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James Clinton was a clerk in the important firm of Haynes, Bryan & Co., and he held in it an important position. He was the very essence of respectability, and he earned one hundred and fifty-six pounds per annum. James Clinton believed in the Church of England and the Conservative party, in the greatness of Great Britain, in the need of more ships for the navy, and in the superiority of city men to other members of the commonweal.
'It's the man of business that makes the world go round,' he was in the habit of saying. 'D'you think, sir, that fifty thousand country squires could rule Great Britain? No; it's the city man, the man who's 'ad a sound business training, that's made England what it is. And that is why I 'old the Conservative party most capable of governing this mighty empire, because it 'as taken the business man to its 'eart. The strength of the Conservative party lies in its brewers and its city men, its bankers and iron-founders and stockbrokers; and as long as the Liberal party is a nest of Socialists and Trades-Unionists and Anarchists, we city men cannot and will not give it our support.'
Except for the lamentable conclusion of his career, he would undoubtedly have become an Imperialist, and the Union of the Great Anglo-Saxon Races would have found in him the sturdiest of supporters!
Mr Clinton was a little, spindly-shanked man, with weak, myopic eyes, protruding fishlike behind his spectacles. His hair was scant, worn long to conceal the baldness of the crown—and Cæsar was pleased to wear a wreath of laurel for the same purpose.... Mr Clinton wore small side-whiskers, but was otherwise clean-shaven, and the lack of beard betrayed the weakness of his mouth; his teeth were decayed and yellow. He was always dressed in a black tail-coat, shiny at the elbows; and he wore a shabby, narrow black tie, with a false diamond stud in his dickey. His grey trousers were baggy at the knees and frayed at the edges; his boots had a masculine and English breadth of toe. His top hat, of antiquated shape, was kept carefully brushed, but always looked as if it were suffering from a recent shower. When he had deserted the frivolous byways in which bachelordom is wont to disport itself for the sober path of the married man, he had begun to carry to and from the city a small black bag to impress upon the world at large his eminent respectability. Mr Clinton was married to Amy, second daughter of John Rayner, Esquire, of Peckham Rye....
Every morning Mr Clinton left his house in Camberwell in time to catch the eight-fifty-five train for the city. He made his way up Ludgate Hill, walking sideways, with a projection of the left part of his body, a habit he had acquired from constantly slipping past and between people who walked less rapidly than himself. Such persons always annoyed him; if they were not in a hurry he was, and they had no right to obstruct the way; and it was improper for a city man to loiter in the morning—the luncheon-hour was the time for loitering, no one was then in haste; but in the morning and at night on the way back to the station, one ought to walk at the same pace as everybody else. If Mr Clinton had been head of a firm, he would never have had in his office a man who sauntered in the morning. If a man wanted to loiter, let him go to the West-end; there he could lounge about all day. But the city was meant for business, and there wasn't time for West-end airs in the city.
Mr Clinton reached his office at a quarter to ten, except when the train, by some mistake, arrived up to time, when he arrived at nine-thirty precisely. On these occasions he would sit in his room with the door open, awaiting the coming of the office-boy, who used to arrive two minutes before Mr Clinton and was naturally much annoyed when the punctuality of the train prepared him a reprimand.
'Is that you, Dick?' called Mr Clinton, when he heard a footstep.
'Yes, sir,' answered the boy, appearing.
Mr Clinton looked up from his nails, which he was paring with a pair of pocket scissors.
'What is the meaning of this? You don't call this 'alf-past nine, do you?'
'Very sorry,' said the boy; 'it wasn't my fault, sir; train was late.'
'It's not the first time I've 'ad to speak to you about this, Dick; you know quite well that the company is always unpunctual; you should come by an earlier train.'
The office-boy looked sulky and did not answer. Mr Clinton proceeded, 'I 'ad to open the office myself. As assistant-manager, you know quite well that it is not my duty to open the office. You receive sixteen shillings a week to be 'ere at 'alf-past nine, and if you don't feel yourself capable of performing the duties for which you was engaged, you should give notice.... Don't let it occur again.'
But usually, on arriving, Mr Clinton took off his tail-coat and put on a jacket, manufactured from the office paper a pair of false cuffs to keep his own clean, and having examined the nibs in both his penholders and sharpened his pencil, set to work. From then till one o'clock he remained at his desk, solemnly poring over figures, casting accounts, comparing balance-sheets, writing letters, occasionally going for some purpose or another into the clerks' office or into the room of one of the partners. At one he went to luncheon, taking with him the portion of his Daily Telegraph which he was in the habit of reading during that meal. He went to an A. B. C. shop and ordered a roll and butter, a cup of chocolate and a scone. He divided his pat of butter into two, one half being for the roll and the other for the scone; he drank one moiety of the cup of chocolate after eating the roll, and the other after eating the scone. Meanwhile he read pages three and four of the Daily Telegraph. At a quarter to two he folded the paper, put down sixpence in payment, and slowly walked back to the office. He returned to his desk and there spent the afternoon solemnly poring over figures, casting accounts, comparing balance-sheets, writing letters, occasionally going for some purpose or another into the clerks' office or into the room of one of the partners. At ten minutes to six he wiped his pens and put them back in the tray, tidied his desk and locked his drawer. He took off his paper cuffs, washed his hands, wiped his face, brushed his hair, arranging the long whisps over the occipital baldness, and combed his whiskers. At six he left the office, caught the six-seventeen train from Ludgate Hill, and thus made his way back to Camberwell and the bosom of his family.
On Sunday, Mr Clinton put on Sunday clothes, and heading the little procession formed by Mrs Clinton and the two children, went to church, carrying in his hand a prayer book and a hymn book. After dinner he took a little walk with his wife along the neighbouring roads, avenues and crescents, examining the exterior of the houses, stopping now and then to look at a garden or a well-kept house, or trying to get a peep into some room. Mr and Mrs Clinton criticised as they went along, comparing the window curtains, blaming a door in want of paint, praising a well-whitened doorstep....
The Clintons lived in the fifth house down in the Adonis Road, and the house was distinguishable from its fellows by the yellow curtains with which Mrs Clinton had furnished all the windows. Mrs Clinton was a woman of taste. Before marriage, the happy pair, accompanied by Mrs Clinton's mother, had gone house-hunting, and fixed on the Adonis Road, which was cheap, respectable and near the station. Mrs Clinton would dearly have liked a house on the right-hand side of the road, which had nooks and angles and curiously-shaped windows. But Mr Clinton was firm in his refusal, and his mother-in-law backed him up.
