Wednesday, October 10, 2007



Beasts and Super-Beasts
LEONARD BILSITER was one of those people who have
failed to find this world attractive or interesting, and
who have sought compensation in an "unseen world" of
their own experience or imagination - or invention.
Children do that sort of thing successfully, but children
are content to convince themselves, and do not vulgarise
their beliefs by trying to convince other people.
Leonard Bilsiter's beliefs were for "the few," that is to
say, anyone who would listen to him.
His dabblings in the unseen might not have carried
him beyond the customary platitudes of the drawing-room
visionary if accident had not reinforced his stock-intrade
of mystical lore. In company with a friend, who
was interested in a Ural mining concern, he had made a
trip across Eastern Europe at a moment when the great
Russian railway strike was developing from a threat to a
reality; its outbreak caught him on the return journey,
somewhere on the further side of Perm, and it was while
waiting for a couple of days at a wayside station in a
state of suspended locomotion that he made the
acquaintance of a dealer in harness and metalware, who
profitably whiled away the tedium of the long halt by
initiating his English travelling companion in a
fragmentary system of folk-lore that he had picked up
from Trans-Baikal traders and natives. Leonard returned
to his home circle garrulous about his Russian strike
experiences, but oppressively reticent about certain dark
mysteries, which he alluded to under the resounding title
of Siberian Magic. The reticence wore off in a week or
two under the influence of an entire lack of general
curiosity, and Leonard began to make more detailed
allusions to the enormous powers which this new esoteric
force, to use his own description of it, conferred on the
initiated few who knew how to wield it. His aunt,
Cecilia Hoops, who loved sensation perhaps rather better
than she loved the truth, gave him as clamorous an
advertisement as anyone could wish for by retailing an
account of how he had turned a vegetable marrow into a
wood pigeon before her very eyes. As a manifestation of
the possession of supernatural powers, the story was
discounted in some quarters by the respect accorded to
Mrs. Hoops' powers of imagination.
However divided opinion might be on the question of
Leonard's status as a wonderworker or a charlatan, he
certainly arrived at Mary Hampton's house-party with a
reputation for pre-eminence in one or other of those
professions, and he was not disposed to shun such
publicity as might fall to his share. Esoteric forces
and unusual powers figured largely in whatever
conversation he or his aunt had a share in, and his own
performances, past and potential, were the subject of
mysterious hints and dark avowals.
"I wish you would turn me into a wolf, Mr.
Bilsiter," said his hostess at luncheon the day after his
"My dear Mary," said Colonel Hampton, "I never knew
you had a craving in that direction."
"A she-wolf, of course," continued Mrs. Hampton; it
would be too confusing to change one's sex as well as
one's species at a moment's notice."
"I don't think one should jest on these subjects,"
said Leonard.
"I'm not jesting, I'm quite serious, I assure you.
Only don't do it to-day; we have only eight available
bridge players, and it would break up one of our tables.
To-morrow we shall be a larger party. To-morrow night,
after dinner - "
"In our present imperfect understanding of these
hidden forces I think one should approach them with
humbleness rather than mockery," observed Leonard, with
such severity that the subject was forthwith dropped.
Clovis Sangrail had sat unusually silent during the
discussion on the possibilities of Siberian Magic; after
lunch he side-tracked Lord Pabham into the comparative
seclusion of the billiard-room and delivered himself of a
searching question.
"Have you such a thing as a she-wolf in your
collection of wild animals? A she-wolf of moderately
good temper?"
Lord Pabham considered. "There is Loiusa," he said,
"a rather fine specimen of the timber-wolf. I got her
two years ago in exchange for some Arctic foxes. Most of
my animals get to be fairly tame before they've been with
me very long; I think I can say Louisa has an angelic
temper, as she-wolves go. Why do you ask?"
"I was wondering whether you would lend her to me
for to-morrow night," said Clovis, with the careless
solicitude of one who borrows a collar stud or a tennis
"To-morrow night?"
"Yes, wolves are nocturnal animals, so the late
hours won't hurt her," said Clovis, with the air of one
who has taken everything into consideration; "one of your
men could bring her over from Pabham Park after dusk, and
with a little help he ought to be able to smuggle her
into the conservatory at the same moment that Mary
Hampton makes an unobtrusive exit."
Lord Pabham stared at Clovis for a moment in
pardonable bewilderment; then his face broke into a
wrinkled network of laughter.
"Oh, that's your game, is it? You are going to do a
little Siberian Magic on your own account. And is Mrs.
Hampton willing to be a fellow-conspirator?"
"Mary is pledged to see me through with it, if you
will guarantee Louisa's temper."
"I'll answer for Louisa," said Lord Pabham.
By the following day the house-party had swollen to
larger proportions, and Bilsiter's instinct for selfadvertisement
expanded duly under the stimulant of an
increased audience. At dinner that evening he held forth
at length on the subject of unseen forces and untested
powers, and his flow of impressive eloquence continued
unabated while coffee was being served in the drawingroom
preparatory to a general migration to the card-room.
His aunt ensured a respectful hearing for his
utterances, but her sensation-loving soul hankered after
something more dramatic than mere vocal demonstration.
"Won't you do something to CONVINCE them of your
powers, Leonard?" she pleaded; "change something into
another shape. He can, you know, if he only chooses to,"
she informed the company.
"Oh, do," said Mavis Pellington earnestly, and her
request was echoed by nearly everyone present. Even
those who were not open to conviction were perfectly
willing to be entertained by an exhibition of amateur
Leonard felt that something tangible was expected of
"Has anyone present," he asked, "got a three-penny
bit or some small object of no particular value -?"
"You're surely not going to make coins disappear, or
something primitive of that sort?" said Clovis
"I think it very unkind of you not to carry out my
suggestion of turning me into a wolf," said Mary Hampton,
as she crossed over to the conservatory to give her
macaws their usual tribute from the dessert dishes.
"I have already warned you of the danger of treating
these powers in a mocking spirit," said Leonard solemnly.
"I don't believe you can do it," laughed Mary
provocatively from the conservatory; "I dare you to do it
if you can. I defy you to turn me into a wolf."
As she said this she was lost to view behind a clump
of azaleas.
"Mrs. Hampton - " began Leonard with increased
solemnity, but he got no further. A breath of chill air
seemed to rush across the room, and at the same time the
macaws broke forth into ear-splitting screams.
"What on earth is the matter with those confounded
birds, Mary?" exclaimed Colonel Hampton; at the same
moment an even more piercing scream from Mavis Pellington
stampeded the entire company from their seats. In
various attitudes of helpless horror or instinctive
defence they confronted the evil-looking grey beast that
was peering at them from amid a setting of fern and
Mrs. Hoops was the first to recover from the general
chaos of fright and bewilderment.
"Leonard!" she screamed shrilly to her nephew, "turn
it back into Mrs. Hampton at once! It may fly at us at
any moment. Turn it back!"
"I - I don't know how to," faltered Leonard, who
looked more scared and horrified than anyone.
"What!" shouted Colonel Hampton, "you've taken the
abominable liberty of turning my wife into a wolf, and
now you stand there calmly and say you can't turn her
back again!"
To do strict justice to Leonard, calmness was not a
distinguishing feature of his attitude at the moment.
"I assure you I didn't turn Mrs. Hampton into a
wolf; nothing was farther from my intentions," he
"Then where is she, and how came that animal into
the conservatory?" demanded the Colonel.
"Of course we must accept your assurance that you
didn't turn Mrs. Hampton into a wolf," said Clovis
politely, "but you will agree that appearances are
against you."
"Are we to have all these recriminations with that
beast standing there ready to tear us to pieces?" wailed
Mavis indignantly.
"Lord Pabham, you know a good deal about wild beasts
- " suggested Colonel Hampton.
"The wild beasts that I have been accustomed to,"
said Lord Pabham, "have come with proper credentials from
well-known dealers, or have been bred in my own
menagerie. I've never before been confronted with an
animal that walks unconcernedly out of an azalea bush,
leaving a charming and popular hostess unaccounted for.
As far as one can judge from OUTWARD characteristics," he
continued, "it has the appearance of a well-grown female
of the North American timber-wolf, a variety of the
common species CANIS LUPUS."
"Oh, never mind its Latin name," screamed Mavis, as
the beast came a step or two further into the room;
"can't you entice it away with food, and shut it up where
it can't do any harm?"
"If it is really Mrs. Hampton, who has just had a
very good dinner, I don't suppose food will appeal to it
very strongly," said Clovis.
"Leonard," beseeched Mrs. Hoops tearfully, "even if
this is none of your doing can't you use your great
powers to turn this dreadful beast into something
harmless before it bites us all - a rabbit or something?"
"I don't suppose Colonel Hampton would care to have
his wife turned into a succession of fancy animals as
though we were playing a round game with her," interposed
"I absolutely forbid it," thundered the Colonel.
"Most wolves that I've had anything to do with have
been inordinately fond of sugar," said Lord Pabham; "if
you like I'll try the effect on this one."
He took a piece of sugar from the saucer of his
coffee cup and flung it to the expectant Louisa, who
snapped it in mid-air. There was a sigh of relief from
the company; a wolf that ate sugar when it might at the
least have been employed in tearing macaws to pieces had
already shed some of its terrors. The sigh deepened to a
gasp of thanks-giving when Lord Pabham decoyed the animal
out of the room by a pretended largesse of further sugar.
There was an instant rush to the vacated conservatory.
There was no trace of Mrs. Hampton except the plate
containing the macaws' supper.
"The door is locked on the inside!" exclaimed
Clovis, who had deftly turned the key as he affected to
test it.
Everyone turned towards Bilsiter.
"If you haven't turned my wife into a wolf," said
Colonel Hampton, "will you kindly explain where she has
disappeared to, since she obviously could not have gone
through a locked door? I will not press you for an
explanation of how a North American timber-wolf suddenly
appeared in the conservatory, but I think I have some
right to inquire what has become of Mrs. Hampton."
Bilsiter's reiterated disclaimer was met with a
general murmur of impatient disbelief.
"I refuse to stay another hour under this roof,"
declared Mavis Pellington.
"If our hostess has really vanished out of human
form," said Mrs. Hoops, "none of the ladies of the party
can very well remain. I absolutely decline to be
chaperoned by a wolf!"
"It's a she-wolf," said Clovis soothingly.
The correct etiquette to be observed under the
unusual circumstances received no further elucidation.
The sudden entry of Mary Hampton deprived the discussion
of its immediate interest.
"Some one has mesmerised me," she exclaimed crossly;
"I found myself in the game larder, of all places, being
fed with sugar by Lord Pabham. I hate being mesmerised,
and the doctor has forbidden me to touch sugar."
The situation was explained to her, as far as it
permitted of anything that could be called explanation.
"Then you REALLY did turn me into a wolf, Mr.
Bilsiter?" she exclaimed excitedly.
But Leonard had burned the boat in which he might
now have embarked on a sea of glory. He could only shake
his head feebly.
"It was I who took that liberty," said Clovis; "you
see, I happen to have lived for a couple of years in
North-Eastern Russia, and I have more than a tourist's
acquaintance with the magic craft of that region. One
does not care to speak about these strange powers, but
once in a way, when one hears a lot of nonsense being
talked about them, one is tempted to show what Siberian
magic can accomplish in the hands of someone who really
understands it. I yielded to that temptation. May I
have some brandy? the effort has left me rather faint."
If Leonard Bilsiter could at that moment have
transformed Clovis into a cockroach and then have stepped
on him he would gladly have performed both operations.
"YOU are not really dying, are you?" asked Amanda.
"I have the doctor's permission to live till
Tuesday," said Laura.
"But to-day is Saturday; this is serious!" gasped
"I don't know about it being serious; it is
certainly Saturday," said Laura.
"Death is always serious," said Amanda.
"I never said I was going to die. I am presumably
going to leave off being Laura, but I shall go on being
something. An animal of some kind, I suppose. You see,
when one hasn't been very good in the life one has just
lived, one reincarnates in some lower organism. And I
haven't been very good, when one comes to think of it.
I've been petty and mean and vindictive and all that sort
of thing when circumstances have seemed to warrant it."
"Circumstances never warrant that sort of thing,"
said Amanda hastily.
"If you don't mind my saying so," observed Laura,
"Egbert is a circumstance that would warrant any amount
of that sort of thing. You're married to him - that's
different; you've sworn to love, honour, and endure him:
I haven't."
"I don't see what's wrong with Egbert," protested
"Oh, I daresay the wrongness has been on my part,"
admitted Laura dispassionately; "he has merely been the
extenuating circumstance. He made a thin, peevish kind
of fuss, for instance, when I took the collie puppies
from the farm out for a run the other day."
"They chased his young broods of speckled Sussex and
drove two sitting hens off their nests, besides running
all over the flower beds. You know how devoted he is to
his poultry and garden."
"Anyhow, he needn't have gone on about it for the
entire evening and then have said, `Let's say no more
about it' just when I was beginning to enjoy the
discussion. That's where one of my petty vindictive
revenges came in," added Laura with an unrepentant
chuckle; "I turned the entire family of speckled Sussex
into his seedling shed the day after the puppy episode."
"How could you?" exclaimed Amanda.
"It came quite easy," said Laura; "two of the hens
pretended to be laying at the time, but I was firm."
"And we thought it was an accident!"
"You see," resumed Laura, "I really HAVE some
grounds for supposing that my next incarnation will be in
a lower organism. I shall be an animal of some kind. On
the other hand, I haven't been a bad sort in my way, so I
think I may count on being a nice animal, something
elegant and lively, with a love of fun. An otter,
"I can't imagine you as an otter," said Amanda.
"Well, I don't suppose you can imagine me as an
angel, if it comes to that," said Laura.
Amanda was silent. She couldn't.
"Personally I think an otter life would be rather
enjoyable," continued Laura; "salmon to eat all the year
round, and the satisfaction of being able to fetch the
trout in their own homes without having to wait for hours
till they condescend to rise to the fly you've been
dangling before them; and an elegant svelte figure - "
"Think of the otter hounds," interposed Amanda; "how
dreadful to be hunted and harried and finally worried to
"Rather fun with half the neighbourhood looking on,
and anyhow not worse than this Saturday-to-Tuesday
business of dying by inches; and then I should go on into
something else. If I had been a moderately good otter I
suppose I should get back into human shape of some sort;
probably something rather primitive - a little brown,
unclothed Nubian boy, I should think."
"I wish you would be serious," sighed Amanda; "you
really ought to be if you're only going to live till
As a matter of fact Laura died on Monday.
"So dreadfully upsetting," Amanda complained to her
uncle-in-law, Sir Lulworth Quayne. "I've asked quite a
lot of people down for golf and fishing, and the
rhododendrons are just looking their best."
"Laura always was inconsiderate," said Sir Lulworth;
"she was born during Goodwood week, with an Ambassador
staying in the house who hated babies."
"She had the maddest kind of ideas," said Amanda;
"do you know if there was any insanity in her family?"
"Insanity? No, I never heard of any. Her father
lives in West Kensington, but I believe he's sane on all
other subjects."
"She had an idea that she was going to be
reincarnated as an otter," said Amanda.
"One meets with those ideas of reincarnation so
frequently, even in the West," said Sir Lulworth, "that
one can hardly set them down as being mad. And Laura was
such an unaccountable person in this life that I should
not like to lay down definite rules as to what she might
be doing in an after state."
"You think she really might have passed into some
animal form?" asked Amanda. She was one of those who
shape their opinions rather readily from the standpoint
of those around them.
Just then Egbert entered the breakfast-room, wearing
an air of bereavement that Laura's demise would have been
insufficient, in itself, to account for.
"Four of my speckled Sussex have been killed," he
exclaimed; "the very four that were to go to the show on
Friday. One of them was dragged away and eaten right in
the middle of that new carnation bed that I've been to
such trouble and expense over. My best flower bed and my
best fowls singled out for destruction; it almost seems
as if the brute that did the deed had special knowledge
how to be as devastating as possible in a short space of
"Was it a fox, do you think?" asked Amanda.
"Sounds more like a polecat," said Sir Lulworth.
"No," said Egbert, "there were marks of webbed feet
all over the place, and we followed the tracks down to
the stream at the bottom of the garden; evidently an
Amanda looked quickly and furtively across at Sir
Egbert was too agitated to eat any breakfast, and
went out to superintend the strengthening of the poultry
yard defences.
"I think she might at least have waited till the
funeral was over," said Amanda in a scandalised voice.
"It's her own funeral, you know," said Sir Lulworth;
"it's a nice point in etiquette how far one ought to show
respect to one's own mortal remains."
Disregard for mortuary convention was carried to
further lengths next day; during the absence of the
family at the funeral ceremony the remaining survivors of
the speckled Sussex were massacred. The marauder's line
of retreat seemed to have embraced most of the flower
beds on the lawn, but the strawberry beds in the lower
garden had also suffered.
"I shall get the otter hounds to come here at the
earliest possible moment," said Egbert savagely.
"On no account! You can't dream of such a thing!"
exclaimed Amanda. "I mean, it wouldn't do, so soon after
a funeral in the house."
"It's a case of necessity," said Egbert; "once an
otter takes to that sort of thing it won't stop."
"Perhaps it will go elsewhere now there are no more
fowls left," suggested Amanda.
"One would think you wanted to shield the beast,"
said Egbert.
"There's been so little water in the stream lately,"
objected Amanda; "it seems hardly sporting to hunt an
animal when it has so little chance of taking refuge
"Good gracious!" fumed Egbert, "I'm not thinking
about sport. I want to have the animal killed as soon as
Even Amanda's opposition weakened when, during
church time on the following Sunday, the otter made its
way into the house, raided half a salmon from the larder
and worried it into scaly fragments on the Persian rug in
Egbert's studio.
"We shall have it hiding under our beds and biting
pieces out of our feet before long," said Egbert, and
from what Amanda knew of this particular otter she felt
that the possibility was not a remote one.
On the evening preceding the day fixed for the hunt
Amanda spent a solitary hour walking by the banks of the
stream, making what she imagined to be hound noises. It
was charitably supposed by those who overheard her
performance, that she was practising for farmyard
imitations at the forth-coming village entertainment.
It was her friend and neighbour, Aurora Burret, who
brought her news of the day's sport.
"Pity you weren't out; we had quite a good day. We
found at once, in the pool just below your garden."
"Did you - kill?" asked Amanda.
"Rather. A fine she-otter. Your husband got rather
badly bitten in trying to 'tail it.' Poor beast, I felt
quite sorry for it, it had such a human look in its eyes
when it was killed. You'll call me silly, but do you
know who the look reminded me of? My dear woman, what is
the matter?"
When Amanda had recovered to a certain extent from
her attack of nervous prostration Egbert took her to the
Nile Valley to recuperate. Change of scene speedily
brought about the desired recovery of health and mental
balance. The escapades of an adventurous otter in search
of a variation of diet were viewed in their proper light.
Amanda's normally placid temperament reasserted itself.
Even a hurricane of shouted curses, coming from her
husband's dressing-room, in her husband's voice, but
hardly in his usual vocabulary, failed to disturb her
serenity as she made a leisurely toilet one evening in a
Cairo hotel.
"What is the matter? What has happened?" she asked
in amused curiosity.
"The little beast has thrown all my clean shirts
into the bath! Wait till I catch you, you little - "
"What little beast?" asked Amanda, suppressing a
desire to laugh; Egbert's language was so hopelessly
inadequate to express his outraged feelings.
"A little beast of a naked brown Nubian boy,"
spluttered Egbert.
And now Amanda is seriously ill.
"THERE is a back way on to the lawn," said Mrs.
Philidore Stossen to her daughter, "through a small grass
paddock and then through a walled fruit garden full of
gooseberry bushes. I went all over the place last year
when the family were away. There is a door that opens
from the fruit garden into a shrubbery, and once we
emerge from there we can mingle with the guests as if we
had come in by the ordinary way. It's much safer than
going in by the front entrance and running the risk of
coming bang up against the hostess; that would be so
awkward when she doesn't happen to have invited us."
"Isn't it a lot of trouble to take for getting
admittance to a garden party?"
"To a garden party, yes; to THE garden party of the
season, certainly not. Every one of any consequence in
the county, with the exception of ourselves, has been
asked to meet the Princess, and it would be far more
troublesome to invent explanations as to why we weren't
there than to get in by a roundabout way. I stopped Mrs.
Cuvering in the road yesterday and talked very pointedly
about the Princess. If she didn't choose to take the
hint and send me an invitation it's not my fault, is it?
Here we are: we just cut across the grass and through
that little gate into the garden."
Mrs. Stossen and her daughter, suitably arrayed for
a county garden party function with an infusion of
Almanack de Gotha, sailed through the narrow grass
paddock and the ensuing gooseberry garden with the air of
state barges making an unofficial progress along a rural
trout stream. There was a certain amount of furtive
haste mingled with the stateliness of their advance, as
though hostile search-lights might be turned on them at
any moment; and, as a matter of fact, they were not
unobserved. Matilda Cuvering, with the alert eyes of
thirteen years old and the added advantage of an exalted
position in the branches of a medlar tree, had enjoyed a
good view of the Stossen flanking movement and had
foreseen exactly where it would break down in execution.
"They'll find the door locked, and they'll jolly
well have to go back the way they came," she remarked to
herself. "Serves them right for not coming in by the
proper entrance. What a pity Tarquin Superbus isn't
loose in the paddock. After all, as every one else is
enjoying themselves, I don't see why Tarquin shouldn't
have an afternoon out."
Matilda was of an age when thought is action; she
slid down from the branches of the medlar tree, and when
she clambered back again Tarquin, the huge white
Yorkshire boar-pig, had exchanged the narrow limits of
his stye for the wider range of the grass paddock. The
discomfited Stossen expedition, returning in
recriminatory but otherwise orderly retreat from the
unyielding obstacle of the locked door, came to a sudden
halt at the gate dividing the paddock from the gooseberry
"What a villainous-looking animal," exclaimed Mrs.
Stossen; "it wasn't there when we came in."
"It's there now, anyhow," said her daughter. "What
on earth are we to do? I wish we had never come."
The boar-pig had drawn nearer to the gate for a
closer inspection of the human intruders, and stood
champing his jaws and blinking his small red eyes in a
manner that was doubtless intended to be disconcerting,
and, as far as the Stossens were concerned, thoroughly
achieved that result.
"Shoo! Hish! Hish! Shoo!" cried the ladies in
"If they think they're going to drive him away by
reciting lists of the kings of Israel and Judah they're
laying themselves out for disappointment," observed
Matilda from her seat in the medlar tree. As she made
the observation aloud Mrs. Stossen became for the first
time aware of her presence. A moment or two earlier she
would have been anything but pleased at the discovery
that the garden was not as deserted as it looked, but now
she hailed the fact of the child's presence on the scene
with absolute relief.
"Little girl, can you find some one to drive away -
" she began hopefully.
"COMMENT? COMPRENDS PAS," was the response.
"Oh, are you French? ETES VOUS FRANCAISE?"
"Then why not talk English? I want to know if - "
"PERMETTEZ-MOI EXPLIQUER. You see, I'm rather under
a cloud," said Matilda. "I'm staying with my aunt, and I
was told I must behave particularly well to-day, as lots
of people were coming for a garden party, and I was told
to imitate Claude, that's my young cousin, who never does
anything wrong except by accident, and then is always
apologetic about it. It seems they thought I ate too
much raspberry trifle at lunch, and they said Claude
never eats too much raspberry trifle. Well, Claude
always goes to sleep for half an hour after lunch,
because he's told to, and I waited till he was asleep,
and tied his hands and started forcible feeding with a
whole bucketful of raspberry trifle that they were
keeping for the garden-party. Lots of it went on to his
sailor-suit and some of it on to the bed, but a good deal
went down Claude's throat, and they can't say again that
he has never been known to eat too much raspberry trifle.
That is why I am not allowed to go to the party, and as
an additional punishment I must speak French all the
afternoon. I've had to tell you all this in English, as
there were words like `forcible feeding' that I didn't
know the French for; of course I could have invented
them, but if I had said NOURRITURE OBLIGATOIRE you
wouldn't have had the least idea what I was talking
"Oh, very well, TRES BIEN," said Mrs. Stossen
reluctantly; in moments of flurry such French as she knew
was not under very good control. "LA, A L'AUTRE COTE DE
Matilda with enthusiasm.
"UNE BETE," corrected Matilda; "a pig is masculine
as long as you call it a pig, but if you lose your temper
with it and call it a ferocious beast it becomes one of
us at once. French is a dreadfully unsexing language."
"For goodness' sake let us talk English then," said
Mrs. Stossen. "Is there any way out of this garden
except through the paddock where the pig is?"
"I always go over the wall, by way of the plum
tree," said Matilda.
"Dressed as we are we could hardly do that," said
Mrs. Stossen; it was difficult to imagine her doing it in
any costume.
"Do you think you could go and get some one who
would drive the pig away?" asked Miss Stossen.
"I promised my aunt I would stay here till five
o'clock; it's not four yet."
"I am sure, under the circumstances, your aunt would
permit - "
"My conscience would not permit," said Matilda with
cold dignity.
"We can't stay here till five o'clock," exclaimed
Mrs. Stossen with growing exasperation.
"Shall I recite to you to make the time pass
quicker?" asked Matilda obligingly. " `Belinda, the
little Breadwinner,' is considered my best piece, or,
perhaps, it ought to be something in French. Henri
Quatre's address to his soldiers is the only thing I
really know in that language."
"If you will go and fetch some one to drive that
animal away I will give you something to buy yourself a
nice present," said Mrs. Stossen.
Matilda came several inches lower down the medlar
"That is the most practical suggestion you have made
yet for getting out of the garden," she remarked
cheerfully; "Claude and I are collecting money for the
Children's Fresh Air Fund, and we are seeing which of us
can collect the biggest sum."
"I shall be very glad to contribute half a crown,
very glad indeed," said Mrs. Stossen, digging that coin
out of the depths of a receptacle which formed a detached
outwork of her toilet.
"Claude is a long way ahead of me at present,"
continued Matilda, taking no notice of the suggested
offering; "you see, he's only eleven, and has golden
hair, and those are enormous advantages when you're on
the collecting job. Only the other day a Russian lady
gave him ten shillings. Russians understand the art of
giving far better than we do. I expect Claude will net
quite twenty-five shillings this afternoon; he'll have
the field to himself, and he'll be able to do the pale,
fragile, not-long-for-this-world business to perfection
after his raspberry trifle experience. Yes, he'll be
QUITE two pounds ahead of me by now."
With much probing and plucking and many regretful
murmurs the beleaguered ladies managed to produce sevenand-
sixpence between them.
"I am afraid this is all we've got," said Mrs.
Matilda showed no sign of coming down either to the
earth or to their figure.
"I could not do violence to my conscience for
anything less than ten shillings," she announced stiffly.
Mother and daughter muttered certain remarks under
their breath, in which the word "beast" was prominent,
and probably had no reference to Tarquin.
"I find I HAVE got another half-crown," said Mrs.
Stossen in a shaking voice; "here you are. Now please
fetch some one quickly."
Matilda slipped down from the tree, took possession
of the donation, and proceeded to pick up a handful of
over-ripe medlars from the grass at her feet. Then she
climbed over the gate and addressed herself
affectionately to the boar-pig.
"Come, Tarquin, dear old boy; you know you can't
resist medlars when they're rotten and squashy."
Tarquin couldn't. By dint of throwing the fruit in
front of him at judicious intervals Matilda decoyed him
back to his stye, while the delivered captives hurried
across the paddock.
"Well, I never! The little minx!" exclaimed Mrs.
Stossen when she was safely on the high road. "The
animal wasn't savage at all, and as for the ten
shillings, I don't believe the Fresh Air Fund will see a
penny of it!"
There she was unwarrantably harsh in her judgment.
If you examine the books of the fund you will find the
acknowledgment: "Collected by Miss Matilda Cuvering, 2s.
THE hunting season had come to an end, and the
Mullets had not succeeded in selling the Brogue. There
had been a kind of tradition in the family for the past
three or four years, a sort of fatalistic hope, that the
Brogue would find a purchaser before the hunting was
over; but seasons came and went without anything
happening to justify such ill-founded optimism. The
animal had been named Berserker in the earlier stages of
its career; it had been rechristened the Brogue later on,
in recognition of the fact that, once acquired, it was
extremely difficult to get rid of. The unkinder wits of
the neighbourhood had been known to suggest that the
first letter of its name was superfluous. The Brogue had
been variously described in sale catalogues as a lightweight
hunter, a lady's hack, and, more simply, but still
with a touch of imagination, as a useful brown gelding,
standing 15.1. Toby Mullet had ridden him for four
seasons with the West Wessex; you can ride almost any
sort of horse with the West Wessex as long as it is an
animal that knows the country. The Brogue knew the
country intimately, having personally created most of the
gaps that were to be met with in banks and hedges for
many miles round. His manners and characteristics were
not ideal in the hunting field, but he was probably
rather safer to ride to hounds than he was as a hack on
country roads. According to the Mullet family, he was
not really road-shy, but there were one or two objects of
dislike that brought on sudden attacks of what Toby
called the swerving sickness. Motors and cycles he
treated with tolerant disregard, but pigs, wheelbarrows,
piles of stones by the roadside, perambulators in a
village street, gates painted too aggressively white, and
sometimes, but not always, the newer kind of beehives,
turned him aside from his tracks in vivid imitation of
the zigzag course of forked lightning. If a pheasant
rose noisily from the other side of a hedgerow the Brogue
would spring into the air at the same moment, but this
may have been due to a desire to be companionable. The
Mullet family contradicted the widely prevalent report
that the horse was a confirmed crib-biter.
It was about the third week in May that Mrs. Mullet,
relict of the late Sylvester Mullet, and mother of Toby
and a bunch of daughters, assailed Clovis Sangrail on the
outskirts of the village with a breathless catalogue of
local happenings.
"You know our new neighbour, Mr. Penricarde?" she
vociferated; "awfully rich, owns tin mines in Cornwall,
middle-aged and rather quiet. He's taken the Red House
on a long lease and spent a lot of money on alterations
and improvements. Well, Toby's sold him the Brogue!"
Clovis spent a moment or two in assimilating the
astonishing news; then he broke out into unstinted
congratulation. If he had belonged to a more emotional
race he would probably have kissed Mrs. Mullet.
"How wonderfully lucky to have pulled it off at
last! Now you can buy a decent animal. I've always said
that Toby was clever. Ever so many congratulations."
"Don't congratulate me. It's the most unfortunate
thing that could have happened!" said Mrs. Mullet
Clovis stared at her in amazement.
"Mr. Penricarde," said Mrs. Mullet, sinking her
voice to what she imagined to be an impressive whisper,
though it rather resembled a hoarse, excited squeak, "Mr.
Penricarde has just begun to pay attentions to Jessie.
Slight at first, but now unmistakable. I was a fool not
to have seen it sooner. Yesterday, at the Rectory garden
party, he asked her what her favourite flowers were, and
she told him carnations, and to-day a whole stack of
carnations has arrived, clove and malmaison and lovely
dark red ones, regular exhibition blooms, and a box of
chocolates that he must have got on purpose from London.
And he's asked her to go round the links with him tomorrow.
And now, just at this critical moment, Toby has
sold him that animal. It's a calamity!"
"But you've been trying to get the horse off your
hands for years," said Clovis.
"I've got a houseful of daughters," said Mrs.
Mullet, "and I've been trying - well, not to get them off
my hands, of course, but a husband or two wouldn't be
amiss among the lot of them; there are six of them, you
"I don't know," said Clovis, "I've never counted,
but I expect you're right as to the number; mothers
generally know these things."
"And now," continued Mrs. Mullet, in her tragic
whisper, "when there's a rich husband-in-prospect
imminent on the horizon Toby goes and sells him that
miserable animal. It will probably kill him if he tries
to ride it; anyway it will kill any affection he might
have felt towards any member of our family. What is to
be done? We can't very well ask to have the horse back;
you see, we praised it up like anything when we thought
there was a chance of his buying it, and said it was just
the animal to suit him."
"Couldn't you steal it out of his stable and send it
to grass at some farm miles away?" suggested Clovis;
"write 'Votes for Women' on the stable door, and the
thing would pass for a Suffragette outrage. No one who
knew the horse could possibly suspect you of wanting to
get it back again."
"Every newspaper in the country would ring with the
affair," said Mrs. Mullet; "can't you imagine the
headline, 'Valuable Hunter Stolen by Suffragettes'? The
police would scour the countryside till they found the
"Well, Jessie must try and get it back from
Penricarde on the plea that it's an old favourite. She
can say it was only sold because the stable had to be
pulled down under the terms of an old repairing lease,
and that now it has been arranged that the stable is to
stand for a couple of years longer."
"It sounds a queer proceeding to ask for a horse
back when you've just sold him," said Mrs. Mullet, "but
something must be done, and done at once. The man is not
used to horses, and I believe I told him it was as quiet
as a lamb. After all, lambs go kicking and twisting
about as if they were demented, don't they?"
"The lamb has an entirely unmerited character for
sedateness," agreed Clovis.
Jessie came back from the golf links next day in a
state of mingled elation and concern.
"It's all right about the proposal," she announced
he came out with it at the sixth hole. I said I must
have time to think it over. I accepted him at the
"My dear," said her mother, "I think a little more
maidenly reserve and hesitation would have been
advisable, as you've known him so short a time. You
might have waited till the ninth hole."
"The seventh is a very long hole," said Jessie;
"besides, the tension was putting us both off our game.
By the time we'd got to the ninth hole we'd settled lots
of things. The honeymoon is to be spent in Corsica, with
perhaps a flying visit to Naples if we feel like it, and
a week in London to wind up with. Two of his nieces are
to be asked to be bridesmaids, so with our lot there will
be seven, which is rather a lucky number. You are to
wear your pearl grey, with any amount of Honiton lace
jabbed into it. By the way, he's coming over this
evening to ask your consent to the whole affair. So far
all's well, but about the Brogue it's a different matter.
I told him the legend about the stable, and how keen we
were about buying the horse back, but he seems equally
keen on keeping it. He said he must have horse exercise
now that he's living in the country, and he's going to
start riding tomorrow. He's ridden a few times in the
Row, on an animal that was accustomed to carry
octogenarians and people undergoing rest cures, and
that's about all his experience in the saddle - oh, and
he rode a pony once in Norfolk, when he was fifteen and
the pony twenty-four; and tomorrow he's going to ride the
Brogue! I shall be a widow before I'm married, and I do
so want to see what Corsica's like; it looks so silly on
the map."
Clovis was sent for in haste, and the developments
of the situation put before him.
"Nobody can ride that animal with any safety," said
Mrs. Mullet, "except Toby, and he knows by long
experience what it is going to shy at, and manages to
swerve at the same time."
"I did hint to Mr. Penricarde - to Vincent, I should
say - that the Brogue didn't like white gates," said
"White gates!" exclaimed Mrs. Mullet; "did you
mention what effect a pig has on him? He'll have to go
past Lockyer's farm to get to the high road, and there's
sure to be a pig or two grunting about in the lane."
"He's taken rather a dislike to turkeys lately,"
said Toby.
"It's obvious that Penricarde mustn't be allowed to
go out on that animal," said Clovis, "at least not till
Jessie has married him, and tired of him. I tell you
what: ask him to a picnic to-morrow, starting at an early
hour; he's not the sort to go out for a ride before
breakfast. The day after I'll get the rector to drive
him over to Crowleigh before lunch, to see the new
cottage hospital they're building there. The Brogue will
be standing idle in the stable and Toby can offer to
exercise it; then it can pick up a stone or something of
the sort and go conveniently lame. If you hurry on the
wedding a bit the lameness fiction can be kept up till
the ceremony is safely over."
Mrs. Mullet belonged to an emotional race, and she
kissed Clovis.
It was nobody's fault that the rain came down in
torrents the next morning, making a picnic a fantastic
impossibility. It was also nobody's fault, but sheer
ill-luck, that the weather cleared up sufficiently in the
afternoon to tempt Mr. Penricarde to make his first essay
with the Brogue. They did not get as far as the pigs at
Lockyer's farm; the rectory gate was painted a dull
unobtrusive green, but it had been white a year or two
ago, and the Brogue never forgot that he had been in the
habit of making a violent curtsey, a back-pedal and a
swerve at this particular point of the road.
Subsequently, there being apparently no further call on
his services, he broke his way into the rectory orchard,
where he found a hen turkey in a coop; later visitors to
the orchard found the coop almost intact, but very little
left of the turkey.
Mr. Penricarde, a little stunned and shaken, and
suffering from a bruised knee and some minor damages,
good-naturedly ascribed the accident to his own
inexperience with horses and country roads, and allowed
Jessie to nurse him back into complete recovery and golffitness
within something less than a week.
In the list of wedding presents which the local
newspaper published a fortnight or so later appeared the
following item:
"Brown saddle-horse, 'The Brogue,' bridegroom's gift
to bride."
"Which shows," said Toby Mullet, "that he knew
"Or else," said Clovis, "that he has a very pleasing
"DORA BITTHOLZ is coming on Thursday," said Mrs.
"This next Thursday? " asked Clovis
His mother nodded.
