Read CHAPTER VIII of Novel Notes , free online book, by Jerome K Jerome, on

One day we spoke of crime and criminals.  We had discussed the possibility of a novel without a villain, but had decided that it would be uninteresting.

“It is a terribly sad reflection,” remarked MacShaughnassy, musingly; “but what a desperately dull place this earth would be if it were not for our friends the bad people.  Do you know,” he continued, “when I hear of folks going about the world trying to reform everybody and make them good, I get positively nervous.  Once do away with sin, and literature will become a thing of the past.  Without the criminal classes we authors would starve.”

“I shouldn’t worry,” replied Jephson, drily; “one half mankind has been ‘reforming’ the other half pretty steadily ever since the Creation, yet there appears to be a fairly appreciable amount of human nature left in it, notwithstanding.  Suppressing sin is much the same sort of task that suppressing a volcano would be ­plugging one vent merely opens another.  Evil will last our time.”

“I cannot take your optimistic view of the case,” answered MacShaughnassy.  “It seems to me that crime ­at all events, interesting crime ­is being slowly driven out of our existence.  Pirates and highwaymen have been practically abolished.  Dear old ‘Smuggler Bill’ has melted down his cutlass into a pint-can with a false bottom.  The pressgang that was always so ready to rescue our hero from his approaching marriage has been disbanded.  There’s not a lugger fit for the purposes of abduction left upon the coast.  Men settle their ’affairs of honour’ in the law courts, and return home wounded only in the pocket.  Assaults on unprotected females are confined to the slums, where heroes do not dwell, and are avenged by the nearest magistrate.  Your modern burglar is generally an out-of-work green-grocer.  His ‘swag’ usually consists of an overcoat and a pair of boots, in attempting to make off with which he is captured by the servant-girl.  Suicides and murders are getting scarcer every season.  At the present rate of decrease, deaths by violence will be unheard of in another decade, and a murder story will be laughed at as too improbable to be interesting.  A certain section of busybodies are even crying out for the enforcement of the seventh commandment.  If they succeed authors will have to follow the advice generally given to them by the critics, and retire from business altogether.  I tell you our means of livelihood are being filched from us one by one.  Authors ought to form themselves into a society for the support and encouragement of crime.”

MacShaughnassy’s leading intention in making these remarks was to shock and grieve Brown, and in this object he succeeded.  Brown is ­or was, in those days ­an earnest young man with an exalted ­some were inclined to say an exaggerated ­view of the importance and dignity of the literary profession.  Brown’s notion of the scheme of Creation was that God made the universe so as to give the literary man something to write about.  I used at one time to credit Brown with originality for this idea; but as I have grown older I have learned that the theory is a very common and popular one in cultured circles.

Brown expostulated with MacShaughnassy.  “You speak,” he said, “as though literature were the parasite of evil.”

“And what else is she?” replied the MacShaughnassy, with enthusiasm.  “What would become of literature without folly and sin?  What is the work of the literary man but raking a living for himself out of the dust-heap of human woe?  Imagine, if you can, a perfect world ­a world where men and women never said foolish things and never did unwise ones; where small boys were never mischievous and children never made awkward remarks; where dogs never fought and cats never screeched; where wives never henpecked their husbands and mothers-in-law never nagged; where men never went to bed in their boots and sea-captains never swore; where plumbers understood their work and old maids never dressed as girls; where niggers never stole chickens and proud men were never sea-sick! where would be your humour and your wit?  Imagine a world where hearts were never bruised; where lips were never pressed with pain; where eyes were never dim; where feet were never weary; where stomachs were never empty! where would be your pathos?  Imagine a world where husbands never loved more wives than one, and that the right one; where wives were never kissed but by their husbands; where men’s hearts were never black and women’s thoughts never impure; where there was no hating and no envying; no desiring; no despairing! where would be your scenes of passion, your interesting complications, your subtle psychological analyses?  My dear Brown, we writers ­novelists, dramatists, poets ­we fatten on the misery of our fellow-creatures.  God created man and woman, and the woman created the literary man when she put her teeth into the apple.  We came into the world under the shadow of the serpent.  We are special correspondents with the Devil’s army.  We report his victories in our three-volume novels, his occasional defeats in our five-act melodramas.”

