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Title: The Chronicles of Clovis
Author: Saki, 1870-1916
Language: English
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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.

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THE CHRONICLES OF CLOVIS


by

"SAKI" (H. H. MUNRO)



with an Introduction by A. A. MILNE



        TO THE LYNX KITTEN,
  WITH HIS RELUCTANTLY GIVEN CONSENT,
     THIS BOOK IS AFFECTIONATELY
            DEDICATED

H. H. M.

August, 1911



INTRODUCTION


There are good things which we want to share with the world and good
things which we want to keep to ourselves.  The secret of our favourite
restaurant, to take a case, is guarded jealously from all but a few
intimates; the secret, to take a contrary case, of our infallible
remedy for seasickness is thrust upon every traveller we meet, even if
he be no more than a casual acquaintance about to cross the Serpentine.
So with our books. There are dearly loved books of which we babble to a
neighbour at dinner, insisting that she shall share our delight in
them; and there are books, equally dear to us, of which we say nothing,
fearing lest the praise of others should cheapen the glory of our
discovery.  The books of "Saki" were, for me at least, in the second
class.

It was in the WESTMINSTER GAZETTE that I discovered him (I like to
remember now) almost as soon as he was discoverable.  Let us spare a
moment, and a tear, for those golden days in the early nineteen
hundreds, when there were five leisurely papers of an evening in which
the free-lance might graduate, and he could speak of his Alma Mater,
whether the GLOBE or the PALL MALL, with as much pride as, he never
doubted, the GLOBE or the PALL MALL would speak one day of him.  Myself
but lately down from ST. JAMES', I was not too proud to take some
slight but pitying interest in men of other colleges.  The unusual name
of a freshman up at WESTMINSTER attracted my attention; I read what he
had to say; and it was only by reciting rapidly with closed eyes the
names of our own famous alumni, beginning confidently with Barrie and
ending, now very doubtfully, with myself, that I was able to preserve
my equanimity.  Later one heard that this undergraduate from overseas
had gone up at an age more advanced than customary; and just as
Cambridge men have been known to complain of the maturity of Oxford
Rhodes scholars, so one felt that this WESTMINSTER free-lance in the
thirties was no fit competitor for the youth of other colleges.
Indeed, it could not compete.

Well, I discovered him, but only to the few, the favoured, did I speak
of him.  It may have been my uncertainty (which still persists) whether
he called himself Sayki, Sahki or Sakki which made me thus ungenerous
of his name, or it may have been the feeling that the others were not
worthy of him; but how refreshing it was when some intellectually
blown-up stranger said "Do you ever read Saki?" to reply, with the same
pronunciation and even greater condescension: "Saki!  He has been my
favourite author for years!"

A strange exotic creature, this Saki, to us many others who were trying
to do it too.  For we were so domestic, he so terrifyingly
cosmopolitan.  While we were being funny, as planned, with collar-studs
and hot-water bottles, he was being much funnier with werwolves and
tigers.  Our little dialogues were between John and Mary; his, and how
much better, between Bertie van Tahn and the Baroness.  Even the most
casual intruder into one of his sketches, as it might be our Tomkins,
had to be called Belturbet or de Ropp, and for his hero, weary
man-of-the-world at seventeen, nothing less thrilling than Clovis
Sangrail would do.  In our envy we may have wondered sometimes if it
were not much easier to be funny with tigers than with collar-studs; if
Saki's careless cruelty, that strange boyish insensitiveness of his,
did not give him an unfair start in the pursuit of laughter.  It may
have been so; but, fortunately, our efforts to be funny in the Saki
manner have not survived to prove it.

What is Saki's manner, what his magic talisman?  Like every artist
worth consideration, he had no recipe.  If his exotic choice of subject
was often his strength, it was often his weakness; if his
insensitiveness carried him through, at times, to victory, it brought
him, at times, to defeat.  I do not think that he has that "mastery of
the CONTE"--in this book at least--which some have claimed for him.
Such mastery infers a passion for tidiness which was not in the boyish
Saki's equipment.  He leaves loose ends everywhere.  Nor in his
dialogue, delightful as it often is, funny as it nearly always is, is
he the supreme master; too much does it become monologue judiciously
fed, one character giving and the other taking.  But in comment, in
reference, in description, in every development of his story, he has a
choice of words, a "way of putting things" which is as inevitably his
own vintage as, once tasted, it becomes the private vintage of the
connoisseur.

Let us take a sample or two of "Saki, 1911."

"The earlier stages of the dinner had worn off.  The wine lists had
been consulted, by some with the blank embarrassment of a schoolboy
suddenly called upon to locate a Minor Prophet in the tangled
hinterland of the Old Testament, by others with the severe scrutiny
which suggests that they have visited most of the higher-priced wines
in their own homes and probed their family weaknesses."

"Locate" is the pleasant word here.  Still more satisfying, in the
story of the man who was tattooed "from collar-bone to waist-line with
a glowing representation of the Fall of Icarus," is the word
"privilege":

"The design when finally developed was a slight disappointment to
Monsieur Deplis, who had suspected Icarus of being a fortress taken by
Wallenstein in the Thirty Years' War, but he was more than satisfied
with the execution of the work, which was acclaimed by all who had the
privilege of seeing it as Pincini's masterpiece."

This story, THE BACKGROUND, and MRS PACKLETIDE'S TIGER seem to me to be
the masterpieces of this book.  In both of them Clovis exercises,
needlessly, his titular right of entry, but he can be removed without
damage, leaving Saki at his best and most characteristic, save that he
shows here, in addition to his own shining qualities, a compactness and
a finish which he did not always achieve.  With these I introduce you
to him, confident that ten minutes of his conversation, more surely
than any words of mine, will have given him the freedom of your house.

A. A. MILNE.



CONTENTS


  ESMÉ
  THE MATCH-MAKER
  TOBERMORY
  MRS. PACKLETIDE'S TIGER
  THE STAMPEDING OF LADY BASTABLE
  THE BACKGROUND
  HERMANN THE IRASCIBLE--A STORY OF THE GREAT WEEP
  THE UNREST-CURE
  THE JESTING OF ARLINGTON STRINGHAM
  SREDNI VASHTAR
  ADRIAN
  THE CHAPLET
  THE QUEST
  WRATISLAV
  THE EASTER EGG
  FILBOID STUDGE, THE STORY OF A MOUSE THAT HELPED
  THE MUSIC ON THE HILL
  THE STORY OF ST. VESPALUUS
  THE WAY TO THE DAIRY
  THE PEACE OFFERING
  THE PEACE OF MOWSLE BARTON
  THE TALKING-OUT OF TARRINGTON
  THE HOUNDS OF FATE
  THE RECESSIONAL
  A MATTER OF SENTIMENT
  THE SECRET SIN OF SEPTIMUS BROPE
  "MINISTERS OF GRACE"
  THE REMOULDING OF GROBY LINGTON
  ACKNOWLEDGMENT



ESMÉ


"All hunting stories are the same," said Clovis; "just as all Turf
stories are the same, and all--"

"My hunting story isn't a bit like any you've ever heard," said the
Baroness.  "It happened quite a while ago, when I was about
twenty-three.  I wasn't living apart from my husband then; you see,
neither of us could afford to make the other a separate allowance.  In
spite of everything that proverbs may say, poverty keeps together more
homes than it breaks up.  But we always hunted with different packs.
All this has nothing to do with the story."

"We haven't arrived at the meet yet.  I suppose there was a meet," said
Clovis.

"Of course there was a meet," said the Baroness; all the usual crowd
were there, especially Constance Broddle.  Constance is one of those
strapping florid girls that go so well with autumn scenery or Christmas
decorations in church.  'I feel a presentiment that something dreadful
is going to happen,' she said to me; 'am I looking pale?'

"She was looking about as pale as a beetroot that has suddenly heard
bad news.

"'You're looking nicer than usual,' I said, 'but that's so easy for
you.'  Before she had got the right bearings of this remark we had
settled down to business; hounds had found a fox lying out in some
gorse-bushes."

"I knew it," said Clovis, "in every fox-hunting story that I've ever
heard there's been a fox and some gorse-bushes."

"Constance and I were well mounted," continued the Baroness serenely,
"and we had no difficulty in keeping ourselves in the first flight,
though it was a fairly stiff run.  Towards the finish, however, we must
have held rather too independent a line, for we lost the hounds, and
found ourselves plodding aimlessly along miles away from anywhere.  It
was fairly exasperating, and my temper was beginning to let itself go
by inches, when on pushing our way through an accommodating hedge we
were gladdened by the sight of hounds in full cry in a hollow just
beneath us.

"'There they go,' cried Constance, and then added in a gasp, 'In
Heaven's name, what are they hunting?'

"It was certainly no mortal fox.  It stood more than twice as high, had
a short, ugly head, and an enormous thick neck.

"'It's a hyaena,' I cried; 'it must have escaped from Lord Pabham's
Park.'

"At that moment the hunted beast turned and faced its pursuers, and the
hounds (there were only about six couple of them) stood round in a
half-circle and looked foolish.  Evidently they had broken away from
the rest of the pack on the trail of this alien scent, and were not
quite sure how to treat their quarry now they had got him.

"The hyaena hailed our approach with unmistakable relief and
demonstrations of friendliness.  It had probably been accustomed to
uniform kindness from humans, while its first experience of a pack of
hounds had left a bad impression.  The hounds looked more than ever
embarrassed as their quarry paraded its sudden intimacy with us, and
the faint toot of a horn in the distance was seized on as a welcome
signal for unobtrusive departure.  Constance and I and the hyaena were
left alone in the gathering twilight.

"'What are we to do?' asked Constance.

"'What a person you are for questions,' I said.

"'Well, we can't stay here all night with a hyaena,' she retorted.

"'I don't know what your ideas of comfort are,' I said; 'but I
shouldn't think of staying here all night even without a hyaena. My
home may be an unhappy one, but at least it has hot and cold water laid
on, and domestic service, and other conveniences which we shouldn't
find here.  We had better make for that ridge of trees to the right; I
imagine the Crowley road is just beyond.'

"We trotted off slowly along a faintly marked cart-track, with the
beast following cheerfully at our heels.

"'What on earth are we to do with the hyaena?' came the inevitable
question.

"'What does one generally do with hyaenas?'  I asked crossly.

"'I've never had anything to do with one before,' said Constance.

"'Well, neither have I.  If we even knew its sex we might give it a
name.  Perhaps we might call it Esmé.  That would do in either case.'

"There was still sufficient daylight for us to distinguish wayside
objects, and our listless spirits gave an upward perk as we came upon a
small half-naked gipsy brat picking blackberries from a low-growing
bush.  The sudden apparition of two horsewomen and a hyaena set it off
crying, and in any case we should scarcely have gleaned any useful
geographical information from that source; but there was a probability
that we might strike a gipsy encampment somewhere along our route.  We
rode on hopefully but uneventfully for another mile or so.

"'I wonder what that child was doing there,' said Constance presently.

"'Picking blackberries.  Obviously.'

"'I don't like the way it cried,' pursued Constance; 'somehow its wail
keeps ringing in my ears.'

"I did not chide Constance for her morbid fancies; as a matter of fact
the same sensation, of being pursued by a persistent fretful wail, had
been forcing itself on my rather over-tired nerves.  For company's sake
I hulloed to Esmé, who had lagged somewhat behind. With a few springy
bounds he drew up level, and then shot past us.

"The wailing accompaniment was explained.  The gipsy child was firmly,
and I expect painfully, held in his jaws.

"'Merciful Heaven!' screamed Constance, 'what on earth shall we do?
What are we to do?'

"I am perfectly certain that at the Last Judgment Constance will ask
more questions than any of the examining Seraphs.

"'Can't we do something?' she persisted tearfully, as Esmé cantered
easily along in front of our tired horses.

"Personally I was doing everything that occurred to me at the moment.
I stormed and scolded and coaxed in English and French and gamekeeper
language; I made absurd, ineffectual cuts in the air with my thongless
hunting-crop; I hurled my sandwich case at the brute; in fact, I really
don't know what more I could have done.  And still we lumbered on
through the deepening dusk, with that dark uncouth shape lumbering
ahead of us, and a drone of lugubrious music floating in our ears.
Suddenly Esmé bounded aside into some thick bushes, where we could not
follow; the wail rose to a shriek and then stopped altogether.  This
part of the story I always hurry over, because it is really rather
horrible. When the beast joined us again, after an absence of a few
minutes, there was an air of patient understanding about him, as though
he knew that he had done something of which we disapproved, but which
he felt to be thoroughly justifiable.

"'How can you let that ravening beast trot by your side?' asked
Constance.  She was looking more than ever like an albino beetroot.

"'In the first place, I can't prevent it,' I said; 'and in the second
place, whatever else he may be, I doubt if he's ravening at the present
moment.'

"Constance shuddered.  'Do you think the poor little thing suffered
much?' came another of her futile questions.

"'The indications were all that way,' I said; 'on the other hand, of
course, it may have been crying from sheer temper.  Children sometimes
do.'

"It was nearly pitch-dark when we emerged suddenly into the highroad.
A flash of lights and the whir of a motor went past us at the same
moment at uncomfortably close quarters.  A thud and a sharp screeching
yell followed a second later.  The car drew up, and when I had ridden
back to the spot I found a young man bending over a dark motionless
mass lying by the roadside.

"'You have killed my Esmé,' I exclaimed bitterly.

"'I'm so awfully sorry,' said the young man; I keep dogs myself, so I
know what you must feel about it.  I'll do anything I can in
reparation.'

"'Please bury him at once,' I said; 'that much I think I may ask of
you.'

"'Bring the spade, William,' he called to the chauffeur. Evidently
hasty roadside interments were contingencies that had been provided
against.

"The digging of a sufficiently large grave took some little time. 'I
say, what a magnificent fellow,' said the motorist as the corpse was
rolled over into the trench.  'I'm afraid he must have been rather a
valuable animal.'

"'He took second in the puppy class at Birmingham last year,' I said
resolutely.

"Constance snorted loudly.

"'Don't cry, dear,' I said brokenly; 'it was all over in a moment.  He
couldn't have suffered much.'

"'Look here,' said the young fellow desperately, 'you simply must let
me do something by way of reparation.'

"I refused sweetly, but as he persisted I let him have my address.

"Of course, we kept our own counsel as to the earlier episodes of the
evening.  Lord Pabham never advertised the loss of his hyaena; when a
strictly fruit-eating animal strayed from his park a year or two
previously he was called upon to give compensation in eleven cases of
sheep-worrying and practically to re-stock his neighbours'
poultry-yards, and an escaped hyaena would have mounted up to something
on the scale of a Government grant.  The gipsies were equally
unobtrusive over their missing offspring; I don't suppose in large
encampments they really know to a child or two how many they've got."

The Baroness paused reflectively, and then continued:

"There was a sequel to the adventure, though.  I got through the post a
charming little diamond brooch, with the name Esmé set in a sprig of
rosemary.  Incidentally, too, I lost the friendship of Constance
Broddle.  You see, when I sold the brooch I quite properly refused to
give her any share of the proceeds.  I pointed out that the Esmé part
of the affair was my own invention, and the hyaena part of it belonged
to Lord Pabham, if it really was his hyaena, of which, of course, I've
no proof."



THE MATCH-MAKER


The grill-room clock struck eleven with the respectful unobtrusiveness
of one whose mission in life is to be ignored. When the flight of time
should really have rendered abstinence and migration imperative the
lighting apparatus would signal the fact in the usual way.

Six minutes later Clovis approached the supper-table, in the blessed
expectancy of one who has dined sketchily and long ago.

"I'm starving," he announced, making an effort to sit down gracefully
and read the menu at the same time.

"So I gathered;" said his host, "from the fact that you were nearly
punctual.  I ought to have told you that I'm a Food Reformer.  I've
ordered two bowls of bread-and-milk and some health biscuits.  I hope
you don't mind."

Clovis pretended afterwards that he didn't go white above the
collar-line for the fraction of a second.

"All the same," he said, "you ought not to joke about such things.
There really are such people.  I've known people who've met them. To
think of all the adorable things there are to eat in the world, and
then to go through life munching sawdust and being proud of it."

"They're like the Flagellants of the Middle Ages, who went about
mortifying themselves."

"They had some excuse," said Clovis.  "They did it to save their
immortal souls, didn't they?  You needn't tell me that a man who
doesn't love oysters and asparagus and good wines has got a soul, or a
stomach either.  He's simply got the instinct for being unhappy highly
developed."

Clovis relapsed for a few golden moments into tender intimacies with a
succession of rapidly disappearing oysters.

"I think oysters are more beautiful than any religion," he resumed
presently.  "They not only forgive our unkindness to them; they justify
it, they incite us to go on being perfectly horrid to them.  Once they
arrive at the supper-table they seem to enter thoroughly into the
spirit of the thing.  There's nothing in Christianity or Buddhism that
quite matches the sympathetic unselfishness of an oyster.  Do you like
my new waistcoat?  I'm wearing it for the first time to-night."

"It looks like a great many others you've had lately, only worse. New
dinner waistcoats are becoming a habit with you."

"They say one always pays for the excesses of one's youth; mercifully
that isn't true about one's clothes.  My mother is thinking of getting
married."

"Again!"

"It's the first time."

"Of course, you ought to know.  I was under the impression that she'd
been married once or twice at least."

"Three times, to be mathematically exact.  I meant that it was the
first time she'd thought about getting married; the other times she did
it without thinking.  As a matter of fact, it's really I who am doing
the thinking for her in this case.  You see, it's quite two years since
her last husband died."

"You evidently think that brevity is the soul of widowhood."

"Well, it struck me that she was getting moped, and beginning to settle
down, which wouldn't suit her a bit.  The first symptom that I noticed
was when she began to complain that we were living beyond our income.
All decent people live beyond their incomes nowadays, and those who
aren't respectable live beyond other peoples.  A few gifted individuals
manage to do both."

"It's hardly so much a gift as an industry."

"The crisis came," returned Clovis, "when she suddenly started the
theory that late hours were bad for one, and wanted me to be in by one
o'clock every night.  Imagine that sort of thing for me, who was
eighteen on my last birthday."

"On your last two birthdays, to be mathematically exact."

"Oh, well, that's not my fault.  I'm not going to arrive at nineteen as
long as my mother remains at thirty-seven.  One must have some regard
for appearances."

"Perhaps your mother would age a little in the process of settling
down."

"That's the last thing she'd think of.  Feminine reformations always
start in on the failings of other people.  That's why I was so keen on
the husband idea."

"Did you go as far as to select the gentleman, or did you merely throw
out a general idea, and trust to the force of suggestion?"

"If one wants a thing done in a hurry one must see to it oneself. I
found a military Johnny hanging round on a loose end at the club, and
took him home to lunch once or twice.  He'd spent most of his life on
the Indian frontier, building roads, and relieving famines and
minimizing earthquakes, and all that sort of thing that one does do on
frontiers.  He could talk sense to a peevish cobra in fifteen native
languages, and probably knew what to do if you found a rogue elephant
on your croquet-lawn; but he was shy and diffident with women.  I told
my mother privately that he was an absolute woman-hater; so, of course,
she laid herself out to flirt all she knew, which isn't a little."

"And was the gentleman responsive?"

"I hear he told some one at the club that he was looking out for a
Colonial job, with plenty of hard work, for a young friend of his, so I
gather that he has some idea of marrying into the family."

"You seem destined to be the victim of the reformation, after all."

Clovis wiped the trace of Turkish coffee and the beginnings of a smile
from his lips, and slowly lowered his dexter eyelid.  Which, being
interpreted, probably meant, "I DON'T think!"



TOBERMORY


It was a chill, rain-washed afternoon of a late August day, that
indefinite season when partridges are still in security or cold
storage, and there is nothing to hunt--unless one is bounded on the
north by the Bristol Channel, in which case one may lawfully gallop
after fat red stags.  Lady Blemley's house-party was not bounded on the
north by the Bristol Channel, hence there was a full gathering of her
guests round the tea-table on this particular afternoon.  And, in spite
of the blankness of the season and the triteness of the occasion, there
was no trace in the company of that fatigued restlessness which means a
dread of the pianola and a subdued hankering for auction bridge.  The
undisguised openmouthed attention of the entire party was fixed on the
homely negative personality of Mr. Cornelius Appin.  Of all her guests,
he was the one who had come to Lady Blemley with the vaguest
reputation.  Some one had said he was "clever," and he had got his
invitation in the moderate expectation, on the part of his hostess,
that some portion at least of his cleverness would be contributed to
the general entertainment.  Until tea-time that day she had been unable
to discover in what direction, if any, his cleverness lay.  He was
neither a wit nor a croquet champion, a hypnotic force nor a begetter
of amateur theatricals.  Neither did his exterior suggest the sort of
man in whom women are willing to pardon a generous measure of mental
deficiency.  He had subsided into mere Mr. Appin, and the Cornelius
seemed a piece of transparent baptismal bluff.  And now he was claiming
to have launched on the world a discovery beside which the invention of
gunpowder, of the printing-press, and of steam locomotion were
inconsiderable trifles.  Science had made bewildering strides in many
directions during recent decades, but this thing seemed to belong to
the domain of miracle rather than to scientific achievement.

"And do you really ask us to believe," Sir Wilfrid was saying, "that
you have discovered a means for instructing animals in the art of human
speech, and that dear old Tobermory has proved your first successful
pupil?"

"It is a problem at which I have worked for the last seventeen years,"
said Mr. Appin, "but only during the last eight or nine months have I
been rewarded with glimmerings of success.  Of course I have
experimented with thousands of animals, but latterly only with cats,
those wonderful creatures which have assimilated themselves so
marvellously with our civilization while retaining all their highly
developed feral instincts.  Here and there among cats one comes across
an outstanding superior intellect, just as one does among the ruck of
human beings, and when I made the acquaintance of Tobermory a week ago
I saw at once that I was in contact with a 'Beyond-cat' of
extraordinary intelligence.  I had gone far along the road to success
in recent experiments; with Tobermory, as you call him, I have reached
the goal."

Mr. Appin concluded his remarkable statement in a voice which he strove
to divest of a triumphant inflection.  No one said "Rats," though
Clovis's lips moved in a monosyllabic contortion which probably invoked
those rodents of disbelief.

"And do you mean to say," asked Miss Resker, after a slight pause,
"that you have taught Tobermory to say and understand easy sentences of
one syllable?"

"My dear Miss Resker," said the wonderworker patiently, "one teaches
little children and savages and backward adults in that piecemeal
fashion; when one has once solved the problem of making a beginning
with an animal of highly developed intelligence one has no need for
those halting methods.  Tobermory can speak our language with perfect
correctness."

This time Clovis very distinctly said, "Beyond-rats!"  Sir Wilfrid was
more polite, but equally sceptical.

"Hadn't we better have the cat in and judge for ourselves?" suggested
Lady Blemley.

Sir Wilfrid went in search of the animal, and the company settled
themselves down to the languid expectation of witnessing some more or
less adroit drawing-room ventriloquism.

In a minute Sir Wilfrid was back in the room, his face white beneath
its tan and his eyes dilated with excitement.

"By Gad, it's true!"

His agitation was unmistakably genuine, and his hearers started forward
in a thrill of awakened interest.

Collapsing into an armchair he continued breathlessly: "I found him
dozing in the smoking-room, and called out to him to come for his tea.
He blinked at me in his usual way, and I said, 'Come on, Toby; don't
keep us waiting;' and, by Gad! he drawled out in a most horribly
natural voice that he'd come when he dashed well pleased! I nearly
jumped out of my skin!"

Appin had preached to absolutely incredulous hearers; Sir Wilfrid's
statement carried instant conviction.  A Babel-like chorus of startled
exclamation arose, amid which the scientist sat mutely enjoying the
first fruit of his stupendous discovery.

In the midst of the clamour Tobermory entered the room and made his way
with velvet tread and studied unconcern across to the group seated
round the tea-table.

A sudden hush of awkwardness and constraint fell on the company.
Somehow there seemed an element of embarrassment in addressing on equal
terms a domestic cat of acknowledged dental ability.

"Will you have some milk, Tobermory?" asked Lady Blemley in a rather
strained voice.

"I don't mind if I do," was the response, couched in a tone of even
indifference.  A shiver of suppressed excitement went through the
listeners, and Lady Blemley might be excused for pouring out the
saucerful of milk rather unsteadily.

"I'm afraid I've spilt a good deal of it," she said apologetically.

"After all, it's not my Axminster," was Tobermory's rejoinder.

Another silence fell on the group, and then Miss Resker, in her best
district-visitor manner, asked if the human language had been difficult
to learn.  Tobermory looked squarely at her for a moment and then fixed
his gaze serenely on the middle distance.  It was obvious that boring
questions lay outside his scheme of life.

"What do you think of human intelligence?" asked Mavis Pellington
lamely.

"Of whose intelligence in particular?" asked Tobermory coldly.

"Oh, well, mine for instance," said Mavis, with a feeble laugh.

"You put me in an embarrassing position," said Tobermory, whose tone
and attitude certainly did not suggest a shred of embarrassment.  "When
your inclusion in this house-party was suggested Sir Wilfrid protested
that you were the most brainless woman of his acquaintance, and that
there was a wide distinction between hospitality and the care of the
feeble-minded.  Lady Blemley replied that your lack of brain-power was
the precise quality which had earned you your invitation, as you were
the only person she could think of who might be idiotic enough to buy
their old car.  You know, the one they call 'The Envy of Sisyphus,'
because it goes quite nicely up-hill if you push it."

Lady Blemley's protestations would have had greater effect if she had
not casually suggested to Mavis only that morning that the car in
question would be just the thing for her down at her Devonshire home.

Major Barfield plunged in heavily to effect a diversion.

"How about your carryings-on with the tortoiseshell puss up at the
stables, eh?"

The moment he had said it every one realized the blunder.

"One does not usually discuss these matters in public," said Tobermory
frigidly.  "From a slight observation of your ways since you've been in
this house I should imagine you'd find it inconvenient if I were to
shift the conversation on to your own little affairs."

The panic which ensued was not confined to the Major.

"Would you like to go and see if cook has got your dinner ready?"
suggested Lady Blemley hurriedly, affecting to ignore the fact that it
wanted at least two hours to Tobermory's dinner-time.

"Thanks," said Tobermory, "not quite so soon after my tea.  I don't
want to die of indigestion."

"Cats have nine lives, you know," said Sir Wilfrid heartily.

"Possibly," answered Tobermory; "but only one liver."

"Adelaide!" said Mrs. Cornett, "do you mean to encourage that cat to go
out and gossip about us in the servants' hall?"

The panic had indeed become general.  A narrow ornamental balustrade
ran in front of most of the bedroom windows at the Towers, and it was
recalled with dismay that this had formed a favourite promenade for
Tobermory at all hours, whence he could watch the pigeons--and heaven
knew what else besides.  If he intended to become reminiscent in his
present outspoken strain the effect would be something more than
disconcerting.  Mrs. Cornett, who spent much time at her toilet table,
and whose complexion was reputed to be of a nomadic though punctual
disposition, looked as ill at ease as the Major.  Miss Scrawen, who
wrote fiercely sensuous poetry and led a blameless life, merely
displayed irritation; if you are methodical and virtuous in private you
don't necessarily want every one to know it.  Bertie van Tahn, who was
so depraved at seventeen that he had long ago given up trying to be any
worse, turned a dull shade of gardenia white, but he did not commit the
error of dashing out of the room like Odo Finsberry, a young gentleman
who was understood to be reading for the Church and who was possibly
disturbed at the thought of scandals he might hear concerning other
people.  Clovis had the presence of mind to maintain a composed
exterior; privately he was calculating how long it would take to
procure a box of fancy mice through the agency of the EXCHANGE AND MART
as a species of hush-money.

Even in a delicate situation like the present, Agnes Resker could not
endure to remain too long in the background.

"Why did I ever come down here?" she asked dramatically.

Tobermory immediately accepted the opening.

"Judging by what you said to Mrs. Cornett on the croquet-lawn
yesterday, you were out for food.  You described the Blemleys as the
dullest people to stay with that you knew, but said they were clever
enough to employ a first-rate cook; otherwise they'd find it difficult
to get anyone to come down a second time."

"There's not a word of truth in it!  I appeal to Mrs. Cornett--"
exclaimed the discomfited Agnes.

"Mrs. Cornett repeated your remark afterwards to Bertie van Tahn,"
continued Tobermory, "and said, 'That woman is a regular Hunger
Marcher; she'd go anywhere for four square meals a day,' and Bertie van
Tahn said--"

At this point the chronicle mercifully ceased.  Tobermory had caught a
glimpse of the big yellow Tom from the Rectory working his way through
the shrubbery towards the stable wing.  In a flash he had vanished
through the open French window.

With the disappearance of his too brilliant pupil Cornelius Appin found
himself beset by a hurricane of bitter upbraiding, anxious inquiry, and
frightened entreaty.  The responsibility for the situation lay with
him, and he must prevent matters from becoming worse.  Could Tobermory
impart his dangerous gift to other cats? was the first question he had
to answer.  It was possible, he replied, that he might have initiated
his intimate friend the stable puss into his new accomplishment, but it
was unlikely that his teaching could have taken a wider range as yet.

"Then," said Mrs. Cornett, "Tobermory may be a valuable cat and a great
pet; but I'm sure you'll agree, Adelaide, that both he and the stable
cat must be done away with without delay."

"You don't suppose I've enjoyed the last quarter of an hour, do you?"
said Lady Blemley bitterly.  "My husband and I are very fond of
Tobermory--at least, we were before this horrible accomplishment was
infused into him; but now, of course, the only thing is to have him
destroyed as soon as possible."

"We can put some strychnine in the scraps he always gets at
dinner-time," said Sir Wilfrid, "and I will go and drown the stable cat
myself.  The coachman will be very sore at losing his pet, but I'll say
a very catching form of mange has broken out in both cats and we're
afraid of it spreading to the kennels."

"But my great discovery!" expostulated Mr. Appin; "after all my years
of research and experiment--"

"You can go and experiment on the shorthorns at the farm, who are under
proper control," said Mrs. Cornett, "or the elephants at the Zoological
Gardens.  They're said to be highly intelligent, and they have this
recommendation, that they don't come creeping about our bedrooms and
under chairs, and so forth."

An archangel ecstatically proclaiming the Millennium, and then finding
that it clashed unpardonably with Henley and would have to be
indefinitely postponed, could hardly have felt more crestfallen than
Cornelius Appin at the reception of his wonderful achievement.  Public
opinion, however, was against him--in fact, had the general voice been
consulted on the subject it is probable that a strong minority vote
would have been in favour of including him in the strychnine diet.

Defective train arrangements and a nervous desire to see matters
brought to a finish prevented an immediate dispersal of the party, but
dinner that evening was not a social success.  Sir Wilfrid had had
rather a trying time with the stable cat and subsequently with the
coachman.  Agnes Resker ostentatiously limited her repast to a morsel
of dry toast, which she bit as though it were a personal enemy; while
Mavis Pellington maintained a vindictive silence throughout the meal.
Lady Blemley kept up a flow of what she hoped was conversation, but her
attention was fixed on the doorway.  A plateful of carefully dosed fish
scraps was in readiness on the sideboard, but sweets and savoury and
dessert went their way, and no Tobermory appeared either in the
dining-room or kitchen.

The sepulchral dinner was cheerful compared with the subsequent vigil
in the smoking-room.  Eating and drinking had at least supplied a
distraction and cloak to the prevailing embarrassment. Bridge was out
of the question in the general tension of nerves and tempers, and after
Odo Finsberry had given a lugubrious rendering of "Melisande in the
Wood" to a frigid audience, music was tacitly avoided.  At eleven the
servants went to bed, announcing that the small window in the pantry
had been left open as usual for Tobermory's private use.  The guests
read steadily through the current batch of magazines, and fell back
gradually, on the "Badminton Library" and bound volumes of PUNCH.  Lady
Blemley made periodic visits to the pantry, returning each time with an
expression of listless depression which forestalled questioning.

At two o'clock Clovis broke the dominating silence.

"He won't turn up to-night.  He's probably in the local newspaper
office at the present moment, dictating the first instalment of his
reminiscences.  Lady What's-her-name's book won't be in it. It will be
the event of the day."

Having made this contribution to the general cheerfulness, Clovis went
to bed.  At long intervals the various members of the house-party
followed his example.

The servants taking round the early tea made a uniform announcement in
reply to a uniform question.  Tobermory had not returned.