'I dare say they're artistic,' he said, in answer to his wife's argument, 'but a man in my position don't want art—he wants substantiality. If the governor'—the governor was the senior partner of the firm—'if the governor was going to take a 'ouse I'd 'ave nothing to say against it, but in my position art's not necessary.'
'Quite right, James,' said his mother-in-law; 'I 'old with what you say entirely.'
Even in his early youth Mr Clinton had a fine sense of the responsibility of life, and a truly English feeling for the fitness of things.
So the Clintons took one of the twenty-three similar houses on the left-hand side of the street, and there lived in peaceful happiness. But Mr Clinton always pointed the finger of scorn at the houses opposite, and he never rubbed the back of his hands so heartily as when he could point out to his wife that such-and-such a number was having its roof repaired; and when the builder went bankrupt, he cut out the notice in the paper and sent it to his spouse anonymously....
At the beginning of August, Mr Clinton was accustomed, with his wife and family, to desert the sultry populousness of London for the solitude and sea air of Ramsgate. He read the Daily Telegraph by the sad sea waves, and made castles in the sand with his children. Then he changed his pepper-and-salt trousers for white flannel, but nothing on earth would induce him to forsake his top hat. He entirely agreed with the heroes of England's proudest epoch—of course I mean the middle Victorian—that the top hat was the sign-manual, the mark, the distinction of the true Englishman, the completest expression of England's greatness. Mr Clinton despised all foreigners, and although he would never have ventured to think of himself in the same breath with an English lord, he felt himself the superior of any foreign nobleman.
'I dare say they're all right in their way, but with these foreigners you don't feel they're gentlemen. I don't know what it is, but there's something, you understand, don't you? And I do like a man to be a gentleman. I thank God I'm an Englishman!'
Now, it chanced one day that the senior partner of the firm was summoned to serve on a jury at a coroner's inquest, and Mr Clinton, furnished with the excuse that Mr Haynes was out of town, was told to go in his stead. Mr Clinton had never performed that part of a citizen's duties, for on becoming a householder he had hit upon the expedient of being summoned for his rates, so that his name should be struck off the coroner's list; he was very indifferent to the implied dishonour. It was with some curiosity, therefore, that he repaired to the court on the morning of the inquest.
The weather was cold and grey, and a drizzling rain was falling. Mr Clinton did not take a 'bus, since by walking he could put in his pocket the threepence which he meant to charge the firm for his fare. The streets were wet and muddy, and people walked close against the houses to avoid the splash of passing vehicles. Mr Clinton thought of the jocose solicitor who was in the habit of taking an articled clerk with him on muddy days, to walk on the outside of the street and protect his master from the flying mud. The story particularly appealed to Mr Clinton; that solicitor must have been a fine man of business. As he walked leisurely along under his umbrella, Mr Clinton looked without envy upon the city men who drove along in hansoms.
'Some of us,' he said, 'are born great, others achieve greatness. A man like that'—he pointed with his mind's finger at a passing alderman—'a man like that can go about in 'is carriage and nobody can say anything against it. 'E's worked 'imself up from the bottom.'
But when he came down Parliament Street to Westminster Abbey he felt a different atmosphere, and he was roused to Jeremiac indignation at the sight, in a passing cab, of a gilded youth in an opera hat, with his coat buttoned up to hide his dress clothes.
'That's the sort of young feller I can't abide,' said Mr Clinton. 'And if I was a member of Parliament I'd stop it. That's what comes of 'aving too much money and nothing to do. If I was a member of the aristocracy I'd give my sons five years in an accountant's office. There's nothing like a sound business training for making a man.' He paused in the road and waved his disengaged hand. 'Now, what should I be if I 'adn't 'ad a sound business training?'
Mr Clinton arrived at the mortuary, a gay red and white building, which had been newly erected and consecrated by a duke with much festivity and rejoicing. Mr Clinton was sworn with the other jurymen, and with them repaired to see the bodies on which they were to sit. But Mr Clinton was squeamish.
'I don't like corpses,' he said. 'I object to them on principle.'
He was told he must look at them.
'Very well,' said Mr Clinton. 'You can take a 'orse to the well but you can't make 'im drink.' When it came to his turn to look through the pane of glass behind which was the body, he shut his eyes.
'I can't say I'm extra gone on corpses,' he said, as they walked back to the Court. 'The smell of them ain't what you might call eau-de-Cologne.' The other jurymen laughed. Mr Clinton often said witty things like that.
'Well, gentlemen,' said the coroner, rubbing his hands, 'we've only got three cases this morning, so I sha'n't have to keep you long. And they all seem to be quite simple.'
The first was an old man of seventy; he had been a respectable, hard-working man till two years before, when a paralytic stroke had rendered one side of him completely powerless. He lost his work. He was alone in the world—his wife was dead, and his only daughter had not been heard of for thirty years—and gradually he had spent his little savings; one by one he sent his belongings to the pawn shop, his pots and pans, his clothes, his arm-chair, finally his bedstead, then he died. The doctor said the man was terribly emaciated, his stomach was shrivelled up for want of food, he could have eaten nothing for two days before death.... The jury did not trouble to leave the box; the foreman merely turned round and whispered to them a minute; they all nodded, and a verdict was returned in accordance with the doctor's evidence!
The next inquiry was upon a child of two. The coroner leant his head wearily on his hand, such cases were so common! The babe's mother came forward to give her evidence—a pale little woman, with thin and hollow cheeks, her eyes red and dim with weeping. She sobbed as she told the coroner that her husband had left her, and she was obliged to support herself and two children. She was out of work, and food had been rather scanty; she had suckled the dead baby as long as she could, but her milk dried up. Two days before, on waking up in the morning, the child she held in her arms was cold and dead. The doctor shrugged his shoulders. Want of food! And the jury returned their verdict, framed in a beautiful and elaborate sentence, in accordance with the evidence.
The last case was a girl of twenty. She had been found in the Thames; a bargee told how he saw a confused black mass floating on the water, and he put a boat-hook in the skirt, tying the body up to the boat while he called the police, he was so used to such things! In the girl's pocket was found a pathetic little letter to the coroner, begging his pardon for the trouble she was causing, saying she had been sent away from her place, and was starving, and had resolved to put an end to her troubles by throwing herself in the river. She was pregnant. The medical man stated that there were signs on the body of very great privation, so the jury returned a verdict that the deceased had committed suicide whilst in a state of temporary insanity!
The coroner stretched his arms and blew his nose, and the jury went their way.
