Two Monuments, by Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch

MY DEAR YOUNG LADY,—

Our postman here does not deliver parcels until the afternoon—which nobody grumbles at, because of his infirmity and his long and useful career. The manuscript, therefore, of your novel, Sunshine and Shadow, has not yet reached me. But your letter—in which, you beg me to send an opinion upon the work, with some advice upon your chances of success in literature—I found on my breakfast-table, as well as the photograph which you desire (perhaps wisely) to face the title-page. I trust you will forgive the slight stain in the lower left-hand corner of the portrait, which I return: for it is the strawberry-season here, and in course of my reflections I had the misfortune to let the cardboard slip between my fingers and fall across the edge of the plate.

I have taken the resolution to send my advice before it can be shaken by a perusal of Sunshine and Shadow. But it is difficult nevertheless. I might say bluntly that, unless the camera lies, your face is not one to stake against Fame over a game of hazard. You remember John Lyly's "Cupid and my Campaspe"?—and how Cupid losing,

                     "down he throws
  The coral of his lip, the rose
  Growing on's cheek (but none lenows how)
…"

—and so on, with the rest of his charms, one by one? I might assure you that when maidens play against Fame they risk all these treasures and more, without hope of leniency from their opponent, who (you will note) is the same sex. But you will answer by return of post, that this is no business of mine, and that I exhibit the usual impertinence of man when asked to consider woman's serious aspiration. You will protest that you are ready to stake all this. Very well, then: listen, if you have patience, to a little story that I came upon, a week since, about a man who spent his days at this game of hazard. It was called The Two Monuments.

When the Headmaster of the Grammar-School came to add up the marks for the term's work and examination—which he always did without a mistake—it was discovered that in the Upper Fourth (the top form) Thompson had beaten Jenkins major by sixteen. So Thompson received a copy of the Memoirs of Eminent Etonians, bound in tree-calf, and took it home under his arm, wondering what "Etonians" were, but too proud to ask. And Jenkins major received nothing; and being too weak to punch Thompson's head (as he desired) waylaid him opposite the cemetery gate on his way home, and said—

"Parvenu!"

—which was doubly insulting; for, in the first place, French was Thompson's weakest subject, and secondly, his father was a haberdasher in a small way, who spoke with awe of the Jenkinses as a family that had practised law in the town for six generations. Thompson himself was aware of the glamour such a lineage conferred. It was wholly due to his ignorance of French that he retorted—

"You're another!"

Young Jenkins explained the term, with a wave of his hand towards the cemetery gate.

"You'll find my family in there, and inside a rail of their own. And you needn't think I wanted that prize. I've got a grandfather."

So, no doubt, had Thompson; but, to find him, he must have consulted the parish books and searched among the graves at the northern end of the burial-ground for one decorated with a tin label and the number 2054. He gazed in at the sacred acre of the Jenkinses and the monuments emblazoned with "J.P.," "Recorder of this Borough," "Clerk of the Peace for the County," and other proud appendices in gilt lettering: and, in the heat of his heart, turned upon Jenkins major.

"You just wait till we die, and see which of us two has the finer tombstone!"

Thereupon he stalked home and read the Memoirs of Eminent Etonians, and learnt from their perusal that it was indeed possible to earn a finer tombstone than any Jenkins possessed. At the end of the Christmas term, too, he acquired a copy of Dr. Smiles's famous work on Self-Help, and this really set his feet in the path to his desire.

He determined, after weighing the matter carefully, to be a poet: for it seemed to him that of all the noble professions this was the only one the initial expense of which could be covered by his patrimony. The paper, ink, and pens came cheaply enough (though the waste was excessive); and for his outfit of high thoughts and emotions he pawned not merely the possessions that you, my dear young lady, are so willing to cast on the table—charms of face and graces of person—for, as a man, he valued these lightly; but the strength in his arms, the taste of meat and wine, the cunning of horsemanship, of boat-sailing, of mountain-climbing, the breathless joy of the diver, the languid joy of the dancer, the feel of the canoe-paddle shaken in the rapid, the delicious lassitude of sleep in wayside-inns, and lastly the ecstasy of love and fatherhood—all these he relinquished for a tombstone that should be handsomer than Jenkins's. Jenkins, meanwhile, was articled to his father, and, having passed the necessary examinations with credit, became a solicitor and married into a county family.

