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Title: Once a Week
Author: Milne, A. A. (Alan Alexander), 1882-1956
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 "Once a Week" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



ONCE A WEEK


BY THE SAME AUTHOR

    THE DAY'S PLAY
    THE HOLIDAY ROUND
    THE SUNNY SIDE
    ONCE ON A TIME
    NOT THAT IT MATTERS
    IF I MAY
    FIRST PLAYS
    SECOND PLAYS
    MR. PIM



               ONCE A WEEK


                   BY

               A. A. MILNE

                AUTHOR OF
 "THE DAY'S PLAY" AND "THE HOLIDAY ROUND"


              THIRD EDITION


            METHUEN & CO LTD.
           36 ESSEX STREET W.C.
                 LONDON



 _First Published_        _October 15th, 1914_
 _Second Edition_         _March   ...   1917_
 _Third Edition_                  _1922_



Transcriber's Note

    Minor typographical errors have been corrected without note. An
    expanded table of contents, in addition to the one originally
    published, has been provided below:

      THE HEIR
      WINTER SPORT
      A BAKER'S DOZEN
        A TRAGEDY IN LITTLE
        THE FINANCIER
        THE DOUBLE
        A BREATH OF LIFE
        "UNDER ENTIRELY NEW MANAGEMENT"
        A FAREWELL TOUR
        THE TRUTH ABOUT HOME RAILS
        THE KING'S SONS
        DISAPPOINTMENT
        AMONG THE ANIMALS
        A TRAGEDY OF THE SEA
        OLD FRIENDS
      GETTING MARRIED
      HOME AFFAIRS
        AN INSURANCE ACT
        BACHELOR RELICS
        LORDS TEMPORAL
        THE MISSING CARD
        SILVER LININGS
        THE ORDER OF THE BATH
        A TRUNK CALL
      OTHER PEOPLE'S HOUSES
        THE PARTING GUEST
        THE LANDSCAPE GARDENER
        THE SAME OLD STORY
        THE SPREADING WALNUT TREE
        DEFINITIONS
        A BILLIARD LESSON
      BURLESQUES
        THE SEASIDE NOVELETTE
        THE SECRET OF THE ARMY AEROPLANE
        THE HALO THEY GAVE THEMSELVES
        A DIDACTIC NOVEL
      MERELY PLAYERS
        ON THE BAT'S BACK
        UNCLE EDWARD
        THE RENASCENCE OF BRITAIN
        THE BIRTHDAY PRESENT
        ONE OF OUR SUFFERERS
        IN THE SWIM
      THE MEN WHO SUCCEED
        THE HEIR
        THE STATESMAN
        THE MAGNATE
        THE DOCTOR
        THE NEWSPAPER PROPRIETOR
        THE COLLECTOR
        THE ADVENTURER
        THE EXPLORER



                     TO

               MY COLLABORATOR

         WHO BUYS THE INK AND PAPER
                   LAUGHS
 AND, IN FACT, DOES ALL THE REALLY DIFFICULT
            PART OF THE BUSINESS
      THIS BOOK IS GRATEFULLY DEDICATED
       IN MEMORY OF A WINTER'S MORNING
               IN SWITZERLAND



CONTENTS


                           PAGE
 THE HEIR                     1

 WINTER SPORT                29

 A BAKER'S DOZEN             61

 GETTING MARRIED            127

 HOME AFFAIRS               149

 OTHER PEOPLE'S HOUSES      183

 BURLESQUES                 215

 MERELY PLAYERS             251

 THE MEN WHO SUCCEED        281



NOTE


These sketches have previously appeared in _Punch_, to whose proprietors
I am much indebted for permission to reprint.



THE HEIR



THE HEIR


I.--HE INTRODUCES HIMSELF

"In less refined circles than ours," I said to Myra, "your behaviour
would be described as swank. Really, to judge from the airs you put on,
you might be the child's mother."

"He's jealous because he's not an aunt himself. Isn't he, ducksey
darling?"

"I do wish you wouldn't keep dragging the baby into the conversation; we
can make it go quite well as a duologue. As to being jealous--why, it's
absurd. True, I'm not an aunt, but in a very short time I shall be an
uncle by marriage, which sounds to me much superior. That is," I added,
"if you're still equal to it."

Myra blew me a kiss over the cradle.

"Another thing you've forgotten," I went on, "is that I'm down for a
place as a godfather. Archie tells me that it isn't settled yet, but
that there's a good deal of talk about it in the clubs. Who's the other
going to be? Not Thomas, I suppose? That would be making the thing
rather a farce."

"Hasn't Dahlia broken it to you?" said Myra anxiously.

"Simpson?" I asked, in an awed whisper.

Myra nodded. "And, of course, Thomas," she said.

"Heavens! Not three of us? What a jolly crowd we shall be. Thomas can
play our best ball. We might----"

"But of course there are only going to be two godfathers," she said, and
leant over the cradle again.

I held up my three end fingers. "Thomas," I said, pointing to the
smallest, "me," I explained, pointing to the next, "and Simpson, the
tall gentleman in glasses. One, two, three."

"Oh, baby," sighed Myra, "what a very slow uncle by marriage you're
going to have!"

I stood and gazed at my three fingers for some time.

"I've got it," I said at last, and I pulled down the middle one. "The
rumour in the clubs was unauthorized. I don't get a place after all."

"_Don't_ say you mind," pleaded Myra. "You see, Dahlia thought that as
you were practically one of the family already, an uncle-elect by
marriage, and as she didn't want to choose between Thomas and
Samuel----"

"Say no more. I was only afraid that she might have something against my
moral character. Child," I went on, rising and addressing the
unresponsive infant, "England has lost a godfather this day, but the
world has gained a----what? I don't know. I want my tea."

Myra gave the baby a last kiss and got up.

"Can I trust him with you while I go and see about Dahlia?"

"I'm not sure. It depends how I feel. I may change him with some poor
baby in the village. Run away, aunt, and leave us men to ourselves. We
have several matters to discuss."

When the child and I were alone together, I knelt by his cradle and
surveyed his features earnestly. I wanted to see what it was he had to
offer Myra which I could not give her. "This," I said to myself, "is the
face which has come between her and me," for it was unfortunately true
that I could no longer claim Myra's undivided attention. But the more I
looked at him the more mysterious the whole thing became to me.

"Not a bad kid?" said a voice behind me.

I turned and saw Archie.

"Yours, I believe," I said, and I waved him to the cradle.

Archie bent down and tickled the baby's chin, making appropriate noises
the while--one of the things a father has to learn to do.

"Who do you think he's like?" he asked proudly.

"The late Mr. Gladstone," I said, after deep thought.

"Wrong. Hallo, here's Dahlia coming out. I hope, for your sake, that the
baby's all right. If she finds he's caught measles or anything, you'll
get into trouble."

By a stroke of bad luck the child began to cry as soon as he saw the
ladies. Myra rushed up to him.

"Poor little darling," she said soothingly. "Did his uncle by marriage
frighten him, then?"

"Don't listen to her, Dahlia," I said. "I haven't done anything to him.
We were chatting together quite amicably until he suddenly caught sight
of Myra and burst into tears."

"He's got a little pain," said Dahlia gently taking him up and patting
him.

"I think the trouble is mental," suggested Archie. "He looks to me as if
he had something on his conscience. Did he say anything to you about it
when you were alone?"

"He didn't say much," I confessed, "but he seemed to be keeping
something back. I think he wants a bit of a run, really."

"Poor little lamb," said Dahlia. "There, he's better now, thank you."
She looked up at Archie and me. "I don't believe you two love him a
bit."

Archie smiled at his wife and went over to the tea-table to pour out. I
sat on the grass and tried to analyse my feelings to my nephew by
marriage.

"As an acquaintance," I said, "he is charming; I know no one who is
better company. If I cannot speak of his more solid qualities, it is
only because I do not know him well enough. But to say whether I love
him or not is difficult; I could tell you better after our first
quarrel. However, there is one thing I must confess. I am rather jealous
of him."

"You envy his life of idleness?"

"No, I envy him the amount of attention he gets from Myra. The love she
wastes on him which might be better employed on me is a heartrending
thing to witness. As her betrothed I should expect to occupy the premier
place in her affections, but, really, I sometimes think that if the baby
and I both fell into the sea she would jump in and save the baby first."

"Don't talk about his falling into the sea," said Dahlia, with a
shudder; "I can't a-bear it."

"I think it will be all right," said Archie, "I was touching wood all
the time."

"What a silly godfather he nearly had!" whispered Myra at the cradle.
"It quite makes you smile, doesn't it, baby? Oh, Dahlia, he's just like
Archie when he smiles!"

"Oh, yes, he's the living image of Archie," said Dahlia confidently.

I looked closely at Archie and then at the baby.

"I should always know them apart," I said at last. "That," and I pointed
to the one at the tea-table, "is Archie, and this," and I pointed to the
one in the cradle, "is the baby. But then I've such a wonderful memory
for faces."

"Baby," said Myra, "I'm afraid you're going to know some very foolish
people."


II.--HE MEETS HIS GODFATHERS

Thomas and Simpson arrived by the twelve-thirty train, and Myra and I
drove down in the wagonette to meet them. Myra handled the ribbons
("handled the ribbons"--we must have that again) while I sat on the
box-seat and pointed out any traction-engines and things in the road. I
am very good at this.

"I suppose," I said, "there will be some sort of ceremony at the
station? The station-master will read an address while his little
daughter presents a bouquet of flowers. You don't often get two
godfathers travelling by the same train. Look out," I said, as we swung
round a corner, "there's an ant coming."

"What did you say? I'm so sorry, but I listen awfully badly when I'm
driving."

"As soon as I hit upon anything really good I'll write it down. So far I
have been throwing off the merest trifles. When we are married,
Myra----"

"Go on; I love that."

"When we are married we shan't be able to afford horses, so we'll keep a
couple of bicycles, and you'll be able to hear everything I say. How
jolly for you."

"All right," said Myra quietly.

There was no formal ceremony on the platform, but I did not seem to feel
the want of it when I saw Simpson stepping from the train with an
enormous Teddy-bear under his arm.

"Hallo, dear old chap," he said, "here we are! You're looking at my
bear. I quite forgot it until I'd strapped up my bags, so I had to bring
it like this. It squeaks," he added, as if that explained it. "Listen,"
and the piercing roar of the bear resounded through the station.

"Very fine. Hallo, Thomas!"

"Hallo!" said Thomas, and went to look after his luggage.

"I hope he'll like it," Simpson went on. "Its legs move up and down." He
put them into several positions, and then squeaked it again. "Jolly,
isn't it?"

"Ripping," I agreed. "Who's it for?"

He looked at me in astonishment for a moment.

"My dear old chap, for the baby."

"Oh, I see. That's awfully nice of you. He'll love it." I wondered if
Simpson had ever seen a month-old baby. "What's its name?"

"I've been calling it Duncan in the train, but, of course, he will want
to choose his own name for it."

"Well, you must talk it over with him to-night after the ladies have
gone to bed. How about your luggage? We mustn't keep Myra waiting."

"Hallo, Thomas!" said Myra, as we came out. "Hallo, Samuel! Hooray!"

"Hallo, Myra!" said Thomas. "All right?"

"Myra, this is Duncan," said Simpson, and the shrill roar of the bear
rang out once more.

Myra, her mouth firm, but smiles in her eyes, looked down lovingly at
him. Sometimes I think that she would like to be Simpson's mother.
Perhaps, when we are married, we might adopt him.

"For baby?" she said, stroking it with her whip. "But he won't be
allowed to take it into church with him, you know. No, Thomas, I won't
have the luggage next to me; I want some one to talk to. You come."

Inside the wagonette Simpson squeaked his bear at intervals, while I
tried to prepare him for his coming introduction to his godson. Having
known the baby for nearly a week, and being to some extent in Myra's
confidence, I felt quite the family man beside Simpson.

"You must try not to be disappointed with his looks," I said. "Anyway,
don't let Dahlia think you are. And if you want to do the right thing
say that he's just like Archie. Archie doesn't mind this for some
reason."

"Is he tall for his age?"

"Samuel, pull yourself together. He isn't tall at all. If he is anything
he is long, but how long only those can say who have seen him in his
bath. You do realize that he is only a month old?"

"My dear old boy, of course. One can't expect much from him. I suppose
he isn't even toddling about yet?"

"No--no. Not actually toddling."

"Well, we can teach him later on. And I'm going to have a lot of fun
with him. I shall show him my watch--babies always love that."

There was a sudden laugh from the front, which changed just a little too
late into a cough. The fact is I had bet Myra a new golf-ball that
Simpson would show the baby his watch within two minutes of meeting him.
Of course, it wasn't a certainty yet, but I thought there would be no
harm in mentioning the make of ball I preferred. So I changed the
conversation subtly to golf.

Amidst loud roars from the bear we drove up to the house and were
greeted by Archie.

"Hallo, Thomas! how are you? Hallo, Simpson! Good heavens! I know that
face. Introduce me, Samuel."

"This is Duncan. I brought him down for your boy to play with."

"Duncan, of course. The boy will love it. He's tired of me already. He
proposes to meet his godfathers at four p.m. precisely. So you'll have
nearly three hours to think of something genial to say to him."

We spent the last of the three hours playing tennis, and at four p.m.
precisely the introduction took place. By great good luck Duncan was
absent; Simpson would have wasted his whole two minutes in making it
squeak.

"Baby," said Dahlia, "this is your Uncle Thomas."

"Hallo!" said Thomas, gently kissing the baby's hand. "Good old boy,"
and he felt for his pipe.

"Baby," said Dahlia, "this is your Uncle Samuel."

As he leant over the child I whipped out my watch and murmured, "Go!" 4
hrs. 1 min. 25 sec. I wished Myra had not taken my "two minutes" so
literally, but I felt that the golf-ball was safe.

Simpson looked at the baby as if fascinated, and the baby stared back at
him. It was a new experience for both of them.

"He's _just_ like Archie," he said at last, remembering my advice. "Only
smaller," he added.

4 hrs. 2 min. 7 sec.

"I can see you, baby," he said. "Goo-goo."

Myra came and rested her chin on my shoulder. Silently I pointed to the
finishing place on my watch, and she gave a little gurgle of excitement.
There was only one minute left.

"I wonder what you're thinking about," said Simpson to the baby. "Is it
my glasses you want to play with?"

"Help!" I murmured. "This will never do."

"He just looks and looks. Ah! but his Uncle Samuel knows what baby wants
to see." (I squeezed Myra's arm. 4 hrs. 3 mins. 10 secs. There was just
time.) "I wonder if it's anything in his uncle's waistcoat?"

"No!" whispered Myra to me in agony. "_Certainly_ not."

"He _shall_ see it if he wants to," said Simpson soothingly, and put his
hand to his waistcoat pocket. I smiled triumphantly at Myra. He had five
seconds to get the watch out--plenty of time.

"Bother!" said Simpson. "I left it upstairs."


III.--HE CHOOSES A NAME

The afternoon being wet we gathered round the billiard-room fire and
went into committee.

"The question before the House," said Archie, "is what shall the baby be
called, and why. Dahlia and I have practically decided on his names, but
it would amuse us to hear your inferior suggestions and point out how
ridiculous they are."

Godfather Simpson looked across in amazement at Godfather Thomas.

"Really, you are taking a good deal upon yourself, Archie," he said
coldly. "It is entirely a matter for my colleague and myself to decide
whether the ground is fit for--to decide, I should say, what the child
is to be called. Unless this is quite understood we shall hand in our
resignations."

"We've been giving a lot of thought to it," said Thomas, opening his
eyes for a moment. "And our time is valuable." He arranged the cushions
at his back and closed his eyes again.

"Well, as a matter of fact, the competition isn't quite closed," said
Archie. "Entries can still be received."

"We haven't really decided at all," put in Dahlia gently. "It _is_ so
difficult."

"In that case," said Samuel, "Thomas and I will continue to act. It is
my pleasant duty to inform you that we had a long consultation
yesterday, and finally agreed to call him--er--Samuel Thomas."

"Thomas Samuel," said Thomas sleepily.

"How did you think of those names?" I asked. "It must have taken you a
tremendous time."

"With a name like Samuel Thomas Mannering," went on Simpson ["Thomas
Samuel Mannering," murmured Thomas], "your child might achieve almost
anything. In private life you would probably call him Sam."

"Tom," said a tired voice.

"Or, more familiarly, Sammy."

"Tommy," came in a whisper from the sofa.

"What do you think of it?" asked Dahlia.

"I mustn't say," said Archie; "they're my guests. But I'll tell you
privately some time."

There was silence for a little, and then a thought occurred to me.

"You know, Archie," I said, "limited as their ideas are, you're rather
in their power. Because I was looking through the service in church on
Sunday, and there comes a point when the clergyman says to the
godfathers, 'Name this child.' Well, there you are, you know. They've
got you. You may have fixed on Montmorency Plantagenet, but they've only
to say 'Bert,' and the thing is done."

"You all forget," said Myra, coming over to sit on the arm of my chair,
"that there's a godmother too. I shall forbid the Berts."

"Well, that makes it worse. You'll have Myra saying 'Montmorency
Plantagenet,' and Samuel saying 'Samuel Thomas,' and Thomas saying
'Thomas Samuel.'"

"It will sound rather well," said Archie, singing it over to himself.
"Thomas, you take the tenor part, of course: 'Thomas Samuel, Thomas
Samuel, Thom-as Sam-u-el.' We must have a rehearsal."

For five minutes Myra, Thomas, and Simpson chanted in harmony, being
assisted after the first minute by Archie, who took the alto part of
"Solomon Joel." He explained that as this was what he and his wife
really wanted the child christened ("Montmorency Plantagenet" being only
an invention of the godmother's) it would probably be necessary for him
to join in too.

"Stop!" cried Dahlia, when she could bear it no longer; "you'll wake
baby."

There was an immediate hush.

"Samuel," said Archie in a whisper, "if you wake the baby I'll kill
you."

The question of his name was still not quite settled, and once more we
gave ourselves up to thought.

"Seeing that he's the very newest little Rabbit," said Myra, "I do think
he might be called after some very great cricketer."

"That was the idea in christening him 'Samuel,'" said Archie.

"Gaukrodger Carkeek Butt Bajana Mannering," I suggested--"something like
that?"

"Silly; I meant 'Charles,' after Fry."

"'Schofield,' after Haigh," murmured Thomas.

"'Warren,' after Bardsley, would be more appropriate to a Rabbit," said
Simpson, beaming round at us. There was, however, no laughter. We had
all just thought of it ourselves.

"The important thing in christening a future first-class cricketer,"
said Simpson, "is to get the initials right. What could be better than
'W. G.' as a nickname for Grace? But if 'W. G.'s' initials had been 'Z.
Z.,' where would you have been?"

"Here," said Archie.

The shock of this reply so upset Simpson that his glasses fell off. He
picked them out of the fender and resumed his theme.

"Now, if the baby were christened 'Samuel Thomas' his initials would be
'S. T.,' which are perfect. And the same as Coleridge's."

"Is that Coleridge the wicket-keeper, or the fast bowler?"

Simpson opened his mouth to explain, and then, just in time, decided not
to.

"I forgot to say," said Archie, "that anyhow he's going to be called
Blair, after his mamma."

"If his name's Blair Mannering," I said at once, "he'll have to write a
book. You can't waste a name like that. _The Crimson Spot_, by Blair
Mannering. Mr. Blair Mannering, the well-known author of _The Gash_. Our
new serial, _The Stain on the Bath Mat_, has been specially written for
us by Mr. and Mrs. Blair Mannering. It's simply asking for it."

"Don't talk about his wife yet, please," smiled Dahlia. "Let me have him
a little while."

"Well, he can be a writer _and_ a cricketer. Why not? There are others.
I need only mention my friend, S. Simpson."

"But the darling still wants another name," said Myra. "Let's call him
John to-day, and William to-morrow, and Henry the next day, and so on
until we find out what suits him best."

"Let's all go upstairs now and call him Samuel," said Samuel.

"Thomas," said Thomas.

We looked at Dahlia. She got up and moved to the door. In single file we
followed her on tip-toe to the nursery. The baby was fast asleep.

"Thomas," we all said in a whisper, "Thomas, Thomas."

There was no reply.

"Samuel!"

Dead silence.

"I think," said Dahlia, "we'll call him Peter."


IV.--HE IS CHRISTENED

On the morning of the christening, as I was on my way to the bathroom, I
met Simpson coming out of it. There are people who have never seen
Simpson in his dressing-gown; people also who have never waited for the
sun to rise in glory above the snow-capped peaks of the Alps; who have
never stood on Waterloo Bridge and watched St. Paul's come through the
mist of an October morning. Well, well, one cannot see everything.

"Hallo, old chap!" he said. "I was just coming to talk to you. I want
your advice."

"A glass of hot water the last thing at night," I said, "no sugar or
milk, a Turkish bath once a week and plenty of exercise. You'll get it
down in no time."

"Don't be an ass. I mean about the christening. I've been to a wedding,
of course, but that isn't quite the same thing."

"A moment, while I turn on the tap." I turned it on and came back to
him. "Now then, I'm at your service."

"Well, what's the--er--usual costume for a christening?"

"Leave that to the mother," I said. "She'll see that the baby's dressed
properly."

"I mean for a godfather."

Dahlia has conveniently placed a sofa outside the bathroom door. I
dropped into it and surveyed the dressing-gown thoughtfully.

"Go like that," I said at last.

"What I want to know is whether it's a top-hat affair or not?"

"Have you brought a top-hat?"

"Of course."

"Then you must certainly---- I say! Come out of it, Myra!"

I jumped up from the sofa, but it was too late. She had stolen my bath.

"Well, of all the cheek----"

The door opened and Myra's head appeared round the corner.

"Hush! you'll wake the baby," she said. "Oh, Samuel, what a dream! _Why_
haven't I seen it before?"

"You have, Myra. I've often dressed up in it."

"Then I suppose it looks different with a sponge. Because----"

"Really!" I said as I took hold of Simpson and led him firmly away; "if
the baby knew that you carried on like this of a morning he'd be
shocked."

Thomas is always late for breakfast. Simpson on this occasion was
delayed by his elaborate toilet. They came in last together, by opposite
doors, and stood staring at each other. Simpson wore a frock-coat,
dashing double-breasted waistcoat, perfectly creased trousers, and a
magnificent cravat; Thomas had on flannels and an old blazer.

"By Jove!" said Archie, seeing Simpson first, "you _are_ a----" and then
he caught sight of Thomas. "Hul-_lo_!" His eyes went from one to the
other, and at last settled on the toast. He went on with his breakfast.
"The two noble godfathers," he murmured.

Meanwhile the two godfathers continued to gaze at each other as if
fascinated. At last Simpson spoke.

"We can't _both_ be right," he said slowly to himself.

Thomas woke up.

"Is it the christening to-day? I quite forgot."

"It is, Thomas. The boat-race is to-morrow."

"Well, I can change afterwards. You don't expect me to wear anything
like that?" he said, pointing to Simpson.

"Don't change," said Archie. "Both go as you are. Mick and Mack, the
Comedy Duo. Simpson does the talking while Thomas falls over the pews."

Simpson collected his breakfast and sat down next to Myra.

"Am I all right?" he asked her doubtfully.

"Your tie's up at the back of your neck," I said.

"Because if Dahlia would prefer it," he went on, ignoring me, "I could
easily wear a plain dark tweed."

"You're beautiful, Samuel," said Myra. "I hope you'll look as nice at my
wedding."

"You don't think I shall be mistaken for the father?" he asked
anxiously.

"By Peter? Well, that _is_ just possible. Perhaps if----"

"I think you're right," said Simpson, and after breakfast he changed
into the plain dark tweed.

As the hour approached we began to collect in the hall, Simpson reading
the service to himself for the twentieth time.

"Do we have to say anything?" asked Thomas, as he lit his third pipe.

Simpson looked at him in horror.

"Say anything? Of course we do! Haven't you studied it? Here, you'll
just have time to read it through."

"Too late now. Better leave it to the inspiration of the moment," I
suggested. "Does anybody know if there's a collection, because if so I
shall have to go and get some money."

"There will be a collection for the baby afterwards," said Archie. "I
hope you've all been saving up."

"Here he comes!" said Simpson, and Peter Blair Mannering came down the
stairs with Dahlia and Myra.

"Good morning, everybody," said Dahlia.

"Good morning. Say 'Good morning,' baby."

"He's rather nervous," said Myra. "He says he's never been christened
before, and what's it like?"

"I expect he'll be all right with two such handsome godfathers," said
Dahlia.

"_Isn't_ Mr. Simpson looking well?" said Myra in a society voice. "And
do you know, dear, that's the _third_ suit I've seen him in to-day."

"Well, are we all ready?"

"You're quite sure about his name?" said Archie to his wife. "This is
your last chance, you know. Say the word to Thomas before it's too
late."

"I think Peter is rather silly," I said.

"Why Blair?" said Myra. "I ask you."

Dahlia smiled sweetly at us and led the way with P. B. Mannering to the
car. We followed ... and Simpson on the seat next the driver read the
service to himself for the last time.

       .       .       .       .       .

"I feel very proud," said Archie as we came out of the church. "I'm not
only a father, but my son has a name. And now I needn't call him 'er'
any more."

"He _was_ a good boy, wasn't he?" said Myra.

"Thomas, say at once that your godson was a good boy."

But Thomas was quiet. He looked years older.

"I've never read the service before," he said. "I didn't quite know what
we were in for. It seems that Simpson and I have undertaken a heavy
responsibility; we are practically answerable for the child's education.
We are supposed to examine him every few years and find out if he is
being taught properly."

"You can bowl to him later on if you like."

"No, no. It means more than that." He turned to Dahlia. "I think," he
said, "Simpson and I will walk home. We must begin at once to discuss
the lines on which we shall educate our child."


V.--HE SEES LIFE

There was no one in sight. If 'twere done well, 'twere well done
quickly. I gripped the perambulator, took a last look round, and then
suddenly rushed it across the drive and down a side path, not stopping
until we were well concealed from the house. Panting, I dropped into a
seat, having knocked several seconds off the quarter-mile record for
babies under one.

"Hallo!" said Myra.

"Dash it, are there people everywhere to-day? I can't get a moment to
myself. 'O solitude, where----'"

"What are you going to do with baby?"

"Peter and I are going for a walk." My eyes rested on her for more than
a moment. She was looking at me over an armful of flowers ...
and--well--"You can come too if you like," I said.

"I've got an awful lot to do," she smiled doubtfully.

"Oh, if you'd rather count the washing."

She sat down next to me.

"Where's Dahlia?"

"I don't know. We meant to have left a note for her, but we came away in
rather a hurry. '_Back at twelve. Peter._'"

"'_I am quite happy. Pursuit is useless_,'" suggested Myra. "Poor
Dahlia, she'll be frightened when she sees the perambulator gone."

"My dear, what _could_ happen to it? Is this Russia?"

"Oh, what happens to perambulators in Russia?" asked Myra eagerly.

"They spell them differently," I said, after a little thought. "Anyhow,
Dahlia's all right."

"Well, I'll just take these flowers in and then I'll come back. If you
and Peter will have me?"

"I think so," I said.

Myra went in and left me to my reflections, which were mainly that Peter
had the prettiest aunt in England, and that the world was very good. But
my pleased and fatuous smile over these thoughts was disturbed by her
announcement on her return.

"Dahlia says," she began, "that we may have Peter for an hour, but he
must come in at once if he cries."

I got up in disgust.

"You've spoilt my morning," I said.

"Oh, _no_!"

"I had a little secret from Dahlia, or rather Peter and I had a little
secret together; at least, you and I and Peter had a secret. Anyhow, it
was a secret. And I was feeling very wicked and happy--Peter and I both
were; and we were going to let you feel wicked too. And now Dahlia knows
all about the desperate deed we were planning, and, to make it worse,
all she says is, 'Certainly! By all means! Only don't get his feet wet.'
Peter," I said, as I bent over the sleeping innocent, "we are betrayed."

"Miss Mannering will now relate her experiences," said Myra. "I went
into the hall to put down the flowers, and just as I was coming out I
saw Dahlia in the corner with a book. And she said, 'Tell your young
man----'"

"How vulgar!" I interrupted.

"'Do be careful with my baby.' And I said in great surprise, 'What
baby?' And she said, 'He was very kindly running him up and down the
drive just now. Peter loves it, but don't let them go on too long or
there may be an accident.' And then she gave a few more instructions,
and--here we are."

"Peter," I said to the somnolent one, "you can't deceive a woman. Also
men are pigs. Wake up, and we will apologize to your aunt for doubting
her. Sorry, Myra."

Myra pinned a flower in my coat and forgave me, and we walked off
together with the perambulator.

"Peter is seeing a bit of life this morning," I said. "What shall we
show him now?"

"Thomas and Samuel are playing golf," said Myra casually.

I looked at her doubtfully.

"Is that quite suitable?"

"I think if we didn't let him stay too long it would be all right.
Dahlia wouldn't like him to be overexcited."

"Well, he can't be introduced to the game too early. Come on, Peter."
And we pushed into more open country.

The 9-hole course which Simpson planned a year ago is not yet used for
the Open Championship, though it is certainly better than it was last
summer. But it is short and narrow and dog-legged, and, particularly
when Simpson is playing on it, dangerous.

"We are now in the zone of fire," I said. "Samuel's repainted ninepenny
may whiz past us at any moment. Perhaps I had better go first." I tied
my handkerchief to Myra's sunshade and led the way with the white flag.

A ball came over the barn and rolled towards us, just reaching one of
the wheels. I gave a yell.

"Hallo!" bellowed Simpson from behind the barn.

"You're firing on the ambulance," I shouted.

He hurried up, followed leisurely by Thomas.

"I say," he said excitedly, "have I hurt him?"

"You have not even waked him. He has the special gift of--was it
Wellington or Napoleon?--that of being able to sleep through the
heaviest battle."

"Hallo!" said Thomas. "Good old boy! What's he been learning to-day?" he
added, with godfatherly interest.

"We're showing him life to-day. He has come to see Simpson play golf."

"Doesn't he ever sit up?" asked Simpson, looking at him with interest.
"I don't see how he's going to see anything if he's always on his back.
Unless it were something in the air."

"Don't you ever get the ball in the air?" said Myra innocently.

"What will his Uncle Samuel show him if he does sit up?" I asked. "Let's
decide first if it's going to be anything worth watching. Which hole are
you for? The third?"

"The eighth. My last shot had a bit of a slice."

"A slice! It had about the whole joint. I doubt," I said to Myra, "if we
shall do much good here; let's push on."

But Myra had put down the hood and taken some of the clothes off Peter.
Peter stirred slightly. He seemed to know that something was going on.
Then suddenly he woke up, just in time to see Simpson miss the ball
completely. Instantly he gave a cry.

"Now you've done it," said Myra. "He's got to go in. And I'm afraid
he'll go away with quite a wrong idea of the game."

But I was not thinking of the baby. Although I am to be his uncle by
marriage I had forgotten him.

"If that's about Simpson's form to-day," I said to Myra, "you and I
could still take them on and beat them."

Myra looked up eagerly.

"What about Peter?" she asked; but she didn't ask it very firmly.

"We promised Dahlia to take him in directly he cried," I said. "She'd be
very upset if she thought she couldn't trust us. And we've got to go in
for our clubs, anyway," I added.

Peter was sleeping peacefully again, but a promise is a promise. After
all, we had done a good deal for his education that morning. We had
shown him human nature at work, and the position of golf in the
universe.

"We'll meet you on the first tee," said Myra to Thomas.


VI.--HE SLEEPS

"It's sad to think that to-morrow we shall be in London," said Simpson,
with a sigh.

"Rotten," agreed Thomas, and took another peach.

There was a moment's silence.

"We shall miss you," I said, after careful thought. I waited in vain for
Dahlia to say something, and then added, "You must both come again next
year."

"Thank you very much."

"Not at all." I hate these awkward pauses. If my host or hostess doesn't
do anything to smooth them over, I always dash in. "It's been delightful
to have you," I went on. "Are you sure you can't stay till Wednesday?"

"I'm so sorry," said Dahlia, "but you took me by surprise. I had simply
no idea. Are you really going?"

"I'm afraid so."

"Are _you_ really staying?" said Archie to me. "Help!"

"What about Peter?" asked Myra. "Isn't he too young to be taken from his
godfathers?"

"We've been talking that over," said Simpson, "and I think it will be
all right. We've mapped his future out very carefully and we shall
unfold it to you when the coffee comes."

"Thomas is doing it with peach-stones," I said. "Have another, and make
him a sailor, Thomas," and I passed the plate.

"Sailor indeed," said Dahlia. "He's going to be a soldier."

"It's too late. Thomas has begun another one. Well, he'll have to
swallow the stone."

"A trifle hard on the Admiralty," said Archie. "It loses both Thomas and
Peter at one gulp. My country, what of thee?"

However, when Thomas had peeled the peach, I cleverly solved the
difficulty by taking it on to my plate while he was looking round for
the sugar.

"No, no sugar, thanks," I said, and waved it away.

With the coffee and cigars Simpson unfolded his scheme of education for
Peter.

"In the first place," he said, "it is important that even as a child he
should always be addressed in rational English and not in that
ridiculous baby-talk so common with young mothers."

"Oh dear," said Dahlia.

"My good Samuel," I broke in, "this comes well from you. Why, only
yesterday I heard you talking to him. I think you called him his
nunkey's ickle petsy wetsy lambkin."

"You misunderstood me," said Simpson quickly. "I was talking to _you_."

"Oh!" I said, rather taken aback. "Well--well, I'm not." I lit a cigar.
"And I shall be annoyed if you call me so again."

"At the age of four," Simpson went on, "he shall receive his first
lesson in cricket. Thomas will bowl to him----"

"I suppose that means that Thomas will have to be asked down here
again," said Archie. "Bother! Still, it's not for four years."

"Thomas will bowl to him, Archie will keep wicket, and I shall field."

"And where do I come in?" I asked.

"You come in after Peter. Unless you would rather have your lesson
first."

"That's the second time I've been sat on," I said to Myra, "Why is
Simpson so unkind to me to-night?"

"I suppose he's jealous because you're staying on another week."

"Probably; still, I don't like it. Could you turn your back on him, do
you think, to indicate our heavy displeasure?"

Myra moved her chair round and rested her elbow on the table.

"Go on, Samuel," said Dahlia. "You're lovely to-night. I suppose these
are Thomas's ideas as well as your own?"

"His signature is duly appended to them."

"I didn't read 'em all," said Thomas.

"That's very rash of you," said Archie. "You don't know what you
mightn't let yourself in for. You may have promised to pay the child
threepence a week pocket-money."

"No, there's nothing like that," said Simpson, to Archie's evident
disappointment. "Well, then, at the age of ten he goes to a preparatory
school."

"Has he learnt to read yet?" asked Dahlia. "I didn't hear anything about
it."

"He can read at six. I forgot to say that I am giving him a book which I
shall expect him to read aloud to Thomas and me on his sixth birthday."

"Thomas has got _another_ invitation," said Archie. "Dash it!"

"At fourteen he goes to a public school. The final decision as to which
public school he goes to will be left to you, but, of course, we shall
expect to be consulted on the subject."

"I'll write and tell you what we decide on," said Archie hastily;
"there'll be no need for you to come down and be told aloud."

"So far we have not arranged anything for him beyond the age of
fourteen. I now propose to read out a few general rules about his
upbringing which we must insist on being observed."

"The great question whether Simpson is kicked out of the house to-night,
or leaves unobtrusively by the milk train to-morrow morning, is about to
be settled," I murmured.

"'RULE ONE.--He must be brought up to be ambidextrous.' It will be very
useful," explained Simpson, "when he fields cover for England."

"Or when he wants to shake hands with two people at once," said Archie.

"'RULE TWO.--He must be taught from the first to speak French and German
fluently.' He'll thank you for that later on when he goes abroad."

"Or when he goes to the National Liberal Club," said Archie.

"'RULE THREE.--He should be surrounded as far as possible with beautiful
things.' Beautiful toys, beautiful wall-paper, beautiful scenery----"

"Beautiful godfathers?" I asked doubtfully.

Simpson ignored me and went on hurriedly with the rest of his rules.

"Well," said Archie, at the end of them, "they're all fairly futile, but
if you like to write them out neatly and frame them in gold I don't mind
hanging them up in the bathroom. Has anybody else got anything fatuous
to say before the ladies leave us?"

I filled my glass.

"I've really got a lot to say," I began, "because I consider that I've
been rather left out of things. If you come to think of it, I'm the only
person here who isn't anything important, all the rest of you being
godfathers, or godmothers, or mothers, or fathers, or something.
However, I won't dwell on that now. But there's one thing I must say,
and here it is." I raised my glass. "Peter Blair Mannering, and may he
grow up to be a better man than any of us!"

Upstairs, in happy innocence of the tremendous task in front of him, the
child slept. Poor baby!

We drank solemnly, but without much hope.



WINTER SPORT



WINTER SPORT


I.--AN INTRODUCTION

"I had better say at once," I announced as I turned over the wine list,
"that I have come out here to enjoy myself, and enjoy myself I shall.
Myra, what shall we drink?"

"You had three weeks' honeymoon in October," complained Thomas, "and
you're taking another three weeks now. Don't you ever do any work?"

Myra and I smiled at each other. Coming from Thomas, who spends his busy
day leaning up against the wireless installation at the Admiralty, the
remark amused us.

"We'll have champagne," said Myra, "because it's our opening night.
Archie, after you with the head-waiter."

It was due to Dahlia, really, that the Rabbits were hibernating at the
Hôtel des Angéliques, Switzerland (central-heated throughout); for she
had been ordered abroad, after an illness, to pull herself together a
little, and her doctor had agreed with Archie that she might as well do
it at a place where her husband could skate. On the point that Peter
should come and skate too, however, Archie was firm. While admitting
that he loved his infant son, he reminded Dahlia that she couldn't
possibly get through Calais and Pontarlier without declaring Peter, and
that the duty on this class of goods was remarkably heavy. Peter,
therefore, was left behind. He had an army of nurses to look after him,
and a stenographer to take down his more important remarks. With a
daily bulletin and a record of his table-talk promised her, Dahlia was
prepared to be content.

As for Myra and me, we might have hesitated to take another holiday so
soon, had it not been for a letter I received one morning at breakfast.

"Simpson is going." I said. "He has purchased a pair of skis."

"That does it," said Myra decisively. And, gurgling happily to herself,
she went out and bought a camera.

For Thomas I can find no excuses. At a moment of crisis he left his
country's Navy in jeopardy and, the Admiralty yacht being otherwise
engaged, booked a first return from Cook's. And so it was that at four
o'clock one day we arrived together at the Hôtel des Angéliques, and
some three hours later were settling down comfortably to dinner.

"I've had a busy time," said Archie. "I've hired a small bob, a luge and
a pair of skis for myself, a pair of snow-shoes and some skates for
Dahlia, a--a tricycle horse for Simpson, and I don't know what else. All
in French."

"What _is_ the French for a pair of snow-shoes?" asked Myra.

"I pointed to them in French. The undersized Robert I got at a bargain.
The man who hired it last week broke his leg before his fortnight was
up, and so there was a reduction of several centimes."

"I've been busy too," I said. "I've been watching Myra unpack, and
telling her where not to put my things."

"I packed jolly well--except for the accident."

"An accident to the boot-oil," I explained. "If I get down to my last
three shirts you will notice it."

We stopped eating for a moment in order to drink Dahlia's health. It was
Dahlia's health which had sent us there.

"Who's your friend, Samuel?" said Archie, as Simpson caught somebody's
eye at another table and nodded.

"A fellow I met in the lift," said Simpson casually.

"Samuel, beware of elevator acquaintances," said Myra in her most solemn
manner.

"He's rather a good chap. He was at Peterhouse with a friend of mine. He
was telling me quite a good story about a 'wine' my friend gave there
once, when----"

"Did you tell him about your 'ginger-beers' at Giggleswick?" I
interrupted.

"My dear old chap, he's rather a man to be in with. He knows the
President."

"I thought nobody knew the President of the Swiss Republic," said Myra.
"Like the Man in the Iron Mask."

"Not _that_ President, Myra. The President of the Angéliques Sports
Club."

"Never heard of it," we all said.

Simpson polished his glasses and prepared delightedly to give an
explanation.

"The Sports Club runs everything here," he began. "It gives you prizes
for fancy costumes and skating and so on."

"Introduce me to the President at once," cooed Myra, patting her hair
and smoothing down her frock.

"Even if you were the Treasurer's brother," said Archie, "you wouldn't
get a prize for skating, Simpson."

"You've never seen him do a rocking seventeen, sideways."

Simpson looked at us pityingly.

"There's a lot more in it than that," he said. "The President will
introduce you to anybody. One might see--er--somebody one rather liked
the look of, and--er---- Well, I mean in an hotel one wants to enter
into the hotel life and--er--meet other people."

"Who is she?" said Myra.

"Anybody you want to marry must be submitted to Myra for approval
first," I said. "We've told you so several times."

Simpson hastily disclaimed any intention of marrying anybody, and helped
himself lavishly to champagne.

It so happened that I was the first of our party to meet the President,
an honour which, perhaps, I hardly deserved. While Samuel was seeking
tortuous introductions to him through friends of Peterhouse friends of
his, the President and I fell into each other's arms in the most natural
way.

It occurred like this. There was a dance after dinner; and Myra, not
satisfied with my appearance, sent me upstairs to put some gloves on.
(It is one of the penalties of marriage that one is always being sent
upstairs.) With my hands properly shod I returned to the ball-room, and
stood for a moment in a corner while I looked about for her. Suddenly I
heard a voice at my side.

"Do you want a partner?" it said.

I turned, and knew that I was face to face with the President.

"Well----" I began.

"You are a new-comer, aren't you? I expect you don't know many people.
If there is anybody you would like to dance with----"

I looked round the room. It was too good a chance to miss.

"I wonder," I said. "That girl over there--in the pink frock--just
putting up her fan----"

He almost embraced me.

"I congratulate you on your taste," he said. "Excellent! Come with me."

He went over to the girl in the pink dress, I at his heels.

"Er--may I introduce?" he said. "Mr.--er--er--yes, this is
Miss--er--yes. H'r'm." Evidently he didn't know her name.

"Thank you," I said to him. He nodded and left us. I turned to the girl
in the pink frock. She was very pretty.

"May I have this dance?" I asked. "I've got my gloves on," I added.

She looked at me gravely, trying hard not to smile.

"You may," said Myra.


II.--THE OPENING RUN

With a great effort Simpson strapped his foot securely into a ski and
turned doubtfully to Thomas.

"Thomas," he said, "how do you know which foot is which?"

"It depends whose," said Thomas. He was busy tying a large rucksack of
lunch on to himself, and was in no mood for Samuel's ball-room chatter.

"You've got one ski on one foot," I said. "Then the other ski goes on
the foot you've got over. I should have thought you would have seen
that."

"But I may have put the first one on wrong."

"You ought to know, after all these years, that you are certain to have
done so," I said severely. Having had my own hired skis fixed on by the
_concierge_ I felt rather superior. Simpson, having bought his in
London, was regarded darkly by that gentleman, and left to his own
devices.

"Are we all ready?" asked Myra, who had kept us waiting for twenty
minutes. "Archie, what about Dahlia?"

"Dahlia will join us at lunch. She is expecting a letter from Peter by
the twelve o'clock post and refuses to start without it. Also she
doesn't think she is up to ski-ing just yet. Also she wants to have a
heart-to-heart talk with the girl in red, and break it to her that
Thomas is engaged to several people in London already."

"Come on," growled Thomas, and he led the way up the hill. We followed
him in single file.

It was a day of colour, straight from heaven. On either side the
dazzling whiteness of the snow; above, the deep blue of the sky; in
front of me the glorious apricot of Simpson's winter suiting. London
seemed a hundred years away. It was impossible to work up the least
interest in the Home Rule Bill, the Billiard Tournament, or the state of
St. Paul's Cathedral.

"I feel extremely picturesque," said Archie. "If only we had a wolf or
two after us, the illusion would be complete. The Boy Trappers, or
Half-Hours among the Rocky Mountains."

"It is a pleasant thought, Archie," I said, "that in any wolf trouble
the bachelors of the party would have to sacrifice themselves for us.
Myra dear, the loss of Samuel in such circumstances would draw us very
close together. There might be a loss of Thomas too, perhaps--for if
there was not enough of Simpson to go round, if there was a hungry wolf
left over, would Thomas hesitate?"

"No," said Thomas, "I should run like a hare."

Simpson said nothing. His face I could not see; but his back looked
exactly like the back of a man who was trying to look as if he had been
brought up on skis from a baby and was now taking a small party of
enthusiastic novices out for their first lesson.

"What an awful shock it would be," I said, "if we found that Samuel
really did know something about it after all; and, while we were
tumbling about anyhow, he sailed gracefully down the steepest slopes. I
should go straight back to Cricklewood."

"My dear chap, I've read a _lot_ about it."

"Then we're quite safe."

"With all his faults," said Archie, "and they are many--Samuel is a
gentleman. He would never take an unfair advantage of us. Hallo, here we
are!"

We left the road and made our way across the snow to a little wooden hut
which Archie had noticed the day before. Here we were to meet Dahlia
for lunch; and here, accordingly, we left the rucksack and such garments
as the heat of the sun suggested. Then, at the top of a long snow-slope,
steep at first, more gentle later, we stood and wondered.

"Who's going first?" said Archie.

"What do you do?" asked Myra.

"You don't. It does it for you."

"But how do you stop?"

"Don't bother about that, dear," I said. "That will be arranged for you
all right. Take two steps to the brink of the hill and pick yourself up
at the bottom. Now then, Simpson! Be a man. The lady waits, Samuel.
The---- Hallo! Hi! Help!" I cried, as I began to move off slowly. It was
too late to do anything about it. "Good-bye," I called. And then things
moved more quickly....

Very quickly....

Suddenly there came a moment when I realized that I wasn't keeping up
with my feet....

I shouted to my skis to stop. It was no good. They went on....

I decided to stop without them....

