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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesNovel Notes - Chapter 1
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Novel Notes - Chapter 1 Post by :Ronald Category :Long Stories Author :Jerome K Jerome Date :May 2012 Read :796

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Novel Notes - Chapter 1


When, on returning home one evening, after a pipe party at my friend Jephson's, I informed my wife that I was going to write a novel, she expressed herself as pleased with the idea. She said she had often wondered I had never thought of doing so before. "Look," she added, "how silly all the novels are nowadays; I'm sure you could write one." (Ethelbertha intended to be complimentary, I am convinced; but there is a looseness about her mode of expression which, at times, renders her meaning obscure.)

When, however, I told her that my friend Jephson was going to collaborate with me, she remarked, "Oh," in a doubtful tone; and when I further went on to explain to her that Selkirk Brown and Derrick MacShaughnassy were also going to assist, she replied, "Oh," in a tone which contained no trace of doubtfulness whatever, and from which it was clear that her interest in the matter, as a practical scheme, had entirely evaporated.

I fancy that the fact of my three collaborators being all bachelors diminished somewhat our chances of success, in Ethelbertha's mind. Against bachelors, as a class, she entertains a strong prejudice. A man's not having sense enough to want to marry, or, having that, not having wit enough to do it, argues to her thinking either weakness of intellect or natural depravity, the former rendering its victim unable, and the latter unfit, ever to become a really useful novelist.

I tried to make her understand the peculiar advantages our plan possessed.

"You see," I explained, "in the usual commonplace novel we only get, as a matter of fact, one person's ideas. Now, in this novel, there will be four clever men all working together. The public will thus be enabled to obtain the thoughts and opinions of the whole four of us, at the price usually asked for merely one author's views. If the British reader knows his own business, he will order this book early, to avoid disappointment. Such an opportunity may not occur again for years."

Ethelbertha agreed that this was probable.

"Besides," I continued, my enthusiasm waxing stronger the more I reflected upon the matter, "this work is going to be a genuine bargain in another way also. We are not going to put our mere everyday ideas into it. We are going to crowd into this one novel all the wit and wisdom that the whole four of us possess, if the book will hold it. We shall not write another novel after this one. Indeed, we shall not be able to; we shall have nothing more to write. This work will partake of the nature of an intellectual clearance sale. We are going to put into this novel simply all we know."

Ethelbertha shut her lips, and said something inside; and then remarked aloud that she supposed it would be a one volume affair.

I felt hurt at the implied sneer. I pointed out to her that there already existed a numerous body of specially-trained men employed to do nothing else but make disagreeable observations upon authors and their works--a duty that, so far as I could judge, they seemed capable of performing without any amateur assistance whatever. And I hinted that, by his own fireside, a literary man looked to breathe a more sympathetic atmosphere.

Ethelbertha replied that of course I knew what she meant. She said that she was not thinking of me, and that Jephson was, no doubt, sensible enough (Jephson is engaged), but she did not see the object of bringing half the parish into it. (Nobody suggested bringing "half the parish" into it. Ethelbertha will talk so wildly.) To suppose that Brown and MacShaughnassy could be of any use whatever, she considered absurd. What could a couple of raw bachelors know about life and human nature? As regarded MacShaughnassy in particular, she was of opinion that if we only wanted out of him all that _he knew, and could keep him to the subject, we ought to be able to get that into about a page.

My wife's present estimate of MacShaughnassy's knowledge is the result of reaction. The first time she ever saw him, she and he got on wonderfully well together; and when I returned to the drawing-room, after seeing him down to the gate, her first words were, "What a wonderful man that Mr. MacShaughnassy is. He seems to know so much about everything."

That describes MacShaughnassy exactly. He does seem to know a tremendous lot. He is possessed of more information than any man I ever came across. Occasionally, it is correct information; but, speaking broadly, it is remarkable for its marvellous unreliability. Where he gets it from is a secret that nobody has ever yet been able to fathom.

Ethelbertha was very young when we started housekeeping. (Our first butcher very nearly lost her custom, I remember, once and for ever by calling her "Missie," and giving her a message to take back to her mother. She arrived home in tears. She said that perhaps she wasn't fit to be anybody's wife, but she did not see why she should be told so by the tradespeople.) She was naturally somewhat inexperienced in domestic affairs, and, feeling this keenly, was grateful to any one who would give her useful hints and advice. When MacShaughnassy came along he seemed, in her eyes, a sort of glorified Mrs. Beeton. He knew everything wanted to be known inside a house, from the scientific method of peeling a potato to the cure of spasms in cats, and Ethelbertha would sit at his feet, figuratively speaking, and gain enough information in one evening to make the house unlivable in for a month.

