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´╗┐Title: The Cost of Kindness
Author: Jerome, Jerome K. (Jerome Klapka), 1859-1927
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Cost of Kindness" ***

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THE COST OF KINDNESS

By Jerome K. Jerome



"Kindness," argued little Mrs. Pennycoop, "costs nothing."

"And, speaking generally, my dear, is valued precisely at cost
price," retorted Mr. Pennycoop, who, as an auctioneer of twenty years'
experience, had enjoyed much opportunity of testing the attitude of the
public towards sentiment.

"I don't care what you say, George," persisted his wife; "he may be
a disagreeable, cantankerous old brute--I don't say he isn't. All the
same, the man is going away, and we may never see him again."

"If I thought there was any fear of our doing so," observed Mr.
Pennycoop, "I'd turn my back on the Church of England to-morrow and
become a Methodist."

"Don't talk like that, George," his wife admonished him, reprovingly;
"the Lord might be listening to you."

"If the Lord had to listen to old Cracklethorpe He'd sympathize with
me," was the opinion of Mr. Pennycoop.

"The Lord sends us our trials, and they are meant for our good,"
explained his wife. "They are meant to teach us patience."

"You are not churchwarden," retorted her husband; "you can get away from
him. You hear him when he is in the pulpit, where, to a certain extent,
he is bound to keep his temper."

"You forget the rummage sale, George," Mrs. Pennycoop reminded him; "to
say nothing of the church decorations."

"The rummage sale," Mr. Pennycoop pointed out to her, "occurs only once
a year, and at that time your own temper, I have noticed--"

"I always try to remember I am a Christian," interrupted little Mrs.
Pennycoop. "I do not pretend to be a saint, but whatever I say I am
always sorry for it afterwards--you know I am, George."

"It's what I am saying," explained her husband. "A vicar who has
contrived in three years to make every member of his congregation hate
the very sight of a church--well, there's something wrong about it
somewhere."

Mrs. Pennycoop, gentlest of little women, laid her plump and still
pretty hands upon her husband's shoulders. "Don't think, dear, I
haven't sympathized with you. You have borne it nobly. I have marvelled
sometimes that you have been able to control yourself as you have done,
most times; the things that he has said to you."

Mr. Pennycoop had slid unconsciously into an attitude suggestive of
petrified virtue, lately discovered.

"One's own poor self," observed Mr. Pennycoop, in accents of proud
humility--"insults that are merely personal one can put up with. Though
even there," added the senior churchwarden, with momentary descent
towards the plane of human nature, "nobody cares to have it hinted
publicly across the vestry table that one has chosen to collect from
the left side for the express purpose of artfully passing over one's own
family."

"The children have always had their three-penny-bits ready waiting in
their hands," explained Mrs. Pennycoop, indignantly.

"It's the sort of thing he says merely for the sake of making a
disturbance," continued the senior churchwarden. "It's the things he
does I draw the line at."

"The things he has done, you mean, dear," laughed the little woman, with
the accent on the "has." "It is all over now, and we are going to be
rid of him. I expect, dear, if we only knew, we should find it was his
liver. You know, George, I remarked to you the first day that he came
how pasty he looked and what a singularly unpleasant mouth he had.
People can't help these things, you know, dear. One should look upon
them in the light of afflictions and be sorry for them."

"I could forgive him doing what he does if he didn't seem to enjoy it,"
said the senior churchwarden. "But, as you say, dear, he is going, and
all I hope and pray is that we never see his like again."

"And you'll come with me to call upon him, George," urged kind little
Mrs. Pennycoop. "After all, he has been our vicar for three years, and
he must be feeling it, poor man--whatever he may pretend--going away
like this, knowing that everybody is glad to see the back of him."

"Well, I sha'n't say anything I don't really feel," stipulated Mr.
Pennycoop.

"That will be all right, dear," laughed his wife, "so long as you don't
say what you do feel. And we'll both of us keep our temper," further
suggested the little woman, "whatever happens. Remember, it will be for
the last time."