The ensuing second went by too swiftly for me to understand rightly what
happened. I fancy that, rising from my sitting position and travelling
easily on my head, I caught my skis up again and passed them....

Then it was their turn. They overtook me....

But I was not to be beaten. Once more I obtained the lead. This time I
took the inside berth, and kept it....

There seemed to be a lot more snow than I really wanted.... I struggled
bravely with it....

And then the earthquake ceased, and suddenly I was in the outer air. My
first ski-run, the most glorious run of modern times, was over.

"Ripping!" I shouted up the hill to them. "But there's rather a nasty
bump at the bottom," I added kindly, as I set myself to the impossible
business of getting up....

"Jove," said Archie, coming to rest a few yards off, "that's splendid!"
He had fallen in a less striking way than myself, and he got to his feet
without difficulty. "Why do you pose like that?" he asked, as he picked
up his stick.

"I'm a fixture," I announced. "Myra," I said, as she turned a somersault
and arrived beaming at my side, "I'm here for some time; you'll have to
come out every morning with crumbs for me. In the afternoon you can
bring a cheering book and read aloud to your husband. Sometimes I shall
dictate little things to you. They will not be my best little things;
for this position, with my feet so much higher than my head, is not the
one in which inspiration comes to me most readily. The flow of blood to
the brain impairs reflection. But no matter."

"Are you really stuck?" asked Myra in some anxiety. "I should hate to
have a husband who lived by himself in the snow," she said thoughtfully.

"Let us look on the bright side," said Archie. "The snow will have
melted by April, and he will then be able to return to you. Hallo,
here's Thomas! Thomas will probably have some clever idea for restoring
the family credit."

Thomas got up in a businesslike manner and climbed slowly back to us.

"Thomas," I said, "you see the position. Indeed," I added, "it is
obvious. None of the people round me seems inclined--or, it may be,
able--to help. There is a feeling that if Myra lives in the hotel alone
while I remain here--possibly till April--people will talk. You know how
ready they are. There is also the fact that I have only hired the skis
for three weeks. Also--a minor point, but one that touches me
rather--that I shall want my hair cut long before March is out. Thomas,
imagine me to be a torpedo-destroyer on the Maplin Sands, and tell me
what on earth to do."

"Take your skis off."

"Oh, brilliant!" said Myra.

"Take my skis off?" I cried. "Never! Is it not my duty to be the last to
leave my skis? Can I abandon---- Hallo! is that Dahlia on the sky-line?
Hooray, lunch! Archie, take my skis off, there's a good fellow. We
mustn't keep Dahlia waiting."


III.--A TYPICAL MORNING

"You take lunch out to-day--no?" said Josef, the head-waiter, in his
invariable formula.

Myra and I were alone at breakfast, the first down. I was just putting
some honey on to my seventh roll, and was not really in the mood for
light conversation with Josef about lunch. By the way, I must say I
prefer the good old English breakfast. With eggs and bacon and porridge
you do know when you want to stop; with rolls and honey you hardly
notice what you are doing, and there seems no reason why you should not
go on for ever. Indeed, once ... but you would never believe me.

"We take lunch out to-day, _yes_, Josef. Lunch for--let me see----"

"Six?" suggested Myra.

"What are we all going to do? Archie said something about skating. I'm
off that."

"But whatever we do we must lunch, and it's much nicer outdoors. Six,
Josef."

Josef nodded and retired. I took my eighth roll.

"Do let's get off quickly to-day," I said. "There's always so much chat
in the morning before we start."

"I've just got one swift letter to write," said Myra, as she got up,
"and then I shall be pawing the ground."

Half an hour later I was in the lounge, booted, capped, gloved, and
putteed--the complete St. Bernard. The lounge seemed to be entirely full
of hot air and entirely empty of anybody I knew. I asked for letters;
and, getting none, went out and looked at the thermometer. To my
surprise I discovered that there were thirty-seven degrees of frost. A
little alarmed, I tapped the thing impatiently. "Come, come," I said,
"this is not the time for persiflage." However, it insisted on remaining
at five degrees below zero. What I should have done about it I cannot
say, but at that moment I remembered that it was a Centigrade
thermometer with the freezing point in the wrong place. Slightly
disappointed that there were only five degrees of frost (Centigrade) I
returned to the lounge.

"Here you are at last," said Archie impatiently. "What are we all going
to do?"

"Where's Dahlia?" asked Myra. "Let's wait till she comes and then we can
all talk at once."

"Here she is. Dahlia, for Heaven's sake come and tell us the
arrangements for the day. Start with the idea fixed in your mind that
Myra and I have ordered lunch for six."

Dahlia shepherded us to a quiet corner of the lounge and we all sat
down.

"By the way," said Simpson, "are there any letters for me?"

"No; it's your turn to write," said Archie.

"But, my dear chap, there _must_ be one, because----"

"But you never acknowledged the bed-socks," I pointed out. "She can't
write till you---- I mean, it was rather forward of her to send them at
all; and if you haven't even----"

"Well," said Dahlia, "what does anybody want to do?"

Thomas was the first to answer the question. A girl in red came in from
the breakfast-room and sat down near us. She looked up in our direction
and met Thomas's eye.

"Good morning," said Thomas, with a smile, and he left us and moved
across to her.

"That's the girl he danced with all last night," whispered Myra. "I
can't think what's come over him. Is this our reserved Thomas--Thomas
the taciturn, whom we know and love so well? I don't like the way she
does her hair."

"She's a Miss Aylwyn," said Simpson in a loud voice. "I had one dance
with her myself."

"The world," said Archie, "is full of people with whom Samuel has had
one dance."

"Well, that washes Thomas out, anyway. He'll spend the day teaching her
something. What are the rest of us going to do?"

There was a moment's silence.

"Oh, Archie," said Dahlia, "did you get those nails put in my boots?"

I looked at Myra ... and sighed.

"Sorry, dear," he said. "I'll take them down now. The man will do them
in twenty minutes." He walked over to the lift at the same moment that
Thomas returned to us.

"I say," began Thomas, a little awkwardly, "if you're arranging what to
do, don't bother about me. I rather thought of--er--taking it quietly
this morning. I think I overdid it a bit yesterday."

"We warned you at the time about the fourth hard-boiled egg," I said.

"I meant the ski-ing. We thought of--I thought of having lunch in the
hotel, but, of course, you can have my rucksack to carry yours in.
Er--I'll go and put it in for you."

He disappeared rather sheepishly in the direction of the dining-room.

"Now, Samuel," said Myra gently.

"Now what, Myra?"

"It's your turn. If you have a headache, tell us her name."

"My dear Myra, I want to ski to-day. Where shall we go? Let's go to the
old slopes and practise the Christiania Turn."

"What you want to practise is the ordinary Hampstead Straight," I said.
"A medium performance of yours yesterday, Samuel."

"But, my dear old chap," he said eagerly, "I told you it was the fault
of my skis. They would stick to the snow. Oh, I say," he added, "that
reminds me. I must go and buy some wax for them."

He dashed off. I looked at Myra ... and sighed.

"The nail-man won't be long," said Archie to Dahlia, on his return. "I'm
to call for them in a quarter of an hour."

"Can't you wear some other boots, Dahlia, or your bedroom slippers or
something? It's half-past eleven. We really must get off soon."

"But we haven't settled where we're going yet."

"Then for 'eving's sake let's do it. Myra and I thought we might go up
above the wood at the back and explore. We can always ski down. It might
be rather exciting."

"Remember," said Dahlia, "I'm not so expert as you are."

"Of course," said Myra, "we're the Oberland mixed champions."

"You know," said Archie, "I was talking to the man who's doing Dahlia's
boots and he said the snow would be bad for ski-ing to-day."

"If he talked in French, no doubt you misunderstood him," I said, a
little annoyed. "He was probably asking you to buy a pair of skates."

"Talking about that," said Archie, "why shouldn't we skate this morning,
and have lunch at the hotel, and then get the bob out this afternoon?"

"Here you are," said Thomas, coming up with a heavy rucksack. "Lunch for
six, so you'll have an extra one."

"I'd forgotten about lunch," said Archie. "Look here, just talk it over
with Dahlia while I go and see about my skates. I don't suppose Josef
will mind if we do stay in to lunch after all. What about Simpson?"

I looked at Myra ... and sighed.

"What about him?" I said.

       .       .       .       .       .

Half an hour later two exhausted people--one of them with lunch for six
on his back--began the ascent to the wood, trailing their skis behind
them.

"Another moment," said Myra, "and I should have screamed."


IV.--THOMAS, AND A TURN

Myra finished her orange, dried her hands daintily on my handkerchief,
and spoke her mind.

"This is the third time," she said, "that Thomas has given us the slip.
If he gets engaged to that girl in red I shall cry."

"There are," I said, idly throwing a crust at Simpson and missing him,
"engagements and Swiss engagements--just as there are measles and German
measles. It is well known that Swiss engagements don't count."

"_We_ got engaged in Kent. A bit of luck."

"I have nothing against Miss Aylwyn----" I went on.

"Except the way she does her hair."

"--but she doesn't strike me as being the essential Rabbit. We cannot
admit her to the--er--fold."

"The covey," suggested Myra.

"The warren. Anyhow, she---- Simpson, for goodness' sake stop fooling
about with your bearded friend and tell us what you think of it all."

We were finishing lunch in the lee of a little chalet, high above the
hotel, and Simpson had picked up an acquaintance with a goat, which he
was apparently trying to conciliate with a piece of chocolate. The goat,
however, seemed to want a piece of Simpson.

"My dear old chap, he won't go away. Here--shoo! shoo! I wish I knew
what his name was."

"Ernest," said Myra.

"I can't think why you ever got into such a hirsute set, Simpson. He
probably wants your compass. Give it to him and let him withdraw."

Ernest, having decided that Simpson was not worth knowing, withdrew, and
we resumed our conversation.

"When we elderly married folk have retired," I went on, "and you gay
young bachelors sit up over a last cigar to discuss your conquests, has
not Thomas unbent to you, Samuel, and told you of his hopes and fears?"

"He told me last night he was afraid he was going bald, and he said he
hoped he wasn't."

"That's a bad sign," said Myra. "What did you say?"

"I said I thought he was."

With some difficulty I got up from my seat in the snow and buckled on my
skis.

"Come on, let's forget Thomas for a bit. Samuel is now going to show us
the Christiania Turn."

Simpson, all eagerness, began to prepare himself.

"I said I would, didn't I? I was doing it quite well yesterday. This is
a perfect little slope for it. You understand the theory of it, don't
you?"

"We hope to after the exhibition."

"Well, the great thing is to lean the opposite way to the way you think
you ought to lean. That's what's so difficult."

"You understand, Myra? Samuel will lean the opposite way to what he
thinks he ought to lean. Tell Ernest."

"But suppose you think you ought to lean the _proper_ way, the way they
do in Christiania," said Myra, "and you lean the opposite way, then what
happens?"

"That is what Samuel will probably show us," I said.

Simpson was now ready.

"I am going to turn to the left," he said. "Watch carefully. Of course,
I may not bring it off the first time."

"I can't help thinking you will," said Myra.

"It depends what you call bringing it off," I said. "We have every hope
of--I mean we don't think our money will be wasted. Have you got the
opera-glasses and the peppermints and the programme, darling? Then you
may begin, Samuel."

Simpson started down the slope a little unsteadily. For one moment I
feared that there might be an accident before the real accident, but he
recovered himself nobly and sped to the bottom. Then a cloud of snow
shot up, and for quite a long time there was no Simpson.

"I knew he wouldn't disappoint us," gurgled Myra.

We slid down to him and helped him up.

"You see the idea," he said. "I'm afraid I spoilt it a little at that
end, but----"

"My dear Samuel, you improved it out of all knowledge."

"But that actually _is_ the Christiania Turn."

"Oh, _why_ don't we live in Christiania?" exclaimed Myra to me.
"Couldn't we possibly afford it?"

"It must be a happy town," I agreed. "How the old streets must ring and
ring again with jovial laughter."

"Shall I do it once more?"

"_Can_ you?" said Myra, clasping her hands eagerly.

"Wait here," said Samuel, "and I'll do it quite close to you."

Myra unstrapped her camera.

Half an hour later, with several excellent films of the scene of the
catastrophe, we started for home. It was more than a little steep, but
the run down was accomplished without any serious trouble. Simpson went
first to discover any hidden ditches (and to his credit be it said that
he invariably discovered them); Myra, in the position of safety in the
middle, profited by Samuel's frequent object-lessons; while I, at the
back, was ready to help Myra up, if need arose, or to repel any
avalanche which descended on us from above. On the level snow at the
bottom we became more companionable.

"We still haven't settled the great Thomas question," said Myra. "What
about to-morrow?"

"Why bother about to-morrow? _Carpe diem._ Latin."

"But the great tailing expedition is for to-morrow. The horses are
ordered; everything is prepared. Only one thing remains to settle. Shall
we have with us a grumpy but Aylwynless Thomas, or shall we let him
bring her and spoil the party?"

"She can't spoil the party. I'm here to enjoy myself, and all Thomas's
_fiancées_ can't stop me. Let's have Thomas happy, anyway."

"She's really quite a nice girl," said Simpson. "I danced with her
once."

"Right-o, then. I'll tell Dahlia to invite her."

We hurried on to the hotel; but as we passed the rink the President
stopped me for a chat. He wanted me to recite at a concert that evening.
Basely deserted by Myra and Samuel, I told him that I did not recite;
and I took the opportunity of adding that personally I didn't think
anybody else ought to. I had just persuaded him to my point of view when
I noticed Thomas cutting remarkable figures on the ice. He picked
himself up and skated to the side.

"Hallo!" he said. "Had a good day?"

"Splendid. What have you been doing?"

"Oh--skating."

"I say, about this tailing expedition to-morrow----"

"Er--yes, I was just going to talk about that."

"Well, it's all right. Myra is getting Dahlia to ask her to come with
us."

"Good!" said Thomas, brightening up.

"You see, we shall only be seven, even with Miss Aylwyn, and----"

"Miss _Aylwyn_?" said Thomas in a hollow voice.

"Yes, isn't that the name of your friend in red?"

"Oh, _that_ one. Oh, but that's quite--I mean," he went on hurriedly,
"Miss Aylwyn is probably booked up for to-morrow. It's Miss Cardew who
is so keen on tailing. That girl in green, you know."

For a moment I stared at him blankly. Then I left him and dashed after
Myra.


V.--A TAILING PARTY

The procession prepared to start in the following order:--

(1) A brace of sinister-looking horses.

(2) Gaspard, the Last of the Bandits; or "Why cause a lot of talk by
pushing your rich uncle over the cliff, when you can have him stabbed
quietly for one franc fifty?" (If ever I were in any vendetta business I
should pick Gaspard first.)

(3) A sleigh full of lunch.

(4) A few well-known ladies and gentlemen (being the cream of the Hôtel
des Angéliques) on luges; namely, reading from left to right (which is
really the best method--unless you are translating Hebrew), Simpson,
Archie, Dahlia, Myra, me, Miss Cardew, and Thomas.

While Gaspard was putting the finishing knots to the luges, I addressed
a few remarks to Miss Cardew, fearing that she might be feeling a little
lonely amongst us. I said that it was a lovely day, and did she think
the snow would hold off till evening? Also had she ever done this sort
of thing before? I forget what her answers were.

Thomas meanwhile was exchanging badinage on the hotel steps with Miss
Aylwyn. There must be something peculiar in the Swiss air, for in
England Thomas is quite a respectable man ... and a godfather.

"I suppose we _have_ asked the right one," said Myra doubtfully.

"His young affections are divided. There was a third girl in pink with
whom he breakfasted a lot this morning. It is the old tradition of the
sea, you know. A sailor--I mean an Admiralty civilian has a wife at
every wireless station."

"Take your seats, please," said Archie. "The horses are sick of
waiting."

We sat down. Archie took Dahlia's feet on his lap, Myra took mine, Miss
Cardew took Thomas's. Simpson, alone in front, nursed a guide-book.

"_En avant!_" cried Simpson in his best French-taught-in-twelve-lessons
accent.

Gaspard muttered an oath to his animals. They pulled bravely. The rope
snapped--and they trotted gaily down the hill with Gaspard.

We hurried after them with the luges....

"It's a good joke," said Archie, after this had happened three times,
"but, personally, I weary of it. Miss Cardew, I'm afraid we've brought
you out under false pretences. Thomas didn't explain the thing to you
adequately. He gave you to understand that there was more in it than
this."

Gaspard, who seemed full of rope, produced a fourth piece and tied a
knot that made even Simpson envious.

"Now, Samuel," I begged, "do keep the line taut this time. Why do you
suppose we put your apricot suit right in the front? Is it, do you
suppose, for the sunset effects at eleven o'clock in the morning, or is
it that you may look after the rope properly?"

"I'm awfully sorry, Miss Cardew," said Simpson, feeling that somebody
ought to apologize for something and knowing that Gaspard wouldn't, "but
I expect it will be all right now."

We settled down again. Once more Gaspard cursed his horses, and once
more they started off bravely. And this time we went with them.

"The idea all along," I explained to Miss Cardew.

"I rather suspected it," she said. Apparently she has a suspicious mind.

After the little descent at the start, we went uphill slowly for a
couple of miles, and then more rapidly over the level. We had driven
over the same road in a sleigh, coming from the station, and had been
bitterly cold and extremely bored. Why our present position should be so
much more enjoyable I didn't quite see.

"It's the expectation of an accident," said Archie. "At any moment
somebody may fall off. Good."

"My dear old chap," said Simpson, turning round to take part in the
conversation, "why anybody _should_ fall off----"

We went suddenly round a corner, and quietly and without any fuss
whatever Simpson left his luge and rolled on to the track. Luckily any
possibility of a further accident was at once avoided. There was no
panic at all. Archie kicked the body temporarily out of the way; after
which Dahlia leant over and pushed it thoughtfully to the side of the
road. Myra warded it off with a leg as she neared it; with both hands I
helped it into the deep snow from which it had shown a tendency to
emerge; Miss Cardew put a foot out at it for safety; and Thomas patted
it gently on the head as the end of the "tail" went past....

As soon as we had recovered our powers of speech--all except Miss
Cardew, who was in hysterics--we called upon Gaspard to stop. He
indicated with the back of his neck that it would be dangerous to stop
just then; and it was not until we were at the bottom of the hill,
nearly a mile from the place where Simpson left us, that the procession
halted, and gave itself up again to laughter.

"I hope he is not hurt," said Dahlia, wiping the tears from her eyes.

"He wouldn't spoil a good joke like that by getting hurt," said Myra
confidently. "He's much too much of a sportsman."

"Why did he do it?" said Thomas.

"He suddenly remembered he hadn't packed his safety-razor. He's half-way
back to the hotel by now."

Miss Cardew remained in hysterics.

Ten minutes later a brilliant sunset was observed approaching from the
north. A little later it was seen to be a large dish of apricots and
cream.

"He draws near," said Archie. "Now then, let's be stern with him."

At twenty yards' range Simpson began to talk. His trot had heated him
slightly.

"I say," he said excitedly. "You----"

Myra shook her head at him.

"Not done, Samuel," she said reproachfully.

"Not what, Myra? What not----"

"You oughtn't to leave us like that without telling us."

"After all," said Archie, "we are all one party, and we are supposed to
keep together. If you prefer to go about by yourself, that's all right;
but if we go to the trouble of arranging something for the whole
party----"

"You might have caused a very nasty accident," I pointed out. "If you
were in a hurry, you had only to say a word to Gaspard and he would have
stopped for you to alight. Now I begin to understand why you kept
cutting the rope at the start."

"You have sent Miss Cardew into hysterics by your conduct," said Dahlia.

Miss Cardew gave another peal. Simpson looked at her in dismay.

"I say, Miss Cardew, I'm most awfully sorry. I really didn't---- I say,
Dahlia," he went on confidentially, "oughtn't we to do something about
this? Rub her feet with snow or--I mean, I know there's _something_ you
do when people have hysterics. It's rather serious if they go on. Don't
you burn feathers under their nose?" He began to feel in his pockets. "I
wonder if Gaspard's got a feather?"

With a great effort Miss Cardew pulled herself together. "It's all
right, thank you," she said in a stifled voice.

"Then let's get on," said Archie.

We resumed our seats once more. Archie took Dahlia's feet on his lap.
Myra took mine. Miss Cardew took Thomas's. Simpson clung tight to his
luge with both hands.

"Right!" cried Archie.

Gaspard swore at his horses. They pulled bravely. The rope snapped--and
they trotted gaily up the hill with Gaspard.

We hurried after them with the luges....


VI.--A HAPPY ENDING

"For our last night they might at least have had a dance," said Myra,
"even if there was no public presentation."

"As we had hoped," I admitted.

"What is a gymkhana, anyway?" asked Thomas.

"A few little competitions," said Archie. "One must cater for the
chaperons sometimes. You are all entered for the Hat-making and the
Feather-blowing--Dahlia thought it would amuse you."

"At Cambridge," I said reminiscently, "I once blew the feather 119 feet
7 inches. Unfortunately I stepped outside the circle. My official record
is 2 feet."

"Did you ever trim a hat at Cambridge?" asked Myra. "Because you've got
to do one for me to-night."

I had not expected this. My view of the competition had been that _I_
should have to provide the face and that _she_ would have to invent some
suitable frame for it.

"I'm full of ideas," I lied.

Nine o'clock found a small row of us prepared to blow the feather. The
presidential instructions were that we had to race our feather across a
chalk-line at the end of the room, anybody touching his feather to be
disqualified.

"In the air or on the floor?" asked Simpson earnestly.

"Just as you like," said the President kindly, and came round with the
bag.

I selected Percy with care--a dear little feather about half an inch
long and of a delicate whity-brown colour. I should have known him again
anywhere.

"Go!" said the President. I was rather excited, with the result that my
first blow was much too powerful for Percy. He shot up to the ceiling
and, in spite of all I could do, seemed inclined to stay there.
Anxiously I waited below with my mouth open; he came slowly down at
last; and in my eagerness I played my second just a shade too soon. It
missed him. My third (when I was ready for it) went harmlessly over his
head. A frantic fourth and fifth helped him downwards ... and in another
moment my beautiful Percy was on the floor. I dropped on my knees and
played my sixth vigorously. He swirled to the left; I was after him like
a shot ... and crashed into Thomas. We rolled over in a heap.

"Sorry!" we apologized as we got back on to our hands and knees.

Thomas went on blowing.

"Where's my feather?" I said.

Thomas was now two yards ahead, blowing like anything. A terrible
suspicion darted through my mind.

"Thomas," I said, "you've got my feather."

He made no answer. I scrambled after him.

"That's Percy," I said. "I should know him anywhere. You're blowing
Percy. It's very bad form to blow another man's feather. If it got
about, you would be cut by the county. Give me back my feather, Thomas."

"How do you know it's your feather?" he said truculently. "Feathers are
just alike."

"How do I know?" I asked in amazement. "A feather that I've brought up
from the egg? Of course I know Percy." I leant down to him.
"_P--percy_," I whispered. He darted forward a good six inches. "You
see," I said, "he knows his name."

"As a matter of fact," said Thomas, "his name's _P--paul_. Look, I'll
show you."

"You needn't bother, Thomas," I said hastily. "This is mere trifling. I
_know_ that's my feather. I remember his profile distinctly."

"Then where's mine?"

"How do I know? You may have swallowed it. Go away and leave Percy and
me to ourselves. You're only spoiling the knees of your trousers by
staying here."

"Paul and I----" began Thomas.

He was interrupted by a burst of applause. Dahlia had cajoled her
feather over the line first. Thomas rose and brushed himself. "You can
'ave him," he said.

"There!" I said, as I picked Percy up and placed him reverently in my
waistcoat pocket. "That shows that he was mine. If he had been your own
little Paul you would have loved him even in defeat. Oh, musical chairs
now? Right-o." And at the President's touch I retired from the arena.

We had not entered for musical chairs. Personally I should have liked
to, but it was felt that, if none of us did, then it would be more easy
to stop Simpson doing so. For at musical chairs Simpson is--I am afraid
there is only one word for it; it is a word that I hesitate to use, but
the truth must prevail--Simpson is _rough_. He _lets himself go_. He
plays _all he knows_. Whenever I take Simpson out anywhere I always
whisper to my hostess, "_Not_ musical chairs."

The last event of the evening was the hat-making competition. Each man
of us was provided with five large sheets of coloured crinkly paper, a
packet of pins, a pair of scissors, and a lady opposite to him.

"Have you any plans at all?" asked Myra.

"Heaps. Tell me, what sort of hat would you like? Something for the
Park?" I doubled up a piece of blue paper and looked at it. "You know,
if this is a success, Myra, I shall often make your hats for you."

Five minutes later I had what I believe is called a "foundation."
Anyhow, it was something for Myra to put her head into.

"Our very latest Bond Street model," said Myra. "Only fifteen
guineas--or three-and-ninepence if you buy it at our other establishment
in Battersea."

"Now then, I can get going," I said, and I began to cut out a white
feather. "Yes, your ladyship, this is from the genuine bird on our own
ostrich farm in the Fulham Road. Plucked while the ingenuous biped had
its head in the sand. I shall put that round the brim," and I pinned it
round.

"What about a few roses?" said Myra, fingering the red paper.

"The roses are going there on the right." I pinned them on. "And a
humming-bird and some violets next to them.... I say, I've got a lot of
paper over. What about a nice piece of cabbage ... there ... and a bunch
of asparagus ... and some tomatoes and a seagull's wing on the left. The
back still looks rather bare--let's have some poppies."

"There's only three minutes more," said Myra, "and you haven't used all
the paper yet."

"I've got about one William Allan Richardson and a couple of canaries
over," I said, after examining my stock. "Let's put it inside as lining.
There, Myra, my dear, I'm proud of you. I always say that in a nice
quiet hat nobody looks prettier than you."

"Time!" said the President.

Anxious matrons prowled round us.

"We don't know any of the judges," I whispered. "This isn't fair."

The matrons conferred with the President. He cleared his throat. "The
first prize," he said, "goes to----"

But I had swooned.

       .       .       .       .       .

"Well," said Archie, "the Rabbits return to England with two cups won on
the snowfields of Switzerland."

"Nobody need know," said Myra, "_which_ winter-sport they were won at."

"Unless I have 'Ski-ing, First Prize' engraved on mine," I said, "as I
had rather intended."

"Then I shall have 'Figure-Skating' on mine," said Dahlia.

"Two cups," reflected Archie, "and Thomas engaged to three charming
girls. I think it has been worth it, you know."



A BAKER'S DOZEN



A TRAGEDY IN LITTLE


The great question of the day is, What will become of Sidney? Whenever I
think of him now, the unbidden tear wells into my eye ... and wells down
my cheek ... and wells on to my collar. My friends think I have a cold,
and offer me lozenges; but it is Sidney who makes me weep. I fear that I
am about to lose him.

He came into my life in the following way.

Some months ago I wanted to buy some silk stockings; not for myself, for
I seldom wear them, but for a sister. The idea came suddenly to me that
any woman with a brother and a birthday would simply love the one to
give her silk stockings for the other. But, of course, they would have
to be the right silk stockings--the fashionable shape for the year, the
correct assortment of clocks, and so forth. Then as to material--could I
be sure I was getting silk, and not silkette or something inferior? How
maddening if, seeing that I was an unprotected man, they palmed off
Jaeger on me! Clearly this was a case for outside assistance. So I
called in Celia.

"This," I said to her, "is practically the only subject on which I am
not an expert. At the same time I have a distinct feeling for silk
stockings. If you can hurry me past all the embarrassing counters
safely, and arrange for the lady behind the right one to show me the
right line in silken hose, I will undertake to pick out half a dozen
pairs that would melt any sister's heart."

Well, the affair went off perfectly. Celia took the matter into her own
hands and behaved just as if I were buying them for _her_. The
shop-assistant also behaved as if I were. Fortunately I kept my head
when it came to giving the name and address. "No," I said firmly to
Celia. "Not yours; my sister's." And I dragged her away to tea.

Now whether it was because Celia had particularly enjoyed her afternoon;
or because she felt that a man who was as ignorant as I about silk
stockings must lead a very lonely life; or because I had mentioned
casually and erroneously that it was my own birthday that week, I cannot
say; but on the following morning I received a little box, with a note
on the outside which said in her handwriting, "Something for you. Be
kind to him." And I opened it and found Sidney.

He was a Japanese dwarf-tree--the merest boy. At eighty or ninety,
according to the photographs, he would be a stalwart fellow with thick
bark on his trunk, and fir-cones or acorns (or whatever was his
speciality) hanging all over him. Just at present he was barely ten. I
had only eighty years to wait before he reached his prime.

Naturally I decided to lavish all my care upon his upbringing. I would
water him after breakfast every morning, and (when I remembered it) at
night. If there was any top-dressing he particularly fancied, he should
have it. If he had any dead leaves to snip off, I would snip them.

It was at this moment that I discovered something else in the box--a
card of instructions. I have not got it now, and I have forgotten the
actual wording, but the spirit of it was this:

    HINTS ON THE PROPER REARING AND BRINGING-UP OF A JAPANESE DWARF-TREE

    The life of this tree is a precarious one, and if it is to be
    successfully brought to manhood the following rules must be
    carefully observed--

    I. This tree requires, above all else, fresh air and exercise.

    II. Whenever the sun is shining, the tree should be placed outside,
    in a position where it can absorb the rays.

    III. Whenever the rain is raining, it should be placed outside, in a
    position where it can absorb the wet.

    IV. It should be taken out for a trot at least once every day.

    V. It simply loathes artificial light and artificial heat. If you
    keep it in your drawing-room, see that it is situated as far as
    possible from the chandelier and the gas-stove.

    VI. It also detests noise. Do not place it on the top of the
    pianola.

    VII. It loves moonlight. Leave it outside when you go to bed, in
    case the moon should come out.

    VIII. On the other hand, it hates lightning. Cover it up with the
    canary's cloth when the lightning begins.

    IX. If it shows signs of drooping, a course of massage will
    generally bring it round.

    X. But in no case offer it buns.

Well, I read these instructions carefully, and saw at once that I should
have to hand over the business of rearing Sidney to another. I have my
living to earn the same as anybody else, and I should never get any work
done at all if I had constantly to be rushing home from the office on
the plea that it was time for Master Sidney's sun-bath.

So I called up my housekeeper, and placed the matter before her.

I said: "Let me introduce you to Sidney. He is very dear to me; dearer
to me than a--a brother. No, on second thoughts my brother is
perhaps--well, anyhow, Sidney is very dear to me. I will show my trust
in you by asking you to tend him for me. Here are a few notes about his
health. Frankly he is delicate. But the doctors have hope. With care,
they think, he may live to be a hundred-and-fifty. His future is in your
hands."

My housekeeper thanked me for this mark of esteem and took the card of
instructions away with her. I asked her for it a week afterwards and it
appeared that, having committed the rules to memory, she had lost it.
But that she follows the instructions I have no doubt; and certainly she
and Sidney understand each other's ways exactly. Automatically she gives
him his bath, his massage, his run in the park. When it rains or snows
or shines, she knows exactly what to do with Sidney.

But as a consequence I see little of him. I suppose it must always be
so; we parents must make these sacrifices for our children. Think of a
mother only seeing her eldest-born for fifteen weeks a year through the
long period of his schooling; and think of me, doomed to catch only the
most casual glimpses of Sidney until he is ninety.

For, you know, I might almost say that I never see him at all now. As I
go to my work I may, if I am lucky, get a fleeting glance of him on the
tiles, where he sits drinking in the rain or sun. In the evening, when I
return, he is either out in the moonlight or, if indoors, shunning the
artificial light with the cloth over his head. Indeed, the only times
when I really see him to talk to are when Celia comes to tea with me.
Then my housekeeper hurries him in from his walk or his sun-bath, and
puts him, brushed and manicured, on my desk; and Celia and I whisper
fond nothings to him. I believe Celia thinks he lives there!

       .       .       .       .       .

As I began by saying, I weep for Sidney's approaching end. For my
housekeeper leaves this week. A new one takes her place. How will she
treat my poor Sidney? The old card of instructions is lost; what can I
give her in its place? The legend that Sidney's is a precious life--that
he must have his morning bath, his run, his glass of hot water after
meals! She would laugh at it. Besides, she may not be at all the sort of
foster-mother for a Japanese dwarf-tree....

It will break my heart if Sidney dies now, for I had so looked forward
to celebrating his ninetieth birthday with him. It will hurt Celia too.
But _her_ grief, of course, will be an inferior affair. In fact, a
couple of pairs of silk stockings will help her to forget him
altogether.



THE FINANCIER. I


This is how I became a West African mining magnate with a stake in the
Empire.

During February I grew suddenly tired of waiting for the summer to
begin. London in the summer is a pleasant place, and chiefly so because
you can keep on buying evening papers to see what Kent is doing. In
February life has no such excitements to offer. So I wrote to my
solicitor about it.

"I want you" (I wrote) "to buy me fifty rubber shares, so that I can
watch them go up and down." And I added "Brokerage 1/8" to show that I
knew what I was talking about.

He replied tersely as follows:--

"Don't be a fool. If you have any money to invest I can get you a safe
mortgage at five per cent. Let me know."

It's a funny thing how the minds of solicitors run upon mortgages. If
they would only stop to think for a moment they would see that you
couldn't possibly watch a safe mortgage go up and down. I left my
solicitor alone and consulted Henry on the subject. In the intervals
between golf and golf Henry dabbles in finance.

"You don't want anything gilt-edged, I gather?" he said. It's wonderful
how they talk.

"I want it to go up and down," I explained patiently, and I indicated
the required movement with my umbrella.

"What about a little flutter in oil?" he went on, just like a financier
in a novel.

"I'll have a little flutter in raspberry jam if you like. Anything as
long as I can rush every night for the last edition of the evening
papers and say now and then, 'Good heavens, I'm ruined.'"

"Then you'd better try a gold-mine," said Henry bitterly, in the voice
of one who had tried. "Take your choice," and he threw the paper over to
me.

"I don't want a whole mine--only a vein or two. Yes, this is very
interesting," I went on, as I got among the West Africans. "The scoring
seems to be pretty low; I suppose it must have been a wet wicket. 'H.E.
Reef, 1-3/4, 2'--he did a little better in the second innings. '1/2,
Boffin River, 5/16, 7/16'--they followed on, you see, but they saved the
innings defeat. By the way, which figure do I really keep my eye on when
I want to watch them go up and down?"

"Both. One eye on each. And don't talk about Boffin River to me."

"Is it like that, Henry? I am sorry. I suppose it's too late now to
offer you a safe mortgage at five per cent? I know a man who has some.
Well, perhaps you're right."

On the next day I became a magnate. The Jaguar Mine was the one I fixed
upon--for two reasons. First, the figure immediately after it was 1,
which struck me as a good point from which to watch it go up and down.
Secondly, I met a man at lunch who knew somebody who had actually seen
the Jaguar Mine.

"He says that there's no doubt about there being lots there."

"Lots of what? Jaguars or gold?"

"Ah, he didn't say. Perhaps he meant jaguars."

Anyhow, it was an even chance, and I decided to risk it. In a week's
time I was the owner of what we call in the City a "block" of
Jaguars--bought from one Herbert Bellingham, who, I suppose, had been
got at by his solicitor and compelled to return to something safe. I
was a West African magnate.

My first two months as a magnate were a great success. With my heart in
my mouth I would tear open the financial editions of the evening papers,
to find one day that Jaguars had soared like a rocket to 1-1/16, the
next that they had dropped like a stone to 1-1/32. There was one
terrible afternoon when for some reason which will never be properly
explained we sank to 15/16. I think the European situation had something
to do with it, though this naturally is not admitted. Lord Rothschild, I
fancy, suddenly threw all his Jaguars on the market; he sold and sold
and sold, and only held his hand when, in desperation, the Tsar granted
the concession for his new Southend to Siberia railway. Something like
that. But he never recked how the private investor would suffer; and
there was I, sitting at home and sending out madly for all the papers,
until my rooms were littered with copies of _The Times_, _The Financial
News_, _Answers_, _The Feathered World_, and _Home Chat_. Next day we
were up to 31/32, and I was able to breathe again.

But I had other pleasures than these. Previously I had regarded the City
with awe, but now I felt a glow of possession come over me whenever I
approached it. Often in those first two months I used to lean against
the Mansion House in a familiar sort of way; once I struck a match
against the Royal Exchange. And what an impression of financial acumen I
could make in a drawing-room by a careless reference to my "block of
Jaguars"! Even those who misunderstood me and thought I spoke of my
"flock of jaguars" were startled. Indeed life was very good just then.

But lately things have not been going well. At the beginning of April
Jaguars settled down at 1-1/16. Though I stood for hours at the club
tape, my hair standing up on end and my eyeballs starting from their
sockets, Jaguars still came through steadily at 1-1/16. To give them a
chance of doing something, I left them alone for a whole week--with what
agony you can imagine. Then I looked again; a whole week and anything
might have happened. Pauper or millionaire?--No, still 1-1/16.

Worse was to follow. Editors actually took to leaving out Jaguars
altogether. I suppose they were sick of putting 1-1/16 in every edition.
But how ridiculous it made my idea seem of watching them go up and down!
How blank life became again!

And now what I dreaded most of all has happened. I have received a
"Progress Report" from the mine. It gives the "total footage" for the
month, special reference being made to "cross-cutting, winzing, and
sinking." The amount of "tons crushed" is announced. There is serious
talk of "ore" being "extracted"; indeed there has already been a most
alarming "yield in fine gold." In short, it can no longer be hushed up
that the property may at any moment be "placed on a dividend-paying
basis."

Probably I shall be getting a safe five per cent!

"Dash it all," as I said to my solicitor this morning, "I might just as
well have bought a rotten mortgage."


THE FINANCIER. II

(_Eighteen months later_)

It is nearly two years ago that I began speculating in West African
mines. You may remember what a stir my entry into the financial world
created; how Sir Isaac Isaacstein went mad and shot himself; how Sir
Samuel Samuelstein went mad and shot his typist; and how Sir Moses
Mosestein went mad and shot his typewriter, permanently damaging the
letter "s." There was panic in the City on that February day in 1912
when I bought Jaguars and set the market rocking.

I bought Jaguars partly for the rise and partly for the thrill. In
describing my speculation to you eighteen months ago I dwelt chiefly on
the thrill part; I alleged that I wanted to see them go up and down. It
would have been more accurate to have said that I wanted to see them go
up. It was because I was sure they were going up that, with the united
support of my solicitor, my stockbroker, my land agent, my doctor, my
architect and my vicar (most of them hired for the occasion), I bought
fifty shares in the Jaguar mine of West Africa.

When I bought Jaguars they were at 1--1-1/16. This means that---- No, on
second thoughts I won't. There was a time when, in the pride of my new
knowledge, I should have insisted on explaining to you what it meant,
but I am getting _blasé_ now; besides, you probably know. It is enough
that I bought them, and bought them on the distinct understanding from
my financial adviser that by the end of the month they would be up to 2.
In that case I should have made rather more than forty pounds in a few
days, simply by assembling together my solicitor, stockbroker,
land-agent, etc., etc., in London, and without going to West Africa at
all. A wonderful thought.

At the end of a month Jaguars were steady at 1-1/16; and I had received
a report from the mine to the effect that down below they were simply
hacking gold out as fast as they could hack, and up at the top were very
busy rinsing and washing and sponging and drying it. The next month the
situation was the same: Jaguars in London very steady at 1-1/16, Jaguar
diggers in West Africa very steady at gold-digging. And at the end of
the third month I realized not only that I was not going to have any
thrills at all, but (even worse) that I was not going to make any money
at all. I had been deceived.

       .       .       .       .       .

That was where, eighteen months ago, I left the story of my City life. A
good deal has happened since then; as a result of which I am once more
eagerly watching the price of Jaguars.

A month or two after I had written about them, Jaguars began to go down.
They did it (as they have done everything since I have known them)
stupidly. If they had dropped in a single night to 3/4, I should at
least have had my thrill. I should have suffered in a single night the
loss of some pounds, and I could have borne it dramatically; either with
the sternness of the silent Saxon, or else with the volubility of the
volatile--I can't think of anybody beginning with a "V." But, alas!
Jaguars never dropped at all. They subsided. They subsided slowly back
to 1--so slowly that you could hardly observe them going. A week later
they were 63/64, which, of course, is practically the same as 1. A month
afterwards they were 31/32, and it is a debatable point whether that is
less or more than 63/64. Anyhow, by the time I had worked it out and
decided that it was slightly less, they were at 61/64, and one had the
same trouble all over again. At 61/64 I left them for a time; and when
I next read the financial column they were at 15/16, which still seemed
to be fairly near to 1. And even when at last, after many months, I
found them down to 7/8 I was not seriously alarmed, but felt that it was
due to some little local trouble (as that the manager had fallen down
the main shaft and was preventing the gold being shot out properly), and
that, when the obstruction had been removed, Jaguars would go up to 1
again.

But they didn't. They continued to subside. When they had subsided to
1/2 I woke up. My dream of financial glory was over. I had lost my money
and my faith in the City; well, let them go. With an effort I washed
Jaguars out of my mind. Henceforward they were nothing to me.

And then, months after, Andrew came on the scene. At lunch one day he
happened to mention that he had been talking to his broker.

"Do you often talk to your broker?" I asked in admiration. It sounded so
magnificent.

"Often."

"I haven't got a broker to talk to. When you next chat to yours, I wish
you'd lead the conversation round to Jaguars and see what he says."

"Why, have you got some?"

"Yes, but they're no good. Have a cigarette, won't you?"

Next morning to my amazement I got a telegram from Andrew. "Can get you
ten shillings for Jaguars. Wire if you will sell, and how many."

It was really a shock to me. When I had asked Andrew to mention Jaguars
to his broker it was solely in the hope of hearing some humorous City
comment on their futility--one of those crisp jests for which the Stock
Exchange is famous. I had no idea that his broker might like to buy them
from me.

I wired back: "Sell fifty, quick."

Next day he told me he had sold them.

"That's all right," I said cheerfully; "they're his. He can watch them
go up and down. When do I get my twenty-five pounds?" To save
twenty-five pounds from the wreck was wonderful.

"Not for a month; and, of course, you don't deliver the shares till
then."

"What do you mean, 'deliver the shares'?" I asked in alarm. "I haven't
got the gold-mine here; it's in Africa or somewhere. Must I go out
and----"

"But you've got a certificate for them."

My heart sank.

"Have I?" I whispered. "Good Lord, I wonder where it is."

I went home and looked. I looked for two days; I searched drawers and
desks and letter-books and safes and ice-tanks and trouser-presses--every
place in which a certificate might hide. It was no good. I went back to
Andrew. I was calm.

"About these Jaguars," I said casually. "I don't quite understand my
position. What have I promised to do? And can they put me in prison if I
don't do it?"

"You've promised to sell fifty Jaguars to a man called Stevens by the
middle of next month. That's all."

"I see," I said, and I went home again.

And I suppose you see too. I've got to sell fifty Jaguars to a man
called Stevens by the middle of next month. Although I really have fifty
fully matured ones of my own, there's nothing to prove it, and they are
so suspicious in the City that they will never take my bare word. So I
shall have to buy fifty new Jaguars for this man called Stevens--and buy
them by the middle of next month.

And this is why I am still eagerly watching the price of Jaguars.
Yesterday they were 5/8. I am hoping that by the middle of next month
they will be down to 1/2 again. But I find it difficult to remember
sometimes which way I want them to go. This afternoon, for instance,
when I saw they had risen to 11/16 I was quite excited for a moment; I
went out and bought some cigars on the strength of it. Then I
remembered; and I came home and almost decided to sell the pianola. It
is very confusing. You must see how very confusing it is.



THE DOUBLE


I was having lunch in one of those places where you stand and eat
sandwiches until you are tired, and then try to count up how many you
have had. As the charm of these sandwiches is that they all taste
exactly alike, it is difficult to recall each individual as it went
down; one feels, too, after the last sandwich, that one's mind would
more willingly dwell upon other matters. Personally I detest the whole
business--the place, the sandwiches, the method of scoring--but it is
convenient and quick, and I cannot keep away. On this afternoon I was
giving the _foie gras_ plate a turn. I know a man who will never touch
_foie gras_ because of the cruelty involved in the preparation of it. I
excuse myself on the ground that my own sufferings in eating these
sandwiches are much greater than those of any goose in providing them.

There was a grey-haired man in the corner who kept looking at me. I
seemed to myself to be behaving with sufficient propriety, and there was
nothing in my clothes or appearance to invite comment; for in the
working quarter of London a high standard of beauty is not insisted
upon. On the next occasion when I caught his eye I frowned at him, and a
moment later I found myself trying to stare him down. After two minutes
it was I who retired in confusion to my glass.

As I prepared to go--for to be watched at meals makes me nervous, and
leads me sometimes to eat the card with "Foie Gras" on it in mistake for
the sandwich--he came up to me and raised his hat.

"You must excuse me, sir, for staring at you," he said, "but has any
one ever told you that you are exactly like A. E. Barrett?"

I drew myself up and rested my left hand lightly on my hip. I thought he
said David Garrick.

"The very image of him," he went on, "when first I met him."

Something told me that in spite of his grey hair he was not talking of
David Garrick after all.

"Like _who?_" I said in some disappointment.

"A. E. Barrett."

I tried to think of a reply, both graceful and witty. The only one I
could think of was, "Oh?"

"It's extraordinary. If your hair were just a little longer the likeness
would be perfect."

I thought of offering to go away now and come back in a month's time.
Anyway, it would be an excuse for going now.

"I first knew him at Cambridge," he explained. "We were up together in
the 'seventies."

"Ah, I was up in the nineteen hundreds," I said. "I just missed you
both."

"Well, didn't they ever tell you at Cambridge that you were the image of
A. E. Barrett?"

I tried to think. They had told me lots of things at Cambridge, but I
couldn't remember any talk about A. E. Barrett.

"I should have thought every one would have noticed it," he said.

I had something graceful for him this time all right.

"Probably," I said, "those who were unfortunate enough to know me had
not the honour of knowing A. E. Barrett."

