A Tragedy In Little by A. A. Milne

The great question of the day is, What will become of Sidney? Whenever I think of him now, the unbidden tear wells into my eye … and wells down my cheek … and wells on to my collar. My friends think I have a cold, and offer me lozenges; but it is Sidney who makes me weep. I fear that I am about to lose him.

He came into my life in the following way.

Some months ago I wanted to buy some silk stockings; not for myself, for I seldom wear them, but for a sister. The idea came suddenly to me that any woman with a brother and a birthday would simply love the one to give her silk stockings for the other. But, of course, they would have to be the right silk stockings–the fashionable shape for the year, the correct assortment of clocks, and so forth. Then as to material–could I be sure I was getting silk, and not silkette or something inferior? How maddening if, seeing that I was an unprotected man, they palmed off Jaeger on me! Clearly this was a case for outside assistance. So I called in Celia.

“This,” I said to her, “is practically the only subject on which I am not an expert. At the same time I have a distinct feeling for silk stockings. If you can hurry me past all the embarrassing counters safely, and arrange for the lady behind the right one to show me the right line in silken hose, I will undertake to pick out half a dozen pairs that would melt any sister’s heart.”

Well, the affair went off perfectly. Celia took the matter into her own hands and behaved just as if I were buying them for her. The shop-assistant also behaved as if I were. Fortunately I kept my head when it came to giving the name and address. “No,” I said firmly to Celia. “Not yours; my sister’s.” And I dragged her away to tea.

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Now whether it was because Celia had particularly enjoyed her afternoon; or because she felt that a man who was as ignorant as I about silk stockings must lead a very lonely life; or because I had mentioned casually and erroneously that it was my own birthday that week, I cannot say; but on the following morning I received a little box, with a note on the outside which said in her handwriting, “Something for you. Be kind to him.” And I opened it and found Sidney.

He was a Japanese dwarf-tree–the merest boy. At eighty or ninety, according to the photographs, he would be a stalwart fellow with thick bark on his trunk, and fir-cones or acorns (or whatever was his speciality) hanging all over him. Just at present he was barely ten. I had only eighty years to wait before he reached his prime.

Naturally I decided to lavish all my care upon his upbringing. I would water him after breakfast every morning, and (when I remembered it) at night. If there was any top-dressing he particularly fancied, he should have it. If he had any dead leaves to snip off, I would snip them.

It was at this moment that I discovered something else in the box–a card of instructions. I have not got it now, and I have forgotten the actual wording, but the spirit of it was this:

HINTS ON THE PROPER REARING AND BRINGING-UP OF A JAPANESE DWARF-TREE

The life of this tree is a precarious one, and if it is to be successfully brought to manhood the following rules must be carefully observed–

I. This tree requires, above all else, fresh air and exercise.

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II. Whenever the sun is shining, the tree should be placed outside, in a position where it can absorb the rays.

III. Whenever the rain is raining, it should be placed outside, in a position where it can absorb the wet.

IV. It should be taken out for a trot at least once every day.

V. It simply loathes artificial light and artificial heat. If you keep it in your drawing-room, see that it is situated as far as possible from the chandelier and the gas-stove.

VI. It also detests noise. Do not place it on the top of the pianola.

VII. It loves moonlight. Leave it outside when you go to bed, in case the moon should come out.

VIII. On the other hand, it hates lightning. Cover it up with the canary’s cloth when the lightning begins.

IX. If it shows signs of drooping, a course of massage will generally bring it round.

X. But in no case offer it buns.

Well, I read these instructions carefully, and saw at once that I should have to hand over the business of rearing Sidney to another. I have my living to earn the same as anybody else, and I should never get any work done at all if I had constantly to be rushing home from the office on the plea that it was time for Master Sidney’s sun-bath.

So I called up my housekeeper, and placed the matter before her.

I said: “Let me introduce you to Sidney. He is very dear to me; dearer to me than a–a brother. No, on second thoughts my brother is perhaps–well, anyhow, Sidney is very dear to me. I will show my trust in you by asking you to tend him for me. Here are a few notes about his health. Frankly he is delicate. But the doctors have hope. With care, they think, he may live to be a hundred-and-fifty. His future is in your hands.”

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My housekeeper thanked me for this mark of esteem and took the card of instructions away with her. I asked her for it a week afterwards and it appeared that, having committed the rules to memory, she had lost it. But that she follows the instructions I have no doubt; and certainly she and Sidney understand each other’s ways exactly. Automatically she gives him his bath, his massage, his run in the park. When it rains or snows or shines, she knows exactly what to do with Sidney.

But as a consequence I see little of him. I suppose it must always be so; we parents must make these sacrifices for our children. Think of a mother only seeing her eldest-born for fifteen weeks a year through the long period of his schooling; and think of me, doomed to catch only the most casual glimpses of Sidney until he is ninety.

For, you know, I might almost say that I never see him at all now. As I go to my work I may, if I am lucky, get a fleeting glance of him on the tiles, where he sits drinking in the rain or sun. In the evening, when I return, he is either out in the moonlight or, if indoors, shunning the artificial light with the cloth over his head. Indeed, the only times when I really see him to talk to are when Celia comes to tea with me. Then my housekeeper hurries him in from his walk or his sun-bath, and puts him, brushed and manicured, on my desk; and Celia and I whisper fond nothings to him. I believe Celia thinks he lives there!

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. . . . .

As I began by saying, I weep for Sidney’s approaching end. For my housekeeper leaves this week. A new one takes her place. How will she treat my poor Sidney? The old card of instructions is lost; what can I give her in its place? The legend that Sidney’s is a precious life–that he must have his morning bath, his run, his glass of hot water after meals! She would laugh at it. Besides, she may not be at all the sort of foster-mother for a Japanese dwarf-tree….

It will break my heart if Sidney dies now, for I had so looked forward to celebrating his ninetieth birthday with him. It will hurt Celia too. But her grief, of course, will be an inferior affair. In fact, a couple of pairs of silk stockings will help her to forget him altogether.

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