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—
—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—
Young Jenkins explained the term, with a wave of his hand towards the
"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
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
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
"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
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.