"But everybody knew A. E. Barrett. _You've_ heard of him, of course?"

The dreadful moment had arrived. I knew it would.

"Of course," I said.

"A charming fellow."

"Very brainy," I agreed.

"Well, just ask any of your artist friends if they don't notice the
likeness. The nose, the eyes, the expression--wonderful! But I must be
going. Perhaps I shall see you here again some day. Good afternoon"; and
he raised his hat and left me.

You can understand that I was considerably disturbed. First, why had I
never heard of A. E. Barrett? Secondly, what sort of looking fellow was
he? Thirdly, with all this talk about A. E. Barrett, however many
sandwiches had I eaten? The last question seemed the most impossible to
answer, so I said "eight," to be on the safe side, and went back to
work.

In the evening I called upon Peter. My acquaintance of the afternoon had
assumed too readily that I should allow myself to be on friendly terms
with artists; but Peter's wife illustrates books, and they both talk in
a disparaging way of our greatest Academicians.

"Who," I began at once, as I shook hands, "did I remind you of as I came
in at the door?"

Peter was silent. Mrs. Peter, feeling that some answer was called for,
said, "The cat."

"No, no. Now I'll come in again." I went out and returned dramatically.
"Now then, tell me frankly, doesn't that remind you of A. E. Barrett
entering his studio?"

"Who is A. E. Barrett?"

I was amazed at their ignorance.

"He's the well-known artist. _Surely_ you've heard of him?"

"I seem to know the name," lied Peter. "What did he paint?"

"'Sunrise on the Alps,' 'A Corner of the West,' 'The Long Day
Wanes'--_I_ don't know. Something. The usual thing."

"And are you supposed to be like him?"

"I am. Particularly when eating sandwiches."

"Is it worth while getting you some, in order to observe the likeness?"
asked Mrs. Peter.

"If you've never seen A. E. Barrett I fear you'd miss the likeness, even
in the most favourable circumstances. Anyhow, you must have heard of
him--dear old A. E.!"

They were utterly ignorant of him, so I sat down and told them what I
knew; which, put shortly, was that he was a very remarkable-looking
fellow.

       .       .       .       .       .

I have not been to the sandwich-place since. Detesting the sandwiches as
I do, I find A. E. Barrett a good excuse for keeping away. For, upon the
day after that when he came into my life, I had a sudden cold fear that
the thing was a plant. How, in what way, I cannot imagine. That I am to
be sold a _Guide to Cambridge_ at the next meeting; that an A. E.
Barrett hair-restorer is about to be placed on the market; that an offer
will be made to enlarge my photograph (or Barrett's) free of charge if I
buy the frame--no, I cannot think what it can be.

Yet, after all, why should it be a plant? We Barretts are not the sort
of men to be mixed up with fraud. Impetuous the Barrett type may be,
obstinate, jealous--so much you see in our features. But dishonest?
Never!

Still, as I did honestly detest those last eight sandwiches, I shall
stay away.



A BREATH OF LIFE


This is the story of a comedy which nearly became a tragedy. In its way
it is rather a pathetic story.

The comedy was called _The Wooing of Winifred_. It was written by an
author whose name I forget; produced by the well-known and (as his
press-agent has often told us) popular actor-manager, Mr. Levinski; and
played by (among others) that very charming young man, Prosper
Vane--known locally as Alfred Briggs until he took to the stage. Prosper
played the young hero, _Dick Seaton_, who was actually wooing
_Winifred_. Mr. Levinski himself took the part of a middle-aged man of
the world with a slight _embonpoint_; down in the programme as _Sir
Geoffrey Throssell_ but fortunately still Mr. Levinski. His opening
words, as he came on, were, "Ah, Dick, I have a note for you somewhere,"
which gave the audience an interval in which to welcome him, while he
felt in all his pockets for the letter. One can bow quite easily while
feeling in one's pockets, and it is much more natural than stopping in
the middle of an important speech in order to acknowledge any cheers.
The realization of this, by a dramatist, is what is called "stagecraft."
In this case the audience could tell at once that the "technique" of the
author (whose name unfortunately I forget) was going to be all right.

But perhaps I had better describe the whole play as shortly as possible.
The theme--as one guessed from the title, even before the curtain
rose--was the wooing of _Winifred_. In the First Act _Dick_ proposed to
_Winifred_ and was refused by her, not from lack of love, but for fear
lest she might spoil his career, he being one of those big-hearted men
with a hip-pocket to whom the open spaces of the world call loudly;
whereupon Mr. Levinski took _Winifred_ on one side and told the audience
how, when _he_ had been a young man, some good woman had refused _him_
for a similar reason and had been miserable ever since. Accordingly in
the Second Act _Winifred_ withdrew her refusal and offered to marry
_Dick_, who declined to take advantage of her offer for fear that she
was willing to marry him from pity rather than from love; whereupon Mr.
Levinski took _Dick_ on one side and told the audience how, when _he_
had been a young man, he had refused to marry some good woman (a
different one) for a similar reason, and had been broken-hearted ever
afterwards. In the Third Act it really seemed as though they were coming
together at last; for at the beginning of it Mr. Levinski took them both
aside and told the audience a parable about a butterfly and a
snap-dragon, which was both pretty and helpful, and caused several
middle-aged ladies in the first and second rows of the upper circle to
say, "What a nice man Mr. Levinski must be at home, dear!"--the purport
of the allegory being to show that both _Dick_ and _Winifred_ were being
very silly, as indeed by this time everybody but the author was aware.
Unfortunately at that moment a footman entered with a telegram for _Miss
Winifred_, which announced that she had been left fifty thousand pounds
by a dead uncle in Australia; and, although Mr. Levinski seized this
fresh opportunity to tell the audience how in similar circumstances
Pride, to his lasting remorse, had kept _him_ and some good woman (a
third one) apart, nevertheless _Dick_ held back once more, for fear lest
he should be thought to be marrying her for her money. The curtain comes
down as he says, "Good-bye ... good ber-eye." But there is a Fourth
Act, and in the Fourth Act Mr. Levinski has a splendid time. He tells
the audience two parables--one about a dahlia and a sheep, which I
couldn't quite follow--and three reminiscences of life in India; he
brings together finally and for ever these hesitating lovers; and, best
of all, he has a magnificent love-scene of his own with a pretty widow,
in which we see, for the first time in the play, how love should really
be made--not boy-and-girl pretty-pretty love, but the deep emotion felt
(and with occasional lapses of memory explained) by a middle-aged man
with a slight _embonpoint_ who has knocked about the world a bit and
knows life. Mr. Levinski, I need not say, was at his best in this Act.

       .       .       .       .       .

I met Prosper Vane at the club some ten days before the first night, and
asked him how rehearsals were going.

"Oh, all right," he said. "But it's a rotten play. I've got such a
dashed silly part."

"From what you told me," I said, "it sounded rather good."

"It's so dashed unnatural. For three whole acts this girl and I are in
love with each other, and we know we're in love with each other, and yet
we simply fool about. She's a dashed pretty girl, too, my boy. In real
life I'd jolly soon----"

"My dear Alfred," I protested, "you're not going to fall in love with
the girl you have to fall in love with on the stage? I thought actors
never did that."

"They do sometimes; it's a dashed good advertisement. Anyway, it's a
silly part, and I'm fed up with it."

"Yes, but do be reasonable. If _Dick_ got engaged at once to _Winifred_
what would happen to Levinski? He'd have nothing to do."

Prosper Vane grunted. As he seemed disinclined for further conversation
I left him.

       .       .       .       .       .

The opening night came, and the usual distinguished and fashionable
audience (including myself), such as habitually attends Mr. Levinski's
first nights, settled down to enjoy itself. Two acts went well. At the
end of each Mr. Levinski came before the curtain and bowed to us, and we
had the honour of clapping him loud and long. Then the Third Act
began....

Now this is how the Third Act ends:--

    _Exit_ Sir Geoffrey.

    _Winifred (breaking the silence)._ Dick, you heard what he said.
    Don't let this silly money come between us. I have told you I love
    you, dear. Won't you--won't you speak to me?

    _Dick._ Winifred, I---- (_He gets up and walks round the room, his
    brow knotted, his right fist occasionally striking his left palm.
    Finally he comes to a stand in front of her._) Winifred, I---- (_He
    raises his arms slowly at right angles to his body and lets them
    fall heavily down again._) I can't. (_In a low, hoarse voice_)
    I--can't! (_He stands for a moment with bent head; then with a jerk
    he pulls himself together._) Good-bye! (_His hands go out to her,
    but he draws them back as if frightened to touch her. Nobly_) Good
    ber-eye.

    [_He squares his shoulders and stands looking at the audience with
        his chin in the air; then with a shrug of utter despair, which
        would bring tears into the eyes of any young thing in the pit,
        he turns and with bent head walks slowly out._

    CURTAIN.

That _is_ how the Third Act ends. I went to the dress rehearsal, and so
I know.

How the accident happened I do not know. I suppose Prosper was nervous;
I am sure he was very much in love. Anyhow, this is how, on that famous
first night, the Third Act ended:--

    _Exit_ Sir Geoffrey.

    _Winifred_ (_breaking the silence_). Dick, you heard what he said.
    Don't let this silly money come between us. I have told you I love
    you, dear. Won't you--won't you speak to me?

    _Dick_ (_jumping up_). Winifred, I---- (_with a great gulp_) I LOVE
    YOU!!!

Whereupon he picked her up in his arms and carried her triumphantly off
the stage ... and after a little natural hesitation the curtain came
down.

       .       .       .       .       .

Behind the scenes all was consternation. Mr. Levinski (absolutely
furious) had a hasty consultation with the author (also furious), in the
course of which they both saw that the Fourth Act as written was now an
impossibility. Poor Prosper, who had almost immediately recovered his
sanity, tremblingly suggested that Mr. Levinski should announce that,
owing to the sudden illness of Mr. Vane, the Fourth Act could not be
given. Mr. Levinski was kind enough to consider this suggestion not
entirely stupid; his own idea having been (very regretfully) to leave
out the two parables and three reminiscences from India and concentrate
on the love-scene with the widow.

"Yes, yes," he said. "Your plan is better. I will say you are ill. It is
true; you are mad. To-morrow we will play it as it was written."

"You can't," said the author gloomily. "The critics won't come till the
Fourth Act, and they'll assume that the Third Act ended as it did
to-night. The Fourth Act will seem all nonsense to them."

"True. And I was so good, so much myself, in that Act." He turned to
Prosper. "You--fool!"

"Or there's another way," began the author. "We might----"

And then a gentleman in the gallery settled it from the front of the
curtain. There was nothing in the programme to show that the play was in
four acts. "The Time is the present day and the Scene is in Sir Geoffrey
Throssell's town-house," was all it said. And the gentleman in the
gallery, thinking it was all over, and being pleased with the play and
particularly with the realism of the last moment of it, shouted
"_Author!_" And suddenly everybody else cried "_Author! Author!_" The
play was ended.

       .       .       .       .       .

I said that this was the story of a comedy which nearly became a
tragedy. But it turned out to be no tragedy at all. In the three acts to
which Prosper Vane had condemned it the play appealed to both critics
and public; for the Fourth Act (as he recognised so clearly) was
unnecessary, and would have spoilt the balance of it entirely. Best of
all, the shortening of the play demanded that some entertainment should
be provided in front of it, and this enabled Mr. Levinski to introduce
to the public Professor Wollabollacolla and Princess Collabollawolla,
the famous exponents of the Bongo-Bongo, that fascinating Central
African war dance which was soon to be the rage of society. But though,
as a result, the takings of the Box Office surpassed all Mr. Levinski's
previous records, our friend Prosper Vane received no practical
acknowledgment of his services. He had to be content with the hand and
heart of the lady who played _Winifred_, and the fact that Mr. Levinski
was good enough to attend the wedding. There was, in fact, a photograph
in all the papers of Mr. Levinski doing it.



"UNDER ENTIRELY NEW MANAGEMENT"


I know a fool of a dog who pretends that he is a Cocker Spaniel, and is
convinced that the world revolves round him wonderingly. The sun rises
so it may shine on his glossy morning coat; it sets so his master may
know that it is time for the evening biscuit; if the rain falls it is
that a fool of a dog may wipe on his mistress's skirt his muddy boots.
His day is always exciting, always full of the same good things; his
night a repetition of his day, more gloriously developed. If there be a
sacred moment before the dawn when he lies awake and ponders on life, he
tells himself confidently that it will go on for ever like this--a life
planned nobly for himself, but one in which the master and mistress whom
he protects must always find a place. And I think perhaps he would want
a place for me, too, in that life, who am not his real master but yet
one of the house. I hope he would.

What Chum doesn't know is this: his master and mistress are leaving him.
They are going to a part of the world where a fool of a dog with no
manners is a nuisance. If Chum could see all the good little London
dogs, who at home sit languidly on their mistress's lap, and abroad take
their view of life through a muff much bigger than themselves; if he
could see the big obedient dogs who walk solemnly through the Park
carrying their master's stick, never pausing in their impressive march
unless it be to plunge into the Serpentine and rescue a drowning child,
he would know what I mean. He would admit that a dog who cannot answer
to his own name and pays but little more attention to "Down, idiot,"
and "Come here, fool," is not every place's dog. He would admit it, if
he had time. But before I could have called his attention to half the
good dogs I had marked out he would have sat down beaming in front of a
motor-car ... and then he would never have known what now he will know
so soon--that his master and mistress are leaving him.

It has been my business to find a new home for him. This is harder than
you think. I can make him sound lovable, but I cannot make him sound
good. Of course, I might leave out his doubtful qualities, and describe
him merely as beautiful and affectionate; I might ... but I couldn't. I
think Chum's habitual smile would get larger, he would wriggle the end
of himself more ecstatically than ever if he heard himself summed up as
beautiful and affectionate. Anyway, I couldn't do it, for I get carried
away when I speak of him and I reveal all his bad qualities.

"I am afraid he is a snob," I confessed to one woman of whom I had
hopes. "He doesn't much care for what he calls the lower classes."

"Oh?" she said.

"Yes, he hates badly dressed people. Corduroy trousers tied up at the
knee always excite him. I don't know if any of your family--no, I
suppose not. But if he ever sees a man with his trousers tied up at the
knee he goes for him. And he can't bear tradespeople; at least not the
men. Washerwomen he loves. He rather likes the washing-basket too. Once,
when he was left alone with it for a moment, he appeared shortly
afterwards on the lawn with a pair of--well, I mean he had no business
with them at all. We got them away after a bit of a chase, and then they
had to go to the wash again. It seemed rather a pity when they'd only
just come back. Of course, I smacked his head for him; but he looks so
surprised and reproachful when he's done wrong that you never feel it's
quite his fault."

"I doubt if I shall be able to take him after all," she said. "I've just
remembered----"

I forget what it was she remembered, but it meant that I was still
without a new home for Chum.

"What does he eat?" somebody else asked me. It seemed hopeful; I could
see Chum already installed.

"Officially," I said, "he lives on puppy biscuits; he also has the
toast-crusts after breakfast and an occasional bone. Privately, he is
fond of bees. I have seen him eat as many as six bees in an afternoon.
Sometimes he wanders down to the kitchen-garden and picks the
gooseberries; he likes all fruit, but gooseberries are the things he can
reach best. When there aren't any gooseberries about he has to be
content with the hips and haws from the rose-trees. But really you
needn't bother, he can eat anything. The only thing he doesn't like is
whitening. We were just going to mark the lawn one day, and while we
were busy pegging it out he wandered up and drank the whitening out of
the marker. It is practically the only disappointment he has ever had.
He looked at us, and you could see that his opinion of us had gone down.
'What did you _put_ it there for, if you didn't mean me to drink it?' he
said reproachfully. Then he turned and walked slowly and thoughtfully
back to his kennel. He never came out till next morning."

"Really?" said my man. "Well, I shall have to think about it. I'll let
you know."

Of course, I knew what he meant.

With a third dog-lover to whom I spoke the negotiations came to grief,
not apparently because of any fault of Chum's, but because, if you will
believe it, of my shortcomings. At least I can suppose nothing else. For
this man had been enthusiastic about him. He had revelled in the tale of
Chum's wickedness; he had adored him for being so conceited. He had
practically said that he would take him.

"Do," I begged. "I'm sure he'd be happy with you. You see, he's not
everybody's dog; I mean, I don't want any odd man whom I don't know to
take him. It must be a friend of mine, so that I shall often be able to
see Chum afterwards."

"So that--what?" he asked anxiously.

"So that I shall often be able to see Chum afterwards. Week-ends, you
know, and so on. I couldn't bear to lose the silly old ass altogether."

He looked thoughtful; and, when I went on to speak about Chum's fondness
for chickens, and his other lovable ways, he changed the subject
altogether. He wrote afterwards that he was sorry he couldn't manage
with a third dog. And I like to think he was not afraid of Chum--but
only of me.

But I have found the right man at last. A day will come soon when I
shall take Chum from his present home to his new one. That will be a
great day for him. I can see him in the train, wiping his boots
effusively on every new passenger, wriggling under the seat and out
again from sheer joy of life; I can see him in the taxi, taking his one
brief impression of a world that means nothing to him; I can see him in
another train, joyous, eager, putting his paws on my collar from time to
time and saying excitedly, "_What_ a day this is!" And if he survives
the journey; if I can keep him on the way from all the delightful deaths
he longs to try; if I can get him safely to his new house, then I can
see him----

Well, I wonder. What will they do to him? When I see him again, will he
be a sober little dog, answering to his name, careful to keep his muddy
feet off the visitor's trousers, grown up, obedient, following to heel
round the garden, the faithful servant of his master? Or will he be the
same old silly ass, no use to anybody, always dirty, always smiling,
always in the way, a clumsy, blundering fool of a dog who knows you
can't help loving him? I wonder....

Between ourselves, I don't think they _can_ alter him now.... Oh, I hope
they can't.



A FAREWELL TOUR


This is positively Chum's last appearance in print--for his own sake no
less than for yours. He is conceited enough as it is, but if once he got
to know that people are always writing about him in books his swagger
would be unbearable. However, I have said good-bye to him now; I have no
longer any rights in him. Yesterday I saw him off to his new home, and
when we meet again it will be on a different footing. "Is that your
dog?" I shall say to his master. "What is he? A Cocker? Jolly little
fellows, aren't they? I had one myself once."

As Chum refused to do the journey across London by himself, I met him at
Liverpool Street. He came up in a crate; the world must have seemed very
small to him on the way. "Hallo, old ass," I said to him through the
bars, and in the little space they gave him he wriggled his body with
delight. "Thank Heaven there's _one_ of 'em alive," he said.

"I think this is my dog," I said to the guard, and I told him my name.

He asked for my card.

"I'm afraid I haven't one with me," I explained. When policemen touch me
on the shoulder and ask me to go quietly; when I drag old gentlemen from
underneath motor-'buses, and they decide to adopt me on the spot; on all
the important occasions when one really wants a card, I never have one
with me.

"Can't give him up without proof of identity," said the guard, and Chum
grinned at the idea of being thought so valuable.

I felt in my pockets for letters. There was only one, but it offered to
lend me £10,000 on my note of hand alone. It was addressed to "Dear
Sir," and though I pointed out to the guard that I was the "Sir," he
still kept tight hold of Chum. Strange that one man should be prepared
to trust me with £10,000, and another should be so chary of confiding to
me a small black spaniel.

"Tell the gentleman who I am," I said imploringly through the bars.
"Show him you know me."

"He's _really_ all right," said Chum, looking at the guard with his
great honest brown eyes. "He's been with us for years."

And then I had an inspiration. I turned down the inside pocket of my
coat; and there, stitched into it, was the label of my tailor with my
name written on it. I had often wondered why tailors did this; obviously
they know how stupid guards can be.

"I suppose that's all right," said the guard reluctantly. Of course, I
might have stolen the coat. I see his point.

"You--you wouldn't like a nice packing-case for yourself?" I said
timidly. "You see, I thought I'd put Chum on the lead. I've got to take
him to Paddington, and he must be tired of his shell by now. It isn't as
if he were _really_ an armadillo."

The guard thought he would like a shilling and a nice packing-case.
Wood, he agreed, was always wood, particularly in winter, but there were
times when you were not ready for it.

"How are you taking him?" he asked, getting to work with a chisel.
"Underground?"

"Underground?" I cried in horror. "Take Chum on the Underground?
Take---- Have you ever taken a large live conger-eel on the end of a
string into a crowded carriage?"

The guard never had.

"Well, don't. Take him in a taxi instead. Don't waste him on other
people."

The crate yawned slowly, and Chum emerged all over straw. We had an
anxious moment, but the two of us got him down and put the lead on him.
Then Chum and I went off for a taxi.

"Hooray," said Chum, wriggling all over, "isn't this splendid? I say,
which way are you going? I'm going this way?... No, I mean the other
way."

Somebody had left some of his milk-cans on the platform. Three times we
went round one in opposite directions and unwound ourselves the wrong
way. Then I hauled him in, took him struggling in my arms and got into a
cab.

The journey to Paddington was full of interest. For a whole minute Chum
stood quietly on the seat, rested his fore-paws on the open window and
drank in London. Then he jumped down and went mad. He tried to hang me
with the lead, and then in remorse tried to hang himself. He made a dash
for the little window at the back; missed it and dived out of the window
at the side; was hauled back and kissed me ecstatically in the eye with
his sharpest tooth.... "And I thought the world was at an end," he said,
"and there were no more people. Oh, I am an ass. I say, did you notice
I'd had my hair cut? How do you like my new trousers? I must show you
them." He jumped on to my lap. "No, I think you'll see them better on
the ground," he said, and jumped down again. "Or no, perhaps you _would_
get a better view if----" he jumped up hastily, "and yet I don't
know----" he dived down, "though, of course, if you---- Oh lor! this
_is_ a day," and he put both paws lovingly on my collar.

Suddenly he was quiet again. The stillness, the absence of storm in the
taxi was so unnatural that I began to miss it. "Buck up, old fool," I
said, but he sat motionless by my side, plunged in thought. I tried to
cheer him up. I pointed out King's Cross to him; he wouldn't even bark
at it. I called his attention to the poster outside the Euston Theatre
of The Two Biffs; for all the regard he showed he might never even have
heard of them. The monumental masonry by Portland Road failed to uplift
him.

At Baker Street he woke up and grinned cheerily. "It's all right," he
said, "I was trying to remember what happened to me this
morning--something rather miserable, I thought, but I can't get hold of
it. However, it's all right now. How are _you_?" And he went mad again.

At Paddington I bought a label at the bookstall and wrote it for him. He
went round and round my leg looking for me. "Funny thing," he said as he
began to unwind, "he was here a moment ago. I'll just go round once
more. I rather think ... _Ow!_ Oh, there you are!" I stepped off him,
unravelled the lead and dragged him to the Parcels Office.

"I want to send this by the two o'clock train," I said to the man the
other side of the counter.

"Send what?" he said.

I looked down. Chum was making himself very small and black in the
shadow of the counter. He was completely hidden from the sight of
anybody the other side of it.

"Come out," I said, "and show yourself."

"Not much," he said. "A parcel! I'm not going to be a jolly old parcel
for anybody."

"It's only a way of speaking," I pleaded. "Actually you are travelling
as a small black gentleman. You will go with the guard--a delightful
man."

Chum came out reluctantly. The clerk leant over the counter and managed
to see him.

"According to our regulations," he said, and I always dislike people
who begin like that, "he has to be on a chain. A leather lead won't do."

Chum smiled all over himself. I don't know which pleased him more--the
suggestion that he was a very large and fierce dog, or the impossibility
now of his travelling with the guard, delightful man though he might be.
He gave himself a shake and started for the door.

"Tut, tut, it's a great disappointment to me," he said, trying to look
disappointed, but his back _would_ wriggle. "This chain business--silly
of us not to have known--well, well, we shall be wiser another time. Now
let's go home."

Poor old Chum; I _had_ known. From a large coat pocket I produced a
chain.

"_Dash_ it," said Chum, looking up at me pathetically, "you might almost
_want_ to get rid of me."

He was chained, and the label tied on to him. Forgive me that label,
Chum; I think that was the worst offence of all. And why should I label
one who was speaking so eloquently for himself; who said from the tip of
his little black nose to the end of his stumpy black tail, "I'm a silly
old ass, but there's nothing wrong in me, and they're sending me away!"
But according to the regulations--one must obey the regulations, Chum.

I gave him to the guard--a delightful man. The guard and I chained him
to a brake or something. Then the guard went away, and Chum and I had a
little talk....

After that the train went off.

Good-bye, little dog.



THE TRUTH ABOUT HOME RAILS


Imagine us, if you can, sitting one on each side of the fire, I with my
feet on the mantelpiece, Margery curled up in the blue arm-chair, both
of us intent on the morning paper. To me, by good chance, has fallen the
sporting page; to Margery the foreign, political, and financial
intelligence of the day.

"What," said Margery, "does it mean when it says----" She stopped and
spelt it over to herself again.

I put down my piece of the paper and prepared to explain. The desire for
knowledge in the young cannot be too strongly encouraged, and I have
always flattered myself that I can explain in perfectly simple language
anything which a child wants to know. For instance, I once told Margery
what "Miniature Rifle Shooting" meant; it was a head-line which she had
come across in her paper. The explanation took some time, owing to
Margery's preconceived idea that a bird entered into it somewhere;
several times, when I thought the lesson was over, she said, "Well, what
about the bird?" But I think I made it plain to her in the end, though
maybe she has forgotten about it now.

"What," said Margery, "does it mean when it says 'Home Rails Firm'?"

I took up my paper again. The Cambridge fifteen, I was glad to see, were
rapidly developing into a first-class team, and----

"'Home Rails Firm,'" repeated Margery, and looked up at me.

My mind worked rapidly, as it always does in a crisis.

"What did you say?" I asked in surprise.

"What does 'Home Rails Firm' mean?"

"Where does it say that?" I went on, still thinking at lightning speed.

"There. It said it yesterday too."

"Ah, yes." I made up my mind. "Well, _that_," I said--"I think _that_ is
something you must ask your father."

"I did ask him yesterday."

"Well, then----"

"He told me to ask Mummy."

Coward!

"You can be sure," I said firmly, "that what Mummy told you would be
right," and I returned to my paper.

"Mummy told me to wait till _you_ came."

Really, these parents! The way they shirk their responsibilities
nowadays is disgusting.

"'Home Rails Firm,'" said Margery, and settled herself to listen.

It is good that children should be encouraged to take an interest in the
affairs of the day, but I do think that a little girl might be taught by
her father (or if more convenient, mother) _which_ part of a newspaper
to read. Had Margery asked me the difference between a bunker and a
banker, had she demanded an explanation of "ultimatum" or "guillotine,"
I could have done something with it; but to let a child of six fill her
head with ideas as to the firmness or otherwise of Home Rails is hardly
nice. However, an explanation had to be given.

"Well, it's like this, Margery," I said at last. "Supposing--well, you
see, supposing--that is to say, if _I_----" and then I stopped. I had a
sort of feeling--intuition, they call it--that I was beginning in the
wrong way.

"Go on," said Margery.

"Perhaps I had better put it this way. Supposing you were to---- Well,
we'd better begin further back than that. You know what---- No, I don't
suppose you do know that. Well, if I--that is to say, when a man--you
know, it's rather difficult to explain this, Margery."

"Are you explaining it now?"

"I'm just going to begin."

"Thank you, Uncle."

I lit my pipe slowly, while I considered again how best to approach the
matter.

"'Home Rails Firm,'" said Margery. "Isn't it a _funny_ thing to say?"

It was. It was a very _silly_ thing to say. Whoever said it first might
have known what it would lead to.

"Perhaps I can explain it best like this, Margery," I said, beginning on
a new tack. "I suppose you know what 'firm' means?"

"What does it mean?"

"Ah, well, if you don't know _that_," I said, rather pleased, "perhaps I
had better explain that first. 'Firm' means that--that is to say, you
call a thing firm if it--well, if it doesn't--that is to say, a thing is
firm if it can't _move_."

"Like a house?"

"Well, something like that. This chair, for instance," and I put my hand
on her chair, "is firm because you can't shake it. You see, it's
quite---- Hallo, what's that?"

"Oh, you bad Uncle, you've knocked the castor off again," cried Margery,
greatly excited at the incident.

"This is too much," I said bitterly. "Even the furniture is against me."

"Go on explaining," said Margery, rocking herself in the now wobbly
chair.

I decided to leave "firm." It is not an easy word to explain at the best
of times, and when everything you touch goes and breaks itself it
becomes perfectly impossible.

"Well, so much for that," I said. "And now we come to 'rails.' You know
what rails are?"

"Like I've got in the nursery?"

This was splendid. I had forgotten these for the moment.

"Exactly. The rails your train goes on. Well then, '_Home_ Rails' would
be rails at _home_."

"Well, I've _got_ them at home," said Margery in surprise. "I couldn't
have them anywhere else."

"Quite so. Then 'Home Rails Firm' would mean that--er--home rails
were--er--firm."

"But mine aren't, because they wobble. You know they do."

"Yes, but----"

"Well, why do they say 'Home Rails Firm' when they mean 'Home Rails
Wobble'?"

"Ah, that's just it. The point is that when they say 'Home Rails Firm,'
they don't mean that the rails _themselves_ are firm. In fact, they
don't mean at all what you think they mean. They mean something quite
different."

"What _do_ they mean?"

"I am just going to explain," I said stiffly.

       .       .       .       .       .

"Or perhaps I had better put it this way," I said ten minutes later.
"Supposing---- Oh, Margery, it _is_ difficult to explain."

"I _must_ know," said Margery.

"_Why_ do you want to know so badly?"

"I want to know a million million times more than anything else in the
whole world."

"Why?"

"So as I can tell Angela," said Margery.

I plunged into my explanation again. Angela is three, and I can quite
see how important it is that she should be sound on the question.



THE KING'S SONS


    _"Tell me a story," said Margery._

    _"What sort of a story?"_

    _"A fairy story, because it's Christmas-time."_

    _"But you know all the fairy stories."_

    _"Then tell me a new fairy story."_

    _"Right," I said._

Once upon a time there was a King who had three sons. The eldest son was
a very thoughtful youth. He always had a reason for everything he did,
and sometimes he would say things like "Economically it is to the
advantage of the State that----" or "The civic interests of the
community demand that----" before doing something specially horrid. He
didn't want to be unkind to anybody, but he took what he called a "large
view" of things; and if you happened to ask for a third help of
plum-pudding he took the large view that you would be sorry about it
next morning--and so you didn't have your plum-pudding. He was called
Prince Proper.

The second son was a very wise youth. You couldn't catch him anyhow. If
you asked him whether he knew the story of the three wells, or "Why does
a chicken cross the road?" or anything really amusing like that, he
would always say, "Oh, I heard that _years_ ago!"--and whenever you
began "Adam and Eve and Pinchme" he would pinch you at once without
waiting like a gentleman until you had got to the end of the verse. He
was called Prince Clever.

And the third son was just wonderfully beautiful. He had the most
marvellously pink cheeks and long golden hair that you have ever seen. I
don't much care for that style myself, but in the country in which he
lived it was admired more than I can tell you. He was called Prince
Goldenlocks. I'll give you three guesses why.

Now the King had reigned a long time, so long that he was tired of being
king, and he often used to wonder which of his sons ought to succeed
him. Of course, nowadays they never wonder, and the eldest son becomes
king at once, and quite right too; but in those days it was generally
left to the sons to prove which among themselves was the most worthy.
Sometimes they would all be sent out to find the magic Dragon's Tooth,
and only one would come back alive, which would save a lot of trouble;
or else, after a lot of discussion, they would be told to go and find
beautiful Princesses for themselves, and the one which brought back the
most beautiful Princess--but very often that would lead to another
discussion. The best way of all was to call in a Fairy to help. A Fairy
has all sorts of tricks for finding out about you, and her favourite
plan is to pretend to be something else and see what you do.

So the King called in a Fairy and said, "To-morrow I am sending out my
three sons into the world to seek their fortune. I want you to test them
for me and find out which is the most fitted to succeed to my throne. If
it _should_ happen to be Prince Goldenlocks--but, of course, I don't
want to influence you in any way."

"Leave it to me," said the Fairy. "You agree, no doubt, that the quality
most desirable in a king is love and kindliness----"

"Y-yes," said the King doubtfully.

"I was sure of it. Well, I have a way of putting this quality to the
test which has never yet failed." And with that she vanished. She could
have gone out at the door quite easily, but she preferred to vanish.

I expect you know what her way was. You have read about it often in your
fairy books. On the next day, as Prince Proper was coming along the
road, she appeared suddenly in front of him in the shape of a poor old
woman.

"Please give me something to buy a crust of bread, pretty gentleman,"
she pleaded. "I'm starving."

Prince Proper looked at her sternly.

"Economically," he said, "it is to the advantage of the State that the
submerged classes should be a charge on the State itself and not on
individuals. The civic interests of the community demand that
promiscuous charity should be sternly discouraged. Surely you see that
for yourself?"

The Fairy didn't quite. The language had taken her by surprise. In all
her previous adventures of this kind, two of the young Princes had
refused her roughly, and the third had shared his last piece of bread
with her. This adventure was going all wrong.

"Let me explain it to you more fully," went on Proper, and for an hour
and twenty-seven minutes he did so. Then he went on his way, leaving a
dazed Fairy behind him.

By and by Prince Clever came along. Suddenly he saw a poor old woman in
front of him.

"Please give me something to buy a crust of bread," she pleaded. "I'm
starving."

Prince Clever burst into a roar of laughter.

"You don't catch _me_," he said. "I've read about this a _hundred_
times. You're not an old woman at all; you're a Fairy."

"W-what do you mean?" she stammered.

"This is a silly test of Father's. Well, you can tell him he's got _one_
son who's clever enough to see through him." And he went on his way.

By and by Prince Goldenlocks came along. I need not say that he did all
that you would expect of a third and youngest son who had pink cheeks,
long golden hair, and (as I ought to have said before) a very loving
nature. He shared his last piece of bread with the poor old woman....

(Surely he will get the throne!)

But the Fairy was an honest Fairy. She did understand Proper's point of
view; she had to admit that, if Clever saw through her deception, it was
honourable of him to have said so. And though, of course, her loving
heart was all for Prince Goldenlocks, she felt that it would not be fair
to award the throne to him without a further trial. So she did another
thing that she was very fond of doing. She changed herself into a pretty
little dove and--right in front of Prince Proper--she flew with a hawk
in pursuit of her. "_Now_ we shall see," she said to herself, "which of
the three youths has the softest heart."

You can guess what Proper said.

"Life," he said, "is one constant battle. Nature," he said, "is
ruthless, and the weakest must go to the wall. If I kill the hawk," he
said, "I am kind to the dove, but am I," he said, and I think there was
a good deal in this--"am I kind to the caterpillar or whatever it is
that the dove eats?" Of course, you know, there _is_ that to be thought
of. Anyhow, after soliloquizing for forty-seven minutes Prince Proper
went on his way; and by and by Prince Clever came along.

You can guess what Clever said.

"My whiskers!" he said, "this is older than the last. I knew this in my
cradle." With one of those nasty sarcastic laughs that I hate so much he
went on his way; and by and by Prince Goldenlocks came along.

(Now then, Goldenlocks, the throne is almost yours!)

You can guess what Goldenlocks said.

"Poor little dove," he said. "But I can save its life."

Rapidly he fitted an arrow to his bow and with careful aim let fly at
the pursuing hawk....

I say again that Prince Goldenlocks was the most beautiful youth you
have ever seen in your life, and he had a very loving nature. But he was
a poor shot.

He hit the dove....

    _"Is that all?" said Margery._

    _"That's all," I said. "Good night."_



DISAPPOINTMENT


My young friend Bobby (now in the early thirteens) has been making his
plans for the Christmas holidays. He communicated them to me in a letter
from school:--

"I am going to write an opera in the holidays with a boy called Short, a
very great and confident friend of mine here. I am doing the words and
Short is doing the music. We have already got the title; it is called
'Disappointment.'"

Last week, on his return to town, he came to see me at my club, and when
the waiter had brought in drinks, and Bobby had refused a cigar, I
lighted up and prepared to talk shop. His recent discovery that I write
too leads him to treat me with more respect than formerly.

"Now then," I said, "tell me about it. How's it going on?"

"Oo, I haven't done much yet," said Bobby. "But I've got the plot."

"Let's have it."

Bobby unfolded it rapidly.

"Well, you see, there's a chap called Tommy--he's the hero--and he's
just come back from Oxford, and he's awfully good-looking and decent and
all that, and he's in love with Felicia, you see, and there's another
chap called Reynolds, and, you see, Felicia's really the same as
Phyllis, who's going to marry Samuel, and that's the disappointment,
because Tommy wants to marry her, you see."

"I see. That ought to be all right. You could almost get two operas out
of that."

"Oo, do you think so?"

"Well, it depends how much Reynolds comes in. You didn't tell me what
happened to him. Does he marry anybody?"

"Oo, no. He comes in because I want somebody to tell the audience about
Tommy when Tommy isn't there."

(How well Bobby has caught the dramatic idea.)

"I see. He ought to be very useful."

"You see, the First Act's in a very grand restaurant, and Tommy comes in
to have dinner, and he explains to Reynolds how he met Felicia on a
boat, and she'd lost her umbrella, and he said, 'Is this your umbrella?'
and it was, and they began to talk to each other, and then he was in
love with her. And then he goes out, and then Reynolds tells the
audience what an awfully decent chap Tommy is."

"Why does he go out?"

"Well, you see, Reynolds couldn't tell everybody what an awfully decent
chap Tommy is if Tommy was there."

(Of course he couldn't.)

"And where's Felicia all this time?"

"Oo, she doesn't come on: She's in the country with Samuel. You see, the
Second Act is a grand country wedding, and Samuel and Phyllis are
married, and Tommy is one of the guests, and he's very unhappy, but he
tries not to show it, and he shoots himself."

"Reynolds is there too, I suppose?"

"Oo, I don't know yet."

(He'll have to be, of course. He'll be wanted to tell the audience how
unhappy Tommy is.)

"And how does it end?" I asked.

"Well, you see, when the wedding's over, Tommy sings a song about
Felicia, and it ends up, 'Felicia, Felicia, Felicia,' getting higher
each time--Short has to do that part, of course, but I've told him
about it--and then the curtain comes down."

"I see. And has Short written any of the music yet?"

"He's got some of the notes. You see, I've only just got the plot, and
I've written about two pages. I'm writing it in an exercise-book."

A shadow passed suddenly across the author's brow.

"And the sickening thing," he said, as he leant back in his chair and
sipped his ginger-beer, "is that on the cover of it I've spelt
Disappointment with two 's's.'"

(The troubles of this literary life!)

"Sickening," I agreed.

       .       .       .       .       .

If there is one form of theft utterly unforgivable it is the theft by a
writer of another writer's undeveloped ideas. Borrow the plot of Sir J.
M. Barrie's last play, and you do him no harm; you only write yourself
down a plagiarist. But listen to the scenario of his next play (if he is
kind enough to read it to you) and write it up before he has time to
develop it himself, and you do him a grievous wrong; for you fix the
charge of plagiarism on _him_. Surely, you say, no author could sink so
low as this.

And yet, when I got home, the plot of "Disappointment" (with one "s") so
took hold of me that I did the unforgivable thing; I went to my desk and
wrote the opera. I make no excuses for myself. I only point out that
Bobby's opera, as performed at Covent Garden in Italian, with Short's
music conducted by Richter, is not likely to be belittled by anything
that I may write here. I have only written in order that I may get the
scenario--which had begun to haunt me--off my chest. Bobby, I know, will
understand and forgive; Short I have not yet had the pleasure of
meeting, but I believe he is smaller than Bobby.

    ACT I.

    SCENE--_A grand restaurant. Enter Tommy, a very handsome man, just
    back from Oxford._

    _Tommy sings:_

        Felicia, I love you,
        By all the stars above you
        I swear you shall be mine!--
        And now I'm going to dine.

    [_He sits down and orders a bottle of ginger-beer and some
        meringues._

    _Waiter._ Your dinner, Sir.

    _Tommy._ Thank you. And would you ask Mr. Reynolds to come in, if
    you see him? (_To the audience_) A week ago I was crossing the
    Channel--(_enter Reynolds_)--Oh, here you are, Reynolds! I was just
    saying that a week ago I was crossing the Channel when I saw the
    most beautiful girl I have ever seen who had lost her umbrella. I
    said, "Excuse me, but is this your umbrella?" She said, "Yes."
    Reynolds, I sat down and fell in love with her. Her name was
    Felicia. And now I must go and see about something.         [_Exit._

    _Reynolds._ Poor Tommy! An awfully decent chap if ever there was
    one. But he will never marry Felicia, because I happen to know her
    real name is Phyllis, and she is engaged to Samuel.

    (_Recitative._)

        She is engaged to Samuel. Poor Tommy,
        He does not know she's fond of Samuel.
        He _will_ be disappointed when he knows.

    CURTAIN.


    ACT II.

    SCENE--_A beautiful country wedding._

    _Tommy_ (_in pew nearest door, to_ Reynolds). Who's the bride?

    _Reynolds._ Phyllis. She's marrying Samuel.

    _Enter Bride_.

    _Tommy._ Heavens, it's Felicia!

    _Reynolds_ (_to audience_). Poor Tommy! How disappointed he must be!
    (_Aloud_) Yes, Felicia and Phyllis are really the same girl. She's
    engaged to Samuel.

    _Tommy._ Then I cannot marry her!

    _Reynolds._ No.

    _Tommy sings:_

        Good-bye, Felicia, good-bye,
        I'm awfully disappointed, I
        Am now, in fact, about to die,
          Felicia, Felicia, Felicia!

                                                      [_Shoots himself._

    CURTAIN.

       .       .       .       .       .

That is how I see it. But no doubt Bobby and Short, when they really get
to work, will make something better of it. It is an engaging theme, but,
of course, the title wants to be spelt properly.



AMONG THE ANIMALS


Jeremy was looking at a card which his wife had just passed across the
table to him.

"'Lady Bendish. At Home,'" he read. "'Pets.' Is this for us?"

"Of course," said Mrs. Jeremy.

"Then I think 'Pets' is rather familiar. 'Mr. and Mrs. J. P. Smith'
would have been more correct."

"Don't be silly, Jeremy. It means it's a Pet party. You have to bring
some sort of pet with you, and there are prizes for the prettiest, and
the most intelligent, and the most companionable, and so on." She looked
at the fox-terrier curled up in front of the fire-place. "We could take
Rags, of course."

"Or Baby," said Jeremy. "We'll enter her in the Fat Class."

But when the day arrived Jeremy had another idea. He came in from the
garden with an important look on his face, and joined his wife in the
hall.

"Come on," he said. "Let's start."

"But where's Rags?"

"Rags isn't coming. I'm taking Hereward instead." He opened his
cigarette-case and disclosed a small green animal. "Hereward," he said.

"Why, Jeremy," cried his wife, "it's--why, it's blight from the
rose-tree!"

"It isn't just blight, dear; it's one particular blight. A blight.
Hereward, the Last of the Blights." He wandered round the hall. "Where's
the lead?" he asked.

"Jeremy, don't be absurd."

"My dear, I must have something to lead him up for his prize on. During
the parade he can sit on my shoulder informally, but when we come to the
prize-giving, 'Mr. J. P. Smith's blight, Hereward,' must be led on
properly." He pulled open a drawer. "Oh, here we are. I'd better take
the chain; he might bite through the leather one."

They arrived a little late, to find a lawn full of people and animals;
and one glance was sufficient to tell Jeremy that in some of the classes
at least his pet would have many dangerous rivals.

"If there's a prize for the biggest," he said to his wife, "my blight
has practically lost it already. Adams has brought a cart-horse. Hullo,
Adams," he went on, "how are you? Don't come too close or Hereward may
do your animal a mischief."

"Who's Hereward?"

Jeremy opened his cigarette-case.

"Hereward," he said. "Not the woodbine; that's quite wild. The blight.
He's much more domesticated, but there are moments when he gets out of
hand and becomes unmanageable. He gave me the slip coming here, and I
had to chase him through the churchyard; that's why we're late."

"Does he take meals with the family?" asked Adams with a grin.

"No, no; he has them alone in the garden. You ought to see him having
his bath. George, our gardener, looks after him. George gives him a
special bath of soapy water every day. Hereward simply loves it. George
squirts on him, and Hereward lies on his back and kicks his legs in the
air. It's really quite pretty to watch them."

He nodded to Adams, and wandered through the crowd with Mrs. Jeremy. The
collection of animals was remarkable; they varied in size from Adams's
cart-horse to Jeremy's blight; in playfulness from the Vicar's kitten
to Miss Trehearne's chrysalis; and in ability for performing tricks from
the Major's poodle to Dr. Bunton's egg of the Cabbage White.

"There ought to be a race for them all," said Mrs. Jeremy. "A handicap,
of course."

"Hereward is very fast over a short distance," said Jeremy, "but he
wants encouragement. If he were given ninety-nine yards, two feet, and
eleven inches in a hundred, and you were to stand in front of him with a
William Allan Richardson, I think we might pull it off. But, of course,
he's a bad starter. Hullo, there's Miss Bendish."

Miss Bendish, hurrying along, gave them a word as she went past.

"They're going to have the inspection directly," she said, "and give the
prizes. Is your animal quite ready?"

"I should like to brush him up a bit," said Jeremy. "Is there a tent or
anywhere where I could prepare him? His eyebrows get so matted if he's
left to himself for long." He took out a cigarette and lit it.

"There's a tent, but you'll have to hurry up."

"Oh, well, it doesn't really matter," said Jeremy, as he walked along
with her. "Hereward's natural beauty and agility will take him through."

On the south lawn the pets and their owners were assembling. Jeremy took
the leash out of his pocket and opened his cigarette-case.

