Novel Notes

Author: Jerome K. Jerome

Chapter II

I can’t honestly say that we made much progress at our first meeting. It was Brown’s fault. He would begin by telling us a story about a dog. It was the old, old story of the dog who had been in the habit of going every morning to a certain baker’s shop with a penny in his mouth, in exchange for which he always received a penny bun. One day, the baker, thinking he would not know the difference, tried to palm off upon the poor animal a ha’penny bun, whereupon the dog walked straight outside and fetched in a policeman. Brown had heard this chestnut for the first time that afternoon, and was full of it. It is always a mystery to me where Brown has been for the last hundred years. He stops you in the street with, "Oh, I must tell you!—such a capital story!" And he thereupon proceeds to relate to you, with much spirit and gusto, one of Noah’s best known jokes, or some story that Romulus must have originally told to Remus. One of these days somebody will tell him the history of Adam and Eve, and he will think he has got hold of a new plot, and will work it up into a novel.

He gives forth these hoary antiquities as personal reminiscences of his own, or, at furthest, as episodes in the life of his second cousin. There are certain strange and moving catastrophes that would seem either to have occurred to, or to have been witnessed by, nearly every one you meet. I never came across a man yet who had not seen some other man jerked off the top of an omnibus into a mudcart. Half London must, at one time or another, have been jerked off omnibuses into mud-carts, and have been fished out at the end of a shovel.

Then there is the tale of the lady whose husband is taken suddenly ill one night at an hotel. She rushes downstairs, and prepares a stiff mustard plaster to put on him, and runs up with it again. In her excitement, however, she charges into the wrong room, and, rolling down the bedclothes, presses it lovingly upon the wrong man. I have heard that story so often that I am quite nervous about going to bed in an hotel now. Each man who has told it me has invariably slept in the room next door to that of the victim, and has been awakened by the man’s yell as the plaster came down upon him. That is how he (the story-teller) came to know all about it.

Brown wanted us to believe that this prehistoric animal he had been telling us about had belonged to his brother-in-law, and was hurt when Jephson murmured, sotto voce, that that made the twenty-eighth man he had met whose brother-in-law had owned that dog—to say nothing of the hundred and seventeen who had owned it themselves.

We tried to get to work afterwards, but Brown had unsettled us for the evening. It is a wicked thing to start dog stories among a party of average sinful men. Let one man tell a dog story, and every other man in the room feels he wants to tell a bigger one.

There is a story going—I cannot vouch for its truth, it was told me by a judge—of a man who lay dying. The pastor of the parish, a good and pious man, came to sit with him, and, thinking to cheer him up, told him an anecdote about a dog. When the pastor had finished, the sick man sat up, and said, "I know a better story than that. I had a dog once, a big, brown, lop-sided—"

The effort had proved too much for his strength. He fell back upon the pillows, and the doctor, stepping forward, saw that it was a question only of minutes.

The good old pastor rose, and took the poor fellow’s hand in his, and pressed it. "We shall meet again," he gently said.

The sick man turned towards him with a consoled and grateful look.

"I’m glad to hear you say that," he feebly murmured. "Remind me about that dog."

Then he passed peacefully away, with a sweet smile upon his pale lips.

Brown, who had had his dog story and was satisfied, wanted us to settle our heroine; but the rest of us did not feel equal to settling anybody just then. We were thinking of all the true dog stories we had ever heard, and wondering which was the one least likely to be generally disbelieved.

MacShaughnassy, in particular, was growing every moment more restless and moody. Brown concluded a long discourse—to which nobody had listened—by remarking with some pride, "What more can you want? The plot has never been used before, and the characters are entirely original!"

Then MacShaughnassy gave way. "Talking of plots," he said, hitching his chair a little nearer the table, "that puts me in mind. Did I ever tell you about that dog we had when we lived in Norwood?"

"It’s not that one about the bull-dog, is it?" queried Jephson anxiously.

"Well, it was a bull-dog," admitted MacShaughnassy, "but I don’t think I’ve ever told it you before."