"You've rather done it, haven't you?" he chuckled;
"Jane Martlet has only been here five days, and she never
stays less than a fortnight, even when she's asked
definitely for a week. You'll never get her out of the
house by Thursday."
"Why should I?" asked Mrs. Sangrail; "she and Dora
are good friends, aren't they? They used to be, as far
as I remember."
"They used to be; that's what makes them all the
more bitter now. Each feels that she has nursed a viper
in her bosom. Nothing fans the flame of human resentment
so much as the discovery that one's bosom has been
utilised as a snake sanatorium."
"But what has happened? Has some one been making
"Not exactly," said Clovis; "a hen came between
"A hen? What hen?"
"It was a bronze Leghorn or some such exotic breed,
and Dora sold it to Jane at a rather exotic price. They
both go in for prize poultry, you know, and Jane thought
she was going to get her money back in a large family of
pedigree chickens. The bird turned out to be an
abstainer from the egg habit, and I'm told that the
letters which passed between the two women were a
revelation as to how much invective could be got on to a
sheet of notepaper."
"How ridiculous!" said Mrs. Sangrail. "Couldn't
some of their friends compose the quarrel?"
"People tried," said Clovis, "but it must have been
rather like composing the storm music of the `Fliegende
Hollander.' Jane was willing to take back some of her
most libellous remarks if Dora would take back the hen,
but Dora said that would be owning herself in the wrong,
and you know she'd as soon think of owning slum property
in Whitechapel as do that."
"It's a most awkward situation," said Mrs. Sangrail.
"Do you suppose they won't speak to one another?"
"On the contrary, the difficulty will be to get them
to leave off. Their remarks on each other's conduct and
character have hitherto been governed by the fact that
only four ounces of plain speaking can be sent through
the post for a penny."
"I can't put Dora off," said Mrs. Sangrail. "I've
already postponed her visit once, and nothing short of a
miracle would make Jane leave before her self-allotted
fortnight is over."
"Miracles are rather in my line," said Clovis. "I
don't pretend to be very hopeful in this case but I'll do
my best."
"As long as you don't drag me into it - " stipulated
his mother.
* * * *
"Servants are a bit of a nuisance," muttered Clovis,
as he sat in the smoking-room after lunch, talking
fitfully to Jane Martlet in the intervals of putting
together the materials of a cocktail, which he had
irreverently patented under the name of an Ella Wheeler
Wilcox. It was partly compounded of old brandy and
partly of curacoa; there were other ingredients, but they
were never indiscriminately revealed.
"Servants a nuisance!" exclaimed Jane, bounding into
the topic with the exuberant plunge of a hunter when it
leaves the high road and feels turf under its hoofs; "I
should think they were! The trouble I've had in getting
suited this year you would hardly believe. But I don't
see what you have to complain of - your mother is so
wonderfully lucky in her servants. Sturridge, for
instance - he's been with you for years, and I'm sure
he's a paragon as butlers go."
"That's just the trouble," said Clovis. "It's when
servants have been with you for years that they become a
really serious nuisance. The 'here to-day and gone tomorrow'
sort don't matter - you've simply got to replace
them; it's the stayers and the paragons that are the real
"But if they give satisfaction - "
"That doesn't prevent them from giving trouble.
Now, you've mentioned Sturridge - it was Sturridge I was
particularly thinking of when I made the observation
about servants being a nuisance."
"The excellent Sturridge a nuisance! I can't
believe it."
"I know he's excellent, and we just couldn't get
along without him; he's the one reliable element in this
rather haphazard household. But his very orderliness has
had an effect on him. Have you ever considered what it
must be like to go on unceasingly doing the correct thing
in the correct manner in the same surroundings for the
greater part of a lifetime? To know and ordain and
superintend exactly what silver and glass and table linen
shall be used and set out on what occasions, to have
cellar and pantry and plate-cupboard under a minutely
devised and undeviating administration, to be noiseless,
impalpable, omnipresent, and, as far as your own
department is concerned, omniscient?"
"I should go mad," said Jane with conviction.
"Exactly," said Clovis thoughtfully, swallowing his
completed Ella Wheeler Wilcox.
"But Sturridge hasn't gone mad," said Jane with a
flutter of inquiry in her voice.
"On most points he's thoroughly sane and reliable,"
said Clovis, "but at times he is subject to the most
obstinate delusions, and on those occasions he becomes
not merely a nuisance but a decided embarrassment."
"What sort of delusions?"
"Unfortunately they usually centre round one of the
guests of the house party, and that is where the
awkwardness comes in. For instance, he took it into his
head that Matilda Sheringham was the Prophet Elijah, and
as all that he remembered about Elijah's history was the
episode of the ravens in the wilderness he absolutely
declined to interfere with what he imagined to be
Matilda's private catering arrangements, wouldn't allow
any tea to be sent up to her in the morning, and if he
was waiting at table he passed her over altogether in
handing round the dishes."
"How very unpleasant. Whatever did you do about
"Oh, Matilda got fed, after a fashion, but it was
judged to be best for her to cut her visit short. It was
really the only thing to be done," said Clovis with some
"I shouldn't have done that," said Jane, "I should
have humoured him in some way. I certainly shouldn't
have gone away."
Clovis frowned.
"It is not always wise to humour people when they
get these ideas into their heads. There's no knowing to
what lengths they may go if you encourage them."
"You don't mean to say he might be dangerous, do
you?" asked Jane with some anxiety.
"One can never be certain," said Clovis; "now and
then he gets some idea about a guest which might take an
unfortunate turn. That is precisely what is worrying me
at the present moment."
"What, has he taken a fancy about some one here
now?" asked Jane excitedly; "how thrilling! Do tell me
who it is."
You," said Clovis briefly.
Clovis nodded.
"Who on earth does he think I am?"
"Queen Anne," was the unexpected answer.
"Queen Anne! What an idea. But, anyhow, there's
nothing dangerous about her; she's such a colourless
"What does posterity chiefly say about Queen Anne?"
asked Clovis rather sternly.
"The only thing that I can remember about her," said
Jane, "is the saying 'Queen Anne's dead.'"
"Exactly," said Clovis, staring at the glass that
had held the Ella Wheeler Wilcox, "dead."
"Do you mean he takes me for the ghost of Queen
Anne?" asked Jane.
"Ghost? Dear no. No one ever heard of a ghost that
came down to breakfast and ate kidneys and toast and
honey with a healthy appetite. No, it's the fact of you
being so very much alive and flourishing that perplexes
and annoys him. All his life he has been accustomed to
look on Queen Anne as the personification of everything
that is dead and done with, 'as dead as Queen Anne,' you
know; and now he has to fill your glass at lunch and
dinner and listen to your accounts of the gay time you
had at the Dublin Horse Show, and naturally he feels that
something's very wrong with you."
"But he wouldn't be downright hostile to me on that
account, would he?" Jane asked anxiously.
"I didn't get really alarmed about it till lunch today,"
said Clovis; "I caught him glowering at you with a
very sinister look and muttering: 'Ought to be dead long
ago, she ought, and some one should see to it.' That's
why I mentioned the matter to you."
"This is awful," said Jane; "your mother must be
told about it at once."
"My mother mustn't hear a word about it," said
Clovis earnestly; "it would upset her dreadfully. She
relies on Sturridge for everything."
"But he might kill me at any moment," protested
"Not at any moment; he's busy with the silver all
the afternoon."
"You'll have to keep a sharp look-out all the time
and be on your guard to frustrate any murderous attack,"
said Jane, adding in a tone of weak obstinacy: "It's a
dreadful situation to be in, with a mad butler dangling
over you like the sword of What's-his-name, but I'm
certainly not going to cut my visit short."
Clovis swore horribly under his breath; the miracle
was an obvious misfire.
It was in the hall the next morning after a late
breakfast that Clovis had his final inspiration as he
stood engaged in coaxing rust spots from an old putter.
"Where is Miss Martlet?" he asked the butler, who
was at that moment crossing the hall.
"Writing letters in the morning-room, sir," said
Sturridge, announcing a fact of which his questioner was
already aware.
"She wants to copy the inscription on that old
basket-hilted sabre," said Clovis, pointing to a
venerable weapon hanging on the wall. "I wish you'd take
it to her; my hands are all over oil. Take it without
the sheath, it will be less trouble."
The butler drew the blade, still keen and bright in
its well-cared for old age, and carried it into the
morning-room. There was a door near the writing-table
leading to a back stairway; Jane vanished through it with
such lightning rapidity that the butler doubted whether
she had seen him come in. Half an hour later Clovis was
driving her and her hastily-packed luggage to the
"Mother will be awfully vexed when she comes back
from her ride and finds you have gone," he observed to
the departing guest, "but I'll make up some story about
an urgent wire having called you away. It wouldn't do to
alarm her unnecessarily about Sturridge."
Jane sniffed slightly at Clovis' ideas of
unnecessary alarm, and was almost rude to the young man
who came round with thoughtful inquiries as to luncheonbaskets.
The miracle lost some of its usefulness from the
fact that Dora wrote the same day postponing the date of
her visit, but, at any rate, Clovis holds the record as
the only human being who ever hustled Jane Martlet out of
the time-table of her migrations.
"MY aunt will be down presently, Mr. Nuttel," said a
very self-possessed young lady of fifteen; "in the
meantime you must try and put up with me."
Framton Nuttel endeavoured to say the correct
something which should duly flatter the niece of the
moment without unduly discounting the aunt that was to
come. Privately he doubted more than ever whether these
formal visits on a succession of total strangers would do
much towards helping the nerve cure which he was supposed
to be undergoing.
"I know how it will be," his sister had said when he
was preparing to migrate to this rural retreat; "you will
bury yourself down there and not speak to a living soul,
and your nerves will be worse than ever from moping. I
shall just give you letters of introduction to all the
people I know there. Some of them, as far as I can
remember, were quite nice."
Framton wondered whether Mrs. Sappleton, the lady to
whom he was presenting one of the letters of
introduction, came into the nice division.
"Do you know many of the people round here?" asked
the niece, when she judged that they had had sufficient
silent communion.
"Hardly a soul," said Framton. "My sister was
staying here, at the rectory, you know, some four years
ago, and she gave me letters of introduction to some of
the people here."
He made the last statement in a tone of distinct
"Then you know practically nothing about my aunt?"
pursued the self-possessed young lady.
"Only her name and address," admitted the caller.
He was wondering whether Mrs. Sappleton was in the
married or widowed state. An undefinable something about
the room seemed to suggest masculine habitation.
"Her great tragedy happened just three years ago,"
said the child; "that would be since your sister's time."
"Her tragedy?" asked Framton; somehow in this
restful country spot tragedies seemed out of place.
"You may wonder why we keep that window wide open on
an October afternoon," said the niece, indicating a large
French window that opened on to a lawn.
"It is quite warm for the time of the year," said
Framton; "but has that window got anything to do with the
"Out through that window, three years ago to a day,
her husband and her two young brothers went off for their
day's shooting. They never came back. In crossing the
moor to their favourite snipe-shooting ground they were
all three engulfed in a treacherous piece of bog. It had
been that dreadful wet summer, you know, and places that
were safe in other years gave way suddenly without
warning. Their bodies were never recovered. That was
the dreadful part of it." Here the child's voice lost
its self-possessed note and became falteringly human.
"Poor aunt always thinks that they will come back some
day, they and the little brown spaniel that was lost with
them, and walk in at that window just as they used to do.
That is why the window is kept open every evening till it
is quite dusk. Poor dear aunt, she has often told me how
they went out, her husband with his white waterproof coat
over his arm, and Ronnie, her youngest brother, singing
'Bertie, why do you bound?' as he always did to tease
her, because she said it got on her nerves. Do you know,
sometimes on still, quiet evenings like this, I almost
get a creepy feeling that they will all walk in through
that window - "
She broke off with a little shudder. It was a
relief to Framton when the aunt bustled into the room
with a whirl of apologies for being late in making her
"I hope Vera has been amusing you?" she said.
"She has been very interesting," said Framton.
"I hope you don't mind the open window," said Mrs.
Sappleton briskly; "my husband and brothers will be home
directly from shooting, and they always come in this way.
They've been out for snipe in the marshes to-day, so
they'll make a fine mess over my poor carpets. So like
you men-folk, isn't it?"
She rattled on cheerfully about the shooting and the
scarcity of birds, and the prospects for duck in the
winter. To Framton it was all purely horrible. He made
a desperate but only partially successful effort to turn
the talk on to a less ghastly topic; he was conscious
that his hostess was giving him only a fragment of her
attention, and her eyes were constantly straying past him
to the open window and the lawn beyond. It was certainly
an unfortunate coincidence that he should have paid his
visit on this tragic anniversary.
"The doctors agree in ordering me complete rest, an
absence of mental excitement, and avoidance of anything
in the nature of violent physical exercise," announced
Framton, who laboured under the tolerably wide-spread
delusion that total strangers and chance acquaintances
are hungry for the least detail of one's ailments and
infirmities, their cause and cure. "On the matter of
diet they are not so much in agreement," he continued.
"No?" said Mrs. Sappleton, in a voice which only
replaced a yawn at the last moment. Then she suddenly
brightened into alert attention - but not to what Framton
was saying.
"Here they are at last!" she cried. "Just in time
for tea, and don't they look as if they were muddy up to
the eyes!"
Framton shivered slightly and turned towards the
niece with a look intended to convey sympathetic
comprehension. The child was staring out through the
open window with dazed horror in her eyes. In a chill
shock of nameless fear Framton swung round in his seat
and looked in the same direction.
In the deepening twilight three figures were walking
across the lawn towards the window; they all carried guns
under their arms, and one of them was additionally
burdened with a white coat hung over his shoulders. A
tired brown spaniel kept close at their heels.
Noiselessly they neared the house, and then a hoarse
young voice chanted out of the dusk: "I said, Bertie, why
do you bound?"
Framton grabbed wildly at his stick and hat; the
hall-door, the gravel-drive, and the front gate were
dimly-noted stages in his headlong retreat. A cyclist
coming along the road had to run into the hedge to avoid
an imminent collision.
"Here we are, my dear," said the bearer of the white
mackintosh, coming in through the window; "fairly muddy,
but most of it's dry. Who was that who bolted out as we
came up?"
"A most extraordinary man, a Mr. Nuttel," said Mrs.
Sappleton; "could only talk about his illnesses, and
dashed off without a word of good-bye or apology when you
arrived. One would think he had seen a ghost."
"I expect it was the spaniel," said the niece
calmly; "he told me he had a horror of dogs. He was once
hunted into a cemetery somewhere on the banks of the
Ganges by a pack of pariah dogs, and had to spend the
night in a newly dug grave with the creatures snarling
and grinning and foaming just above him. Enough to make
anyone their nerve."
Romance at short notice was her speciality.
THE great galleon lay in semi-retirement under the
sand and weed and water of the northern bay where the
fortune of war and weather had long ago ensconced it.
Three and a quarter centuries had passed since the day
when it had taken the high seas as an important unit of a
fighting squadron - precisely which squadron the learned
were not agreed. The galleon had brought nothing into
the world, but it had, according to tradition and report,
taken much out of it. But how much? There again the
learned were in disagreement. Some were as generous in
their estimate as an income-tax assessor, others applied
a species of higher criticism to the submerged treasure
chests, and debased their contents to the currency of
goblin gold. Of the former school was Lulu, Duchess of
The Duchess was not only a believer in the existence
of a sunken treasure of alluring proportions; she also
believed that she knew of a method by which the said
treasure might be precisely located and cheaply
disembedded. An aunt on her mother's side of the family
had been Maid of Honour at the Court of Monaco, and had
taken a respectful interest in the deep-sea researches in
which the Throne of that country, impatient perhaps of
its terrestrial restrictions, was wont to immerse itself.
It was through the instrumentality of this relative that
the Duchess learned of an invention, perfected and very
nearly patented by a Monegaskan savant, by means of which
the home-life of the Mediterranean sardine might be
studied at a depth of many fathoms in a cold white light
of more than ball-room brilliancy. Implicated in this
invention (and, in the Duchess's eyes, the most
attractive part of it) was an electric suction dredge,
specially designed for dragging to the surface such
objects of interest and value as might be found in the
more accessible levels of the ocean-bed. The rights of
the invention were to be acquired for a matter of
eighteen hundred francs, and the apparatus for a few
thousand more. The Duchess of Dulverton was rich, as the
world counted wealth; she nursed the hope, of being one
day rich at her own computation. Companies had been
formed and efforts had been made again and again during
the course of three centuries to probe for the alleged
treasures of the interesting galleon; with the aid of
this invention she considered that she might go to work
on the wreck privately and independently. After all, one
of her ancestors on her mother's side was descended from
Medina Sidonia, so she was of opinion that she had as
much right to the treasure as anyone. She acquired the
invention and bought the apparatus.
Among other family ties and encumbrances, Lulu
possessed a nephew, Vasco Honiton, a young gentleman who
was blessed with a small income and a large circle of
relatives, and lived impartially and precariously on
both. The name Vasco had been given him possibly in the
hope that he might live up to its adventurous tradition,
but he limited himself strictly to the home industry of
adventurer, preferring to exploit the assured rather than
to explore the unknown. Lulu's intercourse with him had
been restricted of recent years to the negative processes
of being out of town when he called on her, and short of
money when he wrote to her. Now, however, she bethought
herself of his eminent suitability for the direction of a
treasure-seeking experiment; if anyone could extract gold
from an unpromising situation it would certainly be Vasco
- of course, under the necessary safeguards in the way of
supervision. Where money was in question Vasco's
conscience was liable to fits of obstinate silence.
Somewhere on the west coast of Ireland the Dulverton
property included a few acres of shingle, rock, and
heather, too barren to support even an agrarian outrage,
but embracing a small and fairly deep bay where the
lobster yield was good in most seasons. There was a
bleak little house on the property, and for those who
liked lobsters and solitude, and were able to accept an
Irish cook's ideas as to what might be perpetrated in the
name of mayonnaise, Innisgluther was a tolerable exile
during the summer months. Lulu seldom went there
herself, but she lent the house lavishly to friends and
relations. She put it now at Vasco's disposal.
"It will be the very place to practise and
experiment with the salvage apparatus," she said; "the
bay is quite deep in places, and you will be able to test
everything thoroughly before starting on the treasure
In less than three weeks Vasco turned up in town to
report progress.
"The apparatus works beautifully," he informed his
aunt; "the deeper one got the clearer everything grew.
We found something in the way of a sunken wreck to
operate on, too!"
"A wreck in Innisgluther Bay!" exclaimed Lulu.
"A submerged motor-boat, the SUB-ROSA," said Vasco.
"No! really?" said Lulu; "poor Billy Yuttley's boat.
I remember it went down somewhere off that coast some
three years ago. His body was washed ashore at the
Point. People said at the time that the boat was
capsized intentionally - a case of suicide, you know.
People always say that sort of thing when anything tragic
"In this case they were right," said Vasco.
"What do you mean?" asked the Duchess hurriedly.
"What makes you think so?"
"I know," said Vasco simply.
"Know? How can you know? How can anyone know? The
thing happened three years ago."
"In a locker of the SUB-ROSA I found a water-tight
strong-box. It contained papers." Vasco paused with
dramatic effect and searched for a moment in the inner
breast-pocket of his coat. He drew out a folded slip of
paper. The Duchess snatched at it in almost indecent
haste and moved appreciably nearer the fireplace.
"Was this in the SUB-ROSA'S strong-box?" she asked.
"Oh no," said Vasco carelessly, "that is a list of
the well-known people who would be involved in a very
disagreeable scandal if the SUB-ROSA'S papers were made
public. I've put you at the head of it, otherwise it
follows alphabetical order."
The Duchess gazed helplessly at the string of names,
which seemed for the moment to include nearly every one
she knew. As a matter of fact, her own name at the head
of the list exercised an almost paralysing effect on her
thinking faculties.
"Of course you have destroyed the papers?" she
asked, when she had somewhat recovered herself. She was
conscious that she made the remark with an entire lack of
Vasco shook his head.
"But you should have," said Lulu angrily; "if, as
you say, they are highly compromising - "
"Oh, they are, I assure you of that," interposed the
young man.
"Then you should put them out of harm's way at once.
Supposing anything should leak out, think of all these
poor, unfortunate people who would be involved in the
disclosures," and Lulu tapped the list with an agitated
"Unfortunate, perhaps, but not poor," corrected
Vasco; "if you read the list carefully you'll notice that
I haven't troubled to include anyone whose financial
standing isn't above question."
Lulu glared at her nephew for some moments in
silence. Then she asked hoarsely: "What are you going to
"Nothing - for the remainder of my life," he
answered meaningly. "A little hunting, perhaps," he
continued, "and I shall have a villa at Florence. The
Villa Sub-Rosa would sound rather quaint and picturesque,
don't you think, and quite a lot of people would be able
to attach a meaning to the name. And I suppose I must
have a hobby; I shall probably collect Raeburns."
Lulu's relative, who lived at the Court of Monaco,
got quite a snappish answer when she wrote recommending
some further invention in the realm of marine research.
THE farmhouse kitchen probably stood where it did as
a matter of accident or haphazard choice; yet its
situation might have been planned by a master-strategist
in farmhouse architecture. Dairy and poultry-yard, and
herb garden, and all the busy places of the farm seemed
to lead by easy access into its wide flagged haven, where
there was room for everything and where muddy boots left
traces that were easily swept away. And yet, for all
that it stood so well in the centre of human bustle, its
long, latticed window, with the wide window-seat, built
into an embrasure beyond the huge fireplace, looked out
on a wild spreading view of hill and heather and wooded
combe. The window nook made almost a little room in
itself, quite the pleasantest room in the farm as far as
situation and capabilities went. Young Mrs. Ladbruk,
whose husband had just come into the farm by way of
inheritance, cast covetous eyes on this snug corner, and
her fingers itched to make it bright and cosy with chintz
curtains and bowls of flowers, and a shelf or two of old
china. The musty farm parlour, looking out on to a prim,
cheerless garden imprisoned within high, blank walls, was
not a room that lent itself readily either to comfort or
"When we are more settled I shall work wonders in
the way of making the kitchen habitable," said the young
woman to her occasional visitors. There was an unspoken
wish in those words, a wish which was unconfessed as well
as unspoken. Emma Ladbruk was the mistress of the farm;
jointly with her husband she might have her say, and to a
certain extent her way, in ordering its affairs. But she
was not mistress of the kitchen.
On one of the shelves of an old dresser, in company
with chipped sauce-boats, pewter jugs, cheese-graters,
and paid bills, rested a worn and ragged Bible, on whose
front page was the record, in faded ink, of a baptism
dated ninety-four years ago. "Martha Crale" was the name
written on that yellow page. The yellow, wrinkled old
dame who hobbled and muttered about the kitchen, looking
like a dead autumn leaf which the winter winds still
pushed hither and thither, had once been Martha Crale;
for seventy odd years she had been Martha Mountjoy. For
longer than anyone could remember she had pattered to and
fro between oven and wash-house and dairy, and out to
chicken-run and garden, grumbling and muttering and
scolding, but working unceasingly. Emma Ladbruk, of
whose coming she took as little notice as she would of a
bee wandering in at a window on a summer's day, used at
first to watch her with a kind of frightened curiosity.
She was so old and so much a part of the place, it was
difficult to think of her exactly as a living thing. Old
Shep, the white-nozzled, stiff-limbed collie, waiting for
his time to die, seemed almost more human than the
withered, dried-up old woman. He had been a riotous,
roystering puppy, mad with the joy of life, when she was
already a tottering, hobbling dame; now he was just a
blind, breathing carcase, nothing more, and she still
worked with frail energy, still swept and baked and
washed, fetched and carried. If there were something in
these wise old dogs that did not perish utterly with
death, Emma used to think to herself, what generations of
ghost-dogs there must be out on those hills, that Martha
had reared and fed and tended and spoken a last goodbye
word to in that old kitchen. And what memories she must
have of human generations that had passed away in her
time. It was difficult for anyone, let alone a stranger
like Emma, to get her to talk of the days that had been;
her shrill, quavering speech was of doors that had been
left unfastened, pails that had got mislaid, calves whose
feeding-time was overdue, and the various little faults
and lapses that chequer a farmhouse routine. Now and
again, when election time came round, she would unstore
her recollections of the old names round which the fight
had waged in the days gone by. There had been a
Palmerston, that had been a name down Tiverton way;
Tiverton was not a far journey as the crow flies, but to
Martha it was almost a foreign country. Later there had
been Northcotes and Aclands, and many other newer names
that she had forgotten; the names changed, but it was
always Libruls and Toories, Yellows and Blues. And they
always quarrelled and shouted as to who was right and who
was wrong. The one they quarrelled about most was a fine
old gentleman with an angry face - she had seen his
picture on the walls. She had seen it on the floor too,
with a rotten apple squashed over it, for the farm had
changed its politics from time to time. Martha had never
been on one side or the other; none of "they" had ever
done the farm a stroke of good. Such was her sweeping
verdict, given with all a peasant's distrust of the
outside world.
When the half-frightened curiosity had somewhat
faded away, Emma Ladbruk was uncomfortably conscious of
another feeling towards the old woman. She was a quaint
old tradition, lingering about the place, she was part
and parcel of the farm itself, she was something at once
pathetic and picturesque - but she was dreadfully in the
way. Emma had come to the farm full of plans for little
reforms and improvements, in part the result of training
in the newest ways and methods, in part the outcome of
her own ideas and fancies. Reforms in the kitchen
region, if those deaf old ears could have been induced to
give them even a hearing, would have met with short
shrift and scornful rejection, and the kitchen region
spread over the zone of dairy and market business and
half the work of the household. Emma, with the latest
science of dead-poultry dressing at her finger-tips, sat
by, an unheeded watcher, while old Martha trussed the
chickens for the market-stall as she had trussed them for
nearly four-score years - all leg and no breast. And the
hundred hints anent effective cleaning and labourlightening
and the things that make for wholesomeness
which the young woman was ready to impart or to put into
action dropped away into nothingness before that wan,
muttering, unheeding presence. Above all, the coveted
window corner, that was to be a dainty, cheerful oasis in
the gaunt old kitchen, stood now choked and lumbered with
a litter of odds and ends that Emma, for all her nominal
authority, would not have dared or cared to displace;
over them seemed to be spun the protection of something
that was like a human cobweb. Decidedly Martha was in
the way. It would have been an unworthy meanness to have
wished to see the span of that brave old life shortened
by a few paltry months, but as the days sped by Emma was
conscious that the wish was there, disowned though it
might be, lurking at the back of her mind.
She felt the meanness of the wish come over her with
a qualm of self-reproach one day when she came into the
kitchen and found an unaccustomed state of things in that
usually busy quarter. Old Martha was not working. A
basket of corn was on the floor by her side, and out in
the yard the poultry were beginning to clamour a protest
of overdue feeding-time. But Martha sat huddled in a
shrunken bunch on the window seat, looking out with her
dim old eyes as though she saw something stranger than
the autumn landscape.
"Is anything the matter, Martha?" asked the young
"'Tis death, 'tis death a-coming," answered the
quavering voice; "I knew 'twere coming. I knew it.
'Tweren't for nothing that old Shep's been howling all
morning. An' last night I heard the screech-owl give the
death-cry, and there were something white as run across
the yard yesterday; 'tweren't a cat nor a stoat, 'twere
something. The fowls knew 'twere something; they all
drew off to one side. Ay, there's been warnings. I knew
it were a-coming."
The young woman's eyes clouded with pity. The old
thing sitting there so white and shrunken had once been a
merry, noisy child, playing about in lanes and hay-lofts
and farmhouse garrets; that had been eighty odd years
ago, and now she was just a frail old body cowering under
the approaching chill of the death that was coming at
last to take her. It was not probable that much could be
done for her, but Emma hastened away to get assistance
and counsel. Her husband, she knew, was down at a treefelling
some little distance off, but she might find some
other intelligent soul who knew the old woman better than
she did. The farm, she soon found out, had that faculty
common to farmyards of swallowing up and losing its human
population. The poultry followed her in interested
fashion, and swine grunted interrogations at her from
behind the bars of their styes, but barnyard and
rickyard, orchard and stables and dairy, gave no reward
to her search. Then, as she retraced her steps towards
the kitchen, she came suddenly on her cousin, young Mr.
Jim, as every one called him, who divided his time
between amateur horse-dealing, rabbit-shooting, and
flirting with the farm maids.
"I'm afraid old Martha is dying," said Emma. Jim
was not the sort of person to whom one had to break news
"Nonsense," he said; "Martha means to live to a
hundred. She told me so, and she'll do it."
"She may be actually dying at this moment, or it may
just be the beginning of the break-up," persisted Emma,
with a feeling of contempt for the slowness and dulness
of the young man.
A grin spread over his good-natured features.
"It don't look like it," he said, nodding towards
the yard. Emma turned to catch the meaning of his
remark. Old Martha stood in the middle of a mob of
poultry scattering handfuls of grain around her. The
turkey-cock, with the bronzed sheen of his feathers and
the purple-red of his wattles, the gamecock, with the
glowing metallic lustre of his Eastern plumage, the hens,
with their ochres and buffs and umbers and their scarlet
combs, and the drakes, with their bottle-green heads,
made a medley of rich colour, in the centre of which the
old woman looked like a withered stalk standing amid a
riotous growth of gaily-hued flowers. But she threw the
grain deftly amid the wilderness of beaks, and her
quavering voice carried as far as the two people who were
watching her. She was still harping on the theme of
death coming to the farm.
"I knew 'twere a-coming. There's been signs an'
"Who's dead, then, old Mother?" called out the young
"'Tis young Mister Ladbruk," she shrilled back;
"they've just a-carried his body in. Run out of the way
of a tree that was coming down an' ran hisself on to an
iron post. Dead when they picked un up. Aye, I knew
'twere coming."
And she turned to fling a handful of barley at a
belated group of guinea-fowl that came racing toward her.
* * * *
The farm was a family property, and passed to the
rabbit-shooting cousin as the next-of-kin. Emma Ladbruk
drifted out of its history as a bee that had wandered in
at an open window might flit its way out again. On a
cold grey morning she stood waiting, with her boxes
already stowed in the farm cart, till the last of the
market produce should be ready, for the train she was to
catch was of less importance than the chickens and butter
and eggs that were to be offered for sale. From where
she stood she could see an angle of the long latticed
window that was to have been cosy with curtains and gay
with bowls of flowers. Into her mind came the thought
that for months, perhaps for years, long after she had
been utterly forgotten, a white, unheeding face would be
seen peering out through those latticed panes, and a weak
muttering voice would be heard quavering up and down
those flagged passages. She made her way to a narrow
barred casement that opened into the farm larder. Old
Martha was standing at a table trussing a pair of
chickens for the market stall as she had trussed them for
nearly fourscore years.
I'VE asked Latimer Springfield to spend Sunday with
us and stop the night," announced Mrs. Durmot at the
"I thought he was in the throes of an election,"
remarked her husband.
"Exactly; the poll is on Wednesday, and the poor man
will have worked himself to a shadow by that time.
Imagine what electioneering must be like in this awful
soaking rain, going along slushy country roads and
speaking to damp audiences in draughty schoolrooms, day
after day for a fortnight. He'll have to put in an
appearance at some place of worship on Sunday morning,
and he can come to us immediately afterwards and have a
thorough respite from everything connected with politics.
I won't let him even think of them. I've had the picture
of Cromwell dissolving the Long Parliament taken down
from the staircase, and even the portrait of Lord
Rosebery's 'Ladas' removed from the smoking-room. And
Vera," added Mrs. Durmot, turning to her sixteen-year-old
niece, "be careful what colour ribbon you wear in your
hair; not blue or yellow on any account; those are the
rival party colours, and emerald green or orange would be
almost as bad, with this Home Rule business to the fore."
"On state occasions I always wear a black ribbon in
my hair," said Vera with crushing dignity.
Latimer Springfield was a rather cheerless, oldish
young man, who went into politics somewhat in the spirit
in which other people might go into half-mourning.
Without being an enthusiast, however, he was a fairly
strenuous plodder, and Mrs. Durmot had been reasonably
near the mark in asserting that he was working at high
pressure over this election. The restful lull which his
hostess enforced on him was decidedly welcome, and yet
the nervous excitement of the contest had too great a
hold on him to be totally banished.
"I know he's going to sit up half the night working
up points for his final speeches," said Mrs. Durmot
regretfully; "however, we've kept politics at arm's
length all the afternoon and evening. More than that we
cannot do."
"That remains to be seen," said Vera, but she said
it to herself.
Latimer had scarcely shut his bedroom door before he
was immersed in a sheaf of notes and pamphlets, while a
fountain-pen and pocket-book were brought into play for
the due marshalling of useful facts and discreet
fictions. He had been at work for perhaps thirty-five
minutes, and the house was seemingly consecrated to the
healthy slumber of country life, when a stifled squealing
and scuffling in the passage was followed by a loud tap
at his door. Before he had time to answer, a muchencumbered
Vera burst into the room with the question; "I
say, can I leave these here?"
"These" were a small black pig and a lusty specimen
of black-red gamecock.
Latimer was moderately fond of animals, and
particularly interested in small livestock rearing from
the economic point of view; in fact, one of the pamphlets
on which he was at that moment engaged warmly advocated
the further development of the pig and poultry industry
in our rural districts; but he was pardonably unwilling
to share even a commodious bedroom with samples of
henroost and stye products.
"Wouldn't they be happier somewhere outside?" he
asked, tactfully expressing his own preference in the
matter in an apparent solicitude for theirs.
"There is no outside," said Vera impressively,
"nothing but a waste of dark, swirling waters. The
reservoir at Brinkley has burst."
"I didn't know there was a reservoir at Brinkley,"
said Latimer.
"Well, there isn't now, it's jolly well all over the
place, and as we stand particularly low we're the centre
of an inland sea just at present. You see the river has
overflowed its banks as well."
"Good gracious! Have any lives been lost?"
"Heaps, I should say. The second housemaid has
already identified three bodies that have floated past
the billiard-room window as being the young man she's
engaged to. Either she's engaged to a large assortment
of the population round here or else she's very careless
at identification. Of course it may be the same body
coming round again and again in a swirl; I hadn't thought
of that."
"But we ought to go out and do rescue work, oughtn't
we?" said Latimer, with the instinct of a Parliamentary
candidate for getting into the local limelight.
"We can't," said Vera decidedly, "we haven't any
boats and we're cut off by a raging torrent from any
human habitation. My aunt particularly hoped you would
keep to your room and not add to the confusion, but she
thought it would be so kind of you if you would take in
Hartlepool's Wonder, the gamecock, you know, for the
night. You see, there are eight other gamecocks, and
they fight like furies if they get together, so we're
putting one in each bedroom. The fowl-houses are all
flooded out, you know. And then I thought perhaps you
wouldn't mind taking in this wee piggie; he's rather a
little love, but he has a vile temper. He gets that from
his mother - not that I like to say things against her
when she's lying dead and drowned in her stye, poor
thing. What he really wants is a man's firm hand to keep
him in order. I'd try and grapple with him myself, only
I've got my chow in my room, you know, and he goes for
pigs wherever he finds them."
"Couldn't the pig go in the bathroom?" asked Latimer
faintly, wishing that he had taken up as determined a
stand on the subject of bedroom swine as the chow had.
"The bathroom?" Vera laughed shrilly. "It'll be
full of Boy Scouts till morning if the hot water holds
"Boy Scouts?"
"Yes, thirty of them came to rescue us while the
water was only waist-high; then it rose another three
feet or so and we had to rescue them. We're giving them
hot baths in batches and drying their clothes in the hotair
cupboard, but, of course, drenched clothes don't dry
in a minute, and the corridor and staircase are beginning
to look like a bit of coast scenery by Tuke. Two of the
boys are wearing your Melton overcoat; I hope you don't
"It's a new overcoat," said Latimer, with every
indication of minding dreadfully.
"You'll take every care of Hartlepool's Wonder,
won't you?" said Vera. "His mother took three firsts at
Birmingham, and he was second in the cockerel class last
year at Gloucester. He'll probably roost on the rail at
the bottom of your bed. I wonder if he'd feel more at
home if some of his wives were up here with him? The
hens are all in the pantry, and I think I could pick out
Hartlepool Helen; she's his favourite."
Latimer showed a belated firmness on the subject of
Hartlepool Helen, and Vera withdrew without pressing the
point, having first settled the gamecock on his
extemporised perch and taken an affectionate farewell of
the pigling. Latimer undressed and got into bed with all
due speed, judging that the pig would abate its
inquisitorial restlessness once the light was turned out.
