, dropped off a tree
on to a horse's back, and finding the movement pleasant he informed his
companions of his adventure and demonstrated to them how it had been
performed. It is from this occurrence we may date the degradation of
the human race and the industry of horse-stealing. There followed the
pastoral age, when nuts were, more or less, abandoned as a food and
tillage became general. The necessity for conveying the crops from the
field to the camp excited some lazy individual to invent a cart, and,
thus, wheels came into use and the doom of humanity as an instinctive
and natural race was sealed.
"While we walked on our own legs we were natural and instinctive
creatures, open to every impression of nature and able to tell the time
without clocks, but when we adopted mechanical methods of progression
we became unnatural and mechanical people, whizzing restlessly and
recklessly from here to yonder, for no purpose save the mere sensual
pleasure of movement, and we are at this date simply debauched by
travel and have shortened the world to less than one-tenth of its
actual size as well as destroying our abilities for simple and rational
"If we continue using these artificial means of locomotion there is no
doubt that the race will become atrophied in the legs but with
extraordinary results. The spectacle of an egg-shaped humanity
squatting painfully on engines is not a pleasant one to contemplate,
nor is the prospect of a world wherein there will be neither breeches
nor boots good for the moralist or economist to dwell upon.
"In order to conserve the happiness of the world every inventor should
be squashed in the egg, more particularly those having anything to do
with wheels, cogs or levers. The wheel has no counterpart in nature,
and is unthinkable to any but a diseased and curious mind. Man will
never more be happy until he has broken all the machinery he can find
with a hammer, and has then thrown the hammer into the sea; and then he
can, by experiment, become almost as rooted in the earth as a tree or
an artesian well. It is a bad thing to have an indefinite horizon. It
is a good thing to grow knowing one part of the world as thoroughly as
one knows the inside of one's boots. Legs make for nationality,
patriotism, and all the virtues which centre in locality. Wheels make
for diffuseness, imperialisms, cosmopolitanisms. By the use of legs
humanity has stalked into manhood. By the use of wheels we are rapidly
rolling into a race of commercial travellers, touts, gad-abouts, and
members of parliament, folk with the hanging jaws of astonishment, avid
for curios, and with mental, moral and optical indigestion.
"I believe that the Spanyols and Mandibaloes, two Mongol races
inhabiting the countries at the rear of the Great Chow Desert, were the
first people to deal largely with wheels. The men of these nations
were used, when travelling, to affix two small wheels upon their
shoulder blades, and on coming to any slight incline in their path they
would curl up their legs, lie on their backs and free-wheel as
distantly as the slant of the ground permitted, greatly, no doubt, to
the astonishment of less sophisticated people. But, knowing their
habits, their enemies were wont to lie in wait at the bottoms of hills
and slopes, and when a Spanyol or Mandibaloe came wheeling down a hill
with his legs up he was killed before he could regain a less
complicated position, or one more fitted for defence or offence. Thus,
these races became rapidly extinct, and are now only remembered by the
tracks as wide as a man's shoulderblades which are occasionally found
in parts of the post-tertiary formation."
The old gentleman released the third button of my waistcoat which he
had held for so long and stepped with me out of the hostel. As it had
begun to rain he carefully folded up his umbrella, tucked it under his
arm, and strode rapidly down the street. Some small boys followed him
for a little time singing, "We are the boys of Wexford who fought with
heart and hand," but I drove these away.
He wiped his face with a large, red pocket-handkerchief, pursed his
lips, shut one eye, and, with the other, he critically observed the
remnant of his liquor. After a moment of deep consideration he smiled
delightfully and said he thought it was all right. The apothecary
behind the counter smiled also as one gratified and suggested that
there was not much of that at the North Pole, and, after a little
discussion on this point, the old gentleman addressed me in the
"I do not understand what necessity impels people to the discovery of
something, which, if it has any existence at all, has only an
idealistic existence, and which, when it is discovered, cannot be
utilised in any possible direction. Utility is the first attribute of
all terrestrial bodies. A stone, for instance, is a useful inorganic
substance—it can be built into a house, or thrown at a duck, or, when
ground into sand, it can be, and is, sold as sugar by a grocer. It is
constantly being utilised in one or other of these directions; and so
with all other objects. But the necessity for a North or a South Pole
has yet to be demonstrated.