“All of which is very true,” remarked Jephson; “but you must remember it is not only the literary man who traffics in misfortune.  The doctor, the lawyer, the preacher, the newspaper proprietor, the weather prophet, will hardly, I should say, welcome the millennium.  I shall never forget an anecdote my uncle used to relate, dealing with the period when he was chaplain of the Lincolnshire county jail.  One morning there was to be a hanging; and the usual little crowd of witnesses, consisting of the sheriff, the governor, three or four reporters, a magistrate, and a couple of warders, was assembled in the prison.  The condemned man, a brutal ruffian who had been found guilty of murdering a young girl under exceptionally revolting circumstances, was being pinioned by the hangman and his assistant; and my uncle was employing the last few moments at his disposal in trying to break down the sullen indifference the fellow had throughout manifested towards both his crime and his fate.

“My uncle failing to make any impression upon him, the governor ventured to add a few words of exhortation, upon which the man turned fiercely on the whole of them.

“‘Go to hell,’ he cried, ’with your snivelling jaw.  Who are you, to preach at me? You’re glad enough I’m here ­all of you.  Why, I’m the only one of you as ain’t going to make a bit over this job.  Where would you all be, I should like to know, you canting swine, if it wasn’t for me and my sort?  Why, it’s the likes of me as keeps the likes of you,’ with which he walked straight to the gallows and told the hangman to ‘hurry up’ and not keep the gentlemen waiting.”

“There was some ‘grit’ in that man,” said MacShaughnassy.

“Yes,” added Jephson, “and wholesome wit also.”

MacShaughnassy puffed a mouthful of smoke over a spider which was just about to kill a fly.  This caused the spider to fall into the river, from where a supper-hunting swallow quickly rescued him.

“You remind me,” he said, “of a scene I once witnessed in the office of The Daily ­well, in the office of a certain daily newspaper.  It was the dead season, and things were somewhat slow.  An endeavour had been made to launch a discussion on the question ‘Are Babies a Blessing?’ The youngest reporter on the staff, writing over the simple but touching signature of ‘Mother of Six,’ had led off with a scathing, though somewhat irrelevant, attack upon husbands, as a class; the Sporting Editor, signing himself ‘Working Man,’ and garnishing his contribution with painfully elaborated orthographical lapses, arranged to give an air of verisimilitude to the correspondence, while, at the same time, not to offend the susceptibilities of the democracy (from whom the paper derived its chief support), had replied, vindicating the British father, and giving what purported to be stirring midnight experiences of his own.  The Gallery Man, calling himself, with a burst of imagination, ’Gentleman and Christian,’ wrote indignantly that he considered the agitation of the subject to be both impious and indelicate, and added he was surprised that a paper holding the exalted, and deservedly popular, position of The –­ should have opened its columns to the brainless vapourings of ‘Mother of Six’ and ‘Working Man.’

“The topic had, however, fallen flat.  With the exception of one man who had invented a new feeding-bottle, and thought he was going to advertise it for nothing, the outside public did not respond, and over the editorial department gloom had settled down.

“One evening, as two or three of us were mooning about the stairs, praying secretly for a war or a famine, Todhunter, the town reporter, rushed past us with a cheer, and burst into the Sub-editor’s room.  We followed.  He was waving his notebook above his head, and clamouring, after the manner of people in French exercises, for pens, ink, and paper.

“‘What’s up?’ cried the Sub-editor, catching his enthusiasm; ’influenza again?’

“‘Better than that!’ shouted Todhunter.  ’Excursion steamer run down, a hundred and twenty-five lives lost ­four good columns of heartrending scenes.’