Little Mrs. Pennycoop's intention was kind and Christianlike. The Rev.
Augustus Cracklethorpe would be quitting Wychwood-on-the-Heath the
following Monday, never to set foot--so the Rev. Augustus Cracklethorpe
himself and every single member of his congregation hoped sincerely--in
the neighbourhood again. Hitherto no pains had been taken on either side
to disguise the mutual joy with which the parting was looked forward
to. The Rev. Augustus Cracklethorpe, M.A., might possibly have been
of service to his Church in, say, some East-end parish of unsavoury
reputation, some mission station far advanced amid the hordes of
heathendom. There his inborn instinct of antagonism to everybody and
everything surrounding him, his unconquerable disregard for other
people's views and feelings, his inspired conviction that everybody but
himself was bound to be always wrong about everything, combined with
determination to act and speak fearlessly in such belief, might have
found their uses. In picturesque little Wychwood-on-the-Heath, among the
Kentish hills, retreat beloved of the retired tradesman, the spinster
of moderate means, the reformed Bohemian developing latent instincts
towards respectability, these qualities made only for scandal and
disunion.

For the past two years the Rev. Cracklethorpe's parishioners, assisted
by such other of the inhabitants of Wychwood-on-the-Heath as had
happened to come into personal contact with the reverend gentleman,
had sought to impress upon him, by hints and innuendoes difficult to
misunderstand, their cordial and daily-increasing dislike of him, both
as a parson and a man. Matters had come to a head by the determination
officially announced to him that, failing other alternatives, a
deputation of his leading parishioners would wait upon his bishop. This
it was that had brought it home to the Rev. Augustus Cracklethorpe that,
as the spiritual guide and comforter of Wychwood-on-the Heath, he had
proved a failure. The Rev. Augustus had sought and secured the care of
other souls. The following Sunday morning he had arranged to preach his
farewell sermon, and the occasion promised to be a success from every
point of view. Churchgoers who had not visited St. Jude's for months
had promised themselves the luxury of feeling they were listening to
the Rev. Augustus Cracklethorpe for the last time. The Rev. Augustus
Cracklethorpe had prepared a sermon that for plain speaking and
directness was likely to leave an impression. The parishioners of St.
Jude's, Wychwood-on-the-Heath, had their failings, as we all have. The
Rev. Augustus flattered himself that he had not missed out a single one,
and was looking forward with pleasurable anticipation to the sensation
that his remarks, from his "firstly" to his "sixthly and lastly," were
likely to create.

What marred the entire business was the impulsiveness of little Mrs.
Pennycoop. The Rev. Augustus Cracklethorpe, informed in his study on the
Wednesday afternoon that Mr. and Mrs. Pennycoop had called, entered the
drawing-room a quarter of an hour later, cold and severe; and, without
offering to shake hands, requested to be informed as shortly as possible
for what purpose he had been disturbed. Mrs. Pennycoop had had her
speech ready to her tongue. It was just what it should have been, and no
more.

It referred casually, without insisting on the point, to the duty
incumbent upon all of us to remember on occasion we were Christians;
that our privilege it was to forgive and forget; that, generally
speaking, there are faults on both sides; that partings should never
take place in anger; in short, that little Mrs. Pennycoop and George,
her husband, as he was waiting to say for himself, were sorry for
everything and anything they may have said or done in the past to hurt
the feelings of the Rev. Augustus Cracklethorpe, and would like to shake
hands with him and wish him every happiness for the future. The chilling
attitude of the Rev. Augustus scattered that carefully-rehearsed speech
to the winds. It left Mrs. Pennycoop nothing but to retire in choking
silence, or to fling herself upon the inspiration of the moment and make
up something new. She choose the latter alternative.