"The statement that the North Pole was put there by the Castle
authorities is one which I do not believe, for I am assured that at
every period of the world's history there has been a North and a South
Pole, which, surrounded as they were by snow-clad countries, icebergs,
cold water and whales, were too remote and inhospitable to tempt the
average civilian to journey there.
"The only thing which grows in the Polar regions is ice, and this is
generally found in almost tropical profusion and rankness, growing
sometimes to the height of several hundred feet, none of which wear
boots. Polar bears and Esquimos are also found there, but in scattered
and inconsiderable quantities. These two races spend most of their
time chasing each other in order to keep themselves warm, which they do
by degrees which are often registered on a barometer. They also eat
each other and get scurvy. Outside of these relaxations their
existence is stagnant and unexciting. I sometimes fancy that if I had
the misfortune to be born a polar bear or an Esquimo I would not have
been a patriot.
"I have no esteem for ice in other than easily portable quantities.
Some small pieces to pack around fish, a particle to drop into a glass
of lager beer—that is all the ice which I can regard patiently or
leniently; but a continent composed entirely of ice and polar bears
tempts me to believe that Providence is subject to aberrations.
"It is supposed to redound to the credit of a nation when one of its
citizens resolves to discover some inaccessible and futile place, and
proceeds to do so in the most fantastic manner. The inhabitants of
that country who remain at their work and continue to pay their rates
are expected to be in a condition of wild enthusiasm and delight at the
adventure.—My own impression is, that the majority of people take no
more than a tepid interest in these forlorn adventures, and are but
imperfectly convinced of the sanity of the adventurers; and this is the
more particularly noticeable when the quest is for something so
intangible and unmarketable as a North Pole. Why need they go so far
afield for their excitement? Every discoverer is a detective. He
traces missing places, and there are cartloads of Poles in their own
countries waiting for explorers.
"The habit of seeking for a North Pole is one of only comparative
antiquity. Its conception is well within the historic era, and must,
therefore, be classed as an acquired habit and one not inherent in man.
I have not observed that any other animals are addicted to this
peculiar expeditionary craze. It is true that many species of birds
migrate annually from these shores, and, although their departures are
usually chronicled in the newspapers, it must not without further
evidence be inferred that these birds have gone to look for the North
Pole. They may, as a matter of fact, have left this country to avoid
being arrested, for here one is continually being arrested. The
evidence in favour of the North Pole theory as regards birds is, that
nobody knows where they have gone to, and that as the rest of the earth
is round and densely populated their arrival would be noted somewhere
as their departure was, but their arrival not being so noted, and as
they must be somewhere, the process of eliminating all possible places
leaves nowhere but the North Pole as their objective. Now birds are a
very intelligent and strenuous race of people who build nests in trees
and have often five eggs at a time, and I believe that they leave these
countries because their nests are full of broken egg-shells, and
because the winter is setting in, and because they dislike cold
weather; and, thus disliking cold weather, it is unlikely that they
would fly to the North Pole where the cold is very intense, and where,
moreover, there is little food to be found, saving polar bears and
Esquimos, a form of victual for which birds have only the scantiest
relish. My own impression is, that these birds when out of sight of
land are enabled by a mechanism with which we are not yet familiar, to
convert themselves into fishes, or, alternatively, that they know the
whereabouts of Tir na n-Og and go there, or else that they do not go
anywhere at all but are simply translated into the Fourth Dimension of
Space, and are, thus, flying, nesting and mating all around us in a
medium which our eyes are too gross to penetrate.
"From a perusal of the evening papers I observe that the discoverer of
the North Pole is an American citizen with a complicated pedigree, a
long beard and a red shirt, all of which he hoisted to the top of the
Pole and left there for subsequent identification. I fear this was a
thoughtless action on his part because the Esquimos who live habitually
at the North Pole, but have not discovered it, will, while his back is
turned, take to wearing his shirt in turn. They are a communistic
people, I fancy, and no shirt will survive communism. Also, seeing the
fuss which is being made of their Pole, they may either hide it or sell
pieces of it to tourists as remembrancers.
"The explorer should have cached his shirt and other memorials at the
foot of the Pole, built a cairn upon it, and shook cayenne pepper on
top of all to keep bears away—but it is useless to advise explorers."