“‘By Jove!’ said the Sub, ’couldn’t have happened at a better time either’ ­and then he sat down and dashed off a leaderette, in which he dwelt upon the pain and regret the paper felt at having to announce the disaster, and drew attention to the exceptionally harrowing account provided by the energy and talent of ‘our special reporter.’”

“It is the law of nature,” said Jephson:  “we are not the first party of young philosophers who have been struck with the fact that one man’s misfortune is another man’s opportunity.”

“Occasionally, another woman’s,” I observed.

I was thinking of an incident told me by a nurse.  If a nurse in fair practice does not know more about human nature ­does not see clearer into the souls of men and women than all the novelists in little Bookland put together ­it must be because she is physically blind and deaf.  All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players; so long as we are in good health, we play our parts out bravely to the end, acting them, on the whole, artistically and with strenuousness, even to the extent of sometimes fancying ourselves the people we are pretending to be.  But with sickness comes forgetfulness of our part, and carelessness of the impression we are making upon the audience.  We are too weak to put the paint and powder on our faces, the stage finery lies unheeded by our side.  The heroic gestures, the virtuous sentiments are a weariness to us.  In the quiet, darkened room, where the foot-lights of the great stage no longer glare upon us, where our ears are no longer strained to catch the clapping or the hissing of the town, we are, for a brief space, ourselves.

This nurse was a quiet, demure little woman, with a pair of dreamy, soft gray eyes that had a curious power of absorbing everything that passed before them without seeming to look at anything.  Gazing upon much life, laid bare, had given to them a slightly cynical expression, but there was a background of kindliness behind.

During the evenings of my convalescence she would talk to me of her nursing experiences.  I have sometimes thought I would put down in writing the stories that she told me, but they would be sad reading.  The majority of them, I fear, would show only the tangled, seamy side of human nature, and God knows there is little need for us to point that out to each other, though so many nowadays seem to think it the only work worth doing.  A few of them were sweet, but I think they were the saddest; and over one or two a man might laugh, but it would not be a pleasant laugh.

“I never enter the door of a house to which I have been summoned,” she said to me one evening, “without wondering, as I step over the threshold, what the story is going to be.  I always feel inside a sick-room as if I were behind the scenes of life.  The people come and go about you, and you listen to them talking and laughing, and you look into your patient’s eyes, and you just know that it’s all a play.”

The incident that Jephson’s remark had reminded me of, she told me one afternoon, as I sat propped up by the fire, trying to drink a glass of port wine, and feeling somewhat depressed at discovering I did not like it.

“One of my first cases,” she said, “was a surgical operation.  I was very young at the time, and I made rather an awkward mistake ­I don’t mean a professional mistake ­but a mistake nevertheless that I ought to have had more sense than to make.

“My patient was a good-looking, pleasant-spoken gentleman.  The wife was a pretty, dark little woman, but I never liked her from the first; she was one of those perfectly proper, frigid women, who always give me the idea that they were born in a church, and have never got over the chill.  However, she seemed very fond of him, and he of her; and they talked very prettily to each other ­too prettily for it to be quite genuine, I should have said, if I’d known as much of the world then as I do now.

“The operation was a difficult and dangerous one.  When I came on duty in the evening I found him, as I expected, highly delirious.  I kept him as quiet as I could, but towards nine o’clock, as the delirium only increased, I began to get anxious.  I bent down close to him and listened to his ravings.  Over and over again I heard the name ‘Louise.’  Why wouldn’t ‘Louise’ come to him?  It was so unkind of her ­they had dug a great pit, and were pushing him down into it ­oh! why didn’t she come and save him?  He should be saved if she would only come and take his hand.

“His cries became so pitiful that I could bear them no longer.  His wife had gone to attend a prayer-meeting, but the church was only in the next street.  Fortunately, the day-nurse had not left the house:  I called her in to watch him for a minute, and, slipping on my bonnet, ran across.  I told my errand to one of the vergers and he took me to her.  She was kneeling, but I could not wait.  I pushed open the pew door, and, bending down, whispered to her, ’Please come over at once; your husband is more delirious than I quite care about, and you may be able to calm him.’