We knew, by experience, that to argue the matter would only prolong the torture, so we let him go on.

"A great many burglaries had lately taken place in our neighbourhood," he began, "and the pater came to the conclusion that it was time he laid down a dog. He thought a bull-dog would be the best for his purpose, and he purchased the most savage and murderous-looking specimen that he could find.

"My mother was alarmed when she saw the dog. ’Surely you’re not going to let that brute loose about the house!’ she exclaimed. ’He’ll kill somebody. I can see it in his face.’

"’I want him to kill somebody,’ replied my father; ’I want him to kill burglars.’

"’I don’t like to hear you talk like that, Thomas,’ answered the mater; ’it’s not like you. We’ve a right to protect our property, but we’ve no right to take a fellow human creature’s life.’

"’Our fellow human creatures will be all right—so long as they don’t come into our kitchen when they’ve no business there,’ retorted my father, somewhat testily. ’I’m going to fix up this dog in the scullery, and if a burglar comes fooling around—well, that’s HIS affair.’

"The old folks quarrelled on and off for about a month over this dog. The dad thought the mater absurdly sentimental, and the mater thought the dad unnecessarily vindictive. Meanwhile the dog grew more ferocious-looking every day.

"One night my mother woke my father up with: ’Thomas, there’s a burglar downstairs, I’m positive. I distinctly heard the kitchen door open.’

"’Oh, well, the dog’s got him by now, then,’ murmured my father, who had heard nothing, and was sleepy.

"’Thomas,’ replied my mother severely, ’I’m not going to lie here while a fellow-creature is being murdered by a savage beast. If you won’t go down and save that man’s life, I will.’

"’Oh, bother,’ said my father, preparing to get up. ’You’re always fancying you hear noises. I believe that’s all you women come to bed for—to sit up and listen for burglars.’ Just to satisfy her, however, he pulled on his trousers and socks, and went down.

"Well, sure enough, my mother was right, this time. There WAS a burglar in the house. The pantry window stood open, and a light was shining in the kitchen. My father crept softly forward, and peeped through the partly open door. There sat the burglar, eating cold beef and pickles, and there, beside him, on the floor, gazing up into his face with a blood-curdling smile of affection, sat that idiot of a dog, wagging his tail.

"My father was so taken aback that he forgot to keep silent.

"’Well, I’m—,’ and he used a word that I should not care to repeat to you fellows.

"The burglar, hearing him, made a dash, and got clear off by the window; and the dog seemed vexed with my father for having driven him away.

"Next morning we took the dog back to the trainer from whom we had bought it.

"’What do you think I wanted this dog for?’ asked my father, trying to speak calmly.

"’Well,’ replied the trainer, ’you said you wanted a good house dog.’

"’Exactly so,’ answered the dad. ’I didn’t ask for a burglar’s companion, did I? I didn’t say I wanted a dog who’d chum on with a burglar the first time he ever came to the house, and sit with him while he had supper, in case he might feel lonesome, did I?’ And my father recounted the incidents of the previous night.

"The man agreed that there was cause for complaint. ’I’ll tell you what it is, sir,’ he said. ’It was my boy Jim as trained this ’ere dawg, and I guess the young beggar’s taught ’im more about tackling rats than burglars. You leave ’im with me for a week, sir; I’ll put that all right.’

"We did so, and at the end of the time the trainer brought him back again.

"’You’ll find ’im game enough now, sir,’ said the man. "E ain’t what I call an intellectual dawg, but I think I’ve knocked the right idea into ’im.’

"My father thought he’d like to test the matter, so we hired a man for a shilling to break in through the kitchen window while the trainer held the dog by a chain. The dog remained perfectly quiet until the man was fairly inside. Then he made one savage spring at him, and if the chain had not been stout the fellow would have earned his shilling dearly.

"The dad was satisfied now that he could go to bed in peace; and the mater’s alarm for the safety of the local burglars was proportionately increased.