Breakfast was, if anything, a more unpleasant function than dinner had
been, but before its conclusion the situation was relieved. Tobermory's
corpse was brought in from the shrubbery, where a gardener had just
discovered it.  From the bites on his throat and the yellow fur which
coated his claws it was evident that he had fallen in unequal combat
with the big Tom from the Rectory.

By midday most of the guests had quitted the Towers, and after lunch
Lady Blemley had sufficiently recovered her spirits to write an
extremely nasty letter to the Rectory about the loss of her valuable
pet.

Tobermory had been Appin's one successful pupil, and he was destined to
have no successor.  A few weeks later an elephant in the Dresden
Zoological Garden, which had shown no previous signs of irritability,
broke loose and killed an Englishman who had apparently been teasing
it.  The victim's name was variously reported in the papers as Oppin
and Eppelin, but his front name was faithfully rendered Cornelius.

"If he was trying German irregular verbs on the poor beast," said
Clovis, "he deserved all he got."



MRS. PACKLETIDE'S TIGER


It was Mrs. Packletide's pleasure and intention that she should shoot a
tiger.  Not that the lust to kill had suddenly descended on her, or
that she felt that she would leave India safer and more wholesome than
she had found it, with one fraction less of wild beast per million of
inhabitants.  The compelling motive for her sudden deviation towards
the footsteps of Nimrod was the fact that Loona Bimberton had recently
been carried eleven miles in an aeroplane by an Algerian aviator, and
talked of nothing else; only a personally procured tiger-skin and a
heavy harvest of Press photographs could successfully counter that sort
of thing.  Mrs. Packletide had already arranged in her mind the lunch
she would give at her house in Curzon Street, ostensibly in Loona
Bimberton's honour, with a tiger-skin rug occupying most of the
foreground and all of the conversation.  She had also already designed
in her mind the tiger-claw brooch that she was going to give Loona
Bimberton on her next birthday.  In a world that is supposed to be
chiefly swayed by hunger and by love Mrs. Packletide was an exception;
her movements and motives were largely governed by dislike of Loona
Bimberton.

Circumstances proved propitious.  Mrs. Packletide had offered a
thousand rupees for the opportunity of shooting a tiger without
overmuch risk or exertion, and it so happened that a neighbouring
village could boast of being the favoured rendezvous of an animal of
respectable antecedents, which had been driven by the increasing
infirmities of age to abandon game-killing and confine its appetite to
the smaller domestic animals.  The prospect of earning the thousand
rupees had stimulated the sporting and commercial instinct of the
villagers; children were posted night and day on the outskirts of the
local jungle to head the tiger back in the unlikely event of his
attempting to roam away to fresh hunting-grounds, and the cheaper kinds
of goats were left about with elaborate carelessness to keep him
satisfied with his present quarters.  The one great anxiety was lest he
should die of old age before the date appointed for the memsahib's
shoot.  Mothers carrying their babies home through the jungle after the
day's work in the fields hushed their singing lest they might curtail
the restful sleep of the venerable herd-robber.

The great night duly arrived, moonlit and cloudless.  A platform had
been constructed in a comfortable and conveniently placed tree, and
thereon crouched Mrs. Packletide and her paid companion, Miss Mebbin.
A goat, gifted with a particularly persistent bleat, such as even a
partially deaf tiger might be reasonably expected to hear on a still
night, was tethered at the correct distance. With an accurately sighted
rifle and a thumbnail pack of patience cards the sportswoman awaited
the coming of the quarry.

"I suppose we are in some danger?" said Miss Mebbin.

She was not actually nervous about the wild beast, but she had a morbid
dread of performing an atom more service than she had been paid for.

"Nonsense," said Mrs. Packletide; "it's a very old tiger.  It couldn't
spring up here even if it wanted to."

"If it's an old tiger I think you ought to get it cheaper.  A thousand
rupees is a lot of money."

Louisa Mebbin adopted a protective elder-sister attitude towards money
in general, irrespective of nationality or denomination. Her energetic
intervention had saved many a rouble from dissipating itself in tips in
some Moscow hotel, and francs and centimes clung to her instinctively
under circumstances which would have driven them headlong from less
sympathetic hands.  Her speculations as to the market depreciation of
tiger remnants were cut short by the appearance on the scene of the
animal itself.  As soon as it caught sight of the tethered goat it lay
flat on the earth, seemingly less from a desire to take advantage of
all available cover than for the purpose of snatching a short rest
before commencing the grand attack.

"I believe it's ill," said Louisa Mebbin, loudly in Hindustani, for the
benefit of the village headman, who was in ambush in a neighbouring
tree.

"Hush!" said Mrs. Packletide, and at that moment the tiger commenced
ambling towards his victim.

"Now, now!" urged Miss Mebbin with some excitement; "if he doesn't
touch the goat we needn't pay for it."  (The bait was an extra.)

The rifle flashed out with a loud report, and the great tawny beast
sprang to one side and then rolled over in the stillness of death.  In
a moment a crowd of excited natives had swarmed on to the scene, and
their shouting speedily carried the glad news to the village, where a
thumping of tom-toms took up the chorus of triumph.  And their triumph
and rejoicing found a ready echo in the heart of Mrs. Packletide;
already that luncheon-party in Curzon Street seemed immeasurably nearer.

It was Louisa Mebbin who drew attention to the fact that the goat was
in death-throes from a mortal bullet-wound, while no trace of the
rifle's deadly work could be found on the tiger.  Evidently the wrong
animal had been hit, and the beast of prey had succumbed to
heart-failure, caused by the sudden report of the rifle, accelerated by
senile decay.  Mrs. Packletide was pardonably annoyed at the discovery;
but, at any rate, she was the possessor of a dead tiger, and the
villagers, anxious for their thousand rupees, gladly connived at the
fiction that she had shot the beast.  And Miss Mebbin was a paid
companion.  Therefore did Mrs. Packletide face the cameras with a light
heart, and her pictured fame reached from the pages of the TEXAS WEEKLY
SNAPSHOT to the illustrated Monday supplement of the NOVOE VREMYA.  As
for Loona Bimberton, she refused to look at an illustrated paper for
weeks, and her letter of thanks for the gift of a tiger-claw brooch was
a model of repressed emotions.  The luncheon-party she declined; there
are limits beyond which repressed emotions become dangerous.

From Curzon Street the tiger-skin rug travelled down to the Manor
House, and was duly inspected and admired by the county, and it seemed
a fitting and appropriate thing when Mrs. Packletide went to the County
Costume Ball in the character of Diana.  She refused to fall in,
however, with Clovis's tempting suggestion of a primeval dance party,
at which every one should wear the skins of beasts they had recently
slain.  "I should be in rather a Baby Bunting condition," confessed
Clovis, "with a miserable rabbit-skin or two to wrap up in, but then,"
he added, with a rather malicious glance at Diana's proportions, "my
figure is quite as good as that Russian dancing boy's."

"How amused every one would be if they knew what really happened," said
Louisa Mebbin a few days after the ball.

"What do you mean?" asked Mrs. Packletide quickly.

"How you shot the goat and frightened the tiger to death," said Miss
Mebbin, with her disagreeably pleasant laugh.

"No one would believe it," said Mrs. Packletide, her face changing
colour as rapidly as though it were going through a book of patterns
before post-time.

"Loona Bimberton would," said Miss Mebbin.  Mrs. Packletide's face
settled on an unbecoming shade of greenish white.

"You surely wouldn't give me away?" she asked.

"I've seen a week-end cottage near Dorking that I should rather like to
buy," said Miss Mebbin with seeming irrelevance.  "Six hundred and
eighty, freehold.  Quite a bargain, only I don't happen to have the
money."

      *      *      *      *      *

Louisa Mebbin's pretty week-end cottage, christened by her "Les
Fauves," and gay in summertime with its garden borders of tiger-lilies,
is the wonder and admiration of her friends.

"It is a marvel how Louisa manages to do it," is the general verdict.

Mrs. Packletide indulges in no more big-game shooting.

"The incidental expenses are so heavy," she confides to inquiring
friends.



THE STAMPEDING OF LADY BASTABLE


"It would be rather nice if you would put Clovis up for another six
days while I go up north to the MacGregors'," said Mrs. Sangrail
sleepily across the breakfast-table.  It was her invariable plan to
speak in a sleepy, comfortable voice whenever she was unusually keen
about anything; it put people off their guard, and they frequently fell
in with her wishes before they had realized that she was really asking
for anything.  Lady Bastable, however, was not so easily taken
unawares; possibly she knew that voice and what it betokened--at any
rate, she knew Clovis.

She frowned at a piece of toast and ate it very slowly, as though she
wished to convey the impression that the process hurt her more than it
hurt the toast; but no extension of hospitality on Clovis's behalf rose
to her lips.

"It would be a great convenience to me," pursued Mrs. Sangrail,
abandoning the careless tone.  "I particularly don't want to take him
to the MacGregors', and it will only be for six days."

"It will seem longer," said Lady Bastable dismally.

"The last time he stayed here for a week--"

"I know," interrupted the other hastily, "but that was nearly two years
ago.  He was younger then."

"But he hasn't improved," said her hostess; "it's no use growing older
if you only learn new ways of misbehaving yourself."

Mrs. Sangrail was unable to argue the point; since Clovis had reached
the age of seventeen she had never ceased to bewail his irrepressible
waywardness to all her circle of acquaintances, and a polite scepticism
would have greeted the slightest hint at a prospective reformation.
She discarded the fruitless effort at cajolery and resorted to
undisguised bribery.

"If you'll have him here for these six days I'll cancel that
outstanding bridge account."

It was only for forty-nine shillings, but Lady Bastable loved shillings
with a great, strong love.  To lose money at bridge and not to have to
pay it was one of those rare experiences which gave the card-table a
glamour in her eyes which it could never otherwise have possessed.
Mrs. Sangrail was almost equally devoted to her card winnings, but the
prospect of conveniently warehousing her offspring for six days, and
incidentally saving his railway fare to the north, reconciled her to
the sacrifice; when Clovis made a belated appearance at the
breakfast-table the bargain had been struck.

"Just think," said Mrs. Sangrail sleepily; "Lady Bastable has very
kindly asked you to stay on here while I go to the MacGregors'."

Clovis said suitable things in a highly unsuitable manner, and
proceeded to make punitive expeditions among the breakfast dishes with
a scowl on his face that would have driven the purr out of a peace
conference.  The arrangement that had been concluded behind his back
was doubly distasteful to him.  In the first place, he particularly
wanted to teach the MacGregor boys, who could well afford the
knowledge, how to play poker-patience; secondly, the Bastable catering
was of the kind that is classified as a rude plenty, which Clovis
translated as a plenty that gives rise to rude remarks.  Watching him
from behind ostentatiously sleepy lids, his mother realized, in the
light of long experience, that any rejoicing over the success of her
manoeuvre would be distinctly premature.  It was one thing to fit
Clovis into a convenient niche of the domestic jig-saw puzzle; it was
quite another matter to get him to stay there.

Lady Bastable was wont to retire in state to the morning-room
immediately after breakfast and spend a quiet hour in skimming through
the papers; they were there, so she might as well get their money's
worth out of them.  Politics did not greatly interest her, but she was
obsessed with a favourite foreboding that one of these days there would
be a great social upheaval, in which everybody would be killed by
everybody else.  "It will come sooner than we think," she would observe
darkly; a mathematical expert of exceptionally high powers would have
been puzzled to work out the approximate date from the slender and
confusing groundwork which this assertion afforded.

On this particular morning the sight of Lady Bastable enthroned among
her papers gave Clovis the hint towards which his mind had been groping
all breakfast time.  His mother had gone upstairs to supervise packing
operations, and he was alone on the ground-floor with his hostess--and
the servants.  The latter were the key to the situation.  Bursting
wildly into the kitchen quarters, Clovis screamed a frantic though
strictly non-committal summons: "Poor Lady Bastable!  In the
morning-room!  Oh, quick!"  The next moment the butler, cook, page-boy,
two or three maids, and a gardener who had happened to be in one of the
outer kitchens were following in a hot scurry after Clovis as he headed
back for the morning-room. Lady Bastable was roused from the world of
newspaper lore by hearing a Japanese screen in the hall go down with a
crash.  Then the door leading from the hall flew open and her young
guest tore madly through the room, shrieked at her in passing, "The
jacquerie!  They're on us!" and dashed like an escaping hawk out
through the French window.  The scared mob of servants burst in on his
heels, the gardener still clutching the sickle with which he had been
trimming hedges, and the impetus of their headlong haste carried them,
slipping and sliding, over the smooth parquet flooring towards the
chair where their mistress sat in panic-stricken amazement.  If she had
had a moment granted her for reflection she would have behaved, as she
afterwards explained, with considerable dignity.  It was probably the
sickle which decided her, but anyway she followed the lead that Clovis
had given her through the French window, and ran well and far across
the lawn before the eyes of her astonished retainers.

      *      *      *      *      *

Lost dignity is not a possession which can be restored at a moment's
notice, and both Lady Bastable and the butler found the process of
returning to normal conditions almost as painful as a slow recovery
from drowning.  A jacquerie, even if carried out with the most
respectful of intentions, cannot fail to leave some traces of
embarrassment behind it.  By lunch-time, however, decorum had
reasserted itself with enhanced rigour as a natural rebound from its
recent overthrow, and the meal was served in a frigid stateliness that
might have been framed on a Byzantine model.  Halfway through its
duration Mrs. Sangrail was solemnly presented with an envelope lying on
a silver salver.  It contained a cheque for forty-nine shillings.

The MacGregor boys learned how to play poker-patience; after all, they
could afford to.



THE BACKGROUND


"That woman's art-jargon tires me," said Clovis to his journalist
friend.  "She's so fond of talking of certain pictures as 'growing on
one,' as though they were a sort of fungus."

"That reminds me," said the journalist, "of the story of Henri Deplis.
Have I ever told it you?"

Clovis shook his head.

"Henri Deplis was by birth a native of the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg.
On maturer reflection he became a commercial traveller.  His business
activities frequently took him beyond the limits of the Grand Duchy,
and he was stopping in a small town of Northern Italy when news reached
him from home that a legacy from a distant and deceased relative had
fallen to his share.

"It was not a large legacy, even from the modest standpoint of Henri
Deplis, but it impelled him towards some seemingly harmless
extravagances.  In particular it led him to patronize local art as
represented by the tattoo-needles of Signor Andreas Pincini. Signor
Pincini was, perhaps, the most brilliant master of tattoo craft that
Italy had ever known, but his circumstances were decidedly
impoverished, and for the sum of six hundred francs he gladly undertook
to cover his client's back, from the collar-bone down to the waistline,
with a glowing representation of the Fall of Icarus.  The design, when
finally developed, was a slight disappointment to Monsieur Deplis, who
had suspected Icarus of being a fortress taken by Wallenstein in the
Thirty Years' War, but he was more than satisfied with the execution of
the work, which was acclaimed by all who had the privilege of seeing it
as Pincini's masterpiece.

"It was his greatest effort, and his last.  Without even waiting to be
paid, the illustrious craftsman departed this life, and was buried
under an ornate tombstone, whose winged cherubs would have afforded
singularly little scope for the exercise of his favourite art.  There
remained, however, the widow Pincini, to whom the six hundred francs
were due.  And thereupon arose the great crisis in the life of Henri
Deplis, traveller of commerce.  The legacy, under the stress of
numerous little calls on its substance, had dwindled to very
insignificant proportions, and when a pressing wine bill and sundry
other current accounts had been paid, there remained little more than
430 francs to offer to the widow.  The lady was properly indignant, not
wholly, as she volubly explained, on account of the suggested
writing-off of 170 francs, but also at the attempt to depreciate the
value of her late husband's acknowledged masterpiece.  In a week's time
Deplis was obliged to reduce his offer to 405 francs, which
circumstance fanned the widow's indignation into a fury.  She cancelled
the sale of the work of art, and a few days later Deplis learned with a
sense of consternation that she had presented it to the municipality of
Bergamo, which had gratefully accepted it.  He left the neighbourhood
as unobtrusively as possible, and was genuinely relieved when his
business commands took him to Rome, where he hoped his identity and
that of the famous picture might be lost sight of.

"But he bore on his back the burden of the dead man's genius.  On
presenting himself one day in the steaming corridor of a vapour bath,
he was at once hustled back into his clothes by the proprietor, who was
a North Italian, and who emphatically refused to allow the celebrated
Fall of Icarus to be publicly on view without the permission of the
municipality of Bergamo.  Public interest and official vigilance
increased as the matter became more widely known, and Deplis was unable
to take a simple dip in the sea or river on the hottest afternoon
unless clothed up to the collarbone in a substantial bathing garment.
Later on the authorities of Bergamo, conceived the idea that salt water
might be injurious to the masterpiece, and a perpetual injunction was
obtained which debarred the muchly harassed commercial traveller from
sea bathing under any circumstances.  Altogether, he was fervently
thankful when his firm of employers found him a new range of activities
in the neighbourhood of Bordeaux.  His thankfulness, however, ceased
abruptly at the Franco-Italian frontier.  An imposing array of official
force barred his departure, and he was sternly reminded of the
stringent law which forbids the exportation of Italian works of art.

"A diplomatic parley ensued between the Luxemburgian and Italian
Governments, and at one time the European situation became overcast
with the possibilities of trouble.  But the Italian Government stood
firm; it declined to concern itself in the least with the fortunes or
even the existence of Henri Deplis, commercial traveller, but was
immovable in its decision that the Fall of Icarus (by the late Pincini,
Andreas) at present the property of the municipality of Bergamo, should
not leave the country.

"The excitement died down in time, but the unfortunate Deplis, who was
of a constitutionally retiring disposition, found himself a few months
later, once more the storm-centre of a furious controversy.  A certain
German art expert, who had obtained from the municipality of Bergamo
permission to inspect the famous masterpiece, declared it to be a
spurious Pincini, probably the work of some pupil whom he had employed
in his declining years. The evidence of Deplis on the subject was
obviously worthless, as he had been under the influence of the
customary narcotics during the long process of pricking in the design.
The editor of an Italian art journal refuted the contentions of the
German expert and undertook to prove that his private life did not
conform to any modern standard of decency.  The whole of Italy and
Germany were drawn into the dispute, and the rest of Europe was soon
involved in the quarrel.  There were stormy scenes in the Spanish
Parliament, and the University of Copenhagen bestowed a gold medal on
the German expert (afterwards sending a commission to examine his
proofs on the spot), while two Polish schoolboys in Paris committed
suicide to show what THEY thought of the matter.

"Meanwhile, the unhappy human background fared no better than before,
and it was not surprising that he drifted into the ranks of Italian
anarchists.  Four times at least he was escorted to the frontier as a
dangerous and undesirable foreigner, but he was always brought back as
the Fall of Icarus (attributed to Pincini, Andreas, early Twentieth
Century).  And then one day, at an anarchist congress at Genoa, a
fellow-worker, in the heat of debate, broke a phial full of corrosive
liquid over his back.  The red shirt that he was wearing mitigated the
effects, but the Icarus was ruined beyond recognition.  His assailant
was severely reprimanded for assaulting a fellow-anarchist and received
seven years' imprisonment for defacing a national art treasure.  As
soon as he was able to leave the hospital Henri Deplis was put across
the frontier as an undesirable alien.

"In the quieter streets of Paris, especially in the neighbourhood of
the Ministry of Fine Arts, you may sometimes meet a depressed,
anxious-looking man, who, if you pass him the time of day, will answer
you with a slight Luxemburgian accent.  He nurses the illusion that he
is one of the lost arms of the Venus de Milo, and hopes that the French
Government may be persuaded to buy him.  On all other subjects I
believe he is tolerably sane."



HERMANN THE IRASCIBLE--A STORY OF THE GREAT WEEP


It was in the second decade of the twentieth century, after the Great
Plague had devastated England, that Hermann the Irascible, nicknamed
also the Wise, sat on the British throne.  The Mortal Sickness had
swept away the entire Royal Family, unto the third and fourth
generations, and thus it came to pass that Hermann the Fourteenth of
Saxe-Drachsen-Wachtelstein, who had stood thirtieth in the order of
succession, found himself one day ruler of the British dominions within
and beyond the seas.  He was one of the unexpected things that happen
in politics, and he happened with great thoroughness.  In many ways he
was the most progressive monarch who had sat on an important throne;
before people knew where they were, they were somewhere else.  Even his
Ministers, progressive though they were by tradition, found it
difficult to keep pace with his legislative suggestions.

"As a matter of fact," admitted the Prime Minister, "we are hampered by
these votes-for-women creatures; they disturb our meetings throughout
the country, and they try to turn Downing Street into a sort of
political picnic-ground."

"They must be dealt with," said Hermann.

"Dealt with," said the Prime Minister; "exactly, just so; but how?"

"I will draft you a Bill," said the King, sitting down at his
typewriting machine, "enacting that women shall vote at all future
elections.  Shall vote, you observe; or, to put it plainer, must.
Voting will remain optional, as before, for male electors; but every
woman between the ages of twenty-one and seventy will be obliged to
vote, not only at elections for Parliament, county councils, district
boards, parish councils, and municipalities, but for coroners, school
inspectors, churchwardens, curators of museums, sanitary authorities,
police-court interpreters, swimming-bath instructors, contractors,
choir-masters, market superintendents, art-school teachers, cathedral
vergers, and other local functionaries whose names I will add as they
occur to me. All these offices will become elective, and failure to
vote at any election falling within her area of residence will involve
the female elector in a penalty of £10.  Absence, unsupported by an
adequate medical certificate, will not be accepted as an excuse. Pass
this Bill through the two Houses of Parliament and bring it to me for
signature the day after to-morrow."

From the very outset the Compulsory Female Franchise produced little or
no elation even in circles which had been loudest in demanding the
vote.  The bulk of the women of the country had been indifferent or
hostile to the franchise agitation, and the most fanatical Suffragettes
began to wonder what they had found so attractive in the prospect of
putting ballot-papers into a box. In the country districts the task of
carrying out the provisions of the new Act was irksome enough; in the
towns and cities it became an incubus.  There seemed no end to the
elections. Laundresses and seamstresses had to hurry away from their
work to vote, often for a candidate whose name they hadn't heard
before, and whom they selected at haphazard; female clerks and
waitresses got up extra early to get their voting done before starting
off to their places of business.  Society women found their
arrangements impeded and upset by the continual necessity for attending
the polling stations, and week-end parties and summer holidays became
gradually a masculine luxury.  As for Cairo and the Riviera, they were
possible only for genuine invalids or people of enormous wealth, for
the accumulation of £10 fines during a prolonged absence was a
contingency that even ordinarily wealthy folk could hardly afford to
risk.

It was not wonderful that the female disfranchisement agitation became
a formidable movement.  The No-Votes-for-Women League numbered its
feminine adherents by the million; its colours, citron and old
Dutch-madder, were flaunted everywhere, and its battle hymn, "We don't
want to Vote," became a popular refrain. As the Government showed no
signs of being impressed by peaceful persuasion, more violent methods
came into vogue.  Meetings were disturbed, Ministers were mobbed,
policemen were bitten, and ordinary prison fare rejected, and on the
eve of the anniversary of Trafalgar women bound themselves in tiers up
the entire length of the Nelson column so that its customary floral
decoration had to be abandoned.  Still the Government obstinately
adhered to its conviction that women ought to have the vote.

Then, as a last resort, some woman wit hit upon an expedient which it
was strange that no one had thought of before.  The Great Weep was
organized.  Relays of women, ten thousand at a time, wept continuously
in the public places of the Metropolis.  They wept in railway stations,
in tubes and omnibuses, in the National Gallery, at the Army and Navy
Stores, in St. James's Park, at ballad concerts, at Prince's and in the
Burlington Arcade.  The hitherto unbroken success of the brilliant
farcical comedy "Henry's Rabbit" was imperilled by the presence of
drearily weeping women in stalls and circle and gallery, and one of the
brightest divorce cases that had been tried for many years was robbed
of much of its sparkle by the lachrymose behaviour of a section of the
audience.

"What are we to do?" asked the Prime Minister, whose cook had wept into
all the breakfast dishes and whose nursemaid had gone out, crying
quietly and miserably, to take the children for a walk in the Park.

"There is a time for everything," said the King; "there is a time to
yield.  Pass a measure through the two Houses depriving women of the
right to vote, and bring it to me for the Royal assent the day after
to-morrow."

As the Minister withdrew, Hermann the Irascible, who was also nicknamed
the Wise, gave a profound chuckle.

"There are more ways of killing a cat than by choking it with cream,"
he quoted, "but I'm not sure," he added, "that it's not the best way."



THE UNREST-CURE


On the rack in the railway carriage immediately opposite Clovis was a
solidly wrought travelling-bag, with a carefully written label, on
which was inscribed, "J. P. Huddle, The Warren, Tilfield, near
Slowborough."  Immediately below the rack sat the human embodiment of
the label, a solid, sedate individual, sedately dressed, sedately
conversational.  Even without his conversation (which was addressed to
a friend seated by his side, and touched chiefly on such topics as the
backwardness of Roman hyacinths and the prevalence of measles at the
Rectory), one could have gauged fairly accurately the temperament and
mental outlook of the travelling bag's owner.  But he seemed unwilling
to leave anything to the imagination of a casual observer, and his talk
grew presently personal and introspective.

"I don't know how it is," he told his friend, "I'm not much over forty,
but I seem to have settled down into a deep groove of elderly
middle-age.  My sister shows the same tendency.  We like everything to
be exactly in its accustomed place; we like things to happen exactly at
their appointed times; we like everything to be usual, orderly,
punctual, methodical, to a hair's breadth, to a minute.  It distresses
and upsets us if it is not so.  For instance, to take a very trifling
matter, a thrush has built its nest year after year in the catkin-tree
on the lawn; this year, for no obvious reason, it is building in the
ivy on the garden wall.  We have said very little about it, but I think
we both feel that the change is unnecessary, and just a little
irritating."

"Perhaps," said the friend, "it is a different thrush."

"We have suspected that," said J. P. Huddle, "and I think it gives us
even more cause for annoyance.  We don't feel that we want a change of
thrush at our time of life; and yet, as I have said, we have scarcely
reached an age when these things should make themselves seriously felt."

"What you want," said the friend, "is an Unrest-cure."

"An Unrest-cure?  I've never heard of such a thing."

"You've heard of Rest-cures for people who've broken down under stress
of too much worry and strenuous living; well, you're suffering from
overmuch repose and placidity, and you need the opposite kind of
treatment."

"But where would one go for such a thing?"

"Well, you might stand as an Orange candidate for Kilkenny, or do a
course of district visiting in one of the Apache quarters of Paris, or
give lectures in Berlin to prove that most of Wagner's music was
written by Gambetta; and there's always the interior of Morocco to
travel in.  But, to be really effective, the Unrest-cure ought to be
tried in the home.  How you would do it I haven't the faintest idea."

It was at this point in the conversation that Clovis became galvanized
into alert attention.  After all, his two days' visit to an elderly
relative at Slowborough did not promise much excitement.  Before the
train had stopped he had decorated his sinister shirt-cuff with the
inscription, "J. P. Huddle, The Warren, Tilfield, near Slowborough."

      *      *      *      *      *

Two mornings later Mr. Huddle broke in on his sister's privacy as she
sat reading Country Life in the morning room.  It was her day and hour
and place for reading Country Life, and the intrusion was absolutely
irregular; but he bore in his hand a telegram, and in that household
telegrams were recognized as happening by the hand of God.  This
particular telegram partook of the nature of a thunderbolt.  "Bishop
examining confirmation class in neighbourhood unable stay rectory on
account measles invokes your hospitality sending secretary arrange."

"I scarcely know the Bishop; I've only spoken to him once," exclaimed
J. P. Huddle, with the exculpating air of one who realizes too late the
indiscretion of speaking to strange Bishops. Miss Huddle was the first
to rally; she disliked thunderbolts as fervently as her brother did,
but the womanly instinct in her told her that thunderbolts must be fed.

"We can curry the cold duck," she said.  It was not the appointed day
for curry, but the little orange envelope involved a certain departure
from rule and custom.  Her brother said nothing, but his eyes thanked
her for being brave.

"A young gentleman to see you," announced the parlour-maid.

"The secretary!" murmured the Huddles in unison; they instantly
stiffened into a demeanour which proclaimed that, though they held all
strangers to be guilty, they were willing to hear anything they might
have to say in their defence.  The young gentleman, who came into the
room with a certain elegant haughtiness, was not at all Huddle's idea
of a bishop's secretary; he had not supposed that the episcopal
establishment could have afforded such an expensively upholstered
article when there were so many other claims on its resources.  The
face was fleetingly familiar; if he had bestowed more attention on the
fellow-traveller sitting opposite him in the railway carriage two days
before he might have recognized Clovis in his present visitor.

"You are the Bishop's secretary?" asked Huddle, becoming consciously
deferential.

"His confidential secretary," answered Clovis.  "You may call me
Stanislaus; my other name doesn't matter.  The Bishop and Colonel
Alberti may be here to lunch.  I shall be here in any case."

It sounded rather like the programme of a Royal visit.

"The Bishop is examining a confirmation class in the neighbourhood,
isn't he?" asked Miss Huddle.

"Ostensibly," was the dark reply, followed by a request for a
large-scale map of the locality.

Clovis was still immersed in a seemingly profound study of the map when
another telegram arrived.  It was addressed to "Prince Stanislaus, care
of Huddle, The Warren, etc."  Clovis glanced at the contents and
announced: "The Bishop and Alberti won't be here till late in the
afternoon."  Then he returned to his scrutiny of the map.

The luncheon was not a very festive function.  The princely secretary
ate and drank with fair appetite, but severely discouraged
conversation.  At the finish of the meal he broke suddenly into a
radiant smile, thanked his hostess for a charming repast, and kissed
her hand with deferential rapture.

Miss Huddle was unable to decide in her mind whether the action
savoured of Louis Quatorzian courtliness or the reprehensible Roman
attitude towards the Sabine women.  It was not her day for having a
headache, but she felt that the circumstances excused her, and retired
to her room to have as much headache as was possible before the
Bishop's arrival.  Clovis, having asked the way to the nearest
telegraph office, disappeared presently down the carriage drive.  Mr.
Huddle met him in the hall some two hours later, and asked when the
Bishop would arrive.

"He is in the library with Alberti," was the reply.

"But why wasn't I told?  I never knew he had come!" exclaimed Huddle.

"No one knows he is here," said Clovis; "the quieter we can keep
matters the better.  And on no account disturb him in the library.
Those are his orders."

"But what is all this mystery about?  And who is Alberti?  And isn't
the Bishop going to have tea?"

"The Bishop is out for blood, not tea."

"Blood!" gasped Huddle, who did not find that the thunderbolt improved
on acquaintance.

"To-night is going to be a great night in the history of Christendom,"
said Clovis.  "We are going to massacre every Jew in the neighbourhood."

"To massacre the Jews!" said Huddle indignantly.  "Do you mean to tell
me there's a general rising against them?"

"No, it's the Bishop's own idea.  He's in there arranging all the
details now."

"But--the Bishop is such a tolerant, humane man."

"That is precisely what will heighten the effect of his action. The
sensation will be enormous."

That at least Huddle could believe.

"He will be hanged!" he exclaimed with conviction.

"A motor is waiting to carry him to the coast, where a steam yacht is
in readiness."

"But there aren't thirty Jews in the whole neighbourhood," protested
Huddle, whose brain, under the repeated shocks of the day, was
operating with the uncertainty of a telegraph wire during earthquake
disturbances.

"We have twenty-six on our list," said Clovis, referring to a bundle of
notes.  "We shall be able to deal with them all the more thoroughly."

"Do you mean to tell me that you are meditating violence against a man
like Sir Leon Birberry," stammered Huddle; "he's one of the most
respected men in the country."

"He's down on our list," said Clovis carelessly; "after all, we've got
men we can trust to do our job, so we shan't have to rely on local
assistance.  And we've got some Boy-scouts helping us as auxiliaries."

"Boy-scouts!"

"Yes; when they understood there was real killing to be done they were
even keener than the men."

"This thing will be a blot on the Twentieth Century!"

"And your house will be the blotting-pad.  Have you realized that half
the papers of Europe and the United States will publish pictures of it?
By the way, I've sent some photographs of you and your sister, that I
found in the library, to the MATIN and DIE WOCHE; I hope you don't
mind.  Also a sketch of the staircase; most of the killing will
probably be done on the staircase."

The emotions that were surging in J. P. Huddle's brain were almost too
intense to be disclosed in speech, but he managed to gasp out: "There
aren't any Jews in this house."

"Not at present," said Clovis.

"I shall go to the police," shouted Huddle with sudden energy.