“She whispered back, without raising her head, ’I’ll be over in a little while.  The meeting won’t last much longer.’

“Her answer surprised and nettled me.  ’You’ll be acting more like a Christian woman by coming home with me,’ I said sharply, ’than by stopping here.  He keeps calling for you, and I can’t get him to sleep.’

“She raised her head from her hands:  ‘Calling for me?’ she asked, with a slightly incredulous accent.

“‘Yes,’ I replied, ’it has been his one cry for the last hour:  Where’s Louise, why doesn’t Louise come to him.’

“Her face was in shadow, but as she turned it away, and the faint light from one of the turned-down gas-jets fell across it, I fancied I saw a smile upon it, and I disliked her more than ever.

“‘I’ll come back with you,’ she said, rising and putting her books away, and we left the church together.

“She asked me many questions on the way:  Did patients, when they were delirious, know the people about them?  Did they remember actual facts, or was their talk mere incoherent rambling?  Could one guide their thoughts in any way?

“The moment we were inside the door, she flung off her bonnet and cloak, and came upstairs quickly and softly.

“She walked to the bedside, and stood looking down at him, but he was quite unconscious of her presence, and continued muttering.  I suggested that she should speak to him, but she said she was sure it would be useless, and drawing a chair back into the shadow, sat down beside him.

“Seeing she was no good to him, I tried to persuade her to go to bed, but she said she would rather stop, and I, being little more than a girl then, and without much authority, let her.  All night long he tossed and raved, the one name on his lips being ever Louise ­Louise ­and all night long that woman sat there in the shadow, never moving, never speaking, with a set smile on her lips that made me long to take her by the shoulders and shake her.

“At one time he imagined himself back in his courting days, and pleaded, ’Say you love me, Louise.  I know you do.  I can read it in your eyes.  What’s the use of our pretending?  We know each other.  Put your white arms about me.  Let me feel your breath upon my neck.  Ah!  I knew it, my darling, my love!’

“The whole house was deadly still, and I could hear every word of his troubled ravings.  I almost felt as if I had no right to be there, listening to them, but my duty held me.  Later on, he fancied himself planning a holiday with her, so I concluded.  ’I shall start on Monday evening,’ he was saying, and you can join me in Dublin at Jackson’s Hotel on the Wednesday, and we’ll go straight on.’

“His voice grew a little faint, and his wife moved forward on her chair, and bent her head closer to his lips.

“‘No, no,’ he continued, after a pause, ’there’s no danger whatever.  It’s a lonely little place, right in the heart of the Galway Mountains ­O’Mullen’s Half-way House they call it ­five miles from Ballynahinch.  We shan’t meet a soul there.  We’ll have three weeks of heaven all to ourselves, my goddess, my Mrs. Maddox from Boston ­don’t forget the name.’

“He laughed in his delirium; and the woman, sitting by his side, laughed also; and then the truth flashed across me.

“I ran up to her and caught her by the arm.  ‘Your name’s not Louise,’ I said, looking straight at her.  It was an impertinent interference, but I felt excited, and acted on impulse.

“‘No,’ she replied, very quietly; ’but it’s the name of a very dear school friend of mine.  I’ve got the clue to-night that I’ve been waiting two years to get.  Good-night, nurse, thanks for fetching me.’

“She rose and went out, and I listened to her footsteps going down the stairs, and then drew up the blind and let in the dawn.

“I’ve never told that incident to any one until this evening,” my nurse concluded, as she took the empty port wine glass out of my hand, and stirred the fire.  “A nurse wouldn’t get many engagements if she had the reputation for making blunders of that sort.”

Another story that she told me showed married life more lovelit, but then, as she added, with that cynical twinkle which glinted so oddly from her gentle, demure eyes, this couple had only very recently been wed ­had, in fact, only just returned from their honeymoon.

