WHEN I first saw him, he was lost in one of the Dead Cities of England—situated on the South Coast, and called Sandwich.
Shall I describe Sandwich? I think not. Let us own the truth; descriptions of places, however nicely they may be written, are always more or less dull. Being a woman, I naturally hate dullness. Perhaps some description of Sandwich may drop out, as it were, from my report of our conversation when we first met as strangers in the street.
He began irritably. “I’ve lost myself,” he said.
“People who don’t know the town often do that,” I remarked.
He went on: “Which is my way to the Fleur de Lys Inn?”
His way was, in the first place, to retrace his steps. Then to turn to the left. Then to go on until he found two streets meeting. Then to take the street on the right. Then to look out for the second turning on the left. Then to follow the turning until he smelled stables—and there was the inn. I put it in the clearest manner, and never stumbled over a word.
“How the devil am I to remember all that?” he said.
This was rude. We are naturally and properly indignant with any man who is rude to us. But whether we turn our backs on him in contempt, or whether we are merciful and give him a lesson in politeness, depends entirely on the man. He may be a bear, but he may also have his redeeming qualities. This man had redeeming qualities. I cannot positively say that he was either handsome or ugly, young or old, well or ill dressed. But I can speak with certainty to the personal attractions which recommended him to notice.
For instance, the tone of his voice was persuasive. (Did you ever read a story, written by one of us, in which we failed to dwell on our hero’s voice?) Then, again, his hair was reasonably long. (Are you acquainted with any woman who can endure a man with a cropped head?) Moreover, he was of a good height. (It must be a very tall woman who can feel favorably inclined toward a short man.) Lastly, although his eyes were not more than fairly presentable in form and color, the wretch had in some unaccountable manner become possessed of beautiful eyelashes. They were even better eyelashes than mine. I write quite seriously. There is one woman who is above the common weakness of vanity—and she holds the present pen.
So I gave my lost stranger a lesson in politeness. The lesson took the form of a trap. I asked him if he would like me to show him the way to the inn. He was still annoyed at losing himself. As I had anticipated, he bluntly answered: “Yes.”
“When you were a boy, and you wanted something,” I said, “did your mother teach you to say ‘Please’?”
Wilkie Collins, ‘Miss Morris & the Stranger’ (1881).
Yesterday, while sorting through some of the free e-books that I have been
greedily busy accumulating for quite some time in my e-reader, I came across a collection of short stories entitled ‘Little Novels’ by Wilkie Collins. This is a collection of fourteen short stories which revolve around the theme of love and marriage, frequently across the social barriers of class and money. I remember reading one of the stories ‘Mr. Lismore and the Widow’ sometime last year and had quite enjoyed it but then had set the rest aside (probably in favour of some other books that were calling out louder for attention at that time!), until yesterday. Reading the teaser above reminded me once again of how I much I enjoy reading Collins, and why there’s absolutely no reason I should wait any longer before diving right back into his books.
I just love his wit and writing style, ever since having first tasted of it in ‘No Name’, one of my favourite reads ever!
And if you have yet to be acquainted with Collins yourself, I would strongly urge you to. He is definitely worth it. 🙂