As a substitute for a cosy, straw-bedded sty the room
offered, at first inspection, few attractions, but the
disconsolate animal suddenly discovered an appliance in
which the most luxuriously contrived piggeries were
notably deficient. The sharp edge of the underneath part
of the bed was pitched at exactly the right elevation to
permit the pigling to scrape himself ecstatically
backwards and forwards, with an artistic humping of the
back at the crucial moment and an accompanying gurgle of
long-drawn delight. The gamecock, who may have fancied
that he was being rocked in the branches of a pine-tree,
bore the motion with greater fortitude than Latimer was
able to command. A series of slaps directed at the pig's
body were accepted more as an additional and pleasing
irritant than as a criticism of conduct or a hint to
desist; evidently something more than a man's firm hand
was needed to deal with the case. Latimer slipped out of
bed in search of a weapon of dissuasion. There was
sufficient light in the room to enable the pig to detect
this manoeuvre, and the vile temper, inherited from the
drowned mother, found full play. Latimer bounded back
into bed, and his conqueror, after a few threatening
snorts and champings of its jaws, resumed its massage
operations with renewed zeal. During the long wakeful
hours which ensued Latimer tried to distract his mind
from his own immediate troubles by dwelling with decent
sympathy on the second housemaid's bereavement, but he
found himself more often wondering how many Boy Scouts
were sharing his Melton overcoat. The role of Saint
Martin malgre lui was not one which appealed to him.
Towards dawn the pigling fell into a happy slumber,
and Latimer might have followed its example, but at about
the same time Stupor Hartlepooli gave a rousing crow,
clattered down to the floor and forthwith commenced a
spirited combat with his reflection in the wardrobe
mirror. Remembering that the bird was more or less under
his care Latimer performed Hague Tribunal offices by
draping a bath-towel over the provocative mirror, but the
ensuing peace was local and short-lived. The deflected
energies of the gamecock found new outlet in a sudden and
sustained attack on the sleeping and temporarily
inoffensive pigling, and the duel which followed was
desperate and embittered beyond any possibility of
effective intervention. The feathered combatant had the
advantage of being able, when hard pressed, to take
refuge on the bed, and freely availed himself of this
circumstance; the pigling never quite succeeded in
hurling himself on to the same eminence, but it was not
from want of trying.
Neither side could claim any decisive success, and
the struggle had been practically fought to a standstill
by the time that the maid appeared with the early morning
"Lor, sir," she exclaimed in undisguised
astonishment, "do you want those animals in your room?"
The pigling, as though aware that it might have
outstayed its welcome, dashed out at the door, and the
gamecock followed it at a more dignified pace.
"If Miss Vera's dog sees that pig - !" exclaimed the
maid, and hurried off to avert such a catastrophe.
A cold suspicion was stealing over Latimer's mind;
he went to the window and drew up the blind. A light,
drizzling rain was falling, but there was not the
faintest trace of any inundation.
Some half-hour later he met Vera on the way to the
"I should not like to think of you as a deliberate
liar," he observed coldly, "but one occasionally has to
do things one does not like."
"At any rate I kept your mind from dwelling on
politics all the night," said Vera.
Which was, of course, perfectly true.
THE season of strikes seemed to have run itself to a
standstill. Almost every trade and industry and calling
in which a dislocation could possibly be engineered had
indulged in that luxury. The last and least successful
convulsion had been the strike of the World's Union of
Zoological Garden attendants, who, pending the settlement
of certain demands, refused to minister further to the
wants of the animals committed to their charge or to
allow any other keepers to take their place. In this
case the threat of the Zoological Gardens authorities
that if the men "came out" the animals should come out
also had intensified and precipitated the crisis. The
imminent prospect of the larger carnivores, to say
nothing of rhinoceroses and bull bison, roaming at large
and unfed in the heart of London, was not one which
permitted of prolonged conferences. The Government of
the day, which from its tendency to be a few hours behind
the course of events had been nicknamed the Government of
the afternoon, was obliged to intervene with promptitude
and decision. A strong force of Bluejackets was
despatched to Regent's Park to take over the temporarily
abandoned duties of the strikers. Bluejackets were
chosen in preference to land forces, partly on account of
the traditional readiness of the British Navy to go
anywhere and do anything, partly by reason of the
familiarity of the average sailor with monkeys, parrots,
and other tropical fauna, but chiefly at the urgent
request of the First Lord of the Admiralty, who was
keenly desirous of an opportunity for performing some
personal act of unobtrusive public service within the
province of his department.
"If he insists on feeding the infant jaguar himself,
in defiance of its mother's wishes, there may be another
by-election in the north," said one of his colleagues,
with a hopeful inflection in his voice. "By-elections
are not very desirable at present, but we must not be
As a matter of fact the strike collapsed peacefully
without any outside intervention. The majority of the
keepers had become so attached to their charges that they
returned to work of their own accord.
And then the nation and the newspapers turned with a
sense of relief to happier things. It seemed as if a new
era of contentment was about to dawn. Everybody had
struck who could possibly want to strike or who could
possibly be cajoled or bullied into striking, whether
they wanted to or not. The lighter and brighter side of
life might now claim some attention. And conspicuous
among the other topics that sprang into sudden prominence
was the pending Falvertoon divorce suit.
The Duke of Falvertoon was one of those human HORS
D'OEUVRES that stimulate the public appetite for
sensation without giving it much to feed on. As a mere
child he had been precociously brilliant; he had declined
the editorship of the ANGLIAN REVIEW at an age when most
boys are content to have declined MENSA, a table, and
though he could not claim to have originated the Futurist
movement in literature, his "Letters to a possible
Grandson," written at the age of fourteen, had attracted
considerable notice. In later days his brilliancy had
been less conspicuously displayed. During a debate in
the House of Lords on affairs in Morocco, at a moment
when that country, for the fifth time in seven years, had
brought half Europe to the verge of war, he had
interpolated the remark "a little Moor and how much it
is," but in spite of the encouraging reception accorded
to this one political utterance he was never tempted to a
further display in that direction. It began to be
generally understood that he did not intend to supplement
his numerous town and country residences by living
overmuch in the public eye.
And then had come the unlooked-for tidings of the
imminent proceedings for divorce. And such a divorce!
There were cross-suits and allegations and counterallegations,
charges of cruelty and desertion, everything
in fact that was necessary to make the case one of the
most complicated and sensational of its kind. And the
number of distinguished people involved or cited as
witnesses not only embraced both political parties in the
realm and several Colonial governors, but included an
exotic contingent from France, Hungary, the United States
of North America, and the Grand Duchy of Baden. Hotel
accommodation of the more expensive sort began to
experience a strain on its resources. "It will be quite
like the Durbar without the elephants," exclaimed an
enthusiastic lady who, to do her justice, had never seen
a Durbar. The general feeling was one of thankfulness
that the last of the strikes had been got over before the
date fixed for the hearing of the great suit.
As a reaction from the season of gloom and
industrial strife that had just passed away the agencies
that purvey and stage-manage sensations laid themselves
out to do their level best on this momentous occasion.
Men who had made their reputations as special descriptive
writers were mobilised from distant corners of Europe and
the further side of the Atlantic in order to enrich with
their pens the daily printed records of the case; one
word-painter, who specialised in descriptions of how
witnesses turn pale under cross-examination, was summoned
hurriedly back from a famous and prolonged murder trial
in Sicily, where indeed his talents were being decidedly
wasted. Thumb-nail artists and expert kodak manipulators
were retained at extravagant salaries, and special dress
reporters were in high demand. An enterprising Paris
firm of costume builders presented the defendant Duchess
with three special creations, to be worn, marked,
learned, and extensively reported at various critical
stages of the trial; and as for the cinematograph agents,
their industry and persistence was untiring. Films
representing the Duke saying good-bye to his favourite
canary on the eve of the trial were in readiness weeks
before the event was due to take place; other films
depicted the Duchess holding imaginary consultations with
fictitious lawyers or making a light repast off specially
advertised vegetarian sandwiches during a supposed
luncheon interval. As far as human foresight and human
enterprise could go nothing was lacking to make the trial
a success.
Two days before the case was down for hearing the
advance reporter of an important syndicate obtained an
interview with the Duke for the purpose of gleaning some
final grains of information concerning his Grace's
personal arrangements during the trial.
"I suppose I may say this will be one of the biggest
affairs of its kind during the lifetime of a generation,"
began the reporter as an excuse for the unsparing
minuteness of detail that he was about to make quest for.
"I suppose so - if it comes off," said the Duke
"If?" queried the reporter, in a voice that was
something between a gasp and a scream.
"The Duchess and I are both thinking of going on
strike," said the Duke.
The baleful word flashed out in all its old hideous
familiarity. Was there to be no end to its recurrence?
"Do you mean," faltered the reporter, "that you are
contemplating a mutual withdrawal of the charges?"
"Precisely," said the Duke.
"But think of the arrangements that have been made,
the special reporting, the cinematographs, the catering
for the distinguished foreign witnesses, the prepared
music-hall allusions; think of all the money that has
been sunk - "
"Exactly," said the Duke coldly, "the Duchess and I
have realised that it is we who provide the material out
of which this great far-reaching industry has been built
up. Widespread employment will be given and enormous
profits made during the duration of the case, and we, on
whom all the stress and racket falls, will get - what?
An unenviable notoriety and the privilege of paying heavy
legal expenses whichever way the verdict goes. Hence our
decision to strike. We don't wish to be reconciled; we
fully realise that it is a grave step to take, but unless
we get some reasonable consideration out of this vast
stream of wealth and industry that we have called into
being we intend coming out of court and staying out.
Good afternoon."
The news of this latest strike spread universal
dismay. Its inaccessibility to the ordinary methods of
persuasion made it peculiarly formidable. If the Duke
and Duchess persisted in being reconciled the Government
could hardly be called on to interfere. Public opinion
in the shape of social ostracism might be brought to bear
on them, but that was as far as coercive measures could
go. There was nothing for it but a conference, with
powers to propose liberal terms. As it was, several of
the foreign witnesses had already departed and others had
telegraphed cancelling their hotel arrangements.
The conference, protracted, uncomfortable, and
occasionally acrimonious, succeeded at last in arranging
for a resumption of litigation, but it was a fruitless
victory. The Duke, with a touch of his earlier
precocity, died of premature decay a fortnight before the
date fixed for the new trial.
IT was autumn in London, that blessed season between
the harshness of winter and the insincerities of summer;
a trustful season when one buys bulbs and sees to the
registration of one's vote, believing perpetually in
spring and a change of Government.
Morton Crosby sat on a bench in a secluded corner of
Hyde Park, lazily enjoying a cigarette and watching the
slow grazing promenade of a pair of snow-geese, the male
looking rather like an albino edition of the russet-hued
female. Out of the corner of his eye Crosby also noted
with some interest the hesitating hoverings of a human
figure, which had passed and repassed his seat two or
three times at shortening intervals, like a wary crow
about to alight near some possibly edible morsel.
Inevitably the figure came to an anchorage on the bench,
within easy talking distance of its original occupant.
The uncared-for clothes, the aggressive, grizzled beard,
and the furtive, evasive eye of the new-comer bespoke the
professional cadger, the man who would undergo hours of
humiliating tale-spinning and rebuff rather than
adventure on half a day's decent work.
For a while the new-comer fixed his eyes straight in
front of him in a strenuous, unseeing gaze; then his
voice broke out with the insinuating inflection of one
who has a story to retail well worth any loiterer's while
to listen to.
"It's a strange world," he said.
As the statement met with no response he altered it
to the form of a question.
"I daresay you've found it to be a strange world,
"As far as I am concerned," said Crosby, "the
strangeness has worn off in the course of thirty-six
"Ah," said the greybeard, "I could tell you things
that you'd hardly believe. Marvellous things that have
really happened to me."
"Nowadays there is no demand for marvellous things
that have really happened," said Crosby discouragingly;
"the professional writers of fiction turn these things
out so much better. For instance, my neighbours tell me
wonderful, incredible things that their Aberdeens and
chows and borzois have done; I never listen to them. On
the other hand, I have read 'The Hound of the
Baskervilles' three times."
The greybeard moved uneasily in his seat; then he
opened up new country.
"I take it that you are a professing Christian," he
"I am a prominent and I think I may say an
influential member of the Mussulman community of Eastern
Persia," said Crosby, making an excursion himself into
the realms of fiction.
The greybeard was obviously disconcerted at this new
check to introductory conversation, but the defeat was
only momentary.
"Persia. I should never have taken you for a
Persian," he remarked, with a somewhat aggrieved air.
"I am not," said Crosby; "my father was an Afghan."
"An Afghan!" said the other, smitten into bewildered
silence for a moment. Then he recovered himself and
renewed his attack.
"Afghanistan. Ah! We've had some wars with that
country; now, I daresay, instead of fighting it we might
have learned something from it. A very wealthy country,
I believe. No real poverty there."
He raised his voice on the word "poverty" with a
suggestion of intense feeling. Crosby saw the opening
and avoided it.
"It possesses, nevertheless, a number of highly
talented and ingenious beggars," he said; "if I had not
spoken so disparagingly of marvellous things that have
really happened I would tell you the story of Ibrahim and
the eleven camel-loads of blotting-paper. Also I have
forgotten exactly how it ended."
"My own life-story is a curious one," said the
stranger, apparently stifling all desire to hear the
history of Ibrahim; "I was not always as you see me now."
"We are supposed to undergo complete change in the
course of every seven years," said Crosby, as an
explanation of the foregoing announcement.
"I mean I was not always in such distressing
circumstances as I am at present," pursued the stranger
"That sounds rather rude," said Crosby stiffly,
"considering that you are at present talking to a man
reputed to be one of the most gifted conversationalists
of the Afghan border."
"I don't mean in that way," said the greybeard
hastily; "I've been very much interested in your
conversation. I was alluding to my unfortunate financial
situation. You mayn't hardly believe it, but at the
present moment I am absolutely without a farthing. Don't
see any prospect of getting any money, either, for the
next few days. I don't suppose you've ever found
yourself in such a position," he added.
"In the town of Yom," said Crosby, "which is in
Southern Afghanistan, and which also happens to be my
birthplace, there was a Chinese philosopher who used to
say that one of the three chiefest human blessings was to
be absolutely without money. I forget what the other two
"Ah, I daresay," said the stranger, in a tone that
betrayed no enthusiasm for the philosopher's memory; "and
did he practise what he preached? That's the test."
"He lived happily with very little money or
resources," said Crosby.
"Then I expect he had friends who would help him
liberally whenever he was in difficulties, such as I am
in at present."
"In Yom," said Crosby, "it is not necessary to have
friends in order to obtain help. Any citizen of Yom
would help a stranger as a matter of course."
The greybeard was now genuinely interested.
The conversation had at last taken a favourable
"If someone, like me, for instance, who was in
undeserved difficulties, asked a citizen of that town you
speak of for a small loan to tide over a few days'
impecuniosity - five shillings, or perhaps a rather
larger sum - would it be given to him as a matter of
"There would be a certain preliminary," said Crosby;
"one would take him to a wine-shop and treat him to a
measure of wine, and then, after a little high-flown
conversation, one would put the desired sum in his hand
and wish him good-day. It is a roundabout way of
performing a simple transaction, but in the East all ways
are roundabout."
The listener's eyes were glittering.
"Ah," he exclaimed, with a thin sneer ringing
meaningly through his words, "I suppose you've given up
all those generous customs since you left your town.
Don't practise them now, I expect."
"No one who has lived in Yom," said Crosby
fervently, "and remembers its green hills covered with
apricot and almond trees, and the cold water that rushes
down like a caress from the upland snows and dashes under
the little wooden bridges, no one who remembers these
things and treasures the memory of them would ever give
up a single one of its unwritten laws and customs. To me
they are as binding as though I still lived in that
hallowed home of my youth."
"Then if I was to ask you for a small loan - " began
the greybeard fawningly, edging nearer on the seat and
hurriedly wondering how large he might safely make his
request, "if I was to ask you for, say - "
"At any other time, certainly," said Crosby; "in the
months of November and December, however, it is
absolutely forbidden for anyone of our race to give or
receive loans or gifts; in fact, one does not willingly
speak of them. It is considered unlucky. We will
therefore close this discussion."
"But it is still October!" exclaimed the adventurer
with an eager, angry whine, as Crosby rose from his seat;
"wants eight days to the end of the month!"
"The Afghan November began yesterday," said Crosby
severely, and in another moment he was striding across
the Park, leaving his recent companion scowling and
muttering furiously on the seat.
"I don't believe a word of his story," he chattered
to himself; "pack of nasty lies from beginning to end.
Wish I'd told him so to his face. Calling himself an
The snorts and snarls that escaped from him for the
next quarter of an hour went far to support the truth of
the old saying that two of a trade never agree.
LADY CARLOTTA stepped out on to the platform of the
small wayside station and took a turn or two up and down
its uninteresting length, to kill time till the train
should be pleased to proceed on its way. Then, in the
roadway beyond, she saw a horse struggling with a more
than ample load, and a carter of the sort that seems to
bear a sullen hatred against the animal that helps him to
earn a living. Lady Carlotta promptly betook her to the
roadway, and put rather a different complexion on the
struggle. Certain of her acquaintances were wont to give
her plentiful admonition as to the undesirability of
interfering on behalf of a distressed animal, such
interference being "none of her business." Only once had
she put the doctrine of non-interference into practice,
when one of its most eloquent exponents had been besieged
for nearly three hours in a small and extremely
uncomfortable may-tree by an angry boar-pig, while Lady
Carlotta, on the other side of the fence, had proceeded
with the water-colour sketch she was engaged on, and
refused to interfere between the boar and his prisoner.
It is to be feared that she lost the friendship of the
ultimately rescued lady. On this occasion she merely
lost the train, which gave way to the first sign of
impatience it had shown throughout the journey, and
steamed off without her. She bore the desertion with
philosophical indifference; her friends and relations
were thoroughly well used to the fact of her luggage
arriving without her. She wired a vague non-committal
message to her destination to say that she was coming on
"by another train." Before she had time to think what
her next move might be she was confronted by an
imposingly attired lady, who seemed to be taking a
prolonged mental inventory of her clothes and looks.
"You must be Miss Hope, the governess I've come to
meet," said the apparition, in a tone that admitted of
very little argument.
"Very well, if I must I must," said Lady Carlotta to
herself with dangerous meekness.
"I am Mrs. Quabarl," continued the lady; "and where,
pray, is your luggage?"
"It's gone astray," said the alleged governess,
falling in with the excellent rule of life that the
absent are always to blame; the luggage had, in point of
fact, behaved with perfect correctitude. "I've just
telegraphed about it," she added, with a nearer approach
to truth.
"How provoking," said Mrs. Quabarl; "these railway
companies are so careless. However, my maid can lend you
things for the night," and she led the way to her car.
During the drive to the Quabarl mansion Lady
Carlotta was impressively introduced to the nature of the
charge that had been thrust upon her; she learned that
Claude and Wilfrid were delicate, sensitive young people,
that Irene had the artistic temperament highly developed,
and that Viola was something or other else of a mould
equally commonplace among children of that class and type
in the twentieth century.
"I wish them not only to be TAUGHT," said Mrs.
Quabarl, "but INTERESTED in what they learn. In their
history lessons, for instance, you must try to make them
feel that they are being introduced to the life-stories
of men and women who really lived, not merely committing
a mass of names and dates to memory. French, of course,
I shall expect you to talk at meal-times several days in
the week."
"I shall talk French four days of the week and
Russian in the remaining three."
"Russian? My dear Miss Hope, no one in the house
speaks or understands Russian."
"That will not embarrass me in the least," said Lady
Carlotta coldly.
Mrs. Quabarl, to use a colloquial expression, was
knocked off her perch. She was one of those imperfectly
self-assured individuals who are magnificent and
autocratic as long as they are not seriously opposed.
The least show of unexpected resistance goes a long way
towards rendering them cowed and apologetic. When the
new governess failed to express wondering admiration of
the large newly-purchased and expensive car, and lightly
alluded to the superior advantages of one or two makes
which had just been put on the market, the discomfiture
of her patroness became almost abject. Her feelings were
those which might have animated a general of ancient
warfaring days, on beholding his heaviest battle-elephant
ignominiously driven off the field by slingers and
javelin throwers.
At dinner that evening, although reinforced by her
husband, who usually duplicated her opinions and lent her
moral support generally, Mrs. Quabarl regained none of
her lost ground. The governess not only helped herself
well and truly to wine, but held forth with considerable
show of critical knowledge on various vintage matters,
concerning which the Quabarls were in no wise able to
pose as authorities. Previous governesses had limited
their conversation on the wine topic to a respectful and
doubtless sincere expression of a preference for water.
When this one went as far as to recommend a wine firm in
whose hands you could not go very far wrong Mrs. Quabarl
thought it time to turn the conversation into more usual
"We got very satisfactory references about you from
Canon Teep," she observed; "a very estimable man, I
should think."
"Drinks like a fish and beats his wife, otherwise a
very lovable character," said the governess
"MY DEAR Miss Hope! I trust you are exaggerating,"
exclaimed the Quabarls in unison.
"One must in justice admit that there is some
provocation," continued the romancer. "Mrs. Teep is
quite the most irritating bridge-player that I have ever
sat down with; her leads and declarations would condone a
certain amount of brutality in her partner, but to souse
her with the contents of the only soda-water syphon in
the house on a Sunday afternoon, when one couldn't get
another, argues an indifference to the comfort of others
which I cannot altogether overlook. You may think me
hasty in my judgments, but it was practically on account
of the syphon incident that I left."
"We will talk of this some other time," said Mrs.
Quabarl hastily.
"I shall never allude to it again," said the
governess with decision.
Mr. Quabarl made a welcome diversion by asking what
studies the new instructress proposed to inaugurate on
the morrow.
"History to begin with," she informed him.
"Ah, history," he observed sagely; "now in teaching
them history you must take care to interest them in what
they learn. You must make them feel that they are being
introduced to the life-stories of men and women who
really lived - "
"I've told her all that," interposed Mrs. Quabarl.
"I teach history on the Schartz-Metterklume method,"
said the governess loftily.
"Ah, yes," said her listeners, thinking it expedient
to assume an acquaintance at least with the name.
* * * *
"What are you children doing out here?" demanded
Mrs. Quabarl the next morning, on finding Irene sitting
rather glumly at the head of the stairs, while her sister
was perched in an attitude of depressed discomfort on the
window-seat behind her, with a wolf-skin rug almost
covering her.
"We are having a history lesson," came the
unexpected reply. "I am supposed to be Rome, and Viola
up there is the she-wolf; not a real wolf, but the figure
of one that the Romans used to set store by - I forget
why. Claude and Wilfrid have gone to fetch the shabby
"The shabby women?"
"Yes, they've got to carry them off. They didn't
want to, but Miss Hope got one of father's fives-bats and
said she'd give them a number nine spanking if they
didn't, so they've gone to do it."
A loud, angry screaming from the direction of the
lawn drew Mrs. Quabarl thither in hot haste, fearful lest
the threatened castigation might even now be in process
of infliction. The outcry, however, came principally
from the two small daughters of the lodge-keeper, who
were being hauled and pushed towards the house by the
panting and dishevelled Claude and Wilfrid, whose task
was rendered even more arduous by the incessant, if not
very effectual, attacks of the captured maidens' small
brother. The governess, fives-bat in hand, sat
negligently on the stone balustrade, presiding over the
scene with the cold impartiality of a Goddess of Battles.
A furious and repeated chorus of "I'll tell muvver" rose
from the lodge-children, but the lodge-mother, who was
hard of hearing, was for the moment immersed in the
preoccupation of her washtub.
After an apprehensive glance in the direction of the
lodge (the good woman was gifted with the highly militant
temper which is sometimes the privilege of deafness) Mrs.
Quabarl flew indignantly to the rescue of the struggling
"Wilfrid! Claude! Let those children go at once.
Miss Hope, what on earth is the meaning of this scene?"
"Early Roman history; the Sabine Women, don't you
know? It's the Schartz-Metterklume method to make
children understand history by acting it themselves;
fixes it in their memory, you know. Of course, if,
thanks to your interference, your boys go through life
thinking that the Sabine women ultimately escaped, I
really cannot be held responsible."
"You may be very clever and modern, Miss Hope," said
Mrs. Quabarl firmly, "but I should like you to leave here
by the next train. Your luggage will be sent after you
as soon as it arrives."
"I'm not certain exactly where I shall be for the
next few days," said the dismissed instructress of youth;
"you might keep my luggage till I wire my address. There
are only a couple of trunks and some golf-clubs and a
leopard cub."
"A leopard cub!" gasped Mrs. Quabarl. Even in her
departure this extraordinary person seemed destined to
leave a trail of embarrassment behind her.
"Well, it's rather left off being a cub; it's more
than half-grown, you know. A fowl every day and a rabbit
on Sundays is what it usually gets. Raw beef makes it
too excitable. Don't trouble about getting the car for
me, I'm rather inclined for a walk."
And Lady Carlotta strode out of the Quabarl horizon.
The advent of the genuine Miss Hope, who had made a
mistake as to the day on which she was due to arrive,
caused a turmoil which that good lady was quite unused to
inspiring. Obviously the Quabarl family had been
woefully befooled, but a certain amount of relief came
with the knowledge.
"How tiresome for you, dear Carlotta," said her
hostess, when the overdue guest ultimately arrived; "how
very tiresome losing your train and having to stop
overnight in a strange place."
"Oh dear, no," said Lady Carlotta; "not at all
tiresome - for me."
"IT'S not the daily grind that I complain of," said
Blenkinthrope resentfully; "it's the dull grey sameness
of my life outside of office hours. Nothing of interest
comes my way, nothing remarkable or out of the common.
Even the little things that I do try to find some
interest in don't seem to interest other people. Things
in my garden, for instance."
"The potato that weighed just over two pounds," said
his friend Gorworth.
"Did I tell you about that?" said Blenkinthrope; "I
was telling the others in the train this morning. I
forgot if I'd told you."
"To be exact you told me that it weighed just under
two pounds, but I took into account the fact that
abnormal vegetables and freshwater fish have an afterlife,
in which growth is not arrested."
"You're just like the others," said Blenkinthrope
sadly, "you only make fun of it."
"The fault is with the potato, not with us," said
Gorworth; "we are not in the least interested in it
because it is not in the least interesting. The men you
go up in the train with every day are just in the same
case as yourself; their lives are commonplace and not
very interesting to themselves, and they certainly are
not going to wax enthusiastic over the commonplace events
in other men's lives. Tell them something startling,
dramatic, piquant that has happened to yourself or to
someone in your family, and you will capture their
interest at once. They will talk about you with a
certain personal pride to all their acquaintances. 'Man
I know intimately, fellow called Blenkinthrope, lives
down my way, had two of his fingers clawed clean off by a
lobster he was carrying home to supper. Doctor says
entire hand may have to come off.' Now that is
conversation of a very high order. But imagine walking
into a tennis club with the remark: 'I know a man who has
grown a potato weighing two and a quarter pounds.'"
"But hang it all, my dear fellow," said
Blenkinthrope impatiently, "haven't I just told you that
nothing of a remarkable nature ever happens to me?"
"Invent something," said Gorworth. Since winning a
prize for excellence in Scriptural knowledge at a
preparatory school he had felt licensed to be a little
more unscrupulous than the circle he moved in. Much
might surely be excused to one who in early life could
give a list of seventeen trees mentioned in the Old
"What sort of thing?"asked Blenkinthrope, somewhat
"A snake got into your hen-run yesterday morning and
killed six out of seven pullets, first mesmerising them
with its eyes and then biting them as they stood
helpless. The seventh pullet was one of that French
sort, with feathers all over its eyes, so it escaped the
mesmeric snare, and just flew at what it could see of the
snake and pecked it to pieces."
"Thank you," said Blenkinthrope stiffly; "it's a
very clever invention. If such a thing had really
happened in my poultry-run I admit I should have been
proud and interested to tell people about it. But I'd
rather stick to fact, even if it is plain fact." All the
same his mind dwelt wistfully on the story of the Seventh
Pullet. He could picture himself telling it in the train
amid the absorbed interest of his fellow-passengers.
Unconsciously all sorts of little details and
improvements began to suggest themselves.
Wistfulness was still his dominant mood when he took
his seat in the railway carriage the next morning.
Opposite him sat Stevenham, who had attained to a
recognised brevet of importance through the fact of an
uncle having dropped dead in the act of voting at a
Parliamentary election. That had happened three years
ago, but Stevenham was still deferred to on all questions
of home and foreign politics.
"Hullo, how's the giant mushroom, or whatever it
was?" was all the notice Blenkinthrope got from his
fellow travellers.
Young Duckby, whom he mildly disliked, speedily
monopolised the general attention by an account of a
domestic bereavement.
"Had four young pigeons carried off last night by a
whacking big rat. Oh, a monster he must have been; you
could tell by the size of the hole he made breaking into
the loft."
No moderate-sized rat ever seemed to carry out any
predatory operations in these regions; they were all
enormous in their enormity.
"Pretty hard lines that," continued Duckby, seeing
that he had secured the attention and respect of the
company; "four squeakers carried off at one swoop. You'd
find it rather hard to match that in the way of unlookedfor
bad luck."
"I had six pullets out of a pen of seven killed by a
snake yesterday afternoon," said Blenkinthrope, in a
voice which he hardly recognised as his own.
"By a snake?" came in excited chorus.
"It fascinated them with its deadly, glittering
eyes, one after the other, and struck them down while
they stood helpless. A bedridden neighbour, who wasn't
able to call for assistance, witnessed it all from her
bedroom window."
"Well, I never!" broke in the chorus, with
"The interesting part of it is about the seventh
pullet, the one that didn't get killed," resumed
Blenkinthrope, slowly lighting a cigarette. His
diffidence had left him, and he was beginning to realise
how safe and easy depravity can seem once one has the
courage to begin. "The six dead birds were Minorcas; the
seventh was a Houdan with a mop of feathers all over its
eyes. It could hardly see the snake at all, so of course
it wasn't mesmerised like the others. It just could see
something wriggling on the ground, and went for it and
pecked it to death."
"Well, I'm blessed!" exclaimed the chorus.
In the course of the next few days Blenkinthrope
discovered how little the loss of one's self-respect
affects one when one has gained the esteem of the world.
His story found its way into one of the poultry papers,
and was copied thence into a daily news-sheet as a matter
of general interest. A lady wrote from the North of
Scotland recounting a similar episode which she had
witnessed as occurring between a stoat and a blind
grouse. Somehow a lie seems so much less reprehensible
when one can call it a lee.
For awhile the adapter of the Seventh Pullet story
enjoyed to the full his altered standing as a person of
consequence, one who had had some share in the strange
events of his times. Then he was thrust once again into
the cold grey background by the sudden blossoming into
importance of Smith-Paddon, a daily fellow-traveller,
whose little girl had been knocked down and nearly hurt
by a car belonging to a musical-comedy actress. The
actress was not in the car at the time, but she was in
numerous photographs which appeared in the illustrated
papers of Zoto Dobreen inquiring after the well-being of
Maisie, daughter of Edmund Smith-Paddon, Esq. With this
new human interest to absorb them the travelling
companions were almost rude when Blenkinthrope tried to
explain his contrivance for keeping vipers and peregrine
falcons out of his chicken-run.
Gorworth, to whom he unburdened himself in private,
gave him the same counsel as heretofore.
"Invent something."
"Yes, but what?"
The ready affirmative coupled with the question
betrayed a significant shifting of the ethical
It was a few days later that Blenkinthrope revealed
a chapter of family history to the customary gathering in
the railway carriage.
"Curious thing happened to my aunt, the one who
lives in Paris," he began. He had several aunts, but
they were all geographically distributed over Greater
"She was sitting on a seat in the Bois the other
afternoon, after lunching at the Roumanian Legation."
Whatever the story gained in picturesqueness from
the dragging-in of diplomatic "atmosphere," it ceased
from that moment to command any acceptance as a record of
current events. Gorworth had warned his neophyte that
this would be the case, but the traditional enthusiasm of
the neophyte had triumphed over discretion.
"She was feeling rather drowsy, the effect probably
of the champagne, which she's not in the habit of taking
in the middle of the day."
A subdued murmur of admiration went round the
company. Blenkinthrope's aunts were not used to taking
champagne in the middle of the year, regarding it
exclusively as a Christmas and New Year accessory.
"Presently a rather portly gentleman passed by her
seat and paused an instant to light a cigar. At that
moment a youngish man came up behind him, drew the blade
from a swordstick, and stabbed him half a dozen times
through and through. 'Scoundrel,' he cried to his
victim, 'you do not know me. My name is Henri Leturc.'
The elder man wiped away some of the blood that was
spattering his clothes, turned to his assailant, and
said: `And since when has an attempted assassination been
considered an introduction?' Then he finished lighting
his cigar and walked away. My aunt had intended
screaming for the police, but seeing the indifference
with which the principal in the affair treated the matter
she felt that it would be an impertinence on her part to
interfere. Of course I need hardly say she put the whole
thing down to the effects of a warm, drowsy afternoon and
the Legation champagne. Now comes the astonishing part
of my story. A fortnight later a bank manager was
stabbed to death with a swordstick in that very part of
the Bois. His assassin was the son of a charwoman
formerly working at the bank, who had been dismissed from
her job by the manager on account of chronic
intemperance. His name was Henri Leturc."
From that moment Blenkinthrope was tacitly accepted
as the Munchausen of the party. No effort was spared to
draw him out from day to day in the exercise of testing
their powers of credulity, and Blenkinthrope, in the
false security of an assured and receptive audience,
waxed industrious and ingenious in supplying the demand
for marvels. Duckby's satirical story of a tame otter
that had a tank in the garden to swim in, and whined
restlessly whenever the water-rate was overdue, was
scarcely an unfair parody of some of Blenkinthrope's
wilder efforts. And then one day came Nemesis.
Returning to his villa one evening Blenkinthrope
found his wife sitting in front of a pack of cards, which
she was scrutinising with unusual concentration.
"The same old patience-game?" he asked carelessly.
"No, dear; this is the Death's Head patience, the
most difficult of them all. I've never got it to work
out, and somehow I should be rather frightened if I did.
Mother only got it out once in her life; she was afraid
of it, too. Her great-aunt had done it once and fallen
dead from excitement the next moment, and mother always
had a feeling that she would die if she ever got it out.
She died the same night that she did it. She was in bad
health at the time, certainly, but it was a strange
"Don't do it if it frightens you," was
Blenkinthrope's practical comment as he left the room. A
few minutes later his wife called to him.
"John, it gave me such a turn, I nearly got it out.
Only the five of diamonds held me up at the end. I
really thought I'd done it."
"Why, you can do it," said Blenkinthrope, who had
come back to the room; "if you shift the eight of clubs
on to that open nine the five can be moved on to the
His wife made the suggested move with hasty,
trembling fingers, and piled the outstanding cards on to
their respective packs. Then she followed the example of
her mother and great-grand-aunt.
Blenkinthrope had been genuinely fond of his wife,
but in the midst of his bereavement one dominant thought
obtruded itself. Something sensational and real had at
last come into his life; no longer was it a grey,
colourless record. The headlines which might
appropriately describe his domestic tragedy kept shaping
themselves in his brain. "Inherited presentiment comes
true." "The Death's Head patience: Card-game that
justified its sinister name in three generations." He
wrote out a full story of the fatal occurrence for the
ESSEX VEDETTE, the editor of which was a friend of his,
and to another friend he gave a condensed account, to be
taken up to the office of one of the halfpenny dailies.
But in both cases his reputation as a romancer stood
fatally in the way of the fulfilment of his ambitions.
"Not the right thing to be Munchausening in a time of
sorrow" agreed his friends among themselves, and a brief
note of regret at the "sudden death of the wife of our
respected neighbour, Mr. John Blenkinthrope, from heart
failure," appearing in the news column of the local paper
was the forlorn outcome of his visions of widespread
Blenkinthrope shrank from the society of his
erstwhile travelling companions and took to travelling
townwards by an earlier train. He sometimes tries to
enlist the sympathy and attention of a chance
acquaintance in details of the whistling prowess of his
best canary or the dimensions of his largest beetroot; he
scarcely recognises himself as the man who was once
spoken about and pointed out as the owner of the Seventh
"YOU'VE just come back from Adelaide's funeral,
haven't you?" said Sir Lulworth to his nephew; "I suppose
it was very like most other funerals?"
"I'll tell you all about it at lunch," said Egbert.
"You'll do nothing of the sort. It wouldn't be
respectful either to your great-aunt's memory or to the
lunch. We begin with Spanish olives, then a borshch,
then more olives and a bird of some kind, and a rather
enticing Rhenish wine, not at all expensive as wines go
in this country, but still quite laudable in its way.
Now there's absolutely nothing in that menu that
harmonises in the least with the subject of your greataunt
Adelaide or her funeral. She was a charming woman,
and quite as intelligent as she had any need to be, but
somehow she always reminded me of an English cook's idea
of a Madras curry."
"She used to say you were frivolous," said Egbert.
Something in his tone suggested that he rather endorsed
the verdict.
"I believe I once considerably scandalised her by
declaring that clear soup was a more important factor in
life than a clear conscience. She had very little sense
of proportion. By the way, she made you her principal
heir, didn't she?"
"Yes," said Egbert, "and executor as well. It's in
that connection that I particularly want to speak to
"Business is not my strong point at any time," said
Sir Lulworth, "and certainly not when we're on the
immediate threshold of lunch."
"It isn't exactly business," explained Egbert, as he
followed his uncle into the dining-room.
"It's something rather serious. Very serious."
