John Jerome (1)

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A BOOK WITHOUT BEGINNING.


CHAPTER I.


    I.    No, I am willing as usual to testify that you are a charming woman, but this I will not do, though a sweeter creature never sat on a donkey which was rather small for her weight, or wore a blue veil twisted round her neck, where it was of no use in the world. — You are looking rather well to-day.

    She.    I am glad you think so.  I like you to appreciate me.

    I.    Of course you do.  We all like to be appreciated.  I consider it probable that even an oyster, a good oyster, if he could know that he was to be eaten, would wish that it should be by one who could appreciate him.  I am quite capable of sympathizing with him so far as to be certain that he would feel hurt if, when he was swallowed, it was said that he was stale.  I lately read some acrostics of yours so neat and regular that I thought they must have been "machine made."  Now will that compliment satisfy you, and induce you to leave me alone?

    She.    Certainly not.  You ought to do something for the world.  It has always been agreed among us that you were far the cleverest member of our family.

    I.    You will allow that that is not saying much!  Why do you laugh?  This I assure you is a very serious matter.

    She.    I told you it was: then will you write me this book?

    I.    A minute ago it was a book, now it is this book.

    She.    Yes, I see it already.  I think it has a blue cover.

    I.    You shall repent this!  Well, if I do, as I never could write a formal opening, may I begin in the middle?

    She [after a pause].  You may if you can.

    I.    Of course I can.

    She.    I should have said not.  I should have said that, wherever you commenced, there would be the beginning, and that you would not attain to the middle till afterwards.

    I.    We shall see.

    She.    O, "we shall see."  Now you have promised, and you know we must not disappoint expectations which we have raised ourselves.

    I.    No, it would be a cruel thing to promise a hungry man a dinner, and then set before him a lump of raw blubber.

    She [with gravity].  It would indeed.

    I.    Unless he was a Greenlander.  No man could have been more energetic, more industrious (with a butterfly net) than I.  And now I have promised to idle away my time in writing a book.  I fear that, when I have once joined the dangerous classes, I shall often look back with regret on these unpublished days of comparative innocence.

    She.    The dangerous classes?

    I.    The dangerous classes!  So surely as the race invents a new sort of villany, the authors hasten (by way of warning) to spread it abroad, and all our most ridiculous mistakes they first make and then disseminate.  Dangerous?  Yes indeed, I wonder, author as you are, that I ever ventured to sit in-doors with you.  It must be use.

    She.    Why do you call me an author?  Ridiculous!

    I.    Because you copied the manuscript of your grandmother's little book for her, and put mottoes to all the chapters.  Yes, it must be use.  I have become callous.  Indeed, it has long been well known that you may dare the most dangerous things, such as London crossings, and tough pie-crust, if you are but used to them, and yet you may be startled out of all propriety if a few Gatling guns go off when you think you are standing in their way.

    Observing that I was roused, she said no more, but turned her donkey's head and proceeded up the lane, while I took up my butterfly net and went on.  "It will have to be done!" I thought, and as I walked I cogitated as follows.

    I was told a strange legend lately which bore upon this point.  A certain angel was sent to collect stones in the moon and distribute them down here where fords were going to be wanted over the rivers.  A sufficiently difficult enterprise; but he went on with it well, till, drawing near the earth, he saw, as I understood, a lot of pterodactyls fluttering about in a bog, and was so much startled and astonished that he accidently upset the bag containing the stones, and they came clattering down all over New England.

    He was accustomed, no doubt, to get out of the way of a speeding planet as she came rolling up in her oval; a volcano seen below spreading mushroom-shaped smoke over its mouth did not put him out; but pterodactyls heaving their long necks out of the swamp he had not been used to, he could not stand.

    It was a Yankee who told me this story.

    I wish to state, without any mental reservation, that I do not believe it.  It does not appear to me to account in a satisfactory manner for the stones which plague the New England farmer.

    In fact, I know it is a mere invention; and this I assert for the sake of our wiser and more advanced friends, who handle every scrap of legend with reverence, and collect myths with tears in their eyes, — tears drawn forth by impassioned fealty toward — well, toward the truths (or falsehoods) thought to be enshrined in them, and toward the sacred past.  This is not a solar myth at present, — at least I think not, but perhaps in time it will be.

    I know one of those savans who, after deep study, deduced quite distinctly from an ancient myth that all men are sinners.  He glowed with high appreciation when he related the fact to me.  I seized his hand and congratulated him.  It is tiresome to hear that same thing confidently asserted every day.  It is almost enough to make one deny it.  But what one unearths for one's self appears less hackneyed.  He found out that we are all sinners: so we are, and fools too, but some of us more than others.  They don't often dig up such valuable truths as this.

    I went a good deal into that kind of work once, myself.  It seemed delightful to appeal for teaching to the youth of the race, — though to be sure we are often told that the poor things knew nothing, and were very little more than apes, — or anyhow to maxims laid up in barbaric tongues from prehistoric times; but it takes the edge off one's pleasure, in that arduous and costly toil, to find that one can get better teaching, in plain English, for nothing, in any Sunday school; and for two pence a week in any week-day school (for the poor) either.

    Far be it from me to include the rich; I would not take the liberty; but I may say without fear of contradiction, that I have met with dozens upon dozens of urchins scarcely ten years old among them, who not only declared that they knew the difference between right and wrong, and fully understood that they ought not to tell lies, but could repeat the whole of the ten commandments by heart, and had a distinct notion as to the meaning of such difficult words as duty, religion, money, gas, benevolence, telegrams, and (if you call it "spelling ") orthography.

    In some prehistoric times their notions on certain of these points were hazy.

    "The book," she remarked, "is not to be a mere novel, — any one can write such a thing as that."

    This was said when we were talking before about the middle of the book, — where, as I said, it would begin.

    To this speech of hers I made answer, "O."

    "It is to go on," she continued, "just as you do when you talk."

    "About virtue and probity," I suggested.

    "I dare say!" was her reply.  "No, you are to write of the odd things you think, and the odd things you do."

    What am I doing now?  Nothing, I am sure, but what is most natural, most commonplace, and most laudable.

    I am in lodgings in the royal borough of Windsor.  I frequent these every year for about a month in order to hunt for, and, I am proud to say, occasionally to find, the larvζ of an extremely rare (and ravenous) lepidopterous insect, which the Queen preserves for me with unconscious benignity in a swamp in Windsor Great Park.

    It is a remarkably noxious insect, and, by dint of persistent efforts, has been so nearly exterminated in these Islands that I and my fellow entomologists were long afraid we should have to go to the extreme east of Germany if ever we hoped to set our eyes upon it again.  Having twice found a specimen, I can be calm; but the first I discovered I wished to go with it into the Desert that I might watch it alone.

    I carried it off with endearing language, and felt all the more loyal toward our gracious sovereign.  She is an excellent monarch.  Her grandeur affects me with almost as much pleasure as if it were my own.  I hate all manner of grandeur except regal grandeur.  That is most convincing and most comely.

    The masses, as we often say, must have a PERSON to look at as an evidence that law lives, that order has eyes, that government — in this particular Island at least — goes to the sweet sound of martial and other music, that wholesome permanence is to be looked for, (since that which has been is,) and also useful change.  The top of all awaits a change.  The monarchy is theoretically immortal, but the monarch grows older among the rest.

