The Toys of Peace
H.H. Munro ("Saki")
1919 John Lane edition
The Toys of Peace
The Disappearance of Crispina Umberleigh
The Wolves of Cernogratz
The Phantom Luncheon
A Bread and Butter Miss
Bertie's Christmas Eve
Excepting Mrs. Pentherby
The Mappined Life
The Seven Cream Jugs
The Occasional Garden
The Image of the Lost Soul
The Purple of the Balkan Kings
The Cupboard of the Yesterdays
For the Duration of the War
THE TOYS OF PEACE
"Harvey," said Eleanor Bope, handing her brother a cutting from a
London morning paper of the 19th of March, "just read this about
children's toys, please; it exactly carries out some of our ideas
about influence and upbringing."
"In the view of the National Peace Council," ran the extract, "there
are grave objections to presenting our boys with regiments of
fighting men, batteries of guns, and squadrons of 'Dreadnoughts.'
Boys, the Council admits, naturally love fighting and all the
panoply of war . . . but that is no reason for encouraging, and
perhaps giving permanent form to, their primitive instincts. At the
Children's Welfare Exhibition, which opens at Olympia in three
weeks' time, the Peace Council will make an alternative suggestion
to parents in the shape of an exhibition of 'peace toys.' In front
of a specially-painted representation of the Peace Palace at The
Hague will be grouped, not miniature soldiers but miniature
civilians, not guns but ploughs and the tools of industry . . . It
is hoped that manufacturers may take a hint from the exhibit, which
will bear fruit in the toy shops."
"The idea is certainly an interesting and very well-meaning one,"
said Harvey; "whether it would succeed well in practice--"
"We must try," interrupted his sister; "you are coming down to us at
Easter, and you always bring the boys some toys, so that will be an
excellent opportunity for you to inaugurate the new experiment. Go
about in the shops and buy any little toys and models that have
special bearing on civilian life in its more peaceful aspects. Of
course you must explain the toys to the children and interest them
in the new idea. I regret to say that the 'Siege of Adrianople'
toy, that their Aunt Susan sent them, didn't need any explanation;
they knew all the uniforms and flags, and even the names of the
respective commanders, and when I heard them one day using what
seemed to be the most objectionable language they said it was
Bulgarian words of command; of course it MAY have been, but at any
rate I took the toy away from them. Now I shall expect your Easter
gifts to give quite a new impulse and direction to the children's
minds; Eric is not eleven yet, and Bertie is only nine-and-a-half,
so they are really at a most impressionable age."
"There is primitive instinct to be taken into consideration, you
know," said Henry doubtfully, "and hereditary tendencies as well.
One of their great-uncles fought in the most intolerant fashion at
Inkerman--he was specially mentioned in dispatches, I believe--and
their great-grandfather smashed all his Whig neighbours' hot houses
when the great Reform Bill was passed. Still, as you say, they are
at an impressionable age. I will do my best."
On Easter Saturday Harvey Bope unpacked a large, promising-looking
red cardboard box under the expectant eyes of his nephews. "Your
uncle has brought you the newest thing in toys," Eleanor had said
impressively, and youthful anticipation had been anxiously divided
between Albanian soldiery and a Somali camel-corps. Eric was hotly
in favour of the latter contingency. "There would be Arabs on
horseback," he whispered; "the Albanians have got jolly uniforms,
and they fight all day long, and all night, too, when there's a
moon, but the country's rocky, so they've got no cavalry."
A quantity of crinkly paper shavings was the first thing that met
the view when the lid was removed; the most exiting toys always
began like that. Harvey pushed back the top layer and drew forth a
square, rather featureless building.
"It's a fort!" exclaimed Bertie.
"It isn't, it's the palace of the Mpret of Albania," said Eric,
immensely proud of his knowledge of the exotic title; "it's got no
windows, you see, so that passers-by can't fire in at the Royal
"It's a municipal dust-bin," said Harvey hurriedly; "you see all the
refuse and litter of a town is collected there, instead of lying
about and injuring the health of the citizens."
In an awful silence he disinterred a little lead figure of a man in
"That," he said, "is a distinguished civilian, John Stuart Mill. He
was an authority on political economy."
"Why?" asked Bertie.
"Well, he wanted to be; he thought it was a useful thing to be."
Bertie gave an expressive grunt, which conveyed his opinion that
there was no accounting for tastes.
Another square building came out, this time with windows and
"A model of the Manchester branch of the Young Women's Christian
Association," said Harvey.
"Are there any lions?" asked Eric hopefully. He had been reading
Roman history and thought that where you found Christians you might
reasonably expect to find a few lions.
"There are no lions," said Harvey. "Here is another civilian,
Robert Raikes, the founder of Sunday schools, and here is a model of
a municipal wash-house. These little round things are loaves backed
in a sanitary bakehouse. That lead figure is a sanitary inspector,
this one is a district councillor, and this one is an official of
the Local Government Board."
"What does he do?" asked Eric wearily.
"He sees to things connected with his Department," said Harvey.
"This box with a slit in it is a ballot-box. Votes are put into it
at election times."
"What is put into it at other times?" asked Bertie.
"Nothing. And here are some tools of industry, a wheelbarrow and a
hoe, and I think these are meant for hop-poles. This is a model
beehive, and that is a ventilator, for ventilating sewers. This
seems to be another municipal dust-bin--no, it is a model of a
school of art and public library. This little lead figure is Mrs.
Hemans, a poetess, and this is Rowland Hill, who introduced the
system of penny postage. This is Sir John Herschel, the eminent
"Are we to play with these civilian figures?" asked Eric.
"Of course," said Harvey, "these are toys; they are meant to be
It was rather a poser. "You might make two of them contest a seat
in Parliament," said Harvey, "an have an election--"
"With rotten eggs, and free fights, and ever so many broken heads!"
"And noses all bleeding and everybody drunk as can be," echoed
Bertie, who had carefully studied one of Hogarth's pictures.
"Nothing of the kind," said Harvey, "nothing in the least like that.
Votes will be put in the ballot-box, and the Mayor will count them--
and he will say which has received the most votes, and then the two
candidates will thank him for presiding, and each will say that the
contest has been conducted throughout in the pleasantest and most
straightforward fashion, and they part with expressions of mutual
esteem. There's a jolly game for you boys to play. I never had
such toys when I was young."
"I don't think we'll play with them just now," said Eric, with an
entire absence of the enthusiasm that his uncle had shown; "I think
perhaps we ought to do a little of our holiday task. It's history
this time; we've got to learn up something about the Bourbon period
"The Bourbon period," said Harvey, with some disapproval in his
"We've got to know something about Louis the Fourteenth," continued
Eric; "I've learnt the names of all the principal battles already."
This would never do. "There were, of course, some battles fought
during his reign," said Harvey, "but I fancy the accounts of them
were much exaggerated; news was very unreliable in those days, and
there were practically no war correspondents, so generals and
commanders could magnify every little skirmish they engaged in till
they reached the proportions of decisive battles. Louis was really
famous, now, as a landscape gardener; the way he laid out Versailles
was so much admired that it was copied all over Europe."
"Do you know anything about Madame Du Barry?" asked Eric; "didn't
she have her head chopped off?"
"She was another great lover of gardening," said Harvey, evasively;
"in fact, I believe the well known rose Du Barry was named after
her, and now I think you had better play for a little and leave your
lessons till later."
Harvey retreated to the library and spent some thirty or forty
minutes in wondering whether it would be possible to compile a
history, for use in elementary schools, in which there should be no
prominent mention of battles, massacres, murderous intrigues, and
violent deaths. The York and Lancaster period and the Napoleonic
era would, he admitted to himself, present considerable
difficulties, and the Thirty Years' War would entail something of a
gap if you left it out altogether. Still, it would be something
gained if, at a highly impressionable age, children could be got to
fix their attention on the invention of calico printing instead of
the Spanish Armada or the Battle of Waterloo.
It was time, he thought, to go back to the boys' room, and see how
they were getting on with their peace toys. As he stood outside the
door he could hear Eric's voice raised in command; Bertie chimed in
now and again with a helpful suggestion.
"That is Louis the Fourteenth," Eric was saying, "that one in knee-
breeches, that Uncle said invented Sunday schools. It isn't a bit
like him, but it'll have to do."
"We'll give him a purple coat from my paintbox by and by," said
"Yes, an' red heels. That is Madame de Maintenon, that one he
called Mrs. Hemans. She begs Louis not to go on this expedition,
but he turns a deaf ear. He takes Marshal Saxe with him, and we
must pretend that they have thousands of men with them. The
watchword is Qui vive? and the answer is L'etat c'est moi--that was
one of his favourite remarks, you know. They land at Manchester in
the dead of the night, and a Jacobite conspirator gives them the
keys of the fortress."
Peeping in through the doorway Harvey observed that the municipal
dustbin had been pierced with holes to accommodate the muzzles of
imaginary cannon, and now represented the principal fortified
position in Manchester; John Stuart Mill had been dipped in red ink,
and apparently stood for Marshal Saxe.
"Louis orders his troops to surround the Young Women's Christian
Association and seize the lot of them. 'Once back at the Louvre and
the girls are mine,' he exclaims. We must use Mrs. Hemans again for
one of the girls; she says 'Never,' and stabs Marshal Saxe to the
"He bleeds dreadfully," exclaimed Bertie, splashing red ink
liberally over the facade of the Association building.
"The soldiers rush in and avenge his death with the utmost savagery.
A hundred girls are killed"--here Bertie emptied the remainder of
the red ink over the devoted building--"and the surviving five
hundred are dragged off to the French ships. 'I have lost a
Marshal,' says Louis, 'but I do not go back empty-handed.'"
Harvey stole away from the room, and sought out his sister.
"Eleanor," he said, "the experiment--"
"Has failed. We have begun too late."
"The tea will be quite cold, you'd better ring for some more," said
the Dowager Lady Beanford.
Susan Lady Beanford was a vigorous old woman who had coquetted with
imaginary ill-health for the greater part of a lifetime; Clovis
Sangrail irreverently declared that she had caught a chill at the
Coronation of Queen Victoria and had never let it go again. Her
sister, Jane Thropplestance, who was some years her junior, was
chiefly remarkable for being the most absent-minded woman in
"I've really been unusually clever this afternoon," she remarked
gaily, as she rang for the tea. "I've called on all the people I
meant to call on; and I've done all the shopping that I set out to
do. I even remembered to try and match that silk for you at
Harrod's, but I'd forgotten to bring the pattern with me, so it was
no use. I really think that was the only important thing I forgot
during the whole afternoon. Quite wonderful for me, isn't it?"
"What have you done with Louise?" asked her sister. "Didn't you
take her out with you? You said you were going to."
"Good gracious," exclaimed Jane, "what have I done with Louise? I
must have left her somewhere."
"That's just it. Where have I left her? I can't remember if the
Carrywoods were at home or if I just left cards. If there were at
home I may have left Louise there to play bridge. I'll go and
telephone to Lord Carrywood and find out."
"Is that you, Lord Carrywood?" she queried over the telephone; "it's
me, Jane Thropplestance. I want to know, have you seen Louise?"
"'Louise,'" came the answer, "it's been my fate to see it three
times. At first, I must admit, I wasn't impressed by it, but the
music grows on one after a bit. Still, I don't think I want to see
it again just at present. Were you going to offer me a seat in your
"Not the opera 'Louise'--my niece, Louise Thropplestance. I thought
I might have left her at your house."
"You left cards on us this afternoon, I understand, but I don't
think you left a niece. The footman would have been sure to have
mentioned it if you had. Is it going to be a fashion to leave
nieces on people as well as cards? I hope not; some of these houses
in Berkeley-square have practically no accommodation for that sort
"She's not at the Carrywoods'," announced Jane, returning to her
tea; "now I come to think of it, perhaps I left her at the silk
counter at Selfridge's. I may have told her to wait there a moment
while I went to look at the silks in a better light, and I may
easily have forgotten about her when I found I hadn't your pattern
with me. In that case she's still sitting there. She wouldn't move
unless she was told to; Louise has no initiative."
"You said you tried to match the silk at Harrod's," interjected the
"Did I? Perhaps it was Harrod's. I really don't remember. It was
one of those places where every one is so kind and sympathetic and
devoted that one almost hates to take even a reel of cotton away
from such pleasant surroundings."
"I think you might have taken Louise away. I don't like the idea of
her being there among a lot of strangers. Supposing some
unprincipled person was to get into conversation with her."
"Impossible. Louise has no conversation. I've never discovered a
single topic on which she'd anything to say beyond 'Do you think so?
I dare say you're right.' I really thought her reticence about the
fall of the Ribot Ministry was ridiculous, considering how much her
dear mother used to visit Paris. This bread and butter is cut far
too thin; it crumbles away long before you can get it to your mouth.
One feels so absurd, snapping at one's food in mid-air, like a trout
leaping at may-fly."
"I am rather surprised," said the dowager, "that you can sit there
making a hearty tea when you've just lost a favourite niece."
"You talk as if I'd lost her in a churchyard sense, instead of
having temporarily mislaid her. I'm sure to remember presently
where I left her."
"You didn't visit any place of devotion, did you? If you've left
her mooning about Westminster Abbey or St. Peter's, Eaton Square,
without being able to give any satisfactory reason why she's there,
she'll be seized under the Cat and Mouse Act and sent to Reginald
"That would be extremely awkward," said Jane, meeting an irresolute
piece of bread and butter halfway; "we hardly know the McKennas, and
it would be very tiresome having to telephone to some unsympathetic
private secretary, describing Louise to him and asking to have her
sent back in time for dinner. Fortunately, I didn't go to any place
of devotion, though I did get mixed up with a Salvation Army
procession. It was quite interesting to be at close quarters with
them, they're so absolutely different to what they used to be when I
first remember them in the 'eighties. They used to go about then
unkempt and dishevelled, in a sort of smiling rage with the world,
and now they're spruce and jaunty and flamboyantly decorative, like
a geranium bed with religious convictions. Laura Kettleway was
going on about them in the lift of the Dover Street Tube the other
day, saying what a lot of good work they did, and what a loss it
would have been if they'd never existed. 'If they had never
existed,' I said, 'Granville Barker would have been certain to have
invented something that looked exactly like them.' If you say
things like that, quite loud, in a Tube lift, they always sound like
"I think you ought to do something about Louise," said the dowager.
"I'm trying to think whether she was with me when I called on Ada
Spelvexit. I rather enjoyed myself there. Ada was trying, as
usual, to ram that odious Koriatoffski woman down my throat, knowing
perfectly well that I detest her, and in an unguarded moment she
said: 'She's leaving her present house and going to Lower Seymour
Street.' 'I dare say she will, if she stays there long enough,' I
said. Ada didn't see it for about three minutes, and then she was
positively uncivil. No, I am certain I didn't leave Louise there."
"If you could manage to remember where you DID leave her, it would
be more to the point than these negative assurances," said Lady
Beanford; "so far, all we know is that she is not at the
Carrywoods', or Ada Spelvexit's, or Westminster Abbey."
"That narrows the search down a bit," said Jane hopefully; "I rather
fancy she must have been with me when I went to Mornay's. I know I
went to Mornay's, because I remember meeting that delightful Malcolm
What's-his-name there--you know whom I mean. That's the great
advantage of people having unusual first names, you needn't try and
remember what their other name is. Of course I know one or two
other Malcolms, but none that could possibly be described as
delightful. He gave me two tickets for the Happy Sunday Evenings in
Sloane Square. I've probably left them at Mornay's, but still it
was awfully kind of him to give them to me."
"Do you think you left Louise there?"
"I might telephone and ask. Oh, Robert, before you clear the tea-
things away I wish you'd ring up Mornay's, in Regent Street, and ask
if I left two theatre tickets and one niece in their shop this
"A niece, ma'am?" asked the footman.
"Yes, Miss Louise didn't come home with me, and I'm not sure where I
"Miss Louise has been upstairs all the afternoon, ma'am, reading to
the second kitchenmaid, who has the neuralgia. I took up tea to
Miss Louise at a quarter to five o'clock, ma'am."
"Of course, how silly of me. I remember now, I asked her to read
the Faerie Queene to poor Emma, to try to send her to sleep. I
always get some one to read the Faerie Queene to me when I have
neuralgia, and it usually sends me to sleep. Louise doesn't seem to
have been successful, but one can't say she hasn't tried. I expect
after the first hour or so the kitchenmaid would rather have been
left alone with her neuralgia, but of course Louise wouldn't leave
off till some one told her to. Anyhow, you can ring up Mornay's,
Robert, and ask whether I left two theatre tickets there. Except
for your silk, Susan, those seem to be the only things I've
forgotten this afternoon. Quite wonderful for me."
James Cushat-Prinkly was a young man who had always had a settled
conviction that one of these days he would marry; up to the age of
thirty-four he had done nothing to justify that conviction. He
liked and admired a great many women collectively and
dispassionately without singling out one for especial matrimonial
consideration, just as one might admire the Alps without feeling
that one wanted any particular peak as one's own private property.
His lack of initiative in this matter aroused a certain amount of
impatience among the sentimentally-minded women-folk of his home
circle; his mother, his sisters, an aunt-in-residence, and two or
three intimate matronly friends regarded his dilatory approach to
the married state with a disapproval that was far from being
inarticulate. His most innocent flirtations were watched with the
straining eagerness which a group of unexercised terriers
concentrates on the slightest movements of a human being who may be
reasonably considered likely to take them for a walk. No decent-
souled mortal can long resist the pleading of several pairs of walk-
beseeching dog-eyes; James Cushat-Prinkly was not sufficiently
obstinate or indifferent to home influences to disregard the
obviously expressed wish of his family that he should become
enamoured of some nice marriageable girl, and when his Uncle Jules
departed this life and bequeathed him a comfortable little legacy it
really seemed the correct thing to do to set about discovering some
one to share it with him. The process of discovery was carried on
more by the force of suggestion and the weight of public opinion
than by any initiative of his own; a clear working majority of his
female relatives and the aforesaid matronly friends had pitched on
Joan Sebastable as the most suitable young woman in his range of
acquaintance to whom he might propose marriage, and James became
gradually accustomed to the idea that he and Joan would go together
through the prescribed stages of congratulations, present-receiving,
Norwegian or Mediterranean hotels, and eventual domesticity. It was
necessary, however to ask the lady what she thought about the
matter; the family had so far conducted and directed the flirtation
with ability and discretion, but the actual proposal would have to
be an individual effort.
Cushat-Prinkly walked across the Park towards the Sebastable
residence in a frame of mind that was moderately complacent. As the
thing was going to be done he was glad to feel that he was going to
get it settled and off his mind that afternoon. Proposing marriage,
even to a nice girl like Joan, was a rather irksome business, but
one could not have a honeymoon in Minorca and a subsequent life of
married happiness without such preliminary. He wondered what
Minorca was really like as a place to stop in; in his mind's eye it
was an island in perpetual half-mourning, with black or white
Minorca hens running all over it. Probably it would not be a bit
like that when one came to examine it. People who had been in
Russia had told him that they did not remember having seen any
Muscovy ducks there, so it was possible that there would be no
Minorca fowls on the island.
His Mediterranean musings were interrupted by the sound of a clock
striking the half-hour. Half-past four. A frown of dissatisfaction
settled on his face. He would arrive at the Sebastable mansion just
at the hour of afternoon tea. Joan would be seated at a low table,
spread with an array of silver kettles and cream-jugs and delicate
porcelain tea-cups, behind which her voice would tinkle pleasantly
in a series of little friendly questions about weak or strong tea,
how much, if any, sugar, milk, cream, and so forth. "Is it one
lump? I forgot. You do take milk, don't you? Would you like some
more hot water, if it's too strong?"
Cushat-Prinkly had read of such things in scores of novels, and
hundreds of actual experiences had told him that they were true to
life. Thousands of women, at this solemn afternoon hour, were
sitting behind dainty porcelain and silver fittings, with their
voices tinkling pleasantly in a cascade of solicitous little
questions. Cushat-Prinkly detested the whole system of afternoon
tea. According to his theory of life a woman should lie on a divan
or couch, talking with incomparable charm or looking unutterable
thoughts, or merely silent as a thing to be looked on, and from
behind a silken curtain a small Nubian page should silently bring in
a tray with cups and dainties, to be accepted silently, as a matter
of course, without drawn-out chatter about cream and sugar and hot
water. If one's soul was really enslaved at one's mistress's feet
how could one talk coherently about weakened tea? Cushat-Prinkly
had never expounded his views on the subject to his mother; all her
life she had been accustomed to tinkle pleasantly at tea-time behind
dainty porcelain and silver, and if he had spoken to her about
divans and Nubian pages she would have urged him to take a week's
holiday at the seaside. Now, as he passed through a tangle of small
streets that led indirectly to the elegant Mayfair terrace for which
he was bound, a horror at the idea of confronting Joan Sebastable at
her tea-table seized on him. A momentary deliverance presented
itself; on one floor of a narrow little house at the noisier end of
Esquimault Street lived Rhoda Ellam, a sort of remote cousin, who
made a living by creating hats out of costly materials. The hats
really looked as if they had come from Paris; the cheques she got
for them unfortunately never looked as if they were going to Paris.
However, Rhoda appeared to find life amusing and to have a fairly
good time in spite of her straitened circumstances. Cushat-Prinkly
decided to climb up to her floor and defer by half-an-hour or so the
important business which lay before him; by spinning out his visit
he could contrive to reach the Sebastable mansion after the last
vestiges of dainty porcelain had been cleared away.
Rhoda welcomed him into a room that seemed to do duty as workshop,
sitting-room, and kitchen combined, and to be wonderfully clean and
comfortable at the same time.
"I'm having a picnic meal," she announced. "There's caviare in that
jar at your elbow. Begin on that brown bread-and-butter while I cut
some more. Find yourself a cup; the teapot is behind you. Now tell
me about hundreds of things."
She made no other allusion to food, but talked amusingly and made
her visitor talk amusingly too. At the same time she cut the bread-
and-butter with a masterly skill and produced red pepper and sliced
lemon, where so many women would merely have produced reasons and
regrets for not having any. Cushat-Prinkly found that he was
enjoying an excellent tea without having to answer as many questions
about it as a Minister for Agriculture might be called on to reply
to during an outbreak of cattle plague.
"And now tell me why you have come to see me," said Rhoda suddenly.
"You arouse not merely my curiosity but my business instincts. I
hope you've come about hats. I heard that you had come into a
legacy the other day, and, of course, it struck me that it would be
a beautiful and desirable thing for you to celebrate the event by
buying brilliantly expensive hats for all your sisters. They may
not have said anything about it, but I feel sure the same idea has
occurred to them. Of course, with Goodwood on us, I am rather
rushed just now, but in my business we're accustomed to that; we
live in a series of rushes--like the infant Moses."
"I didn't come about hats," said her visitor. "In fact, I don't
think I really came about anything. I was passing and I just
thought I'd look in and see you. Since I've been sitting talking to
you, however, rather important idea has occurred to me. If you'll
forget Goodwood for a moment and listen to me, I'll tell you what it
Some forty minutes later James Cushat-Prinkly returned to the bosom
of his family, bearing an important piece of news.
"I'm engaged to be married," he announced.
A rapturous outbreak of congratulation and self-applause broke out.
"Ah, we knew! We saw it coming! We foretold it weeks ago!"
"I'll bet you didn't," said Cushat-Prinkly. "If any one had told me
at lunch-time to-day that I was going to ask Rhoda Ellam to marry me
and that she was going to accept me I would have laughed at the
The romantic suddenness of the affair in some measure compensated
James's women-folk for the ruthless negation of all their patient
effort and skilled diplomacy. It was rather trying to have to
deflect their enthusiasm at a moment's notice from Joan Sebastable
to Rhoda Ellam; but, after all, it was James's wife who was in
question, and his tastes had some claim to be considered.
On a September afternoon of the same year, after the honeymoon in
Minorca had ended, Cushat-Prinkly came into the drawing-room of his
new house in Granchester Square. Rhoda was seated at a low table,
behind a service of dainty porcelain and gleaming silver. There was
a pleasant tinkling note in her voice as she handed him a cup.
"You like it weaker than that, don't you? Shall I put some more hot
water to it? No?"
THE DISAPPEARANCE OF CRISPINA UMBERLEIGH
In a first-class carriage of a train speeding Balkanward across the
flat, green Hungarian plain two Britons sat in friendly, fitful
converse. They had first foregathered in the cold grey dawn at the
frontier line, where the presiding eagle takes on an extra head and
Teuton lands pass from Hohenzollern to Habsburg keeping--and where a
probing official beak requires to delve in polite and perhaps
perfunctory, but always tiresome, manner into the baggage of sleep-
hungry passengers. After a day's break of their journey at Vienna
the travellers had again foregathered at the trainside and paid one
another the compliment of settling instinctively into the same
carriage. The elder of the two had the appearance and manner of a
diplomat; in point of fact he was the well-connected foster-brother
of a wine business. The other was certainly a journalist. Neither
man was talkative and each was grateful to the other for not being
talkative. That is why from time to time they talked.
One topic of conversation naturally thrust itself forward in front
of all others. In Vienna the previous day they had learned of the
mysterious vanishing of a world-famous picture from the walls of the
"A dramatic disappearance of that sort is sure to produce a crop of
imitations," said the Journalist.
"It has had a lot of anticipations, for the matter of that," said
"Oh, of course there have been thefts from the Louvre before."
"I was thinking of the spiriting away of human beings rather than
pictures. In particular I was thinking of the case of my aunt,
"I remember hearing something of the affair," said the Journalist,
"but I was away from England at the time. I never quite knew what
was supposed to have happened."
"You may hear what really happened if you will respect it as a
confidence," said the Wine Merchant. "In the first place I may say
that the disappearance of Mrs. Umberleigh was not regarded by the
family entirely as a bereavement. My uncle, Edward Umberleigh, was
not by any means a weak-kneed individual, in fact in the world of
politics he had to be reckoned with more or less as a strong man,
but he was unmistakably dominated by Crispina; indeed I never met
any human being who was not frozen into subjection when brought into
prolonged contact with her. Some people are born to command;
Crispina Mrs. Umberleigh was born to legislate, codify,
administrate, censor, license, ban, execute, and sit in judgement
generally. If she was not born with that destiny she adopted it at
an early age. From the kitchen regions upwards every one in the
household came under her despotic sway and stayed there with the
submissiveness of molluscs involved in a glacial epoch. As a nephew
on a footing of only occasional visits she affected me merely as an
epidemic, disagreeable while it lasted, but without any permanent
effect; but her own sons and daughters stood in mortal awe of her;
their studies, friendships, diet, amusements, religious observances,
and way of doing their hair were all regulated and ordained
according to the august lady's will and pleasure. This will help
you to understand the sensation of stupefaction which was caused in
the family when she unobtrusively and inexplicably vanished. It was
as though St. Paul's Cathedral or the Piccadilly Hotel had
disappeared in the night, leaving nothing but an open space to mark
where it had stood. As far as was known nothing was troubling her;
in fact there was much before her to make life particularly well
worth living. The youngest boy had come back from school with an
unsatisfactory report, and she was to have sat in judgement on him
the very afternoon of the day she disappeared--if it had been he who
had vanished in a hurry one could have supplied the motive. Then
she was in the middle of a newspaper correspondence with a rural
dean in which she had already proved him guilty of heresy,
inconsistency, and unworthy quibbling, and no ordinary consideration
would have induced her to discontinue the controversy. Of course
the matter was put in the hands of the police, but as far as
possible it was kept out of the papers, and the generally accepted
explanation of her withdrawal from her social circle was that she
had gone into a nursing home."
"And what was the immediate effect on the home circle?" asked the
"All the girls bought themselves bicycles; the feminine cycling
craze was still in existence, and Crispina had rigidly vetoed any
participation in it among the members of her household. The
youngest boy let himself go to such an extent during his next term
that it had to be his last as far as that particular establishment
was concerned. The elder boys propounded a theory that their mother
might be wandering somewhere abroad, and searched for her
assiduously, chiefly, it must be admitted, in a class of Montmartre
resort where it was extremely improbable that she would be found."
"And all this while couldn't your uncle get hold of the least clue?"
"As a matter of fact he had received some information, though of
course I did not know of it at the time. He got a message one day
telling him that his wife had been kidnapped and smuggled out of the
country; she was said to be hidden away, in one of the islands off
the coast of Norway I think it was, in comfortable surroundings and
well cared for. And with the information came a demand for money; a
lump sum of 2000 pounds was to be paid yearly. Failing this she
would be immediately restored to her family."
The Journalist was silent for a moment, and them began to laugh
"It was certainly an inverted form of holding to ransom," he said.
"If you had known my aunt," said the Wine Merchant, "you would have
wondered that they didn't put the figure higher."
"I realise the temptation. Did your uncle succumb to it?"
"Well, you see, he had to think of others as well as himself. For
the family to have gone back into the Crispina thraldom after having
tasted the delights of liberty would have been a tragedy, and there
were even wider considerations to be taken into account. Since his
bereavement he had unconsciously taken up a far bolder and more
initiatory line in public affairs, and his popularity and influence
had increased correspondingly. From being merely a strong man in
the political world he began to be spoken of as the strong man. All
this he knew would be jeopardised if he once more dropped into the
social position of the husband of Mrs. Umberleigh. He was a rich
man, and the 2000 pounds a year, though not exactly a fleabite, did
not seem an extravagant price to pay for the boarding-out of
Crispina. Of course, he had severe qualms of conscience about the
arrangement. Later on, when he took me into his confidence, he told
me that in paying the ransom, or hush-money as I should have called
it, he was partly influenced by the fear that if he refused it the
kidnappers might have vented their rage and disappointment on their
captive. It was better, he said, to think of her being well cared
for as a highly-valued paying-guest in one of the Lofoden Islands
than to have her struggling miserably home in a maimed and mutilated
condition. Anyway he paid the yearly instalment as punctually as
one pays a fire insurance, and with equal promptitude there would
come an acknowledgment of the money and a brief statement to the
effect that Crispina was in good health and fairly cheerful spirits.
One report even mentioned that she was busying herself with a scheme
for proposed reforms in Church management to be pressed on the local
pastorate. Another spoke of a rheumatic attack and a journey to a
'cure' on the mainland, and on that occasion an additional eighty
pounds was demanded and conceded. Of course it was to the interest
of the kidnappers to keep their charge in good health, but the
secrecy with which they managed to shroud their arrangements argued
a really wonderful organisation. If my uncle was paying a rather
high price, at least he could console himself with the reflection
that he was paying specialists' fees."
"Meanwhile had the police given up all attempts to track the missing
lady?" asked the Journalist.
"Not entirely; they came to my uncle from time to time to report on
clues which they thought might yield some elucidation as to her fate
or whereabouts, but I think they had their suspicions that he was
possessed of more information than he had put at their disposal.
And then, after a disappearance of more than eight years, Crispina
returned with dramatic suddenness to the home she had left so
"She had given her captors the slip?"
"She had never been captured. Her wandering away had been caused by
a sudden and complete loss of memory. She usually dressed rather in
the style of a superior kind of charwoman, and it was not so very
surprising that she should have imagined that she was one; and still
less that people should accept her statement and help her to get
work. She had wandered as far afield as Birmingham, and found
fairly steady employment there, her energy and enthusiasm in putting
people's rooms in order counterbalancing her obstinate and
domineering characteristics. It was the shock of being
patronisingly addressed as 'my good woman' by a curate, who was
disputing with her where the stove should be placed in a parish
concert hall that led to the sudden restoration of her memory. 'I
think you forget who you are speaking to,' she observed crushingly,
which was rather unduly severe, considering she had only just
remembered it herself."
"But," exclaimed the Journalist, "the Lofoden Island people! Who
had they got hold of?"
"A purely mythical prisoner. It was an attempt in the first place
by some one who knew something of the domestic situation, probably a
discharged valet, to bluff a lump sum out of Edward Umberleigh
before the missing woman turned up; the subsequent yearly
instalments were an unlooked-for increment to the original haul.
"Crispina found that the eight years' interregnum had materially
weakened her ascendancy over her now grown-up offspring. Her
husband, however, never accomplished anything great in the political
world after her return; the strain of trying to account
satisfactorily for an unspecified expenditure of sixteen thousand
pounds spread over eight years sufficiently occupied his mental
energies. Here is Belgrad and another custom house."
THE WOLVES OF CERNOGRATZ
"Are they any old legends attached to the castle?" asked Conrad of
his sister. Conrad was a prosperous Hamburg merchant, but he was
the one poetically-dispositioned member of an eminently practical
The Baroness Gruebel shrugged her plump shoulders.
"There are always legends hanging about these old places. They are
not difficult to invent and they cost nothing. In this case there
is a story that when any one dies in the castle all the dogs in the
village and the wild beasts in forest howl the night long. It would
not be pleasant to listen to, would it?"
"It would be weird and romantic," said the Hamburg merchant.
"Anyhow, it isn't true," said the Baroness complacently; "since we
bought the place we have had proof that nothing of the sort happens.
When the old mother-in-law died last springtime we all listened, but
there was no howling. It is just a story that lends dignity to the
place without costing anything."
"The story is not as you have told it," said Amalie, the grey old
governess. Every one turned and looked at her in astonishment. She
was wont to sit silent and prim and faded in her place at table,
never speaking unless some one spoke to her, and there were few who
troubled themselves to make conversation with her. To-day a sudden
volubility had descended on her; she continued to talk, rapidly and
nervously, looking straight in front of her and seeming to address
no one in particular.
"It is not when any one dies in the castle that the howling is
heard. It was when one of the Cernogratz family died here that the
wolves came from far and near and howled at the edge of the forest
just before the death hour. There were only a few couple of wolves
that had their lairs in this part of the forest, but at such a time
the keepers say there would be scores of them, gliding about in the
shadows and howling in chorus, and the dogs of the castle and the
village and all the farms round would bay and howl in fear and anger
at the wolf chorus, and as the soul of the dying one left its body a
tree would crash down in the park. That is what happened when a
Cernogratz died in his family castle. But for a stranger dying
here, of course no wolf would howl and no tree would fall. Oh, no."