But Mr Clinton stood outside the mortuary door, meditating, and the coroner's officer remarked that it was a wet day.
'Could I 'ave another look at the bodies?' timidly asked the clerk, stirring himself out of his contemplation.
The coroner's officer looked at him with surprise, and laughed.
'Yes, if you like.'
Mr Clinton looked through the glass windows at the bodies, and he carefully examined their faces; he looked at them one after another slowly, and it seemed as if he could not tear himself away. Finally he turned round, his face was very pale, and it had quite a strange expression on it; he felt very sick.
'Thank you!' he said to the coroner's officer, and walked away. But after a few steps he turned back, touching the man on the arm. 'D'you 'ave many cases like that?' he asked.
'Why, you look quite upset,' said the coroner's officer, with amusement. 'I can see you're not used to such things. You'd better go to the pub. opposite and 'ave three 'aporth of brandy.'
'They seemed rather painful cases,' said Mr Clinton, in a low voice.
'Oh, it was a slack day to-day. Nothing like what it is usually this time of year.'
'They all died of starvation—starvation, and nothing else.'
'I suppose they did, more or less,' replied the officer.
'D'you 'ave many cases like that?'
'Starvation cases? Lor' bless you! on a 'eavy day we'll 'ave 'alf a dozen, easy.'
'Oh!' said Mr Clinton.
'Well, I must be getting on with my work,' said the officer—they were standing on the doorstep and he looked at the public-house opposite, but Mr Clinton paid no further attention to him. He began to walk slowly away citywards.
'Well, you are a rummy old file!' said the coroner's officer.
But presently a mist came before Mr Clinton's eyes, everything seemed suddenly extraordinary, he had an intense pain and he felt himself falling. He opened his eyes slowly, and found himself sitting on a doorstep; a policeman was shaking him, asking what his name was. A woman standing by was holding his top hat; he noticed that his trousers were muddy, and mechanically he pulled out his handkerchief and began to wipe them.
He looked vacantly at the policeman asking questions. The woman asked him if he was better. He motioned her to give him his hat; he put it feebly on his head and, staggering to his feet, walked unsteadily away.
The rain drizzled down impassively, and cabs passing swiftly splashed up the yellow mud....
Mr Clinton went back to the office; it was his boast that for ten years he had never missed a day. But he was dazed; he did his work mechanically, and so distracted was he that, on going home in the evening, he forgot to remove his paper cuffs, and his wife remarked upon them while they were supping. Mrs Clinton was a short, stout person, with an appearance of immense determination; her black, shiny hair was parted in the middle—the parting was broad and very white—severely brushed back and gathered into a little knot at the back of the head; her face was red and strongly lined, her eyes spirited, her nose aggressive, her mouth resolute. Everyone has some one procedure which seems most exactly to suit him—a slim youth bathing in a shaded stream, an alderman standing with his back to the fire and his thumbs in the arm-holes of his waistcoat—and Mrs Clinton expressed her complete self, exhibiting every trait and attribute, on Sunday in church, when she sat in the front pew self-reliantly singing the hymns in the wrong key. It was then that she seemed more than ever the personification of a full stop. Her morals were above suspicion, and her religion Low Church.
'They've moved into the second 'ouse down,' she remarked to her husband. 'And Mrs Tilly's taken 'er summer curtains down at last.' Mrs Clinton spent most of her time in watching her neighbours' movements, and she and her husband always discussed at the supper-table the events of the day, but this time he took no notice of her remark. He pushed away his cold meat with an expression of disgust.
'You don't seem up to the mark to-night, Jimmy,' said Mrs Clinton.
'I served on a jury to-day in place of the governor, and it gave me rather a turn.'
'Why, was there anything particular?'
Mr Clinton crumbled up his bread, rolling it about on the table.
'Only some poor things starved to death.'
Mrs Clinton shrugged her shoulders. 'Why couldn't they go to the workhouse, I wonder? I've no patience with people like that.'
Mr Clinton looked at her for a moment, then rose from the table. 'Well, dear, I think I'll get to bed; I daresay I shall be all right in the morning.'
'That's right,' said Mrs Clinton; 'you get to bed and I'll bring you something 'ot. I expect you've got a bit of a chill and a good perspiration'll do you a world of good.'
She mixed bad whisky with harmless water, and stood over her husband while he patiently drank the boiling mixture. Then she piled a couple of extra blankets on him and went down stairs to have her usual nip, 'Scotch and cold,' before going to bed herself.
All night Mr Clinton tossed from side to side; the heat was unbearable, and he threw off the clothes. His restlessness became so great that he got out of bed and walked up and down the room—a pathetically ridiculous object in his flannel nightshirt, from which his thin legs protruded grotesquely. Going back to bed, he fell into an uneasy sleep; but waking or sleeping, he had before his eyes the faces of the three horrible bodies he had seen at the mortuary. He could not blot out the image of the thin, baby face with the pale, open eyes, the white face drawn and thin, hideous in its starved, dead shapelessness. And he saw the drawn, wrinkled face of the old man, with the stubbly beard; looking at it, he felt the long pain of hunger, the agony of the hopeless morrow. But he shuddered with terror at the thought of the drowned girl with the sunken eyes, the horrible discolouration of putrefaction; and Mr Clinton buried his face in his pillow, sobbing, sobbing very silently so as not to wake his wife....
The morning came at last and found him feverish and parched, unable to move. Mrs Clinton sent for the doctor, a slow, cautious Scotchman, in whose wisdom Mrs Clinton implicitly relied, since he always agreed with her own idea of her children's ailments. This prudent gentleman ventured to assert that Mr Clinton had caught cold and had something wrong with his lungs. Then, promising to send medicine and come again next day, went off on his rounds. Mr Clinton grew worse; he became delirious. When his wife, smoothing his pillow, asked him how he felt, he looked at her with glassy eyes.
'Lor' bless you!' he muttered, 'on a 'eavy day we'll 'ave 'alf a dozen, easy.'
'What's this he's talking about?' asked the doctor, next day.
''E was serving on a jury the day before yesterday, and my opinion is that it's got on 'is brain,' answered Mrs Clinton.
'Oh, that's nothing. You needn't worry about that. I daresay it'll turn to clothes or religion before he's done. People talk of funny things when they're in that state. He'll probably think he's got two hundred pairs of trousers or a million pounds a year.'
A couple of days later the doctor came to the final conclusion that it was a case of typhoid, and pronounced Mr Clinton very ill. He was indeed; he lay for days, between life and death, on his back, looking at people with dull, unknowing eyes, clutching feebly at the bed-clothes. And for hours he would mutter strange things to himself so quietly that one could not hear. But at last Dame Nature and the Scotch doctor conquered the microbes, and Mr Clinton became better.
