A week or two after I dropped
the letter I was in a hansom
on my way to certain barracks
when loud above the city's roar
I heard that accursed haw-haw-haw,
and there they were, the two
of them, just coming out of a
shop where you may obtain pianos
on the hire system. I had the
merest glimpse of them, but there
was an extraordinary rapture
on her face, and his head was
thrown proudly back, and all
because they had been ordering
a piano on
the hire system.
So they were to be married
directly. It was all rather contemptible,
but I passed on tolerantly, for
it is only when she is unhappy
that this woman disturbs me,
owing to a clever way she has
at such times of looking more
fragile than she really is.
When next I
saw them, they were gazing
greedily into the
window of the sixpenny-halfpenny
shop, which is one of the most
deliciously dramatic spots in
London. Mary was taking notes
feverishly on a slip of paper
while he did the adding up, and
in the end they went away gloomily
without buying anything. I was
in high feather. "Match abandoned,
ma'am," I said to myself; "outlook
hopeless; another visit to the
Governesses' Agency inevitable;
can't marry for want of a kitchen
shovel." But I was imperfectly
acquainted with the lady.
A few days afterward I found
myself walking behind her. There
is something artful about her
skirts by which I always know
her, though I can't say what
it is. She was carrying an enormous
parcel that might have been a
bird-cage wrapped in brown paper,
and she took it into a bric-a-brac
shop and came out without it.
She then ran rather than walked
in the direction of the sixpenny-
halfpenny shop. Now mystery of
any kind is detestable to me,
and I went into the bric-a-brac
shop, ostensibly to look at the
cracked china; and there, still
on the counter, with the wrapping
torn off it, was the article
Mary had sold in order to furnish
on the proceeds. What do you
think it was? It was a wonderful
doll's house, with dolls at tea
downstairs and dolls going to
bed upstairs, and a doll showing
a doll out at the front door.
Loving lips had long ago licked
most of the paint off, but otherwise
the thing was in admirable preservation;
obviously the joy of Mary's childhood,
it had now been sold by her that
she might get married.
"Lately purchased by us," said
the shopwoman, seeing me look
at the toy, "from a lady who
has no further use for it."
I think I have
seldom been more indignant
with Mary. I bought
the doll's house, and as they
knew the lady's address (it was
at this shop that I first learned
her name) I instructed them to
send it back to her with the
following letter, which I wrote
in the shop: "Dear madam, don't
be ridiculous. You will certainly
have further use for this. I
am, etc., the Man Who Dropped
It pained me afterward, but
too late to rescind the order,
to reflect that I had sent her
a wedding present; and when next
I saw her she had been married
for some months. The time was
nine o'clock of a November evening,
and we were in a street of shops
that has not in twenty years
decided whether to be genteel
or frankly vulgar; here it minces
in the fashion, but take a step
onward and its tongue is in the
cup of the ice-cream man. I usually
rush this street, which is not
far from my rooms, with the glass
down, but to-night I was walking.
Mary was in front of me, leaning
in a somewhat foolish way on
the haw-er, and they were chatting
excitedly. She seemed to be remonstrating
with him for going forward, yet
more than half admiring him for
not turning back, and I wondered
And after all what was it that
Mary and her painter had come
out to do? To buy two pork chops.
On my honour. She had been trying
to persuade him, I decided, that
they were living too lavishly.
That was why she sought to draw
him back. But in her heart she
loves audacity, and that is why
she admired him for pressing
No sooner had
they bought the chops than
they scurried away
like two gleeful children to
cook them. I followed, hoping
to trace them to their home,
but they soon out-distanced me,
and that night I composed the
following aphorism: It is idle
to attempt to overtake a pretty
young woman carrying pork chops.
I was now determined to be done
with her. First, however, to
find out their abode, which was
probably within easy distance
of the shop. I even conceived
them lured into taking their
house by the advertisement, "Conveniently
situated for the Pork Emporium."
Well, one day--now this really
is romantic and I am rather proud
of it. My chambers are on the
second floor, and are backed
by an anxiously polite street
between which and mine are little
yards called, I think, gardens.
They are so small that if you
have the tree your neighbour
has the shade from it. I was
looking out at my back window
on the day we have come to when
whom did I see but the whilom
nursery governess sitting on
a chair in one of these gardens.