    Some fellows say that theoretically there are higher forms of government.  Probably.  I have often thought so myself.  But where do they hang out?  I should like to see them in their working clothes.  But I may remark that I should not admit young sucking governments, not two hundred years old, to give evidence in answer to this appeal.  There I think I have them.  Let those talk that have lasted.

    For my part I should like to see our grandeur more frequently.  I have said more than once that it is a pity the present sovereign has not been advised to wear the crown at all times, as the early Norman kings did.  I should like to see royalty star it about among the commons in a crown as large as my hat, with the Koh-y-Nohr blazing in the midst of it.  This would have a very good effect.

    But nobody takes the least notice of what I say.  It is the old story!

    I rambled for miles in Windsor Great Park, but from a deep sentiment of loyalty (and perhaps from another motive, for we are none of us perfect) I forbear to mention the direction.  If it became known, I should cease to be the envy of my peers; and all the entomologists in Europe would come with wives and friends, settle down and pitch tents round that swamp, and watch for two pairs of wings by night and by day.  There would be fighting between different nationalities for the best places.  Far into the night, Germans would sing part-songs and eat "the mutual" sausage with arms round one another's waists.

    But enough.  It shall not be.  Loyalty triumphs.

    I wonder what SHE will think of this!  Well, if she does not like it, she should not have made me write a book.


 
CHAPTER II.


I LEFT Windsor and went home.  So did her grandmother, and so did SHE.

    The question might now naturally arise, "Who is SHE?"  I do not feel at present that I am in a position to answer.  When SHE has read my opening words I will consider the matter.  I have advanced.  I have begun to write.  What is the use of writing if one does not print?  To print is to suppose a reader.  I am sure some people will read these writings of mine some day, — and what will they think of me?

    I want an interpreter to show the world such wisdom as there is in me, and that, as a friend of mine who is a tinker said of himself, "Though a' be called a vool a' have notions."

    But I cannot set myself forth handsomely and why?  Because I cannot myself always make myself out.

    Perhaps a poet could.

    The poets interpret us to ourselves, and do a good deal of work besides, — some good and some bad.  They translate sensations, inspired by the events of life and the facts of nature, into words,— "marry them to immortal" — words.  These were previously shows and impressions, "not understanded of the people" any more than Eskimo or Sanscrit or — I was going to say —English is; but the common people of all ranks in life must understand something of this last, or their poets could do nothing with them, and there would be little in my argument.

    They find a beauty in the long walk of life, piece its ends together orderly, and satisfy the blank surprise that waits on retrospection.  They snatch those obscure and fleeting inspirations of the heart which had never shown their faces, and make them live before men forever in the golden captivity of words.  They express the world to the soul.

    The simplest way of uttering this we hear every day: "THAT'S IT."  When one has explained some difficult matter, and the listener says "That's it," he cannot say more.  He understands the words and has got hold of what they signify.

    No one has ever defined poetry itself so that the listener has said "That's it;" and no one has ever so defined wit.

    Poetry and wit: they are not essential to our lives as led here; reasonable creatures could do without them; they must have been added over and above to serve for solace and for ornament.

    The one reveals to man the excellent beauty and pathos of things real which he had not understood.

    The other takes things real, which he did understand, and so changes them that he hardly knows their faces.  It seizes hold of everything by its wrong end, and renders even our own misfortunes laughable.

    Let us make the most of both, for we shall not carry either to the world whither we are tending.  They come from the play of the spirit on its dust; they are the possessions of a creature made out the world and its Master.

    Both are much beholden to incompleteness and yearning and tears.  If man could get back to Paradise, wit would languish, and he would no more want poetry than little children do.

    We are behindhand in achievement as to definitions, and many that we accept are unsatisfactory.  How much "the judicious Hooker's" definition of time has been admired!  "Time," he says, "is the measure of the motion of the spheres."

    That it is measured by the motion of the spheres is quite true, but it is not the measure itself.  Though Time be taken for only an idea of the mind, it yet exists there distinct from the movements that measure it.

    It has been thought of by some as a ladder whose base is in cloud, whose head is in heaven, whose steps are man's road, up which to walk is his nature and his destiny.

    To all it appears as a succession of units, of which we can never have more than one at once.  None can accumulate them.

    We can think of that from which Time was taken as if it might be breadth as well as length; as if its Maker might have it all at once and all forever.  When we get away from Time, it may be to pervade a cycle instead of to inherit a point.

    But even while we have it we can think that succeeding points might yet be dealt out to us, though their measure by astral changes had long been over, and there was no day to dawn any more, nor a moaning tide to throb in the wake of the moon.

    As regards poetry, I think I like an epigrammatic style best.  I like Pope's poetry.  If I had ever taken to the art, I should have written as he did, only, of course, a good deal better.

    As regards wit, one man can hardly understand it all, — humour, drollery, sarcasm, irony, and mere fun.

    And each people has its own kind of each kind.  The English, Irish, Americans, Scotch, play with life, work, sorrow, language, and one another in fashions diverse and complete.  Yet they have certain habits in common.  It is an ordinary thing with them all, for instance, to stand on their heads, and so looking on the world, make believe that it is wrong end upward.

    And if you trust any of them to dress up a potentate for a show, he will generally manage to put on the grandest robe wrong side out, and then follow with sly simpleness, to enjoy the Magnate's strut.

    There are certain things of which we say "It's the way of the world," when we really mean "It's the way of the wits."

    They behave badly to us, but what could we do without them, or indeed what can we do with them?

    If we grow rich and great they are very apt to insist on keeping house for us, to set broomsticks at the door for sentinels, wear our best wigs in the wash-house, and accommodate our coronets in the coal-scuttle; but when we grow poor, either as persons or as nations, they are kind, and, though they still towzle our metaphors and tangle our language, there is no malice for us in their laughter any more.

    Of all wit and humour written in English we remember that of the Scotchman longest, and laugh at it least.  He has most wisdom and most malice.

    The Irishman's is the most perfect, and the best shaded with pathos.  This is what makes it so convincing; but it is least recorded, for it belongs in general to the nature of repartee, and needs, for setting, the occasion that called it forth.

    The American's is most various, and he is always unexpected.  He takes the victim into his confidence, and with suave audacity gets the better of him over and over again.  He is good at contrast, but his forte is the impossible.

    As for the Englishman, with him we have laughed most.  In sheer wit he stands behind, in humour before.  The greatest humorists that have written in English have all been of English birth.

    But I am prosy.

    I like all sorts of wit except puns. I am quite above puns. It is well known that they are considered the least admirable of all jokes. It is said that they torture words and ill use the language. If there is one villainy that makes my blood boil more than another, it is to hear of things being ill used that cannot defend themselves.  How shameful it is, for instance, to whip cream or to bang Banagher!  What has Banagher ever done to us that we cannot let it alone?  Its howls to a sensitive mind are most distressing.  Not that I have heard them.

    Many people are fond of Attic Salt.  For my part I like my jokes fresh.  Others, again, are all for pith.  I do not much care for it either in my fruit or my fun.  Then there is dryness.  Many jokes are as dry as a stick, — indeed, as dry as fifty sticks; but the humour of this kind is often merely in the mind of the observer.  It is easy enough to prove this.  As thus: a Highland laird being strangely enough out of whiskey on rent-day, handed his tenant a glass of claret and asked gravely, "Div ye like your wine dry, my good friend?" —"Na, laird," she answered, "aye tak' all my drink wat."

