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Title: Miss Mapp
Author: Benson, E. F. (Edward Frederic), 1867-1940
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Miss Mapp" ***

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  _MISS MAPP_

  _By E. F. Benson, Author of "Queen Lucia." "Dodo Wonders." &c._


  _McCLELLAND & STEWART, LTD.,
  TORONTO_



PREFACE


I lingered at the window of the garden-room from which Miss Mapp so
often and so ominously looked forth. To the left was the front of her
house, straight ahead the steep cobbled way, with a glimpse of the High
Street at the end, to the right the crooked chimney and the church.

The street was populous with passengers, but search as I might, I could
see none who ever so remotely resembled the objects of her vigilance.

E. F. BENSON.

Lamb House, Rye.


_Printed in Great Britain._



CHAPTER I


Miss Elizabeth Mapp might have been forty, and she had taken advantage
of this opportunity by being just a year or two older. Her face was of
high vivid colour and was corrugated by chronic rage and curiosity; but
these vivifying emotions had preserved to her an astonishing activity of
mind and body, which fully accounted for the comparative adolescence
with which she would have been credited anywhere except in the charming
little town which she had inhabited so long. Anger and the gravest
suspicions about everybody had kept her young and on the boil.

She sat, on this hot July morning, like a large bird of prey at the very
convenient window of her garden-room, the ample bow of which formed a
strategical point of high value. This garden-room, solid and spacious,
was built at right angles to the front of her house, and looked straight
down the very interesting street which debouched at its lower end into
the High Street of Tilling. Exactly opposite her front door the road
turned sharply, so that as she looked out from this projecting window,
her own house was at right angles on her left, the street in question
plunged steeply downwards in front of her, and to her right she
commanded an uninterrupted view of its further course which terminated
in the disused graveyard surrounding the big Norman church. Anything of
interest about the church, however, could be gleaned from a guide-book,
and Miss Mapp did not occupy herself much with such coldly venerable
topics. Far more to her mind was the fact that between the church and
her strategic window was the cottage in which her gardener lived, and
she could thus see, when not otherwise engaged, whether he went home
before twelve, or failed to get back to her garden again by one, for he
had to cross the street in front of her very eyes. Similarly she could
observe whether any of his abandoned family ever came out from her
garden door weighted with suspicious baskets, which might contain
smuggled vegetables. Only yesterday morning she had hurried forth with a
dangerous smile to intercept a laden urchin, with inquiries as to what
was in "that nice basket." On that occasion that nice basket had proved
to contain a strawberry net which was being sent for repair to the
gardener's wife; so there was nothing more to be done except verify its
return. This she did from a side window of the garden-room which
commanded the strawberry beds; she could sit quite close to that, for it
was screened by the large-leaved branches of a fig-tree and she could
spy unseen.

Otherwise this road to the right leading up to the church was of no
great importance (except on Sunday morning, when she could get a
practically complete list of those who attended Divine Service), for no
one of real interest lived in the humble dwellings which lined it. To
the left was the front of her own house at right angles to the strategic
window, and with regard to that a good many useful observations might
be, and were, made. She could, from behind a curtain negligently
half-drawn across the side of the window nearest the house, have an eye
on her housemaid at work, and notice if she leaned out of a window, or
made remarks to a friend passing in the street, or waved salutations
with a duster. Swift upon such discoveries, she would execute a flank
march across the few steps of garden and steal into the house,
noiselessly ascend the stairs, and catch the offender red-handed at this
public dalliance. But all such domestic espionage to right and left was
flavourless and insipid compared to the tremendous discoveries which
daily and hourly awaited the trained observer of the street that lay
directly in front of her window.

There was little that concerned the social movements of Tilling that
could not be proved, or at least reasonably conjectured, from Miss
Mapp's eyrie. Just below her house on the left stood Major Flint's
residence, of Georgian red brick like her own, and opposite was that of
Captain Puffin. They were both bachelors, though Major Flint was
generally supposed to have been the hero of some amazingly amorous
adventures in early life, and always turned the subject with great
abruptness when anything connected with duelling was mentioned. It was
not, therefore, unreasonable to infer that he had had experiences of a
bloody sort, and colour was added to this romantic conjecture by the
fact that in damp, rheumatic weather his left arm was very stiff, and he
had been known to say that his wound troubled him. What wound that was
no one exactly knew (it might have been anything from a vaccination mark
to a sabre-cut), for having said that his wound troubled him, he would
invariably add: "Pshaw! that's enough about an old campaigner"; and
though he might subsequently talk of nothing else except the old
campaigner, he drew a veil over his old campaigns. That he had seen
service in India was, indeed, probable by his referring to lunch as
tiffin, and calling to his parlour-maid with the ejaculation of
"Qui-hi." As her name was Sarah, this was clearly a reminiscence of days
in bungalows. When not in a rage, his manner to his own sex was bluff
and hearty; but whether in a rage or not, his manner to the fairies, or
lovely woman, was gallant and pompous in the extreme. He certainly had a
lock of hair in a small gold specimen case on his watch-chain, and had
been seen to kiss it when, rather carelessly, he thought that he was
unobserved.

Miss Mapp's eye, as she took her seat in her window on this sunny July
morning, lingered for a moment on the Major's house, before she
proceeded to give a disgusted glance at the pictures on the back page of
her morning illustrated paper, which chiefly represented young women
dancing in rings in the surf, or lying on the beach in attitudes which
Miss Mapp would have scorned to adjust herself to. Neither the Major nor
Captain Puffin were very early risers, but it was about time that the
first signals of animation might be expected. Indeed, at this moment,
she quite distinctly heard that muffled roar which to her experienced
ear was easily interpreted to be "Qui-hi!"

"So the Major has just come down to breakfast," she mechanically
inferred, "and it's close on ten o'clock. Let me see: Tuesday, Thursday,
Saturday--Porridge morning."

Her penetrating glance shifted to the house exactly opposite to that in
which it was porridge morning, and even as she looked a hand was thrust
out of a small upper window and deposited a sponge on the sill. Then
from the inside the lower sash was thrust firmly down, so as to prevent
the sponge from blowing away and falling into the street. Captain
Puffin, it was therefore clear, was a little later than the Major that
morning. But he always shaved and brushed his teeth before his bath, so
that there was but a few minutes between them.

General manoeuvres in Tilling, the gradual burstings of fluttering life
from the chrysalis of the night, the emergence of the ladies of the town
with their wicker-baskets in their hands for housekeeping purchases, the
exodus of men to catch the 11.20 a.m. steam-tram out to the golf links,
and other first steps in the duties and diversions of the day, did not
get into full swing till half-past ten, and Miss Mapp had ample time to
skim the headlines of her paper and indulge in chaste meditations about
the occupants of these two houses, before she need really make herself
alert to miss nothing. Of the two, Major Flint, without doubt, was the
more attractive to the feminine sense; for years Miss Mapp had tried to
cajole him into marrying her, and had not nearly finished yet. With his
record of adventure, with the romantic reek of India (and camphor) in
the tiger-skin of the rugs that strewed his hall and surged like a
rising tide up the wall, with his haughty and gallant manner, with his
loud pshawings and sniffs at "nonsense and balderdash," his thumpings on
the table to emphasize an argument, with his wound and his prodigious
swipes at golf, his intolerance of any who believed in ghosts, microbes
or vegetarianism, there was something dashing and risky about him; you
felt that you were in the presence of some hot coal straight from the
furnace of creation. Captain Puffin, on the other hand, was of clay so
different that he could hardly be considered to be made of clay at all.
He was lame and short and meagre, with strings of peaceful beads and
Papuan aprons in his hall instead of wild tiger-skins, and had a jerky,
inattentive manner and a high pitched voice. Yet to Miss Mapp's mind
there was something behind his unimpressiveness that had a mysterious
quality--all the more so, because nothing of it appeared on the surface.
Nobody could call Major Flint, with his bawlings and his sniffings, the
least mysterious. He laid all his loud cards on the table, great hulking
kings and aces. But Miss Mapp felt far from sure that Captain Puffin did
not hold a joker which would some time come to light. The idea of being
Mrs. Puffin was not so attractive as the other, but she occasionally
gave it her remote consideration.

Yet there was mystery about them both, in spite of the fact that most of
their movements were so amply accounted for. As a rule, they played golf
together in the morning, reposed in the afternoon, as could easily be
verified by anyone standing on a still day in the road between their
houses and listening to the loud and rhythmical breathings that fanned
the tranquil air, certainly went out to tea-parties afterwards and
played bridge till dinner-time; or if no such entertainment was
proffered them, occupied arm-chairs at the county club, or laboriously
amassed a hundred at billiards. Though tea-parties were profuse, dining
out was very rare at Tilling; Patience or a jig-saw puzzle occupied the
hour or two that intervened between domestic supper and bed-time; but
again and again, Miss Mapp had seen lights burning in the sitting-room
of those two neighbours at an hour when such lights as were still in
evidence at Tilling were strictly confined to bedrooms, and should,
indeed, have been extinguished there. And only last week, being plucked
from slumber by some unaccountable indigestion (for which she blamed a
small green apple), she had seen at no less than twelve-thirty in the
morning the lights in Captain Puffin's sitting-room still shining
through the blind. This had excited her so much that at risk of toppling
into the street, she had craned her neck from her window, and observed a
similar illumination in the house of Major Flint. They were not together
then, for in that case any prudent householder (and God knew that they
both of them scraped and saved enough, or, if He didn't know, Miss Mapp
did) would have quenched his own lights, if he were talking to his
friend in his friend's house. The next night, the pangs of indigestion
having completely vanished, she set her alarum clock at the same
timeless hour, and had observed exactly the same phenomenon. Such late
hours, of course, amply accounted for these late breakfasts; but why, so
Miss Mapp pithily asked herself, why these late hours? Of course they
both kept summer-time, whereas most of Tilling utterly refused (except
when going by train) to alter their watches because Mr. Lloyd George
told them to; but even allowing for that ... then she perceived that
summer-time made it later than ever for its adherents, so that was no
excuse.

Miss Mapp had a mind that was incapable of believing the improbable, and
the current explanation of these late hours was very improbable, indeed.
Major Flint often told the world in general that he was revising his
diaries, and that the only uninterrupted time which he could find in
this pleasant whirl of life at Tilling was when he was alone in the
evening. Captain Puffin, on his part, confessed to a student's curiosity
about the ancient history of Tilling, with regard to which he was
preparing a monograph. He could talk, when permitted, by the hour about
the reclamation from the sea of the marsh land south of the town, and
about the old Roman road which was built on a raised causeway, of which
traces remained; but it argued, so thought Miss Mapp, an unprecedented
egoism on the part of Major Flint, and an equally unprecedented love of
antiquities on the part of Captain Puffin, that they should prosecute
their studies (with gas at the present price) till such hours. No; Miss
Mapp knew better than that, but she had not made up her mind exactly
what it was that she knew. She mentally rejected the idea that egoism
(even in these days of diaries and autobiographies) and antiquities
accounted for so much study, with the same healthy intolerance with
which a vigorous stomach rejects unwholesome food, and did not allow
herself to be insidiously poisoned by its retention. But as she took up
her light aluminium opera-glasses to make sure whether it was Isabel
Poppit or not who was now stepping with that high, prancing tread into
the stationer's in the High Street, she exclaimed to herself, for the
three hundred and sixty-fifth time after breakfast: "It's very
baffling"; for it was precisely a year to-day since she had first seen
those mysterious midnight squares of illuminated blind. "Baffling," in
fact, was a word that constantly made short appearances in Miss Mapp's
vocabulary, though its retention for a whole year over one subject was
unprecedented. But never yet had "baffled" sullied her wells of pure
undefiled English.

Movement had begun; Mrs. Plaistow, carrying her wicker basket, came
round the corner by the church, in the direction of Miss Mapp's window,
and as there was a temporary coolness between them (following violent
heat) with regard to some worsted of brilliant rose-madder hue, which a
forgetful draper had sold to Mrs. Plaistow, having definitely promised
it to Miss Mapp ... but Miss Mapp's large-mindedness scorned to recall
the sordid details of this paltry appropriation. The heat had quite
subsided, and Miss Mapp was, for her part, quite prepared to let the
coolness regain the normal temperature of cordiality the moment that
Mrs. Plaistow returned that worsted. Outwardly and publicly friendly
relationships had been resumed, and as the coolness had lasted six weeks
or so, it was probable that the worsted had already been incorporated
into the ornamental border of Mrs. Plaistow's jumper or winter scarf,
and a proper expression of regret would have to do instead. So the
nearer Mrs. Plaistow approached, the more invisible she became to Miss
Mapp's eye, and when she was within saluting distance had vanished
altogether. Simultaneously Miss Poppit came out of the stationer's in
the High Street.

Mrs. Plaistow turned the corner below Miss Mapp's window, and went
bobbing along down the steep hill. She walked with the motion of those
mechanical dolls sold in the street, which have three legs set as spokes
to a circle, so that their feet emerge from their dress with Dutch and
rigid regularity, and her figure had a certain squat rotundity that
suited her gait. She distinctly looked into Captain Puffin's dining-room
window as she passed, and with the misplaced juvenility so
characteristic of her waggled her plump little hand at it. At the corner
beyond Major Flint's house she hesitated a moment, and turned off down
the entry into the side street where Mr. Wyse lived. The dentist lived
there, too, and as Mr. Wyse was away on the continent of Europe, Mrs.
Plaistow was almost certain to be visiting the other. Rapidly Miss Mapp
remembered that at Mrs. Bartlett's bridge party yesterday Mrs. Plaistow
had selected soft chocolates for consumption instead of those stuffed
with nougat or almonds. That furnished additional evidence for the
dentist, for generally you could not get a nougat chocolate at all if
Godiva Plaistow had been in the room for more than a minute or two....
As she crossed the narrow cobbled roadway, with the grass growing
luxuriantly between the rounded pebbles, she stumbled and recovered
herself with a swift little forward run, and the circular feet twinkled
with the rapidity of those of a thrush scudding over the lawn.

By this time Isabel Poppit had advanced as far as the fish shop three
doors below the turning down which Mrs. Plaistow had vanished. Her
prancing progress paused there for a moment, and she waited with one
knee highly elevated, like a statue of a curveting horse, before she
finally decided to pass on. But she passed no further than the fruit
shop next door, and took the three steps that elevated it from the
street in a single prance, with her Roman nose high in the air.
Presently she emerged, but with no obvious rotundity like that of a
melon projecting from her basket, so that Miss Mapp could see exactly
what she had purchased, and went back to the fish shop again. Surely she
would not put fish on the top of fruit, and even as Miss Mapp's lucid
intelligence rejected this supposition, the true solution struck her.
"Ice," she said to herself, and, sure enough, projecting from the top of
Miss Poppit's basket when she came out was an angular peak, wrapped up
in paper already wet.

Miss Poppit came up the street and Miss Mapp put up her illustrated
paper again, with the revolting picture of the Brighton sea-nymphs
turned towards the window. Peeping out behind it, she observed that Miss
Poppit's basket was apparently oozing with bright venous blood, and
felt certain that she had bought red currants. That, coupled with the
ice, made conjecture complete. She had bought red currants slightly
damaged (or they would not have oozed so speedily), in order to make
that iced red-currant fool of which she had so freely partaken at Miss
Mapp's last bridge party. That was a very scurvy trick, for iced
red-currant fool was an invention of Miss Mapp's, who, when it was
praised, said that she inherited the recipe from her grandmother. But
Miss Poppit had evidently entered the lists against Grandmamma Mapp, and
she had as evidently guessed that quite inferior fruit--fruit that was
distinctly "off," was undetectable when severely iced. Miss Mapp could
only hope that the fruit in the basket now bobbing past her window was
so much "off" that it had begun to ferment. Fermented red-currant fool
was nasty to the taste, and, if persevered in, disastrous in its
effects. General unpopularity might be needed to teach Miss Poppit not
to trespass on Grandmamma Mapp's preserves.

Isabel Poppit lived with a flashy and condescending mother just round
the corner beyond the gardener's cottage, and opposite the west end of
the church. They were comparatively new inhabitants of Tilling, having
settled here only two or three years ago, and Tilling had not yet quite
ceased to regard them as rather suspicious characters. Suspicion
smouldered, though it blazed no longer. They were certainly rich, and
Miss Mapp suspected them of being profiteers. They kept a butler, of
whom they were both in considerable awe, who used almost to shrug his
shoulders when Mrs. Poppit gave him an order: they kept a motor-car to
which Mrs. Poppit was apt to allude more frequently than would have
been natural if she had always been accustomed to one, and they went to
Switzerland for a month every winter and to Scotland "for the
shooting-season," as Mrs. Poppit terribly remarked, every summer. This
all looked very black, and though Isabel conformed to the manners of
Tilling in doing household shopping every morning with her wicker
basket, and buying damaged fruit for fool, and in dressing in the
original home-made manner indicated by good breeding and narrow incomes,
Miss Mapp was sadly afraid that these habits were not the outcome of
chaste and instinctive simplicity, but of the ambition to be received by
the old families of Tilling as one of them. But what did a true
Tillingite want with a butler and a motor-car? And if these were not
sufficient to cast grave doubts on the sincerity of the inhabitants of
"Ye Smalle House," there was still very vivid in Miss Mapp's mind that
dreadful moment, undimmed by the years that had passed over it, when
Mrs. Poppit broke the silence at an altogether too sumptuous lunch by
asking Mrs. Plaistow if she did not find the super-tax a grievous burden
on "our little incomes." ... Miss Mapp had drawn in her breath sharply,
as if in pain, and after a few gasps turned the conversation.... Worst
of all, perhaps, because more recent, was the fact that Mrs. Poppit had
just received the dignity of the M.B.E., or Member of the Order of the
British Empire, and put it on her cards too, as if to keep the scandal
alive. Her services in connection with the Tilling hospital had been
entirely confined to putting her motor-car at its disposal when she did
not want it herself, and not a single member of the Tilling Working
Club, which had knitted its fingers to the bone and made enough
seven-tailed bandages to reach to the moon, had been offered a similar
decoration. If anyone had she would have known what to do: a stinging
letter to the Prime Minister saying that she worked not with hope of
distinction, but from pure patriotism, would have certainly been Miss
Mapp's rejoinder. She actually drafted the letter, when Mrs. Poppit's
name appeared, and diligently waded through column after column of
subsequent lists, to make sure that she, the originator of the Tilling
Working Club, had not been the victim of a similar insult.

Mrs. Poppit was a climber: that was what she was, and Miss Mapp was
obliged to confess that very nimble she had been. The butler and the
motor-car (so frequently at the disposal of Mrs. Poppit's friends) and
the incessant lunches and teas had done their work; she had fed rather
than starved Tilling into submission, and Miss Mapp felt that she alone
upheld the dignity of the old families. She was positively the only old
family (and a solitary spinster at that) who had not surrendered to the
Poppits. Naturally she did not carry her staunchness to the extent, so
to speak, of a hunger-strike, for that would be singular conduct, only
worthy of suffragettes, and she partook of the Poppits' hospitality to
the fullest extent possible, but (here her principles came in) she never
returned the hospitality of the Member of the British Empire, though she
occasionally asked Isabel to her house, and abused her soundly on all
possible occasions....

This spiteful retrospect passed swiftly and smoothly through Miss Mapp's
mind, and did not in the least take off from the acuteness with which
she observed the tide in the affairs of Tilling which, after the ebb of
the night, was now flowing again, nor did it, a few minutes after
Isabel's disappearance round the corner, prevent her from hearing the
faint tinkle of the telephone in her own house. At that she started to
her feet, but paused again at the door. She had shrewd suspicions about
her servants with regard to the telephone: she was convinced (though at
present she had not been able to get any evidence on the point) that
both her cook and her parlourmaid used it for their own base purposes at
her expense, and that their friends habitually employed it for
conversation with them. And perhaps--who knows?--her housemaid was the
worst of the lot, for she affected an almost incredible stupidity with
regard to the instrument, and pretended not to be able either to speak
through it or to understand its cacklings. All that might very well be
assumed in order to divert suspicion, so Miss Mapp paused by the door to
let any of these delinquents get deep in conversation with her friend: a
soft and stealthy advance towards the room called the morning-room (a
small apartment opening out of the hall, and used chiefly for the
bestowal of hats and cloaks and umbrellas) would then enable her to
catch one of them red-mouthed, or at any rate to overhear fragments of
conversation which would supply equally direct evidence.

She had got no further than the garden-door into her house when Withers,
her parlourmaid, came out. Miss Mapp thereupon began to smile and hum a
tune. Then the smile widened and the tune stopped.

"Yes, Withers?" she said. "Were you looking for me?"

"Yes, Miss," said Withers. "Miss Poppit has just rung you up----"

Miss Mapp looked much surprised.

"And to think that the telephone should have rung without my hearing
it," she said. "I must be growing deaf, Withers, in my old age. What
does Miss Poppit want?"

"She hopes you will be able to go to tea this afternoon and play bridge.
She expects that a few friends may look in at a quarter to four."

A flood of lurid light poured into Miss Mapp's mind. To expect that a
few friends may look in was the orthodox way of announcing a regular
party to which she had not been asked, and Miss Mapp knew as if by a
special revelation that if she went, she would find that she made the
eighth to complete two tables of bridge. When the butler opened the
door, he would undoubtedly have in his hand a half sheet of paper on
which were written the names of the expected friends, and if the
caller's name was not on that list, he would tell her with brazen
impudence that neither Mrs. Poppit nor Miss Poppit were at home, while,
before the baffled visitor had turned her back, he would admit another
caller who duly appeared on his reference paper.... So then the Poppits
were giving a bridge-party to which she had only been bidden at the last
moment, clearly to take the place of some expected friend who had
developed influenza, lost an aunt or been obliged to go to London: here,
too, was the explanation of why (as she had overheard yesterday) Major
Flint and Captain Puffin were only intending to play one round of golf
to-day, and to come back by the 2.20 train. And why seek any further for
the explanation of the lump of ice and the red currants (probably
damaged) which she had observed Isabel purchase? And anyone could see
(at least Miss Mapp could) why she had gone to the stationer's in the
High Street just before. Packs of cards.

Who the expected friend was who had disappointed Mrs. Poppit could be
thought out later: at present, as Miss Mapp smiled at Withers and hummed
her tune again, she had to settle whether she was going to be delighted
to accept, or obliged to decline. The argument in favour of being
obliged to decline was obvious: Mrs. Poppit deserved to be "served out"
for not including her among the original guests, and if she declined it
was quite probable that at this late hour her hostess might not be able
to get anyone else, and so one of her tables would be completely
spoiled. In favour of accepting was the fact that she would get a rubber
of bridge and a good tea, and would be able to say something
disagreeable about the red-currant fool, which would serve Miss Poppit
out for attempting to crib her ancestral dishes....

A bright, a joyous, a diabolical idea struck her, and she went herself
to the telephone, and genteelly wiped the place where Withers had
probably breathed on it.

"So kind of you, Isabel," she said, "but I am very busy to-day, and you
didn't give me much notice, did you? So I'll try to look in if I can,
shall I? I might be able to squeeze it in."

There was a pause, and Miss Mapp knew that she had put Isabel in a hole.
If she successfully tried to get somebody else, Miss Mapp might find she
could squeeze it in, and there would be nine. If she failed to get
someone else, and Miss Mapp couldn't squeeze it in, then there would be
seven.... Isabel wouldn't have a tranquil moment all day.

"Ah, do squeeze it in," she said in those horrid wheedling tones which
for some reason Major Flint found so attractive. That was one of the
weak points about him, and there were many, many others. But that was
among those which Miss Mapp found it difficult to condone.

"If I possibly can," said Miss Mapp. "But at this late hour--Good-bye,
dear, or only _au reservoir_, we hope."

She heard Isabel's polite laugh at this nearly new and delicious
Malaprop before she rang off. Isabel collected malaprops and wrote them
out in a note book. If you reversed the note-book and began at the other
end, you would find the collection of Spoonerisms, which were very
amusing, too.

Tea, followed by a bridge-party, was, in summer, the chief manifestation
of the spirit of hospitality in Tilling. Mrs. Poppit, it is true, had
attempted to do something in the way of dinner-parties, but though she
was at liberty to give as many dinner-parties as she pleased, nobody
else had followed her ostentatious example. Dinner-parties entailed a
higher scale of living; Miss Mapp, for one, had accurately counted the
cost of having three hungry people to dinner, and found that one such
dinner-party was not nearly compensated for, in the way of expense, by
being invited to three subsequent dinner-parties by your guests.
Voluptuous teas were the rule, after which you really wanted no more
than little bits of things, a cup of soup, a slice of cold tart, or a
dished-up piece of fish and some toasted cheese. Then, after the
excitement of bridge (and bridge was very exciting in Tilling), a
jig-saw puzzle or Patience cooled your brain and composed your nerves.
In winter, however, with its scarcity of daylight, Tilling commonly gave
evening bridge-parties, and asked the requisite number of friends to
drop in after dinner, though everybody knew that everybody else had only
partaken of bits of things. Probably the ruinous price of coal had
something to do with these evening bridge-parties, for the fire that
warmed your room when you were alone would warm all your guests as well,
and then, when your hospitality was returned, you could let your
sitting-room fire go out. But though Miss Mapp was already planning
something in connection with winter bridge, winter was a long way off
yet....

Before Miss Mapp got back to her window in the garden-room Mrs. Poppit's
great offensive motor-car, which she always alluded to as "the Royce,"
had come round the corner and, stopping opposite Major Flint's house,
was entirely extinguishing all survey of the street beyond. It was clear
enough then that she had sent the Royce to take the two out to the
golf-links, so that they should have time to play their round and catch
the 2.20 back to Tilling again, so as to be in good time for the
bridge-party. Even as she looked, Major Flint came out of his house on
one side of the Royce and Captain Puffin on the other. The Royce
obstructed their view of each other, and simultaneously each of them
shouted across to the house of the other. Captain Puffin emitted a loud
"Coo-ee, Major," (an Australian ejaculation, learned on his voyages),
while Major Flint bellowed "Qui-hi, Captain," which, all the world knew,
was of Oriental origin. The noise each of them made prevented him from
hearing the other, and presently one in a fuming hurry to start ran
round in front of the car at the precise moment that the other ran round
behind it, and they both banged loudly on each other's knockers. These
knocks were not so precisely simultaneous as the shouts had been, and
this led to mutual discovery, hailed with peals of falsetto laughter on
the part of Captain Puffin and the more manly guffaws of the Major....
After that the Royce lumbered down the grass-grown cobbles of the
street, and after a great deal of reversing managed to turn the corner.

Miss Mapp set off with her basket to do her shopping. She carried in it
the weekly books, which she would leave, with payment but not without
argument, at the tradesmen's shops. There was an item for suet which
she intended to resist to the last breath in her body, though her
butcher would probably surrender long before that. There was an item for
eggs at the dairy which she might have to pay, though it was a monstrous
overcharge. She had made up her mind about the laundry, she intended to
pay that bill with an icy countenance and say "Good morning for ever,"
or words to that effect, unless the proprietor instantly produced
the--the article of clothing which had been lost in the wash (like King
John's treasures), or refunded an ample sum for the replacing of it. All
these quarrelsome errands were meat and drink to Miss Mapp: Tuesday
morning, the day on which she paid and disputed her weekly bills, was as
enjoyable as Sunday mornings when, sitting close under the pulpit, she
noted the glaring inconsistencies and grammatical errors in the
discourse. After the bills were paid and business was done, there was
pleasure to follow, for there was a fitting-on at the dress-maker's, the
fitting-on of a tea-gown, to be worn at winter-evening bridge-parties,
which, unless Miss Mapp was sadly mistaken, would astound and agonize by
its magnificence all who set eyes on it. She had found the description
of it, as worn by Mrs. Titus W. Trout, in an American fashion paper; it
was of what was described as kingfisher blue, and had lumps and wedges
of lace round the edge of the skirt, and orange chiffon round the neck.
As she set off with her basket full of tradesmen's books, she pictured
to herself with watering mouth the fury, the jealousy, the madness of
envy which it would raise in all properly-constituted breasts.

In spite of her malignant curiosity and her cancerous suspicions about
all her friends, in spite, too, of her restless activities, Miss Mapp
was not, as might have been expected, a lady of lean and emaciated
appearance. She was tall and portly, with plump hands, a broad,
benignant face and dimpled, well-nourished cheeks. An acute observer
might have detected a danger warning in the sidelong glances of her
rather bulgy eyes, and in a certain tightness at the corners of her
expansive mouth, which boded ill for any who came within snapping
distance, but to a more superficial view she was a rollicking,
good-natured figure of a woman. Her mode of address, too, bore out this
misleading impression: nothing, for instance, could have been more
genial just now than her telephone voice to Isabel Poppit, or her smile
to Withers, even while she so strongly suspected her of using the
telephone for her own base purposes, and as she passed along the High
Street, she showered little smiles and bows on acquaintances and
friends. She markedly drew back her lips in speaking, being in no way
ashamed of her long white teeth, and wore a practically perpetual smile
when there was the least chance of being under observation. Though at
sermon time on Sunday, as has been already remarked, she greedily noted
the weaknesses and errors of which those twenty minutes was so
rewardingly full, she sat all the time with down-dropped eyes and a
pretty sacred smile on her lips, and now, when she spied on the other
side of the street the figure of the vicar, she tripped slantingly
across the road to him, as if by the move of a knight at chess, looking
everywhere else, and only perceiving him with glad surprise at the very
last moment. He was a great frequenter of tea parties and except in Lent
an assiduous player of bridge, for a clergyman's duties, so he very
properly held, were not confined to visiting the poor and exhorting the
sinner. He should be a man of the world, and enter into the pleasures of
his prosperous parishioners, as well as into the trials of the
troubled. Being an accomplished card-player he entered not only into
their pleasures but their pockets, and there was no lady of Tilling who
was not pleased to have Mr. Bartlett for a partner. His winnings, so he
said, he gave annually to charitable objects, though whether the
charities he selected began at home was a point on which Miss Mapp had
quite made up her mind. "Not a penny of that will the poor ever see,"
was the gist of her reflections when on disastrous days she paid him
seven-and-ninepence. She always called him "Padre," and had never
actually caught him looking over his adversaries' hands.

"Good morning, Padre," she said as soon as she perceived him. "What a
lovely day! The white butterflies were enjoying themselves so in the
sunshine in my garden. And the swallows!"

Miss Mapp, as every reader will have perceived, wanted to know whether
he was playing bridge this afternoon at the Poppits. Major Flint and
Captain Puffin certainly were, and it might be taken for granted that
Godiva Plaistow was. With the Poppits and herself that made six....

Mr. Bartlett was humorously archaic in speech. He interlarded archaisms
with Highland expressions, and his face was knobby, like a chest of
drawers.

"Ha, good morrow, fair dame," he said. "And prithee, art not thou even
as ye white butterflies?"

"Oh, Mr. Bartlett," said the fair dame with a provocative glance.
"Naughty! Comparing me to a delicious butterfly!"

"Nay, prithee, why naughty?" said he. "Yea, indeed, it's a day to make
ye little fowles rejoice! Ha! I perceive you are on the errands of the
guid wife Martha." And he pointed to the basket.

"Yes; Tuesday morning," said Miss Mapp. "I pay all my household books on
Tuesday. Poor but honest, dear Padre. What a rush life is to-day! I
hardly know which way to turn. Little duties in all directions! And you;
you're always busy! Such a busy bee!"

"Busy B? Busy Bartlett, quo' she! Yes, I'm a busy B to-day, Mistress
Mapp. Sermon all morning: choir practice at three, a baptism at six. No
time for a walk to-day, let alone a bit turn at the gowf."

Miss Mapp saw her opening, and made a busy bee line for it.

"Oh, but you should get regular exercise, Padre," said she. "You take no
care of yourself. After the choir practice now, and before the baptism,
you could have a brisk walk. To please me!"

"Yes. I had meant to get a breath of air then," said he. "But ye guid
Dame Poppit has insisted that I take a wee hand at the cartes with them,
the wifey and I. Prithee, shall we meet there?"

("That makes seven without me," thought Miss Mapp in parenthesis.) Aloud
she said:

"If I can squeeze it in, Padre. I have promised dear Isabel to do my
best."

"Well, and a lassie can do no mair," said he. "Au reservoir then."

Miss Mapp was partly pleased, partly annoyed by the agility with which
the Padre brought out her own particular joke. It was she who had
brought it down to Tilling, and she felt she had an option on it at the
end of every interview, if she meant (as she had done on this occasion)
to bring it out. On the other hand it was gratifying to see how popular
it had become. She had heard it last month when on a visit to a friend
at that sweet and refined village called Riseholme. It was rather
looked down on there, as not being sufficiently intellectual. But within
a week of Miss Mapp's return, Tilling rang with it, and she let it be
understood that she was the original humorist.

Godiva Plaistow came whizzing along the pavement, a short, stout,
breathless body who might, so thought Miss Mapp, have acted up to the
full and fell associations of her Christian name without exciting the
smallest curiosity on the part of the lewd. (Miss Mapp had much the same
sort of figure, but her height, so she was perfectly satisfied to
imagine, converted corpulence into majesty.) The swift alternation of
those Dutch-looking feet gave the impression that Mrs. Plaistow was
going at a prodigious speed, but they could stop revolving without any
warning, and then she stood still. Just when a collision with Miss Mapp
seemed imminent, she came to a dead halt.

It was as well to be quite certain that she was going to the Poppits,
and Miss Mapp forgave and forgot about the worsted until she had found
out. She could never quite manage the indelicacy of saying "Godiva,"
whatever Mrs. Plaistow's figure and age might happen to be, but always
addressed her as "Diva," very affectionately, whenever they were on
speaking terms.

"What a lovely morning, Diva darling," she said; and noticing that Mr.
Bartlett was well out of earshot, "The white butterflies were enjoying
themselves so in the sunshine in my garden. And the swallows."

Godiva was telegraphic in speech.

"Lucky birds," she said. "No teeth. Beaks."

Miss Mapp remembered her disappearance round the dentist's corner half
an hour ago, and her own firm inference on the problem.

"Toothache, darling?" she said. "So sorry."

"Wisdom," said Godiva. "Out at one o'clock. Gas. Ready for bridge this
afternoon. Playing? Poppits."

"If I can squeeze it in, dear," said Miss Mapp. "Such a hustle to-day."

Diva put her hand to her face as "wisdom" gave her an awful twinge. Of
course she did not believe in the "hustle," but her pangs prevented her
from caring much.

"Meet you then," she said. "Shall be all comfortable then. Au----"

This was more than could be borne, and Miss Mapp hastily interrupted.

"Au reservoir, Diva dear," she said with extreme acerbity, and Diva's
feet began swiftly revolving again.

The problem about the bridge-party thus seemed to be solved. The two
Poppits, the two Bartletts, the Major and the Captain with Diva darling
and herself made eight, and Miss Mapp with a sudden recrudescence of
indignation against Isabel with regard to the red-currant fool and the
belated invitation, made up her mind that she would not be able to
squeeze it in, thus leaving the party one short. Even apart from the
red-currant fool it served the Poppits right for not asking her
originally, but only when, as seemed now perfectly clear, somebody else
had disappointed them. But just as she emerged from the butcher's shop,
having gained a complete victory in the matter of that suet, without
expending the last breath in her body or anything like it, the whole of
the seemingly solid structure came toppling to the ground. For on
emerging, flushed with triumph, leaving the baffled butcher to try his
tricks on somebody else if he chose but not on Miss Mapp, she ran
straight into the Disgrace of Tilling and her sex, the suffragette,
post-impressionist artist (who painted from the nude, both male and
female), the socialist and the Germanophil, all incarnate in one frame.
In spite of these execrable antecedents, it was quite in vain that Miss
Mapp had tried to poison the collective mind of Tilling against this
Creature. If she hated anybody, and she undoubtedly did, she hated Irene
Coles. The bitterest part of it all was that if Miss Coles was amused at
anybody, and she undoubtedly was, she was amused at Miss Mapp.

Miss Coles was strolling along in the attire to which Tilling generally
had got accustomed, but Miss Mapp never. She had an old wide-awake hat
jammed down on her head, a tall collar and stock, a large loose coat,
knickerbockers and grey stockings. In her mouth was a cigarette, in her
hand she swung the orthodox wicker-basket. She had certainly been to the
other fishmonger's at the end of the High Street, for a lobster, revived
perhaps after a sojourn on the ice, by this warm sun, which the
butterflies and the swallows had been rejoicing in, was climbing with
claws and waving legs over the edge of it.

Irene removed her cigarette from her mouth and did something in the
gutter which is usually associated with the floor of third-class smoking
carriages. Then her handsome, boyish face, more boyish because her hair
was closely clipped, broke into a broad grin.

"Hullo, Mapp!" she said. "Been giving the tradesmen what for on Tuesday
morning?"

Miss Mapp found it extremely difficult to bear this obviously insolent
form of address without a spasm of rage. Irene called her Mapp because
she chose to, and Mapp (more bitterness) felt it wiser not to provoke
Coles. She had a dreadful, humorous tongue, an indecent disregard of
public or private opinion, and her gift of mimicry was as appalling as
her opinion about the Germans. Sometimes Miss Mapp alluded to her as
"quaint Irene," but that was as far as she got in the way of reprisals.

"Oh, you sweet thing!" she said. "Treasure!"

Irene, in some ghastly way, seemed to take note of this. Why men like
Captain Puffin and Major Flint found Irene "fetching" and "killing" was
more than Miss Mapp could understand, or wanted to understand.

Quaint Irene looked down at her basket.

"Why, there's my lunch going over the top like those beastly British
Tommies," she said, "Get back, love."

Miss Mapp could not quite determine whether "love" was a sarcastic echo
of "Treasure." It seemed probable.

"Oh, what a dear little lobster," she said. "Look at his sweet claws."

"I shall do more than look at them soon," said Irene, poking it into her
basket again. "Come and have tiffin, qui-hi, I've got to look after
myself to-day."

"What has happened to your devoted Lucy?" asked Miss Mapp. Irene lived
in a very queer way with one gigantic maid, who, but for her sex, might
have been in the Guards.

"Ill. I suspect scarlet-fever," said Irene. "Very infectious, isn't it?
I was up nursing her all last night."

Miss Mapp recoiled. She did not share Major Flint's robust views about
microbes.

"But I hope, dear, you've thoroughly disinfected----"

"Oh, yes. Soap and water," said Irene. "By the way, are you Poppiting
this afternoon?"

"If I can squeeze it in," said Miss Mapp.

"We'll meet again, then. Oh----"

"Au reservoir," said Miss Mapp instantly.

"No; not that silly old chestnut!" said Irene. "I wasn't going to say
that. I was only going to say: 'Oh, do come to tiffin.' You and me and
the lobster. Then you and me. But it's a bore about Lucy. I was painting
her. Fine figure, gorgeous legs. You wouldn't like to sit for me till
she's well again?"

Miss Mapp gave a little squeal and bolted into her dressmaker's. She
always felt battered after a conversation with Irene, and needed
kingfisher blue to restore her.



CHAPTER II


There is not in all England a town so blatantly picturesque as Tilling,
nor one, for the lover of level marsh land, of tall reedy dykes, of
enormous sunsets and rims of blue sea on the horizon, with so fortunate
an environment. The hill on which it is built rises steeply from the
level land, and, crowned by the great grave church so conveniently close
to Miss Mapp's residence, positively consists of quaint corners,
rough-cast and timber cottages, and mellow Georgian fronts. Corners and
quaintnesses, gems, glimpses and bits are an obsession to the artist,
and in consequence, during the summer months, not only did the majority
of its inhabitants turn out into the cobbled ways with sketching-blocks,
canvases and paintboxes, but every morning brought into the town
charabancs from neighbouring places loaded with passengers, many of whom
joined the artistic residents, and you would have thought (until an
inspection of their productions convinced you of the contrary) that some
tremendous outburst of Art was rivalling the Italian Renaissance. For
those who were capable of tackling straight lines and the intricacies of
perspective there were the steep cobbled streets of charming and
irregular architecture, while for those who rightly felt themselves
colourists rather than architectural draughtsmen, there was the view
from the top of the hill over the marshes. There, but for one straight
line to mark the horizon (and that could easily be misty) there were no
petty conventionalities in the way of perspective, and the eager
practitioner could almost instantly plunge into vivid greens and
celestial blues, or, at sunset, into pinks and chromes and rose-madder.

Tourists who had no pictorial gifts would pick their way among the
sketchers, and search the shops for cracked china and bits of brass. Few
if any of them left without purchasing one of the famous Tilling
money-boxes, made in the shape of a pottery pig, who bore on his back
that remarkable legend of his authenticity which ran:

    "I won't be druv,
    Though I am willing.
    Good morning, my love,
    Said the Pig of Tilling."

Miss Mapp had a long shelf full of these in every colour to adorn her
dining-room. The one which completed her collection, of a pleasant
magenta colour, had only just been acquired. She called them "My sweet
rainbow of piggies," and often when she came down to breakfast,
especially if Withers was in the room, she said: "Good morning, quaint
little piggies." When Withers had left the room she counted them.

The corner where the street took a turn towards the church, just below
the window of her garden-room, was easily the most popular stance for
sketchers. You were bewildered and bowled over by "bits." For the most
accomplished of all there was that rarely attempted feat, the view of
the steep downward street, which, in spite of all the efforts of the
artist, insisted, in the sketch, on going up hill instead. Then, next in
difficulty, was the street after it had turned, running by the
gardener's cottage up to the churchyard and the church. This, in spite
of its difficulty, was a very favourite subject, for it included, on the
right of the street, just beyond Miss Mapp's garden wall, the famous
crooked chimney, which was continually copied from every point of view.
The expert artist would draw it rather more crooked than it really was,
in order that there might be no question that he had not drawn it
crooked by accident. This sketch was usually negotiated from the three
steps in front of Miss Mapp's front door. Opposite the
church-and-chimney-artists would sit others, drawing the front door
itself (difficult), and moistening their pencils at their cherry lips,
while a little further down the street was another battalion hard at
work at the gabled front of the garden-room and its picturesque bow. It
was a favourite occupation of Miss Mapp's, when there was a decent
gathering of artists outside, to pull a table right into the window of
the garden-room, in full view of them, and, quite unconscious of their
presence, to arrange flowers there with a smiling and pensive
countenance. She had other little playful public pastimes: she would get
her kitten from the house, and induce it to sit on the table while she
diverted it with the tassel of the blind, and she would kiss it on its
sweet little sooty head, or she would write letters in the window, or
play Patience there, and then suddenly become aware that there was no
end of ladies and gentlemen looking at her. Sometimes she would come out
of the house, if the steps were very full, with her own sketching
paraphernalia in her hands and say, ever so coyly: "May I scriggle
through?" or ask the squatters on her own steps if they could find a
little corner for her. That was so interesting for them: they would
remember afterwards that just while they were engaged on their sketches,
the lady of that beautiful house at the corner, who had been playing
with her kitten in the window, came out to sketch too. She addressed
gracious and yet humble remarks to them: "I see you are painting my
sweet little home. May I look? Oh, what a lovely little sketch!" Once,
on a never-to-be-forgotten day, she observed one of them take a camera
from his pocket and rapidly focus her as she stood on the top step. She
turned full-faced and smiling to the camera just in time to catch the
click of the shutter, but then it was too late to hide her face, and
perhaps the picture might appear in the _Graphic_ or the _Sketch_, or
among the posturing nymphs of a neighbouring watering-place....

This afternoon she was content to "scriggle" through the sketchers, and
humming a little tune, she passed up to the churchyard. ("Scriggle" was
one of her own words, highly popular; it connoted squeezing and
wriggling.) There she carefully concealed herself under the boughs of
the weeping ash tree directly opposite the famous south porch of the
church. She had already drawn in the lines of this south porch on her
sketching-block, transferring them there by means of a tracing from a
photograph, so that formed a very promising beginning to her sketch. But
she was nicely placed not only with regard to her sketch, for, by
peeping through the pretty foliage of the tree, she could command the
front door of Mrs. Poppit's (M.B.E.) house.

Miss Mapp's plans for the bridge-party had, of course, been completely
upset by the encounter with Irene in the High Street. Up till that
moment she had imagined that, with the two ladies of the house and the
Bartletts and the Major and the Captain and Godiva and herself, two
complete tables of bridge would be formed, and she had, therefore,
determined that she would not be able to squeeze the party into her
numerous engagements, thereby spoiling the second table. But now
everything was changed: there were eight without her, and unless, at a
quarter to four, she saw reason to suppose, by noting the arrivals at
the house, that three bridge tables were in contemplation, she had made
up her mind to "squeeze it in," so that there would be nine gamblers,
and Isabel or her mother, if they had any sense of hospitality to their
guests, would be compelled to sit out for ever and ever. Miss Mapp had
been urgently invited: sweet Isabel had made a great point of her
squeezing it in, and if sweet Isabel, in order to be certain of a
company of eight, had asked quaint Irene as well, it would serve her
right. An additional reason, besides this piece of good-nature in
managing to squeeze it in, for the sake of sweet Isabel, lay in the fact
that she would be able to take some red-currant fool, and after one
spoonful exclaim "Delicious," and leave the rest uneaten.

The white butterflies and the swallows were still enjoying themselves in
the sunshine, and so, too, were the gnats, about whose pleasure,
especially when they settled on her face, Miss Mapp did not care so
much. But soon she quite ceased to regard them, for, before the quaint
little gilded boys on each side of the clock above the north porch had
hammered out the three-quarters after three on their bells, visitors
began to arrive at the Poppits' door, and Miss Mapp was very active
looking through the boughs of the weeping ash and sitting down again to
smile and ponder over her sketch with her head a little on one side, if
anybody approached. One by one the expected guests presented themselves
and were admitted: Major Flint and Captain Puffin, the Padre and his
wife, darling Diva with her head muffled in a "cloud," and finally
Irene, still dressed as she had been in the morning, and probably
reeking with scarlet-fever. With the two Poppits these made eight
players, so as soon as Irene had gone in, Miss Mapp hastily put her
sketching things away, and holding her admirably-accurate drawing with
its wash of sky not quite dry, in her hand, hurried to the door, for it
would never do to arrive after the two tables had started, since in that
case it would be she who would have to sit out.

Boon opened the door to her three staccato little knocks, and sulkily
consulted his list. She duly appeared on it and was admitted. Having
banged the door behind her he crushed the list up in his hand and threw
it into the fireplace: all those whose presence was desired had arrived,
and Boon would turn his bovine eye on any subsequent caller, and say
that his mistress was out.

"And may I put my sketching things down here, please, Boon," said Miss
Mapp ingratiatingly. "And will no one touch my drawing? It's a little
wet still. The church porch."

Boon made a grunting noise like the Tilling pig, and slouched away in
front of her down the passage leading to the garden, sniffing. There
they were, with the two bridge-tables set out in a shady corner of the
lawn, and a buffet vulgarly heaped with all sorts of dainty confections
which made Miss Mapp's mouth water, obliging her to swallow rapidly once
or twice before she could manage a wide, dry smile: Isabel advanced.

"De-do, dear," said Miss Mapp. "Such a rush! But managed to squeeze it
in, as you wouldn't let me off."

"Oh, that was nice of you, Miss Mapp," said Isabel.

A wild and awful surmise seized Miss Mapp.

"And your dear mother?" she said. "Where is Mrs. Poppit?"

"Mamma had to go to town this morning. She won't be back till close on
dinner-time."

Miss Mapp's smile closed up like a furled umbrella. The trap had snapped
behind her: it was impossible now to scriggle away. She had completed,
instead of spoiling, the second table.

"So we're just eight," said Isabel, poking at her, so to speak, through
the wires. "Shall we have a rubber first and then some tea? Or tea
first. What says everybody?"

Restless and hungry murmurs, like those heard at the sea-lions'
enclosure in the Zoological Gardens when feeding-time approaches, seemed
to indicate tea first, and with gallant greetings from the Major, and
archaistic welcomes from the Padre, Miss Mapp headed the general
drifting movement towards the buffet. There may have been tea there, but
there was certainly iced coffee and Lager beer and large jugs with dew
on the outside and vegetables floating in a bubbling liquid in the
inside, and it was all so vulgar and opulent that with one accord
everyone set to work in earnest, in order that the garden should present
a less gross and greedy appearance. But there was no sign at present of
the red-currant fool, which was baffling....

"And have you had a good game of golf, Major?" asked Miss Mapp, making
the best of these miserable circumstances. "Such a lovely day! The white
butterflies were enjoying----"

She became aware that Diva and the Padre, who had already heard about
the white butterflies, were in her immediate neighbourhood, and broke
off.

"Which of you beat? Or should I say 'won!'" she asked.

Major Flint's long moustache was dripping with Lager beer, and he made a
dexterous, sucking movement.

"Well, the Army and the Navy had it out," he said. "And if for once
Britain's Navy was not invincible, eh, Puffin?"

Captain Puffin limped away pretending not to hear, and took his heaped
plate and brimming glass in the direction of Irene.

"But I'm sure Captain Puffin played quite beautifully too," said Miss
Mapp in the vain attempt to detain him. She liked to collect all the men
round her, and then scold them for not talking to the other ladies.

"Well, a game's a game," said the Major. "It gets through the hours,
Miss Mapp. Yes: we finished at the fourteenth hole, and hurried back to
more congenial society. And what have you done to-day? Fairy-errands,
I'll be bound. Titania! Ha!"

Suet errands and errands about a missing article of underclothing were
really the most important things that Miss Mapp had done to-day, now
that her bridge-party scheme had so miscarried, but naturally she would
not allude to these.

"A little gardening," she said. "A little sketching. A little singing.
Not time to change my frock and put on something less shabby. But I
wouldn't have kept sweet Isabel's bridge-party waiting for anything, and
so I came straight from my painting here. Padre, I've been trying to
draw the lovely south porch. But so difficult! I shall give up trying to
draw, and just enjoy myself with looking. And there's your dear Evie!
How de do, Evie love?"

Godiva Plaistow had taken off her cloud for purposes of mastication, but
wound it tightly round her head again as soon as she had eaten as much
as she could manage. This had to be done on one side of her mouth, or
with the front teeth in the nibbling manner of a rabbit. Everybody, of
course, by now knew that she had had a wisdom tooth out at one p.m. with
gas, and she could allude to it without explanation.

"Dreamed I was playing bridge," she said, "and had a hand of aces. As I
played the first it went off in my hand. All over. Blood. Hope it'll
come true. Bar the blood."

Miss Mapp found herself soon afterwards partnered with Major Flint and
opposed by Irene and the Padre. They had hardly begun to consider their
first hands when Boon staggered out into the garden under the weight of
a large wooden bucket, packed with ice, that surrounded an interior
cylinder.

"Red currant fool at last," thought Miss Mapp, adding aloud: "O poor
little me, is it, to declare? Shall I say 'no trumps?'"

"Mustn't consult your partner, Mapp," said Irene, puffing the end of her
cigarette out of its holder. Irene was painfully literal.

"I don't, darling," said Miss Mapp, beginning to fizz a little. "No
trumps. Not a trump. Not any sort of trump. There! What are we playing
for, by the way?"