"Months passed uneventfully by, and then another burglar sampled our house. This time there could be no doubt that the dog was doing something for his living. The din in the basement was terrific. The house shook with the concussion of falling bodies.

"My father snatched up his revolver and rushed downstairs, and I followed him. The kitchen was in confusion. Tables and chairs were overturned, and on the floor lay a man gurgling for help. The dog was standing over him, choking him.

"The pater held his revolver to the man’s ear, while I, by superhuman effort, dragged our preserver away, and chained him up to the sink, after which I lit the gas.

"Then we perceived that the gentleman on the floor was a police constable.

"’Good heavens!’ exclaimed my father, dropping the revolver, ’however did you come here?’

""Ow did I come ’ere?’ retorted the man, sitting up and speaking in a tone of bitter, but not unnatural, indignation. ’Why, in the course of my dooty, that’s ’ow I come ’ere. I see a burglar getting in through the window, so I just follows and slips in after ’im.’

"’Did you catch him?’ asked my father.

"’Did I catch ’im!’ almost shrieked the man. "Ow could I catch ’im with that blasted dog of yours ’olding me down by the throat, while ’e lights ’is pipe and walks out by the back door?’

"The dog was for sale the next day. The mater, who had grown to like him, because he let the baby pull his tail, wanted us to keep him. The mistake, she said, was not the animal’s fault. Two men broke into the house almost at the same time. The dog could not go for both of them. He did his best, and went for one. That his selection should have fallen upon the policeman instead of upon the burglar was unfortunate. But still it was a thing that might have happened to any dog.

"My father, however, had become prejudiced against the poor creature, and that same week he inserted an advertisement in The Field, in which the animal was recommended as an investment likely to prove useful to any enterprising member of the criminal classes."

MacShaughnassy having had his innings, Jephson took a turn, and told us a pathetic story about an unfortunate mongrel that was run over in the Strand one day and its leg broken. A medical student, who was passing at the time, picked it up and carried it to the Charing Cross Hospital, where its leg was set, and where it was kept and tended until it was quite itself again, when it was sent home.

The poor thing had quite understood what was being done for it, and had been the most grateful patient they had ever had in the hospital. The whole staff were quite sorry when it left.

One morning, a week or two later, the house-surgeon, looking out of the window, saw the dog coming down the street. When it came near he noticed that it had a penny in its mouth. A cat’s-meat barrow was standing by the kerb, and for a moment, as he passed it, the dog hesitated.

But his nobler nature asserted itself, and, walking straight up to the hospital railings, and raising himself upon his hind legs, he dropped his penny into the contribution box.

MacShaughnassy was much affected by this story. He said it showed such a beautiful trait in the dog’s character. The animal was a poor outcast, vagrant thing, that had perhaps never possessed a penny before in all its life, and might never have another. He said that dog’s penny seemed to him to be a greater gift than the biggest cheque that the wealthiest patron ever signed.

The other three were very eager now to get to work on the novel, but I did not quite see the fairness of this. I had one or two dog stories of my own.

I knew a black-and-tan terrier years ago. He lodged in the same house with me. He did not belong to any one. He had discharged his owner (if, indeed, he had ever permitted himself to possess one, which is doubtful, having regard to his aggressively independent character), and was now running himself entirely on his own account. He appropriated the front hall for his sleeping-apartment, and took his meals with the other lodgers—whenever they happened to be having meals.

At five o’clock he would take an early morning snack with young Hollis, an engineer’s pupil, who had to get up at half-past four and make his own coffee, so as to be down at the works by six. At eight-thirty he would breakfast in a more sensible fashion with Mr. Blair, on the first floor, and on occasions would join Jack Gadbut, who was a late riser, in a devilled kidney at eleven.

From then till about five, when I generally had a cup of tea and a chop, he regularly disappeared. Where he went and what he did between those hours nobody ever knew. Gadbut swore that twice he had met him coming out of a stockbroker’s office in Threadneedle Street, and, improbable though the statement at first appeared, some colour of credibility began to attach to it when we reflected upon the dog’s inordinate passion for acquiring and hoarding coppers.