He told her how fires ought to be laid. He said that the way fires were usually laid in this country was contrary to all the laws of nature, and he showed her how the thing was done in Crim Tartary, or some such place, where the science of laying fires is alone properly understood. He proved to her that an immense saving in time and labour, to say nothing of coals, could be effected by the adoption of the Crim Tartary system; and he taught it to her then and there, and she went straight downstairs and explained it to the girl.

Amenda, our then "general," was an extremely stolid young person, and, in some respects, a model servant. She never argued. She never seemed to have any notions of her own whatever. She accepted our ideas without comment, and carried them out with such pedantic precision and such evident absence of all feeling of responsibility concerning the result as to surround our home legislation with quite a military atmosphere.

On the present occasion she stood quietly by while the MacShaughnassy method of fire-laying was expounded to her. When Ethelbertha had finished she simply said:--

"You want me to lay the fires like that?"

"Yes, Amenda, we'll always have the fires laid like that in future, if you please."

"All right, mum," replied Amenda, with perfect unconcern, and there the matter ended, for that evening.

On coming downstairs the next morning we found the breakfast table spread very nicely, but there was no breakfast. We waited. Ten minutes went by--a quarter of an hour--twenty minutes. Then Ethelbertha rang the bell. In response Amenda presented herself, calm and respectful.

"Do you know that the proper time for breakfast is half-past eight, Amenda?"


"And do you know that it's now nearly nine?"


"Well, isn't breakfast ready?"

"No, mum."

"Will it _ever be ready?"

"Well, mum," replied Amenda, in a tone of genial frankness, "to tell you the truth, I don't think it ever will."

"What's the reason? Won't the fire light?"

"Oh yes, it lights all right."

"Well, then, why can't you cook the breakfast?"

"Because before you can turn yourself round it goes out again."

Amenda never volunteered statements. She answered the question put to her and then stopped dead. I called downstairs to her on one occasion, before I understood her peculiarities, to ask her if she knew the time. She replied, "Yes, sir," and disappeared into the back kitchen. At the end of thirty seconds or so, I called down again. "I asked you, Amenda," I said reproachfully, "to tell me the time about ten minutes ago."

"Oh, did you?" she called back pleasantly. "I beg your pardon. I thought you asked me if I knew it--it's half-past four."

Ethelbertha inquired--to return to our fire--if she had tried lighting it again.

"Oh yes, mum," answered the girl. "I've tried four times." Then she added cheerfully, "I'll try again if you like, mum."

Amenda was the most willing servant we ever paid wages to.

Ethelbertha said she would step down and light the fire herself, and told Amenda to follow her and watch how she did it. I felt interested in the experiment, and followed also. Ethelbertha tucked up her frock and set to work. Amenda and I stood around and looked on.

At the end of half an hour Ethelbertha retired from the contest, hot, dirty, and a trifle irritable. The fireplace retained the same cold, cynical expression with which it had greeted our entrance.

Then I tried. I honestly tried my best. I was eager and anxious to succeed. For one reason, I wanted my breakfast. For another, I wanted to be able to say that I had done this thing. It seemed to me that for any human being to light a fire, laid as that fire was laid, would be a feat to be proud of. To light a fire even under ordinary circumstances is not too easy a task: to do so, handicapped by MacShaughnassy's rules, would, I felt, be an achievement pleasant to look back upon. My idea, had I succeeded, would have been to go round the neighbourhood and brag about it.

However, I did not succeed. I lit various other things, including the kitchen carpet and the cat, who would come sniffing about, but the materials within the stove appeared to be fire-proof.

Ethelbertha and I sat down, one each side of our cheerless hearth, and looked at one another, and thought of MacShaughnassy, until Amenda chimed in on our despair with one of those practical suggestions of hers that she occasionally threw out for us to accept or not, as we chose.

"Maybe," said she, "I'd better light it in the old way just for to-day."

"Do, Amenda," said Ethelbertha, rising. And then she added, "I think we'll always have them lighted in the old way, Amenda, if you please."