"Then we can't possibly speak about it now," said
Sir Lulworth; "no one could talk seriously during a
borshch. A beautifully constructed borshch, such as you
are going to experience presently, ought not only to
banish conversation but almost to annihilate thought.
Later on, when we arrive at the second stage of olives, I
shall be quite ready to discuss that new book on Borrow,
or, if you prefer it, the present situation in the Grand
Duchy of Luxemburg. But I absolutely decline to talk
anything approaching business till we have finished with
the bird."
For the greater part of the meal Egbert sat in an
abstracted silence, the silence of a man whose mind is
focussed on one topic. When the coffee stage had been
reached he launched himself suddenly athwart his uncle's
reminiscences of the Court of Luxemburg.
"I think I told you that great-aunt Adelaide had
made me her executor. There wasn't very much to be done
in the way of legal matters, but I had to go through her
"That would be a fairly heavy task in itself. I
should imagine there were reams of family letters."
"Stacks of them, and most of them highly
uninteresting. There was one packet, however, which I
thought might repay a careful perusal. It was a bundle
of correspondence from her brother Peter."
"The Canon of tragic memory," said Lulworth.
"Exactly, of tragic memory, as you say; a tragedy
that has never been fathomed."
"Probably the simplest explanation was the correct
one," said Sir Lulworth; "he slipped on the stone
staircase and fractured his skull in falling."
Egbert shook his head. "The medical evidence all
went to prove that the blow on the head was struck by
some one coming up behind him. A wound caused by violent
contact with the steps could not possibly have been
inflicted at that angle of the skull. They experimented
with a dummy figure falling in every conceivable
"But the motive?" exclaimed Sir Lulworth; "no one
had any interest in doing away with him, and the number
of people who destroy Canons of the Established Church
for the mere fun of killing must be extremely limited.
Of course there are individuals of weak mental balance
who do that sort of thing, but they seldom conceal their
handiwork; they are more generally inclined to parade
"His cook was under suspicion," said Egbert shortly.
"I know he was," said Sir Lulworth, "simply because
he was about the only person on the premises at the time
of the tragedy. But could anything be sillier than
trying to fasten a charge of murder on to Sebastien? He
had nothing to gain, in fact, a good deal to lose, from
the death of his employer. The Canon was paying him
quite as good wages as I was able to offer him when I
took him over into my service. I have since raised them
to something a little more in accordance with his real
worth, but at the time he was glad to find a new place
without troubling about an increase of wages. People
were fighting rather shy of him, and he had no friends in
this country. No; if anyone in the world was interested
in the prolonged life and unimpaired digestion of the
Canon it would certainly be Sebastien."
"People don't always weigh the consequences of their
rash acts," said Egbert, "otherwise there would be very
few murders committed. Sebastien is a man of hot
"He is a southerner," admitted Sir Lulworth; "to be
geographically exact I believe he hails from the French
slopes of the Pyrenees. I took that into consideration
when he nearly killed the gardener's boy the other day
for bringing him a spurious substitute for sorrel. One
must always make allowances for origin and locality and
early environment; `Tell me your longitude and I'll know
what latitude to allow you,' is my motto."
"There, you see," said Egbert, "he nearly killed the
gardener's boy."
"My dear Egbert, between nearly killing a gardener's
boy and altogether killing a Canon there is a wide
difference. No doubt you have often felt a temporary
desire to kill a gardener's boy; you have never given way
to it, and I respect you for your self-control. But I
don't suppose you have ever wanted to kill an
octogenarian Canon. Besides, as far as we know, there
had never been any quarrel or disagreement between the
two men. The evidence at the inquest brought that out
very clearly."
"Ah!" said Egbert, with the air of a man coming at
last into a deferred inheritance of conversational
importance, "that is precisely what I want to speak to
you about."
He pushed away his coffee cup and drew a pocket-book
from his inner breast-pocket. From the depths of the
pocket-book he produced an envelope, and from the
envelope he extracted a letter, closely written in a
small, neat handwriting.
"One of the Canon's numerous letters to Aunt
Adelaide," he explained, "written a few days before his
death. Her memory was already failing when she received
it, and I daresay she forgot the contents as soon as she
had read it; otherwise, in the light of what subsequently
happened, we should have heard something of this letter
before now. If it had been produced at the inquest I
fancy it would have made some difference in the course of
affairs. The evidence, as you remarked just now, choked
off suspicion against Sebastien by disclosing an utter
absence of anything that could be considered a motive or
provocation for the crime, if crime there was."
"Oh, read the letter," said Sir Lulworth
"It's a long rambling affair, like most of his
letters in his later years," said Egbert. "I'll read the
part that bears immediately on the mystery.
" 'I very much fear I shall have to get rid of
Sebastien. He cooks divinely, but he has the temper of a
fiend or an anthropoid ape, and I am really in bodily
fear of him. We had a dispute the other day as to the
correct sort of lunch to be served on Ash Wednesday, and
I got so irritated and annoyed at his conceit and
obstinacy that at last I threw a cupful of coffee in his
face and called him at the same time an impudent
jackanapes. Very little of the coffee went actually in
his face, but I have never seen a human being show such
deplorable lack of self-control. I laughed at the threat
of killing me that he spluttered out in his rage, and
thought the whole thing would blow over, but I have
several times since caught him scowling and muttering in
a highly unpleasant fashion, and lately I have fancied
that he was dogging my footsteps about the grounds,
particularly when I walk of an evening in the Italian
"It was on the steps in the Italian Garden that the
body was found," commented Egbert, and resumed reading.
" 'I daresay the danger is imaginary; but I shall
feel more at ease when he has quitted my service.' "
Egbert paused for a moment at the conclusion of the
extract; then, as his uncle made no remark, he added: "If
lack of motive was the only factor that saved Sebastien
from prosecution I fancy this letter will put a different
complexion on matters."
"Have you shown it to anyone else?" asked Sir
Lulworth, reaching out his hand for the incriminating
piece of paper.
"No," said Egbert, handing it across the table, "I
thought I would tell you about it first. Heavens, what
are you doing?"
Egbert's voice rose almost to a scream. Sir
Lulworth had flung the paper well and truly into the
glowing centre of the grate. The small, neat handwriting
shrivelled into black flaky nothingness.
"What on earth did you do that for?" gasped Egbert.
"That letter was our one piece of evidence to connect
Sebastien with the crime."
"That is why I destroyed it," said Sir Lulworth.
"But why should you want to shield him?" cried
Egbert; "the man is a common murderer."
"A common murderer, possibly, but a very uncommon
NORMAN GORTSBY sat on a bench in the Park, with his
back to a strip of bush-planted sward, fenced by the park
railings, and the Row fronting him across a wide stretch
of carriage drive. Hyde Park Corner, with its rattle and
hoot of traffic, lay immediately to his right. It was
some thirty minutes past six on an early March evening,
and dusk had fallen heavily over the scene, dusk
mitigated by some faint moonlight and many street lamps.
There was a wide emptiness over road and sidewalk, and
yet there were many unconsidered figures moving silently
through the half-light, or dotted unobtrusively on bench
and chair, scarcely to be distinguished from the shadowed
gloom in which they sat.
The scene pleased Gortsby and harmonised with his
present mood. Dusk, to his mind, was the hour of the
defeated. Men and women, who had fought and lost, who
hid their fallen fortunes and dead hopes as far as
possible from the scrutiny of the curious, came forth in
this hour of gloaming, when their shabby clothes and
bowed shoulders and unhappy eyes might pass unnoticed,
or, at any rate, unrecognised.
A king that is conquered must see strange looks,
So bitter a thing is the heart of man.
The wanderers in the dusk did not choose to have
strange looks fasten on them, therefore they came out in
this bat-fashion, taking their pleasure sadly in a
pleasure-ground that had emptied of its rightful
occupants. Beyond the sheltering screen of bushes and
palings came a realm of brilliant lights and noisy,
rushing traffic. A blazing, many-tiered stretch of
windows shone through the dusk and almost dispersed it,
marking the haunts of those other people, who held their
own in life's struggle, or at any rate had not had to
admit failure. So Gortsby's imagination pictured things
as he sat on his bench in the almost deserted walk. He
was in the mood to count himself among the defeated.
Money troubles did not press on him; had he so wished he
could have strolled into the thoroughfares of light and
noise, and taken his place among the jostling ranks of
those who enjoyed prosperity or struggled for it. He had
failed in a more subtle ambition, and for the moment he
was heartsore and disillusionised, and not disinclined to
take a certain cynical pleasure in observing and
labelling his fellow wanderers as they went their ways in
the dark stretches between the lamp-lights.
On the bench by his side sat an elderly gentleman
with a drooping air of defiance that was probably the
remaining vestige of self-respect in an individual who
had ceased to defy successfully anybody or anything. His
clothes could scarcely be called shabby, at least they
passed muster in the half-light, but one's imagination
could not have pictured the wearer embarking on the
purchase of a half-crown box of chocolates or laying out
ninepence on a carnation buttonhole. He belonged
unmistakably to that forlorn orchestra to whose piping no
one dances; he was one of the world's lamenters who
induce no responsive weeping. As he rose to go Gortsby
imagined him returning to a home circle where he was
snubbed and of no account, or to some bleak lodging where
his ability to pay a weekly bill was the beginning and
end of the interest he inspired. His retreating figure
vanished slowly into the shadows, and his place on the
bench was taken almost immediately by a young man, fairly
well dressed but scarcely more cheerful of mien than his
predecessor. As if to emphasise the fact that the world
went badly with him the new-corner unburdened himself of
an angry and very audible expletive as he flung himself
into the seat.
"You don't seem in a very good temper," said
Gortsby, judging that he was expected to take due notice
of the demonstration.
The young man turned to him with a look of disarming
frankness which put him instantly on his guard.
"You wouldn't be in a good temper if you were in the
fix I'm in," he said; "I've done the silliest thing I've
ever done in my life."
"Yes?" said Gortsby dispassionately.
"Came up this afternoon, meaning to stay at the
Patagonian Hotel in Berkshire Square," continued the
young man; "when I got there I found it had been pulled
down some weeks ago and a cinema theatre run up on the
site. The taxi driver recommended me to another hotel
some way off and I went there. I just sent a letter to
my people, giving them the address, and then I went out
to buy some soap - I'd forgotten to pack any and I hate
using hotel soap. Then I strolled about a bit, had a
drink at a bar and looked at the shops, and when I came
to turn my steps back to the hotel I suddenly realised
that I didn't remember its name or even what street it
was in. There's a nice predicament for a fellow who
hasn't any friends or connections in London! Of course I
can wire to my people for the address, but they won't
have got my letter till to-morrow; meantime I'm without
any money, came out with about a shilling on me, which
went in buying the soap and getting the drink, and here I
am, wandering about with twopence in my pocket and
nowhere to go for the night."
There was an eloquent pause after the story had been
told. "I suppose you think I've spun you rather an
impossible yarn," said the young man presently,with a
suggestion of resentment in his voice.
"Not at all impossible," said Gortsby judicially; "I
remember doing exactly the same thing once in a foreign
capital, and on that occasion there were two of us, which
made it more remarkable. Luckily we remembered that the
hotel was on a sort of canal, and when we struck the
canal we were able to find our way back to the hotel."
The youth brightened at the reminiscence. "In a
foreign city I wouldn't mind so much," he said; "one
could go to one's Consul and get the requisite help from
him. Here in one's own land one is far more derelict if
one gets into a fix. Unless I can find some decent chap
to swallow my story and lend me some money I seem likely
to spend the night on the Embankment. I'm glad, anyhow,
that you don't think the story outrageously improbable."
He threw a good deal of warmth into the last remark,
as though perhaps to indicate his hope that Gortsby did
not fall far short of the requisite decency.
"Of course," said Gortsby slowly, "the weak point of
your story is that you can't produce the soap."
The young man sat forward hurriedly, felt rapidly in
the pockets of his overcoat, and then jumped to his feet.
"I must have lost it," he muttered angrily.
"To lose an hotel and a cake of soap on one
afternoon suggests wilful carelessness," said Gortsby,
but the young man scarcely waited to hear the end of the
remark. He flitted away down the path, his head held
high, with an air of somewhat jaded jauntiness.
"It was a pity," mused Gortsby; "the going out to
get one's own soap was the one convincing touch in the
whole story, and yet it was just that little detail that
brought him to grief. If he had had the brilliant
forethought to provide himself with a cake of soap,
wrapped and sealed with all the solicitude of the
chemist's counter, he would have been a genius in his
particular line. In his particular line genius certainly
consists of an infinite capacity for taking precautions."
With that reflection Gortsby rose to go; as he did
so an exclamation of concern escaped him. Lying on the
ground by the side of the bench was a small oval packet,
wrapped and sealed with the solicitude of a chemist's
counter. It could be nothing else but a cake of soap,
and it had evidently fallen out of the youth's overcoat
pocket when he flung himself down on the seat. In
another moment Gortsby was scudding along the duskshrouded
path in anxious quest for a youthful figure in a
light overcoat. He had nearly given up the search when
he caught sight of the object of his pursuit standing
irresolutely on the border of the carriage drive,
evidently uncertain whether to strike across the Park or
make for the bustling pavements of Knightsbridge. He
turned round sharply with an air of defensive hostility
when he found Gortsby hailing him.
"The important witness to the genuineness of your
story has turned up," said Gortsby, holding out the cake
of soap; "it must have slid out of your overcoat pocket
when you sat down on the seat. I saw it on the ground
after you left. You must excuse my disbelief, but
appearances were really rather against you, and now, as I
appealed to the testimony of the soap I think I ought to
abide by its verdict. If the loan of a sovereign is any
good to you - "
The young man hastily removed all doubt on the
subject by pocketing the coin.
"Here is my card with my address," continued
Gortsby; "any day this week will do for returning the
money, and here is the soap - don't lose it again it's
been a good friend to you."
"Lucky thing your finding it," said the youth, and
then, with a catch in his voice, he blurted out a word or
two of thanks and fled headlong in the direction of
"Poor boy, he as nearly as possible broke down,"
said Gortsby to himself. "I don't wonder either; the
relief from his quandary must have been acute. It's a
lesson to me not to be too clever in judging by
As Gortsby retraced his steps past the seat where
the little drama had taken place he saw an elderly
gentleman poking and peering beneath it and on all sides
of it, and recognised his earlier fellow occupant.
"Have you lost anything, sir?" he asked.
"Yes, sir, a cake of soap."
"I HOPE you've come full of suggestions for
Christmas," said Lady Blonze to her latest arrived guest;
"the old-fashioned Christmas and the up-to-date Christmas
are both so played out. I want to have something really
original this year."
"I was staying with the Mathesons last month," said
Blanche Boveal eagerly, "and we had such a good idea.
Every one in the house-party had to be a character and
behave consistently all the time, and at the end of the
visit one had to guess what every one's character was.
The one who was voted to have acted his or her character
best got a prize."
"It sounds amusing," said Lady Blonze.
"I was St. Francis of Assisi," continued Blanche;
"we hadn't got to keep to our right sexes. I kept
getting up in the middle of a meal, and throwing out food
to the birds; you see, the chief thing that one remembers
of St. Francis is that he was fond of the birds. Every
one was so stupid about it, and thought that I was the
old man who feeds the sparrows in the Tuileries Gardens.
Then Colonel Pentley was the Jolly Miller on the banks of
"How on earth did he do that?" asked Bertie van
" 'He laughed and sang from morn till night,' "
explained Blanche.
"How dreadful for the rest of you," said Bertie;
"and anyway he wasn't on the banks of Dee."
"One had to imagine that," said Blanche.
"If you could imagine all that you might as well
imagine cattle on the further bank and keep on calling
them home, Mary-fashion, across the sands of Dee. Or you
might change the river to the Yarrow and imagine it was
on the top of you, and say you were Willie, or whoever it
was, drowned in Yarrow."
"Of course it's easy to make fun of it," said
Blanche sharply, "but it was extremely interesting and
amusing. The prize was rather a fiasco, though. You
see, Millie Matheson said her character was Lady
Bountiful, and as she was our hostess of course we all
had to vote that she had carried out her character better
than anyone. Otherwise I ought to have got the prize."
"It's quite an idea for a Christmas party," said
Lady Blonze; "we must certainly do it here."
Sir Nicholas was not so enthusiastic. "Are you
quite sure, my dear, that you're wise in doing this
thing?" he said to his wife when they were alone
together. "It might do very well at the Mathesons, where
they had rather a staid, elderly house-party, but here it
will be a different matter. There is the Durmot flapper,
for instance, who simply stops at nothing, and you know
what Van Tahn is like. Then there is Cyril Skatterly; he
has madness on one side of his family and a Hungarian
grandmother on the other."
"I don't see what they could do that would matter,"
said Lady Blonze.
"It's the unknown that is to be dreaded," said Sir
Nicholas. "If Skatterly took it into his head to
represent a Bull of Bashan, well, I'd rather not be
"Of course we shan't allow any Bible characters.
Besides, I don't know what the Bulls of Bashan really did
that was so very dreadful; they just came round and
gaped, as far as I remember."
"My dear, you don't know what Skatterly's Hungarian
imagination mightn't read into the part; it would be
small satisfaction to say to him afterwards: 'You've
behaved as no Bull of Bashan would have behaved.' "
"Oh, you're an alarmist," said Lady Blonze; I
particularly want to have this idea carried out. It will
be sure to be talked about a lot."
"That is quite possible," said Sir Nicholas.
* * * *
Dinner that evening was not a particularly lively
affair; the strain of trying to impersonate a selfimposed
character or to glean hints of identity from
other people's conduct acted as a check on the natural
festivity of such a gathering. There was a general
feeling of gratitude and acquiescence when good-natured
Rachel Klammerstein suggested that there should be an
hour or two's respite from "the game" while they all
listened to a little piano-playing after dinner.
Rachel's love of piano music was not indiscriminate, and
concentrated itself chiefly on selections rendered by her
idolised offspring, Moritz and Augusta, who, to do them
justice, played remarkably well.
The Klammersteins were deservedly popular as
Christmas guests; they gave expensive gifts lavishly on
Christmas Day and New Year, and Mrs. Klammerstein had
already dropped hints of her intention to present the
prize for the best enacted character in the game
competition. Every one had brightened at this prospect;
if it had fallen to Lady Blonze, as hostess, to provide
the prize, she would have considered that a little
souvenir of some twenty or twenty-five shillings' value
would meet the case, whereas coming from a Klammerstein
source it would certainly run to several guineas.
The close time for impersonation efforts came to an
end with the final withdrawal of Moritz and Augusta from
the piano. Blanche Boveal retired early, leaving the
room in a series of laboured leaps that she hoped might
be recognised as a tolerable imitation of Pavlova. Vera
Durmot, the sixteen-year-old flapper, expressed her
confident opinion that the performance was intended to
typify Mark Twain's famous jumping frog, and her
diagnosis of the case found general acceptance. Another
guest to set an example of early bed-going was Waldo
Plubley, who conducted his life on a minutely regulated
system of time-tables and hygienic routine. Waldo was a
plump, indolent young man of seven-and-twenty, whose
mother had early in his life decided for him that he was
unusually delicate, and by dint of much coddling and
home-keeping had succeeded in making him physically soft
and mentally peevish. Nine hours' unbroken sleep,
preceded by elaborate breathing exercises and other
hygienic ritual, was among the indispensable regulations
which Waldo imposed on himself, and there were
innumerable small observances which he exacted from those
who were in any way obliged to minister to his
requirements; a special teapot for the decoction of his
early tea was always solemnly handed over to the bedroom
staff of any house in which he happened to be staying.
No one had ever quite mastered the mechanism of this
precious vessel, but Bertie van Tahn was responsible for
the legend that its spout had to be kept facing north
during the process of infusion.
On this particular night the irreducible nine hours
were severely mutilated by the sudden and by no means
noiseless incursion of a pyjama-clad figure into Waldo's
room at an hour midway between midnight and dawn.
"What is the matter? What are you looking for?"
asked the awakened and astonished Waldo, slowly
recognising Van Tahn, who appeared to be searching
hastily for something he had lost.
"Looking for sheep," was the reply.
"Sheep?" exclaimed Waldo.
"Yes, sheep. You don't suppose I'm looking for
giraffes, do you?"
"I don't see why you should expect to find either in
my room," retorted Waldo furiously.
"I can't argue the matter at this hour of the
night," said Bertie, and began hastily rummaging in the
chest of drawers. Shirts and underwear went flying on to
the floor.
"There are no sheep here, I tell you," screamed
"I've only got your word for it," said Bertie,
whisking most of the bedclothes on to the floor; "if you
weren't concealing something you wouldn't be so
Waldo was by this time convinced that Van Tahn was
raving mad, and made an anxious, effort to humour him.
"Go back to bed like a dear fellow," he pleaded,
"and your sheep will turn up all right in the morning."
"I daresay," said Bertie gloomily, "without their
tails. Nice fool I shall look with a lot of Manx sheep."
And by way of emphasising his annoyance at the
prospect he sent Waldo's pillows flying to the top of the
"But WHY no tails?" asked Waldo, whose teeth were
chattering with fear and rage and lowered temperature.
"My dear boy, have you never heard the ballad of
Little Bo-Peep?" said Bertie with a chuckle. "It's my
character in the Game, you know. If I didn't go hunting
about for my lost sheep no one would be able to guess who
I was; and now go to sleepy weeps like a good child or I
shall be cross with you."
"I leave you to imagine," wrote Waldo in the course
of a long letter to his mother, "how much sleep I was
able to recover that night, and you know how essential
nine uninterrupted hours of slumber are to my health."
On the other hand he was able to devote some wakeful
hours to exercises in breathing wrath and fury against
Bertie van Tahn.
Breakfast at Blonzecourt was a scattered meal, on
the "come when you please" principle, but the house-party
was supposed to gather in full strength at lunch. On the
day after the "Game" had been started there were,
however, some notable absentees. Waldo Plubley, for
instance, was reported to be nursing a headache. A large
breakfast and an "A.B.C." had been taken up to his room,
but he had made no appearance in the flesh.
"I expect he's playing up to some character," said
Vera Durmot; "isn't there a thing of Moliere's, 'LE
MALADE IMAGINAIRE'? I expect he's that."
Eight or nine lists came out, and were duly
pencilled with the suggestion.
"And where are the Klammersteins?" asked Lady
Blonze; "they're usually so punctual."
"Another character pose, perhaps," said Bertie van
Tahn; " 'the Lost Ten Tribes.' "
"But there are only three of them. Besides, they'll
want their lunch. Hasn't anyone seen anything of them?"
"Didn't you take them out in your car?" asked
Blanche Boveal, addressing herself to Cyril Skatterly.
"Yes, took them out to Slogberry Moor immediately
after breakfast. Miss Durmot came too."
"I saw you and Vera come back," said Lady Blonze,
"but I didn't see the Klammersteins. Did you put them
down in the village?"
"No," said Skatterly shortly.
"But where are they? Where did you leave them?"
"We left them on Slogberry Moor," said Vera calmly.
"On Slogberry Moor? Why, it's more than thirty
miles away! How are they going to get back?"
"We didn't stop to consider that," said Skatterly;
"we asked them to get out for a moment, on the pretence
that the car had stuck, and then we dashed off full speed
and left them there."
"But how dare you do such a thing? It's most
inhuman! Why, it's been snowing for the last hour."
"I expect there'll be a cottage or farmhouse
somewhere if they walk a mile or two."
"But why on earth have you done it?"
The question came in a chorus of indignant
"THAT would be telling what our characters are meant
to be," said Vera.
"Didn't I warn you?" said Sir Nicholas tragically to
his wife.
"It's something to do with Spanish history; we don't
mind giving you that clue," said Skatterly, helping
himself cheerfully to salad, and then Bertie van Tahn
broke forth into peals of joyous laughter.
"I've got it! Ferdinand and Isabella deporting the
Jews! Oh, lovely! Those two have certainly won the
prize; we shan't get anything to beat that for
Lady Blonze's Christmas party was talked about and
written about to an extent that she had not anticipated
in her most ambitious moments. The letters from Waldo's
mother would alone have made it memorable.
BASSET HARROWCLUFF returned to the home of his
fathers, after an absence of four years, distinctly well
pleased with himself. He was only thirty-one, but he had
put in some useful service in an out-of-the-way, though
not unimportant, corner of the world. He had quieted a
province, kept open a trade route, enforced the tradition
of respect which is worth the ransom of many kings in
out-of-the-way regions, and done the whole business on
rather less expenditure than would be requisite for
organising a charity in the home country. In Whitehall
and places where they think, they doubtless thought well
of him. It was not inconceivable, his father allowed
himself to imagine, that Basset's name might figure in
the next list of Honours.
Basset was inclined to be rather contemptuous of his
half-brother, Lucas, whom he found feverishly engrossed
in the same medley of elaborate futilities that had
claimed his whole time and energies, such as they were,
four years ago, and almost as far back before that as he
could remember. It was the contempt of the man of action
for the man of activities, and it was probably
reciprocated. Lucas was an over-well nourished
individual, some nine years Basset's senior, with a
colouring that would have been accepted as a sign of
intensive culture in an asparagus, but probably meant in
this case mere abstention from exercise. His hair and
forehead furnished a recessional note in a personality
that was in all other respects obtrusive and assertive.
There was certainly no Semitic blood in Lucas's
parentage, but his appearance contrived to convey at
least a suggestion of Jewish extraction. Clovis
Sangrail, who knew most of his associates by sight, said
it was undoubtedly a case of protective mimicry.
Two days after Basset's return, Lucas frisked in to
lunch in a state of twittering excitement that could not
be restrained even for the immediate consideration of
soup, but had to be verbally discharged in spluttering
competition with mouthfuls of vermicelli.
"I've got hold of an idea for something immense," he
babbled, "something that is simply It."
Basset gave a short laugh that would have done
equally well as a snort, if one had wanted to make the
exchange. His half-brother was in the habit of
discovering futilities that were "simply It" at
frequently recurring intervals. The discovery generally
meant that he flew up to town, preceded by glowinglyworded
telegrams, to see some one connected with the
stage or the publishing world, got together one or two
momentous luncheon parties, flitted in and out of
"Gambrinus" for one or two evenings, and returned home
with an air of subdued importance and the asparagus tint
slightly intensified. The great idea was generally
forgotten a few weeks later in the excitement of some new
"The inspiration came to me whilst I was dressing,"
announced Lucas; "it will be THE thing in the next musichall
REVUE. All London will go mad over it. It's just a
couplet; of course there will be other words, but they
won't matter. Listen:
Cousin Teresa takes out Caesar,
Fido, Jock, and the big borzoi.
A lifting, catchy sort of refrain, you see, and bigdrum
business on the two syllables of bor-zoi. It's
immense. And I've thought out all the business of it;
the singer will sing the first verse alone, then during
the second verse Cousin Teresa will walk through,
followed by four wooden dogs on wheels; Caesar will be an
Irish terrier, Fido a black poodle, Jock a fox-terrier,
and the borzoi, of course, will be a borzoi. During the
third verse Cousin Teresa will come on alone, and the
dogs will be drawn across by themselves from the opposite
wing; then Cousin Teresa will catch on to the singer and
go off-stage in one direction, while the dogs' procession
goes off in the other, crossing en route, which is always
very effective. There'll be a lot of applause there, and
for the fourth verse Cousin Teresa will come on in sables
and the dogs will all have coats on. Then I've got a
great idea for the fifth verse; each of the dogs will be
led on by a Nut, and Cousin Teresa will come on from the
opposite side, crossing en route, always effective, and
then she turns round and leads the whole lot of them off
on a string, and all the time every one singing like mad:
Cousin Teresa takes out Caesar
Fido, Jock, and the big borzoi.
Tum-Tum! Drum business on the two last syllables.
I'm so excited, I shan't sleep a wink to-night. I'm off
to-morrow by the ten-fifteen. I've wired to Hermanova to
lunch with me."
If any of the rest of the family felt any excitement
over the creation of Cousin Teresa, they were signally
successful in concealing the fact.
"Poor Lucas does take his silly little ideas
seriously," said Colonel Harrowcluff afterwards in the
"Yes," said his younger son, in a slightly less
tolerant tone, "in a day or two he'll come back and tell
us that his sensational masterpiece is above the heads of
the public, and in about three weeks' time he'll be wild
with enthusiasm over a scheme to dramatise the poems of
Herrick or something equally promising."
And then an extraordinary thing befell. In defiance
of all precedent Lucas's glowing anticipations were
justified and endorsed by the course of events. If
Cousin Teresa was above the heads of the public, the
public heroically adapted itself to her altitude.
Introduced as an experiment at a dull moment in a new
REVUE, the success of the item was unmistakable; the
calls were so insistent and uproarious that even Lucas'
ample devisings of additional "business" scarcely
sufficed to keep pace with the demand. Packed houses on
successive evenings confirmed the verdict of the first
night audience, stalls and boxes filled significantly
just before the turn came on, and emptied significantly
after the last ENCORE had been given. The manager
tearfully acknowledged that Cousin Teresa was It. Stage
hands and supers and programme sellers acknowledged it to
one another without the least reservation. The name of
the REVUE dwindled to secondary importance, and vast
letters of electric blue blazoned the words "Cousin
Teresa" from the front of the great palace of pleasure.
And, of course, the magic of the famous refrain laid its
spell all over the Metropolis. Restaurant proprietors
were obliged to provide the members of their orchestras
with painted wooden dogs on wheels, in order that the
much-demanded and always conceded melody should be
rendered with the necessary spectacular effects, and the
crash of bottles and forks on the tables at the mention
of the big borzoi usually drowned the sincerest efforts
of drum or cymbals. Nowhere and at no time could one get
away from the double thump that brought up the rear of
the refrain; revellers reeling home at night banged it on
doors and hoardings, milkmen clashed their cans to its
cadence, messenger boys hit smaller messenger boys
resounding double smacks on the same principle. And the
more thoughtful circles of the great city were not deaf
to the claims and significance of the popular melody. An
enterprising and emancipated preacher discoursed from his
pulpit on the inner meaning of "Cousin Teresa," and Lucas
Harrowcluff was invited to lecture on the subject of his
great achievement to members of the Young Mens' Endeavour
League, the Nine Arts Club, and other learned and
willing-to-learn bodies. In Society it seemed to be the
one thing people really cared to talk about; men and
women of middle age and average education might be seen
together in corners earnestly discussing, not the
question whether Servia should have an outlet on the
Adriatic, or the possibilities of a British success in
international polo contests, but the more absorbing topic
of the problematic Aztec or Nilotic origin of the Teresa
"Politics and patriotism are so boring and so out of
date," said a revered lady who had some pretensions to
oracular utterance; "we are too cosmopolitan nowadays to
be really moved by them. That is why one welcomes an
intelligible production like 'Cousin Teresa,' that has a
genuine message for one. One can't understand the
message all at once, of course, but one felt from the
very first that it was there. I've been to see it
eighteen times and I'm going again to-morrow and on
Thursday. One can't see it often enough."
* * * *
"It would be rather a popular move if we gave this
Harrowcluff person a knighthood or something of the
sort," said the Minister reflectively.
"Which Harrowcluff?"asked his secretary.
"Which? There is only one, isn't there?" said the
Minister; "the 'Cousin Teresa' man, of course. I think
every one would be pleased if we knighted him. Yes, you
can put him down on the list of certainties - under the
letter L."
"The letter L," said the secretary, who was new to
his job; "does that stand for Liberalism or liberality?"
Most of the recipients of Ministerial favour were
expected to qualify in both of those subjects.
"Literature," explained the Minister.
And thus, after a fashion, Colonel Harrowcluff's
expectation of seeing his son's name in the list of
Honours was gratified.
SIR LULWORTH QUAYNE was making a leisurely progress
through the Zoological Society's Gardens in company with
his nephew, recently returned from Mexico. The latter
was interested in comparing and contrasting allied types
of animals occurring in the North American and Old World
"One of the most remarkable things in the wanderings
of species," he observed, "is the sudden impulse to trek
and migrate that breaks out now and again, for no
apparent reason, in communities of hitherto stay-at-home
"In human affairs the same phenomenon is
occasionally noticeable," said Sir Lulworth; "perhaps the
most striking instance of it occurred in this country
while you were away in the wilds of Mexico. I mean the
wander fever which suddenly displayed itself in the
managing and editorial staffs of certain London
newspapers. It began with the stampede of the entire
staff of one of our most brilliant and enterprising
weeklies to the banks of the Seine and the heights of
Montmartre. The migration was a brief one, but it
heralded an era of restlessness in the Press world which
lent quite a new meaning to the phrase 'newspaper
circulation.' Other editorial staffs were not slow to
imitate the example that had been set them. Paris soon
dropped out of fashion as being too near home; Nurnberg,
Seville, and Salonica became more favoured as plantingout
grounds for the personnel of not only weekly but
daily papers as well. The localities were perhaps not
always well chosen; the fact of a leading organ of
Evangelical thought being edited for two successive
fortnights from Trouville and Monte Carlo was generally
admitted to have been a mistake. And even when
enterprising and adventurous editors took themselves and
their staffs further afield there were some unavoidable
clashings. For instance, the SCRUTATOR, SPORTING BLUFF,
and THE DAMSELS' OWN PAPER all pitched on Khartoum for
the same week. It was, perhaps, a desire to out-distance
all possible competition that influenced the management
of the DAILY INTELLIGENCER, one of the most solid and
respected organs of Liberal opinion, in its decision to
transfer its offices for three or four weeks from Fleet
Street to Eastern Turkestan, allowing, of course, a
necessary margin of time for the journey there and back.
This was, in many respects, the most remarkable of all
the Press stampedes that were experienced at this time.
There was no make-believe about the undertaking;
proprietor, manager, editor, sub-editors, leader-writers,
principal reporters, and so forth, all took part in what
was popularly alluded to as the DRANG NACH OSTEN; an
intelligent and efficient office-boy was all that was
left in the deserted hive of editorial industry."
"That was doing things rather thoroughly, wasn't
it?" said the nephew.
"Well, you see," said Sir Lulworth, "the migration
idea was falling somewhat into disrepute from the halfhearted
manner in which it was occasionally carried out.
You were not impressed by the information that such and
such a paper was being edited and brought out at Lisbon
or Innsbruck if you chanced to see the principal leaderwriter
or the art editor lunching as usual at their
accustomed restaurants. The DAILY INTELLIGENCER was
determined to give no loophole for cavil at the
genuineness of its pilgrimage, and it must be admitted
that to a certain extent the arrangements made for
transmitting copy and carrying on the usual features of
the paper during the long outward journey worked smoothly
and well. The series of articles which commenced at Baku
on 'What Cobdenism might do for the camel industry' ranks
among the best of the recent contributions to Free Trade
literature, while the views on foreign policy enunciated
'from a roof in Yarkand' showed at least as much grasp of
the international situation as those that had germinated
within half a mile of Downing Street. Quite in keeping,
too, with the older and better traditions of British
journalism was the manner of the home-coming; no bombast,
no personal advertisement, no flamboyant interviews.
Even a complimentary luncheon at the Voyagers' Club was
courteously declined. Indeed, it began to be felt that
the self-effacement of the returned pressmen was being
carried to a pedantic length. Foreman compositors,
advertisement clerks, and other members of the noneditorial
staff, who had, of course, taken no part in the
great trek, found it as impossible to get into direct
communication with the editor and his satellites now that
they had returned as when they had been excusably
inaccessible in Central Asia. The sulky, overworked
office-boy, who was the one connecting link between the
editorial brain and the business departments of the
paper, sardonically explained the new aloofness as the
'Yarkand manner.' Most of the reporters and sub-editors
seemed to have been dismissed in autocratic fashion since
their return and new ones engaged by letter; to these the
editor and his immediate associates remained an unseen
presence, issuing its instructions solely through the
medium of curt typewritten notes. Something mystic and
Tibetan and forbidden had replaced the human bustle and
democratic simplicity of pre-migration days, and the same
experience was encountered by those who made social
overtures to the returned wanderers. The most brilliant
hostess of Twentieth Century London flung the pearl of
her hospitality into the unresponsive trough of the
editorial letter-box; it seemed as if nothing short of a
Royal command would drag the hermit-souled REVENANTS from
their self-imposed seclusion. People began to talk
unkindly of the effect of high altitudes and Eastern
atmosphere on minds and temperaments unused to such
luxuries. The Yarkand manner was not popular."
"And the contents of the paper," said the nephew,
"did they show the influence of the new style?"
"Ah!" said Sir Lulworth, "that was the exciting
thing. In home affairs, social questions, and the
ordinary events of the day not much change was
noticeable. A certain Oriental carelessness seemed to
have crept into the editorial department, and perhaps a
note of lassitude not unnatural in the work of men who
had returned from what had been a fairly arduous journey.
The aforetime standard of excellence was scarcely
maintained, but at any rate the general lines of policy
and outlook were not departed from. It was in the realm
of foreign affairs that a startling change took place.
