This is a jolly world, and delightful things go on in it. For instance, I had a picture post card only yesterday from William Benson, who is staying at Ilfracombe. He wrote to say that he had gone down to Ilfracombe for a short holiday, and had been much struck by the beauty of the place. On one of his walks he happened to notice that there was to be a sale of several plots of land occupying a quite unique position in front of the sea. He had immediately thought of me in connection with it. My readiness to consider a good investment had long been known to him, and in addition he had heard rumours that I might be coming down to Ilfracombe in order to recruit my health. If so, here was a chance which should be brought to my knowledge. Further particulars … and so on. Which was extremely friendly of William Benson. In fact, my only complaint of William is that he has his letters lithographed–a nasty habit in a friend. But I have allowed myself to be carried away. It was not really of Mr. Benson that I was thinking when I said that delightful things go on in this world, but of a certain pair of lovers, the tragedy of whose story has been revealed to me in a two-line “agony” in a morning paper. When anything particularly attractive happens in real life, we express our appreciation by saying that it is the sort of thing which one reads about in books –perhaps the highest compliment we can pay to Nature. Well, the story underlying this advertisement reeks of the feuilleton and the stage.
“PAT, I was alone when you called. You heard me talking to the dog. PLEASE make appointment. –DAISY.”
You will agree with me when you read this that it is almost too good to be true. There is a freshness and a naivet� about it which is only to be found in American melodrama. Let us reconstruct the situation, and we shall see at once how delightfully true to fiction real life can be.
Pat was in love with Daisy–engaged to her we may say with confidence (for a reason which will appear in a moment). But even though she had plighted her troth to him, he was jealous, miserably jealous, of every male being who approached her. One day last week he called on her at the house in Netting Hill. The parlour-maid opened the door and smiled brightly at him. “Miss Daisy is upstairs in the drawing-room,” she said. “Thank you,” he replied, “I will announce myself.” (Now you see how we know that they were engaged. He must have announced himself in order to have reached the situation implied in the “agony,” and he would not have been allowed to do so if he had not had the standing of a fiance.)
For a moment before knocking Patrick stood outside the drawing- room door, and in that moment the tragedy occurred; he heard his lady’s voice. “DARLING!” it said, “she SHALL kiss her sweetest, ownest, little pupsy-wupsy.”
Patrick’s brow grew black. His strong jaw clenched (just like the jaws of those people on the stage), and he staggered back from the door. “This is the end,” he muttered. Then he strode down the stairs and out into the stifling streets. And up in the drawing- room of the house in Netting Hill Daisy and the toy pom sat and wondered why their lord and master was so late.
Now we come to the letter which Patrick wrote to Daisy, telling her that it was all over. He would explain to her how he had “accidentally”(he would dwell upon that) accidentally overheard her and her—-(probably he was rather coarse here) exchanging terms of endearment; he would accuse her of betraying one whose only fault was that he loved her not wisely but too well; he would announce gloomily that he had lost his faith in women. All this is certain. But it would appear also that he made some such threat as this–most likely in a postscript: “It is no good your writing. There can be no explanation. Your letters will be destroyed unopened.” It is a question, however, if even this would have prevented Daisy from trying an appeal by post, for though one may talk about destroying letters unopened, it is an extremely difficult thing to do. I feel, therefore, that Patrick’s letter almost certainly contained a P.P.S. also–to this effect: “I cannot remain in London where we have spent so many happy hours together. I am probably leaving for the Rocky Mountains to-night. Letters will not be forwarded. Do not attempt to follow me.”
And so Daisy was left with only the one means of communication and explanation–the agony columns of the morning newspapers. “I was alone when you called. You heard me talking to the dog. PLEASE make appointment.” In the last sentence there is just a hint of irony which I find very attractive. It seems to me to say, “Don’t for heaven’s sake come rushing back to Notting Hill (all love and remorse) without warning, or you might hear me talking to the cat or the canary. Make an appointment, and I’ll take care that there’s NOTHING in the room when you come.” We may tell ourselves, I think, that Daisy understands her Patrick. In fact, I am beginning to understand Patrick myself, and I see now that the real reason why Daisy chose the agony column as the medium of communication was that she knew Patrick would prefer it. Patrick is distinctly the sort of man who likes agony columns. I am sure it was the first thing he turned to on Wednesday morning.
It occurs to me to wonder if the honeymoon will be spent at Ilfracombe. Patrick must have received William Benson’s picture post card too. We have all had one. Just fancy if he HAD gone to the Rocky Mountains; almost certainly Mr. Benson’s letters would not have been forwarded.