One day Mrs Clinton was talking to a neighbour in the bedroom, the patient was so quiet that they thought him asleep.
'Yes, I've 'ad a time with 'im, I can tell you,' said Mrs Clinton. 'No one knows what I've gone through.'
'Well, I must say,' said the friend, 'you haven't spared yourself; you've nursed him like a professional nurse.'
Mrs Clinton crossed her hands over her stomach and looked at her husband with self-satisfaction. But Mr Clinton was awake, staring in front of him with wide-open, fixed eyes; various thoughts confusedly ran through his head.
'Isn't 'e looking strange?' whispered Mrs Clinton.
The two women kept silence, watching him.
'Amy, are you there?' asked Mr Clinton, suddenly, without turning his eyes.
'Yes, dear. Is there anything you want?'
Mr Clinton did not reply for several minutes; the women waited in silence.
'Bring me a Bible, Amy,' he said at last.
'A Bible, Jimmy?' asked Mrs Clinton, in astonishment.
She looked anxiously at her friend.
'Oh, I do 'ope the delirium isn't coming on again,' she whispered, and, pretending to smooth his pillow, she passed her hand over his forehead to see if it was hot. 'Are you quite comfortable, dear?' she asked, without further allusion to the Bible.
'Yes, Amy, quite!'
'Don't you think you could go to sleep for a little while?'
'I don't feel sleepy, I want to read; will you bring me the Bible?'
Mrs Clinton looked helplessly at her friend; she feared something was wrong, and she didn't know what to do. But the neighbour, with a significant look, pointed to the Daily Telegraph, which was lying on a chair. Mrs Clinton brightened up and took it to her husband.
'Here's the paper, dear.' Mr Clinton made a slight movement of irritation.
'I don't want it; I want the Bible.' Mrs Clinton looked at her friend more helplessly than ever.
'I've never known 'im ask for such a thing before,' she whispered, 'and 'e's never missed reading the Telegraph a single day since we was married.'
'I don't think you ought to read,' she said aloud to her husband. 'But the doctor'll be here soon, and I'll ask 'im then.'
The doctor stroked his chin thoughtfully. 'I don't think there'd be any harm in letting him have a Bible,' he said, 'but you'd better keep an eye on him.... I suppose there's no insanity in the family?'
'No, doctor, not as far as I know. I've always 'eard that my mother's uncle was very eccentric, but that wouldn't account for this, because we wasn't related before we married.'
Mr Clinton took the Bible, and, turning to the New Testament, began to read. He read chapter after chapter, pausing now and again to meditate, or reading a second time some striking passage, till at last he finished the first gospel. Then he turned to his wife.
'Amy, d'you know, I think I should like to do something for my feller-creatures. I don't think we're meant to live for ourselves alone in this world.'
Mrs Clinton was quite overcome; she turned away to hide the tears which suddenly filled her eyes, but the shock was too much for her, and she had to leave the room so that her husband might not see her emotion; she immediately sent for the doctor.
'Oh, doctor,' she said, her voice broken with sobs, 'I'm afraid—I'm afraid my poor 'usband's going off 'is 'ead.'
And she told him of the incessant reading and the remark Mr Clinton had just made. The doctor looked grave, and began thinking.
'You're quite sure there's no insanity in the family?' he asked again.
'Not to the best of my belief, doctor.'
'And you've noticed nothing strange in him? His mind hasn't been running on money or clothes?'
'No, doctor; I wish it 'ad. I shouldn't 'ave thought anything of that; there's something natural in a man talking about stocks and shares and trousers, but I've never 'eard 'im say anything like this before. He was always a wonderfully steady man.'
Mr Clinton became daily stronger, and soon he was quite well. He resumed his work at the office, and in every way seemed to have regained his old self. He gave utterance to no more startling theories, and the casual observer might have noticed no difference between him and the model clerk of six months back. But Mrs Clinton had received too great a shock to look upon her husband with casual eyes, and she noticed in his manner an alteration which disquieted her. He was much more silent than before; he would take his supper without speaking a word, without making the slightest sign to show that he had heard some remark of Mrs Clinton's. He did not read the paper in the evening as he had been used to do, but would go upstairs to the top of the house, and stand by an open window looking at the stars. He had an enigmatical way of smiling which Mrs Clinton could not understand. Then he had lost his old punctuality—he would come home at all sorts of hours, and, when his wife questioned him, would merely shrug his shoulders and smile strangely. Once he told her that he had been wandering about looking at men's lives.
Mrs Clinton thought that a very unsatisfactory explanation of his unpunctuality, and after a long consultation with the cautious doctor came to the conclusion that it was her duty to discover what her husband did during the long time that elasped between his leaving the office and returning home.
So one day, at about six, she stationed herself at the door of the big building in which were Mr Clinton's offices, and waited. Presently he appeared in the doorway, and after standing for a minute or two on the threshold, ever with the enigmatical smile hovering on his lips, came down the steps and walked slowly along the crowded street. His wife walked behind him; and he was not difficult to follow, for he had lost his old, quick, business-like step, and sauntered along, looking to the right and to the left, carelessly, as if he had not awaiting him at home his duties as the father of a family.... After a while he turned down a side street, and his wife followed with growing astonishment; she could not imagine where he was going. Just then a little flower-girl passed by and offered him a yellow rose. He stopped and looked at her; Mrs Clinton could see that she was a grimy little girl, with a shock of unkempt brown hair and a very dirty apron; but Mr Clinton put his hand on her head and looked into her eyes; then he gave her a penny, and, stooping down, lightly kissed her hair.
'Bless you, my dear!' he said, and passed on.
'Well, I never!' said Mrs Clinton, quite aghast; and as she walked by the flower girl, snorted at her and looked so savagely that the poor little maiden quite started. Mr Clinton walked very slowly, stopping now and then to look at a couple of women seated on a doorstep, or the children round an ice-cream stall. Mrs Clinton saw him pay a penny and give an ice to a little child who was looking with longing eyes at its more fortunate companions as they licked out the little glass cups. He remained quite a long while watching half a dozen young girls dancing to the music of a barrel organ, and again, to his wife's disgust, Mr Clinton gave money.
'We shall end in the work'ouse if this goes on,' muttered Mrs Clinton, and she pursed up her lips more tightly than ever, thinking of the explanation she meant to have when her mate came home.