    He should not have been without whiskey on rent-day, but there was no humour in this answer.  If you laugh it is entirely your own lookout; certainly it is not to please me.  However, if I invented the anecdote, it signifies less what you do.

    It is a pleasure of a peculiar kind to invent.  When I was a little boy I wrote a story in a copy book, and invented for my hero a diamond as big as my fist.  Finding that quite easy, and feeling that I might as well be liberal while I was about it, I next invented for him a lot of dolphins who were to live in his castle moat.  I had given him the castle on his birthday.  When he looked out the next morning "those faithful animals sang the following song," — I spare you the song, but there's invention for you.

    The necklaces with which I loaded his sister were superb.  To the liberal and inventive mind what are a few bucketfuls of diamonds more or less?

    It is singular how much a Scotch dialect gives point to a canny speech.  English provincial dialects do not.  A respectable woman, who was the wife of a very small farmer in the West of England, said to me lately of the aforesaid farmer: "My master be so mean, he be, that he d' grudge the very rooks their worrms.  'A be well rid o' the worms, 't is trees,' he says, says he, 'but the noisy thriftless varlets doo'n't knowthat; an't hurts my feelings to think they'd pick 'em out full as keen, they would, if they stood me in twopence a quart,' he says, says he."  If that was put into a good racy Scotch dialect it might almost provoke a smile.

    But I have not time for more of this trifling.  Let me proceed to what is important and necessary, — to worms of nobler breed.

    I said this, of course, to myself.

    When I discourse with myself, as we all so frequently do, I consider it natural and interesting to let the remarks take the form of dialogue.

    But as we should cultivate good manners toward every one, I always make Myself treat Me with proper respect.  In fact he often says Sir.

    I call him Jack.

    I occasionally give a slight provincial accent to the rejoinder made by Myself, but I never let him leave out the h; there I draw the line.  I always keep the upper hand of Myself.

    [To the reader.]  You will find the person who speaks indicated; this will make it more easy for you.

    I proceeded to the loft where my silk-worms are feeding and chose twenty of the finest, which I placed in a delicate open basket on some leaves of the mulberry.

    When I had arranged them I observed to myself that I must take an umbrella to shade them from the sun, carry them to my estate, and settle them on my mulberry trees.  "After which, Jack," I continued, "we shall have to go and see how the young ailanthus trees are getting on.  It is troublesome, no doubt, to have to walk half a mile out of the way in order to reach the brook while avoiding the village, and it is still more troublesome, having filled a watering pot, to carry it to the trees and find that it does not contain enough water for them all and that therefore it must be filled again; but this duty must be performed (till the reader is ready to take it off our hands), or we shall certainly lose some of them this hot dry weather."

    Myself.     You are quite right, sir; you always are.

    I.    For the ailanthus is not an indigenous tree.  And there are those which I have surreptitiously stuck in here and there in other people's hedges and woods.  They must be looked after, or they will die and imperil the scheme.  Considering how much we expect of the reader, it is but fair that we should do our part thoroughly.

    Myself.    Don't you think this is rather abrupt, sir?  I would keep the ailanthus in the background if I were you, lest he should be alarmed.

    I.    You must remember, Jack, that this is no ordinary reader.

    Myself.    Certainly not!  I remarked his courtesy and interest at once; but I thought he might kick over the traces if you demanded much of him on such a short acquaintance.

    I.    It is true that I thought at this moment I heard him exclaim with energy, "What is the fool of a fellow driving at now?" but I regard this as flattering.  It shows that his attention is arrested.

    Myself.    And I can distinctly hear him asking already what the ailanthus is.

    I.    Then mind you answer with deference!  Begin "courteous reader," and bear in mind that he will have a good deal of trouble, in all human probability, — trouble as fruitless as it will be vexatious, — before he has done with us.

    Myself.    Courteous reader, the ailanthus is a tree resembling an ash in growth and leaf, but its leaves are vastly larger; they surpass those of the common staghorn in size.  It is a native of Japan, and grows wild in the northern island.  It is already acclimatized here, may be seen growing in the gardens at Kew, and might be cultivated very well in any part of the South of England, probably of Ireland.  It is the natural food of a certain species of wild silk-worm.  It is therefore probable that wherever the tree will grow the worm will thrive.

    I.    Enough.

    The conversation thereupon terminated, and at that moment my friend F. met me, rod in hand.

    "What are you after now?" he inquired.

    I had a large watering pot on one arm, and was holding up an umbrella with which I shaded my basket of silk-worms.  "Why, at this moment," I answered, "I am wondering how I am to get over the brook."

    "Jump it," he replied.  "You are not a fat old fellow like myself, but long and lean.  Put your spectacles in your pocket and jump it, Jack!"

    This said brook is a capital trout stream; for a certain distance it goes through my friend F.'s land, and he spends a good deal of time fishing up and down it.

    "That would be all very well," I replied, "if I had only my own legs to consider; but look here, I should jerk all these out into the water," and I showed him the sleek cream-coloured worms.

    "The wretches!" he exclaimed, "I can almost hear them chew.  How they are walking into the leaves!"

    I threw over the watering pot, left my basket with my friend F., and jumped across.  He then handed me the property over on his fishing rod, calling after me: "I know well enough why you will not go through the village!  It's a half holiday, and the children run after you calling out, "There goes the catch 'em alive O."'

    I answered blandly that he was right.  I am almost always right myself, and other men by comparison are so but seldom.  When this is the case I take pleasure — the more pleasure — in acknowledging it.

    But now I will have my revenge, a kindly revenge of course.

    He is a very good fellow, stout and rather irascible.  One day he ran panting up to the stream, which is much too wide for him to jump, and cried out to a youth on the other side: "Hi! Hi! If you fish in this stream you'll catch it!"

    "You mean catch them, don't you?" said the youth, eying him blandly.  "You should learn to speak correctly, dear Sir Unknown.  Yes, no doubt I shall catch them; it's what I came for.  I have caught five already."  With that he shouldered his wallet and strolled away whistling.

    On that occasion F. put himself into a passion and shouted after the lad that he only wished he could get at him.  I am glad he could not; it might have been unpleasant for the lad, — and perhaps for him too.

    I must admit that he is rather an irascible fellow, which is a pity, but he is very open-handed both with money and advice.

    And now, as I have already reached the gate which leads to my estate, I feel called upon to make a few observations.

    There is nothing so dear as dirt.  I bought an acre and three perches of it lately, so I ought to know.  The proverb, "As cheap as dirt," is no doubt a specimen of that playful contradictiousness in which our forefathers loved to indulge.

    "Stick to the land," some people say, "and the land will stick to you."  This acre and these three perches constitute my estate, and I may say it is the stickiest estate a man ever owned.

    I used at one time to be afraid I should bring the whole of it away and bestow it on my neighbours, so much of it stuck to my boots when I went to visit it; but a layer of clay, as I find, is thick.  I have not nearly carried it all off yet; and I cannot but feel sure that when it is gone there will prove to be something under it, though far be it from me to dogmatize as to what that something may be.

    Partly that I might not waste my substance (otherwise my dirt), I had it planted after it had been lying fallow for a year.  I thought the crop would, as it were, thatch it.  I can now walk upon it much more economically; for though the crop, as it seems to me, will hardly be worth gathering in, it keeps the clay down, and I don't want to be always giving it away.