They had been travelling on the Continent, and there had both contracted typhoid fever, which showed itself immediately on their home-coming.

“I was called in to them on the very day of their arrival,” she said; “the husband was the first to take to his bed, and the wife followed suit twelve hours afterwards.  We placed them in adjoining rooms, and, as often as was possible, we left the door ajar so that they could call out to one another.

“Poor things!  They were little else than boy and girl, and they worried more about each other than they thought about themselves.  The wife’s only trouble was that she wouldn’t be able to do anything for ’poor Jack.’  ‘Oh, nurse, you will be good to him, won’t you?’ she would cry, with her big childish eyes full of tears; and the moment I went in to him it would be:  ’Oh, don’t trouble about me, nurse, I’m all right.  Just look after the wifie, will you?’

“I had a hard time between the two of them, for, with the help of her sister, I was nursing them both.  It was an unprofessional thing to do, but I could see they were not well off, and I assured the doctor that I could manage.  To me it was worth while going through the double work just to breathe the atmosphere of unselfishness that sweetened those two sick-rooms.  The average invalid is not the patient sufferer people imagine.  It is a fretful, querulous, self-pitying little world that we live in as a rule, and that we grow hard in.  It gave me a new heart, nursing these young people.

“The man pulled through, and began steadily to recover, but the wife was a wee slip of a girl, and her strength ­what there was of it ­ebbed day by day.  As he got stronger he would call out more and more cheerfully to her through the open door, and ask her how she was getting on, and she would struggle to call back laughing answers.  It had been a mistake to put them next to each other, and I blamed myself for having done so, but it was too late to change then.  All we could do was to beg her not to exhaust herself, and to let us, when he called out, tell him she was asleep.  But the thought of not answering him or calling to him made her so wretched that it seemed safer to let her have her way.

“Her one anxiety was that he should not know how weak she was.  ’It will worry him so,’ she would say; ’he is such an old fidget over me.  And I am getting stronger, slowly; ain’t I, nurse?’

“One morning he called out to her, as usual, asking her how she was, and she answered, though she had to wait for a few seconds to gather strength to do so.  He seemed to detect the effort, for he called back anxiously, ‘Are you sure you’re all right, dear?’

“‘Yes,’ she replied, ‘getting on famously.  Why?’

“‘I thought your voice sounded a little weak, dear,’ he answered; ’don’t call out if it tries you.’

“Then for the first time she began to worry about herself ­not for her own sake, but because of him.

“‘Do you think I am getting weaker, nurse?’ she asked me, fixing her great eyes on me with a frightened look.

“‘You’re making yourself weak by calling out,’ I answered, a little sharply.  ‘I shall have to keep that door shut.’

“’Oh, don’t tell him’ ­that was all her thought ­’don’t let him know it.  Tell him I’m strong, won’t you, nurse?  It will kill him if he thinks I’m not getting well.’

“I was glad when her sister came up, and I could get out of the room, for you’re not much good at nursing when you feel, as I felt then, as though you had swallowed a tablespoon and it was sticking in your throat.

“Later on, when I went in to him, he drew me to the bedside, and whispered me to tell him truly how she was.  If you are telling a lie at all, you may just as well make it a good one, so I told him she was really wonderfully well, only a little exhausted after the illness, as was natural, and that I expected to have her up before him.

“Poor lad! that lie did him more good than a week’s doctoring and nursing; and next morning he called out more cheerily than ever to her, and offered to bet her a new bonnet against a new hat that he would race her, and be up first.

“She laughed back quite merrily (I was in his room at the time).  ’All right,’ she said, ’you’ll lose.  I shall be well first, and I shall come and visit you.’

“Her laugh was so bright, and her voice sounded so much stronger, that I really began to think she had taken a turn for the better, so that when on going in to her I found her pillow wet with tears, I could not understand it.