"Good heavens!" he cried. "Hereward has escaped! Quick! Shut the gates!"
He saw Adams near and hurried up to him. "My blight has escaped," he
said breathlessly, holding up the now useless leash. "He gnawed through
the chain and got away. I'm afraid he may be running amok among the
guests. Supposing he were to leap upon Sir Thomas from behind and savage
him--it's too terrible." He moved anxiously on. "Have you seen my
blight?" he asked Miss Trehearne. "He has escaped, and we are rather
anxious. If he were to get the Vicar down and begin to worry him----" He
murmured something about "once getting the taste for blood" and hurried
off. The guests were assembled, and the judges walked down the line and
inspected their different animals. They were almost at the end of it
when Jeremy sprinted up and took his place by the last beast.

"It's all right," he panted to his wife, "I've got him. Silly of me to
mislay him, but he's so confoundedly shy." He held out his finger as the
judges approached, and introduced them to the small green pet perching
on the knuckle. "A blight," he said. "Hereward, the Chief Blight. Been
in the family for years. A dear old friend."

Jeremy went home a proud man. "Mr. J. P. Smith's blight, Hereward," had
taken first prize in the All-round class.

       .       .       .       .       .

"Yes," he admitted to his wife at dinner, "there is something on my
mind." He looked at the handsome cigarette-box on the table in front of
him and sighed.

"What is it, dear? You enjoyed yourself this afternoon, you know you
did, and Hereward won you that beautiful cigarette-box. You ought to be
proud."

"That's the trouble. Hereward didn't win it."

"But they said--they read it out, and----"

"Yes, but they didn't know. It was really Elspeth who won it."

"Elspeth?"

"Yes, dear." Jeremy sighed again. "When Hereward escaped and I went back
for him, I didn't find him as I--er--pretended. So I went to the rose
garden and--and borrowed Elspeth. Fortunately no one noticed it was a
lady blight ... they all took it for Hereward.... But it was really
Elspeth--and belonged to Lady Bendish."

He helped himself to a cigarette from the box.

"It's an interesting point," he said. "I shall go and confess to-morrow
to Sir Thomas, and see what he thinks about it. If he wants the box
back, well and good."

He refilled his glass.

"After all," he said, "the real blow is losing Hereward.
Elspeth--Elspeth is very dear to me, but she can never be quite the
same."



A TRAGEDY OF THE SEA


William Bales--as nice a young man as ever wore a cummerbund on an
esplanade--was in despair. For half an hour he and Miss Spratt had been
sitting in silence on the pier, and it was still William's turn to say
something. Miss Spratt's last remark had been, "Oh, Mr. Bales, you do
say things!" and William felt that his next observation must at all
costs live up to the standard set for it. Three or four times he had
opened his mouth to speak, and then on second thoughts had rejected the
intended utterance as unworthy. At the end of half an hour his mind was
still working fruitlessly. He knew that the longer he waited the more
brilliant he would have to be, and he told himself that even Bernard
Shaw or one of those clever writing fellows would have been hard put to
it now.

William was at odds with the world. He was a romantic young man who had
once been told that he nearly looked like Lewis Waller when he frowned,
and he had resolved that his holiday this year should be a very dashing
affair indeed. He had chosen the sea in the hopes that some old
gentleman would fall off the pier and let himself be saved by--and,
later on, photographed with--William Bales, who in a subsequent
interview would modestly refuse to take any credit for the gallant
rescue. As his holiday had progressed he had felt the need for some such
old gentleman more and more; for only thus, he realised, could he
capture the heart of the wayward Miss Spratt. But so far it had been a
dull season; in a whole fortnight nobody had gone out of his way to
oblige William, and to-morrow he must return to the City as unknown and
as unloved as when he left it.

"Got to go back to-morrow," he said at last. As an impromptu it would
have served, but as the result of half an hour's earnest thought he felt
that it did not do him justice.

"So you said before," remarked Miss Spratt.

"Well, it's still true."

"Talking about it won't help it," said Miss Spratt.

William sighed and looked round the pier. There was an old gentleman
fishing at the end of it, his back turned invitingly to William. In half
an hour he had caught one small fish (which he had had to return as
under the age limit) and a bunch of seaweed. William felt that there was
a wasted life; a life, however, which a sudden kick and a heroic rescue
by W. Bales might yet do something to justify. At the Paddington Baths,
a month ago, he had won a plate-diving competition; and though there is
a difference between diving for plates and diving for old gentlemen he
was prepared to waive it. One kick and then ... Fame! And, not only
Fame, but the admiration of Angelina Spratt.

It was perhaps as well for the old gentleman--who was really quite
worthy, and an hour later caught a full-sized whiting--that Miss Spratt
spoke at this moment.

"Well, you're good company, I must say," she observed to William.

"It's so hot," said William.

"You can't say _I_ asked to come here."

"Let's go on the beach," said William desperately. "We can find a shady
cave or something." Fate was against him; there was to be no rescue that
day.

"I'm sure I'm agreeable," said Miss Spratt.

They walked in silence along the beach, and, rounding a corner of the
cliffs, they came presently to a cave. In earlier days W. Bales could
have done desperate deeds against smugglers there, with Miss Spratt
looking on. Alas for this unromantic age! It was now a place for
picnics, and a crumpled sheet of newspaper on the sand showed that there
had been one there that very afternoon.

They sat in a corner of the cave, out of the sun, out of sight of the
sea, and William prepared to renew his efforts as a conversationalist.
In the hope of collecting a few ideas as to what the London clubs were
talking about he picked up the discarded newspaper, and saw with disgust
that it was the local _Herald_. But just as he threw it down, a line in
it caught his eye and remained in his mind:

    "_High tide to-day--3.30._"

William's heart leapt. He looked at his watch; it was 2.30. In one hour
the waves would be dashing remorselessly into the cave, would be leaping
up the cliff, what time he and Miss Spratt----

Suppose they were caught by the tide....

Meanwhile the lady, despairing of entertainment, had removed her hat.

"Really," she said, "I'm that sleepy---- I suppose the tide's safe, Mr.
Bales?"

It was William's chance.

"Quite, quite safe," he said earnestly. "It's going down hard."

"Well then, I almost think----" She closed her eyes. "Wake me up when
you've thought of something really funny, Mr. Bales."

William was left alone with Romance.

He went out of the cave and looked round. The sea was still some way
out, but it came up quickly on this coast. In an hour ... in an hour....

He scanned the cliffs, and saw the ledge whither he would drag her. She
would cling to him crying, calling him her rescuer....

What should he do then? Should he leave her and swim for help? Or should
he scale the mighty cliff?

He returned to the cave and, gazing romantically at the sleeping Miss
Spratt, conjured up the scene. It would go like this, he thought.

_Miss Spratt_ (_wakened by the spray dashing over her face_). Oh, Mr.
Bales! We're cut off by the tide! Save me!

_W. Bales_ (_lightly_). Tut-tut, there's no danger. It's nothing.
(_Aside_) Great Heavens! Death stares us in the face!

_Miss Spratt_ (_throwing her arms around his neck_). William, save me; I
cannot swim!

_W. Bales_ (_with Waller face_). Trust me, Angelina. I will fight my way
round yon point and obtain help. (_Aside_) An Englishman can only die
once.

_Miss Spratt._ Don't leave me!

_W. Bales._ Fear not, sweetheart. See, there is a ledge where you will
be beyond the reach of the hungry tide. I will carry you thither in my
arms and will then----

At this point in his day-dream William took another look at the sleeping
Miss Spratt, felt his biceps doubtfully, and went on----

_W. Bales._ I will help you to climb thither, and will then swim for
help.

_Miss Spratt._ My hero!

Again and again William reviewed the scene to himself. It was perfect.
His photograph would be in the papers; Miss Spratt would worship him; he
would be a hero in his City office. The actual danger was slight, for at
the worst she could shelter in the far end of the cave; but he would not
let her know this. He would do the thing heroically--drag her to the
ledge on the cliff, and then swim round the point to obtain help.

The thought struck him that he could conduct the scene better in his
shirt-sleeves. He removed his coat, and then went out of the cave to
reconnoitre the ledge.

       .       .       .       .       .

Miss Spratt awoke with a start and looked at her watch. It was 4.15. The
cave was empty save for a crumpled page of newspaper. She glanced at
this idly and saw that it was the local _Herald_ ... eight days old.

Far away on the horizon William Bales was throwing stones bitterly at
the still retreating sea.



OLD FRIENDS


"It was very nice of you to invite me to give you lunch," I said, "and
if only the waiter would bring the toast I should be perfectly happy. I
can't say more."

"Why not?" said Miss Middleton, looking up. "Oh, I see."

"And now," I said, when I had finished my business with a sardine, "tell
me all about it. I know something serious must have brought you up to
London. What is it? Have you run away from home?"

Miss Middleton nodded. "Sir Henery," she added dramatically, "waits for
me in his yacht at Dover. My parents would not hear of the marriage, and
immured me in the spare room. They tried to turn me against my love, and
told wicked stories about him, vowing that he smoked five non-throat
cigarettes in a day. Er--would you pass the pepper, please?"

"Go on," I begged. "Never mind the pepper."

"But, of course, I really came to see you," said Miss Middleton briskly.
"I want you to do something for me."

"I knew it."

"Oh, _do_ say you'd love to."

I drained my glass and felt very brave.

"I'd love to," I said doubtfully. "At least, if I were sure that----" I
lowered my voice: "Look here--have I got to write to anybody?"

"No," said Miss Middleton.

"Let me know the worst. Have I--er--have I got to give advice to
anybody?"

"No."

There was one other point that had to be settled. I leant across the
table anxiously.

"Have I got to ring anybody up on the telephone?" I asked in a hoarse
whisper.

"Oh, nothing like that at all," said Miss Middleton.

"Dash it," I cried, "then of _course_ I'll do anything for you. What is
it? Somebody you want killed? I could kill a mayor to-day."

Miss Middleton was silent for a moment while allowing herself to be
helped to fish. When the waiters had moved away, "We are having a jumble
sale," she announced.

I shook my head at her.

"Your life," I said, "is one constant round of gaiety."

"And I thought as I was coming to London I'd mention it to you. Because
you're always saying you don't know what to do with your old things."

"I'm not _always_ saying it. I may have mentioned it once or twice when
the conversation was flagging."

"Well, mention it now, and then I'll mention my jumble sale."

I thought it over for a moment.

"It will mean brown paper and string," I said hopelessly, "and I don't
know where to get them."

"I'll buy some after lunch for you. You shall hold my hand while I buy
it."

"And then I should have to post it, and I'm _rotten_ at posting things."

"But you needn't post it, because you can meet me at the station with
it, and I'll take it home."

"I don't think it's quite etiquette for a young girl to travel alone
with a big brown-paper parcel. What would Mrs. Middleton say if she
knew?"

"Mother?" cried Miss Middleton. "But, of course, it's her idea. You
_didn't_ think it was mine?" she said reproachfully.

"The shock of it unnerved me for a moment. Of course, I see now that it
is Mrs. Middleton's jumble sale entirely." I sighed and helped myself to
salt. "How do I begin?"

"You drive me to my dressmaker and leave me there and go on to your
rooms. And then you collect a few really old things that you don't want
and tie them up and meet me at the 4.40. I'm afraid," she said frankly,
"it _is_ a rotten way of spending an afternoon; but I promised mother."

"I'll do it," I said.

My parcel and I arrived promptly to time. Miss Middleton didn't.

"Don't say I've caught the wrong train," she said breathlessly, when at
last she appeared. "It does go at 4.40, doesn't it?"

"It does," I said, "and it did."

"Then my watch must be slow."

"Send it to the jumble sale," I advised. "Look here--we've a long time
to wait for the next train; let's undress my parcel in the waiting-room,
and I'll point out the things that really want watching. Some are
absolutely unique."

It was an odd collection of very dear friends, Miss Middleton's final
reminder having been that _nothing_ was too old for a jumble sale.

"_Lot One_," I said. "A photograph of my house cricket eleven, framed in
oak. Very interesting. The lad on the extreme right is now a clergyman."

"Oh, which is you?" said Miss Middleton eagerly.

I was too much wrapped up in my parcel to answer. "_Lot Two_," I went
on. "A pink-and-white football shirt; would work up into a dressy blouse
for adult, or a smart overcoat for child. _Lot Three._ A knitted
waistcoat; could be used as bath-mat. _Lot Four._ Pair of bedroom
slippers in holes. This bit is the slipper; the rest is the hole. _Lot
Five._ Now this is something really good. _Truthful Jane_--my first
prize at my Kindergarten."

"Mother _is_ in luck. It's just the sort of things she wants," said Miss
Middleton.

"Her taste is excellent. _Lot Six._ A pair of old grey flannel trousers.
_Lot Seven._ Lot Seven forward. Where are you?" I began to go through
the things again. "Er--I'm afraid Lot Seven has already gone."

"What about Lot Eight?"

"There doesn't seem to be a Lot Eight either. It's very funny; I'm sure
I started with more than this. Some of the things must have eaten each
other on the way."

"Oh, but this is _heaps_. Can you really spare them all?"

"I should feel honoured if Mrs. Middleton would accept them," I said
with a bow. "Don't forget to tell her that in the photograph the lad on
the extreme right----" I picked up the photograph and examined it more
carefully. "I say, _I_ look rather jolly, don't you think? I wonder if I
have another copy of this anywhere." I gazed at it wistfully. "That was
my first year for the house, you know."

"Don't give it away," said Miss Middleton suddenly. "Keep it."

"Shall I? I don't want to deprive---- Well, I think I will if you don't
mind." My eyes wandered to the shirt. "I've had some fun in _that_ in my
time," I said thoughtfully. "The first time I wore it----"

"You really _oughtn't_ to give away your old colours, you know."

"Oh, but if Mrs. Middleton," I began doubtfully--"at least, don't
you--what?--oh, all right, perhaps I won't." I put the shirt on one side
with the photograph, and picked up the dear old comfy bedroom slippers.
I considered them for a minute and then I sighed deeply. As I looked up
I caught Miss Middleton's eye.... I think she had been smiling.

"About the slippers," she said gravely.

       .       .       .       .       .

"Good-bye," I said to Miss Middleton. "It's been jolly to see you." I
grasped my parcel firmly as the train began to move. "I'm always glad to
help Mrs. Middleton, and if ever I can do so again be sure to let me
know."

"I will," said Miss Middleton.

The train went out of the station, and my parcel and I looked about for
a cab.



GETTING MARRIED



GETTING MARRIED


I.--THE DAY

Probably you thought that getting married was quite a simple business.
So did I. We were both wrong; it is the very dickens. Of course, I am
not going to draw back now. As I keep telling Celia, her Ronald is a man
of powerful fibre, and when he says he will do a thing he does
it--eventually. She shall have her wedding all right; I have sworn it.
But I do wish that there weren't so many things to be arranged first.

The fact that we had to fix a day was broken to me one afternoon when
Celia was showing me to some relatives of hers in the Addison Road. I
got entangled with an elderly cousin on the hearth-rug; and though I
know nothing about motor-bicycles I talked about them for several hours
under the impression that they were his subject. It turned out
afterwards that he was equally ignorant of them, but thought they were
mine. Perhaps we shall get on better at a second meeting. However, just
when we were both thoroughly sick of each other, Celia broke off her gay
chat with an aunt to say to me:

"By the way, Ronald, we did settle on the eleventh, didn't we?"

I looked at her blankly, my mind naturally full of motor-bicycles.

"The wedding," smiled Celia.

"Right-o," I said with enthusiasm. I was glad to be assured that I
should not go on talking about motor-bicycles for ever, and that on the
eleventh, anyhow, there would be a short interruption for the ceremony.
Feeling almost friendly to the cousin, I plunged into his favourite
subject again.

On the way home Celia returned to the matter.

"Or you would rather it was the twelfth?" she asked.

"I've never heard a word about this before," I said. "It all comes as a
surprise to me."

"Why, I'm _always_ asking you."

"Well, it's very forward of you, and I don't know what young people are
coming to nowadays. Celia, what's the _good_ of my talking to your
cousin for three hours about motor-bicycling? Surely one can get married
just as well without that?"

"One can't get married without settling the day," said Celia, coming
cleverly back to the point.

Well, I suppose one can't. But somehow I had expected to be spared all
this bother. I think my idea was that Celia would say to me suddenly one
evening, "By the way, Ronald, don't forget we're being married
to-morrow," and I should have said "Where?" And on being told the time
and place, I should have turned up pretty punctually; and after my best
man had told me where to stand, and the clergyman had told me what to
say, and my solicitor had told me where to sign my name, we should have
driven from the church a happy married couple ... and in the carriage
Celia would have told me where we were spending the honeymoon.

However, it was not to be so.

"All right, the eleventh," I said. "Any particular month?"

"No," smiled Celia, "just any month. Or, if you like, every month."

"The eleventh of June," I surmised. "It is probably the one day in the
year on which my Uncle Thomas cannot come. But no matter. The eleventh
let it be."

"Then that's settled. And at St. Miriam's?"

For some reason Celia has set her heart on St. Miriam's. Personally I
have no feeling about it. St. Andrew's-by-the-Wardrobe or St.
Bartholomew's-Without would suit me equally well.

"All right," I said, "St. Miriam's."

There, you might suppose, the matter would have ended; but no.

"Then you will see about it to-morrow?" said Celia persuasively.

I was appalled at the idea.

"Surely," I said, "this is for you, or your father, or--or somebody to
arrange."

"Of _course_ it's for the bridegroom," protested Celia.

"In theory, perhaps. But anyhow not the bridegroom personally. His best
man ... or his solicitor ... or ... I mean, you're not suggesting that I
myself---- Oh, well, if you insist. Still, I must say I don't see what's
the good of having a best man _and_ a solicitor if---- Oh, all right,
Celia, I'll go to-morrow."

So I went. For half an hour I padded round St. Miriam's nervously, and
then summoning up all my courage, I knocked my pipe out and entered.

"I want," I said jauntily to a sexton or a sacristan or something--"I
want--er--a wedding." And I added, "For two."

He didn't seem as nervous as I was. He enquired quite calmly when I
wanted it.

"The eleventh of June," I said. "It's probably the one day in the year
on which my Uncle Thomas---- However, that wouldn't interest you. The
point is that it's the eleventh."

The clerk consulted his wedding-book. Then he made the surprising
announcement that the only day he could offer me in June was the
seventeenth. I was amazed.

"I am a very old customer," I said reproachfully. "I mean, I have often
been to your church in my time. Surely----"

"We've weddings fixed on all the other days."

"Yes, yes, but you could persuade somebody to change his day, couldn't
you? Or if he is very much set on being married on the eleventh you
might recommend some other church to him. I daresay you know of some
good ones. You see, Celia--my--that is, we're particularly keen, for
some reason, on St. Miriam's."

The clerk didn't appreciate my suggestion. He insisted that the
seventeenth was the only day.

"Then will you have the seventeenth?" he asked.

"My dear fellow, I can't possibly say off-hand," I protested. "I am not
alone in this. I have a friend with me. I will go back and tell her what
you say. She may decide to withdraw her offer altogether."

I went back and told Celia.

"Bother," she said. "What shall we do?"

"There are other churches. There's your own, for example."

"Yes, but you know I don't like that. Why _shouldn't_ we be married on
the seventeenth?"

"I don't know at all. It seems an excellent day; it lets in my Uncle
Thomas. Of course, it may exclude my Uncle William, but one can't have
everything."

"Then will you go and fix it for the seventeenth to-morrow?"

"Can't I send my solicitor this time?" I asked. "Of course, if you
particularly want me to go myself, I will. But really, dear, I seem to
be living at St. Miriam's nowadays."

And even that wasn't the end of the business. For, just as I was leaving
her, Celia broke it to me that St. Miriam's was neither in her parish
nor in mine, and that, in order to qualify as a bridegroom, I should
have to hire a room somewhere near.

"But I am very comfortable where I am," I assured her.

"You needn't live there, Ronald. You only want to leave a hat there, you
know."

"Oh, very well," I sighed.

She came to the hall with me; and, having said good-bye to her, I
repeated my lesson.

"The seventeenth, fix it up to-morrow, take a room near St. Miriam's,
and leave a hat there. Good-bye."

"Good-bye.... And oh, Ronald!" She looked at me critically as I stood in
the doorway. "You might leave _that_ one," she said.


II.--FURNISHING

"By the way," said Celia suddenly, "what have you done about the
fixtures?"

"Nothing," I replied truthfully.

"Well, we must do _something_ about them."

"Yes. My solicitor--he shall do something about them. Don't let's talk
about them now. I've only got three hours more with you, and then I must
dash back to my work."

I must say that any mention of fixtures has always bored me intensely.
When it was a matter of getting a house to live in I was all energy. As
soon as Celia had found it, I put my solicitor on to it; and within a
month I had signed my name in two places, and was the owner of a highly
residential flat in the best part of the neighbourhood. But my effort so
exhausted me that I have felt utterly unable since to cope with the
question of the curtain-rod in the bathroom or whatever it is that Celia
means by fixtures. These things will arrange themselves somehow, I feel
confident.

Meanwhile the decorators are hard at work. A thrill of pride inflates me
when I think of the decorators at work. I don't know how they got there;
I suppose I must have ordered them. Celia says that _she_ ordered them
and chose all the papers herself, and that all I did was to say that the
papers she had chosen were very pretty; but this doesn't sound like me
in the least. I am convinced that I was the man of action when it came
to ordering decorators.

"And now," said Celia one day, "we can go and choose the electric-light
fittings."

"Celia," I said in admiration, "you're a wonderful person. I should have
forgotten all about them."

"Why, they're about the most important thing in the flat."

"Somehow I never regarded anybody as choosing them. I thought they just
grew in the wall. From bulbs."

When we got into the shop Celia became businesslike at once.

"We'd better start with the hall," she told the man.

"Everybody else will have to," I said, "so we may as well."

"What sort of a light did you want there?" he asked.

"A strong one," I said; "so as to be able to watch our guests carefully
when they pass the umbrella-stand."

Celia waved me away and explained that we wanted a hanging lantern. It
appeared that this shop made a speciality not so much of the voltage as
of the lamps enclosing it.

"How do you like that?" asked the man, pointing to a magnificent affair
in brass. He wandered off to a switch, and turned it on.

"Dare you ask him the price?" I asked Celia. "It looks to me about a
thousand pounds. If it is, say that you don't like the style. Don't let
him think we can't afford it."

"Yes," said Celia, in a careless sort of way. "I'm not sure that I care
about that. How much is it?"

"Two pounds."

I was not going to show my relief. "Without the light, of course?" I
said disparagingly.

"How do you think it would look in the hall?" said Celia to me.

"I think our guests would be encouraged to proceed. They'd see that we
were pretty good people."

"I don't like it. It's too ornate."

"Then show us something less ornate," I told the man sternly.

He showed us things less ornate. At the end of an hour Celia said she
thought we'd better get on to another room, and come back to the hall
afterwards. We decided to proceed to the drawing-room.

"We must go all out over these," said Celia; "I want these to be really
beautiful."

At the end of another hour Celia said she thought we'd better get on to
my workroom. My workroom, as the name implies, is the room to which I am
to retire when I want complete quiet. Sometimes I shall go there after
lunch ... and have it.

"We can come back to the drawing-room afterwards," she said. "It's
really very important that we should get the right ones for that. Your
room won't be so difficult, but, of course, you must have awfully nice
ones."

I looked at my watch.

"It's a quarter to one," I said. "At 2.15 on the seventeenth of June we
are due at St. Miriam's. If you think we shall have bought anything by
then, let's go on. If, as seems to me, there is no hope at all, then
let's have lunch to-day anyhow. After lunch we may be able to find some
way out of the _impasse_."

After lunch I had an idea.

"This afternoon," I said, "we will begin to get some furniture
together."

"But what about the electric fittings? We must finish off those."

"This is an experiment. I want to see if we can buy a chest of drawers.
It may just be our day for it."

"And we settle the fittings to-morrow. Yes?"

"I don't know. We may not want them. It all depends on whether we can
buy a chest of drawers this afternoon. If we can't, then I don't see
how we can ever be married on the seventeenth of June. Somebody's got to
be, because I've engaged the church. The question is whether it's going
to be us. Let's go and buy a chest of drawers this afternoon, and see."

The old gentleman in the little shop Celia knew of was delighted to see
us.

"Chestesses? Ah, you _'ave_ come to the right place." He led the way
into the depths. "There now. There's a chest--real old, that is." He
gave it a hearty smack. "You don't see a chest like that nowadays. They
can't _make_ 'em. Three pound ten. You couldn't have got that to-morrer.
I'd have sold it for four pound to-morrer."

"I knew it was our day," I said.

"Real old, that is. Spanish me'ogany, all oak lined. That's right, sir,
pull the drawers out and see for yourself. Let the lady see. There's no
imitation there, lady. A real old chest, that is. Come in 'ere in a week
and you'd have to pay five pounds for it. Me'ogany's going up, you see,
that's how."

"Well?" I said to Celia.

"It's perfectly sweet. Hadn't we better see some more?"

We saw two more. Both of them Spanish me'ogany, oak lined,
pull-the-drawers-out-and-see-for-yourself-lady. Half an hour passed
rapidly.

"Well?" I said.

"I really don't know which I like best. Which do you?"

"The first; it's nearer the door."

"There's another shop just over the way. We'd better just look there
too, and then we can come back to decide to-morrow."

We went out. I glanced at my watch. It was 3.30, and we were being
married at 2.15 on the seventeenth of June.

"Wait a moment," I said, "I've forgotten my gloves."

I may be a slow starter, but I am very firm when roused. I went into the
shop, wrote a cheque for the three chests of drawers, and told the man
where to send them. When I returned, Celia was at the shop opposite,
pulling the drawers out of a real old mahogany chest which was standing
on the pavement outside.

"This is even better," she said. "It's perfectly adorable. I wonder if
it's more expensive."

"I'll just ask," I said.

I went in and, without an unnecessary word, bought that chest too. Then
I came back to Celia. It was 3.45, and on the seventeenth of June at
2.15---- Well, we had four chests of drawers towards it.

"Celia," I said, "we may just do it yet."


III.--THE HONEYMOON

"I know I oughtn't to be dallying here," I said; "I ought to be doing
something strenuous in preparation for the wedding. Counting the bells
at St. Miriam's, or varnishing the floors in the flat, or---- Tell me
what I ought to be doing, Celia, and I'll go on not doing it for a bit."

"There's the honeymoon," said Celia.

"I knew there was something."

"Do tell me what you're doing about it?"

"Thinking about it."

"You haven't written to any one about rooms yet?"

"Celia," I said reproachfully, "you seem to have forgotten why I am
marrying you."

When Celia was browbeaten into her present engagement, she said frankly
that she was only consenting to marry me because of my pianola, which
she had always coveted. In return I pointed out that I was only asking
her to marry me because I wanted somebody to write my letters. There
opened before me, in that glad moment, a vista of invitations and
accounts-rendered all answered promptly by Celia, instead of put off
till next month by me. It was a wonderful vision to one who (very
properly) detests letter-writing. And yet, here she was, even before the
ceremony, expecting me to enter into a deliberate correspondence with
all sorts of strange people who as yet had not come into my life at all.
It was too much.

"We will get," I said, "your father to write some letters for us."

"But what's he got to do with it?"

"I don't want to complain of your father, Celia, but it seems to me that
he is not doing his fair share. There ought to be a certain
give-and-take in the matter. _I_ find you a nice church to be married
in--good. _He_ finds you a nice place to honeymoon in--excellent. After
all, you are still his daughter."

"All right," said Celia, "I'll ask father to do it. 'Dear Mrs. Bunn, my
little boy wants to spend his holidays with you in June. I am writing to
ask you if you will take care of him and see that he doesn't do anything
dangerous. He has a nice disposition, but wants watching.'" She patted
my head gently. "Something like that."

I got up and went to the writing-desk.

"I can see I shall have to do it myself," I sighed. "Give me the address
and I'll begin."

"But we haven't quite settled where we're going yet, have we?"

I put the pen down thankfully and went back to the sofa.

"Good! Then I needn't write to-day, anyhow. It is wonderful, dear, how
difficulties roll away when you face them. Almost at once we arrive at
the conclusion that I needn't write to-day. Splendid! Well, where shall
we go? This will want a lot of thought. Perhaps," I added, "I needn't
write to-morrow."

"We had almost fixed on England, hadn't we?"

"Somebody was telling me that Lynton was very beautiful. I should like
to go to Lynton."

"But _every one_ goes to Lynton for their honeymoon."

"Then let's be original and go to Birmingham. 'The happy couple left for
Birmingham, where the honeymoon will be spent.' Sensation."

"'The bride left the train at Ealing.' More sensation."

"I think the great thing," I said, trying to be businesslike, "is to
fix the county first. If we fixed on Rutland, then the rest would
probably be easy."

"The great thing," said Celia, "is to decide what we want. Sea, or
river, or mountains, or--or golf."

At the word golf I coughed and looked out of the window.

Now I am very fond of Celia--I mean of golf, and--what I really mean, of
course, is that I am very fond of both of them. But I do think that on a
honeymoon Celia should come first. After all, I shall have plenty of
other holidays for golf ... although, of course, three weeks in the
summer without any golf at all---- Still, I think Celia should come
first.

"Our trouble," I said to her, "is that neither of us has ever been on a
honeymoon before, and so we've no idea what it will be like. After all,
why should we get bored with each other? Surely we don't depend on golf
to amuse us?"

"All the same, I think your golf _would_ amuse me," said Celia.
"Besides, I want you to be as happy as you possibly can be."

"Yes, but supposing I was slicing my drives all the time, I should be
miserable. I should be torn between the desire to go back to London and
have a lesson with the professional and the desire to stay on
honeymooning with you. One can't be happy in a quandary like that."

"Very well then, no golf. Settled?"

"Quite. Now then, let's decide about the scenery. What sort of soil do
you prefer?"

When I left Celia that day we had agreed on this much: that we wouldn't
bother about golf, and that the mountains, rivers, valleys, and so on
should be left entirely to nature. All we were to enquire for was (in
the words of an advertisement Celia had seen) "a perfect spot for a
honeymoon."

In the course of the next day I heard of seven spots; varying from a
spot in Surrey "dotted with firs," to a dot in the Pacific spotted
with--I forget what, natives probably. Taken together they were the
seven only possible spots for a honeymoon.

"We shall have to have seven honeymoons," I said to Celia when I had
told her my news. "One honeymoon, one spot."

"Wait," she said. "I have heard of an ideal spot."

"Speaking as a spot expert, I don't think that's necessarily better than
an only possible spot," I objected. "Still, tell me about it."

"Well, to begin with, it's close to the sea."

"So we can bathe when we're bored. Good."

"And it's got a river, if you want to fish----"

"I don't. I should hate to catch a fish who was perhaps on his honeymoon
too. Still, I like the idea of a river."

"And quite a good mountain, and lovely walks, and, in fact, everything.
Except a picture-palace, luckily."

"It sounds all right," I said doubtfully. "We might just spend the next
day or two thinking about my seven spots, and then I might ... possibly
... feel strong enough to write."

"Oh, I nearly forgot. I _have_ written, Ronald."

"You have?" I cried. "Then, my dear, what else matters? It's a perfect
spot." I lay back in relief. "And there, thank 'evings, is another thing
settled. Bless you."

"Yes. And, by the way, there _is_ golf quite close too. But that," she
smiled, "needn't prevent us going there."

"Of course not. We shall just ignore the course."

"Perhaps, so as to be on the safe side, you'd better leave your clubs
behind."

"Perhaps I'd better," I said carelessly.

All the same I don't think I will. One never knows what may happen ...
and at the outset of one's matrimonial career to have to go to the
expense of an entirely new set of clubs would be a most regrettable
business.


IV.--SEASONABLE PRESENTS

"I suppose," I said, "it's too late to cancel this wedding now?"

"Well," said Celia, "the invitations are out, and the presents are
pouring in, and mother's just ordered the most melting dress for herself
that you ever saw. Besides, who's to live in the flat if we don't?"

"There's a good deal in what you say. Still, I am alarmed, seriously
alarmed. Look here." I drew out a printed slip and flourished it before
her.

"Not a writ? My poor Ronald!"

"Worse than that. This is the St. Miriam's bill of fare for weddings.
Celia, I had no idea marriage was so expensive. I thought one
rolled-gold ring would practically see it."

It was a formidable document. Starting with "full choir and organ" which
came to a million pounds, and working down through "boys' voices only,"
and "red carpet" to "policemen for controlling traffic--per policeman,
5s.," it included altogether some two dozen ways of disposing of my
savings.

"If we have the whole _menu_," I said, "I shall be ruined. You wouldn't
like to have a ruined husband."

Celia took the list and went through it carefully.

"I might say 'Season,'" I suggested, "or 'Press.'"

"Well, to begin with," said Celia, "we needn't have a full choir."

"Need we have an organ or a choir at all? In thanking people for their
kind presents you might add, 'By the way, do you sing?' Then we could
arrange to have all the warblers in the front. My best man or my
solicitor could give the note."

"Boys' voices only," decided Celia. "Then what about bells?"

"I should like some nice bells. If the price is 'per bell' we might give
an order for five good ones."

"Let's do without bells. You see, they don't begin to ring till we've
left the church, so they won't be any good to _us_."

This seemed to me an extraordinary line to take.

"My dear child," I remonstrated, "the whole thing is being got up not
for ourselves, but for our guests. We shall be much too preoccupied to
appreciate any of the good things we provide--the texture of the red
carpet or the quality of the singing. I dreamt last night that I quite
forgot about the wedding-ring till 1.30 on the actual day, and the only
cab I could find to take me to a jeweller's was drawn by a camel. Of
course, it may not turn out to be as bad as that, but it will certainly
be an anxious afternoon for both of us. And so we must consider the
entertainment entirely from the point of view of our guests. Whether
their craving is for champagne or bells, it must be satisfied."

"I'm sure they'll be better without bells. Because when the policemen
call out 'Mr. Spifkins' carriage,' Mr. Spifkins mightn't hear if there
were a lot of bells clashing about."

"Very well, no bells. But, mind you," I said sternly, "I shall insist on
a clergyman."

We went through the rest of the _menu_, course by course.

"I know what I shall do," I said at last. "I shall call on my friend the
Clerk again, and I shall speak to him quite frankly. I shall say, 'Here
is a cheque for a thousand pounds. It is all I can afford--and, by the
way, you'd better pay it in quickly or it will be dishonoured. Can you
do us up a nice wedding for a thousand inclusive?'"

"Like the Christmas hampers at the stores."

"Exactly. A dozen boys' voices, a half-dozen of bells, ten yards of
awning, and twenty-four oranges, or vergers, or whatever it is. We ought
to get a nice parcel for a thousand pounds."

"Or," said Celia, "we might send the list round to our friends as
suggestions for wedding presents. I'm sure Jane would love to give us a
couple of policemen."

"We'd much better leave the whole thing to your father. I incline more
and more to the opinion that it is _his_ business to provide the
wedding. I must ask my solicitor about it."

"He's providing the bride."

"Yes, but I think he might go further. I can't help feeling that the
bells would come very well from him. 'Bride's father to bridegroom--A
peal of bells.' People would think it was something in silver for the
hall. It would do him a lot of good in business circles."

"And that reminds me," smiled Celia, "there's been some talk about a
present from Miss Popley."

I have come to the conclusion that it is impossible to get married
decently unless one's life is ordered on some sort of system. Mine never
has been; and the result is that I make terrible mistakes--particularly
in the case of Miss Popley. At the beginning of the business, when the
news got round to Miss Popley, I received from her a sweet letter of
congratulation. Knowing that she was rather particular in these matters
I braced myself up and thanked her heartily by return of post. Three
days later, when looking for a cheque I had lost, I accidentally came
across her letter. "Help, help!" I cried. "This came days ago, and I
haven't answered yet." I sat down at once and thanked her
enthusiastically. Another week passed and I began to feel that I must
really make an effort to catch my correspondence up; so I got out all my
letters of congratulation of the last ten days and devoted an afternoon
to answering them. I used much the same form of thanks in all of them
... with the exception of Miss Popley's, which was phrased particularly
warmly.

So much for that. But Miss Popley is Celia's dear friend also. When I
made out my list of guests I included Miss Popley; so, in her list, did
Celia. The result was that Miss Popley received two invitations to the
wedding.... Sometimes I fear she must think we are pursuing her.

"What does she say about a present?" I asked.

"She wants us to tell her what we want."

"What _are_ we to say? If we said an elephant----"

"With a small card tied on to his ear, and 'Best wishes from Miss
Popley' on it. It would look heavenly among the other presents."

"You see what I mean, Celia. Are we to suggest something worth a
thousand pounds, or something worth ninepence? It's awfully kind of her,
but it makes it jolly difficult for us."

"Something that might cost anything from ninepence to a thousand
pounds," suggested Celia.

"Then that washes out the elephant."

"Can't you get the ninepenny ones now?"

"I suppose," I said, reverting to the subject which most weighed on me,
"she wouldn't like to give the men's voices for the choir?"

"No, I think a clock," said Celia. "A clock can cost anything you
like--or don't like."

"Right-o. And perhaps we'd better settle now. When it comes, how many
times shall we write and thank her for it?"

Celia considered. "Four times, I think," she said.

       .       .       .       .       .

Well, as Celia says, it's too late to draw back now. But I shall be glad
when it's all over. As I began by saying, there's too much "arranging"
and "settling" and "fixing" about the thing for me. In the necessary
negotiations and preparations I fear I have not shone. And so I shall be
truly glad when we have settled down in our flat ... and Celia can
restore my confidence in myself once more by talking loudly to her
domestic staff about "The Master."



HOME AFFAIRS



AN INSURANCE ACT


Of course, I had always known that a medical examination was a necessary
preliminary to insurance, but in my own case I had expected the thing to
be the merest formality. The doctor, having seen at a glance what a
fine, strong, healthy fellow I was, would look casually at my tongue,
apologise for having doubted it, enquire genially what my grandfather
had died of, and show me to the door. This idea of mine was fostered by
the excellent testimonial which I had written myself at the Company's
bidding. "Are you suffering from any constitutional disease?--_No_. Have
you ever had gout?--_No_. Are you deformed?--_No_. Are you of strictly
sober and temperate habits?--_No_," I mean _Yes_. My replies had been a
model of what an Assurance Company expects. Then why the need of a
doctor?

However, they insisted.

The doctor began quietly enough. He asked, as I had anticipated, after
the health of my relations. I said that they were very fit; and, not to
be outdone in politeness, expressed the hope that _his_ people, too,
were keeping well in this trying weather. He wondered if I drank much. I
said, "Oh, well, perhaps I _will_," with an apologetic smile, and looked
round for the sideboard. Unfortunately he did not pursue the matter....

"And now," he said, after the hundredth question, "I should like to look
at your chest."

I had seen it coming for some time. In vain I had tried to turn the
conversation--to lead him back to the subject of drinks or my
relations. It was no good. He was evidently determined to see my chest.
Nothing could move him from his resolve.

Trembling, I prepared for the encounter. What terrible disease was he
going to discover?

He began by tapping me briskly all over in a series of double knocks.
For the most part one double-knock at any point appeared to satisfy him,
but occasionally there would be no answer and he would knock again. At
one spot he knocked four times before he could make himself heard.

"This," I said to myself at the third knock, "has torn it. I shall be
ploughed," and I sent an urgent message to my chest, "For 'eving's sake
_do_ something, you fool! Can't you hear the gentleman?" I suppose that
roused it, for at the next knock he passed on to an adjacent spot....

"Um," he said, when he had called everywhere, "um."

"I wonder what I've done," I thought to myself. "I don't believe he
likes my chest."

Without a word he got out his stethoscope and began to listen to me. As
luck would have it he struck something interesting almost at once, and
for what seemed hours he stood there listening and listening to it. But
it was boring for me, because I really had very little to do. I could
have bitten him in the neck with some ease ... or I might have licked
his ear. Beyond that, nothing seemed to offer.

I moistened my lips and spoke.

"Am I dying?" I asked in a broken voice.

"Don't talk," he said. "Just breathe naturally."

"I am dying," I thought, "and he is hiding it from me." It was a
terrible reflection.

"Um," he said and moved on.

By and by he went and listened behind my back. It is very bad form to
listen behind a person's back. I did not tell him so, however. I wanted
him to like me.

"Yes," he said. "Now cough."

"I haven't a cough," I pointed out.

"Make the noise of coughing," he said severely.

Extremely nervous, I did my celebrated imitation of a man with an
irritating cough.

"H'm! h'm! h'm! h'm!"

"Yes," said the doctor. "Go on."

"He likes it," I said to myself, "and he must obviously be an excellent
judge. I shall devote more time to mimicry in future. H'm! h'm! h'm!..."

The doctor came round to where I could see him again.

"Now cough like this," he said. "Honk! honk!"

I gave my celebrated imitation of a sick rhinoceros gasping out its
life. It went well. I got an encore.

"Um," he said gravely, "um." He put his stethoscope away and looked
earnestly at me.

"Tell me the worst," I begged. "I'm not bothering about this stupid
insurance business now. That's off, of course. But--how long have I? I
must put my affairs in order. Can you promise me a week?"

He said nothing. He took my wrists in his hands and pressed them. It was
evident that grief over-mastered him and that he was taking a silent
farewell of me. I bowed my head. Then, determined to bear my
death-sentence like a man, I said firmly, "So be it," and drew myself
away from him.

However, he wouldn't let me go.

"Come, come," I said to him, "you must not give way"; and I made an
effort to release one of my hands, meaning to pat him encouragingly on
the shoulder.

He resisted....

I realized suddenly that I had mistaken his meaning, and that he was
simply feeling my pulses.

"Um," he said, "um," and continued to finger my wrists.

Clenching my teeth, and with the veins starting out on my forehead, I
worked my pulses as hard as I could.

       .       .       .       .       .

"Ah," he said, as I finished tying my tie; and he got up from the desk
where he had been making notes of my disastrous case, and came over to
me. "There is just one thing more. Sit down."

I sat down.

"Now cross your knees."

I crossed my knees. He bent over me and gave me a sharp tap below the
knee with the side of his hand.

My chest may have disappointed him.... He may have disliked my back....
Possibly I was a complete failure with my pulses.... But I knew the
knee-trick.

This time he should not be disappointed.

I was taking no risks. Almost before his hand reached my knee, my foot
shot out and took him fairly under the chin. His face suddenly
disappeared.

"I haven't got _that_ disease," I said cheerily.



BACHELOR RELICS


"Do you happen to want," I said to Henry, "an opera hat that doesn't op?
At least it only works on one side."

"No," said Henry.

"To any one who buys my opera hat for a large sum I am giving away four
square yards of linoleum, a revolving book-case, two curtain rods, a
pair of spring-grip dumb-bells, and an extremely patent mouse-trap."

"No," said Henry again.

"The mouse-trap," I pleaded, "is unused. That is to say, no mouse has
used it yet. My mouse-trap has never been blooded."

"I don't want it myself," said Henry, "but I know a man who does."

"Henry, you know everybody. For Heaven's sake introduce me to your
friend. Why does he particularly want a mouse-trap?"

"He doesn't. He wants anything that's old. Old clothes, old carpets,
anything that's old he'll buy."

He seemed to be exactly the man I wanted.

"Introduce me to your fellow clubman," I said firmly.

That evening I wrote to Henry's friend, Mr. Bennett. "Dear Sir," I
wrote, "if you would call upon me to-morrow I should like to show you
some really old things, all genuine antiques. In particular I would call
your attention to an old opera hat of exquisite workmanship and a
mouse-trap of chaste and handsome design. I have also a few yards of
Queen Anne linoleum of a circular pattern which I think will please you.
My James the First spring-grip dumb-bells and Louis Quatorze
curtain-rods are well known to connoisseurs. A genuine old cork bedroom
suite, comprising one bath-mat, will also be included in the sale. Yours
faithfully."

On second thoughts I tore the letter up and sent Mr. Bennett a postcard
asking him to favour the undersigned with a call at 10.30 prompt. And at
10.30 prompt he came.

I had expected to see a bearded patriarch with a hooked nose and three
hats on his head, but Mr. Bennett turned out to be a very spruce
gentleman, wearing (I was sorry to see) much better clothes than the
opera hat I proposed to sell him. He became businesslike at once.

"Just tell me what you want to sell," he said, whipping out a
pocket-book, "and I'll make a note of it. I take anything."

I looked round my spacious apartment and wondered what to begin with.

"The revolving book-case," I announced.

"I'm afraid there's very little sale for revolving book-cases now," he
said, as he made a note of it.

"As a matter of fact," I pointed out, "this one doesn't revolve. It got
stuck some years ago."

He didn't seem to think that this would increase the rush, but he made a
note of it.

"Then the writing-desk."

"The what?"

"The Georgian bureau. A copy of an old twentieth-century escritoire."

"Walnut?" he said, tapping it.

"Possibly. The value of this Georgian writing-desk, however, lies not in
the wood but in the literary associations."

"Ah! My customers don't bother much about that, but still--whose was
it?"

"Mine," I said with dignity, placing my hand in the breast pocket of my
coat. "I have written many charming things at that desk. My 'Ode to a
Bell-push,' my 'Thoughts on Asia,' my----"

"Anything else in this room?" said Mr. Bennett. "Carpet, curtains----"

"Nothing else," I said coldly.

We went into the bedroom and, gazing on the linoleum, my enthusiasm
returned to me.

"The linoleum," I said, with a wave of the hand.

"Very much worn," said Mr. Bennett.

I called his attention to the piece under the bed.

"Not under there," I said. "I never walk on that piece. It's as good as
new."

He made a note. "What else?" he said.

I showed him round the collection. He saw the Louis Quatorze
curtain-rods, the cork bedroom suite, the Cæsarian nail-brush (quite
bald), the antique shaving-mirror with genuine crack--he saw it all. And
then we went back into the other rooms and found some more things for
him.

"Yes," he said, consulting his note-book. "And now how would you like me
to buy these?"

"At a large price," I said. "If you have brought your cheque-book I'll
lend you a pen."

"You want me to make you an offer? Otherwise I should sell them by
auction for you, deducting ten per cent commission."

"Not by auction," I said impulsively. "I couldn't bear to know how much,
or rather how little, my Georgian bureau fetched. It was there, as I
think I told you, that I wrote my _Guide to the Round Pond_. Give me an
inclusive price for the lot, and never, never let me know the details."