There was a note of defiance, almost of contempt, in her voice as
she said the last words. The well-fed, much-too-well dressed
Baroness stared angrily at the dowdy old woman who had come forth
from her usual and seemly position of effacement to speak so
"You seem to know quite a lot about the von Cernogratz legends,
Fraulein Schmidt," she said sharply; "I did not know that family
histories were among the subjects you are supposed to be proficient
The answer to her taunt was even more unexpected and astonishing
than the conversational outbreak which had provoked it.
"I am a von Cernogratz myself," said the old woman, "that is why I
know the family history."
"You a von Cernogratz? You!" came in an incredulous chorus.
"When we became very poor," she explained, "and I had to go out and
give teaching lessons, I took another name; I thought it would be
more in keeping. But my grandfather spent much of his time as a boy
in this castle, and my father used to tell me many stories about it,
and, of course, I knew all the family legends and stories. When one
has nothing left to one but memories, one guards and dusts them with
especial care. I little thought when I took service with you that I
should one day come with you to the old home of my family. I could
wish it had been anywhere else."
There was silence when she finished speaking, and then the Baroness
turned the conversation to a less embarrassing topic than family
histories. But afterwards, when the old governess had slipped away
quietly to her duties, there arose a clamour of derision and
"It was an impertinence," snapped out the Baron, his protruding eyes
taking on a scandalised expression; "fancy the woman talking like
that at our table. She almost told us we were nobodies, and I don't
believe a word of it. She is just Schmidt and nothing more. She
has been talking to some of the peasants about the old Cernogratz
family, and raked up their history and their stories."
"She wants to make herself out of some consequence," said the
Baroness; "she knows she will soon be past work and she wants to
appeal to our sympathies. Her grandfather, indeed!"
The Baroness had the usual number of grandfathers, but she never,
never boasted about them.
"I dare say her grandfather was a pantry boy or something of the
sort in the castle," sniggered the Baron; "that part of the story
may be true."
The merchant from Hamburg said nothing; he had seen tears in the old
woman's eyes when she spoke of guarding her memories--or, being of
an imaginative disposition, he thought he had.
"I shall give her notice to go as soon as the New Year festivities
are over," said the Baroness; "till then I shall be too busy to
manage without her."
But she had to manage without her all the same, for in the cold
biting weather after Christmas, the old governess fell ill and kept
to her room.
"It is most provoking," said the Baroness, as her guests sat round
the fire on one of the last evenings of the dying year; "all the
time that she has been with us I cannot remember that she was ever
seriously ill, too ill to go about and do her work, I mean. And
now, when I have the house full, and she could be useful in so many
ways, she goes and breaks down. One is sorry for her, of course,
she looks so withered and shrunken, but it is intensely annoying all
"Most annoying," agreed the banker's wife, sympathetically; "it is
the intense cold, I expect, it breaks the old people up. It has
been unusually cold this year."
"The frost is the sharpest that has been known in December for many
years," said the Baron.
"And, of course, she is quite old," said the Baroness; "I wish I had
given her notice some weeks ago, then she would have left before
this happened to her. Why, Wappi, what is the matter with you?"
The small, woolly lapdog had leapt suddenly down from its cushion
and crept shivering under the sofa. At the same moment an outburst
of angry barking came from the dogs in the castle-yard, and other
dogs could be heard yapping and barking in the distance.
"What is disturbing the animals?" asked the Baron.
And then the humans, listening intently, heard the sound that had
roused the dogs to their demonstrations of fear and rage; heard a
long-drawn whining howl, rising and falling, seeming at one moment
leagues away, at others sweeping across the snow until it appeared
to come from the foot of the castle walls. All the starved, cold
misery of a frozen world, all the relentless hunger-fury of the
wild, blended with other forlorn and haunting melodies to which one
could give no name, seemed concentrated in that wailing cry.
"Wolves!" cried the Baron.
Their music broke forth in one raging burst, seeming to come from
"Hundreds of wolves," said the Hamburg merchant, who was a man of
Moved by some impulse which she could not have explained, the
Baroness left her guests and made her way to the narrow, cheerless
room where the old governess lay watching the hours of the drying
year slip by. In spite of the biting cold of the winter night, the
window stood open. With a scandalised exclamation on her lips, the
Baroness rushed forward to close it.
"Leave it open," said the old woman in a voice that for all its
weakness carried an air of command such as the Baroness had never
heard before from her lips.
"But you will die of cold!" she expostulated.
"I am dying in any case," said the voice, "and I want to hear their
music. They have come from far and wide to sing the death-music of
my family. It is beautiful that they have come; I am the last von
Cernogratz that will die in our old castle, and they have come to
sing to me. Hark, how loud they are calling!"
The cry of the wolves rose on the still winter air and floated round
the castle walls in long-drawn piercing wails; the old woman lay
back on her couch with a look of long-delayed happiness on her face.
"Go away," she said to the Baroness; "I am not lonely any more. I
am one of a great old family . . . "
"I think she is dying," said the Baroness when she had rejoined her
guests; "I suppose we must send for a doctor. And that terrible
howling! Not for much money would I have such death-music."
"That music is not to be bought for any amount of money," said
"Hark! What is that other sound?" asked the Baron, as a noise of
splitting and crashing was heard.
It was a tree falling in the park.
There was a moment of constrained silence, and then the banker's
"It is the intense cold that is splitting the trees. It is also the
cold that has brought the wolves out in such numbers. It is many
years since we have had such a cold winter."
The Baroness eagerly agreed that the cold was responsible for these
things. It was the cold of the open window, too, which caused the
heart failure that made the doctor's ministrations unnecessary for
the old Fraulein. But the notice in the newspapers looked very well
"On December 29th, at Schloss Cernogratz, Amalie von Cernogratz, for
many years the valued friend of Baron and Baroness Gruebel."
"It would be jolly to spend Easter in Vienna this year," said
Strudwarden, "and look up some of my old friends there. It's about
the jolliest place I know of to be at for Easter--"
"I thought we had made up our minds to spend Easter at Brighton,"
interrupted Lena Strudwarden, with an air of aggrieved surprise.
"You mean that you had made up your mind that we should spend Easter
there," said her husband; "we spent last Easter there, and
Whitsuntide as well, and the year before that we were at Worthing,
and Brighton again before that. I think it would be just as well to
have a real change of scene while we are about it."
"The journey to Vienna would be very expensive," said Lena.
"You are not often concerned about economy," said Strudwarden, "and
in any case the trip of Vienna won't cost a bit more than the rather
meaningless luncheon parties we usually give to quite meaningless
acquaintances at Brighton. To escape from all that set would be a
holiday in itself."
Strudwarden spoke feelingly; Lena Strudwarden maintained an equally
feeling silence on that particular subject. The set that she
gathered round her at Brighton and other South Coast resorts was
composed of individuals who might be dull and meaningless in
themselves, but who understood the art of flattering Mrs.
Strudwarden. She had no intention of foregoing their society and
their homage and flinging herself among unappreciative strangers in
a foreign capital.
"You must go to Vienna alone if you are bent on going," she said; "I
couldn't leave Louis behind, and a dog is always a fearful nuisance
in a foreign hotel, besides all the fuss and separation of the
quarantine restrictions when one comes back. Louis would die if he
was parted from me for even a week. You don't know what that would
mean to me."
Lena stooped down and kissed the nose of the diminutive brown
Pomeranian that lay, snug and irresponsive, beneath a shawl on her
"Look here," said Strudwarden, "this eternal Louis business is
getting to be a ridiculous nuisance. Nothing can be done, no plans
can be made, without some veto connected with that animal's whims or
convenience being imposed. If you were a priest in attendance on
some African fetish you couldn't set up a more elaborate code of
restrictions. I believe you'd ask the Government to put off a
General Election if you thought it would interfere with Louis's
comfort in any way."
By way of answer to this tirade Mrs. Strudwarden stooped down again
and kissed the irresponsive brown nose. It was the action of a
woman with a beautifully meek nature, who would, however, send the
whole world to the stake sooner than yield an inch where she knew
herself to be in the right.
"It isn't as if you were in the least bit fond of animals," went on
Strudwarden, with growing irritation; "when we are down at
Kerryfield you won't stir a step to take the house dogs out, even if
they're dying for a run, and I don't think you've been in the
stables twice in your life. You laugh at what you call the fuss
that's being made over the extermination of plumage birds, and you
are quite indignant with me if I interfere on behalf of an ill-
treated, over-driven animal on the road. And yet you insist on
every one's plans being made subservient to the convenience of that
stupid little morsel of fur and selfishness."
"You are prejudiced against my little Louis," said Lena, with a
world of tender regret in her voice.
"I've never had the chance of being anything else but prejudiced
against him," said Strudwarden; "I know what a jolly responsive
companion a doggie can be, but I've never been allowed to put a
finger near Louis. You say he snaps at any one except you and your
maid, and you snatched him away from old Lady Peterby the other day,
when she wanted to pet him, for fear he would bury his teeth in her.
All that I ever see of him is the top of his unhealthy-looking
little nose, peeping out from his basket or from your muff, and I
occasionally hear his wheezy little bark when you take him for a
walk up and down the corridor. You can't expect one to get
extravagantly fond of a dog of that sort. One might as well work up
an affection for the cuckoo in a cuckoo-clock."
"He loves me," said Lena, rising from the table, and bearing the
shawl-swathed Louis in her arms. "He loves only me, and perhaps
that is why I love him so much in return. I don't care what you say
against him, I am not going to be separated from him. If you insist
on going to Vienna you must go alone, as far as I am concerned. I
think it would be much more sensible if you were to come to Brighton
with Louis and me, but of course you must please yourself."
"You must get rid of that dog," said Strudwarden's sister when Lena
had left the room; "it must be helped to some sudden and merciful
end. Lena is merely making use of it as an instrument for getting
her own way on dozens of occasions when she would otherwise be
obliged to yield gracefully to your wishes or to the general
convenience. I am convinced that she doesn't care a brass button
about the animal itself. When her friends are buzzing round her at
Brighton or anywhere else and the dog would be in the way, it has to
spend whole days alone with the maid, but if you want Lena to go
with you anywhere where she doesn't want to go instantly she trots
out the excuse that she couldn't be separated from her dog. Have
you ever come into a room unobserved and heard Lena talking to her
beloved pet? I never have. I believe she only fusses over it when
there's some one present to notice her."
"I don't mind admitting," said Strudwarden, "that I've dwelt more
than once lately on the possibility of some fatal accident putting
an end to Louis's existence. It's not very easy, though, to arrange
a fatality for a creature that spends most of its time in a muff or
asleep in a toy kennel. I don't think poison would be any good;
it's obviously horribly over-fed, for I've seen Lena offer it
dainties at table sometimes, but it never seems to eat them."
"Lena will be away at church on Wednesday morning," said Elsie
Strudwarden reflectively; "she can't take Louis with her there, and
she is going on to the Dellings for lunch. That will give you
several hours in which to carry out your purpose. The maid will be
flirting with the chauffeur most of the time, and, anyhow, I can
manage to keep her out of the way on some pretext or other."
"That leaves the field clear," said Strudwarden, "but unfortunately
my brain is equally a blank as far as any lethal project is
concerned. The little beast is so monstrously inactive; I can't
pretend that it leapt into the bath and drowned itself, or that it
took on the butcher's mastiff in unequal combat and got chewed up.
In what possible guise could death come to a confirmed basket-
dweller? It would be too suspicious if we invented a Suffragette
raid and pretended that they invaded Lena's boudoir and threw a
brick at him. We should have to do a lot of other damage as well,
which would be rather a nuisance, and the servants would think it
odd that they had seen nothing of the invaders."
"I have an idea," said Elsie; "get a box with an air-tight lid, and
bore a small hole in it, just big enough to let in an indiarubber
tube. Pop Louis, kennel and all, into the box, shut it down, and
put the other end of the tube over the gas-bracket. There you have
a perfect lethal chamber. You can stand the kennel at the open
window afterwards, to get rid of the smell of gas, and all that Lena
will find when she comes home late in the afternoon will be a
placidly defunct Louis."
"Novels have been written about women like you," said Strudwarden;
"you have a perfectly criminal mind. Let's come and look for a
Two mornings later the conspirators stood gazing guiltily at a stout
square box, connected with the gas-bracket by a length of
"Not a sound," said Elsie; "he never stirred; it must have been
quite painless. All the same I feel rather horrid now it's done."
"The ghastly part has to come," said Strudwarden, turning off the
gas. "We'll lift the lid slowly, and let the gas out by degrees.
Swing the door to and fro to send a draught through the room."
Some minutes later, when the fumes had rushed off, he stooped down
and lifted out the little kennel with its grim burden. Elsie gave
an exclamation of terror. Louis sat at the door of his dwelling,
head erect and ears pricked, as coldly and defiantly inert as when
they had put him into his execution chamber. Strudwarden dropped
the kennel with a jerk, and stared for a long moment at the miracle-
dog; then he went into a peal of chattering laughter.
It was certainly a wonderful imitation of a truculent-looking toy
Pomeranian, and the apparatus that gave forth a wheezy bark when you
pressed it had materially helped the imposition that Lena, and
Lena's maid, had foisted on the household. For a woman who disliked
animals, but liked getting her own way under a halo of
unselfishness, Mrs. Strudwarden had managed rather well.
"Louis is dead," was the curt information that greeted Lena on her
return from her luncheon party.
"Louis DEAD!" she exclaimed.
"Yes, he flew at the butcher-boy and bit him, and he bit me, too,
when I tried to get him off, so I had to have him destroyed. You
warned me that he snapped, but you didn't tell me that he was
downright dangerous. I shall have to pay the boy something heavy by
way of compensation, so you will have to go without those buckles
that you wanted to have for Easter; also I shall have to go to
Vienna to consult Dr. Schroeder, who is a specialist on dog-bites,
and you will have to come too. I have sent what remains of Louis to
Rowland Ward to be stuffed; that will be my Easter gift to you
instead of the buckles. For Heaven's sake, Lena, weep, if you
really feel it so much; anything would be better than standing there
staring as if you thought I had lost my reason."
Lena Strudwarden did not weep, but her attempt at laughing was an
"The landscape seen from our windows is certainly charming," said
Annabel; "those cherry orchards and green meadows, and the river
winding along the valley, and the church tower peeping out among the
elms, they all make a most effective picture. There's something
dreadfully sleepy and languorous about it, though; stagnation seems
to be the dominant note. Nothing ever happens here; seedtime and
harvest, an occasional outbreak of measles or a mildly destructive
thunderstorm, and a little election excitement about once in five
years, that is all that we have to modify the monotony of our
existence. Rather dreadful, isn't it?"
"On the contrary," said Matilda, "I find it soothing and restful;
but then, you see, I've lived in countries where things do happen,
ever so many at a time, when you're not ready for them happening all
"That, of course, makes a difference," said Annabel.
"I have never forgotten," said Matilda, "the occasion when the
Bishop of Bequar paid us an unexpected visit; he was on his way to
lay the foundation-stone of a mission-house or something of the
"I thought that out there you were always prepared for emergency
guests turning up," said Annabel.
"I was quite prepared for half a dozen Bishops," said Matilda, "but
it was rather disconcerting to find out after a little conversation
that this particular one was a distant cousin of mine, belonging to
a branch of the family that had quarrelled bitterly and offensively
with our branch about a Crown Derby dessert service; they got it,
and we ought to have got it, in some legacy, or else we got it and
they thought they ought to have it, I forget which; anyhow, I know
they behaved disgracefully. Now here was one of them turning up in
the odour of sanctity, so to speak, and claiming the traditional
hospitality of the East."
"It was rather trying, but you could have left your husband to do
most of the entertaining."
"My husband was fifty miles up-country, talking sense, or what he
imagined to be sense, to a village community that fancied one of
their leading men was a were-tiger."
"A what tiger?"
"A were-tiger; you've heard of were-wolves, haven't you, a mixture
of wolf and human being and demon? Well, in those parts they have
were-tigers, or think they have, and I must say that in this case,
so far as sworn and uncontested evidence went, they had every ground
for thinking so. However, as we gave up witchcraft prosecutions
about three hundred years ago, we don't like to have other people
keeping on our discarded practices; it doesn't seem respectful to
our mental and moral position."
"I hope you weren't unkind to the Bishop," said Annabel.
"Well, of course he was my guest, so I had to be outwardly polite to
him, but he was tactless enough to rake up the incidents of the old
quarrel, and to try to make out that there was something to be said
for the way his side of the family had behaved; even if there was,
which I don't for a moment admit, my house was not the place in
which to say it. I didn't argue the matter, but I gave my cook a
holiday to go and visit his aged parents some ninety miles away.
The emergency cook was not a specialist in curries, in fact, I don't
think cooking in any shape or form could have been one of his strong
points. I believe he originally came to us in the guise of a
gardener, but as we never pretended to have anything that could be
considered a garden he was utilised as assistant goatherd, in which
capacity, I understand, he gave every satisfaction. When the Bishop
heard that I had sent away the cook on a special and unnecessary
holiday he saw the inwardness of the manoeuvre, and from that moment
we were scarcely on speaking terms. If you have ever had a Bishop
with whom you were not on speaking terms staying in your house, you
will appreciate the situation."
Annabel confessed that her life-story had never included such a
"Then," continued Matilda, "to make matters more complicated, the
Gwadlipichee overflowed its banks, a thing it did every now and then
when the rains were unduly prolonged, and the lower part of the
house and all the out-buildings were submerged. We managed to get
the ponies loose in time, and the syce swam the whole lot of them
off to the nearest rising ground. A goat or two, the chief goat-
herd, the chief goat-herd's wife, and several of their babies came
to anchorage in the verandah. All the rest of the available space
was filled up with wet, bedraggled-looking hens and chickens; one
never really knows how many fowls one possesses till the servants'
quarters are flooded out. Of course, I had been through something
of the sort in previous floods, but never before had I had a
houseful of goats and babies and half-drowned hens, supplemented by
a Bishop with whom I was hardly on speaking terms."
"It must have been a trying experience," commented Annabel.
"More embarrassments were to follow. I wasn't going to let a mere
ordinary flood wash out the memory of that Crown Derby dessert
service, and I intimated to the Bishop that his large bedroom, with
a writing table in it, and his small bath-room, with a sufficiency
of cold-water jars in it, was his share of the premises, and that
space was rather congested under the existing circumstances.
However, at about three o'clock in the afternoon, when he had
awakened from his midday sleep, he made a sudden incursion into the
room that was normally the drawing-room, but was now dining-room,
store-house, saddle-room, and half a dozen other temporary premises
as well. From the condition of my guest's costume he seemed to
think it might also serve as his dressing-room.
"'I'm afraid there is nowhere for you to sit,' I said coldly; 'the
verandah is full of goats.'
"'There is a goat in my bedroom,' he observed with equal coldness,
and more than a suspicion of sardonic reproach.
"'Really,' I said, 'another survivor? I thought all the other goats
were done for.'
"'This particular goat is quite done for,' he said, 'it is being
devoured by a leopard at the present moment. That is why I left the
room; some animals resent being watched while they are eating.'
"The leopard, of course, was easily explained; it had been hanging
round the goat sheds when the flood came, and had clambered up by
the outside staircase leading to the Bishop's bath-room,
thoughtfully bringing a goat with it. Probably it found the bath-
room too damp and shut-in for its taste, and transferred its
banqueting operations to the bedroom while the Bishop was having his
"What a frightful situation!" exclaimed Annabel; "fancy having a
ravening leopard in the house, with a flood all round you."
"Not in the least ravening," said Matilda; "it was full of goat, had
any amount of water at its disposal if it felt thirsty, and probably
had no more immediate wish than a desire for uninterrupted sleep.
Still, I think any one will admit that it was an embarrassing
predicament to have your only available guest-room occupied by a
leopard, the verandah choked up with goats and babies and wet hens,
and a Bishop with whom you were scarcely on speaking terms planted
down in your own sitting-room. I really don't know how I got
through those crawling hours, and of course mealtimes only made
matters worse. The emergency cook had every excuse for sending in
watery soup and sloppy rice, and as neither the chief goat-herd nor
his wife were expert divers, the cellar could not be reached.
Fortunately the Gwadlipichee subsides as rapidly as it rises, and
just before dawn the syce came splashing back, with the ponies only
fetlock deep in water. Then there arose some awkwardness from the
fact that the Bishop wished to leave sooner than the leopard did,
and as the latter was ensconced in the midst of the former's
personal possessions there was an obvious difficulty in altering the
order of departure. I pointed out to the Bishop that a leopard's
habits and tastes are not those of an otter, and that it naturally
preferred walking to wading; and that in any case a meal of an
entire goat, washed down with tub-water, justified a certain amount
of repose; if I had had guns fired to frighten the animal away, as
the Bishop suggested, it would probably merely have left the bedroom
to come into the already over-crowded drawing-room. Altogether it
was rather a relief when they both left. Now, perhaps, you can
understand my appreciation of a sleepy countryside where things
Octavian Ruttle was one of those lively cheerful individuals on whom
amiability had set its unmistakable stamp, and, like most of his
kind, his soul's peace depended in large measure on the unstinted
approval of his fellows. In hunting to death a small tabby cat he
had done a thing of which he scarcely approved himself, and he was
glad when the gardener had hidden the body in its hastily dug grave
under a lone oak-tree in the meadow, the same tree that the hunted
quarry had climbed as a last effort towards safety. It had been a
distasteful and seemingly ruthless deed, but circumstances had
demanded the doing of it. Octavian kept chickens; at least he kept
some of them; others vanished from his keeping, leaving only a few
bloodstained feathers to mark the manner of their going. The tabby
cat from the large grey house that stood with its back to the meadow
had been detected in many furtive visits to the hen-coups, and after
due negotiation with those in authority at the grey house a sentence
of death had been agreed on. "The children will mind, but they need
not know," had been the last word on the matter.
The children in question were a standing puzzle to Octavian; in the
course of a few months he considered that he should have known their
names, ages, the dates of their birthdays, and have been introduced
to their favourite toys. They remained however, as non-committal as
the long blank wall that shut them off from the meadow, a wall over
which their three heads sometimes appeared at odd moments. They had
parents in India--that much Octavian had learned in the
neighbourhood; the children, beyond grouping themselves garment-wise
into sexes, a girl and two boys, carried their lifestory no further
on his behoof. And now it seemed he was engaged in something which
touched them closely, but must be hidden from their knowledge.
The poor helpless chickens had gone one by one to their doom, so it
was meet that their destroyer should come to a violent end; yet
Octavian felt some qualms when his share of the violence was ended.
The little cat, headed off from its wonted tracks of safety, had
raced unfriended from shelter to shelter, and its end had been
rather piteous. Octavian walked through the long grass of the
meadow with a step less jaunty than usual. And as he passed beneath
the shadow of the high blank wall he glanced up and became aware
that his hunting had had undesired witnesses. Three white set faces
were looking down at him, and if ever an artist wanted a threefold
study of cold human hate, impotent yet unyielding, raging yet masked
in stillness, he would have found it in the triple gaze that met
"I'm sorry, but it had to be done," said Octavian, with genuine
apology in his voice.
The answer came from three throats with startling intensity.
Octavian felt that the blank wall would not be more impervious to
his explanations than the bunch of human hostility that peered over
its coping; he wisely decided to withhold his peace overtures till a
more hopeful occasion.
Two days later he ransacked the best sweet shop in the neighbouring
market town for a box of chocolates that by its size and contents
should fitly atone for the dismal deed done under the oak tree in
the meadow. The two first specimens that were shown him he hastily
rejected; one had a group of chickens pictured on its lid, the other
bore the portrait of a tabby kitten. A third sample was more simply
bedecked with a spray of painted poppies, and Octavian hailed the
flowers of forgetfulness as a happy omen. He felt distinctly more
at ease with his surroundings when the imposing package had been
sent across to the grey house, and a message returned to say that it
had been duly given to the children. The next morning he sauntered
with purposeful steps past the long blank wall on his way to the
chicken-run and piggery that stood at the bottom of the meadow. The
three children were perched at their accustomed look-out, and their
range of sight did not seem to concern itself with Octavian's
presence. As he became depressingly aware of the aloofness of their
gaze he also noted a strange variegation in the herbage at his feet;
the greensward for a considerable space around was strewn and
speckled with a chocolate-coloured hail, enlivened here and there
with gay tinsel-like wrappings or the glistening mauve of
crystallised violets. It was as though the fairy paradise of a
greedyminded child had taken shape and substance in the vegetation
of the meadow. Octavian's bloodmoney had been flung back at him in
To increase his discomfiture the march of events tended to shift the
blame of ravaged chicken-coops from the supposed culprit who had
already paid full forfeit; the young chicks were still carried off,
and it seemed highly probable that the cat had only haunted the
chicken-run to prey on the rats which harboured there. Through the
flowing channels of servant talk the children learned of this
belated revision of verdict, and Octavian one day picked up a sheet
of copy-book paper on which was painstakingly written: "Beast.
Rats eated your chickens." More ardently than ever did he wish for
an opportunity for sloughing off the disgrace that enwrapped him,
and earning some happier nickname from his three unsparing judges.
And one day a chance inspiration came to him. Olivia, his two-year-
old daughter, was accustomed to spend the hour from high noon till
one o'clock with her father while the nursemaid gobbled and digested
her dinner and novelette. About the same time the blank wall was
usually enlivened by the presence of its three small wardens.
Octavian, with seeming carelessness of purpose, brought Olivia well
within hail of the watchers and noted with hidden delight the
growing interest that dawned in that hitherto sternly hostile
quarter. His little Olivia, with her sleepy placid ways, was going
to succeed where he, with his anxious well-meant overtures, had so
signally failed. He brought her a large yellow dahlia, which she
grasped tightly in one hand and regarded with a stare of benevolent
boredom, such as one might bestow on amateur classical dancing
performed in aid of a deserving charity. Then he turned shyly to
the group perched on the wall and asked with affected carelessness,
"Do you like flowers?" Three solemn nods rewarded his venture.
"Which sorts do you like best?" he asked, this time with a distinct
betrayal of eagerness in his voice.
"Those with all the colours, over there." Three chubby arms pointed
to a distant tangle of sweetpea. Child-like, they had asked for
what lay farthest from hand, but Octavian trotted off gleefully to
obey their welcome behest. He pulled and plucked with unsparing
hand, and brought every variety of tint that he could see into his
bunch that was rapidly becoming a bundle. Then he turned to retrace
his steps, and found the blank wall blanker and more deserted than
ever, while the foreground was void of all trace of Olivia. Far
down the meadow three children were pushing a go-cart at the utmost
speed they could muster in the direction of the piggeries; it was
Olivia's go-cart and Olivia sat in it, somewhat bumped and shaken by
the pace at which she was being driven, but apparently retaining her
wonted composure of mind. Octavian stared for a moment at the
rapidly moving group, and then started in hot pursuit, shedding as
he ran sprays of blossom from the mass of sweet-pea that he still
clutched in his hands. Fast as he ran the children had reached the
piggery before he could overtake them, and he arrived just in time
to see Olivia, wondering but unprotesting, hauled and pushed up to
the roof of the nearest sty. They were old buildings in some need
of repair, and the rickety roof would certainly not have borne
Octavian's weight if he had attempted to follow his daughter and her
captors on their new vantage ground.
"What are you going to do with her?" he panted. There was no
mistaking the grim trend of mischief in those flushed by sternly
composed young faces.
"Hang her in chains over a slow fire," said one of the boys.
Evidently they had been reading English history.
"Frow her down the pigs will d'vour her, every bit 'cept the palms
of her hands," said the other boy. It was also evident that they
had studied Biblical history.
The last proposal was the one which most alarmed Octavian, since it
might be carried into effect at a moment's notice; there had been
cases, he remembered, of pigs eating babies.
"You surely wouldn't treat my poor little Olivia in that way?" he
"You killed our little cat," came in stern reminder from three
"I'm sorry I did," said Octavian, and if there is a standard
measurement in truths Octavian's statement was assuredly a large
"We shall be very sorry when we've killed Olivia," said the girl,
"but we can't be sorry till we've done it."
The inexorable child-logic rose like an unyielding rampart before
Octavian's scared pleadings. Before he could think of any fresh
line of appeal his energies were called out in another direction.
Olivia had slid off the roof and fallen with a soft, unctuous splash
into a morass of muck and decaying straw. Octavian scrambled
hastily over the pigsty wall to her rescue, and at once found
himself in a quagmire that engulfed his feet. Olivia, after the
first shock of surprise at her sudden drop through the air, had been
mildly pleased at finding herself in close and unstinted contact
with the sticky element that oozed around her, but as she began to
sink gently into the bed of slime a feeling dawned on her that she
was not after all very happy, and she began to cry in the tentative
fashion of the normally good child. Octavian, battling with the
quagmire, which seemed to have learned the rare art of giving way at
all points without yielding an inch, saw his daughter slowly
disappearing in the engulfing slush, her smeared face further
distorted with the contortions of whimpering wonder, while from
their perch on the pigsty roof the three children looked down with
the cold unpitying detachment of the Parcae Sisters.
"I can't reach her in time," gasped Octavian, "she'll be choked in
the muck. Won't you help her?"
"No one helped our cat," came the inevitable reminder.
"I'll do anything to show you how sorry I am about that," cried
Octavian, with a further desperate flounder, which carried him
scarcely two inches forward.
"Will you stand in a white sheet by the grave?"
"Yes," screamed Octavian.
"Holding a candle?"
"An' saying 'I'm a miserable Beast'?"
Octavian agreed to both suggestions.
"For a long, long time?"
"For half an hour," said Octavian. There was an anxious ring in his
voice as he named the time-limit; was there not the precedent of a
German king who did open-air penance for several days and nights at
Christmas-time clad only in his shirt? Fortunately the children did
not appear to have read German history, and half an hour seemed long
and goodly in their eyes.
"All right," came with threefold solemnity from the roof, and a
moment later a short ladder had been laboriously pushed across to
Octavian, who lost no time in propping it against the low pigsty
wall. Scrambling gingerly along its rungs he was able to lean
across the morass that separated him from his slowly foundering
offspring and extract her like an unwilling cork from it's slushy
embrace. A few minutes later he was listening to the shrill and
repeated assurances of the nursemaid that her previous experience of
filthy spectacles had been on a notably smaller scale.
That same evening when twilight was deepening into darkness Octavian
took up his position as penitent under the lone oak-tree, having
first carefully undressed the part. Clad in a zephyr shirt, which
on this occasion thoroughly merited its name, he held in one hand a
lighted candle and in the other a watch, into which the soul of a
dead plumber seemed to have passed. A box of matches lay at his
feet and was resorted to on the fairly frequent occasions when the
candle succumbed to the night breezes. The house loomed inscrutable
in the middle distance, but as Octavian conscientiously repeated the
formula of his penance he felt certain that three pairs of solemn
eyes were watching his moth-shared vigil.
And the next morning his eyes were gladdened by a sheet of copy-book
paper lying beside the blank wall, on which was written the message
THE PHANTOM LUNCHEON
"The Smithly-Dubbs are in Town," said Sir James. "I wish you would
show them some attention. Ask them to lunch with you at the Ritz or
"From the little I've seen of the Smithly-Dubbs I don't thing I want
to cultivate their acquaintance," said Lady Drakmanton.
"They always work for us at election times," said her husband; "I
don't suppose they influence very many votes, but they have an uncle
who is on one of my ward committees, and another uncle speaks
sometimes at some of our less important meetings. Those sort of
people expect some return in the shape of hospitality."
"Expect it!" exclaimed Lady Drakmanton; "the Misses Smithly-Dubb do
more than that; they almost demand it. They belong to my club, and
hang about the lobby just about lunch-time, all three of them, with
their tongues hanging out of their mouths and the six-course look in
their eyes. If I were to breathe the word 'lunch' they would hustle
me into a taxi and scream 'Ritz' or 'Dieudonne's' to the driver
before I knew what was happening."
"All the same, I think you ought to ask them to a meal of some
sort," persisted Sir James.
"I consider that showing hospitality to the Smithly-Dubbs is
carrying Free Food principles to a regrettable extreme," said Lady
Drakmanton; "I've entertained the Joneses and the Browns and the
Snapheimers and the Lubrikoffs, and heaps of others whose names I
forget, but I don't see why I should inflict the society of the
Misses Smithly-Dubb on myself for a solid hour. Imagine it, sixty
minutes, more or less, of unrelenting gobble and gabble. Why can't
YOU take them on, Milly?" she asked, turning hopefully to her
"I don't know them," said Milly hastily.
"All the better; you can pass yourself off as me. People say that
we are so alike that they can hardly tell us apart, and I've only
spoken to these tiresome young women about twice in my life, at
committee-rooms, and bowed to them in the club. Any of the club
page-boys will point them out to you; they're always to be found
lolling about the hall just before lunch-time."
"My dear Betty, don't be absurd," protested Milly; "I've got some
people lunching with me at the Carlton to-morrow, and I'm leaving
Town the day afterwards."
"What time is your lunch to-morrow?" asked Lady Drakmanton
"Two o'clock," said Milly.
"Good," said her sister; "the Smithly-Dubbs shall lunch with me to-
morrow. It shall be rather an amusing lunch-party. At least, I
shall be amused."
The last two remarks she made to herself. Other people did not
always appreciate her ideas of humour. Sir James never did.
The next day Lady Drakmanton made some marked variations in her
usual toilet effects. She dressed her hair in an unaccustomed
manner, and put on a hat that added to the transformation of her
appearance. When she had made one or two minor alterations she was
sufficiently unlike her usual smart self to produce some hesitation
in the greeting which the Misses Smithly-Dubb bestowed on her in the
club-lobby. She responded, however, with a readiness which set
their doubts at rest.
"What is the Carlton like for lunching in?" she asked breezily.