The ancient hereupon made a significant gesture to the curate, who
misinterpreted it, and brought more than he had required. He was very
much perturbed, for, as he explained, he had forgotten to bring his
purse with him. He consented, however, to use my purse for his needs,
and, after paying his shot, he, in an abstracted and melancholy manner,
put the change in his trouser pocket. There was only one shilling in
the purse so I did not like to draw his attention to the mistake. He
very genially returned my purse, and said he had conceived a great
liking for me.
When the old gentleman came in I noticed at once that he was out of
humour. He had a large scar on his chin, and three pieces of newspaper
on his cheeks. He discharged the contents of my tobacco pouch into a
pipe which had a holding capacity of one and a half ounces, and then he
became more cheerful—
"I dislike extremely," said he, "the impertinent interference with
nature which men are nowadays guilty of. Not content with clamping our
feet in leathern boxes, our legs in cloth cylinders, our trunks in a
variety of wrappings of complex inutility, and then inserting our heads
into monstrous felt pots, we even approach ourselves more minutely and
scrape the very hair from our faces which nature has sown there for
purposes of ornament and protection; with the result, that it is
difficult for a short-sighted person to distinguish rapidly the sex of
the people with whom he comes in contact saving by a minute and tedious
examination of their clothing.
"This habit of shaving is one which is entirely confined to man. It is
the one particular habit that he holds apart from all other animals,
and, indeed, it is not an accomplishment upon which he need pride
himself, for in parting with his beard he has sacrificed the only
pleasant-looking portion of his face.
"It could easily be proved that hair and innocence have a subtle
relationship. No very hairy person is really vicious, as witness the
caterpillar, of whom I have not heard that he ever bit any one: while,
on the other hand, the frog, who is born bald, would doubtless be very
savage were it not for the fact that nature has benevolently curtailed
his teeth. Fishes, also, an uncleanly race, and who I fancy are shaved
before birth, are all monsters of cold-blooded ferocity, and they will
devour their parents and even their own offspring with equal and
"The habit of shaving is not of a very ancient origin. When humanity
lived a quiet, rural and unambitious life, men did not shave: their
hair was their glory, and if they had occasion to swear, which must
have been infrequent, their hardiest and readiest oath was, 'by the
beard of my father,' showing clearly that this texture was held in
veneration in early times and was probably accorded divine honours upon
"With the advent of war came the habit of shaving. A beard offered too
handy a grip to a foeman who had gotten to close quarters, therefore,
warriors who had no true hardihood of soul preferred cutting off their
beards to the honourable labour of defending their chins. Many ancient
races effected a compromise in order to retain a fitting military
appearance, for a bare-faced warrior has but little of terror in his
aspect. The ancient Egyptians, for example, who had cut off, or could
not cultivate, or had been forcibly deprived of their beards, were wont
to go into battle clad in heavy false whiskers, which, when an enemy
seized hold of them, came off instantly in his hand, and the ancient
Egyptian was enabled to despatch him while in a trance of stupefaction
and horror. Clean-shaved men became, by this cowardly stratagem, very
much prized as fighting men, and thus the foundation of the shaving
habit was laid.
"It is a remarkable fact that, save for an inconsiderable number who
live in circuses, women have no beards. I am unable at present to
trace the reason for this singular omission, but the advantages of
beards for women are too patent for explanation. They would improve
her personal appearance, and their advantages as air-purifiers or
respirators I need not dwell upon. I am certain that a persistent
application of goose-grease and electricity to the chin of a woman
would at last enable her to become as bearded and virtuous as her
husband, besides entitling her to the political franchise. They are
perverse creatures, however, and it is possible that this deprivation
is responsible for many of their ill-humours and crankinesses. Their
scarcity of beard is the more remarkable when we observe that the
female cat is as magnificently whiskered as her male companion. The
wisdom of cats is proverbial, and I have never heard of a cat who has
hired another cat to bite out, tear off, scrape or otherwise demolish
his or her whiskers. When I do hear of some such occurrence I shall be
prepared to reconsider my position on this subject.