"In the shrubbery," said Clovis, "are posted ten men who have orders to
fire on anyone who leaves the house without my signal of permission.
Another armed picquet is in ambush near the front gate.  The Boy-scouts
watch the back premises."

At this moment the cheerful hoot of a motor-horn was heard from the
drive.  Huddle rushed to the hall door with the feeling of a man half
awakened from a nightmare, and beheld Sir Leon Birberry, who had driven
himself over in his car.  "I got your telegram," he said, "what's up?"

Telegram?  It seemed to be a day of telegrams.

"Come here at once.  Urgent.  James Huddle," was the purport of the
message displayed before Huddle's bewildered eyes.

"I see it all!" he exclaimed suddenly in a voice shaken with agitation,
and with a look of agony in the direction of the shrubbery he hauled
the astonished Birberry into the house.  Tea had just been laid in the
hall, but the now thoroughly panic-stricken Huddle dragged his
protesting guest upstairs, and in a few minutes' time the entire
household had been summoned to that region of momentary safety.  Clovis
alone graced the tea-table with his presence; the fanatics in the
library were evidently too immersed in their monstrous machinations to
dally with the solace of teacup and hot toast.  Once the youth rose, in
answer to the summons of the front-door bell, and admitted Mr. Paul
Isaacs, shoemaker and parish councillor, who had also received a
pressing invitation to The Warren.   With an atrocious assumption of
courtesy, which a Borgia could hardly have outdone, the secretary
escorted this new captive of his net to the head of the stairway, where
his involuntary host awaited him.

And then ensued a long ghastly vigil of watching and waiting. Once or
twice Clovis left the house to stroll across to the shrubbery,
returning always to the library, for the purpose evidently of making a
brief report.  Once he took in the letters from the evening postman,
and brought them to the top of the stairs with punctilious politeness.
After his next absence he came half-way up the stairs to make an
announcement.

"The Boy-scouts mistook my signal, and have killed the postman. I've
had very little practice in this sort of thing, you see. Another time I
shall do better."

The housemaid, who was engaged to be married to the evening postman,
gave way to clamorous grief.

"Remember that your mistress has a headache," said J. P. Huddle. (Miss
Huddle's headache was worse.)

Clovis hastened downstairs, and after a short visit to the library
returned with another message:

"The Bishop is sorry to hear that Miss Huddle has a headache.  He is
issuing orders that as far as possible no firearms shall be used near
the house; any killing that is necessary on the premises will be done
with cold steel.  The Bishop does not see why a man should not be a
gentleman as well as a Christian."

That was the last they saw of Clovis; it was nearly seven o'clock, and
his elderly relative liked him to dress for dinner.  But, though he had
left them for ever, the lurking suggestion of his presence haunted the
lower regions of the house during the long hours of the wakeful night,
and every creak of the stairway, every rustle of wind through the
shrubbery, was fraught with horrible meaning.  At about seven next
morning the gardener's boy and the early postman finally convinced the
watchers that the Twentieth Century was still unblotted.

"I don't suppose," mused Clovis, as an early train bore him townwards,
"that they will be in the least grateful for the Unrest-cure."



THE JESTING OF ARLINGTON STRINGHAM


Arlington Stringham made a joke in the House of Commons.  It was a thin
House, and a very thin joke; something about the Anglo-Saxon race
having a great many angles.  It is possible that it was unintentional,
but a fellow-member, who did not wish it to be supposed that he was
asleep because his eyes were shut, laughed. One or two of the papers
noted "a laugh" in brackets, and another, which was notorious for the
carelessness of its political news, mentioned "laughter."  Things often
begin in that way.

"Arlington made a joke in the House last night," said Eleanor Stringham
to her mother; "in all the years we've been married neither of us has
made jokes, and I don't like it now.  I'm afraid it's the beginning of
the rift in the lute."

"What lute?" said her mother.

"It's a quotation," said Eleanor.

To say that anything was a quotation was an excellent method, in
Eleanor's eyes, for withdrawing it from discussion, just as you could
always defend indifferent lamb late in the season by saying "It's
mutton."

And, of course, Arlington Stringham continued to tread the thorny path
of conscious humour into which Fate had beckoned him.

"The country's looking very green, but, after all, that's what it's
there for," he remarked to his wife two days later.

"That's very modern, and I dare say very clever, but I'm afraid it's
wasted on me," she observed coldly.  If she had known how much effort
it had cost him to make the remark she might have greeted it in a
kinder spirit.  It is the tragedy of human endeavour that it works so
often unseen and unguessed.

Arlington said nothing, not from injured pride, but because he was
thinking hard for something to say.  Eleanor mistook his silence for an
assumption of tolerant superiority, and her anger prompted her to a
further gibe.

"You had better tell it to Lady Isobel.  I've no doubt she would
appreciate it."

Lady Isobel was seen everywhere with a fawn coloured collie at a time
when every one else kept nothing but Pekinese, and she had once eaten
four green apples at an afternoon tea in the Botanical Gardens, so she
was widely credited with a rather unpleasant wit. The censorious said
she slept in a hammock and understood Yeats's poems, but her family
denied both stories.

"The rift is widening to an abyss," said Eleanor to her mother that
afternoon.

"I should not tell that to anyone," remarked her mother, after long
reflection.

"Naturally, I should not talk about it very much," said Eleanor, "but
why shouldn't I mention it to anyone?"

"Because you can't have an abyss in a lute.  There isn't room."

Eleanor's outlook on life did not improve as the afternoon wore on.
The page-boy had brought from the library BY MERE AND WOLD instead of
BY MERE CHANCE, the book which every one denied having read.  The
unwelcome substitute appeared to be a collection of nature notes
contributed by the author to the pages of some Northern weekly, and
when one had been prepared to plunge with disapproving mind into a
regrettable chronicle of ill-spent lives it was intensely irritating to
read "the dainty yellow-hammers are now with us and flaunt their
jaundiced livery from every bush and hillock."  Besides, the thing was
so obviously untrue; either there must be hardly any bushes or hillocks
in those parts or the country must be fearfully overstocked with
yellow-hammers.  The thing scarcely seemed worth telling such a lie
about.  And the page-boy stood there, with his sleekly brushed and
parted hair, and his air of chaste and callous indifference to the
desires and passions of the world.  Eleanor hated boys, and she would
have liked to have whipped this one long and often.  It was perhaps the
yearning of a woman who had no children of her own.

She turned at random to another paragraph.  "Lie quietly concealed in
the fern and bramble in the gap by the old rowan tree, and you may see,
almost every evening during early summer, a pair of lesser whitethroats
creeping up and down the nettles and hedge-growth that mask their
nesting-place."

The insufferable monotony of the proposed recreation!  Eleanor would
not have watched the most brilliant performance at His Majesty's
Theatre for a single evening under such uncomfortable circumstances,
and to be asked to watch lesser whitethroats creeping up and down a
nettle "almost every evening" during the height of the season struck
her as an imputation on her intelligence that was positively offensive.
Impatiently she transferred her attention to the dinner menu, which the
boy had thoughtfully brought in as an alternative to the more solid
literary fare.  "Rabbit curry," met her eye, and the lines of
disapproval deepened on her already puckered brow.  The cook was a
great believer in the influence of environment, and nourished an
obstinate conviction that if you brought rabbit and curry-powder
together in one dish a rabbit curry would be the result.  And Clovis
and the odious Bertie van Tahn were coming to dinner. Surely, thought
Eleanor, if Arlington knew how much she had had that day to try her, he
would refrain from joke-making.

At dinner that night it was Eleanor herself who mentioned the name of a
certain statesman, who may be decently covered under the disguise of X.

"X," said Arlington Stringham, "has the soul of a meringue."

It was a useful remark to have on hand, because it applied equally well
to four prominent statesmen of the day, which quadrupled the
opportunities for using it.

"Meringues haven't got souls," said Eleanor's mother.

"It's a mercy that they haven't," said Clovis; "they would be always
losing them, and people like my aunt would get up missions to
meringues, and say it was wonderful how much one could teach them and
how much more one could learn from them."

"What could you learn from a meringue?" asked Eleanor's mother.

"My aunt has been known to learn humility from an ex-Viceroy," said
Clovis.

"I wish cook would learn to make curry, or have the sense to leave it
alone," said Arlington, suddenly and savagely.

Eleanor's face softened.  It was like one of his old remarks in the
days when there was no abyss between them.

It was during the debate on the Foreign Office vote that Stringham made
his great remark that "the people of Crete unfortunately make more
history than they can consume locally."  It was not brilliant, but it
came in the middle of a dull speech, and the House was quite pleased
with it.  Old gentlemen with bad memories said it reminded them of
Disraeli.

It was Eleanor's friend, Gertrude Ilpton, who drew her attention to
Arlington's newest outbreak.  Eleanor in these days avoided the morning
papers.

"It's very modern, and I suppose very clever," she observed.

"Of course it's clever," said Gertrude; "all Lady Isobel's sayings are
clever, and luckily they bear repeating."

"Are you sure it's one of her sayings?" asked Eleanor.

"My dear, I've heard her say it dozens of times."

"So that is where he gets his humour," said Eleanor slowly, and the
hard lines deepened round her mouth.

The death of Eleanor Stringham from an overdose of chloral, occurring
at the end of a rather uneventful season, excited a certain amount of
unobtrusive speculation.  Clovis, who perhaps exaggerated the
importance of curry in the home, hinted at domestic sorrow.

And of course Arlington never knew.  It was the tragedy of his life
that he should miss the fullest effect of his jesting.



SREDNI VASHTAR


Conradin was ten years old, and the doctor had pronounced his
professional opinion that the boy would not live another five years.
The doctor was silky and effete, and counted for little, but his
opinion was endorsed by Mrs. de Ropp, who counted for nearly
everything.  Mrs. De Ropp was Conradin's cousin and guardian, and in
his eyes she represented those three-fifths of the world that are
necessary and disagreeable and real; the other two-fifths, in perpetual
antagonism to the foregoing, were summed up in himself and his
imagination.  One of these days Conradin supposed he would succumb to
the mastering pressure of wearisome necessary things--such as illnesses
and coddling restrictions and drawn-out dullness.  Without his
imagination, which was rampant under the spur of loneliness, he would
have succumbed long ago.

Mrs. de Ropp would never, in her honestest moments, have confessed to
herself that she disliked Conradin, though she might have been dimly
aware that thwarting him "for his good" was a duty which she did not
find particularly irksome.  Conradin hated her with a desperate
sincerity which he was perfectly able to mask.  Such few pleasures as
he could contrive for himself gained an added relish from the
likelihood that they would be displeasing to his guardian, and from the
realm of his imagination she was locked out--an unclean thing, which
should find no entrance.

In the dull, cheerless garden, overlooked by so many windows that were
ready to open with a message not to do this or that, or a reminder that
medicines were due, he found little attraction.  The few fruit-trees
that it contained were set jealously apart from his plucking, as though
they were rare specimens of their kind blooming in an arid waste; it
would probably have been difficult to find a market-gardener who would
have offered ten shillings for their entire yearly produce.  In a
forgotten corner, however, almost hidden behind a dismal shrubbery, was
a disused tool-shed of respectable proportions, and within its walls
Conradin found a haven, something that took on the varying aspects of a
playroom and a cathedral.  He had peopled it with a legion of familiar
phantoms, evoked partly from fragments of history and partly from his
own brain, but it also boasted two inmates of flesh and blood. In one
corner lived a ragged-plumaged Houdan hen, on which the boy lavished an
affection that had scarcely another outlet.  Further back in the gloom
stood a large hutch, divided into two compartments, one of which was
fronted with close iron bars.  This was the abode of a large
polecat-ferret, which a friendly butcher-boy had once smuggled, cage
and all, into its present quarters, in exchange for a long-secreted
hoard of small silver.  Conradin was dreadfully afraid of the lithe,
sharp-fanged beast, but it was his most treasured possession.  Its very
presence in the tool-shed was a secret and fearful joy, to be kept
scrupulously from the knowledge of the Woman, as he privately dubbed
his cousin.  And one day, out of Heaven knows what material, he spun
the beast a wonderful name, and from that moment it grew into a god and
a religion.  The Woman indulged in religion once a week at a church
near by, and took Conradin with her, but to him the church service was
an alien rite in the House of Rimmon.  Every Thursday, in the dim and
musty silence of the tool-shed, he worshipped with mystic and elaborate
ceremonial before the wooden hutch where dwelt Sredni Vashtar, the
great ferret.  Red flowers in their season and scarlet berries in the
winter-time were offered at his shrine, for he was a god who laid some
special stress on the fierce impatient side of things, as opposed to
the Woman's religion, which, as far as Conradin could observe, went to
great lengths in the contrary direction.  And on great festivals
powdered nutmeg was strewn in front of his hutch, an important feature
of the offering being that the nutmeg had to be stolen.  These
festivals were of irregular occurrence, and were chiefly appointed to
celebrate some passing event.  On one occasion, when Mrs. de Ropp
suffered from acute toothache for three days, Conradin kept up the
festival during the entire three days, and almost succeeded in
persuading himself that Sredni Vashtar was personally responsible for
the toothache.  If the malady had lasted for another day the supply of
nutmeg would have given out.

The Houdan hen was never drawn into the cult of Sredni Vashtar.
Conradin had long ago settled that she was an Anabaptist.  He did not
pretend to have the remotest knowledge as to what an Anabaptist was,
but he privately hoped that it was dashing and not very respectable.
Mrs. de Ropp was the ground plan on which he based and detested all
respectability.

After a while Conradin's absorption in the tool-shed began to attract
the notice of his guardian.  "It is not good for him to be pottering
down there in all weathers," she promptly decided, and at breakfast one
morning she announced that the Houdan hen had been sold and taken away
overnight.  With her short-sighted eyes she peered at Conradin, waiting
for an outbreak of rage and sorrow, which she was ready to rebuke with
a flow of excellent precepts and reasoning.  But Conradin said nothing:
there was nothing to be said.  Something perhaps in his white set face
gave her a momentary qualm, for at tea that afternoon there was toast
on the table, a delicacy which she usually banned on the ground that it
was bad for him; also because the making of it "gave trouble," a deadly
offence in the middle-class feminine eye.

"I thought you liked toast," she exclaimed, with an injured air,
observing that he did not touch it.

"Sometimes," said Conradin.

In the shed that evening there was an innovation in the worship of the
hutch-god.  Conradin had been wont to chant his praises, to-night he
asked a boon.

"Do one thing for me, Sredni Vashtar."

The thing was not specified.  As Sredni Vashtar was a god he must be
supposed to know.  And choking back a sob as he looked at that other
empty corner, Conradin went back to the world he so hated.

And every night, in the welcome darkness of his bedroom, and every
evening in the dusk of the tool-shed, Conradin's bitter litany went up:
"Do one thing for me, Sredni Vashtar."

Mrs. de Ropp noticed that the visits to the shed did not cease, and one
day she made a further journey of inspection.

"What are you keeping in that locked hutch?" she asked.  "I believe
it's guinea-pigs.  I'll have them all cleared away."

Conradin shut his lips tight, but the Woman ransacked his bedroom till
she found the carefully hidden key, and forthwith marched down to the
shed to complete her discovery.  It was a cold afternoon, and Conradin
had been bidden to keep to the house. From the furthest window of the
dining-room the door of the shed could just be seen beyond the corner
of the shrubbery, and there Conradin stationed himself.  He saw the
Woman enter, and then he imagined her opening the door of the sacred
hutch and peering down with her short-sighted eyes into the thick straw
bed where his god lay hidden.  Perhaps she would prod at the straw in
her clumsy impatience.  And Conradin fervently breathed his prayer for
the last time.  But he knew as he prayed that he did not believe.  He
knew that the Woman would come out presently with that pursed smile he
loathed so well on her face, and that in an hour or two the gardener
would carry away his wonderful god, a god no longer, but a simple brown
ferret in a hutch.  And he knew that the Woman would triumph always as
she triumphed now, and that he would grow ever more sickly under her
pestering and domineering and superior wisdom, till one day nothing
would matter much more with him, and the doctor would be proved right.
And in the sting and misery of his defeat, he began to chant loudly and
defiantly the hymn of his threatened idol:

  Sredni Vashtar went forth,
  His thoughts were red thoughts and his teeth were white.
  His enemies called for peace, but he brought them death.
  Sredni Vashtar the Beautiful.

And then of a sudden he stopped his chanting and drew closer to the
window-pane.  The door of the shed still stood ajar as it had been
left, and the minutes were slipping by.  They were long minutes, but
they slipped by nevertheless.  He watched the starlings running and
flying in little parties across the lawn; he counted them over and over
again, with one eye always on that swinging door.  A sour-faced maid
came in to lay the table for tea, and still Conradin stood and waited
and watched.  Hope had crept by inches into his heart, and now a look
of triumph began to blaze in his eyes that had only known the wistful
patience of defeat.  Under his breath, with a furtive exultation, he
began once again the paean of victory and devastation.  And presently
his eyes were rewarded: out through that doorway came a long, low,
yellow-and-brown beast, with eyes a-blink at the waning daylight, and
dark wet stains around the fur of jaws and throat.  Conradin dropped on
his knees.  The great polecat-ferret made its way down to a small brook
at the foot of the garden, drank for a moment, then crossed a little
plank bridge and was lost to sight in the bushes.  Such was the passing
of Sredni Vashtar.

"Tea is ready," said the sour-faced maid; "where is the mistress?"

"She went down to the shed some time ago," said Conradin.

And while the maid went to summon her mistress to tea, Conradin fished
a toasting-fork out of the sideboard drawer and proceeded to toast
himself a piece of bread.  And during the toasting of it and the
buttering of it with much butter and the slow enjoyment of eating it,
Conradin listened to the noises and silences which fell in quick spasms
beyond the dining-room door.  The loud foolish screaming of the maid,
the answering chorus of wondering ejaculations from the kitchen region,
the scuttering footsteps and hurried embassies for outside help, and
then, after a lull, the scared sobbings and the shuffling tread of
those who bore a heavy burden into the house.

"Whoever will break it to the poor child?  I couldn't for the life of
me!" exclaimed a shrill voice.  And while they debated the matter among
themselves, Conradin made himself another piece of toast.



ADRIAN

A CHAPTER IN ACCLIMATIZATION


His baptismal register spoke of him pessimistically as John Henry, but
he had left that behind with the other maladies of infancy, and his
friends knew him under the front-name of Adrian.  His mother lived in
Bethnal Green, which was not altogether his fault; one can discourage
too much history in one's family, but one cannot always prevent
geography.  And, after all, the Bethnal Green habit has this
virtue--that it is seldom transmitted to the next generation.  Adrian
lived in a roomlet which came under the auspicious constellation of W.

How he lived was to a great extent a mystery even to himself; his
struggle for existence probably coincided in many material details with
the rather dramatic accounts he gave of it to sympathetic
acquaintances.  All that is definitely known is that he now and then
emerged from the struggle to dine at the Ritz or Carlton, correctly
garbed and with a correctly critical appetite.  On these occasions he
was usually the guest of Lucas Croyden, an amiable worldling, who had
three thousand a year and a taste for introducing impossible people to
irreproachable cookery.  Like most men who combine three thousand a
year with an uncertain digestion, Lucas was a Socialist, and he argued
that you cannot hope to elevate the masses until you have brought
plovers' eggs into their lives and taught them to appreciate the
difference between coupe Jacques and Macédoine de fruits.  His friends
pointed out that it was a doubtful kindness to initiate a boy from
behind a drapery counter into the blessedness of the higher catering,
to which Lucas invariably replied that all kindnesses were doubtful.
Which was perhaps true.

It was after one of his Adrian evenings that Lucas met his aunt, Mrs.
Mebberley, at a fashionable tea shop, where the lamp of family life is
still kept burning and you meet relatives who might otherwise have
slipped your memory.

"Who was that good-looking boy who was dining with you last night?" she
asked.  "He looked much too nice to be thrown away upon you."

Susan Mebberley was a charming woman, but she was also an aunt.

"Who are his people?" she continued, when the protégé's name (revised
version) had been given her.

"His mother lives at Beth--"

Lucas checked himself on the threshold of what was perhaps a social
indiscretion.

"Beth?  Where is it?  It sounds like Asia, Minor.  Is she mixed up with
Consular people?"

"Oh, no.  Her work lies among the poor."

This was a side-slip into truth.  The mother of Adrian was employed in
a laundry.

"I see," said Mrs. Mebberley, "mission work of some sort.  And
meanwhile the boy has no one to look after him.  It's obviously my duty
to see that he doesn't come to harm.  Bring him to call on me."

"My dear Aunt Susan," expostulated Lucas, "I really know very little
about him.  He may not be at all nice, you know, on further
acquaintance."

"He has delightful hair and a weak mouth.  I shall take him with me to
Homburg or Cairo."

"It's the maddest thing I ever heard of," said Lucas angrily.

"Well, there is a strong strain of madness in our family.  If you
haven't noticed it yourself all your friends must have."

"One is so dreadfully under everybody's eyes at Homburg.  At least you
might give him a preliminary trial at Etretat."

"And be surrounded by Americans trying to talk French?  No, thank you.
I love Americans, but not when they try to talk French. What a blessing
it is that they never try to talk English.  To-morrow at five you can
bring your young friend to call on me."'

And Lucas, realizing that Susan Mebberley was a woman as well as an
aunt, saw that she would have to be allowed to have her own way.

Adrian was duly carried abroad under the Mebberley wing; but as a
reluctant concession to sanity Homburg and other inconveniently
fashionable resorts were given a wide berth, and the Mebberley
establishment planted itself down in the best hotel at Dohledorf, an
Alpine townlet somewhere at the back of the Engadine.  It was the usual
kind of resort, with the usual type of visitors, that one finds over
the greater part of Switzerland during the summer season, but to Adrian
it was all unusual.  The mountain air, the certainty of regular and
abundant meals, and in particular the social atmosphere, affected him
much as the indiscriminating fervour of a forcing-house might affect a
weed that had strayed within its limits.  He had been brought up in a
world where breakages were regarded as crimes and expiated as such; it
was something new and altogether exhilarating to find that you were
considered rather amusing if you smashed things in the right manner and
at the recognized hours.  Susan Mebberley had expressed the intention
of showing Adrian a bit of the world; the particular bit of the world
represented by Dohledorf began to be shown a good deal of Adrian.

Lucas got occasional glimpses of the Alpine sojourn, not from his aunt
or Adrian, but from the industrious pen of Clovis, who was also moving
as a satellite in the Mebberley constellation.

"The entertainment which Susan got up last night ended in disaster.  I
thought it would.  The Grobmayer child, a particularly loathsome
five-year-old, had appeared as 'Bubbles' during the early part of the
evening, and been put to bed during the interval.  Adrian watched his
opportunity and kidnapped it when the nurse was downstairs, and
introduced it during the second half of the entertainment, thinly
disguised as a performing pig. It certainly LOOKED very like a pig, and
grunted and slobbered just like the real article; no one knew exactly
what it was, but every one said it was awfully clever, especially the
Grobmayers. At the third curtain Adrian pinched it too hard, and it
yelled 'Marmar'!  I am supposed to be good at descriptions, but don't
ask me to describe the sayings and doings of the Grobmayers at that
moment; it was like one of the angrier Psalms set to Strauss's music.
We have moved to an hotel higher up the valley."

Clovis's next letter arrived five days later, and was written from the
Hotel Steinbock.

"We left the Hotel Victoria this morning.  It was fairly comfortable
and quiet--at least there was an air of repose about it when we
arrived.  Before we had been in residence twenty-four hours most of the
repose had vanished 'like a dutiful bream,' as Adrian expressed it.
However, nothing unduly outrageous happened till last night, when
Adrian had a fit of insomnia and amused himself by unscrewing and
transposing all the bedroom numbers on his floor.  He transferred the
bathroom label to the adjoining bedroom door, which happened to be that
of Frau Hoftath Schilling, and this morning from seven o'clock onwards
the old lady had a stream of involuntary visitors; she was too
horrified and scandalized it seems to get up and lock her door.  The
would-be bathers flew back in confusion to their rooms, and, of course,
the change of numbers led them astray again, and the corridor gradually
filled with panic-stricken, scantily robed humans, dashing wildly about
like rabbits in a ferret-infested warren.  It took nearly an hour
before the guests were all sorted into their respective rooms, and the
Frau Hofrath's condition was still causing some anxiety when we left.
Susan is beginning to look a little worried.  She can't very well turn
the boy adrift, as he hasn't got any money, and she can't send him to
his people as she doesn't know where they are.  Adrian says his mother
moves about a good deal and he's lost her address.  Probably, if the
truth were known, he's had a row at home.  So many boys nowadays seem
to think that quarrelling with one's family is a recognized occupation."

Lucas's next communication from the travellers took the form of a
telegram from Mrs. Mebberley herself.  It was sent "reply prepaid," and
consisted of a single sentence: "In Heaven's name, where is Beth?"



THE CHAPLET


A strange stillness hung over the restaurant; it was one of those rare
moments when the orchestra was not discoursing the strains of the
Ice-cream Sailor waltz.

"Did I ever tell you," asked Clovis of his friend, "the tragedy of
music at mealtimes?

"It was a gala evening at the Grand Sybaris Hotel, and a special dinner
was being served in the Amethyst dining-hall.  The Amethyst dining-hall
had almost a European reputation, especially with that section of
Europe which is historically identified with the Jordan Valley.  Its
cooking was beyond reproach, and its orchestra was sufficiently highly
salaried to be above criticism.  Thither came in shoals the intensely
musical and the almost intensely musical, who are very many, and in
still greater numbers the merely musical, who know how Tchaikowsky's
name is pronounced and can recognize several of Chopin's nocturnes if
you give them due warning; these eat in the nervous, detached manner of
roebuck feeding in the open, and keep anxious ears cocked towards the
orchestra for the first hint of a recognizable melody.

"'Ah, yes, Pagliacci,' they murmur, as the opening strains follow hot
upon the soup, and if no contradiction is forthcoming from any
better-informed quarter they break forth into subdued humming by way of
supplementing the efforts of the musicians.  Sometimes the melody
starts on level terms with the soup, in which case the banqueters
contrive somehow to hum between the spoonfuls; the facial expression of
enthusiasts who are punctuating potage St. Germain with Pagliacci is
not beautiful, but it should be seen by those who are bent on observing
all sides of life.  One cannot discount the unpleasant things of this
world merely by looking the other way.

"In addition to the aforementioned types the restaurant was patronized
by a fair sprinkling of the absolutely nonmusical; their presence in
the dining-hall could only be explained on the supposition that they
had come there to dine.

"The earlier stages of the dinner had worn off.  The wine lists had
been consulted, by some with the blank embarrassment of a schoolboy
suddenly called on to locate a Minor Prophet in the tangled hinterland
of the Old Testament, by others with the severe scrutiny which suggests
that they have visited most of the higher-priced wines in their own
homes and probed their family weaknesses.  The diners who chose their
wine in the latter fashion always gave their orders in a penetrating
voice, with a plentiful garnishing of stage directions.  By insisting
on having your bottle pointing to the north when the cork is being
drawn, and calling the waiter Max, you may induce an impression on your
guests which hours of laboured boasting might be powerless to achieve.
For this purpose, however, the guests must be chosen as carefully as
the wine.

"Standing aside from the revellers in the shadow of a massive pillar
was an interested spectator who was assuredly of the feast, and yet not
in it.  Monsieur Aristide Saucourt was the CHEF of the Grand Sybaris
Hotel, and if he had an equal in his profession he had never
acknowledged the fact.  In his own domain he was a potentate, hedged
around with the cold brutality that Genius expects rather than excuses
in her children; he never forgave, and those who served him were
careful that there should be little to forgive.  In the outer world,
the world which devoured his creations, he was an influence; how
profound or how shallow an influence he never attempted to guess.  It
is the penalty and the safeguard of genius that it computes itself by
troy weight in a world that measures by vulgar hundredweights.

"Once in a way the great man would be seized with a desire to watch the
effect of his master-efforts, just as the guiding brain of Krupp's
might wish at a supreme moment to intrude into the firing line of an
artillery duel.  And such an occasion was the present.  For the first
time in the history of the Grand Sybaris Hotel, he was presenting to
its guests the dish which he had brought to that pitch of perfection
which almost amounts to scandal.  Canetons à la mode d'Amblève.  In
thin gilt lettering on the creamy white of the menu how little those
words conveyed to the bulk of the imperfectly educated diners.  And yet
how much specialized effort had been lavished, how much carefully
treasured lore had been ungarnered, before those six words could be
written. In the Department of Deux-Sèvres ducklings had lived peculiar
and beautiful lives and died in the odour of satiety to furnish the
main theme of the dish; champignons, which even a purist for Saxon
English would have hesitated to address as mushrooms, had contributed
their languorous atrophied bodies to the garnishing, and a sauce
devised in the twilight reign of the Fifteenth Louis had been summoned
back from the imperishable past to take its part in the wonderful
confection.  Thus far had human effort laboured to achieve the desired
result; the rest had been left to human genius--the genius of Aristide
Saucourt.

"And now the moment had arrived for the serving of the great dish, the
dish which world-weary Grand Dukes and market-obsessed money magnates
counted among their happiest memories.  And at the same moment
something else happened.  The leader of the highly salaried orchestra
placed his violin caressingly against his chin, lowered his eyelids,
and floated into a sea of melody.

"'Hark!' said most of the diners, 'he is playing "The Chaplet."'

"They knew it was 'The Chaplet' because they had heard it played at
luncheon and afternoon tea, and at supper the night before, and had not
had time to forget.

"'Yes, he is playing "The Chaplet,"' they reassured one another. The
general voice was unanimous on the subject.  The orchestra had already
played it eleven times that day, four times by desire and seven times
from force of habit, but the familiar strains were greeted with the
rapture due to a revelation.  A murmur of much humming rose from half
the tables in the room, and some of the more overwrought listeners laid
down knife and fork in order to be able to burst in with loud clappings
at the earliest permissible moment.

"And the Canetons à la mode d'Amblève?  In stupefied, sickened wonder
Aristide watched them grow cold in total neglect, or suffer the almost
worse indignity of perfunctory pecking and listless munching while the
banqueters lavished their approval and applause on the music-makers.
Calves' liver and bacon, with parsley sauce, could hardly have figured
more ignominiously in the evening's entertainment.  And while the
master of culinary art leaned back against the sheltering pillar,
choking with a horrible brain-searing rage that could find no outlet
for its agony, the orchestra leader was bowing his acknowledgments of
the hand-clappings that rose in a storm around him.  Turning to his
colleagues he nodded the signal for an encore.  But before the violin
had been lifted anew into position there came from the shadow of the
pillar an explosive negative.

"'Noh!  Noh!  You do not play thot again!'

"The musician turned in furious astonishment.  Had he taken warning
from the look in the other man's eyes he might have acted differently.
But the admiring plaudits were ringing in his ears, and he snarled out
sharply, 'That is for me to decide.'

"'Noh!  You play thot never again,' shouted the CHEF, and the next
moment he had flung himself violently upon the loathed being who had
supplanted him in the world's esteem.  A large metal tureen, filled to
the brim with steaming soup, had just been placed on a side table in
readiness for a late party of diners; before the waiting staff or the
guests had time to realize what was happening, Aristide had dragged his
struggling victim up to the table and plunged his head deep down into
the almost boiling contents of the tureen.  At the further end of the
room the diners were still spasmodically applauding in view of an
encore.

"Whether the leader of the orchestra died from drowning by soup, or
from the shock to his professional vanity, or was scalded to death, the
doctors were never wholly able to agree.  Monsieur Aristide Saucourt,
who now lives in complete retirement, always inclined to the drowning
theory."



THE QUEST


An unwonted peace hung over the Villa Elsinore, broken, however, at
frequent intervals, by clamorous lamentations suggestive of bewildered
bereavement.  The Momebys had lost their infant child; hence the peace
which its absence entailed; they were looking for it in wild,
undisciplined fashion, giving tongue the whole time, which accounted
for the outcry which swept through house and garden whenever they
returned to try the home coverts anew. Clovis, who was temporarily and
unwillingly a paying guest at the villa, had been dozing in a hammock
at the far end of the garden when Mrs. Momeby had broken the news to
him.

"We've lost Baby," she screamed.

"Do you mean that it's dead, or stampeded, or that you staked it at
cards and lost it that way?" asked Clovis lazily.

"He was toddling about quite happily on the lawn," said Mrs. Momeby
tearfully, "and Arnold had just come in, and I was asking him what sort
of sauce he would like with the asparagus--"

"I hope he said hollandaise," interrupted Clovis, with a show of
quickened interest, "because if there's anything I hate--"

"And all of a sudden I missed Baby," continued Mrs. Momeby in a
shriller tone.  "We've hunted high and low, in house and garden and
outside the gates, and he's nowhere to be seen."

