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 the
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 why.
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
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
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
"They get me cheap," she said, "because I drink."
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
"But this green floor, so beautifully stained--"
"Boiling oil," said she, with a flush of honest shame, "and a
shillingsworth o' paint."
"Remnants," she sighed, and showed me how artfully they had been
"At all events the sofa--"
She raised its drapery, and I saw that the sofa was built of
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 coaxingly.
She sniffed 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 off.
"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
No, but how she had altered it.
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 it.
"How she alters everything," I said. "Do you think you are safe,
She thawed a little under my obvious sympathy and honoured 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, tinned
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 to
examining 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 him."
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
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 asked eagerly.
"She said, '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 her."
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 use.
I looked at the maid, but her face was expressionless. "Put 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.