Thompson, I need hardly tell you, was by this time settled in London and naturally spent a good deal of his leisure time in Westminster Abbey. The monuments there profoundly affected his imagination, and gave him quite new ambitions with regard to the tombstone that towered at the back of all his day-dreams. When first he trod the Embankment, in thin boots with a few pence in his pocket, it had appeared to him in slate with a terrific inscription in gilt letters—inscriptions in which "Benefactor of His Species," "Take him for All in All We shall not Look upon his Like Again" took the place of the pettifogging "Clerk of the Peace" or "J.P." tagged on to the names of the Jenkinses. By degrees, however, he abated a little of the inscription and made up for it by trebling the costliness of the stone.

From slate it grew to granite—to marble—to alabaster, with painted cherubs and a coat of arms. At one time he brooded, for a whole week, over a flamboyant design with bosses of lapis lazuli at the four corners; and only gave it up for a life-size recumbent figure in alabaster with four gryphons supporting the sarcophagus. As the soles of his boots thickened with prosperity, so did his stone grow in solidity. Finally an epic of his—Adrastus—took the town by storm, and three editions were exhausted in a single week. When this happened, he sat down with a gigantic sheet of cartridge paper before him and spent a whole year in setting out the elaborated design. By his will he left all his money to pay for the structure: for his father and mother were dead and he had neither wife nor child.

When all was finished he rubbed his hands, packed up his bag and took a third-class ticket down to his native town, to have a contemptuous look at the Jenkins monuments and see how Jenkins major was getting on.

Jenkins major was up in the cemetery, among his fathers. And on top of Jenkins rested a granite cross—sufficiently handsome, to be sure, for a solicitor, but nothing out of the way. "J.P." was carved upon it; though, as Jenkins had an absurdly long Christian name (Marmaduke Augustus St. John), these letters were squeezed a bit in the right arm of the cross. Underneath was engraved—

"_ERECTED BY HIS DISCONSOLATE WIFE AND CHILDREN.

  A Father kind, a Husband dear,
  A faithful Friend, lies buried here_."

Thompson perused the doggerel once, twice, and a third time; and chuckled contemptuously. "So Jenkins has come to this. God bless me, how life in a provincial town does narrow a man!"

"A Father kind, a Husband dear…"

—and he went away chuckling, but with no malice at all in his breast.

Jenkins slept forgiven beneath his twopenny-halfpenny tombstone, and Thompson, reflecting that not only was his own monument designed (with a canopy of Carrara marble), but the cost of it invested in the three per cents., walked contentedly back to the station, repeating on his way with gentle scorn—

"A Father kind, a Husband dear, A faithful Friend, lies buried here."

The jingle lulled him asleep in his railway carriage, and he awoke in London. Driving home, he paid the cabby, rushed up to his room three stairs at a bound, unlocked his safe and pulled out the great design. In one corner he had even drawn up a list of the eminent men who should be his pall-bearers. Certainly such a tomb would make Jenkins turn in his grave.

He spread the plan on the table, with a paper-weight on each corner, and sat down before it. After considering it for an hour, he arose dissatisfied.

"Jenkins had a heap of flowers over him—common flowers, to be sure, but fresh enough. I dare say I could arrange for a supply, though. It's that confounded doggerel—

'A Father kind, a Husband dear.'

"That's Mrs. Jenkins's taste, I suppose. Still—of course I could better the verse; but one can't stick up a lie over one's remains. I wish to God I had a disconsolate wife, or a child, if only to spite Jenkins."

And I believe, my dear young lady, that underneath his tomb (whereon there now stands a marble figure of Fame and blows a gilt trumpet) he is still wishing it.