"Is he anywhere to be heard?" asked Clovis; "if not, he must be at
least two miles away."

"But where?  And how?" asked the distracted mother.

"Perhaps an eagle or a wild beast has carried him off," suggested
Clovis.

"There aren't eagles and wild beasts in Surrey," said Mrs. Momeby, but
a note of horror had crept into her voice.

"They escape now and then from travelling shows.  Sometimes I think
they let them get loose for the sake of the advertisement. Think what a
sensational headline it would make in the local papers: 'Infant son of
prominent Nonconformist devoured by spotted hyaena.'  Your husband
isn't a prominent Nonconformist, but his mother came of Wesleyan stock,
and you must allow the newspapers some latitude."

"But we should have found his remains," sobbed Mrs. Momeby.

"If the hyaena was really hungry and not merely toying with his food
there wouldn't be much in the way of remains.  It would be like the
small-boy-and-apple story--there ain't going to be no core."

Mrs. Momeby turned away hastily to seek comfort and counsel in some
other direction.  With the selfish absorption of young motherhood she
entirely disregarded Clovis's obvious anxiety about the asparagus
sauce.  Before she had gone a yard, however, the click of the side gate
caused her to pull up sharp.  Miss Gilpet, from the Villa Peterhof, had
come over to hear details of the bereavement.  Clovis was already
rather bored with the story, but Mrs. Momeby was equipped with that
merciless faculty which finds as much joy in the ninetieth time of
telling as in the first.

"Arnold had just come in; he was complaining of rheumatism--"

"There are so many things to complain of in this household that it
would never have occurred to me to complain of rheumatism," murmured
Clovis.

"He was complaining of rheumatism," continued Mrs. Momeby, trying to
throw a chilling inflection into a voice that was already doing a good
deal of sobbing and talking at high pressure as well.

She was again interrupted.

"There is no such thing as rheumatism," said Miss Gilpet.  She said it
with the conscious air of defiance that a waiter adopts in announcing
that the cheapest-priced claret in the wine-list is no more.  She did
not proceed, however, to offer the alternative of some more expensive
malady, but denied the existence of them all.

Mrs. Momeby's temper began to shine out through her grief.

"I suppose you'll say next that Baby hasn't really disappeared."

"He has disappeared," conceded Miss Gilpet, "but only because you
haven't sufficient faith to find him.  It's only lack of faith on your
part that prevents him from being restored to you safe and well."

"But if he's been eaten in the meantime by a hyaena and partly
digested," said Clovis, who clung affectionately to his wild beast
theory, "surely some ill-effects would be noticeable?"

Miss Gilpet was rather staggered by this complication of the question.

"I feel sure that a hyaena has not eaten him," she said lamely.

"The hyaena may be equally certain that it has.  You see, it may have
just as much faith as you have, and more special knowledge as to the
present whereabouts of the baby."

Mrs. Momeby was in tears again.  "If you have faith," she sobbed,
struck by a happy inspiration, "won't you find our little Erik for us?
I am sure you have powers that are denied to us."

Rose-Marie Gilpet was thoroughly sincere in her adherence to Christian
Science principles; whether she understood or correctly expounded them
the learned in such matters may best decide.  In the present case she
was undoubtedly confronted with a great opportunity, and as she started
forth on her vague search she strenuously summoned to her aid every
scrap of faith that she possessed.  She passed out into the bare and
open high road, followed by Mrs. Momeby's warning, "It's no use going
there, we've searched there a dozen times."  But Rose-Marie's ears were
already deaf to all things save self-congratulation; for sitting in the
middle of the highway, playing contentedly with the dust and some faded
buttercups, was a white-pinafored baby with a mop of tow-coloured hair
tied over one temple with a pale-blue ribbon. Taking first the usual
feminine precaution of looking to see that no motor-car was on the
distant horizon, Rose-Marie dashed at the child and bore it, despite
its vigorous opposition, in through the portals of Elsinore.  The
child's furious screams had already announced the fact of its
discovery, and the almost hysterical parents raced down the lawn to
meet their restored offspring.  The aesthetic value of the scene was
marred in some degree by Rose-Marie's difficulty in holding the
struggling infant, which was borne wrong-end foremost towards the
agitated bosom of its family. "Our own little Erik come back to us,"
cried the Momebys in unison; as the child had rammed its fists tightly
into its eye-sockets and nothing could be seen of its face but a widely
gaping mouth, the recognition was in itself almost an act of faith.

"Is he glad to get back to Daddy and Mummy again?" crooned Mrs. Momeby;
the preference which the child was showing for its dust and buttercup
distractions was so marked that the question struck Clovis as being
unnecessarily tactless.

"Give him a ride on the roly-poly," suggested the father brilliantly,
as the howls continued with no sign of early abatement.  In a moment
the child had been placed astride the big garden roller and a
preliminary tug was given to set it in motion. From the hollow depths
of the cylinder came an earsplitting roar, drowning even the vocal
efforts of the squalling baby, and immediately afterwards there crept
forth a white-pinafored infant with a mop of tow-coloured hair tied
over one temple with a pale blue ribbon.  There was no mistaking either
the features or the lung-power of the new arrival.

"Our own little Erik," screamed Mrs. Momeby, pouncing on him and nearly
smothering him with kisses; "did he hide in the roly-poly to give us
all a big fright?"

This was the obvious explanation of the child's sudden disappearance
and equally abrupt discovery.  There remained, however, the problem of
the interloping baby, which now sat whimpering on the lawn in a
disfavour as chilling as its previous popularity had been unwelcome.
The Momebys glared at it as though it had wormed its way into their
short-lived affections by heartless and unworthy pretences.  Miss
Gilpet's face took on an ashen tinge as she stared helplessly at the
bunched-up figure that had been such a gladsome sight to her eyes a few
moments ago.

"When love is over, how little of love even the lover understands,"
quoted Clovis to himself.

Rose-Marie was the first to break the silence.

"If that is Erik you have in your arms, who is--that?"

"That, I think, is for you to explain," said Mrs. Momeby stiffly.

"Obviously," said Clovis, "it's a duplicate Erik that your powers of
faith called into being.  The question is: What are you going to do
with him?"

The ashen pallor deepened in Rose-Marie's cheeks.  Mrs. Momeby clutched
the genuine Erik closer to her side, as though she feared that her
uncanny neighbour might out of sheer pique turn him into a bowl of
gold-fish.

"I found him sitting in the middle of the road," said Rose-Marie weakly.

"You can't take him back and leave him there," said Clovis; "the
highway is meant for traffic, not to be used as a lumber-room for
disused miracles."

Rose-Marie wept.  The proverb "Weep and you weep alone," broke down as
badly on application as most of its kind.  Both babies were wailing
lugubriously, and the parent Momebys had scarcely recovered from their
earlier lachrymose condition.  Clovis alone maintained an unruffled
cheerfulness.

"Must I keep him always?" asked Rose-Marie dolefully.

"Not always," said Clovis consolingly; "he can go into the Navy when
he's thirteen."  Rose-Marie wept afresh.

"Of course," added Clovis, "there may be no end of a bother about his
birth certificate.  You'll have to explain matters to the Admiralty,
and they're dreadfully hidebound."

It was rather a relief when a breathless nursemaid from the Villa
Charlottenburg over the way came running across the lawn to claim
little Percy, who had slipped out of the front gate and disappeared
like a twinkling from the high road.

And even then Clovis found it necessary to go in person to the kitchen
to make sure about the asparagus sauce.



WRATISLAV


The Gräfin's two elder sons had made deplorable marriages.  It was,
observed Clovis, a family habit.  The youngest boy, Wratislav, who was
the black sheep of a rather greyish family, had as yet made no marriage
at all.

"There is certainly this much to be said for viciousness," said the
Gräfin, "it keeps boys out of mischief."

"Does it?" asked the Baroness Sophie, not by way of questioning the
statement, but with a painstaking effort to talk intelligently.  It was
the one matter in which she attempted to override the decrees of
Providence, which had obviously never intended that she should talk
otherwise than inanely.

"I don't know why I shouldn't talk cleverly," she would complain; "my
mother was considered a brilliant conversationalist."

"These things have a way of skipping one generation," said the Gräfin.

"That seems so unjust," said Sophie; "one doesn't object to one's
mother having outshone one as a clever talker, but I must admit that I
should be rather annoyed if my daughters talked brilliantly."

"Well, none of them do," said the Gräfin consolingly.

"I don't know about that," said the Baroness, promptly veering round in
defence of her offspring.  "Elsa said something quite clever on
Thursday about the Triple Alliance.  Something about it being like a
paper umbrella, that was all right as long as you didn't take it out in
the rain.  It's not every one who could say that."

"Every one has said it; at least every one that I know.  But then I
know very few people."

"I don't think you're particularly agreeable to-day."

"I never am.  Haven't you noticed that women with a really perfect
profile like mine are seldom even moderately agreeable?"

"I don't think your profile is so perfect as all that," said the
Baroness.

"It would be surprising if it wasn't.  My mother was one of the most
noted classical beauties of her day."

"These things sometimes skip a generation, you know," put in the
Baroness, with the breathless haste of one to whom repartee comes as
rarely as the finding of a gold-handled umbrella.

"My dear Sophie," said the Gräfin sweetly, "that isn't in the least bit
clever; but you do try so hard that I suppose I oughtn't to discourage
you.  Tell me something: has it ever occurred to you that Elsa would do
very well for Wratislav?  It's time he married somebody, and why not
Elsa?"

"Elsa marry that dreadful boy!" gasped the Baroness.

"Beggars can't be choosers," observed the Gräfin.

"Elsa isn't a beggar!"

"Not financially, or I shouldn't have suggested the match.  But she's
getting on, you know, and has no pretensions to brains or looks or
anything of that sort."

"You seem to forget that she's my daughter."

"That shows my generosity.  But, seriously, I don't see what there is
against Wratislav.  He has no debts--at least, nothing worth speaking
about."

"But think of his reputation!  If half the things they say about him
are true--"

"Probably three-quarters of them are.  But what of it?  You don't want
an archangel for a son-in-law."

"I don't want Wratislav.  My poor Elsa would be miserable with him."

"A little misery wouldn't matter very much with her; it would go so
well with the way she does her hair, and if she couldn't get on with
Wratislav she could always go and do good among the poor."

The Baroness picked up a framed photograph from the table.

"He certainly is very handsome," she said doubtfully; adding even more
doubtfully, "I dare say dear Elsa might reform him."

The Gräfin had the presence of mind to laugh in the right key.

      *      *      *      *      *

Three weeks later the Gräfin bore down upon the Baroness Sophie in a
foreign bookseller's shop in the Graben, where she was, possibly,
buying books of devotion, though it was the wrong counter for them.

"I've just left the dear children at the Rodenstahls'," was the
Gräfin's greeting.

"Were they looking very happy?" asked the Baroness.

"Wratislav was wearing some new English clothes, so, of course, he was
quite happy.  I overheard him telling Toni a rather amusing story about
a nun and a mousetrap, which won't bear repetition. Elsa was telling
every one else a witticism about the Triple Alliance being like a paper
umbrella--which seems to bear repetition with Christian fortitude."

"Did they seem much wrapped up in each other?"

"To be candid, Elsa looked as if she were wrapped up in a horse-rug.
And why let her wear saffron colour?"

"I always think it goes with her complexion."

"Unfortunately it doesn't.  It stays with it.  Ugh.  Don't forget,
you're lunching with me on Thursday."

The Baroness was late for her luncheon engagement the following
Thursday.

"Imagine what has happened!" she screamed as she burst into the room.

"Something remarkable, to make you late for a meal," said the Gräfin.

"Elsa has run away with the Rodenstahls' chauffeur!"

"Kolossal!"

"Such a thing as that no one in our family has ever done," gasped the
Baroness.

"Perhaps he didn't appeal to them in the same way," suggested the
Gräfin judicially.

The Baroness began to feel that she was not getting the astonishment
and sympathy to which her catastrophe entitled her.

"At any rate," she snapped, "now she can't marry Wratislav."

"She couldn't in any case," said the Gräfin; "he left suddenly for
abroad last night."

"For abroad!  Where?"

"For Mexico, I believe."

"Mexico!  But what for?  Why Mexico?"

"The English have a proverb, 'Conscience makes cowboys of us all.'"

"I didn't know Wratislav had a conscience."

"My dear Sophie, he hasn't.  It's other people's consciences that send
one abroad in a hurry.  Let's go and eat."



THE EASTER EGG


It was distinctly hard lines for Lady Barbara, who came of good
fighting stock, and was one of the bravest women of her generation,
that her son should be so undisguisedly a coward. Whatever good
qualities Lester Slaggby may have possessed, and he was in some
respects charming, courage could certainly never be imputed to him.  As
a child he had suffered from childish timidity, as a boy from unboyish
funk, and as a youth he had exchanged unreasoning fears for others
which were more formidable from the fact of having a carefully
thought-out basis.  He was frankly afraid of animals, nervous with
firearms, and never crossed the Channel without mentally comparing the
numerical proportion of lifebelts to passengers.  On horseback he
seemed to require as many hands as a Hindu god, at least four for
clutching the reins, and two more for patting the horse soothingly on
the neck.  Lady Barbara no longer pretended not to see her son's
prevailing weakness, with her usual courage she faced the knowledge of
it squarely, and, mother-like, loved him none the less.

Continental travel, anywhere away from the great tourist tracks, was a
favoured hobby with Lady Barbara, and Lester joined her as often as
possible.  Eastertide usually found her at Knobaltheim, an upland
township in one of those small princedoms that make inconspicuous
freckles on the map of Central Europe.

A long-standing acquaintanceship with the reigning family made her a
personage of due importance in the eyes of her old friend the
Burgomaster, and she was anxiously consulted by that worthy on the
momentous occasion when the Prince made known his intention of coming
in person to open a sanatorium outside the town.  All the usual items
in a programme of welcome, some of them fatuous and commonplace, others
quaint and charming, had been arranged for, but the Burgomaster hoped
that the resourceful English lady might have something new and tasteful
to suggest in the way of loyal greeting.  The Prince was known to the
outside world, if at all, as an old-fashioned reactionary, combating
modern progress, as it were, with a wooden sword; to his own people he
was known as a kindly old gentleman with a certain endearing
stateliness which had nothing of standoffishness about it.  Knobaltheim
was anxious to do its best.  Lady Barbara discussed the matter with
Lester and one or two acquaintances in her little hotel, but ideas were
difficult to come by.

"Might I suggest something to the Gnädige Frau?" asked a sallow
high-cheek-boned lady to whom the Englishwoman had spoken once or
twice, and whom she had set down in her mind as probably a Southern
Slav.

"Might I suggest something for the Reception Fest?" she went on, with a
certain shy eagerness.  "Our little child here, our baby, we will dress
him in little white coat, with small wings, as an Easter angel, and he
will carry a large white Easter egg, and inside shall be a basket of
plover eggs, of which the Prince is so fond, and he shall give it to
his Highness as Easter offering.  It is so pretty an idea we have seen
it done once in Styria."

Lady Barbara looked dubiously at the proposed Easter angel, a fair,
wooden-faced child of about four years old.  She had noticed it the day
before in the hotel, and wondered rather how such a towheaded child
could belong to such a dark-visaged couple as the woman and her
husband; probably, she thought, an adopted baby, especially as the
couple were not young.

"Of course Gnädige Frau will escort the little child up to the Prince,"
pursued the woman; "but he will be quite good, and do as he is told."

"We haf some pluffers' eggs shall come fresh from Wien," said the
husband.

The small child and Lady Barbara seemed equally unenthusiastic about
the pretty idea; Lester was openly discouraging, but when the
Burgomaster heard of it he was enchanted.  The combination of sentiment
and plovers' eggs appealed strongly to his Teutonic mind.

On the eventful day the Easter angel, really quite prettily and
quaintly dressed, was a centre of kindly interest to the gala crowd
marshalled to receive his Highness.  The mother was unobtrusive and
less fussy than most parents would have been under the circumstances,
merely stipulating that she should place the Easter egg herself in the
arms that had been carefully schooled how to hold the precious burden.
Then Lady Barbara moved forward, the child marching stolidly and with
grim determination at her side.  It had been promised cakes and
sweeties galore if it gave the egg well and truly to the kind old
gentleman who was waiting to receive it.  Lester had tried to convey to
it privately that horrible smackings would attend any failure in its
share of the proceedings, but it is doubtful if his German caused more
than an immediate distress.  Lady Barbara had thoughtfully provided
herself with an emergency supply of chocolate sweetmeats; children may
sometimes be time-servers, but they do not encourage long accounts.  As
they approached nearer to the princely daïs Lady Barbara stood
discreetly aside, and the stolid-faced infant walked forward alone,
with staggering but steadfast gait, encouraged by a murmur of elderly
approval.  Lester, standing in the front row of the onlookers, turned
to scan the crowd for the beaming faces of the happy parents.  In a
side-road which led to the railway station he saw a cab; entering the
cab with every appearance of furtive haste were the dark-visaged couple
who had been so plausibly eager for the "pretty idea."  The sharpened
instinct of cowardice lit up the situation to him in one swift flash.
The blood roared and surged to his head as though thousands of
floodgates had been opened in his veins and arteries, and his brain was
the common sluice in which all the torrents met.  He saw nothing but a
blur around him.  Then the blood ebbed away in quick waves, till his
very heart seemed drained and empty, and he stood nervelessly,
helplessly, dumbly watching the child, bearing its accursed burden with
slow, relentless steps nearer and nearer to the group that waited
sheep-like to receive him.  A fascinated curiosity compelled Lester to
turn his head towards the fugitives; the cab had started at hot pace in
the direction of the station.

The next moment Lester was running, running faster than any of those
present had ever seen a man run, and--he was not running away.  For
that stray fraction of his life some unwonted impulse beset him, some
hint of the stock he came from, and he ran unflinchingly towards
danger.  He stooped and clutched at the Easter egg as one tries to
scoop up the ball in Rugby football. What he meant to do with it he had
not considered, the thing was to get it.  But the child had been
promised cakes and sweetmeats if it safely gave the egg into the hands
of the kindly old gentleman; it uttered no scream, but it held to its
charge with limpet grip.  Lester sank to his knees, tugging savagely at
the tightly clasped burden, and angry cries rose from the scandalized
onlookers.  A questioning, threatening ring formed round him, then
shrank back in recoil as he shrieked out one hideous word.  Lady
Barbara heard the word and saw the crowd race away like scattered
sheep, saw the Prince forcibly hustled away by his attendants; also she
saw her son lying prone in an agony of overmastering terror, his spasm
of daring shattered by the child's unexpected resistance, still
clutching frantically, as though for safety, at that white-satin
gew-gaw, unable to crawl even from its deadly neighbourhood, able only
to scream and scream and scream.  In her brain she was dimly conscious
of balancing, or striving to balance, the abject shame which had him
now in thrall against the one compelling act of courage which had flung
him grandly and madly on to the point of danger.  It was only for the
fraction of a minute that she stood watching the two entangled figures,
the infant with its woodenly obstinate face and body tense with dogged
resistance, and the boy limp and already nearly dead with a terror that
almost stifled his screams; and over them the long gala streamers
flapping gaily in the sunshine.  She never forgot the scene; but then,
it was the last she ever saw.

Lady Barbara carries her scarred face with its sightless eyes as
bravely as ever in the world, but at Eastertide her friends are careful
to keep from her ears any mention of the children's Easter symbol.



FILBOID STUDGE, THE STORY OF A MOUSE THAT HELPED


"I want to marry your daughter," said Mark Spayley with faltering
eagerness.  "I am only an artist with an income of two hundred a year,
and she is the daughter of an enormously wealthy man, so I suppose you
will think my offer a piece of presumption."

Duncan Dullamy, the great company inflator, showed no outward sign of
displeasure.  As a matter of fact, he was secretly relieved at the
prospect of finding even a two-hundred-a-year husband for his daughter
Leonore.  A crisis was rapidly rushing upon him, from which he knew he
would emerge with neither money nor credit; all his recent ventures had
fallen flat, and flattest of all had gone the wonderful new breakfast
food, Pipenta, on the advertisement of which he had sunk such huge
sums.  It could scarcely be called a drug in the market; people bought
drugs, but no one bought Pipenta.

"Would you marry Leonore if she were a poor man's daughter?" asked the
man of phantom wealth.

"Yes," said Mark, wisely avoiding the error of over-protestation. And
to his astonishment Leonore's father not only gave his consent, but
suggested a fairly early date for the wedding.

"I wish I could show my gratitude in some way," said Mark with genuine
emotion.  "I'm afraid it's rather like the mouse proposing to help the
lion."

"Get people to buy that beastly muck," said Dullamy, nodding savagely
at a poster of the despised Pipenta, "and you'll have done more than
any of my agents have been able to accomplish."

"It wants a better name," said Mark reflectively, "and something
distinctive in the poster line.  Anyway, I'll have a shot at it."

Three weeks later the world was advised of the coming of a new
breakfast food, heralded under the resounding name of "Filboid Studge."
Spayley put forth no pictures of massive babies springing up with
fungus-like rapidity under its forcing influence, or of representatives
of the leading nations of the world scrambling with fatuous eagerness
for its possession.  One huge sombre poster depicted the Damned in Hell
suffering a new torment from their inability to get at the Filboid
Studge which elegant young fiends held in transparent bowls just beyond
their reach.  The scene was rendered even more gruesome by a subtle
suggestion of the features of leading men and women of the day in the
portrayal of the Lost Souls; prominent individuals of both political
parties, Society hostesses, well-known dramatic authors and novelists,
and distinguished aeroplanists were dimly recognizable in that doomed
throng; noted lights of the musical-comedy stage flickered wanly in the
shades of the Inferno, smiling still from force of habit, but with the
fearsome smiling rage of baffled effort.  The poster bore no fulsome
allusions to the merits of the new breakfast food, but a single grim
statement ran in bold letters along its base: "They cannot buy it now."

Spayley had grasped the fact that people will do things from a sense of
duty which they would never attempt as a pleasure.  There are thousands
of respectable middle-class men who, if you found them unexpectedly in
a Turkish bath, would explain in all sincerity that a doctor had
ordered them to take Turkish baths; if you told them in return that you
went there because you liked it, they would stare in pained wonder at
the frivolity of your motive. In the same way, whenever a massacre of
Armenians is reported from Asia Minor, every one assumes that it has
been carried out "under orders" from somewhere or another, no one seems
to think that there are people who might LIKE to kill their neighbours
now and then.

And so it was with the new breakfast food.  No one would have eaten
Filboid Studge as a pleasure, but the grim austerity of its
advertisement drove housewives in shoals to the grocers' shops to
clamour for an immediate supply.  In small kitchens solemn pig-tailed
daughters helped depressed mothers to perform the primitive ritual of
its preparation.  On the breakfast-tables of cheerless parlours it was
partaken of in silence.  Once the womenfolk discovered that it was
thoroughly unpalatable, their zeal in forcing it on their households
knew no bounds.  "You haven't eaten your Filboid Studge!" would be
screamed at the appetiteless clerk as he hurried weariedly from the
breakfast-table, and his evening meal would be prefaced by a warmed-up
mess which would be explained as "your Filboid Studge that you didn't
eat this morning."  Those strange fanatics who ostentatiously mortify
themselves, inwardly and outwardly, with health biscuits and health
garments, battened aggressively on the new food.  Earnest, spectacled
young men devoured it on the steps of the National Liberal Club.  A
bishop who did not believe in a future state preached against the
poster, and a peer's daughter died from eating too much of the
compound.  A further advertisement was obtained when an infantry
regiment mutinied and shot its officers rather than eat the nauseous
mess; fortunately, Lord Birrell of Blatherstone, who was War Minister
at the moment, saved the situation by his happy epigram, that
"Discipline to be effective must be optional."

Filboid Studge had become a household word, but Dullamy wisely realized
that it was not necessarily the last word in breakfast dietary; its
supremacy would be challenged as soon as some yet more unpalatable food
should be put on the market.  There might even be a reaction in favour
of something tasty and appetizing, and the Puritan austerity of the
moment might be banished from domestic cookery.  At an opportune
moment, therefore, he sold out his interests in the article which had
brought him in colossal wealth at a critical juncture, and placed his
financial reputation beyond the reach of cavil.  As for Leonore, who
was now an heiress on a far greater scale than ever before, he
naturally found her something a vast deal higher in the husband market
than a two-hundred-a-year poster designer.  Mark Spayley, the
brainmouse who had helped the financial lion with such untoward effect,
was left to curse the day he produced the wonder-working poster.

"After all," said Clovis, meeting him shortly afterwards at his club,
"you have this doubtful consolation, that 'tis not in mortals to
countermand success."



THE MUSIC ON THE HILL


Sylvia Seltoun ate her breakfast in the morning-room at Yessney with a
pleasant sense of ultimate victory, such as a fervent Ironside might
have permitted himself on the morrow of Worcester fight.  She was
scarcely pugnacious by temperament, but belonged to that more
successful class of fighters who are pugnacious by circumstance.  Fate
had willed that her life should be occupied with a series of small
struggles, usually with the odds slightly against her, and usually she
had just managed to come through winning.  And now she felt that she
had brought her hardest and certainly her most important struggle to a
successful issue.  To have married Mortimer Seltoun, "Dead Mortimer" as
his more intimate enemies called him, in the teeth of the cold
hostility of his family, and in spite of his unaffected indifference to
women, was indeed an achievement that had needed some determination and
adroitness to carry through; yesterday she had brought her victory to
its concluding stage by wrenching her husband away from Town and its
group of satellite watering-places and "settling him down," in the
vocabulary of her kind, in this remote wood-girt manor farm which was
his country house.

"You will never get Mortimer to go," his mother had said carpingly,
"but if he once goes he'll stay; Yessney throws almost as much a spell
over him as Town does.  One can understand what holds him to Town, but
Yessney--" and the dowager had shrugged her shoulders.

There was a sombre almost savage wildness about Yessney that was
certainly not likely to appeal to town-bred tastes, and Sylvia,
notwithstanding her name, was accustomed to nothing much more sylvan
than "leafy Kensington."  She looked on the country as something
excellent and wholesome in its way, which was apt to become troublesome
if you encouraged it overmuch.  Distrust of town-life had been a new
thing with her, born of her marriage with Mortimer, and she had watched
with satisfaction the gradual fading of what she called "the
Jermyn-street-look" in his eyes as the woods and heather of Yessney had
closed in on them yesternight. Her will-power and strategy had
prevailed; Mortimer would stay.

Outside the morning-room windows was a triangular slope of turf, which
the indulgent might call a lawn, and beyond its low hedge of neglected
fuchsia bushes a steeper slope of heather and bracken dropped down into
cavernous combes overgrown with oak and yew.  In its wild open savagery
there seemed a stealthy linking of the joy of life with the terror of
unseen things.  Sylvia smiled complacently as she gazed with a
School-of-Art appreciation at the landscape, and then of a sudden she
almost shuddered.

"It is very wild," she said to Mortimer, who had joined her; "one could
almost think that in such a place the worship of Pan had never quite
died out."

"The worship of Pan never has died out," said Mortimer.  "Other newer
gods have drawn aside his votaries from time to time, but he is the
Nature-God to whom all must come back at last.  He has been called the
Father of all the Gods, but most of his children have been stillborn."

Sylvia was religious in an honest vaguely devotional kind of way, and
did not like to hear her beliefs spoken of as mere aftergrowths, but it
was at least something new and hopeful to hear Dead Mortimer speak with
such energy and conviction on any subject.

"You don't really believe in Pan?" she asked incredulously.

"I've been a fool in most things," said Mortimer quietly, "but I'm not
such a fool as not to believe in Pan when I'm down here.  And if you're
wise you won't disbelieve in him too boastfully while you're in his
country."

It was not till a week later, when Sylvia had exhausted the attractions
of the woodland walks round Yessney, that she ventured on a tour of
inspection of the farm buildings.  A farmyard suggested in her mind a
scene of cheerful bustle, with churns and flails and smiling
dairymaids, and teams of horses drinking knee-deep in duck-crowded
ponds.  As she wandered among the gaunt grey buildings of Yessney manor
farm her first impression was one of crushing stillness and desolation,
as though she had happened on some lone deserted homestead long given
over to owls and cobwebs; then came a sense of furtive watchful
hostility, the same shadow of unseen things that seemed to lurk in the
wooded combes and coppices.  From behind heavy doors and shuttered
windows came the restless stamp of hoof or rasp of chain halter, and at
times a muffled bellow from some stalled beast.  From a distant corner
a shaggy dog watched her with intent unfriendly eyes; as she drew near
it slipped quietly into its kennel, and slipped out again as
noiselessly when she had passed by.  A few hens, questing for food
under a rick, stole away under a gate at her approach.  Sylvia felt
that if she had come across any human beings in this wilderness of barn
and byre they would have fled wraith-like from her gaze.  At last,
turning a corner quickly, she came upon a living thing that did not fly
from her.  Astretch in a pool of mud was an enormous sow, gigantic
beyond the town-woman's wildest computation of swine-flesh, and
speedily alert to resent and if necessary repel the unwonted intrusion.
It was Sylvia's turn to make an unobtrusive retreat.  As she threaded
her way past rickyards and cowsheds and long blank walls, she started
suddenly at a strange sound--the echo of a boy's laughter, golden and
equivocal.  Jan, the only boy employed on the farm, a towheaded,
wizen-faced yokel, was visibly at work on a potato clearing half-way up
the nearest hill-side, and Mortimer, when questioned, knew of no other
probable or possible begetter of the hidden mockery that had ambushed
Sylvia's retreat.  The memory of that untraceable echo was added to her
other impressions of a furtive sinister "something" that hung around
Yessney.

Of Mortimer she saw very little; farm and woods and trout-streams
seemed to swallow him up from dawn till dusk.  Once, following the
direction she had seen him take in the morning, she came to an open
space in a nut copse, further shut in by huge yew trees, in the centre
of which stood a stone pedestal surmounted by a small bronze figure of
a youthful Pan.  It was a beautiful piece of workmanship, but her
attention was chiefly held by the fact that a newly cut bunch of grapes
had been placed as an offering at its feet.  Grapes were none too
plentiful at the manor house, and Sylvia snatched the bunch angrily
from the pedestal.  Contemptuous annoyance dominated her thoughts as
she strolled slowly homeward, and then gave way to a sharp feeling of
something that was very near fright; across a thick tangle of
undergrowth a boy's face was scowling at her, brown and beautiful, with
unutterably evil eyes. It was a lonely pathway, all pathways round
Yessney were lonely for the matter of that, and she sped forward
without waiting to give a closer scrutiny to this sudden apparition.
It was not till she had reached the house that she discovered that she
had dropped the bunch of grapes in her flight.

"I saw a youth in the wood to-day," she told Mortimer that evening,
"brown-faced and rather handsome, but a scoundrel to look at.  A gipsy
lad, I suppose."

"A reasonable theory," said Mortimer, "only there aren't any gipsies in
these parts at present."

"Then who was he?" asked Sylvia, and as Mortimer appeared to have no
theory of his own, she passed on to recount her finding of the votive
offering.

"I suppose it was your doing," she observed; "it's a harmless piece of
lunacy, but people would think you dreadfully silly if they knew of it."

"Did you meddle with it in any way?" asked Mortimer.

"I--I threw the grapes away.  It seemed so silly," said Sylvia,
watching Mortimer's impassive face for a sign of annoyance.

"I don't think you were wise to do that," he said reflectively. "I've
heard it said that the Wood Gods are rather horrible to those who
molest them."

"Horrible perhaps to those that believe in them, but you see I don't,"
retorted Sylvia.

"All the same," said Mortimer in his even, dispassionate tone, "I
should avoid the woods and orchards if I were you, and give a wide
berth to the horned beasts on the farm."

It was all nonsense, of course, but in that lonely wood-girt spot
nonsense seemed able to rear a bastard brood of uneasiness.

"Mortimer," said Sylvia suddenly, "I think we will go back to Town some
time soon."

Her victory had not been so complete as she had supposed; it had
carried her on to ground that she was already anxious to quit.

"I don't think you will ever go back to Town," said Mortimer.  He
seemed to be paraphrasing his mother's prediction as to himself.

