A BOOK WITHOUT BEGINNING.
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
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?
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
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
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back with regret on these unpublished days of comparative innocence.
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
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
"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
I LEFT Windsor
and went home. So did her grandmother, and so did
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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,
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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!"
"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."
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
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
"We won't wait on 'em any longer. We've chucked 'em
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
"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
"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 "
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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,
"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 "
"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?"
"Ifget 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 downman like see Sahib 'bliged
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
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
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.
"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.
"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."
"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
"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
"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
"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.)