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The Angel and the Author

CHAPTER XIII
[How to be Healthy and Unhappy.]
"They do say," remarked Mrs. Wilkins, as she took the cover off the dish and gave a
finishing polish to my plate with the cleanest corner of her apron, "that 'addicks,
leastways in May, ain't, strictly speaking, the safest of food. But then, if you listen to all
they say, it seems to me, we'd have to give up victuals altogether."
"The haddock, Mrs. Wilkins," I replied, "is a savoury and nourishing dish, the 'poor man's
steak' I believe it is commonly called. When I was younger, Mrs. Wilkins, they were
cheaper. For twopence one could secure a small specimen, for fourpence one of generous
proportions. In the halcyon days of youth, when one's lexicon contained not the word
failure (it has crept into later editions, Mrs. Wilkins, the word it was found was
occasionally needful), the haddock was of much comfort and support to me, a very
present help in time of trouble. In those days a kind friend, without intending it, nearly
brought about my death by slow starvation. I had left my umbrella in an omnibus, and the
season was rainy. The kind rich friend gave me a new umbrella; it was a rich man's
umbrella; we made an ill-assorted pair. Its handle was of ivory, imposing in appearance,
ornamented with a golden snake.
[The unsympathetic Umbrella.]
"Following my own judgment I should have pawned that umbrella, purchased one more
suited to my state in life, and 'blued' the difference. But I was fearful of offending my one
respectable acquaintance, and for weeks struggled on, hampered by this plutocratic
appendage. The humble haddock was denied to me. Tied to this imposing umbrella, how
could I haggle with fishmongers for haddocks. At first sight of me--or, rather, of my
umbrella--they flew to icy cellars, brought up for my inspection soles at eighteenpence a
pound, recommended me prime parts of salmon, which my landlady would have fried in
a pan reeking with the mixed remains of pork chops, rashers of bacon and cheese. It was
closed to me, the humble coffee shop, where for threepence I could have strengthened my
soul with half a pint of cocoa and four "doorsteps"--satisfactory slices of bread smeared
with a yellow grease that before the days of County Council inspectors they called butter.
You know of them, Mrs. Wilkins? At sight of such nowadays I should turn up my jaded
nose. But those were the days of my youth, Mrs. Wilkins. The scent of a thousand hopes
was in my nostrils: so they smelt good to me. The fourpenny beefsteak pie, satisfying to
the verge of repletion; the succulent saveloy, were not for the owner of the ivory-handled
umbrella. On Mondays and Tuesdays, perhaps, I could enjoy life at the rate of five
hundred a year--clean serviette a penny extra, and twopence to the waiter, whose income
must have been at least four times my own. But from Wednesday to Saturday I had to
wander in the wilderness of back streets and silent squares dinnerless, where there were
not even to be found locusts and wild honey.
 
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