"Bob a hundred," said the Padre, forgetting to be either Scotch or
archaic.

"Oh, gambler! You want the poor-box to be the rich box, Padre," said
Miss Mapp, surveying her magnificent hand with the greatest
satisfaction. If it had not contained so many court-cards, she would
have proposed playing for sixpence, not a shilling a hundred.

All semblance of manners was invariably thrown to the winds by the
ladies of Tilling when once bridge began; primeval hatred took their
place. The winners of any hand were exasperatingly condescending to the
losers, and the losers correspondingly bitter and tremulous. Miss Mapp
failed to get her contract, as her partner's contribution to success
consisted of more twos and threes than were ever seen together before,
and when quaint Irene at the end said, "Bad luck, Mapp," Miss Mapp's
hands trembled so much with passion that she with difficulty marked the
score. But she could command her voice sufficiently to say, "Lovely of
you to be sympathetic, dear." Irene in answer gave a short, hoarse laugh
and dealed.

By this time Boon had deposited at the left hand of each player a cup
containing a red creamy fluid, on the surface of which bubbles
intermittently appeared. Isabel, at this moment being dummy, had
strolled across from the other table to see that everybody was
comfortable and provided with sustenance in times of stress, and here
was clearly the proper opportunity for Miss Mapp to take a spoonful of
this attempt at red-currant fool, and with a wry face, hastily (but not
too hastily) smothered in smiles, to push the revolting compound away
from her. But the one spoonful that she took was so delicious and
exhilarating, that she was positively unable to be good for Isabel.
Instead, she drank her cup to the dregs in an absent manner, while
considering how many trumps were out. The red-currant fool made a
similarly agreeable impression on Major Flint.

"'Pon my word," he said. "That's amazingly good. Cooling on a hot day
like this. Full of champagne."

Miss Mapp, seeing that it was so popular, had, of course, to claim it
again as a family invention.

"No, dear Major," she said. "There's no champagne in it. It's my
Grandmamma Mapp's famous red-currant fool, with little additions perhaps
by me. No champagne: yolk of egg and a little cream. Dear Isabel has got
it very nearly right."

The Padre had promised to take more tricks in diamonds than he had the
slightest chance of doing. His mental worry communicated itself to his
voice.

"And why should there be nary a wee drappie o' champagne in it?" he
said, "though your Grandmamma Mapp did invent it. Weel, let's see your
hand, partner. Eh, that's a sair sight."

"And there'll be a sair wee score agin us when ye're through with the
playin' o' it," said Irene, in tones that could not be acquitted of a
mocking intent. "Why the hell--hallelujah did you go on when I didn't
support you?"

Even that one glass of red-currant fool, though there was no champagne
in it, had produced, together with the certainty that her opponent had
overbidden his hand, a pleasant exhilaration in Miss Mapp; but yolk of
egg, as everybody knew, was a strong stimulant. Suddenly the name
red-currant fool seemed very amusing to her.

"Red-currant fool!" she said. "What a quaint, old-fashioned name! I
shall invent some others. I shall tell my cook to make some
gooseberry-idiot, or strawberry-donkey.... My play, I think. A ducky
little ace of spades."

"Haw! haw! gooseberry idiot!" said her partner. "Capital! You won't beat
that in a hurry! And a two of spades on the top of it."

"You wouldn't expect to find a two of spades at the bottom of it," said
the Padre with singular acidity.

The Major was quick to resent this kind of comment from a man, cloth or
no cloth.

"Well, by your leave, Bartlett, by your leave, I repeat," he said, "I
shall expect to find twos of spades precisely where I please, and when I
want your criticism----"

Miss Mapp hastily intervened.

"And after my wee ace, a little king-piece," she said. "And if my
partner doesn't play the queen to it! Delicious! And I play just one
more.... Yes ... lovely, partner puts wee trumpy on it! I'm not
surprised; it takes more than that to surprise me; and then Padre's got
another spade, I ken fine!"

"Hoots!" said the Padre with temperate disgust.

The hand proceeded for a round or two in silence, during which, by winks
and gestures to Boon, the Major got hold of another cupful of
red-currant fool. There was already a heavy penalty of tricks against
Miss Mapp's opponents, and after a moment's refreshment, the Major led a
club, of which, at this period, Miss Mapp seemed to have none. She felt
happier than she had been ever since, trying to spoil Isabel's second
table, she had only succeeded in completing it.

"Little trumpy again," she said, putting it on with the lightness of one
of the white butterflies and turning the trick. "Useful little
trumpy----"

She broke off suddenly from the chant of victory which ladies of Tilling
were accustomed to indulge in during cross-roughs, for she discovered in
her hand another more than useless little clubby.... The silence that
succeeded became tense in quality. Miss Mapp knew she had revoked and
squeezed her brains to think how she could possibly dispose of the card,
while there was a certain calmness about the Padre, which but too
clearly indicated that he was quite content to wait for the inevitable
disclosure. This came at the last trick, and though Miss Mapp made one
forlorn attempt to thrust the horrible little clubby underneath the
other cards and gather them up, the Padre pounced on it.

"What ho, fair lady!" he said, now completely restored. "Methinks thou
art forsworn! Let me have a keek at the last trick but three! Verily I
wis that thou didst trump ye club aforetime. I said so; there it is. Eh,
that's bonny for us, partner!"

Miss Mapp, of course, denied it all, and a ruthless reconstruction of
the tricks took place. The Major, still busy with red-currant fool, was
the last to grasp the disaster, and then instantly deplored the
unsportsmanlike greed of his adversaries.

"Well, I should have thought in a friendly game like this----" he said.
"Of course, you're within your right, Bartlett: might is right, hey? but
upon my word, a pound of flesh, you know.... Can't think what made you
do it, partner."

"You never asked me if I had any more clubs," said Miss Mapp shrilly,
giving up for the moment the contention that she had not revoked. "I
always ask if my partner has no more of a suit, and I always maintain
that a revoke is more the partner's fault than the player's. Of course,
if our adversaries claim it----"

"Naturally we do, Mapp," said Irene. "You were down on me sharp enough
the other day."

Miss Mapp wrinkled her face up into the sweetest and extremest smile of
which her mobile features were capable.

"Darling, you won't mind my telling you that just at this moment you are
being dummy," she said, "and so you mustn't speak a single word.
Otherwise there is no revoke, even if there was at all, which I
consider far from proved yet."

There was no further proof possible beyond the clear and final evidence
of the cards, and since everybody, including Miss Mapp herself, was
perfectly well aware that she had revoked, their opponents merely marked
up the penalty and the game proceeded. Miss Mapp, of course, following
the rule of correct behaviour after revoking, stiffened into a state of
offended dignity, and was extremely polite and distant with partner and
adversaries alike. This demeanour became even more majestic when in the
next hand the Major led out of turn. The moment he had done it, Miss
Mapp hurriedly threw a random card out of her hand on to the table, in
the hope that Irene, by some strange aberration, would think she had led
first.

"Wait a second," said she. "I call a lead. Give me a trump, please."

Suddenly the awful expression as of some outraged empress faded from
Miss Mapp's face, and she gave a little shriek of laughter which sounded
like a squeaking slate pencil.

"Haven't got one, dear," she said. "Now may I have your permission to
lead what I think best? Thank you."

There now existed between the four players that state of violent
animosity which was the usual atmosphere towards the end of a rubber.
But it would have been a capital mistake to suppose that they were not
all enjoying themselves immensely. Emotion is the salt of life, and here
was no end of salt. Everyone was overbidding his hand, and the penalty
tricks were a glorious cause of vituperation, scarcely veiled, between
the partners who had failed to make good, and caused epidemics of
condescending sympathy from the adversaries which produced a passion in
the losers far keener than their fury at having lost. What made the
concluding stages of this contest the more exciting was that an evening
breeze suddenly arising just as a deal was ended, made the cards rise in
the air like a covey of partridges. They were recaptured, and all the
hands were found to be complete with the exception of Miss Mapp's, which
had a card missing. This, an ace of hearts, was discovered by the Padre,
face upwards, in a bed of mignonette, and he was vehement in claiming a
fresh deal, on the grounds that the card was exposed. Miss Mapp could
not speak at all in answer to this preposterous claim: she could only
smile at him, and proceed to declare trumps as if nothing had
happened.... The Major alone failed to come up to the full measure of
these enjoyments, for though all the rest of them were as angry with him
as they were with each other, he remained in a most indecorous state of
good-humour, drinking thirstily of the red-currant fool, and when he was
dummy, quite failing to mind whether Miss Mapp got her contract or not.
Captain Puffin, at the other table, seemed to be behaving with the same
impropriety, for the sound of his shrill, falsetto laugh was as regular
as his visits to the bucket of red-currant fool. What if there was
champagne in it after all, so Miss Mapp luridly conjectured! What if
this unseemly good-humour was due to incipient intoxication? She took a
little more of that delicious decoction herself.

It was unanimously determined, when the two rubbers came to an end
almost simultaneously, that, as everything was so pleasant and
agreeable, there should be no fresh sorting of the players. Besides, the
second table was only playing stakes of sixpence a hundred, and it would
be very awkward and unsettling that anyone should play these moderate
points in one rubber and those high ones the next. But at this point
Miss Mapp's table was obliged to endure a pause, for the Padre had to
hurry away just before six to administer the rite of baptism in the
church which was so conveniently close. The Major afforded a good deal
of amusement, as soon as he was out of hearing, by hoping that he would
not baptize the child the Knave of Hearts if it was a boy, or, if a
girl, the Queen of Spades; but in order to spare the susceptibilities of
Mrs. Bartlett, this admirable joke was not communicated to the next
table, but enjoyed privately. The author of it, however, made a note in
his mind to tell it to Captain Puffin, in the hopes that it would cause
him to forget his ruinous half-crown defeat at golf this morning. Quite
as agreeable was the arrival of a fresh supply of red-currant fool, and
as this had been heralded a few minutes before by a loud pop from the
butler's pantry, which looked on to the lawn, Miss Mapp began to waver
in her belief that there was no champagne in it, particularly as it
would not have suited the theory by which she accounted for the Major's
unwonted good-humour, and her suggestion that the pop they had all heard
so clearly was the opening of a bottle of stone ginger-beer was not
delivered with conviction. To make sure, however, she took one more sip
of the new supply, and, irradiated with smiles, made a great concession.

"I believe I was wrong," she said. "There is something in it beyond yolk
of egg and cream. Oh, there's Boon; he will tell us."

She made a seductive face at Boon, and beckoned to him.

"Boon, will you think it very inquisitive of me," she asked archly, "if
I ask you whether you have put a teeny drop of champagne into this
delicious red-currant fool?"

"A bottle and a half, Miss," said Boon morosely, "and half a pint of old
brandy. Will you have some more, Miss?"

Miss Mapp curbed her indignation at this vulgar squandering of precious
liquids, so characteristic of Poppits. She gave a shrill little laugh.

"Oh, no, thank you, Boon!" she said. "I mustn't have any more.
Delicious, though."

Major Flint let Boon fill up his cup while he was not looking.

"And we owe this to your grandmother, Miss Mapp?" he asked gallantly.
"That's a second debt."

Miss Mapp acknowledged this polite subtlety with a reservation.

"But not the champagne in it, Major," she said. "Grandmamma Nap----"

The Major beat his thigh in ecstasy.

"Ha! That's a good Spoonerism for Miss Isabel's book," he said. "Miss
Isabel, we've got a new----"

Miss Mapp was very much puzzled at this slight confusion in her speech,
for her utterance was usually remarkably distinct. There might be some
little joke made at her expense on the effect of Grandmamma Mapp's
invention if this lovely Spoonerism was published. But if she who had
only just tasted the red-currant fool tripped in her speech, how amply
were Major Flint's good nature and Captain Puffin's incessant laugh
accounted for. She herself felt very good-natured, too. How pleasant it
all was!

"Oh, naughty!" she said to the Major. "Pray, hush! you're disturbing
them at their rubber. And here's the Padre back again!"

The new rubber had only just begun (indeed, it was lucky that they cut
their cards without any delay) when Mrs. Poppit appeared on her return
from her expedition to London. Miss Mapp begged her to take her hand,
and instantly began playing.

"It would really be a kindness to me, Mrs. Poppit," she said; "(No
diamonds at all, partner?) but of course, if you won't---- You've been
missing such a lovely party. So much enjoyment!"

Suddenly she saw that Mrs. Poppit was wearing on her ample breast a
small piece of riband with a little cross attached to it. Her entire
stock of good-humour vanished, and she smiled her widest.

"We needn't ask what took you to London," she said. "Congratulations!
How was the dear King?"

This rubber was soon over, and even as they were adding up the score,
there arose a shrill outcry from the next table, where Mrs. Plaistow, as
usual, had made the tale of her winnings sixpence in excess of what
anybody else considered was due to her. The sound of that was so
familiar that nobody looked up or asked what was going on.

"Darling Diva and her bawbees, Padre," said Miss Mapp in an aside. "So
modest in her demands. Oh, she's stopped! Somebody has given her
sixpence. Not another rubber? Well, perhaps it is rather late, and I
must say good-night to my flowers before they close up for the night.
All those shillings mine? Fancy!"

Miss Mapp was seething with excitement, curiosity and rage, as with
Major Flint on one side of her and Captain Puffin on the other, she was
escorted home. The excitement was due to her winnings, the rage to Mrs.
Poppit's Order, the curiosity to the clue she believed she had found to
those inexplicable lights that burned so late in the houses of her
companions. Certainly it seemed that Major Flint was trying not to step
on the joints of the paving-stones, and succeeding very imperfectly,
while Captain Puffin, on her left, was walking very unevenly on the
cobbles. Even making due allowance for the difficulty of walking evenly
there at any time, Miss Mapp could not help thinking that a teetotaller
would have made a better job of it than that. Both gentlemen talked at
once, very agreeably but rather carefully, Major Flint promising himself
a studious evening over some very interesting entries in his Indian
Diary, while Captain Puffin anticipated the speedy solution of that
problem about the Roman road which had puzzled him so long. As they said
their "Au reservoirs" to her on her doorstep, they took off their hats
more often than politeness really demanded.

Once in her house Miss Mapp postponed her good-nights to her sweet
flowers, and hurried with the utmost speed of which she was capable to
her garden-room, in order to see what her companions were doing. They
were standing in the middle of the street, and Major Flint, with
gesticulating forefinger, was being very impressive over something....

       *       *       *       *       *

Interesting as was Miss Mapp's walk home, and painful as was the light
which it had conceivably thrown on the problem that had baffled her for
so long, she might have been even more acutely disgusted had she
lingered on with the rest of the bridge-party in Mrs. Poppit's garden,
so revolting was the sycophantic loyalty of the newly-decorated Member
of the British Empire.... She described minutely her arrival at the
Palace, her momentary nervousness as she entered the Throne-room, the
instantaneousness with which that all vanished when she came face to
face with her Sovereign.

"I assure you, he gave the most gracious smile," she said, "just as if
we had known each other all our lives, and I felt at home at once. And
he said a few words to me--such a beautiful voice he has. Dear Isabel, I
wish you had been there to hear it, and then----"

"Oh, Mamma, what did he say?" asked Isabel, to the great relief of Mrs.
Plaistow and the Bartletts, for while they were bursting with eagerness
to know with the utmost detail all that had taken place, the correct
attitude in Tilling was profound indifference to anybody of whatever
degree who did not live at Tilling, and to anything that did not happen
there. In particular, any manifestation of interest in kings or other
distinguished people was held to be a very miserable failing.... So they
all pretended to look about them, and take no notice of what Mrs. Poppit
was saying, and you might have heard a pin drop. Diva silently and
hastily unwound her cloud from over her ears, risking catching cold in
the hole where her tooth had been, so terrified was she of missing a
single syllable.

"Well, it was very gratifying," said Mrs. Poppit; "he whispered to some
gentleman standing near him, who I think was the Lord Chamberlain, and
then told me how interested he had been in the good work of the Tilling
hospital, and how especially glad he was to be able--and just then he
began to pin my Order on--to be able to recognize it. Now I call that
wonderful to know all about the Tilling hospital! And such neat, quick
fingers he has: I am sure it would take me double the time to make a
safety-pin hold, and then he gave me another smile, and passed me on, so
to speak, to the Queen, who stood next him, and who had been listening
to all he had said."

"And did she speak to you too?" asked Diva, quite unable to maintain the
right indifference.

"Indeed she did: she said, 'So pleased,' and what she put into those two
words I'm sure I can never convey to you. I could hear how sincere they
were: it was no set form of words, as if she meant nothing by it. She
_was_ pleased: she was just as interested in what I had done for the
Tilling hospital as the King was. And the crowds outside: they lined the
Mall for at least fifty yards. I was bowing and smiling on this side and
that till I felt quite dizzy."

"And was the Prince of Wales there?" asked Diva, beginning to wind her
head up again. She did not care about the crowds.

"No, he wasn't there," said Mrs. Poppit, determined to have no
embroidery in her story, however much other people, especially Miss
Mapp, decorated remarkable incidents till you hardly recognized them.
"He wasn't there. I daresay something had unexpectedly detained him,
though I shouldn't wonder if before long we all saw him. For I noticed
in the evening paper which I was reading on the way down here, after I
had seen the King, that he was going to stay with Lord Ardingly for this
very next week-end. And what's the station for Ardingly Park if it isn't
Tilling? Though it's quite a private visit, I feel convinced that the
right and proper thing for me to do is to be at the station, or, at any
rate, just outside, with my Order on. I shall not claim acquaintance
with him, or anything of that kind," said Mrs. Poppit, fingering her
Order; "but after my reception to-day at the Palace, nothing can be more
likely than that His Majesty might mention--quite casually, of
course--to the Prince that he had just given a decoration to Mrs. Poppit
of Tilling. And it would make me feel very awkward to think that that
had happened, and I was not somewhere about to make my curtsy."

"Oh, Mamma, may I stand by you, or behind you?" asked Isabel, completely
dazzled by the splendour of this prospect and prancing about the
lawn....

This was quite awful: it was as bad as, if not worse than, the
historically disastrous remark about super-tax, and a general rigidity,
as of some partial cataleptic seizure, froze Mrs. Poppit's guests,
rendering them, like incomplete Marconi installations, capable of
receiving, but not of transmitting. They received these impressions,
they also continued (mechanically) to receive more chocolates and
sandwiches, and such refreshments as remained on the buffet; but no one
could intervene and stop Mrs. Poppit from exposing herself further. One
reason for this, of course, as already indicated, was that they all
longed for her to expose herself as much as she possibly could, for if
there was a quality--and, indeed, there were many--on which Tilling
prided itself, it was on its immunity from snobbishness: there were, no
doubt, in the great world with which Tilling concerned itself so little
kings and queens and dukes and Members of the Order of the British
Empire; but every Tillingite knew that he or she (particularly she) was
just as good as any of them, and indeed better, being more fortunate
than they in living in Tilling.... And if there was a process in the
world which Tilling detested, it was being patronized, and there was
this woman telling them all what she felt it right and proper for her,
as Mrs. Poppit of Tilling (M.B.E.), to do, when the Heir Apparent should
pass through the town on Saturday. The rest of them, Mrs. Poppit
implied, might do what they liked, for they did not matter; but
she--she must put on her Order and make her curtsy. And Isabel, by her
expressed desire to stand beside, or even behind, her mother for this
degrading moment had showed of what stock she came.

Mrs. Poppit had nothing more to say on this subject; indeed, as Diva
reflected, there was really nothing more that could be said, unless she
suggested that they should all bow and curtsy to her for the future, and
their hostess proceeded, as they all took their leave, to hope that they
had enjoyed the bridge-party which she had been unavoidably prevented
from attending.

"But my absence made it possible to include Miss Mapp," she said. "I
should not have liked poor Miss Mapp to feel left out; I am always glad
to give Miss Mapp pleasure. I hope she won her rubber; she does not like
losing. Will no one have a little more red-currant fool? Boon has made
it very tolerably to-day. A Scotch recipe of my great-grandmother's."

Diva gave a little cackle of laughter as she enfolded herself in her
cloud again. She had heard Miss Mapp's ironical inquiry as to how the
dear King was, and had thought at the time that it was probably a pity
that Miss Mapp had said that.

       *       *       *       *       *

Though abhorrence of snobbery and immunity from any taint of it was so
fine a characteristic of public social life at Tilling, the expected
passage of this distinguished visitor through the town on Saturday next
became very speedily known, and before the wicker-baskets of the ladies
in their morning marketings next day were half full, there was no
quarter which the news had failed to reach. Major Flint had it from Mrs.
Plaistow, as he went down to the eleven-twenty tram out to the
golf-links, and though he had not much time to spare (for his work last
night on his old diaries had caused him to breakfast unusually late that
morning to the accompaniment of a dismal headache from
over-application), he had stopped to converse with Miss Mapp immediately
afterwards, with one eye on the time, for naturally he could not fire
off that sort of news point-blank at her, as if it was a matter of any
interest or importance.

"Good morning, dear lady," he said. "By Jove! what a picture of health
and freshness you are!"

Miss Mapp cast one glance at her basket to see that the paper quite
concealed that article of clothing which the perfidious laundry had
found. (Probably the laundry knew where it was all the time, and--in a
figurative sense, of course--was "trying it on.")

"Early to bed and early to rise, Major," she said. "I saw my sweet
flowers open their eyes this morning! Such a beautiful dew!"

"Well, my diaries kept me up late last night," he said. "When all you
fascinating ladies have withdrawn is the only time at which I can bring
myself to sit down to them."

"Let me recommend six to eight in the morning, Major," said Miss Mapp
earnestly. "Such a freshness of brain then."

That seemed to be a cul-de-sac in the way of leading up to the important
subject, and the Major tried another turning.

"Good, well-fought game of bridge we had yesterday," he said. "Just met
Mrs. Plaistow; she stopped on for a chat after we had gone."

"Dear Diva; she loves a good gossip," said Miss Mapp effusively. "Such
an interest she has in other people's affairs. So human and
sympathetic. I'm sure our dear hostess told her all about her adventures
at the Palace."

There was only seven minutes left before the tram started, and though
this was not a perfect opening, it would have to do. Besides, the Major
saw Mrs. Plaistow coming energetically along the High Street with
whirling feet.

"Yes, and we haven't finished with--ha--royalty yet," he said, getting
the odious word out with difficulty. "The Prince of Wales will be
passing through the town on Saturday, on his way to Ardingly Park, where
he is spending the Sunday."

Miss Mapp was not betrayed into the smallest expression of interest.

"That will be nice for him," she said. "He will catch a glimpse of our
beautiful Tilling."

"So he will! Well, I'm off for my game of golf. Perhaps the Navy will be
a bit more efficient to-day."

"I'm sure you will both play perfectly!" said Miss Mapp.

Diva had "popped" into the grocer's. She always popped everywhere just
now; she popped across to see a friend, and she popped home again; she
popped into church on Sunday, and occasionally popped up to town, and
Miss Mapp was beginning to feel that somebody ought to let her know,
directly or by insinuation, that she popped too much. So, thinking that
an opportunity might present itself now, Miss Mapp read the news-board
outside the stationer's till Diva popped out of the grocer's again. The
headlines of news, even the largest of them, hardly reached her brain,
because it entirely absorbed in another subject. Of course, the first
thing was to find out by what train....

Diva trundled swiftly across the street.

"Good morning, Elizabeth," she said. "You left the party too early
yesterday. Missed a lot. How the King smiled! How the Queen said 'So
pleased.'"

"Our dear hostess would like that," said Miss Mapp pensively. "She would
be so pleased, too. She and the Queen would both be pleased. Quite a
pair of them."

"By the way, on Saturday next----" began Diva.

"I know, dear," said Miss Mapp. "Major Flint told me. It seemed quite to
interest him. Now I must pop into the stationer's----"

Diva was really very obtuse.

"I'm popping in there, too," she said. "Want a time-table of the
trains."

Wild horses would not have dragged from Miss Mapp that this was
precisely what she wanted.

"I only wanted a little ruled paper," she said. "Why, here's dear Evie
popping out just as we pop in! Good morning, sweet Evie. Lovely day
again."

Mrs. Bartlett thrust something into her basket which very much resembled
a railway time-table. She spoke in a low, quick voice, as if afraid of
being overheard, and was otherwise rather like a mouse. When she was
excited she squeaked.

"So good for the harvest," she said. "Such an important thing to have a
good harvest. I hope next Saturday will be fine; it would be a pity if
he had a wet day. We were wondering, Kenneth and I, what would be the
proper thing to do, if he came over for service--oh, here is Kenneth!"

She stopped abruptly, as if afraid that she had betrayed too much
interest in next Saturday and Sunday. Kenneth would manage it much
better.

"Ha! lady fair," he exclaimed. "Having a bit crack with wee wifey? Any
news this bright morning?"

"No, dear Padre," said Miss Mapp, showing her gums. "At least, I've
heard nothing of any interest. I can only give you the news of my
garden. Such lovely new roses in bloom to-day, bless them!"

Mrs. Plaistow had popped into the stationer's, so this perjury was
undetected.

The Padre was noted for his diplomacy. Just now he wanted to convey the
impression that nothing which could happen next Saturday or Sunday could
be of the smallest interest to him; whereas he had spent an almost
sleepless night in wondering whether it would, in certain circumstances,
be proper to make a bow at the beginning of his sermon and another at
the end; whether he ought to meet the visitor at the west door; whether
the mayor ought to be told, and whether there ought to be special
psalms....

"Well, lady fair," he said. "Gossip will have it that ye Prince of Wales
is staying at Ardingly for the Sunday; indeed, he will, I suppose, pass
through Tilling on Saturday afternoon----"

Miss Mapp put her forefinger to her forehead, as if trying to recollect
something.

"Yes, now somebody did tell me that," she said. "Major Flint, I believe.
But when you asked for news I thought you meant something that really
interested me. Yes, Padre?"

"Aweel, if he comes to service on Sunday----?"

"Dear Padre, I'm sure he'll hear a very good sermon. Oh, I see what you
mean! Whether you ought to have any special hymn? Don't ask poor little
me! Mrs. Poppit, I'm sure, would tell you. She knows all about courts
and etiquette."

Diva popped out of the stationer's at this moment.

"Sold out," she announced. "Everybody wanted time-tables this morning.
Evie got the last. Have to go to the station."

"I'll walk with you, Diva, dear," said Miss Mapp. "There's a parcel
that---- Good-bye, dear Evie, au reservoir."

She kissed her hand to Mrs. Bartlett, leaving a smile behind it, as it
fluttered away from her face, for the Padre.

Miss Mapp was so impenetrably wrapped in thought as she worked among her
sweet flowers that afternoon, that she merely stared at a
"love-in-a-mist," which she had absently rooted up instead of a piece of
groundsel, without any bleeding of the heart for one of her sweet
flowers. There were two trains by which He might arrive--one at 4.15,
which would get him to Ardingly for tea, the other at 6.45. She was
quite determined to see him, but more inflexible than that resolve was
the Euclidean postulate that no one in Tilling should think that she had
taken any deliberate step to do so. For the present she had disarmed
suspicion by the blankness of her indifference as to what might happen
on Saturday or Sunday; but she herself strongly suspected that everybody
else, in spite of the public attitude of Tilling to such subjects, was
determined to see him too. How to see and not be seen was the question
which engrossed her, and though she might possibly happen to be at that
sharp corner outside the station where every motor had to go slow, on
the arrival of the 4.15, it would never do to risk being seen there
again precisely at 6.45. Mrs. Poppit, shameless in her snobbery, would
no doubt be at the station with her Order on at both these hours, if the
arrival did not take place by the first train, and Isabel would be
prancing by or behind her, and, in fact, dreadful though it was to
contemplate, all Tilling, she reluctantly believed, would be hanging
about.... Then an idea struck her, so glorious, that she put the
uprooted love-in-a-mist in the weed-basket, instead of planting it
again, and went quickly indoors, up to the attics, and from there
popped--really popped, so tight was the fit--through a trap-door on to
the roof. Yes: the station was plainly visible, and if the 4.15 was the
favoured train, there would certainly be a motor from Ardingly Park
waiting there in good time for its arrival. From the house-roof she
could ascertain that, and she would then have time to trip down the hill
and get to her coal merchant's at that sharp corner outside the station,
and ask, rather peremptorily, when the coke for her central heating
might be expected. It was due now, and though it would be unfortunate if
it arrived before Saturday, it was quite easy to smile away her
peremptory manner, and say that Withers had not told her. Miss Mapp
hated prevarication, but a major force sometimes came along.... But if
no motors from Ardingly Park were in waiting for the 4.15 (as spied from
her house-roof), she need not risk being seen in the neighbourhood of
the station, but would again make observations some few minutes before
the 6.45 was due. There was positively no other train by which He could
come....

The next day or two saw no traceable developments in the situation, but
Miss Mapp's trained sense told her that there was underground work of
some kind going on: she seemed to hear faint hollow taps and muffled
knockings, and, so to speak, the silence of some unusual pregnancy. Up
and down the High Street she observed short whispered conversations
going on between her friends, which broke off on her approach. This only
confirmed her view that these secret colloquies were connected with
Saturday afternoon, for it was not to be expected that, after her
freezing reception of the news, any projected snobbishness should be
confided to her, and though she would have liked to know what Diva and
Irene and darling Evie were meaning to do, the fact that they none of
them told her, showed that they were aware that she, at any rate, was
utterly indifferent to and above that sort of thing. She suspected, too,
that Major Flint had fallen victim to this unTilling-like mania, for on
Friday afternoon, when passing his door, which happened to be standing
open, she quite distinctly saw him in front of his glass in the hall
(standing on the head of one of the tigers to secure a better view of
himself), trying on a silk top-hat. Her own errand at this moment was to
the draper's, where she bought a quantity of pretty pale blue braid, for
a little domestic dress-making which was in arrears, and some riband of
the same tint. At this clever and unusual hour for shopping, the High
Street was naturally empty, and after a little hesitation and many
anxious glances to right and left, she plunged into the toy-shop and
bought a pleasant little Union Jack with a short stick attached to it.
She told Mr. Dabnet very distinctly that it was a present for her
nephew, and concealed it inside her parasol, where it lay quite flat and
made no perceptible bulge....

At four o'clock on Saturday afternoon, she remembered that the damp had
come in through her bedroom ceiling in a storm last winter, and told
Withers she was going to have a look to see if any tiles were loose. In
order to ascertain this for certain, she took up through the trap door a
pair of binocular glasses, through which it was also easy to identify
anybody who might be in the open yard outside the station. Even as she
looked, Mrs. Poppit and Isabel crossed the yard into the waiting-room
and ticket-office. It was a little surprising that there were not more
friends in the station-yard, but at the moment she heard a loud Qui-hi
in the street below, and cautiously peering over the parapet, she got an
admirable view of the Major in a frock-coat and tall hat. A "Coo-ee"
answered him, and Captain Puffin, in a new suit (Miss Mapp was certain
of it) and a Panama hat, joined him. They went down the street and
turned the corner.... Across the opening to the High Street there shot
the figure of darling Diva.

While waiting for them to appear again in the station-yard, Miss Mapp
looked to see what vehicles were standing there. It was already ten
minutes past four, and the Ardingly motors must have been there by this
time, if there was anything "doing" by the 4.15. But positively the only
vehicle there was an open trolly laden with a piano in a sack. Apart
from knowing all about that piano, for Mrs. Poppit had talked about
little else than her new upright Bluthner before her visit to Buckingham
Palace, a moment's reflection convinced Miss Mapp that this was a very
unlikely mode of conveyance for any guest.... She watched for a few
moments more, but as no other friends appeared in the station-yard, she
concluded that they were hanging about the street somewhere, poor
things, and decided not to make inquiries about her coke just yet.

She had tea while she arranged flowers, in the very front of the window
in her garden-room, and presently had the satisfaction of seeing many of
the baffled loyalists trudging home. There was no need to do more than
smile and tap the window and kiss her hand: they all knew that she had
been busy with her flowers, and that she knew what they had been busy
about.... Out again they all came towards half-past six, and when she
had watched the last of them down the hill, she hurried back to the
roof again, to make a final inspection of the loose tiles through her
binoculars. Brief but exciting was that inspection, for opposite the
entrance to the station was drawn up a motor. So clear was the air and
so serviceable her binoculars that she could distinguish the vulgar
coronet on the panels, and as she looked Mrs. Poppit and Isabel hurried
across the station-yard. It was then but the work of a moment to slip on
the dust-cloak trimmed with blue braid, adjust the hat with the blue
riband, and take up the parasol with its furled Union Jack inside it.
The stick of the flag was uppermost; she could whip it out in a moment.

       *       *       *       *       *

Miss Mapp had calculated her appearance to a nicety. Just as she got to
the sharp corner opposite the station, where all cars slowed down and
her coal-merchant's office was situated, the train drew up. By the gates
into the yard were standing the Major in his top-hat, the Captain in his
Panama, Irene in a civilized skirt; Diva in a brand-new walking dress,
and the Padre and wee wifey. They were all looking in the direction of
the station, and Miss Mapp stepped into the coal-merchant's unobserved.
Oddly enough the coke had been sent three days before, and there was no
need for peremptoriness.

"So good of you, Mr. Wootten!" she said; "and why is everyone standing
about this afternoon?"

Mr. Wootten explained the reason of this, and Miss Mapp, grasping her
parasol, went out again as the car left the station. There were too many
dear friends about, she decided, to use the Union Jack, and having seen
what she wanted to she determined to slip quietly away again. Already
the Major's hat was in his hand, and he was bowing low, so too were
Captain Puffin and the Padre, while Irene, Diva and Evie were making
little ducking movements.... Miss Mapp was determined, when it came to
her turn, to show them, as she happened to be on the spot, what a proper
curtsy was.

The car came opposite her, and she curtsied so low that recovery was
impossible, and she sat down in the road. Her parasol flew out of her
hand and out of her parasol flew the Union Jack. She saw a young man
looking out of the window, dressed in khaki, grinning broadly, but not,
so she thought, graciously, and it suddenly struck her that there was
something, beside her own part in the affair, which was not as it should
be. As he put his head in again there was loud laughter from the inside
of the car.

Mr. Wootten helped her up and the entire assembly of her friends crowded
round her, hoping she was not hurt.

"No, dear Major, dear Padre, not at all, thanks," she said. "So stupid:
my ancle turned. Oh, yes, the Union Jack I bought for my nephew, it's
his birthday to-morrow. Thank you. I just came to see about my coke: of
course I thought the Prince had arrived when you all went down to meet
the 4.15. Fancy my running straight into it all! How well he looked."

This was all rather lame, and Miss Mapp hailed Mrs. Poppit's appearance
from the station as a welcome diversion.... Mrs. Poppit was looking
vexed.

"I hope you saw him well, Mrs. Poppit," said Miss Mapp, "after meeting
two trains, and taking all that trouble."

"Saw who?" said Mrs. Poppit with a deplorable lack both of manner and
grammar. "Why"--light seemed to break on her odious countenance. "Why,
you don't think that was the Prince, do you, Miss Mapp? He arrived here
at one, so the station-master has just told me, and has been playing
golf all afternoon."

The Major looked at the Captain, and the Captain at the Major. It was
months and months since they had missed their Saturday afternoon's golf.

"It was the Prince of Wales who looked out of that car-window," said
Miss Mapp firmly. "Such a pleasant smile. I should know it anywhere."

"The young man who got into the car at the station was no more the
Prince of Wales than you are," said Mrs. Poppit shrilly. "I was close to
him as he came out: I curtsied to him before I saw."

Miss Mapp instantly changed her attack: she could hardly hold her smile
on to her face for rage.

"How very awkward for you," she said. "What a laugh they will all have
over it this evening! Delicious!"

Mrs. Poppit's face suddenly took on an expression of the tenderest
solicitude.

"I hope, Miss Mapp, you didn't jar yourself when you sat down in the
road just now," she said.

"Not at all, thank you so much," said Miss Mapp, hearing her heart beat
in her throat.... If she had had a naval fifteen-inch gun handy, and had
known how to fire it, she would, with a sense of duty accomplished, have
discharged it point-blank at the Order of the Member of the British
Empire, and at anybody else who might be within range....

       *       *       *       *       *

Sunday, of course, with all the opportunities of that day, still
remained, and the seats of the auxiliary choir, which were
advantageously situated, had never been so full, but as it was all no
use, the Major and Captain Puffin left during the sermon to catch the
12.20 tram out to the links. On this delightful day it was but natural
that the pleasant walk there across the marsh was very popular, and
golfers that afternoon had a very trying and nervous time, for the
ladies of Tilling kept bobbing up from behind sand-dunes and bunkers,
as, regardless of the players, they executed swift flank marches in all
directions. Miss Mapp returned exhausted about tea-time to hear from
Withers that the Prince had spent an hour or more rambling about the
town, and had stopped quite five minutes at the corner by the
garden-room. He had actually sat down on Miss Mapp's steps and smoked a
cigarette. She wondered if the end of the cigarette was there still: it
was hateful to have cigarette-ends defiling the steps to her front-door,
and often before now, when sketchers were numerous, she had sent her
housemaid out to remove these untidy relics. She searched for it, but
was obliged to come to the reluctant conclusion that there was nothing
to remove....



CHAPTER III


Diva was sitting at the open drawing-room window of her house in the
High Street, cutting with a pair of sharp nail scissors into the old
chintz curtains which her maid had told her no longer "paid for the
mending." So, since they refused to pay for their mending any more, she
was preparing to make them pay, pretty smartly too, in other ways. The
pattern was of little bunches of pink roses peeping out through trellis
work, and it was these which she had just begun to cut out. Though
Tilling was noted for the ingenuity with which its more fashionable
ladies devised novel and quaint effects in their dress in an economical
manner, Diva felt sure, ransack her memory though she might, that nobody
had thought of _this_ before.

The hot weather had continued late into September and showed no signs
of breaking yet, and it would be agreeable to her and acutely painful to
others that just at the end of the summer she should appear in a
perfectly new costume, before the days of jumpers and heavy skirts and
large woollen scarves came in. She was preparing, therefore, to take the
light white jacket which she wore over her blouse, and cover the broad
collar and cuffs of it with these pretty roses. The belt of the skirt
would be similarly decorated, and so would the edge of it, if there were
enough clean ones. The jacket and skirt had already gone to the dyer's,
and would be back in a day or two, white no longer, but of a rich purple
hue, and by that time she would have hundreds of these little pink roses
ready to be tacked on. Perhaps a piece of the chintz, trellis and all,
could be sewn over the belt, but she was determined to have single
little bunches of roses peppered all over the collar and cuffs of the
jacket and, if possible, round the edge of the skirt. She had already
tried the effect, and was of the opinion that nobody could possibly
guess what the origin of these roses was. When carefully sewn on they
looked as if they were a design in the stuff.

She let the circumcised roses fall on to the window-seat, and from time
to time, when they grew numerous, swept them into a cardboard box.
Though she worked with zealous diligence, she had an eye to the
movements in the street outside, for it was shopping-hour, and there
were many observations to be made. She had not anything like Miss Mapp's
genius for conjecture, but her memory was appallingly good, and this was
the third morning running on which Elizabeth had gone into the grocer's.
It was odd to go to your grocer's every day like that; groceries twice a
week was sufficient for most people. From here on the floor above the
street she could easily look into Elizabeth's basket, and she certainly
was carrying nothing away with her from the grocer's, for the only thing
there was a small bottle done up in white paper with sealing wax, which,
Diva had no need to be told, certainly came from the chemist's, and was
no doubt connected with too many plums.

Miss Mapp crossed the street to the pavement below Diva's house, and
precisely as she reached it, Diva's maid opened the door into the
drawing-room, bringing in the second post, or rather not bringing in the
second post, but the announcement that there wasn't any second post.
This opening of the door caused a draught, and the bunches of roses
which littered the window-seat rose brightly in the air. Diva managed to
beat most of them down again, but two fluttered out of the window.
Precisely then, and at no other time, Miss Mapp looked up, and one
settled on her face, the other fell into her basket. Her trained
faculties were all on the alert, and she thrust them both inside her
glove for future consideration, without stopping to examine them just
then. She only knew that they were little pink roses, and that they had
fluttered out of Diva's window....

She paused on the pavement, and remembered that Diva had not yet
expressed regret about the worsted, and that she still "popped" as much
as ever. Thus Diva deserved a punishment of some sort, and happily, at
that very moment she thought of a subject on which she might be able to
make her uncomfortable. The street was full, and it would be pretty to
call up to her, instead of ringing her bell, in order to save trouble to
poor overworked Janet. (Diva only kept two servants, though of course
poverty was no crime.)

"Diva darling!" she cooed.

Diva's head looked out like a cuckoo in a clock preparing to chime the
hour.

"Hullo!" she said. "Want me?"

"May I pop up for a moment, dear?" said Miss Mapp. "That's to say if
you're not very busy."

"Pop away," said Diva. She was quite aware that Miss Mapp said "pop" in
crude inverted commas, so to speak, for purposes of mockery, and so she
said it herself more than ever. "I'll tell my maid to pop down and open
the door."

While this was being done, Diva bundled her chintz curtains together and
stored them and the roses she had cut out into her work-cupboard, for
secrecy was an essential to the construction of these decorations. But
in order to appear naturally employed, she pulled out the woollen scarf
she was knitting for the autumn and winter, forgetting for the moment
that the rose-madder stripe at the end on which she was now engaged was
made of that fatal worsted which Miss Mapp considered to have been
feloniously appropriated. That was the sort of thing Miss Mapp never
forgot. Even among her sweet flowers. Her eye fell on it the moment she
entered the room, and she tucked the two chintz roses more securely into
her glove.

"I thought I would just pop across from the grocer's," she said. "What a
pretty scarf, dear! That's a lovely shade of rose-madder. Where can I
have seen something like it before?"

This was clearly ironical, and had best be answered by irony. Diva was
no coward.

"Couldn't say, I'm sure," she said.

Miss Mapp appeared to recollect, and smiled as far back as her
wisdom-teeth. (Diva couldn't do that.)

"I have it," she said. "It was the wool I ordered at Heynes's, and then
he sold it you, and I couldn't get any more."

"So it was," said Diva. "Upset you a bit. There was the wool in the
shop. I bought it."

"Yes, dear; I see you did. But that wasn't what I popped in about. This
coal-strike, you know."

"Got a cellar full," said Diva.

"Diva, you've not been hoarding, have you?" asked Miss Mapp with great
anxiety. "They can take away every atom of coal you've got, if so, and
fine you I don't know what for every hundredweight of it."

"Pooh!" said Diva, rather forcing the indifference of this rude
interjection.

"Yes, love, pooh by all means, if you like poohing!" said Miss Mapp.
"But I should have felt very unfriendly if one morning I found you were
fined--found you were fined--quite a play upon words--and I hadn't
warned you."

Diva felt a little less poohish.

"But how much do they allow you to have?" she asked.

"Oh, quite a little: enough to go on with. But I daresay they won't
discover you. I just took the trouble to come and warn you."

Diva did remember something about hoarding; there had surely been
dreadful exposures of prudent housekeepers in the papers which were very
uncomfortable reading.

"But all these orders were only for the period of the war," she said.

"No doubt you're right, dear," said Miss Mapp brightly. "I'm sure I hope
you are. Only if the coal strike comes on, I think you'll find that the
regulations against hoarding are quite as severe as they ever were. Food
hoarding, too. Twemlow--such a civil man--tells me that he thinks we
shall have plenty of food, or anyhow sufficient for everybody for quite
a long time, provided that there's no hoarding. Not been hoarding food,
too, dear Diva? You naughty thing: I believe that great cupboard is full
of sardines and biscuits and bovril."

"Nothing of the kind," said Diva indignantly. "You shall see for
yourself"--and then she suddenly remembered that the cupboard was full
of chintz curtains and little bunches of pink roses, neatly cut out of
them, and a pair of nail scissors.

There was a perfectly perceptible pause, during which Miss Mapp noticed
that there were no curtains over the window. There certainly used to be,
and they matched with the chintz cover of the window seat, which was
decorated with little bunches of pink roses peeping through trellis.
This was in the nature of a bonus: she had not up till then connected
the chintz curtains with the little things that had fluttered down upon
her and were now safe in her glove; her only real object in this call
had been to instil a general uneasiness into Diva's mind about the coal
strike and the danger of being well provided with fuel. That she humbly
hoped that she had accomplished. She got up.

"Must be going," she said. "Such a lovely little chat! But what has
happened to your pretty curtains?"

"Gone to the wash," said Diva firmly.

"Liar," thought Miss Mapp, as she tripped downstairs. "Diva would have
sent the cover of the window-seat too, if that was the case. Liar," she
thought again as she kissed her hand to Diva, who was looking gloomily
out of the window.

       *       *       *       *       *

As soon as Miss Mapp had gained her garden-room, she examined the
mysterious treasures in her left-hand glove. Without the smallest doubt
Diva had taken down her curtains (and high time too, for they were sadly
shabby), and was cutting the roses out of them. But what on earth was
she doing that for? For what garish purpose could she want to use
bunches of roses cut out of chintz curtains?

Miss Mapp had put the two specimens of which she had providentially
become possessed in her lap, and they looked very pretty against the
navy-blue of her skirt. Diva was very ingenious: she used up all sorts
of odds and ends in a way that did credit to her undoubtedly
parsimonious qualities. She could trim a hat with a tooth-brush and a
banana in such a way that it looked quite Parisian till you firmly
analysed its component parts, and most of her ingenuity was devoted to
dress: the more was the pity that she had such a roundabout figure that
her waistband always reminded you of the equator....

"Eureka!" said Miss Mapp aloud, and, though the telephone bell was
ringing, and the postulant might be one of the servants' friends ringing
them up at an hour when their mistress was usually in the High Street,
she glided swiftly to the large cupboard underneath the stairs which was
full of the things which no right-minded person could bear to throw
away: broken basket-chairs, pieces of brown paper, cardboard boxes
without lids, and cardboard lids without boxes, old bags with holes in
them, keys without locks and locks without keys and worn chintz covers.
There was one--it had once adorned the sofa in the garden-room--covered
with red poppies (very easy to cut out), and Miss Mapp dragged it
dustily from its corner, setting in motion a perfect cascade of
cardboard lids and some door-handles.

Withers had answered the telephone, and came to announce that Twemlow
the grocer regretted he had only two large tins of corned beef, but----

"Then say I will have the tongue as well, Withers," said Miss Mapp.
"Just a tongue--and then I shall want you and Mary to do some cutting
out for me."

The three went to work with feverish energy, for Diva had got a start,
and by four o'clock that afternoon there were enough poppies cut out to
furnish, when in seed, a whole street of opium dens. The dress selected
for decoration was, apart from a few mildew-spots, the colour of ripe
corn, which was superbly appropriate for September. "Poppies in the
corn," said Miss Mapp over and over to herself, remembering some sweet
verses she had once read by Bernard Shaw or Clement Shorter or somebody
like that about a garden of sleep somewhere in Norfolk....

"No one can work as neatly as you, Withers," she said gaily, "and I
shall ask you to do the most difficult part. I want you to sew my lovely
poppies over the collar and facings of the jacket, just spacing them a
little and making a dainty irregularity. And then Mary--won't you,
Mary?--will do the same with the waistband while I put a border of them
round the skirt, and my dear old dress will look quite new and lovely. I
shall be at home to nobody, Withers, this afternoon, even if the Prince
of Wales came and sat on my doorstep again. We'll all work together in
the garden, shall we, and you and Mary must scold me if you think I'm
not working hard enough. It will be delicious in the garden."

Thanks to this pleasant plan, there was not much opportunity for Withers
and Mary to be idle....

       *       *       *       *       *

Just about the time that this harmonious party began their work, a far
from harmonious couple were being just as industrious in the grand
spacious bunker in front of the tee to the last hole on the golf links.
It was a beautiful bunker, consisting of a great slope of loose, steep
sand against the face of the hill, and solidly shored up with timber.
The Navy had been in better form to-day, and after a decisive victory
over the Army in the morning and an indemnity of half-a-crown, its match
in the afternoon, with just the last hole to play, was all square. So
Captain Puffin, having the honour, hit a low, nervous drive that tapped
loudly at the timbered wall of the bunker, and cuddled down below it,
well protected from any future assault.

"Phew! That about settles it," said Major Flint boisterously. "Bad place
to top a ball! Give me the hole?"

This insolent question needed no answer, and Major Flint drove, skying
the ball to a prodigious height. But it had to come to earth sometime,
and it fell like Lucifer, son of the morning, in the middle of the same
bunker.... So the Army played three more, and, sweating profusely, got
out. Then it was the Navy's turn, and the Navy had to lie on its keel
above the boards of the bunker, in order to reach its ball at all, and
missed it twice.

"Better give it up, old chap," said Major Flint. "Unplayable."

"Then see me play it," said Captain Puffin, with a chewing motion of his
jaws.

"We shall miss the tram," said the Major, and, with the intention of
giving annoyance, he sat down in the bunker with his back to Captain
Puffin, and lit a cigarette. At his third attempt nothing happened; at
the fourth the ball flew against the boards, rebounded briskly again
into the bunker, trickled down the steep, sandy slope and hit the
Major's boot.

"Hit you, I think," said Captain Puffin. "Ha! So it's my hole, Major!"

Major Flint had a short fit of aphasia. He opened and shut his mouth and
foamed. Then he took a half-crown from his pocket.

"Give that to the Captain," he said to his caddie, and without looking
round, walked away in the direction of the tram. He had not gone a
hundred yards when the whistle sounded, and it puffed away homewards
with ever-increasing velocity.

       *       *       *       *       *

Weak and trembling from passion, Major Flint found that after a few
tottering steps in the direction of Tilling he would be totally unable
to get there unless fortified by some strong stimulant, and turned back
to the Club-house to obtain it. He always went dead-lame when beaten at
golf, while Captain Puffin was lame in any circumstances, and the two,
no longer on speaking terms, hobbled into the Club-house, one after the
other, each unconscious of the other's presence. Summoning his last
remaining strength Major Flint roared for whisky, and was told that,
according to regulation, he could not be served until six. There was
lemonade and stone ginger-beer.... You might as well have offered a
man-eating tiger bread and milk. Even the threat that he would instantly
resign his membership unless provided with drink produced no effect on a
polite steward, and he sat down to recover as best he might with an old
volume of _Punch_. This seemed to do him little good. His forced
abstemiousness was rendered the more intolerable by the fact that
Captain Puffin, hobbling in immediately afterwards, fetched from his
locker a large flask full of the required elixir, and proceeded to mix
himself a long, strong tumblerful. After the Major's rudeness in the
matter of the half-crown, it was impossible for any sailor of spirit to
take the first step towards reconciliation.

Thirst is a great leveller. By the time the refreshed Puffin had
penetrated half-way down his glass, the Major found it impossible to be
proud and proper any longer. He hated saying he was sorry (no man more)
and wouldn't have been sorry if he had been able to get a drink. He
twirled his moustache a great many times and cleared his throat--it
wanted more than that to clear it--and capitulated.

