The Diary of a Nobody/Chapter 2
Tradesmen and the scraper still troublesome. Gowing rather tiresome with his complaints of the paint. I make one of the best jokes of my life. Delights of gardening. Mr. Stillbrook, Cowing, Cummings, and I have a little misunderstanding. Sarah makes me look a fool before Cummings.
April 9.—Commenced the morning badly. The butcher, whom we decided not to arrange with, called and blackguarded me in the most uncalled-for manner. He began by abusing me, and saying he did not want my custom. I simply said: "Then what are you making all this fuss about it for?" And he shouted out at the top of his voice, so that all the neighbours could hear: "Pah! go along. Ugh! I could buy up 'things' like you by the dozen!"
I shut the door, and was giving Carrie to understand that this disgraceful scene was entirely her fault, when there was a violent kicking at the door, enough to break the panels. It was the blackguard butcher again, who said he had cut his foot over the scraper, and would immediately bring an action against me. Called at Farmerson's, the ironmonger, on my way to town, and gave him the job of moving the scraper and repairing the bells, thinking it scarcely worth while to trouble the landlord with such a trifling matter.
Arrived home tired and worried. Mr. Putley, a painter and decorator, who had sent in a card, said he could not match the colour on the stairs, as it contained Indian carmine. He said he spent half-a-day calling at warehouses to see if he could get it. He suggested he should entirely repaint the stairs. It would cost very little more; if he tried to match it, he could only make a bad job of it. It would be more satisfactory to him and to us to have the work done properly. I consented, but felt I had been talked over. Planted some mustard-and-cress and radishes, and went to bed at nine.
April 10.—Farmerson came round to attend to the scraper himself. He seems a very civil fellow. He says he does not usually conduct such small jobs personally, but for me he would do so. I thanked him, and went to town. It is disgraceful how late some of the young clerks are at arriving. I told three of them that if Mr. Perkupp, the principal, heard of it, they might be discharged.
Pitt, a monkey of seventeen, who has only been with us six weeks, told me "to keep my hair on!" I informed him I had had the honour of being in the firm twenty years, to which he insolently replied that I "looked it." I gave him an indignant look, and said: "I demand from you some respect, sir." He replied: "All right, go on demanding." I would not argue with him any further. You cannot argue with people like that. In the evening Gowing called, and repeated his complaint about the smell of paint. Gowing is sometimes very tedious with his remarks, and not always cautious; and Carrie once very properly reminded him that she was present.
April 11.—Mustard-and-cress and radishes not come up yet. To-day was a day of annoyances. I missed the quarter-to-nine 'bus to the City, through having words with the grocer's boy, who for the second time had the impertinence to bring his basket to the hall-door, and had left the marks of his dirty boots on the fresh-cleaned door-steps. He said he had knocked at the side door with his knuckles for a quarter of an hour. I knew Sarah, our servant, could not hear this, as she was upstairs doing the bedrooms, so asked the boy why he did not ring the bell? He replied that he did pull the bell, but the handle came off in his hand.
I was half-an-hour late at the office, a thing that has never happened to me before. There has recently been much irregularity in the attendance of the clerks, and Mr. Perkupp, our principal, unfortunately choose this very morning to pounce down upon us early. Someone had given the tip to the others. The result was that I was the only one late of the lot. Buckling, one of the senior clerks, was a brick, and I was saved by his intervention. As I passed by Pitt's desk, I heard him remark to his neighbour: "How disgracefully late some of the head clerks arrive!" This was, of course, meant for me. I treated the observation with silence, simply giving him a look, which unfortunately had the effect of making both of the clerks laugh. Thought afterwards it would have been more dignified if I had pretended not to have heard him at all. Cummings called in the evening, and we played dominoes.
April 12.—Mustard-and-cress and radishes not come up yet. Left Farmerson repairing the scraper, but when I came home found three men working. I asked the meaning of it, and Farmerson said that in making a fresh hole he had penetrated the gas-pipe. He said it was a most ridiculous place to put the gas-pipe, and the man who did it evidently knew nothing about his business. I felt his excuse was no consolation for the expense I shall be put to.
In the evening, after tea, Gowing dropped in, and we had a smoke together in the breakfast-parlour. Carrie joined us later, but did not stay long, saying the smoke was too much for her. It was also rather too much for me, for Gowing had given me what he called a green cigar, one that his friend Shoemach had just brought over from America. The cigar didn't look green, but I fancy I must have done so; for when I had smoked a little more than half I was obliged to retire on the pretext of telling Sarah to bring in the glasses.
I took a walk round the garden three or four times, feeling the need of fresh air. On returning Gowing noticed I was not smoking: offered me another cigar, which I politely declined. Gowing began his usual sniffing, so, anticipating him, I said: "You're not going to complain of the smell of paint again?" He said: "No, not this time; but I'll tell you what, I distinctly smell dry rot." I don't often make jokes, but I replied: "You're talking a lot of dry rot yourself." I could not help roaring at this, and Carrie said her sides quite ached with laughter. I never was so immensely tickled by anything I had ever said before. I actually woke up twice during the night, and laughed till the bed shook.