He named an inclusive price. It was something under a hundred and fifty
pounds. I shouldn't have minded that if it had only been a little over
ten pounds. But it wasn't.

"Right," I agreed. "And, oh, I was nearly forgetting. There's an old
opera hat of exquisite workmanship, which----"

"Ah, now, clothes had much better be sold by auction. Make a pile of all
you don't want and I'll send round a sack for them. I have an auction
sale every Wednesday."

"Very well. Send round to-morrow. And you might--er--also send round
a--er--cheque for--quite so. Well, then, good morning."

When he had gone I went into my bedroom and made a pile of my opera hat.
It didn't look very impressive--hardly worth having a sack specially
sent round for it. To keep it company I collected an assortment of
clothes. It pained me to break up my wardrobe in this way, but I wanted
the bidding for my opera hat to be brisk, and a few preliminary suits
would warm the public up. Altogether it was a goodly pile when it was
done. The opera hat perched on the top, half of it only at work.

       .       .       .       .       .

To-day I received from Mr. Bennett a cheque, a catalogue, and an
account. The catalogue was marked "Lots 172-179." Somehow I felt that my
opera hat would be Lot 176. I turned to it in the account.

"Lot 176--Six shillings."

"It did well," I said. "Perhaps in my heart of hearts I hoped for seven
and sixpence, but six shillings--yes, it was a good hat."

And then I turned to the catalogue.

"_Lot 176_--Frock-coat and vest, dress-coat and vest, ditto, pair of
trousers and opera hat."

"_And opera hat._" Well, well. At least it had the position of honour at
the end. My opera hat was starred.



LORDS TEMPORAL


We have eight clocks, called after the kind people who gave them to us.
Let me introduce you: William, Edward, Muriel, Enid, Alphonse, Percy,
Henrietta, and John--a large family.

"But how convenient," said Celia. "Exactly one for each room."

"Or two in each corner of the drawing-room. I don't suggest it; I just
throw out the idea."

"Which is rejected. How shall we arrange which goes into which room?
Let's pick up. I take William for the drawing-room; you take John for
your workroom; I take----"

"Not John," I said gently. John is---- John overdoes it a trifle. There
is too much of John; and he exposes his inside--which is not quite nice.

"Well, whichever you like. Come on, let's begin. William."

As it happened, I particularly wanted William. He has an absolutely
noiseless tick, such as is suitable to a room in which work is to be
done. I explained this to Celia.

"What you want for the drawing-room," I went on, "is a clock which ticks
ostentatiously, so that your visitors may be reminded of the flight of
time. Edward is a very loud breather. No guest could fail to notice
Edward."

"William," said Celia firmly.

"William has a very delicate interior," I pleaded. "You could never
attend to him properly. I have been thinking of William ever since we
had him, and I feel that I understand his case."

"Very well," said Celia, with sudden generosity; "Edward. You have
William; I have Alphonse for the dining-room; you have John for your
bedroom; I have Enid for mine; you----"

"Not John," I said gently. To be frank, John is improper.

"Well, Percy, then."

"Yes, Percy. He is young and fair. He shall sit on the chest of drawers
and sing to my sock-suspenders."

"Then Henrietta had better go in the spare room, and Muriel in Jane's."

"Muriel is much too good for Jane," I protested. "Besides, a servant
wants an alarm clock to get her up in the morning."

"You forget that Muriel cuckoos. At six o'clock she will cuckoo exactly
six times, and at the sixth 'oo' Jane brisks out of bed."

I still felt a little doubtful, because the early morning is a bad time
for counting cuckoos, and I didn't see why Jane shouldn't brisk out at
the seventh "oo" by mistake one day. However, Jane is in Celia's
department, and if Celia was satisfied I was. Besides, the only other
place for Muriel was the bathroom; and there is something about a
cuckoo-clock in a bathroom which--well, one wants to be educated up to
it.

"And that," said Celia gladly, "leaves the kitchen for John." John, as I
think I have said, displays his inside in a lamentable way. There is too
much of John.

"If Jane doesn't mind," I added. "She may have been strictly brought
up."

"She'll love him. John lacks reserve, but he is a good time-keeper."

And so our eight friends were settled. But, alas, not for long. Our
discussion had taken place on the eve of Jane's arrival; and when she
turned up next day she brought with her, to our horror, a clock of her
own--called, I think, Mother. At any rate, she was fond of it and
refused to throw it away.

"And it's got an alarm, so it goes in her bedroom," said Celia, "and
Muriel goes into the kitchen. Jane loves it, because she comes from the
country, and the cuckoo reminds her of home. That still leaves John
eating his head off."

"And, moreover, showing people what happens to it," I added severely. (I
think I have already mentioned John's foible.)

"Well, there's only one thing for it; he must go under the spare-room
bed."

I tried to imagine John under the spare-room bed.

"Suppose," I said, "we had a nervous visitor ... and she looked under
the bed before getting into it ... and saw John.... It is a terrible
thought, Celia."

However, that is where he is. It is a lonely life for him, but we shall
wind him up every week, and he will think that he is being of service to
us. Indeed, he probably imagines that our guests prefer to sleep under
the bed.

Now, with John at last arranged for, our family should have been happy;
but three days ago I discovered that it was William who was going to be
the real trouble. To think of William, the pride of the flock, betraying
us!

As you may remember, William lives with me. He presides over the room we
call "the library" to visitors and "the master's room" to Jane. He
smiles at me when I work. Ordinarily, when I want to know the time, I
look at my watch; but the other morning I happened to glance at William.
He said "twenty minutes past seven." As I am never at work as early as
that, and as my watch said eleven-thirty, I guessed at once that William
had stopped. In the evening--having by that time found the key--I went
to wind him up. To my surprise he said "six-twenty-five." I put my ear
to his chest and heard his gentle breathing. He was alive and going
well. With a murmured apology I set him to the right time ... and by the
morning he was three-quarters of an hour fast.

Unlike John, William is reticent to a degree. With great difficulty I
found my way to his insides, and then found that he had practically none
to speak of at all. Certainly he had no regulator.

"What shall we do?" I asked Celia.

"Leave him. And then, when you bring your guests in for a smoke, you can
say, 'Oh, don't go yet; this clock is five hours and twenty-three
minutes fast.'"

"Or six hours and thirty-seven minutes slow. I wonder which would sound
better. Anyhow, he is much too beautiful to go under a bed."

So we are leaving him. And when I am in the mood for beauty I look at
William's mahogany sides and am soothed into slumber again ... and when
I want to adjust my watch (which always loses a little), I creep under
the spare-room bed and consult John. John alone of all our family keeps
the correct time, and it is a pity that he alone must live in
retirement.



THE MISSING CARD


What I say is this: A man has his own work to do. He slaves at the
office all day, earning a living for those dependent on him, and when he
comes home he may reasonably expect not to be bothered with domestic
business. I am sure you will agree with me. And you would go on to say,
would you not, that, anyhow, the insuring of his servants might safely
be left to his wife? Of course you would! Thank you very much.

I first spoke to Celia about the insuring of the staff some weeks ago.
Our staff consists of Jane Parsons the cook, the first parlourmaid
(Jane) and Parsons the upper housemaid. We call them collectively Jane.

"By the way," I said to Celia, "I suppose Jane is insured all right?"

"I was going to see about it to-morrow," said Celia.

I looked at her in surprise. It was just the sort of thing I might have
said myself.

"I hope she won't be unkind about it," I went on. "If she objects to
paying her share, tell her I am related to a solicitor. If she still
objects, er--tell her we'll pay it ourselves."

"I think it will be all right. Fortunately, she has no head for
figures."

This is true. Jane is an excellent cook, and well worth the £75 a year
or whatever it is we pay her; but arithmetic gives her a headache. When
Celia has finished dividing £75 by twelve, Jane is in a state of
complete nervous exhaustion, and is only too thankful to take the
nine-and-sixpence that Celia hands over to her, without asking any
questions. Indeed, _anything_ that the Government wished deducted from
Jane's wages we could deduct with a minimum of friction--from income-tax
to a dog-licence. A threepenny insurance would be child's play.

Three weeks later I said to Celia--

"Has an inspector been to see Jane's card yet?"

"Jane's card?" she asked blankly.

"The insurance card with the pretty stamps on."

"No.... No.... Luckily."

"You mean----"

"I was going to see about it to-morrow," said Celia.

I got up and paced the floor. "Really," I murmured, "really." I tried
the various chairs in the room, and finally went and stood with my back
to the fire-place. In short, I behaved like a justly incensed
master-of-the-house.

"You know what happens," I said, when I was calm again, "if we neglect
this duty which Parliament has laid upon us?"

"No."

"We go to prison. At least, one of us does. I'm not quite sure which."

"I hope it's you," said Celia.

"As a matter of fact I believe it is. However, we shall know when the
inspector comes round."

"If it's you," she went on, "I shall send you in a file, with which you
can cut through your chains and escape. It will be concealed in a loaf
of bread, so that your gaolers shan't suspect."

"Probably I shouldn't suspect either, until I had bitten on it suddenly.
Perhaps you'd better not bother. It would be simpler if you got Jane's
card to-morrow instead."

"But of course I will. That is to say, I'll tell Jane to get it herself.
It's her cinema evening out."

Once a week Jane leaves us and goes to a cinema. Her life is full of
variety.

Ten days elapsed, and then one evening I said---- At least I didn't.
Before I could get it out Celia interrupted:

"No, not yet. You see, there's been a hitch."

I curbed my anger and spoke calmly.

"What sort of a hitch?"

"Well, Jane forgot last Wednesday, and I forgot to remind her this
Wednesday. But _next_ Wednesday----"

"Why don't you do it yourself?"

"Well, if you'll tell me what to do I'll do it."

"Well--er--you just--you--I mean--well, they'll tell you at the
post-office."

"That's exactly how I keep explaining it to Jane," said Celia.

I looked at her mournfully.

"What shall we do?" I asked. "I feel quite hopeless about it. It seems
too late now to do anything with Jane. Let's get a new staff and begin
again properly."

"Lose Jane?" cried Celia. "I'd sooner go to prison--I mean I'd sooner
_you_ went to prison. Why can't you be a man and do something?"

Celia doesn't seem to realize that I married her with the sole idea of
getting free of all this sort of bother. As it is, I nearly die once a
year in the attempt to fill up my income-tax form. Any traffic in
insurance cards would, my doctor says, be absolutely fatal.

However, something had to be done. Last week I went into a neighbouring
post-office in order to send a telegram. The post-office is an annexe of
the grocer's where the sardines come from on Jane's cinema evening.
Having sent the telegram, I took a sudden desperate resolve. I--I
myself--would do something.

"I want," I said bravely, "an insurance stamp."

"Sixpenny or sevenpenny?" said the girl, trying to put me off my balance
at the very beginning.

"What's the difference?" I asked. "You needn't say a penny, because that
is obvious."

However, she had no wish to be funny.

"Sevenpenny for men-servants, sixpenny for women," she explained.

I wasn't going to give away our domestic arrangements to so near a
neighbour.

"Three sixpenny and four sevenpenny," I said casually, flicking the dust
off my shoes with a handkerchief. "Tut, tut, I was forgetting Thomas," I
added. "Five sevenpenny."

I took the stamps home and showered them on Celia.

"You see," I said, "it's not really difficult."

"Oh, you angel! What do I do with them?"

"Stick them on Jane," I said grandly. "Dot them about the house. Stamp
your letters with them--I can always get you plenty more."

"Didn't you get a card too?"

"N-no. No, I didn't. The fact is, it's your turn now, Celia. _You_ get
the card."

"Oh, all right. I--er--suppose you just ask for a--a card?"

"I suppose so. And--er--choose a doctor, and--er--decide on an approved
society, and--er--explain why it is you hadn't got a card before,
and--er---- Well, anyhow, it's your turn now, Celia."

"It's really still Jane's turn," said Celia, "only she's so stupid about
it."

But she turned out to be not so stupid as we thought. For yesterday
there came a ring at the bell. Feeling instinctively that it was the
inspector, Celia and I got behind the sofa ... and emerged some minutes
later to find Jane alone in the room.

"Somebody come to see about an insurance card or something," she said.
"I said you were both out, and would he come to-morrow."

Technically I suppose we _were_ both out. That is, we were not
receiving.

"Thank you, Jane," I said stiffly. I turned to Celia. "There you are," I
said. "To-morrow something _must_ be done."

"I always said I'd do it to-morrow," said Celia.



SILVER LININGS


"We want some more coal," said Celia suddenly at breakfast.

"Sorry," I said, engrossed in my paper, and I passed her the marmalade.

"More coal," she repeated.

I pushed across the toast.

Celia sighed and held up her hand.

"Please may I speak to you a moment?" she said, trying to snap her
fingers. "Good; I've caught his eye. We want----"

"I'm awfully sorry. What is it?"

"We want some more coal. Never mind this once whether Inman beat Hobbs
or not. Just help me."

"Celia, you've been reading the paper," I said in surprise. "I thought
you only read the _feuill_--the serial story. How did you know Inman was
playing Hobbs?"

"Well, Poulton or Carpentier or whoever it is. Look here, we're out of
coal. What shall I do?"

"That's easy. Order some more. What do you do when you're out of
nutmegs?"

"It depends if the nutmeg porters are striking."

"Striking! Good heavens, I never thought about that." I glanced hastily
down the headlines of my paper. "Celia, this is serious. I shall have to
think about this seriously. Will you order a fire in the library? I
shall retire to the library and think this over."

"You can retire to the library, but you can't have a fire there. There's
only just enough for the kitchen for two days."

"Then come and chaperon me in the kitchen. Don't leave me alone with
Jane. You and I and Jane will assemble round the oven and discuss the
matter. B-r-r-r. It's cold."

"Not the kitchen. I'll assemble with you round the electric light
somewhere. Come on."

We went into the library and rallied round a wax vesta. It was a
terribly cold morning.

"I can't think like this," I said, after fifteen seconds' reflection.
"I'm going to the office. There's a fire there, anyway."

"You wouldn't like a nice secretary," said Celia timidly, "or an office
girl, or somebody to lick the stamps?"

"I should never do any work if you came," I said, looking at her
thoughtfully. "Do come."

"No, I shall be all right. I've got shopping to do this morning, and I'm
going out to lunch, and I can pay some calls afterwards."

"Right. And you might find out what other people are doing, the people
you call on. And--er--if you _should_ be left alone in the drawing-room
a moment ... and the coal-box is at all adjacent.... You'll have your
muff with you, you see, and---- Well, I leave that to you. Do what you
can."

I had a good day at the office and have never been so loth to leave. I
always felt I should get to like my work some time. I arrived home again
about six. Celia was a trifle later, and I met her on the mat as she
came in.

"Any luck?" I asked eagerly, feeling in her muff. "Dash it, Celia, there
are nothing but hands here. Do you mean to say you didn't pick up
anything at all?"

"Only information," she said, leading the way into the drawing-room.
"Hallo, what's this? A fire!"

"A small involuntary contribution from the office. I brought it home
under my hat. Well, what's the news?"

"That if we want any coal we shall have to fetch it ourselves. And we
can get it in small amounts from greengrocers. Why greengrocers, I don't
know."

"I suppose they have to have fires to force the cabbages. But what about
the striking coal porters? If you do their job, won't they picket you or
pickaxe you or something?"

"Oh, of course, I should hate to go alone. But I shall be all right if
you come with me."

Celia's faith in me is very touching. I am not quite so confident about
myself. No doubt I could protect her easily against five or six great
brawny hulking porters ... armed with coal-hammers ... but I am
seriously doubtful whether a dozen or so, aided with a little luck,
mightn't get the better of me.

"Don't let us be rash," I said thoughtfully. "Don't let us infuriate
them."

"You aren't afraid of a striker?" asked Celia in amazement.

"Of an ordinary striker, no. In a strike of bank-clerks, or--or
chess-players, or professional skeletons, I should be a lion among the
blacklegs; but there is something about the very word coal porter
which---- You know, I really think this is a case where the British Army
might help us. We have been very good to it."

The British Army, I should explain, has been walking out with Jane
lately. When we go away for week-ends we let the British Army drop in to
supper. Luckily it neither smokes nor drinks nor takes any great
interest in books. It is a great relief, on your week-ends in the
country, to _know_ that the British Army is dropping in to supper, when
otherwise you might only have suspected it. I may say that we are rather
hoping to get a position in the Army Recruiting film on the strength of
this hospitality.

"Let the British Army go," I said. "We've been very kind to him."

"I fancy Jane has left the service. I don't know why."

"Probably they quarrelled because she gave him caviare two nights
running," I said. "Well, I suppose I shall have to go. But it will be no
place for women. To-morrow afternoon I will sally forth alone to do it.
But," I added, "I shall probably return with two coal porters clinging
round my neck. Order tea for three."

Next evening, after a warm and busy day at the office, I put on my
top-hat and tail-coat and went out. If there was any accident I was
determined to be described in the papers as "the body of a well-dressed
man"; to go down to history as "the remains of a shabbily dressed
individual" would be too depressing. Beautifully clothed, I jumped into
a taxi and drove to Celia's greengrocer. Celia herself was keeping warm
by paying still more calls.

"I want," I said nervously, "a hundredweight of coal and a cauliflower."
This was my own idea. I intended to place the cauliflower on the top of
a sack, and so to deceive any too-inquisitive coal porter. "No, no," I
should say, "not coal; nice cauliflowers for Sunday's dinner."

"Can't deliver the coal," said the greengrocer.

"I'm going to take it with me," I explained.

He went round to a yard at the back. I motioned my taxi along and
followed him at the head of three small boys who had never seen a
top-hat and a cauliflower so close together. We got the sack into
position.

"Come, come," I said to the driver, "haven't you ever seen a
dressing-case before? Give us a hand with it or I shall miss my train
and be late for dinner."

He grinned and gave a hand. I paid the greengrocer, pressed the
cauliflower into the hand of the smallest boy, and drove off....

It was absurdly easy.

There was no gore at all.

       .       .       .       .       .

"There!" I said to Celia when she came back. "And when that's done I'll
get you some more."

"Hooray! And yet," she went on, "I'm almost sorry. You see, I was
working off my calls so nicely, and you'd been having some quite busy
days at the office, hadn't you?"



THE ORDER OF THE BATH


"We must really do something about the bath," said Celia.

"We must," I agreed.

At present what we do is this. Punctually at six-thirty or nine, or
whenever it is, Celia goes in to make herself clean and beautiful for
the new day, while I amuse myself with a razor. After a quarter of an
hour or so she gives a whistle to imply that the bathroom is now vacant,
and I give another one to indicate that I have only cut myself once. I
then go hopefully in and find that the bath is half full of water;
whereupon I go back to my room and engage in Dr. Hugh de Sélincourt's
physical exercises for the middle-aged. After these are over I take
another look at the bath, discover that it is now three-eighths full,
and return to my room and busy myself with Dr. Archibald Marshall's
mental drill for busy men. By the time I have committed three Odes of
Horace to memory, it may be low tide or it may not; if not, I sit on the
edge of the bath with the daily paper and read about the latest
strike--my mind occupied equally with wondering when the water is going
out and when the bricklayers are. And the thought that Celia is now in
the dining-room eating more than her share of the toast does not console
me in the least.

"Yes," I said, "it's absurd to go on like this. You had better see about
it to-day, Celia."

"I don't think--I mean, I think--you know, it's really _your_ turn to do
something for the bathroom."

"What do you mean, _my_ turn? Didn't I buy the glass shelves for it?
You'd never even heard of glass shelves."

"Well, who put them up after they'd been lying about for a month?" said
Celia. "I did."

"And who bumped his head against them the next day? I did."

"Yes, but that wasn't really a _useful_ thing to do. It's your turn to
be useful."

"Celia, this is mutiny. All household matters are supposed to be looked
after by you. I do the brain work; I earn the money; I cannot be
bothered with these little domestic worries. I have said so before."

"I sort of thought you had."

You know, I am afraid that is true.

"After all," she went on, "the drinks are in your department."

"Hock, perhaps," I said; "soapy water, no. There is a difference."

"Not very much," said Celia.

By the end of another week I was getting seriously alarmed. I began to
fear that unless I watched it very carefully I should be improving
myself too much.

"While the water was running out this morning," I said to Celia, as I
started my breakfast just about lunch-time, "I got _Paradise Lost_ off
by heart, and made five hundred and ninety-six revolutions with the back
paws. And then it was time to shave myself again. What a life for a busy
man!"

"I don't know if you know that it's no----"

"Begin again," I said.

"--that it's no good waiting for the last inch or two to go out by
itself. Because it won't. You have to--to _hoosh_ it out."

"I do. And I sit on the taps looking like a full moon and try to draw it
out. But it's no good. We had a neap tide to-day and I had to hoosh four
inches. Jolly."

Celia gave a sigh of resignation.

"All right," she said, "I'll go to the plumber to-day."

"Not the plumber," I begged. "On the contrary. The plumber is the man
who _stops_ the leaks. What we really want is an unplumber."

We fell into silence again.

"But how silly we are!" cried Celia suddenly. "Of course!"

"What's the matter now?"

"The bath is the _landlord's_ business! Write and tell him."

"But--but what shall I say?" Somehow I knew Celia would put it on to me.

"Why, just--_say_. When you're paying the rent, you know."

"I--I see."

I retired to the library and thought it out. I hate writing business
letters. The result is a mixture of formality and chattiness which seems
to me all wrong.

My first letter to the landlord went like this:--

"DEAR SIR,--I enclose cheque in payment of last quarter's rent. Our bath
won't run out properly. Yours faithfully."

It is difficult to say just what is wrong with that letter, and yet it
is obvious that something has happened to it. It isn't _right_. I tried
again.

"DEAR SIR,--Enclosed please find cheque in payment of enclosed account.
I must ask you either to enlarge the exit to our bath or to supply an
emergency door. At present my morning and evening baths are in serious
danger of clashing. Yours faithfully."

My third attempt had more sting in it:--

"DEAR SIR,--Unless you do something to our bath I cannot send you
enclosed cheque in payment of enclosed account. Otherwise I would have.
Yours faithfully."

At this point I whistled to Celia and laid the letters before her.

"You see what it is," I said. "I'm not quite getting the note."

"But you're so abrupt," she said. "You must remember that this is all
coming quite as a surprise to him. You want to lead up to it more
gradually."

"Ah, perhaps you're right. Let's try again."

I tried again, with this result:--

"DEAR SIR,--In sending you a cheque in payment of last quarter's rent I
feel I must tell you how comfortable we are here. The only
inconvenience--and it is indeed a trifling one, dear Sir--which we have
experienced is in connection with the bathroom. Elegantly appointed and
spacious as this room is, commodious as we find the actual bath itself,
yet we feel that in the matter of the waste-pipe the high standard of
efficiency so discernible elsewhere is sadly lacking. Were I alone I
should not complain; but unfortunately there are two of us; and, for the
second one, the weariness of waiting while the waters of the first bath
exude drop by drop is almost more than can be borne. I speak with
knowledge, for it is I who----"

I tore the letter up and turned to Celia.

"I'm a fool," I said. "I've just thought of something which will save me
all this rotten business every morning."

"I'm so glad. What is it?"

"Why, of course--in future _I_ will go to the bath first."

And I do. It is a ridiculously simple solution, and I cannot think why
it never occurred to me before.



A TRUNK CALL


Last Wednesday, being the anniversary of the Wednesday before, Celia
gave me a present of a door-knocker. The knocker was in the shape of an
elephant's head (not life-size); and by bumping the animal's trunk
against his chin you could produce a small brass noise.

"It's for the library," she explained eagerly. "You're going to work
there this morning, aren't you?"

"Yes, I shall be very busy," I said in my busy voice.

"Well, just put it up before you start, and then if I _have_ to
interrupt you for anything important, I can knock with it. _Do_ say you
love it."

"It's a dear, and so are you. Come along, let's put it up."

I got a small screw-driver, and with very little loss of blood managed
to screw it into the door. Some people are born screwists, some are not.
I am one of the nots.

"It's rather sideways," said Celia doubtfully.

"Osso erry," I said.

"What?"

I took my knuckle from my mouth.

"Not so very," I repeated.

"I wish it had been straight."

"So do I; but it's too late now. You have to leave these things very
largely to the screw-driver. Besides, elephants often do have their
heads sideways; I've noticed it at the Zoo."

"Well, never mind. I think it's very clever of you to do it at all. Now
then, you go in, and I'll knock and see if you hear."

I went in and shut the door, Celia remaining outside. After five
seconds, having heard nothing, but not wishing to disappoint her, I
said, "Come in," in the voice of one who has been suddenly disturbed by
a loud "rat-tat."

"I haven't knocked yet," said Celia from the other side of the door.

"Why not?"

"I was admiring him. He _is_ jolly. Do come and look at him again."

I went out and looked at him again. He really gave an air to the library
door.

"His face is rather dirty," said Celia. "I think he wants some brass
polish and a--and a bun."

She ran off to the kitchen. I remained behind with Jumbo and had a
little practice. The knock was not altogether convincing, owing to the
fact that his chin was too receding for his trunk to get at it properly.
I could hear it quite easily on my own side of the door, but I felt
rather doubtful whether the sound would penetrate into the room. The
natural noise of the elephant--roar, bark, whistle, or whatever it is--I
have never heard, but I am told it is very terrible to denizens of the
jungle. Jumbo's cry would not have alarmed an ant.

Celia came back with flannels and things and washed Jumbo's face.

"There!" she said. "Now his mother would love him again." Very
confidently she propelled his trunk against his chin and added, "Come
in."

"You can hear it quite plainly," I said quickly.

"It doesn't re--rever--reverberate--is that the word?" said Celia, "but
it's quite a distinctive noise. I'm sure you'd hear it."

"I'm sure I should. Let's try."

"Not now. I'll try later on, when you aren't expecting it. Besides, you
must begin your work. Good-bye. Work hard." She pushed me in and shut
the door.

I began to work.

I work best on the sofa; I think most clearly in what appears to the
hasty observer to be an attitude of rest. But I am not sure that Celia
really understands this yet. Accordingly, when a knock comes at the door
I jump to my feet, ruffle my hair, and stride up and down the room with
one hand on my brow. "Come in," I call impatiently, and Celia finds me
absolutely in the throes. If there should chance to be a second knock
later on, I make a sprint for the writing-desk, seize pen and paper,
upset the ink or not as it happens, and present to any one coming in at
the door the most thoroughly engrossed back in London.

But that was in the good old days of knuckle-knocking. On this
particular morning I had hardly written more than a couple of thousand
words--I mean I had hardly got the cushions at the back of my head
comfortably settled when Celia came in.

"Well?" she said eagerly.

I struggled out of the sofa.

"What is it?" I asked sternly.

"Did you hear it all right?"

"I didn't hear anything."

"Oh!" she said in great disappointment. "But perhaps you were asleep,"
she went on hopefully.

"Certainly not. I was working."

"Did I interrupt you?"

"You did rather; but it doesn't matter."

"Oh, well, I won't do it again--unless I really have to. Good-bye, and
good luck."

She went out and I returned to my sofa. After an hour or so my mind
began to get to work, and I got up and walked slowly up and down the
room. The gentle exercise seemed to stimulate me. Seeing my new putter
in the corner of the room, I took it up (my brain full of other things)
and, dropping a golf ball on the carpet, began to practise. After five
or ten minutes, my ideas being now quite clear, I was just about to
substitute the pen for the putter when Celia came in.

"Oh!" she said. "Are--are you busy?"

I turned round from a difficult putt with the club in my hand.

"Very," I said. "What is it?"

"I don't want to disturb you if you're working----"

"I am."

"But I just wondered if you--if you liked artichokes."

I looked at her coldly.

"I will fill in your confession book another time," I said stiffly, and
I sat down with dignity at my desk and dipped the putter in the ink.

"It's for dinner to-night," said Celia persuasively. "Do say. Because I
don't want to eat them all by myself."

I saw that I should have to humour her.

"If it's a Jerusalem artichoke you mean, yes," I said; "the other sort,
no. J. Arthur Choke I love."

"Right-o. Sorry for interrupting." And then as she went to the door,
"You _did_ hear Jumbo this time, didn't you?"

"I believe that's the only reason you came in for."

"Well, one of them."

"Are you coming in again?"

"Don't know," she smiled. "Depends if I can think of an excuse."

"Right," I said. "In that case----"

There was nothing else for it; I took up my pen and began to work.

But I have a suggestion to make to Celia. At present, although Jumbo is
really mine, _she_ is having all the fun with him. And as long as Jumbo
is on the outside of the door there can never rise an occasion when I
should want to use him. My idea is that I should unscrew Jumbo and put
him on the _inside_ of the door, so that I can knock when I come out.

And then when Celia wants to come in she will warn me in the
old-fashioned way with her knuckles ... and I shall have time to do
something about it.



OTHER PEOPLE'S HOUSES



THE PARTING GUEST


When nice people ask me to their houses for the week-end, I reply that I
shall be delighted to come, but that pressure of work will prevent my
staying beyond Tuesday. Sometimes, in spite of this, they try to kick me
out on the Monday; and if I find that they are serious about it I may
possibly consent to go by an evening train. In any case, it always seems
to me a pity to have to leave a house just as you are beginning to know
your way to the bathroom.

"Is the 9.25 too early for you?" said Charles on Sunday night _à propos_
of nothing that I had said.

"Not if it's in the evening," I answered.

"It's in the morning."

"Then it's much too early. I never travel before breakfast. But why do
you ask?"

"Well, I've got to ride over to Newtown to-morrow----"

"To-morrow?" I said in surprise. "Aren't we talking about Tuesday?"

It appeared that we weren't. It also came out that Charles and his wife,
not anticipating the pleasure of my company beyond Monday, had arranged
to ride over the downs to Newtown to inspect a horse. They would not be
back until the evening.

"But that's all right, Charles," I said. "If you have a spare horse, a
steady one which doesn't wobble when it canters, I will ride with you."

"There's only the old pony," said Charles, "and he will be wanted to
drive you to the station."

"Not until Tuesday," I pointed out.

Charles ignored this remark altogether.

"You couldn't ride Joseph, anyway," he said.

"Then I might run beside you, holding on to your stirrup. My ancestors
always went into battle like that. We are still good runners."

Charles turned over some more pages of his timetable.

"There is a 10.41," he announced.

"Just when I shall be getting to like you," I sighed.

"Molly and I have to be off by ten. If you caught the 10.41, you would
want to leave here by a quarter past."

"I shouldn't _want_ to leave," I said reproachfully; "I should go with
the greatest regret."

"The 9.25, of course, gets you up to town much earlier."

"Some such idea, no doubt, would account for its starting before the
10.41. What have you at about 4.30?"

"If you don't mind changing at Plimton, there's a 10.5----"

I got up and lit my candle.

"Let's wait till to-morrow and see what the weather's like," I said
sleepily. "I am not a proud man, but after what you've said, and if it's
at all wet, I may actually be glad to catch an early train." And I
marched upstairs to bed.

However, a wonderful blue sky next morning made any talk of London
utterly offensive. My host and hostess had finished breakfast by the
time I got down, and I was just beginning my own when the sound of the
horses on the gravel brought me out.

"I'm sorry we've got to dash off like this," said Mrs. Charles, smiling
at me from the back of Pompey. "Don't you be in any hurry to go. There
are plenty of trains."

"Thank you. It would be a shame to leave the country on a morning like
this, wouldn't it? I shall take a stroll over the hills before lunch,
and sit about in the garden in the afternoon. There's a train at five, I
think."

"We shan't be back by then, I'm afraid, so this will be good-bye."

I made my farewells, and Pompey, who was rather fresh, went off sideways
down the drive. This left me alone with Charles.

"Good-bye, Charles," I said, patting him with one hand and his horse
with the other. "Don't you bother about me. I shall be quite happy by
myself."

He looked at me with a curious smile and was apparently about to say
something, when Cæsar suddenly caught sight of my stockings. These,
though in reality perfectly tasteful, might well come as a surprise to a
young horse, and Cæsar bolted down the drive to tell Pompey about it. I
waved to them all from the distance and returned to my breakfast.

After breakfast I lit a pipe and strolled outside. As I stood at the
door drinking in the beauty of the morning I was the victim of a curious
illusion. It seemed to me that outside the front door was the
pony-cart--Joseph in the shafts, the gardener's boy holding the reins,
and by the side of the boy my bag!

"We'll only just have time, sir," said the boy.

"But--but I'm going by the five train," I stammered.

"Well, sir, I shall be over at Newtown this afternoon--with the cart."

I did not like to ask him why, but I thought I knew. It was, I told
myself, to fetch back the horse which Charles was going over to inspect,
the horse to which I had to give up my room that night.

"Very well," I said. "Take the bag now and leave it in the cloak-room.
I'll walk in later." What the etiquette was when your host gave you a
hint by sending your bag to the station and going away himself, I did
not know. But however many bags he packed and however many horses he
inspected, I was not to be moved till the five o'clock train.

Half an hour after my bag was gone I made a discovery. It was that, when
I started walking to the five o'clock train, I should have to start in
pumps....

       .       .       .       .       .

"My dear Charles," I wrote that night, "it was delightful to see you
this week-end, and I only wish I could have stayed with you longer, but,
as you know, I had to dash up to town by the five train to inspect a
mule. I am sorry to say that a slight accident happened just before I
left you. In the general way, when I catch an afternoon train, I like to
pack my bag overnight, but on this occasion I did not begin until nine
in the morning. This only left me eight hours, and the result was that
in my hurry I packed my shoes by mistake, and had to borrow a pair of
yours in which to walk to the station. _I will bring them down with me
next time I come._"

I may say that they are unusually good shoes, and if Charles doesn't
want me he must at least want them. So I am expecting another invitation
by every post. When it arrives I shall reply that I shall be delighted
to come, but that, alas! pressure of work will prevent my staying beyond
Tuesday.



THE LANDSCAPE GARDENER


Really I know nothing about flowers. By a bit of luck, James, my
gardener, whom I pay half a crown a week for combing the beds, knows
nothing about them either; so my ignorance remains undiscovered. But in
other people's gardens I have to make something of an effort to keep up
appearances. Without flattering myself I may say that I have acquired a
certain manner; I give the impression of the garden lover, or the man
with shares in a seed company, or--or something.

For instance, at Creek Cottage, Mrs. Atherley will say to me, "That's an
_Amphilobertus Gemini_," pointing to something which I hadn't noticed
behind a rake.

"I am not a bit surprised," I say calmly.

"And a _Gladiophinium Banksii_ next to it."

"I suspected it," I confess in a hoarse whisper.

Towards flowers whose names I know I adopt a different tone.

"Aren't you surprised to see daffodils out so early?" says Mrs. Atherley
with pride.

"There are lots out in London," I mention casually. "In the shops."

"So there are grapes," says Miss Atherley.

"I was not talking about grapes," I reply stiffly.

However, at Creek Cottage just now I can afford to be natural; for it is
not gardening which comes under discussion these days, but
landscape-gardening, and any one can be an authority on that. The
Atherleys, fired by my tales of Sandringham, Chatsworth, Arundel, and
other places where I am constantly spending the week-end, are
readjusting their two-acre field. In future it will not be called "the
garden," but "the grounds."

I was privileged to be shown over the grounds on my last visit to Creek
Cottage.

"Here," said Mrs. Atherley, "we are having a plantation. It will keep
the wind off; and we shall often sit here in the early days of summer.
That's a weeping ash in the middle. There's another one over there.
They'll be lovely, you know."

"What's that?" I asked, pointing to a bit of black stick on the left;
which, even more than the other trees, gave the impression of having
been left there by the gardener while he went for his lunch.

"That's a weeping willow."

"This is rather a tearful corner of the grounds," apologized Miss
Atherley. "We'll show you something brighter directly. Look
there--that's the oak in which King Charles lay hid. At least, it will
be when it's grown a bit."

"Let's go on to the shrubbery," said Mrs. Atherley. "We are having a new
grass path from here to the shrubbery. It's going to be called Henry's
Walk."

Miss Atherley has a small brother called Henry. Also there were eight
Kings of England called Henry. Many a time and oft one of those nine
Henrys has paced up and down this grassy walk, his head bent, his hands
clasped behind his back; while behind his furrowed brow, who shall say
what world-schemes were hatching? Is it the thought of Wolsey which
makes him frown--or is he wondering where he left his catapult? Ah! who
can tell us? Let us leave a veil of mystery over it ... for the sake of
the next visitor.

"The shrubbery," said Mrs. Atherley proudly, waving her hand at a couple
of laurel bushes and a--I've forgotten its name now, but it is one of
the few shrubs I really know.

"And if you're a gentleman," said Miss Atherley, "and want to get asked
here again, you'll always _call_ it the shrubbery."

"Really, I don't see what else you could call it," I said, wishing to be
asked down again.

"The patch."

"True," I said. "I mean, Nonsense."

I was rather late for breakfast next morning; a pity on such a lovely
spring day.

"I'm so sorry," I began, "but I was looking at the shrubbery from my
window and I quite forgot the time."

"Good," said Miss Atherley.

"I must thank you for putting me in such a perfect room for it," I went on,
warming to my subject. "One can actually see the shrubs--er--shrubbing. The
plantation, too, seems a little thicker to me than yesterday."

"I expect it is."

"In fact, the tennis lawn----" I looked round anxiously. I had a sudden
fear that it might be the new deer-park. "It still is the tennis lawn?"
I asked.

"Yes. Why, what about it?"

"I was only going to say the tennis lawn had quite a lot of shadows on
it. Oh, there's no doubt that the plantation is really asserting
itself."

Eleven o'clock found me strolling in the grounds with Miss Atherley.

"You know," I said, as we paced Henry's Walk together, "the one thing
the plantation wants is for a bird to nest in it. That is the hall-mark
of a plantation."

"It's mother's birthday to-morrow. Wouldn't it be a lovely surprise for
her?"

"It would, indeed. Unfortunately this is a matter in which you require
the co-operation of a feathered friend."

"Couldn't you try to persuade a bird to build a nest in the weeping ash?
Just for this once?"

"You're asking me a very difficult thing," I said doubtfully. "Anything
else I would do cheerfully for you; but to dictate to a bird on such a
very domestic affair---- No, I'm afraid I must refuse."

"It need only just _begin_ to build one," pleaded Miss Atherley,
"because mother's going up to town by your train to-morrow. As soon as
she's out of the house the bird can go back anywhere else it likes
better."

"I will put that to any bird I see to-day," I said, "but I am doubtful."

"Oh, well," sighed Miss Atherley, "never mind."

       .       .       .       .       .

"What do you think?" cried Mrs. Atherley as she came in to breakfast
next day. "There's a bird been nesting in the plantation!"

Miss Atherley looked at me in undisguised admiration. I looked quite
surprised--I know I did.

"Well, well!" I said.

"You must come out afterwards and see the nest and tell me what bird it
is. There are three eggs in it. I am afraid I don't know much about
these things."

"I'm glad," I said thankfully. "I mean, I shall be glad to."

We went out eagerly after breakfast. On about the only tree in the
plantation with a fork to it a nest balanced precariously. It had in it
three pale-blue eggs splotched with light brown. It appeared to be a
blackbird's nest with another egg or two to come.

"It's been very quick about it," said Miss Atherley.

"Of our feathered bipeds," I said, frowning at her, "the blackbird is
notoriously the most hasty."

"Isn't it lovely?" said Mrs. Atherley.

She was still talking about it as she climbed into the trap which was to
take us to the station.

"One moment," I said, "I've forgotten something." I dashed into the
house and out by a side door, and then sprinted for the plantation. I
took the nest from the weeping and over-weighted ash and put it
carefully back in the hedge by the tennis-lawn. Then I returned more
leisurely to the house.

If you ever want a job of landscape-gardening thoroughly well done, you
can always rely upon me.



THE SAME OLD STORY


We stood in a circle round the parrot's cage and gazed with interest at
its occupant. She (Evangeline) was balancing easily on one leg, while
with the other leg and her beak she tried to peel a monkey-nut. There
are some of us who hate to be watched at meals, particularly when
dealing with the dessert, but Evangeline is not of our number.

"There," said Mrs. Atherley, "isn't she a beauty?"

I felt that, as the last to be introduced, I ought to say something.

"What do you say to a parrot?" I whispered to Miss Atherley.

"Have a banana," suggested Reggie.

"I believe you say, 'Scratch-a-poll,'" said Miss Atherley, "but I don't
know why."

"Isn't that rather dangerous? Suppose it retorted 'Scratch your own,' I
shouldn't know a bit how to go on."

"It can't talk," said Reggie. "It's quite a baby--only seven months old.
But it's no good showing it your watch; you must think of some other way
of amusing it."

"Break it to me, Reggie. Have I been asked down solely to amuse the
parrot, or did any of you others want to see me?"

"Only the parrot," said Reggie.

Evangeline paid no attention to us. She continued to wrestle with the
monkey-nut. I should say that she was a bird not easily amused.

"Can't it really talk at all?" I asked Mrs. Atherley.

"Not yet. You see, she's only just come over from South America, and
isn't used to the climate yet."

"But that's just the person you'd expect to talk a lot about the
weather. I believe you've been had. Write a little note to the
poulterers and ask if you can change it. You've got a bad one by
mistake."

"We got it as a bird," said Mrs. Atherley with dignity, "not as a
gramophone."

The next morning Evangeline was as silent as ever. Miss Atherley and I
surveyed it after breakfast. It was still grappling with a monkey-nut,
but no doubt a different one.

"Isn't it _ever_ going to talk?" I asked. "Really, I thought parrots
were continually chatting."

"Yes, but they have to be taught--just like you teach a baby."

"Are you sure? I quite see that you have to teach them any special
things you want them to say, but I thought they were all born with a few
simple obvious remarks, like 'Poor Polly,' or--or 'Dash Lloyd George.'"

"I don't think so," said Miss Atherley. "Not the green ones."

At dinner that evening, Mr. Atherley being now with us, the question of
Evangeline's education was seriously considered.

"The only proper method," began Mr. Atherley----"By the way," he said,
turning to me, "you don't know anything about parrots, do you?"

"No," I said. "You can go on quite safely."

"The only proper method of teaching a parrot--I got this from a man in
the City this morning--is to give her a word at a time, and to go on
repeating it over and over again until she's got hold of it."

"And after that the parrot goes on repeating it over and over again
until you've got sick of it," said Reggie.

"Then we shall have to be very careful what word we choose," said Mrs.
Atherley.

"What is your favourite word?"

"Well, really----"

"Animal, vegetable, or mineral?" asked Archie.

"This is quite impossible. Every word by itself seems so silly."

"Not 'home' and 'mother,'" I said reproachfully.

"You shall recite your little piece in the drawing-room afterwards,"
said Miss Atherley to me. "Think of something sensible now."

"Yes," said Mrs. Atherley. "What's the latest word from London?"

"Kikuyu."

"What?"

"I can't say it again," I protested.

"If you can't even say it twice, it's no good for Evangeline."

A thoughtful silence fell upon us.

"Have you fixed on a name for her yet?" Miss Atherley asked her mother.

"Evangeline, of course."

"No, I mean a name for her to call _you_. Because if she's going to call
you 'Auntie' or 'Darling,' or whatever you decide on, you'd better start
by teaching her that."

And then I had a brilliant idea.

"I've got the very word," I said. "It's 'hallo.' You see, it's a
pleasant form of greeting to any stranger, and it will go perfectly with
the next word that she's taught, whatever it may be."

"Supposing it's 'wardrobe,'" suggested Reggie, "or 'sardine'?"

"Why not? 'Hallo, Sardine' is the perfect title for a _revue_. Witty,
subtle, neat--probably the great brain of the Revue King has already
evolved it, and is planning the opening scene."

"Yes, 'hallo' isn't at all bad," said Mr. Atherley. "Anyway, it's better
than 'Poor Polly,' which is simply morbid. Let's fix on 'hallo.'"

"Good," said Mrs. Atherley.

Evangeline said nothing, being asleep under her blanket.

       .       .       .       .       .

I was down first next morning, having forgotten to wind up my watch
overnight. Longing for company, I took the blanket off Evangeline's cage
and introduced her to the world again. She stirred sleepily, opened her
eyes and blinked at me.

"Hallo, Evangeline," I said.

She made no reply.

Suddenly a splendid scheme occurred to me. I would teach Evangeline her
word now. How it would surprise the others when they came down and said
"Hallo" to her, to find themselves promptly answered back!

"Evangeline," I said, "listen. Hallo, hallo, hallo, hallo." I stopped a
moment and went on more slowly. "Hallo--hallo--hallo."

It was dull work.

"Hallo," I said, "hallo--hallo--hallo," and then very distinctly,
"Hal-_lo_."

Evangeline looked at me with an utterly bored face.

"Hallo," I said, "hallo--hallo."

She picked up a monkey-nut and ate it languidly.

"Hallo," I went on, "hallo, hallo ... hallo, _hallo_, HALLO, HALLO ...
hallo, hallo----"

She dropped her nut and roused herself for a moment.

"Number engaged," she snapped, and took another nut.

       .       .       .       .       .

You needn't believe this. The others didn't when I told them.



THE SPREADING WALNUT TREE


We were having breakfast in the garden with the wasps, and Peter was
enlarging on the beauties of the country round his new week-end cottage.

"Then there's Hilderton," he said; "that's a lovely little village, I'm
told. We might explore it to-morrow."

Celia woke up suddenly.

"Is Hilderton near here?" she asked in surprise. "But I often stayed
there when I was a child."

"This was years ago, when Edward the Seventh was on the throne," I
explained to Mrs. Peter.

"My grandfather," went on Celia, "lived at Hilderton Hall."

There was an impressive silence.

"You see the sort of people you're entertaining," I said airily to
Peter. "My wife's grandfather lived at Hilderton Hall. Celia, you should
have spoken about this before. It would have done us a lot of good in
Society." I pushed my plate away. "I can't go on eating bacon after
this. Bring me peaches."

"I should love to see it again."

"If I'd had my rights," I said, "I should be living there now. I must
put my solicitor on to this. There's been foul play somewhere."

Peter looked up from one of the maps which, being new to the country, he
carries with him.

"I can't find Hilderton Hall here," he said. "It's six inches to the
mile, so it ought to be marked."