At last Mr Clinton came to a narrow slum, down which he turned, and so filthy was it that the lady almost feared to follow. But indignation, curiosity, and a stern sense of duty prevailed. She went along with up-turned nose, making her way carefully between cabbages and other vegetable refuse, sidling up against a house to avoid a dead cat which lay huddled up in the middle of the way, with a great red wound in its head.
Mrs Clinton was disgusted to see her husband enter a public-house.
'Is this where he gets to?' she said to herself, and, looking through the door, saw him talk with two or three rough men who were standing at the bar, drinking 'four 'arf.'
But she waited determinedly. She had made up her mind to see the matter to the end, come what might; she was willing to wait all night.
After a time he came out, and, going through a narrow passage made his way into an alley. Then he went straight up to a big-boned, coarse-featured woman in a white apron, who was standing at an open door, and when he had said a few words to her, the two entered the house and the door was closed behind them.
Mrs Clinton suddenly saw it all.
'I am deceived!' she said tragically, and she crackled with virtuous indignation.
Her first impulse was to knock furiously at the door and force her way in to bear her James away from the clutches of the big-boned siren. But she feared that her rival would meet her with brute force, and the possibility of defeat made her see the unladylikeness of the proceeding. So she turned on her heel, holding up her skirts and her nose against the moral contamination and made her way out of the low place. She walked tempestuously down to Fleet Street, jumped fiercely on a 'bus, frantically caught the train to Camberwell, and, having reached her house in the Adonis Road, flung herself furiously down on a chair and gasped,—
Then she got ready for her husband's return.
'Well?' she said, when he came in; and she looked daggers.... 'Well?'
'I'm afraid I'm later than usual, my dear.' It was, in fact, past nine o'clock.
'Don't talk to me!' she replied, with a vigorous jerk of her head. 'I know what you've been up to.'
'What do you mean, my love?' he gently asked.
She positively snorted with indignation; she had rolled her handkerchief into a ball, and nervously dabbed the palms of her hands with it. 'I followed you this afternoon, and I saw you go into that 'ouse with that low woman. What now? Eh?' She spoke with the greatest possible emphasis.
'Woman!' said Mr Clinton, with a smile, 'What are you to me?'
'Don't call me woman!' said Mrs Clinton, very angrily. 'What am I to you? I'm your wife, and I've got the marriage certificate in my pocket at this moment.' She slapped her pocket loudly. 'I'm your wife, and you ought to be ashamed of yourself.'
'Wife! You are no more to me than any other woman!'
'And you 'ave the audacity to tell me that to my face! Oh, you—you villain! I won't stand it, I tell you; I won't stand it. I know I can't get a divorce—the laws of England are scandalous—but I'll 'ave a judicious separation.... I might have known it, you're all alike, every one of you; that's 'ow you men treat women. You take advantage of their youth and beauty, and then.... Oh, you villain! Here 'ave I worked myself to the bone for you and brought up your children, and I don't know what I 'aven't done, and now you go and take on with some woman, and leave me. Oh!' She burst into tears. Mr Clinton still smiled, and there was a curious look in his eyes.
'Woman! woman!' he said, 'you know not what you say!' He went up to his wife and laid his hand on her shoulder. 'Dry your tears,' he said, 'and I will tell you of these things.'
Mrs Clinton shook herself angrily, keeping her face buried in her pocket handkerchief, but he turned away without paying more attention to her; then, standing in front of the glass, he looked at himself earnestly and began to speak.
'It was during my illness that my eyes were opened. Lying in bed through those long hours I thought of the poor souls whose tale I 'ad 'eard in the coroner's court. And all night I saw their dead faces. I thought of the misery of mankind and of the 'ardness of men's 'earts.... Then a ray of light came to me, and I called for a Bible, and I read, and read; and the light grew into a great glow, and I saw that man was not meant to live for 'imself alone; that there was something else in life, that it was man's duty to 'elp his fellers; and I resolved, when I was well, to do all that in me lay to 'elp the poor and the wretched, and faithfully to carry out those precepts which the Book 'ad taught me.'
'Oh, dear! oh, dear!' sobbed Mrs Clinton, who had looked up and listened with astonishment to her husband's speech. 'Oh, dear! oh, dear! what is he talking about?'
Mr Clinton turned towards her and again put his hand on her shoulder.
'And that is 'ow I spend my time, Amy. I go into the most miserable 'ouses, into the dirtiest 'oles, the foulest alleys, and I seek to make men 'appier. I do what I can to 'elp them in their distress, and to show them that brilliant light which I see so gloriously lighting the way before me. And now good-night!' He stretched out his arm, and for a moment let his hand rest above her head; then, turning on his heel, he left the room.
Next day Mrs Clinton called on the doctor, and told him of her husband's strange behaviour. The doctor slowly and meditatively nodded, then he raised his eyebrows, and with his finger significantly tapped his head....
'Well,' he said, 'I think you'd better wait a while and see how things go on. I'll just write out a prescription, and you can give him the medicine three times a day after meals,' and he ordered the unhappy Mr Clinton another tonic, which, if it had no effect on that gentleman, considerably reassured his wife.
Mr Clinton, in fact, became worse. He came home later and later every night, and his wife was disgusted at the state of uncleanness which his curious wanderings brought about. He refused to take the baths which Mrs Clinton prepared for him. He was more silent than ever, but when he spoke it was in biblical language; and always hovered on his lips the enigmatical smile, and his eyes always had the strange, disconcerting look. Mrs Clinton perseveringly made him take his medicine, but she lost faith in its power when, one night at twelve, Mr Clinton brought home with him a very dirty, ragged man, who looked half-starved and smelt distinctly alcoholic.
'Jim,' she said, on seeing the miserable object slinking in behind her husband, 'Jim, what's that?'
'That, Amy? That is your brother!'
'My brother? What d'you mean?' cried Mrs Clinton, firing up. 'That's no brother of mine. I 'aven't got a brother.'
'It's your brother and my brother. Be good to him.'
'I tell you it isn't my brother,' repeated Mrs Clinton; 'my brother Adolphus died when he was two years old, and that's the only brother I ever 'ad.'
Mr Clinton merely looked at her with his usual gentle expression, and she asked angrily,—
'What 'ave you brought 'im 'ere for?'
''E is 'ungry, and I am going to give 'im food; 'e is 'omeless, and I am going to give 'im shelter.'
'Here, in my 'ouse, in my bed.'