I put up my eye-glass to make
sure, and undoubtedly it was
she. But she sat there doing
nothing, which was by no means
my conception of the jade, so
I brought a fieldglass to bear
and discovered that the object
was merely a lady's jacket. It
hung on the back of a kitchen
chair, seemed to be a furry thing,
and, I must suppose, was suspended
there for an airing.
I was chagrined, and then I
insisted stoutly with myself
that, as it was not Mary, it
must be Mary's jacket. I had
never seen her wear such a jacket,
mind you, yet I was confident,
I can't tell why. Do clothes
absorb a little of the character
of their wearer, so that I recognised
this jacket by a certain coquetry?
If she has a way with her skirts
that always advertises me of
her presence, quite possibly
she is as cunning with jackets.
Or perhaps she is her own seamstress,
and puts in little tucks of herself.
Figure it what you please;
but I beg to inform you that
I put on my hat and five minutes
afterward saw Mary and her husband
emerge from the house to which
I had calculated that garden
belonged. Now am I clever, or
am I not?
When they had left the street
I examined the house leisurely,
and a droll house it is. Seen
from the front it appears to
consist of a door and a window,
though above them the trained
eye may detect another window,
the air-hole of some apartment
which it would be just like Mary's
grandiloquence to call her bedroom.
The houses on each side of this
bandbox are tall, and I discovered
later that it had once been an
open passage to the back gardens.
The story and a half of which
it consists had been knocked
up cheaply, by carpenters I should
say rather than masons, and the
general effect is of a brightly
coloured van that has stuck for
ever on its way through the passage.
The low houses
of London look so much more
homely than the
tall ones that I never pass them
without dropping a blessing on
their builders, but this house
was ridiculous; indeed it did
not call itself a house, for
over the door was a board with
the inscription "This space to
be sold," and I remembered, as
I rang the bell, that this notice
had been up for years. On avowing
that I wanted a space, I was
admitted by an elderly, somewhat
dejected looking female, whose
fine figure was not on scale
with her surroundings. Perhaps
my face said so, for her first
remark was explanatory.
"They get me cheap," she said, "because
I bowed, and we passed on to
the drawing-room. I forget whether
I have described Mary's personal
appearance, but if so you have
a picture of that sunny drawing-room.
My first reflection was, How
can she have found the money
to pay for it all! which is always
your first reflection when you
see Mary herself a-tripping down
I have no space (in that little
room) to catalogue all the whim-
whams with which she had made
it beautiful, from the hand-sewn
bell-rope which pulled no bell
to the hand-painted cigar-box
that contained no cigars. The
floor was of a delicious green
with exquisite oriental rugs;
green and white, I think, was
the lady's scheme of colour,
something cool, you observe,
to keep the sun under. The window-curtains
were of some rare material and
the colour of the purple clematis;
they swept the floor grandly
and suggested a picture of Mary
receiving visitors. The piano
we may ignore, for I knew it
to be hired, but there were many
dainty pieces, mostly in green
wood, a sofa, a corner cupboard,
and a most captivating desk,
which was so like its owner that
it could have sat down at her
and dashed off a note. The writing
paper on this desk had the word
Mary printed on it, implying
that if there were other Marys
they didn't count. There were
many oil- paintings on the walls,
mostly without frames, and I
must mention the chandelier,
which was obviously of fabulous
worth, for she had encased it
in a holland bag.
"I perceive, ma'am," said I
to the stout maid, "that your
master is in affluent circumstances."
She shook her head emphatically,
and said something that I failed
"You wish to indicate," I hazarded, "that
he married a fortune."
This time I
caught the words. They were "Tinned meats," and
having uttered them she lapsed
into gloomy silence.
"Nevertheless," I said, "this
room must have cost a pretty
"She done it all herself," replied
my new friend, with concentrated
"But this green
floor, so beautifully stained--"
"Boiling oil," said she, with
a flush of honest shame, "and
a shillingsworth o' paint."
sighed, and showed me how artfully
been pieced together.
"At all events
She raised its drapery, and
I saw that the sofa was built
of packing cases.
I really thought that I was
safe this time, for could I not
see the drawers with their brass
handles, the charming shelf for
books, the pigeon-holes with
their coverings of silk?