"Upon my word, Puffin, I'm ashamed of myself for--ha!--for not taking my
defeat better," he said. "A man's no business to let a game ruffle him."

Puffin gave his alto cackling laugh.

"Oh, that's all right, Major," he said. "I know it's awfully hard to
lose like a gentleman."

He let this sink in, then added:

"Have a drink, old chap?"

Major Flint flew to his feet.

"Well, thank ye, thank ye," he said. "Now where's that soda water you
offered me just now?" he shouted to the steward.

The speed and completeness of the reconciliation was in no way
remarkable, for when two men quarrel whenever they meet, it follows that
they make it up again with corresponding frequency, else there could be
no fresh quarrels at all. This one had been a shade more acute than
most, and the drop into amity again was a shade more precipitous.

Major Flint in his eagerness had put most of his moustache into the
life-giving tumbler, and dried it on his handkerchief.

"After all, it was a most amusing incident," he said. "There was I with
my back turned, waiting for you to give it up, when your bl--wretched
little ball hit my foot. I must remember that. I'll serve you with the
same spoon some day, at least I would if I thought it sportsmanlike.
Well, well, enough said. Astonishing good whisky, that of yours."

Captain Puffin helped himself to rather more than half of what now
remained in the flask.

"Help yourself, Major," he said.

"Well, thank ye, I don't mind if I do," he said, reversing the flask
over the tumbler. "There's a good tramp in front of us now that the last
tram has gone. Tram and tramp! Upon my word, I've half a mind to
telephone for a taxi."

This, of course, was a direct hint. Puffin ought clearly to pay for a
taxi, having won two half-crowns to-day. This casual drink did not
constitute the usual drink stood by the winner, and paid for with cash
over the counter. A drink (or two) from a flask was not the same
thing.... Puffin naturally saw it in another light. He had paid for the
whisky which Major Flint had drunk (or owed for it) in his
wine-merchant's bill. That was money just as much as a florin pushed
across the counter. But he was so excessively pleased with himself over
the adroitness with which he had claimed the last hole, that he quite
overstepped the bounds of his habitual parsimony.

"Well, you trot along to the telephone and order a taxi," he said, "and
I'll pay for it."

"Done with you," said the other.

Their comradeship was now on its most felicitous level again, and they
sat on the bench outside the club-house till the arrival of their
unusual conveyance.

"Lunching at the Poppits' to-morrow?" asked Major Flint.

"Yes. Meet you there? Good. Bridge afterwards, suppose."

"Sure to be. Wish there was a chance of more red-currant fool. That was
a decent tipple, all but the red-currants. If I had had all the old
brandy that was served for my ration in one glass, and all the champagne
in another, I should have been better content."

Captain Puffin was a great cynic in his own misogynistic way.

"Camouflage for the fair sex," he said. "A woman will lick up half a
bottle of brandy if it's called plum-pudding, and ask for more, whereas
if you offered her a small brandy and soda, she would think you were
insulting her."

"Bless them, the funny little fairies," said the Major.

"Well, what I tell you is true, Major," said Puffin. "There's old Mapp.
Teetotaller she calls herself, but she played a bo'sun's part in that
red-currant fool. Bit rosy, I thought her, as we escorted her home."

"So she was," said the Major. "So she was. Said good-bye to us on her
doorstep as if she thought she was a perfect Venus Ana--Ana something."

"Anno Domini," giggled Puffin.

"Well, well, we all get long in the tooth in time," said Major Flint
charitably. "Fine figure of a woman, though."

"Eh?" said Puffin archly.

"Now none of your sailor-talk ashore, Captain," said the Major, in high
good humour. "I'm not a marrying man any more than you are. Better if I
had been perhaps, more years ago than I care to think about. Dear me,
my wound's going to trouble me to-night."

"What do you do for it, Major?" asked Puffin.

"Do for it? Think of old times a bit over my diaries."

"Going to let the world have a look at them some day?" asked Puffin.

"No, sir, I am not," said Major Flint. "Perhaps a hundred years
hence--the date I have named in my will for their publication--someone
may think them not so uninteresting. But all this toasting and buttering
and grilling and frying your friends, and serving them up hot for all
the old cats at a tea-table to mew over--Pah!"

Puffin was silent a moment in appreciation of these noble sentiments.

"But you put in a lot of work over them," he said at length. "Often when
I'm going up to bed, I see the light still burning in your sitting-room
window."

"And if it comes to that," rejoined the Major, "I'm sure I've often
dozed off when I'm in bed and woken again, and pulled up my blind, and
what not, and there's your light still burning. Powerful long roads
those old Romans must have made, Captain."

The ice was not broken, but it was cracking in all directions under this
unexampled thaw. The two had clearly indicated a mutual suspicion of
each other's industrious habits after dinner.... They had never got
quite so far as this before: some quarrel had congealed the surface
again. But now, with a desperate disagreement just behind them, and the
unusual luxury of a taxi just in front, the vernal airs continued
blowing in the most springlike manner.

"Yes, that's true enough," said Puffin. "Long roads they were, and dry
roads at that, and if I stuck to them from after my supper every
evening till midnight or more, should be smothered in dust."

"Unless you washed the dust down just once in a while," said Major
Flint.

"Just so. Brain-work's an exhausting process; requires a little
stimulant now and again," said Puffin. "I sit in my chair, you
understand, and perhaps doze for a bit after my supper, and then I'll
get my maps out, and have them handy beside me. And then, if there's
something interesting the evening paper, perhaps I'll have a look at it,
and bless me, if by that time it isn't already half-past ten or eleven,
and it seems useless to tackle archæology then. And I just--just while
away the time till I'm sleepy. But there seems to be a sort of legend
among the ladies here, that I'm a great student of local topography and
Roman roads, and all sorts of truck, and I find it better to leave it at
that. Tiresome to go into long explanations. In fact," added Puffin in a
burst of confidence, "the study I've done on Roman roads these last six
months wouldn't cover a threepenny piece."

Major Flint gave a loud, choking guffaw and beat his fat leg.

"Well, if that's not the best joke I've heard for many a long day," he
said. "There I've been in the house opposite you these last two years,
seeing your light burning late night after night, and thinking to
myself, 'There's my friend Puffin still at it! Fine thing to be an
enthusiastic archæologist like that. That makes short work of a lonely
evening for him if he's so buried in his books or his maps--Mapps, ha!
ha!--that he doesn't seem to notice whether it's twelve o'clock or one
or two, maybe!' And all the time you've been sitting snoozing and
boozing in your chair, with your glass handy to wash the dust down."

Puffin added his falsetto cackle to this merriment.

"And, often I've thought to myself," he said, "'There's my friend the
Major in his study opposite, with all his diaries round him, making a
note here, and copying an extract there, and conferring with the Viceroy
one day, and reprimanding the Maharajah of Bom-be-boo another. He's
spending the evening on India's coral strand, he is, having tiffin and
shooting tigers and Gawd knows what--'"

The Major's laughter boomed out again.

"And I never kept a diary in my life!" he cried. "Why there's enough
cream in this situation to make a dishful of meringues. You and I, you
know, the students of Tilling! The serious-minded students who do a hard
day's work when all the pretty ladies have gone to bed. Often and often
has old--I mean has that fine woman, Miss Mapp, told me that I work too
hard at night! Recommended me to get earlier to bed, and do my work
between six and eight in the morning! Six and eight in the morning!
That's a queer time of day to recommend an old campaigner to be awake
at! Often she's talked to you, too, I bet my hat, about sitting up late
and exhausting the nervous faculties."

Major Flint choked and laughed and inhaled tobacco smoke till he got
purple in the face.

"And you sitting up one side of the street," he gasped, "pretending to
be interested in Roman roads, and me on the other pulling a long face
over my diaries, and neither of us with a Roman road or a diary to our
names. Let's have an end to such unsociable arrangements, old friend;
you bring your Roman roads and the bottle to lay the dust over to me one
night, and I'll bring my diaries and my peg over to you the next. Never
drink alone--one of my maxims in life--if you can find someone to drink
with you. And there were you within a few yards of me all the time
sitting by your old solitary self, and there was I sitting by my old
solitary self, and we each thought the other a serious-minded old
buffer, busy on his life-work. I'm blessed if I heard of two such
pompous old frauds as you and I, Captain! What a sight of hypocrisy
there is in the world, to be sure! No offence--mind: I'm as bad as you,
and you're as bad as me, and we're both as bad as each other. But no
more solitary confinement of an evening for Benjamin Flint, as long as
you're agreeable."

The advent of the taxi was announced, and arm in arm they limped down
the steep path together to the road. A little way off to the left was
the great bunker which, primarily, was the cause of their present amity.
As they drove by it, the Major waggled his red hand at it.

"Au reservoir," he said. "Back again soon!"

       *       *       *       *       *

It was late that night when Miss Mapp felt that she was physically
incapable of tacking on a single poppy more to the edge of her skirt,
and went to the window of the garden-room where she had been working, to
close it. She glanced up at the top story of her own house, and saw that
the lights in the servants' rooms were out: she glanced to the right and
concluded that her gardener had gone to bed: finally, she glanced down
the street and saw with a pang of pleasure that the windows of the
Major's house showed no sign of midnight labour. This was intensely
gratifying: it indicated that her influence was at work in him, for in
response to her wish, so often and so tactfully urged on him, that he
would go to bed earlier and not work so hard at night, here was the
darkened window, and she dismissed as unworthy the suspicion which had
been aroused by the red-currant fool. The window of his bedroom was
dark too: he must have already put out his light, and Miss Mapp made
haste over her little tidyings so that she might not be found a
transgressor to her own precepts. But there was a light in Captain
Puffin's house: he had a less impressionable nature than the Major and
was in so many ways far inferior. And did he really find Roman roads so
wonderfully exhilarating? Miss Mapp sincerely hoped that he did, and
that it was nothing else of less pure and innocent allurement that kept
him up.... As she closed the window very gently, it did just seem to her
that there had been something equally baffling in Major Flint's
egoistical vigils over his diaries; that she had wondered whether there
was not something else (she had hardly formulated what) which kept his
lights burning so late. But she would now cross him--dear man--and his
late habits, out of the list of riddles about Tilling which awaited
solution. Whatever it had been (diaries or what not) that used to keep
him up, he had broken the habit now, whereas Captain Puffin had not. She
took her poppy-bordered skirt over her arm, and smiled her thankful way
to bed. She could allow herself to wonder with a little more
definiteness, now that the Major's lights were out and he was abed, what
it could be which rendered Captain Puffin so oblivious to the passage of
time, when he was investigating Roman roads. How glad she was that the
Major was not with him.... "Benjamin Flint!" she said to herself as,
having put her window open, she trod softly (so as not to disturb the
slumberer next door) across her room on her fat white feet to her big
white bed. "Good-night, Major Benjy," she whispered, as she put her
light out.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was not to be supposed that Diva would act on Miss Mapp's alarming
hints that morning as to the fate of coal-hoarders, and give, say, a
ton of fuel to the hospital at once, in lieu of her usual smaller
Christmas contribution, without making further inquiries in the proper
quarters as to the legal liabilities of having, so she ascertained,
three tons in her cellar, and as soon as her visitor had left her this
morning, she popped out to see Mr. Wootten, her coal-merchant. She
returned in a state of fury, for there were no regulations whatever in
existence with regard to the amount of coal that any householder might
choose to amass, and Mr. Wootten complimented her on her prudence in
having got in a reasonable supply, for he thought it quite probable
that, if the coal strike took place, there would be some difficulty in
month's time from now in replenishing cellars. "But we've had a good
supply all the summer," added agreeable Mr. Wootten, "and all my
customers have got their cellars well stocked."

Diva rapidly recollected that the perfidious Elizabeth was among them.

"O but, Mr. Wootten," she said, "Miss Mapp popped--dropped in to see me
just now. Told me she had hardly got any."

Mr. Wootten turned up his ledger. It was not etiquette to disclose the
affairs of one client to another, but if there was a cantankerous
customer, one who was never satisfied with prices and quality, that
client was Miss Mapp.... He allowed a broad grin to overspread his
agreeable face.

"Well, ma'am, if in a month's time I'm short of coal, there are friends
of yours in Tilling who can let you have plenty," he permitted himself
to say....

It was idle to attempt to cut out bunches of roses while her hand was so
feverish, and she trundled up and down the High Street to cool off. Had
she not been so prudent as to make inquiries, as likely as not she would
have sent a ton of coal that very day to the hospital, so strongly had
Elizabeth's perfidious warning inflamed her imagination as to the fate
of hoarders, and all the time Elizabeth's own cellars were glutted,
though she had asserted that she was almost fuelless. Why, she must have
in her possession more coal than Diva herself, since Mr. Wootten had
clearly implied that it was Elizabeth who could be borrowed from! And
all because of a wretched piece of rose-madder worsted....

By degrees she calmed down, for it was no use attempting to plan revenge
with a brain at fever-heat. She must be calm and icily ingenious. As the
cooling-process went on she began to wonder whether it was worsted alone
that had prompted her friend's diabolical suggestion. It seemed more
likely that another motive (one strangely Elizabethan) was the cause of
it. Elizabeth might be taken for certain as being a coal-hoarder
herself, and it was ever so like her to divert suspicion by pretending
her cellar was next to empty. She had been equally severe on any who
might happen to be hoarding food, in case transport was disarranged and
supplies fell short, and with a sudden flare of authentic intuition,
Diva's mind blazed with the conjecture that Elizabeth was hoarding food
as well.

Luck ever attends the bold and constructive thinker: the apple, for
instance, fell from the tree precisely when Newton's mind was groping
after the law of gravity, and as Diva stepped into her grocer's to begin
her morning's shopping (for she had been occupied with roses ever since
breakfast) the attendant was at the telephone at the back of the shop.
He spoke in a lucid telephone-voice.

"We've only two of the big tins of corned beef," he said; and there was
a pause, during which, to a psychic, Diva's ears might have seemed to
grow as pointed with attention as a satyr's. But she could only hear
little hollow quacks from the other end.

"Tongue as well. Very good. I'll send them up at once," he added, and
came forward into the shop.

"Good morning," said Diva. Her voice was tremulous with anxiety and
investigation. "Got any big tins of corned beef? The ones that contain
six pounds."

"Very sorry, ma'am. We've only got two, and they've just been ordered."

"A small pot of ginger then, please," said Diva recklessly. "Will you
send it round immediately?"

"Yes, ma'am. The boy's just going out."

That was luck. Diva hurried into the street, and was absorbed by the
headlines of the news outside the stationer's. This was a favourite
place for observation, for you appeared to be quite taken up by the
topics of the day, and kept an oblique eye on the true object of your
scrutiny.... She had not got to wait long, for almost immediately the
grocer's boy came out of the shop with a heavy basket on his arm,
delivered the small pot of ginger at her own door, and proceeded along
the street. He was, unfortunately, a popular and a conversational youth,
who had a great deal to say to his friends, and the period of waiting to
see if he would turn up the steep street that led to Miss Mapp's house
was very protracted. At the corner he deliberately put down the basket
altogether and lit a cigarette, and never had Diva so acutely deplored
the spread of the tobacco-habit among the juvenile population.

Having refreshed himself he turned up the steep street.

He passed the fishmonger's and the fruiterer's; he did not take the turn
down to the dentist's and Mr. Wyse's. He had no errand to the Major's
house or to the Captain's. Then, oh then, he rang the bell at Miss
Mapp's back door. All the time Diva had been following him, keeping her
head well down so as to avert the possibility of observation from the
window of the garden-room, and walking so slowly that the motion of her
feet seemed not circular at all.... Then the bell was answered, and he
delivered into Withers' hands one, two tins of corned beef and a round
ox-tongue. He put the basket on his head and came down the street again,
shrilly whistling. If Diva had had any reasonably small change in her
pocket, she would assuredly have given him some small share in it.
Lacking this, she trundled home with all speed, and began cutting out
roses with swift and certain strokes of the nail-scissors.

Now she had already noticed that Elizabeth had paid visits to the
grocer's on three consecutive days (three consecutive days: think of
it!), and given that her purchases on other occasions had been on the
same substantial scale as to-day, it became a matter of thrilling
interest as to where she kept these stores. She could not keep them in
the coal cellar, for that was already bursting with coal, and Diva, who
had assisted her (the base one) in making a prodigious quantity of jam
that year from her well-stocked garden, was aware that the kitchen
cupboards were like to be as replete as the coal-cellar, before those
hoardings of dead oxen began. Then there was the big cupboard under the
stairs, but that could scarcely be the site of this prodigious cache,
for it was full of cardboard and curtains and carpets and all the
rubbishy accumulations which Elizabeth could not bear to part with. Then
she had large cupboards in her bedroom and spare rooms full to
overflowing of mouldy clothes, but there was positively not another
cupboard in the house that Diva knew of, and she crushed her temples in
her hands in the attempt to locate the hiding-place of the hoard.

Diva suddenly jumped up with a happy squeal of discovery, and in her
excitement snapped her scissors with so random a stroke that she
completely cut in half the bunch of roses that she was engaged on. There
was another cupboard, the best and biggest of all and the most secret
and the most discreet. It lay embedded in the wall of the garden-room,
cloaked and concealed behind the shelves a false book-case, which
contained no more than the simulacra of books, just books with titles
that had never yet appeared on any honest book. There were twelve
volumes of "The Beauties of Nature," a shelf full of "Elegant Extracts,"
there were volumes simply called "Poems," there were "Commentaries,"
there were "Travels" and "Astronomy" and the lowest and tallest shelf
was full of "Music." A card-table habitually stood in front of this
false repository learning, and it was only last week that Diva, prying
casually round the room while Elizabeth had gone to take off her
gardening-gloves, had noticed a modest catch let into the wood-work.
Without doubt, then, the book-case was the door of the cupboard, and
with a stroke of intuition, too sure to be called a guess, Diva was
aware that she had correctly inferred the storage of this nefarious
hoard. It only remained to verify her conclusion, and, if possible,
expose it with every circumstance of public ignominy. She was in no
hurry: she could bide her time, aware that, in all probability, every
day that passed would see an addition to its damning contents. Some day,
when she was playing bridge and the card-table had been moved out, in
some rubber when she herself was dummy and Elizabeth greedily playing
the hand, she would secretly and accidentally press the catch which her
acute vision had so providentially revealed to her....

She attacked her chintz curtains again with her appetite for the pink
roses agreeably whetted. Another hour's work would give her sufficient
bunches for her purpose, and unless the dyer was as perfidious as
Elizabeth, her now purple jacket and skirt would arrive that afternoon.
Two days' hard work would be sufficient for so accomplished a
needlewoman as herself to make these original decorations.

In the meantime, for Diva was never idle, and was chiefly occupied with
dress, she got out a certain American fashion paper. There was in it the
description of a tea-gown worn by Mrs. Titus W. Trout which she believed
was within her dressmaking capacity. She would attempt it, anyhow, and
if it proved to be beyond her, she could entrust the more difficult
parts to that little dressmaker whom Elizabeth employed, and who was
certainly very capable. But the costume was of so daring and splendid a
nature that she feared to take anyone into her confidence about it, lest
some hint or gossip--for Tilling was a gossipy place--might leak out.
Kingfisher blue! It made her mouth water to dwell on the sumptuous
syllables!

       *       *       *       *       *

Miss Mapp was so feverishly occupied all next morning with the
application of poppies to the corn-coloured skirt that she paid very
little attention to the opening gambits of the day, either as regards
the world in general, or, more particularly, Major Benjy. After his
early retirement last night he was probably up with the lark this
morning, and when between half-past ten and eleven his sonorous
"Qui-hi!" sounded through her open window, the shock she experienced
interrupted for a moment her floral industry. It was certainly very odd
that, having gone to bed at so respectable an hour last night, he should
be calling for his porridge only now, but with an impulse of unusual
optimism, she figured him as having been at work on his diaries before
breakfast, and in that absorbing occupation having forgotten how late it
was growing. That, no doubt, was the explanation, though it would be
nice to know for certain, if the information positively forced itself on
her notice.... As she worked, (framing her lips with elaborate motions
to the syllables) she dumbly practised the phrase "Major Benjy."
Sometimes in moments of gallantry he called her "Miss Elizabeth," and
she meant, when she had got accustomed to it by practice, to say "Major
Benjy" to him by accident, and he would, no doubt, beg her to make a
habit of that friendly slip of the tongue.... "Tongue" led to a new
train of thought, and presently she paused in her work, and pulling the
card-table away from the deceptive book-case, she pressed the concealed
catch of the door, and peeped in.

There was still room for further small precautions against starvation
owing to the impending coal-strike, and she took stock of her
provisions. Even if the strike lasted quite a long time, there would now
be no immediate lack of the necessaries of life, for the cupboard
glistened with tinned meats, and the flour-merchant had sent a very
sensible sack. This with considerable exertion she transferred to a high
shelf in the cupboard, instead of allowing it to remain standing on the
floor, for Withers had informed her of an unpleasant rumour about a
mouse, which Mary had observed, lost in thought in front of the
cupboard. "So mousie shall only find tins on the floor now," thought
Miss Mapp. "Mousie shall try his teeth on tins." ... There was tea and
coffee in abundance, jars of jam filled the kitchen shelves, and if this
morning she laid in a moderate supply of dried fruits, there was no
reason to face the future with anything but fortitude. She would see
about that now, for, busy though she was, she could not miss the
shopping-parade. Would Diva, she wondered, be at her window, snipping
roses out of chintz curtains? The careful, thrifty soul. Perhaps this
time to-morrow, Diva, looking out of her window, would see that somebody
else had been quicker about being thrifty than she. That would be fun!

The Major's dining-room window was open, and as Miss Mapp passed it, she
could not help hearing loud, angry remarks about eggs coming from
inside. That made it clear that he was still at breakfast, and that if
he had been working at his diaries in the fresh morning hours and
forgetting the time, early rising, in spite of his early retirement last
night, could not be supposed to suit his Oriental temper. But a change
of habits was invariably known to be upsetting, and Miss Mapp was
hopeful that in a day or two he would feel quite a different man.
Further down the street was quaint Irene lounging at the door of her new
studio (a converted coach-house), smoking a cigarette and dressed like a
jockey.

"Hullo, Mapp," she said. "Come and have a look round my new studio. You
haven't seen it yet. I shall give a house-warming next week.
Bridge-party!"

Miss Mapp tried to steel herself for the hundredth time to appear quite
unconscious that she was being addressed when Irene said "Mapp" in that
odious manner. But she never could summon up sufficient nerve to be rude
to so awful a mimic....

"Good morning, dear one," she said sycophantically. "Shall I peep in for
a moment?"

The decoration of the studio was even more appalling than might have
been expected. There was a German stove in the corner made of pink
porcelain, the rafters and roof were painted scarlet, the walls were of
magenta distemper and the floor was blue. In the corner was a very
large orange-coloured screen. The walls were hung with specimens of
Irene's art, there was a stout female with no clothes on at all, whom it
was impossible not to recognize as being Lucy; there were studies of fat
legs and ample bosoms, and on the easel was a picture, evidently in
process of completion, which represented a man. From this Miss Mapp
instantly averted her eyes.

"Eve," said Irene, pointing to Lucy.

Miss Mapp naturally guessed that the gentleman who was almost in the
same costume was Adam, and turned completely away from him.

"And what a lovely idea to have a blue floor, dear," she said. "How
original you are. And that pretty scarlet ceiling. But don't you find
when you're painting that all these bright colours disturb you?"

"Not a bit: they stimulate your sense of colour."

Miss Mapp moved towards the screen.

"What a delicious big screen," she said.

"Yes, but don't go behind it, Mapp," said Irene, "or you'll see my model
undressing."

Miss Mapp retreated from it precipitately, as from a wasp's nest, and
examined some of the studies on the wall, for it was more than probable
from the unfinished picture on the easel that Adam lurked behind the
delicious screen. Terrible though it all was, she was conscious of an
unbridled curiosity to know who Adam was. It was dreadful to think that
there could be any man in Tilling so depraved as to stand to be looked
at with so little on....

Irene strolled round the walls with her.

"Studies of Lucy," she said.

"I see, dear," said Miss Mapp. "How clever! Legs and things! But when
you have your bridge-party, won't you perhaps cover some of them up, or
turn them to the wall? We should all be looking at your pictures instead
of attending to our cards. And if you were thinking of asking the Padre,
you know...."

They were approaching the corner of the room where the screen stood,
when a movement there as if Adam had hit it with his elbow made Miss
Mapp turn round. The screen fell flat on the ground and within a yard of
her stood Mr. Hopkins, the proprietor of the fish-shop just up the
street. Often and often had Miss Mapp had pleasant little conversations
with him, with a view to bringing down the price of flounders. He had
little bathing-drawers on....

"Hullo, Hopkins, are you ready?" said Irene. "You know Miss Mapp, don't
you?"

Miss Mapp had not imagined that Time and Eternity combined could hold so
embarrassing a moment. She did not know where to look, but wherever she
looked, it should not be at Hopkins. But (wherever she looked) she could
not be unaware that Hopkins raised his large bare arm and touched the
place where his cap would have been, if he had had one.

"Good-morning, Hopkins," she said. "Well, Irene darling, I must be
trotting, and leave you to your----" she hardly knew what to call
it--"to your work."

She tripped from the room, which seemed to be entirely full of unclothed
limbs, and redder than one of Mr. Hopkins's boiled lobsters hurried down
the street. She felt that she could never face him again, but would be
obliged to go to the establishment in the High Street where Irene dealt,
when it was fish she wanted from a fish-shop.... Her head was in a whirl
at the brazenness of mankind, especially womankind. How had Irene
started the overtures that led to this? Had she just said to Hopkins
one morning: "Will you come to my studio and take off all your clothes?"
If Irene had not been such a wonderful mimic, she would certainly have
felt it her duty to go straight to the Padre, and, pulling down her
veil, confide to him the whole sad story. But as that was out of the
question, she went into Twenlow's and ordered four pounds of dried
apricots.



CHAPTER IV


The dyer, as Diva had feared, proved perfidious, and it was not till the
next morning that her maid brought her the parcel containing the coat
and skirt of the projected costume. Diva had already done her marketing,
so that she might have no other calls on her time to interfere with the
tacking on of the bunches of pink roses, and she hoped to have the dress
finished in time for Elizabeth's afternoon bridge-party next day, an
invitation to which had just reached her. She had also settled to have a
cold lunch to-day, so that her cook as well as her parlourmaid could
devote themselves to the job.

She herself had taken the jacket for decoration, and was just tacking
the first rose on to the collar, when she looked out of the window, and
what she saw caused her needle to fall from her nerveless hand. Tripping
along the opposite pavement was Elizabeth. She had on a dress, the
material of which, after a moment's gaze, Diva identified: it was that
corn-coloured coat and skirt which she had worn so much last spring. But
the collar, the cuffs, the waistband and the hem of the skirt were
covered with staring red poppies. Next moment, she called to remembrance
the chintz that had once covered Elizabeth's sofa in the garden-room.

Diva wasted no time, but rang the bell. She had to make certain.

"Janet," she said, "go straight out into the High Street, and walk close
behind Miss Mapp. Look very carefully at her dress; see if the poppies
on it are of chintz."

Janet's face fell.

"Why, ma'am, she's never gone and----" she began.

"Quick!" said Diva in a strangled voice.

Diva watched from her window. Janet went out, looked this way and that,
spied the quarry, and skimmed up the High Street on feet that twinkled
as fast as her mistress's. She came back much out of breath with speed
and indignation.

"Yes, ma'am," she said. "They're chintz sure enough. Tacked on, too,
just as you were meaning to do. Oh, ma'am----"

Janet quite appreciated the magnitude of the calamity and her voice
failed.

"What are we to do, ma'am?" she added.

Diva did not reply for a moment, but sat with eyes closed in profound
and concentrated thought. It required no reflection to decide how
impossible it was to appear herself to-morrow in a dress which seemed to
ape the costume which all Tilling had seen Elizabeth wearing to-day, and
at first it looked as if there was nothing to be done with all those
laboriously acquired bunches of rosebuds; for it was clearly out of the
question to use them as the decoration for any costume, and idle to
think of sewing them back into the snipped and gashed curtains. She
looked at the purple skirt and coat that hungered for their flowers, and
then she looked at Janet. Janet was a short, roundabout person; it was
ill-naturedly supposed that she had much the same figure as her
mistress....

Then the light broke, dazzling and diabolical, and Diva bounced to her
feet, blinded by its splendour.

"My coat and skirt are yours, Janet," she said. "Get with the work both
of you. Bustle. Cover it with roses. Have it finished to-night. Wear it
to-morrow. Wear it always."

She gave a loud cackle of laughter and threaded her needle.

"Lor, ma'am!" said Janet, admiringly. "That's a teaser! And thank you,
ma'am!"

"It was roses, roses all the way." Diva had quite miscalculated the
number required, and there were sufficient not only to cover collar,
cuffs and border of the skirt with them but to make another line of them
six inches above the hem. Original and gorgeous as the dress would be,
it was yet a sort of parody of Elizabeth's costume which was attracting
so much interest and attention as she popped in and out of shops to-day.
To-morrow that would be worn by Janet, and Janet (or Diva was much
mistaken) should encourage her friends to get permission to use up old
bits of chintz. Very likely chintz decoration would become quite a vogue
among the servant maids of Tilling.... How Elizabeth had got hold of the
idea mattered nothing, but anyhow she would be surfeited with the idea
before Diva had finished with her. It was possible, of course (anything
was possible), that it had occurred to her independently, but Diva was
loath to give so innocent an ancestry to her adoption of it. It was far
more sensible to take for granted that she had got wind of Diva's
invention by some odious, underhand piece of spying. What that might be
must be investigated (and probably determined) later, but at present the
business of Janet's roses eclipsed every other interest.

Miss Mapp's shopping that morning was unusually prolonged, for it was
important that every woman in Tilling should see the poppies on the
corn-coloured ground, and know that she had worn that dress before Diva
appeared in some mean adaptation of it. Though the total cost of her
entire purchases hardly amounted to a shilling, she went in and out of
an amazing number of shops, and made a prodigious series of inquiries
into the price of commodities that ranged from motor-cars to
sealing-wax, and often entered a shop twice because (wreathed in smiling
apologies for her stupidity) she had forgotten what she was told the
first time. By twelve o'clock she was satisfied that practically
everybody, with one exception, had seen her, and that her costume had
aroused a deep sense of jealousy and angry admiration. So cunning was
the handiwork of herself, Withers and Mary that she felt fairly sure
that no one had the slightest notion of how this decoration of poppies
was accomplished, for Evie had run round her in small mouse-like
circles, murmuring to herself: "Very effective idea; is it woven into
the cloth, Elizabeth? Dear me, I wonder where I could get some like it,"
and Mrs. Poppit had followed her all up the street, with eyes glued to
the hem of her skirt, and a completely puzzled face: "but then," so
thought Elizabeth sweetly "even members of the Order of the British
Empire can't have everything their own way." As for the Major, he had
simply come to a dead stop when he bounced out of his house as she
passed, and said something very gallant and appropriate. Even the
absence of that one inhabitant of Tilling, dear Diva, did not strike a
jarring note in this pæan of triumph, for Miss Mapp was quite satisfied
that Diva was busy indoors, working her fingers to the bone over the
application of bunches of roses, and, as usual, she was perfectly
correct in her conjecture. But dear Diva would have to see the new
frock to-morrow afternoon, at the latest, when she came to the
bridge-party. Perhaps she would then, for the first time, be wearing the
roses herself, and everybody would very pleasantly pity her. This was so
rapturous a thought, that when Miss Mapp, after her prolonged shopping
and with her almost empty basket, passed Mr. Hopkins standing outside
his shop on her return home again, she gave him her usual smile, though
without meeting his eye, and tried to forget how much of him she had
seen yesterday. Perhaps she might speak to him to-morrow and gradually
resume ordinary relations, for the prices at the other fish shop were as
high as the quality of the fish was low.... She told herself that there
was nothing actually immoral in the human skin, however embarrassing it
was.

       *       *       *       *       *

Miss Mapp had experienced a cruel disappointment last night, though the
triumph of this morning had done something to soothe it, for Major
Benjy's window had certainly been lit up to a very late hour, and so it
was clear that he had not been able, twice in succession, to tear
himself away from his diaries, or whatever else detained him, and go to
bed at a proper time. Captain Puffin, however, had not sat up late;
indeed he must have gone to bed quite unusually early, for his window
was dark by half-past nine. To-night, again the position was reversed,
and it seemed that Major Benjy was "good" and Captain Puffin was "bad."
On the whole, then, there was cause for thankfulness, and as she added a
tin of biscuits and two jars of bovril to her prudent stores, she found
herself a conscious sceptic about those Roman roads. Diaries (perhaps)
were a little different, for egoism was a more potent force than
archæology, and for her part she now definitely believed that Roman
roads spelt some form of drink. She was sorry to believe it, but it was
her duty to believe something of the kind, and she really did not know
what else to believe. She did not go so far as mentally to accuse him of
drunkenness, but considering the way he absorbed red-currant fool, it
was clear that he was no foe to alcohol and probably watered the Roman
roads with it. With her vivid imagination she pictured him----

Miss Mapp recalled herself from this melancholy reflection and put up
her hand just in time to save a bottle of bovril which she had put on
the top shelf in front of the sack of flour from tumbling to the ground.
With the latest additions she had made to her larder, it required
considerable ingenuity to fit all the tins and packages in, and for a
while she diverted her mind from Captain Puffin's drinking to her own
eating. But by careful packing and balancing she managed to stow
everything away with sufficient economy of space to allow her to shut
the door, and then put the card-table in place again. It was then late,
and with a fond look at her sweet flowers sleeping in the moonlight, she
went to bed. Captain Puffin's sitting-room was still alight, and even as
she deplored this, his shadow in profile crossed the blind. Shadows were
queer things--she could make a beautiful shadow-rabbit on the wall by a
dexterous interlacement of fingers and thumbs--and certainly this
shadow, in the momentary glance she had of it, appeared to have a large
moustache. She could make nothing whatever out of that, except to
suppose that just as fingers and thumbs became a rabbit, so his nose
became a moustache, for he could not have grown one since he came back
from golf....

       *       *       *       *       *

She was out early for her shopping next morning, for there were some
delicacies to be purchased for her bridge-party, more particularly some
little chocolate cakes she had lately discovered which looked very small
and innocent, were in reality of so cloying and substantial a nature,
that the partaker thereof would probably not feel capable of making any
serious inroads into other provisions. Naturally she was much on the
alert to-day, for it was more than possible that Diva's dress was
finished and in evidence. What colour it would be she did not know, but
a large quantity of rosebuds would, even at a distance, make
identification easy. Diva was certainly not at her window this morning,
so it seemed more than probable that they would soon meet.

Far away, just crossing the High Street at the further end, she caught
sight of a bright patch of purple, very much of the required shape.
There was surely a pink border round the skirt and a pink panel on the
collar, and just as surely Mrs. Bartlett, recognizable for her gliding
mouse-like walk, was moving in its fascinating wake. Then the purple
patch vanished into a shop, and Miss Mapp, all smiles and poppies, went
with her basket up the street. Presently she encountered Evie, who, also
all smiles, seemed to have some communication to make, but only got as
far as "Have you seen"--when she gave a little squeal of laughter, quite
inexplicable, and glided into some dark entry. A minute afterwards, the
purple patch suddenly appeared from a shop and almost collided with her.
It was not Diva at all, but Diva's Janet.

The shock was so indescribably severe that Miss Mapp's smile was frozen,
so to speak, as by some sudden congealment on to her face, and did not
thaw off it till she had reached the sharp turn at the end of the
street, where she leaned heavily on the railing and breathed through
her nose. A light autumnal mist overlay the miles of marsh, but the sun
was already drinking it up, promising the Tillingites another golden
day. The tidal river was at the flood, and the bright water lapped the
bases of the turf-covered banks that kept it within its course. Beyond
that was the tram-station towards which presently Major Benjy and
Captain Puffin would be hurrying to catch the tram that would take them
out to the golf links. The straight road across the marsh was visible,
and the railway bridge. All these things were pitilessly unchanged, and
Miss Mapp noted them blankly, until rage began to restore the numbed
current of her mental processes.

       *       *       *       *       *

If the records of history contained any similar instance of such
treachery and low cunning as was involved in this plot of Diva's to
dress Janet in the rosebud chintz, Miss Mapp would have liked to be told
clearly and distinctly what it was. She could trace the workings of
Diva's base mind with absolute accuracy, and if all the archangels in
the hierarchy of heaven had assured her that Diva had originally
intended the rosebuds for Janet, she would have scorned them for their
clumsy perjury. Diva had designed and executed that dress for herself,
and just because Miss Mapp's ingenuity (inspired by the two rosebuds
that had fluttered out of the window) had forestalled her, she had taken
this fiendish revenge. It was impossible to pervade the High Street
covered with chintz poppies when a parlourmaid was being equally
pervasive in chintz rosebuds, and what was to be done with this frock
executed with such mirth and malice by Withers, Mary and herself she had
no idea. She might just as well give it Withers, for she could no longer
wear it herself, or tear the poppies from the hem and bestrew the High
Street with them.... Miss Mapp's face froze into immobility again, for
here, trundling swiftly towards her, was Diva herself.

Diva appeared not to see her till she got quite close.

"Morning, Elizabeth," she said. "Seen my Janet anywhere?"

"No," said Miss Mapp.

Janet (no doubt according to instructions received) popped out of a
shop, and came towards her mistress.

"Here she is," said Diva. "All right, Janet. You go home. I'll see to
the other things."

"It's a lovely day," said Miss Mapp, beginning to lash her tail. "So
bright."

"Yes. Pretty trimming of poppies," said Diva. "Janet's got rosebuds."

This was too much.

"Diva, I didn't think it of you," said Miss Mapp in a shaking voice.
"You saw my new frock yesterday, and you were filled with malice and
envy, Diva, just because I had thought of using flowers off an old
chintz as well as you, and came out first with it. You had meant to wear
that purple frock yourself--though I must say it fits Janet
perfectly--and just because I was first in the field you did this. You
gave Janet that frock, so that I should be dressed in the same style as
your parlourmaid, and you've got a black heart, Diva!"

"That's nonsense," said Diva firmly. "Heart's as red as anybody's, and
talking of black hearts doesn't become _you_, Elizabeth. You knew I was
cutting out roses from my curtains----"

Miss Mapp laughed shrilly.

"Well, if I happen to notice that you've taken your chintz curtains
down," she said with an awful distinctness that showed the wisdom-teeth
of which Diva had got three at the most, "and pink bunches of roses
come flying out of your window into the High Street, even my poor wits,
small as they are, are equal to drawing the conclusion that you are
cutting roses out of curtains. Your well-known fondness for dress did
the rest. With your permission, Diva, I intend to draw exactly what
conclusions I please on every occasion, including this one."

"Ho! That's how you got the idea then," said Diva. "I knew you had
cribbed it from me."

"Cribbed?" asked Miss Mapp, in ironical ignorance of what so vulgar and
slangy an expression meant.

"Cribbed means taking what isn't yours," said Diva. "Even then, if you
had only acted in a straightforward manner----"

Miss Mapp, shaken as with palsy, regretted that she had let slip, out of
pure childlike joy, in irony, the manner in which she had obtained the
poppy-notion, but in a quarrel regrets are useless, and she went on
again.

"And would you very kindly explain how or when I have acted in a manner
that was not straightforward," she asked with laborious politeness. "Or
do I understand that a monopoly of cutting up chintz curtains for
personal adornment has been bestowed on you by Act of Parliament?"

"You knew I was meaning to make a frock with chintz roses on it," said
Diva. "You stole my idea. Worked night and day to be first. Just like
you. Mean behaviour."

"It was meaner to give that frock to Janet," said Miss Mapp.

"You can give yours to Withers," snapped Diva.

"Much obliged, Mrs. Plaistow," said Miss Mapp.

       *       *       *       *       *

Diva had been watching Janet's retreating figure, and feeling that
though revenge was sweet, revenge was also strangely expensive, for she
had sacrificed one of the most strikingly successful frocks she had ever
made on that smoking altar. Now her revenge was gratified, and deeply
she regretted the frock. Miss Mapp's heart was similarly wrung by
torture: revenge too had been hers (general revenge on Diva for
existing), but this dreadful counter-stroke had made it quite impossible
for her to enjoy the use of this frock any more, for she could not habit
herself like a housemaid. Each, in fact, had, as matters at present
stood, completely wrecked the other, like two express trains meeting in
top-speed collision, and, since the quarrel had clearly risen to its
utmost height, there was no farther joy of battle to be anticipated, but
only the melancholy task of counting the corpses. So they paused,
breathing very quickly and trembling, while both sought for some way
out. Besides Miss Mapp had a bridge-party this afternoon, and if they
parted now in this extreme state of tension, Diva might conceivably not
come, thereby robbing herself of her bridge and spoiling her hostess's
table. Naturally any permanent quarrel was not contemplated by either of
them, for if quarrels were permanent in Tilling, nobody would be on
speaking terms any more with anyone else in a day or two, and (hardly
less disastrous) there could be no fresh quarrels with anybody, since
you could not quarrel without words. There might be songs without words,
as Mendelssohn had proved, but not rows without words. By what formula
could this deadly antagonism be bridged without delay?

Diva gazed out over the marsh. She wanted desperately to regain her
rosebud-frock, and she knew that Elizabeth was starving for further
wearing of her poppies. Perhaps the wide, serene plain below inspired
her with a hatred of littleness. There would be no loss of dignity in
making a proposal that her enemy, she felt sure, would accept: it merely
showed a Christian spirit, and set an example to Elizabeth, to make the
first move. Janet she did not consider.

"If you are in a fit state to listen to reason, Elizabeth," she began.

Miss Mapp heaved a sigh of relief. Diva had thought of something. She
swallowed the insult at a gulp.

"Yes, dear," she said.

"Got an idea. Take away Janet's frock, and wear it myself. Then you can
wear yours. Too pretty for parlour-maids. Eh?"

A heavenly brightness spread over Miss Mapp's face.

"Oh, how wonderful of you to have thought of that, Diva," she said. "But
how shall we explain it all to everybody?"

Diva clung to her rights. Though clearly Christian, she was human.

"Say I thought of tacking chintz on and told you," she said.

"Yes, darling," said Elizabeth. "That's beautiful, I agree. But poor
Janet!"

"I'll give her some other old thing," said Diva. "Good sort, Janet.
Wants me to win."

"And about her having been seen wearing it?"

"Say she hasn't ever worn it. Say they're mad," said Diva.

Miss Mapp felt it better to tear herself away before she began
distilling all sorts of acidities that welled up in her fruitful mind.
She could, for instance, easily have agreed that nothing was more
probable than that Janet had been mistaken for her mistress....

"Au reservoir then, dear," she said tenderly. "See you at about four?
And will you wear your pretty rosebud frock?"

This was agreed to, and Diva went home to take it away from Janet.

       *       *       *       *       *

The reconciliation of course was strictly confined to matters relating
to chintz and did not include such extraneous subjects as coal-strike or
food-hoarding, and even in the first glowing moments of restored
friendliness, Diva began wondering whether she would have the
opportunity that afternoon of testing the truth of her conjecture about
the cupboard in the garden-room. Cudgel her brains as she might she
could think of no other _cache_ that could contain the immense amount of
provisions that Elizabeth had probably accumulated, and she was all on
fire to get to practical grips with the problem. As far as tins of
corned beef and tongues went, Elizabeth might possibly have buried them
in her garden in the manner of a dog, but it was not likely that a
hoarder would limit herself to things in tins. No: there was a cupboard
somewhere ready to burst with strong supporting foods....

Diva intentionally arrived a full quarter of an hour on the hither side
of punctuality, and was taken by Withers out into the garden-room, where
tea was laid, and two card-tables were in readiness. She was, of course,
the first of the guests, and the moment Withers withdrew to tell her
mistress that she had come, Diva stealthily glided to the cupboard, from
in front of which the bridge-table had been removed, feeling the shrill
joy of some romantic treasure hunter. She found the catch, she pressed
it, she pulled open the door and the whole of the damning profusion of
provisions burst upon her delighted eyes. Shelf after shelf was crowded
with eatables; there were tins of corned beef and tongues (that she knew
already), there was a sack of flour, there were tubes of Bath Oliver
biscuits, bottles of bovril, the yield of a thousand condensed Swiss
cows, jars of prunes.... All these were in the front row, flush with the
door, and who knew to what depth the cupboard extended? Even as she
feasted her eyes on this incredible store, some package on the top shelf
wavered and toppled, and she had only just time to shut the door again,
in order to prevent it falling out on to the floor. But this
displacement prevented the door from wholly closing, and push and shove
as Diva might, she could not get the catch to click home, and the only
result of her energy and efforts was to give rise to a muffled explosion
from within, just precisely as if something made of cardboard had burst.
That mental image was so vivid that to her fevered imagination it seemed
to be real. This was followed by certain faint taps from within against
"Elegant Extracts" and "Astronomy."

Diva grew very red in the face, and said "Drat it" under her breath. She
did not dare open the door again in order to push things back, for fear
of an uncontrollable stream of "things" pouring out. Some nicely
balanced equilibrium had clearly been upset in those capacious shelves,
and it was impossible to tell, without looking, how deep and how
extensive the disturbance was. And in order to look, she had to open the
bookcase again.... Luckily the pressure against the door was not
sufficiently heavy to cause it to swing wide, so the best she could do
was to leave it just ajar with temporary quiescence inside.
Simultaneously she heard Miss Mapp's step, and had no more than time to
trundle at the utmost speed of her whirling feet across to the window,
where she stood looking out, and appeared quite unconscious of her
hostess's entry.

"Diva darling, how sweet of you to come so early!" she said. "A little
cosy chat before the others arrive."

Diva turned round, much startled.

"Hullo!" she said. "Didn't hear you. Got Janet's frock you see."

("What makes Diva's face so red?" thought Miss Mapp.)

"So I see, darling," she said. "Lovely rose-garden. How well it suits
you, dear! Did Janet mind?"

"No. Promised her a new frock at Christmas."

"That will be nice for Janet," said Elizabeth enthusiastically. "Shall
we pop into the garden, dear, till my guests come?"

Diva was glad to pop into the garden and get away from the immediate
vicinity of the cupboard, for though she had planned and looked forward
to the exposure of Elizabeth's hoarding, she had not meant it to come,
as it now probably would, in crashes of tins and bursting of bovril
bottles. Again she had intended to have opened that door quite casually
and innocently while she was being dummy, so that everyone could see how
accidental the exposure was, and to have gone poking about the cupboard
in Elizabeth's absence was a shade too professional, so to speak, for
the usual detective work of Tilling. But the fuse was set now. Sooner or
later the explosion must come. She wondered as they went out to commune
with Elizabeth's sweet flowers till the other guests arrived how great a
torrent would be let loose. She did not repent her exploration--far from
it--but her pleasurable anticipations were strongly diluted with
suspense.

Miss Mapp had found such difficulty in getting eight players together
to-day, that she had transgressed her principles and asked Mrs. Poppit
as well as Isabel, and they, with Diva, the two Bartletts, and the Major
and the Captain, formed the party. The moment Mrs. Poppit appeared,
Elizabeth hated her more than ever, for she put up her glasses, and
began to give her patronizing advice about her garden, which she had not
been allowed to see before.

"You have quite a pretty little piece of garden, Miss Mapp," she said,
"though, to be sure, I fancied from what you said that it was more
extensive. Dear me, your roses do not seem to be doing very well.
Probably they are old plants and want renewing. You must send your
gardener round--you keep a gardener?--and I will let you have a dozen
vigorous young bushes."

Miss Mapp licked her dry lips. She kept a kind of gardener: two days a
week.

"Too good of you," she said, "but that rose-bed is quite sacred, dear
Mrs. Poppit. Not all the vigorous young bushes in the world would tempt
me. It's my 'Friendship's Border:' some dear friend gave me each of my
rose-trees."

Mrs. Poppit transferred her gaze to the wistaria that grew over the
steps up to the garden-room. Some of the dear friends she thought must
be centenarians.

"Your wistaria wants pruning sadly," she said. "Your gardener does not
understand wistarias. That corner there was made, I may say, for
fuchsias. You should get a dozen choice fuchsias."

Miss Mapp laughed.

"Oh, you must excuse me," she said with a glance at Mrs. Poppit's
brocaded silk. "I can't bear fuchsias. They always remind me of
over-dressed women. Ah, there's Mr. Bartlett. How de do, Padre. And dear
Evie!"

Dear Evie appeared fascinated by Diva's dress.

"Such beautiful rosebuds," she murmured, "and what lovely shade of
purple. And Elizabeth's poppies too, quite a pair of you. But surely
this morning, Diva, didn't I see your good Janet in just such another
dress, and I thought at the time how odd it was that----"

"If you saw Janet this morning," said Diva quite firmly, "you saw her in
her print dress."

"And here's Major Benjy," said Miss Mapp, who had made her slip about
his Christian name yesterday, and had been duly entreated to continue
slipping. "And Captain Puffin. Well, that is nice! Shall we go into my
little garden shed, dear Mrs. Poppit, and have our tea?"

Major Flint was still a little lame, for his golf to-day had been of the
nature of gardening, and he hobbled up the steps behind the ladies, with
that little cock-sparrow sailor following him and telling the Padre how
badly and yet how successfully he himself had played.

"Pleasantest room in Tilling, I always say, Miss Elizabeth," said he,
diverting his mind from a mere game to the fairies.

"My dear little room," said Miss Mapp, knowing that it was much larger
than anything in Mrs. Poppit's house. "So tiny!"

"Oh, not a bad-sized little room," said Mrs. Poppit encouragingly. "Much
the same proportions, on a very small scale, as the throne-room at
Buckingham Palace."

"That beautiful throne-room!" exclaimed Miss Mapp. "A cup of tea, dear
Mrs. Poppit? None of that naughty red-currant fool, I am afraid. And a
little chocolate-cake?"

These substantial chocolate cakes soon did their fell work of producing
the sense of surfeit, and presently Elizabeth's guests dropped off
gorged from the tea-table. Diva fortunately remembered their consistency
in time, and nearly cleared a plate of jumbles instead, which the
hostess had hoped would form a pleasant accompaniment to her dessert at
her supper this evening, and was still crashingly engaged on them when
the general drifting movement towards the two bridge-tables set in. Mrs.
Poppit, with her glasses up, followed by Isabel, was employed in making
a tour of the room, in case, as Miss Mapp had already determined, she
never saw it again, examining the quality of the carpet, the curtains,
the chair-backs with the air of a doubtful purchaser.

"And quite a quantity of books, I see," she announced as she came
opposite the fatal cupboard. "Look, Isabel, what a quantity of books.
There is something strange about them, though; I do not believe they are
real."

She put out her hand and pulled at the back of one of the volumes of
"Elegant Extracts." The door swung open, and from behind it came a noise
of rattling, bumping and clattering. Something soft and heavy thumped on
to the floor, and a cloud of floury dust arose. A bottle of bovril
embedded itself quietly there without damage, and a tin of Bath Oliver
biscuits beat a fierce tattoo on one of corned beef. Innumerable dried
apricots from the burst package flew about like shrapnel, and tapped at
the tins. A jar of prunes, breaking its fall on the flour, rolled
merrily out into the middle of the floor.