'In my bed!' screamed Mrs Clinton. 'Not if I know it! 'Ere, you,' she said, addressing the man, and pushing past her husband. 'Out you get! I'm not going to 'ave tramps and loafers in my 'ouse. Get out!' Mrs Clinton was an energetic woman, and a strong one. Catching hold of her husband's stick, and flourishing it, she opened the front door.
'Amy! Amy!' expostulated Mr Clinton.
'Now, then, you be quiet. I've 'ad about enough of you! Get on out, will you?'
The man made a rush for the door, and as he scrambled down the steps she caught him a smart blow on the back, and slammed the door behind him. Then, returning to the sitting-room, she sank panting on a chair. Mr Clinton slowly recovered from his surprise.
'Woman,' he said, this being now his usual mode of address—he spoke solemnly and sadly—'you 'ave cast out your brother, you 'ave cast out your husband, you 'ave cast out yourself.'
'Don't talk to me!' said Mrs Clinton, very wrathfully. 'It's bed time now; come along upstairs.'
'I will not come to your bed again. You 'ave refused it to one who was better than I; and why should I 'ave it? Go, woman; go and leave me.'
'Now, then, don't come trying your airs on me,' said Mrs Clinton. 'They won't wash. Come up to bed.'
'I tell you I will not,' replied Mr Clinton, decisively. 'Go, woman, and leave me!'
'Well, if I do, I sha'n't leave the light; so there!' she said spitefully, and, taking the lamp, left Mr Clinton in darkness.
Mrs Clinton was not henceforth on the very best of terms with her husband, but he always treated her with his accustomed gentleness, though he insisted on spending his nights on the dining-room sofa.
But perhaps the most objectionable to Mrs Clinton of all her good man's eccentricities, was that he no longer gave her his week's money every Saturday afternoon as he had been accustomed to do; the coldness between them made her unwilling to say anything about it, but the approach of quarter day forced her to pocket her dignity and ask for the money.
'Oh, James!'—she no longer called him Jimmy—'will you give me the money for the rent?'
'Money?' he answered with the usual smile on his lips. 'I 'ave no money.'
'What d'you mean? You've not given me a farthing for ten weeks.'
'I 'ave given it to those who want it more than I.'
'You don't mean to tell me that you've given your salary away?'
Mrs Clinton groaned.
'Oh, you're dotty!... I can understand giving a threepenny bit, or even sixpence, at the offertory on Sunday at church, and of course one 'as to give Christmas-boxes to the tradesmen; but to give your whole salary away! 'Aven't you got anything left?'
'You—you aggravating fool! And I'll be bound you gave it to lazy loafers and tramps and Lord knows what!'
Mr Clinton did not answer; his wife walked rapidly backwards and forwards, wringing her hands.
'Well, look here, James,' she said at last. 'It's no use crying over spilt milk; but from this day you just give me your salary the moment you receive it. D'you hear? I tell you I will not 'ave any more of your nonsense.'
'I shall get no more salaries,' he quietly remarked.
Mrs Clinton looked at him; he was quite calm, and smilingly returned her glance.
'What do you mean by that?' she asked.
'I am no longer at the office.'
'James! You 'aven't been sacked?' she screamed.
'Oh, they said I did not any longer properly attend to my work. They said I was careless, and that I made mistakes; they complained that I was unpunctual, that I went late and came away early; and one day, because I 'adn't been there the day before, they told me to leave. I was watching at the bedside of a man who was dying and 'ad need of me; so 'ow could I go? But I didn't really mind; the office 'indered me in my work.'
'But what are you going to do now?' gasped Mrs Clinton.
'I 'ave my work; that is more important than ten thousand offices.'
'But 'ow are you going to earn your living? What's to become of us?'
'Don't trouble me about those things. Come with me, and work for the poor.'
'James, think of the children!'
'What are your children to me more than any other children?'
'Woman, I tell you not to trouble me about these things. 'Ave we not money enough, and to spare?'
He waved his hand, and putting on his top hat, which looked more than ever in need of restoration, went out, leaving his wife in a perfect agony.
There was worse to follow. Coming home a few days later, Mr Clinton told his wife that he wished to speak with her.
'I 'ave been looking into my books,' he said, 'and I find that we have invested in various securities a sum of nearly seven 'undred pounds.'
'Thank 'Eaven for that!' answered his wife. 'It's the only thing that'll save us from starvation now that you moon about all day, instead of working like a decent man.'
'Well, I 'ave been thinking, and I 'ave been reading; and I 'ave found it written—Give all and follow me.'
'Well, there's nothing new in that,' said Mrs Clinton, viciously. 'I've known that text ever since I was a child.'
'And as it were a Spirit 'as come to me and said that I too must give all. In short, I 'ave determined to sell out my stocks and my shares; my breweries are seven points 'igher than when I bought them; I knew it was a good investment. I am going to realise everything; I am going to take the money in my hand, and I am going to give it to the poor.'
Mrs Clinton burst into tears.
'Do not weep,' he said solemnly. 'It is my duty, and it is a pleasant one. Oh, what joy to make a 'undred people 'appy; to relieve a poor man who is starving, to give a breath of country air to little children who are dying for the want of it, to 'elp the poor, to feed the 'ungry, to clothe the naked! Oh, if I only 'ad a million pounds!' He stretched out his arms in a gesture of embrace, and looked towards heaven with an ecstatic smile upon his lips.
It was too serious a matter for Mrs Clinton to waste any words on; she ran upstairs, put on her bonnet, and quickly walked to her friend, the doctor.
He looked graver than ever when she told him.
'Well,' he said, 'I'm afraid it's very serious. I've never heard of anyone doing such a thing before.... Of course I've known of people who have left all their money to charities after their death, when they didn't want it; but it couldn't ever occur to a normal, healthy man to do it in his lifetime.'
'But what shall I do, doctor?' Mrs Clinton was almost in hysterics.
'Well, Mrs Clinton, d'you know the clergyman of the parish?'
'I know Mr Evans, the curate, very well; he's a very nice gentleman.'
'Perhaps you could get him to have a talk with your husband. The fact is, it's a sort of religious mania he's got, and perhaps a clergyman could talk him out of it. Anyhow, it's worth trying.'
Mrs Clinton straightway went to Mr Evans's rooms, explained to him the case, and settled that on the following day he should come and see what he could do with her husband.