Blunt, forcible, outspoken articles appeared, couched in
language which nearly turned the autumn manoeuvres of six
important Powers into mobilisations. Whatever else the
DAILY INTELLIGENCER had learned in the East, it had not
acquired the art of diplomatic ambiguity. The man in the
street enjoyed the articles and bought the paper as he
had never bought it before; the men in Downing Street
took a different view. The Foreign Secretary, hitherto
accounted a rather reticent man, became positively
garrulous in the course of perpetually disavowing the
sentiments expressed in the DAILY INTELLIGENCER'S
leaders; and then one day the Government came to the
conclusion that something definite and drastic must be
done. A deputation, consisting of the Prime Minister,
the Foreign Secretary, four leading financiers, and a
well-known Nonconformist divine, made its way to the
offices of the paper. At the door leading to the
editorial department the way was barred by a nervous but
defiant office-boy.
" 'You can't see the editor nor any of the staff,'
he announced.
" 'We insist on seeing the editor or some
responsible person,' said the Prime Minister, and the
deputation forced its way in. The boy had spoken truly;
there was no one to be seen. In the whole suite of rooms
there was no sign of human life.
" 'Where is the editor?' 'Or the foreign editor?'
'Or the chief leader-writer? Or anybody?'
"In answer to the shower of questions the boy
unlocked a drawer and produced a strange-looking
envelope, which bore a Khokand postmark, and a date of
some seven or eight months back. It contained a scrap of
paper on which was written the following message:
" 'Entire party captured by brigand tribe on
homeward journey. Quarter of million demanded as ransom,
but would probably take less. Inform Government,
relations, and friends.'
"There followed the signatures of the principal
members of the party and instructions as to how and where
the money was to be paid.
"The letter had been directed to the office-boy-incharge,
who had quietly suppressed it. No one is a hero
to one's own office-boy, and he evidently considered that
a quarter of a million was an unwarrantable outlay for
such a doubtfully advantageous object as the repatriation
of an errant newspaper staff. So he drew the editorial
and other salaries, forged what signatures were
necessary, engaged new reporters, did what sub-editing he
could, and made as much use as possible of the large
accumulation of special articles that was held in reserve
for emergencies. The articles on foreign affairs were
entirely his own composition.
"Of course the whole thing had to be kept as quiet
as possible; an interim staff, pledged to secrecy, was
appointed to keep the paper going till the pining
captives could be sought out, ransomed, and brought home,
in twos and threes to escape notice, and gradually things
were put back on their old footing. The articles on
foreign affairs reverted to the wonted traditions of the
"But," interposed the nephew, "how on earth did the
boy account to the relatives all those months for the
non-appearance - "
"That," said Sir Lulworth, "was the most brilliant
stroke of all. To the wife or nearest relative of each
of the missing men he forwarded a letter, copying the
handwriting of the supposed writer as well as he could,
and making excuses about vile pens and ink; in each
letter he told the same story, varying only the locality,
to the effect that the writer, alone of the whole party,
was unable to tear himself away from the wild liberty and
allurements of Eastern life, and was going to spend
several months roaming in some selected region. Many of
the wives started off immediately in pursuit of their
errant husbands, and it took the Government a
considerable time and much trouble to reclaim them from
their fruitless quests along the banks of the Oxus, the
Gobi Desert, the Orenburg steppe, and other outlandish
places. One of them, I believe, is still lost somewhere
in the Tigris Valley."
"And the boy?"
"Is still in journalism."
conviction and a Chattel-Monkheim by marriage. The
particular member of that wealthy family whom she had
married was rich, even as his relatives counted riches.
Sophie had very advanced and decided views as to the
distribution of money: it was a pleasing and fortunate
circumstance that she also had the money. When she
inveighed eloquently against the evils of capitalism at
drawing-room meetings and Fabian conferences she was
conscious of a comfortable feeling that the system, with
all its inequalities and iniquities, would probably last
her time. It is one of the consolations of middle-aged
reformers that the good they inculcate must live after
them if it is to live at all.
On a certain spring evening, somewhere towards the
dinner-hour, Sophie sat tranquilly between her mirror and
her maid, undergoing the process of having her hair built
into an elaborate reflection of the prevailing fashion.
She was hedged round with a great peace, the peace of one
who has attained a desired end with much effort and
perseverance, and who has found it still eminently
desirable in its attainment. The Duke of Syria had
consented to come beneath her roof as a guest, was even
now installed beneath her roof, and would shortly be
sitting at her dining-table. As a good Socialist, Sophie
disapproved of social distinctions, and derided the idea
of a princely caste, but if there were to be these
artificial gradations of rank and dignity she was pleased
and anxious to have an exalted specimen of an exalted
order included in her house-party. She was broad-minded
enough to love the sinner while hating the sin - not that
she entertained any warm feeling of personal affection
for the Duke of Syria, who was a comparative stranger,
but still, as Duke of Syria, he was very, very welcome
beneath her roof. She could not have explained why, but
no one was likely to ask her for an explanation, and most
hostesses envied her.
"You must surpass yourself to-night, Richardson,"
she said complacently to her maid; "I must be looking my
very best. We must all surpass ourselves."
The maid said nothing, but from the concentrated
look in her eyes and the deft play of her fingers it was
evident that she was beset with the ambition to surpass
A knock came at the door, a quiet but peremptory
knock, as of some one who would not be denied.
"Go and see who it is," said Sophie; "it may be
something about the wine."
Richardson held a hurried conference with an
invisible messenger at the door; when she returned there
was noticeable a curious listlessness in place of her
hitherto alert manner.
"What is it?" asked Sophie.
"The household servants have 'downed tools,'
madame," said Richardson.
"Downed tools!" exclaimed Sophie; "do you mean to
say they've gone on strike?"
"Yes, madame," said Richardson, adding the
information: "It's Gaspare that the trouble is about."
"Gaspare?" said Sophie wanderingly; "the emergency
chef! The omelette specialist!"
"Yes, madame. Before he became an omelette
specialist he was a valet, and he was one of the strikebreakers
in the great strike at Lord Grimford's two years
ago. As soon as the household staff here learned that
you had engaged him they resolved to `down tools' as a
protest. They haven't got any grievance against you
personally, but they demand that Gaspare should be
immediately dismissed."
"But," protested Sophie, "he is the only man in
England who understands how to make a Byzantine omelette.
I engaged him specially for the Duke of Syria's visit,
and it would be impossible to replace him at short
notice. I should have to send to Paris, and the Duke
loves Byzantine omelettes. It was the one thing we
talked about coming from the station."
"He was one of the strike-breakers at Lord
Grimford's," reiterated Richardson.
"This is too awful," said Sophie; "a strike of
servants at a moment like this, with the Duke of Syria
staying in the house. Something must be done
immediately. Quick, finish my hair and I'll go and see
what I can do to bring them round."
"I can't finish your hair, madame," said Richardson
quietly, but with immense decision. "I belong to the
union and I can't do another half-minute's work till the
strike is settled. I'm sorry to be disobliging."
"But this is inhuman!" exclaimed Sophie tragically;
"I've always been a model mistress and I've refused to
employ any but union servants, and this is the result. I
can't finish my hair myself; I don't know how to. What
am I to do? It's wicked!"
"Wicked is the word," said Richardson; "I'm a good
Conservative and I've no patience with this Socialist
foolery, asking your pardon. It's tyranny, that's what
it is, all along the line, but I've my living to make,
same as other people, and I've got to belong to the
union. I couldn't touch another hair-pin without a
strike permit, not if you was to double my wages."
The door burst open and Catherine Malsom raged into
the room.
"Here's a nice affair," she screamed, "a strike of
household servants without a moment's warning, and I'm
left like this! I can't appear in public in this
After a very hasty scrutiny Sophie assured her that
she could not.
"Have they all struck?" she asked her maid.
"Not the kitchen staff," said Richardson, "they
belong to a different union."
"Dinner at least will be assured," said Sophie,
"that is something to be thankful for."
"Dinner!" snorted Catherine, "what on earth is the
good of dinner when none of us will be able to appear at
it? Look at your hair - and look at me! or rather,
"I know it's difficult to manage without a maid;
can't your husband be any help to you?" asked Sophie
"Henry? He's in worse case than any of us. His man
is the only person who really understands that ridiculous
new-fangled Turkish bath that he insists on taking with
him everywhere."
"Surely he could do without a Turkish bath for one
evening," said Sophie; "I can't appear without hair, but
a Turkish bath is a luxury."
"My good woman," said Catherine, speaking with a
fearful intensity, "Henry was in the bath when the strike
started. In it, do you understand? He's there now."
"Can't he get out?"
"He doesn't know how to. Every time he pulls the
lever marked 'release' he only releases hot steam. There
are two kinds of steam in the bath, 'bearable' and
'scarcely bearable'; he has released them both. By this
time I'm probably a widow."
"I simply can't send away Gaspare," wailed Sophie;
"I should never be able to secure another omelette
"Any difficulty that I may experience in securing
another husband is of course a trifle beneath anyone's
consideration," said Catherine bitterly.
Sophie capitulated. "Go," she said to Richardson,
"and tell the Strike Committee, or whoever are directing
this affair, that Gaspare is herewith dismissed. And ask
Gaspare to see me presently in the library, when I will
pay him what is due to him and make what excuses I can;
and then fly back and finish my hair."
Some half an hour later Sophie marshalled her guests
in the Grand Salon preparatory to the formal march to the
dining-room. Except that Henry Malsom was of the ripe
raspberry tint that one sometimes sees at private
theatricals representing the human complexion, there was
little outward sign among those assembled of the crisis
that had just been encountered and surmounted. But the
tension had been too stupefying while it lasted not to
leave some mental effects behind it. Sophie talked at
random to her illustrious guest, and found her eyes
straying with increasing frequency towards the great
doors through which would presently come the blessed
announcement that dinner was served. Now and again she
glanced mirror-ward at the reflection of her wonderfully
coiffed hair, as an insurance underwriter might gaze
thankfully at an overdue vessel that had ridden safely
into harbour in the wake of a devastating hurricane.
Then the doors opened and the welcome figure of the
butler entered the room. But he made no general
announcement of a banquet in readiness, and the doors
closed behind him; his message was for Sophie alone.
"There is no dinner, madame," he said gravely; "the
kitchen staff have 'downed tools.' Gaspare belongs to
the Union of Cooks and Kitchen Employees, and as soon as
they heard of his summary dismissal at a moment's notice
they struck work. They demand his instant reinstatement
and an apology to the union. I may add, madame, that
they are very firm; I've been obliged even to hand back
the dinner rolls that were already on the table."
After the lapse of eighteen months Sophie Chattel-
Monkheim is beginning to go about again among her old
haunts and associates, but she still has to be very
careful. The doctors will not let her attend anything at
all exciting, such as a drawing-room meeting or a Fabian
conference; it is doubtful, indeed, whether she wants to.
"IT'S a good thing that Saint Valentine's Day has
dropped out of vogue," said Mrs. Thackenbury; "what with
Christmas and New Year and Easter, not to speak of
birthdays, there are quite enough remembrance days as it
is. I tried to save myself trouble at Christmas by just
sending flowers to all my friends, but it wouldn't work;
Gertrude has eleven hot-houses and about thirty
gardeners, so it would have been ridiculous to send
flowers to her, and Milly has just started a florist's
shop, so it was equally out of the question there. The
stress of having to decide in a hurry what to give to
Gertrude and Milly just when I thought I'd got the whole
question nicely off my mind completely ruined my
Christmas, and then the awful monotony of the letters of
thanks: 'Thank you so much for your lovely flowers. It
was so good of you to think of me.' Of course in the
majority of cases I hadn't thought about the recipients
at all; their names were down in my list of 'people who
must not be left out.' If I trusted to remembering them
there would be some awful sins of omission."
"The trouble is," said Clovis to his aunt, "all
these days of intrusive remembrance harp so persistently
on one aspect of human nature and entirely ignore the
other; that is why they become so perfunctory and
artificial. At Christmas and New Year you are emboldened
and encouraged by convention to send gushing messages of
optimistic goodwill and servile affection to people whom
you would scarcely ask to lunch unless some one else had
failed you at the last moment; if you are supping at a
restaurant on New Year's Eve you are permitted and
expected to join hands and sing 'For Auld Lang Syne' with
strangers whom you have never seen before and never want
to see again. But no licence is allowed in the opposite
"Opposite direction; what opposite direction?"
queried Mrs. Thackenbury.
"There is no outlet for demonstrating your feelings
towards people whom you simply loathe. That is really
the crying need of our modern civilisation. Just think
how jolly it would be if a recognised day were set apart
for the paying off of old scores and grudges, a day when
one could lay oneself out to be gracefully vindictive to
a carefully treasured list of 'people who must not be let
off.' I remember when I was at a private school we had
one day, the last Monday of the term I think it was,
consecrated to the settlement of feuds and grudges; of
course we did not appreciate it as much as it deserved,
because, after all, any day of the term could be used for
that purpose. Still, if one had chastised a smaller boy
for being cheeky weeks before, one was always permitted
on that day to recall the episode to his memory by
chastising him again. That is what the French call
reconstructing the crime."
"I should call it reconstructing the punishment,"
said Mrs. Thackenbury; "and, anyhow, I don't see how you
could introduce a system of primitive schoolboy vengeance
into civilised adult life. We haven't outgrown our
passions, but we are supposed to have learned how to keep
them within strictly decorous limits."
"Of course the thing would have to be done furtively
and politely," said Clovis; "the charm of it would be
that it would never be perfunctory like the other thing.
Now, for instance, you say to yourself: 'I must show the
Webleys some attention at Christmas, they were kind to
dear Bertie at Bournemouth,' and you send them a
calendar, and daily for six days after Christmas the male
Webley asks the female Webley if she has remembered to
thank you for the calendar you sent them. Well,
transplant that idea to the other and more human side of
your nature, and say to yourself: 'Next Thursday is
Nemesis Day; what on earth can I do to those odious
people next door who made such an absurd fuss when Ping
Yang bit their youngest child?' Then you'd get up
awfully early on the allotted day and climb over into
their garden and dig for truffles on their tennis court
with a good gardening fork, choosing, of course, that
part of the court that was screened from observation by
the laurel bushes. You wouldn't find any truffles but
you would find a great peace, such as no amount of
present-giving could ever bestow."
"I shouldn't," said Mrs. Thackenbury, though her air
of protest sounded a bit forced; "I should feel rather a
worm for doing such a thing."
"You exaggerate the power of upheaval which a worm
would be able to bring into play in the limited time
available," said Clovis; "if you put in a strenuous ten
minutes with a really useful fork, the result ought to
suggest the operations of an unusually masterful mole or
a badger in a hurry."
"They might guess I had done it," said Mrs.
"Of course they would," said Clovis; "that would be
half the satisfaction of the thing, just as you like
people at Christmas to know what presents or cards you've
sent them. The thing would be much easier to manage, of
course, when you were on outwardly friendly terms with
the object of your dislike. That greedy little Agnes
Blaik, for instance, who thinks of nothing but her food,
it would be quite simple to ask her to a picnic in some
wild woodland spot and lose her just before lunch was
served; when you found her again every morsel of food
could have been eaten up."
"It would require no ordinary human strategy to lose
Agnes Blaik when luncheon was imminent: in fact, I don't
believe it could be done."
"Then have all the other guests, people whom you
dislike, and lose the luncheon. It could have been sent
by accident in the wrong direction."
"It would be a ghastly picnic," said Mrs.
"For them, but not for you," said Clovis; "you would
have had an early and comforting lunch before you
started, and you could improve the occasion by mentioning
in detail the items of the missing banquet - the lobster
Newburg and the egg mayonnaise, and the curry that was to
have been heated in a chafing-dish. Agnes Blaik would be
delirious long before you got to the list of wines, and
in the long interval of waiting, before they had quite
abandoned hope of the lunch turning up, you could induce
them to play silly games, such as that idiotic one of
'the Lord Mayor's dinner-party,' in which every one has
to choose the name of a dish and do something futile when
it is called out. In this case they would probably burst
into tears when their dish is mentioned. It would be a
heavenly picnic."
Mrs. Thackenbury was silent for a moment; she was
probably making a mental list of the people she would
like to invite to the Duke Humphrey picnic. Presently
she asked: "And that odious young man, Waldo Plubley, who
is always coddling himself - have you thought of anything
that one could do to him?" Evidently she was beginning
to see the possibilities of Nemesis Day.
"If there was anything like a general observance of
the festival," said Clovis, "Waldo would be in such
demand that you would have to bespeak him weeks
beforehand, and even then, if there were an east wind
blowing or a cloud or two in the sky he might be too
careful of his precious self to come out. It would be
rather jolly if you could lure him into a hammock in the
orchard, just near the spot where there is a wasps' nest
every summer. A comfortable hammock on a warm afternoon
would appeal to his indolent tastes, and then, when he
was getting drowsy, a lighted fusee thrown into the nest
would bring the wasps out in an indignant mass, and they
would soon find a 'home away from home' on Waldo's fat
body. It takes some doing to get out of a hammock in a
"They might sting him to death," protested Mrs.
"Waldo is one of those people who would be
enormously improved by death," said Clovis; "but if you
didn't want to go as far as that, you could have some wet
straw ready to hand, and set it alight under the hammock
at the same time that the fusee was thrown into the nest;
the smoke would keep all but the most militant of the
wasps just outside the stinging line, and as long as
Waldo remained within its protection he would escape
serious damage, and could be eventually restored to his
mother, kippered all over and swollen in places, but
still perfectly recognisable."
"His mother would be my enemy for life," said Mrs.
"That would be one greeting less to exchange at
Christmas," said Clovis.
IT was the season of sales. The august
establishment of Walpurgis and Nettlepink had lowered its
prices for an entire week as a concession to trade
observances, much as an Arch-duchess might protestingly
contract an attack of influenza for the unsatisfactory
reason that influenza was locally prevalent. Adela
Chemping, who considered herself in some measure superior
to the allurements of an ordinary bargain sale, made a
point of attending the reduction week at Walpurgis and
"I'm not a bargain hunter," she said, "but I like to
go where bargains are."
Which showed that beneath her surface strength of
character there flowed a gracious undercurrent of human
With a view to providing herself with a male escort
Mrs. Chemping had invited her youngest nephew to
accompany her on the first day of the shopping
expedition, throwing in the additional allurement of a
cinematograph theatre and the prospect of light
refreshment. As Cyprian was not yet eighteen she hoped
he might not have reached that stage in masculine
development when parcel-carrying is looked on as a thing
"Meet me just outside the floral department," she
wrote to him, "and don't be a moment later than eleven."
Cyprian was a boy who carried with him through early
life the wondering look of a dreamer, the eyes of one who
sees things that are not visible to ordinary mortals, and
invests the commonplace things of this world with
qualities unsuspected by plainer folk - the eyes of a
poet or a house agent. He was quietly dressed - that
sartorial quietude which frequently accompanies early
adolescence, and is usually attributed by novel-writers
to the influence of a widowed mother. His hair was
brushed back in a smoothness as of ribbon seaweed and
seamed with a narrow furrow that scarcely aimed at being
a parting. His aunt particularly noted this item of his
toilet when they met at the appointed rendezvous, because
he was standing waiting for her bare-headed.
"Where is your hat?" she asked.
"I didn't bring one with me," he replied.
Adela Chemping was slightly scandalised.
"You are not going to be what they call a Nut, are
you?" she inquired with some anxiety, partly with the
idea that a Nut would be an extravagance which her
sister's small household would scarcely be justified in
incurring, partly, perhaps, with the instinctive
apprehension that a Nut, even in its embryo stage, would
refuse to carry parcels.
Cyprian looked at her with his wondering, dreamy
"I didn't bring a hat," he said, "because it is such
a nuisance when one is shopping; I mean it is so awkward
if one meets anyone one knows and has to take one's hat
off when one's hands are full of parcels. If one hasn't
got a hat on one can't take it off."
Mrs. Chemping sighed with great relief; her worst
fear had been laid at rest.
"It is more orthodox to wear a hat," she observed,
and then turned her attention briskly to the business in
"We will go first to the table-linen counter," she
said, leading the way in that direction; "I should like
to look at some napkins."
The wondering look deepened in Cyprian's eyes as he
followed his aunt; he belonged to a generation that is
supposed to be over-fond of the role of mere spectator,
but looking at napkins that one did not mean to buy was a
pleasure beyond his comprehension. Mrs. Chemping held
one or two napkins up to the light and stared fixedly at
them, as though she half expected to find some
revolutionary cypher written on them in scarcely visible
ink; then she suddenly broke away in the direction of the
glassware department.
"Millicent asked me to get her a couple of decanters
if there were any going really cheap," she explained on
the way, "and I really do want a salad bowl. I can come
back to the napkins later on."
She handled and scrutinised a large number of
decanters and a long series of salad bowls, and finally
bought seven chrysanthemum vases.
"No one uses that kind of vase nowadays," she
informed Cyprian, "but they will do for presents next
Two sunshades that were marked down to a price that
Mrs. Chemping considered absurdly cheap were added to her
"One of them will do for Ruth Colson; she is going
out to the Malay States, and a sunshade will always be
useful there. And I must get her some thin writing
paper. It takes up no room in one's baggage."
Mrs. Chemping bought stacks of writing paper; it was
so cheap, and it went so flat in a trunk or portmanteau.
She also bought a few envelopes - envelopes somehow
seemed rather an extragavance compared with notepaper.
"Do you think Ruth will like blue or grey paper?"
she asked Cyprian.
"Grey," said Cyprian, who had never met the lady in
"Have you any mauve notepaper of this quality?"
Adela asked the assistant.
"We haven't any mauve," said the assistant, "but
we've two shades of green and a darker shade of grey."
Mrs. Chemping inspected the greens and the darker
grey, and chose the blue.
"Now we can have some lunch," she said.
Cyprian behaved in an exemplary fashion in the
refreshment department, and cheerfully accepted a fish
cake and a mince pie and a small cup of coffee as
adequate restoratives after two hours of concentrated
shopping. He was adamant, however, in resisting his
aunt's suggestion that a hat should be bought for him at
the counter where men's headwear was being disposed of at
temptingly reduced prices.
"I've got as many hats as I want at home," he said,
"and besides, it rumples one's hair so, trying them on."
Perhaps he was going to develop into a Nut after
all. It was a disquieting symptom that he left all the
parcels in charge of the cloak-room attendant.
"We shall be getting more parcels presently," he
said, "so we need not collect these till we have finished
our shopping."
His aunt was doubtfully appeased; some of the
pleasure and excitement of a shopping expedition seemed
to evaporate when one was deprived of immediate personal
contact with one's purchases.
"I'm going to look at those napkins again," she
said, as they descended the stairs to the ground floor.
"You need not come," she added, as the dreaming look in
the boy's eyes changed for a moment into one of mute
protest, "you can meet me afterwards in the cutlery
department; I've just remembered that I haven't a
corkscrew in the house that can be depended on."
Cyprian was not to be found in the cutlery
department when his aunt in due course arrived there, but
in the crush and bustle of anxious shoppers and busy
attendants it was an easy matter to miss anyone. It was
in the leather goods department some quarter of an hour
later that Adela Chemping caught sight of her nephew,
separated from her by a rampart of suit-cases and
portmanteaux and hemmed in by the jostling crush of human
beings that now invaded every corner of the great
shopping emporium. She was just in time to witness a
pardonable but rather embarrassing mistake on the part of
a lady who had wriggled her way with unstayable
determination towards the bareheaded Cyprian, and was now
breathlessly demanding the sale price of a handbag which
had taken her fancy.
"There now," exclaimed Adela to herself, "she takes
him for one of the shop assistants because he hasn't got
a hat on. I wonder it hasn't happened before."
Perhaps it had. Cyprian, at any rate, seemed
neither startled nor embarrassed by the error into which
the good lady had fallen. Examining the ticket on the
bag, he announced in a clear, dispassionate voice:
"Black seal, thirty-four shillings, marked down to
twenty-eight. As a matter of fact, we are clearing them
out at a special reduction price of twenty-six shillings.
They are going off rather fast."
"I'll take it," said the lady, eagerly digging some
coins out of her purse.
"Will you take it as it is?" asked Cyprian; "it will
be a matter of a few minutes to get it wrapped up, there
is such a crush."
"Never mind, I'll take it as it is," said the
purchaser, clutching her treasure and counting the money
into Cyprian's palm.
Several kind strangers helped Adela into the open
"It's the crush and the heat," said one sympathiser
to another; "it's enough to turn anyone giddy."
When she next came across Cyprian he was standing in
the crowd that pushed and jostled around the counters of
the book department. The dream look was deeper than ever
in his eyes. He had just sold two books of devotion to
an elderly Canon.
"I'VE just been to see old Betsy Mullen," announced
Vera to her aunt, Mrs. Bebberly Cumble; "she seems in
rather a bad way about her rent. She owes about fifteen
weeks of it, and says she doesn't know where any of it is
to come from."
"Betsy Mullen always is in difficulties with her
rent, and the more people help her with it the less she
troubles about it," said the aunt. "I certainly am not
going to assist her any more. The fact is, she will have
to go into a smaller and cheaper cottage; there are
several to be had at the other end of the village for
half the rent that she is paying, or supposed to be
paying, now. I told her a year ago that she ought to
"But she wouldn't get such a nice garden anywhere
else," protested Vera, "and there's such a jolly quince
tree in the corner. I don't suppose there's another
quince tree in the whole parish. And she never makes any
quince jam; I think to have a quince tree and not to make
quince jam shows such strength of character. Oh, she
can't possibly move away from that garden."
"When one is sixteen," said Mrs. Bebberly Cumble
severely, "one talks of things being impossible which are
merely uncongenial. It is not only possible but it is
desirable that Betsy Mullen should move into smaller
quarters; she has scarcely enough furniture to fill that
big cottage."
"As far as value goes," said Vera after a short
pause, "there is more in Betsy's cottage than in any
other house for miles round."
"Nonsense," said the aunt; "she parted with whatever
old china ware she had long ago."
"I'm not talking about anything that belongs to
Betsy herself," said Vera darkly; "but, of course, you
don't know what I know, and I don't suppose I ought to
tell you."
"You must tell me at once," exclaimed the aunt, her
senses leaping into alertness like those of a terrier
suddenly exchanging a bored drowsiness for the lively
anticipation of an immediate rat hunt.
"I'm perfectly certain that I oughtn't to tell you
anything about it," said Vera, "but, then, I often do
things that I oughtn't to do."
"I should be the last person to suggest that you
should do anything that you ought not to do to - " began
Mrs. Bebberly Cumble impressively.
"And I am always swayed by the last person who
speaks to me," admitted Vera, "so I'll do what I ought
not to do and tell you."
Mrs. Bebberley Cumble thrust a very pardonable sense
of exasperation into the background of her mind and
demanded impatiently:
"What is there in Betsy Mullen's cottage that you
are making such a fuss about?"
"It's hardly fair to say that I'VE made a fuss about
it," said Vera; "this is the first time I've mentioned
the matter, but there's been no end of trouble and
mystery and newspaper speculation about it. It's rather
amusing to think of the columns of conjecture in the
Press and the police and detectives hunting about
everywhere at home and abroad, and all the while that
innocent-looking little cottage has held the secret."
"You don't mean to say it's the Louvre picture, La
Something or other, the woman with the smile, that
disappeared about two years ago?" exclaimed the aunt with
rising excitement.
"Oh no, not that," said Vera, "but something quite
as important and just as mysterious - if anything, rather
more scandalous."
"Not the Dublin - ?"
Vera nodded.
"The whole jolly lot of them."
"In Betsy's cottage? Incredible!"
"Of course Betsy hasn't an idea as to what they
are," said Vera; "she just knows that they are something
valuable and that she must keep quiet about them. I
found out quite by accident what they were and how they
came to be there. You see, the people who had them were
at their wits' end to know where to stow them away for
safe keeping, and some one who was motoring through the
village was struck by the snug loneliness of the cottage
and thought it would be just the thing. Mrs. Lamper
arranged the matter with Betsy and smuggled the things
"Mrs. Lamper?"
"Yes; she does a lot of district visiting, you
"I am quite aware that she takes soup and flannel
and improving literature to the poorer cottagers," said
Mrs. Bebberly Cumble, "but that is hardly the same sort
of thing as disposing of stolen goods, and she must have
known something about their history; anyone who reads the
papers, even casually, must have been aware of the theft,
and I should think the things were not hard to recognise.
Mrs. Lamper has always had the reputation of being a very
conscientious woman."
"Of course she was screening some one else," said
Vera. "A remarkable feature of the affair is the
extraordinary number of quite respectable people who have
involved themselves in its meshes by trying to shield
others. You would be really astonished if you knew some
of the names of the individuals mixed up in it, and I
don't suppose a tithe of them know who the original
culprits were; and now I've got you entangled in the mess
by letting you into the secret of the cottage."
"You most certainly have not entangled me," said
Mrs. Bebberly Cumble indignantly. "I have no intention
of shielding anybody. The police must know about it at
once; a theft is a theft, whoever is involved. If
respectable people choose to turn themselves into
receivers and disposers of stolen goods, well, they've
ceased to be respectable, that's all. I shall telephone
immediately - "
"Oh, aunt," said Vera reproachfully, "it would break
the poor Canon's heart if Cuthbert were to be involved in
a scandal of this sort. You know it would."
"Cuthbert involved! How can you say such things
when you know how much we all think of him?"
"Of course I know you think a lot of him, and that
he's engaged to marry Beatrice, and that it will be a
frightfully good match, and that he's your ideal of what
a son-in-law ought to be. All the same, it was
Cuthbert's idea to stow the things away in the cottage,
and it was his motor that brought them. He was only
doing it to help his friend Pegginson, you know - the
Quaker man, who is always agitating for a smaller Navy.
I forget how he got involved in it. I warned you that
there were lots of quite respectable people mixed up in
it, didn't I? That's what I meant when I said it would
be impossible for old Betsy to leave the cottage; the
things take up a good bit of room, and she couldn't go
carrying them about with her other goods and chattels
without attracting notice. Of course if she were to fall
ill and die it would be equally unfortunate. Her mother
lived to be over ninety, she tells me, so with due care
and an absence of worry she ought to last for another
dozen years at least. By that time perhaps some other
arrangements will have been made for disposing of the
wretched things."
"I shall speak to Cuthbert about it - after the
wedding," said Mrs. Bebberly Cumble.
"The wedding isn't till next year," said Vera, in
recounting the story to her best girl friend, "and
meanwhile old Betsy is living rent free, with soup twice
a week and my aunt's doctor to see her whenever she has a
finger ache."
"But how on earth did you get to know about it all?"
asked her friend, in admiring wonder.
"It was a mystery - " said Vera.
"Of course it was a mystery, a mystery that baffled
everybody. What beats me is how you found out - "
"Oh, about the jewels? I invented that part,"
explained Vera; "I mean the mystery was where old Betsy's
arrears of rent were to come from; and she would have
hated leaving that jolly quince tree."
"IS matchmaking at all in your line?"
Hugo Peterby asked the question with a certain
amount of personal interest.
"I don't specialise in it," said Clovis; "it's all
right while you're doing it, but the after-effects are
sometimes so disconcerting - the mute reproachful looks
of the people you've aided and abetted in matrimonial
experiments. It's as bad as selling a man a horse with
half a dozen latent vices and watching him discover them
piecemeal in the course of the hunting season. I suppose
you're thinking of the Coulterneb girl. She's certainly
jolly, and quite all right as far as looks go, and I
believe a certain amount of money adheres to her. What I
don't see is how you will ever manage to propose to her.
In all the time I've known her I don't remember her to
have stopped talking for three consecutive minutes.
You'll have to race her six times round the grass paddock
for a bet, and then blurt your proposal out before she's
got her wind back. The paddock is laid up for hay, but
if you're really in love with her you won't let a
consideration of that sort stop you, especially as it's
not your hay."
"I think I could manage the proposing part right
enough," said Hugo, "if I could count on being left alone
with her for four or five hours. The trouble is that I'm
not likely to get anything like that amount of grace.
That fellow Lanner is showing signs of interesting
himself in the same quarter. He's quite heartbreakingly
rich and is rather a swell in his way; in fact, our
hostess is obviously a bit flattered at having him here.
If she gets wind of the fact that he's inclined to be
attracted by Betty Coulterneb she'll think it a splendid
match and throw them into each other's arms all day long,
and then where will my opportunities come in? My one
anxiety is to keep him out of the girl's way as much as
possible, and if you could help me - "
"If you want me to trot Lanner round the
countryside, inspecting alleged Roman remains and
studying local methods of bee culture and crop raising,
I'm afraid I can't oblige you," said Clovis. "You see,
he's taken something like an aversion to me since the
other night in the smoking-room."
"What happened in the smoking-room?"
"He trotted out some well-worn chestnut as the
latest thing in good stories, and I remarked, quite
innocently, that I never could remember whether it was
George II. or James II. who was so fond of that
particular story, and now he regards me with politelydraped
dislike. I'll do my best for you, if the
opportunity arises, but it will have to be in a
roundabout, impersonal manner."
* * * *
"It's so nice having Mr. Lanner here," confided Mrs.
Olston to Clovis the next afternoon; "he's always been
engaged when I've asked him before. Such a nice man; he
really ought to be married to some nice girl. Between
you and me, I have an idea that he came down here for a
certain reason."
"I've had much the same idea," said Clovis, lowering
his voice; "in fact, I'm almost certain of it."
"You mean he's attracted by - " began Mrs. Olston
"I mean he's here for what he can get," said Clovis.
"For what he can GET?" said the hostess with a touch
of indignation in her voice; "what do you mean? He's a
very rich man. What should he want to get here?"
"He has one ruling passion," said Clovis, "and
there's something he can get here that is not to be had
for love nor for money anywhere else in the country, as
far as I know."
"But what? Whatever do you mean? What is his
ruling passion?"
"Egg-collecting," said Clovis. "He has agents all
over the world getting rare eggs for him, and his
collection is one of the finest in Europe; but his great
ambition is to collect his treasures personally. He
stops at no expense nor trouble to achieve that end."
"Good heavens! The buzzards, the rough-legged
buzzards!" exclaimed Mrs. Olston; "you don't think he's
going to raid their nest?"
"What do you think yourself?" asked Clovis; "the
only pair of rough-legged buzzards known to breed in this
country are nesting in your woods. Very few people know
about them, but as a member of the league for protecting
rare birds that information would be at his disposal. I
came down in the train with him, and I noticed that a
bulky volume of Dresser's 'Birds of Europe' was one of
the requisites that he had packed in his travelling-kit.
It was the volume dealing with short-winged hawks and
Clovis believed that if a lie was worth telling it
was worth telling well.
"This is appalling," said Mrs. Olston; "my husband
would never forgive me if anything happened to those
birds. They've been seen about the woods for the last
year or two, but this is the first time they've nested.
As you say, they are almost the only pair known to be
breeding in the whole of Great Britain; and now their
nest is going to be harried by a guest staying under my
roof. I must do something to stop it. Do you think if I
appealed to him - "
Clovis laughed.
"There is a story going about, which I fancy is true
in most of its details, of something that happened not
long ago somewhere on the coast of the Sea of Marmora, in
which our friend had a hand. A Syrian nightjar, or some
such bird, was known to be breeding in the olive gardens
of a rich Armenian, who for some reason or other wouldn't
allow Lanner to go in and take the eggs, though he
offered cash down for the permission. The Armenian was
found beaten nearly to death a day or two later, and his
fences levelled. It was assumed to be a case of
Mussulman aggression, and noted as such in all the
Consular reports, but the eggs are in the Lanner
collection. No, I don't think I should appeal to his
better feelings if I were you."
"I must do something," said Mrs. Olston tearfully;
"my husband's parting words when he went off to Norway
were an injunction to see that those birds were not
disturbed, and he's asked about them every time he's
written. Do suggest something."
"I was going to suggest picketing," said Clovis.
"Picketing! You mean setting guards round the
"No; round Lanner. He can't find his way through
those woods by night, and you could arrange that you or
Evelyn or Jack or the German governess should be by his
side in relays all day long. A fellow guest he could get
rid of, but he couldn't very well shake off members of
the household, and even the most determined collector
would hardly go climbing after forbidden buzzards' eggs
with a German governess hanging round his neck, so to
Lanner, who had been lazily watching for an
opportunity for prosecuting his courtship of the
Coulterneb girl, found presently that his chances of
getting her to himself for ten minutes even were nonexistent.
If the girl was ever alone he never was. His
hostess had changed suddenly, as far as he was concerned,
from the desirable type that lets her guests do nothing
in the way that best pleases them, to the sort that drags
them over the ground like so many harrows. She showed
him the herb garden and the greenhouses, the village
church, some water-colour sketches that her sister had
done in Corsica, and the place where it was hoped that
celery would grow later in the year.
He was shown all the Aylesbury ducklings and the row
of wooden hives where there would have been bees if there
had not been bee disease. He was also taken to the end
of a long lane and shown a distant mound whereon local
tradition reported that the Danes had once pitched a
camp. And when his hostess had to desert him temporarily
for other duties he would find Evelyn walking solemnly by
his side. Evelyn was fourteen and talked chiefly about
good and evil, and of how much one might accomplish in
the way of regenerating the world if one was thoroughly
determined to do one's utmost. It was generally rather a
relief when she was displaced by Jack, who was nine years
old, and talked exclusively about the Balkan War without
throwing any fresh light on its political or military
history. The German governess told Lanner more about
Schiller than he had ever heard in his life about any one
person; it was perhaps his own fault for having told her
that he was not interested in Goethe. When the governess
went off picket duty the hostess was again on hand with a
not-to-be-gainsaid invitation to visit the cottage of an
old woman who remembered Charles James Fox; the woman had
been dead for two or three years, but the cottage was
still there. Lanner was called back to town earlier than
he had originally intended.