"In some ways a clean-shaved face is desirable. A pig's cheek should
not have whiskers, neither should oysters nor the face of a clock, but
a man's face should never be seen out of doors without a decent and
Having said this, the old gentleman, with remarkable presence of mind,
drank my whisky, and then apologised with dignified and touching
humility. As we departed the youth behind the counter corrugated his
features in a remarkable manner, and said, "bow-wow" by way of
He helped himself absently to two water biscuits and a piece of cheese
and sank to a profound reverie. The eating of this light refreshment
was probably a manifestation of subconscious thought, for, when he had
finished, he spoke to me as follows—
"There are a great many things which I dislike immensely but the
necessity for which I must perforce acquiesce in: these are water,
easterly winds and actresses: but there are other habits cultivated by
humanity for which I can find no apology, and some of these have grown
to so great an extent that they now bulk as evils of terrific
"Foremost among these reprehensible customs I will mention that of
eating. Of all the evils under which civilisation staggers helplessly
the most ponderous and merciless is hunger, and it is the evil which
will ultimately decimate all existing forms of life.
"All forms of organic life have now for millions of years been slaves
to this filthy habit of eating, and have superimposed upon their
original singleness of form a variety of weighty and unattractive
organs to keep pace with the satisfaction of this oppressive appetite,
until to-day the entire organic world stands upon the imminent brink of
destruction if food should be withheld from it for one entire week.
"Every living being should be self-supporting and self-sufficient. It
should be inherent in the economy of a man to produce for himself not
alone food but also shelter and raiment from his own internal
resources. A man should be able to build a house or evolve a loaf of
bread out of his own body with ease and assurance.
"Look for a moment at spiders. Every spider carries within himself the
materials for his own home. His stomach, instead of being, as is
vulgarly supposed, a cemetery for smaller organisms, is in reality his
brick-field and rope-walk, and out of this minute sack he will produce
endless miles of cordage and web which he weaves into the most
beautiful and mathematical harmonies. This is a self-contained utility
which might be imitated by men with advantage, and that which is done
with ease by a spider can scarcely offer insuperable difficulty to the
chief of the vertebrates. Of course, each man's production will be
more or less guided and limited by his capacity.—Thus, fat men will
spin forth cathedrals, opera-houses and railway stations. Thin men
will devote themselves to obelisks, church spires, factory chimneys,
and artistic bric-a-brac. Short men will willingly produce artisans'
dwellings, busts of famous men and, perhaps, now and then, pyramids or
villa residences. Constant work of this description will not alone
render us independent of landlords, but, by atrophy of the digestive
organs, will inaugurate a brighter era for long-suffering, food-fed
"Suppose it is advanced that man cannot keep up his strength and
usefulness without some kind of exterior nourishment—I will then
proceed to demonstrate how this can be most easily accomplished. Our
first cousins, the trees and bushes, do not sit down at stated hours to
a heterogeneous mess of steak, tea and onions: they stand firm in the
ground unhurried by the sound of the dinner-bell and careless of the
state of the American market. As the spider is sufficient in itself in
house-building, so are the trees, the grass and all inorganic life
self-supporting so far as food is concerned. The reason is, that
trees, grass and flowers are bedded in the earth, the source of all
nourishment. Let this fact be but properly understood, and the last
and greatest bar to human progress will be removed, and 'the
millenniums which so furiously chase us' will have a chance of catching
"If, once a week, men would bury themselves to the chin in good fertile
clay, and allow the nurture of the earth to permeate their bodies there
would be an end to this gross and unfortunate digestive activity. I
have myself experimented in this direction with the most encouraging
results. A rich, loamy soil is very good—it is rather cold at the
bottom, but invigorating. Light, sandy clay would suit sedentary
persons such as parsons, artists, judges. In poor ground some
superphosphates, or a light compost could be strewn by each person
around himself. Families would take turns in pruning each other, and
so forth; but all these incidental matters would rapidly adjust
themselves. After a time we might succeed in propagating ourselves by
seeds or slips, and this would lead to a radical readjustment of our
sex relations and put an end to many of the problems wherewith we are
eternally badgered and perplexed.
"In some ways I will admit that food is valuable. As a means of
killing a rich uncle by gout, or of attaining wealth by judicious
adulteration it can be recommended, and looked at in the light of a
gentle morning exercise to be taken immediately after rising it is
useful, but as a method of obtaining nourishment it is obsolete and
At this point the gentleman-in-waiting snorted in a most unbecoming
manner, and dived under the counter, from beneath which he alternately
mewed like a cat and crowed like a cock. It was a clear attack of
hysteria. While the poor man was recovering from his seizure the old
gentleman absent-mindedly departed without paying his shot.