“That is my story,” he said. “Perhaps you will now understand my sudden emotion when you asked for my advice. As a matter of fact, I do not give advice now on any subject.”
* * * * *
I told this tale to MacShaughnassy. He agreed with me that it was instructive, and said he should remember it. He said he should remember it so as to tell it to some fellows that he knew, to whom he thought the lesson should prove useful.
I can’t honestly say that we made much progress at our first meeting. It was Brown’s fault. He would begin by telling us a story about a dog. It was the old, old story of the dog who had been in the habit of going every morning to a certain baker’s shop with a penny in his mouth, in exchange for which he always received a penny bun. One day, the baker, thinking he would not know the difference, tried to palm off upon the poor animal a ha’penny bun, whereupon the dog walked straight outside and fetched in a policeman. Brown had heard this chestnut for the first time that afternoon, and was full of it. It is always a mystery to me where Brown has been for the last hundred years. He stops you in the street with, “Oh, I must tell you!—such a capital story!” And he thereupon proceeds to relate to you, with much spirit and gusto, one of Noah’s best known jokes, or some story that Romulus must have originally told to Remus. One of these days somebody will tell him the history of Adam and Eve, and he will think he has got hold of a new plot, and will work it up into a novel.
He gives forth these hoary antiquities as personal reminiscences of his own, or, at furthest, as episodes in the life of his second cousin. There are certain strange and moving catastrophes that would seem either to have occurred to, or to have been witnessed by, nearly every one you meet. I never came across a man yet who had not seen some other man jerked off the top of an omnibus into a mud-cart. Half London must, at one time or another, have been jerked off omnibuses into mud-carts, and have been fished out at the end of a shovel.
Then there is the tale of the lady whose husband is taken suddenly ill one night at an hotel. She rushes downstairs, and prepares a stiff mustard plaster to put on him, and runs up with it again. In her excitement, however, she charges into the wrong room, and, rolling down the bedclothes, presses it lovingly upon the wrong man. I have heard that story so often that I am quite nervous about going to bed in an hotel now. Each man who has told it me has invariably slept in the room next door to that of the victim, and has been awakened by the man’s yell as the plaster came down upon him. That is how he (the story-teller) came to know all about it.
Brown wanted us to believe that this prehistoric animal he had been telling us about had belonged to his brother-in-law, and was hurt when Jephson murmured, sotto voce, that that made the twenty-eighth man he had met whose brother-in-law had owned that dog—to say nothing of the hundred and seventeen who had owned it themselves.