    If one invests in dirt, one naturally looks out to get the dirtiest sort; for one is a landowner just the same, and taxes have to be paid for mere gravel, though that sort will not stick to its owner at all.

    Thus you see the crop, if of no other value, will prevent waste.  At this moment, as I approached the mulberry trees, walking over it, I congratulated myself on the fact.

    I never could take any pleasure in waste.  Now there was the Doge of Venice.  That dropping of a ring into the sea was very wasteful, and is therefore painful to an economic mind.

    If I had been a Doge, before performing the ceremony I would have had an old punt, or what not, sunk in the exact place and marked by a buoy.  Then, when my people had moored me right over it, I should have squinted over the gunwale to see what I was about, and then dropped the ring with the utmost apparent recklessness.  As soon as the grand ceremony was over, some of my people would have fished it up again out of the punt, and thus a valuable jewel would have been saved to the republic.

    But that must have been a queer wedding, the bride was so old.

    Let us return to the mulberry trees, for now I must confide to my reader — my courteous, intelligent, and truly uncommon reader — why it was that I bought the estate in question.

    It was because at its southern end, somewhat elevated on a grassy bank, grew three moderately old and flourishing mulberry trees.

    To these trees, (taking due care to handle them with a cool hand and with the utmost lightness of touch,) I now transferred my twenty silk-worms, finding it much more trouble than I should have done with a wild caterpillar to make them take notice of the growing leaf, and then take hold on it.

    You must know, courteous reader, that the common silk-worm of commerce has been so long accustomed to the presence and the tendance of man that it has become not only tame — that is, fearless of and indifferent to his presence — but also very helpless and tender.  The silkworm, as we at present know it, shows hardly any activity, no intelligence, and a carelessness about its own life and health very aggravating to man, who takes so much pains about them.

    If you placed a few caterpillars of the cabbage butterfly or the common peacock butterfly in a loft with some leaves to eat, they would apply themselves to business, and when they had finished the leaves they would speed all over the place in search of more.  If the sun poured down on them they would walk into the shade.

    Treat a silk-worm in the same way and, when he has devoured his leaves, you will find him sitting up with his head in the air, not stirring from his place, but inanely cursing you in his mind; for so I interpret the attitude.  If the sun blazes down on him he makes no remark, but departs this life, and never troubles himself to consider that a second and even a third state of life is expected of him, of which it is mean to defraud his benefactor.

    Now I desire to see the silk-worm more independent.  I don't care to know that he is not afraid of the enormous eyes of man, those eyes which inferior creatures ought to fear.  He is a singularly selfish worm, and manifestly eats my leaves entirely to please himself and without the least thought of my advantage.  I wish to teach him to take the responsibilities of life on himself, for I think this would make him more hardy; and to this end, during the few fine weeks of the English summer, I carry some healthy worms to my trees, pay a little urchin to keep off birds, and leave them to find out that they must take care of their own interests.  It is to be the same as with other colonists; they are to have everything they want and I am to protect them besides.

    The year before last a thunder-storm foiled me.  The worms were such fools that they would not leave off feeding to shelter themselves, and it is well known that the glare of lightning on their bodies often causes their death.

    Last year I tried again, and again beheld myself foiled, for search as I would, after what is called their last "sleep" not one of the worms could be found, and yet two or three must needs not only have lived to spin their cocoons but they must have come forth, when I was not looking, and have laid their eggs ; and some of those eggs must have survived the winter, for this spring there being a very warm week, as there always is in the month of May, I chanced to be looking at my trees, — and behold, there were some little black infants crawling on the leafless budless boughs.

    Metaphorically, I tore my hair.  There were no lettuce leaves that I could procure for them within four miles.  A cold night came on, with drenching rain.  The next morning early I returned to the tree; not a worm remained.

    They would not wait for the lettuce; perhaps they could not.

    Some had been drowned.  The birds had disposed of others.  I had succeeded with my experiment, and yet for want of more vigilance it had, notwithstanding, failed.


 
CHAPTER III.


IF one cannot have success, the next most agreeable thing is failure.  Yes, that is my decided opinion; and if the matter is properly set before you (whoever you may be), you will find that it is your opinion also.

    For the next best thing in this world to being able to get what one naturally and inevitably wishes for, is the being able to have a good try for it.  The truly unpleasant events are those which are past trying for.  Where there can be striving there can be hoping.  If that ends in failure one can sit down and rest and say, "Well, at least I have done all I could."  As for me, I generally fail; and I say, on looking back, "At least I have had the trying."

    You should endeavour to get that notion well into your head, — that is, if you are English. (If you are American and live in New England I will tackle you afterward.)  Well, as I was saying, you should endeavour to get that notion well into your head; because, as regards the particular experiments I am now making and failing with, I can only say that if you think they are nothing to you, you never were more mistaken in your life!

    There is a certain thing that I want you to do.  You will either do it, or we shall fall out —we shall fight.  Which will win remains to be proved.  Let me tell you a little story bearing on that point.

    Once upon a time the moon heard say that the earth had fatter plains and richer hills, and was far more beautiful than herself.  She thought she should like to get her.  Accordingly one fine night, when she was at the full, she cast down two exceedingly large anchors, and, when the earth was fast to them, tried with all her might to drag her up; and she couldn't!  Now what do you think was the reason of that?  Do you think it was because the earth is much the biggest and weightiest of the two?

    I shouldn't wonder.

    You and I are at the present moment made fast to one another.  Now consider, in your own mind, which of us is most like the earth, and which most like the moon; and if you decide the matter as I have done already, you may not merely spare yourself the trouble of trying to draw me, but also the notion that you can get away from me.  You must be obedient to my drawing.  What do I hear you say? that you never met with such a ridiculous fellow in your life?

    You may depend on it that when people make themselves ridiculous on your account they always expect something of you in return.  Now what are you tugging for?  Do I hear you say that you cannot think what I mean; and that, even if you could, the thing is not worth a serious thought; also that, if it was, other fellows ought to try it and not you?

    IT, yes indeed, it.  So you do know what I am driving at then!

    Here I wish to make an elementary remark or two to both of you, English and American.  You are aware, dear sirs, that our race, —and I will be so kind as to include even those who are not Anglo-Saxon, — the race of man, I will say, mainly requires for its material welfare three things, shelter, food, and clothing.

    Now shelter, once provided, lasts a good while, but food has an aggravating knack of constantly needing renewal; and as to clothing, even the wealthiest of us are frequently heard to say that they have "nothing to wear."

    But clothing has one fine quality over food; we might have almost as much more of it as we chose, and at vastly less cost.  Men must rear our wheat and tend our cattle, and they must be paid for it; but children might feed the worms that would spin us silk gowns and vests out of their own bowels, — the said worms costing nothing for their food, and the said children's time being valueless also.

    Therefore all this talk of yours will not go down with me.  You know as well as I do that, as you are Squire hereabouts, I want you to plant the Ailanthus glandulosa in that sheltered spot at the back of your shrubbery.  As you are the vicar of this parish, I want you to set it in that hedge which divides your vicarage garden from the lane, or on that waste patch at the back of your cucumber frame, or, in short, anywhere else that you think would suit it.

    What a fool you are!

    So I am; and yet perhaps I may be wiser than — Eh?  What do I hear you say, — that you are very charitable to the poor?

    But we have no business to suffer so many poor.

    You visit at the hospital and at the poorhouse?