Another time he showed us how to make coffee--according to the Arabian method. Arabia must be a very untidy country if they made coffee often over there. He dirtied two saucepans, three jugs, one tablecloth, one nutmeg-grater, one hearthrug, three cups, and himself. This made coffee for two--what would have been necessary in the case of a party, one dares not think.

That we did not like the coffee when made, MacShaughnassy attributed to our debased taste--the result of long indulgence in an inferior article. He drank both cups himself, and afterwards went home in a cab.

He had an aunt in those days, I remember, a mysterious old lady, who lived in some secluded retreat from where she wrought incalculable mischief upon MacShaughnassy's friends. What he did not know--the one or two things that he was _not an authority upon--this aunt of his knew. "No," he would say with engaging candour--"no, that is a thing I cannot advise you about myself. But," he would add, "I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll write to my aunt and ask her." And a day or two afterwards he would call again, bringing his aunt's advice with him; and, if you were young and inexperienced, or a natural born fool, you might possibly follow it.

She sent us a recipe on one occasion, through MacShaughnassy, for the extermination of blackbeetles. We occupied a very picturesque old house; but, as with most picturesque old houses, its advantages were chiefly external. There were many holes and cracks and crevices within its creaking framework. Frogs, who had lost their way and taken the wrong turning, would suddenly discover themselves in the middle of our dining- room, apparently quite as much to their own surprise and annoyance as to ours. A numerous company of rats and mice, remarkably fond of physical exercise, had fitted the place up as a gymnasium for themselves; and our kitchen, after ten o'clock, was turned into a blackbeetles' club. They came up through the floor and out through the walls, and gambolled there in their light-hearted, reckless way till daylight.

The rats and mice Amenda did not object to. She said she liked to watch them. But against the blackbeetles she was prejudiced. Therefore, when my wife informed her that MacShaughnassy's aunt had given us an infallible recipe for their annihilation, she rejoiced.

We purchased the materials, manufactured the mixture, and put it about. The beetles came and ate it. They seemed to like it. They finished it all up, and were evidently vexed that there was not more. But they did not die.

We told these facts to MacShaughnassy. He smiled, a very grim smile, and said in a low tone, full of meaning, "Let them eat!"

It appeared that this was one of those slow, insidious poisons. It did not kill the beetle off immediately, but it undermined his constitution. Day by day he would sink and droop without being able to tell what was the matter with himself, until one morning we should enter the kitchen to find him lying cold and very still.

So we made more stuff and laid it round each night, and the blackbeetles from all about the parish swarmed to it. Each night they came in greater quantities. They fetched up all their friends and relations. Strange beetles--beetles from other families, with no claim on us whatever--got to hear about the thing, and came in hordes, and tried to rob our blackbeetles of it. By the end of a week we had lured into our kitchen every beetle that wasn't lame for miles round.

MacShaughnassy said it was a good thing. We should clear the suburb at one swoop. The beetles had now been eating this poison steadily for ten days, and he said that the end could not be far off. I was glad to hear it, because I was beginning to find this unlimited hospitality expensive. It was a dear poison that we were giving them, and they were hearty eaters.

We went downstairs to see how they were getting on. MacShaughnassy thought they seemed queer, and was of opinion that they were breaking up. Speaking for myself, I can only say that a healthier-looking lot of beetles I never wish to see.

One, it is true, did die that very evening. He was detected in the act of trying to make off with an unfairly large portion of the poison, and three or four of the others set upon him savagely and killed him.

But he was the only one, so far as I could ever discover, to whom MacShaughnassy's recipe proved fatal. As for the others, they grew fat and sleek upon it. Some of them, indeed, began to acquire quite a figure. We lessened their numbers eventually by the help of some common oil-shop stuff. But such vast numbers, attracted by MacShaughnassy's poison, had settled in the house, that to finally exterminate them now was hopeless.

I have not heard of MacShaughnassy's aunt lately. Possibly, one of MacShaughnassy's bosom friends has found out her address and has gone down and murdered her. If so, I should like to thank him.

I tried a little while ago to cure MacShaughnassy of his fatal passion for advice-giving, by repeating to him a very sad story that was told to me by a gentleman I met in an American railway car. I was travelling from Buffalo to New York, and, during the day, it suddenly occurred to me that I might make the journey more interesting by leaving the cars at Albany and completing the distance by water. But I did not know how the boats ran, and I had no guide-book with me. I glanced about for some one to question. A mild-looking, elderly gentleman sat by the next window reading a book, the cover of which was familiar to me. I deemed him to be intelligent, and approached him.