In expectation of the curate's visit, Mrs Clinton tidied the house and adorned herself. It has been said that she was a woman of taste, and so she was. The mantelpiece and looking glass were artistically draped with green muslin, and this she proceeded to arrange, tying and carefully forming the yellow satin ribbon with which it was relieved. The chairs were covered with cretonne which might have come from the Tottenham Court Road, and these she placed in positions of careless and artistic confusion, smoothing down the antimacassars which were now her pride, as the silk petticoat from which she had manufactured them had been once her glory. For the flower-pots she made fresh coverings of red tissue paper, re-arranged the ornaments gracefully scattered about on little Japanese tables; then, after pausing a moment to admire her work and see that nothing had been left undone, she went upstairs to perform her own toilet.... In less than half an hour she reappeared, holding herself in a dignified posture, with her head slightly turned to one side and her hands meekly folded in front of her, stately and collected as Juno, a goddess in black satin. Her dress was very elegant; it might have typified her own life, for in its original state of virgin whiteness it had been her wedding garment; then it was dyed purple, and might have betokened a sense of change and coming responsibilities; lastly it was black, to signify the burden of a family, and the seriousness of life. No one had realised so intensely as Mrs Clinton the truth of the poet's words. Life is not an empty dream. She took out her handkerchief, redolent with lascivious patchouli, and placed it in her bosom—a spot of whiteness against the black.... She sat herself down to wait.
There was a knock and a ring at the door, timid, as befitted a clergyman; and the servant-girl showed in Mr Evans. He was a thin and short young man, red faced, with a long nose and weak eyes, looking underfed and cold, keeping his shoulders screwed up in a perpetual shiver. He was an earnest, God-fearing man, spending much money in charities, and waging constant war against the encroachments of the Scarlet Woman.
'I think I'll just take my coat off, if you don't mind, Mrs Clinton,' he said, after the usual greetings. He folded it carefully, and hung it over the back of a chair; then, coming forward, he sat down and rubbed the back of his hands.
'I asked my 'usband to stay in because you wanted to see 'im, but he would go out. 'Owever'—Mrs Clinton always chose her language on such occasions—''owever, 'e's promised to return at four, and I will say this for 'im, he never breaks 'is word.'
'Oh, very well!'
'May I 'ave the pleasure of offering you a cup of tea, Mr Evans?'
The curate's face brightened up.
'Oh, thank you so much!' And he rubbed his hands more energetically than ever.
Tea was brought in, and they drank it, talking of parish matters, Mrs Clinton discreetly trying to pump the curate. Was it really true that Mrs Palmer of No. 17 Adonis Road drank so terribly?
At last Mr Clinton came, and his wife glided out of the room, leaving the curate to convert him. There was a little pause while Mr Evans took stock of the clerk.
'Well, Mr Clinton,' he said finally, 'I've come to talk to you about yourself.... Your wife tells me that you have adopted certain curious views on religious matters; and she wishes me to have some conversation with you about them.'
'You are a man of God,' replied Mr Clinton; 'I am at your service.'
Mr Evans, on principle, objected to the use of the Deity's name out of church, thinking it a little blasphemous, but he said nothing.
'Well,' he said, 'of course, religion is a very good thing; in fact, it is the very best thing; but it must not be abused, Mr Clinton,' and he repeated gravely, as if his interlocutor were a naughty schoolboy—'it mustn't be abused. Now, I want to know exactly what you views are.'
Mr Clinton smiled gently.
'I 'ave no views, sir. The only rule I 'ave for guidance is this—love thy neighbour as thyself.'
'Hum!' murmured the curate; there was really nothing questionable in that, but he was just slightly prejudiced against a man who made such a quotation; it sounded a little priggish.
'But your wife tells me that you've been going about with all sorts of queer people?'
'I found that there was misery and un'appiness among people, and I tried to relieve it.'
'Of course, I strongly approve of district visiting; I do a great deal of it myself; but you've been going about with public-house loafers and—bad women.'
'Is it not said: "I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance"?'
'No doubt,' answered Mr Evans, slightly frowning. 'But obviously one isn't meant to do that to such an extent as to be dismissed from one's place.'
'My wife 'as posted you well up in all my private affairs.'
'Well, I don't think you can have done well to be sent away from your office.'
'Is it not said: "Forsake all and follow me"?'
Decidedly this was bad form, and Mr Evans, pursing up his lips and raising his eyebrows, was silent. 'That's the worst of these half-educated people,' he said to himself; 'they get some idea in their heads which they don't understand, and, of course, they do idiotic things....'
'Well, to pass over all that,' he added out loud, 'apparently you've been spending your money on these people to such an extent that your wife and children are actually inconvenienced by it.'
'I 'ave clothed the naked,' said Mr Clinton, looking into the curate's eyes; 'I 'ave visited the sick; I 'ave given food to 'im that was an 'ungered, and drink to 'im that was athirst.'
'Yes, yes, yes; that's all very well, but you should always remember that charity begins at home.... I shouldn't have anything to say to a rich man's doing these things, but it's positively wicked for you to do them. Don't you understand that? And last of all, your wife tells me that you're realising your property with the idea of giving it away.'
'It's perfectly true,' said Mr Clinton.
Mr Evans's mind was too truly pious for a wicked expletive to cross it; but a bad man expressing the curate's feeling would have said that Mr Clinton was a damned fool.
'Well, don't you see that it's a perfectly ridiculous and unheard-of thing?' he asked emphatically.
'"Sell all that thou 'ast, and distribute unto the poor." It is in the Gospel of St Luke. Do you know it?'
'Of course I know it, but, naturally, these things aren't to be taken quite literally.'
'It is clearly written. What makes you say it is not to be taken literally?'
Mr Evans shrugged his shoulders impatiently.
'Why, don't you see it would be impossible? The world couldn't go on. How do you expect your children to live if you give this money away?'
'"Look at the lilies of the field. They toil not, neither do they spin; yet Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed as one of these."'....
'Oh, my dear sir, you make me lose my patience. You're full of the hell-fire platitudes of a park spouter, and you think it's religion.... I tell you all these things are allegorical. Don't you understand that? You mustn't carry them out to the letter. They are not meant to be taken in that way.'
Mr Clinton smiled a little pitifully at the curate.
'And think of yourself—one must think of oneself. "God helps those who help themselves." How are you going to exist when this little money of yours is gone? You'll simply have to go to the workhouse.... It's absurd, I tell you.'
Mr Clinton took no further notice of the curate, but he broke into a loud chant,—
'"Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon the earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal."' Then, turning on the unhappy curate, he stretched out his arm and pointed his finger at him. 'Last Sunday,' he said, 'I 'eard you read those very words from the chancel steps. Go! go! I tell you, go! You are a bad man, a wolf in sheep's clothing—go!' Mr Clinton walked up to him threateningly, and the curate, with a gasp of astonishment and indignation, fled from the room.