Sylvia noted with dissatisfaction and some self-contempt that the
course of her next afternoon's ramble took her instinctively clear of
the network of woods.  As to the horned cattle, Mortimer's warning was
scarcely needed, for she had always regarded them as of doubtful
neutrality at the best: her imagination unsexed the most matronly dairy
cows and turned them into bulls liable to "see red" at any moment.  The
ram who fed in the narrow paddock below the orchards she had adjudged,
after ample and cautious probation, to be of docile temper; to-day,
however, she decided to leave his docility untested, for the usually
tranquil beast was roaming with every sign of restlessness from corner
to corner of his meadow.  A low, fitful piping, as of some reedy flute,
was coming from the depth of a neighbouring copse, and there seemed to
be some subtle connection between the animal's restless pacing and the
wild music from the wood.  Sylvia turned her steps in an upward
direction and climbed the heather-clad slopes that stretched in rolling
shoulders high above Yessney.  She had left the piping notes behind
her, but across the wooded combes at her feet the wind brought her
another kind of music, the straining bay of hounds in full chase.
Yessney was just on the outskirts of the Devon-and-Somerset country,
and the hunted deer sometimes came that way. Sylvia could presently see
a dark body, breasting hill after hill, and sinking again and again out
of sight as he crossed the combes, while behind him steadily swelled
that relentless chorus, and she grew tense with the excited sympathy
that one feels for any hunted thing in whose capture one is not
directly interested.  And at last he broke through the outermost line
of oak scrub and fern and stood panting in the open, a fat September
stag carrying a well-furnished head.  His obvious course was to drop
down to the brown pools of Undercombe, and thence make his way towards
the red deer's favoured sanctuary, the sea.  To Sylvia's surprise,
however, he turned his head to the upland slope and came lumbering
resolutely onward over the heather.  "It will be dreadful," she
thought, "the hounds will pull him down under my very eyes."  But the
music of the pack seemed to have died away for a moment, and in its
place she heard again that wild piping, which rose now on this side,
now on that, as though urging the failing stag to a final effort.
Sylvia stood well aside from his path, half hidden in a thick growth of
whortle bushes, and watched him swing stiffly upward, his flanks dark
with sweat, the coarse hair on his neck showing light by contrast.  The
pipe music shrilled suddenly around her, seeming to come from the
bushes at her very feet, and at the same moment the great beast slewed
round and bore directly down upon her.  In an instant her pity for the
hunted animal was changed to wild terror at her own danger; the thick
heather roots mocked her scrambling efforts at flight, and she looked
frantically downward for a glimpse of oncoming hounds.  The huge antler
spikes were within a few yards of her, and in a flash of numbing fear
she remembered Mortimer's warning, to beware of horned beasts on the
farm.  And then with a quick throb of joy she saw that she was not
alone; a human figure stood a few paces aside, knee-deep in the whortle
bushes.

"Drive it off!" she shrieked.  But the figure made no answering
movement.

The antlers drove straight at her breast, the acrid smell of the hunted
animal was in her nostrils, but her eyes were filled with the horror of
something she saw other than her oncoming death. And in her ears rang
the echo of a boy's laughter, golden and equivocal.



THE STORY OF ST. VESPALUUS


"Tell me a story," said the Baroness, staring out despairingly at the
rain; it was that light, apologetic sort of rain that looks as if it
was going to leave off every minute and goes on for the greater part of
the afternoon.

"What sort of story?" asked Clovis, giving his croquet mallet a
valedictory shove into retirement.

"One just true enough to be interesting and not true enough to be
tiresome," said the Baroness.

Clovis rearranged several cushions to his personal solace and
satisfaction; he knew that the Baroness liked her guests to be
comfortable, and he thought it right to respect her wishes in that
particular.

"Have I ever told you the story of Saint Vespaluus?" he asked.

"You've told me stories about grand-dukes and lion-tamers and
financiers' widows and a postmaster in Herzegovina," said the Baroness,
"and about an Italian jockey and an amateur governess who went to
Warsaw, and several about your mother, but certainly never anything
about a saint."

"This story happened a long while ago," he said, "in those
uncomfortable piebald times when a third of the people were Pagan, and
a third Christian, and the biggest third of all just followed whichever
religion the Court happened to profess.  There was a certain king
called Hkrikros, who had a fearful temper and no immediate successor in
his own family; his married sister, however, had provided him with a
large stock of nephews from which to select his heir.  And the most
eligible and royally-approved of all these nephews was the
sixteen-year-old Vespaluus.  He was the best looking, and the best
horseman and javelin-thrower, and had that priceless princely gift of
being able to walk past a supplicant with an air of not having seen
him, but would certainly have given something if he had.  My mother has
that gift to a certain extent; she can go smilingly and financially
unscathed through a charity bazaar, and meet the organizers next day
with a solicitous 'had I but known you were in need of funds' air that
is really rather a triumph in audacity.  Now Hkrikros was a Pagan of
the first water, and kept the worship of the sacred serpents, who lived
in a hallowed grove on a hill near the royal palace, up to a high pitch
of enthusiasm.  The common people were allowed to please themselves,
within certain discreet limits, in the matter of private religion, but
any official in the service of the Court who went over to the new cult
was looked down on, literally as well as metaphorically, the looking
down being done from the gallery that ran round the royal bear-pit.
Consequently there was considerable scandal and consternation when the
youthful Vespaluus appeared one day at a Court function with a rosary
tucked into his belt, and announced in reply to angry questionings that
he had decided to adopt Christianity, or at any rate to give it a
trial. If it had been any of the other nephews the king would possibly
have ordered something drastic in the way of scourging and banishment,
but in the case of the favoured Vespaluus he determined to look on the
whole thing much as a modern father might regard the announced
intention of his son to adopt the stage as a profession.  He sent
accordingly for the Royal Librarian. The royal library in those days
was not a very extensive affair, and the keeper of the king's books had
a great deal of leisure on his hands.  Consequently he was in frequent
demand for the settlement of other people's affairs when these strayed
beyond normal limits and got temporarily unmanageable.

"'You must reason with Prince Vespaluus,' said the king, 'and impress
on him the error of his ways.  We cannot have the heir to the throne
setting such a dangerous example.'

"'But where shall I find the necessary arguments?' asked the Librarian.

"'I give you free leave to pick and choose your arguments in the royal
woods and coppices,' said the king; 'if you cannot get together some
cutting observations and stinging retorts suitable to the occasion you
are a person of very poor resource.'

"So the Librarian went into the woods and gathered a goodly selection
of highly argumentative rods and switches, and then proceeded to reason
with Vespaluus on the folly and iniquity and above all the unseemliness
of his conduct.  His reasoning left a deep impression on the young
prince, an impression which lasted for many weeks, during which time
nothing more was heard about the unfortunate lapse into Christianity.
Then a further scandal of the same nature agitated the Court.  At a
time when he should have been engaged in audibly invoking the gracious
protection and patronage of the holy serpents, Vespaluus was heard
singing a chant in honour of St. Odilo of Cluny.  The king was furious
at this new outbreak, and began to take a gloomy view of the situation;
Vespaluus was evidently going to show a dangerous obstinacy in
persisting in his heresy.  And yet there was nothing in his appearance
to justify such perverseness; he had not the pale eye of the fanatic or
the mystic look of the dreamer.  On the contrary, he was quite the
best-looking boy at Court; he had an elegant, well-knit figure, a
healthy complexion, eyes the colour of very ripe mulberries, and dark
hair, smooth and very well cared for."

"It sounds like a description of what you imagine yourself to have been
like at the age of sixteen," said the Baroness.

"My mother has probably been showing you some of my early photographs,"
said Clovis.  Having turned the sarcasm into a compliment, he resumed
his story.

"The king had Vespaluus shut up in a dark tower for three days, with
nothing but bread and water to live on, the squealing and fluttering of
bats to listen to, and drifting clouds to watch through one little
window slit.  The anti-Pagan section of the community began to talk
portentously of the boy-martyr.  The martyrdom was mitigated, as far as
the food was concerned, by the carelessness of the tower warden, who
once or twice left a portion of his own supper of broiled meat and
fruit and wine by mistake in the prince's cell.  After the punishment
was over, Vespaluus was closely watched for any further symptom of
religious perversity, for the king was determined to stand no more
opposition on so important a matter, even from a favourite nephew.  If
there was any more of this nonsense, he said, the succession to the
throne would have to be altered.

"For a time all went well; the festival of summer sports was
approaching, and the young Vespaluus was too engrossed in wrestling and
foot-running and javelin-throwing competitions to bother himself with
the strife of conflicting religious systems. Then, however, came the
great culminating feature of the summer festival, the ceremonial dance
round the grove of the sacred serpents, and Vespaluus, as we should
say, 'sat it out.'  The affront to the State religion was too public
and ostentatious to be overlooked, even if the king had been so minded,
and he was not in the least so minded.  For a day and a half he sat
apart and brooded, and every one thought he was debating within himself
the question of the young prince's death or pardon; as a matter of fact
he was merely thinking out the manner of the boy's death.  As the thing
had to be done, and was bound to attract an enormous amount of public
attention in any case, it was as well to make it as spectacular and
impressive as possible.

"'Apart from his unfortunate taste in religions;' said the king, 'and
his obstinacy in adhering to it, he is a sweet and pleasant youth,
therefore it is meet and fitting that he should be done to death by the
winged envoys of sweetness.'

"'Your Majesty means--?' said the Royal Librarian.

"'I mean,' said the king, 'that he shall be stung to death by bees.  By
the royal bees, of course.'

"'A most elegant death,' said the Librarian.

"'Elegant and spectacular, and decidedly painful,' said the king; 'it
fulfils all the conditions that could be wished for.'

"The king himself thought out all the details of the execution
ceremony.  Vespaluus was to be stripped of his clothes, his hands were
to be bound behind him, and he was then to be slung in a recumbent
position immediately above three of the largest of the royal beehives,
so that the least movement of his body would bring him in jarring
contact with them.  The rest could be safely left to the bees.  The
death throes, the king computed, might last anything from fifteen to
forty minutes, though there was division of opinion and considerable
wagering among the other nephews as to whether death might not be
almost instantaneous, or, on the other hand, whether it might not be
deferred for a couple of hours. Anyway, they all agreed, it was vastly
preferable to being thrown down into an evil smelling bear-pit and
being clawed and mauled to death by imperfectly carnivorous animals.

"It so happened, however, that the keeper of the royal hives had
leanings towards Christianity himself, and moreover, like most of the
Court officials, he was very much attached to Vespaluus.  On the eve of
the execution, therefore, he busied himself with removing the stings
from all the royal bees; it was a long and delicate operation, but he
was an expert bee-master, and by working hard nearly all night he
succeeded in disarming all, or almost all, of the hive inmates."

"I didn't know you could take the sting from a live bee," said the
Baroness incredulously.

"Every profession has its secrets," replied Clovis; "if it hadn't it
wouldn't be a profession.  Well, the moment for the execution arrived;
the king and Court took their places, and accommodation was found for
as many of the populace as wished to witness the unusual spectacle.
Fortunately the royal bee-yard was of considerable dimensions, and was
commanded, moreover, by the terraces that ran round the royal gardens;
with a little squeezing and the erection of a few platforms room was
found for everybody. Vespaluus was carried into the open space in front
of the hives, blushing and slightly embarrassed, but not at all
displeased at the attention which was being centred on him."

"He seems to have resembled you in more things than in appearance,"
said the Baroness.

"Don't interrupt at a critical point in the story," said Clovis. "As
soon as he had been carefully adjusted in the prescribed position over
the hives, and almost before the gaolers had time to retire to a safe
distance, Vespaluus gave a lusty and well-aimed kick, which sent all
three hives toppling one over another.  The next moment he was wrapped
from head to foot in bees; each individual insect nursed the dreadful
and humiliating knowledge that in this supreme hour of catastrophe it
could not sting, but each felt that it ought to pretend to.  Vespaluus
squealed and wriggled with laughter, for he was being tickled nearly to
death, and now and again he gave a furious kick and used a bad word as
one of the few bees that had escaped disarmament got its protest home.
But the spectators saw with amazement that he showed no signs of
approaching death agony, and as the bees dropped wearily away in
clusters from his body his flesh was seen to be as white and smooth as
before the ordeal, with a shiny glaze from the honey-smear of
innumerable bee-feet, and here and there a small red spot where one of
the rare stings had left its mark.  It was obvious that a miracle had
been performed in his favour, and one loud murmur, of astonishment or
exultation, rose from the onlooking crowd.  The king gave orders for
Vespaluus to be taken down to await further orders, and stalked
silently back to his midday meal, at which he was careful to eat
heartily and drink copiously as though nothing unusual had happened.
After dinner he sent for the Royal Librarian.

"'What is the meaning of this fiasco?' he demanded.

"'Your Majesty,' said that official, 'either there is something
radically wrong with the bees--'

"'There is nothing wrong with my bees,' said the king haughtily, 'they
are the best bees.'

"'Or else,' said the Librarian, 'there is something irremediably right
about Prince Vespaluus.'

"'If Vespaluus is right I must be wrong,' said the king.

"The Librarian was silent for a moment.  Hasty speech has been the
downfall of many; ill-considered silence was the undoing of the
luckless Court functionary.

"Forgetting the restraint due to his dignity, and the golden rule which
imposes repose of mind and body after a heavy meal, the king rushed
upon the keeper of the royal books and hit him repeatedly and
promiscuously over the head with an ivory chessboard, a pewter
wine-flagon, and a brass candlestick; he knocked him violently and
often against an iron torch sconce, and kicked him thrice round the
banqueting chamber with rapid, energetic kicks.  Finally, he dragged
him down a long passage by the hair of his head and flung him out of a
window into the courtyard below."

"Was he much hurt?" asked the Baroness.

"More hurt than surprised," said Clovis.  You see, the king was
notorious for his violent temper.  However, this was the first time he
had let himself go so unrestrainedly on the top of a heavy meal.  The
Librarian lingered for many days--in fact, for all I know, he may have
ultimately recovered, but Hkrikros died that same evening.  Vespaluus
had hardly finished getting the honey stains off his body before a
hurried deputation came to put the coronation oil on his head.  And
what with the publicly-witnessed miracle and the accession of a
Christian sovereign, it was not surprising that there was a general
scramble of converts to the new religion.  A hastily consecrated bishop
was overworked with a rush of baptisms in the hastily improvised
Cathedral of St. Odilo. And the boy-martyr-that-might-have-been was
transposed in the popular imagination into a royal boy-saint, whose
fame attracted throngs of curious and devout sightseers to the capital.
Vespaluus, who was busily engaged in organizing the games and athletic
contests that were to mark the commencement of his reign, had no time
to give heed to the religious fervour which was effervescing round his
personality; the first indication he had of the existing state of
affairs was when the Court Chamberlain (a recent and very ardent
addition to the Christian community) brought for his approval the
outlines of a projected ceremonial cutting-down of the idolatrous
serpent-grove.

"'Your Majesty will be graciously pleased to cut down the first tree
with a specially consecrated axe,' said the obsequious official.

"'I'll cut off your head first, with any axe that comes handy,' said
Vespaluus indignantly; 'do you suppose that I'm going to begin my reign
by mortally affronting the sacred serpents?  It would be most unlucky.'

"'But your Majesty's Christian principles?' exclaimed the bewildered
Chamberlain.

"'I never had any,' said Vespaluus; 'I used to pretend to be a
Christian convert just to annoy Hkrikros.  He used to fly into such
delicious tempers.  And it was rather fun being whipped and scolded and
shut up in a tower all for nothing.  But as to turning Christian in
real earnest, like you people seem to do, I couldn't think of such a
thing.  And the holy and esteemed serpents have always helped me when
I've prayed to them for success in my running and wrestling and
hunting, and it was through their distinguished intercession that the
bees were not able to hurt me with their stings.  It would be black
ingratitude, to turn against their worship at the very outset of my
reign.  I hate you for suggesting it.'

"The Chamberlain wrung his hands despairingly.

"'But, your Majesty,' he wailed, 'the people are reverencing you as a
saint, and the nobles are being Christianized in batches, and
neighbouring potentates of that Faith are sending special envoys to
welcome you as a brother.  There is some talk of making you the patron
saint of beehives, and a certain shade of honey-yellow has been
christened Vespaluusian gold at the Emperor's Court.  You can't surely
go back on all this.'

"'I don't mind being reverenced and greeted and honoured,' said
Vespaluus; 'I don't even mind being sainted in moderation, as long as
I'm not expected to be saintly as well.  But I wish you clearly and
finally to understand that I will NOT give up the worship of the august
and auspicious serpents.'

"There was a world of unspoken bear-pit in the way he uttered those
last words, and the mulberry-dark eyes flashed dangerously.

"'A new reign,' said the Chamberlain to himself, 'but the same old
temper.'

"Finally, as a State necessity, the matter of the religions was
compromised.  At stated intervals the king appeared before his subjects
in the national cathedral in the character of St. Vespaluus, and the
idolatrous grove was gradually pruned and lopped away till nothing
remained of it.  But the sacred and esteemed serpents were removed to a
private shrubbery in the royal gardens, where Vespaluus the Pagan and
certain members of his household devoutly and decently worshipped them.
That possibly is the reason why the boy-king's success in sports and
hunting never deserted him to the end of his days, and that is also the
reason why, in spite of the popular veneration for his sanctity, he
never received official canonization."

"It has stopped raining," said the Baroness.



THE WAY TO THE DAIRY


The Baroness and Clovis sat in a much-frequented corner of the Park
exchanging biographical confidences about the long succession of
passers-by.

"Who are those depressed-looking young women who have just gone by?"
asked the Baroness; "they have the air of people who have bowed to
destiny and are not quite sure whether the salute will be returned."

"Those," said Clovis, "are the Brimley Bomefields.  I dare say you
would look depressed if you had been through their experiences."

"I'm always having depressing experiences;" said the Baroness, "but I
never give them outward expression.  It's as bad as looking one's age.
Tell me about the Brimley Bomefields."

"Well," said Clovis, "the beginning of their tragedy was that they
found an aunt.  The aunt had been there all the time, but they had very
nearly forgotten her existence until a distant relative refreshed their
memory by remembering her very distinctly in his will; it is wonderful
what the force of example will accomplish. The aunt, who had been
unobtrusively poor, became quite pleasantly rich, and the Brimley
Bomefields grew suddenly concerned at the loneliness of her life and
took her under their collective wings. She had as many wings around her
at this time as one of those beast-things in Revelation."

"So far I don't see any tragedy from the Brimley Bomefields' point of
view," said the Baroness.

"We haven't got to it yet," said Clovis.  "The aunt had been used to
living very simply, and had seen next to nothing of what we should
consider life, and her nieces didn't encourage her to do much in the
way of making a splash with her money.  Quite a good deal of it would
come to them at her death, and she was a fairly old woman, but there
was one circumstance which cast a shadow of gloom over the satisfaction
they felt in the discovery and acquisition of this desirable aunt: she
openly acknowledged that a comfortable slice of her little fortune
would go to a nephew on the other side of her family.  He was rather a
deplorable thing in rotters, and quite hopelessly top-hole in the way
of getting through money, but he had been more or less decent to the
old lady in her unremembered days, and she wouldn't hear anything
against him.  At least, she wouldn't pay any attention to what she did
hear, but her nieces took care that she should have to listen to a good
deal in that line.  It seemed such a pity, they said among themselves,
that good money should fall into such worthless hands. They habitually
spoke of their aunt's money as 'good money,' as though other people's
aunts dabbled for the most part in spurious currency.

"Regularly after the Derby, St. Leger, and other notable racing events
they indulged in audible speculations as to how much money Roger had
squandered in unfortunate betting transactions.

"'His travelling expenses must come to a big sum,' said the eldest
Brimley Bomefield one day; 'they say he attends every race-meeting in
England, besides others abroad.  I shouldn't wonder if he went all the
way to India to see the race for the Calcutta Sweepstake that one hears
so much about.'

"'Travel enlarges the mind, my dear Christine,' said her aunt.

"'Yes, dear aunt, travel undertaken in the right spirit,' agreed
Christine; 'but travel pursued merely as a means towards gambling and
extravagant living is more likely to contract the purse than to enlarge
the mind.  However, as long as Roger enjoys himself, I suppose he
doesn't care how fast or unprofitably the money goes, or where he is to
find more.  It seems a pity, that's all.'

"The aunt by that time had begun to talk of something else, and it was
doubtful if Christine's moralizing had been even accorded a hearing.
It was her remark, however--the aunt's remark, I mean--about travel
enlarging the mind, that gave the youngest Brimley Bomefield her great
idea for the showing-up of Roger.

"'If aunt could only be taken somewhere to see him gambling and
throwing away money,' she said, 'it would open her eyes to his
character more effectually than anything we can say.'

"'My dear Veronique,' said her sisters, 'we can't go following him to
race-meetings.'

"'Certainly not to race-meetings,' said Veronique, 'but we might go to
some place where one can look on at gambling without taking part in it.'

"'Do you mean Monte Carlo?' they asked her, beginning to jump rather at
the idea.

"'Monte Carlo is a long way off, and has a dreadful reputation,' said
Veronique; 'I shouldn't like to tell our friends that we were going to
Monte Carlo.  But I believe Roger usually goes to Dieppe about this
time of year, and some quite respectable English people go there, and
the journey wouldn't be expensive.  If aunt could stand the Channel
crossing the change of scene might do her a lot of good.'

"And that was how the fateful idea came to the Brimley Bomefields.

"From the very first set-off disaster hung over the expedition, as they
afterwards remembered.  To begin with, all the Brimley Bomefields were
extremely unwell during the crossing, while the aunt enjoyed the sea
air and made friends with all manner of strange travelling companions.
Then, although it was many years since she had been on the Continent,
she had served a very practical apprenticeship there as a paid
companion, and her knowledge of colloquial French beat theirs to a
standstill.  It became increasingly difficult to keep under their
collective wings a person who knew what she wanted and was able to ask
for it and to see that she got it.  Also, as far as Roger was
concerned, they drew Dieppe blank; it turned out that he was staying at
Pourville, a little watering-place a mile or two further west.  The
Brimley Bomefields discovered that Dieppe was too crowded and
frivolous, and persuaded the old lady to migrate to the comparative
seclusion of Pourville.

"'You won't find it dull, you know,' they assured her; 'there is a
little casino attached to the hotel, and you can watch the people
dancing and throwing away their money at PETITS CHEVAUX.'

"It was just before PETITS CHEVAUX had been supplanted by BOULE.

"Roger was not staying in the same hotel, but they knew that the casino
would be certain of his patronage on most afternoons and evenings.

"On the first evening of their visit they wandered into the casino
after a fairly early dinner, and hovered near the tables.  Bertie van
Tahn was staying there at the time, and he described the whole incident
to me.  The Brimley Bomefields kept a furtive watch on the doors as
though they were expecting some one to turn up, and the aunt got more
and more amused and interested watching the little horses whirl round
and round the board.

"'Do you know, poor little number eight hasn't won for the last
thirty-two times,' she said to Christine; 'I've been keeping count.  I
shall really have to put five francs on him to encourage him.'

"'Come and watch the dancing, dear,' said Christine nervously.  It was
scarcely a part of their strategy that Roger should come in and find
the old lady backing her fancy at the PETITS CHEVAUX table.

"'Just wait while I put five francs on number eight,' said the aunt,
and in another moment her money was lying on the table.  The horses
commenced to move round, it was a slow race this time, and number eight
crept up at the finish like some crafty demon and placed his nose just
a fraction in front of number three, who had seemed to be winning
easily.  Recourse had to be had to measurement, and the number eight
was proclaimed the winner.  The aunt picked up thirty-five francs.
After that the Brimley Bomefields would have had to have used concerted
force to get her away from the tables.  When Roger appeared on the
scene she was fifty-two francs to the good; her nieces were hovering
forlornly in the background, like chickens that have been hatched out
by a duck and are despairingly watching their parent disporting herself
in a dangerous and uncongenial element.  The supper-party which Roger
insisted on standing that night in honour of his aunt and the three
Miss Brimley Bomefields was remarkable for the unrestrained gaiety of
two of the participants and the funereal mirthlessness of the remaining
guests.

"'I do not think,' Christine confided afterwards to a friend, who
re-confided it to Bertie van Tahn, 'that I shall ever be able to touch
PATÉ DE FOIE GRAS again.  It would bring back memories of that awful
evening.'

"For the next two or three days the nieces made plans for returning to
England or moving on to some other resort where there was no casino.
The aunt was busy making a system for winning at PETITS CHEVAUX.
Number eight, her first love, had been running rather unkindly for her,
and a series of plunges on number five had turned out even worse.

"'Do you know, I dropped over seven hundred francs at the tables this
afternoon,' she announced cheerfully at dinner on the fourth evening of
their visit.

"'Aunt!  Twenty-eight pounds!  And you were losing last night too.'

"'Oh, I shall get it all back,' she said optimistically; 'but not here.
These silly little horses are no good.  I shall go somewhere where one
can play comfortably at roulette.  You needn't look so shocked.  I've
always felt that, given the opportunity, I should be an inveterate
gambler, and now you darlings have put the opportunity in my way.  I
must drink your very good healths. Waiter, a bottle of PONTET CANET.
Ah, it's number seven on the wine list; I shall plunge on number seven
to-night.  It won four times running this afternoon when I was backing
that silly number five.'

"Number seven was not in a winning mood that evening.  The Brimley
Bomefields, tired of watching disaster from a distance, drew near to
the table where their aunt was now an honoured habituée, and gazed
mournfully at the successive victories of one and five and eight and
four, which swept 'good money' out of the purse of seven's obstinate
backer.  The day's losses totalled something very near two thousand
francs.

"'You incorrigible gamblers,' said Roger chaffingly to them, when he
found them at the tables.

"'We are not gambling,' said Christine freezingly; 'we are looking on.'

"'I DON'T think,' said Roger knowingly; 'of course you're a syndicate
and aunt is putting the stakes on for all of you. Anyone can tell by
your looks when the wrong horse wins that you've got a stake on.'

"Aunt and nephew had supper alone that night, or at least they would
have if Bertie hadn't joined them; all the Brimley Bomefields had
headaches.

"The aunt carried them all off to Dieppe the next day and set cheerily
about the task of winning back some of her losses.  Her luck was
variable; in fact, she had some fair streaks of good fortune, just
enough to keep her thoroughly amused with her new distraction; but on
the whole she was a loser.  The Brimley Bomefields had a collective
attack of nervous prostration on the day when she sold out a quantity
of shares in Argentine rails. 'Nothing will ever bring that money
back,' they remarked lugubriously to one another.

"'Veronique at last could bear it no longer, and went home; you see, it
had been her idea to bring the aunt on this disastrous expedition, and
though the others did not cast the fact verbally in her face, there was
a certain lurking reproach in their eyes which was harder to meet than
actual upbraidings.  The other two remained behind, forlornly mounting
guard over their aunt until such time as the waning of the Dieppe
season should at last turn her in the direction of home and safety.
They made anxious calculations as to how little 'good money' might,
with reasonable luck, be squandered in the meantime.  Here, however,
their reckoning went far astray; the close of the Dieppe season merely
turned their aunt's thoughts in search of some other convenient
gambling resort.  'Show a cat the way to the dairy--' I forget how the
proverb goes on, but it summed up the situation as far as the Brimley
Bomefields' aunt was concerned.  She had been introduced to unexplored
pleasures, and found them greatly to her liking, and she was in no
hurry to forgo the fruits of her newly acquired knowledge.  You see,
for the first time in her life the old thing was thoroughly enjoying
herself; she was losing money, but she had plenty of fun and excitement
over the process, and she had enough left to do very comfortably on.
Indeed, she was only just learning to understand the art of doing
oneself well.  She was a popular hostess, and in return her
fellow-gamblers were always ready to entertain her to dinners and
suppers when their luck was in.  Her nieces, who still remained in
attendance on her, with the pathetic unwillingness of a crew to leave a
foundering treasure ship which might yet be steered into port, found
little pleasure in these Bohemian festivities; to see 'good money'
lavished on good living for the entertainment of a nondescript circle
of acquaintances who were not likely to be in any way socially useful
to them, did not attune them to a spirit of revelry.  They contrived,
whenever possible, to excuse themselves from participation in their
aunt's deplored gaieties; the Brimley Bomefield headaches became famous.

"And one day the nieces came to the conclusion that, as they would have
expressed it, 'no useful purpose would be served' by their continued
attendance on a relative who had so thoroughly emancipated herself from
the sheltering protection of their wings. The aunt bore the
announcement of their departure with a cheerfulness that was almost
disconcerting.

"'It's time you went home and had those headaches seen to by a
specialist,' was her comment on the situation.

"The homeward journey of the Brimley Bomefields was a veritable retreat
from Moscow, and what made it the more bitter was the fact that the
Moscow, in this case, was not overwhelmed with fire and ashes, but
merely extravagantly over-illuminated.

"From mutual friends and acquaintances they sometimes get glimpses of
their prodigal relative, who has settled down into a confirmed gambling
maniac, living on such salvage of income as obliging moneylenders have
left at her disposal.

"So you need not be surprised," concluded Clovis, "if they do wear a
depressed look in public."

"Which is Veronique?" asked the Baroness.

"The most depressed-looking of the three," said Clovis.



THE PEACE OFFERING


"I want you to help me in getting up a dramatic entertainment of some
sort," said the Baroness to Clovis.  "You see, there's been an election
petition down here, and a member unseated and no end of bitterness and
ill-feeling, and the County is socially divided against itself.  I
thought a play of some kind would be an excellent opportunity for
bringing people together again, and giving them something to think of
besides tiresome political squabbles."

The Baroness was evidently ambitious of reproducing beneath her own
roof the pacifying effects traditionally ascribed to the celebrated
Reel of Tullochgorum.

"We might do something on the lines of Greek tragedy," said Clovis,
after due reflection; "the Return of Agamemnon, for instance."

The Baroness frowned.

"It sounds rather reminiscent of an election result, doesn't it?"

"It wasn't that sort of return," explained Clovis; "it was a
home-coming."

"I thought you said it was a tragedy."

"Well, it was.  He was killed in his bathroom, you know."

"Oh, now I know the story, of course.  Do you want me to take the part
of Charlotte Corday?"

"That's a different story and a different century," said Clovis; "the
dramatic unities forbid one to lay a scene in more than one century at
a time.  The killing in this case has to be done by Clytemnestra."

"Rather a pretty name.  I'll do that part.  I suppose you want to be
Aga--whatever his name is?"

"Dear no.  Agamemnon was the father of grown-up children, and probably
wore a beard and looked prematurely aged.  I shall be his charioteer or
bath-attendant, or something decorative of that kind.  We must do
everything in the Sumurun manner, you know."

"I don't know," said the Baroness; "at least, I should know better if
you would explain exactly what you mean by the Sumurun manner."

Clovis obliged: "Weird music, and exotic skippings and flying leaps,
and lots of drapery and undrapery.  Particularly undrapery."

"I think I told you the County are coming.  The County won't stand
anything very Greek."

"You can get over any objection by calling it Hygiene, or limb-culture,
or something of that sort.  After all, every one exposes their insides
to the public gaze and sympathy nowadays, so why not one's outside?"

"My dear boy, I can ask the County to a Greek play, or to a costume
play, but to a Greek-costume play, never.  It doesn't do to let the
dramatic instinct carry one too far; one must consider one's
environment.  When one lives among greyhounds one should avoid giving
life-like imitations of a rabbit, unless one want's one's head snapped
off.  Remember, I've got this place on a seven years' lease.  And
then," continued the Baroness, "as to skippings and flying leaps; I
must ask Emily Dushford to take a part.  She's a dear good thing, and
will do anything she's told, or try to; but can you imagine her doing a
flying leap under any circumstances?"

"She can be Cassandra, and she need only take flying leaps into the
future, in a metaphorical sense."

"Cassandra; rather a pretty name.  What kind of character is she?"

"She was a sort of advance-agent for calamities.  To know her was to
know the worst.  Fortunately for the gaiety of the age she lived in, no
one took her very seriously.  Still, it must have been fairly galling
to have her turning up after every catastrophe with a conscious air of
'perhaps another time you'll believe what I say.'"

"I should have wanted to kill her."

"As Clytemnestra I believe you gratify that very natural wish."

"Then it has a happy ending, in spite of it being a tragedy?"

"Well, hardly," said Clovis; "you see, the satisfaction of putting a
violent end to Cassandra must have been considerably damped by the fact
that she had foretold what was going to happen to her. She probably
dies with an intensely irritating 'what-did-I-tell-you' smile on her
lips.  By the way, of course all the killing will be done in the
Sumurun manner."

"Please explain again," said the Baroness, taking out a notebook and
pencil.