    My gentle reader, —for I perceive that one of you is of the gentler sex, and a charming specimen of it too, — we ought not to want any poorhouses.

    I am profane, am I; "The poor shall never cease out of the land."

    Never! but the poor ought not to be more than one to fifty, instead of which they are fifty to one.

    The common silk-worm will not eat the leaves of the Ailanthus glandulosa?

    Certainly not; that is why I have no patience with the common silk-worm.  He has every fault that a worm can have, excepting that he is so abominably industrious.  He is subject to early hatching before any of his leaves are out, to fatal panics when it thunders and lightens, to a watery spot that makes an end of him if he is too hot, to a wizening and a withering of himself if it is too cold, and to several other diseases supposed to be the effect of over civilization combined with want of intelligence.

    Then what am I aiming to do?  To make him an uncommon silk-worse, — to develop his intelligence, to modify his habits?

    I should very much like so to do, — just as my old doe rabbit would no doubt like, if she could, to develop herself into a hare; but though she has one game leg already, I do not believe, whatever Darwin may say, that she will ever manage it, "and I hope that's grammar;" as my friend the tinker said, when he had declared to the village choir-master how it stood to reason that if there was such a thing as a G-sharp there must be such a thing as an H-sharp too.  "And that's your opinion, ain't it, my pretty Jane?" he shouted to his better half who was a little deaf.  She smiled and nodded.

    I have a reasonable mind, and have long been convinced that you cannot take from a man anything that he hasn't got.  (This remark applies equally to a woman, or to a worm.)

    How could he get her opinion?  She had none.

    She was stalwart, and had fists like a navvy.  He called her pretty, using the word doubtless in a metaphorical sense, as in fact it is well accustomed to be used, — by a Londoner, for instance, when he says "Here's a pretty go," or by a gypsy when he calls a policeman "the pretty hangman."

    No, my gentle reader, "I wish you all joy of the worm" if you care to undertake his education.  But indeed "there is no goodness in the worm," I want to give him up for a better.

    You never heard of any other silk-worn, either better or worse?

    That is a pity; your education has been neglected.  There are several sorts of wild silkworms in your own country, their only defect being that the quantity of silk they spin is so small that it is not worth collecting.  The caterpillar of the oak-eggar moth is one of these; those of the emperor and the night-peacock moths are others.

    Many moths spin a little silk, but some make their cocoons valueless by twisting in morsels of leaf or bark.  The burnet moth spins silk of peculiarly strong fibre, but she sticks it together with a kind of gum which makes it impossible to wind.

    But there is a wild worm which feeds on the Californian lilac tree, and also on a native oak in that clear and sunny clime; and in the Northern Island of Japan, in a climate more cold, more wet, and altogether more rigorous than ours, lives an obliging, hardy, industrious, prolific silk-worm which gets its living and spins its cocoon among the leaves of the Ailanthus glandulosa.

    I should like to take to my heroics here.  I know how; but you must take that for granted.

    "The country is much bigger than London."  I quote from an essay written by a little street Arab at a board school.  "There are no streets in it.  The water is not laid on, and there ain't any modern conveniences of omnibuses and such; but plums and cabbages grow there, and potatoes."  So could the Ailanthus glandulosa, if you would plant it.

    Where are you to get the Ailanthus glandulosa?

    You can buy it at a good nursery garden at about eighteen shillings a dozen.  It is like the nightingale in one respect, that it does not flourish north of the Trent.

    You have a nice garden; it is situated south of the Trent.  There is no squire in your parish.  You are a great comfort to the parson.  You act, so far as you can, as Lady Bountiful.  You give a good deal of your time to the parish (in fact you make an occupation of it) and you know how to spend a small sum to the best advantage.  Every Monday you visit the schools.  Every Wednesday you go and see the poor in their houses.  On Saturday you stay at home in the morning and receive the pence of the poor which they pay into the shoe club.

    Of your own proper bounty you add one penny in the shilling to their savings.  Oh how precious is the penny, shilling and of how small value their time!  Some of them walk a mile fifty-two times for fifty-two pence.  (Of course, when you are away your maid collects the pence.)

    Now I should like to ask you a question, such a simple one that even our cat could answer it if she had the least turn for metaphysics.  It is this: Which would be worst off if your ministrations should cease, — the parish, or you?

    I cannot tell what you think.  I think you would.  The material good, the pence, the doles of tea, the little gifts of flannel, of coals, of medicine, are spread over so many households that none would lose much; but your loss would be a moral one, — you want the parish.  You think all this helps you heavenward, my fair friend.  By means of poor bodies you look to improve your own soul and satisfy your conscience.

    Self-denial is no doubt good; but then one naturally looks to choose one's own sort.

    Now if you were to encourage cottage industries with all your might, if you were to grow quantities of that "tree of heaven," the ailanthus, and if you were to have that empty loft over your stable cleaned out, and, while the young trees were growing, if you were to teach the village children to watch, feed, and tend the common silk-worm, and to make their parents believe in the virtues of a worm to be introduced to them so soon as there were leaves enough to feed it, you would perhaps be doing a good action, a real one.

    You would be almost sure at first to fail; and only think how improving that would be for you, it would make you feel so beautifully humble.

    All your friends, gentle and simple, would laugh at you if you did fail; but on the other hand you might be happy enough to set on foot a cottage industry, and cottage industries are what in England we have lost of late, to the deep disadvantage of our people.  The spinning-wheel has disappeared from the poor man's house.  Our poor women no longer knit stockings longer the loom has taken that industry from them.  Much straw for bonnets is plaited now by machinery.  Manufacturers gather people together and make them work away from their homes.  Let us have industries for them at home, and especially for their children.

    We must begin with the children.  I wish to speak with all respect of the English cottage dame.  She is virtuous, frugal and industrious, she will work hard, but she hates what she calls nattling."  She hates delicate small attentions to rule, — careful handling of creatures that she despises.  She does not like to exercise her intelligence on daily and not difficult cares.  She will stand at the washtub all the morning; but if you asked her to feed a trayful of silk-worms five times a day, and to keep the loft or lean-to, where they dwelt, shaded from sun as the sun came round, and shut up from rain if the rain came round, she would probably tell you that she did not like such nattling work.  She would rather do a day's cleaning at the farm, or even gather peas for farmer Hodge in the field.  In this respect she contrasts unfavourably with the Frenchwoman.

    It is the children that we must look to.

    Children are the greatest plagues in life.  It is only the best and cleverest of us that can get the better of them, for they are cunning and not to be deceived; and yet, as all the future is theirs, it is well worth while to lay one's self out to please and influence them, for it is a singular fact that many a man who, but for his children, might have every comfort, is fond of them to such a degree that he actually glories in denying himself for their sake.

    And even I, who have none, would always rather do them a kindness than not, when it comes in my way.  It is of no use arguing on this subject.  That most people are fond of children is an ultimate fact, and there we must leave it.

    But if you cannot govern children you can go about with them.  I often get a rise out of them so.  Only two or three weeks ago, there being a convenient loft over a certain stable belonging to my friend F., I took it from him; I do not mean by violence, but in a proper manner.

    I let him know that I wanted to bring a dozen noisy, playful, troublesome, village children constantly about his yard.  I said they would set paper boats afloat on his pump trough, tease his dogs, come furtively round and peep in at his windows at all times; that they would make friends with his puppies, and decoy them out to play with them in the road; that they would litter his place with leaves, etc.