The din was succeeded by complete silence. The Padre had said "What ho,
i' fegs?" during the tumult, but his voice had been drowned by the
rattling of the dried apricots. The Member of the Order of the British
Empire stepped free of the provisions that bumped round her, and
examined them through her glasses. Diva crammed the last jumble into
her mouth and disposed of it with the utmost rapidity. The birthday of
her life had come, as Miss Rossetti said.

"Dear Elizabeth!" she exclaimed. "What a disaster! All your little
stores in case of the coal strike. Let me help to pick them up. I do not
think anything is broken. Isn't that lucky?"

Evie hurried to the spot.

"Such a quantity of good things," she said rapidly under her breath.
"Tinned meats and bovril and prunes, and ever so many apricots. Let me
pick them all up, and with a little dusting.... Why, what a big
cupboard, and such a quantity of good things."

Miss Mapp had certainly struck a streak of embarrassments. What with
naked Mr. Hopkins, and Janet's frock and this unveiling of her hoard,
life seemed at the moment really to consist of nothing else than beastly
situations. How on earth that catch of the door had come undone, she had
no idea, but much as she would have liked to suspect foul play from
somebody, she was bound to conclude that Mrs. Poppit with her prying
hands had accidentally pressed it. It was like Diva, of course, to break
the silence with odious allusions to hoarding, and bitterly she wished
that she had not started the topic the other day, but had been content
to lay in her stores without so pointedly affirming that she was doing
nothing of the kind. But this was no time for vain laments, and
restraining a natural impulse to scratch and beat Mrs. Poppit, she
exhibited an admirable inventiveness and composure. Though she knew it
would deceive nobody, everybody had to pretend he was deceived.

"Oh, my poor little Christmas presents for your needy parishioners,
Padre," she said. "You've seen them before you were meant to, and you
must forget all about them. And so little harm done, just an apricot or
two. Withers will pick them all up, so let us get to our bridge."

Withers entered the room at this moment to clear away tea, and Miss Mapp
explained it all over again.

"All our little Christmas presents have come tumbling out, Withers," she
said. "Will you put as many as you can back in the cupboard and take the
rest indoors? Don't tread on the apricots."

It was difficult to avoid doing this, as the apricots were everywhere,
and their colour on the brown carpet was wonderfully protective. Miss
Mapp herself had already stepped on two, and their adhesive stickiness
was hard to get rid of. In fact, for the next few minutes the
coal-shovel was in strong request for their removal from the soles of
shoes, and the fender was littered with their squashed remains.... The
party generally was distinctly thoughtful as it sorted itself out into
two tables, for every single member of it was trying to assimilate the
amazing proposition that Miss Mapp had, half-way through September,
loaded her cupboard with Christmas presents on a scale that staggered
belief. The feat required thought: it required a faith so childlike as
to verge on the imbecile. Conversation during deals had an awkward
tendency towards discussion of the coal strike. As often as it drifted
there the subject was changed very abruptly, just as if there was some
occult reason for not speaking of so natural a topic. It concerned
everybody, but it was rightly felt to concern Miss Mapp the most....



CHAPTER V


It was the Major's turn to entertain his friend, and by half-past nine,
on a certain squally October evening, he and Puffin were seated by the
fire in the diary-room, while the rain volleyed at the windows and
occasional puffs of stinging smoke were driven down the chimney by the
gale that squealed and buffeted round the house. Puffin, by way of
keeping up the comedy of Roman roads, had brought a map of the district
across from his house, but the more essential part of his equipment for
this studious evening was a bottle of whisky. Originally the host had
provided whisky for himself and his guest at these pleasant chats, but
there were undeniable objections to this plan, because the guest always
proved unusually thirsty, which tempted his host to keep pace with him,
while if they both drank at their own expense, the causes of economy and
abstemiousness had a better chance. Also, while the Major took his
drinks short and strong in a small tumbler, Puffin enriched his with
lemons and sugar in a large one, so that nobody could really tell if
equality as well as fraternity was realized. But if each brought his own
bottle....

It had been a trying day, and the Major was very lame. A drenching storm
had come up during their golf, while they were far from the club-house,
and Puffin, being three up, had very naturally refused to accede to his
opponent's suggestion to call the match off. He was perfectly willing to
be paid his half-crown and go home, but Major Flint, remembering that
Puffin's game usually went to pieces if it rained, had rejected this
proposal with the scorn that it deserved. There had been other
disagreeable incidents as well. His driver, slippery from rain, had
flown out of the Major's hands on the twelfth tee, and had "shot like a
streamer of the northern morn," and landed in a pool of brackish water
left by an unusually high tide. The ball had gone into another pool
nearer the tee. The ground was greasy with moisture, and three holes
further on Puffin had fallen flat on his face instead of lashing his
fifth shot home on to the green, as he had intended. They had given each
other stimies, and each had holed his opponent's ball by mistake; they
had wrangled over the correct procedure if you lay in a rabbit-scrape or
on the tram lines; the Major had lost a new ball; there was a mushroom
on one of the greens between Puffin's ball and the hole.... All these
untoward incidents had come crowding in together, and from the Major's
point of view, the worst of them all had been the collective incident
that Puffin, so far from being put off by the rain, had, in spite of
mushroom and falling down, played with a steadiness of which he was
usually quite incapable. Consequently Major Flint was lame and his wound
troubled him, while Puffin, in spite of his obvious reasons for
complacency, was growing irritated with his companion's ill-temper, and
was half blinded by wood-smoke.

He wiped his streaming eyes.

"You should get your chimney swept," he observed.

Major Flint had put his handkerchief over his face to keep the
wood-smoke out of his eyes. He blew it off with a loud, indignant puff.

"Oh! Ah! Indeed!" he said.

Puffin was rather taken aback by the violence of these interjections;
they dripped with angry sarcasm.

"Oh, well! No offence," he said.

"A man," said the Major impersonally, "makes an offensive remark, and
says 'No offence.' If your own fireside suits you better than mine,
Captain Puffin, all I can say is that you're at liberty to enjoy it!"

This was all rather irregular: they had indulged in a good stiff breeze
this afternoon, and it was too early to ruffle the calm again. Puffin
plucked and proffered an olive-branch.

"There's your handkerchief," he said, picking it up. "Now let's have one
of our comfortable talks. Hot glass of grog and a chat over the fire:
that's the best thing after such a wetting as we got this afternoon.
I'll take a slice of lemon, if you'll be so good as to give it me, and a
lump of sugar."

The Major got up and limped to his cupboard. It struck him precisely at
that moment that Puffin scored considerably over lemons and sugar,
because he was supplied with them gratis every other night; whereas he
himself, when Puffin's guest, took nothing off his host but hot water.
He determined to ask for some biscuits, anyhow, to-morrow....

"I hardly know whether there's a lemon left," he grumbled. "I must lay
in a store of lemons. As for sugar----"

Puffin chose to disregard this suggestion.

"Amusing incident the other day," he said brightly, "when Miss Mapp's
cupboard door flew open. The old lady didn't like it. Don't suppose the
poor of the parish will see much of that corned beef."

The Major became dignified.

"Pardon me," he said. "When an esteemed friend like Miss Elizabeth tells
me that certain provisions are destined for the poor of the parish, I
take it that her statement is correct. I expect others of my friends,
while they are in my presence, to do the same. I have the honour to give
you a lemon, Captain Puffin, and a slice of sugar. I should say a lump
of sugar. Pray make yourself comfortable."

This dignified and lofty mood was often one of the after-effects of an
unsuccessful game of golf. It generally yielded quite quickly to a
little stimulant. Puffin filled his glass from the bottle and the
kettle, while his friend put his handkerchief again over his face.

"Well, I shall just have my grog before I turn in," he observed,
according to custom. "Aren't you going to join me, Major?"

"Presently, sir," said the Major.

Puffin knocked out the consumed cinders in his pipe against the edge of
the fender. Major Flint apparently was waiting for this, for he withdrew
his handkerchief and closely watched the process. A minute piece of ash
fell from Puffin's pipe on to the hearthrug, and he jumped to his feet
and removed it very carefully with the shovel.

"I have your permission, I hope?" he said witheringly.

"Certainly, certainly," said Puffin. "Now get your glass, Major. You'll
feel better in a minute or two."

Major Flint would have liked to have kept up this magnificent attitude,
but the smell of Puffin's steaming glass beat dignity down, and after
glaring at him, he limped back to the cupboard for his whisky bottle. He
gave a lamentable cry when he beheld it.

"But I got that bottle in only the day before yesterday," he shouted,
"and there's hardly a drink left in it."

"Well, you did yourself pretty well last night," said Puffin. "Those
small glasses of yours, if frequently filled up, empty a bottle quicker
than you seem to realize."

Motives of policy prevented the Major from receiving this with the
resentment that was proper to it, and his face cleared. He would get
quits over these incessant lemons and lumps of sugar.

"Well, you'll have to let me borrow from you to-night," he said
genially, as he poured the rest of the contents of his bottle into the
glass. "Ah, that's more the ticket! A glass of whisky a day keeps the
doctor away."

The prospect of sponging on Puffin was most exhilarating, and he put his
large slippered feet on to the fender.

"Yes, indeed, that was a highly amusing incident about Miss Mapp's
cupboard," he said. "And wasn't Mrs. Plaistow down on her like a knife
about it? Our fair friends, you know, have a pretty sharp eye for each
other's little failings. They've no sooner finished one squabble than
they begin another, the pert little fairies. They can't sit and enjoy
themselves like two old cronies I could tell you of, and feel at peace
with all the world."

He finished his glass at a gulp, and seemed much surprised to find it
empty.

"I'll be borrowing a drop from you, old friend," he said.

"Help yourself, Major," said Puffin, with a keen eye as to how much he
took.

"Very obliging of you. I feel as if I caught a bit of a chill this
afternoon. My wound."

"Be careful not to inflame it," said Puffin.

"Thank ye for the warning. It's this beastly climate that touches it up.
A winter in England adds years on to a man's life unless he takes care
of himself. Take care of yourself, old boy. Have some more sugar."

Before long the Major's hand was moving slowly and instinctively towards
Puffin's whisky bottle again.

"I reckon that big glass of yours, Puffin," he said, "holds between
three and a half times to four times what my little tumbler holds.
Between three and a half and four I should reckon. I may be wrong."

"Reckoning the water in, I daresay you're not far out, Major," said he.
"And according to my estimate you mix your drink somewhere about three
and a half times to four stronger than I mix mine."

"Oh, come, come!" said the Major.

"Three and a half to four times, _I_ should say," repeated Puffin. "You
won't find I'm far out."

He replenished his big tumbler, and instead of putting the bottle back
on the table, absently deposited it on the floor on the far side of his
chair. This second tumbler usually marked the most convivial period of
the evening, for the first would have healed whatever unhappy discords
had marred the harmony of the day, and, those being disposed of, they
very contentedly talked through their hats about past prowesses, and
took a rosy view of the youth and energy which still beat in their
vigorous pulses. They would begin, perhaps, by extolling each other:
Puffin, when informed that his friend would be fifty-four next birthday,
flatly refused (without offence) to believe it, and, indeed, he was
quite right in so doing, because the Major was in reality fifty-six. In
turn, Major Flint would say that his friend had the figure of a boy of
twenty, which caused Puffin presently to feel a little cramped and to
wander negligently in front of the big looking-glass between the
windows, and find this compliment much easier to swallow than the
Major's age. For the next half-hour they would chiefly talk about
themselves in a pleasant glow of self-satisfaction. Major Flint, looking
at the various implements and trophies that adorned the room, would
suggest putting a sporting challenge in the _Times_.

"'Pon my word, Puffin," he would say, "I've half a mind to do it.
Retired Major of His Majesty's Forces--the King, God bless him!" (and he
took a substantial sip); "'Retired Major, aged fifty-four, challenges
any gentleman of fifty years or over.'"

"Forty," said Puffin sycophantically, as he thought over what he would
say about himself when the old man had finished.

"Well, we'll halve it, we'll say forty-five, to please you,
Puffin--let's see, where had I got to?--'Retired Major challenges any
gentleman of forty-five years or over to--to a shooting match in the
morning, followed by half a dozen rounds with four-ounce gloves, a game
of golf, eighteen holes, in the afternoon, and a billiard match of two
hundred up after tea.' Ha! ha! I shouldn't feel much anxiety as to the
result."

"My confounded leg!" said Puffin. "But I know a retired captain from His
Majesty's merchant service--the King, God bless him!--aged fifty----"

"Ho! ho! Fifty, indeed!" said the Major, thinking to himself that a
dried-up little man like Puffin might be as old as an Egyptian mummy.
Who can tell the age of a kipper?...

"Not a day less, Major. 'Retired Captain, aged fifty, who'll take on all
comers of forty-two and over, at a steeplechase, round of golf, billiard
match, hopping match, gymnastic competition, swinging Indian clubs----'
No objection, gentlemen? Then carried _nem. con._"

This gaseous mood, athletic, amatory or otherwise (the amatory ones were
the worst), usually faded slowly, like the light from the setting sun or
an exhausted coal in the grate, about the end of Puffin's second
tumbler, and the gentlemen after that were usually somnolent, but
occasionally laid the foundation for some disagreement next day, which
they were too sleepy to go into now. Major Flint by this time would have
had some five small glasses of whisky (equivalent, as he bitterly
observed, to one in pre-war days), and as he measured his next with
extreme care and a slightly jerky movement, would announce it as being
his night-cap, though you would have thought he had plenty of night-caps
on already. Puffin correspondingly took a thimbleful more (the thimble
apparently belonging to some housewife of Anak), and after another
half-hour of sudden single snores and startings awake again, of pipes
frequently lit and immediately going out, the guest, still perfectly
capable of coherent speech and voluntary motion in the required
direction, would stumble across the dark cobbles to his house, and doors
would be very carefully closed for fear of attracting the attention of
the lady who at this period of the evening was usually known as "Old
Mappy." The two were perfectly well aware of the sympathetic interest
that Old Mappy took in all that concerned them, and that she had an eye
on their evening séances was evidenced by the frequency with which the
corner of her blind in the window of the garden-room was raised between,
say, half-past nine and eleven at night. They had often watched with
giggles the pencil of light that escaped, obscured at the lower end by
the outline of Old Mappy's head, and occasionally drank to the "Guardian
Angel." Guardian Angel, in answer to direct inquiries, had been told by
Major Benjy during the last month that he worked at his diaries on three
nights in the week and went to bed early on the others, to the vast
improvement of his mental grasp.

"And on Sunday night, dear Major Benjy?" asked Old Mappy in the
character of Guardian Angel.

"I don't think you knew my beloved, my revered mother, Miss Elizabeth,"
said Major Benjy. "I spend Sunday evening as---- Well, well."

The very next Sunday evening Guardian Angel had heard the sound of
singing. She could not catch the words, and only fragments of the tune,
which reminded her of "The roseate morn hath passed away." Brimming with
emotion, she sang it softly to herself as she undressed, and blamed
herself very much for ever having thought that dear Major Benjy---- She
peeped out of her window when she had extinguished her light, but
fortunately the singing had ceased.

       *       *       *       *       *

To-night, however, the epoch of Puffin's second big tumbler was not
accompanied by harmonious developments. Major Benjy was determined to
make the most of this unique opportunity of drinking his friend's
whisky, and whether Puffin put the bottle on the further side of him, or
under his chair, or under the table, he came padding round in his
slippers and standing near the ambush while he tried to interest his
friend in tales of love or tiger-shooting so as to distract his
attention. When he mistakenly thought he had done so, he hastily
refilled his glass, taking unusually stiff doses for fear of not getting
another opportunity, and altogether omitting to ask Puffin's leave for
these maraudings. When this had happened four or five times, Puffin,
acting on the instinct of the polar bear who eats her babies for fear
that anybody else should get them, surreptitiously poured the rest of
his bottle into his glass, and filled it up to the top with hot water,
making a mixture of extraordinary power.

Soon after this Major Flint came rambling round the table again. He was
not sure whether Puffin had put the bottle by his chair or behind the
coal-scuttle, and was quite ignorant of the fact that wherever it was,
it was empty. Amorous reminiscences to-night had been the accompaniment
to Puffin's second tumbler.

"Devilish fine woman she was," he said, "and that was the last that
Benjamin Flint ever saw of her. She went up to the hills next
morning----"

"But the last you saw of her just now was on the deck of the P. and O.
at Bombay," objected Puffin. "Or did she go up to the hills on the deck
of the P. and O.? Wonderful line!"

"No, sir," said Benjamin Flint, "that was Helen, _la belle Hélène_. It
was _la belle Hélène_ whom I saw off at the Apollo Bunder. I don't know
if I told you--By Gad, I've kicked the bottle over. No idea you'd put it
there. Hope the cork's in."

"No harm if it isn't," said Puffin, beginning on his third most fiery
glass. The strength of it rather astonished him.

"You don't mean to say it's empty?" asked Major Flint. "Why just now
there was close on a quarter of a bottle left."

"As much as that?" asked Puffin. "Glad to hear it."

"Not a drop less. You don't mean to say--Well, if you can drink that and
can say hippopotamus afterwards, I should put that among your
challenges, to men of four hundred and two: I should say forty-two. It's
a fine thing to have a strong head, though if I drank what you've got in
your glass, I should be tipsy, sir."

Puffin laughed in his irritating falsetto manner.

"Good thing that it's in my glass then, and not your glass," he said.
"And lemme tell you, Major, in case you don't know it, that when I've
drunk every drop of this and sucked the lemon, you'll have had far more
out of my bottle this evening than I have. My usual twice and--and my
usual night-cap, as you say, is what's my ration, and I've had no more
than my ration. Eight Bells."

"And a pretty good ration you've got there," said the baffled Major.
"Without your usual twice."

Puffin was beginning to be aware of that as he swallowed the fiery
mixture, but nothing in the world would now have prevented his drinking
every single drop of it. It was clear to him, among so much that was dim
owing to the wood-smoke, that the Major would miss a good many drives
to-morrow morning.

"And whose whisky is it?" he said, gulping down the fiery stuff.

"I know whose it's going to be," said the other.

"And I know whose it is now," retorted Puffin, "and I know whose whisky
it is that's filled you up ti' as a drum. Tight as a drum," he repeated
very carefully.

Major Flint was conscious of an unusual activity of brain, and, when he
spoke, of a sort of congestion and entanglement of words. It pleased him
to think that he had drunk so much of somebody's else whisky, but he
felt that he ought to be angry.

"That's a very unmentionable sor' of thing to say," he remarked. "An' if
it wasn't for the sacred claims of hospitality, I'd make you explain
just what you mean by that, and make you eat your words. Pologize, in
fact."

Puffin finished his glass at a gulp, and rose to his feet.

"Pologies be blowed," he said. "Hittopopamus!"

"And were you addressing that to me?" asked Major Flint with deadly
calm.

"Of course, I was. Hippot---- same animal as before. Pleasant old boy.
And as for the lemon you lent me, well, I don't want it any more. Have a
suck at it, ole fellow! I don't want it any more."

The Major turned purple in the face, made a course for the door like a
knight's move at chess (a long step in one direction and a short one at
right angles to the first) and opened it. The door thus served as an
aperture from the room and a support to himself. He spoke no word of any
sort or kind: his silence spoke for him in a far more dignified manner
than he could have managed for himself.

Captain Puffin stood for a moment wreathed in smiles, and fingering the
slice of lemon, which he had meant playfully to throw at his friend. But
his smile faded, and by some sort of telepathic perception he realized
how much more decorous it was to say (or, better, to indicate)
good-night in a dignified manner than to throw lemons about. He walked
in dots and dashes like a Morse code out of the room, bestowing a naval
salute on the Major as he passed. The latter returned it with a military
salute and a suppressed hiccup. Not a word passed.

Then Captain Puffin found his hat and coat without much difficulty, and
marched out of the house, slamming the door behind him with a bang that
echoed down the street and made Miss Mapp dream about a thunderstorm. He
let himself into his own house, and bent down before his expired fire,
which he tried to blow into life again. This was unsuccessful, and he
breathed in a quantity of wood-ash.

He sat down by his table and began to think things out. He told himself
that he was not drunk at all, but that he had taken an unusual quantity
of whisky, which seemed to produce much the same effect as intoxication.
Allowing for that, he was conscious that he was extremely angry about
something, and had a firm idea that the Major was very angry too.

"But woz'it all been about?" he vainly asked himself. "Woz'it all been
about?"

He was roused from his puzzling over this unanswerable conundrum by the
clink of the flap in his letter-box. Either this was the first post in
the morning, in which case it was much later than he thought, and
wonderfully dark still, or it was the last post at night, in which case
it was much earlier than he thought. But, whichever it was, a letter had
been slipped into his box, and he brought it in. The gum on the envelope
was still wet, which saved trouble in opening it. Inside was a half
sheet containing but a few words. This curt epistle ran as follows:

     "SIR,

     "My seconds will wait on you in the course of to-morrow morning.

                                     "Your faithful obedient servant,

                                                     "BENJAMIN FLINT.

     Captain Puffin."

Puffin felt as calm as a tropic night, and as courageous as a captain.
Somewhere below his courage and his calm was an appalling sense of
misgiving. That he successfully stifled.

"Very proper," he said aloud. "Qui' proper. Insults. Blood. Seconds
won't have to wait a second. Better get a good sleep."

He went up to his room, fell on to his bed and instantly began to snore.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was still dark when he awoke, but the square of his window was
visible against the blackness, and he concluded that though it was not
morning yet, it was getting on for morning, which seemed a pity. As he
turned over on to his side his hand came in contact with his coat,
instead of a sheet, and he became aware that he had all his clothes on.
Then, as with a crash of cymbals and the beating of a drum in his brain,
the events of the evening before leaped into reality and significance.
In a few hours now arrangements would have been made for a deadly
encounter. His anger was gone, his whisky was gone, and in particular
his courage was gone. He expressed all this compendiously by moaning
"Oh, God!"

He struggled to a sitting position, and lit a match at which he kindled
his candle. He looked for his watch beside it, but it was not there.
What could have happened--then he remembered that it was in its
accustomed place in his waistcoat pocket. A consultation of it followed
by holding it to his ear only revealed the fact that it had stopped at
half-past five. With the lucidity that was growing brighter in his
brain, he concluded that this stoppage was due to the fact that he had
not wound it up.... It was after half-past five then, but how much later
only the Lords of Time knew--Time which bordered so closely on Eternity.

He felt that he had no use whatever for Eternity but that he must not
waste Time. Just now, that was far more precious.

       *       *       *       *       *

From somewhere in the Cosmic Consciousness there came to him a thought,
namely, that the first train to London started at half-past six in the
morning. It was a slow train, but it got there, and in any case it went
away from Tilling. He did not trouble to consider how that thought came
to him: the important point was that it had come. Coupled with that was
the knowledge that it was now an undiscoverable number of minutes after
half-past five.

There was a Gladstone bag under his bed. He had brought it back from the
Club-house only yesterday, after that game of golf which had been so
full of disturbances and wet stockings, but which now wore the
shimmering security of peaceful, tranquil days long past. How little, so
he thought to himself, as he began swiftly storing shirts, ties, collars
and other useful things into his bag, had he appreciated the sweet
amenities of life, its pleasant conversations and companionships, its
topped drives, and mushrooms and incalculable incidents. Now they wore a
glamour and a preciousness that was bound up with life itself. He
starved for more of them, not knowing while they were his how sweet they
were.

The house was not yet astir, when ten minutes later he came downstairs
with his bag. He left on his sitting-room table, where it would catch
the eye of his housemaid, a sheet of paper on which he wrote "Called
away" (he shuddered as he traced the words). "Forward no letters. Will
communicate...." (Somehow the telegraphic form seemed best to suit the
urgency of the situation.) Then very quietly he let himself out of his
house.

He could not help casting an apprehensive glance at the windows of his
quondam friend and prospective murderer. To his horror he observed that
there was a light behind the blind of the Major's bedroom, and pictured
him writing to his seconds--he wondered who the "seconds" were going to
be--or polishing up his pistols. All the rumours and hints of the
Major's duels and affairs of honour, which he had rather scorned before,
not wholly believing them, poured like a red torrent into his mind, and
he found that now he believed them with a passionate sincerity. Why had
he ever attempted (and with such small success) to call this fire-eater
a hippopotamus?

The gale of the night before had abated, and thick chilly rain was
falling from a sullen sky as he tiptoed down the hill. Once round the
corner and out of sight of the duellist's house, he broke into a limping
run, which was accelerated by the sound of an engine-whistle from the
station. It was mental suspense of the most agonizing kind not to know
how long it was after his watch had stopped that he had awoke, and the
sound of that whistle, followed by several short puffs of steam, might
prove to be the six-thirty bearing away to London, on business or
pleasure, its secure and careless pilgrims. Splashing through puddles,
lopsidedly weighted by his bag, with his mackintosh flapping against his
legs, he gained the sanctuary of the waiting-room and booking-office,
which was lighted by a dim expiring lamp, and scrutinized the face of
the murky clock....

With a sob of relief he saw that he was in time. He was, indeed, in
exceptionally good time, for he had a quarter of an hour to wait. An
anxious internal debate followed as to whether or not he should take a
return ticket. Optimism, that is to say, the hope that he would return
to Tilling in peace and safety before the six months for which the
ticket was available inclined him to the larger expense, but in these
disquieting circumstances, it was difficult to be optimistic and he
purchased a first-class single, for on such a morning, and on such a
journey, he must get what comfort he could from looking-glasses, padded
seats and coloured photographs of places of interest on the line. He
formed no vision at all of the future: that was a dark well into which
it was dangerous to peer. There was no bright speck in its unplumbable
depths: unless Major Flint died suddenly without revealing the
challenge he had sent last night, and the promptitude with which its
recipient had disappeared rather than face his pistol, he could not
frame any grouping of events which would make it possible for him to
come back to Tilling again, for he would either have to fight (and this
he was quite determined not to do) or be pointed at by the finger of
scorn as the man who had refused to do so, and this was nearly as
unthinkable as the other. Bitterly he blamed himself for having made a
friend (and worse than that, an enemy) of one so obsolete and
old-fashioned as to bring duelling into modern life.... As far as he
could be glad of anything he was glad that he had taken a single, not a
return ticket.

He turned his eyes away from the blackness of the future and let his
mind dwell on the hardly less murky past. Then, throwing up his hands,
he buried his face in them with a hollow groan. By some miserable
forgetfulness he had left the challenge on his chimney-piece, where his
housemaid would undoubtedly find and read it. That would explain his
absence far better than the telegraphic instructions he had left on his
table. There was no time to go back for it now, even if he could have
faced the risk of being seen by the Major, and in an hour or two the
whole story, via Withers, Janet, etc., would be all over Tilling.

It was no use then thinking of the future nor of the past, and in order
to anchor himself to the world at all and preserve his sanity he had to
confine himself to the present. The minutes, long though each tarried,
were slipping away and provided his train was punctual, the passage of
five more of these laggards would see him safe. The news-boy took down
the shutters of his stall, a porter quenched the expiring lamp, and
Puffin began to listen for the rumble of the approaching train. It
stayed three minutes here: if up to time it would be in before a couple
more minutes had passed.

There came from the station-yard outside the sound of heavy footsteps
running. Some early traveller like himself was afraid of missing the
train. The door burst open, and, streaming with rain and panting for
breath, Major Flint stood at the entry. Puffin looked wildly round to
see whether he could escape, still perhaps unobserved, on to the
platform, but it was too late, for their eyes met.

In that instant of abject terror, two things struck Puffin. One was that
the Major looked at the open door behind him as if meditating retreat,
the second that he carried a Gladstone bag. Simultaneously Major Flint
spoke, if indeed that reverberating thunder of scornful indignation can
be called speech.

"Ha! I guessed right then," he roared. "I guessed, sir, that you might
be meditating flight, and I--in fact, I came down to see whether you
were running away. I was right. You are a coward, Captain Puffin! But
relieve your mind, sir. Major Flint will not demean himself to fight
with a coward."

Puffin gave one long sigh of relief, and then, standing in front of his
own Gladstone bag, in order to conceal it, burst into a cackling laugh.

"Indeed!" he said. "And why, Major, was it necessary for you to pack a
Gladstone bag in order to stop me from running away? I'll tell you what
has happened. You were running away, and you know it. I guessed you
would. I came to stop you, you, you quaking runaway. Your wound troubled
you, hey? Didn't want another, hey?"

There was an awful pause, broken by the entry from behind the Major of
the outside porter, panting under the weight of a large portmanteau.

"You had to take your portmanteau, too," observed Puffin witheringly,
"in order to stop me. That's a curious way of stopping me. You're a
coward, sir! But go home. You're safe enough. This will be a fine story
for tea-parties."

Puffin turned from him in scorn, still concealing his own bag.
Unfortunately the flap of his coat caught it, precariously perched on
the bench, and it bumped to the ground.

"What's that?" said Major Flint.

They stared at each other for a moment and then simultaneously burst
into peals of laughter. The train rumbled slowly into the station, but
neither took the least notice of it, and only shook their heads and
broke out again when the station-master urged them to take their seats.
The only thing that had power to restore Captain Puffin to gravity was
the difficulty of getting the money for his ticket refunded, while the
departure of the train with his portmanteau in it did the same for the
Major.

       *       *       *       *       *

The events of that night and morning, as may easily be imagined, soon
supplied Tilling with one of the most remarkable conundrums that had
ever been forced upon its notice. Puffin's housemaid, during his absence
at the station, found and read not only the notice intended for her
eyes, but the challenge which he had left on the chimney-piece. She
conceived it to be her duty to take it down to Mrs. Gashly, his cook,
and while they were putting the bloodiest construction on these
inscriptions, their conference was interrupted by the return of Captain
Puffin in the highest spirits, who, after a vain search for the
challenge, was quite content, as its purport was no longer fraught with
danger and death, to suppose that he had torn it up. Mrs. Gashly,
therefore, after preparing breakfast at this unusually early hour, went
across to the back door of the Major's house, with the challenge in her
hand, to borrow a nutmeg grater, and gleaned the information that Mrs.
Dominic's employer (for master he could not be called) had gone off in a
great hurry to the station early that morning with a Gladstone bag and a
portmanteau, the latter of which had been seen no more, though the Major
had returned. So Mrs. Gashly produced the challenge, and having watched
Miss Mapp off to the High Street at half-past ten, Dominic and Gashly
went together to her house, to see if Withers could supply anything of
importance, or, if not, a nutmeg grater. They were forced to be content
with the grater, but pored over the challenge with Withers, and she
having an errand to Diva's house, told Janet, who without further
ceremony bounded upstairs to tell her mistress. Hardly had Diva heard,
than she plunged into the High Street, and, with suitable additions,
told Miss Mapp, Evie, Irene and the Padre under promise in each case, of
the strictest secrecy. Ten minutes later Irene had asked the defenceless
Mr. Hopkins, who was being Adam again, what he knew about it, and Evie,
with her mouse-like gait that looked so rapid and was so deliberate, had
the mortification of seeing Miss Mapp outdistance her and be admitted
into the Poppits' house, just as she came in view of the front-door. She
rightly conjectured that, after the affair of the store-cupboard in the
garden-room, there could be nothing of lesser importance than "the duel"
which could take that lady through those abhorred portals. Finally, at
ten minutes past eleven, Major Flint and Captain Puffin were seen by one
or two fortunate people (the morning having cleared up) walking together
to the tram, and, without exception, everybody knew that they were on
their way to fight their duel in some remote hollow of the sand-dunes.

Miss Mapp had gone straight home from her visit to the Poppits just
about eleven, and stationed herself in the window where she could keep
an eye on the houses of the duellists. In her anxiety to outstrip Evie
and be the first to tell the Poppits, she had not waited to hear that
they had both come back and knew only of the challenge and that they had
gone to the station. She had already formed a glorious idea of her own
as to what the history of the duel (past or future) was, and intoxicated
with emotion had retired from the wordy fray to think about it, and, as
already mentioned, to keep an eye on the two houses just below. Then
there appeared in sight the Padre, walking swiftly up the hill, and she
had barely time under cover of the curtain to regain the table where her
sweet chrysanthemums were pining for water when Withers announced him.
He wore a furrowed brow and quite forgot to speak either Scotch or
Elizabethan English. A few rapid words made it clear that they both had
heard the main outlines.

"A terrible situation," said the Padre. "Duelling is direct
contravention of all Christian principles, and, I believe, of the civil
law. The discharge of a pistol, in unskilful hands, may lead to
deplorable results. And Major Flint, so one has heard, is an experienced
duellist.... That, of course, makes it even more dangerous."

It was at this identical moment that Major Flint came out of his house
and qui-hied cheerily to Puffin. Miss Mapp and the Padre, deep in these
bloody possibilities, neither saw nor heard them. They passed together
down the road and into the High Street, unconscious that their very look
and action was being more commented on than the Epistle to the Hebrews.
Inside the garden-room Miss Mapp sighed, and bent her eyes on her
chrysanthemums.

"Quite terrible!" she said. "And in our peaceful, tranquil Tilling!"

"Perhaps the duel has already taken place, and--and they've missed,"
said the Padre. "They were both seen to return to their houses early
this morning."

"By whom?" asked Miss Mapp jealously. She had not heard that.

"By Hopkins," said he. "Hopkins saw them both return."

"I shouldn't trust that man too much," said Miss Mapp. "Hopkins may not
be telling the truth. I have no great opinion of his moral standard."

"Why is that?"

This was no time to discuss the nudity of Hopkins and Miss Mapp put the
question aside.

"That does not matter now, dear Padre," she said. "I only wish I thought
the duel had taken place without accident. But Major Benjy's--I mean
Major Flint's--portmanteau has not come back to his house. Of that I'm
sure. What if they have sent it away to some place where they are
unknown, full of pistols and things?"

"Possible--terribly possible," said the Padre. "I wish I could see my
duty clear. I should not hesitate to--well, to do the best I could to
induce them to abandon this murderous project. And what do you imagine
was the root of the quarrel?"

"I couldn't say, I'm sure," said Miss Mapp. She bent her head over the
chrysanthemums.

"Your distracting sex," said he with a moment's gallantry, "is usually
the cause of quarrel. I've noticed that they both seemed to admire Miss
Irene very much."

Miss Mapp raised her head and spoke with great animation.

"Dear, quaint Irene, I'm sure, has nothing whatever to do with it," she
said with perfect truth. "Nothing whatever!"

There was no mistaking the sincerity of this, and the Padre, Tillingite
to the marrow, instantly concluded that Miss Mapp knew what (or who) was
the cause of all this unique disturbance. And as she bent her head again
over the chrysanthemums, and quite distinctly grew brick-red in the
face, he felt that delicacy prevented his inquiring any further.

"What are you going to do, dear Padre?" she asked in a low voice,
choking with emotion. "Whatever you decide will be wise and Christian.
Oh, these violent men! Such babies, too!"

The Padre was bursting with curiosity, but since his delicacy forbade
him to ask any of the questions which effervesced like sherbet round his
tongue, he propounded another plan.

"I think my duty is to go straight to the Major," he said, "who seems to
be the principal in the affair, and tell him that I know all--and guess
the rest," he added.

"Nothing that I have said," declared Miss Mapp in great confusion, "must
have anything to do with your guesses. Promise me that, Padre."

This intimate and fruitful conversation was interrupted by the sound of
two pairs of steps just outside, and before Withers had had time to say
"Mrs. Plaistow," Diva burst in.

"They have both taken the 11.20 tram," she said, and sank into the
nearest chair.

"Together?" asked Miss Mapp, feeling a sudden chill of disappointment
at the thought of a duel with pistols trailing off into one with golf
clubs.

"Yes, but that's a blind," panted Diva. "They were talking and laughing
together. Sheer blind! Duel among the sand-dunes!"

"Padre, it is your duty to stop it," said Miss Mapp faintly.

"But if the pistols are in a portmanteau----" he began.

"What portmanteau?" screamed Diva, who hadn't heard about that.

"Darling, I'll tell you presently," said Miss Mapp. "That was only a
guess of mine, Padre. But there's no time to lose."

"But there's no tram to catch," said the Padre. "It has gone by this
time."

"A taxi then, Padre! Oh, lose no time!"

"Are you coming with me?" he said in a low voice. "Your presence----"

"Better not," she said. "It might---- Better not," she repeated.

He skipped down the steps and was observed running down the street.

"What about the portmanteau?" asked the greedy Diva.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was with strong misgivings that the Padre started on his Christian
errand, and had not the sense of adventure spiced it, he would probably
have returned to his sermon instead, which was Christian, too. To begin
with, there was the ruinous expense of taking a taxi out to the
golf-links, but by no other means could he hope to arrive in time to
avert an encounter that might be fatal. It must be said to his credit
that, though this was an errand distinctly due to his position as the
spiritual head of Tilling, he rejected, as soon as it occurred to him,
the idea of charging the hire of the taxi to Church Expenses, and as he
whirled along the flat road across the marsh, the thing that chiefly
buoyed up his drooping spirits and annealed his courage was the romantic
nature of his mission. He no longer, thanks to what Miss Mapp had so
clearly refrained from saying, had the slightest doubt that she, in some
manner that scarcely needed conjecture, was the cause of the duel he was
attempting to avert. For years it had been a matter of unwearied and
confidential discussion as to whether and when she would marry either
Major Flint or Captain Puffin, and it was superfluous to look for any
other explanation. It was true that she, in popular parlance, was
"getting on," but so, too, and at exactly the same rate, were the
representatives of the United Services, and the sooner that two out of
the three of them "got on" permanently, the better. No doubt some crisis
had arisen, and inflamed with love.... He intended to confide all this
to his wife on his return.

On his return! The unspoken words made his heart sink. What if he never
did return? For he was about to place himself in a position of no common
danger. His plan was to drive past the club-house, and then on foot,
after discharging the taxi, to strike directly into the line of tumbled
sand-dunes which, remote and undisturbed and full of large convenient
hollows, stretched along the coast above the flat beach. Any of those
hollows, he knew, might prove to contain the duellists in the very act
of firing, and over the rim of each he had to pop his unprotected head.
He (if in time) would have to separate the combatants, and who knew
whether, in their very natural chagrin at being interrupted, they might
not turn their combined pistols on him first, and settle with each
other afterwards? One murder the more made little difference to
desperate men. Other shocks, less deadly but extremely unnerving, might
await him. He might be too late, and pop his head over the edge of one
of these craters, only to discover it full of bleeding if not mangled
bodies. Or there might be only one mangled body, and the other,
unmangled, would pursue him through the sand-dunes and offer him life at
the price of silence. That, he painfully reflected, would be a very
difficult decision to make. Luckily, Captain Puffin (if he proved to be
the survivor) was lame....

With drawn face and agonized prayers on his lips, he began a systematic
search of the sand-dunes. Often his nerve nearly failed him, and he
would sink panting among the prickly bents before he dared to peer into
the hollow up the sides of which he had climbed. His ears shuddered at
the anticipation of hearing from near at hand the report of pistols, and
once a back-fire from a motor passing along the road caused him to leap
high in the air. The sides of these dunes were steep, and his shoes got
so full of sand, that from time to time, in spite of the urgency of his
errand, he was forced to pause in order to empty them out. He stumbled
in rabbit holes, he caught his foot and once his trousers in strands of
barbed wire, the remnant of coast defences in the Great War, he crashed
among potsherds and abandoned kettles; but with a thoroughness that did
equal credit to his wind and his Christian spirit, he searched a mile of
perilous dunes from end to end, and peered into every important hollow.
Two hours later, jaded and torn and streaming with perspiration, he
came, in the vicinity of the club-house, to the end of his fruitless
search.

He staggered round the corner of it and came in view of the eighteenth
green. Two figures were occupying it, and one of these was in the act of
putting. He missed. Then he saw who the figures were: it was Captain
Puffin who had just missed his putt, it was Major Flint who now
expressed elated sympathy.

"Bad luck, old boy," he said. "Well, a jolly good match and we halve it.
Why, there's the Padre. Been for a walk? Join us in a round this
afternoon, Padre! Blow your sermon!"



CHAPTER VI


The same delightful prospect at the end of the High Street, over the
marsh, which had witnessed not so long ago the final encounter in the
Wars of the Roses and the subsequent armistice, was, of course, found to
be peculiarly attractive that morning to those who knew (and who did
not?) that the combatants had left by the 11.20 steam-tram to fight
among the sand-dunes, and that the intrepid Padre had rushed after them
in a taxi. The Padre's taxi had returned empty, and the driver seemed to
know nothing whatever about anything, so the only thing for everybody to
do was to put off lunch and wait for the arrival of the next tram, which
occurred at 1.37. In consequence, all the doors in Tilling flew open
like those of cuckoo clocks at ten minutes before that hour, and this
pleasant promenade was full of those who so keenly admired autumn tints.

From here the progress of the tram across the plain was in full view;
so, too, was the shed-like station across the river, which was the
terminus of the line, and expectation, when the two-waggoned little
train approached the end of its journey, was so tense that it was
almost disagreeable. A couple of hours had elapsed since, like the
fishers who sailed away into the West and were seen no more till the
corpses lay out on the shining sand, the three had left for the
sand-dunes, and a couple of hours, so reasoned the Cosmic Consciousness
of Tilling, gave ample time for a duel to be fought, if the Padre was
not in time to stop it, and for him to stop it if he was. No surgical
assistance, as far as was known, had been summoned, but the reason for
that might easily be that a surgeon's skill was no longer, alas! of any
avail for one, if not both, of the combatants. But if such was the case,
it was nice to hope that the Padre had been in time to supply spiritual
aid to anyone whom first-aid and probes were powerless to succour.

The variety of _dénouements_ which the approaching tram, that had now
cut off steam, was capable of providing was positively bewildering. They
whirled through Miss Mapp's head like the autumn leaves which she
admired so much, and she tried in vain to catch them all, and, when
caught, to tick them off on her fingers. Each, moreover, furnished
diverse and legitimate conclusions. For instance (taking the thumb)

  I. If nobody of the slightest importance arrived by the tram, that
     might be because

     (_a_) Nothing had happened, and they were all playing golf.

     (_b_) The worst had happened, and, as the Padre had feared, the
           duellists had first shot him and then each other.

     (_c_) The next worst had happened, and the Padre was arranging for
           the reverent removal of the corpse of

           (i) Major Benjy, or

           (ii) Captain Puffin, or those of

           (iii) Both.

Miss Mapp let go of her thumb and lightly touched her forefinger.

  II. The Padre might arrive alone.

In that case anything or nothing might have happened to either or both
of the others, and the various contingencies hanging on this arrival
were so numerous that there was not time to sort them out.

  III. The Padre might arrive with two limping figures whom he assisted.

Here it must not be forgotten that Captain Puffin always limped, and the
Major occasionally. Miss Mapp did not forget it.

  IV. The Padre might arrive with a stretcher. Query--Whose?

  V.  The Padre might arrive with two stretchers.

  VI. Three stretchers might arrive from the shining sands, at the town
      where the women were weeping and wringing their hands.

In that case Miss Mapp saw herself busily employed in strengthening poor
Evie, who now was running about like a mouse from group to group picking
up crumbs of Cosmic Consciousness.

Miss Mapp had got as far as sixthly, though she was aware she had not
exhausted the possibilities, when the tram stopped. She furtively took
out from her pocket (she had focussed them before she put them in) the
opera-glasses through which she had watched the station-yard on a day
which had been very much less exciting than this. After one glance she
put them back again, feeling vexed and disappointed with herself, for
the _dénouement_ which they had so unerringly disclosed was one that
had not entered her mind at all. In that moment she had seen that out of
the tram there stepped three figures and no stretcher. One figure, it is
true, limped, but in a manner so natural, that she scorned to draw any
deductions from that halting gait. They proceeded, side by side, across
the bridge over the river towards the town.

It is no use denying that the Cosmic Consciousness of the ladies of
Tilling was aware of a disagreeable anti-climax to so many hopes and
fears. It had, of course, hoped for the best, but it had not expected
that the best would be quite as bad as this. The best, to put it
frankly, would have been a bandaged arm, or something of that kind.
There was still room for the more hardened optimist to hope that
something of some sort had occurred, or that something of some sort had
been averted, and that the whole affair was not, in the delicious new
slang phrase of the Padre's, which was spreading like wildfire through
Tilling, a "wash-out." Pistols might have been innocuously discharged
for all that was known to the contrary. But it looked bad.

Miss Mapp was the first to recover from the blow, and took Diva's podgy
hand.

"Diva, darling," she said, "I feel so deeply thankful. What a wonderful
and beautiful end to all our anxiety!"

There was a subconscious regret with regard to the anxiety. The anxiety
was, so to speak, a dear and beloved departed.... And Diva did not feel
so sure that the end was so beautiful and wonderful. Her grandfather,
Miss Mapp had reason to know, had been a butcher, and probably some
inherited indifference to slaughter lurked in her tainted blood.

"There's the portmanteau still," she said hopefully. "Pistols in the
portmanteau. Your idea, Elizabeth."

"Yes, dear," said Elizabeth; "but thank God I must have been very wrong
about the portmanteau. The outside-porter told me that he brought it up
from the station to Major Benjy's house half an hour ago. Fancy your not
knowing that! I feel sure he is a truthful man, for he attends the
Padre's confirmation class. If there had been pistols in it, Major Benjy
and Captain Puffin would have gone away too. I am quite happy about that
now. It went away and it has come back. That's all about the
portmanteau."

She paused a moment.

"But what does it contain, then?" she said quickly, more as if she was
thinking aloud than talking to Diva. "Why did Major Benjy pack it and
send it to the station this morning? Where has it come back from? Why
did it go there?"

She felt that she was saying too much, and pressed her hand to her head.

"Has all this happened this morning?" she said. "What a full morning,
dear! Lovely autumn leaves! I shall go home and have my lunch and rest.
Au reservoir, Diva."

Miss Mapp's eternal reservoirs had begun to get on Diva's nerves, and as
she lingered here a moment more a great idea occurred to her, which
temporarily banished the disappointment about the duellists. Elizabeth,
as all the world knew, had accumulated a great reservoir of provisions
in the false book-case in her garden-room, and Diva determined that, if
she could think of a neat phrase, the very next time Elizabeth said _au
reservoir_ to her, she would work in an allusion to Elizabeth's own
reservoir of corned beef, tongue, flour, bovril, dried apricots and
condensed milk. She would have to frame some stinging rejoinder which
would "escape her" when next Elizabeth used that stale old phrase: it
would have to be short, swift and spontaneous, and therefore required
careful thought. It would be good to bring "pop" into it also. "Your
reservoir in the garden-room hasn't gone 'pop' again, I hope, darling?"
was the first draft that occurred to her, but that was not sufficiently
condensed. "Pop goes the reservoir," on the analogy of the weasel, was
better. And, better than either, was there not some sort of corn called
pop-corn, which Americans ate?... "Have you any pop-corn in your
reservoir?" That would be a nasty one....

But it all required thinking over, and the sight of the Padre and the
duellists crossing the field below, as she still lingered on this
escarpment of the hill, brought the duel back to her mind. It would have
been considered inquisitive even at Tilling to put direct questions to
the combatants, and (still hoping for the best) ask them point-blank
"Who won?" or something of that sort; but until she arrived at some sort
of information, the excruciating pangs of curiosity that must be endured
could be likened only to some acute toothache of the mind with no
dentist to stop or remove the source of the trouble. Elizabeth had
already succumbed to these pangs of surmise and excitement, and had
frankly gone home to rest, and her absence, the fact that for the next
hour or two she could not, except by some extraordinary feat on the
telephone, get hold of anything which would throw light on the whole
prodigious situation, inflamed Diva's brain to the highest pitch of
inventiveness. She knew that she was Elizabeth's inferior in point of
reconstructive imagination, and the present moment, while the other was
recuperating her energies for fresh assaults on the unknown, was Diva's
opportunity. The one person who might be presumed to know more than
anybody else was the Padre, but while he was with the duellists, it was
as impossible to ask him what had happened as to ask the duellists who
had won. She must, while Miss Mapp rested, get hold of the Padre without
the duellists.

Even as Athene sprang full grown and panoplied from the brain of Zeus,
so from Diva's brain there sprang her plan complete. She even resisted
the temptation to go on admiring autumn tints, in order to see how the
interesting trio "looked" when, as they must presently do, they passed
close to where she stood, and hurried home, pausing only to purchase,
pay for, and carry away with her from the provision shop a large and
expensively-dressed crab, a dainty of which the Padre was inordinately
fond. Ruinous as this was, there was a note of triumph in her voice
when, on arrival, she called loudly for Janet, and told her to lay
another place at the luncheon table. Then putting a strong constraint on
herself, she waited three minutes by her watch, in order to give the
Padre time to get home, and then rang him up and reminded him that he
had promised to lunch with her that day. It was no use asking him to
lunch in such a way that he might refuse: she employed without remorse
this pitiless _force majeure_.

The engagement was short and brisk. He pleaded that not even now could
he remember even having been asked (which was not surprising), and said
that he and wee wifie had begun lunch. On which Diva unmasked her last
gun, and told him that she had ordered a crab on purpose. That silenced
further argument, and he said that he and wee wifie would be round in a
jiffy, and rang off. She did not particularly want wee wifie, but there
was enough crab.

Diva felt that she had never laid out four shillings to better purpose,
when, a quarter of an hour later, the Padre gave her the full account of
his fruitless search among the sand-dunes, so deeply impressive was his
sense of being buoyed up to that incredibly fatiguing and perilous
excursion by some Power outside himself. It never even occurred to her
to think that it was an elaborate practical joke on the part of the
Power outside himself, to spur him on to such immense exertions to no
purpose at all. He had only got as far as this over his interrupted
lunch with wee wifie, and though she, too, was in agonized suspense as
to what happened next, she bore the repetition with great equanimity,
only making small mouse-like noises of impatience which nobody heard. He
was quite forgetting to speak either Scotch or Elizabethan English, so
obvious was the absorption of his hearers, without these added aids to
command attention.

"And then I came round the corner of the club-house," he said, "and
there were Captain Puffin and the Major finishing their match on the
eighteenth hole."

"Then there's been no duel at all," said Diva, scraping the shell of the
crab.

"I feel sure of it. There wouldn't have been time for a duel and a round
of golf, in addition to the impossibility of playing golf immediately
after a duel. No nerves could stand it. Besides, I asked one of their
caddies. They had come straight from the tram to the club-house, and
from the club-house to the first tee. They had not been alone for a
moment."

"Wash-out," said Diva, wondering whether this had been worth four
shillings, so tame was the conclusion.

Mrs. Bartlett gave a little squeak which was her preliminary to speech.

"But I do not see why there may not be a duel yet, Kenneth," she said.
"Because they did not fight this morning--excellent crab, dear Diva, so
good of you to ask us--there's no reason why there shouldn't be a duel
this afternoon. O dear me, and cold beef as well: I shall be quite
stuffed. Depend upon it a man doesn't take the trouble to write a
challenge and all that, unless he means business."