"Celia, our grandfather's name is being aspersed. Let us look into
this."

We crowded round the map and studied it anxiously. Hilderton was there,
and Hilderton House, but no Hilderton Hall.

"But it's a great big place," protested Celia.

"I see what it is," I said regretfully. "Celia, you were young then."

"Ten."

"Ten. And naturally it seemed big to you, just as Yarrow seemed big to
Wordsworth, and a shilling seems a lot to a baby. But really----"

"Really," said Peter, "it was semi-detached."

"And your side was called Hilderton Hall and the other side Hilderton
Castle."

"I don't believe it was even called Hilderton Hall," said Peter. "It was
Hilderton Villa."

"I don't believe she ever had a grandfather at all," said Mrs. Peter.

"She must have had a grandfather," I pointed out. "But I'm afraid he
never lived at Hilderton Hall. This is a great blow to me, and I shall
now resume my bacon."

I drew my plate back and Peter returned his map to his pocket.

"You're all very funny," said Celia, "but I know it was Hilderton Hall.
I've a good mind to take you there this morning and show it to you."

"Do," said Peter and I eagerly.

"It's a great big place----"

"That's what we're coming to see," I reminded her.

"Of course they may have sold some of the land, or--I mean, I know when
I used to stay there it was a--a great big place. I can't promise that
it----"

"It's no good now, Celia," I said sternly. "You shouldn't have boasted."

Hilderton was four miles off, and we began to approach it--Celia
palpably nervous--at about twelve o'clock that morning.

"Are you recognizing any of this?" asked Peter.

"N-no. You see I was only about eight----"

"You _must_ recognise the church," I said, pointing to it. "If you
don't, it proves either that you never lived at Hilderton or that you
never sang in the choir. I don't know which thought is the more
distressing. Now what about this place? Is this it?"

Celia peered up the drive.

"N-no; at least I don't remember it. I know there was a walnut tree in
front of the house."

"Is that all you remember?"

"Well, I was only about six----"

Peter and I both had a slight cough at the same time.

"It's nothing," said Peter, finding Celia's indignant eye upon him.
"Let's go on."

We found two more big houses, but Celia, a little doubtfully, rejected
them both.

"My grandfather-in-law was very hard to please," I apologized to Peter.
"He passed over place after place before he finally fixed on Hilderton
Hall. Either the heronry wasn't ventilated properly, or the decoy ponds
had the wrong kind of mud, or----"

There was a sudden cry from Celia.

"This is it," she said.

She stood at the entrance to a long drive. A few chimneys could be seen
in the distance. On either side of the gates was a high wall.

"I don't see the walnut tree," I said.

"Of course not, because you can't see the front of the house. But I feel
certain that this is the place."

"We want more proof than that," said Peter. "We must go in and find the
walnut tree."

"We can't all wander into another man's grounds looking for walnut
trees," I said, "with no better excuse than that Celia's
great-grandmother was once asked down here for the week-end and stayed
for a fortnight. We----"

"My _grandfather_," said Celia coldly, "_lived_ here."

"Well, whatever it was," I said, "we must invent a proper reason. Peter,
you might pretend you've come to inspect the gas-meter or the milk or
something. Or perhaps Celia had better disguise herself as a Suffragette
and say that she's come to borrow a box of matches. Anyhow, one of us
must get to the front of the house to search for this walnut tree."

"It--it seems rather cheek," said Celia doubtfully.

"We'll toss up who goes."

We tossed, and of course I lost. I went up the drive nervously. At the
first turn I decided to be an insurance inspector, at the next a
scout-master, but, as I approached the front door, I thought of a very
simple excuse. I rang the bell under the eyes of several people at lunch
and looked about eagerly for the walnut tree.

There was none.

"Does Mr.--er--Erasmus--er--Percival live here?" I asked the footman.

"No, sir," he said--luckily.

"Ah! Was there ever a walnut--I mean _was_ there ever a Mr. Percival who
lived here? Ah! Thank you," and I sped down the drive again.

"Well?" said Celia eagerly.

"Mr. Percival _doesn't_ live there."

"Whoever's Mr. Percival?"

"Oh, I forgot; you don't know him. Friends," I added solemnly, "I regret
to tell you there is _no_ walnut tree."

"I am not surprised," said Peter.

The walk home was a silent one. For the rest of the day Celia was
thoughtful. But at the end of dinner she brightened up a little and
joined in the conversation.

"At Hilderton Hall," she said suddenly, "we always----"

"H'r'm," I said, clearing my throat loudly. "Peter, pass Celia the
walnuts."

       .       .       .       .       .

I have had great fun in London this week with the walnut joke, though
Celia says she is getting tired of it. But I had a letter from Peter
to-day which ended like this:--

    "By the way, I was an ass last week. I took you to Banfield in
    mistake for Hilderton. I went to Hilderton yesterday and found
    Hilderton Hall--a large place _with_ a walnut tree. It's a little
    way out of the village, and is marked big on the next section of the
    map to the one we were looking at. You might tell Celia."

True, I might....

Perhaps in a week or two I shall.



DEFINITIONS


As soon as we had joined the ladies after dinner Gerald took up a
position in front of the fire.

"Now that the long winter evenings are upon us," he began----

"Anyhow, it's always dark at half-past nine," said Norah.

"Not in the morning," said Dennis, who has to be excused for anything
foolish he says since he became obsessed with golf.

"Please don't interrupt," I begged. "Gerald is making a speech."

"I was only going to say that we might have a little game of some sort.
Norah, what's the latest parlour game from London?"

"Tell your uncle," I urged, "how you amuse yourselves at the Lyceum."

"Do you know 'Hunt the Pencil'?"

"No. What do you do?"

"You collect five pencils; when you've got them, I'll tell you another
game."

"Bother these pencil games," said Dennis, taking an imaginary swing with
a paper-knife. "I hope it isn't too brainy."

"You'll want to know how to spell," said Norah severely, and she went to
the writing-desk for some paper.

In a little while--say, half an hour--we had each a sheet of paper and a
pencil, and Norah was ready to explain.

"It's called Definitions. I expect you all know it."

We assured her we didn't.

"Well, you begin by writing down five or six letters, one underneath the
other. We might each suggest one. 'E.'"

We weighed in with ours, and the result was E P A D U.

"Now you write them backwards."

There was a moment's consternation.

"Like 'bath-mat'?" said Dennis. "An 'e' backwards looks so silly."

"Stupid--like this," explained Norah. She showed us her paper.

    E    U
    P    D
    A    A
    D    P
    U    E

"This is thrilling," said Mrs. Gerald, pencilling hard.

"Then everybody has to fill in words all the way down, your first word
beginning with 'e' and ending with 'u,' and so on. See?"

Gerald leant over Dennis and explained carefully to him, and in a little
while we all saw.

"Then, when everybody's finished, we define our words in turn, and the
person who guesses a word first gets a mark. That's all."

"And a very good game too," I said, and I rubbed my head and began to
think.

"Of course," said Norah, after a quarter of an hour's silence, "you want
to make the words difficult and define them as subtly as possible."

"Of course," I said, wrestling with 'E--U.' I could only think of one
word, and it was the one everybody else was certain to have.

"Are we all ready? Then somebody begin."

"You'd better begin, Norah, as you know the game," said Mrs. Gerald.

We prepared to begin.

"Mine," said Norah, "is a bird."

"Emu," we all shouted; but I swear I was first.

"Yes."

"I don't think that's a very subtle definition," said Dennis. "You
promised to be as subtle as possible."

"Go on, dear," said Gerald to his wife.

"Well, this is rather awkward. Mine is----"

"Emu," I suggested.

"You must wait till she has defined it," said Norah sternly.

"Mine is a sort of feathered animal."

"Emu," I said again. In fact, we all said it.

Gerald coughed. "Mine," he said, "isn't exactly a--fish, because it----"

"Emu," said everybody.

"That was subtler," said Dennis, "but it didn't deceive us."

"Your turn," said Norah to me. And they all leant forward ready to say
"Emu."

"Mine," I said, "is--all right, Dennis, you needn't look so excited--is
a word I once heard a man say at the Zoo."

There was a shriek of "Emu!"

"Wrong," I said.

Everybody was silent.

"Where did he say it?" asked Norah at last. "What was he doing?"

"He was standing outside the Emu's cage."

"It must have been Emu."

"It wasn't."

"Perhaps there's another animal beginning with 'e' and ending with 'u,'"
suggested Dennis. "He might have said,'Look here, I'm tired of this old
Emu, let's go and see the E-doesn't-mu,' or whatever it's called."

"We shall have to give it up," said Norah at last. "What is it?"

"Ebu," I announced. "My man had a bad cold, and he said, 'Look, Baria,
there's ad Ebu.' Er--what do I get for that?"

"Nothing," said Norah coldly. "It isn't fair. Now, Mr. Dennis."

"Mine is _not_ Emu, and it couldn't be mistaken for Emu; not even if you
had a sore throat and a sprained ankle. And it has nothing to do with
the Zoo, and----"

"Well, what is it?"

"It's what you say at golf when you miss a short putt."

"I doubt it," I said.

"Not what Gerald says," said his wife.

"Well, it's what you might say. What Horace would have said."

"'Eheu'--good," said Gerald, while his wife was asking "Horace who?"

We moved on to the next word, P--D.

"Mine," said Norah, "is what you might do to a man whom you didn't like,
but it's a delightful thing to have and at the same time you would hate
to be in it."

"Are you sure you know what you are talking about, dear?" said Mrs.
Gerald gently.

"Quite," said Norah with the confidence of extreme youth.

"Could you say it again very slowly," asked Dennis, "indicating by
changes in the voice which character is speaking?"

She said it again.

"'Pound,'" said Gerald. "Good--one to me."

Mrs. Gerald had "pod," Gerald had "pond"; but they didn't define them
very cleverly and they were soon guessed. Mine, unfortunately, was also
guessed at once.

"It is what Dennis's golf is," I said.

"'Putrid,'" said Gerald correctly.

"Mine," said Dennis, "is what everybody has two of."

"Then it's not 'pound,'" I said, "because I've only got one and
ninepence."

"At least, it's best to have two. Sometimes you lose one. They're very
useful at golf. In fact, absolutely necessary."

"Have you got two?"

"Yes."

I looked at Dennis's enormous hands spread out on his knees.

"Is it 'pud'?" I asked. "It is? Are those the two? Good heavens!" and I
gave myself a mark.

A--A was the next, and we had the old Emu trouble.

"Mine," said Norah--"mine is rather a meaningless word."

"'Abracadabra,'" shouted everybody.

"Mine," said Miss Gerald, "is a very strange word, which----"

"'Abracadabra,'" shouted everybody.

"Mine," said Gerald, "is a word which used to be----"

"'Abracadabra,'" shouted everybody.

"Mine," I said to save trouble, "is 'Abracadabra.'"

"Mine," said Dennis, "isn't. It's what you say at golf when----"

"Oh lor!" I groaned. "Not again."

"When you hole a long putt for a half."

"You generally say, 'What about _that_ for a good putt, old thing?
Thirty yards at least,'" suggested Gerald.

"No."

"Is it--is it 'Alleluia'?" suggested Mrs. Gerald timidly.

"Yes."

"Dennis," I said, "you're an ass."

       .       .       .       .       .

"And now," said Norah at the end of the game, "who's won?"

They counted up their marks.

"Ten," said Norah.

"Fifteen," said Gerald.

"Three," said his wife.

"Fourteen," said Dennis.

They looked at me.

"I'm afraid I forgot to put all mine down," I said, "but I can easily
work it out. There were five words, and five definitions of each word.
Twenty-five marks to be gained altogether. You four have got--er--let's
see--forty-two between you. That leaves me----"

"That leaves you _minus_ seventeen," said Dennis. "I'm afraid you've
lost, old man." He took up the shovel and practised a few approach
shots. "It's rather a good game."

I think so too. It's a good game, but, like all paper games, its scoring
wants watching.



A BILLIARD LESSON


I was showing Celia a few fancy strokes on the billiard-table. The other
members of the house-party were in the library, learning their parts for
some approaching theatricals--that is to say, they were sitting round
the fire and saying to each other, "This _is_ a rotten play." We had
been offered the position of auditors to several of the company, but we
were going to see _Parsifal_ on the next day, and I was afraid that the
constant excitement would be bad for Celia.

"Why don't you ask me to play with you?" she asked. "You never teach me
anything."

"There's ingratitude. Why, I gave you your first lesson at golf only
last Thursday."

"So you did. I know golf. Now show me billiards."

I looked at my watch.

"We've only twenty minutes. I'll play you thirty up."

"Right-o. What do you give me--a ball or a bisque or what?"

"I can't spare you a ball, I'm afraid. I shall want all three when I get
going. You may have fifteen start, and I'll tell you what to do."

"Well, what do I do first?"

"Select a cue."

She went over to the rack and inspected them.

"This seems a nice brown one. Now then, you begin."

"Celia, you've got the half-butt. Put it back and take a younger one."

"I thought it seemed taller than the others." She took another. "How's
this? Good. Then off you go."

"Will you be spot or plain?" I said, chalking my cue.

"Does it matter?"

"Not very much. They're both the same shape."

"Then what's the difference?"

"Well, one is more spotted than the other."

"Then I'll be less spotted."

I went to the table.

"I think," I said, "I'll try and screw in off the red." (I did this once
by accident and I've always wanted to do it again.) "Or perhaps," I
corrected myself, as soon as the ball had left me, "I had better give a
safety miss."

I did. My ball avoided the red and came swiftly back into the left-hand
bottom pocket.

"That's three to you," I said without enthusiasm.

Celia seemed surprised.

"But I haven't begun yet," she said. "Well, I suppose you know the
rules, but it seems funny. What would you like me to do?"

"Well, there isn't much on. You'd better just try and hit the red ball."

"Right." She leant over the table and took long and careful aim. I held
my breath.... Still she aimed.... Then, keeping her chin on the cue, she
slowly turned her head and looked up at me with a thoughtful expression.

"Oughtn't there to be three balls on the table?" she said, wrinkling her
forehead.

"No," I answered shortly.

"But why not?"

"Because I went down by mistake."

"But you said that when you got going, you wanted---- I can't argue
bending down like this." She raised herself slowly. "You said---- Oh,
all right, I expect you know. Anyhow, I _have_ scored some already,
haven't I?"

"Yes. You're eighteen to my nothing."

"Yes. Well, now I shall have to aim all over again." She bent slowly
over her cue. "Does it matter where I hit the red?"

"Not much. As long as you hit it on the red part."

She hit it hard on the side, and both balls came into baulk.

"Too good," I said.

"Does either of us get anything for it?"

"No." The red and the white were close together, and I went up the table
and down again on the off-chance of a cannon. I misjudged it, however.

"That's three to you," I said stiffly, as I took my ball out of the
right-hand bottom pocket. "Twenty-one to nothing."

"Funny how I'm doing all the scoring," said Celia meditatively. "And
I've practically never played before. I shall hit the red hard now and
see what happens to it."

She hit, and the red coursed madly about the table, coming to rest near
the top right-hand pocket and close to the cushion. With a forcing shot
I could get in.

"This will want a lot of chalk," I said pleasantly to Celia, and gave it
plenty. Then I let fly....

"Why did that want a lot of chalk?" said Celia with interest.

I went to the fire-place and picked my ball out of the fender.

"That's three to you," I said coldly. "Twenty-four to nothing."

"Am I winning?"

"You're leading," I explained. "Only, you see, I may make a twenty at
any moment."

"Oh!" She thought this over. "Well, I may make my three at any moment."

She chalked her cue and went over to her ball.

"What shall I do?"

"Just touch the red on the right-hand side," I said, "and you'll go into
the pocket."

"The _right_-hand side? Do you mean _my_ right-hand side, or the
ball's?"

"The right-hand side of the ball, of course; that is to say, the side
opposite your right hand."

"But its right-hand side is opposite my _left_ hand, if the ball is
facing this way."

"Take it," I said wearily, "that the ball has its back to you."

"How rude of it," said Celia, and hit it on the left-hand side, and sank
it. "Was that what you meant?"

"Well ... it's another way of doing it."

"I thought it was. What do I give you for that?"

"_You_ get three."

"Oh, I thought the other person always got the marks. I know the last
three times----"

"Go on," I said freezingly. "You have another turn."

"Oh, is it like rounders?"

"Something. Go on, there's a dear. It's getting late."

She went, and left the red over the middle pocket.

"A-ha!" I said. I found a nice place in the "D" for my ball. "Now then.
This is the Gray stroke, you know."

I suppose I was nervous. Anyhow, I just nicked the red ball gently on
the wrong side and left it hanging over the pocket. The white travelled
slowly up the table.

"Why is that called the grey stroke?" asked Celia with great interest.

"Because once, when Sir Edward Grey was playing the German
Ambassador--but it's rather a long story. I'll tell you another time."

"Oh! Well, anyhow, did the German Ambassador get anything for it?"

"No."

"Then I suppose I don't. Bother."

"But you've only got to knock the red in for game."

"Oh!... There, what's that?"

"That's a miss-cue. I get one."

"Oh!... Oh well," she added magnanimously, "I'm glad you've started
scoring. It will make it more interesting for you."

There was just room to creep in off the red, leaving it still over the
pocket. With Celia's ball nicely over the other pocket there was a
chance of my twenty break. "Let's see," I said, "how many do I want?"

"Twenty-nine," replied Celia.

"Ah," I said ... and I crept in.

"That's three to you," I said icily. "Game."



BURLESQUES



THE SEASIDE NOVELETTE

[MAY BE READ ON THE PIER]

No. XCVIII--A SIMPLE ENGLISH GIRL


CHAPTER I

PRIMROSE FARM

Primrose Farm stood slumbering in the sunlight of an early summer morn.
Save for the gentle breeze which played in the tops of the two tall elms
all Nature seemed at rest. Chanticleer had ceased his song; the pigs
were asleep; in the barn the cow lay thinking. A deep peace brooded over
the rural scene, the peace of centuries. Terrible to think that in a few
short hours ... but perhaps it won't. The truth is I have not quite
decided whether to have the murder in this story or in No. XCIX.--_The
Severed Thumb_. We shall see.

As her alarum clock (a birthday present) struck five, Gwendolen French
sprang out of bed and plunged her face into the clump of nettles which
grew outside her lattice window. For some minutes she stood there,
breathing in the incense of the day; then dressing quickly she went down
into the great oak-beamed kitchen to prepare breakfast for her father
and the pigs. As she went about her simple duties she sang softly to
herself, a song of love and knightly deeds. Little did she think that a
lover, even at that moment, stood outside her door.

"Heigh-ho!" sighed Gwendolen, and she poured the bran-mash into a bowl
and took it up to her father's room.

For eighteen years Gwendolen French had been the daughter of John French
of Primrose Farm. Endowed by Nature with a beauty that is seldom seen
outside this sort of story, she was yet as modest and as good a girl as
was to be found in the county. Many a fine lady would have given all her
Parisian diamonds for the peach-like complexion which bloomed on the
fair face of Gwendolen. But the gifts of Nature are not to be bought and
sold.

There was a sudden knock at the door.

"Come in," cried Gwendolen in surprise. Unless it was the cow, it was an
entirely unexpected visitor.

A tall and handsome young man entered, striking his head violently
against a beam as he stepped into the low-ceilinged kitchen.

"Good morning," he said, repressing the remark which came more readily
to his lips. "Pray forgive this intrusion. The fact is I have lost my
way, and I wondered whether you would be kind enough to inform me as to
my whereabouts."

Recognizing from his conversation that she was being addressed by a
gentleman, Gwendolen curtsied.

"This is Primrose Farm, sir," she said.

"I fear," he replied with a smile, "it has been my misfortune never to
have heard so charming a name before. I am Lord Beltravers, of
Beltravers Castle, Beltravers. Having returned last night from India I
came out for an early stroll this morning, and I fear that I have
wandered out of my direction."

"Why," cried Gwendolen, "your lordship is miles from Beltravers Castle.
How tired and hungry you must be." She removed a lettuce from the
kitchen chair, dusted it, and offered it to him. (That is to say, the
chair, not the lettuce.) "Let me get you some milk," she added. Picking
up a pail, she went out to inspect the cow.

"Gad," said Lord Beltravers as soon as he was alone. He paced rapidly
up and down the tiled kitchen. "Deuce take it," he added recklessly,
"she's a lovely girl." The Beltraverses were noted in two continents for
their hard swearing.

"Here you are, sir," said Gwendolen, returning with the precious liquid.

Lord Beltravers seized the pail and drained it at a draught.

"Heavens, but that was good!" he said. "What was it?"

"Milk," said Gwendolen.

"Milk; I must remember. And now may I trespass on your hospitality still
further by trespassing on your assistance so far as to solicit your help
in putting me far enough on my path to discover my way back to
Beltravers Castle?" (When he was alone he said that sentence again to
himself, and wondered what had happened to it.)

"I will show you," she said simply.

They passed out into the sunlit orchard. In an apple tree a thrush was
singing; the gooseberries were over-ripe; beetroots were flowering
everywhere.

"You are very beautiful," he said.

"Yes," said Gwendolen.

"I must see you again. Listen! To-night my mother, Lady Beltravers, is
giving a ball. Do you dance?"

"Alas, not the tango," she said sadly.

"The Beltraverses do not tang," he announced with simple dignity. "You
valse? Good. Then will you come?"

"Thank you, my lord. Oh, I should love to!"

"That is excellent. And now I must bid you good-bye. But first, will you
not tell me your name?"

"Gwendolen French, my lord."

"Ah! One 'f' or two?"

"Three," said Gwendolen simply.


CHAPTER II

BELTRAVERS CASTLE

Beltravers Castle was a blaze of lights. At the head of the old oak
staircase (a magnificent example of the Selfridge period) the Lady
Beltravers stood receiving her guests. Magnificently gowned in one of
Sweeting's latest creations, and wearing round her neck the famous
Beltravers seed-pearls, she looked the picture of stately magnificence.
As each guest was announced by a bevy of footmen, she extended her
perfectly gloved hand and spoke a few words of kindly welcome.

"Good evening, Duchess; so good of you to look in. Ah, Earl, charmed to
meet you; you'll find some sandwiches in the billiard-room. Beltravers,
show the Earl some sandwiches. How-do-you-do, Professor? Delighted you
could come. Won't you take off your goloshes?"

All the county was there.

Lord Hobble was there wearing a magnificent stud; Erasmus Belt, the
famous author, whose novel, _Bitten: A Romance_, went into two editions;
Sir Septimus Root, the inventor of the fire-proof spat; Captain the
Honourable Alfred Nibbs, the popular breeder of blood-tortoises--the
whole world and his wife were present. And towering above them all stood
Lord Beltravers, of Beltravers Castle, Beltravers.

Lord Beltravers stood aloof in a corner of the great ball-room. Above
his head was the proud coat-of-arms of the Beltraverses--a headless
sardine on a field of tomato. As each new arrival entered Lord
Beltravers scanned his or her countenance eagerly, and then turned away
with a snarl of disappointment. Would his little country maid never
come?

She came at last. Attired in a frock which had obviously been created in
Little Popley, she looked the picture of girlish innocence as she stood
for a moment hesitating in the doorway. Then her eyes brightened as Lord
Beltravers came towards her with long swinging strides.

"You're here!" he exclaimed. "How good of you to come. I have thought
about you ever since this morning. There is a valse beginning. Will you
valse it with me?"

"Thank you," said Gwendolen shyly.

Lord Beltravers, who valsed divinely, put his arm round her waist and
led her into the circle of dancers.


CHAPTER III

AFFIANCED

The ball was at its height. Gwendolen, who had been in to supper eight
times, placed her hand timidly on the arm of Lord Beltravers, who had
just begged a polka of her.

"Let us sit this out," she said. "Not here--in the garden."

"Yes," said Lord Beltravers gravely. "Let us go. I have something to say
to you."

Offering her his arm, he led her down the great terrace which ran along
the back of the house.

"How wonderful to have your ancestors always around you like this!"
cooed Gwendolen, as she gazed with reverence at the two statues which
fronted them.

"Venus," said Lord Beltravers shortly, "and Samson."

He led her down the steps and into the ornamental garden, and there they
sat down.

"Miss French," said Lord Beltravers, "or, if I may call you by that
sweet name, Gwendolen, I have brought you here for the purpose of making
an offer to you. Perhaps it would have been more in accordance with
etiquette had I approached your mother first."

"Mother is dead," said the girl simply.

"I am sorry," said Lord Beltravers, bending his head in courtly
sympathy. "In that case I should have asked your father to hear my
suit."

"Father is deaf," she replied. "He couldn't have heard it."

"Tut, tut," said Lord Beltravers impatiently. "I beg your pardon," he
added at once, "I should have controlled myself. That being so," he
went on, "I have the honour to make to you, Miss French, an offer of
marriage. May I hope?"

Gwendolen put her hand suddenly to her heart. The shock was too much for
her fresh young innocence. She was not really engaged to Giles Earwaker,
though he, too, was hoping; and the only three times that Thomas Ritson
had kissed her she had threatened to box his ears.

"Lord Beltravers," she began----

"Call me Beltravers," he begged.

"Beltravers, I love you. I give you a simple maiden's heart."

"My darling!" he cried, clasping her thumb impulsively. "Then we are
affianced."

He slipped a ring off his finger and fitted it affectionately on two of
hers.

"Wear this," he said gravely. "It was my mother's. She was a de
Dindigul. See, this is their crest--a roe-less herring over the motto
_Dans l'huile_." Observing that she looked puzzled he translated the
noble French words to her. "And now let us go in. Another dance is
beginning. May I beg for the honour?"

"Beltravers," she whispered lovingly.


CHAPTER IV

EXPOSURE

The next dance was at its height. In a dream of happiness Gwendolen
revolved with closed eyes round Lord Beltravers, of Beltravers Castle,
Beltravers.

Suddenly above the music rose a voice, commanding, threatening.

"Stop!" cried the Lady Beltravers.

As if by magic the band ceased and all the dancers were still.

"There is an intruder here," said Lady Beltravers in a cold voice. "A
milkmaid, a common farmer's daughter. Gwendolen French, leave my house
this instant!"

Dazed, hardly knowing what she did, Gwendolen moved forward. In an
instant Lord Beltravers was after her.

"No, mother," he said, with the utmost dignity. "Not a common milkmaid,
but the future Lady Beltravers."

An indescribable thrill of emotion ran through the crowded ball-room.
Lord Hobble's stud fell out; and Lady Susan Golightly hurried across the
room and fainted in the arms of Sir James Batt.

"What!" cried the Lady Beltravers. "My son, the last of the
Beltraverses, the Beltraverses who came over with Julius Wernher, I
should say Cæsar, marry a milkmaid?"

"No, mother. He is marrying what any man would be proud to marry--a
simple English girl."

There was a cheer, instantly suppressed, from a Socialist in the band.

For just a moment words failed the Lady Beltravers. Then she sank into a
chair, and waved her guests away.

"The ball is over," she said slowly. "Leave me. My son and I must be
alone."

One by one, with murmured thanks for a delightful evening, the guests
trooped out. Soon mother and son were alone. Lord Beltravers, gazing out
of the window, saw the 'cellist laboriously dragging his 'cello across
the park.


CHAPTER V

THE END

[And now, dear readers, I am in a difficulty. How shall the story go on?
The editor of _The Seaside Library_ asks quite frankly for a murder. His
idea was that the Lady Beltravers should be found dead in the park next
morning and that Gwendolen should be arrested. This seems to me both
crude and vulgar. Besides, I want a murder for No. XCIX. of the
series--_The Severed Thumb_.

No, I think I know a better way out.]

       .       .       .       .       .

Old John French sat beneath a spreading pear tree, and waited. Early
that morning a mysterious note had been brought to him, asking for an
interview on a matter of the utmost importance. This was the
trysting-place.

"I have come," said a voice behind him, "to ask you to beg your
daughter----

"I HAVE COME," cried the Lady Beltravers, "TO ASK YOU----

"I HAVE COME," shouted her ladyship, "TO----"

John French wheeled round in amazement. With a cry the Lady Beltravers
shrank back.

"Eustace," she gasped--"Eustace, Earl of Turbot!"

"Eliza!"

"What are you doing here? I came to see John French."

"What?" he asked, with his hand to his ear.

She repeated her remark loudly several times.

"I _am_ John French," he said at last. "When you refused me and married
Beltravers I suddenly felt tired of Society; and I changed my name and
settled down here as a simple farmer. My daughter helps me on the farm."

"Then your daughter is----"

"Lady Gwendolen Hake."

       .       .       .       .       .

A beautiful double wedding was solemnized at Beltravers in October, the
Earl of Turbot leading Eliza, Lady Beltravers to the altar, while Lord
Beltravers was joined in matrimony to the beautiful Lady Gwendolen Hake.
There were many presents on both sides, which partook equally of the
beautiful and the costly.

Lady Gwendolen Beltravers is now the most popular hostess in the county;
but to her husband she always seems the simple English milkmaid that he
first thought her. Ah!



THE SECRET OF THE ARMY

AEROPLANE

[In the thrilling manner of Mr. William le Queux.]


"Yes," said my friend, Ray Raymond, as a grim smile crossed his
typically English face, looking round the chambers which we shared
together, though he never had occasion to practise, though I
unfortunately had, "it is a very curious affair indeed."

"Tell us the whole facts, Ray," urged Vera Vallance, the pretty
fair-haired daughter of Admiral Sir Charles Vallance, to whom he was
engaged.

"Well, dear, they are briefly as follows," he replied, with an
affectionate glance at her. "It is well known that the Germans are
anxious to get hold of our new aeroplane, and that the secret of it is
at present locked in the inventor's breast. Last Tuesday a man with his
moustache brushed up the wrong way alighted at Basingstoke station and
enquired for the refreshment-room. This leads me to believe that a
dastardly attempt is about to be made to wrest the supremacy of the air
from our grasp!" Immediately I swooned.

"And even in the face of this the Government denies the activity of
German spies in England!" I exclaimed bitterly as soon as I had
recovered consciousness.

"Jacox," said my old friend, "as a patriot it is none the less my duty
to expose these miscreants. To-morrow we go to Basingstoke."

Next Thursday, then, saw us ensconced in our private sitting-room at the
Bull Hotel, Basingstoke. On our way from the station I had noticed how
ill-prepared the town was to resist invasion, and I had pointed this
out bitterly to my dear old friend, Ray Raymond.

"Yes," he remarked, grimly; "and it is simply infested with spies. Jack,
my surmises are proving correct. There will be dangerous work afoot
to-night. Have you brought your electric torch with you?"

"Since that Rosyth affair, I never travel without it," I replied, as I
stood with my back to the cheap mantel-shelf so common in English
hotels.

The night was dark, therefore we proceeded with caution as we left the
inn. The actions of Ray Raymond were curious. As we passed each
telegraph pole he stopped and said grimly, "Ah, I thought so"; and drew
his revolver. When we had covered fifteen miles we looked at our watches
by the aid of our electric torches and discovered that it was time to
get back to the hotel unless we wished our presence, or rather absence,
to be made known to the German spies; therefore we returned hastily.

Next morning Ray was recalled to town by an urgent telegram, therefore I
was left alone at Basingstoke to foil the dastardly spies. I stayed
there for thirteen weeks, and then went with my old friend to Grimsby,
he having received news that a German hairdresser, named Macdonald, was
resident in that town.

"My dear Jack," said my friend Ray Raymond, his face assuming the
sphinx-like expression by which I knew that he had formed some theory
for the destruction of his country's dastardly enemies, "to-night we
shall come to grips with the Teuton!"

"And yet," I cried, "the Government refuses to admit the activity of
German spies in England!"

"Ha!" said my friend grimly.

He opened a small black bag and produced a dark lantern, a coil of
strong silk rope, and a small but serviceable jemmy. All that
burglarious outfit belonged to my friend!

At this moment the pretty fair girl to whom he was engaged, Vera
Vallance, arrived, but returned to London by the next train.

At ten o'clock we proceeded cautiously to the house of Macdonald the
hairdresser, whom Ray had discovered to be a German spy!

"Have you your electric torch with you?" inquired my dear old college
friend.

"I have," I answered grimly.

"Good! Then let us enter!"

"You mean to break in?" I cried, amazed at the audacity of my friend.

"Bah!" he said. "Spies are always cowards!"

Therefore we knocked at the door. It was opened by two men, the elder of
whom gave vent to a quick German imprecation. The younger had a short
beard.

"You are a German spy?" enquired Ray Raymond.

"No," replied the bearded German in very good English, adding with
marvellous coolness: "To what, pray, do we owe this unwarrantable
intrusion?"

"To the fact that you are a spy who has been taking secret tracings of
our Army aeroplane!" retorted my friend.

But the spy only laughed in open defiance.

"Well, there's no law against it," he replied.

"No," retorted Ray grimly, "thanks to the stupidity of a crass
Government, there _is_ no law against it."

"My God!" I said hoarsely, and my face went the colour of ashes.

"But my old friend Jacass--I mean Jacox--and I," continued Ray Raymond,
fixing the miserable spy with his eye, "have decided to take the law
into our own hands. I have my revolver and my friend has his electric
torch. Give me the tracings."

"Gott--no!" cried the German spies in German. "Never, you English cur!"

But Ray had already extracted a letter from the elder man's pocket, and
was making for the door! I followed him. When we got back to our hotel
he drew the letter from his pocket and eagerly examined it. I give here
an exact copy of it, and I may state that when we sent it to His
Majesty's Minister for War he returned it without a word!

                                              "BERKELEY CHAMBERS,
                                                   CANNON STREET, E.C.
    DEAR SIR,--In reply to yours of the 29th ult. we beg to say that we
    can do you a good line in shaving brushes at the following wholesale
    prices:
                      Badger           70s. a gross.
                      Pure Badger      75s. a gross.
                      Real Badger      80s. a gross.
    Awaiting your esteemed order, which we shall have pleasure in
    promptly executing,
                        We are, sir,
                      Yours obediently,
                          WILKINSON and ALLBUTT.
    MR. JAMES MACDONALD."

That letter, innocent enough upon the face of it, contained dastardly
instructions from the Chief of Police to a German spy! Read by the
alphabetical code supplied to every German secret agent in England, it
ran as follows:

    (_Phrase 1_). "Discover without delay secret of new aeroplane."

    (_Phrase 2_). "Forward particulars of best plan for blowing up
                  (1) Portsmouth Dockyard.
                  (2) Woolwich Arsenal.
                  (3) Albert Memorial."

    (_Phrase 3_). "Be careful of Jack Jacox. He carries a revolver and
    an electric torch."

"Ah!" said my friend grimly, "we were only just in time. Had we delayed
longer, England might have knelt at the proud foot of a conqueror!"

"Ha!" I replied briefly.

Next morning we returned to the chambers which we shared together in
London, and were joined by Vera Vallance, the pretty fair daughter of
Admiral Sir Charles Vallance, to whom my old friend was engaged. And, as
he stroked her hair affectionately, I realised thankfully that he and I
had indeed been the instruments of Providence in foiling the plots of
the German spies!

    BUT HOW WILL IT ALL END?
    WHEN WILL GERMANY STRIKE?



THE HALO THEY GAVE THEMSELVES

[A collaboration by the Authors of "The Broken Halo" and "The Woman Thou
Gavest Me."]


CHAPTER I

SUNDAY MORNING

(MRS. BARCLAY _begins_)

It was a beautiful Sunday morning. All nature browsed in solemn Sabbath
stillness. The Little Grey Woman of the Night-Light was hurrying,
somewhat late, to church.

Down the white ribbon of road the Virile Benedict of the Libraries came
bicycling, treadling easily from the ankles. He rode boldly, with only
one hand on the handle-bars, the other in the pocket of his white
flannel cricketing trousers. His footballing tie, with his college arms
embroidered upon it, flapped gently in the breeze. To look at him you
would have said that he was probably a crack polo player on his way to
defend the championship against all comers, or the captain of a county
golf eleven. As he rode, his soul overflowing with the joy of life, he
hummed the Collect for the Day.

It was exactly opposite the church that he ran into the Little Grey
Woman of the Night-Light. He had just flashed past a labourer in the
road--known to his cronies as the Flap-eared Denizen of the
Turnip-patch--a labourer who in the dear dead days of Queen Victoria
would have touched his hat humbly, but who now, in this horrible age of
attempts to level all class distinctions, actually went on lighting his
pipe! Alas, that the respectful deference of the poor toward the rich is
now a thing of the past! So thought the Virile Benedict of the
Libraries, and in thinking this he had let his mind wander from the
important business of guiding his bicycle! In another moment he had run
into the Little Grey Woman of the Night-Light!

She had seen him coming and had given a warning cry, but it was too
late. The next moment he shot over his handle-bars; but even as he
revolved through the air he wondered how old she really was, and what,
if any, was her income. For since the death of the Little White Lady he
had formed a habit of marrying elderly women for their money, and his
fifth or sixth wife had perished of old age only a few months ago.

[_Hall Caine_ (waking up). _Who, pray, is the Little White Lady?_

_Mrs. Barclay. His first wife. She comes in my book, "The Broken Halo,"
now in its two hundredth edition._

_Hall Caine_ (annoyed). _Tut!_]

"Jove," he said cheerily, as he picked himself and her and his bicycle
up, "that was a nasty spill. As my Aunt Louisa used to say to the curate
when he upset the milk-jug into her lap, 'No milk, thank you.'" His
brown eyes danced with amusement as he related this reminiscence of his
boyhood. To the Little Grey Woman he seemed to exhale youth from every
pore.

"What did your Aunt Louisa say when her ankle was sprained?" she asked
with a rueful smile.

In an instant the merry banter faded from the Virile Benedict's brown
eyes, and was replaced by the commanding look of one who has taken a
brilliant degree in all his medical examinations.

"Allow me," he said brusquely; "I am a doctor." He bent down and
listened to her ankle.

It did not take Dr. Dick Cameron's quick ear long to find out all there
was to know. His manner became very gentle and his voice very low; and,
though he continued to exhale youth, he did it less ostentatiously than
before.

"I must carry you home," he said, picking her up in his strong young
arms; "you cannot go to church to-day."

"But the curate is preaching!"

Dr. Dick murmured something profane under his breath about curates. He
had, alas! these moments of irreverence; as, for instance, on one
occasion when he had spoken of Mr. Louis N. Parker's noble picture-play,
"Joseph and his Brethren," quite shortly as "Jos. Bros."

"I will carry you home," he said gently. "Tell me where you live, Little
Grey Woman."

She smiled up at him bravely. "The Manor House," she said.

His voice became yet more gentle. "And now tell me your income," he
whispered; and his whole being trembled with emotion as he waited for
her reply.

[_Mrs. Barclay. There! That's the end of the chapter. Now it's your
turn._

_Hall Caine_ (waking up). _I don't know if I told you that in my last
great work of the imagination, in which I collaborated with the Bishop
of London, I wrote throughout in the first person. Nearly a million
copies were sold, thus showing that the heart of the great public
approved of my method of telling my story through the mouth of a young
and innocent girl, exposed to great temptation. I should wish,
therefore, to repeat that method in this story, if you could so arrange
it._

_Mrs. Barclay. But that's easy. The Little Grey Woman shall tell Dr.
Dick the story of her first marriage. I did that in my last book, "The
Broken Halo," now in its two hundredth edition._

_Hall Caine_ (annoyed). _Tut!_]


CHAPTER II

UNDER THE CEDAR

(MRS. BARCLAY _continues_)

They were having tea in the garden--the Little Grey Woman and Dr. Dick.
More than six months had elapsed since the accident outside the church,
and Dr. Dick still remained on at the Manor House in charge of his
patient, wishing to be handy in case the old sprain came on again
suddenly. She was eighty-two and had twelve thousand a year. On the lawn
a thrush was singing.

"How fresh and green the world is to-day," sighed Dr. Dick, leaning back
and exhaling youth. "As the curate used to say to my Aunt Louisa, 'A
delightful shower after the rain.'" He laughed merrily, and threw a
crumb at the thrush with the perfect aim of a good cricketer throwing
the ball at the wickets.

"My dear boy," said the Little Grey Woman, "the world is always fresh
and green to youth like yours. But to an old woman like me----"

"Not old," said Dick, with an ardent glance; "only eighty-two. Mrs.
Beauchamp, will you marry me?"

She looked at him with a sad but tender smile.

"What _would_ my friends say?" she asked.

"Bother your friends."

"My dear boy, you would be considerably surprised if you could glance
through an approximate list of the friends I possess to-day. Do you know
that if I marry you I shall be required to make an explanation to
several royal ladies--that is, if they graciously grant me the
opportunity so to do."

"But I want your mon--I mean I _love_ you," he pleaded, the light of
youth shining in his brown eyes.

The Little Grey Woman looked at him tenderly. Their eyes met.

"Listen," she said. "I will tell you the story of my first marriage, and
then if you wish you shall ask me again."

Dr. Dick helped himself to another slice of cake and leant back to
listen.

[_Mrs. Barclay. There you are. Now you can do Chapter Three._

_Hall Caine. Excellent. It is quite time that one got some emotion into
this story. In "The Woman Thou Gavest Me," of which more than a
million----_

_Mrs. Barclay. Emotion, indeed! My last book is already in its two
hundredth edition._

_Hall Caine_ (annoyed). _Tut!_]


CHAPTER III

MRS. BEAUCHAMP'S STORY

(MR. HALL CAINE _takes up the tale_)

I have always had a wonderful memory, and my earliest recollection is of
hearing my father ask, on the day when I was born, whether it was a boy
or a girl. When they told him "a girl," he let fall a rough expression
which sent the blood coursing over my mother's pale cheeks like
lobster-sauce coursing over a turbot. My father, John Boomster, was a
great advertising agent, perhaps the greatest in the island, though he
always said that there was one man who could beat him. He wanted a son
to succeed him in the business, and in the years to come he never
forgave me for being a girl. He would often glare at me in silence for
three-quarters of an hour, and then, letting fall the same rough
expression, throw a boot at me and stride from the room. A hard, cruel
man, my father, and yet, in his fashion, he was fond of me.

It was not until I was eighteen that he first spoke to me. To my dying
day I shall never forget that evening; nor his words, which bit
themselves into my mind as a red-hot iron bites its way into cheese.

"Nell," he said, for that was my name, though he had never used it
before, "I've arranged that you are to marry Lord Wurzel two months from
to-day."

At these terrible words the blood ebbed slowly from my ears and my hands
grew hot.

"I do not know him," I said in a stifled voice.

"You will to-morrow," he laughed brutally, and with another rough word
he strode from the room.

Lord Wurzel! I ran upstairs to my room and flung myself face downwards
on the bed. In my agony I bit a large piece out of my pillow. The blood
flowed forward and backward over me in waves, and I burst every now and
then into a passion of weeping.

By and by I began to feel more serene. I decided that it was my duty to
obey my father. My heart leapt within me at the thought of doing my
duty, and to calm myself I put on my hat and wandered into the glen. It
was very silent in the glen. There was no sound but the rustling of the
leaves overhead, the popping of the insects underfoot, the sneezing of
the cattle, the whistling of the pigs, the coughing of the field-mice,
the roaring of the rabbits, and the deep organ-song of the sea.

But suddenly, above all these noises, I heard a voice which sent the
blood ebbing and flowing in my heart and caused the back of my neck to
quiver with ecstasy.

"Nell!" it said.

It was the voice of my old comrade, Andrew Spinnaker, who had played
with me in our childhood's days, and whom I had not seen now for eight
years.

"Andrew!" I cried, as I turned round. "What are you doing here?"

"I am just off to discover the South Pole," he said. "My shipmates are
waiting for me to command the expedition."

I noticed then for the first time that he was dressed in a seal-skin cap
and a pair of sleeping-bags.

"Nell," he went on, "before I go, tell me you love me."

My heart fluttered like a captured bird; my knees trembled like a
drunken spider's; my throat was stifled like a stifled throat. A huge
wave of something or other surged over me and told me that the great
mystery of the world had happened to me.

I was in love.

I was in love with Andrew Spinnaker.

"Andrew," I cried, falling on his startled chin, "I love you." All the
back of my neck thrilled with joy.

But my joy was shortlived. No sooner had I become aware that I loved
Andrew Spinnaker than my conscience told me I had no right to do so. I
was going to marry Lord Wurzel, and to love another than my husband was
sin. I shook Andrew off my lips.

"I love you," I said, "but I cannot marry you. I am marrying Lord
Wurzel."

"That beast?" cried Andrew, in the impetuous sailor fashion which so
endeared him to his shipmates. "When I come back I will thrash him as I
would thrash a vicious ape."

"When will that be?"

"In about two months," said my darling boy. "This is going to be a very
quick expedition."

"Alas, that will be my wedding day," I said with a low sob like that of
a buffalo yearning for its mate. "It will be too late."

Andrew took me in his strong arms. I should not have let him, but I
could not help it.

"Listen," he said, "I will start back from the Pole a day before my
shipmates, and save you from that d-sh-d beast. And then I will marry
you, Nell."

There was a roaring in my ears like the roaring of the bath when the tap
is left on; many waters seemed to rush upon me; my hat fell off, and
then deep oblivion came over me and I swooned.

       .       .       .       .       .

To go through my emotions in detail during the next two months would be
but to harrow you needlessly. Suffice it to say that seventeen times I
flung myself face downwards on my bed and bit a piece out of the pillow,
on twenty-nine occasions the blood ebbed slowly from my face, and my
heart fluttered like a captured bird, while in a hundred and forty
instances a wave of emotion surged slowly over my whole body, leaving
me trembling like an aspen leaf. Otherwise my health remained good.

It was the night before the wedding. The bad Lord Wurzel had just left
me with words of love upon his lying lips. To-morrow, unless Andrew
Spinnaker saved me, I should be Lady Wurzel.

"A marconigram for you, miss," said our faithful old gardener, William,
entering the drawing-room noiselessly by the chimney. "I brought it
myself to be sure you got it."