    If I had tried to persuade him that I was to do him a benefit by introducing the little urchins, I might have found some difficulty, because he would have argued with me.  As it was, he gave way like a lamb.

    He agreed with me that if we want to do some fine thing for those we live among, now is our time to give and theirs to receive.

    Their admired patience is not a quality warranted to keep, and for us there is no potting and preserving of opportunity.  Like a jargonelle pear, it must be waited for and enjoyed that hour when it is ripe.  Opportunity once let slip can no more be caught than you can catch a flying dream when some one wakes you, and cram it under the pillow to pull it out and go on with it when you settle to sleep again.

    But, as I have said, my friend F. lent me the loft, and I gave out that I had some wonderful caterpillars which wanted feeding with great care, —that I would give a halfpenny a day to a certain number of children for feeding them and that they must do this in gloves of my providing, for that the food required was the leaf of the stinging nettle.

    I see no good in deceiving you, my reader, or I would do it with pleasure.  The caterpillar was that of the common nettle-tortoise-shell butterfly.

    I selected forty of the caterpillars, and met the children with the leaves in F.'s loft.  I explained that they must use care and nicety in the feeding.  Thinking the creatures were rare, and supposing that they had cost money, they declared they would.  It soon went about in the village as a fact that the gentlemen of the British Museum "were out" of that sort of thing, and that I had got the eggs from foreign parts, and was to have good money for the butterflies.

    Things went on well for some days, when, as I sat at breakfast one morning, cracking the modest egg, I saw the whole troop running up the garden helter-skelter, and a Malay lad whom I employ — my "Native" they call him — peeping at them through the glass door which he had already shut against them.  But they were urgent; they shouted, they knocked, and then they turned and ran round to my open window, and without more ado burst in out of breath, and some of them sobbing.

    "What's the matter?" I exclaimed.

    The foremost, a girl nine years old, burst into tears.  "I was very kind to mine," she sobbed.

    Then followed the chorus "They've done for themselves, they have."

    "It isn't our fault."

    "I did nothin' unkind to mine, but pricked my fingers ever so for 'em, — and Fanny, she knows it's true!"

    "Oh, sir!"

    "Well, now, what is it?  Don't all talk at once!"

    "Let Dick tell it then; he saw it first, he did."

    Dick, thus thrust into notice, opened his round eyes and rubbed his flaxen curls aside.

    "You won't never believe it," he began, and chuckled.  "He raised himself and swelled and then he bursted his back right up, his own self; and I saw him get himself out of himself, and creep right away.  And he's soft, and he's weak, and we think he's done for."

    Chorus again.

    "That's it!"

    So did mine!

    "Mine's trying it on.  He means to do it soon."

    "And mine has left his old eyes behind him; and please, sir, it 's not our fault, — and will you come and look at 'em?"

    There was a pot of strawberry jam on that breakfast table, also a loaf of bread.  I cut slices from the loaf, daubed them with the sweet stuff, and handed them round myself; for my Native was looking at the village children with supreme contempt, as if the lowest English child — but I had better not pursue that theme.

    I preceded them to the loft, and there let them know that I was by no means surprised at what had taken place.  I took occasion to explain what wonderful creatures these were; and further to impress them I used certain mongrel Latin and Greek names freely till, observing that the assembly looked scandalized, I was obliged to explain that I was not swearing.

    After this, doling out the stipulated halfpence I dismissed the company.  Attention was now excited to these remarkable "worms."  Various village fathers and mothers mounted the loft and gazed at the "critters " that evening.

    But mark what happened next!  It shows what children are, — not children such as my Malay boy once was, but English children.

    Some evenings after, I met Dick in the lane, and he confronted me with a certain steadiness.  "Well, Dick," said I, "how are the worms?  They always called them the worms.

    "Dunno," said Dick.

    He was untying the corner of a blue pocket handkerchief.

    "I've brought yesterday's money back," he said rather sulkily, and counted a lot of halfpence into my hand.

    "What for?" quoth I.

    "The worms are no good.  There's lots like 'em in the lane."

    "What then?"

    "We won't wait on 'em any longer.  We've chucked 'em away."


 
CHAPTER IV.


AND SHE (for something more must really be said about her), SHE having received the foregoing chapters, tied with a piece of string, by the hands of my Malay boy, — she met me the next morning in her grandmother's garden, as I was about to pay my respects to that venerable personage (greeting her by the name of Aunt, which relation she, in point of fact, bears toward me) — she met me, stopped short, burst into a laugh, and exclaimed, "O Jack, what a goose you are!"

    "I am at a loss, madam," I replied, "as to what may be the meaning of your language.  I perceive no pertinency in it when addressed to myself."

    Thereupon she laughed again, and sat down on a little green bench under the ailanthus trees which I had planted some years previously.  "I do not mean to say that your manuscript is not droll," she observed.  "Grandmother laughed a good deal when I read it to her; but who could have supposed that you would write such a thing as that?"

    "Katharina," I answered, "when a man, yielding to an original inward and irresistible impulse, takes pen in hand and, unknown to any one, pours forth his soul in song, or in the other thing (for the kind of composition makes no difference), and when, with the natural shyness of genius, which ever longs not only for expression but for sympathy, he confides the manuscript to one whom he has always regarded as a woman and a first cousin once removed, and she takes to laughing at him, it hits him rather hard, and I regret to say that if he is of tender age it is likely to shake his faith in human nature."

    "But he isn't," was her somewhat inconsequent answer; and then she added: "I wish you would not make me laugh.  It gives me a stitch in my side.  Just as if any one could possibly take an interest in the ailanthus tree.  I wanted you to write a book that could be published and that people would read."

    I answered in a threatening tone: "I shall expect people to read my work, and if they won't, to know the reason why.  And I shall certainly publish it when I have finished it."

    "O no, you will not," she replied.  "I know better than that!"

    "Madam!" I exclaimed.

    "You wrote it to punish me for having teased you when we were at Windsor, and to make grandmother laugh; but you will not publish it, because you go out of your way to make yourself appear perfectly ridiculous in it.  You could not possibly publish such —"

    "Such what?"

    "Well, such nonsense."

    I replied in a tone of mild reproof: "I have frequently, from time to time, borne testimony to your agreeable qualities; in fact I may confess, Katharina, that your presence has for many years been to me as a large pat of butter spread upon the dry bread of life; but I believe I must add now that since the day when you made me an offer of marriage you have never astonished me so much."

    She was gathering some bushy flowers, for she had risen from her seat and we were proceeding to the house; but when I spoke she made as if she would blush, and looked quite out of countenance.

    "I really think you might let that old story rest," she faltered; and she took on the air of blushing again.

    "Why should I let such a good story rest," was my rejoinder, "specially when this is your birthday, which must needs recall the occasion?"

    Thereupon I wished her many happy returns of the day, and she thanked me and said, "Only think of my being six and twenty."

    "Six and twenty is a very interesting age," I replied, "and so, for a man, is six and thirty."  I am exactly ten years her senior.  "And what there is, in the familiar fact of your having made me an offer, to cause this confusion," I continued, "can only be known to yourself; for though I promptly declined it, I have certainly liked you better ever since you did it."

    She laughed.  "There is nothing in the circumstance to make me blush," she answered, "nothing at all, as you very well know."

    "Then why did you do it?"

    "I think because your ridiculous talk about publishing made me feel as if we were not alone — as if, almost, you had already done it and everybody was laughing at me.  How completely people are at one another's mercy, Jack.  How much we are in one another's power."