The Padre held up his hand. He felt that he was gradually growing to be
the hero of the whole affair. He had certainly looked over the edge of
numberless hollows in the sand-dunes with vivid anticipations of having
a bullet whizz by him on each separate occasion. It behoved him to take
a sublime line.

"My dear," he said, "business is hardly a word to apply to murder. That
within the last twenty-four hours there was the intention of fighting a
duel, I don't deny. But something has decidedly happened which has
averted that deplorable calamity. Peace and reconciliation is the result
of it, and I have never seen two men so unaffectedly friendly."

Diva got up and whirled round the table to get the port for the Padre,
so pleased was she at a fresh idea coming to her while still dear
Elizabeth was resting. She attributed it to the crab.

"We've all been on a false scent," she said. "Peace and reconciliation
happened before they went out to the sand-dunes at all. It happened at
the station. They met at the station, you know. It is proved that Major
Flint went there. Major wouldn't send portmanteau off alone. And it's
proved that Captain Puffin went there too, because the note which his
housemaid found on the table before she saw the challenge from the
Major, which was on the chimney-piece, said that he had been called away
very suddenly. No: they both went to catch the early train in order to
go away before they could be stopped, and kill each other. But why
didn't they go? What happened? Don't suppose the outside porter showed
them how wicked they were, confirmation-class or no confirmation-class.
Stumps me. Almost wish Elizabeth was here. She's good at guessing."

The Padre's eye brightened. Reaction after the perils of the morning,
crab and port combined to make a man of him.

"Eh, 'tis a bonny wee drappie of port whatever, Mistress Plaistow," he
said. "And I dinna ken that ye're far wrang in jaloosing that Mistress
Mapp might have a wee bitty word to say aboot it a', 'gin she had the
mind."

"She was wrong about the portmanteau," said Diva. "Confessed she was
wrong."

"Hoots! I'm not mindin' the bit pochmantie," said the Padre.

"What else does she know?" asked Diva feverishly.

There was no doubt that the Padre had the fullest attention of the two
ladies again, and there was no need to talk Scotch any more.

"Begin at the beginning," he said. "What do we suppose was the cause of
the quarrel?"

"Anything," said Diva. "Golf, tiger-skins, coal-strike, summer-time."

He shook his head.

"I grant you words may pass on such subjects," he said. "We feel keenly,
I know, about summer-time in Tilling, though we shall all be reconciled
over that next Sunday, when real time, God's time, as I am venturing to
call it in my sermon, comes in again."

Diva had to bite her tongue to prevent herself bolting off on this new
scent. After all, she had invested in crab to learn about duelling, not
about summer-time.

"Well?" she said.

"We may have had words on that subject," said the Padre, booming as if
he was in the pulpit already, "but we should, I hope, none of us go so
far as to catch the earliest train with pistols, in defence of our
conviction about summer-time. No, Mrs. Plaistow, if you are right, and
there is something to be said for your view, in thinking that they both
went to such lengths as to be in time for the early train, in order to
fight a duel undisturbed, you must look for a more solid cause than
that."

Diva vainly racked her brains to think of anything more worthy of the
highest pitches of emotion than this. If it had been she and Miss Mapp
who had been embroiled, hoarding and dress would have occurred to her.
But as it was, no one in his senses could dream that the Captain and the
Major were sartorial rivals, unless they had quarrelled over the
question as to which of them wore the snuffiest old clothes.

"Give it up," she said. "What did they quarrel about?"

"Passion!" said the Padre, in those full, deep tones in which next
Sunday he would allude to God's time. "I do not mean anger, but the
flame that exalts man to heaven or--or does exactly the opposite!"

"But whomever for?" asked Diva, quite thrown off her bearings. Such a
thing had never occurred to her, for, as far as she was aware, passion,
except in the sense of temper, did not exist in Tilling. Tilling was
far too respectable.

The Padre considered this a moment.

"I am betraying no confidence," he said, "because no one has confided in
me. But there certainly is a lady in this town--I do not allude to Miss
Irene--who has long enjoyed the Major's particular esteem. May not some
deprecating remark----"

Wee wifie gave a much louder squeal than usual.

"He means poor Elizabeth," she said in a high, tremulous voice. "Fancy,
Kenneth!"

Diva, a few seconds before, had seen no reason why the Padre should
drink the rest of her port, and was now in the act of drinking some of
that unusual beverage herself. She tried to swallow it, but it was too
late, and next moment all the openings in her face were fountains of
that delicious wine. She choked and she gurgled, until the last drop had
left her windpipe--under the persuasion of pattings on the back from the
others--and then she gave herself up to loud, hoarse laughter, through
which there shrilled the staccato squeaks of wee wifie. Nothing, even if
you are being laughed at yourself, is so infectious as prolonged
laughter, and the Padre felt himself forced to join it. When one of them
got a little better, a relapse ensued by reason of infection from the
others, and it was not till exhaustion set in, that this triple volcano
became quiescent again.

"Only fancy!" said Evie faintly. "How did such an idea get into your
head, Kenneth?"

His voice shook as he answered.

"Well, we were all a little worked up this morning," he said. "The
idea--really, I don't know what we have all been laughing at----"

"I do," said Diva. "Go on. About the idea----"

A feminine, a diabolical inspiration flared within wee wifie's mind.

"Elizabeth suggested it herself," she squealed.

Naturally Diva could not help remembering that she had found Miss Mapp
and the Padre in earnest conversation together when she forced her way
in that morning with the news that the duellists had left by the 11.20
tram. Nobody could be expected to have so short a memory as to have
forgotten _that_. Just now she forgave Elizabeth for anything she had
ever done. That might have to be reconsidered afterwards, but at present
it was valid enough.

"Did she suggest it?" she asked.

The Padre behaved like a man, and lied like Ananias.

"Most emphatically she did not," he said.

The disappointment would have been severe, had the two ladies believed
this confident assertion, and Diva pictured a delightful interview with
Elizabeth, in which she would suddenly tell her the wild surmise the
Padre had made with regard to the cause of the duel, and see how she
looked then. Just see how she looked then: that was
all--self-consciousness and guilt would fly their colours....

       *       *       *       *       *

Miss Mapp had been tempted when she went home that morning, after
enjoying the autumn tints, to ask Diva to lunch with her, but remembered
in time that she had told her cook to broach one of the tins of
corned-beef which no human wizard could coax into the store-cupboard
again, if he shut the door after it. Diva would have been sure to say
something acid and allusive, to remark on its excellence being happily
not wasted on the poor people in the hospital, or, if she had not said
anything at all about it, her silence as she ate a great deal would have
had a sharp flavour. But Miss Mapp would have liked, especially when she
went to take her rest afterwards on the big sofa in the garden-room, to
have had somebody to talk to, for her brain seethed with conjectures as
to what had happened, was happening and would happen, and discussion was
the best method of simplifying a problem, of narrowing it down to the
limits of probability, whereas when she was alone now with her own
imaginings, the most fantastic of them seemed plausible. She had,
however, handed a glorious suggestion to the Padre, the one, that is,
which concerned the cause of the duel, and it had been highly
satisfactory to observe the sympathy and respect with which he had
imbibed it. She had, too, been so discreet about it; she had not come
within measurable distance of asserting that the challenge had been in
any way connected with her. She had only been very emphatic on the point
of its not being connected with poor dear Irene, and then occupied
herself with her sweet flowers. That had been sufficient, and she felt
in her bones and marrow that he inferred what she had meant him to
infer....

The vulture of surmise ceased to peck at her for a few moments as she
considered this, and followed up a thread of gold.... Though the Padre
would surely be discreet, she hoped that he would "let slip" to dear
Evie in the course of the vivid conversation they would be sure to have
over lunch, that he had a good guess as to the cause which had led to
that savage challenge. Upon which dear Evie would be certain to ply him
with direct squeaks and questions, and when she "got hot" (as in animal,
vegetable and mineral) his reticence would lead her to make a good
guess too. She might be incredulous, but there the idea would be in her
mind, while if she felt that these stirring days were no time for
scepticism, she could hardly fail to be interested and touched. Before
long (how soon Miss Mapp was happily not aware) she would "pop in" to
see Diva, or Diva would "pop in" to see her, and, Evie observing a
discretion similar to that of the Padre and herself, would soon enable
dear Diva to make a good guess too. After that, all would be well, for
dear Diva ("such a gossiping darling") would undoubtedly tell everybody
in Tilling, under vows of secrecy (so that she should have the pleasure
of telling everybody herself) just what her good guess was. Thus, very
presently, all Tilling would know exactly that which Miss Mapp had not
said to the dear Padre, namely, that the duel which had been fought (or
which hadn't been fought) was "all about" her. And the best of it was,
that though everybody knew, it would still be a great and beautiful
secret, reposing inviolably in every breast or chest, as the case might
be. She had no anxiety about anybody asking direct questions of the
duellists, for if duelling, for years past, had been a subject which no
delicately-minded person alluded to purposely in Major Benjy's presence,
how much more now after this critical morning would that subject be
taboo? That certainly was a good thing, for the duellists if closely
questioned might have a different explanation, and it would be highly
inconvenient to have two contradictory stories going about. But, as it
was, nothing could be nicer: the whole of the rest of Tilling, under
promise of secrecy, would know, and even if under further promises of
secrecy they communicated their secret to each other, there would be no
harm done....

After this excursion into Elysian fields, poor Miss Mapp had to get
back to her vulture again, and the hour's rest that she had felt was due
to herself as the heroine of a duel became a period of extraordinary
cerebral activity. Puzzle as she might, she could make nothing whatever
of the portmanteau and the excursion to the early train, and she got up
long before her hour was over, since she found that the more she
thought, the more invincible were the objections to any conclusion that
she drowningly grasped at. Whatever attack she made on this mystery, the
garrison failed to march out and surrender but kept their flag flying,
and her conjectures were woefully blasted by the forces of the most
elementary reasons. But as the agony of suspense, if no fresh topic of
interest intervened, would be frankly unendurable, she determined to
concentrate no more on it, but rather to commit it to the ice-house or
safe of her subconscious mind, from which at will, when she felt
refreshed and reinvigorated, she could unlock it and examine it again.
The whole problem was more superlatively baffling than any that she
could remember having encountered in all these inquisitive years, just
as the subject of it was more majestic than any, for it concerned not
hoarding, nor visits of the Prince of Wales, nor poppy-trimmed gowns,
but life and death and firing of deadly pistols. And should love be
added to this august list? Certainly not by her, though Tilling might do
what it liked. In fact Tilling always did.

She walked across to the bow-window from which she had conducted so many
exciting and successful investigations. But to-day the view seemed as
stale and unprofitable as the world appeared to Hamlet, even though Mrs.
Poppit at that moment went waddling down the street and disappeared
round the corner where the dentist and Mr. Wyse lived. With a sense of
fatigue Miss Mapp recalled the fact that she had seen the housemaid
cleaning Mr. Wyse's windows yesterday--("Children dear, was it
yesterday?")--and had noted her industry, and drawn from it the
irresistible conclusion that Mr. Wyse was probably expected home. He
usually came back about mid-October, and let slip allusions to his
enjoyable visits in Scotland and his _villeggiatura_ (so he was pleased
to express it) with his sister the Contessa di Faraglione at Capri. That
Contessa Faraglione was rather a mythical personage to Miss Mapp's mind:
she was certainly not in a mediæval copy of "Who's Who?" which was the
only accessible handbook in matters relating to noble and notable
personages, and though Miss Mapp would not have taken an oath that she
did not exist, she saw no strong reason for supposing that she did.
Certainly she had never been to Tilling, which was strange as her
brother lived there, and there was nothing but her brother's allusions
to certify her. About Mrs. Poppit now: had she gone to see Mr. Wyse or
had she gone to the dentist? One or other it must be, for apart from
them that particular street contained nobody who counted, and at the
bottom it simply conducted you out into the uneventful country. Mrs.
Poppit was all dressed up, and she would never walk in the country in
such a costume. It would do either for Mr. Wyse or the dentist, for she
was the sort of woman who would like to appear grand in the dentist's
chair, so that he might be shy of hurting such a fine lady. Then again,
Mrs. Poppit had wonderful teeth, almost too good to be true, and before
now she had asked who lived at that pretty little house just round the
corner, as if to show that she didn't know where the dentist lived! Or
had she found out by some underhand means that Mr. Wyse had come back,
and had gone to call on him and give him the first news of the duel,
and talk to him about Scotland? Very likely they had neither of them
been to Scotland at all: they conspired to say that they had been to
Scotland and stayed at shooting-lodges (keepers' lodges more likely) in
order to impress Tilling with their magnificence....

Miss Mapp sat down on the central-heating pipes in her window, and fell
into one of her reconstructive musings. Partly, if Mr. Wyse was back, it
was well just to run over his record; partly she wanted to divert her
mind from the two houses just below, that of Major Benjy on the one side
and that of Captain Puffin on the other, which contained the key to the
great, insoluble mystery, from conjecture as to which she wanted to
obtain relief. Mr. Wyse, anyhow, would serve as a mild opiate, for she
had never lost an angry interest in him. Though he was for eight months
of the year, or thereabouts, in Tilling, he was never, for a single
hour, _of_ Tilling. He did not exactly invest himself with an air of
condescension and superiority--Miss Mapp did him that justice--but he
made other people invest him with it, so that it came to the same thing:
he was invested. He did not drag the fact of his sister being the
Contessa Faraglione into conversation, but if talk turned on sisters,
and he was asked about his, he confessed to her nobility. The same
phenomenon appeared when the innocent county of Hampshire was mentioned,
for it turned out that he knew the county well, being one of the Wyses
of Whitchurch. You couldn't say he talked about it, but he made other
people talk about it.... He was quite impervious to satire on such
points, for when, goaded to madness, Miss Mapp had once said that she
was one of the Mapps of Maidstone, he had merely bowed and said: "A very
old family, I believe," and when the conversation branched off on to
old families he had rather pointedly said "we" to Miss Mapp. So poor
Miss Mapp was sorry she had been satirical.... But for some reason,
Tilling never ceased to play up to Mr. Wyse, and there was not a
tea-party or a bridge-party given during the whole period of his
residence there to which he was not invited. Hostesses always started
with him, sending him round a note with "To await answer," written in
the top left-hand corner, since he had clearly stated that he considered
the telephone an undignified instrument only fit to be used for
household purposes, and had installed his in the kitchen, in the manner
of the Wyses of Whitchurch. That alone, apart from Mr. Wyse's
old-fashioned notions on the subject, made telephoning impossible, for
your summons was usually answered by his cook, who instantly began
scolding the butcher irrespective and disrespectful of whom you were.
When her mistake was made known to her, she never apologized, but
grudgingly said she would call Mr. Figgis, who was Mr. Wyse's valet. Mr.
Figgis always took a long time in coming, and when he came he sneezed or
did something disagreeable and said: "Yes, yes; what is it?" in a very
testy manner. After explanations he would consent to tell his master,
which took another long time, and even then Mr. Wyse did not come
himself, and usually refused the proffered invitation. Miss Mapp had
tried the expedient of sending Withers to the telephone when she wanted
to get at Mr. Wyse, but this had not succeeded, for Withers and Mr.
Wyse's cook quarrelled so violently before they got to business that Mr.
Figgis had to calm the cook and Withers to complain to Miss Mapp....
This, in brief, was the general reason why Tilling sent notes to Mr.
Wyse. As for chatting through the telephone, which was the main use of
telephones, the thing was quite out of the question.

Miss Mapp revived a little as she made this piercing analysis of Mr.
Wyse, and the warmth of the central heating pipes, on this baffling day
of autumn tints, was comforting.... No one could say that Mr. Wyse was
not punctilious in matters of social etiquette, for though he refused
three-quarters of the invitations which were showered on him, he
invariably returned the compliment by an autograph note hoping that he
might have the pleasure of entertaining you at lunch on Thursday next,
for he always gave a small luncheon-party on Thursday. These invitations
were couched in Chesterfield-terms: Mr. Wyse said that he had met a
mutual friend just now who had informed him that you were in residence,
and had encouraged him to hope that you might give him the pleasure of
your company, etc. This was alluring diction: it presented the image of
Mr. Wyse stepping briskly home again, quite heartened up by this chance
encounter, and no longer the prey to melancholy at the thought that you
might not give him the joy. He was encouraged to hope.... These polite
expressions were traced in a neat upright hand on paper which, when he
had just come back from Italy, often bore a coronet on the top with
"Villa Faraglione, Capri" printed on the right-hand top corner and
"Amelia" (the name of his putative sister) in sprawling gilt on the
left, the whole being lightly erased. Of course he was quite right to
filch a few sheets, but it threw rather a lurid light on his character
that they should be such grand ones.

Last year only, in a fit of passion at Mr. Wyse having refused six
invitations running on the plea of other engagements, Miss Mapp had
headed a movement, the object of which was that Tilling should not
accept any of Mr. Wyse's invitations unless he accepted its. This had
met with theoretical sympathy; the Bartletts, Diva, Irene, the Poppits
had all agreed--rather absently--that it would be a very proper thing to
do, but the very next Thursday they had all, including the originator,
met on Mr. Wyse's doorstep for a luncheon-party, and the movement then
and there collapsed. Though they all protested and rebelled against such
a notion, the horrid fact remained that everybody basked in Mr. Wyse's
effulgence whenever it was disposed to shed itself on them. Much as they
distrusted the information they dragged out of him, they adored hearing
about the Villa Faraglione, and dressed themselves in their very best
clothes to do so. Then again there was the quality of the lunch itself:
often there was caviare, and it was impossible (though the interrogator
who asked whether it came from Twemlow's feared the worst) not to be
mildly excited to know, when Mr. Wyse referred the question to Figgis,
that the caviare had arrived from Odessa that morning. The haunch of
roe-deer came from Perthshire; the wine, on the subject of which the
Major could not be silent, and which often made him extremely talkative,
was from "my brother-in-law's vineyard." And Mr. Wyse would taste it
with the air of a connoisseur and say: "Not quite as good as last year:
I must tell the Cont---- I mean my sister."

Again when Mr. Wyse did condescend to honour a tea-party or a
bridge-party, Tilling writhed under the consciousness that their general
deportment was quite different from that which they ordinarily practised
among themselves. There was never any squabbling at Mr. Wyse's table,
and such squabbling as took place at the other tables was conducted in
low hissings and whispers, so that Mr. Wyse should not hear. Diva never
haggled over her gains or losses when he was there, the Padre never
talked Scotch or Elizabethan English. Evie never squeaked like a mouse,
no shrill recriminations or stately sarcasms took place between
partners, and if there happened to be a little disagreement about the
rules, Mr. Wyse's decision, though he was not a better player than any
of them, was accepted without a murmur. At intervals for refreshment, in
the same way, Diva no longer filled her mouth and both hands with
nougat-chocolate; there was no scrambling or jostling, but the ladies
were waited on by the gentlemen, who then refreshed themselves. And yet
Mr. Wyse in no way asserted himself, or reduced them all to politeness
by talking about the polished manners of Italians; it was Tilling itself
which chose to behave in this unusual manner in his presence. Sometimes
Diva might forget herself for a moment, and address something withering
to her partner, but the partner never replied in suitable terms, and
Diva became honey-mouthed again. It was, indeed, if Mr. Wyse had
appeared at two or three parties, rather a relief not to find him at the
next, and breathe freely in less rarefied air. But whether he came or
not he always returned the invitation by one to a Thursday
luncheon-party, and thus the high circles of Tilling met every week at
his house.

Miss Mapp came to the end of this brief retrospect, and determined, when
once it was proved that Mr. Wyse had arrived, to ask him to tea on
Tuesday. That would mean lunch with him on Thursday, and it was
unnecessary to ask anybody else unless Mr. Wyse accepted. If he refused,
there would be no tea-party.... But, after the events of the last
twenty-four hours, there was no vividness in these plans and
reminiscences, and her eye turned to the profile of the Colonel's house.

"The portmanteau," she said to herself.... No: she must take her mind
off that subject. She would go for a walk, not into the High Street, but
into the quiet level country, away from the turmoil of passion (in the
Padre's sense) and quarrels (in her own), where she could cool her
curiosity and her soul with contemplation of the swallows and the white
butterflies (if they had not all been killed by the touch of frost last
night) and the autumn tints of which there were none whatever in the
treeless marsh.... Decidedly the shortest way out of the town was that
which led past Mr. Wyse's house. But before leaving the garden-room she
practised several faces at the looking-glass opposite the door, which
should suitably express, if she met anybody to whom the cause of the
challenge was likely to have spread, the bewildering emotion which the
unwilling cause of it must feel. There must be a wistful wonder, there
must be a certain pride, there must be the remains of romantic
excitement, and there must be deep womanly anxiety. The carriage of the
head "did" the pride, the wide-open eyes "did" the wistful wonder and
the romance, the deep womanly anxiety lurked in the tremulous smile, and
a violent rubbing of the cheeks produced the colour of excitement. In
answer to any impertinent questions, if she encountered such, she meant
to give an absent answer, as if she had not understood. Thus equipped
she set forth.

It was rather disappointing to meet nobody, but as she passed Mr. Wyse's
bow-window she adjusted the chrysanthemums she wore, and she had a good
sight of his profile and the back of Mrs. Poppit's head. They appeared
deep in conversation, and Miss Mapp felt that the tiresome woman was
probably giving him a very incomplete account of what had happened. She
returned late for tea, and broke off her apologies to Withers for being
such a trouble because she saw a note on the hall table. There was a
coronet on the back of the envelope, and it was addressed in the neat,
punctilious hand which so well expressed its writer. Villa Faraglione,
Capri, a coronet and Amelia all lightly crossed out headed the page, and
she read:

     "DEAR MISS MAPP,

     "It is such a pleasure to find myself in our little Tilling again,
     and our mutual friend Mrs. Poppit, M.B.E., tells me you are in
     residence, and encourages me to hope that I may induce you to take
     _déjeuner_ with me on Thursday, at one o'clock. May I assure you,
     with all delicacy, that you will not meet here anyone whose
     presence could cause you the slightest embarrassment?

     "Pray excuse this hasty note. Figgis will wait for your answer if
     you are in.

                                                 "Yours very sincerely,

                                                       "ALGERNON WYSE."

Had not Withers been present, who might have misconstrued her action,
Miss Mapp would have kissed the note; failing that, she forgave Mrs.
Poppit for being an M.B.E.

"The dear woman!" she said. "She has heard, and has told him."

Of course she need not ask Mr. Wyse to tea now....



CHAPTER VII


A white frost on three nights running and a terrible blackening of
dahlias, whose reputation was quite gone by morning, would probably have
convinced the ladies of Tilling that it was time to put summer clothing
in camphor and winter clothing in the back-yard to get aired, even if
the Padre had not preached that remarkable sermon on Sunday. It was so
remarkable that Miss Mapp quite forgot to note grammatical lapses and
listened entranced.

The text was, "He made summer and winter," and after repeating the words
very impressively, so that there might be no mistake about the origin of
the seasons, the Padre began to talk about something quite
different--namely, the unhappy divisions which exist in Christian
communities. That did not deceive Miss Mapp for a moment: she saw
precisely what he was getting at over his oratorical fences. He got at
it....

Ever since Summer-time had been inaugurated a few years before, it had
been one of the chronic dissensions of Tilling. Miss Mapp, Diva and the
Padre flatly refused to recognize it, except when they were going by
train or tram, when principle must necessarily go to the wall, or they
would never have succeeded in getting anywhere, while Miss Mapp, with
the halo of martyrdom round her head, had once arrived at a Summer-time
party an hour late, in order to bear witness to the truth, and, in
consequence, had got only dregs of tea and the last faint strawberry.
But the Major and Captain Puffin used the tram so often, that they had
fallen into the degrading habit of dislocating their clocks and watches
on the first of May, and dislocating them again in the autumn, when they
were forced into uniformity with properly-minded people. Irene was
flippant on the subject, and said that any old time would do for her.
The Poppits followed convention, and Mrs. Poppit, in naming the hour for
a party to the stalwarts, wrote "4.30 (your 3.30)." The King, after
all, had invited her to be decorated at a particular hour, summer-time,
and what was good enough for the King was good enough for Mrs. Poppit.

The sermon was quite uncompromising. There was summer and winter, by
Divine ordinance, but there was nothing said about summer-time and
winter-time. There was but one Time, and even as Life only stained the
white radiance of eternity, as the gifted but, alas! infidel poet
remarked, so, too, did Time. But ephemeral as Time was, noon in the
Bible clearly meant twelve o'clock, and not one o'clock: towards even,
meant towards even, and not the middle of a broiling afternoon. The
sixth hour similarly was the Roman way of saying twelve. Winter-time, in
fact, was God's time, and though there was nothing wicked (far from it)
in adopting strange measures, yet the simple, the childlike, clung to
the sacred tradition, which they had received from their fathers and
forefathers at their mother's knee. Then followed a long and eloquent
passage, which recapitulated the opening about unhappy divisions, and
contained several phrases, regarding the lengths to which such divisions
might go, which were strikingly applicable to duelling. The peroration
recapitulated the recapitulation, in case anyone had missed it, and the
coda, the close itself, in the full noon of the winter sun, was full of
joy at the healing of all such unhappy divisions. And now.... The rain
rattling against the windows drowned the Doxology.

The doctrine was so much to her mind that Miss Mapp gave a shilling to
the offertory instead of her usual sixpence, to be devoted to the
organist and choir fund. The Padre, it is true, had changed the hour of
services to suit the heresy of the majority, and this for a moment made
her hand falter. But the hope, after this convincing sermon, that next
year morning service would be at the hour falsely called twelve decided
her not to withdraw this handsome contribution.

Frosts and dead dahlias and sermons then were together overwhelmingly
convincing, and when Miss Mapp went out on Monday morning to do her
shopping, she wore a tweed skirt and jacket, and round her neck a long
woollen scarf to mark the end of the summer. Mrs. Poppit, alone in her
disgusting ostentation, had seemed to think two days ago that it was
cold enough for furs, and she presented a truly ridiculous aspect in an
enormous sable coat, under the weight of which she could hardly stagger,
and stood rooted to the spot when she stepped out of the Royce. Brisk
walking and large woollen scarves saved the others from feeling the cold
and from being unable to move, and this morning the High Street was
dazzling with the shifting play of bright colours. There was quite a
group of scarves at the corner, where Miss Mapp's street debouched into
the High Street: Irene was there (for it was probably too cold for Mr.
Hopkins that morning), looking quainter than ever in corduroys and mauve
stockings with an immense orange scarf bordered with pink. Diva was
there, wound up in so delicious a combination of rose-madder and
Cambridge blue, that Miss Mapp, remembering the history of the
rose-madder, had to remind herself how many things there were in the
world more important than worsted. Evie was there in vivid green with a
purple border, the Padre had a knitted magenta waistcoat, and Mrs.
Poppit that great sable coat which almost prevented movement. They were
all talking together in a very animated manner when first Miss Mapp came
in sight, and if, on her approach, conversation seemed to wither, they
all wore, besides their scarves, very broad, pleasant smiles. Miss Mapp
had a smile, too, as good as anybody's.

"Good morning, all you dear things," she said. "How lovely you all
look--just like a bed of delicious flowers! Such nice colours! My poor
dahlias are all dead."

Quaint Irene uttered a hoarse laugh, and, swinging her basket, went
quickly away. She often did abrupt things like that. Miss Mapp turned to
the Padre.

"Dear Padre, what a delicious sermon!" she said. "So glad you preached
it! Such a warning against all sorts of divisions!"

The Padre had to compose his face before he responded to these
compliments.

"I'm reecht glad, fair lady," he replied, "that my bit discourse was to
your mind. Come, wee wifie, we must be stepping."

Quite suddenly all the group, with the exception of Mrs. Poppit, melted
away. Wee wifie gave a loud squeal, as if to say something, but her
husband led her firmly off, while Diva, with rapidly revolving feet,
sped like an arrow up the centre of the High Street.

"Such a lovely morning!" said Miss Mapp to Mrs. Poppit, when there was
no one else to talk to. "And everyone looks so pleased and happy, and
all in such a hurry, busy as bees, to do their little businesses. Yes."

Mrs. Poppit began to move quietly away with the deliberate,
tortoise-like progression necessitated by the fur coat. It struck Miss
Mapp that she, too, had intended to take part in the general breaking up
of the group, but had merely been unable to get under way as fast as the
others.

"Such a lovely fur coat," said Miss Mapp sycophantically. "Such
beautiful long fur! And what is the news this morning? Has a little bird
been whispering anything?"

"Nothing," said Mrs. Poppit very decidedly, and having now sufficient
way on to turn, she went up the street down which Miss Mapp had just
come. The latter was thus left all alone with her shopping basket and
her scarf.

With the unerring divination which was the natural fruit of so many
years of ceaseless conjecture, she instantly suspected the worst. All
that busy conversation which her appearance had interrupted, all those
smiles which her presence had seemed but to render broader and more
hilarious, certainly concerned her. They could not still have been
talking about that fatal explosion from the cupboard in the garden-room,
because the duel had completely silenced the last echoes of that, and
she instantly put her finger on the spot. Somebody had been gossiping
(and how she hated gossip); somebody had given voice to what she had
been so studiously careful not to say. Until that moment, when she had
seen the rapid breaking up of the group of her friends all radiant with
merriment, she had longed to be aware that somebody had given voice to
it, and that everybody (under seal of secrecy) knew the unique
queenliness of her position, the overwhelmingly interesting rôle that
the violent passions of men had cast her for. She had not believed in
the truth of it herself, when that irresistible seizure of coquetry took
possession of her as she bent over her sweet chrysanthemums; but the
Padre's respectful reception of it had caused her to hope that everybody
else might believe in it. The character of the smiles, however, that
wreathed the faces of her friends did not quite seem to give fruition to
that hope. There were smiles and smiles, respectful smiles, sympathetic
smiles, envious and admiring smiles, but there were also smiles of
hilarious and mocking incredulity. She concluded that she had to deal
with the latter variety.

"Something," thought Miss Mapp, as she stood quite alone in the High
Street, with Mrs. Poppit labouring up the hill, and Diva already a
rose-madder speck in the distance, "has got to be done," and it only
remained to settle what. Fury with the dear Padre for having hinted
precisely what she meant, intended and designed that he should hint, was
perhaps the paramount emotion in her mind; fury with everybody else for
not respectfully believing what she did not believe herself made an
important pendant.

"What am I to do?" said Miss Mapp aloud, and had to explain to Mr.
Hopkins, who had all his clothes on, that she had not spoken to him.
Then she caught sight again of Mrs. Poppit's sable coat hardly further
off than it had been when first this thunderclap of an intuition
deafened her, and still reeling from the shock, she remembered that it
was almost certainly Mrs. Poppit who was the cause of Mr. Wyse writing
her that exquisitely delicate note with regard to Thursday. It was a
herculean task, no doubt, to plug up all the fountains of talk in
Tilling which were spouting so merrily at her expense, but a beginning
must be made before she could arrive at the end. A short scurry of
nimble steps brought her up to the sables.

"Dear Mrs. Poppit," she said, "if you are walking by my little house,
would you give me two minutes' talk? And--so stupid of me to forget just
now--will you come in after dinner on Wednesday for a little rubber? The
days are closing in now; one wants to make the most of the daylight, and
I think it is time to begin our pleasant little winter evenings."

This was a bribe, and Mrs. Poppit instantly pocketed it, with the
effect that two minutes later she was in the garden-room, and had
deposited her sable coat on the sofa ("Quite shook the room with the
weight of it," said Miss Mapp to herself while she arranged her plan).

She stood looking out of the window for a moment, writhing with
humiliation at having to be suppliant to the Member of the British
Empire. She tried to remember Mrs. Poppit's Christian name, and was even
prepared to use that, but this crowning ignominy was saved her, as she
could not recollect it.

"Such an annoying thing has happened," she said, though the words seemed
to blister her lips. "And you, dear Mrs. Poppit, as a woman of the
world, can advise me what to do. The fact is that somehow or other, and
I can't think how, people are saying that the duel last week, which was
so happily averted, had something to do with poor little me. So absurd!
But you know what gossips we have in our dear little Tilling."

Mrs. Poppit turned on her a fallen and disappointed face.

"But hadn't it?" she said. "Why, when they were all laughing about it
just now" ("I was right, then," thought Miss Mapp, "and what a tactless
woman!"), "I said I believed it. And I told Mr. Wyse."

Miss Mapp cursed herself for her frankness. But she could obliterate
that again, and not lose a rare (goodness knew how rare!) believer.

"I am in such a difficult position," she said. "I think I ought to let
it be understood that there is no truth whatever in such an idea,
however much truth there may be. And did dear Mr. Wyse believe--in fact,
I know he must have, for he wrote me, oh, such a delicate, understanding
note. He, at any rate, takes no notice of all that is being said and
hinted."

Miss Mapp was momentarily conscious that she meant precisely the
opposite of this. Dear Mr. Wyse _did_ take notice, most respectful
notice, of all that was being said and hinted, thank goodness! But a
glance at Mrs. Poppit's fat and interested face showed her that the
verbal discrepancy had gone unnoticed, and that the luscious flavour of
romance drowned the perception of anything else. She drew a handkerchief
out, and buried her thoughtful eyes in it a moment, rubbing them with a
stealthy motion, which Mrs. Poppit did not perceive, though Diva would
have.

"My lips are sealed," she continued, opening them very wide, "and I can
say nothing, except that I want this rumour to be contradicted. I
daresay those who started it thought it was true, but, true or false, I
must say nothing. I have always led a very quiet life in my little
house, with my sweet flowers for my companions, and if there is one
thing more than another that I dislike, it is that my private affairs
should be made matters of public interest. I do no harm to anybody, I
wish everybody well, and nothing--nothing will induce me to open my lips
upon this subject. I will not," cried Miss Mapp, "say a word to defend
or justify myself. What is true will prevail. It comes in the Bible."

Mrs. Poppit was too much interested in what she said to mind where it
came from.

"What can I do?" she asked.

"Contradict, dear, the rumour that I have had anything to do with the
terrible thing which might have happened last week. Say on my authority
that it is so. I tremble to think"--here she trembled very much--"what
might happen if the report reached Major Benjy's ears, and he found out
who had started it. We must have no more duels in Tilling. I thought I
should never survive that morning."

"I will go and tell Mr. Wyse instantly--dear," said Mrs. Poppit.

That would never do. True believers were so scarce that it was wicked to
think of unsettling their faith.

"Poor Mr. Wyse!" said Miss Mapp with a magnanimous smile. "Do not think,
dear, of troubling him with these little trumpery affairs. He will not
take part in these little tittle-tattles. But if you could let dear Diva
and quaint Irene and sweet Evie and the good Padre know that I laugh at
all such nonsense----"

"But they laugh at it, too," said Mrs. Poppit.

That would have been baffling for anyone who allowed herself to be
baffled, but that was not Miss Mapp's way.

"Oh, that bitter laughter!" she said. "It hurt me to hear it. It was
envious laughter, dear, scoffing, bitter laughter. I heard! I cannot
bear that the dear things should feel like that. Tell them that I say
how silly they are to believe anything of the sort. Trust me, I am right
about it. I wash my hands of such nonsense."

She made a vivid dumb-show of this, and after drying them on an
imaginary towel, let a sunny smile peep out the eyes which she had
rubbed.

"All gone!" she said; "and we will have a dear little party on Wednesday
to show we are all friends again. And we meet for lunch at dear Mr.
Wyse's the next day? Yes? He will get tired of poor little me if he sees
me two days running, so I shall not ask him. I will just try to get two
tables together, and nobody shall contradict dear Diva, however many
shillings she says she has won. I would sooner pay them all myself than
have any more of our unhappy divisions. You will have talked to them
all before Wednesday, will you not, dear?"

As there were only four to talk to, Mrs. Poppit thought that she could
manage it, and spent a most interesting afternoon. For two years now she
had tried to unfreeze Miss Mapp, who, when all was said and done, was
the centre of the Tilling circle, and who, if any attempt was made to
shove her out towards the circumference, always gravitated back again.
And now, on these important errands she was Miss Mapp's accredited
ambassador, and all the terrible business of the opening of the
store-cupboard and her decoration as M.B.E. was quite forgiven and
forgotten. There would be so much walking to be done from house to
house, that it was impossible to wear her sable coat unless she had the
Royce to take her about....

The effect of her communications would have surprised anybody who did
not know Tilling. A less subtle society, when assured from a first-hand,
authoritative source that a report which it had entirely refused to
believe was false, would have prided itself on its perspicacity, and
said that it had laughed at such an idea, as soon as ever it heard it,
as being palpably (look at Miss Mapp!) untrue. Not so Tilling. The very
fact that, by the mouth of her ambassador, she so uncompromisingly
denied it, was precisely why Tilling began to wonder if there was not
something in it, and from wondering if there was not something in it,
surged to the conclusion that there certainly was. Diva, for instance,
the moment she was told that Elizabeth (for Mrs. Poppit remembered her
Christian name perfectly) utterly and scornfully denied the truth of the
report, became intensely thoughtful.

"Say there's nothing in it?" she observed. "Can't understand that."

At that moment Diva's telephone bell rang, and she hurried out and in.

"Party at Elizabeth's on Wednesday," she said. "She saw me laughing. Why
ask me?"

Mrs. Poppit was full of her sacred mission.

"To show how little she minds your laughing," she suggested.

"As if it wasn't true, then. Seems like that. Wants us to think it's not
true."

"She was very earnest about it," said the ambassador.

Diva got up, and tripped over the outlying skirts of Mrs. Poppit's fur
coat as she went to ring the bell.

"Sorry," she said. "Take it off and have a chat. Tea's coming. Muffins!"

"Oh, no, thanks!" said Mrs. Poppit. "I've so many calls to make."

"What? Similar calls?" asked Diva. "Wait ten minutes. Tea, Janet.
Quickly."

She whirled round the room once or twice, all corrugated with
perplexity, beginning telegraphic sentences, and not finishing them:
"Says it's not true--laughs at notion of--And Mr. Wyse believes--The
Padre believed. After all, the Major--Little cock-sparrow Captain
Puffin--Or t'other way round, do you think?--No other explanation, you
know--Might have been blood----"

She buried her teeth in a muffin.

"Believe there's something in it," she summed up.

She observed her guest had neither tea nor muffin.

"Help yourself," she said. "Want to worry this out."

"Elizabeth absolutely denies it," said Mrs. Poppit. "Her eyes were full
of----"

"Oh, anything," said Diva. "Rubbed them. Or pepper if it was at lunch.
That's no evidence."

"But her solemn assertion----" began Mrs. Poppit, thinking that she was
being a complete failure as an ambassador. She was carrying no
conviction at all.

"Saccharine!" observed Diva, handing her a small phial. "Haven't got
more than enough sugar for myself. I expect Elizabeth's got
plenty--well, never mind that. Don't you see? If it wasn't true she
would try to convince us that it was. Seemed absurd on the face of it.
But if she tries to convince us that it isn't true--well, something in
it."

There was the gist of the matter, and Mrs. Poppit proceeding next to the
Padre's house, found more muffins and incredulity. Nobody seemed to
believe Elizabeth's assertion that there was "nothing in it." Evie ran
round the room with excited squeaks, the Padre nodded his head, in
confirmation of the opinion which, when he first delivered it, had been
received with mocking incredulity over the crab. Quaint Irene, intent on
Mr. Hopkins's left knee in the absence of the model, said, "Good old
Mapp: better late than never." Utter incredulity, in fact, was the
ambassador's welcome ... and all the incredulous were going to
Elizabeth's party on Wednesday.

Mrs. Poppit had sent the Royce home for the last of her calls, and
staggered up the hill past Elizabeth's house. Oddly enough, just as she
passed the garden-room, the window was thrown up.

"Cup of tea, dear Susan?" said Elizabeth. She had found an old note of
Mrs. Poppit's among the waste paper for the firing of the kitchen oven
fully signed.

"Just two minutes' talk, Elizabeth," she promptly responded.

       *       *       *       *       *

The news that nobody in Tilling believed her left Miss Mapp more than
calm, on the bright side of calm, that is to say. She had a few
indulgent phrases that tripped readily off her tongue for the dear
things who hated to be deprived of their gossip, but Susan certainly did
not receive the impression that this playful magnanimity was attained
with an effort. Elizabeth did not seem really to mind: she was very gay.
Then, skilfully changing the subject, she mourned over her dead dahlias.

Though Tilling with all its perspicacity could not have known it, the
intuitive reader will certainly have perceived that Miss Mapp's party
for Wednesday night had, so to speak, further irons in its fire. It had
originally been a bribe to Susan Poppit, in order to induce her to
spread broadcast that that ridiculous rumour (whoever had launched it)
had been promptly denied by the person whom it most immediately
concerned. It served a second purpose in showing that Miss Mapp was too
high above the mire of scandal, however interesting, to know or care who
might happen to be wallowing in it, and for this reason she asked
everybody who had done so. Such loftiness of soul had earned her an
amazing bonus, for it had induced those who sat in the seat of the
scoffers before to come hastily off, and join the thin but unwavering
ranks of the true believers, who up till then had consisted only of
Susan and Mr. Wyse. Frankly, so blest a conclusion had never occurred to
Miss Mapp: it was one of those unexpected rewards that fall like ripe
plums into the lap of the upright. By denying a rumour she had got
everybody to believe it, and when on Wednesday morning she went out to
get the chocolate cakes which were so useful in allaying the appetites
of guests, she encountered no broken conversations and gleeful smiles,
but sidelong glances of respectful envy.

But what Tilling did not and could not know was that this, the first of
the autumn after-dinner bridge-parties, was destined to look on the
famous teagown of kingfisher-blue, as designed for Mrs. Trout. No doubt
other ladies would have hurried up their new gowns, or at least have
camouflaged their old ones, in honour of the annual inauguration of
evening bridge, but Miss Mapp had no misgivings about being outshone.
And once again here she felt that luck waited on merit, for though when
she dressed that evening she found she had not anticipated that
artificial light would cast a somewhat pale (though not ghastly)
reflection from the vibrant blue on to her features, similar in effect
to (but not so marked as) the light that shines on the faces of those
who lean over the burning brandy and raisins of "snapdragon," this
interesting pallor seemed very aptly to bear witness to all that she had
gone through. She did not look ill--she was satisfied as to that--she
looked gorgeous and a little wan.

The bridge tables were not set out in the garden-room, which entailed a
scurry over damp gravel on a black, windy night, but in the little
square parlour above her dining-room, where Withers, in the intervals of
admitting her guests, was laying out plates of sandwiches and the
chocolate cakes, reinforced when the interval for refreshments came with
hot soup, whisky and syphons, and a jug of "cup" prepared according to
an ancestral and economical recipe, which Miss Mapp had taken a great
deal of trouble about. A single bottle of white wine, with suitable
additions of ginger, nutmeg, herbs and soda-water, was the mother of a
gallon of a drink that seemed aflame with fiery and probably spirituous
ingredients. Guests were very careful how they partook of it, so
stimulating it seemed.

Miss Mapp was reading a book on gardening upside down (she had taken it
up rather hurriedly) when the Poppits arrived, and sprang to her feet
with a pretty cry at being so unexpectedly but delightfully disturbed.

"Susan! Isabel!" she said. "Lovely of you to have come! I was reading
about flowers, making plans for next year."

She saw the four eyes riveted to her dress. Susan looked quite shabby in
comparison, and Isabel did not look anything at all.

"My dear, too lovely!" said Mrs. Poppit slowly.

Miss Mapp looked brightly about, as if wondering what was too lovely: at
last she guessed.

"Oh, my new frock?" she said. "Do you like it, dear? How sweet of you.
It's just a little nothing that I talked over with that nice Miss Greele
in the High Street. We put our heads together, and invented something
quite cheap and simple. And here's Evie and the dear Padre. So kind of
you to look in."

Four more eyes were riveted on it.

"Enticed you out just once, Padre," went on Miss Mapp. "So sweet of you
to spare an evening. And here's Major Benjy and Captain Puffin. Well,
that is nice!"

This was really tremendous of Miss Mapp. Here was she meeting without
embarrassment or awkwardness the two, who if the duel had not been
averted, would have risked their very lives over some dispute concerning
her. Everybody else, naturally, was rather taken aback for the moment at
this situation, so deeply dyed in the dramatic. Should either of the
gladiators have heard that it was the Padre who undoubtedly had spread
the rumour concerning their hostess, Mrs. Poppit was afraid that even
his cloth might not protect him. But no such deplorable calamity
occurred, and only four more eyes were riveted to the kingfisher-blue.

"Upon my word," said the Major, "I never saw anything more beautiful
than that gown, Miss Elizabeth. Straight from Paris, eh? Paris in every
line of it."

"Oh, Major Benjy," said Elizabeth. "You're all making fun of me and my
simple little frock. I'm getting quite shy. Just a bit of old stuff that
I had. But so nice of you to like it. I wonder where Diva is. We shall
have to scold her for being late. Ah--she shan't be scolded. Diva,
darl----"

The endearing word froze on Miss Mapp's lips and she turned deadly
white. In the doorway, in equal fury and dismay, stood Diva, dressed in
precisely the same staggeringly lovely costume as her hostess. Had Diva
and Miss Greele put their heads together too? Had Diva got a bit of old
stuff ...?

Miss Mapp pulled herself together first and moistened her dry lips.

"So sweet of you to look in, dear," she said. "Shall we cut?"

Naturally the malice of cards decreed that Miss Mapp and Diva should sit
next each other as adversaries at the same table, and the combined
effect of two lots of kingfisher-blue was blinding. Complete silence on
every subject connected, however remotely, with dress was, of course,
the only line for correct diplomacy to pursue, but then Major Benjy was
not diplomatic, only gallant.

"Never saw such stunning gowns, eh, Padre?" he said. "Dear me, they are
very much alike too, aren't they? Pair of exquisite sisters."

It would be hard to say which of the two found this speech the more
provocative of rage, for while Diva was four years younger than Miss
Mapp, Miss Mapp was four inches taller than Diva. She cut the cards to
her sister with a hand that trembled so much that she had to do it
again, and Diva could scarcely deal.

       *       *       *       *       *

Mr. Wyse frankly confessed the next day when, at one o'clock, Elizabeth
found herself the first arrival at his house, that he had been very
self-indulgent.

"I have given myself a treat, dear Miss Mapp," he said. "I have asked
three entrancing ladies to share my humble meal with me, and have
provided--is it not shocking of me?--nobody else to meet them. Your
pardon, dear lady, for my greediness."

Now this was admirably done. Elizabeth knew very well why two out of the
three men in Tilling had not been asked (very gratifying, that reason
was), and with the true refinement of which Mr. Wyse was so amply
possessed, where he was taking all the blame on himself, and putting it
so prettily. She bestowed her widest smile on him.

"Oh, Mr. Wyse," she said. "We shall all quarrel over you."

Not until Miss Mapp had spoken did she perceive how subtle her words
were. They seemed to bracket herself and Mr. Wyse together: all the men
(two out of the three, at any rate) had been quarrelling over her, and
now there seemed a very fair prospect of three of the women quarreling
over Mr. Wyse....

Without being in the least effeminate, Mr. Wyse this morning looked
rather like a modern Troubadour. He had a velveteen coat on, a soft,
fluffy, mushy tie which looked as if made of Shirley poppies, very neat
knickerbockers, brown stockings with blobs, like the fruit of plane
trees, dependent from elaborate "tops," and shoes with a cascade of
leather frilling covering the laces. He might almost equally well be
about to play golf over putting-holes on the lawn as the guitar. He made
a gesture of polished, polite dissent, not contradicting, yet hardly
accepting this tribute, remitting it perhaps, just as the King when he
enters the City of London touches the sword of the Lord Mayor and tells
him to keep it....

"So pleasant to be in Tilling again," he said. "We shall have a cosy,
busy winter, I hope. You, I know, Miss Mapp, are always busy."

"The day is never long enough for me," said Elizabeth enthusiastically.
"What with my household duties in the morning, and my garden, and our
pleasant little gatherings, it is always bed-time too soon. I want to
read a great deal this winter, too."

Diva (at the sight of whom Elizabeth had to make a strong effort of
self-control) here came in, together with Mrs. Poppit, and the party was
complete. Elizabeth would have been willing to bet that, in spite of the
warmness of the morning, Susan would have on her sable coat, and though,
technically, she would have lost, she more than won morally, for Mr.
Wyse's repeated speeches about his greediness were hardly out of his
mouth when she discovered that she had left her handkerchief in the
pocket of her sable coat, which she had put over the back of a
conspicuous chair in the hall. Figgis, however, came in at the moment to
say that lunch was ready, and she delayed them all very much by a long,
ineffectual search for it, during which Figgis, with a visible effort,
held up the sable coat, so that it was displayed to the utmost
advantage. And then, only fancy, Susan discovered that it was in her
sable muff all the time!

All three ladies were on tenterhooks of anxiety as to who was to be
placed on Mr. Wyse's right, who on his left, and who would be given only
the place between two other women. But his tact was equal to anything.

"Miss Mapp," he said, "will you honour me by taking the head of my table
and be hostess for me? Only I must have that vase of flowers removed,
Figgis; I can look at my flowers when Miss Mapp is not here. Now, what
have we got for breakfast--lunch, I should say?"

The macaroni which Mr. Wyse had brought back with him from Naples
naturally led on to Italian subjects, and the general scepticism about
the Contessa di Faraglione had a staggering blow dealt it.

"My sister," began Mr. Wyse (and by a swift sucking motion, Diva drew
into her mouth several serpents of dependent macaroni in order to be
able to listen better without this agitating distraction), "my sister, I
hope, will come to England this winter, and spend several weeks with
me." (Sensation.)

"And the Count?" asked Diva, having swallowed the serpents.

"I fear not; Cecco--Francesco, you know--is a great stay-at-home. Amelia
is looking forward very much to seeing Tilling. I shall insist on her
making a long stay here, before she visits our relations at Whitchurch."

Elizabeth found herself reserving judgment. She would believe in the
Contessa Faraglione--no one more firmly--when she saw her, and had
reasonable proofs of her identity.

"Delightful!" she said, abandoning with regret the fruitless pursuit
with a fork of the few last serpents that writhed on her plate. "What an
addition to our society! We shall all do our best to spoil her, Mr.
Wyse. When do you expect her?"

"Early in December. You must be very kind to her, dear ladies. She is an
insatiable bridge-player. She has heard much of the great players she
will meet here."

That decided Mrs. Poppit. She would join the correspondence class
conducted by "Little Slam," in "Cosy Corner." Little Slam, for the sum
of two guineas, payable in advance, engaged to make first-class players
of anyone with normal intelligence. Diva's mind flew off to the subject
of dress, and the thought of the awful tragedy concerning the tea-gown
of kingfisher-blue, combined with the endive salad, gave a wry twist to
her mouth for a moment.

"I, as you know," continued Mr. Wyse, "am no hand at bridge."

"Oh, Mr. Wyse, you play beautifully," interpolated Elizabeth.