"I beg your pardon for interrupting you," I said, sitting down opposite to him, "but could you give me any information about the boats between Albany and New York?"

"Well," he answered, looking up with a pleasant smile, "there are three lines of boats altogether. There is the Heggarty line, but they only go as far as Catskill. Then there are the Poughkeepsie boats, which go every other day. Or there is what we call the canal boat."

"Oh," I said. "Well now, which would you advise me to--"

He jumped to his feet with a cry, and stood glaring down at me with a gleam in his eyes which was positively murderous.

"You villain!" he hissed in low tones of concentrated fury, "so that's your game, is it? I'll give you something that you'll want advice about," and he whipped out a six-chambered revolver.

I felt hurt. I also felt that if the interview were prolonged I might feel even more hurt. So I left him without a word, and drifted over to the other end of the car, where I took up a position between a stout lady and the door.

I was still musing upon the incident, when, looking up, I observed my elderly friend making towards me. I rose and laid my hand upon the door- knob. He should not find me unprepared. He smiled, reassuringly, however, and held out his hand.

"I've been thinking," he said, "that maybe I was a little rude just now. I should like, if you will let me, to explain. I think, when you have heard my story, you will understand, and forgive me."

There was that about him which made me trust him. We found a quiet corner in the smoking-car. I had a "whiskey sour," and he prescribed for himself a strange thing of his own invention. Then we lighted our cigars, and he talked.

"Thirty years ago," said he, "I was a young man with a healthy belief in myself, and a desire to do good to others. I did not imagine myself a genius. I did not even consider myself exceptionally brilliant or talented. But it did seem to me, and the more I noted the doings of my fellow-men and women, the more assured did I become of it, that I possessed plain, practical common sense to an unusual and remarkable degree. Conscious of this, I wrote a little book, which I entitled _How to be Happy, Wealthy, and Wise_, and published it at my own expense. I did not seek for profit. I merely wished to be useful.

"The book did not make the stir that I had anticipated. Some two or three hundred copies went off, and then the sale practically ceased.

"I confess that at first I was disappointed. But after a while, I reflected that, if people would not take my advice, it was more their loss than mine, and I dismissed the matter from my mind.

"One morning, about a twelvemonth afterwards, I was sitting in my study, when the servant entered to say that there was a man downstairs who wanted very much to see me.

"I gave instructions that he should be sent up, and up accordingly he came.

"He was a common man, but he had an open, intelligent countenance, and his manner was most respectful. I motioned him to be seated. He selected a chair, and sat down on the extreme edge of it.

"'I hope you'll pard'n this intrusion, sir,' he began, speaking deliberately, and twirling his hat the while; 'but I've come more'n two hundred miles to see you, sir.'

"I expressed myself as pleased, and he continued: 'They tell me, sir, as you're the gentleman as wrote that little book, _How to be Happy, Wealthy, and Wise_."

He enumerated the three items slowly, dwelling lovingly on each. I admitted the fact.

"'Ah, that's a wonderful book, sir,' he went on. 'I ain't one of them as has got brains of their own--not to speak of--but I know enough to know them as has; and when I read that little book, I says to myself, Josiah Hackett (that's my name, sir), when you're in doubt don't you get addling that thick head o' yours, as will only tell you all wrong; you go to the gentleman as wrote that little book and ask him for his advice. He is a kind-hearted gentleman, as any one can tell, and he'll give it you; and _when you've got it, you go straight ahead, full steam, and don't you stop for nothing, 'cause he'll know what's best for you, same as he knows what's best for everybody. That's what I says, sir; and that's what I'm here for.'

"He paused, and wiped his brow with a green cotton handkerchief. I prayed him to proceed.

"It appeared that the worthy fellow wanted to marry, but could not make up his mind _whom he wanted to marry. He had his eye--so he expressed it--upon two young women, and they, he had reason to believe, regarded him in return with more than usual favour. His difficulty was to decide which of the two--both of them excellent and deserving young persons--would make him the best wife. The one, Juliana, the only daughter of a retired sea-captain, he described as a winsome lassie. The other, Hannah, was an older and altogether more womanly girl. She was the eldest of a large family. Her father, he said, was a God-fearing man, and was doing well in the timber trade. He asked me which of them I should advise him to marry.

