MY DEAR YOUNG LADY,–
Our postman here does not deliver parcels until the afternoon–which nobody grumbles at, because of his infirmity and his long and useful career. The manuscript, therefore, of your novel, Sunshine and Shadow, has not yet reached me. But your letter–in which, you beg me to send an opinion upon the work, with some advice upon your chances of success in literature–I found on my breakfast-table, as well as the photograph which you desire (perhaps wisely) to face the title-page. I trust you will forgive the slight stain in the lower left-hand corner of the portrait, which I return: for it is the strawberry-season here, and in course of my reflections I had the misfortune to let the cardboard slip between my fingers and fall across the edge of the plate.
I have taken the resolution to send my advice before it can be shaken by a perusal of Sunshine and Shadow. But it is difficult nevertheless. I might say bluntly that, unless the camera lies, your face is not one to stake against Fame over a game of hazard. You remember John Lyly’s “Cupid and my Campaspe”?–and how Cupid losing,
“down he throws
The coral of his lip, the rose
Growing on’s cheek (but none lenows how) …”
–and so on, with the rest of his charms, one by one? I might assure you that when maidens play against Fame they risk all these treasures and more, without hope of leniency from their opponent, who (you will note) is the same sex. But you will answer by return of post, that this is no business of mine, and that I exhibit the usual impertinence of man when asked to consider woman’s serious aspiration. You will protest that you are ready to stake all this. Very well, then: listen, if you have patience, to a little story that I came upon, a week since, about a man who spent his days at this game of hazard. It was called The Two Monuments.
When the Headmaster of the Grammar-School came to add up the marks for the term’s work and examination–which he always did without a mistake–it was discovered that in the Upper Fourth (the top form) Thompson had beaten Jenkins major by sixteen. So Thompson received a copy of the Memoirs of Eminent Etonians, bound in tree-calf, and took it home under his arm, wondering what “Etonians” were, but too proud to ask. And Jenkins major received nothing; and being too weak to punch Thompson’s head (as he desired) waylaid him opposite the cemetery gate on his way home, and said–
–which was doubly insulting; for, in the first place, French was Thompson’s weakest subject, and secondly, his father was a haberdasher in a small way, who spoke with awe of the Jenkinses as a family that had practised law in the town for six generations. Thompson himself was aware of the glamour such a lineage conferred. It was wholly due to his ignorance of French that he retorted–
Young Jenkins explained the term, with a wave of his hand towards the cemetery gate.
“You’ll find my family in there, and inside a rail of their own. And you needn’t think I wanted that prize. I‘ve got a grandfather.”
So, no doubt, had Thompson; but, to find him, he must have consulted the parish books and searched among the graves at the northern end of the burial-ground for one decorated with a tin label and the number 2054. He gazed in at the sacred acre of the Jenkinses and the monuments emblazoned with “J.P.,” “Recorder of this Borough,” “Clerk of the Peace for the County,” and other proud appendices in gilt lettering: and, in the heat of his heart, turned upon Jenkins major.
“You just wait till we die, and see which of us two has the finer tombstone!”
Thereupon he stalked home and read the Memoirs of Eminent Etonians, and learnt from their perusal that it was indeed possible to earn a finer tombstone than any Jenkins possessed. At the end of the Christmas term, too, he acquired a copy of Dr. Smiles’s famous work on Self-Help, and this really set his feet in the path to his desire.