“’At last Bill came to the point where he and the captain between ’em hold the shark’s mouth open while the cabin-boy dives in head foremost, and fetches up, undigested, the gold watch and chain as the bo’sun was a-wearing when he fell overboard; and at that the old cat giv’d a screech, and rolled over on her side with her legs in the air.
“’I thought at first the poor thing was dead, but she rallied after a bit, and it seemed as though she had braced herself up to hear the thing out.
“’But a little further on, Bill got too much for her again, and this time she owned herself beat. She rose up and looked round at us: “You’ll excuse me, gentlemen,” she said—leastways that is what she said if looks go for anything—“maybe you’re used to this sort of rubbish, and it don’t get on your nerves. With me it’s different. I guess I’ve heard as much of this fool’s talk as my constitution will stand, and if it’s all the same to you I’ll get outside before I’m sick.”
“’With that she walked up to the door, and I opened it for her, and she went out.
“‘You can’t fool a cat with talk same as you can a dog.’”
Does man ever reform? Balzac says he doesn’t. So far as my experience goes, it agrees with that of Balzac—a fact the admirers of that author are at liberty to make what use of they please.
When I was young and accustomed to take my views of life from people who were older than myself, and who knew better, so they said, I used to believe that he did. Examples of “reformed characters” were frequently pointed out to me—indeed, our village, situate a few miles from a small seaport town, seemed to be peculiarly rich in such. They were, from all accounts, including their own, persons who had formerly behaved with quite unnecessary depravity, and who, at the time I knew them, appeared to be going to equally objectionable lengths in the opposite direction. They invariably belonged to one of two classes, the low-spirited or the aggressively unpleasant. They said, and I believed, that they were happy; but I could not help reflecting how very sad they must have been before they were happy.
One of them, a small, meek-eyed old man with a piping voice, had been exceptionally wild in his youth. What had been his special villainy I could never discover. People responded to my inquiries by saying that he had been “Oh, generally bad,” and increased my longing for detail by adding that little boys ought not to want to know about such things. From their tone and manner I assumed that he must have been a pirate at the very least, and regarded him with awe, not unmingled with secret admiration.
Whatever it was, he had been saved from it by his wife, a bony lady of unprepossessing appearance, but irreproachable views.
One day he called at our house for some purpose or other, and, being left alone with him for a few minutes, I took the opportunity of interviewing him personally on the subject.