"She made it out of three orange
boxes," said the lady, at last
a little awed herself.
I looked around
me despairingly, and my eye
alighted on the holland
covering. "There is a fine chandelier
in that holland bag," I said
and was raising an untender
hand, when I checked
her. "Forbear, ma'am," I cried
with authority, "I prefer to
believe in that bag. How much
to be pitied, ma'am, are those
who have lost faith in everything." I
think all the pretty things that
the little nursery governess
had made out of nothing squeezed
my hand for letting the chandelier
"But, good God, ma'am," said
I to madam, "what an exposure."
She intimated that there were
other exposures upstairs.
"So there is a stair," said
I, and then, suspiciously, "did
she make it?"
No, but how she had altered
The stair led to Mary's bedroom,
and I said I would not look at
that, nor at the studio, which
was a shed in the garden.
"Did she build
the studio with her own hands?"
No, but how she had altered
"How she alters everything," I
said. "Do you think you are safe,
a little under my obvious sympathy
me with some of her views and
confidences. The rental paid
by Mary and her husband was not,
it appeared, one on which any
self- respecting domestic could
reflect with pride. They got
the house very cheap on the understanding
that they were to vacate it promptly
if anyone bought it for building
purposes, and because they paid
so little they had to submit
to the indignity of the notice-board.
Mary A---- detested the words "This
space to be sold," and had been
known to shake her fist at them.
She was as elated about her house
as if it were a real house, and
always trembled when any possible
purchaser of spaces called.
As I have told
you my own aphorism I feel
I ought in fairness to
record that of this aggrieved
servant. It was on the subject
of art. "The difficulty," she
said, "is not to paint pictures,
but to get frames for them." A
home thrust this.
She could not honestly say
that she thought much of her
master's work. Nor, apparently,
did any other person. Result,
Yes, one person
thought a deal of it, or pretended
to do so;
was constantly flinging up her
hands in delight over it; had
even been caught whispering fiercely
to a friend, "Praise it, praise
it, praise it!" This was when
the painter was sunk in gloom.
Never, as I could well believe,
was such a one as Mary for luring
a man back to cheerfulness.
"A dangerous woman," I
said, with a shudder, and fell
a painting over the mantel-shelf.
It was a portrait of a man, and
had impressed me favourably because
it was framed.
"A friend of hers," my guide
informed me, "but I never seed
I would have
turned away from it, had not
an inscription on
the picture drawn me nearer.
It was in a lady's handwriting,
and these were the words: "Fancy
portrait of our dear unknown." Could
it be meant for me? I cannot
tell you how interested I suddenly
It represented a very fine
looking fellow, indeed, and not
a day more than thirty.
"A friend of hers, ma'am, did
you say?" I asked quite shakily. "How
do you know that, if you have
never seen him?"
"When master was painting of
it," she said, "in the studio,
he used to come running in here
to say to her such like as, 'What
colour would you make his eyes?'"
"And her reply, ma'am?" I
'Beautiful blue eyes.' And
he said, 'You wouldn't
make it a handsome face, would
you?' and she says, 'A very handsome
face.' And says he, 'Middle-aged?'
and says she, 'Twenty-nine.'
And I mind him saying, 'A little
bald on the top?' and she says,
says she, 'Not at all.'"
The dear, grateful girl, not
to make me bald on the top.
"I have seed her kiss her hand
to that picture," said the maid.
Fancy Mary kissing her hand
to me! Oh, the pretty love!
I was staring
at the picture, cogitating
what insulting message
I could write on it, when I heard
the woman's voice again. "I think
she has known him since she were
a babby," she was saying, "for
this here was a present he give
She was on
her knees drawing the doll's
house from beneath
the sofa, where it had been hidden
away; and immediately I thought, "I
shall slip the insulting message
into this." But I did not, and
I shall tell you why. It was
because the engaging toy had
been redecorated by loving hands;
there were fresh gowns for all
the inhabitants, and the paint
on the furniture was scarcely
dry. The little doll's house
was almost ready for further
I looked at
the maid, but her face was
it back," I said, ashamed to
have surprised Mary's pretty
secret, and I left the house
dejectedly, with a profound conviction
that the little nursery governess
had hooked on to me again.