This craving of his for wealth was really quite remarkable. He was an elderly dog, with a great sense of his own dignity; yet, on the promise of a penny, I have seen him run round after his own tail until he didn’t know one end of himself from the other.

He used to teach himself tricks, and go from room to room in the evening, performing them, and when he had completed his programme he would sit up and beg. All the fellows used to humour him. He must have made pounds in the course of the year.

Once, just outside our door, I saw him standing in a crowd, watching a performing poodle attached to a hurdy-gurdy. The poodle stood on his head, and then, with his hind legs in the air, walked round on his front paws. The people laughed very much, and, when afterwards he came amongst them with his wooden saucer in his mouth, they gave freely.

Our dog came in and immediately commenced to study. In three days HE could stand on his head and walk round on his front legs, and the first evening he did so he made sixpence. It must have been terribly hard work for him at his age, and subject to rheumatism as he was; but he would do anything for money. I believe he would have sold himself to the devil for eightpence down.

He knew the value of money. If you held out to him a penny in one hand and a threepenny-bit in the other, he would snatch at the threepence, and then break his heart because he could not get the penny in as well. You might safely have left him in the room with a leg of mutton, but it would not have been wise to leave your purse about.

Now and then he spent a little, but not often. He was desperately fond of sponge-cakes, and occasionally, when he had had a good week, he would indulge himself to the extent of one or two. But he hated paying for them, and always made a frantic and frequently successful effort to get off with the cake and the penny also. His plan of operations was simple. He would walk into the shop with his penny in his mouth, well displayed, and a sweet and lamblike expression in his eyes. Taking his stand as near to the cakes as he could get, and fixing his eyes affectionately upon them, he would begin to whine, and the shopkeeper, thinking he was dealing with an honest dog, would throw him one.

To get the cake he was obliged, of course, to drop the penny, and then began a struggle between him and the shopkeeper for the possession of the coin. The man would try to pick it up. The dog would put his foot upon it, and growl savagely. If he could finish the cake before the contest was over, he would snap up the penny and bolt. I have known him to come home gorged with sponge-cakes, the original penny still in his mouth.

So notorious throughout the neighbourhood did this dishonest practice of his become, that, after a time, the majority of the local tradespeople refused to serve him at all. Only the exceptionally quick and able-bodied would attempt to do business with him.

Then he took his custom further afield, into districts where his reputation had not yet penetrated. And he would pick out shops kept by nervous females or rheumatic old men.

They say that the love of money is the root of all evil. It seemed to have robbed him of every shred of principle.

It robbed him of his life in the end, and that came about in this way. He had been performing one evening in Gadbut’s room, where a few of us were sitting smoking and talking; and young Hollis, being in a generous mood, had thrown him, as he thought, a sixpence. The dog grabbed it, and retired under the sofa. This was an odd thing for him to do, and we commented upon it. Suddenly a thought occurred to Hollis, and he took out his money and began counting it.

"By Jove," he exclaimed, "I’ve given that little beast half-asovereign—here, Tiny!"

But Tiny only backed further underneath the sofa, and no mere verbal invitation would induce him to stir. So we adopted a more pressing plan, and coaxed him out by the scruff of his neck.

He came, an inch at a time, growling viciously, and holding Hollis’s half-sovereign tight between his teeth. We tried sweet reasonableness at first. We offered him a sixpence in exchange; he looked insulted, and evidently considered the proposal as tantamount to our calling him a fool. We made it a shilling, then half-acrown—he seemed only bored by our persistence.

"I don’t think you’ll ever see this half-sovereign again, Hollis," said Gadbut, laughing. We all, with the exception of young Hollis, thought the affair a very good joke. He, on the contrary, seemed annoyed, and, taking the dog from Gadbut, made an attempt to pull the coin out of its mouth.