"Little and often, you know, instead of one sweeping blow.  You see,
you are at your own home, so there's no need to hurry over the
murdering as though it were some disagreeable but necessary duty."

"And what sort of end do I have?  I mean, what curtain do I get?"

"I suppose you rush into your lover's arms.  That is where one of the
flying leaps will come in."

The getting-up and rehearsing of the play seemed likely to cause, in a
restricted area, nearly as much heart-burning and ill-feeling as the
election petition.  Clovis, as adapter and stage-manager, insisted, as
far as he was able, on the charioteer being quite the most prominent
character in the play, and his panther-skin tunic caused almost as much
trouble and discussion as Clytemnestra's spasmodic succession of
lovers, who broke down on probation with alarming uniformity.  When the
cast was at length fixed beyond hope of reprieve matters went scarcely
more smoothly.  Clovis and the Baroness rather overdid the Sumurun
manner, while the rest of the company could hardly be said to attempt
it at all.  As for Cassandra, who was expected to improvise her own
prophecies, she appeared to be as incapable of taking flying leaps into
futurity as of executing more than a severely plantigrade walk across
the stage.

"Woe!  Trojans, woe to Troy!" was the most inspired remark she could
produce after several hours of conscientious study of all the available
authorities.

"It's no earthly use foretelling the fall of Troy," expostulated
Clovis, "because Troy has fallen before the action of the play begins.
And you mustn't say too much about your own impending doom either,
because that will give things away too much to the audience."

After several minutes of painful brain-searching, Cassandra smiled
reassuringly.

"I know.  I'll predict a long and happy reign for George the Fifth."

"My dear girl," protested Clovis, "have you reflected that Cassandra
specialized in foretelling calamities?"

There was another prolonged pause and another triumphant issue.

"I know.  I'll foretell a most disastrous season for the foxhounds."

"On no account," entreated Clovis; "do remember that all Cassandra's
predictions came true.  The M.F.H. and the Hunt Secretary are both
awfully superstitious, and they are both going to be present."

Cassandra retreated hastily to her bedroom to bathe her eyes before
appearing at tea.

The Baroness and Clovis were by this time scarcely on speaking terms.
Each sincerely wished their respective rôle to be the pivot round which
the entire production should revolve, and each lost no opportunity for
furthering the cause they had at heart. As fast as Clovis introduced
some effective bit of business for the charioteer (and he introduced a
great many), the Baroness would remorselessly cut it out, or more often
dovetail it into her own part, while Clovis retaliated in a similar
fashion whenever possible.  The climax came when Clytemnestra annexed
some highly complimentary lines, which were to have been addressed to
the charioteer by a bevy of admiring Greek damsels, and put them into
the mouth of her lover.  Clovis stood by in apparent unconcern while
the words:

"Oh, lovely stripling, radiant as the dawn," were transposed into:

"Oh, Clytemnestra, radiant as the dawn," but there was a dangerous
glitter in his eye that might have given the Baroness warning.  He had
composed the verse himself, inspired and thoroughly carried away by his
subject; he suffered, therefore, a double pang in beholding his tribute
deflected from its destined object, and his words mutilated and twisted
into what became an extravagant panegyric on the Baroness's personal
charms.  It was from this moment that he became gentle and assiduous in
his private coaching of Cassandra.

The County, forgetting its dissensions, mustered in full strength to
witness the much-talked-of production.  The protective Providence that
looks after little children and amateur theatricals made good its
traditional promise that everything should be right on the night.  The
Baroness and Clovis seemed to have sunk their mutual differences, and
between them dominated the scene to the partial eclipse of all the
other characters, who, for the most part, seemed well content to remain
in the shadow.  Even Agamemnon, with ten years of strenuous life around
Troy standing to his credit, appeared to be an unobtrusive personality
compared with his flamboyant charioteer.  But the moment came for
Cassandra (who had been excused from any very definite outpourings
during rehearsals) to support her rôle by delivering herself of a few
well-chosen anticipations of pending misfortune.  The musicians obliged
with appropriately lugubrious wailings and thumpings, and the Baroness
seized the opportunity to make a dash to the dressing-room to effect
certain repairs in her make-up. Cassandra, nervous but resolute, came
down to the footlights and, like one repeating a carefully learned
lesson, flung her remarks straight at the audience:

"I see woe for this fair country if the brood of corrupt, self-seeking,
unscrupulous, unprincipled politicians" (here she named one of the two
rival parties in the State) "continue to infest and poison our local
councils and undermine our Parliamentary representation; if they
continue to snatch votes by nefarious and discreditable means--"

A humming as of a great hive of bewildered and affronted bees drowned
her further remarks and wore down the droning of the musicians.  The
Baroness, who should have been greeted on her return to the stage with
the pleasing invocation, "Oh, Clytemnestra, radiant as the dawn," heard
instead the imperious voice of Lady Thistledale ordering her carriage,
and something like a storm of open discord going on at the back of the
room.

      *      *      *      *      *

The social divisions in the County healed themselves after their own
fashion; both parties found common ground in condemning the Baroness's
outrageously bad taste and tactlessness.

She has been fortunate in sub-letting for the greater part of her seven
years' lease.



THE PEACE OF MOWSLE BARTON


Crefton Lockyer sat at his ease, an ease alike of body and soul, in the
little patch of ground, half-orchard and half-garden, that abutted on
the farmyard at Mowsle Barton.  After the stress and noise of long
years of city life, the repose and peace of the hill-begirt homestead
struck on his senses with an almost dramatic intensity.  Time and space
seemed to lose their meaning and their abruptness; the minutes slid
away into hours, and the meadows and fallows sloped away into middle
distance, softly and imperceptibly.  Wild weeds of the hedgerow
straggled into the flower-garden, and wallflowers and garden bushes
made counter-raids into farmyard and lane.  Sleepy-looking hens and
solemn preoccupied ducks were equally at home in yard, orchard, or
roadway; nothing seemed to belong definitely to anywhere; even the
gates were not necessarily to be found on their hinges.  And over the
whole scene brooded the sense of a peace that had almost a quality of
magic in it.  In the afternoon you felt that it had always been
afternoon, and must always remain afternoon; in the twilight you knew
that it could never have been anything else but twilight.  Crefton
Lockyer sat at his ease in the rustic seat beneath an old medlar tree,
and decided that here was the life-anchorage that his mind had so
fondly pictured and that latterly his tired and jarred senses had so
often pined for.  He would make a permanent lodging-place among these
simple friendly people, gradually increasing the modest comforts with
which he would like to surround himself, but falling in as much as
possible with their manner of living.

As he slowly matured this resolution in his mind an elderly woman came
hobbling with uncertain gait through the orchard.  He recognized her as
a member of the farm household, the mother or possibly the
mother-in-law of Mrs. Spurfield, his present landlady, and hastily
formulated some pleasant remark to make to her.  She forestalled him.

"There's a bit of writing chalked up on the door over yonder. What is
it?"

She spoke in a dull impersonal manner, as though the question had been
on her lips for years and had best be got rid of.  Her eyes, however,
looked impatiently over Crefton's head at the door of a small barn
which formed the outpost of a straggling line of farm buildings.

"Martha Pillamon is an old witch" was the announcement that met
Crefton's inquiring scrutiny, and he hesitated a moment before giving
the statement wider publicity.  For all he knew to the contrary, it
might be Martha herself to whom he was speaking.  It was possible that
Mrs. Spurfield's maiden name had been Pillamon. And the gaunt, withered
old dame at his side might certainly fulfil local conditions as to the
outward aspect of a witch.

"It's something about some one called Martha Pillamon," he explained
cautiously.

"What does it say?"

"It's very disrespectful," said Crefton; "it says she's a witch. Such
things ought not to be written up."

"It's true, every word of it," said his listener with considerable
satisfaction, adding as a special descriptive note of her own, "the old
toad."

And as she hobbled away through the farmyard she shrilled out in her
cracked voice, "Martha Pillamon is an old witch!"

"Did you hear what she said?" mumbled a weak, angry voice somewhere
behind Crefton's shoulder.  Turning hastily, he beheld another old
crone, thin and yellow and wrinkled, and evidently in a high state of
displeasure.  Obviously this was Martha Pillamon in person.  The
orchard seemed to be a favourite promenade for the aged women of the
neighbourhood.

"'Tis lies, 'tis sinful lies," the weak voice went on.  "'Tis Betsy
Croot is the old witch.  She an' her daughter, the dirty rat.  I'll put
a spell on 'em, the old nuisances."

As she limped slowly away her eye caught the chalk inscription on the
barn door.

"What's written up there?" she demanded, wheeling round on Crefton.

"Vote for Soarker," he responded, with the craven boldness of the
practised peacemaker.

The old woman grunted, and her mutterings and her faded red shawl lost
themselves gradually among the tree-trunks.  Crefton rose presently and
made his way towards the farm-house.  Somehow a good deal of the peace
seemed to have slipped out of the atmosphere.

The cheery bustle of tea-time in the old farm kitchen, which Crefton
had found so agreeable on previous afternoons, seemed to have soured
to-day into a certain uneasy melancholy.  There was a dull, dragging
silence around the board, and the tea itself, when Crefton came to
taste it, was a flat, lukewarm concoction that would have driven the
spirit of revelry out of a carnival.

"It's no use complaining of the tea," said Mrs. Spurfield hastily, as
her guest stared with an air of polite inquiry at his cup. "The kettle
won't boil, that's the truth of it."

Crefton turned to the hearth, where an unusually fierce fire was banked
up under a big black kettle, which sent a thin wreath of steam from its
spout, but seemed otherwise to ignore the action of the roaring blaze
beneath it.

"It's been there more than an hour, an' boil it won't," said Mrs.
Spurfield, adding, by way of complete explanation, "we're bewitched."

"It's Martha Pillamon as has done it," chimed in the old mother; "I'll
be even with the old toad.  I'll put a spell on her."

"It must boil in time," protested Crefton, ignoring the suggestions of
foul influences.  "Perhaps the coal is damp."

"It won't boil in time for supper, nor for breakfast to-morrow morning,
not if you was to keep the fire a-going all night for it," said Mrs.
Spurfield.  And it didn't.  The household subsisted on fried and baked
dishes, and a neighbour obligingly brewed tea and sent it across in a
moderately warm condition.

"I suppose you'll be leaving us, now that things has turned up
uncomfortable," Mrs. Spurfield observed at breakfast; "there are folks
as deserts one as soon as trouble comes."

Crefton hurriedly disclaimed any immediate change of plans; he
observed, however, to himself that the earlier heartiness of manner had
in a large measure deserted the household.  Suspicious looks, sulky
silences, or sharp speeches had become the order of the day.  As for
the old mother, she sat about the kitchen or the garden all day,
murmuring threats and spells against Martha Pillamon.  There was
something alike terrifying and piteous in the spectacle of these frail
old morsels of humanity consecrating their last flickering energies to
the task of making each other wretched.  Hatred seemed to be the one
faculty which had survived in undiminished vigour and intensity where
all else was dropping into ordered and symmetrical decay.  And the
uncanny part of it was that some horrid unwholesome power seemed to be
distilled from their spite and their cursings.  No amount of sceptical
explanation could remove the undoubted fact that neither kettle nor
saucepan would come to boiling-point over the hottest fire. Crefton
clung as long as possible to the theory of some defect in the coals,
but a wood fire gave the same result, and when a small spirit-lamp
kettle, which he ordered out by carrier, showed the same obstinate
refusal to allow its contents to boil he felt that he had come suddenly
into contact with some unguessed-at and very evil aspect of hidden
forces.  Miles away, down through an opening in the hills, he could
catch glimpses of a road where motor-cars sometimes passed, and yet
here, so little removed from the arteries of the latest civilization,
was a bat-haunted old homestead, where something unmistakably like
witchcraft seemed to hold a very practical sway.

Passing out through the farm garden on his way to the lanes beyond,
where he hoped to recapture the comfortable sense of peacefulness that
was so lacking around house and hearth--especially hearth--Crefton came
across the old mother, sitting mumbling to herself in the seat beneath
the medlar tree.  "Let un sink as swims, let un sink as swims," she
was, repeating over and over again, as a child repeats a half-learned
lesson.  And now and then she would break off into a shrill laugh, with
a note of malice in it that was not pleasant to hear.  Crefton was glad
when he found himself out of earshot, in the quiet and seclusion of the
deep overgrown lanes that seemed to lead away to nowhere; one, narrower
and deeper than the rest, attracted his footsteps, and he was almost
annoyed when he found that it really did act as a miniature roadway to
a human dwelling.  A forlorn-looking cottage with a scrap of ill-tended
cabbage garden and a few aged apple trees stood at an angle where a
swift flowing stream widened out for a space into a decent sized pond
before hurrying away again through the willows that had checked its
course.  Crefton leaned against a tree-trunk and looked across the
swirling eddies of the pond at the humble little homestead opposite
him; the only sign of life came from a small procession of
dingy-looking ducks that marched in single file down to the water's
edge.  There is always something rather taking in the way a duck
changes itself in an instant from a slow, clumsy waddler of the earth
to a graceful, buoyant swimmer of the waters, and Crefton waited with a
certain arrested attention to watch the leader of the file launch
itself on to the surface of the pond.  He was aware at the same time of
a curious warning instinct that something strange and unpleasant was
about to happen.  The duck flung itself confidently forward into the
water, and rolled immediately under the surface.  Its head appeared for
a moment and went under again, leaving a train of bubbles in its wake,
while wings and legs churned the water in a helpless swirl of flapping
and kicking.  The bird was obviously drowning.  Crefton thought at
first that it had caught itself in some weeds, or was being attacked
from below by a pike or water-rat.  But no blood floated to the
surface, and the wildly bobbing body made the circuit of the pond
current without hindrance from any entanglement.  A second duck had by
this time launched itself into the pond, and a second struggling body
rolled and twisted under the surface.  There was something peculiarly
piteous in the sight of the gasping beaks that showed now and again
above the water, as though in terrified protest at this treachery of a
trusted and familiar element.  Crefton gazed with something like horror
as a third duck poised itself on the bank and splashed in, to share the
fate of the other two.  He felt almost relieved when the remainder of
the flock, taking tardy alarm from the commotion of the slowly drowning
bodies, drew themselves up with tense outstretched necks, and sidled
away from the scene of danger, quacking a deep note of disquietude as
they went.  At the same moment Crefton became aware that he was not the
only human witness of the scene; a bent and withered old woman, whom he
recognized at once as Martha Pillamon, of sinister reputation, had
limped down the cottage path to the water's edge, and was gazing
fixedly at the gruesome whirligig of dying birds that went in horrible
procession round the pool.  Presently her voice rang out in a shrill
note of quavering rage:

"'Tis Betsy Croot adone it, the old rat. I'll put a spell on her, see
if I don't."

Crefton slipped quietly away, uncertain whether or no the old woman had
noticed his presence.  Even before she had proclaimed the guiltiness of
Betsy Croot, the latter's muttered incantation "Let un sink as swims"
had flashed uncomfortably across his mind. But it was the final threat
of a retaliatory spell which crowded his mind with misgiving to the
exclusion of all other thoughts or fancies.  His reasoning powers could
no longer afford to dismiss these old-wives' threats as empty
bickerings.  The household at Mowsle Barton lay under the displeasure
of a vindictive old woman who seemed able to materialize her personal
spites in a very practical fashion, and there was no saying what form
her revenge for three drowned ducks might not take.  As a member of the
household Crefton might find himself involved in some general and
highly disagreeable visitation of Martha Pillamon's wrath.  Of course
he knew that he was giving way to absurd fancies, but the behaviour of
the spirit-lamp kettle and the subsequent scene at the pond had
considerably unnerved him.  And the vagueness of his alarm added to its
terrors; when once you have taken the Impossible into your calculations
its possibilities become practically limitless.

Crefton rose at his usual early hour the next morning, after one of the
least restful nights he had spent at the farm.  His sharpened senses
quickly detected that subtle atmosphere of
things-being-not-altogether-well that hangs over a stricken household.
The cows had been milked, but they stood huddled about in the yard,
waiting impatiently to be driven out afield, and the poultry kept up an
importunate querulous reminder of deferred feeding-time; the yard pump,
which usually made discordant music at frequent intervals during the
early morning, was to-day ominously silent.  In the house itself there
was a coming and going of scuttering footsteps, a rushing and dying
away of hurried voices, and long, uneasy stillnesses.  Crefton finished
his dressing and made his way to the head of a narrow staircase.  He
could hear a dull, complaining voice, a voice into which an awed hush
had crept, and recognized the speaker as Mrs. Spurfield.

"He'll go away, for sure," the voice was saying; "there are those as
runs away from one as soon as real misfortune shows itself."

Crefton felt that he probably was one of "those," and that there were
moments when it was advisable to be true to type.

He crept back to his room, collected and packed his few belongings,
placed the money due for his lodgings on a table, and made his way out
by a back door into the yard.  A mob of poultry surged expectantly
towards him; shaking off their interested attentions he hurried along
under cover of cowstall, piggery, and hayricks till he reached the lane
at the back of the farm.  A few minutes' walk, which only the burden of
his portmanteaux restrained from developing into an undisguised run,
brought him to a main road, where the early carrier soon overtook him
and sped him onward to the neighbouring town.  At a bend of the road he
caught a last glimpse of the farm; the old gabled roofs and thatched
barns, the straggling orchard, and the medlar tree, with its wooden
seat, stood out with an almost spectral clearness in the early morning
light, and over it all brooded that air of magic possession which
Crefton had once mistaken for peace.

The bustle and roar of Paddington Station smote on his ears with a
welcome protective greeting.

"Very bad for our nerves, all this rush and hurry," said a
fellow-traveller; "give me the peace and quiet of the country."

Crefton mentally surrendered his share of the desired commodity. A
crowded, brilliantly over-lighted music-hall, where an exuberant
rendering of "1812" was being given by a strenuous orchestra, came
nearest to his ideal of a nerve sedative.



THE TALKING-OUT OF TARRINGTON


"Heavens!" exclaimed the aunt of Clovis, "here's some one I know
bearing down on us.  I can't remember his name, but he lunched with us
once in Town.  Tarrington--yes, that's it.  He's heard of the picnic
I'm giving for the Princess, and he'll cling to me like a lifebelt till
I give him an invitation; then he'll ask if he may bring all his wives
and mothers and sisters with him.  That's the worst of these small
watering-places; one can't escape from anybody."

"I'll fight a rearguard action for you if you like to do a bolt now,"
volunteered Clovis; "you've a clear ten yards start if you don't lose
time."

The aunt of Clovis responded gamely to the suggestion, and churned away
like a Nile steamer, with a long brown ripple of Pekingese spaniel
trailing in her wake.

"Pretend you don't know him," was her parting advice, tinged with the
reckless courage of the non-combatant.

The next moment the overtures of an affably disposed gentleman were
being received by Clovis with a "silent-upon-a-peak-in-Darien" stare
which denoted an absence of all previous acquaintance with the object
scrutinized.

"I expect you don't know me with my moustache," said the new-comer;
"I've only grown it during the last two months."

"On the contrary," said Clovis, "the moustache is the only thing about
you that seemed familiar to me.  I felt certain that I had met it
somewhere before."

"My name is Tarrington," resumed the candidate for recognition.

"A very useful kind of name," said Clovis; "with a name of that sort no
one would blame you if you did nothing in particular heroic or
remarkable, would they?  And yet if you were to raise a troop of light
horse in a moment of national emergency, 'Tarrington's Light Horse'
would sound quite appropriate and pulse-quickening; whereas if you were
called Spoopin, for instance, the thing would be out of the question.
No one, even in a moment of national emergency, could possibly belong
to Spoopin's Horse."

The new-comer smiled weakly, as one who is not to be put off by mere
flippancy, and began again with patient persistence:

"I think you ought to remember my name--"

"I shall," said Clovis, with an air of immense sincerity.  "My aunt was
asking me only this morning to suggest names for four young owls she's
just had sent her as pets.  I shall call them all Tarrington; then if
one or two of them die or fly away, or leave us in any of the ways that
pet owls are prone to, there will be always one or two left to carry on
your name.  And my aunt won't LET me forget it; she will always be
asking 'Have the Tarringtons had their mice?' and questions of that
sort.  She says if you keep wild creatures in captivity you ought to
see after their wants, and of course she's quite right there."

"I met you at luncheon at your aunt's house once--" broke in Mr.
Tarrington, pale but still resolute.

"My aunt never lunches," said Clovis; "she belongs to the National
Anti-Luncheon League, which is doing quite a lot of good work in a
quiet, unobtrusive way.  A subscription of half a crown per quarter
entitles you to go without ninety-two luncheons."

"This must be something new," exclaimed Tarrington.

"It's the same aunt that I've always had," said Clovis coldly.

"I perfectly well remember meeting you at a luncheon-party given by
your aunt," persisted Tarrington, who was beginning to flush an
unhealthy shade of mottled pink.

"What was there for lunch?" asked Clovis.

"Oh, well, I don't remember that--"

"How nice of you to remember my aunt when you can no longer recall the
names of the things you ate.  Now my memory works quite differently.  I
can remember a menu long after I've forgotten the hostess that
accompanied it.  When I was seven years old I recollect being given a
peach at a garden-party by some Duchess or other; I can't remember a
thing about her, except that I imagine our acquaintance must have been
of the slightest, as she called me a 'nice little boy,' but I have
unfading memories of that peach. It was one of those exuberant peaches
that meet you halfway, so to speak, and are all over you in a moment.
It was a beautiful unspoiled product of a hothouse, and yet it managed
quite successfully to give itself the airs of a compote.  You had to
bite it and imbibe it at the same time.  To me there has always been
something charming and mystic in the thought of that delicate velvet
globe of fruit, slowly ripening and warming to perfection through the
long summer days and perfumed nights, and then coming suddenly athwart
my life in the supreme moment of its existence. I can never forget it,
even if I wished to.  And when I had devoured all that was edible of
it, there still remained the stone, which a heedless, thoughtless child
would doubtless have thrown away; I put it down the neck of a young
friend who was wearing a very DÉCOLLETÉ sailor suit.  I told him it was
a scorpion, and from the way he wriggled and screamed he evidently
believed it, though where the silly kid imagined I could procure a live
scorpion at a garden-party I don't know.  Altogether, that peach is for
me an unfading and happy memory--"

The defeated Tarrington had by this time retreated out of ear-shot,
comforting himself as best he might with the reflection that a picnic
which included the presence of Clovis might prove a doubtfully
agreeable experience.

"I shall certainly go in for a Parliamentary career," said Clovis to
himself as he turned complacently to rejoin his aunt.  "As a talker-out
of inconvenient bills I should be invaluable."



THE HOUNDS OF FATE


In the fading light of a close dull autumn afternoon Martin Stoner
plodded his way along muddy lanes and rut-seamed cart tracks that led
he knew not exactly whither.  Somewhere in front of him, he fancied,
lay the sea, and towards the sea his footsteps seemed persistently
turning; why he was struggling wearily forward to that goal he could
scarcely have explained, unless he was possessed by the same instinct
that turns a hard-pressed stag cliffward in its last extremity.  In his
case the hounds of Fate were certainly pressing him with unrelenting
insistence; hunger, fatigue, and despairing hopelessness had numbed his
brain, and he could scarcely summon sufficient energy to wonder what
underlying impulse was driving him onward.  Stoner was one of those
unfortunate individuals who seem to have tried everything; a natural
slothfulness and improvidence had always intervened to blight any
chance of even moderate success, and now he was at the end of his
tether, and there was nothing more to try.  Desperation had not
awakened in him any dormant reserve of energy; on the contrary, a
mental torpor grew up round the crisis of his fortunes.  With the
clothes he stood up in, a halfpenny in his pocket, and no single friend
or acquaintance to turn to, with no prospect either of a bed for the
night or a meal for the morrow, Martin Stoner trudged stolidly forward,
between moist hedgerows and beneath dripping trees, his mind almost a
blank, except that he was subconsciously aware that somewhere in front
of him lay the sea.  Another consciousness obtruded itself now and
then--the knowledge that he was miserably hungry.  Presently he came to
a halt by an open gateway that led into a spacious and rather neglected
farm-garden; there was little sign of life about, and the farm-house at
the further end of the garden looked chill and inhospitable.  A
drizzling rain, however, was setting in, and Stoner thought that here
perhaps he might obtain a few minutes' shelter and buy a glass of milk
with his last remaining coin.  He turned slowly and wearily into the
garden and followed a narrow, flagged path up to a side door.  Before
he had time to knock the door opened and a bent, withered-looking old
man stood aside in the doorway as though to let him pass in.

"Could I come in out of the rain?" Stoner began, but the old man
interrupted him.

"Come in, Master Tom.  I knew you would come back one of these days."

Stoner lurched across the threshold and stood staring uncomprehendingly
at the other.

"Sit down while I put you out a bit of supper," said the old man with
quavering eagerness.  Stoner's legs gave way from very weariness, and
he sank inertly into the arm-chair that had been pushed up to him.  In
another minute he was devouring the cold meat, cheese, and bread, that
had been placed on the table at his side.

"You'm little changed these four years," went on the old man, in a
voice that sounded to Stoner as something in a dream, far away and
inconsequent; "but you'll find us a deal changed, you will. There's no
one about the place same as when you left; nought but me and your old
Aunt.  I'll go and tell her that you'm come; she won't be seeing you,
but she'll let you stay right enough.  She always did say if you was to
come back you should stay, but she'd never set eyes on you or speak to
you again."

The old man placed a mug of beer on the table in front of Stoner and
then hobbled away down a long passage.  The drizzle of rain had changed
to a furious lashing downpour, which beat violently against door and
windows.  The wanderer thought with a shudder of what the sea-shore
must look like under this drenching rainfall, with night beating down
on all sides.  He finished the food and beer and sat numbly waiting for
the return of his strange host. As the minutes ticked by on the
grandfather clock in the corner a new hope began to flicker and grow in
the young man's mind; it was merely the expansion of his former craving
for food and a few minutes' rest into a longing to find a night's
shelter under this seemingly hospitable roof.  A clattering of
footsteps down the passage heralded the old farm servant's return.

"The old missus won't see you, Master Tom, but she says you are to
stay.  'Tis right enough, seeing the farm will be yours when she be put
under earth.  I've had a fire lit in your room, Master Tom, and the
maids has put fresh sheets on to the bed.  You'll find nought changed
up there.  Maybe you'm tired and would like to go there now."

Without a word Martin Stoner rose heavily to his feet and followed his
ministering angel along a passage, up a short creaking stair, along
another passage, and into a large room lit with a cheerfully blazing
fire.  There was but little furniture, plain, old-fashioned, and good
of its kind; a stuffed squirrel in a case and a wall-calendar of four
years ago were about the only symptoms of decoration.  But Stoner had
eyes for little else than the bed, and could scarce wait to tear his
clothes off him before rolling in a luxury of weariness into its
comfortable depths.  The hounds of Fate seemed to have checked for a
brief moment.

In the cold light of morning Stoner laughed mirthlessly as he slowly
realized the position in which he found himself.  Perhaps he might
snatch a bit of breakfast on the strength of his likeness to this other
missing ne'er-do-well, and get safely away before anyone discovered the
fraud that had been thrust on him.  In the room downstairs he found the
bent old man ready with a dish of bacon and fried eggs for "Master
Tom's" breakfast, while a hard-faced elderly maid brought in a teapot
and poured him out a cup of tea.  As he sat at the table a small
spaniel came up and made friendly advances.

"'Tis old Bowker's pup," explained the old man, whom the hard-faced
maid had addressed as George.  "She was main fond of you; never seemed
the same after you went away to Australee.  She died 'bout a year
agone.  'Tis her pup."

Stoner found it difficult to regret her decease; as a witness for
identification she would have left something to be desired.

"You'll go for a ride, Master Tom?" was the next startling proposition
that came from the old man.  "We've a nice little roan cob that goes
well in saddle.  Old Biddy is getting a bit up in years, though 'er
goes well still, but I'll have the little roan saddled and brought
round to door."

"I've got no riding things," stammered the castaway, almost laughing as
he looked down at his one suit of well-worn clothes.

"Master Tom," said the old man earnestly, almost with an offended air,
"all your things is just as you left them.  A bit of airing before the
fire an' they'll be all right.  'Twill be a bit of a distraction like,
a little riding and wild-fowling now and agen. You'll find the folk
around here has hard and bitter minds towards you.  They hasn't
forgotten nor forgiven.  No one'll come nigh you, so you'd best get
what distraction you can with horse and dog.  They'm good company, too."

Old George hobbled away to give his orders, and Stoner, feeling more
than ever like one in a dream, went upstairs to inspect "Master Tom's"
wardrobe.  A ride was one of the pleasures dearest to his heart, and
there was some protection against immediate discovery of his imposture
in the thought that none of Tom's aforetime companions were likely to
favour him with a close inspection.  As the interloper thrust himself
into some tolerably well-fitting riding cords he wondered vaguely what
manner of misdeed the genuine Tom had committed to set the whole
countryside against him.  The thud of quick, eager hoofs on damp earth
cut short his speculations.  The roan cob had been brought up to the
side door.

"Talk of beggars on horseback," thought Stoner to himself, as he
trotted rapidly along the muddy lanes where he had tramped yesterday as
a down-at-heel outcast; and then he flung reflection indolently aside
and gave himself up to the pleasure of a smart canter along the
turf-grown side of a level stretch of road.  At an open gateway he
checked his pace to allow two carts to turn into a field.  The lads
driving the carts found time to give him a prolonged stare, and as he
passed on he heard an excited voice call out, "'Tis Tom Prike!  I
knowed him at once; showing hisself here agen, is he?"

Evidently the likeness which had imposed at close quarters on a
doddering old man was good enough to mislead younger eyes at a short
distance.

In the course of his ride he met with ample evidence to confirm the
statement that local folk had neither forgotten nor forgiven the bygone
crime which had come to him as a legacy from the absent Tom.  Scowling
looks, mutterings, and nudgings greeted him whenever he chanced upon
human beings; "Bowker's pup," trotting placidly by his side, seemed the
one element of friendliness in a hostile world.

As he dismounted at the side door he caught a fleeting glimpse of a
gaunt, elderly woman peering at him from behind the curtain of an upper
window.  Evidently this was his aunt by adoption.

Over the ample midday meal that stood in readiness for him Stoner was
able to review the possibilities of his extraordinary situation.  The
real Tom, after four years of absence, might suddenly turn up at the
farm, or a letter might come from him at any moment.  Again, in the
character of heir to the farm, the false Tom might be called on to sign
documents, which would be an embarrassing predicament.  Or a relative
might arrive who would not imitate the aunt's attitude of aloofness.
All these things would mean ignominious exposure.  On the other hand,
the alternative was the open sky and the muddy lanes that led down to
the sea.  The farm offered him, at any rate, a temporary refuge from
destitution; farming was one of the many things he had "tried," and he
would be able to do a certain amount of work in return for the
hospitality to which he was so little entitled.

"Will you have cold pork for your supper," asked the hard-faced maid,
as she cleared the table, "or will you have it hotted up?"

"Hot, with onions," said Stoner.  It was the only time in his life that
he had made a rapid decision.  And as he gave the order he knew that he
meant to stay.

Stoner kept rigidly to those portions of the house which seemed to have
been allotted to him by a tacit treaty of delimitation.  When he took
part in the farm-work it was as one who worked under orders and never
initiated them.  Old George, the roan cob, and Bowker's pup were his
sole companions in a world that was otherwise frostily silent and
hostile.  Of the mistress of the farm he saw nothing.  Once, when he
knew she had gone forth to church, he made a furtive visit to the farm
parlour in an endeavour to glean some fragmentary knowledge of the
young man whose place he had usurped, and whose ill-repute he had
fastened on himself.  There were many photographs hung on the walls, or
stuck in prim frames, but the likeness he sought for was not among
them.  At last, in an album thrust out of sight, he came across what he
wanted.  There was a whole series, labelled "Tom," a podgy child of
three, in a fantastic frock, an awkward boy of about twelve, holding a
cricket bat as though he loathed it, a rather good-looking youth of
eighteen with very smooth, evenly parted hair, and, finally, a young
man with a somewhat surly dare-devil expression.  At this last portrait
Stoner looked with particular interest; the likeness to himself was
unmistakable.

From the lips of old George, who was garrulous enough on most subjects,
he tried again and again to learn something of the nature of the
offence which shut him off as a creature to be shunned and hated by his
fellow-men.

"What do the folk around here say about me?" he asked one day as they
were walking home from an outlying field.

The old man shook his head.

"They be bitter agen you, mortal bitter.  Aye, 'tis a sad business, a
sad business."

