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by [?]

I was once advised to write a novel. I scouted the suggestion at the time; I scout it still. If you write a novel, you run a great risk. One of these days somebody may read it–you never know what queer things people may do nowadays. And if somebody should read it, your secret is out, and the paucity of your imagination stands grimly exposed. No, I shall not write a novel, although this article will be something in the nature of a novelette. For I have found a heroine, and many a full-blown novelist, having found a heroine, would consider that he had come upon a novel ready made. My heroine is Lily; and Lily–to break the news gently–was a pig. I say was advisedly, for Lily is dead, and therein lies the pathos of my story. And so I have my heroine, and I have my story, and I have my strong suffusion of sentiment all ready to my hand; and really, I feel half inclined to write my novel after all. But let me state the facts–for which I am prepared to vouch–and then it will be time enough to see if we can weave them into a great and classical romance.

Away on the top of a hill, in a rural district of Tasmania, there stands a quaint little cottage. Down the slopes around, and away along the distant valleys, are great belts of virgin bush. But here on the hill is our quaint little cottage, and in or about the cottage you will find a quaint little couple. They may not be able to discuss the latest aspects of the Balkan question, or the Irish crisis, or the Mexican embroglio; but they can discuss questions that are very much older and that are likely to last very much longer. For they can discuss fowls and sheep and pigs; and, depend upon it, fowls and sheep and pigs were discussed long before the Balkan question was dreamed of, and fowls and sheep and pigs will be discussed long after the Balkan question is forgotten. And so the old couple make you feel ashamed of your simpering superficiality; you are amazed that you can have grown so excited about the things of a moment; and you blush for your own ignorance of the things that were and are and shall be. Yes, John and Mary can discuss fowls, for they have a dozen of them, and they call each bird by name. Whilst poor Mary’s back was turned for a moment the rooster flew on to the table.

‘Really, Tom, you naughty boy!’ she cried, on discovering the outrage. ‘I am ashamed of you!’ And to impress the whole feathered community with the enormity of the offence, she proceeded to drive them all out of the kitchen.

‘Go on, Lucie,’ she cried, a note of sadness betraying itself in her voice in spite of her assumed severity. ‘Go on, Lucie,’ and she flapped her apron to show that she meant it, much as an advancing army might defiantly flutter its flag. ‘Go on; and you too, Minnie; and Nellie, and Kate, and Nancie; you must all go! It was a dreadful thing to do; I don’t know what you were thinking of, Tom!’ I said that John and Mary could discuss sheep; but their flock was a very limited one, for it consisted entirely of Birdie, the pet lamb. I cannot tell–probably through some defect in my imagination–why they called him ‘Birdie,’ nor, for the matter of that, why they called him a lamb. I can imagine that he may have been a lamb once; but of feathers I could discover no trace at all. Yes, after all, these are prosaic details, and only show how incompetent a novelist I should prove to be. I grovel when I ought to soar. John and Mary were very fond of Birdie, and Birdie was very fond of them. He came trotting up when he was called, wagging his long tail as though it were proof positive that he was still a lamb. It was scarcely a triumph of logic on Birdie’s part, and yet it was just about as good as the artistic subterfuges by which lots of us try to convince the world and his wife that we are still in the charming stage of lamb-like simplicity. And then there was Lily.