Hugo did not bring off his affair with Betty
Coulterneb. Whether she refused him or whether, as was
more generally supposed, he did not get a chance of
saying three consecutive words, has never been exactly
ascertained. Anyhow, she is still the jolly Coulterneb
The buzzards successfully reared two young ones,
which were shot by a local hairdresser.
"RONNIE is a great trial to me," said Mrs. Attray
plaintively. "Only eighteen years old last February and
already a confirmed gambler. I am sure I don't know
where he inherits it from; his father never touched
cards, and you know how little I play - a game of bridge
on Wednesday afternoons in the winter, for three-pence a
hundred, and even that I shouldn't do if it wasn't that
Edith always wants a fourth and would be certain to ask
that detestable Jenkinham woman if she couldn't get me.
I would much rather sit and talk any day than play
bridge; cards are such a waste of time, I think. But as
to Ronnie, bridge and baccarat and poker-patience are
positively all that he thinks about. Of course I've done
my best to stop it; I've asked the Norridrums not to let
him play cards when he's over there, but you might as
well ask the Atlantic Ocean to keep quiet for a crossing
as expect them to bother about a mother's natural
"Why do you let him go there?" asked Eleanor
"My dear," said Mrs. Attray, "I don't want to offend
them. After all, they are my landlords and I have to look
to them for anything I want done about the place; they
were very accommodating about the new roof for the orchid
house. And they lend me one of their cars when mine is
out of order; you know how often it gets out of order."
"I don't know how often," said Eleanor, "but it must
happen very frequently. Whenever I want you to take me
anywhere in your car I am always told that there is
something wrong with it, or else that the chauffeur has
got neuralgia and you don't like to ask him to go out."
"He suffers quite a lot from neuralgia," said Mrs.
Attray hastily. "Anyhow," she continued, "you can
understand that I don't want to offend the Norridrums.
Their household is the most rackety one in the county,
and I believe no one ever knows to an hour or two when
any particular meal will appear on the table or what it
will consist of when it does appear."
Eleanor Saxelby shuddered. She liked her meals to
be of regular occurrence and assured proportions.
"Still," pursued Mrs. Attray, "whatever their own
home life may be, as landlords and neighbours they are
considerate and obliging, so I don't want to quarrel with
them. Besides, if Ronnie didn't play cards there he'd be
playing somewhere else."
"Not if you were firm with him," said Eleanor "I
believe in being firm."
"Firm? I am firm," exclaimed Mrs. Attray; "I am
more than firm - I am farseeing. I've done everything I
can think of to prevent Ronnie from playing for money.
I've stopped his allowance for the rest of the year, so
he can't even gamble on credit, and I've subscribed a
lump sum to the church offertory in his name instead of
giving him instalments of small silver to put in the bag
on Sundays. I wouldn't even let him have the money to
tip the hunt servants with, but sent it by postal order.
He was furiously sulky about it, but I reminded him of
what happened to the ten shillings that I gave him for
the Young Men's Endeavour League 'Self-Denial Week.' "
"What did happen to it?" asked Eleanor.
"Well, Ronnie did some preliminary endeavouring with
it, on his own account, in connection with the Grand
National. If it had come off, as he expressed it, he
would have given the League twenty-five shillings and
netted a comfortable commission for himself; as it was,
that ten shillings was one of the things the League had
to deny itself. Since then I've been careful not to let
him have a penny piece in his hands."
"He'll get round that in some way," said Eleanor
with quiet conviction; "he'll sell things."
"My dear, he's done all that is to be done in that
direction already. He's got rid of his wrist-watch and
his hunting flask and both his cigarette cases, and I
shouldn't be surprised if he's wearing imitation-gold
sleeve links instead of those his Aunt Rhoda gave him on
his seventeenth birthday. He can't sell his clothes, of
course, except his winter overcoat, and I've locked that
up in the camphor cupboard on the pretext of preserving
it from moth. I really don't see what else he can raise
money on. I consider that I've been both firm and farseeing."
"Has he been at the Norridrums lately?" asked
"He was there yesterday afternoon and stayed to
dinner," said Mrs. Attray. "I don't quite know when he
came home, but I fancy it was late."
"Then depend on it he was gambling," said Eleanor,
with the assured air of one who has few ideas and makes
the most of them. " Late hours in the country always
mean gambling."
"He can't gamble if he has no money and no chance of
getting any," argued Mrs. Attray; "even if one plays for
small stakes one must have a decent prospect of paying
one's losses."
"He may have sold some of the Amherst pheasant
chicks," suggested Eleanor; "they would fetch about ten
or twelve shillings each, I daresay."
"Ronnie wouldn't do such a thing," said Mrs. Attray;
"and anyhow I went and counted them this morning and
they're all there. No," she continued, with the quiet
satisfaction that comes from a sense of painstaking and
merited achievement, "I fancy that Ronnie had to content
himself with the role of onlooker last night, as far as
the card-table was concerned."
"Is that clock right?" asked Eleanor, whose eyes had
been straying restlessly towards the mantel-piece for
some little time; "lunch is usually so punctual in your
"Three minutes past the half-hour," exclaimed Mrs.
Attray; "cook must be preparing something unusually
sumptuous in your honour. I am not in the secret; I've
been out all the morning, you know."
Eleanor smiled forgivingly. A special effort by
Mrs. Attray's cook was worth waiting a few minutes for.
As a matter of fact, the luncheon fare, when it made
its tardy appearance, was distinctly unworthy of the
reputation which the justly-treasured cook had built up
for herself. The soup alone would have sufficed to cast
a gloom over any meal that it had inaugurated, and it was
not redeemed by anything that followed. Eleanor said
little, but when she spoke there was a hint of tears in
her voice that was far more eloquent than outspoken
denunciation would have been, and even the insouciant
Ronald showed traces of depression when he tasted the
rognons Saltikoff.
"Not quite the best luncheon I've enjoyed in your
house," said Eleanor at last, when her final hope had
flickered out with the savoury.
"My dear, it's the worst meal I've sat down to for
years," said her hostess; "that last dish tasted
principally of red pepper and wet toast. I'm awfully
sorry. Is anything the matter in the kitchen, Pellin?"
she asked of the attendant maid.
"Well, ma'am, the new cook hadn't hardly time to see
to things properly, coming in so sudden - " commenced
Pellin by way of explanation.
"The new cook!" screamed Mrs. Attray.
"Colonel Norridrum's cook, ma'am," said Pellin.
"What on earth do you mean? What is Colonel
Norridrum's cook doing in my kitchen - and where is my
"Perhaps I can explain better than Pellin can," said
Ronald hurriedly; "the fact is, I was dining at the
Norridrums' yesterday, and they were wishing they had a
swell cook like yours, just for to-day and to-morrow,
while they've got some gourmet staying with them: their
own cook is no earthly good - well, you've seen what she
turns out when she's at all flurried. So I thought it
would be rather sporting to play them at baccarat for the
loan of our cook against a money stake, and I lost,
that's all. I have had rotten luck at baccarat all this
The remainder of his explanation, of how he had
assured the cooks that the temporary transfer had his
mother's sanction, and had smuggled the one out and the
other in during the maternal absence, was drowned in the
outcry of scandalised upbraiding.
"If I had sold the woman into slavery there couldn't
have been a bigger fuss about it," he confided afterwards
to Bertie Norridrum, "and Eleanor Saxelby raged and
ramped the louder of the two. I tell you what, I'll bet
you two of the Amherst pheasants to five shillings that
she refuses to have me as a partner at the croquet
tournament. We're drawn together, you know."
This time he won his bet.
MARION EGGELBY sat talking to Clovis on the only
subject that she ever willingly talked about - her
offspring and their varied perfections and
accomplishments. Clovis was not in what could be called a
receptive mood; the younger generation of Eggelby,
depicted in the glowing improbable colours of parent
impressionism, aroused in him no enthusiasm. Mrs.
Eggelby, on the other hand, was furnished with enthusiasm
enough for two.
"You would like Eric," she said, argumentatively
rather than hopefully. Clovis had intimated very
unmistakably that he was unlikely to care extravagantly
for either Amy or Willie. "Yes, I feel sure you would
like Eric. Every one takes to him at once. You know, he
always reminds me of that famous picture of the youthful
David - I forget who it's by, but it's very well known."
"That would be sufficient to set me against him, if
I saw much of him," said Clovis. "Just imagine at
auction bridge, for instance, when one was trying to
concentrate one's mind on what one's partner's original
declaration had been, and to remember what suits one's
opponents had originally discarded, what it would be like
to have some one persistently reminding one of a picture
of the youthful David. It would be simply maddening. If
Eric did that I should detest him."
"Eric doesn't play bridge," said Mrs. Eggelby with
"Doesn't he?" asked Clovis; "why not?"
"None of my children have been brought up to play
card games," said Mrs. Eggelby; "draughts and halma and
those sorts of games I encourage. Eric is considered
quite a wonderful draughts-player."
"You are strewing dreadful risks in the path of your
family," said Clovis; "a friend of mine who is a prison
chaplain told me that among the worst criminal cases that
have come under his notice, men condemned to death or to
long periods of penal servitude, there was not a single
bridge-player. On the other hand, he knew at least two
expert draughts-players among them."
"I really don't see what my boys have got to do with
the criminal classes," said Mrs. Eggelby resentfully.
"They have been most carefully brought up, I can assure
you that."
"That shows that you were nervous as to how they
would turn out," said Clovis. "Now, my mother never
bothered about bringing me up. She just saw to it that I
got whacked at decent intervals and was taught the
difference between right and wrong; there is some
difference, you know, but I've forgotten what it is."
"Forgotten the difference between right and wrong!"
exclaimed Mrs. Eggelby.
"Well, you see, I took up natural history and a
whole lot of other subjects at the same time, and one
can't remember everything, can one? I used to know the
difference between the Sardinian dormouse and the
ordinary kind, and whether the wry-neck arrives at our
shores earlier than the cuckoo, or the other way round,
and how long the walrus takes in growing to maturity; I
daresay you knew all those sorts of things once, but I
bet you've forgotten them."
"Those things are not important," said Mrs. Eggelby,
"but - "
"The fact that we've both forgotten them proves that
they are important," said Clovis; "you must have noticed
that it's always the important things that one forgets,
while the trivial, unnecessary facts of life stick in
one's memory. There's my cousin, Editha Clubberley, for
instance; I can never forget that her birthday is on the
12th of October. It's a matter of utter indifference to
me on what date her birthday falls, or whether she was
born at all; either fact seems to me absolutely trivial,
or unnecessary - I've heaps of other cousins to go on
with. On the other hand, when I'm staying with
Hildegarde Shrubley I can never remember the important
circumstance whether her first husband got his unenviable
reputation on the Turf or the Stock Exchange, and that
uncertainty rules Sport and Finance out of the
conversation at once. One can never mention travel,
either, because her second husband had to live
permanently abroad."
"Mrs. Shrubley and I move in very different
circles," said Mrs. Eggelby stiffly.
"No one who knows Hildegarde could possibly accuse
her of moving in a circle," said Clovis; "her view of
life seems to be a non-stop run with an inexhaustible
supply of petrol. If she can get some one else to pay
for the petrol so much the better. I don't mind
confessing to you that she has taught me more than any
other woman I can think of."
"What kind of knowledge?" demanded Mrs. Eggelby,
with the air a jury might collectively wear when finding
a verdict without leaving the box.
"Well, among other things, she's introduced me to at
least four different ways of cooking lobster," said
Clovis gratefully. "That, of course, wouldn't appeal to
you; people who abstain from the pleasures of the cardtable
never really appreciate the finer possibilities of
the dining-table. I suppose their powers of enlightened
enjoyment get atrophied from disuse."
"An aunt of mine was very ill after eating a
lobster," said Mrs. Eggelby.
"I daresay, if we knew more of her history, we
should find out that she'd often been ill before eating
the lobster. Aren't you concealing the fact that she'd
had measles and influenza and nervous headache and
hysteria, and other things that aunts do have, long
before she ate the lobster? Aunts that have never known
a day's illness are very rare; in fact, I don't
personally know of any. Of course if she ate it as a
child of two weeks old it might have been her first
illness - and her last. But if that was the case I think
you should have said so."
"I must be going," said Mrs. Eggelby, in a tone
which had been thoroughly sterilised of even perfunctory
Clovis rose with an air of graceful reluctance.
"I have so enjoyed our little talk about Eric," he
said; "I quite look forward to meeting him some day."
"Good-bye," said Mrs. Eggelby frostily; the
supplementary remark which she made at the back of her
throat was -
"I'll take care that you never shall!"
KENELM JERTON entered the dining-hall of the Golden
Galleon Hotel in the full crush of the luncheon hour.
Nearly every seat was occupied, and small additional
tables had been brought in, where floor space permitted,
to accommodate latecomers, with the result that many of
the tables were almost touching each other. Jerton was
beckoned by a waiter to the only vacant table that was
discernible, and took his seat with the uncomfortable and
wholly groundless idea that nearly every one in the room
was staring at him. He was a youngish man of ordinary
appearance, quiet of dress and unobtrusive of manner, and
he could never wholly rid himself of the idea that a
fierce light of public scrutiny beat on him as though he
had been a notability or a super-nut. After he had
ordered his lunch there came the unavoidable interval of
waiting, with nothing to do but to stare at the flowervase
on his table and to be stared at (in imagination) by
several flappers, some maturer beings of the same sex,
and a satirical-looking Jew. In order to carry off the
situation with some appearance of unconcern he became
spuriously interested in the contents of the flower-vase.
"What is the name of these roses, d'you know?" he
asked the waiter. The waiter was ready at all times to
conceal his ignorance concerning items of the wine-list
or menu; he was frankly ignorant as to the specific name
of the roses.
"AMY SYLVESTER PARTINGLON," said a voice at Jerton's
The voice came from a pleasant-faced, well-dressed
young woman who was sitting at a table that almost
touched Jerton's. He thanked her hurriedly and nervously
for the information, and made some inconsequent remark
about the flowers.
"It is a curious thing," said the young woman, that,
"I should be able to tell you the name of those roses
without an effort of memory, because if you were to ask
me my name I should be utterly unable to give it to you."
Jerton had not harboured the least intention of
extending his thirst for name-labels to his neighbour.
After her rather remarkable announcement, however, he was
obliged to say something in the way of polite inquiry.
"Yes," answered the lady, "I suppose it is a case of
partial loss of memory. I was in the train coming down
here; my ticket told me that I had come from Victoria and
was bound for this place. I had a couple of five-pound
notes and a sovereign on me, no visiting cards or any
other means of identification, and no idea as to who I
am. I can only hazily recollect that I have a title; I
am Lady Somebody - beyond that my mind is a blank."
"Hadn't you any luggage with you?" asked Jerton.
"That is what I didn't know. I knew the name of
this hotel and made up my mind to come here, and when the
hotel porter who meets the trains asked if I had any
luggage I had to invent a dressing-bag and dress-basket;
I could always pretend that they had gone astray. I gave
him the name of Smith, and presently he emerged from a
confused pile of luggage and passengers with a dressingbag
and dress-basket labelled Kestrel-Smith. I had to
take them; I don't see what else I could have done."
Jerton said nothing, but he rather wondered what the
lawful owner of the baggage would do.
"Of course it was dreadful arriving at a strange
hotel with the name of Kestrel-Smith, but it would have
been worse to have arrived without luggage. Anyhow, I
hate causing trouble."
Jerton had visions of harassed railway officials and
distraught Kestrel-Smiths, but he made no attempt to
clothe his mental picture in words. The lady continued
her story.
"Naturally, none of my keys would fit the things,
but I told an intelligent page boy that I had lost my
key-ring, and he had the locks forced in a twinkling.
Rather too intelligent, that boy; he will probably end in
Dartmoor. The Kestrel-Smith toilet tools aren't up to
much, but they are better than nothing."
"If you feel sure that you have a title," said
Jerton, " why not get hold of a peerage and go right
through it?"
"I tried that. I skimmed through the list of the
House of Lords in 'Whitaker,' but a mere printed string
of names conveys awfully little to one, you know. If you
were an army officer and had lost your identity you might
pore over the Army List for months without finding out
who your were. I'm going on another tack; I'm trying to
find out by various little tests who I am NOT - that will
narrow the range of uncertainty down a bit. You may have
noticed, for instance, that I'm lunching principally off
lobster Newburg."
Jerton had not ventured to notice anything of the
"It's an extravagance, because it's one of the most
expensive dishes on the menu, but at any rate it proves
that I'm not Lady Starping; she never touches shell-fish,
and poor Lady Braddleshrub has no digestion at all; if I
am HER I shall certainly die in agony in the course of
the afternoon, and the duty of finding out who I am will
devolve on the press and the police and those sort of
people; I shall be past caring. Lady Knewford doesn't
know one rose from another and she hates men, so she
wouldn't have spoken to you in any case; and Lady
Mousehilton flirts with every man she meets - I haven't
flirted with you, have I?"
Jerton hastily gave the required assurance.
"Well, you see," continued the lady, "that knocks
four off the list at once."
"It'll be rather a lengthy process bringing the list
down to one," said Jerton.
"Oh, but, of course, there are heaps of them that I
couldn't possibly be - women who've got grandchildren or
sons old enough to have celebrated their coming of age.
I've only got to consider the ones about my own age. I
tell you how you might help me this afternoon, if you
don't mind; go through any of the back numbers of COUNTRY
LIFE and those sort of papers that you can find in the
smoking-room, and see if you come across my portrait with
infant son or anything of that sort. It won't take you
ten minutes. I'll meet you in the lounge about tea-time.
Thanks awfully."
And the Fair Unknown, having graciously pressed
Jerton into the search for her lost identity, rose and
left the room. As she passed the young man's table she
halted for a moment and whispered:
"Did you notice that I tipped the waiter a shilling?
We can cross Lady Ulwight off the list; she would have
died rather than do that."
At five o'clock Jerton made his way to the hotel
lounge; he had spent a diligent but fruitless quarter of
an hour among the illustrated weeklies in the smokingroom.
His new acquaintance was seated at a small teatable,
with a waiter hovering in attendance.
"China tea or Indian?" she asked as Jerton came up.
"China, please, and nothing to eat. Have you
discovered anything?"
"Only negative information. I'm not Lady Befnal.
She disapproves dreadfully of any form of gambling, so
when I recognised a well-known book maker in the hotel
lobby I went and put a tenner on an unnamed filly by
William the Third out of Mitrovitza for the three-fifteen
race. I suppose the fact of the animal being nameless
was what attracted me."
Did it win?" asked Jerton.
"No, came in fourth, the most irritating thing a
horse can do when you've backed it win or place. Anyhow,
I know now that I'm not Lady Befnal."
"It seems to me that the knowledge was rather dearly
bought," commented Jerton.
"Well, yes, it has rather cleared me out," admitted
the identity-seeker; "a florin is about all I've got left
on me. The lobster Newburg made my lunch rather an
expensive one, and, of course, I had to tip that boy for
what he did to the Kestrel-Smith locks. I've got rather
a useful idea, though. I feel certain that I belong to
the Pivot Club; I'll go back to town and ask the hall
porter there if there are any letters for me. He knows
all the members by sight, and if there are any letters or
telephone messages waiting for me of course that will
solve the problem. If he says there aren't any I shall
say: 'You know who I am, don't you?' so I'll find out
The plan seemed a sound one; a difficulty in its
execution suggested itself to Jerton.
"Of course," said the lady, when he hinted at the
obstacle, "there's my fare back to town, and my bill here
and cabs and things. If you'll lend me three pounds that
ought to see me through comfortably. Thanks ever so.
Then there is the question of that luggage: I don't want
to be saddled with that for the rest of my life. I'll
have it brought down to the hall and you can pretend to
mount guard over it while I'm writing a letter. Then I
shall just slip away to the station, and you can wander
off to the smoking-room, and they can do what they like
with the things. They'll advertise them after a bit and
the owner can claim them."
Jerton acquiesced in the manoeuvre, and duly mounted
guard over the luggage while its temporary owner slipped
unobtrusively out of the hotel. Her departure was not,
however, altogether unnoticed. Two gentlemen were
strolling past Jerton, and one of them remarked to the
"Did you see that tall young woman in grey who went
out just now? She is the Lady - "
His promenade carried him out of earshot at the
critical moment when he was about to disclose the elusive
identity. The Lady Who? Jerton could scarcely run after
a total stranger, break into his conversation, and ask
him for information concerning a chance passer-by.
Besides, it was desirable that he should keep up the
appearance of looking after the luggage. In a minute or
two, however, the important personage, the man who knew,
came strolling back alone. Jerton summoned up all his
courage and waylaid him.
"I think I heard you say you knew the lady who went
out of the hotel a few minutes ago, a tall lady, dressed
in grey. Excuse me for asking if you could tell me her
name; I've been talking to her for half an hour; she - er
- she knows all my people and seems to know me, so I
suppose I've met her somewhere before, but I'm blest if I
can put a name to her. Could you - ?"
"Certainly. She's a Mrs. Stroope."
"MRS.?" queried Jerton.
"Yes, she's the Lady Champion at golf in my part of
the world. An awful good sort, and goes about a good
deal in Society, but she has an awkward habit of losing
her memory every now and then, and gets into all sorts of
fixes. She's furious, too, if you make any allusion to
it afterwards. Good day, sir."
The stranger passed on his way, and before Jerton
had had time to assimilate his information he found his
whole attention centred on an angry-looking lady who was
making loud and fretful-seeming inquiries of the hotel
"Has any luggage been brought here from the station
by mistake, a dress-basket and dressing-case, with the
name Kestrel-Smith? It can't be traced anywhere. I saw
it put in at Victoria, that I'll swear. Why - there is
my luggage! and the locks have been tampered with!"
Jerton heard no more. He fled down to the Turkish
bath, and stayed there for hours.
THEOPHIL ESHLEY was an artist by profession, a
cattle painter by force of environment. It is not to be
supposed that he lived on a ranche or a dairy farm, in an
atmosphere pervaded with horn and hoof, milking-stool,
and branding-iron. His home was in a park-like, villadotted
district that only just escaped the reproach of
being suburban. On one side of his garden there abutted
a small, picturesque meadow, in which an enterprising
neighbour pastured some small picturesque cows of the
Channel Island persuasion. At noonday in summertime the
cows stood knee-deep in tall meadow-grass under the shade
of a group of walnut trees, with the sunlight falling in
dappled patches on their mouse-sleek coats. Eshley had
conceived and executed a dainty picture of two reposeful
milch-cows in a setting of walnut tree and meadow-grass
and filtered sunbeam, and the Royal Academy had duly
exposed the same on the walls of its Summer Exhibition.
The Royal Academy encourages orderly, methodical habits
in its children. Eshley had painted a successful and
acceptable picture of cattle drowsing picturesquely under
walnut trees, and as he had begun, so, of necessity, he
went on. His "Noontide Peace," a study of two dun cows
under a walnut tree, was followed by "A Mid-day
Sanctuary," a study of a walnut tree, with two dun cows
under it. In due succession there came "Where the Gad-
Flies Cease from Troubling," "The Haven of the Herd," and
"A-dream in Dairyland," studies of walnut trees and dun
cows. His two attempts to break away from his own
tradition were signal failures: "Turtle Doves alarmed by
Sparrow-hawk" and "Wolves on the Roman Campagna" came
back to his studio in the guise of abominable heresies,
and Eshley climbed back into grace and the public gaze
with "A Shaded Nook where Drowsy Milkers Dream."
On a fine afternoon in late autumn he was putting
some finishing touches to a study of meadow weeds when
his neighbour, Adela Pingsford, assailed the outer door
of his studio with loud peremptory knockings.
"There is an ox in my garden," she announced, in
explanation of the tempestuous intrusion.
"An ox," said Eshley blankly, and rather fatuously;
"what kind of ox?"
"Oh, I don't know what kind," snapped the lady. "A
common or garden ox, to use the slang expression. It is
the garden part of it that I object to. My garden has
just been put straight for the winter, and an ox roaming
about in it won't improve matters. Besides, there are
the chrysanthemums just coming into flower."
"How did it get into the garden?" asked Eshley.
"I imagine it came in by the gate," said the lady
impatiently; "it couldn't have climbed the walls, and I
don't suppose anyone dropped it from an aeroplane as a
Bovril advertisement. The immediately important question
is not how it got in, but how to get it out."
"Won't it go?" said Eshley.
"If it was anxious to go," said Adela Pingsford
rather angrily, "I should not have come here to chat with
you about it. I'm practically all alone; the housemaid
is having her afternoon out and the cook is lying down
with an attack of neuralgia. Anything that I may have
learned at school or in after life about how to remove a
large ox from a small garden seems to have escaped from
my memory now. All I could think of was that you were a
near neighbour and a cattle painter, presumably more or
less familiar with the subjects that you painted, and
that you might be of some slight assistance. Possibly I
was mistaken."
"I paint dairy cows, certainly," admitted Eshley,
"but I cannot claim to have had any experience in
rounding-up stray oxen. I've seen it done on a cinema
film, of course, but there were always horses and lots of
other accessories; besides, one never knows how much of
those pictures are faked."
Adela Pingsford said nothing, but led the way to her
garden. It was normally a fair-sized garden, but it
looked small in comparison with the ox, a huge mottled
brute, dull red about the head and shoulders, passing to
dirty white on the flanks and hind-quarters, with shaggy
ears and large blood-shot eyes. It bore about as much
resemblance to the dainty paddock heifers that Eshley was
accustomed to paint as the chief of a Kurdish nomad clan
would to a Japanese tea-shop girl. Eshley stood very
near the gate while he studied the animal's appearance
and demeanour. Adela Pingsford continued to say nothing.
"It's eating a chrysanthemum," said Eshley at last,
when the silence had become unbearable.
"How observant you are," said Adela bitterly. "You
seem to notice everything. As a matter of fact, it has
got six chrysanthemums in its mouth at the present
The necessity for doing something was becoming
imperative. Eshley took a step or two in the direction
of the animal, clapped his hands, and made noises of the
"Hish" and "Shoo" variety. If the ox heard them it gave
no outward indication of the fact.
"If any hens should ever stray into my garden," said
Adela, "I should certainly send for you to frighten them
out. You 'shoo' beautifully. Meanwhile, do you mind
trying to drive that ox away? That is a MADEMOISELLE
LOUISE BICHOT that he's begun on now," she added in icy
calm, as a glowing orange head was crushed into the huge
munching mouth.
"Since you have been so frank about the variety of
the chrysanthemum," said Eshley, "I don't mind telling
you that this is an Ayrshire ox."
The icy calm broke down; Adela Pingsford used
language that sent the artist instinctively a few feet
nearer to the ox. He picked up a pea-stick and flung it
with some determination against the animal's mottled
flanks. The operation of mashing MADEMOISELLE LOUISE
BICHOT into a petal salad was suspended for a long
moment, while the ox gazed with concentrated inquiry at
the stick-thrower. Adela gazed with equal concentration
and more obvious hostility at the same focus. As the
beast neither lowered its head nor stamped its feet
Eshley ventured on another javelin exercise with another
pea-stick. The ox seemed to realise at once that it was
to go; it gave a hurried final pluck at the bed where the
chrysanthemums had been, and strode swiftly up the
garden. Eshley ran to head it towards the gate, but only
succeeded in quickening its pace from a walk to a
lumbering trot. With an air of inquiry, but with no real
hesitation, it crossed the tiny strip of turf that the
charitable called the croquet lawn, and pushed its way
through the open French window into the morning-room.
Some chrysanthemums and other autumn herbage stood about
the room in vases, and the animal resumed its browsing
operations; all the same, Eshley fancied that the
beginnings of a hunted look had come into its eyes, a
look that counselled respect. He discontinued his
attempt to interfere with its choice of surroundings.
"Mr. Eshley," said Adela in a shaking voice, "I
asked you to drive that beast out of my garden, but I did
not ask you to drive it into my house. If I must have it
anywhere on the premises I prefer the garden to the
"Cattle drives are not in my line," said Eshley; "if
I remember I told you so at the outset." "I quite
agree," retorted the lady, "painting pretty pictures of
pretty little cows is what you're suited for. Perhaps
you'd like to do a nice sketch of that ox making itself
at home in my morning-room?"
This time it seemed as if the worm had turned;
Eshley began striding away.
"Where are you going?" screamed Adela.
"To fetch implements," was the answer.
"Implements? I won't have you use a lasso. The
room will be wrecked if there's a struggle."
But the artist marched out of the garden. In a
couple of minutes he returned, laden with easel,
sketching-stool, and painting materials.
"Do you mean to say that you're going to sit quietly
down and paint that brute while it's destroying my
morning-room?" gasped Adela.
"It was your suggestion," said Eshley, setting his
canvas in position.
"I forbid it; I absolutely forbid it!" stormed
"I don't see what standing you have in the matter,"
said the artist; "you can hardly pretend that it's your
ox, even by adoption."
"You seem to forget that it's in my morning-room,
eating my flowers," came the raging retort.
"You seem to forget that the cook has neuralgia,"
said Eshley; "she may be just dozing off into a merciful
sleep and your outcry will waken her. Consideration for
others should be the guiding principle of people in our
station of life."
"The man is mad!" exclaimed Adela tragically. A
moment later it was Adela herself who appeared to go mad.
The ox had finished the vase-flowers and the cover of
"Israel Kalisch," and appeared to be thinking of leaving
its rather restricted quarters. Eshley noticed its
restlessness and promptly flung it some bunches of
Virginia creeper leaves as an inducement to continue the
"I forget how the proverb runs," he observed; of
something about 'better a dinner of herbs than a stalled
ox where hate is.' We seem to have all the ingredients
for the proverb ready to hand."
"I shall go to the Public Library and get them to
telephone for the police," announced Adela, and, raging
audibly, she departed.
Some minutes later the ox, awakening probably to the
suspicion that oil cake and chopped mangold was waiting
for it in some appointed byre, stepped with much
precaution out of the morning-room, stared with grave
inquiry at the no longer obtrusive and pea-stick-throwing
human, and then lumbered heavily but swiftly out of the
garden. Eshley packed up his tools and followed the
animal's example and "Larkdene" was left to neuralgia and
the cook.
The episode was the turning-point in Eshley's
artistic career. His remarkable picture, "Ox in a
morning-room, late autumn," was one of the sensations and
successes of the next Paris Salon, and when it was
subsequently exhibited at Munich it was bought by the
Bavarian Government, in the teeth of the spirited bidding
of three meat-extract firms. From that moment his
success was continuous and assured, and the Royal Academy
was thankful, two years later, to give a conspicuous
position on its walls to his large canvas "Barbary Apes
Wrecking a Boudoir."
Eshley presented Adela Pingsford with a new copy of
"Israel Kalisch," and a couple of finely flowering plants
of MADAME ADNRE BLUSSET, but nothing in the nature of a
real reconciliation has taken place between them.
IT was a hot afternoon, and the railway carriage was
correspondingly sultry, and the next stop was at
Templecombe, nearly an hour ahead. The occupants of the
carriage were a small girl, and a smaller girl, and a
small boy. An aunt belonging to the children occupied
one corner seat, and the further corner seat on the
opposite side was occupied by a bachelor who was a
stranger to their party, but the small girls and the
small boy emphatically occupied the compartment. Both
the aunt and the children were conversational in a
limited, persistent way, reminding one of the attentions
of a housefly that refuses to be discouraged. Most of
the aunt's remarks seemed to begin with "Don't," and
nearly all of the children's remarks began with "Why?"
The bachelor said nothing out loud. "Don't, Cyril,
don't," exclaimed the aunt, as the small boy began
smacking the cushions of the seat, producing a cloud of
dust at each blow.
"Come and look out of the window," she added.
The child moved reluctantly to the window. "Why are
those sheep being driven out of that field?" he asked.
"I expect they are being driven to another field
where there is more grass," said the aunt weakly.
"But there is lots of grass in that field,"
protested the boy; "there's nothing else but grass there.
Aunt, there's lots of grass in that field."
"Perhaps the grass in the other field is better,"
suggested the aunt fatuously.
"Why is it better?" came the swift, inevitable
"Oh, look at those cows!" exclaimed the aunt.
Nearly every field along the line had contained cows or
bullocks, but she spoke as though she were drawing
attention to a rarity.
"Why is the grass in the other field better?"
persisted Cyril.
The frown on the bachelor's face was deepening to a
scowl. He was a hard, unsympathetic man, the aunt
decided in her mind. She was utterly unable to come to
any satisfactory decision about the grass in the other
The smaller girl created a diversion by beginning to
recite "On the Road to Mandalay." She only knew the
first line, but she put her limited knowledge to the
fullest possible use. She repeated the line over and
over again in a dreamy but resolute and very audible
voice; it seemed to the bachelor as though some one had
had a bet with her that she could not repeat the line
aloud two thousand times without stopping. Whoever it
was who had made the wager was likely to lose his bet.
"Come over here and listen to a story," said the
aunt, when the bachelor had looked twice at her and once
at the communication cord.
The children moved listlessly towards the aunt's end
of the carriage. Evidently her reputation as a storyteller
did not rank high in their estimation.
In a low, confidential voice, interrupted at
frequent intervals by loud, petulant questionings from
her listeners, she began an unenterprising and deplorably
uninteresting story about a little girl who was good, and
made friends with every one on account of her goodness,
and was finally saved from a mad bull by a number of
rescuers who admired her moral character.
"Wouldn't they have saved her if she hadn't been
good?" demanded the bigger of the small girls. It was
exactly the question that the bachelor had wanted to ask.
"Well, yes," admitted the aunt lamely, "but I don't
think they would have run quite so fast to her help if
they had not liked her so much."
"It's the stupidest story I've ever heard," said the
bigger of the small girls, with immense conviction.
"I didn't listen after the first bit, it was so
stupid," said Cyril.
The smaller girl made no actual comment on the
story, but she had long ago recommenced a murmured
repetition of her favourite line.
"You don't seem to be a success as a story-teller,"
said the bachelor suddenly from his corner.
The aunt bristled in instant defence at this
unexpected attack.
"It's a very difficult thing to tell stories that
children can both understand and appreciate," she said
"I don't agree with you," said the bachelor.
"Perhaps you would like to tell them a story," was
the aunt's retort.
"Tell us a story," demanded the bigger of the small
"Once upon a time," began the bachelor, "there was a
little girl called Bertha, who was extra-ordinarily
The children's momentarily-aroused interest began at
once to flicker; all stories seemed dreadfully alike, no
matter who told them.
"She did all that she was told, she was always
truthful, she kept her clothes clean, ate milk puddings
as though they were jam tarts, learned her lessons
perfectly, and was polite in her manners."
"Was she pretty?" asked the bigger of the small
"Not as pretty as any of you," said the bachelor,
"but she was horribly good."
There was a wave of reaction in favour of the story;
the word horrible in connection with goodness was a
novelty that commended itself. It seemed to introduce a
ring of truth that was absent from the aunt's tales of
infant life.
"She was so good," continued the bachelor, "that she
won several medals for goodness, which she always wore,
pinned on to her dress. There was a medal for obedience,
another medal for punctuality, and a third for good
behaviour. They were large metal medals and they clicked
against one another as she walked. No other child in the
town where she lived had as many as three medals, so
everybody knew that she must be an extra good child."
"Horribly good," quoted Cyril.
"Everybody talked about her goodness, and the Prince
of the country got to hear about it, and he said that as
she was so very good she might be allowed once a week to
walk in his park, which was just outside the town. It
was a beautiful park, and no children were ever allowed
in it, so it was a great honour for Bertha to be allowed
to go there."
"Were there any sheep in the park?" demanded Cyril.
"No;" said the bachelor, "there were no sheep."
"Why weren't there any sheep?" came the inevitable
question arising out of that answer.
The aunt permitted herself a smile, which might
almost have been described as a grin.
"There were no sheep in the park," said the
bachelor, "because the Prince's mother had once had a
dream that her son would either be killed by a sheep or
else by a clock falling on him. For that reason the
Prince never kept a sheep in his park or a clock in his
The aunt suppressed a gasp of admiration.
"Was the Prince killed by a sheep or by a clock?"
asked Cyril.
"He is still alive, so we can't tell whether the
dream will come true," said the bachelor unconcernedly;
"anyway, there were no sheep in the park, but there were
lots of little pigs running all over the place."
"What colour were they?"
"Black with white faces, white with black spots,
black all over, grey with white patches, and some were
white all over."
The storyteller paused to let a full idea of the
park's treasures sink into the children's imaginations;
then he resumed:
"Bertha was rather sorry to find that there were no
flowers in the park. She had promised her aunts, with
tears in her eyes, that she would not pick any of the
kind Prince's flowers, and she had meant to keep her
promise, so of course it made her feel silly to find that
there were no flowers to pick."
"Why weren't there any flowers?"