"I was flattered. What man in my position would not have been? This Josiah Hackett had come from afar to hear my wisdom. He was willing--nay, anxious--to entrust his whole life's happiness to my discretion. That he was wise in so doing, I entertained no doubt. The choice of a wife I had always held to be a matter needing a calm, unbiassed judgment, such as no lover could possibly bring to bear upon the subject. In such a case, I should not have hesitated to offer advice to the wisest of men. To this poor, simple-minded fellow, I felt it would be cruel to refuse it.

"He handed me photographs of both the young persons under consideration. I jotted down on the back of each such particulars as I deemed would assist me in estimating their respective fitness for the vacancy in question, and promised to carefully consider the problem, and write him in a day or two.

"His gratitude was touching. 'Don't you trouble to write no letters, sir,' he said; 'you just stick down "Julia" or "Hannah" on a bit of paper, and put it in an envelope. I shall know what it means, and that's the one as I shall marry.'

"Then he gripped me by the hand and left me.

"I gave a good deal of thought to the selection of Josiah's wife. I wanted him to be happy.

"Juliana was certainly very pretty. There was a lurking playfulness about the corners of Juliana's mouth which conjured up the sound of rippling laughter. Had I acted on impulse, I should have clasped Juliana in Josiah's arms.

"But, I reflected, more sterling qualities than mere playfulness and prettiness are needed for a wife. Hannah, though not so charming, clearly possessed both energy and sense--qualities highly necessary to a poor man's wife. Hannah's father was a pious man, and was 'doing well'--a thrifty, saving man, no doubt. He would have instilled into her lessons of economy and virtue; and, later on, she might possibly come in for a little something. She was the eldest of a large family. She was sure to have had to help her mother a good deal. She would be experienced in household matters, and would understand the bringing up of children.

"Julia's father, on the other hand, was a retired sea-captain. Seafaring folk are generally loose sort of fish. He had probably been in the habit of going about the house, using language and expressing views, the hearing of which could not but have exercised an injurious effect upon the formation of a growing girl's character. Juliana was his only child. Only children generally make bad men and women. They are allowed to have their own way too much. The pretty daughter of a retired sea-captain would be certain to be spoilt.

"Josiah, I had also to remember, was a man evidently of weak character. He would need management. Now, there was something about Hannah's eye that eminently suggested management.

"At the end of two days my mind was made up. I wrote 'Hannah' on a slip of paper, and posted it.

"A fortnight afterwards I received a letter from Josiah. He thanked me for my advice, but added, incidentally, that he wished I could have made it Julia. However, he said, he felt sure I knew best, and by the time I received the letter he and Hannah would be one.

"That letter worried me. I began to wonder if, after all, I had chosen the right girl. Suppose Hannah was not all I thought her! What a terrible thing it would be for Josiah. What data, sufficient to reason upon, had I possessed? How did I know that Hannah was not a lazy, ill- tempered girl, a continual thorn in the side of her poor, overworked mother, and a perpetual blister to her younger brothers and sisters? How did I know she had been well brought up? Her father might be a precious old fraud: most seemingly pious men are. She may have learned from him only hypocrisy.

"Then also, how did I know that Juliana's merry childishness would not ripen into sweet, cheerful womanliness? Her father, for all I knew to the contrary, might be the model of what a retired sea-captain should be; with possibly a snug little sum safely invested somewhere. And Juliana was his only child. What reason had I for rejecting this fair young creature's love for Josiah?

"I took her photo from my desk. I seemed to detect a reproachful look in the big eyes. I saw before me the scene in the little far-away home when the first tidings of Josiah's marriage fell like a cruel stone into the hitherto placid waters of her life. I saw her kneeling by her father's chair, while the white-haired, bronzed old man gently stroked the golden head, shaking with silent sobs against his breast. My remorse was almost more than I could bear.

"I put her aside and took up Hannah--my chosen one. She seemed to be regarding me with a smile of heartless triumph. There began to take possession of me a feeling of positive dislike to Hannah.

"I fought against the feeling. I told myself it was prejudice. But the more I reasoned against it the stronger it became. I could tell that, as the days went by, it would grow from dislike to loathing, from loathing to hate. And this was the woman I had deliberately selected as a life companion for Josiah!