The restaurant received an enthusiastic recommendation from the
"Let's go and lunch there, shall we?" she suggested, and in a few
minutes' time the Smithly-Dubb mind was contemplating at close
quarters a happy vista of baked meats and approved vintage.
"Are you going to start with caviare? I am," confided Lady
Drakmanton, and the Smithly-Dubbs started with caviare. The
subsequent dishes were chosen in the same ambitious spirit, and by
the time they had arrived at the wild duck course it was beginning
to be a rather expensive lunch.
The conversation hardly kept pace with the brilliancy of the menu.
Repeated references on the part of the guests to the local political
conditions and prospects in Sir James's constituency were met with
vague "ahs" and "indeeds" from Lady Drakmanton, who might have been
expected to be specially interested.
"I think when the Insurance Act is a little better understood it
will lose some of its present unpopularity," hazarded Cecilia
"Will it? I dare say. I'm afraid politics don't interest me very
much," said Lady Drakmanton.
The three Miss Smithly-Dubbs put down their cups of Turkish coffee
and stared. Then they broke into protesting giggles.
"Of course, you're joking," they said.
"Not me," was the disconcerting answer; "I can't make head or tail
of these bothering old politics. Never could, and never want to.
I've quite enough to do to manage my own affairs, and that's a
"But," exclaimed Amanda Smithly-Dubb, with a squeal of bewilderment
breaking into her voice, "I was told you spoke so informingly about
the Insurance Act at one of our social evenings."
It was Lady Drakmanton who stared now. "Do you know," she said,
with a scared look around her, "rather a dreadful thing is
happening. I'm suffering from a complete loss of memory. I can't
even think who I am. I remember meeting you somewhere, and I
remember you asking me to come and lunch with you here, and that I
accepted your kind invitation. Beyond that my mind is a positive
The scared look was transferred with intensified poignancy to the
faces of her companions.
"YOU asked US to lunch," they exclaimed hurriedly. That seemed a
more immediately important point to clear up than the question of
"Oh, no," said the vanishing hostess, "THAT I do remember about.
You insisted on my coming here because the feeding was so good, and
I must say it comes up to all you said about it. A very nice lunch
it's been. What I'm worrying about is who on earth am I? I haven't
the faintest notion?"
"You are Lady Drakmanton," exclaimed the three sisters in chorus.
"Now, don't make fun of me," she replied, crossly, "I happen to know
her quite well by sight, and she isn't a bit like me. And it's an
odd thing you should have mentioned her, for it so happens she's
just come into the room. That lady in black, with the yellow plume
in her hat, there over by the door."
The Smithly-Dubbs looked in the indicated direction, and the
uneasiness in their eyes deepened into horror. In outward
appearance the lady who had just entered the room certainly came
rather nearer to their recollection of their Member's wife than the
individual who was sitting at table with them.
"Who ARE you, then, if that is Lady Drakmanton?" they asked in
"That is just what I don't know," was the answer; "and you don't
seem to know much better than I do."
"You came up to us in the club--"
"In what club?"
"The New Didactic, in Calais Street."
"The New Didactic!" exclaimed Lady Drakmanton with an air of
returning illumination; "thank you so much. Of course, I remember
now who I am. I'm Ellen Niggle, of the Ladies' Brasspolishing
Guild. The Club employs me to come now and then and see to the
polishing of the brass fittings. That's how I came to know Lady
Drakmanton by sight; she's very often in the Club. And you are the
ladies who so kindly asked me out to lunch. Funny how it should all
have slipped my memory, all of a sudden. The unaccustomed good food
and wine must have been too much for me; for the moment I really
couldn't call to mind who I was. Good gracious," she broke off
suddenly, "it's ten past two; I should be at a polishing job in
Whitehall. I must scuttle off like a giddy rabbit. Thanking you
She left the room with a scuttle sufficiently suggestive of the
animal she had mentioned, but the giddiness was all on the side of
her involuntary hostesses. The restaurant seemed to be spinning
round them; and the bill when it appeared did nothing to restore
their composure. They were as nearly in tears as it is permissible
to be during the luncheon hour in a really good restaurant.
Financially speaking, they were well able to afford the luxury of an
elaborate lunch, but their ideas on the subject of entertaining
differed very sharply, according to the circumstances of whether
they were dispensing or receiving hospitality. To have fed
themselves liberally at their own expense was, perhaps, an
extravagance to be deplored, but, at any rate, they had had
something for their money; to have drawn an unknown and socially
unremunerative Ellen Niggle into the net of their hospitality was a
catastrophe that they could not contemplate with any degree of
The Smithly-Dubbs never quite recovered from their unnerving
experience. They have given up politics and taken to doing good.
A BREAD AND BUTTER MISS
"Starling Chatter and Oakhill have both dropped back in the
betting," said Bertie van Tahn, throwing the morning paper across
the breakfast table.
"That leaves Nursery Tea practically favourite," said Odo Finsberry.
"Nursery Tea and Pipeclay are at the top of the betting at present,"
said Bertie, "but that French horse, Le Five O'Clock, seems to be
fancied as much as anything. Then there is Whitebait, and the
Polish horse with a name like some one trying to stifle a sneeze in
church; they both seem to have a lot of support."
"It's the most open Derby there's been for years," said Odo.
"It's simply no good trying to pick the winner on form," said
Bertie; "one must just trust to luck and inspiration."
"The question is whether to trust to one's own inspiration, or
somebody else's. Sporting Swank gives Count Palatine to win, and Le
Five O'Clock for a place."
"Count Palatine--that adds another to our list of perplexities.
Good morning, Sir Lulworth; have you a fancy for the Derby by any
"I don't usually take much interest in turf matters," said Sir
Lulworth, who had just made his appearance, "but I always like to
have a bet on the Guineas and the Derby. This year, I confess, it's
rather difficult to pick out anything that seems markedly better
than anything else. What do you think of Snow Bunting?"
"Snow Bunting?" said Odo, with a groan, "there's another of them.
Surely, Snow Bunting has no earthly chance?"
"My housekeeper's nephew, who is a shoeing-smith in the mounted
section of the Church Lads' Brigade, and an authority on horseflesh,
expects him to be among the first three."
"The nephews of housekeepers are invariably optimists," said Bertie;
"it's a kind of natural reaction against the professional pessimism
of their aunts."
"We don't seem to get much further in our search for the probable
winner," said Mrs. de Claux; "the more I listen to you experts the
more hopelessly befogged I get."
"It's all very well to blame us," said Bertie to his hostess; "you
haven't produced anything in the way of an inspiration."
"My inspiration consisted in asking you down for Derby week,"
retorted Mrs. de Claux; "I thought you and Odo between you might
throw some light on the question of the moment."
Further recriminations were cut short by the arrival of Lola
Pevensey, who floated into the room with an air of gracious apology.
"So sorry to be so late," she observed, making a rapid tour of
inspection of the breakfast dishes.
"Did you have a good night?" asked her hostess with perfunctory
"Quite, thank you," said Lola; "I dreamt a most remarkable dream."
A flutter, indicative of general boredom; went round the table.
Other people's dreams are about as universally interesting as
accounts of other people's gardens, or chickens, or children.
"I dreamt about the winner of the Derby," said Lola.
A swift reaction of attentive interest set in.
"Do tell us what you dreamt," came in a chorus.
"The really remarkable thing about it is that I've dreamt it two
nights running," said Lola, finally deciding between the allurements
of sausages and kedgeree; "that is why I thought it worth
mentioning. You know, when I dream things two or three nights in
succession, it always means something; I have special powers in that
way. For instance, I once dreamed three times that a winged lion
was flying through the sky and one of his wings dropped off, and he
came to the ground with a crash; just afterwards the Campanile at
Venice fell down. The winged lion is the symbol of Venice, you
know," she added for the enlightenment of those who might not be
versed in Italian heraldry. "Then," she continued, "just before the
murder of the King and Queen of Servia I had a vivid dream of two
crowned figures walking into a slaughter-house by the banks of a big
river, which I took to be the Danube; and only the other day--"
"Do tell us what you've dreamt about the Derby," interrupted Odo
"Well, I saw the finish of the race as clearly as anything; and one
horse won easily, almost in a canter, and everybody cried out 'Bread
and Butter wins! Good old Bread and Butter.' I heard the name
distinctly, and I've had the same dream two nights running."
"Bread and Butter," said Mrs. de Claux, "now, whatever horse can
that point to? Why--of course; Nursery Tea!"
She looked round with the triumphant smile of a successful
unraveller of mystery.
"How about Le Five O'Clock?" interposed Sir Lulworth.
"It would fit either of them equally well," said Odo; "can you
remember any details about the jockey's colours? That might help
"I seem to remember a glimpse of lemon sleeves or cap, but I can't
be sure," said Lola, after due reflection.
"There isn't a lemon jacket or cap in the race," said Bertie,
referring to a list of starters and jockeys; "can't you remember
anything about the appearance of the horse? If it were a thick-set
animal, this bread and butter would typify Nursery Tea; and if it
were thin, of course, it would mean Le Five O'Clock."
"That seems sound enough," said Mrs. de Claux; "do think, Lola dear,
whether the horse in your dream was thin or stoutly built."
"I can't remember that it was one or the other," said Lola; "one
wouldn't notice such a detail in the excitement of a finish."
"But this was a symbolic animal," said Sir Lulworth; "if it were to
typify thick or thin bread and butter surely it ought to have been
either as bulky and tubby as a shire cart-horse; or as thin as a
"I'm afraid you are rather a careless dreamer," said Bertie
"Of course, at the moment of dreaming I thought I was witnessing a
real race, not the portent of one," said Lola; "otherwise I should
have particularly noticed all helpful details."
"The Derby isn't run till to-morrow," said Mrs. de Claux; "do you
think you are likely to have the same dream again to-night? If so;
you can fix your attention on the important detail of the animal's
"I'm afraid I shan't sleep at all to-night," said Lola pathetically;
"every fifth night I suffer from insomnia, and it's due to-night."
"It's most provoking," said Bertie; "of course, we can back both
horses, but it would be much more satisfactory to have all our money
on the winner. Can't you take a sleeping-draught, or something?"
"Oakleaves, soaked in warm water and put under the bed, are
recommended by some," said Mrs. de Claux.
"A glass of Benedictine, with a drop of eau-de-Cologne--" said Sir
"I have tried every known remedy," said Lola, with dignity; "I've
been a martyr to insomnia for years."
"But now we are being martyrs to it," said Odo sulkily; "I
particularly want to land a big coup over this race."
"I don't have insomnia for my own amusement," snapped Lola.
"Let us hope for the best," said Mrs. de Claux soothingly; "to-night
may prove an exception to the fifth-night rule."
But when breakfast time came round again Lola reported a blank night
as far as visions were concerned.
"I don't suppose I had as much as ten minutes' sleep, and,
certainly, no dreams."
"I'm so sorry, for your sake in the first place, and ours as well,"
said her hostess; "do you think you could induce a short nap after
breakfast? It would be so good for you--and you MIGHT dream
something. There would still be time for us to get our bets on."
"I'll try if you like," said Lola; "it sounds rather like a small
child being sent to bed in disgrace."
"I'll come and read the Encyclopaedia Britannica to you if you think
it will make you sleep any sooner," said Bertie obligingly.
Rain was falling too steadily to permit of outdoor amusement, and
the party suffered considerably during the next two hours from the
absolute quiet that was enforced all over the house in order to give
Lola every chance of achieving slumber. Even the click of billiard
balls was considered a possible factor of disturbance, and the
canaries were carried down to the gardener's lodge, while the cuckoo
clock in the hall was muffled under several layers of rugs. A
notice, "Please do not Knock or Ring," was posted on the front door
at Bertie's suggestion, and guests and servants spoke in tragic
whispers as though the dread presence of death or sickness had
invaded the house. The precautions proved of no avail: Lola added
a sleepless morning to a wakeful night, and the bets of the party
had to be impartially divided between Nursery Tea and the French
"So provoking to have to split out bets," said Mrs. de Claux, as her
guests gathered in the hall later in the day, waiting for the result
of the race.
"I did my best for you," said Lola, feeling that she was not getting
her due share of gratitude; "I told you what I had seen in my
dreams, a brown horse, called Bread and Butter, winning easily from
all the rest."
"What?" screamed Bertie, jumping up from his sea, "a brown horse!
Miserable woman, you never said a word about it's being a brown
"Didn't I?" faltered Lola; "I thought I told you it was a brown
horse. It was certainly brown in both dreams. But I don't see what
the colour has got to do with it. Nursery Tea and Le Five O'Clock
are both chestnuts."
"Merciful Heaven! Doesn't brown bread and butter with a sprinkling
of lemon in the colours suggest anything to you?" raged Bertie.
A slow, cumulative groan broke from the assembly as the meaning of
his words gradually dawned on his hearers.
For the second time that day Lola retired to the seclusion of her
room; she could not face the universal looks of reproach directed at
her when Whitebait was announced winner at the comfortable price of
fourteen to one.
BERTIE'S CHRISTMAS EVE
It was Christmas Eve, and the family circle of Luke Steffink, Esq.,
was aglow with the amiability and random mirth which the occasion
demanded. A long and lavish dinner had been partaken of, waits had
been round and sung carols; the house-party had regaled itself with
more caroling on its own account, and there had been romping which,
even in a pulpit reference, could not have been condemned as
ragging. In the midst of the general glow, however, there was one
black unkindled cinder.
Bertie Steffink, nephew of the aforementioned Luke, had early in
life adopted the profession of ne'er-do-weel; his father had been
something of the kind before him. At the age of eighteen Bertie had
commenced that round of visits to our Colonial possessions, so
seemly and desirable in the case of a Prince of the Blood, so
suggestive of insincerity in a young man of the middle-class. He
had gone to grow tea in Ceylon and fruit in British Columbia, and to
help sheep to grow wool in Australia. At the age of twenty he had
just returned from some similar errand in Canada, from which it may
be gathered that the trial he gave to these various experiments was
of the summary drum-head nature. Luke Steffink, who fulfilled the
troubled role of guardian and deputy-parent to Bertie, deplored the
persistent manifestation of the homing instinct on his nephew's
part, and his solemn thanks earlier in the day for the blessing of
reporting a united family had no reference to Bertie's return.
Arrangements had been promptly made for packing the youth off to a
distant corner of Rhodesia, whence return would be a difficult
matter; the journey to this uninviting destination was imminent, in
fact a more careful and willing traveller would have already begun
to think about his packing. Hence Bertie was in no mood to share in
the festive spirit which displayed itself around him, and resentment
smouldered within him at the eager, self-absorbed discussion of
social plans for the coming months which he heard on all sides.
Beyond depressing his uncle and the family circle generally by
singing "Say au revoir, and not good-bye," he had taken no part in
the evening's conviviality.
Eleven o'clock had struck some half-hour ago, and the elder
Steffinks began to throw out suggestions leading up to that process
which they called retiring for the night.
"Come, Teddie, it's time you were in your little bed, you know,"
said Luke Steffink to his thirteen-year-old son.
"That's where we all ought to be," said Mrs. Steffink.
"There wouldn't be room," said Bertie.
The remark was considered to border on the scandalous; everybody ate
raisins and almonds with the nervous industry of sheep feeding
during threatening weather.
"In Russia," said Horace Bordenby, who was staying in the house as a
Christmas guest, "I've read that the peasants believe that if you go
into a cow-house or stable at midnight on Christmas Eve you will
hear the animals talk. They're supposed to have the gift of speech
at that one moment of the year."
"Oh, DO let's ALL go down to the cow-house and listen to what
they've got to say!" exclaimed Beryl, to whom anything was thrilling
and amusing if you did it in a troop.
Mrs. Steffink made a laughing protest, but gave a virtual consent by
saying, "We must all wrap up well, then." The idea seemed a
scatterbrained one to her, and almost heathenish, but if afforded an
opportunity for "throwing the young people together," and as such
she welcomed it. Mr. Horace Bordenby was a young man with quite
substantial prospects, and he had danced with Beryl at a local
subscription ball a sufficient number of times to warrant the
authorised inquiry on the part of the neighbours whether "there was
anything in it." Though Mrs. Steffink would not have put it in so
many words, she shared the idea of the Russian peasantry that on
this night the beast might speak.
The cow-house stood at the junction of the garden with a small
paddock, an isolated survival, in a suburban neighbourhood; of what
had once been a small farm. Luke Steffink was complacently proud of
his cow-house and his two cows; he felt that they gave him a stamp
of solidity which no number of Wyandottes or Orpingtons could
impart. They even seemed to link him in a sort of inconsequent way
with those patriarchs who derived importance from their floating
capital of flocks and herbs, he-asses and she-asses. It had been an
anxious and momentous occasion when he had had to decide definitely
between "the Byre" and "the Ranch" for the naming of his villa
residence. A December midnight was hardly the moment he would have
chosen for showing his farm-building to visitors, but since it was a
fine night, and the young people were anxious for an excuse for a
mild frolic, Luke consented to chaperon the expedition. The
servants had long since gone to bed, so the house was left in charge
of Bertie, who scornfully declined to stir out on the pretext of
listening to bovine conversation.
"We must go quietly," said Luke, as he headed the procession of
giggling young folk, brought up in the rear by the shawled and
hooded figure of Mrs. Steffink; "I've always laid stress on keeping
this a quiet and orderly neighbourhood."
It was a few minutes to midnight when the party reached the cow-
house and made its way in by the light of Luke's stable lantern.
For a moment every one stood in silence, almost with a feeling of
being in church.
"Daisy--the one lying down--is by a shorthorn bull out of a Guernsey
cow," announced Luke in a hushed voice, which was in keeping with
the foregoing impression.
"Is she?" said Bordenby, rather as if he had expected her to be by
Myrtle's family history was cut short by a little scream from the
women of the party.
The cow-house door had closed noiselessly behind them and the key
had turned gratingly in the lock; then they heard Bertie's voice
pleasantly wishing them good-night and his footsteps retreating
along the garden path.
Luke Steffink strode to the window; it was a small square opening of
the old-fashioned sort, with iron bars let into the stonework.
"Unlock the door this instant," he shouted, with as much air of
menacing authority as a hen might assume when screaming through the
bars of a coop at a marauding hawk. In reply to his summons the
hall-door closed with a defiant bang.
A neighbouring clock struck the hour of midnight. If the cows had
received the gift of human speech at that moment they would not have
been able to make themselves heard. Seven or eight other voices
were engaged in describing Bertie's present conduct and his general
character at a high pressure of excitement and indignation.
In the course of half an hour or so everything that it was
permissible to say about Bertie had been said some dozens of times,
and other topics began to come to the front--the extreme mustiness
of the cow-house, the possibility of it catching fire, and the
probability of it being a Rowton House for the vagrant rats of the
neighbourhood. And still no sign of deliverance came to the
Towards one o'clock the sound of rather boisterous and undisciplined
carol-singing approached rapidly, and came to a sudden anchorage,
apparently just outside the garden-gate. A motor-load of youthful
"bloods," in a high state of conviviality, had made a temporary halt
for repairs; the stoppage, however, did not extend to the vocal
efforts of the party, and the watchers in the cow-shed were treated
to a highly unauthorised rendering of "Good King Wenceslas," in
which the adjective "good" appeared to be very carelessly applied.
The noise had the effect of bringing Bertie out into the garden, but
he utterly ignored the pale, angry faces peering out at the cow-
house window, and concentrated his attention on the revellers
outside the gate.
"Wassail, you chaps!" he shouted.
"Wassail, old sport!" they shouted back; "we'd jolly well drink y'r
health, only we've nothing to drink it in."
"Come and wassail inside," said Bertie hospitably; "I'm all alone,
and there's heap's of 'wet'."
They were total strangers, but his touch of kindness made them
instantly his kin. In another moment the unauthorised version of
King Wenceslas, which, like many other scandals, grew worse on
repetition, went echoing up the garden path; two of the revellers
gave an impromptu performance on the way by executing the staircase
waltz up the terraces of what Luke Steffink, hitherto with some
justification, called his rock-garden. The rock part of it was
still there when the waltz had been accorded its third encore.
Luke, more than ever like a cooped hen behind the cow-house bars,
was in a position to realise the feelings of concert-goers unable to
countermand the call for an encore which they neither desire or
The hall door closed with a bang on Bertie's guests, and the sounds
of merriment became faint and muffled to the weary watchers at the
other end of the garden. Presently two ominous pops, in quick
succession, made themselves distinctly heard.
"They've got at the champagne!" exclaimed Mrs. Steffink.
"Perhaps it's the sparkling Moselle," said Luke hopefully.
Three or four more pops were heard.
"The champagne and the sparkling Moselle," said Mrs. Steffink.
Luke uncorked an expletive which, like brandy in a temperance
household, was only used on rare emergencies. Mr. Horace Bordenby
had been making use of similar expressions under his breath for a
considerable time past. The experiment of "throwing the young
people together" had been prolonged beyond a point when it was
likely to produce any romantic result.
Some forty minutes later the hall door opened and disgorged a crowd
that had thrown off any restraint of shyness that might have
influenced its earlier actions. Its vocal efforts in the direction
of carol singing were now supplemented by instrumental music; a
Christmas-tree that had been prepared for the children of the
gardener and other household retainers had yielded a rich spoil of
tin trumpets, rattles, and drums. The life-story of King Wenceslas
had been dropped, Luke was thankful to notice, but it was intensely
irritating for the chilled prisoners in the cow-house to be told
that it was a hot time in the old town to-night, together with some
accurate but entirely superfluous information as to the imminence of
Christmas morning. Judging by the protests which began to be
shouted from the upper windows of neighbouring houses the sentiments
prevailing in the cow-house were heartily echoed in other quarters.
The revellers found their car, and, what was more remarkable,
managed to drive off in it, with a parting fanfare of tin trumpets.
The lively beat of a drum disclosed the fact that the master of the
revels remained on the scene.
"Bertie!" came in an angry, imploring chorus of shouts and screams
from the cow-house window.
"Hullo," cried the owner of the name, turning his rather errant
steps in the direction of the summons; "are you people still there?
Must have heard everything cows got to say by this time. If you
haven't, no use waiting. After all, it's a Russian legend, and
Russian Chrismush Eve not due for 'nother fortnight. Better come
After one or two ineffectual attempts he managed to pitch the key of
the cow-house door in through the window. Then, lifting his voice
in the strains of "I'm afraid to go home in the dark," with a lusty
drum accompaniment, he led the way back to the house. The hurried
procession of the released that followed in his steps came in for a
good deal of the adverse comment that his exuberant display had
It was the happiest Christmas Eve he had ever spent. To quote his
own words, he had a rotten Christmas.
Alethia Debchance sat in a corner of an otherwise empty railway
carriage, more or less at ease as regarded body, but in some
trepidation as to mind. She had embarked on a social adventure of
no little magnitude as compared with the accustomed seclusion and
stagnation of her past life. At the age of twenty-eight she could
look back on nothing more eventful than the daily round of her
existence in her aunt's house at Webblehinton, a hamlet four and a
half miles distant from a country town and about a quarter of a
century removed from modern times. Their neighbours had been
elderly and few, not much given to social intercourse, but helpful
or politely sympathetic in times of illness. Newspapers of the
ordinary kind were a rarity; those that Alethia saw regularly were
devoted exclusively either to religion or to poultry, and the world
of politics was to her an unheeded unexplored region. Her ideas on
life in general had been acquired through the medium of popular
respectable novel-writers, and modified or emphasised by such
knowledge as her aunt, the vicar, and her aunt's housekeeper had put
at her disposal. And now, in her twenty-ninth year, her aunt's
death had left her, well provided for as regards income, but
somewhat isolated in the matter of kith and kin and human
companionship. She had some cousins who were on terms of friendly,
though infrequent, correspondence with her, but as they lived
permanently in Ceylon, a locality about which she knew little,
beyond the assurance contained in the missionary hymn that the human
element there was vile, they were not of much immediate use to her.
Other cousins she also possessed, more distant as regards
relationship, but not quite so geographically remote, seeing that
they lived somewhere in the Midlands. She could hardly remember
ever having met them, but once or twice in the course of the last
three or four years they had expressed a polite wish that she should
pay them a visit; they had probably not been unduly depressed by the
fact that her aunt's failing health had prevented her from accepting
their invitation. The note of condolence that had arrived on the
occasion of her aunt's death had included a vague hope that Alethia
would find time in the near future to spend a few days with her
cousins, and after much deliberation and many hesitations she had
written to propose herself as a guest for a definite date some week
ahead. The family, she reflected with relief, was not a large one;
the two daughters were married and away, there was only old Mrs.
Bludward and her son Robert at home. Mrs. Bludward was something of
an invalid, and Robert was a young man who had been at Oxford and
was going into Parliament. Further than that Alethia's information
did not go; her imagination, founded on her extensive knowledge of
the people one met in novels, had to supply the gaps. The mother
was not difficult to place; she would either be an ultra-amiable old
lady, bearing her feeble health with uncomplaining fortitude, and
having a kind word for the gardener's boy and a sunny smile for the
chance visitor, or else she would be cold and peevish, with eyes
that pierced you like a gimlet, and a unreasoning idolatry of her
son. Alethia's imagination rather inclined her to the latter view.
Robert was more of a problem. There were three dominant types of
manhood to be taken into consideration in working out his
classification; there was Hugo, who was strong, good, and beautiful,
a rare type and not very often met with; there was Sir Jasper, who
was utterly vile and absolutely unscrupulous, and there was Nevil,
who was not really bad at heart, but had a weak mouth and usually
required the life-work of two good women to keep him from ultimate
disaster. It was probable, Alethia considered, that Robert came
into the last category, in which case she was certain to enjoy the
companionship of one or two excellent women, and might possibly
catch glimpses of undesirable adventuresses or come face to face
with reckless admiration-seeking married women. It was altogether
an exciting prospect, this sudden venture into an unexplored world
of unknown human beings, and Alethia rather wished that she could
have taken the vicar with her; she was not, however, rich or
important enough to travel with a chaplain, as the Marquis of
Moystoncleugh always did in the novel she had just been reading, so
she recognised that such a proceeding was out of the question.
The train which carried Alethia towards her destination was a local
one, with the wayside station habit strongly developed. At most of
the stations no one seemed to want to get into the train or to leave
it, but at one there were several market folk on the platform, and
two men, of the farmer or small cattle-dealer class, entered
Alethia's carriage. Apparently they had just foregathered, after a
day's business, and their conversation consisted of a rapid exchange
of short friendly inquiries as to health, family, stock, and so
forth, and some grumbling remarks on the weather. Suddenly,
however, their talk took a dramatically interesting turn, and
Alethia listened with wide-eyed attention.
"What do you think of Mister Robert Bludward, eh?"
There was a certain scornful ring in his question.
"Robert Bludward? An out-an'-out rotter, that's what he is. Ought
to be ashamed to look any decent man in the face. Send him to
Parliament to represent us--not much! He'd rob a poor man of his
last shilling, he would."
"Ah, that he would. Tells a pack of lies to get our votes, that's
all that he's after, damn him. Did you see the way the Argus showed
him up this week? Properly exposed him, hip and thigh, I tell you."
And so on they ran, in their withering indictment. There could be
no doubt that it was Alethia's cousin and prospective host to whom
they were referring; the allusion to a Parliamentary candidature
settled that. What could Robert Bludward have done, what manner of
man could he be, that people should speak of him with such obvious
"He was hissed down at Shoalford yesterday," said one of the
Hissed! Had it come to that? There was something dramatically
biblical in the idea of Robert Bludward's neighbours and
acquaintances hissing him for very scorn. Lord Hereward Stranglath
had been hissed, now Alethia came to think of it, in the eighth
chapter of Matterby Towers, while in the act of opening a Wesleyan
bazaar, because he was suspected (unjustly as it turned out
afterwards) of having beaten the German governess to death. And in
Tainted Guineas Roper Squenderby had been deservedly hissed, on the
steps of the Jockey Club, for having handed a rival owner a forged
telegram, containing false news of his mother's death, just before
the start for an important race, thereby ensuring the withdrawal of
his rival's horse. In placid Saxon-blooded England people did not
demonstrate their feelings lightly and without some strong
compelling cause. What manner of evildoer was Robert Bludward?
The train stopped at another small station, and the two men got out.
One of them left behind him a copy of the Argus, the local paper to
which he had made reference. Alethia pounced on it, in the
expectation of finding a cultured literary endorsement of the
censure which these rough farming men had expressed in their homely,
honest way. She had not far to look; "Mr. Robert Bludward,
Swanker," was the title of one of the principal articles in the
paper. She did not exactly know what a swanker was, probably it
referred to some unspeakable form of cruelty, but she read enough in
the first few sentences of the article to discover that her cousin
Robert, the man at whose house she was about to stay, was an
unscrupulous, unprincipled character, of a low order of
intelligence, yet cunning withal, and that he and his associates
were responsible for most of the misery, disease, poverty, and
ignorance with which the country was afflicted; never, except in one
or two of the denunciatory Psalms, which she had always supposed to
have be written in a spirit of exaggerated Oriental imagery, had she
read such an indictment of a human being. And this monster was
going to meet her at Derrelton Station in a few short minutes. She
would know him at once; he would have the dark beetling brows, the
quick, furtive glance, the sneering, unsavoury smile that always
characterised the Sir Jaspers of this world. It was too late to
escape; she must force herself to meet him with outward calm.
It was a considerable shock to her to find that Robert was fair,
with a snub nose, merry eye, and rather a schoolboy manner. "A
serpent in duckling's plumage," was her private comment; merciful
chance had revealed him to her in his true colours.
As they drove away from the station a dissipated-looking man of the
labouring class waved his hat in friendly salute. "Good luck to
you, Mr. Bludward," he shouted; "you'll come out on top! We'll
break old Chobham's neck for him."
"Who was that man?" asked Alethia quickly.
"Oh, one of my supporters," laughed Robert; "a bit of a poacher and
a bit of a pub-loafer, but he's on the right side."
So these were the sort of associates that Robert Bludward consorted
with, thought Alethia.
"Who is the person he referred to as old Chobham?" she asked.
"Sir John Chobham, the man who is opposing me," answered Robert;
"that is his house away there among the trees on the right."
So there was an upright man, possibly a very Hugo in character, who
was thwarting and defying the evildoer in his nefarious career, and
there was a dastardly plot afoot to break his neck! Possibly the
attempt would be made within the next few hours. He must certainly
be warned. Alethia remembered how Lady Sylvia Broomgate, in
Nightshade Court, had pretended to be bolted with by her horse up to
the front door of a threatened county magnate, and had whispered a
warning in his ear which saved him from being the victim of foul
murder. She wondered if there was a quiet pony in the stables on
which she would be allowed to ride out alone. The chances were that
she would be watched. Robert would come spurring after her and
seize her bridle just as she was turning in at Sir John's gates.
A group of men that they passed in a village street gave them no
very friendly looks, and Alethia thought she heard a furtive hiss; a
moment later they came upon an errand boy riding a bicycle. He had
the frank open countenance, neatly brushed hair and tidy clothes
that betoken a clear conscience and a good mother. He stared
straight at the occupants of the car, and, after he had passed them,
sang in his clear, boyish voice:
"We'll hang Bobby Bludward on the sour apple tree."
Robert merely laughed. That was how he took the scorn and
condemnation of his fellow-men. He had goaded them to desperation
with his shameless depravity till they spoke openly of putting him
to a violent death, and he laughed.
Mrs. Bludward proved to be of the type that Alethia had suspected,
thin-lipped, cold-eyed, and obviously devoted to her worthless son.
From her no help was to be expected. Alethia locked her door that
night, and placed such ramparts of furniture against it that the
maid had great difficulty in breaking in with the early tea in the
After breakfast Alethia, on the pretext of going to look at an
outlying rose-garden, slipped away to the village through which they
had passed on the previous evening. She remembered that Robert had
pointed out to her a public reading-room, and here she considered it
possible that she might meet Sir John Chobham, or some one who knew
him well and would carry a message to him. The room was empty when
she entered it; a Graphic twelve days old, a yet older copy of
Punch, and one or two local papers lay upon the central table; the
other tables were stacked for the most part with chess and draughts-
boards, and wooden boxes of chessmen and dominoes. Listlessly she
picked up one of the papers, the Sentinel, and glanced at its
contents. Suddenly she started, and began to read with breathless
attention a prominently printed article, headed "A Little Limelight
on Sir John Chobham." The colour ebbed away from her face, a look
of frightened despair crept into her eyes. Never, in any novel that
she had read, had a defenceless young woman been confronted with a
situation like this. Sir John, the Hugo of her imagination, was, if
anything, rather more depraved and despicable than Robert Bludward.
He was mean, evasive, callously indifferent to his country's
interests, a cheat, a man who habitually broke his word, and who was
responsible, with his associates, for most of the poverty, misery,
crime, and national degradation with which the country was
afflicted. He was also a candidate for Parliament, it seemed, and
as there was only one seat in this particular locality, it was
obvious that the success of either Robert or Sir John would mean a
check to the ambitions of the other, hence, no doubt, the rivalry
and enmity between these otherwise kindred souls. One was seeking
to have his enemy done to death, the other was apparently trying to
stir up his supporters to an act of "Lynch law". All this in order
that there might be an unopposed election, that one or other of the
candidates might go into Parliament with honeyed eloquence on his
lips and blood on his heart. Were men really so vile?
"I must go back to Webblehinton at once," Alethia informed her
astonished hostess at lunch time; "I have had a telegram. A friend
is very seriously ill and I have been sent for."
It was dreadful to have to concoct lies, but it would be more
dreadful to have to spend another night under that roof.
Alethia reads novels now with even greater appreciation than before.
She has been herself in the world outside Webblehinton, the world
where the great dramas of sin and villainy are played unceasingly.
She had come unscathed through it, but what might have happened if
she had gone unsuspectingly to visit Sir John Chobham and warn him
of his danger? What indeed! She had been saved by the fearless
outspokenness of the local Press.
