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John Ingerfield and Other Stories   By: (1859-1927)

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To the Gentle Reader

In Remembrance of John Ingerfield and of Anne, his Wife

The Woman of the Saeter

Variety Patter


The Lease of the "Cross Keys"


Once upon a time, I wrote a little story of a woman who was crushed to death by a python. A day or two after its publication, a friend stopped me in the street. "Charming little story of yours," he said, "that about the woman and the snake; but it's not as funny as some of your things!" The next week, a newspaper, referring to the tale, remarked, "We have heard the incident related before with infinitely greater humour."

With this and many similar experiences in mind, I wish distinctly to state that "John Ingerfield," "The Woman of the Saeter," and "Silhouettes," are not intended to be amusing. The two other items "Variety Patter," and "The Lease of the Cross Keys" I give over to the critics of the new humour to rend as they will; but "John Ingerfield," "The Woman of the Saeter," and "Silhouettes," I repeat, I should be glad if they would judge from some other standpoint than that of humour, new or old.



If you take the Underground Railway to Whitechapel Road (the East station), and from there take one of the yellow tramcars that start from that point, and go down the Commercial Road, past the George, in front of which starts or used to stand a high flagstaff, at the base of which sits or used to sit an elderly female purveyor of pigs' trotters at three ha'pence apiece, until you come to where a railway arch crosses the road obliquely, and there get down and turn to the right up a narrow, noisy street leading to the river, and then to the right again up a still narrower street, which you may know by its having a public house at one corner (as is in the nature of things) and a marine store dealer's at the other, outside which strangely stiff and unaccommodating garments of gigantic size flutter ghost like in the wind, you will come to a dingy railed in churchyard, surrounded on all sides by cheerless, many peopled houses. Sad looking little old houses they are, in spite of the tumult of life about their ever open doors. They and the ancient church in their midst seem weary of the ceaseless jangle around them. Perhaps, standing there for so many years, listening to the long silence of the dead, the fretful voices of the living sound foolish in their ears.

Peering through the railings on the side nearest the river, you will see beneath the shadow of the soot grimed church's soot grimed porch that is, if the sun happen, by rare chance, to be strong enough to cast any shadow at all in that region of grey light a curiously high and narrow headstone that once was white and straight, not tottering and bent with age as it is now. There is upon this stone a carving in bas relief, as you will see for yourself if you will make your way to it through the gateway on the opposite side of the square. It represents, so far as can be made out, for it is much worn by time and dirt, a figure lying on the ground with another figure bending over it, while at a little distance stands a third object. But this last is so indistinct that it might be almost anything, from an angel to a post.

And below the carving are the words (already half obliterated) that I have used for the title of this story.

Should you ever wander of a Sunday morning within sound of the cracked bell that calls a few habit bound, old fashioned folk to worship within those damp stained walls, and drop into talk with the old men who on such days sometimes sit, each in his brass buttoned long brown coat, upon the low stone coping underneath those broken railings, you might hear this tale from them, as I did, more years ago than I care to recollect.

But lest you do not choose to go to all this trouble, or lest the old men who could tell it you have grown tired of all talk, and are not to be roused ever again into the telling of tales, and you yet wish for the story, I will here set it down for you... Continue reading book >>

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