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BY KIRBY HARE.
ILLUSTRATIONS BY ERNEST M. JESSOP.
I was a man born to misfortune. In fact, my first misfortune, the death of my father, happened three months before I came into the world. When I did duly appear, and was giving a proper howl of disgust, a fresh misfortune fell upon me; my mother departed to join my father, leaving me in the lurch in a vale of unavailing tears. I should have preferred going with my family to that blessed Utopia where there are neither births, deaths, marriages, divorces, breaches of promise, nor return tickets; only, unfortunately, I was not invited. So I became a posthumous orphan, soothed by Daffy’s elixir and the skim-milk of human kindness. The milk was none too sweet, human kindness did not spare the rod, and I firmly believe it was Daffy’s elixir that turned my hair red. However, I grew up at length into stand-up collars and tail coats, and at the age of seventeen springs was adopted (on trial) by a maiden aunt of seven-and-forty autumns. Like a gleam of sunshine hope flashed into my loveless life, lighting up my path to fortune. But it was only the glimmer of an ignis fatuus, which led me into a quicksand and snuffed itself out in a fog.
[Illustration: A PROPER HOWL OF DISGUST.]
[Illustration: HIS MAIDEN AUNT.]
My relative had plenty of money, and plenty of other equally good qualities in the long run, no doubt; but the period of my adoption was too short to make sure of either the one or the other. If the wealthy maiden was really a worthy soul she did not let her nephew know it. Corporeally she was angular and iron-grey, with a summary tongue and wintry temper, chastened by a fondness for feline favourites. Unluckily, I was always falling foul of the latter, and my aunt continually fell foul of me in consequence. Crabbed age and youth could not live together in our case on account of cats. Age, as represented by the mature virgin, adored the brutes; youth, in the shape of a sprouting hobbledehoy, abhorred them altogether, and one evil minded black Tom in particular. My aunt called him Beauty, in happy ignorance that all her household called him a Beast. I admire beauty in the abstract; I also like it in the concrete; and in the concreted form of youthful feminine humanity I love it. But that feline black Beauty was the most outrageous misnomer unhanged. I had tried to hang him several times, down in the cellar in the dead of night; but his patent cast-iron neck set suspensory science at defiance, and Beauty triumphantly refused to give up the ghost. At first, he kicked and fought against it lustily, and yelled murder with all his might; but after a little practice the malefactor acted more philosophically, regarding the performance quite as part of his nocturnal programme. He never allowed it to make him late for breakfast, nor take away his appetite. Each morning, after execution, the moment the bell rang for prayers, in marched Beauty with a swollen head well on one side, growling anathemas from somewhere round the corner all prayer-time; after which the escaped convict devoured breakfast with the voracity of a stiffnecked cannibal.