Tiny, true to his life-long principle of never parting if he could possibly help it, held on like grim death, until, feeling that his little earnings were slowly but surely going from him, he made one final desperate snatch, and swallowed the money. It stuck in his throat, and he began to choke.

Then we became seriously alarmed for the dog. He was an amusing chap, and we did not want any accident to happen to him. Hollis rushed into his room and procured a long pair of pincers, and the rest of us held the little miser while Hollis tried to relieve him of the cause of his suffering.

But poor Tiny did not understand our intentions. He still thought we were seeking to rob him of his night’s takings, and resisted vehemently. His struggles fixed the coin firmer, and, in spite of our efforts, he died—one more victim, among many, to the fierce fever for gold.

I dreamt a very curious dream about riches once, that made a great impression upon me. I thought that I and a friend—a very dear friend—were living together in a strange old house. I don’t think anybody else dwelt in the house but just we two. One day, wandering about this strange old rambling place, I discovered the hidden door of a secret room, and in this room were many iron-bound chests, and when I raised the heavy lids I saw that each chest was full of gold.

And, when I saw this, I stole out softly and closed the hidden door, and drew the worn tapestries in front of it again, and crept back along the dim corridor, looking behind me, fearfully.

And the friend that I had loved came towards me, and we walked together with our hands clasped. But I hated him.

And all day long I kept beside him, or followed him unseen, lest by chance he should learn the secret of that hidden door; and at night I lay awake watching him.

But one night I sleep, and, when I open my eyes, he is no longer near me. I run swiftly up the narrow stairs and along the silent corridor. The tapestry is drawn aside, and the hidden door stands open, and in the room beyond the friend that I loved is kneeling before an open chest, and the glint of the gold is in my eyes.

His back is towards me, and I crawl forward inch by inch. I have a knife in my hand, with a strong, curved blade; and when I am near enough I kill him as he kneels there.

His body falls against the door, and it shuts to with a clang, and I try to open it, and cannot. I beat my hands against its iron nails, and scream, and the dead man grins at me. The light streams in through the chink beneath the massive door, and fades, and comes again, and fades again, and I gnaw at the oaken lids of the ironbound chests, for the madness of hunger is climbing into my brain.

Then I awake, and find that I really am hungry, and remember that in consequence of a headache I did not eat any dinner. So I slip on a few clothes, and go down to the kitchen on a foraging expedition.

It is said that dreams are momentary conglomerations of thought, centring round the incident that awakens us, and, as with most scientific facts, this is occasionally true. There is one dream that, with slight variations, is continually recurring to me. Over and over again I dream that I am suddenly called upon to act an important part in some piece at the Lyceum. That poor Mr. Irving should invariably be the victim seems unfair, but really it is entirely his own fault. It is he who persuades and urges me. I myself would much prefer to remain quietly in bed, and I tell him so. But he insists on my getting up at once and coming down to the theatre. I explain to him that I can’t act a bit. He seems to consider this unimportant, and says, "Oh, that will be all right." We argue for a while, but he makes the matter quite a personal one, and to oblige him and get him out of the bedroom I consent, though much against my own judgment. I generally dress the character in my nightshirt, though on one occasion, for Banquo, I wore pyjamas, and I never remember a single word of what I ought to say. How I get through I do not know. Irving comes up afterwards and congratulates me, but whether upon the brilliancy of my performance, or upon my luck in getting off the stage before a brickbat is thrown at me, I cannot say.

Whenever I dream this incident I invariably wake up to find that the bedclothes are on the floor, and that I am shivering with cold; and it is this shivering, I suppose, that causes me to dream I am wandering about the Lyceum stage in nothing but my nightshirt. But still I do not understand why it should always be the Lyceum.

Another dream which I fancy I have dreamt more than once—or, if not, I have dreamt that I dreamt it before, a thing one sometimes does—is one in which I am walking down a very wide and very long road in the East End of London. It is a curious road to find there. Omnibuses and trams pass up and down, and it is crowded with stalls and barrows, beside which men in greasy caps stand shouting; yet on each side it is bordered by a strip of tropical forest. The road, in fact, combines the advantages of Kew and Whitechapel.