At first the words came halting. Her husband, man-like, had deserted
her in her hour of utmost need and was fumbling with the door-knob. The
steely stare with which the Rev. Cracklethorpe regarded her, instead
of chilling her, acted upon her as a spur. It put her on her mettle. He
should listen to her. She would make him understand her kindly feeling
towards him if she had to take him by the shoulders and shake it into
him. At the end of five minutes the Rev. Augustus Cracklethorpe,
without knowing it, was looking pleased. At the end of another five Mrs.
Pennycoop stopped, not for want of words, but for want of breath.
The Rev. Augustus Cracklethorpe replied in a voice that, to his own
surprise, was trembling with emotion. Mrs. Pennycoop had made his task
harder for him. He had thought to leave Wychwood-on-the-Heath without a
regret. The knowledge he now possessed, that at all events one member of
his congregation understood him, as Mrs. Pennycoop had proved to him she
understood him, sympathized with him--the knowledge that at least
one heart, and that heart Mrs. Pennycoop's, had warmed to him, would
transform what he had looked forward to as a blessed relief into a
lasting grief.

Mr. Pennycoop, carried away by his wife's eloquence, added a few halting
words of his own. It appeared from Mr. Pennycoop's remarks that he had
always regarded the Rev. Augustus Cracklethorpe as the vicar of his
dreams, but misunderstandings in some unaccountable way will arise. The
Rev. Augustus Cracklethorpe, it appeared, had always secretly respected
Mr. Pennycoop. If at any time his spoken words might have conveyed
the contrary impression, that must have arisen from the poverty of our
language, which does not lend itself to subtle meanings.

Then following the suggestion of tea, Miss Cracklethorpe, sister to the
Rev. Augustus--a lady whose likeness to her brother in all respects
was startling, the only difference between them being that while he was
clean-shaven she wore a slight moustache--was called down to grace the
board. The visit was ended by Mrs. Pennycoop's remembrance that it was
Wilhelmina's night for a hot bath.

"I said more than I intended to," admitted Mrs. Pennycoop to George, her
husband, on the way home; "but he irritated me."

Rumour of the Pennycoops' visit flew through the parish. Other ladies
felt it their duty to show to Mrs. Pennycoop that she was not the only
Christian in Wychwood-on-the-Heath. Mrs. Pennycoop, it was feared, might
be getting a swelled head over this matter. The Rev. Augustus, with
pardonable pride, repeated some of the things that Mrs. Pennycoop had
said to him. Mrs. Pennycoop was not to imagine herself the only person
in Wychwood-on-the-Heath capable of generosity that cost nothing. Other
ladies could say graceful nothings--could say them even better. Husbands
dressed in their best clothes and carefully rehearsed were brought in
to grace the almost endless procession of disconsolate parishioners
hammering at the door of St. Jude's parsonage. Between Thursday morning
and Saturday night the Rev. Augustus, much to his own astonishment, had
been forced to the conclusion that five-sixths of his parishioners had
loved him from the first without hitherto having had opportunity of
expressing their real feelings.

The eventful Sunday arrived. The Rev. Augustus Cracklethorpe had been
kept so busy listening to regrets at his departure, assurances of
an esteem hitherto disguised from him, explanations of seeming
discourtesies that had been intended as tokens of affectionate regard,
that no time had been left to him to think of other matters. Not till
he entered the vestry at five minutes to eleven did recollection of his
farewell sermon come to him. It haunted him throughout the service.
To deliver it after the revelations of the last three days would be
impossible. It was the sermon that Moses might have preached to Pharaoh
the Sunday prior to the exodus. To crush with it this congregation of
broken-hearted adorers sorrowing for his departure would be inhuman.
The Rev. Augustus tried to think of passages that might be selected,
altered. There were none. From beginning to end it contained not a
single sentence capable of being made to sound pleasant by any ingenuity
whatsoever.

The Rev. Augustus Cracklethorpe climbed slowly up the pulpit steps
without an idea in his head of what he was going to say. The sunlight
fell upon the upturned faces of a crowd that filled every corner of
the church. So happy, so buoyant a congregation the eyes of the Rev.
Augustus Cracklethorpe had never till that day looked down upon. The
feeling came to him that he did not want to leave them. That they
did not wish him to go, could he doubt? Only by regarding them as a
collection of the most shameless hypocrites ever gathered together
under one roof. The Rev. Augustus Cracklethorpe dismissed the passing
suspicion as a suggestion of the Evil One, folded the neatly-written
manuscript that lay before him on the desk, and put it aside. He had
no need of a farewell sermon. The arrangements made could easily be
altered. The Rev. Augustus Cracklethorpe spoke from his pulpit for the
first time an impromptu.