April 13.—An extraordinary coincidence: Carrie had called in a woman to make some chintz covers for our drawing-room chairs and sofa to prevent the sun fading the green rep of the furniture. I saw the woman, and recognised her as a woman who used to work years ago for my old aunt at Clapham. It only shows how small the world is.
April 14.—Spent the whole of the afternoon in the garden, having this morning picked up at a bookstall for fivepence a capital little book, in good condition, on Gardening, I procured and sowed some half-hardy annuals in what I fancy will be a warm, sunny border. I thought of a joke, and called out Carrie. Carrie came out rather testy, I thought. I said: "I have just discovered we have got a lodging-house." She replied: "How do you mean?" I said: "Look at the boarders." Carrie said: "Is that all you wanted me for?" I said: "Any other time you would have laughed at my little pleasantry." Carrie said: "Certainly—at any other time, but not when I am busy in the house." The stairs look very nice. Gowing called, and said the stairs looked all right, but it made the banisters look all wrong, and suggested a coat of paint on them also, which Carrie quite agreed with. I walked round to Putley, and fortunately he was out, so I had a good excuse to let the banisters slide. By-the-by, that is rather funny.
April 15, Sunday.—At three o'clock Cummings and Gowing called for a good long walk over Hampstead and Finchley, and brought with them a friend named Stillbrook. We walked and chatted together, except Stillbrook, who was always a few yards behind us staring at the ground and cutting at the grass with his stick.
As it was getting on for five, we four held a consultation, and Gowing suggested that we should make for "The Cow and Hedge" and get some tea. Stillbrook said: "A brandy-and-soda was good enough for him." I reminded them that all public-houses were closed till six o'clock. Stillbrook said, "That's all right—bona-fide travellers."We arrived; and as I was trying to pass, the man in charge of the gate said: "Where
Stillbrook lags behind. Going up hill.
Going down hill.
from?" I replied: "Holloway." He immediately put up his arm, and declined to let me pass. I turned back for a moment, when I saw Stillbrook, closely followed by Cummings and Gowing, make for the entrance. I watched them, and thought I would have a good laugh at their expense. I heard the porter say: "Where from?" When, to my surprise, in fact disgust, Stillbrook replied: "Blackheath," and the three were immediately admitted.
Gowing called to me across the gate, and said: "We shan't be a minute." I waited for them the best part of an hour. When they appeared they were all in most excellent spirits, and the only one who made an effort to apologise was Mr. Stillbrook, who said to me: "It was very rough on you to be kept waiting, but we had another spin for S. and B.'s." I walked home in silence; I couldn't speak to them. I felt very dull all the evening, but deemed it advisable not to say anything to Carrie about the matter.
April 16.—After business, set to work in the garden. When it got dark I wrote to Cummings and Gowing (who neither called, for a wonder; perhaps they were ashamed of themselves) about yesterday's adventure at " The Cow and Hedge." Afterwards made up my mind not to write yet.
April 17.—Thought I would write a kind little note to Cowing and Cummings about last Sunday, and warning them against Mr. Stillbrook. Afterwards, thinking the matter over, tore up the letter and determined not to write at all, but to speak quietly to them. Dumfounded at receiving a sharp letter from Cummings, saying that both he and Cowing had been waiting for an explanation of my (mind you, my) extraordinary conduct coming home on Sunday. At last I wrote: "I thought I was the aggrieved party; but as I freely forgive you, you—feeling yourself aggrieved—should bestow forgiveness on me." I have copied this verbatim in the diary, because I think it is one of the most perfect and thoughtful sentences I have ever written. I posted the letter, but in my own heart I felt I was actually apologising for having been insulted.
April 18.—Am in for a cold. Spent the whole day at the office sneezing. In the evening, the cold being intolerable, sent Sarah out for a bottle of Kinahan. Fell asleep in the arm-chair, and woke with the shivers. Was startled by a loud knock at the front door. Carrie awfully flurried. Sarah still out, so went up, opened the door, and found it was only Cummings. Remembered the grocer's boy had again broken the
"Please, sir, the grocer says he ain't got no more Kinahan, but you'll find this very good at two-and-six."
side-bell. Cummings squeezed my hand, and said: "I've just seen Gowing. All right. Say no more about it." There is no doubt they are both under the impression I have apologised.
While playing dominoes with Cummings in the parlour, he said: "By-the-by, do you want any wine or spirits? My cousin Merton has just set up in the trade, and has a splendid whisky, four years in bottle, at thirty-eight shillings. It is worth your while laying down a few dozen of it." I told him my cellars, which were very small, were full up. To my horror, at that very moment, Sarah entered the room, and putting a bottle of whisky, wrapped in a dirty piece of newspaper, on the table in front of us, said: "Please, sir, the grocer says he ain't got no more Kinahan, but you'll find this very good at two-and-six, with twopence returned on the bottle; and, please, did you want any more sherry? as he has some at one-and-three, as dry as a nut!"