“‘Why, we were so cheerful just a minute ago,’ I said; ’what’s the matter?’

“‘Oh, poor Jack!’ she moaned, as her little, wasted fingers opened and closed upon the counterpane.  ‘Poor Jack, it will break his heart.’

“It was no good my saying anything.  There comes a moment when something tells your patient all that is to be known about the case, and the doctor and the nurse can keep their hopeful assurances for where they will be of more use.  The only thing that would have brought comfort to her then would have been to convince her that he would soon forget her and be happy without her.  I thought it at the time, and I tried to say something of the kind to her, but I couldn’t get it out, and she wouldn’t have believed me if I had.

“So all I could do was to go back to the other room, and tell him that I wanted her to go to sleep, and that he must not call out to her until I told him.

“She lay very still all day.  The doctor came at his usual hour and looked at her.  He patted her hand, and just glanced at the untouched food beside her.

“‘Yes,’ he said, quietly.  ‘I shouldn’t worry her, nurse.’  And I understood.

“Towards evening she opened her eyes, and beckoned to her sister, who was standing by the bedside, to bend down.

“‘Jeanie,’ she whispered, ’do you think it wrong to deceive any one when it’s for their own good?’

“‘I don’t know,’ said the girl, in a dry voice; ’I shouldn’t think so.  Why do you ask?’

“’Jeanie, your voice was always very much like mine ­do you remember, they used to mistake us at home.  Jeanie, call out for me ­just till ­till he’s a bit better; promise me.’

“They had loved each other, those two, more than is common among sisters.  Jeanie could not answer, but she pressed her sister closer in her arms, and the other was satisfied.

“Then, drawing all her little stock of life together for one final effort, the child raised herself in her sister’s arms.

“‘Good-night, Jack,’ she called out, loud and clear enough to be heard through the closed door.

“‘Good-night, little wife,’ he cried back, cheerily; ‘are you all right?’

“‘Yes, dear.  Good-night.’

“Her little, worn-out frame dropped back upon the bed, and the next thing I remember is snatching up a pillow, and holding it tight-pressed against Jeanie’s face for fear the sound of her sobs should penetrate into the next room; and afterwards we both got out, somehow, by the other door, and rushed downstairs, and clung to each other in the back kitchen.

“How we two women managed to keep up the deceit, as, for three whole days, we did, I shall never myself know.  Jeanie sat in the room where her dead sister, from its head to its sticking-up feet, lay outlined under the white sheet; and I stayed beside the living man, and told lies and acted lies, till I took a joy in them, and had to guard against the danger of over-elaborating them.

“He wondered at what he thought my ‘new merry mood,’ and I told him it was because of my delight that his wife was out of danger; and then I went on for the pure devilment of the thing, and told him that a week ago, when we had let him think his wife was growing stronger, we had been deceiving him; that, as a matter of fact, she was at that time in great peril, and I had been in hourly alarm concerning her, but that now the strain was over, and she was safe; and I dropped down by the foot of the bed, and burst into a fit of laughter, and had to clutch hold of the bedstead to keep myself from rolling on the floor.

“He had started up in bed with a wild white face when Jeanie had first answered him from the other room, though the sisters’ voices had been so uncannily alike that I had never been able to distinguish one from the other at any time.  I told him the slight change was the result of the fever, that his own voice also was changed a little, and that such was always the case with a person recovering from a long illness.  To guide his thoughts away from the real clue, I told him Jeanie had broken down with the long work, and that, the need for her being past, I had packed her off into the country for a short rest.  That afternoon we concocted a letter to him, and I watched Jeanie’s eyes with a towel in my hand while she wrote it, so that no tears should fall on it, and that night she travelled twenty miles down the Great Western line to post it, returning by the next up-train.