"For weeks I knew no peace of mind. Every letter that arrived I dreaded to open, fearing it might be from Josiah. At every knock I started up, and looked about for a hiding-place. Every time I came across the heading, 'Domestic Tragedy,' in the newspapers, I broke into a cold perspiration. I expected to read that Josiah and Hannah had murdered each other, and died cursing me.

"As the time went by, however, and I heard nothing, my fears began to assuage, and my belief in my own intuitive good judgment to return. Maybe, I had done a good thing for Josiah and Hannah, and they were blessing me. Three years passed peacefully away, and I was beginning to forget the existence of the Hacketts.

"Then he came again. I returned home from business one evening to find him waiting for me in the hall. The moment I saw him I knew that my worst fears had fallen short of the truth. I motioned him to follow me to my study. He did so, and seated himself in the identical chair on which he had sat three years ago. The change in him was remarkable; he looked old and careworn. His manner was that of resigned hopelessness.

"We remained for a while without speaking, he twirling his hat as at our first interview, I making a show of arranging papers on my desk. At length, feeling that anything would be more bearable than this silence, I turned to him.

"'Things have not been going well with you, I'm afraid, Josiah?' I said.

"'No, sir,' he replied quietly; 'I can't say as they have, altogether. That Hannah of yours has turned out a bit of a teaser.'

"There was no touch of reproach in his tones. He simply stated a melancholy fact.

"'But she is a good wife to you in other ways,' I urged. 'She has her faults, of course. We all have. But she is energetic. Come now, you will admit she's energetic.'

"I owed it to myself to find some good in Hannah, and this was the only thing I could think of at that moment.

"'Oh yes, she's that,' he assented. 'A little too much so for our sized house, I sometimes think.'

"'You see,' he went on, 'she's a bit cornery in her temper, Hannah is; and then her mother's a bit trying, at times.'

"'Her mother!' I exclaimed, 'but what's _she got to do with you?'

"'Well, you see, sir,' he answered, 'she's living with us now--ever since the old man went off.'

"'Hannah's father! Is he dead, then?'

"'Well, not exactly, sir,' he replied. 'He ran off about a twelvemonth ago with one of the young women who used to teach in the Sunday School, and joined the Mormons. It came as a great surprise to every one.'

"I groaned. 'And his business,' I inquired--'the timber business, who carries that on?'

"'Oh, that!' answered Josiah. 'Oh, that had to be sold to pay his debts--leastways, to go towards 'em.'

"I remarked what a terrible thing it was for his family. I supposed the home was broken up, and they were all scattered.

"'No, sir,' he replied simply, 'they ain't scattered much. They're all living with us.'

"'But there,' he continued, seeing the look upon my face; 'of course, all this has nothing to do with you sir. You've got troubles of your own, I daresay, sir. I didn't come here to worry you with mine. That would be a poor return for all your kindness to me.'

"'What has become of Julia?' I asked. I did not feel I wanted to question him any more about his own affairs.

"A smile broke the settled melancholy of his features. 'Ah,' he said, in a more cheerful tone than he had hitherto employed, 'it does one good to think about _her_, it does. She's married to a friend of mine now, young Sam Jessop. I slips out and gives 'em a call now and then, when Hannah ain't round. Lord, it's like getting a glimpse of heaven to look into their little home. He often chaffs me about it, Sam does. "Well, you _was a sawny-headed chunk, Josiah, _you was," he often says to me. We're old chums, you know, sir, Sam and me, so he don't mind joking a bit like.'

"Then the smile died away, and he added with a sigh, 'Yes, I've often thought since, sir, how jolly it would have been if you could have seen your way to making it Juliana.'

"I felt I must get him back to Hannah at any cost. I said, 'I suppose you and your wife are still living in the old place?'

"'Yes,' he replied, 'if you can call it living. It's a hard struggle with so many of us.'

"He said he did not know how he should have managed if it had not been for the help of Julia's father. He said the captain had behaved more like an angel than anything else he knew of.

"'I don't say as he's one of your clever sort, you know, sir,' he explained. 'Not the man as one would go to for advice, like one would to you, sir; but he's a good sort for all that.'

"'And that reminds me, sir,' he went on, 'of what I've come here about. You'll think it very bold of me to ask, sir, but--'

"I interrupted him. 'Josiah,' I said, 'I admit that I am much to blame for what has come upon you. You asked me for my advice, and I gave it you. Which of us was the bigger idiot, we will not discuss. The point is that I did give it, and I am not a man to shirk my responsibilities. What, in reason, you ask, and I can grant, I will give you.'