Some one is with me, but I cannot see him, and we walk through the forest, pushing our way among the tangled vines that cling about our feet, and every now and then, between the giant tree-trunks, we catch glimpses of the noisy street.

At the end of this road there is a narrow turning, and when I come to it I am afraid, though I do not know why I am afraid. It leads to a house that I once lived in when a child, and now there is some one waiting there who has something to tell me.

I turn to run away. A Blackwall ’bus is passing, and I try to overtake it. But the horses turn into skeletons and gallop away from me, and my feet are like lead, and the thing that is with me, and that I cannot see, seizes me by the arm and drags me back.

It forces me along, and into the house, and the door slams to behind us, and the sound echoes through the lifeless rooms. I recognise the rooms; I laughed and cried in them long ago. Nothing is changed. The chairs stand in their places, empty. My mother’s knitting lies upon the hearthrug, where the kitten, I remember, dragged it, somewhere back in the sixties.

I go up into my own little attic. My cot stands in the corner, and my bricks lie tumbled out upon the floor (I was always an untidy child). An old man enters—an old, bent, withered man—holding a lamp above his head, and I look at his face, and it is my own face. And another enters, and he also is myself. Then more and more, till the room is thronged with faces, and the stair-way beyond, and all the silent house. Some of the faces are old and others young, and some are fair and smile at me, and many are foul and leer at me. And every face is my own face, but no two of them are alike.

I do not know why the sight of myself should alarm me so, but I rush from the house in terror, and the faces follow me; and I run faster and faster, but I know that I shall never leave them behind me.

As a rule one is the hero of one’s own dreams, but at times I have dreamt a dream entirely in the third person—a dream with the incidents of which I have had no connection whatever, except as an unseen and impotent spectator. One of these I have often thought about since, wondering if it could not be worked up into a story. But, perhaps, it would be too painful a theme.

I dreamt I saw a woman’s face among a throng. It is an evil face, but there is a strange beauty in it. The flickering gleams thrown by street lamps flash down upon it, showing the wonder of its evil fairness. Then the lights go out.

I see it next in a place that is very far away, and it is even more beautiful than before, for the evil has gone out of it. Another face is looking down into it, a bright, pure face. The faces meet and kiss, and, as his lips touch hers, the blood mounts to her cheeks and brow. I see the two faces again. But I cannot tell where they are or how long a time has passed. The man’s face has grown a little older, but it is still young and fair, and when the woman’s eyes rest upon it there comes a glory into her face so that it is like the face of an angel. But at times the woman is alone, and then I see the old evil look struggling back.

Then I see clearer. I see the room in which they live. It is very poor. An old-fashioned piano stands in one corner, and beside it is a table on which lie scattered a tumbled mass of papers round an ink-stand. An empty chair waits before the table. The woman sits by the open window.

From far below there rises the sound of a great city. Its lights throw up faint beams into the dark room. The smell of its streets is in the woman’s nostrils.

Every now and again she looks towards the door and listens: then turns to the open window. And I notice that each time she looks towards the door the evil in her face shrinks back; but each time she turns to the window it grows more fierce and sullen.

Suddenly she starts up, and there is a terror in her eyes that frightens me as I dream, and I see great beads of sweat upon her brow. Then, very slowly, her face changes, and I see again the evil creature of the night. She wraps around her an old cloak, and creeps out. I hear her footsteps going down the stairs. They grow fainter and fainter. I hear a door open. The roar of the streets rushes up into the house, and the woman’s footsteps are swallowed up.