“No suspicion of the truth ever occurred to him, and the doctor helped us out with our deception; yet his pulse, which day by day had been getting stronger, now beat feebler every hour.  In that part of the country where I was born and grew up, the folks say that wherever the dead lie, there round about them, whether the time be summer or winter, the air grows cold and colder, and that no fire, though you pile the logs half-way up the chimney, will ever make it warm.  A few months’ hospital training generally cures one of all fanciful notions about death, but this idea I have never been able to get rid of.  My thermometer may show me sixty, and I may try to believe that the temperature is sixty, but if the dead are beside me I feel cold to the marrow of my bones.  I could see the chill from the dead room crawling underneath the door, and creeping up about his bed, and reaching out its hand to touch his heart.

“Jeanie and I redoubled our efforts, for it seemed to us as if Death were waiting just outside in the passage, watching with his eye at the keyhole for either of us to make a blunder and let the truth slip out.  I hardly ever left his side except now and again to go into that next room, and poke an imaginary fire, and say a few chaffing words to an imaginary living woman on the bed where the dead one lay; and Jeanie sat close to the corpse, and called out saucy messages to him, or reassuring answers to his anxious questions.

“At times, knowing that if we stopped another moment in these rooms we should scream, we would steal softly out and rush downstairs, and, shutting ourselves out of hearing in a cellar underneath the yard, laugh till we reeled against the dirty walls.  I think we were both getting a little mad.

“One day ­it was the third of that nightmare life, so I learned afterwards, though for all I could have told then it might have been the three hundredth, for Time seemed to have fled from that house as from a dream, so that all things were tangled ­I made a slip that came near to ending the matter, then and there.

“I had gone into that other room.  Jeanie had left her post for a moment, and the place was empty.

“I did not think what I was doing.  I had not closed my eyes that I can remember since the wife had died, and my brain and my senses were losing their hold of one another.  I went through my usual performance of talking loudly to the thing underneath the white sheet, and noisily patting the pillows and rattling the bottles on the table.

“On my return, he asked me how she was, and I answered, half in a dream, ‘Oh, bonny, she’s trying to read a little,’ and he raised himself on his elbow and called out to her, and for answer there came back silence ­not the silence that is silence, but the silence that is as a voice.  I do not know if you understand what I mean by that.  If you had lived among the dead as long as I have, you would know.

“I darted to the door and pretended to look in.  ‘She’s fallen asleep,’ I whispered, closing it; and he said nothing, but his eyes looked queerly at me.

“That night, Jeanie and I stood in the hall talking.  He had fallen to sleep early, and I had locked the door between the two rooms, and put the key in my pocket, and had stolen down to tell her what had happened, and to consult with her.

“‘What can we do!  God help us, what can we do!’ was all that Jeanie could say.  We had thought that in a day or two he would be stronger, and that the truth might be broken to him.  But instead of that he had grown so weak, that to excite his suspicions now by moving him or her would be to kill him.

“We stood looking blankly in each other’s faces, wondering how the problem could be solved; and while we did so the problem solved itself.

“The one woman-servant had gone out, and the house was very silent ­so silent that I could hear the ticking of Jeanie’s watch inside her dress.  Suddenly, into the stillness there came a sound.  It was not a cry.  It came from no human voice.  I have heard the voice of human pain till I know its every note, and have grown careless to it; but I have prayed God on my knees that I may never hear that sound again, for it was the sob of a soul.

“It wailed through the quiet house and passed away, and neither of us stirred.

“At length, with the return of the blood to our veins, we went upstairs together.  He had crept from his own room along the passage into hers.  He had not had strength enough to pull the sheet off, though he had tried.  He lay across the bed with one hand grasping hers.”

My nurse sat for a while without speaking, a somewhat unusual thing for her to do.

“You ought to write your experiences,” I said.

“Ah!” she said, giving the fire a contemplative poke, “if you’d seen as much sorrow in the world as I have, you wouldn’t want to write a sad book.”

“I think,” she added, after a long pause, with the poker still in her hand, “it can only be the people who have never known suffering who can care to read of it.  If I could write a book, I should write a merry book ­a book that would make people laugh.”