Pieces People Ask For/A Laughing Philosopher
A LAUGHING PHILOSOPHER.
Admiring my flowers, sir? P'raps you'd step inside the gate, and walk round my little place? It ain't big, but there's plenty of variety, — violets and cabbages, roses and artichokes. Any one that didn't care for flowers 'ud be sure to rind beauty in them young spring onions. People's ideas differ very much, there ain't a doubt of it. One man's very happy over a glass of whiskey and water, and another thinks every thing 'ud go straight in this 'ere world if we all drank tea and lemonade. And it's right enough: it keeps things even. We should have the world a very one-sided affair if everybody pulled the same way. Philosopher, am I? Well, I dunno. I've got a theory to be sure — every one has nowadays; and mine is, that there is a joke to be found in every mortal thing if only we look in the right place for it. But some people don't know how to look for it. Why, sir, if you'll believe it, I was talking to a man yesterday that couldn't see any thing to laugh at in the naval demonstration.
Am I independent? Well, I makes money by my fruit and vegetables, if that's what you mean. But there's so many ways of being independent. One man marries a woman with £20,000 a year, and calls that independence. Another votes on the strongest side, and calls that being independent. One takes up every new-fangled idea that comes out, and says he's independent. Some calls impudence independence. There's not a name as fits so many different articles. No! I've never bin married. Somehow, I don't think married men see the fun in every thing same as single ones. I don't mean to be disrespectful to the ladies, but I do think they enjoy a good cry more than a good laugh. Was I ever in love? and did I laugh then? Why, yes, never laughed heartier in my life. It's a good many years ago now. I was living in lodgings down Clerkenwell way, and the landlady's daughter was as pretty a creature as ever you see, bright and cheery, like a robin, when first I knew her. But, by and by, she grew pale and peaky,—used to go about the house without singing, and had such big, sad-looking eyes. Pier home wasn't a particularly happy one, for her mother was a nagger. Perhaps you've never come across a woman of that pertikler character. Well, then, you should say double the prayers of ordinary people; for you've much to be thankful for. I never looked at her without feeling that her husband must have been very happy indeed when he got to heaven. I sometimes think, sir, that women of this sort might be made use of, and prisons, and all other kind of punishment, done away with: perhaps, though, the lunatic asylums 'ud get too full.
Well, I grew to be quite intimate with Bessie; and one evening, I don't know how it was, she told me all her troubles. She was engaged to a young man; and her mother wouldn't consent to them marrying, and was always worrying her to break it off. I asked her if there were any thing against him. Nothing, except that her mother had taken a dislike to him: he wasn't very strong, but he was the best, cleverest, dearest fellow that ever lived. All the time she was talking I felt a gnawing sort of pain somewhere in my inside. First, I thought I must be hungry; but, when I came to eat, all my food seemed to get in my throat, and stick there. This won't do, old fellow, thinks I: there must be a joke to be got out of it somewhere. So I set to consider; and there, clear enough, it was. Why, the joke 'ud be to let Bessie marry her young man, and see the pretty cheeks grow round and pink again. But how to do it, there was the rub. I began to cultivate the old lady's society with a view to finding out her weak point: for, being a woman, of course she had a weak point; and, being a very ugly woman, what do you think it was? Why, vanity, to be sure. I soon noticed a change in her. She took her hair out of paper every day, instead of only on Sundays, as she had been used to do; and she put on a clean cap sometimes, and smirked whenever I passed her. Why, here's a bigger joke than I bargained for, thinks I! While I've been studying the woman to find out her weak point, she thinks I've been admiring her. But I soon saw what use I could make of this. I went down into the kitchen when she wasn't busy,—I knew it would be rather too hot other times,—and I got talking about Bessie. "It's strange," I says, "that a fine-looking girl like that shouldn't have a sweetheart. Things was different when you was younger, I'll be bound."
"As for that," says she, "Bessie has a sweetheart; but I don't approve of him. He's not exactly the sort of man I expected for her."
"But, lor'," I says, "you wouldn't go and keep that girl single ! Think what harm you may do yourself. You can't be so cruel as to give up all idea of marrying agin! Why, you don't look forty." That wasn't an untruth, for she looked fifty. She tossed her head, and told me to go along. I didn't go along. I says, "There's no doubt lots of young-fellows 'ud be glad enough of a good-looking wife like you, but mightn't care for a daughter as old as Miss Bessie." This seemed to strike her very much. I followed it up, got talking to her day after day, and always led the conversation to the same point. At last one day when I came home from work, she says, "It's all settled. Bessie's going to be married, and her Tom's coming here this evening." Then I went up to my own room, and laughed till I cried. Presently I heard the little girl run up-stairs as she hadn't run for many a long day, and I knew she'd gone to put on a smart ribbon for Tom's sake. She tapped at my door as she passed. Would I come down? somebody was there, and wanted to know me. I called out that I was busy, and couldn't come; and she went away. But after about an hour she came again. I was sitting in the dark, thinking of a good many things ; and before I had time to speak she was down on her knees beside me, and hiding her face.
"You told me you were busy," she said; "and here you are all in the dark and cold, and I can't bear any one to be dull or lonely to-night, because I'm so very, very happy. And I know it's all through you. Mother would never have given in of her own accord. You've always been my friend when I wanted one very badly; and now you must be angry with me, or you wouldn't stay away to-night. And you won't even speak to me. Oh, whatever I've done to vex you, don't think of it any more!"
She nestled up to me so close that her hair touched my coat-sleeve, and her pretty eyes looked up all swimming with tears. I ground my teeth, and clinched my hands, or—or I don't know what I mightn't ha' done. You see the joke of this, sir, don't you? Here was the girl crying, and asking me to forgive her, and like her a little; and there was I—not disliking her a bit all the time. Ha, ha, ha! I had a hearty laugh at her, and hurried with her down-stairs, and was introduced to Tom, and I talked to the old lady, and drank the young people's health, and was as happy as possible. And on the wedding-day I gave her away as if I had been her father; and I sang a song and danced: and, when the time came for Bessie to go away with her husband, I dried her eyes; for at the last moment the tender-hearted little thing broke down, and cried, and kissed us all, and asked her mother not to feel angry with her for leaving her all alone; and then the mother cried, and what with having so many eyes to wipe, I found myself wiping my own just as if it all weren't a tremendous joke.
How have they got on since? 'Bout as well as most people, I suppose: she loves him, and takes care of him. And the mother's softened down a bit since she's bin a grandmother. And as to my godson, there never was such a boy. I have him with me as much as possible, and he's beginning to see the joke of every thing almost as much as I do myself. And when I die, all this little place'll belong to him, and he'll be a rich man: so my death'll be the biggest joke of all, you see, sir.