    "That is a great discovery to come of a small occasion."

    "I appeared to see myself in print as I am shown in that manuscript, — seated on a very small donkey, and vainly trying to make him go."

    "Having your old green gown on.  Yes, and so in print you will appear.  Well, it cannot be helped; you will bear it well.  You have always been conspicuous for wisdom."  This fiction has been kept up between us since the day when she remarked to me, in her childhood, that unless all my teeth were wisdom teeth she could not think how I came to be so wise.  Could any thing be done to her, she inquired, to make hers grow equally wise?  I replied that I considered her a wise child already.

    "He says he really means to publish that manuscript," she exclaimed, as she and I entered the small morning-room, where sat a small gentlewoman with small twinkling eyes and an air of sharpness and critical intelligence.

    "I am glad to see you, aunt," said the author of this book.

    "Yes," she replied, "I don't doubt it; you like to see me because you know you do your duty by me, and that I think so."

    The tone was sharp, though the words were kind.

    She suffers greatly from dyspepsia, and it is good for her digestion to be made to laugh; so I always make her laugh when I come to see her, and when away I frequently send her a joke by telegram, which attention she likes.

    "Well," she continued, "now I have had the trouble of listening to all that nonsense of yours, I may as well hear the rest of it."

    "No, indeed; let us rather talk of something more improving."

    "Improving!" she replied.  "I never would have believed that you would have written thirty pages of foolscap on purpose to show an old woman and a young one what a lot of nonsense there was in you.  But have those children really thrown out the caterpillars?

    "Really."

    "And there was my dear Milly so thankful for the few halfpence they earned.  Four children of hers in your plot; and, by what I heard, it paid their schooling.  My heart aches for her, poor dear!"

    Milly was a favourite maid of hers who had some years previously married in the village.

    "I do not doubt it, aunt.  I know your heart is as tender as the undercut of a prime sirloin of beef.  But there is no schooling to pay for this week, on account of Whitsuntide; and passing by the school I found it as quiet as an extinct volcano."

    "Dick might have known better; however, he is but young."

    "Yes, he is young.  Boys generally are young; it is a way they have."

    "Well, tell us the rest of it."

    "I perceived a certain nobleness in the action of these children.  They discovered that they had been tricked, and that the work for which they were paid was of no use to me whatever.  Their youthful dignity was hurt.  They were indignant.  Indignation is a quality that I admire.  I stopped and talked to Dick, told him that he and his friends had indeed been tricked, but that all children always were tricked for their own advantage, and that in course of time, he, too should trick his.  That seemed to comfort him.  I took him indoors and showed him a picture alphabet, letting him observe how the letters were made striking and amusing to the child by the illustrations.  Before he had forgiven me he had foreseen the joy he should have in tricking an unborn generation.  I asked him whether, without any trouble to himself, he had not learned a great deal about worms from being tricked into feeding them.  He said he had.  I said he was now wise enough to be trusted to feed silk-worms, — worms of merit, whose silk was worth money; but that if he undertook them he must do it for nothing.  He replied with fervour that he would.  So I tricked him again by remarking, with that simplicity which distinguishes me, that he was never to take more than five — mark that! — more than five of the other boys and girls up into the loft to look at them at the same time.  By this restraint I have awakened their curiosity.  The loft has constantly five children in it, and I have given out that next year they shall all have as many worms as they can feed."

    "It will not answer," said my aunt.  "The silk-worm cannot be profitably reared in this country, as has been abundantly proved."

    "No, it will not answer till we can get the ailanthus tree forward enough to make it worth while to import the wild Japanese worm.  But," I continued, observing a weary expression spreading over her face, "I must not forget that you consider this a tiresome subject.  You do not care about worms 'in the abstract,' as you lucidly explained to me the other day, any more than you consider how piteous it was that Iphigenia should have been sacrificed, or than you trouble yourself as to how much Ajax may have been ashamed."

    "No," said my aunt, rather complacently than otherwise, "I have no patience with the classics, or with your theories either."

    Then Katharina said, "Jack, when you were writing those chapters, did you intend to describe yourself, or some other man?"

    I exclaimed with natural astonishment: "I wrote what I felt; therefore, to the intelligent reader, those chapters must contain a vivid, though it may be a partly unconscious, portrait of myself."

    "Well, I said you meant it for yourself; but you do not appear much like that to me."

    There was something dispassionate enough in her tone to take the edge off my desire to contradict her.

    "Nor to me," observed her grandmother.  "You are not half such an oddity as you make out.  However, none of us know what we look like to other people."

    "That is true," I retorted; "and I had no thought of portraying myself at all, much less of making an exhaustive portrait.  I have never so much as mentioned, for instance, that I am lame, that I limp."

    "If you tell that to the indulgent reader, whom you pretend you are going to have, you had better tell him also how you came to limp," said Katharina, "or he may not find out how becoming the limp is to you."

    Man is an animal who loves flattery almost more than he loves a pipe.  I thought her voice was rather sweet, and was silent, — probably because I meant her to go on.

    "I could make a better portrait of you, myself!" she continued.

    "You couldn't!" exclaimed her grandmother.  "A man can draw a woman's character, but a woman can never draw a man's, — to make anything of it."

    "I could," persisted Katharina; "and I could tell that story too, but not on glossy note-paper of course.  You would have to give me two or three sheets of that nice straw-foolscap of yours, Jack."

    "Nonsense!" said her grandmother, almost sharply; and added, "what are you about now, my dear?"

    "Why, grandmother," said Katharina, who, standing on a footstool, was setting a jug of tall flowers upon a bracket, "you know you do not like to see this damp stain on the wall, so I have covered it — partly with the bracket that I put up yesterday, and partly with these bushy flowers that I've gathered."

    "Ah! you've hidden it, but the stain is there just the same."

    Katharina did not seem to care much for this critical remark.  "You'll soon forget it, grandmother," she replied, "when it is not conspicuous — only — "

    "Only what?"

    "I think the bracket's coming down."

    "I wish you were not so fond of hammer and nails; you know nothing about them.  Let Jack look at the bracket."

    "He knows nothing of hammer and nails either."

    "Let him see it."

    "O yes, granny; you always think a man's eye, because it is a man's, ought to make things feel ashamed of themselves when they are not hanging straight.  Jack, indeed!  Why should his hammering do better than mine, if I only hit hard enough?"

    "If—get the hammer, Jack, do!"

    "Yes, — where shall I find it, Katharina?"

    "In my straw work-basket, inside the sideboard," said Katharina.  "I hid it there when the Nicholsons came to tea."  She was holding up the bracket with her shapely hand.  I wish to say something complimentary of the said hand so, as it is neither abnormally white, small, nor supple, I choose the word shapely, for I know she will read this, and it commits me to nothing.

    I found the hammer eventually in one of the pigeon-holes intended for bottles of wine.  Two or three new-laid eggs and some choice garden seeds were in a second (O woman, how lawless and untidy thou art!) and there were crewels and also some Sunday-school tickets in a third.

    I returned.  Katharina was still holding up the bracket, which was inanely hanging by two or three tin tacks, — awry, of course.  I soon knocked a few pieces of plaster out, and with deafening din knocked in some large nails.  The bracket was firm.  Was it straight?  Well, we soon twisted some of the bushy green stuff about it, and if it was not then as straight as a good man's course through life my aunt did not know it; but, when the noise was over, she remarked with her natural perversity, "What a comfort it is to have a man about the place!"