"He was overcome with gratitude. 'I knew it, sir,' he said. 'I knew you would not refuse me. I said so to Hannah. I said, "I will go to that gentleman and ask him. I will go to him and ask him for his advice."'

"I said, 'His what?'

"'His advice,' repeated Josiah, apparently surprised at my tone, 'on a little matter as I can't quite make up my mind about.'

"I thought at first he was trying to be sarcastic, but he wasn't. That man sat there, and wrestled with me for my advice as to whether he should invest a thousand dollars which Julia's father had offered to lend him, in the purchase of a laundry business or a bar. He hadn't had enough of it (my advice, I mean); he wanted it again, and he spun me reasons why I should give it him. The choice of a wife was a different thing altogether, he argued. Perhaps he ought _not to have asked me for my opinion as to that. But advice as to which of two trades a man would do best to select, surely any business man could give. He said he had just been reading again my little book, _How to be Happy_, etc., and if the gentleman who wrote that could not decide between the respective merits of one particular laundry and one particular bar, both situate in the same city, well, then, all he had got to say was that knowledge and wisdom were clearly of no practical use in this world whatever.

"Well, it did seem a simple thing to advise a man about. Surely as to a matter of this kind, I, a professed business man, must be able to form a sounder judgment than this poor pumpkin-headed lamb. It would be heartless to refuse to help him. I promised to look into the matter, and let him know what I thought.

"He rose and shook me by the hand. He said he would not try to thank me; words would only seem weak. He dashed away a tear and went out.

"I brought an amount of thought to bear upon this thousand-dollar investment sufficient to have floated a bank. I did not mean to make another Hannah job, if I could help it. I studied the papers Josiah had left with me, but did not attempt to form any opinion from them. I went down quietly to Josiah's city, and inspected both businesses on the spot. I instituted secret but searching inquiries in the neighbourhood. I disguised myself as a simple-minded young man who had come into a little money, and wormed myself into the confidence of the servants. I interviewed half the town upon the pretence that I was writing the commercial history of New England, and should like some particulars of their career, and I invariably ended my examination by asking them which was their favourite bar, and where they got their washing done. I stayed a fortnight in the town. Most of my spare time I spent at the bar. In my leisure moments I dirtied my clothes so that they might be washed at the laundry.

"As the result of my investigations I discovered that, so far as the two businesses themselves were concerned, there was not a pin to choose between them. It became merely a question of which particular trade would best suit the Hacketts.

"I reflected. The keeper of a bar was exposed to much temptation. A weak-minded man, mingling continually in the company of topers, might possibly end by giving way to drink. Now, Josiah was an exceptionally weak-minded man. It had also to be borne in mind that he had a shrewish wife, and that her whole family had come to live with him. Clearly, to place Josiah in a position of easy access to unlimited liquor would be madness.

"About a laundry, on the other hand, there was something soothing. The working of a laundry needed many hands. Hannah's relatives might be used up in a laundry, and made to earn their own living. Hannah might expend her energy in flat-ironing, and Josiah could turn the mangle. The idea conjured up quite a pleasant domestic picture. I recommended the laundry.

"On the following Monday, Josiah wrote to say that he had bought the laundry. On Tuesday I read in the _Commercial Intelligence that one of the most remarkable features of the time was the marvellous rise taking place all over New England in the value of hotel and bar property. On Thursday, in the list of failures, I came across no less than four laundry proprietors; and the paper added, in explanation, that the American washing industry, owing to the rapid growth of Chinese competition, was practically on its last legs. I went out and got drunk.

"My life became a curse to me. All day long I thought of Josiah. All night I dreamed of him. Suppose that, not content with being the cause of his domestic misery, I had now deprived him of the means of earning a livelihood, and had rendered useless the generosity of that good old sea- captain. I began to appear to myself as a malignant fiend, ever following this simple but worthy man to work evil upon him.

"Time passed away, however; I heard nothing from or of him, and my burden at last fell from me.

"Then at the end of about five years he came again.

"He came behind me as I was opening the door with my latch-key, and laid an unsteady hand upon my arm. It was a dark night, but a gas-lamp showed me his face. I recognised it in spite of the red blotches and the bleary film that hid the eyes. I caught him roughly by the arm, and hurried him inside and up into my study.