In a forest of mixed growth somewhere on the eastern spurs of the
Karpathians, a man stood one winter night watching and listening, as
though he waited for some beast of the woods to come within the
range of his vision, and, later, of his rifle. But the game for
whose presence he kept so keen an outlook was none that figured in
the sportsman's calendar as lawful and proper for the chase; Ulrich
von Gradwitz patrolled the dark forest in quest of a human enemy.
The forest lands of Gradwitz were of wide extent and well stocked
with game; the narrow strip of precipitous woodland that lay on its
outskirt was not remarkable for the game it harboured or the
shooting it afforded, but it was the most jealously guarded of all
its owner's territorial possessions. A famous law suit, in the days
of his grandfather, had wrested it from the illegal possession of a
neighbouring family of petty landowners; the dispossessed party had
never acquiesced in the judgment of the Courts, and a long series of
poaching affrays and similar scandals had embittered the
relationships between the families for three generations. The
neighbour feud had grown into a personal one since Ulrich had come
to be head of his family; if there was a man in the world whom he
detested and wished ill to it was Georg Znaeym, the inheritor of the
quarrel and the tireless game-snatcher and raider of the disputed
border-forest. The feud might, perhaps, have died down or been
compromised if the personal ill-will of the two men had not stood in
the way; as boys they had thirsted for one another's blood, as men
each prayed that misfortune might fall on the other, and this wind-
scourged winter night Ulrich had banded together his foresters to
watch the dark forest, not in quest of four-footed quarry, but to
keep a look-out for the prowling thieves whom he suspected of being
afoot from across the land boundary. The roebuck, which usually
kept in the sheltered hollows during a storm-wind, were running like
driven things to-night, and there was movement and unrest among the
creatures that were wont to sleep through the dark hours. Assuredly
there was a disturbing element in the forest, and Ulrich could guess
the quarter from whence it came.
He strayed away by himself from the watchers whom he had placed in
ambush on the crest of the hill, and wandered far down the steep
slopes amid the wild tangle of undergrowth, peering through the tree
trunks and listening through the whistling and skirling of the wind
and the restless beating of the branches for sight and sound of the
marauders. If only on this wild night, in this dark, lone spot, he
might come across Georg Znaeym, man to man, with none to witness--
that was the wish that was uppermost in his thoughts. And as he
stepped round the trunk of a huge beech he came face to face with
the man he sought.
The two enemies stood glaring at one another for a long silent
moment. Each had a rifle in his hand, each had hate in his heart
and murder uppermost in his mind. The chance had come to give full
play to the passions of a lifetime. But a man who has been brought
up under the code of a restraining civilisation cannot easily nerve
himself to shoot down his neighbour in cold blood and without word
spoken, except for an offence against his hearth and honour. And
before the moment of hesitation had given way to action a deed of
Nature's own violence overwhelmed them both. A fierce shriek of the
storm had been answered by a splitting crash over their heads, and
ere they could leap aside a mass of falling beech tree had thundered
down on them. Ulrich von Gradwitz found himself stretched on the
ground, one arm numb beneath him and the other held almost as
helplessly in a tight tangle of forked branches, while both legs
were pinned beneath the fallen mass. His heavy shooting-boots had
saved his feet from being crushed to pieces, but if his fractures
were not as serious as they might have been, at least it was evident
that he could not move from his present position till some one came
to release him. The descending twig had slashed the skin of his
face, and he had to wink away some drops of blood from his eyelashes
before he could take in a general view of the disaster. At his
side, so near that under ordinary circumstances he could almost have
touched him, lay Georg Znaeym, alive and struggling, but obviously
as helplessly pinioned down as himself. All round them lay a thick-
strewn wreckage of splintered branches and broken twigs.
Relief at being alive and exasperation at his captive plight brought
a strange medley of pious thank-offerings and sharp curses to
Ulrich's lips. Georg, who was early blinded with the blood which
trickled across his eyes, stopped his struggling for a moment to
listen, and then gave a short, snarling laugh.
"So you're not killed, as you ought to be, but you're caught,
anyway," he cried; "caught fast. Ho, what a jest, Ulrich von
Gradwitz snared in his stolen forest. There's real justice for
And he laughed again, mockingly and savagely.
"I'm caught in my own forest-land," retorted Ulrich. "When my men
come to release us you will wish, perhaps, that you were in a better
plight than caught poaching on a neighbour's land, shame on you."
Georg was silent for a moment; then he answered quietly:
"Are you sure that your men will find much to release? I have men,
too, in the forest to-night, close behind me, and THEY will be here
first and do the releasing. When they drag me out from under these
damned branches it won't need much clumsiness on their part to roll
this mass of trunk right over on the top of you. Your men will find
you dead under a fallen beech tree. For form's sake I shall send my
condolences to your family."
"It is a useful hint," said Ulrich fiercely. "My men had orders to
follow in ten minutes time, seven of which must have gone by
already, and when they get me out--I will remember the hint. Only
as you will have met your death poaching on my lands I don't think I
can decently send any message of condolence to your family."
"Good," snarled Georg, "good. We fight this quarrel out to the
death, you and I and our foresters, with no cursed interlopers to
come between us. Death and damnation to you, Ulrich von Gradwitz."
"The same to you, Georg Znaeym, forest-thief, game-snatcher."
Both men spoke with the bitterness of possible defeat before them,
for each knew that it might be long before his men would seek him
out or find him; it was a bare matter of chance which party would
arrive first on the scene.
Both had now given up the useless struggle to free themselves from
the mass of wood that held them down; Ulrich limited his endeavours
to an effort to bring his one partially free arm near enough to his
outer coat-pocket to draw out his wine-flask. Even when he had
accomplished that operation it was long before he could manage the
unscrewing of the stopper or get any of the liquid down his throat.
But what a Heaven-sent draught it seemed! It was an open winter,
and little snow had fallen as yet, hence the captives suffered less
from the cold than might have been the case at that season of the
year; nevertheless, the wine was warming and reviving to the wounded
man, and he looked across with something like a throb of pity to
where his enemy lay, just keeping the groans of pain and weariness
from crossing his lips.
"Could you reach this flask if I threw it over to you?" asked Ulrich
suddenly; "there is good wine in it, and one may as well be as
comfortable as one can. Let us drink, even if to-night one of us
"No, I can scarcely see anything; there is so much blood caked round
my eyes," said Georg, "and in any case I don't drink wine with an
Ulrich was silent for a few minutes, and lay listening to the weary
screeching of the wind. An idea was slowly forming and growing in
his brain, an idea that gained strength every time that he looked
across at the man who was fighting so grimly against pain and
exhaustion. In the pain and languor that Ulrich himself was feeling
the old fierce hatred seemed to be dying down.
"Neighbour," he said presently, "do as you please if your men come
first. It was a fair compact. But as for me, I've changed my mind.
If my men are the first to come you shall be the first to be helped,
as though you were my guest. We have quarrelled like devils all our
lives over this stupid strip of forest, where the trees can't even
stand upright in a breath of wind. Lying here to-night thinking
I've come to think we've been rather fools; there are better things
in life than getting the better of a boundary dispute. Neighbour,
if you will help me to bury the old quarrel I--I will ask you to be
Georg Znaeym was silent for so long that Ulrich thought, perhaps, he
had fainted with the pain of his injuries. Then he spoke slowly and
"How the whole region would stare and gabble if we rode into the
market-square together. No one living can remember seeing a Znaeym
and a von Gradwitz talking to one another in friendship. And what
peace there would be among the forester folk if we ended our feud
to-night. And if we choose to make peace among our people there is
none other to interfere, no interlopers from outside . . . You would
come and keep the Sylvester night beneath my roof, and I would come
and feast on some high day at your castle . . . I would never fire a
shot on your land, save when you invited me as a guest; and you
should come and shoot with me down in the marshes where the wildfowl
are. In all the countryside there are none that could hinder if we
willed to make peace. I never thought to have wanted to do other
than hate you all my life, but I think I have changed my mind about
things too, this last half-hour. And you offered me your wineflask
. . . Ulrich von Gradwitz, I will be your friend."
For a space both men were silent, turning over in their minds the
wonderful changes that this dramatic reconciliation would bring
about. In the cold, gloomy forest, with the wind tearing in fitful
gusts through the naked branches and whistling round the tree-
trunks, they lay and waited for the help that would now bring
release and succour to both parties. And each prayed a private
prayer that his men might be the first to arrive, so that he might
be the first to show honourable attention to the enemy that had
become a friend.
Presently, as the wind dropped for a moment, Ulrich broke silence.
"Let's shout for help," he said; he said; "in this lull our voices
may carry a little way."
"They won't carry far through the trees and undergrowth," said
Georg, "but we can try. Together, then."
The two raised their voices in a prolonged hunting call.
"Together again," said Ulrich a few minutes later, after listening
in vain for an answering halloo.
"I heard nothing but the pestilential wind," said Georg hoarsely.
There was silence again for some minutes, and then Ulrich gave a
"I can see figures coming through the wood. They are following in
the way I came down the hillside."
Both men raised their voices in as loud a shout as they could
"They hear us! They've stopped. Now they see us. They're running
down the hill towards us," cried Ulrich.
"How many of them are there?" asked Georg.
"I can't see distinctly," said Ulrich; "nine or ten,"
"Then they are yours," said Georg; "I had only seven out with me."
"They are making all the speed they can, brave lads," said Ulrich
"Are they your men?" asked Georg. "Are they your men?" he repeated
impatiently as Ulrich did not answer.
"No," said Ulrich with a laugh, the idiotic chattering laugh of a
man unstrung with hideous fear.
"Who are they?" asked Georg quickly, straining his eyes to see what
the other would gladly not have seen.
"The outlook is not encouraging for us smaller businesses," said Mr.
Scarrick to the artist and his sister, who had taken rooms over his
suburban grocery store. "These big concerns are offering all sorts
of attractions to the shopping public which we couldn't afford to
imitate, even on a small scale--reading-rooms and play-rooms and
gramophones and Heaven knows what. People don't care to buy half a
pound of sugar nowadays unless they can listen to Harry Lauder and
have the latest Australian cricket scores ticked off before their
eyes. With the big Christmas stock we've got in we ought to keep
half a dozen assistants hard at work, but as it is my nephew Jimmy
and myself can pretty well attend to it ourselves. It's a nice
stock of goods, too, if I could only run it off in a few weeks time,
but there's no chance of that--not unless the London line was to get
snowed up for a fortnight before Christmas. I did have a sort of
idea of engaging Miss Luffcombe to give recitations during
afternoons; she made a great hit at the Post Office entertainment
with her rendering of 'Little Beatrice's Resolve'."
"Anything less likely to make your shop a fashionable shopping
centre I can't imagine," said the artist, with a very genuine
shudder; "if I were trying to decide between the merits of Carlsbad
plums and confected figs as a winter dessert it would infuriate me
to have my train of thought entangled with little Beatrice's resolve
to be an Angel of Light or a girl scout. No," he continued, "the
desire to get something thrown in for nothing is a ruling passion
with the feminine shopper, but you can't afford to pander
effectively to it. Why not appeal to another instinct; which
dominates not only the woman shopper but the male shopper--in fact,
the entire human race?"
"What is that instinct, sir?" said the grocer.
* * *
Mrs. Greyes and Miss Fritten had missed the 2.18 to Town, and as
there was not another train till 3.12 they thought that they might
as well make their grocery purchases at Scarrick's. It would not be
sensational, they agreed, but it would still be shopping.
For some minutes they had the shop almost to themselves, as far as
customers were concerned, but while they were debating the
respective virtues and blemishes of two competing brands of anchovy
paste they were startled by an order, given across the counter, for
six pomegranates and a packet of quail seed. Neither commodity was
in general demand in that neighbourhood. Equally unusual was the
style and appearance of the customer; about sixteen years old, with
dark olive skin, large dusky eyes, and think, low-growing, blue-
black hair, he might have made his living as an artist's model. As
a matter of fact he did. The bowl of beaten brass that he produced
for the reception of his purchases was distinctly the most
astonishing variation on the string bag or marketing basket of
suburban civilisation that his fellow-shoppers had ever seen. He
threw a gold piece, apparently of some exotic currency, across the
counter, and did not seem disposed to wait for any change that might
"The wine and figs were not paid for yesterday," he said; "keep what
is over of the money for our future purchases."
"A very strange-looking boy?" said Mrs. Greyes interrogatively to
the grocer as soon as his customer had left.
"A foreigner, I believe," said Mr. Scarrick, with a shortness that
was entirely out of keeping with his usually communicative manner.
"I wish for a pound and a half of the best coffee you have," said an
authoritative voice a moment or two later. The speaker was a tall,
authoritative-looking man of rather outlandish aspect, remarkable
among other things for a full black beard, worn in a style more in
vogue in early Assyria than in a London suburb of the present day.
"Has a dark-faced boy been here buying pomegranates?" he asked
suddenly, as the coffee was being weighed out to him.
The two ladies almost jumped on hearing the grocer reply with an
"We have a few pomegranates in stock," he continued, "but there has
been no demand for them."
"My servant will fetch the coffee as usual," said the purchaser,
producing a coin from a wonderful metal-work purse. As an apparent
afterthought he fired out the question: "Have you, perhaps, any
"No," said the grocer, without hesitation, "we don't stock it."
"What will he deny next?" asked Mrs. Greyes under her breath. What
made it seem so much worse was the fact that Mr. Scarrick had quite
recently presided at a lecture on Savonarola.
Turning up the deep astrachan collar of his long coat, the stranger
swept out of the shop, with the air, Miss Fritten afterwards
described it, of a Satrap proroguing a Sanhedrim. Whether such a
pleasant function ever fell to a Satrap's lot she was not quite
certain, but the simile faithfully conveyed her meaning to a large
circle of acquaintances.
"Don't let's bother about the 3.12," said Mrs. Greyes; "let's go and
talk this over at Laura Lipping's. It's her day."
When the dark-faced boy arrived at the shop next day with his brass
marketing bowl there was quite a fair gathering of customers, most
of whom seemed to be spinning out their purchasing operations with
the air of people who had very little to do with their time. In a
voice that was heard all over the shop, perhaps because everybody
was intently listening, he asked for a pound of honey and a packet
of quail seed.
"More quail seed!" said Miss Fritten. "Those quails must be
voracious, or else it isn't quail seed at all."
"I believe it's opium, and the bearded man is a detective," said
Mrs. Greyes brilliantly.
"I don't," said Laura Lipping; "I'm sure it's something to do with
the Portuguese Throne."
"More likely to be a Persian intrigue on behalf of the ex-Shah,"
said Miss Fritten; "the bearded man belongs to the Government Party.
The quail-seed is a countersign, of course; Persia is almost next
door to Palestine, and quails come into the Old Testament, you
"Only as a miracle," said her well-informed younger sister; "I've
thought all along it was part of a love intrigue."
The boy who had so much interest and speculation centred on him was
on the point of departing with his purchases when he was waylaid by
Jimmy, the nephew-apprentice, who, from his post at the cheese and
bacon counter, commanded a good view of the street.
"We have some very fine Jaffa oranges," he said hurriedly, pointing
to a corner where they were stored, behind a high rampart of biscuit
tins. There was evidently more in the remark than met the ear. The
boy flew at the oranges with the enthusiasm of a ferret finding a
rabbit family at home after a long day of fruitless subterranean
research. Almost at the same moment the bearded stranger stalked
into the shop, and flung an order for a pound of dates and a tin of
the best Smyrna halva across the counter. The most adventurous
housewife in the locality had never heard of halva, but Mr. Scarrick
was apparently able to produce the best Smyrna variety of it without
a moment's hesitation.
"We might be living in the Arabian Nights," said Miss Fritten,
"Hush! Listen," beseeched Mrs. Greyes.
"Has the dark-faced boy, of whom I spoke yesterday, been here to-
day?" asked the stranger.
"We've had rather more people than usual in the shop to-day," said
Mr. Scarrick, "but I can't recall a boy such as you describe."
Mrs. Greyes and Miss Fritten looked round triumphantly at their
friends. It was, of course, deplorable that any one should treat
the truth as an article temporarily and excusably out of stock, but
they felt gratified that the vivid accounts they had given of Mr.
Scarrick's traffic in falsehoods should receive confirmation at
"I shall never again be able to believe what he tells me about the
absence of colouring matter in the jam," whispered an aunt of Mrs.
The mysterious stranger took his departure; Laura Lipping distinctly
saw a snarl of baffled rage reveal itself behind his heavy moustache
and upturned astrachan collar. After a cautious interval the seeker
after oranges emerged from behind the biscuit tins, having
apparently failed to find any individual orange that satisfied his
requirements. He, too, took his departure, and the shop was slowly
emptied of its parcel and gossip laden customers. It was Emily
Yorling's "day", and most of the shoppers made their way to her
drawing-room. To go direct from a shopping expedition to a tea
party was what was known locally as "living in a whirl".
Two extra assistants had been engaged for the following afternoon,
and their services were in brisk demand; the shop was crowded.
People bought and bought, and never seemed to get to the end of
their lists. Mr. Scarrick had never had so little difficulty in
persuading customers to embark on new experiences in grocery wares.
Even those women whose purchases were of modest proportions dawdled
over them as though they had brutal, drunken husbands to go home to.
The afternoon had dragged uneventfully on, and there was a distinct
buzz of unpent excitement when a dark-eyed boy carrying a brass bowl
entered the shop. The excitement seemed to have communicated itself
to Mr. Scarrick; abruptly deserting a lady who was making insincere
inquiries about the home life of the Bombay duck, he intercepted the
newcomer on his way to the accustomed counter and informed him, amid
a deathlike hush, that he had run out of quail seed.
The boy looked nervously round the shop, and turned hesitatingly to
go. He was again intercepted, this time by the nephew, who darted
out from behind his counter and said something about a better line
of oranges. The boy's hesitation vanished; he almost scuttled into
the obscurity of the orange corner. There was an expectant turn of
public attention towards the door, and the tall, bearded stranger
made a really effective entrance. The aunt of Mrs. Greyes declared
afterwards that she found herself sub-consciously repeating "The
Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold" under her breath, and
she was generally believed.
The newcomer, too, was stopped before he reached the counter, but
not by Mr. Scarrick or his assistant. A heavily veiled lady, whom
no one had hitherto noticed, rose languidly from a seat and greeted
him in a clear, penetrating voice.
"Your Excellency does his shopping himself?" she said.
"I order the things myself," he explained; "I find it difficult to
make my servants understand."
In a lower, but still perfectly audible, voice the veiled lady gave
him a piece of casual information.
"They have some excellent Jaffa oranges here." Then with a tinkling
laugh she passed out of the shop.
The man glared all round the shop, and then, fixing his eyes
instinctively on the barrier of biscuit tins, demanded loudly of the
grocer: "You have, perhaps, some good Jaffa oranges?"
Every one expected an instant denial on the part of Mr. Scarrick of
any such possession. Before he could answer, however, the boy had
broken forth from his sanctuary. Holding his empty brass bowl
before him he passed out into the street. His face was variously
described afterwards as masked with studied indifference, overspread
with ghastly pallor, and blazing with defiance. Some said that his
teeth chattered, others that he went out whistling the Persian
National Hymn. There was no mistaking, however, the effect produced
by the encounter on the man who had seemed to force it. If a rabid
dog or a rattlesnake had suddenly thrust its companionship on him he
could scarcely have displayed a greater access of terror. His air
of authority and assertiveness had gone, his masterful stride had
given way to a furtive pacing to and fro, as of an animal seeking an
outlet for escape. In a dazed perfunctory manner, always with his
eyes turning to watch the shop entrance, he gave a few random
orders, which the grocer made a show of entering in his book. Now
and then he walked out into the street, looked anxiously in all
directions, and hurried back to keep up his pretence of shopping.
From one of these sorties he did not return; he had dashed away into
the dusk, and neither he nor the dark-faced boy nor the veiled lady
were seen again by the expectant crowds that continued to throng the
Scarrick establishment for days to come.
* * *
"I can never thank you and your sister sufficiently," said the
"We enjoyed the fun of it," said the artist modestly, "and as for
the model, it was a welcome variation on posing for hours for 'The
"At any rate," said the grocer, "I insist on paying for the hire of
the black beard."
Demosthenes Platterbaff, the eminent Unrest Inducer, stood on his
trial for a serious offence, and the eyes of the political world
were focussed on the jury. The offence, it should be stated, was
serious for the Government rather than for the prisoner. He had
blown up the Albert Hall on the eve of the great Liberal Federation
Tango Tea, the occasion on which the Chancellor of the Exchequer was
expected to propound his new theory: "Do partridges spread
infectious diseases?" Platterbaff had chosen his time well; the
Tango Tea had been hurriedly postponed, but there were other
political fixtures which could not be put off under any
circumstances. The day after the trial there was to be a by-
election at Nemesis-on-Hand, and it had been openly announced in the
division that if Platterbaff were languishing in gaol on polling day
the Government candidate would be "outed" to a certainty.
Unfortunately, there could be no doubt or misconception as to
Platterbaff's guilt. He had not only pleaded guilty, but had
expressed his intention of repeating his escapade in other
directions as soon as circumstances permitted; throughout the trial
he was busy examining a small model of the Free Trade Hall in
Manchester. The jury could not possibly find that the prisoner had
not deliberately and intentionally blown up the Albert Hall; the
question was: Could they find any extenuating circumstances which
would permit of an acquittal? Of course any sentence which the law
might feel compelled to inflict would be followed by an immediate
pardon, but it was highly desirable, from the Government's point of
view, that the necessity for such an exercise of clemency should not
arise. A headlong pardon, on the eve of a bye-election, with
threats of a heavy voting defection if it were withheld or even
delayed, would not necessarily be a surrender, but it would look
like one. Opponents would be only too ready to attribute ungenerous
motives. Hence the anxiety in the crowded Court, and in the little
groups gathered round the tape-machines in Whitehall and Downing
Street and other affected centres.
The jury returned from considering their verdict; there was a
flutter, an excited murmur, a death-like hush. The foreman
delivered his message:
"The jury find the prisoner guilty of blowing up the Albert Hall.
The jury wish to add a rider drawing attention to the fact that a
by-election is pending in the Parliamentary division of Nemesis-on-
"That, of course," said the Government Prosecutor, springing to his
feet, "is equivalent to an acquittal?"
"I hardly think so," said the Judge, coldly; "I feel obliged to
sentence the prisoner to a week's imprisonment."
"And may the Lord have mercy on the poll," a Junior Counsel
It was a scandalous sentence, but then the Judge was not on the
Ministerial side in politics.
The verdict and sentence were made known to the public at twenty
minutes past five in the afternoon; at half-past five a dense crowd
was massed outside the Prime Minister's residence lustily singing,
to the air of "Trelawney":
"And should our Hero rot in gaol,
For e'en a single day,
There's Fifteen Hundred Voting Men
Will vote the other way."
"Fifteen hundred," said the Prime Minister, with a shudder; "it's
too horrible to think of. Our majority last time was only a
thousand and seven."
"The poll opens at eight to-morrow morning," said the Chief
Organiser; "we must have him out by 7 a.m."
"Seven-thirty," amended the Prime Minister; "we must avoid any
appearance of precipitancy."
"Not later than seven-thirty, then," said the Chief Organiser; "I
have promised the agent down there that he shall be able to display
posters announcing 'Platterbaff is Out,' before the poll opens. He
said it was our only chance of getting a telegram 'Radprop is In'
At half-past seven the next morning the Prime Minister and the Chief
Organiser sat at breakfast, making a perfunctory meal, and awaiting
the return of the Home Secretary, who had gone in person to
superintend the releasing of Platterbaff. Despite the earliness of
the hour a small crowd had gathered in the street outside, and the
horrible menacing Trelawney refrain of the "Fifteen Hundred Voting
Men" came in a steady, monotonous chant.
"They will cheer presently when they hear the news," said the Prime
Minister hopefully; "hark! They are booing some one now! That must
The Home Secretary entered the room a moment later, disaster written
on his face.
"He won't go!" he exclaimed.
"Won't go? Won't leave gaol?"
"He won't go unless he has a brass band. He says he never has left
prison without a brass band to play him out, and he's not going to
go without one now."
"But surely that sort of thing is provided by his supporters and
admirers?" said the Prime Minister; "we can hardly be supposed to
supply a released prisoner with a brass band. How on earth could we
defend it on the Estimates?"
"His supporters say it is up to us to provide the music," said the
Home Secretary; "they say we put him in prison, and it's our affair
to see that he leaves it in a respectable manner. Anyway, he won't
go unless he has a band."
The telephone squealed shrilly; it was a trunk call from Nemesis.
"Poll opens in five minutes. Is Platterbaff out yet? In Heaven's
The Chief Organiser rang off.
"This is not a moment for standing on dignity," he observed bluntly;
"musicians must be supplied at once. Platterbaff must have his
"Where are you going to find the musicians?" asked the Home
Secretary wearily; "we can't employ a military band, in fact, I
don't think he'd have one if we offered it, and there ain't any
others. There's a musicians' strike on, I suppose you know."
"Can't you get a strike permit?" asked the Organiser.
"I'll try," said the Home Secretary, and went to the telephone.
Eight o'clock struck. The crowd outside chanted with an increasing
volume of sound:
"Will vote the other way."
A telegram was brought in. It was from the central committee rooms
at Nemesis. "Losing twenty votes per minute," was its brief
Ten o'clock struck. The Prime Minister, the Home Secretary, the
Chief Organiser, and several earnest helpful friends were gathered
in the inner gateway of the prison, talking volubly to Demosthenes
Platterbaff, who stood with folded arms and squarely planted feet,
silent in their midst. Golden-tongued legislators whose eloquence
had swayed the Marconi Inquiry Committee, or at any rate the greater
part of it, expended their arts of oratory in vain on this stubborn
unyielding man. Without a band he would not go; and they had no
A quarter past ten, half-past. A constant stream of telegraph boys
poured in through the prison gates.
"Yamley's factory hands just voted you can guess how," ran a
despairing message, and the others were all of the same tenour.
Nemesis was going the way of Reading.
"Have you any band instruments of an easy nature to play?" demanded
the Chief Organiser of the Prison Governor; "drums, cymbals, those
sort of things?"
"The warders have a private band of their own," said the Governor,
"but of course I couldn't allow the men themselves--"
"Lend us the instruments," said the Chief Organiser.
One of the earnest helpful friends was a skilled performer on the
cornet, the Cabinet Ministers were able to clash cymbals more or
less in tune, and the Chief Organiser has some knowledge of the
"What tune would you prefer?" he asked Platterbaff.
"The popular song of the moment," replied the Agitator after a
It was a tune they had all heard hundreds of times, so there was no
difficulty in turning out a passable imitation of it. To the
improvised strains of "I didn't want to do it" the prisoner strode
forth to freedom. The word of the song had reference, it was
understood, to the incarcerating Government and not to the destroyer
of the Albert Hall.
The seat was lost, after all, by a narrow majority. The local Trade
Unionists took offence at the fact of Cabinet Ministers having
personally acted as strike-breakers, and even the release of
Platterbaff failed to pacify them.
The seat was lost, but Ministers had scored a moral victory. They
had shown that they knew when and how to yield.
Sir Lulworth Quayne sat in the lounge of his favourite restaurant,
the Gallus Bankiva, discussing the weaknesses of the world with his
nephew, who had lately returned from a much-enlivened exile in the
wilds of Mexico. It was that blessed season of the year when the
asparagus and the plover's egg are abroad in the land, and the
oyster has not yet withdrawn into it's summer entrenchments, and Sir
Lulworth and his nephew were in that enlightened after-dinner mood
when politics are seen in their right perspective, even the politics
"Most of the revolutions that take place in this country nowadays,"
said Sir Lulworth, "are the product of moments of legislative panic.
Take, for instance, one of the most dramatic reforms that has been
carried through Parliament in the lifetime of this generation. It
happened shortly after the coal strike, of unblessed memory. To
you, who have been plunged up to the neck in events of a more
tangled and tumbled description, the things I am going to tell you
of may seem of secondary interest, but after all we had to live in
the midst of them."
Sir Lulworth interrupted himself for a moment to say a few kind
words to the liqueur brandy he had just tasted, and them resumed his
"Whether one sympathises with the agitation for female suffrage or
not one has to admit that its promoters showed tireless energy and
considerable enterprise in devising and putting into action new
methods for accomplishing their ends. As a rule they were a
nuisance and a weariness to the flesh, but there were times when
they verged on the picturesque. There was the famous occasion when
they enlivened and diversified the customary pageantry of the Royal
progress to open Parliament by letting loose thousands of parrots,
which had been carefully trained to scream 'Votes for women,' and
which circled round his Majesty's coach in a clamorous cloud of
green, and grey and scarlet. It was really rather a striking
episode from the spectacular point of view; unfortunately, however,
for its devisers, the secret of their intentions had not been well
kept, and their opponents let loose at the same moment a rival swarm
of parrots, which screeched 'I DON'T think' and other hostile cries,
thereby robbing the demonstration of the unanimity which alone could
have made it politically impressive. In the process of recapture
the birds learned a quantity of additional language which unfitted
them for further service in the Suffragette cause; some of the green
ones were secured by ardent Home Rule propagandists and trained to
disturb the serenity of Orange meetings by pessimistic reflections
on Sir Edward Carson's destination in the life to come. In fact,
the bird in politics is a factor that seems to have come to stay;
quite recently, at a political gathering held in a dimly-lighted
place of worship, the congregation gave a respectful hearing for
nearly ten minutes to a jackdaw from Wapping, under the impression
that they were listening to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was
late in arriving."
"But the Suffragettes," interrupted the nephew; "what did they do
"After the bird fiasco," said Sir Lulworth, "the militant section
made a demonstration of a more aggressive nature; they assembled in
force on the opening day of the Royal Academy Exhibition and
destroyed some three or four hundred of the pictures. This proved
an even worse failure than the parrot business; every one agreed
that there was always far too many pictures in the Academy
Exhibition, and the drastic weeding out of a few hundred canvases
was regarded as a positive improvement. Moreover, from the artists'
point of view it was realised that the outrage constituted a sort of
compensation for those whose works were persistently 'skied', since
out of sight meant also out of reach. Altogether it was one of the
most successful and popular exhibitions that the Academy had held
for many years. Then the fair agitators fell back on some of their
earlier methods; they wrote sweetly argumentative plays to prove
that they ought to have the vote, they smashed windows to show that
they must have the vote, and they kicked Cabinet Ministers to
demonstrate that they'd better have the vote, and still the coldly
reasoned or unreasoned reply was that they'd better not. Their
plight might have been summed up in a perversion of Gilbert's lines
"Twenty voteless millions we,
Voteless all against our will,
Twenty years hence we shall be
Twenty voteless millions still."
And of course the great idea for their master-stroke of strategy
came from a masculine source. Lena Dubarri, who was the captain-
general of their thinking department, met Waldo Orpington in the
Mall one afternoon, just at a time when the fortunes of the Cause
were at their lowest ebb. Waldo Orpington is a frivolous little
fool who chirrups at drawing-room concerts and can recognise bits
from different composers without referring to the programme, but all
the same he occasionally has ideas. He didn't care a twopenny
fiddlestring about the Cause, but he rather enjoyed the idea of
having his finger in the political pie. Also it is possible, though
I should think highly improbable, that he admired Lena Dubarri.
Anyhow, when Lena gave a rather gloomy account of the existing state
of things in the Suffragette World, Waldo was not merely sympathetic
but ready with a practical suggestion. Turning his gaze westward
along the Mall, towards the setting sun and Buckingham Palace, he
was silent for a moment, and then said significantly, 'You have
expended your energies and enterprise on labours of destruction; why
has it never occurred to you to attempt something far more
"'What do you mean?' she asked him eagerly.
"'Do you mean create disturbances? We've been doing nothing else
for months,' she said.
"Waldo shook his head, and continued to look westward along the
Mall. He's rather good at acting in an amateur sort of fashion.
Lena followed his gaze, and then turned to him with a puzzled look
"'Exactly,' said Waldo, in answer to her look.
"'But--how can we create?' she asked; 'it's been done already.'
"'Do it AGAIN,' said Waldo, 'and again and again--'
"Before he could finish the sentence she had kissed him. She
declared afterwards that he was the first man she had ever kissed,
and he declared that she was the first woman who had ever kissed him
in the Mall, so they both secured a record of a kind.
"Within the next day or two a new departure was noticeable in
Suffragette tactics. They gave up worrying Ministers and Parliament
and took to worrying their own sympathisers and supporters--for
funds. The ballot-box was temporarily forgotten in the cult of the
collecting-box. The daughters of the horseleech were not more
persistent in their demands, the financiers of the tottering ancien
regime were not more desperate in their expedients for raising money
than the Suffragist workers of all sections at this juncture, and in
one way and another, by fair means and normal, they really got
together a very useful sum. What they were going to do with it no
one seemed to know, not even those who were most active in
collecting work. The secret on this occasion had been well kept.
Certain transactions that leaked out from time to time only added to
the mystery of the situation.
"'Don't you long to know what we are going to do with our treasure
hoard?' Lena asked the Prime Minister one day when she happened to
sit next to him at a whist drive at the Chinese Embassy.
"'I was hoping you were going to try a little personal bribery,' he
responded banteringly, but some genuine anxiety and curiosity lay
behind the lightness of his chaff; 'of course I know,' he added,
'that you have been buying up building sites in commanding
situations in and around the Metropolis. Two or three, I'm told,
are on the road to Brighton, and another near Ascot. You don't mean
to fortify them, do you?'
"'Something more insidious than that,' she said; 'you could prevent
us from building forts; you can't prevent us from erecting an exact
replica of the Victoria Memorial on each of those sites. They're
all private property, with no building restrictions attached.'
"'Which memorial?' he asked; 'not the one in front of Buckingham
Palace? Surely not that one?'
"'That one,' she said.