Time drifts onward through my dream. Scenes change, take shape, and fade; but all is vague and undefined, until, out of the dimness, there fashions itself a long, deserted street. The lights make glistening circles on the wet pavement. A figure, dressed in gaudy rags, slinks by, keeping close against the wall. Its back is towards me, and I do not see its face. Another figure glides from out the shadows. I look upon its face, and I see it is the face that the woman’s eyes gazed up into and worshipped long ago, when my dream was just begun. But the fairness and the purity are gone from it, and it is old and evil, as the woman’s when I looked upon her last. The figure in the gaudy rags moves slowly on. The second figure follows it, and overtakes it. The two pause, and speak to one another as they draw near. The street is very dark where they have met, and the figure in the gaudy rags keeps its face still turned aside. They walk together in silence, till they come to where a flaring gas-lamp hangs before a tavern; and there the woman turns, and I see that it is the woman of my dream. And she and the man look into each other’s eyes once more.

In another dream that I remember, an angel (or a devil, I am not quite sure which) has come to a man and told him that so long as he loves no living human thing—so long as he never suffers himself to feel one touch of tenderness towards wife or child, towards kith or kin, towards stranger or towards friend, so long will he succeed and prosper in his dealings—so long will all this world’s affairs go well with him; and he will grow each day richer and greater and more powerful. But if ever he let one kindly thought for living thing come into his heart, in that moment all his plans and schemes will topple down about his ears; and from that hour his name will be despised by men, and then forgotten.

And the man treasures up these words, for he is an ambitious man, and wealth and fame and power are the sweetest things in all the world to him. A woman loves him and dies, thirsting for a loving look from him; children’s footsteps creep into his life and steal away again, old faces fade and new ones come and go.

But never a kindly touch of his hand rests on any living thing; never a kindly word comes from his lips; never a kindly thought springs from his heart. And in all his doings fortune favours him.

The years pass by, and at last there is left to him only one thing that he need fear—a child’s small, wistful face. The child loves him, as the woman, long ago, had loved him, and her eyes follow him with a hungry, beseeching look. But he sets his teeth, and turns away from her.

The little face grows thin, and one day they come to him where he sits before the keyboard of his many enterprises, and tell him she is dying. He comes and stands beside the bed, and the child’s eyes open and turn towards him; and, as he draws nearer, her little arms stretch out towards him, pleading dumbly. But the man’s face never changes, and the little arms fall feebly back upon the tumbled coverlet, and the wistful eyes grow still, and a woman steps softly forward, and draws the lids down over them; then the man goes back to his plans and schemes.

But in the night, when the great house is silent, he steals up to the room where the child still lies, and pushes back the white, uneven sheet.

"Dead—dead," he mutters. Then he takes the tiny corpse up in his arms, and holds it tight against his breast, and kisses the cold lips, and the cold cheeks, and the little, cold, stiff hands.

And at that point my story becomes impossible, for I dream that the dead child lies always beneath the sheet in that quiet room, and that the little face never changes, nor the limbs decay.

I puzzle about this for an instant, but soon forget to wonder; for when the Dream Fairy tells us tales we are only as little children, sitting round with open eyes, believing all, though marvelling that such things should be.

Each night, when all else in the house sleeps, the door of that room opens noiselessly, and the man enters and closes it behind him. Each night he draws away the white sheet, and takes the small dead body in his arms; and through the dark hours he paces softly to and fro, holding it close against his breast, kissing it and crooning to it, like a mother to her sleeping baby.

When the first ray of dawn peeps into the room, he lays the dead child back again, and smooths the sheet above her, and steals away.

And he succeeds and prospers in all things, and each day he grows richer and greater and more powerful.


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Jerome K. Jerome

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Chicago: Jerome K. Jerome, "Chapter II," Novel Notes, ed. Macaulay, G. C. (George Campbell), 1852-1915 and trans. Evans, Sebastian in Novel Notes Original Sources, accessed October 2, 2023,

MLA: Jerome, Jerome K. "Chapter II." Novel Notes, edited by Macaulay, G. C. (George Campbell), 1852-1915, and translated by Evans, Sebastian, in Novel Notes, Original Sources. 2 Oct. 2023.

Harvard: Jerome, JK, 'Chapter II' in Novel Notes, ed. and trans. . cited in , Novel Notes. Original Sources, retrieved 2 October 2023, from