"Too flattering of you, Miss Mapp. But Amelia and Cecco do not agree
with you. I am never allowed to play when I am at the Villa Faraglione,
unless a table cannot be made up without me. But I shall look forward to
seeing many well-contested games."

The quails and the figs had come from Capri, and Miss Mapp, greedily
devouring each in turn, was so much incensed by the information that she
had elicited about them, that, though she joined in the general
Lobgesang, she was tempted to inquire whether the ice had not been
brought from the South Pole by some Antarctic expedition. Her mind was
not, like poor Diva's, taken up with obstinate questionings about the
kingfisher-blue tea-gown, for she had already determined what she was
going to do about it. Naturally it was impossible to contemplate fresh
encounters like that of last night, but another gown, crimson-lake, the
colour of Mrs. Trout's toilet for the second evening of the Duke of
Hampshire's visit, as Vogue informed her, had completely annihilated
Newport with its splendour. She had already consulted Miss Greele about
it, who said that if the kingfisher-blue was bleached first the dye of
crimson-lake would be brilliant and pure.... The thought of that, and
the fact that Miss Greele's lips were professionally sealed, made her
able to take Diva's arm as they strolled about the garden afterwards.
The way in which both Diva and Susan had made up to Mr. Wyse during
lunch was really very shocking, though it did not surprise Miss Mapp,
but she supposed their heads had been turned by the prospect of playing
bridge with a countess. Luckily she expected nothing better of either of
them, so their conduct was in no way a blow or a disappointment to her.

This companionship with Diva was rather prolonged, for the adhesive
Susan, staggering about in her sables, clung close to their host and
simulated a clumsy interest in chrysanthemums; and whatever the other
two did, manoeuvred herself into a strong position between them and Mr.
Wyse, from which, operating on interior lines, she could cut off either
assailant. More depressing yet (and throwing a sad new light on his
character), Mr. Wyse seemed to appreciate rather than resent the
appropriation of himself, and instead of making a sortie through the
beleaguering sables, would beg Diva and Elizabeth, who were so fond of
fuchsias and knew about them so well, to put their heads together over
an afflicted bed of these flowers in quite another part of the garden,
and tell him what was the best treatment for their anæmic condition.
Pleasant and proper though it was to each of them that Mr. Wyse should
pay so little attention to the other, it was bitter as the endive salad
to both that he should tolerate, if not enjoy, the companionship which
the forwardness of Susan forced on him, and while they absently stared
at the fuchsias, the fire kindled, and Elizabeth spake with her tongue.

"How very plain poor Susan looks to-day," she said. "Such a colour,
though to be sure I attribute that more to what she ate and drank than
to anything else. Crimson. Oh, those poor fuchsias! I think I should
throw them away."

The common antagonism, Diva felt, had drawn her and Elizabeth into the
most cordial of understandings. For the moment she felt nothing but
enthusiastic sympathy with Elizabeth, in spite of her kingfisher-blue
gown.... What on earth, in parenthesis, was she to do with hers? She
could not give it to Janet: it was impossible to contemplate the idea of
Janet walking about the High Street in a tea-gown of kingfisher-blue
just in order to thwart Elizabeth....

"Mr. Wyse seems taken with her," said Diva. "How he can! Rather a snob.
M.B.E. She's always popping in here. Saw her yesterday going round the
corner of the street."

"What time, dear?" asked Elizabeth, nosing the scent.

"Middle of the morning."

"And I saw her in the afternoon," said Elizabeth. "That great lumbering
Rolls-Royce went tacking and skidding round the corner below my
garden-room."

"Was she in it?" asked Diva.

This appeared rather a slur on Elizabeth's reliability in observation.

"No, darling, she was sitting on the top," she said, taking the edge off
the sarcasm, in case Diva had not intended to be critical, by a little
laugh. Diva drew the conclusion that Elizabeth had actually seen her
inside.

"Think it's serious?" she said. "Think he'll marry her?"

The idea of course, repellent and odious as it was, had occurred to
Elizabeth, so she instantly denied it.

"Oh, you busy little match-maker," she said brightly. "Such an idea
never entered my head. You shouldn't make such fun of dear Susan. Come,
dear, I can't look at fuchsias any more. I must be getting home and must
say good-bye--au reservoir, rather--to Mr. Wyse, if Susan will allow me
to get a word in edgeways."

Susan seemed delighted to let Miss Mapp get this particular word in
edgewise, and after a little speech from Mr. Wyse, in which he said that
he would not dream of allowing them to go yet, and immediately
afterwards shook hands warmly with them both, hoping that the reservoir
would be a very small one, the two were forced to leave the artful Susan
in possession of the field....

It all looked rather black. Miss Mapp's vivid imagination altogether
failed to picture what Tilling would be like if Susan succeeded in
becoming Mrs. Wyse and the sister-in-law of a countess, and she sat down
in her garden-room and closed her eyes for a moment, in order to
concentrate her power of figuring the situation. What dreadful people
these climbers were! How swiftly they swarmed up the social ladder with
their Rolls-Royces and their red-currant fool, and their sables! A few
weeks ago she herself had never asked Susan into her house, while the
very first time she came she unloosed the sluices of the store-cupboard,
and now, owing to the necessity of getting her aid in stopping that
mischievous rumour, which she herself had been so careful to set on
foot, regarding the cause of the duel, Miss Mapp had been positively
obliged to flatter and to "Susan" her. And if Diva's awful surmise
proved to be well-founded, Susan would be in a position to patronize
them all, and talk about counts and countesses with the same air of
unconcern as Mr. Wyse. She would be bidden to the Villa Faraglione, she
would play bridge with Cecco and Amelia, she would visit the Wyses of
Whitchurch....

What was to be done? She might head another movement to put Mr. Wyse in
his proper place; this, if successful, would have the agreeable result
of pulling down Susan a rung or two should she carry out her design. But
the failure of the last attempt and Mr. Wyse's eminence did not argue
well for any further manoeuvre of the kind. Or should she poison Mr.
Wyse's mind with regard to Susan?... Or was she herself causelessly
agitated?

Or----

Curiosity rushed like a devastating tornado across Miss Mapp's mind,
rooting up all other growths, buffeting her with the necessity of
knowing what the two whom she had been forced to leave in the garden
were doing now, and snatching up her opera-glasses she glided upstairs,
and let herself out through the trap-door on to the roof. She did not
remember if it was possible to see Mr. Wyse's garden or any part of it
from that watch-tower, but there was a chance....

Not a glimpse of it was visible. It lay quite hidden behind the
red-brick wall which bounded it, and not a chrysanthemum or a fuchsia
could she see. But her blood froze as, without putting the glasses down,
she ran her eye over such part of the house-wall as rose above the
obstruction. In his drawing-room window on the first floor were seated
two figures. Susan had taken her sables off: it was as if she intended
remaining there for ever, or at least for tea....



CHAPTER VIII


The hippopotamus quarrel over their whisky between Major Flint and
Captain Puffin, which culminated in the challenge and all the shining
sequel, had had the excellent effect of making the united services more
united than ever. They both knew that, had they not severally run away
from the encounter, and, so providentially, met at the station, very
serious consequences might have ensued. Had not both but only one of
them been averse from taking or risking life, the other would surely
have remained in Tilling, and spread disastrous reports about the
bravery of the refugee; while if neither of them had had scruples on the
sacredness of human existence there might have been one if not two
corpses lying on the shining sands. Naturally the fact that they both
had taken the very earliest opportunity of averting an encounter by
flight, made it improbable that any future quarrel would be proceeded
with to violent extremes, but it was much safer to run no risks, and not
let verbal disagreements rise to hippopotamus-pitch again. Consequently
when there was any real danger of such savagery as was implied in
sending challenges, they hastened, by mutual concessions, to climb down
from these perilous places, where loss of balance might possibly occur.
For which of them could be absolutely certain that next time the other
of them might not be more courageous?...

They were coming up from the tram-station one November evening, both
fizzing and fuming a good deal, and the Major was extremely lame, lamer
than Puffin. The rattle of the tram had made argument impossible during
the transit from the links, but they had both in this enforced silence
thought of several smart repartees, supposing that the other made the
requisite remarks to call them out, and on arrival at the Tilling
station they went on at precisely the same point at which they had
broken off on starting from the station by the links.

"Well, I hope I can take a beating in as English a spirit as anybody,"
said the Major.

This was lucky for Captain Puffin: he had thought it likely that he
would say just that, and had got a stinger for him.

"And it worries you to find that your hopes are doomed to
disappointment," he swiftly said.

Major Flint stepped in a puddle which cooled his foot but not his
temper.

"Most offensive remark," he said. "I wasn't called Sporting Benjy in the
regiment for nothing. But never mind that. A worm-cast----"

"It wasn't a worm-cast," said Puffin. "It was sheep's dung!"

Luck had veered here: the Major had felt sure that Puffin would
reiterate that utterly untrue contention.

"I can't pretend to be such a specialist as you in those matters," he
said, "but you must allow me sufficient power of observation to know a
worm-cast when I see it. It was a worm-cast, sir, a cast of a worm, and
you had no right to remove it. If you will do me the favour to consult
the rules of golf----?"

"Oh, I grant you that you are more a specialist in the rules of golf,
Major, than in the practice of it," said Puffin brightly.

Suddenly it struck Sporting Benjy that the red signals of danger danced
before his eyes, and though the odious Puffin had scored twice to his
once, he called up all his powers of self-control, for if his friend was
anything like as exasperated as himself, the breeze of disagreement
might develop into a hurricane. At the moment he was passing through a
swing-gate which led to a short cut back to the town, but before he
could take hold of himself he had slammed it back in his fury, hitting
Puffin, who was following him, on the knee. Then he remembered he was a
sporting Christian gentleman, and no duellist.

"I'm sure I beg your pardon, my dear fellow," he said, with the utmost
solicitude. "Uncommonly stupid of me. The gate flew out of my hand. I
hope I didn't hurt you."

Puffin had just come to the same conclusion as Major Flint: magnanimity
was better than early trains, and ever so much better than bullets.
Indeed there was no comparison....

"Not hurt a bit, thank you, Major," he said, wincing with the shrewdness
of the blow, silently cursing his friend for what he felt sure was no
accident, and limping with both legs. "It didn't touch me. Ha! What a
brilliant sunset. The town looks amazingly picturesque."

"It does indeed," said the Major. "Fine subject for Miss Mapp."

Puffin shuffled alongside.

"There's still a lot of talk going on in the town," he said, "about that
duel of ours. Those fairies of yours are all agog to know what it was
about. I am sure they all think that there was a lady in the case. Just
like the vanity of the sex. If two men have a quarrel, they think it
must be because of their silly faces."

Ordinarily the Major's gallantry would have resented this view, but the
reconciliation with Puffin was too recent to risk just at present.

"Poor little devils," he said. "It makes an excitement for them. I
wonder who they think it is. It would puzzle me to name a woman in
Tilling worth catching an early train for."

"There are several who'd be surprised to hear you say that, Major," said
Puffin archly.

"Well, well," said the other, strutting and swelling, and walking
without a sign of lameness....

They had come to where their houses stood opposite each other on the
steep cobbled street, fronted at its top end by Miss Mapp's garden-room.
She happened to be standing in the window, and the Major made a great
flourish of his cap, and laid his hand on his heart.

"And there's one of them," said Puffin, as Miss Mapp acknowledged these
florid salutations with a wave of her hand, and tripped away from the
window.

"Poking your fun at me," said the Major. "Perhaps she was the cause of
our quarrel, hey? Well, I'll step across, shall I, about half-past nine,
and bring my diaries with me?"

"I'll expect you. You'll find me at my Roman roads."

The humour of this joke never staled, and they parted with hoots and
guffaws of laughter.

It must not be supposed that duelling, puzzles over the portmanteau, or
the machinations of Susan had put out of Miss Mapp's head her amiable
interest in the hour at which Major Benjy went to bed. For some time she
had been content to believe, on direct information from him, that he
went to bed early and worked at his diaries on alternate evenings, but
maturer consideration had led her to wonder whether he was being quite
as truthful as a gallant soldier should be. For though (on alternate
evenings) his house would be quite dark by half-past nine, it was not
for twelve hours or more afterwards that he could be heard qui-hi-ing
for his breakfast, and unless he was in some incipient stage of
sleeping-sickness, such hours provided more than ample slumber for a
growing child, and might be considered excessive for a middle-aged man.
She had a mass of evidence to show that on the other set of alternate
nights his diaries (which must, in parenthesis, be of extraordinary
fullness) occupied him into the small hours, and to go to bed at
half-past nine on one night and after one o'clock on the next implied a
complicated kind of regularity which cried aloud for elucidation. If he
had only breakfasted early on the mornings after he had gone to bed
early, she might have allowed herself to be weakly credulous, but he
never qui-hied earlier than half-past nine, and she could not but think
that to believe blindly in such habits would be a triumph not for faith
but for foolishness. "People," said Miss Mapp to herself, as her
attention refused to concentrate on the evening paper, "don't do it. I
never heard of a similar case."

She had been spending the evening alone, and even the conviction that
her cold apple tart had suffered diminution by at least a slice, since
she had so much enjoyed it hot at lunch, failed to occupy her mind for
long, for this matter had presented itself with a clamouring insistence
that drowned all other voices. She had tried, when, at the conclusion of
her supper, she had gone back to the garden-room, to immerse herself in
a book, in an evening paper, in the portmanteau problem, in a jig-saw
puzzle, and in Patience, but none of these supplied the stimulus to lead
her mind away from Major Benjy's evenings, or the narcotic to dull her
unslumbering desire to solve a problem that was rapidly becoming one of
the greater mysteries.

Her radiator made a seat in the window agreeably warm, and a chink in
the curtains gave her a view of the Major's lighted window. Even as she
looked, the illumination was extinguished. She had expected this, as he
had been at his diaries late--quite naughtily late--the evening before,
so this would be a night of infant slumber for twelve hours or so.

Even as she looked, a chink of light came from his front door, which
immediately enlarged itself into a full oblong. Then it went completely
out. "He has opened the door, and has put out the hall-light," whispered
Miss Mapp to herself.... "He has gone out and shut the door.... (Perhaps
he is going to post a letter.) ... He has gone into Captain Puffin's
house without knocking. So he is expected."

Miss Mapp did not at once guess that she held in her hand the key to the
mystery. It was certainly Major Benjy's night for going to bed early....
Then a fierce illumination beat on her brain. Had she not, so
providentially, actually observed the Major cross the road,
unmistakable in the lamplight, and had she only looked out of her window
after the light in his was quenched, she would surely have told herself
that good Major Benjy had gone to bed. But good Major Benjy, on ocular
evidence, she now knew to have done nothing of the kind: he had gone
across to see Captain Puffin.... He was not good.

She grasped the situation in its hideous entirety. She had been deceived
and hoodwinked. Major Benjy never went to bed early at all: on alternate
nights he went and sat with Captain Puffin. And Captain Puffin, she
could not but tell herself, sat up on the other set of alternate nights
with the Major, for it had not escaped her observation that when the
Major seemed to be sitting up, the Captain seemed to have gone to bed.
Instantly, with strong conviction, she suspected orgies. It remained to
be seen (and she would remain to see it) to what hour these orgies were
kept up.

About eleven o'clock a little mist had begun to form in the street,
obscuring the complete clarity of her view, but through it there still
shone the light from behind Captain Puffin's red blind, and the mist was
not so thick as to be able wholly to obscure the figure of Major Flint
when he should pass below the gas lamp again into his house. But no such
figure passed. Did he then work at his diaries every evening? And what
price, to put it vulgarly, Roman roads?

Every moment her sense of being deceived grew blacker, and every moment
her curiosity as to what they were doing became more unbearable. After a
spasm of tactical thought she glided back into her house from the
garden-room, and, taking an envelope in her hand, so that she might, if
detected, say that she was going down to the letter-box at the corner to
catch the early post, she unbolted her door and let herself out. She
crossed the street and tip-toed along the pavement to where the red
light from Captain Puffin's window shone like a blurred danger-signal
through the mist.

From inside came a loud duet of familiar voices: sometimes they spoke
singly, sometimes together. But she could not catch the words: they
sounded blurred and indistinct, and she told herself that she was very
glad that she could not hear what they said, for that would have seemed
like eaves-dropping. The voices sounded angry. Was there another duel
pending? And what was it about this time?

Quite suddenly, from so close at hand that she positively leaped off the
pavement into the middle of the road, the door was thrown open and the
duet, louder than ever, streamed out into the street. Major Benjy
bounced out on to the threshold, and stumbled down the two steps that
led from the door.

"Tell you it was a worm-cast," he bellowed. "Think I don't know a
worm-cast when I see a worm-cast?"

Suddenly his tone changed: this was getting too near a quarrel.

"Well, good-night, old fellow," he said. "Jolly evening."

He turned and saw, veiled and indistinct in the mist, the female figure
in the roadway. Undying coquetry, as Mr. Stevenson so finely remarked,
awoke, for the topic preceding the worm-cast had been "the sex."

"Bless me," he crowed, "if there isn't an unprotected lady all 'lone
here in the dark, and lost in the fog. 'Llow me to 'scort you home,
madam. Lemme introduce myself and friend--Major Flint, that's me, and my
friend Captain Puffin."

He put up his hand and whispered an aside to Miss Mapp: "Revolutionized
the theory of navigation."

Major Benjy was certainly rather gay and rather indistinct, but his
polite gallantry could not fail to be attractive. It was naughty of him
to have said that he went to bed early on alternate nights, but
really.... Still, it might be better to slip away unrecognized, and,
thinking it would be nice to scriggle by him and disappear in the mist,
she made a tactical error in her scriggling, for she scriggled full into
the light that streamed from the open door where Captain Puffin was
standing.

He gave a shrill laugh.

"Why, it's Miss Mapp," he said in his high falsetto. "Blow me, if it
isn't our mutual friend Miss Mapp. What a 'strordinary coincidence."

Miss Mapp put on her most winning smile. To be dignified and at the same
time pleasant was the proper way to deal with this situation. Gentlemen
often had a glass of grog when they thought the ladies had gone
upstairs. That was how, for the moment, she summed things up.

"Good evening," she said. "I was just going down to the pillar-box to
post a letter," and she exhibited her envelope. But it dropped out of
her hand, and the Major picked it up for her.

"I'll post it for you," he said very pleasantly. "Save you the trouble.
Insist on it. Why, there's no stamp on it! Why, there's no address on
it! I say, Puffie, here's a letter with no address on it. Forgotten the
address, Miss Mapp? Think they'll remember it at the post office? Well,
that's one of the mos' comic things I ever came across. An, an anonymous
letter, eh?"

The night air began to have a most unfortunate effect on Puffin. When
he came out it would have been quite unfair to have described him as
drunk. He was no more than gay and ready to go to bed. Now he became
portentously solemn, as the cold mist began to do its deadly work.

"A letter," he said impressively, "without an address is an uncommonly
dangerous thing. Hic! Can't tell into whose hands it may fall. I would
sooner go 'bout with a loaded pistol than with a letter without any
address. Send it to the bank for safety. Send for the police. Follow my
advice and send for the p'lice. Police!"

Miss Mapp's penetrating mind instantly perceived that that dreadful
Captain Puffin was drunk, and she promised herself that Tilling should
ring with the tale of his excesses to-morrow. But Major Benjy, whom, if
she mistook not, Captain Puffin had been trying, with perhaps some small
success, to lead astray, was a gallant gentleman still, and she
conceived the brilliant but madly mistaken idea of throwing herself on
his protection.

"Major Benjy," she said, "I will ask you to take me home. Captain Puffin
has had too much to drink----"

"Woz that?" asked Captain Puffin, with an air of great interest.

Miss Mapp abandoned dignity and pleasantness, and lost her temper.

"I said you were drunk," she said with great distinctness. "Major Benjy,
will you----"

Captain Puffin came carefully down the two steps from the door on to the
pavement.

"Look here," he said, "this all needs 'splanation. You say I'm drunk, do
you? Well, I say you're drunk, going out like this in mill' of the night
to post letter with no 'dress on it. Shamed of yourself, mill'aged woman
going out in the mill' of the night in the mill' of Tilling. Very
shocking thing. What do you say, Major?"

Major Benjy drew himself up to his full height, and put on his hat in
order to take it off to Miss Mapp.

"My fren' Cap'n Puffin," he said, "is a man of strictly 'stemious
habits. Boys together. Very serious thing to call a man of my fren's
character drunk. If you call him drunk, why shouldn't he call you drunk?
Can't take away man's character like that."

"Abso----" began Captain Puffin. Then he stopped and pulled himself
together.

"Absolooly," he said without a hitch.

"Tilling shall hear of this to-morrow," said Miss Mapp, shivering with
rage and sea-mist.

Captain Puffin came a step closer.

"Now I'll tell you what it is, Miss Mapp," he said. "If you dare to say
that I was drunk, Major and I, my fren' the Major and I will say you
were drunk. Perhaps you think my fren' the Major's drunk too. But sure's
I live, I'll say we were taking lil' walk in the moonlight and found you
trying to post a letter with no 'dress on it, and couldn't find the slit
to put it in. But 'slong as you say nothing, I say nothing. Can't say
fairer than that. Liberal terms. Mutual Protection Society. Your lips
sealed, our lips sealed. Strictly private. All trespassers will be
prosecuted. By order. Hic!"

Miss Mapp felt that Major Benjy ought instantly to have challenged his
ignoble friend to another duel for this insolent suggestion, but he did
nothing of the kind, and his silence, which had some awful quality of
consent about it, chilled her mind, even as the sea-mist, now thick and
cold, made her certain that her nose was turning red. She still boiled
with rage, but her mind grew cold with odious apprehensions: she was
like an ice-pudding with scalding sauce.... There they all stood, veiled
in vapours, and outlined by the red light that streamed from the
still-open door of the intoxicated Puffin, getting colder every moment.

"Yessorno," said Puffin, with chattering teeth.

Bitter as it was to accept those outrageous terms, there really seemed,
without the Major's support, to be no way out of it.

"Yes," said Miss Mapp.

Puffin gave a loud crow.

"The ayes have it, Major," he said. "So we're all frens again. Goonight
everybody."

       *       *       *       *       *

Miss Mapp let herself into her house in an agony of mortification. She
could scarcely realize that her little expedition, undertaken with so
much ardent and earnest curiosity only a quarter of an hour ago, had
ended in so deplorable a surfeit of sensation. She had gone out in
obedience to an innocent and, indeed, laudable desire to ascertain how
Major Benjy spent those evenings on which he had deceived her into
imagining that, owing to her influence, he had gone ever so early to
bed, only to find that he sat up ever so late and that she was fettered
by a promise not to breathe to a soul a single word about the depravity
of Captain Puffin, on pain of being herself accused out of the mouth of
two witnesses of being equally depraved herself. More wounding yet was
the part played by her Major Benjy in these odious transactions, and it
was only possible to conclude that he put a higher value on his
fellowship with his degraded friend than on chivalry itself.... And what
did his silence imply? Probably it was a defensive one; he imagined that
he, too, would be included in the stories that Miss Mapp proposed to
sow broadcast upon the fruitful fields of Tilling, and, indeed, when she
called to mind his bellowing about worm-casts, his general instability
of speech and equilibrium, she told herself that he had ample cause for
such a supposition. He, when his lights were out, was abetting,
assisting and perhaps joining Captain Puffin. When his window was alight
on alternate nights she made no doubt now that Captain Puffin was
performing a similar rôle. This had been going on for weeks under her
very nose, without her having the smallest suspicion of it.

Humiliated by all that had happened, and flattened in her own estimation
by the sense of her blindness, she penetrated to the kitchen and lit a
gas-ring to make herself some hot cocoa, which would at least comfort
her physical chatterings. There was a letter for Withers, slipped
sideways into its envelope, on the kitchen table, and mechanically she
opened and read it by the bluish flame of the burner. She had always
suspected Withers of having a young man, and here was proof of it. But
that he should be Mr. Hopkins of the fish-shop!

There is known to medical science a pleasant device known as a
counter-irritant. If the patient has an aching and rheumatic joint he is
counselled to put some hot burning application on the skin, which smarts
so agonizingly that the ache is quite extinguished. Metaphorically, Mr.
Hopkins was thermogene to Miss Mapp's outraged and aching consciousness,
and the smart occasioned by the knowledge that Withers must have
encouraged Mr. Hopkins (else he could scarcely have written a letter so
familiar and amorous), and thus be contemplating matrimony, relieved the
aching humiliation of all that had happened in the sea-mist. It shed a
new and lurid light on Withers, it made her mistress feel that she had
nourished a serpent in her bosom, to think that Withers was
contemplating so odious an act of selfishness as matrimony. It would be
necessary to find a new parlour-maid, and all the trouble connected with
that would not nearly be compensated for by being able to buy fish at a
lower rate. That was the least that Withers could do for her, to insist
that Mr. Hopkins should let her have dabs and plaice exceptionally
cheap. And ought she to tell Withers that she had seen Mr. Hopkins ...
no, that was impossible: she must write it, if she decided (for Withers'
sake) to make this fell communication.

Miss Mapp turned and tossed on her uneasy bed, and her mind went back to
the Major and the Captain and that fiasco in the fog. Of course she was
perfectly at liberty (having made her promise under practical
compulsion) to tell everybody in Tilling what had occurred, trusting to
the chivalry of the men not to carry out their counter threat, but
looking at the matter quite dispassionately, she did not think it would
be wise to trust too much to chivalry. Still, even if they did carry out
their unmanly menace, nobody would seriously believe that she had been
drunk. But they might make a very disagreeable joke of pretending to do
so, and, in a word, the prospect frightened her. Whatever Tilling did or
did not believe, a residuum of ridicule would assuredly cling to her,
and her reputation of having perhaps been the cause of the quarrel
which, so happily did not end in a duel, would be lost for ever. Evie
would squeak, quaint Irene would certainly burst into hoarse laughter
when she heard the story. It was very inconvenient that honesty should
be the best policy.

Her brain still violently active switched off for a moment on to the
eternal problem of the portmanteau. Why, so she asked herself for the
hundredth time, if the portmanteau contained the fatal apparatus of
duelling, did not the combatants accompany it? And if (the only other
alternative) it did not----?

An idea so luminous flashed across her brain that she almost thought the
room had leaped into light. The challenge distinctly said that Major
Benjy's seconds would wait upon Captain Puffin in the course of the
morning. With what object then could the former have gone down to the
station to catch the early train? There could be but one object, namely
to get away as quickly as possible from the dangerous vicinity of the
challenged Captain. And why did Captain Puffin leave that note on his
table to say that he was suddenly called away, except in order to escape
from the ferocious neighbourhood of his challenger?

"The cowards!" ejaculated Miss Mapp. "They both ran away from each
other! How blind I've been!"

The veil was rent. She perceived how, carried away with the notion that
a duel was to be fought among the sand-dunes, Tilling had quite
overlooked the significance of the early train. She felt sure that she
had solved everything now, and gave herself up to a rapturous
consideration of what use she would make of the precious solution. All
regrets for the impossibility of ruining the character of Captain Puffin
with regard to intoxicants were gone, for she had an even deadlier
blacking to hand. No faintest hesitation at ruining the reputation of
Major Benjy as well crossed her mind; she gloried in it, for he had not
only caused her to deceive herself about the early hours on alternate
nights, but by his infamous willingness to back up Captain Puffin's
bargain, he had shown himself imperviously waterproof to all chivalrous
impulses. For weeks now the sorry pair of them had enjoyed the spurious
splendours of being men of blood and valour, when all the time they had
put themselves to all sorts of inconvenience in catching early trains
and packing bags by candle-light in order to escape the hot impulses of
quarrel that, as she saw now, were probably derived from drained
whisky-bottles. That mysterious holloaing about worm-casts was just such
another disagreement. And, crowning rapture of all, her own position as
cause of the projected duel was quite unassailed. Owing to her silence
about drink, no one would suspect a mere drunken brawl: she would still
figure as heroine, though the heroes were terribly dismantled. To be
sure, it would have been better if their ardour about her had been such
that one of them, at the least, had been prepared to face the ordeal,
that they had not both preferred flight, but even without that she had
much to be thankful for. "It will serve them both," said Miss Mapp
(interrupted by a sneeze, for she had been sitting up in bed for quite a
considerable time), "right."

To one of Miss Mapp's experience, the first step of her new and
delightful strategic campaign was obvious, and she spent hardly any time
at all in the window of her garden-room after breakfast next morning,
but set out with her shopping-basket at an unusually early hour. She
shuddered as she passed between the front doors of her miscreant
neighbours, for the chill of last night's mist and its dreadful memories
still lingered there, but her present errand warmed her soul even as the
tepid November day comforted her body. No sign of life was at present
evident in those bibulous abodes, no qui-his had indicated breakfast,
and she put her utmost irony into the reflection that the United
Services slept late after their protracted industry last night over
diaries and Roman roads. By a natural revulsion, violent in proportion
to the depth of her previous regard for Major Benjy, she hugged herself
more closely on the prospect of exposing him than on that of exposing
the other. She had had daydreams about Major Benjy and the conversion of
these into nightmares annealed her softness into the semblance of some
red-hot stone, giving vengeance a concentrated sweetness as of
saccharine contrasted with ordinary lump sugar. This sweetness was of so
powerful a quality that she momentarily forgot all about the contents of
Withers's letter on the kitchen table, and tripped across to Mr.
Hopkins's with an oblivious smile for him.

"Good morning, Mr. Hopkins," she said. "I wonder if you've got a nice
little dab for my dinner to-day? Yes? Will you send it up then, please?
What a mild morning, like May!"

The opening move, of course, was to tell Diva about the revelation that
had burst on her the night before. Diva was incomparably the best
disseminator of news: she walked so fast, and her telegraphic style was
so brisk and lucid. Her terse tongue, her revolving feet! Such a gossip!

"Diva darling, I had to look in a moment," said Elizabeth, pecking her
affectionately on both cheeks. "Such a bit of news!"

"Oh, Contessa di Faradidleony," said Diva sarcastically. "I heard
yesterday. Journey put off."

Miss Mapp just managed to stifle the excitement which would have
betrayed that this was news to her.

"No, dear, not that," she said. "I didn't suspect you of not knowing
that. Unfortunate though, isn't it, just when we were all beginning to
believe that there was a Contessa di Faradidleony! What a sweet name!
For my part I shall believe in her when I see her. Poor Mr. Wyse!"

"What's the news then?" asked Diva.

"My dear, it all came upon me in a flash," said Elizabeth. "It explains
the portmanteau and the early train and the duel."

Diva looked disappointed. She thought this was to be some solid piece of
news, not one of Elizabeth's ideas only.

"Drive ahead," she said.

"They ran away from each other," said Elizabeth, mouthing her words as
if speaking to a totally deaf person who understood lip-reading. "Never
mind the cause of the duel: that's another affair. But whatever the
cause," here she dropped her eyes, "the Major having sent the challenge
packed his portmanteau. He ran away, dear Diva, and met Captain Puffin
at the station running away too."

"But did----" began Diva.

"Yes, dear, the note on Captain Puffin's table to his housekeeper said
he was called away suddenly. What called him away? Cowardice, dear! How
ignoble it all is. And we've all been thinking how brave and wonderful
they were. They fled from each other, and came back together and played
golf. I never thought it was a game for men. The sand-dunes where they
were supposed to be fighting! They might lose a ball there, but that
would be the utmost. Not a life. Poor Padre! Going out there to stop a
duel, and only finding a game of golf. But I understand the nature of
men better now. What an eye-opener!"

Diva by this time was trundling away round the room, and longing to be
off in order to tell everybody. She could find no hole in Elizabeth's
arguments; it was founded as solidly as a Euclidean proposition.

"Ever occurred to you that they drink?" she asked. "Believe in Roman
roads and diaries? I don't."

Miss Mapp bounded from her chair. Danger flags flapped and crimsoned in
her face. What if Diva went flying round Tilling, suggesting that in
addition to being cowards those two men were drunkards? They would, as
soon as any hint of the further exposure reached them, conclude that she
had set the idea on foot, and then----

"No, Diva darling," she said, "don't dream of imagining such a thing. So
dangerous to hint anything of the sort. Cowards they may be, and indeed
are, but never have I seen anything that leads me to suppose that they
drink. We must give them their due, and stick to what we know; we must
not launch accusations wildly about other matters, just because we know
they are cowards. A coward need not be a drunkard, thank God! It is all
miserable enough, as it is!"

Having averted this danger, Miss Mapp, with her radiant, excited face,
seemed to be bearing all the misery very courageously, and as Diva could
no longer be restrained from starting on her morning round they plunged
together into the maelstrom of the High Street, riding and whirling in
its waters with the solution of the portmanteau and the early train for
life-buoy. Very little shopping was done that morning, for every
permutation and combination of Tilling society (with the exception, of
course, of the cowards) had to be formed on the pavement with a view to
the amplest possible discussion. Diva, as might have been expected, gave
proof of her accustomed perfidy before long, for she certainly gave
the Padre to understand that the chain of inductive reasoning was of
her own welding and Elizabeth had to hurry after him to correct this
grabbing impression; but the discovery in itself was so great, that
small false notes like these could not spoil the glorious harmony. Even
Mr. Wyse abandoned his usual neutrality with regard to social politics
and left his tall malacca cane in the chemist's, so keen was his gusto,
on seeing Miss Mapp on the pavement outside, to glean any fresh detail
of evidence.

By eleven o'clock that morning, the two duellists were universally known
as "the cowards," the Padre alone demurring, and being swampingly
outvoted. He held (sticking up for his sex) that the Major had been
brave enough to send a challenge (on whatever subject) to his friend,
and had, though he subsequently failed to maintain that high level,
shown courage of a high order, since, for all he knew, Captain Puffin
might have accepted it. Miss Mapp was spokesman for the mind of Tilling
on this too indulgent judgment.

"Dear Padre," she said, "you are too generous altogether. They both ran
away: you can't get over that. Besides you must remember that, when the
Major sent the challenge, he knew Captain Puffin, oh so well, and quite
expected he would run away----"

"Then why did he run away himself?" asked the Padre.

This was rather puzzling for a moment, but Miss Mapp soon thought of the
explanation.

"Oh, just to make sure," she said, and Tilling applauded her ready
irony.

And then came the climax of sensationalism, when at about ten minutes
past eleven the two cowards emerged into the High Street on their way to
catch the 11.20 tram out to the links. The day threatened rain, and
they both carried bags which contained a change of clothes. Just round
the corner of the High Street was the group which had applauded Miss
Mapp's quickness, and the cowards were among the breakers. They glanced
at each other, seeing that Miss Mapp was the most towering of the
breakers, but it was too late to retreat, and they made the usual
salutations.

"Good morning," said Diva, with her voice trembling. "Off to catch the
early train together--I mean the tram."

"Good morning, Captain Puffin," said Miss Mapp with extreme sweetness.
"What a nice little travelling bag! Oh, and the Major's got one too!
H'm!"

A certain dismay looked from Major Flint's eyes, Captain Puffin's mouth
fell open, and he forgot to shut it.

"Yes; change of clothes," said the Major. "It looks a threatening
morning."

"Very threatening," said Miss Mapp. "I hope you will do nothing rash or
dangerous."

There was a moment's silence, and the two looked from one face to
another of this fell group. They all wore fixed, inexplicable smiles.

"It will be pleasant among the sand-dunes," said the Padre, and his wife
gave a loud squeak.

"Well, we shall be missing our tram," said the Major. "Au--au reservoir,
ladies."

Nobody responded at all, and they hurried off down the street, their
bags bumping together very inconveniently.

"Something's up, Major," said Puffin, with true Tilling perspicacity, as
soon as they had got out of hearing....

       *       *       *       *       *

Precisely at the same moment Miss Mapp gave a little cooing laugh.

"Now I must run and do my bittie shopping, Padre," she said, and kissed
her hand all round.... The curtain had to come down for a little while
on so dramatic a situation. Any discussion, just then, would be an
anti-climax.



CHAPTER IX


Captain Puffin found but a sombre diarist when he came over to study his
Roman roads with Major Flint that evening, and indeed he was a sombre
antiquarian himself. They had pondered a good deal during the day over
their strange reception in the High Street that morning and the
recondite allusions to bags, sand-dunes and early trains, and the more
they pondered the more probable it became that not only was something
up, but, as regards the duel, everything was up. For weeks now they had
been regarded by the ladies of Tilling with something approaching
veneration, but there seemed singularly little veneration at the back of
the comments this morning. Following so closely on the encounter with
Miss Mapp last night, this irreverent attitude was probably due to some
atheistical manoeuvre of hers. Such, at least, was the Major's view, and
when he held a view he usually stated it, did Sporting Benjy.

"We've got you to thank for this, Puffin," he said. "Upon my soul, I was
ashamed of you for saying what you did to Miss Mapp last night. Utter
absence of any chivalrous feeling hinting that if she said you were
drunk you would say she was. She was as sober and lucid last night as
she was this morning. And she was devilish lucid, to my mind, this
morning."

"Pity you didn't take her part last night," said Puffin. "You thought
that was a very ingenious idea of mine to make her hold her tongue."

"There are finer things in this world, sir, than ingenuity," said the
Major. "What your ingenuity has led to is this public ridicule. You may
not mind that yourself--you may be used to it--but a man should regard
the consequences of his act on others.... My status in Tilling is
completely changed. Changed for the worse, sir."

Puffin emitted his fluty, disagreeable laugh.

"If your status in Tilling depended on a reputation for bloodthirsty
bravery," he said, "the sooner it was changed the better. We're in the
same boat: I don't say I like the boat, but there we are. Have a drink,
and you'll feel better. Never mind your status."

"I've a good mind never to have a drink again," said the Major, pouring
himself out one of his stiff little glasses, "if a drink leads to this
sort of thing."

"But it didn't," said Puffin. "How it all got out, I can't say, nor for
that matter can you. If it hadn't been for me last night, it would have
been all over Tilling that you and I were tipsy as well. That wouldn't
have improved our status that I can see."

"It was in consequence of what you said to Mapp----" began the Major.

"But, good Lord, where's the connection?" asked Puffin. "Produce the
connection! Let's have a look at the connection! There ain't any
connection! Duelling wasn't as much as mentioned last night."

Major Flint pondered this in gloomy, sipping silence.

"Bridge-party at Mrs. Poppit's the day after to-morrow," he said. "I
don't feel as if I could face it. Suppose they all go on making
allusions to duelling and early trains and that? I shan't be able to
keep my mind on the cards for fear of it. More than a sensitive man
ought to be asked to bear."

Puffin made a noise that sounded rather like "Fudge!"

"Your pardon?" said the Major haughtily.

"Granted by all means," said Puffin. "But I don't see what you're in
such a taking about. We're no worse off than we were before we got a
reputation for being such fire-eaters. Being fire-eaters is a wash-out,
that's all. Pleasant while it lasted, and now we're as we were."

"But we're not," said the Major. "We're detected frauds! That's not the
same as being a fraud; far from it. And who's going to rub it in, my
friend? Who's been rubbing away for all she's worth? Miss Mapp, to whom,
if I may say so without offence, you behaved like a cur last night."

"And another cur stood by and wagged his tail," retorted Puffin.

This was about as far as it was safe to go, and Puffin hastened to say
something pleasant about the hearthrug, to which his friend had a
suitable rejoinder. But after the affair last night, and the dark
sayings in the High Street this morning, there was little content or
cosiness about the session. Puffin's brazen optimism was but a tinkling
cymbal, and the Major did not feel like tinkling at all. He but snorted
and glowered, revolving in his mind how to square Miss Mapp. Allied with
her, if she could but be won over, he felt he could face the rest of
Tilling with indifference, for hers would be the most penetrating
shafts, the most stinging pleasantries. He had more too, so he
reflected, to lose than Puffin, for till the affair of the duel the
other had never been credited with deeds of bloodthirsty gallantry,
whereas he had enjoyed no end of a reputation in amorous and honourable
affairs. Marriage no doubt would settle it satisfactorily, but this
bachelor life, with plenty of golf and diaries, was not to be lightly
exchanged for the unknown. Short of that ...

A light broke, and he got to his feet, following the gleam and walking
very lame out of general discomfiture.

"Tell you what it is, Puffin," he said. "You and I, particularly you,
owe that estimable lady a very profound apology for what happened last
night. You ought to withdraw every word you said, and I every word that
I didn't say."

"Can't be done," said Puffin. "That would be giving up my hold over your
lady friend. We should be known as drunkards all over the shop before
you could say winkie. Worse off than before."

"Not a bit of it. If it's Miss Mapp, and I'm sure it is, who has been
spreading these--these damaging rumours about our duel, it's because
she's outraged and offended, quite rightly, at your conduct to her last
night. Mine, too, if you like. Ample apology, sir, that's the ticket."

"Dog-ticket," said Puffin. "No thanks."

"Very objectionable expression," said Major Flint. "But you shall do as
you like. And so, with your permission, shall I. I shall apologize for
my share in that sorry performance, in which, thank God, I only played a
minor rôle. That's my view, and if you don't like it, you may dislike
it."

Puffin yawned.

"Mapp's a cat," he said. "Stroke a cat and you'll get scratched. Shy a
brick at a cat, and she'll spit at you and skedaddle. You're poor
company to-night, Major, with all these qualms."

"Then, sir, you can relieve yourself of my company," said the Major, "by
going home."

"Just what I was about to do. Good night, old boy. Same time to-morrow
for the tram, if you're not too badly mauled."

Miss Mapp, sitting by the hot-water pipes in the garden-room, looked out
not long after to see what the night was like. Though it was not yet
half-past ten the cowards' sitting-rooms were both dark, and she
wondered what precisely that meant. There was no bridge-party anywhere
that night, and apparently there were no diaries or Roman roads either.
Why this sober and chastened darkness?...

The Major qui-hied for his breakfast at an unusually early hour next
morning, for the courage of this resolve to placate, if possible, the
hostility of Miss Mapp had not, like that of the challenge, oozed out
during the night. He had dressed himself in his frock-coat, seen last on
the occasion when the Prince of Wales proved not to have come by the
6.37, and no female breast however furious could fail to recognize the
compliment of such a formality. Dressed thus, with top-hat and
patent-leather boots, he was clearly observed from the garden-room to
emerge into the street just when Captain Puffin's hand thrust the sponge
on to the window-sill of his bath-room. Probably he too had observed
this apparition, for his fingers prematurely loosed hold of the sponge,
and it bounded into the street. Wild surmises flashed into Miss Mapp's
active brain, the most likely of which was that Major Benjy was going to
propose to Mrs. Poppit, for if he had been going up to London for some
ceremonial occasion, he would be walking down the street instead of up
it. And then she saw his agitated finger press the electric bell of her
own door. So he was not on his way to propose to Mrs. Poppit....

She slid from the room and hurried across the few steps of garden to
the house just in time to intercept Withers though not with any idea of
saying that she was out. Then Withers, according to instructions, waited
till Miss Mapp had tiptoed upstairs, and conducted the Major to the
garden-room, promising that she would "tell" her mistress. This was
unnecessary, as her mistress knew. The Major pressed a half-crown into
her astonished hand, thinking it was a florin. He couldn't precisely
account for that impulse, but general propitiation was at the bottom of
it.

Miss Mapp meantime had sat down on her bed, and firmly rejected the idea
that his call had anything to do with marriage. During all these years
of friendliness he had not got so far as that, and, whatever the future
might hold, it was not likely that he would begin now at this moment
when she was so properly punishing him for his unchivalrous behaviour.
But what could the frock-coat mean? (There was Captain Puffin's servant
picking up the sponge. She hoped it was covered with mud.) It would be a
very just continuation of his punishment to tell Withers she would not
see him, but the punishment which that would entail on herself would be
more than she could bear, for she would not know a moment's peace while
she was ignorant of the nature of his errand. Could he be on his way to
the Padre's to challenge him for that very stinging allusion to
sand-dunes yesterday, and was he come to give her fair warning, so that
she might stop a duel? It did not seem likely. Unable to bear the
suspense any longer, she adjusted her face in the glass to an expression
of frozen dignity and threw over her shoulders the cloak trimmed with
blue in which, on the occasion of the Prince's visit, she had sat down
in the middle of the road. That matched the Major's frock-coat.

She hummed a little song as she mounted the few steps to the
garden-room, and stopped just after she had opened the door. She did not
offer to shake hands.

"You wish to see me, Major Flint?" she said, in such a voice as icebergs
might be supposed to use when passing each other by night in the Arctic
seas.

Major Flint certainly looked as if he hated seeing her, instead of
wishing it, for he backed into a corner of the room and dropped his hat.

"Good morning, Miss Mapp," he said. "Very good of you. I--I called."

He clearly had a difficulty in saying what he had come to say, but if he
thought that she was proposing to give him the smallest assistance, he
was in error.

"Yes, you called," said she. "Pray be seated."

He did so; she stood; he got up again.

"I called," said the Major, "I called to express my very deep regret at
my share, or, rather, that I did not take a more active share--I
allowed, in fact, a friend of mine to speak to you in a manner that did
equal discredit----"

Miss Mapp put her head on one side, as if trying to recollect some
trivial and unimportant occurrence.

"Yes?" she said. "What was that?"

"Captain Puffin," began the Major.

Then Miss Mapp remembered it all.

"I hope, Major Flint," she said, "that you will not find it necessary to
mention Captain Puffin's name to me. I wish him nothing but well, but he
and his are no concern of mine. I have the charity to suppose that he
was quite drunk on the occasion to which I imagine you allude.
Intoxication alone could excuse what he said. Let us leave Captain
Puffin out of whatever you have come to say to me."

This was adroit; it compelled the Major to begin all over again.

"I come entirely on my own account," he began.

"I understand," said Miss Mapp, instantly bringing Captain Puffin in
again. "Captain Puffin, now I presume sober, has no regret for what he
said when drunk. I quite see, and I expected no more and no less from
him. Yes. I am afraid I interrupted you."

Major Flint threw his friend overboard like ballast from a bumping
balloon.

"I speak for myself," he said. "I behaved, Miss Mapp, like a--ha--worm.
Defenceless lady, insolent fellow drunk--I allude to Captain P----. I'm
very sorry for my part in it."

Up till this moment Miss Mapp had not made up her mind whether she
intended to forgive him or not; but here she saw how crushing a penalty
she might be able to inflict on Puffin if she forgave the erring and
possibly truly repentant Major. He had already spoken strongly about his
friend's offence, and she could render life supremely nasty for them
both--particularly Puffin--if she made the Major agree that he could
not, if truly sorry, hold further intercourse with him. There would be
no more golf, no more diaries. Besides, if she was observed to be
friendly with the Major again and to cut Captain Puffin, a very natural
interpretation would be that she had learned that in the original
quarrel the Major had been defending her from some odious tongue to the
extent of a challenge, even though he subsequently ran away. Tilling was
quite clever enough to make that inference without any suggestion from
her.... But if she forgave neither of them, they would probably go on
boozing and golfing together, and saying quite dreadful things about
her, and not care very much whether she forgave them or not. Her mind
was made up, and she gave a wan smile.

"Oh, Major Flint," she said, "it hurt me so dreadfully that you should
have stood by and heard that Man--if he is a man--say those awful things
to me and not take my side. It made me feel so lonely. I had always been
such good friends with you, and then you turned your back on me like
that. I didn't know what I had done to deserve it. I lay awake ever so
long."

This was affecting, and he violently rubbed the nap of his hat the wrong
way.... Then Miss Mapp broke into her sunniest smile.

"Oh, I'm so glad you came to say you were sorry!" she said. "Dear Major
Benjy, we're quite friends again."

She dabbed her handkerchief on her eyes.

"So foolish of me!" she said. "Now sit down in my most comfortable chair
and have a cigarette."

Major Flint made a peck at the hand she extended to him, and cleared his
throat to indicate emotion. It really was a great relief to think that
she would not make awful allusions to duels in the middle of
bridge-parties.

"And since you feel as you do about Captain Puffin," she said, "of
course, you won't see anything more of him. You and I are quite one,
aren't we, about that? You have dissociated yourself from him
completely. The fact of your being sorry does that."

It was quite clear to the Major that this condition was involved in his
forgiveness, though that fact, so obvious to Miss Mapp, had not occurred
to him before. Still, he had to accept it, or go unhouseled again. He
could explain to Puffin, under cover of night, or perhaps in
deaf-and-dumb alphabet from his window....

"Infamous, unforgivable behaviour!" he said. "Pah!"

"So glad you feel that," said Miss Mapp, smiling till he saw the entire
row of her fine teeth. "And oh, may I say one little thing more? I feel
this: I feel that the dreadful shock to me of being insulted like that
was quite a lovely little blessing in disguise, now that the effect has
been to put an end to your intimacy with him. I never liked it, and I
liked it less than ever the other night. He's not a fit friend for you.
Oh, I'm so thankful!"

Major Flint saw that for the present he was irrevocably committed to
this clause in the treaty of peace. He could not face seeing it torn up
again, as it certainly would be, if he failed to accept it in its
entirety, nor could he imagine himself leaving the room with a renewal
of hostilities. He would lose his game of golf to-day as it was, for
apart from the fact that he would scarcely have time to change his
clothes (the idea of playing golf in a frock-coat and top-hat was
inconceivable) and catch the 11.20 tram, he could not be seen in
Puffin's company at all. And, indeed, in the future, unless Puffin could
be induced to apologize and Miss Mapp to forgive, he saw, if he was to
play golf at all with his friend, that endless deceptions and
subterfuges were necessary in order to escape detection. One of them
would have to set out ten minutes before the other, and walk to the tram
by some unusual and circuitous route; they would have to play in a
clandestine and furtive manner, parting company before they got to the
club-house; disguises might be needful; there was a peck of difficulties
ahead. But he would have to go into these later; at present he must be
immersed in the rapture of his forgiveness.

"Most generous of you, Miss Elizabeth," he said. "As for that--well, I
won't allude to him again."

Miss Mapp gave a happy little laugh, and having made a further plan,
switched away from the subject of captains and insults with alacrity.

"Look!" she said. "I found these little rosebuds in flower still, though
it is the end of November. Such brave little darlings, aren't they? One
for your button-hole, Major Benjy? And then I must do my little
shoppings or Withers will scold me--Withers is so severe with me, keeps
me in such order! If you are going into the town, will you take me with
you? I will put on my hat."

Requests for the present were certainly commands, and two minutes later
they set forth. Luck, as usual, befriended ability, for there was Puffin
at his door, itching for the Major's return (else they would miss the
tram); and lo! there came stepping along Miss Mapp in her blue-trimmed
cloak, and the Major attired as for marriage--top-hat, frock-coat and
button-hole. She did not look at Puffin and cut him; she did not seem
(with the deceptiveness of appearances) to see him at all, so eager and
agreeable was her conversation with her companion. The Major, so Puffin
thought, attempted to give him some sort of dazed and hunted glance; but
he could not be certain even of that, so swiftly had it to be
transformed into a genial interest in what Miss Mapp was saying, and
Puffin stared open-mouthed after them, for they were terrible as an army
with banners. Then Diva, trundling swiftly out of the fish-shop, came,
as well she might, to a dead halt, observing this absolutely
inexplicable phenomenon.