With trembling fingers I tore it open. How my heart leapt and the hot
colour flooded my neck and brow when I recognised the dear schoolboy
writing of my beloved Andrew! I have the message still. It went like
this:

                                              "_Wireless--South Pole._
    Arrived safe. Found Pole. Weather charming. Blue sky. Not a breath
    of wind. Am wearing my thick socks. Sun never going down.
    Constellations revolving without dipping. Moon going sideways. Am
    starting for England to-morrow. Arrive Victoria twelve o'clock,
    Wednesday.--ANDREW."

Back on Wednesday! And to-morrow was Tuesday--my wedding day! There was
no hope. I felt like a shipwrecked voyager. For the thirty-fifth time
since the beginning of the month deep oblivion came over me, and I
swooned.

[_Hall Caine. I think you might go on now. I have put a little life into
the story. It is, perhaps, not quite so vivid as my last work, "The
Woman Thou Gavest Me," of which more than a million copies----_

_Mrs. Barclay. In the two hundredth edition of "The Broken Halo"----_

_Hall Caine_ (annoyed). _Tut!_]


CHAPTER IV

THE END

(MRS. BARCLAY _resumes_)

At this point in The Little Grey Woman's story handsome Dr. Dick put
down his third piece of cake and got up. There was a baffled look on his
virile face which none of his previous wives had ever seen there. For
once Dr. Dick was nonplussed!

"Is there much more of your story?" he asked.

"Five hundred and nineteen pages," she said.

The Virile Benedict of the Libraries took up his hat. Never had he
exhaled youth so violently, yet never had he looked such a man. He had
made up his mind. She was rich; but, after all, money was not
everything.

"Good-bye," he said.



A DIDACTIC NOVEL

[In humble imitation of Mr. EUSTACE MILES'S serial in _Healthward Ho!_
(Help!), and in furtherance of the great principle of self-culture]


THE MYSTERY OF GORDON SQUARE

SYNOPSIS OF PREVIOUS CHAPTERS

Roger Dangerfield, the famous barrister, is passing through Gordon
Square one December night when he suddenly comes across the dead body of
a man of about forty years. To his horror he recognises it to be that of
his friend, Sir Eustace Butt, M.P., who has been stabbed in seven
places. Much perturbed by the incident, Roger goes home and decides to
lead a new life. Hitherto he had been notorious in the London clubs for
his luxurious habits, but now he rises at 7.30 every morning and
breathes evenly through the nose for five minutes before dressing.

After three weeks of the breathing exercise, Roger adds a few simple
lunges to his morning drill. Detective-Inspector Frenchard tells him
that he has a clue to the death of Sir Eustace, but that the murderer is
still at large. Roger sells his London house and takes a cottage in the
country, where he practises the simple life. He is now lunging ten times
to the right, ten times to the left and ten times backwards every
morning, besides breathing lightly through the nose during his bath.

One day he meets a Yogi, who tells him that if he desires to track the
murderer down he must learn concentration. He suggests that Roger should
start by concentrating on the word "wardrobe," and then leaves this
story and goes back to India. Roger sells his house in the country and
comes back to town, where he concentrates for half an hour daily on the
word "wardrobe," besides, of course, persevering with his breathing and
lunging exercises. After a heavy morning's drill he is passing through
Gordon Square when he comes across the body of his old friend, Sir
Joshua Tubbs, M.P., who has been stabbed nine times. Roger returns home
quickly, and decides to practise breathing through the ears.


CHAPTER XCI

PREPARATION

The appalling death of Sir Joshua Tubbs, M.P., following so closely upon
that of Sir Eustace Butt, M.P., meant the beginning of a new life for
Roger. His morning drill now took the following form:--

On rising at 7.30 a.m. he sipped a glass of distilled water, at the same
time concentrating on the word "wardrobe." This lasted for ten minutes,
after which he stood before the open window for five minutes, breathing
alternately through the right ear and the left. A vigorous series of
lunges followed, together with the simple kicking exercises detailed in
chapter LIV.

These over, there was a brief interval of rest, during which our hero,
breathing heavily through the back of the head, concentrated on the word
"dough-nut." Refreshed by the mental discipline, he rose and stood
lightly on the ball of his left foot, at the same time massaging himself
vigorously between the shoulders with his right. After five minutes of
this he would rest again, lying motionless except for a circular
movement of the ears. A cold bath, a brisk rub down and another glass of
distilled water completed the morning training.

But it is time we got on with the story. The murder of Sir Joshua Tubbs,
M.P. had sent a thrill of horror through England, and hundreds of people
wrote indignant letters to the Press, blaming the police for their
neglect to discover the assassin. Detective-Inspector Frenchard,
however, was hard at work, and he was inspired by the knowledge that he
could always rely upon the assistance of Roger Dangerfield, the famous
barrister, who had sworn to track the murderer down.

To prepare himself for the forthcoming struggle Roger decided, one sunny
day in June, to give up the meat diet upon which he had relied so long,
and to devote himself entirely to a vegetable _régime_. With that
thoroughness which was now becoming a characteristic of him, he left
London and returned to the country, with the intention of making a study
of food values.


CHAPTER XCII

LOVE COMES IN

It was a beautiful day in July and the country was looking its best.
Roger rose at 7.30 a.m. and performed those gentle, health-giving
exercises which have already been described in previous chapters. On
this glorious morning, however, he added a simple exercise for the
elbows to his customary ones, and went down to his breakfast as hungry
as the proverbial hunter. A substantial meal of five dried beans and a
stewed nut awaited him in the fine oak-panelled library; and as he did
ample justice to the banquet his thoughts went back to the terrible days
when he lived the luxurious meat-eating life of the ordinary
man-about-town; to the evening when he discovered the body of Sir
Eustace Butt, M.P., and swore to bring the assassin to vengeance; to the
day when----

Suddenly he realised that his thoughts were wandering. With iron will he
controlled them and concentrated fixedly on the word "dough-nut" for
twelve minutes. Greatly refreshed, he rose and strode out into the sun.

At the door of his cottage a girl was standing. She was extremely
beautiful, and Roger's heart would have jumped if he had not had that
organ (thanks to Twisting Exercise 23) under perfect control.

"Is this the way to Denfield?" she asked.

"Straight on," said Roger.

He returned to his cottage, breathing heavily through his ears.


CHAPTER XCIII

ANOTHER SURPRISE

Six months went by, and the murderer of Sir Joshua Tubbs, M.P. and Sir
Eustace Butt, M.P. still remained at large. Roger had sold his cottage
in the country and was now in London, performing his exercises with
regularity, concentrating daily upon the words "wardrobe," "dough-nut,"
and "wasp," and living entirely upon proteids.

One day he had the idea that he would start a restaurant in the East-End
for the sale of meatless foods. This would bring him in touch with the
lower classes, among whom he expected to find the assassin of his two
oldest friends.

In less than three or four years the shop was a tremendous success. In
spite of this, however, Roger did not neglect his exercises; taking
particular care to keep the toes well turned in when lunging ten times
backwards. (Exercise 17.) Once, to his joy, the girl whom he had first
met outside his country cottage came in and had her simple lunch of
Smilopat (ninepence the dab) at his shop. That evening he lunged twelve
times to the right instead of ten.

One day business had taken Roger to the West-End. As he was returning
home at midnight through Gordon Square, he suddenly stopped and
staggered back.

A body lay on the ground before him!

Hastily turning it over upon its face, Roger gave a cry of horror.

It was Detective-Inspector Frenchard! Stabbed in eleven places!

Roger hurried madly home, and devised an entirely new set of exercises
for his morning drill. A full description of these, however, must be
reserved for another chapter.

(_And so on for ever._)



MERELY PLAYERS



ON THE BAT'S BACK


With the idea of brightening cricket, my friend Twyford has given me a
new bat. I have always felt that, in my own case, it was the inadequacy
of the weapon rather than of the man behind it which accounted for a
certain monotony of low-scoring; with this new bat I hope to prove the
correctness of my theory.

My old bat has always been a trier, but of late it has been manifestly
past its work. Again and again its drive over long-off's head has failed
to carry the bunker at mid-off. More than once it has proved itself an
inch too narrow to ensure that cut-past-third-man-to-the-boundary which
is considered one of the most graceful strokes in my repertoire. Worst
of all, I have found it at moments of crisis (such as the beginning of
the first over) utterly inadequate to deal with the ball which keeps
low. When bowled by such a ball--and I may say that I am never bowled by
any other--I look reproachfully at the bottom of my bat as I walk back
to the pavilion. "Surely," I say to it, "you were much longer than this
when we started out?"

Perhaps it was not magnanimous always to put the blame on my partner for
our accidents together. It would have been more chivalrous to have
shielded him. "No, no," I should have said to my companions as they
received me with sympathetic murmurs of "Bad luck,"--"no, no, you
mustn't think that. It was my own fault. Don't reproach the bat." It
would have been well to have spoken thus; and indeed, when I had had
time to collect myself, I did so speak. But out on the field, in the
first shame of defeat, I had to let the truth come out. That one
reproachful glance at my bat I could not hide.

But there was one habit of my bat's--a weakness of old age, I admit, but
not the less annoying--about which it was my duty to let all the world
know. One's grandfather may have a passion for the gum on the back of
postage-stamps, and one hushes it up; but if he be deaf the visitor must
be warned. My bat had a certain looseness in the shoulder, so that, at
any quick movement of it, it clicked. If I struck the ball well and
truly in the direction of point this defect did not matter; but if the
ball went past me into the hands of the wicket-keeper, an unobservant
bowler would frequently say, "How's that?" And an ill-informed umpire
would reply, "Out." It was my duty before the game began to take the
visiting umpire on one side and give him a practical demonstration of
the click ...

But these are troubles of the past. I have my new bat now, and I can see
that cricket will become a different game for me. My practice of this
morning has convinced me of this. It was not one of your stupid
practices at the net, with two burly professionals bumping down balls at
your body and telling you to "Come out to them, Sir." It was a quiet
practice in my rooms after breakfast, with no moving object to distract
my attention and spoil my stroke. The bat comes up well. It is light,
and yet there is plenty of wood in it. Its drives along the carpet were
excellent; its cuts and leg glides all that could be wished. I was a
little disappointed with its half-arm hook, which dislodged a teacup and
gave what would have been an easy catch to mid-on standing close in by
the sofa; but I am convinced that a little oil will soon put that right.

And yet there seemed to be something lacking in it. After trying every
stroke with it; after tucking it under my arm and walking back to the
bathroom, touching my cap at the pianola on the way; after experiments
with it in all positions, I still felt that there was something wanting
to make it the perfect bat. So I put it in a cab and went round with it
to Henry. Henry has brightened first-class cricket for some years now.

"Tell me, Henry," I said, "what's wrong with this bat?"

"It seems all right," he said, after waving it about. "Rather a good
one."

I laid it down on the floor and looked at it. Then I turned it on its
face and looked at it. And then I knew.

"It wants a little silver shield on the back," I said. "That's it."

"Why, is it a presentation bat?" asked Henry.

"In a sense, yes. It was presented to me by Twyford."

"What for?"

"Really," I said modestly, "I hardly like---- Why do people give one
things? Affection, Henry; pity, generosity--er----"

"Are you going to put that on the shield? 'Presented out of sheer pity
to----'"

"Don't be silly; of course not. I shall put 'Presented in commemoration
of his masterly double century against the Authentics,' or something
like that. You've no idea how it impresses the wicket-keeper. He really
sees quite a lot of the back of one's bat."

"Your inscription," said Henry, as he filled his pipe slowly, "will be
either a lie or extremely unimpressive."

"It will be neither, Henry. If I put my own name on it, and talked about
_my_ double century, of course it would be a lie; but the inscription
will be to Stanley Bolland."

"Who's he?"

"I don't know. I've just made him up. But now, supposing my little
shield says, 'Stanley Bolland. H.P.C.C.--Season 1912. Batting average
116.34.'--how is that a lie?"

"What does H.P.C.C. stand for?"

"I don't know. It doesn't mean anything really. I'll leave out 'Batting
average' if it makes it more truthful. 'Stanley Bolland. H.P.C.C., 1912.
116.34.' It's really just a little note I make on the back of my bat to
remind me of something or other I've forgotten. 116.34 is probably
Bolland's telephone number or the size of something I want at his shop.
But by a pure accident the wicket-keeper thinks it means something else;
and he tells the bowler at the end of the over that it's that chap
Bolland who had an average of over a century for the Hampstead
Polytechnic last year. Of course that makes the bowler nervous and he
starts sending down long-hops."

"I see," said Henry; and he began to read his paper again.

So to-morrow I take my bat to the silversmith's and have a little
engraved shield fastened on. Of course, with a really trustworthy weapon
I am certain to collect pots of runs this season. But there is no harm
in making things as easy as possible for oneself.

And yet there is this to be thought of. Even the very best bat in the
world may fail to score, and it might so happen that I was dismissed
(owing to some defect in the pitch) before my silver shield had time to
impress the opposition. Or again, I might (through ill-health) perform
so badly that quite a wrong impression of the standard of the Hampstead
Polytechnic would be created, an impression which I should hate to be
the innocent means of circulating.

So on second thoughts I lean to a different inscription. On the back of
my bat a plain silver shield will say quite simply this:--

          TO
    STANLEY BOLLAND,
 FOR SAVING LIFE AT SEA.
  FROM A FEW ADMIRERS.

Thus I shall have two strings to my bow. And if, by any unhappy chance,
I fail as a cricketer, the wicket-keeper will say to his comrades as I
walk sadly to the pavilion, "A poor bat perhaps, but a brave--a very
brave fellow."

It becomes us all to make at least one effort to brighten cricket.



UNCLE EDWARD


Celia has more relations than would seem possible. I am gradually
getting to know some them by sight and a few more by name, but I still
make mistakes. The other day, for instance, she happened to say she was
going to a concert with Uncle Godfrey.

"Godfrey," I said, "Godfrey. No, don't tell me--I shall get it in a
moment. Godfrey ... Yes, that's it; he's the architect. He lives at
Liverpool, has five children, and sent us the asparagus-cooler as a
wedding present."

"No marks," said Celia.

"Then he's the unmarried one in Scotland who breeds terriers. I knew I
should get it."

"As a matter of fact he lives in London and breeds oratorios."

"It's the same idea. That was the one I meant. The great point is that I
placed him. Now give me another one." I leant forward eagerly.

"Well, I was just going to ask you--have you arranged anything about
Monday?"

"Monday," I said, "Monday. No, don't tell me--I shall get it in a
moment. Monday ... He's the one who---- Oh, you mean the day of the
week?"

"Who's a funny?" asked Celia of the teapot.

"Sorry; I really thought you meant another relation. What am I doing?
I'm playing golf if I can find somebody to play with."

"Well, ask Edward."

I could place Edward at once. Edward, I need hardly say, is Celia's
uncle; one of the ones I have not yet met. He married a very young aunt
of hers, not much older than Celia.

"But I don't know him," I said.

"It doesn't matter. Write and ask him to meet you at the golf club. I'm
sure he'd love to."

"Wouldn't he think it rather cool, this sudden attack from a perfectly
unknown nephew? I fancy the first step ought to come from uncle."

"But you're older than he is."

"True. It's rather a tricky point in etiquette. Well, I'll risk it."

This was the letter I sent to him:--

    "MY DEAR UNCLE EDWARD,--Why haven't you written to me this term? I
    have spent the five shillings you gave me when I came back; it was
    awfully ripping of you to give it to me, but I have spent it now.
    Are you coming down to see me this term? If you aren't you might
    write to me; there is a post-office here where you can change postal
    orders.

    "What I really meant to say was, can you play golf with me on Monday
    at Mudbury Hill? I am your new and favourite nephew, and it is quite
    time we met. Be at the club-house at 2.30, if you can. I don't quite
    know how we shall recognize each other, but the well-dressed man in
    the nut-brown suit will probably be me. My features are plain but
    good, except where I fell against the bath-taps yesterday. If you
    have fallen against anything which would give me a clue to your face
    you might let me know. Also you might let me know if you are a
    professor at golf; if you are, I will read some more books on the
    subject between now and Monday. Just at the moment my game is
    putrid.

    "Your niece and my wife sends her love. Good-bye. I was top of my
    class in Latin last week. I must now stop, as it is my bath-night.

                                        "I am,
                                            "Your loving
                                                    "NEPHEW."

The next day I had a letter from my uncle:--

    "MY DEAR NEPHEW,--I was so glad to get your nice little letter and
    to hear that you were working hard. Let me know when it is your
    bath-night again; these things always interest me. I shall be
    delighted to play golf with you on Monday. You will have no
    difficulty in recognizing me. I should describe myself roughly as
    something like Apollo and something like Little Tich, if you know
    what I mean. It depends how you come up to me. I am an excellent
    golfer and never take more than two putts in a bunker.

    "Till 2.30 then. I enclose a postal-order for sixpence, to see you
    through the rest of the term.

                              "Your favourite uncle,
                                                "EDWARD."

I showed it to Celia.

"Perhaps you could describe him more minutely," I said. "I hate
wandering about vaguely and asking everybody I see if he's my uncle. It
seems so odd."

"You're sure to meet all right," said Celia confidently. "He's--well,
he's nice-looking and--and clean-shaven--and, oh, _you'll_ recognize
him."

At 2.30 on Monday I arrived at the club-house and waited for my uncle.
Various people appeared, but none seemed in want of a nephew. When 2.45
came there was still no available uncle. True, there was one unattached
man reading in a corner of the smoke-room, but he had a moustache--the
sort of heavy moustache one associates with a major.

At three o'clock I became desperate. After all, Celia had not seen
Edward for some time. Perhaps he had grown a moustache lately; perhaps
he had grown one specially for to-day. At any rate there would be no
harm in asking this major man if he was my uncle. Even if he wasn't he
might give me a game of golf.

"Excuse me," I said politely, "but are you by any chance my Uncle
Edward?"

"Your _what_?"

"I was almost certain you weren't, but I thought I'd just ask. I'm
sorry."

"Not at all. Naturally one wants to find one's uncle. Have you--er--lost
him long?"

"Years," I said sadly. "Er--I wonder if you would care to adopt me--I
mean, give me a game this afternoon. My man hasn't turned up."

"By all means. I'm not very great."

"Neither am I. Shall we start now? Good."

I was sorry to miss Edward, but I wasn't going to miss a game of golf on
such a lovely day. My spirits rose. Not even the fact that there were no
caddies left and I had to carry my own clubs could depress me.

The Major drove. I am not going to describe the whole game; though my
cleek shot at the fifth hole, from a hanging lie to within two feet of
the---- However, I mustn't go into that now. But it surprised the Major
a good deal. And when at the next hole I laid my brassie absolutely
dead, he---- But I can tell you about that some other time. It is
sufficient to say now that, when we reached the seventeenth tee, I was
one up.

We both played the seventeenth well. He was a foot from the hole in
four. I played my third from the edge of the green, and was ridiculously
short, giving myself a twenty-foot putt for the hole. Leaving my clubs
I went forward with the putter, and by the absurdest luck pushed the
ball in.

"Good," said the Major. "Your game."

I went back for my clubs. When I turned round the Major was walking
carelessly off to the next tee, leaving the flag lying on the green and
my ball still in the tin.

"Slacker," I said to myself, and walked up to the hole.

And then I had a terrible shock. I saw in the tin, not my ball, but a
moustache!

"Am I going mad?" I said. "I could have sworn that I drove off with a
'Colonel,' and yet I seem to have holed out with a Major's moustache!" I
picked it up and hurried after him.

"Major," I said, "excuse me, you've dropped your moustache. It fell off
at the critical stage of the match; the shock of losing was too much for
you; the strain of----"

He turned his clean-shaven face round and grinned at me.

"On second thoughts," he said, "I _am_ your long-lost uncle."



THE RENASCENCE OF BRITAIN


Peter Riley was one of those lucky people who take naturally to games.
Actually he got his blue for cricket, rugger, and boxing, but his
perfect eye and wrist made him a beautiful player of any game with a
ball. Also he rode and shot well, and knew all about the inside of a
car. But, although he was always enthusiastic about anything he was
doing, he was not really keen on games. He preferred wandering about the
country looking for birds' nests or discovering the haunts of rare
butterflies; he liked managing a small boat single-handed in a stiff
breeze; he would have enjoyed being upset and having to swim a long way
to shore. Most of all, perhaps, he loved to lie on the top of the cliffs
and think of the wonderful things that he would do for England when he
was a Cabinet Minister. For politics was to be his profession, and he
had just taken a first in History by way of preparation for it.

There were a lot of silly people who envied Peter's mother. They
thought, poor dears, that she must be very, very proud of him, for they
regarded Peter as the ideal of the modern young Englishman. "If only my
boy grows up to be like Peter Riley!" they used to say to themselves;
and then add quickly, "But of course he'll be much nicer." In their
ignorance they didn't see that it was the Peters of England who were
making our country the laughing-stock of the world.

If you had been in Berlin in 1916, you would have seen Peter; for he had
been persuaded, much against his will, to uphold the honour of Great
Britain in the middle-weights at the Olympic Games. He got a position in
the papers as "P. Riley, disqualified"--the result, he could only
suppose, of his folly in allowing his opponent to butt him in the
stomach. He was both annoyed and amused about it; offered to fight his
vanquisher any time in England; and privately thanked Heaven that he
could now get back to London in time for his favourite sister's wedding.

But he didn't. The English trainer, who had been sent, at the public
expense, to America for a year, to study the proper methods, got hold of
him.

"I've been watching you, young man," he said. "You'll have to give
yourself up to me now. You're the coming champion."

"I'm sorry," said Peter politely, "but I shan't be fighting again."

"Fighting!" said the trainer scornfully. "Don't you worry; I'll take
good care that you don't fight any more. The event _you're_ going to win
is 'Pushing the Chisel.' I've been watching you, and you've got the most
perfect neck and calf-muscles for it I've ever seen. No more fighting
for you, my boy; nor cricket, nor anything else. I'm not going to let
you spoil those muscles."

"I don't think I've ever pushed the Chisel," said Peter. "Besides, it's
over, isn't it?"

"Over? Of course it's over, and that confounded American won. 'Poor old
England,' as all the papers said."

"Then it's too late to begin to practise," said Peter thankfully.

"Well, it's too late for the 1920 games. But we can do a lot in eight
years, and I think I can get you fit for the 1924 games at Pekin."

Peter stared at him in amazement.

"My good man," he said at last, "in 1924 I shall be in London; and I
hope in the House of Commons."

"And what about the honour of your country? Do you want to read the
jeers in the American papers when we lose 'Pushing the Chisel' in 1924?"

"I don't care a curse what the American papers say," said Peter angrily.

"Then you're very different from other Englishmen," said the trainer
sternly.

       .       .       .       .       .

Of course, Peter was persuaded; he couldn't let England be the
laughing-stock of the world. So for eight years he lived under the eye
of the trainer, rising at five and retiring to bed at seven-thirty. This
prevented him from taking much part in the ordinary social activities of
the evening; and even his luncheon and garden-party invitations had to
be declined in some such words as "Mr. Peter Riley regrets that he is
unable to accept Lady Vavasour's kind invitation for Monday the 13th, as
he will be hopping round the garden on one leg then." His career, too,
had to be abandoned; for it was plain that, even if he had the leisure
to get into Parliament, the early hours he kept would not allow him to
take part in any important divisions.

But there were compensations. As he watched his calves swell; as he
looked in the glass and noticed each morning that his head was a little
more on one side--sure sign of the expert Chisel-pusher; as, still surer
sign, his hands became more knuckly and his mouth remained more
permanently open, he knew that his devotion to duty would not be without
its reward. He saw already his country triumphing, and heard the chorus
of congratulation in the newspapers that England was still a nation of
sportsmen....

In 1924 Pekin was crowded. There were, of course, the ordinary million
inhabitants; and, in addition, people had thronged from all parts to
see the great Chisel-pusher of whom so much had been heard. That they
did not come in vain, we in London knew one July morning as we opened
our papers.

    "PUSHING THE CHISEL (_Free Style_).

    "1. P. Riley (Great Britain), 5-3/4 in. (World's Record). 2. H.
    Biffpoffer (America), 5-1/2 in. A. Wafer (America) was disqualified
    for going outside the wood."

       .       .       .       .       .

And so England was herself again. There was only one discordant note in
her triumph. Mr. P. A. Vaile pointed out in all the papers that Peter
Riley, in the usual pig-headed English way, had been employing entirely
the wrong grip. Mr. Vaile's book, _How to Push the Chisel_, illustrated
with 50 full plates of Mr. Vaile in knickerbockers pushing the Chisel,
explained the correct method.



THE BIRTHDAY PRESENT


"It's my birthday to-morrow," said Mrs. Jeremy as she turned the pages
of her engagement book.

"Bless us, so it is," said Jeremy. "You're thirty-nine or twenty-seven
or something. I must go and examine the wine-cellar. I believe there's
one bottle left in the Apollinaris bin. It's the only stuff in the house
that fizzes."

"Jeremy! I'm only twenty-six."

"You don't look it, darling; I mean you do look it, dear. What I
mean--well, never mind that. Let's talk about birthday presents. Think
of something absolutely tremendous for me to give you."

"A rope of pearls."

"I didn't mean that sort of tremendousness," said Jeremy quickly.
"Anyone could give you a rope of pearls; it's simply a question of
overdrawing enough from the bank. I meant something difficult that would
really prove my love for you--like Lloyd George's ear or the Kaiser's
cigar-holder. Something where I could kill somebody for you first. I am
in a very devoted mood this morning."

"Are you really?" smiled Mrs. Jeremy. "Because----"

"I am. So is Baby, unfortunately. She will probably want to give you
something horribly expensive. Between ourselves, dear, I shall be glad
when Baby is old enough to buy her own presents for her mamma. Last
Christmas her idea of a complete edition of Meredith and a pair of
silver-backed brushes nearly ruined me."

"You won't be ruined this time, Jeremy. I don't want you to give me
anything; I want you to show that devotion of yours by _doing_ something
for me."

"Anything," said Jeremy grandly. "Shall I swim the Channel? I was
practising my new trudgeon stroke in the bath this morning." He got up
from his chair and prepared to give an exhibition of it.

"No, nothing like that." Mrs. Jeremy hesitated, looked anxiously at him,
and then went boldly at it. "I want you to go in for that physical
culture that everyone's talking about."

"Who's everyone? Cook hasn't said a word to me on the subject; neither
has Baby; neither has----"

"Mrs. Hodgkin was talking to me about it yesterday. She was saying how
thin you were looking."

"The scandal that goes on in these villages," sighed Jeremy. "And the
Vicar's wife too. Dear, all this is weeks and weeks old; I suppose it
has only just reached the Vicarage. Do let us be up-to-date. Physical
culture has been quite _démodé_ since last Thursday."

"Well, _I_ never saw anything in the paper"----

"Knowing what wives are, I hid it from you. Let us now, my dear wife,
talk of something else."

"Jeremy! Not for my birthday present?" said his wife in a reproachful
voice. "The Vicar does them every morning," she added casually.

"Poor beggar! But it's what Vicars are for." Jeremy chuckled to himself.
"I should love to see him," he said. "I suppose it's private, though.
Perhaps if I said 'Press'----"

"You _are_ thin, you know."

"My dear, the proper way to get fat is not to take violent exercise, but
to lie in a hammock all day and drink milk. Besides, do you want a fat
husband? Does Baby want a fat father? You wouldn't like, at your next
garden party, to have everybody asking you in a whisper, 'Who is the
enormously stout gentleman?' If Nature made me thin--or, to be more
accurate, slender and of a pleasing litheness--let us believe that she
knew best."

"It isn't only thinness; these exercises keep you young and well and
active in mind."

"Like the Vicar?"

"He's only just begun," said his wife hastily.

"Let's wait a bit and watch him," suggested Jeremy. "If his sermons
really get better, then I'll think about it seriously. I make you a
present of his baldness; I shan't ask for any improvement there."

Mrs. Jeremy went over to her husband and patted the top of his head.

"'In a very devoted mood this morning,'" she quoted.

Jeremy looked unhappy.

"What pains me most about this," he said, "is the revelation of your
shortcomings as a wife. You ought to think me the picture of manly
beauty. Baby does. She thinks that, next to the postman, I am one of
the----"

"So you are, dear."

"Well, why not leave it? Really, I can't waste my time fattening refined
gold and stoutening the lily. I am a busy man. I walk up and down the
pergola, I keep a dog, I paint little water-colours, I am treasurer of
the cricket club; my life is full of activities."

"This only takes a quarter of an hour before your bath, Jeremy."

"I am shaving then; I should cut myself and get all the soap in my eyes.
It would be most dangerous. When you were a widow, and Baby and the pony
were orphans, you and Mrs. Hodgkin would be sorry. But it would be too
late. The Vicar, tearing himself away from Position 5 to conduct the
funeral service----"

"Jeremy, _don't_!"

"Ah, woman, now I move you. You are beginning to see what you were in
danger of doing. Death I laugh at; but a fat death--the death of a stout
man who has swallowed the shaving-brush through taking too deep a breath
before beginning Exercise 3, that is more than I can bear."

"Jeremy!"

"When I said I wanted to kill someone for you, I didn't think you would
suggest myself, least of all that you wanted me fattened up like a
Christmas turkey first. To go down to posterity as the large-bodied
gentleman who inhaled the badger's hair; to be billed in the London
press in the words, 'Curious Fatal Accident to Adipose Treasurer'--to do
this simply by way of celebrating your twenty-sixth birthday, when we
actually have a bottle of Apollinaris left in the Apollinaris
bin--darling, you cannot have been thinking----"

His wife patted his head again gently. "Oh, Jeremy, you hopeless
person," she sighed. "Give me a new sunshade. I want one badly."

"No," said Jeremy, "Baby shall give you that. For myself I am still
feeling that I should like to kill somebody for you. Lloyd George? No.
F. E. Smith? N-no...." He rubbed his head thoughtfully. "Who invented
those exercises?" he asked suddenly.

"A German, I think."

"Then," said Jeremy, buttoning up his coat, "I shall go and kill
_him_."



ONE OF OUR SUFFERERS


There is no question before the country of more importance than that of
National Health. In my own small way I have made something of a study of
it, and when a Royal Commission begins its enquiries, I shall put before
it the evidence which I have accumulated. I shall lay particular stress
upon the health of Thomson.

"You'll beat me to-day," he said, as he swung his club stiffly on the
first tee; "I shan't be able to hit a ball."

"You should have some lessons," I suggested.

Thomson gave a snort of indignation.

"It's not _that_," he said. "But I've been very seedy lately, and----"

"That's all right; I shan't mind. I haven't played a thoroughly well man
for a month, now."

"You know, I think my liver----"

I held up my hand.

"Not before my caddie, please," I said severely; "he is quite a child."

Thomson said no more for the moment, but hit his ball hard and straight
along the ground.

"It's perfectly absurd," he said with a shrug; "I shan't be able to give
you a game at all. Well, if you don't mind playing a sick man----"

"Not if you don't mind being one," I replied, and drove a ball which
also went along the ground, but not so far as my opponent's. "There! I'm
about the only man in England who can do that when he's quite well."

The ball was sitting up nicely for my second shot, and I managed to put
it on the green. Thomson's, fifty yards farther on, was reclining in the
worst part of a bunker which he had forgotten about.

"Well, really," he said, "there's an example of luck for you. _Your_
ball----"

"I didn't do it on purpose," I pleaded. "Don't be angry with me."

He made two attempts to get out, and then picked his ball up. We walked
in silence to the second tee.

"This time," I said, "I shall hit the sphere properly," and with a
terrific swing I stroked it gently into a gorse bush. I looked at the
thing in disgust and then felt my pulse. Apparently I was still quite
well. Thomson, forgetting about his liver, drove a beauty. We met on the
green.

"Five," I said.

"Only five?" asked Thomson suspiciously.

"Six," I said, holing a very long putt.

Thomson's health had a relapse. He took four short putts and was down in
seven.

"It's really rather absurd," he said, in a conversational way, as we
went to the next tee, "that putting should be so ridiculously important.
Take that hole, for instance. I get on the green in a perfect three; you
fluff your drive completely and get on in--what was it?"

"Five," I said again.

"Er--five. And yet you win the hole. It _is_ rather absurd, isn't it?"

"I've often thought so," I admitted readily. "That is to say, when I've
taken four putts. I'm two up."

On the third tee Thomson's health became positively alarming. He missed
the ball altogether.

"It's ridiculous to try to play," he said, with a forced laugh. "I can't
see the ball at all."

"It's still there," I assured him.

He struck at it again and it hurried off into a ditch.

"Look here," he said, "wouldn't you rather play the pro.? This is not
much of a match for you."

I considered. Of course, a game with the pro. would be much pleasanter
than a game with Thomson, but ought I to leave him in his present
serious condition of health? His illness was approaching its critical
stage, and it was my duty to pull him through if I could.

"No, no," I said. "Let's go on. The fresh air will do you good."

"Perhaps it will," he said hopefully. "I'm sorry I'm like this, but I've
had a cold hanging about for some days, and that on the top of my
liver----"

"Quite so," I said.

The climax was reached, at the next hole, when, with several strokes in
hand, he topped his approach shot into a bunker. For my sake he tried to
look as though he had _meant_ to run it up along the ground, having
forgotten about the intervening hazard. It was a brave effort to hide
from me the real state of his health, but he soon saw that it was
hopeless. He sighed and pressed his hand to his eyes. Then he held his
fingers a foot away from him, and looked at them as if he were trying to
count them correctly. His state was pitiable, and I felt that at any
cost I must save him.

I did. The corner was turned at the fifth, where I took four putts.

"You aren't going to win _all_ the holes," he said grudgingly, as he ran
down his putt.

Convalescence set in at the sixth, when I got into an impossible place
and picked up.

"Oh, well, I shall give you a game yet," he said. "Two down."

The need for further bulletins ceased at the seventh hole, which he
played really well and won easily.

"A-ha, you won't beat me by _much_," he said, "in spite of my liver."

"By the way, how _is_ the liver?" I asked.

"Your fresh-air cure is doing it good. Of course, it may come on again,
but----" He drove a screamer. "I think I shall be all right," he
announced.

"All square," he said cheerily at the ninth. "I fancy I'm going to beat
you now. Not bad, you know, considering you were four up. Practically
speaking, I gave you a start of four holes."

I decided that it was time to make an effort again, seeing that
Thomson's health was now thoroughly re-established. Of the next seven
holes I managed to win three and halve two. It is only fair to say,
though (as Thomson did several times), that I had an extraordinary
amount of good luck, and that he was dogged by ill-fortune throughout.
But this, after all, is as nothing so long as one's health is above
suspicion. The great thing was that Thomson's liver suffered no relapse;
even though, at the seventeenth tee, he was one down and two to play.

And it was on the seventeenth tee that I had to think seriously how I
wanted the match to end. Thomson at lunch when he has won is a very
different man from Thomson at lunch when he has lost. The more I thought
about it, the more I realized that I was in rather a happy position. If
I won, I won--which was jolly; if I lost, Thomson won--and we should
have a pleasant lunch.

However, as it happened, the match was halved.

"Yes, I was afraid so," said Thomson; "I let you get too long a start.
It's absurd to suppose that I can give you four holes up and beat you.
It practically amounts to giving you four bisques. Four bisques is about
six strokes--I'm not really six strokes better than you."

"What about lunch?" I suggested.

"Good; and you can have your revenge afterwards." He led the way into
the pavilion. "Now I wonder," he said, "what I can safely eat. I want
to be able to give you _some_ sort of a game this afternoon."

Well, if there is ever a Royal Commission upon the national physique I
shall insist on giving evidence. For it seems to me that golf, far from
improving the health of the country, is actually undermining it.
Thomson, at any rate, since he has taken to the game, has never been
quite fit.



IN THE SWIM


"Do you tango?" asked Miss Hopkins, as soon as we were comfortably
seated. I know her name was Hopkins, because I had her down on my
programme as Popkins, which seemed too good to be true; and, in order to
give her a chance of reconsidering it, I had asked her if she was one of
the Popkinses of Hampshire. It had then turned out that she was really
one of the Hopkinses of Maida Vale.

"No," I said, "I don't." She was only the fifth person who had asked me,
but then she was only my fifth partner.

"Oh, you ought to. You must be up-to-date, you know."

"I'm always a bit late with these things," I explained. "The waltz came
to England in 1812, but I didn't really master it till 1904."

"I'm afraid if you wait as long as that before you master the tango it
will be out."

"That's what I thought. By the time I learnt the tango, the bingo would
be in. My idea was to learn the bingo in advance, so as to be ready for
it. Think how you'll all envy me in 1917. Think how Society will flock
to my Bingo Quick Lunches. I shall be the only man in London who bingoes
properly. Of course, by 1918 you'll all be at it."

"Then we must have one together in 1918," smiled Miss Hopkins.

"In 1918," I pointed out coldly, "I shall be learning the pongo."

My next partner had no name that I could discover, but a fund of
conversation.

"Do you tango?" she asked me as soon as we were comfortably seated.

"No," I said, "I don't. But," I added, "I once learned the minuet."

"Oh, they're not very much alike, are they?"

"Not a bit. However, luckily that doesn't matter, because I've forgotten
all the steps now."

She seemed a little puzzled and decided to change the subject.

"Are you going to learn the tango?" she asked.

"I don't think so. It took me four months to learn the minuet."

"But they're quite different, aren't they?"

"Quite," I agreed.

As she seemed to have exhausted herself for the moment, it was obviously
my business to say something. There was only one thing to say.

"Do _you_ tango?" I asked.

"No," she said, "I don't."

"Are you going to learn?"

"Oh, yes!"

"Ah!" I said; and five minutes later we parted for ever.

The next dance really was a tango, and I saw to my horror that I had a
name down for it. With some difficulty I found the owner of it, and
prepared to explain to her that unfortunately I couldn't dance the
tango, but that for profound conversation about it I was undoubtedly the
man. Luckily she explained first.

"I'm afraid I can't do this," she apologised. "I'm so sorry."

"Not at all," I said magnanimously. "We'll sit it out."

We found a comfortable seat.

"Do you tango?" she asked.

I was tired of saying "No."

"Yes," I said.

"Are you sure you wouldn't like to find somebody else to do it with?"

"Quite, thanks. The fact is I do it rather differently from the way
they're doing it here to-night. You see, I actually learnt it in the
Argentine."

She was very much interested to hear this.

"Really? Are you out there much? I've got an uncle living there now. I
wonder if----"

"When I say I learnt it in the Argentine," I explained, "I mean that I
was actually taught it in St. John's Wood, but that my dancing mistress
came from----"

"In St. John's Wood?" she said eagerly. "But how funny! My sister is
learning there. I wonder if----"

She was a very difficult person to talk to. Her relations seemed to
spread themselves all over the place.

"Perhaps that is hardly doing justice to the situation," I explained
again. "It would be more accurate to put it like this. When I
decided--by the way, does your family frequent Paris? No? Good. Well,
when I decided to learn the tango, the fact that my friends the
Hopkinses of St. John's Wood, or rather Maida Vale, had already learnt
it in Paris naturally led me to---- I say, what about an ice? It's
getting awfully hot in here."

"Oh, I don't think----"

"I'll go and get them," I said hastily; and I went and took a long time
getting them, and, as it turned out that she didn't want hers after all,
a longer time eating them. When I was ready for conversation again the
next dance was beginning. With a bow I relinquished her to another.

"Come along," said a bright voice behind me; "this is ours."

"Hallo, Norah, is that you? Come on."

We hurried in, danced in silence, and then found ourselves a comfortable
seat. For a moment neither of us spoke....

"Have you learnt the tango yet?" asked Norah.

"Fourteen," I said aloud.

"Help! Does that mean that I'm the fourteenth person who has asked you?"

"The night is yet young, Norah. You are only the eighth. But I was
betting that you'd ask me before I counted twenty. You lost, and you owe
me a pair of ivory-backed hair-brushes and a cigar-cutter."

"Bother! Anyhow, I'm not going to be stopped talking about the tango if
I want to. Did you know I was learning? I can do the scissors."

"Good. We'll do the new Fleet Street movement together, the
scissors-and-paste. You go into the ball-room and do the scissors, and
I'll--er--stick here and do the paste."

"Can't you really do any of it at all, and aren't you going to learn?"

"I can't do any of it at all, Norah. I am not going to learn, Norah."

"It isn't so very difficult, you know. I'd teach you myself for
tuppence."

"Will you stop talking about it for threepence?" I asked, and I took out
three coppers.

"No."

I sighed and put them back again.

       .       .       .       .       .

It was the last dance of the evening. My hostess, finding me lonely, had
dragged me up to somebody, and I and whatever her name was were in the
supper-room drinking our farewell soup. So far we had said nothing to
each other. I waited anxiously for her to begin. Suddenly she began.

"Have you thought about Christmas presents yet?" she asked.

I nearly swooned. With difficulty I remained in an upright position. She
was the first person who had not begun by asking me if I danced the
tango!

"Excuse me," I said. "I'm afraid I didn't--would you tell me your name
again?"

I felt that it ought to be celebrated in some way. I had some notion of
writing a sonnet to her.

"Hopkins," she said; "I knew you'd forgotten me."

"Of course I haven't," I said, suddenly remembering her. The sonnet
would never be written now. "We had a dance together before."

"Yes," she said. "Let me see," she added, "I did ask you if you danced
the tango, didn't I?"



THE MEN WHO SUCCEED



THE HEIR


Mr. Trevor Pilkington, of the well-known firm of Trevor Pilkington,
fixed his horn spectacles carefully upon his nose, took a pinch of
snuff, sneezed twice, gave his papers a preliminary rustle, looked
slowly round the crowded room, and began to read the will. Through forty
years of will-reading his method of procedure had always been the same.
But Jack Summers, who was sharing an ottoman with two of the outdoor
servants, thought that Mr. Pilkington's mannerisms were designed
specially to annoy him, and he could scarcely control his impatience.

Yet no one ever had less to hope from the reading of a will than Jack.
For the first twenty years of his life his parents had brought him up to
believe that his cousin Cecil was heir to his Uncle Alfred's enormous
fortune, and for the subsequent ten years his cousin Cecil had brought
his Uncle Alfred up in the same belief. Indeed, Cecil had even roughed
out one or two wills for signature, and had offered to help his
uncle--who, however, preferred to do these things by himself--to hold
the pen. Jack could not help feeling glad that his cousin was not there
to parade his approaching triumph; a nasty cold, caught a week
previously in attending his uncle to the Lord Mayor's Show, having kept
Cecil in bed.

"To the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, ten shillings
and sixpence"--the words came to him in a meaningless drone--"to the
Fresh Air Fund, ten shillings and sixpence; to the King Edward Hospital
Fund, ten shillings and sixpence"--was _all_ the money going in
charities?--"to my nephew Cecil Linley, who has taken such care of
me"--Mr. Pilkington hesitated--"four shillings and ninepence; to my
nephew, John Summers, whom, thank Heaven, I have never seen, five
million pounds----"

A long whistle of astonishment came from the ottoman. The solicitor
looked up with a frown.

"It's the surprise," apologised Jack. "I hardly expected so much. I
thought that that brute--I mean I thought my cousin Cecil had
nobbled--that is to say, was getting it all."

"The late Mr. Alfred made three wills," said the lawyer in a moment of
expansion. "In the first he left his nephew Cecil a legacy of one
shilling and tenpence, in the second he bequeathed him a sum of three
shillings and twopence, and in the last he set aside the amount of four
shillings and ninepence. The evidence seems to show that your cousin was
rapidly rising in his uncle's estimation. You, on the other hand, have
always been a legatee to the amount of five million pounds; but in the
last will there is a trifling condition attached." He resumed his
papers. "To my nephew, John Summers, five million pounds, on condition
that, within one year from the date of my death, he marries Mary
Huggins, the daughter of my old friend, now deceased, William Huggins."

Jack Summers rose proudly from his end of the ottoman.

"Thanks," he said curtly. "That tears it. It's very kind of the old
gentleman, but I prefer to choose a wife for myself." He bowed to the
company and strode from the room.

       .       .       .       .       .

It was a cloudless August day. In the shadow of the great elms that
fringed the Sussex lane a girl sat musing; on its side in the grass at
her feet a bicycle, its back wheel deflated. She sat on the grassy bank
with her hat in her lap, quite content to wait until the first passer-by
with a repairing outfit in his pocket should offer to help her.

"Can I be of any assistance?" said a manly voice, suddenly waking her
from her reverie.

She turned with a start. The owner of the voice was dressed in a stylish
knickerbocker suit; his eyes were blue, his face was tanned, his hair
was curly, and he was at least six foot tall. So much she noticed at a
glance.

"My bicycle," she said; "punctured."

In a minute he was on his knees beside the machine. A rapid examination
convinced him that she had not over-stated the truth, and he whipped
from his pocket the repairing outfit without which he never travelled.

"I can do it in a moment," he said. "At least, if you can just help me a
little."

As she knelt beside him he could not fail to be aware of her wonderful
beauty. The repairs, somehow, took longer than he thought. Their heads
were very close together all the time, and indeed on one occasion came
violently into contact.

"There," he said at last, getting up and barking his shin against the
pedal. "Conf---- That will be all right."

"Thank you," she said tenderly.

He looked at her without disguising his admiration; a tall, straight
figure in the sunlight, its right shin rubbing itself vigorously against
its left calf.

"It's absurd," he said at last; "I feel as if I've known you for years.
And, anyway, I'm certain I've seen you before somewhere."

"Did you ever go to _The Seaside Girl_?" she asked eagerly.

"Often."

"Do you remember the Spanish princess who came on at the beginning of
the Second Act and said, 'Wow-wow!' to the Mayor?"

"Why, of course! And you had your photograph in _The Sketch_, _The
Tatler_, _The Bystander_, and _The Sporting and Dramatic_ all in the
same week?"

The girl nodded happily. "Yes, I'm Marie Huguenot!" she said.

"And I'm Jack Summers; so now we know each other." He took her hand.
"Marie," he said, "ever since I have mended your bicycle--I mean, ever
since I have known you, I have loved you. Will you marry me?"

"Jack!" she cooed. "You did say 'Jack,' didn't you?"

"Bless you, Marie. We shall be very poor, dear. Will you mind?"

"Not with you, Jack. At least, not if you mean what _I_ mean by 'very
poor.'"