"'My dear lady,' he cried, 'you can't be serious. It is a beautiful
and imposing work of art--at any rate one is getting accustomed to
it, and even if one doesn't happen to admire it one can always look
in another direction. But imagine what life would be like if one
saw that erection confronting one wherever one went. Imagine the
effect on people with tired, harassed nerves who saw it three times
on the way to Brighton and three times on the way back. Imagine
seeing it dominate the landscape at Ascot, and trying to keep your
eye off it on the Sandwich golf links. What have your countrymen
done to deserve such a thing?'
"'They have refused us the vote,' said Lena bitterly.
"The Prime Minister always declared himself an opponent of anything
savouring of panic legislation, but he brought a Bill into
Parliament forthwith and successfully appealed to both Houses to
pass it through all its stages within the week. And that is how we
got one of the most glorious measures of the century."
"A measure conferring the vote on women?" asked the nephew.
"Oh dear, no. An Act which made it a penal offence to erect
commemorative statuary anywhere within three miles of a public
EXCEPTING MRS. PENTHERBY
It was Reggie Bruttle's own idea for converting what had threatened
to be an albino elephant into a beast of burden that should help him
along the stony road of his finances. "The Limes," which had come
to him by inheritance without any accompanying provision for its
upkeep, was one of those pretentious, unaccommodating mansions which
none but a man of wealth could afford to live in, and which not one
wealthy man in a hundred would choose on its merits. It might
easily languish in the estate market for years, set round with
noticeboards proclaiming it, in the eyes of a sceptical world, to be
an eminently desirable residence.
Reggie's scheme was to turn it into the headquarters of a prolonged
country-house party, in session during the months from October till
the end of March--a party consisting of young or youngish people of
both sexes, too poor to be able to do much hunting or shooting on a
serious scale, but keen on getting their fill of golf, bridge,
dancing, and occasional theatre-going. No one was to be on the
footing of a paying guest, but every one was to rank as a paying
host; a committee would look after the catering and expenditure, and
an informal sub-committee would make itself useful in helping
forward the amusement side of the scheme.
As it was only an experiment, there was to be a general agreement on
the part of those involved in it to be as lenient and mutually
helpful to one another as possible. Already a promising nucleus,
including one or two young married couples, had been got together,
and the thing seemed to be fairly launched.
"With good management and a little unobtrusive hard work, I think
the thing ought to be a success," said Reggie, and Reggie was one of
those people who are painstaking first and optimistic afterwards.
"There is one rock on which you will unfailingly come to grief,
manage you never so wisely," said Major Dagberry, cheerfully; "the
women will quarrel. Mind you," continued this prophet of disaster,
"I don't say that some of the men won't quarrel too, probably they
will; but the women are bound to. You can't prevent it; it's in the
nature of the sex. The hand that rocks the cradle rocks the world,
in a volcanic sense. A woman will endure discomforts, and make
sacrifices, and go without things to an heroic extent, but the one
luxury she will not go without is her quarrels. No matter where she
may be, or how transient her appearance on a scene, she will instal
her feminine feuds as assuredly as a Frenchman would concoct soup in
the waste of the Arctic regions. At the commencement of a sea
voyage, before the male traveller knows half a dozen of his fellow
passengers by sight, the average woman will have started a couple of
enmities, and laid in material for one or two more--provided, of
course, that there are sufficient women aboard to permit quarrelling
in the plural. If there's no one else she will quarrel with the
stewardess. This experiment of yours is to run for six months; in
less than five weeks there will be war to the knife declaring itself
in half a dozen different directions."
"Oh, come, there are only eight women in the party; they won't pick
quarrels quite so soon as that," protested Reggie.
"They won't all originate quarrels, perhaps," conceded the Major,
"but they will all take sides, and just as Christmas is upon you,
with its conventions of peace and good will, you will find yourself
in for a glacial epoch of cold, unforgiving hostility, with an
occasional Etna flare of open warfare. You can't help it, old boy;
but, at any rate, you can't say you were not warned."
The first five weeks of the venture falsified Major Dagberry's
prediction and justified Reggie's optimism. There were, of course,
occasional small bickerings, and the existence of certain jealousies
might be detected below the surface of everyday intercourse; but, on
the whole, the womenfolk got on remarkably well together. There
was, however, a notable exception. It had not taken five weeks for
Mrs. Pentherby to get herself cordially disliked by the members of
her own sex; five days had been amply sufficient. Most of the women
declared that they had detested her the moment they set eyes on her;
but that was probably an afterthought.
With the menfolk she got on well enough, without being of the type
of woman who can only bask in male society; neither was she lacking
in the general qualities which make an individual useful and
desirable as a member of a co-operative community. She did not try
to "get the better of" her fellow-hosts by snatching little
advantages or cleverly evading her just contributions; she was not
inclined to be boring or snobbish in the way of personal
reminiscence. She played a fair game of bridge, and her card-room
manners were irreproachable. But wherever she came in contact with
her own sex the light of battle kindled at once; her talent of
arousing animosity seemed to border on positive genius.
Whether the object of her attentions was thick-skinned or sensitive,
quick-tempered or good-natured, Mrs. Pentherby managed to achieve
the same effect. She exposed little weaknesses, she prodded sore
places, she snubbed enthusiasms, she was generally right in a matter
of argument, or, if wrong, she somehow contrived to make her
adversary appear foolish and opinionated. She did, and said,
horrible things in a matter-of-fact innocent way, and she did, and
said, matter-of-fact innocent things in a horrible way. In short,
the unanimous feminine verdict on her was that she was
There was no question of taking sides, as the Major had anticipated;
in fact, dislike of Mrs. Pentherby was almost a bond of union
between the other women, and more than one threatening disagreement
had been rapidly dissipated by her obvious and malicious attempts to
inflame and extend it; and the most irritating thing about her was
her successful assumption of unruffled composure at moments when the
tempers of her adversaries were with difficulty kept under control.
She made her most scathing remarks in the tone of a tube conductor
announcing that the next station is Brompton Road--the measured,
listless tone of one who knows he is right, but is utterly
indifferent to the fact that he proclaims.
On one occasion Mrs. Val Gwepton, who was not blessed with the most
reposeful of temperaments, fairly let herself go, and gave Mrs.
Pentherby a vivid and truthful resume of her opinion of her. The
object of this unpent storm of accumulated animosity waited
patiently for a lull, and then remarked quietly to the angry little
"And now, my dear Mrs. Gwepton, let me tell you something that I've
been wanting to say for the last two or three minutes, only you
wouldn't given me a chance; you've got a hairpin dropping out on the
left side. You thin-haired women always find it difficult to keep
your hairpins in."
"What can one do with a woman like that?" Mrs. Val demanded
afterwards of a sympathising audience.
Of course, Reggie received numerous hints as to the unpopularity of
this jarring personality. His sister-in-law openly tackled him on
the subject of her many enormities. Reggie listened with the
attenuated regret that one bestows on an earthquake disaster in
Bolivia or a crop failure in Eastern Turkestan, events which seem so
distant that one can almost persuade oneself they haven't happened.
"That woman has got some hold over him," opined his sister-in-law,
darkly; "either she is helping him to finance the show, and presumes
on the fact, or else, which Heaven forbid, he's got some queer
infatuation for her. Men do take the most extraordinary fancies."
Matters never came exactly to a crisis. Mrs. Pentherby, as a source
of personal offence, spread herself over so wide an area that no one
woman of the party felt impelled to rise up and declare that she
absolutely refused to stay another week in the same house with her.
What is everybody's tragedy is nobody's tragedy. There was ever a
certain consolation in comparing notes as to specific acts of
offence. Reggie's sister-in-law had the added interest of trying to
discover the secret bond which blunted his condemnation of Mrs.
Pentherby's long catalogue of misdeeds. There was little to go on
from his manner towards her in public, but he remained obstinately
unimpressed by anything that was said against her in private.
With the one exception of Mrs. Pentherby's unpopularity, the house-
party scheme was a success on its first trial, and there was no
difficulty about reconstructing it on the same lines for another
winter session. It so happened that most of the women of the party,
and two or three of the men, would not be available on this
occasion, but Reggie had laid his plans well ahead and booked plenty
of "fresh blood" for the departure. It would be, if any thing,
rather a larger party than before.
"I'm so sorry I can't join this winter," said Reggie's sister-in-
law, "but we must go to our cousins in Ireland; we've put them off
so often. What a shame! You'll have none of the same women this
"Excepting Mrs. Pentherby," said Reggie, demurely.
"Mrs. Pentherby! SURELY, Reggie, you're not going to be so idiotic
as to have that woman again! She'll set all the women's backs up
just as she did this time. What IS this mysterious hold she's go
"She's invaluable," said Reggie; "she's my official quarreller."
"Your--what did you say?" gasped his sister-in-law.
"I introduced her into the house-party for the express purpose of
concentrating the feuds and quarrelling that would otherwise have
broken out in all directions among the womenkind. I didn't need the
advice and warning of sundry friends to foresee that we shouldn't
get through six months of close companionship without a certain
amount of pecking and sparring, so I thought the best thing was to
localise and sterilise it in one process. Of course, I made it well
worth the lady's while, and as she didn't know any of you from Adam,
and you don't even know her real name, she didn't mind getting
herself disliked in a useful cause."
"You mean to say she was in the know all the time?"
"Of course she was, and so were one or two of the men, so she was
able to have a good laugh with us behind the scenes when she'd done
anything particularly outrageous. And she really enjoyed herself.
You see, she's in the position of poor relation in a rather
pugnacious family, and her life has been largely spent in smoothing
over other people's quarrels. You can imagine the welcome relief of
being able to go about saying and doing perfectly exasperating
things to a whole houseful of women--and all in the cause of peace."
"I think you are the most odious person in the whole world," said
Reggie's sister-in-law. Which was not strictly true; more than
anybody, more than ever she disliked Mrs. Pentherby. It was
impossible to calculate how many quarrels that woman had done her
Augustus Mellowkent was a novelist with a future; that is to say, a
limited but increasing number of people read his books, and there
seemed good reason to suppose that if he steadily continued to turn
out novels year by year a progressively increasing circle of readers
would acquire the Mellowkent habit, and demand his works from the
libraries and bookstalls. At the instigation of his publisher he
had discarded the baptismal Augustus and taken the front name of
"Women like a name that suggests some one strong and silent, able
but unwilling to answer questions. Augustus merely suggests idle
splendour, but such a name as Mark Mellowkent, besides being
alliterative, conjures up a vision of some one strong and beautiful
and good, a sort of blend of Georges Carpentier and the Reverend
One morning in December Augustus sat in his writing-room, at work on
the third chapter of his eighth novel. He had described at some
length, for the benefit of those who could not imagine it, what a
rectory garden looks like in July; he was now engaged in describing
at greater length the feelings of a young girl, daughter of a long
line of rectors and archdeacons, when she discovers for the first
time that the postman is attractive.
"Their eyes met, for a brief moment, as he handed her two circulars
and the fat wrapper-bound bulk of the East Essex News. Their eyes
met, for the merest fraction of a second, yet nothing could ever be
quite the same again. Cost what it might she felt that she must
speak, must break the intolerable, unreal silence that had fallen on
them. 'How is your mother's rheumatism?' she said."
The author's labours were cut short by the sudden intrusion of a
"A gentleman to see you, sir," said the maid, handing a card with
the name Caiaphas Dwelf inscribed on it; "says it's important."
Mellowkent hesitated and yielded; the importance of the visitor's
mission was probably illusory, but he had never met any one with the
name Caiaphas before. It would be at least a new experience.
Mr. Dwelf was a man of indefinite age; his high, narrow forehead,
cold grey eyes, and determined manner bespoke an unflinching
purpose. He had a large book under his arm, and there seemed every
probability that he had left a package of similar volumes in the
hall. He took a seat before it had been offered him, placed the
book on the table, and began to address Mellowkent in the manner of
an "open letter."
"You are a literary man, the author of several well-known books--"
"I am engage on a book at the present moment--rather busily
engaged," said Mellowkent, pointedly.
"Exactly," said the intruder; "time with you is a commodity of
considerable importance. Minutes, even, have their value."
"They have," agreed Mellowkent, looking at his watch.
"That," said Caiaphas, "is why this book that I am introducing to
your notice is not a book that you can afford to be without. 'Right
Here' is indispensable for the writing man; it is no ordinary
encyclopaedia, or I should not trouble to show it to you. It is an
inexhaustible mine of concise information--"
"On a shelf at my elbow," said the author, "I have a row of
reference books that supply me with all the information I am likely
"Here," persisted the would-be salesman, "you have it all in one
compact volume. No matter what the subject may be which you wish to
look up, or the fact you desire to verify, 'Right Here' gives you
all that you want to know in the briefest and most enlightening
form. Historical reference, for instance; career of John Huss, let
us say. Here we are: 'Huss, John, celebrated religious reformer.
Born 1369, burned at Constance 1415. The Emperor Sigismund
"If he had been burnt in these days every one would have suspected
the Suffragettes," observed Mellowkent.
"Poultry-keeping, now," resumed Caiaphas, "that's a subject that
might crop up in a novel dealing with English country life. Here we
have all about it: 'The Leghorn as egg-producer. Lack of maternal
instinct in the Minorca. Gapes in chickens, its cause and cure.
Ducklings for the early market, how fattened.' There, you see,
there it all is, nothing lacking."
"Except the maternal instinct in the Minorca, and that you could
hardly be expected to supply."
"Sporting records, that's important, too; now how many men, sporting
men even, are there who can say off-hand what horse won the Derby in
any particular year? Now it's just a little thing of that sort--"
"My dear sir," interrupted Mellowkent, "there are at least four men
in my club who can not only tell me what horse won in any given
year, but what horse ought to have won and why it didn't. If your
book could supply a method for protecting one from information of
that sort it would do more than anything you have yet claimed for
"Geography," said Caiaphas, imperturbably; "that's a thing that a
busy man, writing at high pressure, may easily make a slip over.
Only the other day a well-known author made the Volga flow into the
Black Sea instead of the Caspian; now, with this book--"
"On a polished rose-wood stand behind you there reposes a reliable
and up-to-date atlas," said Mellowkent; "and now I must really ask
you to be going."
"An atlas," said Caiaphas, "gives merely the chart of the river's
course, and indicates the principal towns that it passes. Now Right
Here gives you the scenery, traffic, ferry-boat charges, the
prevalent types of fish, boatmen's slang terms, and hours of sailing
of the principal river steamers. If gives you--"
Mellowkent sat and watched the hard-featured, resolute, pitiless
salesman, as he sat doggedly in the chair wherein he had installed
himself, unflinchingly extolling the merits of his undesired wares.
A spirit of wistful emulation took possession of the author; why
could he not live up to the cold stern name he had adopted? Why
must he sit here weakly and listen to this weary, unconvincing
tirade, why could he not be Mark Mellowkent for a few brief moments,
and meet this man on level terms?
A sudden inspiration flashed across his.
"Have you read my last book, The Cageless Linnet?" he asked.
"I don't read novels," said Caiaphas tersely.
"Oh, but you ought to read this one, every one ought to," exclaimed
Mellowkent, fishing the book down from a shelf; "published at six
shillings, you can have it at four-and-six. There is a bit in
chapter five that I feel sure you would like, where Emma is alone in
the birch copse waiting for Harold Huntingdon--that is the man her
family want her to marry. She really wants to marry him, too, but
she does not discover that till chapter fifteen. Listen: 'Far as
the eye could stretch rolled the mauve and purple billows of
heather, lit up here and there with the glowing yellow of gorse and
broom, and edged round with the delicate greys and silver and green
of the young birch trees. Tiny blue and brown butterflies fluttered
above the fronds of heather, revelling in the sunlight, and overhead
the larks were singing as only larks can sing. It was a day when
"In 'Right Here' you have full information on all branches of Nature
study," broke in the bookagent, with a tired note sounding in his
voice for the first time; "forestry, insect life, bird migration,
reclamation of waste lands. As I was saying, no man who has to deal
with the varied interests of life--"
"I wonder if you would care for one of my earlier books, The
Reluctance of Lady Cullumpton," said Mellowkent, hunting again
through the bookshelf; "some people consider it my best novel. Ah,
here it is. I see there are one or two spots on the cover, so I
won't ask more than three-and-ninepence for it. Do let me read you
how it opens:
"'Beatrice Lady Cullumpton entered the long, dimly-lit drawing-room,
her eyes blazing with a hope that she guessed to be groundless, her
lips trembling with a fear that she could not disguise. In her hand
she carried a small fan, a fragile toy of lace and satinwood.
Something snapped as she entered the room; she had crushed the fan
into a dozen pieces.'
"There, what do you think of that for an opening? It tells you at
once that there's something afoot."
"I don't read novels," said Caiaphas sullenly.
"But just think what a resource they are," exclaimed the author, "on
long winter evenings, or perhaps when you are laid up with a
strained ankle--a thing that might happen to any one; or if you were
staying in a house-party with persistent wet weather and a stupid
hostess and insufferably dull fellow-guests, you would just make an
excuse that you had letters to write, go to your room, light a
cigarette, and for three-and-ninepence you could plunge into the
society of Beatrice Lady Cullumpton and her set. No one ought to
travel without one or two of my novels in their luggage as a stand-
by. A friend of mine said only the other day that he would as soon
think of going into the tropics without quinine as of going on a
visit without a couple of Mark Mellowkents in his kit-bag. Perhaps
sensation is more in your line. I wonder if I've got a copy of The
Caiaphas did not wait to be tempted with selections from that
thrilling work of fiction. With a muttered remark about having no
time to waste on monkey-talk, he gathered up his slighted volume and
departed. He made no audible reply to Mellowkent's cheerful "Good
morning," but the latter fancied that a look of respectful hatred
flickered in the cold grey eyes.
A "Mixed Double" of young people were contesting a game of lawn
tennis at the Rectory garden party; for the past five-and-twenty
years at least mixed doubles of young people had done exactly the
same thing on exactly the same spot at about the same time of year.
The young people changed and made way for others in the course of
time, but very little else seemed to alter. The present players
were sufficiently conscious of the social nature of the occasion to
be concerned about their clothes and appearance, and sufficiently
sport-loving to be keen on the game. Both their efforts and their
appearance came under the fourfold scrutiny of a quartet of ladies
sitting as official spectators on a bench immediately commanding the
court. It was one of the accepted conditions of the Rectory garden
party that four ladies, who usually knew very little about tennis
and a great deal about the players, should sit at that particular
spot and watch the game. It had also come to be almost a tradition
that two ladies should be amiable, and that the other two should be
Mrs. Dole and Mrs. Hatch-Mallard.
"What a singularly unbecoming way Eva Jonelet has taken to doing her
hair in," said Mrs. Hatch-Mallard; "it's ugly hair at the best of
times, but she needn't make it look ridiculous as well. Some one
ought to tell her."
Eva Jonelet's hair might have escaped Mrs. Hatch-Mallard's
condemnation if she could have forgotten the more glaring fact that
Eva was Mrs. Dole's favourite niece. It would, perhaps, have been a
more comfortable arrangement if Mrs. Hatch-Mallard and Mrs. Dole
could have been asked to the Rectory on separate occasions, but
there was only one garden party in the course of the year, and
neither lady could have been omitted from the list of invitations
without hopelessly wrecking the social peace of the parish.
"How pretty the yew trees look at this time of year," interposed a
lady with a soft, silvery voice that suggested a chinchilla muff
painted by Whistler.
"What do you mean by this time of year?" demanded Mrs. Hatch-
Mallard. "Yew trees look beautiful at all times of the year. That
is their great charm."
"Yew trees never look anything but hideous under any circumstances
or at any time of year," said Mrs. Dole, with the slow, emphatic
relish of one who contradicts for the pleasure of the thing. "They
are only fit for graveyards and cemeteries."
Mrs. Hatch-Mallard gave a sardonic snort, which, being translated,
meant that there were some people who were better fitted for
cemeteries than for garden parties.
"What is the score, please?" asked the lady with the chinchilla
The desired information was given her by a young gentleman in
spotless white flannels, whose general toilet effect suggested
solicitude rather than anxiety.
"What an odious young cub Bertie Dykson has become!" pronounced Mrs.
Dole, remembering suddenly that Bertie was a favourite with Mrs.
Hatch-Mallard. "The young men of to-day are not what they used to
be twenty years ago."
"Of course not," said Mrs. Hatch-Mallard; "twenty years ago Bertie
Dykson was just two years old, and you must expect some difference
in appearance and manner and conversation between those two
"Do you know," said Mrs. Dole, confidentially, "I shouldn't be
surprised if that was intended to be clever."
"Have you any one interesting coming to stay with you, Mrs.
Norbury?" asked the chinchilla voice, hastily; "you generally have a
house party at this time of year."
"I've got a most interesting woman coming," said Mrs. Norbury, who
had been mutely struggling for some chance to turn the conversation
into a safe channel; "an old acquaintance of mine, Ada Bleek--"
"What an ugly name," said Mrs. Hatch-Mallard.
"She's descended from the de la Bliques, an old Huguenot family of
Touraine, you know."
"There weren't any Huguenots in Touraine," said Mrs. Hatch-Mallard,
who thought she might safely dispute any fact that was three hundred
"Well, anyhow, she's coming to stay with me," continued Mrs.
Norbury, bringing her story quickly down to the present day, "she
arrives this evening, and she's highly clairvoyante, a seventh
daughter of a seventh daughter, you now, and all that sort of
"How very interesting," said the chinchilla voice; "Exwood is just
the right place for her to come to, isn't it? There are supposed to
be several ghosts there."
"That is why she was so anxious to come," said Mrs. Norbury; "she
put off another engagement in order to accept my invitation. She's
had visions and dreams, and all those sort of things, that have come
true in a most marvellous manner, but she's never actually seen a
ghost, and she's longing to have that experience. She belongs to
that Research Society, you know."
"I expect she'll see the unhappy Lady Cullumpton, the most famous of
all the Exwood ghosts," said Mrs. Dole; "my ancestor, you know, Sir
Gervase Cullumpton, murdered his young bride in a fit of jealousy
while they were on a visit to Exwood. He strangled her in the
stables with a stirrup leather, just after they had come in from
riding, and she is seen sometimes at dusk going about the lawns and
the stable yard, in a long green habit, moaning and trying to get
the thong from round her throat. I shall be most interested to hear
if your friend sees--"
"I don't know why she should be expected to see a trashy,
traditional apparition like the so-called Cullumpton ghost, that is
only vouched for by housemaids and tipsy stable-boys, when my uncle,
who was the owner of Exwood, committed suicide there under the most
tragical circumstances, and most certainly haunts the place."
"Mrs. Hatch-Mallard has evidently never read Popple's County
History," said Mrs. Dole icily, "or she would know that the
Cullumpton ghost has a wealth of evidence behind it--"
"Oh, Popple!" exclaimed Mrs. Hatch-Mallard scornfully; "any rubbishy
old story is good enough for him. Popple, indeed! Now my uncle's
ghost was seen by a Rural Dean, who was also a Justice of the Peace.
I should think that would be good enough testimony for any one.
Mrs. Norbury, I shall take it as a deliberate personal affront if
your clairvoyante friend sees any other ghost except that of my
"I daresay she won't see anything at all; she never has yet, you
know," said Mrs. Norbury hopefully.
"It was a most unfortunate topic for me to have broached," she
lamented afterwards to the owner of the chinchilla voice; "Exwood
belongs to Mrs. Hatch-Mallard, and we've only got it on a short
lease. A nephew of hers has been wanting to live there for some
time, and if we offend her in any way she'll refuse to renew the
lease. I sometimes think these garden-parties are a mistake."
The Norburys played bridge for the next three nights till nearly one
o'clock; they did not care for the game, but it reduced the time at
their guest's disposal for undesirable ghostly visitations.
"Miss Bleek is not likely to be in a frame of mind to see ghosts,"
said Hugo Norbury, "if she goes to bed with her brain awhirl with
royal spades and no trumps and grand slams."
"I've talked to her for hours about Mrs. Hatch-Mallard's uncle,"
said his wife, "and pointed out the exact spot where he killed
himself, and invented all sorts of impressive details, and I've
found an old portrait of Lord John Russell and put it in her room,
and told her that it's supposed to be a picture of the uncle in
middle age. If Ada does see a ghost at all it certainly ought to be
old Hatch-Mallard's. At any rate, we've done our best."
The precautions were in vain. On the third morning of her stay Ada
Bleek came down late to breakfast, her eyes looking very tired, but
ablaze with excitement, her hair done anyhow, and a large brown
volume hugged under her arm.
"At last I've seen something supernatural!" she exclaimed, and gave
Mrs. Norbury a fervent kiss, as though in gratitude for the
opportunity afforded her.
"A ghost!" cried Mrs. Norbury, "not really!"
"Really and unmistakably!"
"Was it an oldish man in the dress of about fifty years ago?" asked
Mrs. Norbury hopefully.
"Nothing of the sort," said Ada; "it was a white hedgehog."
"A white hedgehog!" exclaimed both the Norburys, in tones of
"A huge white hedgehog with baleful yellow eyes," said Ada; "I was
lying half asleep in bed when suddenly I felt a sensation as of
something sinister and unaccountable passing through the room. I
sat up and looked round, and there, under the window, I saw an evil,
creeping thing, a sort of monstrous hedgehog, of a dirty white
colour, with black, loathsome claws that clicked and scraped along
the floor, and narrow, yellow eyes of indescribable evil. It
slithered along for a yard or two, always looking at me with its
cruel, hideous eyes, then, when it reached the second window, which
was open it clambered up the sill and vanished. I got up at once
and went to the window; there wasn't a sign of it anywhere. Of
course, I knew it must be something from another world, but it was
not till I turned up Popple's chapter on local traditions that I
realised what I had seen."
She turned eagerly to the large brown volume and read: "'Nicholas
Herison, an old miser, was hung at Batchford in 1763 for the murder
of a farm lad who had accidentally discovered his secret hoard. His
ghost is supposed to traverse the countryside, appearing sometimes
as a white owl, sometimes as a huge white hedgehog."
"I expect you read the Popple story overnight, and that made you
THINK you saw a hedgehog when you were only half awake," said Mrs.
Norbury, hazarding a conjecture that probably came very near the
Ada scouted the possibility of such a solution of her apparition.
"This must be hushed up," said Mrs. Norbury quickly; "the servants--
"Hushed up!" exclaimed Ada, indignantly; "I'm writing a long report
on it for the Research Society."
It was then that Hugo Norbury, who is not naturally a man of
brilliant resource, had one of the really useful inspirations of his
"It was very wicked of us, Miss Bleek," he said, "but it would be a
shame to let it go further. That white hedgehog is an old joke of
ours; stuffed albino hedgehog, you know, that my father brought home
from Jamaica, where they grow to enormous size. We hide it in the
room with a string on it, run one end of the string through the
window; then we pull if from below and it comes scraping along the
floor, just as you've described, and finally jerks out of the
window. Taken in heaps of people; they all read up Popple and think
it's old Harry Nicholson's ghost; we always stop them from writing
to the papers about it, though. That would be carrying matters too
Mrs. Hatch-Mallard renewed the lease in due course, but Ada Bleek
has never renewed her friendship.
THE MAPPINED LIFE
"These Mappin Terraces at the Zoological Gardens are a great
improvement on the old style of wild-beast cage," said Mrs. James
Gurtleberry, putting down an illustrated paper; "they give one the
illusion of seeing the animals in their natural surroundings. I
wonder how much of the illusion is passed on to the animals?"
"That would depend on the animal," said her niece; "a jungle-fowl,
for instance, would no doubt think its lawful jungle surroundings
were faithfully reproduced if you gave it a sufficiency of wives, a
goodly variety of seed food and ants' eggs, a commodious bank of
loose earth to dust itself in, a convenient roosting tree, and a
rival or two to make matters interesting. Of course there ought to
be jungle-cats and birds of prey and other agencies of sudden death
to add to the illusion of liberty, but the bird's own imagination is
capable of inventing those--look how a domestic fowl will squawk an
alarm note if a rook or wood pigeon passes over its run when it has
"You think, then, they really do have a sort of illusion, if you
give them space enough--"
"In a few cases only. Nothing will make me believe that an acre or
so of concrete enclosure will make up to a wolf or a tiger-cat for
the range of night prowling that would belong to it in a wild state.
Think of the dictionary of sound and scent and recollection that
unfolds before a real wild beat as it comes out from its lair every
evening, with the knowledge that in a few minutes it will be hieing
along to some distant hunting ground where all the joy and fury of
the chase awaits it; think of the crowded sensations of the brain
when every rustle, every cry, every bent twig, and every whiff
across the nostrils means something, something to do with life and
death and dinner. Imagine the satisfaction of stealing down to your
own particular drinking spot, choosing your own particular tree to
scrape your claws on, finding your own particular bed of dried grass
to roll on. Then, in the place of all that, put a concrete
promenade, which will be of exactly the same dimensions whether you
race or crawl across it, coated with stale, unvarying scents and
surrounded with cries and noises that have ceased to have the least
meaning or interest. As a substitute for a narrow cage the new
enclosures are excellent, but I should think they are a poor
imitation of a life of liberty."
"It's rather depressing to think that," said Mrs. Gurtleberry; "they
look so spacious and so natural, but I suppose a good deal of what
seems natural to us would be meaningless to a wild animal."
"That is where our superior powers of self-deception come in," said
the niece; "we are able to live our unreal, stupid little lives on
our particular Mappin terrace, and persuade ourselves that we really
are untrammelled men and women leading a reasonable existence in a
"But good gracious," exclaimed the aunt, bouncing into an attitude
of scandalised defence, "we are leading reasonable existences! What
on earth do you mean by trammels? We are merely trammelled by the
ordinary decent conventions of civilised society."
"We are trammelled," said the niece, calmly and pitilessly, "by
restrictions of income and opportunity, and above all by lack of
initiative. To some people a restricted income doesn't matter a
bit, in fact it often seems to help as a means for getting a lot of
reality out of life; I am sure there are men and women who do their
shopping in little back streets of Paris, buying four carrots and a
shred of beef for their daily sustenance, who lead a perfectly real
and eventful existence. Lack of initiative is the thing that really
cripples one, and that is where you and I and Uncle James are so
hopelessly shut in. We are just so many animals stuck down on a
Mappin terrace, with this difference in our disfavour, that the
animals are there to be looked at, while nobody wants to look at us.
As a matter of fact there would be nothing to look at. We get colds
in winter and hay fever in summer, and if a wasp happens to sting
one of us, well, that is the wasp's initiative, not ours; all we do
is to wait for the swelling to go down. Whenever we do climb into
local fame and notice, it is by indirect methods; if it happens to
be a good flowering year for magnolias the neighbourhood observes:
'Have you seen the Gurtleberry's magnolia? It is a perfect mass of
flowers,' and we go about telling people that there are fifty-seven
blossoms as against thirty-nine the previous year."
"In Coronation year there were as many as sixty," put in the aunt,
"your uncle has kept a record for the last eight years."
"Doesn't it ever strike you," continued the niece relentlessly,
"that if we moved away from here or were blotted out of existence
our local claim to fame would pass on automatically to whoever
happened to take the house and garden? People would say to one
another, 'Have you seen the Smith-Jenkins' magnolia? It is a
perfect mass of flowers,' or else 'Smith-Jenkins tells me there
won't be a single blossom on their magnolia this year; the east
winds have turned all the buds black.' Now if, when we had gone,
people still associated our names with the magnolia tree, no matter
who temporarily possessed it, if they said, 'Ah, that's the tree on
which the Gurtleberrys hung their cook because she sent up the wrong
kind of sauce with the asparagus,' that would be something really
due to our own initiative, apart from anything east winds or
magnolia vitality might have to say in the matter."
"We should never do such a thing," said the aunt.
The niece gave a reluctant sigh.
"I can't imagine it," she admitted. "Of course," she continued,
"there are heaps of ways of leading a real existence without
committing sensational deeds of violence. It's the dreadful little
everyday acts of pretended importance that give the Mappin stamp to
our life. It would be entertaining, if it wasn't so pathetically
tragic, to hear Uncle James fuss in here in the morning and
announce, 'I must just go down into the town and find out what the
men there are saying about Mexico. Matters are beginning to look
serious there.' Then he patters away into the town, and talks in a
highly serious voice to the tobacconist, incidentally buying an
ounce of tobacco; perhaps he meets one or two others of the world's
thinkers and talks to them in a highly serious voice, then he
patters back here and announces with increased importance, 'I've
just been talking to some men in the town about the condition of
affairs in Mexico. They agree with the view that I have formed,
that things there will have to get worse before they get better.'
Of course nobody in the town cared in the least little bit what his
views about Mexico were or whether he had any. The tobacconist
wasn't even fluttered at his buying the ounce of tobacco; he knows
that he purchases the same quantity of the same sort of tobacco
every week. Uncle James might just as well have lain on his back in
the garden and chattered to the lilac tree about the habits of
"I really will not listen to such things about your uncle,"
protested Mrs. James Gurtleberry angrily.
"My own case is just as bad and just as tragic," said the niece,
dispassionately; "nearly everything about me is conventional make-
believe. I'm not a good dancer, and no one could honestly call me
good-looking, but when I go to one of our dull little local dances
I'm conventionally supposed to 'have a heavenly time,' to attract
the ardent homage of the local cavaliers, and to go home with my
head awhirl with pleasurable recollections. As a matter of fact,
I've merely put in some hours of indifferent dancing, drunk some
badly-made claret cup, and listened to an enormous amount of
laborious light conversation. A moonlight hen-stealing raid with
the merry-eyed curate would be infinitely more exciting; imagine the
pleasure of carrying off all those white minorcas that the Chibfords
are always bragging about. When we had disposed of them we could
give the proceeds to a charity, so there would be nothing really
wrong about it. But nothing of that sort lies within the Mappined
limits of my life. One of these days somebody dull and decorous and
undistinguished will 'make himself agreeable' to me at a tennis
party, as the saying is, and all the dull old gossips of the
neighbourhood will begin to ask when we are to be engaged, and at
last we shall be engaged, and people will give us butter-dishes and
blotting-cases and framed pictures of young women feeding swans.