"Good morning, Diva darling," said Miss Mapp. "Major Benjy and I are
doing our little shopping together. So kind of him, isn't it? and very
naughty of me to take up his time. I told him he ought to be playing
golf. Such a lovely day! Au reservoir, sweet! Oh, and there's the Padre,
Major Benjy! How quickly he walks! Yes, he sees us! And there's Mrs.
Poppit; everybody is enjoying the sunshine. What a beautiful fur coat,
though I should think she found it very heavy and warm. Good morning,
dear Susan! You shopping, too, like Major Benjy and me? How is your dear
Isabel?"

Miss Mapp made the most of that morning; the magnanimity of her
forgiveness earned her incredible dividends. Up and down the High Street
she went, with Major Benjy in attendance, buying grocery, stationery,
gloves, eau-de-Cologne, boot-laces, the "Literary Supplement" of _The
Times_, dried camomile flowers, and every conceivable thing that she
might possibly need in the next week, so that her shopping might be as
protracted as possible. She allowed him (such was her firmness in
"spoiling" him) to carry her shopping-basket, and when that was full,
she decked him like a sacrificial ram with little parcels hung by loops
of string. Sometimes she took him into a shop in case there might be
someone there who had not seen him yet on her leash; sometimes she left
him on the pavement in a prominent position, marking, all the time, just
as if she had been a clinical thermometer, the feverish curiosity that
was burning in Tilling's veins. Only yesterday she had spread the news
of his cowardice broadcast; to-day their comradeship was of the
chattiest and most genial kind. There he was, carrying her basket, and
wearing frock-coat and top-hat and hung with parcels like a
Christmas-tree, spending the entire morning with her instead of golfing
with Puffin. Miss Mapp positively shuddered as she tried to realize what
her state of mind would have been, if she had seen him thus coupled
with Diva. She would have suspected (rightly in all probability) some
loathsome intrigue against herself. And the cream of it was that until
she chose, nobody could possibly find out what had caused this
metamorphosis so paralysing to inquiring intellects, for Major Benjy
would assuredly never tell anyone that there was a reconciliation, due
to his apology for his rudeness, when he had stood by and permitted an
intoxicated Puffin to suggest disgraceful bargains. Tilling--poor
Tilling--would go crazy with suspense as to what it all meant.

Never had there been such a shopping! It was nearly lunch-time when, at
her front door, Major Flint finally stripped himself of her parcels and
her companionship and hobbled home, profusely perspiring, and lame from
so much walking on pavements in tight patent-leather shoes. He was weary
and footsore; he had had no golf, and, though forgiven, was but a wreck.
She had made him ridiculous all the morning with his frock-coat and
top-hat and his porterages, and if forgiveness entailed any more of
these nightmare sacraments of friendliness, he felt that he would be
unable to endure the fatiguing accessories of the regenerate state. He
hung up his top-hat and wiped his wet and throbbing head; he kicked off
his shoes and shed his frock-coat, and furiously qui-hied for a whisky
and soda and lunch.

His physical restoration was accompanied by a quickening of dismay at
the general prospect. What (to put it succinctly) was life worth, even
when unharassed by allusions to duels, without the solace of golf,
quarrels and diaries in the companionship of Puffin? He hated Puffin--no
one more so--but he could not possibly get on without him, and it was
entirely due to Puffin that he had spent so outrageous a morning, for
Puffin, seeking to silence Miss Mapp by his intoxicated bargain, had
been the prime cause of all this misery. He could not even, for fear of
that all-seeing eye in Miss Mapp's garden-room, go across to the house
of the unforgiven sea-captain, and by a judicious recital of his woes
induce him to beg Miss Mapp's forgiveness instantly. He would have to
wait till the kindly darkness fell.... "Mere slavery!" he exclaimed with
passion.

A tap at his sitting-room door interrupted the chain of these melancholy
reflections, and his permission to enter was responded to by Puffin
himself. The Major bounced from his seat.

"You mustn't stop here," he said in a low voice, as if afraid that he
might be overheard. "Miss Mapp may have seen you come in."

Puffin laughed shrilly.

"Why, of course she did," he gaily assented. "She was at her window all
right. Ancient lights, I shall call her. What's this all about now?"

"You must go back," said Major Flint agitatedly. "She must see you go
back. I can't explain now. But I'll come across after dinner when it's
dark. Go; don't wait."

He positively hustled the mystified Puffin out of the house, and Miss
Mapp's face, which had grown sharp and pointed with doubts and
suspicions when she observed him enter Major Benjy's house, dimpled, as
she saw him return, into her sunniest smiles. "Dear Major Benjy," she
said, "he has refused to see him," and she cut the string of the large
cardboard box which had just arrived from the dyer's with the most
pleasurable anticipations....

Well, it was certainly very magnificent, and Miss Greele was quite
right, for there was not the faintest tinge to show that it had
originally been kingfisher-blue. She had not quite realized how
brilliant crimson-lake was in the piece; it seemed almost to cast a
ruddy glow on the very ceiling, and the fact that she had caused the
orange chiffon with which the neck and sleeves were trimmed to be dyed
black (following the exquisite taste of Mrs. Titus Trout) only threw the
splendour of the rest into more dazzling radiance. Kingfisher-blue would
appear quite ghostly and corpse-like in its neighbourhood; and painful
though that would be for Diva, it would, as all her well-wishers must
hope, be a lesson to her not to indulge in such garishness. She should
be taught her lesson (D.V.), thought Miss Mapp, at Susan's bridge-party
to-morrow evening. Captain Puffin was being taught a lesson, too, for we
are never too old to learn, or, for that matter, to teach.

Though the night was dark and moonless, there was an inconveniently
brilliant gas-lamp close to the Major's door, and that strategist,
carrying his round roll of diaries, much the shape of a bottle, under
his coat, went about half-past nine that evening to look at the
rain-gutter which had been weeping into his yard, and let himself out of
the back-door round the corner. From there he went down past the
fishmonger's, crossed the road, and doubled back again up Puffin's side
of the street, which was not so vividly illuminated, though he took the
precaution of making himself little with bent knees, and of limping.
Puffin was already warming himself over the fire and imbibing Roman
roads, and was disposed to be hilarious over the Major's shopping.

"But why top-hat and frock-coat, Major?" he asked. "Another visit of the
Prince of Wales, I asked myself, or the Voice that breathed o'er Eden?
Have a drink--one of mine, I mean? I owe you a drink for the good laugh
you gave me."

Had it not been for this generosity and the need of getting on the right
side of Puffin, Major Flint would certainly have resented such clumsy
levity, but this double consideration caused him to take it with
unwonted good-humour. His attempt to laugh, indeed, sounded a little
hollow, but that is the habit of self-directed merriment.

"Well, I allow it must have seemed amusing," he said. "The fact was that
I thought she would appreciate my putting a little ceremony into my
errand of apology, and then she whisked me off shopping before I could
go and change."

"Kiss and friends again, then?" asked Puffin.

The Major grew a little stately over this.

"No such familiarity passed," he said. "But she accepted my regrets
with--ha--the most gracious generosity. A fine-spirited woman, sir;
you'll find the same."

"I might if I looked for it," said Puffin. "But why should I want to
make it up? You've done that, and that prevents her talking about
duelling and early trains. She can't mock at me because of you. You
might pass me back my bottle, if you've taken your drink."

The Major reluctantly did so.

"You must please yourself, old boy," he said. "It's your business, and
no one's ever said that Benjy Flint interfered in another man's affairs.
But I trust you will do what good feeling indicates. I hope you value
our jolly games of golf and our pleasant evenings sufficiently highly."

"Eh! how's that?" asked Puffin. "You going to cut me too?"

The Major sat down and put his large feet on the fender. "Tact and
diplomacy, Benjy, my boy," he reminded himself.

"Ha! That's what I like," he said, "a good fire and a friend, and the
rest of the world may go hang. There's no question of cutting, old man;
I needn't tell you that--but we must have one of our good talks. For
instance, I very unceremoniously turned you out of my house this
afternoon, and I owe you an explanation of that. I'll give it you in one
word: Miss Mapp saw you come in. She didn't see me come in here this
evening--ha! ha!--and that's why I can sit at my ease. But if she
knew----"

Puffin guessed.

"What has happened, Major, is that you've thrown me over for Miss Mapp,"
he observed.

"No, sir, I have not," said the Major with emphasis. "Should I be
sitting here and drinking your whisky if I had? But this morning, after
that lady had accepted my regret for my share in what occurred the other
night, she assumed that since I condemned my own conduct unreservedly, I
must equally condemn yours. It really was like a conjuring trick; the
thing was done before I knew anything about it. And before I'd had time
to say, 'Hold on a bit,' I was being led up and down the High Street,
carrying as much merchandise as a drove of camels. God, sir, I suffered
this morning; you don't seem to realize that I suffered; I couldn't
stand any more mornings like that: I haven't the stamina."

"A powerful woman," said Puffin reflectively.

"You may well say that," observed Major Flint. "That is finely said. A
powerful woman she is, with a powerful tongue, and able to be powerful
nasty, and if she sees you and me on friendly terms again, she'll turn
the full hose on to us both unless you make it up with her."

"H'm, yes. But as likely as not she'll tell me and my apologies to go
hang."

"Have a try, old man," said the Major encouragingly.

Puffin looked at his whisky-bottle.

"Help yourself, Major," he said. "I think you'll have to help me out,
you know. Go and interview her: see if there's a chance of my favourable
reception."

"No, sir," said the Major firmly, "I will not run the risk of another
morning's shopping in the High Street."

"You needn't. Watch till she comes back from her shopping to-morrow."

Major Benjy clearly did not like the prospect at all, but Puffin grew
firmer and firmer in his absolute refusal to lay himself open to rebuff,
and presently, they came to an agreement that the Major was to go on his
ambassadorial errand next morning. That being settled, the still
undecided point about the worm-cast gave rise to a good deal of heat,
until, it being discovered that the window was open, and that their
voices might easily carry as far as the garden-room, they made malignant
rejoinders to each other in whispers. But it was impossible to go on
quarrelling for long in so confidential a manner, and the disagreement
was deferred to a more convenient occasion. It was late when the Major
left, and after putting out the light in Puffin's hall, so that he
should not be silhouetted against it, he slid into the darkness, and
reached his own door by a subtle detour.

Miss Mapp had a good deal of division of her swift mind, when, next
morning, she learned the nature of Major Benjy's second errand. If she,
like Mr. Wyse, was to encourage Puffin to hope that she would accept his
apologies, she would be obliged to remit all further punishment of him,
and allow him to consort with his friend again. It was difficult to
forgo the pleasure of his chastisement, but, on the other hand, it was
just possible that the Major might break away, and, whether she liked it
or not (and she would not), refuse permanently to give up Puffin's
society. That would be awkward since she had publicly paraded her
reconciliation with him. What further inclined her to clemency, was that
this very evening the crimson-lake tea-gown would shed its effulgence
over Mrs. Poppit's bridge-party, and Diva would never want to hear the
word "kingfisher" again. That was enough to put anybody in a good
temper. So the diplomatist returned to the miscreant with the glad
tidings that Miss Mapp would hear his supplication with a favourable
ear, and she took up a stately position in the garden-room, which she
selected as audience chamber, near the bell so that she could ring for
Withers if necessary.

       *       *       *       *       *

Miss Mapp's mercy was largely tempered with justice, and she proposed,
in spite of the leniency which she would eventually exhibit, to give
Puffin "what for," first. She had not for him, as for Major Benjy, that
feminine weakness which had made it a positive luxury to forgive him:
she never even thought of Puffin as Captain Dicky, far less let the
pretty endearment slip off her tongue accidentally, and the luxury which
she anticipated from the interview was that of administering a quantity
of hard slaps. She had appointed half-past twelve as the hour for his
suffering, so that he must go without his golf again.

She put down the book she was reading when he appeared, and gazed at him
stonily without speech. He limped into the middle of the room. This
might be forgiveness, but it did not look like it, and he wondered
whether she had got him here on false pretences.

"Good morning," said he.

Miss Mapp inclined her head. Silence was gold.

"I understood from Major Flint----" began Puffin.

Speech could be gold too.

"If," said Miss Mapp, "you have come to speak about Major Flint you have
wasted your time. And mine!"

(How different from Major Benjy, she thought. What a shrimp!)

The shrimp gave a slight gasp. The thing had got to be done, and the
sooner he was out of range of this powerful woman the better.

"I am extremely sorry for what I said to you the other night," he said.

"I am glad you are sorry," said Miss Mapp.

"I offer you my apologies for what I said," continued Puffin.

The whip whistled.

"When you spoke to me on the occasion to which you refer," said Miss
Mapp, "I saw of course at once that you were not in a condition to speak
to anybody. I instantly did you that justice, for I am just to
everybody. I paid no more attention to what you said than I should have
paid to any tipsy vagabond in the slums. I daresay you hardly remember
what you said, so that before I hear your expression of regret, I will
remind you of it. You threatened, unless I promised to tell nobody in
what a disgusting condition you were, to say that I was tipsy. Elizabeth
Mapp tipsy! That was what you said, Captain Puffin."

Captain Puffin turned extremely red. ("Now the shrimp's being boiled,"
thought Miss Mapp.)

"I can't do more than apologize," said he. He did not know whether he
was angrier with his ambassador or her.

"Did you say you couldn't do 'more,'" said Miss Mapp with an air of
great interest. "How curious! I should have thought you couldn't have
done less."

"Well, what more can I do?" asked he.

"If you think," said Miss Mapp, "that you hurt me by your conduct that
night, you are vastly mistaken. And if you think you can do no more than
apologize, I will teach you better. You can make an effort, Captain
Puffin, to break with your deplorable habits, to try to get back a
little of the self-respect, if you ever had any, which you have lost.
You can cease trying, oh, so unsuccessfully, to drag Major Benjy down to
your level. That's what you can do."

She let these withering observations blight him.

"I accept your apologies," she said. "I hope you will do better in the
future, Captain Puffin, and I shall look anxiously for signs of
improvement. We will meet with politeness and friendliness when we are
brought together and I will do my best to wipe all remembrance of your
tipsy impertinence from my mind. And you must do your best too. You are
not young, and engrained habits are difficult to get rid of. But do not
despair, Captain Puffin. And now I will ring for Withers and she will
show you out."

She rang the bell, and gave a sample of her generous oblivion.

"And we meet, do we not, this evening at Mrs. Poppit's?" she said,
looking not at him, but about a foot above his head. "Such pleasant
evenings one always has there, I hope it will not be a wet evening, but
the glass is sadly down. Oh, Withers, Captain Puffin is going. Good
morning, Captain Puffin. Such a pleasure!"

Miss Mapp hummed a rollicking little tune as she observed him totter
down the street.

"There!" she said, and had a glass of Burgundy for lunch as a treat.



CHAPTER X


The news that Mr. Wyse was to be of the party that evening at Mrs.
Poppit's and was to dine there first, _en famille_ (as he casually let
slip in order to air his French), created a disagreeable impression that
afternoon in Tilling. It was not usual to do anything more than "have a
tray" for your evening meal, if one of these winter bridge-parties
followed, and there was, to Miss Mapp's mind, a deplorable tendency to
ostentation in this dinner-giving before a party. Still, if Susan was
determined to be extravagant, she might have asked Miss Mapp as well,
who resented this want of hospitality. She did not like, either, this
hole-and-corner _en famille_ work with Mr. Wyse; it indicated a pushing
familiarity to which, it was hoped, Mr. Wyse's eyes were open.

There was another point: the party, it had been ascertained, would in
all number ten, and if, as was certain, there would be two
bridge-tables, that seemed to imply that two people would have to cut
out. There were often nine at Mrs. Poppit's bridge-parties (she appeared
to be unable to count), but on those occasions Isabel was generally
told by her mother that she did not care for bridge, and so there was no
cutting out, but only a pleasant book for Isabel. But what would be done
with ten? It was idle to hope that Susan would sit out: as hostess she
always considered it part of her duties to play solidly the entire
evening. Still, if the cutting of cards malignantly ordained that Miss
Mapp was ejected, it was only reasonable to expect that after her
magnanimity to the United Services, either Major Benjy or Captain Puffin
would be so obdurate in his insistence that she must play instead of
him, that it would be only ladylike to yield.

She did not, therefore, allow this possibility to dim the pleasure she
anticipated from the discomfiture of darling Diva, who would be certain
to appear in the kingfisher-blue tea-gown, and find herself ghastly and
outshone by the crimson-lake which was the colour of Mrs. Trout's second
toilet, and Miss Mapp, after prolonged thought as to her most dramatic
moment of entrance in the crimson-lake, determined to arrive when she
might expect the rest of the guests to have already assembled. She would
risk, it is true, being out of a rubber for a little, since bridge might
have already begun, but play would have to stop for a minute of
greetings when she came in, and she would beg everybody not to stir, and
would seat herself quite, quite close to Diva, and openly admire her
pretty frock, "like one I used to have ...!"

It was, therefore, not much lacking of ten o'clock when, after she had
waited a considerable time on Mrs. Poppit's threshold, Boon sulkily
allowed her to enter, but gave no answer to her timid inquiry of: "Am I
very late, Boon?" The drawing-room door was a little ajar, and as she
took off the cloak that masked the splendour of the crimson-lake, her
acute ears heard the murmur of talk going on, which indicated that
bridge had not yet begun, while her acute nostrils detected the faint
but certain smell of roast grouse, which showed what Susan had given Mr.
Wyse for dinner, probably telling him that the birds were a present to
her from the shooting-lodge where she had stayed in the summer. Then,
after she had thrown herself a glance in the mirror, and put on her
smile, Boon preceded her, slightly shrugging his shoulders, to the
drawing-room door, which he pushed open, and grunted loudly, which was
his manner of announcing a guest. Miss Mapp went tripping in, almost at
a run, to indicate how vexed she was with herself for being late, and
there, just in front of her, stood Diva, dressed not in kingfisher-blue
at all, but in the crimson-lake of Mrs. Trout's second toilet.
Perfidious Diva had had her dress dyed too....

Miss Mapp's courage rose to the occasion. Other people, Majors and tipsy
Captains, might be cowards, but not she. Twice now (omitting the matter
of the Wars of the Roses) had Diva by some cunning, which it was
impossible not to suspect of a diabolical origin, clad her odious little
roundabout form in splendours identical with Miss Mapp's, but now,
without faltering even when she heard Evie's loud squeak, she turned to
her hostess, who wore the Order of M.B.E. on her ample breast, and made
her salutations in a perfectly calm voice.

"Dear Susan, don't scold me for being so late," she said, "though I know
I deserve it. So sweet of you! Isabel darling and dear Evie! Oh, and Mr.
Wyse! Sweet Irene! Major Benjy and Captain Puffin! Had a nice game of
golf? And the Padre!..."

She hesitated a moment wondering, if she could, without screaming or
scratching, seem aware of Diva's presence. Then she soared, lambent as
flame.

"Diva darling!" she said, and bent and kissed her, even as St. Stephen
in the moment of martyrdom prayed for those who stoned him. Flesh and
blood could not manage more, and she turned to Mr. Wyse, remembering
that Diva had told her that the Contessa Faradiddleony's arrival was
postponed.

"And your dear sister has put off her journey, I understand," she said.
"Such a disappointment! Shall we see her at Tilling at all, do you
think?"

Mr. Wyse looked surprised.

"Dear lady," he said, "you're the second person who has said that to me.
Mrs. Plaistow asked me just now----"

"Yes; it was she who told me," said Miss Mapp in case there was a
mistake. "Isn't it true?"

"Certainly not. I told my housekeeper that the Contessa's maid was ill,
and would follow her, but that's the only foundation I know of for this
rumour. Amelia encourages me to hope that she will be here early next
week."

"Oh, no doubt that's it!" said Miss Mapp in an aside so that Diva could
hear. "Darling Diva's always getting hold of the most erroneous
information. She must have been listening to servants' gossip. So glad
she's wrong about it."

Mr. Wyse made one of his stately inclinations of the head.

"Amelia will regret very much not being here to-night," he said, "for I
see all the great bridge-players are present."

"Oh, Mr. Wyse!" said she. "We shall all be humble learners compared with
the Contessa, I expect."

"Not at all!" said Mr. Wyse. "But what a delightful idea of yours and
Mrs. Plaistow's to dress alike in such lovely gowns. Quite like
sisters."

Miss Mapp could not trust herself to speak on this subject, and showed
all her teeth, not snarling but amazingly smiling. She had no occasion
to reply, however, for Captain Puffin joined them, eagerly deferential.

"What a charming surprise you and Mrs. Plaistow have given us, Miss
Mapp," he said, "in appearing again in the same beautiful dresses. Quite
like----"

Miss Mapp could not bear to hear what she and Diva were like, and
wheeled about, passionately regretting that she had forgiven Puffin.
This manoeuvre brought her face to face with the Major.

"Upon my word, Miss Elizabeth," he said, "you look magnificent
to-night."

He saw the light of fury in her eyes, and guessed, mere man as he was,
what it was about. He bent to her and spoke low.

"But, by Jove!" he said with supreme diplomacy, "somebody ought to tell
our good Mrs. Plaistow that some women can wear a wonderful gown and
others--ha!"

"Dear Major Benjy," said she. "Cruel of you to poor Diva."

But instantly her happiness was clouded again, for the Padre had a very
ill-inspired notion.

"What ho! fair Madam Plaistow," he humorously observed to Miss Mapp.
"Ah! Peccavi! I am in error. It is Mistress Mapp. But let us to the
cards! Our hostess craves thy presence at yon table."

Contrary to custom Mrs. Poppit did not sit firmly down at a table, nor
was Isabel told that she had an invincible objection to playing bridge.
Instead she bade everybody else take their seats, and said that she and
Mr. Wyse had settled at dinner that they much preferred looking on and
learning to playing. With a view to enjoying this incredible treat as
fully as possible, they at once seated themselves on a low sofa at the
far end of the room where they could not look or learn at all, and
engaged in conversation. Diva and Elizabeth, as might have been expected
from the malignant influence which watched over their attire, cut in at
the same table and were partners, so that they had, in spite of the
deadly antagonism of identical tea-gowns, a financial interest in
common, while a further bond between them was the eagerness with which
they strained their ears to overhear anything that their hostess and Mr.
Wyse were saying to each other.

Miss Mapp and Diva alike were perhaps busier when they were being dummy
than when they were playing the cards. Over the background of each mind
was spread a hatred of the other, red as their tea-gowns, and shot with
black despair as to what on earth they should do now with those
ill-fated pieces of pride. Miss Mapp was prepared to make a perfect
chameleon of hers, if only she could get away from Diva's hue, but what
if, having changed, say, to purple, Diva became purple too? She could
not stand a third coincidence, and besides, she much doubted whether any
gown that had once been of so pronounced a crimson-lake, could
successfully attempt to appear of any other hue except perhaps black. If
Diva died, she might perhaps consult Miss Greele as to whether black
would be possible, but then if Diva died, there was no reason for not
wearing crimson-lake for ever, since it would be an insincerity of which
Miss Mapp humbly hoped she was incapable, to go into mourning for Diva
just because she died.

In front of this lurid background of despair moved the figures which
would have commanded all her attention, have aroused all the feelings of
disgust and pity of which she was capable, had only Diva stuck to
kingfisher-blue. There they sat on the sofa, talking in voices which it
was impossible to overhear, and if ever a woman made up to a man, and if
ever a man was taken in by shallow artifices, "they," thought Miss Mapp,
"are the ones." There was no longer any question that Susan was doing
her utmost to inveigle Mr. Wyse into matrimony, for no other motive, not
politeness, not the charm of conversation, not the low, comfortable seat
by the fire could possibly have had force enough to keep her for a whole
evening from the bridge-table. That dinner _en famille_, so Miss Mapp
sarcastically reflected--what if it was the first of hundreds of similar
dinners _en famille_? Perhaps, when safely married, Susan would ask her
to one of the family dinners, with a glassful of foam which she called
champagne, and the leg of a crow which she called game from the
shooting-lodge.... There was no use in denying that Mr. Wyse seemed to
be swallowing flattery and any other form of bait as fast as they were
supplied him; never had he been so made up to since the day, now two
years ago, when Miss Mapp herself wrote him down as uncapturable. But
now, on this awful evening of crimson-lake, it seemed only prudent to
face the prospect of his falling into the nets which were spread for
him.... Susan the sister-in-law of a Contessa. Susan the wife of the man
whose urbanity made all Tilling polite to each other, Susan a Wyse of
Whitchurch! It made Miss Mapp feel positively weary of earth....

Nor was this the sum of Miss Mapp's mental activities, as she sat being
dummy to Diva, for, in addition to the rage, despair and disgust with
which these various topics filled her, she had narrowly to watch Diva's
play, in order, at the end, to point out to her with lucid firmness all
the mistakes she had made, while with snorts and sniffs and muttered
exclamations and jerks of the head and pullings-out of cards and
puttings of them back with amazing assertions that she had not quitted
them, she wrestled with the task she had set herself of getting two
no-trumps. It was impossible to count the tricks that Diva made, for she
had a habit of putting her elbow on them after she had raked them in, as
if in fear that her adversaries would filch them when she was not
looking, and Miss Mapp, distracted with other interests, forgot that
no-trumps had been declared and thought it was hearts, of which Diva
played several after their adversaries' hands were quite denuded of
them. She often did that "to make sure."

"Three tricks," she said triumphantly at the conclusion, counting the
cards in the cache below her elbow.

Miss Mapp gave a long sigh, but remembered that Mr. Wyse was present.

"You could have got two more," she said, "if you hadn't played those
hearts, dear. You would have been able to trump Major Benjy's club and
the Padre's diamond, and we should have gone out. Never mind, you played
it beautifully otherwise."

"Can't trump when it's no trumps," said Diva, forgetting that Mr. Wyse
was there. "That's nonsense. Got three tricks. Did go out. Did you think
it was hearts? Wasn't."

Miss Mapp naturally could not demean herself to take any notice of this.

"Your deal, is it, Major Benjy?" she asked. "Me to cut?"

Diva had remembered just after her sharp speech to her partner that Mr.
Wyse was present, and looked towards the sofa to see if there were any
indications of pained surprise on his face which might indicate that he
had heard. But what she saw there--or, to be more accurate, what she
failed to see there--forced her to give an exclamation which caused Miss
Mapp to look round in the direction where Diva's bulging eyes were
glued.... There was no doubt whatever about it: Mrs. Poppit and Mr. Wyse
were no longer there. Unless they were under the sofa they had certainly
left the room together and altogether. Had she gone to put on her sable
coat on this hot night? Was Mr. Wyse staggering under its weight as he
fitted her into it? Miss Mapp rejected the supposition; they had gone to
another room to converse more privately. This looked very black indeed,
and she noted the time on the clock in order to ascertain, when they
came back, how long they had been absent.

The rubber went on its wild way, relieved from the restraining influence
of Mr. Wyse, and when, thirty-nine minutes afterwards, it came to its
conclusion and neither the hostess nor Mr. Wyse had returned, Miss Mapp
was content to let Diva muddle herself madly, adding up the score with
the assistance of her fingers, and went across to the other table till
she should be called back to check her partner's figures. They would be
certain to need checking.

"Has Mr. Wyse gone away already, dear Isabel?" she said. "How early!"

("And four makes nine," muttered Diva, getting to her little finger.)

Isabel was dummy, and had time for conversation.

"I think he has only gone with Mamma into the conservatory," she
said--"no more diamonds, partner?--to advise her about the orchids."

Now the conservatory was what Miss Mapp considered a potting-shed with a
glass roof, and the orchids were one anæmic odontoglossum, and there
would scarcely be room besides that for Mrs. Poppit and Mr. Wyse. The
potting-shed was visible from the drawing-room window, over which
curtains were drawn.

"Such a lovely night," said Miss Mapp. "And while Diva is checking the
score may I have a peep at the stars, dear? So fond of the sweet stars."

She glided to the window (conscious that Diva was longing to glide too,
but was preparing to quarrel with the Major's score) and took her peep
at the sweet stars. The light from the hall shone full into the
potting-shed, but there was nobody there. She made quite sure of that.

Diva had heard about the sweet stars, and for the first time in her life
made no objection to her adversaries' total.

"You're right, Major Flint, eighteen-pence," she said. "Stupid of me:
I've left my handkerchief in the pocket of my cloak. I'll pop out and
get it. Back in a minute. Cut again for partners."

She trundled to the door and popped out of it before Miss Mapp had the
slightest chance of intercepting her progress. This was bitter, because
the dining-room opened out of the hall, and so did the book-cupboard
with a window which dear Susan called her boudoir. Diva was quite
capable of popping into both of these apartments. In fact, if the
truants were there, it was no use bothering about the sweet stars any
more, and Diva would already have won....

There was a sweet moon as well, and just as baffled Miss Mapp was
turning away from the window, she saw that which made her positively
glue her nose to the cold window-pane, and tuck the curtain in, so that
her silhouette should not be visible from outside. Down the middle of
the garden path came the two truants, Susan in her sables and Mr. Wyse
close beside her with his coat-collar turned up. Her ample form with the
small round head on the top looked like a short-funnelled locomotive
engine, and he like the driver on the foot-plate. The perfidious things
had said they were going to consult over the orchid. Did orchids grow on
the lawn? It was news to Miss Mapp if they did.

They stopped, and Mr. Wyse quite clearly pointed to some celestial
object, moon or star, and they both gazed at it. The sight of two such
middle-aged people behaving like this made Miss Mapp feel quite sick,
but she heroically continued a moment more at her post. Her heroism was
rewarded, for immediately after the inspection of the celestial object,
they turned and inspected each other. And Mr. Wyse kissed her.

Miss Mapp "scriggled" from behind the curtain into the room again.

"Aldebaran!" she said. "So lovely!"

Simultaneously Diva re-entered with her handkerchief, thwarted and
disappointed, for she had certainly found nobody either in the boudoir
or in the dining-room. But there was going to be a sit-down supper, and
as Boon was not there, she had taken a _marron glacé_.

Miss Mapp was flushed with excitement and disgust, and almost forgot
about Diva's gown.

"Found your hanky, dear?" she said. "Then shall we cut for partners
again? You and me, Major Benjy. Don't scold me if I play wrong."

She managed to get a seat that commanded a full-face view of the door,
for the next thing was to see how "the young couple" (as she had already
labelled them in her sarcastic mind) "looked" when they returned from
their amorous excursion to the orchid that grew on the lawn. They
entered, most unfortunately, while she was in the middle of playing a
complicated hand, and her brain was so switched off from the play by
their entrance that she completely lost the thread of what she was
doing, and threw away two tricks that simply required to be gathered up
by her, but now lurked below Diva's elbow. What made it worse was that
no trace of emotion, no heightened colour, no coy and downcast eye
betrayed a hint of what had happened on the lawn. With brazen effrontery
Susan informed her daughter that Mr. Wyse thought a little
leaf-mould....

"What a liar!" thought Miss Mapp, and triumphantly put her remaining
trump on to her dummy's best card. Then she prepared to make the best of
it.

"We've lost three, I'm afraid, Major Benjy," she said. "Don't you think
you overbid your hand just a little wee bit?"

"I don't know about that, Miss Elizabeth," said the Major. "If you
hadn't let those two spades go, and hadn't trumped my best heart----"

Miss Mapp interrupted with her famous patter.

"Oh, but if I had taken the spades," she said quickly, "I should have
had to lead up to Diva's clubs, and then they would have got the rough
in diamonds, and I should have never been able to get back into your
hand again. Then at the end if I hadn't trumped your heart, I should
have had to lead the losing spade and Diva would have over-trumped; and
brought in her club, and we should have gone down two more. If you
follow me, I think you'll agree that I was right to do that. But all
good players overbid their hands sometimes, Major Benjy. Such fun!"

The supper was unusually ostentatious, but Miss Mapp saw the reason for
that; it was clear that Susan wanted to impress poor Mr. Wyse with her
wealth, and probably when it came to settlements, he would learn some
very unpleasant news. But there were agreeable little circumstances to
temper her dislike of this extravagant display, for she was hungry, and
Diva, always a gross feeder, spilt some hot chocolate sauce on the
crimson-lake, which, if indelible, might supply a solution to the
problem of what was to be done now about her own frock. She kept an eye,
too, on Captain Puffin, to see if he showed any signs of improvement in
the direction she had indicated to him in her interview, and was
rejoiced to see that one of these glances was clearly the cause of his
refusing a second glass of port. He had already taken the stopper out of
the decanter when their eyes met ... and then he put it back again.
Improvement already!

Everything else (pending the discovery as to whether chocolate on
crimson-lake spelt ruin) now faded into a middle distance, while the
affairs of Susan and poor Mr. Wyse occupied the entire foreground of
Miss Mapp's consciousness. Mean and cunning as Susan's conduct must have
been in entrapping Mr. Wyse when others had failed to gain his
affection, Miss Mapp felt that it would be only prudent to continue on
the most amicable of terms with her, for as future sister-in-law to a
countess, and wife to the man who by the mere exercise of his presence
could make Tilling sit up and behave, she would doubtless not hesitate
about giving Miss Mapp some nasty ones back if retaliation demanded. It
was dreadful to think that this audacious climber was so soon to belong
to the Wyses of Whitchurch, but since the moonlight had revealed that
such was Mr. Wyse's intention, it was best to be friends with the Mammon
of the British Empire. Poppit-cum-Wyse was likely to be a very important
centre of social life in Tilling, when not in Scotland or Whitchurch or
Capri, and Miss Mapp wisely determined that even the announcement of the
engagement should not induce her to give voice to the very proper
sentiments which it could not help inspiring.

After all she had done for Susan, in letting the door of high-life in
Tilling swing open for her when she could not possibly keep it shut any
longer, it seemed only natural that, if she only kept on good terms with
her now, Susan would insist that her dear Elizabeth must be the first to
be told of the engagement. This made her pause before adopting the
obvious course of setting off immediately after breakfast next morning,
and telling all her friends, under promise of secrecy, just what she had
seen in the moonlight last night. Thrilling to the narrator as such an
announcement would be, it would be even more thrilling, provided only
that Susan had sufficient sense of decency to tell her of the engagement
before anybody else, to hurry off to all the others and inform them that
she had known of it ever since the night of the bridge-party.

It was important, therefore, to be at home whenever there was the
slightest chance of Susan coming round with her news, and Miss Mapp sat
at her window the whole of that first morning, so as not to miss her,
and hardly attended at all to the rest of the pageant of life that moved
within the radius of her observation. Her heart beat fast when, about
the middle of the morning, Mr. Wyse came round the dentist's corner, for
it might be that the bashful Susan had sent him to make the
announcement, but, if so, he was bashful too, for he walked by her house
without pause. He looked rather worried, she thought (as well he might),
and passing on he disappeared round the church corner, clearly on his
way to his betrothed. He carried a square parcel in his hand, about as
big as some jewel-case that might contain a tiara. Half an hour
afterwards, however, he came back, still carrying the tiara. It occurred
to her that the engagement might have been broken off.... A little
later, again with a quickened pulse, Miss Mapp saw the Royce lumber down
from the church corner. It stopped at her house, and she caught a
glimpse of sables within. This time she felt certain that Susan had come
with her interesting news, and waited till Withers, having answered the
door, came to inquire, no doubt, whether she would see Mrs. Poppit. But,
alas, a minute later the Royce lumbered on, carrying the additional
weight of the Christmas number of _Punch_, which Miss Mapp had borrowed
last night and had not, of course, had time to glance at yet.

Anticipation is supposed to be pleasanter than any fulfilment, however
agreeable, and if that is the case, Miss Mapp during the next day or two
had more enjoyment than the announcement of fifty engagements could have
given her, so constantly (when from the garden-room she heard the sound
of the knocker on her front door) did she spring up in certainty that
this was Susan, which it never was. But however enjoyable it all might
be, she appeared to herself at least to be suffering tortures of
suspense, through which by degrees an idea, painful and revolting in the
extreme, yet strangely exhilarating, began to insinuate itself into her
mind. There seemed a deadly probability of the correctness of the
conjecture, as the week went by without further confirmation of that
kiss, for, after all, who knew anything about the character and
antecedents of Susan? As for Mr. Wyse, was he not a constant visitor to
the fierce and fickle South, where, as everyone knew, morality was
wholly extinct? And how, if it was all too true, should Tilling treat
this hitherto unprecedented situation? It was terrible to contemplate
this moral upheaval, which might prove to be a social upheaval also.
Time and again, as Miss Mapp vainly waited for news, she was within an
ace of communicating her suspicions to the Padre. He ought to know, for
Christmas (as was usual in December) was daily drawing nearer....

There came some half-way through that month a dark and ominous
afternoon, the rain falling sad and thick, and so unusual a density of
cloud dwelling in the upper air that by three o'clock Miss Mapp was
quite unable, until the street lamp at the corner was lit, to carry out
the minor duty of keeping an eye on the houses of Captain Puffin and
Major Benjy. The Royce had already lumbered by her door since
lunch-time, but so dark was it that, peer as she might, it was lost in
the gloom before it came to the dentist's corner, and Miss Mapp had to
face the fact that she really did not know whether it had turned into
the street where Susan's lover lived or had gone straight on. It was
easier to imagine the worst, and she had already pictured to herself a
clandestine meeting between those passionate ones, who under cover of
this darkness were imperviously concealed from any observation (beneath
an umbrella) from her house-roof. Nothing but a powerful searchlight
could reveal what was going on in the drawing-room window of Mr. Wyse's
house, and apart from the fact that she had not got a powerful
searchlight, it was strongly improbable that anything of a very intimate
nature was going on there ... it was not likely that they would choose
the drawing-room window. She thought of calling on Mr. Wyse and asking
for the loan of a book, so that she would see whether the sables were in
the hall, but even then she would not really be much further on. Even as
she considered this a sea-mist began to creep through the street
outside, and in a few minutes it was blotted from view. Nothing was
visible, and nothing audible but the hissing of the shrouded rain.

Suddenly from close outside came the sound of a door-knocker imperiously
plied, which could be no other than her own. Only a telegram or some
urgent errand could bring anyone out on such a day, and unable to bear
the suspense of waiting till Withers had answered it, she hurried into
the house to open the door herself. Was the news of the engagement
coming to her at last? Late though it was, she would welcome it even
now, for it would atone, in part at any rate.... It was Diva.

"Diva dear!" said Miss Mapp enthusiastically, for Withers was already in
the hall. "How sweet of you to come round. Anything special?"

"Yes," said Diva, opening her eyes very wide, and spreading a shower of
moisture as she whisked off her mackintosh. "She's come."

This could not refer to Susan....

"Who?" asked Miss Mapp.

"Faradiddleony," said Diva.

"No!" said Miss Mapp very loud, so much interested that she quite forgot
to resent Diva's being the first to have the news. "Let's have a
comfortable cup of tea in the garden-room. Tea, Withers."

Miss Mapp lit the candles there, for, lost in meditation, she had been
sitting in the dark, and with reckless hospitality poked the fire to
make it blaze.

"Tell me all about it," she said. That would be a treat for Diva, who
was such a gossip.

"Went to the station just now," said Diva. "Wanted a new time-table.
Besides the Royce had just gone down. Mr. Wyse and Susan on the
platform."

"Sables?" asked Miss Mapp parenthetically, to complete the picture.

"Swaddled. Talked to them. Train came in. Woman got out. Kissed Mr.
Wyse. Shook hands with Susan. Both hands. While luggage was got out."

"Much?" asked Miss Mapp quickly.

"Hundreds. Covered with coronets and Fs. Two cabs."

Miss Mapp's mind, on a hot scent, went back to the previous telegraphic
utterance.

"Both hands did you say, dear?" she asked. "Perhaps that's the Italian
fashion."

"Maybe. Then what else do you think? Faradiddleony kissed Susan! Mr.
Wyse and she must be engaged. I can't account for it any other way. He
must have written to tell his sister. Couldn't have told her then at the
station. Must have been engaged some days and we never knew. They went
to look at the orchid. Remember? That was when."

It was bitter, no doubt, but the bitterness could be transmuted into an
amazing sweetness.

"Then now I can speak," said Miss Mapp with a sigh of great relief. "Oh,
it has been so hard keeping silence, but I felt I ought to. I knew all
along, Diva dear, all, all along."

"How?" asked Diva with a fallen crest.

Miss Mapp laughed merrily.

"I looked out of the window, dear, while you went for your hanky and
peeped into dining-room and boudoir, didn't you? There they were on the
lawn, and they kissed each other. So I said to myself: 'Dear Susan has
got him! Perseverance rewarded!'"

"H'm. Only a guess of yours. Or did Susan tell you?"

"No, dear, she said nothing. But Susan was always secretive."

"But they might not have been engaged at all," said Diva with a
brightened eye. "Man doesn't always marry a woman he kisses!"

Diva had betrayed the lowness of her mind now by hazarding that which
had for days dwelt in Miss Mapp's mind as almost certain. She drew in
her breath with a hissing noise as if in pain.

"Darling, what a dreadful suggestion," she said. "No such idea ever
occurred to me. Secretive I thought Susan might be, but immoral, never.
I must forget you ever thought that. Let's talk about something less
painful. Perhaps you would like to tell me more about the Contessa."

Diva had the grace to look ashamed of herself, and to take refuge in the
new topic so thoughtfully suggested.

"Couldn't see clearly," she said. "So dark. But tall and lean. Sneezed."

"That might happen to anybody, dear," said Miss Mapp, "whether tall or
short. Nothing more?"

"An eyeglass," said Diva after thought.

"A single one?" asked Miss Mapp. "On a string? How strange for a
woman."

That seemed positively the last atom of Diva's knowledge, and though
Miss Mapp tried on the principles of psycho-analysis to disinter
something she had forgotten, the catechism led to no results whatever.
But Diva had evidently something else to say, for after finishing her
tea she whizzed backwards and forwards from window to fireplace with
little grunts and whistles, as was her habit when she was struggling
with utterance. Long before it came out, Miss Mapp had, of course,
guessed what it was. No wonder Diva found difficulty in speaking of a
matter in which she had behaved so deplorably....

"About that wretched dress," she said at length. "Got it stained with
chocolate first time I wore it, and neither I nor Janet can get it out."

("Hurrah," thought Miss Mapp.)

"Must have it dyed again," continued Diva. "Thought I'd better tell you.
Else you might have yours dyed the same colour as mine again.
Kingfisher-blue to crimson-lake. All came out of Vogue and Mrs. Trout.
Rather funny, you know, but expensive. You should have seen your face,
Elizabeth, when you came in to Susan's the other night."

"Should I, dearest?" said Miss Mapp, trembling violently.

"Yes. Wouldn't have gone home with you in the dark for anything.
Murder."

"Diva dear," said Miss Mapp anxiously, "you've got a mind which likes to
put the worst construction on everything. If Mr. Wyse kisses his
intended you think things too terrible for words; if I look surprised
you think I'm full of hatred and malice. Be more generous, dear. Don't
put evil constructions on all you see."

"Ho!" said Diva with a world of meaning.

"I don't know what you intend to convey by ho," said Miss Mapp, "and I
shan't try to guess. But be kinder, darling, and it will make you
happier. Thinketh no evil, you know! Charity!"

Diva felt that the limit of what was tolerable was reached when
Elizabeth lectured her on the need of charity, and she would no doubt
have explained tersely and unmistakably exactly what she meant by "Ho!"
had not Withers opportunely entered to clear away tea. She brought a
note with her, which Miss Mapp opened. "Encourage me to hope," were the
first words that met her eye: Mrs. Poppit had been encouraging him to
hope again.

"To dine at Mr. Wyse's to-morrow," she said. "No doubt the announcement
will be made then. He probably wrote it before he went to the station.
Yes, a few friends. You going, dear?"

Diva instantly got up.

"Think I'll run home and see," she said. "By the by, Elizabeth, what
about the--the teagown, if I go? You or I?"

"If yours is all covered with chocolate, I shouldn't think you'd like to
wear it," said Miss Mapp.

"Could tuck it away," said Diva, "just for once. Put flowers. Then send
it to dyer's. You won't see it again. Not crimson-lake, I mean."

Miss Mapp summoned the whole of her magnanimity. It had been put to a
great strain already and was tired out, but it was capable of one more
effort.

"Wear it then," she said. "It'll be a treat to you. But let me know if
you're not asked. I daresay Mr. Wyse will want to keep it very small.
Good-bye, dear; I'm afraid you'll get very wet going home."



CHAPTER XI


The sea-mist and the rain continued without intermission next morning,
but shopping with umbrellas and mackintoshes was unusually brisk, for
there was naturally a universally felt desire to catch sight of a
Contessa with as little delay as possible. The foggy conditions perhaps
added to the excitement, for it was not possible to see more than a few
yards, and thus at any moment anybody might almost run into her. Diva's
impressions, meagre though they were, had been thoroughly circulated,
but the morning passed, and the ladies of Tilling went home to change
their wet things and take a little ammoniated quinine as a precaution
after so long and chilly an exposure, without a single one of them
having caught sight of the single eyeglass. It was disappointing, but
the disappointment was bearable since Mr. Wyse, so far from wanting his
party to be very small, had been encouraged by Mrs. Poppit to hope that
it would include all his world of Tilling with one exception. He had
hopes with regard to the Major and the Captain, and the Padre and wee
wifie, and Irene and Miss Mapp, and of course Isabel. But apparently he
despaired of Diva.

She alone therefore was absent from this long, wet shopping, for she
waited indoors, almost pen in hand, to answer in the affirmative the
invitation which had at present not arrived. Owing to the thickness of
the fog, her absence from the street passed unnoticed, for everybody
supposed that everybody else had seen her, while she, biting her nails
at home, waited and waited and waited. Then she waited. About a quarter
past one she gave it up, and duly telephoned, according to promise, viâ
Janet and Withers, to Miss Mapp to say that Mr. Wyse had not yet hoped.
It was very unpleasant to let them know, but if she had herself rung up
and been answered by Elizabeth, who usually rushed to the telephone, she
felt that she would sooner have choked than have delivered this message.
So Janet telephoned and Withers said she would tell her mistress. And
did.

Miss Mapp was steeped in pleasant conjectures. The most likely of all
was that the Contessa had seen that roundabout little busybody in the
station, and taken an instant dislike to her through her single
eyeglass. Or she might have seen poor Diva inquisitively inspecting the
luggage with the coronets and the Fs on it, and have learned with pain
that this was one of the ladies of Tilling. "Algernon," she would have
said (so said Miss Mapp to herself), "who is that queer little woman? Is
she going to steal some of my luggage?" And then Algernon would have
told her that this was poor Diva, quite a decent sort of little body.
But when it came to Algernon asking his guests for the dinner-party in
honour of his betrothal and her arrival at Tilling, no doubt the
Contessa would have said, "Algernon, I beg...." Or if Diva--poor
Diva--was right in her conjectures that the notes had been written
before the arrival of the train, it was evident that Algernon had torn
up the one addressed to Diva, when the Contessa heard whom she was to
meet the next evening.... Or Susan might easily have insinuated that
they would have two very pleasant tables of bridge after dinner without
including Diva, who was so wrong and quarrelsome over the score. Any of
these explanations were quite satisfactory, and since Diva would not be
present, Miss Mapp would naturally don the crimson-lake. They would all
see what crimson-lake looked like when it decked a suitable wearer and
was not parodied on the other side of a card-table. How true, as dear
Major Benjy had said, that one woman could wear what another could
not.... And if there was a woman who could not wear crimson-lake it was
Diva.... Or was Mr. Wyse really ashamed to let his sister see Diva in
the crimson-lake? It would be just like him to be considerate of Diva,
and not permit her to make a guy of herself before the Italian
aristocracy. No doubt he would ask her to lunch some day, quite quietly.
Or had ... Miss Mapp bloomed with pretty conjectures, like some Alpine
meadow when smitten into flower by the spring, and enjoyed her lunch
very much indeed.

The anxiety and suspense of the morning, which, instead of being
relieved, had ended in utter gloom, gave Diva a headache, and she
adopted her usual strenuous methods of getting rid of it. So, instead of
lying down and taking aspirin and dozing, she set out after lunch to
walk it off. She sprinted and splashed along the miry roads, indifferent
as to whether she stepped in puddles or not, and careless how wet she
got. She bit on the bullet of her omission from the dinner-party this
evening, determining not to mind one atom about it, but to look forward
to a pleasant evening at home instead of going out (like this) in the
wet. And never--never under any circumstances would she ask any of the
guests what sort of an evening had been spent, how Mr. Wyse announced
the news, and how the Faradiddleony played bridge. (She said that
satirical word aloud, mouthing it to the puddles and the dripping
hedge-rows.) She would not evince the slightest interest in it all; she
would cover it with spadefuls of oblivion, and when next she met Mr.
Wyse she would, whatever she might feel, behave exactly as usual. She
plumed herself on this dignified resolution, and walked so fast that the
hedge-rows became quite transparent. That was the proper thing to do;
she had been grossly slighted, and, like a true lady, would be unaware
of that slight; whereas poor Elizabeth, under such circumstances, would
have devised a hundred petty schemes for rendering Mr. Wyse's life a
burden to him. But if--if (she only said "if") she found any reason to
believe that Susan was at the bottom of this, then probably she would
think of something worthy not so much of a true lady but of a true
woman. Without asking any questions, she might easily arrive at
information which would enable her to identify Susan as the culprit, and
she would then act in some way which would astonish Susan. What that way
was she need not think yet, and so she devoted her entire mind to the
question all the way home.

Feeling better and with her headache quite gone, she arrived in Tilling
again drenched to the skin. It was already after tea-time, and she
abandoned tea altogether, and prepared to console herself for her
exclusion from gaiety with a "good blow-out" in the shape of regular
dinner, instead of the usual muffin now and a tray later. To add dignity
to her feast, she put on the crimson-lake tea-gown for the last time
that it would be crimson-lake (though the same tea-gown still), since
to-morrow it would be sent to the dyer's to go into perpetual mourning
for its vanished glories. She had meant to send it to-day, but all this
misery and anxiety had put it out of her head.

Having dressed thus, to the great astonishment of Janet, she sat down to
divert her mind from trouble by Patience. As if to reward her for her
stubborn fortitude, the malignity of the cards relented, and she
brought out an intricate matter three times running. The clock on her
mantelpiece chiming a quarter to eight, surprised her with the lateness
of the hour, and recalled to her with a stab of pain that it was
dinner-time at Mr. Wyse's, and at this moment some seven pairs of eager
feet were approaching the door. Well, she was dining at a quarter to
eight, too; Janet would enter presently to tell her that her own banquet
was ready, and gathering up her cards, she spent a pleasant though
regretful minute in looking at herself and the crimson-lake for the last
time in her long glass. The tremendous walk in the rain had given her an
almost equally high colour. Janet's foot was heard on the stairs, and
she turned away from the glass. Janet entered.

"Dinner?" said Diva.

"No, ma'am, the telephone," said Janet. "Mr. Wyse is on the telephone,
and wants to speak to you very particularly."

"Mr. Wyse himself?" asked Diva, hardly believing her ears, for she knew
Mr. Wyse's opinion of the telephone.