    This reflection brought her to my Malay boy, whom we frequently fall out about.  She asked how he was getting on.

    I replied, "Very much to his own satisfaction."

    "And how is the mare?"

    Now the mare is a sore subject with me.  When I think of her I know I am a fool, which before I may have only suspected.  A valuable Arabian mare which I brought from the East, she is of no use at all to me, and a man of my means cannot prudently afford to keep her.  My Malay boy attends to the fair creature.  Her first feat after we got home was to jump over the high fence of her paddock, take various other fences, hedges, and brooks, and, coming across country at a cheerful canter, as one at ease in her mind, cut a few playful capers over my aunt's celery bed, then trot gently up to her drawing-room window and look in.

    I could have repudiated her with pleasure if that would have been of any use.  I hoped she would not see me; for I was there, tasting the fragrant cup and eating British bread and butter.

    She did see me, uttered a jubilant whinny, and, kicking up her heels, bounced in.

    My aunt gave a gasp and uttered one of the sharpest yells I ever heard; and I, walking the mare out with my arm round her neck, was pleased to encounter my Malay's brown face.  He had run round after her by the road and, by some wonderful instinct as it seemed, had met her face to face.  He has never shown this instinct since; but he has the credit of it, which is better, and is supposed to be honest and industrious.

    He thinks he is a Christian.  No, I mean that he says so.  He remarked to my excellent housekeeper, who really is one, "Sahib and man go church — kneel down—man like see Sahib 'bliged kneel down."

    That was some time ago.  He speaks better now.  He was first brought to Bombay by an old Indian colonel, and then taught reading, and such English as natives speak, in a mission school.  I honour most missionaries deeply; but my Malay lad knew all the wickedness of the world before they had him, and had more cunning than any European, together with the power "to lie becomingly."

    But his manners were charming.  I believe that the smoother they become, the harder grows his heart.  They say that glass is made tough by being steeped in oil.  I find a certain fearful pleasure in the study of his character.  He can be revengeful, but not indignant; he is inanely conceited, but he has no decent pride.  He has a singular liking for me, as I suppose.  He stole a watch for me once, because I had lost mine.  I am convinced that if he knew I had a grudge against any man he would, at a hint from me, fire his stack, or hough his cattle.

    I brought him over and I must keep him, for I dare not turn him loose as he is.  Absolutely without a conscience, I must try to develop one; and my excellent housekeeper tries too.  She gets him to read her a chapter every night in the New Testament; and she talks to him, which he likes.

    In the mean time he is very handy; and when I have visitors, and he helps to wait at table, he seems truly to tread on air, and is in a state of elation and conceit perfectly fatuous.  In fact he takes a delight in himself and in his clothes that no Englishman, be his honours and his merit what they may, has ever for many centuries attained to.

    This is a long digression.

    When my aunt inquired after the mare, I told her she was lame; and when after the Malay, I plucked forth a letter from my pocket and said it would give her the reason.  I received it while I was at Windsor, and here it follows.


"HONOURED AND MOST INDIGENOUS SIR:

    "Your honourable mare is find esself not well.  Then said I odds bodikins it is not to be annulled that a stranger man pen esself like a natival, yet must the honourable gentleman have the wink to him tip and circumvent my responsible, for he has been as a mother to the honourable mare and to me.

    "Sir the bad youth Deekin let butcher tie to that his cart while I gone on sleep your honourable mare to fetch coals, and she kick the cart floor out and crumple him up till he squeal and hurt esself and go limp.

    "Sir Deekin is hound, he is Satan.

    "Sir myself and the honourable mare we import to you our humble duty, I work, I do the place neat.  You will be please.  I am a treasure.  Profound Salaams.  Repeated Salaams.

Yours affec'ly,
                                      "GUM. CHOLAR. REA."


    In these letters my Malay spells his name, but as he pronounces it, the sound is like two hoarse whistles tied together with a lisp.  I can produce with my British tongue no such sound, so I call him Syce.

    After this I shortly departed, Katharina walking down the mossy lawn with me, and through the vegetable garden till we came to the brook, — the same which gives distinction to many of the gardens in this sequestered neighbourhood.  A narrow bridge leads over it to the fields beyond.  There are great lime trees in my aunt's garden.  They dwarf the long low house, and appear to encroach as if they would swallow it up.  Beyond this is a plantation of birch trees twisted and bent, in many cases almost to the moss, looking like silvery serpents all spotted and ringed, and rearing tufted heads into the sunshine.  Katharina was of opinion that I should go on with my manuscript, but not allude to the ailanthus any more.  "We should like a change," she remarked.  "Now if you would write of Woman's Rights just as you often speak of them, or of the Border Lands and all the queer things you think about them, — "

    "Queer, are they?  Then I must be queer."

    "You are, in a certain sense, because you are full of steep contradictions.  You are like a mountainous country, Jack, — where, when one has got to the top of some ridge, one finds something quite unexpected at the other side."

    "Is that the worst you can say?"

    "No, I find you inconsistent.  I cannot piece the bits of you together, and make out how the man who is a zealous church-warden should have so much mockery in him, — how a man who reads so much should take delight in the society of travelling tinkers, pack his tent and things in a donkey cart and live for weeks on the heather, steeping himself in solitude and in wild places, going after bees and hiding himself to watch finches; and then, coming home, blow on the French horn, and give a penny reading and a dinner party."

    "I am one of the products of our over civilization."

    "Are you?"

    "All that you remark on comes first from my having been born to a small competency, and secondly from my having spent several years of boyhood and early youth in such disability from pain, and restraint through illness, that I could not be brought up to any profession."

    "I know."

    "I could think; and I thought myself out of and threw away a great deal of what the generations had accumulated for me and that Heaven had bestowed.  Then I thought again and found a certain value in some things rejected, and took them back.  I had been very dull without them.  Others, I may say, were given back.  I entertained them, after their absence, with ardour, finding in my heart a healthful hunger for them, — specially for the God-given knowledge; and I do not care to whom I say it."

    "I am sure you must have been dull.  Jack, write about your Border Countries."

    "Would it not do as well if I wrote about you?"

    "No; you could not make me interesting either to myself or to grandmother."

    "Do you dare me to try?"

    "I will dare you if you wish it; but if you do I shall certainly expect to have those sheets of foolscap sent me.  And why indeed must you try your hand on me?  You know nothing about me."  Here she laughed.

    "That is indeed a new view of matters know you well enough to describe you, if I chose to do it, with an accuracy that would enable an intelligent reader to challenge you if he met you in a country lane."

    "I am glad you allow that I am intelligent, for I shall be the only reader, of course.  Where are you going now, Jack?"

    The intelligent reader, for I did not refer to Katharina, will notice a certain abruptness here.  That is because the dialogue is taken carefully down from real life.  If he will now begin to make observations on real life, which perhaps he never has done hitherto, he will find that human talk generally is abrupt.  Nothing is so rare as a set conversation, sensible and sustained, — the sort in fact that we always find in books.

    Here I must conclude this; and if one reader has had his heart cheered by it, his (or her) digestion improved, and his mind and intelligence opened to new facts in human life and thought and conduct, — the present writer will not feel that he has taken up his pen in vain. (Foreign papers please copy.)



[Chapter V.]

 


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