"'Sit down,' I hissed, 'and tell me the worst first.'

"He was about to select his favourite chair. I felt that if I saw him and that particular chair in association for the third time, I should do something terrible to both. I snatched it away from him, and he sat down heavily on the floor, and burst into tears. I let him remain there, and, thickly, between hiccoughs, he told his tale.

"The laundry had gone from bad to worse. A new railway had come to the town, altering its whole topography. The business and residential portion had gradually shifted northward. The spot where the bar--the particular one which I had rejected for the laundry--had formerly stood was now the commercial centre of the city. The man who had purchased it in place of Josiah had sold out and made a fortune. The southern area (where the laundry was situate) was, it had been discovered, built upon a swamp, and was in a highly unsanitary condition. Careful housewives naturally objected to sending their washing into such a neighbourhood.

"Other troubles had also come. The baby--Josiah's pet, the one bright thing in his life--had fallen into the copper and been boiled. Hannah's mother had been crushed in the mangle, and was now a helpless cripple, who had to be waited on day and night.

"Under these accumulated misfortunes Josiah had sought consolation in drink, and had become a hopeless sot. He felt his degradation keenly, and wept copiously. He said he thought that in a cheerful place, such as a bar, he might have been strong and brave; but that there was something about the everlasting smell of damp clothes and suds, that seemed to sap his manhood.

"I asked him what the captain had said to it all. He burst into fresh tears, and replied that the captain was no more. That, he added, reminded him of what he had come about. The good-hearted old fellow had bequeathed him five thousand dollars. He wanted my advice as to how to invest it.

"My first impulse was to kill him on the spot. I wish now that I had. I restrained myself, however, and offered him the alternative of being thrown from the window or of leaving by the door without another word.

"He answered that he was quite prepared to go by the window if I would first tell him whether to put his money in the Terra del Fuego Nitrate Company, Limited, or in the Union Pacific Bank. Life had no further interest for him. All he cared for was to feel that this little nest-egg was safely laid by for the benefit of his beloved ones after he was gone.

"He pressed me to tell him what I thought of nitrates. I replied that I declined to say anything whatever on the subject. He assumed from my answer that I did not think much of nitrates, and announced his intention of investing the money, in consequence, in the Union Pacific Bank.

"I told him by all means to do so, if he liked.

"He paused, and seemed to be puzzling it out. Then he smiled knowingly, and said he thought he understood what I meant. It was very kind of me. He should put every dollar he possessed in the Terra del Fuego Nitrate Company.

"He rose (with difficulty) to go. I stopped him. I knew, as certainly as I knew the sun would rise the next morning, that whichever company I advised him, or he persisted in thinking I had advised him (which was the same thing), to invest in, would, sooner or later, come to smash. My grandmother had all her little fortune in the Terra del Fuego Nitrate Company. I could not see her brought to penury in her old age. As for Josiah, it could make no difference to him whatever. He would lose his money in any event. I advised him to invest in Union Pacific Bank Shares. He went and did it.

"The Union Pacific Bank held out for eighteen months. Then it began to totter. The financial world stood bewildered. It had always been reckoned one of the safest banks in the country. People asked what could be the cause. I knew well enough, but I did not tell.

"The Bank made a gallant fight, but the hand of fate was upon it. At the end of another nine months the crash came.

"(Nitrates, it need hardly be said, had all this time been going up by leaps and bounds. My grandmother died worth a million dollars, and left the whole of it to a charity. Had she known how I had saved her from ruin, she might have been more grateful.)

"A few days after the failure of the Bank, Josiah arrived on my doorstep; and, this time, he brought his families with him. There were sixteen of them in all.

"What was I to do? I had brought these people step by step to the verge of starvation. I had laid waste alike their happiness and their prospects in life. The least amends I could make was to see that at all events they did not want for the necessities of existence.

"That was seventeen years ago. I am still seeing that they do not want for the necessities of existence; and my conscience is growing easier by noticing that they seem contented with their lot. There are twenty-two of them now, and we have hopes of another in the spring.

"That is my story," he said. "Perhaps you will now understand my sudden emotion when you asked for my advice. As a matter of fact, I do not give advice now on any subject."

* * * * *

I told this tale to MacShaughnassy. He agreed with me that it was instructive, and said he should remember it. He said he should remember it so as to tell it to some fellows that he knew, to whom he thought the lesson should prove useful.

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