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The Pleasant Surprise
by [?]

I had got the money by work done at home, out of office hours. It came to four pounds altogether. At first I thought I would use it to discharge a part of our debt to Eliza’s mother. But it was very possible that she would send it back again, in which case the pence spent on the postal orders would be wasted, and I am not a man that wastes pennies. Also, it was not absolutely certain that she would send it back. I sent her a long letter instead–my long letters are almost her only intellectual pleasure. As for the four pounds, I reserved two for myself, for any incidental expenses, and decided to give two to Eliza. I did not mean simply to hand them to her, but to get up something in the way of a pleasant surprise.

I had tried something of the kind before. Eliza once asked me for six shillings for a new tea-tray that she had seen. I went and stood behind her chair, and said, “No, dear, I couldn’t think of it,” at the same time dropping the six shillings down the back of her neck. Eliza said it was a pity I couldn’t give her six shillings for a tea-tray without compelling her to go up-stairs and undress at nine o’clock in the morning. It was not a success.

However, I had more than one idea in my head. This time I thought I would first find out if there was anything she wanted.

So on Sunday at tea-time I said, not as if I were meaning anything in particular, “Is there anything you want, Eliza?”

“Yes,” she said; “I want a general who’ll go to bed at half-past nine and get up at half-past five. If they’d only do that, that’s all I ask.”

“You will pardon me, Eliza,” I said, “but you are not speaking correctly. You said that was all that you asked. What you meant—-“

“Do you know what I meant?”

“I flatter myself that I know precisely—-“

“Then if you know precisely what I meant, I must have spoken accurately.”

But as we went to church I discovered that she wanted a new jacket. Her own was trimmed rabbit, and had been good, but the fur had gone bald in places.

* * * * *

Next morning I wrote on a sheet of note-paper, “To buy a new jacket. With your husband’s love.” I folded the two sovereigns up in this, and dropped the packet into the pocket of Eliza’s old jacket, as it hung in the wardrobe, not telling her what I had done. My idea was that she would put on the jacket to go out shopping in the morning, and putting her hand in the pocket, get a pleasant surprise. As I was leaving for town, she asked me why I kept on smiling so mysteriously. I replied, “Perhaps you, too, will smile before the day is over.”

On my return I found Eliza at the front door. “Come and look,” she said, cheerfully. “I have got a pleasant surprise for you.” She flung open the drawing-room door, and pointed. In the middle of the table stood a spiraea, a most handsome and graceful plant. It stood in one of the best saucers, with some coloured paper round the pot, and the general effect was very good. I at once guessed that she had bought it for me with the change from my present to her, and thought it showed very good feeling in her.

“I hope you have not given too much for this,” I said.

“I didn’t give any money for it.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Well, you must know I had a present this morning.”

“Of course I know.”

“Did mother tell you? Yes, she has sent me a beautiful new jacket. Then a man came round with a barrow of plants, and he said he didn’t want money if I had any clothes to spare. So I gave him my old worn-out jacket for this spiraea, and—-“