The Awful Fate of Melpomenus Jones




Some people--not you nor I, because we are so awfully
self-possessed--but some people, find great difficulty
in saying good-bye when making a call or spending the
evening. As the moment draws near when the visitor feels
that he is fairly entitled to go away he rises and says
abruptly, "Well, I think I..." Then the people say, "Oh,
must you go now? Surely it's early yet!" and a pitiful
struggle ensues.

I think the saddest case of this kind of thing that I
ever knew was that of my poor friend Melpomenus Jones,
a curate--such a dear young man, and only twenty-three!
He simply couldn't get away from people. He was too modest
to tell a lie, and too religious to wish to appear rude.
Now it happened that he went to call on some friends of
his on the very first afternoon of his summer vacation.
The next six weeks were entirely his own--absolutely
nothing to do. He chatted awhile, drank two cups of tea,
then braced himself for the effort and said suddenly:

"Well, I think I..."

But the lady of the house said, "Oh, no! Mr. Jones, can't
you really stay a little longer?"

Jones was always truthful. "Oh, yes," he said, "of course,
I--er--can stay."

"Then please don't go."

He stayed. He drank eleven cups of tea. Night was falling.
He rose again.

"Well now," he said shyly, "I think I really..."

"You must go?" said the lady politely. "I thought perhaps
you could have stayed to dinner..."

"Oh well, so I could, you know," Jones said, "if..."

"Then please stay, I'm sure my husband will be delighted."

"All right," he said feebly, "I'll stay," and he sank
back into his chair, just full of tea, and miserable.

Papa came home. They had dinner. All through the meal
Jones sat planning to leave at eight-thirty. All the
family wondered whether Mr. Jones was stupid and sulky,
or only stupid.

After dinner mamma undertook to "draw him out," and showed
him photographs. She showed him all the family museum,
several gross of them--photos of papa's uncle and his
wife, and mamma's brother and his little boy, an awfully
interesting photo of papa's uncle's friend in his Bengal
uniform, an awfully well-taken photo of papa's grandfather's
partner's dog, and an awfully wicked one of papa as the
devil for a fancy-dress ball. At eight-thirty Jones had
examined seventy-one photographs. There were about
sixty-nine more that he hadn't. Jones rose.

"I must say good night now," he pleaded.

"Say good night!" they said, "why it's only half-past
eight! Have you anything to do?"

"Nothing," he admitted, and muttered something about
staying six weeks, and then laughed miserably.

Just then it turned out that the favourite child of the
family, such a dear little romp, had hidden Mr. Jones's
hat; so papa said that he must stay, and invited him to
a pipe and a chat. Papa had the pipe and gave Jones the
chat, and still he stayed. Every moment he meant to take
the plunge, but couldn't. Then papa began to get very
tired of Jones, and fidgeted and finally said, with
jocular irony, that Jones had better stay all night, they
could give him a shake-down. Jones mistook his meaning
and thanked him with tears in his eyes, and papa put
Jones to bed in the spare room and cursed him heartily.

After breakfast next day, papa went off to his work in the
City, and left Jones playing with the baby, broken-hearted.
His nerve was utterly gone. He was meaning to leave all day,
but the thing had got on his mind and he simply couldn't.
When papa came home in the evening he was surprised and
chagrined to find Jones still there. He thought to jockey
him out with a jest, and said he thought he'd have to charge
him for his board, he! he! The unhappy young man stared
wildly for a moment, then wrung papa's hand, paid him a
month's board in advance, and broke down and sobbed like
a child.

In the days that followed he was moody and unapproachable.
He lived, of course, entirely in the drawing-room, and
the lack of air and exercise began to tell sadly on his
health. He passed his time in drinking tea and looking
at the photographs. He would stand for hours gazing at
the photographs of papa's uncle's friend in his Bengal
uniform--talking to it, sometimes swearing bitterly at
it. His mind was visibly failing.

At length the crash came. They carried him upstairs in
a raging delirium of fever. The illness that followed
was terrible. He recognized no one, not even papa's
uncle's friend in his Bengal uniform. At times he would
start up from his bed and shriek, "Well, I think I..."
and then fall back upon the pillow with a horrible laugh.
Then, again, he would leap up and cry, "Another cup of
tea and more photographs! More photographs! Har! Har!"

At length, after a month of agony, on the last day of
his vacation, he passed away. They say that when the last
moment came, he sat up in bed with a beautiful smile of
confidence playing upon his face, and said, "Well--the
angels are calling me; I'm afraid I really must go now.
Good afternoon."

And the rushing of his spirit from its prison-house was
as rapid as a hunted cat passing over a garden fence.



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