Hullo, Uncle, are you going out?"
"I'm just going down to the town," announced Mr. James Gurtleberry,
with an air of some importance: "I want to hear what people are
saying about Albania. Affairs there are beginning to take on a very
serious look. It's my opinion that we haven't seen the worst of
In this he was probably right, but there was nothing in the
immediate or prospective condition of Albania to warrant Mrs.
Gurtleberry in bursting into tears.
Rex Dillot was nearly twenty-four, almost good-looking and quite
penniless. His mother was supposed to make him some sort of an
allowance out of what her creditors allowed her, and Rex
occasionally strayed into the ranks of those who earn fitful
salaries as secretaries or companions to people who are unable to
cope unaided with their correspondence or their leisure. For a few
months he had been assistant editor and business manager of a paper
devoted to fancy mice, but the devotion had been all on one side,
and the paper disappeared with a certain abruptness from club
reading-rooms and other haunts where it had made a gratuitous
appearance. Still, Rex lived with some air of comfort and well-
being, as one can live if one is born with a genius for that sort of
thing, and a kindly Providence usually arranged that his week-end
invitations coincided with the dates on which his one white dinner-
waistcoat was in a laundry-returned condition of dazzling cleanness.
He played most games badly, and was shrewd enough to recognise the
fact, but he had developed a marvellously accurate judgement in
estimating the play and chances of other people, whether in a golf
match, billiard handicap, or croquet tournament. By dint of
parading his opinion of such and such a player's superiority with a
sufficient degree of youthful assertiveness he usually succeeded in
provoking a wager at liberal odds, and he looked to his week-end
winnings to carry him through the financial embarrassments of his
mid-week existence. The trouble was, as he confided to Clovis
Sangrail, that he never had enough available or even prospective
cash at his command to enable him to fix the wager at a figure
really worth winning.
"Some day," he said, "I shall come across a really safe thing, a bet
that simply can't go astray, and then I shall put it up for all I'm
worth, or rather for a good deal more than I'm worth if you sold me
up to the last button."
"It would be awkward if it didn't happen to come off," said Clovis.
"It would be more than awkward," said Rex; "it would be a tragedy.
All the same, it would be extremely amusing to bring it off. Fancy
awaking in the morning with about three hundred pounds standing to
one's credit. I should go and clear out my hostess's pigeon-loft
before breakfast out of sheer good-temper."
"Your hostess of the moment mightn't have a pigeon-loft," said
"I always choose hostesses that have," said Rex; "a pigeon-loft is
indicative of a careless, extravagant, genial disposition, such as I
like to see around me. People who strew corn broadcast for a lot of
feathered inanities that just sit about cooing and giving each other
the glad eye in a Louis Quatorze manner are pretty certain to do you
"Young Strinnit is coming down this afternoon," said Clovis
reflectively; "I dare say you won't find it difficult to get him to
back himself at billiards. He plays a pretty useful game, but he's
not quite as good as he fancies he is."
"I know one member of the party who can walk round him," said Rex
softly, an alert look coming into his eyes; "that cadaverous-looking
Major who arrived last night. I've seen him play at St. Moritz. If
I could get Strinnit to lay odds on himself against the Major the
money would be safe in my pocket. This looks like the good thing
I've been watching and praying for."
"Don't be rash," counselled Clovis, "Strinnit may play up to his
self-imagined form once in a blue moon."
"I intend to be rash," said Rex quietly, and the look on his face
corroborated his words.
"Are you all going to flock to the billiard-room?" asked Teresa
Thundleford, after dinner, with an air of some disapproval and a
good deal of annoyance. "I can't see what particular amusement you
find in watching two men prodding little ivory balls about on a
"Oh, well," said her hostess, "it's a way of passing the time, you
"A very poor way, to my mind," said Mrs. Thundleford; "now I was
going to have shown all of you the photographs I took in Venice last
"You showed them to us last night," said Mrs. Cuvering hastily.
"Those were the ones I took in Florence. These are quite a
"Oh, well, some time to-morrow we can look at them. You can leave
them down in the drawing-room, and then every one can have a look."
"I should prefer to show them when you are all gathered together, as
I have quite a lot of explanatory remarks to make, about Venetian
art and architecture, on the same lines as my remarks last night on
the Florentine galleries. Also, there are some verses of mine that
I should like to read you, on the rebuilding of the Campanile. But,
of course, if you all prefer to watch Major Latton and Mr. Strinnit
knocking balls about on a table--"
"They are both supposed to be first-rate players," said the hostess.
"I have yet to learn that my verses and my art causerie are of
second-rate quality," said Mrs. Thundleford with acerbity.
"However, as you all seem bent on watching a silly game, there's no
more to be said. I shall go upstairs and finish some writing.
Later on, perhaps, I will come down and join you."
To one, at least, of the onlookers the game was anything but silly.
It was absorbing, exciting, exasperating, nerve-stretching, and
finally it grew to be tragic. The Major with the St. Moritz
reputation was playing a long way below his form, young Strinnit was
playing slightly above his, and had all the luck of the game as
well. From the very start the balls seemed possessed by a demon of
contrariness; they trundled about complacently for one player, they
would go nowhere for the other.
"A hundred and seventy, seventy-four," sang out the youth who was
marking. In a game of two hundred and fifty up it was an enormous
lead to hold. Clovis watched the flush of excitement die away from
Dillot's face, and a hard white look take its place.
"How much have you go on?" whispered Clovis. The other whispered
the sum through dry, shaking lips. It was more than he or any one
connected with him could pay; he had done what he had said he would
do. He had been rash.
"Two hundred and six, ninety-eight."
Rex heard a clock strike ten somewhere in the hall, then another
somewhere else, and another, and another; the house seemed full of
striking clocks. Then in the distance the stable clock chimed in.
In another hour they would all be striking eleven, and he would be
listening to them as a disgraced outcast, unable to pay, even in
part, the wager he had challenged.
"Two hundred and eighteen, a hundred and three." The game was as
good as over. Rex was as good as done for. He longed desperately
for the ceiling to fall in, for the house to catch fire, for
anything to happen that would put an end to that horrible rolling to
and fro of red and white ivory that was jostling him nearer and
nearer to his doom.
"Two hundred and twenty-eight, a hundred and seven."
Rex opened his cigarette-case; it was empty. That at least gave him
a pretext to slip away from the room for the purpose of refilling
it; he would spare himself the drawn-out torture of watching that
hopeless game played out to the bitter end. He backed away from the
circle of absorbed watchers and made his way up a short stairway to
a long, silent corridor of bedrooms, each with a guests' name
written in a little square on the door. In the hush that reigned in
this part of the house he could still hear the hateful click-click
of the balls; if he waited for a few minutes longer he would hear
the little outbreak of clapping and buzz of congratulation that
would hail Strinnit's victory. On the alert tension of his nerves
there broke another sound, the aggressive, wrath-inducing breathing
of one who sleeps in heavy after-dinner slumber. The sound came
from a room just at his elbow; the card on the door bore the
announcement "Mrs. Thundleford." The door was just slightly ajar;
Rex pushed it open an inch or two more and looked in. The august
Teresa had fallen asleep over an illustrated guide to Florentine
art-galleries; at her side, somewhat dangerously near the edge of
the table, was a reading-lamp. If Fate had been decently kind to
him, thought Rex, bitterly, that lamp would have been knocked over
by the sleeper and would have given them something to think of
besides billiard matches.
There are occasions when one must take one's Fate in one's hands.
Rex took the lamp in his.
"Two hundred and thirty-seven, one hundred and fifteen." Strinnit
was at the table, and the balls lay in good position for him; he had
a choice of two fairly easy shots, a choice which he was never to
decide. A sudden hurricane of shrieks and a rush of stumbling feet
sent every one flocking to the door. The Dillot boy crashed into
the room, carrying in his arms the vociferous and somewhat
dishevelled Teresa Thundleford; her clothing was certainly not a
mass of flames, as the more excitable members of the party
afterwards declared, but the edge of her skirt and part of the
table-cover in which she had been hastily wrapped were alight in a
flickering, half-hearted manner. Rex flung his struggling burden on
the billiard table, and for one breathless minute the work of
beating out the sparks with rugs and cushions and playing on them
with soda-water syphons engrossed the energies of the entire
"It was lucky I was passing when it happened," panted Rex; "some one
had better see to the room, I think the carpet is alight."
As a matter of fact the promptitude and energy of the rescuer had
prevented any great damage being done, either to the victim or her
surroundings. The billiard table had suffered most, and had to be
laid up for repairs; perhaps it was not the best place to have
chosen for the scene of salvage operations; but then, as Clovis
remarked, when one is rushing about with a blazing woman in one's
arms one can't stop to think out exactly where one is going to put
Tom Yorkfield had always regarded his half-brother, Laurence, with a
lazy instinct of dislike, toned down, as years went on, to a
tolerant feeling of indifference. There was nothing very tangible
to dislike him for; he was just a blood-relation, with whom Tom had
no single taste or interest in common, and with whom, at the same
time, he had had no occasion for quarrel. Laurence had left the
farm early in life, and had lived for a few years on a small sum of
money left him by his mother; he had taken up painting as a
profession, and was reported to be doing fairly well at it, well
enough, at any rate, to keep body and soul together. He specialised
in painting animals, and he was successful in finding a certain
number of people to buy his pictures. Tom felt a comforting sense
of assured superiority in contrasting his position with that of his
half-brother; Laurence was an artist-chap, just that and nothing
more, though you might make it sound more important by calling an
animal painter; Tom was a farmer, not in a very big way, it was
true, but the Helsery farm had been in the family for some
generations, and it had a good reputation for the stock raised on
it. Tom had done his best, with the little capital at his command,
to maintain and improve the standard of his small herd of cattle,
and in Clover Fairy he had bred a bull which was something rather
better than any that his immediate neighbours could show. It would
not have made a sensation in the judging-ring at an important cattle
show, but it was as vigorous, shapely, and healthy a young animal as
any small practical farmer could wish to possess. At the King's
Head on market days Clover Fairy was very highly spoken of, and
Yorkfield used to declare that he would not part with him for a
hundred pounds; a hundred pounds is a lot of money in the small
farming line, and probably anything over eighty would have tempted
It was with some especial pleasure that Tom took advantage of one of
Laurence's rare visits to the farm to lead him down to the enclosure
where Clover Fairy kept solitary state--the grass widower of a
grazing harem. Tom felt some of his old dislike for his half-
brother reviving; the artist was becoming more languid in his
manner, more unsuitably turned-out in attire, and he seemed inclined
to impart a slightly patronising tone to his conversation. He took
no heed of a flourishing potato crop, but waxed enthusiastic over a
clump of yellow-flowering weed that stood in a corner by a gateway,
which was rather galling to the owner of a really very well weeded
farm; again, when he might have been duly complimentary about a
group of fat, black-faced lambs, that simply cried aloud for
admiration, he became eloquent over the foliage tints of an oak
copse on the hill opposite. But now he was being taken to inspect
the crowning pride and glory of Helsery; however grudging he might
be in his praises, however backward and niggardly with his
congratulations, he would have to see and acknowledge the many
excellences of that redoubtable animal. Some weeks ago, while on a
business journey to Taunton, Tom had been invited by his half-
brother to visit a studio in that town, where Laurence was
exhibiting one of his pictures, a large canvas representing a bull
standing knee-deep in some marshy ground; it had been good of its
kind, no doubt, and Laurence had seemed inordinately pleased with
it; "the best thing I've done yet," he had said over and over again,
and Tom had generously agreed that it was fairly life-like. Now,
the man of pigments was going to be shown a real picture, a living
model of strength and comeliness, a thing to feast the eyes on, a
picture that exhibited new pose and action with every shifting
minute, instead of standing glued into one unvarying attitude
between the four walls of a frame. Tom unfastened a stout wooden
door and led the way into a straw-bedded yard.
"Is he quiet?" asked the artist, as a young bull with a curly red
coat came inquiringly towards them.
"He's playful at times," said Tom, leaving his half-brother to
wonder whether the bull's ideas of play were of the catch-as-catch-
can order. Laurence made one or two perfunctory comments on the
animal's appearance and asked a question or so as to his age and
such-like details; then he coolly turned the talk into another
"Do you remember the picture I showed you at Taunton?" he asked.
"Yes," grunted Tom; "a white-faced bull standing in some slush.
Don't admire those Herefords much myself; bulky-looking brutes,
don't seem to have much life in them. Daresay they're easier to
paint that way; now, this young beggar is on the move all the time,
aren't you, Fairy?"
"I've sold that picture," said Laurence, with considerable
complacency in his voice.
"Have you?" said Tom; "glad to hear it, I'm sure. Hope you're
pleased with what you've got for it."
"I got three hundred pounds for it," said Laurence.
Tom turned towards him with a slowly rising flush of anger in his
face. Three hundred pounds! Under the most favourable market
conditions that he could imagine his prized Clover Fairy would
hardly fetch a hundred, yet here was a piece of varnished canvas,
painted by his half-brother, selling for three times that sum. It
was a cruel insult that went home with all the more force because it
emphasised the triumph of the patronising, self-satisfied Laurence.
The young farmer had meant to put his relative just a little out of
conceit with himself by displaying the jewel of his possessions, and
now the tables were turned, and his valued beast was made to look
cheap and insignificant beside the price paid for a mere picture.
It was so monstrously unjust; the painting would never be anything
more than a dexterous piece of counterfeit life, while Clover Fairy
was the real thing, a monarch in his little world, a personality in
the countryside. After he was dead, even, he would still be
something of a personality; his descendants would graze in those
valley meadows and hillside pastures, they would fill stall and byre
and milking-shed, their good red coats would speckle the landscape
and crowd the market-place; men would note a promising heifer or a
well-proportioned steer, and say: "Ah, that one comes of good old
Clover Fairy's stock." All that time the picture would be hanging,
lifeless and unchanging, beneath its dust and varnish, a chattel
that ceased to mean anything if you chose to turn it with its back
to the wall. These thoughts chased themselves angrily through Tom
Yorkfield's mind, but he could not put them into words. When he
gave tongue to his feelings he put matters bluntly and harshly.
"Some soft-witted fools may like to throw away three hundred pounds
on a bit of paintwork; can't say as I envy them their taste. I'd
rather have the real thing than a picture of it."
He nodded towards the young bull, that was alternately staring at
them with nose held high and lowering its horns with a half-playful,
half-impatient shake of the head.
Laurence laughed a laugh of irritating, indulgent amusement.
"I don't think the purchaser of my bit of paintwork, as you call it,
need worry about having thrown his money away. As I get to be
better known and recognised my pictures will go up in value. That
particular one will probably fetch four hundred in a sale-room five
or six years hence; pictures aren't a bad investment if you know
enough to pick out the work of the right men. Now you can't say
your precious bull is going to get more valuable the longer you keep
him; he'll have his little day, and then, if you go on keeping him,
he'll come down at last to a few shillingsworth of hoofs and hide,
just at a time, perhaps, when my bull is being bought for a big sum
for some important picture gallery."
It was too much. The united force of truth and slander and insult
put over heavy a strain on Tom Yorkfield's powers of restraint. In
his right hand he held a useful oak cudgel, with his left he made a
grab at the loose collar of Laurence's canary-coloured silk shirt.
Laurence was not a fighting man; the fear of physical violence threw
him off his balance as completely as overmastering indignation had
thrown Tom off his, and thus it came to pass that Clover Fairy was
regaled with the unprecedented sight of a human being scudding and
squawking across the enclosure, like the hen that would persist in
trying to establish a nesting-place in the manger. In another
crowded happy moment the bull was trying to jerk Laurence over his
left shoulder, to prod him in the ribs while still in the air, and
to kneel on him when he reached the ground. It was only the
vigorous intervention of Tom that induced him to relinquish the last
item of his programme.
Tom devotedly and ungrudgingly nursed his half brother to a complete
recovery from his injuries, which consisted of nothing more serious
than a dislocated shoulder, a broken rib or two, and a little
nervous prostration. After all, there was no further occasion for
rancour in the young farmer's mind; Laurence's bull might sell for
three hundred, or for six hundred, and be admired by thousands in
some big picture gallery, but it would never toss a man over one
shoulder and catch him a jab in the ribs before he had fallen on the
other side. That was Clover Fairy's noteworthy achievement, which
could never be taken away from him.
Laurence continues to be popular as an animal artist, but his
subjects are always kittens or fawns or lambkins--never bulls.
The Olympic Toy Emporium occupied a conspicuous frontage in an
important West End street. It was happily named Toy Emporium,
because one would never have dreamed of according it the familiar
and yet pulse-quickening name of toyshop. There was an air of cold
splendour and elaborate failure about the wares that were set out in
its ample windows; they were the sort of toys that a tired shop-
assistant displays and explains at Christmas time to exclamatory
parents and bored, silent children. The animal toys looked more
like natural history models than the comfortable, sympathetic
companions that one would wish, at a certain age, to take to bed
with one, and to smuggle into the bath-room. The mechanical toys
incessantly did things that no one could want a toy to do more than
a half a dozen times in its life-time; it was a merciful reflection
that in any right-minded nursery the lifetime would certainly be
Prominent among the elegantly-dressed dolls that filled an entire
section of the window frontage was a large hobble-skirted lady in a
confection of peach-coloured velvet, elaborately set off with
leopard skin accessories, if one may use such a conveniently
comprehensive word in describing an intricate feminine toilette.
She lacked nothing that is to be found in a carefully detailed
fashion-plate--in fact, she might be said to have something more
than the average fashion-plate female possesses; in place of a
vacant, expressionless stare she had character in her face. It must
be admitted that it was bad character, cold, hostile, inquisitorial,
with a sinister lowering of one eyebrow and a merciless hardness
about the corners of the mouth. One might have imagined histories
about her by the hour, histories in which unworthy ambition, the
desire for money, and an entire absence of all decent feeling would
play a conspicuous part.
As a matter of fact, she was not without her judges and biographers,
even in this shop-window stage of her career. Emmeline, aged ten,
and Bert, aged seven, had halted on the way from their obscure back
street to the minnow-stocked water of St. James's Park, and were
critically examining the hobble-skirted doll, and dissecting her
character in no very tolerant spirit. There is probably a latent
enmity between the necessarily under-clad and the unnecessarily
over-dressed, but a little kindness and good fellowship on the part
of the latter will often change the sentiment to admiring devotion;
if the lady in peach-coloured velvet and leopard skin had worn a
pleasant expression in addition to her other elaborate furnishings,
Emmeline at least might have respected and even loved her. As it
was, she gave her a horrible reputation, based chiefly on a
secondhand knowledge of gilded depravity derived from the
conversation of those who were skilled in the art of novelette
reading; Bert filled in a few damaging details from his own limited
"She's a bad lot, that one is," declared Emmeline, after a long
unfriendly stare; "'er 'usbind 'ates 'er."
"'E knocks 'er abart," said Bert, with enthusiasm.
"No, 'e don't, cos 'e's dead; she poisoned 'im slow and gradual, so
that nobody didn't know. Now she wants to marry a lord, with 'eaps
and 'eaps of money. 'E's got a wife already, but she's going to
poison 'er, too."
"She's a bad lot," said Bert with growing hostility.
"'Er mother 'ates her, and she's afraid of 'er, too, cos she's got a
serkestic tongue; always talking serkesms, she is. She's greedy,
too; if there's fish going, she eats 'er own share and 'er little
girl's as well, though the little girl is dellikit."
"She 'ad a little boy once," said Bert, "but she pushed 'im into the
water when nobody wasn't looking."
"No she didn't," said Emmeline, "she sent 'im away to be kep' by
poor people, so 'er 'usbind wouldn't know where 'e was. They ill-
treat 'im somethink cruel."
"Wot's 'er nime?" asked Bert, thinking that it was time that so
interesting a personality should be labelled.
"'Er nime?" said Emmeline, thinking hard, "'er nime's Morlvera." It
was as near as she could get to the name of an adventuress who
figured prominently in a cinema drama. There was silence for a
moment while the possibilities of the name were turned over in the
"Those clothes she's got on ain't paid for, and never won't be,"
said Emmeline; "she thinks she'll get the rich lord to pay for 'em,
but 'e won't. 'E's given 'er jools, 'underds of pounds' worth."
"'E won't pay for the clothes," said Bert, with conviction.
Evidently there was some limit to the weak good nature of wealthy
At that moment a motor carriage with liveried servants drew up at
the emporium entrance; a large lady, with a penetrating and rather
hurried manner of talking, stepped out, followed slowly and sulkily
by a small boy, who had a very black scowl on his face and a very
white sailor suit over the rest of him. The lady was continuing an
argument which had probably commenced in Portman Square.
"Now, Victor, you are to come in and buy a nice doll for your cousin
Bertha. She gave you a beautiful box of soldiers on your birthday,
and you must give her a present on hers."
"Bertha is a fat little fool," said Victor, in a voice that was as
loud as his mother's and had more assurance in it.
"Victor, you are not to say such things. Bertha is not a fool, and
she is not in the least fat. You are to come in and choose a doll
The couple passed into the shop, out of view and hearing of the two
"My, he is in a wicked temper," exclaimed Emmeline, but both she and
Bert were inclined to side with him against the absent Bertha, who
was doubtless as fat and foolish as he had described her to be.
"I want to see some dolls," said the mother of Victor to the nearest
assistant; "it's for a little girl of eleven."
"A fat little girl of eleven," added Victor by way of supplementary
"Victor, if you say such rude things about your cousin, you shall go
to bed the moment we get home, without having any tea."
"This is one of the newest things we have in dolls," said the
assistant, removing a hobble-skirted figure in peach-coloured velvet
from the window; "leopard skin toque and stole, the latest fashion.
You won't get anything newer than that anywhere. It's an exclusive
"Look!" whispered Emmeline outside; "they've bin and took Morlvera."
There was a mingling of excitement and a certain sense of
bereavement in her mind; she would have liked to gaze at that
embodiment of overdressed depravity for just a little longer.
"I 'spect she's going away in a kerridge to marry the rich lord,"
"She's up to no good," said Emmeline vaguely.
Inside the shop the purchase of the doll had been decided on.
"It's a beautiful doll, and Bertha will be delighted with it,"
asserted the mother of Victor loudly.
"Oh, very well," said Victor sulkily; "you needn't have it stuck
into a box and wait an hour while it's being done up into a parcel.
I'll take it as it is, and we can go round to Manchester Square and
give it to Bertha, and get the thing done with. That will save me
the trouble of writing: 'For dear Bertha, with Victor's love,' on a
bit of paper."
"Very well," said his mother, "we can go to Manchester Square on our
way home. You must wish her many happy returns of to-morrow, and
give her the doll."
"I won't let the little beast kiss me," stipulated Victor.
His mother said nothing; Victor had not been half as troublesome as
she had anticipated. When he chose he could really be dreadfully
Emmeline and Bert were just moving away from the window when
Morlvera made her exit from the shop, very carefully in Victor's
arms. A look of sinister triumph seemed to glow in her hard,
inquisitorial face. As for Victor, a certain scornful serenity had
replaced the earlier scowls; he had evidently accepted defeat with a
contemptuous good grace.
The tall lady gave a direction to the footman and settled herself in
the carriage. The little figure in the white sailor suit clambered
in beside her, still carefully holding the elegantly garbed doll.
The car had to be backed a few yards in the process of turning.
Very stealthily, very gently, very mercilessly Victor sent Morlvera
flying over his shoulder, so that she fell into the road just behind
the retrogressing wheel. With a soft, pleasant-sounding scrunch the
car went over the prostrate form, then it moved forward again with
another scrunch. The carriage moved off and left Bert and Emmeline
gazing in scared delight at a sorry mess of petrol-smeared velvet,
sawdust, and leopard skin, which was all that remained of the
hateful Morlvera. They gave a shrill cheer, and then raced away
shuddering from the scene of so much rapidly enacted tragedy.
Later that afternoon, when they were engaged in the pursuit of
minnows by the waterside in St. James's Park, Emmeline said in a
solemn undertone to Bert -
"I've bin finking. Do you know oo 'e was? 'E was 'er little boy
wot she'd sent away to live wiv poor folks. 'E come back and done
On a late spring afternoon Ella McCarthy sat on a green-painted
chair in Kensington Gardens, staring listlessly at an uninteresting
stretch of park landscape, that blossomed suddenly into tropical
radiance as an expected figure appeared in the middle distance.
"Hullo, Bertie!" she exclaimed sedately, when the figure arrived at
the painted chair that was the nearest neighbour to her own, and
dropped into it eagerly, yet with a certain due regard for the set
of its trousers; "hasn't it been a perfect spring afternoon?"
The statement was a distinct untruth as far as Ella's own feelings
were concerned; until the arrival of Bertie the afternoon had been
anything but perfect.
Bertie made a suitable reply, in which a questioning note seemed to
"Thank you ever so much for those lovely handkerchiefs," said Ella,
answering the unspoken question; "they were just what I've been
wanting. There's only one thing spoilt my pleasure in your gift,"
she added, with a pout.
"What was that?" asked Bertie anxiously, fearful that perhaps he had
chosen a size of handkerchief that was not within the correct
"I should have liked to have written and thanked you for them as
soon as I got them," said Ella, and Bertie's sky clouded at once.
"You know what mother is," he protested; "she opens all my letters,
and if she found I'd been giving presents to any one there'd have
been something to talk about for the next fortnight."
"Surely, at the age of twenty--" began Ella.
"I'm not twenty till September," interrupted Bertie.
"At the age of nineteen years and eight months," persisted Ella,
"you might be allowed to keep your correspondence private to
"I ought to be, but things aren't always what they ought to be.
Mother opens every letter that comes into the house, whoever it's
for. My sisters and I have made rows about it time and again, but
she goes on doing it."
"I'd find some way to stop her if I were in your place," said Ella
valiantly, and Bertie felt that the glamour of his anxiously
deliberated present had faded away in the disagreeable restriction
that hedged round its acknowledgment.
"Is anything the matter?" asked Bertie's friend Clovis when they met
that evening at the swimming-bath.
"Why do you ask?" said Bertie.
"When you wear a look of tragic gloom in a swimming-bath," said
Clovis, "it's especially noticeable from the fact that you're
wearing very little else. Didn't she like the handkerchiefs?"
Bertie explained the situation.
"It is rather galling, you know," he added, "when a girl has a lot
of things she wants to write to you and can't send a letter except
by some roundabout, underhand way."
"One never realises one's blessings while one enjoys them," said
Clovis; "now I have to spend a considerable amount of ingenuity
inventing excuses for not having written to people."
"It's not a joking matter," said Bertie resentfully: "you wouldn't
find it funny if your mother opened all your letters."
"The funny thing to me is that you should let her do it."
"I can't stop it. I've argued about it--"
"You haven't used the right kind of argument, I expect. Now, if
every time one of your letters was opened you lay on your back on
the dining-table during dinner and had a fit, or roused the entire
family in the middle of the night to hear you recite one of Blake's
'Poems of Innocence,' you would get a far more respectful hearing
for future protests. People yield more consideration to a mutilated
mealtime or a broken night's rest, than ever they would to a broken
"Oh, dry up," said Bertie crossly, inconsistently splashing Clovis
from head to foot as he plunged into the water.
It was a day or two after the conversation in the swimming-bath that
a letter addressed to Bertie Heasant slid into the letter-box at his
home, and thence into the hands of his mother. Mrs. Heasant was one
of those empty-minded individuals to whom other people's affairs are
perpetually interesting. The more private they are intended to be
the more acute is the interest they arouse. She would have opened
this particular letter in any case; the fact that it was marked
"private," and diffused a delicate but penetrating aroma merely
caused her to open it with headlong haste rather than matter-of-
course deliberation. The harvest of sensation that rewarded her was
beyond all expectations.
"Bertie, carissimo," it began, "I wonder if you will have the nerve
to do it: it will take some nerve, too. Don't forget the jewels.
They are a detail, but details interest me.
"Yours as ever, Clotilde."
"Your mother must not know of my existence. If questioned swear you
never heard of me."
For years Mrs. Heasant had searched Bertie's correspondence
diligently for traces of possible dissipation or youthful
entanglements, and at last the suspicions that had stimulated her
inquisitorial zeal were justified by this one splendid haul. That
any one wearing the exotic name "Clotilde" should write to Bertie
under the incriminating announcement "as ever" was sufficiently
electrifying, without the astounding allusion to the jewels. Mrs.
Heasant could recall novels and dramas wherein jewels played an
exciting and commanding role, and here, under her own roof, before
her very eyes as it were, her own son was carrying on an intrigue in
which jewels were merely an interesting detail. Bertie was not due
home for another hour, but his sisters were available for the
immediate unburdening of a scandal-laden mind.
"Bertie is in the toils of an adventuress," she screamed; "her name
is Clotilde," she added, as if she thought they had better know the
worst at once. There are occasions when more harm than good is done
by shielding young girls from a knowledge of the more deplorable
realities of life.
By the time Bertie arrived his mother had discussed every possible
and improbable conjecture as to his guilty secret; the girls limited
themselves to the opinion that their brother had been weak rather
"Who is Clotilde?" was the question that confronted Bertie almost
before he had got into the hall. His denial of any knowledge of
such a person was met with an outburst of bitter laughter.
"How well you have learned your lesson!" exclaimed Mrs. Heasant.
But satire gave way to furious indignation when she realised that
Bertie did not intend to throw any further light on her discovery.
"You shan't have any dinner till you've confessed everything," she
Bertie's reply took the form of hastily collecting material for an
impromptu banquet from the larder and locking himself into his
bedroom. His mother made frequent visits to the locked door and
shouted a succession of interrogations with the persistence of one
who thinks that if you ask a question often enough an answer will
eventually result. Bertie did nothing to encourage the supposition.
An hour had passed in fruitless one-sided palaver when another
letter addressed to Bertie and marked "private" made its appearance
in the letter-box. Mrs. Heasant pounced on it with the enthusiasm
of a cat that has missed its mouse and to whom a second has been
unexpectedly vouchsafed. If she hoped for further disclosures
assuredly she was not disappointed.
"So you have really done it!" the letter abruptly commenced; "Poor
Dagmar. Now she is done for I almost pity her. You did it very
well, you wicked boy, the servants all think it was suicide, and
there will be no fuss. Better not touch the jewels till after the
Anything that Mrs. Heasant had previously done in the way of outcry
was easily surpassed as she raced upstairs and beat frantically at
her son's door.
"Miserable boy, what have you done to Dagmar?"
"It's Dagmar now, is it?" he snapped; "it will be Geraldine next."
"That it should come to this, after all my efforts to keep you at
home of an evening," sobbed Mrs. Heasant; "it's no use you trying to
hide things from me; Clotilde's letter betrays everything."
"Does it betray who she is?" asked Bertie; "I've heard so much about
her, I should like to know something about her home-life.
Seriously, if you go on like this I shall fetch a doctor; I've often
enough been preached at about nothing, but I've never had an
imaginary harem dragged into the discussion."
"Are these letters imaginary?" screamed Mrs. Heasant; "what about
the jewels, and Dagmar, and the theory of suicide?"
No solution of these problems was forthcoming through the bedroom
door, but the last post of the evening produced another letter for
Bertie, and its contents brought Mrs. Heasant that enlightenment
which had already dawned on her son.
"Dear Bertie," it ran; "I hope I haven't distracted your brain with
the spoof letters I've been sending in the name of a fictitious
Clotilde. You told me the other day that the servants, or somebody
at your home, tampered with your letters, so I thought I would give
any one that opened them something exciting to read. The shock
might do them good.
Mrs. Heasant knew Clovis slightly, and was rather afraid of him. It
was not difficult to read between the lines of his successful hoax.
In a chastened mood she rapped once more at Bertie's door.
"A letter from Mr. Sangrail. It's all been a stupid hoax. He wrote
those other letters. Why, where are you going?"
Bertie had opened the door; he had on his hat and overcoat.
"I'm going for a doctor to come and see if anything's the matter
with you. Of course it was all a hoax, but no person in his right
mind could have believed all that rubbish about murder and suicide
and jewels. You've been making enough noise to bring the house down
for the last hour or two."
"But what was I to think of those letters?" whimpered Mrs. Heasant.
"I should have known what to think of them," said Bertie; "if you
choose to excite yourself over other people's correspondence it's
your own fault. Anyhow, I'm going for a doctor."
It was Bertie's great opportunity, and he knew it. His mother was
conscious of the fact that she would look rather ridiculous if the
story got about. She was willing to pay hush-money.
"I'll never open your letters again," she promised. And Clovis has
no more devoted slave than Bertie Heasant.
THE SEVEN CREAM JUGS
"I suppose we shall never see Wilfred Pigeoncote here now that he
has become heir to the baronetcy and to a lot of money," observed
Mrs. Peter Pigeoncote regretfully to her husband.
"Well, we can hardly expect to," he replied, "seeing that we always
choked him off from coming to see us when he was a prospective
nobody. I don't think I've set eyes on him since he was a boy of
"There was a reason for not wanting to encourage his
acquaintanceship," said Mrs. Peter. "With that notorious failing of
his he was not the sort of person one wanted in one's house."
"Well, the failing still exists, doesn't it?" said her husband; "or
do you suppose a reform of character is entailed along with the
"Oh, of course, there is still that drawback," admitted the wife,
"but one would like to make the acquaintance of the future head of
the family, if only out of mere curiosity. Besides, cynicism apart,
his being rich will make a difference in the way people will look at
his failing. When a man is absolutely wealthy, not merely well-to-
do, all suspicion of sordid motive naturally disappears; the thing
becomes merely a tiresome malady."