"Because the pigs had eaten them all," said the
bachelor promptly. "The gardeners had told the Prince
that you couldn't have pigs and flowers, so he decided to
have pigs and no flowers."
There was a murmur of approval at the excellence of
the Prince's decision; so many people would have decided
the other way.
"There were lots of other delightful things in the
park. There were ponds with gold and blue and green fish
in them, and trees with beautiful parrots that said
clever things at a moment's notice, and humming birds
that hummed all the popular tunes of the day. Bertha
walked up and down and enjoyed herself immensely, and
thought to herself: 'If I were not so extraordinarily
good I should not have been allowed to come into this
beautiful park and enjoy all that there is to be seen in
it,' and her three medals clinked against one another as
she walked and helped to remind her how very good she
really was. Just then an enormous wolf came prowling
into the park to see if it could catch a fat little pig
for its supper."
"What colour was it?" asked the children, amid an
immediate quickening of interest.
"Mud-colour all over, with a black tongue and pale
grey eyes that gleamed with unspeakable ferocity. The
first thing that it saw in the park was Bertha; her
pinafore was so spotlessly white and clean that it could
be seen from a great distance. Bertha saw the wolf and
saw that it was stealing towards her, and she began to
wish that she had never been allowed to come into the
park. She ran as hard as she could, and the wolf came
after her with huge leaps and bounds. She managed to
reach a shrubbery of myrtle bushes and she hid herself in
one of the thickest of the bushes. The wolf came
sniffing among the branches, its black tongue lolling out
of its mouth and its pale grey eyes glaring with rage.
Bertha was terribly frightened, and thought to herself:
'If I had not been so extraordinarily good I should have
been safe in the town at this moment.' However, the
scent of the myrtle was so strong that the wolf could not
sniff out where Bertha was hiding, and the bushes were so
thick that he might have hunted about in them for a long
time without catching sight of her, so he thought he
might as well go off and catch a little pig instead.
Bertha was trembling very much at having the wolf
prowling and sniffing so near her, and as she trembled
the medal for obedience clinked against the medals for
good conduct and punctuality. The wolf was just moving
away when he heard the sound of the medals clinking and
stopped to listen; they clinked again in a bush quite
near him. He dashed into the bush, his pale grey eyes
gleaming with ferocity and triumph, and dragged Bertha
out and devoured her to the last morsel. All that was
left of her were her shoes, bits of clothing, and the
three medals for goodness."
"Were any of the little pigs killed?"
"No, they all escaped."
"The story began badly," said the smaller of the
small girls, "but it had a beautiful ending."
"It is the most beautiful story that I ever heard,"
said the bigger of the small girls, with immense
"It is the ONLY beautiful story I have ever heard,"
said Cyril.
A dissentient opinion came from the aunt.
"A most improper story to tell to young children!
You have undermined the effect of years of careful
"At any rate," said the bachelor, collecting his
belongings preparatory to leaving the carriage, "I kept
them quiet for ten minutes, which was more than you were
able to do."
"Unhappy woman!" he observed to himself as he walked
down the platform of Templecombe station; "for the next
six months or so those children will assail her in public
with demands for an improper story!"
TREDDLEFORD sat in an easeful arm-chair in front of
a slumberous fire, with a volume of verse in his hand and
the comfortable consciousness that outside the club
windows the rain was dripping and pattering with
persistent purpose. A chill, wet October afternoon was
merging into a bleak, wet October evening, and the club
smoking-room seemed warmer and cosier by contrast. It
was an afternoon on which to be wafted away from one's
climatic surroundings, and "The Golden journey to
Samarkand" promised to bear Treddleford well and bravely
into other lands and under other skies. He had already
migrated from London the rain-swept to Bagdad the
Beautiful, and stood by the Sun Gate "in the olden time"
when an icy breath of imminent annoyance seemed to creep
between the book and himself. Amblecope, the man with
the restless, prominent eyes and the mouth ready
mobilised for conversational openings, had planted
himself in a neighbouring arm-chair. For a twelvemonth
and some odd weeks Treddleford had skilfully avoided
making the acquaintance of his voluble fellow-clubman; he
had marvellously escaped from the infliction of his
relentless record of tedious personal achievements, or
alleged achievements, on golf links, turf, and gaming
table, by flood and field and covert-side. Now his
season of immunity was coming to an end. There was no
escape; in another moment he would be numbered among
those who knew Amblecope to speak to - or rather, to
suffer being spoken to.
The intruder was armed with a copy of COUNTRY LIFE,
not for purposes of reading, but as an aid to
conversational ice-breaking.
"Rather a good portrait of Throstlewing," he
remarked explosively, turning his large challenging eyes
on Treddleford; "somehow it reminds me very much of
Yellowstep, who was supposed to be such a good thing for
the Grand Prix in 1903. Curious race that was; I suppose
I've seen every race for the Grand Prix for the last - "
"Be kind enough never to mention the Grand Prix in
my hearing," said Treddleford desperately; "it awakens
acutely distressing memories. I can't explain why
without going into a long and complicated story."
"Oh, certainly, certainly," said Amblecope hastily;
long and complicated stories that were not told by
himself were abominable in his eyes. He turned the pages
of COUNTRY LIFE and became spuriously interested in the
picture of a Mongolian pheasant.
"Not a bad representation of the Mongolian variety,"
he exclaimed, holding it up for his neighbour's
inspection. "They do very well in some covers. Take
some stopping too, once they're fairly on the wing. I
suppose the biggest bag I ever made in two successive
days - "
"My aunt, who owns the greater part of
Lincolnshire," broke in Treddleford, with dramatic
abruptness, "possesses perhaps the most remarkable record
in the way of a pheasant bag that has ever been achieved.
She is seventy-five and can't hit a thing, but she always
goes out with the guns. When I say she can't hit a
thing, I don't mean to say that she doesn't occasionally
endanger the lives of her fellow-guns, because that
wouldn't be true. In fact, the chief Government Whip
won't allow Ministerial M.P.'s to go out with her; 'We
don't want to incur by-elections needlessly,' he quite
reasonably observed. Well, the other day she winged a
pheasant, and brought it to earth with a feather or two
knocked out of it; it was a runner, and my aunt saw
herself in danger of being done out of about the only
bird she'd hit during the present reign. Of course she
wasn't going to stand that; she followed it through
bracken and brushwood, and when it took to the open
country and started across a ploughed field she jumped on
to the shooting pony and went after it. The chase was a
long one, and when my aunt at last ran the bird to a
standstill she was nearer home than she was to the
shooting party; she had left that some five miles behind
"Rather a long run for a wounded pheasant," snapped
"The story rests on my aunt's authority," said
Treddleford coldly, "and she is local vice-president of
the Young Women's Christian Association. She trotted
three miles or so to her home, and it was not till the
middle of the afternoon that it was discovered that the
lunch for the entire shooting party was in a pannier
attached to the pony's saddle. Anyway, she got her
"Some birds, of course, take a lot of killing," said
Amblecope; "so do some fish. I remember once I was
fishing in the Exe, lovely trout stream, lots of fish,
though they don't run to any great size - "
"One of them did," announced Treddleford, with
emphasis. "My uncle, the Bishop of Southmolton, came
across a giant trout in a pool just off the main stream
of the Exe near Ugworthy; he tried it with every kind of
fly and worm every day for three weeks without an atom of
success, and then Fate intervened on his behalf. There
was a low stone bridge just over this pool, and on the
last day of his fishing holiday a motor van ran violently
into the parapet and turned completely over; no one was
hurt, but part of the parapet was knocked away, and the
entire load that the van was carrying was pitched over
and fell a little way into the pool. In a couple of
minutes the giant trout was flapping and twisting on bare
mud at the bottom of a waterless pool, and my uncle was
able to walk down to him and fold him to his breast. The
van-load consisted of blotting-paper, and every drop of
water in that pool had been sucked up into the mass of
spilt cargo."
There was silence for nearly half a minute in the
smoking-room, and Treddleford began to let his mind steal
back towards the golden road that led to Samarkand.
Amblecope, however, rallied, and remarked in a rather
tired and dispirited voice:
"Talking of motor accidents, the narrowest squeak I
ever had was the other day, motoring with old Tommy Yarby
in North Wales. Awfully good sort, old Yarby, thorough
good sportsman, and the best - "
"It was in North Wales," said Treddleford, "that my
sister met with her sensational carriage accident last
year. She was on her way to a garden-party at Lady
Nineveh's, about the only garden-party that ever comes to
pass in those parts in the course of the year, and
therefore a thing that she would have been very sorry to
miss. She was driving a young horse that she'd only
bought a week or two previously, warranted to be
perfectly steady with motor traffic, bicycles, and other
common objects of the roadside. The animal lived up to
its reputation, and passed the most explosive of motorbikes
with an indifference that almost amounted to
apathy. However, I suppose we all draw the line
somewhere, and this particular cob drew it at travelling
wild beast shows. Of course my sister didn't know that,
but she knew it very distinctly when she turned a sharp
corner and found herself in a mixed company of camels,
piebald horses, and canary-coloured vans. The dogcart
was overturned in a ditch and kicked to splinters, and
the cob went home across country. Neither my sister nor
the groom was hurt, but the problem of how to get to the
Nineveh garden-party, some three miles distant, seemed
rather difficult to solve; once there, of course, my
sister would easily find some one to drive her home. 'I
suppose you wouldn't care for the loan of a couple of my
camels?' the showman suggested, in humorous sympathy. '
I would,' said my sister, who had ridden camel-back in
Egypt, and she overruled the objections of the groom, who
hadn't. She picked out two of the most presentablelooking
of the beasts and had them dusted and made as
tidy as was possible at short notice, and set out for the
Nineveh mansion. You may imagine the sensation that her
small but imposing caravan created when she arrived at
the hall door. The entire garden-party flocked up to
gape. My sister was rather glad to slip down from her
camel, and the groom was thankful to scramble down from
his. Then young Billy Doulton, of the Dragoon Guards,
who has been a lot at Aden and thinks he knows camellanguage
backwards, thought he would show off by making
the beasts kneel down in orthodox fashion. Unfortunately
camel words-of-command are not the same all the world
over; these were magnificent Turkestan camels, accustomed
to stride up the stony terraces of mountain passes, and
when Doulton shouted at them they went side by side up
the front steps, into the entrance hall, and up the grand
staircase. The German governess met them just at the
turn of the corridor. The Ninevehs nursed her with
devoted attention for weeks, and when I last heard from
them she was well enough to go about her duties again,
but the doctor says she will always suffer from Hagenbeck
Amblecope got up from his chair and moved to another
part of the room. Treddleford reopened his book and
betook himself once more across
The dragon-green, the luminous, the dark, the
serpent-haunted sea.
For a blessed half-hour he disported himself in
imagination by the "gay Aleppo-Gate," and listened to the
bird-voiced singing-man. Then the world of to-day called
him back; a page summoned him to speak with a friend on
the telephone.
As Treddleford was about to pass out of the room he
encountered Amblecope, also passing out, on his way to
the billiard-room, where, perchance, some luckless wight
might be secured and held fast to listen to the number of
his attendances at the Grand Prix, with subsequent
remarks on Newmarket and the Cambridgeshire. Amblecope
made as if to pass out first, but a new-born pride was
surging in Treddleford's breast and he waved him back.
"I believe I take precedence," he said coldly; "you
are merely the club Bore; I am the club Liar."
TERESA, Mrs. Thropplestance, was the richest and
most intractable old woman in the county of Woldshire.
In her dealings with the world in general her manner
suggested a blend between a Mistress of the Robes and a
Master of Foxhounds, with the vocabulary of both. In her
domestic circle she comported herself in the arbitrary
style that one attributes, probably without the least
justification, to an American political Boss in the bosom
of his caucus. The late Theodore Thropplestance had left
her, some thirty-five years ago, in absolute possession
of a considerable fortune, a large landed property, and a
gallery full of valuable pictures. In those intervening
years she had outlived her son and quarrelled with her
elder grandson, who had married without her consent or
approval. Bertie Thropplestance, her younger grandson,
was the heir-designate to her property, and as such he
was a centre of interest and concern to some half-hundred
ambitious mothers with daughters of marriageable age.
Bertie was an amiable, easy-going young man, who was
quite ready to marry anyone who was favourably
recommended to his notice, but he was not going to waste
his time in falling in love with anyone who would come
under his grandmother's veto. The favourable
recommendation would have to come from Mrs.
Teresa's house-parties were always rounded off with
a plentiful garnishing of presentable young women and
alert, attendant mothers, but the old lady was
emphatically discouraging whenever any one of her girl
guests became at all likely to outbid the others as a
possible granddaughter-in-law. It was the inheritance of
her fortune and estate that was in question, and she was
evidently disposed to exercise and enjoy her powers of
selection and rejection to the utmost. Bertie's
preferences did not greatly matter; he was of the sort
who can be stolidly happy with any kind of wife; he had
cheerfully put up with his grandmother all his life, so
was not likely to fret and fume over anything that might
befall him in the way of a helpmate.
The party that gathered under Teresa's roof in
Christmas week of the year nineteen-hundred-and-something
was of smaller proportions than usual, and Mrs. Yonelet,
who formed one of the party, was inclined to deduce
hopeful augury from this circumstance. Dora Yonelet and
Bertie were so obviously made for one another, she
confided to the vicar's wife, and if the old lady were
accustomed to seeing them about a lot together she might
adopt the view that they would make a suitable married
"People soon get used to an idea if it is dangled
constantly before their eyes," said Mrs. Yonelet
hopefully, "and the more often Teresa sees those young
people together, happy in each other's company, the more
she will get to take a kindly interest in Dora as a
possible and desirable wife for Bertie."
"My dear," said the vicar's wife resignedly, "my own
Sybil was thrown together with Bertie under the most
romantic circumstances - I'll tell you about it some day
- but it made no impression whatever on Teresa; she put
her foot down in the most uncompromising fashion, and
Sybil married an Indian civilian."
"Quite right of her," said Mrs. Yonelet with vague
approval; "it's what any girl of spirit would have done.
Still, that was a year or two ago, I believe; Bertie is
older now, and so is Teresa. Naturally she must be
anxious to see him settled."
The vicar's wife reflected that Teresa seemed to be
the one person who showed no immediate anxiety to supply
Bertie with a wife, but she kept the thought to herself.
Mrs. Yonelet was a woman of resourceful energy and
generalship; she involved the other members of the houseparty,
the deadweight, so to speak, in all manner of
exercises and occupations that segregated them from
Bertie and Dora, who were left to their own devisings -
that is to say, to Dora's devisings and Bertie's
accommodating acquiescence. Dora helped in the Christmas
decorations of the parish church, and Bertie helped her
to help. Together they fed the swans, till the birds
went on a dyspepsia-strike, together they played
billiards, together they photographed the village
almshouses, and, at a respectful distance, the tame elk
that browsed in solitary aloofness in the park. It was
"tame" in the sense that it had long ago discarded the
least vestige of fear of the human race; nothing in its
record encouraged its human neighbours to feel a
reciprocal confidence.
Whatever sport or exercise or occupation Bertie and
Dora indulged in together was unfailingly chronicled and
advertised by Mrs. Yonelet for the due enlightenment of
Bertie's grandmother.
"Those two inseparables have just come in from a
bicycle ride," she would announce; "quite a picture they
make, so fresh and glowing after their spin."
"A picture needing words," would be Teresa's private
comment, and as far as Bertie was concerned she was
determined that the words should remain unspoken.
On the afternoon after Christmas Day Mrs. Yonelet
dashed into the drawing-room, where her hostess was
sitting amid a circle of guests and teacups and muffindishes.
Fate had placed what seemed like a trump-card in
the hands of the patiently-manoeuvring mother. With eyes
blazing with excitement and a voice heavily escorted with
exclamation marks she made a dramatic announcement.
"Bertie has saved Dora from the elk!"
In swift, excited sentences, broken with maternal
emotion, she gave supplementary information as to how the
treacherous animal had ambushed Dora as she was hunting
for a strayed golf ball, and how Bertie had dashed to her
rescue with a stable fork and driven the beast off in the
nick of time.
"It was touch and go! She threw her niblick at it,
but that didn't stop it. In another moment she would
have been crushed beneath its hoofs," panted Mrs.
"The animal is not safe," said Teresa, handing her
agitated guest a cup of tea. "I forget if you take
sugar. I suppose the solitary life it leads has soured
its temper. There are muffins in the grate. It's not my
fault; I've tried to get it a mate for ever so long. You
don't know of anyone with a lady elk for sale or
exchange, do you?" she asked the company generally.
But Mrs. Yonelet was in no humour to listen to talk
of elk marriages. The mating of two human beings was the
subject uppermost in her mind, and the opportunity for
advancing her pet project was too valuable to be
"Teresa," she exclaimed impressively, "after those
two young people have been thrown together so
dramatically, nothing can be quite the same again between
them. Bertie has done more than save Dora's life; he has
earned her affection. One cannot help feeling that Fate
has consecrated them for one another."
"Exactly what the vicar's wife said when Bertie
saved Sybil from the elk a year or two ago," observed
Teresa placidly; "I pointed out to her that he had
rescued Mirabel Hicks from the same predicement a few
months previously, and that priority really belonged to
the gardener's boy, who had been rescued in the January
of that year. There is a good deal of sameness in
country life, you know."
"It seems to be a very dangerous animal," said one
of the guests.
"That's what the mother of the gardener's boy said,"
remarked Teresa; "she wanted me to have it destroyed, but
I pointed out to her that she had eleven children and I
had only one elk. I also gave her a black silk skirt;
she said that though there hadn't been a funeral in her
family she felt as if there had been. Anyhow, we parted
friends. I can't offer you a silk skirt, Emily, but you
may have another cup of tea. As I have already remarked,
there are muffins in the grate."
Teresa dosed the discussion, having deftly conveyed
the impression that she considered the mother of the
gardener's boy had shown a far more reasonable spirit
than the parents of other elk-assaulted victims.
"Teresa is devoid of feeling," said Mrs. Yonelet
afterwards to the vicar's wife; "to sit there, talking of
muffins, with an appalling tragedy only narrowly averted
- "
"Of course you know whom she really intends Bertie
to marry?" asked the vicar's wife; "I've noticed it for
some time. The Bickelbys' German governess."
"A German governess! What an idea!" gasped Mrs.
"She's of quite good family, I believe," said the
vicar's wife, "and not at all the mouse-in-the-background
sort of person that governesses are usually
supposed to be. In fact, next to Teresa, she's about the
most assertive and combative personality in the
neighbourhood. She's pointed out to my husband all sorts
of errors in his sermons, and she gave Sir Laurence a
public lecture on how he ought to handle the hounds. You
know how sensitive Sir Laurence is about any criticism of
his Mastership, and to have a governess laying down the
law to him nearly drove him into a fit. She's behaved
like that to every one, except, of course, Teresa, and
every one has been defensively rude to her in return.
The Bickelbys are simply too afraid of her to get rid of
her. Now isn't that exactly the sort of woman whom
Teresa would take a delight in installing as her
successor? Imagine the discomfort and awkwardness in the
county if we suddenly found that she was to be the future
hostess at the Hall. Teresa's only regret will be that
she won't be alive to see it."
"But," objected Mrs. Yonelet, "surely Bertie hasn't
shown the least sign of being attracted in that quarter?"
"Oh, she's quite nice-looking in a way, and dresses
well, and plays a good game of tennis. She often comes
across the park with messages from the Bickelby mansion,
and one of these days Bertie will rescue her from the
elk, which has become almost a habit with him, and Teresa
will say that Fate has consecrated them to one another.
Bertie might not be disposed to pay much attention to the
consecrations of Fate, but he would not dream of opposing
his grandmother."
The vicar's wife spoke with the quiet authority of
one who has intuitive knowledge, and in her heart of
hearts Mrs. Yonelet believed her.
Six months later the elk had to be destroyed. In a
fit of exceptional moroseness it had killed the
Bickelbys' German governess. It was an irony of its fate
that it should achieve popularity in the last moments of
its career; at any rate, it established, the record of
being the only living thing that had permanently thwarted
Teresa Thropplestance's plans.
Dora Yonelet broke off her engagement with an Indian
civilian, and married Bertie three months after his
grandmother's death - Teresa did not long survive the
German governess fiasco. At Christmas time every year
young Mrs. Thropplestance hangs an extra large festoon of
evergreens on the elk horns that decorate the hall.
"It was a fearsome beast," she observes to Bertie,
"but I always feel that it was instrumental in bringing
us together."
Which, of course, was true.
"HAVE you written to thank the Froplinsons for what
they sent us?" asked Egbert.
"No," said Janetta, with a note of tired defiance in
her voice; "I've written eleven letters to-day expressing
surprise and gratitude for sundry unmerited gifts, but I
haven't written to the Froplinsons."
"Some one will have to write to them," said Egbert.
"I don't dispute the necessity, but I don't think
the some one should be me," said Janetta. "I wouldn't
mind writing a letter of angry recrimination or heartless
satire to some suitable recipient; in fact, I should
rather enjoy it, but I've come to the end of my capacity
for expressing servile amiability. Eleven letters to-day
and nine yesterday, all couched in the same strain of
ecstatic thankfulness: really, you can't expect me to sit
down to another. There is such a thing as writing
oneself out."
"I've written nearly as many," said Egbert, "and
I've had my usual business correspondence to get through,
too. Besides, I don't know what it was that the
Froplinsons sent us."
"A William the Conqueror calendar," said Janetta,
"with a quotation of one of his great thoughts for every
day in the year."
"Impossible," said Egbert; "he didn't have three
hundred and sixty-five thoughts in the whole of his life,
or, if he did, he kept them to himself. He was a man of
action, not of introspection."
"Well, it was William Wordsworth, then," said
Janetta; "I know William came into it somewhere."
"That sounds more probable," said Egbert; "well,
let's collaborate on this letter of thanks and get it
done. I'll dictate, and you can scribble it down. 'Dear
Mrs. Froplinson - thank you and your husband so much for
the very pretty calendar you sent us. It was very good
of you to think of us.' "
"You can't possibly say that," said Janetta, laying
down her pen.
"It's what I always do say, and what every one says
to me," protested Egbert.
"We sent them something on the twenty-second," said
Janetta, "so they simply HAD to think of us. There was
no getting away from it."
"What did we send them?" asked Egbert gloomily.
"Bridge-markers," said Janetta, "in a cardboard
case, with some inanity about 'digging for fortune with a
royal spade' emblazoned on the cover. The moment I saw
it in the shop I said to myself 'Froplinsons' and to the
attendant 'How much?' When he said 'Ninepence,' I gave
him their address, jabbed our card in, paid tenpence or
elevenpence to cover the postage, and thanked heaven.
With less sincerity and infinitely more trouble they
eventually thanked me."
"The Froplinsons don't play bridge," said Egbert.
"One is not supposed to notice social deformities of
that sort," said Janetta; "it wouldn't be polite.
Besides, what trouble did they take to find out whether
we read Wordsworth with gladness? For all they knew or
cared we might be frantically embedded in the belief that
all poetry begins and ends with John Masefield, and it
might infuriate or depress us to have a daily sample of
Wordsworthian products flung at us."
"Well, let's get on with the letter of thanks," said
"Proceed," said Janetta.
" 'How clever of you to guess that Wordsworth is our
favourite poet,' " dictated Egbert.
Again Janetta laid down her pen.
"Do you realise what that means?" she asked; "a
Wordsworth booklet next Christmas, and another calendar
the Christmas after, with the same problem of having to
write suitable letters of thankfulness. No, the best
thing to do is to drop all further allusion to the
calendar and switch off on to some other topic."
"But what other topic?"
"Oh, something like this: 'What do you think of the
New Year Honours List? A friend of ours made such a
clever remark when he read it.' Then you can stick in
any remark that comes into your head; it needn't be
clever. The Froplinsons won't know whether it is or
"We don't even know on which side they are in
politics," objected Egbert; "and anyhow you can't
suddenly dismiss the subject of the calendar. Surely
there must be some intelligent remark that can be made
about it."
"Well, we can't think of one," said Janetta wearily;
"the fact is, we've both written ourselves out. Heavens!
I've just remembered Mrs. Stephen Ludberry. I haven't
thanked her for what she sent."
"What did she send?"
"I forget; I think it was a calendar."
There was a long silence, the forlorn silence of
those who are bereft of hope and have almost ceased to
Presently Egbert started from his seat with an air
of resolution. The light of battle was in his eyes.
"Let me come to the writing-table," he exclaimed.
"Gladly," said Janetta. "Are you going to write to
Mrs. Ludberry or the Froplinsons?"
"To neither," said Egbert, drawing a stack of
notepaper towards him; "I'm going to write to the editor
of every enlightened and influential newspaper in the
Kingdom, I'm going to suggest that there should be a sort
of epistolary Truce of God during the festivities of
Christmas and New Year. From the twenty-fourth of
December to the third or fourth of January it shall be
considered an offence against good sense and good feeling
to write or expect any letter or communication that does
not deal with the necessary events of the moment.
Answers to invitations, arrangements about trains,
renewal of club subscriptions, and, of course, all the
ordinary everyday affairs of business, sickness, engaging
new cooks, and so forth, these will be dealt with in the
usual manner as something inevitable, a legitimate part
of our daily life. But all the devastating accretions of
correspondence, incident to the festive season, these
should be swept away to give the season a chance of being
really festive, a time of untroubled, unpunctuated peace
and good will."
"But you would have to make some acknowledgment of
presents received," objected Janetta; "otherwise people
would never know whether they had arrived safely."
"Of course, I have thought of that," said Egbert;
"every present that was sent off would be accompanied by
a ticket bearing the date of dispatch and the signature
of the sender, and some conventional hieroglyphic to show
that it was intended to be a Christmas or New Year gift;
there would be a counterfoil with space for the
recipient's name and the date of arrival, and all you
would have to do would be to sign and date the
counterfoil, add a conventional hieroglyphic indicating
heartfelt thanks and gratified surprise, put the thing
into an envelope and post it."
"It sounds delightfully simple," said Janetta
wistfully, "but people would consider it too cut-anddried,
too perfunctory."
"It is not a bit more perfunctory than the present
system," said Egbert; "I have only the same conventional
language of gratitude at my disposal with which to thank
dear old Colonel Chuttle for his perfectly delicious
Stilton, which we shall devour to the last morsel, and
the Froplinsons for their calendar, which we shall never
look at. Colonel Chuttle knows that we are grateful for
the Stilton, without having to be told so, and the
Froplinsons know that we are bored with their calendar,
whatever we may say to the contrary, just as we know that
they are bored with the bridge-markers in spite of their
written assurance that they thanked us for our charming
little gift. What is more, the Colonel knows that even
if we had taken a sudden aversion to Stilton or been
forbidden it by the doctor, we should still have written
a letter of hearty thanks around it. So you see the
present system of acknowledgment is just as perfunctory
and conventional as the counterfoil business would be,
only ten times more tiresome and brain-racking."
"Your plan would certainly bring the ideal of a
Happy Christmas a step nearer realisation," said Janetta.
"There are exceptions, of course," said Egbert,
"people who really try to infuse a breath of reality into
their letters of acknowledgment. Aunt Susan, for
instance, who writes: 'Thank you very much for the ham;
not such a good flavour as the one you sent last year,
which itself was not a particularly good one. Hams are
not what they used to be.' It would be a pity to be
deprived of her Christmas comments, but that loss would
be swallowed up in the general gain."
"Meanwhile," said Janetta, "what am I to say to the
ADVENTURES, according to the proverb, are to the
adventurous. Quite as often they are to the nonadventurous,
to the retiring, to the constitutionally
timid. John James Abbleway had been endowed by Nature
with the sort of disposition that instinctively avoids
Carlist intrigues, slum crusades, the tracking of wounded
wild beasts, and the moving of hostile amendments at
political meetings. If a mad dog or a Mad Mullah had
come his way he would have surrendered the way without
hesitation. At school he had unwillingly acquired a
thorough knowledge of the German tongue out of deference
to the plainly-expressed wishes of a foreign-languages
master, who, though he taught modern subjects, employed
old-fashioned methods in driving his lessons home. It
was this enforced familiarity with an important
commercial language which thrust Abbleway in later years
into strange lands where adventures were less easy to
guard against than in the ordered atmosphere of an
English country town. The firm that he worked for saw
fit to send him one day on a prosaic business errand to
the far city of Vienna, and, having sent him there,
continued to keep him there, still engaged in humdrum
affairs of commerce, but with the possibilities of
romance and adventure, or even misadventure, jostling at
his elbow. After two and a half years of exile, however,
John James Abbleway had embarked on only one hazardous
undertaking, and that was of a nature which would
assuredly have overtaken him sooner or later if he had
been leading a sheltered, stay-at-home existence at
Dorking or Huntingdon. He fell placidly in love with a
placidly lovable English girl, the sister of one of his
commercial colleagues, who was improving her mind by a
short trip to foreign parts, and in due course he was
formally accepted as the young man she was engaged to.
The further step by which she was to become Mrs. John
Abbleway was to take place a twelvemonth hence in a town
in the English midlands, by which time the firm that
employed John James would have no further need for his
presence in the Austrian capital.
It was early in April, two months after the
installation of Abbleway as the young man Miss Penning
was engaged to, when he received a letter from her,
written from Venice. She was still peregrinating under
the wing of her brother, and as the latter's business
arrangements would take him across to Fiume for a day or
two, she had conceived the idea that it would be rather
jolly if John could obtain leave of absence and run down
to the Adriatic coast to meet them. She had looked up
the route on the map, and the journey did not appear
likely to be expensive. Between the lines of her
communication there lay a hint that if he really cared
for her -
Abbleway obtained leave of absence and added a
journey to Fiume to his life's adventures. He left
Vienna on a cold, cheerless day. The flower shops were
full of spring blooms, and the weekly organs of
illustrated humour were full of spring topics, but the
skies were heavy with clouds that looked like cotton-wool
that has been kept over long in a shop window.
"Snow comes," said the train official to the station
officials; and they agreed that snow was about to come.
And it came, rapidly, plenteously. The train had not
been more than an hour on its journey when the cottonwool
clouds commenced to dissolve in a blinding downpour
of snowflakes. The forest trees on either side of the
line were speedily coated with a heavy white mantle, the
telegraph wires became thick glistening ropes, the line
itself was buried more and more completely under a
carpeting of snow, through which the not very powerful
engine ploughed its way with increasing difficulty. The
Vienna-Fiume line is scarcely the best equipped of the
Austrian State railways, and Abbleway began to have
serious fears for a breakdown. The train had slowed down
to a painful and precarious crawl and presently came to a
halt at a spot where the drifting snow had accumulated in
a formidable barrier. The engine made a special effort
and broke through the obstruction, but in the course of
another twenty minutes it was again held up. The process
of breaking through was renewed, and the train doggedly
resumed its way, encountering and surmounting fresh
hindrances at frequent intervals. After a standstill of
unusually long duration in a particularly deep drift the
compartment in which Abbleway was sitting gave a huge
jerk and a lurch, and then seemed to remain stationary;
it undoubtedly was not moving, and yet he could hear the
puffing of the engine and the slow rumbling and jolting
of wheels. The puffing and rumbling grew fainter, as
though it were dying away through the agency of
intervening distance. Abbleway suddenly gave vent to an
exclamation of scandalised alarm, opened the window, and
peered out into the snowstorm. The flakes perched on his
eyelashes and blurred his vision, but he saw enough to
help him to realise what had happened. The engine had
made a mighty plunge through the drift and had gone
merrily forward, lightened of the load of its rear
carriage, whose coupling had snapped under the strain.
Abbleway was alone, or almost alone, with a derelict
railway waggon, in the heart of some Styrian or Croatian
forest. In the third-class compartment next to his own
he remembered to have seen a peasant woman, who had
entered the train at a small wayside station. "With the
exception of that woman," he exclaimed dramatically to
himself, "the nearest living beings are probably a pack
of wolves."
Before making his way to the third-class compartment
to acquaint his fellow-traveller with the extent of the
disaster Abbleway hurriedly pondered the question of the
woman's nationality. He had acquired a smattering of
Slavonic tongues during his residence in Vienna, and felt
competent to grapple with several racial possibilities.
"If she is Croat or Serb or Bosniak I shall be able
to make her understand," he promised himself. "If she is
Magyar, heaven help me! We shall have to converse
entirely by signs."
He entered the carriage and made his momentous
announcement in the best approach to Croat speech that he
could achieve.
"The train has broken away and left us!"
The woman shook her head with a movement that might
be intended to convey resignation to the will of heaven,
but probably meant noncomprehension. Abbleway repeated
his information with variations of Slavonic tongues and
generous displays of pantomime.
"Ah," said the woman at last in German dialect, "the
train has gone? We are left. Ah, so."
She seemed about as much interested as though
Abbleway had told her the result of the municipal
elections in Amsterdam.
"They will find out at some station, and when the
line is clear of snow they will send an engine. It
happens that way sometimes."
"We may be here all night!" exclaimed Abbleway.
The woman nodded as though she thought it possible.
"Are there wolves in these parts?" asked Abbleway
"Many," said the woman; "just outside this forest my
aunt was devoured three years ago, as she was coming home
from market. The horse and a young pig that was in the
cart were eaten too. The horse was a very old one, but
it was a beautiful young pig, oh, so fat. I cried when I
heard that it was taken. They spare nothing."
"They may attack us here," said Abbleway
tremulously; "they could easily break in, these carriages
are like matchwood. We may both be devoured."
"You, perhaps," said the woman calmly; "not me."
"Why not you?" demanded Abbleway.
"It is the day of Saint Maria Kleopha, my name-day.
She would not allow me to be eaten by wolves on her day.
Such a thing could not be thought of. You, yes, but not
Abbleway changed the subject.
"It is only afternoon now; if we are to be left here
till morning we shall be starving."
"I have here some good eatables," said the woman
tranquilly; "on my festival day it is natural that I
should have provision with me. I have five good bloodsausages;
in the town shops they cost twenty-five heller
each. Things are dear in the town shops."
"I will give you fifty heller apiece for a couple of
them," said Abbleway with some enthusiasm.
"In a railway accident things become very dear,"
said the woman; "these blood-sausages are four kronen
"Four kronen!" exclaimed Abbleway; "four kronen for
a blood-sausage!"
"You cannot get them any cheaper on this train,"
said the woman, with relentless logic, "because there
aren't any others to get. In Agram you can buy them
cheaper, and in Paradise no doubt they will be given to
us for nothing, but here they cost four kronen each. I
have a small piece of Emmenthaler cheese and a honey-cake
and a piece of bread that I can let you have. That will
be another three kronen, eleven kronen in all. There is
a piece of ham, but that I cannot let you have on my
Abbleway wondered to himself what price she would
have put on the ham, and hurried to pay her the eleven
kronen before her emergency tariff expanded into a famine
tariff. As he was taking possession of his modest store
of eatables he suddenly heard a noise which set his heart
thumping in a miserable fever of fear. 'There was a
scraping and shuffling as of some animal or animals
trying to climb up to the footboard. In another moment,
through the snow-encrusted glass of the carriage window,
he saw a gaunt prick-eared head, with gaping jaw and
lolling tongue and gleaming teeth; a second later another
head shot up.
"There are hundreds of them," whispered Abbleway;
"they have scented us. They will tear the carriage to
pieces. We shall be devoured."
"Not me, on my name-day. The holy Maria Kleopha
would not permit it," said the woman with provoking calm.
The heads dropped down from the window and an
uncanny silence fell on the beleaguered carriage.
Abbleway neither moved nor spoke. Perhaps the brutes had
not clearly seen or winded the human occupants of the
carriage, and had prowled away on some other errand of
The long torture-laden minutes passed slowly away.
"It grows cold," said the woman suddenly, crossing
over to the far end of the carriage, where the heads had
appeared. "The heating apparatus does not work any
longer. See, over there beyond the trees, there is a
chimney with smoke coming from it. It is not far, and
the snow has nearly stopped, I shall find a path through
the forest to that house with the chimney."
"But the wolves!" exclaimed Abbleway; "they may - "
"Not on my name-day," said the woman obstinately,
and before he could stop her she had opened the door and
climbed down into the snow. A moment later he hid his
face in his hands; two gaunt lean figures rushed upon her
from the forest. No doubt she had courted her fate, but
Abbleway had no wish to see a human being torn to pieces
and devoured before his eyes.
When he looked at last a new sensation of
scandalised astonishment took possession of him. He had
been straitly brought up in a small English town, and he
was not prepared to be the witness of a miracle. The
wolves were not doing anything worse to the woman than
drench her with snow as they gambolled round her.
A short, joyous bark revealed the clue to the
"Are those - dogs?" he called weakly.
"My cousin Karl's dogs, yes," she answered; that is
his inn, over beyond the trees. I knew it was there, but
I did not want to take you there; he is always grasping
with strangers. However, it grows too cold to remain in
the train. Ah, ah, see what comes!"
A whistle sounded, and a relief engine made its
appearance, snorting its way sulkily through the snow.
Abbleway did not have the opportunity for finding out
whether Karl was really avaricious.
THE children were to be driven, as a special treat,
to the sands at Jagborough. Nicholas was not to be of
the party; he was in disgrace. Only that morning he had
refused to eat his wholesome bread-and-milk on the
seemingly frivolous ground that there was a frog in it.