And never could he be got to say anything more enlightening.

On a clear frosty evening, a few days before the festival of Christmas,
Stoner stood in a corner of the orchard which commanded a wide view of
the countryside.  Here and there he could see the twinkling dots of
lamp or candle glow which told of human homes where the goodwill and
jollity of the season held their sway. Behind him lay the grim, silent
farm-house, where no one ever laughed, where even a quarrel would have
seemed cheerful.  As he turned to look at the long grey front of the
gloom-shadowed building, a door opened and old George came hurriedly
forth. Stoner heard his adopted name called in a tone of strained
anxiety.  Instantly he knew that something untoward had happened, and
with a quick revulsion of outlook his sanctuary became in his eyes a
place of peace and contentment, from which he dreaded to be driven.

"Master Tom," said the old man in a hoarse whisper, "you must slip away
quiet from here for a few days.  Michael Ley is back in the village,
an' he swears to shoot you if he can come across you. He'll do it, too,
there's murder in the look of him.  Get away under cover of night, 'tis
only for a week or so, he won't be here longer."

"But where am I to go?" stammered Stoner, who had caught the infection
of the old man's obvious terror.

"Go right away along the coast to Punchford and keep hid there. When
Michael's safe gone I'll ride the roan over to the Green Dragon at
Punchford; when you see the cob stabled at the Green Dragon 'tis a sign
you may come back agen."

"But--" began Stoner hesitatingly.

"'Tis all right for money," said the other; "the old Missus agrees
you'd best do as I say, and she's given me this."

The old man produced three sovereigns and some odd silver.

Stoner felt more of a cheat than ever as he stole away that night from
the back gate of the farm with the old woman's money in his pocket.
Old George and Bowker's pup stood watching him a silent farewell from
the yard.  He could scarcely fancy that he would ever come back, and he
felt a throb of compunction for those two humble friends who would wait
wistfully for his return.  Some day perhaps the real Tom would come
back, and there would be wild wonderment among those simple farm folks
as to the identity of the shadowy guest they had harboured under their
roof.  For his own fate he felt no immediate anxiety; three pounds goes
but little way in the world when there is nothing behind it, but to a
man who has counted his exchequer in pennies it seems a good
starting-point.  Fortune had done him a whimsically kind turn when last
he trod these lanes as a hopeless adventurer, and there might yet be a
chance of his finding some work and making a fresh start; as he got
further from the farm his spirits rose higher.  There was a sense of
relief in regaining once more his lost identity and ceasing to be the
uneasy ghost of another.  He scarcely bothered to speculate about the
implacable enemy who had dropped from nowhere into his life; since that
life was now behind him one unreal item the more made little
difference.  For the first time for many months he began to hum a
careless lighthearted refrain. Then there stepped out from the shadow
of an overhanging oak tree a man with a gun.  There was no need to
wonder who he might be; the moonlight falling on his white set face
revealed a glare of human hate such as Stoner in the ups and downs of
his wanderings had never seen before.  He sprang aside in a wild effort
to break through the hedge that bordered the lane, but the tough
branches held him fast.  The hounds of Fate had waited for him in those
narrow lanes, and this time they were not to be denied.



THE RECESSIONAL


Clovis sat in the hottest zone but two of a Turkish bath, alternately
inert in statuesque contemplation and rapidly manoeuvring a
fountain-pen over the pages of a note-book.

"Don't interrupt me with your childish prattle," he observed to Bertie
van Tahn, who had slung himself languidly into a neighbouring chair and
looked conversationally inclined; "I'm writing deathless verse."

Bertie looked interested.

"I say, what a boon you would be to portrait painters if you really got
to be notorious as a poetry writer.  If they couldn't get your likeness
hung in the Academy as 'Clovis Sangrail, Esq., at work on his latest
poem,' they could slip you in as a Study of the Nude or Orpheus
descending into Jermyn Street.  They always complain that modern dress
handicaps them, whereas a towel and a fountain-pen--"

"It was Mrs. Packletide's suggestion that I should write this thing,"
said Clovis, ignoring the bypaths to fame that Bertie van Tahn was
pointing out to him.  "You see, Loona Bimberton had a Coronation Ode
accepted by the NEW INFANCY, a paper that has been started with the
idea of making the NEW AGE seem elderly and hidebound.  'So clever of
you, dear Loona,' the Packletide remarked when she had read it; 'of
course, anyone could write a Coronation Ode, but no one else would have
thought of doing it.' Loona protested that these things were extremely
difficult to do, and gave us to understand that they were more or less
the province of a gifted few.  Now the Packletide has been rather
decent to me in many ways, a sort of financial ambulance, you know,
that carries you off the field when you're hard hit, which is a
frequent occurrence with me, and I've no use whatever for Loona
Bimberton, so I chipped in and said I could turn out that sort of stuff
by the square yard if I gave my mind to it.  Loona said I couldn't, and
we got bets on, and between you and me I think the money's fairly safe.
Of course, one of the conditions of the wager is that the thing has to
be published in something or other, local newspapers barred; but Mrs.
Packletide has endeared herself by many little acts of thoughtfulness
to the editor of the SMOKY CHIMNEY, so if I can hammer out anything at
all approaching the level of the usual Ode output we ought to be all
right.  So far I'm getting along so comfortably that I begin to be
afraid that I must be one of the gifted few."

"It's rather late in the day for a Coronation Ode, isn't it?" said
Bertie.

"Of course," said Clovis; "this is going to be a Durbar Recessional,
the sort of thing that you can keep by you for all time if you want to."

"Now I understand your choice of a place to write it in," said Bertie
van Tahn, with the air of one who has suddenly unravelled a hitherto
obscure problem; "you want to get the local temperature."

"I came here to get freedom from the inane interruptions of the
mentally deficient," said Clovis, "but it seems I asked too much of
fate."

Bertie van Tahn prepared to use his towel as a weapon of precision, but
reflecting that he had a good deal of unprotected coast-line himself,
and that Clovis was equipped with a fountain-pen as well as a towel, he
relapsed pacifically into the depths of his chair.

"May one hear extracts from the immortal work?" he asked.  "I promise
that nothing that I hear now shall prejudice me against borrowing a
copy of the SMOKY CHIMNEY at the right moment."

"It's rather like casting pearls into a trough," remarked Clovis
pleasantly, "but I don't mind reading you bits of it.  It begins with a
general dispersal of the Durbar participants:

  'Back to their homes in Himalayan heights
  The stale pale elephants of Cutch Behar
  Roll like great galleons on a tideless sea--'"

"I don't believe Cutch Behar is anywhere near the Himalayan region,"
interrupted Bertie.  "You ought to have an atlas on hand when you do
this sort of thing; and why stale and pale?"

"After the late hours and the excitement, of course," said Clovis; "and
I said their HOMES were in the Himalayas.  You can have Himalayan
elephants in Cutch Behar, I suppose, just as you have Irish-bred horses
running at Ascot."

"You said they were going back to the Himalayas," objected Bertie.

"Well, they would naturally be sent home to recuperate.  It's the usual
thing out there to turn elephants loose in the hills, just as we put
horses out to grass in this country."

Clovis could at least flatter himself that he had infused some of the
reckless splendour of the East into his mendacity.

"Is it all going to be in blank verse?" asked the critic.

"Of course not; 'Durbar' comes at the end of the fourth line."

"That seems so cowardly; however, it explains why you pitched on Cutch
Behar."

"There is more connection between geographical place-names and poetical
inspiration than is generally recognized; one of the chief reasons why
there are so few really great poems about Russia in our language is
that you can't possibly get a rhyme to names like Smolensk and Tobolsk
and Minsk."

Clovis spoke with the authority of one who has tried.

"Of course, you could rhyme Omsk with Tomsk," he continued; "in fact,
they seem to be there for that purpose, but the public wouldn't stand
that sort of thing indefinitely."

"The public will stand a good deal," said Bertie malevolently, "and so
small a proportion of it knows Russian that you could always have an
explanatory footnote asserting that the last three letters in Smolensk
are not pronounced.  It's quite as believable as your statement about
putting elephants out to grass in the Himalayan range."

"I've got rather a nice bit," resumed Clovis with unruffled serenity,
"giving an evening scene on the outskirts of a jungle village:

  'Where the coiled cobra in the gloaming gloats,
  And prowling panthers stalk the wary goats.'"

"There is practically no gloaming in tropical countries," said Bertie
indulgently; "but I like the masterly reticence with which you treat
the cobra's motive for gloating.  The unknown is proverbially the
uncanny.  I can picture nervous readers of the SMOKY CHIMNEY keeping
the light turned on in their bedrooms all night out of sheer sickening
uncertainty as to WHAT the cobra might have been gloating about."

"Cobras gloat naturally," said Clovis, "just as wolves are always
ravening from mere force of habit, even after they've hopelessly
overeaten themselves.  I've got a fine bit of colour painting later
on," he added, "where I describe the dawn coming up over the
Brahma-putra river:

  'The amber dawn-drenched East with sun-shafts kissed,
  Stained sanguine apricot and amethyst,
  O'er the washed emerald of the mango groves
  Hangs in a mist of opalescent mauves,
  While painted parrot-flights impinge the haze
  With scarlet, chalcedon and chrysoprase.'"

"I've never seen the dawn come up over the Brahma-putra river," said
Bertie, "so I can't say if it's a good description of the event, but it
sounds more like an account of an extensive jewel robbery.  Anyhow, the
parrots give a good useful touch of local colour.  I suppose you've
introduced some tigers into the scenery? An Indian landscape would have
rather a bare, unfinished look without a tiger or two in the middle
distance."

"I've got a hen-tiger somewhere in the poem," said Clovis, hunting
through his notes.  "Here she is:

  'The tawny tigress 'mid the tangled teak
  Drags to her purring cubs' enraptured ears
  The harsh death-rattle in the pea-fowl's beak,
  A jungle lullaby of blood and tears.'"

Bertie van Tahn rose hurriedly from his recumbent position and made for
the glass door leading into the next compartment.

"I think your idea of home life in the jungle is perfectly horrid," he
said.  "The cobra was sinister enough, but the improvised rattle in the
tiger-nursery is the limit.  If you're going to make me turn hot and
cold all over I may as well go into the steam room at once."

"Just listen to this line," said Clovis; "it would make the reputation
of any ordinary poet:

             'and overhead
  The pendulum-patient Punkah, parent of stillborn breeze.'"

"Most of your readers will think 'punkah' is a kind of iced drink or
half-time at polo," said Bertie, and disappeared into the steam.

      *      *      *      *      *

The SMOKY CHIMNEY duly published the "Recessional," but it proved to be
its swan song, for the paper never attained to another issue.

Loona Bimberton gave up her intention of attending the Durbar and went
into a nursing-home on the Sussex Downs.  Nervous breakdown after a
particularly strenuous season was the usually accepted explanation, but
there are three or four people who know that she never really recovered
from the dawn breaking over the Brahma-putra river.



A MATTER OF SENTIMENT


It was the eve of the great race, and scarcely a member of Lady Susan's
house-party had as yet a single bet on.  It was one of those
unsatisfactory years when one horse held a commanding market position,
not by reason of any general belief in its crushing superiority, but
because it was extremely difficult to pitch on any other candidate to
whom to pin ones faith.  Peradventure II was the favourite, not in the
sense of being a popular fancy, but by virtue of a lack of confidence
in any one of his rather undistinguished rivals.  The brains of
clubland were much exercised in seeking out possible merit where none
was very obvious to the naked intelligence, and the house-party at Lady
Susan's was possessed by the same uncertainty and irresolution that
infected wider circles.

"It is just the time for bringing off a good coup," said Bertie van
Tahn.

"Undoubtedly.  But with what?" demanded Clovis for the twentieth time.

The women of the party were just as keenly interested in the matter,
and just as helplessly perplexed; even the mother of Clovis, who
usually got good racing information from her dressmaker, confessed
herself fancy free on this occasion. Colonel Drake, who was professor
of military history at a minor cramming establishment, was the only
person who had a definite selection for the event, but as his choice
varied every three hours he was worse than useless as an inspired
guide.  The crowning difficulty of the problem was that it could only
be fitfully and furtively discussed.  Lady Susan disapproved of racing.
She disapproved of many things; some people went as far as to say that
she disapproved of most things.  Disapproval was to her what neuralgia
and fancy needlework are to many other women. She disapproved of early
morning tea and auction bridge, of ski-ing and the two-step, of the
Russian ballet and the Chelsea Arts Club ball, of the French policy in
Morocco and the British policy everywhere.  It was not that she was
particularly strict or narrow in her views of life, but she had been
the eldest sister of a large family of self-indulgent children, and her
particular form of indulgence had consisted in openly disapproving of
the foibles of the others.  Unfortunately the hobby had grown up with
her.  As she was rich, influential, and very, very kind, most people
were content to count their early tea as well lost on her behalf.
Still, the necessity for hurriedly dropping the discussion of an
enthralling topic, and suppressing all mention of it during her
presence on the scene, was an affliction at a moment like the present,
when time was slipping away and indecision was the prevailing note.

After a lunch-time of rather strangled and uneasy conversation, Clovis
managed to get most of the party together at the further end of the
kitchen gardens, on the pretext of admiring the Himalayan pheasants.
He had made an important discovery.  Motkin, the butler, who (as Clovis
expressed it) had grown prematurely grey in Lady Susan's service, added
to his other excellent qualities an intelligent interest in matters
connected with the Turf.  On the subject of the forthcoming race he was
not illuminating, except in so far that he shared the prevailing
unwillingness to see a winner in Peradventure II.  But where he
outshone all the members of the house-party was in the fact that he had
a second cousin who was head stable-lad at a neighbouring racing
establishment, and usually gifted with much inside information as to
private form and possibilities.  Only the fact of her ladyship having
taken it into her head to invite a house-party for the last week of May
had prevented Mr. Motkin from paying a visit of consultation to his
relative with respect to the big race; there was still time to cycle
over if he could get leave of absence for the afternoon on some
specious excuse.

"Let's jolly well hope he does," said Bertie van Tahn; "under the
circumstances a second cousin is almost as useful as second sight."

"That stable ought to know something, if knowledge is to be found
anywhere," said Mrs. Packletide hopefully.

"I expect you'll find he'll echo my fancy for Motorboat," said Colonel
Drake.

At this moment the subject had to be hastily dropped.  Lady Susan bore
down upon them, leaning on the arm of Clovis's mother, to whom she was
confiding the fact that she disapproved of the craze for Pekingese
spaniels.  It was the third thing she had found time to disapprove of
since lunch, without counting her silent and permanent disapproval of
the way Clovis's mother did her hair.

"We have been admiring the Himalayan pheasants," said Mrs. Packletide
suavely.

"They went off to a bird-show at Nottingham early this morning," said
Lady Susan, with the air of one who disapproves of hasty and
ill-considered lying.

"Their house, I mean; such perfect roosting arrangements, and all so
clean," resumed Mrs. Packletide, with an increased glow of enthusiasm.
The odious Bertie van Tahn was murmuring audible prayers for Mrs.
Packletide's ultimate estrangement from the paths of falsehood.

"I hope you don't mind dinner being a quarter of an hour late
to-night," said Lady Susan; "Motkin has had an urgent summons to go and
see a sick relative this afternoon.  He wanted to bicycle there, but I
am sending him in the motor."

"How very kind of you!  Of course we don't mind dinner being put off."
The assurances came with unanimous and hearty sincerity.

At the dinner-table that night an undercurrent of furtive curiosity
directed itself towards Motkin's impassive countenance. One or two of
the guests almost expected to find a slip of paper concealed in their
napkins, bearing the name of the second cousin's selection.  They had
not long to wait.  As the butler went round with the murmured question,
"Sherry?" he added in an even lower tone the cryptic words, "Better
not."  Mrs. Packletide gave a start of alarm, and refused the sherry;
there seemed some sinister suggestion in the butler's warning, as
though her hostess had suddenly become addicted to the Borgia habit.  A
moment later the explanation flashed on her that "Better Not" was the
name of one of the runners in the big race.  Clovis was already
pencilling it on his cuff, and Colonel Drake, in his turn, was
signalling to every one in hoarse whispers and dumb-show the fact that
he had all along fancied "B.N."

Early next morning a sheaf of telegrams went Townward, representing the
market commands of the house-party and servants' hall.

It was a wet afternoon, and most of Lady Susan's guests hung about the
hall, waiting apparently for the appearance of tea, though it was
scarcely yet due.  The advent of a telegram quickened every one into a
flutter of expectancy; the page who brought the telegram to Clovis
waited with unusual alertness to know if there might be an answer.

Clovis read the message and gave an exclamation of annoyance.

"No bad news, I hope," said Lady Susan.  Every one else knew that the
news was not good.

"It's only the result of the Derby," he blurted out; "Sadowa won; an
utter outsider."

"Sadowa!" exclaimed Lady Susan; "you don't say so!  How remarkable!
It's the first time I've ever backed a horse; in fact I disapprove of
horse-racing, but just for once in a way I put money on this horse, and
it's gone and won."

"May I ask," said Mrs. Packletide, amid the general silence, "why you
put your money on this particular horse.  None of the sporting prophets
mentioned it as having an outside chance."

"Well," said Lady Susan, "you may laugh at me, but it was the name that
attracted me.  You see, I was always mixed up with the Franco-German
war; I was married on the day that the war was declared, and my eldest
child was born the day that peace was signed, so anything connected
with the war has always interested me.  And when I saw there was a
horse running in the Derby called after one of the battles in the
Franco-German war, I said I MUST put some money on it, for once in a
way, though I disapprove of racing.  And it's actually won."

There was a general groan.  No one groaned more deeply than the
professor of military history.



THE SECRET SIN OF SEPTIMUS BROPE


"Who and what is Mr. Brope?" demanded the aunt of Clovis suddenly.

Mrs. Riversedge, who had been snipping off the heads of defunct roses,
and thinking of nothing in particular, sprang hurriedly to mental
attention.  She was one of those old-fashioned hostesses who consider
that one ought to know something about one's guests, and that the
something ought to be to their credit.

"I believe he comes from Leighton Buzzard," she observed by way of
preliminary explanation.

"In these days of rapid and convenient travel," said Clovis, who was
dispersing a colony of green-fly with visitations of cigarette smoke,
"to come from Leighton Buzzard does not necessarily denote any great
strength of character.  It might only mean mere restlessness.  Now if
he had left it under a cloud, or as a protest against the incurable and
heartless frivolity of its inhabitants, that would tell us something
about the man and his mission in life."

"What does he do?" pursued Mrs. Troyle magisterially.

"He edits the CATHEDRAL MONTHLY," said her hostess, "and he's
enormously learned about memorial brasses and transepts and the
influence of Byzantine worship on modern liturgy, and all those sort of
things.  Perhaps he is just a little bit heavy and immersed in one
range of subjects, but it takes all sorts to make a good house-party,
you know.  You don't find him TOO dull, do you?"

"Dullness I could overlook," said the aunt of Clovis; "what I cannot
forgive is his making love to my maid."

"My dear Mrs. Troyle," gasped the hostess, "what an extraordinary idea!
I assure you Mr. Brope would not dream of doing such a thing."

"His dreams are a matter of indifference to me; for all I care his
slumbers may be one long indiscretion of unsuitable erotic advances, in
which the entire servants' hall may be involved.  But in his waking
hours he shall not make love to my maid.  It's no use arguing about it,
I'm firm on the point."

"But you must be mistaken," persisted Mrs. Riversedge; "Mr. Brope would
be the last person to do such a thing."

"He is the first person to do such a thing, as far as my information
goes, and if I have any voice in the matter he certainly shall be the
last.  Of course, I am not referring to respectably-intentioned lovers."

"I simply cannot think that a man who writes so charmingly and
informingly about transepts and Byzantine influences would behave in
such an unprincipled manner," said Mrs. Riversedge; "what evidence have
you that he's doing anything of the sort?  I don't want to doubt your
word, of course, but we mustn't be too ready to condemn him unheard,
must we?"

"Whether we condemn him or not, he has certainly not been unheard. He
has the room next to my dressing-room, and on two occasions, when I
dare say he thought I was absent, I have plainly heard him announcing
through the wall, 'I love you, Florrie.'  Those partition walls
upstairs are very thin; one can almost hear a watch ticking in the next
room."

"Is your maid called Florence?"

"Her name is Florinda."

"What an extraordinary name to give a maid!"

"I did not give it to her; she arrived in my service already
christened."

"What I mean is," said Mrs. Riversedge, "that when I get maids with
unsuitable names I call them Jane; they soon get used to it."

"An excellent plan," said the aunt of Clovis coldly; "unfortunately I
have got used to being called Jane myself.  It happens to be my name."

She cut short Mrs. Riversedge's flood of apologies by abruptly
remarking:

"The question is not whether I'm to call my maid Florinda, but whether
Mr. Brope is to be permitted to call her Florrie.  I am strongly of
opinion than he shall not."

"He may have been repeating the words of some song," said Mrs.
Riversedge hopefully; "there are lots of those sorts of silly refrains
with girls' names," she continued, turning to Clovis as a possible
authority on the subject.  "'You mustn't call me Mary--'"

"I shouldn't think of doing so," Clovis assured her; "in the first
place, I've always understood that your name was Henrietta; and then I
hardly know you well enough to take such a liberty."

"I mean there's a SONG with that refrain," hurriedly explained Mrs.
Riversedge, "and there's 'Rhoda, Rhoda kept a pagoda,' and 'Maisie is a
daisy,' and heaps of others.  Certainly it doesn't sound like Mr. Brope
to be singing such songs, but I think we ought to give him the benefit
of the doubt."

"I had already done so," said Mrs. Troyle, "until further evidence came
my way."

She shut her lips with the resolute finality of one who enjoys the
blessed certainty of being implored to open them again.

"Further evidence!" exclaimed her hostess; "do tell me!"

"As I was coming upstairs after breakfast Mr. Brope was just passing my
room.  In the most natural way in the world a piece of paper dropped
out of a packet that he held in his hand and fluttered to the ground
just at my door.  I was going to call out to him 'You've dropped
something,' and then for some reason I held back and didn't show myself
till he was safely in his room.  You see it occurred to me that I was
very seldom in my room just at that hour, and that Florinda was almost
always there tidying up things about that time.  So I picked up that
innocent-looking piece of paper."

Mrs. Troyle paused again, with the self-applauding air of one who has
detected an asp lurking in an apple-charlotte.

Mrs. Riversedge snipped vigorously at the nearest rose bush,
incidentally decapitating a Viscountess Folkestone that was just coming
into bloom.

"What was on the paper?" she asked.

"Just the words in pencil, 'I love you, Florrie,' and then underneath,
crossed out with a faint line, but perfectly plain to read, 'Meet me in
the garden by the yew.'"

"There IS a yew tree at the bottom of the garden," admitted Mrs.
Riversedge.

"At any rate he appears to be truthful," commented Clovis.

"To think that a scandal of this sort should be going on under my
roof!" said Mrs. Riversedge indignantly.

"I wonder why it is that scandal seems so much worse under a roof,"
observed Clovis; "I've always regarded it as a proof of the superior
delicacy of the cat tribe that it conducts most of its scandals above
the slates."

"Now I come to think of it," resumed Mrs. Riversedge, "there are things
about Mr. Brope that I've never been able to account for. His income,
for instance: he only gets two hundred a year as editor of the
CATHEDRAL MONTHLY, and I know that his people are quite poor, and he
hasn't any private means.  Yet he manages to afford a flat somewhere in
Westminster, and he goes abroad to Bruges and those sorts of places
every year, and always dresses well, and gives quite nice
luncheon-parties in the season.  You can't do all that on two hundred a
year, can you?"

"Does he write for any other papers?" queried Mrs. Troyle.

"No, you see he specializes so entirely on liturgy and ecclesiastical
architecture that his field is rather restricted. He once tried the
SPORTING AND DRAMATIC with an article on church edifices in famous
fox-hunting centres, but it wasn't considered of sufficient general
interest to be accepted.  No, I don't see how he can support himself in
his present style merely by what he writes."

"Perhaps he sells spurious transepts to American enthusiasts,"
suggested Clovis.

"How could you sell a transept?" said Mrs. Riversedge; "such a thing
would be impossible."

"Whatever he may do to eke out his income," interrupted Mrs. Troyle,
"he is certainly not going to fill in his leisure moments by making
love to my maid."

"Of course not," agreed her hostess; "that must be put a stop to at
once.  But I don't quite know what we ought to do."

"You might put a barbed wire entanglement round the yew tree as a
precautionary measure," said Clovis.

"I don't think that the disagreeable situation that has arisen is
improved by flippancy," said Mrs. Riversedge; "a good maid is a
treasure--"

"I am sure I don't know what I should do without Florinda," admitted
Mrs. Troyle; "she understands my hair.  I've long ago given up trying
to do anything with it myself.  I regard one's hair as I regard
husbands: as long as one is seen together in public one's private
divergences don't matter.  Surely that was the luncheon gong."

Septimus Brope and Clovis had the smoking-room to themselves after
lunch.  The former seemed restless and preoccupied, the latter quietly
observant.

"What is a lorry?" asked Septimus suddenly; "I don't mean the thing on
wheels, of course I know what that is, but isn't there a bird with a
name like that, the larger form of a lorikeet?"

"I fancy it's a lory, with one 'r,'" said Clovis lazily, "in which case
it's no good to you."

Septimus Brope stared in some astonishment.

"How do you mean, no good to me?" he asked, with more than a trace of
uneasiness in his voice.

"Won't rhyme with Florrie," explained Clovis briefly.

Septimus sat upright in his chair, with unmistakable alarm on his face.

"How did you find out?  I mean how did you know I was trying to get a
rhyme to Florrie?" he asked sharply.

"I didn't know," said Clovis, "I only guessed.  When you wanted to turn
the prosaic lorry of commerce into a feathered poem flitting through
the verdure of a tropical forest, I knew you must be working up a
sonnet, and Florrie was the only female name that suggested itself as
rhyming with lorry."

Septimus still looked uneasy.

"I believe you know more," he said.

Clovis laughed quietly, but said nothing.

"How much do you know?" Septimus asked desperately.

"The yew tree in the garden," said Clovis.

"There!  I felt certain I'd dropped it somewhere.  But you must have
guessed something before.  Look here, you have surprised my secret.
You won't give me away, will you?  It is nothing to be ashamed of, but
it wouldn't do for the editor of the CATHEDRAL MONTHLY to go in openly
for that sort of thing, would it?"

"Well, I suppose not," admitted Clovis.

"You see," continued Septimus, "I get quite a decent lot of money out
of it.  I could never live in the style I do on what I get as editor of
the CATHEDRAL MONTHLY."

Clovis was even more startled than Septimus had been earlier in the
conversation, but he was better skilled in repressing surprise.

"Do you mean to say you get money out of--Florrie?" he asked.

"Not out of Florrie, as yet," said Septimus; "in fact, I don't mind
saying that I'm having a good deal of trouble over Florrie. But there
are a lot of others."

Clovis's cigarette went out.

"This is VERY interesting," he said slowly.  And then, with Septimus
Brope's next words, illumination dawned on him.

"There are heaps of others; for instance:

  'Cora with the lips of coral,
   You and I will never quarrel.'

That was one of my earliest successes, and it still brings me in
royalties.  And then there is--'Esmeralda, when I first beheld her,'
and 'Fair Teresa, how I love to please her,' both of those have been
fairly popular.  And there is one rather dreadful one," continued
Septimus, flushing deep carmine, "which has brought me in more money
than any of the others:

  'Lively little Lucie
  With her naughty nez retroussé.'

Of course, I loathe the whole lot of them; in fact, I'm rapidly
becoming something of a woman-hater under their influence, but I can't
afford to disregard the financial aspect of the matter.  And at the
same time you can understand that my position as an authority on
ecclesiastical architecture and liturgical subjects would be weakened,
if not altogether ruined, if it once got about that I was the author of
'Cora with the lips of coral' and all the rest of them."

Clovis had recovered sufficiently to ask in a sympathetic, if rather
unsteady, voice what was the special trouble with "Florrie."

"I can't get her into lyric shape, try as I will," said Septimus
mournfully.  "You see, one has to work in a lot of sentimental, sugary
compliment with a catchy rhyme, and a certain amount of personal
biography or prophecy.  They've all of them got to have a long string
of past successes recorded about them, or else you've got to foretell
blissful things about them and yourself in the future.  For instance,
there is:

  'Dainty little girlie Mavis,
  She is such a rara avis,
  All the money I can save is
  All to be for Mavis mine.'

It goes to a sickening namby-pamby waltz tune, and for months nothing
else was sung and hummed in Blackpool and other popular centres."

This time Clovis's self-control broke down badly.

"Please excuse me," he gurgled, "but I can't help it when I remember
the awful solemnity of that article of yours that you so kindly read us
last night, on the Coptic Church in its relation to early Christian
worship."

Septimus groaned.

"You see how it would be," he said; "as soon as people knew me to be
the author of that miserable sentimental twaddle, all respect for the
serious labours of my life would be gone.  I dare say I know more about
memorial brasses than anyone living, in fact I hope one day to publish
a monograph on the subject, but I should be pointed out everywhere as
the man whose ditties were in the mouths of nigger minstrels along the
entire coast-line of our Island home.  Can you wonder that I positively
hate Florrie all the time that I'm trying to grind out sugar-coated
rhapsodies about her."

"Why not give free play to your emotions, and be brutally abusive? An
uncomplimentary refrain would have an instant success as a novelty if
you were sufficiently outspoken."

"I've never thought of that," said Septimus, "and I'm afraid I couldn't
break away from the habit of fulsome adulation and suddenly change my
style."

"You needn't change your style in the least," said Clovis; "merely
reverse the sentiment and keep to the inane phraseology of the thing.
If you'll do the body of the song I'll knock off the refrain, which is
the thing that principally matters, I believe. I shall charge
half-shares in the royalties, and throw in my silence as to your guilty
secret.  In the eyes of the world you shall still be the man who has
devoted his life to the study of transepts and Byzantine ritual; only
sometimes, in the long winter evenings, when the wind howls drearily
down the chimney and the rain beats against the windows, I shall think
of you as the author of 'Cora with the lips of coral.'  Of course, if
in sheer gratitude at my silence you like to take me for a much-needed
holiday to the Adriatic or somewhere equally interesting, paying all
expenses, I shouldn't dream of refusing."

Later in the afternoon Clovis found his aunt and Mrs. Riversedge
indulging in gentle exercise in the Jacobean garden.

"I've spoken to Mr. Brope about F.," he announced.

"How splendid of you!  What did he say?" came in a quick chorus from
the two ladies.

"He was quite frank and straightforward with me when he saw that I knew
his secret," said Clovis, "and it seems that his intentions were quite
serious, if slightly unsuitable.  I tried to show him the
impracticability of the course that he was following.  He said he
wanted to be understood, and he seemed to think that Florinda would
excel in that requirement, but I pointed out that there were probably
dozens of delicately nurtured, pure-hearted young English girls who
would be capable of understanding him, while Florinda was the only
person in the world who understood my aunt's hair. That rather weighed
with him, for he's not really a selfish animal, if you take him in the
right way, and when I appealed to the memory of his happy childish
days, spent amid the daisied fields of Leighton Buzzard (I suppose
daisies do grow there), he was obviously affected.  Anyhow, he gave me
his word that he would put Florinda absolutely out of his mind, and he
has agreed to go for a short trip abroad as the best distraction for
his thoughts. I am going with him as far as Ragusa.  If my aunt should
wish to give me a really nice scarf-pin (to be chosen by myself), as a
small recognition of the very considerable service I have done her, I
shouldn't dream of refusing.  I'm not one of those who think that
because one is abroad one can go about dressed anyhow."

A few weeks later in Blackpool and places where they sing, the
following refrain held undisputed sway:

  "How you bore me, Florrie,
  With those eyes of vacant blue;
  You'll be very sorry, Florrie,
  If I marry you.
  Though I'm easygoin', Florrie,
  This I swear is true,
  I'll throw you down a quarry, Florrie,
  If I marry you."



"MINISTERS OF GRACE"


Although he was scarcely yet out of his teens, the Duke of Scaw was
already marked out as a personality widely differing from others of his
caste and period.  Not in externals; therein he conformed correctly to
type.  His hair was faintly reminiscent of Houbigant, and at the other
end of him his shoes exhaled the right SOUPÇON of harness-room; his
socks compelled one's attention without losing one's respect; and his
attitude in repose had just that suggestion of Whistler's mother, so
becoming in the really young.  It was within that the trouble lay, if
trouble it could be accounted, which marked him apart from his fellows.
The Duke was religious.  Not in any of the ordinary senses of the word;
he took small heed of High Church or Evangelical standpoints, he stood
outside of all the movements and missions and cults and crusades of the
day, uncaring and uninterested.  Yet in a mystical-practical way of his
own, which had served him unscathed and unshaken through the fickle
years of boyhood, he was intensely and intensively religious.  His
family were naturally, though unobtrusively, distressed about it.  "I
am so afraid it may affect his bridge," said his mother.