Wilfrid Pigeoncote had suddenly become heir to his uncle, Sir
Wilfrid Pigeoncote, on the death of his cousin, Major Wilfrid
Pigeoncote, who had succumbed to the after-effects of a polo
accident. (A Wilfrid Pigeoncote had covered himself with honours in
the course of Marlborough's campaigns, and the name Wilfrid had been
a baptismal weakness in the family ever since.) The new heir to the
family dignity and estates was a young man of about five-and-twenty,
who was known more by reputation than by person to a wide circle of
cousins and kinsfolk. And the reputation was an unpleasant one.
The numerous other Wilfrids in the family were distinguished one
from another chiefly by the names of their residences or
professions, as Wilfrid of Hubbledown, and young Wilfrid the Gunner,
but this particular scion was known by the ignominious and
expressive label of Wilfrid the Snatcher. From his late schooldays
onward he had been possessed by an acute and obstinate form of
kleptomania; he had the acquisitive instinct of the collector
without any of the collector's discrimination. Anything that was
smaller and more portable than a sideboard, and above the value of
ninepence, had an irresistible attraction for him, provided that it
fulfilled the necessary condition of belonging to some one else. On
the rare occasions when he was included in a country-house party, it
was usual and almost necessary for his host, or some member of the
family, to make a friendly inquisition through his baggage on the
eve of his departure, to see if he had packed up "by mistake" any
one else's property. The search usually produced a large and varied
"This is funny," said Peter Pigeoncote to his wife, some half-hour
after their conversation; "here's a telegram from Wilfrid, saying
he's passing through here in his motor, and would like to stop and
pay us his respects. Can stay for the night if it doesn't
inconvenience us. Signed 'Wilfrid Pigeoncote.' Must be the
Snatcher; none of the others have a motor. I suppose he's bringing
us a present for the silver wedding."
"Good gracious!" said Mrs. Peter, as a thought struck her; "this is
rather an awkward time to have a person with his failing in the
house. All those silver presents set out in the drawing-room, and
others coming by every post; I hardly know what we've got and what
are still to come. We can't lock them all up; he's sure to want to
"We must keep a sharp look-out, that's all," said Peter
"But these practised kleptomaniacs are so clever," said his wife,
apprehensively, "and it will be so awkward if he suspects that we
are watching him."
Awkwardness was indeed the prevailing note that evening when the
passing traveller was being entertained. The talk flitted nervously
and hurriedly from one impersonal topic to another. The guest had
none of the furtive, half-apologetic air that his cousins had rather
expected to find; he was polite, well-assured, and, perhaps, just a
little inclined to "put on side". His hosts, on the other hand,
wore an uneasy manner that might have been the hallmark of conscious
depravity. In the drawing-room, after dinner, their nervousness and
"Oh, we haven't shown you the silver-wedding presents," said Mrs.
Peter, suddenly, as though struck by a brilliant idea for
entertaining the guest; "here they all are. Such nice, useful
gifts. A few duplicates, of course."
"Seven cream jugs," put in Peter.
"Yes, isn't it annoying," went on Mrs. Peter; "seven of them. We
feel that we must live on cream for the rest of our lives. Of
course, some of them can be changed."
Wilfrid occupied himself chiefly with such of the gifts as were of
antique interest, carrying one or two of them over to the lamp to
examine their marks. The anxiety of his hosts at these moments
resembled the solicitude of a cat whose newly born kittens are being
handed round for inspection.
"Let me see; did you give me back the mustard-pot? This is its
place here," piped Mrs. Peter.
"Sorry. I put it down by the claret-jug," said Wilfrid, busy with
"Oh, just let me have the sugar-sifter again," asked Mrs. Peter,
dogged determination showing through her nervousness; "I must label
it who it comes from before I forget."
Vigilance was not completely crowned with a sense of victory. After
they had said "Good-night" to their visitor, Mrs. Peter expressed
her conviction that he had taken something.
"I fancy, by his manner, that there was something up," corroborated
her husband; "do you miss anything?"
Mrs. Peters hastily counted the array of gifts.
"I can only make it thirty-four, and I think it should be thirty-
five," she announced; "I can't remember if thirty-five includes the
Archdeacon's cruet-stand that hasn't arrived yet."
"How on earth are we to know?" said Peter. "The mean pig hasn't
brought us a present, and I'm hanged if he shall carry one off."
"To-morrow, when's he having his bath," said Mrs. Peter excitedly,
"he's sure to leave his keys somewhere, and we can go through his
portmanteau. It's the only thing to do."
On the morrow an alert watch was kept by the conspirators behind
half-closed doors, and when Wilfrid, clad in a gorgeous bath-robe,
had made his way to the bath-room, there was a swift and furtive
rush by two excited individuals towards the principal guest-chamber.
Mrs. Peter kept guard outside, while her husband first made a
hurried and successful search for the keys, and then plunged at the
portmanteau with the air of a disagreeably conscientious Customs
official. The quest was a brief one; a silver cream jug lay
embedded in the folds of some zephyr shirts.
"The cunning brute," said Mrs. Peters; "he took a cream jug because
there were so many; he thought one wouldn't be missed. Quick, fly
down with it and put it back among the others."
Wilfrid was late in coming down to breakfast, and his manner showed
plainly that something was amiss.
"It's an unpleasant thing to have to say," he blurted out presently,
"but I'm afraid you must have a thief among your servants.
Something's been taken out of my portmanteau. It was a little
present from my mother and myself for your silver wedding. I should
have given it to you last night after dinner, only it happened to be
a cream jug, and you seemed annoyed at having so many duplicates, so
I felt rather awkward about giving you another. I thought I'd get
it changed for something else, and now it's gone."
"Did you say it was from your MOTHER and yourself?" asked Mr. and
Mrs. Peter almost in unison. The Snatcher had been an orphan these
"Yes, my mother's at Cairo just now, and she wrote to me at Dresden
to try and get you something quaint and pretty in the old silver
line, and I pitched on this cream jug."
Both the Pigeoncotes had turned deadly pale. The mention of Dresden
had thrown a sudden light on the situation. It was Wilfrid the
Attache, a very superior young man, who rarely came within their
social horizon, whom they had been entertaining unawares in the
supposed character of Wilfrid the Snatcher. Lady Ernestine
Pigeoncote, his mother, moved in circles which were entirely beyond
their compass or ambitions, and the son would probably one day be an
Ambassador. And they had rifled and despoiled his portmanteau!
Husband and wife looked blankly and desperately at one another. It
was Mrs. Peter who arrived first at an inspiration.
"How dreadful to think there are thieves in the house! We keep the
drawing-room locked up at night, of course, but anything might be
carried off while we are at breakfast."
She rose and went out hurriedly, as though to assure herself that
the drawing-room was not being stripped of its silverware, and
returned a moment later, bearing a cream jug in her hands.
"There are eight cream jugs now, instead of seven," she cried; "this
one wasn't there before. What a curious trick of memory, Mr.
Wilfrid! You must have slipped downstairs with it last night and
put it there before we locked up, and forgotten all about having
done it in the morning."
"One's mind often plays one little tricks like that," said Mr.
Peter, with desperate heartiness. "Only the other day I went into
the town to pay a bill, and went in again next day, having clean
forgotten that I'd--"
"It is certainly the jug I bought for you," said Wilfrid, looking
closely at it; "it was in my portmanteau when I got my bath-robe out
this morning, before going to my bath, and it was not there when I
unlocked the portmanteau on my return. Some one had taken it while
I was away from the room."
The Pigeoncotes had turned paler than ever. Mrs. Peter had a final
"Get me my smelling-salts, dear," she said to her husband; "I think
they're in the dressing-room."
Peter dashed out of the room with glad relief; he had lived so long
during the last few minutes that a golden wedding seemed within
Mrs. Peter turned to her guest with confidential coyness.
"A diplomat like you will know how to treat this as if it hadn't
happened. Peter's little weakness; it runs in the family."
"Good Lord! Do you mean to say he's a kleptomaniac, like Cousin
"Oh, not exactly," said Mrs. Peter, anxious to whitewash her husband
a little greyer than she was painting him. "He would never touch
anything he found lying about, but he can't resist making a raid on
things that are locked up. The doctors have a special name for it.
He must have pounced on your portmanteau the moment you went to your
bath, and taken the first thing he came across. Of course, he had
no motive for taking a cream jug; we've already got seven, as you
know--not, of course, that we don't value the kind of gift you and
your mother--hush here's Peter coming."
Mrs. Peter broke off in some confusion, and tripped out to meet her
husband in the hall.
"It's all right," she whispered to him; "I've explained everything.
Don't say anything more about it."
"Brave little woman," said Peter, with a gasp of relief; "I could
never have done it."
* * *
Diplomatic reticence does not necessarily extend to family affairs.
Peter Pigeoncote was never able to understand why Mrs. Consuelo van
Bullyon, who stayed with them in the spring, always carried two very
obvious jewel-cases with her to the bath-room, explaining them to
any one she chanced to meet in the corridor as her manicure and
THE OCCASIONAL GARDEN
"Don't talk to me about town gardens," said Elinor Rapsley; "which
means, of course, that I want you to listen to me for an hour or so
while I talk about nothing else. 'What a nice-sized garden you've
got,' people said to us when we first moved here. What I suppose
they meant to say was what a nice-sized site for a garden we'd got.
As a matter of fact, the size is all against it; it's too large to
be ignored altogether and treated as a yard, and it's too small to
keep giraffes in. You see, if we could keep giraffes or reindeer or
some other species of browsing animal there we could explain the
general absence of vegetation by a reference to the fauna of the
garden: 'You can't have wapiti AND Darwin tulips, you know, so we
didn't put down any bulbs last year.' As it is, we haven't got the
wapiti, and the Darwin tulips haven't survived the fact that most of
the cats of the neighbourhood hold a parliament in the centre of the
tulip bed; that rather forlorn looking strip that we intended to be
a border of alternating geranium and spiraea has been utilised by
the cat-parliament as a division lobby. Snap divisions seem to have
been rather frequent of late, far more frequent than the geranium
blooms are likely to be. I shouldn't object so much to ordinary
cats, but I do complain of having a congress of vegetarian cats in
my garden; they must be vegetarians, my dear, because, whatever
ravages they may commit among the sweet pea seedlings, they never
seem to touch the sparrows; there are always just as many adult
sparrows in the garden on Saturday as there were on Monday, not to
mention newly-fledged additions. There seems to have been an
irreconcilable difference of opinion between sparrows and Providence
since the beginning of time as to whether a crocus looks best
standing upright with its roots in the earth or in a recumbent
posture with its stem neatly severed; the sparrows always have the
last word in the matter, at least in our garden they do. I fancy
that Providence must have originally intended to bring in an
amending Act, or whatever it's called, providing either for a less
destructive sparrow or a more indestructible crocus. The one
consoling point about our garden is that it's not visible from the
drawing-room or the smoking-room, so unless people are dinning or
lunching with us they can't spy out the nakedness of the land. That
is why I am so furious with Gwenda Pottingdon, who has practically
forced herself on me for lunch on Wednesday next; she heard me offer
the Paulcote girl lunch if she was up shopping on that day, and, of
course, she asked if she might come too. She is only coming to
gloat over my bedraggled and flowerless borders and to sing the
praises of her own detestably over-cultivated garden. I'm sick of
being told that it's the envy of the neighbourhood; it's like
everything else that belongs to her--her car, her dinner-parties,
even her headaches, they are all superlative; no one else ever had
anything like them. When her eldest child was confirmed it was such
a sensational event, according to her account of it, that one almost
expected questions to be asked about it in the House of Commons, and
now she's coming on purpose to stare at my few miserable pansies and
the gaps in my sweet-pea border, and to give me a glowing, full-
length description of the rare and sumptuous blooms in her rose-
"My dear Elinor," said the Baroness, "you would save yourself all
this heart-burning and a lot of gardener's bills, not to mention
sparrow anxieties, simply by paying an annual subscription to the
"Never heard of it," said Elinor; "what is it?"
"The Occasional-Oasis Supply Association," said the Baroness; "it
exists to meet cases exactly like yours, cases of backyards that are
of no practical use for gardening purposes, but are required to
blossom into decorative scenic backgrounds at stated intervals, when
a luncheon or dinner-party is contemplated. Supposing, for
instance, you have people coming to lunch at one-thirty; you just
ring up the Association at about ten o'clock the same morning, and
say 'lunch garden'. That is all the trouble you have to take. By
twelve forty-five your yard is carpeted with a strip of velvety
turf, with a hedge of lilac or red may, or whatever happens to be in
season, as a background, one or two cherry trees in blossom, and
clumps of heavily-flowered rhododendrons filling in the odd corners;
in the foreground you have a blaze of carnations or Shirley poppies,
or tiger lilies in full bloom. As soon as the lunch is over and
your guests have departed the garden departs also, and all the cats
in Christendom can sit in council in your yard without causing you a
moment's anxiety. If you have a bishop or an antiquary or something
of that sort coming to lunch you just mention the fact when you are
ordering the garden, and you get an old-world pleasaunce, with
clipped yew hedges and a sun-dial and hollyhocks, and perhaps a
mulberry tree, and borders of sweet-williams and Canterbury bells,
and an old-fashioned beehive or two tucked away in a corner. Those
are the ordinary lines of supply that the Oasis Association
undertakes, but by paying a few guineas a year extra you are
entitled to its emergency E.O.N. service."
"What on earth is an E.O.N. service?"
"It's just a conventional signal to indicate special cases like the
incursion of Gwenda Pottingdon. It means you've got some one coming
to lunch or dinner whose garden is alleged to be 'the envy of the
"Yes," exclaimed Elinor, with some excitement, "and what happens
"Something that sounds like a miracle out of the Arabian Nights.
Your backyard becomes voluptuous with pomegranate and almond trees,
lemon groves, and hedges of flowering cactus, dazzling banks of
azaleas, marble-basined fountains, in which chestnut-and-white pond-
herons step daintily amid exotic water-lilies, while golden
pheasants strut about on alabaster terraces. The whole effect
rather suggests the idea that Providence and Norman Wilkinson have
dropped mutual jealousies and collaborated to produce a background
for an open-air Russian Ballet; in point of fact, it is merely the
background to your luncheon party. If there is any kick left in
Gwenda Pottingdon, or whoever your E.O.N. guest of the moment may
be, just mention carelessly that your climbing putella is the only
one in England, since the one at Chatsworth died last winter. There
isn't such a thing as a climbing putella, but Gwenda Pottingdon and
her kind don't usually know one flower from another without
"Quick," said Elinor, "the address of the Association."
Gwenda Pottingdon did not enjoy her lunch. It was a simple yet
elegant meal, excellently cooked and daintily served, but the
piquant sauce of her own conversation was notably lacking. She had
prepared a long succession of eulogistic comments on the wonders of
her town garden, with its unrivalled effects of horticultural
magnificence, and, behold, her theme was shut in on every side by
the luxuriant hedge of Siberian berberis that formed a glowing
background to Elinor's bewildering fragment of fairyland. The
pomegranate and lemon trees, the terraced fountain, where golden
carp slithered and wriggled amid the roots of gorgeous-hued irises,
the banked masses of exotic blooms, the pagoda-like enclosure, where
Japanese sand-badgers disported themselves, all these contributed to
take away Gwenda's appetite and moderate her desire to talk about
"I can't say I admire the climbing putella," she observed shortly,
"and anyway it's not the only one of its kind in England; I happen
to know of one in Hampshire. How gardening is going out of fashion;
I suppose people haven't the time for it nowadays."
Altogether it was quite one of Elinor's most successful luncheon
It was distinctly an unforeseen catastrophe that Gwenda should have
burst in on the household four days later at lunch-time and made her
way unbidden into the dining-room.
"I thought I must tell you that my Elaine has had a water-colour
sketch accepted by the Latent Talent Art Guild; it's to be exhibited
at their summer exhibition at the Hackney Gallery. It will be the
sensation of the moment in the art world--Hullo, what on earth has
happened to your garden? It's not there!"
"Suffragettes," said Elinor promptly; "didn't you hear about it?
They broke in and made hay of the whole thing in about ten minutes.
I was so heart-broken at the havoc that I had the whole place
cleared out; I shall have it laid out again on rather more elaborate
"That," she said to the Baroness afterwards "is what I call having
an emergency brain."
The enemy had declared "no trumps." Rupert played out his ace and
king of clubs and cleared the adversary of that suit; then the
Sheep, whom the Fates had inflicted on him for a partner, took the
third round with the queen of clubs, and, having no other club to
lead back, opened another suit. The enemy won the remainder of the
tricks--and the rubber.
"I had four more clubs to play; we only wanted the odd trick to win
the rubber," said Rupert.
"But I hadn't another club to lead you," exclaimed the Sheep, with
his ready, defensive smile.
"It didn't occur to you to throw your queen away on my king and
leave me with the command of the suit," said Rupert, with polite
"I suppose I ought to have--I wasn't certain what to do. I'm
awfully sorry," said the Sheep.
Being awfully and uselessly sorry formed a large part of his
occupation in life. If a similar situation had arisen in a
subsequent hand he would have blundered just as certainly, and he
would have been just as irritatingly apologetic.
Rupert stared gloomily across at him as he sat smiling and fumbling
with his cards. Many men who have good brains for business do not
possess the rudiments of a card-brain, and Rupert would not have
judged and condemned his prospective brother-in-law on the evidence
of his bridge play alone. The tragic part of it was that he smiled
and fumbled through life just as fatuously and apologetically as he
did at the card-table. And behind the defensive smile and the well-
worn expressions of regret there shone a scarcely believable but
quite obvious self-satisfaction. Every sheep of the pasture
probably imagines that in an emergency it could become terrible as
an army with banners--one has only to watch how they stamp their
feet and stiffen their necks when a minor object of suspicion comes
into view and behaves meekly. And probably the majority of human
sheep see themselves in imagination taking great parts in the
world's more impressive dramas, forming swift, unerring decisions in
moments of crisis, cowing mutinies, allaying panics, brave, strong,
simple, but, in spite of their natural modesty, always slightly
"Why in the name of all that is unnecessary and perverse should
Kathleen choose this man for her future husband?" was the question
that Rupert asked himself ruefully. There was young Malcolm
Athling, as nice-looking, decent, level-headed a fellow as any one
could wish to meet, obviously her very devoted admirer, and yet she
must throw herself away on this pale-eyed, weak-mouthed embodiment
of self-approving ineptitude. If it had been merely Kathleen's own
affair Rupert would have shrugged his shoulders and philosophically
hoped that she might make the best of an undeniably bad bargain.
But Rupert had no heir; his own boy lay underground somewhere on the
Indian frontier, in goodly company. And the property would pass in
due curse to Kathleen and Kathleen's husband. The Sheep would live
there in the beloved old home, rearing up other little Sheep,
fatuous and rabbit-faced and self-satisfied like himself, to dwell
in the land and possess it. It was not a soothing prospect.
Towards dusk on the afternoon following the bridge experience Rupert
and the Sheep made their way homeward after a day's mixed shooting.
The Sheep's cartridge bag was nearly empty, but his game bag showed
no signs of over-crowding. The birds he had shot at had seemed for
the most part as impervious to death or damage as the hero of a
melodrama. And for each failure to drop his bird he had some
explanation or apology ready on his lips. Now he was striding along
in front of his host, chattering happily over his shoulder, but
obviously on the look-out for some belated rabbit or woodpigeon that
might haply be secured as an eleventh-hour addition to his bag. As
they passed the edge of a small copse a large bird rose from the
ground and flew slowly towards the trees, offering an easy shot to
the oncoming sportsmen. The Sheep banged forth with both barrels,
and gave an exultant cry.
"Horray! I've shot a thundering big hawk!"
"To be exact, you've shot a honey-buzzard. That is the hen bird of
one of the few pairs of honey-buzzards breeding in the United
Kingdom. We've kept them under the strictest preservation for the
last four years; every game-keeper and village gun loafer for twenty
miles round has been warned and bribed and threatened to respect
their sanctity, and egg-snatching agents have been carefully guarded
against during the breeding season. Hundreds of lovers of rare
birds have delighted in seeing their snap-shotted portraits in
Country Life, and now you've reduced the hen bird to a lump of
Rupert spoke quietly and evenly, but for a moment or two a gleam of
positive hatred shone in his eyes.
"I say, I'm so sorry," said the Sheep, with his apologetic smile.
"Of course I remember hearing about the buzzards, but somehow I
didn't connect this bird with them. And it was such an east shot--"
"Yes," said Rupert; "that was the trouble."
Kathleen found him in the gun-room smoothing out the feathers of the
dead bird. She had already been told of the catastrophe.
"What a horrid misfortune," she said sympathetically.
"It was my dear Robbie who first discovered them, the last time he
was home on leave. Don't you remember how excited he was about
them? Let's go and have some tea."
Both bridge and shooting were given a rest for the next two or three
weeks. Death, who enters into no compacts with party whips, had
forced a Parliamentary vacancy on the neighbourhood at the least
convenient season, and the local partisans on either side found
themselves immersed in the discomforts of a mid-winter election.
Rupert took his politics seriously and keenly. He belonged to that
type of strangely but rather happily constituted individuals which
these islands seem to produce in a fair plenty; men and women who
for no personal profit or gain go forth from their comfortable
firesides or club card-rooms to hunt to and fro in the mud and rain
and wind for the capture or tracking of a stray vote here and there
on their party's behalf--not because they think they ought to, but
because they want to. And his energies were welcome enough on this
occasion, for the seat was a closely disputed possession, and its
loss or retention would count for much in the present position of
the Parliamentary game. With Kathleen to help him, he had worked
his corner of the constituency with tireless, well-directed zeal,
taking his share of the dull routine work as well as of the livelier
episodes. The talking part of the campaign wound up on the eve of
the poll with a meeting in a centre where more undecided votes were
supposed to be concentrated than anywhere else in the division. A
good final meeting here would mean everything. And the speakers,
local and imported, left nothing undone to improve the occasion.
Rupert was down for the unimportant task of moving the complimentary
vote to the chairman which should close the proceedings.
"I'm so hoarse," he protested, when the moment arrived; "I don't
believe I can make my voice heard beyond the platform."
"Let me do it," said the Sheep; "I'm rather good at that sort of
The chairman was popular with all parties, and the Sheep's opening
words of complimentary recognition received a round of applause.
The orator smiled expansively on his listeners and seized the
opportunity to add a few words of political wisdom on his own
account. People looked at the clock or began to grope for umbrellas
and discarded neckwraps. Then, in the midst of a string of
meaningless platitudes, the Sheep delivered himself of one of those
blundering remarks which travel from one end of a constituency to
the other in half an hour, and are seized on by the other side as
being more potent on their behalf than a ton of election literature.
There was a general shuffling and muttering across the length and
breadth of the hall, and a few hisses made themselves heard. The
Sheep tried to whittle down his remark, and the chairman
unhesitatingly threw him over in his speech of thanks, but the
damage was done.
"I'm afraid I lost touch with the audience rather over that remark,"
said the Sheep afterwards, with his apologetic smile abnormally
"You lost us the election," said the chairman, and he proved a true
A month or so of winter sport seemed a desirable pick-me-up after
the strenuous work and crowning discomfiture of the election.
Rupert and Kathleen hied them away to a small Alpine resort that was
just coming into prominence, and thither the Sheep followed them in
due course, in his role of husband-elect. The wedding had been
fixed for the end of March.
It was a winter of early and unseasonable thaws, and the far end of
the local lake, at a spot where swift currents flowed into it, was
decorated with notices, written in three languages, warning skaters
not to venture over certain unsafe patches. The folly of
approaching too near these danger spots seemed to have a natural
fascination for the Sheep.
"I don't see what possible danger there can be," he protested, with
his inevitable smile, when Rupert beckoned him away from the
proscribed area; "the milk that I put out on my window-sill last
night was frozen an inch deep."
"It hadn't got a strong current flowing through it," said Rupert;
"in any case, there is not much sense in hovering round a doubtful
piece of ice when there are acres of good ice to skate over. The
secretary of the ice-committee has warned you once already."
A few minutes later Rupert heard a loud squeal of fear, and saw a
dark spot blotting the smoothness of the lake's frozen surface. The
Sheep was struggling helplessly in an ice-hole of his own making.
Rupert gave one loud curse, and then dashed full tilt for the shore;
outside a low stable building on the lake's edge he remembered
having seen a ladder. If he could slide it across the ice-hole
before the Sheep went under the rescue would be comparatively simple
work. Other skaters were dashing up from a distance, and, with the
ladder's help, they could get him out of his death-trap without
having to trust themselves on the margin of rotten ice. Rupert
sprang on to the surface of lumpy, frozen snow, and staggered to
where the ladder lay. He had already lifted it when the rattle of a
chain and a furious outburst of growls burst on his hearing, and he
was dashed to the ground by a mass of white and tawny fur. A sturdy
young yard-dog, frantic with the pleasure of performing his first
piece of actice guardian service, was ramping and snarling over him,
rendering the task of regaining his feet or securing the ladder a
matter of considerable difficulty. When he had at last succeeded in
both efforts he was just by a hair's-breadth too late to be of any
use. The Sheep had definitely disappeared under the ice-rift.
Kathleen Athling and her husband stay the greater part of the year
with Rupert, and a small Robbie stands in some danger of being
idolised by a devoted uncle. But for twelve months of the year
Rupert's most inseparable and valued companion is a sturdy tawny and
"It's like a Chinese puzzle," said Lady Prowche resentfully, staring
at a scribbled list of names that spread over two or three loose
sheets of notepaper on her writing-table. Most of the names had a
pencil mark running through them.
"What is like a Chinese puzzle?" asked Lena Luddleford briskly; she
rather prided herself on being able to grapple with the minor
problems of life.
"Getting people suitably sorted together. Sir Richard likes me to
have a house party about this time of year, and gives me a free hand
as to whom I should invite; all he asks is that it should be a
peaceable party, with no friction or unpleasantness."
"That seems reasonable enough," said Lena.
"Not only reasonable, my dear, but necessary. Sir Richard has his
literary work to think of; you can't expect a man to concentrate on
the tribal disputes of Central Asian clansmen when he's got social
feuds blazing under his own roof."
"But why should they blaze? Why should there be feuds at all within
the compass of a house party?"
"Exactly; why should they blaze or why should they exist?" echoed
Lady Prowche; "the point is that they always do. We have been
unlucky; persistently unlucky, now that I come to look back on
things. We have always got people of violently opposed views under
one roof, and the result has been not merely unpleasantness but
"Do you mean people who disagree on matters of political opinion and
religious views?" asked Lena.
"No, not that. The broader lines of political or religious
difference don't matter. You can have Church of England and
Unitarian and Buddhist under the same roof without courting
disaster; the only Buddhist I ever had down here quarrelled with
everybody, but that was on account of his naturally squabblesome
temperament; it had nothing to do with his religion. And I've
always found that people can differ profoundly about politics and
meet on perfectly good terms at breakfast. Now, Miss Larbor Jones,
who was staying here last year, worships Lloyd George as a sort of
wingless angel, while Mrs. Walters, who was down here at the same
time, privately considers him to be--an antelope, let us say."
"Well, not an antelope exactly, but something with horns and hoofs
"Oh, I see."
"Still, that didn't prevent them from being the chummiest of mortals
on the tennis court and in the billiard-room. They did quarrel
finally, about a lead in a doubled hand of no-trumps, but that of
course is a thing that no account of judicious guest-grouping could
prevent. Mrs. Walters had got king, knave, ten, and seven of clubs-
"You were saying that there were other lines of demarcation that
caused the bother," interrupted Lena.
"Exactly. It is the minor differences and side-issues that give so
much trouble," said Lady Prowche; "not to my dying day shall I
forget last year's upheaval over the Suffragette question. Laura
Henniseed left the house in a state of speechless indignation, but
before she had reached that state she had used language that would
not have been tolerated in the Austrian Reichsrath. Intensive bear-
gardening was Sir Richard's description of the whole affair, and I
don't think he exaggerated."
"Of course the Suffragette question is a burning one, and lets loose
the most dreadful ill-feeling," said Lena; "but one can generally
find out beforehand what people's opinions--"
"My dear, the year before it was worse. It was Christian Science.
Selina Goobie is a sort of High Priestess of the Cult, and she put
down all opposition with a high hand. Then one evening, after
dinner, Clovis Sangrail put a wasp down her back, to see if her
theory about the non-existence of pain could be depended on in an
emergency. The wasp was small, but very efficient, and it had been
soured in temper by being kept in a paper cage all the afternoon.
Wasps don't stand confinement well, at least this one didn't. I
don't think I ever realised till that moment what the word
'invective' could be made to mean. I sometimes wake in the night
and think I still hear Selina describing Clovis's conduct and
general character. That was the year that Sir Richard was writing
his volume on 'Domestic Life in Tartary.' The critics all blamed it
for a lack of concentration."
"He's engaged on a very important work this year, isn't he?" asked
"'Land-tenure in Turkestan,'" said Lady Prowche; "he is just at work
on the final chapters and they require all the concentration he can
give them. That is why I am so very anxious not to have any
unfortunate disturbance this year. I have taken every precaution I
can think of to bring non-conflicting and harmonious elements
together; the only two people I am not quite easy about are the
Atkinson man and Marcus Popham. They are the two who will be down
here longest together, and if they are going to fall foul of one
another about any burning question, well, there will be more
"Can't you find out anything about them? About their opinions, I
"Anything? My dear Lena, there's scarcely anything that I haven't
found out about them. They're both of them moderate Liberal,
Evangelical, mildly opposed to female suffrage, they approve of the
Falconer Report, and the Stewards' decision about Craganour. Thank
goodness in this country we don't fly into violent passions about
Wagner and Brahms and things of that sort. There is only one thorny
subject that I haven't been able to make sure about, the only stone
that I have left unturned. Are they unanimously anti-vivisectionist
or do they both uphold the necessity for scientific experiment?
There has been a lot of correspondence on the subject in our local
newspapers of late, and the vicar is certain to preach a sermon
about it; vicars are dreadfully provocative at times. Now, if you
could only find out for me whether these two men are divergently for
"I!" exclaimed Lena; "how am I to find out? I don't know either of
them to speak to."
"Still you might discover, in some roundabout way. Write to them,
under as assumed name of course, for subscriptions to one or other
cause--or, better still, send a stamped type-written reply postcard,
with a request for a declaration for or against vivisection; people
who would hesitate to commit themselves to a subscription will
cheerfully write Yes or No on a prepaid postcard. If you can't
manage it that way, try and meet them at some one's house and get
into argument on the subject. I think Milly occasionally has one or
other of them at her at-homes; you might have the luck to meet both
of them there the same evening. Only it must be done soon. My
invitations ought to go out by Wednesday or Thursday at the latest,
and to-day is Friday.
"Milly's at-homes are not very amusing, as a rule," said Lena, "and
one never gets a chance of talking uninterruptedly to any one for a
couple of minutes at a time; Milly is one of those restless
hostesses who always seem to be trying to see how you look in
different parts of the room, in fresh grouping effects. Even if I
got to speak to Popham or Atkinson I couldn't plunge into a topic
like vivisection straight away. No, I think the postcard scheme
would be more hopeful and decidedly less tiresome. How would it be
best to word them?"
"Oh, something like this: 'Are you in favour of experiments on
living animals for the purpose of scientific research--Yes or No?'
That is quite simple and unmistakable. If they don't answer it will
at least be an indication that they are indifferent about the
subject, and that is all I want to know."
"All right," said Lena, "I'll get my brother-in-law to let me have
them addressed to his office, and he can telephone the result of the
plebiscite direct to you."
"Thank you ever so much," said Lady Prowche gratefully, "and be sure
to get the cards sent off as soon as possible."
On the following Tuesday the voice of an office clerk, speaking
through the telephone, informed Lady Prowche that the postcard poll
showed unanimous hostility to experiments on living animals.
Lady Prowche thanked the office clerk, and in a louder and more
fervent voice she thanked Heaven. The two invitations, already
sealed and addressed, were immediately dispatched; in due course
they were both accepted. The house party of the halcyon hours, as
the prospective hostess called it, was auspiciously launched.
Lena Luddleford was not included among the guests, having previously
committed herself to another invitation. At the opening day of a
cricket festival, however, she ran across Lady Prowche, who had
motored over from the other side of the county. She wore the air of
one who is not interested in cricket and not particularly interested
in life. She shook hands limply with Lena, and remarked that it was
a beastly day.
"The party, how has it gone off?" asked Lena quickly.
"Don't speak of it!" was the tragical answer; "why do I always have
such rotten luck?"
"But what has happened?"
"It has been awful. Hyaenas could not have behaved with greater
savagery. Sir Richard said so, and he has been in countries where
hyaenas live, so he ought to know. They actually came to blows!"
"Blows and curses. It really might have been a scene from one of
Hogarth's pictures. I never felt so humiliated in my life. What
the servants must have thought!"
"But who were the offenders?"
"Oh, naturally the very two that we took all the trouble about."
"I thought they agreed on every subject that one could violently
disagree about--religion, politics, vivisection, the Derby decision,
the Falconer Report; what else was there left to quarrel about?"
"My dear, we were fools not to have thought of it. One of them was
Pro-Greek and the other Pro-Bulgar."
"The new fashion of introducing the candidate's children into an
election contest is a pretty one," said Mrs. Panstreppon; "it takes
away something from the acerbity of party warfare, and it makes an
interesting experience for children to look back on in after years.
Still, if you will listen to my advice, Matilda, you will not take
Hyacinth with you down to Luffbridge on election day."
"Not take Hyacinth!" exclaimed his mother; "but why not? Jutterly
is bringing his three children, and they are going to drive a pair
of Nubian donkeys about the town, to emphasise the fact that their
father has been appointed Colonial Secretary. We are making the
demand for a strong Navy a special feature in our campaign, and it
will be particularly appropriate to have Hyacinth dressed in his
sailor suit. He'll look heavenly."
"The question is, not how he'll look, but how he'll behave. He's a
delightful child, of course, but there is a strain of unbridled
pugnacity in him that breaks out at times in a really alarming
fashion. You may have forgotten the affair of the little Gaffin
children; I haven't."