Older and wiser and better people had told him that there
could not possibly be a frog in his bread-and-milk and
that he was not to talk nonsense; he continued,
nevertheless, to talk what seemed the veriest nonsense,
and described with much detail the colouration and
markings of the alleged frog. The dramatic part of the
incident was that there really was a frog in Nicholas'
basin of bread-and-milk; he had put it there himself, so
he felt entitled to know something about it. The sin of
taking a frog from the garden and putting it into a bowl
of wholesome bread-and-milk was enlarged on at great
length, but the fact that stood out clearest in the whole
affair, as it presented itself to the mind of Nicholas,
was that the older, wiser, and better people had been
proved to be profoundly in error in matters about which
they had expressed the utmost assurance.
"You said there couldn't possibly be a frog in my
bread-and-milk; there WAS a frog in my bread-and-milk,"
he repeated, with the insistence of a skilled tactician
who does not intend to shift from favourable ground.
So his boy-cousin and girl-cousin and his quite
uninteresting younger brother were to be taken to
Jagborough sands that afternoon and he was to stay at
home. His cousins' aunt, who insisted, by an unwarranted
stretch of imagination, in styling herself his aunt also,
had hastily invented the Jagborough expedition in order
to impress on Nicholas the delights that he had justly
forfeited by his disgraceful conduct at the breakfasttable.
It was her habit, whenever one of the children
fell from grace, to improvise something of a festival
nature from which the offender would be rigorously
debarred; if all the children sinned collectively they
were suddenly informed of a circus in a neighbouring
town, a circus of unrivalled merit and uncounted
elephants, to which, but for their depravity, they would
have been taken that very day.
A few decent tears were looked for on the part of
Nicholas when the moment for the departure of the
expedition arrived. As a matter of fact, however, all
the crying was done by his girl-cousin, who scraped her
knee rather painfully against the step of the carriage as
she was scrambling in.
"How she did howl," said Nicholas cheerfully, as the
party drove off without any of the elation of high
spirits that should have characterised it.
"She'll soon get over that," said the SOI-DISANT
aunt; "it will be a glorious afternoon for racing about
over those beautiful sands. How they will enjoy
"Bobby won't enjoy himself much, and he won't race
much either," said Nicholas with a grim chuckle; his
boots are hurting him. They're too tight."
"Why didn't he tell me they were hurting?" asked the
aunt with some asperity.
"He told you twice, but you weren't listening. You
often don't listen when we tell you important things."
"You are not to go into the gooseberry garden," said
the aunt, changing the subject.
"Why not?" demanded Nicholas.
"Because you are in disgrace," said the aunt
Nicholas did not admit the flawlessness of the
reasoning; he felt perfectly capable of being in disgrace
and in a gooseberry garden at the same moment. His face
took on an expression of considerable obstinacy. It was
clear to his aunt that he was determined to get into the
gooseberry garden, "only," as she remarked to herself,
"because I have told him he is not to."
Now the gooseberry garden had two doors by which it
might be entered, and once a small person like Nicholas
could slip in there he could effectually disappear from
view amid the masking growth of artichokes, raspberry
canes, and fruit bushes. The aunt had many other things
to do that afternoon, but she spent an hour or two in
trivial gardening operations among flower beds and
shrubberies, whence she could keep a watchful eye on the
two doors that led to the forbidden paradise. She was a
woman of few ideas, with immense powers of concentration.
Nicholas made one or two sorties into the front
garden, wriggling his way with obvious stealth of purpose
towards one or other of the doors, but never able for a
moment to evade the aunt's watchful eye. As a matter of
fact, he had no intention of trying to get into the
gooseberry garden, but it was extremely convenient for
him that his aunt should believe that he had; it was a
belief that would keep her on self-imposed sentry-duty
for the greater part of the afternoon. Having thoroughly
confirmed and fortified her suspicions Nicholas slipped
back into the house and rapidly put into execution a plan
of action that had long germinated in his brain. By
standing on a chair in the library one could reach a
shelf on which reposed a fat, important-looking key. The
key was as important as it looked; it was the instrument
which kept the mysteries of the lumber-room secure from
unauthorised intrusion, which opened a way only for aunts
and such-like privileged persons. Nicholas had not had
much experience of the art of fitting keys into keyholes
and turning locks, but for some days past he had
practised with the key of the schoolroom door; he did not
believe in trusting too much to luck and accident. The
key turned stiffly in the lock, but it turned. The door
opened, and Nicholas was in an unknown land, compared
with which the gooseberry garden was a stale delight, a
mere material pleasure.
Often and often Nicholas had pictured to himself
what the lumber-room might be like, that region that was
so carefully sealed from youthful eyes and concerning
which no questions were ever answered. It came up to his
expectations. In the first place it was large and dimly
lit, one high window opening on to the forbidden garden
being its only source of illumination. In the second
place it was a storehouse of unimagined treasures. The
aunt-by-assertion was one of those people who think that
things spoil by use and consign them to dust and damp by
way of preserving them. Such parts of the house as
Nicholas knew best were rather bare and cheerless, but
here there were wonderful things for the eye to feast on.
First and foremost there was a piece of framed tapestry
that was evidently meant to be a fire-screen. To
Nicholas it was a living, breathing story; he sat down on
a roll of Indian hangings, glowing in wonderful colours
beneath a layer of dust, and took in all the details of
the tapestry picture. A man, dressed in the hunting
costume of some remote period, had just transfixed a stag
with an arrow; it could not have been a difficult shot
because the stag was only one or two paces away from him;
in the thickly-growing vegetation that the picture
suggested it would not have been difficult to creep up to
a feeding stag, and the two spotted dogs that were
springing forward to join in the chase had evidently been
trained to keep to heel till the arrow was discharged.
That part of the picture was simple, if interesting, but
did the huntsman see, what Nicholas saw, that four
galloping wolves were coming in his direction through the
wood? There might be more than four of them hidden
behind the trees, and in any case would the man and his
dogs be able to cope with the four wolves if they made an
attack? The man had only two arrows left in his quiver,
and he might miss with one or both of them; all one knew
about his skill in shooting was that he could hit a large
stag at a ridiculously short range. Nicholas sat for
many golden minutes revolving the possibilities of the
scene; he was inclined to think that there were more than
four wolves and that the man and his dogs were in a tight
But there were other objects of delight and interest
claiming his instant attention: there were quaint twisted
candlesticks in the shape of snakes, and a teapot
fashioned like a china duck, out of whose open beak the
tea was supposed to come. How dull and shapeless the
nursery teapot seemed in comparison! And there was a
carved sandal-wood box packed tight with aromatic
cottonwool, and between the layers of cottonwool were
little brass figures, hump-necked bulls, and peacocks and
goblins, delightful to see and to handle. Less promising
in appearance was a large square book with plain black
covers; Nicholas peeped into it, and, behold, it was full
of coloured pictures of birds. And such birds! In the
garden, and in the lanes when he went for a walk,
Nicholas came across a few birds, of which the largest
were an occasional magpie or wood-pigeon; here were
herons and bustards, kites, toucans, tiger-bitterns,
brush turkeys, ibises, golden pheasants, a whole portrait
gallery of undreamed-of creatures. And as he was
admiring the colouring of the mandarin duck and assigning
a life-history to it, the voice of his aunt in shrill
vociferation of his name came from the gooseberry garden
without. She had grown suspicious at his long
disappearance, and had leapt to the conclusion that he
had climbed over the wall behind the sheltering screen of
the lilac bushes; she was now engaged in energetic and
rather hopeless search for him among the artichokes and
raspberry canes.
"Nicholas, Nicholas!" she screamed, "you are to come
out of this at once. It's no use trying to hide there; I
can see you all the time."
It was probably the first time for twenty years that
anyone had smiled in that lumber-room.
Presently the angry repetitions of Nicholas' name
gave way to a shriek, and a cry for somebody to come
quickly. Nicholas shut the book, restored it carefully
to its place in a corner, and shook some dust from a
neighbouring pile of newspapers over it. Then he crept
from the room, locked the door, and replaced the key
exactly where he had found it. His aunt was still
calling his name when he sauntered into the front garden.
"Who's calling?" he asked.
"Me," came the answer from the other side of the
wall; "didn't you hear me? I've been looking for you in
the gooseberry garden, and I've slipped into the rainwater
tank. Luckily there's no water in it, but the
sides are slippery and I can't get out. Fetch the little
ladder from under the cherry tree - "
"I was told I wasn't to go into the gooseberry
garden," said Nicholas promptly.
"I told you not to, and now I tell you that you
may," came the voice from the rain-water tank, rather
"Your voice doesn't sound like aunt's," objected
Nicholas; "you may be the Evil One tempting me to be
disobedient. Aunt often tells me that the Evil One
tempts me and that I always yield. This time I'm not
going to yield."
"Don't talk nonsense," said the prisoner in the
tank; "go and fetch the ladder."
"Will there be strawberry jam for tea?" asked
Nicholas innocently.
"Certainly there will be," said the aunt, privately
resolving that Nicholas should have none of it.
"Now I know that you are the Evil One and not aunt,"
shouted Nicholas gleefully; "when we asked aunt for
strawberry jam yesterday she said there wasn't any. I
know there are four jars of it in the store cupboard,
because I looked, and of course you know it's there, but
she doesn't, because she said there wasn't any. Oh,
Devil, you HAVE sold yourself!"
There was an unusual sense of luxury in being able
to talk to an aunt as though one was talking to the Evil
One, but Nicholas knew, with childish discernment, that
such luxuries were not to be over-indulged in. He walked
noisily away, and it was a kitchenmaid, in search of
parsley, who eventually rescued the aunt from the rainwater
Tea that evening was partaken of in a fearsome
silence. The tide had been at its highest when the
children had arrived at Jagborough Cove, so there had
been no sands to play on - a circumstance that the aunt
had overlooked in the haste of organising her punitive
expedition. The tightness of Bobby's boots had had
disastrous effect on his temper the whole of the
afternoon, and altogether the children could not have
been said to have enjoyed themselves. The aunt
maintained the frozen muteness of one who has suffered
undignified and unmerited detention in a rain-water tank
for thirty-five minutes. As for Nicholas, he, too, was
silent, in the absorption of one who has much to think
about; it was just possible, he considered, that the
huntsman would escape with his hounds while the wolves
feasted on the stricken stag.
"YOU look worried, dear," said Eleanor.
"I am worried," admitted Suzanne; "not worried
exactly, but anxious. You see, my birthday happens next
week - "
"You lucky person," interrupted Eleanor; "my
birthday doesn't come till the end of March."
"Well, old Bertram Kneyght is over in England just
now from the Argentine. He's a kind of distant cousin of
my mother's, and so enormously rich that we've never let
the relationship drop out of sight. Even if we don't see
him or hear from him for years he is always Cousin
Bertram when he does turn up. I can't say he's ever been
of much solid use to us, but yesterday the subject of my
birthday cropped up, and he asked me to let him know what
I wanted for a present."
"Now I understand the anxiety," observed Eleanor.
"As a rule when one is confronted with a problem
like that," said Suzanne, "all one's ideas vanish; one
doesn't seem to have a desire in the world. Now it so
happens that I have been very keen on a little Dresden
figure that I saw somewhere in Kensington; about thirtysix
shillings, quite beyond my means. I was very nearly
describing the figure, and giving Bertram the address of
the shop. And then it suddenly struck me that thirty-six
shillings was such a ridiculously inadequate sum for a
man of his immense wealth to spend on a birthday present.
He could give thirty-six pounds as easily as you or I
could buy a bunch of violets. I don't want to be greedy,
of course, but I don't like being wasteful."
"The question is," said Eleanor, "what are his ideas
as to present-giving? Some of the wealthiest people have
curiously cramped views on that subject. When people
grow gradually rich their requirements and standard of
living expand in proportion, while their present-giving
instincts often remain in the undeveloped condition of
their earlier days. Something showy and not-tooexpensive
in a shop is their only conception of the ideal
gift. That is why even quite good shops have their
counters and windows crowded with things worth about four
shillings that look as if they might be worth seven-andsix,
and are priced at ten shillings and labelled
seasonable gifts.' "
"I know," said Suzanne; "that is why it is so risky
to be vague when one is giving indications of one's
wants. Now if I say to him: 'I am going out to Davos
this winter, so anything in the travelling line would be
acceptable,' he might give me a dressing-bag with goldmounted
fittings, but, on the other hand, he might give
me Baedeker's Switzerland, or `Skiing without Tears,' or
something of that sort."
"He would be more likely to say: 'She'll be going to
lots of dances, a fan will be sure to be useful.' "
"Yes, and I've got tons of fans, so you see where
the danger and anxiety lies. Now if there is one thing
more than another that I really urgently want it is furs.
I simply haven't any. I'm told that Davos is full of
Russians, and they are sure to wear the most lovely
sables and things. To be among people who are smothered
in furs when one hasn't any oneself makes one want to
break most of the Commandments."
"If it's furs that you're out for," said Eleanor,
"you will have to superintend the choice of them in
person. You can't be sure that your cousin knows the
difference between silver-fox and ordinary squirrel."
"There are some heavenly silver-fox stoles at
Goliath and Mastodon's," said Suzanne, with a sigh; "if I
could only inveigle Bertram into their building and take
him for a stroll through the fur department!"
"He lives somewhere near there, doesn't he?" said
Eleanor. "Do you know what his habits are? Does he take
a walk at any particular time of day?"
"He usually walks down to his club about three
o'clock, if it's a fine day. That takes him right past
Goliath and Mastodon's."
"Let us two meet him accidentally at the street
corner to-morrow," said Eleanor; "we can walk a little
way with him, and with luck we ought to be able to sidetrack
him into the shop. You can say you want to get a
hair-net or something. When we're safely there I can
say: 'I wish you'd tell me what you want for your
birthday.' Then you'll have everything ready to hand -
the rich cousin, the fur department, and the topic of
birthday presents."
"It's a great idea," said Suzanne; "you really are a
brick. Come round to-morrow at twenty to three; don't be
late, we must carry out our ambush to the minute."
At a few minutes to three the next afternoon the
fur-trappers walked warily towards the selected corner.
In the near distance rose the colossal pile of Messrs.
Goliath and Mastodon's famed establishment. The
afternoon was brilliantly fine, exactly the sort of
weather to tempt a gentleman of advancing years into the
discreet exercise of a leisurely walk.
"I say, dear, I wish you'd do something for me this
evening," said Eleanor to her companion; "just drop in
after dinner on some pretext or other, and stay on to
make a fourth at bridge with Adela and the aunts.
Otherwise I shall have to play, and Harry Scarisbrooke is
going to come in unexpectedly about nine-fifteen, and I
particularly want to be free to talk to him while the
others are playing."
"Sorry, my dear, no can do," said Suzanne; "ordinary
bridge at threepence a hundred, with such dreadfully slow
players as your aunts, bores me to tears. I nearly go to
sleep over it."
"But I most particularly want an opportunity to talk
with Harry," urged Eleanor, an angry glint coming into
her eyes.
"Sorry, anything to oblige, but not that," said
Suzanne cheerfully; the sacrifices of friendship were
beautiful in her eyes as long as she was not asked to
make them.
Eleanor said nothing further on the subject, but the
corners of her mouth rearranged themselves.
"There's our man!" exclaimed Suzanne suddenly;
Mr. Bertram Kneyght greeted his cousin and her
friend with genuine heartiness, and readily accepted
their invitation to explore the crowded mart that stood
temptingly at their elbow. The plate-glass doors swung
open and the trio plunged bravely into the jostling
throng of buyers and loiterers.
"Is it always as full as this?" asked Bertram of
"More or less, and autumn sales are on just now,"
she replied.
Suzanne, in her anxiety to pilot her cousin to the
desired haven of the fur department, was usually a few
paces ahead of the others, coming back to them now and
then if they lingered for a moment at some attractive
counter, with the nervous solicitude of a parent rook
encouraging its young ones on their first flying
"It's Suzanne's birthday on Wednesday next,"
confided Eleanor to Bertram Kneyght at a moment when
Suzanne had left them unusually far behind; "my birthday
comes the day before, so we are both on the look-out for
something to give each other."
"Ah," said Bertram. "Now, perhaps you can advise me
on that very point. I want to give Suzanne something,
and I haven't the least idea what she wants."
"She's rather a problem," said Eleanor. "She seems
to have everything one can think of, lucky girl. A fan
is always useful; she'll be going to a lot of dances at
Davos this winter. Yes, I should think a fan would
please her more than anything. After our birthdays are
over we inspect each other's muster of presents, and I
always feel dreadfully humble. She gets such nice
things, and I never have anything worth showing. You
see, none of my relations or any of the people who give
me presents are at all well off, so I can't expect them
to do anything more than just remember the day with some
little trifle. Two years ago an uncle on my mother's
side of the family, who had come into a small legacy,
promised me a silver-fox stole for my birthday. I can't
tell you how excited I was about it, how I pictured
myself showing it off to all my friends and enemies.
Then just at that moment his wife died, and, of course,
poor man, he could not be expected to think of birthday
presents at such a time. He has lived abroad ever since,
and I never got my fur. Do you know, to this day I can
scarcely look at a silver-fox pelt in a shop window or
round anyone's neck without feeling ready to burst into
tears. I suppose if I hadn't had the prospect of getting
one I shouldn't feel that way. Look, there is the fan
counter, on your left; you can easily slip away in the
crowd. Get her as nice a one as you can see - she is
such a dear, dear girl."
"Hullo, I thought I had lost you," said Suzanne,
making her way through an obstructive knot of shoppers.
"Where is Bertram?"
"I got separated from him long ago. I thought he
was on ahead with you," said Eleanor. "We shall never
find him in this crush."
Which turned out to be a true prediction.
"All our trouble and forethought thrown away," said
Suzanne sulkily, when they had pushed their way
fruitlessly through half a dozen departments.
"I can't think why you didn't grab him by the arm,"
said Eleanor; "I would have if I'd known him longer, but
I'd only just been introduced. It's nearly four now,
we'd better have tea."
Some days later Suzanne rang Eleanor up on the
"Thank you very much for the photograph frame. It
was just what I wanted. Very good of you. I say, do you
know what that Kneyght person has given me? Just what
you said he would - a wretched fan. What? Oh yes, quite
a good enough fan in its way, but still . . ."
"You must come and see what he's given me," came in
Eleanor's voice over the 'phone.
"You! Why should he give you anything?"
"Your cousin appears to be one of those rare people
of wealth who take a pleasure in giving good presents,"
came the reply.
"I wondered why he was so anxious to know where she
lived," snapped Suzanne to herself as she rang off.
A cloud has arisen between the friendships of the
two young women; as far as Eleanor is concerned the cloud
has a silver-fox lining.
JOCANTHA BESSBURY was in the mood to be serenely and
graciously happy. Her world was a pleasant place, and it
was wearing one of its pleasantest aspects. Gregory had
managed to get home for a hurried lunch and a smoke
afterwards in the little snuggery; the lunch had been a
good one, and there was just time to do justice to the
coffee and cigarettes. Both were excellent in their way,
and Gregory was, in his way, an excellent husband.
Jocantha rather suspected herself of making him a very
charming wife, and more than suspected herself of having
a first-rate dressmaker.
"I don't suppose a more thoroughly contented
personality is to be found in all Chelsea," observed
Jocantha in allusion to herself; "except perhaps Attab,"
she continued, glancing towards the large tabby-marked
cat that lay in considerable ease in a corner of the
divan. "He lies there, purring and dreaming, shifting
his limbs now and then in an ecstasy of cushioned
comfort. He seems the incarnation of everything soft and
silky and velvety, without a sharp edge in his
composition, a dreamer whose philosophy is sleep and let
sleep; and then, as evening draws on, he goes out into
the garden with a red glint in his eyes and slays a
drowsy sparrow."
"As every pair of sparrows hatches out ten or more
young ones in the year, while their food supply remains
stationary, it is just as well that the Attabs of the
community should have that idea of how to pass an amusing
afternoon," said Gregory. Having delivered himself of
this sage comment he lit another cigarette, bade Jocantha
a playfully affectionate good-bye, and departed into the
outer world.
"Remember, dinner's a wee bit earlier to-night, as
we're going to the Haymarket," she called after him.
Left to herself, Jocantha continued the process of
looking at her life with placid, introspective eyes. If
she had not everything she wanted in this world, at least
she was very well pleased with what she had got. She was
very well pleased, for instance, with the snuggery, which
contrived somehow to be cosy and dainty and expensive all
at once. The porcelain was rare and beautiful, the
Chinese enamels took on wonderful tints in the firelight,
the rugs and hangings led the eye through sumptuous
harmonies of colouring. It was a room in which one might
have suitably entertained an ambassador or an archbishop,
but it was also a room in which one could cut out
pictures for a scrap-book without feeling that one was
scandalising the deities of the place with one's litter.
And as with the snuggery, so with the rest of the house,
and as with the house, so with the other departments of
Jocantha's life; she really had good reason for being one
of the most contented women in Chelsea.
From being in a mood of simmering satisfaction with
her lot she passed to the phase of being generously
commiserating for those thousands around her whose lives
and circumstances were dull, cheap, pleasureless, and
empty. Work girls, shop assistants and so forth, the
class that have neither the happy-go-lucky freedom of the
poor nor the leisured freedom of the rich, came specially
within the range of her sympathy. It was sad to think
that there were young people who, after a long day's
work, had to sit alone in chill, dreary bedrooms because
they could not afford the price of a cup of coffee and a
sandwich in a restaurant, still less a shilling for a
theatre gallery.
Jocantha's mind was still dwelling on this theme
when she started forth on an afternoon campaign of
desultory shopping; it would be rather a comforting
thing, she told herself, if she could do something, on
the spur of the moment, to bring a gleam of pleasure and
interest into the life of even one or two wistfulhearted,
empty-pocketed workers; it would add a good deal
to her sense of enjoyment at the theatre that night. She
would get two upper circle tickets for a popular play,
make her way into some cheap tea-shop, and present the
tickets to the first couple of interesting work girls
with whom she could casually drop into conversation. She
could explain matters by saying that she was unable to
use the tickets herself and did not want them to be
wasted, and, on the other hand, did not want the trouble
of sending them back. On further reflection she decided
that it might be better to get only one ticket and give
it to some lonely-looking girl sitting eating her frugal
meal by herself; the girl might scrape acquaintance with
her next-seat neighbour at the theatre and lay the
foundations of a lasting friendship.
With the Fairy Godmother impulse strong upon her,
Jocantha marched into a ticket agency and selected with
immense care an upper circle seat for the "Yellow
Peacock," a play that was attracting a considerable
amount of discussion and criticism. Then she went forth
in search of a tea-shop and philanthropic adventure, at
about the same time that Attab sauntered into the garden
with a mind attuned to sparrow stalking. In a corner of
an A.B.C. shop she found an unoccupied table, whereat she
promptly installed herself, impelled by the fact that at
the next table was sitting a young girl, rather plain of
feature, with tired, listless eyes, and a general air of
uncomplaining forlornness. Her dress was of poor
material, but aimed at being in the fashion, her hair was
pretty, and her complexion bad; she was finishing a
modest meal of tea and scone, and she was not very
different in her way from thousands of other girls who
were finishing, or beginning, or continuing their teas in
London tea-shops at that exact moment. The odds were
enormously in favour of the supposition that she had
never seen the "Yellow Peacock"; obviously she supplied
excellent material for Jocantha's first experiment in
haphazard benefaction.
Jocantha ordered some tea and a muffin, and then
turned a friendly scrutiny on her neighbour with a view
to catching her eye. At that precise moment the girl's
face lit up with sudden pleasure, her eyes sparkled, a
flush came into her cheeks, and she looked almost pretty.
A young man, whom she greeted with an affectionate
"Hullo, Bertie," came up to her table and took his seat
in a chair facing her. Jocantha looked hard at the newcomer;
he was in appearance a few years younger than
herself, very much better looking than Gregory, rather
better looking, in fact, than any of the young men of her
set. She guessed him to be a well-mannered young clerk
in some wholesale warehouse, existing and amusing himself
as best he might on a tiny salary, and commanding a
holiday of about two weeks in the year. He was aware, of
course, of his good looks, but with the shy selfconsciousness
of the Anglo-Saxon, not the blatant
complacency of the Latin or Semite. He was obviously on
terms of friendly intimacy with the girl he was talking
to, probably they were drifting towards a formal
engagement. Jocantha pictured the boy's home, in a
rather narrow circle, with a tiresome mother who always
wanted to know how and where he spent his evenings. He
would exchange that humdrum thraldom in due course for a
home of his own, dominated by a chronic scarcity of
pounds, shillings, and pence, and a dearth of most of the
things that made life attractive or comfortable.
Jocantha felt extremely sorry for him. She wondered if
he had seen the "Yellow Peacock"; the odds were
enormously in favour of the supposition that he had not.
The girl had finished her tea and would shortly be going
back to her work; when the boy was alone it would be
quite easy for Jocantha to say: "My husband has made
other arrangements for me this evening; would you care to
make use of this ticket, which would otherwise be
wasted?" Then she could come there again one afternoon
for tea, and, if she saw him, ask him how he liked the
play. If he was a nice boy and improved on acquaintance
he could be given more theatre tickets, and perhaps asked
to come one Sunday to tea at Chelsea. Jocantha made up
her mind that he would improve on acquaintance, and that
Gregory would like him, and that the Fairy Godmother
business would prove far more entertaining than she had
originally anticipated. The boy was distinctly
presentable; he knew how to brush his hair, which was
possibly an imitative faculty; he knew what colour of tie
suited him, which might be intuition; he was exactly the
type that Jocantha admired, which of course was accident.
Altogether she was rather pleased when the girl looked at
the clock and bade a friendly but hurried farewell to her
companion. Bertie nodded "good-bye," gulped down a
mouthful of tea, and then produced from his overcoat
pocket a paper-covered book, bearing the title "Sepoy and
Sahib, a tale of the great Mutiny."
The laws of tea-shop etiquette forbid that you
should offer theatre tickets to a stranger without having
first caught the stranger's eye. It is even better if
you can ask to have a sugar basin passed to you, having
previously concealed the fact that you have a large and
well-filled sugar basin on your own table; this is not
difficult to manage, as the printed menu is generally
nearly as large as the table, and can be made to stand on
end. Jocantha set to work hopefully; she had a long and
rather high-pitched discussion with the waitress
concerning alleged defects in an altogether blameless
muffin, she made loud and plaintive inquiries about the
tube service to some impossibly remote suburb, she talked
with brilliant insincerity to the tea-shop kitten, and as
a last resort she upset a milk-jug and swore at it
daintily. Altogether she attracted a good deal of
attention, but never for a moment did she attract the
attention of the boy with the beautifully-brushed hair,
who was some thousands of miles away in the baking plains
of Hindostan, amid deserted bungalows, seething bazaars,
and riotous barrack squares, listening to the throbbing
of tom-toms and the distant rattle of musketry.
Jocantha went back to her house in Chelsea, which
struck her for the first time as looking dull and overfurnished.
She had a resentful conviction that Gregory
would be uninteresting at dinner, and that the play would
be stupid after dinner. On the whole her frame of mind
showed a marked divergence from the purring complacency
of Attab, who was again curled up in his corner of the
divan with a great peace radiating from every curve of
his body.
But then he had killed his sparrow.
OF all the genuine Bohemians who strayed from time
to time into the would-be Bohemian circle of the
Restaurant Nuremberg, Owl Street, Soho, none was more
interesting and more elusive than Gebhard Knopfschrank.
He had no friends, and though he treated all the
restaurant frequenters as acquaintances he never seemed
to wish to carry the acquaintanceship beyond the door
that led into Owl Street and the outer world. He dealt
with them all rather as a market woman might deal with
chance passers-by, exhibiting her wares and chattering
about the weather and the slackness of business,
occasionally about rheumatism, but never showing a desire
to penetrate into their daily lives or to dissect their
He was understood to belong to a family of peasant
farmers, somewhere in Pomerania; some two years ago,
according to all that was known of him, he had abandoned
the labours and responsibilities of swine tending and
goose rearing to try his fortune as an artist in London.
"Why London and not Paris or Munich?" he had been
asked by the curious.
Well, there was a ship that left Stolpmunde for
London twice a month, that carried few passengers, but
carried them cheaply; the railway fares to Munich or
Paris were not cheap. Thus it was that he came to select
London as the scene of his great adventure.
The question that had long and seriously agitated
the frequenters of the Nuremberg was whether this gooseboy
migrant was really a soul-driven genius, spreading
his wings to the light, or merely an enterprising young
man who fancied he could paint and was pardonably anxious
to escape from the monotony of rye bread diet and the
sandy, swine-bestrewn plains of Pomerania. There was
reasonable ground for doubt and caution; the artistic
groups that foregathered at the little restaurant
contained so many young women with short hair and so many
young men with long hair, who supposed themselves to be
abnormally gifted in the domain of music, poetry,
painting, or stagecraft, with little or nothing to
support the supposition, that a self-announced genius of
any sort in their midst was inevitably suspect. On the
other hand, there was the ever-imminent danger of
entertaining, and snubbing, an angel unawares. There had
been the lamentable case of Sledonti, the dramatic poet,
who had been belittled and cold-shouldered in the Owl
Street hall of judgment, and had been afterwards hailed
as a master singer by the Grand Duke Constantine
Constantinovitch - "the most educated of the Romanoffs,"
according to Sylvia Strubble, who spoke rather as one who
knew every individual member of the Russian imperial
family; as a matter of fact, she knew a newspaper
correspondent, a young man who ate BORTSCH with the air
of having invented it. Sledonti's "Poems of Death and
Passion" were now being sold by the thousand in seven
European languages, and were about to be translated into
Syrian, a circumstance which made the discerning critics
of the Nuremberg rather shy of maturing their future
judgments too rapidly and too irrevocably.
As regards Knopfschrank's work, they did not lack
opportunity for inspecting and appraising it. However
resolutely he might hold himself aloof from the social
life of his restaurant acquaintances, he was not minded
to hide his artistic performances from their inquiring
gaze. Every evening, or nearly every evening, at about
seven o'clock, he would make his appearance, sit himself
down at his accustomed table, throw a bulky black
portfolio on to the chair opposite him, nod round
indiscriminately at his fellow-guests, and commence the
serious business of eating and drinking. When the coffee
stage was reached he would light a cigarette, draw the
portfolio over to him, and begin to rummage among its
contents. With slow deliberation he would select a few
of his more recent studies and sketches, and silently
pass them round from table to table, paying especial
attention to any new diners who might be present. On the
back of each sketch was marked in plain figures the
announcement "Price ten shillings."
If his work was not obviously stamped with the hallmark
of genius, at any rate it was remarkable for its
choice of an unusual and unvarying theme. His pictures
always represented some well-known street or public place
in London, fallen into decay and denuded of its human
population, in the place of which there roamed a wild
fauna, which, from its wealth of exotic species, must
have originally escaped from Zoological Gardens and
travelling beast shows. "Giraffes drinking at the
fountain pools, Trafalgar Square," was one of the most
notable and characteristic of his studies, while even
more sensational was the gruesome picture of "Vultures
attacking dying camel in Upper Berkeley Street." There
were also photographs of the large canvas on which he had
been engaged for some months, and which he was now
endeavouring to sell to some enterprising dealer or
adventurous amateur. The subject was "Hyaenas asleep in
Euston Station," a composition that left nothing to be
desired in the way of suggesting unfathomed depths of
"Of course it may be immensely clever, it may be
something epoch-making in the realm of art," said Sylvia
Strubble to her own particular circle of listeners, "but,
on the other hand, it may be merely mad. One mustn't pay
too much attention to the commercial aspect of the case,
of course, but still, if some dealer would make a bid for
that hyaena picture, or even for some of the sketches, we
should know better how to place the man and his work."
"We may all be cursing ourselves one of these days,"
said Mrs. Nougat-Jones, "for not having bought up his
entire portfolio of sketches. At the same time, when
there is so much real talent going about, one does not
feel like planking down ten shillings for what looks like
a bit of whimsical oddity. Now that picture that he
showed us last week, 'Sand-grouse roosting on the Albert
Memorial,' was very impressive, and of course I could see
there was good workmanship in it and breadth of
treatment; but it didn't in the least convey the Albert
Memorial to me, and Sir James Beanquest tells me that
sand-grouse don't roost, they sleep on the ground."
Whatever talent or genius the Pomeranian artist
might possess, it certainly failed to receive commercial
sanction. The portfolio remained bulky with unsold
sketches, and the "Euston Siesta," as the wits of the
Nuremberg nicknamed the large canvas, was still in the
market. The outward and visible signs of financial
embarrassment began to be noticeable; the half-bottle of
cheap claret at dinner-time gave way to a small glass of
lager, and this in turn was displaced by water. The oneand-
sixpenny set dinner receded from an everyday event to
a Sunday extravagance; on ordinary days the artist
contented himself with a sevenpenny omelette and some
bread and cheese, and there were evenings when he did not
put in an appearance at all. On the rare occasions when
he spoke of his own affairs it was observed that he began
to talk more about Pomerania and less about the great
world of art.
"It is a busy time there now with us," he said
wistfully; "the schwines are driven out into the fields
after harvest, and must be looked after. I could be
helping to look after if I was there. Here it is
difficult to live; art is not appreciate."
"Why don't you go home on a visit?" some one asked
"Ah, it cost money! There is the ship passage to
Stolpmunde, and there is money that I owe at my lodgings.
Even here I owe a few schillings. If I could sell some
of my sketches - "
"Perhaps," suggested Mrs. Nougat-Jones, "if you were
to offer them for a little less, some of us would be glad
to buy a few. Ten shillings is always a consideration,
you know, to people who are not over well off. Perhaps
if you were to ask six or seven shillings - "
Once a peasant, always a peasant. The mere
suggestion of a bargain to be struck brought a twinkle of
awakened alertness into the artist's eyes, and hardened
the lines of his mouth.
"Nine schilling nine pence each," he snapped, and
seemed disappointed that Mrs. Nougat-Jones did not pursue
the subject further. He had evidently expected her to
offer seven and fourpence.
The weeks sped by, and Knopfschrank came more rarely
to the restaurant in Owl Street, while his meals on those
occasions became more and more meagre. And then came a
triumphal day, when he appeared early in the evening in a
high state of elation, and ordered an elaborate meal that
scarcely stopped short of being a banquet. The ordinary
resources of the kitchen were supplemented by an imported
dish of smoked goosebreast, a Pomeranian delicacy that
was luckily procurable at a firm of DELIKATESSEN
merchants in Coventry Street, while a long-necked bottle
of Rhine wine gave a finishing touch of festivity and
good cheer to the crowded table.
"He has evidently sold his masterpiece," whispered
Sylvia Strubble to Mrs. Nougat-Jones, who had come in
"Who has bought it?" she whispered back.
"Don't know; he hasn't said anything yet, but it
must be some American. Do you see, he has got a little
American flag on the dessert dish, and he has put pennies
in the music box three times, once to play the 'Starspangled
Banner,' then a Sousa march, and then the 'Starspangled
Banner' again. It must be an American
millionaire, and he's evidently got a very big price for
it; he's just beaming and chuckling with satisfaction."
"We must ask him who has bought it," said Mrs.
"Hush! no, don't. Let's buy some of his sketches,
quick, before we are supposed to know that he's famous;
otherwise he'll be doubling the prices. I am so glad
he's had a success at last. I always believed in him,
you know."
For the sum of ten shillings each Miss Strubble
acquired the drawings of the camel dying in Upper
Berkeley Street and of the giraffes quenching their
thirst in Trafalgar Square; at the same price Mrs.
Nougat-Jones secured the study of roosting sand-grouse.
A more ambitious picture, "Wolves and wapiti fighting on
the steps of the Athenaeum Club," found a purchaser at
fifteen shillings.
"And now what are your plans?" asked a young man who
contributed occasional paragraphs to an artistic weekly.
"I go back to Stolpmunde as soon as the ship sails,"
said the artist, "and I do not return. Never."
"But your work? Your career as painter?"
"Ah, there is nossing in it. One starves. Till today
I have sold not one of my sketches. To-night you
have bought a few, because I am going away from you, but
at other times, not one."
"But has not some American - ?"
"Ah, the rich American," chuckled the artist. "God
be thanked. He dash his car right into our herd of
schwines as they were being driven out to the fields.
Many of our best schwines he killed, but he paid all
damages. He paid perhaps more than they were worth, many
times more than they would have fetched in the market
after a month of fattening, but he was in a hurry to get
on to Dantzig.
When one is in a hurry one must pay what one is
asked. God be thanked for rich Americans, who are always
in a hurry to get somewhere else. My father and mother,
they have now so plenty of money; they send me some to
pay my debts and come home. I start on Monday for
Stolpmunde and I do not come back. Never."
"But your picture, the hyaenas?"
"No good. It is too big to carry to Stolpmunde. I
burn it."
In time he will be forgotten, but at present
Knopfschrank is almost as sore a subject as Sledonti with
some of the frequenters of the Nuremberg Restaurant, Owl
Street, Soho.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?