"Two thousand a year."

"Yes, that's about what I meant."

Jack took her in his arms.

"And Mary Huggins can go and marry the Pope," he said, with a smile.

With a look of alarm in her eyes she pushed him suddenly away from her.
There was a crash as his foot went through the front wheel of the
bicycle.

"Mary Huggins?" she cried.

"Yes, I was left a fortune on condition that I married a person called
Mary Huggins. Absurd! As though----"

"How much?"

"Oh, quite a lot if it wasn't for these confounded death duties. Five
million pounds. You see----"

"Jack, Jack!" cried the girl. "Don't you understand? _I_ am Mary
Huggins."

He looked at her in amazement.

"You said your name was Marie Huguenot," he said slowly.

"My stage name, dear. Naturally I couldn't--I mean, one must--you know
how particular managers are. When father died and I had to go on the
stage for a living----"

"Marie, my darling!"

Mary rose and picked up her bicycle. The air had gone out of the back
wheel again, and there were four spokes broken, but she did not heed it.

"You must write to your lawyer to-night," she said. "_Won't_ he be
surprised?"

But, being a great reader of the magazines, he wasn't.



THE STATESMAN


On a certain night in the middle of the season all London was gathered
in Lady Marchpane's drawing-room; all London, that is, which was worth
knowing--a qualification which accounted for the absence of several
million people who had never heard of Lady Marchpane. In one corner of
the room an Ambassador, with a few ribbons across his chest, could have
been seen chatting to the latest American Duchess; in another corner one
of our largest Advertisers was exchanging epigrams with a titled
Newspaper Proprietor. Famous Generals rubbed shoulders with
Post-Impressionist Artists; Financiers whispered sweet nothings to
Breeders of prize Poms; even an Actor-Manager might have been seen
accepting an apology from a Royalty who had jostled him.

"Hallo," said Algy Lascelles, catching sight of the dignified figure of
Rupert Meryton in the crowd; "how's William?"

A rare smile lit up Rupert's distinguished features. He was Under
Secretary for Invasion Affairs, and "William" was Algy's pleasant way of
referring to the Bill which he was now piloting through the House of
Commons. It was a measure for doing something or other by means of a
what-d'you-call-it--I cannot be more precise without precipitating a
European Conflict.

"I think we shall get it through," said Rupert calmly.

"Lady Marchpane was talking about it just now. She's rather interested,
you know."

Rupert's lips closed about his mouth in a firm line. He looked over
Algy's head into the crowd. "Oh!" he said coldly.

It was barely ten years ago that young Meryton, just down from Oxford,
had startled the political world by capturing the important seat of
Cricklewood (E.) for the Tariffadicals--as, to avoid plunging the
country into Civil War, I must call them. This was at a by-election, and
the Liberatives had immediately dissolved, only to come into power after
the General Election with an increased majority. Through the years that
followed, Rupert Meryton, by his pertinacity in asking the Invasion
Secretary questions which had been answered by him on the previous day,
and by his regard for the dignity of the House, as shown in his
invariable comment, "Come, come--not quite the gentleman," upon any
display of bad manners opposite, established a clear right to a post in
the subsequent Tariffadical Government. He had now been Under Secretary
for two years, and in this Bill his first real chance had come.

"Oh, there you are, Mr. Meryton," said a voice. "Come and talk to me a
moment." With a nod to a couple of Archbishops Lady Marchpane led the
way to a little gallery whither the crowd had not penetrated. Priceless
Correggios, Tintorettos, and G. K. Chestertons hung upon the walls, but
it was not to show him these that she had come. Dropping into a
wonderful old Chippendale chair, she motioned him to a Blundell-Maple
opposite her, and looked at him with a curious smile.

"Well," she said, "about the Bill?"

Rupert's lips closed about his mouth in a firm line. (He was rather good
at this.) Folding his arms, he gazed steadily into Lady Marchpane's
still beautiful eyes.

"It will go through," he said. "Through all its stages," he added
professionally.

"It must not go through," said Lady Marchpane gently.

Rupert could not repress a start, but he was master of himself again in
a moment.

"I cannot add anything to my previous statement," he said.

"If it goes through," began Lady Marchpane----

"I must refer you," said Rupert, "to my answer of yesterday."

"Come, come, Mr. Meryton, what is the good of fencing with me? You know
the position. Or shall I state it for you again?"

"I cannot believe you are serious."

"I am perfectly serious. There are reasons, financial reasons--and
others--why I do not want this Bill to pass. In return for my silence
upon a certain matter, you are going to prevent it passing. You know to
what I refer. On the 4th of May last----"

"Stop!" cried Rupert hoarsely.

"On the 4th of May last," Lady Marchpane went on relentlessly, "you and
I--in the absence of my husband abroad--had tea together at an A.B.C."
(Rupert covered his face with his hands.) "I am no fonder of scandal
than you are, but if you do not meet my wishes I shall certainly confess
the truth to Marchpane."

"You will be ruined too!" said Rupert.

"My husband will forgive me and take me back." She paused significantly.
"Will Marjorie Hale----" (Rupert covered his hands with his face)--"will
the good Miss Hale forgive you? She is very strict, is she not? And
rich? And rising young politicians want money more than scandal." She
raised her head suddenly at the sound of footsteps. "Ah, Archbishop, I
was just calling Mr. Meryton's attention to this wonderful
Botticell----" (she looked at it more closely)----"this wonderful Dana
Gibson. A beautiful piece of work, is it not?" The intruders passed on
to the supper-room, and they were alone again.

"What am I to do?" said Rupert sullenly.

"The fate of the Bill is settled to-day week, when you make your big
speech. You must speak against it. Confess frankly you were mistaken. It
will be a close thing, anyhow. Your influence will turn the scale."

"It will ruin me politically."

"You will marry Marjorie Hale and be rich. No rich man is ever ruined
politically. Or socially." She patted his hand gently. "You'll do it?"

He got up slowly. "You'll see next week," he said.

It is not meet that we should watch the unhappy Rupert through the
long-drawn hours of the night, as he wrestled with the terrible problem.
A moment's sudden madness on that May afternoon had brought him to the
cross-roads. On the one hand, reputation, wealth, the girl that he
loved; on the other, his own honour and--so, at least, he had said
several times on the platform--the safety of England. He rose in the
morning weary, but with his mind made up.

The Bill should go through!

Rupert Meryton was a speaker of a not unusual type. Although he provided
the opinions himself, he always depended upon his secretary for the
arguments with which to support them and the actual words in which to
give them being. But on this occasion he felt that a special effort was
required of him. He would show Lady Marchpane that the blackmail of
yesterday had only roused him to a still greater effort on behalf of his
country. _He would write his own speech._

On the fateful night the House was crowded. It seemed that all the
guests at Lady Marchpane's a week before were in the Distinguished
Strangers' Gallery or behind the Ladies' Grille. From the Press Gallery
"Our Special Word-painter" looked down upon the statesmen beneath him,
his eagle eye ready to detect on the moment the Angry Flush, the Wince,
or the Sudden Paling of enemy, the Grim Smile or the Lofty Calm of
friend.

The Rt. Hon. Rupert Meryton, Tariffadical Member for Cricklewood (E.)
rose to his feet amidst cheers.

"Mr. Speaker," he said, "I rise--er--to-night, sir--h'r'm, to--er----"
So much of his speech I may give, but urgent State reasons compel me to
withhold the rest. Were it ever known with which Bill the secret history
that I have disclosed concerns itself, the Great Powers in an instant
would be at each other's throats. But though I may not disclose the
speech I can tell of its effect on the House. And its effect was
curious. It was, in fact, the exact opposite of what Rupert Meryton,
that promising Under Secretary, had intended.

It was the first speech that he had ever prepared himself. Than Rupert
there was no more dignified figure in the House of Commons; his honour
was proof, as we have seen, against the most insidious temptations; yet,
since one man cannot have all the virtues, he was distinctly stupid. It
would have been a hopeless speech anyhow; but, to make matters worse, he
had, in the most important part of it, attempted irony. And at the
beginning of the ironical passage even the Tariffadical word-painters
had to confess that it was their own stalwarts who "suddenly paled."

As Lady Marchpane had said, it was bound to be a close thing. The
Liberatives and the Unialists, of course, were solid against the Bill,
but there was also something of a cave in the Tariffadical Party. It was
bound to be a close thing, and Rupert's speech just made the difference.
When he sat down the waverers and doubters had made up their minds.

The Bill was defeated.

       .       .       .       .       .

That the Tariffadicals should resign was natural; perhaps it was equally
natural that Rupert's secretary should resign too. He said that his
reputation would be gone if Rupert made any more speeches on his own,
and that he wasn't going to risk it. Without his secretary Rupert was
lost at the General Election which followed. Fortunately he had a
grateful friend in Lady Marchpane. She exerted her influence with the
Liberatives, and got him an appointment as Governor of the Stickjaw
Islands. Here, with his beautiful and rich wife, Sir Rupert Meryton
maintains a regal state, and upon his name no breath of scandal rests.
Indeed, his only trouble so far has been with the Stickjaw language--a
difficult language, but one which, perhaps fortunately, does not lend
itself to irony.



THE MAGNATE


It was in October, 19-- that the word "Zinc" first began to be heard in
financial circles. City men, pushing their dominoes regretfully away,
and murmuring "Zinc" in apologetic tones, were back in their offices by
three o'clock, forgetting in their haste to leave the usual twopence
under the cup for the waitress. Clubmen, glancing at the tape on their
way to the smoking-room, said to their neighbours, "Zinc's moved a
point, I see," before covering themselves up with _The Times_. In the
trains, returning husbands asked each other loudly, "What's all this
about zinc?"--all save the very innocent ones, who whispered, "I say,
what _is_ zinc exactly?" The music-halls took it up. No sooner had the
word "Zinc" left the lips of an acknowledged comedian than the house was
in roars of laughter. The _furore_ at the Collodium when Octavius Octo,
in his world-famous part of the landlady of a boarding-house, remarked,
"I know why my ole man's so late. 'E's buying zinc," is still remembered
in the bars round Piccadilly.

       .       .       .       .       .

To explain it properly it will be necessary (my readers will be alarmed
to hear) to go back some thirty years. This, as a simple calculation
shows, takes us to June, 18--. It was in June, 18-- that Felix Moses, a
stout young man of attractive appearance (if you care for that style),
took his courage in both hands, and told Phyllida Sloan that he was
worth ten thousand a year and was changing his name to Mountenay. Miss
Sloan, seeing that it was the beginning of a proposal, said hastily
that she was changing hers to Abraham.

"You're marrying Leo Abraham?" asked Felix in amazement. "Ah!" A gust of
jealousy swept over him. He licked his lips. There was a dangerous look
in his eyes--a look that was destined in after days to make Emperors and
rival financiers quail. "Ah!" he said softly. "Leo Abraham! I shall not
forget!"

       .       .       .       .       .

And now it will be necessary (my readers will be relieved to learn) to
jump forward some thirty years. This obviously takes us to September
19--. Let us on this fine September morning take a peep into "No. --
Throgneedle Street, E.C.," and see how the business of the mother city
is carried on.

On the fourth floor we come to the sanctum of the great man himself.
"Mr. Felix Mountenay--No admittance," is painted upon the outer door. It
is a name which is known and feared all over Europe. Mr. Mountenay's
private detective stands on one side of the door; on the other side is
Mr. Mountenay's private wolf-hound. Murmuring the word "Press," however,
we pass hastily through, and find ourselves before Mr. Mountenay
himself. Mr. Mountenay is at work; let us watch him through a typical
five minutes.

For a moment he stands meditating in the middle of the room. Kings are
tottering on their thrones. Empires hang upon his nod. What will he
decide? Suddenly he blows a cloud of smoke from his cigar, and rushes to
the telephone.

"Hallo! Is that you, Jones?... What are Margarine Prefs. at?...
_What?..._ No, Margarine _Prefs._, idiot.... Ah! Then sell. Keep on
selling till I tell you to stop.... Yes."

He hangs up the receiver. For two minutes he paces the room, smoking
rapidly. He stops a moment ... but it is only to remove his cigar-band,
which is in danger of burning. Then he resumes his pacings. Another
minute goes rapidly by. He rushes to the telephone again.

"Hallo! Is that you, Jones?... What are Margarine Prefs. down to now?...
Ah! Then buy. Keep on buying.... Yes."

He hangs up the receiver. By this master-stroke he has made a quarter of
a million. It may seem to you or me an easy way of doing it. Ah, but
what, we must ask ourselves, of the great brain that conceived the idea,
the foresight which told the exact moment when to put it into action,
the cool courage which seized the moment--what of the grasp of affairs,
the knowledge of men? Ah! Can we grudge it him that he earns a quarter
of a million more quickly than we do?

Yet Mr. Felix Mountenay is not happy. When we have brought off a coup
for a hundred thousand even, we smile gaily. Mr. Mountenay did not
smile. Fiercely he bit another inch off his cigar, and muttered to
himself.

The words were "Leo Abraham! Wait!"

       .       .       .       .       .

This is positively the last row of dots. Let us take advantage of them
to jump forward another month. It was October 1st, 19--. (If that was a
Sunday, then it was October 2nd. Anyhow, it was October.)

Mr. Felix Mountenay was sleeping in his office. For once that iron brain
relaxed. He had made a little over three million in the last month, and
the strain was too much for him. But a knock at the door restored him
instantly to his own cool self.

"I beg your pardon, sir," said his secretary, "but somebody is selling
zinc."

The word "zinc" touched a chord in Mr. Mountenay's brain which had lain
dormant for years. Zinc! Why did zinc remind him of Leo Abraham?

"Fetch the _Encyclopedia Britannica_, quick!" he cried.

The secretary, a man of herculean build, returned with some of it. With
the luck which proverbially attends rich men, Mr. Mountenay picked up
the "Z" volume at once. As he read the Zinc article it all came back to
him. Leo Abraham had owned an empty zinc-mine! Was his enemy in his
clutches at last?

"Buy!" he said briefly.

In a fortnight the secretary had returned.

"Well," said Mr. Mountenay, "have you bought all the zinc there is?"

"Yes, sir," said the secretary. "And a lot that there isn't," he added.

"Good!" He paused a moment. "When Mr. Leo Abraham calls," he added
grimly, "show him up at once."

It was a month later that a haggard man climbed the stairs of No. --
Throgneedle Street, and was shown into Mr. Mountenay's room.

"Well," said the financier softly, "what can I do for you?"

"I want some zinc," said Leo Abergavenny.

"Zinc," said Mr. Mountenay, with a smile, "is a million pounds a ton. Or
an acre, or a gallon, or however you prefer to buy it," he added
humorously.

Leo went white.

"You wish to ruin me?"

"I do. A promise I made to your wife some years ago."

"My wife?" cried Leo. "What do you mean? I'm not married."

It was Mr. Mountenay's turn to go white. He went it.

"Not married? But Miss Sloan----"

Mr. Leo Abergavenny sat down and mopped his face.

"I don't know what you mean," he said. "I asked Miss Sloan to marry me,
and told her I was changing my name to Abergavenny. And she said that
she was changing hers to Moses. Naturally, I thought----"

"Stop!" cried Mr. Mountenay. He sat down heavily. Something seemed to
have gone out of his life; in a moment the world was empty. He looked up
at his old rival, and forced a laugh.

"Well, well," he said; "she deceived us both. Let us drink to our lucky
escape." He rang the bell.

"And then," he said in a purring voice, "we can have a little talk about
zinc. After all, business is still business."



THE DOCTOR


His slippered feet stretched out luxuriously to the fire, Dr. Venables,
of Mudford, lay back in his arm-chair and gave himself up to the
delights of his Flor di Cabajo, No. 2, a box of which had been presented
to him by an apparently grateful patient. It had been a busy day. He had
prescribed more than half a dozen hot milk-puddings and a dozen changes
of air; he had promised a score of times to look in again to-morrow; and
the Widow Nixey had told him yet again, but at greater length than
before, her private opinion of doctors.

Sometimes Gordon Venables wondered whether it was only for this that he
had been the most notable student of his year at St. Bartholomew's. His
brilliance, indeed, had caused something of a sensation in medical
circles, and a remarkable career had been prophesied for him. It was
Venables who had broken up one Suffrage meeting after another by
throwing white mice at the women on the platform; who day after day had
paraded London dressed in the costume of a brown dog, until arrested for
biting an anti-vivisector in the leg. No wonder that all the prizes of
the profession were announced to be within his grasp, and that when he
buried himself in the little country town of Mudford he was thought to
have thrown away recklessly opportunities such as were granted to few.

He had been in Mudford for five years now. An occasional paper in _The
Lancet_ on "The Recurrence of Anthro-philomelitis in Earth-worms" kept
him in touch with modern medical thought, but he could not help feeling
that to some extent his powers were rusting in Mudford. As the years
went on his chance of Harley Street dwindled.

"Come in," he said in answer to a knock at the door.

The housekeeper's head appeared.

"There's been an accident, sir," she gasped. "Gentleman run over!"

He snatched up his stethoscope and, without even waiting to inquire
where the accident was, hurried into the night. Something whispered to
him that his chance had come.

After a quarter of an hour he stopped a small boy.

"Hallo, Johnny," he said breathlessly, "where's the accident?"

The boy looked at him with open mouth for some moments. Then he had an
idea.

"Why, it's Doctor!" he said.

Dr. Venables pushed him over and ran on....

It was in the High Street that the accident had happened. Lord Lair, an
eccentric old gentleman who sometimes walked when he might have driven,
had, while dodging a motor-car, been run into by a child's hoop. He lay
now on the pavement surrounded by a large and interested crowd.

"Look out," shouted somebody from the outskirts; "here comes Doctor."

Dr. Venables pushed his way through to his patient. His long search for
the scene of the accident had exhausted him bodily, but his mind was as
clear as ever.

"Stand back there," he said in an authoritative voice. Then, taking out
his stethoscope, he made a rapid examination of his patient.

"Incised wound in the tibia," he murmured to himself. "Slight abrasion
of the patella and contusion of the left ankle. The injuries are serious
but not necessarily mortal. Who is he?"

The butcher, who had been sitting on the head of the fallen man, got up
and disclosed the features of Lord Lair. Dr. Venables staggered back.

"His lordship!" he cried. "He is a patient of Dr. Scott's! I have
attended the client of another practitioner! Professionally I am
ruined!"

Lord Lair, who was now breathing more easily, opened his eyes.

"Take me home," he groaned.

Dr. Venables' situation was a terrible one. Medical etiquette demanded
his immediate retirement from the case, but the promptings of humanity
and the thought of his client's important position in the world were too
strong for him. Throwing his scruples to the winds, he assisted the aged
peer on to a hastily improvised stretcher and accompanied him to the
Hall.

His lordship once in bed, the doctor examined him again. It was obvious
immediately that there was only one hope of saving the patient's life.
An injection of anthro-philomelitis must be given without loss of time.

Dr. Venables took off his coat and rolled up his sleeves. He never
travelled without a small bottle of this serum in his waistcoat
pocket--a serum which, as my readers know, is prepared from the
earth-worm, in whose body (fortunately) large deposits of
anthro-philomelitis are continually found. With help from a footman in
holding down the patient, the injection was made. In less than a year
Lord Lair was restored to health.

       .       .       .       .       .

Dr. Gordon Venables' case came before the British Medical Council early
in October. The counts in the indictment were two.

The first was that, "on the 17th of June last, Dr. Gordon Venables did
feloniously and with malice aforethought commit the disgusting and
infamous crime of attending professionally the client of another
practitioner."

The second was that "in the course of rendering professional services to
the said client, Dr. Venables did knowingly and wittingly employ the
assistance of one who was not a properly registered medical man, to wit,
Thomas Boiling, footman, thereby showing himself to be a scurvy fellow
of infamous morals."

Dr. Venables decided to apologise. He also decided to send in an account
to Lord Lair for two hundred and fifty guineas. He justified this to
himself mainly on the ground that, according to a letter in that week's
_Lancet_, the supply of anthro-philomelitis in earth-worms was suddenly
giving out, and that it was necessary to recoup himself for the generous
quantity he had injected into Lord Lair. Naturally, also, he felt that
his lordship, as the author of the whole trouble, owed him something.

The Council, in consideration of his apology, dismissed the first count.
On the second count, however, they struck him off the register.

It was a terrible position for a young doctor to be in, but Gordon
Venables faced it like a man. With Lord Lair's fee in his pocket he came
to town and took a house in Harley Street. When he had paid the first
quarter's rent and the first instalment on the hired furniture, he had
fifty pounds left.

Ten pounds he spent on embossed stationery.

Forty pounds he spent on postage-stamps.

For the next three months no journal was complete without a letter from
999 Harley Street, signed "Gordon Venables," in which the iniquity of
his treatment by the British Medical Council was dwelt upon with the
fervour of a man who knew his subject thoroughly; no such letter was
complete without a side-reference to anthro-philomelitis (as found,
happily, in earth-worms) and the anthro-philomelitis treatment (as
recommended by peers). Six months previously the name of Venables had
been utterly unknown to the man in the street. In three months' time it
was better known even than ----'s, the well-known ----.

One-half of London said he was an infamous quack.

The other half of London said he was a martyred genius.

Both halves agreed that, after all, one might as well _try_ this new
what-you-may-call-it treatment, just to see if there was anything _in_
it, don't you know.

It was only last week that Mr. Venables made an excellent speech against
the super-tax.



THE NEWSPAPER PROPRIETOR


The great Hector Strong, lord of journalism and swayer of empires, paced
the floor of his luxurious apartment with bowed head, his corrugated
countenance furrowed with lines of anxiety. He had just returned from a
lunch with all his favourite advertisers ... but it was not this which
troubled him. He was thinking out a new policy for _The Daily Vane_.

Suddenly he remembered something. Coming up to town in his third motor,
he had glanced through the nineteen periodicals which his house had
published that morning, and in one case had noted matter for serious
criticism. This was obviously the first business he must deal with.

He seated himself at his desk and pushed the bell marked "38." Instantly
a footman presented himself with a tray of sandwiches.

"What do you want?" said Strong coldly.

"You rang for me, sir," replied the trembling menial.

"Go away," said Strong. Recognizing magnanimously, however, that the
mistake was his own, he pressed bell "28." In another moment the editor
of _Sloppy Chunks_ was before him.

"In to-day's number," said Strong, as he toyed with a blue pencil, "you
apologize for a mistake in last week's number." He waited sternly.

"It was a very bad mistake, sir, I'm afraid. We did a great injustice
to----"

"You know my rule," said Strong. "The mistake of last week I could have
overlooked. The apology of this week is a more serious matter. You will
ask for a month's salary on your way out." He pressed a button and the
editor disappeared through the trap-door.

Alone again, Hector Strong thought keenly for a moment. Then he pressed
bell "38." Instantly a footman presented himself with a tray of
sandwiches.

"What do you mean by this?" roared Strong, his iron self-control for a
moment giving way.

"I b-beg your pardon, sir," stammered the man. "I th-thought----"

"Get out!" As the footman retired, Strong passed his hand across his
forehead. "My memory is bad to-day," he murmured, and pushed bell "48."

A tall thin man entered.

"Ah, good afternoon, Mr. Brownlow," said the Proprietor. He toyed with
his blue pencil. "Let me see, which of our papers are under your charge
at the moment?"

Mr. Brownlow reflected.

"Just now," he said, "I am editing _Snippety Snips_, _The Whoop_, _The
Girls' Own Aunt_, _Parings_, _Slosh_, _The Sunday Sermon_, and _Back
Chat_."

"Ah! Well, I want you to take on _Sloppy Chunks_ too for a little while.
Mr. Symes has had to leave us."

"Yes, sir." Mr. Brownlow bowed and moved to the door.

"By the way," Strong said, "your last number of _Slosh_ was very good.
Very good indeed. I congratulate you. Good day."

Left alone, Hector Strong, lord of journalism and swayer of empires,
resumed his pacings. His two mistakes with the bell told him that he was
distinctly not himself this afternoon. Was it only the need of a new
policy for _The Vane_ which troubled him? Or was it----

Could it be Lady Dorothy?

Lady Dorothy Neal was something of an enigma to Hector Strong. He was
making more than a million pounds a year, and yet she did not want to
marry him. Sometimes he wondered if the woman were quite sane. Yet, mad
or sane, he loved her.

A secretary knocked and entered. He waited submissively for half an hour
until the Proprietor looked up.

"Well?"

"Lady Dorothy Neal would like to see you for a moment, sir."

"Show her in."

Lady Dorothy came in brightly.

"What nice-looking men you have here," she said. "Who is the one in the
blue waistcoat? He has curly hair."

"You didn't come to talk about _him_?" said Hector reproachfully.

"I didn't come to talk _to_ him really, but if you keep me waiting half
an hour---- Why, what are you doing?"

Strong looked up from the note he was writing. The tender lines had gone
from his face, and he had become the stern man of action again.

"I am giving instructions that the services of my commissionaire,
hall-boy, and fifth secretary will no longer be required."

"Don't do that," pleaded Dorothy.

Strong tore up the note and turned to her. "What do you want of me?" he
asked.

She blushed and looked down. "I--I have written a--a play," she
faltered.

He smiled indulgently. He did not write plays himself, but he knew that
other people did.

"When does it come off?" he asked.

"The manager says it will have to at the end of the week. It came _on_ a
week ago."

"Well," he smiled, "if people don't want to go, I can't make them."

"Yes, you can," she said boldly.

He gave a start. His brain working at lightning speed saw the
possibilities in an instant. At one stroke he could win Lady Dorothy's
gratitude, provide _The Daily Vane_ with a temporary policy, and give a
convincing exhibition of the power of his press.

"Oh, Mr. Strong----"

"Hector," he whispered. As he rose from his desk to go to her, he
accidentally pressed the button of the trap-door. The next moment he was
alone.

       .       .       .       .       .

"That the British public is always ready to welcome the advent of a
clean and wholesome home-grown play is shown by the startling success of
_Christina's Mistake_, which is attracting such crowds to The King's
every night." So wrote _The Daily Vane_, and continued in the same
strain for a column.

"Clubland is keenly exercised," wrote _The Evening Vane_, "over a
problem of etiquette which arises in the Second Act of _Christina's
Mistake_, the great autumn success at The King's Theatre. The point is
shortly this. Should a woman ..." And so on.

"A pretty little story is going the rounds," said _Slosh_, "anent that
charming little lady, Estelle Rito, who plays the part of a governess in
_Christina's Mistake_, for which ('Manager' Barodo informs me) advance
booking up to Christmas has already been taken. It seems that Miss Rito,
when shopping in the purlieus of Bond Street ..."

_Sloppy Chunks_ had a joke which set all the world laughing. It was
called----

    "BETWEEN THE ACTS

    _Flossie._ 'Who's the lady in the box with Mr. Johnson?'

    _Gussie._ 'Hush! It's his wife!'

    And Flossie giggled so much that she could hardly listen to the last
    Act of _Christina's Mistake_, which she had been looking forward to
    for weeks!"

_The Sunday Sermon_ offered free tickets to a hundred unmarried suburban
girls, to which class _Christina's Mistake_ might be supposed to make a
special religious appeal. But they had to collect coupons first for _The
Sunday Sermon_.

And, finally, _The Times_, of two months later, said:

"A marriage has been arranged between Lady Dorothy Neal, daughter of the
Earl of Skye, and the Hon. Geoffrey Bollinger."

       .       .       .       .       .

Than a successful revenge nothing is sweeter in life. Hector Strong was
not the man to spare anyone who had done him an injury. Yet I think his
method of revenging himself upon Lady Dorothy savoured of the
diabolical. He printed a photograph of her in _The Daily Picture
Gallery_. It was headed "The Beautiful Lady Dorothy Neal."



THE COLLECTOR


When Peter Plimsoll, the Glue King, died, his parting advice to his sons
to stick to the business was followed only by John, the elder. Adrian,
the younger, had a soul above adhesion. He disposed of his share in the
concern and settled down to follow the life of a gentleman of taste and
culture and (more particularly) patron of the arts. He began in a modest
way to collect ink-pots. His range at first was catholic, and it was not
until he had acquired a hundred and forty-seven ink-pots of various
designs that he decided to make a speciality of historic ones. This
decision was hastened by the discovery that one of Queen Elizabeth's
inkstands--supposed (by the owner) to be the identical one with whose
aid she wrote her last letter to Raleigh--was about to be put on the
market. At some expense Adrian obtained an introduction, through a third
party, to the owner; at more expense the owner obtained, through the
same gentleman, an introduction to Adrian; and in less than a month the
great Elizabeth Ink-pot was safely established in Adrian's house. It was
the beginning of the "Plimsoll Collection."

This was twenty years ago. Let us to-day take a walk through the
galleries of Mr. Adrian Plimsoll's charming residence, which, as the
world knows, overlooks the park. Any friend of mine is always welcome at
Number Fifteen. We will start with the North Gallery; I fear that I
shall only have time to point out a few of the choicest gems.

This is a Pontesiori sword of the thirteenth century--the only example
of the master's art without any notches.

On the left is a Capricci comfit-box. If you have never heard of
Capricci, you oughtn't to come to a house like this.

Here we have before us the historic de Montigny topaz. Ask your little
boy to tell you about it.

In the East Gallery, of course, the chief treasure is the Santo di Santo
amulet, described so minutely in his _Vindiciæ Veritatis_ by John of
Flanders. The original MS. of this book is in the South Gallery. You
must glance at it when we get there. It will save you the trouble of
ordering a copy from your library; they would be sure to keep you
waiting....

With some such words as these I lead my friends round Number Fifteen.
The many treasures in the private parts of the house I may not show, of
course; the bathroom, for instance, in which hangs the finest collection
of portraits of philatelists that Europe can boast. You must spend a
night with Adrian to be admitted to their company; and, as one of the
elect, I can assure you that nothing can be more stimulating on a
winter's morning than to catch the eye of Frisby Dranger, F.Ph.S.,
behind the taps as your head first emerges from the icy waters.

       .       .       .       .       .

Adrian Plimsoll sat at breakfast, sipping his hot water and crumbling a
dry biscuit. A light was in his eye, a flush upon his pallid
countenance. He had just heard from a trusty agent that the Scutori
breast-plate had been seen in Devonshire. His car was ready to take him
to the station.

But alas! a disappointment awaited him. On close examination the
breast-plate turned out to be a common Risoldo of inferior working.
Adrian left the house in disgust and started on his seven-mile walk
back to the station. To complete his misery a sudden storm came on.
Cursing alternately his agent and Risoldo, he made his way to a cottage
and asked for shelter.

An old woman greeted him civilly and bade him come in.

"If I may just wait till the storm is over," said Adrian, and he sat
down in her parlour and looked appraisingly (as was his habit) round the
room. The grandfather clock in the corner was genuine, but he was beyond
grandfather clocks. There was nothing else of any value: three china
dogs and some odd trinkets on the chimney-piece; a print or two----

Stay! What was that behind the youngest dog?

"May I look at that old bracelet?" he asked, his voice trembling a
little; and without waiting for permission he walked over and took up
the circle of tarnished metal in his hands. As he examined it his colour
came and went, his heart seemed to stop beating. With a tremendous
effort he composed himself and returned to his chair.

_It was the Emperor's Bracelet!_

Of course you know the history of this most famous of all bracelets.
Made by Spurius Quintus of Rome in 47 B.C., it was given by Cæsar to
Cleopatra, who tried without success to dissolve it in vinegar.
Returning to Rome by way of Antony, it was worn at a minor conflagration
by Nero, after which it was lost sight of for many centuries. It was
eventually heard of during the reign of Canute (or Knut, as his admirers
called him); and John is known to have lost it in the Wash, whence it
was recovered a century afterwards. It must have travelled thence to
France, for it was seen once in the possession of Louis XI; and from
there to Spain, for Philip the Handsome presented it to Joanna on her
wedding day. Columbus took it to America, but fortunately brought it
back again; Peter the Great threw it at an indifferent musician; on one
of its later visits to England Pope wrote a couplet to it. And the most
astonishing thing in its whole history was that now for more than a
hundred years it had vanished completely. To turn up again in a little
Devonshire cottage! Verily, truth is stranger than fiction.

"That's rather a curious bracelet of yours," said Adrian casually.
"My--er--wife has one just like it, which she asked me to match. Is it
an old friend, or would you care to sell it?"

"My mother gave it me," said the old woman, "and she had it from hers. I
don't know no further than that. I didn't mean to sell it, but----"

"Quite right," said Adrian, "and, after all, I can easily get another."

"But I won't say a bit of money wouldn't be useful. What would you think
a fair price, sir? Five shillings?"

Adrian's heart jumped. To get the Emperor's bracelet for five shillings!

But the spirit of the collector rose up strong within him. He laughed
kindly.

"My good woman," he said, "they turn out bracelets like that in
Birmingham at two shillings apiece. And quite new. I'll give you
tenpence."

"Make it one-and-sixpence," she pleaded. "Times are hard."

Adrian reflected. He was not, strictly speaking, impoverished. He could
afford one-and-sixpence.

"One-and-tuppence," he said.

"No, no, one-and-sixpence," she repeated obstinately.

Adrian reflected again. After all, he could always sell it for ten
thousand pounds, if the worst came to the worst.

"Well, well," he sighed. "One-and-sixpence let it be."

He counted out the money carefully. Then, putting the precious bracelet
in his pocket, he rose to go.

       .       .       .       .       .

Adrian has no relations living now. When he dies he proposes to leave
the Plimsoll Collection to the nation, having--as far as he can
foresee--no particular use for it in the next world. This is really very
generous of him, and no doubt, when the time comes, the papers will say
so. But it is a pity that he cannot be appreciated properly in his
lifetime. Personally I should like to see him knighted.



THE ADVENTURER


Lionel Norwood, from his earliest days, had been marked out for a life
of crime. When quite a child he was discovered by his nurse killing
flies on the window-pane. This was before the character of the house-fly
had become a matter of common talk among scientists, and Lionel (like
all great men, a little before his time) had pleaded hygiene in vain. He
was smacked hastily and bundled off to a preparatory school, where his
aptitude for smuggling sweets would have lost him many a half-holiday
had not his services been required at outside-left in the hockey eleven.
With some difficulty he managed to pass into Eton, and three years
later--with, one would imagine, still more difficulty--managed to get
superannuated. At Cambridge he went down-hill rapidly. He would think
nothing of smoking a cigar in academical costume, and on at least one
occasion he drove a dogcart on Sunday. No wonder that he was requested,
early in his second year, to give up his struggle with the Little-go and
betake himself back to London.

London is always glad to welcome such people as Lionel Norwood. In no
other city is it so simple for a man of easy conscience to earn a living
by his wits. If Lionel ever had any scruples (which, after a perusal of
the above account of his early days, it may be permitted one to doubt)
they were removed by an accident to his solicitor, who was run over in
the Argentine on the very day that he arrived there with what was left
of Lionel's money. Reduced suddenly to poverty, Norwood had no choice
but to enter upon a life of crime.

Except, perhaps, that he used slightly less hair-oil than most, he
seemed just the ordinary man about town as he sat in his dressing-gown
one fine summer morning and smoked a cigarette. His rooms were furnished
quietly and in the best of taste. No signs of his nefarious profession
showed themselves to the casual visitor. The appealing letters from the
Princess whom he was blackmailing, the wire apparatus which shot the two
of spades down his sleeve during the coon-can nights at the club, the
thimble and pea with which he had performed the three-card trick so
successfully at Epsom last week--all these were hidden away from the
common gaze. It was a young gentleman of fashion who lounged in his
chair and toyed with a priceless straight-cut.

There was a tap at the door, and Masters, his confidential valet, came
in.

"Well," said Lionel, "have you looked through the post?"

"Yes, sir," said the man. "There's the usual cheque from Her Highness, a
request for more time from the lady in Tite Street with twopence to pay
on the envelope, and banknotes from the Professor as expected. The young
gentleman of Hill Street has gone abroad suddenly, sir."

"Ah!" said Lionel, with a sudden frown. "I suppose you'd better cross
him off our list, Masters."

"Yes, sir. I had ventured to do so, sir. I think that's all, except that
Mr. Snooks is glad to accept your kind invitation to dinner and bridge
to-night. Will you wear the hair-spring coat, sir, or the metal clip?"

Lionel made no answer. He sat plunged in thought. When he spoke it was
about another matter.

"Masters," he said, "I have found out Lord Fairlie's secret at last. I
shall go to see him this afternoon."

"Yes, sir. Will you wear your revolver, sir, as it's a first call?"

"I think so. If this comes off, Masters, it will make our fortune."

"I hope so, I'm sure, sir." Masters placed the whisky within reach and
left the room silently.

Alone, Lionel picked up his paper and turned to the Agony Column.

As everybody knows, the Agony Column of a daily paper is not actually so
domestic as it seems. When "Mother" apparently says to "Floss," "Come
home at once. Father gone away for week. Bert and Sid longing to see
you," what is really happening is that Barney Hoker is telling Jud
Batson to meet him outside the Duke of Westminster's little place at 3
a.m. precisely on Tuesday morning, not forgetting to bring his jemmy and
a dark lantern with him. And Floss's announcement next day, "Coming home
with George," is Jud's way of saying that he will turn up all right, and
half thinks of bringing his automatic pistol with him too, in case of
accidents.

In this language--which, of course, takes some little learning--Lionel
Norwood had long been an expert. The advertisement which he was now
reading was unusually elaborate:

    "Lost, in a taxi between Baker Street and Shepherd's Bush, a
    gold-mounted umbrella with initials 'J. P.' on it. If Ellen will
    return to her father immediately all will be forgiven. White spot on
    foreleg. Mother very anxious and desires to return thanks for kind
    enquiries. Answers to the name of Ponto. _Bis dat qui cito dat._"

What did it mean? For Lionel it had no secrets. He was reading the
revelation by one of his agents of the skeleton in Lord Fairlie's
cupboard!

Lord Fairlie was one of the most distinguished members of the Cabinet.
His vein of high seriousness, his lofty demeanour, the sincerity of his
manner endeared him not only to his own party, but even (astounding as
it may seem) to a few high-minded men upon the other side, who admitted,
in moments of expansion which they probably regretted afterwards, that
he might, after all, be as devoted to his country as they were. For
years now his life had been without blemish. It was impossible to
believe that even in his youth he could have sown any wild oats;
terrible to think that these wild oats might now be coming home to
roost.

"What do you require of me?" he said courteously to Lionel, as the
latter was shown into his study.

Lionel went to the point at once.

"I am here, my lord," he said, "on business. In the course of my
ordinary avocations"--the parliamentary atmosphere seemed to be
affecting his language--"I ascertained a certain secret in your past
life which, if it were revealed, might conceivably have a not undamaging
effect upon your career. For my silence in this matter I must demand a
sum of fifty thousand pounds."

Lord Fairlie had grown paler and paler as this speech proceeded.

"What have you discovered?" he whispered. Alas! he knew only too well
what the damning answer would be.

"_Twenty years ago_," said Lionel, "_you wrote a humorous book_."

Lord Fairlie gave a strangled cry. His keen mind recognized in a flash
what a hold this knowledge would give his enemies. _Shafts of Folly_,
his book had been called. Already he saw the leading articles of the
future:--

    "We confess ourselves somewhat at a loss to know whether Lord
    Fairlie's speech at Plymouth yesterday was intended as a supplement
    to his earlier work, _Shafts of Folly_, or as a serious offering to
    a nation impatient of levity in such a crisis...."

    "The Cabinet's jester, in whom twenty years ago the country lost an
    excellent clown without gaining a statesman, was in great form last
    night...."

    "Lord Fairlie has amused us in the past with his clever little
    parodies; he may amuse us in the future; but as a statesman we can
    only view him with disgust...."

"Well?" said Lionel at last. "I think your lordship is wise enough to
understand. The discovery of a sense of humour in a man of your
eminence----"

But Lord Fairlie was already writing out the cheque.



THE EXPLORER


As the evening wore on--and one young man after another asked Jocelyn
Montrevor if she were going to Ascot, what? or to Henley, what? or
what?--she wondered more and more if this were all that life would ever
hold for her. Would she never meet a man, a real man who had _done_
something? These boys around her were very pleasant, she admitted to
herself; very useful indeed, she added, as one approached her with some
refreshment; but they were only boys.

"Here you are," said Freddy, handing her an ice in three colours. "I've
had it made specially cold for you. They only had the green, pink, and
yellow jerseys left; I hope you don't mind. The green part is arsenic, I
believe. If you don't want the wafer I'll take it home and put it
between the sashes of my bedroom window. The rattling kept me awake all
last night. That's why I'm looking so ill, by the way."

Jocelyn smiled kindly and went on with her ice.

"That reminds me," Freddy went on, "we've got a nut here to-night. The
genuine thing. None of your society Barcelonas or suburban Filberts. One
of the real Cob family; the driving-from-the-sixth-tee,
inset-on-the-right, and New-Year's-message-to-the-country touch. In
short, a celebrity."

"Who?" asked Jocelyn eagerly. Perhaps here was a man.

"Worrall Brice, the explorer. Don't say you haven't heard of him or Aunt
Alice will cry."

Heard of him? Of course she had heard of him. Who hadn't?

Worrall Brice's adventures in distant parts of the empire would have
filled a book--had, in fact, already filled three. A glance at his flat
in St. James's Street gave you some idea of the adventures he had been
through. Here were the polished spurs of his companion in the famous
ride through Australia from south to north--all that had been left by
the cannibals of the Wogga-Wogga River after their banquet. Here was the
poisoned arrow which, by the merciful intervention of Providence, just
missed Worrall and pierced the heart of one of his black attendants, the
post-mortem happily revealing the presence of a new and interesting
poison. Here, again, was the rope with which he was hanged by mistake as
a spy in South America--a mistake which would certainly have had fatal
results if he had not had the presence of mind to hold his breath during
the performance. In yet another corner you might see his favourite
mascot--a tooth of the shark which bit him off the coast of China.
Spears, knives, and guns lined the walls; every inch of the floor was
covered by skins. His flat was typical of the man--a man who had _done_
things.

"Introduce him to me," commanded Jocelyn. "Where is he?"

She looked up suddenly and saw him entering the ball-room. He was of
commanding height and his face was the face of a man who has been
exposed to the forces of Nature. The wind, the waves, the sun, the
mosquito had set their mark upon him. Down one side of his cheek was a
newly healed scar, a scratch from a hippopotamus in its last
death-struggle. A legacy from a bison seared his brow.

He walked with the soft easy tread of the python, or the Pathan, or some
animal with a "pth" in it. Probably I mean the panther. He bore himself
confidently, and his mouth was a trap from which no superfluous word
escaped. He was the strong silent man of Jocelyn's dreams.

"Mr. Worrall Brice, Miss Montrevor," said Freddy, and left them.

Worrall Brice bowed and stood beside her with folded arms, his gaze
fixed above her head.

"I shall not expect you to dance," said Jocelyn, with a confidential
smile which implied that he and she were above such frivolities. As a
matter of fact, he could have taught her the Wogga-Wogga one-step, the
Bimbo, the Kiyi, the Ju-bu, the Head-hunter's Hug, and many other
cannibalistic steps which, later on, were to become the rage of London
and the basis of a _revue_.

"I have often imagined you, as you kept watch over your camp," she went
on, "and I have seemed myself to hear the savages and lions roaring
outside the circle of fire, what time in the swamps the crocodiles were
barking."

"Yes," he said.

"It must be a wonderful life."

"Yes."

"If I were a man I should want to lead such a life; to get away from all
this," and she waved her hand round the room, "back to Nature. To know
that I could not eat until I had first killed my dinner; that I could
not live unless I slew the enemy! That must be fine!"

"Yes," said Worrall.

"I cannot get Freddy to see it. He is quite content to have shot a few
grouse ... and once to have wounded a beater. There must be more in life
than that."

"Yes."

"I suppose I am elemental. Beneath the veneer of civilization I am a
savage. To wake up with the war-cry of the enemy in my ears, to sleep
with the--er--barking of the crocodile in my dreams, that is life!"

Worrall Brice tugged at his moustache and gazed into space over her
head. Then he spoke.

"Crocodiles don't bark," he said.

Jocelyn looked at him in astonishment. "But in your book, _Through
Trackless Paths_!" she cried. "I know it almost by heart. It was you who
taught me. What are the beautiful words? 'On the banks of the sleepy
river two great crocodiles were barking.'"

"Not 'barking,'" said Worrall. "'Basking.' It was a misprint."

"Oh!" said Jocelyn. She had a moment's awful memory of all the occasions
when she had insisted that crocodiles barked. There had been a
particularly fierce argument with Meta Richards, who had refused to
weigh even the printed word of Worrall Brice against the silence of the
Reptile House on her last visit to the Zoo.

"Well," smiled Jocelyn, "you must teach me about these things. Will you
come and see me?"

"Yes," said Worrall. He rather liked to stand and gaze into the distance
while pretty women talked to him. And Jocelyn was very pretty.

"We live in South Kensington. Come on Sunday, won't you? 99 Peele
Crescent."

"Yes," said Worrall.

       .       .       .       .       .

On Sunday Jocelyn waited eagerly for him in the drawing-room of Peele
Crescent. Her father was asleep in the library, her mother was dead; so
she would have the great man to herself for an afternoon. Later she
would have him for always, for she meant to marry him. And when they
were married she was not so sure that they would live with the noise of
the crocodile barking or coughing, or whatever it did, in their ears.
She saw herself in that little house in Green Street with the noise of
motor-horns and taxi-whistles to soothe her to sleep.

Yet what a man he was! What had he said to her? She went over all his
words.... They were not many.

At six o'clock she was still waiting in the drawing-room at Peele
Crescent....

At six-thirty Worrall Brice had got as far as Peele Place....

At six-forty-five he found himself in Radcliffe Square again....

At seven o'clock, just as he was giving himself up for lost, he met a
taxi and returned to St. James's Street. He was a great traveller, but
South Kensington had been too much for him.

Next week he went back unmarried to the jungle. It was the narrowest
escape he had had.



 Printed in Great Britain at
 _The Mayflower Press, Plymouth_.
 William Brendon & Son, Ltd.



BOOKS BY A. A. MILNE


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