The Duke sat in a pennyworth of chair in St. James's Park, listening to
the pessimisms of Belturbet, who reviewed the existing political
situation from the gloomiest of standpoints.

"Where I think you political spade-workers are so silly," said the
Duke, "is in the misdirection of your efforts.  You spend thousands of
pounds of money, and Heaven knows how much dynamic force of brain power
and personal energy, in trying to elect or displace this or that man,
whereas you could gain your ends so much more simply by making use of
the men as you find them.  If they don't suit your purpose as they are,
transform them into something more satisfactory."

"Do you refer to hypnotic suggestion?" asked Belturbet, with the air of
one who is being trifled with.

"Nothing of the sort.  Do you understand what I mean by the verb to
koepenick?  That is to say, to replace an authority by a spurious
imitation that would carry just as much weight for the moment as the
displaced original; the advantage, of course, being that the koepenick
replica would do what you wanted, whereas the original does what seems
best in its own eyes."

"I suppose every public man has a double, if not two or three," said
Belturbet; "but it would be a pretty hard task to koepenick a whole
bunch of them and keep the originals out of the way."

"There have been instances in European history of highly successful
koepenickery," said the Duke dreamily.

"Oh, of course, there have been False Dimitris and Perkin Warbecks, who
imposed on the world for a time," assented Belturbet, "but they
personated people who were dead or safely out of the way.  That was a
comparatively simple matter.  It would be far easier to pass oneself of
as dead Hannibal than as living Haldane, for instance."

"I was thinking," said the Duke, "of the most famous case of all, the
angel who koepenicked King Robert of Sicily with such brilliant
results.  Just imagine what an advantage it would be to have angels
deputizing, to use a horrible but convenient word, for Quinston and
Lord Hugo Sizzle, for example.  How much smoother the Parliamentary
machine would work than at present!"

"Now you're talking nonsense," said Belturbet; "angels don't exist
nowadays, at least, not in that way, so what is the use of dragging
them into a serious discussion?  It's merely silly."

"If you talk to me like that I shall just DO it," said the Duke.

"Do what?" asked Belturbet.  There were times when his young friend's
uncanny remarks rather frightened him.

"I shall summon angelic forces to take over some of the more
troublesome personalities of our public life, and I shall send the
ousted originals into temporary retirement in suitable animal
organisms.  It's not every one who would have the knowledge or the
power necessary to bring such a thing off--"

"Oh, stop that inane rubbish," said Belturbet angrily; "it's getting
wearisome.  Here's Quinston coming," he added, as there approached
along the almost deserted path the well-known figure of a young Cabinet
Minister, whose personality evoked a curious mixture of public interest
and unpopularity.

"Hurry along, my dear man," said the young Duke to the Minister, who
had given him a condescending nod; "your time is running short," he
continued in a provocative strain; "the whole inept crowd of you will
shortly be swept away into the world's waste-paper basket."

"You poor little strawberry-leafed nonentity," said the Minister,
checking himself for a moment in his stride and rolling out his words
spasmodically; "who is going to sweep us away, I should like to know?
The voting masses are on our side, and all the ability and
administrative talent is on our side too.  No power of earth or Heaven
is going to move us from our place till we choose to quit it.  No power
of earth or--"

Belturbet saw, with bulging eyes, a sudden void where a moment earlier
had been a Cabinet Minister; a void emphasized rather than relieved by
the presence of a puffed-out bewildered-looking sparrow, which hopped
about for a moment in a dazed fashion and then fell to a violent
cheeping and scolding.

"If we could understand sparrow-language," said the Duke serenely, "I
fancy we should hear something infinitely worse than 'strawberry-leafed
nonentity.'"

"But good Heavens, Eugène," said Belturbet hoarsely, "what has become
of--  Why, there he is!  How on earth did he get there?" And he pointed
with a shaking finger towards a semblance of the vanished Minister,
which approached once more along the unfrequented path.

The Duke laughed.

"It is Quinston to all outward appearance," he said composedly, "but I
fancy you will find, on closer investigation, that it is an angel
understudy of the real article."

The Angel-Quinston greeted them with a friendly smile.

"How beastly happy you two look sitting there!" he said wistfully.

"I don't suppose you'd care to change places with poor little us,"
replied the Duke chaffingly.

"How about poor little me?" said the Angel modestly.  "I've got to run
about behind the wheels of popularity, like a spotted dog behind a
carriage, getting all the dust and trying to look as if I was an
important part of the machine.  I must seem a perfect fool to you
onlookers sometimes."

"I think you are a perfect angel," said the Duke.

The Angel-that-had-been-Quinston smiled and passed on his way, pursued
across the breadth of the Horse Guards Parade by a tiresome little
sparrow that cheeped incessantly and furiously at him.

"That's only the beginning," said the Duke complacently; "I've made it
operative with all of them, irrespective of parties."

Belturbet made no coherent reply; he was engaged in feeling his pulse.
The Duke fixed his attention with some interest on a black swan that
was swimming with haughty, stiff-necked aloofness amid the crowd of
lesser water-fowl that dotted the ornamental water. For all its pride
of bearing, something was evidently ruffling and enraging it; in its
way it seemed as angry and amazed as the sparrow had been.

At the same moment a human figure came along the pathway. Belturbet
looked up apprehensively.

"Kedzon," he whispered briefly.

"An Angel-Kedzon, if I am not mistaken," said the Duke.  "Look, he is
talking affably to a human being.  That settles it."

A shabbily dressed lounger had accosted the man who had been Viceroy in
the splendid East, and who still reflected in his mien some of the cold
dignity of the Himalayan snow-peaks.

"Could you tell me, sir, if them white birds is storks or halbatrosses?
I had an argyment--"

The cold dignity thawed at once into genial friendliness.

"Those are pelicans, my dear sir.  Are you interested in birds? If you
would join me in a bun and a glass of milk at the stall yonder, I could
tell you some interesting things about Indian birds.  Right oh!  Now
the hill-mynah, for instance--"

The two men disappeared in the direction of the bun stall, chatting
volubly as they went, and shadowed from the other side of the railed
enclosure by a black swan, whose temper seemed to have reached the
limit of inarticulate rage.

Belturbet gazed in an open-mouthed wonder after the retreating couple,
then transferred his attention to the infuriated swan, and finally
turned with a look of scared comprehension at his young friend lolling
unconcernedly in his chair.  There was no longer any room to doubt what
was happening.  The "silly talk" had been translated into terrifying
action.

"I think a prairie oyster on the top of a stiffish brandy-and-soda
might save my reason," said Belturbet weakly, as he limped towards his
club.

It was late in the day before he could steady his nerves sufficiently
to glance at the evening papers.  The Parliamentary report proved
significant reading, and confirmed the fears that he had been trying to
shake off.  Mr. Ap Dave, the Chancellor, whose lively controversial
style endeared him to his supporters and embittered him, politically
speaking, to his opponents, had risen in his place to make an
unprovoked apology for having alluded in a recent speech to certain
protesting taxpayers as "skulkers."  He had realized on reflection that
they were in all probability perfectly honest in their inability to
understand certain legal technicalities of the new finance laws.  The
House had scarcely recovered from this sensation when Lord Hugo Sizzle
caused a further flutter of astonishment by going out of his way to
indulge in an outspoken appreciation of the fairness, loyalty, and
straightforwardness not only of the Chancellor, but of all the members
of the Cabinet.  A wit had gravely suggested moving the adjournment of
the House in view of the unexpected circumstances that had arisen.

Belturbet anxiously skimmed over a further item of news printed
immediately below the Parliamentary report: "Wild cat found in an
exhausted condition in Palace Yard."

"Now I wonder which of them--" he mused, and then an appalling idea
came to him.  "Supposing he's put them both into the same beast!"  He
hurriedly ordered another prairie oyster.

Belturbet was known in his club as a strictly moderate drinker; his
consumption of alcoholic stimulants that day gave rise to considerable
comment.

The events of the next few days were piquantly bewildering to the world
at large; to Belturbet, who knew dimly what was happening, the
situation was fraught with recurring alarms.  The old saying that in
politics it's the unexpected that always happens received a
justification that it had hitherto somewhat lacked, and the epidemic of
startling personal changes of front was not wholly confined to the
realm of actual politics.  The eminent chocolate magnate, Sadbury,
whose antipathy to the Turf and everything connected with it was a
matter of general knowledge, had evidently been replaced by an
Angel-Sadbury, who proceeded to electrify the public by blossoming
forth as an owner of race-horses, giving as a reason his matured
conviction that the sport was, after all, one which gave healthy
open-air recreation to large numbers of people drawn from all classes
of the community, and incidentally stimulated the important industry of
horse-breeding.  His colours, chocolate and cream hoops spangled with
pink stars, promised to become as popular as any on the Turf.  At the
same time, in order to give effect to his condemnation of the evils
resulting from the spread of the gambling habit among wage-earning
classes, who lived for the most part from hand to mouth, he suppressed
all betting news and tipsters' forecasts in the popular evening paper
that was under his control.  His action received instant recognition
and support from the Angel-proprietor of the EVENING VIEWS, the
principal rival evening halfpenny paper, who forthwith issued an ukase
decreeing a similar ban on betting news, and in a short while the
regular evening Press was purged of all mention of starting prices and
probable winners.  A considerable drop in the circulation of all these
papers was the immediate result, accompanied, of course, by a
falling-off in advertisement value, while a crop of special betting
broadsheets sprang up to supply the newly-created want.  Under their
influence the betting habit became if anything rather wore widely
diffused than before.  The Duke had possibly overlooked the futility of
koepenicking the leaders of the nation with excellently intentioned
angel under-studies, while leaving the mass of the people in its
original condition.

Further sensation and dislocation was caused in the Press world by the
sudden and dramatic RAPPROCHEMENT which took place between the
Angel-Editor of the SCRUTATOR and the Angel-Editor of the ANGLIAN
REVIEW, who not only ceased to criticize and disparage the tone and
tendencies of each other's publication, but agreed to exchange
editorships for alternating periods.  Here again public support was not
on the side of the angels; constant readers of the SCRUTATOR complained
bitterly of the strong meat which was thrust upon them at fitful
intervals in place of the almost vegetarian diet to which they had
become confidently accustomed; even those who were not mentally averse
to strong meat as a separate course were pardonably annoyed at being
supplied with it in the pages of the SCRUTATOR.  To be suddenly
confronted with a pungent herring salad when one had attuned oneself to
tea and toast, or to discover a richly truffled segment of PATÉ DE FOIE
dissembled in a bowl of bread and milk, would be an experience that
might upset the equanimity of the most placidly disposed mortal.  An
equally vehement outcry arose from the regular subscribers of the
ANGLIAN REVIEW who protested against being served from time to time
with literary fare which no young person of sixteen could possibly want
to devour in secret.  To take infinite precautions, they complained,
against the juvenile perusal of such eminently innocuous literature was
like reading the Riot Act on an uninhabited island.  Both reviews
suffered a serious falling-off in circulation and influence.  Peace
hath its devastations as well as war.

The wives of noted public men formed another element of discomfiture
which the young Duke had almost entirely left out of his calculations.
It is sufficiently embarrassing to keep abreast of the possible
wobblings and veerings-round of a human husband, who, from the strength
or weakness of his personal character, may leap over or slip through
the barriers which divide the parties; for this reason a merciful
politician usually marries late in life, when he has definitely made up
his mind on which side he wishes his wife to be socially valuable.  But
these trials were as nothing compared to the bewilderment caused by the
Angel-husbands who seemed in some cases to have revolutionized their
outlook on life in the interval between breakfast and dinner, without
premonition or preparation of any kind, and apparently without
realizing the least need for subsequent explanation.  The temporary
peace which brooded over the Parliamentary situation was by no means
reproduced in the home circles of the leading statesmen and
politicians.  It had been frequently and extensively remarked of Mrs.
Exe that she would try the patience of an angel; now the tables were
reversed, and she unwittingly had an opportunity for discovering that
the capacity for exasperating behaviour was not all on one side.

And then, with the introduction of the Navy Estimates, Parliamentary
peace suddenly dissolved.  It was the old quarrel between Ministers and
the Opposition as to the adequacy or the reverse of the Government's
naval programme.  The Angel-Quinston and the Angel-Hugo-Sizzle
contrived to keep the debates free from personalities and pinpricks,
but an enormous sensation was created when the elegant lackadaisical
Halfan Halfour threatened to bring up fifty thousand stalwarts to wreck
the House if the Estimates were not forthwith revised on a Two-Power
basis.  It was a memorable scene when he rose in his place, in response
to the scandalized shouts of his opponents, and thundered forth,
"Gentlemen, I glory in the name of Apache."

Belturbet, who had made several fruitless attempts to ring up his young
friend since the fateful morning in St. James's Park, ran him to earth
one afternoon at his club, smooth and spruce and unruffled as ever.

"Tell me, what on earth have you turned Cocksley Coxon into?" Belturbet
asked anxiously, mentioning the name of one of the pillars of
unorthodoxy in the Anglican Church.  "I don't fancy he BELIEVES in
angels, and if he finds an angel preaching orthodox sermons from his
pulpit while he's been turned into a fox-terrier, he'll develop rabies
in less than no time."

"I rather think it was a fox-terrier," said the Duke lazily.

Belturbet groaned heavily, and sank into a chair.

"Look here, Eugène," he whispered hoarsely, having first looked well
round to see that no one was within hearing range, "you've got to stop
it.  Consols are jumping up and down like bronchos, and that speech of
Halfour's in the House last night has simply startled everybody out of
their wits.  And then on the top of it, Thistlebery--"

"What has he been saying?" asked the Duke quickly.

"Nothing.  That's just what's so disturbing.  Every one thought it was
simply inevitable that he should come out with a great epoch-making
speech at this juncture, and I've just seen on the tape that he has
refused to address any meetings at present, giving as a reason his
opinion that something more than mere speech-making was wanted."

The young Duke said nothing, but his eyes shone with quiet exultation.

"It's so unlike Thistlebery," continued Belturbet; "at least," he said
suspiciously, "it's unlike the REAL Thistlebery--"

"The real Thistlebery is flying about somewhere as a
vocally-industrious lapwing," said the Duke calmly; "I expect great
things of the Angel-Thistlebery," he added.

At this moment there was a magnetic stampede of members towards the
lobby, where the tape-machines were ticking out some news of more than
ordinary import.

"COUP D'ÉTAT in the North.  Thistlebery seizes Edinburgh Castle.
Threatens civil war unless Government expands naval programme."

In the babel which ensued Belturbet lost sight of his young friend.
For the best part of the afternoon he searched one likely haunt after
another, spurred on by the sensational posters which the evening papers
were displaying broadcast over the West End. "General Baden-Baden
mobilizes Boy-Scouts.  Another COUP D'ÉTAT feared.  Is Windsor Castle
safe?"  This was one of the earlier posters, and was followed by one of
even more sinister purport: "Will the Test-match have to be postponed?"
It was this disquietening question which brought home the real
seriousness of the situation to the London public, and made people
wonder whether one might not pay too high a price for the advantages of
party government.  Belturbet, questing round in the hope of finding the
originator of the trouble, with a vague idea of being able to induce
him to restore matters to their normal human footing, came across an
elderly club acquaintance who dabbled extensively in some of the more
sensitive market securities.  He was pale with indignation, and his
pallor deepened as a breathless newsboy dashed past with a poster
inscribed: "Premier's constituency harried by moss-troopers.  Halfour
sends encouraging telegram to rioters.  Letchworth Garden City
threatens reprisals.  Foreigners taking refuge in Embassies and
National Liberal Club."

"This is devils' work!" he said angrily.

Belturbet knew otherwise.

At the bottom of St. James's Street a newspaper motor-cart, which had
just come rapidly along Pall Mall, was surrounded by a knot of eagerly
talking people, and for the first time that afternoon Belturbet heard
expressions of relief and congratulation.

It displayed a placard with the welcome announcement: "Crisis ended.
Government gives way.  Important expansion of naval programme."

There seemed to be no immediate necessity for pursuing the quest of the
errant Duke, and Belturbet turned to make his way homeward through St.
James's Park.  His mind, attuned to the alarums and excursions of the
afternoon, became dimly aware that some excitement of a detached nature
was going on around him.  In spite of the political ferment which
reigned in the streets, quite a large crowd had gathered to watch the
unfolding of a tragedy that had taken place on the shore of the
ornamental water.  A large black swan, which had recently shown signs
of a savage and dangerous disposition, had suddenly attacked a young
gentleman who was walking by the water's edge, dragged him down under
the surface, and drowned him before anyone could come to his
assistance.  At the moment when Belturbet arrived on the spot several
park-keepers were engaged in lifting the corpse into a punt.  Belturbet
stooped to pick up a hat that lay near the scene of the struggle.  It
was a smart soft felt hat, faintly reminiscent of Houbigant.

More than a month elapsed before Belturbet had sufficiently recovered
from his attack of nervous prostration to take an interest once more in
what was going on in the world of politics. The Parliamentary Session
was still in full swing, and a General Election was looming in the near
future.  He called for a batch of morning papers and skimmed rapidly
through the speeches of the Chancellor, Quinston, and other Ministerial
leaders, as well as those of the principal Opposition champions, and
then sank back in his chair with a sigh of relief.  Evidently the spell
had ceased to act after the tragedy which had overtaken its invoker.
There was no trace of angel anywhere.



THE REMOULDING OF GROBY LINGTON

"A man is known by the company he keeps."


In the morning-room of his sister-in-law's house Groby Lington fidgeted
away the passing minutes with the demure restlessness of advanced
middle age.  About a quarter of an hour would have to elapse before it
would be time to say his good-byes and make his way across the village
green to the station, with a selected escort of nephews and nieces.  He
was a good-natured, kindly dispositioned man, and in theory he was
delighted to pay periodical visits to the wife and children of his dead
brother William; in practice, he infinitely preferred the comfort and
seclusion of his own house and garden, and the companionship of his
books and his parrot to these rather meaningless and tiresome
incursions into a family circle with which he had little in common.  It
was not so much the spur of his own conscience that drove him to make
the occasional short journey by rail to visit his relatives, as an
obedient concession to the more insistent but vicarious conscience of
his brother, Colonel John, who was apt to accuse him of neglecting poor
old William's family.  Groby usually forgot or ignored the existence of
his neighbour kinsfolk until such time as he was threatened with a
visit from the Colonel, when he would put matters straight by a hurried
pilgrimage across the few miles of intervening country to renew his
acquaintance with the young people and assume a kindly if rather forced
interest in the well-being of his sister-in-law.  On this occasion he
had cut matters so fine between the timing of his exculpatory visit and
the coming of Colonel John, that he would scarcely be home before the
latter was due to arrive.  Anyhow, Groby had got it over, and six or
seven months might decently elapse before he need again sacrifice his
comforts and inclinations on the altar of family sociability.  He was
inclined to be distinctly cheerful as he hopped about the room, picking
up first one object, then another, and subjecting each to a brief
bird-like scrutiny.

Presently his cheerful listlessness changed sharply to an attitude of
vexed attention.  In a scrap-book of drawings and caricatures belonging
to one of his nephews he had come across an unkindly clever sketch of
himself and his parrot, solemnly confronting each other in postures of
ridiculous gravity and repose, and bearing a likeness to one another
that the artist had done his utmost to accentuate.  After the first
flush of annoyance had passed away, Groby laughed good-naturedly and
admitted to himself the cleverness of the drawing.  Then the feeling of
resentment repossessed him, resentment not against the caricaturist who
had embodied the idea in pen and ink, but against the possible truth
that the idea represented.  Was it really the case that people grew in
time to resemble the animals they kept as pets, and had he
unconsciously become more and more like the comically solemn bird that
was his constant companion?  Groby was unusually silent as he walked to
the train with his escort of chattering nephews and nieces, and during
the short railway journey his mind was more and more possessed with an
introspective conviction that he had gradually settled down into a sort
of parrot-like existence. What, after all, did his daily routine amount
to but a sedate meandering and pecking and perching, in his garden,
among his fruit trees, in his wicker chair on the lawn, or by the
fireside in his library?  And what was the sum total of his
conversation with chance-encountered neighbours?  "Quite a spring day,
isn't it?"  "It looks as though we should have some rain."  "Glad to
see you about again; you must take care of yourself."  "How the young
folk shoot up, don't they?"  Strings of stupid, inevitable perfunctory
remarks came to his mind, remarks that were certainly not the mental
exchange of human intelligences, but mere empty parrot-talk.  One might
really just as well salute one's acquaintances with "Pretty polly.
Puss, puss, miaow!"  Groby began to fume against the picture of himself
as a foolish feathered fowl which his nephew's sketch had first
suggested, and which his own accusing imagination was filling in with
such unflattering detail.

"I'll give the beastly bird away," he said resentfully; though he knew
at the same time that he would do no such thing.  It would look so
absurd after all the years that he had kept the parrot and made much of
it suddenly to try and find it a new home.

"Has my brother arrived?" he asked of the stable-boy, who had come with
the pony-carriage to meet him.

"Yessir, came down by the two-fifteen.  Your parrot's dead."  The boy
made the latter announcement with the relish which his class finds in
proclaiming a catastrophe.

"My parrot dead?" said Groby.  "What caused its death?"

"The ipe," said the boy briefly.

"The ipe?" queried Groby.  "Whatever's that?"

"The ipe what the Colonel brought down with him," came the rather
alarming answer.

"Do you mean to say my brother is ill?" asked Groby.  "Is it something
infectious?"

"Th' Colonel's so well as ever he was," said the boy; and as no further
explanation was forthcoming Groby had to possess himself in mystified
patience till he reached home.  His brother was waiting for him at the
hall door.

"Have you heard about the parrot?" he asked at once.  "'Pon my soul I'm
awfully sorry.  The moment he saw the monkey I'd brought down as a
surprise for you he squawked out 'Rats to you, sir!' and the blessed
monkey made one spring at him, got him by the neck and whirled him
round like a rattle.  He was as dead as mutton by the time I'd got him
out of the little beggar's paws.  Always been such a friendly little
beast, the monkey has, should never have thought he'd got it in him to
see red like that.  Can't tell you how sorry I feel about it, and now
of course you'll hate the sight of the monkey."

"Not at all," said Groby sincerely.  A few hours earlier the tragic end
which had befallen his parrot would have presented itself to him as a
calamity; now it arrived almost as a polite attention on the part of
the Fates.

"The bird was getting old, you know," he went on, in explanation of his
obvious lack of decent regret at the loss of his pet.  "I was really
beginning to wonder if it was an unmixed kindness to let him go on
living till he succumbed to old age.  What a charming little monkey!"
he added, when he was introduced to the culprit.

The new-comer was a small, long-tailed monkey from the Western
Hemisphere, with a gentle, half-shy, half-trusting manner that
instantly captured Groby's confidence; a student of simian character
might have seen in the fitful red light in its eyes some indication of
the underlying temper which the parrot had so rashly put to the test
with such dramatic consequences for itself.  The servants, who had come
to regard the defunct bird as a regular member of the household, and
one who gave really very little trouble, were scandalized to find his
bloodthirsty aggressor installed in his place as an honoured domestic
pet.

"A nasty heathen ipe what don't never say nothing sensible and
cheerful, same as pore Polly did," was the unfavourable verdict of the
kitchen quarters.

      *      *      *      *      *

One Sunday morning, some twelve or fourteen months after the visit of
Colonel John and the parrot-tragedy, Miss Wepley sat decorously in her
pew in the parish church, immediately in front of that occupied by
Groby Lington.  She was, comparatively speaking a new-comer in the
neighbourhood, and was not personally acquainted with her
fellow-worshipper in the seat behind, but for the past two years the
Sunday morning service had brought them regularly within each other's
sphere of consciousness.  Without having paid particular attention to
the subject, she could probably have given a correct rendering of the
way in which he pronounced certain words occurring in the responses,
while he was well aware of the trivial fact that, in addition to her
prayer book and handkerchief, a small paper packet of throat lozenges
always reposed on the seat beside her.  Miss Wepley rarely had recourse
to her lozenges, but in case she should be taken with a fit of coughing
she wished to have the emergency duly provided for.  On this particular
Sunday the lozenges occasioned an unusual diversion in the even tenor
of her devotions, far more disturbing to her personally than a
prolonged attack of coughing would have been.  As she rose to take part
in the singing of the first hymn, she fancied that she saw the hand of
her neighbour, who was alone in the pew behind her, make a furtive
downward grab at the packet lying on the seat; on turning sharply round
she found that the packet had certainly disappeared, but Mr. Lington
was to all outward seeming serenely intent on his hymnbook.  No amount
of interrogatory glaring on the part of the despoiled lady could bring
the least shade of conscious guilt to his face.

"Worse was to follow," as she remarked afterwards to a scandalized
audience of friends and acquaintances.  "I had scarcely knelt in prayer
when a lozenge, one of my lozenges, came whizzing into the pew, just
under my nose.  I turned round and stared, but Mr. Lington had his eyes
closed and his lips moving as though engaged in prayer.  The moment I
resumed my devotions another lozenge came rattling in, and then
another.  I took no notice for awhile, and then turned round suddenly
just as the dreadful man was about to flip another one at me.  He
hastily pretended to be turning over the leaves of his book, but I was
not to be taken in that time. He saw that he had been discovered and no
more lozenges came.  Of course I have changed my pew."

"No gentleman would have acted in such a disgraceful manner," said one
of her listeners; "and yet Mr. Lington used to be so respected by
everybody.  He seems to have behaved like a little ill-bred schoolboy."

"He behaved like a monkey," said Miss Wepley.

Her unfavourable verdict was echoed in other quarters about the same
time.  Groby Lington had never been a hero in the eyes of his personal
retainers, but he had shared the approval accorded to his defunct
parrot as a cheerful, well-dispositioned body, who gave no particular
trouble.  Of late months, however, this character would hardly have
been endorsed by the members of his domestic establishment.  The stolid
stable-boy, who had first announced to him the tragic end of his
feathered pet, was one of the first to give voice to the murmurs of
disapproval which became rampant and general in the servants' quarters,
and he had fairly substantial grounds for his disaffection.  In a burst
of hot summer weather he had obtained permission to bathe in a
modest-sized pond in the orchard, and thither one afternoon Groby had
bent his steps, attracted by loud imprecations of anger mingled with
the shriller chattering of monkey-language.  He beheld his plump
diminutive servitor, clad only in a waistcoat and a pair of socks,
storming ineffectually at the monkey which was seated on a low branch
of an apple tree, abstractedly fingering the remainder of the boy's
outfit, which he had removed just out of has reach.

"The ipe's been an' took my clothes;" whined the boy, with the passion
of his kind for explaining the obvious.  His incomplete toilet effect
rather embarrassed him, but he hailed the arrival of Groby with relief,
as promising moral and material support in his efforts to get back his
raided garments.  The monkey had ceased its defiant jabbering, and
doubtless with a little coaxing from its master it would hand back the
plunder.

"If I lift you up," suggested Groby, "you will just be able to reach
the clothes."

The boy agreed, and Groby clutched him firmly by the waistcoat, which
was about all there was to catch hold of, and lifted, him clear of the
ground.  Then, with a deft swing he sent him crashing into a clump of
tall nettles, which closed receptively round him. The victim had not
been brought up in a school which teaches one to repress one's
emotions--if a fox had attempted to gnaw at his vitals he would have
flown to complain to the nearest hunt committee rather than have
affected an attitude of stoical indifference.  On this occasion the
volume of sound which he produced under the stimulus of pain and rage
and astonishment was generous and sustained, but above his bellowings
he could distinctly hear the triumphant chattering of his enemy in the
tree, and a peal of shrill laughter from Groby.

When the boy had finished an improvised St. Vitus caracole, which would
have brought him fame on the boards of the Coliseum, and which indeed
met with ready appreciation and applause from the retreating figure of
Groby Lington, he found that the monkey had also discreetly retired,
while his clothes were scattered on the grass at the foot of the tree.

"They'm two ipes, that's what they be," he muttered angrily, and if his
judgment was severe, at least he spoke under the sting of considerable
provocation.

It was a week or two later that the parlour-maid gave notice, having
been terrified almost to tears by an outbreak of sudden temper on the
part of the master anent some underdone cutlets. "'E gnashed 'is teeth
at me, 'e did reely," she informed a sympathetic kitchen audience.

"I'd like to see 'im talk like that to me, I would," said the cook
defiantly, but her cooking from that moment showed a marked improvement.

It was seldom that Groby Lington so far detached himself from his
accustomed habits as to go and form one of a house-party, and he was
not a little piqued that Mrs. Glenduff should have stowed him away in
the musty old Georgian wing of the house, in the next room, moreover,
to Leonard Spabbink, the eminent pianist.

"He plays Liszt like an angel," had been the hostess's enthusiastic
testimonial.

"He may play him like a trout for all I care," had been Groby's mental
comment, "but I wouldn't mind betting that he snores.  He's just the
sort and shape that would.  And if I hear him snoring through those
ridiculous thin-panelled walls, there'll be trouble."

He did, and there was.

Groby stood it for about two and a quarter minutes, and then made his
way through the corridor into Spabbink's room.  Under Groby's vigorous
measures the musician's flabby, redundant figure sat up in bewildered
semi-consciousness like an ice-cream that has been taught to beg.
Groby prodded him into complete wakefulness, and then the pettish
self-satisfied pianist fairly lost his temper and slapped his
domineering visitant on the hand.  In another moment Spabbink was being
nearly stifled and very effectually gagged by a pillow-case tightly
bound round his head, while his plump pyjama'd limbs were hauled out of
bed and smacked, pinched, kicked, and bumped in a catch-as-catch-can
progress across the floor, towards the flat shallow bath in whose
utterly inadequate depths Groby perseveringly strove to drown him.  For
a few moments the room was almost in darkness: Groby's candle had
overturned in an early stage of the scuffle, and its flicker scarcely
reached to the spot where splashings, smacks, muffled cries, and
splutterings, and a chatter of ape-like rage told of the struggle that
was being waged round the shores of the bath.  A few instants later the
one-sided combat was brightly lit up by the flare of blazing curtains
and rapidly kindling panelling.

When the hastily aroused members of the house-party stampeded out on to
the lawn, the Georgian wing was well alight and belching forth masses
of smoke, but some moments elapsed before Groby appeared with the
half-drowned pianist in his arms, having just bethought him of the
superior drowning facilities offered by the pond at the bottom of the
lawn.  The cool night air sobered his rage, and when he found that he
was innocently acclaimed as the heroic rescuer of poor Leonard
Spabbink, and loudly commended for his presence of mind in tying a wet
cloth round his head to protect him from smoke suffocation, he accepted
the situation, and subsequently gave a graphic account of his finding
the musician asleep with an overturned candle by his side and the
conflagration well started.  Spabbink gave HIS version some days later,
when he had partially recovered from the shock of his midnight
castigation and immersion, but the gentle pitying smiles and evasive
comments with which his story was greeted warned him that the public
ear was not at his disposal.  He refused, however, to attend the
ceremonial presentation of the Royal Humane Society's life-saving medal.

It was about this time that Groby's pet monkey fell a victim to the
disease which attacks so many of its kind when brought under the
influence of a northern climate.  Its master appeared to be profoundly
affected by its loss, and never quite recovered the level of spirits
that he had recently attained.  In company with the tortoise, which
Colonel John presented to him on his last visit, he potters about his
lawn and kitchen garden, with none of his erstwhile sprightliness; and
his nephews and nieces are fairly well justified in alluding to him as
"Old Uncle Groby."



ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

"The Background" originally appeared in the LEINSTERS' MAGAZINE; "The
Stampeding of Lady Bastable" in the DAILY MAIL; "Mrs. Packletide's
Tiger," "The Chaplet," "The Peace Offering," "Filboid Studge" and
"Ministers of Grace" (in an abbreviated form) in the BYSTANDER; and the
remainder of the stories (with the exception of "The Music on the
Hill," "The Story of St. Vespaluus," "The Secret Sin of Septimus
Brope," "The Remoulding of Groby Lington," and "The Way to the Dairy,"
which have never previously been published) in the WESTMINSTER GAZETTE.
To the Editors of these papers I am indebted for courteous permission
to reprint them.





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