He met Mrs Clinton outside.
'I can't do anything with him at all,' he said angrily. 'I've never heard such things in my life. He's either mad or he's got into the hands of the Dissenters. That's the only explanation I can offer.'
Then, to quiet his feelings, he called on a wealthy female parishioner, with whom he was a great favourite, because she thought him 'such a really pious man,' and it was not till he had drunk two cups of tea that he recovered his equilibrium.
Mrs Clinton was at her wit's end. Her husband had sold out his shares, and the money was lying at the bank ready to be put to its destined use. Visions of debt and bankruptcy presented themselves to her. She saw her black satin dress in the ruthless clutches of a pawnbroker, the house and furniture sold over her head, the children down at heel, and herself driven to work for her living—needlework, nursing, charing—what might not things come to? However, she went to the doctor and told him of the failure of their scheme.
'I've come to the end of my tether, Mrs Clinton; I really don't know what to do. The only thing I can suggest is that a mental specialist should examine into the state of his mind. I really think he's wrong in his head, and, you know, it may be necessary for your welfare and his own that he be kept under restriction.'
'Well, doctor,' answered Mrs Clinton, putting her handkerchief up to her eyes and beginning to cry, 'well, doctor, of course I shouldn't like him to be shut up—it seems a terrible thing, and I shall never 'ave a moment's peace all the rest of my life; but if he must be shut up, for Heaven's sake let it be done at once, before the money's gone.' And here she began to sob very violently.
The doctor said he would immediately write to the specialist, so that they might hold a consultation on Mr Clinton the very next day.
So, the following morning, Mrs Clinton again put on her black satin dress, and, further, sent to her grocer's for a bottle of sherry, her inner consciousness giving her to understand that specialists expected something of the kind....
The specialist came. He was a tall, untidily-dressed man, with his hair wild and straggling, as if he had just got out of bed. He was very clever, and very impatient of stupid people, and he seldom met anyone whom he did not think in one way or another intensely stupid.
Mr Clinton, as before, had gone out, but Mrs Clinton did her best to entertain the two doctors. The specialist, who talked most incessantly himself, was extremely impatient of other people's conversation.
'Why on earth don't people see that they're much more interesting when they hold their tongues than when they speak?' he was in the habit of saying, and immediately would pour out a deluge of words, emphasising and explaining the point, giving instances of its truth....
'You must see a lot of strange things, doctor,' said Mrs Clinton, amiably.
'Yes,' answered the specialist.
'I think it must be very interesting to be a doctor,' said Mrs Clinton.
'You must see a lot of strange things.'
'Yes, yes,' repeated the doctor, and as Mrs Clinton went on complacently, he frowned and drummed his fingers on the table and looked to the right and left. 'When is the man coming in?' he asked impatiently.
And at last he could not contain himself.
'If you don't mind, Mrs Clinton, I should like to talk to your doctor alone about the case. You can wait in the next room.'
'I'm sure I don't wish to intrude,' said Mrs Clinton, bridling up, and she rose in a dignified manner from her chair. She thought his manners were distinctly queer. 'But, of course,' she said to a friend afterwards, 'he's a genius, there's no mistaking it, and people like that are always very eccentric.'
'What an insufferable woman!' he began, when the lady had retired, talking very rapidly, only stopping to take an occasional breath. 'I thought she was going on all night. She's enough to drive the man mad. One couldn't get a word in edgeways. Why on earth doesn't this man come? Just like these people, they don't think that my time's valuable. I expect she drinks. Shocking, you know, these women, how they drink!' And still talking, he looked at his watch for the eighth time in ten minutes.
'Well, my man,' he said, as Mr Clinton at last came in, 'what are you complaining of?... One moment,' he added, as Mr Clinton was about to reply. He opened his notebook and took out a stylographic pen. 'Now, I'm ready for you. What are you complaining of?'
'I'm complaining that the world is out of joint,' answered Mr Clinton, with a smile.
The specialist raised his eyebrows and significantly looked at the family doctor.
'It's astonishing how much you can get by a well-directed question,' he said to him, taking no notice of Mr Clinton. 'Some people go floundering about for hours, but, you see, by one question I get on the track.' Turning to the patient again, he said, 'Ah! and do you see things?'
'Certainly; I see you.'
'I don't mean that,' impatiently said the specialist. 'Distinctly stupid, you know,' he added to his colleague. 'I mean, do you see things that other people don't see?'
'Alas! yes; I see Folly stalking abroad on a 'obby 'orse.'
'Do you really? Anything else?' said the doctor, making a note of the fact.
'I see Wickedness and Vice beating the land with their wings.'
'Sees things beating with their wings,' wrote down the doctor.
'I see misery and un'appiness everywhere.'
'Indeed!' said the doctor. 'Has delusions. Do you think your wife puts things in your tea?'
'Ah!' joyfully uttered the doctor, 'that's what I wanted to get at—thinks people are trying to poison him. What is it they put in, my man?'
'Milk and sugar,' answered Mr Clinton.
'Very dull mentally,' said the specialist, in an undertone, to his colleague. 'Well, I don't think we need go into any more details. There's no doubt about it, you know. That curious look in his eyes, and the smile—the smile's quite typical. It all clearly points to insanity. And then that absurd idea of giving his money to the poor! I've heard of people taking money away from the poor, there's nothing mad in that; but the other, why, it's a proof of insanity itself. And then your account of his movements! His giving ice-creams to children. Most pernicious things, those ice-creams! The Government ought to put a stop to them. Extraordinary idea to think of reforming the world with ice-cream! Post-enteric insanity, you know. Mad as a hatter! Well, well, I must be off.' Still talking, he put on his hat and talked all the way downstairs, and finally talked himself out of the house.
The family doctor remained behind to see Mrs Clinton.
'Yes, it's just as I said,' he told her. 'He's not responsible for his actions. I think he's been insane ever since his illness. When you think of his behaviour since then—his going among those common people and trying to reform them, and his ideas about feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, and finally wanting to give his money to the poor—it all points to a completely deranged mind.'
Mrs Clinton heaved a deep sigh. 'And what do you think 'ad better be done now?' she asked.
'Well, I'm very sorry, Mrs Clinton; of course it's a great blow to you; but really I think arrangements had better be made for him to be put under restraint.'
Mrs Clinton began to cry, and the doctor looked at her compassionately.
'Ah, well,' she said at last, 'if it must be done, I suppose it 'ad better be done at once; and I shall be able to save the money after all.' At the thought of this she dried her tears.
The moral is plain.
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
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