The Rev. Augustus Cracklethorpe wished to acknowledge himself in the
wrong. Foolishly founding his judgment upon the evidence of a few
men, whose names there would be no need to mention, members of
the congregation who, he hoped, would one day be sorry for the
misunderstandings they had caused, brethren whom it was his duty
to forgive, he had assumed the parishioners of St. Jude's,
Wychwood-on-the-Heath, to have taken a personal dislike to him. He
wished to publicly apologize for the injustice he had unwittingly done
to their heads and to their hearts. He now had it from their own lips
that a libel had been put upon them. So far from their wishing his
departure, it was self-evident that his going would inflict upon them
a great sorrow. With the knowledge he now possessed of the respect--one
might almost say the veneration--with which the majority of that
congregation regarded him--knowledge, he admitted, acquired somewhat
late--it was clear to him he could still be of help to them in their
spiritual need. To leave a flock so devoted would stamp him as an
unworthy shepherd. The ceaseless stream of regrets at his departure that
had been poured into his ear during the last four days he had decided
at the last moment to pay heed to. He would remain with them--on one
condition.

There quivered across the sea of humanity below him a movement that
might have suggested to a more observant watcher the convulsive
clutchings of some drowning man at some chance straw. But the Rev.
Augustus Cracklethorpe was thinking of himself.

The parish was large and he was no longer a young man. Let them provide
him with a conscientious and energetic curate. He had such a one in his
mind's eye, a near relation of his own, who, for a small stipend that
was hardly worth mentioning, would, he knew it for a fact, accept the
post. The pulpit was not the place in which to discuss these matters,
but in the vestry afterwards he would be pleased to meet such members of
the congregation as might choose to stay.

The question agitating the majority of the congregation during the
singing of the hymn was the time it would take them to get outside
the church. There still remained a faint hope that the Rev. Augustus
Cracklethorpe, not obtaining his curate, might consider it due to his
own dignity to shake from his feet the dust of a parish generous in
sentiment, but obstinately close-fisted when it came to putting its
hands into its pockets.

But for the parishioners of St. Jude's that Sunday was a day of
misfortune. Before there could be any thought of moving, the Rev.
Augustus raised his surpliced arm and begged leave to acquaint them with
the contents of a short note that had just been handed up to him. It
would send them all home, he felt sure, with joy and thankfulness in
their hearts. An example of Christian benevolence was among them that
did honour to the Church.

Here a retired wholesale clothier from the East-end of London--a short,
tubby gentleman who had recently taken the Manor House--was observed to
turn scarlet.

A gentleman hitherto unknown to them had signalled his advent among them
by an act of munificence that should prove a shining example to all rich
men. Mr. Horatio Copper--the reverend gentleman found some difficulty,
apparently, in deciphering the name.

"Cooper-Smith, sir, with an hyphen," came in a thin whisper, the voice
of the still scarlet-faced clothier.

Mr. Horatio Cooper-Smith, taking--the Rev. Augustus felt confident--a
not unworthy means of grappling to himself thus early the hearts of his
fellow-townsmen, had expressed his desire to pay for the expense of a
curate entirely out of his own pocket. Under these circumstances,
there would be no further talk of a farewell between the Rev. Augustus
Cracklethorpe and his parishioners. It would be the hope of the Rev.
Augustus Cracklethorpe to live and die the pastor of St. Jude's.

A more solemn-looking, sober congregation than the congregation that
emerged that Sunday morning from St. Jude's in Wychwood-on-the-Heath had
never, perhaps, passed out of a church door.

"He'll have more time upon his hands," said Mr. Biles, retired wholesale
ironmonger and junior churchwarden, to Mrs. Biles, turning the corner
of Acacia Avenue--"he'll have more time to make himself a curse and a
stumbling-block."

"And if this 'near relation' of his is anything like him--"

"Which you may depend upon it is the Case, or he'd never have thought of
him," was the opinion of Mr. Biles.

"I shall give that Mrs. Pennycoop," said Mrs. Biles, "a piece of my mind
when I meet her."

But of what use was that?





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