"Yes, ma'am."

Diva walked slowly, but reflected rapidly. What must have happened was
that somebody had been taken ill at the last moment--was it
Elizabeth?--and that he now wanted her to fill the gap.... She was torn
in two. Passionately as she longed to dine at Mr. Wyse's, she did not
see how such a course was compatible with dignity. He had only asked her
to suit his own convenience; it was not out of encouragement to hope
that he invited her now. No; Mr. Wyse should want. She would say that
she had friends dining with her; that was what the true lady would do.

She took up the ear-piece and said, "Hullo!"

It was certainly Mr. Wyse's voice that spoke to her, and it seemed to
tremble with anxiety.

"Dear lady," he began, "a most terrible thing has happened----"

(Wonder if Elizabeth's very ill, thought Diva.)

"Quite terrible," said Mr. Wyse. "Can you hear?"

"Yes," said Diva, hardening her heart.

"By the most calamitous mistake the note which I wrote you yesterday was
never delivered. Figgis has just found it in the pocket of his overcoat.
I shall certainly dismiss him unless you plead for him. Can you hear?"

"Yes," said Diva excitedly.

"In it I told you that I had been encouraged to hope that you would dine
with me to-night. There was such a gratifying response to my other
invitations that I most culpably and carelessly, dear lady, thought that
everybody had accepted. Can you hear?"

"Of course I can!" shouted Diva.

"Well, I come on my knees to you. Can you possibly forgive the joint
stupidity of Figgis and me, and honour me after all? We will put dinner
off, of course. At what time, in case you are ever so kind and indulgent
as to come, shall we have it? Do not break my heart by refusing.
Su--Mrs. Poppit will send her car for you."

"I have already dressed for dinner," said Diva proudly. "Very pleased to
come at once."

"You are too kind; you are angelic," said Mr. Wyse. "The car shall start
at once; it is at my door now."

"Right," said Diva.

"Too good--too kind," murmured Mr. Wyse. "Figgis, what do I do next?"

Diva clapped the instrument into place.

"Powder," she said to herself, remembering what she had seen in the
glass, and whizzed upstairs. Her fish would have to be degraded into
kedgeree, though plaice would have done just as well as sole for that;
the cutlets could be heated up again, and perhaps the whisking for the
apple-meringue had not begun yet, and could still be stopped.

"Janet!" she shouted. "Going out to dinner! Stop the meringue."

She dashed an interesting pallor on to her face as she heard the hooting
of the Royce, and coming downstairs, stepped into its warm
luxuriousness, for the electric lamp was burning. There were Susan's
sables there--it was thoughtful of Susan to put them in, but
ostentatious--and there was a carriage rug, which she was convinced was
new, and was very likely a present from Mr. Wyse. And soon there was the
light streaming out from Mr. Wyse's open door, and Mr. Wyse himself in
the hall to meet and greet and thank and bless her. She pleaded for the
contrite Figgis, and was conducted in a blaze of triumph into the
drawing-room, where all Tilling was awaiting her. She was led up to the
Contessa, with whom Miss Mapp, wreathed in sycophantic smiles, was
eagerly conversing.

The crimson-lakes....

       *       *       *       *       *

There were embarrassing moments during dinner; the Contessa confused by
having so many people introduced to her in a lump, got all their names
wrong, and addressed her neighbours as Captain Flint and Major Puffin,
and thought that Diva was Mrs. Mapp. She seemed vivacious and
good-humoured, dropped her eye-glass into her soup, talked with her
mouth full, and drank a good deal of wine, which was a very bad example
for Major Puffin. Then there were many sudden and complete pauses in the
talk, for Diva's news of the kissing of Mrs. Poppit by the Contessa had
spread like wildfire through the fog this morning, owing to Miss Mapp's
dissemination of it, and now, whenever Mr. Wyse raised his voice ever so
little, everybody else stopped talking, in the expectation that the news
was about to be announced. Occasionally, also, the Contessa addressed
some remark to her brother in shrill and voluble Italian, which rather
confirmed the gloomy estimate of her table-manners in the matter of
talking with her mouth full, for to speak in Italian was equivalent to
whispering, since the purport of what she said could not be understood
by anybody except him.... Then also, the sensation of dining with a
countess produced a slight feeling of strain, which, in addition to the
correct behaviour which Mr. Wyse's presence always induced, almost
congealed correctness into stiffness. But as dinner went on her evident
enjoyment of herself made itself felt, and her eccentricities, though
carefully observed and noted by Miss Mapp, were not succeeded by
silences and hurried bursts of conversation.

"And is your ladyship making a long stay in Tilling?" asked the (real)
Major, to cover the pause which had been caused by Mr. Wyse saying
something across the table to Isabel.

She dropped her eye-glass with quite a splash into her gravy, pulled it
out again by the string as if landing a fish and sucked it.

"That depends on you gentlemen," she said with greater audacity than was
usual in Tilling. "If you and Major Puffin and that sweet little Scotch
clergyman all fall in love with me, and fight duels about me, I will
stop for ever...."

The Major recovered himself before anybody else.

"Your ladyship may take that for granted," he said gallantly, and a
perfect hubbub of conversation rose to cover this awful topic.

She laid her hand on his arm.

"You must not call me ladyship, Captain Flint," she said. "Only servants
say that. Contessa, if you like. And you must blow away this fog for me.
I have seen nothing but bales of cotton-wool out of the window. Tell me
this, too: why are those ladies dressed alike? Are they sisters? Mrs.
Mapp, the little round one, and her sister, the big round one?"

The Major cast an apprehensive eye on Miss Mapp seated just opposite,
whose acuteness of hearing was one of the terrors of Tilling.... His
apprehensions were perfectly well founded, and Miss Mapp hated and
despised the Contessa from that hour.

"No, not sisters," said he, "and your la--you've made a little error
about the names. The one opposite is Miss Mapp, the other Mrs.
Plaistow."

The Contessa moderated her voice.

"I see; she looks vexed, your Miss Mapp. I think she must have heard,
and I will be very nice to her afterwards. Why does not one of you
gentlemen marry her? I see I shall have to arrange that. The sweet
little Scotch clergyman now; little men like big wives. Ah! Married
already is he to the mouse? Then it must be you, Captain Flint. We must
have more marriages in Tilling."

Miss Mapp could not help glancing at the Contessa, as she made this
remarkable observation. It must be the cue, she thought, for the
announcement of that which she had known so long.... In the space of a
wink the clever Contessa saw that she had her attention, and spoke
rather loudly to the Major.

"I have lost my heart to your Miss Mapp," she said. "I am jealous of
you, Captain Flint. She will be my great friend in Tilling, and if you
marry her, I shall hate you, for that will mean that she likes you
best."

Miss Mapp hated nobody at that moment, not even Diva, off whose face the
hastily-applied powder was crumbling, leaving little red marks peeping
out like the stars on a fine evening. Dinner came to an end with roasted
chestnuts brought by the Contessa from Capri.

"I always scold Amelia for the luggage she takes with her," said Mr.
Wyse to Diva. "Amelia dear, you are my hostess to-night"--everybody saw
him look at Mrs. Poppit--"you must catch somebody's eye."

"I will catch Miss Mapp's," said Amelia, and all the ladies rose as if
connected with some hidden mechanism which moved them simultaneously....
There was a great deal of pretty diffidence at the door, but the
Contessa put an end to that.

"Eldest first," she said, and marched out, making Miss Mapp, Diva and
the mouse feel remarkably young. She might drop her eye-glass and talk
with her mouth full, but really such tact.... They all determined to
adopt this pleasing device in the future. The disappointment about the
announcement of the engagement was sensibly assuaged, and Miss Mapp and
Susan, in their eagerness to be younger than the Contessa, and yet take
precedence of all the rest, almost stuck in the doorway. They rebounded
from each other, and Diva whizzed out between them. Quaint Irene went
in her right place--last. However quaint Irene was, there was no use in
pretending that she was not the youngest.

However hopelessly Amelia had lost her heart to Miss Mapp, she did not
devote her undivided attention to her in the drawing-room, but swiftly
established herself at the card-table, where she proceeded, with a most
complicated sort of Patience and a series of cigarettes, to while away
the time till the gentlemen joined them. Though the ladies of Tilling
had plenty to say to each other, it was all about her, and such comments
could not conveniently be made in her presence. Unless, like her, they
talked some language unknown to the subject of their conversation, they
could not talk at all, and so they gathered round her table, and watched
the lightning rapidity with which she piled black knaves on red queens
in some packs and red knaves on black queens in others. She had taken
off all her rings in order to procure a greater freedom of finger, and
her eye-glass continued to crash on to a glittering mass of magnificent
gems. The rapidity of her motions was only equalled by the swift and
surprising monologue that poured from her mouth.

"There, that odious king gets in my way," she said. "So like a man to
poke himself in where he isn't wanted. _Bacco!_ No, not that: I have a
cigarette. I hear all you ladies are terrific bridge-players: we will
have a game presently, and I shall sink into the earth with terror at
your Camorra! _Dio!_ there's another king, and that's his own queen whom
he doesn't want at all. He is _amoroso_ for that black queen, who is
quite covered up, and he would like to be covered up with her. Susan, my
dear" (that was interesting, but they all knew it already), "kindly
ring the bell for coffee. I expire if I do not get my coffee at once,
and a toothpick. Tell me all the scandal of Tilling, Miss Mapp, while I
play--all the dreadful histories of that Major and that Captain. Such a
grand air has the Captain--no, it is the Major, the one who does not
limp. Which of all you ladies do they love most? It is Miss Mapp, I
believe: that is why she does not answer me. Ah! here is the coffee, and
the other king: three lumps of sugar, dear Susan, and then stir it up
well, and hold it to my mouth, so that I can drink without interruption.
Ah, the ace! He is the intervener, or is it the King's Proctor? It would
be nice to have a proctor who told you all the love-affairs that were
going on. Susan, you must get me a proctor: you shall be my proctor. And
here are the men--the wretches, they have been preferring wine to women,
and we will have our bridge, and if anybody scolds me, I shall cry, Miss
Mapp, and Captain Flint will hold my hand and comfort me."

She gathered up a heap of cards and rings, dropped them on the floor,
and cut with the remainder.

Miss Mapp was very lenient with the Contessa, who was her partner, and
pointed out the mistakes of her and their adversaries with the most
winning smile and eagerness to explain things clearly. Then she revoked
heavily herself, and the Contessa, so far from being angry with her,
burst into peals of unquenchable merriment. This way of taking a revoke
was new to Tilling, for the right thing was for the revoker's partner to
sulk and be sarcastic for at least twenty minutes after. The Contessa's
laughter continued to spurt out at intervals during the rest of the
rubber, and it was all very pleasant; but at the end she said she was
not up to Tilling standards at all, and refused to play any more. Miss
Mapp, in the highest good-humour, urged her not to despair.

"Indeed, dear Contessa," she said, "you play very well. A little
overbidding of your hand, perhaps, do you think? but that is a tendency
we are all subject to: I often overbid my hand myself. Not a little wee
rubber more? I'm sure I should like to be your partner again. You must
come and play at my house some afternoon. We will have tea early, and
get a good two hours. Nothing like practice."

The evening came to an end without the great announcement being made,
but Miss Mapp, as she reviewed the events of the party, sitting next
morning in her observation-window, found the whole evidence so
overwhelming that it was no longer worth while to form conjectures,
however fruitful, on the subject, and she diverted her mind to pleasing
reminiscences and projects for the future. She had certainly been
distinguished by the Contessa's marked regard, and her opinion of her
charm and ability was of the very highest.... No doubt her strange
remark about duelling at dinner had been humorous in intention, but many
a true word is spoken in jest, and the Contessa--perspicacious
woman--had seen at once that Major Benjy and Captain Puffin were just
the sort of men who might get to duelling (or, at any rate, challenging)
about a woman. And her asking which of the ladies the men were most in
love with, and her saying that she believed it was Miss Mapp! Miss Mapp
had turned nearly as red as poor Diva when that came out, so lightly and
yet so acutely....

Diva! It had, of course, been a horrid blow to find that Diva had been
asked to Mr. Wyse's party in the first instance, and an even shrewder
one when Diva entered (with such unnecessary fussing and apology on the
part of Mr. Wyse) in the crimson-lake. Luckily, it would be seen no
more, for Diva had promised--if you could trust Diva--to send it to the
dyer's; but it was a great puzzle to know why Diva had it on at all, if
she was preparing to spend a solitary evening at home. By eight o'clock
she ought by rights to have already had her tray, dressed in some old
thing; but within three minutes of her being telephoned for she had
appeared in the crimson-lake, and eaten so heartily that it was
impossible to imagine, greedy though she was, that she had already
consumed her tray.... But in spite of Diva's adventitious triumph, the
main feeling in Miss Mapp's mind was pity for her. She looked so
ridiculous in that dress with the powder peeling off her red face. No
wonder the dear Contessa stared when she came in.

There was her bridge-party for the Contessa to consider. The Contessa
would be less nervous, perhaps, if there was only one table: that would
be more homey and cosy, and it would at the same time give rise to great
heart-burnings and indignation in the breasts of those who were left
out. Diva would certainly be one of the spurned, and the Contessa would
not play with Mr. Wyse.... Then there was Major Benjy, he must certainly
be asked, for it was evident that the Contessa delighted in him....

Suddenly Miss Mapp began to feel less sure that Major Benjy must be of
the party. The Contessa, charming though she was, had said several very
tropical, Italian things to him. She had told him that she would stop
here for ever if the men fought duels about her. She had said "you dear
darling" to him at bridge when, as adversary, he failed to trump her
losing card, and she had asked him to ask her to tea ("with no one else,
for I have a great deal to say to you"), when the general macédoine of
sables, au reservoirs, and thanks for such a nice evening took place in
the hall. Miss Mapp was not, in fact, sure, when she thought it over,
that the Contessa was a nice friend for Major Benjy. She did not do him
the injustice of imagining that he would ask her to tea alone; the very
suggestion proved that it must be a piece of the Contessa's Southern
extravagance of expression. But, after all, thought Miss Mapp to
herself, as she writhed at the idea, her other extravagant expressions
were proved to cover a good deal of truth. In fact, the Major's chance
of being asked to the select bridge-party diminished swiftly towards
vanishing point.

It was time (and indeed late) to set forth on morning marketings, and
Miss Mapp had already determined not to carry her capacious basket with
her to-day, in case of meeting the Contessa in the High Street. It would
be grander and Wysier and more magnificent to go basket-less, and direct
that the goods should be sent up, rather than run the risk of
encountering the Contessa with a basket containing a couple of mutton
cutlets, a ball of wool and some tooth-powder. So she put on her Prince
of Wales's cloak, and, postponing further reflection over the
bridge-party till a less busy occasion, set forth in unencumbered
gentility for the morning gossip. At the corner of the High Street, she
ran into Diva.

"News," said Diva. "Met Mr. Wyse just now. Engaged to Susan. All over
the town by now. Everybody knows. Oh, there's the Padre for the first
time."

She shot across the street, and Miss Mapp, shaking the dust of Diva off
her feet, proceeded on her chagrined way. Annoyed as she was with Diva,
she was almost more annoyed with Susan. After all she had done for
Susan, Susan ought to have told her long ago, pledging her to secrecy.
But to be told like this by that common Diva, without any secrecy at
all, was an affront that she would find it hard to forgive Susan for.
She mentally reduced by a half the sum that she had determined to
squander on Susan's wedding-present. It should be plated, not silver,
and if Susan was not careful, it shouldn't be plated at all.

She had just come out of the chemist's, after an indignant interview
about precipitated chalk. He had deposited the small packet on the
counter, when she asked to have it sent up to her house. He could not
undertake to deliver small packages. She left the precipitated chalk
lying there. Emerging, she heard a loud, foreign sort of scream from
close at hand. There was the Contessa, all by herself, carrying a
marketing basket of unusual size and newness. It contained a bloody
steak and a crab.

"But where is your basket, Miss Mapp?" she exclaimed. "Algernon told me
that all the great ladies of Tilling went marketing in the morning with
big baskets, and that if I aspired to be _du monde_, I must have my
basket, too. It is the greatest fun, and I have already written to Cecco
to say I am just going marketing with my basket. Look, the steak is for
Figgis, and the crab is for Algernon and me, if Figgis does not get it.
But why are you not _du monde_? Are you _du demi-monde_, Miss Mapp?"

She gave a croak of laughter and tickled the crab....

"Will he eat the steak, do you think?" she went on. "Is he not lively? I
went to the shop of Mr. Hopkins, who was not there, because he was
engaged with Miss Coles. And was that not Miss Coles last night at my
brother's? The one who spat in the fire when nobody but I was looking?
You are enchanting at Tilling. What is Mr. Hopkins doing with Miss
Coles? Do they kiss? But your market basket: that disappoints me, for
Algernon said you had the biggest market-basket of all. I bought the
biggest I could find: is it as big as yours?"

Miss Mapp's head was in a whirl. The Contessa said in the loudest
possible voice all that everybody else only whispered; she displayed (in
her basket) all that everybody else covered up with thick layers of
paper. If Miss Mapp had only guessed that the Contessa would have a
market-basket, she would have paraded the High Street with a leg of
mutton protruding from one end and a pair of Wellington boots from the
other.... But who could have suspected that a Contessa....

Black thoughts succeeded. Was it possible that Mr. Wyse had been
satirical about the affairs of Tilling? If so, she wished him nothing
worse than to be married to Susan. But a playful face must be put, for
the moment, on the situation.

"Too lovely of you, dear Contessa," she said. "May we go marketing
together to-morrow, and we will measure the size of our baskets? Such
fun I have, too, laughing at the dear people in Tilling. But what
thrilling news this morning about our sweet Susan and your dear brother,
though of course I knew it long ago."

"Indeed! how was that?" said the Contessa quite sharply.

Miss Mapp was "nettled" at her tone.

"Oh, you must allow me two eyes," she said, since it was merely tedious
to explain how she had seen them from behind a curtain kissing in the
garden. "Just two eyes."

"And a nose for scent," remarked the Contessa very genially.

This was certainly coarse, though probably Italian. Miss Mapp's opinion
of the Contessa fluctuated violently like a barometer before a storm and
indicated "Changeable."

"Dear Susan is such an intimate friend," she said.

The Contessa looked at her very fixedly for a moment, and then appeared
to dismiss the matter.

"My crab, my steak," she said. "And where does your nice Captain, no,
Major Flint live? I have a note to leave on him, for he has asked me to
tea all alone, to see his tiger skins. He is going to be my flirt while
I am in Tilling, and when I go he will break his heart, but I will have
told him who can mend it again."

"Dear Major Benjy!" said Miss Mapp, at her wits' end to know how to deal
with so feather-tongued a lady. "What a treat it will be to him to have
you to tea. To-day, is it?"

The Contessa quite distinctly winked behind her eyeglass, which she had
put up to look at Diva, who whirled by on the other side of the street.

"And if I said 'To-day,'" she remarked, "you would--what is it that that
one says"--and she indicated Diva--"yes, you would pop in, and the good
Major would pay no attention to me. So if I tell you I shall go to-day,
you will know that is a lie, you clever Miss Mapp, and so you will go to
tea with him to-morrow and find me there. _Bene!_ Now where is his
house?"

This was a sort of scheming that had never entered into Miss Mapp's
life, and she saw with pain how shallow she had been all these years.
Often and often she had, when inquisitive questions were put her,
answered them without any strict subservience to truth, but never had
she thought of confusing the issues like this. If she told Diva a lie,
Diva probably guessed it was a lie, and acted accordingly, but she had
never thought of making it practically impossible to tell whether it was
a lie or not. She had no more idea when she walked back along the High
Street with the Contessa swinging her basket by her side, whether that
lady was going to tea with Major Benjy to-day or to-morrow or when, than
she knew whether the crab was going to eat the beefsteak.

"There's his house," she said, as they paused at the dentist's corner,
"and there's mine next it, with the little bow-window of my garden-room
looking out on to the street. I hope to welcome you there, dear
Contessa, for a tiny game of bridge and some tea one of these days very
soon. What day do you think? To-morrow?"

(Then she would know if the Contessa was going to tea with Major Benjy
to-morrow ... unfortunately the Contessa appeared to know that she would
know it, too.)

"My flirt!" she said. "Perhaps I may be having tea with my flirt
to-morrow."

Better anything than that.

"I will ask him, too, to meet you," said Miss Mapp, feeling in some
awful and helpless way that she was playing her adversary's game.
"Adversary?" did she say to herself? She did. The inscrutable Contessa
was "up to" that too.

"I will not amalgamate my treats," she said. "So that is his house! What
a charming house! How my heart flutters as I ring the bell!"

Miss Mapp was now quite distraught. There was the possibility that the
Contessa might tell Major Benjy that it was time he married, but on the
other hand she was making arrangements to go to tea with him on an
unknown date, and the hero of amorous adventures in India and elsewhere
might lose his heart again to somebody quite different from one whom he
could hope to marry. By daylight the dear Contessa was undeniably plain:
that was something, but in these short days, tea would be conducted by
artificial light, and by artificial light she was not so like a rabbit.
What was worse was that by any light she had a liveliness which might be
mistaken for wit, and a flattering manner which might be taken for
sincerity. She hoped men were not so easily duped as that, and was sadly
afraid that they were. Blind fools!

       *       *       *       *       *

The number of visits that Miss Mapp made about tea-time in this week
before Christmas to the post-box at the corner of the High Street, with
an envelope in her hand containing Mr. Hopkins's bill for fish (and a
postal order enclosed), baffles computation. Naturally, she did not
intend, either by day or night, to risk being found again with a blank
unstamped envelope in her hand, and the one enclosing Mr. Hopkins's bill
and the postal order would have passed scrutiny for correctness,
anywhere. But fair and calm as was the exterior of that envelope, none
could tell how agitated was the hand that carried it backwards and
forwards until the edges got crumpled and the inscription clouded with
much fingering. Indeed, of all the tricks that Miss Mapp had compassed
for others, none was so sumptuously contrived as that in which she had
now entangled herself.

For these December days were dark, and in consequence not only would the
Contessa be looking her best (such as it was) at tea-time, but from Miss
Mapp's window it was impossible to tell whether she had gone to tea with
him on any particular afternoon, for there had been a strike at the
gas-works, and the lamp at the corner, which, in happier days, would
have told all, told nothing whatever. Miss Mapp must therefore trudge to
the letter-box with Mr. Hopkins's bill in her hand as she went out, and
(after a feint of posting it) with it in her pocket as she came back, in
order to gather from the light in the windows, from the sound of
conversation that would be audible as she passed close beneath them,
whether the Major was having tea there or not, and with whom. Should she
hear that ringing laugh which had sounded so pleasant when she revoked,
but now was so sinister, she had quite determined to go in and borrow a
book or a tiger-skin--anything. The Major could scarcely fail to ask her
to tea, and, once there, wild horses should not drag her away until she
had outstayed the other visitor. Then, as her malady of jealousy grew
more feverish, she began to perceive, as by the ray of some dreadful
dawn, that lights in the Major's room and sounds of elfin laughter were
not completely trustworthy as proofs that the Contessa was there. It was
possible, awfully possible, that the two might be sitting in the
firelight, that voices might be hushed to amorous whisperings, that
pregnant smiles might be taking the place of laughter. On one such
afternoon, as she came back from the letter-box with patient Mr.
Hopkins's overdue bill in her pocket, a wild certainty seized her, when
she saw how closely the curtains were drawn, and how still it seemed
inside his room, that firelight dalliance was going on.

She rang the bell, and imagined she heard whisperings inside while it
was being answered. Presently the light went up in the hall, and the
Major's Mrs. Dominic opened the door.

"The Major is in, I think, isn't he, Mrs. Dominic?" said Miss Mapp, in
her most insinuating tones.

"No, miss; out," said Dominic uncompromisingly. (Miss Mapp wondered if
Dominic drank.)

"Dear me! How tiresome, when he told me----" said she, with playful
annoyance. "Would you be very kind, Mrs. Dominic, and just see for
certain that he is not in his room? He may have come in."

"No, miss, he's out," said Dominic, with the parrot-like utterance of
the determined liar. "Any message?"

Miss Mapp turned away, more certain than ever that he was in and
immersed in dalliance. She would have continued to be quite certain
about it, had she not, glancing distractedly down the street, caught
sight of him coming up with Captain Puffin.

Meantime she had twice attempted to get up a cosy little party of four
(so as not to frighten the Contessa) to play bridge from tea till
dinner, and on both occasions the Faradiddleony (for so she had become)
was most unfortunately engaged. But the second of these disappointing
replies contained the hope that they would meet at their marketings
to-morrow morning, and though poor Miss Mapp was really getting very
tired with these innumerable visits to the post-box, whether wet or
fine, she set forth next morning with the hopes anyhow of finding out
whether the Contessa had been to tea with Major Flint, or on what day
she was going.... There she was, just opposite the post office, and
there--oh, shame!--was Major Benjy on his way to the tram, in
light-hearted conversation with her. It was a slight consolation that
Captain Puffin was there too.

Miss Mapp quickened her steps to a little tripping run.

"Dear Contessa, so sorry I am late," she said. "Such a lot of little
things to do this morning. (Major Benjy! Captain Puffin!) Oh, how
naughty of you to have begun your shopping without me!"

"Only been to the grocer's," said the Contessa. "Major Benjy has been so
amusing that I haven't got on with my shopping at all. I have written to
Cecco to say that there is no one so witty."

(Major Benjy! thought Miss Mapp bitterly, remembering how long it had
taken her to arrive at that. "And witty." She had not arrived at that
yet.)

"No, indeed!" said the Major. "It was the Contessa, Miss Mapp, who has
been so entertaining."

"I'm sure she would be," said Miss Mapp, with an enormous smile. "And,
oh, Major Benjy, you'll miss your tram unless you hurry, and get no golf
at all, and then be vexed with us for keeping you. You men always blame
us poor women."

"Well, upon my word, what's a game of golf compared with the pleasure of
being with the ladies?" asked the Major, with a great fat bow.

"I want to catch that tram," said Puffin quite distinctly, and Miss Mapp
found herself more nearly forgetting his inebriated insults than ever
before.

"You poor Captain Puffin," said the Contessa, "you shall catch it. Be
off, both of you, at once. I will not say another word to either of you.
I will never forgive you if you miss it. But to-morrow afternoon, Major
Benjy."

He turned round to bow again, and a bicycle luckily (for the rider)
going very slowly, butted softly into him behind.

"Not hurt?" called the Contessa. "Good! Ah, Miss Mapp, let us get to our
shopping! How well you manage those men! How right you are about them!
They want their golf more than they want us, whatever they may say. They
would hate us, if we kept them from their golf. So sorry not to have
been able to play bridge with you yesterday, but an engagement. What a
busy place Tilling is. Let me see! Where is the list of things that
Figgis told me to buy? That Figgis! A roller-towel for his pantry, and
some blacking for his boots, and some flannel I suppose for his fat
stomach. It is all for Figgis. And there is that swift Mrs. Plaistow.
She comes like a train with a red light in her face and wheels and
whistlings. She talks like a telegram--Good-morning, Mrs. Plaistow."

"Enjoyed my game of bridge, Contessa," panted Diva. "Delightful game of
bridge yesterday."

The Contessa seemed in rather a hurry to reply. But long before she
could get a word out Miss Mapp felt she knew what had happened....

"So pleased," said the Contessa quickly. "And now for Figgis's towels,
Miss Mapp. Ten and sixpence apiece, he says. What a price to give for a
towel! But I learn housekeeping like this, and Cecco will delight in all
the economies I shall make. Quick, to the draper's, lest there should be
no towels left."

In spite of Figgis's list, the Contessa's shopping was soon over, and
Miss Mapp having seen her as far as the corner, walked on, as if to her
own house, in order to give her time to get to Mr. Wyse's, and then fled
back to the High Street. The suspense was unbearable: she had to know
without delay when and where Diva and the Contessa had played bridge
yesterday. Never had her eye so rapidly scanned the movement of
passengers in that entrancing thoroughfare in order to pick Diva out,
and learn from her precisely what had happened.... There she was, coming
out of the dyer's with her basket completely filled by a bulky package,
which it needed no ingenuity to identify as the late crimson-lake. She
would have to be pleasant with Diva, for much as that perfidious woman
might enjoy telling her where this furtive bridge-party had taken place,
she might enjoy even more torturing her with uncertainty. Diva could, if
put to it, give no answer whatever to a direct question, but, skilfully
changing the subject, talk about something utterly different.

"The crimson-lake," said Miss Mapp, pointing to the basket. "Hope it
will turn out well, dear."

There was rather a wicked light in Diva's eyes.

"Not crimson-lake," she said. "Jet-black."

"Sweet of you to have it dyed again, dear Diva," said Miss Mapp. "Not
very expensive, I trust?"

"Send the bill in to you, if you like," said Diva.

Miss Mapp laughed very pleasantly.

"That would be a good joke," she said. "How nice it is that the dear
Contessa takes so warmly to our Tilling ways. So amusing she was about
the commissions Figgis had given her. But a wee bit satirical, do you
think?"

This ought to put Diva in a good temper, for there was nothing she liked
so much as a few little dabs at somebody else. (Diva was not very
good-natured.)

"She is rather satirical," said Diva.

"Oh, tell me some of her amusing little speeches!" said Miss Mapp
enthusiastically. "I can't always follow her, but you are so quick! A
little coarse too, at times, isn't she? What she said the other night
when she was playing Patience, about the queens and kings, wasn't
quite--was it? And the toothpick."

"Yes. Toothpick," said Diva.

"Perhaps she has bad teeth," said Miss Mapp; "it runs in families, and
Mr. Wyse's, you know--We're lucky, you and I."

Diva maintained a complete silence, and they had now come nearly as far
as her door. If she would not give the information that she knew Miss
Mapp longed for, she must be asked for it, with the uncertain hope that
she would give it then.

"Been playing bridge lately, dear?" asked Miss Mapp.

"Quite lately," said Diva.

"I thought I heard you say something about it to the Contessa.
Yesterday, was it? Whom did you play with?"

Diva paused, and, when they had come quite to her door, made up her
mind.

"Contessa, Susan, Mr. Wyse, me," she said.

"But I thought she never played with Mr. Wyse," said Miss Mapp.

"Had to get a four," said Diva. "Contessa wanted her bridge. Nobody
else."

She popped into her house.

There is no use in describing Miss Mapp's state of mind, except by
saying that for the moment she quite forgot that the Contessa was almost
certainly going to tea with Major Benjy to-morrow.



CHAPTER XII


"Peace on earth and mercy mild," sang Miss Mapp, holding her head back
with her uvula clearly visible. She sat in her usual seat close below
the pulpit, and the sun streaming in through a stained glass window
opposite made her face of all colours, like Joseph's coat. Not knowing
how it looked from outside, she pictured to herself a sort of celestial
radiance coming from within, though Diva, sitting opposite, was
reminded of the iridescent hues observable on cold boiled beef. But
then, Miss Mapp had registered the fact that Diva's notion of singing
alto was to follow the trebles at the uniform distance of a minor third
below, so that matters were about square between them. She wondered
between the verses if she could say something very tactful to Diva,
which might before next Christmas induce her not to make that noise....

Major Flint came in just before the first hymn was over, and held his
top-hat before his face by way of praying in secret, before he opened
his hymn-book. A piece of loose holly fell down from the window ledge
above him on the exact middle of his head, and the jump that he gave
was, considering his baldness, quite justifiable. Captain Puffin, Miss
Mapp was sorry to see, was not there at all. But he had been unwell
lately with attacks of dizziness, one of which had caused him, in the
last game of golf that he had played, to fall down on the eleventh green
and groan. If these attacks were not due to his lack of perseverance, no
right-minded person could fail to be very sorry for him.

There was a good deal more peace on earth as regards Tilling than might
have been expected considering what the week immediately before
Christmas had been like. A picture by Miss Coles (who had greatly
dropped out of society lately, owing to her odd ways) called "Adam,"
which was certainly Mr. Hopkins (though no one could have guessed) had
appeared for sale in the window of a dealer in pictures and curios, but
had been withdrawn from public view at Miss Mapp's personal intercession
and her revelation of whom, unlikely as it sounded, the picture
represented. The unchivalrous dealer had told the artist the history of
its withdrawal, and it had come to Miss Mapp's ears (among many other
things) that quaint Irene had imitated the scene of intercession with
such piercing fidelity that her servant, Lucy-Eve, had nearly died of
laughing. Then there had been clandestine bridge at Mr. Wyse's house on
three consecutive days, and on none of these occasions was Miss Mapp
asked to continue the instruction which she had professed herself
perfectly willing to give to the Contessa. The Contessa, in fact--there
seemed to be no doubt about it--had declared that she would sooner not
play bridge at all than play with Miss Mapp, because the effort of not
laughing would put an un-warrantable strain on those muscles which
prevented you from doing so.... Then the Contessa had gone to tea quite
alone with Major Benjy, and though her shrill and senseless monologue
was clearly audible in the street as Miss Mapp went by to post her
letter again, the Major's Dominic had stoutly denied that he was in, and
the notion that the Contessa was haranguing all by herself in his
drawing-room was too ridiculous to be entertained for a moment.... And
Diva's dyed dress had turned out so well that Miss Mapp gnashed her
teeth at the thought that she had not had hers dyed instead. With some
green chiffon round the neck, even Diva looked quite distinguished--for
Diva.

Then, quite suddenly, an angel of Peace had descended on the distracted
garden-room, for the Poppits, the Contessa and Mr. Wyse all went away to
spend Christmas and the New Year with the Wyses of Whitchurch. It was
probable that the Contessa would then continue a round of visits with
all that coroneted luggage, and leave for Italy again without revisiting
Tilling. She had behaved as if that was the case, for taking advantage
of a fine afternoon, she had borrowed the Royce and whirled round the
town on a series of calls, leaving P.P.C. cards everywhere, and saying
only (so Miss Mapp gathered from Withers) "Your mistress not in? So
sorry," and had driven away before Withers could get out the information
that her mistress was very much in, for she had a bad cold.

But there were the P.P.C. cards, and the Wyses with their future
connections were going to Whitchurch, and after a few hours of rage
against all that had been going on, without revenge being now possible,
and of reaction after the excitement of it, a different reaction set in.
Odd and unlikely as it would have appeared a month or two earlier, when
Tilling was seething with duels, it was a fact that it was possible to
have too much excitement. Ever since the Contessa had arrived, she had
been like an active volcano planted down among dangerously inflammable
elements, and the removal of it was really a matter of relief. Miss Mapp
felt that she would be dealing again with materials whose properties she
knew, and since, no doubt, the strain of Susan's marriage would soon
follow, it was a merciful dispensation that the removal of the volcano
granted Tilling a short restorative pause. The young couple would be
back before long, and with Susan's approaching elevation certainly going
to her head, and making her talk in a manner wholly intolerable about
the grandeur of the Wyses of Whitchurch, it was a boon to be allowed to
recuperate for a little, before settling to work afresh to combat
Susan's pretensions. There was no fear of being dull: for plenty of
things had been going on in Tilling before the Contessa flared on the
High Street, and plenty of things would continue to go on after she had
taken her explosions elsewhere.

By the time that the second lesson was being read the sun had shifted
from Miss Mapp's face, and enabled her to see how ghastly dear Evie
looked when focussed under the blue robe of Jonah, who was climbing out
of the whale. She had had her disappointments to contend with, for the
Contessa had never really grasped at all who she was. Sometimes she
mistook her for Irene, sometimes she did not seem to see her, but never
had she appeared fully to identify her as Mr. Bartlett's wee wifey. But
then, dear Evie was very insignificant even when she squeaked her
loudest. Her best friends, among whom was Miss Mapp, would not deny
that. She had been wilted by non-recognition; she would recover again,
now that they were all left to themselves.

The sermon contained many repetitions and a quantity of split
infinitives. The Padre had once openly stated that Shakespeare was good
enough for him, and that Shakespeare was guilty of many split
infinitives. On that occasion there had nearly been a breach between him
and Mistress Mapp, for Mistress Mapp had said, "But then you are not
Shakespeare, dear Padre." And he could find nothing better to reply than
"Hoots!".... There was nothing more of interest about the sermon.

At the end of the service Miss Mapp lingered in the church looking at
the lovely decorations of holly and laurel, for which she was so largely
responsible, until her instinct assured her that everybody else had
shaken hands and was wondering what to say next about Christmas. Then,
just then, she hurried out.

They were all there, and she came like the late and honoured guest (Poor
Diva).

"Diva, darling," she said. "Merry Christmas! And Evie! And the Padre.
Padre dear, thank you for your sermon! And Major Benjy! Merry Christmas,
Major Benjy. What a small company we are, but not the less Christmassy.
No Mr. Wyse, no Susan, no Isabel. Oh, and no Captain Puffin. Not quite
well again, Major Benjy? Tell me about him. Those dreadful fits of
dizziness. So hard to understand."

She beautifully succeeded in detaching the Major from the rest. With the
peace that had descended on Tilling, she had forgiven him for having
been made a fool of by the Contessa.

"I'm anxious about my friend Puffin," he said. "Not at all up to the
mark. Most depressed. I told him he had no business to be depressed.
It's selfish to be depressed, I said. If we were all depressed it would
be a dreary world, Miss Elizabeth. He's sent for the doctor. I was to
have had a round of golf with Puffin this afternoon, but he doesn't feel
up to it. It would have done him much more good than a host of doctors."

"Oh, I wish I could play golf, and not disappoint you of your round,
Major Benjy," said she.

Major Benjy seemed rather to recoil from the thought. He did not
profess, at any rate, any sympathetic regret.

"And we were going to have had our Christmas dinner together to-night,"
he said, "and spend a jolly evening afterwards."

"I'm sure quiet is the best thing for Captain Puffin with his
dizziness," said Miss Mapp firmly.

A sudden audacity seized her. Here was the Major feeling lonely as
regards his Christmas evening: here was she delighted that he should not
spend it "jollily" with Captain Puffin ... and there was plenty of
plum-pudding.

"Come and have your dinner with me," she said. "I'm alone too."

He shook his head.

"Very kind of you, I'm sure, Miss Elizabeth," he said, "but I think I'll
hold myself in readiness to go across to poor old Puffin, if he feels up
to it. I feel lost without my friend Puffin."

"But you must have no jolly evening, Major Benjy," she said. "So bad for
him. A little soup and a good night's rest. That's the best thing.
Perhaps he would like me to go in and read to him. I will gladly. Tell
him so from me. And if you find he doesn't want anybody, not even you,
well, there's a slice of plum-pudding at your neighbour's, and such a
warm welcome."

She stood on the steps of her house, which in summer were so crowded
with sketchers, and would have kissed her hand to him had not Diva been
following close behind, for even on Christmas Day poor Diva was capable
of finding something ill-natured to say about the most tender and
womanly action ... and Miss Mapp let herself into her house with only a
little wave of her hand....

Somehow the idea that Major Benjy was feeling lonely and missing the
quarrelsome society of his debauched friend was not entirely unpleasing
to her. It was odd that there should be anybody who missed Captain
Puffin. Who would not sooner play golf all alone (if that was possible)
than with him, or spend an evening alone rather than with his
companionship? But if Captain Puffin had to be missed, she would
certainly have chosen Major Benjy to be the person who missed him.
Without wishing Captain Puffin any unpleasant experience, she would have
borne with equanimity the news of his settled melancholia, or his
permanent dizziness, for Major Benjy with his bright robustness was not
the sort of man to prove a willing comrade to a chronically dizzy or
melancholic friend. Nor would it be right that he should be so. Men in
the prime of life were not meant for that. Nor were they meant to be the
victims of designing women, even though Wyses of Whitchurch.... He was
saved from that by their most opportune departure.

In spite of her readiness to be interrupted at any moment, Miss Mapp
spent a solitary evening. She had pulled a cracker with Withers, and
severely jarred a tooth over a threepenny-piece in the plum-pudding, but
there had been no other events. Once or twice, in order to see what the
night was like, she had gone to the window of the garden-room, and been
aware that there was a light in Major Benjy's house, but when half-past
ten struck, she had despaired of company and gone to bed. A little
carol-singing in the streets gave her a Christmas feeling, and she hoped
that the singers got a nice supper somewhere.

Miss Mapp did not feel as genial as usual when she came down to
breakfast next day, and omitted to say good-morning to her rainbow of
piggies. She had run short of wool for her knitting, and Boxing Day
appeared to her a very ill-advised institution. You would have imagined,
thought Miss Mapp, as she began cracking her egg, that the tradespeople
had had enough relaxation on Christmas Day, especially when, as on this
occasion, it was immediately preceded by Sunday, and would have been all
the better for getting to work again. She never relaxed her efforts for
a single day in the year, and why----

An overpowering knocking on her front-door caused her to stop cracking
her egg. That imperious summons was succeeded by but a moment of
silence, and then it began again. She heard the hurried step of Withers
across the hall, and almost before she could have been supposed to reach
the front door, Diva burst into the room.

"Dead!" she said. "In his soup. Captain Puffin. Can't wait!"

She whirled out again and the front door banged.

Miss Mapp ate her egg in three mouthfuls, had no marmalade at all, and
putting on the Prince of Wales's cloak tripped down into the High
Street. Though all shops were shut, Evie was there with her
market-basket, eagerly listening to what Mrs. Brace, the doctor's wife,
was communicating. Though Mrs. Brace was not, strictly speaking, "in
society," Miss Mapp waived all social distinctions, and pressed her hand
with a mournful smile.

"Is it all too terribly true?" she asked.

Mrs. Brace did not take the smallest notice of her, and, dropping her
voice, spoke to Evie in tones so low that Miss Mapp could not catch a
single syllable except the word soup, which seemed to imply that Diva
had got hold of some correct news at last. Evie gave a shrill little
scream at the concluding words, whatever they were, as Mrs. Brace
hurried away.

Miss Mapp firmly cornered Evie, and heard what had happened. Captain
Puffin had gone up to bed last night, not feeling well, without having
any dinner. But he had told Mrs. Gashly to make him some soup, and he
would not want anything else. His parlour-maid had brought it to him,
and had soon afterwards opened the door to Major Flint, who, learning
that his friend had gone to bed, went away. She called her master in the
morning, and found him sitting, still dressed, with his face in the soup
which he had poured out into a deep soup-plate. This was very odd, and
she had called Mrs. Gashly. They settled that he was dead, and rang up
the doctor, who agreed with them. It was clear that Captain Puffin had
had a stroke of some sort, and had fallen forward into the soup which he
had just poured out....

"But he didn't die of his stroke," said Evie in a strangled whisper. "He
was drowned."

"Drowned, dear?" said Miss Mapp.

"Yes. Lungs were full of ox-tail, oh, dear me! A stroke first, and he
fell forward with his face in his soup-plate and got his nose and mouth
quite covered with the soup. He was drowned. All on dry land and in his
bedroom. Too terrible. What dangers we are all in!"

She gave a loud squeak and escaped, to tell her husband.

       *       *       *       *       *

Diva had finished calling on everybody, and approached rapidly.

"He must have died of a stroke," said Diva. "Very much depressed lately.
That precedes a stroke."

"Oh, then, haven't you heard, dear?" said Miss Mapp. "It is all too
terrible! On Christmas Day, too!"

"Suicide?" asked Diva. "Oh, how shocking!"

"No, dear. It was like this...."

       *       *       *       *       *

Miss Mapp got back to her house long before she usually left it. Her
cook came up with the proposed bill of fare for the day.

"That will do for lunch," said Miss Mapp. "But not soup in the evening.
A little fish from what was left over yesterday, and some toasted
cheese. That will be plenty. Just a tray."

Miss Mapp went to the garden-room and sat at her window.

"All so sudden," she said to herself.

She sighed.

"I daresay there may have been much that was good in Captain Puffin,"
she thought, "that we knew nothing about."

She wore a wintry smile.

"Major Benjy will feel very lonely," she said.



EPILOGUE


Miss Mapp went to the garden-room and sat at her window....

It was a warm, bright day of February, and a butterfly was enjoying
itself in the pale sunshine on the other window, and perhaps (so Miss
Mapp sympathetically interpreted its feelings) was rather annoyed that
it could not fly away through the pane. It was not a white butterfly,
but a tortoise-shell, very pretty, and in order to let it enjoy itself
more, she opened the window and it fluttered out into the garden. Before
it had flown many yards, a starling ate most of it up, so the starling
enjoyed itself too.

Miss Mapp fully shared in the pleasure first of the tortoise-shell and
then of the starling, for she was enjoying herself very much too, though
her left wrist was terribly stiff. But Major Benjy was so cruel: he
insisted on her learning that turn of the wrist which was so important
in golf.

"Upon my word, you've got it now, Miss Elizabeth," he had said to her
yesterday, and then made her do it all over again fifty times more.
("Such a bully!") Sometimes she struck the ground, sometimes she struck
the ball, sometimes she struck the air. But he had been very much
pleased with her. And she was very much pleased with him. She forgot
about the butterfly and remembered the starling.

It was idle to deny that the last six weeks had been a terrific strain,
and the strain on her left wrist was nothing to them. The worst tension
of all, perhaps, was when Diva had bounced in with the news that the
Contessa was coming back. That was so like Diva: the only foundation for
the report proved to be that Figgis had said to her Janet that Mr. Wyse
was coming back, and either Janet had misunderstood Figgis, or Diva
(far more probably) had misunderstood Janet, and Miss Mapp only hoped
that Diva had not done so on purpose, though it looked like it. Stupid
as poor Diva undoubtedly was, it was hard for Charity itself to believe
that she had thought that Janet really said that. But when this report
proved to be totally unfounded, Miss Mapp rose to the occasion, and said
that Diva had spoken out of stupidity and not out of malice towards
her....

Then in due course Mr. Wyse had come back and the two Poppits had come
back, and only three days ago one Poppit had become a Wyse, and they had
all three gone for a motor-tour on the Continent in the Royce. Very
likely they would go as far south as Capri, and Susan would stay with
her new grand Italian connections. What she would be like when she got
back Miss Mapp forbore to conjecture, since it was no use anticipating
trouble; but Susan had been so grandiose about the Wyses, multiplying
their incomes and their acreage by fifteen or twenty, so Miss Mapp
conjectured, and talking so much about county families, that the
liveliest imagination failed to picture what she would make of the
Faragliones. She already alluded to the Count as "My brother-in-law
Cecco Faraglione," but had luckily heard Diva say "Faradiddleony" in a
loud aside, which had made her a little more reticent. Susan had taken
the insignia of the Member of the British Empire with her, as she at
once conceived the idea of being presented to the Queen of Italy by
Amelia, and going to a court ball, and Isabel had taken her manuscript
book of Malaprops and Spoonerisms. If she put down all the Italian
malaprops that Mrs. Wyse would commit, it was likely that she would
bring back two volumes instead of one.

Though all these grandeurs were so rightly irritating, the departure of
the "young couple" and Isabel had left Tilling, already shocked and
shattered by the death of Captain Puffin, rather flat and purposeless.
Miss Mapp alone refused to be flat, and had never been so full of
purpose. She felt that it would be unpardonably selfish of her if she
regarded for a moment her own loss, when there was one in Tilling who
suffered so much more keenly, and she set herself with admirable
singleness of purpose to restore Major Benjy's zest in life, and fill
the gap. She wanted no assistance from others in this: Diva, for
instance, with her jerky ways would be only too apt to jar on him, and
her black dress might remind him of his loss if Miss Mapp had asked her
to go shares in the task of making the Major's evenings less lonely.
Also the weather, during the whole of January, was particularly
inclement, and it would have been too much to expect of Diva to come all
the way up the hill in the wet, while it was but a step from the Major's
door to her own. So there was little or nothing in the way of
winter-bridge as far as Miss Mapp and the Major were concerned. Piquet
with a single sympathetic companion who did not mind being rubiconned at
threepence a hundred was as much as he was up to at present.

With the end of the month a balmy foretaste of spring (such as had
encouraged the tortoiseshell butterfly to hope) set in, and the Major
used to drop in after breakfast and stroll round the garden with her,
smoking his pipe. Miss Mapp's sweet snowdrops had begun to appear, and
green spikes of crocuses pricked the black earth, and the sparrows were
having such fun in the creepers. Then one day the Major, who was going
out to catch the 11.20 tram, had a "golf-stick," as Miss Mapp so
foolishly called it, with him, and a golf-ball, and after making a
dreadful hole in her lawn, she had hit the ball so hard that it
rebounded from the brick-wall, which was quite a long way off, and came
back to her very feet, as if asking to be hit again by the
golf-stick--no, golf-club. She learned to keep her wonderfully observant
eye on the ball and bought one of her own. The Major lent her a
mashie--and before anyone would have thought it possible, she had
learned to propel her ball right over the bed where the snowdrops grew,
without beheading any of them in its passage. It was the turn of the
wrist that did that, and Withers cleaned the dear little mashie
afterwards, and put it safely in the corner of the garden-room.

To-day was to be epoch-making. They were to go out to the real links by
the 11.20 tram (consecrated by so many memories), and he was to call for
her at eleven. He had qui-hied for porridge fully an hour ago.

After letting out the tortoise-shell butterfly from the window looking
into the garden, she moved across to the post of observation on the
street, and arranged snowdrops in a little glass vase. There were a few
over when that was full, and she saw that a reel of cotton was close at
hand, in case she had an idea of what to do with the remainder. Eleven
o'clock chimed from the church, and on the stroke she saw him coming up
the few yards of street that separated his door from hers. So punctual!
So manly!

Diva was careering about the High Street as they walked along it, and
Miss Mapp kissed her hand to her.

"Off to play golf, darling," she said. "Is that not grand? Au
reservoir."

Diva had not missed seeing the snowdrops in the Major's button-hole, and
stood stupefied for a moment at this news. Then she caught sight of
Evie, and shot across the street to communicate her suspicions. Quaint
Irene joined then and the Padre.

"Snowdrops, i'fegs!" said he....


_Printed at The Chapel River Press, Kingston, Surrey._

  +--------------------------------------------------------------+
  |                Transcriber's Notes and Errata                |
  |                                                              |
  | The following words were found in both hyphenated and        |
  | unhyphenated form in the text. The number of instances of    |
  | each is given in parentheses.                                |
  |                                                              |
  |           |book-case (4)      |bookcase (1)      |           |
  |           |dress-maker's (1)  |dress-maker's (1) |           |
  |           |dress-maker (1)    |dress-maker (1)   |           |
  |           |eye-glass (4)      |eyeglass (4)      |           |
  |           |parlour-maid (3)   |parlourmaid (5)   |           |
  |           |tea-gown (9)       |teagown (2)       |           |
  |           |tip-toed (1)       |tiptoed (2)       |           |
  |           |tortoise-shell (3) |tortoiseshell (1) |           |
  |                                                              |
  | The following typographical errors were corrected:           |
  |                                                              |
  |               |Error          |Correction    |               |
  |               |appraoch       |approach      |               |
  |               |aleady         |already       |               |
  |               |Consciousnness |Consciousness |               |
  +--------------------------------------------------------------+





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