"I was in India at the time, and I've only a vague recollection of
what happened; he was very naughty, I know."
"He was in his goat-carriage, and met the Gaffins in their
perambulator, and he drove the goat full tilt at them and sent the
perambulator spinning. Little Jacky Gaffin was pinned down under
the wreckage, and while the nurse had her hands full with the goat
Hyacinth was laying into Jacky's legs with his belt like a small
"I'm not defending him," said Matilda, "but they must have done
something to annoy him."
"Nothing intentionally, but some one had unfortunately told him that
they were half French--their mother was a Duboc, you know--and he
had been having a history lesson that morning, and had just heard of
the final loss of Calais by the English, and was furious about it.
He said he'd teach the little toads to go snatching towns from us,
but we didn't know at the time that he was referring to the Gaffins.
I told him afterwards that all bad feeling between the two nations
had died out long ago, and that anyhow the Gaffins were only half
French, and he said that it was only the French half of Jacky that
he had been hitting; the rest had been buried under the
perambulator. If the loss of Calais unloosed such fury in him, I
tremble to think what the possible loss of the election might
"All that happened when he was eight; he's older now and knows
"Children with Hyacinth's temperament don't know better as they grow
older; they merely know more."
"Nonsense. He will enjoy the fun of the election, and in any case
he'll be tired out by the time the poll is declared, and the new
sailor suit that I've had made for him is just in the right shade of
blue for our election colours, and it will exactly match the blue of
his eyes. He will be a perfectly charming note of colour."
"There is such a thing as letting one's aesthetic sense override
one's moral sense," said Mrs. Panstreppon. "I believe you would
have condoned the South Sea Bubble and the persecution of the
Albigenses if they had been carried out in effective colour schemes.
However, if anything unfortunate should happen down at Luffbridge,
don't say it wasn't foreseen by one member of the family."
The election was keenly but decorously contested. The newly-
appointed Colonial Secretary was personally popular, while the
Government to which he adhered was distinctly unpopular, and there
was some expectancy that the majority of four hundred, obtained at
the last election, would be altogether wiped out. Both sides were
hopeful, but neither could feel confident. The children were a
great success; the little Jutterlys drove their chubby donkeys
solemnly up and down the main streets, displaying posters which
advocated the claims of their father on the broad general grounds
that he was their father, while as for Hyacinth, his conduct might
have served as a model for any seraph-child that had strayed
unwittingly on to the scene of an electoral contest. Of his own
accord, and under the delighted eyes of half a dozen camera
operators, he had gone up to the Jutterly children and presented
them with a packet of butterscotch; "we needn't be enemies because
we're wearing the opposite colours," he said with engaging
friendliness, and the occupants of the donkey-cart accepted his
offering with polite solemnity. The grown-up members of both
political camps were delighted at the incident--with the exception
of Mrs. Panstreppon, who shuddered.
"Never was Clytemnestra's kiss sweeter than on the night she slew
me," she quoted, but made the quotation to herself.
The last hour of the poll was a period of unremitting labour for
both parties; it was generally estimated that not more than a dozen
votes separated the candidates, and every effort was made to bring
up obstinately wavering electors. It was with a feeling of
relaxation and relief that every one heard the clocks strike the
hour for the close of the poll. Exclamations broke out from the
tired workers, and corks flew out from bottles.
"Well, if we haven't won; we've done our level best." "It has been
a clean straight fight, with no rancour." "The children were quite
a charming feature, weren't they?"
The children? It suddenly occurred to everybody that they had seen
nothing of the children for the last hour. What had become of the
three little Jutterlys and their donkey-cart, and, for the matter of
that, what had become of Hyacinth. Hurried, anxious embassies went
backwards and forwards between the respective party headquarters and
the various committee-rooms, but there was blank ignorance
everywhere as to the whereabouts of the children. Every one had
been too busy in the closing moments of the poll to bestow a thought
on them. Then there came a telephone call at the Unionist Women's
Committee-rooms, and the voice of Hyacinth was heard demanding when
the poll would be declared.
"Where are you, and where are the Jutterly children?" asked his
"I've just finished having high-tea at a pastry-cook's," came the
answer, "and they let me telephone. I've had a poached egg and a
sausage roll and four meringues."
"You'll be ill. Are the little Jutterlys with you?"
"Rather not. They're in a pigstye."
"A pigstye? Why? What pigstye?"
"Near the Crawleigh Road. I met them driving about a back road, and
told them they were to have tea with me, and put their donkeys in a
yard that I knew of. Then I took them to see an old sow that had
got ten little pigs. I got the sow into the outer stye by giving
her bits of bread, while the Jutterlys went in to look at the
litter, then I bolted the door and left them there."
"You wicked boy, do you mean to say you've left those poor children
there alone in the pigstye?"
"They're not alone, they've got ten little pigs in with them;
they're jolly well crowded. They were pretty mad at being shut in,
but not half as mad as the old sow is at being shut out from her
young ones. If she gets in while they're there she'll bite them
into mincemeat. I can get them out by letting a short ladder down
through the top window, and that's what I'm going to do IF WE WIN.
If their blighted father gets in, I'm just going to open the door
for the sow, and let her do what she dashed well likes to them.
That's why I want to know when the poll will be declared."
Here the narrator rang off. A wild stampede and a frantic sending-
off of messengers took place at the other end of the telephone.
Nearly all the workers on either side had disappeared to their
various club-rooms and public-house bars to await the declaration of
the poll, but enough local information could be secured to determine
the scene of Hyacinth's exploit. Mr. John Ball had a stable yard
down near the Crawleigh Road, up a short lane, and his sow was known
to have a litter of ten young ones. Thither went in headlong haste
both the candidates, Hyacinth's mother, his aunt (Mrs. Panstreppon),
and two or three hurriedly-summoned friends. The two Nubian
donkeys, contentedly munching at bundles of hay, met their gaze as
they entered the yard. The hoarse savage grunting of an enraged
animal and the shriller note of thirteen young voices, three of them
human, guided them to the stye, in the outer yard of which a huge
Yorkshire sow kept up a ceaseless raging patrol before a closed
door. Reclining on the broad ledge of an open window, from which
point of vantage he could reach down and shoot the bolt of the door,
was Hyacinth, his blue sailor-suit somewhat the worse of wear, and
his angel smile exchanged for a look of demoniacal determination.
"If any of you come a step nearer," he shouted, "the sow will be
inside in half a jiffy."
A storm of threatening, arguing, entreating expostulation broke from
the baffled rescue party, but it made no more impression on Hyacinth
than the squealing tempest that raged within the stye.
"If Jutterly heads the poll I'm going to let the sow in. I'll teach
the blighters to win elections from us."
"He means it," said Mrs. Panstreppon; "I feared the worst when I saw
that butterscotch incident."
"It's all right, my little man," said Jutterly, with the duplicity
to which even a Colonial Secretary can sometimes stoop, "your father
has been elected by a large majority."
"Liar!" retorted Hyacinth, with the directness of speech that is not
merely excusable, but almost obligatory, in the political
profession; "the votes aren't counted yet. You won't gammon me as
to the result, either. A boy that I've palled with is going to fire
a gun when the poll is declared; two shots if we've won, one shot if
The situation began to look critical. "Drug the sow," whispered
Some one went off in the motor to the nearest chemist's shop and
returned presently with two large pieces of bread, liberally dosed
with narcotic. The bread was thrown deftly and unostentatiously
into the stye, but Hyacinth saw through the manoeuvre. He set up a
piercing imitation of a small pit in Purgatory, and the infuriated
mother ramped round and round the stye; the pieces of bread were
trampled into slush.
At any moment now the poll might be declared. Jutterly flew back to
the Town Hall, where the votes were being counted. His agent met
him with a smile of hope.
"You're eleven ahead at present, and only about eighty more to be
counted; you're just going to squeak through."
"I mustn't squeak through," exclaimed Jutterly, hoarsely. "You must
object to every doubtful vote on our side that can possibly be
disallowed. I must NOT have the majority."
Then was seen the unprecedented sight of a party agent challenging
the votes on his own side with a captiousness that his opponents
would have hesitated to display. One or two votes that would have
certainly passed muster under ordinary circumstances were
disallowed, but even so Jutterly was six ahead with only thirty more
to be counted.
To the watchers by the stye the moments seemed intolerable. As a
last resort some one had been sent for a gun with which to shoot the
sow, though Hyacinth would probably draw the bolt the moment such a
weapon was brought into the yard. Nearly all the men were away from
their homes, however, on election night, and the messenger had
evidently gone far afield in his search. It must be a matter of
minutes now to the declaration of the poll.
A sudden roar of shouting and cheering was heard from the direction
of the Town Hall. Hyacinth's father clutched a pitchfork and
prepared to dash into the stye in the forlorn hope of being in time.
A shot rang out in the evening air. Hyacinth stooped down from his
perch and put his finger on the bolt. The sow pressed furiously
against the door.
"Bang," came another shot.
Hyacinth wriggled back, and sent a short ladder down through the
window of the inner stye.
"Now you can come up, you unclean little blighters," he sang out;
"my daddy's got in, not yours. Hurry up, I can't keep the sow
waiting much longer. And don't you jolly well come butting into any
election again where I'm on the job."
In the reaction that set in after the deliverance furious
recrimination were indulged in by the lately opposed candidates,
their women folk, agents, and party helpers. A recount was
demanded, but failed to establish the fact that the Colonial
Secretary had obtained a majority. Altogether the election left a
legacy of soreness behind it, apart from any that was experienced by
Hyacinth in person.
"It is the last time I shall let him go to an election," exclaimed
"There I think you are going to extremes," said Mrs. Panstreppon;
"if there should be a general election in Mexico I think you might
safely let him go there, but I doubt whether our English politics
are suited to the rough and tumble of an angel-child."
THE IMAGE OF THE LOST SOLE
There were a number of carved stone figures placed at intervals
along the parapets of the old Cathedral; some of them represented
angels, others kings and bishops, and nearly all were in attitudes
of pious exaltation and composure. But one figure, low down on the
cold north side of the building, had neither crown, mitre, not
nimbus, and its face was hard and bitter and downcast; it must be a
demon, declared the fat blue pigeons that roosted and sunned
themselves all day on the ledges of the parapet; but the old belfry
jackdaw, who was an authority on ecclesiastical architecture, said
it was a lost soul. And there the matter rested.
One autumn day there fluttered on to the Cathedral roof a slender,
sweet-voiced bird that had wandered away from the bare fields and
thinning hedgerows in search of a winter roosting-place. It tried
to rest its tired feet under the shade of a great angel-wing or to
nestle in the sculptured folds of a kingly robe, but the fat pigeons
hustled it away from wherever it settled, and the noisy sparrow-folk
drove it off the ledges. No respectable bird sang with so much
feeling, they cheeped one to another, and the wanderer had to move
Only the effigy of the Lost Soul offered a place of refuge. The
pigeons did not consider it safe to perch on a projection that
leaned so much out of the perpendicular, and was, besides, too much
in the shadow. The figure did not cross its hands in the pious
attitude of the other graven dignitaries, but its arms were folded
as in defiance and their angle made a snug resting-place for the
little bird. Every evening it crept trustfully into its corner
against the stone breast of the image, and the darkling eyes seemed
to keep watch over its slumbers. The lonely bird grew to love its
lonely protector, and during the day it would sit from time to time
on some rainshoot or other abutment and trill forth its sweetest
music in grateful thanks for its nightly shelter. And, it may have
been the work of wind and weather, or some other influence, but the
wild drawn face seemed gradually to lose some of its hardness and
unhappiness. Every day, through the long monotonous hours, the song
of his little guest would come up in snatches to the lonely watcher,
and at evening, when the vesper-bell was ringing and the great grey
bats slid out of their hiding-places in the belfry roof, the bright-
eyed bird would return, twitter a few sleepy notes, and nestle into
the arms that were waiting for him. Those were happy days for the
Dark Image. Only the great bell of the Cathedral rang out daily its
mocking message, "After joy . . . sorrow."
The folk in the verger's lodge noticed a little brown bird flitting
about the Cathedral precincts, and admired its beautiful singing.
"But it is a pity," said they, "that all that warbling should be
lost and wasted far out of hearing up on the parapet." They were
poor, but they understood the principles of political economy. So
they caught the bird and put it in a little wicker cage outside the
That night the little songster was missing from its accustomed
haunt, and the Dark Image knew more than ever the bitterness of
loneliness. Perhaps his little friend had been killed by a prowling
cat or hurt by a stone. Perhaps . . . perhaps he had flown
elsewhere. But when morning came there floated up to him, through
the noise and bustle of the Cathedral world, a faint heart-aching
message from the prisoner in the wicker cage far below. And every
day, at high noon, when the fat pigeons were stupefied into silence
after their midday meal and the sparrows were washing themselves in
the street-puddles, the song of the little bird came up to the
parapets--a song of hunger and longing and hopelessness, a cry that
could never be answered. The pigeons remarked, between mealtimes,
that the figure leaned forward more than ever out of the
One day no song came up from the little wicker cage. It was the
coldest day of the winter, and the pigeons and sparrows on the
Cathedral roof looked anxiously on all sides for the scraps of food
which they were dependent on in hard weather.
"Have the lodge-folk thrown out anything on to the dust-heap?"
inquired one pigeon of another which was peering over the edge of
the north parapet.
"Only a little dead bird," was the answer.
There was a crackling sound in the night on the Cathedral roof and a
noise as of falling masonry. The belfry jackdaw said the frost was
affecting the fabric, and as he had experienced many frosts it must
have been so. In the morning it was seen that the Figure of the
Lost Soul had toppled from its cornice and lay now in a broken mass
on the dustheap outside the verger's lodge.
"It is just as well," cooed the fat pigeons, after they had peered
at the matter for some minutes; "now we shall have a nice angel put
up there. Certainly they will put an angel there."
"After joy . . . sorrow," rang out the great bell.
THE PURPLE OF THE BALKAN KINGS
Luitpold Wolkenstein, financier and diplomat on a small, obtrusive,
self-important scale, sat in his favoured cafe in the world-wise
Habsburg capital, confronted with the Neue Freie Presse and the cup
of cream-topped coffee and attendant glass of water that a sleek-
headed piccolo had just brought him. For years longer than a dog's
lifetime sleek-headed piccolos had placed the Neue Freie Presse and
a cup of cream-topped coffee on his table; for years he had sat at
the same spot, under the dust-coated, stuffed eagle, that had once
been a living, soaring bird on the Styrian mountains, and was now
made monstrous and symbolical with a second head grafted on to its
neck and a gilt crown planted on either dusty skull. To-day
Luitpold Wolkenstein read no more than the first article in his
paper, but read it again and again.
"The Turkish fortress of Kirk Kilisseh has fallen . . . The Serbs,
it is officially announced, have taken Kumanovo . . . The fortress
of Kirk Kilisseh lost, Kumanovo taken by the Serbs, these are tiding
for Constantinople resembling something out of Shakspeare's
tragedies of the kings . . . The neighbourhood of Adrianople and
the Eastern region, where the great battle is now in progress, will
not reveal merely the future of Turkey, but also what position and
what influence the Balkan States are to have in the world."
For years longer than a dog's lifetime Luitpold Wolkenstein had
disposed of the pretensions and strivings of the Balkan States over
the cup of cream-topped coffee that sleek-headed piccolos had
brought him. Never travelling further eastward than the horse-fair
at Temesvar, never inviting personal risk in an encounter with
anything more potentially desperate than a hare or partridge, he had
constituted himself the critical appraiser and arbiter of the
military and national prowess of the small countries that fringed
the Dual Monarchy on its Danube border. And his judgment had been
one of unsparing contempt for small-scale efforts, of unquestioning
respect for the big battalions and full purses. Over the whole
scene of the Balkan territories and their troubled histories had
loomed the commanding magic of the words "the Great Powers"--even
more imposing in their Teutonic rendering, "Die Grossmachte."
Worshipping power and force and money-mastery as an elderly nerve-
ridden woman might worship youthful physical energy, the
comfortable, plump-bodied cafe-oracle had jested and gibed at the
ambitions of the Balkan kinglets and their peoples, had unloosed
against them that battery of strange lip-sounds that a Viennese
employs almost as an auxiliary language to express the thoughts when
his thoughts are not complimentary. British travellers had visited
the Balkan lands and reported high things of the Bulgarians and
their future, Russian officers had taken peeps at their army and
confessed "this is a thing to be reckoned with, and it is not we who
have created it, they have done it by themselves." But over his
cups of coffee and his hour-long games of dominoes the oracle had
laughed and wagged his head and distilled the worldly wisdom of his
castle. The Grossmachte had not succeeded in stifling the roll of
the war-drum, that was true; the big battalions of the Ottoman
Empire would have to do some talking, and then the big purses and
big threatenings of the Powers would speak and the last word would
be with them. In imagination Luitpold heard the onward tramp of the
red-fezzed bayonet bearers echoing through the Balkan passes, saw
the little sheepskin-clad mannikins driven back to their villages,
saw the augustly chiding spokesman of the Powers dictating,
adjusting, restoring, settling things once again in their allotted
places, sweeping up the dust of conflict, and now his ears had to
listen to the war-drum rolling in quite another direction, had to
listen to the tramp of battalions that were bigger and bolder and
better skilled in war-craft than he had deemed possible in that
quarter; his eyes had to read in the columns of his accustomed
newspaper a warning to the Grossmachte that they had something new
to learn, something new to reckon with, much that was time-honoured
to relinquish. "The Great Powers will have not little difficulty in
persuading the Balkan States of the inviolability of the principle
that Europe cannot permit any fresh partition of territory in the
East without her approval. Even now, while the campaign is still
undecided, there are rumours of a project of fiscal unity, extending
over the entire Balkan lands, and further of a constitutional union
in imitation of the German Empire. That is perhaps only a political
straw blown by the storm, but it is not possible to dismiss the
reflection that the Balkan States leagued together command a
military strength with which the Great Powers will have to reckon .
. . The people who have poured out their blood on the battlefields
and sacrificed the available armed men of an entire generation in
order to encompass a union with their kinsfolk will not remain any
longer in an attitude of dependence on the Great Powers or on
Russia, but will go their own ways . . . The blood that has been
poured forth to-day gives for the first time a genuine tone to the
purple of the Balkan Kings. The Great Powers cannot overlook the
fact that a people that has tasted victory will not let itself be
driven back again within its former limits. Turkey has lost to-day
not only Kirk Kilisseh and Kumanovo, but Macedonia also."
Luitpold Wolkenstein drank his coffee, but the flavour had somehow
gone out of it. His world, his pompous, imposing, dictating world,
had suddenly rolled up into narrower dimensions. The big purses and
the big threats had been pushed unceremoniously on one side; a force
that he could not fathom, could not comprehend, had made itself
rudely felt. The august Caesars of Mammon and armament had looked
down frowningly on the combat, and those about to die had not
saluted, had no intention of saluting. A lesson was being imposed
on unwilling learners, a lesson of respect for certain fundamental
principles, and it was not the small struggling States who were
being taught the lesson.
Luitpold Wolkenstein did not wait for the quorum of domino players
to arrive. They would all have read the article in the Freie
Presse. And there are moments when an oracle finds its greatest
salvation in withdrawing itself from the area of human questioning.
THE CUPBOARD OF THE YESTERDAYS
"War is a cruelly destructive thing," said the Wanderer, dropping
his newspaper to the floor and staring reflectively into space.
"Ah, yes, indeed," said the Merchant, responding readily to what
seemed like a safe platitude; "when one thinks of the loss of life
and limb, the desolated homesteads, the ruined--"
"I wasn't thinking of anything of the sort," said the Wanderer; "I
was thinking of the tendency that modern war has to destroy and
banish the very elements of picturesqueness and excitement that are
its chief excuse and charm. It is like a fire that flares up
brilliantly for a while and then leaves everything blacker and
bleaker than before. After every important war in South-East Europe
in recent times there has been a shrinking of the area of
chronically disturbed territory, a stiffening of the area of
chronically disturbed territory, a stiffening of frontier lines, an
intrusion of civilised monotony. And imagine what may happen at the
conclusion of this war if the Turk should really be driven out of
"Well, it would be a gain to the cause of good government, I
suppose," said the Merchant.
"But have you counted the loss?" said the other. "The Balkans have
long been the last surviving shred of happy hunting-ground for the
adventurous, a playground for passions that are fast becoming
atrophied for want of exercise. In old bygone days we had the wars
in the Low Countries always at our doors, as it were; there was no
need to go far afield into malaria-stricken wilds if one wanted a
life of boot and saddle and licence to kill and be killed. Those
who wished to see life had a decent opportunity for seeing death at
the same time."
"It is scarcely right to talk of killing and bloodshed in that way,"
said the Merchant reprovingly; "one must remember that all men are
"One must also remember that a large percentage of them are younger
brothers; instead of going into bankruptcy, which is the usual
tendency of the younger brother nowadays, they gave their families a
fair chance of going into mourning. Every bullet finds a billet,
according to a rather optimistic proverb, and you must admit that
nowadays it is becoming increasingly difficult to find billets for a
lot of young gentlemen who would have adorned, and probably
thoroughly enjoyed, one of the old-time happy-go-lucky wars. But
that is not exactly the burden of my complaint. The Balkan lands
are especially interesting to us in these rapidly-moving days
because they afford us the last remaining glimpse of a vanishing
period of European history. When I was a child one of the earliest
events of the outside world that forced itself coherently under my
notice was a war in the Balkans; I remember a sunburnt, soldierly
man putting little pin-flags in a war-map, red flags for the Turkish
forces and yellow flags for the Russians. It seemed a magical
region, with its mountain passes and frozen rivers and grim
battlefields, its drifting snows, and prowling wolves; there was a
great stretch of water that bore the sinister but engaging name of
the Black Sea--nothing that I ever learned before or after in a
geography lesson made the same impression on me as that strange-
named inland sea, and I don't think its magic has ever faded out of
my imagination. And there was a battle called Plevna that went on
and on with varying fortunes for what seemed like a great part of a
lifetime; I remember the day of wrath and mourning when the little
red flag had to be taken away from Plevna--like other maturer
judges, I was backing the wrong horse, at any rate the losing horse.
And now to-day we are putting little pin-flags again into maps of
the Balkan region, and the passions are being turned loose once more
in their playground."
"The war will be localised," said the Merchant vaguely; "at least
every one hopes so."
"It couldn't wish for a better locality," said the Wanderer; "there
is a charm about those countries that you find nowhere else in
Europe, the charm of uncertainty and landslide, and the little
dramatic happenings that make all the difference between the
ordinary and the desirable."
"Life is held very cheap in those parts," said the Merchant.
"To a certain extent, yes," said the Wanderer. "I remember a man at
Sofia who used to teach me Bulgarian in a rather inefficient manner,
interspersed with a lot of quite wearisome gossip. I never knew
what his personal history was, but that was only because I didn't
listen; he told it to me many times. After I left Bulgaria he used
to send me Sofia newspapers from time to time. I felt that he would
be rather tiresome if I ever went there again. And then I heard
afterwards that some men came in one day from Heaven knows where,
just as things do happen in the Balkans, and murdered him in the
open street, and went away as quietly as they had come. You will
not understand it, but to me there was something rather piquant in
the idea of such a thing happening to such a man; after his dullness
and his long-winded small-talk it seemed a sort of brilliant esprit
d'esalier on his part to meet with an end of such ruthlessly planned
and executed violence."
The Merchant shook his head; the piquancy of the incident was not
within striking distance of his comprehension.
"I should have been shocked at hearing such a thing about any one I
had known," he said.
"The present war," continued his companion, without stopping to
discuss two hopelessly divergent points of view, "may be the
beginning of the end of much that has hitherto survived the
resistless creeping-in of civilisation. If the Balkan lands are to
be finally parcelled out between the competing Christian Kingdoms
and the haphazard rule of the Turk banished to beyond the Sea of
Marmora, the old order, or disorder if you like, will have received
its death-blow. Something of its spirit will linger perhaps for a
while in the old charmed regions where it bore sway; the Greek
villagers will doubtless be restless and turbulent and unhappy where
the Bulgars rule, and the Bulgars will certainly be restless and
turbulent and unhappy under Greek administration, and the rival
flocks of the Exarchate and Patriarchate will make themselves
intensely disagreeable to one another wherever the opportunity
offers; the habits of a lifetime, of several lifetimes, are not laid
aside all at once. And the Albanians, of course, we shall have with
us still, a troubled Moslem pool left by the receding wave of Islam
in Europe. But the old atmosphere will have changed, the glamour
will have gone; the dust of formality and bureaucratic neatness will
slowly settle down over the time-honoured landmarks; the Sanjak of
Novi Bazar, the Muersteg Agreement, the Komitadje bands, the Vilayet
of Adrianople, all those familiar outlandish names and things and
places, that we have known so long as part and parcel of the Balkan
Question, will have passed away into the cupboard of yesterdays, as
completely as the Hansa League and the wars of the Guises.
"They were the heritage that history handed down to us, spoiled and
diminished no doubt, in comparison with yet earlier days that we
never knew, but still something to thrill and enliven one little
corner of our Continent, something to help us to conjure up in our
imagination the days when the Turk was thundering at the gates of
Vienna. And what shall we have to hand down to our children? Think
of what their news from the Balkans will be in the course of another
ten or fifteen years. Socialist Congress at Uskub, election riot at
Monastir, great dock strike at Salonika, visit of the Y.M.C.A. to
Varna. Varna--on the coast of that enchanted sea! They will drive
out to some suburb to tea, and write home about it as the Bexhill of
"War is a wickedly destructive thing."
"Still, you must admit--" began the Merchant. But the Wanderer was
not in the mood to admit anything. He rose impatiently and walked
to where the tape-machine was busy with the news from Adrianople.
FOR THE DURATION OF THE WAR
The Rev. Wilfrid Gaspilton, in one of those clerical migrations
inconsequent-seeming to the lay mind, had removed from the
moderately fashionable parish of St. Luke's, Kensingate, to the
immoderately rural parish of St. Chuddocks, somewhere in
Yondershire. There were doubtless substantial advantages connected
with the move, but there were certainly some very obvious drawbacks.
Neither the migratory clergyman nor his wife were able to adapt
themselves naturally and comfortably to the conditions of country
life. Beryl, Mrs. Gaspilton, had always looked indulgently on the
country as a place where people of irreproachable income and
hospitable instincts cultivated tennis-lawns and rose-gardens and
Jacobean pleasaunces, wherein selected gatherings of interested
week-end guests might disport themselves. Mrs. Gaspilton considered
herself as distinctly an interesting personality, and from a limited
standpoint she was doubtless right. She had indolent dark eyes and
a comfortable chin, which belied the slightly plaintive inflection
which she threw into her voice at suitable intervals. She was
tolerably well satisfied with the smaller advantages of life, but
she regretted that Fate had not seen its way to reserve for her some
of the ampler successes for which she felt herself well qualified.
She would have liked to be the centre of a literary, slightly
political salon, where discerning satellites might have recognised
the breadth of her outlook on human affairs and the undoubted
smallness of her feet. As it was, Destiny had chosen for her that
she should be the wife of a rector, and had now further decreed that
a country rectory should be the background to her existence. She
rapidly made up her mind that her surroundings did not call for
exploration; Noah had predicted the Flood, but no one expected him
to swim about in it. Digging in a wet garden or trudging through
muddy lanes were exertions which she did not propose to undertake.
As long as the garden produced asparagus and carnations at
pleasingly frequent intervals Mrs. Gaspilton was content to approve
of its expense and otherwise ignore its existence. She would fold
herself up, so to speak, in an elegant, indolent little world of her
own, enjoying the minor recreations of being gently rude to the
doctor's wife and continuing the leisurely production of her one
literary effort, The Forbidden Horsepond, a translation of Baptiste
Leopoy's L'Abreuvoir interdit. It was a labour which had already
been so long drawn-out that it seemed probable that Baptiste Lepoy
would drop out of vogue before her translation of his temporarily
famous novel was finished. However, the languid prosecution of the
work had invested Mrs. Gaspilton with a certain literary dignity,
even in Kensingate circles, and would place her on a pinnacle in St.
Chuddocks, where hardly any one read French, and assuredly no one
had heard of L'Abreuvoir interdit.
The Rector's wife might be content to turn her back complacently on
the country; it was the Rector's tragedy that the country turned its
back on him. With the best intention in the world and the immortal
example of Gilbert White before him, the Rev. Wilfrid found himself
as bored and ill at ease in his new surroundings as Charles II would
have been at a modern Wesleyan Conference. The birds that hopped
across his lawn hopped across it as though it were their lawn, and
not his, and gave him plainly to understand that in their eyes he
was infinitely less interesting than a garden worm or the rectory
cat. The hedgeside and meadow flowers were equally uninspiring; the
lesser celandine seemed particularly unworthy of the attention that
English poets had bestowed on it, and the Rector knew that he would
be utterly miserable if left alone for a quarter of an hour in its
company. With the human inhabitants of his parish he was no better
off; to know them was merely to know their ailments, and the
ailments were almost invariably rheumatism. Some, of course, had
other bodily infirmities, but they always had rheumatism as well.
The Rector had not yet grasped the fact that in rural cottage life
not to have rheumatism is as glaring an omission as not to have been
presented at Court would be in more ambitious circles. And with all
this death of local interest there was Beryl shutting herself off
with her ridiculous labours on The Forbidden Horsepond.
"I don't see why you should suppose that any one wants to read
Baptiste Lepoy in English," the Reverend Wilfrid remarked to his
wife one morning, finding her surrounded with her usual elegant
litter of dictionaries, fountain pens, and scribbling paper; "hardly
any one bothers to read him now in France."
"My dear," said Beryl, with an intonation of gentle weariness,
"haven't two or three leading London publishers told me they
wondered no one had ever translated L'Abreuvoir interdit, and begged
"Publishers always clamour for the books that no one has ever
written, and turn a cold shoulder on them as soon as they're
written. If St. Paul were living now they would pester him to write
an Epistle to the Esquimaux, but no London publisher would dream of
reading his Epistle to the Ephesians."
"Is there any asparagus in the garden?" asked Beryl; "because I've
"Not anywhere in the garden," snapped the Rector, "but there's no
doubt plenty in the asparagus-bed, which is the usual place for it."
And he walked away into the region of fruit trees and vegetable beds
to exchange irritation for boredom. It was there, among the
gooseberry bushes and beneath the medlar trees, that the temptation
to the perpetration of a great literary fraud came to him.
Some weeks later the Bi-Monthly Review gave to the world, under the
guarantee of the Rev. Wilfrid Gaspilton, some fragments of Persian
verse, alleged to have been unearthed and translated by a nephew who
was at present campaigning somewhere in the Tigris valley. The Rev.
Wilfrid possessed a host of nephews, and it was of course, quite
possible that one or more of them might be in military employ in
Mesopotamia, though no one could call to mind any particular nephew
who could have been suspected of being a Persian scholar.
The verses were attributed to one Ghurab, a hunter, or, according to
other accounts, warden of the royal fishponds, who lived, in some
unspecified century, in the neighbourhood of Karmanshah. They
breathed a spirit of comfortable, even-tempered satire and
philosophy, disclosing a mockery that did not trouble to be bitter,
a joy in life that was not passionate to the verge of being
"A Mouse that prayed for Allah's aid
Blasphemed when no such aid befell:
A Cat, who feasted on that mouse,
Thought Allah managed vastly well.
Pray not for aid to One who made
A set of never-changing Laws,
But in your need remember well
He gave you speed, or guile--or claws.
Some laud a life of mild content:
Content may fall, as well as Pride.
The Frog who hugged his lowly Ditch
Was much disgruntled when it dried.
'You are not on the Road to Hell,'
You tell me with fanatic glee:
Vain boaster, what shall that avail
If Hell is on the road to thee?
A Poet praised the Evening Star,
Another praised the Parrot's hue:
A Merchant praised his merchandise,
And he, at least, praised what he knew."
It was this verse which gave the critics and commentators some clue
as to the probable date of the composition; the parrot, they
reminded the public, was in high vogue as a type of elegance in the
days of Hafiz of Shiraz; in the quatrains of Omar it makes no
The next verse, it was pointed out, would apply to the political
conditions of the present day as strikingly as to the region and era
for which it was written -
"A Sultan dreamed day-long of Peace,
The while his Rivals' armies grew:
They changed his Day-dreams into sleep
- The Peace, methinks, he never knew."
Woman appeared little, and wine not at all in the verse of the
hunter-poet, but there was at least one contribution to the love-
philosophy of the East -
"O Moon-faced Charmer, and Star-drowned Eyes,
And cheeks of soft delight, exhaling musk,
They tell me that thy charm will fade; ah well,
The Rose itself grows hue-less in the Dusk."
Finally, there was a recognition of the Inevitable, a chill breath
blowing across the poet's comfortable estimate of life -
"There is a sadness in each Dawn,
A sadness that you cannot rede:
The joyous Day brings in its train
The Feast, the Loved One, and the Steed.
Ah, there shall come a Dawn at last
That brings no life-stir to your ken,
A long, cold Dawn without a Day,
And ye shall rede its sadness then."
The verses of Ghurab came on the public at a moment when a
comfortable, slightly quizzical philosophy was certain to be
welcome, and their reception was enthusiastic. Elderly colonels,
who had outlived the love of truth, wrote to the papers to say that
they had been familiar with the works of Ghurab in Afghanistan, and
Aden, and other suitable localities a quarter of a century ago. A
Ghurab-of-Karmanshah Club sprang into existence, the members of
which alluded to each other as Brother Ghurabians on the slightest
provocation. And to the flood of inquiries, criticisms, and
requests for information, which naturally poured in on the
discoverer, or rather the discloser, of this long-hidden poet, the
Rev. Wilfrid made one effectual reply: Military considerations
forbade any disclosures which might throw unnecessary light on his
After the war the Rector's position will be one of unthinkable
embarrassment, but for the moment, at any rate, he has driven The
Forbidden Horsepond out of the field.